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More National Debt Storm Clouds Roll In

Jan 19, 2012, 4:23 pm EDT

Despite the overall improvement in the market, I’m still having a hard time understanding how the economy can foster genuine, sustained growth. Consider the number of ill winds kicking up:

First, there’s the multibillion-dollar cloud of belated “robo-signed” foreclosures that are about to hit our fragile real estate system. Then, you’ve got the donnybrook Congressional environment taking up arms again in March when the stop-gap payroll tax cuts expire. There’s also the “gloves off” Presidential campaign that is quickly picking up speed, which you can count on to essentially stall all vital and necessary legislation until 2013. Finally, there’s our Federal Reserve, which has few to no arrows left in its quiver to address another economic downturn.

So let’s enjoy this period of optimism while we can. The soaring national debt has reached a symbolic tipping point, and it won’t be long before the market must confront this reality. Read 

Romney Tithed Stock to Church to Receive Tax Deductions

Jan 19, 2012, 12:13 pm EDT

A Reuters article recently shined some light on the way that some of the very rich, like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, handle their obligations to God and government.

More specifically, it showed how Romney tithed to the Mormon church and received large tax deductions at the same time. By donating stock he had obtained through his dealings at Bain Capital, he not only avoided paying capital gains taxes on any stock that had appreciated in value — which would have been necessary if he had sold the stock and either pocketed or donated the money from the sale —  but he was allowed to deduct some or all of the value of the donated stock from his taxable income. Typically, the church would sell the stock immediately after it was donated and pay no tax on the sale.

While Romney should be commended for sticking to the tenets of his faith, even as it potentially cost him millions of dollars in future profits, the tax loophole that stock donations appears to exploit is a curious one. Stock tithing seems to allow both Romney and the Mormon church from paying taxes that other stockholders might have to pay. Read 

Perry Drops Out of Race for GOP Nomination

Jan 19, 2012, 10:59 am EDT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has decided to end his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, according to The Wall Street Journal. In a press conference today, Perry endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Perry leaving the campaign and endorsing Gingrich could not come at a worse time for former Massachusetts governor and GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. Recent Politico polls show that Gingrich has the big “mo” and has risen from nearly dead in the water to just 7 percentage points behind Romney. Romney currently leads with 37%, followed by Gingrich with 30%. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are some ways off with 11% and 10% respectively, while Perry had just 4% of the vote. The remaining 8% of voters were undecided.

Perry’s endorsement will certainly benefit Gingrich and boost his conservative bona fides, but even assuming every Perry voter flocks to Gingrich, it won’t be enough to win the South Carolina primary. Gingrich will need to find a way to either convince those undecided voters to vote for him, or take voters from the remaining candidates. Still, there is a very good chance that what might have been a crowning moment for Romney will instead prolong the GOP primary season. Read 

Is Attacking Private Equity Good for the GOP?

Jan 19, 2012, 10:24 am EDT

There’s a new villain in the Republican race for the party’s presidential nomination, and its name is business. More specifically, the villain has become GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and his record at private equity firm Bain Capital, a company the former Massachusetts governor started in 1984. Since his decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, Gov. Romney has come under attack from rivals such as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who, according to the Wall Street Journal, has dropped out of the race today), and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

On the campaign trail in South Carolina last week, Perry accused Romney’s Bain Capital of practicing “vulture capitalism,” saying that it destroyed people’s lives and was a “get-rich-quick scheme” designed to make a quick profit. Gingrich took his anti-Romney, anti-Bain Capital attacks to a whole other level. A Gingrich-supporting “Super PAC” went Hollywood on Romney, producing a slick 28-minute video that portrayed Romney as a ruthless Gordon Gekko-like corporate raider that swooped down and preyed on companies, fired all of their employees, and then parceled off the carcass for a quick buck.

This anti-business line of attack from Perry and Gingrich is a risky strategy, as it sounds more like rhetoric from an Occupy Wall Street rally than it does talking points in a GOP primary. Unfortunately, the attacks also show an incredible lack of knowledge about the role of private equity firms in the marketplace. Read 

Congress’ 6-Figure Pensions Cause $674B Shortfall

Jan 19, 2012, 9:48 am EDT

Almost 15,000 federal retirees, including former members of Congress, enjoy six-figure pensions right now. And if that isn’t galling enough? The pension system providing these cushy payouts is ridiculously insolvent, facing a $674.2 billion shortfall.

So much for cutting pork and careless spending out of Washington. I guess politicians only use that philosophy when it doesn’t apply to themselves.

To be clear, not all federal retirees get a mammoth payday. Some folks were middle managers who now get a relatively modest retirement at an average of abour $31,000 annually. But a small group – about one of every 125 retirees (civilians mind you, not the military) collects more than $100,000 in benefits annually. Read 

Iran a Growing Target of Overt Sanctions, Covert Terrorism

Jan 18, 2012, 12:30 pm EDT

Just in case you ever run out of things to worry about, take a look at Iran where a car bomb killed yet another nuclear scientist last week. Ironically, this nuclear scientist was on his way to an event commemorating the second anniversary of the death of another nuclear scientist killed by a car bomb.

According to Israeli sources, this is the fifth nuclear scientist to die, while The Wall Street Journal said this was the fourth death of a nuclear scientist in the past two years. A Pentagon spokesman said “the United States played no role whatsoever in the killing of this scientist,” while Israel refused to comment.

The past few months have witnessed a huge rise in similar “accidents” within Iran. According to The Washington Post, there has been a “five-fold increase in explosions at refineries and gas pipelines since 2010.” For instance, there was a mysterious explosion at a steel plant on Dec. 11 — less than two weeks after massive explosions were heard at a uranium conversion facility on Nov. 28. Read 

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