Saturday, November 30, 2013

SAR #13334

"The riskiest thing in the investment world is the belief that there’s no risk." Howard Marks

3 – 30 – 300: There are, conveniently, about 333 million Americans. 1% own everything. 10% manage the 1%'s businesses. The remainder, some 300 million of us, are serfs. The 1% (and really it's the 0.1%) get panicky whenever discussion of the essential unfairness and immorality of this economic division gets mentioned, so they hire politicians to start screaming and blubbering and so on. The sad fact is the the serfs are now so poor they have nothing left for the rich to steal from them. Wonder what would happen if the serfs were given a bit more money...

Don't Adjust Your Set: The message is sinking in - economies of the rich world face super-easy money far into the future, and central banks are now convinced it's the least of all policy evils. The question is, does it end in tears? And the answer is, nobody knows.

Starting Point: The wealthiest 400 Americans are sitting on $2 trillion. $400 billion of that is held by just 10 individuals. And just 2 families – the Waltons and the Kochs – are six of those ten people. And not a single one of them ever personally contributed anything to the country except for money they've given crackpot groups and their favorite politicians as they seek to return the country to the 1890's. I say we should take about 90% of their wealth and fund a single payer health system.

Hide The Silverware: Alan 'The Blind' Greenspan sees no bubble in the Dow's reaching 16,000. Not even a little irrational exuberance.

Third Time's The Charm: For a third straight year, Portugal's budget faces even more austerity punishment in the form of wage cuts for those making more than 675 euros a month ($900) and retirement cuts (10% on top of previous cuts) and health and social services cuts, as required by the Bundesbank and ECB – but not the IMF, not any longer. 16.3% of Portuguese are unemployed – and half the under-25 crowd. It is hard to find a non-politician who thinks any of this is doing any good.

Petty Cash: The Cuban diplomatic mission to the US is being forced to terminate nearly all its consular activities because no bank in the United States will handle its accounts due to "restrictions ... derived from the U.S. policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba" dating from the Kennedy years.

Hunger Games: Greece still leads in the race to the bottom, with an 58% unemployment rate among its youth. Spain is closing fast (despite being pronounced 'cured' by the Bundesbank and ECB) with a 57.4% rate. Italy, at 41.2%, and Portugal at 36.5% are still in the race. In Europe as a whole (which it wishes it was, but isn't) 24.4% of the under-25's are unemployed. 
Austerity Explained: The IMF/EU/EB bailouts begun in 2010 were undertaken becaue a Greek "default would have resulted in huge losses for German, French, Swiss and other European as well as American banks." 
Lagniappe: An unmentioned but significant benefit to shopping on line is avoiding all the psychological pressures designed into stores to boost sales by triggering impulse purchases. We've know for years that the best way to save at the store is to make a list, go buy the stuff on the list and then leave – before they can trick you into stuff you don't need and don't really want. At the computer you have a better chance to avoid the traps. It's like tying yourself to the mast.

Porn O'Graph: Cycles are cyclical.

Friday, November 29, 2013

SAR #13333

We Was Robbed: One of the biggest mistakes politicians make is thinking the government is like a household. Not so. When times are tough, households pinch pennies. But in hard times, governments expand their spending on things like unemploymet benefits and job creation. If the people and the government stop spending at the same time, there will be less demand, less production, less work, less wages, less taxes and round and down we go. We've mistakenly reduced the federal deficit by half in the last two years, which is the biggest reason the economy is slumbering and unemployment near record high levels. And we did it by cutting all the wrong things – social support, education, unemployment, scientific research and infrastructure. (Our infrastructure spending as a share of the nation's GDP is the lowest its been in 60 years.) The argument that the government must live within its means to protect our children’s future is backwards. Averting deficit spending now means starving our children’s present and their future. Austerity hasn't worked, doesn't work and those who say we can't, we can't, we can't should shut up and get out of the way.

Text For The Day: Rush Limbaugh is upset at the Pope's criticism of capitalisms failures, claiming “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” Rush should read the Sermon on the Mount.

Bumpy Road Ahead: There will be no big budget deal for the next three years. Republicans absolutely can’t and won’t increase taxes until after the 2016 presidential election. The Democrats won't (cannot?) agree to the big changes in Social Security, Medicare and other safety net programs without increased taxes, or even with some. Nothing on the horizon suggests a sudden outbreak of sanity, much less bipartisanship. The drama will continue to lurch about the stage, aimlessly.

Leftovers: Plankton blooms in the ocean off New England are at record low levels, having declined 40% in the last 60 years as the sea surface temperatures rise. Plankton makes up about half of all the organic matter on Earth, produces half our oxygen and is the basic food source for the ocean's web of life. No plankton, no sea life, not much left over.

Evangelium ad Unum Per Centum: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation… reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."

Chose One: When you are filling out the paperwork required of potential jurors in DeKalb County, GA, you are required to indicate your employment, if if it's “slave”. Over 50% of DeKalb County's citizens are slaves black.

The Morning After Bill: Michigan is expected to pass laws to prohibit health insurance sold in the state from covering any aspect of abortion. Women would have to buy a separate rider to their insurance to obtain such coverage.

Durable Excuse: Business investment as reflected in non-defense capital goods orders (excluding aircraft) fell in October by 1.2% and new aircraft orders fell 15.9% leading to an overall 2% durable goods index decline. The accepted excuse/explanation is "the government shutdown."

Dream On: Do we really need 'health exchanges'? Is ObamaCare "a teaching opportunity" designed (or defaulting) to lead the US to a single payer system? No and no.

Mea Culpa: The IMF has become convinced that they and the EU/ECB screwed up badly when they forced places like Greece, Ireland and Portugal to their knees with privatization and austerity programs in return for bailout funds - which were earmarked for delivery to Northern European and American banks. Now the IMF is advocating aggressive debt restructuring in lieu of, or at least in tandem with, rigorous Germanic austerity. The idea is not being warmly greeted by the powerful global banking lobby, European leaders and the US government - all of whom are deeply into the pockets of major investors and bankers who do not want to suffer any pain just because they have made stupid investments. They much prefer the plan where they make billions while the populace quietly suffers spending cuts and tax increases.

Steady As She Goes: There continue to be about 3 job-seekers for every job opening, even as the labor force participation percentage falls. This is not progress.

Porn O'Graph: Which side are you on?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

SAR #13331

In the debate on terrorism, political agendas trump empirical evidence. Marc Sagman

Blackened Friday: Time for another round of retail theater, in which the retailers pretend to offer bargains and the customers get emotionally exhausted while spending far more than they should. Did you really think the bargain hunters were in control? The buyers don't mind, they enjoy being duped – they are not after bargains so much as they are seeking the high from the promotional frenzy, from pretending they got a bargain. Let's make a deal; in the end everybody ends up happy – the shoppers emotionally fulfilled and the retailers' registeres filled.

Running On Empty: What occurs when one fact-checks Fox News? Duh.

Just So Tale: Research is well on the way to proving that the severe decline in the labor force participation rate is due to the recession and not to demographic factors. People are dropping out because they cannot find work, not because they are retiring. But the government doesn't count the dropouts as being unemployed. If they did, unemployment would have remained at 11% for the last four years. And that's not politically acceptable.

Open For Debate: Different accountants can issue wildly different accounts from the same data depending on the “different accounting concepts” they use. So there are 50 shades of gray after all. 
Discuss: “The ability of the economy to generate adequate demand is so impaired that we are getting financial bubbles before we get full employment. In consequence, under current policies episodes of full employment are fleeting and unsustainable.” Larry Summers, the condensed version.

Taking Our Ball And Going Home: The White House has told Karzai & his opium producers that if he doesn't straighten up and let the US keep 15,000 troops in Afghanistan for another decade they will be forced to pull all US troops out of the country. If that happens the US will simply find another compliant Central Asian dictatorship that will - for a regular payment of a few hundred million dollars - let the US use their territory as a base for continued strikes in Pakistan. It's not known if the treaty covers the mercenaries. 
Thanksgiving Feast: As they sit down for the traditional family gathering on Thursday, 62% of American workers fear they will lose their jobs, and nearly 90% of the nation's low-paid workers live with that fear constantly.

On the Evils of Capitalism: A poem by Pope Francis, denouncing capitalism and the inequality at its root, as well as our obsession with consumption. He finds that our soulless economy kills through inequality while we worship the unproven wisdom “of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose." He asks us to “remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day...” And to do something about it.

Don't Let The Door Hit You: French mega-bank Groupe BPCE (possibly speaking for elements of the French government) suggests that Germany should leave the euro. Granted there are lots of non-economic reasons to keep the eurozone together, but there are compelling reasons for Germany to leave. Of course it would not be that simple, because several northern states would join Germany in a manufacturing-euro zone while the French and the Meds would coalesce into a devaluation-of-the-month-euro zone. Ah, north vs south, what could go wrong?

Serving & Protecting: In New Mexico, female corrections officers repeatedly sprayed mace directly on a female prisoner's genitals. In Texas a police officer is facing felony sexual assault after he allegedly handcuffed and raped a 19-year-old woman during a traffic stop. Following up on the Steubenvill, Ohio rape-by-athletes case, the school superintendent and three other supposed adults have been indicted for evidence tampering , obstructing justice, and failing to report sexual child abuse. In Florida, football fans have decided that a star quarterback who’s facing rape charges is innocent, or at least can't be tried until his winning season and possible bowl appearance are over. Best of all, the Defense Department is giving 165 armored vehicles previously used in Iraq to police forces around the country. 
Enjoy, Don't Inhale: It's time to stuff yourself with outlandish reports of retail sales during the Splurge and Overspend Season. Like Aunt Bea's green bean casserole, the reports will need a lot of salt.

Porn O'Graph: It's official!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SAR #13330

It'd be nice if US foreign policy didn't so closely resemble Whack-A-Mole; domestic policy, too.

Cautionary Notes: There has been a sudden outpouring of expertise proclaiming that the lifting of the Iranian sanctions will flood the world with petroleum. How much of a flood and when? After 6 months, perhaps as much as 800,000 barrels a day. Is that a flood? Much of Iran's oil was already reaching markets. Libya can't find its ass with both hands. Iraq is well into a religious war and North America's tight-oil boom is a flash in the pan chimera. Will prices plummet? Yes, briefly. But Middle East, home to Very Important Oilfields, is in the midst of a Sunni-Shia religious struggle comparable to the clash between Catholics and Protestants in early 17th Century Europe and there are a number of major producers - Saudi Arabia and Russia among them - who need $100 a barrel oil. And Israel will lead an effort to ensure that the agreement is stillborn.

What Went Around... In an echo of the Mubarak regime, the military dictator interim president of Egypt has signed a new law which bans public protest and provides a fig leaf to justify any degree of repression the government employs.

The Rest Of The Story: The headline (on a Jenny Gold article on Ezra Klein's Wonkblog) reads "Here's How Obama Is Cutting Medicare" The story is about how accountable care organizations, a Medicare program created by the Affordable Care Act that economists say could be a pathway to health care's holy grail, better care at a lower cost. 
Fairness Doctrine: A federal judge has ruled that the IRS rules that permit ministers, priests, rabbis and other clerics to receive housing tax free violates the First Amendment. 
Mission Accomplished: As the Afghans wave goodbye to the US military after 12 years of war, their government again plans to reinstate elements of Sharia law, specifically the bit about publicly stoning (mainly female) adulterers to death. 
Excuses, Excuses: In October, the number of contracts pending on existing houses fell by 0.6% m/m after a 4.6% drop in September, making five months in a row of falling sales. Realtors blamed higher mortgage rates, higher prices, and the phases of the moon. Unemployment, over-indebtedness, decades of wage stagnation and poverty were not considered significant factors by the Realtors Association.

Headliner: 'Hungry Americans Less Productive As Budget Cuts Deepen'. School lunches. Let them eat school lunches.

Echo, Do You Hear An Echo? Home renovation spending is up 16% y/y and will reach a 5 year high next year as banks increase lending on home equity lines of credit (HELOC) at a pace that approaches the excesses of the last housing bubble. The median price for an existing home supposedly will gain 11% this year. The money quote: “Money is so cheap today, people can splurge on $1,000 faucets.” 
Vorwärts Marsch! Greece (not all by itself and certainly not voluntarily) plans another €5.6 billion in austerity measures for 2014. Taxes will be raised 5.5% and social spending cut 6% more, mostly from the health and social insurance budgets. It's a sure thing: "Greece will succeed in its commitments." says Frau Merkel
First Things First: Reports warn that the Central African Republic is "on the verge of genocide", while the UN claims that hunger in Africa can be eradicated by 2025. 
Let's Pretend: A new myth is rising out of the swamp in Washington, one that suggests that the disastrous roll-out of the Affordable Care Act is intentional and was cleverly baked in to ensure that the public would demand a competent single-payer system. This may happen, but it most assuredly was not by design. Certainly the greatest advantage of a single-payer system — simplified paperwork leading to low administrative costs — looks good compared to the administrative nightmare of navigating the health exchanges. It would have been simpler to lower the eligibility age for Medicare and to raise the income eligibility for Medicaid in stages until everyone is covered.

It's Come To This: In Portugal, the police had to defend the state from the police. Following the EU/ECB austerity demands, the government proposed cutting police pensions. Hey, gang, somebody's got to keep the proletariat in their places – you need the cops.

The Volunteers: Drivers in Forth Worth on Friday encountered a police roadblock which shuttled them into a parking area where “government researchers” took samples of their breath, saliva and blood. It was later claimed that participation – under the watchful eye of armed police officers – was completely voluntary, which is completely ridiculous. 
Porn O'Graph: What goes up...

Monday, November 25, 2013

SAR #13329

Charter schools do not improve education, but that's not the point.

Into the Valley of Death: After a dozen pointless years of wounded and dead Americans, wounded and dead Afghans (and Pakistanis killed in the spill-over), the US is close to getting Karzai and the drug lords to agree to let the nonsense go on for another decade as long, to quote Karzai, as US troops “bring a lot of money.”

No Price Like Home: October new house sales fell 8% m/m and 6% y/y, perhaps because the market cannot absorb price increases of 2% a month while wages aren't rising at all. 
The Lack Of The Irish: The EU/ECB/IMF has taken a page from the US playbook, claimed victory for the forces of austerity and pronounced Ireland cured after 5 years of bloodletting. Here's what they've accomplished: Employment is now down12.8% from 2008, the number of unemployed persons has tripled, the GDP is shrinking by 1.2% annually and 17% of all mortgages are delinquent.

On Being Black In America: Miami Gardens resident Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by the police 258 times in the last four years and arrested 62 times for trespassing. At his place of work. 
End The End The Fed Foolishness: When you read that inflation and the Fed have reduced the value of the dollar 97% since 1911, its apples and oranges. A dollar is a medium of exchange. Most of us exchange our labor/time for dollars. Back in 1911 we exchanged an hour of our lives for ten cents, which would buy whatever... now we exchange an hour of our lives for $14.78, which buys a hell of a lot more & better stuff than that ten cents did. Tell those folks to move along. 
What's Wrong With This Picture: “President Barack Obama hosted Morocco’s King Mohammed VI at the White House on Friday for talks on furthering democracy." 
The Plan: After filibustering literally hundreds of bills during Obama's presidency and filibustering nearly all of his nominations, the Republicans are secretly delighted that the Democrats have exercised the 'nuclear option' and reverted to simple majority on Presidential nominations. That way, when they get back in power, they can gut the upper chamber and declare a dictatorship - and blame it on Harry Reid. It is part of their drive to make the government as dysfunctional as they claim it to be. 
Rehtorical Question: Who's paying for JPMorgan's various settlements? Duh?

Asked & Answered: "Does the share of income flowing to corporations and professional workers in the financial sector reflect their marginal contribution to the total value of social output, so that, if their work ceased to be done and their skills were allocated elsewhere, we would all be worse off?" That is, can Wall Street, in its present form, be justified?  Ha. "For everyone but the top 1 percent of earners, the American economy is broken." 
Whistling Past the Graveyard: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Saturday that there were no longer any risks of contagion in the euro zone, and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed his country did not need a further bailout. "The euro is stable, financial markets are no longer concerned about the future of the euro zone and there are no risks of contagion anymore," he said.

A Little Help From My Friends: NSA has been intercepting, analyzing and storing British citizens' telephone and internet activity for the UK's GCHQ and they, in turn, have been doing the same for NSA. Nothing in US law says NSA can't spy on the British, so... The US government does the same thing with commercial firms in the US who collect info the government can't, but which the government can buy. Too many lawyers.

Quoted: “An increasing number of economists are beginning to worry that technological change may make large numbers of people completely unemployable. In short, the robots are coming to take our jobs. If so, we’ll need an economic system that can cope when lots of people have no way to making a living.” So, why not a guaranteed annual income for all to solve the demand problem?

Porn O'Graph: Republican family planning advice.

Friday, November 22, 2013

SAR #13326

Capitalism's solution is to endlessly increase demand. 
Getting Serious: When told by the rich, polluting nations that have poisoned our atmosphere that they were (a) going to keep burning coal and (b) not going to lift a finger to help their victims, 132 of the world's poorest countries walked out of the UN climate talks in Warsaw. Just 90 companies cause 63% of man-made carbon emissions. Maybe it is time to walk out on them, too.

Not The News : Members of the US Senate have found ‘No evidence’ that NSA snooping on all of us all the time has been of any value in the war on terror. As if that were the point...

Miracle Drugs: In another breakthrough, health nuts are now claiming they have proof that eating nuts is not only healthy, but that it will keep you alive practically forever. And if you get the new statin-coated ones, you will have to get a permission slip from your doctor to die. Void where prohibited, prices slightly higher west of the Rockies, your results may vary, ask your doctor what is acceptable for you to die of, and when. 
All Your Memories Are Belong To Us: The government says that prisoners trying to prove they were tortured cannot use their memories of having been tortured because that would reveal classified secrets. 
Christmas Came Early: Harry Reid and the Democrats have wrested a limited amount of control away from the minority that has been tying up government for years not by reverting to simple majority rule at least on presidential nominees. It's been a long time coming and is all the more welcome for that.

Last Straw: The FCC has proposed to permit the use of cell phones in flight once the plane is above 10,000 feet and you are not seated next to me. Noise canceling headphone reviews here.
The Downward Spiral: The CBO has once again revised downward its projection for how much health care will cost Medicare and Medicaid. Contrary to what you've been repeatedly told, the government's medical costs are not wildly escalating. There was no spending growth in Medicare between 2010 and 2013 and the per-person costs for Medicaid actually decreased. Health care spending is growing at the slowest rate on record, and health-care price inflation is at its lowest rate in 50 years. Don't tell Paul Ryan, it'd ruin his day.

Fill In The Blank: Oklahoma’s ____________ governor ordered the state’s national guard to halt all spousal enrollment for benefits rather than let even one same-sex couple get a penny from the state.

Focal Point: As Boeing's machinists are pointing out, there's a perceptible difference between jobs and decent jobs paying decent wages. Wall Street likes jobs – propaganda jobs – not well paying jobs, which eat into manufacturers' record profits. Blame it on whatever you like – the Fed, globalization, structural changes, corporations seeking cheap labor overseas, - but the real problem is the destruction of unionized labor in the US. Thank you, Republican Party.

Balancing The Books: A new study of Pentagon bookkeeping revealed that trillions of dollars have gone missing, but because the Treasury Department insists that the books balance, the Pentagon routinely plugs in fake numbers to account for the unaccounted for money. In a line item called 'unaccounted' or 'misplaced'. Which makes the books balance. It's an accounting thing. 
Plus ça Change: Back in the good old days when we treasured our privacy and adored the FBI, it was busy secretly watching The David Frost Show to monitor such threats to national security as Attorney General Ramsey Clark, John Kenneth Galbraith, Sen. Edmund Muskie, and even Attorney General John Mitchell. And without help from NSA, too.

Porn O'Graph: Light and fluffy.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SAR #13325

The thing about cycles - they're cyclical. 

Fletcherizing: McDonald's is now telling their minimum-wage slaves that if they cut their food into tiny portions and eat really, really slowly, they'll feel full – even if they're not. They also advise the staff to quit complaining – for their own good – because its stressful to bitch about things that are stressful. Instead the disgruntled should go to church, or sing away stress with the company song. And if they're strapped for cash they could look for a second job or sell some of their stuff on e-Bay.

Safety First: Police officers in Tullytown, PA, "fearing for his safety" were forced to Taser a 14 year-old shoplifter in the face as he attempted to flee from them with his hands handcuffed behind his back.

Quotes: "80% of the population could stop doing what they do tomorrow and all the food would still get produced, and all of the goods would still get produced. About 60% of the population does nothing but shuffle numbers at this point. What they're doing is keeping track of who owns what, right? The actual productive labor in the economy is remarkably little." And: "We have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers".

Cream: JPMorgan now, finally admits that it "regularly" and knowingly misrepresented RMBS to investors, and that such fraudulent activities "contributed to the financial crisis." The Justice Department is happy and Jamie Dimon is still a free man.

Rotten To The Core: Latest CPI numbers fell to -0.1% m/m and rose but 1.0% y/y. Core CPI (minus food and energy) was 1.7% m/m and 1.0% y/y. from 1.2%. Looking forward, at the end of the year CPI is expected to set a four-year annual low. Existing home sales are also projected to decline. Retail sales were a bright spot with October sales up 0.4%, but almost all of this was driven by car sales to less than fully qualified borrowers.

Porn O'Graph: And the losers are...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SAR #13324

"All we know is that the Fed has a story to tell (“cheap money is good”) and they are sticking to it." - JPMorgan

The Fine Print: Negotiations to end the presence of US troops in Afghanistan are stuck on whether the US will keep 15,000 or just 8,000 there for another decade. Even if it's the lower number the costs will run into the billions of dollars and a few hundred lives every year. Practically forever. But hey, if you like your war, you can keep your war.

Capitalism For Comrades: China is teetering into the last phase of its 'complete tour of capitalism'. First there were a few small markets, and they were good. Then came the rush to production and the extension of vast credits in a drive for market share and profits. And just as in the Western classics, the overproduction lead to price cuts, profit losses, a glut of unused productive capacity, unemployment and... a downward spiral of unpaid loans leading to economic, political and social upheaval, if not collapse. Okay, so the last part hasn't happened yet. 'Yet' being the operative word.

Limits To Growth: NSA has not, ever, violated the privacy of your communications or internet use. Oh, it may have "systematically overcollected" a bit, but it was inadvertent. And illegal.

The Gaming Of Nations: In international relations, things are seldom what they seem and never, ever simple. Case in point, the US/Iran nuclear negotiations. Well, really it's the US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany on one side and Iran on the other. No, that's not quite right. It's France, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Israel's side, the US being harassed by its own pro-Israel lobby, and Iran fighting its own internal demons. It is about a lot of things, mostly Israeli paranoia, France's economic interests, the Shia/Sunni religious war and only incidentally about Iran's nuclear reactors.

Clever Sabotage: In states that embraced the Affordable Care Act, enrollments are on – or exceeding – target expectations. But in the citizens in those, mostly Republican run, states that spurned the program and forced their people onto the Federal exchange, well... So it's all about the website and not about the ACA.

Tattletale: In case you thought the Spanish, Irish, Portugese and Italians were toeing the line, the Bundesbank would like to point out that their banks have been gobbling up their nations' sovereign debt at unacceptable rates, which leads to decreased lending to small business as the banks feed off interest from the state. If this sounds familiar, it should. It's not good for the US economy either. The Bundesbank thinks this will not end well. Imagine.

Lowering, No Boom: The OECD has cut its guess for this year's economic growth “significantly” from 3.1% to 2.7% and next year from 4% to 3.1%. They blame the downward revisions on a slowing of emerging markets and a pickup in the US leading to the end of free money cheap credit. Worldwide only 14% of corporations plan to add employees next year (and only 19% in the US).

Headline News: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty Is the Complete Opposite of ‘Free Trade’”. Thank goodness opposition to giving Obama 'fast-trackk authority' to sneak it past Congress is growing.

Alternatively: Rather than pursuing its stock re-purchase program, Wal-Mart could boost all of its employees hourly pay to a minimum of $14.89 an hour.

Porn O'Graph: What's not to like about QE?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

SAR #13323

The world's top bankers have so far solved the economic problems in Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Some doctor, some cure.

Yes, But... MF Global, the company run by Jon Corzine - a former U.S. senator, NJ governor and Goldman Sachs chief executive - which converted more than $1.6 billion of customers money to its own use (a felony) and then pretened it had no idea where the money went, has been ordered to pay $1.2 billion in restitution... and a $100 million penalty. No one, least of all the well-connected Goldmanite, will face criminal charges for the multiple crimes involved, because as they argued in their defense, “stuff happens”.

Keeping Things In Proportion: The headline: 'Storms Sweep Illinois, Kill at Least 5, Delay Flights.'

Capitalist Idea: Wal-Mart is encouraging its employees to donate cans of food to help their impoverished co-workers celebrate Thanksgiving. Or Wednesday supper, whichever.

Diagram This Sentence: The FBI says that explaining why complying with FOIA requests for information about FBI investigations of animal rights and other activists constitutes a threat to national security - though they can't explain why because that would threaten national security and they'd have to kill you after they told you about the national security threat from animal rights activists
Twins: S&P 500 Exceeds 1,800 for First Time Amid Global Rally & Homebuilder Sentiment in U.S. Held in November at Four-Month Low

A Quote: “What if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?”

Review Reviewed: In the wake of last week's American Heart Association statin love fest, it turns out that the sweeping new set of guidelines for lowering cholesterol were based on questionable 20 year old research that had been seriously questioned by reviewing scientists. The proposal apears to greatly overestimate risk and would mistakenly put millions of people on statins unnecessarily. A past president of the American College of Cardiology to call a halt to the implementation of the new guidelines. After a late night conference, the Association said that the erroneous guidelines should be followed because it was the “best efforts of people who have been working for five years.” What are patients and doctors to do? Actual research indicates that taking statins can reduce the risk to people who have already had a heart attack.

Subjective Enumeration: Fox says that the Affordable Care Act is hurting “many” elderly pregnant women. For extra credit define 'elderly'.

There Wasn't A Bible In The Room: Roman Catholic Bishop Franz Bling-Bling Tebartz-van Elst has paid a 20,000 euro fine for lying in court about flying first-class to visit slums in India. Wonder what prayer was said as he passed the plate.

Majority Rules: According to news reports, the UN Assembly stood and broke out in cheers as Palestine cast its first vote. Well, not everybody stood. And not exactly everybody cheered, either.

Lemonade Stand: The Education Department made $43.5 billion profit from the student loan programs – which is more than all of the funding for Pell Grants, and accounts for half of the Department's budget.

Warm-Up Question: 'Who rules the world, the fossil fuel industry or the people?”

Good Old Days: If we still calculated unemployment the way we did when Bill Clinton was elected, US unemployment would be 25%.

Wrong In So Many Ways: Young Conservatives of Texas plan to hold ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant’ event on Wednesday. Right after Ted Cruz shows them how to catch an Obama.

Monday, November 18, 2013

SAR #13322

“Maybe we're not ready for what we think we want.” Mallory Rubin

The Big Lie: German newspaper and television investigations have confirmed that the US routinely used German territory for “tapping, code cracking, recruiting informants, observing suspects, kidnapping and abducting foreign enemies.” They promise more, and more damning reports to come. The US responded by claiming "as a matter of policy the United States does not engage in kidnapping and torture, and does not condone or support the resort to such illegal activities,” which is an obvious and blatant lie.

Pogo Redux: “In the battle against the NSA, the biggest enemy is not the authoritarian state's Super Big Brother, but apathy.” 
Champagne All 'Round: Some biggies in the economics racket have finally noticed that the US wobbles from bubble (S&L real estate) to bubble (tech stocks) to bubble (housing) to bubble (now, stocks?) and doesn't do real well unless a bubble is a'bubbling. And they suggest this is structural and will be the norm - with low growth, low interest rates and low employment alternating with crashes that funnel wealth ever upward to the 1%,while the great majority suffer years of privation. We've known how to solve this problem for about 80 years, but our elected representatives keep forgetting, and we don't have the political guts to stand up to the rich and take the economy back.

Little Blue Dresses: Ken Starr, whose claim to fame is years of harassing Bill Clinton over an act of consensual sex, told the court that his friend Christopher Kloman should not go to prison just because he sexually assaulted 10 -14 year old female students for years.

Lagniappe: Today's low gasoline prices in the US have little to do with fracking-originated surpluses and a lot to do with European shortages. Yes, the US is producing a bit more. Yes, the US has had a modest increase in efficiency and a serious decrease in miles driven, but the real cause of lower gasoline prices in the US has to do with the nature of refining. On average in the process of refining crude oil to make one gallon of diesel, two gallons of gasoline are also produced. There is a growing market in Europe for diesel that the US is supplying. Exports grew from 260,000 b/d in 2007 to 1.4 million b/d this summer. That leaves over 2 million barrels a day of excess gasoline sitting around the US, thus the lower prices. But it is a temporary phenomena; oil fields are still depleting faster than they are being found and the basic geophysics of peak oil remain intact.

Slip Sliding Away: Post Kaddafi Lybia is spiraling out of control, as most of the eastern oilfields are no longer under government control and militia clashes continue in Tripoli. Trying to placate the rebels, the government says it will institute Sharia law.

Realpolitik: The US makes no pretense that it and the other highly industrialized nations are not responsible for most of the CO2 emissions that have caused global warming. But it also makes abundantly clear that it will do nothing diminish its continuing emissions or, more importantly, to compensate smaller less developed nations for the destruction of life and property those emissions have caused. Period.

Location, Location: Headlines report that foreclosure activity has fallen 39% in Charlotte, while rising 30% in Chicago.

The world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.”
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

The Continuation of Economics By Other Means: The euro was supposed to bring Europe together, to encourage closer economic ties, even as it fostered a sense of shared identity. Instead it is producing anger, distrust and suspicion with no end in sight. Not that long ago EU officials proclaimed their austerity programs had succeeded and things were getting better. Not so. Now the real threat of deflation hovers over Europe and the Mediterranean states are in revolt, refusing to accept German orders any more. Blame Germany Germany does not want to write the periphery any more checks, prop up their budgets and certainly does not - and probably will not - accept even a little more inflation at home. In truth, Germany has seller's remorse and no longer wants to be part of the euro area. The youth of Europe are being cast aside, with Deprssion-era unemployment rates and worse, and tgheir discontent may well be the final straw that puts an end to the single-currency experiment amid a deteriorating political and social landscape. The people of the austerity-crushed southern European states are becoming 'populist' ( a codeword for nationalist, fascist, racist) in their discontent with EU leadership. The ongoing stresses and arguments, both in Brussels and in the streets, lead to dead ends; Helping 'Club Med' is unacceptable to Germany and the policies that Germany needs will doom Club Med. Increasingly the euro which was supposed to unite Europe is becoming the force that is pulling it apart. The play's a tragedy that will be decided by politics and emotions. Or war. First the one, then the other.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

SAR #13320

The crowd is nearly always wrong. - JimRogers

State of the Empire: The Empire State Manufacturing Index retreated for the 4th month, to its lowest level since January with new orders declining from +7,75 to -5.5, shipments down from +13 to a -0.5 and employment flat while hours worked fell. Naturally the stock markets reached new highs.

Creditable Debt: According to the NY Fed's Quarterly Report on Household Debt, the 3rd quarter was up 1.1% from the prior quarter at $11.28 trillion, $1.5 trillion below the 2008 peak. The increases were widespread, from mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit cards. Delinquency rates have declined from 8.7% at peak in 2010 to 5.3% today. This all suggests that households are no longer deleveraging.

This Is Where We Came In: Mortgage lenders continue to whittle away at downpayment requirements as home prices increase, on the belief that prices only go up.

Waldo, Found! For quite some time the denialist camp has enjoyed asking where the “missing global warming” was. Turns out it wasn't missing, it was simply hiding out in places where there are damned few weather stations. Filling in those gaps has more than doubled the global warming trend as the Arctic has warmed exceptionally fast. If the entire period from 1980 to 2012 is considered, the warming trend is 0.16 °C per decade - which conforms to the long-term global warming trend.

Labor Pains: Boeing has a contract with the machinists' union that runs until 2016, but as part of its blackmail threats surrounding where it will build the new 777X. Boeing is trying to get the union to take significant cuts - ending defined-benefit pensions, increasing medical costs and instituting a two-tier wage system. The rank and file has voted the offer down. Boeing continues to threaten a move to another state with cheaper, non-union labor.

Bedtime Reading: The Republicans have blocked another nominee to the federal appellate bench – this makes three well-qualified women who have become victims of the Republican fear that another woman would be in position for elevation to the Supreme Court. Democrats, incensed at the blatant sexism as well as the groundless obstructionism of the Republicans, are muttering about changing the filibuster rules and instituting majority rule at least on Presidential appointments. But that's probably just more of their gutless bluster.

The Parting Shot:

Friday, November 15, 2013

SAR #13319

Life is an endless series of ever less defensible choices. 

A Quote: “The real danger is not the current or near-term level of federal debt level per se. The danger is that some form of “debt hysteria” will take over and result in a sweeping fiscal adjustment – most likely big cuts in spending on education, research, infrastructure and the like – with the unintended consequence of slowing productivity growth.” (See, for example, Spain. Portugal. Italy and so on and on.)

Level Playing Field: Worldwide the fossil fuel industry – coal, petroleum and natural gas – gets $500 billion in subsidies, six times the amount funneled to renewable energy. Hardly a fair fight.

Indifference: The Dow is wow! The S&P is unstoppable!! Who cares? Why do we get so excited about the market indexes unless we have a lot of money tied up in index stocks? So Warren Buffet and Bill Gates made another billion or two. So? The markets keep going up while the middle class keeps going down; the markets are obviously not connected to reality.

Knowledge Is Dangerous: The FBI has decided that doing research into the results of Freedom Of Information Act requests for FBI documents is “irreparably damag[ing] to national security.” Actually, it's a threat to the arrogance of the FBI, but we won't talk about that.

First Steps: The drip, drip, drip of information about the TPP is finally awakening a response by our elected representatives, with over 150 House Democrats going public with their opposition to giving Obama 'fast-track' trade authority for the agreement. They have joined a growing bipartisan group who suspect – following NAFTA and the WTO – that 'free trade” hurts American jobs and cedes part of US sovereignty to international vultures.

Another Victory: A record opium crop has been planted in Afghanistan this year – another victory for ten years of US efforts.

Paying The Band: Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private sector employer, is also the biggest consumer of taxpayer supported aid, while fast food workers cost taxpayers more than $7 billion dollars a year for food stamps, Medicaid, and other social support programs. The money that McDonalds, Wal-Mart and the rest save by not paying their workers a living wage goes to their profits. Why not track how much we pay to support their employees and send them a bill every month?

Taking A Bath: The world's oceans are becoming acidic at an "unprecedented rate", souring more rapidly than at any time in the past 300 million years and the acidification will increase by 170% by 2100 resulting in the extinction of at least 30% of ocean species, starting with creatures with shells and exoskeletons, including shrimp and corals, with reverberations up the food chain.

Executive Orders: President Obama, trying to placate the uproar over the “you can keep your insurance” lies, has again resorted to administrative orders, just as he did earlier in granting exemptions to the employer mandate. Good for him, but is it legal? Can the president alter the laws passed by Congress that easily? His oath says he “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Not that the laws will be juggled to meet passing political winds. It's a bad law, poorly written. Throw it out and start over.

Garbage In, No Garbage Out: Part of Spain's austerity program reduced the wages of Madrid's garbage collectors, who didn't like being treated like rash so they went on strike. After 10 days the city council has had enough and threatens to cancel the current contracts with private firms if the strike doesn't end. Wait till they get wind of what happens then...

Barefoot & Pregnant: Violence against women - domestic violence, human sex trafficking, and sexual assault - has cost Tennessee in excess of $ 886,171,950 last year. Multiply by 50.

It's Only Money: TSA has spent a billion dollars on a profiling program designed to identify terrorists at airports. Too bad it doesn't work any better than NSA's 24/7 intercept of all our communications flipping a coin.

Porn O'Graph: I'll gladly pay you Tuesday...

The Parting Shot:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

SAR #13318

This is not a recession, it is just the free-market, deleveraging. 
Antidote: Third quarter GDP grew, they say, by 2.8%. But the CBO says we are 6 percentage points below the GDP that a recovery would have generated. And that 2.8% is not repeatable, having been inflated about 0.7% by inventory stocking for sales that are not going to show up. At this rate the US will close the GDP output gap and return to full employment no later than 2028. The median household income in 2012 was below its 1997 level; the typical household has nothing to show for the last 15 years of" economic growth".

I'm Sorry, So Sorry: The man who supervised the Fed's program to buy $1.25 trillion in MBS in 12 months now claims to be sorry that the program did not make credit more available to the real economy. Instead, (warning, plot spoiler) Wall Street pocketed the cash. 
Refreshing Clarity: Unlike all the Wall Street bankers who were responsible for the great financial collapse and have escaped prosecution, in Vietnam the “too big to jail” bankers are apparently just the right size to execute. Why didn't we think of that?

Temporary Help: The IEA says that shale oil (aka tight oil) is temporary phenomena destined to be short lived, peaking “around 2020”, after which the world will turn once more to the Middle East for oil. This agrees with an earlier US Energy Department report that indicated US 'tight oil' production would quickly taper off following 2020. Invest, but take the money and run.

Quote: “I’ve been in the Senate for nearly a year and believe as strongly as ever that the system is rigged for powerful interests and against working families.” Elizabet Warren (D-MA).

Nudge & Wink: The ECB is desperate to lower the value of the euro, having realized that only Germany has gotten rich selling to other eurozone countries and now all of the EU must maximize export earnings – thus the need for a cheaper euro. Just where the customers are going to come from was not immediately clear. Like other major central banks, it is expected that the ECB will begin an ambitious money printing program disguised as Quantitative Easing although called something else. If its “reflate or bust” for the euro, my money'd be on 'bust'.

Working For The Man: If your 401(k) charges you 1.2% (the industry average fee) and earns 7% (dream on), you'll end up with 40% less than an equivalent no-fee fund would return. 
Assignment: The Middle East is not getting calmer. Much of the mischief in the area can be traced back to Saudi Arabia. Felix Imonti has an excellent backgrounder over at Naked Capitalism. Go read – there are several interesting tidbits to be found.

Bleak House: Prime Minister David Cameron, realizing that there has not yet been sufficient privation to unseat his government, insists that the beatings will continue until the austerity cuts to British public-sector spending will become permanent. Permanent until he is thrown out. 
Tread Carefully: Statins have been promoted to the status of one-a-day magic pills for nearly everyone. Statins do work for those who have already had a heart attack. For others, research has been less than as enthusiastic as the current PR push. Some studies showed that of those taking statins for 5 years 96% saw no benefit, 10% were harmed by muscle damage, and some developed diabetes. More than a dozen studies have shown that in an otherwise healthy person with no history or symptoms of heart disease, taking statins provides zero benefit. What is clearly beyond doubt is that statins have been blockbuster profit-makers for pharmaceutical companies. Magic elixer or scam? Do your own research.

Porn O'Graph: How much is a lot?

The Parting Shot:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SAR #13317

Economically we depend on perpetual growth, which just isn't possible.

Go Away: Sometimes it is hard to remember that it's a free country. Today, for instance. It is difficult not to wish that 'Liberal' columnist Richard Cohen and the Washington Post should both be sent to a small island somewhere”. My gag reflex is working just fine.

Petty Cash: J&J, which just got through forking over $9 billion for doing Bad Things , will now be shelling out more than $4 billion to make thousands of defective hip implants go away. Don't worry, the business plan sets aside money for these kinds of inconveniences.

Friendly Fire: Remember the smugness with which America and Israel let it be known that they had created a vicious piece of malware called Stuxnet and Stuxnet had disrupted Iran's nuclear reactors? What if it didn't stop there? What if Stuxnet's creators forgot to put a kill switch into the program? What if Stuxnet now threatens nuclear reactors around the world and even the computers in the International Space Station? Do you think “Oops” and “Sorry about that.” will make everything okay?

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: Fiscal austerity probably subtracted 1.5% to 2.0% from GDP growth in 2013, and the foolish government shutdown probably subtracted a little more. All in the name of growth. Just the name.

Bum's Rush: Now it's the NYTimes shilling for the TPP, urging Obama to deliver the country to the tender mercies of international corporations, claiming that “it is time for the administration to cut some deals, crack some heads and open up those Asian markets.” Except the Asian markets are already open and have been for years. What TPP will do is undermine the sovereign protections offered to US citizens.

Handicappping: The money quote: "All colleges have the goal of admitting the best students they possibly can at the best price they possibly can.” They want good students, sure, but they prefer good prospects who want them, too. And they check to see how you rank them (specifically on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before they rank you. And maybe, just maybe, how much aid you are offered may depend on how highly you rank the institution making the offer. So, does she like me and is she easy?

Letting The Air Out: QE was supposed to be a short-term program to prop up assets enough to get a little expansionary inflation going. It has turned out not to be short-term and not to get much expansionary inflation going, either. It has kept attention away from the deflation in the real economy – seen the price of oil lately? The US monetary base is now 450% higher than 5 years ago and not a bit of inflation anywhere. There's a message in there and it has nothing to do with economic growth, the recovery or any real support for 'tapering' down the ongoing level of QE. The longer this goes on, the longer it will have to go on. Welcome to the QE trap or, as it'll be called later on, the Long March Backward.

Porn O'Graph: Squint. Down there at the end, that's the recovery.

The Parting Shot:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SAR #13316

Accidents do happen, just not as often as reported. 

Denouement: As you listen to the politicians pontificate about having to cut Social Security remember a few things: One, these guys are too rich to worry about how much they'll draw in Social Security. Two, these guys do not care in the least that a majority of their elderly constituents – especially the women and those who chose not to be white – will end up in poverty. Three, they are far more concerned about making sure the very rich continue to be very rich than about raising Social Security to a reasonable level.

Here & There: Sweden, which has 4,852 of its 9.5 million people in prison, is closing 4 of its prisions for lack of customers. The US, which has 1,571,013 people in prison, would have to let about a million of them out to get down to the same rate of incarceration.

Memory Lane: Just a year ago, mortgage payments as a percentage of the average home buyer were in the high 20's. Now it has reached 40% and is still rising – levels las seen just before we went over the cliff the last time. Things that cannot continue generally don't.

After Many A Season... Spain, one of several poster children for the absolute asininity of the IMF/EU/ECB austerity nonsense, is now, after years of 20%+ unemployment, cut after cut to social programs and the nationalization of banks debts, is now in the midst of the final solution to the housing bust, with losses upwards of 75% of original price being routine. More suffering, just what the doctor bankers ordered. It’s a recipe for decades of terrible economic conditions, as was predictable and predicted. But that's the price for being on the gold euro standard. 
Bribery: Boeing has demanded upwards of $9 billion in tax breaks as sweetener to help them decide to build the new 777X in Washington. They'll get it, too.

On Average: Johnson and Johnson are paying a $2.2 billion fine on $33 billion in income from illegal marketing Risperdal. This, the 15th such settlement J&J has made for tinkering with the nations helath for fun and profit, shows why numbers 16, 17 and 18 can't be far off, as long as the profits far outweigh the fines and no one goes to jail.

Danger! “The EU and US have begun a second round of negotiations towards creating the world’s biggest free-trade deal.” You've been warned; lock up the horses and bring in the dogs.

Up, Up & Away: Having lost ground for 40 years, 76% of Americans now think it is time to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Actually, $15 would be a reasonable number.

Nature of the Beast: Republican governors are already lining up to make sure their states get a share of the new $30 billion a year Defense procurement program. Just kidding. They are not lining up and it's not a Defense procurement program, it's the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare that was supposed to provide health care to the poor at no cost to the states for 3 years and at not lest than 90% of the cost thereafter. Defense good, poor bad. Any questions?

Honoring Our Heroes: In NYC, 40% of veterans need food assistance. It wasn't clear if this included all those vets Walmart is hiring at minimum wage.

The Parting Shot: