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Romney and the Rice Card

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With the Republican Convention set to begin on August 27, we are heading toward the final phase of the GOP Veepstakes.  Currently, the mainstream media mania is focused on the belief that Romney will play the Rice Card.  It won’t happen.  The excitement concerns the possibility that playing the Rice Card will enhance support from African-American and female voters.  Unfortunately, Condoleezza Rice lacks the degree of charisma one would expect in a Vice-Presidential candidate.  Worse yet, the baggage she brings from her testimony before the 9/11 Commission, particularly in response to the questions posed by Richard Ben-Veniste concerning the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing is the most important reason she will not be picked.  Her failure to seriously heed the warning, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” would become a big issue – once again.  Her response to Ben-Veniste’s interrogation was asinine:

Commissioner, this was not a warning.  This was a historic memo — historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew about the inside.

We often hear pundits recite the Cardinal Rule for Presidential candidates, in selecting their Vice-Presidential nominee, as: “Do No Harm”.  In other words:  Don’t screw up your campaign by choosing a controversial running mate.  If Romney were to play the Rice card, he would append to his own campaign the Bush administration’s failure to heed the warnings about the September 11 attacks.  It won’t happen.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan – who considered the choice of Sarah Palin as “cynical” – recently endorsed Rice as the best candidate:

Consider:  A public figure of obvious and nameable accomplishment whose attainments can’t be taken away from her.  Washington experience – she wouldn’t be learning on the job.  Never ran for office but no political novice. An academic, but not ethereal or abstract.  A woman in a year when Republicans aren’t supposed to choose a woman because of what is now called the 2008 experience – so the choice would have a certain boldness.  A black woman in a campaign that always threatens to take on a painful racial overlay.  A foreign-policy professional acquainted with everyone who’s reigned or been rising the past 20 years.

What is really happening here is that potential candidates from minority groups are being paraded before the public, purely for optics.  Last month, it was Marco Rubio and now it’s Condoleezza Rice.  It has been important for the Romney camp to convince the voters that it seriously considered putting a minority group member on the ticket before finally deciding on a white man.

At this point, the smart money is on Ohio Senator Rob Portman.  Portman is from a battleground state and Romney can be confident that Portman won’t make any stupid moves or inappropriate remarks which could damage the campaign.  Romney needs to play it safe and Portman is a safe choice.

Actually, the Rice Card is being played right now.  You won’t see it again after August.


 

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Obama Presidency Continues To Self-Destruct

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It’s been almost a year since the “Velma Moment”.  On September 20, 2010, President Obama appeared at a CNBC town hall meeting in Washington.  One of the audience members, Velma Hart, posed a question to the President, which was emblematic of the plight experienced by many 2008 Obama supporters.  Peggy Noonan had some fun with the event in her article, “The Enraged vs. The Exhausted” which characterized the 2010 elections as a battle between those two emotional factions.  The “Velma Moment” exposed Obama’s political vulnerability as an aloof leader, lacking the ability to emotionally connect with his supporters:

The president looked relieved when she stood.  Perhaps he thought she might lob a sympathetic question that would allow him to hit a reply out of the park.  Instead, and in the nicest possible way, Velma Hart lobbed a hand grenade.

“I’m a mother. I’m a wife.  I’m an American veteran, and I’m one of your middle-class Americans.  And quite frankly I’m exhausted.  I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are.”  She said, “The financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family.”  She said, “My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot-dogs-and-beans era of our lives.  But, quite frankly, it is starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we are headed.”

The President experienced another “Velma Moment” on Monday.  This time, it was Maureen Dowd who had some fun describing the confrontation:

After assuring Obama that she was a supporter, an Iowa mother named Emily asked the president at a town hall at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah what had gone wrong.

*   *   *

“So when you ran for office you built a tremendous amount of trust with the American people, that you seemed like someone who wouldn’t move the bar on us,” she said.  “And it seems, especially in the last year, as if your negotiating tactics have sort of cut away at that trust by compromising some key principles that we believed in, like repealing the tax cut, not fighting harder for single-payer.  Even Social Security and Medicare seemed on the line when we were dealing with the debt ceiling.  So I’m just curious, moving forward, what prevents you from taking a harder negotiating stance, being that it seems that the Republicans are taking a really hard stance?”

President Obama can no longer blame the Republicans and Fox News for his poor approval ratings.  He has become his own worst enemy.  As for what Obama has been doing wrong – the title of Andrew Malcolm’s recent piece for the Los Angeles Times summed it up quite well:  “On Day 938 of his presidency, Obama says he’ll have a jobs plan in a month or so”.

Lydia Saad of the Gallup Organization provided this report on the President’s most recent approval ratings:

A new low of 26% of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, down 11 percentage points since Gallup last measured it in mid-May and well below his previous low of 35% in November 2010.

Obama earns similarly low approval for his handling of the federal budget deficit (24%) and creating jobs (29%).

*   *   *

President Obama’s approval rating has dwindled in recent weeks to the point that it is barely hugging the 40% line. Three months earlier, it approached or exceeded 50%.

The voters have finally caught on to the fact that Barack Obama’s foremost mission is to serve as a tool for Wall Street.  In Monday’s edition of The Washington Post, Zachary Goldfarb gave us a peek at Obama’s latest gift to the banksters:  a plan to provide a government guarantee of mortgage backed securities:

President Obama has directed a small team of advisers to develop a proposal that would keep the government playing a major role in the nation’s mortgage market, extending a federal loan subsidy for most home buyers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The administration’s reaction to curiosity about the plan was a tip-off that the whole thing stinks.  Mr. Goldfarb’s article included the official White House retort, which was based on the contention that the controversial proposal is just one of three options outlined earlier this year in an administration white paper concerning reform of the housing finance system:

“It is simply false that there has been a decision to move forward with any particular option,” said Matt Vogel, a White House spokesman.  “All three options remain under active consideration and we are deepening our analysis around how each would potentially be implemented.  No recommendation has been made to the president by his economic advisers.”

And if you believe that, you might be interested in buying some real estate located in  . . .

Zachary Goldfarb explained the plan:

Fannie, Freddie or other successor firms would charge a fee to mortgage lenders and banks and use the money to create an insurance pool to cover losses on mortgage securities caused by defaults on the underlying loans.  The government would be the last line of defense in case of another housing market meltdown, using taxpayer money to cover losses only if the insurance pool ran dry.

The Washington Post report inspired economist Dean Baker to expose the ugly truth about this scheme:

It would be difficult to find an economic rationale for this policy other than subsidizing the financial industry. The government can and does directly subsidize the purchase of homes through the mortgage interest deduction.  This can be made more generous and better targeted toward low and moderate income families by capping it and converting it into a tax credit (e.g. all homeowners can deduct 15 percent of the interest paid on mortgages of $300,000 or less from their taxes).

There is no obvious reason to have an additional subsidy through the system of mortgage finance.  Analysis by Mark Zandi showed that the subsidy provided by a government guarantee would largely translate into higher home prices.  This would leave monthly mortgage payments virtually unaffected.  The diversion of capital from elsewhere in the economy would mean slower economic growth and would kill jobs for auto workers, steel workers and other workers in the manufacturing sector.

For these reasons, if President Obama was really against big government and job killing measures, he would oppose this new scheme to subsidize mortgage securitization.  On the other hand, if the goal is to ensure high profits and big salaries for top executives in the financial sector, then a government subsidy for mortgage securitization is good policy.

Frustration with the inevitability that the 2012 Presidential Election will ultimately become a choice between two corporatists has inspired a movement to encourage a Democratic Primary challenge to Obama.  The organization – StopHoping.org – is based on this simple objective:

The majority of U.S. citizens favor protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; taxing the rich; cutting military spending; and protecting the environment.  We don’t have a candidate . . . yet.  Potential candidates supported on this site will be notified and encouraged to run.

I hope they succeed!


 

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Crazy Like Fox

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Donald Trump has enjoyed a good deal of publicity during the past few weeks, since he jumped on the “birther” bandwagon, voicing skepticism as to whether Barack Obama was really born in the United States.  Many of Trump’s critics insist that The Donald is not a serious Presidential candidate and that his newfound “birther” agenda demonstrates that his Presidential campaign is nothing more than a flimflam publicity stunt.

I have a different theory.  I believe that Trump is running a “decoy” campaign.  Keep in mind that Trump is currently the #2 contender for the Republican nomination.  Remember also that the Republican Presidential primaries for 11 states (and the District of Columbia) are conducted on a “winner-take-all” basis – meaning that when a candidate wins a state primary, that candidate wins all of the delegates who will represent that state at the Republican National Convention.  If Trump can win a few of those states, he could amass an impressive amount of “pledged” delegates.  I suspect that Trump’s goal is to win the support from the extreme right wing of the Republican Party and “hijack” those delegates who would have been otherwise pledged to candidates acceptable to the Tea Party.  Bill O’Reilly’s intervention to defuse the “birther” controversy (at which point he insisted that Trump has not been seriously seeking the nomination) was apparently motivated by the fact that the candidates most likely to be eliminated from contention because of Trump’s presence – Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin – are both darlings of Fox News.  In fact, Palin is a Fox News contributor.

At the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa, Trump could step aside and support Willard Romney, who is despised my many Tea Party activists for having created what is now known as “Obamacare”.  Trump’s elimination of the Tea Party favorites before the convention would solve Romney’s problem with that voting bloc.  Romney can be expected to have an equally difficult time winning the support of dog lovers, as a result of his decision to strap the family dog, Seamus, to the car roof for a 12-hour family vacation drive to Ontario.  Despite his “Presidential” appearance, this Homer Simpson-esque episode from Romney’s life has already impaired efforts to portray him as a potentially effective Commander-In-Chief.

Meanwhile, President Obama is busy trumpeting his newly-minted, false campaign promises.  Gallup reported that on April 15, Obama’s approval rating had tied its all-time low of 41%.  More interestingly, his approval rating among African-American and Hispanic voters is beginning to slip from its enormously-high levels:

Though majorities of blacks (85%) and Hispanics (54%) continue to approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, his ratings among these groups slipped in March and have set or tied new lows.

*   *   *

Obama, elected to office with strong support from minority voters, has averaged better than 90% approval among blacks, and 65% among Hispanics, during his term.  Prior to March, Obama’s lowest monthly average among blacks was 88% in July 2010 and December 2010.  The president’s 54% March job approval rating among Hispanics ties the low from July and August 2010.

Despite the efforts of Republican commentators, such as Peggy Noonan, to create a narrative to the effect that Obama’s waning popularity – as well as the losses sustained by the Democrats in the 2010 elections – resulted from voter concern about government spending and the deficit, I suspect that Americans have simply become alienated by the failure of Obama and his party to deliver on their 2008 promises.  Worse yet, the capitulation to the interests of Wall Street by Democrats who promised “reform” has reinforced voter apathy – the real factor in the 2010 Democratic setbacks.

Cord Jefferson of Good provided this graphic of what Congress would look like if it truly represented America.  The failure of Democrats to win the support of Independent and centrist voters is readily apparent.  You can blame gerrymandering all you want, but as long as the Democrats fail to provide alternatives to Republican policies, they will continue to lose.  I believe it was William Black who said:

Under America’s two-party system, we have one party that is owned by big business and another party that sells out to big business.

I was pleased to see my own sentiments shared and articulated quite well by Mike Kimel of the Presimetrics Blog, in his recent posting entitled, “Why I Will Not be Voting for Obama in 2012”.  Although Mr. Kimel doesn’t have an alternative candidate in mind, the very reason for his disillusionment with Obama is that – with respect to the nation’s most significant problems – our current President has proposed no alternative policies to those of his predecessor:

And yes, there are a handful of things Obama did that GW might not do, but let’s be realistic – this has looked from the very beginning like GW’s third term.

Which leaves just one question – if the policies of the Republicans are even worse than Obama’s – and they tend to support anti-growth tax policies (calling them pro-growth doesn’t change the data), what should a rational person do?  I don’t know.  But I think if I’m going to see Republican policies enacted, I’d prefer to see them run under a Republican label.  See, Democratic policies may not be very good, but historically they have tended to produce better results than Republican policies.  (BTW – Michael Kanell and I have an entire book called Presimetrics looking at how Presidents performed on a wide range of topics.)  Another four years spent bringing the feeble Democratic brand down to the levels of the even more feeble Republican brand will cause lasting damage.

Obama will never re-ignite the enthusiasm of 2008 by presenting himself to the voters as “the devil you know” or “the lesser of two evils”.  What America’s middle class really needs is an honest, Independent candidate to make a run for The White House in 2012.


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Where Obama Went Wrong

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September 27, 2010

One could write an 800-page book on this subject.  During the past week, we’ve been bombarded with explanations from across the political spectrum, concerning how President Obama has gone from wildly-popular cult hero to radioactive force on the 2010 campaign trail.  For many Democrats facing re-election bids in November, the presence of Obama at one of their campaign rallies could be reminiscent of the appearance of William Macy’s character from the movie, The Cooler.  Wikipedia’s discussion of the film provided this definition:

In gambling parlance, a “cooler” is an unlucky individual whose presence at the tables results in a streak of bad luck for the other players.

Barack Obama was elected on a wave of emotion, under the banners of  “Hope” and “Change”.  These days, the emotion consensus has turned against Obama as voters feel more hopeless as a result of Obama’s failure to change anything.  His ardent supporters feel as though they have been duped.  Instead of having been tricked into voting for a “secret Muslim”, they feel they have elected a “secret Republican”.  At the Salon.com website, Glenn Greenwald has documented no less than fifteen examples of Obama’s continuation of the policies of George W. Bush, in breach of his own campaign promises.

One key area of well-deserved outrage against President Obama’s performance concerns the economy.  The disappointment about this issue was widely articulated in December of 2009, as I pointed out here.  At that time, Matt Taibbi had written an essay for Rolling Stone entitled, “Obama’s Big Sellout”, which inspired such commentators as Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns to write this and this.  Beyond the justified criticism, polling by Pew Research has revealed that 46% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans incorrectly believe that the TARP bank bailout was signed into law by Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush.  President Obama invited this confusion with his nomination of “Turbo” Tim Geithner to the position of Treasury Secretary.  As President of the Federal Reserve of New York, Geithner oversaw the $13 billion gift Goldman Sachs received by way of Maiden Lane III.

The emotional battleground of the 2010 elections provided some fun for conservative pundit, Peggy Noonan this week as a result of the highly-publicized moment at the CNBC town hall meeting on September 20.  Velma Hart’s question to the President was emblematic of the plight experienced by many 2008 Obama supporters.  Noonan’s article, “The Enraged vs. The Exhausted” characterized the 2010 elections as a battle between those two emotional factions.  The “Velma Moment” exposed Obama’s political vulnerability as an aloof leader, lacking the ability to emotionally connect with his supporters:

The president looked relieved when she stood.  Perhaps he thought she might lob a sympathetic question that would allow him to hit a reply out of the park.  Instead, and in the nicest possible way, Velma Hart lobbed a hand grenade.

“I’m a mother. I’m a wife.  I’m an American veteran, and I’m one of your middle-class Americans.  And quite frankly I’m exhausted.  I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are.”  She said, “The financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family.”  She said, “My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot-dogs-and-beans era of our lives.  But, quite frankly, it is starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we are headed.”

What a testimony.  And this is the president’s base.  He got that look public figures adopt when they know they just took one right in the chops on national TV and cannot show their dismay.  He could have responded with an engagement and conviction equal to the moment.  But this was our president  — calm, detached, even-keeled to the point of insensate.  He offered a recital of his administration’s achievements: tuition assistance, health care.  It seemed so off point.  Like his first two years.

Kirsten Powers of The Daily Beast provided the best analysis of how the “Velma Moment” illustrated Obama’s lack of empathy.  Where Bill Clinton is The Sorcerer, Barack Obama is The Apprentice:

Does Barack Obama suffer from an “empathy deficit?” Ironically, it was Obama who used the phrase in a 2008 speech when he diagnosed the United States as suffering from the disorder.  In a plea for unity, candidate Obama said lack of empathy was “the essential deficit that exists in this country.”  He defined it as “an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”

*   *   *

And at a 2008 rally in Westerville, Ohio, Obama said, “One of the values that I think men in particular have to pass on is the value of empathy.  Not sympathy, empathy.  And what that means is standing in somebody else’s shoes, being able to look through their eyes.  You know, sometimes we get so caught up in ‘us’ that it’s hard to see that there are other people and that your behavior has an impact on them.”

Yes, President Obama, sometimes that does happen.  Take a look in the mirror.  Nothing brought this problem into relief like the two Obama supporters who confronted the president at a recent town hall meeting expressing total despair over their economic situation and hopelessness about the future.  Rather than expressing empathy, Obama seemed annoyed and proceeded with one of his unhelpful lectures.

*   *   *

One former Emoter-in-Chief, Bill Clinton, told Politico last week, “[Obama’s] being criticized for being too disengaged, for not caring.  So he needs to turn into it.  I may be one of the few people that think it’s not bad that that lady said she was getting tired of defending him.  He needs to hear it.  You need to hear. Embrace people’s anger, including their disappointment at you.  And just ask ‘em to not let the anger cloud their judgment.  Let it concentrate their judgment.  And then make your case.”

Then the kicker:  “[Obama has] got to realize that, in the end, it’s not about him. It’s about the American people, and they’re hurting.”

The American people are hurting because their President sold them out immediately after he was elected.  When faced with the choice of bailing out the zombie banks or putting those banks through temporary receivership (the “Swedish approach” – wherein the bank shareholders and bondholders would take financial “haircuts”) Obama chose to bail out the banks at taxpayer expense.  So here we are  . . .  in a Japanese-style “lost decade”.  In case you don’t remember the debate from early 2009 – peruse this February 10, 2009 posting from the Calculated Risk website.  After reading that, try not to cry after looking at this recent piece by Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture entitled, “We Should Have Gone Swedish  . . .” :

The result of the Swedish method?  They spent 4% of GDP ($18.3 billion in today’s dollars), to rescue their banks.  That is far less than the $trillions we have spent — somewhere between 15-20% of GDP.

Final cost to the Swedes?  Less than 2% of G.D.P.  (Some officials believe it was closer to zero, depending on how certain rates of return are calculated).

In the US, the final tally is years away from being calculated — and its likely to be many times what Sweden paid in GDP % terms.

It has become apparent that the story of  “Where Obama Went Wrong” began during the first month of his Presidency.  Whoever undertakes the task of writing that book will be busy for a long time.




The Broken Promise

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September 21, 2009

We expect those politicians aiming for re-election, to make a point of keeping their campaign promises.  Many elected officials break those promises and manage to win another term anyway.  That fact might explain the reasoning used by so many pols who decide to go the latter route  —  they believe they can get away with it.  Nevertheless, many leaders who break their campaign promises often face crushing defeat on the next Election Day.  A good example of this situation arose during the Presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, who assured America:  “Read my lips:  No new taxes!” in his acceptance speech (written by Peggy Noonan) at the 1988 Republican National Convention.  Although he didn’t enact any new taxes during his sole term in office, he also promised the voters that he would not raise existing taxes after telling everyone to read his lips.  When he broke that promise after becoming President, he was confronted with the “read my lips” quote by everyone from Pat Buchanan to Bill Clinton.

Back on July 15, 2008 and throughout the Presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised the voters that if he were elected, there would be “no more trickle-down economics”.  Nevertheless, his administration’s continuing bailouts of the banking sector have become the worst examples of trickle-down economics in American history — not just because of their massive size and scope, but because they will probably fail to achieve their intended result.  Although the Treasury Department is starting to “come clean” to Congressional Oversight chair Elizabeth Warren, we can’t even be sure about the amount of money infused into the financial sector by one means or another because of the lack of transparency and accountability at the Federal Reserve.  (I seem to remember the word “transparency” being used by Candidate Obama.)  Although we are all well-aware of the $750 billion TARP slush fund that benefited the banks to some degree, speculation as to the amount given (or “loaned”) to the banks by the Federal Reserve runs from $2 trillion to as high as $6 trillion.  So far, the Fed has managed to thwart efforts by some news organizations to learn the ugly truth.  As Pat Choate reported for The Huffington Post:

Bloomberg News filed a federal lawsuit in November 2008 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan) challenging that stonewalling and won the case.  Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska on August 24 ruled that the Fed had “improperly withheld agency records” giving it a week to disclose daily reports on its loans to banks and other financial institutions.

Three days later, Federal Reserve lawyers asked the courts for a delay so that they could make an expedited appeal of her decision.  Several major banks, operating through an organization named “The Clearing House,” filed a supporting brief with the appeals court, claiming that the Federal Reserve had provided its members emergency funds under an agreement not to identify the recipients or the loan terms.

The Clearing House brief described its members as, “[T]he most important participants in the international banking and payments systems and among the world’s largest intermediaries in interbank funds transfers.”  They include ABN Amro Bank, N.V. (Dutch), Bank of America, The Bank of New York Mellon, Citibank, Deutsche Bank Trust (Germany), JP MorganChase Bank, UBS (Switzerland), and Wells Fargo.

*   *   *

Why are the Fed and the banks fighting so hard to keep the loan details secret?  Congress and taxpayers cannot know until they have the information the Federal Reserve is keeping from them, but several plausible explanations exist.

One is that the Fed has taken a great deal of worthless collateral and is propping up failed companies and banks.  A second is that the information will make the issue of paying out huge Wall Street bonuses in 2009 politically radioactive, particularly if it turns out the payments are dependent on these federal loans.

Finally, the Federal Reserve probably does not want that information to be part of the forthcoming Senate hearings on the re-confirmation of Ben Bernanke, current Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

President Obama’s failure to keep his campaign promise of “no more trickle-down economics” is rooted in his decision to rely on the very same individuals who caused the financial crisis — to somehow cure the nation’s economic ills.  These people (Larry Summers, “Turbo” Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke) have convinced Mr. Obama that “trickle-down economics” (i.e. bailing out the banks, rather than distressed businesses or the taxpayers themselves) would be the best solution.

On Saturday, Australian economist Steve Keen published a fantastic report from his website, explaining how the “money multiplier” myth, fed to Obama by the very people who caused the crisis, was the wrong paradigm to be starting from in attempting to save the economy.  Here’s some of what Professor Keen had to say:

While economic outsiders like myself, Michael Hudson, Niall Ferguson and Nassim Taleb argue that the only way to restart the economic engine is to clear it of debt, the government response, has been to attempt to replace the now defunct private debt economic turbocharger with a public one.

In the immediate term, the stupendous size of the stimulus has worked, so that debt in total is still boosting aggregate demand.  But what will happen when the government stops turbocharging the economy, and waits anxiously for the private system to once again splutter into life?

I am afraid that all it will do is splutter.

This is especially so since, following the advice of neoclassical economists, Obama has got not a bang but a whimper out of the many bucks he has thrown at the financial system.

In explaining his recovery program in April, PresidentObama noted that:

“there are a lot of Americans who understandably think that government money would be better spent going directly to families and businesses instead of banks – ‘where’s our bailout?,’ they ask”.

He justified giving the money to the lenders, rather than to the debtors, on the basis of  “the multiplier effect” from bank lending:

the truth is that a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or ten dollars of loans to families and businesses, a multiplier effect that can ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth. (page 3 of the speech)

This argument comes straight out of the neoclassical economics textbook.  Fortunately, due to the clear manner in which Obama enunciates it, the flaw in this textbook argument is vividly apparent in his speech.

This “multiplier effect” will only work if American families and businesses are willing to take on yet more debt:  “a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or ten dollars of loans”.

So the only way the roughly US$1 trillion of money that the Federal Reserve has injected into the banks will result in additional spending is if American families and businesses take out another US$8-10 trillion in loans.

*   *   *

If the money multiplier was going to “ride to the rescue”, private debt would need to rise from its current level of US$41.5 trillion to about US$50 trillion, and this ratio would rise to about 375% — more than twice the level that ushered in the Great Depression.

This is a rescue?  It’s a “hair of the dog” cure:  having booze for breakfast to overcome the feelings of a hangover from last night’s binge.  It is the road to debt alcoholism, not the road to teetotalism and recovery.

Fortunately, it’s a “cure” that is also highly unlikely to work, because the model of money creation that Obama’s economic advisers have sold him was shown to be empirically false over three decades ago.

*    *    *

I’ve recently developed a genuinely monetary, credit-driven model of the economy, and one of its first insights is that Obama has been sold a pup on the right way to stimulate the economy:  he would have got far more bang for his buck by giving the stimulus to the debtors rather than the creditors.

*    *    *

The model shows that you get far more “bang for your buck” by giving the money to firms, rather than banks.  Unemployment falls in both case below the level that would have applied in the absence of the stimulus, but the reduction in unemployment is far greater when the firms get the stimulus, not the banks: unemployment peaks at over 18 percent without the stimulus, just over 13 percent with the stimulus going to the banks, but under11 percent with the stimulus being given to the firms.

*    *    *

So giving the stimulus to the debtors is a more potent way of reducing the impact of a credit crunch — the opposite of the advice given to Obama by his neoclassical advisers.

This could also be one reason that the Australian experience has been better than the USA’s:  the stimulus in Australia has emphasized funding the public rather than the banks (and the model shows the same impact from giving money to the workers as from giving it to the firms — and for the same reason, that workers have to spend, so that the money injected into the economy circulates more rapidly.

*    *    *

Obama has been sold a pup by neoclassical economics:  not only did neoclassical theory help cause the crisis, by championing the growth of private debt and the asset bubbles it financed; it also is undermining efforts to reduce the severity of the crisis.

This is unfortunately the good news:  the bad news is that this model only considers an economy undergoing a “credit crunch”, and not also one suffering from a serious debt overhang that only a direct reduction in debt can tackle.  That is our actual problem, and while a stimulus will work for awhile, the drag from debt-deleveraging is still present.  The economy will therefore lapse back into recession soon after the stimulus is removed.

You can be sure that if we head into a “double-dip” recession as Professor Keen expects, the President will never hear the end of it.  If only Mr. Obama had stuck with his campaign promise of “no more trickle-down economics”, we wouldn’t have so many people wishing they lived in Australia.



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Just Keep Walking

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April 23, 2009

Peggy Noonan had an esteemed career as speechwriter to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  She now writes a weekly column for The Wall Street Journal and she frequently appears as a panelist on many television news programs.  She has been on the blogroll of this website since its inception.

On Sunday, April 19, she appeared as a panelist on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.  During that program’s Roundtable discussion, the subject eventually turned to President Obama’s decision not to prosecute the CIA operatives involved in the torture of detainees in the “War on Terror” as well as the decision to release the so-called “torture memos”.  Those memos were prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration.  They described the permissible use of such techniques as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in a box with insects and other sadistic acts, intended to get detainees to provide valuable information.  Roundtable panelist Sam Donaldson expressed his opinion that the operatives who administered these interrogation techniques were not “just following orders”; they believed they were following the law because they were relying on the legal opinions expressed in those memos.  However, as Donaldson explained, if the people who devised those methods and wrote the legal memos condoning their use were “just trying to find cover” and just trying to find a way to get around American law and the Constitution, they should be held accountable in a court of law.  Donaldson added that if the President wanted to pardon those people, he should do so, although it would be important for those individuals to be held accountable before a court.

Peggy Noonan then remarked:

Oh, I have reservations about all of this.  It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking:  “Oh, much good will come of that?”  Sometimes in life you wanna’ just keep walkin’.

Sam Donaldson then interrupted with the question as to whether it was right “to let people walk who may have committed a crime”.  Noonan then replied:  “Some of life has to be mysterious”.

Noonan’s remarks drew immediate outrage from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.  As Sam Stein reported for The Huffington Post, Feingold was harshly critical of the rationalizations for avoiding prosecution of these people, as expressed by government officials as well as those in the news media.  Stein quoted the Senator’s expressed indignation:

“If you want to see just how outrageous this is, I refer you to the remarks made by Peggy Noonan this Sunday” …  “I frankly have never heard anything quite as disturbing as her remark that was something to the affect of:   ‘well sometimes you just have to move on’.”

Noonan’s opinion is emblematic of the mainstream media’s all-too-frequent response to scandalous events and it demonstrates why so many people have turned to the Internet to get the news.  If you overhear someone in a restaurant arranging a bribe with a politician:  Just keep walking.  If you discover information about illegal toxic dumping by one of your publication’s sponsors:  Just keep walking.  If Harry Markopolos approaches you and tries to explain how Bernie Madoff is running a Ponzi scheme:  Just keep walking.

Peggy Noonan’s statement wasn’t just a situation where she “misspoke”.  It was the expression of an arrogant attitude held by too many in the media who decide it is up to them to determine when the public deserves to know something and when it doesn’t.  After all:  “Some of life has to be mysterious”.

Shame on you, Peggy Noonan!  Shame on you!

Go Ask The Bullet

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November 10, 2008

Centrism has finally become trendy.  I always sensed some fear within the hearts of the more outspoken conservative pundits that an Obama Administration would usher in a neo-Camelot era of fashionable liberalism.  What we are seeing so far, is a movement toward Centrist Chic.  Everyone is getting on the bandwagon.  On Sunday’s Face The Nation, Bob Schieffer reported that President-elect Obama pulled the plug on a planned fireworks show in Grant Park for election night, to enforce his own “no gloating” rule.  Additionally, the Obama “inner circle” has assured us that we can expect some Republican faces in the next Administration, if not the Cabinet.

Prominent Republican leaders are repeatedly asked:  “Where does the GOP go from here?”  Their answer should be:  to the center.  I could never understand why the McCain campaign fought so hard to win over the “hard right” base, once the Republican nomination was secured.  In my posting “Which Way To The White House?” on June 16, I expressed my astonishment concerning McCain’s campaign strategy:

Much of the criticism directed against McCain’s campaign has concerned the slim turnouts at his rallies, his speech delivery and his failure (or unwillingness) to keep economic issues on the front burner.  Although quite a bit of criticism has questioned his ability to carry “the base” in November, precious little has been focused on how he expects to win over “undecided” voters and those from the center.  McCain has to face up to the fact that “the base” has no other alternative than to vote for him.  If he expects to win the election, he would be wise to distance himself from the policies of the Bush administration, rather than cling to them as some sort of political life-raft.

In response to the “Where does the GOP go from here?” question, we are finally hearing the right answer.  The most surprising response came from a gentleman who earned the nickname “Bullet” from his old boss, Karl Rove.  Steve Schmidt is a rather tall, yet stout, individual with a bald head, resembling a giant bullet.  He was appointed to the position of “senior strategist” for the McCain campaign on July 2.  Schmidt has been blamed for McCain’s strategic failures in this recent quest for the Presidency.  On November 9, The Daily Beast website featured an interview with Schmidt, conducted by Ana Marie Cox.  The Bullet made the following observations about the future direction for the GOP:

The party in the Northeast is all but extinct; the party on the West Coast is all but extinct; the party has lost the mid-South states—Virginia, North Carolina—and the party is in deep trouble in the Rocky Mountain West, and there has to be a message and a vision that is compelling to people in order for them to come back and to give consideration to the Republican Party again.

The Republican Party was long known as the party that competently managed government.  We’ve lost our claim to that.  The Republican Party was known as the party that was serious on national security issues.  The mismanagement of the war has stripped that away.  So there is much to do in rebuilding the brand of the party, what it stands for, and what it’s about in a way that Americans find appealing.     .  .  .   The Republican Party wants to, needs to, be able to represent, you know, not only conservatives, but centrists as well.  And the party that controls the center is the party that controls the American electorate.

In the Washington Post of November 9, another prominent conservative, George Will, expressed dismay over the misplaced deference granted to the “hard right” wing of the Republican Party:

Some of the Republicans’ afflictions are self-inflicted.  Some conservatives who are gluttons for punishment are getting a head start on ensuring a 2012 drubbing by prescribing peculiar medication for a misdiagnosed illness.  They are monomaniacal about media bias, which is real but rarely decisive, and unhinged by their anger about the loathing of Sarah Palin by similarly deranged liberals.  These conservatives, confusing pugnacity with a political philosophy, are hot to anoint Palin, an emblem of rural and small-town sensibilities, as the party’s presumptive 2012 nominee.

These conservatives preen as especially respectful of regular — or as Palin says, “real” — Americans, whose tribune Palin purports to be.  But note the argument that the manipulation of Americans by “the mainstream media” explains the fact that the more Palin campaigned, the less Americans thought of her qualifications.  This argument portrays Americans as a bovine herd — or as inert clay in the hands of wily media, which only Palin’s conservative celebrators can decipher and resist.

Most Republican pundits are acutely aware of the consequences resulting from further rampant inbreeding of the so-called “base” within their party.  A resulting blindness to the opinions of those outside “the family” could send the GOP on a path to oblivion.  The inability of the Republicans to “connect” with young people, to any measurable degree, was discussed by former Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, in the November 7 Wall Street Journal:

Though it is also true that many of the indexes for the GOP are dreadful, especially that they lost the vote of two-thirds of those aged 18 to 29.  They lost a generation!  If that continues in coming years, it will be a rolling wave of doom.

The Republican Party will survive the “Tragedy of 2008” because there are still a good number of Republicans with their heads properly screwed onto their necks.   Don’t take my word for it   .  .  .     Go ask The Bullet.

The Narrowing

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October 20, 2008

Halloween is less than two weeks away.  The theme of the perfect horror film for 2008 becomes increasingly apparent as I type this.  We can rely only on the YouTube medium to get this year’s best spooky thriller before the public in time.  Right now, the trees in our nation’s capitol are manifesting the multi-colored transition to autumn.  The time to shoot this movie is right now.  The time to get it before the public is right now.  The Narrowing has the potential to be the “fright film” of the decade.

The horror depicted in this movie is most troubling for the moderate Republicans.  On Sunday, October 19, millions of Americans watched former Secretary of State, Republican Colin Powell, a retired Army General, endorse Democratic nominee Barack Obama for the Presidency.  Among the reasons given by General Powell for his endorsement of Obama included what he described as “the narrowing” of the Republican Party during the course of this campaign.  On that same television program, NBC’s Meet The Press, conservative commentator David Brooks expressed his concern about “the narrowing” of the Republican Party throughout the current election cycle.  In his analysis of General Powell’s rationale for the Obama endorsement, Mr. Brooks said:

He (Powell) was attacking the Republican Party and the key word there was: “narrowing”.  The party is narrowing and leaving a lot of people out – people like Colin Powell.    . . .  They have to ask themselves:  “Why are we narrowing?”

*    *    *

A lot of people who were Republicans, feel like they have been left out  — not by McCain but by the party.  And if McCain has any blame, it is in the beginning of this campaign.  He didn’t say:  “I’m different.”  He didn’t break with the party.  He got sucked up (beautiful Freudian slip) – sucked in at least halfway into the orthodoxy of the party.  That’s narrowing.

As a movie, The Narrowing would feature mobs of “talk radio” – entranced people, wandering through the streets of our nation’s small towns and big cities.  There would be elderly men with racist-attired Curious George dolls.  They would speak with strange little voices, using the Curious George dolls as puppets to complain about how our nation’s public schools would be serving pigs’ feet and black-eyed peas to “red-blooded American children” for lunch.  The movie would depict elderly, white-trash women with “bed head”, repeating the rumor that Barack Obama is uncircumcised.  (It was actually Bill Maher who started this rumor.  In the movie, he would remind these women to include the aspect concerning the scent of curry.)  There would be pit bulls wearing lipstick with small “beehive wigs” and ersatz Kawasaki eyeglass frames, brought to animal shelters and veterinary emergency rooms after horrible maulings and other injuries.  These events would not have been caused from abuse by humans – but from attacks by irate Jack Russell Terriers and Border Collies.  Mobs carrying torches would be chasing after Peggy Noonan and Chris Buckley, yelling: “Traitor!”  John McCain would attempt to transform himself into “the old McCain of 2000” but it would be too late.

The film’s most scary moments would take place on Election Day.  Throngs of screaming people would be seen, running from polling places.  The Sarah Palin “wanna-bes” would show up to vote, not having washed their hairdos or having changed their clothes since Halloween.  The gasping exiles from the voting booths would complain of the overwhelming “homeless smell” carried into the polls by these over-ripe Palin impersonators.

At the conclusion of the film, the vanquished, moderate Republicans would be forced in retreat to the shelter of big cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and (gasp!) San Francisco.  They would form “cells” and organize plots to undo “the narrowing” and hopefully live to fight another day.

Meanwhile, here in “the real world”, The Narrowing is upon us.  It has become painfully obvious to the more astute members of the Republican Party and the conservative community.  If the GOP is to have a future, it must develop an immunosuppressive response to The Narrowing.

Our Generation Got Old

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October 13, 2008

As John McCain’s Presidential campaign goes swirling down the toilet during the final desperate weeks of its existence, we see its surrogates cling to the non-issue of Obama’s contact with 1960s radical activist, Bill Ayers.  As I said on October 2, McCain missed his chance to take control of this race by opposing the 700-billion-dollar “bailout bill”, which has yet to inspire the confidence of the investing public, foreign markets or the banks.  By reuniting with his old ally from the “campaign finance reform” days, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, as well as Democratic rising star, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the “Blue Dog” Democrats and the so-called “House Republicans” led by Jeb Hensarling and Mike Pence, McCain could have secured his position as the man who would take the Republican Party into the new century.  Instead, he chose to follow the advice of the lobbyists who run his campaign:  Steve “Skinhead” Schmidt and (Jeffrey Dahmer look-alike) Rick Davis.  These “Guys on the Plane” (if I may steal an expression from Peggy Noonan) have their careers rooted in the negative campaigning strategies created by Lee Atwater and refined by Karl Rove.  These operatives have no other cards to play.  They have no experience in successful reliance upon a strategy, based solely on portraying their own candidate in a positive way.

As the nation’s economic condition becomes more perilous, the McCain campaign leans more heavily on its claim that Obama’s contacts with Bill Ayers should determine the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election.

At this point it’s starting to get funny.  Worse yet  … it is an indicator (to me, at least) of how old I am and how old my generation has become.  Back in my old home town (a place called Chicago) there is a writer for a local paper called the Chicago Tribune.  His name is John Kass.  Kass is an outspoken opponent of Chicago’s current mayor, Richard M. Daley and Kass has a nickname for him, just as I have nicknames for such worthy characters as Senator Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  On Sunday, October 12, Kass expressed his outrage that Marilyn Katz, Ayers’ fellow member of the 1960s radical group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), is involved in Obama’s Presidential campaign.  Kass took particular umbrage at the fact that Marilyn Katz now has a successful public relations firm called: MK Communications.  According to Kass, MK Communications now represents the Chicago Police Department, City Colleges of Chicago, the city’s “Law Department” (actually referred to as the Office of the Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago), and numerous other city departments  … including the venerable “Streets and San”.  Kass seemed like a shoe salesman trying to fit an old foot that was accustomed to the “militant radical” style of the 1960s, into the new, 21st century, “Terrorist” model. It  doesn’t fit.  The militant radicals of the 1960s used small bombs to make political statements.  There is an absence of information about the number of alleged casualties or injuries resulting from such bombings.  Today, “terrorists” use small bombs to take down airplanes and they use airplanes to take down skyscrapers.  The use of the “terrorist” label to a 1960s radical is an obvious stretch.

The rant by the Tribune’s Kass about how former radical, Marilyn Katz, has become a “mainstream” figure in Chicago’s Public Relations business community, reminded me of an old song.  On August 17, 1969, Grace Slick and her band, Jefferson Airplane, woke up the crowd at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair with what she described as “morning maniac music”: the title song from their upcoming album, Volunteers.  Included among the song’s lyrics was the following passage:

One generation got old.
One generation got soul.
This generation got no destination to hold.

The Marilyn Katz story and the Bill Ayers story tell me that our generation got old.  The former radicals of that era are now playing important roles within what they used to consider an archaic milieu, referred to as “the establishment”.  Nevertheless, many members of this latest “establishment” generation are in a fight to retain the claim of having “soul” by helping to bring an African-American to The White House for the first time in this nation’s history.  The crowds at the McCain and Palin rallies have expressed their fear of what an Obama Administration might bring to America.  These McCain supporters have been able to replace their fears of how they are going to economically survive from day to day and how to fund their retirement plans with the fears conjured up by Schmidt, Davis and their ilk.  The ball is now in the court of the Obama campaign to help establish a legacy for these people and all Americans – by righting the ship capsized by the “perfect storm” of greed, corruption and deregulation.  Another three-pointer would be nice.

The Gumball Gets Obnoxious

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October 6, 2008

In the days before the Vice-Presidential debate, many wise Republicans were calling for Sarah “The Gumball” Palin to be “thrown under the bus” and off the Republican ticket.  As I discussed on September 15, Sarah Palin has a limited skill set to fulfill her role as Vice-Presidential candidate.  (This became painfully obvious during the interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric.)  The Gumball can recite a small number of memorized answers very well, while looking directly into the TV camera to “connect” with her like-minded audience.  She can follow instructions from her handlers and recite the correct answer number as necessary.  She can read speeches, written by her handlers and deliver them in an enthusiastic way.  At the Vice-Presidential debate, she again demonstrated the ability to work from within her limited skill set to connect with the disappointed Republican “base”.  Nevertheless, at the debate, we saw her include another talent in her repertoire: the ability to read answers from cards.  Her “say it ain’t so, Joe” talking point was read from a card and delivered too quickly to have the full impact intended by the writers.  As she reached the following passage, we could see her reading it off a card:

Now, doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what WE have to plan to do for them in the future.

Because she avoided catastrophe at the debate, her performance was considered a “success” by many.  This inspired the strategists and handlers to give The Gumball a new role:  carrying the “dirty” water for the campaign – to deliver the negative attacks against Obama – Biden, in accordance with the latest game plan.  Palin’s debut in this role, following on the heels of yet another, scathing Tina Fey send-up of this fool, has made her appear as an individual whose ignorance is exceeded only by her obnoxiousness.  It makes me wonder what the campaign really has in mind for her.  Is this just another way of throwing her under the bus?  In this role, she has changed from “goofy” to actually detestable.  Let Palin sling the mud and if it doesn’t work, the guy at the top of the ticket can disown it.

What really gave me the creeps about the mainstream media’s analysis of the VP debate was best exemplified by the remarks of NBC’s White House correspondent, David Gregory, during NBC’s Meet The Press on October 5:

She made a decision that she was going to be rhetorical and not substantive on the issues.

*   *   *

I think she took herself off the table as an issue that could bring down the McCain Campaign.

*   *   *

She chose to ignore a lot of the substantive aspects of the debate and speak right to the American people.

At this point, most people with an I.Q. above 80 realize that The Gumball doesn’t decide anything about this campaign or what her statements will be in the pursuit of victory in this election.  Her job is to follow instructions —  to read or recite what she is told and nothing more.  The fact that someone of Mr. Gregory’s stature would expect the viewing public to believe the myth that The Gumball, herself, has anything substantive or strategic to contribute to this campaign is insulting to our intelligence.  Mr. Gregory:  Do you really think we are all so stupid as to believe that The Gumball can do anything other than recite prepared “talking points”, read scripted speeches and follow instructions?  Why is it so important for you to have us pretend that this numbskull can make important campaign decisions?  Do you have “handlers” directing you to deliver such absurd propositions to us?

On the other hand, Peggy Noonan’s remarks during that same panel discussion on Meet The Press, provide a candid view of the ugly truth about the current campaign:

We live in the age of political strategists.  We live in the age of “The Guys on the Plane”.  We live in the age of “The Blackberry Guy” saying:  “Let’s get ’em this way –  Let’s get ’em this way!”

*  *  *

I have the sense sometimes, lately, that these “Guys on the Plane” think history is their plaything.  History is not their plaything.

*  *  *

This is not a time for playfulness and mischief.  It ain’t right!

Rest assured that The Gumball will be spat out by “The Guys on the Plane” as soon as she loses her flavor.  This is likely to happen by November 5.  After that:  Watch what happens to her political career.