David Brooks, 3 days after a semi-courageous, “what-the-heck-is-going-on” column, received calls from the senior staff at the White House and quietly got back in line:
In the first place, they do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders. They see themselves as pragmatists who inherited a government and an economy that have been thrown out of whack. They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution, a fight that was over long ago. They’re trying to restore balance: nurture an economy so that productivity gains are shared by the middle class and correct the irresponsible habits that developed during the Bush era.
The budget, they continue, isn’t some grand transformation of America. It raises taxes on energy and offsets them with tax cuts for the middle class. It raises taxes on the rich to a level slightly above where they were in the Clinton years and then uses the money as a down payment on health care reform. That’s what the budget does. It’s not the Russian Revolution.
How moderately wonderful, right? They’ve now dazzled Brooks again. They’re not “liberal crusaders”, they’re moderate pragmatists who want to lend stability to the economy.
Brooks then goes through a litany of things “Republicans should like”. He finishes up by claiming he still thinks they’re trying to do too much too fast, and that may lead to problems “down the road”, but all in all, he’s impressed by their sincerity, commitment to what is best for America and the fact that all of this is not going to cost anywhere near what all the critics claim.
On their face, the arguments are nonsense. This is the biggest planned expansion of government in a century. Estimates are the federal government will be hiring between 100,000 and 250,000 new employees to oversee its new programs and spend the trillions of dollars being borrowed through debt instruments right now.
Unlike the rather facile and easy to impress Brooks, Charles Krauthammer takes a look at the spin and deconstructs it rather handily.
At the very center of our economic near-depression is a credit bubble, a housing collapse and a systemic failure of the entire banking system. One can come up with a host of causes: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pushed by Washington (and greed) into improvident loans, corrupted bond-ratings agencies, insufficient regulation of new and exotic debt instruments, the easy money policy of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, irresponsible bankers pushing (and then unloading in packaged loan instruments) highly dubious mortgages, greedy house-flippers, deceitful homebuyers.
The list is long. But the list of causes of the collapse of the financial system does not include the absence of universal health care, let alone of computerized medical records. Nor the absence of an industry-killing cap-and-trade carbon levy. Nor the lack of college graduates. Indeed, one could perversely make the case that, if anything, the proliferation of overeducated, Gucci-wearing, smart-ass MBAs inventing ever more sophisticated and opaque mathematical models and debt instruments helped get us into this credit catastrophe in the first place.
And yet with our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.
As Krauthammer points out, none of the costly things that Obama pledged to focus on have anything to do with the down economy. They all do, however, include the the probability of causing even more damage if enacted.
And since they’ve been in office, Obama or his surrogates (mostly in the guise of Timothy “tax cheat” Geithner”) have talked down the stock market, the auto industry, the oil and gas industry, the health care industry, energy, banks, financial and the defense industry. They still don’t seem to realize what impact their words have on markets, or if they do, then one has to assume they’re doing this on purpose. I tend toward the side of ignorance, but at some point, after it has been pointed out to them over and over again, you have to abandon that belief and head toward the other conclusion. Their words, quite literally, are wrecking the economy.
Markets can’t stand instability and insecurity. When leaders talk about what’s wrong with this industry or that industry and what they intend on doing to punish or change how that industry does business, investors get very nervous. As you might imagine, they’re extremely nervous right now, as reflected by the Dow. They know that there is a government assault coming, in some form or fashion, on the industries I’ve mentioned. So they’re going to get out of the position they now hold in them and they’re going to refrain from investing in them until they’re clear what that assault will entail. And I don’t use the word “assault” lightly.
Health care, defense, oil and gas, pharma, auto, energy, housing, banking, finance etc. are all under a form of assault by the new administration. Health care will change and expand dramatically under government auspices, oil and gas will lose tax breaks, cap-and-trade will bury the auto industry and shoot energy prices through the roof – affecting transportion and manufacturing. Cram-downs affect the housing, banking and financial sectors. Who wants to invest in any of that when a judge can reward irresponsible home owners with a write down of their principle? Meanwhile responsible home seekers will see the interest rate go up by about 2 points to cover the losses. That’ll spur homebuying, won’t it?
Like Dale pointed out about the Red Kangaroo, you can see this coming from a mile off. And “useful idiots” like David Brooks climb back on the bandwagon and resume cheering the parade to economic ruin.
Stephanie Gutmann brings up something I’ve noticed. She starts with an Orwell quote:
“The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor…All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies, perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured in some hiding place in Oceania itself.”
1984 by George Orwell
She then says:
In the passage above, and throughout 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell illustrates how regimes with tentative hold over beleaguered populations deflect anger away from their own corruptions and mistakes with the deployment of a greatly embellished, even invented, external enemy.
There are many things that bug me about Barack Obama — the insane laundry list speeches, the silly rhetoric, the hostility to the free market — but these are all talked about. He has another habit that hasn’t been talked about so much and, of all the things he does, it makes me the most queasy.
It’s pretty subtle, but I think it’s worth keeping an eye on because, if it were to become full-blown, it has the potential to be the most socially damaging element of his presidency.
I’m talking about what I’m going to call his Goldstein-ism, his tendency to make veiled, dark allusions to a recently vanquished “other”, an evil being (he is never specific) who is, he always implies, the real cause of all our problems.
His references to his “inherited” problem, to bankers, greedy Wall Street and his “predecessor” are all too common, not to mention Limbaugh and Hannity.
So why this tendency to attempt to deflect criticism by blaming it on others? Well, consider the Obama march to the presidency. His entire campaign was based on how bad George Bush was and how necessary it was to replace him. Bush was Obama’s “Goldstein”. And Obama used Bush to deflect attention from his own paper thin resume and lack of experience. He managed to make Bush so bad that those things didn’t matter to most Americans who bought the characterization.
But Bush is gone now. And Obama has no specific “Goldstein” with whom he can shift blame and/or deflect attention. But Gutmann points out, he still tries to use Bush when possible. For example:
Monday was full of terrible economic news. It was another day of “unstoppable selling on Wall Street,” according to AP, a day in which Foreign Policy said ” the markets were sending an unambiguous signal that the U.S. economy is now headed in the wrong direction.” How did the administration respond?
I do not think it a coincidence that late in the day the administration “threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets” as the ever in-the-tank Associated Press put it, with the release of memos “that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers…”
Soooo, what was in these scary-sounding memos? Midway down the article AP explains that the memos detailed possible legal rationale for tactics the Bush admin was considering using in its anti-terror program. You’d have to read further still to see that the “Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions.” Nevertheless, AP harrumphs, “the documents themselves [about stuff that had been discussed] had been closely held.” But who cares what the article actually said: It generated a nice headline — “Obama releases secret Bush anti-terror memos” — during a day the populace might have been thinking disloyal thoughts about the their president’s direction.
Of course this gets harder and harder for Obama to do, and besides, it’s unseemly if a president does it – that’s what minions are for. And as Bush fades, a new Goldstien is necessary. Enter Robert Gibbs, Rush Limbaugh, and others:
Jim Cramer. Rush Limbaugh. Rick Santelli.
What do they all have in common? Most likely, none of them is getting invited to the White House Christmas party.
All three media personalities have been singled out by President Obama’s press shop in the course of less than two weeks. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in doing so, has shown an unusual willingness to spar with cable and radio hosts who take shots at his boss.
The rebuttals have ranged from playful ribbing to disdainful scolding.
One of the things we didn’t see, for the most part, was these sorts of assaults on people who weren’t the political opposition during the Bush years. And, in fact, few assaults on those that were in the political opposition. Never once was Keith Olberman or a host of others called out from the White House Press Secretary’s podium. In fact, they were mostly, if not completely ignored. But obviously the same can’t be said of the Obama White House.
So, you have to ask, “why”?
Try Rule 12 from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals“:
RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
As you recall, Mr. Bi-partisan, “heal the nation” Obama did have one thing on that thin resume – he was a community organizer from the Saul Alinsky school of organizing.
And as for the attacks coming from the White House Press podium? Rule 5 covers that:
RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
After watching the man for two plus years, I’ve come to realize this is more than a tendency, it’s his modus operandi. And one should assume his administration will reflect the bosses MO when dealing with criticism. The difference is Obama has himself under pretty tight control. I’m not so sure that can be said of some others. And that’s where Rule 6 comes in:
RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
The danger with Rule 6 as it is now being executed gleefully by Gibbs (“There are very few days that I’ve had more fun,” Gibbs said.) is that he (and others) will overreach. They always do. And it certainly came as no surprise to me to find out Rahm Emanuel was involved in the Limbaugh attacks. So my prediction is this new and advanced “politics of personal destruction” campaign that this administration has embarked on will blow up in their face at some point.
But that doesn’t detract from Gutmann’s point about Obama’s tendency to need and rely on a “Goldstein”. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but it seems to indicate, at least to me, a deep-seated sense of insecurity. If I had no more experience than Obama has, I might be looking for such a scape-goat myself. Knowing that, however, damn well doesn’t make me feel better about it though. But we shouldn’t be surprised when a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer acts like a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer, should we?
Over the past few days, I’ve been highlighting the fact that the promise of tax cuts for 95% of Americans is illusory at best. If your bottom line is net spendable income, then despite the Obama promise, you’re going to have less of it when all his plans for your income are passed into law. Or, as I’ve been pointing out, while he’ll make a big deal of the tax cut for the 95% on the one hand, he’ll be taking what he’s cut back and more with the other.
The Detroit News editorial board seems to have figured that out:
President Barack Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions is a giant economic dagger aimed at the nation’s heartland — particularly Michigan. It is a multibillion-dollar tax hike on everything that Michigan does, including making things, driving cars and burning coal.
Tell me – who is it that has been whining for years about losing manufacturing jobs to overseas competitors? Who has thumped the podium about “outsourcing”? Who has claimed to be the champion of the working man?
The same crew that wants to enact draconian taxes which will affect the very companies and jobs they claim they want to save or create. And while the companies will do all they can to pass on the cost to the consumer (thereby negating any tax cut), they will have to absorb some of the cost to stay competitive.
Doing so will drive up the cost of nearly everything and will amount to a major tax increase for American consumers.
Or companies can go to countries who don’t have cap-and-trade laws such as China and India and set up there. Of course if they do, they’ll be called “unpatriotic” and the government who forced the issue will declare them the problem.
And the net result?
The proposed tax would take effect in 2012 and has the very real potential to throw the nation back into recession, if indeed the expected recovery has arrived by then. It’s impossible to raise costs for such basics as manufacturing and energy production by more than half a trillion dollars over a decade and not have the effects felt across the economy.
Economic common sense. But you see, the 2012 effective date is a result of political calculation. If we are seen to be climbing out of the recession by 2011, most likely the Obama administration will get a second term. After that they couldn’t care less how they or their policies are viewed. And it is far enough from 2016 that they think it may be politically survivable for the Democrats.
However it also means that if the GOP starts hammering on this now and making the same sense the Detroit News editorial board is making, there’s a chance they can use it as an issue to try to recapture power. That assumes, of course, they have the smarts and the spine to stand up, make the consequences known and ensure they frame the argument instead of letting the Democrats spin it away.
How likely is that?
Oh, and just for the record:
A similar program in Europe hasn’t worked. European automakers complained about carbon dioxide limits the European Union proposed in 2007 as damaging to the economy.
What is something you probably shouldn’t do if you want to see an industry “save or create” jobs?
U.S. oil and natural gas producing companies should not receive federal subsidies in the form of tax breaks because their businesses contribute to global warming, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress on Wednesday.
It was one of the sharpest attacks yet on the oil and gas industry by a top Obama administration official, reinforcing the White House stance that new U.S. energy policy will focus on promoting renewable energy sources like wind and solar power and rely less on traditional fossil fuels like oil as America tackles climate change.
Got that? They shouldn’t get tax breaks because they “contribute to global warming”. Freakin’ incredible. An ideological reason given to deny tax breaks. Here’s government again picking winners and losers.
The Obama administration’s budget would levy an excise tax on oil and natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, raising $5.3 billion in revenue from 2011 to 2019.
And in a time of financial crisis, that cost will be passed on to whom?
Obama’s budget would also place a $4 per acre annual fee on energy leases in the Gulf that are designated as nonproducing. The budget proposal projects the fee would generate $1.2 billion from 2010 to 2019.
Of course, they’re talking millions of acres out there. As Sen. Cornyn points out, it won’t be the ExxonMobile’s or the Chevrons which will be hurt by this:
Senator John Cornyn of Texas criticized the tax increases, saying they would hurt independent energy companies that provide a large share of U.S. oil and gas supplies.
“My view is that higher taxes on small and independent producers here in America will make us more dependent on imported oil and gas while we transition to cleaner energy alternatives, a goal we all share,” said Cornyn. “And it will also hurt job retention and job creation in the energy sector, which provides an awful lot of jobs in this country.”
Yup – it’s all about “saving or creating” jobs – if government approves.
When it comes to military procurement, President Obama says:
“I reject the false choice between securing this nation and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars,” Obama said on a day when he signed a presidential memorandum reforming the contracting system across the entire government.
But when it comes to a spending bill with 9,000 earmarks?
Democratic Senator Evan Bayh calls it what it is – wasteful spending.
Where’s the presidential leadership on this? If there’s waste in the procurement system and that’s a target, why isn’t waste in the spending bill also a target?
Tax cheat Timothy Geithner is defending President Barack Obama’s proposed tax increases:
President Obama’s Treasury secretary is defending proposed tax increases, saying they are necessary to limit future budget deficits.
Timothy Geithner responded on Wednesday to Republican criticism that the administration wants to increase taxes during a recession. Geithner noted that tax increases on couples making more than $250,000 per year would not take effect until 2011.
Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit that is expected to balloon to $1.75 trillion this year. Obama says his plan would reduce the deficit to $533 billion in four years.
Don’t you love how they act like the only way to cut the deficit is to raise taxes. I guess it’s too much to ask to just reduce spending to cut the deficit.
Another day older and deeper in debt. Of course, that’s because you plan to spend $3.6 Trillion on budget over the next year.
WASHINGTON – President Obama laid out his first budget plan, a bold $3.6 trillion proposal that would transfer wealth from rich taxpayers to the middle class and the poor, and predicts a stunning federal deficit of $1.75 trillion this year – nearly four times last year’s record.
Obama blamed the expected federal deficit explosion on a “deep and destructive” recession and recent efforts to battle it, including the Wall Street bailout and the $787 billion stimulus plan.
Among the budget proposals, the plan would:
extend a $400 tax credit for most workers while letting expire former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 a year. The budget contains almost $1 trillion in tax hikes over 10 years on individuals making more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000;
close tax loopholes for the wealthy to raise $318 billion toward a down payment on Obama’s universal health care plan;
clamp down on the Pentagon budget, which would get a 4 percent boost next year, but would then get increases of 2 percent or less over the next several years;
make permanent the expanded $2,500 tax credit for college expenses;
spend more than $6 billion on cancer research at the National Institutes of Health next year, a 15 percent hike;
spend $3.9 billion to improve the nation’s sewage treatment plants and drinking water systems; and
raise $15 billion a year, beginning in 2012, from auctioning off carbon pollution permits to help develop clean-energy and renewable-energy technologies. The administration “will work expeditiously” to get Congress to approve an 83 percent reduction in global warming emissions by mid-century. There’s also more money at NASA for space-based monitoring of greenhouse gases.
After reviewing some of the comments from those intended to be taxed, as well as some of the criticisms of those taxpayers’ intelligence [as an aside, I think the liberals denouncing both the story and the interviewees are playing a little fast and loose with the assumptions, since the taxpayers displayed no misunderstanding of marginal rates, and voiced concerns solely based on principles], I got to thinking about how much money will this proposed tax hike really raise. This seems important, not only because of the size of proposed budget, but also since a common refrain from those in favor of letting the top rate snap back to 39.6% (from the current 35%) is that it will only cost those taxpayers 5 cents on the marginal dollar, which is very little to worry about much less enough to change behavior, or so the argument goes.
Before looking at the actual numbers, let’s get something straight first. While it is accurate to say that raising the top rate only costs these taxpayers a nickel per extra dollar earned, that is not all that is being proposed. These taxpayers will also be losing deductions and credits that they would otherwise have, as well as paying extra taxes on anything subject to cap-and-trade taxes, should that lovely piece of legislation be passed. Moreover, if you truly believe Obama when he says that those with incomes less than $250,000 per year will receive a tax cut, then it seems ludicrous to pretend that at least some, if not virtually all, of those taxpayers near the margin will change their working behavior so as to be in the benefit group rather than the extra-taxed one.
Nevertheless, for purposes of calculating the expected tax revenues generated under this plan, I’m going to assume that nobody changes their behavior in the slightest (i.e. everyone earns as much taxable income as possible), and that the number of taxpayers and the amount of taxes paid largely mirrors the 2006 numbers (which is the most recent data available).
According to IRS figures [xls], about 50% of all taxable income came from the $200,000 and above earners in 2006. By my calculations that came to $2.056 Trillion dollars in taxable income from 3,847,241 taxpayers (about 9% of all returns). This cohort paid approximately $522 Billion in taxes, or about 62.4% of the total $837 Billion in tax receipts. These are the people upon whom the new burden will be placed according to President Obama.
In order to figure out how much taxable income is above $200K (there is no breakout for $250K and above), I took all of the taxpayers in the $200K to infinity range (3,847,241) and multiplied it by 200,000 (= 769,448,200,000).
I then subtracted that number from the (rounded) total of taxable income for the same range (@ $2.056 Trillion), and got $1,286,551,800,000. If I thought about it correctly, then that should be the amount of taxable income above $200K.
I then took my above-$200K number and multiplied it by 5 cents, figuring that the increase in marginal rate of 4.6% would lead to about a nickel per taxable dollar earned in new revenues, if everything were to remain static.
From all of that I figured that approximately $64.3 Billion in new taxes would be raised by the new tax hike … to cover a $3.6 Trillion budget.
I sent my calculations to Dale, who became so engrossed in the matter that he put together an entire spreadsheet figuring the numbers in not one, not two, not three, but in six different ways. I realized later that asking Dale to check out my math was rather like standing on one foot and excitedly calling attention to my “skill” while in the midst of an acrobat convention.
After Dale played with the numbers [xls] for awhile, he arrived generally at the conclusion that the absolute most that could be raised was in the neighborhood of $85 Billion, and at worst around $55 Billion. On average, Dale calculated that approximately $65 Billion was the likely amount of new tax revenue that could be expected if all payers in the 2006 cohort behave exactly as they did then. Sticking with the metaphor, “Yes, Michael, that’s a decent one-legged stand you have there.”
In short, a complete klutz has a better chance of joining the Flying Wallendas than the bottom 95% of taxpayers do of getting a tax cut. Instead, they will all see a significant tax hike, whether in their marginal rates, in excise taxes, corporate taxes, fuel taxes, or other forms of indirect taxation. And as those taxes begin to mount up, and the national debt does it’s best imitation of the Challenger, people will work and produce less and less, and tax revenues will dry up.
That is the plan for our recovery. Read it and weep.
“Over the next several months the President will propose a series of legislative and enforcement measures to reduce such U.S. tax evasion and avoidance.”
Why that would be tax cheat and now Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Heck, if they could just get half the Democrats in the administration to pay their taxes, they could probably put a big dent in the deficit.
Coming to a bridge abutment near you, uh, someday:
Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that the new NRA Eagle is in the shape of an “O”. Jake Tapper reports:
President Obama announced today that his administration will begin stamping an emblem on projects funded by the economic stimulus package so that people can easily recognize the effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
All projects will be stamped with the ARRA logo (short for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and lists the recovery.gov website on the emblem.
There truly is nothing new under the sun – just uglier.
And if the new “O” hasn’t made you slightly nauseous, try the new “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery”, or TIGER logo on for size.
One thing you can say for these folks, from the “Office of the President Elect” to “TIGER”, they have the trite sign deficit licked.
The scion of conservative legend Bill Buckley seems to have suddenly misplaced his rose colored glasses as well:
The strange thing is that one feels almost unpatriotic, entertaining negative thoughts about Mr. Obama’s grand plan, as if one were indulging in—call it—the audacity of nope. It is on the one hand clear that something must be done about our economic woes. But that is very different from saying that spending these vast, oceanic sums of money is the right corrective to a decade of fiscal incontinence.
One thing is certain, however: Government is getting bigger and will stay bigger. Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away. And remember what de Tocqueville told us about a bureaucracy that grows so profuse that not even the most original mind can penetrate it.
If this is what the American people want, so be it, but they ought to have no illusions about the perils of this approach. Mr. Obama is proposing among everything else $1 trillion in new entitlements, and entitlement programs never go away, or in the oddly poetic bureaucratic jargon, “sunset.” He is proposing $1.4 trillion in new taxes, an appetite for which was largely was whetted by the shameful excesses of American CEO corporate culture. And finally, he has proposed $5 trillion in new debt, one-half the total accumulated national debt in all US history. All in one fell swoop.
He tells us that all this is going to work because the economy is going to be growing by 3.2 percent a year from now. Do you believe that? Would you take out a loan based on that? And in the three years following, he predicts that our economy will grow by 4 percent a year.
This is nothing if not audacious hope. If he’s right, then looking back, March 2009 will be the dawn of the Age of Stimulation, or whatever elegant phrase Niall Ferguson comes up with. If he turns out to be wrong, then it will look very different, the entrance ramp to the Road to Serfdom, perhaps, and he will reap the whirlwind that follows, along with the rest of us.
Have you ever seen such a mish-mash of contradictory thoughts?
“If this is what the American people want, so be it …”, said the modern day Pilate as he washed his hands of it all. And then the acknowledgement that these things being passed into law will never go away?
Where was he during the run-up? Eagerly lapping up the kool-aid and projecting his idea of hope and change on the blank screen Obama provided. And now he voices concern? Now he’s not sure about what seems to be planned?
What a fundamentally dishonest guy Chris Buckley is – sell the agenda knowing full well the probable outcome of its implementation and is now saying “well if this is what the American people want, they can’t complain when it takes us all to hell”. If you want to tap into an unlimited source of renewable energy, hook something up to Bill Buckley’s grave. He’s probably spinning so hard he could power NYC.