Friday, March 27, 2009

The Financial Markets, Our New God

Liberated from the tyranny of King George III, having fought back the Axis Powers, the Evil Empire, America once stood for freedom.  But there is a new god, and a tyrannical one at that.  Paul Krugman writes today "that top officials in the Obama administration are still in the grip of the market mystique.  They still believe in the magic of the financial marketplace and in the prowess of the wizards who perform that magic."

Meanwhile, George Soros said to a standing room only, call the fire department, overcapacity crowd at the New America Foundation's economic growth conference yesterday that we are in the midst of a popping "super bubble" one that has been in the making for a generation, enabled by a false ideology, "market fundamentalism."  This is a teaser for his latest book, just released, "The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means."

Busy?  No time to read the latest books?  My favorite economics blog, Calculated Risk, put up a video link of a snippet of a South Park episode that explains economics better than Krugman does.  Full episode here, for graduate economics students, click on Margaritaville.  Apologies to Jimmy Buffett.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Big Inflation Virtually Inevitable

The Federal Government's hell-bent for leather desire to thaw the credit markets has now put the worry of inflation front and center.  When the cryptic former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker begins to warn of "all these dollars coming tumbling down on us" if we continue the easy money, we should pay attention.  At a recent Wall Street Journal conference Volcker, who successfully tamed the inflationary cycle of the 1960s and 1970s, make this critique of the Federal Reserve: "I get a little nervous when I see the Federal Reserve announcements that they want to have the amount of inflation that's conducive to recovery.  I don't know what 'the amount of inflation that's conducive to recovery' would be appropriate.  I'd much rather they say that they want to maintain stability in the currency, which is conducive to confidence and recovery."

In other words, when the government wants to stimulate the economy, it should do it with its ability to tax, borrow and spend.  The Federal Reserve, in Volcker's world, has but one job, maintain the value of the currency.  Which Volcker seems to think it is not doing, nor does Warren Buffet, who predicts the "onslaught of inflation" in his 2008 letter to his shareholders.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Geithner's Wall Street Bailout

Two trillion dollars in taxpayers subsidies so big investors can get sweet deals, with no downside, on toxic bank assets.  Bad deal for you and me.  See it Huffington Post.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Follow The Money

This just up on Huffington Post regarding the sweet, green talk by some CEOs and the not-so-green politicians they are funding.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Best AIG bailout response

From the Daily Show, of course.

Threatened Corporate Gutting of Climate Solutions

Another piece on the threat of the corporations and complicit Senators hijacking solutions to climate change, posted as a guest blog on Joe Romm's ClimateProgress blog, the top climate blog in the country.  Joe's blog is the one stop we all need for staying current on the climate fight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

President Obama: Push AIG into Chapter 11 to Stop Those Bonuses

I still can't figure out why, but Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, despite all the handwringing, definitely wants AIG to be able to pay the bonuses to its employees.  Maybe we should think of it as hush money, Neither AIG brass or the regulators who have been playing this game with them for years now, want disgruntled AIG employees telling the public just how much, and for how many years, these people knew about the financial scam at AIG.  Keep 'em quite with a paltry $165 million.  

But President Obama says to do everything possible to stop the payments of the bonuses.  It's easy.  AIG can avoid paying those bonuses if the company declares bankruptcy, chapter 11 reorganization.  It's that simple.  Make it happen Tim.  Or is there something else we should know?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Senator Lieberman Attempts to Turn Climate Policy into Corporate Boondoggle

Corporate welfare isn't confined to Wall Street, AIG and our largest banks.  Senator Joe Lieberman is trying to turn federal policy to stop global warming into the latest corporate boondoggle.  I just posted it at Huffington Post.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fat Lady Sings for AIG

Tonight AIG finally buckled under political pressure and released a list of its clients, financial counterparties, to whom it had been sending some of the $160 billion bailout money from taxpayers, many of the same US and foreign banks that have been hammered financially for making all the stupid bets on collateralized mortgages.  This on the same day that it's chairman is arguing, apparently with a straight face, of AIG's need to pay out $170 million in bonuses in order to keep its most talented people.  

Here's the deal, it's completely over.  AIG must fail.  We have to stop plowing taxpayer money into the shaky bets that went bad and are now worth ZERO!  There is no rescuing this stuff. These are not mortgages, these are the bets that the mortgages wouldn't go bad en masse.  They did.  AIG's finished.  Oh but what about their other healthy insurance divisions?  No problem. Those get sold off to new owners.  The fraudulent market in credit swaps is what must disappear, not be bailed out.  

So why would the US Government still be trying to hold onto the division of AIG that should be closed down, it's executives put in jail?  Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is why.  Last year as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York he worked to bail out AIG.  He's either tied to AIG's fortunes in ways we can't see or he made a mistake and is doubling down on it now as Treasury Secretary. The problem is, his mistake becomes our mistake.  Bring on Chapter 11.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Failed bankers are now bringing a request to Congress to get rid of mark-to-market pricing for their assets.  They claim the real financial crisis is driven by accounting rules forcing them to put their assets on their books at real prices, not at the inflated prices from when the bubble was in full stretch.  

Sounds like a great idea and not just for bankers.  My kids want to use old grades if they get some bad new ones.  My wife wants to count the dinner she made last night and not cook tonight.  If she does cook, I want to count the cleaning I did last night so I can avoid cleaning tonight.   

At least now that bankers are flush with taxpayer money, it may be time for me to get a big loan. Naturally, I want to count the salary I used to make and the assets I used to have as collateral. Sound fair boys?  If it works for you it can work for me.  And think of how it will help your golf game.  Always use whatever was your best score historically.  In fact, take your particular best shots on a course, played over a series of years, you'll be a virtual Tiger Woods.

This could get fun.  I can't wait to try it in Vegas.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pumping Water Into a Dead Fish

Our top priority? It's not terrorism, wars or the banking crisis.  It's stopping global warming. But this damn economic meltdown is going to delay us.  We can't wait to fix the economy first or even to expect the emergent green economy to take us right back to the glory days of the bubble.  It's hangover time for the economy.  We should focus on helping the little guys and let the big guys fall.  There is no saving them and we have other work to do.

"Two things you learn in the banking business, the first is, concentration is bad.  We now have 64 percent of deposits in eight institutions.  The second rule is, your first loss is your best loss. Get it over with.  Don't pump water in a dead fish."  This from C. R. Cloutier, president of MidSouth Bank of Lafayette, LA., who also had a front seat in the savings and loan crisis. Today's Times

And this from our separated at birth crisis:

Six years into Japan's economic collapse in the 1990s, instigated by a popped real estate bubble followed by a credit crisis, Heizo Takenaka was brought in to run the government's financial reforms.  He was the first to fully expose the bad loans.  The crisis could not hit bottom until he did so.  He pushed back on bank presidents who thought they could take money and still run their old game.  The previous reforms weren't working, the same ones we are trying here, low interest rates, fiscal stimulus, cash infusions and efforts to use government guarantees to lure private capital to buy bad assets, reminiscent of the Geitner/Summers plan.

Takenaka's reforms, the only ones that actually made a difference, finally got Japan on a path to recovery: "Don't cover up.  Don't distort principles.  Follow the rules."  

Instead, the Sirens (read AIG) keep enchanting our ship of state towards the rocky shoreline and we'll keep heading that way until Summers/Geitner stop listening to the sweet pleadings of CEOs from bankrupt financial institutions.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blow Up That Balloon or Bailout Money, There is a Difference

There is now widespread agreement that we lived, perhaps for the last ten years, in the grace of a bubble economy, built around inflating real estate and the cockamamie financial instruments that were derived from its financing.  It crashed so now anything not directly linked to something of real value goes to zero.  Everything else gets real.  Yet Geitner and Summers are trying to "blow that balloon up one more time," as I heard it said the other day.  Hence, billions of dollars of taxpayer money is being wasted on keeping AIG alive to maintain markets and agreements that have vaporized to pay off liabilities to banks that are under water.  Let it go.  

Meanwhile, good liberals want to spend even more Federal bailout money, seeing that unemployment is still growing like a new virus and the GNP, a term associated with the word "growth" for the last 25 years, is shrinking.  Why don't we decouple our thinking of GNP and employment?  Real growth, especially coming out of the ashes of economic collapse, usually comes with new waves of technology like we saw with railroads, radio, semiconductors and the internet.  Sometimes it is juiced with research help from the Feds, but mostly it is driven by private capital and entrepreneurs.  When we come out of this crash it will surely be built in part around green energy although that may take awhile.  

As for unemployment, the government has a vital role to play.  The debate among conservative and liberal economists is whether or not FDR's economic programs rescued the US economy.  I think it's the wrong question.  All the jobs of the CCC, the WPA, the WWII manufacturing jobs, these are not what the post WWII economic success was all about.  FDR's jobs, however, performed a far more important function.  Young men were kept off the street, averting the really large numbers of unemployed that can destabilized a country.  There is nothing more dangerous to a country than huge growing numbers of idle young men.  FDR kept the Republic together for another day, a day when other factors lined up such that there could again be economic growth.  

From this perspective, the building of a say a commuter rail line provides jobs, and a big environmental benefit too.  That's well-spent taxpayer money, even if it's borrowed from China and never getting paid back.  Bailing out failed banks or insurance companies, just keeps rewarding the guys who got us here in the first place.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watch the Hand of the Democrats in Your Pocket or

The Achilles Heel of the Democrats on Global Warming

While the Democrats inherited the greatest financial mess in US history, they nevertheless have some of their own nasty economic proclivities, especially in the name of stopping climate change. 
While the Republicans have blocked nearly all forward motion on global warming at the behest of their benefactors, big oil, big (shrinking) auto, and big utilities, many powerful Dems hail from coal states and have privately enjoyed the efforts to stop global warming led by Republicans. Now with Dems in power we are seeing the renewal of big loot for the coal industry, first up, $1 billion for "fossil energy research and development" in the stimulus package. Today's Times.  

These are bad instincts from Democrats.  Grabbing a mere billion bucks from the stimulus package is chump change these days, but watch the climate fight, the Dems, their lobbyists, PR firms, CEOs like James Rogers of Duke Energy are going to want hundreds of billions of dollars for bad projects.  We are going to need help from good Republicans on this one.

Nuclear Power Economics: More Toxic Waste

Environmentalists have opposed nuclear power for the same reasons for fifty years: it's far too expensive, it's dangerous (and even more dangerous to have tons of radioactive material loose in the world today) and we still don't have any place to put the waste.  "Yeah but" has always been the response from The New York Times to the Nuclear Energy Institute, "smart people will figure this out."  Fifty years later and we still have no place to put the waste, and that was reported in today's Times.  Actually, it's not dim, it's nonexistent.  The economic meltdown may be the final blow to this utterly worthless industry that has lived on the government dole since its inception.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Climate Fight Comes Down to Blackmail

James Rogers of Duke Energy has been hailed by The New York Times as a great corporate leader for his stated interest in solving climate change.  But it turns out that HIS solution involves him having his hand deep in the pockets of American citizens.  Give the pollution credits away to the biggest polluters, give huge subsidies to Duke Energy and others.  He's got a right to a selfish half-solution, that's what we've come to expect from CEOs these days.  But American citizens should know there are far better ways to solve global warming (see piece on the Peter Barnes proposal).

Finally, a Solution for Climate Change

Seems to me entrepreneur Peter Barnes has figured out a way to make energy prices more costly, so we use less, while compensating Americans at the same time.  The only catch is that the corporations that have been lining up for the loot in a global warming bill will disappointed.  Here's what I just put up on the Huffington Post.