Monday, January 4, 2010

January 4 2010: Get the hell out of Dodge

William Henry Jackson Eureka! 1900
Eureka, Colorado

Ilargi: Right, Americans and their economy. Well, it's an ideal situation, isn’t it? Every marketeer’s wet dream. That is, through appealing to people's need and desire for hope and good tidings, you succeed in making them believe that they will benefit from the very things that hurt them more than anything else in the world. You have them convinced that black is white. This is what the US government, media, and big industry are pulling off, and since they do it so well, nary a soul is any the wiser for it. You use their very own cash to deceive them, by boosting markets for a while, which makes them believe the future is rosy, and you can use the resulting economic lull to take as much of their wealth as you can possibly carry.

All it takes to convey the positive message and image are rising stock markets and still bad but slightly less awful unemployment and housing numbers. That’s how desperate people are for their hope. They’ll believe just about anything. They don’t even want to know that these somewhat positive numbers have been bought with their own money. That banks haven't tumbled yet simply and only because their losses have been transferred to public accounts.

And you've got to give it to the marketeers: it's not yet 100% sure that the US economy will crash, and all hope asks for is a 1% window. At least theoretically, the US can still get out from underneath its debt yoke. It would probably have to grow its economy by over 10% or so for the next three decades or so, which is, to put it mildly, not bleeding likely, but it's not 100% impossible. Play your story line the right way, hand them some words they can believe in who are so eager to believe, and the people will let you rob them blind in broad daylight. And give you an encouraging smile and pat on the back for working so hard while you're at it.

There is no better way to summarize the year we just left behind, 2009, nor the way 2010 has started. And it's brilliant.

It's of course nothing new that once inside the government, you can get to play with lots of other people's money, but still, for those that run these games and marketing campaigns it must have been a profound Aha-Erlebnis, a Eureka moment, when they realized there really wasn't any restriction that would force them to stop when the average US citizen's balance sheet read zero. That that was just the beginning, and taking control of the government effectively means you can push the average US citizens' balance sheet into breathtakingly deep negative territory, nobody has even pointed out a limit yet, so deep that you can plunge Americans into far greater debt than they will ever be able to pay off in their entire lives, just by assuming control of the government. America as a bottomless pit. As long as they don't notice it, or don’t recognize it for what it is, and as long as you tell them it’s for their own good, you can keep at it for quite a while. Need a higher debt ceiling? Congress will never vote you down, because the show must go on. And if you can't be bothered with Congress, there's always Christmas Eve.

And whether it’s the fact that about one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card (on top of the many millions who get only a $200-$300 monthly unemployment benefit), or whether it's the Christmas Eve move to free Fannie and Freddie from all monetary constraints, or the recent measures to prevent an apparently expected and feared run on money market funds from materializing, all of it fits one and the same playbook. If you choose to not understand that, and instead focus on another fleeting high on Wall Street, I would by now be mighty tempted to say that you are welcome to what you got coming.

You can sell a president through an effective marketing campaign. You can also sell his policies the same way. Neither the man nor the measures need truthfully be anything like the image you paint of them, no more than a car or a detergent need anything but a feel-good recognition factor. Both the person and the acts only need to resemble as much as possible what people would like them to be. The best liar wins. The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing.. if you can fake that, you've got it made, said Groucho. That’s not some sort of accident, it's what the country was built on.

And they only need to do it for as long as it takes to move all gambling debt magically off the books of the players and onto the national public balance sheet. Then when the loot has been loaded into the get-away planes, trains and automobiles, they will get the hell out of Dodge and slip away like so many thieves in the night as literally as they can. Après ça, le deluge.

Gerald Celente: 2010 Market Trends

This Is The Government: Your Legal Right To Redeem Your Money Market Account Has Been Denied
When Henry Paulson publishes his long-awaited memoirs, the one section that will be of most interest to readers, will be the former Goldmanite and Secretary of the Treasury's recollection of what, in his opinion, was the most unpredictable and dire consequence of letting Lehman fail (letting his former employer become the number one undisputed Fixed Income trading entity in the world was quite predictable... plus we doubt it will be a major topic of discussion in Hank's book).

We would venture to guess that the Reserve money market fund breaking the buck will be at the very top of the list, as the ensuing "run on the electronic bank" was precisely the 21st century equivalent of what happened to banks in physical form, during the early days of the Geat Depression. Had the lack of confidence in the system persisted for a few more hours, the entire financial world would have likely collapsed, as was so vividly recalled by Rep. Paul Kanjorski, once a barrage of electronic cash withdrawal requests depleted this primary spoke of the entire shadow economy. Ironically, money market funds are supposed to be the stalwart of safety and security among the plethora of global investment alternatives: one need only to look at their returns to see what the presumed composition of their investments is.

A case in point, Fidelity's $137 billion Cash Reserves fund has a return of 0.61% YTD, truly nothing to write home about, and a return that would have been easily beaten putting one's money in Treasury Bonds. This is not surprising, as the primary purpose of money markets is to provide virtually instantaneous access to a portfolio of practically risk-free investment alternatives: a typical investor in a money market seeks minute investment risk, no volatility, and instantaneous liquidity, or redeemability. These are the three pillars upon which the entire $3.3 trillion money market industry is based.

Yet new regulations proposed by the administration, and specifically by the ever-incompetent Securities and Exchange Commission, seek to pull one of these three core pillars from the foundation of the entire money market industry, by changing the primary assumptions of the key Money Market Rule 2a-7.

A key proposal in the overhaul of money market regulation suggests that money market fund managers will have the option to "suspend redemptions to allow for the orderly liquidation of fund assets."

You read that right: this does not refer to the charter of procyclical, leveraged, risk-ridden, transsexual (allegedly) portfolio manager-infested hedge funds like SAC, Citadel, Glenview or even Bridgewater (which in light of ADIA's latest batch of problems, may well be wishing this was in fact the case), but the heart of heretofore assumed safest and most liquid of investment options: Money Market funds, which account for nearly 40% of all investment company assets.

The next time there is a market crash, and you try to withdraw what you thought was "absolutely" safe money, a back office person will get back to you saying, "Sorry - your money is now frozen. Bank runs have become illegal." This is precisely the regulation now proposed by the administration. In essence, the entire US capital market is now a hedge fund, where even presumably the safest investment tranche can be locked out from within your control when the ubiquitous "extraordinary circumstances" arise. The second the game of constant offer-lifting ends, and money markets are exposed for the ponzi investment proxies they are, courtesy of their massive holdings of Treasury Bills, Reverse Repos, Commercial Paper, Agency Paper, CD, finance company MTNs and, of course, other money markets, and you decide to take your money out, well - sorry, you are out of luck. It's the law.

Ilargi: Then there's a part where "the Tyler Durdens" offer a lengthy explanation (too long to quote here) of the state, legal status, future and changing regulations (re: SEC) of money market funds. If you have the stomach, I'd say don't miss it. It’s both very well written and very informative on a field of financial regulation that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. To wit:
[..] what the SEC is proposing is simple - the entire market structure has been converted to a hedge fund. When investors hear the word "suspend redemptions" they envisioned a battered, pro-cyclical, leveraged, permabullish hedge fund, that suddenly "found itself" down 30, 40, 50 or more percent, and to avoid instantaneous liquidation, had to bar redemptions.

Forgive us, but is the SEC confirming that the entire market is now one big casino, one big government subsidized hedge fund, where as long as things go up, all is good, but the second things take a leg down, just like any ponzi, nobody will be allowed to pull their money? Maybe Madoff should have created the same redemption suspension: his fund would still be alive and thriving, now that the government has become the biggest ponzi conductor of all time.

And nobody would have been the wiser. But instead, the Securities and Exchange Commission, in discussions with the Group of 30, Barney Frank, and any other conflicted individuals who only care about protecting their own money for one more year, has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to make money markets a complete scam. And this is the gist of regulatory reform in America.

At this point it is without doubt that even the government understands that when things turn sour, and they will, the run on the bank will be unavoidable: their solution - prevent money from being dispensed, when that moment comes. The thing about crises, be they liquidity, solvency, or plain-vanilla, is that "price discovery" occurs all at once, and at the very same time. And all too often, investors "discover" they were lied to, as the emperor, in any fiat system, always has no clothes.

Just like in September 2008, when the banks were forced to look at each-others' balance sheet and realize that there are no real assets on the left backing up the liabilities on the right, so the moment of enlightenment occurs are the most importune time: just ask Hank Paulson. Had he known his action of beefing up Goldman's FICC trading axes would have resulted in the "Ice-Nine'ing" (to borrow a Mark Pittman term) of money markets, who knows- maybe Lehman would have still been alive. Perhaps risking the cash access of 20% of US households and 80% of companies was not worth the few extra zeroes in Goldman's EPS.

But we will never know. What we will know, is that now i) the government is all too aware that the market has become one huge ponzi, and that all investment vehicles, even the safest ones, are subject to bank runs, and ii) that said bank runs, will occur. It is only a matter of time. And just as the president told everyone directly to buy the market on March 3, so the SEC, the Group of 30, and Barney Frank are telling us all , much less directly, to get the hell out of Dodge. Alternatively, the game of "last fool in", holding the burning hot potato, can continue indefinitely, until such time as the marginal utility of each and every dollar printed by Ben Bernanke is zero.

Global Bear Rally Of 2009 Will End As Japan's Hyperinflation Rips Economy To Pieces
by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Milton Keynes will be vindicated. Lord Keynes will lose some of his new-found gloss. The Krugman doctrine that we should all spend our way back to health by pushing deficits to the brink of a debt spiral – or beyond the brink – will be seen as dangerous. The contraction of M3 money in the US and Europe over the last six months will slowly puncture economic recovery as 2010 unfolds, with the time-honoured lag of a year or so. Ben Bernanke will be caught off guard, just as he was in mid-2008 when the Fed drove straight through a red warning light with talk of imminent rate rises – the final error that triggered the implosion of Lehman, AIG, and the Western banking system.

As the great bear rally of 2009 runs into the greater Chinese Wall of excess global capacity, it will become clear that we are in the grip of a 21st Century Depression – more akin to Japan's Lost Decade than the 1840s or 1930s, but nothing like the normal cycles of the post-War era. The surplus regions (China, Japan, Germania, Gulf ) have not increased demand enough to compensate for belt-tightening in the deficit bloc (Anglo-sphere, Club Med, East Europe), and fiscal adrenalin is already fading in Europe. The vast East-West imbalances that caused the credit crisis are no better a year later, and perhaps worse. Household debt as a share of GDP sits near record levels in two-fifths of the world economy. Our long purge has barely begun. That is the elephant in the global tent.

We will be reminded too that the West's fiscal blitz – while vital to halt a self-feeding crash last year – has merely shifted the debt burden onto sovereign shoulders, where it may do more harm in the end if handled with the sort of insouciance now on display in Britain. Yields on AAA German, French, US, and Canadian bonds will slither back down for a while in a fresh deflation scare. Exit strategies will go back into the deep freeze. Far from ending QE, the Fed will step up bond purchases. Bernanke will get religion again and ram down 10-year Treasury yields, quietly targeting 2.5pc. The funds will try to play the liquidity game yet again, piling into crude, gold, and Russian equities, but this time returns will be meagre. They will learn to respect secular deflation.

Weak sovereigns will buckle. The shocker will be Japan, our Weimar-in-waiting. This is the year when Tokyo finds it can no longer borrow at 1pc from a captive bond market, and when it must foot the bill for all those fiscal packages that seemed such a good idea at the time. Every auction of JGBs will be a news event as the public debt punches above 225pc of GDP. Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii will become as familiar as a rock star. Once the dam breaks, debt service costs will tear the budget to pieces. The Bank of Japan will pull the emergency lever on QE. The country will flip from deflation to incipient hyperinflation.

The yen will fall out of bed, outdoing China's yuan in the beggar-thy-neighbour race to the bottom. By then China too will be in a quandary. Wild credit growth can mask the weakness of its mercantilist export model for a while, but only at the price of an asset bubble. Beijing must hit the brakes this year, or store up serious trouble. It will make as big a hash of this as Western central banks did in 2007-2008. The European Central Bank will stick to its Wagnerian course, standing aloof as ugly loan books set off wave two of Europe's banking woes. The Bundesbank will veto proper QE until it is too late, deeming it an implicit German bail-out for Club Med.

More hedge funds will join the EMU divergence play, betting that the North-South split has gone beyond the point of no return for a currency union. This will enrage the Eurogroup. Brussels will dust down its paper exploring the legal basis for capital controls. Italy's Giulio Tremonti will suggest using EU terror legislation against "speculators". Wage cuts will prove a self-defeating policy for Club Med, trapping them in textbook debt-deflation. The victims will start to notice this. Articles will appear in the Greek, Spanish, and Portuguese press airing doubts about EMU. Eurosceptic professors will be ungagged. Heresy will spread into mainstream parties. Greece's Prime Minister Papandréou will balk at EMU immolation . The Hellenic Socialists will call Europe's bluff, extracting loans that gain time but solve nothing. Berlin will climb down and pay, but only once: thereafter, Zum Teufel.

In the end, the Euro's fate will be decided by strikes, street protest, and car bombs as the primacy of politics returns. I doubt that 2010 will see the denouement, but the mood music will be bad enough to knock the euro off its stilts.
The dollar rally will gather pace. America's economy – though sick – will shine within the even sicker OECD club. The British will need the shock of a gilts crisis to shatter their complacency. In time, the Dunkirk spirit will rise again. Mervyn King's pre-emptive QE and timely devaluation will bear fruit this year, sparing us the worst. By mid to late 2010, we will have lanced the biggest boils of the global system. Only then, amid fear and investor revulsion, will we touch bottom. That will be the buying opportunity of our lives.

Origins of an American Kleptocracy
by Marla Singer

Some days ago we wondered aloud at the blank check extended to Fannie and Freddie along with the suspiciously convenient timing of those announcements on Christmas Day.  Back then we wondered if we had been told the entire story.  To wit:
So.  Let us summarize:

We do not expect the GSEs to grow their portfolios at all, so we are fixing the bloated portfolio problem by easing the portfolio caps to permit a quarter trillion dollar expansion thereof.

We do not expect either of the GSEs to need more help from the Treasury, so we are responding to the underutilized $400 billion "lifeline" the GSEs have with the Treasury ($111 of which is currently used) by expanding it to... infinity.

Oh, and though they have collectively lost nearly $200 billion, we are paying the CEOs around $6 million each.

Great work team!  It's already almost 11:00.  Let's go to lunch.

The other shoe having now dropped, Bloomberg has joined in our skepticism:
Taxpayer losses from supporting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will top $400 billion, according to Peter Wallison, a former general counsel at the Treasury who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“The situation is they are losing gobs of money, up to $400 billion in mortgages,” Wallison said in a Bloomberg Television interview. The Treasury Department recognized last week that losses will be more than $400 billion when it raised its limit on federal support for the two government-sponsored enterprises, he said.

Wallison continues:
“It was always safe to buy these notes,” he said. The U.S. government was always going to stand behind them. They’re as good as Treasury notes.”
We are no longer sure this is the most inspiring comparison. Wallison also chimes in via the Wall Street Journal and points to a darker vein shot through the GSE story:
New research by Edward Pinto, a former chief credit officer for Fannie Mae and a housing expert, has found that from the time Fannie and Freddie began buying risky loans as early as 1993, they routinely misrepresented the mortgages they were acquiring, reporting them as prime when they had characteristics that made them clearly subprime or Alt-A.

In general, a subprime mortgage refers to the credit of the borrower. A FICO score of less than 660 is the dividing line between prime and subprime, but Fannie and Freddie were reporting these mortgages as prime, according to Mr. Pinto. Fannie has admitted this in a third-quarter 10-Q report in 2008.

But because of Fannie and Freddie's mislabeling, there were millions more high-risk loans outstanding. That meant default rates as well as the actual losses after foreclosure were going to be outside all prior experience. When these rates began to show up early in 2007, it was apparent something was seriously wrong with assumptions on which AAA ratings had been based.

Losses, it was now certain, would invade the AAA tranches of the mortgage-backed securities outstanding. Investors, having lost confidence in the ratings, fled the MBS market and ultimately the market for all asset-backed securities. They have not yet returned.

It has become conventional wisdom, perhaps even cliche, to pin the origins of the credit crisis on the big banks or, AIG or even the practice of financial modeling.  Certainly, these actors have received the most play in the media, and have now endured the focus of populist ire for more than a year.  We now think that the analysis leading commentators to focus blame on these entities is fatally flawed.

We have seen no credible data that any of the large banks or other underwriters of mortgage backed securities ("MBSs") or collaterized debt obligations ("CDOs") or firms like AIG selling protection on same actually misrepresented the character of underlying collateral.  This is in direct contrast to the allegations of Edward Pinto as printed by the Wall Street Journal.  If Pinto is correct such that the mis-marking of mortgages by the GSEs and the discovery thereof destroyed confidence in the accuracy of ratings in mortgage backed securities and their derivatives (and it seems probable to suspect that he is) then it seems almost beyond question that the policies (or policy malfeasance) of Fannie and Freddie, and not the actions of large banks or firms like AIG are the proximate cause of not just the credit crisis, but also the continuing multi-act, multi-bailout farce that continues to be passed off to the public as necessary "stimulus."

It takes only a cursory examination to suspect that misdirection plays a key part in the latest act of the ongoing crisis theater of the absurd.  Misdirection to distract attention from the key complicity of GSEs in the crisis.  Misdirection to deflect scrutiny away from the political personalities from both sides of the aisle responsible.  Misdirection to conceal what could only be described as the most damaging acts of accounting and securities fraud in the history of accounting, securities or fraud.

Precious few assumptions are required to come to conclusions laying responsibility for the largest economic disaster in recent memory at the feet of the GSEs.

First, that the GSEs had substantial influence over the mortgage market.

This is a no-brainer with the GSEs either holding or guaranteeing 51% of outstanding home mortgage debt in 2003.  To put this in perspective, that figure was around 33% of the GDP of the entire United States in 2003.  Read that last line again.  Anyone wishing to play in the market had to compete with the rates set by Fannie and Freddie.

Second, that the GSEs artificially depressed rates (read: underpriced risk).

This is equally trivial to find given that this precise mandate has been the express purpose of the GSEs since at least 1993.  The GSEs were not tasked with increasing the capacity for mortgage lending.  They were tasked with making loans "affordable."  They used a number of tools to do so, but the key elements were acting as a proxy for quasi-government guarantees and bundling mortgages into risk tiers to act as a sort of clearing house for securitization pools.  It is often said that providing a guarantee (particularly governmental) reduces risk.  This is, of course, a fantasy.  All that explicitly or implicitly tax dollar backed guarantees do is socialize risk.  However, they manage to do so without requiring consolidation of the resulting liabilities on the government's balance sheet. 

Convenient that, yes?  A guarantee is a subsidy.  Period.  Failing to understand this is what permitted the political class to mislead the American public into thinking that cheap loans for everything from housing to small businesses to education (the next fiscal disaster on the horizon) come with no cost.  (Or that cheap debt wouldn't pump up the price of everything from education to housing).  Today's pundits seem to enjoy blaming "moral hazard" (by which they mean "corporate moral hazard") for the crisis.  Oddly, government guarantees, particularly those that everyone assumes will be costless, are not typically part of this definition.

These assumptions, on their own should be sufficient to indict the GSEs, the totally unqualified and unaccountable recipients of political payoffs who occupied the executive offices of these fiscal singularities1 and their other supporters (including the voters who continued year after year to return these jokers to public office) on charges of gross negligence.

If, as Pinto suggests, we add purposeful misrepresentation of underlying collateral to the mix three things become apparent:

First, absent some intervening criminal act by actors farther downstream (and we may yet find some), we have isolated absolutely the cause of all that followed.

Second, it becomes quite easy to construct a criminal case for literally millions of counts of accounting, securities, wire and mail fraud against the GSEs.  To the extent executives at Fannie and Freddie signed off on financial statements disclosing the portion of their balance sheets that held "AAA" securities and these had been purposefully misidentified we should be exploring prosecution for violations under e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley.  (Given, however, Rham Emanuel's involvement in Freddie and Fannie, we aren't holding our breath).

Third, given the presence of blatant government price fixing in more than a third of the entire economy, the United States hasn't been anything like a "free market" since before 2003.

It should shock you that literally a third of the U.S. economy should become a playground for the social experiments of any political group of any party affiliation.

It probably will not shock you (since you are reading Zero Hedge) to find what may be the largest example of securities fraud ever directly connected to elected officials of the United States and their cronies.

Taking a step back, it should shock you that power over literally a third of the U.S. economy should ever have been allowed to become concentrated in two entities with blatantly socialist aims and under the control of executives with no relevant qualifications of any note other than loose purse strings on their political contribution satchels.

What should grip readers with even more substantial alarm is the combination of blank checking for Fannie and Freddie backstops, and the shifty manner in which these disclosures were made.  Is it possible anymore to doubt that the administration simply lied through its teeth while promising us it expects no need of increased credit lines for the GSEs while simultaneously expanding same literally to infinity?

Given that Fannie, Freddie and the FHA have now taken up the mandate of supporting housing prices at any cost (to the taxpayer via endless bailouts and unlimited credit) is it possible in any way to credit the current "upturn" to fundamentals?  When we factor in similar capture of the FDIC and the like, where does this leave us, exactly?

Permit us to ask a few questions:

1.  Why are Fannie and Freddie still operating in any way whatsoever?

2.  Given that their credibility for reliable (or even remotely non-fiction) financial disclosure nears complete obliteration, who is likely to buy anything from these entities in the future?  (If you said "The Fed" you may advance to the bonus round).  Surely the conflict of interest implicit in government ownership does nothing to improve the situation.  Perhaps the news that the Fed plans to issue securities to shrink its balance sheet and reverse "quantitative easing" describes an attempt to securitize the tattered reputation of the GSEs?  Will the Fed simply aggregate its balance sheet and issue tranches?  Does that make the Fed simple the collateralized debt obligation ("CDO") of last resort?  Who will do the rating?  Who will be writing protection on CDO Fed Tranch A-1 (AAA)?

3.  Given that neither entity is currently monitored by an Inspector General (despite what used to be statutory language so mandating) and both entities are completely captured by the current administration, how can it be anything other than insanity to expect any result from these entities other than the formation (or expansion) of a ravenous fiscal black hole?

4.  Given increasing government control beyond Fannie and Freddie that now extends far beyond 33% of GDP, what can we expect if we continue to permit political parties of any stripe to exercise command and control influence over what is now probably a simple majority of our economy?

There was a time when we hoped that the United States would learn its lesson with respect to permitting political control over large swaths of private markets.  Today that time seems very long ago, and somewhat naive.

Perhaps we are being too harsh on the likes of Barney Frank and other GSE proponents.  Adopting a slighty more relativistic economic morality, we might count Frank as one of the greatest legislators of all time.  Consider:

To the extent Mr. Frank and his ilk self-identify as advocates for low-cost housing for those ill-able to afford it, or beset by poor credit, the last 20 years have represented the largest single wealth transfer (composed primarily of real estate and flat screen TVs) to that sector known to us.  Not only that, but given the de facto nationalization of MBS portfolios (we'll give you three guesses who have been the largest MBS buyers over the last several quarters) the GSEs and their supporters have managed to get taxpayers to pay for it all.  Of course, had they simply proposed such a measure in Congress it would have been laughed from the chamber.  And yet, it almost seems as if these individuals simply wrote a multi-trillion dollar check to their constituents that happened to be drawn on the United States Treasury.

It almost seems this way because it was this way.

The Price for Fannie and Freddie Keeps Going Up
by Peter Wallison

Barney Frank's decision to 'roll the dice' on subsidized housing is becoming an epic disaster for taxpayers.

On Christmas Eve, when most Americans' minds were on other things, the Treasury Department announced that it was removing the $400 billion cap from what the administration believes will be necessary to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac solvent. This action confirms that the decade-long congressional failure to more closely regulate these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) will rank for U.S. taxpayers as one of the worst policy disasters in our history.

Fannie and Freddie's congressional sponsors—some of whom are now leading the administration's effort to "reform" the financial system—have a lot to answer for. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, sponsored legislation adopted in 2008 that established a new regulatory structure for the GSEs. But by then it was far too late. The GSEs had begun buying risky loans in 1993 to meet the "affordable housing" requirements established under congressional direction by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Most of the damage was done from 2005 through 2007, when Fannie and Freddie were binging on risky mortgages. Back then, Mr. Frank was the bartender, denying that there was any cause for concern, and claiming that he wanted to "roll the dice" on subsidized housing support. In 2005, the Senate Banking Committee, then controlled by Republicans, adopted tough regulatory legislation that would have established more auditing and oversight of the two agencies. But it was passed out of committee on a partisan vote, and with no Democratic support it never came to a vote.

By the end of 2008, Fannie and Freddie held or guaranteed approximately 10 million subprime and Alt-A mortgages and mortgage-backed securities (MBS)—risky loans with a total principal balance of $1.6 trillion. These are now defaulting at unprecedented rates, accounting for both their 2008 insolvency and their growing losses today. Since 2008, under government control, the two agencies have continued to buy dicey mortgages in order to stabilize housing prices.

There is more to this ugly situation. New research by Edward Pinto, a former chief credit officer for Fannie Mae and a housing expert, has found that from the time Fannie and Freddie began buying risky loans as early as 1993, they routinely misrepresented the mortgages they were acquiring, reporting them as prime when they had characteristics that made them clearly subprime or Alt-A. In general, a subprime mortgage refers to the credit of the borrower. A FICO score of less than 660 is the dividing line between prime and subprime, but Fannie and Freddie were reporting these mortgages as prime, according to Mr. Pinto. Fannie has admitted this in a third-quarter 10-Q report in 2008.

An Alt-A mortgage is one in which the quality of the mortgage or the underwriting was deficient; it might lack adequate documentation, have a low or no down payment, or in some other way be more likely than a prime mortgage to default. Fannie and Freddie were also reporting these mortgages as prime, according to Mr. Pinto. It is easy to see how this misrepresentation was a principal cause of the financial crisis. Market observers, rating agencies and investors were unaware of the number of subprime and Alt-A mortgages infecting the financial system in late 2006 and early 2007.

Of the 26 million subprime and Alt-A loans outstanding in 2008, 10 million were held or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie, 5.2 million by other government agencies, and 1.4 million were on the books of the four largest U.S. banks. In addition, about 7.7 million subprime and Alt-A housing loans were in mortgage pools supporting MBS issued by Wall Street banks—which had long before been driven out of the prime market by Fannie and Freddie's government-backed, low-cost funding. The vast majority of these MBS were rated AAA, because the rating agencies' models assumed that the losses that are incurred by subprime and Alt-A loans would be within the historical range for the number of high-risk loans known to be outstanding.

But because of Fannie and Freddie's mislabeling, there were millions more high-risk loans outstanding. That meant default rates as well as the actual losses after foreclosure were going to be outside all prior experience. When these rates began to show up early in 2007, it was apparent something was seriously wrong with assumptions on which AAA ratings had been based. Losses, it was now certain, would invade the AAA tranches of the mortgage-backed securities outstanding. Investors, having lost confidence in the ratings, fled the MBS market and ultimately the market for all asset-backed securities. They have not yet returned.

By the end of 2007, the MBS market collapsed entirely. Assets once carried at par on financial institutions' balance sheets could not be sold except at distress prices. This raised questions about the stability and even the solvency of most of the world's largest financial institutions. The first major victim was Bear Stearns, the smallest of the five major Wall Street investment banks but one invested heavily in risky MBS. The government rescue of Bear Stearns in March 2008 signaled that the U.S. government, and perhaps others, would stand behind other large financial institutions.

The moral hazard this engendered was deadly when Lehman Brothers' solvency came under challenge. Spreads in the credit default swap market for Lehman, despite massive short-selling, showed very little alarm by investors until just before the fateful weekend of Sept. 13 and 14, when they blew out on fears that the firm might not be rescued. By that time it was too late for Lehman's counterparties to take the protective action that might have cushioned the shock. As it turned out, however, none of Lehman's largest counterparties failed—so much for the idea that the financial market is "interconnected"—but all market participants now realized they had to know the true financial condition of their counterparties. The result was a freeze-up in interbank lending.

For most people, that freeze-up is the beginning of the financial crisis. But its roots go back to 1993, when Fannie and Freddie began stocking up on subprime and other risky loans while reporting them as prime. Why Fannie and Freddie did this is still to be determined. But the leading candidate is certainly HUD's affordable housing regulations, which by 2007 required that 55% of all the loans the agencies acquired had to be made to borrowers at or below the median income, with almost half of these required to be low-income borrowers.

Another likely reason for Fannie and Freddie's mislabeling of mortgages was their desire to retain congressional support by "rolling the dice" while making believe they weren't betting. With the Federal Housing Administration, Wall Street investment banks, and Fannie and Freddie all competing for these loans, the bottom of the barrel had long before been scraped and the financial system set up for a crisis.

Mr. Wallison is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. to Lose $400 Billion on Fannie, Freddie, Wallison Says
Taxpayer losses from supporting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will top $400 billion, according to Peter Wallison, a former general counsel at the Treasury who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "The situation is they are losing gobs of money, up to $400 billion in mortgages," Wallison said in a Bloomberg Television interview. The Treasury Department recognized last week that losses will be more than $400 billion when it raised its limit on federal support for the two government-sponsored enterprises, he said.

The U.S. seized the two mortgage financiers in 2008 as the government struggled to prevent a meltdown of the financial system. The debt of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks grew an average of $184 billion annually from 1998 to 2008, helping fuel a bubble that drove home prices up by 107 percent between 2000 and mid-2006, according to the S&P/Case- Shiller home-price index. The Treasury said on Dec. 24 it would provide an unlimited amount of assistance to the companies as needed for the next three years to alleviate market concern that the government lifeline for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest source of money for U.S. home loans, could lapse or be exhausted.

Lax regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac led to the mortgage companies taking on too many risky loans, Wallison said. "It turns out it was impossible to regulate them," he said. "They were too powerful." He said no one knows how much will be needed to keep the companies solvent. From 1990 to 1999, Wallison served on the board of directors of MGIC Investment Corp., the largest U.S. mortgage insurer, including a stint on the audit committee, according to Bloomberg data and company filings. The continued government support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac makes buying their debt a good investment, Wallison said. "It was always safe to buy these notes," he said. The U.S. government was always going to stand behind them. They’re as good as Treasury notes.

Don’t Be Fooled by the Housing Market’s False Bottom
by Martin Hutchinson

Existing home sales surprised the markets by rising 7.4% to an annual rate of 6.54 million units in November, the highest since February 2007, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That's only 10% below the all-time peak in 2005. What's more is that house prices, as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city Home Price Index, rose for the fourth consecutive month in September before stabilizing in October when prices were flat. The NAR is inevitably convinced that the worst is over and that housing is due for a rapid recovery, and that home prices will take out 2006's peaks some time in 2011 or 2012. Not so fast, guys!

The recovery in housing has been boosted by just about every artificial means you can imagine:
  • Interest rates have been kept at a historically low level of 0%-0.25% for a very long time.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bankrupt behemoths of housing finance, have been bailed out with what amounts to a blank check from taxpayers.
  • The Federal Housing Agency (FHA) went on making mortgages with 3% down payments when nobody else was, thus very likely landing taxpayers with another bill for some large fraction of $1 trillion.
  • And the government has been handing out cash subsidies for refinancing houses that were about to be repossessed and $8,000 subsidies for first time buyers - now $6,500 for all homebuyers.

Of course it looks like the housing market has recovered! The question is what happens when some of these subsidies are taken away? Even if we wanted to provide gigantic subsidies to housing finance in every form for evermore, we couldn't afford to. The U.S. government is running trillion dollar deficits, and something has to change. So at some point the feather cushions that have surrounded every aspect of the housing market will be taken away.

To see how far housing might fall, look at the Case-Shiller index's bottom after the last housing bust in 1989-90 (as the 20-city index did not exist back then, we used the 10-city index). The index bottomed in September 1993 - more than two years after the U.S. economy had begun to recover - at a value of 75.81. Nominal gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 109% between the third quarter of 1993 and the third quarter of 2009.

However, the population rose by about 20%, so nominal GDP per capita rose by 74%. (Real GDP per capita rose by 27%, a pretty mangy performance over 16 years.) House prices can be expected to inflate about as fast as nominal GDP per capita, in a large country like the United States where space is not yet at a premium. Thus the Case-Shiller Index this time around might be expected to bottom at 132 (75.81 x 174%). Its current value is 157, so we can expect a further 16% drop, even if you assume the bottom is no lower than after the milder housing downturn of 1989-90. That bottom will probably be reached around the end of 2011 if the 1990-93 post-recession pattern plays out.


To give you an idea of what that might mean, the Case-Shiller 10-city index passed 132 in June 2002. That means, on average, everybody who has bought a house since June 2002 can be expected to be underwater on the deal when the bottom is reached. Every mortgage with a 10% down payment made since about April 2003 (when the Case-Shiller index was 147 - 90% of which is 132) would be underwater. Every prime mortgage with a 20% down payment - not that many of these were being made in those years - made after February 2004 would be underwater.

Of course, that's an average. In Dallas, there would probably be few foreclosures beyond those we already have seen, because prices didn't go up so much. On the other hand, in Las Vegas, pretty well every mortgage made since Bugsy Siegel started developing the Flamingo in 1946 would be kaput. The housing market is unlikely to turn around while there's so much cheap money about, or while the feds are subsidizing home purchases to such an extent. However, at some point next year, reality will hit the U.S. economy and the federal budget - maybe simultaneously.

The house purchase subsidies are likely to be extended for one more six-month period, through December 2010, over the midterm elections, but not beyond that. At some point, the losses on the FHA mortgage portfolio will become large enough that some of them will have to be taken "on budget." And at some point, either resurgent inflation or soaring commodity prices will force Ben Bernanke to raise interest rates - or crash the Treasury bond market because he won't do so. At that point, reality will return to the housing market too.

Shadow Inventory Is For Real
It feels like I've been writing about "shadow inventory" -- homes that are in foreclosure but haven't hit the market yet -- forever.  Yet no flood of foreclosures has yet inundated the market, and as a matter of fact, inventory has been quite scarce lately.  Is there anything to this shadow inventory concept? As Kelly Bennett documented in a recent blog entry, the answer is yes.  Kelly noted as of Tuesday, there were 19,453 San Diego homes that were in foreclosure but that were not yet listed for sale.  That, my friends, is your shadow inventory.

For purely illustrative purposes, let's try to understand what the effect would be if all these homes in foreclosure were to suddenly hit the market.  That's certainly not going to happen, and as I'll discuss below, these homes may never come on the market at all.  But this approach helps understand the scale of what lurks in the shadows.
  • There are currently 11,976 homes listed for sale in San Diego.  If all the shadow inventory were to hit the market, inventory would increase by 162 percent to 31,429.

  • The 11,976 figure in the prior bullet includes active inventory as well as inventory that is marked "contingent," meaning that the property is a short sale or the like that has an accepted offer that is awaiting lender approval (thus, the property is not really available for sale).  Using only the active inventory of 7,964 homes, shadow inventory would swell the number of homes for sale by 244 percent.

  • Using the average number of sales over the past year, releasing the shadow inventory into the wild would add 7.3 months' worth of inventory.  By comparison, in November there were 4.6 months of inventory if you count both active and contingent homes, and only 3.0 months if you count just active listings.  So adding all that shadow inventory would increase the number of homes actively for sale from 3 months' worth to 10.3 months' worth -- more than a three-fold increase.

Shadow inventory is very real, then, in the sense that there are foreclosed (but not yet for sale) homes out there in numbers that would have a substantial impact on the county's housing supply if they were to come onto the market. Whether that will actually happen is another question entirely.  So far, foreclosed homes are only making it to the market in a trickle. 

The rationale that banks are too swamped to process foreclosures seemed plausible at first, but this has gone on so long that I am increasingly skeptical of it.  So I can only assume that the foreclosures are being held back by some combination of moratoria and other bailout programs (or hope for more of the same), "extend and pretend" (in which lenders put off foreclosure in an attempt to prop up the paper value of their mortgage assets), and political pressure from the folks who run the bailout printing press.

As with other aspects of the housing market, this has become a largely political issue and is accordingly difficult to forecast.  But I think it's a fairly safe bet that the politicians will find new and exciting ways to throw money at the situation.  (To this point, local housing analyst Ramsey Su has conjectured that the Christmas Eve lifting of the limits on how much money the government will provide to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a prelude to widespread mortgage principal reduction by the two mortgage giants).

It's tough to know, then, how many of those 19,453 homes will complete the foreclosure process and make it onto the market.  And for the ones that do, we don't know over what timeframe it will happen.  It's certainly within the realm of possibility that the government could borrow, print, and spend enough money to substantially lessen the shadow inventory's potential impact. It's within the realm of possibility, but not a sure thing.  And there is no doubt that the shadow inventory is out there in great numbers.  Until the path forward is more clear (and regardless of whether prices are rising right now) shadow inventory is a factor that should not be dismissed or ignored.

U.S. Loan Effort Is Seen as Adding to Housing Woes
The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good. Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.

As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies. Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

"The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis," said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. "We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway."

Mr. Katari contends that banks have been using temporary loan modifications under the Obama plan as justification to avoid an honest accounting of the mortgage losses still on their books. Only after banks are forced to acknowledge losses and the real estate market absorbs a now pent-up surge of foreclosed properties will housing prices drop to levels at which enough Americans can afford to buy, he argues. "Then the carpenters can go back to work," Mr. Katari said. "The roofers can go back to work, and we start building housing again. If this drips out over the next few years, that whole sector of the economy isn’t going to recover."

The Treasury Department publicly maintains that its program is on track. "The program is meeting its intended goal of providing immediate relief to homeowners across the country," a department spokeswoman, Meg Reilly, wrote in an e-mail message. But behind the scenes, Treasury officials appear to have concluded that growing numbers of delinquent borrowers simply lack enough income to afford their homes and must be eased out.

In late November, with scant public disclosure, the Treasury Department started the Foreclosure Alternatives Program, through which it will encourage arrangements that result in distressed borrowers surrendering their homes. The program will pay incentives to mortgage companies that allow homeowners to sell properties for less than they owe on their mortgages — short sales, in real estate parlance. The government will also pay incentives to mortgage companies that allow delinquent borrowers to hand over their deeds in lieu of foreclosing.

Ms. Reilly, the Treasury spokeswoman, said the foreclosure alternatives program did not represent a new policy. "We have said from the start that modifications will not be the solution for all homeowners and will not solve the housing crisis alone," Ms. Reilly said by e-mail. "This has always been a multi-pronged effort." Whatever the merits of its plans, the administration has clearly failed to reverse the foreclosure crisis.

In 2008, more than 1.7 million homes were "lost" through foreclosures, short sales or deeds in lieu of foreclosure, according to Moody’s Last year, more than two million homes were lost, and expects that this year’s number will swell to 2.4 million. "I don’t think there’s any way for Treasury to tweak their plan, or to cajole, pressure or entice servicers to do more to address the crisis," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s "For some folks, it is doing more harm than good, because ultimately, at the end of the day, they are going back into the foreclosure morass."

Mr. Zandi argues that the administration needs a new initiative that attacks a primary source of foreclosures: the roughly 15 million American homeowners who are underwater, meaning they owe the bank more than their home is worth. Increasingly, such borrowers are inclined to walk away and accept foreclosure, rather than continuing to make payments on properties in which they own no equity. A paper by researchers at the Amherst Securities Group suggests that being underwater "is a far more important predictor of defaults than unemployment."

From its inception, the Obama plan has drawn criticism for failing to compel banks to write down the size of outstanding mortgage balances, which would restore equity for underwater borrowers, giving them greater incentive to make payments. A vast majority of modifications merely decrease monthly payments by lowering the interest rate. Mr. Zandi proposes that the Treasury Department push banks to write down some loan balances by reimbursing the companies for their losses.

He pointedly rejects the notion that government ought to get out of the way and let foreclosures work their way through the market, saying that course risks a surge of foreclosures and declining house prices that could pull the economy back into recession. "We want to overwhelm this problem," he said. "If we do go back into recession, it will be very difficult to get out."

Under the current program, the government provides cash incentives to mortgage companies that lower monthly payments for borrowers facing hardships. The Treasury Department set a goal of three to four million permanent loan modifications by 2012. "That’s overly optimistic at this stage," said Richard H. Neiman, the superintendent of banks for New York State and an appointee to the Congressional Oversight Panel, a body created to keep tabs on taxpayer bailout funds. "There’s a great deal of frustration and disappointment."

As of mid-December, some 759,000 homeowners had received loan modifications on a trial basis typically lasting three to five months. But only about 31,000 had received permanent modifications — a step that requires borrowers to make timely trial payments and submit paperwork verifying their financial situation. The government has pressured mortgage companies to move faster. Still, it argues that trial modifications are themselves a considerable help.

"Almost three-quarters of a million Americans now are benefiting from modification programs that reduce their monthly payments dramatically, on average $550 a month," Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said last month at a hearing before the Congressional Oversight Panel. "That is a meaningful amount of support." But mortgage experts and lawyers who represent borrowers facing foreclosure argue that recipients of trial loan modifications often wind up worse off.

In Lakeland, Fla., Jaimie S. Smith, 29, called her mortgage company, then Washington Mutual, in October 2008, when she realized she would get a smaller bonus from her employer, a furniture company, threatening her ability to continue the $1,250 monthly mortgage payments on her three-bedroom house. In April, Chase, which had taken over Washington Mutual, lowered her payment to $1,033.62 in a trial that was supposed to last three months.

Ms. Smith made all three payments on time and submitted required documents, Chase confirms. She called the bank almost weekly to inquire about a permanent loan modification. Each time, she says, Chase told her to continue making trial payments and await word on a permanent modification. Then, in October, a startling legal notice arrived in the mail: Chase had foreclosed on her house and sold it at auction for $100. (The purchaser? Chase.) "I cried," she said. "I was hysterical. I bawled my eyes out."

Later that week came another letter from Chase: "Congratulations on qualifying for a Making Home Affordable loan modification!" When Ms. Smith frantically called the bank to try to overturn the sale, she was told that the house was no longer hers. Chase would not tell her how long she could remain there, she says. She feared the sheriff would show up at her door with eviction papers, or that she would return home to find her belongings piled on the curb. So Ms. Smith anxiously set about looking for a new place to live.

She had been planning to continue an online graduate school program in supply chain management, and she had about $4,000 in borrowed funds to pay tuition. She scrapped her studies and used the money to pay the security deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment. Later, she hired a lawyer, who is seeking compensation from Chase. A judge later vacated the sale. Chase is still offering to make her loan modification permanent, but Ms. Smith has already moved out and is conflicted about what to do.

"I could have just walked away," said Ms. Smith. "If they had said, ‘We can’t work with you,’ I’d have said: ‘What are my options? Short sale?’ None of this would have happened. God knows, I never would have wanted to go through this. I’d still be in grad school. I would not have paid all that money to them. I could have saved that money." A Chase spokeswoman, Christine Holevas, confirmed that the bank mistakenly foreclosed on Ms. Smith’s house and sold it at the same time it was extending the loan modification offer. "There was a systems glitch," Ms. Holevas said. "We are sorry that an error happened. We’re trying very hard to do what we can to keep folks in their homes. We are dealing with many, many individuals."

Many borrowers complain they were told by mortgage companies their credit would not be damaged by accepting a loan modification, only to discover otherwise. In a telephone conference with reporters, Jack Schakett, Bank of America’s credit loss mitigation executive, confirmed that even borrowers who were current before agreeing to loan modifications and who then made timely payments were reported to credit rating agencies as making only partial payments.

The biggest source of concern remains the growing numbers of underwater borrowers — now about one-third of all American homeowners with mortgages, according to The Obama administration clearly grasped the threat as it created its program, yet opted not to focus on writing down loan balances. "This is a conscious choice we made, not to start with principal reduction," Mr. Geithner told the Congressional Oversight Panel. "We thought it would be dramatically more expensive for the American taxpayer, harder to justify, create much greater risk of unfairness."

Mr. Geithner’s explanation did not satisfy the panel’s chairwoman, Elizabeth Warren. "Are we creating a program in which we’re talking about potentially spending $75 billion to try to modify people into mortgages that will reduce the number of foreclosures in the short term, but just kick the can down the road?" she asked, raising the prospect "that we’ll be looking at an economy with elevated mortgage foreclosures not just for a year or two, but for many years. How do you deal with that problem, Mr. Secretary?" A good question, Mr. Geithner conceded. "What to do about it," he said. "That’s a hard thing."

Foreclosures Send Home Appraisals Plummeting
It wasn't the first time that Katherine Scheri ruined a real estate agent's day with a low property appraisal. Scheri, a real estate appraiser, had sized up a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Santa Ana, Calif., for $30,000 less than what the buyers offered to pay. A typical deal-killer for a seller. The agent urged the lender to force Scheri to consider several other properties that could back up the original $310,000 sale price. Then he tried good old-fashioned guilt, telling Scheri her appraisal was going to ruin the buyers' shot at the American Dream.

"That's what he laid on me," Scheri recalled. "And I said, 'Don't you care they could be potentially spending $30,000 too much for a house?" Across the country, agents and homebuilders are complaining too many appraisals are coming in low, scuttling deals. The National Association of Realtors says nearly one in four of its members has reported clients losing a sale due to botched appraisals. The National Association of Home Builders, meanwhile, said low appraisals were sinking a quarter of all new home sales and argues it's not fair to compare distressed properties to brand-new homes. And that gets to the heart of the problem.

Roughly 40 percent of all home sales this year were foreclosures or short sales, meaning the property sold for less than the mortgage. In some markets, like Las Vegas and Phoenix, they've hit more than 50 percent. Appraisers determine the value of a property by looking at recent sales of comparable homes. They take an apples-to-apples approach, excluding or making adjustments for certain features, such as a swimming pool or finished basement. And generally, a foreclosure isn't used as a comparison for a standard sale.

But in some areas, appraisers like Scheri contend they are only sizing up homes according to the reality of the market, though they concede its becoming increasingly harder pinpoint what a home is worth. Home prices in many large metro areas, including Los Angeles and San Diego, hit bottom earlier this year and are recovering, data last week showed. Yet there are many neighborhoods across the country where foreclosures and other financially distressed sales are still rising. "It used to be a very infrequent thing that you did an appraisal and the value wasn't supported," says Scheri, who is based in San Diego. "Now, it's more common than not."

So, if you're trying to sell your home in a neighborhood where foreclosures and short sales are predominant, an appraiser could determine your home is actually worth less than what some buyers may be willing to pay.

Part of the problem, critics contend, is that many real estate appraisers are now hired under new industry rules. Designed to limit conflicts of interest that can bias an appraisal, the rules bar mortgage brokers from ordering appraisals themselves, forcing them to do so through a mortgage lender.Lenders may order appraisals through in-house staff or appraisers hired by outside firms known as appraisal-management companies. But neither may talk to the appraisers about the value of the property they're evaluating.

The result, however, can mean that low-cost appraisers are hired from outside the area and don't have the local knowledge to find homes that can be a better benchmark for regular homes. Chris Heller, agent-owner of Keller Williams Realty in northern San Diego, recently had the sale of a home nearly botched for the second time because of a low appraisal. The three-bedroom, two-bath house in the Poway suburb of San Diego was appraised for $55,000 less than what the buyer agreed to pay. The seller wasn't willing to drop the price down to $400,000, but knocked off $20,000 when the buyer agreed to come up with $35,000 in cash.

"The seller is taking less because of the appraisal," Heller said, noting that almost all of the comparable homes used to gauge the property's value were distressed sales. Still, the buyer is paying a premium not to have to deal with the risks involved in buying a foreclosed home or a short sale, which can take several months to close.

So, should distressed homes sales be compared with other homes? Is one inherently worth more than the other? A new analysis of foreclosure and non-foreclosure sales by found that even when most of the market is made up of bank-owned homes, non-foreclosures sell for as much as 30 percent more. Another study by Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies came up with a similar conclusion.

In Las Vegas, which has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, the median sale price for bank-owned homes sold in September was about 23 percent less than other types of properties, according to the Zillow study. "There are two markets, two very distinct markets," said Zillow economist Stan Humphries. That doesn't mean foreclosures don't weigh down the value of nearby homes, although there's loud disagreement on how much.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies examined home sales over 20 years in Massachusetts and found that a foreclosure within less than 100 yards of a home lowers the price of that home by 1 percent. So it appears that in neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates, values for all homes are being pulled lower than in areas where there are few or none. That means you can live in one area of Las Vegas and values can be down twice as much as they are in another neighborhood just a few miles away. When it comes to appraisals, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Living on Nothing but Food Stamps
After an improbable rise from the Bronx projects to a job selling Gulf Coast homes, Isabel Bermudez lost it all to an epic housing bust — the six-figure income, the house with the pool and the investment property. Now, as she papers the county with résumés and girds herself for rejection, she is supporting two daughters on an income that inspires a double take: zero dollars in monthly cash and a few hundred dollars in food stamps.

With food-stamp use at a record high and surging by the day, Ms. Bermudez belongs to an overlooked subgroup that is growing especially fast: recipients with no cash income. About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid — no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card. "It’s the one thing I can count on every month — I know the children are going to have food," Ms. Bermudez, 42, said with the forced good cheer she mastered selling rows of new stucco homes.

Members of this straitened group range from displaced strivers like Ms. Bermudez to weathered men who sleep in shelters and barter cigarettes. Some draw on savings or sporadic under-the-table jobs. Some move in with relatives. Some get noncash help, like subsidized apartments. While some go without cash incomes only briefly before securing jobs or aid, others rely on food stamps alone for many months. The surge in this precarious way of life has been so swift that few policy makers have noticed. But it attests to the growing role of food stamps within the safety net. One in eight Americans now receives food stamps, including one in four children.

Here in Florida, the number of people with no income beyond food stamps has doubled in two years and has more than tripled along once-thriving parts of the southwest coast. The building frenzy that lured Ms. Bermudez to Fort Myers and neighboring Cape Coral has left a wasteland of foreclosed homes and written new tales of descent into star-crossed indigence.

A skinny fellow in saggy clothes who spent his childhood in foster care, Rex Britton, 22, hopped a bus from Syracuse two years ago for a job painting parking lots. Now, with unemployment at nearly 14 percent and paving work scarce, he receives $200 a month in food stamps and stays with a girlfriend who survives on a rent subsidy and a government check to help her care for her disabled toddler. "Without food stamps we’d probably be starving," Mr. Britton said.

A strapping man who once made a living throwing fastballs, William Trapani, 53, left his dreams on the minor league mound and his front teeth in prison, where he spent nine years for selling cocaine. Now he sleeps at a rescue mission, repairs bicycles for small change, and counts $200 in food stamps as his only secure support. "I’ve been out looking for work every day — there’s absolutely nothing," he said.

A grandmother whose voice mail message urges callers to "have a blessed good day," Wanda Debnam, 53, once drove 18-wheelers and dreamed of selling real estate. But she lost her job at Starbucks this year and moved in with her son in nearby Lehigh Acres. Now she sleeps with her 8-year-old granddaughter under a poster of the Jonas Brothers and uses her food stamps to avoid her daughter-in-law’s cooking. "I’m climbing the walls," Ms. Debnam said.

Florida officials have done a better job than most in monitoring the rise of people with no cash income. They say the access to food stamps shows the safety net is working. "The program is doing what it was designed to do: help very needy people get through a very difficult time," said Don Winstead, deputy secretary for the Department of Children and Families. "But for this program they would be in even more dire straits."

But others say the lack of cash support shows the safety net is torn. The main cash welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, has scarcely expanded during the recession; the rolls are still down about 75 percent from their 1990s peak. A different program, unemployment insurance, has rapidly grown, but still omits nearly half the unemployed. Food stamps, easier to get, have become the safety net of last resort.

"The food-stamp program is being asked to do too much," said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group. "People need income support." Food stamps, officially the called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, have taken on a greater role in the safety net for several reasons. Since the benefit buys only food, it draws less suspicion of abuse than cash aid and more political support. And the federal government pays for the whole benefit, giving states reason to maximize enrollment. States typically share in other programs’ costs.

The Times collected income data on food-stamp recipients in 31 states, which account for about 60 percent of the national caseload. On average, 18 percent listed cash income of zero in their most recent monthly filings. Projected over the entire caseload, that suggests six million people in households with no income. About 1.2 million are children. The numbers have nearly tripled in Nevada over the past two years, doubled in Florida and New York, and grown nearly 90 percent in Minnesota and Utah. In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, one of every 25 residents reports an income of only food stamps. In Yakima County, Wash., the figure is about one of every 17.

Experts caution that these numbers are estimates. Recipients typically report a small rise in earnings just once every six months, so some people listed as jobless may have recently found some work. New York officials say their numbers include some households with earnings from illegal immigrants, who cannot get food stamps but sometimes live with relatives who do. Still, there is little doubt that millions of people are relying on incomes of food stamps alone, and their numbers are rapidly growing. "This is a reflection of the hardship that a lot of people in our state are facing; I think that is without question," said Mr. Winstead, the Florida official.

With their condition mostly overlooked, there is little data on how long these households go without cash incomes or what other resources they have. But they appear an eclectic lot. Florida data shows the population about evenly split between families with children and households with just adults, with the latter group growing fastest during the recession. They are racially mixed as well — about 42 percent white, 32 percent black, and 22 percent Latino — with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.

The expansion of the food-stamp program, which will spend more than $60 billion this year, has so far enjoyed bipartisan support. But it does have conservative critics who worry about the costs and the rise in dependency. "This is craziness," said Representative John Linder, a Georgia Republican who is the ranking minority member of a House panel on welfare policy. "We’re at risk of creating an entire class of people, a subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the government."

Mr. Linder added: "You don’t improve the economy by paying people to sit around and not work. You improve the economy by lowering taxes" so small businesses will create more jobs. With nearly 15,000 people in Lee County, Fla., reporting no income but food stamps, the Fort Myers area is a laboratory of inventive survival. When Rhonda Navarro, a cancer patient with a young son, lost running water, she ran a hose from an outdoor spigot that was still working into the shower stall. Mr. Britton, the jobless parking lot painter, sold his blood.

Kevin Zirulo and Diane Marshall, brother and sister, have more unlikely stories than a reality television show. With a third sibling paying their rent, they are living on a food-stamp benefit of $300 a month. A gun collector covered in patriotic tattoos, Mr. Zirulo, 31, has sold off two semiautomatic rifles and a revolver. Ms. Marshall, who has a 7-year-old daughter, scavenges discarded furniture to sell on the Internet.

They said they dropped out of community college and diverted student aid to household expenses. They received $150 from the Nielsen Company, which monitors their television. They grew so desperate this month, they put the breeding services of the family Chihuahua up for bid on Craigslist. "We look at each other all the time and say we don’t know how we get through," Ms. Marshall said.

Ms. Bermudez, by contrast, tells what until the recession seemed a storybook tale. Raised in the Bronx by a drug-addicted mother, she landed a clerical job at a Manhattan real estate firm and heard that Fort Myers was booming. On a quick scouting trip in 2002, she got a mortgage on easy terms for a $120,000 home with three bedrooms and a two-car garage. The developer called the floor plan Camelot. "I screamed, I cried," she said. "I took so much pride in that house."

Jobs were as plentiful as credit. Working for two large builders, she quickly moved from clerical jobs to sales and bought an investment home. Her income soared to $180,000, and she kept the pay stubs to prove it. By the time the glut set in and she lost her job, the teaser rates on her mortgages had expired and her monthly payments soared. She landed a few short-lived jobs as the industry imploded, exhausted her unemployment insurance and spent all her savings. But without steady work in nearly three years, she could not stay afloat. In January, the bank foreclosed on Camelot.

One morning as the eviction deadline approached, Ms. Bermudez woke up without enough food to get through the day. She got emergency supplies at a food pantry for her daughters, Tiffany, now 17, and Ashley, 4, and signed up for food stamps. "My mother lived off the government," she said. "It wasn’t something as a proud working woman I wanted to do."

For most of the year, she did have a $600 government check to help her care for Ashley, who has a developmental disability. But she lost it after she was hospitalized and missed an appointment to verify the child’s continued eligibility. While she is trying to get it restored, her sole income now is $320 in food stamps. Ms. Bermudez recently answered the door in her best business clothes and handed a reporter her résumé, which she distributes by the ream. It notes she was once a "million-dollar producer" and "deals well with the unexpected." "I went from making $180,000 to relying on food stamps," she said. "Without that government program, I wouldn’t be able to feed my children.

Bernanke Says Low Rates Didn’t Cause Housing Bubble
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the central bank’s low interest rates didn’t cause the past decade’s housing bubble and that better regulation would have been more effective in limiting the boom. "The best response to the housing bubble would have been regulatory, rather than monetary," Bernanke said today in remarks to the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta. The Fed’s efforts to constrain the bubble were "too late or were insufficient," which means that regulatory actions "must be better and smarter," he said.

Bernanke said the Fed is working to improve its supervision of banks and has strengthened measures to protect consumers of mortgages and other financial products. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, who backs Bernanke for a second term, has called the Fed’s oversight of banks leading up to the crisis an "abysmal failure." Dodd proposes stripping the Fed and other agencies of bank supervision powers and moving them to a new regulator. Scholars such as Allan Meltzer, a historian of the central bank, have criticized the Fed for helping fuel the housing boom by keeping interest rates too low for too long. The bursting of the housing bubble led to the worst recession since the Great Depression and the loss of more than 7 million U.S. jobs.

Meltzer’s argument has been echoed by lawmakers including Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Banking Committee, who says Bernanke doesn’t deserve a second term as Fed chief. Shelby, at a Dec. 17 vote on Bernanke’s nomination to a second four-year term starting next month, said the former Princeton University professor "missed clear signals" of a financial crisis when he was a Fed governor from 2002 until 2005. "I strongly disapprove of some of the past deeds of the Federal Reserve while Ben Bernanke was a member and its chairman, and I lack confidence in what little planning for the future he has articulated," Shelby said.

Bernanke didn’t discuss the outlook for the U.S. economy or Fed monetary policy in today’s speech or an accompanying slide presentation. Increased use of variable-rate and interest-only mortgages, and the "associated decline of underwriting standards," were more responsible for the bubble, Bernanke said in a speech at an economics conference. He left the door open to using interest rates for preventing "dangerous buildups of financial risks" should regulatory changes fail to be made or turn out to be insufficient.

"We must remain open to using monetary policy as a supplementary tool for addressing those risks -- proceeding cautiously and always keeping in mind the inherent difficulties of that approach," Bernanke said. Responding to audience questions after the speech, Bernanke said he wasn’t "particularly concerned" about a possible loss of investor confidence in the U.S. financial system. The dollar is still the "dominant" world reserve currency, and when financial conditions become more "worrisome," investors see the currency as a safe haven and U.S. markets as the deepest and most liquid, he said.

Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said in a speech to the same conference that tight bank credit and caution among households and businesses may impede spending amid an improvement in financial markets. "Credit constraints are a key reason why I expect the strengthening in economic activity to be gradual and the drop in the unemployment rate to be slow," he said.

Bernanke devoted most of his speech to rebutting criticism that the Fed’s rate policy fueled the housing bubble. Monetary policy after the 2001 recession "appears to have been reasonably appropriate, at least in relation to" a formula based on the so-called "Taylor Rule." In addition, Bernanke said Fed research shows the rise in housing prices had little to do with monetary policy or the broader economy. John Taylor, a Stanford University economist and former Treasury undersecretary, created the Taylor Rule, a shorthand formula that suggests how a central bank should set interest rates if inflation or growth veers from goals.

Under former Chairman Alan Greenspan, the Fed lowered its benchmark interest rate to 1.75 percent from 6.5 percent in 2001 and cut the rate to 1 percent in June 2003. The central bank left the federal funds rate, or overnight interbank lending rate, at 1 percent for a year before raising it at a "measured pace" of quarter-point increments over two years, from 2004 to 2006. Bernanke, 56, joined the Fed as a governor in 2002 and supported all of the interest-rate decisions under Greenspan before being appointed chairman in 2006. After the financial crisis struck, he cut the federal funds rate almost to zero in December 2008 from 5.25 percent in September 2007.

The standard Taylor Rule would have recommended that the Fed raise the rate to a range of 7 percent to 8 percent through the first three quarters of 2008, "a policy decision that probably would not have garnered much support among monetary specialists," Bernanke said. A variation of the rule used by the Fed focused on anticipated rates of inflation, not actual rates, he said. An index of U.S. home prices in October was down 11 percent from its peak in April 2007, the Federal Housing Finance Agency in Washington said last month. The federal tax credit for homebuyers has boosted demand, helping prices increase 0.6 percent in October from September, the first monthly increase since July.

One in four U.S. homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth, according to a November report by First American CoreLogic, a Santa Ana, California-based real estate research firm. Foreclosure filings in 2009 probably reached a record for the second consecutive year with 3.9 million notices sent to homeowners in default, RealtyTrac Inc., the Irvine, California- based company, said last month.

A hell of a decade - to come
by Peter Schiff

In its recent look back on the first 10 years of the century, Time Magazine proclaimed the period to be "the decade from hell". The editors made their case based on what they saw as the signature events of the past 10 years, notably the ravages of terrorism, failed wars, and a global financial crisis. Taken together, these factors produced an era that Time is convinced will be remembered as one of the low points in our history.

As the media hate to dwell on the negative, the commentary was rife with notes of optimism about pending recovery. It could hardly be accidental that in the very next issue, Fed Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was named "Man of the Year" for his supposedly Herculean efforts to keep the economy afloat as we departed the Naughty Aughties. Although Time takes pains to point out that the "Person of the Year" honor reflects impact rather than adulation, its profile of the chairman was triumphant.

Even if you believe the "survived the worst/turned the corner" narrative offered by Time, it still should strike anyone as ironic that Bernanke, a chief architect of the economic problems that surfaced in 2007, should be held in such high esteem. Apart from its misplaced reverence for the Fed chairman, I would take issue with Time's entire characterization of what has now become history. Under no circumstances could the past 10 years be described as "the decade from hell". In fact, in terms of economic good fortune, the period shares parallels with the Roaring Twenties. I would describe this as a decade of sin that paved the way to hell.

Yes, we had spectacular problems like September 11, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 - which were horrific for those who were directly affected - but for most Americans, it was a time of unexpected wealth and unearned prosperity. Up to the days of the stock market crash, the economics of the decade will be remembered for cash-out refinancing for millions of homeowners, no-doc liar loans, no-money-down car purchases, eight-figure Wall Street bonuses, cheap Chinese imports, and trample-to-death holiday sales. In other words, the decade now closing gave us the biggest and most irresponsible spending orgy in US history. The past decade was the party; the one ahead will be the hangover.

The fact that Time completely ignored these issues shows how poorly the mainstream media understand the forces bearing down on our economy. Yes, they were able to identify some of the adverse consequences we experienced this decade. That's the easy part. But as far as seeing the causes behind the effects, they haven't a clue. As a result, Time has no ability to see the underlying pattern and will happily encourage our leaders to repeat the mistakes of the past on a grander scale.

For now, Congress and the president remain as clueless as Time. To show its resolve to "get to the bottom of things", the Barack Obama administration has impaneled a commission to investigate the causes of the financial crisis. Do not expect the proceedings, which are just getting underway, to come up with anything but the most politically useful explanations.

Blame will be laid at the feet of "ineffective regulators" who failed to "get tough" with industry, banks, and corporate leaders who held the "public good" hostage to their "personal greed." There is no hope that anyone who actually saw the crisis coming will actually be asked to testify. If they called me, I would be happy to give them an earful. Unfortunately, the only way my views will ever be heard by the powers-that-be is if I am elected to the Senate - which is exactly what I plan to do next fall in my home state of Connecticut.

My sincere hope for the coming decade is that I can help our leaders see what Time cannot: we need to stop committing the economic sins that are leading us to hell, so that our stay down there will be as brief as possible. We need everyone to stop spending more than they earn. That is true not just for individuals, but for our government as well. Just this week, the Treasury Department removed its internal caps on bailout funds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Meanwhile, another bailout was proffered to ailing GMAC. If we continue the same bad behavior, it might not just be one decade from hell, but several.

However, if we can confess our sins, and vow to reform our ways, perhaps this will merely be a decade in purgatory. Perhaps we can turn it into the decade of hope, hard work, individual liberty, savings, production, investment, sound money, de-regulation, exports, budget surpluses, capitalism, limited government, and respect for the Constitution. These traits will harden us to withstand the fallout from our reckless past.

As of yet, our troubles continue to snowball - and I don't like a snowball's chances if we have a real decade from hell.

Ilargi: The following is a set of three audio files posted on YouTube.

Gerald Celente Top 10 Predictions for 2010: NEO-SURVIVALISM

Part 2

Part 3

The States and the Stimulus
Remember how $200 billion in federal stimulus cash was supposed to save the states from fiscal calamity? Well, hold on to your paychecks, because a big story of 2010 will be how all that free money has set the states up for an even bigger mess this year and into the future. The combined deficits of the states for 2010 and 2011 could hit $260 billion, according to a survey by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Ten states have a deficit, relative to the size of their expenditures, as bleak as that of near-bankrupt California. The Golden State starts the year another $6 billion in arrears despite a large income and sales tax hike last year. New York is literally down to its last dollar. Revenues are down, to be sure, but in several ways the stimulus has also made things worse.

First, in most state capitals the stimulus enticed state lawmakers to spend on new programs rather than adjusting to lean times. They added health and welfare benefits and child care programs. Now they have to pay for those additions with their own state's money. For example, the stimulus offered $80 billion for Medicaid to cover health-care costs for unemployed workers and single workers without kids. But in 2011 most of that extra federal Medicaid money vanishes. Then states will have one million more people on Medicaid with no money to pay for it.

A few governors, such as Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Rick Perry of Texas, had the foresight to turn down their share of the $7 billion for unemployment insurance, realizing that once the federal funds run out, benefits would be unpayable. "One of the smartest decisions we made," says Mr. Daniels. Many governors now probably wish they had done the same.

Second, stimulus dollars came with strings attached that are now causing enormous budget headaches. Many environmental grants have matching requirements, so to get a federal dollar, states and cities had to spend a dollar even when they were facing huge deficits. The new construction projects built with federal funds also have federal Davis-Bacon wage requirements that raise state building costs to pay inflated union salaries.

Worst of all, at the behest of the public employee unions, Congress imposed "maintenance of effort" spending requirements on states. These federal laws prohibit state legislatures from cutting spending on 15 programs, from road building to welfare, if the state took even a dollar of stimulus cash for these purposes. One provision prohibits states from cutting Medicaid benefits or eligibility below levels in effect on July 1, 2008. That date, not coincidentally, was the peak of the last economic cycle when states were awash in revenue. State spending soared at a nearly 8% annual rate from 2004-2008, far faster than inflation and population growth, and liberals want to keep funding at that level.

A study by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Seattle found that "because Washington state lawmakers accepted $820 million in education stimulus dollars, only 9 percent of the state's $6.8 billion K-12 budget is eligible for reductions in fiscal year 2010 or 2011." More than 85% of Washington state's Medicaid budget is exempt from cuts and nearly 75% of college funding is off the table. It's bad enough that Congress can't balance its own budget, but now it is making it nearly impossible for states to balance theirs.

These spending requirements come when state revenues are on a downward spiral. State revenues declined by more than 10% in 2009, and tax collections are expected to be flat at best in 2010. In Indiana, nominal revenues in 2011 may be lower than in 2006. Arizona's revenues are expected to be lower this year than they were in 2004. Some states don't expect to regain their 2007 revenue peak until 2012. So when states should be reducing outlays to match a new normal of lower revenue collections, federal stimulus rules mean many states will have little choice but to raise taxes to meet their constitutional balanced budget requirements. Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.

This is the opposite of what the White House and Congress claimed when they said the stimulus funds would prevent economically harmful state tax increases. In 2009, 10 states raised income or sales taxes, and another 15 introduced new fees on everything from beer to cellphone ringers to hunting and fishing. The states pocketed the federal money and raised taxes anyway. Now, in an election year, Congress wants to pass another $100 billion aid package for ailing states to sustain the mess the first stimulus helped to create. Governors would be smarter to unite and tell Congress to keep the money and mandates, and let the states adjust to the new reality of lower revenues. Meanwhile, Mr. Perry and other governors who warned that the stimulus would have precisely this effect can consider themselves vindicated.

US state and local tax revenues plummet
New US census data show that state and local government tax revenue continued their year-long plunge in the third quarter, falling by 7 percent from the same period last year. In response, governments are cutting spending on social programs, infrastructure and education, and are laying off or cutting the wages of government workers.

It was the fourth straight quarter in which tax receipts fell on a year-over-year basis, the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Summary of State and Local Tax Revenue shows. Collections for 2009 through the third quarter were down $76 billion, or 8 percent, from a year ago, while federal tax revenue fell even more sharply in the same period, by 19 percent.

Every major form of state and local tax revenue declined. Totals for sales and personal income taxes fell by 9 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The erosion of these two taxes, on which state governments rely, is owed largely to unemployment and wage cuts. Taxes on business profits fell precipitously, by 18 percent in the third quarter, year-over-year.

Property tax collections actually increased by 3.6 percent in the third quarter of 2009 from 2008. However, analysts explain that government property assessments have simply not yet caught up with market-determined home and commercial real estate values. This gap is expected to begin to be bridged in 2010, imperiling municipal and county governments heavily reliant on property taxes. "At minimum, cities will be working through the catastrophic drops in revenue for the next 18 months to two years," said Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Like unemployment, the fiscal health of state and local governments is considered a "lagging indicator." Even when, and if, the economy begins to improve, tax collections follow slowly. The burden is compounded by the extra costs economic downturns place on state budgets in the form of unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other social programs, and accounting tricks states have used to defer red ink from this fiscal year to the next. "We expect continued weakness well into 2010 if not further," concluded Lucy Dadayan of the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York.

According to a study by the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), states cut nearly $150 billion in spending to balance budgets in the current fiscal year. But already, 36 states have seen gaps reopen to a combined deficit of $28.2 billion. These deficits will worsen. In 2011, 35 states making estimates predict a combined deficit of $55.5 billion. In 2012, just 23 states offering data already estimate red ink totaling $68.8 billion.

No state has been spared from falling revenues. Energy-rich states that averted budget crises last year were hit particularly hard by third-quarter revenue declines, among them Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska. The latter, with a 65 percent decline, experienced the biggest year-over-year dropoff. In all, 22 states, including Illinois, saw a third-quarter revenue decline greater than 10 percent.

These shortfalls will inevitably lead to more cuts in social spending and further layoffs, wage cuts and furloughs for state workers. Layoffs of government workers could produce the next wave of unemployment in the US, where fully 15 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is employed by state or local governments.

By all indications, the budget cuts being put in place will not be restored. "The economic fallout has hammered state budgets with an intensity we haven’t seen since the Great Depression," said Sujit M. CanagaRetna, an analyst with the Council of State Governments. "The way that we have cut and slashed governments indicates that we’re only going to be able to provide the most basic services."

"Anything and everything’s on the table," Todd Haggerty, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislators, was quoted by as saying. States have "cut the fat, cut the muscle and are now cutting bone," Haggerty said. "The easy decisions have already been made."

Among the hardest-hit states is New York. This week, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a statement saying that the nation’s third most populous state was "down to petty cash" in its treasury. "New York State is barely scraping by in December," DiNapoli said. "While measures were taken by the legislature and Governor to get the state through December, the state is literally down to petty cash. New York’s fiscal troubles are far from over." After the first week of January, New York may have no more than $300 million cash on-hand.

The total deficit of the states from 2009 to 2012 is now estimated at $460 billion. While an enormous amount of money, it will prove far less than US military spending and the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the same period, and is dwarfed by the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street.

There is little chance of help from the federal government, which is itself experiencing its worst budget shortfalls since World War II. On the contrary, the Obama administration will likely inflame the states’ fiscal crisis. Governors and legislators of both parties warn that health care "reform" will likely add significantly to their fiscal crises through new, unfunded mandates. And with the $300 billion in aid allotted the states through last February’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set to run out after the next fiscal year, the Obama administration has all but ruled out further relief.

Will latest $174 billion jobs bill really produce jobs?
When the Senate takes up a jobs bill later this month or early in February, the debate will center on whether it really will create jobs and be worth plunging the government tens of billions of dollars further into debt. Republicans scoff at the "Jobs for Main Street Act" title that House Democrats put on their $174 billion package last month. They refer to it as "son of the stimulus," the $787 billion economic recovery plan of nearly a year ago that they say was ineffective at producing jobs. In its last vote of 2009, the House narrowly passed the bill, 217-212, without a single Republican supporter.

Democrats tick off the job prospects from the House bill's $75 billion in infrastructure and public sector spending: tens of thousands of new construction jobs, 5,500 more police officers, 25,000 additional AmeriCorps members, 250,000 summer jobs for disadvantaged youth, 14,000 part-time jobs for parks and forestry workers. "Why don't we just put everyone in the United States on the federal government payroll and call it a day?" counters Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

House Democrats diverted $75 billion from the Wall Street bailout fund to offset some of the costs. Opponents said that amounted to a shell game because unused bailout money is supposed to be used to reduce the deficit, which hit $1.4 trillion in the 2009 budget year. The Senate, however, has less of an appetite for another costly round of economic stimulus measures, particularly with a vote on tap for Jan. 20 to again raise the ceiling on the government's total debt just a month after upping it to $12.4 trillion.

Conspicuously absent from the House plan were President Barack Obama's proposals to attack unemployment through tax credits for small businesses that create jobs and for homeowners who make their dwellings more energy efficient. A job-creating tax credit for small businesses has support among some Democrats in the Senate, even though critics fear it may be too complex to work. "Small business people have too much to do just to keep their businesses afloat to try and figure out some fancy, complex credit," Lawrence Lindsey, an economic adviser to former President George W. Bush, told a Democratic panel last month.
But Gene Sperling, an adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, said tax credits would empower growing small businesses.

"If these have even a marginal incentive on even a few ... employers, the bang for the buck in terms of job creation would be one of the highest of any of the types of incentives that we've had," Sperling said. The job creation issue is complicated. Much of the money in the House bill goes to programs that may stimulate the economy but don't appear to directly put people to work. There's $41 billion to extend unemployment benefits for six months and $12.3 billion to extend a health insurance subsidy for people who have lost their jobs. There's extension of a child tax credit for poor families, $23.5 billion to help states cover Medicaid costs and $23 billion so states can support some 250,000 education jobs over the next two years. An additional $2.8 billion goes to clean water and environmental restoration projects.

Even the investment in "shovel-ready" highway and bridge projects may not immediately translate into a reduction in the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate. Republicans cited government figures showing that, as of Sept. 30, only 9 percent of $27.5 billion for highways in the first stimulus bill had been spent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that of the $39 billion in the new House jobs bill directed to the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, only $1.7 billion will get spent before next October. A lot of the money "hasn't even gotten out of Washington yet," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House's second-ranked Republican. "Why is it still here if it was designed to create jobs?"

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said some 8,000 highway and transit projects -- more than half those designated under last February's stimulus bill -- are under way, creating or sustaining 210,000 direct jobs. When indirect jobs are included, that number reaches 630,000, he said. The low federal spending rate, committee officials said, is because the treasury outlay comes at the end of the process, after the contractor bills the state and the state bills Washington. Dan DuBray, spokesman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation, said his agency will have no problem putting to work the $100 million it would receive under the jobs bill to provide clean drinking water to rural areas. "Projects in Reclamation are much akin to planes waiting on the taxiway waiting to take off."

Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, agreed that "a lot of jobs" have been saved by the stimulus act, although in many cases federal money is basically replacing lower levels of private or state investment. The unemployment rate in the construction industry remains at about 19 percent, almost double the national level. The stimulus is "a needed shot in the arm, but the real solution is a long-term highway and transit investment bill," Jeanneret said. Congress has put off consideration of a six-year $450 billion infrastructure measure to replace the highway and transit act that expired in September. The CBO has estimated that employment was 600,000 to 1.6 million higher in the third quarter of 2009 because of the stimulus act.

Eurozone credit contraction accelerates
Bank loans and the M3 money supply in the eurozone contracted at an accelerating pace in November, raising the risk that a lending squeeze will choke the region's fragile recovery next year. The European Central Bank said that loans to companies fell by a record 1.9pc from a year earlier. The broad M3 money supply – watched closely as a leading indicator for the economy a year ahead – fell by 0.2pc and has now been shrinking for several months. Julian Callow from Barclays Capital said the decline in lending was steeper than expected and will cause the ECB to move with great care before withdrawing emergency stimulus. "This is the weakest data since the statistics began in 1970 and probably in the post-war era. It is a message about what is happening to the banking system, which is the lending nexus for the eurozone economy," he said.

Hans-Peter Keitel, head of Germany's industry federation (BDI), said there was a danger of a credit crunch next year as banks take fright at the ugly state of corporate balance sheets. He accused lenders of returning to their gambling habits – in some cases with state money – while refusing to roll over loans for companies with a good track record that have run into short-term problems. The Bundesbank is bracing for a second wave of the credit crisis as corporate downgrades by rating agencies forces lenders to set aside more money. Big companies in the eurozone have been able to tap the bond and equity markets, raising €130bn of fresh money in the first 10 months of the year. However, smaller Mittelstand firms that form the backbone of Germany's export industry are often shut out of the credit system.

Banks have chosen to restrict lending as they struggle to meet tougher capital rules rather than dilute shares by raising fresh equity or accepting the onerous terms of state support schemes. This has prompted harsh criticism from finance ministers, but Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research said the authorities themselves are to blame. "This is becoming ridiculous. How can banks raise capital asset ratios and lend more at the same time? These people are barmy," he said, comparing the new rules with policy mistakes in the early 1930s. The ECB has played down the decline in M3, believing that it reflects portfolio shifts by investors. But the longer this trend continues, the greater the concern. Mr Congdon said Club Med states will suffer the brunt of the ECB's restrictive policies . "Business surveys in these countries are getting worse, and so are property markets. Fractures in the euro system are becoming clearer by the day."

The Worst May Not Be Over for Europe
Never before has Europe’s monetary union seemed so fragile. Day by day, fears are growing that Greece or another weak country may default on its sovereign debt obligations, forcing the richer countries in Europe to ride to the rescue or risk having one or more of its most vulnerable members leave the 16-nation euro zone. Many European economists discount such a fracture as a remote possibility. But that doesn’t mean Europe has safely emerged from crisis.

Instead, it faces a longer-term challenge to restore the fiscal credibility of at least half the countries that use the euro. The true test for the world’s largest common currency zone, analysts say, will be whether it can withstand the economic, political and social strains once the European Central Bank begins to raise interest rates in response to economic improvements in Germany, France and other Northern European countries.

At that point, the laggards on the union’s fringe — Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (the so-called Piigs) — will face even tougher choices to cope with what looks like several more years of stagnant economies, high unemployment and gaping budget deficits. "If inflation picks up in France and Germany, the smaller economies will be left behind in stagnation and deflation," said Jordi Galí, a Spanish economist recognized for his work on business cycles who heads the Center for Research in International Economics in Barcelona. "Such an asymmetric recovery is pretty likely, and if the E.C.B. raises rates, it could get very ugly."

Mr. Gali, like a number of other European experts, takes the view that the euro zone’s resilience has been underestimated. He says the recent convulsions are more the result of trigger-happy ratings agencies that have downgraded the sovereign debt of Greece and others in atonement for having failed to foresee the subprime mortgage crisis. Still, he says, there is no escaping this emerging growth divide, and he points out that the mandate of the European Central Bank is to ensure broad price stability in the union, not to look out for the interests of individual nations.

France and Germany have already emerged from the recession. Business confidence in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has hit a 17-month high. Yet on the periphery, the hangover from more than five years of a credit-infused boom shows little sign of diminishing. Ireland, the first economy to stumble, has taken the most severe fiscal action, cutting public wages sharply. A new Greek government, punished by the rough treatment of bond investors no longer willing to countenance soft promises of reform, is just now promising steep spending cuts. But it is not clear whether the political system in Greece will accept them.

Meanwhile, Spain, to the frustration of many major lenders, seems to be putting off difficult fiscal questions in the hope that its economy will soon recover. Critics of the euro zone contend that weak governments in the peripheral economies, facing high unemployment and restive voters, will not have the stomach to hold down wages, pensions and public expenditures. "Are these people serious about reform, or are they just telling people what they want to hear?" asked Edward Hugh, a British-trained macroeconomist who lives in Barcelona and has been critical of Spain’s unwillingness to take difficult economic decisions.

Paradoxically, the very dysfunction of a struggling two-tier Europe may represent the best chance for recovery if it leads to devaluation of the euro against the dollar, which many see as long overdue. Already, in the last month, the euro has lost more than 5 percent of its value against the dollar. Many economists predict that the currency will weaken more as the growth gap between the core and peripheral states creates further disharmony.

Then, it will be the type of export-led recovery that has helped the United States and is likely to soon help Britain that could bring Europe’s economies closer to convergence. "If there are fears now that a breakup of the euro zone will lead to weakening of the euro, then that is good news," said Paul De Grauwe, an economist based in Brussels who advises the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. "So we should congratulate Greece for getting us out of this anomaly of having a euro that is too overvalued."

Any such recovery will not be rapid, however. In Ireland, where prices are falling by 5 percent, reordering the economy from its deep reliance on construction and property will take years. And an already unpopular Irish government, along with others on Europe’s periphery, will have a difficult time explaining to recession-bruised voters why they must accept an central bank’s decision to raise interest rates — a move that may protect German and French savers from inflation but that does little for the many millions of citizens out of work.

Yet the painful, historic steps taken by Ireland offer a ray of hope, says Philip Lane, a professor of international macroeconomics at Trinity College Dublin who oversees the widely read Irish Economy blog. He points to signs of wage compression in the hard-hit service, property and government sectors as proof that there is a recognition that recovery, distant as it may seem, must occur inside the euro zone, not outside. "It takes a crisis to learn a lesson," Mr. Lane said. "Could it be that by getting countries to change their behavior you might get improved cooperation within the euro zone? "What does not kill you," he added, "often makes you stronger."

In Spain, a Soaring Jobless Rate for Young Workers
Like hundreds of thousands of other young people, Jesus Pesquero Peñas dropped out of school to go to work when the Spanish economy was booming. But since he was laid off from his construction job two years ago, he has been living on unemployment benefits. Now Mr. Peñas finds himself part of a lost generation in Spain, where unemployment among people ages 16 to 24 is 42.9 percent, the highest in Europe, and more than double the overall rate.

"I went to work because the money was good, the lifestyle was good and I really wanted to get out of school," Mr. Peñas, 25, said as he waited on a long line snaking down the block from an employment office in suburban Madrid. "I totally regret it now," Mr. Peñas said, who has a 5-year-old daughter by a former girlfriend who is also out of work.

Spain is the extreme, but the experience of younger workers here reflects similar problems in the United States, as well as other European countries still struggling to emerge from the recession. In the last 12 months, the jobless rate in the United States among workers ages 16 to 24 has risen to 19.1 percent from 13.9 percent. Economists expect the rate to remain high even as the overall jobless rate in the United States — now 10 percent — begins to shrink. That is because the sectors that employ young people in the greatest numbers — fast food, construction, retail — are expected to take the longest to recover.

In the United States, workers on the first rungs of the job market run the risk of lower earnings even after the recovery gets going, said Paul Osterman, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. who also teaches at the Institute de Empresa business school in Madrid. Young Spanish workers, like their counterparts in the rest of Europe, face other obstacles like union rules, long-term contracts and legal protections that shelter older workers and discourage new hiring, Mr. Osterman said. "There is a cohort of people who are condemned to a permanently stagnant career path in Spain," he said. "It’s very worrisome."

People like Mr. Peñas, with few skills, bleak prospects and little desire to go back to university alongside younger students, are the most vulnerable. "There has been a loss of human capital," said José Antonio Herce, director of economics at ASI, a Madrid-based consulting firm. "It will take a long time for this cohort to be absorbed." Spain may be the worst example, but it is not alone, "Young people are the last in the queue when it comes to finding permanent jobs," said Anne Sonnet, a senior economist with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. "Even with university degrees, there are many barriers to young people."

Adding to Spain’s woes, its government is unable to inject more stimulus and offer further support for job creation while its economy languishes as one of the weakest in Europe. The outlook on Spanish sovereign debt was recently downgraded, and the government is moving to raise taxes and cut spending. The country’s budget deficit, which hit 11 percent of gross domestic product this year, is supposed to be within the 3 percent threshold enshrined in the treaty that established the euro. The European Union wants Spain and other European countries relying on the euro to return to that range by 2013.

"Spain is under tremendous pressure from the E.U. and the bond markets," Mr. Osterman said. "They’re in a very difficult box." To be sure, Spain has traditionally suffered from relatively high unemployment, and at 19.3 percent, its overall rate today is double the 9.8 percent average for the European Union. But the sharp increase among young people is particularly problematic. It has jumped from 17.5 percent three years ago at the height of the boom to the current 42.9 percent.

At this level, Spain stands out from other troubled European countries. In Greece, for example, the youth unemployment rate is 25 percent, while Ireland’s is 28.4 percent and Italy’s is 26.9 percent. Spain is even worse off than countries in Eastern European where youth unemployment has traditionally been high. In Slovakia, for example, unemployment among young people is 27.9 percent. In Poland, youth unemployment is 21.2 percent, down from over 35 percent a few years ago.

In part, Spain is paying the price for its efforts to make it easier to put young people to work. In recent years, a disproportionate share of Spanish youth were employed on temporary contracts. So they were the easiest to lay off when the economy sank, said Alfonso Prieto, deputy director general of employment studies at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. During the most prosperous years, a culture of temporary work developed, Mr. Prieto and others explained. Young workers like Mr. Peñas became known as "mil euristas," for the 1,000 euros, or $1,438, a month they typically earned.

Once looked down upon as temporary, entry-level positions, the few remaining mil eurista jobs are now highly sought, Mr. Herce, the economic consultant, said. Besides drawing young Spanish workers out of school, the growth years lured young immigrants by the millions. Many of them are out of work as well. Katy Mejia, for example, moved here seven years ago from Ecuador with her parents, having just finished high school at age 16. She later married a Spaniard and worked in restaurants and bars in downtown Madrid. "Jobs were plentiful," Ms. Mejia said, "You could pick and choose."

Today, she is jobless, and her husband is working four hours a day driving a delivery van, forcing them to move in with her family. "It’s difficult to go back to living with your parents when you are married," she said. Although low-skilled workers are the hardest hit, Mr. Prieto said, professionals are also suffering. Vanessa Larrosa, who was recently laid off as a veterinarian, lives around the corner from the unemployment office in Santa Eugenia on the outskirts of Madrid. She was used to seeing a line forming in the dark each morning, as peopled huddled in blankets.

"But I personally never expected to be here," Ms. Larrosa said. "I’d like to continue to work as a vet, but I’d be happy with anything." Spain is spending roughly 30 billion euros ($43 billion) a year on unemployment benefits, but the money is doing little to prepare younger workers for the future. Mr. Herce said that Spain needed to invest more heavily in vocational education and retraining, and require the jobless to improve their skills.

That is what Carlos Herras, 26, is counting on. He is taking a course in renewable energy and hopes to find a job installing solar panels. But at this stage, he too would be happy with almost anything. "I started working so young," he said, ticking off jobs beginning at 14 in a bar, then a hotel and finally in the construction industry until last January. "I am optimistic. I may not find a job that I want, but I’ll find a job."

Wall Street ready to claim billions in tax breaks on bonus payments
2009 closed with the stock market rebounding 61 percent from its March lows, and "Wall Street is ready to pat itself on the back for its huge gains with big bonuses," potentially surpassing the record payouts of 2007. Analysts estimate that Wall Street’s 2009 bonus pool could total $200 billion — led by Goldman Sachs’ $23 billion — as the New York Times reported today, the return to big bonuses will also allow Wall Street banks to claim billions in tax breaks:
Many American banks already pay minuscule federal income taxes, because of various deductions and clever tax planning; the payout-related breaks will reduce their tax bills further in coming years…Altogether, the top three Wall Street banks — Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — will gain nearly $20 billion in tax breaks based on their employee compensation this year.

Compensation related tax deductions will total about $80 billion across Wall Street, according to New York City tax analyst Robert Willens. In 2008, Goldman Sachs paid an effective tax rate of just 1 percent thanks to a variety of deductions and keeping profits offshore.

JAL employees OK 53% pension benefit cuts, retirees' position unclear
Japan Airlines Corp. said Monday that more than two-thirds of its current employees have agreed to accept the company's proposal to cut pension benefits substantially as part of efforts to turn the struggling carrier around. Around 10,700 of the approximately 16,000 employees had responded positively to JAL's proposal as of Monday evening, but it remains unclear whether a similar proportion of the company's retirees will accept the proposed pension benefit cuts.

Japan's top airline, suffering from heavy losses, has sent letters to its retirees and current workers seeking their approval for cuts to pension benefits and has set Jan. 12 as the deadline to respond. Of the approximately 9,000 retirees, only 3,000, or one-third, had responded positively to the proposal.

The retirees have been asked to agree to a cut of over 30 percent, while current employees have been asked to accept a reduction of 53 percent. JAL needs to obtain agreement from two-thirds of each group. The cuts in pension benefits are deemed necessary for the company to secure long-term financial support from a government-backed corporate turnaround body, the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp. of Japan.

Economic Aspects Of The Pension Problem
by Antal E. Fekete

As It Appears Sixty Years Later

In Two Parts. Part One: Euthanasia of the Pension Funds

On February 23, 1950, The Commercial and Financial Chronicle published an article from Ludwig von Mises with the above title. In it the author concentrated on the threat of inflation as the greatest danger to pension rights. Sixty years later another danger is looming large on the horizon: the threat of deflation, and a new examination of the pension problem is timely.

Deliberate Dollar Debasement

In 1950 Mises looked at the pension problem from the point of view of the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar, a consequence of what he called the deliberate policy of currency debasement by the U.S. government. In 1950 a pension of $100 per month was a substantial allowance, he noted. Shelter could be rented for a month for less than $30 in most parts of the country. (In 2010, $100 hardly buys one night's stay at a decent hotel.) In 1950 the Welfare Commissioner of the City of New York reported that 52 cents would buy all the food a person needed to meet his daily caloric and protein requirements. (In 2010, $100 barely buys a cup of coffee and a muffin for every day of the month.)

Of course, currency debasement does far more damage than simply eroding the purchasing power of pensions. As Mises observed, it also leads to the insufficiency of capital accumulation. Companies report phantom profits that mask losses, since depreciation quotas understate the wear and tear of productive equipment. Savings are hardly adequate to pay for capital maintenance, let alone new capital or technological improvements in production -- the only source from which pensions to an increasing labor force can be paid. When young workers who now join the labor force are ready to retire, the necessary funds to pay their pensions will simply not be available.

Capital destruction due to declining interest rates

I have written extensively about the proposition, one that mainstream economists doggedly refuse to discuss, that a falling interest-rate structure has a deleterious effect on accumulated capital. Capital is destroyed across the board simultaneously and stealthily. By the time the damage is discovered, it is too late to do anything about it and firms go bankrupt in droves. The falling trend of interest rates is the unrecognized cause of the depression that is presently devastating the world economy -- just as it also was 80 years ago.

Nowhere is the erosion of capital caused by falling interest rates is more obvious than in the case of the capital of the pension funds. They must earn adequate return on their investments, but a falling rate of interest frustrates this effort. At the lower rate the original schedule of capital accumulation cannot be met.

Those who disagree argue that if the present value of a future stream of payments is lower when discounted at a higher rate, then it must be higher when discounted at a lower rate. Thus the steady future receipts of a pension fund from payroll contributions will have a higher value under a regime of falling interest rates. There is no need to argue this point. It is clear that the fund must be around to be able to collect future contributions enhanced by a fall in interest rates. Many of them won't be, as they will have succumbed to capital squeeze caused by the very fall of the interest rate that is supposed to be their savior. At any rate, rules of sound accounting do not allow pension funds to treat expected future payroll contributions as if they were cash payments in the process of clearing.

The repercussions for society are devastating. Just as the aging segment of population in the industrialized countries becomes vitally dependent on its pension income, the falling rate of interest undermines the pension plans. In many cases the money to pay out pensions won't be there. For the rest, payoutreductions will be inevitable. Defined-benefit pension plans will have to be discontinued. Of course, the problem is even more acute in the case of unfunded pension plans such as Social Security, the pension plan of the military, or that of the civil service of the federal, state, and municipal governments. Under these plans the contributions of the active members directly pay the pensions of the retired ones. We shall see below that such plans exhaust the definition of a Ponzi scheme.

The Great Milch-Cow

When a large segment of the population is facing a drastic cut in income, and especially since most retired people have no alternative and cannot augment their diminished pension with income from other sources, consumption falls back and lower demand will have further deflationary consequences on the economy. Yet this problem, just as the kindred problem of the erosion of the capital of productive enterprise, is ignored by the profession of economists and that of the accountants. They apparently believe that the Great Milch-Cow, the government, will always be there and able to cover any shortfall.

The decades-long slide of interest rates is far from over. As I argued in my other articles, large-scale monetization of government debt in the wake of every new bail-out plan and stimulus-package is going to impart a falling (rather than a rising) trend to the interest rate structure, due to the opportunity it creates for risk-free profits. Bond speculators ambush the Federal Reserve on its periodic trips to the bond market to make its regular open market purchases of government bonds in order to increase the money supply. They buy the bonds beforehand in order to dump them after the Federal Reserve has bought its quota. They pocket the difference. These risk-free profits explain a large part of the present deflation: the rising bond prices (read: falling interest rates) as well as falling prices. The new money that the Federal Reserve has created through its open market purchases will not flow to the commodity, real estate, or equity markets as hoped by the policy-makers. It will stay in the bond market where risks are the smallest, and will be financing further bullish bond speculation. The ultimate result will be a further fall in the rate of interest, exposing the pension funds to even greater dangers.

Note that these dangers are in addition to the threat to the value of pensions undermined by past inflation, about which Mises was warning sixty years ago. It could be further undermined in case the reckless increase in government debt scared bond speculators and other investors, including foreign holders of the debt of the U.S., for example, the Chinese government. Should they start dumping the bonds, they would push interest rates and commodity prices to much higher levels.

Pensions are doomed whatever the government does. Whether interest rates go up or whether they go further down, the pensions are at risk. In the case of rising interest rates their value will be decimated. In the case of falling interest rates pension contributions will not be able to earn a return necessary to accumulate the capital needed in order to pay defined-benefit pensions.

The relevance of the gold standard to the pension problem

As we can see, at the heart of the problem is the destabilization of the rate of interest due, first, to sabotaging and, then, to destroying the gold standard by the government. There is no known way to stabilize interest rates but by defining the value of the unit of currency as a fixed quantity and fineness of gold. In this way the amount owing on deferred payments will be fixed. Any breach of promise of future payments will be immediately obvious as soon as it occurs. The difference is this, and a very important difference it is: a promise to make future payments in irredeemable currency is a meaningless promise, because breaching it can be ? and will be ? camouflaged in many ways.

This spells catastrophe. The retired segment of the population will be plunged into penury. The only way to avoid this is to stabilize the rate of interest structure through the rehabilitation of the gold standard with all deliberate speed.

A fall in the rate of interest has a direct effect of decreasing the return to capital of the pension funds. This decrease should be compensated for by increasing payroll deductions. It is clear that this is never done. What is not clear is whether the reason for this omission is ignorance on the part of the economists' and the accountants' profession, or whether it is due to a political decision. Is it possible that the government, motivated by the principle "let the sleeping dog lie". Certainly, the government does not want to alarm the people and put wind into the sails of the budding movement demanding the immediate return to the gold standard, even though this is the only way to stabilize interest rates thus making pensions affordable again.

The last vestiges of the gold standard were unilaterally discarded by the government of the United States in 1971. This event was coincident with the onset of the greatest gyration in the rate of interest on a world-wide scale. In a decade interest rates shot up to two-digit figures in the high teens. Then a slow decline started in the 1980's pushing interest rates relentlessly towards zero. The first move (rising interest rates) was accompanied with a great surge of inflation, wiping out a large part of the value of pension rights. The second move (falling interest rates), which is still continuing, has brought deflation. It has not yet fully manifested its corrosive effect on the pension funds as yet. Even so, the forces that drive the rate of interest to zero are squarely responsible for the erosion or destruction of all capital, including the accumulated capital of the pension funds.

Although historians do not advertise the fact, a lot of pension funds went bankrupt in the 1930's, and the remaining ones had to scale back the amounts they had contracted to pay to their pensioners. Economists failed to offer an explanation for this universal phenomenon. Yet the explanation is clear: the accumulated capital of the pension funds was badly impaired, and in some cases completely wiped out, by the falling interest rate structure. Exactly the same causes are operating right now, and exactly the same effects will follow. The only difference is the larger scale of capital destruction in the present episode.

Indexed pensions = Ponzi pensions

In recent years the pension problem has been swept under the rug. During the past sixty years experts have invented "indexing" as the cure for the erosion of pension rights. Indexing means that pensioners can be compensated for the erosion of their pensions due to inflation by making yearly adjustments upwards tied to some index numbers "measuring" inflation. This means that the powers that be are aware of the pension problem. They are willing to treat the symptoms, but they still refuse to treat the real cause of the disease. Their outlook on inflation as being "nature given", beyond the power of man to address, is hypocritical and devious.

The basic idea of indexing pensions is that the redistributive society will always have the wherewithal to validate all pension rights, since the government can borrow and tax without limit. Funding pensions is an anathema to Keynesian economics. The "modern" way of financing pension rights is to make pensions "pay-as-you-go". This is euphemism for Ponzi pensions, whereby currently active workers are made to pay the pensions of retired members. Present workers will be compensated after their retirement by the contributions of members then active.

This is clearly fraudulent as it makes a hypothetical third party bear the full brunt of the arrangement. People are brought into the compact without their concurrence. Some of the members who will pay the pension of the now active workers may not have been born yet! The key point is: contributions are not capitalized upon receipt but are instead dissipated. Pension contributions must be capitalized in order to make them a meaningful source of future pensions. Current workers' pension rights could be subject to veto by tomorrow's workers, should they find this arrangement unfair. Only fully-funded pensions are secure (and what use is a pension if it is not secure?) and it is only under a gold standard that such security can exist.

Any other arrangement may unravel, as the victims of the redistributive society may one day wake up and revolt.

John Maynard Keynes, in a bout of sincerity, blurted out a phrase that only now has revealed its true meaning: the euthanasia of the rentier. It gives away the "shabby little secret" of the redistributive society: robbing the pensioners who can no longer take "strike action" and with the proceeds throwing dust into the eyes of the rest of the people.

Deflation and the pension problem in Japan

The United States is following Japan down the garden path to zero interest. Therefore it is instructive to look at deflation and the pension problem in Japan in order to see the shape of things to come. Consider the plight of JAL, Japan Airlines. The economic slowdown hit travel and cargo traffic hard. Saddled with the equivalent of $15 billion in debt and a massive pension fund deficit, the airline was forced to apply for "mediated debt restructuring" -- euphemism for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Asia's largest carrier by revenue said in its earnings report that there was a great deal of uncertainty about its ability to continue as a going concern. It has applied for help to the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp., a government-backed fund. However, capital injection or additional financing or additional financing alone would not improve the carrier's prospects, as asserted by the November 14, 2009, news report of Reuters, because of its severely underfunded pension plans. JAL president Nishimatsu met with the leaders of the airline's retirees association to seek their approval on pension payout reductions. Media reports say that the leaders have expressed their desire to cooperate in some ways with management to save the airline, but many retirees are expected to oppose strongly the proposed pension cuts.

The cancer of depression has been metastasizing across the Pacific through the yen-carry trade foolishly encouraged by the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan as a way to push interest rates even lower in the United States. Rather than analyzing the Japanese example and drawing the appropriate conclusions, American policy-makers have an irresistible itch to follow Japan's jump into the abyss of the Black Hole of zero interest. The result, perfectly predictable, is catastrophic.

What should American labor leaders do?

American labor faces the greatest challenge ever. Its achievements on the wage front and on the pension front are at stake, due to inane government policies of destabilizing the rate of interest, causing an unprecedented destruction of capital, in particular, destroying the capital of pension plans.

If the labor leaders want to preserve the achievements the labor movement, they must address the root cause of the problem: the regime of irredeemable currency. Interest rates can be stabilized and pension plans can be saved only through outlawing of the irredeemable dollar.

We are currently on a course that will result in the destruction of pension funds. If not wiping them out altogether, the irredeemable dollar will drastically reduce the pension rights of the workers. This is a wake-up call. The unions must act now and demand that the Supreme Court of the United States declare Federal Reserve credits and notes unconstitutional. The manner in which these are presently issued is the root cause of our economic instability and the vicious swings between inflation and deflation. The unions must demand through legal challenges in the courts that wages, salaries, and pensions be paid in constitutional dollars, that is, dollars redeemable in the coin of the realm, defined as a fixed weight and fineness of gold and silver.

The U.S. Mint must be open to the unlimited coinage of gold and silver free of seigniorage charges. To prevent future tinkering with the monetary system by charlatans, the metallic value of the dollar ought to be enshrined in the Constitution, so that any change in the gold content of the dollar would take a constitutional amendment -- rather than an executive proclamation.

U.S. government bonds must be deprived of their monopoly position and they must be exposed to competition with the gold coin before the saving public. This is indispensable for the stabilization of the rate of interest, but no less for the health of the pension funds. Government bonds are unsuitable for pension funds to hold on capital account. In case of a demographic shift such as that when more people leave the labor force with pensions than those entering it while joining pension plans, the net selling of government bonds from portfolio may collide with selling by the government, causing an unwarranted rise in the rate of interest. In the case of net selling of corporate bonds from portfolio the same problem does not arise. In fact, it should be treated as a signal for the corporations to retrench.

If the American labor leaders fail to challenge the constitutionality of the irredeemable dollar, and ask the Supreme Court for the protection of the pension funds on constitutional grounds, then a century of gains on the pension front will be irretrievably lost. Penury for the retired segment of the population will follow. The plight of the JAL pensioners is not some kind of exception: this is the future norm unless the current irredeemable currency system is replaced with the gold standard.


Wyote said...

Those who read TAE on a regular basis know that Ilargi has been pining the financial crisis squarely on the GSE's for quite awhile so the Zero Hedge article was not to "shocking". But to state as Marla Singer does that **" should shock you that power over literally a third of the U.S. economy should ever have been allowed to become concentrated in two entities with blatantly socialist aims"** is just beyond the idiot pall.

Let's pop over to Wiki for a brief definition of Socialism:

"Socialism refers to various theories of economic organization advocating public or direct worker ownership and administration of the means of production and allocation of resources, and a society characterized by equal access to resources for all individuals with a method of compensation based on the amount of labor expended."

I'm open to suggestions as to how the enslavement of the lower and middle classes in the USA with debt burden is anything like the worker ownership of the means of production in this society.

The complete and fraudulent backstopping of the biggest banks has not the slightest hint of socialist agenda. Indeed with her statement that "the last 20 years have represented the largest single wealth transfer (composed primarily of real estate and flat screen TVs) to that sector known to us.", Marla seems bent on inserting her agenda into an other wise competent analysis.



pineappleCoward said...

I have to agree with Wyote about the socialist epithet. I think we need a new word for what's going on, maybe ponzi-ist or perhaps fraudulism. Celente fails to differentiate between cash and credit. Maybe he's dumbing things down for the audience but I can only see his devaluation/inflation call applying to credit in the short term. Cash will actually be far more in demand and precious, but since there is so much more credit the net effect is the nations 'money' (cash+credit) will devalue. I guess you could call that inflation but I would consider that disingenuous.

gylangirl said...

Nailed it [again,] Ilargi.

I also agree that Singer's socialist epithet is absurd.

The proper term for the government transfer of wealth from the middle class to the corporate class is fascism not socialism.

It is so strange to hear a fairly good description of the problem from many on the far right but the wrong term used to define it. That's what you get when you've been brainwashed for years to think socialism is the catchall phrase for all your problems. Keep trying to fit those square pegs into round holes. Idiots in The Party that Wrecked America.

Equally bizarro to hear the centrist Democrats [I refuse to call them 'progressives'] falsely claim to be helping the people fight the banksters while they actually help the perps to get away with it. Liars from The Party that Betrayed America.

How do we bring on that new third political party per Celente's predictions?

Ric said...

pc says, "I think we need a new word for what's going on, maybe ponzi-ist or perhaps fraudulism."

We can't easily put a name on it because it's not been sufficiently examined. I'd very much like to know a good name for our economic and political systems.

gylangirl suggests facism, but I'm not so sure. Fascism assumes an authoritarian nationalistic government combined with corporations. While I certainly fear this, I don't see fascism coming to full-fruition outside of, perhaps, certain metropolitcan areas. Currently, the US is gearing for internal war and arming itself to the teeth--weapons manufacturers can't keep up with demand and there are shortages in guns and ammo.

If a major role of a government is to create money, then the US seems more like a puppet state than a sovereign nation. I'm outside my zone of competency here, but I wonder how others see it. As far as I can tell, there's nothing in the US constitution for publically managing or overseeing the creation of the bulk of its money supply.

Inflating the money supply through credit is a power that can make or break nations, yet the US Constitution says nothing about credit policy. Article I, Section 8 says that Congress shall have the power to collect taxes and “borrow money on the credit of the United States.” It does not say from whom the government will borrow or on what terms or who will publically vet the process. It then continues that, Congress has the power “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.” Nowhere does it say who has the power to set bank reserves and interest rates or how the public good will be protected. Perhaps this is why Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Taylor in 1816,

"And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

The US Constitution was adopted in 1787, 29 years before Jefferson wrote his letter. Did anyone framing the constitution realize that Article I, Section 8 handed the sovereign power to create money to financiers answerable to no one? Or was it that they didn't know and the financiers simply filled a void?

woodsy_gardener said...

gylandgirl: "How do we bring on that new third political party per Celente's predictions?"

We don't.

There is no avoiding the wall to which we are headed.

Top Cat said...

Stylistically, the so called 'political transition' from Bush to Obama has been like going from a Chimp to a Pimp.

It's a moral decision when you have to make a basic choice between outright thievery and equally applied rules of law.

We have no equally applied rules of law anymore, not even cosmetically. The theft is blatant and obvious and quite frankly out of control.

This is not politics.

It's tyranny.

There is no politics when there is no rule of law.

When one set of rules applies to 'the little people' and virtually no rules apply to TBTF's, this is a moral dilemma.

No amount of discussion or reason will solve it.

Politics is about discussion and reason to solve problems, as messy as that can be.

'Politics' comes after this basic moral distinction between financial tyranny and basic universally applied rules of law.

You can call it a political problem til the cows come home, it's not.

It's a moral problem.

It's also not a philosophical or spiritual problem.

I don't need Plato or Buddha to help me recognize thieves and thugs and punk-ass chimps to decide what needs to be done about it. I'm very practical.

Jim Kunstler has always maintained that in a diminished and radically downsized local world, justice and law enforcement will be much shorter and to the point. You hang a cattle or horse thief or their modern equivalent, on the spot. No one will have the time or resources (or patience) to engage in lengthy discussion about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. More like how many can dance on the end of a rope.

Prison budgets will be early causalities of municipal bond collapses. Such niceties as 'jail' will be converted to forced labor camps and chain gangs, at best.

Local justice will be swift and brutish as an over compensation to the complete breakdown and lack of justice that is now on display on the national and state level.

snuffy said...

I see these examples of what would have been previously called outright fraud,now mixed with what is now just"normal business practice"and am convinced we will have the "grand mal seizure"that will shock the whole system to pieces.
The systemic risk that has been built into the system we now have will not be denied.At some point,we will get the inflection point,and the changes,and stresses that have been gaining force for the last decade of mal-investment,outright criminal looting,and mis-allotment of resource will result in a financial catastrophe.

How much chow do you have?.Where does your water come from?.Who is your neighbor?.And what might be most important,who is your friend?

Who can you trust?

These questions soon will take a much different it may well be a matter of life-shortening decisions...What you don't know about things in your life can harm you.

Mrs Snuffy ,I have to admit,is a fanatic about food,and has beat me into submission about my diet,by forcing me to eat only the best food we can find.She is of a mind that your health is directly related to the fuel your body gets.

But,that is only part of the trip we are going on now.G Celente is ringing the bell loudly now,basically saying "its game over ,boys and girls,and the wealthy folks are going to eak out the last little bits of profit before crashing the system"and there is nothing anyone can do but prepare for chaos.

Our discussions we have had lately about collapse have not touched much on what the physical realities may be.Celente talks about "Calcutta"and Mexico city"here in the USA.The reality that exists in those places partly exists due to the people ,their philosophy of life,religion,and amount of control that the authorities have on each citizen,as well as how each person views themselves as a part of that society
This will have a major bearing,as well as a defining effect on what occurs.Right before the y2k non-event I saw my entire neighborhood come together in a way I could not believe.I do not know if economic collapse will have the same unification effect as was felt then due to the different circumstances,but if it does it will be a powerful thing.
We have a whole different ballgame here folks.We live in a culture that convinces every person they have a right to a new car,a nice house,entertainment and"the good life".We are AMERICANS fer christ sake,and our way of life is non-negotiable...

Until it is not.

Never before has a culture as heavily armed as we are ,been lead to the very edge of chaos.And the lies ,and the bull shit just keeps coming from our"leaders",when they are not busy filling their pockets with gold from the corporations that truly rule our lives

This will not end well.It looks like it will "start"soon.


Brunswickian said...

Mike Ruppert hits the panic button.

Mike said...

Another one on F&F from Taibbi:

zander said...

Big story doing the rounds here:

UK is running out of gas and has only 8 days supply left, don't know how valid the claims are but a denial/blame game has started from all parties involved, if true we're in deep shit as Britain is frozen solid after the worst (best??) winter in 29 years and forecasters are saying there's a week of the cold weather front coming in from Siberia left.

sorry no links


DIYer said...

From the NYT article re mortgage modification: Then, in October, a startling legal notice arrived in the mail: Chase had foreclosed on her house and sold it at auction for $100. (The purchaser? Chase.)

After vacating the sale, the judge should have offered the house to Ms. Smith for $100 -- that seems fair, since it's the value Chase set on the property. The O-admin could then boast about how really well the modification program is working.

Ahimsa said...

Gylangirl said:

How do we bring on that new third political party per Celente's predictions?

It's simply too late! At this point all we can do is attempt to save (alleviate coming suffering) ourselves, our families and our immediate communities.

Do listen to Michael Ruppert's warning.

There is such a thing as being too late ... Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity. ... Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.' ~ MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Top Cat said...

From the ZH article, it is clear to me that the last ditch stand by the TBTF mobsters in regards to IRA/401k's is going to be similar to the suspension of accounting rules in 'market to fantasy' obfuscation slight of hand for the banksters.

The Sleepe don't want to hear that their retire funds are gone.

They are willing accomplices in this historic fraud.

Please, please, pleeease, don't tell us Real Bad News.

We'll go along with anything, just don't tell us The Dream is Over, the Balloon has Burst, the Wad has Been Shot.

By changing withdrawal rules for IRA/401k's, the TBTF's can then goose the mediawhores to proclaim that your retirement funds are still there and still worth their full value (like mortgages at Fanny&Freddy) it's just that the central authorities have decided, for your own good , that you can only withdraw $100 a week of it at a time, you know, for Homeland Financial Security reasons.

It will also be for the fight against terra-ism, don't ya know. Them terra-ist are trying to destabilize our American Way of Life and it's your patriotic duty not to try and withdraw your retirement funds too fast, it plays into their devious plans to ruin our god given lifestyle.

This message will have tremendous traction with the Sleeple Sheeple People for a bit longer.

Anything to delay the inevitable, and with the willing help of the Damned to boot.

Everything is just Hunky-Dory kids.

(Footnote: The only time I was ever in the real Dodge City, Kansas was years ago during a wicked summer heat wave, it was 118º F on the drugstore thermometer. At that temperature I remember, it was very hard to think straight. And yes, I really wanted to get the hell out of Dodge ;>)

Bukko_in_Australia said...

I read the money market fund "redemption suspension" post at ZeroHedge and have been shaking my head ever since. Could it REALLY be that ominous and sinister? Certainly seems that way. But part of me wants to deny. I'd like to think that I, and the doomster bloggers I enjoy reading, are Chicken Littles. It CAN'T be that bad, I keep telling myself. People MUST be misinterpreting, reading too much into stuff.

Then again, I was thinking that back in 2005 when the U.S. bankruptcy laws were rewritten and the left-wing talk radio shows I listened to were screaming that this was another way to screw the little guy. I could see the rewrite was bad, but I didn't see it as a major societal threat. And even the most ardent lefties had no idea that a massive economic collapse was coming that would wreck so many people with those bankruptcy laws. In that case, the paranoiacs weren't paranoid enough.

So as with so many of these things, I'm left to ponder -- are the doom-sayers nuts, or not frightened enough?

Stoneleigh said...

Top Cat,

By changing withdrawal rules for IRA/401k's, the TBTF's can then goose the mediawhores to proclaim that your retirement funds are still there and still worth their full value (like mortgages at Fanny&Freddy) it's just that the central authorities have decided, for your own good , that you can only withdraw $100 a week of it at a time, you know, for Homeland Financial Security reasons.

It will also be for the fight against terra-ism, don't ya know. Them terra-ist are trying to destabilize our American Way of Life and it's your patriotic duty not to try and withdraw your retirement funds too fast, it plays into their devious plans to ruin our god given lifestyle.

That's exactly the sort of thing I would expect to happen. These things are spun in such as way as to lull people into a false sense of security for a little bit longer. The same thing can happen with bank accounts of course.

Look for spin doctors to move into overdrive on a whole range of events that are coming down the pipeline, and don't believe a word of it (as I'm sure you already don't).

Bigelow said...


I think Celente clings to the fiction of the rise of a third party triumph because he sees the alternative. No third party/independent candidate has ever taken the national government. The entire system of election legitimization would have to collapse before a third party win.

Start with the mental conditioning -constantly reinforced- that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote.

“Michael Kazin, a historian at Georgetown University, told Al Jazeera: "They team up in various ways to make it very difficult for the other parties to first get on the ballot on a state-by-state basis and then to take part in the debates, which on the presidential level have become absolutely critical."

Billionaire Ross Perot was the most successful independent candidate in recent history, winning a place in the 1992 presidential debates.
But although he won a fifth of the popular vote nationwide, he failed to win a single state.


"It's more about trying to change the mentality of things. If it leads to change decades down the line, that's fine."”
US third parties fight to be heard

“The simple majority, single ballot system favours the two-party system” -Duverger's law

goritsas said...

zander said...

UK is running out of gas and has only 8 days supply left…

Try this for a running commentary:

Stoneleigh said...


I'm inclined to agree with Mike Ruppert. This rally is almost over, and with it will go the complacency and optimism of recent months. I expect the veil to be figuratively pulled from people's eyes quite soon, then they'll be wondering how they could ever have thought the credit crunch was over. Mood can change on a dime.

Some kind of political crisis emerging from energy crisis in areas where the balance of power is already precarious is certainly plausible. All sorts of things could serve as manufactured distractions as well.

Something will probably be fingered as the trigger for the next move downward, although this will be rationalization rather than causation. Typically, the decline would begin before whatever ends up being interpreted as the cause of it. This is what happened around 9/11, where the attack came near the end of a decline, a few days before a very sharp rally in fact. Anyone looking in terms of real world causation for market moves would have to conclude that 9/11 was bullish.

zander said...

goritsas ....

can't believe theres a blog dedicated solely to the issue of UK day to day gas supplies....incredible.


jal said...

Re.: Random thoughts and quotes

call a spade a spade.

The MATT TAIBBI article was good

“We have a whole different ball game here folks”

You cannot use the old familiar yardsticks, (meter).

Mortgages are now owned by the gov.

Banks have cleaned out enough of their bad loans and are able to function and keep the system working until the system gets reset.

There are many countries that operate without a health care system.
There are many societies that have operated without private ownership of real estate, and credit.

Where are the lead cows?

I think in the final analysis, these bankers were just as stupid and imprudent as Clinton-era HUD officials, OFHEO regulators, Christoper Cox, Alan Greenspan, rating agency analysts, and, let’s not forget, the people who, on limited and inconsistent incomes, actually thought it was a sound decision to buy a $500,000 home and to stuff it full of HDTVs.
Wall Street knew they were piling shit on the doorstep of dumbass institutional investors, and they kept piling on the steam because they made money doing it. Does it surprise you that some of these investors were in Germany? They didn’t know shit about the US mortgage market, but they wanted yield.
Why would the US start a war in Yeman?
The population of Yemen was about 28 million according to July 2005 estimates, with 46% of the population being under 15 years old and 2.7% above 65 years.

Foreign investments remain largely concentrated around the nation's hydrocarbon industry.
Yemen's first liquified natural gas (LNG) plant has been completed and launched its first shipment to South Korea. LNG may prove to be a vital replacement for depleting oil reserves.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union and China provided large-scale assistance. For example, the Chinese are involved with the expansion of the International Airport in Sanaa.
I figure if I’m going to get screwed by forces out of my control, I might as well learn how its done.

memphis said...


Do you think TPTB hope to withhold IRA/401K funds from recipients who are age eligible? How would they expect these folks to otherwise survive?

Plus, wouldn't it make some sense to enable people access to money when tax time rolls around? Many people would need access to these monies just for property taxes.

el gallinazo said...

Re Singer calling this form of government socialism

I have discovered (to my amazement) that I have more in common with Libertarians than "centrist progressives," but in the final analysis, they are often still very intelligent moral idiots.

But valuable "idiots" as the Zero Hedge people, for example, do know the ins and outs of the kleptocracy machinations and have mastery of the Austrian tools of analysis. And they do not identify, for whatever reason, with the oligarchs, but despise them. So as I started out, I will take them over a centrist progressive any day of the week.

In a long video dating back about six months, Gerald Celente is quite clear what one should call the current socioeconomic structure in the USA - fascism. Celente then goes on to mention a speech by Il Duce, where he mentions that he is a little saddened by the reference to his form of government as fascism, as corporatism would have been a much better name. But perhaps we could make Maria Singer more accurate by sticking a little Nationalism in front of that Socialism.

And don't be fooled by our apparent freedoms to believe that we are not now living under fascism, or at best, perhaps in a transition from fascism lite. Surprisingly to many, there was much more freedom of thought for middle class Germans who were of the proper ethnic and economic background under Hitler than is currently thought, at least until Stalingrad.


Just a tip of the beak (or the hat on the cat) to you as part of my group of favorite commenters here.

Ahimsa said...

Top Cat and El G,

You guys got it right!


Ilargi said...


Yeah, I read the Taibbi piece and left it out on purpose because A) I already had an entire orphanage worth of F&F pieces, and B) because Taibbi's basic argument is a bit off.

He mentions Peter Wallison's review of the findings of Edward Pinto, who says that since 1993 Fan and Fred have been categorically giving prime marks to loans with sub-660 FICOs, and claims (Pinto) that "Market observers, rating agencies and investors were unaware of the number of subprime and Alt-A mortgages infecting the financial system in late 2006 and early 2007".

According to Taibbi, this is so absurd that it's worth the rest of his article to plough over. But Wallison is probably simply right in the simple point that many people simply didn't know that Fan and Fred were marking the dice. That’s not to say these parties are blameless, but that’s not what Wallison talks about. He doesn't say that they didn't know of any false credit ratings, just that they didn't know how big the number was. Taibbi should read more carefully.

Which means that ZeroHedge's Marla Singer may be a tad over the top when she says the accusations vs ratings agencies and banks are "fundamentally flawed", but I think she essentially means the same Wallison does, that the Fan and Fred revelations put the entire blame game in an entirely different light. Not, as Taibbi seemingly likes to think he reads, that raters and banks are absolved from any blame.

Other than that, Taibbi reads surprisingly like me. As do a bunch of ZeroHedge pieces lately, I’m happy to see they stepped up their game a few notches in the past 4 weeks or so. The Tyler Durden collective works much better when the members do not try to keep their emotions in check like good businessmen should.

As for SInger's use of the word “socialist”, I think if you look back at what she writes that the criticism here is a bit out of place. Note that she does not use the word “socialism”. She talks about Fan and Fred's original purpose, to provide home loans for the poor(er), and labels that "blatantly socialist aims". Debatable, I guess, but not wrong per sé. You may have lofty notions of making homeownership universally accessible, but the main beneficiaries all along over the past 70-odd years have been the banks.

Singer uses some odd phrasing, but nothing that deserves what I read here. Fan and Fred are indeed the pivotal instrument in the biggest wealth transfer in history, perpetrated in the past 20 years. As singer puts it, they're being used to “socialize risk”. And that’s how her use of the term "socialist" should be interpreted.

Armando said...

About Youth Unemployment and Bond Spreads in Spain: It is obvious if you read the graphic that bond spreads in Spain are at a totally different and better level than those of the other countries in the report, and the scandal about downgrading Spanish debt is just rubbish from the Anglophone press.

The opinion of an Englishman in Barcelona: "Are these people serious about reform, or are they just telling people what they want to hear?" asked Edward Hugh, a British-trained macroeconomist.
* Not only us suffer from delusions, buddy. I'm sure that RBS, Lloyds and Mr Brown are desperate for you advice, go back there and tells them.

Youth unemployment in Spain is indeed tragic: the boy asking for money for gasoline for his GTi car and going to the disco, the girls get to the disco for free and hope to find a man who saves them from drudgery, enough to drive the parents up the walls!

Let me remind you, the report doesn't say it and no way you can know, that University studies in Spain are practically free, in fact if you are a good student you finish with money in the bank because the 'incompetent' spanish State pays you.
To the Spanish the idea of graduating with a debt would be contemplated with horror. Technical Colleges, Language Schools are also free, and the INEM, Nat Unemployment Office, teaches hundreds of technical subjects in hundreds of schools all over the country.

The article glosses over an interesting fact: the Ecuadorians and other Latinoamericans who came to Spain to work, also Eastern Europeans and Africans and we are talking about more than 4 million people, in a country with high structural unemployment.
While Romanians and other East Europeans are not allowed to live and work in most of Europe, Spain opened its borders to them and they have to face the hardships of life same as us or nearly the same.

We have stand guard in worse trenches!

Frank said...


Singer had a couple of hissy-fits over the health care bill last week. In the one I read carefully, she did the same trick of making it sound like it was the big bad liberals/socialists causing the problem, while not actually stating it, which was good, because it isn't true.

You may recall that Schwarzenegger has a $23 billion problem, and that he is trying to stick the feds with $8 billion of that.

Reading her screed carefully what she said was that if the Senate health bill passes, he will have a $27 billion problem.

What it sounded like to the casual reader was that without the health bill he would have only a $19 billion problem, with no contingency on its' passage.

After a few of these, I'm beginning to tune Singer out when she starts to get strident.

jal said...

Teachers buys AIG's Canadian mortgage insurance business

The mortgage insurance business is growing because the Canadian housing market remains strong and the size of mortgages and high-debt-to-downpayment loans is rising. That makes it more attractive for homebuying couples to seek insurance from their lenders so the mortgage gets paid in case one of the owners dies. Statistics show about three quarters of homebuyers have that type of mortgage insurance.

As well, Canadians are required to insure their mortgages by law, if they have a high-ratio mortgage, that is a house loan with less than 20 per cent down payment.

That kind of insurance protects the mortgage lender from a default by the borrower, but the borrower himself is not protected even though he pays for the insurance.

ogardener said...

What happens to people who shuffled papers and pushed pencils their entire adult lives during this meltdown? Those without the skills, knowledge or health to plumb, energize, build shelters or grow food? Can you all imagine the outflow of people from the cities? These people will try to take what they can from you like so many scenes in the current movie 'The Road' --one scene comes to mind where all the local Yahoos are [going down the road feelin' bad] on that flatbed truck armed to the teeth. This is where I think things might eventually devolve especially with the trifecta of economic meltown, global warming and peak oil all occurring simultaneously. All bets are off if the nukes start flying as NATO recently proposed first strike pre-emptive tactical nuclear war in order to deal with nuclear proliferation issues ie; Iran. Which is another farce the people are made to believe - in my opinion.

Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale has some worthy points to consider post meltdown. I don't think there will be too many safe havens unless you manage to get way back in there where there are no roads and those kinds of places are few and far between these days. Who here is prepared to argue with a tank?

Thanks for the definition of socialism Wyote. It's always good to define one's terms. I consider myself to be of an anarcho-communist political persuasion for example.

I. M. Nobody said...

This seems to be a day for philosophical observations. Laird bacon bits rightly observed in the previous food fight that all reality is subject to interpretation. Leading to greenpa's meaningful observation that some interpretations are more useful than others. I can't resist throwing in a few of my own.

What is fascism? If the most influential oligarchs of business and government are rowing the same boat in unison and unconcerned about whose boats they are ramming, that meets my definition.

Are the masses sheeple? I have never liked this usage. I think it is probably an undeserved insult to sheep and quite possibly an undeserved compliment to H. Sap.

Was y2k really a non-event? Y2k was a huge event, but like WW-I it was not the event almost everyone expected it to be. Not much unusual happened on 1/1 or 3/1 of 2000 because of massively expensive and internally disruptive activities over the previous decade. There were major shifts in corporate balance of power and budget priorities. Where we are right now owes at least something to y2k. This is not rumor or speculation. I was in the middle of it working as an IT contractor for several corporations over that decade including a large banking institution.

Could a third party ever win in Usanistan? As that notorious party animal Uncle Joe Stalin famously observed, "it doesn't matter who votes, what matters is who counts the votes". In Usanistan the people in charge of the counting and approving the ballots are almost always either Ds or Rs.

Did the "Founding Fathers" intend for the government of Usanistan to follow the wishes of the common folk and serve their interests? I have two words for you. Electoral College.

Tero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilargi said...


I have no idea what article you're referring to, which makes it impossible to react.

Ilargi said...


We'd much prefer it if you would quote the original Homer SImpson here, not that boring fake Thomas Homer Simpson.

goritsas said...

For those that can actually think, don’t feel bad Ahimsa and Carpe Diem, et al., here’s a piece by David Graeber Debt: The First Five Thousand Years that may be of interest. Probably not as most of the crowd is still wondering about bogus unemployment figures and the new bull equities market. Carry on, Morons. Will Babs star... That is the real question. She’s left East Enders. Will she return?

Tero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greyzone said...

What you read here from some, Ilargi, are kneejerk reactions from closet socialists and communists who think their baby has been called ugly.

Unfortunately for them, socialism/communism is just as much flawed and dead as capitalism. Both are byproducts of industrial civilization, which itself is a byproduct of the discovery of fossil fuels coupled with the raping of two nearly pristine continents worth of resources over the last 500 years. And as fossil fuels decline, coupled with other resource declines, both of these stepchildren of the industrial revolution will die horrible ugly deaths.

Where homo sapiens is now bound, over the coming years, is to a place where the "isms" of the 20th century are laughable folklore of an ignorant people. That there are those reading this blog who still aspire to the insanities of socialism (or capitalism) simply speaks to the deep level of denial about overshoot and collapse.

Mother nature always bats last and she doesn't give a flying flip about whatever ism someone personally holds dear. The sooner you understand this and figure out how to let go of your old mental baggage, the sooner you will create a chance for you and your loved ones to get through the coming bottleneck. Of course, you can cling to your outdated "isms" and die right along with them too. Your choice.

Stoneleigh said...

Translation of comment follows ;)

Goritsas would like to offer the following reading recommendation:

Debt: The First Five Thousand Years by David Graeber

FB said...


@ Bigelow

Interesting that you mentioned Duverger's Law.

Maurice Duverger was my professor in comparative constitutional law at the Sorbonne way back when. Even then, he was very old and came into the amphithéâtre with a battered leather satchel, from which he drew dog-eared, crinkled sheets that looked like he had first written them 20 years earlier.

I suppose the material does not have to be absolutely up to date for comparative constitutional law. One of the most interesting parts of the course was the comparison between the German and U.S. federal systems, particularly the distribution of competencies between the federal and state levels.

In terms of understanding political systems, that was one of the best courses I ever took.


Stoneleigh said...

I like Thomas Homer-Dixon's work, although he's much more optimistic than I am and I often disagree with him. The Upside of Down is still one of my favourites. It fits right in with what I wrote about on adaptive cycles.

I've met Mr Homer Dixon and corresponded with him most productively on a number of occasions :)

el gallinazo said...


What is your take on what Pritchard writes near the end of his piece:

"Mervyn King's pre-emptive QE and timely devaluation will bear fruit this year, sparing us the worst. By mid to late 2010, we will have lanced the biggest boils of the global system."

Weaseldog said...

memphis said... "Stoneleigh,

Do you think TPTB hope to withhold IRA/401K funds from recipients who are age eligible? How would they expect these folks to otherwise survive?"

The money in 401ks, doesn't really exist. It isn't sitting in a vault waiting for someone to retrieve it.

The 401k's value rests entirely on the demand for the stocks and other securities that the 401k has been used to purchase.

The value stays high, so long as you don't have more sellers than buyers.

Once withdrawals reach critical mass, the markets will crash and these will all become worthless.

The only way to keep the markets up is to make sure that money goes in faster than it comes out.

When people retire, they quit buying into 401ks, and begin withdrawing the funds.

The Gov can't force people with no money, to buy in, but they can stop people from selling out.

As the boomer retirement really gets moving, the gov will be faced with a choice. Let the market crash and all of the 401ks go to zero. Or don't let people withdraw their funds so that when they get their statements, they can see their virtual wealth and feel better.

Weaseldog said...

I guess there is another thing the Gov can do to preserve 401Ks.

The Gov could borrow the money from the Fed to buy them, then give them as gifts to GS.

jal said...

Re.: Debt: The First Five Thousand Years By David Graeber

A well thought out exercise of logic.
Is this just another maze that humans find themselves?
All who enter the maze eventually end up at its center.
Were the rulers informed/taught this or other motivators.
Were they conscious active participants or going with the flow of the tide.
Where are the lead cows (wise men/teachers)?

APC said...

Despite the price that they will made to pay, I say go Iceland go. Our governments need to grow these kind of balls!

Just my opinion...

el gallinazo said...

Well, I reviewed the Maria Singer / ZH article in which she made her "socialism" comment, which Ilargi, partially defended as technically true.

Her first comment, "All that explicitly or implicitly tax dollar backed guarantees do is socialize risk." is perfectly valid as in socialize losses; privatize profits. And it really does not pertain to socialism as such.

I think that it was her second statement that might raise some hackles.

"Taking a step back, it should shock you that power over literally a third of the U.S. economy should ever have been allowed to become concentrated in two entities with blatantly socialist aims and under the control of executives with no relevant qualifications of any note other than loose purse strings on their political contribution satchels."

And here we get into that most difficult of fields to determine facts, the question of motivations. Few would argue with Ilargi on this site that the net effect of F&F was to raise real estate prices and divert a greater percentage of the krill's income to servicing their housing debt for the gain of the banks and the rentiers. And the enrichment of banks and rentiers is not one of the core values of socialism. But F&F were sold to the public to lower the cost of private ownership of housing and, , as the Kingfish himself would put it, to make every man a king.

So the validity of Singer's statement revolves around the question, did the people who drew up F&f actually believe their own crap? I would come down on the "no" side of this ledger. If that is the case, then Singer's comment is mistaken.

scandia said... opinion too.
Why play by the rules of a rigged game?Guaranteed to lose.

There is a bit of a rumble forming in the Cdn electorate against the Harper decision to shut down our Parliament. Daring talk of daring MP's willing to defy him and turn up as previously scheduled on the 25th. This would be a wonderful sight to behold! Imagine the possibility of a few MP's willing to govern over the heads of the political machine.Rumour is that MP's are receiving lots of calls/e-mails from the constitueny telling them to get back to work!

memphis said...

Weaseldog wrote:

The 401k's value rests entirely on the demand for the stocks and other securities that the 401k has been used to purchase.

Yes, of course. I guess what I was considering are the IRA investments in Treasury bills of short duration. How might those redemptions be mitigated? For people who are eligible to begin withdrawing funds from their accounts, how might that play out--other than the word, "No."

I. M. Nobody said...

As a followup to goritsas' reading recommendation I'd like to recommend something to view. Especially the part that starts at about 4:25 in.

Stephen Colbert - Prescott Financial - Gold, Women & Sheep.

I. M. Nobody said...

Blogger ogardener said...

What happens to people who shuffled papers and pushed pencils their entire adult lives during this meltdown? Those without the skills, knowledge or health to plumb, energize, build shelters or grow food?

That one is so easy even I can answer it. Unless some capable damn fool chooses to take care of us, we will die. Not what anybody wants to hear, but that seems the most likely outcome.

I'm OK with it, but my circumstances don't leave much choice. Those who are not OK with it are I think well advised to keep a sharp lookout for those damn fools. Please note, not just any damn fool will do. In other words, choose wisely.

It may also be worth a moments consideration that, if the other side is going to be as bad as some of us think, those who make it through may find themselves thinking that we who didn't make it were the lucky ones. I'm looking at you Greyzone.


I'm a geezer that likes to think all these years, liberally sprinkled with mistakes, have yielded a smidgeon of wisdom. Here's a bit of advice for your post-collapse agenda. Poking people, who are strange to you, in the eye over their beliefs could be a life foreshortening activity. Just suggesting you make a note to drop that habit on the way through the bottleneck. I believe Heinlein put it something like "an armed society is a polite society".

Good luck to you all.

lord.bacon said...

@ Stoneleigh

Re: Fractal Adaptive Cycle Post

I enjoyed your analysis of the fractal nature of biological, evolutionary, and financial cycles. You presented a fascinating set of concepts, and it's profoundly satisfying to ponder a unifying framework to understand the dynamics at work in disparate fields of inquiry. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel somewhat frustrated by the inability to test any of these concepts. Upon reading your essay, an earlier critique of Prechter's work seems very appropriate: His model is incapable of making testable predictions. Any prediction failure can always be attributed to the effects of nested cycles unfolding synchronously or asynchronously at several distinct levels in the hierarchy. Thus, at the end of the day, there is no way to know if this fractal-based description of cycles truly represents a rough approximation of a master blueprint or merely an intellectual blind alley.

Coy Ote said...

I'm learning, and I'm thinking more and more like Greyzone 2:25, the sooner one cleanses him/her-self of all ties with commun-conservativ-social--"isms" the better, and the more likely one can survive what is going to be a simpler, tougher, but closer to the earth existence.

There are elements of all parties and all political groups involved in the precarious predicament we find ourselves in. So...? Unless we simplify our thought processes and regroup without meaningless attachments and cultish belief systems we have much little chance to survive intact.

There are no "isms" in the eye of a storm! There are only potential survivors.

lord.bacon said...

@ memphis

"How might those redemptions be mitigated? For people who are eligible to begin withdrawing funds from their accounts, how might that play out--other than the word, "No."

Step 1)
Block early withdrawal from the 401K/IRA

Step 2)
Raise the age threshold at which legal withdrawals can occur (currently something like 59.5 years). Most potential beneficiaries will die before they ever cross the age threshold to collect their benefits.

Ruben said...

Hey greyzone,

I am an out-of-the-closet socialist, and I could regale you with endless tales of me and mine enjoying the benefits of free, fast and high-quality Canadian medical care. And regardless of whatever theoretically better health care is theoretically available in the USA, many Canadians cannot conceal their horror at the savagery Americans display, day in and day out, towards their neighbours. The idea the 40 million people have nothing other than emergency care at state hospitals is barbaric and disgusting.

People working together predates any ism. Organsism working together predates people. Helping each other out is natural and wonderful. Not helping is the product of a sick ideology assidiously perpetrated over decades and centuries.

I am sure if you look at your own life you will find many instances of cooperation, and many instances of benefit you disproportionately derive from others. Like driving on a road for example. So, enjoy it. Lift your chin off your chest, and mumble a little louder, "It feels good to share."

Ilargi said...


"People working together predates any ism."

So does people killing each other. And you know that very well, so what's your point here?

And Greyzone, stop bothering Canadians, they don't need you to make them feel bad about themselves. They're perfectly capable on their own, thank you very much.

el gallinazo said...

Coy Ote said...

"There are no "isms" in the eye of a storm! There are only potential survivors."

Yeah, makes me think of The Road. The book anyway, can't see the movie where I am.

Any consistent (or non-consistent) set of thoughts can be turned into an "ism." For the moment, I am content to believe in the somewhat changing set of values and ideas that could be termed gallinazoism. Or Stoneleigh's primers might be termed, Stoneleighism. So by Greyzone's precepts, the minute you stick an ism onto a thought form, it becomes useless. Good idea and I will apply it first and foremost to Greyzonism.

el gallinazo said...

Batten down your solar panels

Solar Panel Thefts Heating Up

Ilargi said...

"el gallinazo said...

What is your take on what Pritchard writes near the end of his piece:

"Mervyn King's pre-emptive QE and timely devaluation will bear fruit this year, sparing us the worst. By mid to late 2010, we will have lanced the biggest boils of the global system.""

My take? I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but eh.. he's a fruit? Are nuts considered fruits, by the way?

His ideas of Japanese hyperinflation are more interesting, I think, even if they're equally puzzling.


el gallinazo said...

I. M. Nobody

I'm with you. Glad that I am getting older. Gotta cash in your chips eventually anyway, even if you are Lord Blankfein and doing God's work. So you have less chips in the pot as time goes on. Well....... maybe not David Rockefeller - I think he is just bad enough to live forever. Anyway, I am not so sure whether I would have wanted to enter the coming Brave New World.

Ilargi said...

El G.,

"I am not so sure whether I would have wanted to enter the coming Brave New World."

That is a question that everyone would do well to contemplate. Are you really sure you want to see it all come down?

Ruben said...


As my heated response to Greyzone shows, he actually makes me feel very good about being Canadian. I feel smarter and taller and more handsome and smarter and kinder and smarter and nicer.

So, I would like to invite Greyzone to visit Canada, and to share his opinions loudly in public places. That way the most Canadians possible can also feel smart and tall and good-looking and smart.

Ilargi said...


In Canada public places serve only to freeze people's nuts off, not to make them feel taller or smarter.

memphis said...

Lord Bacon said:

Raise the age threshold at which legal withdrawals can occur (currently something like 59.5 years). Most potential beneficiaries will die before they ever cross the age threshold to collect their benefits.

At which time the assets (in theory) would belong to the estate and its heirs. Payout would still have to occur.

el gallinazo said...

Ilargi said...
El G.,

"That is a question that everyone would do well to contemplate. Are you really sure you want to see it all come down?"

You must be confusing me with some other buzzard looking for a free lunch. I would be quite content to serve out the rest of my time living in comfortable, elevated tropical climes, surrounded by beauty and strange, non-human animals, collecting my Social Security and my 6% coupons on real AAA bonds.

But, alas, I am afraid my quest for contentment will have little effect on how the dice will roll.

Frank said...

@Ilargi sorry, off in holiday neverland. I meant this one which is actually from 12/23.

@Nobody I too was in the Y2K trenches. It was real, and Mish is once more demonstrating that he exists only in the financial world. It's about 8 years too late to recall specifics, but I remember several unexpected big losses and disadvantageous mergers back in 1Q 2000. My geek pals and I figured we knew the story.

@APC I have never been able to figure that the Icelandic state has a moral obligation to the UK or the Netherlands. What they do have is fish and sheep, both of which barter very well.

OTOH, I'm not so there for the politicians. The last government fell because Iceland has no army and the police flatly said they would not be clubbing their grandmothers for banging pots and pans. This time there were torches.

Iceland is a 21st century Western society. They do not keep torches on hand. The MSM may not have covered it, but I bet the message reached everyone it was meant to.

Frank said...

>>In Canada public places serve only to freeze people's nuts off, not to make them feel taller or smarter.<<

Thirty below keeps the riff-raff out. Also, the palm trees in Vancouver blew my mind.

lonerphrique said...

1) I call our system, Plutocratic Lemon Socialism.

It sounds like moonbat Marla "Global Warming is a Hoax and Conspiracy" Singer is speaking to the Lemon Socialist aspect.

2) I'm disheartened but not surprised (as conspiradroid moonbats are, apparently, par for the course of Peak-related sites and groups *) to see Michael "nine eleven was an inside job" Ruppert herein touted as a voice of reason.

Ruppert, one of the original creators, purveyors and sellers-for-profit of the easily debunked, pseudoscientific, counterproductive and offensive urban legend and mind virus known as, nine-eleven-was-an-inside-job should never be afforded this kind of gentle and respectful treatment.

The man is sleazy, snake-oil scum.

And, sorry, he doesn't simply get to walk away from the Orwellian "truth" movement unless and until he, at least, publically apologizes for a) helping to create the meme-and-myth, and b) profiting from same in the odiously dishonest manner of the king-of-the-moonbats, Alex Jones (it's my understanding that Ruppert is having financial problems -- couldn't happen to a more deserving person).

Why the Peak Community, such as it is, lends credence to and gives refuge to conspiradroid moonbats like Ruppert (e.g. Richard Heinberg, Jan Lundberg, Carolyn Baker, Alex Smith, and many-too-many more) will forever be beyond me.


* Kunstler's site is the only site which doesn't implicitly or explicitly support the Troofers, which makes it the exception which proves the rule.

M said...

The smell of panic is in the air as “The Rally “ looks to have failed in overcoming TDTBPO--
--too deep to be papered over.

Despite a can of thinned out paint that provides greater ‘viscosity’ and supposedly greater coverage area, the underlying dirty work is still there for all but the most inane idiot to see. A dirty, wicked, and corrupt surface not quite cleansed by a limited amount of resource that has been deemed transparent in an attenuated effort to conceal.

Still, most can clearly see what has gone down and the history will thus be written.

These hacks, not deserving of the term craftsperson, are in no way great. Hoarding unbelievable amounts of societal capital, more than almost any number of people could burn through in ten lifetimes, does not equate with the truly great who only take just about as much as they reasonably need.

Anyway, if there is a laugh of the week it has to be that goofy Brit evoking the memory of Dunkirk. What a joke.

lord.bacon said...

Re: The Future

As Stoneleigh described, without collapse, there can be no renewal. After humanity is wiped from Gaia in a final crack-up-boom nuclear exchange, a new set of ecological cycles will be set in motion. Perhaps the zooplankton and algae will reign supreme once more in the oceans. Most of our world's oil was formed from ancient algae about 300 million years ago. Imagine the planet 500 million years in the future, after new coal and petroleum deposits have formed. Perhaps a newly evolved human-like species will follow in our footsteps. They'll progress from wood, to coal, to petroleum, and finally to nuclear energy. Their natural history museums will display fossilized dinosaurs along with fossilized H. sapiens. As they unearth our fossilized remains, they'll notice an enriched layer of Uranium-235 (the long-lived decay product of the Plutonium-239 used in nuclear warheads). Perhaps they'll ponder the source of that coincidence and draw the logical conclusion about their own nascent nuclear industry and weapons production. In short, perhaps they'll learn from our example.

el gallinazo said...

Michael Hudson did an excellent one hour Guns & Butter about a year ago dealing almost exclusively with Iceland. He pointed out that the British and Dutch banks were demanding that the people of Iceland commit suicide to cover the debts of a couple of gangsters running the Icelandic banks in cahoots with the British and the Dutch. Furthermore neither government was offering any assistance in attempting to help Iceland reclaim the remaining money that these criminals fled with, nor is anyone helping with their extradition. And the UK using their terraism laws to usurp the remaining Iceland funds was outrageous and deserving of outrage. If only iceland could, in fact, drop a cruise shot put on Gordon Brown's head.

Ruben said...

Here is the link to the Colbert segment mentioned above, for our taller, smarter, better-looking readers in Canada. Full experience begins at 4:42, but start at 8:27 if you are in a hurry.

Top Cat said...

If Fearless Leader goes on record saying that anyone withdrawing funds from their retirement account over a certain government set limit is endangering the financial markets and jeopardizing the welfare of the nation, I'm confident the Obamatrons at the Daily Kos will snap into lockstep and back the royal decree to the max. It is, after all, FCL (Fearless Change Leader) who uttered his Big Thoughts on the issue, enough said for them.

Hiding the toxic mortgages and MBSs from price discovery worked so frigging smoothly that how could the TBTF's possibly resist using the same Song & Dance on the last honey pot of funds left outside of trust funds and non-profits. The public will absolutely take it lying down, you seen any spine around this parts partner?

Yoa, speaking of Song & Dance, catch a wiff of Ray and Shangri-La

Punxsutawney said...

Lord B, Memphis,

If 401k/IRA holders die before they cash out, then their heirs can elect to cash them out within 5 years following the year of the holder's death, or can elect to take RMD's over their life span which could be a very long time.

Of course, nothing currently prevents the government from changing or making up the rules as they go along. But it would be interesting to see the conflicted goverment try to decide whether tax revenues or propping up the market is more important.

I. M. Nobody said...

Thank you Ruben. Internet fragmentation, ain't it wonderful.

We break in now for a special bulletin. Iowa Hawkeyes win the Orange Bowl!

Today's stream of conciousness has gone deep and probed sensitive subjects. For what I think will be my final post tonight, I'd like to light a fire with links to several renditions of what is, to my knowledge, the only song ever to include the words funeral pyre.

The Doors

Jose Feliciano

Dame Shirley Bassey

Ray Manzarek - solo

Amii Stewart

Stevie Wonder

Minnie Riperton feat Jose Feliciano

Tero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cliff103 said...


"Singer uses some odd phrasing..."

Reading much too much into this. She's saying what she says - that this was the fault of Fannie and Freddie.
Sorry, it wasn't.
She may want to boil this down with her agenda rendering vat and lye into a simple set of talking points that we've all heard again and again as diversion but the sensible aren't buying the line.
Read the comments after her screed over at ZH.
She may have a salient point or two but, jeez, how hard is that since Christmas Eve? And since she wanders all over the place with "socialist" this and other coded references to the Clinton era of redistributive excess of "flat screen TV's" and other freebies handed over to sink the future wealth of our children to the ghettos of wannabee debtors, we really do have to ask ourselves is this woman as unhinged as she sounds?

Greyzone said...

Unfortunately, Ruben demonstrates the tunnel vision that afflicts socialists and capitalists alike. Capitalists think that free exchange of goods means capitalism. It doesn't. Socialists think that sharing means socialism. It doesn't. Wake up, Ruben.

Socialism is a societal artifact intended to provide a means of control of population and resources during industrialized expansion. It is a direct counterpart to capitalism, which has nothing to do with the simple notion of two tribesmen bartering freely between one another.

Feudalism involved cooperation and sharing, but that didn't make it socialism. Mercantilism involved cooperation and sharing too, but that didn't make it socialism either. Cooperation and sharing are simply human behaviors. Attempting to pigeon hole a specific human behavior into one of the failed "isms" of the 20th century raises questions about your ability to think outside of the box that your overseers have built for you.

The "isms" of the 20th century are dead or dying. What comes next will not be socialism. Indeed socialism, as an organizing system for large scale human societies, will be utterly cannibalized and destroyed by the pressures that will come to bear upon it in the 21st century. Of course, capitalism will be just as utterly destroyed.

And even after all that, people will still trade in free exchanges and still share and still cooperate. And no, Ruben, it won't be capitalism or socialism.

snuffy said...


Seems odd to Me you are so well versed in peak folk-lore as to name the majority of those who have been "voices in the wilderness"for quite a few years....

Whereas you pop up,and first post I see with your handle is a smear of some good folks....

I name you Troll



Starcade, now from Siren said...

Greyzone: I think Ruben would want those 40 million dead.

zander said...

@ I.M.Nobody

And this.....


Stoneleigh said...

The Onion: Nation Ready To Be Lied To About Economy Again ;)

Coy Ote said...

Lonerphrique - Don't forget, a lot of folks demeaned the words of Cassandra and Copernicus as well! And also, a lot of people who are a little on the fringe still have much to offer and are well worth listening to.
Take it all in sir/ma'am and keep your thoughts in balance and your powder dry!

el gallinazo said...

The people who pulled off the 9/11 attack will never be brought to justice. They will die in their satin sheets. The value to understanding 9/11 lies in a complete appreciation of the utter ruthlessness of those who planned it, so one will not be blindsided in the future and caught whining, "But who could have known?" (My final comment to our new troll's invective.)

ogardener said...

OpenID Greyzone said...

And even after all that, people will still trade in free exchanges and still share and still cooperate. And no, Ruben, it won't be capitalism or socialism.

I'm curious Greyzone. What name would you give to such an arrangement? Anarchy perchance?

I do think you're right about Nature batting last.

Ilargi said...

The discussion on 911 is hereby closed. Don't bother to address it any further.

memphis said...

Stoneleigh said...

The Onion: Nation Ready To Be Lied To About Economy Again

Although slightly dated, that's a pretty scary article. People being naive is one thing, but the opinions expressed in that article are unbelieveable.

DIYer said...

An interesting note from this morning's Austin paper. A local credit union is dropping FDIC.
Velocity members approve change to private insurer

They're going with ASI instead, the article says. Perhaps the beginning of a trend?

DIYer said...

Sorry, the NCUA. A parallel agency for credit unions. It has been raising its rates like FDIC, for the same reason: running out of bailout money.

Weaseldog said...

Lonerphrique, that wasn't a very good troll. In fact it was lame.

You need practice.

Keep at it. You'll get the hang of it.

Weaseldog said...

memphis said... "Although slightly dated, that's a pretty scary article. People being naive is one thing, but the opinions expressed in that article are unbelieveable."

The Onion is a satire site. The articles and videos are all fake.

But sadly, there have been times when their satire has come true and become reality. Such is the state of our nation, when outrageous black comedy becomes reality.

Ruben said...

Oh Greyzone, you are almost there, just one more little step. "Socialism is a societal artifact intended to provide a means of control of population and resources during industrialized expansion."

Now all you need to understand is that all means of population control are not necessarily socialism, and you might stop beaking off so much. Sorry El Gall.

Ahimsa said...

To the new troll or should I call him/her a paid infiltrator ?!

Just like our hosts (Ilargi and Stoneleigh), Richard Heinberg, Carolyn Baker, Michael Ruppert, Jan Lundberg and others have done great service to humanity by opening the eyes of many in the US and abroad to the realities we face, whether they are the crimes of the US empire, our footprint on Earth, peak oil, etc. Some of them do address conspiracies, of course, but their focus is on conspiracy fact, not conspiracy theory!

Like most people who read TAE, I greatly admire their work and diligence.

Wyote said...

"For the first time in my life I know who the secretary of the treasury is," Harrington continued. "And I don't like it."

LOL but
That really cuts to the heart of the thing doesn’t it? For the + / – 2% of the citizens that get at least the gist of the F &F swindle, the bank tyranny and military aggression that underpins and maintains it all, the situation gets more and more edgy, the taste more and more bitter. That most of us have to keep one foot in the show and the other planning for darkness is a taxing dynamic. Many of us are embedded as parents nurturing our various age kids along. This only makes the dread and repulsion that much worse.

The thought of being lied to and letting it roll you like some kind of social heroin is tempting. But as sure as the current arctic air mass didn’t need any visa to slide into North America, the rotten timbers of the economy will give way. Planning is often lonely task, but the smell of death wafts up from the alternative. So I work on being prepared for losses and leaving people behind. That’s a sting that doesn’t dissipate, but keeping tuned into TAE and its community helps.

All the best,

Ahimsa said...

Excellent 10 min. video.

Chris Hedges discusses his new book "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle"

Nelson said...

why do you think Jon Stewart appeals to such a wide audience?

Gravity said...

How about catastrophism, survivalism and gravitism, these are hardly becoming irrelevant, but are not of themselves of any use as constructive political ideologies.

Perhaps there truly are no useful ideologies that can place societies and the world in such a conceptual framework as to make sense of it, and help to formulate new ways of improving matters.

Consumerism is dead, though, and that may be the form of capitalism that many people would like to see disappear, yet we have little to replace it with, causing a dangerous ideological vacuum in politics and the citizenry.

el gallinazo said...

The Onion and Jon Stewart do different things. Stewart keeps to the facts but ridicules them for their absurdity. The Onion takes the facts and stretches their absurdity into an even greater fiction. The Onion was originally a weekly paper. They also do news videos as satires of network news stories. Some are lame, but some of them are truly hilarious.

My absolute favorite is:

First Openly Gay Racehorse to Compete Sunday

10/20/08 As controversy swirls around thoroughbred Ship's Captain, the horse's trainer says people should focus on the horse's abilities, not its sexuality.

I get them as podcasts from the iTunes Store, so I don't have a URL link.

Gravity said...

Oh, how about humanism, do we really have to lose that one? It sounds so humane, it may not be as corrupted as some econocentric ideologies, the inclusion of the word 'human' makes it somewhat more vaguely marketable in general.

Rototillerman said...

Stoneleigh mentioned her dates for travel to the West Coast in yesterday's comment section. I know that a sizable number of us who read the blog are here in the Portland area, and I wanted to volunteer to try and organize a get-together. Should I just collect emails off-list, and then send out an announcement? I can be reached at rototillerman2009 at the commercial domain emailias.

Coy Ote said...

Gravity - I think I would prefer "gravitism" if I could only understand it!

Ahimsa - Good short video you linked! - C. Hedges - There are a lot of illusions flying around in this current empire. I wish our "troll" ers would take a look/listen.

Ed_Gorey said...

Employment Rate vs. Unemployment Rate

On Friday morning, the number to focus on is the employment rate, not the headline U3 or U6 unemployment rate. Increasingly, U3 and U6 are becoming irrelevant measurements of our economic collapse.

Why? Because growing numbers of long-term unemployed are dropping out of the labor force and are therefore no longer captured by either U3 or U6. U3 and U6 may even start dropping even though the total number of jobs is still shrinking! This fact is captured very clearly in the employment rate calculation since the employment rate factors in a decline in the labor force participation rate.

How? Because employment rate (E) is calculated in a fundamentally different way than the unemployment rate (U). Many people assume employment rate is simply calculated as follows (E = 100% - U). Wrong! Employment rate and unemployment rate are ratios with two different denominators. In the case of the unemployment rate, the denominator is the labor force, a number which does not include the growing long term unemployed. (U = (%unemployed/labor force) In the case of the employment rate, the denominator is the total population theoretically capable of work (generally total population between the ages 16-64). Thus, the employment rate captures the growing number of long term unemployed who are dropping out of the U6 numbers.

The corporate financial media is well aware of this subtle but crucial distinction. It's funny that they never explain it in the context of the US financial crisis. A recent Bloomberg article did highlight this distinction when it discussed the employment rate crisis in Hungary. There, the government faces a crisis because growing numbers of the unemployed are passing up work because state benefits closely approximate the meager wages they'd make if they accepted a job. Furthermore, by remaining unemployed, they have free time to participate in the growing underground economy that doesn't pay any taxes. The seeds of an authoritarian crackdown have been planted.

el gallinazo said...

I or S,

In the previous to current post, Biderman refers to sideline cash entering the market. Mish claims repeatedly that there is no such thing as sideline cash, and the concept is an absurdity which indicates the shallowness of thought of the user. He states that the reason for this is quite simple. For every purchase of a stock there is a sale, i.e. money leaving an equity and going into some other type of account.

It has occurred to me that in a stock market, that more cash has to go into the market to buy at the higher prices. But then, to buy at the higher prices, someone has to sell at the higher prices, so more money leaves as well.

I know Ilargi doesn't think highly of Mish, but what is your take on the side line cash apparent mythos? His position makes sense to me, but maybe I am missing something.

jal said...

You might want to get the following point of view ...

04 JANUARY 2010
Why Was There No Canadian Housing Bust? The US Fed Says That They Were Probably Just Lucky Except...

Ilargi said...

"In the previous to current post, Biderman refers to sideline cash entering the market."

I think it may be a matter of different definitions.

Ilargi said...

New post up.

Iceland, or Size matters


jal said...

Commercial Property Is Biggest Risk, U.S. Bank Examiners Find

Timothy Geithner, who just over two months ago said woes in the sector "won’t set off a new banking crisis".

Since he can prevent he will prevent it. He did not let the banks fall because of residential mortgages so expect the same kind of action in 2010 for the Commercial loans and mortgages.

Ben said...

regarding the jan 5 comments section, and ive only just started it:

jesus christ, i've been gone too long.

the latter part of the bleached bones mlk jr bit gifted by ahimsa, our local, intransigent soft-optioned hard option, makes me wanna get a tattoo for the first time in my life. (i won't.)

(if, aspirationally, i want to strangle obama -- no offense barry -- it is for his invocations of the doctor. and, personally, i find all this calling him a pimp inaccurate and vaguely off-putting. that obama is a house nigga is something we should all be comfortable with.)

duverger's law. christ almighty i want to hit somebody. (i won't stoneleigh i promise.) thank you bigelow, for the ammunition, but i'm trying to be post political.