Raising the Debt Ceiling may be Worse than Default

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 30th, 2011

Despite U.S. Debt Crisis, U.S. still the World’s Safe Asset of Choice

As Congress debates over the debt ceiling…blah blah blah…Armageddon.  Funny thing is, the U.S. debt problem is not that bad.  When compared to the debt problem in Europe (see Err, over here by Schumpeter posted 7/29/2011 on The Economist).

AS THE August 2nd deadline for a resolution of America’s debt-ceiling row approaches, other news is being drowned out. America’s debt debacle provokes rubber-necking fascination but the euro crisis is still the bigger threat to financial stability.

The chances (admittedly diminishing with time) are that America will get its house in order and avoid default; and that a ratings downgrade will happen but not threaten the pre-eminence of Treasuries as the world’s safe asset of choice. In contrast, the euro area’s crisis is already in full swing and policymakers, as this week’s issue of The Economist makes plain, have not found a way to stop it.

Things are worse in the European Union.  Especially the Eurozone.  And though Armageddon is at hand in the U.S., we’re still the “world’s safe asset of choice.”  So the end of the world as we know it may not be at hand.  But the out of control government spending and debt is fast approaching European levels.  So if we don’t cut our spending and reduce our deficits, we will follow lockstep behind Europe into fiscal ruin.  And then, of course, Armageddon.  

Partisan Democrats decry Republican Partisanship

So this Republican partisanship needs to end.  They need to be bipartisan.  Like the Democrats.  That is, when they’re not being partisan themselves (see For Reid, Durbin, and Obama, a (very) partisan record on debt ceiling by Byron York posted 7/30/2011 on The Washington Examiner).

A look at Reid’s record, however, shows that in the last decade his own voting on the issue of the debt ceiling is not only partisan but perfectly partisan. According to “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases,” a January 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, the Senate has passed ten increases to the debt limit since 2000.  Reid never voted to increase the debt ceiling when Republicans were in control of the Senate, and he always voted to increase the debt ceiling when Democrats were in control…

At look at Durbin’s record shows that he, too, has voted along absolutely partisan lines.  In the last decade, Durbin never voted to increase the debt ceiling when Republicans were in control and always voted to increase the debt ceiling when Democrats were in control.  As for Obama, there were four votes to raise the debt ceiling when he was in the Senate.  He missed two of them, voted no once when Republicans were in charge, and voted yes once when Democrats were in charge.

So the Democrats have a history of being just as partisan as the Republicans.  Even now, as they decry the Republican’s partisanship, they refuse to compromise at all on what they’ve always wanted.  More taxes.  And more borrowing.  So they can spend a lot more.

Democrats open to Compromise, as long as it’s the Republicans doing the Compromising

And they’ve drawn a line in the sand.  No meaningful cuts without new taxes (see Senate Kills Debt Bill, Bipartisan Talks on Hold by Steven T. Dennis posted 7/29/2011 on Roll Call).

“We’ve got a closet full of triggers,” he said. But, he added, “I came to the conclusion that we are negotiating with ourselves. The Republicans will not agree to any triggers that have any revenues in it.”

And Reid noted that Democrats have drawn a line in the sand against any cuts to entitlement programs without revenue.

The Republicans refuse to raise taxes because America is still wallowing in the Great Recession.  Democrats refuse to drop their request to raise taxes.  And flat out refuse to cut entitlements.  Like Social Security.  Medicare.  And the new Obamacare.  Because, though fiscally responsible, it’s not politically expedient.  Which is going to become a BIG problem soon.

Repeal Obamacare and all our Current Troubles go Away

Health care spending will take the U.S. to European levels of spending and debt (see CMS Projections Confirm Runaway Health Care Spending by Kathryn Nix posted 7/29/2011 on The Foundry).

As the economy recovers and the major provisions of Obamacare kick in, national health spending is projected to grow at quite a clip—increasing, on average, 5.8 percent each year. By 2020, the nation will spend $4.54 trillion on health care, or close to 20 percent of GDP. (For the sake of comparison: In 2010, federal tax revenue totaled 14.9 percent of GDP, and all federal spending combined amounted to 23.8 percent of GDP.)

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining.  An S&P report calls for real spending cuts of $4 trillion or more over 10 years to avoid the credit downgrade.  And look at this.  Obamacare will cost $4.54 trillion over some 10 years.  Imagine that.  Save the AAA bond rating.  Leave Social Security and Medicare intact.  And all you have to do is cut one program that no one is receiving any benefits from yet.  Repeal Obamacare.  And all our current troubles go away.

Or you can Devalue the Currency

Of course, that’s one way of solving the current crisis.  There appears to be another.  One that is a bit more destructive (see Answers to the 7 big “what-ifs” of debt default by Lauren Young posted 7/30/2011 on Reuters).

Traders say Asian central banks, among the world’s biggest dollar holders, have been steady buyers of alternatives to the dollar such as the Singapore dollar and other Asian currencies as well as the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars. “Foreigners are at the vanguard of the drop in the dollar,” says Dan Dorrow, head of research at Faros Trading, a currency broker/dealer in Stamford, Connecticut. “I don’t think anyone expects a catastrophic U.S. default. But a downgrade will make them more aggressive in moving away from the dollar…”

The bottom line? It will be more expensive to travel overseas, drink French wine or buy Japanese cars.

A little trade war anyone?  A weak currency is like a tariff.  It makes imports so expensive that we stop buying them.  And buy American instead.  Thus increasing U.S. GDP.  And there is a corollary to this.  Can you guess what that is?  Here’s a hint.  It does something to our exports.  And our vacation market.

Fixing our Economy by Destroying other Economies

A weak currency not only makes your imports more expensive, it also makes your exports less expensive.  Which helps your export market.  And encourages people to vacation in your country because those stronger, foreign currencies can buy so much more (see U.S. Economy: Growth Trails Forecasts as Consumers Retrench by Shobhana Chandra posted 7/29/2011 on Bloomberg).

The improvement in the difference between imports and exports added another 0.6 point [of U.S. GDP].

Overseas sales will remain a backstop for factories. Dow Chemical Co. (DOW), the largest U.S. chemical maker, said demand is “strong” in markets abroad.

“We captured strong growth in Latin America, and the emerging geographies more broadly, while North America experienced moderate growth,” Andrew Liveris, chief executive officer, said on a July 27 conference call with analysts.

So perhaps this is the grand plan.  Increase spending to unsustainable levels.  Incur record debt.  This spending and debt triggers a downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt.  Which devalues the U.S. dollar.  Which places a de facto tariff on imports.  And provides a subsidy for our exports.  And it makes the U.S. a vacation destination.  Until our trading partners retaliate for fixing our economy by destroying their economies.  Like everyone is saying the Chinese are doing by keeping their own currency weak.

Repealing Obamacare would Please the Credit Rating Agencies

So the only bright spot in the U.S. economy is other economies.  Where they’re experiencing growth.  And can easily afford U.S. goods.  Which is about the only market buying them these days.  But for the world’s largest economy (for now) to rely solely on exports can be a bit risky.  Especially if it triggers a trade war.  Which, incidentally, helped trigger the Great Depression.

No, it would probably be more prudent to keep that AAA rating by cutting spending.  Before we spend ourselves to European ruin.  That’s the key to everything.  In particular cutting the fastest growing government expenditure.  Health care.  Which makes repealing Obamacare made to order.  No one is benefitting from it yet.  So no one will even notice this cut.  Other than the credit rating agencies.  Who will stand up and applaud this action. 

For just raising the debt ceiling doesn’t solve the real problem.  In fact, raising the debt ceiling without the $4 trillion in spending cuts will just push us closer to European ruin.

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Incivility is NOT to Blame for Jared Loughner’s Arizona Shooting Rampage. But the Left still Blames It.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 14th, 2011

The Uncivil Calling the Civil Uncivil

Civility.  Civility.  Civility.  That’s all we hear.  That we must be more civil.  Too much partisanship in the country.  We need to fight less.  And work together more.  Of course, the people saying this just took a shellacking at the 2010 midterm elections.  But they sure were singing a different song before that shellacking.

Civility?  Please.  Was wishing Rush Limbaugh dead civil?  Was wishing Sarah Palin dead civil?  Was making a movie based on a ‘what if’ assassination of George W. Bush civil?  Was wishing Dick Cheney dead civil?  Was wishing Sean Hannity dead civil?  Was throwing a pie at Ann Coulter civil?  Was saying you’d have sex with Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham and Elisabeth Hasselbeck because they’re hot even though you hate them civil?  Was dropping a crucifix in a glass of urine and calling it art civil?  I could go on.  But that should suffice to make the point.

Is this truly a cry for civility?  Or simply a way to neuter the opposition’s power?  By calling political dissent uncivil?  Now that they have lost their power?  My, how things change.  Once upon time it was patriotic to debate and disagree.  Of course, that’s only when the ‘wrong people’ were in power.  Apparently.

This Nutcase came from the Left

The shooting rampage in Arizona showed the consequences of the lack of civility (i.e., when conservatives debate and disagree).  At least, so thought those on the left.  Until some of the facts started coming out.  Turns out that the shooter was more of a leftist than a rightwing radical.  That’s right, this Nutcase came from the Left.

He didn’t listen to talk radio.  Didn’t follow Sarah Palin.  Rush Limbaugh.  Sean Hannity.  Glenn Beck.  Or anyone on the Right.  In fact, one of his favorite books was the Communist Manifesto.  Which is not a conservative manifesto.  And he was a conspiracy nut.  One of his favorite films was Zeitgeist: The Movie.  A film citing conspiracy theories about Christ (He was just a myth), the 9/11 attacks, bankers manipulating the international monetary system, etc.  And these are, of course, theories held by people on the Left.  It’s pretty clear that if anyone incited Jared Loughner with vitriolic rhetoric, it was those on the left.

Doesn’t matter.  Still the cry for civility rings out.  Even though a lack of civility clearly didn’t prompt Loughner to do anything.  It was his insanity that did.  Even so, we still need to be civil.  And not debate or disagree.  With the liberal left.  Because that incivility could create a Jared Loughner.  Even though it didn’t here.

Forget the Paranoid Schizophrenia.  Focus on the Vitriolic Political Debate.

The Arizona shooter was oblivious to all the incivility around him.  It was the paranoid schizophrenia rattling around his head driving him.  Not all that vitriolic political debate that is supposedly ruining our nation.  Still, it is a time to reflect.  To step back and take a look at ourselves and say, “Hey.  We can be better.”  Or so David Brooks writes about in the New York Times (see Tree of Failure posted 1/13/2011).

But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process.

So, of course, you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth. Of course you get people who prefer monologue to dialogue. Of course you get people who detest politics because it frustrates their ability to get 100 percent of what they want. Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents. They feel no need for balance and correction.

Brooks makes some good points.  And the Left should listen to them.  Because he’s talking about them.  When George W. Bush was president Hillary Clinton said it was patriotic to debate and disagree.  Now she says that this leads to domestic terrorism.  No doubt she and her fellow Democrats believe they alone speak the truth.  And that they have no need for balance or correction.  Because they are always right and loathe their political opponents.  Especially when they get shellacked in the midterm elections.

They’re Civil in North Korea.  And Oppressed

Holding hands and singing kum bay ya isn’t going to change anything.  Because we don’t agree.  If everyone in the country agreed it wouldn’t be the United States.  It would be North Korea.  And they’re very civil there.  Especially when it comes to the government that’s oppressing them.  But I don’t think we want that kind of civility here.

Debate is good.  Dissent is good.  It prevents the rise of tyrants.  That’s why Americans can debate and disagree.  That process has prevented the rise of tyrants.  And we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss that process.

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The U.S. Government Focuses on Embryonic Stem Cells, Cheese and Cow Burps

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 8th, 2010

Embryonic Stem Cells no Longer the Last Best Hope?

Embryonic stem cells.  A very polarizing topic.  Some say they could cure the incurable.  Others say that using them is nothing more than harvesting human life.  Their potential so far has been mostly theoretical.  Unlike adult stem cells, which we have had success in treating patients. 

Obviously, this is a Right vs. Left dispute.  The pro-life Right being ‘con’.  The pro-choice Left being ‘pro’.  And the Left played to our emotions.  Promising they would let Christopher Reeve walk again.  And a Parkinson-stricken Michael J. Fox made a very emotional appeal on behalf of Democrats.  Calling embryonic stem cells the last best hope.

Meanwhile, in Canada, they’re turning skin into blood (see Scientists turn skin into blood posted on Breitbart).  Your blood.  From your skin.  A perfect genetic match.  Without using embryonic stem cells.  It promises to help in treating anemia, with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.  This is doing some of what embryonic stem cells promised to do.  Only better.

Stem cells that are derived from human embryos hold significant promise for medical breakthroughs but also carry risks, such as the potential to create tumors.

Good news indeed.  Less controversy.  Less risk.  More promise.  Even Left and Right can agree.  This is good.

From Cutting the Cheese to Force-Feeding Us the Cheese

Over in the United States, they’re making progress elsewhere.  They’re looking at greenhouse gas emissions.  Emitted by cow burps (see UNH scientists to study cow burps . . . and more by Clynton Namuo, New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent, posted on Union Leader).  Apparently, they’ve been studying cow flatulence, too, for they note cows emit more methane from belching than from cutting the cheese.  And when government is not studying cow burps and other gaseous emissions, what are they doing?  Why, they’re trying to kill us.

Michelle Obama is campaigning against obesity while at the same time the federal government is trying to get us to eat more cheese (see While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales by Michael Moss posted on The New York Times.)  Why?  Well, the federal government used to buy surplus dairy products to help dairy farmers keep dairy prices high.  With this artificial demand, dairy production boomed.  And the federal government was running out of space to store the surplus.  So they came up with the idea to get people to eat more of these saturated fats-loaded products.

Dairy Management [a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture], through the “Got Milk?” campaign, has been successful at slowing the decline in milk consumption, particularly focusing on schoolchildren. It has also relentlessly marketed cheese and pushed back against the Agriculture Department’s suggestion that people eat only low-fat or fat-free varieties.

And they do this despite knowing better.

Agriculture Department data show that cheese is a major reason the average American diet contains too much saturated fat.

In other words, it’s all that cheese we’re eating that is making us so obese.

The Lack of Partisanship May Be Killing Americans

There’s a lot of talk about people being tired of partisanship.  But when the U.S. Government counts killing Americans with heart disease as one of their fiscal tools, I think we could all use a little more partisanship.  With friends like government we don’t need any enemies.  And if they’re looking to kill us in an indirect way to cut their agriculture budget, one can only wonder what they will do to cut their Obamacare budget.  All of a sudden those ‘death panels’ don’t seem so farfetched.

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LESSONS LEARNED #38: “Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 4th, 2010

Liars Lie

Lying works.  Political spin.  Poetic license.  Fibbing.  Slander.  Libel.  Call it what you’d like.  Politicians lie.  Because it works.  Especially when you can’t win in the arena of ideas.  If they can’t win the philosophical debate what do our politicians do?  Attack the messenger, not the message.  If the history doesn’t validate their policies what do they do?  Revise history.  It never changes.  The only thing that does is the people hearing the lies.

Presidents may dream, but the House of Representatives controls the purse.  That’s why there are numerous battles between Capitol Hill and the White House.  Between Speakers of the House and presidents.  Some of the big partisan battles in recent times?  Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan.  Tom Foley and George H.W. Bush.  Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.  Nancy Pelosi and George W. Bush.  When different political parties hold the White House and the Hill, the partisanship escalates.  And the lies get more brazen.  Especially on the political fringe.

Some lies bordered on the ridiculous.  Like Ronald Reagan created AIDS to kill homosexuals.  That George H. W. Bush flew to Iran on an SR-71 to meet secretly with the Iranians during the 1980 presidential campaign.  Why?  To negotiate with the Iranians to keep the American hostages until after the election.  That George W. Bush blew up the Twin Towers to start a war that would let him invade Iraq.  No doubt there was some political damage from these lies.  But the lasting damage from these ridiculous lies pale in comparison to the Big Lies that the Left perpetuates to this day.

Trickle-Down Economics

Ronald Reagan was president from 1981 until 1989.  When he entered office, the economy was in the toilet.  Double digit inflation.  Double digit interest rates.  Unemployment at 7.1%.  Reagan wanted to cut taxes and spending.  The Democrat controlled Congress wanted to increase federal spending to ‘stimulate’ the economy (ala Keynesian economics).  The Congress fought him.  But Reagan used the bully pulpit and appealed directly to the American people.  They liked his message which brought pressure down on Congress.  They gave a little.  Reagan got his tax cuts.  The top marginal rate went from 70% down to 28% by the time he left office.  The result?  The economy boomed.  They call it the Decade of Greed.  Because we were very materialistic and greedy.  And people lived well.

Yes, but at what cost?  That’s what the Left always says to refute Reaganomics.  What they deride as trickle-down economics.  They point to military spending.  They point to Reagan’s deficit spending.  And the growing federal debt.  The Left says this is what Reagan’s tax cuts have given us.  Growth and prosperity at the expense of future generations.  Which is perhaps the greatest lie of the 20th century.  But because the Left has repeated it so often, a lot of people accept it as fact.  Even though the numbers refute this grand lie.

When Reagan entered office, federal tax receipts were $517 billion.  When he left office in 1989, federal tax receipts were $991 billion.  This is an increase of 91.7%.  Or, to look at in another way, tax receipts in 1989 were 1.9 times the amount they were in 1980.  That’s almost double.  So, despite the great lie of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts did NOT cause deficits or increase the debt.  Cuts in the tax rates brought MORE money into the federal treasury.  Excessive federal spending caused the deficits.  Federal spending increased from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1,143.7 billion in 1989.  That’s a 93.6% increase.  Spending, too, almost doubled.  In other words, spending increased 1.9% more than tax receipts by the end of Reagan’s second term.  Washington was awash in money.  They just spent it faster than it came in.

Blame the excessive spending on Cold War defense spending or domestic spending.  The point is moot.  Because it doesn’t change the fundamental truth that Reagan’s tax cuts INCREASED federal tax receipts.  Or the lesson learned that tax cuts stimulate the economy.  Anyone saying otherwise is lying and trying to revise history.

Wither on the Vine

The Reagan decade ended prosperously.  Reaganomics were a success.  Which was a threat to those with a vested interest in Big Government.  But people liked Reagan.  And only agreed to vote for George H.W. Bush when he made the infamous ‘read my lips – no new taxes’ campaign pledge.  But Bush was no Reagan.  He wasn’t as conservative.  Or as charismatic.  He couldn’t sell conservative America (center-right) his less than conservative policies (center-left).  The Left, seeing he was no Reagan, maneuvered him into a position favorable to them on the deficit.  The Republicans wanted to cut spending.  The Democrats, of course, wanted to raise taxes.  And with the Democrats in control of the House, he caved.  He raised taxes.  And when he did, he became a one-term president.  The American people were so angry when he reneged on his ‘read my lips – no new taxes’ pledge, the third party candidate in the 1992 presidential campaign, Ross Perot, got 18.9% of the popular vote.  No third party candidate did better.  Exit polling shows he drew equally from both Bush and Clinton, though only 20% of his voters were liberal.  The rest were conservatives and moderates.  Perot brought a carnival atmosphere to the campaign.  Charts and props made for good TV.  This spectacle, though, drew critical attention away from Clinton’s past.  Parts of which moderates would have found objectionable.

Clinton ran as a centrist.  He lied.  As liberals are wont to do during a campaign in a center-right country.  Once in office, he swung to the left.  The American people were angry.  As people are wont to be when lied to.  At the 1994 midterm elections, the people spoke.  And gave both houses of Congress to the Republicans.  Newt Gingrich became the Speaker of the House.  He co-authored the Contract with America which was a Republican pledge to return America to a conservative path.  It appealed to the American people.  It’s what swept the Republicans into power.  And it scared the Left.  So they attacked it.  Called it the Contract on America.  And they attacked Newt Gingrich.  With a vengeance.

In 1995, Gingrich discussed an alternative to Medicare.  Number crunchers projected Medicare (and Social Security) to go into the red a decade or two out.  Medicare (and Social Security) is a big federal expenditure and a political third rail.  The Left uses the elderly as political pawns whenever they can.  Because that’s what Big Government does.  Get people dependent on Big Government and then scare the hell out of them by saying the Right wants to take their benefits away.  Gingrich was discussing high-deductible health insurance plans and tax free Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).  The MSAs included an annual federal subsidy for seniors.  The plan would be appealing to seniors, Gingrich thought, because they could get better health care coverage with a private plan.  The MSAs and the federal subsidies would make it affordable.  Better care without paying more.  Who wouldn’t want that?  Once people made this choice voluntarily, they would move out of Medicare into a private plan.  Those comments in 1995 included this:

What do you think the Health Care Financing Administration is? It’s a centralized command bureaucracy. . . . Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart and we don’t think that that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it — voluntarily.

Wither on a vine?  Talk about a hanging softball.  There was no way the Democrats weren’t going to whack that one out of the park.  It quickly became ‘Medicare benefits’ and NOT the inefficient ‘centralized command bureaucracy’ that was going to wither on the vine.  The Left ran with it.  Another grand lie.  Repeated it at nauseam.  And scared the seniors.  Gingrich’s days were numbered.  And Clinton had a new enemy to demonize.  Which came in handy when no one wanted his policies.

The Lies that Keep on Giving

Big Government depends on getting as many people dependent on government as possible.  Medicare (and Social Security) is one program that does this very well.  And when Gingrich dared to threaten it, they destroyed him.  With a grand lie.  Like the grand lie that tax cuts stimulate deficits, not the economy.  Perpetuating these lies enables unsustainable government spending.  Threatens the future of all Americans.  And the longer it takes for the truth to come out, the deeper the hole we dig ourselves into.

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2010 Midterm Election: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 3rd, 2010

Big Cities, Big Union and Big Government

If you look at a map of the House election results (provided by The Washington Post), you can see the two Americas.  What you see is a red map with small dabs of blue.  And where are those blue areas?  The Big Cities, the big colleges, the big unions and the big urban concentrations of poor and minorities.  And, of course, the liberal elite in and around the Big Cities.  In other words, where you find Big Union (manufacturing, trade unions, school teachers and government employees) and Big Government.  And it’s the dynamic between Big Union and Big Government that empower the liberal elite.   Big Union provides campaign money and foot soldiers for Big Government.  And Big Government rewards Big Union by favoring their small minority over the majority of Americans.  It’s a throwback to before our Founding when kings and nobles ruled nations.  Political power is devolving into fewer and fewer hands. Into those little dabs of blue.

To get a perspective of how bad and how oppressive this ruling minority elite has gotten, consider two races.  Two people nationally despised won their reelections.  Barney Frank, who is largely responsible for giving us the subprime mortgage crisis, won in liberal Massachusetts.  And Nancy Pelosi, who forced her liberal agenda on the American people against their wishes, won by a whopping 80% in San Francisco.  This is what the Founding Fathers meant when they spoke of the tyranny of the minority.  These two have caused great harm to the American people.  Yet they represent such a sliver of minority thought in this nation.  They could not win a national vote.  Yet they can destroy a nation by winning their local vote.

But it’s not all bad.  If you look at the map, you see a lot of red in once dominate blue areas.  New England is not completely blue anymore.  New York State isn’t as blue as New York City.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan are red outside of the Big Cities.  Chicago, in fact, is a small pocket of blue adrift in a sea of red.  And in Washington, Oregon and California, if you move in from the Big Money coast, you see mostly red.  More importantly, if you click on the governors tab in the map, you see change, too.  New York and California are blue, yes, but there’s more red than blue overall on that map.  Which gives one hope that the republic the Founding Fathers gave us is not yet dead.  It will be hard to gerrymander those congressional districts around the Big Cities to give such little, elitist, local voices a large national voice anymore.

It’s the Economy, Stupid.  Was, and still is.

So, outside of the blue Big Cities, what do we know?  Well, the exit polling told us what we already knew.  It’s the economy, stupid.  We’ve lost too many jobs.  And that’s what we want.  Jobs (see Exit poll: Economy the big dog for worried voters by Connie Cass, Associated Press, posted on Yahoo!

About a third of voters said their household suffered a job loss in the past two years.

And as we lost our jobs, we lost our homes (see Homeownership at lowest level in a decade by Alan Zibel, AP Real Estate Writer, posted on Yahoo! News). 

The nation’s homeownership rate is at the lowest level in more than a decade, hampered by a rise in foreclosures and weak demand for housing.

And while we lose our jobs and our homes, what is the president doing?  Going on vacation to an exclusive 5-star resort.  And it’s going to cost the American taxpayer a pretty penny (see US to spend $200 mn a day on Obama’s Mumbai visit posted by Press Trust of India. 

The US would be spending a whopping $200 million (Rs. 900 crore approx) per day on President Barack Obama’s visit to the city.

Does the royal family feel our pain?

Not only do they govern against our will, but they flaunt it in our faces.  We struggle because of the likes of Barack Obama, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi.  We lose our jobs and our homes (which is ironic considering we’re in this mess to begin with because of Washington’s policy to provide affordable housing to those who could not afford to buy a house).  And what does the ‘royal’ family do?  Go on vacation that will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars per day.  I guess they can’t feel our pain.  Or that they just don’t care.  So think back to last summer when you spent your family vacation in your backyard because money was tight.  And that team Obama will probably raise your taxes come January 1 to be ‘responsible’ to pay for their irresponsible spending.  Take solace in the fact that at least he could live large on your dime.  Even if you had to spend summer ‘staycation’ in your backyard.

As we proceed from the 2010 midterm elections, do not forget the dynamic between Big Government and Big Union.  It won’t be easy, but they’ll continue to try to help fund those under-funded union pension plans.  And they will point to the Republicans as obstructionists.  That they need to compromise.  Put partisanship behind us.  Especially now.  Since they lost the House of Representatives, the Left can’t be partisan anymore.  Like they have been the last two years.

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The Anatomy of a Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 17th, 2010

Old Time Politics – Buying Votes

There’s a lot of lying going on about the subprime mortgage crisis.  How it happened.  Who was responsible for it.  Was it the banks and their predatory lending?  That’s who Barney Frank blames.  Well, them and Republicans.  Or was it some more of that irrational exuberance that led to a real estate bubble?  It created a dot-com bubble in the 1990s.  Which in turn caused a recession.  Was it just a little history repeating itself?  Perhaps they both played a part.  But if they did, they were minor supporting roles.  They weren’t the star of the crisis.  For neither could have done anything had it not been for their enabler.

The Boston Globe’s Donovan Slack writes about one of the enablers backpedaling on his previous rosy statements about the two companies at ground zero of the crisis (see Stance on Fannie and Freddie dogs Frank on boston.com).  Fannie Mae.  And Freddie Mac.  Frank is running for reelection.  And his words are coming back to haunt him.

America is a center-right nation.  To counter that, the Left courts a coalition of special interests and single-issue voters.  Federal workers, teachers, unions, gays & lesbians, pro-choice feminists, environmentalists, socialists, minorities, etc.  Each taken by themselves is a very small percentage of the voting population.  But taken together it’s a sizeable percentage.  Then add in one more very important Democrat constituency.  The poor.  Now with all of these firmly in the Democrat’s camp, it’s just a matter of getting enough of the moderate and independent vote to win an election.  Of course, this is a moot point if they DON’T lock in the Democrat base.  And they do this by giving away as much free stuff and favorable legislation as possible. 

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning for a House They Can’t Afford

The key to locking in the base is, of course, the poor.  There are a lot of them.  So the Left courts them.  Engages in class warfare.  They paint the Republicans as rich fat-cats who want to take their welfare, social security, food stamps, etc., away from them.  That they want to keep them in slums or throw them onto the street.  In contrast, they, the Democrats, want to provide for them.  To help them.  And they give them a lot of things.  To earn their gratitude.  And their votes at the election booth.  And the grandest of all the things given to them?  Affordable housing.

Poor people don’t have a lot of money.  That’s pretty straight forward but it needs to be said.  Because people who don’t have a lot of money can’t afford to buy a house.  Again, that’s pretty straight forward.  But it needs to be said.  Now, when these people apply for a mortgage and get denied, why do you think they got denied?  Here’s a hint.  Re-read this paragraph.  They get denied because they don’t have a lot of money.  You see, if you don’t have a lot of money, you can’t buy expensive things.  Again, straight forward.  But it needs to be said.  Again.  And often.

Now, what do you think a politician thinks the reason was for these poor people getting their mortgage applications denied?  Red-lining.  Racism.  Classism.  Unfairism.  (Yeah, that isn’t a word.  But it works.)  A large percentage of those denied mortgages are from the inner city poor.  And because of previous white-flight, that inner-city poor also happens to be primarily minority.  Hence the charges of racism.  And that’s just gold to a political party who needs poor minorities to vote for them.

The Siren Song of Affordable Housing

Now Barney Frank is running for reelection.  His Republican challenger is using Frank’s own words in his campaign.   And they’re causing some damage.  For Frank sat on the House’s Financial Services Committee (the oversight committee for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) throughout the time the crisis built.  And now he’s answering some very uncomfortable questions (this and all quotes are from Stance on Fannie and Freddie dogs Frank).

Frank, in his most detailed explanation to date about his actions, said in an interview he missed the warning signs because he was wearing ideological blinders. He said he had worried that Republican lawmakers and the Bush administration were going after Fannie and Freddie for their own ideological reasons and would curtail the lenders’ mission of providing affordable housing.

Ideology trumped responsibility.  The Left cries foul when the Right doesn’t reach across the aisle, but the Left never reaches out when they have power.  It’s us against them.  Pure partisanship.  Even when there’s great danger brewing.  It’s their interests first.  Then the country’s.  So he protected Freddie and Fannie.  And enabled them to cause greater harm.

Freddie and Fannie are in the secondary mortgage market.  They don’t write mortgages.  They guarantee them (so banks are more willing to take risks with less credit-worthy people).  And they buy these risky mortgages from the banks.  This further reduces a bank’s risk in approving very risky loans to people who are not credit-worthy.  Which is what the Democrats want.  More affordable housing for people who can’t afford to buy houses.  Frank’s committee sets the rules Freddie and Fannie must follow to keep them from approving mortgages that are crazy-stupid.  But that’s exactly what they encouraged.  Subprime loans.  Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs).  Interest only mortgages.  No documentation approvals.  Any bank that didn’t have enough of these mortgages on their books (i.e., risky loans to poor people who couldn’t afford to buy houses) was in trouble.  The federal government would investigate them for red-lining, racism, classism, etc.

The more mortgages Freddie and Fannie bought, the more cash banks had to make more risky loans.  They then dumped these risky loans onto Wall Street.  You see, before the day of subprime loans, ARMs, interest only mortgages and no documentation approvals, mortgages were very safe loans.  But these subprime loans weren’t.  But they looked safe when Wall Street sold them.  I mean, buyers didn’t see the mortgage applications.  They had no idea what a credit risk these people were.  They just knew mortgages were traditionally safe investments.  So they just bought them.  And Freddie and Fannie made it all possible.

Known as government-sponsored enterprises, they didn’t provide mortgages themselves, but rather bought loans from banks and mortgage brokers, freeing up cash so the lenders could make more loans. Fannie and Freddie held or bundled the loans and sold them to investors as mortgage-backed securities.

Investors bought these very ‘profitable’ securities.  This demand just fueled the crisis in waiting.  Because Freddie and Fannie could dump these on Wall Street, they wrote more and more risky loans.  This made everyone happy.  Everyone was making money.  And more people who couldn’t afford to buy houses were buying houses.  And this was, after all, Freddie and Fannie’s mission.  Affordable housing.

In an effort to increase homeownership, the Clinton administration in the late 1990s and the Bush administration in the 2000s pushed Fannie and Freddie to meet growing quotas for buying affordable home loans. Those pushes, combined with a drive for more profits at the enterprises, drove Fannie and Freddie to take on more risk and more debt. They backed subprime and other risky loans, including mortgages for borrowers without proof of steady income.

Even the Republicans got on the band wagon.  New homes sales drive the economy (because of the stuff people have to buy to put into those houses that they can’t afford).  And you make points with the poor and the minorities.  There was just no down side in affordable housing.  Or was there?

But the director of the federal office responsible for overseeing Fannie and Freddie, Armando Falcon, began noticing their expanding portfolios and increasing reliance on risky investments. In early 2003, Falcon warned Congress in a 118-page report of the companies’ potential for a catastrophic failure that could jeopardize the economy.

Okay.  Five years before the crash someone was taking notice.  And he warned Congress.  Thank god someone was looking out for America’s best interests.

But Frank and other Democrats still opposed tighter regulation, Frank most notably in his public statements saying there was nothing wrong with Fannie and Freddie. He and other House Democrats also sent a letter to President George W. Bush in June 2004, saying the proposed crackdown could “weaken affordable housing performance . . . by emphasizing only safety and soundness.’’

Frank and the Democrats were saying that it was more important to put people who couldn’t afford houses into houses than it was to provide oversight.

So he initially supported a Republican measure in 2005 that would have imposed stricter standards on the lenders. But he voted against it in the full chamber because it did not include funding for affordable housing, he said. The bill passed the House.

Frank came around.  He supported a Republican measure to provide stricter oversight.  But he changed his mind.  Once again, affordable housing was more important than the oversight he was supposed to provide.  Then, in the summer of 2008, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned Frank again.  Now Frank chaired the House’s Financial Services Committee.  Now, more than ever, it was his responsibility to reign in Freddie and Fannie.  To provide the oversight that was his committee’s responsibility.  But he still didn’t.  Like Nero, he fiddled as the crisis burned out of control.

In July 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called Frank and told him the government would need to spend “billions of taxpayer dollars to backstop the institutions from catastrophic failure,’’ according to Paulson’s recent book. Frank, despite that conversation, appeared on national television two days later and said the companies were “fundamentally sound, not in danger of going under.’’

A few months later, Freddie and Fannie would cause the worst recession since the Great Depression.  On Frank’s watch.  And he kept denying that there was any problem until the very end.

Lots of Blame to Go Around – On the Left Side of the Aisle

Barney Frank is not the sole cause of the subprime mortgage crisis.  He was just one of the leading players.  Ultimately, it was an ideology.  Affordable housing.  Putting people into houses who couldn’t afford to buy houses.  This is what caused the worst recession since the Great Depression.  And, yes, the Bush administration did partake in the affordable housing mania.  But if you want to assign real responsibility, ask yourself this question.  Which party do you think of when it comes to affordable housing for the poor and minorities?

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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LESSONS LEARNED #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2010

ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS a real bastard.  John Adams hated him.  Thomas Jefferson, too.  George Washington looked at him like a son.  Aaron Burr killed him.  Politics.  It can get ugly.

Hamilton’s father was having an affair with a married woman in a loveless marriage.  Fathered two children with her.  First James.  Then Alexander.  Both born on the British island of Nevis in the Caribbean.  His father then moved the family to the Danish island of St. Croix.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton’s father abandoned his family.  Alexander was 10ish (there is some disagreement about his year of birth). 

At age 11ish, Alexander became a clerk at Cruger and Beekmen, an import-export firm.  There he learned about business and commerce.  People noticed his talent and ability.  Soon, they collected some money and sent him off to the American colonies for a college education.  Hamilton’s fondest memory of his childhood home was seeing St. Croix disappear into the horizon from the ship that delivered him to America.

Hamilton’s father did have some nobility in his lineage but he squandered it before it could do Alexander any good.  He was an illegitimate child (a real bastard).  His father abandoned him.  His mother died while he was young.  He had little but ability.  But that was enough to take him from St. Croix to the founding of a new nation.

Hamilton served in the Continental Army.  He served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton was in the know as much as Washington.  His understanding of business, commerce and money made him acutely aware of the financial disarray of the Army.  And of the Continental Congress.  What he saw was a mess.

The Continental Congress was a weak central government.  It could not draft soldiers.  It could not impose taxes to pay her soldiers.  It could only ask the states for money to support the cause.  Contributions were few.  The congress tried printing money but the ensuing inflation just made things worse.  The Army would take supplies for subsistence and issue IOUs to the people they took them from.  The Congress would beg and borrow.  Most of her arms and hard currency came from France.  But they ran up a debt in the process with little prospect of repaying it.  Which made that begging and borrowing more difficult with each time they had to beg and borrow.

The army held together.  But it suffered.  Big time.  Washington would not forget that experience.  Or Hamilton.  Or the others who served.  For there was a unity in the Army.  Unlike there was in the confederation that supported the Army.

WARS ARE COSTLY.  And France fought a lot of them.  Especially with Great Britain.  She was helping the Americans in part to inflict some pain on her old nemesis.  And in the process perhaps regain some of what she lost to Great Britain in the New World.  You see, the British had just recently defeated the French in the French and Indian War (aka, the 7 Years War).  And she wanted her former possessions back.  But France was bleeding.  Strapped for cash, after Yorktown, she told the Americans not to expect any more French loans.

Wars are costly.  The fighting may have been over, but the debt remained.  The interest on the debt alone was crushing.  With the loss of a major creditor, America had to look elsewhere for money.  The Continental Congress’ Superintendent of Finance, the guy who had to find a way to pay these costs, Robert Morris, said they had to tax the Americans until it hurt they were so far in debt.  He put together a package of poll taxes, land taxes, an excise tax and tariffs.  The congress didn’t receive it very well.  Representation or not, Americans do not like taxes.  Of the proposed taxes, the congress only put the tariffs on imports before the states.

Rhode Island had a seaport.  Connecticut didn’t.  Rhode Island was charging tariffs on imports that passed through her state to other states.  Like to Connecticut.  Because they generated sufficient revenue from these tariffs, their farmers didn’t have to pay any taxes.  In other words, they could live tax free.  Because of circumstance, people in Rhode Island didn’t have to pay taxes.  Connecticut could pay their taxes for them.  Because of the Rhodes Island impost.  And the Robert Morris’ impost would take away that golden goose.

As the congress had no taxing authority, it would take a unanimous vote to implement the impost.  Twelve voted ‘yes’.  Rhode Island said ‘no’.  There would be no national tax.  ‘Liberty’ won.  And the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin. 

DEFALTION FOLLOWED INFLATION.  When the British left, they took their trade and specie with them.  What trade remained lost the protection of the Royal Navy.  When money was cheap people borrowed.  With the money supply contracted, it was very difficult to repay that debt.  The Americans fell into a depression.  Farmers were in risk of losing the farm.  And debtors saw the moneymen as evil for expecting to get their money back.  The people demanded that their state governments do something.  And they did.

When the debtors became the majority in the state legislatures, they passed laws to unburden themselves from their obligations.  They passed moratoriums on the collection of debt (stay laws).  They allowed debtors to pay their debts in commodities in lieu of money (tender acts).  And they printed money.  The depression hit Rhode Island hard.  The debtors declared war on the creditors.  And threw property laws out the window.  Mob rule was in.  True democracy.  Rhode Island forced the creditors to accept depreciated paper money at face value.  Creditors, given no choice, had to accept pennies on the dollars owed.  No drawbacks to that, right?  Of course, you better pray you never, ever, need to borrow money again.  Funny thing about lenders.  If you don’t pay them back, they do stop lending.  The evil bastards.

Aristotle said history was cyclical.  It went from democracy to anarchy to tyranny.  Hamilton and James Madison, future enemies, agreed on this point.  A democracy is the death knell of liberty.  It is a sure road to the tyranny of the majority.  If you don’t honor written contracts, there can be no property rights.  Without property rights, no one is safe from arbitrary force.   Civilization degenerates to nature’s law where only the fittest and most powerful survive.  (In the social utopias of the Soviet Union and Communist China, where there were no property rights, the people’s government murdered millions of their people).

WINNING A WAR did not make a nation.  Before and after the Revolution, people thought in provincial terms.  Not as Americans.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be away from his country, Virginia.  Unless you served in the Continental Army, this is how you probably thought.  Once the common enemy was defeated, the states pursued their own interests.  (Technically speaking, they never stopped pursuing their own interests, even during the War).

In addition to all the other problems a weak Continental Congress was trying to resolve, states were fighting each other for land.  A localized war broke out between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming region in north east Pennsylvania.  And a region of New York was demanding their independence from that state.  Hamilton helped negotiate a peaceful solution and the confederacy admitted the new state, Vermont.

There were problems with the confederation.  And people were getting so giddy on liberty that that they were forgetting the fundamental that made it all possible.  Property rights.  States were moving closer to mob rule with no check on majority power.  And the smallest minorities held the legislation of the Confederate Congress (the Continental Congress renamed) hostage.  Land claims were pitting state against state with the Congress unable to do anything.  Meanwhile, her finances remained in shambles.  She had no credit in Europe.  And creditors wanted their money back. 

They were choosing sides.  And you can probably guess the sides.  Hamilton had no state allegiances, understood finance and capital, saw how an impotent congress was unable to support the Army during war, saw provincial interests hinder national progress and threaten civil war.  George Washington, Virginia’s greatest son, had long looked to the west and saw America’s future there.  Not Virginia’s future.  His war experience only confirmed what he believed.  America had a great future.  If they could only set aside their provincialism and sectional interests.  James Madison saw the tyranny of the majority in the Virginian State House first hand.  He liked partisanship.  He liked competing ideals debated.  He did not want to see a majority stampede their vision into law.

These were the nationalists.  Madison wanted a strong federal government to check the tyranny of the states.  Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether.  Washington wanted what was best for these several united states as a whole after so many labored for so long during the Revolutionary War.  Ultimately, he wanted to capitalize the ‘u’ and the’s’ in united states and make it a singular entity.

On the other side were many of the old 1776 patriots.  Many of who did not have any army experience.  Such as Thomas Jefferson.  In them, the Spirit of ’76 was alive and well.  The Revolutionary War was to free the states from the yoke of British oppression.  They remained provincials.  They did not spend up to 8 years in an army made up of soldiers from different states.  They had no sense of this nationalism.  They saw everything through the eyes of their state.  And a strong central government was just another yoke of oppression in their eyes.

THE ANSWER TO all of their concerns was federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  The states would give up a little.  And the new central government would take up a little.  The drafters of the Constitution set up a 3-branch government.  It included a bicameral legislature.  Membership in the House of Representatives would be proportional to a state’s population.  They would have power of the purse.  Including the authority to levy taxes.  In the Senate, each state would get 2 senators.  They would be chosen by the states’ legislatures (a constitutional amendment changed this to a popular vote).  This was to keep the spending of the House in check.  To prevent mob-rule.  And to check national power.  Each chamber would have to approve legislation for it to become law.  But each chamber did not need to have unanimous approval. 

That was in the legislature.  In the executive branch, the president would be head of state and execute the laws written by the legislature.  He would also conduct a uniform foreign policy.  The president could veto legislation to check the power of the legislature.  And the legislature could override the president’s veto to check the power of the president.  Where the law was in dispute, the judiciary would interpret the law and resolve the dispute.

At first glance, the people didn’t love the U.S. Constitution.  Those at the convention didn’t either, but they thought it was the best they could do.  To help the ratification process, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays, subsequently published as the Federalist Papers making the case for ratification.  Those opposed wanted a Bill of Rights added.  Madison did not think one was necessary.  He feared listing rights would protect those rights only.  If they forgot to list a right, then government could say that it wasn’t a right.  He acquiesced, though, when it was the price to get the Virginian Baptists on board which would bring Virginia on board. 

Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification.  So the states ratified it.  And he did.  The final document fell between what the nationalists wanted and what the ‘states’ government’ people wanted. 

OVER THE FOLLOWING years, each side would interpret the document differently.  When Hamilton interpreted broadly to create a national bank, to assume the states’ debts and to fund the debt, the other side went ballistic.  Madison, the father of the Constitution, would join Jefferson in opposition.  For they believed the point of the constitution was to keep big government small.  Hamilton was interpreting the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to make government big.  Nasty, partisan politics ensued.  And continue to this day.

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