Saturday, July 11, 2009

California IOU Is Now A Security, Says SEC

California's IOUs are now "securities", just because the government says so. (If the government says the sun goes around the earth, I am sure the sun will go around the earth like good old times.)

The Daily Capitalist: We Buy and Sell California IOUs
(7/10/09 Noozhawk)

"This is the power of capitalism. When the big banks announced that they would not accept California’s IOUs as cash deposits, it took about three minutes for a market to spring up on eBay and Craigslist for this scrip. Of course, many buyers want a discount on the paper.

"Then some idiot at the Securities and Exchange Commission comes up and says the scrip is a security and no one can sell without registering them.

"So, now a promise to pay is a security because some bureaucrat said so. I don’t think so. I would love to see the SEC try to get away with this. If it was a security, the state of California as the issuer would first have to register the IOUs as a security. Then the people working a secondary market on an already registered security would need a broker-dealer license to trade them. The state controller insists they aren’t securities, but rather “a form of payment.” And they are correct."

However, according to Market Watch, the spokesman for the California State Treasurer has this to say:

"Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, lauded the SEC's announcement, saying in a statement: "The SEC has sent a pretty clear warning to folks who plan to profit by buying and reselling IOUs: If you're not registered as a municipal securities broker-dealer, you run the risk of violating federal law." "

So they are now happy that their IOUs are regulated "securities" after the fact, even though they didn't issue them as securities and the recipients didn't receive as securities and didn't agree to receive as securities. Fraud, anyone? Lawsuits, anyone?

When I first heard the news that banks would refuse to cash CA IOUs after Friday July 10, I immediately went to eBay to check if anyone was offering to cash them. There was. One eBay seller was offering to exchange $100 IOU plus $70 that the IOU holder needs to send to the seller, with $140 visa gift card. So the IOU holder would mail in total $170 ($100 IOU and cash), and receive $140 cash equivalent. It would represent a 17.6% discount. I doubted if anyone needed to cash IOU badly enough to take a steep discount like that, but I was sure as competition heated up the discount rate would be less - probably between 8% and 15%.

Now that SEC is here, and sellers like the one I found on eBay have disappeared. And it looks like jobs will start to disappear at those businesses in California unfortunate enough to have received IOUs.

At some point, you have to wonder. What does the federal government want? Major banks who had said they would accept California IOUs reversed very quickly, possibly under the guidance from the government. When the free market started to take care of the problem by offering to cash them at discount, SEC stepped in to make it impossible for the free market risk takers to offer cashing.

Bankrupt the 10th largest economy in the world, suck the remaining juice out and beat the carcass to pulp so that it never recovers is what they want. My question is why. I am already hearing an answer from far away... "Because We Can!"

Exclusive Credit Card From Barclays Bank

Even before the credit card bill was formally signed into law in late May but more so since, credit card companies have been furiously cutting the existing customers' credit limits, raising fees, raising APRs, sometimes cancelling the cards altogether, just when the U.S. consumers can use extra help to get through the tough times that are getting tougher. This bill has joined so many others in creating "an unintended (but very predictable) consequence". (I sure hope that it was indeed "unintended", but I may be too naive.)

But no, not at Barclays Bank. One of my friends got this invitation to apply for their exclusive card.

BLACK CARD. The World Awaits.

It claims to be the world's most prestigious and versatile credit card. The features include:

  • Limited membership

  • 24-hour concierge Service

  • Exclusive rewards program

  • Luxury gifts

  • Patent pending carbon card

  • Annual fee $495
APR is variable at 13.24%, and it has one feature that hardly any other credit card issuers offer these days: Maximum fee on balance transfer of only $50. The norm these days for balance transfer fee is 3 to 5% of the transfer amount, with no maximum.

If they charge $495 annual fee, they can be gracious and charge only $50 for your balance transfer, I suppose. But this annual fee of almost $500, I've never seen anything like this before, not even during the bubbly late 1990s or mid 2000s.

(What's with "carbon card"? Does Barclays Bank want us to think this card is capturing "carbon" therefore it is so "green" to carry this card?)

Friday, July 10, 2009

GM Out Of Bankruptcy in 40 Days

It took only 40 days, 2 days less than it took for Chrysler. Now the government-owned (61%) General Motors can "compete" with the likes of Toyota and Honda on alternative energy cars - Toyota's Prius sells for just above $20,000, new GM's Volt will probably sell above $40,000. (Who in the rational mind would pick the latter, unless at a gun point - Oh I see, that's why the U.S. keeps military bases all around the world.)

GM Out Of Bankruptcy (7/10/09 Business Insider)

By the way, the rumor that GM will change the color of its logo from blue to green is probably false. For now at least. (Remember it was impossible for GM or Chrysler to go into bankruptcy, until they did. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were sound, until suddenly they weren't.)

I still want to know what happened to the GM's secured bond holders, and what happened to the holders of CDS on GM's debt (here's a notable one).

Now that both Chrysler and GM are "successfully" out of bankruptcy, will the Presidential Auto Task Force disband? Or will it transformed into a politburo-like governmental committee to manage the companies? Will Mr. Steve Rattner the Car Czar descend on GM as CEO, as the reward for his "hard" work?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

OT: What Is Obama Looking At?

Is he looking at what I think he's looking at? Judging by the amused look of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, I think he is indeed looking at what I think he's looking at. (I found the picture on Drudge Report.)

Treasury Department Has Plan C To Solve Financial Crisis

Did you know they now have Plan C to solve financial crisis? I didn't. I didn't even know they had Plan A and Plan B, or any Plan at all.

Treasury Works on 'Plan C' To Fend Off Lingering Threats
(by David Cho and Binyamin Appelbaum, 7/8/09 Washington Post)

"As the financial system tries to right itself after its near-collapse last fall, the Treasury Department has assembled a team to examine what could yet bring it down and has identified several trouble spots that could threaten the still-fragile lending industry.

"Informally known as Plan C, the internal project is focused on vexing problems such as the distressed commercial real estate markets, the high rate of delinquencies among homeowners, and the struggles of community and regional banks, said government sources familiar with the effort.

"Part of the mission is assessing which firms are the most vulnerable and trying to decipher what assets these companies hold and whether they pose a danger to the wider financial system. Plan C is a small-scale, relatively informal approach to a problem the administration hopes to address in the long term by empowering the Federal Reserve to oversee systemic risk."

"The creation of Plan C is a sign that the government has moved into a new phase of its response, acting preemptively rather than reacting to emerging crises, officials said.

"We are continually examining different scenarios going forward; that's just prudent planning," Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said."

Huh? Now, can you tell what the hell they are talking about? Does this look like a newpaper article written by a reporter who actually digs in to find out more about this Plan, or does this look like a cut and paste job from the Treasury Department's public relations office handout?

"The officials in charge of Plan C -- named to allude to a last line of defense -- face a particular challenge in addressing the breakdown of commercial real estate lending."

OK, so it is about commercial real estate. And what is Plan C, exactly? The article doesn't say, and doesn't even speculate.

Remember this from March? The Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the plan (whatever plan he was talking about at that time - I suspect it was PPIP which has shrunk from $1 trillion to mere $40 billion) would work (and therefore he didn't need Plan B), all that was required was "will", not "ability":

(Doesn't his forehead look like a Klingon?)

Pimco Is Missing From Treasury's PPIP

The U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and FDIC announced the start of the Public-Private Investment Program, commonly known as PPIP, yesterday.

Other than the drastic shrinkage of the whole scheme from $1 trillion when it was announced in March to mere $40 billion (the government putting in $30 billion, private investors $10 billion), curiously missing was the world-largest bond manager, Pacific Investment Management Co., commonly known as Pimco.

Here's from Bloomberg:

U.S. Treasury Opens Distressed-Debt Program Without Pimco (7/9/09 Bloomberg)

"The U.S. plan to help buy as much as $40 billion in assets from banks got started almost four months after it was proposed and without Pacific Investment Management Co., the world’s biggest bond manager and an early supporter."

"... Pimco, which in March announced plans to apply, said it withdrew its application in June because of “uncertainties” about the initiative’s design."

Other than that, Bloomberg or Pimco doesn't elaborate on the reason why Bill Gross' s firm decided to withdraw.

Pimco manages $756 billion in assets. It is possible that the scaled-back PPIP program is too small for them to participate. But it is also possible that Mr. Gross doesn't quite trust the government. I remember reading this at Pimco's site back in early April [emphasis is mine]:

"Shake hands with the government is and has been our motto although the contractual certainty of a government handshake may now be questioned in an increasingly number of marginal areas."

This is a change of tone coming from Mr. Gross. This is the guy who said back in January;

"Still, future policymakers must confront the reality that is, not the one that should have been. And investors must do likewise, casting aside personal philosophies for a clear-headed view of the future horizon. PIMCO’s view is simple: shake hands with the government; make them your partner by acknowledging that their checkbook represents the largest and most potent source of buying power in 2009 and beyond. Anticipate, then buy what they buy, only do it first: agency-backed mortgages, bank preferred stocks, and senior bank debt; Aaa asset-backed securities such as credit card, student loan, and auto receivables. These have been well-advertised PIMCO strategies over the past 6 months but there are others in clear sight. An Obama administration will quickly be confronted by the need to provide those hundreds of billions of dollars to states and large municipalities. Their requests total nearly a trillion dollars and to think California or NYC would be allowed to fail is, well – unthinkable. Municipal bonds then, selling at historically high ratios relative to U.S. Treasuries, offer attractive price appreciation potential, or at the very least a defensiveness with high carry that a 2½% 10-year Treasury cannot."

And I believe his firm was extremely successful in doing it - buying these securities before the government did, and sell them essentially to the government at higher prices.

Now, after seeing what this new government under the new president has done so far, Pimco would rather stay away, at least for now.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

California To Ditch Two-Third Rule And Prop.13 ?

Heard it on the NPR radio today.

California legislators busy bickiering over bills on fruits and pomegranate juice (I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Resnick have a say in it) while they collect per diem (currently $173 max in Sacramento) and perfunctorily attempt to balance the budget want to blame the super-majority rule or two-third rule - the rule that says two-thirds of the lawmakers in both houses have to agree on the budget.

NPR claims California voters are rethinking the two-third majority rule, while 73% OPPOSE ditching the Proposition 13, which currently requires the two-third majority.

Rethinking the Two-Thirds Rule (7/8/09 NPR California Report)
(Sorry their embed code didn't work.)

My suspicious mind whispers, "They WANT to bankrupt California so that they can ditch both two-third rule and Proposition 13 by bankruptcy judge's unitary decision."

Here Comes Mandatory IRA

When Jim Cramer tries to sell you something, the game's usually over. Two days ago he tried to lay claim to the brilliant idea of IRA stuffed with special Treasury bonds "that will be safe" (in reality, far from it, but no matter). It is coming, whether you like it or not.

Breaking Down the Obama IRA (7/7/09 Smart Money)

"Tucked into President Obama’s financial regulatory reform legislation still being debated in Congress is a proposal to get more workers saving for retirement. The plan calls for employers to set up mandatory automatic-enrollment IRAs, retirement accounts that allow for tax-deductible contributions.

"If the measure passes, companies that don't currently offer a tax-deferred retirement-savings plan would funnel employee contributions into IRA accounts through direct payroll deposits. It would also represent the biggest increase in new retirement savers since the creation of the 401(k) in 1980.

"Companies that don't currently offer a retirement plan, employ 10 or more workers, and have been in business for at least two years would be required to enroll their employees in an IRA."

"John [David John, one of the plan's designers, the principal of The Retirement Security Project and a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation] says he hopes to have a draft of the legislation introduced to Congress within a month."

The legislation is being crafted for the White House by the Heritage Foundation (conservative think tank) and Brookings Institution (liberal think-tank, that's where Mr. J. Mark Iwry comes from, Obama official in charge at Treasury - see my older post).

I thought it's the Congress' job to craft a legislation.

Do you remember the talk, back in November last year, about confiscating 401K and IRA to create Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) managed by the Social Security Administration?

If the mandatory IRAs to be created will be stuffed with the Treasury bonds, the government will effectively own the accounts.

G-8 Leaders Declare On Temperature

I don't know if I want to laugh or cry.

ROME - July 8, 2009 -- World leaders agreed Wednesday that the global economy remains too shaky to begin rolling back massive stimulus measures right now. They also set a key goal in the fight against global warming, saying temperatures shouldn't increase more than 2 degrees Celsius.

The rest of the article is here.

So the G-8 leaders hereby declare that the temperatures shouldn't increase more than 2 degrees Celsius. And if they do? What if they decrease by 2 degrees? Why 2 degrees, not 1 or 3? And who are they to decide? (Have they consulted the sun?)

This is akin to the medieval Church declaring that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun circled around the earth.

This is also like the California legislature right now. They are issuing IOUs because they haven't been able to figure out how to fill the budget deficit, but the lawmakers are busy bickering over the small bills on fruits and juices.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jim Cramer Pushing For IRA Treasury Bond

as if it was his own idea. It is beyond amazing. All I can do is LOLRL (laughing out loud, really loud). Mr. Jim Cramer of CNBC Mad Money is simply pushing the administration's idea of forced IRA accounts stuffed with the specially-designed Treasury bond.

I was made aware of Mr. Cramer's latest antic via Market Ticker. I followed the link provided there, and voila, almost word for word with the administration's plan that's been floating around. This blog posted the detail of this attempt to grab more money by the administration, here.

Cramer: 30-Year, 5% Treasurys? (7/6/09 Mad Money)

"Cramer has a solution for average Americans looking to recoup investments losses after a tough two years in the market: Rebuild America Retirement Bonds."

"...he [Cramer] called for the Treasury Department to issue 30-year, 5% bonds as a way to help families who are desperate to recover their savings."

And here's the administration officials:

"Officials in the Obama administration are moving quickly to develop the investment infrastructure behind the president’s proposal for mandatory automatic enrollment in individual retirement accounts, which could be supported by the creation of Treasury-issued retirement bonds."

"J. Mark Iwry, deputy assistant secretary for retirement and health policy at the Department of the Treasury, said that administration officials are exploring some “conservative” options for investing the assets of 78 million Americans that he estimates could be automatically enrolled in this “universal” workplace retirement system."

Back to Cramer:

"CD rates are just too low right now, and stocks have been too volatile to trust. As a result, typically cautious investors have few places to put their money."

Back to the administration officials [follow this link on my post]:

"And if their auto-IRA assets are invested in a vehicle that could decline in value or at least fluctuate frequently, these workers may be discouraged from continuing to save, and could choose to opt out of the plan.

"Using R bonds as the cornerstone for these accounts, however, could eliminate this volatility issue."

One original idea, Mr. Cramer.

Back to the administration official:

"The administration, which included an auto-IRA provision in its 2010 budget, has gained some bipartisan support for the proposal, Mr. Iwry added."

Back to Cramer:

"So call your congressman, call your senator and let the White House know you want these bonds to be issued."

78 million Americans who could "benefit" from such scheme, according to the article in my post. Multiply that by $100,000 each in the account, and you will get $7.8 TRILLION. Now the administration can spend, spend, spend on everything they ever dream of.

I urge you to contact your Congressman and your Senator to block this fraud.

Big Banks Refuse California IOUs

After indicating they would accept California's IOUs from their customers, big national banks are breaking their promise and will stop accepting them on Friday.

Big Banks Don't Want California's IOUs (7/7/09 Wall Street Journal)

"A group of the biggest U.S. banks said they would stop accepting California's IOUs on Friday, adding pressure on the state to close its $26.3 billion annual budget gap.

"The group of banks included Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., among others. The banks had previously committed to accepting state IOUs as payment. California plans to issue more than $3 billion of IOUs in July."

The article did say not all banks will stop accepting IOUs on Friday; some credit unions will still accept them.

So the IOUs from the 10th largest economy in the world is not good enough for the national bankers, some of whom have to bid every single week on the U.S. federal government's IOUs (Treasuries).

Or are the national banks, particularly those deep in TARP money, taking orders from the Fed and Treasury? Maybe the president wants to run California, along with GM, Chrysler, AIG and health care.

The stock market is sinking anew in the last half hour of trading. Dow Jones Industrial is down 145 (-1.75%) to 8179, S&P 500 down 15 (-1.76) to 882, Nasdaq is down 36 (-2.05%) to 1750.

Obama Advisor Tyson Wants Second Stimulus

Here comes. Laura Tyson, one of Obama's economic advisors, wants second stimulus package to make sure the economy will recover.

Obama Adviser Says U.S. Should Mull Second Stimulus (7/7/09 Bloomberg)

"The U.S. should consider drafting a second stimulus package focusing on infrastructure projects because the $787 billion approved in February was “a bit too small,” said Laura Tyson, an outside adviser to President Barack Obama."

"A bit too small", Professor Tyson? $787 billion is about the size of annual GDP of Turkey. The budget deficit in the fiscal 2008 was $459 billion and that was a record. Already, thanks to the (soon-to-be-first) stimulus package and last October's bank bailout package, the budget deficit projected for the fiscal 2009 is already over $1.8 trillion. Professor Tyson wants to increase that by another... trillion, this time, if the first package was "too small"?

This is lunacy. Where does she suppose the money is coming from? (Oh I see, never mind. Surtax for the "rich" (people earning more than $250,000)) Never mind also that the top 1% of income earners already pay 40% of federal income tax, and top 5% pay 60%. Yes, and money grows on trees and vegetable gardens at the White House.

"“The economy is worse than we forecast on which the stimulus program was based,” Tyson, who is a member of Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory board, told the Nomura Equity Forum. “We probably have already 2.5 million more job losses than anticipated.”"

How should anyone still listen to her or the likes of her? Sorry we badly missed our estimate but trust us with more money and we will get it right, someday, maybe, if we're lucky.

"Even Democrats have bemoaned the pace of the package’s implementation. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday” June 5 that congressional Democrats are “disappointed” stimulus funds weren’t distributed faster."

Bemoaning is good, but the problem is not the pace of implementation. It's where it's going. The bulk of "stimulus" money is going to state and local governments to pay for the welfare services and other pet projects that got tacked on to the bill. (See my post.) Or you could say the entire bill is about politicians' pet projects over a decade or two. How would that "stimulate" the economy is a mystery to me, number one; and number two, the economy may not want to be "stimulated".

At least the private sector of the economy is shedding the excess (capital, inventory, manpower). The government is furiously adding the excess and penalizing the private sector for shedding the excess by increasing regulations and de facto taxation. Explicit taxation will come with healthcare "reform" and the "climate" bill.

"Tyson, 62, later told reporters that the U.S. can afford to pay for a second package, even as the fiscal deficit soars. She said the budget shortfall is “likely to be worse” than the equivalent of 12 percent of gross domestic product that the administration forecast for 2009 and the 8 percent to 9 percent it projected for next year.

"Tyson said the U.S. should shift away from its dependence on consumption to grow, and promote expansion through investment and exports. The dollar will need to weaken in the longer term to promote export-led growth, she said. "

Professor Tyson may have been stressed out from a plane ride to Singapore. She's almost incoherent. The U.S. (= taxpayers) can afford to pay for a second package even if she firmly believes the budget deficit will be far worse. The dollar will need to weaken? It is already at 20-year support. How much lower does she want? 40? That's what the chart pattern of U.S. dollar indicates. And how much longer does she think the creditors of the U.S. debt tolerate the weak dollar?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Learn From The Super Rich Where & What To Invest

How the Woes of the Wealthy Can Guide You to Global Investing Profits
(by Martin Hutchinson 7/2/09 Money Morning)

"The Capgemini/Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report appeared last week and it makes for some grim reading.

"But it also provides global investors with some insights into the best markets to invest in.

"Among the ultra-high-net-worth-investors (ultra-HNWI) - those with investible assets of $30 million or more - the population plunged 24.6% and their wealth by 23.9%. That’s as you might have expected, in a year when global equity values fell close to 50% and real estate was also weak. Nevertheless, there were some regional variations that were significant - and that should help us decide which global markets to play for profit, and which ones to avoid."

"For a start, how bad the year was depended very much on where you lived. German HNWI wealth declined only 2.7% in U.S. dollar terms, and Brazilian HNWI wealth only 8.7%, in spite of a sharp fall in the value of the Brazilian real against the American dollar. At the other extreme, Hong Kong-based HNWIs saw their wealth decline 61.3% and Indian HNWIs 31.6%, in spite of the fact that the Indian economy remained robust.

"These disparate performances reflect the different asset allocations of the various HNWI groups. German and Brazilian HNWIs invest primarily in bonds, while - at the opposite extreme - Hong Kong HNWIs were very heavily invested in stocks, with the total value of the Hong Kong stock market being five times the island’s gross domestic product (GDP) - the highest ratio anywhere the world."

"A second lesson investors can learn from the experiences of the HNWIs is that many of the so-called “alternative” asset classes provide poor diversification. Real estate and commodities did poorly in 2008, while hedge funds and structured investment vehicles did only slightly better than equities - but with a lack of transparency and an excessive fee structure that made those alternative investments truly unattractive. "

Hmmm. So it's Germany and Brazil, and cash and bonds. And it is not to make money but to not lose money badly.

And there is this increasing concern for price inflation caused by monetary inflation. If that happens, cash and bonds won't help much in preserving the wealth, big or small. As the author concludes [emphasis is mine];

"Apart from putting all your money in cash and bonds (which will not help if we get high inflation, about the only one of the deadly financial plagues mercifully absent in 2008), The Global Wealth Report offered no real defenses against sharp wealth downturns in recessions. I would suggest one only: A purchase of long-dated out-of-the-money index “put” options, traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. In flat or rising markets, these will lose you money, but they have the huge advantage that in a real bear market - such as that of September to March - they will potentially provide a real lump of cash if sold near the market bottom. And that cash can then be used to buy stocks and other assets while they are at their cheapest."

The stock market still hangs in no-man's land, although a lot of traders are salivating at the apparent "head and shoulders" formation on a major index (S&P 500, see my post in the other blog). They want to go short so badly here, so the market may throw a curve ball yet again.

But the author's time frame - September to March for potential "real bear market" - happens to agree with mine, and it seems to agree with what people who follow Elliott Wave seem to be saying ("P3 is coming"). I like his suggestion, and I wish I had known what I know now back in September last year.

Now that the government may be taxing each individual rich person for carbon emission, even the super-rich will need a extra good hedge.

Michelle Obama's UC Merced visit cost school $1M

And the first lady wasn't even paid for her appearance. What a shame.

Michelle Obama's UC Merced visit cost school $1M (7/6/09 AP via Yahoo News)

"MERCED, Calif. – The final price of the University of California, Merced's commencement ceremony featuring first lady Michelle Obama was more than $1 million — surpassing the original estimate tenfold.

"Private contributions and interest on a private endowment fund have helped cover the cost. UC spokeswoman Patti Waid Istas said that nonstate dollars and other contributions will be used to cover the remaining balance of around $362,338.

"The school had budgeted $100,000 for the May commencement ceremony. The price tag ended up being $1.04 million.

"The address attracted about 12,000 visitors, requiring additional transportation, audiovisual and multimedia needs and other items. Obama was neither paid for her appearance nor compensated for travel and security."

Wind Power May Be A Health Hazard

Now that the climate bill (H.R. 2454) has passed the House and the U.S. is embarking on the brave new world of dramatic increase in alternative energy production, it may be wise not to repeat the same problems that the pioneers (Europe and Japan) have suffered. Here's one from Japan on wind power. The article appeared in Japan a year ago, along with flurry of reports about health problems caused by the windmills.

Wind power may have its own environmental problems (7/5/09, translation from the article appeared in Japan's Yomiuri Shinbun)

"Shinjuro Kondo, 76, who moved into his Japanese neighborhood 17 years ago, said, "Stiff shoulders, headaches, insomnia, hand tremors... Since February last year, soon after the test operation of windmills started, I developed various kinds of symptoms."

"Kondo's neighborhood is about 350 meters away from a group of windmills. More than 20 percent of about 100 neighbors also complain of similar physical disorders. They said their symptoms become less severe when the windmills stop due to mechanical troubles and other reasons.

"Currently, the relationship between such physical disorders and the windmills is not clear. But infrasonic waves generated by the windmills' rotors is suspected to be the cause. The sound waves oscillate once to 20 times a second, a frequency too low to be heard by human ears."

The article goes on to say there is no research done on the infrasonic noise and human health. Not true at all. There are numerous studies in Europe regarding infrasound and its effect on humans.

What is infrasonic/infrasound? Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 cycles per second, the normal limit of human hearing. Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure must be sufficiently high. The ear is the primary organ for sensing infrasound, but at higher levels it is possible to feel infrasound vibrations in various parts of the body. (

You may not hear infrasound by your ears, but the cells in your body may feel it and respond.

One experiment in England where "a team of UK researchers held a mass experiment where they exposed some 700 people to music laced with soft 17 Hz sine waves played at a level described as "near the edge of hearing"" The result? "The presence of the tone resulted in a significant number (22%) of respondents reporting anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine and feelings of pressure on the chest." (

And here's from an article that appeared in Asahi Shinbun on 1/18/09 (the article is in Japanese):

"Wind power is expected to be the next generation of renewal energy source. However, an increasing number of people living near the power-generating windmills are complaining about headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and other health problems. No definitive study on the cause, but it is agreed that these problems have to do with the sound emitted by the windmills nearby. More and more windmills are being installed closer to homes, which may be exacerbating the problems.

"Tsuyoshi Okawa, 40, and his family started to notice something was wrong in January 2007, immediately after the windmill nearby went into operation. Symptoms include numbness, headache and insomnia. The symptoms are relieved once they are far away from their house (and from the windmill), and come back as soon as they come back home.

"He had the noise level measured at his house. The result: his house was vibrating at a very low frequency (infrasound). He was told that there was no effect on health, but [since his body clearly says otherwise] he rented an apartment so that his family can escape there to get a decent sleep at night."

Once quiet farmland is now literally a nightmare for the residents suffering from insomnia, so that the city folks can claim they are using "clean" energy. All for the sake of preventing "global warming". For those environmentalists who argue it is still worth it, please consider what kind of effect it may be having for wild life. It is not just birds flying into the blades.

After all, very low frequency sound has been used as a deadly weapon.

Rumor: Swiss Government To Cut Diplomatic Ties With U.S.?

from Blog.

William Tell, Call Your Office (Lew Rockwell, 7/5/09 The LRC Blog)

"Writes a Swiss friend:

There are rumours in Geneva this weekend that the Swiss government is on the edge of breaking off diplomatic relations with the US, over the harassment Swiss banks and the Swiss government have been getting from the IRS, calling it a violation of national sovereignty. I knew they were pissed off… but didn’t think they’d ever tire of being Mordor’s paid minions. I can also tell you that Americans here have been going bats over the IRS’s new demands for what amounts to double taxation and full disclosure, or confiscation of passports at US borders and threats of jail time. It all smacks of an amazing level of desperation. When I was little, the Soviet mission here was ringed by barbed wire and guard towers. Today, it’s the US mission which has barbed wire and guard towers."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Obama's Visit To Russia: The Great Game Is Still On

I ran into this minor article about Obama's visit to Russia:

Obama assured of a chilly Russian welcome despite first signs of thaw (7/4/09

The article is about this week's visit by the U.S. president to Russia, one of the few countries that seem to be immune to the charm and charisma of the president that so many people talk about.

But what caught my attention was the following passage, and I couldn't let pass the ignorance of the writer on the subject:

"Washington also sees Russia as playing a pivotal role in the diplomatic chess game Mr Obama has launched in the Middle East and Asia.."

The diplomatic chess game Mr. Obama has launched in the Middle East and Asia? He has done no such thing. Give me a break. He is merely continuing where his predecessor had left off, who in turn was merely continuing what his predecessor had left off.

Have you heard of The Great Game? It's been played across Eurasia and Middle East for nearly two centuries, mainly between the British Empire and the Russian Empire. Even after both were no longer empires, the game continued. Iran has always been one of the central interests. The United States seems to have joined the game in 1950's by installing Shar of Iran, and gotten increasingly active in late 1970s under Jimmy Carter, whose national security advisor was Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has been advising Obama.

Mr. Brzezinski's book, "The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives" published in 1998, spells out strategies for U.S. dominance in Eurasia and seems to follow what he and President Carter did in Central Asia.

It is indeed a grand old game. And Russians have been playing this way longer than Americans. Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev would chuckle at the idea that "Mr. Obama has launched the chess game".

Will Stimulus Money Create Jobs As Biden Says?

Vice President Joe Biden is now saying the government underestimated the severity of the recession ("We misread the economy"). Who could have known? Actually a lot of people knew and even told him and other government officials so. And Mr. Vice President is also saying the stimulus money is just about to flow in earnest and it will make a big difference.

Oh really?

So let's take a look at the stimulus bill that was passed back in February, $787 billion monstrosity with 1000 plus pages of the bill that no one in the Congress read but passed anyway. (Just like climate bill the House just passed, just like the bank bailout bill that passed last October - no one bothered to read.) Here's a nice summary table by Wall Street Journal, who clearly read the bill to glean out the information:

Getting to $787 Billion - What's In the Stimulus Bill (2/17/09, Wall Street Journal) [warning: the page is very slow to load. If you are impatient it may crash your computer. I was, and it did.]

Here are top 15 uses of money:

  • $116,199 million: $400 payroll tax credit for workers earning up to $75,000; married couples filing jointly get $800 for income up to $150,000

  • $90,044 million: Federal aid to states for Medicaid spending

  • $69,759 million: Middle-income taxpayers get an exemption from the alternative minimum tax of $46,700 for an individual and $70,950 for a married couple

  • $40,600 million: Aid to states to balance education budgets, prevent cutbacks and modernize schools
So far, nothing that would stimulate employment.

  • $29,000 million: Grants for highway improvements
Good, finally some seasonal/temporary employments! But the rest...

  • $26,960 million: Extension of jobless benefits for up to 33 weeks

  • $24,749 million: 65% subsidy for laid-off workers to continue paying premiums for former employer's health plan for nine months

  • $19,991 million: 13% increase in food stamp payments

  • $17,559 million: Incentive payments to hospitals and physicians who computerize medical-records systems

  • $17,114 million: Increase in Pell Grant to $5,350 in 2009 and to $5,550 in 2010, and other increases to student aid

  • $14,830 million: Increased eligibility for refundable child tax credit, with all income over $3000 qualifying

  • $14,225 million: One-time payment of $250 for retirees, disabled people, SSI recipients, railroad retirees and disabled veterans

  • $13,907 million: Tax credit of up to $2500 for tuition and college expenses

  • $13,143 million: Extending by three years the placed-in-service date for renewable energy investments

  • $13,000 million: Funding for 'Title I' education programs for disadvantaged children
Top 15 spendings make up over $521 billion (66% of stimulus money), with only $29 billion going to job creation, albeit temporary. If other spending categories create jobs, it will do so by adding new program administrators here and there.

Let's go down the list. There are an awful lot of "oversight" costs, which I take to be additional administrative costs to oversee the stimulus programs.

Among lesser items, you find gems like these:

  • $2,500 million: Broadband grants to rural communities
  • $1,300 million: Grants to Amtrak
  • $1,000 million: Extra money for Census [which is now taken over by the White House, which may be unconsitutional]
  • $650 million: Coupons, education and consumer support for digital to analogue converter box program [this is a double payment, as the original bill more than adequately funded the program till the end of 2009. I wonder where the money is actually going...]
  • $500 million: Extra money for women, infants and children (WIC) special nutrition program
  • $50 million: Training high-risk youth in construction job skills [Ummm, construction? Don't you think we have more than enough of people with these particular skills?]

My favorite is this one. I don't know what it is but sounds mighty and strong:

  • $100 million: Army "warrior transition complexes"
There are numerous construction projects, for sure, of government offices and facilities. If you read through the list, the biggest beneficiary of this stimulus, to be paid by the U.S. taxpayers, is the government.

We may end up like a stereotypical third world where the new, shiny government buildings hover over the dilapidated roads, commercial buildings, and houses. Oh I forgot. Houses owned by low-income families will benefit. So their houses will be in decent shape.

For the rest of us non-governmental and not qualifying as low income family, good luck to us. We will need a lot of it.