“I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”Emile Gauvreau

If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun. November and December retail sales account for 20% to 40% of annual retail sales for most retailers. The number of visits to retail stores has plummeted by 50% since 2010. Please note this was during a supposed economic recovery. Also note consumer spending accounts for 70% of GDP. Also note credit card debt outstanding is 7% lower than its level in 2010 and 16% below its peak in 2008. Retailers like J.C. Penney, Best Buy, Sears, Radio Shack and Barnes & Noble continue to report appalling sales and profit results, along with listings of store closings. Even the heavyweights like Wal-Mart and Target continue to report negative comp store sales. How can the government and mainstream media be reporting an economic recovery when the industry that accounts for 70% of GDP is in free fall? The answer is that 99% of America has not had an economic recovery. Only Bernanke’s 1% owner class have benefited from his QE/ZIRP induced stock market levitation.

The entire economic recovery storyline is a sham built upon easy money funneled by the Fed to the Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks so they can use their HFT supercomputers to drive the stock market higher, buy up the millions of homes they foreclosed upon to artificially drive up home prices, and generate profits through rigging commodity, currency, and bond markets, while reducing loan loss reserves because they are free to value their toxic assets at anything they please – compliments of the spineless nerds at the FASB. GDP has been artificially propped up by the Federal government through the magic of EBT cards, SSDI for the depressed and downtrodden, never ending extensions of unemployment benefits, billions in student loans to University of Phoenix prodigies, and subprime auto loans to deadbeats from the Government Motors financing arm – Ally Financial (85% owned by you the taxpayer). The country is being kept afloat on an ocean of debt and delusional belief in the power of central bankers to steer this ship through a sea of icebergs just below the surface.

The absolute collapse in retail visitor counts is the warning siren that this country is about to collide with the reality Americans have run out of time, money, jobs, and illusions. The most amazingly delusional aspect to the chart above is retailers continued to add 44 million square feet in 2013 to the almost 15 billion existing square feet of retail space in the U.S. That is approximately 47 square feet of retail space for every person in America. Retail CEOs are not the brightest bulbs in the sale bin, as exhibited by the CEO of Target and his gross malfeasance in protecting his customers’ personal financial information. Of course, the 44 million square feet added in 2013 is down 85% from the annual increases from 2000 through 2008. The exponential growth model, built upon a never ending flow of consumer credit and an endless supply of cheap fuel, has reached its limit of growth. The titans of Wall Street and their puppets in Washington D.C. have wrung every drop of faux wealth from the dying middle class. There are nothing left but withering carcasses and bleached bones.

The impact of this retail death spiral will be vast and far reaching. A few factoids will help you understand the coming calamity:

  • There are approximately 109,500 shopping centers in the United States ranging in size from the small convenience centers to the large super-regional malls.
  • There are in excess of 1 million retail establishments in the United States occupying 15 billion square feet of space and generating over $4.4 trillion of annual sales. This includes 8,700 department stores, 160,000 clothing & accessory stores, and 8,600 game stores.
  • U.S. shopping-center retail sales total more than $2.26 trillion, accounting for over half of all retail sales.
  • The U.S. shopping-center industry directly employed over 12 million people in 2010 and indirectly generated another 5.6 million jobs in support industries. Collectively, the industry accounted for 12.7% of total U.S. employment.
  • Total retail employment in 2012 totaled 14.9 million, lower than the 15.1 million employed in 2002.
  • For every 100 individuals directly employed at a U.S. regional shopping center, an additional 20 to 30 jobs are supported in the community due to multiplier effects.

The collapse in foot traffic to the 109,500 shopping centers that crisscross our suburban sprawl paradise of plenty is irreversible. No amount of marketing propaganda, 50% off sales, or hot new iGadgets is going to spur a dramatic turnaround. Quarter after quarter there will be more announcements of store closings. Macys just announced the closing of 5 stores and firing of 2,500 retail workers. JC Penney just announced the closing of 33 stores and firing of 2,000 retail workers. Announcements are imminent from Sears, Radio Shack and a slew of other retailers who are beginning to see the writing on the wall. The vacancy rate will be rising in strip malls, power malls and regional malls, with the largest growing sector being ghost malls. Before long it will appear that SPACE AVAILABLE is the fastest growing retailer in America.

The reason this death spiral cannot be reversed is simply a matter of arithmetic and demographics. While arrogant hubristic retail CEOs of public big box mega-retailers added 2.7 billion retail square feet to our already over saturated market, real median household income flat lined. The advancement in retail spending was attributable solely to the $1.1 trillion increase (68%) in consumer debt and the trillion dollars of home equity extracted from castles in the sky, that later crashed down to earth. Once the Wall Street created fraud collapsed and the waves of delusion subsided, retailers have been revealed to be swimming naked. Their relentless expansion, based on exponential growth, cannibalized itself, new store construction ground to a halt, sales and profits have declined, and the inevitable closing of thousands of stores has begun. With real median household income 8% lower than it was in 2008, the collapse in retail traffic is a rational reaction by the impoverished 99%. Americans are using their credit cards to pay their real estate taxes, income taxes, and monthly utilities, since their income is lower, and their living expenses rise relentlessly, thanks to Bernanke and his Fed created inflation.


The media mouthpieces for the establishment gloss over the fact average gasoline prices in 2013 were the second highest in history. The highest average price was in 2012 and the 3rd highest average price was in 2011. These prices are 150% higher than prices in the early 2000’s. This might not matter to the likes of Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine, but for a middle class family with two parents working and making 7.5% less than they made in 2000, it has a dramatic impact on discretionary income. The fact oil prices have risen from $25 per barrel in 2003 to $100 per barrel today has not only impacted gas prices, but utility costs, food costs, and the price of any product that needs to be transported to your local Wally World. The outrageous rise in tuition prices has been aided and abetted by the Federal government and their doling out of loans so diploma mills like the University of Phoenix can bilk clueless dupes into thinking they are on their way to an exciting new career, while leaving them jobless in their parents’ basement with a loan payment for life.


The laughable jobs recovery touted by Obama, his sycophantic minions, paid off economist shills, and the discredited corporate legacy media can be viewed appropriately in the following two charts, that reveal the false storyline being peddled to the techno-narcissistic iGadget distracted masses. There are 247 million working age Americans between the ages of 18 and 64. Only 145 million of these people are employed. Of these employed, 19 million are working part-time and 9 million are self- employed. Another 20 million are employed by the government, producing nothing and being sustained by the few remaining producers with their tax dollars. The labor participation rate is the lowest it has been since women entered the workforce in large numbers during the 1980’s. We are back to levels seen during the booming Carter years. Those peddling the drivel about retiring Baby Boomers causing the decline in the labor participation rate are either math challenged or willfully ignorant because they are being paid to be so. Once you turn 65 you are no longer counted in the work force. The percentage of those over 55 in the workforce has risen dramatically to an all-time high, as the Me Generation never saved for retirement or saw their retirement savings obliterated in the Wall Street created 2008 financial implosion.

To understand the absolute idiocy of retail CEOs across the land one must parse the employment data back to 2000. In the year 2000 the working age population of the U.S. was 213 million and 136.9 million of them were working, a record level of 64.4% of the population. There were 70 million working age Americans not in the labor force. Fourteen years later the number of working age Americans is 247 million and only 144.6 million are working. The working age population has risen by 16% and the number of employed has risen by only 5.6%. That’s quite a success story. Of course, even though median household income is 7.5% lower than it was in 2000, the government expects you to believe that 22 million Americans voluntarily left the labor force because they no longer needed a job. While the number of employed grew by 5.6% over fourteen years, the number of people who left the workforce grew by 31.1%. Over this same time frame the mega-retailers that dominate the landscape added almost 3 billion square feet of selling space, a 25% increase. A critical thinking individual might wonder how this could possibly end well for the retail genius CEOs in glistening corporate office towers from coast to coast.

This entire materialistic orgy of consumerism has been sustained solely with debt peddled by the Wall Street banking syndicate. The average American consumer met their Waterloo in 2008. Bernanke’s mission was to save bankers, billionaires and politicians. It was not to save the working middle class. You’ve been sacrificed at the altar of the .1%. The 0% interest rates were for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. Your credit card interest rate remained between 13% and 21%. So, while you struggle to pay bills with your declining real income, the Wall Street bankers are again generating record profits and paying themselves record bonuses. Profits are so good, they can afford to pay tens of billions in fines for their criminal acts, and still be left with billions to divvy up among their non-prosecuted criminal executives.

Bernanke and his financial elite owners have been able to rig the markets to give the appearance of normalcy, but they cannot rig the demographic time bomb that will cause the death and destruction of our illusory retail paradigm. Demographics cannot be manipulated or altered by the government or mass media. The best they can do is ignore or lie about the facts. The life cycle of a human being is utterly predictable, along with their habits across time. Those under 25 years old have very little income, therefore they have very little spending. Once a job is attained and income levels rise, spending rises along with the increased income. As the person enters old age their income declines and spending on stuff declines rapidly. The media may be ignoring the fact that annual expenditures drop by 40% for those over 65 years old from the peak spending years of 45 to 54, but it doesn’t change the fact. They also cannot change the fact that 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day for the next sixteen years. They also can’t change the fact the average Baby Boomer has less than $50,000 saved for retirement and is up to their grey eye brows in debt.

With over 15% of all 25 to 34 year olds living in their parents’ basement and those under 25 saddled with billions in student loan debt, the traditional increase in income and spending is DOA for the millennial generation. The hardest hit demographic on the job front during the 2008 through 2014 ongoing recession has been the 45 to 54 year olds in their peak earning and spending years. Combine these demographic developments and you’ve got a perfect storm for over-built retailers and their egotistical CEOs.

The media continues to peddle the storyline of on-line sales saving the ancient bricks and mortar retailers. Again, the talking head pundits are willfully ignoring basic math. On-line sales account for 6% of total retail sales. If a dying behemoth like JC Penney announces a 20% decline in same store sales and a 20% increase in on-line sales, their total change is still negative 17.6%. And they are still left with 1,100 decaying stores, 100,000 employees, lease payments, debt payments, maintenance costs, utility costs, inventory costs, and pension costs. Their future is so bright they gotta wear a toe tag.

The decades of mal-investment in retail stores was enabled by Greenspan, Bernanke, and their Federal Reserve brethren. Their easy money policies enabled Americans to live far beyond their true means through credit card debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, and home equity debt. This false illusion of wealth and foolish spending led mega-retailers to ignore facts and spread like locusts across the suburban countryside. The debt fueled orgy has run out of steam. All that is left is the largest mountain of debt in human history, a gutted and debt laden former middle class, and thousands of empty stores in future decaying ghost malls haunting the highways and byways of suburbia.

The implications of this long and winding road to ruin are far reaching. Store closings so far have only been a ripple compared to the tsunami coming to right size the industry for a future of declining spending. Over the next five to ten years, tens of thousands of stores will be shuttered. Companies like JC Penney, Sears and Radio Shack will go bankrupt and become historical footnotes. Considering retail employment is lower today than it was in 2002 before the massive retail expansion, the future will see in excess of 1 million retail workers lose their jobs. Bernanke and the Feds have allowed real estate mall owners to roll over non-performing loans and pretend they are generating enough rental income to cover their loan obligations. As more stores go dark, this little game of extend and pretend will come to an end. Real estate developers will be going belly-up and the banking sector will be taking huge losses again. I’m sure the remaining taxpayers will gladly bailout Wall Street again. The facts are not debatable. They can be ignored by the politicians, Ivy League economists, media talking heads, and the willfully ignorant masses, but they do not cease to exist.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”Aldous Huxley

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  • HomoSapiensWannaBe

    “With real median household income 8% lower than it was in 2008, the collapse in retail traffic is a rational reaction by the impoverished 99%. ”
    C’mon, take a good look at what you said. It doesn’t make any sense, and you know it. While I agree with the gist of your article, there are plenty of people above median income levels — but not in the stratospheric 1% — who have money to burn and are still spending it freely. I don’t know at what income percentile people begin to get cautious in their spending, but it’s far below the 99% mark. Saying “the impoverished 99%” just sounds ridiculous and takes away from the otherwise powerful impact of what you write.

    • Tonto

      “Saying “the impoverished 99%” just sounds ridiculous […]”

      B-I-N-G-O Sounds REALLY RIDICULOUS! This is the ready-made bullshit laden excuse for those who are daily giving up their lives (and those of their children) to welfare and dope.

      The Democrats (who are now for the most part full-fledged socialists) want everyone unarmed, high and dope and dependent on welfare.

      Every other word out of Carl Herman’s mouth on this site is either 1% or 99% It gets nauseating watching this slow-motion GW blog propaganda to nowhere and nothingness.

      And that slimeball Carl Herman works as the education sinecure racket as a teacher somewhere, grafting the public dole in a do-nothing government job.

      • pathman25

        Yeah, the democrats are full fledged socialists for the banksters and MIC. For the little people, not so much.

  • cettel

    What a great post, JimQ. Wow!

    • sufferingsuccatash

      You’re right cettel about JQ—–He falls into the Tea Party dogma—recognizes the corporate corruption and the failing economy—but offers that government is useless freeloading and free markets are good; a myth that provides the illusion of liberty and freedom for these political neophytes. In the end the TP’s and the Jim Qs are advocating for political systems and economic systems that will strip them of their freedom and liberty and embed fascism throughout the political/economic structure.

  • Tonto

    The article uses almost every stereotypical depression cliche in modern usage today, though well enough to draw a positive response from the crowd here. The conclusions are fuzzy though, and entirely wrong however. Here in this quote the article implies something that is truly horrifying about the American ethic today.

    “The 0% interest rates were for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. Your credit card interest rate remained between 13% and 21%”

    Is the article implying Americans should be able to borrow money at 0%? OMFG! The collapse is in full swing, but this fool has not learned the necessary lesson yet. I am a young boomer, 64. I have six-figures in the bank. But here’s the key. I have NEVER had a loan or even a credit card in my life.

    I have not worked in ten years. I dabble here and there is all now, mostly because of our stagnant economy, which is mired in too much debt. For me, everything is about my health though. That’s what happens to everyone eventually as they get older. I exercise daily, and strenuously, swimming a mile a day five says a week, and I do isometric exercises all through the week. I watch the content of what I eat. I have not seen a doctor in thirty-five years. I do not plan on ever seeing a doctor again, other than my dentist.

    And honestly, things have never been better, even at 64. You think I am fooling. I swim a mile in just about 32 minutes, night after night. Not one in 250,000 Americans can do that, and probably not one in a million can do it. I am 64.

    And recently I read about Obama wanting to raise the minimum wage. That will only create more unemployment and much more inflation. It will make all that many more workers, minimum wage workers. And it will put many more of those workers into the unemployment line, where the spiral of welfare dependency begins for so many. Minimum wage will buy less after it is raised. That has happened historically every time the minimum wage has been raised.

    But the idiots here support that.

    I read how Obama thinks dope should be legalized, because it unfairly effects minorities! Dope is a fucking civil rights issue! And most of the assholes here agree with that too. They think dope should be legal, because they like dope. They’re all brilliant! They’re brilliant and full of shit too.

    Look people. The economy is alive and well, or, at least the underlying fundamentals of what can make an economy strong are still the same. What’s killed the economy is all the debt, all the taxes and all the money printing that is giving us inflation as disposable income has plummeted due to rising debt schemes in the marketplace, and government taxes on everything.

    And lastly what is killing the economy is all the socialist finger pointing, which serves to give young people and piss-poor excuse for their inability to make a living. These socialist dupes think they can do a more popular job now that the economy is sitting in the tank. The socialists are not saying they can do as well as 1976, 1964, or even 1945. But they’re trying to convince the populist morons that they can do better than what is going on today.

    Trust me, you would not like what the socialists are offering as an alternative. Yes, dope would be legal. Your kids will be getting high on the school playground starting at about age six. Why? Because dope is easy to grow. And once it’s legal, dope will be everywhere, and no one will be able to stop it from being everywhere. Dope is most like a plague.

    There will be zero social mobility in that supposed socialist society. And socialist societies are always feigned. If you are stuck on the bottom wrung, you won’t be able to differentiate yourself from the average doped-up scumbag. Everything will be force-fed to you. You won’t have a single goddamned choice about anything. There won’t be anything but potatoes and cheap white bread in the supermarkets. And some days there won’t even be potatoes and cheap white bread because no one will have an incentive to get those potatoes and that white bread into the supermarket you frequent.

    Obama has led the country into a quagmire of socialist idiocy. He wants you to believe your decisions should be based on what the government tells you is good for you. Legalizing dope is going to be good for the country? And the continued printing of free money for the banks and the welfare class is supposed to be good for you too.

    It’s all just shit they are throwing at us. Get back into the swing of things. Become a businessman, like me, and throw you hat in the ring. Times are tough, but the opportunity to differentiate yourself is still there. Don’t let them destroy free enterprise in America by pointing their crooked fingers at the mythical 1%

    No. Make something of yourselves. And skip the dope. Your health is far too important. Your health is worth a hundred million dollars when it comes right down to it. I see so many kids making unwaise choices today, it makes me want to scream. Be successful god damn it!

    • Trueofvoice

      Lots of moral sentiment, but no economics. A poor argument.

  • Ian56

    The article needs to take account of the growth in internet sales before it has any validity.

    • WrenchMonkey


      “The media continues to peddle the storyline of on-line sales saving the ancient bricks and mortar retailers. Again, the talking head pundits are willfully ignoring basic math. On-line sales account for 6% of total retail sales. If a dying behemoth like JC Penney announces a 20% decline in same store sales and a 20% increase in on-line sales, their total change is still negative 17.6%. And they are still left with 1,100 decaying stores, 100,000 employees, lease payments, debt payments, maintenance costs, utility costs, inventory costs, and pension costs.
      Their future is so bright they gotta wear a toe tag.”

  • ZombieDawg

    It seems strange doesn’t it, but it’s just a case of people, developers, business men, politicians etc doing what they’ve always done and that is do what they know how to do. Reality doesn’t get a look in sideways ! Normalcy Bias and Cognitive Dissonance at their best !
    eg If developers actually looked and understood what was happening in the big bad world they wouldn’t bother building new malls and car parks. Why would you !
    But no, off they go with their “reality deflecting” hats on, pretending everything’s ok or will be soon.
    Oh boy, it’s going to be helluva wake up call for them all isn’t it.

    • I found this:

      ALDI is a food store, all the ones I’ve been in have only 4 aisles, way less choice (who needs choice anyway?), usually there’s 2 people working there, the cashier and a casher/stocker, no bags and no “cart associates”, bring your own bags and you get a quarter back for bringing your own cart back. And the food prices are SIGNIFICANTLY lower. (no, I don’t work for nor am I pimping ALDI’s 🙂 ). People will go where the prices are lower when you have less money, that’s pretty simple.

  • jadan

    The situation is not complicated. The FIRE economy as Michael Hudson calls Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate, is bleeding the productive economy dry. Finance is essentially usury. Insurance is a con game guaranteed by law. Real Estate demands excessive rents. The predators at the top of the pyramid create debt peons of those below them to satisfy their lust for profits. Reduce debt and you restore economic activity. Declare a national debt jubilee. That’s how the ancient world dealt with slacking demand and impoverishment of the many by the few. Release people from the burden of debt and the wheels with begin to spin again. Of course, this would destroy the TBTF banks and create unemployment on Wall Street. Good! It is Wall Street to blame for the impoverishment of the masses anyway. Good riddance. Its been some time since Wall Street provided any useful function.

    • pathman25

      Nicely stated. Thank you.

    • Dan Tohatan

      Yes indeed. You had me thinking about Jesus for a second. You know what they did to him. You know what he did to them. But this time there will be no martyrs. TPTB say so themselves. People need to forgive themselves.

  • And don’t forget this HUGE trend I don’t believe anyone’s talking about: people who ARE spending money have shifted to ALDI for food and dollar stores for everything else. That must also account for the nosedive of higher priced stores. Are there any stats on that? People shifting from higher priced stores to ALDI & dollar stores?

  • Starlarvae

    Coupla points: Supply-side economics ain’t working — at least not for the middle class and the poor. But it’s working beautifully for the already rich. A demand-side approach (putting coin in the pockets of consumers) is the way out — demand will spur production expansion. (Who’s going to build factories and hire employees when the customers for the products don’t have the money to buy the products?) But a general economic recovery and resumption of growth is the last thing that the already-rich want. Once that pesky middle class feels financially secure, it starts getting uppity. So, keep a lid on it.

    Secondly, running in parallel with the meme of economic recovery is the contradictory meme of “the new normal,” with its corollary, “the end of innovation”. See Tyler Cowan’s book, “The Great Stagnation”, and Don Peck’s “Pinched.” Also, Larry Summers and Paul Krugman are on this bandwagon, which essentially says that we’ve hit a technological wall, and so get used to a stagnant standard of living, it’s the New Normal. (Needless to say, the new normal does not apply to the already rich; their share of the stagnant pie continues to grow.)

  • gozounlimited

    Progress Report…….. Cali has successfully fought off the chemtrail cowboys…. see here: Just some activity again over the SF Bay Area. The geoenginners are so desperate they are creating chemtrailed high pressure in the central Pacific (where we can’t reach them) causing Arctic air to flow down into the rest of the country. This pattern is not going to stop until they stop creating it. And we are not going to stop protecting ourselves….. SO STANDOFF! Hey wallstreet…. better cover your skin when you go out ….just takes a minute to freeze your ugly-ass face off. HAHAHA

    • gozounlimited

      If you want to use a fan to boost your white vinegar performance…… be sure the fan is facing (blowing) East.If you face it toward the West you trap the chemtrail chemicals around you. Place your ( humidifier), device behind the fan so it draws in the negative ions rather than in front. Never use a heated air vaporizer…… it crystallizes the vinegar, jams up the machine.

  • Golden Patriot

    These doom and gloom neo-conservative apologists go to great lengths to blame some imaginary mass of humanity that is getting over easy, on “my goddamn money”, or some other psychotic outburst. All the pensions have been obliterated, what was left to rip off ? Not much, nail ’em up with plywood in middle ‘Murica. Malls are fine in the chosen areas, where the money flows like wine with the rich luxuriate in their gated castle communities.
    There’s a lot of the country that looks like 3rd world kill zones because of the vampire hedge fund pigs, incidentally it’s they who demand welfare tribute and endless credit. How’s that for socialism, ya greasy neo-ditto head?

  • Greg Burton

    Well, it was either…

    *Prosecute the bankers for the toxic mortgage/LIBOR scams that impoverished the world, making homeless, hungry, beggars out of all of us.
    *Stop the Fed from fanning hyper-inflation (QE1, QE2, QE3, QE∞) that will result in food riots, mass starvation.
    *Stop the looting, privatization of the world’s social safety net, public space, the commons, imposed “austerity” due to the toxic mortgage/LIBOR/Social Security rip-off scams.
    *Punish the banking cartel’s multi-billion dollar drug-money laundering operations.
    *Investigate and punish the Bush-CIA-mafia S&L pillage.
    *Investigate why jobs and manufacturing are being out-sourced to China, how China came to own most US debt that financed the US war against…China, why China (the oligarchy) is buying up US assets at fire sale prices, even as the US is threatening war against China as it threatens the US economy (national security).
    *Investigate why the US government won’t move heaven and earth to stop the radiation spewing from Fukushima, poisoning the US, the northern hemisphere, and investigate the connections between the Fukushima, Stuxnet, HAARP and nuke created earthquakes.
    *Investigate who was really behind 9/11, the false-flag terrorist attack that touched off the serial, never-ending wars of pillage against the nation-states of the world, creating the pretext for the massive police state edifice now threatening the freedoms of everyone.


    The US government…

    *Ends food stamps to the poor even though there are no jobs, no social safety net, which will result in the starvation of thousands of Americans.
    *Stands by while the unprosecuted banking and economic crisis destroys the ability of cities and towns to protect their own citizens, fund their police departments.
    *Confiscates the guns.
    *DHS buys billions bullets, while giving away “tanks” to US cities and towns.
    *Flys soon to be weaponized drones over everywhere.
    *Allows Israel foreign nation contractors to run US NSA spying out of Mormon (occult) Utah.
    *Pre-positions military hardware in preparation for the coming US melt-down and chaos (COG).
    *Destroys the social safety net, making being elderly, homeless, jobless, disabled veteran, and hungry a crime (useless eaters).
    *Buys thousands of “FEMA coffins” in anticipation of US mass starvation.