Rick Perry, by the book

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ruth Marcus

Rick Perry is no George W. Bush.

This is not a compliment.

Rick Perry Fed UpPerry’s 2010 Tea Party-steeped manifesto, “Fed Up!,” makes George Bush look like George McGovern. Perry has said he wasn’t planning to run for president when he wrote the book, and it shows:

●The Texas governor floats the notion of repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax. Perry describes the amendment as “the great milestone on the road to serfdom” because it “was the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”

Raise your hand if you believe, as Perry suggests, that it is wrong to ask the wealthiest to pay a greater share of their income than the poor.

●He lambastes the 17th Amendment, which instituted direct election of senators, as a misguided “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government” that “traded structural difficulties and some local corruption for a much larger and dangerous form of corruption.”

Raise your hand if you’d like to give the power to elect senators back to your state legislature.

● Perry laments the New Deal as “the second big step” — the 16th and 17th amendments being the first — “in the march of socialism and . . . the key to releasing the remaining constraints on the national government’s power to do whatever it wishes.”

●He specifically targets Social Security for “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” and asserts that “by any measure, Social Security is a failure.”

Not by the measure of the dramatically reduced share of elderly living in poverty. Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” was impolitic, but he has a legitimate point about the program’s funding imbalance. The bigger problem is his fundamental hostility to the notion of a federal role in retirement security — or, more broadly, a federal role in much of anything beside national defense.

●As much as he dislikes the New Deal, Perry is even less happy about the Great Society, suggesting that programs such as Medicare are unconstitutional. “From housing to public television, from the environment to art, from education to medical care, from public transportation to food, and beyond, Washington took greater control of powers that were conspicuously missing from Article 1 of the Constitution,” he writes.

Whoa! These are not mainstream Republican views — at least, not any Republican mainstream post-Goldwater and pre-Tea Party. Even Ronald Reagan, who had once criticized Social Security and Medicare, was backing away from those positions by the 1980 presidential campaign.

Reading “Fed Up!,” I had a flashback to scouring the writings of Robert Bork after his 1987 Supreme Court nomination — except that Bork’s most controversial writings were decades, not months, old.
Indeed, Perry’s views on the role of judges may be the most alarming part of “Fed Up!,” given a president’s ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. Perry writes about the current court with venomous disdain.

The court “adheres to the Constitution in appearance only and as a matter of necessity,” he writes, “finding in it or in previous case law the single nugget around which the court can marginally justify its policy choice to keep up the pretense of actually caring one iota about the Constitution in the first place.”

Disagreeing with liberal justices is one thing. Accusing them of not caring about the Constitution is like denouncing the opposing party as unpatriotic — and is equally out of bounds.

Perry’s ideas range from wrongheaded to terrifying: requiring federal judges to stand for reappointment and reconfirmation; and letting Congress override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote in both houses. This “risks increased politicization of judicial decisions,” Perry allows, “but also has the benefit of letting the people stop the court from unilaterally deciding policy.”

Some benefit. Imagine what would have happened in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education if the Perry rule were in place.

“Not as often discussed, but equally interesting,” Perry muses, “would be a ‘clarifying’ amendment” — for example, to stop the 14th Amendment  from being “abused by the court to carry out whatever policy choices it wants to make in the form of judicial activism.” How would Perry clarify such grand phrases as “due process” and “equal protection”?

Perry doesn’t say.

The subtitle of Perry’s book is “Our Fight to Save America from Washington.” Reading it summons the image of another, urgent fight: saving America from Rick Perry.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com

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Bernanke Glum on Growth–But No stimulus Hints

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Bigg (Reuters) –

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday acknowledged the economy has slowed but offered no hint the U.S. central bank is considering any more stimulus to accelerate growth.

He also warned members of Congress who might be planning aggressive budget cuts that they have the potential to derail the recovery if cuts in government spending take hold too soon.

A recent spate of weak economic data, capped by Friday’s report showing anemic job creation last month, had renewed speculation the Fed might again come to the economy’s aid.

Bernanke gave no such indication but did say the recovery was fragile enough to warrant keeping in place the extraordinary monetary support the Fed has already provided.

Speaking to a banking conference, the Fed chairman said that while he expects the economy to strengthen in the second half of the year, the job market bears close monitoring.

“The economy is still producing at levels well below its potential,” he said. “Consequently, accommodative monetary policies are still needed.”

Richard Gilhooly, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities in New York, called the speech “pretty downbeat.”

“It means that the Fed’s on hold for longer,” he said.

Stocks closed lower after Bernanke’s sober assessment, while longer-term bonds erased losses.

Bernanke repeated his view that a spike in U.S. inflation, while worrisome, should prove fleeting as commodity prices moderate. In addition, weak wage growth and stable inflation expectations should help keep prices down, he said.

On the budget, Bernanke repeated his call for a long-term plan for a sustainable fiscal path but warned politicians against massive short-term cuts in spending.
“A sharp fiscal consolidation focused on the very near term could be self-defeating if it were to undercut the still-fragile recovery,” he said.

“By taking decisions today that lead to fiscal consolidation over a longer horizon, policymakers can avoid a sudden fiscal contraction that could put the recovery at risk,” he said.

All Tapped Out

The central bank has already slashed overnight interest rates to near zero and purchased more than $2 trillion in government bonds to pull the economy from a deep recession and spur a recovery.

With the central bank’s balance sheet already bloated, officials have suggested there would be a high bar for any further Fed easing. The Fed’s current $600 billion round of government bond buying, known as QE2, is due to end this month.

Sharp criticism in the wake of QE2 is one factor likely to make policymakers reluctant to push the limits of unconventional policy.

“QE3 is still not an option right now, more because of the political ramifications,” said Kathy Lien, director of currency research at GFT in New York. “We need to see much more significant deterioration in the economy and consistent weakness in non-farm payrolls before that can happen.”

In a Reuters poll of U.S. primary dealer banks conducted after the employment data, analysts saw only a 10 percent chance for more government bond purchases by the Fed. They also pushed back the timing of an eventual rate hike further into 2012.

Hurdles to better economic health have emerged overseas as well. Europe is struggling with a debt crisis, while Japan still reels from the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.

In emerging markets, China is trying to rein in red-hot growth to prevent inflation.

Fed policymakers have admitted to being surprised by how weak the economy appears, but none have yet called for more stimulus.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans, a noted policy dove, said he was not yet ready to support a third round of so-called quantitative easing. His counterpart in Atlanta, Dennis Lockhart, also said the economy was not weak enough to warrant further support.

While Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren told CNBC on Monday the economy’s weakness might delay the timing of an eventual monetary tightening, the head of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Richard Fisher, said the Fed may have already done too much.

Evans and Fisher have a policy vote on the Fed this year while Rosengren and Lockhart do not.

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Senate Gives “Audit the Fed” a Unanimous Victory

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Nichols

“The Fed can no longer operate in virtual secrecy,” declared Vermont independent Bernie Sanders Tuesday after the Senate voted 96-0 to add his “Audit the Fed” amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill.

The Senate amendment is not as muscular as the bipartisan legislation backed by the House, which was sponsored by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, an aggressive progressive, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an equally aggressive conservative with libertarian leanings. The Grayson-Paul bill authorizes audits by the Government Accountability Office of every item on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, including all credit facilities and all securities purchase programs; there would be exemption only for unreleased transcripts, minutes of closed-door meetings and the most recent decisions of the central bank. The Senate measure is narrower in its focus, but it would require the GAO to scrutinize some several trillion dollars in emergency lending that the Fed provided to big banks after the September 2008 economic meltdown.

The actual amount of public money that has been set aside for private banks is not known. That’s one reason why this audit is so important. But there can be no doubt that the figure is astronomical. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Wall Street Bailout Tally shows that since 2008, the U.S. government has flooded Wall Street banks and financial institutions with $4.7 trillion dollars in taxpayer money, mostly in the form of loans from the Fed reserve. The Fed has never told us which firms got these loans and what type of collateral American taxpayers got in return. This will now be revealed. We will also get an accounting of the Fed’s “stealth” bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Sanders tried to pass a broader amendment, but when he faced roadblocks — and the prospect that audit language might be excluded entirely from the final bill — he agreed to propose an amendment outlining the one-time audit of post-meltdown Fed activity.  That did not sit well with all senators. Even as Republicans such as New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg tried to prevent any demand for transparency, Louisiana Republican David Vitter proposed tougher language along the lines what Grayson and Paul pushed through the House. While most Democrats and a number of Republicans opposed the tougher language, Sanders joined the most serious reformers in the Democratic caucus — Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Virginia’s Jim Webb and Oregon’s Ron Wyden — in voting “yes.”

The Vitter amendment failed on a 62-37 vote and Feingold was especially disappointed.  “Unfortunately,” the Wisconsin progressive declared, “the defeat of the Vitter amendment means American taxpayers will still not have a complete picture of how one of the most powerful government agencies makes policy and spends their tax dollars.”

Still, Feingold acknowledged that, “Senator Sanders’ amendment will mean more transparency for the Federal Reserve, so the public will have a better idea of how it is spending taxpayer dollars.”

That transparency is consequential, noted Sanders. “Let’s be clear,” he explained, “when trillions of dollars of taxpayer money are being lent out to the largest financial institutions in this country, the American people have a right to know who received that money and what they did with it.  We also need to know what possible conflicts of interest exist involving the heads of large financial institutions who sat in the room helping to make those decisions.”

The “Audit the Fed” language that is included in the final legislation remains to be seen, as the differences between the House and Senate proposals will have to be reconciled by a conference committee. That will provide an opening for Grayson, Paul, Sanders and their allies to push for the broadest possible transparency. But, make no mistake, there will be pushback.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly refused to respond to demands from Sanders and others for information about the banks that have been bailed out by the taxpayers — and that continue to pad their accounts with public dollars. President Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their aides are critics of the “Audit the Fed” push, as well.

So why, with so much official opposition, did the “Audit the Fed” movement win a 96-0 vote in the Senate? Campaigners on the left and right made the issue a high priority. A good deal of credit must go to Sanders and Paul — long-time critics of the Fed who opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts and then steered anger at those bailouts toward the “Audit the Fed” movement — which was boosted on the left by websites such as Jane Hamsher’s Firedoglake and on the right by the Paul-linked Campaign for Liberty, as well as by outspoken economists such a Dean Baker and watchdog operations such as CMD’s BanksterUSA project.

Ultimately, however, much of the credit must go to Grayson, who embraced Paul’s proposal — which had languished in the House — and led the campaign to get Democrats to sign on to the bill. As Hamsher says, “Tremendous credit goes to Alan Grayson. It was Grayson who decided to take up Ron Paul’s bill and bring Democratic support for it.

Sanders, who took some hits for compromising, also deserves credit at this point for making sure, even when he was forced to trim back on his amendment, that critical elements of the initial proposal by Paul — especially the defined role for the GAO — were retained. That will make it harder for the Obama White House and their allies in the congressional leadership to gut the audit language in the conference committee.

There will, as well, be additional fights:

“While passage of Senator Sanders’ amendment will provide some long overdue accountability and transparency for the Federal Reserve, the overall bill still needs a lot of work,” said Feingold. In particular, Feingold and other real reformers have focused on the need for the bill to restore the firewall between Main Street banks and Wall Street securities firms and insurance companies, which contributed to financial institutions growing “too big to fail.”

While the bipartisan support for auditing the Fed represents a step in the right direction, Feingold is right when he says it is only one step on a long road toward addressing the way in which bad decisions by Congress “led to deregulation and the increased concentration of economic power and economic decision-making.”

John Nichols is Washington DC correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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At What Cost?

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Steve Betts, www.thestockmarketbarometer.com

Whenever you embark on a significant activity, and it doesn’t matter whether its business or personal, you have to ask yourself two important questions: why and at what cost. In 1913 the United States adopted a central bank system and an income tax, both of which were and remain unconstitutional. At the time the United States was the richest creditor nation in the world and already had the best central banker in the world, gold! The US settled all transactions in gold and in order to spend more, it would need to have more gold. Gold could not be printed or created in some computer hard drive; it had to be dug out of the ground at great personal and financial sacrifice. Even more than this, gold represented real wealth and that’s why a 1913 dollar bought the same thing as an 1841 dollar, and that’s what a store of wealth is supposed to do. This begs the question why you change something that seemed to work almost to perfection. For the answer to that question, you need to go back a little further, to 1907 to be exact.

In 1907 the markets suffered the worst financial crisis in their history, but this crisis devastated Wall Street while leaving Main Street mostly intact. A lot of big name brokers and bankers went down the tubes as a result of the 1907 panic and that inspired the survivors to get together and create a plan that would prevent another such crisis. The group included Morgan, Vanderbilt, DuPont, and Rothschild, and they all ended up as shareholders in the new and private Federal Reserve System. The problem with gold during a crisis is that you can´t increase the supply overnight, so “bailouts” are not possible. Too big to fail banks and brokerages must therefore fail, and that was an unacceptable and intolerable situation for Wall Street. So they created the Federal Reserve and paper money “to facilitate business and the economy”, which would be backed by gold. In an emergency, you could always print paper and then drain liquidity once the crisis had passed. Additionally, they created the IRS with the mission to tax personal income, so the government would have funds to handle any emergency.

Now we get down to the meat of the issue, at what cost? Everything we do in life has a cost, but usually it’s so miniscule that it is seldom noticed. Going back before 1913 the United States had experienced an industrial revolution that led to the development of a strong middle class in America, and that middle class had as a group, accumulated wealth. That wealth served to make the US the richest creditor nation in the world, and it was decided that wealth would be better served if it were transferred to Wall Street for “safekeeping”. After all, they were in the money business. The private Federal Reserve was created with no assets, allowed to print money backed by gold the middle class had earned, and then charged interest and fees to distribute that money. In 1932 Roosevelt confiscated all the gold held by Americans and in 1973 Nixon eliminated the gold standard altogether. Any attempts to interfere with Fed business was dealt with harshly. 

So the idea was to transfer as much of the wealth as possible from Main Street to Wall Street and it would do so through taxation and the creation of a fiat currency, that would eat away at the purchasing power of the middle class. And that is the true cost of the Federal Reserve. The average American has gone from a saver to a debtor, while the US went from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation ever seen. The transition took a century and is now in the final phases and the massive bailouts that we’ve seen are nothing more than an attempt to drain the last cent from the last American before the whole thing goes under. For more than ten years the Federal Reserve has done everything possible to change the primary trend of the markets from bearish to bullish. Although I note the bull market as having topped in October 2007, the real top was back in 1999, but the Greenspan Fed delayed that with massive amounts of liquidity. Now the Bernanke Fed is trying to do the same thing. In modern history no one has every succeeded in changing the primary trend of a major market.

The result of this misguided policy is to postpone the inevitable, but at a cost. The cost is a series of unintended consequences that only now are beginning to float to the surface. Like icebergs, we see only a small portion of the problem until it’s too late. I contend that it is now too late. The ship of the economy is now run up against the iceberg, huge holes are being gashed into the hull, water is pouring in, and all the passengers are passed out in the bar. Any effort to put more punch into the bowl will prove to be futile and the resulting hangover will be debilitating to say the least. The morning after survivors will swear that famous oath of “never again”, form committees, assign blame, and then start the whole process all over again. For the few that will have any money left, and the courage required, stocks will become cheap and there will be a great buying opportunity. For the large majority there will only be misery.

Of course governments are obliged to throw the public a bone every once in a while, no meat, just a bone. Obama ran on the promise of change and then came in and bailed out Wall Street at the cost of US $2 trillion. He distracted the public’s attention with his proposed health care package that in the end no one wanted. Now he has a new mantra, job creation. He recently put forward the idea of a US $40 billion fund for job promotion and now he recommended the commencement of several nuclear plants that will mean more jobs. Unfortunately the President failed to say that most of the jobs for nuclear plants are high paying technical positions and there aren’t that many required. If you really want to create jobs it’s the small business owner that does it, and he has his back against the wall and it gets worse every month, as you can see in the chart posted above. The number of businesses with cash flow problems is on the rise, meaning they’ll reduce their labor costs instead of hiring new workers.

The question now is what can you do about it? I believe the only solution comes in the form of one ounce coins that contain gold. All markets are barometers of future activity and no market is more sensitive to the qualms and traumas of everyday life than gold. Also, I think it’s fair to say that it has never been this difficult to understand the gold market. The IMF comes out and announces the sale of 191 tons of gold, in an effort to manipulate the price lower, and gold falls, for about an hour. Then the Fed authors a surprise rate hike and gold falls for a couple of hours. One gold guru says the yellow metal is going to US $5,000 while Elliot Wave says it’s going to US $400.00. In one minute gold is up 15.00 and an hour later gold is down 20.00. What do you do and who do you believe? Years ago I took a simple, albeit difficult path, and decided that I would only follow the primary trend. The primary trend in gold turned up in 2001 and has been heading higher ever since. I took my initial position in 2002 and I’ve done my best to add on after significant dips. Sometimes I’ve timed it right and sometimes I haven’t, but the one thing I’ve never done is sell!

Below I’ve posted a monthly chart with respect to the gold bull market and I have some interesting observations. You can see that the current price is right about in the middle of the two ascending bands that define the primary trend. Also, I’ve divided the current bull market into the first and second phases, and I’ve given you a short explanation for each of the first two phases. The question now is whether or not gold has entered a new third phase with the breakout above 1,000.00 and we really won’t know until gold makes the next move. Incidentally, the third phase is highlighted by buying from the general public and there are certainly no signs of that. On the monthly chart gold’s price actually appears to be consolidating for the next move higher. It will continue to consolidate as long as it holds above support at 1,048.90. On the other hand it will require a close above 1,136.70 to bring gold to an upside breakout, and that hasn’t happened yet. On Friday the spot gold closed out the week at 1,117.00 and that’s about a sixteen dollar gain for the five sessions, although it felt like a loss due to the volatility.
So the primary trend for gold is up, it is completely intact and in no danger of being violated, and it appears that we could be close to a break out to the upside. So why is everybody so negative? Part of it has to do with ignorance. The large majority of people view gold as a commodity when in fact it is a store of wealth. These same people view fiat currency as money when in fact it is debt; a “promise to pay” can only be interpreted as debt. Gold on the other hand is the only real money and it says so in the US Constitution. It seems that our founding fathers were a lot smarter than we are!

Over the short run the panorama appears to be improving. Gold recently staged a minor breakout above the upper band of a descending trend line in an effort to move higher. That is a minor victory. The real victory will come when gold closes above the 50% retracement from the December high to the February low and that resistance comes in at 1,136.70.  Until we see a close above that mark, it’s all just a guessing game. Gold had a volatile week with announcements by the IMF and Fed designed to push the price lower and yet it finished higher. The dollar rallied as well and yet gold finished higher, so it would appear that the yellow metal is gaining strength. I have maintained for weeks that the dollar, commodities, and gold are all linked to the Dow over the short run, and I still believe that. Therefore, I won’t get overly excited until I see how gold reacts when the Dow begins to fall in earnest.

In conclusion the dollar, stocks and bonds must head lower over time. The dollar and the bond are debt, while stocks represent value in some company. That value is grossly overvalued as the excess water must be squeezed out. The Fed wants to prevent that and has been doing everything possible for years to stop it. The primary trends in all three are headed down and the Fed wants to change that. If they succeed it will be the first time anyone has ever done that. I suspect they’ll fail. The cost of that failure will be incalculable in terms of both money and social harmony. The standard of living for the average American will drop substantially. Repercussions will follow. The only way to protect yourselves is to buy gold, and physical is preferable to paper. Store it someplace safe and just wait for the storm to pass. I know you are tired of hearing this, and God knows I am tired of saying it, but you’ll come face to face with this reality before the year ends.

Steve Betts
Stock Market Barometer SA
February 21, 2010

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