Sunday, December 30, 2007

SAR #7365

Remember: on this planet, extinction is the norm.

American Idol: Since Reagan the commandment has been stand aside and let the invisible hand omnisciently distribute goods and capital to the maximum the benefit of all. Well, we've seen what the invisible hand does when there are no regulations and little taxation. Untethered market forces lead to the disasters of thoughtless greed and Ponzi schemes. The invisible hand has hair on its palms.

Guard! We see these lopsided statistics for how many Americans - mostly black Americans - are in jail - mostly for non-violent, victimless drug crimes. And we are appalled. Unless we are the Republican Right, then we understand that incarcerating lots of harmless folks is not a problem of our War on Drugs, it's a success. Even though funny-colored-people are no longer the principle users of drugs, they remain principle targets of drug busts. And yes, for-profit prisons depend on a large inmate count for their profits.

Don't Touch That Dial: The recording industry now claims you can't copy your CDs onto your computer - or make a disk to use in the car while safeguarding the original. They're also asking for a cease and desist order preventing people from skipping tracks.

Peak-smeak: Columnist Warren Brown, in Sunday's Washington Post explained the doomsters' problem: "Peak-oil theorists, those people foolish enough to believe that a nonrenewable resource is eventually exhaustible ... " I'm exhausted.

Democracy in action: Pakistani newspapers have already published the detailed counts planned for the Presidential elections. Bhutto was going to lose 65-35%, showing how fair Musarraf's re-election was.

Magic: In May 2004, Gambian President Jammeh announced the discovery by a Western company of "huge reserves of oil" off-shore. Funny thing. Seems there was no Western oil company and there is no oil. Never was. It is reported, however, that Jammeh received several nice gifts from prospective oil firms, wanting in on the discovery. The gifts are undoubtedly non-returnable.

On Deck Circle: After al Qaeda and the Taliban were driven from Kabul and the Bora Bora mountains, al Qaeda’s grand strategy has centered on Pakistan. Mainly because Pakistan had nukes, no control of the NW Frontier area, and little control over the population. Because the MSM reported nothing, or little, of the deteriorating situation, we felt the problem was under control. No such luck.

Goose, Gander: If our government can legally torture foreigners - and the occasional citizen - how long before 'enhanced interrogations' begin popping up in the back rooms of police stations? Used only in really heinous crimes, of course, where the suspects are black and the victims white or famous. Reminds me that in Turkish the word for the accused, 'suҫlu' is remarkably similar to the word designating the guilty, 'suҫlu'.

Definition: Home ownership is a vastly different thing than housing as an investment. People who "own" a house with no money invested (thus no emotional stake) are not home owners as much as speculators. When borrowers have no skin in the game, they have little interest in sticking around when things get tough. Keys in the mailbox, bye.

Don't worry, management has lain in a sufficient supply
of Sarcanol for the new year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

SAR #7364

The 'laws 'of economics do not seem to have the same force
as the laws of nature.

Peak Oil, certified: US DOE confirms that Mexico's Nov07 oil production was down 8.2% from Nov06 and that Cantrell, the world's second largest field, declined 23% from Nov06. What happens to US imports when a couple of years from now Mexico has no oil to export? What happens to Mexico a couple of years after that when it has no oil? Period.

Friends : Fiscal advisers 321Energy Advisers recommends "put your money into companies developing pollution-intense resources like the oil sands. Let the global environment absorb the cost while you pocket the profits." Obviously, enemies need not apply.

Full Moon: After midnight, 4 armed men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility west of Pretoria, SA, where hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium are stored. They deactivated several layers of security and their images were filmed on CCTV, but no one was monitoring the monitors. A couple necking in the parking lot saw them, called the cops.

Basics: Burning the furniture to get heat should not be considered a good idea. If the destruction of assets (scarce resources, public space, our air, the environment) is not counted as a cost, burning coal will look to be "cheap" and we'll continue to do it, even as it kills us.

Louder? While being interviewed by David Frost on Nov 02, 2007, Benazir Bhutto referred to "the man who killed Osama bin Laden." Huh?

One Owner, Low Miles: Citi, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan are offering discounts up to 10 cents on the dollar to clear a $231 billion backlog of high-yield bonds and loans. High yield is bankspeak for 'dogs'. That means voluntarily taking a $23 billion hit. A used car pitch - "I'll knock $23 billion off to put you in this baby today."

Phase Out: Detroit is "park repositioning," which they explain as "aligning park space with demographic shifts." You and I might think of it as selling off the green spaces, because that's what they are doing. Poor people don't need parks.

By Example: George has been busy re-writing the Constitution again. He "pocket vetoed" the Defense authorization bill, citing "an adjournment of the Congress." But the Congress has been in session every day, albeit for only a minute or so. He tried to end-run this by sending Congress a memo "to avoid unnecessary litigation..." Like impeachment.

In the Beginning: Former First Republic Bank shareholders filed suit alleging Merrill Lynch hid billions of dollars of losses mortgage derivatives. "It's a sign of the times and the economy we are now living in," Merrill explains. Lawyers, start your engines.

First Crusade: The Pope has ordered exorcism squads be set up to tackle the rise of Satanism. Each diocese is to have a team of priests tried to fight demonic possession. "You have to hunt high and low for the possessed," the Vatican says. Helps to get some informants, pay them part of the spoils. Worked before.

Friday, December 28, 2007

SAR #7363

Most ideas, like many children, would not stand up to a paternity test.

A Day Late and A Dollar Short: On December 28th the New York Times headlined an article: Credit Crisis? What if it's not just subprime? The article suggests that if the problem is more than poor people defaulting on houses they shouldn't have tried to buy, we may be in for bigger problems, and that could lead to "a tragedy on the grand stage." Who knew? Must be true, it was in the Times. Finally.

Blackstone : Men now need six different 'looks' in their wardrobe: work clothes, aperitif clothes, dinner clothes, sport clothes, casual clothes, plus something 'trendy' for the clubs. Would you be shocked to learn that source was a clothing designer?

Strategy : Research shows that the best time to buy a stock is when at least 90% of the stock analysts have put out a 'Sell' rating on it. Over 50% of oil analysts predicted oil to close 2007 under $90. Today it's near $98.

Gold Rush: The important thing to know 10 years after Kyoto is that we have done nothing to stop global warming. Nothing. Emissions are up, up up! 383 ppm! The nations of the world are going to get together 3 or 4 years from now to talk about making a plan to undertake some reductions, sometime, later. The simple, understandable line in the carbon dioxide is at 350 ppm. That is balance point that between tolerable but difficult future, and something far, far tougher. 350ppm. We've got to go back! Put it on a tee shirt. 350ppm! Bumper sticker. Politician's forehead.

Fantasy Worlds: Pakistan, like Iraq, is a made up country of competing tribal, ethnic and linguistic groups. It is a failing state that cannot supply electricity, food, petroleum or much public order. What it has lots of is pissed off people with different loyalties and religions and social practices and goals. Some of them have nukes.

Chip In : The EPA estimates that the nation's water and wastewater systems need an investment of up to $1.2 trillion over 20 years. 60 billion a year. 1.2 billion per state per year. Think it will happen?

One Plus One: At least 10 banks have rescued their money market funds with a collective injection of $3 billion. Many more rescues have occurred quietly. Holding funds at $1 par value is hard to judge, when there are no buyers for their investments. In a garage sale they'd have "Make An Offer" tags.

Dance Card: Global warming is usually thought of as being a problem for many years away, but the Georgia drought may turn out to be a consequence of global warming sooner, not later. If the drought in the southeast continues much longer, Atlanta may be the first large city in the U.S. to be abandoned.

New & Improved: Sales of new homes plunged last month to their lowest number in more than 12 years and an annual decline of 34.4%, the biggest yearly drop since the recession of 1991. [Insert humorous observation here.]

Home on the Range: Bush&Co are moving to quickly certify 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah for tar shale mining with "acceptable environmental impacts." Under the regulations, tar shale exploitation would supersede all other present and future uses of these public lands; such as recreation, forestry, grazing or even other oil and gas activity. Deer and antelope need not apply.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

SAR #7362

"We are all adrift in the same boat

-- and there's no way half the boat is going to sink."

- Raul Estrada-Oyuela

Anticipation: A quick round of analysts vs company estimates for 4Q07 write-offs: for Citibank: $18.7 billion vs $8 billion. Merrill, $11.5 billion vs $6. JPMorgan, $3.4 vs $1.7 billion. In total, that's another $33 billion from just three of the big investment houses. Wonder if the folks from Dubai and Singapore worry about their investments?

Reader's Guide: A Seattle day-care center banned Legos because they taught children "assumptions about ownership and social power, that mirrored those of capitalist society". Wouldn't want the kids to grow up equipped for the real world. They might compete with Starbucks or Seattle's Best. (Thanks to Suzi.)

The Sting: In Iraq the US-backed "Anbar Salvation Council" consists of insurgents whose ideology is that of Saudi Arabia. They have not switched sides, they've forced us to accept them, using the Republican trick of presenting only two alternatives, the extreme right and the even more extreme right, and letting us think it a victory when we choose the extreme right.

Numbers, Numbers: Ted Stevens, R-AK, says it is costing the adminstration $15 billion a month to keep the population cowed. Congressional Dems say Bush's 'be afraid, be afraid' campaign has cost the US $1.5 trillion so far. Or cost you and your family $20,000 in future taxes. The White House says it is "not worried about the cost of the wars." I feel safer already. Poorer, but safer. Well, poorer.

School Daze: Stockholders may technically 'own' companies, but they are run for the benefit of the bosses, not the shareholders. Not just obscene salaries, but perks: CEO of Qwest uses the company jet to haul his daughter to school; another CEO, lives in Maine, works in Dallas, company jet commute costs $949,000 a year, a third gets $33,000 a month in 'living allowance."

Back to the Future: More than a third of the 22 planned 'clean coal' plants have been canceled, delayed or rejected by regulators. Soaring construction costs, unproven technology, and absence of compelling regulation of emissions make saving the earth unprofitable. For 10 points, spell "Kyoto"

Peaky-boo! It takes 40,000 lbs of minerals - stone, sand, gravel, zinc, iron, copper, natural gas, oil, etc - for each person in the US each year. That's 20 tons of non-renewable, finite resources. If you believe we can continue this process forever, you must be an economist.

Bend Over: EEOC ruled employers can eliminate or reduce medical benefits when retirees reach age 65, no matter what promises were made. Thus corporations can shift their obligations onto taxpayers. Naomi Earp, commission chair, said, “This rule will help employers continue to voluntarily provide and maintain these critically important health benefits.” Savor that slowly, read it over. God, you just gotta admire their balls. Now cough.

Fraud! Kris Kobach, a former counsel to John Ashcroft and current chair of the Kansas GOP,brags of caging more voters in the last year than in the previous two. Caging is the (illegal) attempt to prevent qualified, registered voters from voting. Voter suppression through caging lists was a routine part of the GOP theft of the last two presidential elections and will be a prominent part of the 2008 debacle. This violates a consent decree, issued to prevent the Republicans from operating programs to prevent voter fraud that target minorities. Someone should ask Kobach about this. Under oath.

Coming Attraction: US Central Command has finalized an agreement with Pakistan permitting US forces on the ground in Pakistan in 2008, for anti-terrorism efforts. Probably Special Forces. Probably supporting Musharraf in the civil war. Or fighting against him; you never know.

SAR #7361

"The modern banking system manufactures money out of nothing;
the most astounding piece of sleight of hand ever invented.
- Sir Josiah Stamp, Bank of England

Rewrite: Trisha Mueller, researcher at CDC, reports that sex education classes inschool greatly boosts the likelihood that teens will delay having intercourse. Also, males who received sex education in school were 71 percent less likely to have sex before age 15 and were 2.77 times more likely to rely upon birth control. Trisha is going to need a new job, call CDC Atlanta with your offers. You do not have to notify the White House, they'll know.

Play It, Sam: Greenspan, Bernake, the investment bankers and financial elite now blame the credit/mortgage mess on 'unpredictable events'. Unpredictable! Much like Captain Renault was "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here."

Noted: British scientists have discovered ‘grandparent’ helpers in warbler families. As in humans, older adults help their children to raise the grandchildren. This is the first time that grandparenting has actually been found to be for the birds.

Clarification: The International Energy Agency says there will be a large gap between oil production and demand as we go forward. The IEA feels (a) oil producers must increase production while (b) consumers cut consumption. But (a) is not possible and (b) will not happen until (c) an economic realization event occurs. An "economic realization event." Is that a recession, or just long lines for gasoline?

Re-Run: Russia has agreed to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. The S-300 could inflict "significant damage" to US (or Israeli) aircraft if they were to attack Iran. Also Russia has successfully tested a new MIRV weapon. These developments are "likely to irritate the United States." You bet'ca Red Rider.

Plagiarism: Nigeria issued arrest warrants for three Pfizer staffers who are to appear in court in on charges the US drug company has been conducting illegal clinical trials on unwitting Nigerian citizens. Oddly, John Le Carrȇ has already published his history of this event.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

SAR #7360

Stand Up: Fred Thompson opines that illegal immigrants speaking "sickening" Spanish are the blame for the mortgage crisis. If they only had learned enough English to understand the mortgage papers they were signing we wouldn't have this problem. Fred thinks English should be the national language, even in Tennessee. Might be wrong to combine 'Fred' and 'thinks'.

She Loves Me Not: Iraq has asked the Russians to bid on the construction of a pipeline from Kirkuk to Banyas, Syria. Halliburton is not amused.

In the Good Times; Other than brief periods when a thunderstorm or ice storm disrupts service, we completely forget that as recently as the 1930's electricity was a newfangled thing. Getting used to comfort and convenience was much easier than getting used to its absence will be.

Details : There's an industrial boom in China and elsewhere. Leads to a boom in mining. Lead to a boom in big equipment to do the big mining. The missing nail here is tires. Not normal tires. Big 'uns, 12ft high, 5 ton things, without which those house-sized trucks don't haul 100 tons of ore at a time. Bridgestone, biggest maker of the biggest tires says the current tire shortage will last another 3 years.

New Term: Seems that Commercial Real Estate (CRE) credit woes mimic housing with a 6 month lag. So CRE is now in serious paralysis; sales down 50%, prices dropping, deals falling apart. Banks have been stuck for $65 billion so far. Construction down, defaults up. Same old same old.

Pick a Number: Property values are falling, fewer new housing units being built. What's a city to do? Raise the tax rate? Cut public services? Raise taxes and cut public services? But in a recession with falling incomes, shouldn't we cut property taxes? No easy solutions. I suspect higher tax rates and fewer services will be the norm.

Elevator: S&P reports the year-to-year fall in house prices was 6.7% in October, higher than the 6.4% at the top of the 1991 recession. Month to month it showed a 1.4% decline - about 17% on an annual basis. Looks like a buying opportunity!

Tinker to Evers to. . . : After adjusting for inflation, retail sales increased zip this Selling Season. Profits will take the hit. Big move downscale from Macy's neighborhood to the Walmart/Cosco area. Downhill from profits to earnings to stock prices. Double play.

On average: Annually we each use about 540 gallons/car; at about $3 a gallon that's $1600. About 230 hours working at Walmart but only 80 hours if you make $40 K a year. Pain is relative.

Monday, December 24, 2007

SAR 7359

Ideas are like children, if you think one's yours,
you love it uncritically.

Ludlum: The government is far more incompetent and amateur than the masterminds of Hollywood darkness. There are no rogue CIA agents engaging in illegal black ops and destroying evidence to protect their political bosses. Trust me, accepting a government paycheck does not transform you into Jason Bourn. I hardly made it to Matt Dillion status.

Plea Bargain: The CIA chief who ordered the destruction of secret videotapes recording the torture of Al-Qaeda suspects has lawyered up and is seeking immunity from prosecution. If you are the number 2 guy at the CIA, who could you point a finger at that would be worth granting you immunity? A GS7 trainee at Treasury? A former head of counter- intelligence at the Agency believes it is “highly likely” that Bush saw the videos.

Tube Socks: The Brits are planning to buy the US Navy's new version of the Trident missile to replace the aging missiles now on British subs. But the new Trident has a 125 inch diameter and the Brit's subs tubes are only 87 inches. Golly gee, maybe we can sell them 3 or 4 new boomers. Only $1.4 billion the copy. A half dozen would be good.

Piggy Banking: Three-month T-Bills pay 2.85%. Three-month bank certificates of deposit (CD) pay 5.0% . The spread between the two is 2.12%, highest spread in 20 years. Investors are so concerned about getting their money back after three months that they are willing to forgo a record 75% more income available through CDs. Safety first.

Fire Drill: Bush's retiring Homeland Security aide, Francis Townsend, says that White House is crippled because the staff are too concerned about getting subpoenaed to get much work done.

Family: Mitt Romney has come out very strongly against "illegal immigrants." Curious, in that his father was one. Was born in Mexico, brought into the US by his mother in 1912 as she and hundreds of other fled the Mexican Revolution. No immigration papers. No immigration process. No Ellis Island stuff. Just moved in. Kid grew up to be Governor of Michigan. Wouldn't want that to happen these days, right Mitt?

Payback : CNN's Ed Henry has a front row seat in the White House Pressroom along with Helen Thomas. Noted for her probing questions, Ms Thomas is hardly ever called on, even though she is "dean of the press corps." Lately Henry has been quite aggressive in his questioning of the Administration. At his year-end press conference, Bush did not call on Helen. He did call on all of the rest of the front row. Except for Henry.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

SAR #7358B

If you believe the Fed is looking out for you,

you believe in Santa Claus.

~ Rep. Barney Frank

Compassion: Bush, fresh from kicking kids off of the CHIPS children's health program, has now cut $700 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements to schools for things like speech programs and physical therapy sessions. Transferring those costs to school districts is the same as ending them, for schools do not have the resources to afford them.

Me Too ! Saudi Arabia is entering the Sovereign Fund business with an initial investment of over $1 trillion. Ah, finally getting around to Ed Dirkson's "real money."

Upmanship: Goldman Sachs last week estimated mortgage losses of $500 billion. Now Barclays estimates the credit debacle "may make 1929 look like a walk in the park," with losses in excess of $700 billion, plus a further $200 billion in defaults on commercial property. Plus growing losses on credit card defaults. A $1+ trillion mortgage loss is possible if the middle class walks away from negative equity mortgages. The S&L crisis was only $160B.

Double Nought ! Fella called James Geffen is on trial in NY for using $78 million to bribe senior officials in Kazakhstan to let the US exploit their oil and gas resources. Admits he did it, says he did so as an agent of the CIA. I believe him. Cheaper than invading Iraq.

Once More, With Fleecing: In the late 1990's we experienced one of the most powerful popular delusions in financial history: that the average person could sit in front of a screen and get rich by day-trading. Popular Capitalism, an oxymoron. The end came swiftly and painfully; $7.1 trillion of stock market wealth evaporated. People went from flipping stocks to flipping houses. Stock margin was replaced with no-money-down liar loans. It took only 6 years to go from one bubble pop to the next. Pick a number, any number.

Yellow Pages: J Walter Thompson advertising agency has a $750,000,000 contract for Marine Corps advertising through 2012. At 38,000 recruits a year it works out to about $5,000 for each. More efficient to just offer them the money, direct.

Ready: 1 2 3 Everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: "If it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?" To prevent runaway climate change, we must cut almost all of the world's current emissions - cars and power plants. No electricity, no mobility. Never happen voluntarily.

Memory Lane: I can remember when the Republicans were a political party, not a business.

Nothing Up My Sleeve: Don't believe the Wall Street touts claiming the emerging markets have "decoupled" from the US economy and their growth will lead the world forward without the American consumer. Hogwash. From whence did their trade surpluses come? Take $800 billion of easy spending home equity refinancing away from the American consumer and you're going to see a lot of lost sales by China.

My Plan: Is it possible that an administration that could not helicopter bottled water to desperate people trapped New Orleans in 2005 can stop the coming recession? Their plan seems to be to postpone the mess as far as possible into the future. Mid-March, the way their plans have worked out so far.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

SAR #7358

"Many times when I've had what I thought was conviction,
it was actually passionate intensity over an error."
- Louis H. Bryan, Jr.

On Healthcare: John Edwards is right: Those who have caused our health care problem - the insurance and drug industries - are not about to help solve the problem. It is unrealistic to think they will be willing to negotiate away their immense profits. Drug and insurance companies - backed by the "screw you, I've got mine" wing of the GOP - will be implacably opposed to reform.

Tweed Ring: The finger of suspicion In America and elsewhere trial lawyers, state prosecutors and regulators look for the crime in subprime. Lenders are turning on each other. Investors handed out writs instead of Christmas cards. Lawyers are just warming up.

Kansas City: J. Edgar Hoover had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and arrest up to 12,000 Americans he suspected of being disloyal and imprison them in military and federal prisons. Hoover wanted to declare the mass arrests necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage." All eventually would have adjudged by a one judge and two citizens panel that would not have been bound by the rules of evidence. The plan has been updated; the President will appoint roving bands wearing distinctive brown shirts to find the accused guilty.

Time: Every 10 minutes an Iraqi civilian is injured or killed in a war that will not end until Bush leaves office. Every 10 hours an American soldier is killed in a war will not end until Bush leaves office. Every 10 days $2 billion is transferred from the Treasury to the accounts of Halliburton, Blackwater and other war profiteers in pursuit of a war that will not end until Bush leaves office. Tick Tock.

Hold Still : The FBI has a $1 billion 10 year project to build the world's largest computer database, named Next Generation Identification, of biometrics (digital images of faces, fingerprints, iris scans, ear geometry, DNA codes,and palm patterns) to give the government more ways to identify people. FBI will also retain the fingerprints of everyone who has undergone criminal background check, gotten a driver's license, or voted Democratic.

Mattress: SunTrust Bank injected $1.4 billion into two of its money-market funds, becoming at least the seventh company to rescue customers from losses on an investment traditionally billed as one of the safest places for cash. The write-down reflects an 18% decline in value. Put it in the mattress.

Biblical Text : America has contrived its own Babylonian Captivity while Russia reinvents the Persian Empire. After 50 centuries, Babylon and Persia still matter. We've found neither WMD nor the Garden. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose


Friday, December 21, 2007

SAR #7357

A kitchen is a laboratory where you can eat the experiments.

Party On! In November, consumers increased their spending by the largest amount in 3 1/2 years and dropped the nation's saving rate to a minus 0.5 percent. Now that the refinance ATM is closed, this means that households spent all of their incomes and either dipped into savings (which they mostly don't have) or simply ran up the balance on their credit cards. That's sustainable, right?

Fire Drill: Merrill Lynch , taking a $5 billion rescue (or "accepted investment" - their words) from Temasek Holdings of Singapore, joins Citibank, Morgan Stanley, and USB in needing bailouts from either Orientals or Arabs. Merrill said its total remaining exposure to funny paper is $27.2 billion. Think they're still out passing the hat?

The Free Market: Greenspan & Co. claim the sub-prime mess broadened homeownership. Not true. Home ownership is no higher than in 2003 and will be far lower when we're finally rid of Bush. The mortgage industry lured millions into borrowing more than they could afford, then duped investors into putting vast sums into risky assets wrongly labeled AAA. Ah, the unseen hand of the free market, sweeping chips into the banker's pockets. Bonus, anyone?

How Dry I Am: Some of China's glaciers have shrunk by 18% in the last 5 years, and on average China's glaciers are 7.4% smaller. These glaciers feed the Yangtze, Mekong, Yellow, Ganges and Brahmaputra and supply water to an area home to nearly 1 billion people. Eventually the water will be missed, as will the people.

R.S.V.P. Bond insurance company ratings are being slashed. Mortgage-related losses exceed their capital cushion by billions. Rather than force the insurers to raise collateral to back the guarantees, the banks have agreed to waive all collateral requirements and their rights to terminate deals, until Jan. 18. I'm curious about what happens on the 19th.

Banker's Prayer: God, grant me the capital to accept the losses I cannot change; the reserves to change the terms I can; and the Fed Auction to rescue me from my stupidity. Amen.

Like A Rock: After assets in their money-market funds declined to where customers could get but 82 cents on the dollar, SunTrust pumped $1.4 billion into them, becoming the seventh major company to rescue an investment traditionally billed as safe. Limestone.

Maybe, Maybe Not: US retail sales declined for the third straight week during the worst holiday spending season in five years. This year's holiday spending is growing the slowest pace since 2002. Meanwhile, initial jobless claims increased to 346,000 in the week that ended Dec. 15, while the four-week moving average climbed to the highest unemployment level since Katrina.

Weighing In: New Years means diet season. Most come with the dreaded 8 glasses a day. A word of sanity: This advice derives from a 1945 recommendation that adults should consume one millilitre for every calorie consumed. The part of the recommendation that said "most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods" has been long lost. Too much water is dangerous. Scotch is cut 50% at the factory.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

SAR #7356

If I really have to practice what I preach,

I may just have to quit preaching.

Homerun: I've blathered on about bond insurers going belly up. These things do leave Wall St and come home. Our Regional Health System has $51 million in bonds for a new hospital insured by ACA and thus rated AAA. Now both ACA and our bonds are rated CCC. Higher interest must be offered. Property taxes must go up to pay the added half-million a year for the 20 year life of the bonds. 172,860 municipal bonds have been so affected. Academic, my foot.

Odd Man Out In : Richmond Fed President Lacker "... it is overall inflation that we need to keep down, not just core inflation. If energy prices fail to decline, monetary policy decisions will be that much more difficult in 2008." Lacker keeps voting to raise Fed Rates to fight inflation, not lower them to rescue banks. Didn't get the memo.

Can't make the mortgage? Rent for quick cash! In border state cities, smugglers are renting from distressed owners and using them as 'stash' houses for illegals. This is reasonably profitable until the SWAT team busts the place up making arrests and you get arrested for aiding and abetting. Those in the nation's midsection should check out the profits to be had in meth labs.

The Movies: S&P has begun reducing ratings on Alt-A, Jumbo, and Prime mortgages. The credit problems that were "contained " to the sub-prime market seem to be ambitious. Builder DR Horton's paper was downgraded to 'junk' status. Horton and Levitt are expected to go bankrupt. Thieves Like Us, good movie.

Jawohl ! Der Sicherheit Amt is turning spy satellites on Americans. Without telling Congress what they're up to, other than using satellites which can 'see' through clouds, trees and concrete buildings to spy on citizens and turn the info over to agencies, including law enforcement. Chertoff insists the scheme is legal. Fredo told him so. Warrants will be obtained if ever required. He said so. Got it on tape.

Grrrreat ! General Mills says it expects higher food and energy costs next year. Higher prices for basic ingredients like corn and wheat means reducing costs elsewhere. They've shrunk the box size and increased the price. The company's CEO says consumers did not notice. I noticed.

Finance 101: Banks pledge questionable loans for 'unlimited' cash from the Fed & ECB. In a few weeks they have to buy back their questionable loans with cash. Vacationing at Club Fed does not make bad loans better. They won't even get a tan. Sooner or later these freeloading bums will have to be be written off. Each will take with it a little chunk of bank capital. Total bank capital in the country, $1.1 trillion. A 15% loss on the $11 trillion in outstanding mortgages will translate into the bankruptcy of the system. Say goodnight, Gracie, and don't mention credit card debt.

Clarification: A Mitt Romney spokesperson for explains that George W. Romney and Martin Luther King Jr. marched together in June, 1963 -- just as Mitt claimed, although possibly not on the same day or in the same city. Me, I was in Saigon when it fell. Well, in Bangkok. Does that count?

Sessions In 2006 the FBI used 2,176 FISA court orders to record 27,728,675 phone calls. These numbers has nothing to do with the warrantless wiretaps or the government's data-mining of billions of call records. Each warrant resulted in 12,742 recordings. If they got all of the court orders on January 1st, then each intercept yielded 35 phone calls every day of the year. At 10 minutes a call, that's 6 hours a day. No wonder we're safe - the bad guys spend all their time on the phone.

Consequences: There's a shortage of hops and barley. In the US they've been plowed under to plant corn. Crop failures in Australia and Europe make it harder to replace the shortage. Other price increases add to the pressure, as does the weaker dollar. I hate it when that happens.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SAR #7355

The only living thing that increases exponentially

without restraint is cancer.

By Order Of: In a fiat system, debt is money and money is debt. As massive debts keep getting written off, the money that was created by issuing the debt gets destroyed. The evaporation of large amounts of money by paying back loans leads directly to deflation. In other words: Depression. Simple math.

Steady State: There are no democracies on the planet, only differing forms of oligarchy, Chinese state capitalists, Russian state capitalists are roughly similar versions of American capitalists. If you are going to rape, plunder and kill, it is best to do it in that order.

Eating the profits. In designing your utopia, remember: taking family needs into account, a man on foot can profitably forage over about a 25 mile radius - or by horse and cart, for the horse has to eat. What is the food availability within 25 miles of your home? And how many people will that support?

One More Thing: A thin spot in the Earth's crust beneath the Northeaster Greenland Ice Stream allows magma to heat the base of Stream, which carries ice from the interior to the Greenland Sea. The ice stream appeared about 1990. Not included in current models of ice cap melting, the heat causes the base of the ice cap to melt, working as a lubricant to ease the movement of the ice to the sea.

Amazing Science! Youngsters allowed to leave the house without an adult are more active and enjoy a richer social life than those who are constantly supervised, according to a new study. Of course kids that don't leave the house are less active and less social. Social science. Dhuh.

Dreamworld: Major home builder Lennar plans to finish building the first 259 homes of a 1100 unit development in California, but has decided not to sell any of them until the housing market improves. When will this be, how they going to keep the houses up meanwhile, and how long can they go without paying back their construction loans?

Unforgettable : Scientists say it is unlikely that greenhouse gases will be kept low enough to avoid serious harm to the world as we know it. The collective will is missing. What these guys are saying is that if we don't do some very drastic things now, very drastic things will be done to us later.

Billions and Billions: Banks paid ACA for insurance against losses on bond investments. The bonds have gone so far south that ACA cannot pay off on the insurance. Rather than take their lumps (and losses) the banks are doubling their losses by buying out ACA with enough money to offset the losses they would have been recompensed for had ACA not gone on vacation. Why do this? So you don't have to tell the world (a) you, too, are bankrupt or (b) you are not smarter than a 5th grader. This was the first test of the $42.6 trillion credit default swap market. It failed. That was trillion, with a 'T'.

Fall In! All those who think producing 36 billion gallons of biofuels yearly by 2022 is remotely possible, raise you hands. If we turned allour cropland into corn and turned all the corn into ethanol we wouldn't come halfway. Put your hand down.

Capitalism, Inc. Morgan Stanley writes down $10.3 billion in bad guesses, prostitutes itself to China's sovereign fund for a $5 billion infusion at 9% interest. The CEO graciously declines his Christmas bonus, while claiming these are "small losses" incurred by a small trading team." So small they sold 9.9% of themselves to the Chinese. Morgan lost 75 cents on the dollar in their sub-prime investments. China has also bought into Blackstone Group and Bear Stearns, while Dubai now owns a goodly part of Citibank. Ah, the wonders of free market capitalism.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

SAR #7354

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on

forever in a finite world
is either a madman or an economist.

Update: Yesterday we reported Eurobank would offer "unlimited funds at below market rates." Unlimited turned out to be €328 billion at 4.21%. That's over half a trillion dollars. If you're a banker, Virginia, there is a Santa, yes indeed.

Consequences: Mining our productive topsoil to grow ethanol was a bad idea, now we learn that it will significantly increase the Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi. Way to go.

Whack-a-Mole : Using our drones, our U2's, our satellite intel, and our permission, Turkey attacked Kurds in Iraq. Cheaper than paying Blackwater to do it. Safer to use the Turks - we can blame them for beating up our friends the Kurds (remember, Kirkuk & oil). If the collateral damage includes a bunch of women and children - and it will - blame the Turks, not us. How many sides are involved in Iraq? Quick, there's one! Bomb it!

A First: Last January a very heavy star exploded in a massive gamma-ray burst. No biggie, that's what they do. The twist: this explosion came from the middle of nowhere -- thousands of light-years from the nearest galaxy. Stars don't hang out all alone. What was a nice star like GRB-070125 doing in a place like that?

Economics 101: In slashing tuition for students whose families earn up to $180,000 by 30 - 50% and saying it will "no longer consider home equity in determining a family’s ability to pay for college", Harvard acknowledged that serious deflation has begun, prices are 30%-50% too high, taking out more debt won't help, and a house is a place to live, not an investment. So they tell you at Harvard.

Shopping: Former press secretary Tony Snow has been whining about the war on conservatives, claiming "The average Iranian is more Pro-American than virtually any college faculty in this country.” He spoke of “the second war in this country, the war on God.” Snow complained that the Christmas store didn’t have anything about Jesus. Glad he pointed that out; I'm going to take the diamond back, cancel the Lexus, and go to church Christmas eve.

Bridge Loan: Last September, Macklowe Realty bought $6.8 billion in NY buildings with $50 million of their own money and a $7.6 billion mortgage. (Don't ask: walking around money.) So far they have missed payments of $615 million. They got the billions even though it was known that the rents would not cover the payments. Approximately $5.0 billion must be paid off in February. Want to buy a bridge building?

Me First! The challenge of global warming is urgent enough the world has agreed to spend two more years talking about getting together to talk about making a plan to promise to try to reduce CO2 emissions over an indefinite span in the future with non-binding goals. Lipstick on a pig. Bali was a failure.

Terminology: The $500 billion "emergency funding" from the ECB was just a year-end prop to dress up the annual statements of some banks. This is not a liquidity issue. This a solvency issue. Solvency as in having insufficient assets. The solvency issue is simple: there's no one around who has viable assets to use as collateral. It's not credit problem, banks just don't trust anyone to pay them back.

Disaster Insurance: Goldman Sachs is offering notes paying 10% per annum as long a basket of 50 large bank stocks do not decline by more than 50% during the next three years". Bearish Goldman is willing to bet they will. Making money betting that a bunch of banks go belly up seems distasteful.

Monday, December 17, 2007

SAR #7353

The question facing civilization is

What happens after it doesn’t get better?”

Saying No! At least 14 states have rejected $15 million in Bush Administration funding for abstinence-only programs, which have been proven to be ineffective. Now if they'd only reject the NCLB funding...

Getting Malled: Shares of Centro Properties, owner of 700 US malls in 40 states, plunged 76% after cutting its profit forecast as it struggles to refinance debt. The company's traditional sources of funding are "shut for business" and it cannot refinance more than $4 billion in outstanding debt, equal to 44% of its assets. More than my waistline has become over-expanded.

Dark Side of the Moon : Money is not a thing, it is a process. We give money to the grocer for food, who in turn pays others who pay others who pay those who burn down the Amazon and grind up nature to grow our food. We buy clothing from the corporation which in turn pays others to rape the land and and poison the sea to bring garments made by enslaved children to us in all their many colors. Even the most peaceful of us buys books on climate change with money that goes into taxes which pay for 'defense;' which has become little but government sanctioned cruelty, torture, and death.

Cod Damn It: Open-net salmon farms are a haven for parasitic sea lice, which then infect nearby populations of wild salmon. Affected pink salmon populations have been rapidly declining for four years. Scientists expect a 99% collapse in another four years. I've still not over not having cod, now this.

In at the Krill: The Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the average rate of global warming. The vast Southern Ocean has warmed all the way down to a depth of 3000m. Sea ice covers 40% less area than it did 26 years ago off the West Antarctic Peninsula. This decrease has led to reduced numbers of krill, a key resource in the aquatic food chain..

Dieting: The Department of Agriculture predicts global corn stocks will fall to a 33-year low of 7.5 weeks of consumption, while global wheat stocks will plunge to their lowest level 47 years at 9.3 weeks. Maybe I should lay in another 25# bag.

Mr. Bubbles: Greenspan, who only knows what he's read in the papers about the housing collapse, thinks that direct subsidies to financially strapped homeowners is the way to go. He's afraid of "distorting the housing market." About time.

Good News: Home builder sentiment held at a record low for a third consecutive month, weighed down by a huge supply of unsold new houses. It is at 19 for the 3rd month, an all time low. Anything below 50 is pessimistic. But it didn't go any lower. The scoring system my be scored so that 19 is the minimum score.

One For We the People: A Regan era Federal Judge ruled that White House visitor logs are public documents. The Bushies have been fighting the release of records showing visits by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and prominent religious conservatives to the White House, and oil magnates to Cheney's office and home.

Fairness: Behind the 60-Minute report on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is the amusing fact that discharges for being gay are way down when the troops are deployed. Gay soldiers in Iraq get to stay at their posts, finish out their 15 month tours. They don't get discharged "at the convenience of the Army" until they are back stateside.

C'mon Down! Monday the European Central Bank announced it would offer unlimited funds at below market interest rates in a special operation to head off a year-end liquidity crisis. Unlimited funds. At below market rates. Would you buy a used car from these people?

SAR #7352

"There's what you believe and then there's reality."

A Present:Billy Joel's "Christmas in Fallujah" performed by Chris Dillon, is now a YouTube favorite. Joel says it's based on letters from the troops. Not the best musical adventure he's written, but a tough and in your face set of lyrics. and he wanted a young guy about the age of many of the soldiers in Iraq to sing it. Net proceeds to Home for Our Troops. Bruce Springsteen's new anti-war album, "Magic," is better musically and subtler lyrically

As Found: An AT&T engineer claims that "within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning its spying on Americans. In early 2001, AT&T sought to create a phone center that would give NSA "all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through" a New Jersey network hub. His lawyer says they have documents to back up the claim. NSA has also been collecting phone records of Americans who call Latin America. Our government spys on us more than the KGB did on Russians and maintains more extensive dossiers on us than the Stazi did in East Germany.

Repeat After Me: Sub-prime loans. Sub-prime borrowers. Sub-prime, sub-prime. Everything is sub-primes fault. Except the Boston Fed which attributes the "dramatic rise in foreclosures to a decline in house prices." Simply explained, the Fed sees that homeowners who see their equity disappear and their debt increase daily have no reason to keep making payments. Those who made no down payments are first; they are not only.

Take an Umbrella: Greenspan has now come to believe that there is a 50% chance that there will be a recession next year. Merrill Lynch says Alan's wrong; their odds are 100%, based on the formula they used to predict the last two recessions. Even if Merrill is right, we ought to call it Greenspan II.

Doom Tourism: Visit the Antarctic. Go polar bear viewing. Scuba the Great Barrier Reef. Tramp thru the Amazon. Helicopter up to some glaciers and look around. Airboat the Everglades. Take a shower in Atlanta. Time to do these things is now, before... The scarcest resource we have is time. Quick, waste it.

Magic Act: Next year, as the drought season begins, Los Angeles' Elysian and Silver Lake Reservoirs will have been shut down and drained to cleanse them of a cancer-causing chemical contamination. The closure will last through the beginning of next year's drought season. After which they will refill them how?

Mouths of Babes : The IEA forecasts world oil supply and demand will be 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up from 85 mbd now. CEO of French oil giant Total, says that a supply level of even 100 is "optimistic. It is my view. It is not the industry view..." ConocoPhilips' CEO said "I don't think we are ever going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day... Where is that going to come from?"

Stay Tuned: Dr. Hansen asserts we have passed several serious tipping points and reminds us that time does not end in 2100; there will be a 2101. The seas will continue to swell for centuries from thermal expansion and meltwater from ice caps and glaciers; the oceans will turn more acidic; coral reefs will become lifeless expanses; floods and storms will increase; and millions of people will be short of the water they need. This is the "good" result if we achieve an 85% reduction in emissions by 2050. Dr. Hansen assures us this is no longer achievable. Feliz Navidad.

Signing statements Bush has committed a "signing statement" saying he won't abide by a new law that limits his ability to transfer funds approved for one purpose to a different program - like war with Iran. It is best to take Bush at his word when it comes to disregarding the Constitution.

Season's Greetings: H&R Block's Option One Mortgage Co. says that only $20 million of the $70 million in home loans they have already approved will actually be funded before Option One goes belly up. Buyers whose loans are being un-funded are being notified via Christmas Cards.

Psst. Pass this Along: Americans mostly believe we are all in this together, that government should be there to help us - with health care, retirement, product safety... We know we all do better when we all do better. We want the politics of us, of all. It's not a question of equal opportunity - we know that's impossible. But fairness in the outcomes can certainly be promoted. Anybody seen Huey P. ?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

SAR #7351

"If ignorance is bliss, I should be happier."

Sharks in the water: Direct-mail offers to consumers with the best credit have dropped by 13%, On the other hand, offers to consumers who are in danger of defaulting on their home loans have actually climbed by 41%. Sweets to the sweet.

Progress : Bali approved a "roadmap" for two years of talks to adopt a new treaty to succeed Kyoto. Under the deal, a successor pact will be agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009. A roadmap. For two years of talks. About a new treaty. Replacing Koyoto - which no one has met. Big whoop.

Street Humor: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac forecast continued declines in home prices, ultimately bottoming out 10 to 12% below their peak. In describing the trouble ahead they said that if home prices decline by 30 percent, as some expect, ‘We’re all going long on apples ... " Funny. Really funny.

Pogo Moment: We have met the mortgage problem, and they are us. Many of us are in the curious postion of owing more on our house than it's worth. Many more of us will arrive at the station soon. Upside-down they call it. Sure feels that way. Greenspan kept telling us to take another cookie, now here we are, stuck, hand in cookie jar.

Homework: Climate Scientists assure us that dangerous warming can be avoided only if greenhouse emissions are cut 25% to 40% below those of 1990 by 2020. In the next 12 years. Take a piece of paper and figure out how you can cut 25% of your gas, gasoline, electricity, plastic, food, and consumption of everything else. Today. Then cut that by another 25%. Tomorrow.

Closer Reading : The USGS reports the Laptev Sea Shelf beneath Russia's Arctic waters holds 9.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent in undiscovered resources. Terrific news; we're saved! But wait: That's barrels of oil equivalent. Not actual crude oil. And it's estimated oil. And what's this 'undiscovered resources'? My mother used to claim I had 'undiscovered talent.' But like oil in the Arctic, it sure has been hard to get at.

Echo: I'm tired of sounding like a 1940's German. Can't we drop the fascistic echo and call it the Department of National Security? We could rename NSA something more descriptive -Communications Intercept, or 'The Watchers.' But Homeland Security has got to go. This was the Indians homeland, and see how well that has turned out for them.

Size Matters: Real after-tax incomes jumped $180,000 for the top 1 percent in 2005 (it's gotten worse since then, but the CBO figures that historic data disturbs the peasantry less). Those in the middle got $400, the untouchable got about $200. It wasn't just last year: In the last 25 years, the top 1% have gotten a 228% raise. The middle, 21% - less than 1% a year. The bottom got a net 6% raise - after taxes and inflation. Trickle down. Just don't get it in your boot.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

SAR #7350

Lemons: Stockton, California has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. It also has the RepoBus. Two of 'em. Realtor run, each hauls 18 hungry buyers around the city to look at the week's newly foreclosed bargains. Lemonade.

Without Comment: "While the Republicans were passing a resolution celebrating Christmas, the president was vetoing health care for children. There’s a little bit of irony going on around here." - Rep. McDermott (D-WA)

Pre-fab : The NIE says Iran gave up its secret nuclear weapons program in "the fall of 2003." Russia didn't begin constructing Iran's first reactor until September 2002. I don't know about Russian engineering, but in the US it takes a bit more than a few days to build a reactor. We haven't even got the water running in Baghdad yet. What kind of a nuclear weapons program could Iran have had 10 months later? The kind you draw on a napkin?

Could'a Had a V-8: A Japanese inventor has figured out how to light a Christmas tree using an electric eel. No one else has figured out why.

New Wine/Old Bottle: The Fed is using September 2006 valuations for CDOs used as collateral for bank loans. Accepting them at 85ȼ on the dollar instead of the 27ȼ or less they bring in the marketplace seems... generous? That is, if generous is spelled 'bailout'.

Illustrations: Perhaps the Republicans could get their insistence on "No new taxes" across better if they translated it into everyday terms: No new taxes means no new bridges, no repairs to the old ones, either. No new schools, nor repairs to the old ones. No fixing 75 year old dams. No inspection of food, protection of the environment. Better yet: No new roads. That'd get their attention. Probably not a lot of support, though.

Finding Elmo: Research shows that by 2050 the water surrounding 98% of the world's coral reefs will have become too acidic for the corals to grow. It will also pretty well doom shellfish and crustaceans. “If atmospheric carbon dioxide stabilizes at 550ppm, and even that would take concerted international effort, no existing coral reef will remain in such an environment.”

Just Saying No: Paper-shredding costs are up 600% under Bush/Cheney. But with little left to review, the cost of denying Freedom of Information Requests has declined precipitously. It's a simple two step action: send out the "Nope, we've not got that" letter, and refer the requester's identity to Heimland Sicherheit and the TSA no-fly list.

Innocent Fraud: Today's problems are bigger than the Fed, which is in fact not faster than a speeding bullet. Citibank is 2.5 times the Fed in assets and 4 times in equity. The Fed admits it can "not directly address balance sheet or capital constraints," (kiss the boo boo) nor can it "directly reduce the perceived risk in exposure to other financial counterparties" (make 'em play nice). It has far more authority as a regulator, but Republicans don't regulate... Market Forces, Ahoy!

Irreversible: Public utilities bought enough senators to dodge a requirement that 15% of electricity be from renewable sources, while the oil industry ducked a $13 billion tax increase for less than $16.4 million in bribes contributions. The people of the world could not come up with enough money to buy meaningful carbon emission reductions. Better luck next... Oh, that's right. There won't be a next time. Next time is already bought and paid for.

Bad News/Good News: Producer Prices jumped 3.2% in November. But not to worry: Prices excluding food and energy rose only 0.4%. Wow. The government seems pretty sure there is no inflation except for things whose prices are going up.

Friday, December 14, 2007

SAR #7349

When you warn people about the dangers of climate change,

they call you a saint.

When you explain what needs to be done to stop it,
they call you a communist.

- George Monbiot

Mis Casa, Su Casa! Our close and special friend, King Abdullah has invited Ahmadinejad to Mecca for Haj. It is the first time an Iranian president has been an official guest of the Saudi Government. Maybe they'll hold hands and walk through the bluebonnets, talk about US oil security.

Renewable: Saturn's rings are about 4.5 billion years ago, forming along with the sun and planets. The ring particles are constantly recycled, breaking up and regrouping to form new rings. This is news because the old theory had something to do with dinosaurs. Don't ask.

Ornaments. Twenty-eight retired generals and admirals, helping put up the Christmas tree at home, have found their balls in a box of ornaments and now say the CIA must abandon harsh interrogation techniques. A little late to fool Santa.

Size Matters: State's worldwide diplomatic staffing will be reduced 10% next year. Not a budget cut, nor has peace and haramony broken out. Just the reverse - 10% of State's professionals will be exiled assigned to Baghdad and Kabul. We can't invade Iran - we haven't enough peacemakers.

Astonishing: One of the two US robots wandering around Mars has discovered something that suggests there once might have been conditions that could have sponsored life. What's really suprising is that we have two robots still wandering around Mars. Time flies.

e.e.cummings: We had just passed peak production in the 70's when OPEC taught us about limits. Had we only.... Instead we imported more and more, for 30 years. 30 years of increasing CO2, 30 years of population growth, 30 years of pointless consumption. 30 years of devoting the US economy to killing. Had we used those 30 years rationally...

Ready, Set, Go: If you want to understand motivation, generally follow the money. One worry about the Sovereign Wealth Funds is that they might not be in it just for the money. It would be ironic if the US neocon's insistence on privatization of government-owned companies all over the world ends up with governments from all over the world buying up US companies. The game of life is played with live ammunition