Commentaries

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from Rolfe Winkler:

Obama’s blowout budget

Now that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, one would think the budget deficit might start to come down. Actually, no. Obama's proposed budget sets a new deficit record -- $1.6 trillion this year compared to $1.4 trillion last year.

The President thinks he can help the economy with more deficit spending. But debt is the reason we have a jobs problem in the first place. We've accumulated more debt than our incomes can support (see chart at bottom) so the economy is trying to pay it down, leading to less spending and higher unemployment. Adding to the debt pile only makes the employment picture uglier in the long-run.

In his blog entry introducing the budget, Office of Management and Budget Chief Peter Orszag tries to argue that the administration is working to close the deficit. Meanwhile the spin from the White House is that this budget marks the beginning of a "new era of responsibility." Of course that's not at all what we're getting. Orszag even trots out the line that we can grow our way out of debt:

Economic recovery – on its own – would take our deficits from 10 percent of GDP to 5 percent of GDP.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Afternoon Links 1-20

Must Read -- Short sale fraud + follow-up (Olick, CNBC) Great sleuthing from Diana Olick. Sounds like outright fraud being committed by big banks. One follow up question: In many cases, the second-lien holder is also the first lien holder. How is that impacting short-sales?

Buffett opposes bank fee (CNBC) See 2/3rds down the page. Obfuscation worthy of a banker. This should come as no surprise as Buffett is Wells' top shareholder. He previously opposed the bank stress tests because it diluted his shareholdings. Nevermind that the stress test forced the bank to raise desperately needed capital. It's a shame, really. As his career winds down, he's sacrificed his reputation as a financial straight-shooter to protect his wealth.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 1-14

Obama to unveil plan on bank taxes (WSJ) Surprisingly this doesn't look dead on arrival in Congress, maybe because banks know that the tax -- spread over 10 years -- isn't likely to hurt very much. It's a missed opportunity to shrink big bank balance sheets.

The advanced technology trade deficit (Mandel, ht NG)

Sheila Bair testimony before FCIC (FDIC.gov) Bair was the highlight of the morning's hearing and the headline from her testimony is that it's the Fed's fault. Had Alan Greenspan taken Edward Gramlich's advice to regulate subprime, perhaps many of the excesses of the bubble could have been avoided. In other news, the commission is unhappy with Attorney General Eric Holder b/c the Dept of Justice isn't sharing as much information as the commission would like.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 12-8

(Reader note: still working on the bugs....please click "continue reading" to see all the links)

Banks, U.S. spar over TARP repayment (David Enrich) This is the kind of thing that gives me a better feeling about Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke. They are hammering banks to raise equity capital to get out of TARP. They have leverage and are using it productively, forcing bank shareholders to eat losses via dilution so that balance sheets are more stable. Great! Stick to your guns guys!

from Rolfe Winkler:

SNL on the U.S./China economic relationship

"Why are you trying to do sex to me like I was Mrs. Obama!?!"

Small quibble: SNL doesn't note that the Chinese are, uh, "doing sex" to themselves by manipulating the yuan.

Playing politics with Social Security

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By John M. Berry

The White House’s knee-jerk reaction to the news that inflation was so low that Social Security beneficiaries won’t get a cost-of-living increase next year was a seriously bad omen for long-term control of federal spending.

The problem wasn’t the $13 billion cost of another one-time $250 payment to each retiree proposed by President Barack Obama. No, it was the utter disregard of the discipline inherent in indexing payments to changes in consumer prices.

Why Russia needs America

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In the wake of President Obama’s decision to scrap the U.S. missile defence shield in eastern Europe, many are pondering Russia’s response. The relationship will remain in the spotlight this week, when President Medvedev heads to the U.S. for the G20 summit. Although the precise nature of Russia’s reaction remains to be seen, it has a big incentive to improve relations. It badly needs American investment and co-operation to help solve serious economic problems at home.

Critics of Obama’s decision worry that it will “embolden” Russia, causing more aggressive behaviour abroad. Yet they forget that the Bush administration’s antagonistic policies failed to provide security to Russia’s neighbours. These policies didn’t prevent Russia’s war with Georgia, the repeated gas disputes with Ukraine, and a serious cooling of relations with countries such as Poland. Far from being restrained, Russia’s confrontational attitude had a lot to do with its perception that the U.S. was busy encircling the country with missile bases and alliances.

Volker cuts through it

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Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman whose nerves of steel broke the back of double-digit inflation 30 years ago, shows that he’s still one of the few in government that wants to call the tough shots.  Too bad he isn’t more influential. If he were, I doubt Wall Street would be talking about getting back to business as usual.

From the WSJ:

Mr. Volcker, who currently is chairman of the White House’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, suggested banks should be restricted to trading on their client’s behalf instead of making bets with their own money through internal units that often act like hedge funds.

A death panel for Citi

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It’s way too soon for the federal government to contemplate reducing its considerable equity stake in Citigroup.

If anything, now’s the time for the feds to finally get tough with the troubled giant and establish a firm deadline for forcing Citi to shrink itself.

Obama’s AIG timidity

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I’ve been pretty amazed at how silent the Obama administration has been about Robert Benmosche’s antics since becoming the well-compensated CEO of American International Group–the defacto government owned insurer.

But after reading this story in The New York Times, I was shocked to learn that many in the Obama administration are warying of looking like they are injecting themselves into the company’s affairs. That’s the case, even though many on Team Obama are upset with Benmosche’s $9 million pay package and his desire to move slowly in selling AIG’s assets.

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