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Commentary on The Capital Markets
2014-08-23 06:15 by Karl Denninger
in Politics , 129 references

I'd love to reproduce the email exchange that Kerry Bentivolio and I have continued since I posted my open letter to him (and which he responded to) but to do so with context I'd have to use his letter -- and it was sent to me privately, instead of being posted.

I won't do that; it's wrong.  But I can, ethically and otherwise, point out what we've been discussing.

Especially, I note, my last missive to him -- which he didn't respond to.

Purely by luck I happen to have a few articles over the last couple of days (thanks for the over the transom's!) that illustrate a big part of what he and I have been batting back and forth -- specifically, why he lost his primary campaign and why the rest of the incumbents deserve to lose.

Yes, all of them.

The essence of the exchange has been focused in two places: The Budget generally, and Health Care specifically.

His argument is that the opening salvo he put forward to them on the budget issues was "laughed at" by finance committee members and he was told they had other plans.

There's a problem with this however -- arithmetic is truth.

So if you're laughed at when you present a set of mathematical figures and claims that laughter means one of two things: Either your figures are wrong (in which case the laughing party can and does present his or her figures and documents why yours are incorrect and his are not) or that laughter is not ridicule, it's nervousness because you just caught the other guy lying and he knows it.

Fortunately when it comes to the budget committee we know which is the case.  Representative Ryan has presented several budgets over the last few years which I have proceeded to rip into little shreds using, no surprise, arithmetic.  Specifically, his budgets all assume a 20 year time horizon and they make two assumptions that are false: A growth rate over that 20 years on a compounded annual basis that has never happened in the post-war for even five years, say much less 20 and worse, a reliance on there being no recessions during that period.

There has never been a 20 year no-recession period in the history of the United States.

Presentation of any such "budget proposal" is an outright fraud.  What's worse is that using the actual "as experienced" economic record since 1980 as a baseline Ryan's budget proposals result in the catastrophic collapse of the Federal Government (that is, tax revenue is exceeded by mandatory expenditures + interest) long before the 20 years are up.  To propose such a budget leaves one, upon that analysis, with the inescapable conclusion that the author intends the fiscal collapse of the United States -- or the so-called "proposal" is not intended to be honored.  How the hell does anyone who has access to the performance of our economy historically (that would be anyone who cares to look) and understands the basics of arithmetic (that is, they can use a basic calculator and run 20 columns of numbers) reach any other conclusion, or lend any sort of support to such an outrageous work of fiction?

I have repeatedly offered to a number of Congressional offices, including Kerry's, to come to DC with my laptop, projector, facts and figures, all from US Government and Federal Reserve sources, briefing anyone who cared to listen on both this point and the medical contribution to this mess -- along with a clear legislative path to stop it.  I've been there before, by the way, and my take-away from the last trip was rather simple: They know damn well what they're doing isn't working and can't, but are afraid of losing their jobs if they bring it to the forefront and center legislative debate on these points.

The House, of course, can stop all of this on its own any time it wants, as it has absolute power of the purse.  Yes, that means possibly losing seats, but if the alternative has mathematical certainty associated with it which path, if you have children or grandchildren, do you choose?

Of course the really awful news is that neither Republican or Democrat parties are interested in a solution.  But that in turns means you can't try to get someone to vote "Red" .vs. "Blue" on the predicate that you will solve the problem or even mitigate the damage -- any such claim is a lie.  Hell, you can't even get there out of the Libertarians; I resigned from the Florida EC over exactly this issue, in part, during the 2012 election cycle.

There are two basic problems in this country among the electorate that make progress on the issues we face exceptionally difficult.  The first is innumeracy.  Without mass innumeracy you cannot spend in deficit without everyone knowing right up front that running a $600 billion deficit on a $17 trillion economy results in a net purchasing power loss to each person in the country of 3.5% a year -- compounded! 

You can claim whatever you want for "inflation" but you can't evade arithmetic.

The fact of the matter is that productivity improvement should result in price deflation experienced by everyone -- that is, a net increase in purchasing power.  By how much?  About 3% annually, if you believe the government's productivity and unit labor cost numbers.  That's obvious on even casual analysis -- we went from picking berries and nuts in trees all day long just to stay alive to being able to sit at a desk and "create" enough value to feed an entire family.  Even the most-unskilled ought to be able to earn enough with pure manual labor, given the advancements of technology, to enjoy a reasonably-comfortable life as a single wage-earner in an entire family for a rational amount of work. 

This was true as recently as the 1960s and early 70s.

Why isn't it true any more?

It's not true because intentionally inflating the credit supply and everything policy-related associated with it, both private and public (e.g. "free trade", deficit spending, etc) has stolen all of the productivity improvement and then more, so instead of purchasing power going up due to technology (as it should) over time through the last 30 years, for the median family, it has instead gone down!  The government is responsible at the core for all of this due to both intentional actions and inactions, whether it be by willful refusal to regulate as required by law or through promulgation of intentionally-fraudulent spending and budgetary schemes.

The second fatal problem among the electorate is a lack of understanding of physics, specifically thermodynamics.  Those laws are not suggestions, yet ignoring them leads to all sorts of bad policy, most-specifically in the area of energy.  Yet without a stable energy policy there is no economic stability; behind every unit of economic output is a unit of energy.

That too is a physical fact.

The bottom line is that arithmetic and physics are irrefutable truth.  Anyone arguing against a presentation of either has only one means of challenge that is legitimate -- document in detail the terms involved or the balance of equation (in the case of physics, such as thermodynamics) that are incorrect. 

That is, you can't argue the conclusion, you must instead debate the figures and/or the deltas to same, because the figures lead, without fail, to a conclusion.

It also makes all such claims that one's policies as an elected official will improve the status quo falsifiable -- one has the documentation of history as the baseline against which to set expectations, and in addition the metric at which actual improvement occurs is a known (and again indisputable) fact.  You either set forward a path and achieve that metric during the time before the next Congress (because you cannot bind a future Congress to do or not do anything!) or you factually failed to meet the endpoint.  Again, history tells us this -- there has never been a Congressional "standard" that has been met across terms or Administrations because the Constitution doesn't permit it. The most-profound of these examples was illustrated by Reagan who cut taxes in exchange for budget cuts; the tax cuts occurred but the budget cuts promised were never enacted.  Since the promise could not be enforced across Congressional sessions it was in fact worth zero.

That's what started, incidentally, the current cycle of fraud in our Congress and Executive on a fiscal basis.

The beauty of arithmetic and physics, and why I take and advocate positions predicated upon those subjects, come from the certainty of their conclusions and outcomes.  They are never wrong; the terms may be stated in error, but the equations always balance.  This is why I'll debate anyone on the terms and figures provided we all show our work and sources, but as soon as someone tries to claim that 2 + 2 = 6 they're likely to get some sharp words from me as I terminate the discussion.

This is also why what happened in 2000, 2008, and what is happening again now did in the past and must again fail with catastrophic consequence.

You can lie about the sum of a set of mathematical terms but you can't change their factual sum.  The greater the period of time and the greater the magnitude of that lie the worse the outcome when the lie is exposed.   The basic laws of mathematics say that any compounded series is impossible to sustain over time as this is a finite planet of finite mass and resource; therefore it is a mathematical fact that any false statement of this sort requires ever-larger distortions to maintain and it will eventually be exposed.

The GOP gambit -- that of Ryan, McMorris-Rodgers, Boehner and more is that they'll all be out of office before it blows up in their face.  That's the beginning and end of it on an analytical, mathematical basis.

Now let's look at the policy decisions that are made instead, and what people trumpet and run on.

It's easy to take a position on, say, a potential invasion of Syria.  This is especially true in a war-weary nation that has seen two such incursions turn out rather poorly -- Iraq and Afghanistan.  Neither led to a decisive outcome, one at the time looked semi-stable (today, not so much!) and the other looked more like a "aw crap, not like the Russians" sort of scenario.  What gain was there to be had in Syria?  Not much, but there would be a cost.

Ok, so how much cost was avoided in treasure -- that is, lives?  What's "many lives" that were saved?  1,000?  2,000?  Pick one; of course nobody really knows, but it's in that range somewhere I'm sure.

Now here's the nasty question that blows any politician's reliance on that sort of appeal to the public when it comes to policy to Hell: How many people died during the last two years due to the actions of medical monopolies and similar game-playing.  Worse, how many millions were impoverished? 

The former is a bit difficult to get an accurate count on, but I'll take the over on any single-digit thousands count in the nation as a whole, which is the best anyone can argue on Syria.  As for the latter, we know that figure -- almost half of the adult population has an adverse credit event in their credit file over medical care -- an event that in virtually every case would not have happened with that care being 1/5th or 1/10th of today's price as they would have paid up front and in cash and they would have had the entire sum of their medical insurance premiums (including Medicare) to pay it with since neither would have been necessary and thus not collectedSince the average adult human life is 60-odd years and the number of people involved with said black marks is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 million by best estimates over two years it's well north of one million Americans who got screwed by your inaction during this same period of time -- that is, 1,000 times greater than those "saved" by the Syria position.

The economic harm of such "dings" is immense; a person with no credit report or a bad one is often charged as much as double someone with excellent credit for car insurance, for example -- even though they have identical driving records, are of identical age and have the same car.

Looking at this analytically on the one hand we have an easy shot that a Congressman can take and then take credit for.  That's nice, but the number of people impacted is vanishingly small.  Yes, it's real, but it's small.  To the point, how many of that Congressperson's actual constituents were impacted by that position?  I bet you can count them using your fingers and toes; no computer required.

On the other hand we have an issue that impacts literally everyone in that district and Congressional inaction on that issue harmed them all.  The direct deficit spending impact has harmed each and every constituent to the tune of about 7% of their purchasing power over the last two years.  For those who are unable to find someone else to shift that cost to (that is, those who are not in a position to speculate in some sort of market and/or who choose not to do so), which happens to pretty-much define the retired (for reasons of prudent risk management), the poor and the lower-middle class (due to lack of means) they have gotten financially gang*****d -- and that's just on the fiscal side.

On the medical side of the equation a reasonable "best guess" is that 1,000 times as many people were harmed by Congressional inaction as would have been if we went to war in Syria and 10 to 100 times as many people died.

There is no error in the figures that can possibly account for the outrageously disjoint balance of harms and benefits between these two potential points of focus on policy.

Why does this matter, in the end when it comes to elections?

It matters a lot!  Kerry, and others, often blame "big money" for beating them.  

That's a cop-out and is factually dishonest as well.  After all, money can't vote -- only people can vote.

You might look at Milwaukee for an instructive example.  There we had a Sheriff, David Clarke, who was a strong 2nd Amendment proponent.  He had no money for his campaign, but he sure had a record of saying -- and meaning -- what the people who were his constituents wanted to hear.  He backed those words up with policy too.

Mayor Bloomberg invaded his race to try to back his opponent with a strong gun control message.  He outspent Clarke by a ridiculous margin, the old Goliath .vs. David tactic.  Indeed, Bloomberg and his buddies spent over a half-million bucks on that primary contest, outspending Clarke supporters by roughly 10:1.

So Clarke lost, right, and there's a new Sheriff coming to town?

Nope.  Clarke won because money does not vote, people do.

Money and mud sways opinion when there's nothing of substance to debate but it has a much more dubious outcome when there are real policy differences that matter to the constituents on the table.  Kerry had an opportunity to make Trott's game fail, and he knew damn well that Trott was going to come after him before the LAST election.  Hell, Trott decided NOT run a write-in campaign last cycle, remember?  Why?  Anyone paying attention knows damn well why; he didn't want to lose a write-in campaign and be tainted.  But he announced quite clearly, if you were paying any attention at all, that come petition time he'd be after that seat in two years.

That notice (how nice of him!) gave Kerry two years to put policy and positions on the board that his constituents and the people who put him in office liked enough to organize and, most-importantly, vote.

I am particularly talking about all those who worked for and supported Kerry in his district (not just a loud-mouthed guy with a big megaphone and a history of running a successful business now living in Florida) that Kerry abandoned, pushed out and marginalized.  He knows damn well there are a lot of those people who walked away in disgust -- or were forced out.  Then he compounded*****ing off everyone who worked to get him elected by appealing to soft issues that are easy to claim "wins" on but have no real impact on his constituents -- oh they feel real good, but they don't cover the doctor bill or do anything about the fact that life is nearly 10% more expensive because Congress stole that purchasing power via unbacked credit creation to hand out to its friends.  Oh and by the way, Kerry is one of the thieves!

His defense?  Some members of a finance committee laughed, and instead of insisting on their facts and figures, entertaining a debate on the numbers and calling for those who were able, willing and ready to rise to the occasion (which he had already won on the facts whether he ultimately were able to win on the policy front or not) Kerry Bentivolio pivoted to the easy stuff that doesn't get votes because it doesn't change anyone's life.

You lose every fight you run away from.

The bottom line is this: Kerry focused on an issue that mattered to a handful of his constituents, while all of them got gang*****d for 7% of their purchasing power and 1,000 times as many as were helped by his Syrian position were harmed by his inaction on medical monopolies.

Having done this he wonders why it is that someone was able to outspend him and convince the voters that he was the Devil to be replaced?

Kerry Bentivolio failed to close the sale because he couldn't point to improvement for his constituents.  Despite having two big issues that would have both worked to his advantage in that regard even if he lost the contest over them in the House he decided instead to focus on issues that provided a good "face" but made no difference in people's lives.

In the end voters always go to the polls when it comes to incumbents asking one question: Is my life better or worse today because this man or woman has been in office?  Has he or she passed or at least promoted policies that are of net benefit -- either realized or expected?

When the other guy is slinging mud and outspending you then the "null" choice, that is "he didn't matter to me and my family", means you lose.

And lose he did.

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Yes, police officers are special.  The most-important factor is that they go home every day safely, not whether they do their job in a professional manner.  Even if this means that they shoot innocent victims of crime because they're too ****ing trigger happy, that's just tough ****.  You or I would face a manslaughter charge for that act -- they get a nice long paid vacation and then are reinstated without harm or foul (to them.)

Oh, and they don't actually have to work either.  Just say they did.  After all, that magical blue costume is all that's required.

KHOU launched an investigation into Jerry’s claims and uncovered an alleged “ticket-rigging scheme,” where cops listed on tickets who were not actually present at the time of the offense were cashing in on overtime when they appeared in court later.

You, of course, get to pay for this outrage twice -- first by being cited by an alleged two officers who claim to have witnessed your transgression (making it more likely you're found guilty, of course) but one of them not only perjured himself before the court he then gets paid overtime to show up when he was never there in the first placebilking you and everyone else in the jurisdiction for pay given as a result of work not performed.

If I rob you I go to prison.

If I commit perjury I can go to prison too.

But when the police rob you -- twice -- or commit perjury on a systemic basis they get suspended with pay (that's a nice vacation!) and ultimately, instead of going to prison, they are usually allowed to "retire" with full pay and benefits.  Which, of course, results in you being robbed at gunpoint each and every year thereafter until they expire of natural causes, complete with you being compelled to pay for every possible means of extending that date as well.

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War sucks.

It especially sucks when one of the combatant sides (or worse, both!) are bloodthirsty bastards.

ISIS is one such group.

Here's the problem from a policy point of view -- irrespective of that fact we're not the world's cop.

Now they have beheaded a US journalist -- but that man knew where he was going and he knew the risk.  He knew that covering these savages, specifically, might lead to him being targeted -- especially when The United States inserted itself into the conflict of its own volition by bombing ISIS positions.

Does this mean we should go kick the hell out of them?

Only if you want to declare war on them and kill them all until they sue for peace with the only rule for engagement being "If it moves shoot it.  If it still moves shoot it some more."

If you're not willing to back and demand that then no, we should not go there.

And yes, I know, it's tempting to seek revenge for this savagery -- and there will almost-certainly be more of it too.

Doesn't matter folks.  You either conduct a war as a war, not a police action, or you don't go.

We have to stop ****ing around, to be blunt.  We've made a hash of basically every foreign place we've gone for the last 50 years because we have forgotten that war is not a nice business and never can be made into one.  You either go into war with the premise that anything that looks like your enemy gets shot and blown up until whatever remains sues for peace or you stay home.

Does beheading a journalist and threatening to do the same to a second one mean that we should cross that line?  No, and especially no when we essentially created and built up ISIS originally -- and we did.  I don't even particularly care if they get all the Iraqi oil assets.

What I care about is that if we're going to go war, we go to war and mean it -- we declare war in Congress and we prosecute it as a war with a "Blow Them All To Hell" set of rules of engagement -- no ifs, ands or buts.

Until and unless we're willing to do that as a nation we have no business getting involved -- even with these atrocities.

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Or is it something else entirely -- whether The Fed tapered or not it wouldn't matter, as they best they can do is pump the stock market?

Paul Schatz, president of Heritage Capital thinks so. He argues that it's important the economy fully recovers before there is a tightening, “The mistake that feds or governments make after the first recession, the minute the light in the tunnel is clear, they start raising rates. My argument is that GDP growth back to 4% or higher is not going to be seen until we get through one more mild recession.”

You're not going to get sustained GDP expansion of 4% or better at all because the debt overhang prohibits it.

That's the problem -- and yet the Fed's QE, along with deficit spending, expand that debt overhang.

While the individual year damage is (relatively) small, the cumulative impact is not.  It is also a bitch to reverse or resolve, because you have to unwind the entire mess -- and all the excess debt.

Evidence for this?


A quarter of American families are "just getting by" and 13% more are "finding it difficult to get by."  That's nearly 4 in 10.  A huge percentage, somewhere around half, couldn't raise a mere $400 without selling something or going into hock.  Only 30% are better off today than five years ago.

Education costs continue to ramp, and making debt more accessible and cheaper makes this cost go the wrong way.  The same thing is true for cars; the average auto loan term is now 66 months and a quarter are for terms over six years.  The average financed amount is at an all time high of nearly $28,000.

Even worse the average new car payment is now nearly $500 a month, or $6,000 a year.  How do you do that on an average working person's salary?

None of this is helped by "ultra low interest rates" or bond-buying.  In fact, it forces pricing and loans in the wrong direction.

So on the one hand we have a policy that has failed to raise GDP (because it can't), there is international (Japan anyone?) evidence that it doesn't work in this regard, and it causes harm in that it expands debt accreation by consumers across the economy.  That, by the way, is why the long-term negative impact on GDP comes; that which you buy today you not only don't need tomorrow in addition you must pay the interest, so it impacts your spending twice!

Yet you still have people insisting that we double down on a blown policy.

These people need to be shouted off the stage.

All of them.

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First blush: Damn, this is nice.  BIG improvements -- and the Amazon Android Appstore is included!

Playing with it on a secondary device right now...... will probably not load it on my "daily" until late tonight or tomorrow; this one (if you get it the right way) can (at least theoretically) be loaded non-destructively -- I'm going to attempt it.

Findings, changes and fixes:

  • BlackBerry Assistant.  This is basically Wolfram Alpha, and it's amazing.  The voice recognition capability is insanely accurate and it just plain works.  It's what Apple wishes Siri was, basically. It's at its best, of course, when you're in your car (for example) and want more than just the ability to dial someone over your Bluetooth carkit.

  • Lift-to-wake and turn-to-shutup.  I like it.  I don't use the turn-to-sleep (face down sleeps the phone) because I don't lay my device face-down anyway.  But lift-to-wake is really nice, it's accurate (it doesn't wake coming out of my pocket) and has an appropriate delay before it starts monitoring too.  In short it's just one those things where you pick up the phone and -- there it is.  Very nice; this is what ergonomic integration should do, and it does.

  • Performance is very notably improved.  Especially Android apps with a couple of exceptions, one of them being MyFitnessPal (which has gotten terribly bloated over the last year or so.)  But the difference in other apps, such as the Trader one (ThinkOrSwim), is enormous.  Native performance is similarly improved.

  • Hub improvements -- big ones.  When you look at something for a few seconds after you return from that item the "delete" button is there.  Small change, big difference in ergonomics.  "Triage" (file/delete or whatever other two you want) can be turned on and off with one touch any time, which is real nice for bulk "look/clear/file" sort of operations.  Oh, and there's an "undelete" if you're too quick with the fingers.  Yes, I've done that before, so this is very welcome.

  • The phone remembers what was running across reboots.  When you restart there is a "ghost" image for each app that was open in a tile; clicking the ghost tile restarts the app.  I like it.

  • Tile locations don't change when you open and re-dock apps.  Difference than how it used to work, but I prefer this.

  • There is another row for apps and in addition folders now can page.  Both good changes.

  • Did I mention performance improvements?  Yeah.

  • Camera improvements.  The "shoot" function is now on a button (like Android); the down-volume button option remains (which is my preferred "shoot" option anyway.)  Face detection and panorama modes added and they work well, along with a few other changes.

  • BlackBerry Blend (control and interaction of the phone via your computer) is there in the build.  The required software for the desktop, however, isn't available yet.  The link works to BlackBerry's site but is a blank page.  So much for that only being a rumor -- it's in there.

  • The upgrade was seamless and non-destructive, although it did take the usual hour and a half or so.  There was only one glitch -- Android apps didn't start immediately; it took about 20 minutes before the phone sorted out the VM system internally.  I suspect it was due to the memory and CPU load of the reindex function as I've seen this before on a non-destructive update.  All data and apps were retained across the upgrade without problems (see below in the comments for the procedure; I wrote it up on CrackBerry as well and they added it to the top-level posts for the thread.)

Those are the big changes I've noted thus far.  Still no S/MIME (Heh Chen -- c'mon!)

So far no problems noted of a stability or usability sort -- but it's early on that account as I just loaded this yesterday late afternoon.  I'll update if there's a reason to do so, but my first-blush impression is that the functionality improvements are very significant with no downsides to note.

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