As media predictably pound the table for Congress to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, an interesting analysis by Washington Post contributor Robert J. Samuelson should raise a caution flag.
Higher taxes inhibit couples from having children which in other developed nations has led to longterm economic paralysis.
In a western civilization that got drunk on entitlement programs in the previous century, population growth is essential as all of these schemes have a Ponzi component to them: they only work if you continually have new people entering the system to pay for those collecting benefits.
As Samuelson outlined in the Post Monday, our federal income tax structure is quite at odds with our best interests as a nation:
Initial requests for jobless benefits rose last week to their highest level since April, a sign that hiring remains weak and some companies are still cutting workers.
The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment insurance rose by 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 479,000. Analysts had expected a small drop. Claims have risen twice in the past three weeks.
Thanks to Shirley Sherrod, Andrew Breitbart, and the NAACP, political journalists have supposedly discovered the importance of "context" (though they strangely seem to lost interest once fuller context items like this and this became known). It would be helpful if such an interest in full context would legitimately and consistently spread to business reporting.
Full context would include looking at the raw business and economic data before it gets seasonally adjusted and reporting it when it is significant. Given the information the press would then have to report in the current economy, I'm not holding my breath waiting for journalists to even look at it, let alone report it. (Update: See this comment below for another important contextual element.)
Take the housing market, particularly housing starts and new single-family home sales. During the past week, the Census Bureau released statistics on each of these important metrics. Let's look at an excerpt from reports about each.
George Will on Sunday accused Barack Obama of being an expert at selling snake oil.
As the Roundtable segment of ABC's "This Week" began, host Jake Tapper asked Will if the President's claim Republicans "are peddling that same snake oil that they've been peddling now for years" will resonate with voters this November.
Will marvelously responded, "No, because he is an expert on snake oil."
"This is the man who said, if we pass the $767 billion stimulus bill, which it turns out costs $862 billion, a $95 million oops, we would have unemployment at 8 percent and no higher, and it went higher," continued Will.
"This is the man who last week was out saying, 'I'm going to give $2 billion, about $2 billion, to two companies to create about 1,600 jobs.' That's $1.5 million per job. That is snake oil" (video follows with partial transcript and commentary:
On Friday's Rick's List, CNN's Rick Sanchez attacked conservative economic policy, singling out the right's support for lower tax rates, and complained that "we in America are so easily led to go against our own interests.... you would find that at least half...[are] pulling for the rich guy." Sanchez also belittled conservative talk show hosts: "Many...don't even have a college degree" [audio clips available here].
The anchor led the 3 pm Eastern hour with a rant against "these guys on talk radio, some of whom make hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars" and their defense of "the money guys...the super-rich, night in and night out- you know who I'm talking about- you will hear this and you have heard this consistent narrative. We're being held back by high taxes in this country, high tax rates- cut taxes on the wealthy and, zoom, there it goes. Our economy is going to be back with a vengeance. Get the government off our backs and all our problems in this country are going to be solved."
Sanchez then caricatured the conservative take on the present economic situation and, unsurprising, introduced race into the issue. He also targeted CNBC personality and Tea Party hero Rick Santelli:
Apparently, Fannie and Freddie are the new Batman and Robin.
At least they seemed more like heroes than villains in a July 6 ABC News story about the troubled housing market. Reporter Rich Blake gave the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac credit for "propping up" the flailing housing sector:
"As perplexing and disturbing as this economic brainteaser may seem, the housing sector would be in even worse shape if not for those twin government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both in government conservatorship and bleeding assets," Blake wrote.
But on June 21, Associated Press reported the mortgage assistance program is "falling flat."
The broadcast networks supported the mortgage modification and housing bailout when Obama launched it in 2009, after criticizing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's plan for not doing "enough" to fix the problem. ABC, CBS and NBC haven't mentioned the new figures since AP reported them.
The man who predicted the bursting of the housing bubble as well as 2008's economic collapse says that what happened in the markets around the world today is just the next stage in the financial crisis.
"The first stage was this massive re-leveraging of the private sector that led to the financial crisis and which has responded now with a massive re-leveraging of public sectors with budget deficits of the order of 10 percent," Nouriel Roubini aka Dr. Doom told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo.
"So I think that the markets are realizing that we have socialized a lot of the private losses with unsustainable fiscal deficits."
He believes the bond markets in parts of Europe seriously began realizing the depth of the problem today cautioning, "And soon enough they're going to wake up in the United States" (video follows with partial transcript and commentary):
Cramer told MSNBC's April 26 "Morning Joe" that Goldman really has no defense if, as the government alleges, Goldman misled investors when it established a mortgage-backed security in 2007 for a hedge fund client looking to bet against the housing market. And that's in addition to facing heat from shareholders for not revealing that it received a Wells Notice from the SEC.
In the past 20 months, liberal media members have routinely blamed 2008's financial crisis on George W. Bush, Republicans, Wall Street, and greed.
Someone that has hardly ever been accused of having a hand in what led to the tumult is former President Bill Clinton.
As NewsBusters has been reporting almost since the crash began, it was Clinton who signed into law two key bills -- the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 -- that ushered in the malfeasance that almost toppled the world economy.
On Saturday, a former editorial page editor for the Wall Street Journal, George Melloan, made the connection even stronger as he pointed a finger at someone most in the media have shamelessly given a pass for his involvement in this crisis (h/t @RLMcMahon):
The Pentagon rescinded the invitation of evangelist Franklin Graham to speak at its May 6 National Day of Prayer event because of complaints about his previous comments about Islam.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation expressed its concern over Graham's involvement with the event in an April 19 letter sent to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. MRFF's complaint about Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, focused on remarks he made after 9/11 in which he called Islam "wicked" and "evil" and his lack of apology for those words.
Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, told ABC News on April 22, "This Army honors all faiths and tries to inculcate our soldiers and work force with an appreciation of all faiths and his past comments just were not appropriate for this venue."
Surprise: NBC finally found a business it likes - even a business decision it likes: companies that help homeowners who decide to walk away from their mortgages.
"New figures show foreclosures in the U.S. are up about 35-percent from a year ago," Matt Lauer kicked off an April 20 segment of "Today" that encouraged homeowners - even those financially comfortable - to simply walk away. "And a growing reason why are people who simply choose to walk away from their mortgage even when they can afford it."
"Experian, the credit-monitoring service, says 588,000 borrowers - or 18-percent of those who have defaulted on their mortgages in the past year - did it for strategic reasons and not because they're broke," NBC's George Lewis reported. "It's called a strategic default, walking away from a home and enduring foreclosure out of frustration with a bad investment."
On the scene with the Schreur family in Folsom, California, Mr. Schreur acknowledged in an interview that although his family was not in any financial distress, a sharp decline in house value incited the family to default, as any other option "made no sense."
The Obama administration is trying out a second big-government remedy for people facing foreclosure, but NBC's "Today" failed to mention criticism of the initial program or provide any free-market solutions.
The White House has now tapped $14 billion in TARP funds to expand the administration's existing mortgage assistance program.
Matt Lauer introduced the "Today" show March 29 discussion of the program saying: "New help for millions of homeowners who are facing foreclosure. The Obama administration is rolling out new incentives to the federal mortgage relief program - so what's different this time?"
"If you're unemployed, this is going to give you an ability to have your monthly payments lowered for three months, maybe even six months," CNBC's Sharon Epperson told Lauer, before noting the requirements and assistance for those "underwater."
"He dug into the idiocy and negligence that produced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression," Steve Kroft opened a segment of the March 14 CBS "60 Minutes," featuring author Michael Lewis' latest work - "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine."
If Lewis "dug into the idiocy and negligence," he did so selectively - or that's what viewers could conclude from the long "60 Minutes" report, which concerned itself with how "some of Wall Street's smartest minds managed to destroy $1.75 trillion of wealth in the sub-prime mortgage markets." Somehow, in a 24-minute report about the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, nobody ever said where all the bad loans originated.
Lewis told Kroft that the financial crisis was "a story of mass delusion."
"How can they not look at the numbers?" Kroft asked. "How can Wall Street be selling all these, buying all of these mortgages and repackaging them and not realizing they are not very good mortgages?"
The adverb that begins with a "U" made yet another appearance yesterday in connection with an economic report. The related noun that begins with an "S" came along for the ride.
The news concerned sales of new homes. They fell "Unexpectedly" to their lowest level since 1963, when the U.S population was about 40% lower. The decline was a "Surprise" to economists, who had predicted an increase.
It continues to fascinate that the "Unexpected" news that came as a "Surprise" to economists during a large portion of the Bush 43 administration more often than not was to the upside, while the trail of "Unexpected Surprises" during the current administration is littered with downers.
Ahead of the news, the Associated Press appeared ready to play up what it thought would be good news, and then exiled its reports to remote corners when things didn't go as expected.
In a Thursday afternoon story on the small rise in the Case Schiller home price index, the AP's Adrian Sanz was talking of recovery, while inventing a new economic concept (bold is mine):
Last Friday, New London, Connecticut's newspaper The Day carried the first bit of news in years that might be construed as positive about the city's Fort Trumbull area, part of which became the subject of the infamous Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision in June 2005. Twenty-four hours later, further detail also carried at the Day showed that the "good news" is really a cruel joke on homeowners who fought for the right to keep their properties.
The city convinced the Supreme Court that it had "a carefully considered development plan." The trouble was when that plan met the real world during the three-plus years after the July 2006 final settlement between the city, the State of Connecticut, and final eminent-domain holdouts Susette Kelo and Mike Cristofaro, no developer wanted to get involved. Kelo's house (pictured above via the New York Times) was moved to a separate site and serves as a monument to her and others' heroic efforts.
Despite the hard feelings all around, one can see how Thursday's news covered in Friday's Day indicating a bit of movement in a moribund situation might have been cause for limited cheer:
The Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program (known as "HAMP" to lenders and services, and MHA, or "Making Home Affordable" to the general public) is "failing."
I only learned this because I looked at the Associated Press's feeds on Christmas evening and saw this headline -- "No consequences for lying borrowers."
In an item time-stamped December 25, AP national business columnist Rachel Beck (note: not a reporter) used language that would ordinarily cause many in the press to characterize such a person as a hard-hearted meanie to describe the results of this core Obama initiative this far:
No consequences for lying borrowers
The government shouldn't reward liars. But that's the effect of changes to the Obama administration's failing program to help homeowners modify their mortgages.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department issued a press release, called "Update on Status of Support for Housing Programs." Its fourth paragraph reads as follows:
At the time the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship in September 2008, Treasury established Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs) to ensure that each firm maintained a positive net worth. Treasury is now amending the PSPAs to allow the cap on Treasury's funding commitment under these agreements to increase as necessary to accommodate any cumulative reduction in net worth over the next three years. At the conclusion of the three year period, the remaining commitment will then be fully available to be drawn per the terms of the agreements.
Translation: No matter how badly things further deteriorate at these former government sponsored enterprises, both of which since last year in essence have become government-controlled enterprises, Uncle Sam (i.e., current and future generations of taxpayers) will cover their losses.
Here is how three different news outlets headlined this Treasury/Obama administration move:
If there's a Ground Zero for America's foreclosure mess outside of much of California and metro Las Vegas, it's probably Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio city known in most of the rest of the state as the Mistake on the Lake.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mark Gillespie got out from behind his desk, committed some good old-fashioned journalism, and went looking for the mistakes that exacerbated the town's breathtaking home foreclosure rate. Lo and behold, he found that city government itself contributed mightily and extraordinarily negligently to the debacle. Go far enough into Gillespie's report, and you will also find an implicit admission that the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) also played a pivotal role (bold is mine):
How Cleveland aggravated its foreclosure crisis
The city of Cleveland has aggravated its vexing foreclosure problems and has lost millions in tax dollars by helping people buy homes they could not afford, a Plain Dealer investigation has found.
On yesterday's CNN Newsroom, anchor Kyra Phillips shifted to "Bad Boys" mode:
Lenders, lenders -- what you gonna do when they come for you? Call it an early Christmas present for people on the edge of losing their homes. The Obama administration cracking down on mortgage companies.
We'll tell you about it.
After the break:
PHILLIPS: Well, from your health (ph) to your home, the foreclosure crisis shows no signs of letting up, so the Obama administration is trying to fight back.
It's a development that I wouldn't wish on anybody, but one that the City of New London, Connecticut largely brought upon itself by pursuing and winning the Kelo v. New London case at the Supreme Court in June 2005.
Some "win." In what Ed Morrissey at Hot Air calls "a fitting coda to a chapter of governmental abuse," pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer is leaving the global research and development headquarters it built in New London just eight years ago.
The significance of the move should resonate nationally, because, as the Washington Examiner explains, Pfizer's original decision to locate in New London was driven by the City's promises to eliminate a nearby neighborhood -- promises which led to the Kelo litigation once residents, including Susette Kelo (pictured above), pushed back:
To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."
The New London Day elaborates, while petulantly managing to avoid any mention of what has clearly become the local four-letter word -- "Kelo" (bold is mine):
Monday’s CBS Early Show took time to highlight the selling power of the Obama family as correspondent Dean Reynolds reported: “Bill Grimshaw thinks he has the perfect sales pitch for the house he’s trying to sell on Chicago’s south side....he lives right next door to the Obamas....because of this...special location, the sky could well be the limit.”
Reynolds gushed over how the Grimshaw family was “So close they let Obama use their living room as a backdrop to record a holiday message days before last year’s Iowa caucuses.” He then spoke with real estate agent Matt Garrison, who argued: “We anticipate an Obama – an Obama premium. We don’t know exactly how much that is.” Reynolds wondered: “An Obama premium?” Garrison reiterated: “Yeah, an Obama factor, an Obama premium.” Reynolds further explained: “For example, Matt says living next door to the Nobel Peace Prize winner could make Grimshaw a winner, too.” Garrison remarked: “We certainly think it makes the price go up.”
As if the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Fan and Fred) crackups weren't bad enough, IBDeditorials.com noted on Thursday evening that another bad-mortgage shoe is about to drop. This time it's at the Federal Housing Authority (FHA).
First, let's revisit Fan and Fred to remind readers just how complete the disaster has been at these decades in the making Democratic crony-controlled entities.
A little-noticed CNNMoney.com item by Chris Isidore in late July told us what the original announced loss estimate had been a year earlier (bolds are mine throughout this post):
When Congress was debating the bailout of Fannie and Freddie last July (of 2008), the official estimate from the Congressional Budget Office was that a bailout would most likely cost taxpayers $25 billion, with only a 5% chance of the price tag reaching $100 billion between them.
Isidiore then noted that just one year later the loss estimate had doubled:
It isn't often that one can see two decades of history re-written in under ten minutes. But such was the occasion on this morning's episode of Morning Joe. Max Blumenthal, author of "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party," spent his time on the show demonstrating the combined power of cognitive dissonance, wanton ignorance, and a willingness to re-write historical fact.
Let's take it in chronological order, shall we?
First, Blumenthal is asked to present the major thesis of his book:
Pigs aren't flying, but don't be surprised if you see a few of them sprouting wings.
The Associated Press, which along with the rest of the establishment media has almost totally ignored the aftermath of the awful Kelo v. New London ruling over fours ago, actually carried a mostly fair and balanced piece about where things stand by writer Katie Nelson. Though I've followed the story reasonably closely since the fall of 2005, I learned a few things I didn't know about the City of New London's original lofty promises.
I do have a couple of quibbles, the biggest one being the current headline ("Conn. land vacant 4 years after court OK'd seizure"). It seems to me that the word "Kelo," as in Susette Kelo (pictured at top right), belongs in it. My other problem is that it's a weekend story and will thus be lightly read.
But let me highlight the better paragraphs in Nelson's report:
Arianna Huffington, who appeared as a guest host on CNBC's March 31 "Squawk Box" has following of left-wing readers and bloggers, as the editor of the very popular Huffington Post blog. The two faced off on "Squawk Box" about how the housing crisis should be handled. Huffington asked Santelli what his thoughts were on more government assistance for underwater homeowners to prevent another round of foreclosures.
"Well, the whole country is underwater I guess," Santelli replied. "It's just a matter of where you want to point the bailout gun. I would certainly like to see some of those mortgage contracts gone through to find out where the erroneous and inaccurate and illegal contracts and separate those from the rest because I think that a lot of the information on the original mortgage contracts is not accurate and I don't think it would be very fair to put those in the same camp as other foreclosures."
Maybe it was just too easy to assume the worst of the news network most others in the press love to hate. Or perhaps it was deliberate.
Whatever the reason, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service's Wednesday story about reaction to Barack Obama's sort-of State of the Union Speech the previous evening spent four of its last five paragraphs pinning a report harshly critical of various claims in the speech on Fox News.
True, Fox News's web site carried the story ("Fact Check: Obama's Words on Home Aid Ring Hollow"). But it was actually written by the Associated Press's Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn. (Yes, the AP actually wrote an Obama-critical story. More on that in a bit.)
Here are the four paragraphs in question from the AFP report, which otherwise lavishes praise on Obama's speech and rips into Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's GOP response performance:
CNBC reporter Santelli's Thursday morning "Shout Heard Round the World" (CNBC's term) objecting to the Obama administration's mortgage modification program on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange quickly went viral, and struck two nerves. First, it ignited a groundswell of support from the over 90% of the of the nation that pays its bills and plays by the (normal) rules. The other nerve it struck was at the White House, whose spokesman Robert Gibbs struck back with a level of poorly concealed fury and contempt that I don't think I've seen publicly displayed by any other administration in my lifetime.
Larry Kudlow had Santelli as a guest on CNBC's Kudlow Report Friday night (CNBC video here; YouTube here [HT Scott's Slant]). As one would fully expect by this time, Santelli made a few huge, emotionally-charged points of his own. The gratifying stunner is Kudlow's passion in the final third of the interview, where he sounded the alarm over freedom of the press, basic respect, and bullying.
Looking around the web, at least at this point, this interview has gained relatively little exposure, leaving the distinct and incorrect impression that Gibbs has the rhetorical upper hand.
No way. The CNBC pair of Santelli and Kudlow has the White House on its heels. Common-sense, passionate, principled assertions rooted in truth will tend to do that. Here's the full transcript (bolds are mine):
Rick Sentelli's rant for the ages (transcript here) on CNBC's Squawk Box yesterday criticizing the recently passed stimulus package and the Obama administration's mortgage modification program was marred somewhat by the studio hosts. Though their tone was semi-humorous, it's telling that their instincts were to characterize the traders present at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a "mob," and to assume that Santelli somehow controlled them ("putty in your hands"). When Santelli suggested a Chicago Tea Party, one of the hosts warned that Mayor Daley and the National Guard would be mobilized.
In October of last year, in a memorable exchange on the day that history may decide was when American free-market capitalism entered the point of no return, CNBC reporters seemed somewhat amused that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson had "put a (figurative) gun to the heads" of major bank CEOs to force them to accept government "investment."
Well if you don't mind my asking, will we see any reaction out of CNBC's studio folks to an example of real mob rule in the mortgage marketplace?
The battle between New London, Connecticut and the residents of its Fort Trumbull neighborhood began in 1998 when the City decided that it would redevelop the area for ultimate ownership by others and, if necessary, take the residents' properties for that "public purpose" -- not for "public use" (i.e., roads, bridges, schools, etc.), as the Fifth Amendment clearly intended.
Susette Kelo and other Fort Trumbull residents pushed back and sued to try to stop the city's plans. Ultimately, the Supreme Court rendered its 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London in June 2005, erroneously (as the Founders would almost certainly have seen it) siding with the city.
In July 2006, after intervention by Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell prevented the City from carrying out its declared intent to forcibly remove final holdouts Kelo and the Cristofaros if necessary, the city and the holdouts settled.
More than 2-1/2 years after the settlement, 3-1/2 years after the Supremes' decision, and 11 years after the city's initial plans, oh boy -- a new tenant has finally moved into the Fort Trumbull Neighborhood. It's a government tenant (link at New London Day will be available for about a week), and the move is into an existing building: