Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SAR #11151

Hoping to break even is not investing.

Boots/Ground: Reports from Al Jazeera cite publicity shy “foreigners – possibly British – working with Libyan rebel groups.

Indignations: The protests spreading around the Mediterranean are not particularly leftist nor rightist, they are mainly the fed up – the indignados – who are mad as hell and not going to take it any more. They are underway in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy and they are not much different than their cousins in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. They turn out by the tens of thousands, even the hundreds of thousands. Imagine how large and how angry the gatherings will be when they learn the plans the bankers and the IMF have for their sovereignty. Imagine what the long, hot summer will bring.

Not Made In Japan: Japanese car exports dropped 68% in April – which might have been good news for Detroit except that a lot of their essential components are made in Japan. Or were before the tsunami and related disasters.

A Modest Proposal: Paul Krugman thinks we should forget – for now – the Ryan Plan and its shortcomings and attend to more pressing business: the 14 million unemployed and half again that many of the underemployed. He proposes 1) a WPA type infrastructure repair and improvement program to put people back to work. 2) Reducing the mortgage debts of homeowners (which implies the investor class taking a big hit and raises the question of equity and fairness among homeowners), and 3) Running inflation at 4% or more to inflate away the national debt (and a whole lot of private wealth). Politically unacceptable for a lot of reasons, and sure to be the target of more attacks than discussion.

House Rules: Ahmed Karzi says NATO may no longer conduct “airstirkes on the houses of people.” NATO countered by saying it always “coordinates” such strikes with Afghan officials.

Yes, But... The Defense Department – the nation's largest energy consumer – has been making significant efforts to reduce the amount of fossil fuel it uses. The coal, gas and oil industries, through their political action committee, the Republicans, are trying to use the current funding bill as a way to reverse this, indirectly increasing the threat to national security that dependence on fossil fuels and the attendant global warming pose.

Chicken, Revised: Instead of seeing who will swerve to avoid the crash (intentional US default due to not raising the debt ceiling), now it's to be a game of seeing who can wait the longest to dial 911 after the crash.

There Goes The Neighborhood: The IEA reports that mankind's CO2 emissions hit another record high last year. After over ten years of pretending to care, no significant steps have been taken to keep global warming below 2º C. Any warming above 3º C is seen as catastrophic by most climate scientists. As you were, smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Bad News/Good News: The price of food is predicted to double by 2030. But that assumes an inflation rate of only 4% and that there will still be food....

In Memoriam: This is no longer a nation of laws – how can it be when the executive branch will not let even the congress know what the laws are? What's the point of The Great Charter and its painfully earned descendants if defendants are not allowed to see, much less challenge, the secret evidence which the government claims to have? The shibboleth of 'national security' justifies giving billions to the biggest banks in secret – because... well, if you don't know you can't challenge it, can you? Say 'goodnight', Gracie.

Monday, May 30, 2011

SAR #11150

'Consistent with' is not the same as 'caused by'.

600 Pound Gorilla: This weekend the MSM and the blogsphere were full of dueling experts predicting this or that resolution of the Greek drama. Most try to squeeze it into a comedy simply because the tragic outcome is unpalatable. Either the IMF will or will not... Either the European Union does or it does not... Either the Greeks will or will not... Either Germany will or will not... Either the bankers take a 50% haircut, or they don't... Phooey. The Greeks cannot repay their debts, thus they will not. Either Germany comes to the rescue, holding its nose, or it does not. Either the Greek citizenry revolt, or the German taxpayers do. Or both.

Match Point: Afghan President Karzai has told the US it has had its “last warning” and must stop killing civilians, especially “murdering children”. It is unclear how such an unprecedented step would set back General Petraeus' counterinsurgency operations.

Inscrutable: TEPCO officials admit that the remains of the Fukushima nuclear power plants are not ready for the high winds and heavy rains of Typhoon Songda. They are already very sorry for the additional devastation.

Post-Grad Internship: The Saudi troops that crushed pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain had been trained by the British. It is unclear if the rape of female Bahraini doctors guilty of treating injured protesters was part of the training.

15 Minutes: After being ignored for 25 years, Gil Scott-Heron is suddenly the great American protest poet (move over Bob Dylan). “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is cynical enough to serve as an appropriate commemoration of his life and art.

Funny Money: Through Fannie and Freddie and FHA, the US government makes or insures 95% of all home loans. If they did not, 30-year mortgages would not exist – in today's economy what bank would take the chance that a borrower would have a job next month, much next year and the years after? Maybe there might be 10 or 15 year loans, with 25% down. Maybe. So all this talk about doing away with Fannie and Freddie is just that, talk. Almost makes you question the American myth of home ownership. Almost.

Let's Do the Math: Your family has two cars that get 20 mpg and you drive each 12,000 miles a year. Last year you spent about $265 a month on gasoline. This year it's $369 a month. That's $1,200 more a year you are not going to spend on foolishness like food, clothing and healthcare.

Swept Away: Rainfall in the Yangtze river basin is 60% below average so far this year. If the basin does not receive significant rainfall by June 10th, the massive Three Gorges Dam will lose its ability to relieve the effects of the debilitating drought on 34 million Chinese. Built primarily to produce hydroelectric power, that function is already being reduced to provide water downstream.
Investment Principle: Investors in China should not worry about such things as civil war, epidemics, panics, depressions, all of that. But drought, now that's serious.

Choir, Preaching To: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities review of the Ryan budget showed that privatizing Medicare would push a larger share of health care costs directly onto patients, and that those costs would be dramatically higher because the individual would not have the bargaining power that Medicare has.

Spring, Sprung: Yemen is circling the drain, with tribal clashes, kidnapping, people in the streets and what is purportedly 200 Al-Qaeda gunmen taking over the town of Zinjibar. Some suggest the gunmen were government-sponsored thugs hired to give the democracy movement a bad name, but surely the 30-year dictatorial reign of our ally President Abullah Saleh would not be so devious.

Porn O'Graph: Ah, there's the rub.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

SAR #11148

Fear is an infectious disease.

Redundancy: The just passed National Defense Authorization Act authorizes worldwide war against terrorism, terrorists and states we don't like very much, while depriving non-US 'suspects' of criminal trials – all without requiring the President show any specific harm or threat posed to the US. Business as usual.

The Reign In Spain: Two weeks of mostly peaceful protests throughout Spain over unemployment and economic austerity turned violent in Barcelona as riot police fired rubber bullets and clubbed protesters.

Open House: Pending house sales were down 11.6% in April, m/m, and 26.8% y/y. Some recovery.

Take Note: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says he will vote against increasing the federal debt limit unless Medicare cuts are included as part of the legislation. It will be interesting to see if he follows through.

Memorial Day: This is an appropriate weekend for reflecting on the point of all the wars, all the deaths. Was it just for the benefit of the few?

New Boss Same As The Old Boss... Here's a reminder – there are still huge protests being held in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt against the torture of protesters by the army.

Pot & Kettle Brigade: Paul Ryan and the Republicans claim that the Democrats pointing out that the Republicans want to kill Medicare is “trying to scare seniors to win an election”, which is precisely what the GOP did in 2010 with exactly the same topic. Ryan predicted that come 2012 ““the American people are going to know they’ve been lied to.” We already do.

Think Again: The United States has been sentenced to serve at least four more years under martial law the Patriot Act. If you think that's bad, you ought to see what the government thinks it authorizes the agents of the empire to do.

Big Trouble: The British government's austerity plan is not working. Things are quickly getting worse, not better. The economy depends mainly on public spending, the expansion of private debt, and retail sales – all of which the austerity plans severely handicap. The only apparent solution is “restructuring” - and the bankers are not about to let the government default on their loans. If you can think of a way out of this mess, jot it on a postcard and send it to 10 Downing street.

Big Bad Wolf: Why are Republicans so scared of Elizabeth Warren? Because she might stand up for the customers, not the banks.

Real (Estate) Bargains? In the first quarter of 2011, nearly 700,000 houses joined the 1.9 million US houses in some stage of foreclosure. Such houses sell for about 27% less than their already seriously marked down neighbors. Foreclosures and short sales made up 40% of all 1Q sales.

Why? The House has approved a $690 billion defense budget. Plus more for our various wars.

Trade Secrets: Not only did TEPCO fail to acknowledge that three of its reactor cores had melted down within hours of the tsunami, it has been reluctant to acknowledge that 100,000 tons of radioactive water has already leaked out of the reactors and that much more is expected to trickle into the ground by the end of the year – despite promises to keep it from entering the soil. Also, TEPCO & Japanese regulators last updated the public as to how much radiation had leaked from the plant more than a month ago.

Repeat After Me: Vermont has taken the first step in implementing a state-wide single payer universal health care system. Stand back – the wrath of God will be unleashed on the heathens. Or at least the wrath of Glen Beck.

If I Had A Hammer... The GOP is certainly conservative when it comes to solving the nation's problems. They have but one set of ideas and they apply them whenever possible: Cut taxes. Eliminate government regulation and oversight. Abolish class action lawsuits and limit personal injury awards to $17.46. Privatize social security and let the insurance companies run Medicare.

Porn O'Graph: Picture (1,000 words for the cognitively impaired).

Friday, May 27, 2011

SAR #11147

Our lives are prone to repetitive stress injury.

... and The Doctor Said: Continuing their all out assault on women, the Republicans in the House passed a measure that would prohibit medical schools that receive any federal funds from teaching doctors a number of basic gynecological procedures that might – just might – be used to perform an abortion. Are we back to the 12th Century yet?

Coals to Newcastle: The permanent disaster at Fukushima is being considered as a site for an international nuclear graveyard.

Observations: Blaming speculators for the price of oil may be emotionally satisfying, but it does not account for all of the facts. For example, speculators cannot be blamed for the last 5 years of flat production. Nor are they responsible for the enormous increases in the cost of wresting the harder to find petroleum from the ground. Nor was it speculators who forced oil exploration into deep off-shore drilling or the mining of oil sands or trying to grow gasoline in corn fields. The one thing that can be said for blaming the price of oil on the speculators – it is easier than facing reality.

Gasp! In a comment that shook euro-area markets, Jean Claude Juncker – who heads a group of euro-area finance ministers – said the IMF may withhold further aid payments to Greece if prospects for repayment do not improve.

If... Then... Else... If the Ryan version of Medicare/Medicaid becomes law, do you have $4,000 a month to keep Mom in the nursing home? If not, have you got a spare bedroom?

Dry Me a River: The worst drought in 50 years is forcing the release of massive amounts of water from the Three Gorges reservoir into China's Yangtze river – sacrificing hydroelectric generation in favor of irrigation and drinking water. The Yangtze delta supports 400 million people and 40% of China's economic activity.; The electric power will be sorely missed because of shortages caused by cutbacks in coal-fired generation due to high prices for coal.

Mirror Image: Maybe it is that Germany is too strong to stay in the eurozone and not that Greece (and Ireland and Portugal and Spain and ….) that is too weak to stay.

Ticket To Ride: The nation's two previous depressions – the 19th century's Long Depression and the 20th century's Great Depression – were not a pure downward plunge, but rather a series of descents and rallies much like a roller coaster. Both had periods of economic growth followed by relapses. We seem to be on the same sort of ride once again - long, severe, and scary.

Timing Is Everything: If you are going to use a headline like “Gas Prices Fall” you had better be quick about it.

Right On Schedule: While the Republicans keep sharpening their knives and salivating over Social Security and Medicare, yet another analysis concludes that our massive budget deficits and burgeoning national debt are the result of George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich and his useless wars. The idea was to so burden the country with debt that it would have to reverse all of the social gains of the last 100 years. And it's working.

Theater of the Absurd: House Republicans announced yesterday that they would bring a "clean" debt ceiling to the House floor next week. ... by allowing members to vote against it now, the leadership will also be making it easier for some of them to vote for a debt ceiling increase later this summer.

Pick Up Sticks: Global Sticks, a Chinese maker of wooden ice cream sticks is abandoning China for Ontario, Canada. Why? Because the uncertain electrical supply in China and its soaring costs make the abundant, cheap electrical power in Canada more important than the increase in wages. All those Canadian trees are just a bonus.

Porn O'Graph: Size matters.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

SAR #11146

We neither know nor care where our food comes from. This will change.

Mom Always Liked You Them Best: In the best free-market capitalism tradition, the Fed secretly – very, very secretly - gave Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and the Royal Bank of Scotland each a 9 month loan of $30 billion or so during 2008, at an interest rate of 0.01%, so they could pay themselves bonuses. Interesting, very interesting.

Tea Leaves: In NY's über-conservative 26th Congressional District, Democrat Kathy Hochul trounced Republican Jane Corwin, even though she was outspent 2:1, by campaigning against Paul Ryan's plans to gut Medicare. Her mantra, “We cannot balance our budget on the backs of our seniors" seems to light the path forward for the Democrats. Of course the GOP alibis began immediately, but it is expected that more and more Republicans will seek protective cover.

Volatility: Nestle, McDonald's, and Whole Foods will boost prices to reflect increased costs. The price of oil is back over $100 a barrel. The USDA estimates retail food prices will jump 4% this year. The Government will continue to exclude the volatile food and fuel areas from CPI calculations, so there will be no inflation. Just higher prices.

Ask A Gecko: Are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley manipulating the oil market? Does it take two to tango?

Why? The Pentagon wants to buy 100 long-range, radar-evading, nuclear-capable drone bombers and will bribe Congress with $55 billion (original price, bound to triple later on) in contracts to scatter around various districts. You never know when Kyrgyzstan might attack.

Choices: If the 50-year experiment with what has become Euroland is to continue, Germany and France must find a way to pay the debts of the PIIGS by moving towards even greater integration of the separate states. While there seems little enthusiasm for the rich bailing out the poor ('twas ever so) there is an absolute fear of what happens if they are allowed to collapse. Don't get too comfortable, it's not a spectator sport.

Plenty of Truthiness: When newly minted Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty says his campaign is “all about the truth” he means “about” as in going around it, avoiding it when necessary. Like Newt.

Revenge of the Sith Shiite: After a four year absence, Moqtada al-Sadr is returning to Iraqi political life with a planned march by tens of thousands of his Mahdi Army through Baghdad's Sadr City, demanding the US withdraw from Iraq.

Tanking: Frontline, which runs the world's largest fleet of oil tankers, suffered an 81% decline in net income in Q1, y/y. In July 2008 very large crude carriers rented for $177,036 a day. Today you can get one for $8,900. Supply and demand – with increasing supply meeting decreasing demand.

Antiques: Saudi Aramco is going to re-start production in the Dammam field, its original oilfield, which produced 32 million barrels of oil before it was shut down – even though the Saudi's claim the field contains “a half-billion barrels of proven reserves.” Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

Civilization and Its Discontents: French President Sarkozy continues to seek a “civilized” internet – by which he means “one he can control”. In the US, when the Republicans call for “net neutrality” they mean a neutered net, controlled by big business and the national security state. Watch what they do, not what they say.

Debt or Nation? “We’re in a strange state now where people who actually take textbook economics and simple arithmetic seriously are seen as dangerously radical and irresponsible, while people who believe in invisible bond vigilantes and confidence fairies, who claim to know what the market will want even though there’s no sign of that desire in current asset prices, are viewed as Very Serious.”

Porn O'Graph: Hockey Stick, Too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SAR #11145

Drug companies sell dependency, not cures.

Dead Hoarse: Christian Noyer of the European Central Bank joined the chorus flatly ruling out any restructuring of the Greek debt, saying “there’s no solution possible” other than austerity. Ditto for Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and, soon, Italy. The fact that austerity hasn't worked in the UK, Ireland or Greece, doesn't mean another dose won't work wonders.

Look Ma, No Hands: Investors, fearing inflation, snapped up $35 billion in US 2-year Treasuries priced to yield 0.56%, the lowest yield since December. Oh, wait, at one-half of one percent interest, they're not afraid of inflation. Quick, make a list of the things they are afraid of.

Aide de Memoire: Make a list of the Republicans lining up to pledge their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to defending the Ryan budget. Next year you can compare it to the list of Republicans who claim they never heard of it – or they supported it because it was the right thing to do, only the narrow minded Democrats wanted to keep Medicare and Social Security and tax the rich.

Penny Saved: Over 30% of the houses now in foreclosure have not made a mortgage payment in over 2 years. What's 24 times your mortgage? $25,000? $40,000?

Olé: Something unusual is happening in Spain. Young people, upset about the 20+% unemployment, the public corruption and the looming austerity program, have created their own version of Tahrir Square. At what point does protest become revolution?

Be Prepared: Kansas has passed a law prohibiting insurance companies from offering abortion coverage in the state, except for when a woman's life is at risk. One of the sponsors of the bill, Republican Pete DeGraff, said that women should plan ahead for things like rape, just like he plans ahead and has a spare tire in his car. Simply living in Kansas puts a woman's life at risk.

1 + 2 = 3: Not only did Fukushima reactor #1 melt down in the first couple of days after the earthquake, so did #2 and #3. Win, place and show.

Best Intentions: Georgia Republicans, in a panicked rush to appease the right wing over immigration, have passed a law that will keep farmers who need large numbers of help – say picking onions and peaches – from hiring illegals. This will result in fewer peaches and onions being picked, but will have little effect of immigration, which will still be necessary to provide roofers, gardeners, maids...

Easy Question: What is the great GOP hope for the 2012 elections? That we're as stupid in 2012 as we were in 2010.

My Bad: Preacher Harold Camping says that the reason the world is still here is not that God forgot but that there was a simple math error in calculating the date. The correct date for the end of the world is October 21, 2011. Mark your calendar.

Schedule: When will the next charlatan come along? Who will be the next 'sensible' Republican? Or is the MSM commentariat finally getting a little leery of right-wing would-be heroes with instant fixes that involve hardship for the majority and tax cuts for the rich?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SAR #11144

“The Common Good” has become an orphan.

Unclear on the Concept: Former Minnesota Governor Pawlenty has joined a large group of others seeking the ’12 Republican Presidential Race. Someone should tell these folks that just because the 2012 election is referred to as the '12 election, doesn't mean there have to be 12 candidates.

Mopping Up: Now that quantitative easing has been a massive success (I'm reading from a Fed press release here) it is time to start sucking all that non-money money out of the system before inflation sets in. But won't draining several trillion dollars from the system be just a tad deflationary? What happens to the stock market, to oil, to gold, corn, Bernanke?

Geography Quiz: Where is the port of Gwadar and why should you be interested? (A) It is on the Indian Ocean in southwest Pakistan. (B) Pakistan is trying to get the Chinese to build a base there for the Chinese Pakistani navy.

Emperor/Clothes:Peter Schiff has just noticed that the IMF isn't so much in the business of helping countries as it is in the business of helping banks loot countries. Took him long enough to finish Naomi’s book.

Whose Pocket? While the media are full of anxious ramblings about the pending sovereign default of the US, we have decided to back five-year Egyptian bonds with the “full faith and credit” of the United States. So if Egypt fails – and it certainly does not look much like a success right now – the US taxpayer will make good their debt. Do y'think that Goldman Sachs will be the ultimate holder of this guaranteed gift?

Two Birds: The Supremes have ordered California to release at least 40,000 prisoners from the states prisons because of overcrowding. Perhaps they will take up more spacious quarters in the states enormous inventory of vacant REO houses.

What If: Summer's coming. What would you do if the A/C had to be replaced? If your child needed serious dental work? If the car breaks down? Could you scrape together even $2,000 in cash in the next 30 days? Nearly half of Americans say they probably could not. Interesting measure of financial security.

Wage-Price Sprial: Those  who fear inflation  – like some members of the FED board such as Kansas City Federal Reserve President Thomas Hoenig – assume that sooner or later the US worker will demand higher wages.  Alas, they  live in a fantasy world where the US worker has not been put on a common footing with laborers in China and Bangladesh. Wages have been spiraling down in real terms for decades – and that's deflationary. 

Job Fares: While Wall Street is celebrating the return of manufacturing jobs to the Rust Belt, keep in mind that thousands of skilled people who used to make $20 and more and hour are lining up for a handful of $7 an hour jobs. The reason factories are returning is simple – the American worker has learned the essential new job skill – working for less money.

Trojan Horse: Overnight, Belarus devalued its currency by 56%. Those who had savings and assets denominated in the BYR lost half of everything. But those who had debts denominated in BYR suddenly only owe half as much. The Greeks are sick with envy.

Rape: If you haven't figured out that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn plot-line is simply the story of the IMF vs the underdeveloped world writ small, go read this.

The End Is Near: When the state reduces the number of weeks you can draw unemployment benefits, what do you tell your children?

Reality Therapy: We in the USA, Inc. keep being told that raising taxes will doom our civilization (or at least our economy). Taxes in Denmark and Sweden are about double those in USA, Inc. and have been for about 30 years. Yet those overtaxed Danes and Swedes continually beat the USA, Inc. in every measure of personal and social well-being except the number of obscenely rich people, and their economies keep chugging along.

Porn O'Graph: And this little PIIGY...

Monday, May 23, 2011

SAR #11143

Democracy is not supposed to be a spectator sport.

Garage Sale: The EU and IMF may, just may, give Greece a new aid package, but only if Greece sells of some $70 billion in public assets – to the Usual Suspects. Everything must go: railroads, water and sewage systems, public electric companies, Olympic stadia, any number of Greek isles, in whole or part. Plus airplanes, an airport, the lottery and a casino. This will “restart” the economy – apparently by letting foreigners charge more for water, phones, the postal service and electricity while they build mansions on their newly acquired islands.

Slow News Day: Newly released documents from Wikileaks show that Gulf Arab states have been providing $100 million a year to jihadist networks in Pakistan. Only $100 million?

It's A The Gas: The high price of gasoline is changing the driving and shopping habits of Americans. Sales of gasoline dropped 1% by volume in March over a year ago, while retail sales retail sales are falling because of the need to feed the car.

Facts in a Certain Order: Two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one-third, obese. The US spends more per capita ($4,550) on healthcare than any other developed nation. US healthcare costs are skyrocketing. The chair will now entertain motions.

When You're Right, You're Half Right: Fox News President Roger Ailes thinks Sarah Palin ‘is an idiot’. Maybe so, Roger, but a pretty sly one.

Point to Ponder: China, which has traditionally been unable to meet electricity demands in the summer months, has already begun rationing electricity in some provinces due to soaring coal prices. It is hard to pretend to be a modern industrial nation when you can't keep the lights on (eg. Pakistan).

Definitions: Newt claims that his $500,000 no-interest account at Tiffany's was “a standard, no-interest account.” Please list the outstanding balance on your standard no-interest accounts.

Elixir: There is now a $700 blood test that reveals how long you will live, by measuring the length of the “telomeres” at the end of your chromosomes. Insurance companies, corporations, and potential spouses have an avid interest in this information and will seek to use it to your disadvantage. But there are lots of ways to lengthen the telomeres – starting with exercise and vitamins. Just like the doctor said.

Complete the Blank: The Maine state Representative who pulled a gun on a photographer is a ______________ . (No, 'idiot' is not the answer I was looking for.)

Down On The Farm: Iowa farmers are supporting a bill that would make letting people know how their food is grown – and slaughtered – a crime. Seems fair, since a lot of people think that the things that happen to our food before it becomes our food are crimes.

Gyrations: Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped 29,000 last week, continuing the recent zig-zag around a less than cheerful trend in the 400 - 440,000 range. Chaos theory, anyone?

In the Middle: In the last decade, median US incomes fell 5,261 in real dollars. No wonder Americans have nearly $800 billion in credit debt – there is no way we could have survived the last decade without promising the banks all the income our kids we will make in the next decade.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

SAR #11141

Avarice and ignorance should not be the central pillars of any society.

Piggy Bankers: The US Treasury is raiding government retirement funds to pay for its ongoing military operations. No, this doesn't mean they are going to nationalize your 401k. Doesn't mean they aren't, either.

Keystone: In Pennsylvania, Republican Rep. Scott Perry wants to change the way unemployment benefits are calculated, claiming that people “game” the system and “vacation” for 9 months a year. His bill would lower payments from $324 to $277 a week. I don't understand why tourists aren't flocking to a state where a family vacation costs only $324 a week.

Explanation Explained: “How did a once-powerful figure become such a clown? But that’s the wrong question: what you see now is what he always was. The real question is why so many media figures pretended, for so long, not to notice.”

Damn It: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has acknowledged that the $37 billion Three Gorges Dam – built to provide electricity – has caused severe problems to the environment, shipping, agricultural irrigation and water supplies in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River – just as opponents of the project had warned.

Emperor/Clothes: Fitch Ratings hasn't been fooled. It sees the pending rescheduling, restructuring or reprofiling of Greek loans as Greece defaulting on the terms of its agreements. So it lowered its rating of Greek sovereign debt from “god-awful” to “hopeless”.

Breaking Even: How deep is the jobs hole? Let's see... The US has 7 million fewer jobs today than it did in December 2007 – plus nearly that many more “owed” to those who came of working age since then…

Hmmm? Seventeenth-century bridges in Amsterdam are being equipped with devices to turn the vibrations of passing vehicles into electricity.

Define “We”: We're not broke. Our corporations have recovered to pre-recession levels of output and profits are 21.7% higher than previously. Our financial firms have seen a 60% rise in pre-tax profits. In the last 30 years our per-capita income increased 66% and our wealth increased 73%. But “we” and “American working families” are not the same things – workers incomes have been stagnant over the last 30 years, and with the housing crash, our net worth has been siphoned off by that “we” who are doing so well.

Box Score: Since 2006 about 6.5 million houses have entered foreclosure. There are about 4.3 million more with mortgages that are more than three months delinquent, waiting to join the pile. The light at the end of the tunnel is a bonfire where former owners huddle trying to keep warm.

Assigned Reading: Extreme pessimism, a lá Harry S. Dent Jr. . Be prepared to discuss in class on Monday.

Porn O'Graph: Working vs. Earning.

Friday, May 20, 2011

SAR #11140

Questions are easier than answers.

Weak-End Worries: Spanish austerity measures, planned and taken, have lead to a series of protests which are now escalating in seriousness. Protesters have been in the streets in Madrid since Sunday, ahead of local elections throughout the country next weekend. Now they, and the Italians, want to follow Iceland and Just Say No! A Spanish sovereign debt crisis seems inevitable – especially in light of reported “hidden debt problems” (think Greece/Goldman).

Gas Bags: The Democrats want to take away tax breaks away from the big oil companies, the Republicans want to let them drill more places. Politics; neither will have a noticeable effect on the price of gas. When politicians claim these will bring down gasoline prices they are either ignorant or lying. Your choice.

Existentialism: Existing houses sold at an annualized rate of 5.05 million units in April, lower than the previous month by a smidgen.

Spilling the Beans: The insurance industry, along with the extractive corporations it insure, is warning that making a company pay for the environmental damage it does will keep smaller companies from ruining the environment.

College Education: About half of new college grads are forced to take jobs that do not require college education. Starting salaries for recent graduates are about $27,000, down 10% in the last 4 years. If they had spent the 4 years working at Macky D's wouldn't they be assistant managers making $13.50 an hour by now? And not owing $30,000 in student loans?

Conundrum: Given that the poor are poor and the rich are rich, why would anybody consider cutting anti-poverty programs before implementing tax increases on the rich?

You've Been Warned: Congressional leaders agreed on Thursday to extend three expiring provisions of the controversial PATRIOT Act for four years with as little public debate as possible.

Doubts.... A study by scientists from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, to be published in Reproductive Toxicology, found Bt toxin, a component of certain genetically-modified crops, in human blood samples, casting doubt on previous assertions that Bt breaks down harmlessly in the digestive system. None of the 69 subjects in the study had worked with pesticides or resided with anyone who did. Their diets were typical for Canadians, including GM foods such as corn, potatoes and soybeans.

A Good Idea: Sen. Sanders is calling for a constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United. Lets do that, strip corporations of their “personhood” and absolutely forbid any political contributions or electoral activities.

Factoid: Missed payments on mortgages jumped to 6.4 million in April, which assures a long, long supply of foreclosed houses to keep driving prices down.

After-Action Report: The war in Afghanistan will eventually wind down. When it does, what happens to the economic dependencies? Afghanistan can always go back to full scale opium production, and probably will, but what about all the US contractors who survive on the war? “Where will all those unemployed mercenaries go. What will they do?

Revolting Development: The Egyptian military government continues to prohibit free assembly, to imprison and torture detainees, and to try civilians in military courts. This passes for reform? For how long?

Clarification Please: I interpreted this article to be saying that some current “repo” rates are negative – that is you get back less in cash than the value of the Treasuries you deposit. Is that correct? More importantly, isn't this the same as paying someone to hold onto your money for you? Is a safe place for one's asserts so hard to find that you cannot actually invest the money – is paying for protection the in thing?

Mystery: New data suggests that something that does not interact with anything else (neutrinos) changes something  that cannot be changed (the decay rate of radioactive materials). Which suggest some changes need be made...

Porn O'Graph: Mandatory backdrop for debating the debt.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

SAR #11139

It is “average” rainfall that makes farming so difficult.

The Great Adventure, Part 47: The Obama administration, having finally killed bin Laden, has decided to impose sanctions on Syria in response to continuing slaughter of its citizens human rights violations even though it does not have much oil. Syrian President for Life Assad admits 'mistakes', but says there are no mass graves. Just the individual ones.

Sleeping Dogs... The European Central Bank has asked the European Union’s General Court to dismiss a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of documents showing how Goldman Sachs taught Greece to use derivatives to hide loans and mislead investors. The bankers' fingerprints are all over the corpse.

Luck O' the Irish? The indebtedness (to bail out private banks) forced on the country is “unsustainable” - and un-repayable. Ireland is broke. You can't get blood out of a Blarney Stone.

Social Norms: Researchers have concluded that neither homosexuality, celibacy or an all-male priesthood caused Roman Catholic priests to become pedophiles. They were pedophiles before they were priests.  Looking at the increase in such abuses within the church during the 1960s and 1970s suggested that clerical pedophilia was a response to the breakdown of morals in the civil society. This ignores the obvious: bishops hid the pedophiles, who in turn recruited ever more into the ranks of the Catholic clergy.

Wedding Vows: Newt Gingrich’s attack on Paul Ryan’s “right-wing social engineering” didn't stand up to confrontation any better than his wedding vows do.

Bargains: Ron Paul thinks the US should sell of its gold to reduce the national debt, reducing it from $14 trillion to about $13.8 trillion. Then we could sell off the the Lincoln Memorial, the White House (instead of renting it out, as we do now), those parts of the Gulf Coast that BP doesn't already own, and the interstate highway system. Blackstone would make a bid for the Pentagon. Wall Street dearly wants to get hold of Social Security. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a market for the Constitution.

Quoted: “The Republican party needs to give itself a nice cold douche... until the Ron Pauls and Newt Gingriches have been washed out.”

Problem Solvers:   Republicans, claiming the voters elected them to solve the nation's serious pressing problems, have efforts underway in at least half the states to require voters to show a photo ID before voting. There is little evidence that people are voting illegally – in fact not one of the bills in any state has any supporting evidence that would justify the extra cost of the process. That most of those disenfranchised through these laws —21 million citizens of voting age lack photo identification — would likely vote Democratic is a coincidence.

Factor This In: It's not just the old folks the Republicans want to throw under the bus - 40% of children born in America are on Medicaid.

Dying For Dollars: Now Goldman Sachs and friends want to slice and dice the living and let investors bet on how long they'll live. The $23 trillion in assets held by pension funds is the next target for Wall Street sharks who want to “sell insurance” (read “gamble”) that people do or do not die on time. The banks don't care if you live or die, their concern is processing the bets raking in the fees.

Freedom, Democracy: Security forces killed at least 12 Afghans and wounded 80 who had assembled to petition the government protest a NATO raid.

Rent-A-Life: As technology marches on, ownership of things is becoming less important than access to things. Don't buy the movie or music, download it, along with books and magazines. Will the retailers of the future rent you jewelry for the big event, along with the clothes? If you don't cook, why own a kitchen? And, of course, renting a home seems to be the way to go. Even cemetery plots outlive their usefullness with the passage of time – why not rent the plot for 5 or 10 years with an option to renew?

Porn O'Graph: Another day older and deeper in debt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SAR #11138

The lowest common denominator has a lot to answer for.

All Ye Need Know: The IMF's John Lipsky is the most likely suspect to temporarily replace their fallen leader.  His main qualification is having represented the IMF in Pinochet's Chile,

The China Japan Syndrome: Tokyo Electric Power Co. now admits that that it was not the tsunami, but the earthquake that fatally cracked the containment system in the Fukushima power plant(s), which implies all nuclear power plants of the same design are vulnerable to similar earthquakes. Most of the fuel in the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor melted only 16 hours after the earthquake. "Because there is similar damage to the fuel rods at the No. 2 and 3 reactors, the bottoms of their pressure vessels could also have been damaged." The melting fuel rods will eat through their containment vessels on their way towards the core of the earth. TEPCO says it may take “a number of years” to remove and secure the damaged fuel rods. A number like 24,000 or so.

Housing Starts Didn't: The Commerce Department reports that housing starts dropped 10.6% in April (m/m), to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 523,000 units, down 23.9% from last year.

One Hand, Clapping: An 8-1 Supreme Court ruled that if a cop “loudly” knocks on a door and then hears (or claims to hear) the “sound suggesting evidence is being destroyed” (in the cop's imagination) can break down the door and shoot the inhabitants. No search warrant is required, body bags optional.

Price of Commission: Europe's bankers would consider giving an inch or two in negotiating resolution of Greece's debt, but only if a settlement includes deeper spending cuts and the sale of more government assets, including a number of Greek islands.

Asked & Answered: A UK MP is demanding to know why Goldman Sachs gets to avoid taxes that everyone else pays. Because they are Goldman Sachs, dummy.

Something's Rotten In... Denmark will reintroduce customs and identity checks at its borders. The ability for goods & citizens to flow freely across borders was a core principle in the unification of Europe and the introduction of the Euro. It is seen as a reflection of the rise of the far right in European politics and a triumph of nationalism over federalism, fear over reason. In the US it was called 'states rights' and led to the Civil War.

Grimm Fairy Tale: “A fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” British physicist Stephen Hawking, on religion.

Evolution: Talking about a country, say Greece, not being able to repay its debts and defaulting on its obligations was deemed too harsh, so 'rescheduling' and 'restructuring' were introduced to describe a partial sovereign default. Too many commoners caught on, so the wording has been changed. Greece now needs a 'reprofiling' of its debts. What it means is they've found a way to transfer even more private debt to the public.

What the Dickens? Wage disparity between the rich and the rest in the UK is well on the way to exceeding levels seen since the late 19th century. The top 0.1% are expected to increase their “share” of the UK national income from 5% today to over 14% in the next 20 years.

Class Warfare: Paul Ryan's 'budget' imposes huge sacrifices on the poor while cutting taxes on the rich, but this is not class warfare. Ryan intends to dismantle Medicare, hand out worthless vouchers to the sick and tax cuts for the rich, but this is not class warfare. Raising taxes on those who make over $250,000 a year, that is class warfare. Pointing out that his 'budget' is a farce, that's class warfare, too.

All That Glitters: During WWII Portugal amassed a tidy pile of gold bullion trading with Hitler. They maintain that Hitler's source of the gold is not their problem, while the heirs of the people whose teeth were collected and melted down have another point of view.

Porn O'Graph: Manufactured job recovery.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SAR #11137

We made choices.

Luck of the Irish: Those rumors about Ireland looting pension funds to pay the IMF and German banks for their bailout have not yet come true. But Little Timmy has announced that the Treasury will start using federal retirement funds to pay the government's debts. Does he plan to tap the Senators' pension fund?

Whiffleball: To cover the shortfalls projected for Medicare (beginning in 2024) and Social Security (2036) would take about half the money that has gone to kill people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and so on, annually since 2000. But the GOP thinks that is far too much. We can afford to take lives, but not to save them?

Follow the Bouncing Ball: “At the time our report was issued, it was written utilizing information from non-classified sources... USAID subsequently classified two documents that were cited in our report. This action resulted in the report becoming classified and we removed it from the web site.” USAID explaining why a year-old public report disappeared into secrecy. That part of your memory is no longer available to you.

Silly Question: “Would vested interests starve the world?” Of course.

Praetoriani: Blackwater Reflex Responses has landed a $529 million contract from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to recruit and train an 800-man battalion of foreign mercenaries to protect the United Arab Emirates from its citizens.

Net Grains: Current estimates are that the 2011 Kansas wheat crop will be about 25% lower than last year, even though nearly a million more acres were planted to wheat this year. It will be the lowest production since 1996.

Showboat's a coming: Iran is sending a 'solidarity' flotilla to call on Bahrain. Iran is Shi'ite, as are the people protesting the Sunni rulers of Bahrain. Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. US ally Bahrain has imposed a total media blackout – it didn't like the media reporting on brutal repression of dissenters – so we won't get to see the welcoming ceremony.

Why Bail Out Greece? Because banks – German Banks & Goldman Sachs– are on the hook for the losses if there isn't a way found to kiss it and make it better, or at least keep taking it out of the hides of ordinary Greeks for a couple of decades.

Simple(ton) Math: Republicans have a problem. It's the math. For example, cutting taxes reduces income and increases deficits. Raising taxes increases incomes and makes more money available to the government. The American people suspect this is true. The Republicans suspect they can fool the people a couple of more times. The Democrats are too timid to beat this drum. Pity.

Similarities: How are bond auctions like wars? They're no fun if no one shows up. Take China, for example, which wanted to sell RMB 20 billion of one-year bonds and unloaded only half of them. No fun at all.

Fool Me Once... With house prices so low around the country, why aren't people scooping up the bargains? Could it be that Americans are not quite as dumb as Wall Street and the government (ah, redundancy) would like them to be? Could it be that someone who has lost the equivalent of 5 or more years of rent has also lost some innocence? Be warned: They're going to try to come up with a better mouse trap.

Relapse: The Empire State Manufacturing Index, which reflects general business conditions, fell from a lackluster 21.7 to a harrowing 11.9, while the Prices Paid Index increased 112 points to 69, with 70% of respondents reporting price increases.

Glassy Houses: Back in the Bush years, a report produced for Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) found that climate scientists had helped each other foist the idea of global warming on the nation. The report has been repeatedly embraced by climate change deniers as proof that global warming is a fraud. Turns out that it was the report and not the science that was ethically challenged. Having done the damage, it has now been withdrawn and the whole thing blamed on graduate students.

Monday, May 16, 2011

SAR #11136

Hitler was sure God was on his side, too.

What Goes Around... Police pulled Dominique Strauss-Kahn , head of the IMF, from his first class seat on an Air France flight to Paris just as it was leaving the gats. He has been charged with doing to a hotel maid what the IMF has been doing to its client states for years.

Tous Pour Un, Un Pour Tous: Various experts present arguments for this or that “solution” to the problems reflected in PIGS fiscal/economic problems – and uniformly they ignore the best and most unlikely solutions. Instead of some complex mechanism to manipulate wages and budgets and deficits, what is needed is to either (a) go through the necessary dislocations and harrumphing to form a truly United Europe, or (b) dissolve the Eurozone and give the euro a decent burial. I'd vote for 'a' - but bet on 'b'.

Right On: Ron Paul, in explaining his libertarian beliefs, says that property rights come before civil rights. It's a case of two rights making a wrong.

Facts Not In Evidence: Bernanke claims that quantitative easing and zero interest rates and all the rest have revived the economy. As proof he points to stock market levels, the unemployment rate, and Treasury interest rates, claiming that the low levels show the faith the public has in the process. However, the main consumer of Treasury issues is the Fed, which is rather circular. If it were possible to print one's way to prosperity, Gutenberg would be remembered as an economist.

Chained Reactions: TEPCO officials acknowledged that faulty water gauges had delayed recognition of the core meltdown in Reactor 1. If the gauges in reactors 2 and 3 are also faulty, it seems likely they, too, have undergone at least partial meltdown. A worker at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant fell unconscious at work and later died. Over 900 tons of radioactive sludge from Fukushima has been sold for cement. A joint US-Japan survey has revealed high radiation levels beyond the evacuation zone. Some 90,000 tons of radioactive water has leaked into the sea.

Band Aids: In a hollow, grandstanding political play, the President announced his new 'Drill, Baby, Drill' program – having gotten Sara Palin's permission, one hopes. Opening various parts of the Atlantic Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and the naval petroleum reserve in Alaska for preliminary exploration is not going to have any effect on US production - or world oil prices - in any meaningful time-frame, but it may help in the popularity contests.

Short Course: New Jersey's Governor Christie says that in order to save education funds, the state will fire all science teachers, and make the answer to all science questions a uniform “God did it”, and use science labs to manufacture methamphetamine, which will be sold door to door by sophomores, to raise funds for Christie's re-election.

Angels & Pinheads: Yes, Osama bin Laden was evil. He also managed – with no army, navy or air force – to trap the best-trained, best-equipped military in history in an endless and self-defeating war. That he killed several thousand Americans does not justify the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed and maimed in our struggle to “get” him. His sins do not justify ours.

It's A Wrap: Tokyo Electric Power Company is going to erect giant polyester covers over their smoldering nuclear plants – to keep radioactive dust and particles from wafting off in the wind. Sure it's rip-proof, isn't it?

Calm Down: This weekend the media were full of stories about how Medicare would run out of money in 2024 and Social Security “funds will be exhausted by 2036.” Lies. After 2024 Medicare will only have enough money to pay 90% of its obligations, and Social Security will not be “exhausted” in 2036, that's just when under current laws its funding will no longer cover 100% of the promised payments. Big difference between running out of money and running a little short. A little short we can cure with a tax increase on the better off folks and by finally taking the insurance company profits out of medicine.

Antiques: Overturning a citizen's right established 800 years ago in the Magna Carta, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes. How you are supposed to immediately know that it is an unlawful police entry and not some raving mad killer, the court did not say. It did say that those wrongly invaded - or their heirs – could sue later on.

Porn O'Graph: Oh my, Government spending is gobbling up our GDP. Not.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SAR #11134

The euro was an interesting experiment.

Wording: The IMF has told the eurozone that it must force “unrelenting” reforms onto Greece, Ireland and Portugal. It foresees eurozone economic growth of 1.7% this year and 1.9% next, “if debt crises do not harm the economy.” And if pigs learn to fly.

Shadows: About 220,000 houses received a foreclosure filing in April, a 34% decrease y/y. No, the housing market is not improving; servicers got their fingers stomped on and are being very, very careful. But the “massive delays” in the foreclosure process will eventually be corrected and the 3.7 million “seriously delinquent houses will be foreclosed. The average delay is now 400 days from default notice to REO, up from 151 days back in 2007.

Overwhelming Evidence: Noam Chomsky claims the United States is desperate to stop the Arab Spring from bringing democracy to the Middle East. Why, given US support for their strongmen, tyrants and dictators for the last 60 years, should this come as a revelation?

Exams: Why are people who claim they are representing the best interests of our children doing so much damage to those who provide the foundation for this country? Why do these people think they can measure a teacher by some standardized test when there are no standardized students from standardized homes with standardized parents? We have let these opportunistic vultures trash teachers and teacher's unions when the biggest problems facing our children's education are not in the schools but in the streets?

Short Form:Social Security’s 75-year shortfall is manageable. In fact, it’d be almost completely erased by applying the payroll tax to income over $106,000 - you know, Republicans. [Removed by First Reader who pointed out that the problem are all those making under $35,000 who are convinced by Republican propaganda that taxing the rich is evil.]

Papers, Please: European nations, which have never been welcoming to immigrants and have a long history of killing “the other”, are moving to reverse decades of unfettered travel within the EU. Seems like people with dark skins are moving in and threatening the gene pool. Expect ever stricter passport controls, stops and searches at borders, airports, train stations.

Need, Greed & Prices: Here's a good article (with a great illustration) that suggests soaring oil prices may be tangled up in a struggle between supply and demand – with or without assistance from the gamblers.

Buyer's Remorse: The US spent $2 trillion fighting what was thought to be al-Qaeda over the last decade. Now that bin Laden's been killed, answer me this: Was it worth it?

Tenure: In days gone by, rich folks would endow a chair at their favorite university, or get a building or an athletic facility named after them. Now Charles Koch wants to buy naming rights to the economics department at Florida State University. No, he doesn't want the department named after him – he wants to personally approve of each professor chosen for the funded position.

The Light, Dawning: Trump says that torture works, which explains so many things...

Taking the Plunge: Even the National Association of Realtors admits house prices continue to fall, plummeting 4.6% y/y. Another source says “house prices will fall between 7.5% and 10% in 2011... and “most disturbing, about one-third of all U.S. homes that have a mortgage on them are worth less than their outstanding mortgage." Citibank disagrees, wants you to believe not only are house prices going up, they have been for quite some time. Secretly, apparently.

Higher Education Education: Spending an average 7 years in graduate school pursuing a PhD makes little sense, except for the feeling of achievement. There's a very good chance you won't get a job after graduation – Yale is delighted that about half of its newly minted PhD's found positions. Can you spell “adjunct professor?” That is academia's version of flipping burgers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

SAR #11133

Has modesty vanished from the world?

Apple Pie and... ConocoPhillips claims that repealing $21 billion in annual tax breaks for oil companies would be “un-American”, and threatened higher gasoline prices if the “incentives” were taken away. Maybe Alan Jackson could write a song for them. And you thought Wall Street had balls.

Spin This: Syria is rounding up and detaining “activists” - lawyers, doctors, intellectuals and educated professionals and anyone who can read and write. Ah, our ally against the terrorists.

Retreat:42 House Republican freshmen, having climbed down from the hot stove, want to “wipe the slate clean,” and “hit the reset button” and make us forget how eager they were just two weeks ago to kill Medicare, Medicaid and grandma. They blame the Democrats for letting the voters find out what the GOP was hiding behind their sanctimony. It's unclear why the GOP thought they could get away with it in the first place.

The Numbers: Unemployment claims dropped 44,000 to 434,000 last week, which is still nothing to write home about. The 4-week moving average increased slightly to 436,000. All marked up from the recent 399,000.

Three Headlines: Syria tanks shell protest city , Tear gas fired at Athens protest , and Swedes jailed over cybersex den. The world is full of problems, some greater than others.

Gassed: Retail sales, with a lackluster 0.5% m/m increase, look even worse if you take out auto sales and gasoline purchases. Then they drop to 0.2%. The PPI grew by 0.3% once food and energy are excluded, 0.7% with them. Rising prices and rising sales all seem to be centered on the gasoline pumps.

Explanation, Please: I'm with Senator Franken, who wants to know why Apple and Google are collecting all that data and why people can't tell them to go to hell. While we're at it, can we opt out of the government's surveillance, too?

Just Add Water: The amount of water leaking from one of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors is much greater than previously thought, which suggests more severe damage to the reactor than previously acknowledged. TEPCO now says the damage could be described as a partial meltdown complete meltdown of the core. So far they have pumped more than 10,000 tons of water into a containment vessel that can only hold 7,400 tons.

Picky, Picky: White House economic advisor Pinocchio Goolsbee claims that the US is certainly not in a jobless economic recovery. Possibly because the US is not in an economic recovery.

Be Prepared: Forty-four of the 48 Republican senators threaten to hold up the nomination of anyone selected to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, unless the agency's management structure is changed to render it totally ineffective.

Blood/Stone: The Irish government is going to tax pensions to raise money to create jobs so workers can earn money for their retirement.

Explicate: "I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be." Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. “It means you believe in slavery." Wow. Don't tell the healthcare professionals in Europe, they haven't figured it out.

Parse This: The US Attorney General, claiming that gunning down an unarmed man in his bedroom was “not assassination”, said the Navy Seals “conducted themselves in a way that's consistent with American, [and] British values." Which is probably true and certainly scary.

Burn Before Reading: The Obama administration is claiming the right to censor and withhold unclassified materials, especially things that are marked “Top Un-Secret” or, more accurately “Embarrassing”.

Porn O'Graph: Ah, that explains everything...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

SAR #11132

Those who do not put profit first frighten us.

Yes, But: Bank of America is paying $3.7 billion to end a probe into its mortgage wrongdoing, without admitting it did anything wrong. Those not wronged may eventually receive payments to redress the wrongs not done them.

Sound Familiar? Tokyo Electric Power Company, pleading poverty and innocence, has asked the Japanese government to compensate their victims.

Phoning It In: Which is scarier, that Apple and Google know where you are, or that no matter where you are you can be forced to listen to our Glorious Leader the President? The government has decreed that all new phones must carry a chip that will let the President (and various others) send you messages and instructions whenever they wish. Smartphones already have these chips. People will be able to opt out of receiving all but the Presidential messages.

Why?Republicans in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Missouri line up to attack working folks unions

It Can Happen Here: In light of John Boehner's plans to impose severe austerity on the US, let's check and see how things are going in Greece and the UK. Oh, better not.

How did we get here? "How did taking on debt become 'the American way' ?" That's easy: as industry could churn out more and more stuff and TV and the media made more and more stuff seem necessary, Americans were taught to want all this more and more stuff. But Americans were not making more and more money – in fact they haven't had a raise in over 30 years. So to keep industry running and profiting, Americans were taught to “buy on time” which quickly morphed into the debt slavery that is now the American way – it is our right to have more than we can pay for. In fact, it is our patriotic duty.

Pudding's Proof: Not everyone can export their way to prosperity – it's a zero sum game. And if you have to import most of your oil, you are playing with a handicap.

Shocking: Nine of out of ten climate-denying scientists have ties to money from ExxonMobile. Imagine.

Terms Of Endearment: Republicans hope to force huge cuts in Medicare/Medicaid which will lead to... well, huge cuts in health care with no reduction in the cost. Their plan has no savings built in, only a transfer of the cost to those least able to afford it. Essentially it shifts $6,000 a year to each senior on Medicare and transfers Medicaid's cost to the states, which will promptly defund the program. Their theory is that Americans get too much healthcare, which is not true. What is true is that we pay too much for what we get, and what we get isn't all that good.

Lessons Learned: Stock whiskey and cigarettes to use as exchange medium when all this wonderfulness comes crashing down.

Clip & Save: Here's a list that refutes the most common lies told about Social Security. Keep it handy as a cross-reference during the ongoing Republican attempt to privatize the program. Might want to laminate it.

More? You Want More?Florida, which is second only to Nevada in the percentage of vacant houses and condos, has just passed a law to make it easier for developers to build even more without bothering to consider anything but quick profits.

Emperor/Clothes: “Everyone knows that Greece won’t repay its debt in full.” Yes, but you are supposed to pretend.

Facts Not In Evidence: An interesting theorem has been advanced that our wages have fallen so low that in a few years China's rising labor costs will reverse the flow of manufacturing jobs and “Made in the USA” will become the hallmark of cheaply made stuff. Calls for a whole wagon-load of assumptions, few of which seem likely.

Un-Social: Experts fear we will all soon be totally naked in the data economy, largely thanks to our witting and unwitting contributions through our gadgets and social media. One, they are using the wrong tense and two, this is the antithesis of social, human interaction. We should stop pretending any of this is a Good Thing and rename it all the Unsocial Era.

Porn O'Graph: Perspective.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

SAR #11131

Which hand washes which?

Boehner of Contention: John Boehner gave a “huge” speech on budget deficits, the national debt and the debt ceiling. What he said was he didn't have the faintest idea how to solve any of these problems and thus he was going to throw a meaningless tantrum for a while. He will receive lots of praise and lots of attention. Only a few will point out that the whole exercise was a waste of his, and our, time.

Echo? What Echo? Attorney General Eric Holder vows to close Guantanamo.

The Pain in Spain: The short list for Spain: GDP came in lower than expected – which was already a disaster,. Personal income tax receipts are down 19.4% Corporate income tax receipts are down 42.7% VAT collection is down 22.4% Excise tax receipts are down 40%. Pass the hat.

Monkey See.... And so it begins. Bill Gross shorts US Treasuries and people make fun of him. He doubles down. Now Jim Rogers is going to join him. No big deal, what do the manager of the world's largest bond fund and one of the world's most successful investors know? Buy Apple. Or oranges, oil, Skype, stocks, buy stocks!

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Autism, like Republican rule, is something we've done to ourselves that keeps getting worse. Causation is unknown, but my money would be on something we've done to the environment that is getting back at us.

Tea for the Tillerman: In 1Q11, Goldman Sachs had but one down day and made more than $100 million in profits on 32 days. How are you doing with your on-line trading?

Fill In the blanks: Claiming only a wish to prevent rampant voter fraud, _____ legislators are rushing to restrict voting in the upcoming recall election. There is, of course, virtually no evidence to support the ________'s fears.

Reframing the Question: Which gets the most government support, Planes or Trains? Trucks.

Selling the Cow to Buy Hay: More and more of the appointed financial czars running Ohio's cities and towns are turning to privatization as a way of raising cash, lowering spending and cutting public services. Schools, especially, are seen as cash cows that can be run at a profit by private enterprise though unheated schools and temporary teachers.

Praiseworthy: Really neat doctor-density interactive map over at Barry's place.

Remedial Lesson: Here's a wake-up lesson for would-be liberal and progressive activists. The key word is “activist”. It is not enough to sign an on-line petition. It is not enough to sign an actual paper petition. You have to get out and demonstrate, occupy public places, get arrested, maybe even get maced or clubbed. That's the only thing that gives the wealthy and their satraps a moment's pause. Occupy or become occupied. Bodies and blood if necessary. Recall, yes, but prevention, too.

King Corn: USDA says that farmers are way behind in planting the corn crop – to wet to plow – along with spring wheat. The “schedule is way behind schedule”.

Sure Thing: In March, one-third of all property purchases nationwide were all-cash. Most of the buyers are fools over 50, seeking higher returns than the 1% relatively safe instruments are giving them. Remember the old saying “a house is a place to live”?

As If: Chuck Schumer wants Wall Street commuters standing quietly in line for an hour or two on a cold January morning in Stamford or Greenwich while TSA sniffs their shoes. Ain't gonna happen.

Wrong Lessons: Two Three things are true. Unemployment is very high. College educated have higher employment rates. This does not mean that education (or the lack thereof) is a primary driver of unemployment. Most people, for most jobs, do not need to go to college (and most who go do not learn anything, much less anything actually useful on the job). There are probably more idle workers now than ever. It is not due to their educational level – it is because there are no jobs.

Porn O'Graph: We're almost there!