Are you sure you should be doing that?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boing!

Dow and FTSE back up again. Thought so. But unlike 1987, I don't think this will be over by Christmas. Bear market rally, don'tcha know?

Super post by Denninger today, too. He points out, among other things, that the Dow started falling yesterday when everyone (himself included) expected the Bill to pass. And as he says, Bernanke upped the money in the system by vast amounts anyway, and it still hasn't fixed the problem. Just how much petrol do you need to throw onto a fire to put it out?

The BBC perspective

After yesterday's "No!" in Congress, BBC "business editor" Robert Peston refers to a "breakdown in the US political system."

To me, it's the very opposite: it's a prewar Lagonda that has spent years with its axles on bricks, and it's just had a new set of tyres put on; after long disuse, the engine has finally turned over. Maybe it will seize up again, but for now there is a hint of democratic accountability.

For example, is it not interesting that more Democrats voted against the Bill, than Republicans for (both as a percentage and in absolute numbers)?

I watched Peston on TV last night and said to my wife, "I should be in front of that microphone." I heard him on the radio this morning and still want his job.

The MSM: one despairs.

Horton heard a Who

Congress just heard from the voters. Let's hope Horton listens closely.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Now what?

Maybe I'm not that good at body language, though I've spent years with unstable children; and maybe it's having to speak to a semicircular audience of journalists outside the White House, and he hasn't learned the actor's trick of seeming to direct his attention steadily to one indeterminable member of the audience; but Hank Paulson's statement made just now (c. 21.45 British Summer Time), with the left-middle-right upanddown movement of his head, and the earnestness of his mouth and lips, makes him look panicky.

But maybe the worst players in the banking market should be allowed to burn out anyway, as Marc Faber has said for a long time.

How many of the crucial 10 swing votes in the House were down to the polemical fax-fomenting of Mish, Denninger at al?

And will the Establishment force them to vote again and again until they get it right? Nancy Pelosi and her "bipartisan" mantra (3 or 4 times in one statement) seemed to hint at this.

Under New Management

If I understand him, Nouriel Roubini (htp: City Unslicker) is saying don't buy the rotten apples, become the greengrocer's senior partner.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My plan: a $15 trillion dollar bailout.

US nonfinancial debt (second quarter 2008) is $32.4 trillion dollars. This pie chart gives a breakdown of the debt by type. US GDP in 2006 (est.) was $13.13 trillion - let's guess it's $14 trillion now. Thus debt as a proportion of GDP is about 230%.

This graph shows that the 50-year mean ratio of such debt to GDP is 120.1%. So to get back to a long-term average, DEBT MUST HALVE. As I said in a reply to a comment today, it's like a game of musical chairs, but taking away half the chairs in one go.

In fact, an almost perfect fit would be to cancel all the mortgage debt in the USA - just to get back to the level of debt averaged over the last 50 years.

And Marc Faber is saying the bailout will need 5 trillion, not $700 billion.

Hmmm....

Why don't we get really bold: $32.4 tn debt x 46% in the form of mortgages = $14.9 trillion. Give everybody their houses free of debt, make future loans on domestic property illegal. Yes, there'll be inflation, but the liberated houseowners will be able to afford it.

Will the banks be ruined? They're ruined now. Will the government have to nationalise them? They're doing it now.

These are revolutionary times. We may not be able to scourge the moneylenders from the temple, but at least we can chase them out of our houses.

Yes, the result's a house price crash, if you can't pump up the price with phoney-baloney money. But no debt, so so what?

The banker has inflated everything so you have to borrow to have anything. He's made himself indispensable, like a pusher of addictive drugs standing outside the school gates, giving away samples to get you hooked. He's your "friend", your "main man", who'll make you "well".

Bankers and their pet traders have become insanely rich by making you poor. Your assets are big on the outside and hollowed-out by debt on the inside; it's why they call it a bubble.

Do you know your enemy?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bank lending - can somebody please help?

In the edited-out part of my recent letter to the Spectator, I pointed out that since 1963, average RPI has been c. 6.5% and the long-term real growth of GDP is said to be 2.5% p.a., so let's say nominal GDP growth has increased by 9% - my maths is up to that.

But over the same period, Bank of England stats show an annualised average increase in M4 bank lending of c. 13.5%, which suggests that lending grows at 4.5% p.a. above GDP. If that's right, UK bank lending as a proportion of GDP doubles every 16 years.

Can that be right? And what about the ratio of credit to the total of all national assets? Is that increasing, too? Because it looks as though eventually, the banks must own everything.

I reproduce below a graph from a mid-August post on Marc Fleury's blog. This shows the long-term ratio of total credit to GDP in the United States, and the current level of indebtedness seems to be way, way above the Great Crash situation in 1929.

Somebody please put me right and/or direct me to authorities and information sources.

My mind keeps saying, "This cannot be right, surely everything is sort of normal, really, we'll muddle through." I find myself discounting even McCain's Churchill quotation ("This isn't the beginning of the end of this crisis. This is the end of the beginning") and the politicians' use of the word "meltdown" to bounce Congress into accepting the bailout package proposals. I have spent years warning about a possible crash, but I've never, I think, allowed myself to get apocalyptic. I prefer my disaster movies to stay safely in the cinema.

So, how bad is it really, and does the banking system really have a tendency to acquire everything?

Faber says $5 trillion, not $700 bn

Dr Faber thinks the real cost will be seven times greater than the proposed bailout.

... and here are his thoughts on where to be invested - and the current advantages and future perils of holding cash:

The revolution is personal

"Financial Crisis: The next decade could be our very own Great Depression" says the economics editor of the Daily Telegraph.

Towards the end of the 90s, I was expecting a major crash. Then, I was in a laughable and condescended-to minority, it seems. And I'm certainly not important enough for anyone in the City of London to give me a minute of their heavily-overremunerated time. Even last year, warning on Cafe Hayek that America could become dirt-poor financially, I was mocked for my ignorance of "purchasing power parity".

I was unfamiliar with the phrase at that time, but I still think my instincts were right. I don't know what ordinary people are going to live on, in the US and the UK, when everything we used to make can be made cheaper elsewhere and the world's average income (in Purchasing Power Parity terms) is $5,000 a year.

Being right is no use at all, except on a personal level: I re-entered the despised public sector at the end of 1999 so that I would have something to live on when the financial world unravelled. Now, you need to make your own survival plans - it shouldn't (I earnestly hope) be guns and dried food, but what line of work will you be doing and how much can you sell to get rid of debt?
It's not too late. The Equitable Life mess took a long time to reach its endpoint, and there was quite a window of opportunity to get out of their with-profits fund with a reasonable amount of your savings intact. Similarly, houses have dipped in price, but (in my view) nowhere near hit bottom; nor do I expect them to return to current levels for a generation (in real terms; if the government permits hyperinflation, they may return in nominal terms, but that'll be no comfort when a loaf of bread costs £10).

When the government runs nearly everything, as it seems determined to do, maybe "if you can't beat them, join them". Here in the UK, the next administration will have very limited freedom of action, as the present one expects (perhaps wrongly) to lose the coming General Election and so has adopted a "Götterdämmerung" strategy - selling our nuclear power firm to the French, undermining the Monarchy, and generally assaulting anything that will hold us together politically, culturally and financially. In a way, I hope Labour wins again; but then again, it would be no punishment - they'd continue to eat and drink well while perfecting our destruction.
My newsagent told me this morning that he works 90 hours a week. He referred to a Daily Express front page story from yesterday, which said that it was indeed better to live on benefits. I'm not surprised. In ancient times, it was understood that if you wanted a good job doing, you employed a freedman, since slaves were complacent and lazy. Democracy has become a process whereby slaves appoint masters who will feed, clothe and house them.

In case you imagine I am politically biased, please note that I hold no brief for the pack of smoothies that is the current Tory Party, any more than for the Fifth Columnists who have spent 11 years destroying the country from the top. Both seem to see their future as part of the Euro-elite and think the common people depend on their bull****, as koalas depend on eucalyptus leaves.

Abandon all belief in these charlatans and concentrate on your personal life plan.

$700 billion: cui bono?

Hunter in the Daily Kos (HTP: my brother) says that the $700 billion rescue plan has no relation to the (much smaller) likely amount of mortgage defaults; instead, it's designed to prop up the derivatives scam that banks have been running for years.

I've thought recently that the bankers and traders are, in effect, being offered absolution without confession (1), restitution (2), doing penance (3) or a "firm purpose of amendment" (4).

1. Full disclosure of all liabilities and "assets"; admission of each person's part in the debacle. This should be Watergate Plus: there's a lot more than four burglars and the damage to third parties is incalculable.
2. Preferably, repayment of past bonuses awarded at a time when the recipient knew, or ought to have known, that the game was destabilising his own firm and the national economy.
3. Ideally, jail time, for some; at least, loss of office for those responsible.
4. Adoption of regulations designed to maintain the value of the currency and prevent future speculative bubbles.

From time to time we hear the defence that the consumer was at fault, too. Perhaps, if you're thinking about home equity withdrawals; but even the boll weevil is "just looking for a home" as Leadbelly sang, and when banks opened the money sluices house prices doubled. The buyer had no option to purchase a home at 2002 prices in 2007 (and I'm not sure what happened to the cost of rent in that time). The lenders should have known what they were doing; the poorest borrowers were not their equals in expertise. There was a duty of care.

What would houses cost, if it had always been illegal to use them as collateral for debt? What would the US and UK economies look like, if the vast sums sunk into housing had gone into small business enterprises? How much wealthier would we be?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Have Britons become slaves?

Lilith's daughter has been charged for demonstrating back in June. I was disturbed about it then, and am again now.

As in the early nineteenth century, the people are effectively disenfranchised and have little other way to express their dissatisfaction than by demonstrations - in this case, holding up a placard. Do American police arrest placard-holders outside the White House, or is America still a democracy?

It's not as though we're putting the windows through in Whitehall, as in 1831 (Reform Bill), 1855 (against closing pubs on Sundays) and on other occasions.

When did the police turn from being a people's Watch to fight crime as normally understood, to a standing army whose purpose is to suppress the people?

Spectator letter is published

The Spectator magazine has published my recent letter; heavily edited, but at least it was the first in the list, so that's some sort of recognition:

"Storing up more trouble

Sir:

Your leading article (20 September) calls for a ‘kick up the backside’ to the banking industry. That kick should be aimed elsewhere. The British and American governments have not merely permitted this crisis to happen, but positively created it by a deliberate relaxation of monetary controls. Worse still, they have now decided that instead of destroying excess credit by asset deflation, bankruptcies and share collapses, the monetary inflation is to be consolidated by absorption of bad debt into the public finances.

I don’t see how this can end well. Some commentators are already saying that, if passed unaltered, the proposed American financial legislation could, once properly understood, trigger a major crash in US financial shares, possibly before this letter is published.

I think The Spectator and its economically savvy readers should put on fresh pairs of winkle-pickers, and gather in Whitehall and Washington for some kicking practice."

A crisis of democracy, not of capitalism

One of the features of the present crisis is that it is not so much financial as political. Vast bailouts of greedy and destructive banks lead Americans to ask, who is running the country, and for whose benefit? Mish and others are turning from financial commentators to pro-democracy activists.

Shall "Government of the people, by the people and for the people" perish from the earth? The lazy, defeatist cynics of the UK fail to understand how Lincoln's words still burn brightly in many Americans' hearts. It's why they are so quick to attack their politicians as liars and shysters, wheras we merely expect them to be that anyway. Their idealism shames us.

A Marmite Backwater

Dark Matter, Dark Energy, now Dark Flow... my brother directs me to a new discovery/theory.

It seems that a great cluster of galaxies that is halfway towards the edge of the observable universe, is moving in a different direction from the general stretching of space-time. It's like a little boat caught in an eddy.

Cosmologists theorise that there may be massive, unobservable structures hundreds of billions of light years away, pulling these galaxies in their direction. They imagine that the universe beyond what we can see (c. 17 billion light-years) may be very different from ours.

And some of us laugh at mediaeval theological speculation. How foolish those people were, building elaborate worlds of internally-consistent ideas, applying nothing but logic to extend their understanding beyond the few things they were certain that they did know, attempting to move from the seen to the unseen.
And now we lift our gaze from the CERN to the unCERN.
I wonder what Ben Jonson would have made of it all?

May I prevail on you all for charitable contributions to fund a new chair of Marmite Studies?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sell your house now?

If Karl Denninger is right and the long-term trend for house prices is 3 times income, instead of 5 or 6 as it seems to be now, then houses remain overpriced in real terms.

So even though house sales are seizing up and prices dropping, shouldn't we go ahead and sell anyway?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Diary of a mayfly day trader

Wait! I was wrong! The Dow is up 32 points (09:42 EST)! Buy, buy! We've turned the corner! I am renaming this blog Bullwatch!

Oh no, only 14 points now (09:44 EST). Hold. Or maybe sell - over 50% of gains lost in only TWO MINUTES, goodness knows what could happen in a whole hour. Yes, sell! Sell!

Gosh, this is hard. Think I'll watch the TV news, they know what's going on.

UPDATE

OMG, down 32.42 (10:13 EST)!! In only 43 minutes! Over a 7-hour day that means 633.32 off the Dow!!

No, make that "!!!"

And there's another two days to go!!! !!! !!!

However could Mouton de Rothschild stand the tension?!!??

A note to newsreaders from the Pronunciation Unit

Say "new". Say "clear". Now, say "nuclear".

Just wondering

Why does having a ladder on your roof make you drive badly?

Paulson gets super-rich on short-selling

It's an ill wind... No relation to Hank, I suppose.

Komedy Korner

Harry Hutton points us to a sarcastic site that invites you to add your own bad assets to the proposed $700 billion bankers' buyout. Currently they're up to $415 billion. It's amazing what you've got in your attic and garage.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bear market rally blues

Dow 18 Sept: 11,019.69
Dow 19 Sept: 11,388.44
Dow 22 Sept: 11,015.69
Dow 23 Sept: 10,854.17

Inspired by Nick Drew's bardic effusions, I offer a pastiche of Lonnie Donegan:

Does your equity lose its value
On the market overnight?
If your broker says don’t do it
Do you buy loads more in spite?
Can you hedge it with short selling?
Can you get the timing right?
Does your equity lose its value
On the market overnight?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wall Street is waking up

The Dow has just dropped to 4 points below where it closed last Thursday; the 368-point sigh of relief it gave on Friday has been replaced by slightly sharper take of breath. It seems the equity traders are beginning to understand the details of the toxic buyout "solution". The rest of this week should be interesting.

Derivatives: the "pub with no beer"

You could be forgiven for thinking that financial bloggers are hysterical and fantasy-ridden, far more so than the middlebrow newspapers that have only just caught on to the crisis.

Until you learn the facts.

The money system is so enormous and complex that nobody knows all the details, but it is estimated that in 2007, the entire world's GDP was equivalent to $54.35 trillion.

Derivatives - mutual insurance without the requirement on anybody to hold any assets - have recently been estimated by the Bank for International Settlements at over $1,000 trillion.
To put it visually (figures are in trillions of dollars):

And now a quotation on default rates - the percentage of bonds (promises to repay) that fail:

NEW YORK, Aug 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. junk bond default rate rose to 2.25 percent in July from 1.92 percent in June, as a credit crisis and sluggish economy pushed more companies into bankruptcy protection, according to data from Standard & Poor's released on Friday.

The default rate is likely to rise to 4.9 percent over the next year and could reach 8.5 percent if economic conditions are worse than expected, S&P said in its report.

Note that in the case of derivatives contracts, a default rate of less than 5.5% would equate to a wipeout of a whole year of the entire world's earnings.

No wonder that governments are absolutely determined that confidence in the system must be maintained, at whatever cost. It may take a long time to blow up a balloon, but it doesn't burst slowly.

And how do we get out of this threatening situation? How on earth, to use a different analogy, will the cat ever climb back down from so high a tree?

Lehman and that $8 billion

Lehman administrators have filed a court order for the return of $8bn that was transferred from the UK to the US just before the firm's failure. The radio news this weekend said (my phrasing) that it was Lehman's practice to park the money in the US overnight to earn interest.

Reuters says "Administrators for Lehman's European operations have questioned why $8 billion was transferred to New York from London just before the bank collapsed."

Was this really standard practice? Couldn't the money have been earning (possibly higher) interest overnight here? Do other firms do the same?

Or was it part of a Lehman plan to draw assets back onto US soil in preparation for its bankruptcy, in order to favour American creditors over foreign ones, as London Banker mooted on 12 September?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another prophet foresees market panic

Thus Jim in San Marcos:

This week, look for a serious drop in the DJIA of 4,000 to 6,000 points and the close of the stock market for a week or two. [...] Most people have sensed something is seriously wrong with the markets and are heading for the exits (even the President said so). With the automated computer trading system in place, this could be very fast and furious,--sleep late and wake up broke.

Monday morning at the brokerage houses you’ll hear; “Sell everything; I didn’t sleep a wink the whole weekend.” It will be a group effort.

Carte Blanche; take cover!

We're back in the days of Dumas' Cardinal Richelieu (*), as London Banker points out. He quotes Section 8 of the proposed new US financial legislation:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

How is this to be subjected to democratic accountability?

I essayed a paranoid spoof on Friday, only to find it exceeded by reality. See Karl Denninger for more details of the amazing, autocratic powers proposed in the new US financial legislation.

This is not a sweary blog, but if that becomes law, head for the bl**dy hills.

Denninger also explains how the $700 billion limit can be manipulated to absorb infinite amounts of bad debt, by discounting on resale and then taking on more fresh garbage. He says:

I predict that if this passes it will precipitate the mother and father of all financial panics, although exactly when the "short bus" riders who inhabit the equity market will figure it out remains to be seen.

_____________________________

(*) see Wikipedia:

"Dec. 3, 1627

It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.

Richelieu"

Another letter to the Spectator

Let's see if they bin this one: (n.b. I've made a few alterations in the hour since posting)

Sir;

Your leader (“Long live capitalism”, 20 September) calls for a “kick up the backside” to the banking industry. That kick should be aimed elsewhere.

Light regulation and free markets, which the Spectator advocates, depend on the self-regulating properties of a sound money system. But like many others, the British government has long used the fiat nature of its currency-cum-credit to solve temporary problems and create permanent ones. The long-term real growth of GDP is said to average 2.5% annually, yet since 1963 the Bank of England’s own statistics show that the M4 money supply has grown by about 13.5% p.a. Over the same period, RPI has averaged about 6.5% p.a. At this rate, the banks will ultimately own everything.

For the first 5 years of the New Labour administration, M4 growth was, not exactly prudently, but less recklessly, restricted to around 8.25% p.a. However, by 2003 the FTSE had halved from its 2000 peak, and there was gloomy talk of recession; and over the next five years M4 suddenly averaged nearly 14%. Then house prices doubled; hinc illae lachrymae.

How did this happen? The system of fractional reserve lending means that banks can loan out a multiple of what they retain in their vaults. State regulators set the rules for the required marginal reserves, and when reserve requirements are halved, lending can double, and usually will; like Labradors, bankers will have whatever is put on their plate.

Knowing this tendency, the British and American governments have not merely permitted this crisis to happen, but positively created it by a deliberate relaxation of monetary controls. Worse still, they have now decided that instead of destroying excess credit by asset deflation, bankruptcies and share collapses, the monetary inflation is to be consolidated by absorption of bad debt into the public finances.

I don’t see how this can end well. Some commentators are already saying that, if passed unaltered, the proposed American financial legislation could, once properly understood, trigger a major crash in US financial shares, possibly before this letter is published.

I think the Spectator and its economically savvy readers should put on fresh pairs of winkle-pickers, and gather in Whitehall and Washington for some kicking practice.

Yours faithfully

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'll stay on the outside, thanks

Actually, I hope all the top bankers and star traders keep their huge bonuses (one year's worth of which would keep people like us for life), and I hope none of them gets jailed for their corruption/criminal incompetence.

Because otherwise, I might have to believe in Big Brother, and love Him.

I don't BELIEVE it

So I asked for a strong tea. And when I lifted the lid to stir it, I saw they'd put in a single bag, but only half-filled the pot with hot water.

Suddenly, I'm less deterred by fuel surcharges on foreign holidays.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Here is the news

In the public interest, short-selling is banned until further notice. Minimum buying prices will be observed, enforced by the new market regulator, OfPuff. If necessary, all sales of stocks will be subject to official clearance. Traders must demonstrate an awareness of their social function or attend re-education classes.

Gloom and despondency are prejudicial to the health of our economy, and no responsible Government would stand by while bad news was published without restriction. By order of the Privy Council today, all editors of print and electronic news media (*) are, by virtue of their position, to be deemed civil servants and will be bound by the Official Secrets Act, to which certain annexes have just been appended.

We have pleasure in being able to disclose the final results of the 2010 General Election (for full details, see page 32, or Ceefax page 801). The landslide victory will be welcomed by all true patriots, as will our decision to cancel the Election, for reasons of economic efficiency and also because, given the inevitability of the outcome, the process is otiose and a wearisome distraction for voters and a reinvigorated Government that is determined to get on with the job of steering us through these challenging times.

UPDATE - MY SPOOF WAS FAR TOO TAME:

(*) I should now add, all financial institutions:

"(3) designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them;"

See Karl Denninger on this latest, utterly undemocratic outrage by the US Government.

Is the USA still ruled by law?

The London Banker gives the US a magisterial damning, citing many instances of the Executive acting in ways he considers ultra vires in the financial arena.

This sort of talk from someone who generally appears to be a sobersides, echoing the volatile but technically savvy Karl Denninger, really does alter the tone of the debate. Read it yourself, and judge.

UPDATE

Jesse, too:

... Men sneer that outmoded laws and useless principles must fall to vital expediency so that we might be saved. The will to power begins to erode and overthrow justice and the rule of law.

And at certain times in history, in their fears and insensible numbness, people concede first the discretionary choices, then their moral outrage, then the weak, then their wealth, their freedom, and finally comes madness, and then the deluge.

And Tyler:

I'm afraid to say, we're facing much more regulation.

And much more government.

And much less willingness to trust markets.

We're in the Slough.

This is a sad, keening chorus of responsible bloggers.

It won't work

Karl Denninger pours scorn on the latest banking "solutions". I don't pretend to be as techno as he, but I trust my instincts, and they say that this is all like a Christmas play. If Fairy Bogbrush can wave her bristly wand and shazam! the grisly bathroom throne of modern finance is sparkly clean, then why can't she wave it again and make us all rich into the bargain?

But if it was that easy, who'd staff the checkouts, sweep the streets, change the bedpans etc?

Nope, it'll have to be paid for somehow, and I don't think the rich have reserved that pleasure for themselves.

Murky support for the dollar

Brad Setser looks at data from the US Treasury International Capital System (TIC), trying to work out what's been going on in the money supply and why the dollar hasn't collapsed in all this brouhaha. Setser, who gave evidence to a Congressional committee last year, admits that the picture is not clear, despite his expertise.

He thinks real purchases of Treasury securities (2000 - mid-2007) are about double the official amounts, and points out that when the dollar weakens, it is supported by further buying from central banks. Also, Americans have sold a lot of foreign equities recently and the money has come home.

A significant change in the pattern is the reduction of private holdings of Treasury securities - more and more, the support is coming from official sources, as the following graph suggests:

This seems to me like another straw in the wind: "power to the people", not.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

300 years of history


Gold watch

I think I said $850?

Not to mention the "bear market rally"?

And for now, I'm still a bear.

Not the end, as long as you and I breathe

Looks like the US is in the process of nationalising the banks and the stockmarket, loosely speaking, and the UK is following suit; now Mish says Russia and China are doing the same. All is falling into government hands.

I've been wondering recently: if, in the idealistic pursuit of universal peace and justice, we ever did manage to establish a World Government, and it became (as all human institutions do), inefficient, bureaucratic, undemocratic, corrupt and more or less evil, how would anybody escape? Where could we go to?

And Denninger is now singing a requiem for American government and democracy; perhaps prematurely - hasn't the often-mocked blogosphere uncovered a depth of feeling among the people in favour of liberty?

Why don't the Tories now declare themselves on Europe, etc?

Supposedly the Conservatives are as far ahead as they've ever been since Mori started doing polls. Meanwhile, the economy is set for a hard, hard landing and Labour have been in power for far too long to be able to blame anyone else.

This is a golden opportunity. The Tories should make clear their policies, including all the contentious and painful ones. In or out of Europe? In or out of our various war zones? Higher taxes or cut spending? What to do about the NHS, education and welfare? About our corrupt and overpaid financial community? About importing low-paid people; trapping our underclass in unemployment and benefit dependency, and rotting their health and sanity; and exporting people that it cost us a fortune to support, educate and medicate? And what about the dreadful farce of the voting system itself?

Because one of two things will happen:

  1. The Tories will win, have a mandate to sort things out, and have plenty of time between now and 2010 to make the people understand who made all these adjustments necessary. Once in power, they can keep repeating these messages so we will remember who's responsible for making us drink the nasty medicine. Fair blame to be apportioned to those Conservatives who failed us in the past, too - in reality, it's hard to find anyone among the British public so ignorant and cretinous as to think that either party can present a perfect record. Whom do the spinmeisters think they are kidding?
  2. Or they will lose, and Labour can try to clean up after itself, fail disastrously, and shuffle into the shadows of history.
Or of course, the Tories can continue to do what they are now doing, and let us draw our conclusions. Then both major parties can fragment and, with any luck, die.

So, three choices: win straight, lose straight, or be unmasked. Because I'm darned if I'll vote for a Buggins'-turn pack of careerists, merely for the sake of a change from the conspiratorial, traitorous dictators we've got now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"... return OF capital, not ON capital"

I noted yesterday that foreigners were rushing to stuff cash into the US Treasury pillow. Brad Setser chimes in, explaining that although there's no yield (see his graph below), at least the capital is safe. We hope.

Banks: justice will not be done

Financial website ThisIsMoney speculates that the FTSE could drop another 20%. I couldn't resist commenting there:

20% down would be about right. The banks have blown up a balloon for the past 5 years and then popped it - it's what they do. They cannot be punished severely enough, nor can the regulators who shrank reserve requirements. If the FTSE hits 4,000 I will finally be able to invest again.

This temple-cleaning call is also pretty much the view of Karl Denninger, but he's doing more emphatic bold, capitals and underlining - unconsciously betraying that he knows, deep down, that "it ain't gonna happen, Cap'n."

Gold pogoes up

Oh, look (14:49), gold's sprung upwards (see sidebar widget) - nudging $800.

UPDATE: ... or rather, $838 (17:50).

An 11% gain since I flagged it up 6 days ago. But when should the short-term speculator sell? $850?

And in the comments to the same piece I said I was wondering what was holding stocks up. Now I know - nothing much. But there'll be a bear market rally shortly, doubtless.

Is the "cash" in your pension fund safe?

There's been much talk of keeping the balance in your bank account/s below the insured limit - but if you are cautious and want to preserve the value of what's in your pension pot, how can you do it?

"Mish" reports a massive write-off by a money market fund manager, following losses with Lehman.

UPDATE:

If you have funds in a money market and it is not backed by only Treasury debt, you need to consider moving that money right here, right now. - Karl Denninger

Financial stocks at risk

Denninger explains why rescuing banks and insurers mean the shareholder should exit now. Perhaps this explains the ruckus with HBOS?

UPDATE: looks as though Lloyds is angling to buy HBOS!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More money piles into US Treasuries

Published today: US Treasury information shows that in July, another $10 billion poured into their securities from the UK's direction. I had no idea that (a) we were so keen and (b) could afford it.

The same or more each was committed by Japan, China and the Caribbean. All hands to the pumps?

What will happen to interest rates?

Jim in San Marcos envisages eventual interest rate rises worldwide, to 10-15%. Commenting on the preceding post, Nikolay disagrees and James asks the question. I'm trying to understand the situation, like everyone else, so I'll have a go at thinking aloud:

Nikolay makes the point that people are becoming more concerned about the return OF their money, than the interest ON their money. So money-holders will limit demand for their cash by being picky about who they'll lend it to; control by quality screening, not by price.

Also, if people who habitually live on credit become frightened - and I think they are - then they will start trying to live within their means.

And discretionary expenditure could be reduced and/or redirected, not necessarily towards the cheapest end. I was listening to someone in the UK fashion industry on R4 yesterday, and they said far from everyone turning to Primark, the trend was to buy better quality, less of it, and make it last longer. Note that it's budget airlines like XL (competing on price) that are in danger of going down - they don't have much "fat to survive the winter".

From another angle, as the supply of cash and credit is dwindling, so are prices of houses and many other big-ticket items - look at the deals on cars and computers.

So it's possible to imagine that the contraction in credit may be approximately matched by a contraction in demand for credit, at least for a time. Bankruptcies and house repossessions will burn off a lot of debt, so we'll see a lot of ordinary people cleaned out and possibly more bank failures, especially as (in response to reduced expenditure) unemployment grows.

Thus we could see a recession in which the government tries to stimulate consumer demand by cutting interest rates - and this may not work, because many won't want (or be able to afford) to take on debt at any price; and those who do have cash and are watching prices fall, will hang off, waiting for further falls - as happened in Japan.

But Jim himself has acknowledged that rates may be cut in the short term. What about the longer term?

More unemployment, lower profits etc will shrink the tax base and increase the benefit burden. The budget won't balance without cuts in the public pay sector (= even less tax, even more benefits) or more government borrowing - I don't see how we in the UK could be taxed much more. So there's a danger that while consumer debt leads the way into recession, increased government demand for debt (and increased concern about government creditworthiness) may then lead the way to higher interest rates on State bonds.

When the State has more dependents, it will also find that not everything is going down in price. Food and fuel are must-haves, so benefits will have to be increased to cover the cost of such items. There will be more poor, and they will each need more. And the government will have to borrow more.

Or start devaluing the currency. Then all bets are off.

So here's a scenario: interest rates kept low, or cut; then government borrowing rises, while the economy burrows into a slump; then the real "credit crunch": the moment when the government, like an ad-man under pressure, needs a feelgood episode and, despite having sworn off it for life, reaches for the booze or the white powder, in this case inflation.

More and more, Michael Panzer's dire financial drama seems plausible.

Bonds to crash?

The Fed may lower its funds rate in the short term, but Jim in San Marcos is predicting steep rises in worldwide interest rates and (therefore) a sell0ff in suddenly-very-uncompetitive bonds.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Finance in Wonderland

We're in a surreal phase. As Denninger points out, there is no legal authority for the Federal Reserve to accept stocks and shares as collateral, which it is now doing ("was that a wooden horse that came in through the gates?"). There is an air of unreality - huge firms suddenly going down, one by one, while we're trying to make ourselves believe that it's all still normal, somehow.

And now that Lehman has bitten the dust, we shall see whether London Banker was right - whether Lehman was calling in foreign investments in order to give US domestic creditors an unfair share in the asset recovery scramble.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A letter to the Spectator

I am constitutionally a sceptic ( a term which, like "humanist", has been degraded to mean simply atheist, a sense I don't intend), but not being cocksure either way, I think civilised life depends on a benevolent forbearance that is being eroded by Puritans of all stripes.

I've submitted the following letter to the Speccie in response to this by Rod Liddle, but like as not it will not be published, so you may as well have a preview.

Sir:

In typically flippant manner, Rod Liddle (13 September) mocks the alleged stupidity and cowardice of would-be Islamic martyrs. It’s true that there is an adolescent power-seeking element: I was confronted by a serious-faced posse of 15-year-olds in a school corridor on 13 September 2001, and the spokesman said, “Sir, what happened on Tuesday: good, innit?” With that, leaving their kaffir teacher satisfyingly speechless, the delegation walked off.

But the self-appointed leader was far from stupid, as I knew: he could probably have got his inflatable A* in GCSE English a year early. And teenagers mind-manacled by a few simple ideas can be very brave, which is why armies everywhere have been glad to use them.

Moreover, this is not a Children’s Crusade, but a war of ideas. We had our own a generation ago: “Smash the System”, Ho Chi Minh’s lantern fizzog stencilled on Oxford college walls, etc. If Liddle wishes for an answer, it is to be found in the article immediately after his own, where Harry Mount quotes Philip Larkin: “A hunger ... to be more serious.” Wiffy-woffy liberal democracy is under attack from both domestic Left and alien religious Right. The politico-religious settlement that was the Church of England is crumbling.

In a Gramscian campaign, the means of cultural transmission (the educational curriculum, the broadcast media, even some of the clergy) have been captured and turned against what used to unite us. Recently, we have gone from the martyrs’ certainty of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer to the confusing fast-talk of Bishop David Jenkins, the slapstick clerical comedy of Dawn French and the nihilistic assertiveness of that scruffy peacock Richard Dawkins. When, a year or two ago, the BBC transmitted “Any Questions?” from a church at Christmas, the panel inevitably included a smug young atheist exhorting the faithful to “embrace the dark.”

The real Delusion is that we can cut down the ancient forests of our history and expect a lovely garden to spring up among the stumps. As Robert Bolt’s More says, “Do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?” The seriousness for which people hunger is not found in the drunken debauchery alternately promoted and lamented in Parliament and the newspapers, and that which is being destroyed will find its replacement.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

At last, BBC News says something useful

And so tour operator XL goes down, as City Unslicker warned.

But from the pile of horse-puckey that is BBC News gleams a speck of gold: advice on how businesses must survive recession. Participating in a price war isn't the way to do it, since you make yourself vulnerable to misfortune, such as the 44% increase in fuel costs (and tightening bank credit) that did for XL. No, here's their three valuable tips:

  1. Go for custom with higher profit margins, like BA's focus on business class flights.
  2. Hold lots of cash, like Ryanair.
  3. Cut costs, like Flybe with their modern, larger, more fuel-efficient craft.

Things are a little different from the consumer's point of view, of course. We came back from Dublin a few years ago on a certain airline, and the electrics failed before takeoff. They fiddled with them for a bit, then we flew to Birmingham, where they promptly failed again just as we were taxiing to the terminal.

Good job they hadn't failed halfway across the Irish Sea, or we'd have been up there all day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

LHC update

Two days after the Mighty Marmite Machine was switched on, and no news. Did they run out of shillings?

Or is this proton recycling thing one of those EU subsidy scams? * At 11,000 circuits a second, the turnover would much quicker.

But I still think it's really a bunker and escape tunnel to Switzerland (geographically the sane eye in the mad mask of Europe). The elite have something to flee from, as Tony Sharp points out - this is the 14th consecutive year of accounts rejected by their own Court of Auditors.

So how WAS the £4.4 billion spent, exactly?

I don't care; I'm off to look for the Great Wine Lake. If they'll tell me where it is, I'll sign the bl**dy accounts myself. **

* "In 2003 German authorities combined isotopic evidence with paper-trail analysis to put a stop to a sophisticated scam, known as "carousel fraud". A group of German companies had been illegally claiming subsidies by trading EU-made butter to and from Estonia (then not a member of the EU). Each time a butter lorry crossed the border from Germany to Poland the companies were given EU export subsidies. Once in Estonia the butter was repackaged and labelled to make it look like it had originated in Estonia, heaved back on a lorry and hauled back to Germany. This time, the importers took advantage of a tax break on foreign imports aimed at increasing trade with prospective EU member countries, as Estonia then was. The investigation revealed that 22 out of 25 butter samples taken from Estonian-labelled butter imported into the EU were not Estonian. In at least one case, the isotopic ratios of hydrogen and oxygen in a butter sample indicated it could only have come from Ireland."

** Wasn't a Chinese emperor deposed for excessive taxation, which he used to create an artificial lake and fill it with wine so that ships could sail on it and have mock battles for his entertainment?

Foreign powers are also battening the hatches

Jesse passes on a report from China Daily about China's decision to diversify out of dollar-denominated assets, and he notes that Japan and India are doing the same.

Prepare for a storm; they are.

‘Late late yestreen I saw the new moone,
Wi the auld moone in hir arme,
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will cum to harme.’

O our Scots nables wer richt laith
To weet their cork-heild schoone;
Bot lang owre a’ the play wer playd,
Their hats they swam aboone.

("Sir Patrick Spens")

US banks preparing for the moonlight flit?

This is a post you will wish to read if Lehman and/or other US Banks go down.

"London Banker" notes that US creditors get first pick of US assets in the event of insolvency, and speculates that Lehman may recently have pursued a strategy of selling foreign assets to increase their US-based holdings. In the event of the bank's failure, this would minimise the loss to American creditors, stiffing their foreign counterparts. Such a pre-crash preparatory repatriation of wealth, he says, might account for some of the recent turnaround in the dollar and US stocks.

He even hints at the temptation for banks to misappropriate assets in nominee accounts for which they are technically only the custodians. Kind of like the old "Muddling up the firm's money with my own," or Father Ted's "It was only resting in my account."

There is a sick plausibility to these speculations.

UPDATE: ... and Sitemeter tells me we are attracting the attention of Beijing (IP: 61.48.41.# (CNCGROUP Beijing Province Network)). A little paranoid frisson to enliven my Friday evening.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mugabe and Tsvangirai

Has the spider made a deal with the fly?

Gold: window of opportunity?

Gold per ounce is now $752 in US Dollars. I've been trying to track down an article I read in the past couple of days, that said Investec expected gold to veer between $750 - $1,000 (similar article here). Is this the time to get back in? An increase of 33% within months is nothing to sniff at - unless you're one of those greedy City boys.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Collusion

It came to me in a flash. How would you or I know the difference between decay products in a particle accelerator, and a sparkler in a steam bath? We've been had, Ron.

17 miles of construction deep below ground... It's a bunker! When the EU project finally and inevitably collapses, taking the economy of Western Europe with it, the corrupt, incompetent and eye-poppingly expensive politicians and bureaucrats are going to need a hidey-hole.

But what about the pipes and cables?
We saw them as Professor Brian Cox tootled along through the circular cavern, didn't we? D:Ream on. What we saw was a CGI loop, entirely familiar to computer games players. Beneath this illusory overlay is footage of working, sleeping and recreational facilities, water filters, air recycling machinery, food stores and all the rest. Like Slartibartfast on his planet-constructing world of Magarathea, the Euro elite will be able to sleep through the coming recession and return in time to impose fresh taxes and regulations.

Meanwhile, the border-straddling tunnel is a convenient way for them to pop across to Switzerland and check their bank accounts.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Judge Mental rules on religion

Yet another group of young men has been found guilty of conspiring to commit mass murder for political-religious reasons.

Britain has extended tolerance to religious dissenters for over three centuries - e.g. the Toleration Act of 1689 - but always on terms designed to maintain peace and national sovereignty.

Perhaps the regulation of religion needs to be brought up-to-date, and maybe the model should be changed. Everything is commoditised these days, so why not treat emotional investments in chosen philosophies like financial ones?

For example, after a rant against the infidel and a call to slaughter him, for which the promised return is an eternity of brilliant food and sex in Heaven, firebrand preachers should add, "Regulatory warning: souls can go down as well as up."

Foreign powers calling the tune on the US economy

... foreign central banks now are in a position where they can influence, through their asset allocation, the allocation of credit inside the US economy.

... says Brad Setser.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Right, left and centre

I told my brother that I find Hillary more scary than Sarah. He replies:

You understand that she scares me because of the fundamentalism and reported vindictiveness. As for her daughter being up the spout, my complaint is that the social conservatives and left-wing social engineers claim to have all the answers to raising my children, yet can't get their own houses in order. At least liberals pretend to be more understanding of the weaknesses of others.

On the right wing here, we have, off the top of my head:

Jimmy Bakker (evangelist) - caught stealing, cheating on taxes, and convincing religious young girls that he should have sex with them

Ted Haggard (anti-gay evangelist) - caught doing heavy drugs and having sex with a male prostitute

Larry Craig (outspoken anti-gay senator) - caught trolling for gay men in an airport

Mark Foley (right wing congressman) - caught trolling for underage congressional page boys

Sarah Palin - see the above

Karl Rove (I believe the grandson of one of Goebbel's propaganda minions) - engineered Bush's victories and the anti-gay marriage movements in 2004, plus the outing of Valerie Plame, covert CIA agent. Married, but well-known in Washington circles as liking the underground gay sex clubs.

Rush Limbaugh (very right-wing TV radio voice) - drug addict. He got probation for obtaining the drugs. His housekeeper went to jail.

Dick Cheney (VP) - strongly supported the anti-gay movement, which got voters out, while his own daughter is gay.

Tammy Faye Bakker (evangelist and ex-wife of Jimmy, now deceased) - both evangelist husbands went to jail for tax evasion and theft, yet she managed to publicly cry her way through both trials, and got off scot-free.

Jimmy Swaggart (evangelist) - caught hiring prostitutes

Jeb Bush (former governor of Florida, brother of Pres. Bush) - kept the hard-line anti-drug line, except for his addicted daughter. His wife was caught trying to smuggle jewelry through customs.

I could go on, but you get the point.

My observation, and supported by some conversations with southern Baptists, is that the draconian rules that they want to impose on society are for everyone else, to keep them in line. I don't like, nor need, that kind of government.


All I'm looking for is a FISCAL conservative.

And by the way, whatever happened to "moral suasion"? Why does everything have to be banned or compulsory?

For example, I've always thought that aborting inconvenient children is very wrong, and the "they haven't developed nerves yet" argument is irrelevant hooey - we all went through that stage and it doesn't make killing any better if the victim is unconscious (even Peter Pan woke up the pirate first). And maybe US demographics, like here in Britain, would be very different if the slaughter of the innocents hadn't happened - but we are all bending under the weight of a thousand daily coercions.

As I said to my brother: And I trust that you and all Americans who understand theConstitution will remember to keep telling the State to s*d off.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A modest disposal

Disposing of 28 million cluster bombs will cost £30 million, it says here. I have a better suggestion - there's still time to arrange it, and it could turn a profit:

The only issue is, who would feature as the Guy?

Sell in May and go away


The truth of the adage is borne out yet again. Perhaps we're approaching fair value at last?

The "All Clear" sounds on Google Chrome

It seems that Google has amended the User License Agreement on its new Chrome web browser (htps: James Higham, Wolfie). And City Unslicker likes it because it's "open source".

Sarah Palin and the sisterhood

I've been looking around the internet for Giles cartoons - our family, like so many others, used to get the compendium annually. What I'm looking for (WILF, as schoolchilden have been Pavlovised to write in their exercise books these days) is one of the typical family home scenes, with the cats glaring loathingly at one another from their lairs and perches.

I am reminded of these cats when I read women columnists about Sarah Palin. They bray about strong women and bleat when one turns up. No, I don't suppose Palin is at all a saint, but the Presidential elections are, in my view, entirely correct to focus on strength of character, and general policy direction. No human being - not even Dr Kissinger - has full information and understanding of every situation he (or she) (or s/he, if you're going to do the full Greenham Common on me) may encounter. That's what advisers are for. What you want in the Chief Executive (and potential replacement) is a decision-maker.

Funnily enough, men don't have a hangup about strong women. We just want them to carry us upstairs:



Ideally, they won't eat us afterwards.

But this ain't good enough for Eve's sisters. Apparently, Palin's a baaad mother because her teenage daughter is up the duff (remember that, everybody who's been in a similar situation); it doesn't occur to these sexist critics that if teenage girls weren't genetically programmed to be (for a crucial moment) just that bit quicker and more devious than their mothers, the human race would have fizzled out long ago.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is the political editor of the Sunday Express. As an avowedly "card-carrying feminist" and atheist, she is confused by Palin (and, as a new mother herself, honest enough to be utterly confused in the abortion debate). She opines:

Although I don't share Palin's views on abortion (see last link above), I admire her courage in choosing to bring a disabled child into the world. I can't help wondering though whether Trig deserves more than a part-time mum with a breast pump in one hand and a Blackberry in the other as she tramps along the campaign trail.

Multi-tasking? Right to work? Or back to "Kinder, Küche, Kirche"? (Well, not Kirche, obviously.) J H-B (mother and working journalist) wishes her well and at the same time is "glad she's not my "mom.""

To her credit, Suzanne Moore is a bit less confused.

See, strong women are not a new thing, or a Left thing. If my mother hadn't been strong, she wouldn't have survived an attempted strangling by a crazed American GI trying to take random revenge for the death of his buddy - and to cap it, she went to his CO the next day (because otherwise the man might have repeated the attempt with another victim, probably successfully).

Nor would she, a young lone woman, have taken two horses and fled into Germany from East Prussia, where a raping and murdering Communist horde was sweeping through the country. And survive, like others in those chaotic days, by stealing from the ships in the harbour at Hamburg (though her sack turned out to be full of tobacco; she bought a pipe).

After her marriage to a British solder, there was communal living in a Nissen hut with heating from a fire in an empty white-spirit drum, and the austerity Fifties; and as an Army wife, a move to new family quarters about every six months, we worked out later. Not new new, of course - I can still remember the swarming cockroaches in the kitchen cupboards at Willich.

Strong? Don't make me laugh. The strength of women isn't demonstrated by swarming up the greasy pole of office bureaucracy (and legislating for extra handholds, and complaining about frangible ceilings); it's proved in much more gutsy ways than that. And ask any copper which sex they'd rather face in a fight (or look at King Stephen and Matilda).

By the way, all this talk of men being competitive and women co-operative is balls. A female friend is quite emphatic that women bosses are far worse. Recent research shows that verbal bullying (so common in girls' schools, and among the predominantly female staff in the British education system) does more long-term damage than the physical kind.

Jealousy!

And the cats continue their spiteful staring-match.

"Marmite" exists, probably

My brother (why are my wife and family all cleverer than me ?) tells me that "dark matter" is implied in all the modern cosmological models, it's just that no-one knows what it is: "At one point, they thought it was neutrino flux, but that doesn't account for enough energy. Maybe it's The Force." I await further information.

Meanwhile, Professor Brian Cox (billed by the Sunday Express as former drummer for D:ream - keyboards, according to the Mail) did a broadcast last night on the Doomsday Marmite Machine and explained that it's all about trying to find the giant and unstable Higgs particle. Even if successfully created in the device, its existence will only be confirmed by the myriad better-known particles into which it disintegrates - only the intense pressure of the early Universe was capable of sustaining the so-called "God particle."

In the Sunday Express article today, the seemingly perma-upbeat (if only we all had his secret) Cox tells us that there are 12 sub-atomic particles, yet I could have sworn that the TV programme listed 16 in a four-by-four arrangement - Cox struggled to recall the last one, which turned out to be the gluon.

Irrelevantly (perhaps), some shots of the Large Hadron Collider remind me of a wonderfully atmospheric scene in "Alien":

Sarah Palin - seriously

ABOUT SARAH PALIN

I am a resident of Wasilla, Alaska. I have known Sarah since 1992. Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis. Our children have attended the same schools. Her father was my child's favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more City Council meetings during her administration than about 99% of the residents of the city.

She is enormously popular; in every way she’s like the most popular girl in middle school. Even men who think she is a poor choice and won't vote for her can't quit smiling when talking about her because she is a "babe".

It is astonishing and almost scary how well she can keep a secret. She kept her most recent pregnancy a secret from her children and parents for seven months.

She is "pro-life". She recently gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby. There is no cover-up involved, here; Trig is her baby.

She is energetic and hardworking. She regularly worked out at the gym.

She is savvy. She doesn't take positions; she just "puts things out there" and if they prove to be popular, then she takes credit.

Her husband works a union job on the North Slope for BP and is a champion snowmobile racer. Todd Palin’s kind of job is highly sought-after because of the schedule and high pay. He arranges his work schedule so he can fish for salmon in Bristol Bay for a month or so in summer, but by no stretch of the imagination is fishing their major source of income. Nor has her life-style ever been anything like that of native Alaskans.

Sarah and her whole family are avid hunters.

She's smart.

Her experience is as mayor of a city with a population of about 5,000 (at the time), and less than 2 years as governor of a state with about 670,000 residents.

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a “fiscal conservative”. During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.

The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren’t enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did Mayor Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a new library? No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece of property that the City didn’t even have clear title to, that was still in litigation 7 yrs later--to the delight of the lawyers involved! The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.

While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office redecorated more than once.
These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.

As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surplus in Alaska. Rather than invest this surplus in technology that will make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as Governor she proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state.

In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, she recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today's surplus, borrow for needs.

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise. As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

Sarah complained about the “old boy’s club” when she first ran for Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set of "old boys". Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited. At the City and as Governor she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people, creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally grateful and fiercely loyal--loyal to the point of abusing their power to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the case of pressuring the State’s top cop (see below).

As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla’s Police Chief because he “intimidated” her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska's top cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it's pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.

She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn’t like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.

Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.
When then-Governor Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no background in oil & gas issues. Within months of scoring this great job which paid $122,400/yr, she was complaining in the press about the high salary. I was told that she hated that job: the commute, the structured hours, the work. Sarah became aware that a member of this Commission (who was also the State Chair of the Republican Party) engaged in unethical behavior on the job. In a gutsy move which some undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all her problems in one fell swoop: got out of the job she hated and garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a gutsy fighter against the “old boys’ club” when she dramatically quit, exposing this man’s ethics violations (for which he was fined).

As Mayor, she had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from Senator Ted Stevens. Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel politics and publicly humiliated him. She only opposed the “bridge to nowhere” after it became clear that it would be unwise not to.

As Governor, she gave the Legislature no direction and budget guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing projects, calling them pork. Public outcry and further legislative action restored most of these projects--which had been vetoed simply because she was not aware of their importance--but with the unobservant she had gained a reputation as “anti-pork”.

She is solidly Republican: no political maverick. The State party leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a fiscal conservative.

Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah. They call her “Sarah Barracuda” because of her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness. Before she became so powerful, very ugly stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah's mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

As Governor, she stepped outside of the box and put together of package of legislation known as “AGIA” that forced the oil companies to march to the beat of her drum.

Like most Alaskans, she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She has questioned if the loss of sea ice is linked to global warming. She campaigned “as a private citizen” against a state initiaitive that would have either a) protected salmon streams from pollution from mines, or b) tied up in the courts all mining in the state (depending on who you listen to). She has pushed the State’s lawsuit against the Dept. of the Interior’s decision to list polar bears as threatened species.

McCain is the oldest person to ever run for President; Sarah will be a heartbeat away from being President.

There has to be literally millions of Americans who are more knowledgeable and experienced than she.

However, there’s a lot of people who have underestimated her and are regretting it.

CLAIM VS FACT
•“Hockey mom”: true for a few years
•“PTA mom”: true years ago when her first-born was in elementary school, not since
•“NRA supporter”: absolutely true
•social conservative: mixed. Opposes gay marriage, BUT vetoed a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships (said she did this because it was unconsitutional).
•pro-creationism: mixed. Supports it, BUT did nothing as Governor to promote it.
•“Pro-life”: mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down’s syndrome baby BUT declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life legislation
•“Experienced”: Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska. No legislative experience other than City Council. Little hands-on supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city administrator to run town of about 5,000.
•political maverick: not at all
•gutsy: absolutely!
•open & transparent: ??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at explaining actions.
•has a developed philosophy of public policy: no
•”a Greenie”: no. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.
•fiscal conservative: not by my definition! •pro-infrastructure: No. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built streets to early 20th century standards.
•pro-tax relief: Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on residents
•pro-small government: No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city government in Wasilla’s history. •pro-labor/pro-union. No. Just because her husband works union doesn’t make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim that she is pro-labor/pro-union.

WHY AM I WRITING THIS?

First, I have long believed in the importance of being an informed voter. I am a voter registrar. For 10 years I put on student voting programs in the schools. If you google my name (Anne Kilkenny + Alaska), you will find references to my participation in local government, education, and PTA/parent organizations.

Secondly, I've always operated in the belief that "Bad things happen when good people stay silent". Few people know as much as I do because few have gone to as many City Council meetings.

Third, I am just a housewife. I don't have a job she can bump me out of. I don't belong to any organization that she can hurt. But, I am no fool; she is immensely popular here, and it is likely that this will cost me somehow in the future: that’s life.

Fourth, she has hated me since back in 1996, when I was one of the 100 or so people who rallied to support the City Librarian against Sarah's attempt at censorship.

Fifth, I looked around and realized that everybody else was afraid to say anything because they were somehow vulnerable.

CAVEATS

I am not a statistician. I developed the numbers for the increase in spending & taxation 2 years ago (when Palin was running for Governor) from information supplied to me by the Finance Director of the City of Wasilla, and I can't recall exactly what I adjusted for: did I adjust for inflation? for population increases? Right now, it is impossible for a private person to get any info out of City Hall--they are swamped. So I can't verify my numbers.

You may have noticed that there are various numbers circulating for the population of Wasilla, ranging from my "about 5,000", up to 9,000. The day Palin’s selection was announced a city official told me that the current population is about 7,000. The official 2000 census count was 5,460. I have used about 5,000 because Palin was Mayor from 1996 to 2002, and the city was growing rapidly in the mid-90’s.

Anne Kilkenny August 31, 2008

(htp: my brother)

Sarah Palin jokes circulating on teh interweb

The following are little known facts about the new vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin:

Sarah Palin was to walk out to the singing of Angels, but convention organizers thought it might come off as showing off.
Sarah Palin’s suit is made from 100% dead liberal skin.
Sarah Palin doesn’t actually have an accent, it’s distortion from her telepathic broadcast directly into your brain.
In 2003, the US considered deploying Sarah Palin to Iraq as a 1-woman commando squad, but wanted to make it a fair fight.
As head of Alaska’s Nat’l Guard, Sarah Palin taught troops in a training exercise to scare a grenade into not exploding.
Sarah Palin believes in change, too. She takes it from your pockets after striking you dead.
Sarah Palin wears three quarter length sleeves to keep from getting blood on her clothes when she kills liberals.
Glasses sales are up 150 percent since Sarah Palin became nominee.
The diamonds in Sarah Palin’s earrings were crushed with her very hands.
Sarah Palin’s use of the word “Haberdashery” will bring it back in style.
Sarah Palin loves opening up a can of whoop-ass.
It’s not over until Sarah Palin says it’s over.
Sarah Palin wants to be President but is too kind to cut in front of John McCain, so now we get her for 16 yrs!
Sarah Palin is the reason compasses point North.
Queen Elizabeth II curtsied when she was introduced to Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin’s image already appears on the newer nickels
Sarah Palin wants you to LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!!!
Sarah Palin’s enemies are automatically added to the Endangered Species List
Sarah Palin as VP increases Depends sales among scatological frightened Democrats
When Sarah Palin attends ritual blood orgies, she always brings the most delicious ambrosia salad
Death once had a near-Sarah Palin experience
Sarah Palin can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves!
Sarah Palin was not flown to Ohio in charter jet- she ran as part of morning workout.
Alaska is sunny half the year and dark half the year because Sarah Palin needed the reading light, then wanted a nap
Sarah Palin begins every day with a moment of silence for the political enemies buried in her yard.
Sarah Palin got Tom Brady pregnant, and then left him.
Sarah Palin drives a Zamboni to work.
Sarah Palin was kicked off Survivor for killing a man and eating his entrails.
Sarah Palin is actually Kaiser Sose.
Sarah Palin can divide by zero.
Sarah Palin always beats the point spread.
Sarah Palin once bit the head off a live Osprey snatched from the air as it tried to fly off with a fish she caught.
Sarah Palin uses French Canadians as bait to catch giant king salmon.
When Sarah Palin booked a flight to Europe, the French immediately surrendered.
Sarah Palin plays Whack-a-Mole with her forehead, and always gets a perfect score.
Sarah Palin knows who was on the grassy knoll.
Sarah Palin’s finishing move in the VP debate will be pulling Biden’s still beating heart from his chest & taking a bite.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How much further can the pound slump?


"Credit crunch will last another 18 months"

HBOS (aka the Halifax) has caught up with me:

Britain’s credit crunch will last for at least another 18 months, according to the head of the country’s biggest mortgage provider.

Andy Hornby, chief executive HBOS, said the economic squeeze would continue until house prices in the United States began to recover, which he does not expect to see until 2010.

If both of us are proved correct, I may then take my financial services business out of hibernation. I've spent the best part of 10 years trying to stop my clients throwing away their money, so I hope they'll believe me when I suggest that "the dark days are gone, the bright days are here," as Bobby Hebb put it (I love the Feliciano version).

Especially if the US economy begins to be run the Sarah Palin way.

Friday, September 05, 2008

His Dark Materials don't exist

My theory: there is no such thing as dark matter, so the Large Hadron Collider won't find it.

Albert Einstein found a better way to describe observable phenomena, and another Einstein will one day improve the theory to include the effects for which the existence of dark matter has been postulated.

Time for the stockmarket to smell the coffee?

Michael Panzner reproduces a graph that implies a possible 25% fall on the Dow, factoring-in a little overshoot.

A new theory of the Big Bang

13.7 billion years ago, an ape-evolved creature supervises the last stages of construction, before testing the Large Hadron Collider.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Your money - no hiding place in the Crash

I've spent some time trying to find out where's a safe place for any little wealth you and I might have. Looking at the Great Depression for a precedent, Jesse suggests it's more a game of cat-and-mouse, or fox-and-geese. No "fire-and-forget," then: we will have to keep looking, thinking and acting. (htp: Michael Panzner)

Palin for Prez?

If her words are her own (and her delivery certainly is), I think I've heard a potential future first woman President of the USA, and it's not Hillary. Is it too late for McCain and Palin to swap?

P.S. I notice Donal Blaney is thinking the same.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

No paper tiger

Shortly after the Ossetian excursion, Putin tranquillizes a tiger. Could he be sending a message over to the south-east?


What I don't know about humanism

When did humanism come to mean atheism? Erasmus wasn't an atheist.

I've been to a humanist funeral (eulogy and a reading from Tolkien), and the celebrant gave an embarrassed laugh when (out of habit) I shook his hand on leaving the crematorium.

Modern atheism doesn't seem quite rational to me. I can't find it easily, but there was an ancient Greek philosopher who, denying the soul, told his followers to throw his body into the road when he died, and when they raised the possibility that wild animals might come to eat him while still alive, told them to put a stick in his hand. That's being consistent with your beliefs.

"The Humanist view of life is progressive and optimistic, in awe of human potential, living without fear of judgement and death, finding enough purpose and meaning in life, love and leaving a good legacy," says the President of the British Humanist Association. Why all this preachiness?

Doubtless I'll be enlightened by some of these paradoxical zealots in the comments.