Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Five Critical Flaws in the Senate Health Care Bill

The Senate bill would:

#1—Deny Americans the choice of a public option. In contrast, the House bill contains a national public option, the key to real competition, greater choice, and lower costs.

#2—Leave insurance unaffordable for some lower income and working people. Both bills require virtually all Americans to buy insurance. But even with the subsidies provided, some families could have to pay up to 20% of their income on health care expenses.

#3—Impose dangerous restrictions on women's reproductive health care. Unfortunately, both bills do this and the House provision is worse. Both versions would be a dangerous step and neither should be in the final bill.

#4—Tax American workers' health coverage to pay for reform. The Senate would pay for part of reform by taxing the hard-won benefits packages of many working Americans. The House, on the other hand, pays for reform with a small surcharge on only the wealthiest Americans—a far better approach.

#5—Allow insurance companies to remain exempt from anti-trust laws. Under current law, insurance companies are actually exempt from laws designed to prevent monopolies and price-gouging. The House bill would fix this, but the Senate bill leaves it in place.

"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

Monday, December 07, 2009

I wonder what Ben Stein would say now

From 2007...

In an excellent piece in the New York Times, entitled It's Time to Take a Deep Breadth, Stein outlines the issues, the stresses, and the realities of the market volatility and corrections underway. He does not run from or white wash the credit disaster and the real estate crash underway, but he brings perspective and calm to his analyses. He is a voice otherwise missing at this time in the markets, in government, and in the media. Let me quote briefly from his article, near the end of his piece and after he says “I get to the point of laughing when I read doom-saying articles in the business sections of newspapers or watch Jim Cramer on CNBC.":

"Yes, there are real problems: housing, mortgage defaults, losses at financial firms, rot in hedge funds. But over all, things will be fine.... This economy is very big and very solid. It cannot be derailed for long by anything we have seen lately.... If I were the editor of the business section for just one day, I would run one immense headline: Everything in Going to Be Fine. Go Back to Work."



"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

Negative stimulus on its way

estimates for budget shortfalls at the state level come to $145 billion to $178 billion in the fiscal year that ends next June. Budget gaps like that, on top of already drastic spending cuts in 2008 and 2009, will produce deep cutbacks in spending on everything from road and school construction to employment of police, firefighters, teachers and state park workers. The same survey that showed 44% of contractors anticipating more layoffs also showed that 76% expect state transportation departments to put less work out for bid in 2010 than in 2009.

"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Look out! We're gonna crash! (again)

Why the Stock Market Should Crash -- Seeking Alpha

I'm not saying the stock market will crash, only that if it had any relation to the real U.S. economy that it should crash, and soon.

The current politics of experience is so warped by misleading statistics and orchestrated propaganda that it feels strange to state the obvious and find it is "that which cannot be spoken" -- the credit-dependent, consumer-dependent U.S. economy is going down, and going down hard, and the trillions of dollars borrowed and spent by the U.S. government and Federal Reserve to crank up a recovery have failed completely, utterly and totally.

The basic idea of Keynesian policy is simple: when the wheels fall off the private, quasi-free enterprise economy the government borrows and spreads mountains of money around like fertilizer which will stimulate "green shoots" of recovery.

The forgotten key to successful Keynesian policy is a government which has not been borrowing and spending trillions of dollars even during an era of so-called "prosperity." When a government like that of the U.S. has been propping up "prosperity" with trillions in borrowed money for a decade, then doubling or tripling the "stimulus" in the hopes that the green shoots will be enduring is truly farcical.

If the economy needed several trillion dollars in deficit spending to eke out the meager jobless growth of 2001-2007, then why does anyone think that doubling or tripling that deficit spending will create an enduring boom?

The truth is the U.S. economy has been dependent on Federal stimulus for years, both the indirect stimulus of artificially low interest rates and unlimited liquidity, and the direct spending of hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars.

Even before the financial crisis, the Federal government was borrowing and spending $400 billion a year to prop up "prosperity." All that spending simply papered over the rot at the core of the economy:

1. The primary support of the U.S. economy is consumer spending which is ultimately based on household income and assets.

Earned income has been flat to down for most Americans for years. The median income has been skewed upward by the top 10% whose earnings have risen significantly. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real disposable personal income-- income adjusted for inflation and taxes--declined 3.4% in the third quarter after increasing 3.8% in the second quarter.

In an economy dependent on consumer spending for 70% of GDP, how can GDP rise by 3.5% while personal income plummeted by 3.4%? Assuming that boost in GDP is real and not just statistical legerdemain, then where did it come from? From borrowed money, of course-- the Federal government borrowed and spent over $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009.

In the good old days of 2002-2007, households would have borrowed and spent hundreds of billions as well. But the consumer, beset by declining assets ($13 trillion lost in the past two years), declining income (see above), falling housing values and worrisome employment trends (17% unemployment/underemployment, broadly measured), is actually cutting back on borrowing. (Revolving Consumer Credit Drops 13.1% in August.)

Consumer credit decreased at an annual rate of 5-3/4% in August 2009. Revolving credit (credit cards) decreased at an annual rate of 13%, and nonrevolving credit decreased at an annual rate of 1-1/2% --the longest decline in consumer debt since 1991.

So while households are still burdened with almost $2.5 trillion in credit card and nonrevolving debt (auto loans, etc.), they are paying debt down, not adding more.

And let's not forget that homeowners pulled out about $5 trillion in home equity in 2001-2007, and the home equity ATM is closed for good. That brings us to:

2. The primary asset in most U.S. households is a home, and home values are still dropping, foreclosures are still rising and the only force keeping the market from falling faster is the Federal government's de facto nationalization of the entire U.S. mortgage market.

Of the $1.5 trillion mortgage securities issued in 2009, a mere 1% ($15 billion) have been issued by banks; 99% are backed by the government. The government owns over half the nation's $10 trillion in mortgages via its de facto ownership of Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), and it has guaranteed virtually all the mortgages originated in the past year via FHA or VA.

The residential mortgage market is now effectively owned lock, stock and barrel by the Federal government and its private "central bank," the Federal Reserve.

Should the Fed and Treasury reduce their subsidies (that wonderful $8,000 giveaway tax credit to new home buyers or anyone claiming to be one), guarantees and outright purchases of mortgages ($1.2 trillion this year alone), then the mortgage market would instantly freeze up or start pricing in the very real risk that housing is not "recovering" and that anyone holding a mortgage could suffer huge losses if real estate continues declining in value.

Here are a few charts to ponder:

3. So how have companies "surprised" with higher profits? By slashing payrolls, R&D and various accounting tricks. Actual revenue growth is missing in action. So how do you keep "surprising to the upside" after you've slashed headcount, burned R&D and turned every accounting trick in the book?

You don't. A stock market rising on the hopes of an actual, real, tangible recovery in household income, home equity and creditworthiness is seeing mirages and hallucinating that the lake just ahead is deep and wonderful and stretches to the horizon.

Only we never reach the "lake," do we? "Stabilization" is a chimera; the reality is the government is propping up the economy via unprecedented borrowing and spending, and there is absolutely no evidence that private capital, credit or spending are rising from the "stabilization."

We are walking through the desert, kept alive by the sugar-water drip of Federal stimulus, guarantees and subsidies. The "so near, yet so far" mirage of "recovery" has been propping up the stock market for nine months, and when a slight breeze blows away the thermal illusion, then the market will crash back to the March lows, or perhaps even lower. That crash will simply reflect the state of the real economy.


"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Schaeffer's Open Letter to the Republican Traitors

Frank Schaeffer: Open Letter to the Republican Traitors (From a Former Republican)
You Republicans are the arsonists who burned down our national home. You combined the failed ideologies of the Religious Right, so-called free market deregulation and the Neoconservative love of war to light a fire that has consumed America. Now you have the nerve to criticize the "architect" America just hired -- President Obama -- to rebuild from the ashes. You do nothing constructive, just try to hinder the one person willing and able to fix the mess you created.

I used to be one of you. As recently as 2000 I worked to get Senator McCain elected in that year's primary. (McCain and Gen. Tommy Franks wrote glowing endorsements regarding my book about military service, AWOL.). I have a file of handwritten thank you notes from Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush I and II. In the 1970s and early 80s I hung out with Jack Kemp and bought into his "supply side" myth and even wrote a book he endorsed pushing his ideas.) There's more, but take it from me; my parents (evangelical leaders Francis and Edith Schaeffer) and I were about as tight with -- and useful to -- the Republican Party as anyone. We played a big part creating the Religious Right.

In the mid 1980s I left the Religious Right, after I realized just how very anti-American they are, (the theme I explore in my book Crazy For God). They wanted America to fail in order to prove they were right about America's "moral decline." Soon after McCain lost in 2000 I re-registered as an independent in disgust with W. Bush. But I still respected many Republicans. Not today.

How can anyone who loves our country support the Republicans now? Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan defined the modern conservatism that used to be what the Republican Party I belonged to was about. Today no actual conservative can be a Republican. Reagan would despise today's wholly negative Republican Party. And can you picture the gentlemanly and always polite Ronald Reagan, endorsing a radio hate-jock slob who crudely mocked a man with Parkinson's and who now says he wants an American president to fail?!

With people like Limbaugh as the loudmouth image of the Republican Party -- you need no enemies. But something far more serious has happened than an image problem: the Republican Party has become the party of obstruction at just the time when all Americans should be pulling together for the good of our country. Instead, Republicans are today's fifth column sabotaging American renewal.

President Obama has been in office barely 45 days and the Republican Party has the nerve to blame him for the economic and military cataclysm he inherited. I say economic and military cataclysm because without the needless war in Iraq you all backed we would not be in the economic mess we're in today. If that money had been spent here at home on renovating our infrastructure, taking us toward a green economy, putting our health-care system in order we'd be a very different situation.

As the father of a Marine who served in George W. Bush's misbegotten wars let me say this: if President Obama's strategy to repair our economy, infrastructure and healthcare fails that will put our troops at far greater risk because the world will become a far more dangerous place. So for all you flag-waving Republicans who are trying to undermine the President at home -- if you succeed more of our troops will be killed abroad.

When your new leader Rush Limbaugh calls for President Obama to fail he's calling for more flag-draped coffins. Limbaugh is the new "Hanoi Jane."

For the party that created our crises of misbegotten war, mismanaged economy, the lack of regulation of our banking industry, handing our country to rich crooks... to obstruct the one person who is trying to repair the damage is obscene.

Just imagine where America would be today if the 14 to 20 million voters -- "the rube base" who slavishly follow the likes of Limbaugh -- had not voted as a block year after year thus empowering the Republican fiasco. We would have a regulated banking industry and would have avoided our current financial crisis; some 4000 of our killed military men and women would be alive; over to 35,000 wounded Americans would be whole; we would have been leaders in the environmental movement; we would be in the middle of a green technology boom fueling a huge expansion of our economy and stopping our dependence on foreign oil, and our health-care system would be reformed.

After Obama was elected, you Republican leaders had a unique last chance to send a patriotic message of unity to the world -- and to all Americans. You could have backed our president's economic recovery plan. Since we all know that half of our problem is one of lost confidence and perception, nothing would have done more to calm the markets and project resolve and confidence than if you had been big enough to take Obama's offered hand and had work with him -- even if you disagreed ideologically. You had the chance to put our country first. You utterly failed to rise to the occasion.

The worsening economic situation is your fault and your fault alone. The Republicans created this mess through 8 years of backing the worst president in our history and now, because you put partisan ideology ahead of the good of our country, you have blown your last chance to redeem yourselves. You deserve the banishment to the political wilderness that awaits all traitors.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The GOP: Party of Nihilists

The GOP Has Become a Party of Nihilists
By Joe Klein Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009
...There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees' unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party. They don't retail outright lies.
It is a very different story among Republicans. ..There are conservatives — Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others — who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush's presidency has been obliterated. The party's putative intellectuals — people like the Weekly Standard's William Kristol — are prosaic tacticians who make precious few substantive arguments but oppose health-care reform mostly because passage would help Barack Obama's political prospects...A striking example of the prevailing cravenness was Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has authored end-of-life counseling provisions and told the Washington Post that comparing such counseling to euthanasia was nuts — but then quickly retreated when he realized that he had sided with the reality-based community against his Rush Limbaugh-led party...And when Palin floated the "death panel" canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand...
Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce to Senator McCarthy when he said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler? ...This may tell us something about the actual state of play on health care: the nutters are a tiny minority; the Republicans are curling themselves into a tight, white, extremist bubble — but there may be enough of them raising dust to render creative public policy impossible.



"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Crazy for the Loonie—and Canada --Jubak

Thursday, August 06, 2009
Crazy for the Loonie—and Canada

The world’s greatest currency?

Not the yen, or the euro, or the renminbi. Sure as shootin' not the US dollar or the British pound.

Yep, it's the loonie, Canada's dollar with the ghostly-voiced diving bird on it. And not just at the moment, either. This is the currency I most want to own for the next decade.

Right now, all the currencies of global commodity producers are rallying. The Australian and New Zealand dollars, the Norwegian krone, and the Canadian loonie all hit 11-month highs against the greenback this week.

The belief that China has gone on a sustainable commodity-buying spree to support its economic recovery has caused commodity prices to soar—and so too have the stock markets and currencies of countries that have commodity-based economies.

At Wednesday’s close, the iShares MSCI Canada Index (NYSEArca: EWC) ETF was up 80% from its March 9th low (the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 48% during that period), while the Canadian dollar has gained 21% against the US dollar. (EWC traded above $24 late Thursday—Editor.)

I'd put the loonie and Canadian stocks ahead of currencies and stocks of other commodity-based countries because Canada's commodity basket is the most diversified in the world. (Well, Brazil will give Canada a run for the money if the South Atlantic oil discoveries pan out.) Canada has Norway's oil, Australia's mines and farms, and New Zealand's timber and farms all in one package.

And Canada is better positioned in the interest rate cycle. High domestic interest rates—as long as they're not so high that they signal some major economic dysfunction—make a currency stronger. Canada's loonie is strong even though the Bank of Canada has set its target interest rates at just 0.25%, exactly where they are in the US.

That means there will be plenty of support for the loonie when the Bank of Canada—no sooner than the middle of 2010, it has said—starts raising rates again.

lso, the bank has repeatedly pledged to keep its hands off the currency unless its outlook on growth and inflation materially changes.

But finally, I prefer the loonie to the rest of the world's currencies—and certainly to the US dollar—because Canada’s accumulated national debt has been falling, not climbing, for most of the last decade.

After hitting a high near 80% of the country's GDP in 1995-2000, Canada's accumulated national government deficit has dropped pretty much every year until it stood at just 30% of GDP in 2008. In comparison, the US ended 2008 with an accumulated federal debt of about 70% of GDP, and it’s projected to head higher.

...all aboard!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

a bouquet of ironies here-- EPA suppresses GW skeptic

EPA May Have Suppressed Report Skeptical Of Global Warming - Political Hotsheet - CBS News

The Environmental Protection Agency may have suppressed an internal report that was skeptical of claims about global warming, including whether carbon dioxide must be strictly regulated by the federal government, according to a series of newly disclosed e-mail messages.

Less than two weeks before the agency formally submitted its pro-regulation recommendation to the White House, an EPA center director quashed a 98-page report that warned against making hasty "decisions based on a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data."

The EPA official, Al McGartland, said in an e-mail message to a staff researcher on March 17: "The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward... and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision."

The e-mail correspondence raises questions about political interference in what was supposed to be a independent review process inside a federal agency -- and echoes criticisms of the EPA under the Bush administration, which was accused of suppressing a pro-climate change document.

Alan Carlin, the primary author of the 98-page EPA report, told CBSNews.com in a telephone interview on Friday that his boss, McGartland, was being pressured himself. "It was his view that he either lost his job or he got me working on something else," Carlin said. "That was obviously coming from higher levels."

E-mail messages released this week show that Carlin was ordered not to "have any direct communication" with anyone outside his small group at EPA on the topic of climate change, and was informed that his report would not be shared with the agency group working on the topic.

"I was told for probably the first time in I don't know how many years exactly what I was to work on," said Carlin, a 38-year veteran of the EPA. "And it was not to work on climate change." One e-mail orders him to update a grants database instead.

For its part, the EPA sent CBSNews.com an e-mailed statement saying: "Claims that this individual’s opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false. This Administration and this EPA Administrator are fully committed to openness, transparency and science-based decision making. These principles were reflected throughout the development of the proposed endangerment finding, a process in which a broad array of voices were heard and an inter-agency review was conducted."

Carlin has an undergraduate degree in physics from CalTech and a PhD in economics from MIT. His Web site lists papers about the environment and public policy dating back to 1964, spanning topics from pollution control to environmentally-responsible energy pricing.

After reviewing the scientific literature that the EPA is relying on, Carlin said, he concluded that it was at least three years out of date and did not reflect the latest research. "My personal view is that there is not currently any reason to regulate (carbon dioxide)," he said. "There may be in the future. But global temperatures are roughly where they were in the mid-20th century. They're not going up, and if anything they're going down."

Carlin's report listed a number of recent developments he said the EPA did not consider, including that global temperatures have declined for 11 years; that new research predicts Atlantic hurricanes will be unaffected; that there's "little evidence" that Greenland is shedding ice at expected levels; and that solar radiation has the largest single effect on the earth's temperature.

If there is a need for the government to lower planetary temperatures, Carlin believes, other mechanisms would be cheaper and more effective than regulation of carbon dioxide. One paper he wrote says managing sea level rise or reducing solar radiation reaching the earth would be more cost-effective alternatives.

The EPA's possible suppression of Carlin's report, which lists the EPA's John Davidson as a co-author, could endanger any carbon dioxide regulations if they are eventually challenged in court.

"The big question is: there is this general rule that when an agency puts something out for public evidence and comment, it's supposed to have the evidence supporting it and the evidence the other way," said Sam Kazman, general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. that has been skeptical of new laws or regulations relating to global warming.

Kazman's group obtained the documents -- both CEI and Carlin say he was not the source -- and released the e-mails on Tuesday and the report on Friday. As a result of the disclosure, CEI has asked the EPA to re-open the comment period on the greenhouse gas regulatory proceeding, which ended on Tuesday.

The EPA also said in its statement: "The individual in question is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue. Nevertheless the document he submitted was reviewed by his peers and agency scientists, and information from that report was submitted by his manager to those responsible for developing the proposed endangerment finding. In fact, some ideas from that document are included and addressed in the endangerment finding."

That appears to conflict with an e-mail from McGartland in March, who said to Carlin, the report's primary author: "I decided not to forward your comments... I can see only one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office." He also wrote to Carlin: "Please do not have any direct communication with anyone outside of (our group) on endangerment. There should be no meetings, e-mails, written statements, phone calls, etc."

One reason why the process might have been highly charged politically is the unusual speed of the regulatory process. Lisa Jackson, the new EPA administrator, had said that she wanted her agency to reach a decision about regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act by April 2 -- the second anniversary of a related U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"All this goes back to a decision at a higher level that this was very urgent to get out, if possible yesterday," Carlin said. "In the case of an ordinary regulation, these things normally take a year or two. In this case, it was a few weeks to get it out for public comment." (Carlin said that he and other EPA staff members asked to respond to a draft only had four and a half days to do so.)

In the last few days, Republicans have begun to raise questions about the report and e-mail messages, but it was insufficient to derail the so-called cap and trade bill from being approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce committee, invoked Carlin's report in a floor speech during the debate on Friday. "The science is not there to back it up," Barton said. "An EPA report that has been suppressed... raises grave doubts about the endangerment finding. If you don't have an endangerment finding, you don't need this bill. We don't need this bill. And for some reason, the EPA saw fit not to include that in its decision." (The endangerment finding is the EPA's decision that carbon dioxide endangers the public health and welfare.)

"I'm sure it was very inconvenient for the EPA to consider a study that contradicted the findings it wanted to reach," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the senior Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said in a statement. "But the EPA is supposed to reach its findings based on evidence, not on political goals. The repression of this important study casts doubts on EPA's finding, and frankly, on other analysis EPA has conducted on climate issues."

The revelations could prove embarrassing to Jackson, the EPA administrator, who said in January: "I will ensure EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency." Similarly, Mr. Obama claimed that "the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over... To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy. It is contrary to our way of life."

"All this talk from the president and (EPA administrator) Lisa Jackson about integrity, transparency, and increased EPA protection for whistleblowers -- you've got a bouquet of ironies here," said Kazman, the CEI attorney.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Larry Kudlow is a moron


Sometimes, when I fail to hit mute on my TV, I am blasted by the brainless rantings of CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, whose zeal for tax cuts rivals his earlier addiction to cocaine and alcohol. He believes that returning high-income tax rates to those during the 90’s boom will lead to the destruction of mankind. If rich people are so motivated by tax rates, then why do so many live in NYC and California? Even Kudlow lived in NYC until he was fired from his Wall St. job and went to a drug treatment center in ‘95. NY has a fairly high state tax that is 6.85% max and NYC adds ~3.5% max. There’s also a fairly high property tax and sales tax. Why haven’t the rich left NYC a long time ago? Financial companies can now move anywhere because the markets are mostly electronic. People could commute from upstate NY, CT or NJ to avoid some NYC tax. Some do, but many remain. More importanly, why did Kudlow live in NYC rather than commute from a lower tax area? The boat outside my house takes me to Wall St. in 10 minutes.

Kudlow’s addictive personality and meager education in economics made him susceptible to Arthur Laffer’s simplistic view of the world. And his pompous and pseudo-intellectual manner probably makes him popular on the right-wing cocktail party circuit. Indeed, his conversion to Catholicism is yet another example of his need to belong to a cult. My only hope is that someday Steve Liesman will strangle Kudlow live on-the-air.

Larry Kudlow is a moron « Handwaving

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

the stimulus gloves are off


In a recent issue of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, Jim Grant charted the stimulus money (both monetary policy and government spending) as a percentage of gross domestic product for this downturn, compared with the previous 13 recessions.

In those earlier recessions, if you added all the percentages, the cumulative monetary stimuli constituted about 6 percentage points, while thus far in this recession, the stimuli have clocked in at 18%. Add in the 11.9% (of GDP) supplied by the government and you get 29.9% for the combined stimuli. That's compared with a total of 39.3 percentage points for the prior 13 recessions combined.

It's also already 4 times the New Deal's percentage of GDP!

Yes, I'd say the gloves are off. By the time the dust settles, you may not recognize the economic landscape.


"GOP: like Trekkies, but paranoid."

BILL MAHER: "It's been a week now, and I still don't know what those "tea bag" protests were about. I saw signs protesting abortion, illegal immigrants, the bank bailout and that gay guy who's going to win "American Idol." But it wasn't tax day that made them crazy; it was election day. Because that's when Republicans became what they fear most: a minority.

The conservative base is absolutely apoplectic because, because ... well, nobody knows.

They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore. Even though they're not quite sure what "it" is. But they know they're fed up with "it," and that "it" has got to stop.

Here are the big issues for normal people: the war, the economy, the environment, mending fences with our enemies and allies, and the rule of law.

And here's the list of Republican obsessions since President Obama took office: that his birth certificate is supposedly fake, he uses a teleprompter too much, he bowed to a Saudi guy, Europeans like him, he gives inappropriate gifts, his wife shamelessly flaunts her upper arms, and he shook hands with Hugo Chavez and slipped him the nuclear launch codes.

Do these sound like the concerns of a healthy, vibrant political party?

It's sad what's happened to the Republicans. They used to be the party of the big tent; now they're the party of the sideshow attraction, a socially awkward group of mostly white people who speak a language only they understand. Like Trekkies, but paranoid.... "



Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bottom? What bottom?

April 15, 2009
© 2009 Decision Economics, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright owner is prohibited.
Page 1 of 1
Industrial Production: No hint of a turn
March industrial production drops a more-than-generally-expected 1.5% (Consensus: -0.9%; Decision Economics: -
1.5%), from a minimally revised February level.
Within the total, manufacturing output dropped 1.7%, mining activity ell 3.2%, and utility output rose 1.8%. The
auto industry was a minimal factor in the manufacturing decline, with factory output excluding motor vehicles and
parts dropping 1.9%, across virtually all industries.
Thus, there was no hint that the process of inventory liquidation is drawing to a close. When it does, production
can be expected to bounce back up to meet the pace of sales--at whatever depressed level that may be. The turn will
not be pre-announced, and might happen at any time--but the strong downward momentum of output, and the
still very uncertain trend of final sales, suggest that the moment is not too near.
Ongoing big output declines expand industrial slack capacity (with the manufacturing utilization rate falling 1.1
points), and can lead to further employment cuts. Those trends generally argue for an increasing downward pull
on goods prices--which may, already, be in outright decline.


Head fake from financials?

Goldman Sachs (GS) And The Secret Of Bank Earnings - 24/7 Wall Street
Goldman’s results were unexpectedly good. The company said it earned $1.81 billion, or $3.39 a share, in the first quarter as improved trading revenue outweighed asset write-downs, handily beating the $1.64 estimate of 16 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

While Goldman’s earnings were good, what was better was that the company said it would raise $5 billion and use that and capital on hand to pay back the $10 billion of TARP funds it got from the federal government. The “payback” is the key sign that the Goldman results are the real deal. Wells Fargo did not offer the government a check. It said it hoped to, someday. That is almost certainly a sign that the bank can’t make the payment now or it needs to keep the cash it has for estimated losses in future quarters.

Goldman set a tone for bank earnings which probably won’t be matched this earnings season. By paying the TARP funds it said that it did not have to worry about the next few quarters. It is not concerned that losses from toxic assets, consumer credit, commercial lending, or leveraged buy-outs will be a problem later this year. Goldman implied that its earnings won’t be undermined by the troubles that may affect other financial firms as the economy continues to stumble and bank loans of almost every sort default with increasing frequency.

None of the other banks are going to be able to pull off what Goldman did.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lincoln Worship Redux

recounting of the story of Lincoln's leadership, his remarkable ability to persevere through adversity, to use his common sense and uncommon intelligence to chart a road to victory, amazes still, and reminds us yet again of our extraordinary good fortune as a nation to have had that man in that office at that moment. We are reminded, too, of the seeming hopelessness of the task that Lincoln faced as he took office in 1861. He was so loathed he had not even been on the ballot in ten southern states; the secession of seven states took place before he was even inaugurated. By the time nine months of his presidency had elapsed, northern forces had been ignominiously defeated only miles from the Capitol; efforts to liberate Unionist Tennessee had failed; no military commander seemed to have any plan for effective movement against the enemy; and northern popular opinion was impatient for either military success or political compromise. "The bottom is out of the tub," Lincoln proclaimed in despair. "What shall I do?"

In the face of such odds, he managed to create an army, win a war, and save a nation--setting the stage as commander-in-chief for Union military triumph but also, as national strategist and policy maker, tying war aims to larger purposes--creating the new birth of freedom of which he spoke, and which we are still realizing today. Perhaps this is why, in the season of his two-hundredth birthday, this remarkable president continues to mean so much to us. Abraham Lincoln is, quite simply, the greatest argument against despair in dark times that our history provides."  -- Drew Gilpin Faust is president of Harvard University and the author most recently of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

... yes, but -- No matter the purity of his motives, he was stll the co-architect of unimaginable suffering that haunted the nation for a century. I do wonder if he'd known in '61 the depth of horror in store in the next 4 years, would he still have accepted the challenge? No one worshiping at his altar ever seems to raise the question.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My patience is wearing thin.

As one who dared to hope Obama really meant change from the unmitigated disaster of the last 8 years, he and Pelosi and Geithner have been singularly disappointing. The housing collapse was the catalyst for the economic collapse; until house prices stop dropping there can be no sustained recovery, yet nobody in position of authority seems capable of addressing this central fact head on.

Getting banks to lend would certainly be helpful but it can't really happen in a sustained fashion until the recession finds a bottom, and that means housing prices stabilize. Ditto for business hiring. Ditto for creating work for the jobless in the interim....

I want to believe but it requires a leap of more faith than I have left. I take some comfort that it's driving the RW nuts but the pricetag of this schadenfreude I can't afford. It reeks of Old Politics.

"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Key Trends for '09: Inflation & Food

plus solvency. That's critical...

"The hot trends for 2009 are:

* Inflation. Gold has started to move up. The U.S. dollar has started to move down. Overseas investors are cutting back on their purchases of dollar-denominated debt. And the faithful news consumer can see the beginnings of a tidal wave of articles and editorials worrying about the inevitability of inflation now that the Federal Reserve has decided to pay overtime to the crew that prints paper money.

* Food. Yes, food commodity stocks collapsed in 2008. And, yes, prices for food commodities went into a retreat that turned into a rout; the prices of major grains are down 50% from their 2008 peaks. But don't count on food getting cheaper still in 2009. All the signs point the other way. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that because of the global credit crunch, many farmers lack capital to buy seed and fertilizer for the 2009-10 growing season. That's likely to show up in commodity prices, via the futures market, by mid-2009.

* Stability. Companies able to deliver solid revenue and earnings at or maybe even a little above expectations are rare as hens' teeth at this stage of the recession. Companies with those kinds of results are also in a position to use the current global slowdown to attack weaker competitors, buy market share and aggressively develop new products. That's a combination investors particularly prize in the current uncertainty.

I'd give those three trends green lights right now. "


I just wish I knew a good way to short treasuries.


"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm