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April 23, 2010

Slumdog Millionaire, Part III

Alex Rodriguez violated the unwritten code of conduct in baseball last night in Oakland when after Robinson Cano’s foul ball down the left field line, following his own one out single, he cut across the pitching mound and touched the pitching rubber on his return to first base, infuriating the pitcher Dallas Braden.

Braden yelled at Rodriguez, telling him to get off the mound. Rodriguez characterized the confrontation as “pretty funny, honestly.” According to the New York Times, he did not remember where he was running or whether he did, in fact, step on the rubber as he returned to first. ‘It’s not really a big deal,’ he said.”

According to the New York Times, Braden said of the New York Yankees. “It’s kind of disheartening to see that not show through, or be reflected by somebody of his status. They are an extremely classy organization with guys who always tend to do the right thing every time.”

To Braden, it was big deal. After the game, Braden said: “I don’t go over there and run laps at third base. I don’t spit over there. I stay away. You guys ever see anybody run across the mound like that? He ran across the pitcher’s mound. Foot on my rubber.”

This was the A-Rod who in Toronto in 2007 as a base runner called for a pop fly, violating the unwritten code of conduct. Whether written or unwritten, this A-Rod ignores all codes of conduct. Like with steroids. It was in October 2007 when Selena Roberts wrote: “Do you like the new A-Rod who doesn’t care if he is liked?”

Nothing had really changed.

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April 15, 2010

Those Tea Parties

In his book, “The Three Trillion War,” Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes state that the total economic impact of the Iraq War may be $4 trillion or more. And that was before the United States escalated things in Afghanistan.

Former White House economist Lawrence Lindsey was fired as economic adviser to President Bush partly because of his estimate of the dollar cost of the Iraq war. In an excerpt of his own book in Fortune magazine five years after, Lindsey wrote his projections were partly right. “My hypothetical estimate got the annual cost about right. But I misjudged an important factor: how long we would be involved.” Mr. Lindsey also stated his belief that one reasons the administration’s efforts were so unpopular was the choice not to engage in an open public discussion of the consequences of war, including its economic cost.”

Congressional Democrats had predicted the Iraq war would cost about $93 billion, not including reconstruction. Peter R. Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said, “It’s clear that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on longer and have been more expensive than the projections initially suggested,”

So far this has been a tax-free Iraq War, and not included in the Congressional Budget, as I recall a piece that was written in 2002. According to an item that ran on the MSN news page, the cost was carried over. I see little media coverage since that time indicting where the war shows up in the president’s budget.

William Nordhaus from Yale University wrote in the New York Review of Books in December 2002 in an article entitled “The Economic Consequences of War,” about the the long-term management of the economy, with the management of planning cycles. “The fabulous Nineties—with soaring stock market, falling unemployment, declining defense spending, budget surpluses, and bubbly optimism—were followed by the Bush administration which made no serious public estimate of the costs of the coming war. The public and the Congress are unable to make informed judgments about the realistic costs and benefits of the upcoming conflict when none are given. Particularly worrisome is the promise of postwar occupation, reconstruction, and nation-building in Iraq. If American taxpayers decline to pay the bills, this would leave a mountain of rubble and mobs of angry people in Iraq and the region. Closely related is a second syndrome, frequently found in past conflicts, of entering war prepared militarily but not economically. The finances of the nation have deteriorated sharply since George W. Bush took office. The annual federal budget has deteriorated by $360 billion from the spring of 2001 to the fall of 2002, and, even with a short war, budget deficits are likely to mount in coming years. The Bush administration has not prepared the public for the cost or the financing of what could prove to be an expensive venture.”

Nor has the Obama Administration. Market participants, wrote William Nordhaus in “The Story of the Bubble,” at this point do “remember how they lost $6 trillion on absurd and wildly overvalued speculations. A similar exuberance is unlikely to recur in the near future. More likely is an economy in which large federal budget deficits lead to cuts in existing civilian programs and doom critical priorities such as comprehensive health care.”

That tax-free Iraq War, as conceived by the Bush White House, was one ongoing economic consequences of war. There was now the subsequent tax-free Afghan War. These wars would soon change American history. Would you like to come over for tea?

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April 8, 2010

Valuations and Devaluations

Nicholas Cage. Pak Nam-Ki. Citibank’s former CEO. Tom Petters. Theo Epstein.

U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle, the judge in the Tom Petters’ trial, on sentencing Tom Petters for orchestrating a $3.7-billion Ponzi scheme, said: “You had to know.” Petters apologized to his family, friends and former employees.

In North Korean, restricting the amount that could be exchanged, the redenomination of the won on November 30, 2009, forced people to swap old banknotes for new ones at a rate of one hundred to one. On March 19, 2010, it was reported that the finance minister in North Korea was executed over too much inflation. Pak Nam-Ki was charged “with ruining the national economy deliberately as the son of a big landlord who infiltrated the ranks of revolutionaries,” Yonhap News Agency said. Pak was 77 years old when he was shot dead in the last few weeks at a military range in Pyongyang, after earlier being sacked as chief of the ruling communist party’s planning and finance department. There had been public anger at the inflation following the currency revaluation. A lot of anger. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service’s Won Sei-Hoon said the revaluation aggravated hunger, wiped out savings, and sparked riots after prices soared.

That is what happens after tinkering with currency. Or with the manipulations of systems.

At the start of his testimony, Charles “Chuck” Prince, the former Citigroup Inc chief executive, told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission “I am sorry.” His sorrow was for the problems that led Citigroup to be rescued by the government, while absolving himself of any personal responsibility for the $30 billion which eventually had to be off in collateralized-debt obligations.

In a foreclosure action for auction yesterday, bidding opened at the county courthouse in Pomona, California at $10.4 million on the property with a total of $18 million in loans, far less than the asked for price of $35 million on a property lost to foreclosure by Nicholas Cage, and in less than a minute the auction closed with no takers in the courthouse sale. Cage, who had earnings of $40 million last year according to Forbes, could not be reached for comment. In October, Cage filed suit against his former business manager, Samuel J. Levin for allegedly having “lined his pockets with several million dollars in business management fees” leading Cage down a “path toward financial ruin,” per the complaint. Levin did file his own countersuit, describing a spending binge by Cage “of epic proportions,” where by July 2008 Cage owned an island in the Bahamas, 15 palatial homes around the world, 4 yachts, a private Gulfstream jet, and millions in art and jewelry.

The Baltimore Orioles will pay just the $400,000 minimum of Julio Lugo’s $9 million salary this year, after a trade that sent him from St. Louis to Baltimore for a player to be named later. Or for cash. Lugo had come to St. Louis last summer in a trade between the Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. It had been the Red Sox who agreed to pay $8.6 million of Lugo’s $9 million salary this year. That Red Sox general manager had set a price for all baseball in the system of arbitration by paying this salary. As the world begins to deal with the economic fallout of pretend banks, of propped up collapsed banks, of balloons in real estate, a view into the affects of bubbles on baseball salaries is worth a longer look.

There is so much sweet sorrow around today as Tiger Woods steps up to the tee in Augusta. Where is the punishment in all of this?

Now no one is all over Theo Epstein in all of this. Yet. But when the day arrives when the ticket buying public, in times more reflective of the 1960s, realizes that baseball can be watched in person only by the wealthy, maybe the spotlight might be focused on why no one in the front offices were fighting the system. No one had been watching out for the blue collar fan for some time. As the bubble in valuations in New York and Boston slowly affected the franchises throughout the nation.

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February 18, 2010

Declarations of Bankruptcy

With the Wednesday anniversary of the $787-billion package of tax cuts and spending in the Recovery Act, in defense of the stimulus, President Obama said, “One year later, it is largely thanks to the Recovery Act that a second Depression is no longer a possibility.” Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington marked America’s legalized corruption by sniping at each other. Bankrupt after 8 years of the leadership of George Bush, Republican lawmakers stepped up their attacks on what was the Paulson-Bush stimulus plan, calling it wasteful and ineffective.

From an article by Simon Johnson in the Atlantic, America’s Legalized Corruption

“The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.”

From the transcript of Frontline on February 16, 2010:

We didn’t truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market,” says Brooksley Born, the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] — an obscure federal regulatory agency — who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country’s key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis.

They were totally opposed to it,” Born says. “That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?

They being the same people advising the current president. Then Assistant Treasury Secetary Lawrence Summers, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, as well as Alan Greespan heading up the Federal Reserve. And who did Timothy Geithner worked for through this all? As Henry Paulson got his start working in the Nixon White House; was it for Erhlichman or Haldeman? He learned under the best of hatchet men.

It had taken 40 years of the media making us all world experts, and this expertise along with the lobbyists had bankrupted American government. It was why I felt uncomfortable having my retirement accounts with Fidelity, with Merrill Lynch, with Morgan Stanley. They all had hijacked the government of the United States, through the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

One year later, President Obama was sounding a lot like George Bush, announcing victory in Iraq. Or Henry Paulson and Ben Ben Bernanke, with their similar pronouncements all along, when the Bush Administration on July 13, 2008 rescued Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Bear Stearns. When that second Depression “was no longer a possibility.”

The Congressional Oversight Panel, chaired by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, warned on the same anniversary date that it remains “deeply concerned” that commercial loan losses could jeopardize the stability of many banks, particularly the nation’s mid-size and smaller banks. Highlighting yet one more hurdle for this country’s fragile economy, a wave of commercial real estate loan failures could threaten over the next few years America’s already-weakened financial system. The Congressional Oversight Panel was formed as part of oversight for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

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December 16, 2009

Burning Bright

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Twas the night of Thanksgiving and all through his house

Tiger came flying, chased by his spouse.

She wielded a nine iron and wasn’t real merry,

After a bimbo’s cell number was found on a Blackberry.

With a harem, he had cheated on Swede wife Elin,

As each day passed by, another floozie came squealing.

On Holly, on Jaimee, on Rachel, on Cori,

On Joselyn, and Kalika, TMZ had the story.

From the top of the world to above the fold,

Tiger Woood’s sorted tale was told.

With waitresses, VIP Services, there was lots of sex,

And when he wasn’t hosing them, he sent them hot texts.

He crashed his Caddy, but didn’t call OnStar,

Yet he played “spank me daddy” with a skanky old porn star.

He’s been so naughty that with Santa he hadn’t a chance,

Except the big lump of coal that matches the lump in his pants.

But despite all his crying and begging and pleading,

Elin went out and bought a new home in Sweden.

As I heard she’s not pouting, in fact she’s of good cheer,

Because the pre-nup made Christmas come early this year. – STOLEN, AUTHOR UNKNOWN

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
William Blake

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October 28, 2009

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

In January 2009, UnitedHealth based in Minnetonka, Minnesota agreed to shut down their Ingenix database and settled a lawsuit with the New York Attorney General by paying $50 million, it was reported in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. According to an item in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, the investigation by the New York Attorney’s General office uncovered a fraudulent and conflict-of-interest-ridden reimbursement system, which the state of New York then proceeded to replace with a not-for-profit company, FAIR Health Inc., to be headquartered at Syracuse University.

That $50 million was used to form a new, independent database at Syracuse University. After settlements with other similar companies, the New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday
a new independent database for consumer reimbursement as part of this Upstate research network in what sounds to be a reformed plan for Ingenix’s health care reimbursement database. Only this time allegedly with “transparency, accountability and fairness.” Funded by the litigation of Mr. Cuomo. Offering no defense of the operations at UnitedHealth here, public policy in New York apparently involves using the courts to transfer jobs to their state under the umbrella of the health care debate?

This new research network, reportedly funded with nearly $100 million in settlement money recovered during an investigation by Cuomo’s office into how the health-insurance industry reimburses consumers for out-of-network health care charges, “will develop a new Web site where for the first time consumers can compare prices before they choose their doctors.”

This is an innovative way for state government to create new jobs in their own state.

October 2, 2009

48 Hours

Letterman Hush money.

The Telegraph had the news of David Letterman’s revelation that he had sexual relationships with female employees of his show. Letterman said after his monologue last night on the air that he had received a demand by an alleged extortionist, according to CBS an employee of “48 Hours,” to either pay $2 million or risk his relationships being made public.

Letterman’s own production company according to the Los Angeles Times, does have a sexual harassment policy in place which does not prohibit sexual relationships between managers and employees, said a spokesman for Worldwide Pants.

After making a living off as a comic over Monica Lewinsky and Eliot Spitzer jokes, Letterman put the spin that the real story was about extortion, and the “threat” to him over his “creepy behavior.” According to Nick Allen of the The, during the CBS “Late Show with David Letterman,” Letterman revealed earlier that day he appeared before a grand jury about an alleged extortion attempt connected to his sexual liasons with women who worked for him which would clearly involve issues of sexual harassment in his admitted “creepy stuff…relationships.”

The Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, with a perceived timing orchestrated by Worldwide Pants, held a press conference within 14 hours to announce the specifics, revealing charges brought against CBS News producer Robert “Joe” Halderman.

Worldwide Pants. Caught without their pants on. “We have a written policy in our employee manual that covers harassment. It is circulated to every employee every year. Dave is not in violation of our policy and no one has ever raised a complaint against him.” So said the statement. Letterman’s own production company. Letterman did not believe in sexual harassment? He was an agnostic when it came to sexual harassment? What about the people who did not get the promotions that his staffers got in the Worldwide Pants world?

Thursday CBS said the “48 Hours” employee charged with attempted grand larceny was suspended from his job. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in a press conference revealed the charges against CBS News producer Robert “Joe”Halderman. Mr. Halderman has not gotten the same public forum to address the world that Letterman was given about his alleged wrong doing. There also was no word on how CBS was dealing with the issues of sexual harassment, if corporate policy was violated. What a time for those human resource staffers. Apparently CBS feels extortion from an entertainment star was a worse offense than sexual harassment of female staffers, or the collateral damage of sexual harassment.

Fox News New York has reported that according to a search warrant, Robert “Joe” Halderman’s girlfriend Stephanie Birkitt was one of the women that Letterman slept with. According to Fox News New York, Ms. Birkitt is Letterman’s former assistant. Fox News New York has reported that the search warrant states the package Halderman sent Letterman contained copies of parts of Stephanie Birkitt’s diary and correspondence.

Entertainment Tonight showed later featured appearances of Stephanie Birkitt over the years on “Late Show with David Letterman” from venues like the Winter Olympics.

Letterman was quoted on his show as saying: “I was worried for myself. I was worried for my family. I felt menaced by this. And I had to tell them all of the creepy things that I had done.

According to Nick Allen of the The, “The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.”

Letterman described how three weeks ago he had got in his car early in the morning, found a letter within a package saying: “I know that you do some terrible, terrible things and that I can prove you do some terrible things.” The package contained the proof, Letterman said. He called his lawyer to set up a meeting with the alleged extortionist, with two subsequent meetings, the last one resulting in the delivery of the fake check. Robert “Joe” Halderman allegedly had threatened to write a screenplay and a book about him unless Halderman was given money.

According to Nick Allen, Letterman admitted on Late Night Show Thursday night to having “had sex with women who work with me on this show. My response to that is yes, I have. Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Yes, it would. Especially for the women.”

According to Nick Allen of the The, after telling all to his audience Letterman lightened the mood. “I know what you’re saying. I’ll be darned – Dave had sex.”

So it was about hush money? The bizarre experience? The audience had scattered laughter throughout the confession.

Yeah. On with the show.

“It’s been a very bizarre experience. I felt like I needed to protect these people. I need to protect my family. I need to protect myself. Hope to protect my job.”

The bizarre experience! For the audience. An inappropriate place to make the revelation, by a host with an inappropriate sensibility about himself. A repeat offender. Someone who had to be making overtures. But on with the show. Before we gave it all too much thought. One-liners.

It might be a while before the president is going to be booking an appearance again.

Maybe Bill Clinton will show up next week to offer some support. Or guest Host Elliot Spitzer? What a time for those staffers trying to line up guests for next week.

The age of television. Performance enhancement egos and salaries. As people get bigger than the game, over time.

November 15, 2014 Post Script:
dateline NEW YORK – Bill Cosby’s upcoming appearance on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” has been canceled amid a growing uproar over allegations that he sexually assaulted several women in past decades.

I originally thought that even five years later, Bill Cosby was showing the high road, refusing to appear with David Letterman over the clear violations of sexual harassment at the Letterman-owned World-Wide Pants Production Company. It had been on Mother’s Day ten years ago that I heard Bill Cosby calling for African-American men to marry the women that they impregnated and to become involved in the lives of their children. With the unusual increase in readership in the past few days of this blog posting, it is worth remembering that the Telegraph story first mentioned that Letterman’s revelation was that he had sexual relationships with female employees — plural — of his show. And what is common in both long-time shows is that the stars had successful production companies, to keep control of their worlds — as Bill Cosby came to own 33 percent of Carsey-Werner Productions, the vanguard independent production company which resisted affiliation with a major network or distributor that continues to hold the rights to the brand name of the show still in world-wide syndication. In the era of free agents, as those show business stars get bigger than the game, in this era of Vigara sponsorship of prime time television, in the era of net neutrality, those production companies have a way of controlling the spotlight; the spotlight however is not on the aging host of late night television but on an older star. Somehow in old age, Cosby has not been able to side-step the criticism of the media that David Letterman had been so apt to do, with the help of the Manhattan District Attorney, on issues not much different than sex trafficking in any form, or in allegations made and proven against Thomas Jefferson.

The ‘reserve clause’ was still around in the new system like at Carsey-Werner. Belief that is spread by behavior. As your belief that you owned your employees was replaced in a world with lost belief, with no “reserve.”

Ironically, this had all started as Cosby solicited from the public their memes. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, like the one described “in order to form a more perfect union.” According to Wikipedia, a meme “becomes a behavior that spreads from person to person within a culture.”


August 2, 2009

Those Dog Days of August

There was a true revolution in the world markets last September that anyone buying stocks last week seems to have missed. The new world order was now all about social engineering on capitalism. It was only the start, back in September. Bill Gross is the Warren Buffet of the bond market and his PIMCO website with current outlook is must reading.

The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash is by Charles R. Morris, a former banker who “comes to his conclusions based on objectivity, knowledge, and lucid thought.” He wrote this book before the 2008 market collapse which I have not read. I have however read a few pieces by Mr. Morris over the last 12 months, as he is on occasion featured in the Jesuit magazine America.

Credit is the air that financial markets breathe, and when the air is poisoned, there’s no place to hide.” –
Charles R. Morris

With an estimate that 20% of the population was really unemployed, there is no reason for the optimism reflected at July’s end in the Wall Street indexes. The procedure for identifying ends of a recession is by looking at when the contraction ends. Per the Wall Street Journal, “The elements that will drive a recovery –rising wages, consumer demand, production and sales — haven’t appeared.”

Government fears throughout the world are that of deflation, because they have no arrows in their quiver to fight it, when it occurs. Paul Virgen wrote on July 31st in the Wall Street Journal that economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires estimate the Commerce Department’s GDP report later today likely would show a contraction of about 1.5% for the second quarter, a less-severe decline than the first quarter’s 5.5% figure.

For me the word contraction is a synonym for “DEFLATION.”

Credit markets froze between September 15th and October 7th when Congress was voting on bailouts, while the battle of ideology was going on between the credit markets and the equity markets as reflected in the spread of about 3.0 percent in the LIBOR rate which one bank charged another bank. That is 3.0 higher than the Fed rate at the time, an unheard of differential. Banks in that environment, no matter the moves put on by the Treasury, were not buying in to the bailout in October 2008. When everything was overvalued, why lend money? So government came to the rescue. Because of government fear about DEFLATION.

I continue to live in a neighborhood where real estate values have barely budged, where the bubble has not burst. The American illusion persists. About values.

Read the current Atlantic Monthly piece about Dr. Doom. Learn about the economist, Hyman Minsky. Read Paul Krugman’s piece now 4 years old. ‘The news that the US housing bubble is over won’t come in the form of plunging prices….” He won the last Pulitizer prize in economics.

On May 2009, Paul McCulley of PIMCO wrote, “The longer people make money by taking risk, the more imprudent they become in risk-taking. While they’re doing that, it’s self-fulfilling on the way up. If everybody is simultaneously becoming more risk-seeking, that brings in risk premiums, drives up the value of collateral, increases the ability to lever and the game keeps going. Human nature is inherently pro-cyclical, and that’s essentially what the Minsky thesis is all about.”

Hyman Minsky was an economist who has gained a lot of disciples over the past few years. He wrote about bubbles that occur in an economy. He theorized that a bubble begins with displacement caused by a significant invention, like the internet. A displacement creates profitable opportunities in any given affected sector but, rather than invention alone, financial innovation is necessary for access to cheap credit before a kick-off to an over-trading phase. Euphoria ensues as people pile into the sector, with a driving demand to affect higher prices, often with borrowed money. Ponzi’ investors join in speculation that someone will buy their assets at higher prices. But markets eventually, whether due to lenders tightening lending criteria or insiders selling out, hit a peak. Panic then sets in. With a stampede out of the market, bankruptcies ensue.

That was why credit markets froze in September 2008. Bankers who have always been conservative. Do you know any? They were not buying into the social engineering on capitalism. There was a revolution in capitalism with this bailout. No one wanted to purchase shares in these banks that were illiquid. Based on the value of real estate, there was a bubble. A huge illusion about valuations of homes. The banks owned all the real estate. And it is said that the banks in Europe were in worse shape. In September 2008, bankers neither trusted the balance sheet of another bank nor the government. Thus the state of the credit markets. Bankers understood too well the persisting illusion.

By the end of October 2008, more than half of the U.S. banks were pretend banks. With no capital. Citibank. Bank of America. Wachovia. The bailout has worked to avoid an immediate collapse that would have had consequences worse than in Russia in 1906. Or in Russia in 1917. The panic, the revolution did not occur as a result of a couple years of events. Immediately.

“If drugs continue to be injected which mask symptoms rather than address the disease (medicine in the form of debt destruction), the likelihood of a seismic readjustment increases in kind, writes Todd Harrison, about the dollar. “As governments take on more risk” as they price assets on behalf of the market and transfer debt from private to public, “the common denominator, or release valve, becomes the currency.”

Some facts:

World GDP $47 trillion
World stock valuation $121 trillion
Bond market $85 trillion
Credit derivatives $473 trillion

There would be turmoil in currencies in the coming year as a consequence of the political fallout over American debt, before this was over. It was all because there was $460 trillion to $560 trillion in derivatives, and there is not enough money in the world to keep the system of capitalism going. The social engineering last September was all about government trying to keep capitalism going. Those derivatives, not backed up by reserves. When the laws of survival of the fittest in the market place had been always about letting systems collapse.

These news items in July 2009 you might have missed:

“Joining the growing chorus questioning the U.S. dollar’s unofficial position as global reserve currency, in India, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, Suresh Tendulkar, is urging India to diversify its foreign-exchange reserves and hold fewer dollars,” according to Bloomberg News.

“Zeng Peiyan, the head of China Center for International Economic Exchanges and the former Chinese Vice-Premier, in a speech in Beijing on Friday called for a new system to ensure the stability of the major reserve currencies,” the China Daily reported.

“To prevent speculative and manipulative attacks on their currencies, the world’s central banks must acquire and hold dollar reserves in corresponding amounts to their currencies in circulation. The higher the market pressure to devalue a particular currency, the more dollar reserves its central bank must hold. This creates a built-in support for a strong dollar that in turn forces the world’s central banks to acquire and hold more dollar reserves, making it stronger.” –2008 piece by Henry Liu

“Tensions mounting between the People’s Bank of China’s economic concerns over China’s holdings of dollars, with the earlier call by central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan for the development of a new super-sovereign currency largely taking the place of the dollar, and the Chinese government, with their “diplomatic reasons” for toning down their criticism, said Stephen Gallo, head of market analysis at Schneider Foreign Exchange. The Chinese government is still more happy to play to the tune of the Bernanke-Geithner camp which sees leaning against the wind in order to protect the U.S. dollar as a necessary evil,” Gallo said.”

And in April 2009, the head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a statement published on its website that banks need to guard against making risky loans and instead focus more on sustainable lending practices. Banks must be “on high alert for the accumulation of hidden risks as loans surge,” Liu Mingkang said. According to published reports in remarks made at the Boao Forum for Asia, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last spring called for more surveillance of countries that issue major reserve currencies. That would be the United States. This statement comes on the heels of discussion at the G20 meeting of a new world currency. There is growing distrust of America and the politics involved in our currency. Last spring in an essay published on the central bank’s web site, the head of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, proposed the creation a new international reserve currency. Seeking to expand currency swap agreements that are seen as a step toward eventually making the yuan more of a global reserve asset, Wen said, “We should give full play to bilateral currency swap agreements and will study expanding currency swaps in scale and to more countries.”

“There is no chance that a nation as reputationally scarred and maimed as the US is today, could extract any true ‘alpha’ from foreign investors for the next 25 years or so. So the US will have to start to pay a normal market price for the net resources it borrows from abroad. It will therefore have to start to generate primary surpluses, on average, for the indefinite future. A nation with credibility as regards its commitment to meeting its obligations could afford to delay the onset of the period of pain. It could borrow more from abroad today, because foreign creditors and investors are confident that, in due course, the country would be willing and able to generate the (correspondingly larger) future primary external surpluses required to service its external obligations. I don’t believe the US has either the external credibility or the goodwill capital any longer to ask, Oliver Twist-like, for a little more leeway, a little more latitude. I believe that markets – both the private players and the large public players managing the foreign exchange reserves of the PRC, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Gulf states, Japan and other nations – will make this clear.

“Keynesian demand stimulus may work for a while (a couple of years, say). When the consequences for the public debt of both the Keynesian stimulus and the realization of the losses from the assets and commitments the Fed and the Treasury have taken onto their balance sheets become apparent, the demand stimulus will fade and may be reserved as precautionary behavior takes over in the private sector. My recommendation is to go easy on the fiscal stimulus. The US government is ill-placed financially and fiscally, to engage in short-term fiscal heroics. All they can really do is pray for a stronger-than-expected revival of global demand, without any major stimulus from the US.” -Willem H. Buiter of the European Institute, Professor of European Political Economy, London School of Economics and Political Science

William McChesney Martin was the Fed’s chairman from 1951 through 1970. Martin said his job as central-bank chief was “to take away the punchbowl just as the party gets going” to keep the economy from overheating. Paul McCulley said that the government’s efforts to aid financial firms in effect are reversing this well-known quip. “Now they are actually creating ‘punchbowl banks’ where you have the equity coming in from the Treasury,” McCulley said. “They are de facto banks owned by the Treasury and funded by the Fed. If the U.S. is putting its ‘full faith and credit’ behind the liabilities of the various financial institutions, then I want to be a co-investor with Uncle Sam, which is another way of saying I want to invest with the American taxpayer. It sounds a little like socialism only because it is.” The government’s attempts to revive lending have led policy makers to use taxpayer money to recreate “the shadow banking system,” he said.

According to Pimm Fox and Daniel Kruger, “So far, that has included expanding the Fed’s assets to $2.2 trillion, injecting $270 billion of capital into what Paul McCulley called ‘punchbowl banks,’ and promising to buy $600 billion in mortgage securities related to government-sponsored enterprises.” The government’s attempts to revive lending have led policy makers to use taxpayer money to recreate “the shadow banking system,” he said. Before the start of the financial crisis in August 2007, that comprised institutions which lacked access to the Fed’s discount window and whose customer accounts were not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

So that 12 months later, we are all back to where the world was, with just a little more transparency, recreating “the shadow banking system.”
Money always seemed to affect the outcome of elections.

In June 2009 there was a summit of the world’s four largest emerging economies, as leaders from of China, India Russia, and Brazil met in Yekaterinburg, Russia to discuss reforming the global financial system and lessening reliance on the United States. These four countries hold nearly 40 percent of the world’s currency reserves and make up 15 percent of the global economy.

A joint BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) statement issued before the summit expressed a commitment to advance the reform of international financial institutions so as to reflect changes in the world economy. The statement said. “The emerging and developing economies must have a greater voice and representation in international financial institutions,” calling for a greater role for developing nations in global financial institutions and the United Nations. Leaders discussed investing their reserves in one another’s bonds, swapping reserve currencies and increasing the role of Special Drawing Rights, an international reserve asset. Discussions took place earlier in the day in the Urals city at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization about the creation of a supranational currency and lessening global reliance on the U.S. dollar. President Dmitry Medvedev was an outspoken a critic of the current world financial system, reserving his most bold comments for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. “There cannot be a successful global currency system if the financial instruments it uses are denominated in only one currency, which is the case today. And that currency is the dollar.”

But the idea of replacing the dollar found little traction with China, which holds $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves.

Other notable quotes this year, not dealing with currency:

“With stocks tied to bonds, bonds tied to housing, housing tied to the credit crisis, and everyone hitched to the government, this was all like the conga line to the poor house.” -Craig Rappaport, wealth manager at Janney Montgomery Scott

Bob Prince hedge fund manager of Bridgewater Associates, on downward spirals: “The pressure on corporate margins is now passing through to employment cuts. Employment cuts will reduce incomes which will raise defaults. Rising defaults will hinder bank capital adequacy, which will constrain credit growth, which will slow spending, which will hurt profit margins, then employment. This chain of events was virtually sealed when demand dropped off the table in October, although it was highly probable earlier this year when credit conditions deteriorated rapidly. We are now in the middle of it and there really isn’t much that anyone can do besides hang on.”

“My transgenerational stock market outlook is this: stocks are cheap when valued within the context of a financed-based economy once dominated by leverage, cheap financing, and even lower corporate tax rates. That world, however, is in our past not our future. More regulation, lower leverage, higher taxes, and a lack of entrepreneurial testosterone are what we must get used to – that and a government checkbook that allows for healing, but crowds the private sector into an awkward and less productive corner. Dow 5,000? We don’t have to go there if current domestic and global policies are focused on asset price support and eventual recapitalization of lending institutions. But 14,000 is a stretch as well. One only has to recognize that roughly 20% of bank capital is now owned by the U.S. government and that a near proportionate share of profits will flow in that direction as well. Better to own corporate bonds than corporate stocks, but that’s a story for another Investment Outlook.” -William H. Gross , Managing Director, PIMCO, December 1, 2008

Bill Gross, in October 2008: “What we are witnessing is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August 2007.

I have never taken creative accounting….full disclosure. But anyone who was investing might recognize that the greatest opportunity to make money is now in the credit markets and not equities.

Now about the political consequences over the social engineering on capitalism which would be studied in history books in a thousand years, if the world survived this mess……. oh, that’s another lecture.

July 25, 2009

Those Domestic Situations

The New York Times reports today that the Bush administration in 2002 considered sending U.S. troops into a Buffalo, N.Y., suburb to arrest a group of terror suspects in what would have been a nearly unprecedented use of military power.

According to U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said that as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pushed for the Wall Street bailout in September 2008, he brought up that that the crisis might even require a declaration of martial law, as a worst-case scenario.

The Associated Press notes that dispatching troops into the streets is virtually unheard of. “The Constitution and various laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.”

A 1994 U.S. Defense Department Directive (DODD 3025) allegedly allows military commanders to take emergency actions in domestic situations to save lives, prevent suffering or mitigate great property damage. The Clinton administration had set up the Joint Task Force-Civil Support in October 1999 as a “homeland defense command.”

In 2002 the Pentagon established the U.S. Northern Command, charged with carrying out military operations within the United States. Prior to this, under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, the U.S. armed forces had been barred from domestic operations, except in specific, limited circumstances.

So that Associated Press note about “dispatching troops into the streets as virtually unheard of” is a historic note. It is a mistake to say the “constitution and various laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.”

Pentagon officials at one point to end 2008 were projecting some 20,000 active-duty U.S. troops to be stationed in the United States by 2011.

July 17, 2009

Summer Recess

The outlook on future economic behavior: One in five people in California who desire full time work are not now working. That rate reached 23.5 percent Oregon this spring,, 21.5 percent in both Michigan and Rhode Island, and 20.3 percent in California according to a New York Times analysis of state-by-state data. The rate was just under 20 percent this spring in Tennessee and Nevada.

Mortimer Zuckerman, the chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report wrote today in the Wall Street Journal: “Unemployment has doubled to 9.5% from 4.8% in only 16 months, a rate so fast it may influence future economic behavior and outlook. How could this happen when Washington has thrown trillions of dollars into the pot, including the famous $787 billion in stimulus spending that was supposed to yield $1.50 in growth for every dollar spent? State budgets are drowning in red ink as jobless claims and Medicaid bills climb. Next year state budgets will have depleted their initial rescue dollars. Absent another rescue plan, they will have no choice but to slash spending, raise taxes, or both. As paychecks shrink and disappear, consumers are more hesitant to spend. The combination of a weak job picture and a severe credit crunch means that people won’t be able to get the financing for big expenditures, and those who can borrow will be reluctant to do so. The paycheck has returned as the primary source of spending. Businesses will not start to hire nor race to make capital expenditures when they have vast idle capacity.”

I would not be buying stocks with this kind of economic forecast. The next 12 months are going to be the hardest in 70 years. And in my view, Congress and the president have the same insight into how to resolve pending current affairs as FEMA did during Hurricane Katrina.

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