Markets are stumbling to a standstill at week’s end, exhausted by the last month’s worries, and today big money in New York is distracted by Hurricane Irene. Better send the help to batten the house in the Hamptons, and see if those eager one-off friends up the Hudson would mind short-notice company.

The 10-year T-note, after its dramatic dive from 3 percent to 2 percent, has settled near 2.2 percent, no better indicator of deep concern still in place.

It is football season, and one sound from games fills the air: "Thump!"


The entire financial world had waited two weeks for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech at the annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

At 8 a.m. Mountain Standard Time today … "Thud!"

As punts go, a dribbler. This whiff — no new policy, no wisdom — reflects a divided Fed, with country rascals at regional Feds in open rebellion.

The ball landed at the Fed’s Sept. 20 meeting, the chairman adding Sept. 21 for extended argument. The game will go on, but the Fed will be entirely off the field for a month, maybe more.

Bernanke did give a whole paragraph to housing, noting the credit-default spiral still under way, with defaults producing tighter credit — which, in turn, produces a weaker housing market and more defaults.

What to do about the obvious? Federal Housing Finance Agency home prices falling 5.9 percent year over year? New mortgage delinquencies declining through 2010, but gently rising in 2011?

Mortgage rates failing to follow Treasurys down, the spread opening as in disastrous 2008? The Fed refusing to roll mortgage-backed securities purchased in QE1 (the first round of the Fed’s quantitative easing)?

He didn’t swing his foot at any of that. Just passive, professorial observation.

Our other professor, President Obama, depending on the track and vigor of Hurricane Irene, may forced to interrupt his vacation.

No matter: He already punted to an economic policy speech on Sept. 4. The nation trembles in anticipation. Uh-huh. He might have demanded that Congress stay in town, get to work; but that would require the same from him. "Thwack!" Shank.

Markets live in real time, and "tempus fugit" (Latin for "time flies") no matter how much you’d like it to pause.

Markets attend the Church of What’s Happening Now, whether the punter is in town or not.

Second-quarter U.S. gross domestic product was revised down to 1 percent. The University of Michigan’s measure of consumer confidence has plunged from 75 to 55; every such move since the 1970s has marked a new recession. Maybe this time we’re just peeved.

On Thursday, Sept. 1, we’ll get employment data from August, and the first of the August surveys from the Institute for Supply Management. Maybe the captains of the sidelines are right to wait to see the data. The fans get so emotional about things.

This week, Warren Buffett executed a signature grandstand play, putting $5 billion into troubled Bank of America. A sign of the big turn, all OK? CNBC stock-pushers said so.

BofA stock sank steadily from $15 in January to $9.50 in July, then in a week crashed to $6. He didn’t just dump $5 billion into stock. He bought cumulative preferred paying a 6 percent dividend. Do you know any safe investments paying 6 percent guaranteed today?

He also received warrants to buy 700 million shares at $7.14 and resell whenever the stock price rises a convenient distance above that level. Buffett did a similar deal with Goldman, but in the depth of panic in early ’09. No healthy institution would accept such terms today.

America is a big and diverse place. Asserting an understanding of the American state of mind at any moment is a tad grandiose. However, never since the 1930s has there been such an opening for leadership to get out of its boxes.

We are learning the hard way — very hard — that the standard prescriptions of the left and right are dead ends.

More spending, income redistribution, and regulation won’t get us out of this. Neither will do-nothing, hard-money liquidation, or nut-case imaginings.

Salvation lies in basic things: Unity of purpose. Determination to compete. Pursuit of excellence. Abandon the past and self-congratulation, and adapt.

Perhaps disgust at the national punting team will do the trick.

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