Sunday, August 30, 2009

Christless Christianity

WHAT WOULD THINGS LOOK LIKE IF SATAN took control of a city?

Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donal Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon which was broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. He speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all the bars would be closed, pornography banished and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say "Yes, sir" and "No, Ma'am" and the churches would be full every Sunday.... and it would be where Christ is not preached because Christ is not necessary.

It's easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God's holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive to us. Satan's pursuit of us, he is more subtle than we can ever imagine. He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the banality of popular culture.....While the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witnesses.

I think the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.

Assimilating the disruptive, surprising, and disorienting power of the gospel to the felt needs, moral crises and socio-political headlines of our passing age, we end up saying very little that the world could not hear from Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura or Oprah.

God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God's judgement by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be.

As this new gospel becomes more obviously American than Christian, we all have to take a step back and ask ourselves whether evangelicalism is increasingly a cultural and political movement with a sentimental attachment to the image of Jesus more than a witness to "Jesus Christ and him crucified"......Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitimacy.

Doctrine has been forgotten, assumed, ignored and even misshaped and distorted by the habits and rituals of daily life in a narcissistic culture. We are assimilating the disruptive and disorienting news from heaven to the banality of our own immediate felt needs, which interpret God as a personal shopper for the props of our life movie: happiness as entertainment, salvation as therapeutic well-being, and mission as pragmatic success measured solely in terms of numbers.

My argument in this book is not the evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous. John Stott when asked for a magazine article how he evaluates the worldwide Christian movement, could only reply, "The answer is growth without depth." Furthermore, vacuity and liberalism have typically gone hand-in-hand when it comes to the church's faith and practice. Liberalism started off downplaying doctrine in favor of moralism and inner experience, losing Christ by degrees.

Nevertheless it is not heresy as much as silliness that is killing us softly. God is not denied but trivialized---used for our life programs rather than received, worshipped and enjoyed.

-----excerpts from Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, The Alternative Gospel of the American Church

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Busy Day to Say...

WORDS TRULY ALMOST FAIL ME HERE. What in heaven's name was Sandra Bullock thinking? And which part of her brain were the thoughts coming from---the lower creeptillian? Besides what passes for a dress (wait let me guess---some scarves from a street vendor at a bazaar in Istanbul, safety pinned together then tucked into a Glad leaf bag), this black bound shoe fad thingy going on, is about the ugliest fashion trend I've seen in my lifetime. Was it started by Congress to divert our attention from health care reform? Henry Waxman must have had something to do with it! After all she's in his district. Meanwhile, Sandra, get a fashion grip, honeychil, and take some time out to get a full length mirror and, you know, take a look at yourself. And if you don't believe me, just ask fashion maveness, Whoopi!

Screamin' Howard Dean! Tells the Truth, The Whole Truth on Tort Reform


Now, what are WE, all who are WEE WEED OUT, gonna to about it? H/T I'm sure Dean's speaking such great truth will not go unpunished for long, especially those maggots of society, the predatory trail lawyers (and I'm sure there are some decent ones).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Thoughts Exactly, Bob: We Need Health Insurance AND Tort Reforms, Not Health Care Reform


From the Murfreesboro Post covering Tennessee Senator Bob Corker's townhall meeting in Murfreesboro yesterday:

HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM is what the county needs, not health care reform said Sen. Bob Corker when he addressed a town hall meeting Wednesday morning in Murfreesboro. Corker (R-Tenn.) was on hand at the Stones River Country Club to answer questions from the assembled audience. But before questions were answered, Corker outlined his thoughts on the health care reform debate. “I am for, personally, I am for health insurance reform,” Corker said, adding the health care system works well, but the insurance industry needs some changes.“We need to focus on insurance reforms that will keep the best of our health care delivery system,” he added later. Corker would like to see medical malpractice tort reform, a way for people with pre-existing conditions to purchase health care, interstate competition for insurance companies and finally, tax code equity

The article continues by quoting Corker:

“An individual who’s not covered … should be able to pay with pre-tax dollars, not after tax dollars,” he said.

Corker is opposed to a government-run public plan, because it could create a monopoly, he said.


The Silent Slaughter and Genocide in Houston




Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tango Dancers Tangoing Well: One of the Few Things I Truly Envy


HAVE TO SAY, when it comes to envy, there are fewer and fewer things that rattle my cage. Material possessions? Nay. Big houses, cars, boats and planes? Nay....too much to take care of and they just tie you down. High-maintenance men? Not a chance. (Now, low-maintenance men who cook, fish and pay their taxes are another thing.) Big bloggers with thousands of hits a day and zillions of comments? Nay, not at all. They work for it and deserve all the following they have; I've got too many balls in the air at any one time and am grateful for what I have. My ambition level is simply not that great or grandiose anymore.

Still, there is one thing I secretly harbor in my soul. And the pic above says it one day be a decent tango dancer. Yep, I envy that female dancer above. I would even trade in my computer and fly rod---at least for a little while---to learn and practice and be half-way good at it. Just thinking of it makes me wild with enthusiasm....Webutante--writer, fly fisher, investor and tango dancer with an attitude! WOW! My resume wants it, needs it and one day, one day, it's gonna get it, God willing. What fun to contemplate: the dance, the dress, the shoes, the hair, the barretts, maybe a rose in my hair, the attitude, the sassy kicks and twirls. The controlled drama and high-discipline and practice of it all appeal to me greatly!

photo credit

Monday, August 24, 2009

Southeastern Fly Wonders: An Early Fall?

IT'S BEEN AN UNSEASONABLY COOL SUMMER. AND NOW, BROWNS ARE COMING to the surface on the Caney, maples are beginning to turn, temps are cooling off even more and I can hardly wait to test the theory of an early and loooong fall here in Middle Tennessee by getting on one of my favorite rivers soon. Please don't throw me in the briar-patch, David!

The New Big-Mac Index

I FIND THE ABOVE CHART FASCINATING. To be clear, I haven't eaten a Big Mac in decades. The last one I wolfed down was most likely racing through some foreign country at an odd, late hour of the night when I must have decided it was the only amoeba-free instant-gratification meal in town.

Many years ago for plenty of years, I doled them out---occasionally---as treats to my children, through the drive-thru only. Today, I would undoubtedly eat one if I were on the verge of starving. Not to be ungrateful, but I gave up fast food---along with many other quick and easy indiscretions that tasted good in the moment but were hard to digest in the long run---decades ago and have never looked back.

Anyway, via Carpe Diem and the Economist here's the rap:

THE ECONOMIST -- The size of your pay packet may be important, but so is its purchasing power. Helpfully, a UBS report published this week offers a handy guide to how long it takes a worker on the average net wage to earn the price of a Big Mac in 73 cities. Fast-food junkies are best off in Chicago, Toronto and Tokyo, where it takes a mere 12 minutes at work to afford a Big Mac. By contrast, employees must toil for over two hours to earn enough for a burger fix in Mexico City, Jakarta and Nairobi

Sweet Smack Down

FRIGHTENING UPDATE: Oregon's End-of-Life Health Care Rationing. If you need a late-age abortion, you're in luck! You'll get to go ahead of a person who needs a politically incorrect emergency appendectomy. I'll tell you, those ole bureaucrats really know how to prioritize....


Rep. Brian Baird takes questions and comments from an ex-Marine. How sweet it is. No question that Obama and the liberals in Congress have succeeded in so radically polarizing this country that I wonder if we're not nearing some kind of tipping point.

H/T RWS and HotAir

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, Bringing It On Home to the Everlasting Arms

THIS WEEK AT OneYearBible blog, our New Testament readings have been from I Corinthians. Is there anything more beautiful and greater Truth then I Corinthians 13? It really puts things in perspective. Would that I lived this every second of every day, but I fall woefully short in all ways. Yet, it's something to strive towards. And the passage is well worth memorizing:

1 Corinthians 13


1 If I speak in the tongues[c] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[d] but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I actually like the King James translation better, so if I have time this afternoon, I'll try to dig it up. Or at least by tomorrow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Obamas' August Vacation: Blue Heron Farm on Martha's Vineyard

TWENTY-FIVE ACRES complete with putting green, boathouse and basketball court. It's beautiful, it's expensive and hopefully a place where our president can relax and regroup with his family and advisers for the long seige ahead this fall. He's gonna need it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

One of The Great Joys of Being Back in the South

HOME GROWN TOMATOES. Even as I languish through the doldrums of reverse altitude adjustment---for me it's harder coming down than going up---there are some wonderful consolations to the process. These beauties are one. Brought to me and left on my door-step by Bob, the head of maintenance here at my condo complex. Absolutely delicious...just add sea salt, pepper and serve with eggs, green beans, bacon, cucumber, cheese or whatever tickles your palate's late-summer fancy. I personally love to eat 'em alone with a little salt and dill.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

US Debt Clock


HOW HIGH, how fast, how long, how large, can it get before......before......all hell breaks loose? This clock is ticking like a time bomb and we ignore and do nothing about it at our and our progeny's greatest peril. Yet out spendthrifts in Washington continue to binge on our money like drunken sailors. It's enough to make you swoon.

UPDATE: Dr. Warren Buffet on the gusher of federal money/debt. He emphasizes that the US is in unchartered territory. "With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required. A revived economy can’t come close to bridging that sort of gap."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Winner of the Dazzling Night Skyline Award: St Louis MO

SOME OF THE WORST pics I've ever taken and from a vantage point that doesn't do any of it justice. However, without any doubt the best night skyline I've seen in a long, long time is St. Louis with its great silver Arch. Only now, there's a new building ablaze with red which sets the whole cityscape off along the Mississippi River in a way that almost takes my breath away. Simply fabulous. I've looked online to find a better pic that I could us but there isn't one yet. The above photo is from the highway and doesn't begin to show the magic of the two reflected from the river, but somehow it all works together to create a unique and wonderful visual experience at night.

Nothing like a dash of red to bring a lot of metal and concrete alive in a vibrant new way at night. Whatever the architects did in concert with the city, trust me, it works! Now if I could just find a photo of the new night skyline!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Revisiting My Old Life in the Wilderness With Judy C.

AT LEAST ONCE A SUMMER, I love going back to the cabin of my heart in the wilderness where I spent six to seven months each year for a decade living, working as a fishing guide and sorting myself out, after far too many years in the city. Where I came from, I knew everybody and everyone knew me. Here, nobody knew who I was, let alone, cared. I knew I'd have to make it on my own, by the Grace of God, or else go back. Recently divorced with my children in college, I made this radical move West where I had literally been dragged by friends a few years earlier to go on a fishing pack trip with them into the Wind River Range, out of DuBois, Wyoming. From the minute I landed in Wyoming, I knew in the depths of my soul part of my destiny would be here in Wyoming, and my intuition certainly proved correct.
The cabin I bought in 1987 from the original owners from Salt Lake City who'd hand-built it 50 years earlier as aone-room cabin with sleeping area, kitchen, dining and living space and a billion dollar view. Fortunately there was a tiny little bathroom in the middle of the cabin. Later the original owners added a glorious sunroom, a loft and back bunk bedroom for crowds who didn't mind sleeping in one big room together. They also added a wonderful little outhouse down the hill with glass windows for viewing the awesome scenery. There was a canister of lime and a large stack of National Geographic magazines if you wanted to linger there in quiet repose.
For a decade I lived, loved--yes, I fell in love and just to be clear---it was with a man--- then ultimately fell out...mercifully for both of us-- worked and learned to stand on my own two feet. Some would say I learned to stand too much on my own two feet, but that's another story. I cooked on a propane stove, got my water from an untreated year-round spring through gravity flow, had grizzly bears, moose, sand hill cranes and coyotes come to my door. And yes, I had tons of house guests. What an adventure! And guess what, I had no daily newspapers, TV, cell phone or computer. Because of grizzlies, I had to transport every jot and tittle of trash (the first five years) 13 miles to the Moran Post Office bear-proof dumpsters. The nearest decent---meaning a grocery with green vegetables and fresh salmon---was 43 miles away---one way. I learned to make very good lists.

Over time, I turned it into one of the cutest cabins in Jackson Hole, adding skylights, great enlarged windows that opened, an outside hot tub with a stunning view of the Teton and various fabrics, leather and lace touches. Before I left, people who were doing a coffee table book on log cabins across America contacted me and came and did a photo shoot which they included in their beautiful book. Then I had a film crew arrive to do a shoot of me as a fly fishing guide---that's a lot for someone who was at the time media deprived.

I lived the life fully for ten years and when it was time to end this chapter, I had a good cry, put it on the market and sold it in a week, never looking back, though my children have often told me they wished I still had it. But it was time to move on. I had a small bidding war for it when I put it on the market. But in the end the guy who'd worked and made his fortune at Goldman Sachs (I left the city when I started believing my own BS!) in New York and left with a pile of money out-bidded everyone else. He told me he wanted to buy the house and EVERYTHING in it just as it was. He asked me to leave all the accoutrements except for my toothbrush. I refused. But let him have plenty to keep the flavor of the West as I had experience it.


Some of my friends today who never visited me there would not believe my life in the wilderness and how wonderfully hard it was. It may have seemed glamorous, but it was filled with challenges and took perseverance that at times I didn't know I had. I'm grateful to God that I live to tell the stories.

It was wonderful recently having Judy, a friend from DC and now also with a beautiful second home in Jackson, drive out to the Buffalo Valley and Turpin Meadow with me and revisit the adventures of the cabin. It's not in as good condition as when I left it, but it still thrills my heart and soul with every conceivable emotion when I come back and walk around amidst the fireweed. Yet, life has inexorably moved on for me and the chapters now unfolding are just as wonderful and adventurous---if not more so---just in different ways.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

John MacArthur on Seeking God's Purpose in Affliction

A WONDERFUL SERMON by no-nonsense John MacArthur on looking into the eyes of agony. It's not a matter of if but when. In the Bible, Job had one of the toughest rows to hoe. However, there was one other of God's people in the Old Testament that had the worst trail of all......Yet he passed the severest of test and became the Father of God's most Faithful people down through the ages.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Balsamroot Etc.

Balsamroot, still resplendent in higher elevations where summer is a short season, especially this very chilly, wet year. I took this in The Sound of Music Meadow high above Granite Canyon while hiking last week with LaFon.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sunday Reflections, Two Kinds of Wisdom

IN HIS EXCELLENT BOOK, entitled, "God in the Wasteland," David F. Wells makes a strong distinction between two kinds of wisdom. He sums up this distinction in this paragraph:

There are, then, two opposing ways of thinking about the world that can be found in the West today. The one belongs to those who have narrowed their perception solely to what is natural; the other belongs to those whose understanding of the natural is framed by the supernatural. One takes in no more than what the senses can glean; the other allows this accumulation of information to be informed by the reality of the transcendent. The one indiscriminately celebrates diversity; the other seeks to understand life’s diversity in the light of its unity. The one can go no further than intuition; the other pierces through to truth. The one presumes that everything changes and that change is the only constant; the other measures the things that change by the standard of things that are changeless. The one looks only to the shifting contents of human consciousness, which differ from one individual to the next; the other holds the individual consciousness up for comparison to the larger realms of meaning in which are rooted those things that are common to all human nature. The one acknowledges no ultimate certainties; the other places the highest value on ultimate certainties. All of these differences arise from the simple fact that the one perspective receives its meaning from God and the other does not.

---Bob Deffinbaugh


If your idea of God…is vague or remote, your idea of worship will be fuzzy and ill-formed. The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you. That’s why theology and worship go together. The one isn’t just a head trip; the other isn’t just emotion.

— N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Taking the New Super-Charged Jackson Hole Tram 4,000' Vertical to the Top of the World

AND WALKING a long 13-miles up and down, down, down.

With a week-and-a-half left and much company before I leave my summer Valley, I'll be blogging only intermittantly and probably posting little more than a few pics from life on the trails and in the rivers here as I wind my way back to civilization soon. I'll refresh my sidebar along the way. As always, thanks for coming by.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In the Snake River Canyon

LOTTA WHITEWATER, kayaks, rafts, costumes, chief guides and indians, yelling and screaming and of course a few of us grumpy fly fishers who just want them all to go on down the river so we can fish in peace.

Senator Bob Corker Intends to Bring Sobriety, Accountability Back to the Banking Industry



At a banking hearing in July, I asked FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair if having a resolution mechanism in place to deal with the problems with some of our ‘too-big-to-fail’ financial institutions would have reduced the risk to our financial system. She said absolutely – it would have created better market discipline across the system and reduced market uncertainty about who would be next, who would win, and who would lose.

The FDIC has the authority to wind down a failing bank, but not a failing bank holding company, which has exacerbated the moral hazard problem we’ve seen over the past 18 months. It’s important that we take our time with regulatory reform, but in the interim we need the ability to resolve bank holding companies in an orderly way.

Fellow Banking Committee member Mark Warner, D-Va., and I introduced The Resolution Reform Act of 2009, S. 1540, legislation giving the FDIC authority to resolve bank holding companies, in an effort to fill this glaring regulatory gap. This expanded authority would put a bank holding company into the hands of the FDIC if the bank (insured depository institution) within the holding company structure needs to be resolved. The bank holding company would be moved into receivership, the pieces would be sold off, and the company would no longer exist.

I think it’s important to create this mechanism and provide clarity so that as we approach broader
regulatory reform, we don’t have the moral hazard of a ‘too big to fail’ mentality.
For more information on S.1540, you can visit my Web site at:

John Tamny Zaps Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone Piece On Goldman Sachs With Kryptonite

I'D BEEN WAITING FOR John to weigh in on this and when it arrived this morning in an email, it did not disappoint. Below is the full text of Tamny's complete undressing of Taibbi's Rolling Stone putting-it-all-in-perspective piece on Goldman Sachs. I agree with most everything he says, though I need more time to mull it over.


THE ROLLING STONE'S Matt Taibbi has caused quite a stir with his hatchet job on Goldman Sachs, with some even saying he knocked $800 million off of its market cap. That's hard to imagine considering he contradicted his basic narrative halfway through the piece, not to mention that no company is as powerful as he suggests, and no clients dumb as he'd like to think. Written for RealClearMarkets.

At Goldman, Matt Taibbi Fires and Misses
By John Tamny

In a piece written to shed light on the allegedly evil doings of Goldman Sachs, Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi unwittingly let readers in on why the majority of his strident protests against Wall Street's most prominent bank were near meaningless. For those who caught on, they likely quit reading halfway through. Sadly for this somewhat masochistic writer, pure curiosity took him to the bitter end.

But for those not privy to the article in question, about credit-default swaps Taibbi observed that they "were essentially a racetrack bet between AIG and Goldman: Goldman is betting the ex-cons will default, AIG is betting they won't." For a piece which included no less than 29 mentions of the word "bubble", and almost as many variations of the word "speculation", could Taibbi have really been so dim as to acknowledge that "speculation" is always and everywhere a two-way street?

The answer, apparently, is yes, which means that in an article the pretense of which was to say that Goldman Sachs is "The Great American Bubble Machine", Taibbi wrecked the very foundation of his argument with this simple acknowledgement. In order for anyone to speculate on anything, there has to be someone else who thinks they're dead wrong.
So while the word "bubble" has become the default word of choice for writers of all stripes seeking to explain rising prices, the basic truth is that the alleged creators of "bubbles" are by definition entering markets that others must be exiting. Importantly, Taibbi laid out quite a few more misreads, and to help readers avoid a half hour wasted, they'll be analyzed in short form right here.

To begin, Taibbi suggests that Goldman Sachs "positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble" and from its place in the alleged middle it is supposedly able to "hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society" all the while "lending us back our own money at interest". Pretty scary stuff, but there's one minor problem. Not just anyone can become a Goldman client as evidenced by minimum individual account sizes there of $2 to $5 million. Last this writer checked, either amount would put any individual lucky or unlucky enough to deal with Goldman at society's top floor. Simply put, Goldman doesn't deal with the very people Taibbi thinks it does.

In order to make his broader case about Goldman having had a role in every major market meltdown, Taibbi first takes us back to the early part of the 20th century. It was then that Goldman had a financial interest in vehicles called "investment trusts" that supposedly were a "tool used to bilk investors", and which had their heyday during the Roaring '20s. Taibbi argues that these leveraged trusts were behind the 1929 stock-market crash.

Taibbi's source on the above? No less than the late John Kenneth Galbraith; Galbraith the economist who once observed that the Soviet system of communism was better than U.S. capitalism, and who also wrote glowingly in China Passage about the supposed accomplishments of Maoism. You know, the torture, the killings, and the starvation. It was also Galbraith who wailed in The Concept of Countervailing Power about GM's complete and unalterable control of the auto market; the very market that left it for dead last year. In short, to reference Galbraith on most anything economic is the equivalent of citing Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford on how to win football games.

Apparently Goldman Sachs didn't play a role in the various recessions or market corrections after the 1930s, but according to Taibbi, it was the main force behind relaxed underwriting guidelines that fostered the Internet "bubble" of the '90s. Taibbi is of the view that Goldman foisted a lot of bad companies on investors then, and quotes an unnamed former bigwig at Goldman Sachs to tar Robert Rubin who, from the insider's point of view, "sure as hell knew what the underwriting standards were." Supposedly it was Rubin who turned Goldman's "long-term greedy" culture into one all about short-term profits, customers be damned.
The problem there is that Morgan Stanley floated the first IPO (Netscape) of the Internet era in 1995, and it should be noted that Rubin left Goldman in 1992 to work in the Clinton administration. Though Rubin wasn't around for Internet boom (he was when GS participated in the Dell and Microsoft IPOs), it seemingly didn't fit Taibbi's narrative to mention this somewhat relevant fact.

As Taibbi sees it, Wall Street ignored the long-held notion that three to five years of profits were necessary before a company went public, and threw it "in the trash"; Goldman the major miscreant given its massive Internet IPO market share. In truth, Taibbi gets it backwards. It is in fact institutional investors that set the tone for the IPO market, and as anyone who was on Wall Street back in the '90s knows, large investors had very little interest in the prosaically profitable MetLife's of the world, but greatly desired the shares of firms like If Goldman is to be faulted here, it is for giving its customers what they wanted.

On the subject of "spinning" whereby Goldman offered up shares in soon-to-be-public firms to its rich clients ("rich" and "clients" at Goldman being a major redundancy), Taibbi would have us believe that billionaires like former eBay CEO Meg Whitman were somehow swayed by IPO profits a small fraction of their net worth such that they rewarded the firm with investment-banking business. On that, Taibbi can't have it both ways. If Goldman was the leading technology banking firm as his article suggests, wouldn't individuals like Whitman give the firm its banking business regardless of IPO windfalls?

Apparently they would have because according to Taibbi, Goldman's bankers used a technique called "laddering" to "manipulate the share price of new offerings." By laddering, Goldman's capital markets group allotted IPO shares to institutional investors who promised to buy more once trading in the new firm began. Why this would bother a company CEO Taibbi never quite explained, but to address his assertion that the shares of newly public companies were simply manipulated, one might ask why the party stopped? If the most sophisticated investors in the world were really as gullible as Taibbi would like us to believe (remember, his narrative is one suggesting Goldman tricked EVERYONE), it seems the "great vampire squid" would have saved itself from its staff-pruning decline which occurred with great speed in 2001 thanks to the disappearance of IPO profits.

Taibbi might reply that Goldman had an answer to profit declines in the form of mortgage securities. To believe him, its talented cast of salespeople gulled a new set of "unsuspecting insurance companies and pension funds" into buying collections of mortgages written "on the backs of napkins to cocktail waitresses and ex-cons carrying five bucks and a Snickers bar."
The problem there of course is that the kind of people Taibbi describes never darken the doors of a firm that only deals with the superrich. While it would be impossible to argue with the broad assertion that mortgage lenders acted horrifically when it came to lending to the worst kinds of credit risks, Goldman's biggest mistake there likely involved liquefying a market that enabled the polar opposites of its client base to get into houses they couldn't afford.

Taibbi is troubled that Goldman hedged the risk it faced with the kind of dodgy securities described above, but what he doesn't understand is that absent those strict risk controls, Goldman wouldn't exist at all. Contrary to Taibbi's suggestion that Goldman Sachs is some otherworldly entity, the reality is that without capital there are no businesses of any kind, and Goldman would have no capital unless it protected its downside in all manner of transactions.
And with the mortgage market no longer a profitable one for reasons alluded to earlier, Taibbi claims that Goldman's brilliant collection of con artists tricked "pension funds and other large institutional investors" into buying oil futures. Taibbi never explained how Goldman's salespeople could regularly steer its clients into bad investments without running out of clients, but since his account read like fiction to begin with, this likely did not trouble him.

In his defense on the subject of commodities and their run-up, it should be said that he did in fact insert one kernel of truth into an otherwise laugh-inducing account of what transpired. Twice he correctly noted the falling dollar's role in their rise, but then remarkably didn't mention the Bush Treasury's (former GS head Henry Paulson having served as George W. Bush's third Treasury secretary) weak-dollar policies that led to gold's (other commodities following gold upwards) 250 percent spike since 2001.

Instead he made the laughable suggestion that until Goldman's commodity arm (J.Aron) forced a liberalization of the commodities markets in 1991, "peace and harmony reigned" for "more than 50 years." Oh, I see, the commodities markets didn't go haywire in the '70s after Richard Nixon took us off the gold standard and the dollar collapsed. Apparently a 300 percent rise in the price oil, a 240 percent spike in the price of a bushel of wheat, and annualized meat price increases of 75 percent from '72-'73 apparently were "harmonious."

The purely symbolic Arab oil "embargo" is to this day fingered as the cause of oil's spike back in the early '70s, but since non-oil commodities had similar run-ups, it's more truthful to say that the dollar severely weakened post Bretton Woods, which meant commodities became expensive, and very volatile. Taibbi missed the disharmony that's been the rule in the commodities markets by twenty years.

Rather than correctly stick to the dollar story, Taibbi shockingly observed that "'long only' bettors" drove up the price of oil futures (no mention of oil futures sellers who sold so they could go long), and that while "this kind of behavior is good for a stock market, it's terrible for commodities, because it continually pushes prices upward (my emphasis)." Taibbi might win a Nobel for this thoughtful observation, because it seems we've found a cure for bear markets of any kind: just keep buying. As for the oil "speculators" who saw the price drop from $145 to $33, it's assumed they simply missed the memo telling them that if they'd just keep buying....

Taibbi somewhat concluded that after the run-up in commodities, investors, including Goldman Sachs simply ran out of "bubbles" to inflate. If only life were so easy. In truth, the falling dollar which he correctly cited fostered all manner of Austrian mal-investment, and the powerful investment banks of the past were on their backs for having deployed capital so poorly.
It is there that there's major agreement, although probably for different reasons. Taibbi's account shed a bad light on the bailouts, and for that he should be commended. But far from a Goldman Sachs conspiracy, it would be better to cite Randolph Bourne's observation that "war is the health of the state."

In this case, economic crises are the state's oxygen, and whether it was Paulson at the helm of Treasury or some other former investment bank head, governments always look to expand their economic reach in times of distress. Thanks to the bailouts that should never have been, capitalism received a black eye when in truth nothing about the past year was capitalistic.
Matt Taibbi would have done his readers a good turn had he explained why taxpayer bailouts of that which the markets have left for dead, retard rather than enhance economic growth. Instead, he engaged in falsehoods and contradictions in his failure to prove that an historically successful company could be that way for regularly duping monumentally stupid clients. Capitalism, even the false kind we in the United States practice today, doesn't work that way.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, a senior economic advisor for H.C. Wainwright Economics, and a senior economic advisor to Toreador Research and Trading

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fishing on Bull Lake Near Crowheart, WY

ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE Continental Divide where rattlesnakes and mosquitoes live large and run rampant. You have to have a boat and lots of motivation. Complete cover and sun protection are not optional. Not my cup of tea, but thanks to Brian Hodges of ThisIsFly for sending this great photo of a legendary fishery over on the reservation. It was wonderful seeing Brian and Jen here in Jackson tonight.

Even John Stossol at 20/20 Takes on Obama's Plan To Socialize Healthcare

Fancy that!

Charlie Gasparino Tells Matt Taibbi to Leave Goldman Sachs Alone


IN SPITE OF MY best intentions this summer, I have yet to write anything original on Matt Taibbi's dynamite Goldman Sachs piece, The Great American Bubble Machine, in July 2009's Rolling Stone. I still hope to this fall. The piece is so complex and my time for deep thought so limited right now, that I've failed to meet my goal in this department

Meanwhile today Charlie Gasparino at the Daily Beast does a good job of answering some of Taibbi's assertions about Goldman. He---Gasparino---like I, thinks Taibbi gives Goldman far too much credit specifically for engineering the past six or seven great bubbles---from housing to oil to toxic mortgage backed securities. But he agrees that Goldman has made off like a bandit. He points out that while the firm was undoubtedly the leader of a pack of other investment bank money-making, smart money dogs, there were certainly other firms just as involved in making money from both the inflation/upside and deflation/downside of these bubbles.

But make no mistake: All would agree, Goldman Sachs is some of the smartest, shrewdest money anywhere. And it positions itself ahead of the next big money curve long before any of the rest of us know what's coming down. Taibbi is correct in saying Goldman has already strategically positioned itself ahead of the next great bubble. I personally know that for a fact. But that's what will have to wait until later. Meanwhile, have a look at Gasparino's piece at the Daily Beast.

Try as he might, he can disagree with Taibbi to a point, only to a point:

"(...for what it’s worth, it’s a hell of a good read.) It's not that Goldman doesn't deserve to be blasted for getting bailed out by the government for losses tied to high-risk trading back in 2008, or for its manifold ties to the last three presidential administrations (including the current one), or for now profiting through the government's subsidy of its recent risk taking; I have done as much on these pages.

"Thank God Paulson and Bernanke turned to Blankfein and not the editors at Rolling Stone for help.

"But Taibbi has elevated a combination of half-truths, superstitions, and a lack of understanding about the financial crisis to what is fast becoming established as "fact”: that Goldman Sachs was the main culprit for the financial crisis and is now unfairly profiting from the various bailouts the crisis caused.

"No rational person can deny the fact that Goldman is benefiting from its status as a government protected bank, as it makes big bucks ($3 billion in just the second quarter alone), acting like a hedge fund just after getting bailed out by the feds, and using its status as a commercial bank to borrow cheaply and make huge bond market bets. In fact, all of the banks are— Morgan Stanley is at the top of that list—it’s just that some, like Goldman, are doing it better than others.
"It's the other part of Taibbi’s story that I have a real problem with—that Goldman either single-handedly or with very little help, was responsible for the financial crisis and committed fraud along the way. And then when it bet wrong, when the markets turned against the firm in a way its rocket-scientist traders didn't foresee, Goldman used its pull in Washington to get a bailout.

"That storyline isn't just wrong, it's pretty naive. But it's gaining credibility following Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece, first in the blogosphere and now with a growing number of what is commonly referred to as the mainstream media. It's one thing to watch half-literate bloggers in desperate need of attention jump on the Goldman is the root of all evil story; it's quite another to see respected news organizations with experienced reporters and presumably more experienced editors do it and in the process obscure the fact that Goldman, for all of its sins during the bubble years, was probably the least culpable for the system's eventual collapse. And maybe more importantly, that Goldman and all the other banks are now overtly protected by the federal government and can still roll the dice and take risk only this time under the explicit protection of the American taxpayer.

"All of which brings me back to Taibbi, who is usually a really good reporter, and a provocative storyteller. In addition to his Rolling Stone piece on Goldman, I watched his performance on WNYC. What's interesting to me is (particularly after the WNYC appearance) is how much of what Taibbi is stating as fact or suggesting is probably true, is actually wrong..."
Well maybe, maybe not. Only time will tell, meanwhile both pieces are well-worth reading, in my opinion.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday, Poetic Justice

I HAVE ONLY ONE thing to say about page 425 of the proposed health care reform bill now winding its way through Congress. That's the page that mandates euthanasia counselling every five years for the elderly on Medicare (aren't we all supposed to be herded and corralled into government mandated care now?):

Poetic Justice.

For five generations we've vehemently fought for and executed the right to take life on the front end through our inalienable demand to choose the quick fix of convenient abortion---early, then later and now full term fetuses. Why then should it come as a surprise or shock that we're about to make legal the taking of life on the back end of life for the elderly, the sick of all ages and the infirmed? It's two sides of the same deathly coin: like man-made global warming, we now want quick fix, man-made life-and-death decisions in the palm of our hands. Life is no longer sacred. It's up for political grabs from cradle to grave. It's about to be a matter of regulation and bureaucratic decision making. It's the ultimate politicization of the miracle of life and death. And it will only seem to work in the short-run.

God has has been, is and always will be in control. And will only allow this foolishness to go on for so long.

We don't have to worry about far-away, future judgment for our past half-century of depravity and killing of millions of unborn children in America. The judgment of our ways are now arriving and being thrust in our faces in the forms of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Waxman et al fast tracking the health reform bill. The bell tolls for a culture of death, divorce and destruction--long since established in the United States--and it's about to toll for you and me.

Satan never takes us over when we face difficulties and hardships that build character. Rather Evil comes on us through making things seem glamorous, cool and oh so au current and convenient. He has us when he adds a strong beat, a little rap, dark glasses to make our death cult seem all so harmless, human, cool and fun. The result is recreational rap-life, rap-sex, rap-marriage, rap-divorce, rap-abortion and soon rap-euthansia around us everywhere.

God help, have mercy on us all and our country.


PROVERBS 2: Wisdom

Wisdom must be sought after with our entire being.

INSIGHT: Nothing of value is easily obtained. If it were, it would no longer be valuable. Inherent within the concept of value is the feature of scarcity. If all gravel were made of pure gold, then gold would not be valuable. The same is true with intangibles like wisdom. She is an exceedingly valuable life commodity, but she is not easy to come by. If we want wisdom, we must incline our ears, apply our hearts, cry for her, lift our voice for her, seek her as we would silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures (vv. 2-4). Then, and only then, will we understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God (v. 5).

---Walk Through the Bible's daily devotional

Saturday, August 1, 2009

About to Be Snake Bit By Congress Unless We Raise Cain


A friend emails:

On Page 425 of Obama's Health Care Bill, the Federal Government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every 5 years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes . . . They are going to push SUICIDE to cut Medicare spending.