Mar 23, 2009


This March will be much of blessings and busy for us (Balinese Hindus.) Galungan will be on 18 of March, Melasti on 23-24 March, Nyepi on 26 March, and Kuningan on 28 March.

To celebrate Melasti, here is Bill Bonner in Paris, France to say “Yes we can’t.”

The Daily Reckoning, March 20, 2009

Yes We Can't! By Bill Bonner, Paris, France

Free market capitalism is the "god that failed," writes Martin Wolf. Thus does Financial Times lead off a feeble chorus of lament in its "Future of Capitalism" series. What do we do now? is the question. Can capitalism be tamed? Can it be harnessed? "Yes we can!" says America's president.

Richard Layard from the London School of Economics, offered a way forward:
"We should stop the worship of money and create a more human society," he writes. "Happiness has not risen since the 1950s in the US or Britain," he points out, despite big increases in wealth. "Modern happiness research can help find answers," he believes.

"Old fashioned socialist planning is the only coherent alternative to a collapsing capitalist economy," an alert FT reader added.

Given the depth of these insights, we decided not to dive into this discussion headfirst. Instead, we will simply mock the swimmers from the bank. Brazil's president, Lula da Silva, for example, could only come up with a campaign slogan: "The future of human beings is what really matters." But who can blame them? They want a capitalism that makes people happy...fairer, gentler, greener... they want to reform housebreak cut its balls off so they can safely put it on a leash and introduce it to their daughters.

But they miss the point of it altogether: we can't reform capitalism; it reforms us. Capitalism punishes mistakes and rewards virtue (or good luck) - not necessarily quickly or gently...but roughly and imperfectly, like a hanging judge in a frontier town. On paper, of course, we can do better. Imagine a world where public employees are saints and geniuses who do such a swell job of allocating capital we want for nothing. But then, when we get a chance to see them in action, we find that they are bigger rascals than the capitalists themselves.

This week, under pressure from its new proprietor - the U.S. government - AIG released a list showing who had gotten more than $100 billion of its bailout money. At the top of the list of recipients was a familiar name - Goldman Sachs. In a truly astonishing co-incidence, Goldman is the firm that had been run by the very person who headed up the AIG rescue - former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. And what serendipity! Lloyd Bankfein - Goldman's top man now - was actually in the room with the feds when the AIG rescue plan was put together.

"...we can’t reform capitalism; it reforms us. Capitalism punishes mistakes and rewards virtue (or good luck) – not necessarily quickly or gently...but roughly and imperfectly..."

In the room; in the deal. But the big scalawags ducked out of the press almost immediately. Instead, the headlines focused on the small fry. AIG paid bonuses of $450 million - some charged it was $1 billion - to its executives. These guys shouldn't get bonuses, came the popular outcry; they should get a firing squad.

You'll recall the story. The insurance giant AIG lost money on a series of gambles. For example, it gambled that it could insure the mortgage payments of people who couldn't afford to buy a house. During the bubble years, people bought houses at outrageous prices. They could borrow 80% of the purchase price from government-backed debt mongers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Buyers were supposed to put up the other 20% themselves, giving lenders a margin of safety in case the transactions didn't work out as planned. But, if an insurance company would guarantee the other 20%, Fannie could cover 100% of this "enhanced" mortgage loan. AIG found that insuring this part of the loan was profitable - as long as nobody asked questions. But then the market price for the collateral dropped - by as much as 50% in some areas. Suddenly, people were walking away from their houses. Defaults on these "enhanced" loans ran at 5 times the rates on normal Fannie-backed mortgages.

An ordinary person would look at these facts and pronounce the same judgment as the capitalist market: AIG and Fannie both deserve to go broke. But give him enough higher education in the economics department, or a job in government, and the fool rushes in --with someone else's money.

In the theory of bailouts, an ailing firm is given a helping hand when it needs it. This gives it time to get back on its feet, and prevents it from dragging down its employees, lenders, investors and counterparties. But what actually happens is much simpler. Money is goes from the pocket of the person who earned the pocket of someone who didn't...from the innocent bystander to the fellow who caused the accident. Capitalism takes money away from erring capitalists; the capitalism improvers give it back to them.

And who decides who gets the loot? soon as you hold them up to the light, the angels' wings fall off. By and large, these are the same cherubim and seraphim - such as Hank Paulson - who were supposed to be leading...regulating...and controlling capitalism when it ran into a ditch. Not a single one raised a warning. Instead, they whooped for the free market and passed the whiskey bottle to the driver! And now, thanks to their bailouts, AIG continues writing insurance against mortgage loans. Seventy-three AIG executives continue getting $1 million bonuses. A long line of reckless counterparties goes unpunished. And Hank Paulson offers advice to Financial Times readers on how to make capitalism work better.

But that is always the problem with improving capitalism...even in the slapstick American way. The reformers promise a 'new deal,' but they've always got an ace up their sleeve somewhere.

************ The Mother of All Bells by Peter Schiff, March 21, 2009

There is an old adage on Wall Street that no one rings a bell at major market tops or bottoms. That may be true in normal times, but as many have noticed, we are now completely through the looking glass. In this parallel reality, Ben Bernanke has just rung the loudest bell ever heard in the foreign exchange and government debt markets. Investors who ignore the clanging do so at their own peril. The bell’s reverberations will be felt by everyday Americans, whose lives are about to change in ways few can imagine. While nearly every facet of America’s economy has been devastated over the past six months, our national currency has thus far skipped through the carnage with nary a scratch. Ironically, the U.S. dollar has been the beneficiary of the global economic crises which the United States set in motion. As a result, our economy has thus far been spared the full force of the storm.

This week the Federal Reserve finally made clear what should have been obvious for some time – the only weapon that the Fed is willing to use to fight the economic downturn is a continuing torrent of pure, undiluted, inflation. The announcement should be seen as a game changer that redirects the fury of the financial storm directly onto our shores.

In its statement, the Fed announced its intention to purchase an additional $1 trillion worth of U.S. treasury and agency debt. The purchases, of course, will be made with money created out of thin air through the Fed’s printing presses. Few can doubt that they will persist with these operations until the economy returns to its former health. Whether or not this can ever be accomplished with a printing press alone has never been seriously considered. Bernanke himself admits that we are in uncharted waters, with no map or compass, just simply a hope that more dollars are the answer.

Rather than solving our problems, more inflation will only add to the crisis. Falling asset prices, the credit crunch, declining consumer spending, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and layoffs are all part of the necessary rebalancing of our economy. These wrenching movements, however painful, are the market’s attempts to resolve the serious problems at the root of our bubble economy. Attempts to literally paper-over these problems will lead to disaster.

Now that the Fed has recklessly shown its hand, the mad dash to get out of Treasuries and dollars should not be far off. The more the Fed prints to buy bonds the less the dollar is worth. Holders of our debt (read China and Japan) understand this dynamic. We must expect that they will not only refuse to buy new bonds, but they will look to unload those bonds they already own.

Under normal circumstances, if creditors grew concerned that inflation was eating into their returns, the Fed would raise interest rates to entice them to buy. However, the Fed will avoid this course of action as it fears higher rates are too heavy a burden for our debt-laden economy to bear. To maintain artificially low rates, the Fed will be forced to purchase trillions more debt then it expects as it becomes the only buyer in a seller’s market.

Just last week, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao voiced concern about his country’s massive investments in U.S. government debt. In the most unequivocal statement yet by the Chinese leadership on this issue, Wen made it plain that he was concerned with depreciation, not default. With his fears now officially confirmed by the Fed statement, we must wonder when the Chinese will finally change course.

There is a growing consensus that if China no longer wants to buy our bonds, we can simply print the money and buy them ourselves. This naïve view fails to consider the consequences implicit in such a change. When the Treasury sells bonds to China, no new dollars are printed. Instead, China prints yuan which it then uses to buy treasuries. This effectively allows America to export its inflation to China. However, now that we will be printing the money ourselves, the full inflationary impact will fall directly on us.

With such a policy in place, America has now become a banana republic. It won’t be too long before our living standards reflect our new status. Got Gold?


Would you buy a used economy from this man?

Note for the weaker brethren: During the Vietnam war in the nineteen seventies, (President Nixon and Mr. Kissinger in charge) a very successful poster appeared of President Nixon, unshaven and shifty looking, and the legend “Would you buy a used car from this man?” On a flight somewhere the paper had a cartoon showing President Nixon, unshaven and shifty looking, with a broken down tank labeled “Vietnam War,” held together with chicken wire, busted turret, etc, and the legend “Would you buy a second hand war from this man?”

My personal favorite was the same tank, broken turret, held together with chicken wire, labeled Vietnam War with Nixon clutching his forehead and saying “It’s a used car! And I bought it!”


Wahyusamputra writes: When the island of Java was taken over by Islam, the Hindus of Java left Java and settled on the neighboring island of Bali, “the island of gods and demons” as Mahatma Ghandi described it.

Balinese Hindus do not regard themselves as owners of the land that they till into those beautifully organized step fields up the side of a hill. The gods own the land, say the Balinese Hindus, and we are merely the stewards. If we do well, and are good stewards, the gods reward us with good harvests and good fortune.

Bali people think only about religion, say the Javanese, mostly Moslem, (but owing to the operation of Pancasila, some who are, or have become, Buddhists, Christians, and so on.) Bali is full of figurines and statues of major and minor gods and demons, carefully dressed in regularly changed clean cloth, and they have little woven baskets of flowers and fruit and incense in front of them. On one side of a block, you’d find three, perhaps. Nice place.

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