Monday, February 4, 2008

SAR #8036

...Monsters are real, and ghosts too. They live
inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

- Stephen King

Odds: There are 196,000 mercenaries working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan, to only 182,000 US armed forces. Apparently the mercs are bulletproof; except for those 4 in Fallujah, we rarely hear of their casualties.

The Virus: Bankers believed they could turn bad mortgages into good investments through alchemy mathematics. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. They also seemed to believe that if you bought a AAA rating from S&P, it really was a Rolex.

Draining The Swamp: Google Earth's image of the eastern part of Baghdad includes a large black spot that is a lake of sewage. Five years of handouts to Halliburton and friends have gained us 1 of 3 sewage treatment plants working, little water supply, and but 3 or 4 hours of electricity a day. If we'd spent the money on Perrier and Charmin we'd be better off.

Vacancy : Internet cables have been severed in four different places, cutting Web access for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Pakistan, India, and Iran. Dragging anchors, the original explanation, has been eliminated as a cause. Israel's internet access has been undisturbed. Best conspiracy theory wins the usual prize.

Horse, Mouth: Last week Shell's CEO forecast the end of easy oil. Now Dr. Jim Buckee, just retired CEO of $25 billion Talisman Energy, explains: " The decline of the world's major fields is the dominant driving factor. The world is consuming 30-plus billion barrels a year of oil and is finding seven or eight. This has been going on for 20 or more years. It's unsustainable and the world is increasingly depending on the bigger, older fields. Couple that with the irreversibility of decline and you've got a very alarming picture."

Jeeves: Scotland Yard secretly bugged conversations between a Muslim member of Parliament and one of his constituents. Old dog, new tricks.

We Don't Need No Stinking Map! Interest rates are back at 2002's levels, nearly negative when adjusted for inflation. Six years and we've gone from one bubble bursting to another. Here's a yardstick of our progress: Bill wants to buy Yahoo for $45 billion. In 2000 Yahoo was valued at $160 billion. The rate of return on 10 year Treasury's is the same as the CPI inflation rate - which only makes sense if significant deflation is expected. You do not want significant deflation.

Dirty Commies : The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate Energy Committee concluded after "exhaustive research, hearings and testimony from many different sources. [That] electricity doesn't lend itself to being a free-market commodity." They could have skipped the hearings and spent a week in California.

Shakespeare? Things to fear: (1) Bankers afraid to make loans for fear they won't get paid back. This happens now and then as part of the business cycle, not fun but survivable. (2) Customers afraid to borrow for fear of not being able to pay it back. We have experienced this only once, about 80 years ago. (3) An even bigger thing to dread is 1 and 2 happening together. And it was Polonius: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

Have a Seat: Wickes Furniture, one of the nation's largest furniture retailers, has filed for bankruptcy after not paying any supplier for over 3 weeks. Wickes had been asking asking suppliers to wait until mid-2009 to get paid, but found a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this idea.

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