"I hate the gooks," McCain said yesterday in response to a question from reporters aboard his campaign bus. "I will hate them as long as I live."Being tortured by Vietnamese prison guards is no excuse to use a racial slur that is wildly offensive to most Asians. George Allen's express train to the Presidency was derailed by saying "Macaca," and no one even knows what the hell "Macaca" means. But then there's one standard for the New York Times' McDreamy, and one standard for everybody else.
May I introduce 1995's greatest, Gerard Finneran:
... on a flight back from Buenos Aires to New York, Mr. Finneran had a bit too much to drink.If we in 2008 have managed to reach new heights in crudeness, it's because we stood on the shoulders of giants.
He drank snowballs and other cocktails, starting before take-off and continuing until a flight attendant decided that it would not be appropriate to serve him any more. He assaulted her, then then started shouting "Fuck the President, fuck him in the ass" while serving himself from the trolley. (History does not record whether he meant the President of Argentina or the President of the United States.)
Moments later, Finneran made the decision that entered his name in the annals of history.
He dropped his pants, pulled off his underwear, and took a shit on a service cart. When he had finished his business, he used linen napkins as toilet paper and wiped his hands on various work surfaces in the galley, smearing faeces throughout the first class cabin.
I've got a pdf of the letter, which doesn't appear to be widely available online. E-mail me if you want it.
Condi was mine
Til the time
That I found her
She don't know me
Then Fred came along
He was strong
That's what I thought
Me and Fred
Now he's dead
Don't know that I will
I can find me
A conservative true
Who won't do
I'll be what I am
Ron Paul votin' man
I've had it to here
Freedom's a small word
The Constitution just
I know it's been done
Back in '80
Don't know that I will
I can find me
A conservative true
Who won't do
I'll be what I am
Ron Paul votin' man
(c) 2008 W.C. Varones
Republican Presidential nominee: Ron Paul. McVain will win this, so you might as well vote your conscience.
Democratic Presidential nominee: Barack Hussein Obama. Further left than Hillary, but not as corrupt or vindictive.
Prop 91: Yes. Fuel taxes are for transportation improvements, not for politicians to waste in the general fund.
Prop 92: No. Community college students already get an incredible deal. They don't need a constitutionally mandated piece of the state budget.
Prop 93: No!!! This is a scam, masquerading as term limits, that would actually extend the terms of heinous legislators like Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Don Perata. These guys are term limited out this year, so they put this initiative on the ballot to extend their terms. If you vote Yes, you're an idiot. However, most of California's voters are idiots (see the 2005 redistricting vote), so this might pass.
Props 94-97: Expanding Indian gambling. A responsible person might support these measures, as they allow tribes to become more self-sufficient while also providing big revenues to the state, but I'm an asshole. I want to see California mired in the stinkhole of debt that Schwarzenegger has created. I'm voting No.
... and the rating agencies who are paid to evaluate credit quality finally are about to admit what everyone else knows: that Ambac and MBIA, whose debt trades like they are moments from bankruptcy, are not AAA credits!
Now it's big business, too:
- Are you stressed out about your mortgage payments?
- Do you have little or no equity in your home?
- Have you had trouble trying to sell your house?
- Is your home sinking under the waves of the real estate crash?
- What if you could live payment free for up to 8 months or more and walk away without owing a penny?
So what should libertarians or fiscal conservatives do, assuming that nothing changes the apparent McCain vs. Clinton match-up? I'll vote for Ron Paul if he runs third party. Otherwise, I'll vote for Hillary. Better to come back with a true fiscal conservative candidate in 2008 than get behind McCain. And better to let Hillary take the fall for the coming economic troubles.
And starting a sports page. Because if there's one thing America needs more of, it's sports reporting. Yesterday's baseball scores. I can never find those. I'm glad that Rupert Murdoch is stepping into this void.
And the columnists. Thank God we'll have another venue for fat, middle-aged former high school football players to give their opinions on sports.
Countrywide's prospects depend on its debtors being stupid: not refinancing in an up market, and not walking away in a down market.
Now, for the first time, Countrywide is acknowledging that borrowers might actually make rational economic choices:
...mortgage professionals must strive to ensure that borrowers do not take on loans that they do not have the ability or economic interest to repay.
End of story? Not in America. Realtor enlists "community activists" to physically block the eviction.
You're going to love this part:
Griffiths-Evans screamed that she was going to get a taxpayer bailout “whether you like it or not! We’re gonna get help from the legislators and the people in power to help us!”
In good times, financial markets embrace Capitalism. In bad times, financial markets re-discover Socialism. Currently, the US Federal Reserve is engaged in a dangerous strategy to look after its Wall Street friends.
The origins of the current credit crisis lie in loose monetary policy and excessive capital flows that was turbo-charged by “financial engineering” techniques used by banks. Borrowing bought more borrowing fueling price increases in financial assets - debt, equity, property, infrastructure.
The US central bank’s strategy is clear. [...] de-leveraging and price adjustment can be achieved by creating inflation through loose monetary policy. If asset prices remain at current levels, higher inflation allows values to fall in real terms. Higher inflation also reduces the value of the borrowings that must be paid back allowing the required reduction in leverage.
The strategy is dangerous. Inflation can lead to a significant transfer of wealth from investors to borrowers. Inflation once embedded in the economy distorts economic activity such as investment and savings. The experience of the late 1970s and early 1980s highlights the difficulties in recapturing the inflation beast once uncaged. Paul Volcker, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, bravely increased interest rates to stratospheric levels to squeeze inflation out of the financial system.
The banks continue to privatize gains and socialize losses. Socialism for Wall Street will prevail, once again.
Criminal gangs are using dwarves in a ruse to steal from the luggage holds of long-distance coaches, by hiding them inside suitcases, according to police.
The bizarre crime is on the rise in Sweden and officers say thieves have got away with thousands of pounds in cash, jewellery and other valuables in recent months.
Gangs are said to sneak the dwarves into the luggage hold, hidden inside baggage.
Then, once the journey has begun, the stowaways are free to rifle through the bags of other passengers without fear of being apprehended.
Before the coach arrives at its destination the dwarves take their loot back into their suitcase, zip themselves inside and wait to be collected by their partners in crime.
Who's Category 5? Las Vegas, Phoenix, Florida, and inland California.
If even the dumbest lenders like Countrywide realize that they are likely to lose money on home loans in these areas, it should give prospective buyers some serious concern about the prices they are paying.
"My condo has dropped in value from $520K in 5/06 when I bought it to $350K now. My ARM payment will probably go up $900 per month in June.As they say in Australia, "Good on ya, mate!" He's exactly right. There's nothing immoral about walking away. It's the smart thing to do. When the bank makes the loan, the law and the contract make clear that the bank is your partner in taking on real estate risk. If you put little or no money down, the bank is taking on more risk and is compensated for that risk in the form of a higher interest rate. If it so happens that bank took on stupid risks and lost the gamble, there is no obligation for a borrower to shield the bank from the consequences of its actions.
"Despite all this, I would be willing to stay if the bank would refi the loans to a 30 year fixed, but since I'm not a 'hardship' case they'd apparently rather foreclose. I guess the only way I could qualify for loan mitigation is to get my boss to fire me, stop making payments, and wreck my credit. In fact, my bank won't even talk to me until I miss a couple of payments.
"I have purchased a cheaper place in a nearby area now, while my credit is good, and will stop making payments on house #1 after house #2 closes. I know the foreclosure will be on my credit for 7 years, but I will have saved a lot of money.
"I realize I agreed to the deal when I signed the mortgage papers, but I am within my rights to walk away from a bad deal and suffer the consequences, just as many corporations write down billions of dollars of debt, lose money for their shareholders, and lay off people as a result of their bad decisions.
"I don't really understand why people view a business decision by a homeowner as a terrible moral lapse. However, when large lending institutions, with access to more sophisticated information than any consumer could imagine, make mistakes affecting thousands of people worldwide, they are not excoriated and vilified with the same righteous zeal."
HT: Calculated Risk.
FRENCH TRADER WAS FORCED TO WORK 30 HOURS A WEEK
PARIS (AFP) Friends of rogue trader Jerome Kerviel last night blamed his $7 billion losses on unbearable levels of stress brought on by a punishing 30 hour week.
Kerviel was known to start work as early as nine in the morning and still be at his desk at five or even five-thirty, often with just an hour and a half for lunch.
One colleague said: "He was, how you say, une workaholique. I have a family and a mistress so I would leave the office at around 2pm at the latest, if I wasn't on strike.
"But Jerome was tied to that desk. One day I came back to the office at 3pm because I had forgotten my stupid little hat, and there he was, fast asleep on the photocopier.
"At first I assumed he had been having sex with it, but then I remembered he'd been working for almost six hours."
As the losses mounted, Kerviel tried to conceal his bad trades bycovering them with an intense red wine sauce, later switching to delicate pastry horns.
At one point he managed to dispose of dozens of transactions by hiding them inside
vol-au-vent cases and staging a fake reception.
The Federal Reserve had no inkling about Société Générale’s firesale of stock futures following the discovery of a rogue trader when the US central bank made its emergency interest rate cut.
The question being asked by some in the markets is: was the Fed duped into a clumsy and panicked move by the clean-up operation for Jérôme Kerviel’s mammoth losses for the French bank?
There are many prepared to believe that, without SocGen’s huge derivatives sales, the mood in the stock markets would not have been half as bleak.
“It is now clear that the Fed was panicked into a 75 basis point rate cut by the actions of a rogue trader and the bank’s unwinding of his positions,” said one London-based hedge fund manager. “The action also clearly suggests that their French and ECB counterparts did not tell them what had happened at SocGen.”
Driving down La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles today, I passed a Masonic lodge. On the sign: "Want to become a Mason? Ask one." And below that, "Hall for rent."
Man, that is sad. I bet these days they'd let in a Las Vegas real estate speculator.
January 22, 2008
What started last summer as, I think, a relatively small, contained problem of overly easy lending standards for "subprime" mortgages has turned into a bout of what I view as indiscriminate selling unjustified by the fundamentals. So far this year equity markets around the world have experienced sizable losses. The big drops overseas on Monday and globally on Tuesday are supposedly related to fears that the U.S. housing slump will expand into a full fledged U.S. recession. Is this fear justified?
I remain firmly in the camp that it is not. Recessions do not just appear out of the blue; they come about because of widespread excesses that have to be corrected and usually require adverse monetary policy actions - interest rate hikes. Now there certainly were excesses in housing. But that correction has, in my opinion, largely been completed. Housing starts and home sales began to fall two years ago and are now at deep recession levels. For that situation to snowball into a recession would require the catalyst of other widespread excesses in the economy that have to be flushed out. I just do not see them.
Most American businesses and workers have engaged in pretty much continuous cost control over the last decade. I do not see the excessive hiring, excessive wages and benefits, excessive inventories or excessive capital spending that would squeeze profit margins, send company earnings down and require widespread corrective action. Households have also been careful. Consumer spending has grown pretty much in line with income, and household net worth is rising and at an all-time high, not falling. Outside of financials, business balance sheets are, in aggregate, at record strength with financial assets exceeding liabilities by $1.4 trillion.
Cost control by business and labor has worked to keep us very competitive in world markets - hence the boom in U.S. exports. (Exports are more than three times the size of home construction.) Cost control has also kept inflation down and given the Federal Reserve room to cut interest rates sharply. So, with no need to liquidate inventories, slash capital spending, fire workers and cut pay, with generally sound balance sheets (setting aside some big, dumb banks), and with strong exports and the Federal Reserve cutting, not hiking, interest rates, I think the economic outlook is sound.
This looks like panic selling to me, and I would not want to join this crowd. General stock market valuation measures such as the price/earnings ratio look low to me, especially with interest rates down so much. Sellers may look smart for a day or a week or even a little bit longer, yet I think there is not a floor beneath us but a springboard, and I expect a sharp recovery when fear ebbs and the focus returns to the fundamentals. As always, please call me with any questions or concerns.
Indeed, the situation does appear somewhat desperate. The house in question sold two years ago for $415,000, and today Countrywide holds a mortgage with an outstanding balance of...let me see here...oh yes, $415,000.
When the current occupants bailed last fall, the bank listed the house at $420k. No offers. $400k, no offers. (This according to the listing agent.) Mind you, this is not a 3-story box on a tiny lot at the fringes of Vegas. To give you an idea, it's single-level, 2100 sq. ft., 3/3, 3-car garage, quarter-acre lot, end of cul-de-sac, quality neighborhood, built 1995.
When the asking price dropped to $380k, I came and offered $360k. The bank was mighty slow to respond, and before long, fretting about further declines, I decided to reduce the offer to $320k.
Countrywide sent out an appraiser, got back a figure of $378k, and...took my offer anyway. I figure by the time this sale gets reported, I'll have single-handedly wiped out a couple million in equity on my street alone. Neighbors are going to love me...say, mind if I shit in your pool, too?
-The Greater Fool
Hong Kong -5.5%
Europe still open but down about 4% to 6% as I write.
The U.S. is closed for MLK Day, but Canada is down 4%.
Greenspan, Bernanke, Bush, Congress, and the American Consumer have really done it this time.
Does Helicopter Ben throw a panic rate cut Tuesday? And, if so, does it help?
I pity the Huckster's opponents. I would have advised them to wear motorcycle helmets, as if that would make a difference. They all have a roundhouse to head coming their way. If they were wise they would withdraw immediately. Remember:
There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.
On video: Idiocracy. I hadn't heard of this until Independent Accountant mentioned it in a blog comment. It's a Mike Judge comedy based on the premise that only stupid people are breeding, and the future will be like a bad Jerry Springer show. That premise is probably right.
Even if you're not a Paultard like me, ya gotta love him beating out McCain & Huck, huh?
And from the condescending leftist UK Guardian linked above:
Does America really want a return to the gold standard? Concealed weapons to become commonplace?Hell, yes!
I just stumbled upon this in the Varones archives. I had not recalled that Bank of America analyst Robert Lacoursiere went ultra-negative on Countrywide long before B of A bought in at $18.
B of A is paying this guy the big bucks to analyze Countrywide. They should have paid attention to his conclusion.
U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur came to a House committee hearing on Thursday prepared to ask U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson tough questions about his involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis.
Unfortunately, she was questioning the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
The Ohio Democrat, at a House of Representatives Budget Committee hearing, said she wanted to know what Wall Street firms were responsible for the securitization of subprime mortgages.
She then asked: "Seeing as how you were the former CEO of Goldman Sachs ..." But the only person testifying at the hearing interrupted.
"No, no, no, you're confusing me with the Treasury Secretary," said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
"I've got the wrong firm? Paulson, Oh, OK. Where were you sir?" Kaptur said.
Bernanke noted that he was head of the Princeton University economics department.
"Oh, Princeton, oh, all right, sorry. I got you confused with the other one ... I'm glad you clarified that for the record," she said.
Paulson was chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs before Bush tapped him to head the U.S. Treasury Department.
This is one reason I believe in limited government. Elected representatives are often complete idiots who shouldn't have authority over anything.
Today, Countrywide filed the merger agreement with the SEC, and here it is for all to see. As we expected, Bank of America dictated the terms to a desperate orange midget. If the deal falls apart for any of a very large number of reasons, Countrywide owes B of A a $160 million termination fee. There is no termination fee under any circumstances going the other direction.
The market doesn't think this deal is done. Countrywide closed at $5.48 today, an 18.5% discount to the value of the deal based on B of A's closing price.
B of A got a free option to look at CFC's books for several months. And if it finds anything inaccurate in CFC's 40 pages of representations and warranties, it can walk away with $160 million.
"There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit (debt) expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit (debt) expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved."
- Ludwig von Mises
As the media and government keep talking about stimulus packages and tax cuts, I wonder where that money is going to come from. Are those plans going to make our economy stronger, rescue it if you will? Another writer at Agora wrote that they are prescribing the same drug to fix the problem that caused the problem. How's that work? Oh you are a heroin addict, have more heroin then, you'll be fine. That toilet from Trainspotting comes to mind.
"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."
If I were a Christian I would be psyched! But I'M NOT and nor are millions of US Citizens because our country was built on the concept that we are all equal according to a rational law of equal rights not according to some fictional dogma. Like my buddy says, "There is more proof Santa Claus exists then God. Gift's do appear on Christmas Day."
Final note: why does anyone supported by the all powerful, all knowing deity need to expend any effort in campaigning? Why doesn't God just wrinkle his nose, blink his eyes and make the Huckster the Republican nominee?
Here's the new retirement strategy: don't save anything. Spend every penny today. Then, when you get to retirement age, you and the other consumers will far outnumber savers. You'll be such a powerful voting block that Congress will tax the hell out of everyone who has saved in order to support those who haven't.
Think I'm joking? I wish I were. That's exactly how it's going to play out.
What hedge fund? Paulson. Yes, that Paulson. The Paulson that made billions of dollars betting against mortgage-backed securities as Greenspan's bubble came crashing down.
The conspiracy-minded might think Alan Greenspan is being paid off for services rendered as Fed Chairman, for creating the bubble that made all those profits possible.
I think this is more like a freakshow. Pay the bubble boy millions of dollars to hang around so your uber-rich clients can come in and laugh at him. I hope they make him wear a gimp suit.
Seriously, though, this calls into question the integrity of the whole system. It's as if Al Gore spent 8 years in the White House influencing economic and technology policy, then got tens of millions of dollars in stock options from Google. Oh, wait. He already did that.
Greenspan and Gore were already effluent. They don't need the money. The citizens of the Republic deserve better.
If you don't like my fire
Then don't come around
'Cause I'm gonna burn one down
Yes I'm gonna burn one down
Will foreclosures spark an arson boom? Yes.
UPDATE: It's started already in San Diego. Arson up 8.1%.
Business conservatives can never win a majority without the support of “values voters” (there just are not enough people around who look like Mr Romney). “Values voters” can never produce a viable governing coalition without the help of the business elite. The Republicans have seen revolts against their ruling coalition before—remember Pat Buchanan's pitchfork rebellion against George Bush senior—and they have always succeeded in putting it back together again. They need to do the same now. Enough Republicans believe enough of the Reagan mantra—less government, traditional values and strong defence—to make it a workable philosophy.
The doomsters draw the wrong lesson from the Bush years. The lesson of the Bush presidency is not that the Republican coalition is exhausted but that it has been badly managed. Mr Bush has failed to keep the coalition in balance—he tilted too far towards his party's moralistic southern wing and too far away from its libertarian western wing. He has allowed public spending to balloon and pork-barrel politicians to run wild. [...] The Republican Party certainly needs to update its agenda to deal with problems Reagan never grappled with. But this is no time to go breaking the mould and starting again.
This is a lesson that Steve Forbes learned. You can't win with half of the coalition. His first campaign, a pure fiscal conservative campaign, failed miserably, so he reinvented himself as a moral conservative and pushed the moral issues equally hard. Unfortunately, he still looked like Mr. Magoo, so his second campaign didn't go that well either.
This is the reason I favor Fred Thompson (assuming my fantasy candidate, Ron Paul, can't win). He's the complete package, a values guy who gets the fiscal issues right, too. And he's not so preachy in his values that he would turn off secular conservatives.
For a while, Giuliani looked like he might capture enough values voter support based on his 9/11 legend and his promise to appoint strict constructionist judges. I'd still be happy with Rudy, but I'm a western libertarian. Southern moralists don't seem to have taken the bait.
Romney is legitimately both a business conservative and a man of faith. But his Mormon faith freaks out many evangelicals, and his flip-floppy past on moral issues has many values voters rightly concerned.
McCain can claim to be both a fiscal conservative and a moral conservative. His positions are 90% right in both areas. But the other 10% consists of arrogant, ego-driven, "maverick" positions that are enough to rule him out in many voters' minds. Pro-amnesty, anti-free speech, accomodating to Democrat obstructionists on judges. Need I say more?
Huckabee is the anti-Reagan. He is a pure values voter candidate, with a big FU to fiscal conservatives. A vote for Huckabee is a vote to destroy the Reagan coalition, and to relegate the Republican Party to minority status for years to come.
"Maybe Countrywide and Bank of America are going to have some problems going forward,'' he said. "When people see that their houses are worth a lot less than their mortgage balance, they have an incentive to default. The troubled mortgages that Countrywide already has will be followed by even more troubled ones.''
Of course, Bank of America has already proven itself to be a bunch of idiots. It was obvious even to complete outsiders like little ol' W.C. Varones that they were making a horrible mistake paying $18 a share for Countrywide in the summer.
However, he also has his Michael Dukakis / Willie Horton side:
One bad parole? Nope. That's just the tip of the iceberg for this horrific candidate.
This B of A deal is probably good money after bad. B of A goes from being one of the cleaner banks on the Street to being one of the dirtier banks. It is a nice bailout for the taxpayers and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, though, which would have been on the hook for $50 billion if CFC had gone bankrupt.
UPDATE: $36 million? Oh, no. It's far worse than that.
Put me out of my frickin' misery.
Sure, borrow today in dollars and pay back years later in depreciated dollars after Bernanke has debased the currency.
You wouldn't want to borrow in a real, hard currency like Mexican pesos or Turkish lira. Then you'd have to use real money to pay it back.
Policy? Positions on issues? Too complicated for the dumb hicks of Iowa. And, I fear, for the dumb hicks of the United States in general.
Mike Huckabee: Pretty cool for a fundamentalist whackjob. Sat in with the Tonight Show band and played a mean blues bass.
Hillary: You put-together, fraudulent, unfunny c**t. No, that word isn't clot. First I saw her on Letterman, delivering the show's intro by satellite: "Dave has been off the air for eight long weeks. Tonight he's back. Oh well, all good things come to an end."
Whatever humor that line had when it left the writers' desk, it lost when Hillary got her beast-paws on it. Imagine the most pathetic, plasticky way you could deliver this, and then imagine a little harder.
I next saw her on ABC, in a montage of candidates asked about their "guilty pleasures." Hers? Chocolate. Chocolate!!! Chocolate!!! All the twisted schemes and vengeance-lust that must be in that woman's head, and the best she'll admit to is...chocolate. The only candidates who are phony enough to say something like that are Hillary and Mitt Romney. Yes, he also said chocolate. Screw you, you robots.
Barack: To the same question, answered cigarettes and Sportscenter. I don't care for these myself, but I do like a guy who can actually admit to a vice, rather than concocting some B.S. "vice" like the two trainwrecks aforementioned.
Chris Dodd: Same question, answered, "Wine, and probably too much of it." Awesome. This guy realizes he doesn't have a prayer.
Giuliani: Admitted to cigars and something else. Hookers? Nose candy? I can't quite recall. He does have a huge set of chompers, though, and would make for funny caricatures.
The night's winners: Huckabee/Barack.
I'll try to put up all the details later, but the bottom line is that is was a great year for readers of the W.C. Varones Blog. We started the year long silver, gold, foreign stocks, domestic stocks, Amazon, and Wal-Mart. We sold most of the Amazon mid-year after a near double, and the remaining Amazon we hold has continued much higher. Wal-Mart has been flat in a tough retail environment. Silver and gold are hitting big new highs, and stocks are up: domestic stocks modestly so, foreign and emerging markets not so modestly.
The monster trade of the year was to short Countrywide, which we did over and over and over. Every single trade was profitable, many of them immensely so. We shorted it at $42 in January, long before "subprime" became a buzzword. We shorted it again in May above $40 when the market thought the subprime thing had blown over. We shorted it again on the spike from the B of A bailout.
We also made a little money shorting IMH, another bad mortgage lender. I first heard about that one from Old Zeke, who heard some old geezer bragging at a poker table about what a great stock it was and how huge the dividend yield was.
The one bad call of the year was a brief short of Dell, where we lost a couple bucks.
I hope you traded along with us at home. Here's to a great year!
I'm not changing my positioning radically yet, though I've begun to move some a small amount of equity money into foreign bonds. I'm looking for further dollar weakness and a recession this year -- and I don't want to bet against the Prince of Darkness.
UPDATE: Edited to remove the guy's name. I hope nobody harasses him or his employer. He was good-natured and his sign was innocuous a...
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