Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Chances to Make a Difference

I guess the avalanche of comments over the weekend tired everyone out as yesterday was pretty quiet. Kevin chimed in and Economic Disconnect was again happy to see Ilargi from The Automatic Earth swing by to take a look.

The front lawn is now "done" in the sense I have 4 new inches of loam and a hydroseeded lawn. The old lawn was so messed up the new "in the works" lawn looks better! I know turn my attention to building a stone patio in the backyard. If you know any tips or tricks to setting a stone patio please drop a comment.

Funny Dilbert Cartoon and the Rise of the Onion
On more than a few occasions I have written that the markets and the government had better get their act together in a hurry before both became jokes. While at this point we are at the staging of just how big a joke they both are, they are still far from totally discredited. That may change is things keep the same course.

Consider the comedy news site business section of "The Onion". While dripping sarcasm and humorous plays on headlines are as old as the hills, consider just how close to real business headlines the site tracks now that the euphoric green shoot crowd has taken over mainstream media:
Nation Ready To Be Lied To About Economy Again
WASHINGTON—After nearly four months of frank, honest, and open dialogue about the failing economy, a weary U.S. populace announced this week that it is once again ready to be lied to about the current state of the financial system.
Tired of hearing the grim truth about their economic future, Americans demanded that the bald-faced lies resume immediately, particularly whenever politicians feel the need to divulge another terrifying problem with Wall Street, the housing market, or any one of a hundred other ticking time bombs everyone was better off not knowing about.

Congress Working On Credit Card Reform
The House Financial Services Committee has approved a "Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights" designed to control the detrimental habits of credit card companies. Here are some of the reforms suggested:
-Companies must offer more badass card designs, such as a Sherman tank or the Motörhead insignia
-When you've gone over your limit, someone from the credit card company will come hang out at your place to prevent you from going out
-Agents can no longer use the phrase "it's like free money" when describing their product.
-Card issuers not allowed to even imply that the "platinum" designation holds any sort of prestige
-Lenders should make it clearer from the outset that they actually want their money repaid

Pushpin Industry Thriving In Recession'In Tough Times
People Need To Tack Things Onto Walls,' Analysts Say

While a bit of a stretch, these fun stories are longer clearly comedy.

Even the comic strip "Dilbert" gets in on the act with the fall of capitalism theme, hat tip TAE:

The comic highlights the very real feeling many now have that almost nothing can be believed due to, well, being lied to for so long.

I have opined that when things are failing the "laugh test" then the situation had become unstable. We are getting very close.

Two Chances to Make a Difference
As an ardent critic of government policy I must always be ready to flip the switch and get behind good policy or proper action, should they come about. Tonight there is news that there could possibly be some real action taken involving two key areas of market lack of credibility: Mortgage Fraud and Derivatives Regulation

Mortgage Fraud
I think the single most galling aspect of the entire mortgage mess was watching stupid "home flipping" shows where the flippers discussed openly that they used fraud to get a mortgage on the home they were flipping. I guess nobody at the banks or the FED watches TV. A close second was the constant cheer leading of the housing market by housing players as they dumped stock hand over fist at the top of the market. While you could argue they just had amazing timing, I would offer they knew the last batch of mortgages were sure losers and were bailing out while pumping the stocks.

The poster child for this kind of thing was the Countrywide (now BAC) CEO Angelo Mozilo. During conference calls this guy was the biggest bull you ever heard. Even as the markets was dissolving he was in full force with the optimistic talk and overly positive estimates for the future.

Word out tonight is that Mr. Mozilo MAY face fraud charges by the SEC based upon his words and stock sales disconnect. Clusterstock has the short blip, full length is at the WSJ which is subscriber only this evening.

I will only highlight that the story says the SEC may recommend charges and not "SEC files charges" so at this point it is not a done deal. If followup is forthcoming this would be a step in the right direction.

Derivatives Regulation
I am going to be very upfront and tell you the readers that OTC derivatives are a bit beyond my pay scale in economics (I get paid $0 an hour). While my understanding of these instruments and their complex effects on markets is limited, we have many sources to draw upon.

Calculated Risk has a headline run down, and the comments section is usually a great place to get solid information:
Regulatory Reform for Derivatives

Karl Denninger of Market Ticker has been calling for this very step for a very long time now. He is behind this move, if it is true:
Caution: Flip-Flop Alarm is Ringing

The creation of a central clearing house for derivatives will pry away the secretive manipulation of various instruments that the big brokerages currently hold. Goldman Sachs will not like this move, which makes all the more amazing that Tim Geithner is behind this idea (either voluntarily or forced makes no difference).

These are two very positive and very necessary government sponsored moves. And yes, I did just type that! The only qualifier I would add right now is that none of this is firm and we have no idea what a final charges/derivatives regulation may look like. If this is another "stress tests that really were not" kind of deal i will be disappointed. Until then, I give credit for some moves that will make a real difference.

Have a good night.


Lisa said...

The clearing house for derivatives is bullsh**. As if .gov is going to do something sane and legal. This "clearing house" has been in the works for months. Sure, something will happen, or the exchanges wouldn't have fought so hard to win approval, but there are still hurdles to be jumped by the winning exchange. This is just another debacle in the making.
Regulatory reform? Are you kidding me? Nothing more will come of this but another Sarbanes-Oxley deal that will just make things worse.

See ZeroHedge's latest post about Judicial Watch's FOIA request and the "CEO talking points" regarding the 13 banks forced to do the TARP dance. Damn every one of those CEO's for having NO MORALS. Paulson, Bennie, Sheila, and Timmy deserve to be prosecuted!! CROOKS, every stinking one of them.

My dearest GYSC, prepare for disappointment.

watchtower said...

As I have stated in the past, I do not know how you work all day and then come home and post something new at least 5 times (sometimes on the weekend too) a week, I can't even think of an intelligent comment to post (not that it stops me most of the time) let alone coming up with paragraph after paragraph night after night, not to mention finding new stuff for "Friday Night Rock Blogging" on a continuing basis.

I did however catch the "Dilbert" cartoon over at TAE today and had a good laugh (hopefully a good sign that I still thought it was funny?).

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest problem is a hookah smoking caterpillar keeps eataing all the green shoots.


getyourselfconnected said...

I know I am setting myself up, but I wanted to at least offer a resaonable shot for some change. Notice the title of the post included the qualifer "Chances"!
some days it's easy to write and others days near impossible but I do my best! The cartoon was pretty funny indeed.
Oh man that was funny.

Lisa said...

GYSC, I know you are skeptical, or cautiously optimist. I have no optimism concerning our present government's ability to do anything which is honest or tied to reality.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite blog radio shows

Put on daily by Dan from Ashes Ashes All Fall Down blog

I call occasionally and chime in under the handle: The Bum

GawainsGhost said...

Good morning, sports fans. I'm going to chime in here with another long post.

I appreciate the kind words from Lisa, Watchtower and GetYourselfConnected himself on my Star Trek interpretation. Not to belabor the point, but that series really was probably the most influential in television history. It only ran for three seasons, yet it inspired an entire generation. Gene Roddenberry was a genius who saw the future, and when you really think about it, it is amazing how many technological advances were created by people who watched Star Trek when they were kids. The personal computer, the world wide web, the cell phone, the Ipod, a whole host of things can all be directly traced back to ideas first dreamed of on a television show that ultimately was cancelled due to low ratings.

I would place the Golden Age of America in the period between 1965 and 1980. That was when the best television shows, the best movies and the best music were all created. It was the apex of American culture.

I wish I could show you guys my stamp collection. I don't really collect stamps; the ones I have were a gift from my grandmother (who incidentally was a Tyndale, as in a direct descendent of William Tyndale, the first man to translate the New Testament into English and publisher of the Tyndale Bible. King Henry VIII burned him at the stake in the Year of Our Lord 1525.)

Anyway, my collection consists of the entire set of stamps commemorating the American Revolution, the Bicentennial and the Space Program, all on commemorative envelopes, stamped first day of issue. In fact, my Moon Landing stamp is not only stamped first day of issue but also on the day of the moon landing! It's quite a collection. I suppose it's worth a small fortune, but I haven't had it appraised as I have no intention of selling it.

The point being that's the America I grew up in. A time when people had pride in their country and their history, when notions like duty, honor, loyalty, honesty, and integrity actually meant something.

Those days are gone forever, and it saddens me. What happened? I don't know. My guess is that it was a combination of things, but I would put loss of integrity at the front of my list.

Lisa is exactly correct, the entire government is corrupt. It is beholden to a banking oligarchy that is ripping off taxpayers right and left. And nothing good will come of it.

GYC is also correct, outright fraud is rampant. I've seen it, just over the last six years since I've been involved in real estate. Mortgage fraud, appraisal fraud, brokerage fraud, accounting fraud, the list goes on.

There is a great article over at Naked Capitalism this morning, on an interview with Buffett's partner Munger on phony accounting, cultural decay and derivatives. How did we get to this point? I don't know.

But if I had to guess, I would say that people discarded the greatness of America, the significance of the American Revolution, abandoned the rule of law, and sold out the middle class to a bunch of hypocrites.

America today is unrecognizable from the America I grew up in. And our failure to maintain American exceptionalism is taking the entire world down the toilet with us.

I don't trust anyone these days, not with my money. The return of my money is more important than the return on my money, as Warren Buffett once said. But in these days of rampant fraud, I'm not assured of either. That's the problem right there.

Anonymous said...

“Traditionally, empires that hold the global reserve currency are also net foreign creditors and net lenders. The British Empire declined — and the pound lost its status as the main global reserve currency — when Britain became a net debtor and a net borrower in World War II. Today, the United States is in a similar position. It is running huge budget and trade deficits, and is relying on the kindness of restless foreign creditors who are starting to feel uneasy about accumulating even more dollar assets. The resulting downfall of the dollar may be only a matter of time.

But what could replace it? The British pound, the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc remain minor reserve currencies, as those countries are not major powers. Gold is still a barbaric relic whose value rises only when inflation is high. The euro is hobbled by concerns about the long-term viability of the European Monetary Union. That leaves the renminbi.

I agree the new empire is rising in the east, the US will follow in the footsteps of all the others broke and in decline due to to much debt, corupton and currency devaluation.