A couple of paragraphs from a story about Obama and Russia’s Medvedev which seem pretty telling to me:
Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.
The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.
Of course many on the right are making a big, if sarcastic, deal about Medvedev calling Obama “comrade”. To many that seems more than appropriate. However, there’s a lot of diplospeak in this which seems key.
First, although not much of substance was accomplished, note the Medvedev says that unlike Bush, Obama “can listen”. In diplospeak, that means he thinks he can roll Obama, while Bush, not so much.
Note too that it appears that Obama has caved on the missile defense. In his desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles, he’s given up something which our allies such as Poland and the Czech Republic were keen for in order to see warheads dropped from 2,200 to 1,500. That’s a laughably cheap price for Russia to pay to kill the missile defense they opposed so adamantly.
Yup, after a capitulation like that, I’d be clapping Obama on the back and hailing him as my comrade too, if I were Medvedev.
Russia sent a strong warning to the United States Thursday about supporting Georgia in the U.S. ally’s efforts to rebuild its military following last year’s war.
The Foreign Ministry said helping arm Georgia would be “extremely dangerous” and would amount to “nothing but the encouragement of the aggressor.”
Nope, apparently Obama just listened. That’s a comrade any Russian could love.
Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re tired of “budget talk”. Well too bad – this is extremely important stuff. It’s not just about the amount of money, which is monstrous, but the agenda it puts into place:
Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly embraced President Obama’s ambitious and expensive agenda for the nation yesterday, endorsing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that sets the stage for the president to pursue his most far-reaching priorities.
Voting along party lines, the House and Senate approved budget blueprints that would trim Obama’s spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins in October and curtail his plans to cut taxes. The blueprints, however, would permit work to begin on the central goals of Obama’s presidency: an expansion of health-care coverage for the uninsured, more money for college loans and a cap-and-trade system to reduce gases that contribute to global warming.
These are the paving stones for the road to hell and they’ve now been authorized by the Congress. Of course this is just the blueprint. The authorization of the funds will come in separate appropriation bills. And you had better believe Democrats are going to try to use every procedural trick in the book to ease their passage.
Just to leave you with the appropriate chill up your back, I leave you with an example of what is to come:
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) called cap-and-trade “the most significant revenue-generating proposal of our time,” and said it would be difficult to pass without reconciliation because Democrats would be forced to accommodate a handful of Republicans as they did in the debate over the president’s stimulus package.
And when it comes to “revenue-generating”, the Democrats want nothing standing in their way, especially a few Republicans. The third wave of liberalism (New Deal, Great Society and now the Raw Deal) is afoot.
A number of economists, including Paul Krugman, have panned Timothy Geithner’s plan to recapitalize banks by buying toxic assets in a complex and highly leveraged way that puts the taxpayer’s dollars at risk.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist, has piled on. In fact, his is probably the most damning opinion I’ve seen. Stiglitz says that first of all, Geithner has analyzed the problem incorrectly. Geithner keeps telling us it is a “liquidity” problem. Stiglitz says “poppycock”:
The main problem is not a lack of liquidity. If it were, then a far simpler program would work: just provide the funds without loan guarantees. The real issue is that the banks made bad loans in a bubble and were highly leveraged. They have lost their capital, and this capital has to be replaced.
What he means is their “capital”, or assets are in worthless loans. Yes that’s right – worthless. So, as he points out, paying “fair market value” for these assets won’t work, will it? They’re worthless.
So what does Geithner propose?
Only by overpaying for the assets will the banks be adequately recapitalized. But overpaying for the assets simply shifts the losses to the government. In other words, the Geithner plan works only if and when the taxpayer loses big time.
Stiglitz explains the proposed process very well, demonstrating it fairly simple and straightforward examples how the taxpayer takes the majority of the risk, and, given the nature off the “assets”, will absorb the majority of the losses.
But Americans are likely to lose even more than these calculations suggest, because of an effect called adverse selection. The banks get to choose the loans and securities that they want to sell. They will want to sell the worst assets, and especially the assets that they think the market overestimates (and thus is willing to pay too much for).
But the market is likely to recognize this, which will drive down the price that it is willing to pay. Only the government’s picking up enough of the losses overcomes this “adverse selection” effect. With the government absorbing the losses, the market doesn’t care if the banks are “cheating” them by selling their lousiest assets, because the government bears the cost.
That is a process driven problem. The Geithner process guarantees the outcome because that is the most likely outcome, banks not being stupid and with the government bearing the cost.
Bottom line – taxpayers are going to get hosed and hosed good.
Stiglitz provides an interesting alternative which gives you an idea of how poorly he regards Geithner’s plan:
Some Americans are afraid that the government might temporarily “nationalize” the banks, but that option would be preferable to the Geithner plan. After all, the F.D.I.C. has taken control of failing banks before, and done it well.
Given only those two option, I’d say Stiglitz has a point.
Of course, the argument we’ve made since day one is we ought to let them go bust, get it over with and begin the recovery. That’s the same argument we made concerning GM and Chrysler.
Instead we’ve gotten these insane plans driven by the administration which has thrown literally trillions of good dollars after bad – and to no apparent avail.
This madness has got to stop.
“For anyone who questions why the President has offered this plan, these pledges will be the answer.”
Obama’s army of cultists is very hard at work.
Like (I assume) most other news junkies who closely followed the election, I am still receiving emails from Obama’s political action people. Much of it is aimed at getting the recipients to participate in the “Organizing for America” politicking. It has always seemed a little creepy to me because the election is over. I mean, why the endless campaign unless the real purpose is to propagandize the voters? But I also figured that my biases made it seem worse than it really is. That is, until viewing this video:
Neo-neocon provides an excellent analysis of why this sort of White House driven organizing just seems wrong. For example, she notes the rather troublesome fact that the Obama administration intends for people to simply pledge blind support to his agenda:
Some of the most disturbing things about this video are its vagueness, its focus on Obama himself in what I can only call his cult of personality, and its use of the word “pledge” (at minute :56, note the words, under “The Pledge” and next to a check box, “I support President Obama’s bold plan….”)
The vagueness comes from the fact that whatever people are pledging to support is never described in any detail whatsoever. The petition, or pledge sheet, or loyalty oath, or whatever you want to call it, is very short. It appears that each policy area—energy, health care, education—has but a single sentence describing it.
Think about this for a moment: people are blindly pledging loyalty to policies about which they know virtually nothing except the fact that Obama is behind them, and he says it’s for our own good.
Moreover, reasonable dissent from Obama’s agenda is not possible according to the training video:
The trainer gives only one reason that “the establishment in Washington” would oppose this: opposition to change. Never mind principled opposition; there is no such thing where Obama is concerned. Never mind the cost of these policies in a recession.
Never mind; just sign on the dotted line. And is anyone else as perturbed as I am by this statement: For anyone who questions why the President has offered this plan, these pledges will be the answer.
I think that definitely qualifies as creepy, biases or not.
[HT: Bird Dog]
Good to know that the American press is so ready and capable of holding our elected officials accountable in these trying times:
0952 Jeff McCallister from Time magazine tells the BBC: [Obama’s] a rock star, he has a gorgeous wife, he is charismatic, young and vital. It’s echoes of the Kennedys in early 1961. It’s hard for me to imagine even if he doesn’t fix the world economy in a day that this is going to go badly for him in political terms in the US or elsewhere.
Just imagine what he would have said if Time magazine were a biased publication!
It gives you great confidence in someone when they can’t even tell you how much is left in a fund which they control. Apparently Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner thinks he has about $132 billion left in TARP funds.
But the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan federal agency, reports that figure is closer to $32 billion, which is what ABC News and other independent analysts thought.
The Treasury Department continues to insist GAO and others are double-counting commitments and underestimating potential paybacks.
So everyone but Treasury is wrong. I’m willing, at this point, to wait until a final determination is forthcoming, but I have to tell you, if I were a betting person, I wouldn’t be backing Geithner’s position. And don’t forget how cooperative his department has been with the oversight folks.
I can’t say with any certainty what this forebodes, but this is a staggering amount of debt to pile onto any country, especially within just a few months (my emphasis):
The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.
New pledges from the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. include $1 trillion for the Public-Private Investment Program, designed to help investors buy distressed loans and other assets from U.S. banks. The money works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.
The really scary thing is, the government is not even close to being done spending money. Yet we’ve already committed about 90% of GDP. Where is all that money going to come from?
As we’ve said before, there’s only a few options: (1) taxes; (2) borrowing; and (3) printing press.
Taxes will only raise so much, even when the government starts raising rates on lower income quintiles, and certainly not enough to keep up with the ballooning debt-service payments.
Borrowing just isn’t going to happen because there isn’t anybody else who either wants to or is capable of lending us more money. To wit, here’s some of Peter Murphy’s analysis on our borrowing problems:
The biggest buyers of US Government (and Agency) debt, for the past several years, have been China, Japan, and the Oil States.
However, the supply of loanable funds among these entities from which the US can borrow is drying up.
China’s current-account surplus, the source of the funds for its Treasury purchases, has dropped precipitously as the global economy has contracted over the past several months.
Japan, another major buyer of Treasuries over recent years, is now posting trade deficits for the first time since the early 1970’s. This current account deficit, combined with a significant fiscal shortfall and planned issuance of $33 Trillion Yen ($340 Billion USD) in government debt this year, means that Japan will be, in effect, competing with the US for funds, rather than lending to us.
And, the oil-exporters are in no shape to be buying anything right now, as oil prices have collapsed since last summers $147/barrel peak. Russia is busy selling foreign exchange to prop up its currency.
Brad Sester of the Council of Foreign Relations reports that foreign demand for long-term treasuries has faded, and notes, ominously, that “global reserves aren’t growing”.
Accordingly, borrowing does not look like an option. Which leaves really just one choice.
Printing money in a down economy, which will have to be done, increases inflation and saps purchasing power (potentially leading to hyper-inflation). We may be able to pay off our debts this way, but we’ll wipe out the wealth of the nation doing so. Think post-Franco-Prussian War where France drove its economy into the ground in order to pay off about 22% of its yearly GDP in war reparations to Germany … over three years. That strife led to the Paris Commune uprisings among other things. Or worse, consider post-WWI Germany, with inflation rising so fast that workers had to be paid twice a day and cart around wheelbarrows full of money just to buy a loaf of bread.
Is that what we’re headed for? I sure hope not, but the signs aren’t very encouraging if history is any guide. It is true that a much more dynamic and nimble economy exists today as compared to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the world tendency right now seems to be to shackle that economy, making it much less dynamic and nimble. The end result must be less wealth produced, and less money to pay these debts. In short, our government is currently cashing checks that our economy can’t pay.
I‘m sure some will find this surprising. Others will say, “yeah, baby!” It certainly is the logical extension of what happened to GM’s CEO. I, for one, still find it to be very disturbing:
On the heels of the resignation of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, the Service Employees International Union is urging President Barack Obama to oust Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis.
“It defies logic, common-sense, and responsible governance to punish the auto industry while letting financial institutions off the hook,” SEIU President Andy Stern said, announcing his call for Lewis’s job Tuesday.
The same could be said for letting the union leadership off the hook.
Aren’t they responsible for declining membership? Aren’t they as much a part of the problem as the management of the auto industry? Why isn’t the SEIU calling for union heads as well?
Of course I ask that facetiously. Obviously we’re now going to hear every whiner and complainer in the world will demand the government fire their boss. Hey, the precedent has been set with one of the worst decisions I’ve seen in a while. Now we begin to see the results of such a blatantly dumb move.
You remember TARP. The “Troubled Asset Rescue Plan”? The plan which the Obama administration and the Treasury Department said they were monitoring closely? In fact, they even put a “watchdog” in charge of its oversight.
Transparency. Oversight. Hope and Change.
And any other buzzword promise that was thrown out there to describe how this administration would be so different from the last.
But apparently all the oversight promised depends heavily on cooperation, not stonewalling, by the Department administering TARP. That would be Treasury:
“We do not seem to be a priority for the Treasury Department,” the Congressional Oversight Panel’s Elizabeth Warren told a Senate Finance Committee hearing today.
“We have sent letters. We have requested that there be someone named so that we can get technical information. And so far, we have not been a first priority,” Warren said. “We use what you give us, and we will exercise the leverage given to us by Congress. In part, that’s why I’m here today. I’m here to talk to you about what’s happened so far, what we have discovered so far, the inquiries that we have in mid-stream and for which we continue to await responses.”
Warren, visibly frustrated with a lack of cooperation from the administration, emphasized, “This problem starts with Treasury.”
Now part of the problem, obviously, is that several key positions in Treasury have yet to be filled, over 60 days into the new administration and in the midst of a financial crisis. Apparently that’s not a priority either.
Oh, and you’ll love this:
Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, voiced similar concerns.
He noted that his office just conducted a survey of all 364 TARP recipients on their use of government funds, something they had requested Treasury do, only for the Department to decline to do so except in the cases of Citigroup and Bank of America.
“One thing is clear: complaints that it was impractical, impossible, or a waste of time to require banks to detail how they used TARP funds were unfounded,” Barofsky said.
I continue to be unimpressed with Tim Geithner and his management and leadership style. What you’re reading here is totally unacceptable. For once, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said the right thing:
“Unfortunately, despite saying all the right things about open government, the new administration has not made any major changes aimed at making TARP more transparent,” he said. “Moreover, I have heard about potential problems with access to information from all three of the oversight bodies testifying.”
Hope and Change.
A study just completed in Spain finds that the creation of so-called “green jobs” doesn’t at all seem to be the employment panacea promised by their advocates. As you recall, President Obama pointed to Spain as the reference point for the establishment of government aid to renewable energy. As the study points out, “No other country has given such broad support to the construction and production of electricity through renewable sources.” But the results are not at all what you might expect given the hype. In fact, they’ve been quite the opposite:
Optimistically treating European Commission partially funded data, we find that for every renewable energy job that the State manages to finance, Spain’s experience cited by President Obama as a model reveals with high confidence, by two different methods, that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs on average, or about 9 jobs lost for every 4 created, to which we have to add those jobs that non-subsidized investments with the same resources would have created.
Be sure you read that last part of the sentence carefully as well – those jobs would have been created by “non-subsidizsed investments” with the “same resources” – or said another way, they’d have been created in the private sector without government picking winners and losers and spending billions in taxpayer money.
Between 2000 and 2008, Spain was very aggressive in pursuing alternative energy and green jobs. But its results were less than stellar:
Despite its hyper-aggressive (expensive and extensive) “green jobs” policies it appears that Spain likely has created a surprisingly low number of jobs, two-thirds of which came in construction, fabrication and installation, one quarter in administrative positions, marketing and projects engineering, and just one out of ten jobs has been created at the more permanent level of actual operation and maintenance of the renewable sources of electricity.
So 9 out of 10 were temporary jobs, while only 1 in 10 became permanent. And the cost?
The cost to create a “green job”:
The study calculates that since 2000 Spain spent €571,138 to create each “green job”, including subsidies of more than €1 million per wind industry job.
The cost in jobs lost:
Each “green” megawatt installed destroys 5.28 jobs on average elsewhere in the economy: 8.99 by photovoltaics, 4.27 by wind energy, 5.05 by mini-hydro.
And the eventual cost to consumers:
The price of a comprehensive energy rate (paid by the end consumer) in Spain would have to be increased 31% to being to repay the historic debt generated by this rate deficit mainly produced by the subsidies to renewables, according to Spain’s energy regulator.
Spanish citizens must therefore cope with either an increase of electricity rates or increased taxes (and public deficit), as will the U.S. if it follows Spain’s model
Previous studies have concluded that such increases would impact the poorest quintile the most:
• Reducing emissions, a major rationale for “green jobs” or renewables regimes, hits the poorest hardest. According to the recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, a cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by just 15% will cost the poorest quintile 3% of their annual household income, while benefiting the richest quintile (“Trade-Offs in Allocating Allowances for CO2 Emissions”, U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Economic and Budget Issue Brief, April 25, 2007).
• Raising energy costs loses jobs. According to a Penn State University study, replacing two-thirds of U.S. coal-based energy with higher-priced energy such as renewables, if possible, would cost almost 3 million jobs, and perhaps more than 4 million (Rose, A.Z., and Wei, D., “The Economic Impact of Coal Utilization and Displacement in the Continental United States, 2015,” Pennsylvania State University, July 2006)
So to recap, we have a scheme which would see a net reduction in jobs by its implementation, create jobs of which only 10% were permanent, Cost anywhere from a half a million to a million dollars per job, increase energy costs tremendously and hit the poor the hardest.
Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?
Will anyone pay attention to the actual experiment conducted by Spain and its results? Or are the blinders firmly in place?
While this scheme would be important to contest at any time, it is critically important to do so now, given the economic situation. One thing that must be avoided is government killing jobs as fast as the private sector creates them. This is truly a time when government should do all it can to enable the private sector to create jobs (tax cuts, etc.) and step back and allow that process to work. What it shouldn’t be doing is picking winners and losers and enacting a scheme which, in Spain at least, has proven to do all the things necessary to kill or at least cripple any economic recovery.