Monday, September 29, 2008

Common Sense Perspective

Another good find at The Big Picture. Aline Van Duyn of the Financial Times' View from the Markets, interviews James Grant of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. It's common sense from a free market-sound currency guy in 3 parts. Total running time is about 15 minutes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Doing Nothing

Once again Barry Ritholtz offers a dose of reality at The Big Picture. He reminds us of the retail stock brokers world. The "just one more trade and we'll get out of this" approach. Sobering reading.

Arnold Kling at Pajamas Media, reminds us that as with all things economic, there are winners and losers, risks, rewards and losses. These are inherent, even when the choice is to do nothing:

"If Congress goes home having sent financial institutions a clear signal that there will be no bailout of any kind, then sellers will bring their securities to market, and we will find out what the market thinks they are worth.

In the worst case scenario, the market will assign low values to the securities. Firms that are sufficiently capitalized to hold mortgage securities will earn profits at the expense of weaker companies that have to sell securities or go bankrupt. In the end, it may turn out that the winners really took advantage of the losers. That is capitalism at work in financial markets."

What seems to be getting lost in the entire panoply of news is the simple fact that real prices are set by the real world. If your down 20% on the value of your home, you will still be down 20% regardless of who holds your debt. When a stock is over-valued, there are more sellers than buyers, and the price drops, regardless of what the government does, or even can do.

It wasn't so long ago that the talk in the financial world was all about the private equity (cash) "sitting on the sidelines". Private investors large and small have been bailing out of the market for years. (That drop in the ocean is mine). The real losers in the proposed bailout are those of us who have been living within our means, keeping our debts to a minimum, and staying honest.

Doing nothing allows those on the sidelines to step in and get a good deal at the expense of those who have been reckless. Politics, being what it is, that is unlikely to happen. Conventional wisdom dictates that the friends of congressmen will be rewarded, the taxpayer will be sold a bill of goods, and honesty will be its own reward.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Notes from the UN

In an otherwise serious report on Sarah Palin's meetings at the UN yesterday, Susan Duclos of Wake Up America entertains us with a press pool report. Among other bits of useless information from the ASM (Always Sleeping Media) was this:

"Palin wore small, gold, dangly earrings in the shape of the state of Alaska. Her hair was tightly secured atop of her head and her shoes were black patent leather round toed heels."

Incredibly, left unreported was what President Uribe was wearing. It is unconfirmed, but rumored that he wore a Dodgers ball cap, Hawaiian shirt with camo shorts, and beach thongs. He explained that he was " just popping in at the UN, on his way to an important interview on Tallcan TV. "Tallcans are very popular in Columbia...or Chile...or whatever one of those little countries I'm from" he said.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Ritholtz Plan

Who needs another garage sale when you can send your used, crappy lawn furniture to the Fed for redemption?

Buy My Shitpile Dot Com is open for business.

Broken toasters, used chemistry sets, children's games with missing pieces; send it to Washington for real fiat currency.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wall Street Lament

Courtesy of Dad:

Sell them and you'll be sorry
Buy them and you'll regret
Hold them and you'll worry
Do nothing and you'll fret

Little Dog House on the Prairie

I stopped reading The Weekly Standard regularly several years ago, but I still check in from time to time, mostly just for an Andrew Ferguson article. Scanning the websites, I seemed to have a choice between market-meltdown stories, or Sarah Palin stories. Oh yeah, there's the attack McCain while saying nothing about Obama stories too. I don't know what I can add to any of this that isn't already being said. One article, about the current state of the political race by Naomi Emory got me thinking about the male/female aspect of this years election cycle. On the Obama/Hillary relationship, she writes this gem:

"After he made a point of stressing how little she matters, he now seems to need her more than ever. And she, of course, does not need him."

OK guys, get out your pencils and paper and make a list of how many times you have been in that situation. Too many to remember? Me too. Senator Obama is in a place that my dad used to call "the dog house". I don't know if that term is still in popular use, but it's a place that any man who has any relationship with any woman for any amount of time is well familiar with. And we all know there is only one way out; swallow your pride, say you're sorry, accept the blame, beg for mercy, tell her you love her, and keep your mouth shut for the next two weeks. Even this doesn't work all the time, and it's difficult to see how it could be made into a viable political strategy. Besides, Hillary wouldn't let him set up his teleprompter in her living room anyway.

On what the average voter sees, regarding Hillary and Sarah:

"They perceive, correctly, that each is a woman you would want to have on your wagon train if you were crossing the continent, and to them, each has the same gutsy, tough-woman vibe..."

Wow. There's some food for thought; crossing the plains with Sarah and Hillary. No doubt, either woman could survive the trip in good shape, but from a male perspective, I see some significant differences here. Let us hearken back then, to a simpler time, a time when our nation was young and the possibilities were endless. Our alternate universe begins with Hillary and Local So-and-so, making camp on the North Platte, Kansas Territory, 1852:

She'd be micro-managing the amount of oats in the horse feed and acting like the worlds leading authority on the proper amount of bacon fat to grease the wheel hubs with. She'd be saying things like:

"The fire's too big"; "The fire's too small"; "Don't put that log on, it's too big. Put that other one on. No that one. No the one next to it. OK, whatever, that one's fine."

At some point, say, somewhere between Chimney Rock and the Sweetwater, I'd say one smart-ass remark too many. We'd get into a big argument that would be completely unrelated to anything involving the original issue; like how I left the cover off the water barrel yesterday morning, or the time when I ate the last piece of cornbread without telling anybody. Or the time, three years ago, when I planted 40 acres of barley, thinking it was alphalpha.


I'd spend the rest of the trip, 10 miles a day all the way to Fort Sutter, in the dog house.

Sarah, I think, would let me be in charge of the oats and bacon fat, but she'd check them from time to time. She wouldn't be obvious about it though. She'd wait until I was off in the bushes, doing my business, before she's take a quick peek at the supplies. Climbing down from the wagon, she'd perform a five point inspection of each wheel hub before climbing back in the wagon, and be sitting in the exact same position as when I'd left her.

At night, if she heard a noise outside the wagon, she wouldn't wake me. At least not right away. She'd get up herself, load the Sharpe's carbine, and wake me with 50 grains of black powder going off inches from my head. After swabbing the barrel and stowing the rifle, she'd get back in bed without saying a word. No explanation at all. I wouldn't have to ask either. I'd just figure there was a good reason for it, and go back to sleep.

Sarah would still get ticked off about the lid on the water barrel, just like Hillary would. Women hate that kind of thing. It's hard wired in them. Sarah wouldn't make a fuss about it, she'd just make me feel guilty so I wouldn't forget next time. And, I wouldn't forget the next time. The time after I would.

She'd get back at me for the cornbread by mixing up a batch and then not telling me about it. She'd wait until there was one piece of dry, stale cornbread left, and then tell me. The alphalpha thing would be held in reserve. No sense spending all your ammunition at once. She'd save it for when she really needed to haul out the heavy artillery.

It's easy to imagine Hillary's dog house, but difficult to imagine Sarah's. I know she must have one. They all do. One thing I'd really like to see is an interview with Todd Palin, her husband. It would be on one of those fishing trip shows on cable TV. They'd be out there in the boat, catching this one and that one, and then head back to the cabin. The interview would be just some fellas sitting around a table, talking about fishin' and huntin' and inevitably, the capriscious ways of women. The host would ask him, "So Todd, what really sets her off? What do you definitely not want to do when she's around? Is there anything you've done in your 20 years of marriage, that was so knuckle-dragging stupid, that she just plain lost it?" The answers would decide the election.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Magic Band-Aid

When gravity is outlawed, pigs will no longer be required to grow wings in order to fly. The latest magic band-aid, the ban on short selling, coming from an increasingly socialistic Treasury/Fed Axis, almost guarantees an even bigger drop somewhere down the road. That's assuming it's only temporary. Vox Day, a Libertarian and arm-chair Austrian economist, puts the question succinctly:

I'm just curious if this ban is temporary in the "road work ahead - lane closed" sense or in the "extraordinary expenditures - income tax" sense.

I've never sold short on anything, so I'm not real familiar with it. It looks like I've found my weekend research project. A good start on understanding short selling can be found here. It also includes information on the repeal of Depression era banking regulations. At what point did our "leaders" decide that Wall Street could police themselves?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bootleggers, Baptists and Bi-Partisanship

Russell Roberts, writing for The Library of Economics and Liberty explains the theory of bootleggers and Baptists first proposed by Bruce Yandle. If you have the time, a podcast of Mr. Yandle can be found here. It runs over an hour. A thumbnail sketch from the Roberts article:

"When the city council bans liquor sales on Sundays, the Baptists rejoice—it's wrong to drink on the Lord's day. The bootleggers, rejoice, too. It increases the demand for their services.

The Baptists give the politicians cover for doing what the bootleggers want. No politicians says we should ban liquor sales on Sunday in order to enrich the bootleggers who support his campaign. The politician holds up one hand to heaven and talk about his devotion to morality. With the other hand, he collects campaign contributions (or bribes) from the bootleggers.

Yandle points out that virtually every well-intentioned regulation has a bunch of bootleggers along for the ride—special interests who profit from the idealism of the activists and altruists."

With all of the back-and-forth among the politicians concerning the financial services markets, it's instructive to keep this idea in mind. We can substitute the working poor for the Baptists, and bankers for the bootleggers.

Everyone would like to help the poor. Rising from modest means is central to the great American story. The poor, by definition, don't have any money. Banks, being a for profit enterprise, don't make loans to people with no collateral. Enter bi-partisanship.

The bankers would need some way of covering their inevitable losses from loaning money to uncollateralized borrowers. A set of regulations collectively known as the Glass-Steigal Act prevented bankers from doing anything beyond traditional banking. Specifically, the Banking Act of 1933.

Still riding the deregulation wave, started by, of all people, President Carter with the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Phil Gramm (R-Tx)led the charge for deregulating the banking sector and creating the financial services sector in it's place. With a bi-partisan vote in the House, a straight party line vote in the senate, and signed by a Democratic president, Nov. 12, 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act effectively repealed the Banking Act of 1933, guaranteeing the biggest party since the roaring 20's would continue.

No matter who wins the next election, we're going to be hearing a lot about "Wall Street greed" well into the foreseeable future. Speculators, short sellers, manipulators, will all be held up for public debate. Every little old lady with 100 shares of Exxon/Mobile will be turned into a wild speculator. Anyone who took out a home improvement loan, and then spent the money on their vacation will be called a cheat.

The term "predatory lender" is especially hysterical. Did you, or anyone you know buy a house you didn't want? How about a car? Have you ever filled out a credit card application under duress? Have masked men ever invaded your home and installed a new washer/dryer against your will? It's ridiculous. As an old Pogo cartoon once put it, "We have met the enemy, and they is us." That's the theory anyway.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin in Carson City

I was hoping to get off this subject for awhile and get back to economic matters, but with Governor Palin's visit to Carson City on Saturday, well, you know I had to go. I'm really getting hooked on seeing candidates in person. Not for the star power, but seeing the human being, as opposed to the flickering image. I should probably leave you in suspense until the end of this story, but the short version is, this lady's no pushover. When she says she's going to Washington to "shake things up", I believe her. I believe she is capable of it.

I got to the Pony Express Pavilion about 12:30, having only a vague notion of when things were going to start. 2 hours standing in line talking with a guy named Jay from Sparks, and people watching. Then another 2 hours standing in the pavilion, mostly trying to guess who was with which security detail. Jay and I had a pretty good spot to the left of the stage and on the "rope line".

One of the more interesting security teams was a group of 5 men dressed in desert khaki with pockets for extra ammo clips. They were big guys, tall and wide. With buzz cuts and wrap shades, they looked like some sort of survival team. The kind of guys who could live for months in the outback, eating bugs and drinking water made from their own urine. When one of them got close enough to read his badge, it said Tahoe-Douglas Bomb Squad. So much for the survivalist thing. Maybe they eat bugs for a hobby.

The highlight of the pre-speech speakers, I think, was Barbara Vukanovich. She's like the Queen Mum of northern Nevada Republicans; the Every-Grandma; the living link to a time when Reno was a truly small town, when Sinatra was driving a Thunderbird and when stealing horses was still a hanging offense. We love her and she loves us.

Missing from this group was Governor Gibbons. Hmmm. I can't imagine what he had to do today that was more important than this. Boy, has his career taken a dive. I sense a coup coming in the 2010 elections, but it's too soon to tell where it will come from. Congressman Heller is the most obvious choice, but he seems too much of a party loyalist to mount an insurrection. I think it will come from lower down in the ranks.

Finally, after Lt. Governor Krolicki's speech and a rousing version of "Johnie B. Goode" and "Pretty Woman" from the band, some really mean looking guys in suits came in and surrounded the stage. It took the Governor and her husband several minutes to make their way to the stage. Of course, they came in from the opposite side from where I was. Todd, her husband, had been up on the stage earlier and nobody recognized him. At least I didn't. He's an easy going guy who has a bemused "I can't believe I'm here" expression.

Governor Palin's speech was a mix of lines from her original speech when she was first picked, some lines from the convention speech, and some new lines. It was a positive speech with no Obama-bashing. There wasn't a single sentence that wasn't met with a loud cheer and extended applause. I don't doubt that she could help a guy pick out a nice quality hunting knife at the local gun show, but she seems more like a business woman to me. The kind of person who could wade through a government accounting report and spot the problems. She's no-nonsense, confident, and direct.

Throughout the audience were a number of teenage girls. Too young to vote, but they all had "the look". It's the look that I used to have when dad would take me to the Giants game to see Willy Mays. This thing is bigger than a single election.

After the speech she came our way. As the crowd surged forward, I dropped my McCain/Palin sign that had been handed out to everyone earlier. There was no hope of bending over to pick it up, so I didn't get her autograph. No big deal. I learned long ago that I'm not an autograph collector. After the crowd thinned out I got my sign back, so I now have a sign with tattered edges and several foot prints on it. I did get to shake her hand and tell her she's terrific, so I was happy with that.

Jay, who had his hat signed by McCain at an earlier rally, now has both names on it. He was pretty pleased. Something for the grand kids. There was also a guy there with an old high school yearbook. Palin remembered him. She seems to genuinely enjoy meeting people.

It still seems strange to me that the local politicians don't seem to want to mix with the common folk. All those voters in one place and none of them made any effort at all. They seem to be content with the $100 wine and cheese affairs and the hell with everybody else. They all came in, sat down, gave their speech and went home. Little wonder people think of them as elitist.

Later, Jay and I went around to the exit. Chuck Yeager, of X-15 fame, who had been on the stage earlier was hanging out there. We got to shake his hand too. He doesn't do autographs. At 85 he is one grizzled veteran. Governor Palin probably spent more time shaking hands, signing things and meeting voters, than she did speaking. We didn't get to meet her again, but all in all everyone went home happy.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Glass-Steagall Revisited

Finally! A capitalist has brought up the subject of the Class-Steagall Act of 1933 and it's repeal in 1999. Writing in, Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture calls for the break-up of banks from investment houses. There's a good thumbnail sketch, in the Forbes article, of how we went from the depression era banking reforms, to over regulation, to Reagan's free market reforms and finally to the over-zealous libertarian free for all mess that we see today. I'm really starting to like this guy.

BTW, Glass and Steagall were both Democrats. I can say nice things about them sometimes. It's allowed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Green Jobs

With all the hullabaloo about energy independence from both sides of the political spectrum lately, I've begun looking into the idea of Free Market Environmentalism. There are already several divergent views among the proponents. There is also plenty of ridicule from both capitalists and environmental groups, the lobbyists of which are already at the ticket counter for yet another ride on the government gravy train. McCain has been taking quite a bit of heat from the right over his proposals. No matter who wins the election, Nevada will play a big role in any push for renewable energy sources.

I've long thought solar power would work pretty well here, but wind power seems to be where things are heading. I try to avoid the ASM (Always Sleeping Media) to the extent possible, but from time to time they stop gossiping long enough to find some real news. I happened across an article in the RGJ during the week, regarding a company called Nevada Wind. This private company has bought private land in the Warm Springs area. With so much of Nevada owned by the federal government, it's difficult to find private property that is suitable to all the interested parties. The military has already ok'd the site and planning commission/county commission meetings are due soon. I don't see a downside here, from a free market perspective. A private company on private land with a private contract makes a good test case for the free market environmentalists.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tex's Worst Nightmare

Courtesy Sleep well, my friend.

Monday, September 8, 2008

News from the Other Side

From a DEBKA File report on an Al-Jazeera broadcast:

"Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman Zawahri, accused Iran of cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and the Shiites for failing to wage a jihad against the Crusader occupier."

Who did Harry Reid say was losing the war? Later, Quoting Zawahri:

“The most bizarre and astounding thing is that Hassan Nasrallah celebrates a victory every year. What victory?” he said. “Retreating 30 miles backwards? Allowing 15,000 Crusades to become a buffer between them and the Zionists?”

Maybe he just needs to lay off the Turkish coffee and get back on the Afghan hash.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Feminine Rage

Courtesy Red Planet Cartoons

What was at first appalling but now entertaining, is watching otherwise rational women claw and scratch each other out of the way in an attempt to level the meanest insult at Sarah Palin. From the gossipy grandma story to the latest fake Vogue cover, it's enough to make the feminists at Blue Lyon appear to be an island of sanity.

So she's pro-life, as governor she did absolutely nothing regarding sex education in public schools that her own kids attend. The fact that her daughter is pregnant is evidence that public sex education is a failure, not abstinence education. So she fires a librarian over what books to have in the library. Does anyone know which books? No, it could've been Hustler Magazine for all anybody knows. As for the so-called "Trooper-Gate Scandal", giving a kid a slap on the butt is inappropriate, but tasering them is perfectly fine. When did that happen?

C'mon ladies, you're better than this. A little less menstrual fury and a little more clear headed thinking is in order. Remember the first rule of warfare, know your enemy. Preaching to the choir will always get lots of amens, but few converts. You're Democrats and she's not. I get that part. What I don't get is one single reason not to give her a chance at success.

More on the RP Cave-In

In an article that is mostly a rehash of old news, the Las Vegas Sun sheds a little light on the real reason the Ron Paul Delegates caved in on Wednesday:

"Dyer said he and Bunce, who ran recently failed congressional primary elections, want to run for office again. So they had motivation to play nice."

In other words, two years from now Nevada Republicans will have a choice between Sue's Landed Gentry Inc., and a bag of spineless worms. Good luck with that.

Later in the same article:

"So Bunce and the other Paul delegates decided to use the political capital they had gained during the months-long war with the state party to try to generate a little more."

Yes, they have all the capital of a guy living in a van down by the river. With Mike Webber set to challenge the state central committee elections at the next WCRCC meeting, and Terhune and Bunce sure to be there, we should sell tickets. Too bad it's not another pot-luck, we could have a glorious food fight. Pasta salad anyone?

European Recession?

Having been marinated in all-Sarah-all-the-time for a solid week, and going through blog-detox yesterday by attending the company pic-nic (BBQ, Beer, & Horseshoes Festival), I thought I'd get back to my favorite pass-time; watching the US economy go down the toilet.

This week brought news of another bank failure and rumors of a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac take-over as well. The bank failures are mostly a side show. For a little perspective, in 1989, at the height of the S&L crisis, there were 534 failures among all financial institutions. Between 1983 and 1992 there were over 2,000 failures. Counting the 10 so far this year, in the last ten years there have been 50 failures. As to the impending Freddie/Fannie take-over, I don't see what else they can do. These institutions have been cash cows for foreign governments for decades, and letting them go under would be a world wide disaster.

The economists at S&P report a slew of economic surveys coming in from Europe. They are predicting a "major slowdown" for the second half of the year. With the second quarter posting a -0.8% GDP, another negative quarter technically means a recession. The July survey of purchasing managers is at the lowest level since 2001. Consumer price inflation,at 4.1% is the highest since the Euro was adopted in 1999. Some European countries are faring better than others, but it is clear that the weak dollar is hurting everybody. As an example, the European Association of Car Manufacturers (ACEA) is down 7.9% overall with France +1.5%, Germany +1.0%, United Kingdom -6.1%, Italy -19.5%, and Spain -30.8%. The weak dollar/strong Euro combination is wreaking havoc through the import/export markets. With tightening credit and rising unemployment both here and abroad, good news is increasingly hard to find.

Friday, September 5, 2008

RP Delegates MIA

With the conventions over, it looks like we have two pretty good teams matched up against each other. Now, if they actually start discussing some issues we might get somewhere with all this. I'm not one for cheer leading, but I have to say, I like our chances. It was looking pretty gloomy there for a while.

I know I qoute the WSJ too much, but I couldn't help noticing this little tid-bit this morning about the protesters last night.

"... they had obtained passes to the convention from disaffected Republicans..."

Where were the 4 Ron Paul delegates in Nevada's delegation? Were they in the hall? After folding like cheap suits and voting for McCain on Wednesday, did they stick around or sell their passes? Either way, so much for principles.Thanks for representing all of us back here on the home front. Idiots.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reality Check

Good speech. Not great, but certainly good enough to rally the Republican faithful. No doubt a lot of independents are taking notice. The combination of McCain's foreign policy hawks and Palin's small town values only partially address the economic issues. The reform of the discretionary spending free-for-all is a good sign, but the missing link is still entitlements. Social Security reform is the subject left unspoken. President Bush dropped privatization early in his first term and no-one has picked it up since. McCain, by his own admission, is no economic wizard. It will be interesting to see if he mentions entitlements tonight.

Also of interest is whether all this is a rebuilding of the Reagan coalition, or a realignment within the Republican party. I think the jury is still out on that one. A good article on the political/economic trends can be found here. A good idea of where we've been and where we're going is here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

More on Palin

I just returned from a trip to mom's place in the People's Republic of California, and two things about the Palin pick are now clear. The right loves her and the left hates her. The vitriol coming from the left, like the scene from "The Exorcist", tells me Palin was the right pick at the right time. The party of peace, love and the common man, who now have two machine-built Harvard lawyers on their ticket, can't stand it when those snobby, rich Republicans elevate a commoner to high office. They just can't get themselves to admit that the Republican party is full of commoners. It's usually just the leadership that's snobby and rich.

It's funny how they're talking about all those great Republicans who should have been picked. As if they would have liked anyone else. They were calling Kay Bailey-Hutchinson a female impersonator when she ran for the senate. Elizabeth Dole was Helmet-Head, among other things. Would anyone not have produced these wretched, rumor filled diatribes? Not likely.

The University of Idaho? Not exactly the fast track. Wasilla, Alaska? You won't find many Harvard lawyers looking to make a name for themselves in Wasilla. The PTA? Can you name one person in Washington DC who has ever served, or knows anyone who has served, on the PTA? The fact is, she's one of us, and that's plenty of reason to give her a chance. In a word; Authentic.