Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rule By The Rich: Do They Really Need Their Salaries of $3.83 Million?

2009's top congressional millionaires consist of ten senators and twelve representatives, in order from top to bottom as follows:

1. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, $188.6 million
2. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, $160.1 million
3. Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, $152.3 million
4. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, $83.7 million
5. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-TX, $73.8 million
6. Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, $70.2 million
7. Rep. Jared Polis, D-CO, $56.5 million
8. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, $53.5 million
9. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, $49.7 million
10. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, $46.1 million
11. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-FL, $31.1 million
12. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, $21.7 million
13. Sen. Jim Risch, R-ID, $20.1 million
14. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, $19.9 million
15. Rep. Gary Miller, R-CA, $19.4 million
16. Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, $18.3 million
17. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, $15.7 million
18. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-TX, $15.6 million
19. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, $15 million
20. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, $14.1 million
21. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, $12.6 million
22. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, $12.1 million.

Altogether they represent wealth of $1.15 billion. Twelve are Democrats, seven of whom are in the top ten and six of whom are in the senate, worth $744.7 million. Ten are Republicans, worth $405.4 million,  three of whom are in the top ten and four of whom are in the senate.

TheHill.com has the complete story here and here, published annually.

Monday, August 30, 2010

GDP for Q2 2010 In Context

"Historically, four quarters following a bottom in GDP, growth is running over a 6% annual rate. Rejoicing over 1.6% because it wasn’t 1.4%, particularly in the context of the most radical bailout, monetary and fiscal stimulus in U.S. history, totally misses the point that we are operating in a totally abnormal and fragile economic environment."

-- David Rosenberg, quoted here

Set 'Em Up, Joe

A glass of wine a day is better for longevity than none (and better than the whole bottle), according to a new study following out-patients aged 55-65:

1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. ... Just over 69% of the never-drinkers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.

Read all about it, here.

New Republican Record in Gallup Weekly Tracking Poll

Gallup reports that registered voters prefer Republicans to Democrats by 11 points, besting the 1994 5-point record, which preceded the ascendancy of Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America while Bill Clinton was president.

The poll dates to 1942.

Go here for the whole thing.

You'd Know It's a Depression If . . .

. . . 50 million Americans getting Medicaid, stopped getting it (cost $273 billion);

. . . 40 million Americans getting Food Stamps, stopped getting them (cost $70 billion);

. . . 10 million Americans on Unemployment, stopped getting it (cost $160 billion);

. . . 4 million on Welfare, stopped getting it (cost $22 billion).

The total current cost of these safety net programs: $525 billion.

Read all about it, here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Bond Markets Tell Us We Are Already In Depression"

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard had a memorable line in a posting July 27th which is apropos after Friday's stock market rally despite so much bad GDP news yesterday:

As David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff reminds us eloquently every week, the bond markets are telling us that we are already in a deep and intractable depression – which does not preclude Japanese-style rallies, technical recoveries, and bursts of growth, all within a Kondratieff Winter.

Friday, August 27, 2010

GDP for Q2 2010 at 1.6%

The advance estimate of GDP for Q2 2010 was revised down today to 1.6% from 2.4%, on surging imports and slower growth in corporate profits. The latter, according to news reports, came in at an increase of 2.9% in the second, off fully 50% from the Q1 rate of 5.8% growth in corporate profits.

The next revision to GDP is expected at the end of September.

The data is here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Federal Reserve Appeal Denied, Continues to Stymie to Protect Banksters

Bob Ivry for Bloomberg News is reporting that the Federal Reserve's appeal in May of a March ruling requiring the Fed to disclose information under the Freedom of Information Act has been denied as of August 20:

The full U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, in a docket entry dated Aug. 20, denied a May 4 request by the Fed to review a three-judge panel’s unanimous March 19 decision requiring the agency to release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program begun primarily after the 2008 collapse of Bear Stearns Cos.

Unless the court stays its decision, the Fed will have seven days to disclose the documents. In the event of a stay, the central bank and the Clearing House Association LLC, an organization of 20 commercial banks that joined the Fed in defense of the lawsuit, will have 90 days to petition the Supreme Court to consider their appeal. The Clearing House has already said it will ask the high court to rule on the case. ...

The amount the Fed and the U.S. government lent, spent and guaranteed to stem the recession and rescue the banking system peaked in March 2009 at $12.8 trillion, most of it following the September 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Go here for complete coverage by Bloomberg.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

About That Failure of ShoreBank, Chicago, Illinois

Here's what Mish has to say about it after excerpting reports from Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and Zero Hedge:

This is what matters: It is crystal clear there were irregularities in attempting to keep this turkey of a bank alive, irregularities in who was allowed to bid, irregularities in selling the assets to failed management, and a suspicious single bid by a consortium of large US financial institutions, including Bank of AmericaCorp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley.

The FDIC's handling of Shore Bank smells as bad as a pile of dead alewives on a Chicago beach in mid-July.

Read the rest, here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

David Stockman Hates America

David Stockman's latest screed against PIMCO reveals what a creature of his age he has become:

"Housing is a commodity like furniture and automobiles, and inducing citizens to buy more of it is no business of the state."

In truth everything is a commodity to people like David Stockman, and that he'd much prefer a world which puts more people into that category, as the tenants of landlords, says it all.

Without realizing it, he puts his finger on the problem with what has happened in America in our lifetimes. Everything got commodified, not just our jobs, and now our mortgages, but our very selves. It happens to people who forget where they came from, who they are, and God. That we let the vampires get a hold of the American dream and make a bundle off it is only the most acute and visible example of it. It is almost quaint how Stockman likens what's happened to indentured servitude, as if his remedy doesn't resemble the same.

With mortgage securitization, the American dream got carved up, packaged and sold off to the highest bidder like so many sausages at the meat counter. But the intangible assets of four walls and a piece of ground mean nothing to David Stockman. Privacy, peace and quiet. Some flowers for the table and tomatoes for the pasta, the companionship of pets and a place to bury them when they're gone. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees. The glory of a red maple leaf against a blue sky. The goldfinch, the bluejay, the robin, and crows as big as coons. The snowman standing where bright green grass once called you to mow it. Where families gather to give thanks once a year for our many blessings, in spite of it all.

If that makes me a slave, I'll own it. Someone's banking on it, and not just Bill Gross.

The Desperation Index: Bull Market in Lotto Tickets and Metal Detectors

BusinessWeek.com is reporting here that lotto ticket sales increased 1.5% in the fiscal year just ended, making the North American lottery business larger than $70 billion. Metal detector sales have also jumped.

Follow the link for the whole story. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Price to Earnings Ratios

John Hussman has an important article here on price to earnings ratios, in particular "forward earnings ratios," which came into vogue in the 1980s and for which there have not been adequate historical series preceding that era. 

In other words, forward earnings ratios are an innovation of the greatest bull market era in American history, and thus they are an outlier.

Follow the link for the complete story. 

"Moochelle": Michelle Obama's New Name

Given to her by none other than Rush Limbaugh:

We have a name for Michelle: "Moochelle." Mooch, mooch, Moochelle Obama. That will tick 'em off, won't it, Snerdley?  

Moochelle Obama.  You compare her with the hated Sarah Palin. Moochelle Obama keeps a personal staff of 24.  Now we know why: To administer to gynecologist friends whose fathers pass away.  Her personal staff includes a makeup artist and a hairstylist, a total annual government salary of more than $1.6 million for the personal staff of Moochelle Obama, plus their travel expenses.  Her Secret Service for security is extra on these trips.  Now, you compare and contrast that with the hate and the ridicule that is thrown at Sarah Palin who did what?  She sold the governor's jet, she dismissed the government's cook, she prepared her own meals, she returned the governor's automobile and drove her own car, she dismissed the governor's security staff, and knows how to use her own gun.  So Michelle's gynecologist, her father died.  So she needed to go to Spain to sort it all out.  All right, there you have it.  That's why.

The whole thing is here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Choice Wasn't "Do Bailouts" or "Do Nothing"

Barry Ritholtz provides a very succinct summary of what were the alternatives to the bailouts of 2008, and takes to task those who want to defend the bailouts as if doing nothing were the alternative.

Don't miss it here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Boycott The Airlines: Don't Fly Until The Scanners Come Out

As Grand Rapids' Ford Airport gets its new backscatter body scanners this week, I learned that the low penetration, privacy and dose claims for these scanners have been challenged by Leon Kaufman as recently as February:

A very few dozen of zealots and madmen have led the economically and militarily most powerful nation the world has known to ... , with the use of x-ray backscatter machines, begin a great public health experiment. ... For a typical body thickness, half of the energy leaves the body on the side opposite the beam’s entrance point. ... Under “features” in the Rapiscan brochure are listed archive, save, and print. The AS&E Bodysearch permits hard-copy printing and storage of images for “file reference.”

If they are wrong about penetration and privacy, can they be wrong about dose?

And isn't it enough that we've been lied to about penetration and privacy?

Read more here.

Monday, August 9, 2010


More "year of the black:" black president, Chicago Blackhawks, black beaches, and now blackouts.

Thom Patterson reports for CNN.com on the growing problem of electricity blackouts because of an aging electrical grid, now an estimated $1.5 trillion problem, at which the current administration has thrown roughly $4 billion, a drop in the bucket:

Experts on the nation's electricity system point to a frighteningly steep increase in non-disaster-related outages affecting at least 50,000 consumers.

During the past two decades, such blackouts have increased 124 percent -- up from 41 blackouts between 1991 and 1995, to 92 between 2001 and 2005, according to research at the University of Minnesota.

In the most recently analyzed data available, utilities reported 36 such outages in 2006 alone.

Read Patterson's worthwhile article here. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Mother of All Bailouts

Bloomberg.com had an important article in June about the Government Sponsored Enterprises in which it is estimated that they may reasonably require taxpayer bailouts of $1 trillion in coming years:

Fannie, based in Washington, and Freddie in McLean, Virginia, own or guarantee 53 percent of the nation’s $10.7 trillion in residential mortgages, according to a June 10 Federal Reserve report. Millions of bad loans issued during the housing bubble remain on their books, and delinquencies continue to rise. How deep in the hole Fannie and Freddie go depends on unemployment, interest rates and other drivers of home prices, according to the companies and economists who study them.

Unlimited bailout authority for these failed government programs was granted in December 2009. That's what prepared the way for the idea behind the rumors now that underwater mortgage balances may be reduced by the Obama administration.

Read all about it, here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bankers Scamming the American People Out of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

Bloomberg.com has an interesting look inside a bank failure, describing the crimes which occur but never get prosecuted, unless you happen to be a small fry criminal:

If you were a banker, which of the following activities would be more likely to land you a quick trip to the federal penitentiary? Is it:

(a) Misrepresenting your dying bank’s financial condition in order to secure almost $300 million in TARP bailout cash and then quickly proceeding to lose it all, or

(b) Embezzling about $235,000 from your employer to support your compulsive-gambling addiction and pay off personal debts?

The correct answer, naturally, is “b.” In this country, when it comes to matters of high-finance crime and punishment, little pigs get slaughtered, while hogs get fat -- convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff being this rule’s most notable exception. ...

The large scale crimes are [m]ainly those related to overvalued loans and understated losses. ... where bank employees lied to ... auditors, intentionally delayed loan writedowns and altered documents to hide credit losses.

That's why we highlight "overvaluations" of reported assets when we report on Bank Failure Fridays, just to try to provide some perspective on the scope of the chicanery going on.

Read the complete story here.

Obama and Company: Experts at Bankruptcy

The Chicago Sun Times is reporting:

On Feb. 14, 2006, newly obtained records show, the bank [Democrat Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias' Broadway Bank] made a $22.75 million loan to a company called Riverside District Development LLC, whose owners, it turns out, included Rezko.

Antoin Rezko, of a Syrian Catholic family, was convicted of fraud and bribery charges in 2008 and once had close ties to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, now on trial, and to President Barack Obama.

The Sun Times also reports:

According to Giannoulias . . . Riverside District Development paid off the Broadway Bank loan with money it obtained from a $27 million loan from another financial institution: Mutual Bank.

The president of Mutual, Amrish Mahajan, was also a fundraiser, like Rezko, for Blagojevich.

Mutual Bank, Harvey, IL, failed on July 31, 2009, costing the FDIC $696 million. Its assets of $1.6 billion were overvalued by $696 million, or 77%.

Broadway Bank failed April 23, 2010, costing the FDIC $394.3 million. Its assets of $1.2 billion were overstated by $494.3 million, or 70%.

Read the complete story, here.

As A Dog Returneth To His Vomit

Kimberley A. Strassel updated the Alexi Giannoulias affair in mid-July for The Wall Street Journal, highlighting the source of the Senate hopeful's personal fortunes, which ended up a bank failure in April:

Then in April federal regulators seized Broadway Bank. Records showed the bank's lending profile changed sharply after Mr. Giannoulias came on full-time in 2002. His lending department doubled down on the risky real estate loans that helped shred the housing market; Broadway piled up losses. Mr. Giannoulias prospered.

No doubt Mr. Obama can't wait to arrive on Aug. 5 to raise money for one of those, ahem, "fat cat bankers." And he'll be landing in Chicago just as the Blagojevich trial is raising uncomfortable questions about Mr. Obama's Chicago connections and his role pushing his friend Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat. The state Democratic establishment is dutifully holding "Vote Alexi" signs, but many are bitter that the White House landed them with this guy. It won't be a pleasant visit.

Read the complete story, here.

Obamas Enrich Themselves At Your Expense, Again and Again

Andrea Tantaros for The New York Daily News has all the gory details of the latest episode, this time in Spain:

While many of us are struggling, the First Lady is spending the next few days in a five-star hotel on the chic Costa del Sol in southern Spain with 40 of her "closest friends." According to CNN, the group is expected to occupy 60 to 70 rooms, more than a third of the lodgings at the 160-room resort. Not exactly what one would call cutting back in troubled times.

Reports are calling the lodgings of  Obama's Spanish fiesta, the Hotel Villa Padierna in Marbella, "luxurious," "posh" and "a millionaires' playground." Estimated room rate per night? Up to a staggering $2,500. Method of transportation? Air Force Two.

To be clear, what the Obamas do with their money is one thing; what they do with ours is another. Transporting and housing the estimated 70 Secret Service agents who will flank the material girl will cost the taxpayers a pretty penny.

Go here for the complete story.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Justin Amash Links American Indians and Slaves With Palestinians in Occupied West Bank

From his letter to the editor of USA Today in March 2006:

The sad truth is that although not having a history of democracy bears little significance on whether a group desires, deserves or can handle freedom, people have long used it as an excuse to support the abrogation of liberty. It is the excuse that many Americans once used to justify the enslavement and oppression of indigenous people and African-Americans. It is the excuse that many people use today to justify Israel's nearly 40-year occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.

Read the complete letter here.

Justin Amash, Congressional Primary Winner, is a Christian Arab

According to this source:

Most of the candidates and elected officials we interviewed cited voter prejudice as a challenge. The only exceptions are Justin Amash, a first term Michigan House Representative who is a third generation Christian Arab, and Abdul Al-Haidous, mayor of City of Wayne. Amash is a young politician, who regularly attends an Arab American church, but who would be difficult to identify as an Arab from his looks, behavior or accent. He is elected from a district that does not have many Arab Americans and is not vocal and active on Arab American issues.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Rival Electoral College

As we pointed out previously, the National Popular Vote Campaign is an extra-constitutional end run around the constitution's designated amendment process which seeks to replace the constitutionally prescribed electoral college with a rival process in which states agree to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote nationally.

Is this not a form of sedition, indeed a revolt, against our long-accepted "federal democracy"? Jeff Jacoby is right to style the rival proposal a "national democracy," utterly foreign to our experience.

He also rightly points out for The Boston Globe in "Massachusetts for Palin?" that the new process would have nullified the votes of Massachusetts voters by awarding their electoral college votes to Republican winners of the popular vote nationally, like Richard Nixon and George Herbert Walker Bush, when they had voted instead for liberal Democrats, like George McGovern and Michael Dukakis.

Jacoby's assessment coheres with our own:

Massachusetts is the sixth state to approve this end run around the Constitution, following Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington. It is no coincidence that all six are Democratic strongholds. The movement is fueled by lingering Democratic resentment of George W. Bush, and of the Electoral College system that made him president in 2000, even though Al Gore drew more popular votes. It is a comical irony that if the compact ever goes into effect, its only practical impact in these states will be to occasionally award their presidential electors to the Republican nominees their voters reject.

But the other side of the coin is that in 2008, just two of the eleven largest states by population went Republican, and just three of the next largest ten. The situation for them in 2008 would have been just the reverse under the National Popular Vote scheme, and Republican majorities in Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and Arizona would have seen their electoral votes cast for Obama, not McCain.

To quote a famous ex-president: "That doesn't make any sense."