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Financial Market Manipulation Is New Trend: Can It Continue Rigging the Market by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS


A dangerous new trend is the successful manipulation of the financial markets by the Federal Reserve, other central banks, private banks, and the US Treasury. The Federal Reserve reduced real interest rates on US government debt obligations first to zero and then pushed real interest rates into negative territory. Today the government charges you for the privilege of purchasing its bonds. People pay to park their money in the Treasury debt obligations, because they do not trust the banks and they know that the government can print the money to pay off the bonds. Today Treasury bond investors pay a fee in order to guarantee that they will receive the nominal face value of their investment in government bonds...Think about this for a minute. Allegedly the US is experiencing economic recovery. Normally with rising economic activity interest rates rise as consumers and investors bid for credit. But not in this “recovery.” Normally an economic recovery produces rising consumer spending, rising profits, and more investment. But what we experience is flat and declining consumer spending as jobs are offshored and retail stores close. Profits result from labor cost savings from employee layoffs.

The stock market is high because corporations are the biggest purchases of stock. Buying back their own stock supports or raises the share price, enabling executives and boards to sell their shares or cash in their options at a profitable price. The cash that Quantitative Easing has given to the mega-banks leaves ample room for speculating in stocks, thus pushing up the price despite the absence of fundamentals that would support a rising stock market.

In other words, in America today there are no free financial markets. The markets are rigged by the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing, by gold price manipulation, by the Treasury’s Plunge Protection Team and Exchange Stabilization Fund, and by the big private banks.Allegedly, QE is over, but it is not. The Fed intends to roll over the interest and principle from its bloated $4.5 trillion bond portfolio into purchases of more bonds, and the banks intend to fill in the gaps by using the $2.6 trillion in their cash on deposit with the Fed to purchase bonds. QE has morphed, not ended. The money the Fed paid the banks for bonds will now be used by the banks to support the bond price by purchasing bonds.

Normally when massive amounts of debt and money are created the currency collapses, but the dollar has been strengthening. The dollar gains strength from the rigging of the gold price in the futures market. The Federal Reserve’s agents, the bullion banks, print paper futures contracts representing many tonnes of gold and dump them them into the market during periods of light or nonexistent trading. This drives down the gold price despite rising demand for the physical metal. This manipulation is done in order to counteract the effect of the expansion of money and debt on the dollar’s exchange value. A declining dollar price of gold makes the dollar look strong...The dollar also gains the appearance of strength from debt monetization by the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank. The Bank of Japan’s Quantitative Easing program is even larger than the Fed’s. Even Switzerland is rigging the price of the Swiss franc. Since all currencies are inflating, the dollar does not decline in exchange value. As Japan is Washington’s vassal, it is conceivable that some of the money being printed by the Bank of Japan will be used to purchase US Treasuries, thus taking the place along with purchases by the large US banks of the Fed’s QE.

The large private US and UK banks are also manipulating markets hand over fist. Remember the scandal over the banks fixing the LIBOR rate (the London Interbank Borrowing Rate) and the opening gold price on the London exchange? Now the banks have been caught rigging currency markets with algorithms developed to manipulate foreign exchange markets. When the banks get caught in felonies, they avoid prosecution by paying a fine. You try doing that.

The government even manipulates economic statistics in order to paint a rosy economic picture that sustains economic confidence. GDP growth is exaggerated by understating inflation. High unemployment is swept under the table by not counting discouraged workers as unemployed. We are told we are enjoying economic recovery and have an improving housing market. Yet the facts are that almost half of 25 year old Americans have been forced to return to live with their parents, and 30% of 30 year olds are back with their parents. Since 2006 the home ownership rate of 30 year old Americans has collapsed.

The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act during the Clinton regime allowed the big banks to gamble with their depositors’ money. The Dodd-Frank Act tried to stop some of this by requiring the banks-turned-gambling-casinos to carry on their gambling in subsidiaries with no access to deposits in the depository institution. If the banks gamble with depositors money, the banks’ losses are covered by FDIC, and in the case of bank failure, bail-in provisions could give the banks access to depositors’ funds. With the banks still protected by being “too big to fail,” whether Dodd-Frank would succeed in protecting depositors when a subsidiary’s failure pulls down the entire bank is unclear...The sharp practices in which banks engage today are risky. Why gamble with their own money if they can gamble with depositors’ money. The banks led by Citigroup have lobbied hard to overturn the provision in Dodd-Frank that puts depositors’ money out of their reach as backup for certain types of troubled financial instruments, with apparently only Senator Elizabeth Warren and a few others opposing them. Senator Warren is outgunned as Citigroup controls the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve...The falling oil price has brought concern that oil derivatives are in jeopardy. Citigroup has a provision in the omnibus appropriations bill that shifts the liability for Citigroup’s credit default swaps to depositors and taxpayers. It was only six years ago that Citigroup was bailed out to the tune of a half trillion dollars. Already Citigroup is back for more while nothing whatsoever is done to bail the American people out of their hardships caused by Citigroup and the other financial gangsters.

What we are experiencing is not a repeat of the past. The ability or, rather, the audacity of the US government itself to manipulate the major financial markets is new. Can this new trend continue? The government is supposed to be the enforcer of laws against market manipulation but is itself manipulating the markets. Governments and economists take their hats off to free markets. Yet, the markets are rigged, not free. How long can stocks stay up in a lackluster or declining economy? How long can bonds pay negative real interest rates when debt and money are rising. How long can bullion prices be manipulated down when the world’s demand for gold exceeds the annual production? For as long as governments and banks can rig the markets. The manipulations are dangerous. Manipulations blow a bigger bubble economy, and manipulations are now being used by Washington as an act of war by driving down the exchange value of the Russian ruble. If every time the stock market tries to correct and adjust to the real economic situation, the plunge protection team or some government “stabilization” entity stops the correction by purchasing S&P futures, unrealistic values are perpetuated.

The price of gold is not determined in the physical market but in the futures market where contracts are settled in cash. If every time the demand for gold pushes up the price, the Federal Reserve or its bullion bank agents dump massive amounts of uncovered futures contracts in the futures market and drive down the price of gold, the result is to subsidize the gold purchases of Russia, China, and India. The artificially low gold price also artificially inflates the value of the US dollar.

The Federal Reserve’s manipulation of the bond market has driven bond prices so high that purchasers receive a zero or negative return on their investment. At the present time fear of the safety of bank deposits makes people willing to pay a fee in order to have the protection of the government’s ability to print money in order to redeem its bonds. A number of events could end the tolerance of zero or negative real interest rates. The Federal Reserve’s policy has the bond market positioned for collapse.

The US government, perhaps surprised at the ease at which all financial markets can be rigged, is now rigging, or permitting large hedge funds and perhaps George Soros, to drive down the exchange value of the Russian ruble by massive short-selling in the currency market. On December 15 the ruble was driven down 19%.

Just as there is no economic reason for the price of gold to decline in the futures market when the demand for physical gold is rising, there is no economic reason for the ruble to suddenly loose much of its exchange value. Unlike the US, which has a massive trade deficit, Russia has a trade surplus. Unlike the US economy, the Russian economy has not been offshored. Russia has just completed large energy and trade deals with China, Turkey, and India. If economic forces were determining outcomes, it would be the dollar that is losing exchange value, not the ruble. The illegal economic sanctions that Washington has decreed on Russia appear to be doing more harm to Europe and US energy companies than to Russia. The impact on Russia of the American attack on the ruble is unclear, as the suppression of the ruble’s value is artificial.

There is a difference between economic factors causing foreign investors to withdraw their capital from a country, thereby causing the currency to lose value, and manipulation of a currency’s value by heavy short-selling in the currency market. The latter can cause the former also to occur. But the outcome for Russia can be positive.

No country dependent on foreign capital is sovereign. A country dependent on foreign capital, especially from enemies seeking to subvert the economy, is subject to destabilizing currency and economic swings. Russia should self-finance. If Russia needs foreign capital, Russia should turn to its ally China. China has a stake in Russia’s strength as part of China’s protection from US aggression, whether economic or military.

The American attack on the ruble is also teaching sovereign governments that are not US vassals the extreme cost of allowing their currencies to trade in currency markets dominated by the US. China should think twice before it allows full convertibility of its currency. Of course, the Chinese have a lot of dollar assets with which to defend their currency from attack, and the sale of the assets and use of the dollar proceeds to support the yuan could knock down the dollar’s exchange value and US bond prices and cause US interest rates and inflation to rise. Still, considering the gangster nature of financial markets in which the US is the heavy player, a country that permits free trading of its currency sets itself up for trouble.

The greatest harm that is being done to the Russian economy is not due to sanctions and the US attack on the ruble. The greatest harm is being done by Russia’s neoliberal economists. Neoliberal economics is not merely incorrect. It is an ideology that fosters US economic imperialism. By following neoliberal prescriptions, Russian economists are helping Washington’s attack on the Russian economy. Apparently, Putin has been sold, along with his internal enemies the Atlanticist integrationists, on “free trade globalism.” Globalism destroys the sovereignty of every country except the world reserve currency country that controls the system. As Michael Hudson has shown, neoliberal economics is “junk economics.” But it is also a tool of American financial imperialism, and this makes neoliberal Russian economists tools of American imperialism.

The remaining sovereign countries are slowly learning that Western economic institutions are deceptive and that placing trust in them is a threat to national sovereignty. Washington intends to subvert Russia and to turn Russia into a vassal state like Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ukraine. If Russia is to survive, Putin must protect Russia from Western economic institutions and Western trained economists.

It is too risky for the US to take on Russia militarily. Instead, Washington is using its unique symbiotic relationship with Western financial institutions to attack an incautious Russia that foolishly opened itself to Western financial predation.

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book The Failure of Laissez-Faire Capitalism. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format.

Weekend Economists Light the Candles December 19-21, 2014

As the year nears its end, we in the Northern Hemisphere are plunged into darkness and varying degrees of cold.

But do not despair! We have many Festivals of Light to choose from in the time of Solstice.

The one that springs to mind first is, of course, Hanukkah, also transliterated as Chanukah, Hanuka, etc.

Hanukkah (/ˈhɑːnəkə/ HAH-nə-kə; Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה, Tiberian: Ḥănukkāh, usually spelled חנוכה, pronounced χanuˈka in Modern Hebrew, ˈχanukə or ˈχanikə in Yiddish; a transliteration also romanized as Chanukah or Chanukkah), also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BCE (before common era). Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched menorah or hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical menorah consists of eight branches with an additional visually distinct branch. The extra light is called a shamash (Hebrew: שמש‎, "attendant") and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for practical use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves for purposes other than publicizing and meditating upon Hanukkah is forbidden.

Other Hanukkah festivities include playing dreidel and eating oil based foods such as doughnuts and latkes.

Hanukkah became more widely celebrated beginning from the 1970s, when Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson called for public awareness of the festival and encouraged the lighting of public menorahs.

The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible); they are considered Jewish apocryphal books. Multiple references to Hanukkah are also made in the Mishna (Bikkurim 1:6, Rosh HaShanah 1:3, Taanit 2:10, Megillah 3:4 and 3:6, Moed Katan 3, and Bava Kama 6:6), though specific laws are not described. The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud, committed to writing about 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees...

The Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus narrates in his book, Jewish Antiquities XII, how the victorious Judas Maccabeus ordered lavish yearly eight-day festivities after rededicating the Temple in Jerusalem that had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Josephus does not say the festival was called Hanukkah but rather the "Festival of Lights":

"Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival. Judas also rebuilt the walls round about the city, and reared towers of great height against the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses that might come from our enemies."


And what were the Maccabees?

When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned brit milah (circumcision) and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple (the sacrifice of pigs to the Greek gods was standard ritual practice in the Ancient Greek religion).

Antiochus's actions provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias (Mattityahu), a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer"). By 166 BC Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

The version of the story in 1 Maccabees states that an eight-day celebration of songs and sacrifices was proclaimed upon re-dedication of the altar, and makes no specific mention of the miracle of the oil.

I claim no expertise or scholarship on this subject...feel free to contribute, correct or discuss.

Elizabeth Warren just got the kiss of death--David Brooks wrote favorably about her!



...Her biggest adult fight has been against the banks, against what she saw as their rapacious exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. The crucial distinction Warren makes is this one: It’s not just social conditions like globalization and technological change that threaten the middle class. It’s an active conspiracy by the rich and powerful. The game is rigged. The proper response is not just policy-making; it’s indignation and combat.

The political class has been wondering if Warren, a United States senator from Massachusetts, will take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. This speculation is usually based on the premise that Warren couldn’t actually win, but that she could move the party in her direction. But, today, even for those of us who disagree with Warren fundamentally, it seems clear that she does have a significant and growing chance of being nominated. Her chances are rising because of that word “fight.” The emotional register of the Democratic Party is growing more combative. There’s an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat.

...In this era of bad feelings, parties are organized more around what they oppose rather than what they are for. Republicans are against government. Democrats are coalescing around opposition to Wall Street and corporate power. In 2001, 51 percent of Democrats were dissatisfied with the rise of corporate power, according to Gallup surveys. By 2011, 79 percent of Democrats were. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month, 58 percent of Democrats said they believed that the economic and political systems were stacked against them. Clinton is obviously tough, but she just can’t speak with a clear voice against Wall Street and Washington insiders. Warren’s wing shows increasing passion and strength, both in opposing certain Obama nominees and in last week’s budget fight.

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.

$1tn cost of longest US war hastens retreat from military intervention


The Afghanistan war, the longest overseas conflict in American history, has cost the US taxpayer nearly $1tn and will require spending several hundred billion dollars more after it officially ends this month, according to Financial Times calculations and independent researchers.

Around 80 per cent of that spending on the Afghanistan conflict has taken place during the presidency of Barack Obama, who sharply increased the US military presence in the country after taking office in 2009...

...With the Iraq war having already cost the US $1.7tn, according to one study, the bill from the Afghanistan conflict is an important factor in the broader reluctance among the American public and the Obama administration to intervene militarily in other parts of the world — including sending troops back to Iraq...

...Adjusted for inflation, Mr Sopko (John Sopko, the government’s special inspector-general for Afghanistan) said the amount the US had spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan was more than the cost of the Marshall Plan to rebuild western Europe....“We simply cannot lose this amount of money again,” he said. “The American people will not put up with it.” ...The future bill from the Afghan war is likely to run into hundreds of billions of dollars more. The Pentagon has indicated it wants funding of $120bn for 2016-19 for operations in Afghanistan, although the eventual cost will depend on the future mission that the White House decides on...As well as further interest payments, the health bills will start to rise dramatically, especially once veterans from the war reach their 60s and begin to use more medical services...forecasts future medical and disability costs for veterans from both Iraq and Afghanistan will reach $836bn over the coming decades. The two wars have also added to the Pentagon’s fast-growing pension bill: the military pension system has an unfunded liability of $1.27tn, which is expected to rise to $2.72tn by 2034.

Read more: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/14be0e0c-8255-11e4-ace7-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Fhome_us%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct#slide0

How Many Enemies Does America Want? Congress Sacrifices U.S. Security W/New Sanctions Against Russia


Congress long ago learned that public scrutiny makes it harder to pass bad bills. So on Thursday in the midst of negotiations to avoid another government shut-down both houses of Congress rammed through new sanctions against Russia, the misnamed “Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.”

Indeed, the House version, H.R. 5859, was introduced earlier the same day and approved by a sparse crowd late at night. The Senate legislation, S. 2828, passed on a voice vote. The measures sanction Russian weapons exports and oil production imports, and financial institutions which facilitate the such transactions; target Gazprom if it “is withholding significant” gas supplies from specified states; provide money to “strengthen democratic institutions and political and civil society organizations” in Russia; bar the lifting of sanctions so long as Moscow supports groups undermining “the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine”; boost financial transfers to Kiev; order U.S. officials to work with Ukraine to solve such problems as electricity and fuel shortages; authorize weapons transfers to Kiev; and increase funds for government Russian-language broadcasting services.

Congress appears determined to turn an adversary into a forthright enemy and encourage retaliation against more significant American interests. Observed my Cato Institute colleague Emma Ashford: “the provisions in this bill will make it all the more difficult to find a negotiated settlement to the Ukraine crisis, or to find a way to salvage any form of productive U.S.-Russia relationship. No wonder Congress didn’t want to debate it openly.” President Barack Obama expressed some concerns about the bill, but is expected to sign it.

Unfortunately, the legislation offers a belligerent foretaste of what to expect from the incoming Republican Senate. The legislation’s chief sponsor was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), slated to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His earlier proposal, “The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” was even more confrontational, providing for greater sanctions on Russia, more military aid for Ukraine, and intelligence sharing with Kiev; conferring “major non-NATO ally status” on Georgia and Moldova as well as Ukraine; expanding “training, assistance and defense cooperation” with Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as Kiev; mandating non-recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea; and subsidizing energy development in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. As chairman he is likely to encourage equally misguided military meddling elsewhere...


Weekend Economists Second the Notion! December 12-14, 2014

Well, as mentioned last weekend, we are celebrating the season in all its (Christian) variation, on the premise that most people are familiar with some of the ritual, legend, history that has accreted to it, but perhaps not all.

Last weekend coincided with the Feast of St. Nicholas, whose schtick was gifts in stockings, shoes or boots for the kiddies, and whose territory was mainly the once-Catholic Empire of Europe. This weekend is the Feast of St. Lucia or Lucy, whose origins are much more pagan and whose reach is much less widespread...

Saint Lucy's Day is on 13 December, in Advent. Her feast once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feastday has become a festival of light. St. Lucy’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia, where it is a major feast day, and even in Italy with each emphasizing a different aspect of the story. This feast is particularly seen in Scandinavian countries, with their long dark winters. There, a person dressed in a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In both Norway and Sweden, girls (or sometimes boys) dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung. It is said that to vividly celebrate St. Lucy's Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light.

In Italy, the Saint Lucy's Day is a church feast day dedicated to Lucia of Syracuse (d.304), also known as Saint Lucy, and is observed on 13 December. A special devotion to St. Lucy is practiced in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the North of the country, and Sicily, in the South, as well as in Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Lucy%27s_Day

The Scandinavian Lucia festivities include Lussekatter, cookies in the shape of cat's tails

Today is December 13 and in Sweden we celebrate the life of Saint Lucia, a fourth-century Italian martyr. There are many different stories about Saint Lucia but the most common story told is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome who lived in hiding in catacombs under the city. To light the way she wore a wreath of candles on her head so both of her hands were free to carry things. December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the old Julian Calendar (winter solstice today is on December 21st), and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.

While Saint Lucia is not an official holiday, it is often celebrated by the entire town. Offices, schools, churches, and community groups select their own “Lucia”. She is dressed in white with a red sash around her waist and wears a crown of candles (ljuskrona) on her head. She is accompanied by other girls dressed in white, each holding a candle, and a procession of “star boys,” (“stjärngossar”), who wear cone-shaped hats and carry wands with stars on the end. Boys also occasionally dress up as Santa’s elves (tomtenissar) and gingerbread cookies (pepparkaksgubbar) and they all join in to sing Lucia songs. A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and nursing homes to sing songs and give out treats. Lucia’s day symbolically starts the Christmas celebrations in Sweden, bringing hope and light during the darkest months of the year.

A holiday isn’t complete without fika. Gingerbread cookies (pepparkakor), saffron buns (lussekatter), coffee (kaffe), and mulled wine (glögg) with raisins (russin) and almonds (mandel) are proper for the occasion...http://livintheswedelife.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/luciadagen/

Necessity is the mother of invention...and it's DARK in Scandinavia in winter solstice! If the sun shines at all, it's for less than 6 hours at the southern-most point, and not at all at the Polar Circle and points north...

Saint Lucy is one of the few saints celebrated by the overwhelmingly Lutheran Nordic people — Danes; Swedes; Finns and Norwegians (who call her Lucia) but also in USA and Canada and Italy. The St. Lucy's Day celebrations retain many indigenous Germanic pagan, pre-Christian midwinter elements. Some of the practices associated with the day predate the adoption of Christianity in Scandinavia, and like much of Scandinavian folklore and even religiosity, is centered on the annual struggle between light and darkness.

The Nordic observation of St. Lucy is first attested in the Middle Ages, and continued after the Protestant Reformation in the 1520s and 1530s, although the modern celebration is only about 200 years old. It is likely that tradition owes its popularity in the Nordic countries to the extreme change in daylight hours between the seasons in this region.

The pre-Christian holiday of Yule, or jól, was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Originally the observance of the winter solstice, and the rebirth of the sun, it brought about many practices that remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today. The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings, but also the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark.

13 December

It was commonly believed in Scandinavia as late as until the mid 18th century that this was the longest night of the year, coinciding with Winter Solstice. The same can be seen in the poem "A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day" by the English poet John Donne. While this does not hold for our current Gregorian calendar, a discrepancy of 8 days would have been the case in the Julian calendar during the 14th century, resulting in Winter solstice falling on December 13. With the original adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century the discrepancy was 10 days and had increased to 11 days in the 18th century when Scandinavia adopted the new calendar, with Winter solstice falling on December 9.

It is very difficult to tell the exact date of the Winter solstice without modern equipment (although the Neolithic builders of the Newgrange monument seem to have managed it). The day itself is not visibly shorter than the several days leading up to and following it and although the actual Julian date of Winter solstice would have been on the December 15 or 14 at the time when Christianity was introduced to Scandinavia, December 13 could well have lodged in peoples mind as being the shortest day. The choice of 13 December as Saint Lucy's day, however, obviously predates the 8 day error of the 14th century Julian calendar. This date is attested in the pre-Tridentic Monastic calendar, probably going back to the earliest attestations of her life in the 6th and 7th centuries, and it is the date used throughout Europe.

At the time of Saint Lucy's death, Winter solstice fell on December 21 and the date of the birth of Christ on the 25th. The latter was also celebrated as being the day when the Sun was born, the birthday of Sol Invictus, as can be seen in the Chronography of 354. This latter date was thought by the Romans to be the Winter solstice and it is natural to think of the sun being born that day. Early Christians considered this a likely date for their saviour's nativity, as it was commonly held that the world was created on Spring equinox (thought to fall on March 25 at the time), and that Christ had been conceived on that date, being born 9 months later on Winter solstice.


Lussinatta, the Lussi Night, was marked in Sweden December 13. Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a female demon or witch, was said to ride through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda. This itself might be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, called Oskoreia in Scandinavia, found across Northern, Western and Central Europe.

Between Lussi Night and Yule, trolls and evil spirits, in some accounts also the spirits of the dead, were thought to be active outside. It was believed to be particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. According to tradition, children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits was said to come riding through the night around Yule itself, journeying through the air, over land and water.

You could say, this is the darker side of the season.

St. Lucy

According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but died when she was five years old, leaving Lucy and her mother without a protective guardian. Although no sources for her life-story exist other than in hagiographies, St. Lucy, whose name Lucia refers to "light" (Lux, lucis), is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a sad death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend first compiled in the 13th century, a widespread and influential compendium of saint's biographies, records her story thus: She was seeking help for her mother's long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucy became a devout Christian, refused to compromise her virginity in marriage and was denounced to the Roman authorities by the man she would have wed. They threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking, insisting that her death would lessen the fear of it for other Christians and bring grief to non-believers. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop these denouncements, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Saint Lucy was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrament. All the details of her life are the conventional ones associated with female martyrs of the early 4th century. John Henry Blunt views her story as a Christian romance similar to the Acts of other virgin martyrs. In another story, Saint Lucy was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during the terror under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head.

There is little evidence that the legend itself derives from the folklore of northern Europe, but the similarities in the names ("Lussi" and "Lucia"), and the date of her festival, December 13, suggest that two separate traditions may have been brought together in the modern-day celebrations in Scandinavia.

Lyrics in Swedish:
Sankta Lucia, ljusklara hägring,
sprid i vår vinternatt glans av din fägring.
Drömmar med vingesus under oss sia,
tänd dina vita ljus, Sankta Lucia.

Kom i din vita skrud, huld med din maning.
Skänk oss, du julens brud, julfröjders aning.
Drömmar med vingesus, under oss sia,
tänd dina vita ljus, Sankta Lucia.

English (sorry it's a bit of a poor translation):

Saint Lucia, bright clear mirage,
spread in our winter splendor of your beauty.
Dreams with wings rustling, over us prophesy,
light your white candles, Santa Lucia.

Get your white robe, gracious with your call.
Give us, you Christmas Bride, an idea of Christmas.
Dreams with wings rustling over us prophesy,
light your white candles, Santa Lucia.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like the Weekend! Weekend Economists December 5-7, 2014

Apologies all for my tardy start! I was off at the annual Xmas Party/Support Group for people who work on or with Condo Boards....To confer, converse, and otherwise hob-nob with my brother wizards...er, sister officers...about the vagaries and strategies for herding the human cats we try to guide, protect and educate. We shut the place down (because I got to the party late, too. Some people do have to work on Fridays...)

As Xchrom requested, we are in the month of Christmas, or Xmas, the alternate spelling I will use in X's honor....

Xmas is a common abbreviation of the word Christmas. It is sometimes pronounced /ˈɛksməs/, but it, and variants such as Xtemass, originated as handwriting abbreviations for the typical pronunciation /ˈkrɪsməs/. The "-mas" part is from the Latin-derived Old English word for Mass, while the "X" comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός which comes into English as "Christ".

There is a common misconception that the word Xmas stems from a secular attempt to remove the religious tradition from Christmas by taking the "Christ" out of "Christmas", but its use dates back to the 16th century.

Use in English

Early use of "Xmas" includes Bernard Ward's History of St. Edmund's college, Old Hall (originally published circa 1755). An earlier version, "X'temmas", dates to 1551. Around 1100 the term was written as "Xp̄es mæsse" in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. "Xmas" is found in a letter from George Woodward in 1753. Lord Byron used the term in 1811, as did Samuel Coleridge (1801) and Lewis Carroll (1864).

In the United States, the fifth edition of the Royal Standard English Dictionary, published in Boston in 1800, included in its list of "Explanations of Common Abbreviations, or Contraction of Words" the entry: "Xmas. Christmas." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. used the term in a letter dated 1923. Since at least the late 19th century, "Xmas" has been in use in various other English-language nations. Quotations with the word can be found in texts first written in Canada, and the word has been used in Australia and in the Caribbean. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage stated that modern use of the term is largely limited to advertisements, headlines and banners, where its conciseness is valued. The association with commerce "has done nothing for its reputation", according to the dictionary.

In the United Kingdom, the former Church of England Bishop of Blackburn, Alan Chesters, recommended to his clergy that they avoid the spelling. In the United States, in 1977 New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson sent out a press release saying that he wanted journalists to keep the "Christ" in Christmas, and not call it Xmas—which he called a "pagan" spelling of Christmas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xmas

Ah, poor old Meldrim! He was governor when I first moved to NH. He was famous for his public mood swings: he would order the flags at half-mast whenever anyone in Washington, DC did something of which he did not approve...as he was Tea Party before there even was such a thing, the flags spent a lot of time drooping. I cannot recall if he ever ordered them flown upside down, which is the signal of distress...

Use of "X" for "Christ"

The labarum, often called the Chi-Rho, is a Christian symbol representing Christ.

The abbreviation of Christmas as "Xmas" is the source of disagreement among Christians who observe the holiday. Dennis Bratcher, writing for a website for Christians, states "there are always those who loudly decry the use of the abbreviation 'Xmas' as some kind of blasphemy against Christ and Christianity". Among them are evangelist Franklin Graham and CNN journalist Roland S. Martin. Graham stated in an interview:

"for us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They're happy to say merry Xmas. Let's just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ."

Martin likewise relates the use of "Xmas" to his growing concerns of increasing commercialization and secularization of one of Christianity's highest holy days. Bratcher posits that those who dislike abbreviating the word are unfamiliar with a long history of Christians using X in place of "Christ" for various purposes.

The word "Christ" and its compounds, including "Christmas", have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern "Xmas" was commonly used. "Christ" was often written as "Xρ" or "Xt"; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ (Ch) and ρ (R) used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for "Christ"), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters rendered as ☧, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of "X-" or "Xp-" for "Christ-" as early as 1485. The terms "Xtian" and less commonly "Xpian" have also been used for "Christian". The OED further cites usage of "Xtianity" for "Christianity" from 1634. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from "educated Englishmen who knew their Greek".

In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ's name. In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, Χ is an abbreviation for Χριστος, as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek, using the lunate sigma); compare IC for Jesus in Greek...wikipedia

In fact, the entire Nativity story was lifted wholesale from previous religious traditions. Only the names were changed... The Catholic Church was fond of making pagans feel at home by co-opting their "heathen" beliefs into the Holy Mother Church.

When I was a girl (in a previous life) I attended catechism classes, in which the very thought of St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, was poo-pooed. I suspect this was a result of the schism that split the Church into the Roman and the Orthodox branches. You see, Nicholas was a Greek bishop based in Turkey, in the Byzantine franchise, so to speak. Not exactly kosher with St. Peter's Basilica...although they didn't totally disown him. Perhaps they only disowned the "commercialism"? As I said, it was a previous life...

So let's start the celebrations!

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is a Christmas song written in 1951 by Meredith Willson. The song was originally titled "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas". The song has been recorded by many artists, but was a hit for Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters with Mitchell Ayres & His Orchestra on September 10, 1951, and released on RCA Victor as 47-4314 (45 rpm) and 20-4314 (78 rpm). Bing Crosby recorded a version on October 1, 1951, which was also widely played.

A popular belief in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, holds that Willson wrote the song while staying in Yarmouth's Grand Hotel. The song makes reference to a "tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well..."; the park being Frost Park, directly across the road from the Grand Hotel, which still operates in a newer building on the same site as the old hotel.

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" was later incorporated into the pre-Broadway version of the score of Willson's 1963 musical Here's Love and can be heard on that show's original cast recording, where it is sung in counterpoint to a new melody and lyric, "Pinecones and Holly Berries."

Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for their 1961 album Christmas with The Chipmunks and 1981 album A Chipmunk Christmas.

In 1986, Johnny Mathis recorded "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" for his album Christmas Eve with Johnny Mathis; this version gained popularity after its inclusion in the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Gradually, Mathis' recording began to receive wide radio airplay, and for the past several years this version has been a Top 10 Christmas hit.

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is featured in the DVD version of Very Merry Christmas Songs, which is part of the Disney Sing Along Songs franchise.

In 2007 the song was used for adverts for Argos.

In 2008, the song was used for television Christmas adverts for the UK supermarket Asda.

In 2009 the song was covered by Connie Talbot.

In 2011, Michael Bublé covered the song and released it on his holiday album, Christmas.

In 2014, the song was covered by Union J and was released as a B-side to their single "You Got It All" and was included on their album You Got It All – The Album.


And of course, Dean Martin....you may remember Meredith Willson as the composer for The Music Man!

The US Government's Fundamental Flaw: Government by Exception

When our Founding Fathers (and I can't tell you how much I resent the fact that NOT ONE woman was ever consulted or included in the process) created a new nation, they sought to ensure that NO ONE was above the law: that all men were created equal before God and the law.

This laudable goal was swiftly subverted by the slave owners, who would stand to lose all their capital investment (in other people's productivity) as well as their power to terrorize the hapless. The Civil War partially and unevenly rectified some of this power imbalance, but the job is not done.

Today, after 200+ years of experimentation and experience, it's time to go back to the first principles of the Constitution and the Enlightenment in general, and do a Constitution 2.0:


The first thing this would do is establish some basic minimums below which no law could dig holes in people's lives. The first area of equality would be FINANCIAL:

1. Taxation: the definition of income would be all inclusive. Didn't matter where it came from. The Rich (or as I call them, the Obscenely Wealthy) would be taxed on all income from any source during their lifetimes, and when their heirs inherit those heirs would be taxed as well...WITHOUT FAIL! Modest annual gift-giving to family would be tax-exempt. Provisions for the disabled would shelter a true living income, but all extra would be taxed.

2. The definition of NON-TAXABLE income would apply to ALL people, and it would refer to the first XXXX dollars per household, a number that would be determined by the cost of living for each person in the household. Anything above the cost of basic survival: food, clothing, shelter, medical expenses, education, and retirement savings; would be taxed.

Employment costs: travel and transportation, dependent care, work-related equipment, special wardrobe, etc. could be itemized and deducted, to a modest limit, for ALL people full or part-time workers, not just business owners.

This puts a floor under everybody below which the government cannot force a household into poverty, nor restrict their share of the national income, nor make employment unaffordable for families with dependents, nor force the able adults into neglect or institutionalization of their dependents in order to survive at all.

The amounts allotted to each category will be CURRENT: no more defining today's poverty levels in terms of 20 years ago, when costs were much less, average wages were tiny, and the value of the dollar was so much higher.

If due to medical conditions, a household's medical cost was higher that the "average", this would raise the economic base non-taxable income of the household. Ditto educational expenses.

3. EVERYONE would be able to save. They would all have enough to live on, and a little more...if they didn't save a minimum, the unsaved allotment would be taxed. If they didn't have the minimum to save, their savings account (which could be accessed only under specified conditions) would be credited with the annual savings amount.

4.The average cost of rent in the local market, determined annually by {value of property/years of useful life/number of properties in the locale}, would set the "mortgage deduction"; all extra housing costs would be taxable. Ditto for energy costs. Ditto for any other deduction: the limits would be set by reasonable, current levels of expense, not some random number from 1955.

5. Under this basic economic scheme, we could go to Universal Single Payer for a level of medical care that covers "average" people. Those with severe expenses would get additional care, from USP. Those with "purely cosmetic" issues would pay out of taxed income. If you don't need it to stay physically healthy and alive, it's optional, and you pay for it. (The insurance companies can sell coverage for future cosmetic surgery; they will be locked out of the health insurance business altogether forever.)

The goal is to ensure a life-and hope-sustaining minimum family income--and in a way that is much more responsive to economic reality than anything Nixon ever dreamed of, a basic income that puts a floor under the American dream.

This would be very different from current tax law, which has lots of loopholes for the Rich, none for the ordinary. And if the basic household needs cannot be met by income, the government will have to make up the difference in real money. The reckoning would be at least annual, perhaps more frequently for families in serious distress, but the support must be SUPPORT, not charity, and not capricious. We must show some basic humanity to our fellow men and women and children, whoever they are, wherever they are, to eliminate the barriers of poverty. No more keeping people oppressed in economic cages.

The second area of equality would be LAW:

1. The Bill of Rights must be made the law of the land, with suitable added clarity to eliminate current abuses by government of the People.

2. The courts must be regulated. No longer can they be bought and sold, subverted and captured by Special Interests. The People should be able to be the Ultimate Authority for laws that govern the People as a body via National Referenda. For individuals, the courts will have to follow the law (which they haven't been doing much, lately).

The Third area of equality would be FOREIGN POLICY AND TRADE:

I do not have a prescription for this area, as it is not something I have studied enough to have an informed opinion about. All I know is we are being screwed over with Endless War, ridiculous trade policies that are giving away our national economy to other nations, immigration abuses of amazing creativity, and the like. Our nation needs Ego Boundaries more than the panic about "secure borders" that some like to invoke. We need some humility and fairness in our dealings with other nations; we need to get off the Empire delusion and into the World of Equals mode. And we need to dethrone the Corporate Kleptocracy, the Cronies that buy and sell people and nations, the Banksters, the unelected dictators.

Then we can do our Founding Fathers and Mothers justice.

Stop what you are doing....and go see citizenfour!

This real-time documentary by Linda Poitras brings you there as Edward Snowden undertakes his perilous mission to bring the Truth to We the People, and We the World.

It was gripping. I'm glad I skived off work.

The story is told in chronological, unrelenting order, and we meet the principal players. There's even a surprise ending.

I found that while I've been following the story as best I can, there's so much more to it.

This is your chance to get a complete version!

Stop what you are doing....and go see citizenfour!

This real-time documentary by Linda Poitras brings you there as Edward Snowden undertakes his perilous mission to bring the Truth to We the People, and We the World.

It was gripping. I'm glad I skived off work.

The story is told in chronological, unrelenting order, and we meet the principal players. There's even a surprise ending.

I found that while I've been following the story as best I can, there's so much more to it.

This is your chance to get a complete version!
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