Friday, June 29, 2012

Tarp Funds Not Repaid!

Despite what we often hear all Tarp funds have not been repaid. During the financial crisis the Troubled Asset Relief Program calmed markets and underpinned the US economy. The US Treasury claimed as recently as April that the Tarp program would make a profit, with the estimates of the profit in the range of 2 billion to 163 billion dollars over the next decade. The complexity of the program and repayment calculations has led to widespread debate in the US over whether taxpayers will see a return on Tarp, a recent report suggests otherwise.US taxpayers are unlikely to get all their money back from the 700 billion dollar bailout of the country's stricken banking and automotive sectors.

When it published its latest report to congress the Office of the Special Inspector General for Tarp said: "After three-and-a-half years, the Tarp continues to be an active and significant part of the Government's response to the financial crisis. "It is a widely held misconception that Tarp will make a profit. The most recent cost estimate for Tarp is a loss of 60 billion dollars. Taxpayers are still owed over 118 billion." Tarp said that many of the smaller banks rescued during the crisis are still struggling to repay Tarp bailout money. There are still 351 regional and community banks in the bailout programme.

Under Tarp , the Treasury Department took shares and warrants in firms drawing on bailout funds, these companies have to buy the stock back to exit the program. More than 700 banks were bailed out, and most of the major institutions have repaid money in full. But the weak US economic recovery and fragile business confidence has prevented many smaller banks from exiting Tarp. An additional problem is that after 2013 banks face an increase in the dividend they pay to the Treasury under Tarp . This will rise from 5% to 9%.
Some 95 of the banks still owing Tarp money have missed six or more dividend payments, Tarp said. This gives the Treasury the right to appoint directors to their boards, though as of March 31 it had done so at only nine banks.

We are at some point forced to again face the issue of  "Moral hazard."  When governments get involved in supporting private business or institutions where does it end? The report emphasises that Tarp is "more than just dollars and cents" and was vital to avert financial catastrophe. But it says that the rescue "is not without profound long-term consequences. A significant legacy of TARP is the increased moral hazard and potentially disastrous consequences associated with institutions deemed too big to fail. Getting these banks back on their feet without Government assistance should be a high priority.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lie Of The Day

Tough choice, as European leaders meet in the most important "meeting ever" they should point out that this is the nineteenth such "most important meeting ever" with leaders from these countries. The goal of this meeting, is again, to save the Euro.

Or you might choose the

Bloomberg crawler---------"US initial jobless claims fell 6,000 last week to 386,000"---------What they fail to mention is that last weeks numbers were "again" revised up to, in this case to 392,000, without the "quite" raise we could not of had this fall. Sometimes what you are not told is more important then the information conveyed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

King is Pessimistic

Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King has said he is "pessimistic" about the short-term prospects for the global economy. King also said he had been struck by how much the situation had changed in the past six weeks and that he was particularly concerned about the worsening situation in Asia and other emerging markets. His comments followed official data showing the British government borrowed more than expected in May, it borrowed £17.9bn, compared with £15.2bn in May 2011, a fall in income tax receipts contributed to the rise in borrowing.

King went on to say "Over two years now we have seen the situation in the euro area get worse and the problem being pushed down the road," He said "There is just enormous uncertainty out there, I have no idea what is going to happen in the euro area."The BOE governor confirmed he would be prepared to cut interest rates further if "that turns out to be necessary". King was one of four members of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee to vote for additional quantitative easing at its last meeting to try to stimulate the UK economy.

Britain's  increase in borrowing was driven by a 7.3% fall in income tax receipts and an 11.7% jump in welfare benefits. This is a situation faced by many nations. Economists said May's figure suggested the government would struggle to meet its target of trimming total borrowing in 2012-2013. Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said she expected the government to overshoot its goal "significantly". Britain's total public sector net debt, excluding financial sector interventions, rose to £1.013 trillion. This is equivalent to 65% of GDP, a record for the month of May and the third-highest level on record since the series began in 1993.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Obesity A Huge Problem For America

Even without injuries, people that suffer from obesity have drastically reduced mobility. Carrying around a large amount of extra bulk, they are almost always out of breath, unable to bend, put their shoes on, get out of a chair, or walk unaided for more than a few paces. Climbing stairs is often out of the question for the massively overweight, and obesity on such a scale can also cause breathing problems while sleeping. Obesity occurs over a period of time, is hard to combat, the bottom line, it detracts from the quality of life and there is no fun in being truly fat. I'm not particularly interested in saving the obese from themselves but I'm very concerned about the costs that the obese impose on others through higher health insurance rates, and for the taxpayers who pay for Medicaid, Medicare, and social security disability benefits.

Obesity A Growing Problem
Obesity is a huge problem and growing larger, it already cost America over $190 billion a year. Obesity accounts for about 21% of the amount spent on medical services and is set to rise much higher. If current trends continue, by 2030 the estimate is obesity will probably cost the country $550 billion a year. One third of adult Americans are overweight, and another third are obese  according to the National Center for Health Statistics. More ominously, almost a third of those under 20 years of age are overweight or obese. Today’s youngsters are on track to become the first generation of Americans to have shorter life-spans than their parents as more of them suffer from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, liver complaints and other obesity-related conditions.

Some of the best minds have wrestled with the problem. Most agree there is no one simple explanation why obesity has become an epidemic. Top of the list of likely causes is the country's massive overproduction of food that got underway a generation ago. In the 1970s, agricultural subsidies switched to encourage farmers to grow as much as they could. Meanwhile, the green revolution, along with technological improvements to farm equipment, made agribusiness more productive than ever. Inevitably, food prices plummeted. Lower prices meant people started eating out more often. Portions increased in size as the proliferation of pizza parlors, quick-food joints and family restaurants vied for customers. In my book "Advancing Time" I also blame innovations like the microwave oven that make cooked food available at any time quickly and with little effort.

Part of the problem is that food has become more calorific. One particular effect of agricultural subsidies was to make high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener manufactured from maize, much cheaper. Fructose, salt, and trans-fats are used widely by the food industry today because they are inexpensive alternatives for healthier ingredients.  Moreover, the way modern food is processed  makes more of its calories available for digestion, so even those who are not consuming more by weight are actually consuming more by calorific value. This is occurring at a time when people have adopted more sedentary lifestyles in the workplace as well as around the home. The HBO documentary ("The Weight of the Nation") tell people what they already knew: that fast food, processed snacks, sugary breakfast cereals, soda and juices are bad for them; that fresh food costs more than junk food, which hurts the poor; that fad diets do not work; that real weight reduction takes time; and that the best way to manage obesity is to prevent it, weight gained is very hard to shed..

The good news is that people who lose just 10% of their weight gain significant health benefits. And though it may take years, changing your eating habits for the better and increasing the amount of exercise you do really does show results. A person who consumes 100 fewer calories a day can typically expect to lose ten pounds over the course of three years. One ray of hope in the battle against gluttony is  the wholesale way people accepted anti-smoking rules in a short space of time. Admittedly, sin taxes and education about the harm smoking causes have given smokers good reason to quit, and the discounts health insurers offered non-smokers provided further incentive. Could sin taxes, better education, and insurance breaks encourage people to eat less junk food? It is hard to say. A 35% increase in the price of sugary drinks in a cafeteria at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has led to a 26% drop in consumption.

Studies indicate that to be really effective, a sin tax on junk food would have to be punitively high. A better approach all round might be to adopt financial support measures similar to those that helped create junk food in the first place, so they might do the same for healthy food.  The American food industry has proved itself to be the most innovative in the world. Given the will—and enough financial inducement—that industry would no doubt find healthier, more tempting alternatives, and devise ways of marketing them at prices everyone could afford.  The price elasticity of foodstuffs generally suggests that, on average, prices would need to double to get a 10% reduction in consumption. Some feel such a tax would be unjustifiably regressive, punishing precisely the people needing to be protected the most. The point is we need to do something and encourage people to take more personal responsibility, a healthier nation would thank them hugely.

        This post dovetails with a post I wrote on April 7, 2012 (Health Care The Issue Redefined)    
        America must find ways to reduce healthcare cost going forward, obesity is a tax on us all.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

More on Armstrong and the USADA

On June 21 under the title of "Lance Armstrong Is Being Crucified" I start a story that should concern all Americans, we should be concerned because of what one finds when they look deeper into the USADA. While sounding like a branch of the federal government, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency it is not. It is a nonprofit agency created in 2000 after the U.S. Olympic Committee recommended creating the agency because its own drug-testing program lacked credibility. The USADA receives almost 90 percent of its funding from the federal grants, in effect the USADA is not a true nonprofit agency  but a "government program masquerading as a non-profit organization". Recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping police for U.S. Olympic-related athletes and sports it is not a law enforcement agency and does not have the power to bring criminal charges. 

Please note, the office of National Drug Control Policy, a branch of the Federal government funds the USADA with a $10 million  grant from federal tax dollars to operate. According to legal counsel for the NDCP the $10 million grant is an “unsupervised non-competitive” grant, this means USADA CEO Travis Tygart and staff are guaranteed $10 million a year in funding from the Federal government, but must answer to no one. Their non-profit status allows it to investigate and prosecute athletes without affording them the constitutional and due process protections required of other federal agencies. This status also allows it to prosecute athletes with a lower burden of proof than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required in the previous investigation by the US Department Of Justice.

What are the internal and external controls at USADA? What would restrict an overly ambitious CEO from abusing this power? "According to USADA bylaws, the organization has a very small ten member board of directors. The current director’s are apparently impressed with Tygart and his “Tygarthian” prosecution style of accusing first and looking for evidence later. Unless Mr. Tygart received a pay cut last year, he’s been paid a total of over $1.2 million in compensation and $100,000 in bonuses over the past four years. A spokesperson at the USADA has she declined to comment whether Tygart’s bonuses were tied to finding a certain number of athletes or a particularly high profile athlete guilty of doping.

Imagine walking into a courtroom as the defendant in a lawsuit. The prosecuting attorney reads the charges against you citing nothing more than the testimony of anonymous witnesses as evidence. You object, claiming this is unjust! To your surprise the prosecutor walks to the judge’s bench, puts on a judge’s robe and denies your motion. The prosecutor, still wearing his judge’s robe, then takes out his cell phone and calls three of his friends to serve on your “independent” jury. This fictitious, but obviously unjust situation is incredibly similar to the case Lance Armstrong currently faces from the Anti-doping Agency and its CEO Travis T. Tygart.

If an athlete had failed a drug test and the board was looking at objective evidence this process might make sense however, Armstrong has never failed a drug test. All of the evidence in this case is subjective, these are the same charges that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after an expensive two-year investigation. It seems Mr. Tygart has allegedly caught several other cyclists doping, and offered them immunity in exchange for their testimony against Lance. Shouldn’t the credibility of such a witness be at least considered? With the 2012 London Olympic Games a little more than a month away Mr. Tygart and his staff are responsible for testing all US athletes headed to the games, however he has chosen to use the majority of his offices resources investigating whether a retired cyclist doped 16 years ago. 

The bottom line is that this hugely government funded group is out to destroy Armstrong, his Tour de France titles, and his legacy as the cancer-fighting hero, his foundation that trades on his name to raise millions of dollars to help cancer survivors, it's all on the line. After his 1999 Tour de France victory, Armstrong wrote a book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," that helped define him as an inspirational athlete who came back from the brink of death to beat cancer and dominate a grueling sport. Now he is confronted by a beast created by our out of control government that could  taint his entire career. To say this is disgusting is an understatement, more controls must be put on how taxpayer money is spent.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Something To Keep You Up At Night

Years ago a song in a movie contained the lyrics, "Are you watching me now? Watch closely now" When it comes to government debt, American, or that of several of the EU nations I suggest you don't, that is if you want to sleep well at night.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lance Armstrong Is Being Crucified

What appears to be a quasi-government agency has put the American hero Lance Armstrong on trial. I suspect I'm not the only taxpayer that is angry at the continuation of our government attacking it's citizens. Armstrong has been an incredible inspiration, an ambassador for America as well as a leader in bringing the issue of cancer and the fight against it to the forefront. On June 13th former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong was formally charged with doping by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, another creation of our Government that has run amuck. With no "due process" and a standard lower then "legal reasonable doubt" the USADA charges and investigation amounts to the crucifixion and destruction of the life and rights of an American citizen using our taxpayer money.

The Wall Street Journal cited a letter in which the agency said blood samples collected in 2009 and 2010 were "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions." In a statement, Armstrong attacked the "discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years." The action could cost Armstrong some or all of his seven Tour de France titles, according to the Journal, he's now banned from competing in triathlons as a result of the charges. The case is no longer just about whether Armstrong used drugs to win the Tour de France, but whether there was a team-wide doping program, an offense that could lead to fraud and conspiracy charges.

Of course two of the accusers, Landis and Hamilton, have credibility issues and have changed their stories. A story by CBS chose to rely on these questionable sources while completely ignored Lance's nearly 500 clean tests and the hundreds of former teammates and competitors who would have spoken about his work ethic and talent. Armstrong and his lawyers claim Hamilton is leveraging his allegations against Armstrong to try to secure a book deal. Hamilton's public remarks put him alongside not only Landis but also George Hincapie as the third trusted teammate to have allegedly spoken to federal authorities looking into the Armstrong case. (See the Reuters release below:)

(Reuters) - Statement released by Lance Armstrong on Wednesday in response to reports he had been contacted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency over doping allegations

           "I have been notified that USADA, an organization largely funded by taxpayer dollars but governed only by self-written rules, intends to again dredge up discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years to prevent me from competing as a triathlete and try and strip me of the seven Tour de France victories I earned. "These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.
            "Although USADA alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy extended over more than 16 years, I am the only athlete it has chosen to charge. USADA's malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices, and its decision to punish first and adjudicate later all are at odds with our ideals of fairness and fair play. "I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. "That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence."

I'm dubious and suspicious of any testimony that is sought after with such vigor and where the accuser is given immunity. I must question if the testimony has been coerced or the motivation of the accusers and why these guys continue to try to bring Armstrong down with taxpayer money? What do they feel they have to prove?  Baseball great Roger Clements Roger was recently acquitted on all charges that he obstructed and lied to Congress in denying he used performance-enhancing drugs to extend his pitching career. Like the governments assault on  Martha Stewart this is another example of injustice, she did time and was forced to pay huge fines not for insider trading (something that until recently was legal for politicians in Washington), but for lying. What politician could endure this kind of constant scrutiny?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Putin Strengthens Ties With China

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to boost trade and cooperation with China after meeting Chinese leaders as the sides push against Western calls for stronger action in Syria and Iran. Putin and President Hu Jintao agreed recently in Beijing to increase trade to $200 billion by 2020 from $83.5 billion in 2011. The two leaders also discussed North Africa, the Korean Peninsula, and Iran's nuclear program. In total, Putin and Hu oversaw the signing of 12 agreements, including the creation of a $4 billion joint investment fund. The wealth funds of Russia and China will each commit $1 billion, raising additional money from third-party international investors.

Putin has pledged to strengthen Russia’s economic and political ties with China after skipping a Group of Eight summit in the U.S. last month. As veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China have blocked resolutions pushing for stronger sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and oppose expanding Iran sanctions. “The most important thing is that we reached a high level of coordination in order to help mediate and solve international crises and problems,” Putin said at a joint press conference. “Thanks to our efforts we have lifted the level of Russian-Chinese cooperation to unprecedented heights.” Putin also met with Vice President Xi Jinping where he confirmed the two sides would continue military cooperation.

The Chinese Vice Foreign Affairs Minister May said China opposes sanctions that restrict normal trade with Iran. “The situation internationally remains very difficult,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said after meeting with Putin. Strengthening the partnership “has crucial importance for ensuring peace and stability in the world,” Wen said. Putin will also meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while in Beijing, this meeting foreshadows an international round of talks about Iran’s atomic program in Moscow on June 18-19. Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and is seeking relief from the economic sanctions the U.S. and the European Union have imposed. This unholy alliance between Russia and China may create major problems for America going forward, it certainly is a negative for the people of Syria.

          Please read my February 12, 2012, post titled "Syria uprising is past the point of Return!" The situation has continued to deteriorate. It is now reported that Russia has shipped helicopter gunships to Syria to be used to suppress the people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marriage and other Words "Redefined"

In modern society the meaning of many words are constantly being re-framed and redefined. Some of this can be directly contributed to political correctness, a poison that has spread throughout our modern culture. Great power lies in how people perceive the meaning of a word or phrase. This is highlighted by the example of how years ago President Reagan renamed the then MX missile the "Peacemaker", this redefined the way people related and felt and it. Recently these forces have turned their sights on marriage, traditionally a union between a man and a woman.

The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures,the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.  but is usually an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. Such a union is often formalized via a wedding ceremony. Many cultures limit marriage to two persons of the opposite sex, but some allow forms of polygamous marriage, and some recognize same-sex marriage. 
The marriage discussion comes on the back of redefining "wants into needs," we are now being told what people "deserve". When you tell me what people deserve I feel my stomach churn. For example all people deserve respect, give me a break, I take my fathers old school approach, respect is something you earn. It is ironic that many of those that constantly seek more justify their request because they feel they "deserve, " often fail to respect the source of what they are given. It might be noted that since they feel they "deserve" what they take, the need does not exist to be "thankful" in any way.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Government Centered Economy

A "Government Centered Economy", who deserves credit for this very descriptive phrase? The first person I heard using this phrase was Mitt Romney. The phrase may of been around for years or conjured up by one of his speech writers, but when used to describe the new American economy it is bang on. Government needs to get out of the way and let America get back to work, the job of government is not to compete with business.

During the election President Obama said "the private sector is doing fine" he went on to say that it is the public sector that is laging at creating jobs. His answer more deficit spending to drive the economy forward by having states and localities hire police, firemen, teachers, and talking about increasing  spending on infrastructure. At the time Romney and others jumped all over this calling Obama out of touch. What they should of hammered on is that after much thought people are beginning to reject the idea of the private sector working to support the government, government should be working for the private sector.

Some view the failure of  the 2012 Governor Scott Walker "recall election' in Wisconsin as a watershed event and a sign of changing public sentiment. Simply put the problem is government jobs often pay more and provide benefits, security, and pensions that the private sector cannot afford to meet. An unhealthy system supports this, politicians give raises to government employe unions that in turn support the politicians reelections so they can get further raises, this has created a ugly cycle. This should be the crux of the discussion about the economy going forward, the size of government must be contained and reduced.

Capitalism should be defended when blamed for the ills and problems that exist within society, capitalism is really just an economic system where capital is owned by private citizens who get to determine its price and flow by interacting with one another. Capitalism implies that private citizens get to keep most of the fruits of their labor or the profitability of their capital and by its nature it creates value for those without capital when appropriate rules of fairness and honesty exist.  Individual freedom to own property and control its use leads to the most efficient allocation of resources this in turn results in the highest economic growth and prosperity.

While capitalism is not perfect the closer society adheres to its general principles the better it is for the population at large. When you place the bulk of society's power in the hands of a central authority or bureaucracy many of the natural imperfections of human decision making including the problem of unintended consequences quickly arise. Central planners with little skin in the game seldom garner enough information to make wise decisions about the allocation of resources across an entire society. Central planning tends to release corruption, arrogance, and the fallibility of human nature, when these become concentrated it should come as no surprise that governments do almost everything with less efficiency  than the private sector and at greater cost.

While politicians rush to say they want to add the "good public employees" like teachers and "first responders" they fail to mention the large expensive support system of bureaucrats that exist behind the scenes. Politicians rush to offer infrastructure like bridges but fail to address the massive waste in government spending projects as they tear up and replace perfectly good sidewalks, the jobs government creates are the wrong kind of jobs. Those who understand business and budgets should focus on this issue, a "Government Centered Economy" is one that does not work.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Millionaire Mind

What have you been reading?  I was moving around some books the other day and opened a book by the name of “The Millionaire Mind”. The author Thomas Stanley also wrote the book  “The Millionaire Next Door” which was a best-seller a few years back. The people he studies are financially secure. This book takes a deeper look into how these people think and make their money.

Far from what many of us might think his studies and research show that millionaires are a real down to earth group of people, the kind that made America famous. He looks at where they live, their favorite leisure activities, and the different factors that make them wealthy. Somewhat obscure and not just off the press this book is an excellent read and a manual for those of us wanting to get ahead.                                                                                          

 Thomas Stanley reminds us you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that the fella you see mowing his yard or sitting next to you as you fly in coach may just be a millionaire. The book is about making and saving money the old fashion way, not through winning a lottery. This is a far more realistic look at the rich and wealth in America then the hyped and unhealthy fixation of the media on billionaires.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fantasy World of Debt and More Liquidity

The entitlement societies that have developed over the last several decades were created on the back of the industrial revolution, technological advantages, capital accumulated from the colonial era, and the domination of global finances. Our current entitlement societies were built on the assumption that those advantages would continue in both Europe and US, and that ever greater prosperity and promises would be sustained through debt financed consumption growth. In that eerie fantasy world, debt was to be used as a tool fueling consumption and be the catalyst to bring about ever more growth.

Now reality has raised its ugly head and it is becoming apparent that this is unsustainable. The entitlements and promises that have piled up have become overwhelming. While the populations of Europe and America were led to believe the good times would never end, their core advantages in technology, capital, and productivity started to erode, and  to lag behind the emerging countries. Manufacturing jobs have steadily gone elsewhere, replaced by low skilled service jobs, this has removed the supports from our debt fueled prosperity showing it to be unsustainable.

We were told that we were moving up the value chain, while in reality the opposite was true. The debt fueled prosperity and consumption growth led many to believe that their future would be secure if they moved towards "higher value adding activities" than the emerging and developing countries. The economies we built on those false assumptions are now crashing down. Merely addressing the symptoms of our malaise as "financial problems", a tactic being tried by  leaders, central banks, and the IMF, will only raise false hope, it will not avert the economic and political catastrophe. If governments are allowed to default on their debts only the foolish and insane will choose to loan them money.  

Central banks have tried to address the situation by printing money and adding liquidity. Driving down the interest on government debt has been a key component in kicking the can down the road. This is their equivalent of a band-aid, and they have been putting one band-aid on top of another, but our wounds are not healing. In the modern border-less world we have created, bankers are finding it impossible to control where money flows, the result is akin to pouring water into a leaky bucket. Money flows into the hands of speculators, manipulators, and a over valued stock market, meanwhile the poor and many people have little prospects to earn money, their only or chief source of income is that given to them by governments running massive deficits.

For years those in charge have busied themselves looking for "green shoots", they touted that we only need "confidence", and that consumers should go out and spend. All the time they caution that austerity is not the answer and will only make things worse, the bonds and coupons of the strongest countries are yielding 0% with inflation leaving the buyer locked into a losing hand. The reward for saving and doing the "right thing" is gone. Our government centered economy  does not work, the emperor has no clothes!  Prepare for our Government and others across the world to break promises and rewrite the rules. The bottom line is that you cannot spend your way out of debt, the fat lady is about to sing!