Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How Wal-Mart is Destroying America

You have to admit that is a provocative blog post. I could have entitled it "How Trade with China is ........."
The reason I chose to come down on the world's largest retailer is because their business model has been the indirect cause of massive job losses in the United States and in China. Their original business motto was "Always low prices." Wal-Mart scours the world for the lowest cost goods to sell in their low cost big box stores and for the past few decades that has largely meant goods from China as any visit to your local Wal-Mart will establish. The company began as a publicly traded company in 1970 but it didn't really accelerate its expansion until the late 70's and 80's which was also not coincidentally the beginning of the Reagan Republican deregulation and Globalization movements. Therein hangs our tale.
There is a long established concept in economics called The Law of Comparative Advantage first elucidated by Robert Torrens and David Ricardo in the second decade of the 19th century. This law refers to the ability of one country to produce something at a lower cost more efficiently than might be the case in another country. This may occur because of an abundance of a particular resource or the skilset of the population. Other countries may also be able to produce the same good but at a higher cost. Countries can take advantage of these differentials to market goods in which they hold a comparative advantage by trading with countries which also hold a comparative advantage in the production of something else. Country A might produce beautiful durable pottery and stoneware while country B might make equally good metal pots and pans. Both countries can then trade to get the best quality and price for the respective goods and thus both countries benefit from the trade. Capital can move within the countries borders among the different industries to facilitate trade and industry but historically capital did not flow freely between countries. Historically the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank and others pushed free trade under the comparative advantage principle but the ascent of the globalization paradigm in the past several decades has killed that model of comparative advantage and replaced it with absolute advantage where production is shifted to the lowest cost producer in the world.Cost is the sole driver of the business. It's the bottom line. How many times have you heard that! Not quality, service, reliability, growth in the company, but cost, low cost and just low cost.That's what Wal-mart says right in the front of it's blue buildings. So what do you get for the lowest cost? JUNK ! But low cost JUNK! We now have a global zero sum game where global corporations able to move capital and companies across borders unimpeded for the purpose of making the greatest possible profit for the corporation by procuring the lowest cost of production. As a result some countries benefit and some do not. These globalized corporations do not concern themselves with the chaos and destruction of native industries that result from this business model. These corporations and especially the financial TBTF have been able to perform what is in effect gang rape of the American middle class by waving free trade slogans and policies that ridicule manufacturing and promoting the new information and financial economy. The result has been that real wages adjusted for inflation for the shrinking middle class has actually contracted over the past thirty years. This has occurred because the US manufacturing base has also been contracting and now represents only 13 % of our economy. You may not care if you are a bankster or an orthopedic surgeon or one of the few winners in this new wunderwirtshaftssystem, but if you are not one of those lucky beneficiaries, you may have noticed that you are circling the drain. My view is that this horrific decline of our middle class economy has been caused by these neoclassical and libertarian economists who came into ascendancy at about the time of the Reagan Administration but which has continued under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Now I will ask again, should you care? Damn straight you should care because this economic damage to the American economy has real true national security implications. Wal-Mart and globalized mega corporations like Wal-Mart have subcontracted our manufacturing economy over to China. Now I don't care if your plastic salad shooters now come from Shanghai instead of Skokie but really vital components like machine tools, auto and truck and plane parts, computer and electronic and communication components and even certain parts in weapons are manufactured overseas. Those overseas workers have real jobs making real things designed by American educated engineers which the world absolutely needs while Americans have jobs in a declining and even frivolous service sector. Does America really need any more human resource or marketing consultants or fast food or retail clerks? More nail salons in strip malls and more geriatric wal-mart greeters luring us into their fluorescent lit junkboxes to buy their always low cost Chinese junk?
Industrial products today are assembled from many parts and the lack of a key component can mean that the product cannot be completed until the part arrives. And if the part comes from a factory in Chongqing, then what? What if the whole product comes from Chongqing? The really annoying feature of having products arriving from China is that they may still retain their American names. In many cases the American corporations moved everything, lock, stock and drill press to China, everything but the workers. American companies using American machinery run by Chinese laborers . The corporations were ably assisted by friendly tax laws devised by their lobbyists lawyers who ensured that the cost of the decommissioning and closure of the factories, the transport of the machinery, and even the travel and entertainment and living expenses of the executives were all deductible corporate expenses. Now instead of having to pay American workers $17/hr and provide pensions and health care, these executives can now pay 70 cents/hour to poor Chinese girls from distant rural villages who are virtually slave labor. And if business falls off, well then you just send those poor girls back to their villages and shutter the factory. Nothing personal, ma'am. Its just business. Oh by the way, you have to buy your own bus ticket.This is virtually what happened when the giant Broyhill furniture factory in the Carolinas moved their furniture manufacturing to China in this last lost decade. So if you're a corporate executive, what's there not to like. Ronnie said it would be like this if we could just get guvment off our backs. What's there not to like, you ask again? Well these corporations have allowed one of history's great wealth transfers from a rich nation to what had been the worlds most populated poor nation. So much has been transferred that the USA is now in debt to China who hold more than $2 trillion of our treasury and agency securities. With all this new found wealth funneled by our corporations into the Communist government of China, they have been able to embark on a massive industrial, military, infrastructure, and energy buildup such that they are now the world's second largest economy. They are scouring the world building refineries and buying exclusive energy contracts from African and South American oil producers who formerly supplied an open world oil market. China has surpassed the US to become the world's largest producer of greenhouse gasses. China is now the world's largest car producing nation, on track this year to produce 13 million vehicles from 117 car and truck plants. It should be kept in mind that our money is being transferred to a nation that has 1.3 billion hard working, rugged and clever people who had little difficulty fighting the giant US military behemoth to a decisive standstill in Korea in the 1950's . The US had a great deal of difficulty defeating the tiny nation of Japan while suffering horrendous losses in the waning years of WW 2. The US military fights wars by dropping bombs .That advantage would be marginalized if we tried it on the Chinese.And nuclear weapons would be virtually useless in a modern great power conflict as was realized by the cold war with Russia. It would be a MAD option. Trying to fight a land war in Asia would be a fools errand. The smart money would be on the Chinese. Our last land war in Asia didn't go too well despite clouds of aircraft and high tech weapons. We were defeated by a pajama clad peasant army on bicycles. I don't think the Chinese Communist government deliberately decided to co opt our manufacturing economy to achieve military, economic and technological superiority but the fact remains that they are well on the way to just that. Our globalization free trade champions on Wall St and K street have handed our economic destiny over to the totalitarian government of China with the acquiescence and cooperation of our own government which of course is no longer a representative democracy any longer but instead an organized cadre of Wall Street Bankers and Global corporations who control the agenda, the bills and the purse strings by virtue of their minions on K Street .The noise from Washington about stimulus measures and restoring jobs and reestablishing lending is posturing and peristaltic flatus wafting across the plain and there is little to indicate that the politicians and bankers or the corporations are changing their modus vivendi as they go about god's work amassing mammon. This corporate dominated Washington political establishment with it's shock troops in the WTO, the IMF, Goldman Sachs run Federal Reserve and the World Bank have brought the citizens of this country to their knees as they live in opulence and suck on the teats of the shrinking udder that once was the milk of the American economy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Lost Decade

There is no shortage of news items crossing my desk here in the waning days of the worst decade in our history. The shadow government nominated and elected an inarticulate third rate Texas governor and a paranoid chicken hawk vice president who then chose a coterie of like minded neo conservative ideologues who launched the last imperial war with an ill thought out invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, The stated goal in Bush's words was to establish a stable and permanent democracy, The transparently obvious goal was to control access to the vast oil and gas fields of the region. Almost ten years on, the US remains mired in what conservatively could be described as a debacle which has no end.
This was the decade that the shadow government deregulated the banks who then ran amok through the world spreading their newly devised financial instruments which largely involved the securitization of mortgage assets and the creation of an unregulated and unseen derivatives market. The failure of this business model collapsed the banking system. The same shadow government of private bankers within the Federal Reserve and Treasury then deftly transferred these vast losses to the taxpayer. During this same decade the Chair of the Fed Alan Greenspan inflated a vast asset bubble in real estate and other assets . Credit was extended to anyone with a pulse and consumer, corporate, state,local, municipal, and Federal(including GSEs) debt levels soared such that that debt is now 557% of GDP according to Forbes Magazine.( Current GDP is around $14 Trillion.). If you add in the various entitlement programs, the number soars to 840%. There has been no attempt to address this mountain of debt either by the Bush or Obama administrations.
The US stock market turned in the worst decade in the history of the United States which has had a stock market of sorts since about the 1820's. The worst decade, even worse than all the other financial panics including the decade of the Great Depression. The S&P average yielded -.0.5% annual return for the decade. The Dow hit 10,000 in 1999, about where it is now.
I include this graph of inflation and the Dow during the decade of the Great Depression. You can see the steep cliff dive descent in 1929 followed by a surprising spike of about 60% in 1930, a so called bear market rally. My contention is that we are in a similar bear market rally and I think the next moves are down mirroring the graph shown. All the chess pieces of fiscal and political incompetence are in place and I see no way to avoid the next crash. I have begun to sell off what stocks I own in my dwindling personal retirement position and I have urged everyone I know to do the same. 2010 looks to be an interesting year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Barak Obanker and Fed Chair Ben Banke

I try to add a new post when I read about some new outrage or insult to sensibility that comes across my desk here in die blogezimmer, my chilly unheated computer room in our log cabin in Jackson Hole. But I just can't keep up any more. From one outrage to the next insult, I'm simply overwhelmed. Barak told 60 minutes he didn't get elected to bail out fat cat bankers. Whaaaat?
Translation: I got elected to bail out fat cat bankers. The next day he sat in his oval orifice with a partial collection of those fat cats he bailed out begging:" Puleeze, pretty puleeeeze, make loans to our insolvent american economy because I am standing for re election in just a few years and we're running out of time to re-inflate the world's biggest debt machine." What I found interesting was that some of the biggest and fattest cats of all stayed home or had to be put on speakerphone, like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs who was doing god's work by staying at home. And did you see who sat at the left hand of President Obanker? Why none other than the shadow president, Bob Rubin, lately of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Who does President Obanker think he's kidding? This is the same guy who took home the Nobel Peace Prize which this year was given to the biggest warlord in the world. And Ben Bernanke winning TIME's Man of the Year? I mean, how much cognitive dissonance can a body take? And this morning I see Senator John McCain proposing reinstatement of the Glass- Steagal Act which Bob Rubin tore up just 10 years ago. You know things are really in the toilet when you are agreeing with McCain/Palin on anything. Barak doesn't have much more time to throw the money changers out of the temple. We Americans may be stupid obese milling baying sheep but even sheep aren't that stupid and the sheep in this country are armed sheep and if I were a Goldman or a Sachs banker returning to my chalet in the Hamptons, I think I would be sleeping with my piece under my pillow.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Depression or Recession?

Readers of this blog know my opinion on whether we are in a depression. Whether you think it is a depression or recession is beside the point as there is no good definition of either. Oh I know, it used to be said that 2 negative quarters were a recession if the referee the US government employs, the NBER(National Bureau of Economic Research), decides to call it one. Other economists have opined that a recession is a 1.5% rise in unemployment. But NBER does not referee depressions because they are on the Fed payroll and if they said we were in a depression, why folks would panic, consumer confidence would drop and sales of Wallmart's salad shooters would plunge. In fact I read that the Great Depression wasn't even called that until 1937 when a journalist dubbed it the Great Depression. Most economic writers do seem to agree that a recession morphs into a depression if it lasts a long time(3-4 years), if unemployment really increases, credit availability drops or goes unused, banks fail, companies fail at a high rate, the stock market collapses, trade and commerce falls and so forth . It is a time of fiscal and financial crises and collapses. Virtually everyone I read say the recession is an unfortunate but normal component of any business cycle. I doubt that any government would ever call a recession, no matter how severe, a depression. That is left to journalists, economists and now us bloggers. The government has gone to great lengths to minimize and obfuscate and conceal any information or data that would give a true and accurate picture of our economic situation. Our government and probably most governments no matter which party is in control, or which continent they are on, have no incentive to engage in truth telling. It makes them look bad and they are afraid the citizens would take to the streets if they really knew the facts. It is rare that government officials lay out the facts in a truthful fashion. Paul Volker got away with doing it for a while 30 years ago but when his President, Jimmy Carter put on his cardigan and told Americans they should conserve energy and move to a more sustainable way of life, he was crushed by an aged republican who developed full blown Alzheimer dementia in his second term and he has been replaced by a steady stream of advisers with economic dementia. The government statistics are manipulated and modeled until they are meaningless. If a particular statistic is bad, government statisticians will make it less bad. If it's good, they will spin it better. I completely ignore government statistics and so should you. John Williams gives unvarnished statistics at his website: http://www.shadowstats.com/. On John's site you will find official government numbers and John's take usually listed as "SGS" and with what I find particularly useful, older official government statistical methodologies. Here are some examples: Official unemployment is 10% which is the U-3 government number. A broader government number is U-6 which is 17.8%, and John's number which he says approximates the methodology used 50 years ago is 22%. Similarly, official CPI inflation is -.2% and using pre-Clinton era methods, the inflation rate is 3%. I am unable to post John's graphs here and would urge the reader to just go to his website. John says that the recession started in the 4th quarter of 2007 which would make this recession 2 years old. If this downturn, as Obama calls it, lasts another year or two, then we will have met even the conservative definition of a depression. You can be sure TPTB will not allow this recession to be re characterized as a depression. Even the way government economists calculate GDP is inherently flawed. For example. Let's take a worker at Rockford Products in Illinois, where my wife worked briefly. A worker getting paid $10/hr might produce in one hour bolts or screws which could be sold for $50, thus adding $50 to the nations GDP. An MBA at Goldman Sachs making $250/hr(before taxpayer assisted bonuses of course), might craft a CDO or CDS derivative product which could be sold for $10,000,000. Let's give Goldman Sachs a net profit on that very small transaction $1 million and so that gets added to GDP. Now there is no way to make the productivity of these two disparate laborers equivalent but don't tell that to the BLS. If there were just two workers in the country then BLS would say that the average hourly salary in the US was($130/hr...250+10/2.) They would also calculate worker productivity in similar fashion. Now of course there are many workers in the country to lump together but when over 20% of your GDP is related to financial services, as it was before our recent cliff diving economy, then calculating and posting the notional value of the nation's goods and services and comparing them to to other nations becomes somewhat meaningless. I would think that our GDP should be broken out into several categories of GOODS production and SERVICES production which is the only way I can see to make comparisons to other nations economies even possible. I do not think our current severe recession meets the criteria of a depression but only because it has only gone on for 2 years. Unemployment is not yet at the 25-30% rate of the Great D, but it is close. Many other metrics of this recession match or exceed the Great D such as the debt to GDP ratio and certainly unfunded liabilities far exceed what existed in the 1930s. The main reason I think that we are in a depression is that the government is doing nothing to resolve or attenuate the mountain of debt built up and in fact is doing the exact opposite by shielding the bondholders in the big financial institutions as well as attempting to save favored industries and propping up the housing market and other asset classes while at the same time urging continued expansion of debt and credit. Christine Romer on Obama's economic nothinktank even said today that"spending our way out of recession is sensible policy." She means of course"printing our way out of recession is sensible policy." With economic advisers of this caliber, I will stick to my opinion that this recession will meet the definition of depression within the next year or two.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Viet Nam 2.0

It's been an easy winter so far here in Jackson Hole other than a week of sub zero weather this past week and only minimal snowfall. Helicopter Ben has been mocked before Congress and Obama continues along his blundering way using the worst ideas of the Republican party to ensure the ruin of his presidency and his country's future. Lie follows lie on a daily basis as he tells us the recession is over with green shoots galore. Unemployment is down and his Afghan surge will certainly work so well that 18 months after our hapless soldiers arrive in country, they will be able to leave. No one including Obama has stated what this Afghan invasion is supposed to accomplish. A well armed and trained conventional military force that relies on high tech weapons and air strikes wont have a chance combating a popular Islamic insurgency armed with simple primitive weapons and a burning desire to drive invaders from their soil. The Brits and the Russians were driven out and the American Army will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan as it suffered in Viet Nam and Somalia. The American Military is in the region to ensure access to oil and the fundamental flaw is the assumption that a military occupation can dominate a disintegrating collection of failed and failing states long run by warring tribes and clans. In any war between guerrillas and a standing army,the smart money is on the guerrillas whether those guerrillas were ragtag colonists facing the world's most powerful army in 18th century America or pajama clad Viet Cong facing down a massive American Army in Indochina. The Islamic insurgents in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia regard the West with the same hatred as the American Marines felt toward the "japs" in the South Pacific. In the end it wont be defeat by a determined insurgency that drives the US out of Afghanistan and Iraq but our coming economic collapse that dooms this tragic foolish incursion into the lion's lair.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

United Sachs of Amerika

I really don't like to re use images but I do it to make a point. I have spent several years puzzling over why our country's economy went over a cliff like Wily Coyote. Our political and financial leaders and our media have their take on the causes of this collapse and what they think are the proper solutions to address the problem. Their advice has filled me with unease. After the twin towers fell down with the help of 15 Saudi nationals and three of their friends, our president was asked what Americans could do and he said"Shop." I knew then that America had a problem far bigger than the loss of 3000 of our citizens inside two collapsed buildings.There were two obvious questions that the media did not ask:1. Why would these Arab terrorists do such a thing and 2. Why would our president say such a thing? It was at that moment that I suffered a cognitive dissonance breakdown. This was cognitive dissonance on steroids. No one in power asked the questions. All I could think was "What in heck is going on here?" It has taken me a long time to figure out how we got to this point and it has involved a lot of reading and conversations and I have come to a general set of conclusions that I think explains why all this happened and who the responsible parties might be. I do not have definitive proof and my conclusions are more in the nature of allegations. My research has involved retrospective looks at the history of economic collapses as well as financial panics, cultural collapses, social collapses and collapses of civilizations. I assumed that I might find clues to our current economic collapse by looking at others in the near and distant past and I have addressed aspects of these in past blogs and will likely do the same in future blogs. But in this posting I think I have found the proximate causes and source of this current depression or recession if you will. Plainly stated, the causes are the policies of the Federal Reserve Central Bank and the US Treasury with the help of now massive too big to fail central banks and global banks both here and around the world. I think I can trace the beginning of this current problem as far back as the 1980's and 1990's. President Reagan got the ball rolling when he fired then Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volker and replaced him with an Ayn Rand libertarian by the name of Alan Greenspan. There is ample documentation from the 1990's laying out how this policy evolved. In the early 1990's the US was the unchallenged economic and military super power with the collapse of the Soviet Union. This allowed our military and political and corporate leaders to imagine the US as THE new Imperial Power in the world.
When you are the only imperial power, you get to tell the world to jump and all they can ask is "How high?". If you are the sole imperial power, you get to decide who is with you and who is against you. And if you cross an imperial power, you will pay a price and anyone who interferes with an imperial power's access to energy will pay the ultimate price.
Any questions?
And so it went. One of the first items on this new agenda was money, that little item that makes the world go round. It would be a whole lot simpler if the US could just deal with one global currency. Let's just make the US dollar the global reserve currency and we'll price everything important like oil in dollars. That would make trading and commerce nice and simple for everybody, like us.Any objections out there in the trading pits of the world? No? Good.
Now that we had the global reserve currency, everybody wanted it, so our merchants caught on to the Wall Mart model
of the lowest price, Always! My pappy always used to say that there were two ways to get rich: don't spend it or go out and earn it. Our leaders chose the former and the fedsters and the banksters and all their associated chums in the IMF and the World Bank went along with this idea by loaning dollars all over the world to any country that wanted to build sweatshops to sell cheap stuff to the US. Somewhere along the way the boys behind those marble and glass facades had decided that stuff made in a sweatshop in China was a better deal than at a factory in Ohio. And why not just tweak the tax law to allow our own good ole American companies to build those factories. That way they could insure that that stuff could be made for half the quality but one fourth of the price and the US tax system could allow these American companies to write off all those pesky expenses of closing factories and paying pensions and health care to those lazy middle class union workers. By now children of those middle class union workers were pouring out of colleges with MBA and law degrees and quickly finding out that the real money was not in using air tools building stuff but using the new fangled computer tools to move money at warp speed. So instead of putting on tool belts, they donned pin striped suits and headed downtown to join the new industrial revolution, the Information Economy. They handed off their tool belts to the hard working brown folks now pouring over the porous southern border. Meanwhile back inside the big banking towers there were guys with computer science degrees and MBA's living the American Dream and trying to think up new ways to use that most fundamental tenet of the American Dream:Something for Nothing! It was the computer revolution that fueled the next leg up. With the aid of computers, sharp eyed traders and economists were finding little discrepancies in the pricing of assets such as bonds in world markets and they discovered that they could use those very slight differences in prices to make money. They discovered that trading these slight differences might only net say .01 % on a trade but it worked every time. The next step was to leverage the bet, 10 times. That made the return 1 %. 100 times made it 10%. . So investment banks turned into betting casinos. New words were invented to describe what they were doing like arbitrage, pairs trading, and a myriad of other names were invented to describe these complicated bets. Initially they bet on government bonds using complex strategies of going long and short and taking options. Most of this began with a new hedge fund in Wall Street called Long Term Capital Management(LTCM). The members included traders and statisticians from most of the Wall Street Trading houses and even a few Nobel prize winners. They felt they had a can't miss strategy and no one had yet heard of Taleb's term Black Swan, to describe rare events. But the East Asia Financial crisis and the Russian bond defaults became those Black Swan events and LTCM collapsed. The Federal Reserve stepped in because the losses were enormous but the Fed managed to put together a bailout of LTCM by passing the hat around Wall Street to the big banks. I'll skip over the details but this helped to cement the Fed/Big Bank marriage even more. People took to calling these trading strategies derivative trading, and in the late 1990's many people like CFTC Chairperson Brooksley Born began to question the wisdom of allowing this unseen unregulated trading which clearly had huge risks to the economy. But these wealthy bankers like John Corzine and Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs and Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and supportive Senators like Phil Graham and of course Al Greenspan of the Fed wanted nothing to do with any stinking regulation of their casino. How they crushed Brooksley Born and abolished the last wall to their trading strategies, the depression era Glass-Steagall Act with the help of President Clinton has been well covered in several books and documentaries. With Brooksley Born and other troublesome pests now passing under the FED/Banking steamroller and Glass-Steagall out of the way, the way was clear for the banks aided by the hands off Fed to really expand derivative trading worldwide. The banks wasted no time developing the next product that would make everyone's payday for the next decade: Securitization of Assets. They used the US mortgage market as their playground and since mortgages no longer resided at the local S&L or bank, they could buy these mortgages and "bundle" them converting a "debt" into an asset . It was magic and they could mix and match mortgages, slice and dice mortgages and covert them into something like a stock or bond that could be sold to unsuspecting buyers. To make these debts more palatable they bribed and paid the big rating agencies to put their good housekeeping seal of approval on them. And with easy Al Greenspan keeping interests rates as low as possible to get a new bubble inflating to replace the tech bubble popping, these new securities seemed to be just the ticket paying a nice rate of return to unsuspecting suckers which included not only other banks but municipalities, individuals andpension firms both here and abroad. Profits exploded at these banks as they spread these securities all over the world. But down in the dungeon levels of Goldman Sachs there was another branch of the company who were nervous enough about these securities that they crafted secret derivative shorting strategies of these securitized mortgages just in case the housing market didn't keep rising . Hank Paulson was careful to make sure that this dirty secret never saw the light of day. Things went swimmingly with the whole cast of rogues passing through the swinging doors between Government, the Fed and Wall Street and everyone making more and more money right up to the waning months of the junior bush administration. By then Hank Paulson had moved over from Goldman Sachs to the Treasury so he could have the 500 million or so he had in Goldman Sachs retirement tax free as one of the perks for going through that swinging door. When the housing market began its collapse and the securities became less secure, and when people started to refer to them as "toxic waste", the banks discovered they were holding on to a huge declining asset that no one wanted and dozens of banks became essentially insolvent when these assets became in effect liabilities. The Fed and Hank Paulson knew that this problem threatened him and a lot of his cronies with ruin so he did what any robber would have done: He held up the American People telling everyone that Armageddon would certainly happen if the banks weren't covered for their bad bets. He had to have been particularly worried about his own plummeting net worth because Goldman stock was dropping in value just like all the other banks. In a mere 3 page paper he told the Congress and the American People that they had to come up with three quarters of a Trillion dollars virtually overnight or it was Armageddon and the world financial establishment would collapse. We are now more than one year past that amazing con job by Treasury and the Fed and many trillions has been given or promised since in a series of futile gestures to prevent Armageddon. We have been served up all manner of justification for these actions which have convincingly demonstrated to discerning observers that the Federal Reserve would do whatever it took to protect and preserve its own even if it meant bypassing the Congress and the Constitution in the process. High net worth individuals, Sovereign Wealth Funds around the world, Hedge Funds and Banks were holding the bonds in these sinking banks and GSE's like Freddie Mac and Fannie along with Insurance companies like AIG. They had been the aiders and abettors of this bubble and they stood to lose big if their badbets weren't covered. The American People didn't want it, members of congress not on the bankers payroll didn't want it, but the Fed and Treasury wanted it. Thus it happened. How on earth did it happen? Where did the Fed get the money? Ben Bernanke once remarked that, “the US government has a technology, called the printing press (or today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many US dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost”. And so there you have it. That building above is the De facto White House. It is where the real power resides in this country. It is the Fourth Branch of Government and arguably, the most powerful. That Fed with Goldman Sachs and other bankers pulling the strings,has decided that no bondholders In these banks and insurance companies will get financial haircuts and Lloyd Blankfein, current CEO of Goldman, has decreed that if he wants to pay his executives $30 Billion in bonuses this Christmas, he will, even if the taxpayer has bailed him out. It should be clear to anyone that these people have no shame and no limits to their chutzpah, their greed, and their contempt of the American taxpayer . And as I write this, absolutely nothing has happened to change or limit the influence of these Wall Street banks. They can still trade derivatives to their heart's content with no oversight whatever and they can securitize anything within their reach. In effect, they are the shadow government and they know it. The only glimmer of hope is that Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas has a bill with over 300 cosponsors to have the GAO audit the Fed and I urge anyone who is reading to write or call their congressman to support this audit. The banks and the senators who are tools of the banking lobby such as Barney Frank, Mel Watt, and Charles Schumer are fighting tooth and nail to stop this grass roots movement which is perhaps might be the only bipartisan bill to appear in the Congress this year. I will also provide a link to a petition which is perhaps worth signing. If this bill passes, there is no assurance Barak will sign it, but that is another matter. Here is the link:http://stopbailoutben.com/?source=e2-fix. I have a myriad of sources for the information contained in this posting with especial thanks to theautomaticearth.com , and Mish at http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/ as well as a number of other economic books and fellow bloggers out there in cyberland who I do not have the time or space to thank at this time. Ron Paul's book is called End the Fed. The gigantic building early in the blog is of course, the seat of government, Goldman Sachs.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Do Buy(!) Meltdown 2.0

The blog servers are really humming now that we have all given thanks to the turkeys of the world. The grist for a new blog is piling up head high. I've spent the entire morning reading amazing takes on Dubai, Obama, TARP, and world markets. Mostly it's about how hopeless this world debt situation is and how badly it will all end. I can particularly recommend Jim Kunstler's Monday morning blog which is hilarious if a bit dark. The automatic earth is well done and continues to feature Dorthea Lange photos which are darkly appropriate . I did uncover a 6 month old in depth report on Dubai which is stunning and harks back to the day when the US had good overseas journalists. It is a must read:http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html.
While you read about it, keep in mind that this is the place where Halliburton and Darth Cheney moved to as their corporate headquarters, the slave state hell of Do BUY!
Dubai does have some features of their society that I wish we could adopt selectively here, like debtors prison. You owe money, you go to the hoosegow. In the good old US of Tarp, we pay you if you owe money. One other curiosity was that at market close on the Thanksgiving Friday bloodbath, one of the few stocks up big was Sturm Ruger, the gun and ammunition manufacturer. Could this be a portent?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meltdown in Dubai

You are looking at the world's tallest building at 2684', over one half mile high. It is the Burj Dubai and the lightning strike of the world credit implosion hit home in the improbably bizarre desert nation state of Dubai this thanksgiving when Dubai World, a giant real estate development conglomerate told the world banks that it was going to be missing payments on its $60 Billion loan for the next 6 months or so. Dubai is famous for its extravagant Mall of the Emirates with a 5 run ski area with real snow and islands in the shape of a palm trees and the world for sale to uber wealthy nutcases. The company has dredged up vast quantities of silt from the Arabian Gulf using computer modeling to make home site islands in the shape of countries and palm fronds. Sales haven't taken off as hoped and real estate prices have gone off a cliff mirroring the collapse in Las Vegas real estate, our home grown equivalent to Dubai. Dubai is the poster child of environmental unsustainability. Dubai has little in the way of oil and gas resources, at least as compared to it's wealthy neighbors in the Persian Gulf but it somehow managed to promote itself as a financial services and destination resort to the Gulf Region but that business model is obviously at risk as are a lot of misbegotten commercial real estate projects elsewhere. The sums to bail out poor Dubai are chump change compared to what Tim Geithner and Helicopter Ben and Nasty Larry have parcelled out to Goldman Sachs and AIG but it will be a wake up call to the nincompoops who run the world's investment banks. But not to worry, maybe Tim or Lord whatshisface of the Bank of England will step up again and provide taxpayer funded help to keep this Tower of Babel on schedule along with all the other nonsensical projects in the pipeline. The announcement from Dubai was scheduled to coincide with a big Islamic holiday so it will be a few days for the financial sandstorm to clear up. Speculation has it that the big money in UAE, namely Abu Dhabi with it's giant sovereign wealth fund will step up with a bridge loan but other financial bloggers think that Abu Dhabi is fed up with Dubai and may instead come in and pick up distressed assets for pennies on the dollar. Regardless of what happens, it bodes poorly for US Commercial RE which is already in deep feces. The CDS market has been humming with risk spreads widening as the smart money seeks financial protection from high risk countries like Dubai. Some of the countries where risk premiums are rising besides Dubai are Greece, Spain, Italy and the good old USA. Premiums are dropping in former financial basket cases like Russia and Brazil. It's a curious world we live in. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

President Obama: Wake up!

President Obama is in a death spiral, a flat spin which is taking the country down with him
This will be a blog with images of important dangerous economists who have brought this country to its knees and the few economists who have tried to prevent this economic depression. I'll give you a hint:the economists who ruined this country pictured to the left have Y chromosomes. The woman economist is Brooksley Born who tried to stop the madness being hatched by the pictured economic thugs while serving as commissioner of the CFTC. She was crushed by Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and Al Greenspan in the 1990's when she had the temerity to question the emerging cancer of unregulated derivative banking. Sadly, she is gone, flattened by the Wall Street Banking steamroller . The pictured bully boys are still atop that steamroller and now they have finally aroused the ire of Main Street, and are back on their heels fighting for their survival. Tim Geithner was shredded in front of a congressional panel last week and at one point he lost all cool and had the chutzpah to blast a republican congressman from Texas for causing the current unregulated banking debacle . The preposterous irony of course was that the debacle happened on his watch when he was the head of the NY Fed, the one person who could have done something to mitigate the disaster. He engineered the enormous bailout of AIG which had the effect of funneling taxpayer money straight into the coffers of Goldman Sachs and other huge investment banks who had made bad derivative bets both here and abroad . His crime was that he allowed GS and the others to get 100 cents on the dollar, courtesy of the taxpayer. Worse, he lied about the whole process from beginning to end. The tens of billions that went to Goldman Sachs will allow them to pay out $30 billion to their greedy executives this Christmas. Fed Chairman Bernanke has an op ed in this Sunday's Washington Post angrily denouncing the congress for even thinking of oversight and regulation of the Fed, which the Congress itself created in 1913. His is a sample of some of his outrageous assertions:

“Now more than ever, America needs a strong, nonpolitical and independent central bank with the tools to promote financial stability and to help steer our economy to recovery without inflation,” he said.

And when it comes to monetary policy, he said, “independent does not mean unaccountable.” He said the actions of the Fed were already thoroughly reviewed and needed to be protected from Congressional influence, “which would undermine the confidence the public and the markets have in the Fed.”

This is ridiculous, absurd, self serving nonsense. The public has no confidence in an organization that is the defacto 4th branch of the government which you could easily argue is by far the most powerful and fully unaccountable branch of government. The Fed and Treasury are dominated and influenced by the Wall Street Banks and large corporations who are confident that Treasury and the Fed will take care of them to the detriment of the country. It is the Treasury and the Fed who decide how and when to raise and print money and who gets it on what terms, not the President, the congress or the courts or of course, the people. It is no accident that Treasury Secretaries, economic advisers and Fed officers are of , by, for, and from the big banks. That these men should be sacked goes without saying, but replacing them from the same pool of Wall Street Banksters changes nothing. They should be investigated and if found guilty of indictable offenses, sentenced and imprisoned. Ex Wall Street bankers have no place in a presidential cabinet. There are many qualified folks in academe and government who could be independent and non partisan. Paul Volker demonstrated vast independence which is why Reagan and Wall Street had him replaced. Brooksley Born, Elizabeth Warren, and Gretchen Morgenson are brilliant articulate women with a proven grasp of economics and finance and who appear to be tools of no one. The obvious political problem of Obama sacking an entire economic team and Fed Chairman and cabinet secretary would make it appear that he has blundered in his choice of advisers.

In fact, that is exactly what he has done, but keeping them would be the greater blunder. These men along with dozens of others are and have been tools and leaders of Wall Street and worse, victims of their own faulty neoclassical economic philosophies and Keynesian fallacious delusions . They have perverted capitalism into a ugly mutant blend of socialism for the rich, financial fascism, arrogant imperialism all designed to achieve total economic control over the society by subverting and destroying the free market and the currency of the United States. In this they have succeeded and now that the serfs are getting restive, they are starting to fight back and crush this mini rebellion before it gets a head of steam. One little statistic I read to give a little context: the average Goldman Sachs employee earned $770,000 last year. There are over 30,000 of them. 49,000,000 Americans are hungry and 3,000,000 are homeless and over $160,000,000,000 will be paid out in bonuses to banksters this year by banks who received BILLIONS from Treasury and the FED courtesy of the taxpayer who resisted those payouts but who could do nothing about it because a tiny minority of the super wealthy corporate bankster barons now tell the people and the government representatives when to jump and how high. Change at the Congressional and Senate level to at least audit and make accountable the FED is a necessary first step. Republican Ron Paul has over 300 members of the house who have signed on to his bill to do just that. If your representative is among the 150 odd who did not, find out why.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

South of the Border.....or.. BIG IRON comes home

I have just returned from a trip to San Carlos,Mexico, in the Sonoran Desert on the upper East shore of the Sea of Cortez. I made the trip to retrieve our 1977 suburban, BIG IRON, I had left in a storage yard when daughter Heidi and I hopped on our Cal 48 KOHO to sail to Alaska last May. While we were en route,BIG IRON had to weather a hurricane . To return to retrieve our car I had to take a motley assortment of planes and buses and trucks to get to San Carlos. Once I arrived and saw the mess, I considered donating BIG IRON to the local recycler, but there wasn't any. I had heard there was a lot of damage to the town. There was. Houses and cars and boats washed away along with a lot of bridges and roads. And yet a lot of favorably sited structures were untouched. The local Mexicans were still hard at it ,both men and women with shovels and rakes and brooms trying to get all the gravel off the roads. The locals seemed nonplussed about it all but the resident expats were still pretty grumpy waiting to have their utilities restored. Many were still trucking in water. Anyway..back to my story. The old truck wouldn't start. She had been underwater a few feet. I was told San Carlos set a new all time rainfall record of 45+ inches of water in less than a day with normal annual rainfall only 6-8".Finding parts and help for my Suburban was a challenge with no auto parts stores nearby, no rental cars and the storage yard distant from the town. I did a lot of walking and met many nice Mexicans who all had stories to tell me. I found a used starter from a 1976 Chevy which worked. My old starter was new, which I had installed 6 months ago before the trip down but it swam with the fishes because unfortunately it is mounted low on the engine . It was corroded. I disassembled it, cleaned up the commutator, and did locate a replacement solenoid which I found on a bus trip to Guaymas, the nearest town of any size. The transmission had to refilled with new oil oil but the engine was fine. The whole job was done with a crescent wrench and vice grips and no sockets. There were lots of mosquitoes and mud and no way to jack up the car properly on supports and so working under it was a tight fit and rather messy. Other misc electrical gremlins still plague me but I managed to get it running with new gasoline. The trip north to the border had some trials and tribulations which included a Mexican tag team stealing my new CD player out of the dash while my back was turned. It was a clever trick done at a Pemex gas station with one guy distracting me while his buddy did his evil deed. I actually drove 1350 miles nonstop before I started seeing the mexican virgin of Guadelupe, the ghost of Brigham Young, and pink giraffes near Pocatello Idaho, so I had to stop to banish the demons and limp home the next morning. The old vermilion colored four wheel drive struggled up 8500' Teton Pass where it coughed and sputtered and belched and farted finally crested the summit after a few rest stops for the carburetor to gather its wits. I eventually coasted down the backside of the pass and chugged home to our log cabin in the cottonwoods. A friend asked me why I would spend $500 to bring back a car worth $400. I told him I was just doing what the government was doing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back to the Grind

It has been 6 months since the last blog. Long difficult trip up from Mexico on Koho, our Cal48 with daughter Heidi. It is docked near Glacier Bay for the winter. I may tell the story here someday. When I left the depression had started and my retirement was toast. When I got back 4.5 months later, the depression was still starting and the S&P had staged a monster bear market rally up almost 60% so I took that as a sign from heaven that it might be time to sell. I was out of touch most of the time from the brouhaha of the industrial world and it was with dismay that I returned to the same world I left. Barak has not figured it out and remains a captive puppet to his GS Thug Advisers and the Federal Reserve and is presiding over quantitative easing pouring money into wall street banks stealing a favorable economic future from my children. In the process he is destroying the dollar(down %16 in the past 6 months against most currencies). And there was huge news from the middle east totally ignored by all the media except Reuters. Saudi Arabia is moving to have it's crude listed on the Argus US Sour Crude Index based in London. So what, you say. How is that news? It's big news pilgrim and I hope somebody notes it somewhere. KSA has been unhappy with the volatility of the crude markets which are mostly western based, and of course primarily in the NYMEX in New York. It has been the perfect playground of the speculators who play in the futures market sandbox and the Saudis think a lot of the last spike to $147 was due to the unregulated futures speculators with their contracts and derivatives. So they have had enough and they have taken their dog and pony show elsewhere. They hope to have a more stable environment for oil prices which will help their fiscal planning and we will have to see if it works for them. I did not see any reference on how crude will be priced but I would not be surprised to see if petrodollar pricing may be nearing an end. If oil becomes priced in say, the Euro or a new Gulf currency(also rumored), the US can still buy oil on the world market as long as dollars can be exchanged for the new currency. But it is another sign that the days of dollar and US hegemony are nearing an end. And the Saudis are not even the biggest producer. Russia last month produced 10.04 MBPD which may be a peak for them. The Saudi Arabia peaked 29 years ago in 1980 at 9.9 MBPD. If the Russians and Africans and Latin Producers decide to emulate the Saudis, it is checkmate for the dollar. Oil demand in the US is now down to the mid 18 MBPD which is off 4.4% from a year ago but interestingly, that is due entirely to distillate fuels. Gasoline consumption is unchanged. Back here in Jackson Hole the Depression is marching on. For the first time in memory properties are being foreclosed on the courthouse steps and with the exception of some relatively cheap condos, the foreclosures have failed to attract bids any where near the reserve prices. Hotels are turning into rooming houses and advertising weekly and monthly rates. The Point is demanding $239 a week and super 8 only %650 a month. These cheap rates for pretty nice hotels are killing the apartment and condo market especially in the commuter towns of Victor and Driggs ID and Alpine WY and vacant rental listings are flooding the want ads just as job wanted ads have almost disappeared. Naturally the residential real estate market is dead and hundreds of tradesmen and carpenters have packed their dogs and tool belts into their pickups and fled for greener pastures. Boom and bust cycles are the rule in Wyoming but a residential bust this big has never happened. Credit is drying up and a builder recently advertised in the News and Guide for a loan of $1.2 Million for which he was willing to pay %12 "guaranteed" over 48 months. All of these local tidbits have the earmarks of a deflationary depression. Ah...Life at the end of empire.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Brave New World

Well I am wrapping up preparations for a long ocean voyage across and around the Pacific Ocean. The old suburban keeps swallowing more food and gear. The drive down to the port in Mexico will total 1600 miles and the ocean distance traversed may approach 7000 miles broken into two long legs. If the weather gods smile upon us and our old fiberglass cockleshell holds together we may fetch up on the coast of Alaska before Independence Day. Cousin Hal and daughter Heidi are the intrepid crew. I have started to view the trip in metaphorical terms, as perhaps grist for my novel ideas and as an opportunity to reflect upon the changes sure to come this century as our world moves from an industrial economy to a deindustrial future. I will certainly use this time to enjoy a break from the brouhaha of the clanging culture and the madding crowd as we bid adieu to television, mass culture and the internet. There are so very few people who appreciate the consequences of these wrenching changes to come and the preparations that we as individuals must make to deal with an economy on the downside of the Hubbert Oil Peak which appears to have occurred last year. From here on out the world will start to have less oil and within a decade or so less cheap energy of all types. Very few people understand that the past few centuries of exponential population growth, industrial and technological expansion was caused by free and seemingly inexhaustible fossil energy and now that cheap energy availability is ending, so will this growth. But almost no one sees this Big Picture except for a few thoughtful observers. And it is just our rotten luck to be en mired in a severe recession or depression caused by the last gasp greed of corporate financial and government figures who have destroyed a world economy based increasingly on growth and unregulated capitalism and consumption of resources of all types. The devils who caused this recent collapse are fighting to revive their failed juggernaut by seeking a transfusion from the futures of our children saddling and layering on more and more debt on to a population increasingly unemployed and poor. It is always this way. The nobles maintain their wealth by exploiting the serfs. For a while in the post war period America enjoyed an explosion of wealth and an expansion of its middle class. By working at a job making things and providing services, an American citizen could provide shelter and sustenance for himself and his family on just his income and dream of a brighter economic future for his children.This was possible in 1970 and has become less possible with each passing decade and is now only possible if you are a noble. It is no coincidence that it was about 1970 when American reached peak oil production, the Hubbert Peak. This prosperity was made possible and was in fact facilitated by this nearly free fossil energy. This same peak has now been reached on a global basis and the energy that fueled this industrial expansion is starting to run out but the consequences are still invisible to the bulk of the population. The great automobile dependent suburban expansion with its malls and industrial parks and cloverleafs much of it built in inhospitable regions is long in the tooth and starting to decay. Metatastatic sunbelt cities dependent upon cheap energy such as Phoenix have no future and will almost certainly depopulate in coming decades as the invisible economic energy umbilical is cut in a scenario laid out in exquisite elegant detail by James Michael Greer in his Theory of Catabolic Collapse. And today our politicians, our media, and our people are obsessed with a collapsing economy. They think that someday they will be able to return to an economy they experienced for the past 30 or 40 years. The investment community dreams of a return to historical returns of 11% in their stock markets. They do not see that all this growth and wealth expansion occurred because of cheap available oil and cheap energy. I think that some regions will experience true social collapse with dangerous disorder while other regions with local production of food and goods will survive and even thrive. Countries who have evolved into highly complex networked economies dependent upon cheap energy will suffer a stair step decline in their standard of living. There have been periods in this nation's history when we had a dynamic social order, when we built buildings and cities of great beauty and created enduring art. I'm thinking for example, of the Craftsman Period from 1890 to about 1920. We can return to an economy based upon local production and livable walkable communities in habitable climates but until we wake up as a nation to the futility of trying to reflate an utterly doomed model, we will not be able to approach even the possibility of building a new sustainable and nurturing society. I am reminded of the lines of Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach:
"And we are here as on a darling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

mine that bird

Even though I live in Wyoming I don't follow horse racing very closely as does my mother. She was screaming about this horse. You can see for yourself why:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sea Fever

One of the best sailing poems ever:


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

Sailing to Byzantium

Well this is an announcement to any friends, Roamans(spelled correctly) countrymen and relations that this will be the blog for our Cal 48 sailing blog instead of the previously posted URL which for reasons unbeknownst to me I cannot edit or add to any more. Perhaps it is too old and so this will be the sailing blog, the rant and rave blog, the politically incorrect blog, etc etc. I thought this would be a good time to post one of my favorite poems by William Butler Yeats and I will have to include John Masfield soon as well just for the sake of completeness. Mexico has become a bit swinish as you may have noticed and despite the advice of Janet Napolitano, we are planning on sashaying forth into battle to load up old koho with frijoles and avocados and heading over to Hilo on the big Island. Crew will be daughter Heidi and cousin Hal who have offered to crew over. From there we will lick our wounds, restock and head up the middle of the N Pacific to Alaska and try to link up with sister Shelley. We plan to do a little work on her bush cabin and wife Karlene will fly up sometime in August for our 25th and we plan a reunion voyage into Glacier Bay. I will try to post pics and commentary as I am able in Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you William Butler Yeats:

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Changes to My Blog

I am using this post to announce that I am working full time for the next few weeks finalizing preparations for a trip back to our sailboat which will be "splashed" shortly for a circuitous trip around the Pacific to Alaska this summer via Hawaii in order to take advantage of favorable winds. My crew will be my daughter and my first cousin and our progress will be cataloged on my other blogsite svkoho.blogspot.com.
In one sense I will be happy to stop analyzing for a while the cultural and financial changes being wrought upon our society by the Obama administration which in the financial and business arena marks almost no change from the previous two administrations. Barak Obama and his advisers are obviously fully in the pocket of the corporate and financial power elite every bit as much as was bush#43 and any lingering hope I had for a political leader who would lead this country down a path of building a new America which respects the sovereignty of other nations and a new America which will lead the way to develop a new economy based on reorganizing our economy around rebuilding our manufacturing base to produce items of quality, building an energy base of sustainable energy and conserving scarce resources for my children......is largely gone. The power of this wall street financial power elite aided by the Treasury and The Federal Reserve with the acquiescence of this president to control the economic destiny of this nation bypassing the Congress and the people is at the moment unchallenged. If the Congress does not act soon to review or repeal the new powers of Treasury and the Fed, then our democracy, our economy, our currency and the future of our country looks bleak indeed. This president and his advisers are astoundingly stupid if they think that reigniting a debt and credit bubble will lead us back to prosperity if it was that same over expansion of debt and credit that led to this collapse. But this is apparently what they think. They do not understand that you cannot make chicken salad out of chickenshit. The Republican party operatives made no pretense of concealing their allegiance to this elite. The Democrats pretend to care about the common man and the middle class while embracing policies indistinguishable from the Republicans. Neither of these parties are seeing that this century will be the beginning of a deindustrial civilization as the virtually free fossil energy resources dwindle and eventually disappear taking down a world economy of ever expanding growth which was only made possible because of that free energy. Our clueless leaders and the sheep they are herding see the future as an extrapolation of the past and the present. They do not see that the immediate past and the present were made possible precisely because of the discovery and utilization of a magical source of energy which fueled expansive economic and population growth. Like today's generals, our leaders are fighting yesterdays wars using outdated assumptions and tactics. Some of Obama's ideas have merit of course but so many are misguided and unaffordable. An example is high speed rail which requires an entirely new rail system 5X as expensive as just simply expanding existing rail capacity. The Obama administration has had some limited success trying to patch up old alliances destroyed by his imbecile predecessor by kissyface overtures and a demonstrated willingness to listen but his failures on the economy are simply horrendous primarily because being a lawyer instead of a doctor, he has not the slightest understanding of the principle of triage: You ignore the mortally wounded and the wounded who will survive without help and you concentrate your resources on those who can only survive with aid. But this administration lacking good judgement about what sectors of our society are important and what are not is trying to save everyone with money we don't have.. Barak Obama so far is a perfect example why a smart person with bad judgement is a stupid person. Bush43 was a stupid person with bad judgement who has been replaced by a smart person with bad judgement. Either way we are screwed.
And as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, for the next several months I plan to inhale fragrant trade winds and gaze at a galactic night canopy deliciously oblivious to the collapse taking place back home. In this case, no news will be good news. Ciao.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Our dear leader Larry being interupted by some protestors recently.

Iceland and the Law of Fraudulent Conveyance

As readers of this site may know, I am an keen observer of the ongoing drama in Iceland. What is going on in Iceland mirrors the drama in a good deal of Eastern Europe as well. There are people who would lead you to believe that the recently concluded G20 meeting in London achieved positive results for the world economy. If you believe what Dr Michael Hudson wrote in a recent article on the G20 and the IMF,nothing could be further from the truth. G20 nations offered to contribute about one Trillion in funds to the IMF to loan to these strapped emerging nations who are already loaned out and cash strapped. Dr Hudson, if I understand his conclusions, has said that these loans if they are accepted will just prolong the debt agony of these countries and have the true surreptitious purpose of returning these loans to the European banks that foolishly and perhaps fraudulently loaned them money in the first place, in effect a giveback to the banks by imposing onerous conditions on the workers and economies of these struggling nations. This is a serious charge but the most interesting part of his article was his explanation of a law in the state of NY called the Law of Fraudulent Conveyance. This was a law passed before the American Revolution to deal with a predatory practice of British speculators at the time. These brit speculators would loan money to upstate farmers and then demand payment before the crops came in and obviously before the farmers could get paid for their harvest. These creditors could then foreclose on these farms. And so this law was passed establishing the legal precedent " that if a creditor makes a loan without having a clear and reasonable understanding of how the debtor can repay the money in the normal course of doing business, the loan is deemed to be predatory and therefore null and void." Whoa partner! If this principle were to applied to many of the Iceland or Eastern European loans, the lending banks could find themselves out of luck. But I'm not holding my breath. The IMF has the same stranglehold on emerging market countries that the US finance and Insurance executives have over the American people. The IMF must know that there is almost no way for these countries to pay off these loans in much the same way that money loaned to emerging African countries decades ago was paid off. I think one can make the case that these loans were predatory and deceptive and therefore null and void and should be defaulted upon. I would think that the strategy should be for these countries to approach the IMF as a group rather than letting the IMF pick them off individually with sanctions. Dr Hudson makes the statement that no country has ever paid off its national debt and the IMF is demanding repayment of these loans on the backs of the labor of its citizens and by trading sovereignty and valuable national resources for this debt. If Dr Hudson is correct, these countries should either demand terms that are fair to their citizens or walk away and say "Enough!"

Terminal Keynesian Psychosis

I was listening to NPR on my way back from my morning workout when I heard that Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers had said that they saw evidence of "green sprouts" starting to appear in the economy. This is the same deluded Bernanke who recently said the recession would bottom by mid year with recovery late this year and into 2010.This is the same guy who professes to be an expert on the great depression. In medicine we call people who who create their own reality "psychotic" when their reality does not conform to the generally accepted perception of the bulk of humanity. And Larry Summers said much the same thing. Now people, keep in mind, these our your national economic leaders. It is possible that Larry and Ben believe what they say.. It is even possible they might be correct.But I think it is also possible they are suffering from TKP syndrome, or Terminal Keynesian Psychosis and folks who suffer from this terrible disease for which there is no known treatment must be treated with compassion and bundled up and led away to the Potomac State Home for the Economically Confused. Ilargi on the excellent site Automaticearth a few days back ran some graphs comparing the Great Depression looking at today's recession or depression from a world wide perspective. I will not reproduce the graphs here. They are stunning. The graphs compare world industrial production, world trade and world equity markets. The drops we are experiencing today are steeper and more severe than the period starting in 1929. I am willing to believe that there is a possibility that Larry and Tim and Ben and Alan and Neil and all the other economic keystone cops in DC are correct but looking at the data I have dredged up, I certainly cannot see any green shoots pushing up through the rubble.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pitchforks and Torches

This post image reflects a recent comment by President Obama addressing bankers in which he used the phrase of "pitchforks" being wielded by unhappy citizens.It's a surprising image harking back perhaps to the 1931 film Frankenstein when the villagers came at Dr Frankenstein's villa looking for the monster. It gives me a glimmer of hope that the president is at least tuned in to America's increasing rage at the financial establishment who has destroyed their world. Of course torches and pitchforks are just a metaphor. How many Americans own pitchforks and how do you make a torch? I took part in massed demonstrations in Washington DC against the Vietnam War years ago and despite the hundreds of thousands outside the white house expressing displeasure at our pursuit of a futile war, I never felt any real rage was apparent then, but I think the first stirrings of rage against the financial establishment in and out of government could be gathering strength. I personally do not think mob action is the way to run a democracy because mobs can get out of hand in a hurry but democracy in America is more of an illusion than a reality. We have a financial corporate power base which has hijacked the American democracy. Finance has become so powerful that it can bypass the congress and the will of the people. Has there been a referendum put before the people asking them if they want to mortgage their financial future and pay for the mistakes of these financial plutocrats? No. Of course not. Treasury and the Federal Reserve don't need to ask permission to loot the taxpayer's wallets. They just do it and will keep doing it until the taxpayer says "ENOUGH!
I hope that we will see a popular uprising against the Influence of what has been called the FIRE economy(Finance, Insurance, Real Estate). In fact today the Insurance industry has come hat in hand for more federal bailout money. It is past time for Americans of all persuasions to write congress and the president demanding change we can believe in. This president has been blundering forward using advisers tied to finance. In the meanwhile we have lost our manufacturing capability to these looters. The president fired a manufacturing CEO at GM but the criminal incompetent CEOs at AIG,Citi, JPM and GS live on with still huge pay packages plundering the people who are fast on their way to serfdom. I think that finance is now analogous to 19th century robber barons and thank god that America had a fair minded conservative president Teddy Roosevelt who engineered anti trust legislation which reduced their power. The same thing needs to happen now. I hope it can happen peacefully but Barak has shown no willingness to even consider or discuss the seriousness of this issue.Many Americans have weapons at home far more lethal than pitchforks and once enough of them have nothing left to lose, watching corrupt corporate bankers receive another bailout could be the straw that finally breaks their back.