In the Mirror
In the Mirror

The President and the Economy: Lowering the Performance Bar

Blog From
July 16th, 2012

(Article first published as The President and the Economy: Lowering the Performance Bar on Blogcritics.) Fifty percent of the respondents in an AP-GfK poll taken last month believe that the President has little to no effect on the American economy. The poll consisted of telephone and cell phone interviews with 1,007 adults across the country.

While GfK markets its polling methodology as reliable, it is not described as drawing from a representative cross section of the nation. So, it’s uncertain whether the belief in the President’s irrelevancy to the economy is shared by fifty percent of the electorate. If it is, Obama has lowered the performance bar so much that half of the voters believe the person in the Oval Office doesn’t matter.

These poll respondents are wrong, of course, but they hardly can be blamed for their mistaken belief. It’s similar to the Stockholm syndrome where some kidnap victims who are held long enough begin to identify with their captors. We’ve been captive to incompetence for so long, it has begun to define our expectations. That’s a scary concession to performance failure.

Those who believe in the President’s negligible impact on the economy give three reasons in addition to “I don’t know why”. Some respondents view congressional intransigence as an insurmountable obstacle to presidential action. However, that is only true under limited circumstances.

In Obama’s case, his party controlled Congress for his first two years in office giving him free rein to realize his economic agenda. The result was a parade of ineffective mortgage relief programs and a stimulus package that allowed the unemployment rate to soar above 10%. One year after its signing, three million fewer people were employed than when the ink dried.

Naked ineptitude prevented the stimulus from being the boon that Obama promised it would be. To begin with, the economy was in much worse shape than the Administration’s naïve 2009 predictions. The stimulus, once enacted, was not directed at businesses. The bulk of the spending was merely a wealth transfer to state governments, many of which have been financially mismanaged for years. Worse than subsidizing people who can’t balance a budget, the least needy states received the most money.

Meanwhile, Obama wasted credibility capital preaching that the stimulus would fund “shovel-ready” jobs only to confess later that, to his surprise, those jobs don’t exist. As for excuses, even Barney Frank winces at the President’s fantastical failed-stimulus mantra – things could have been worse without me.

After the 2010 election, Obama had the same opportunity as Bill Clinton in 1994 to be the conciliator with Congress, the adult in the room. Presidents are uniquely positioned to turn partisan discord into a productive, if bumpy, relationship. Obama would have had an easier time of it, too, since the terminally self-important Newt Gingrich wasn’t around to challenge him at every turn. And he did admit on the eve of the election that he should have included Republicans in the stimulus negotiations.

Yet, when the time came to inspire unity, Obama chose, instead, to pour rancor over the political divide like gasoline on a fire. Rather than following Clinton’s example, he squandered his leadership moment for a bowl of partisan porridge and we are weaker for it.

Other poll respondents chalk up the President’s inadequacy to world events, which today are blowing ill economic winds onto our shores. Of course Obama cannot control developments in Europe, for example. But, he can help prepare our economy to withstand negative repercussions emanating from across the Atlantic.

This requires the President to encourage economic growth rather than discourage it. A strong economy is the best buffer we have against outside forces. However, rather than strengthen, Obama’s economic agenda stifles free enterprise because it is not about economics at all. It’s about incrementally replacing a free market system with one infused with government control. He’s using a weakened economy as an excuse to push his agenda much like he used a flawed healthcare system to give us Obamacare.

The President’s bureaucrats have issued hundreds of new regulations at a cost of over $46 billion to Americans, far surpassing his predecessor on both counts. He has created a climate of uncertainty with constant threats of tax increases and ever more regulations. Advertized as high-profile investment, Obama funnels political payoffs to company owners in special interest sectors only to see the companies fail and employees jobless. Rather than fostering a positive growth environment, he undermines it with politics. The outcome is an even weaker economy.

Still, Obama’s shortcomings are his own. The failure, spectacular though it may be, of a single incompetent individual does not define the boundaries of the office he holds. Admittedly, that’s hard to remember when the occupant has had so many swings and misses. But, Obama remembers. Voters should take their cue from his prediction that he will be a one-term president for failing to turn the economy around.

Some of the poll respondents attribute their belief in presidential impotence to the death of optimism during Obama’s term. Defeatism is understandable after his failure to live up to the promises that swept him into the White House. But, the demise of hopefulness after just four years of disappointment and hardship is a premature death. It concedes too soon that inadequacy has become the standard of presidential performance.

To be sure hard times are difficult or they would be called something else. But, pessimism is easily averted by the knowledge that voters can improve their economic circumstances. Presidents who do not perform adequately only remain in office because voters allow them to remain.

In that regard, even those who believe that the President is a bystander to economic forces do not necessarily let him off the hook. As one respondent said, she is willing to give Romney a chance to see what he can do. That attitude is reflected in a more recent AP-GfK poll that shows Obama losing his long-held advantage over Romney as economic uncertainties increase.

Today, Obama’s response to his fumbling of the economy is to change the subject with a vengeance, attacking Romney with increasingly absurd accusations. The President and his staffers have assailed Romney’s religion, his wife, his business record, his patriotism and his wealth. This past week, they claimed he is also either a felon or a liar.

Obama is a Chicago politician, a street brawler whose favorite diversionary weapon is relentless character assassination. He’s also quick to spout a spate of promises, a la 2008, that he can’t keep. Romney responds poorly in a campaign thusly defined because he has no experience in that type of environment. His successes, unlike the President’s, are built on substantive achievements not empty politics. Viewed in that light, Romney’s stumbling retorts to Obama’s escalating personal attacks are actually a point in the challenger’s favor.

One thing is certain. When people begin to accept ineptitude as the nation’s new normal, it’s time to change the occupant of the White House.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

Cavmen Didn’t Have Debt and Neither Should We

Blog From
June 22nd, 2012

Cavemen come into vogue every now and then. From the silly Geico “so easy” commercials to serious diet choices, Americans don’t mind identifying with the scraggily cave dwellers of millennia ago. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since, on an evolutionary scale, we aren’t that far removed from them. Oh, we have more highly developed social, economic and governance structures. We dress better, live more grandly and bathe a lot more often. In fact, our entire hygiene regimen beats theirs clubs down. But, those differences are superficial. Underneath it all, we are still pretty much them. And if Darwin is right, it’s past time to get back to some caveman basics.

Evolution is one of the most flexible theories of modern science, often bending like a pretzel to accommodate nonconforming reality. But, Darwin’s brainchild does have some constants. Primary among them is, of course, survival. Initially, it was survival of the individual but that didn’t explain altruistic behavior, conscious or otherwise. So, it became survival of the group. Did I mention that the theory is flexible?

Anyway, group survival, practiced by our cave inhabiting predecessors, meant selfless individuals worked for the benefit of the group, even to the point of death. The work and the sacrifice were done to make the whole safer, stronger and, hence, better able to survive the vicissitudes of Paleolithic life. Actions that lessen the chances of group survival are counter-evolutionary, which leads naturally to species extinction. Since the caveman period lasted many millennia, counter-evolutionary deeds occurred infrequently, if at all. (As an aside, one wonders how the altruistic gene itself survived and there’s a theory twist for that, too. But, it’s a topic for another discussion.)

Today, some ten thousand years after our ancestors completed the metamorphosis into farmers, we find ourselves in the throes of counter-evolutionary lunacy. We live in a world of short-term gain at the cost of long-term survival and we’re loving it. Short-term-itis has crept into many aspects of modern society. We gorge ourselves at the dinner table while assiduously avoiding bothersome exercise and extend ourselves over our credit limits like there’s no tomorrow. And there won’t be unless we reel in our excesses in a quick hurry.

For America, the worst of these excesses is the national debt we’ve managed to accumulate in a relatively short period of time. It’s ballooned like the waistline of a Mickey D’s gourmand. Political machinations aside, social welfare expenditures are the main reasons for the debt explosion over the past fifty years. An associated indirect cost is the expansion of government to regulate them. Yes, from time to time, other factors have contributed to the debt on a temporary basis, like defense spending. But, the constant, and ever-expanding, contributors are subsidies to individuals and the costly growth of government that sustains them.

Unfortunately, in the face of this massive indebtedness (over $16 trillion by year’s end) our society has not survived to thrive. It merely grows increasingly dependent on a shrinking pool of those who work to support the group. And the debt grows ever greater. For those observing it from this side of the pond, the Greece example is nothing short of breathtaking. These people have lived above their collective means for so long that every vestige of rational thought has departed the national consciousness. After last week’s Greek election, the victors declared that the European bailout terms should be relaxed just because a pro-bailout party won.

Are they kidding? They have yet to bite any part of the bullet fired at them by long years of uncontrolled profligacy. Still they expect a tangible reward for merely agreeing in principle to start living small. If they were children, their parents would show them the error of their immature ways. But, they are just being childish instead and have no parents.

For our part, ludicrous, self-serving political blather has almost completely supplanted rational thought. We haven’t seen a federal budget since 2009 while the national debt grew more in Obama’s first 38 months than in 8 years under George W. If we stay this course, economic forecasters predict the end of life as we know it before 2030. Today, there is no realistic plan anywhere near a drawing board that can avert the looming train wreck.

Cavemen existed for over 100,000 years sans group debt. Our society has been around for less than 240 years and we’re drowning in it. There’s a lesson in the difference. Will debt reduction be painful? Yes. Will it be popular? No. Do our politicians have the strength of character to pull it off by themselves? No again. Ultimately, debt reduction will be forced, or not, by a group currently in love with short-term-itis.

There’s a larger than life prospect that society will still be plagued by the disease right up until the lights burn out on it. If that happens, it’ll just be Darwinian theory, with all of its convenient twists and turns, in practice. Where’s a caveman when you need him?

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

Wisconsin Deals Fiscal Responsibility a Winning Hand

Blog From
June 6th, 2012

The much-anticipated vote has finally been tallied. Scott Walker is the first governor in U.S. history to withstand a recall attempt. Actually, only three gubernatorial recalls have been mounted in the nation’s history. Still, winning is better than losing. Just ask the two who were expelled, California Governor Gray Davis, ousted in 2003, and North Dakota Governor Lynn Frazier, sent packing in 1921. Frazier may be beyond querying but Davis can tell you that it’s no fun. Other than that, what are the implications of Walker’s survival?

It should be noted at the outset that Walker did more than merely survive yesterday’s attempted unseating. His survival was, in today’s vernacular, a blowout smackdown. The recall’s margin of defeat was almost twice Walker’s victory margin when he won the gubernatorial election in 2010 against the same opponent.

Democrats, stinging over the recall failure, are desperately trying to put a happy face on Walker’s continuing presence in the Executive Residence.  Most are claiming that the failure is the result of voter recall fatigue and the impropriety of using the recall process under these circumstances. Some are also attributing the defeat to out of state money. In other words, it had nothing to do with (a) fiscal responsibility, (b) anti union sentiment or (c) Election 2012. Regarding the latter, recall supporters point to the fact that Obama was favored over Romney in exit poll interviews conducted early on Tuesday.

The Dems are right on the third claim. But, it has nothing to do with the fact that Obama enjoyed a 9-percentage point preference over Romney in early exit poll interviews. When the interviews were conducted, the recall outcome was too close to call. But, by the end of the night, Walker had handily rebuffed those who would reject him. This means that those interviewed were not among the voters who gave Walker his margin of victory. No one knows who those folks will favor in the presidential election.

Even so, contrary to the prognostications of Karl Rove and other political pundits, the recall results have nothing to do with partisan politics. The issue was narrowly drawn and it has consumed, and changed, Wisconsin residents over the past year. It’s difficult to imagine that, in such a climate, the result can be anything other than narrow as well. The message that Wisconsin voters sent on Tuesday should not, therefore, encourage the GOP about the fall election. In saying no to Walker’s ouster, Wisconsin voters simply said yes to fiscal responsibility. And to a recognition of the role that public sector unions play in unsustainable deficits.

The media spotlight leading up to the vote largely ignored the fiscal issues, preferring to focus on the more glamorous union-busting angle. But, banning collective bargaining for most public sector unions was not a direct assault on them. They were the foreordained casualty of slaying Wisconsin’s fiscal dragon. And the Badger State is hardly alone in the effort to ward off the yawning debt that flows from collective bargaining negotiations. On Tuesday, voters in two of California’s largest cities voted overwhelmingly to reduce public employee pensions.

The largest direct financial threat posed by public unions today is massive unfunded pension liability, which faces too many states. According to the Pew Center on the States, at least 18 of the Federated Fifty each face liabilities greater than $10 billion. California and Illinois lead the liability parade with an excess of $50 billion a piece. When retiree healthcare costs are included, the unfunded liabilities of these states total $1 trillion.

Unless this liability is reduced, government spending priorities must necessarily change. As pensions are funded, the amount of money available for services such as schools, roads and welfare will be dramatically reduced. States will eventually end up serving only retired employees since their post-retirement obligations are difficult to void, even in bankruptcy. This isn’t what taxpayers have in mind on tax day.

The cost of pensions and benefits, as high as they are, is only part of the picture. In fact, the indirect costs may be even higher. According to a National Affairs treatise, the public union price tag includes reduced government efficiency and responsiveness due to union-imposed rules and regulations. Sweetheart agreements entered into by their predecessors also hamstring newly elected, fiscally responsible officials.

The unseemliness of public employees holding sway over public services caused Franklin Roosevelt and George Meany to renounce the idea of public unions. Today’s fiscal predicament shows that those gentlemen were more right than they could have imagined.

In an exit poll interview, one Wisconsinite who voted for the recall said she did so because she was tired of the bickering. One wonders how tired she would become if her state government could only afford to service union debt.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

The Social Advocacy Lure: Whom will it catch?

Blog From
March 24th, 2012

(Article first published as The Social Advocacy Lure: Whom will it catch? on Blogcritics.) Last month, the Obama re-election campaign began an effort in earnest to redefine the major issues in this election year. Treating superficially the still weak economy, the persistently high jobless rate and the skyrocketing national debt, Obama’s main messaging is now on social issues. He addresses the rights of discrete groups, like women. But, he speaks most passionately of, in essence, a national ‘oneness’. It is a social concept he uses to justify the continual expansion of the scope and power of the federal government. From it flows many proposed social engineering regulations that necessarily erode individual freedoms.

Obama’s recent defense of women’s rights in the free contraceptives fight is a good, but not great, display of his social restructuring strategy. It was a two-fer: (1) an opportunity to label Republicans as anti-woman and (2) a needed distraction from his freedom of religion gaffe. It seems, as far as the first point is concerned, that the stumblebums at the GOP are all too willing, albeit unwittingly, to help him out. During the dust up, credible discussions about whether contraceptives should be available gratis went largely unnoticed. Not really surprising as those pieces lacked an emotional element.

Individual skirmishes such as the free contraceptive example may be interesting, but they aren’t especially telling in trying to identify a cohesive campaign strategy. That comes from the main theme of speeches over time as well as other campaign outreach efforts. In Obama’s case, the overarching pitch is his oneness assertion. As he sees it, we are one nation, one people. We owe a responsibility to each other and a shared responsibility to future Americans. We rise or fall as one. Under this view, the purpose of government is to protect and expand the interests of the one.

A great example of oneness is the justification for increasing taxes on the rich to raise the standard of living for everyone else. Enlarging the levy on fat wallets was once couched in strictly economic terms, but not any longer because it makes no economic sense. So, now days, it’s mostly characterized as one of the many fair and decent things the federal government can do for all of us. It is a manifestation of Obama’s personal belief that some people simply have too much money and get tax breaks they don’t need.

Complementing that social argument is Warren Buffet’s statement that decent rich people don’t mind having their taxes raised. So, there it is. Decent people don’t object to the government being decent, which means only the indecent protest. But, the government does not exist to protect them. The argument does have a horrifyingly attractive allure, like being transfixed by the lights of an oncoming train. But, it is failed logic.

Taking from the rich is just one example of the application of Obama’s social strategy. Obamacare with its individual mandate was an early instance of the strategy. Wall Street regulation is another recurring theme. While Obamacare is an easy target, it is difficult to take a pro Wall Street stance, although the Occupy movement is a great motivator. The President’s social agenda also limits consumer choices. So, global warming justifies shutting down the oil and gas industry in favor of solar energy, high speed trains, algae-based fuel products and so forth. Pipe dreams replace pipelines in the President’s social order.

Team Obama believes that social advocacy will attract the much-coveted independent vote by doggedly labeling the GOP as the party of fundamental unfairness. If the Republicans can be made to look bad enough, voters won’t be able to stomach voting for them despite razor-thin pocketbooks. It’s a risky bet. Traditionally, voters in U.S. elections cast their ballots based on their economic well-being. If Obama’s re-election strategy is to prevail, it must not merely buck the tide of history. It must do so by convincing voters that traditional virtues such as individual responsibility and achievement have become vices.

Will the strategy succeed? Possibly, but only if voters surrender to the mob mentality that Obama appeals to in every campaign speech. It is never enough for him to state his positions on the issues he chooses to address and criticize those of his opponents. His re-election spiels are clarion calls to grab our pitchforks, light up our torches and storm the castle of the individual rights monster.

You can almost see the trail of lights going up the hill from here.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

Will Obama Step Aside or be Pushed?

Blog From
November 28th, 2011

(Article first published as Will Obama Step Aside or be Pushed? on Blogcritics.) The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece a few days ago about the need for Obama to step aside. For the good of the country, he must give another Democrat a chance at the White House next year. The most surprising thing about the article is that it wasn’t written by a hardline right-winger. Or even a considered Independent. Two former Democrat pollsters, one for Jimmy Carter and the other for Bill Clinton, are the authors. They appeal to Obama to climb the moral high ground like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson before him and step down.

In a nutshell, these writers lay the blame for today’s political gridlock in the Capitol at Obama’s feet. Stalemate naturally follows in the wake of vitriolic posturing. They also believe that the President cannot win re-election with a constructive campaign because of his performance failures. His road to victory, if there is one, runs straight over a scorched earth. But, that strategy, already adopted by the President’s handlers, will only widen the political divide worsening dire issues facing the country. The authors’ solution is to run Hillary Clinton, the savior, not only of the Democrat Party, but also of the country.

It’s an interesting article, made more so by the political affiliation of it’s authors. But, the most interesting thing about it is the comparison, however brief, of Obama to the 1952 version of Harry Truman. There are dozens of articles on the Internet likening Obama to Truman in 1948. Some merely offer the possibility. Others predict a Truman-esque victory for Obama. There are also articles suggesting that Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter in 1980 or Gerald Ford in 1976.

But, Truman in 1952 is becoming a more likely scenario. In 1957, five years after he left the Oval Office, Truman claimed that he stepped down in the best interests of the country. He supposedly made the decision in 1949 based on his concern that advancing age would prevent him from governing effectively through 1956.

A much more plausible explanation is that Truman, deeply disliked, accepted the fact that 1948 Redux was not in the cards. He suffered a humiliating defeat in the first primary of 1952 at the hands of a freshman Senator.  Days later he withdrew his name from consideration. He did, however, successfully deny his primary opponent the Democrat nomination at a brokered convention later that year.

Will 2012 play out for Obama like 1952 did for Truman?  There are similarities. For Truman, the Korean Conflict was very unpopular in a war-weary America and he couldn’t bring it to an end. His administration was riddled with charges of corruption and cronyism. Even the post-WWII economic boom could not quiet concerns about the Federal deficit, miniscule by today’s standards. In the end, his past successes forgotten, voters rejected the man from Missouri.

Obama finds himself in worse circumstances than did Truman. America today is in protracted military conflicts in two countries. The economy is in the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression. Financial collapse hangs over irresponsible spending like Damocles’ sword. The administration is facing corruption and incompetence charges in the ongoing Solyndra and Fast and Furious fiascos. While Truman, at least, took responsibility, Obama works very hard to deny it. Years of Obama’s persistent blame antics inevitably wear very thin.

So, our President’s approval rating, like Truman’s before him, is dismal. Even Obama admits that we’re no better off now than when he became president. Not surprisingly, if the polls were open today, the Elephant would win.

But, are elections that occurred sixty years ago meaningful in predicting the course of the 2012 contest? Is there a dissenter among Democrats who will challenge Obama in the primaries? Are today’s voters enough like those in 1952 who preferred a maverick entry in an early primary? More to the point, are enough voters today like American adults in 1952? Those folks were battle-hardened and self-reliant. People these days are products of decades of entitlement indoctrination.

Then there’s the question of whether Obama can find the moral high ground with a map and a compass. Or, whether he’s so scorched the earth, it’s no longer discernable. If someone else is to be the Democrat standard bearer next year, it will take one very big push.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

To Flatten or Not to Flatten: Is that Really the Question?

Blog From
October 30th, 2011

(First published as To Flatten or Not to Flatten: Is that Really the Question? on Blogcritics.) On Monday, the Bloomberg editorial staff came down on the side of making the tax code more “progressive”.  The piece was in response to flat income tax proposals from three or four of the current Republican presidential primary candidates. One can only hope that what passes for thinking in that article is not repeated in future Bloomberg work because it’s very deficient indeed. You’d need a map and a compass to journey deeper into mindlessness, but then, being mindless already, you couldn’t read either one.

Still, the flat tax flap does give pause for thought. Is flattening federal income taxes really what the Republican candidates want? Or are they using the idea as a gimmick? As a recent Blogcritics offering laments, intellectual thought rarely makes an appearance at a political debate.

Assessing the current GOP flat tax proposals with this precaution in mind, are they just shallow attempts to grab the ever-fickle media spotlight? Or, like a lightening rod, are they purposefully erected to draw attention to the real problem? Or is it a combination of the two – a spotlight-grabbing gesture that accidentally shines light on a serious issue? Door Number Two would be nice. Really. And we really think the answer lies there.

The Bloomberg article is a string of knee-jerk claims that ignores the essence of the flat income tax argument. For example, a true flat tax is based on gross income rather than adjusted gross, resulting in a net revenue gain. It also simplifies the federal tax code. Today, that legislation, together with the IRS’s interpretive rulings and regulations, is almost 73,000 pages. It’s a conglomeration of complexity and convolution that almost no one, including your friendly taxman and White House officials, understands.

But, Bloomberg editors are happy with it and they should be happy for a long time to come. The flat tax idea has been around for decades and has gained absolutely no Congressional traction. While it has a popular fairness appeal, it cannot withstand the phalanx of special interests arrayed against it. The tax code is not an unintelligible mishmash by happenstance.

So, why are the Republican candidates talking about it again? The facile answer is the coveted media attention lavished on Herman Cain for his 9–9–9 plan, which includes, among other things, a flat tax. In what appears to be predictable monkey-see-monkey-do chain reactions, several of the other Republican candidates formulated flat tax proposals, too. But, is that really all they’re about? Inhabitants of a Pavlovian kennel, classically conditioned to crave the spotlight?

More likely, they are simply cowards. Pushing an idea with some popular appeal, these people are actually advancing a fairness argument they fear to make directly. And here it is. The problem with the federal revenue system is that too few people pay into it.  Put another way, too many people take too much out of it.

As we know, nearly half of all federal tax filers either pay no income tax or pay a negative tax. That number is increasing and not merely at the lower income levels. The fastest growing group of income tax non-payers includes those earning between $75,000 – $100,000 annually. These people cannot even pretend to be among the financially downtrodden yet they’re getting a free income tax ride. Meanwhile, the government’s generosity to them has a multiplying effect on the deepening federal debt burying our economy and us with it. It’s pure insanity.

We teach our kids to avoid child predators, those depraved individuals who would do them harm. Children are told to reject the lures of candy and puppies and other cute stuff and simply run away screaming for help. As adults, we have to do the same thing. When Uncle Sam tries to snuggle up using fistfuls of fiscal candy, we need to run away screaming, too. The scary arithmetic lurking behind those promises will do us all in.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

Obamanomics: Simply Insanity or Crazy Craftiness, Too?

Blog From
September 21st, 2011

(Article first published as Obamanomics: Simply Insanity or Crazy Craftiness, Too? on Blogcritics.) On February 12, 2008, in a campaign speech delivered to a packed, thunderously approving crowd, then candidate Barack Obama provided a glimpse of Obamanomics. As in his later encounter with Joe The Plumber, the first term Illinois Senator preached government control of wealth. The specific example he used on both occasions was wealth redistribution. But, that is merely one type of wealth control. There are others and Obama has also pursued them in his first term. They’ve all failed or we wouldn’t be surveying their smoldering wreckage from our perch on the brink of a double dip recession.

And yet Obamanomics hasn’t changed one whit. No lessons learned, not even a slight course correction. It’s still all about government control of wealth through taxing and spending, regulating, granting unfair advantage to handpicked businesses and industries, etc. Take Obama’s jobs proposal, or Stimulus 2.0, unveiled in his September 7 speech. The payroll tax cut is merely an extension of the current one-year reduction. It won’t improve hiring because it’s not a cause of unemployment. But, it is convenient diversionary dressing around a window the White House can’t break through.

And then there’s infrastructure spending, redux. In 2008 and 2009, Obama preached the importance of shovel ready jobs so much he practically turned it into a religion. But in a September 2010 interview, published the following month, Obama admitted those jobs don’t exist in the public sector. One short year later, he’s pushing them again.

The tax increases in the President’s just announced debt reduction plan are nothing new, either. He’s pressed the issue of increasing taxes on the rich since his first term candidacy days. But, at this juncture, even Democrats are having a difficult time supporting them. The reason is obvious. The economy cannot be fixed by taking money out of it. Increasing taxes on those who invest their incomes in growing businesses is much more than merely foolish.

Obama’s persistence in the face of these failures is very like Einstein’s definition of insanity. That is, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. It doesn’t happen in physics and it won’t happen in economics, either. But, is Obamanomics just insanity or is it also the slick strategy of a President desperate to win re-election?  The facts are stacking up in favor of the latter.

From the moment of his first presidential campaign appearance, Obama has clung to the politics of blame like an addiction. Now, in these beginning days of his re-election bid, with his poll numbers tanking faster than the Titanic, he desperately needs a distraction to hype. Anything that will get the electorate more upset with Republicans than with his mishandling of the economy. So, he offers proposals that couldn’t get through Congress with a battering ram in order to contrive blame scenarios.

His jobs plan is a typical example. Before its delivery, he set the stage by characterizing it as ‘bipartisan’, which, of course, is wrong since it takes two parties to create bipartisanship. No matter, in his Saturday address to the nation, Obama stated his intention to extort GOP support for his new Stimulus proposal. His grand scheme is to blame House Republicans for continuing high unemployment if they oppose it. What he’s not saying is that, if Republicans do support his plan, he will include them in a circle of ‘bipartisan’ blame when it fails. Using blame like a flamethrower is what got Obama elected and blame is what he believes will get him re-elected. Meanwhile, we’re getting much too cozy with double dip.

In another favorite blame pitch, Obama pits the “rich” against the “little guy” over the amounts of money they earn and taxes they pay. But, concocting divisions and wielding them like weapons to get re-elected merely underscores his unsuitability for the office he holds. He ignores the fact that the rich pay most of the federal income tax while about fifty percent of wage earners pay zero dollars.

Obama also fails to mention that many in his crosshairs are small business owners who employ the majority of the American workforce. Taking more money out of their pockets leaves them with less to invest, which means businesses stagnate and the unemployment rate remains high. It also depresses tax revenue.

But, it works for Obamanomics, which holds that government, not the private sector, is the engine of economic growth. As if on cue, the Solyndra loan scandal, presently engulfing the White House like a Gulf oil fire, belies that argument. Taxpayers, courtesy of the Obama Administration, guaranteed $535 million in venture capital loans to the handpicked company. One thousand new jobs were supposed to be created in return.

Fourteen months later, the company folded, laying off eleven hundred workers and leaving taxpayers holding an expensive bag. At a cost of over $535,000 per job, the loan guarantee is being criticized as “crony capitalism”. One of the Solyndra investors is a high-profile Obama campaign contributor. Regardless, the whole debacle highlights the inability of a government bureaucracy to drive an economy anywhere but off a cliff.

In an unusual public chastisement, former Clinton strategist, James Carville, scolded Obama last week for not firing his staff and completely changing his direction. Press Secretary Jay Carney responded that the American people know Obama is doing all he can to grow the economy and create jobs. At last, we all agree on something. We know Obama’s doing all he can. And it’s not working.

In that February 2008 speech, candidate Obama promised to remake this country, block by block, precinct by precinct, county by county and state by state. If you’ve had enough of that, get your shovels ready. You’ve got a job to do come November 2012.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

Say It Ain’t So

Blog From
August 24th, 2011

(Article first published as Say It Ain’t So on Blogcritics.) In 1919, eight players on the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. They were later indicted and banned from baseball for life. A small boy who idolized the most famous of them, Shoeless Joe Jackson, entreated the star to deny his involvement. The child’s plea, “say it ain’t so”, has come to epitomize both disbelief and the pain of disappointment.  It’s a fitting reaction to the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls. Each is such an easy target that one can almost discern a plot to throw the election to Barack Obama.

O.k., not really, but a conspiracy might as well exist. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, none stands a snowball’s chance of living in the White House in 2013. Why? Each has a platform with such narrow appeal the Great Wallendas would lose their balance. Obama is already taking aim at the Republican field although, if he were smart, he’d wait. His attacks might help produce a new contender who defeats him.

The problem with the current GOP candidates is that they’re treating the 2012 presidential election as a one issue race. Each is betting that independent voters fear our desperate economic plight deeply enough to overlook his or her polarizing positions on other subjects. With that bet placed, they are racing to grab the nomination by playing to a narrow segment of the Party with the most apparent influence.

While it’s true that elections are usually a barometer of the way voters believe their lives are going, voting isn’t always just about the economy. With Obama’s divisive rhetoric and thick misdirection smoke screens, solutions for a broader range of issues must be defined. That’s a requirement the current GOP candidates are not up to meeting.

More than at any time in living memory, politics lies in polarized pieces. Politicians have come to mimic players in a TV ‘reality’ show, the more extreme the better. Predictably, the debt reduction plan of the interparty Gang of Six died aborning because it lacked the extremism that made the eventual legislation meaningless.

The fringe in both parties tries to lay exclusive claim to “principle”, reducing party value to brand marketing. But neither labels nor rhetoric solves problems. What does most often are plans with a mix of provisions that, collectively, defy categorization. But that’s a lesson too many choose to overlook.

Take Michele Bachmann, winner of the Iowa Straw Poll, although garnering a whopping 4,823 votes out of 16,892 cast isn’t much of victory. She bleeds Tea out of every political pore from tying the knot to waging war. It won’t get her to the White House. Although she is trying to broaden her appeal, her dye has been cast for much too long.

Ron Paul, the 76-year old Texas libertarian, may be Nostradamus and Edward Cayce combined when it comes to the economy, but he has no chance.  He does have, whether or not deservedly, a crackpot aura, which would be a problem except the media mostly ignores him. As the modern day Harold Stassen, he should save his money and go home.

Rick Perry, the hardline Texas conservative and newcomer to the race, is supposed to threaten the chances of both Romney and Bachmann. But, he has yet to be tested in a national context and his baptism by fire is just beginning. Speaking of baptisms, personal religious beliefs are great but they shouldn’t be showcased as a prelude to a national campaign. It’s bad theater on several levels. If Perry keeps that up, he won’t have a prayer.

And then there are the acknowledged and unacknowledged also rans. Tim Pawlenty, the weakest of the weak, dropped out of the race the day after his poor showing in Iowa. And only Gingrich thinks Gingrich is actually running rather than showing up periodically to pontificate. Santorum and Cain combined would have come in behind Paul in the Iowa poll while “Other” got more votes than Huntsman and McCotter put together. Don’t look for one of these four to be the 2012 breakout candidate.

Even Romney, who has the best chance of victory among the known’s, has flip-flopped himself to the right side of the political frying pan. They all want to outdo each other in staking a claim to the Republican’s most conservative wing. In their rush to be Right, they appear more and more Wrong to independents essential for victory next year.

The GOP’s best 2012 hope is that the election turns out to be a rerun of 2008. With an economy Obama has made much worse and his tanking poll numbers, he’s becoming the reincarnation of George Bush. Either that happens or the convention in Tampa Bay next year brokers a real winner. That last one is a desperate solution, but so are our times.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

The Afterglow

Blog From
August 10th, 2011

(This blog is an update of an article first published as The Afterglow on Blogcritics.) It took almost no time at all for the phony afterglow conjured up by Washington’s politicians to be extinguished by the cold winds of reality. In the brief two days between the signing of the debt ceiling increase and the first gust of trouble, the President and Congress were celebrating. Obama, planning a bus tour of the Midwest at taxpayer expense, was busy filling his head with happy re-election thoughts. After all that political posturing, Congressional members fell back exhausted and went on vacation and deeply into denial.

Forty-eight hours after the debt deal was inked, the stock market plummeted 500 points, erasing the gains for the year in a single day. While the crisis in Europe contributed to the plunge, much of the impetus was the grim economic outlook in the U.S. The Dow finished the roller coaster week with the largest five-day drop since October 2008.

On Friday night, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from triple-A to AA+. The historic move means that U.S. Treasury debt is no longer among the safest investments in the world. The action was prompted by the failure of the debt ceiling legislation to address America’s chronic finance problems, a fact many people already knew.

More than one dozen countries now have a higher credit rating than the U.S. Lower credit ratings generally necessitate higher interest rates on the debt instruments in order to attract investors. The interest we already pay on the debt would feed several small countries annually. With higher rates, the national debt will grow at an accelerated pace, compounding our current problems.

The Standard & Poor’s downgrade is the first crack in the timbers supporting our economic viability. In response to its reverberating sound, the stock market plunged again on Monday, this time by 634 points. For the second time in just three short business days, the Dow hit a record rocky bottom. The performance in the international financial markets is bleak as well. And the response from Washington? It’s been nothing short of suicidal, but not from despair. Self-destruction in D.C. is at the hands of politics as usual.

Even with the record levels of political partisanship and acrimony these days, statements emanating from the White House in the last four days are stunning. The response to the S&P downgrade has ranged from meaningless to blaming it on the Tea Party. Regarding the former, Obama says that while markets will rise and fall, the U.S. will always be a AAA country. Seriously? Tune up the orchestra. It’s almost time for “Nearer My God To Thee”.

Meanwhile, Main Street looks like it’s been tossed in a DEA raid. According to most experts, the housing market is now in its second, or double, dip since December 2007 when the Great Recession began. Unemployment remains so huge, you don’t need 20/20 vision to see it.

On that score, the President is disingenuously touting the July jobs report. But, the hundreds of thousands of people who left the job force last month offset the jobs that were added. In fact, the employed-to-unemployed ratio has not been as low as it is right now since January 1984. In looking at the persistent unemployment situation, we’re watching a slow-motion train wreck. Our year-to-date GDP numbers make this sorry situation even worse. At 1.3 percent, economic growth is practically invisible and puts us even farther behind the unemployment curve.

There was some comic relief amid the gloom and doom in the last week. In the World of Weird, a TV ad is currently running that rivals the 2010 Christine O’Donnell “I am not a witch” pitch. In it, viewers can gaze upon the scowling visage of the perpetually self-important Chris Matthews as he extols Obama’s love of country. We can imagine the sustained howls if Fox News featured Bill O’Reilly in an ad supporting a Republican candidate. The double standard is as alive and well as the double dip.

But, there’s nothing funny about Congress and the President refusing to face a difficult balance sheet and come up with rational corrections. Unfortunately, refusal is a script too many of them have been following for the past three years. Harry Reid’s Do Nothing Senate, for example, has done nothing more than raise platitudes to a political art form. And increase the debt by almost 50 percent since October 2008.

To get an afterglow from that we’d need some serious glow in the dark.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror



In the Mirror

The Self-Marginalization of Barack Obama

Blog From
July 27th, 2011

(Article first published as The Self-Marginalization of Barack Obama on Blogcritics.) With each passing challenge, Barack Obama gets smaller and smaller. The limited role he’s defined for himself over the past three and one-half years has turned him into the incredible shrinking president. The latest example may be the one that finally makes him disappear altogether. Will history mark John Boehner’s departure from the debt ceiling negotiation table on Friday night as the effective end of the Obama presidency? Historians aren’t always an agreeable bunch, of course, but, in the full context of his performance as commander-in-chief, that verdict isn’t unrealistic.

We’re not talking about Obama’s failures to keep his 2008 campaign promises, although there have been a whole passel of them. Political promises go unfulfilled so often that only the most naïve among us give them much credence. When we do, shame on us. About the most promises can do is set the tenor of things to come especially when, as in Obama’s case, there’s no record to examine.

We’re talking about Obama’s persistent refusal to lead. When times get tough, he fades into the background, preferring to let anyone else take point even if it means leaving an authority vacuum. If he does appear, it’s most often to chastise and harangue, usually Republicans, but, occasionally, his own Party members.

If not steeped in leadership, how does Obama occupy his time? He’s been busy elevating himself above the process of government, demanding that those beneath him offer up solutions that meet with his approval. By now he’s so far above everyone else, he’s practically invisible. Just look at three examples: Obamacare, the Gulf Oil Spill and the Libyan War.

In the case of his healthcare gem, the President hung back so long during negotiations that they turned into a special interest nightmare for Democrats. The Gulf Oil Spill earned Obama the lowest approval rating of his presidency to that point in time.  The knock was, yes, the inability to handle a crisis.

The Libyan War, problematic for the President from the outset, has degenerated into a protracted morass. But, we can always blame our allies since we’ve conveniently taken one step backward in that conflict. If a bad guy refuses to fall, a fall guy isn’t bad.

What motivates Obama’s non-leadership style? He can’t possibly think, after 30 months in the White House, that self-righteous tongue-lashings are effective. Most people believe he’s just bowing to his base on the left. But, if that’s it, it’s not working. Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) announced his preference for Obama to run opposed in next year’s presidential primaries. According to Sanders, the President has betrayed his supporters and they deserve an option.

So, why doesn’t Obama lead? There aren’t a lot of choices. Perhaps he doesn’t know how. Or maybe he thinks leadership carries too much political risk. Or, possibly, he sees it as a clever way to throw mud without being hit by any. In a tally sheet somewhere, the answer probably matters, but for those of us on terra firma it doesn’t really. Ignorance and cowardice in this context yield the same result.

Take, for example, his refusal to deal with the walloping national debt in a meaningful way. Since the report issued in December 2010, Obama has failed to endorse any of his own debt commission’s recommendations on how to reduce it.

In February of this year, the President proposed trimming the $14 trillion red monster by a miniscule $400 billion over 10 years. The offering was so ridiculous that the Democrat controlled Senate rejected it by a vote of 97 – 0. His much-ballyhooed budget framework speech in April was so lacking in specifics that the independent Congressional Budget Office couldn’t rate it. Perched precariously on the eve of destruction, his latest plan is to attack those put forth by Republicans.

When the bombastic, self-serving rhetoric is stripped away, only the blinding arrogance of Obama’s dogmatic ideology remains. And that’s just not enough to keep him visible, let alone viable. He’s put himself out of sight, out of mind and, hopefully, out of a job.

See you in the mirror.


Posted in In the Mirror