Moody’s teaches France, Austria and the UK that Debt Matters

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 18th, 2012

Week in Review

Things are not well in the Eurozone.  After a series of credit rating downgrades Moody’s warns France and Austria.  And even one country outside the Eurozone.  The UK (see Moody’s warns UK, France, Austria over AAA rating by Rodrigo Campos and Walter Brandimarte posted 2/14/2012 on Reuters).

Rating agency Moody’s warned it may cut the triple-A ratings of France, Britain and Austria…

Moody’s move was less aggressive than rival agency Standard & Poor’s, but its action puts London’s prized top credit rating in jeopardy for the first time…

Germany’s top-tier rating was described as “appropriate” by Moody’s, and it affirmed the triple-A rating on the euro zone’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF)…

The precarious state of European sovereign finances was underlined on Monday, when the head if [sic]China’s sovereign wealth fund brushed aside an appeal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to buy European government debt, saying such bonds were “difficult” for long-term investors…

A retreat from European government debt has already been boosting relatively high-yielding Australian and New Zealand debt, as cashed-up Asian sovereign wealth funds and other major bond investors look for safe havens to diversify their holdings.

The two big countries of the Eurozone are Germany and France.  If they go so does the Euro.  So far Germany retains its triple-A rating.  But France may lose theirs.  Even the UK may lose its coveted triple-A rating for the first time.  Just like the U.S. did last year.  Neither of which is in the Eurozone.

Things are not well in the world of government finance.  Even the Chinese are refusing to buy European debt.  And they’re not the only ones.  And it’s because of the debt levels.  Australia and New Zealand debt is closer to 30% of GDP.  Compared to the European Union.  Which is closer to 80%.  Simply put, debt matters.  And the more you have the less perfect your credit rating.  And the lower your credit rating the higher the interest rates you must pay to sell your government bonds.  If you can sell them.

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The Liberal Battle Cry: Damn the S&P Downgrade, full Tax and Spend Ahead

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 7th, 2011

The Democrats are already making Strategy to Encourage a Second Credit Downgrade

S&P downgraded U.S. debt because Congress failed to make significant, and real, spending cuts.  Now either that’s important.  Or it’s not.  During the debt ceiling debate they warned us of impending doom should the U.S. lose its coveted AAA rating.  Now that we lost it, well, it’s not that big of a deal.  In fact, the Democrats are already making strategy to encourage a second credit downgrade (see U.S. Debt Drama Is Far From Over by Albert Hunt, Bloomberg News, posted 8/7/2011 on The New York Times).

Specifically, they hope the president will insist that every dollar of spending cuts the supercommittee demands be accompanied by a dollar of higher revenues, and to say that changes in entitlements and taxes are joined at hip.

Mr. Obama, they say, also should play the national security card, forcing Republican to choose between higher taxes or about $600 billion in defense cuts.

“He can force Republicans to make a fundamental choice: Do they care more about protecting tax breaks or national security?” says the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

This is truly Orwellian.  We’re going to cut spending by not cutting spending.  For every dollar we cut we’re going to add another dollar of spending.  So, if you do the math, the net change in the deficit will be zero (-$1 + $1 = $0 of deficit reduction).  Granted these members may not possess higher degrees in mathematics.  But I’m sure somewhere in their education they learned the three Rs.  One of which was ‘rithmetic.  That math discipline that teaches kids how to add and subtract numbers.

Perhaps they skipped their arithmetic lessons to attend ‘hating your country’ lessons instead.  “If you don’t increase taxes we’ll cut defense spending. And when we’re attacked and people are killed it will be your fault for not increasing taxes.  How do you like them apples?  Huh?  You like that?  Don’t think we’ll do it?  Try me.”

A Redistribution of Economic Activity doesn’t add Economic Activity

Spending.  That’s all they want to do.  Spend.  Spend.  Spend.  Because it takes care of people.  And it stimulates the economy (see 20 areas on the brink of economic recovery by Venessa Wong posted 8/7/2011 on Bloomberg Business Week).

A key sector that is no longer expected to boost the recovery is government. “The metropolitan areas that suffered least since the beginning of the recession typically had increases in the number of government jobs,” the Brookings report states. Many state and local governments are shedding employees to cope with budget shortfalls.

Oh dear.  Reduced government spending?  Why, that will throw the economy into recession.  For any school kid knows that the government drives all economic activity.  At least that’s what they think. 

The city of Detroit fought for years to get casinos.  For they were sure it was the panacea for all that ailed their city.  They pointed across the Detroit River at Caesars Windsor.  And all the money it was bringing into the city of Windsor.  “See?!?  Casinos are just big piles of money with buildings over them.”  And, so, they eventually got their casinos.  Didn’t help the city a damn bit.

The problem with the casinos is that they didn’t bring new money into the economy.  They just siphoned off money from other businesses in the local economy.  People gambled with money they would have spent at the movies.  On dinners.  At ballgames, concerts, museums.  Etc.  So it was only a redistribution of economic activity.  The same money was spent.  It was just spent at different locations in the same local economy.  Ergo, it didn’t do a damn thing to help the city.

It’s the same with government spending.  The money government spends is taken from people who would have spent it themselves in their local economy.  So government employees are spending money that others would have spent.  If it wasn’t taken away from the people who earned the money.  So it’s only a redistribution of economic activity.  The net add to economic activity is zero. 

Most People would say that Obama Campaigned as a Centrist but Governed as a Liberal

Of course there is a very large school of thought that disagrees with this.  Keynesian economics.  The school of thought that says government spending stimulates when the private sector will not.  The Obama administration is full of Keynesians.  Who hold one simple philosophy.  Spend.  And spend they did. 

The 2008 deficit was $455 billion.  Which included TARP.  The bailout program for the subprime mortgage crisis.  The 2011 projected deficit is $1.6 trillion.  That’s over a trillion dollars of additional deficit spending.  Which is pretty darn leftist in most books.  But there are some who call this being a moderate (see Stuck in the Muddle by Paul Krugman posted 8/7/2011 on The New York Times).

The one thing I might say is that we shouldn’t really wonder what happened to Obama — he is who he always was. If you paid attention to what he actually said during the primary and the election, he was always a very conventional centrist. Progressives who flocked to his campaign basically deluded themselves, mistaking style for substance. I got huge flack for saying that at the time, but it was true, and events have borne it out.

Funny.  Most people would say that he campaigned as a centrist.  But governed as a liberal.

Barack Obama has the distinction of having the most liberal voting record in the Senate.  As president, when he had majorities in both the House and the Senate, he pushed through Obamacare.  National health care.  The holy grail on the Left.  And he calls this centrist?  One shudders to think what a Krugman progressive would do.

Liberals just want to Tax & Spend, Redistribute Wealth and Play God

No one seems to get it.  Except for Standard and Poor’s.  The Tea Party.  Some Republicans.  A few others.  And Daniel Hannan.  Who once told Gordon Brown, “You cannot spend your way out of recession or borrow your way out of debt.”  And he’s from the UK.  Home of John Maynard Keynes.  So why can’t the Left get it?

Because all they want to do is spend.  Tax and spend.  To redistribute wealth.  And play God.  Which should be abundantly clear by now.  Based on their words and actions.

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No Economic Recovery, Crushing Debt and a Credit Downgrade, the U.S. inching closer to European-Style Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2011

The Unemployment Rate is Down even though more People are Unemployed

That stubbornly high unemployment rate that has been dogging the Obama recovery has finally dropped (see Jobs report: A pig in lipstick by Nin-Hai Tseng posted 8/5/2011 on CNN Money).

The unemployment rate in July fell slightly to 9.1% from 9.2%

But…

The unemployment rate might have fallen slightly but that’s mostly because the number of people actively looking for jobs fell back – signaling that perhaps workers are feeling less confident about entering the job market.

So the only reason why it dropped is that more people have just given up looking for a job.  And the smaller the group is that is looking for a job the smaller percentage this group is of the total working population.  Ergo, smaller unemployment rate.  So the actual employment picture isn’t better.  It’s worse.

In July, labor participation fell by 193,000.

What’s more, though the economy added 117,000 jobs, it falls short of the 125,000 jobs a month needed just to keep up with population growth and prevent the unemployment rate from trending higher. And it would take at least twice that many to rapidly reduce unemployment.

“The bigger picture, then, is that two years after the recession ended the labor market has not really recovered at all, and may even have gone backwards,” writes economist Paul Dales of Capital Economics.

The economy is worse.  Not better.  So just how much ‘not better’ is the economy?

The Real Economic Recovery not as good as the Made-up One

Apparently pretty ‘not better’ according to the people who count the numbers.  They revised their past numbers.  And the new numbers are even worse than the not-so-great numbers of numbers past (see Distress signal by R.A. posted 7/29/2011 on The Economist)

BEA revised its national accounts numbers back to 2007 for this release, and the picture revealed is far darker than anyone previously believed. From 2007 to 2010, real output declined by 0.3% per year on average. Previously, BEA had estimated annual growth of 0.1% over that period…

Projected growth rates were simply overstated, and current unemployment is exactly what we’d expect given such a feeble recovery. Those overly optimistic assessments of the likely impact of interventions, from fiscal stimulus to QE, also make much more sense now. Policymakers were fighting a fire far more intense than they recognised.

So I guess the Obama administration was a little premature with that Recovery Summer talk.  Or they are not good at reading economic numbers.  Or they are good at reading economic numbers but they were stretching the truth a bit for political purposes in hopes that the real economic recovery would catch up with the made up one.

All right, so the economy isn’t doing so well.  What do we do?

The dire economic situation undergirds this point: Washington should delay immediate fiscal cuts. Indeed, it ought to be spending more now and revisiting the possibility of a payroll tax cut.

Really?  After the recent budget debate to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default and a credit downgrade because of excessive spending and debt?  The same kind of excessive spending and debt that has put Europe in an even worse financial crisis?  Shouldn’t we take a lesson from the European Union sovereign debt crisis?  And not follow them into a similar sovereign debt crisis? 

I mean, it was going to be Armageddon if they lowered our bond rating.  Don’t we care about that anymore?  (By the way, S&P did lower their bond rating today.  So hello Armageddon.)

A Small Negative Return in the U.S. is Preferred over any Investment in the Eurozone

Apparently not.  At least investors appear to be more worried about the debt crisis in Europe.  They’re so worried, in fact, that they’re dumping their European holdings and running to the safe harbor of U.S. banks.  Despite that possible downgrade (which has since happened).  And Armageddon (see Thanks a lot, Europe by Cyrus Sanati posted 8/5/2011 on CNN Money).

The massive selloff in U.S. markets on Thursday appears rooted in Europe as fears of a sovereign debt default in Italy and Spain caused traders to panic and run for cover…

The European Central Bank attempted to ease the market’s fears, but it seemed to have only exacerbated the problem. European leaders are now scrambling to avoid an all-out run on the euro as the European sovereign debt crisis enters a possible terminal phase. They will need to act fast to restore market confidence or the current correction could turn to capitulation.

This crippling debt crisis may very well take down the European Central Bank.  With the fear of default, investors don’t want to buy anything in the Eurozone.  They fear anything they buy today may lose most of its value in the not so distant future.  So they’re pulling their cash out of Europe and parking it in the United States.

All this cash is being dumped into custodial banks in the U.S. This led the Bank of New York Mellon (BK), the largest custodial bank, to start charging its institutional clients a fee for depositing what they consider an “extraordinarily high” amount of cash — it has no place to invest it either, and higher cash levels mean higher FDIC fees.

You know it’s bad when even the banks don’t want your money.

Indeed it is.  So investors will pay a bank to hold their cash.  Because that’s the safe ‘investment’ right now.  A small negative return versus what could be a catastrophic negative return.

The Economy may not be able to Survive much more Government Help

Employment numbers are bad.  GDP is bad.  Talks of an economic recovery appear to have been hopelessly premature.  Debt crises have gripped Europe.  And S&P downgraded U.S. credit and pushed them towards Armageddon.  The Keynesians advice, though, is the same.  More government spending.  Only this can stimulate the economy back to recovery.  Even though it was excessive government spending that gave Europe and the U.S. their crises in the first place.

It’s like Ronald Reagan said.  Government isn’t the answer to our problems.  Government is the problem.  It needs to do the things it does best.  And leave the economy to the private sector.  Because the economy just may not be able to survive much more government help.

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Debt Ceiling Deal Light on Cuts and Sets Stage for Future Taxes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 1st, 2011

$2.4 Trillion Debt Ceiling Deal may spend $96.68 for each Dollar Cut

Everyone seems to hate the budget deal to raise the debt ceiling.  Conservatives are saying they’ve been screwed.  Liberals are saying they’ve been screwed.  Interesting.  So exactly what did they agree to in order to hike the debt ceiling $2.4 trillion?  Which, incidentally, is the largest increase in history (see Small spending cuts to have little economic impact by Christopher S. Rugaber, Associated Press, posted 8/1/2011 on Yahoo! News).

Discretionary spending, which excludes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, would be cut by only $7 billion in 2012 and $3 billion in 2013, according a summary by Senate Democrats. That’s a tiny fraction of the nation’s $14 trillion economy…

The independent Congressional Budget Office offered its own analysis Monday. It said the agreement would reduce government spending by $25 billion next year. That’s compared to current law, which factors in a projected increase in spending.

The first phase of cuts would reduce spending by $917 billion over 10 years. A congressional committee would decide on a second phase of cuts totaling $1.5 trillion.

Whoever’s numbers you believe one thing is sure.  That’s not a lot of cuts.  The cuts are dwarfed by the amount of new spending the $2.4 trillion debt ceiling increase will give.  In fact, if you use the high $25 billion number, one could say these cuts are negligible.  For if they spend that $2.4 trillion next year, the cuts will only be 1.03% of the new spending.  Or an additional $96.68 spent for each dollar cut.  Now, granted, my math skills may be outdated, but I think if you spend more than you cut while you already have a $1.6 trillion deficit, I don’t think you’re going to reduce the deficit.  But that’s just me using arithmetic.

$7 Billion is a little shy of the $4 Trillion in cuts S&P said would prevent Credit Downgrade

And this is what was important.  Deficit reduction.  To stop spending money we don’t have.  So the debt doesn’t rise so high that it threatens the full faith and credit of the United States.  As S&P warned would happen if we don’t make some serious spending cuts (see FreedomWorks Opposes Budget Control Act of 2011 by Jacqueline Bodnar posted 8/1/2011 on FreedomWorks).

“The deal has few immediate cuts totaling one half of one percent of the budget, with most savings coming in the later part of the decade,” commented Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks. “How can we be serious about reducing the debt limit when we are not even talking about cutting programs like AmeriCorps and agricultural subsidies? This is not the serious reform Tea Partiers demanded last November.”

Standard & Poor’s has stated that anything less than $4 trillion in cuts will lead to an inevitable downgrade from the United States’ current AAA credit rating. “The ‘Cut, Cap, Balance Act’ is the only option on the table that would preserve the nation’s AAA credit rating and secure our long-term economic future,” added Kibbe. “

So S&P will downgrade the full faith and credit of the United States despite this deal.  So it doesn’t appear that the Republicans got much for that additional $2.4 trillion of spending.  So it would appear that the Democrats screwed the Republicans.  But that sure isn’t how some see it.

Ruthlessly dictating Terms to the Opposition is Okay as long as Liberals are doing the Dictating

In fact, some are spitting mad (see The President Surrenders by Paul Krugman posted 7/31/2011 on The New York Times).

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Come on, Paul, tell us how you really feel.

And then there are the reported terms of the deal, which amount to an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction — and if these recommendations aren’t accepted, there will be more spending cuts…

And even now, the Obama administration could have resorted to legal maneuvering to sidestep the debt ceiling, using any of several options. In ordinary circumstances, this might have been an extreme step. But faced with the reality of what is happening, namely raw extortion on the part of a party that, after all, only controls one house of Congress, it would have been totally justifiable…

In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.

I don’t recall any such concern about the Democratic process that rammed Obamacare through the Congress along strictly party lines.  As bad as it is, the current deal was bipartisan.  Which is more than you can say about what Pelosi, Reid and Obama did with their health care bill.  Even the polls showed the people didn’t want it.  And many who voted for it paid the ultimate price at the next election. 

Apparently, ruthlessly dictating terms to the opposition is okay as long as liberals are doing the dictating.  In fact, liberals would be fine with doing away with the Democratic process if they held full power.  Let’s just hope they don’t resort to any legal maneuvering to make that happen.

The Sneaky Little Bastards are going to Escape those Spending Cuts and get their Tax Hikes

Liberals aren’t idiots.  They are very pragmatic.  And they’re liars and sneaks.  I think all this protesting is just smoke to make all the Tea Party Republicans think they’ve come out as winners in this deal.  Just take a closer look at the deal.  Negligible spending cuts up front.  A panel to determine future spending cuts (probably more heavily weighted on cuts that matter like out of control health care spending).  And a trigger for when that panel fails.  Which will make half of those future spending cuts come from defense.

And it gets better.  As this last round of negotiations has shown agreeing on spending cuts is next to impossible.  Even with the trigger those Medicare spending cuts are not likely to happen.  And with Obama just getting another $2.4 trillion to spend, that deficit isn’t going to get any smaller.  In fact, it’ll only get bigger.  Which means, of course, they will have no choice but to talk about revenue again (i.e., new taxes).  Say goodbye to the Bush tax cuts.  For they will let them expire next time.  Also, Obamacare kicks in after the 2012 election.  As do all those new taxes to pay for it.  More taxes upon more taxes.  Which is a lot of new taxes.

The sneaky little bastards are going to escape those spending cuts.  And get their tax hikes.  The Great Recession will linger on.  Or fall into full blown depression.  So it’s really clear who the winners and losers are in this debate.  The Ivy League liberal ruling elite are the winners.  And the American people are the losers.  As their country is transformed into a third world banana-republic.  Where the ruling elite at the top live very well.  And everyone else is poor and oppressed.  

Viva la Revolucion, El presidente.  Viva la Revolucion.

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Debt Ceiling Debate is Masking the Horrific Economic News

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2011

The Meaning of Bipartisan Depends on your Point of View; on the Right it means Compromise whereas on the Left it means Unconditional Surrender.

In the budget debate to raise the debt ceiling, both sides have dug in.  The Left says the Right is being intransigent.  Saying they are unwilling to compromise.  Even though they have done far less in the compromise department themselves.  They want to raise taxes.  They want to borrow more.  And they will not compromise on these positions.  They refuse to pass any Republican bill in the Senate (and President Obama says he will veto any bill that makes it through the Senate) unless it completely gives way to the Democrat position. 

All the while this theatre is playing out credit rating agencies are lining up to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt due to excessive deficits, debt and out of control government spending.  Unless they see at least $4 trillion in real spending cuts (not promised cuts that never happen or baseline ‘spending cuts’ that still increase spending), the downgrades are a fait accompli.  At least according to an S&P report.

If they’re that Bad at Analyzing Data do we really want them Tweaking the Economy?

As cheerful as all that is at least we can look forward to some upbeat economic news.  Just like Obama, Biden, Bernanke, Geithner, et al have been promising with all their economic tweaks to win the future.  And the result of all that vey extensive and very expensive tweaking?  Hmm.  What would be a good choice of words?  How about abject failure (see Economy in U.S. Grows Less Than Forecast After Almost Stalling by Shobhana Chandra posted 7/29/2011 on Bloomberg)? 

Revisions to GDP figures going back to 2003 showed that the 2007-2009 recession took a bigger bite out of the economy than previously estimated and the recovery lost momentum throughout 2010. The world’s largest economy shrank 5.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2009, compared with the previously reported 4.1 percent drop. The second-worst contraction in the post-World War II era was a 3.7 percent decline in 1957-58.

The Fed’s preferred price gauge, which is tied to consumer spending and strips out food and energy costs, climbed at a 2.1 percent pace, the most since the last three months of 2009, compared with 1.6 percent in the first quarter, as higher oil and food costs pushed up the prices of other goods and services. The central bank’s longer-term projection is a range of 1.7 percent to 2 percent.

“This is the worst of all worlds for investors, certainly the worst of all worlds for the Fed,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “A little too much inflation, not enough growth, that is a tough scenario in the U.S.”

Of course, they’ll say it was even worse than they thought.  Again.  Blame George W. Bush.  Again.  Which doesn’t fill one with a lot of confidence.  For if they’re that bad at analyzing data, do we really want them tweaking the economy?

Still, they keep telling us how bad things would have been if they didn’t act?  Why, there’d be dingoes running in the streets eating our babies.  To be honest, we’re tired of hearing about how many jobs they created and saved.  We’d probably be further ahead today if we’d taken the chance with the dingoes and they left the economy alone.

The Obama Social Engineering is giving us Carter Stagflation

Inflation.  And low GDP growth.  That is a horrible combination.  But it’s what you get when you try to use monetary policy to fix fiscal problems (see Forget About The Debt Ceiling Debate, Where’s The Economic Growth? by Kevin Mahin posted 7/29/2011 on Forbes). 

I recognize that the debt ceiling debate may make for interesting political theatre for some.  I also recognize that the spending and revenue issues underlying the debate need to be addressed sooner than later.  However,  the heightened threat of stagflation*, now present in the system, is of paramount concern to me.

*Stagflation is a financial term often used to describe an environment where inflation (i.e. prices) is high and economic growth is low.  Periods of stagflation have historically been accompanied by high unemployment as well.

We are fast approaching the malaise of the Carter stagflation.  We need fiscal policy that is conducive to creating jobs.  Instead, this administration is more concerned about social engineering at the expense of job creation.

Killing the American Automotive Industry and Killing Americans

For all the talk about the auto bailouts to save American jobs, the latest policy appears to want to kill American jobs.  When the auto industry is suffering anemic growth, the Obama administration just made it harder to be in the auto industry by raising fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (see Obama to unveil auto fuel rule deal by David Shepardson posted 7/29/2011 on The Detroit News). 

The deal would extend a May 2009 agreement that boosted fuel efficiency standards to 34.1 mpg by 2016, costing the auto industry $51.5 billion over five years.

In the current budget debates, Obama keeps saying that because of the slow economic recovery we shouldn’t go on a cost cutting spree.  That would only pull consumer spending out of the economy.  Of course he has no such empathy for the struggling auto industry.  He’s more than willing to raise their cost of doing business.  Killing jobs in the process.

Incidentally, there are only two ways to squeeze this kind of mileage out of a car.  Making it so light that it (and its passengers) would probably not survive most accidents.  Or being unable to build a car to meet this standard.

Gas Prices must Rise to between $4.50-$5.50 for the Electric Car to Succeed

But what on earth would be the reason to enact standards that automakers can’t meet?  Well, how about this (see Gas must hit $4.50 to make electric cars cost-effective by Joel Gehrke posted 7/29/2011 on the Washington Examiner)? 

Gas prices must rise to between $4.50-$5.50, the study authors suggest, for electric vehicles to become less expensive to own than gas-powered vehicles…

Of course, this omits the other method of making electric cars competitive — enact fuel efficiency standards that make gas-powered vehicles illegal to make or impossibly expensive. Given President Obama’s announcement today that fuel economy standards are set to rise to 54.5 mpg between 2017 and 2025, it seems that the electric vehicle industry is getting the government props necessary to make consumers buy the cars.

This is not how you increase domestic auto output.  Or create jobs.  This is how you change human behavior.  By forcing people to act against their will.  And in the process making us all poorer by increasing the cost of food.  How?  Gasoline and diesel are a big component of food costs.  For it takes fuel to grow food.  And to bring it to market.

The One Thing the Obama Administration is Good At

It makes you think.  Is all of this debt ceiling debate pure theatre to distract us from the destruction of the economy?  Because this destruction is pretty good as far as destruction goes.  You probably couldn’t have done a better job if you tried.  Which begs the question was this all planned?  A social reengineering of the United States brought about by the destruction of the U.S. economy? 

If so, at least you can say there was one thing the Obama administration was good at.

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Obama’s Choice – Cut Spending or Downgrade U.S. Sovereign Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2011

The BIG Problem is the Excessive Spending, not the Debt Ceiling

I don’t know what’s more annoying in the budget debate to raise the debt limit.  The cries on the left for the Republicans to quit being partisan.  To instead propose a true bipartisan bill that has a chance of passing the Senate.  And by ‘bipartisan’ they mean one that gives the left everything they want.  Or is it the doom and gloom being bleated by the president, Congressional Democrats and the mainstream media if the debt ceiling isn’t raised (see Debt-ceiling threat has Wall Street scrambling by Nathaniel Popper and Jim Puzzanghera posted 7/27/2011 on the Los Angeles Times).

Without a deal, the most feared scenario is that the U.S. will miss payments on its bonds and default — which financial experts say would be disastrous. While still considered unlikely, the prospect is popping up more in conversations…

No.  This can’t happen.  There’s enough money to pay interest on the debt.  And to issue Social Security checks.  But they will have to make cuts elsewhere in some nonessential areas.  Like in some cabinet departments (Education, Energy, EPA, etc.).  This is all fear peddling by the Obama administration to do one thing.  Raise the debt ceiling.  So they can keep spending.  And this is the BIG problem.

The more likely scenario that investors are preparing for is that a temporary deal is struck to lift the debt ceiling. But such a makeshift plan is unlikely to allow the U.S. to maintain its AAA grade with bond rating companies. Citigroup analysts say the odds are 50-50 that the U.S. will be demoted to an AA rating for the first time ever.

Such a downgrade could lead to a temporary market panic. In the longer term it could push interest rates up for everyone from bankers down to ordinary people taking out car loans, and weaken the dollar’s position as the world’s reserve currency.

Even if they raise the debt limit in time there is a far greater problem.  And yet few are talking about THIS problem.  The excessive spending that will ultimately cause the credit downgrade.

To Avoid Credit Downgrade will Require $4 Trillion in REAL Spending Cuts

And it’s no secret.  S&P was very explicit in their report of what would cause a credit downgrade.  Unrestrained government spending (see The Real S&P Warning: A $4 Trillion Deal or a Downgrade by Veronique de Rugy posted 7/19/2011 on National Review).

As the debt-ceiling showdown heads into its final stages, the political maneuvering has intensified. Yet I fear that we are losing sight of the only reason why the fight over the debt ceiling matters: It forces a discussion of the country’s real problem — unrestrained government spending and the tremendous fiscal imbalances that jeopardize our financial safety.

This is the real message in the July 14 S&P report.

First, S&P writes that unless there’s a credible $4 trillion deal within the next three months, they will downgrade us. By “credible,” S&P explains, they mean a plan that will actually be put into place (i.e., not one where the tax increases happen but not the spending cuts). Not $2 trillion, not $1 trillion,  but $4 trillion. And it has to be credible.

That means REAL spending cuts.  Not those ‘future’ kind that never happen.  Those that Democrats have promised time and again only to renege on those promises.  Or the base-line budgeting type of ‘cuts’ that still increase spending.  The onus is all on Obama and the Democrats.  Because they are the ones steadfast in their opposition to any real spending cuts.

The Electric Car – Typical Wasteful Government Spending

To get an idea of their voracious appetite to spend, consider the electric car.  What the economy of the future is based on.  Green energy.  The thing that’s going to make America rich and prosperous again (see California dials back its electric car credits by Eric Evarts posted 7/26/2011 on Consumer Reports).

In large part, EV appeal was greater in California due to a $5,000 state rebate that came on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit. With the tax credits, the price of an all-electric Nissan Leaf could be as low as $21,000, making it cheaper than a Toyota Prius and putting it on par with other small cars. (The Chevrolet Volt was not eligible for the state credit, although it does receive the $7,500 federal tax credit…)

While the price of electric cars is going up for California drivers, other factors still make the Golden State more attractive than most for electric cars: California uses no coal to generate electricity; its major electric utility companies have time-of-use rates and special power rates for electric cars, effectively lowering their energy costs; and perhaps most importantly, pure electric cars are still eligible to use carpool lanes on the state’s notoriously congested freeways with just a driver onboard. In addition, public charging infrastructure is on a faster track than it is elsewhere in the nation.

So that’s $5,000 from the state.  $7,500 from Washington.  That’s a discount of $12,500 (37.3%).  And yet the price of the Nissan Leaf is still $21,000.  But that still isn’t enough to make this car sell.  They need a subsidized electrical rate as well.  Government at all levels is paying a lot of our tax dollars to make a car no one wants to buy.  And this is the kind of spending that they just can’t cut.  Wasteful.  And this is only one example from the multitude.

Repeal Obamacare – Save Money, Please the People

Cutting $4 trillion over 10 years will not be easy.  But we can halve this number with one stroke of a pen (See By a Margin of 21 Points, Americans Favor Repeal by Jeffrey H. Anderson posted 7/27/2011 on the Weekly Standard).

While President Obama’s notion of a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction isn’t written down anywhere, it’s quite clear that it doesn’t involve repealing Obamacare (despite the fact that the health care overhaul would cost over $2 trillion in its real first decade, from 2014 to 2023). Polling, however, strongly suggests that it should. The latest Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows that, by a margin of 21 points (57 to 36 percent), Americans support the repeal of the centerpiece legislation of the Obama presidency.

Repealing Obamacare would be a step in the right direction.  It will save $2 trillion in spending that is pushing the U.S. toward a credit downgrade.  And the people don’t want it by a margin of 21 points.  Save money.  Please the people.  It’s a no-brainer for responsible government.  If only government was responsible.

The Choice – Cut Spending or Downgrade U.S. Sovereign Debt

The president said we need to live within our means.  And he’s right about that.  But living within our means doesn’t mean taxing and borrowing more to pay for out of control government spending.  Living within our means starts by NOT spending money we don’t have.  Not to spend first and figure out how to pay later. 

And just because other presidents raised the debt limit doesn’t mean we have to raise the debt limit.  You don’t justify bad behavior with bad behavior.  We’ve borrowed too much.  The credit rating agencies have spoken.  We need to cut spending.  And not get all professorial and lecture the American people that we need to be ‘responsible’ and raise taxes to pay for the government’s irresponsible spending binge.

We either cut spending.  Or Obama and his Democrats will downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time in history.  Those are the choices.  And a good place to start would be to repeal Obamacare.  Because that’s all future spending.  All $2 trillion.  Not like Social Security or Medicare.  You can cut Obamacare.  And no one will miss it.

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A Debt Default and ‘no Social Security Checks’ only Scare Tactics in the Budget Debate to Raise the Debt Limit

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 25th, 2011

A Summary of the Budget Debate to Raise the Debt Limit

One day making tracks in the prairie of Prax came a tax-raising Zax.  A tax-raising Zax.  And a spending-cuts Zax.  A tax-raising Zax.  And a spending-cuts Zax.  And it happened that both of them came to a place where they… *boom*  There they stood foot to foot.  Face to face.

“Look here, now,” the tax-raising Zax said.  “I say, you are blocking my path.  You are right in my way.  I’m a tax-raising Zax and I always raise taxes.  Get out of my way, now, and let me raise taxes.”

“Who’s in whose way?” snapped the spending-cuts Zax.  “I always cut spending making spending-cuts tracks.  So you’re in my way and I ask you to move and let me cut spending in my spending-cuts groove.”

Then the tax-raising Zax said with tax-raising pride, “I never have taken a step to one side.  And I’ll prove to you that I won’t change my ways if I have to keep standing here 59 days.”

“And I’ll prove to you,” yelled the spending-cuts Zax.  “That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax for 59 years.  For I live by a rule that I learned as a boy back in spending-cuts school.  Never budge that’s my rule, never budge in the least.  Not an inch to the west, not an inch to the east.  I’ll stay here not budging, I can and I will.  If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still.”

(The Zax, from The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss, slightly modified)

Spending worries most Americans

If neither Zax is moving, at least there’s no spending.  And it appears that it is the spending that worries most Americans.  Based on the polling.  Which shows the spending-cuts Zax gaining support (see GOP has 10-point edge on Democrats in public trust on economic issues in latest Rasmussen Reports national survey by Mark Tapscott posted 7/24/2011 The Washington Examiner).

Republicans have gained a 10 point lead over Democrats in Rasmussen Reports latest national survey on who the public most trusts to deal effectively with economic issues.

The 10 point lead is the widest margin held by either party in months and has opened up in recent weeks as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have become the central players in the debate over how to deal with the approaching debt-ceiling crisis.

It seems pretty clear.  The people want the tax-raising Zax to take a step to the spending-cuts side.

You can’t Fool the Bond Market

And while one Zax stands foot to foot with the other Zax, not budging, the bond market is not all that worried.  Which is kind of odd being that they hold the debt that Obama, Geithner, Pelosi, Reid, etc., warn they may default on (see U.S. bond market: Watching and waiting by Ben Rooney posted 7/25/2011 on CNN Money).

As policymakers in Washington continue to butt heads over the debt ceiling, the response in the bond market Monday was relatively subdued…

…many bond market watchers suggested that stocks are more vulnerable to the ongoing debt ceiling drama. By contrast, some say Treasuries could actually benefit from a flight to safety if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

This seems counterintuitive.  Especially with all of the dire predictions coming out of Washington.  But it turns out that you can’t fool the bond market.

Another reason why Treasuries have held their ground is that a default would not necessarily result in huge losses for holders of U.S. debt. Treasury would probably have to furlough workers and make other adjustments if the debt ceiling is not raised, but analysts do not expect it to immediately miss interest payments on the federal debt.

The money is there.  Some money.  Tax revenue is still making it to Washington.  Almost $200 billion each month.  The bond market knows this.  They’ll get their interest payment.  Still, there could be some fallout from a downgrading of U.S. debt. 

…many institutional investors, including money market funds and pensions, are required to hold only AAA-rated securities. If the U.S. government is downgraded, those funds may be forced to dump billions worth of U.S. paper.

This could wreak a little havoc.  But probably no more than a downgrade due to the lack of resolve to restrain out of control spending which is the root cause of all these budget problems.  One way or another, we have to cut spending to ultimately calm the bond rating agencies.

Businesses are more Worried about the Tax Code

And they aren’t that worried in corporate America either (see Analysis: CEOs count on cash to cushion default risk by Scott Malone posted 7/25/2011 on Reuters).

Bankruptcy attorney Martin Bienenstock, of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, said it seemed like most business people were dismissing the likelihood of a default

“People still don’t think there is going to be an actual default,” Bienenstock said. “There doesn’t seem to be any domino effect brewing yet with the concept of ‘rates will rise and companies on the brink will fail and things like that.'”

If the U.S. runs out of money it is more likely that there will be a partial government shutdown.  Not a default.  And, to be frank, there isn’t a lot these businesses need from government.  Other than a simplified tax code.

While businesses would balk at paying higher taxes, CEOs have said that what they want right now is to have the tax debate settled so they know what they will be paying in taxes.

A government unable to pay its bills won’t affect them.  But not knowing what their taxes will be will.  Because the government shakes them down for a lot of money.  And they have to plan accordingly.  Like having a forklift and other heavy-lifting equipment available to lift those vast sums of cash.

Social Security Checks will go out Regardless

It would appear that most aren’t falling for the scare tactics of Obama and the Democrats.  But what about the seniors?  Will they get their Social Security checks?  Team Obama has been playing this card every chance someone places a microphone in front of them.  So what about Social Security?  Should seniors worry about not getting their checks?  As it turns out, no (see Contrary to the President, Social Security Checks Are Not At Risk by Michael McConnell posted 7/23/2011 on Advancing a Free Society).

The Social Security trust fund holds about $2.4 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds, which its trustees are legally entitled to redeem whenever Social Security is running a current account deficit. Thus, if we reach the debt ceiling…, this is what will happen. The Social Security trust fund will go to Treasury and cash in some of its securities, using the proceeds to send checks to recipients. Each dollar of debt that is redeemed will lower the outstanding public debt by a dollar. That enables the Treasury to borrow another dollar, without violating the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is not a prohibition on borrowing new money; it is a prohibition on increasing the total level of public indebtedness. If Social Security cashes in some of its bonds, the Treasury can borrow that same amount of money from someone else…

President Obama is therefore wrong when he says that failure to raise the debt ceiling might result in not sending out Social Security checks. Many bad things might happen, but not that.

Interesting.  So Social Security checks will go out.  Automatically.  Even if the current account is in deficit.  Because of that glorious trust fund stuffed with treasury securities.  In fact, the only way checks won’t go out is if Obama prevents this automatic mechanism to score some political points by falsely blaming Republicans.  Which will be risky.  Because people will eventually learn the truth.  If they don’t know it already.

The Tax-Raising Zax needs to Step to the Spending-Cuts Side

The tax-raising Zax had better learn to swallow his tax-raising pride and however reluctantly he should now take that first step to the spending-cuts side. 

For the people and the bond market and businesses agree.  The problem is spending.  Much too much spending as you must by now plainly see.

And leave our seniors alone and frighten them not with horrors of checks that won’t come their way.  For the trust fund is brimming with securities aplenty that can be cashed to pay all promises made without delay.

Unless Social Security has been a big Ponzi scheme all along.

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The Republicans and the Credit Rating Agencies believe it’s a Debt Crisis, not a Revenue Problem

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 23rd, 2011

The Crisis of the Debt Crisis Negotiations

It’s near crunch time.  When something has to happen.  Something.  Good.  Or bad.  But the politicians aren’t playing nice.  And the pundits are opining (see Reactions to the impasse posted 7/23/2011 on First Read).

Andrew Sullivan: Republicans are anarchists.

David Frum: The Republicans made the debt problem a debt crisis.

Jay Cost: Obama is a lot like Jimmy Carter.

Ezra Klein: John Boehner is purposely wasting time by making non-offers.

Over on the New York Times, Paul Krugman is calling it Naked Blackmail (posted 7/23/2011). 

It turns out that in the final stages of the debt negotiations, Republicans suddenly added a new demand — a trigger that would end up eliminating the individual mandate in health care reform.

…the health care mandate has nothing to do with debt and deficits. So this is naked blackmail: the GOP is trying to use the threat of financial catastrophe to impose its policy vision, even in areas that have nothing to do with the issue at hand, a vision that it lacks the votes to enact through normal legislation.

Which is one side of the story why Boehner walked out of the negotiations.  For another side you can read Why the Obama-Boehner talks fell apart by Keith Hennessey (posted 7/23/2011).

The President backtracked in private negotiations this week, demanding bigger tax increases after the Gang of Six, including three conservative Republican Senators, released a plan that raised taxes more than the President had previously demanded…

…the President retreated from an earlier position on taxes as a result of the Gang of Six introducing their plan. On total tax revenues, tax rates, and refundable outlays, the President increased his demands last week.

And then there’s the unfunded mandate.

…the President and the Speaker had open disputes about how much to save from Medicaid, and about an automatic mechanism to force Congress to act on the entitlement and tax provisions. The President wanted a provision that would “decouple” tax rates if Congress failed to act, allowing top tax rates to increase while extending the other tax rates. Republicans would hate this outcome and would therefore have an incentive to legislate the deal. The Speaker insisted that if this automatic hammer decoupled tax rates, it also had to repeal the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), to create roughly equal legislative pressure on both sides of the aisle.

So there’s a lot more to the story some people are leaving out in their condemnation of Speaker Boehner and the Republicans.  For it would appear that it’s Obama and the Democrats who are refusing to make a deal that cuts spending or doesn’t raise taxes.  And it’s Obama that’s been increasing his demands.  With an able assist from the Gang of Six.

The Debt Rating Agencies siding with Boehner and the Republicans

But are Boehner and the Republicans just partisan mad men?  Making mountains out of molehills?  Debt crises out of debt problems?  Guess it depends on who you talk to.  If you talk to partisans on the left, yes.  If you talk to credit rating agencies, no (see Egan Jones cuts US rating, cites high debt load by Karen Brettell posted 7/18/2011 on Reuters).

Credit rating agency Egan-Jones has cut the United States’ top credit ranking, citing concerns over the country’s high debt load and the difficulty the government faces in significantly reducing spending.

…the cut is due the U.S. debt load standing at more than 100 percent of its gross domestic product. This compares with Canada, for example, which has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 35 percent, Egan-Jones said in a report sent on Saturday.

And S&P is getting closer to following suit (see Obama officials clash with S&P over downgrade threats by Tim Reid and Rachelle Younglai, Reuters, posted 7/23/2011 on Yahoo! News).

Since October, S&P has accelerated its deadline three times for when it might downgrade the United States’ coveted AAA credit rating as efforts in Washington to reach a deal on cutting long-term deficits have faltered.

The U.S. is in very dangerous debt territory.  Even Al Jazeera is writing about the severity of this debt problem (see Obama launches crisis talks over US debt posted 7/23/2011).

The US government now owes $14.3tn, which is its current legal limit, and is more than the size of the economies of China, Japan and Germany put together…

The largest US creditor, China, has twice warned that the US must protect investor interests, as ratings agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have said the sterling Triple-A US debt rating was in danger of a downgrade.

You know your debt is bad when it exceeds the sum of three of the largest economies in the world.  At least you should know.  That’s why the rating agencies are looking at downgrading American sovereign debt.  The debt problem is that bad.  And tax hikes without spending cuts will only make this very bad problem much, much worse.  Because it’s a debt problem.  Not a revenue problem.

And, yes, the high costs of Obamacare need to be included in this conversation.  Because it is a BIG part of the spending problem.

From Sea to Shining Sea, at Least for awhile Yet

Raising the debt ceiling is not the problem here.  It’s the amount of debt that’s the problem.  Whatever happens in the next few weeks the United States will survive.  But it will not be able to survive the long term explosion of spending (in particular on health care) and debt.  Which is the thing that is making the rating agencies nervous.  As well as the rest of the world.

In the grand scheme of things, it would appear that Boehner and the Republicans are trying to do the right thing.  Whereas Obama and the Democrats are merely looking for short-term political gain.  Which is not in the best interests of the country.  But they’re not worried.  For whatever becomes of America, they are certain that they will be ensconced in their liberal Democrat city-states.  Insulated from the surrounding ruins that they will simply refer to as flyover country.

So much for “from sea to shining sea.”

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