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A New Knife for Washington

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted October 31, 2006

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I Want a New Knife

If a government dominated should run like a hot knife through butter, why does it seem more like the current US leadership is cutting burnt steak with a cold spoon? Brazil's Lula may soon show Bush a thing or two about the winning edge of coalition building.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was reelected Sunday in a landslide. A 21 percentage-point margin iced the cake of Brazil's emergence as one of the world's most promising developing markets, largely under Lula's policies.

But despite the surge of support, Lula's second term will involve a multi-party coalition, which should deliver legislation based on negotiation and address the concerns of a broader swathe of Brazilian society after the first term focused mostly on the lower-income segment and raised middle class cries.

A recent increase in government spending and reckless comments on inflation coming from his entourage in the capital Brasilia rattled the market on Monday, but the head honcho promised to keep the system stable while following up his 25% minimum-wage hike with enhanced educational opportunity boosters for the poor. The Bovespa index bounced back Tuesday.

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Declaration of Indifference

Next week at this time, American voters will be engaged in the most cherished practice of representative democracy. That is, if they feel like it. And if they can get time off work. And if they have even the wispiest hope that pushing a questionable touch-screen voting machine button will actually convey their concerns to Washington DC or their respective state capitals.

Politics is a psychological game. So is the market. Confidence in the system is key, and in both worlds, wealthy delegates holler across a floor. The agreed order of business is kept intact just long enough to tally a day's work and sidestep total chaos.

But at least stock market movers and shakers work a full week.

Anyone who has worked on Capitol Hill (including me) can tell you what a rarity it is to see the House and Senate representatives they work for come in on a Friday. Or a Monday. Often, Thursdays are optional.

Washington legislators have worked less than 80 days out of the last 365.

Out of those 80 days, partisan drum-banging is a favorite pastime, since especially for members of the House of Representatives, two years between elections means no real lag time and plenty of energy diverted to campaign war chests.

Meanwhile, the national war chest is quite literally depleted in Iraq (to the tune of over $200 million daily), leading defense allocations to trump wage increases in the business of that scant number of legislative days.

Now, with Election Day a week away, it becomes more patently obvious with each television interview exactly what those responsible for handling our well-being have been doing with their 280-plus days off. They've been buying masks.

A phantasmagoria of bogeymen proves there must be a reason why Election Day falls just after Halloween.

Fear poverty. Boo!

Fear terror. Boo!

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Plenty to Be Afraid of

And in the haunted house of politics, those who scare you must console you as well.

We should even fear the power of Congress, except of course for candidate X, whose aim is true and incorruptible.

Hence the sheer absurdity of calling oneself a "Washington outsider" in order to gain entry to that city's inner circles. Everyone wants to be sheriff until they realize just how fun it is to be an outlaw.

As far as the economy goes, let's remember that there is blame and credit to go around. Clinton initiated the past decade's flurry of free trade agreements when he put his pen to NAFTA. Bush's wasteful and expansive response to Katrina has left the affected area with a legacy of subsidized lap dances and rusting FEMA trailers.

What is missing from all of this is a true sense of responsibility and reciprocity between the electorate and the elected, and even among citizens. No matter what the national balance sheet says, if our democracy is not quickly reinvigorated, we will be bankrupt.

And in a congratulatory phone call Tuesday, President Bush asked Lula for his advice, but in the most cynical way: "You had a spectacular victory. You'll have to give me a little of your know-how because I need to win now."

Bankrupt.

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