David Brooks does his usual NYT spin job:
Our moral and economic system is based on individual responsibility. It’s based on the idea that people have to live with the consequences of their decisions. This makes them more careful deciders. This means that society tends toward justice — people get what they deserve as much as possible
That’s the rumor. The reality, as we’ll see, doesn’t conform with the rumor. The why is in a single word: ‘justice’. What Brooks talks about here are the supposed foundations of our civilization and way of life. Individual responsibility and justice. Individuals are responsible for their condition (through their choices) and expected to live with them. Their condition isn’t anyone else’s fault or problem barring force or fraud. A just society understands that and, as is necessary, holds them responsible for their choices. Lessons are only learned when one has to live with the consequences of one’s choices. But what a just society doesn’t do is penalize those which have made the right or proper choices in their lives. It doesn’t require such people to prop up or rescue those who have made poor choices. Such a society would see that as “unjust” and work against the concept of individual choice and individual responsibility.
A just society is where everyone is afforded the same opportunities and held to the same standards of behavior and the law. Success, however, is left up to individual effort and ability. In a just society you are free to do, within reason, whatever you desire to do, but you’re expected to live with the consequences.
With that preface, let’s look at Brooks’ next couple of paragraphs:
Over the last few months, we’ve made a hash of all that. The Bush and Obama administrations have compensated foolishness and irresponsibility. The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground.
The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.
While Brooks properly chastises the banks, automakers and state governments, he leaves out one of the most irresponsible of entities which played as large a role as any other contributor to this current financial debacle – the federal government. If ever there was an enabler for all of this, it is Washington DC. Much of what happened can be laid directly at the feet of the Fed. The financial implosion didn’t start on Wall Street but with the insolvency of the quasi-governmental entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Yet they’ve not been in the spotlight of Congressional hearings or had the millions paid their top execs complained about and capped. Where’s the justice in that?
So to get back on topic after that brief aside to assail writers like Brooks for excusing the Federal government from their condemnations (and you’ll see why he did so in a moment), the reason that Brooks seems so angry in this part of his op-ed is he is giving lip service to some foundational American ideals and pretending to be outraged that they’re being violated just before he pulls the rug out from under them. It is obvious to Brooks and anyone with the IQ of a melon that those who are running the show in DC have absolutely no desire for a “just” society based on individual responsibility anymore but he wants to break it to you gently. That’s the old America. The new America is one based in “fairness” and collective responsibility. At this point, Brooks wants you believing he’s an “old America” kind of guy.
So he relates the fact that many in America are still mired in their old fashioned belief in justice and are, consequently, a little ticked about this payoff to the irresponsible among us. People are complaining about it. And after a reasonably good, but disingenuous start, it is here where Brooks pulls the mask off completely:
These injustices are stoking anger across the country, lustily expressed by Rick Santelli on CNBC Thursday morning. “The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli cried as Chicago traders cheered him on. “The president … should put up a Web site … to have people vote … to see if they want to subsidize losers’ mortgages!”
Well, in some cases we probably do. That’s because government isn’t fundamentally in the Last Judgment business, making sure everybody serves penance for their sins. In times like these, government is fundamentally in the business of stabilizing the economic system as a whole.
Irresponsibility is not really penalized in New America. New America is driven by the belief that it is our collective responsiblity to those in need, regardless of how they got there or what it entails, to satisfy that need. So when the life vest of your money (via taxes and debt you will be taxed to repay) is offered to someone drowning as a result of their own irresponsible choices, you are expected to accept that as your duty and not complain about it.
You see, per Brooks, government isn’t in the justice business, it’s in the “economic stabilization” business.
Really? Since when?
And since when did the economic stabilization business involve rewarding incompetence and irresponsibility while punishing their opposites? Isn’t such a policy of rewarding incompetence and irresponsibility a huge moral hazard, not to mention self-defeating? Why would someone change their behavior if there is no real punishment for their present behavior? Isn’t government picking “winners” and “losers” even while Brooks claims government isn’t in the “Last Judgment” business?
In fact it is and has been in the “Last Judgment” business for a while. And in the case here, the judgment made by government is that it is only fair to pick up those who’ve fallen short at the expense of those who haven’t. It has made the judgment that their need is far greater than the need of those who have played by the rules and done their part – after all those who have done the right thing are relatively better off than those who haven’t aren’t they? If, as Obama claimed at the Greek Temple, “we are our brother’s keepers” (well except in a real, Obama-family sense), then the “last judgment” was made then and is now merely being implemented.
We are, apparently, no longer a nation which seeks justice and equal opportunity. That’s Old America. New America seeks fairness as its highest goal. And in the New America, that means an equality of outcome where new “rights” are invented which entitle us to our desires, even at the expense of others.
Brooks goes on to apologize and attempts to minimize the horrific damage being done to America as we used to know it. He serves his purpose and spins the utter destruction of Old America and the emergence of New America as something which just had to be done by our new leader and his benevolent band of brothers, all of whom have your best interest at heart.
It’s enough to make you sick.
Remember the organization that refused to pay its own workers a “living wage” even while it agitated for higher minimums for other businesses? The same organization that has been the subject of several voting fraud investigations? And the same one to receive $2 Billion from the stimulus bill? Well, its now in the process of “peacefully” occupying homes that are in the process of foreclosure. That organization, of course, is ACORN:
A community organization breaks into a foreclosed home in what they are calling an act of civil disobedience.
The group wants to train homeowners facing eviction on peaceful ways they can remain in their homes.
“The mortgage went up $300 in one month,” said Hanks, former homeowner.
She says the bank refused to modify her loan and foreclosed, kicking her out of the house in September.
The community group ACORN calls Hanks a victim of predatory lending.
“This is our house now,” said Louis Beverly, ACORN.
And on Thursday afternoon, they literally broke the foreclosure padlock right off the front door and then broke into the house, letting Hanks back in for the first time in months.
“We are actually trespassing, and so this is a way of civil disobedience to try to stay into our house,” said Beverly. “Legally it’s wrong, but homesteading is the only means that she has left to stay into her house. And we feel as though this is the right thing to do at this particular time to save this family.”
So even though they know it’s “legally wrong” ACORN is going to go ahead and do it anyway? Maybe they could take some of the $2 Billion they received and help Ms. Hanks pay her mortgage or even renegotiate it. Presumably ACORN received the stimulus money to do something other than commit criminal acts. Didn’t it?
[HT: Rick Moore]
As you recall, the following is partially blamed for getting us into the current housing crisis:
Ever since the credit crisis began, a lot of blame has been heaped on adjustable-rate mortgages, home loans that recalibrate according to market fluctuations. One brand of these innovative mortgages that have come under special criticism has been so-called “exploding A.R.M.’s” that lured borrowers with unusually low teaser rates that then reset skyward a few years later. These have often been derided as predatory, and lenders who offered them accused of luring homeowners into buying homes they couldn’t afford for the long-term.
So is the Obama administration, with its $75 billion mortgage bailout, any better than those previous lenders who were described as “predatory”? Well not according to the plan he’s put forward:
Critics of these might want to check out the Homeowner Stabilization Plan put forward by the Obama administration today. The plan would reduce mortgage payments and interest rates for homeowners who have seen their payments rise to more than 38% of their monthly income. But those reductions last just five years, after which they begin to reset to higher rates. In short, Obama is just drawing out the teaser rates a bit longer.
During the next five years, the Stabilization Plan will encourage lenders to lower loan payment below 38% of the owners’ income and provide subsidies for banks that lower the payments to 31%. The actual rate of payment will be even lower, since the government will also pay homeowners with the reduced rates $1000 a year to stay current on their payments.
After five years however, those government sponsored adjustable-rate mortgages will reset. The Obama adminstration promises they will reset at a moderate phased in level. But the loss of both the subsidy and the $1000 payment will automatically make the monthly payments much more expensive. What’s more, many market watchers expect interest rates will be much higher five years from now, putting additional pressure on mortgage rates. We could, in short, simply be prolonging the housing crisis.
Nothing like kicking the can down the road 5 years is there? The hope, obviously, is that Obama is safely in his second term when this new crisis hits, and, of course, by then he can safely denounce those who default on their mortgages again as people who were given a chance but didn’t take advantage of it.
Now obviously the people who get this “help” can sell their homes in that 5 years (and, of course, that was the idea when many of these people took out the low adjustable rate loans previously – a quick flip. But the market tanked.). However, it will be a buyer’s market in the coming years. So there’s a very good chance that in 5 years we’re going to see the very same problem we have now resurface.
So what are we doing with this 75 billion?
More pain avoidance which, it appears, will simply prolong the problem.
Unproven science is apparently going to drive an administrative (instead of legislative) push to regulate carbon dioxide. In the middle of a “crisis” which President Obama calls the worst since the 1930s, the EPA is apparently going to drastically raise the cost to do business in critical sectors:
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.
The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
Note that none of the “change” appears to be good for the US or its consumers. Instead, we’re likely to see it put even further stress on families on the margin and drive more layoffs and higher unemployment. But the world will love us, or at least the UN.
I don’t think there’s any question at the moment as to whether Obama is going to govern as a centrist or liberal, is there?
Amazing that it is Russia giving the advice and the US deciding it isn’t valid:
Russian Prime Minister Vladamir Putin has said the US should take a lesson from the pages of Russian history and not exercise “excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state’s omnipotence”.
“In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute,” Putin said during a speech at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.”
Unfortunately I think this lesson is mostly lost on us and it will, just as it did Russia, cost us dearly.
Most economists agree that America has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, based primarily on excessive debt. Thus, any healthy correction would necessarily involve serious deleveraging and a severe recession. After a lot of pain, the economy would rebuild with healthier fundamentals. Infrastructure improvement would aid, but not cause, the eventual recovery.
Recession is the natural cure for the politically inspired profligacy that America has enjoyed for almost 40 years. Unfortunately, the side effects of this medicine, namely the rapid reallocation of labor resources and deflationary damage to debtors, are still unpalatable to pandering politicians.
The Washington regime, particularly members of the Democrat persuasion, leans towards a socialist solution of avoiding recession at any cost. After all, the bills are paid by others, such as taxpayers and holders of US dollars. This results in an increasing amount of other people’s money being spent on “public” works that would in other times carry the label “pork barrel”.
Washington is choosing to pursue the policy of continued and ever-increasing false prosperity, financed eventually by hyper-taxation, hyper-debt and hyper-inflation accompanied by a gradually eroded standard of living. The jobs created by the bill are by and large non-productive and will divert resources from the private sector and rob consumers of their power to make free choices in the marketplace.
Pain avoidance drove the call for stimulus. Politicians are naturally for that because it ensures their future. But in reality it isn’t pain avoidance at all, but simply a form of pain management. And since that management will be spread over many years, those who will lose under it will be less likely to notice that loss over the years than they would if that loss happened all at once. But there’s a price for that, and it will become apparent eventually. That gradual loss won’t allow the recovery to the previous standard of living because government will have supplanted much of the private sector and many of those options (and resources) for regaining that level are no longer available.
Of course, the good news for the present crop of politicians is that realization of loss won’t happen on their watch. And as far as the political class is concerned, that’s all that matters.
Let the good times roll!
As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:
Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.
So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?
As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.
That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:
Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.
Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.
The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.
The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.
“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.
Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.
“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:
“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”
Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?
How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?
Well consider the internal politics of the country. You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate. You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either. Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.
Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US. It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions. He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change. The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.
And in the real world, results speak for themselves.
More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East. All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.
[HT: Gateway Pundit]
While it was clear they wanted to write a gushing approval of his first days in office, even WaPo couldn’t quite bring themselves to “suspend disbelief” enough to do that.
I started chuckling at the second sentence:
But the presidency does not come with a magic wand; nor, we have learned, is Mr. Obama, however talented, a wizard.
They’re just “learning” that? My goodness, how in the tank were they?
Second discovery by WaPo:
The president’s admitted mistakes on nominations have served as a reminder that he is, after all, rather new to the game of national politics and the art of balancing the lofty aims of campaign pledges against the real-world demands of governing.
Campaign rhetoric, most remember, which was steadfastly supported (and apparently believed) by the Washington Post. As most of us understood, but WaPo is now discovering, inexperience in national politics has its price.
The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment. And if it was this hard for Mr. Obama to lure Republican votes to spend money, how will he manage to entice Republican support to deal with even more contentious issues, such as climate change or health care?
Grand promises of transparancy that were additionally unfulfilled on two pieces of legislation which weren’t rushed – the equal pay and S-CHIP legislation. Neither were delayed the 5 days his campaign had promised voters for them to review the bills prior to signing. Neither required the rush they received. The stimulus bill is just the worst of the bunch.
And while it isn’t necessary to entice Republican support on the more contentious issues in order to pass the bills, such support provides invaluable political cover. Given how badly both Democratic Congressional leaders and Obama handled the bi-partisan effort on the stimulus bill, there’s nothing that says they’ll ever change enough to entice Republicans.
Then there is Timothy Geithner:
The immediate challenge for the new administration, one that is harder and more important than the stimulus measure, will be to bring stability to the nation’s banking system. On that task, “chastening” is a mild word to apply to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s debut of the administration’s plan. The president promised that his treasury secretary would offer “very clear and specific plans,” after which Mr. Geithner laid out a blueprint only. The result was to undermine both Mr. Geithner, who is abler than he seemed at the rollout, and the plan, which is more promising than its reception would suggest.
Geithner, the man who was so important to the bailout effort that his tax cheating had to be ignored, has been less than impressive. Perhaps that will change, but to this point, he has done little to inspire confidence either among voters or the financial sector. The WaPo’s declaration that Geithner is “abler than he seemed” has yet to be proved.
WaPo then leavens its criticism with some faint praise, overstating the importance of the first two bills signed. They were simply retreads of bills Democrats had tried to pass during the Bush administration. Unlike what the Post tries to imply, there was no real leadership exercised by Obama or his administration in their passage.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama and the nation, the current economic situation does not allow for the usual margin of error; fairly or not, he will not be measured against normal historical standards. Sooner rather than later, he will have to find the right balance between reassurance and alarmism; sooner than in past administrations, he needs a full team in place.
Sooner is much preferable to later. Part of the problem we’re experiencing today is the alarmism being spread from the nation’s premier bully pulpit. “Catastrophe” is a word to be used sparingly from that platform and should be reserved for actual catastrophe. After calling for swift action and passage of the bill on Friday and claiming the nation couldn’t wait another hour, we understand now he won’t be signing the bill until Tuesday, a weekend Valentine get-away taking priority. That’s not leadership, and it certainly will cause critics to discount any such future warnings as more fear-mongering.
WaPo then contradicts itself:
Fortunately for the nation, while Mr. Obama has an experience deficit, he possesses a surfeit of smarts and steadiness.
He certainly has an experience deficit, and that is becoming increasingly apparent. However, given his recent penchant for alarmism as discussed in the article, it seems rather contradictory to then laud him for his “smarts and steadiness”. Smart and steady people don’t resort to fear-mongering to drive their agenda. However the unsure and inexperienced do.
WaPo then concludes that things will straighten out, and the nation’s optimism in Obama will be rewarded and, now that he has lowered expectations (through his alarmism), will patiently wait the years, not months, necessary to see the recession through. I find that to be mostly wishful thinking.
All totaled, the Washington Post, to use a phrase that has become rather trite in the last year, is trying to put lipstick on a pig. Following a WaPo article touting the passage of the massive pork laden spending bill as a “victory of historic proportion“, it stands to reason they’d try to double down on their presidential bet, hoping it all works out as they’ve imagined it will. But by their own words, the dream isn’t off to a good start.
Not content with busting the bank with the Pork bill and TARP II, now, finally, the 50+ trillion in unfunded mandates are apparently next:
The following week, the president will host what the White House is billing as a “fiscal responsibility” summit on February 23. The goal of the summit is to begin weighing the impact of massive federal programs like Social Security and Medicare just days before the president plans to unveil his first annual budget to Congressional leaders.
Budget? There’s nothing left to spend. Frankly I think Michael Ramirez has the best take on it.
My guess is this can will get kicked down the road, left for 45 or 46 to deal with.
I‘ve spoken before about the political brilliance that running on nebulous catch phrases can accrue for the politician. Lay them out there, let the voting public decide what they mean to each of them and then ride the wave to elected office.
Obama did precisely that. And many who are marginally on the right, were fooled by that. Those who voted for him projected their “hope” for “change” on the blank screen he provided. But, as you’ll see in this example, the reality of who Barack Obama really is may be clearing up, and it appears it is a huge disappointment to many of his more conservative/libertarian supporters.
Silicon Valley, where I live, is home to both political liberals and conservatives–more liberals of late, but not by a huge margin. The lopsidedness occurs on the freedom-statist divide. An overwhelming majority of Valley residents would place themselves on the freedom side and against the state. This should not surprise anyone. Silicon Valley is a land of immigrants, both foreign and from other American states. What draws people to Silicon Valley is the freedom to go out and commit industrial revolution and make the future.
Thus it was always odd that Silicon Valley voted for the most statist-inclined presidential candidate since FDR. Silicon Valley fell in love with Barack Obama. His youth and multicultural cool, along with the Web superiority of his presidential campaign, had Silicon Valley going googly for Obama.
In the eyes of Silicon Valley, Obama was like the Apple Macintosh. John McCain was like Windows.
Now comes the reckoning. Obama may be the coolest guy ever to hold the office of U.S. president. He may be the personification of an Apple Mac, iPod and iPhone. But this week Obama proved he is a big-state liberal, through and through.
My Silicon Valley friends who supported Obama are weirdly silent about this. I suspect they are in denial, still hoping for the closet libertarian Obama to emerge. Throughout the 2008 campaign, Silicon Valley Obama voters would tell me that Obama was really an economic centrist. Forget his liberal Senate record and Saul Alinsky-conditioned career as a community organizer. Forget the Chicago-style thug politics. That was in the past. Obama did what he had to do to rise. Once in the Oval Office, Obama will really govern more like John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.
Say it enough times, and you can almost believe it. Well, sorry about that, you Obamacons. You just got thrown under the bus.
The $790 billion stimulus headed for Obama’s desk is statist. It is also backward looking. Sure, there are some forward-looking initiatives, such as a few billion for broadband. But the bill is overwhelmed by “shovel-ready” projects aimed at school building improvement, road repair and so forth, and by bailouts to profligate state governments.
Very disturbingly, the bill has the stench of protectionism in it. This is antithetical to the interests of trade-happy Silicon Valley.
What is becoming clear is the Obama we can expect to govern is the big government statist liberal and not a “closet libertarian” as they hoped. Note the word. They fooled themselves into thinking that was actually a possibility. Yet as I pointed out below, this huge and unfocused spending plan being touted as a “stimulus” is nothing more than a massive expansion of government. It is also just the prelude for further intrusion, essentially a down-payment which paves the way for massive intrusion in health care and the energy sector.
For those who cast a jaundiced eye on the candidate and his blank slate campaign, none of this comes as a surprise. A creature of the most liberal political machines in America, a student of Saul Alinski’s method and someone who consistently saw government as the answer and not the problem during his political rise, the Barack Obama the folks are suddenly discovering in Silicon Valley and other parts of America is precisely the guy we expected.
His “youth and multicultural cool” may have been part of sales job, but now it comes down to performance. Thus far his performance has been directed at expanding government. Two of the first three bills passed in his administration have massively increased government. And as I’ve noted, he promises even more.
In less than a month, Obama has signaled that there isn’t a libertarian leaning bone in his body. The question remains as to how people, like those in Silicon Valley, managed to fool themselves enough to vote for a candidate who so obviously didn’t fit their “hope”. And are they, as this particular piece seems to indicate, feeling a little buyer’s remorse?