Monthly Archives: November 2009

Blood Gold

I hate luxury items. I really do. They are like drugs in that they enable violent factions in bloody civil wars to fund their wars from the greed of men.

With the recent spike in the price of gold, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is seeing an increase in violence, courtesy of the blood gold being mined there to fund its long-lasting civil war. Actually, it’s more a long-lasting looting project. I don’t think the factions want to run the country as much as they just want to sell off its mineral wealth for their gain.

Anyway, I already don’t buy diamonds. I’m now sure I don’t want to buy gold. The only bloodstained things left for me to not buy are my clothes and my gasoline.

Oh well…

PBS Frontline: The Card Game

Credit Card Defaults Required viewing for all Americans. That’s what I’m calling this. You need to watch it, especially if you’re in my class.

Basically, our financial literacy as Americans is dictated by what the banking industry writes, and if we don’t read up on it, we’re financial illiterates and we’ll be taken for a ride. They’ve got the senate in their pocket – and I love how all the senators protest that they’re not influenced by lobbyist money, but they never, ever vote for meaningful reform. They can vote for reform, but it’s really a few concessions they are willing to make as they scramble to rework the system.

The unregulated free market is a nice way of describing a criminal free-for-all. The banks set the traps and we fall into them, one by one. Yes, regulations stifle growth and innovation, but they also keep people from being bled white by the cheats that flock towards unregulated free markets. I’m sick and tired of cheerleaders for the rich and powerful trying to keep the system as it is. We are in a trap, and the only way out is to change the system so these things can’t deprive us of our liberty.

Simply saying “nobody forced them to get into debt” is garbage. Trickery was in play, and the banks are the perpetrators of that trickery. We, the people, need protection.

The Dubai Default

Dubai Montage While Americans ate turkey and watched football, Dubai asked to postpone paying off nearly $60 billion in debt. That’s fancy talk for “Dubai defaulted.” World markets went low on that news, to say the least: it’s the biggest national debt default since Argentina went through hell in 2001.

These guys plowed in tons of borrowed money into vast construction projects so they’d have the biggest this and the hugest that ever built – and now they’re looking to possibly tip the scales and create the largest global financial cataclysm since, well, last year. While the request was for $59 billion, there’s another $20-$30 billion sloshing around that they need to aggressively refinance. The banks that lent the money are in shaky territory: if Dubai doesn’t come across, they could wind up getting paid pennies on the dollar for their loans and be wiped out. That, in turn, would do damage to the world economy and so on and so on.

So is Dubai too big to fail? Or is it too big to save? Because it’s possible to be both, with the latter taking precedence over the former. Abu Dhabi could cut a check and just buy all of Dubai, but then they’d be stuck with a lot of unfinished, unsustainable construction projects. The real message is that if Dubai’s jitters sent the markets spinning, the world as a whole may not be recovering as smartly as our governments are saying it is.

New Anti-spam Feature

You don’t see it, but I get hundreds of spams on this board… so I added an anti-spam feature that should keep the spambots from even getting here in the first place. If you have trouble posting, there’s a quick feature you can use to enable your posts. If not, don’t worry, business as usual for you. Just not for me, since I won’t have dozens of spam comments waiting for me to delete at every login.

Afghanistan and Crime

Karzai’s election victory was rigged. Let’s not beat around the bush. It’s obvious, but unsubstantiable because the US does not want it substantiated. Now we’re asking a guy that rigged his election to clean up corruption in Afghanistan. Great idea. It’s like asking a leader of a military coup to rein in his country’s military.

This is just one more lesson about how nobody wins in Afghanistan, not even the Afghans. Karzai’s brother is a drug dealer on the level of “kingpin.” A san diego drug crimes attorney reveals that Karzai’s brother is also the only guy holding Kandahar, the most important city in the south. Therefore, the evidence that he’s a heroin-making machine has to be reduced to the level of unsubstantiated rumors. This also means immunity for anyone in his organization that does a good job for him. Should someone be on the outs with the President’s brother, he’ll likely get handed over to the police in a significant ceremony. Until then, the biggest dealer in Afghanistan will go untouched.

What about the provincial governors, many of whom are big dealers in their own right? Well, they’re doing what they can to keep their provinces together. The US is caught in a quandry: it must choose whether to fight the drugs in Afghanistan or to fight the Taliban. To be sure, the Taliban forces in Afghanistan are dealing in drugs for their own purposes, but nowhere on the level the Afghan government is dealing.

Once again, the USA has made a bargain with one set of criminals to fight another it sees as more dangerous. Every time the USA has done that, the criminals they picked turned out to be even worse than the ones they fought. So it goes again.

Scientology and Jihad

I was reading an article in The Independent about terrorists that changed their minds. Still reading it and it’s fascinating. The upshot of it is that I can’t get over how the recruitment techniques of the jihadis remind me of the way Scientologists rope in unsuspecting dupes. Or street gangs, for that matter. It’s just that Scientology makes for a more catchy headline, so I went with that.

Long-Term Unemployment Trends

Right now, we’re at 10% unemployment. While we think of this as bad right now, it may very well be the “passably good” of ten years from now, or even considered great.

I recently read an article that showed how, without a double-dip recession and things working along normally enough after a recovery, we’d be at around just above 8% unemployment in 2020. That’s with Baby Boomers retiring on schedule and normal annual growth in the workforce each year. Should the Boomer stick it out longer, then unemployment will be higher. Same goes for a less-than-average recovery or a dreaded double-dip.

A double-dip recession, which is a very real possibility if the government allows the 2001 tax cuts to expire in 2011, would see unemployment hit 13% and then wend its way down to around 9-10%. This isn’t some sort of crazy conspiracy theory. This is looking at the numbers and assuming normal stuff happens.

The upshot of this is that what we once considered horrendous will soon become normal to us.

Don’t quit your day job.

The Un-Stimulus

Because most states have to run a balanced budget, we’re seeing a very large drop in state government spending, which almost matches dollar for dollar what the federal government is increasing its spending by. The net result: little total change at all. While we did have a preliminary uptick of 3.5% in GDP growth last quarter, that’s the preliminary number. Analysts are now expecting it to be revised downward to about 1%. Since federal spending accounted for over 2% of that growth number, one can see how it vanished so quickly.

Another Look at Higher Sales Figures

If companies are reporting higher sales numbers over this time last year, or seeing their sales pick up after a series of rotten months, don’t run out and celebrate recovery just yet: check to see if their competition went bankrupt. Which it probably has. Which is good news for the survivors, but terrible news as far as real job growth goes. With fewer companies in business, fewer total jobs exist – and fewer total jobs can be created in the long run.

How to Find the Real Recovery

Look to sales tax numbers. If there’s more sales tax being paid, then consumer demand – anywhere from 60 to 65% of total GDP – is on the way up. If not, then it’s on the way down. Simple enough, right? Well, let’s look at those numbers… (goes to look at numbers)

Oh dear. They’re not good at all.

Sales taxes in Texas are down 12.8% compared to this month last year, and this month makes five double-digit drops in sales taxes in a row for the Lone Star State. California’s even worse, and all states are in the negative in terms of comparing this year to last year. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

So where do the rosy estimates about national recovery come from? Surveys that ignore small businesses and favor weighting to major retailers who, after closing many stores, are seeing some loyal customers coming back to remaining outlets. But they’re not at all the whole story, as the sales tax receipts show.