Budget Buster: Pentagon Unable to Account for Trillions in Spending

They Don't Even Know How Much US Government Debt "We" Owe

How Much US Government Debt Do We Owe?

The United States military budget accounts for over 40% of the world’s annual military expenditures and, at around $700 billion per year, more than 20% of the federal budget. The Federal government wants to curb that spending as part of deficit reduction.

Last week’s deficit deal calls for up to $350 billion in cuts over the next decade on the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, among others. And, if the debt “super-committee” fails to reach a deal on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, it will automatically trigger an additional $500 billion in cuts over the next decade.

Cutting in a bureaucracy as large and convoluted as the Pentagon is no easy task, but Stephen Glain author of State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire says there are three issues at the heart of their spending problem.

Growing obligations: Much like other public sector groups, the Pentagon has growing liabilities coming from pension and medical insurance plans. It’s “very much a microcosm” of the problems facing the country, says Glain. The Pentagon’s liability for civilian employees is currently $60 billion and the “rate of growth is enormous,” says Glain. The figure was $15 billion a decade ago.

Accounting Problems: You think Enron’s accounting was troubled? The Pentagon has very little accountability when it comes to its books. Since first submitting financial accounts in 1991, the Pentagon “has been unable to account for trillions of dollars, well over almost $10 trillion by my own account,” says Glain. Conspiracy theorists suggest this is CIA money being laundered through the Pentagon, a claim Glain has some sympathy for.

Ending the Wars: Ending operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will instantly save the defense department $180 billion per year. According to Joseph Stiglitz the wars have cost the government $3 trillion and counting.

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Richard Suttmeier: Home Prices Could Fall Another 50%

Home Short Sales Bring Real Estate Prices Down

The housing market continues to deteriorate.

Thursday’s report on May pending home sales was down 30% from the prior month and nearly 16% vs. a year ago.

The market weakness spans the country. Sales in the Northeast, Midwest and South fell more than 30%, the bright spot, the West, only fell 21%.The news comes after last week’s record low new home sales in May, which plummeted nearly 33%. Experts say the expiration of the new homebuyer tax credit is to blame for the sudden market softness.

Unfortunately, the market could get worse and prices could fall further, says Richard Suttmeier of ValuEngine.com. High unemployment and struggling community banks are two main causes. Saddled with bad housing and construction loans, local banks will continue to restrict lending.Plus, the failure of the Obama administration’s mortgage modification program means a steady flow of short sales. “People are going to be surprised when they see there have been short sales,” which negatively impact appraisals in the local community, says Suttmeier.How low can prices go?Using the S&P/Case-Shiller index as his guide, Suttmeier suggests homes across the country could lose half their value. “If it gets back, like stocks, back to the 1999-2000 levels, that’s another 50% down in home prices,” he says.

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Paul Krugman Throws In Towel, Says We’re Headed For Another Depression

For the last several months, Princeton professor Paul Krugman has become increasingly agitated about what he feels is a disastrous mistake in the making — a sudden global obsession with “austerity” that will lead to spending cuts in many nations in Europe and, possibly, the United States.Krugman believes that this is exactly the same mistake we made in 1937, when the country was beginning to emerge from the Great Depression. A sudden focus on austerity in 1937, it is widely believed, halted four years of strong growth and plunged the country back into recession, sending the unemployment rate soaring again.In Krugman’s view, the world should keep spending now, to offset the pain of the recession and high unemployment–and then start cutting back as soon as the economy is robustly healthy again.Those concerned about the world’s massive debt and deficits, however, have seized control of the public debate, and are scaring the world’s governments into cutting back.Which fate is worse? It depends on your time frame.Cutting back on spending now would almost certainly make the economy worse, at least for the short run. Not cutting back on spending later, meanwhile (and Congress has shown no ability to curtail spending), will almost certainly keep us on a road to hell in a handbasket.The White House’s own budget projections show the deficit improving as a percent of GDP to about -4% by 2013. After that, however, even the White House doesn’t think things will get much better. After a few years of bumping along at about -4%, the deficit will begin to soar at the end of the decade. And thanks to the ballooning costs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security–along with inflating interest payments from all the debt we’re accumulating–the White House expects the deficit to soar to a staggering -62% of GDP by 2085.What Krugman and his foes agree on is that that’s no way to run a country. And it’s time we finally faced up to that.In the meantime, we’ll continue to fight about what to do in the near-term. And Krugman thinks he has lost that war and we’re headed for another Depression.

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Double Dip? Or Did the ‘Great Recession Really Never End

Monday’s weak consumer spending data is the latest in a string of reports that has many Americans worried about a “double-dip” recession.Then again, considering the unemployment rate has remained elevated, many Americans would be forgiven for thinking the recession that began in December 2007 still hasn’t ended. Notably, that’s the view of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the nation’s official arbiter of economic expansion and contraction.Among the signs suggesting the NBER is right to hold off in declaring the recession over:Housing Rolling Over: Last week’s housing numbers were horrific, especially the steep drop in new home sales. Still, Coldwell Banker CEO Jim Gillespie tried to put some lipstick on the proverbial pig on Tech Ticker last week.Jobs Still Hard to Come By: Despite signs of recent progress, “there’s no possibility to restore 8 million jobs lost in the Great Recession,” a notably candid Vice President Joe Biden said Monday. Friday’s jobs report is expected to show overall payrolls declined by 115,000 in June.’Hair-Shirts’ in Fashion, Worldwide: As discussed here, this weekend’s G20 meeting shows that policymakers believe the time for fiscal austerity is at hand. From an economic point of view, the G20 confirms that the appeal of government spending (i.e. Keynesian economics) to combat the downturn is on the wane, replaced by a view that it’s better to take the pain now and cut spending (i.e. Austrian economics).Financial Market Distress: While the stock market’s recent struggles grab most of the headlines, the real pain of late has been felt in the bond market. Excluding the panic levels of late 2008, the yield on the 10-year Treasury hit its lowest levels since 1962, last week. Meanwhile, the price of default insurance for Greece and other sovereign credits spiked higher and Bloomberg reports the percentage of corporate bonds considered in distress is at the highest in six months.The Downside of Falling RatesOf course, the market is not always right but the bond market is signaling that policymakers like Ben Bernanke are right to be much more worried about deflation and economic slowdown vs. inflation and the economy overheating.A big concern for many is that the economy is sputtering despite the Fed’s historically easy policies and the government’s huge spending binge. The idea we’ve spent all this money with little (or nothing) to show for it has some observers worried America is heading down the same path as Japan, which is about to complete its second-straight “lost decade.”Of course, it was unrealistic to expect the economy to indefinitely continue its V-shaped rise from the depths of last year. Most recoveries are uneven so it’s premature to say what’s happening lately is proof positive the economy is rolling over, as Henry and I discuss in the accompanying video.

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Dude, We’re Screwed! Recession to Get Worse – Unemployment to Rise – Government Spending Debt to Skyrocket!

Slow Growth – Double Dip Recession may be coming – Odds are over 50% – We are in the process of De-Leveraging our Debt and this trend will continue for years. If it happened all at once, we really would have a depression! Unemployment rate will rise 1% per year for the next few years and put pressure on the government to create jobs – spend more money – create higher deficits and debt, and the consumer will pull back and spend less – which is bad for business and people’s jobs! – all very risky for our long term economic growth. Dude! Save Your Money!!

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Gary Shilling’s Bearishness Doesn’t Seem Nutty

The recession will now turn deeper and the Federal Reserve is worried about deflation.

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Gary Shilling says, House Prices Still Have Another 10%- 20% To Fall

A year ago, house prices finally stopped collapsing after two years of brutal declines. Over the following few quarters, moreover, they actually rose. This led many observers to conclude that the housing bottom had been reached and that we were headed for a v-shaped bounce.Not Gary Shilling.Gary Shilling, head of economic research firm A. Gary Shilling & Co., thinks house prices still have another 10%-20% to fall. Just as bad, Gary thinks this fall will happen over the next three years, meaning that house prices won’t bottom until 2013. Most people think prices have already bottomed, or will bottom later this year or next.Why is Gary so bearish?Supply versus demand.Basically, Gary says, we still have way too many houses relative to the number of people who want to buy them. Consumers are under pressure, overloaded with debts and struggling to find work, and the mass-hallucination that investing in housing was a “sure thing” is now a distant memory. These days, many would-be home buyers are moving in with relatives or downsizing or dumping second homes. And the supply-demand balance is so out of whack, in Gary’s view, that even super-low interest rates won’t keep prices afloat.

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