Brickbat: Without a Prayer

Azizul Raheem
Awalludin, who works for Tourism Malaysia in Sweden, and his wife
Shalwati Murshal have spent more than a month in a Swedish
jail
 awaiting trial for hitting one of their sons on his
hands for not saying his prayers. The two have not been allowed
contact with any of their children, who have been placed in a
foster home, since they were arrested. If convicted, they face at
least nine months in prison each. And even if they are found not
guilty they will still lose custody of their children and must
petition a court to get them back.

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Dead-Cat-Bounce Dies As Nikkei Drops Over 400 Points From US Highs

Mixed data from Japan did nothing to excite and while markets oscillated for a few hours after the US close (and subsequent pile-driver from AMZN), they are now unwinding most of the dead-cat-bounce seen during the US day-session. Japanese stocks are back at fresh 2-month lows with the Nikkei 225 under 15,000 (down over 400 points from day-session highs) and testing debt-ceiling lows. JPY strength has driven USDJPY back below 102.50 and therefore US futures are re-tumbling – down 14 points from US day-session highs. EM FX is drifting lower. With China about to dark for a week for lunar new year, this could get interesting very fast.

 

Dow futures are pressing towards pre-Taper lows… and Japan has lost support back to the debt-ceiling lows…

 

Of course, it’s all about the JPY… for Japanese stocks (though the correlations are started to creak – which will be a huge worry for Abe)

 

and the same for US futures…

 

 

Charts: Bloomberg


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1cBw4BG Tyler Durden

Need Heroin? Just Head To Your Friendly Neighborhood McDonalds

While we are sure it is hard to make ends meet on the minimum-wage-paying positions at fast food restaurants these days; the lengths that one McDonald’s employee in Pittsburgh went to subsidize her income could be a little much. As CNN reports, Shantia Dennis, 26, would drop a handy baggy of heroin in drive-thru customers’ boxes if they uttered the secret phrase “I’d like to order a toy” with their food order. Police recovered over 50 bags of heroin and a small amount of marijuana… brings a whole new meaning to the term “Happy Meal”.

 

 

Via CNN,

A McDonald’s employee in Pittsburgh was arrested Wednesday after undercover police officers said they discovered her selling heroin in Happy Meal boxes, according to a criminal complaint.

 

Shantia Dennis, 26, was arrested after undercover law enforcement officials conducted a drug buy, according to a statement from Mike Manko, communications director for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.

 

Customers looking for heroin were instructed to go through the drive-through and say, “I’d like to order a toy.” The customer would then be told to proceed to the first window, where they would be handed a Happy Meal box containing heroin, Manko said.

 

 

During the drug buy, the undercover officers recovered 10 stamp bags of heroin inside of a Happy Meal box, according to the statement.

 

Officers immediately arrested Dennis and recovered an additional 50 bags of heroin, as well as a small amount of marijuana, according to the complaint.

 

We wonder what she did if the customers said “Supersize me”?

 

Of course, with the way McDonalds same store sales are going, perhaps they need to start thinking of “alternative” business lines? At least in Colorado and Washington?


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1jQtxaJ Tyler Durden

MyRA – More About Getting Votes Than Helping Middle Class

Submitted by Lance Roberts of STA Wealth Management,

During this week’s State of the Union address the President stated:

Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension.  A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own.  And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks.  That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg.  MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in..”

While there are few details available about the actual structure and makeup of MyRA, here are the details we know so far.

  • MyRa’s would be structured like a Roth individual retirement account. Similar to savings bonds, the investments would be backed by the federal government.
  • Because the investments would be structured like savings bonds, there would be principal protection, meaning the account balance couldn’t go down.
  • There would be an initial pilot program for companies to sign up to offer the accounts to their employees, and firms have until the end of 2014 to participate in the initial phase.
  • Workers would be allowed to invest if they make less than $191,000 a year.
  • There would be NO tax penalty if the investments are withdrawn.
  • Initial investments could be as low as $25 with subsequent investments as low as $5.  These investments could be automatically deducted from an individual’s paycheck.
  • Once an individual accumulates $15,000, or they have the same account for 30 years, it would have to be rolled over into a traditional IRA.

Here are my initial thoughts.

1) While the President said that these “MyRA Savings Bonds” would offer a “decent” rate of return, he did not disclose how these investments would be structured.  However, if we assume that these accounts will offer the same variable interest-rate return as the Thrift Savings Plan Government Securities Investment Fund, that rate of return was 1.47% in 2012 while the rate of inflation, based on CPI, ticked up 2.08%.  With interest rates now bottoming, and many expect a continued rise in the future, that rate of return may continue to be less than the rate of inflation for the foreseeable future.

2) As I have discussed in the past, the large majority of American’s live paycheck to paycheck.  American’s do not lack for a vehicle to invest savings in for retirement (Roth IRA’s, IRA’s, 401k’s, SEP’s, etc.) but lack the ability to save.

3) The problem that needs to be addressed is from the economic front.  With 92.8 million individuals excluded from the work force, 1 in 3 American’s on some sort of Government assistance, stagnant wage growth over the last 5 years and 1 in 5 on food stamps, the issue is about employment rather than saving.  Solve the employment problem in America and the retirement savings dilemma will begin to resolve itself.

4) There is no real incentive for anyone to actually use the “MyRA” as it has a limit of $15,000 for retirement but rather a high-yield, government guaranteed, savings account.  Since there is no penalty to withdraw money from the MyRa at any time there is also no incentive to use it to actually save for retirement.  However, if we assume that the rate of return is equivalent to Thrift Savings Plan of 1.47% that is significantly higher than what banks currently pay.  The incentive will be to use the MyRA to save for future consumption rather than future retirement.

5) Investors have a VERY poor track record of investing in the financial markets and typically fall prey to the emotional mistake of “buying high and selling low.”  Given that the MyRA has to be transferred to an IRA after reaching $15,000, the guarantee of a “protected investment with a decent return” is gone.  Furthermore, there is a disincentive to reach the $15,000 level as it will change the account from a NO PENALTY withdrawal to one with a 10% withdrawal penalty prior to the age of 59 1/2.

6) Lastly, the limit of $15,000 on the MyRA is rather pointless.  If the goal is to help people fund their future retirement, the limit is rather ridiculous.  Today, if you assume that a portfolio of bonds could deliver an annualized living income of 4%, a retired couple could look forward to living a middle income lifestyle once you factor in social security income.  However, such an asset level only exists at the top 10% of the population leaving a large swath of individuals undersaved and underprepared for retirement.  A $15,000 MyRA account is going to do very little to change the dynamic of the lower 90%.

It seemed to me that the entire point of the MyRA was really more of about getting “votes” than actually helping middle class American’s substantially change their retirement futures.  While the entire State of the Union address was littered with “bodies of past ideas” there was little new about changing the direction of the economy, increasing employment opportunities for the younger generation or resolving the issues of spiraling health care costs.

While Obama did make it clear roughly 11 times during the speech that “he has a pen and a phone” to resolve issues on his own – maybe it is time to start working with Congress through the Constitutional process to deliver real ideas, real reform and a better future for middle income Americans.   But then again, that is likely to be considered radical thinking.

Hopefully, this time, “if you like your current retirement plan” you will actually be able to keep it.


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1khbDvw Tyler Durden

Abenomics Fail: Japanese Auto Demand Drops Most In 3 Years

Over a year after Shinzo Abe unveiled his devalue-the-currency three arrows plan to save his demographically-challenged and debt-riddled nation from a third lost decade… and aside from a stock market that soared as the currency collapsed – the Japanese people have little (or worse less) to show for it. As MarketWatch reports, Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said Thursday that auto demand in Japan is expected to drop 9.8% in 2014 as the sales tax increase in April will dent consumer sentiment. The decline will be the first and sharpest drop in three years after auto demand remained nearly flat last year. It seems that ‘recovery’ will have to wait.

 

Japanese wage growth remains as stagnant as it was before Abe – despite the costs of most things rising in the nation thanks to a tumbling JPY…

 

and the balance sheet recession has left a nation minimizing debt as opposed to maximizing profit (or for people living standards via credit).

 

Via MarketWatch,

Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said Thursday that auto demand in Japan is expected to drop 9.8% in 2014 as the sales tax increase in April will dent consumer sentiment.

 

The decline will be the first and sharpest drop in three years after auto demand remained nearly flat last year with a 0.1% rise.

 

JAMA expects auto demand to total 4.85 million vehicles this year, down from 5.38 million last year. This will be the lowest volume since 2011 when the industry was hit by an earthquake and tsunami. The association expects the reverse impact from the rush of car-buying ahead of the rise in Japan’s sales tax rate to 8% from the current 5% in April to pull demand for the full year.

 

The expected weaker demand means little chance for car makers to lift domestic production led by domestic demand. The downbeat outlook comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is asking Japanese companies to raise wage and invest more in the home market.

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1khbDfa Tyler Durden

India's Central Bank Governor: "International Monetary Cooperation Has Broken Down"

India’s recently crowned central bank head (and predecessor of the IMF’s Nostradamal Olivier Blanchard), Raghuram Rajan, has not had it easy since taking over India’s printer: with inflation through the roof, and only so much scapegoating of gold as the root of all of India’s evils, Rajan announced an unexpected 50 bps interest rate hike two days ago in an attempt to preempt the massive EM capital flight that has roundhoused Turkey, South Africa, Hungary, Argentina and most other current account deficit emerging markets. Whether he succeeds in keeping India away from the EM maelstrom will be unveiled in the coming days, although if last summer is any indication, the INR has a long way to fall.

Hinting that the worst is yet to come, was none other than Rajan himself, who yesterday in an interview in Mumbai with Bloomberg TV India, said that “international monetary cooperation has broken down.” Of course, when the Fed was monetizing $85 billion each and every month and stocks could only go up, nobody had a complaint about any cooperation, be it monetary or international. However, a 4% drop in the S&P from its all time high… and everyone begins to panic.

The reason for Rajan’s displeasure is because he believes that the DMs owe the EMs a favor: “Industrial countries have to play a part in restoring that, and they can’t at this point wash their hands off and say we’ll do what we need to and you do the adjustment.”Sorry Raghu – Bernanke hightailed it out of here and as Citi’s Steven Englander pointed out yesterday, left you “to twist in the wind.” Feel free to submit your thoughts on the matter in the overflowing complaint box in the Marriner Eccles lobby.

Instead of doing this, however, Rajan continued complaining to Bloomberg:

“Fortunately the IMF has stopped giving this as its mantra, but you hear from the industrial countries: We’ll do what we have to do, the markets will adjust and you can decide what you want to do,” Rajan said. “We need better cooperation and unfortunately that’s not been forthcoming so far.”

Rajan said yesterday developed countries might not like adjustments emerging markets take to cope with the outflows, without elaborating on specific measures. His surprise Jan. 28 move to raise the benchmark repurchase rate by a quarter point – – adding to increases of 50 basis points since he took over the Reserve Bank of India in September — was to stem consumer-price inflation running at close to 10 percent, he said.

 

“In an environment when there is external turmoil, we have to get our house in order and we can’t postpone that,” Rajan said. “So a collateral benefit of getting inflation down is that you also strengthen the belief in the value of the rupee.”

“When there is huge outside turmoil, even today post the Federal Reserve withdrawing stimulus further, it is extremely important that we both be seen on the same page.”

You know – this is truly wonderful: for once a central banker admits that his peers are on the verge of losing control of the globe – of course not in those words as the result would be sheer panic upon the realization that central bankers are just as clueless as everyone else – because while conducting central planning in one country is somewhat feasible for a period of time, doing so across every country across currencies, and capital markets, is impossible. And the Indian knows this.

He also knows that in a worst case scenario, the Indian Rupee will crash and burn and make last year’s record devaluation of the INR seem like breakfast at Gideon Gono’s. Which means that doing the right thing would mean allowing the people – his people – to preserve their wealth in the only real currency that will withstand whatever Emerging Market collapse may be headed this way. Gold.

Instead, what did the Indian Central Bank do? This.

  • Jan 21 – The government raises the gold import duty by 2% to 6%.
  • Jan 22 – The government more than doubles the duty on raw gold to 5%.
  • Jan 30 – Finance Minister P. Chidambaram says there are no plans for additional taxes or curbs on gold imports.
  • Feb 1 – The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) plans to introduce three or four gold-linked products in the next few months.
  • Feb 6 – The RBI says it would consider imposing value and quantity restrictions on gold imports by banks.
  • Feb 14 – The central bank relaxes rules on gold deposit schemes offered by banks by allowing lenders to offer the products with shorter maturities.
  • Feb 20 – The Trade Ministry recommends suspending cheaper gold jewellery imports from Thailand.
  • Feb 28 – India keeps its gold import duty unchanged in its annual national budget, defying industry expectations.
  • Feb 28 – India proposes a transaction tax of 0.01% on nonagricultural futures contracts, including for precious metals.
  • March 1 – The Finance Minister appeals to people not to buy so much gold.
  • March 18 – The Reserve Bank of India says it is examining banks that sell gold coins and wealth management products to identify “systemic issues”, with a view to closing any legal loopholes.
  • April 2 – The Finance Ministry suggests it is unlikely to raise the import tax on gold further to avoid smuggling and would instead introduce inflation-indexed instruments.
  • May 3 – The RBI restricts the import of gold on a consignment basis by banks.
  • June 3 – The Finance Minister says India cannot afford high levels of gold imports and may review its import policy.
  • June 5 – India hikes the gold import duty by a third, to 8%.
  • June 21 – Reliance Capital halts gold sales and investments in its gold-backed funds.
  • June 24 – India’s biggest jewellers’ association asks members to stop selling gold bars and coins, about 35% of their business.
  • July 10 – India’s jewellers announce they might continue a voluntary ban on sales of gold coins and bars for six months.
  • July 22 – The RBI moves to tighten gold imports again, making them dependent on export volumes, but offers relief to domestic sellers by lifting restrictions on credit deals.
  • July 31 – India hopes to contain gold imports well below the 845 tonnes that were shipped last year, the Finance Minister says.
  • Aug 13 – India hikes the import duty on gold for a third time in 2013, to 10%. Duties for silver and platinum are also increased to 10%. The customs duty on gold ore bars, ore, and concentrate are increased to 8% from 6%.
  • Aug 14 – India turns the screws on gold buying again, banning imports of coins and medallions and making domestic buyers pay cash.
  • Aug 29 –  India considers plan to allow commercial banks to buy gold direct from ordinary citizens
  • Sept 19 – India hikes import duty on gold jewerly to 15%

And so on.

So thank you for your fake concern Raghuram, but if you really wanted to help your people when the hammer hits, you would lift all capital controls on gold now, and allow your population to preserve their wealth in the only way they have known for the past two thousand years – by converting it into the barabrous relic. And since you won’t, enjoy reaping what you and your demented c
entral-planning peers have sown.


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1fBY7jj Tyler Durden

India’s Central Bank Governor: “International Monetary Cooperation Has Broken Down”

India’s recently crowned central bank head (and predecessor of the IMF’s Nostradamal Olivier Blanchard), Raghuram Rajan, has not had it easy since taking over India’s printer: with inflation through the roof, and only so much scapegoating of gold as the root of all of India’s evils, Rajan announced an unexpected 50 bps interest rate hike two days ago in an attempt to preempt the massive EM capital flight that has roundhoused Turkey, South Africa, Hungary, Argentina and most other current account deficit emerging markets. Whether he succeeds in keeping India away from the EM maelstrom will be unveiled in the coming days, although if last summer is any indication, the INR has a long way to fall.

Hinting that the worst is yet to come, was none other than Rajan himself, who yesterday in an interview in Mumbai with Bloomberg TV India, said that “international monetary cooperation has broken down.” Of course, when the Fed was monetizing $85 billion each and every month and stocks could only go up, nobody had a complaint about any cooperation, be it monetary or international. However, a 4% drop in the S&P from its all time high… and everyone begins to panic.

The reason for Rajan’s displeasure is because he believes that the DMs owe the EMs a favor: “Industrial countries have to play a part in restoring that, and they can’t at this point wash their hands off and say we’ll do what we need to and you do the adjustment.”Sorry Raghu – Bernanke hightailed it out of here and as Citi’s Steven Englander pointed out yesterday, left you “to twist in the wind.” Feel free to submit your thoughts on the matter in the overflowing complaint box in the Marriner Eccles lobby.

Instead of doing this, however, Rajan continued complaining to Bloomberg:

“Fortunately the IMF has stopped giving this as its mantra, but you hear from the industrial countries: We’ll do what we have to do, the markets will adjust and you can decide what you want to do,” Rajan said. “We need better cooperation and unfortunately that’s not been forthcoming so far.”

Rajan said yesterday developed countries might not like adjustments emerging markets take to cope with the outflows, without elaborating on specific measures. His surprise Jan. 28 move to raise the benchmark repurchase rate by a quarter point – – adding to increases of 50 basis points since he took over the Reserve Bank of India in September — was to stem consumer-price inflation running at close to 10 percent, he said.

 

“In an environment when there is external turmoil, we have to get our house in order and we can’t postpone that,” Rajan said. “So a collateral benefit of getting inflation down is that you also strengthen the belief in the value of the rupee.”

“When there is huge outside turmoil, even today post the Federal Reserve withdrawing stimulus further, it is extremely important that we both be seen on the same page.”

You know – this is truly wonderful: for once a central banker admits that his peers are on the verge of losing control of the globe – of course not in those words as the result would be sheer panic upon the realization that central bankers are just as clueless as everyone else – because while conducting central planning in one country is somewhat feasible for a period of time, doing so across every country across currencies, and capital markets, is impossible. And the Indian knows this.

He also knows that in a worst case scenario, the Indian Rupee will crash and burn and make last year’s record devaluation of the INR seem like breakfast at Gideon Gono’s. Which means that doing the right thing would mean allowing the people – his people – to preserve their wealth in the only real currency that will withstand whatever Emerging Market collapse may be headed this way. Gold.

Instead, what did the Indian Central Bank do? This.

  • Jan 21 – The government raises the gold import duty by 2% to 6%.
  • Jan 22 – The government more than doubles the duty on raw gold to 5%.
  • Jan 30 – Finance Minister P. Chidambaram says there are no plans for additional taxes or curbs on gold imports.
  • Feb 1 – The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) plans to introduce three or four gold-linked products in the next few months.
  • Feb 6 – The RBI says it would consider imposing value and quantity restrictions on gold imports by banks.
  • Feb 14 – The central bank relaxes rules on gold deposit schemes offered by banks by allowing lenders to offer the products with shorter maturities.
  • Feb 20 – The Trade Ministry recommends suspending cheaper gold jewellery imports from Thailand.
  • Feb 28 – India keeps its gold import duty unchanged in its annual national budget, defying industry expectations.
  • Feb 28 – India proposes a transaction tax of 0.01% on nonagricultural futures contracts, including for precious metals.
  • March 1 – The Finance Minister appeals to people not to buy so much gold.
  • March 18 – The Reserve Bank of India says it is examining banks that sell gold coins and wealth management products to identify “systemic issues”, with a view to closing any legal loopholes.
  • April 2 – The Finance Ministry suggests it is unlikely to raise the import tax on gold further to avoid smuggling and would instead introduce inflation-indexed instruments.
  • May 3 – The RBI restricts the import of gold on a consignment basis by banks.
  • June 3 – The Finance Minister says India cannot afford high levels of gold imports and may review its import policy.
  • June 5 – India hikes the gold import duty by a third, to 8%.
  • June 21 – Reliance Capital halts gold sales and investments in its gold-backed funds.
  • June 24 – India’s biggest jewellers’ association asks members to stop selling gold bars and coins, about 35% of their business.
  • July 10 – India’s jewellers announce they might continue a voluntary ban on sales of gold coins and bars for six months.
  • July 22 – The RBI moves to tighten gold imports again, making them dependent on export volumes, but offers relief to domestic sellers by lifting restrictions on credit deals.
  • July 31 – India hopes to contain gold imports well below the 845 tonnes that were shipped last year, the Finance Minister says.
  • Aug 13 – India hikes the import duty on gold for a third time in 2013, to 10%. Duties for silver and platinum are also increased to 10%. The customs duty on gold ore bars, ore, and concentrate are increased to 8% from 6%.
  • Aug 14 – India turns the screws on gold buying again, banning imports of coins and medallions and making domestic buyers pay cash.
  • Aug 29 –  India considers plan to allow commercial banks to buy gold direct from ordinary citizens
  • Sept 19 – India hikes import duty on gold jewerly to 15%

And so on.

So thank you for your fake concern Raghuram, but if you really wanted to help your people when the hammer hits, you would lift all capital controls on gold now, and allow your population to preserve their wealth in the only way they have known for the past two thousand years – by converting it into the barabrous relic. And since you won’t, enjoy reaping what you and your demented central-planning peers have sown.


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1fBY7jj Tyler Durden

"The Government Comes Up With the Money"

Submitted by Adam Taggart of Peak Prosperity blog,

I'm half-heartedly watching the State of the Union address right now. What a cynic I've become.

My younger self would be shocked and saddened to learn how I've come to view these annual addresses as little more than a game of charades. The President (not just Obama, but his predecessors, too) reads a carefully and expensively constructed script designed either to elicit self-congratulatory applause from the echo chamber side of the hall, or to lob political harpoons into the other.

But in the end, it's nothing more than a game of words. And the real issues that desperately need addressing get ignored, glossed over, or showered with pablum and over-promises that will never materialize.

A few minutes ago, the President just announced his new executive order to raise the minimum wage by nearly 40% for those employed by federal contractors.

Now, I'm not going to make this article about the rightness or wrongness of such a move. And I'm very sympathetic to those earning the current minimum wage amount of $7.24/hour. In a world where the basics of living like food, health care, housing, energy, and education have skyrocketed in cost (due in no small part to the intervention of central planners), yet real wages have actually regressed, how the heck does one get by on the minimum wage?

But I will share the thought that enters my mind whenever I hear a politician make such a magnanimous and grandiose claim: How is this going to be paid for?

I think I'm shocking no one when I emphasize that our political leaders act as if money is magically produced whenever the need is great enough. Weak economy? Print money to bring interest rates down. Banks unstable? Print more money to buy their bad assets from them. Can't balance the budget? Run the country at a deficit (as they don't matter anyway, right?).

But I'll share a recent personal experience with the government that still managed to shock me. And I think it captures well the magical thinking at the heart of our national dysfunction.

A relative of mine is in her senior years now without any savings to lean on. (By the way, that puts her in the company of 22% of US seniors over 65. In fact, a shocking 4 out of 5 of all U.S. working households have retirement savings totaling less than one year's worth of income so it looks like there will be many more in her situation soon)

There's no way to sugar-coat her financial condition. She's in a tough situation with limited options. But we're doing what we can to support her.

Which led my ears to perk up when a friend suggested there may be a relatively easy way to boost her monthly Social Security payment. It turns out that, despite being divorced for over 40 years from her former husband, she can claim a portion of his Social Security benefits. If you were married for over 10 years, the government allows this.

Okay, I thought. Good for her. But what about her ex-husband? I doubt he's going to be happy seeing a drop in his Social Security check, and even less happy learning that it's because the government decided to give the difference to someone he divorced four decades ago.

But here's the thing that bowled me over: His doesn't drop.

The government makes it clear that if a divorced spouse is awarded any claim to your Social Security benefits, the benefits you receive remain untouched. From the SSA.gov website:

Note: The amount of benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you or your current spouse may receive.

As the one investigating this opportunity, I spent a day on the phone with the Social Security Administration, and, sure enough, that's the way it works.

I couldn't help asking the nice folks at the SSA: Who funds this? Where does this extra money come from?

In theory, the Social Security trust fund is a kitty paid into by workers as they earn income during their lifetime. (In practice, we know the kitty is empty, having been raided by politicians for decades). In this case, the ex-husband worked for a certain number of years and had a certain amount of his income directed into Social Security to finance the payments he would later receive in retirement. Payments that he now is, in fact, receiving.

So, if the government later decides that his ex-spouse should also get a check based on his years of employment, but no extra hours were worked to fund that second check, how does that math work?

Well, as probably comes as no surprise, math doesn't factor into the answer I received. "It's just how the system is set up" I was told. "The government comes up with the money."

And that to me succinctly sums up why we deserve the economic predicament we find ourselves in: too many of our leaders and too much of the populace look at the government as a perpetual font of money. The curiosity to ask the questions: Is this sustainable? Is this wise? isn't there. Either because we're too lazy or too fearful to learn the answers.

For the record, I did prod further into how such a payment system could remain solvent. But it was clear to me that, not only was this a strange question to the folks I was asking it of, but it was something they had never even thought about before. It didn't take very long before they conceded that it probably doesn't make sense, but folks who qualify for the extra money would be crazy not to take it.

In the end, my family member did qualify. But not for very much. (There were uncommon exceptions that ended up reducing her claim)

And while I understand why she feels the need to take the money, I'm conflicted about my role in the affair. Because it's this very behavior of treating the government like a free money ATM (or a benevolent uncle with a bottomless wallet use whatever analogy you like) that's ruining us.

Which makes it all the harder to hear of 40% hikes in the minimum wage, or health coverage for all through the "Affordable" Care Act, or extension of the expired unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work for over 99 weeks, without asking: How are we possibly going to afford this?

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1hUu6wu Tyler Durden

“The Government Comes Up With the Money”

Submitted by Adam Taggart of Peak Prosperity blog,

I'm half-heartedly watching the State of the Union address right now. What a cynic I've become.

My younger self would be shocked and saddened to learn how I've come to view these annual addresses as little more than a game of charades. The President (not just Obama, but his predecessors, too) reads a carefully and expensively constructed script designed either to elicit self-congratulatory applause from the echo chamber side of the hall, or to lob political harpoons into the other.

But in the end, it's nothing more than a game of words. And the real issues that desperately need addressing get ignored, glossed over, or showered with pablum and over-promises that will never materialize.

A few minutes ago, the President just announced his new executive order to raise the minimum wage by nearly 40% for those employed by federal contractors.

Now, I'm not going to make this article about the rightness or wrongness of such a move. And I'm very sympathetic to those earning the current minimum wage amount of $7.24/hour. In a world where the basics of living like food, health care, housing, energy, and education have skyrocketed in cost (due in no small part to the intervention of central planners), yet real wages have actually regressed, how the heck does one get by on the minimum wage?

But I will share the thought that enters my mind whenever I hear a politician make such a magnanimous and grandiose claim: How is this going to be paid for?

I think I'm shocking no one when I emphasize that our political leaders act as if money is magically produced whenever the need is great enough. Weak economy? Print money to bring interest rates down. Banks unstable? Print more money to buy their bad assets from them. Can't balance the budget? Run the country at a deficit (as they don't matter anyway, right?).

But I'll share a recent personal experience with the government that still managed to shock me. And I think it captures well the magical thinking at the heart of our national dysfunction.

A relative of mine is in her senior years now without any savings to lean on. (By the way, that puts her in the company of 22% of US seniors over 65. In fact, a shocking 4 out of 5 of all U.S. working households have retirement savings totaling less than one year's worth of income so it looks like there will be many more in her situation soon)

There's no way to sugar-coat her financial condition. She's in a tough situation with limited options. But we're doing what we can to support her.

Which led my ears to perk up when a friend suggested there may be a relatively easy way to boost her monthly Social Security payment. It turns out that, despite being divorced for over 40 years from her former husband, she can claim a portion of his Social Security benefits. If you were married for over 10 years, the government allows this.

Okay, I thought. Good for her. But what about her ex-husband? I doubt he's going to be happy seeing a drop in his Social Security check, and even less happy learning that it's because the government decided to give the difference to someone he divorced four decades ago.

But here's the thing that bowled me over: His doesn't drop.

The government makes it clear that if a divorced spouse is awarded any claim to your Social Security benefits, the benefits you receive remain untouched. From the SSA.gov website:

Note: The amount of benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you or your current spouse may receive.

As the one investigating this opportunity, I spent a day on the phone with the Social Security Administration, and, sure enough, that's the way it works.

I couldn't help asking the nice folks at the SSA: Who funds this? Where does this extra money come from?

In theory, the Social Security trust fund is a kitty paid into by workers as they earn income during their lifetime. (In practice, we know the kitty is empty, having been raided by politicians for decades). In this case, the ex-husband worked for a certain number of years and had a certain amount of his income directed into Social Security to finance the payments he would later receive in retirement. Payments that he now is, in fact, receiving.

So, if the government later decides that his ex-spouse should also get a check based on his years of employment, but no extra hours were worked to fund that second check, how does that math work?

Well, as probably comes as no surprise, math doesn't factor into the answer I received. "It's just how the system is set up" I was told. "The government comes up with the money."

And that to me succinctly sums up why we deserve the economic predicament we find ourselves in: too many of our leaders and too much of the populace look at the government as a perpetual font of money. The curiosity to ask the questions: Is this sustainable? Is this wise? isn't there. Either because we're too lazy or too fearful to learn the answers.

For the record, I did prod further into how such a payment system could remain solvent. But it was clear to me that, not only was this a strange question to the folks I was asking it of, but it was something they had never even thought about before. It didn't take very long before they conceded that it probably doesn't make sense, but folks who qualify for the extra money would be crazy not to take it.

In the end, my family member did qualify. But not for very much. (There were uncommon exceptions that ended up reducing her claim)

And while I understand why she feels the need to take the money, I'm conflicted about my role in the affair. Because it's this very behavior of treating the government like a free money ATM (or a benevolent uncle with a bottomless wallet use whatever analogy you like) that's ruining us.

Which makes it all the harder to hear of 40% hikes in the minimum wage, or health coverage for all through the "Affordable" Care Act, or extension of the expired unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work for over 99 weeks, without asking: How are we possibly going to afford this?

 


    



via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1hUu6wu Tyler Durden