If you are getting mocked by a majority of economists, journalists, and politicians, you must be doing something right. Cases in point: Ron Paul, Peter Schiff. Lately, Germany has been the butt-end of jokes due to their complete lack of support of “quantitative easing,” better known as “devaluing the money supply” as well as their disinclination to keep up with “stimulus packages,” or “throwing money down the drain” as it’s more commonly referred to.
In fact, it’s so strange to see one of the modern heads of state, who are presumably all puppets for corporate interest, to say anything against the holy relic of Keynesian economics, that it’s worth noting, especially when that person is head of the largest economy in Europe. With common sense like that, will Germany pull the Euro out of its slump, or leave the rest of Europe to its fate and return to the Deutschmark? Either way, it will likely pull away from the half-hearty, half-poisonous relationship it has with the sinking ship known as the USA, and draw closer to its half-hearty and half-poisonous relationship with Russia.
Not only has Germany decided to opt out of the West’s Zimbabwe solution, but it has also decided to reign in spending, and will likely make it something akin to a crime to run with deficits in the future. This makes way, way too much sense. How dare Germany be willing to undergo some severe immediate pain to improve its long-term economic outlook? How anti-consumerist; how anathema to the concept of instant gratification. Is the USA going to let this independent and responsible thinking go unpunished? If so, it would signal the fact the USA is no longer able to convince partners around the world to ruin their economies in a sort of lowest common denominator game of musical chairs. And that would be noteworthy indeed. As many countries, from Greece to Brazil will tell you, it’s not a good bet to take with the USA.
Today’s article of doom: There is something satisfying about watching a man rave about the economy while beating things with a stick.
I highly recommend this article entitled “Pipeline-Istan: Everything You Need to Know About Oil, Gas, Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan and Obama.” Nothing in it is particularly shocking or new to anyone who was skeptic of the war on terror and its purposes, but the common threads of several chapters of Eurasia over the last few years have been woven together well. A nice supplemental editorial is here.
The subject must have been in the collective unconscious recently because another great article was floating around with the funny title of: “Kremlin says battle over energy resources may lead to wars.” It should have been called “Kremlin says two plus two equals four” or, more accurately, “Kremlin says that two plus two has equaled four several times in the recent past and predicts it will equal four in the future.”
Speaking of wars and oil, isn’t it funny how half of the American population thought that Pepsi Obama would stop the war in Iraq, stop torturing, stop spying on Americans, and stop indefinite detention — in short, start following the Constitution? That is funny, since if he was interested in following the Constitution, he’d be a Libertarian or a Constitutionalist and not a Pepsi Democrat. When, oh when, will the voters reject the two-party system, which is really a one-party system? Old Coke McCain thinks Pepsi Obama is doing a pretty good job. Is this really Obama doing this and this or is it Bush? I’m getting deja-vu.
Well, enough of that subject. Politics is similar to Professional Wrestling in its authenticity. Too bad its effects aren’t similarly ephemeral. Instead, we get the terrorist-hunting boy and girl scouts. Progress!
In other news (and if this is news to you, well… good luck, pal) Medicare is projected by the government’s overly-rosy expectations to run out by 2017. I don’t particularly feel great about all the Medicare money that’s been taken from my paycheck over the years but I’m certain there is some kind of pill that will numb that gnawing sense of anger (hopefully my insurance will cover it once 2017 rolls around).
Today’s article of doom: The worst is yet to come.
Let’s say you are the puppet, er, leader of the world’s most powerful nation. And let’s say that nation will pull in, if everything goes well, close to $2 trillion over the next year. And let’s say, for whatever reason, you decide to spend $3.4 trillion over that same time period. Then, on top of that, just because you’re a nice guy, you decide to spend another $63 billion over the next few years on people that aren’t even part of your nation.
Then, for the sake of argument, you somehow absurdly claim with a straight face that you are making the hard choices and saving $17 billion in the midst of this. Do the supposed independent newspapers, who are now in need of a government bailout (which, by the way, is supported by politicians who are concerned about the loss of “independent reporting”) call you on your ridiculous hypocrisy and mock you endlessly like truly independent media should?
No. Instead, they give you a platform to say:
“We can no longer afford to spend as if deficits don’t matter and waste is not our problem. We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration — or the next generation.” Obama 5/7/09
I guess all that talk about audacity wasn’t mere imagery. The truly independent oversight, commentary, and investigation nowadays comes from blogs, not the mainstream media. Of course, media moguls like Rupert Murdoch don’t like that much, and are hinting that the days of uncontrolled, unfiltered, free internet are numbered. And they might be right.
Today’s article of doom: thanks a lot, Congress, for supporting the fascist Bush-era Patriot Act. It helped imprison this 16 year old boy with no due process whose IP number was likely spoofed. Way to make the country safer.
The spy case against two members of AIPAC has been dropped, to no one’s surprise. The reason why is summed up nicely here:
“The defence intended to call the former US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and other officials to establish that the government regularly uses Aipac to discreetly send information to.”
That wouldn’t be very flattering to our government, because of course the next question would be why we channel sensitive information to a foreign government through a group that claims to be working in America’s best interest (and doing it as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization).
“The case has been further complicated by a scandal revealed last month by a political publication, Congressional Quarterly, around a member of Congress, Jane Harman, who was secretly taped telling an Israeli agent that she would pressure the justice department to reduce spying charges against the two former Aipac officials.
In return, the Israeli agent offered to get a wealthy donor who helps funds election campaigns for Nancy Pelosi, the then-minority leader in the House of Representatives, to pressure Pelosi to appoint Harman to a senior position on the congressional intelligence committee.”
Shocker. A U.S. Congresswoman who pushes Israel’s agenda in return for Israeli-sponsored political favors? Best not dwell on that. It might be embarrassing for both the U.S. and Israel.
At least the mainstream UK paper, written in a country that is also usually nauseatingly intolerant of criticism of Israeli policy, got the conclusion right:
“AIPAC has long wielded considerable influence over US policy in the Middle East though a mix of appeals to American sympathy for Israel and a hard-ball approach against members of congress who question the unyielding policies of Israeli governments.”
In other words, if you criticize the policies of the nation of Israel in any possible way, you are an anti-semite (even if you are Jewish), as discovered by Seymour Reich, Edgar Bronfman Sr., John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Ernest Hollings, Howard Dean, Philip Zelikow, Richard Cohen, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Chas Freeman, Tony Judt, Adrienne Rich, Samantha Power, Tony Kushner, Tom, Dick, Harry, and pretty much anyone who has ever suggested anyone in Israel might be something other than holy, righteous, correct, moral, and God-like at all times.
In other news, the U.S. economy shrank by 6.1% in the first quarter, after shrinking 6.3% in the previous quarter. But don’t worry, our glorious leader sees “green shoots.” That kind of ridiculous optimism (like Bush’s “rough patch”) would be so much more effective if the politician in question had pom-poms and a short skirt. Without the visual aids, it just rings hollow. I wonder if the forecast is still for 0.5% growth for 2009 — that would be quite a trick to pull off.
What else has been going on? Swine Flu, increased fighting in Iraq and Pakistan, Chrysler declares bankruptcy (taking $8 billion more in bailout money because they can’t even go bankrupt without a bailout) and some more blah blah blah and deja vu. Oh, and GM gets $2 billion more in bailout money, ostensibly to help them with the bankruptcy paperwork in advance.
One advantage to living in a declining economy is the degree to which it’s easy to become reaccustomed to the local library. Next time you’re there, I recommend Dmitry Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse. Having lived through the implosion of the Soviet Union, he paints a very convincing picture of live here in the U.S. in a few years.
Today’s article of doom: more riots in Europe.
We live in Limbo Land. Everything in the news is the same, day after day, so we wonder: have we hit the bottom? Are things really that bad? Things are still the same in Pakistan. And Iraq. And Gaza. Europe still fears summer riots. The US government is still giving money to GM. Unemployment continues to climb. And mortgage defaults keep increasing:
But the world hasn’t ended yet. The four horsemen haven’t shown up to the party. In fact, no one has heard hide nor hair of them for as long as most people remember. Rumor has it they never existed. Malls are still open with their flat, tinkling music. Restaurants are still steaming. Gridlock is ever-present. What’s the deal? If a person didn’t read the news, they could easily not know anything has changed in the last year. Does this mean we’re able to absorb so much more instability than we ever expected? Was Cheney right when he said “deficits don’t matter?”
No, I think people like John Michael Greer have it right when they talk about “The Long Descent.” It’s not going to be abrupt, and civilization won’t disappear overnight. But things will decline steadily, and things won’t return to the way they were before. We’re so used to instant gratification, we don’t even like to wait for our apocalypses. It’s been six months and I haven’t had a single blackout — Armageddon is boring!
I’ll admit, I would like things to happen sooner rather than later, mostly so we don’t end up pushing off our problems to our children’s generation. I would rather face the consequences head-on. Pushing them off in order to compound them later is what we’ve been doing for decades. But there is plenty of time for disaster. In the meantime, there are still a lot of things even the most paranoid person hasn’t done yet to prepare. This summer should be a particularly nice season for gardening. Time to kill the useless lawn? This cycle will last a long while, so we might as well enjoy the beginning of it as well as the end.
Today’s article of doom: if you live in Contra Costa County, sleep soundly knowing due to budget cuts, burglaries, assaults, and thefts will no longer be prosecuted.
Just to put things in perspective, let’s look at the latest figures of money spent “fighting the credit crisis.” Bloomberg puts the figure at $12.8 trillion. Oddly enough, it seems the most concentrated rage of the public has been over AIG bonuses; something Congress even passed a bill on in order to confiscate. Now, while I am just as outraged as anyone that these employees of failed banks are getting millions in bonuses straight from the taxpayer, let’s remember these are only millions. As in one thousandth of a billion, which is itself one thousandth of a trillion. Here is the total money spent on the bailout. Since it’s so massive, each unit represents one billion. In other words, $1.00 on here means one billion (or one thousand million for the numerically illiterate). All the AIG bonuses everyone screamed over was about $170 million, so here it would be represented as $0.17:
— Amounts (Billions)—
Total $12,798.14 $4,169.71
Federal Reserve Total $7,765.64 $1,678.71
Primary Credit Discount $110.74 $61.31
Secondary Credit $0.19 $1.00
Primary dealer and others $147.00 $20.18
ABCP Liquidity $152.11 $6.85
AIG Credit $60.00 $43.19
Net Portfolio CP Funding $1,800.00 $241.31
Maiden Lane (Bear Stearns) $29.50 $28.82
Maiden Lane II (AIG) $22.50 $18.54
Maiden Lane III (AIG) $30.00 $24.04
Term Securities Lending $250.00 $88.55
Term Auction Facility $900.00 $468.59
Securities lending overnight $10.00 $4.41
Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility $900.00 $4.71
Currency Swaps/Other Assets $606.00 $377.87
MMIFF $540.00 $0.00
GSE Debt Purchases $600.00 $50.39
GSE Mortgage-Backed Securities $1,000.00 $236.16
Citigroup Bailout Fed Portion $220.40 $0.00
Bank of America Bailout $87.20 $0.00
Commitment to Buy Treasuries $300.00 $7.50
FDIC Total $2,038.50 $357.50
Public-Private Investment* $500.00 0.00
FDIC Liquidity Guarantees $1,400.00 $316.50
GE $126.00 $41.00
Citigroup Bailout FDIC $10.00 $0.00
Bank of America Bailout FDIC $2.50 $0.00
Treasury Total $2,694.00 $1,833.50
TARP $700.00 $599.50
Tax Break for Banks $29.00 $29.00
Stimulus Package (Bush) $168.00 $168.00
Stimulus II (Obama) $787.00 $787.00
Treasury Exchange Stabilization $50.00 $50.00
Student Loan Purchases $60.00 $0.00
Support for Fannie/Freddie $400.00 $200.00
Line of Credit for FDIC* $500.00 $0.00
HUD Total $300.00 $300.00
Hope for Homeowners FHA $300.00 $300.00
So, about one dollar out of every seventy-five thousand dollars or so went to AIG bonuses. And yet that lone dollar is the only one that’s generated sufficient rage. What about the rest?
The truth is we are such a competitive (and some might say spiteful) group of people, that we’re fighting over the pennies while truckloads of cash are being stolen. It’s the same reason people are upset about bailing out GM. Again, I’m not a fan of bailing out anyone; least of all a company who arrogantly refused to develop fuel-efficient vehicles until the last moment, but the total money given to GM so far is about 18 billion, and another 6 billion for GMAC. So, 24 billion. That’s less than 0.1% of the total bailout money. And mortgage owners who took on too much debt — similar situation. We have 300 billion set aside for that, or 2.3% of the total money spent. Huh? If this whole problem is based upon bad mortgages, why have we only spent 2.3% of the bailout money on the problem?
These three issues are the hot button issues for the public. People hate seeing their neighbor down the street (i.e. peers) getting a good deal on taxpayer money. But when bankers, CEOs, and Wall Street get a good deal multiplied by a factor of a million or so, well, no harm no foul. Those people are invisible to us so it’s not real money, right? I mean… you know… “we gotta do something.” And, “our economy depends on these banks.” And, uh, “credit is the lifeblood of our economy”… right? But my neighbor’s job or house or car or food is subsidized. What a jerk. We’re so easy to bamboozle.
Speaking of subsization and bamboozling, did you know that every time you use the USPS to mail something, you’re subsidizing companies that send you junk mail?
Today’s article of doom: banks will sell their” toxic” (read worthless) assets at the price they determine in a “partnership” deal where the government assumes 93% of the risk.
The nice thing about disasters is the opportunity for people to re-acquaint themselves with common sense. Suddenly, an explosion of common sense is occurring in the media and even among politicians. Not concerning things like liberty, or sound monetary policy, or sound foreign policy. But, specifically regarding weed.
First came the shot over the bows from San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. Proposing that marijuana be regulated and taxed, bringing the state billions in revenue, he introduced some long-overdue legislation that essentially asserts marijuana is no worse than alcohol, and alcohol brings the government big money. Several economists agree with the premise, pointing to a similar policy enacted during the Great Depression that had positive benefits; revenue, decrease of mob power, and a return to personal liberty: the end of Prohibition.
In fact, the positive economic impact is twofold: the massive revenue aside, the cost savings of not prosecuting and not imprisoning pot smokers is equally gargantuan. Study after study has concluded we spend far too much on incarceration. We are, after all, the world’s largest per-capita jailers: one out of every 31 adults is in the corrections system, with more than 1 out of every 100 in prison.
Critics are quick to point out the invisible costs of encouraging marijuana use, from medical costs to crime to lost productivity. The same criticisms were what caused Prohibition to be established, but, as time went by, most were discovered to be simply scaremongering tactics and completely untrue. Being as anywhere from 40% to 60% of Americans have used marijuana, depending on the poll, and roughly half support legalization, I’d say the danger can’t be any greater than that of alcohol or tobacco. In fact, since roughly 85,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year in the US and another 435,000 die from tobacco, and exactly ZERO die from marijana, despite its prevalance, I’d say odds are good the potential negative effects of legalization are miniscule in comparison.
Unrelated, but at the same time very related, the Federal Government signaled it is no longer rabidly, irrationally, opposed to marijuana in all its forms, by announcing it will no longer target sick patients and medical dispensaries in states that have legal provisions for medical use of marijuana. This is huge.
In 1996, California voters passed a law that established for the medical use of marijana but the Federal Government decided it had the authority to overrule state law and it continued to arrest and imprison legal users, even terminal cancer patients. Of course, the last time we had prohibition, we had to actually amend the Constitution of the United States, but due to various devious rulings and interpretations since, the Federal Government somehow decided it had the authority to regulate (read: outlaw) “controlled substances” (read: whatever it wants) without any hindrance (or common sense) so no new Amendment was needed to outlaw pot.
And of course, no objective studies have been done in decades on the effects of marijuana, since you can’t do tests without the physical plant, and the Federal Government refused the plant to any researchers that didn’t show negative effects as a result of the studies. It’s a great approach — I think the Catholic Church did something similar when those pesky heretics tried to promote the idea the world was round.
Anyway, I digress. Here’s to the return of common sense. Hopefully, so-called Conservatives who have been opposed to legalization will question why they vehemently support the Federal Government trampling all over their personal freedoms and imprisoning people at taxpayer expense for the crime of using a drug that is less harmful than aspirin.
Today’s article of doom: the always entertaining Jim Rogers.
“When will the housing market stabilize?” everyone wonders. It’s very simple, actually. When the government forces holders of mortgages to reduce the principal owed. Let me explain.
First of all, at the end of 2008, 1 in 5 mortgages were “underwater,” meaning the cost to pay off the mortgage was more than the house was worth. Since this is March of 2009, the number is probably closer to 1 in 4. Being as it is cheaper to rent than own in all 50 states, even considering the interest tax deduction, this means the underwater homeowner has only two reasons to keep paying.
1) They don’t want to ruin their credit.
2) They feel the housing prices will rise in a short enough timeframe to justify paying all the interest in the meantime, and will rise steadily thereafter enough to (after factoring in inflation and the value of lost investment opportunities with the lost interest payments) eventually sell and make a profit.
There is no third reason, such as “they intend to pay off the mortgage in full in 30 years and don’t care about the current price.” The people who fall into that category are the ones who bought at a reasonable price and are satisfied with their purchase because they are not upside-down.
So, let’s look at the first reason. Nobody wants to ruin their credit — unless, well, it costs thousands of dollars a month in wasted money to maintain. Or perhaps unless credit no longer matters, since no one is lending anyway. Or if everyone around them has trashed credit, making trashed credit not a problem. Eventually, many people will find that the savings of not paying on a losing mortgage outweigh the credit loss.
The second reason is hinged upon a relatively quick economic recovery which no one anywhere can give any indication will happen. The vote of no confidence in this is shown by the fact that, at the end of 2008, 1 in 8 mortgages were behind on payments. Again, since this is March, that number is likely closer to 1 in 6.
So then, what could possibly motivate people to hang on and resume payment? Only one thing: a stake in the eventual profit. If all the upside down people were no longer upside down, and actually had some equity, or at least no negative equity, they would be motivated to keep paying (providing they had the means of course — some simply won’t be able to pay no matter what).
Therefore, the only solution is loan modifications that adjust the principal owed. This article explains the fact eruditely, speaking of the much-touted (and reviled) mortgage rescue:
The Obama administration’s failure to close the negative- equity gap means that its plan “will likely join the dud parade of federal rescues,” says John Kiff, an International Monetary Fund economist in Washington.
DellaCamera, 55, the principal of DellaCamera Capital Management LLC, says that government reluctance to force banks to write down the value of distressed loans and securities to prices that buyers are willing to pay creates “gridlock,” delaying bad-debt workouts and an eventual recovery.
That’s exactly right. The banks don’t want to reduce the principal, nor the interest rates, because then the cat is out of the bag and there is no more maneuverability: the mortages are not worth what they say they are. And since all the major banks are still on the edge, after all the baoilouts, acknowledging reality might be the same as acknowledging insolvency. So, of course, the inevitable outcome, like it or not, will be that the government does one of three things:
1) Force the banks to lower the principal, and bail them out or buy their preferred stock as much as necessary to keep them afloat
2) Force the courts to allow bankruptcy judges to force the banks to lower the principal, with the same effects
3) Nationalize the banks in one form or another and modify the mortgages themselves.
This is beyond the debate of right or wrong, smart or stupid. It’s going to happen. It is the only thing that will stop housing prices from continuing to fall, because as more mortgages fall underwater, and more people see no recovery is forthcoming, more will stop paying. And please don’t think anyone in charge cares enough to ask the question whether we should simply let housing prices fall back. They don’t care what you think.
These guys get it. They worked for the failing banks that are still pretending they are solvent and their mortages are worth the money they lent. They know it’s all fake. Now they’re buying mortgages the government was forced to own, through takeovers of failed banks, at pennies on the dollar, adjusting the principal for the homeowner, and pocketing the difference. This is the way of the future. The government (therefore taxpayer) loses, the bankers win, and we all live… whatever ever after.
Today’s article of doom: Think I’m negative? Check out this guy.
Recently, George Soros said the financial system had effectively disintegrated, and the problem is more like the collapse of the Soviet Union than the Great Depression. Since the Great Depression is an American term for a semi-worldwide phenomenon, and since he was talking to an American paper, I’d have to assume he was talking mostly about the United States. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it broke up into 15 entities. Is he saying the United States will similarly break up? What happens when we discover the bailouts are actually like pouring gasoline on a fire?
Rupert Murdoch recently said something of interest as well: that nations will be redefined and their futures fundamentally altered. Rather provocative. Which nations would those be, Rupert? Ireland with its impending collapse? Britain with its projected “summer of rage?” Latvia with its junk status? Maybe Ukraine, where depositors can’t withdraw from their bank accounts. What about the US with its economy contracting at an astonishing rate and its ballooning budget deficit?
Today’s article picture of doom:
Remember AIG, the insurance giant the US government bailed out several times last year? First it was $37 billion, then $85 billion, then ultimately $150 billion. After all that, they need another… $60 billion. It appears they have more “financial challenges.”
Oh and remember when GM and Chrysler needed billions in emergency aid just two months ago to stave off collapse? Turns out they need $21.6 billion more. Maybe that will last another two months.
Remember Citi? They received $45 billion in cash last year, along with hundreds of billions more in guarantees on their assets. They are now worth approximately $13 billion. But not to worry, the government can always give them more money! Bank of America is in similar straights, having recieved $50 billion in cash and along with Citibank, $400 billion in guarantees on potential losses, and is now worth less than the last injection of cash.
Seriously, when does it stop? When do we realize these companies are bust, and they cannot be fixed? How much money needs to be flushed down the toilet to feed our addiction to denial? Well, apparently we’re all mistaken and everything is going to be fine, because the head of the Federal Reserve thinks the recession could end in a few months. If that isn’t proof the people in charge are either stupid or liars, I don’t know what is.
The government’s official story is that overpriced mortgages caused this meltdown. Now, I personally think the problem can be blamed on the irresponsible practices of the Federal Reserve, with regards to its monopolistic ability to change interest rates and thereby directly inflate the money supply. But, if you believe the government’s story, it’s all due to bad mortgages. Mortgages people bought but couldn’t afford. The banks assumed these assets were worth more than they were, and the realization they were worth less caused a domino affect throughout the world and here we are at the bottom of the cliff. $9.7 trillion in bailouts later, they’ve actually decided to throw some money directly at the problem. According to bloomberg, if the government had spent that $9.7 trillion on bad mortgages, it could have paid off in full 90% of the nation’s mortages. No matter how bad those other 10% were, there would be no mortgage problem anymore. But instead, we threw the money away on everything but the mortgages.
Now Obama seems to want to change that, and redirect some money to the problem. But only $75 billion. Peanuts. $75 billion to help struggling homeowners is half of what we gave to the bankrupt insurance company AIG. It won’t make a dent. Housing prices are almost 20% lower across the board then they were last year, and last year they were almost 20% lower than the year before. One in three homeowners owes more on his or her house than it’s worth. How many of those people will keep paying their mortgage? This pathetic “rescue,” target of anger, villification, and self-righteousness all over the country, is nothing; an empty pathetic gesture at addressing the official problem.
It’s funny how people are suddenly so upset at having to “pay for their neighbor’s mortgage” but not at all that upset for having to pay for their neighborhood banks, pay for the car companies, pay for the insurance companies, not to mention allow their children and grandchildren to pay for all the government’s warmongering and pet projects, which dwarf the proposed mortgage bailout by 100 times. Nope, none of that is too upsetting, but damn all those people getting subsidized mortgages! Damn them straight to hell!
Today’s article of doom: Dow at 1997 levels. And don’t even try to factor in inflation.