Tuesday, December 31, 2013

SAR #13364

If you believe the moon is made of cheese, does it really matter what kind?

NSAtiness: Not only does the NSA listen to your phone calls, read your emails and monitor your intenet use, they've got a whole 'nother bunch of tricks. Like intercepting computers on their way to customers, inserting spyware and then putting them back in the delivery system. Making custom-made cables and USB sticks that steal your data. Modifying cellphones so that the NSA can remotely turn on the cameras and microphones. The report didn't mention doing the same to TV sets, but... NSA describes these activities as “enabling NSA to keep everyone, everywhere, under surveillance all the time defend the nation and its allies.”

The Undead: Higher unemployment keeps wage growth down, and helps boost profit margins and earnings. What's not to like about 7%?

Drip, Drip Drip: Wells Fargo has joined the crowd in settling up with Fannie Mae for the fraudulent MBS paper they passed back before it all fell apart. The $591 million settlement was to “to resolve repurchase requests on certain loans.” Wells joins BofA (411.6 billion), Citi ($968 million), and JPMorgan ($670 million) in paying up without admitting any wrongdoing. These settlements are just those made with Fannie; the banks have also ponied up to Freddie Mac and FHFA – but did nothing wrong, it was just a misunderstanding.

Investment Reminder: It's 2014 and 1.3 million folks are no longer acting as a direct conduit between the Treasury and the economy.

The Beatings Go On: In 2012 the top 10% in the US got the largest share of US income since 1917. The real median income of college-educated men over 24 has fallen 10% since 2007. Only half the women and 60% of men who had three or more years in at a job that they lost in 2009 – 2011 got another job by the end of 2012. The economy is recovering.

Excellent Question: "Does anyone who matters in economics realize how expensive being poor is?"

Touchdown! Remember, along about half-time at the Superbowl, that the average ticket price is above $4000 - and that the NFL is a tax-exempt non-profit outfit. Just ask Jerry "Non-Profit" Jones.

Equality: To much concern in the Duck Dukedom, a gay couple will be married while on a float in the Rose Parade on New Year's, about as reasonable as the hetros who get hitched underwater or jumping out of planes. At least they're not getting married in a church.

Porn O'Grpah: Labor force farce.

Monday, December 30, 2013

SAR #13363

The unexamined life is not worth living, the examined one often isn't any better.

Shut Up And Suffer: The first 1.3 million deadbeats have been kicked to the curb, with another three million to follow in the months ahead. It's for their own good, since – according to the GOP – as soon as they're flat broke they take any job available at any pay. Never mind that there are 3 seekers for every job opening or that those unemployed for over 27 weeks have only a 12% chance of finding a job. And if they do, they are likely to make about 40% less than they did previously, before Wall Street killed the economy. That's why they are more likely to drop out of the employment pool altogether, lowering the unemployment rate. How are they going to feed their families or pay the rent? Nobody cares, at least nobody in power in Washington. 
Ante Up: The great Las Vegas housing recovery has had a relapse; with house sales falling 15.4% m/m and 14.6% y/y – to a rate lower than any November since 2008.

Oops: One of NSA's justifications for scooping up all of our phone calls is that they have to in order to catch those who are talking to overseas terrorists. Haven't they ever heard of caller-ID? Yeah, turns out they have known all along, even before 9/11. And intercepted lots of calls the terrorists made about what planes to hijack and how to fly them into buildings
Brides of Frankenstein: Phil Robertson's gay tirade and endorsement of slavery were not caused by the effects of too much celebrity on too small a brain, the brain was too small to begin with. Witness his prior devotion to getting girls to cook, carry and marry at age 15. And the Bible, rather presciently, also gave Americans the right to hunt. 
Secret Ingredient: Not only are they reading your email and monitoring your internet use, they also know what you're doing when you're not on line. How? By intercepting computers (laptops, etc) after they've been shipped, spiriting them of to secret locations, installing spyware that allows the government to monitor and control the computers remotely. The infected computers are then put back into the delivery system and on their way.

The Dog Ate It: Iraq's Oil Ministry has asked the Kurds to explain where 106 million barrels of oil has gone, who got the money, about $10 billion, and where's Baghdad's share. Well, the Kurds get to keep only 17% of the cash from the oil exports they report, and...

Confusion: The US is arming the Shiite government in Iraq to kill al Qadea/Sunni forces in Iraq's northwestern desert that are funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, while just across the border in Syria the US is arming the Sunni forces (also al Qaeda among other things - the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" operates in both countries) to overthrow the Shiite Assad government. Iraq, of course, also supports Iran as best it can and is the source for about 80% of the supplies reaching Assad. Ever since Ronnie thought arming the jihadis in Afghanistan was a Good Idea the US has chosen the wrong bunch of zealots nearly every time. 
Finger Pointing: Big promises followed by poor execution and massive disappointment, frustration and anger. Just goes to show that the private sector can screw up, too. Talking here about Christmas deliveries, not Obamacare. 
Secret Santa: American corporations have been raking in incredible amounts of cash as their profits mount. Trouble is, they can't find anything useful to do with the stuff. Expanding their production lines is a non-starter because there are not customers out there with any money. So they are giving the cash back to their shareholders by buying back shares and thus driving up prices. Last year they spent $445 billion buying back their own stock. That's nearly what the Pentagon's budget pretends to be. And that's what is behind the continual rise in stock prices - outrageous profits spent on driving up the price of shares. Ah, greed always finds a way.

Porn O'Graph: How many more?

The Parting Shot:
 Main square, Coimbra, Portugal

Friday, December 27, 2013

SAR #133361

Nowadays, the law of the land is subject to executive revision.

Vive La Difference: Somehow we're supposed to feel better if some corporation keeps tracks us 24/7 instead of the NSA. How's that work?

Ring Of Fired: As a bribery/corruption investigation creeps ever closer to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy), three of his top cabinet ministers resigned because their sons had been implicated, and Erdogan fired 10 ministers “so they could run in mayoral elections” and replaced them with party hacks loyal to him. Justice officials say the administration is interfering with a court-directed investigation. Statoil and Total have withdrawn from a planned pipeline designed to carry Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, and the Turkish lira fell sharply. 
Christmas Spirit: Despite the supposed economic recovery underway in Europe as a result of the ECB/EU 'all austerity all the time' programs, in Italy Christsmas sales were down 11.4% and one in five families did without presents.

The Light's Better Over Here: The White House is delighted to point out that the federal budget deficit has dropped to 4.1% of GDP. They don't so much point out that the the 2009 – 2012 deficits were the biggest since WWII.

Travel Advisory: Tourists considering traveling to or through Montana should be aware that Judge Baugh – the idiot who sentenced a teacher to one month in jail for raping a 14 year-old student – is now forcing a man who beat his girlfriend to a pulp and broke her face in three places to write “Boys do not hit girls” 5,000 times. 
Uphill Battle: The US Chamber of Commerce says it wants to make sure that in 2014 the GOP has “no fools on our ticket.” Not including incumbents running for re-election, one supposes.

Suspicious Behavior: Trying to improve his knowledge of a foreign language earned a traveler at Philadelphia International Airport six hours of detention, screening and interrogation by Homeland Security and FBI agents, who thought that flashcards in Arabic were decidedly a threat to national security. And a judge says it was reasonable and acceptable. 
Settling The Bill: A Federal judge has rejected BP's attempt to weasel out of paying for $7.8 billion of the damage they did to Gulf Coast businesses.

Merry Christmas: Obama has sent 75 Hellfire missiles and 10 drones to Iraq in the wake of an outbreak of weddings Al Qaeda violence. And best wishes for another year of sectarian based bombings and retaliation.

Doing God's Work: The only Roman Catholic official actually jailed in the US in all of the sex abuse scandals of recent years has been freed, because child endangerment laws do not cover what the Roman Catholic priests routinely did (and still do?) to little kids.

Resolution: "Any honest budget expert will tell you that the U.S.’s fiscal position is unsustainable. Two lines -- outlays and revenues -- growing further apart in perpetuity. Economist Herb Stein famously said that if something can’t go on forever, it will stop. He didn’t say when." 
Priorities: While Congress is happily cutting food stamps and tossing over a million unemployed into the gutter, the Pentagon is spending $355 billion over the next decade to modernize its nuclear weaponry. Didn’t the Soviet Union collapse in 1989? Isn’t China our biggest trading partner? Just who are we so afraid of?

The Parting Shot:
 Coimbra, Portugal

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

SAR #13358

Credit Where Credit'll Come Due: In November, consumer spending rose 0.5% while income grew only 0.2%, which is better than the 0.1% fall in incomes in October. The theory is that consumers were dipping into their savings, but mostly they don't have any and they're just putting it on the never-never. 
Smoke/Fire: Greek austerity programs have so impoverished the citizenry that many have resorted to burning wood to heat their houses. So now the authorities are offering free electricity in an attempt to cut down on the unhealthy smog blanketing the cities.

Sorry: British giganormous bank HSBC having admitted it had laundered billions of dollars for drug cartels, paid a $1.9 billion fine – about a month's income – said they were sorry, and went back to serving their customers.

Baseline: There's poverty, then there's living on $1.25 a day or less as one out of five people in the world and over 50% those in sub-Saharan Africa. Changes you view of inequality.

Modern Times: Rape victims in Memphis are trying to get a federal court to prod the city into processing its backlog of 12,000 unexamined rape kits. Justice delayed is, undoubtedly, more rapes.

Crass Flow: Blackstone Group owns 41,000 houses in the US and is renting them out and securitizing the rental income – RBS is the new MBS, and about as clever. What could go wrong? Besides the renters being the same folks who defaulted on their mortgages a while back, I mean. 
Patriot Games: Egypt's military junta has jailed the three most prominent leaders of Egypt's 2011 'Arab spring' uprising. Ain't gonna have none of that protest stuff no more. 
The Parting Shot:
 Coimbra, Portugal

Monday, December 23, 2013

SAR #13357

Let's just lower the eligibility age for Medicare to zero, like we should have long ago.

Foreplay: President Obama ordered "combat-ready" soldiers to South Sudan where growing violence is becoming all out civil war, a UN compound had been overrun, and the capital of the oil-rich Unity state has been taken by rebel troops. Several US aircraft were fired on and at least 4 US soldiers wounded. 
Spade, Spade: Syria's foreign minister notes that Saudi Arabia is its main enemy, set on destroying the Assad regime through support for the jihadist (al Qaeda, etc) rebels - and has been doing so for years. It's about religion, and pipelines.

Ah, An Explanation: Beer domesticated man.

Hard Place: Just as Italy's politcal leadership is beginning to understand that the country has had as much austerity as it can – or will – tolerate, the ECB tells them they “cannot afford any slippage on the public accounts,” and that more “labor market flexibility” is needed, which is to say that wages must be cut even more. Stay tuned.

Numbers, Acts: If we are to keep global climate change to a 2ºC, 80% of currently identified fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. Invest accordingly.

Ubiquity: New revelations document that NSA spying included (and includes): charities, Germans, the Israeli PM and the chief of the EU. Let's make it simple: The NSA has continually spied on everyone, all the while, and has for a long, long time. Because democracy...

Smooth: In the end, what is hiding behind the "labor market reforms" and further "wage moderation" being demanded of Madrid just might be the end of the reign in Spain.

Or, Just Because: The administration continues to maintain that Americans have no legal standing to challenge the NSA's 24/7 monitoring of citizens because the surveillance is secret and thus the citizens cannot prove they've been spied upon. Besides, the administration explains, the NSA's warrantless was “authorized” by President Bush back in 2001. There was no explanation, however, of how in the world any president could authorize violating the Constitution he had sworn to uphold and protect.

Serving & Protecting: The Salinas, CA police have received a $650,000, 16-ton armored war wagon from the Pentagon to be used in protecting officers from... 
Cashing In: In November, 42% of all residential sales were all-cash purchases by investors, up from October's 39%. But this trend may reverse quickly as the Fed begins tapering and asset prices begin to collapse without the Fed's constant puffing into the balloon. 
Spot Quiz: Pick one: a) We have the NSA on the run, or b) A much worse surveillance state is in the making.

Siren Song: "I think the priority for the country should be economic growth." And it will be, right to the very end, when everything's gone but the suffering.

The Parting Shot:
 Coimbra, Portugal's university city.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

SAR #13355

We have forgotten the basic lesson of the crash: Global problems need global solutions. And because we failed to learn from the last crisis, the world’s bankers are carrying us toward the next one.Gordon Brown, former British PM
The Lasting Word: The vitriolic outrage from the religious right in defending some bearded backwoodsman's homophobia misses a simple point: 10 million gay consumers (plus their families and friends) are far more important to advertisers than a handful of bigots. Hidden beneath all the noise from The Duck Hunter's fans, a Federal court overturned Utah’s marriage equality ban and New Mexico became 17th state with legal same-sex marriage.

Priorities: Most Americans would cut the defense budget before cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and spending for the poor.

Windmill Tilting: A federal appellate court has ruled that a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for providing support to al-Qaida in the 911 attacks. While the exact amount of money and training the Saudi's provided is classified, the odds of any of this seeing daylight in court are about as long as that of a bunch of Saudis flying planes into NYC skyscrapers.

Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife? The NSA task force report includes a recommendation that NSA “not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate the financial system.” Wonder why that came up.

The Message: . Our current lackluster economy is a reflection of the phenomenal productivity of capitalism. Labor's productivity has increased to the point that very little labor is needed, thus the excess and unemployed workers. Interest rates are low because so much capital has already been accumulated that more is not needed. We can produce far more than we can buy; the problem is distribution.

Either / Or: Headlines report that Walgreen's quarterly profits soared 68% while it's profit margin slipped. Seems they did better investing in other companies than they did with diapers.

Do Not Adjust Your Set: The government now guesses that the nation's GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.1% in 3Q2013 instead of the 2.0% that was their first guess.

Head Bone Connected To The... First Wall Street and the banksters threw everybody out of their houses. Then Wall Street and the banksters bought up all the houses and began renting them out. Then Wall Street and the banksters raised the rent. Now we have another group of the evicted as rents and incomes head in opposite directions. Wonder who's to blame?

Evolution: Capitalism was originally based on thrift, saving part of the production to invest in new production. Then it became based on credit. These days it seems to involve less thrift than theft.

Just Saying No: A Portuguese court has ruled that the government cannot cut pension payments to retired workers – which the government was planning on doing under guidance from the IMF/ECB/EU. 
The Parting Shot:

Friday, December 20, 2013

SAR #13354

Why are we so concerned about the undeserving poor and not the undeserving rich?

Diagnosis, Prognosis: Giorgio Napolitano, Italy's President, warns that the “widespread social tension and unrest” in the country as a result of austerity policies and the drawn-out recession “has put a severe strain on social cohesion”. He said that the threat of insurrection must be confronted by the rule of law. There should have been an 'or else' but he couldn't seem to figure out what it might be.

Snappy Quiz: Who is investing in America's future? Right, trick question; no one is. 
Bible Study: The fall of Adam and Eve is a metaphor for the demise of our hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Eden is the recollection of an oppressed peasantry of the more humane world of their happier ancestors. Before we bit the apple, we lived off the fat of the land. Hunter-gatherers lived longer, ate better, and worked less than their agriculturalist descendants.  Average adult height, an excellent proxy for childhood nutrition did not return to levels seen in the Palaeolithic until a mere 150 years ago. 
Re-Run : New unemployment filings rose again last week, up 11,000 over last week's massive 22% jump to 368,000. There were 2,884,000 continuing claims – but nearly half of those will evaporate come January, which will dramatically improve the unemployment rate as the economic boom continues
Ante Up: A 54 year-old woman was scooped up at the El Paso border crossing as part of a random screening program, strip searched, and subjected to body cavity probes. When nothing was found she was handcuffed and taken to a local hospital where she underwent a CT scan and other examinations including “an observed bowel movement.” No drugs were found and she was eventually released, with a $5,000 bill from the hospital for the 'procedures.' The other stuff was free.

Spin Cycle: In November, for the third consecutive month, sales of existing homes fell as rising prices and increased borrowing costs put a damper on the nascent housing bubble. The explainers had some convoluted story about how this was part of the ongoing housing recovery, but I lost interest.

The Parting Shot:
16th Century Cloister, Tomar, Portugal.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

SAR #13353

"Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology... People who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we do not reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us. " Biologist Neil Dawe.

Help Yourself: Upset by the “despicable and barbaric' treatment in NYC of their (female) ambassador to the United Nation , Indian authorities removed the concrete security barriers protecting the US embassy in New Delhi.

Schizoid: U.S. housing starts jumped to nearly a six-year high in November, up 22% m/m and the highest level since Feb 2008 - just before the you-know-what. But mortgage applications are falling, and a large number of 'starts' was for the multi-family rental market and in absolute (not seasonally adjusted) numbers starts had the largest m/m drop in 5 years.

Conditional Phrase: Turns out that the folks at Facebook can see what you type, even if you change your mind and don't post the comment. It'll turn out that they aren't the only ones...

Medical Expense: Research shows that travel decreases your risk of a heart attack and helps promote healthy brains. Ask your doctor for a script for that trip to Paris.

Potato, Patahto: The citizenry feel the PCE inflation rate that includes food and energy comes closer to their experience while the economists at the Fed prefer the 'core PCE' data which is a better predictor of what future inflation will be. One size does not fit all.

Where's Waldo? If Waldo carries a cell phone, the NSA knows where he is, 24/7. If Waldo signs on the web, NSA knows where he went and what he did. If Waldo calls home, the NSA knows where he called from and how long he talked. And, Waldo, you'd best not look at those sites any more...

Christmas Seasoning: Jack Kingston (Repulsive - GA) says that poor kids should have to "sweep the floors" to get free school lunches. In Mississippi an assistant school principal, backed by the principal and the school board, forced "a pathetic dyke" to use the boys' bathroom.

Join The Club: Demonstrating just how poor a research tool self-reporting is, a new study revealed that one in every 200 U.S. women experienced ‘virgin pregnancy’. Gabriel's been busy.

Comedian: Senator Mark Udall wants the CIA to release a previously unknown, highly classified report detailing the torture conducted by the CIA and identifying the subjects tortured, the nature of the torture, and the so-far secret 'undisclosed locations' where the torture was carried out. And a pony. He wants a pony for Christmas, too. 
Passive Voice, Misuse of: The lead sentence "Since a nuclear weapon went off over Hiroshima.." should be changed to: "Since the United States, the only nation ever to use a nuclear weapon outside a test site, killed 60 to 80,000 civilians at Hiroshima...
If, Then: A US district court has ruled that Catholic employers can deny birth control health insurance coverage for their employees. And if you work for a Christian Scientists you get no health insurance at all. 
The Easy Way Out: By and large the political and social discussions about climate change and the crushing debt loads on future generations and running out of petroleum and all that sort of thing are a waste of time - these are not problems we need concern ourselves with, because we will all be dead. And we won't have to have a nuclear war to get there, either.

Doomed: The nation's drug czar says that our kids are inclined to 'experiment' with marijuana nearly as much as their grandparents did. 
Subtle Differences: If you ram your car into a crowd and kill 15 people gathered outside a church for a wedding (assuming you are not a rich 16 year-old Texan), you will be charged with homicide. If you are an Obama and you kill 15 Yemeni on their way to a wedding....

Though Police: In Texas, an appellate court has rulled that the local sheriff can get a search warant based on his guess that you are 'fixing to' commit a crime. Sometime soon. Maybe.

The Goal: NSA's prime objective is "the elimination of privacy, world-wide."

Straightened Face: Wal-Mart is selling a poster celebrating the Occupy Wall Street camp at Xuccotti Park. All proceeds will go to overthrowing the 1%, not.

The Parting Shot: 

Convento de Cristo, Tomar, Portugal

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SAR #13352

NSA surveillance is not about security, it's about power and control. Edward Snowden.

Supplement This: After reviewing the available evidence – over 25 studies with over 350,000 subjects – researchers have (once again) concluded that vitamin supplements are unneeded, ineffective and a waste of money. Research also shows that knowing this will not change your behavior. 
Wayback Machine: Is Paul Ryan serious or just pandering to the Tea Partiers when he says he wants to use the need to raise the debt ceiling next spring to extort concessions from the Democrats and shake down the country again. Has October really faded from the rear-view mirror already?

Jailhouse Blues: With but 5% of the world's population, the US holds 25% of the world's prisoners. Ah, we're number one again. 
Assault & Battery: A 25 year-old Italian coed is being charged with “sexual violence” and “causing offense to a public official” after she kissed a riot cop's helmet visor during a protest. And Berlusconi isn't in jail?

Words & Deeds: Shell, in dropping its $20 billion gas-to-fluids plant, was admitting that it projects the cost of natural gas to increase – which in turn puts the lie to the cornucopian view of shale gas. Shell CDO Voser also cautioned that the potential for natural gas and oil from shale elsewhere in the world has been "a little bit overhyped".

Shortly: According to Credit Suisse, short term investment results are based on luck, so it pays to hire an investment advisor who is... lucky. And pay him accordingly.

Conform Or Go Quietly: The Rajoy government in Spain is secure enough in its hold over parliament and insecure enough in the public square that they plan to make public dissent a crime. It would ban gathering outside the parliament and most other public buildings, prevent demonstrations on the doorsteps of politicians, fine those “demeaning Spain's image” 600,000 euros and those who take photos of on-duty police 30,000 euros. The government has already extended most police powers to the private security goons sector. And the recession is over and everyone is happy, it says in the fine print.

Numbness: Inflation was a no-show in November and is up just 1.2% for the year. Core inflation (less food and gas) was up 0.2% m/m and 1.7% y/y. Taper? What taper?

Hot Off The Press: The month of November was the hottest since record-keeping began in 1880.

Speak No Evil: Ramzi Binalshibh, a Guantanamo prisoner accused of helping the 9/11 attackers, was removed from his own trial for mentioning the CIA's secret prisons – of which he has first hand knowledge. 
Sides: The Ryan budget, now proudly approved by the Vichy Democrats, feeds the war machine while increasing the load on the lower classes. It cuts the pay of federal workers, cuts food stamps and abolishes unemployment insurance for over 2 million long-term unemployed. It doesn’t raise taxes on the filthy rich, or their corporations, trusts, endowments, and other tax dodges. Too bad 'spineless Democrats' has become a redundancy. These decisions were once a proper subject for discussion in the public square – back before the public square was privatized. The goal of the oligarchs is to grab all the money and limit government spending to things that they like. We should tax the rich at levels that will make this a decent society. It’s us or them. They're winning. 
Noted: Detroit is not an exception; hundreds Of US cities are turning into rotting, decaying hellholes. Jobs and businesses are exiting the cities, and leaving poverty, crime and desperation behind.

Good Citizens: Boeing, which is in the process of blackmailing union workers and seeking bribes from state and local governments, has announced it intends to return $10 billion to its shareholders via a share-buyback program. 
Worm, Turned: GlaxoSmithKline says it will no longer pay doctors to promote its products. Take two aspirin and call the Justice Department.

The Parting Shot:
Bell Tower,  Convento de Cristo, Tomar, Portugal

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

SAR #13351

Not everyone who disagrees with me is a mendacious idiot. Just most.

Don't Tell The Bernank: Empirical data confirms that interest rates do not affect business investment decisions, which tend to be driven by perceptions of the risk/reward balance in new or expanded production. If no market is seen, no investment will be made, no matter how low the interest rate. 
Quoted: "... it is pretty clear that 9/11 was state-sponsored terror … although people argue about which state or states were responsible." [Hint, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens. Added extra: "remember that Saudi Prince Bander – head of Saudi intelligence – helped to arm the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, and is now arming Al Qaeda in Syria."]

Public Enemy Number One: Having failed to blackmail their machinists' union in Washington, Boeing is trolling statehouses across the country, looking for a pliable work-force and a tax-friendly environment where it will not be burdened with taxes or contributing to worker's pensions. Or unions.

The First Unreformed Church of Wall Street: According to Bloomberg, while Pope Francis is a pretty nice guy, he “misunderstands the free market” and his comments are “ frustratingly vague, imprecise or poorly considered.” Maybe, but he's pretty clear on the Sermon on the Mount. 
Deep In The Heart Of: A judge in Texas has resigned after being caught texting prosecutors during a trial. 
Echo: Following in the useless footsteps of their fellow parliamentarians in Pakistan, the Yemeni Parliament unanimously demanded that the US stop using drones to kill members of wedding parties in Yemen. Experts agree that the US drone campaign is counter-productive and has a destabilizing effect on the countries that 'host' drone attack. But that may not be accidential.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Politicians, intimidated by cries of “class warfare,” have shied away from making a major issue out of the ever-growing gap between the rich and the rest. But raising taxes on the rich is not 'class warfare' – it 'crass warfare', aimed at defattening the pigs. Another thing, the proper term is not 'economics' but 'political economics'. End of story.

Fair Is Unfair: GM's CEO says that asking shareholders to pay back the $10 billion hit the taxpayers suffered in bailing out the company would be “unfair”. Why would anybody want to set a precedent where the investor has to suffer a loss when an investment goes south?

Wrong Question: Finally a few folks are asking “Should the NFL Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status?” but the real question is, “Why did the NFL ever have a tax exempt status?” Why is one of the most profitable organizations in the country with a CEO who rakes in more than the head of Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola, not only tax-exempt, but able to get taxpayers to fund their stadiums – and then pay no property taxes on them? 
Pot/Kettle: College men who rape coeds say their rights are being violated when they are punished by the schools for what should be pursued in a court of law. Or by Heisman voters, whichever. 
Clip & Save: "North America to Drown in Oil as Mexico Ends Monopoly." Citibank is sure that simply adding greed to depleted Mexican oil fields will double their output with weeks, maybe even days. Petroleum geologists don't think so, but what do they know about finance and investments?

The Parting Shot:
 Charola,  12th Century Templar church.
Tomar, Portugal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

SAR #13350

Walmart does not sell moral compasses.

Things That Shouldn't Have To Be Said: “Poverty and associated income inequality can be thought of as big fucking deals even if they don't have any discernible impact on GDP or GDP growth. People may disagree about the appropriate social welfare function, but W=GDP is gibberish unless you truly believe that an economy with a GDP of one greater dollar is always preferable even if that "better" GDP involves Bill Gates earning all the monies and the rest of us earning none.”

Yea! Or Nay! Some teens rampaged through an empty mansion in Lost Angeles, doing $1 million in damage. It'll be interesting to see if they are too rich not to have known better.

The Big One, Edith: The bad news is that the supervolcano under Yellowstone is much larger than previously thought. When it erupts (note: when) it will cover North America with ash and change the climate of the entire Earth. It only erupts once every 700,000 years, but it has already been 640,000 years since its last eruption (and +/- 700,000 years before than and another 700,000 years before that one) . The good news is that you can only die once and the previously estimated size was quite sufficient for the task.

Asked & Answered: Does organized labor have a future? Define 'organized'.

Redistribution: In the land of the rugged individualist, economic times have gone forward into the past, a past where those who are comfortably employed have a responsibility to those less fortunate. It is not charity that is required; rather you should become the occasional employer of those who do not have jobs at the moment. Even if it means hiring them to do something you could (and often do) do for yourself. Do your share by letting someone else make a little income by making your life a little less stressed. No, not charity but a form of job sharing.

Enough Already: "Does anyone seriously think that people are saving enough for retirement?... So, why would anyone talk about cutting people’s Social Security benefits when it is as clear as day that the current benefits are going to be completely inadequate for a whole lot of people?”

Our Town: "The criminal-justice system functions primarily as an engine of racial and social-class oppression, as evidenced by the huge disproportion between the racial makeup of the prison population and the racial makeup of the country as a whole. The United States leads the developed world in both homicide and incarceration, and both of those evils land most heavily on poor African Americans."

What's Next, When's Next? Greece, Italy and Portugal are forecast to return to growth next year, while Spain has already emerged from recession and Ireland has ended its bailout program – according to the numbers economists and bankers live by. But in the streets the disconnect between economic data and reality is giving rise to populism. Right-wing extremism and anti-European sentiment will affect the European Parliamentary elections in May. If public anger does explode on the streets it will come from ordinary people desperate from five years of unemployment and poverty and hopelessness.

Subject For Debate: If overpopulation is the common factor behind most of our ills, and it is, is it wrong to say that benefits to families should not increase after their second child? Pretty much, no. Few if any kids are conceived for their monetary value and they should not be punished for the immorality of their parents' decisions.

Pointed Contention: What's worse about our economy, unemployment or inequality? Krugman and Klein and now Bernstein – all promoted by Summer's observation (seconded by the Pope) that the economy doesn't work particularly well – are championing one or the other. Or both. What's missing is the realization that inequality and poverty and unemployment are all symptoms of an economic system that is seriously malfunctioning. And “the economy as capitalism run rampant” is not fixable – it is on the way to self-destruction. And it's not just in the US; it is global. Too bad we have to live through it. Interesting times.

Same-old Same-old: People (well, politicians, pundits and some actual people) are shocked to discover that even under the ACA the insurance companies tightly controll access to doctors, insurance plans with affordable premiums have outrageously high deductibles, the paperwork hasn't gotten any better nor the lady on the phone any easier to deal with and the healthy have to subsidize the sick, and, and... Damn it, Obamacare isn't a national single-payer system. And that's the problem.

The Parting Shot:
 Convento de Cristo, Tomar, Portugal

Saturday, December 14, 2013

SAR #13348

If you cannot threaten a politician's grip on power or money, why should he listen to you?

The Disservice Economy: The minimum wage workers who cook and serve our food, babysit our kids and clean our houses are today's version of the upstairs/downstairs servants of the rich and powerful a couple of centuries ago but are paid and treated worse. 
Rush To Judgment: The GOP punditry seem convinced that the 2014 election will hinge on the voters' disllike for Obamacare. This depends on the ACA remaining a headline disaster for nearly another year, which seems unlikely. The economy is far more likely to be the deciding factor, and there the Republicans have a far better chance of voter disgust carrying the day.

Forward Gluidance: The dollar will either continue its slide against the euro through 2014, reaching $1.40 per euro for the first time since 2011 (Goldman) or it will strengthen to end 2014 at $1.28 per euro (everybody else). Plan your vacation accordingly. 
Fire Sale: November's retail sales were up a whopping 0.7% m/m. 
TKO: The main thing you need to know about today's budget agreement is that it's very modest.  It addresses about 2.5% of the total federal budget. It repeals a little bit of the sequester cuts, and pays for it with a few small cuts in entitlements and some even smaller increases in user fees. Overall, the numbers are tiny enough that it's hard to see how anyone can get either too excited or too outraged over it. Except the far right, of course. Why they are not happy is a mystery - the budgets arrived at are lower than the pipe-dream Ryan 2011 budget. Republicans have massively changed the spending conversation since 2010, and austerity has won.

Quoted: The evidence suggests that capitalism has become wholly predatory and has given up any pretext of being a socially responsible socioeconomic system...”

The DNAvinci Code: Geneticists have discovered a second biologic code hidden within the DNA double helix. DNA's function has thought to be limited to a set of instructions for constructing protein chains. The new code appears to be instructions that help stabilize beneficial features of certain proteins. The discovery could open new doors to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

Mumble Jumble: The US Producer Price Index fell for a third straight month as US disinflation continues. In the 12 months through November, producer prices increased 0.7%,which suggests the Fed's attempts to push inflation upward have been less than wildly successful and giving it room for ever more quantitative easing. Or other experiments.

All Over But The Suffering: Ireland has “exited” from its IMF/EU/ECB bailout, whatever that means. What it doesn't mean is that everything is hunky-dory in the land unemployed elves and shamrock pickers. It doesn't mean they've paid back any of the $117 billion they had to borrow. And it doesn't mean that the grinding austerity programs will end any time soon. Government spending will be further slashed this year and next. Ah, the Luck of the Irish. 
Porn O'Graph: The Tomato that didn't eat Washington.

The Parting Shot:
Triton guarding the entrance to Palácio da Pena
Sintra, Portugal.

Friday, December 13, 2013

SAR #13347

Those who want speedy and tidy resolution of our problems do not want a democratic one.

Flim Flam Men: Remember the Good Olde Days when unemployment fell to 7.0% because everybody left the job market and 471,000 low-wage retail serfs were hired for the Christmas season? Remember back when fewer than 300,000 newly unemployed signed up for benefits? That was then. Y'know, last week. This week 368,00 filled for unemployment - a 23.5% increase. It'll give them time to walk around the mall looking at those lucky enough to have someplace to go, something to do. 
Different Difference: To expect people to act 'rationally' as the economists define 'rational' is irrational. Not everything reduces to money; even a few economists like their wives...

What's For Supper? Faced with the highest poverty levels in a quarter century - 15% of the population and 22% of American children - the House votes to pass a $633 billion defense spending bill while cutting food stamp spending by $40 billion over the next ten years - saving taxpayers 0.5% of what they spend on pissing money away in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and wherever's next. Oh, wait. The money we spend on wars doesn't count against the defense budget, they're covered by special allocations. 
Multiple Choice: Why is the U.S. getting in the U.N.’s way of making drinking water a right? (a) Profits.

Global Warning: Average temperatures in Australia this spring were 1.57°C (3ºF) above the 1961-1990 average. September averaged 2.75°C ( 5°F) above normal. Last summer was the hottest on record - so hot that the weather bureau had to add new colors to its maps - which now top out at 129 °F. Naturally the Australian Senate is debating the repeal of its carbon tax.

Fill In The Blank: “_________ is a Greedy, Freeloading Corporation That Screws American Taxpayers and Workers.”

Them vs. US: A US drone killed 15 people on their way to a wedding. No, not in Pakistan, Yemen this time. The group "was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy." 
Sky, Not Falling: Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, they're getting better. At least the kids are: The teen birth rate is at a record low - less than half what it was in 1991. Teen abortions are at an all time low - half of what it was in the 1970's. And teen pregnancy is also at an all time low - down 50% from 1990. Maybe it's the weak economy.

Fails Laugh Test: Vladimir Putin insists that Russia has no interest in becoming a superpower nor in telling others how they should live.

Banditos: Oil at all stages of production, refining and distribution has been the legal property of the Mexican people since 1938. But Mexican's are too poor and too dumb to properly exploit their resources, so the Mexican Congress - as bought and paid for as the American one - has decided to let companies such as BP and Exxon "develop" Mexico's petroleum resources. The change will also let companies such as BP and Exxon pay Mexico a pittance and send the profits to whatever off-shore tax haven they chose. Mexican oil production has fallen 25% since 2004 as their major oil fields become depleted. But big-bucks and faith will - it is hoped - defeat geology. If you don't think the people of Mexico are going to be the losers, you missed some of my earlier lectures.

The Parting Shot:
 Time to go. 
Sintra, Portugal