Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SAR #10243

Those who have jobs produce far more than those who have jobs can consume.

Post hoc ergo Propter hoc:  Harvard Economist Robert Barro, observing that in the early 1980's unemployment benefits were constrained and that unemployment at that time fell quite quickly, concludes that all we need do is to stop paying more than 26 weeks of unemployment and everything will be fine.  I think Robert – like many economists and most Republicans– should try to get a job in construction.

Magic: In April, personal income increased 0.2% and personal expenditures increased 0.4% which people on Wall Street find a cheering trend.  In July, the personal savings rate dropped from June's 6.2% to 5.9%. Joy to the world, consumption's back.

Exploding Exports:  In an attempt to spur US export business, restrictions on selling military weapons and systems are being removed. Seems there's a growing market for cluster bombs and depleted uranium shells.  Ricardo said each nation should produce that which it is best at.

The Water's Running:  The difficulty in dealing with climate deniers (and the birthers and so many others) is not that they don't understand the evidence – it's that  evidence has nothing to do with their belief.  The denial comes from deep-seated emotional commitments and fears, in unthinking adherence to some political ideology and, often, in a perceived financial interest in not knowing – and they simply cannot hear rational arguments.

Over There... Companies are rushing to buy up acreage in Africa that they can use for growing bio-fuel crops, a process that involves deforesting large sections of land, diverting water from production of foodstuff to the growing of fuelstuffs, irreversible environmental, social and cultural devastation.  Some 12 million acres have already fallen into their hands. How is this not another form of colonial exploitation?

Rainmaker:   We're told there is a bonanza of petroleum waiting for us under the Artic ice – some 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil.  At about 90 mbd, that’s about 1,000 days. Call it 2.5 years.  Yup, we are saved.  Or will be, once they figure out how to safely drill with the ice forming and melting every year...

Deficits Erased:  Joe Miller, Tea Partier and presumptive GOP candidate for Senator in Alaska, says that unemployment benefits, Social Security and Medicare are not constitutional and must be stopped.  Now if he could just do away with a standing army...

Ouroboros:  Agribusiness says it must be allowed to use genetically modified crops, more herbicides, more large scale (fossil fuel based) farms in order to feed the growing population, but all that'll do is allow the now-fed population to expand further, which will require ever more crop production.  People are a crop, famine is the endgame.

The Question:  “What happened to reasonable, rational, educated people of purpose in this country?”

Correction:  Paul Krugman observed that “a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate.”   Actually, a large number of Americans do not consider any government legitimate.

A little help, please.  When economist talk about 'savings' and the 'savings rate' do they view paying off  debt as 'saving”?

Porn O'Graph:  Reversion to the very, very mean.

Monday, August 30, 2010

SAR #10242

From time to time we are reminded how little wisdom our leaders have.

Reminder:  For all his posturing, Glen Beck rejects the very premise of Martin Luther King Jr's “I have a dream” speech.  The event was not a civil rights protest, but an economic one.  The “I have a dream” part was an ad-libed after thought – not part of his prepared speech.  The march was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”.  And King talked about the bad check America had written the Negro.  King had, by then, changed from the civil rights struggle to seeking economic equality – which has never been “a traditional American value.”  Beck, of course , does not agree with “the economic agenda of the civil rights movement.”

The Company Line:  Seventy-five percent of US business leaders say they don’t expect the recession to end sometime in 2011.  Two thirds don’t expect to hire more workers any time soon.  The rest must be military contractors.

Hungry for Profits:  The world is running out of arable land, water shortages are everywhere and getting worse, and now essential fertilizers such as phosphorus and potash are being monopolized.  Speculators have discovered agricultural commodities, and the result has been skyrocketing prices for wheat, barley and other grains.  It's a simple paradigm, those that have money will eat, those who control agricultural commodities will profit, the rest will do neither.

Sausage Factory:  Rumor has it that “a growing cadre of Democrats” support a plan that would permanently extend the Bush tax cuts benefiting the middle class while renewing breaks for the wealthy for just one more year – through 2011.  And then in 2011, they'll do it again.  And again.

It Can't Happen Here:  An 11 year old rape victim was denied an abortion and forced to give birth.  It happened in Mexico.  This time. Wait until the the right gets full control of your life.

Perspective:  There has been no recovery – not outside of the better offices on Wall Street.  If the economy cannot manage at least a consistent 2.5% growth in GDP, unemployment will continue to increase.  If Mr. Bernanke, the administration, and congress do not focus their efforts on this, they all should be terminated for incompetence.

Souvenirs:  The US has wasted over $50 billion in 'Iraqi reconstruction' and I didn't even get a tee shirt.  Ask the catfood commission how we can afford this, but not Social Security.

For Your Own Good:  China, realizing that much of modern technology depends on 'rare earths' is helping mankind conserve these scarce resources by cutting exports 72%, from 28,000 tons to 8,000 tons. I t also realized that it controlled 97% of the market for rare earths.  Free markets, eh.

Maybe Next Time:  Bernanke has said he will do everything in his power to prevent further economic mayhem, - but in that he hasn't had much success in the last couple of years,  'everything' doesn't seem to be enough.

Map? What Map?  Here we are, lost in the wilderness, and our leaders admit the compass was off by at least 30% for the last couple of months, revising GDP down 30% from 2.4% to 1.6%, and a half of that 1.6% is due to our wars and war-making.

Whitewater/Lewinski Reruns:  The GOP – should they gain control of one or both houses of Congress - plans to bring back the era of permanent investigation of the President and everything the White House has done, does, or may do.  You think they were ugly to Bill Clinton, he was just an oversexed lecher.  Obama is... black. Gasp.

Porn O'Graph:  All you can [afford to] eat.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

SAR #10240

Suddenly there a lot of chickens looking for work.

Pick One:  This week's job data is [more] or [less] than economists predicted. The four week moving average has moved upward again, has has the number of “unemployed” - both to the highest levels in a year.  And the number of Americans receiving 'long term emergency unemployment benefits” grew by 200,000 – in a single week.

Quoted:  “A stock market that rallies on the news that annualized growth in second-quarter GDP was revised from 2.4% to just 1.6%... is irrational, unstable and terribly dangerous.”

F. Scott Revisited:  The super-rich are indeed different from us – they are super pessimistic about the market's future.

Just Add Water:  Chinese officials say that acute shortages of farmland and water are exacerbating the problem of feeding the population.  The government plans to boost grain production by 50 million tons over the next decade, presumably by magic.  Capitalists see this as an opportunity, not a disaster, as they bid up agriculture-related companies.

Fielded Dreams:  In the Chaoyang district of Beijing, 55% of houses are vacant and have been for over three years. Sometimes if you build them, they don't show up.

Bread & Butter:  JCS Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen says that the national debt is the single biggest threat to our national security.  If the debt isn't brought under control, he says, the Pentagon may have to cut back on whiz bang weaponry, which would hurt the home districts of many Congressmen and dampen the rate at which the defense industry hires veterans, especially flag officers.

Shocked, I tell you, Shocked:  One of Karzai's more corrupt aides is closely tied to the CIA.  Just the one?

Cost Plus:  In order to increase their own profits, health insurers are encouraged to accept ever higher bills from hospitals and doctors.  The more they spend, the more profit they can earn, as their non-medical care cut is limited to 30% of premiums.  In California this has lead to 20% and higher increases in premiums - which will translate to a 20% increase in profits.  My uncle built cost-plus roads, retired rich.

Blame Game?   Can we blame climate change for the the extreme heat, the flash floods, the weird weather all over the planet?  No.  Is climate change responsible for these things?  Many, probably.

Is It Now or Never Yet?  For a couple of years it has been obvious that lenders have been very slow to foreclose on houses – to the point that a huge 'shadow inventory' has come to loom over the market . Banks and other investors have been slow to “recognize” losses, because they hoped prices would rise.  Instead house prices have spiraled down and the unbooked losses continue to rise .  A rush to dump their houses on the market now will only increase their losses. Sometimes it is best to just say 'oops', take the loss, and learn.

Cue the Theme Music: The Dem's new theme is “These People Could be in Charge' – replacing “The Party of No”, which was taken as a compliment.

(Miss)Perception:  While he's not reached Greenspan's level of obfuscation, Bernanke's latest comments were vague enough to let the stock market react with the sort of excitement you'd expect from a mullah seeing a bit of ankle underneath a burka.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as is the value of the Fed's promise to ride to the rescue... maybe tomorrow.

Joe Friday:  There are 11 million houses in the US with negative equity – 23% of all mortgaged houses.  And that's an improvement because so many underwater houses have already been foreclosed on.

Friday, August 27, 2010

SAR #10239

The status quo demonstrably does not work.

Quagmires Are US:  Word is seeping into the MSM that al Qaeda in Yemen is the new big threat, bigger than that bunch holed up in Pakistan. They are such boogeymen that a city of 80,000 was evacuated so the Yemeni military (with US Special Ops “advice”) could lay siege to the place. Y-Qaeda is said to have as many as 500 fighters – enough to guarantee tens of thousands of US troops will be there soon.

Thought Experiment:  What would the US be like if we lived within our means?  What would your life be like without a credit card?  Ah.  Deficit spending is always bad?

Let Me Count the Ways Gays:  Ken Mehlman, former Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign manager and current candidate for chairman of the Republican Party, has acknowledged he is gay.  As are the Republican National Committee’s number two political advisor and their Chief Financial Officer. Various MSM sources knew of Mehlman's orientation at the time, but acceded to GOP pressure to keep it quiet.  You know, those liberal media folks that hated Bush.

Question For Bill Gross:  If the government should nationalize the mortgage industry and set lending standards, why shouldn't it do the same for auto loans, credit cards and the rest?  And citing your personal financial stake in mortgage bonds but not other credit operations will not be a convincing argument.

Colonel Jessup:  Ben Bernanke’s Fed has assured a US appellate court that the American public is too weak, innocent and tender to be told the truth about what banks had to be rescued with how much money.  It would, to quote the Fed, “let the cat out of the bag.”  Yes, and that was the general idea.

Miss Manners: Dear W. House.  It is very compassionate of you to accept Mr. Simpson's apology for being an ass.  But it was not you he insulted, and the person he did insult doesn't accept his apology and doesn't want you to accept it for her.  She wants him fired, canned, dismissed, banished to the wilderness.  And when he's gone, she'll probably write you a very nice note.

Revealed:  When the self-anointed experts say that revolution is not possible in America, ask yourself what the parents will do when their children are hungry and have no food, sick and have no medicine, cold and have no shelter?  That future is closer than you think.

Social Security: Stop all the posturing about Social Security for a moment and answer me this:  How much money will it take your mother to live decently – food, clothing, shelter and healthcare – once she's a widow at age 74?  And – assuming you are not willing to kick mom to the side of the road and party on - where is she going to get it?  Yes, eventually it will cost as much as 6% of the nation's GDP.  So?  Isn't she worth it?

Point of View:  Ireland's populace quietly accepted their half-bowl of gruel, sat in the unheated corner and were rewarded by seeing their government debt costs rise.  The Greeks got all excited and took to the streets and burned a few cars and then ate some dolma and washed it down with ouzo and have been rewarded by getting lower interest rates than the Irish.  So, which form of democratic participation in the affairs of state seems to work better?

Examples:  More than half the $1.4 trillion of commercial-real-estate debt due by 2015 is for properties that are underwater now and likely to sink further.  Or would if the debtors weren't smart businessmen and simply walking away.  But the 1 in 10 households with a mortgage who are already behind in their payments are told that CRE is different and they shouldn't get any bright ideas. Do as we say, the residential mortgage folks say, not as we do.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SAR #10238

...and the band played on.

The Madness of Crowds:  Customers keep lowering the amount they owe on their credit cards – balances are down 13% from last year.  That's 13% less spending.  Don't these people understand the concept of a consumer society?

Teeter Totter:  The usual prize will be awarded for the best proposal that will permit us to hold global warming to less than 2.4 °C by 2050 while increasing the burning of fossil fuels by 30% over the same time period.

Not All the People:  A poll shows that over 70% of the population does not believe that corporations are people or that money is speech.  Most view corporate election spending as simple bribery. And not just some of the time.

Lemonade Stand:  Only 25,000 new houses were sold in July, even lower than June's record low.  The previous record low for July was 31,000 back in 1982.  The median home price fell 4.8% m/o/m.

Taking a Bite out of Crime:  As more and more cities cut back on police in the face of declining revenue, fewer and fewer 'minor' crimes – burglary, vandalism, grab & run theft, and the like- will be reported.  And crime rates for non-violent crimes will drop, just as the numbers are increasing.  It's what's counted that counts.

Black or White?  Archaeologists have discovered fibers on a 2,000-year-old sandal that suggest at least one Roman wore socks with his sandals.

Fingers in the Dike:  Fannie and Freddie's mission has morphed from helping citizens achieve the American Dream by making housing more affordable into a take-no-prisoners attempt to prop up house prices as much as possible for the benefit of the investor class.

Paving over Paradise:  Tanzania is planning to build a highway through the middle of the Serengeti National Park in order to benefit some corporations.

As the Sun Sets:  If the purpose of not taxing capital gains is to increase the investment in new businesses, why not tax all capital gains as income and let those who can demonstrate that their capital gain resulted from a direct investment in a new business deduct that gain - as long as the investment has at least a 12 month life-span?  Taxing gains from stock trading/gambling  as regular earnings might curb the appetite for risk.

Gander/Goose:  Spain has begun using its social security monies to fund its bond sales.  Wonder where they got that idea?

Dyslexia:  Durable goods orders – not counting cars – fell 3.8% in July. Non-defense goods, excepting aircraft, fell 8%.  Add cars & wars and the overall number was 0.3%, not the 3.0% that was expected.

Dollars of the Doomed:  It is generally thought not to be a 'good thing' when the speculators begin using your currency to fund the carry trade. Soon the dollar will be just like the yen a couple of years ago.

Among the Missing:  Remember those tens of thousands of oil-related jobs that were going to be lost during the ban on deepwater drilling and the billions of dollars in lost revenue the ban would cost?  Never happened.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

SAR #10237

It seems unbridled greed 'free markets' wasn't the best answer.

Two Part Assignment:  First, Google “Alan Simpson + tits + honest work”.    Then explain why Simpson should be allowed out in public, much less be co-chair of the Committee to Kill Social Security.

Co-Dependency:  PIMCO's Bill Gross says there is no way to get down off the tiger's back and we might as well totally nationalize housing in the US. He says it would simply be recognizing “the necessity, not the desirability” of socializing the economy in order to make it profitable for the capitalists.  He has a dog in this fight.

Rule Revision:  Thomas Hoenig, President of the KC Fed says that if you think your house is an investment – a good investment – you are wrong. That era is gone, probably for good.

Gold in the Streets:  First there was the rumor that Cairn had found oil off Greenland and its stock rose.  Then they announced all they'd found was some natural gas, so their value fell.  But for a little while there, Gracie, we were in the money!

Words and their Meanings:  There are no more 'combat' troops in Iraq. Sure. And long after next July when US forces begin their pullout from Afghanistan there will still be “a significant number of US marines and combat forces 'hammering' militants there “for a few years”, according the Marine Corps Commandant.   No, his name's not Orwell.

Abbot & Costello Should Sue:  None of the senior managers on board the Deepwater Horizon knows who was in charge when all hell broke out. Each is pretty sure it wasn't him. Who's on first?

One In the Bush:  Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will add $680 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years – most of which will go to the richest 0.1% of the country.  Remember how the Republicans delayed a piddling $26 billion in aid for cash-starved states?  And even more delay in giving some help to the long-term unemployed?  Well they want to give the rich their money right away – checks averaging $3,000,000 each to the richest 120,000 in the country.

The Spin:  What a great time to buy an existing house – after sales fell 27% in July (m/m) you've got even more to chose from!   More than a year's supply.  More than twice the normal number to select from.

Spokes, Clothespin, Playing Card:  In the early days, some places required a horseless carriage be preceded by a man on foot with a lantern – to warn an auto was coming.  Now Prius is – for $150 – putting in a special speaker system that will play the noise of a gasoline engine, so you won't scare the women and children.

Dogs, Baying at the Moon:  Moody's now says the austerity measures being forced onto the citizens and governments of Greece, Spain, etc. will probably make things worse, not better.  They were citing the fact that tight fiscal controls would slow economic growth – not even considering the riots and all.

Let's Make A Deal:  While marveling at the rush by state and local governments to auction off public assets – parking meters, zoos, airports, everything must go – marvel at this:  Wall Street is the middleman, taking a cut from both seller and buyer.   “...the dominant economic doctrine of the past three decades, the worship of sociopaths, remains firmly entrenched.”

Refrigerator Art:  The Saudis say crude oil will be about $82 a barrel come January.  Put this one on the fridge next to Dilbert and the JPMorgan forecast for $50 oil from a couple of day ago.

Reminder: When businesses are dead in the water and consumers are stuck on the couch at home, more debt is not on the way to rescue the economy ruined by too much debt. Nothing is on the way to rescue this economy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SAR #10236

If the economy is “on track”, where's the track taking us?

Petraeus' Plan:  “Money is one of the primary weapons used by warfighters to achieve successful mission results...”   according the the US Army Center for Army Lessons Learned.

Pace Yourself:   The breathless press excitedly scream that each of us now owes $43,000 as our part of the national debt.  Okay, that part's right. But it is not all due this week.  Over the next thirty years that works out to a more manageable $1,500 a year plus another $1,200 in interest (30 year treasuries pay about 2.7% these days).  Not quite so scary.  Unemployment lasting forever is a lot scarier to most of us.

New & Improved:  Consumer Metrics Institute's 91-Day Trailing Index foresees a 5.25% drop in GDP & the stock market – not the 2.45% increase that is the official estimate.  It'll be interesting to see how this works out, huh?

Briefing:  Here's the “net neutrality' issue:  The multi-tiered service (pay to play) would let the providers - ATT, Google, Verizon – decide which blogs and websites were rapidly available, which were slow to load, and which you simply cannot reach.   It's called censorship for profit, with the people's rights challenging the corporations' profits.  We've seen this movie before.

Brain Dead:  If you can buy money for 3% and sell it for 15%, how much shipping and handling should you charge?  (a) as much as you can get away with. (b) whack 'em again, Harry.

Commuter Special:  The Beijing-Tibet expressway leading into Beijing is experiencing a 62 mile long traffic jam that has so far lasted 9 days. Surpassing the US in so many ways.

One More Time:  Income disparities between rich and poor rise and fall with the rise and fall of financial regulation/deregulation and instability in the financial system.  That's another way of saying that when times get tough, the rich make out like bandits.  In 1928 the top 10% garnered 49% of total income. In 2007 it was... 49%.  My, my.  The rich get richer and the poor stay in their place, or else.

Warning:   Whatever you do, do not put your money in the stock market – we're running out of bigger fools.

Road Closed:   After being told for all our lives that home ownership was the path to the American Dream, now they're telling us we misunderstood them – our attempt to reach the American Dream through home ownership was designed to help the rich attain their dreams.

Match 'em:  In 2009 there were 4,644 civilian deaths in Iraq  (no, I don't know what 'civilian' means in this context).   There were over 16,000 in Venezuela that year.  Seems like there were nearly that many in Juarez last weekend.  No, it's not all Caesar’s fault.

One Born Every Minute:  People who have just bought houses believe house prices will rise 10% a year for the next decade.  And they'll be rich....

Back of the Envelope:  With all of the ho-ha about the small investor leaving stocks and buying bonds, I squinted at the graphic and deduced that in the last 4 years $300 billion has been “pulled out” of stocks, while $650 billion has been “poured into bonds”.  I think there's a little less than meets the eye to this story.

Monday, August 23, 2010

SAR #10235

It's not a double-dip recession; there are more than two dips responsible.

Haruspicy:  Everyone is falling all over each other, excitedly explaining that the American consumer – long addicted to cheap credit and having lost access to his house/ATM – has turned to withdrawing funds from his 401k's and other savings in order to keep living the life he was promised.

In Plain Slight:  Some are beginning to wonder if the government scientists behind the recent “The Oil's Gone!” stories were incompetent or simply pressured.  Seems they missed a slick that is 22 miles long, over a mile wide and about 650 feet thick. Real scientists suspect the oil from the BP leak will be around for decades.

Chickens, Roosting:  Turns out that the fellow who foisted all the rotten eggs on the public has a record that Upton Sinclair would have gladly exposed, including forcing his workers to live in rat-infested trailers and to handle chicken manure and dead chickens with bare hands.  DeCoster has a long history of major health and labor violations, the current national salmonella outbreak is just the latest result of weak regulatory supervision of our food supply and labor conditions.  Profits before people.

Nest Eggs: Greece's GDP contracted by 3.5% and unemployment climbed to 12% as 'austerity measures' crush the economy.  Exactly what the deficit hawks want the US to do, too.

Onward Christian Soldiers:   Soldiers at Fort Eustis, VA who declined to attend a Christian rock concert were confined to their barracks and made to clean them while their more enlightened compatriot attended one of the “Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concerts."   Look closely, the key phrase is “one of”....

Banquo's Ghost:  Companies are slow to hire, because consumers are slow to spend.  After 30 years without a real raise, consumers are finally getting the idea – they are never going to get ahead, they aren't even going to break even.  That also explains why companies are slow to borrow money – they know they've killed the goose.

Time's Up:  Our civilization & its economy are destroying the planet on which we live.  Anybody see the problem?  Anybody got a solution?

Volunteers, Ho!  Carl Paladino, a candidate in the Republican primary for governor of New York wants to transform some of the state's prisons into welfare housing where the poor could learn good work habits and take lessons in personal hygiene.  The plan would be voluntary, just as accepting public money is voluntary.

Clip & Save:  JPMorgan analysts see oil at $50 a barrel within a year due to weak economic growth.  Put the article on the fridge, next to the Dilbert cartoon.

The Question:  Do we need Fannie and Freddie and the FHA and VA loans? Define 'need'.  Also write a short essay on the consequences of going cold turkey.  Extra points for a workable description of how all this can possibly end well.

Connections:  In our current socio/political/economic setup the elite – bankers, financiers, politicians – act as though they ruled with the divine right once accorded kings. T he consult soothsayers (economists) who read goat entrails and then prescribe human sacrifice austerity programs in which the poor suffer while the rich wring their hands.  All well and good, but when their incantations fail, economists (like Italian seismologists) should be punished for their failures.

Playbook:  Sweden says no mistakes were made in issuing an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks' founder even though there were no grounds for the rape charge. T hey quickly withdrew it as soon as the damage had been done. Everything went, they said, exactly as the Pentagon had planed.

Peaking at the Future:  It used to be peak oil that was going to doom us. Recently coal has been sneaking into the possible shortage spotlight.  But suddenly potash is the darling of the crisis crowd.  And rightly so.  No potash, no industrial agriculture.  Etc.  And pretty soon damned little food. The plot's recycled, got a new villain.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

SAR #10233/Weekender

This is a Weekender commentary – which is a revised version of an earlier rant. The regular  Saturday SAR  follows directly below.

Harder than it has to be.

Years ago, Sam and Suzi American were doing well and decided to set aside a little money for when times were not so flush. Each year they invested in bonds issued by the US Treasury. Nothing safer – they are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States, just like every other US Treasury bill, note or bond.

This year Sam and Sue had some extra expenses but were a little short – about $41 billion, so they redeemed some of their US bonds, leaving them with only $2.5 trillion in US bonds. A bit more than the Chinese, who only hold $900 billion or so.

Sam and Sue expect – just like the Chinese and everyone else who holds US bonds - to cash out their bonds from time to time – as much as $100 billion a year by 2020, most likely - and anticipate running out of their current nest egg around 2040 after which they'll have to cut their spending by 22%. They will not, however, be bankrupt – no matter what some of the town gossips say.

If Sam and Sue want to make sure they don't run short of funds 30 years from now, sometime between now and then – if they were the Social Security system (and they are) – they could increase the amount of earned income subject to FICA taxes from $106,000 to $300,000 and make the system sound for a long time, 50 to 70 years.

That would make the system a bit fairer, too. Because today everyone who makes less than $106,000 pays 12.4% of their income in FICA (half from their employer, true, but the employer sees it as a labor cost), while a lawyer making $500,000 pays but 2.5% of her income in FICA and those millionaire kids on Wall Street pay only 1.2%.

Taxing all earned income equally at 12.5% the system would take in an additional $370 billion a year and be sound for as far is possible to estimate – even if the payments to the poorest 40% of retirees were doubled, and those folks depend on Social Security for 84% of their income.

Three Card Monte

There's a con game being run in Washington these days with the goal of reducing Social Security and eventually privatizing it. No one will say that, but that's what's afoot. The first step is to keep trumpeting untruths about the fiscal collapse of the system (for which, see above) and the need to reduce benefits now and increase the retirement age now because there will be a shortfall (called bankruptcy, but it's just a shortfall as outlined above) about 2040.

Having faked the Democrats into playing the game, the Republicans are content to sit back and promise to increase the tax rate if the Democrats will gut the system. Then they'll go back on their word (as they have repeatedly for the last 3 years) and filibuster if the bill has any tax increase in it. The aim is to privatize the system and enrich Wall Street even further.

Pretending the United States is too poor to be able to take care of its elders is a sham. No matter what the fiscal hawks and deficit doomsayers claim or do today, it will be the voters of mid-century America who will decide whether more than half of their parents will be forced to live in cardboard boxes and eat cat food, or will be saved from such a miserable fate by taxing the rich at reasonable rates...  as they were under Eisenhower.

The Real 'Problem'

Where is the US Treasury going to get the $40 billion for this year and the $100 billion for 2020 and so on? Simple: the same place it always gets its funds, either through taxing or borrowing or just rolling over the debt like always - just like it gets the money to pay for farm supports, Wall Street bailouts, war in Afghanistan and the utilities for the embassy in Great Britain.

That's a problem for the US government, but even at $100 billion a year it is trivial compared to the overall US budget of $3.8 trillion this year.

Complaint Department.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic should stop calling redeeming US bonds as seeking “infusions” as though it were begging rather than a routine financial transaction between lender and debtor.

The Wall Street Journal should not view buying US Treasuries as being “raided” by the government. It is an investment. At worst it is the US government borrowing – not raiding. Yes, if (and possibly when) the US begins defaulting on its obligations, then Social Security will be in trouble and retirees disappointed. The Chinese will be upset, too. But that's unlikely to happen as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow.

We now return you to our regular programming…

SAR #10233

Our problems have no politically viable solutions.

Debating Society:  The UN is going to meet soon to discuss the question of aid to Pakistan.   Meanwhile 4.6 million Pakistanis are without shelter, drinkable water and other simple basics.  What's to discuss?

The Blues:  Some of the commentariat say the housing market is headed for a “complete and total collapse.”  Citing the increasing rate of mortgage defaults, foreclosures, personal bankruptcies, house repossessions and the dearth of new home construction, the rest of us ask, 'headed'?

Blame Game:  Before w all jump on the 'blame Fannie and Freddie' bandwagon, let's remember that until Wall Street did their fine job with subprime mortgages, Alt-A loans, no money down liars' loans and the rest of the 'free market' bullshit that lead to the greater crash, Fannie and Freddie had worked quite well for nearly 40 years.  But when the greedy bunch got the chance to privatize the GSEs and get them dancing to Wall Street's tune, that's when it all went kaplooie.  The problem is not the original F&F, but the re-invented monster that served only the investors' interests.  Now they'll be blamed and shuttered and Wall Street given a free hand to complete their looting of the US housing market.

Mirabile Dictu!  Most Pennsylvania voters are willing to pay higher motor vehicle license levies and raise taxes on oil companies if the revenue will go to repair the roads, bridges and public transit.  Almost restores one's faith in the public.

Reality Check:  After 9 years of pointless military effort, 60% of Americans – about the same number that didn't want Bush's invasion of Iraq – oppose the Afghanistan war but see no end to the useless endeavor even though the populace wants one now.  Slightly more, 65%, still oppose the war in Iraq. But the leadership pays no attention to the public on these issues, or the wars would not have been started in the first place.

Water Is Still Wet: Nearly 70% of the public think that the rich do not pay enough taxes and thus are in favor of rescinding Bush's tax cuts for the rich.  Works for me.

Porn O'Graph:  Deficits redux.

Friday, August 20, 2010

SAR #10232

The economy needs customers, not necessarily people with jobs.

Mission Accomplished?   What the hell was the mission?  Yes, the last US units to be called ‘combat troops’  have trooped out of Iraq, after 7 years and trillion dollars.  Did we keep the receipt?  Can we get a refund? What 'noble cause' was served?   And don't think it's over – the US State Department says  “This is not the end of something. It's a transition to something different."   Now how about that other one?

End of Summer Sale:   Commercial real estate prices fell 4% in June and are now down 42% from their peak.   The main drag was retail malls and shopping centers, which lost 11% of their value in the 2nd quarter.  Good time to get in on the ground floor...

Can You Hear Me Now?  Did you know that Fox News' parent company has given $1 million to elect Republican governors?  Not if you've been watching FOX news, for they didn't carry the story.

Budget Be Dammed:  While sending 150,000 state workers home on 'furlough' because the state is broke, Arnold found enough money to send 224 National Guardsmen to the Mexico border to keep unpaid nannies from escaping back to Mexico.

Teaching Point:   Some states will not be eligible for federal money under the new stimulus bill because they didn't spend enough of their own money on education.   South Carolina, for example, will not get $143 million it expected because it cut too much of its support for higher education even though it did increase K-12 spending.   Would have thought those that couldn't afford to educate their kids would be in greater need, but it was undoubtedly a conservative clause inserted to make sure no one got a penny more than absolutely necessary.

Conform!   Nearly a million US kids are misdiagnosed with ADHD simply because they they are mentally (and physically) younger than the other kids in their kindergarten class, are inattentive and cant sit still.  Nothing a little Ritalin won't cure.

Numbers Before Noise: Initial unemployment claims came in at a nice round 500,000, the fourth increase in five weeks, but those continuing to receive benefits fell 13,000 to 4,500,000  (But that doesn't include the 5.6 million receiving extended unemployment insurance, paid for by the federal government.)   Goldman expects unemployment to be back above 10% by mid-2011.

Obviously Misinformed:    Scientists have mapped a 22-mile plume of oil droplets from  BP’s rogue well in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, providing the strongest evidence yet of the fate of the crude that spewed into the sea for months.

From The Mountaintop:  Just because privatizing Fannie and Freddie has turned out to be a disaster doesn't mean we shouldn't create a couple of thousand little F&Fs and let the government guarantee all their losses too. Maybe it'll take longer to lose the same amount of money. Maybe not.

Going, Going, Gone:   By 2014 at the latest the US will fall behind China in manufacturing output.  What America produce, anyway, besides aircraft, weapons and wars?

Tramps and Thieves:  In France you can tell how tough the times are by who the government choses to imprison and exile.  Having got rid of most of their Jews in the 1940's and being a bit unsure just what to do about their Muslims, President Sarkozy in his 'war on crime' has had to elect the Roma to the position of scapegoat one more time.  So it's round them up, head 'em out.  If, that is, he can find a place that will accept them.

Enlightened Citizenry:  More than 24% of voters believe Obama is a Muslim and 61% oppose the mosque in lower NY, yet 52% say churches should stay out of politics.  And we let these people vote.

Bar Bets:  According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, only 30% of US houses are owned free and clear.  About 52 million have mortgages. They Bureau does not track how many of them were underwater.

Porn O'Graph:  Housing starts.  And stops.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SAR #10231

No deficit hawk has yet volunteered to pay higher taxes.

Report:  Scientists say that nearly 80% of BP's leaked oil is still lurks beneath the surface of the Gulf.  In other words, your government and BP are lying to you.  Again.

Nothing Up My Sleeve:  Blaming “structural issues” for our high unemployment rates suggests that even if the unemployed had money they wouldn't buy stuff – because the 'structural issue' is that at today's level of production no more workers are needed.  The trick is to find a way to either increase demand enough to get companies to hire more workers, or to employ more folks to meet the existing level of demand, or to give the unemployed some money so they can buy stuff – voila: demand!.

Accepting Responsibility:  After using the N-word 11 times in one program, Dr. Laura says the liberals are driving her to give up her conservative talk-radio show.

You Choose:  The same bunch of politicians who brought you the Iraq Invasion (count the votes) and drove the defense budget up only 2% of GDP higher now say that over the next twenty years the cost of a decent retirement for our aging population will cost an ungodly 2% more of GDP and we can't afford it.  Where does this hoax originate?  Who is going to rake in the dough if we swallow this obvious nonsense about the sky falling?

Short Term Memory Loss:  Voters view the Republicans as more likely to reduce the deficit.  Someone should take them back to the Reagan years and walk them back up through Little George's disaster.

Bunch'a Trojans:  Remember how austerity was going to save Greece? Think the US austerity advocated by the deficit hawks will end any better? Desperation.  Let us prey...

Pieces of the Hole:  Voters want Congress to “do something” about the deficit, but 57% do not want national defense cut, over 65% do not want Medicare eligibility age raised, 64% do not want the retirement age raised, 74% want Medicare to provide more help to poor seniors.  They think (64%) capping Medicare/Medicaid payments to providers is okay and 58% think the rich should pay Social Security taxes on more of their income. And while you're at it, do something about the deficit.

No Names:   “Governments have made promises their economies cannot fulfill.”

Because it Can:  Big Pharma routinely hides inconvenient data, pushes out 'new and improved' drugs that may well be neither – independent tests found that 85% of new drugs offer few if any new benefits - and spends three times as much marketing drugs as developing them.

Wall Street Explained:   “Half of life on Earth is parasitic — each free-living organism has at least one parasite.”

Hot Water:  The reason this year's weather extremes have not brought climate change to the forefront is threefold:  (1) Climate scientists carefully make the distinction between weather and climate.  (2) Climate change will be visible only in the rear-view mirror.  And (3) Like the frog in the pan of water on the stove, “Hey, c'mon in, the water's fine.”

Food? For Thought:  Rats addicted to junk food will starve themselves rather than eat readily available healthy food.

The Questions:  How much more money can the US Government possibly spend?  What happens when it reaches the end?  Plan, what plan, why should we plan?

Porn O'Graph:  Love and marriage. House and Job. Chicken and Egg.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SAR #10230

Your job may be next.

Always Sometimes Low Prices:  Walmart's low prices just got higher – 6% on average over the last 6 weeks, but some items climbed 50 to 65%. The Daughter claims Macy's was selling 'fashion' tee shirts for $4.50 last week.  Just say'n.

Run Away! Run Away:  In a move that will be wildly mis-reported, the FDA is considering withdrawing its endorsement of Avastin for use in treating breast cancer because studies have shown that the $8,000 a month drug may not extend life by even one month.  In simple terms, it just doesn't work.

Ben Tre Redux:  Given a chance to say that Democrats would save Social Security and resist attempts to extend the retirement age and cut benefits , the Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggested they might support destroying Social Security as part of a deficit reduction charade under the guise of saving it. Stock up on the cat food, Martha.

Easy One:  Who benefits most from refinancing mortgages? (1) Banks, (2) Banks, or (3) Banks.

Trade Schools:  The Department of Education wants to save students from what it sees as a fate worse than death – making a wrong choice of major.  After all, if your major doesn't lead to a career as a round peg in a round hole, you're a failure.  We want students to end up with "gainful employment" (conform, conform) not something silly like an education.

Tough Talk:  Even an effete panty-waist liberal like Paul Krugman thinks it is time the US stopped trying to politely reason with China and take some tangible steps to draw their attention to our complaints.

Mostly Insects:  Every day about 200 species become extinct.  That is a thousand times the “normal” rate, greater than anything in the last 65 million years.

All Together Now:  PIMCO Managing Director Paul McCulley says the Fed and the government (Treasury & Congress) must “start working together in order to combat the threat of deflation.”  PIMCO's co-chief El-Erian fears the Fed cannot solve the current problems alone.  And PIMCO’s  Bill Gross says the private sector cannot replace the government in the housing markets and that PIMCO will not invest in non-GSE MBS unless borrowers make 30% down payments.  Geithner agrees with them, so look for new and improved ways for the government to subsidizes crappy mortgage loans made by private companies and held by PIMCO & friends.

Data, Data, Who's Got the Data?   The government & BP said that 74% of the leaked oil was “largely gone or rapidly disappearing.   Now a group of scientists – using the government's data – say that 79% of the oil is still out there, lurking beneath the waves. Which view benefits whom?

Caveat Emptor:  Turns out that at least 5 tons of gold shipped to the UAE wasn't gold.

Whiter Whites:  Surface temperatures hovering at 93ºF in May 2010 forced corals across the Indonesian Andaman Sea (and beyond) into the largest 'bleaching' event ever.  Over 60% of corals have bleached and 80% of some coral species have already died.  Similar bleachings have occurred in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and many other parts of Indonesia so far this year.

Old-time Religion:  More than 30 'traditional' coal plants have been built in the US since 2008, or are now under construction.  You know, the kind that is going to eventually drown us all. But that's small change compared to the Chinese assault on the atmosphere.

Porn O'Graph:  Pin the tail on the Cash for Clunkers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SAR #10229

Mostly we choose not to know.

Little Brother:  President Barack Obama personally warned Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that if Turkey didn't treat Israel better and quit bitching about Israeli commandos killing Turkish citizens, the US wouldn't give Turkey the armed drones it wants to use to kill Kurdish rebels.

Bottom Line:  AT&T has reluctantly admitted that Google and Verizon are right and that wireless communications are different from wireline communications.  One uses wires, one does not.  One form is regulated and net neutrality is required.   For the other, they want the freedom to charge as much as they damned well can.

Clear Sailing:  Goldman says that the sight of 'storage' tankers unloading their crude shows that demand is outstripping supply and that the fall's seasonal increase in demand will draw down crude inventories even faster. And drive prices up.

The Nutshell:  Society's communal needs keep increasing while the ability to meet those needs keeps decreasing.  People are unemployed and need assistance with food, housing, healthcare.  Politicians give encouraging speeches and refuse to raise taxes.  The public wants help, wants schools, wants police and firemen, wants safe roads and bridges - but also wants no more debt, no more taxation.  Will it really matter whose fault it was when the wheels come off?

Bear With Us:  The last three bear markets lasted an average of 17 years….

Democracy Now:  Iraqi authorities sent armed police into the streets to explain to the citizenry that demonstrations protesting the government's inability to deliver electricity were outlawed.  How much did we pay to bring democracy to Iraq?  Something get lost in translation?

Been There, Done That:  Deutsche Bank says the only way to resuscitate the economy is to re-inflate the housing bubble.  The instructions are on the bottom of the boot...

“Fall Weiss:”  Steve Schwarzman, founder of the Blackstone Group, says of Obama's intent to end Bush's tax cuts for the rich  “It's a war.  It's like when Hitler Invaded Poland in 1939.”   Get a grip, Steve, it's just taxation; you haven't got to sew a dollar sign on your sleeve and live in a gated community.

The Three Great Lies:  Buy stocks for the long run.  Your house is your best investment.  Globalization will benefit all Americans. We’re from the government and we’re here to help.

Medium Rare:  The next time you have a steak, have a small bit set aside before the chef grills it to perfection.  That way, if the steak is uncommonly good, you can raise a herd of identical steaks with cells from that particular dead cow.  Perfection in the freezer.

Globalization's Guts:  We buy more stuff from the rest of the world than well sell to them.  Last month the difference was $50 billion.  So there goes another $50 billion in US productivity and US assets.  They're richer, we're poorer.  If consumer spending picks up and retailers have a 'good' Christmas, the foreigners who are holding IOU's on America will have an even greater hold on what little productivity and assets this country has left.  Is cheap plastic crap and sweatshop clothing worth what we're going to end up paying?

Out, Damned Spot:  President Karzai is giving private security companies 4 months to leave Afghanistan.  Perhaps security details will be provided by the Taliban, for most assuredly the Afghan Army is not up to the job.

Porn O'Graph:  The compass, or where free trade has lead us.

Monday, August 16, 2010

SAR #10228

How much war is enough?

Unprejudiced:   In an attempt to ensure a fair trial for the 15 year old terrorist, prosecutors dismissed the only juror who thought Guantanamo should be closed.  The remaining jurors all think the war in Afghanistan is just peachy, that the US never uses torture, and when it does it only uses it on the worst of the worst, like impressionable teenagers.

Two Thoughts:  Obama is warning that if the GOP retakes Congress this fall they will seek to destroy Social Security.  1. What makes him think they are not seeking to destroy it now?  2. To prevent this horrible fate, will he be true to form and help the GOP destroy it now, just to take away their future options?

Tippy Toeing:   Greenland's ice will entirely disappear if global temperatures rise more than 2ºC. That much of an increase will locked into the atmosphere within a decade or two and the irreversible melting will eventually raise sea levels over 20 feet. Don't worry, no need to panic –odds are you won't be around. Just your kids.

Now It Can Be Told:   Afghan reports claim an oilfield with an estimated 1.8 billion barrels of crude oil has been discovered in “the north of the country”. 'Claim' and 'estimated' being the operative words.

Simpleton Math:  A nationally syndicated columnist/investment advisor, in debunking the idea of increasing amount of earned income subject to social security, claimed that increasing the limit from the current $106,800 to $300,000 would result in “high income professionals paying at a 50% tax rate.”  Balderdash.  Using this year's tax charts and including a 15% self-employment tax , those earning $300,000 in taxable income would pay $76,820 in taxes.  That is 36%, not 50%.   To come close to the scary 50% level requires an income in the millions. Ah, the level of honesty in the don't-tax-the-rich camp.

Warrior Spirit:   National Security Advisor James Jones is worried that the American voter is growing tired of spending tens of billions of dollars for years and years to kill people at random in Afghanistan.  What's not to like?

Warm & Fuzzy:   It has been decades since the seeds of the current difficulties were planted during the Reagan years, and it will take a long time – perhaps a decade to crawl out from under the debris caused by deregulation, free markets, and globalization.  With luck we may average 2% GDP growth over the next decade – during which unemployment will continue to increase.  I'm open to bets on the over/under of the country making it that long.

Waiting Game:  At least 1 out of every 4 houses on the market has already taken a 10% cut in price from the original asking price.  Doesn't do much to move the houses, because when “buyers are unqualified to buy, it doesn't matter how low interest rates are or how discounted a home is.”

Animal Spirits:  Insofar as economics is the study of how people interact in the marketplace, it is at best an observational social study, not a science. The pretense that it is a science of any sort is just that, a pretense.   One look at the mess we are in today should be sufficient to disabuse all but the most gullible of the belief that economics is a science or that the 'science' of economics can help get us out of this mess.

Nine out of 10 Doctors:  Why is it that we accept 'experts' opinions in nearly all aspects of our lives – at most we seek just a second opinion from lawyers, mechanics and doctors .  Yet we continue to ignore the 97% of climate scientists who agree that global climate change is real, is man-made, and is a grave danger to all our futures.  Why?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

SAR #10226

Pleasing everyone is both impossible and boring.

Fuzzy Math:  The FDIC's 'insurance' fund was broke going into the start of the year. It raised $15.33 billion via 2010's prepaid assessments.  So far the 109 110 bank failures have eaten up $18.93 billion, leaving a $3.6 billion hole. And we're just over halfway through the year.

Smart Meters:  Some 65.5 million urban electricity meters on new buildings in Chinese cities have registered zero consumption in over six months. Suggests there are enough empty apartments in China to house 200 million people.  Bubble?  Fraud?  Put that curtain back right now!

What's Wrong?  In Texas a 20 year-old college student is facing life in prison for possession of half an ounce of marijuana.  Seems mild, compared to being stoned to death.

If, Then: NPR is reporting that illegal immigrants account for 1 in 12 US births.  The math just seems unlikely, even if a greater proportion of illegals are of childbearing age and come from cultures where having multiple children is more highly prized than in the US.

It's Come to This:  H.R.6010, entitled  “A Bill To prohibit the Extrajudicial Killing of United States Citizens, and for other purposes.” Seems a reasonable response to the Executive Branch's penchant for assassinating US citizens.  Leaves open the question about the random murder of non-citizens and the routine kidnapping and torture of  foreigners.

Superbug Is On the Way:  Researchers know that sooner or later a world-wide pandemic will come along, killing millions. H1N1 didn't do the job, but maybe NDM-1 will.  It's a bacteria resistant to even the last resort carbapenem anti-biotics.  And to add to its chances of being 'the one', it appears to be able to jump across different species of bacteria.

Eat Your More Spinach:  Austerity measures in Greece, Ireland and Spain have effectively lowered wages, sold off public assets, raised the retirement ages and gutted the social contract.  But the suffering has not worked as advertized and these economies are tanking.  Only thing to do is to lower wages, sell off some more public assets, ban retirement entirely and start confiscating gold fillings.  Some doctor, some cure.

On Tap:  About half the bottled water sold in the US is municipal tap water that has been filtered to some degree.  But not to the degree that would justify what you pay for it.

Quickening:   The pace of US foreclosures is accelerating, with over 325,000 foreclosure filings in July.  Lenders are repossessing houses quicker, which will lead to more empty houses on the market, driving down house prices and forcing more mortgages underwater.  Round and round she goes...

Fine Print:  MBIA wrote insurance on Vallejo, CA's municipal bonds. Vallejo went belly up and sought bankruptcy protection.  The bondholders turned to MBIA, who carefully explained that they were not responsible for paying the bondholders, the city of Vallejo was and could do so by increasing its vehicle registration fees.  After all, bond insurance was just to make investors feel good, not to actually insure the bonds.

The Owe in Owenership:  The Feds are beginning to wonder if having the citizenry owe more to the banks for a McMansion than they and their children will ever earn is actually a Good Idea.

Dollars/Doughnuts:  One of those 'everybody knows' is making the rounds – to the effect that US companies have record amounts of cash on hand.  Well, yes and no.  Yes they have a lot of cash on hand – on the positive side of the ledger.  But they have nearly as much debt 'on hand' on the negative side of the ledger, having borrowed as much as they can without any good use for it.

Once Upon A Time:  In a few years – no more than a couple of decades – the history of antibiotics will begin with those words, followed by incredible stories of infections defeated, lives saved.  It will tell how the miracle cure became so commonplace that it was used to keep chickens alive in crowded pens and let cows survive in unspeakable filth.  As the story draws to a close there will be pictures of school children 'washing' their hands 4-5-6 times a day with antibiotic soaps.  And the last few chapters will tell how antibiotics grew weaker and weaker until they were overcome by super-bacteria that reignited plagues around the world.

Friday, August 13, 2010

SAR #10225

You cannot feed 10 billion people using organic farming.

Two Scoops: Yale's Robert Shiller has joined those who see a better than even chance (“a significant likelihood”) that the economy will decline back into recession, with the root cause being our apparently incurable unemployment woes.  He also sees the Fed as “running out of bullets.”

Bare Bones:  Initial unemployment claims edged up 2,000 to 484,000 last week and the 4-week average is up 14,250 at 459,250.  Enough people fell off the far end of the benefit table to lower total insured unemployment by 118,000 to 4.5 million. In other words, no news is bad news.

Rich/Different:  Most of us, were we ever so lucky as to get a signing bonus, would undoubtedly agree to a morals clause and a term of employment clause and a good faith clause.  But most of us don't work on Wall Street, where you can lie about your past, be found to have defrauded your last employer, quit your new employer in less than a year, and keep the whole $4.5 million signing bonus.  Because most of those acts are what qualified folks to work on Wall Street in the first place.

Memorization:  Turns out that building muscle does not require heavy lifting, just lots of it.  Repetition.  Just like the multiplication tables.

Papers, Please:  Under a proposed immigration law, Florida police would be required to investigate the immigration status of all those they suspect of being illegally in the country.  If you do not produce your identity papers you will be taken to an internment camp, held 20 days and shipped off somewhere.  Identity papers?  Remember when this used to be the United States?

Another Thing:  Remember those claims that the world has 400 years of coal left?  A  re-evaluation says global coal production will peak next year and decline by 50% before 2050.  The only way we'll ever cut CO2 emissions is by running out of fossil fuels, so while this is bad for the energy producers, it may be good news for the atmosphere.

Redefined:  Remember when an intern was a college kid who worked someplace during the summer to see if he like the place while giving the employer a chance to see if the kid had potential?  These days about a quarter of those seeking intern jobs have more than 10 years experience, and many are over 50. Go team.

Sauces:   “Liberal critics (Like Rachel Maddow) have an audience because they’re reflecting real concerns of real people.”   So too, the Glen Becks of the world.

Hot & Bothered:  In 20 years we'll have nuclear reactors with interchangeable parts, small mini-reactors to power the home, ship-board reactors supplying electricity and fresh water to the poor everywhere...  Or maybe not.

Our Gang:  What if this whole WikiLeaks brouhaha is actually some sort of clever Trojan Horse deception by the Pentagon to get out of war they cannot win?

Zombies:   The “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico – now about the size of Massachusetts – grows ever larger.  No, not from BP's failed well, but from the runoff of chemical fertilizers and herbicides from farms in the mid-west. If BP must pay for its damage, why don't agribusinesses have to pay for theirs?

Final Exam:  Look around – see any reason to believe that things are getting better?  Or do the declines in this, declines in that, collapse of this, collapse of that mean this is the big one?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SAR #10224

These days, starting over sounds pretty good.

The Hail Mary:  Obama Administration says that it will waste at least $3 billion giving no-interest 'loans' to people who are at least three months behind on their mortgages “and have a reasonable likelihood of being able to resume mortgage payment within two years.”  Go long, I'll throw it as far as I can...

Throwing in the Towel:  Stephen Hawking says that “our population and our use of fine resources” mean that our species can survive the next century only if we go forth and infect the universe.  Say 'Goodnight' Gracie.

Key Concept:  “Structural unemployment” is being tossed around more and more by the talking heads and financial blogeratti.  For the uninitiated, 'structural unemployment' is an economist's way of throwing up his hands and saying there is no way to fix the problem, because it is built into the structure of the system.  Politicians will grasp the concept with both hands and hide behind it.

Jurisprudence:  In some, places interrogators threaten wounded prisoners – even teenagers- with gang-rape in order to obtain confessions, which their courts then permit to be used at trial. 

Sample Season:  This summer's deadly heat, torrential downpours and raging wildfires will soon be looked back at as the good old days.

Slippery Stuff:  The Justice Department has agreed to let BP Exploration & Production, Inc., establish a voluntary trust agreement committing up to $20 billion to a compensation fund for victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Of course if BPE&P isn't allowed to continue to drill and extract oil from the Gulf of Mexico, it will have no income and thus no money to pay into the fund.  And it is BPE&P, not BP,  that is on the hook for the $20 billion.

Nutshell:  “No one wants to borrow, and that's the biggest problem in getting the economy moving again.  The economy needs money to grow, and money is created by borrowing.  No borrowing, no money growth.  No money growth, no economic growth.  No economic growth, no jobs.”

Paper or Plastic?  Americans owe more ($829 billion) on their student loans than they do on their credit cards ($826 billion).  And a lot fewer went to college than got credit cards – but neither group has learned much math.

The Ins and Outs of Trade:  Imports are increasing much faster than exports, leading to a $7.9 billion increase in the US trade deficit in June.  So much for exporting our way out of this mess.

Putting the Shhhh in Science:  Scientists are not being allowed to study the effects of the BP oil spill unless they work for BP or the government and sign confidentiality agreements that will prevent their findings from being published.  Ah, the impartial search for truth.

Good Question:   Why can you patent a gene – human or otherwise?   You may discover what the sequence is, you may discover what it does, but you did not invent anything, did not create anything.   It all started back in 1906 when adrenalin was patented....

Porn O'Graph:  Here we go again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SAR #10223

The experiment continues.

Shuffle:  The Fed has decided to “maintain their holdings of securities” by reinvesting its MBS income in long-term Treasuries.  Like kissing your sister or treading water, it suggests a certain uncertainty about what they were doing.

Definitions:  We are now in the process of trying a boy who, six years ago at age 15, threw a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan.  We are using the testimony tortured out of another prisoner to condemn the youth. The worst of the worst, indeed.

The Rich are Different:  Personal income in most of the nation's cities declined during 2009, while the rich got richer.

Pathos:  Like a wayward husband blaming his spouse for his transgressions,  the White House has lashed out the left for not understanding Obama's need to abandon his principles, ignore his vows and cuddle up to corporations and the right.

Disgusting:  The Republicans claim “no state bailouts should be contemplated until the wages and pensions of public sector employees are brought into line.”  Let's see, about half of these state and local employees are teachers, who have not only a BA but generally are required to continue to take on-going education.  Many of the rest are police and firemen, who do things like risk their lives and save others.  So these better educated employees and these brave folks who serve and protect are overpaid?  On whose scale?

They Said, They Heard:  The BLS reports that “nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased at a 0.9 percent annual rate during the second quarter.”  The financial press heard “labor wages are increasing”.  I suspect corporations cut wage costs more than was sustainable and had to relent a bit.

The REO Truth:  Fannie, Freddie and the FHA together own 236,338 houses, up 74% from last year.  Good thing the recession's over and housing's looking up.

Welcome to The Third World:  In America, income inequality is soaring, states are cutting once-essential services like schools, fire and police services, public transportation and road maintenance and street lighting. Many corporations pay no taxes while sales taxes burden the poor. Infrastructure is decaying, bridges and dams are unsafe.  Unemployment hovers near 10% and is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.  The housing crisis has barely begun. Wall Street takes 40% of corporate profits. Public health deteriorates while health costs soar. And corporations now own the political arena.

Roadsign:  A report claims that a 100% year-over-year rise in oil prices is a prelude to recession.   And yes, you guessed it, oil prices are now up 100% year-over-year.

It Couldn't Happen Here:   Citing the run-up in corn prices, China's National Development and Reform Commission wants to ban using corn to make ethanol fuel.  In the US, which burns about 25% of its corn crop in cars, the run up in the price of corn is seen as a boon to farmers.  Consumer demand is not much affected because most of the rest of the US crop goes to enlarging the nation's obesity problem through HFCS hidden in processed foods.

Clip and Save:  Saudi Aramco has again claimed that there are plentiful reserves yet to be tapped and even more yet to be found.

The Silly Season:  We laughed when they locked up Galileo.  We knew Darwin was a monkey's uncle.  And climate change – an obvious conspiracy by over-educated college professors looking for some spare income.  Now the righteous right has figured out that Einstein was a fraud and that relativity was just a hoax played on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's almost worth keeping these idiots around for their amusement value. Almost.

Overheard:  Privacy is the last thing you should worry about.  You don't have any and haven't had for some time now and are most unlikely to ever have any again.  So don't worry about it.

Damned If & If Not:  New Jersey was going to use oysters to filter toxins out of the water, but decided not to because while the oysters are very good at filtering the toxins out, they store them in their flesh and folks in New Jersey are apparently not smart enough to follow directions.