Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SAR #10090

We have guns, too.

Timing:  The incoherent rage started long before Obama's health care plan became law.  It started when Obama became a strong contender for his party's nomination.  It is not that Obama is black; the rage is because he is not a white male.  The bewildered white males in this country see a black president, a female speaker of the House, a Latina Supreme Court Judge, gays getting married...  They fear America is changing, leaving them behind.  It is, and it is.

Good Old Days:  Americans are back to spending more – consumption rates are increasing rapidly - and we are saving less, especially the unemployed.  We are ignorantly happy about the future, with only 40% of us concerned about retirement.  “The number of people who reported being concerned about issues such as day-to-day expenses, education costs, paying off credit cards, and saving for big ticket purchases didn’t just decline – each category hit a four-year low.”

Flip a Coin:  Professor Shiller says the odds of another drop in housing prices are 50/50.  Optimist.

Point/Counterpoint:  Loaded shipping containers are piling up in Asian ports because demand from the West has picked up much faster than expected.  Yet the ATA Truck Tonnage Index fell 0.5 % last month as domestic shipments slipped.  For all of 2009, the tonnage index contracted 8.7 percent, which was the largest annual decrease since 1982.  Maybe they were all waiting for their ship to come in.

Time Marches On:  The GAO estimates that within ten years Social Security, Medicare, and interest payments on the debt will take every available dollar of taxes.  But don't worry, we'll just borrow some more.

Water Seeks Its Own Level:  One out of four mortgaged houses is underwater, one out of seven is delinquent.  The government's efforts to stem the foreclosure tsunami is aimed at continuing to prop up the financial system at the taxpayer's expense.  Foreclosures will eventually drive prices down far enough to end the spiral.  The only question is how long the government can postpone the inevitable.

WARNING, DANGER: Day traders are back.

Adding to the Confusion:  One explanation for the (apparent) lack of inflation is to look at the CPI without the Owners' Equivalent Rent – which was put into the CPI back in 1980 to hide what turned out to be pretty severe inflation.  Absent the OER, the CPI was up 5.8% in January on an annualized basis.  Probably similar to (in reverse) the government not counting food and energy in the ‘core’ CPI.

Intent:  A Lawrence, Kansas judge has ruled that an 11 year old who shot his father's pregnant live-in girlfriend shall be tried as an adult.  Apparently to teach a lesson to other kids who don't like the replacement dad brought home.  Makes you wonder about the judge, doesn't it?

Good Neighbor:  Oil Minister Ali Al- Naimi says Saudi Arabia can turn on the taps and produce an extra 4.5 million barrels a day.  He also said oil in the $80 a barrel range is “as close to perfect as possible.”  He did not add, “because we don't want to make too much money off your addiction.”

Our Girl:  Elizabeth Warren says that by the end of this year about 50% of all commercial real estate mortgages will be underwater.  These mortgages are mainly held by about 3,000 mid-sized banks, and will pose a “very serious problem” for the economy.

Salvation, Not:  It is clear that modern biofuels return useful energy in approximately the same proportion to the energy inputs required as did pre-industrial agriculture, and therefore are incapable of supporting industrial civilization.

Porn O'Graph:  Shipping out (subject, apparently, to change).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SAR #10089

Hope, like gullibility, is a renewable resource.

Making Allowances:  The business boosters are claiming the US is going to make an $8 billion profit from Citibank.  Right.  But that's just on the stock.  It doesn't count all the billions and billions of indirect gifts (think AIG, TARP, etc.) and other guarantees and support they have received.  It's like saying you made a profit because your kid he washed the family car after he wrecked it.

Short Eyes:  Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger, lest you be confused) warned the faithful to ignore the evidence of child rape on the part of priests not to be intimidated by rumors and innuendo.  After all, he has covered up and ignored the evidence for years.  Gives new meaning to “Suffer the Little Children” .

Recommended Reading:  I usually find Mr. Kunstler a bit... vibrant? for my taste, but this week's essay seems spot on:  He compliments the Republicans on making consensual governance impossible at a time when the nation faces immense problems.  “They're in the process, right now, of transforming themselves from the party of "no" to the party of no decency, no common sense, no ideas,[and] no conception of the public interest.”

Crowning Touch:  Bank of America and Wells Fargo probably will pay no income taxes for 2009 – they were too busy spending the taxes you paid in 2008 will be paying over the next 34 years.

Take Note:  The World Trade Organization's Director-General Pascal Lamy predicts world trade will expand 9.5% this year.  Click your heels.

What's not to like:  The Republicans continue to scream about the socialist takeover of healthcare, but do not point to the terms that take effect now: preventative care must be covered on new policies and insurers can't cancel the policies of sick people or place lifetime caps on benefits. Also, how giving private insurance companies 30 million new, captive clients is socialistic escapes me.

Nature of the Beast:  Barclay's took pension benefits from 17,000 employees to pay the new banker-bonus tax.  RBS got around the law by backdating a 5% increase in “benefits” to January 2009.  Financial innovation at its best.

Privatization: The GOP/neocon argument for privatizing much of the military effort was the superiority of private enterprise in accomplishing routine tasks.  Take KBR for instance.  They were able to repair military vehicles in Iraq for only $4.6 million, using a crack team of 144 mechanics who worked, on average, 43 minutes a month.

Enough Said:  “The world is choking on government debt.”  And yet the only way out, they say, is more debt, more debt.  Plus, of course, rolling over all the outstanding stuff.  Do you remember how we got here?

Good To The Last Drop:  Insurance lawyers have decided that the Congress intended for them to keep on refusing coverage to children with pre-existing illnesses for the next four years.  Nor do they have to cover anyone who might actually place a claim until then either, but if they do they can charge more.  They intend to keep squeezing their clients as long as they can, for as much as they can.

Growth For Goldman's Sake:  Experts say that growth is important for creating wealth.  Maybe so, but it does nothing for the distribution pattern. For more than 25 years, the gap between the richest and the poorest has been increasing.  There is absolutely no correlation between an equitable society and GDP growth.

Ah, Springtime: The Commerce Department reports that in 2009 personal income fell in 42 states.  But things are getting better, every day... So we're told.

Appearances:  It is generally far cheaper to provide the homeless with permanent housing than to offer only short-term shelter and stop-gap services.  In DC a month on a cot costs the government about $3,000. In Houston it is $968 – far more than an efficiency apartment goes for.  But imagine the noise the Tea Partiers would make if we provided actual housing to the homeless...

Porn O'Graph:  It's the oil, stupid.

Monday, March 29, 2010

SAR #10088

Jesus healed the sick.

Oil Re-Definitions:  The world's oil reserves have been exaggerated by up to a third.  Instead of 1,350 billion barrels conveniently on hand, it is far more likely to be about 850 billion barrels.  If so, demand will exceed supply by 2014, which is now described as “peak demand” and possibly “peak supply” but not peak oil.  Go figure.

Feed The Rich: Obama has come up with another housing plan designed to trap the working poor (and unemployed poor) into paying and paying and paying on overpriced houses forever.  First it cuts the losses of the “investor class” enough so the mortgage can be resold to the “homeowner” for the (putative) current price.  The premise is that the house then will magically cease to decline in price.  The new mortgage will be 'recourse' which means the suckers cannot just walk away when house prices plunge another 15%.

Garage Sale:  The Fed has decided to clean out the garage and auction off some of the $1.7 trillion in crappy assets it paid too much for over the last 18 months.  Priced as marked, make an offer, no reasonable offer refused.

Words, Words, Words:  After all the noise, it turns out that all that was needed to cure Greece's massive deficits was for Greece to agree to undertake to lower its debt levels in the future and for Germany to promise cash, maybe, someday.  All talk, no cash.  But somehow this “agreement wipes out the risk of default, the refinancing risk and raises the credibility of the government’s austerity plan."  Even so, “the U.K. is weak and America is weak,” because soon their debt will climb to 110% [of GDP] and stay there for a while."  Just like Greece.

Relapse:  In the latest month of the ongoing recovery, 27 states recorded increases in unemployment.  Over the past year, jobless rates have increased in 46 states and the District of Columbia.  Accept no substitutes.

Fear and Loathing:  The anger, fear, and insecurity being vented by the tea party dupes is not about health care, but rather about some perceived threat to identity, to some long gone rugged American individualism.  The health care bill creates no new Big Government agency but instead hands the for-profit insurance industry 32 million new sheep to slaughter. The “mandates” are taken from the Romney/GOP-designed Massachusetts bill.  Yet many Republicans are running around repeating Reaganite lies and saying “No!” and “Repeal!”.  Let's hope they run on that platform and that they let Palin lead them into the wilderness.

The Word: Citing unacceptable risks to its pristine Catskill Mountain water supply, New York City has ruled that there will be no fracking around in its watershed or anywhere near its infrastructures.

Ducks:  The Department of Energy now predicts that oil production from current sources will decline both sharply and steadily (at 2% a year) from 87 mbd today to 80 mbd in 2015, while the demand will climb to 90mbd or more by then.  If it looks like peak oil and walks like peak oil, maybe it is peak oil?  But those words will never cross official lips, instead it will be “an undulating plateau” caused by peak demand.

Nose/Face: Communities around the country are cutting library hours, staff and even whole libraries from their operating budgets.  If people want to read a book, let them buy one.

Stuff Happens:  Greenspan says that “financial institutions should expect [to be bailed out] only in extremely rare situations.”  Why they should ever be bailed out remains unclear and why they should survive the experience isn't even mentioned.  But it was a relief to discover that no one, certainly not Alan, was at fault.  No one at all.

While I was out:  February new house sales reached a new (SAAR) record low, 308,000, after January's data was revised downward 7,000 to 309,000.  Existing house sales fell 0.6% from January.

Whose Bull:  The US justifies collateral damage done to the innocent civilians in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and several other places where we are not yet at war, by claiming the CIA's use of Predator drones to assassinate people who do not like the US is a defensive act.

Clear and Present Danger:  There appears to be an internationally coordinated governmental effort to put whistle-blower website WikiLeaks out of business and their contributors in jail.  Go to, bookmark them, and support them through the PayPal tab at the bottom of their home page.  Sorry, contributions are not tax deductible.

Porn O'Graph:  Falling in with a bad crowd.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

SAR #10086/Weekender

In the end we must lead ourselves.

Take the weekend off, I did. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

SAR #10085

We fear inflation because we are unable to imagine deflation.

Golden Oldie:  The IMF is concerned that most of the G7 countries will have debt/GDP ratios over 100% by 2014.  The real concern is that rising debt along with rising costs for pensions and healthcare will make it impossible for the governments to reduce their budget deficits (and thus the stimulus effect of government spending) in a weakened economy. Raising taxes to reduce the debt would draw even more resources out of weakened economies.  “Reform” of pension and health entitlements – and in the US, cutting back on defense spending – are the one true path, according to the IMF.  Same old same old.

You Can Be Too Thin:  Because a higher proportion of ice in the Arctic is “first year” ice – ice that is thinner and more susceptible to warming – 2009's volume of Arctic Ice was the lowest in over 8,000 years.

Plot Summary:  Americans are clueless about retirement.  Workers expect to be able to retire... somehow, and have no concept of how unfunded their pension systems are and how unrealistic their expectations are.

Scary Words: The right is decrying the “15 New Taxes The Democrats Just Foisted On The American People.”  Foisted?  Assumes facts not in evidence.  Passing a tax bill by public vote is not 'foisted'.  Some people (not Republicans) think that raising money via taxes to pay for social goods like healthcare, defense etc. is a good idea.  It seems like a good idea to tax those who try to disguise income as heath care premiums, or those who use Health Savings Accounts to fund vacations.  Taxing substandard for-profit hospitals is a good way to get their attention.  Even taxing the rich a tiny bit more than the poor is more popular at my house than bailing out Wall Street.

Asked & Answered:  Does GDP understate the depth of the recession? Are there bears in the woods?

Bigger Fools:  The only way to justify a non-dividend paying stock at a $225 a share – which equates to a market capitalization of over $200 billion - is a deeply held religious conviction that next week and next month and next year someone else will think that while it does not pay dividends it is somehow worth a lot more than $225 a share, because they're pretty sure there's a bigger fool around the corner.

Quoted: “The choice will be clear: families or banks.”  Elizabeth Warren, on financial reform.

Porn O'Graph:  Nothing for something.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

SAR #10084

Our self-gratification will lead to our self-destruction.

The Price of Friendship?  On 9/11 nearly 3,000 died in New York.  Since then nearly 6,000 Pakistanis have died in over 330 terrorists attacks, mostly bombings and mostly because their government is helping the US in its war on the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

A Few Questions:  Gallup just reported that US unemployment is at 20%, instead of the BLS's 9.8%.  According to the BLS, if no-one got hired or fired for the next 6 to 9 months, the unemployment rate would drop to about 5% - because those who have used up their unemployment benefits, those who have given up hope, and those who work but a few hours a week are not counted as unemployed by the BLS.  Imagine, reaching a 5% unemployment rate while 14 million who used to have jobs are still sitting at home watching Days of Our Lives.

Asked and Answered:  Will Bagram be the new Gitmo?  Already is.

One View:  “Conservatives and Republicans have suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.  It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.  We (the GOP) followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat."  David Frum, former high-ranking GOP official, who also cited the conservatives' refusal to compromise as a major fault that will haunt them in November.

Bigger TruckIn the 1960's a dollar of debt would add nearly another dollar to the nations GDP. By 3Q2009 the return on a new dollar of debt seems to have resulted in lowering productivity by 15 cents.  Too much of a so-so thing, apparently. W e're going to have to borrow a whole lot more, Ollie.

Thoughtful Food:  Alternative energies tend to be more expensive than fossil fuels.  They are not a solution to expensive oil.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SAR 10083

'Beggar thy neighbor' is a reaction, not a plan.

Numbers, Numbers:   A CNN poll shows 39% think the Affordable Care Act is just right, 13% think it didn't go far enough.  That's a majority - 52%. Which suggests that running against the bill is not going to be a winning strategy next fall.

It's All AcademicSome Chinese university student wrote a paper on how a cyber attack on a small US power grid sub-network could lead to the cascading failure of the entire US grid.  The US House Foreign Affairs Committee gave him an “A”.

Worth A Try: Maybe Israel would behave a bit better if we cut their $3 billion a year allowance.

Rooms at the Inn:  A 20% drop in revenue has driven 16% of hotel-backed CMBS delinquent.  Fitch sees this figure doubling by 2012.

Distinction:  The Saudis have increased their productive capacity to over 12 million barrels a day.  They say.  Their net exports have declined since 2005 and their production peaked in 2008.  Lack of demand, they say.  ‘Capacity’ and ‘performance’ seem to be slightly different concepts.

Relatives:  Most Canadians feel they will be able to retire comfortably, but in the absence of savings and retirement planning they are unable to explain how this is going to come about.  Just like their American cousins.

Tiptoeing:  A team of 30 scientists from around the world has identified nine environmental processes that must remain within specific limits for humankind to continue to exist on Earth.  Of the nine, we've already crossed the line on biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle, and climate change.  Yawn.

Advice:  “When reality comes knocking, be long gone.”  Before you open the door, make sure it is opportunity knocking, not reality.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SAR #10082

Extinction is the default setting.

What Just Happened?  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the first time in a long, long time that the government comes down on the side of the people, as part of a solution.  That minority of the population actually affected by the Act in significant ways will experience the government as their protector and not as an enabler of Wall Street rapacity (even though that's a role the bill also plays).

Everyone Does It:  The defense for Lehman playing pick-a-number with its financial statements seems to be it was no big deal because everybody was doing it.  And still are.  It's not fraud as long as you pay the accountants to say it's not, right Kenny Boy?

Been There, Done That: Iraq is accusing Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil by 'cross-border drilling.'

Safety First:  The point of the bank bailouts was to increase the ability of banks to loan money to entrepreneurs who would then hire people, make stuff and get the economy going.  But that didn't happen.  For example, Goldman Sachs (which became a bank holding company solely to suckle up to the government's teat) had – as of December 2009 - $27.43 billion lodged with the Feds as “reserves”.  Of that amount 94% was “excess” - beyond what they were required to have on deposit.  That's over $25 billion they could have loaned out, were supposed to have loaned out, but did not for fear of not being paid back.

Point of View:  While much of the US was enjoying an old-fashioned winter, much of Canada had the mildest and driest winter on record.  Some Arctic areas were much warmer and the northern part of Quebec province was 10ºF warmer than normal.  El Nino gets the main credit,  global warming gets an assist.

Truth Will Out:  "If you don't tie our hands, we will keep stealing."   Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA)  Fooled you.  You thought it was someone at Goldman Sachs, didn't you?

Porn O'Graph:  Galluping to the rescue.

Monday, March 22, 2010

SAR #10081

I expected the apocalypse would be more dramatic.

A Bridge Too Far:  Germany's Chancellor Merkel is strongly disabusing any and all of the idea that the European Union will bail out of Greece.

Roadmap:   The dreary fact of life in hard times:  If you don’t tell people the truth, they'll turn against you down the line; if you do tell them, they'll turn against you right away.  And that's how we got here.

Joneses:  Yacht sales are up 50%, and they're buying $4,000 3-D TVs to go in the staterooms.  Some sectors recovered quicker than others.

Starting Somewhere:  The FHLB is suing Dewy, Cheatham & Howe (aka Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide & co-defendants) for lying about the dead fish they'd wrapped up in MBS.  Fannie and Freddie are set to go after another bunch of 'em, too.  What a marvelous class-action suit this could be: all the greedy investors on one side and all the greedy banksters on the other and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers.

Friday's Night Special:  On Friday the FDIC shut down 7 banks with a total of $3.3 billion in assets and $3.1 in deposits, at a cost to the FDIC of $1.28 billion.

Box of Chocolates:  According to China's Commerce Minister, its trade surplus fell 34% in 2009 and “I personally expect that China could possibly have a trade deficit in March."  He didn’t say March of which year.

Rose Colored Glasses Off:  Take a good look at what our war machine is doing in your name.  The latest is the murder of two pregnant women and a teenage girl in their home, where they were celebrating the naming of a newborn child.  Two others died several hours later, having been refused medical care.

Heads/Tails:  The difference between Massachusetts' Romney-care and Obama-care is... Romney?

Cautionary Tale:  “All of our revenue is completely consumed by entitlements.  Every dollar we spend on the military, homeland security, transportation, education and research is borrowed."   And half of that comes from foreign sources, which bothers Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the US deficit reduction commission.

Belaboring The Obvious:  The United states no longer controls the price of oil on world markets.  Hint: Hasn't since the 1970's.

Financial Innovation:  All you need to know: Collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) have caused $542 billion in losses at financial institutions since the beginning of the credit crisis – about half their total losses.

A&A: Can climate skeptics be convinced they are wrong? No, because it is not about logic or the facts, but about their fears and insecurity.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service:  Gamblers pretending to be investors should not be allowed to buy CDS on trades they are not a party to.  If you have no insurable risk in the transaction, (or if the transaction never existed) betting on whether or not it will fail is simply gambling and should be done in the alley.

Can't Buy Me Love:   Nor happiness either.  The rich, it seems, are not that much different than us – it's just that the things they think will bring them happiness cost more than the things we think will bring us happiness, and we are all fooling ourselves.

Hoja's Donkey:  Profits are still being squeezed out of workers' incomes, which has yet to lead to a recovery in customer purchasing power.  Just as Hoja's donkey died just as it was learning to get by on no food at all, US companies are going to pare payrolls down until their workers start buying again.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

SAR #10079/Weekender

Who's behind this curtain?

This Is Your Life:  The EU, Germany, and Greece seem to be reading from an old Max Sennett script; the euro ended down again, at $1.3529. CDS gamblers traders are making heavy bets against the euro as a significant plunge is anticipated.

Marginal Margin:  A WSJ story quoted Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan to the effect that the profit margin on Chinese export goods is less than 2%.  Seems implausible.   China must be doing something wrong to fritter away its huge wage advantage.  It also means that Chinese goods would not be competitive if the price of oil – and thus transport – were to climb above $110 or so.  At a 2% margin, any appreciation in the yuan would cause them to operate at a loss.  None of this seems realistic.

Asked & Answered:  Is ethical capitalism possible?  No, not without gelding.

Down The Drain:  Romney says not to worry about your health care costs getting lower under the Dem's plan because as soon as the GOP gets in power again they'll simply refuse to fund government healthcare and let the insurance companies have another go at your wallets directly, rather than through taxes.

Bonanza:   Shell announced it has made “a significant oil discovery” 25,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in the same area where previous large deposits have been found.  “Significant” was not further defined . Pemex said it had found “up to 2 billion barrels of proven, probable and potential reserves” of oil in shallow Gulf of Mexico waters. Hoss and Little Joe?

Recovery Underway!  Nation-wide, the average price of gasoline is the highest it has been since October 2008.  You remember Fall 2008, don't you?

Reality Check:  Health insurance companies do not like having HIV positive clients and will try to avoid them if possible.  Ditto with the chronically ill, those predisposed to genetic diseases, those with pre-existing conditions and so on. Insurance is a business.  If you do not like it, support a not-for-profit system such as universal single-payer.  But if you are against “government meddling” in health care, don't criticize insurance companies for trying to maximize profits. That's called capitalism.

Quoted:  “Currency unions don't survive.”  Investor Jim Rogers on the approaching death of the Euro.  He also thinks the Pound will go the way of the North Sea's oil production.

Inactivity:  According to Great Britain's Office of National Statistics, 28% of British adults are – voluntarily or involuntarily – not working. Yet "Unemployment is sharply down...” because most of the unemployed have given up looking for a job.  Sound familiar?

Picture This:  Last week Kuwaiti researchers forecast a peak in oil production would occur in/by 2014.  If you haven't got time to read the article, look at the chart to fuel your dreams.

Do Unto Some Others:  Many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians determinedly ignore two of the pillars of Christian teaching: peacemaking and serving the poor.  It is theorized that this may because these believers mistake the USA for the Kingdom of God, confuse the Bible with the Constitution, morality with capitalism, and suspect the US Marines are the Army of God.

How Many Differences Can You Spot? On March 10, Fedex's CEO said the fourth quarter was far below what it ought to be in a cyclical recovery On March 18th, he says the global economic recovery is broadening.

FinallyLess than 60% of freshmen manage to graduate from 4-year colleges. Only 1 in 3 community college students finish.  Yes, many are unprepared – and many are un-preparable.  It is not as bad as it seems, for most of them will not need a college education for their roles in our economy, especially the dumbed down education common in the US these days, which is more or less equivalent to European high school.  If we taught them to think and set them free in a library they'd probably be better off.

Porn O'Graph:  May the Force be with you.

Friday, March 19, 2010

SAR #10078

The economy runs on two things: optimism and cheap energy.

Round & Round:  They say the crisis is over.  They lie.  The recovery, if there was one, is a 90 pound weakling.  A group of experts say there will be another crisis – much worse than the current one – because we haven't fixed any of the problems, banks have resumed willy-nilly risk-taking, and investors are chasing ever higher returns in a stagnant economy.  They see a "doomsday cycle" where banks use borrowed money to take massive risks in an attempt to pay big dividends to shareholders and big bonuses to management – and when the risks go wrong, the banks expect you to bail them out again.  But the odds are you won't, and “a calamitous global collapse" will follow.

Equal Representation:  The GOP says the Democrats are not representing the will of the people when it comes to health care.  Maybe, maybe not.  But Democrats in the Senate represent 63% of the US population.  And those in favor of the bill represent 61% of the US population.  Majority wins by a supermajority.

Advisement:  For those hyperventilating over imminent inflation and hyperinflation, could we suggest you'll have to wait until the deflation is over?  CPI was flat in February after rising only 0.2% in January.

Pocket Change:  Lawmakers are expected to soon announce a unique proposal to lower CO2 emissions by giving tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry to encourage them to produce more petroleum and natural gas.

Believe It Or Don't:  Greece has drawn up a diet that will let them drop their deficit from a size 12% to a measly 3% in two short years.  Drawing up the plan was the tough part, now all they have to do is stick to it. But Curious George Papandreou has told Germany it has to decide to bail Greece out this week or else.  Anybody here know how to play this game?

Holding Hands:  When the price of oil goes up, the economy goes down. The price of oil has been going up.  Meanwhile, back at the plant, US factory utilization has risen from last June's record low 68.2% all the way to 72.6% - slightly above the previous low of 70.9% in 1982.  Excitement fills the air.

Fractals:  Ranting about fractional reserve banking, where a bank with $1 can loan out $10, is an old sport.  Now Mr. Bernanke wants to do away with the $1 and let banks lend any amount they want, at any time, with no reserve requirement at all.  Would someone please explain this in a way that will calm me down?

Go Away:  Walgreens says it loses money filling prescriptions for Washington State Medicaid patients and will not take any new Medicaid patients in the state.  The state had reduced its reimbursement payments because it is running out of money.  Multiply by 50.

Precisely:  The Labor Department joyfully reported that initial jobless claims had fallen 5,000 last week, to 457,000.  For the math challenged, this is a 1% change and signifies not a damned thing other than that another half-million American lost their jobs.

Murmurings:  Geithner & friends: "We do not expect substantial further declines in unemployment this year" but they see economic activity "continue to strengthen.” But then, they've never been right before...

Survey:  Would you pay to keep reading SAR?  What about news sites? Opinion pieces?   The great majority resist paying for Internet news access simply because they never have.  I don't mind, but some folks want to be paid for their time and effort.  You?

The Pain in Spain:   The Wharton School of Business suggests that Spain is the one to watch, not Greece.   Given the size of its economy and the size of its debt, a Spanish collapse could lead to the breakup of the euro market and thrust the entire globe into crisis.

Porn O'Graph:   If business is so good, why can't I get waited on?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

SAR #10077

'A few good men' overstates the case.

No Loitering:  Under the terms of Sen Dodd's reform bill, financial institutions would be required to keep some portion of “certain loan products” (for which read 'crappy loans') on their books.  This “risk retention” is designed to make banks hold an interest in the financial products they create.  Banks naturally don't want anything at all to do with the stuff they've been pushing out the door.

Moody's Blues:  Moody's says that the reduction in government spending, increases in taxes and cuts to social programs will involve “substantial execution risk.”   By which, they rush to explain, they mean merely riots, not revolution.

Chickens, Home:  The scam that Reagan and the GOP pulled on America in the 1980's, and that has been happily used by every administration since, is finally coming unwound.  After 25 years of “investing” the Social Security Trust Fund in US Government debt – which was just a way of taxing and spending without calling it that – it is time to make good on the IOU's.  The government simply has to raise income taxes or borrow even more money and keep on writing the checks.  And that's what they'll do. Until they figure out how to dump the obligation.  Funny, no one ever thought we'd actually have to pay back what we borrowed.  So, naturally, we'll borrow more.  Kneejerk reaction. "As long as the federal government can keep borrowing to fund the Social Security deficit and Medicare deficit and fund the massive annual general budget shortfalls projected throughout the decade, the benefits will keep flowing.  But unpleasant decisions lie ahead.  First we'll pretend it is no big deal.  Then we'll begin to renege on the promise.  The taxable income level will rise, and with it the retirement age – to 70 or more.  Check back in 5 years.

Easy Come, Easy Go:  Last month investors took nearly $4 billion out of US stock-oriented mutual funds, while shoving nearly $20 billion into taxable bond funds.  Cowards.

A Profit In Its Own Land...   Nigeria is trying to write laws that will let it gain some control over the country's oil fields and receive a reasonable share of the profits.  Big oil says this unreasonable and they will walk away and the entire world – especially their shareholders - will suffer.  If Nigeria ends up with oil in the ground longer, it won't necessarily be a bad thing.

They say... More and more reports are surfacing that claim that more and more homeowners are walking away from their mortgages, even though they can still make the payments.  The numbers are impressive – half a million in 2008 and growing.

Expired:  The neocons now say that their former darling General Pretraeus has passed his use-by date.  Maybe because he sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning:  “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

Now It Can Be Told:  It is alleged that Louisiana cops were guilty of racist behavior in Katrina's aftermath. Not before, just after.

Once Upon A Time:  The US housing market – sales and prices – is propped up by taxpayer money, but the Fed is beginning to kick out the props.  When the Fed stops supporting Fannie and Freddie and the FHA, and the Buyers' Bribes end, what's going to happen?  What flavors does tear gas come in?

Straw Men:  A new article claims that “Scientists Need a New Approach on Climate Change” and goes on to allege that scientists have only diagnosed the illness, not recommended a course of treatment.  How much plainer than “Stop burning fossil fuels!” does Dr Hansen have to be?

Over There:  The Bank of England has warned British families to expect a dramatic drop in their standard of living.  It also warned that unemployment had not yet peaked (despite the curious data for February).

Porn O'Graph:  Don't Tell Alice.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SAR #10076

It was never about economics, it was all just greed.

A Little off the Top:  New home sales are still falling, as are housing starts.  Mortgage delinquencies are on the rise. 24% of mortgaged houses are underwater and more and more owners are walking away.  Adjustable rate mortgages are about to adjust.  No one but Larry Kudlow believes there's a recovery underway.  CRE is about to go crash.  The national debt is growing at nearly $4 billion a day.  The Fed is buying most of the Treasury's debt (aka fun-with-numbers).   Greece was not a singularity, the rest will be along soon.  The unemployed have become the long-term unemployed and are becoming the unemployable.  The road home leads through “massive deleveraging”.   Think Detroit, think retiring at 72, think 15 to 20% unemployment.  Think the death of a thousand cutbacks.  Think double-dip.

Memory Lane: When Obama and the Democratic Congress set out to drain this swamp, the goal was a single-payer healthcare system, using a strong public option as the first step.  The intent was not to pour billions of dollars into the health insurance industry's pockets.  Mistakes were made.

Twins! Just so you'll have some idea what all the fuss is about the growing scarcity of oil and water, page through Matthew Simmons' great presentation.

Emu Ranch:  You don't have to take the loss on that emu ranch until you sell it.  Until then you can carry it on your retirement plan as worth every penny.  Works as long as you don't actually retire.  Similarly banks don't have to publicly admit a commercial real estate loan has gone bad until it comes due.  They can roll it over and never take the loss.  Like Mary's chinchilla farm.

Asked & Answered: Does daylight savings time save time?  Money? Energy?  Anything?  No to all.

Fever:  Somehow Dick Cheney's ghost has sent a bunch of bunker buster bombs to Diego Garcia – an ammo dump in the Indian Ocean conveniently at hand if one wanted to bomb Iran to discourage it from lusting after nuclear weapons.  The US intends to keep its place in history as the only nation to have used nuclear weapons.

Quoted:  “Republicans lie all the time about everything. “ (And the Democrats are naught but moderate Republicans, which pretty much sinks the whole ship.)

Eenie MeenieIn your spare time, when you are not agonizing over Social Security, spend a few moments considering the $2 trillion hole in state and local government retirement plans.  Over 20 million cops, teachers, firemen and garbage collectors expect to receive their checks, and the cupboard is bare.  Either these folks end up living in their cars or you get to bail them out.  Guess which is more likely to happen first.

Timed Out:  The unemployment rate for those closest to retirement (age 45 – 64) is at its highest since WWII.  It would be interesting to know how many of these one-time workers fall into that long term unemployed, never-to-be-rehired category.

Looking Good:  In the last three months the number of idle container ships has dropped from about 12% of the world's total capacity to about 9%. Most of the improvement was in the Asia-Europe trade.

Bob Sam The Builder:  Last year, in order to pass an unemployment benefit extension, Congress included the Bribe-a-Buyer tax credit and a “net loss carryback” provision that allowed home builders to travel back in time and deduct 2009's losses from earlier year’s profits. [Which is like letting the unemployed go back to when they had a job and re-do their taxes.]  The bribe was to get people to do what they were going to do anyway, or to con those who shouldn't buy a house to do so.  The carryback has cost you $2.3 billion so far – and your local builder thanks you.

A Trinity:  Infinite economic growth is not possible.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot outgrow the ability of the planet's resources to sustain life.  Mother nature bats last and there is not enough to go around – especially if the curse of 9 billion people by 2050 comes true.  Pretty soon some reality-based planning has to occur, followed by some pretty serious action.

Not the Last:  A company in Maryland is running for Congress.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SAR #10075

There's 'truth' and there's 'the whole truth', and then there are talking points.

Even Handed:  Hamid Karzai is upset that the US had Pakistan arrest #2 Taliban leader Mullah Baradar.  Seems Karzai thought his theft of the recent election made him the actual president of Afghanistan and was holding peace talks with Baradar.

Standard Accounting:  To think Lehman's was the only big investment house to manipulate its balance sheet via repos would be naive.  The whole point of accounting has become to find ways to crook the books without going to jail.  Ask Barclays.

Snowball's Chance:  Given that a Senator must raise $30,000 a week, every week for six years, just to run for re-election, is there even a remote chance of meaningful financial reform?

Slower Beats Faster:  Mortgage delinquencies are not increasing as fast as the were, but they are still increasing.  In January 2010, 10.25% of US mortgages were delinquent and 3.3% were in foreclosure – for a total 'non-current' rate of 13.5%.   That's only a 2% increase from December, but it’s a 22% increase y/y.  Between 5 and 7 million houses eligible for foreclosure have yet to be repossessed and put up for sale. Then there are the second liens, which are now seen as worth only 40 to 60 cents on the dollar, helping losses along.

Let's Make Renege on a Deal:  What do you call a Congressman who demands you include X in a bill before he will vote for it, votes against it after you include it and then lies about the whole thing?  Mr. Campbell (R-CA), for one.

Garbage In, Garbage Out:  Beijing's garbage – like China's economy – has been growing rapidly – abut 8% a year through 2008.  In 2009 it did not increase, it shrank ½ %.  Either they suddenly became ecologically conscious consumers, or they've cut way back on consumption.  Makes you wonder about those growth statistics.  Couple that with the sudden downturn in the Chinese economy's leading indicator index and you could loose a little enthusiasm for the 'China, China, China' mantra.

Jean Paul Gottcha: “If you owe the bank $100, that's your problem.  If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem.”  Krugman is getting a lot of credit for substituting China for 'bank' and $2 trillion for a few million.  But if the renminbi is revalued up 20%, the price of oil will follow, and any export advantage the US gains will go right into the gas tank to pay for higher priced oil.

Health careful:   The GOP is dead set against Obama's Romney's heath care program.

Working Without A Net:  As of mid-2009, Bank of America was on the hook for derivatives valued at 2,221% of its net worth.  For Citi it was 2,527& and for Chase an enormous 4,562%.  But stand back – Goldman Sachs is sitting on derivative obligations in excess of 33,823% of its net worth.  I know, that's just 'notational' value.  But I've got a notational that it's going to matter one day.  Soon?

Choices:  Short of hyper-inflation it is impossible for a government to inflate its debts away.  So we either earn/grow our way out by adopting a very strict budget.  Or we have to write it off – bankruptcy for countries is called sovereign default.  Depressing, isn't it.

Delusion:  Michael Lewis claims that the entire south end of Manhattan suffered a case of mass delusion lasing 5 or so years.  Actually, most of the people on Wall Street were just smart enough to fool themselves and dumb enough to buy the lies they were fed by the crooks and thieves they worked for.  The only shared delusion was that they all thought they could get away with it.  Oh, wait.  They did.

Porn O'Graph:  Stocks are a good buy.  Or was that 'goodbye'?

Monday, March 15, 2010

SAR #10074

Democracy – a feel-good fantasy; see also ‘Voting’.

Ticked Off:  Last week the CNBC market booster crowd was all enthused that the recession was over and customers were back in the stores – driving retail sales up at the fastest rate in 3 years.  February sales were 'up' because January's were even worse than first reported, half the gain was due to increases in the price of gasoline, and the government had dumped over $15 billion in tax credit money into the hands of the poor and destitute. Some up-tick.

Asked and Answered:  Did the Democrats ever support the public option?  Ignore the rhetoric, just look at their actions – or lack thereof.

Not Strictly True"  Turns out that the heroic NATO troops (well, Americans and a few Afghanis) who reported engaging in a firefight during a night raid last month in eastern Afghanistan were actually engaging in a bit of fibbing.  Commanders have now characterized the initial reports as “not strictly true” - like so much else from them, there.  The bound and gagged corpses of women and children were the first clue that mistakes had been made.  Again.

Inertia:  Why do stocks go up?  Chose one:  A) People like it that way. B) Greed.  C) Hope over experience.  D) All of the above.

Unseasoned Data:  Out-bound container traffic at LA and Long Beach is up 33% from last year, but still down 10% from pre-crash days.  Inbound is also up, but on a quarter to quarter basis only 10% or so and still down nearly 20% from pre-crash numbers.  Raw data, not seasonally manipulated.

Customer Satisfaction:  Patients used to expect a doctor to write a prescription for whatever symptoms brought them to the office.  Doctors generally obliged.  Now they expect tests and scans.  Doctors oblige. A placebo is a placebo, only the cost changes.

Another Thing:  Accuweather says the 2010 hurricane season will be a doozie.  Hope that’s just a lot of hot air.

Rules To Ponder:  Long term trends tend to be long term trends. Deviations from long term trends tend to revert to the norm.  For example, the long term trend of the US debt to GDP ratio forms a slow, gradual upward slope.  There have been two severe departures from this line, one in the late 1920's and today’s which is more than double that one.  The 1920's deviation was followed by the Great Depression. 

He Said:  “Republicans believe a majority vote is appropriate only when Republicans are in the majority.”

Once More, With Feeling:  Perpetual optimist Daniel Yergin, Cambridge Energy Research Associates – a consultancy pandering to Big Oil – says that there is not a shortage of oil, the world is awash with crude, and that prices will not rise over the next few years.  Yergin did not repeat his 2004 guarantee that oil prices for the next six years (2004 – 2010 back then) will average $38 a barrel.  Oil actually averaged $72 a barrel over that period. Obviously, being repeatedly wrong does not hinder a successful career as a shill for the oil industry  oil industry expert.

Can't Win #452:   Reducing the pollutants in the air will make ever greater cuts in CO2 emissions are necessary – less pollution allows more solar radiation through the atmosphere to get trapped... Doing good means you have to do even more good, rather like feeding the hungry.

Verities:  If they can't raise the cash or get credit, people can't be customers.  The US economy runs on optimism.  Eventually debt has to be repaid.  GDP growth is not always a good thing (think higher spending on health care).  The only thing American companies are doing with their near-$1 trillion in cash is buying other companies and buying back stock. Neither act makes any new job.  A tax cut on corporations now would only give them more money they would not use to expand employment.

Porn O'GraphDon't worry, it's insured.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

SAR #10072/Weekender

The power of technology depends on there being power.

Sausage:  The Democratic leadership in the Senate, having enough votes to pass meaningful health care reform with a public option is doing everything it can to prevent the passage of a meaningful heath care reform bill with a public option.  Scam is one word that comes to mind.  Obeying the health insurance industry is why.

At Long Last:  Fitch Rating Service just woke up to the fact the housing market will come tumbling down when the Fed stops supporting it.  No wonder they make the big bucks.

Peter, Meet Paul:  States have had to borrow billions from the federal government in order to make payments to the millions of unemployed citizens.  Now the same states will have to raise taxes on employers to pay back the borrowed money.  This will take money from the companies, reducing their incentive to hire and possibly causing further layoffs.  Rinse and repeat.

Forget It:  Researchers are trying to determine how Toyota vehicles know there is a senior citizen driving the car.

Anti-Climax:  As we all knew all along, Germany will bail out Greece under the guise of the ECM, it will demand severe cutbacks in spending, and Greece will pretend to make severe cutbacks in social programs.  Move along, nothing to see here.

Picture This:  There are 33 wars going on right now.  And remember that the US is the worlds' largest arms supplier.

Yessiree Bob:  "I think it might not be a bad idea to examine the faith-based assumption that the US has a virtually unlimited supply of natural gas from shale formations that can be extracted at a low price for the indefinite future."

They're Back!  February retail sales are up 0.9% from January and 3.5% from a year ago. Take a good look, Junior, that's what it's like when the customer is rushing deeper into debt!

Tomorrow, The Sun Will Shine Tomorrow: Changes to the accounting rules have made it easier for banks to pretend that their $1.7 trillion exposure to commercial real estate is fine, thank you, just fine. Because after the loans fail the government will make the banks whole, and everything will be fine again. Just fine.

Asked and Answered:  Will the stock market rally last?  Yes, then No. Yes, because a lot of people haven't invested their last dime yet.

Read'n, Write'n and God Bless the USA:  Ten Texas Republicans, several of whom are rumored to be literate, and one idiot have adopted an extreme right-wing conservative curriculum for social studies instruction that ignores Jefferson, cannonises Ronnie, makes a Christian out of Ben Franklin, erases blacks and Hispanics, and questions the need for affirmative action, evolution, and governments.  Better yet– Texas' standards become the defacto standard for textbooks across the country.

Language Lesson:   “The FDIC expects the number of institutions under its control will expand this year due to increased financial pressure...” and thus they are going to quickly dump the crappy home loans it has picked up from failed banks. In other words, the FDIC has figured out the stuffing is going to hit the fan, and plans to toss its stuff into the fan first.

Red Queen Rule:  The appellate court ruling that “Under God” is not a prayer doesn't stand a prayer of a chance of passing the smirk test.

Essence: American soldiers in Afghanistan are 12,000 miles from home and do not speak the language.  The Taliban live just down the road and grew up speaking the language.  Game, set, match.

Baby Steps:  PIMCO's El-Erain says that solving the Greek sovereign debt problem is just a warm-up exercise, the main event will be the United States.

Porn O'Graph:  What peak oil would look like if there were such a thing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

SAR #10071

Resource wars are a form of denial.

Car 54: “... the NY Fed, and thus Timothy Geithner, were at a minimum massively derelict in the performance of their duties, and may well be culpable in aiding and abetting Lehman in accounting fraud...”  Never a cop around when you need one.

Emphasis: Foreclosures were either down 2% from January '10 or up 6% from February '09.  Default notices (future foreclosures) were either up 3% in a month or down 3% in a year.  February 2009. Prize headline: “Foreclosures Slowed Significantly”.

Missing Impossible:  Deutsche Bank claims that the risk of municipal-bond defaults is “higher than it's been in quite some time.”  Where you guys been?  DetroitGaryKansas City?

Coming Attractions: A report from some alternate universe claims that the 'wealth effect' is back and that “rising home prices and an improving economy” will lead to an increase in home equity loans, which will in turn drive the recovery even higher.  Cautiously.

Me! Me Me Me! USA! Geithner 'cautioned' the Europeans that not letting American banks and hedge funds continue to sabotage their economies smacked of protectionism, as though the idea of protecting their economies hadn't occurred to them.

The Numbers:  The DOL says initial unemployment claims were 462,000, 1.3% less than last week.  The 4-week moving average was 475,500, an increase of 1% from last week.  Continuing claims were over 4,550,000.  Unemployed not drawing benefits don't count.  Spin.

Here's A Tip:  TIPS won't reach a real return of 2% for at least four years. Unless the US begins inflating away the debt sooner.

Fad:  Obama is going to save the US economy by doubling our exports over the next 5 years.  So is Britain.   And Germany.   Japan, too.  And China, don't forget China.  Can we all get rich taking in each others laundry?

No Deposit, No Return:  Senator Corker (R-Loansharks) is making sure that hard-working Americans will not be deprived of the opportunity to pay an effective 360% (or more) annual rate for their payday loans by any liberal do-good Consumer Finance Protection Agency.  Payday loans are not issued by banks, he argues, but by Vinnie and the guys – who are some of his main contributors.

Choices:  Over 80% of Americans claim that God helps them in making decisions.  Given the choices that they make, they are obviously not listening to the advice.

As Always:  In order to allow foreign bankers and speculators to recoup their ill-advised investments in Greece, the EU is imposing severe austerity measures that fall mostly on the poor and will worsen the recession already underway.  Inexplicably, the unions representing about half the country's workers have called for strikes to show their displeasure at lower pensions, extended retirement age, lower wages and fewer social services.

Menu:  Column A: Inflation.  Column B: Default.  Pick one from Column B.

Shameless:  Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) the top GOP member of the Budget Committee wants to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Defense(!) plus privatize Medicare, increase taxes on the bottom 20% of citizens by 12.3%, decrease taxes on the richest 1% by a whopping 15%, send a few hundred billion to for-profit insurance companies and calls the whole thing a tax cut. Tax cut – where 90% of the population pays more taxes to receive less services. Check out the graph.

Asked, No Answer:  Why does anyone still listen to Milton Friedman's Chicago School of economic fantasy?

Slim Margin:  Mexico's Carlos Slim with $53.5 billion squeaked by Bill Gates' $53 billion to become the worlds richest man.  The list of billionaires increased by 27% last year, to 1,011.   How in the world can any of this be justified?

Porn O'Graph:  Discretion may be the better part of valor GDP.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

SAR #10070

We learned about finance from a world that no longer exists.

Roses, I Tell You, Roses: Greece is cured.  The stimulus worked, jobs are growing, Geithner is brilliant, saved the banks, saved us all.  Rham Emanuel is a true Svengalli.  There really is a recovery and it's not too late to buy stocks, any stocks!  Obama is triumphant and there's way too much propaganda in the wind.  The housing crash is over and it's up, up, up!  Jobs are everywhere - “a lot of jobs!”  Rubbishpure  unadulterated  rubbish.

Fool's Errand: All but 4% of Americans favor health care reform, but most of them want it to be supported by the Republicans, too.  Yet Sen. McConnell (R-Moon) claims  “Americans have issued their verdict on this bill.  They don’t want it. It’s that simple.” I t may be a lot of things, but simple isn't one of them.

Yogi Berra Moment: The euro is sound, Greece is saved, investors are rushing into junk bonds and high-risk instruments in a mad drive to get back all they've lost.  In a week, if possible.  Echo? I don't hear no stinking echo.

Synopsis:  1. Empires are complex systems.  2. Complex systems often fail catastrophically.  3. The weakest link is best identified in hindsight.   There, now you don't have to read Niall Ferguson's latest bit of derivative discovery.  Oh, in case you are as slow as Ferguson's admirers:  4. The US is a complex empire that may collapse suddenly for reasons we cannot now anticipate.  Applause, applause.

Savings Glut:  Americans reduced their credit card balances by $93 billion last year, mainly by not paying and having the banks write off the debt.  Does that qualify as 'savings' to an economist?

Table Stakes:  China says that having a bit of gold is a nice idea, but it doesn't plan on buying the tons and tons the IMF wants to get rid of.  It is going to “proceed cautiously” - so don't go driving the price up on them.

Second Thoughts:  Samsung has a refrigerator with a computer built into the door that can show pictures of the kids when it's not searching the net for just the right recipe – and displaying it while you cook.  I wouldn't pay a lot for it, but some will.

Line in the Sand:  Kuwaiti scientists see world conventional crude oil production peaking in 2014.  What do a bunch of Arabs know about petroleum?

The Lady or the Tiger:  Door #1: Our entire consumer economy is predicated on debt, and ends in either drastic government spending cuts, or hyperinflation.  Door #2: Peak Oil is just around the corner and will result in a dramatic reduction in the standard of living currently propped up by cheap oil.  Door #3: Water...  Door #4: Global Climate...

Euro Doom: The best thing that can be said about the European Monetary Union is that it is European, it shares a common currency, and the members are united in trying to get the better of each other.  Where's Dumas when you need him?

Movin' On Up:  The number of US households with a net worth over $1 million – not counting the mansion – was up 16% last year, to 7.8 million, up... well, a million, from 6.7 million in 2008.

Poor & Dirt Poor:  SWF, 36 – 49, worth $42,600 on average.  SBF, same age, has a net worth of $5.  Multiply that by the fact that 70% of African-American families are headed by single women.  American may be the beautiful, but it is nowhere near equal.

Porn O'Graph:  How long is long? More than 27 weeks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SAR #10069

Nature recycles everything.

Innovation:  Long-term unemployment is creating a class of permanently unemployed and unemployable citizens.  Extended and re-extended unemployment benefits are becoming another (stealth?) entitlement program – currently at $10 billion a month and growing.  Originally meant to tide the out-of-work over until jobs were found, it is fast becoming a fixture of our society. Is this a personal or a social problem?  Are you a Republican or a Democrat?

Dominoes:  There are horrific massacres going on in Nigeria.  If you are not concerned it's because you've forgotten that Nigeria is the #3 source of your gasoline.

Sprout:  US shippers are concerned the recent upturn in trade will run into a shortage of container ships – so many were mothballed in the last 18 months that a little up-tick in traffic could cause some capacity problems before owners are convinced it is time to put their fleets back on the high seas.

Reconditioned:  “There are lies, damned lies, and Chinese statistics.”

Spades: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says the health care bill is simply a giant gift for the health insurance industry and he will not vote to enrich them unless there is a robust and viable public option in the bill.  On the other hand, Limbaugh promises to leave the country if it's passed, so maybe Dennis should reconsider.

Makes Cents:  Scientists at McDonald's have discovered that humans possess a separate sense of taste for fat.

McCrystal Balls:  The Marines cleared a town of Afghans, posted soldiers shoulder to shoulder in full combat gear along a short lane and invited Secretary of Defense Gates to take part in a series of propaganda exercises to prove how safe the place was and how much good the last few billions of dollars has done.

Second Verse:   Relax, the commercial real estate market isn't going to collapse and cause a lot of damage, because it's not like the early 1990's. This time it's different – J.P. Morgan said so.

Here or There:  The price of gasoline is up about 30 cents a gallon in the last month – averaging about $2.76 nationwide now, the highest since October 2008.  At my house that's another $40 for gasoline this month, money that won't be spent at the mall.  Not a big deal yet – that's only half a house payment a year. So far.

One Per Customer:  In January the US shipped another $41 billion overseas – mostly for oil and stuff from Walmart China.  As oil prices rise, the trade deficit will increase. Money sent overseas cannot be used to buy American goods and services.  Either the consumer will go into debt to buy American-made stuff, or it will pile up unsold.  Then they'll lose their jobs and... we've been there before.  The cost of $147 a barrel oil was a lot more than $147, and will be again.

Definitions:  People say I'm not a 'positive' person.  Not so, I am.  I'm positive things are going to hell in a handbasket. None of this 'happiness mantra stuff' for me.

Quote:  “It’s not about whether there is some predefined sovereign debt level where things go kaboom.  It’s not about whether a sovereign issuing debt in its own currency can default.  It’s about whether the entire world can prop up malinvestments indefinitely without a collapse in the current financial system. ”

Porn O'Graph:   As easy as A B C...