Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Debt. Pick One.

The flag maker got it wrong: It was supposed to say, “Don’t lend to me.” (Wikipedia Image)

In September, the national debt of the United States passed $20 trillion for the first time in history. Three months later, it  passed $20.6 trillion. That’s $600 billion in debt added in three months. The tax cuts just passed by Congress will shortly add another $1.5 trillion.

In the past two years, corporate debt in America has increased by over $568 billion (pikers — Congress did that in three months!).  And all the lines on all the graphs charting the borrowing of money are pointing at the sky.

In September, the total debt owed by American consumers approached $13 trillion. Consumer debt set a record in the third quarter of 2008 and has topped the record every quarter since. The world economy crashed and burned in 2009, but consumer debt never went down. Now, household debt is rising 60 percent faster than incomes are rising. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Continue reading

The Song of Polly Anna

This is the Song of Polly Anna, as sung by the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Chorus, or whistled while passing graveyards:

When the fat lady finishes singing the Song of Polly Anna, it’s over.

Verse #1: “Unemployment is down to 4.1 percent, lowest in 17 years. 1.5 million new jobs created since I took office.” (Contributed by the Tweeter in Chief.)

“Don’t be fooled by low unemployment numbers,” says The Hill, not exactly a fringe publication, of the latest report. Candidate Trump actually had it right when he ridiculed the government reports as lipstick on a pig, or, perhaps more to the point, cosmetics on a corpse. The numbers are curried and combed, annualized, seasonally adjusted, revised and updated not to reflect reality, but to replace reality with a shimmering vision of 1950.

Case in point: the latest report estimates that just last month, 968,000 American workers left the workforce. While some of these people are elderly, students or disabled, their numbers have been swelled by people who could be working, who want to work, but have given up looking for work. Thus it is true that the number crunchers somehow massaged the unemployment rate to a 17-year low, primarily by counting as unemployed only those people actively looking for work. Meanwhile the number of people not in the work force, and thus not counted in the calculation, has reached 95 million, its highest level in 40 years.   Continue reading

Stock Market Achieves Escape Velocity, Leaves Earth

[Irony Alert: The following news is not fake. It is true, just not factual.]

The New York Stock Exchange announced today that according to its key indicator, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the stock market has attained escape velocity, has left Earth’s atmosphere and is, as a spokesman said, “on its way to the stars.” Having set a new record high of over 23,000 on October 17, a spokesman said the Dow is expected to broach 1,000,000 by the end of the year. “We’re in warp drive now,” the spokesman said.

Asked how stock prices could be so high when corporations are struggling with enormous debt, anemic profits, poor sales and sagging prospects, the spokesman laughed heartily. “See, that right there is thinking that is so 1929. The era of stock prices being tied down to the actual value of anything, or to business performance, is long over. Now it’s all about expectations and psychology. Facebook isn’t valued at half a trillion dollars because of what it owns or because it’s advertising works. [See: “Digital Advertising: The Rise and Fall of Crappy Crap”] It has that valuation because it is blindingly popular.” Continue reading

The Unbearable Lightness of Billions

Of course we’ll rebuild it, bigger and stronger than ever, but with what? (U.S. Navy photo of Hurricane Sandy aftermath by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade/Released)

I have been trying to apply arithmetic to the problem of hurricane relief. I know, this is like translating computer code to cuneiform tablets, but bear with me — ancient learning was, after all, learning. The costs of recovering from Hurricanes Harvey (Texas), Irma (Florida) and Maria (Puerto Rico) are now estimated at about $220 billion. Congress has thus far appropriated $15 billion for the purpose, acting on September 9, the very day FEMA was expected to run out of money.

By its timely action, Congress solved seven per cent of the problem. With a burn rate of two million dollars a day, FEMA will be broke again in 75 days (from September 9). Nobody’s talking about this. At least, not in any way that makes sense. In a cheery piece claiming that FEMA can never run out of money, the explainer website HowStuffWorks says it can’t happen in the future because in the past, Congress has always bailed it out in time, just like it did with its seven-per-cent solution of September 9. Continue reading

Bloomberg Business: FEMA Will Be Broke by Friday

Requests that Hurricane Irma hold off for a few days while Washington figures out how to pay for Hurricane Harvey have not yet had any effect.

Bloomberg Business News, relying on anonymous staffers in the US Senate and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reports that FEMA is burning cash at a rate of $9.3 million an hour, and will be broke in about 48 hours (as of Wednesday, September 6). This spending is in response to Hurricane Harvey’s assault on southern Texas, the costs of which are just starting to come in. Just about 72 hours from now Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes in history, will slam into Miami.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, FEMA had only $2.14 billion on hand last Thursday morning, and by Tuesday morning had spent over half of it. Of the billion dollars left, only half of it was available to spend. Presumably, if this liquidity problem cannot be solved within hours, FEMA will be out of money even sooner than Friday. Continue reading

Forget Korea: Irma is the Existential Threat to America

Meet Hurricane Irma. Her cloud is not mushroom-shaped, but it’s a greater threat to our well-being than Korea. (Wikimedia photo)

For years a gathering storm of mortal threats to our well being, threats obscured by the Kabuki Theater of national politics, threats ignored by the Keystone Kops who pretend to be our leaders, threats fueled by the Masters of the Universe who are happily burning the world to stay rich a little longer, threats to our food and water and air and shelter and climate — all these threats have gathered, and worsened, and all this time we’ve wondered: where’s the breaking point?

Hurricane Irma may well decide. If she fulfills the worse expectations of her — and recent storms such as Harvey have wildly exceeded the worst expected of them — she will barrel into Miami, or close along the vulnerable Florida Coast, as a monster Category Five hurricane. If she does, she could well break us.

Before Harvey hit, FEMA was bankrupt, by any normal measure, it was holding $20 billion in debt that it has no possible way to repay. The fact that this debt is to the US government does not alter the fact that it is debt which, if not repaid, could ruin the deeply indebted creditor. Now, the governor of Texas says his state will need $120 billion to rebuild. Continue reading

“Climate Gentrification” a.k.a. Miami Vice

The sea is coming for Miami, and the rats — protesting that they don’t believe it — are making deals. Is “Miami Vice” redundant?

It’s hard to imagine that the plug-ugliness of the American climate-change denier could be made more loathsome, but it has been. The Masters of the Universe and their wholly-owned-and-operated politicians have plumbed new depths in their ability to make money while aiding and abetting the increasing misery of their fellow human beings.

Their latest refinement has been detected in Miami, which is fitting, because few places on earth rival Miami’s wretched excess in the heedless pursuit of megabucks. Fitting, too, because Miami may well be the first large American city to be submerged by seas rising in response to climate change. The prospect is of course hotly denied or coldly ignored by Miami’s politicians and uglygarchs, who insist there is nothing to see there, even while the rising waters — especially in South Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Beach — are quite literally, with increasing and dismaying frequency, lapping at their ankles.

Now it appears that Miami real estate developers are actively working to profit from the thing they deny is happening — the rising of the warming sea. Their schemes have been illuminated in, of all places, the website of the venerable science magazine Scientific American. Continue reading

The American Dream Has Retired

This what you had in mind for your retirement? Think again. (Photo by kenteegardin/Flickr)

It has always been an essential part of the modern American Dream that after you have put in 20 years of work, your company rewards your loyalty with a pension, to keep the gold in your Golden Years. Like most promises of the Industrial Age, it was a wonderful dream as long as no one did the math. What would happen, no one asked, when there were more pensioners than workers? Nothing, the answer would have been, because funds for each and every pension were set aside as the worker worked, and invested wisely, so that there would be plenty of money for each and every retiree.

But what would happen, no one thought to ask, if American industry and government lost their basic decency, and sacrificed the welfare of future pensioners to swell the fortunes of the current Masters of the Universe? What would happen, no one wondered, if the managers of the pension funds were so incompetent that instead of fattening the accounts, they starved them. Now we know what would happen.    Continue reading

Global Cooling Threatens Life on Earth


I know. Not what you were expecting. (Photo by Serendigity/Flickr)

While the planet’s air, water and land are heating to dangerous levels because of human pollution, the world’s trade is cooling off, slowing down and coagulating in the deepening chill, threatening the well-being of every country and virtually every person. I remember very well in 2008 watching the most powerful members of Congress emerge from a come-to Jesus meeting conducted by the Treasury Secretary on what was about to happen to the world’s financial institutions and America’s economy. They had the pale faces and staring eyes of people who had just been introduced to the angel of death.

The world of trade and finance is confronting such a moment now, and is every bit as much in denial as it was in 2008. This time it’s not America’s Lehman Brothers tottering into an early grave and pulling half the world in with it; it’s Deutsche Bank. Continue reading

One Nation, Under Water, with Penury and Indigence for All (*)

debt(* that is, the 99 per cent.)

I was there when a furniture-store owner I’ll call Chuck introduced, to a certain British-ruled, sub-tropical, behind-the-times island, the concept of hire-purchase — or, in American, rent-to-own. He started selling furniture on credit, for a small down payment and a contract to repay the balance at an astronomical interest rate. His policy scandalized everyone on the island who was rich enough not to need credit for such purposes; and was insanely popular with everyone else. Continue reading