Monthly Archives: March 2009
“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.
And I have to wonder, given some of the comments, whether this isn’t an indication of his overall disinterest in foreign affairs.
Anyway, a raft of British writers are not happy with Obama’s treatment of them or of British PM Gordon Brown. Some samples:
Tim Shipman, Telegraph:
A Washington Post colleague just called me and said that the White House press corps cannot think of a single previous occasion when a British Prime Minister was treated in this way.
British Embassy staff, irritated themselves, had to twist Robert Gibbs’ arm to get even two questions per side in a quick oval office doorstep.
Alex Massie, Spectator:
Indeed, for a President who wants to “renew” America’s relationship with the rest of the world, Obama is strikingly reluctant to actually, you know, speak to the rest of the world.
Benedict Brogan, Mail:
If Downing Street was expecting the kind of love-in that marked the first Blair-Clinton gala at the White House or the Blair-Bush Colgate and video moment at Camp David, this new administration has proved it wrong. There never was going to be a press conference, despite what No10 said. And there is no couple time planned. No Stevie Wonder, no Meet the Parents, no burgers.
Daniel Hannon, Telegraph, combines a couple of shots:
Incidentally, did you notice that the president silkily downgraded us? Britain, he said, was “one of our closest and strongest allies”. Well, fair enough. US Presidents have to be sparing with their superlatives lest they irk the Canadians or the Israelis or some other favoured people. Still, Dubya never had any problem with describing the United Kingdom as “our closest friend and strongest ally,” adding, on the day Baghdad fell: “America has no finer ally than Great Britain”.
Some will see Obama’s vocabulary as a calculated snub. The forty-fourth president, they will say, has never been keen on Britain. He’s resentful about the way our colonial officers treated his Kenyan grandfather. He was dismissive of us in his autobiography. But I think there is a simpler explanation: he just doesn’t think much of our Prime Minister. Neither do we, Mr President; neither do we.
One of the first things Obama did on taking office was send a Winston Churchill bust, given by the British to President Bush, back to the British. And now this bit of embarrassment.
I’m sure this will be remembered when the Obama administration asks the Brits, our most solid ally and contributor of troops in Afghanistan, to up their commitment.
Iain Martin of the Telegraph sums that sentiment up best:
We get the point, sunshine: we’re just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans. The French will be able to offer you first rate support from their catering corps but beyond that you’ll be on your own.
When it comes to men, munitions and commitment you’ll soon find out why it pays to at least treat the Brits with some manners.
Ceremony and press availability are expected parts of these sorts of events. And precedent is very important as well. Any deviation which makes the event less than the last one is seen as a diplomatic snub. Diplomatic snubs are not well received and payback is indeed always calculated.
Much of what you’ll read is press hacks whining about not getting the expected and anticipated access. But they do have a point as Tim Shipman describes. True or not, these are now the leading meme’s emerging in the wake of yesterday’s decidedly fumbled diplomatic event:
Why does this matter? Three reasons:
- Major British hack involvement in a full blown press conference has always been regarded as useful by the White House press corps. We ask different questions from them, usually more aggressively and get answers they could not. There were several spiky and revealing moments between President Bush and the BBC political editor Nick Robinson. It is bizarre that Mr Obama is less willing to answer questions than Mr Bush. It reflects very poorly on his tendency towards control freakery, which has been in evidence since his campaign.
- It’s discourteous to Mr Brown, who was desperate for his big moment with the podiums. On his two set piece trips to see Bush there were proper pressers at Camp David and then in the Rose Garden. Why gratify him with the first European trip and then snub his big PR moment? There will be no private relaxation time for Mr Brown with Mr Obama, a given on previous prime ministerial trips. I know he’s busy but it shows that he is not really that interested, as my sources were telling me last week.
- Obama has been running scared of the international media and the British press in particular since the start of his campaign. He didn’t give a single interview to a British outlet even when he was in the UK. This is very unusual, particularly from a man who so desperately wants to be loved on the world stage. We know we’re not special, given Obama’s general contempt for beat reporters (as opposed to his schmoozing with editors), but it is still peculiar.
We’ll see how it goes the next time Obama shows up in the UK or asks for British cooperation and help. Given this little show, however, I’d say Obama’s diplomatic skills need some sharpening. Additionally, the British press is now going to be laying in wait for an opportunity to embarrass Obama. As you can tell, this really PO’d them and he’s not going to be able to avoid them forever. For someone who so masterfully manipulated the domestic press, this is a pretty ham-handed performance. And as we’ve all come to understand, the press will get its revenge.
So, 95% are going to get a tax cut are they? Well, that’s great. But what the government gives on the one hand, it will find a way of taking with the other. It needs money folks, and it will get what it needs one way or the other:
A senior Senate Democrat said Tuesday he would consider taxing U.S. workers on their employer-sponsored health insurance to help pay for extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
“I think that tax provision should be on the table,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who will play a major role in writing the legislation to revamp the U.S. healthcare system as promised by President Barack Obama.
“It’s too aggressive. It skews the system,” he said of the tax benefit.
Most U.S. workers with health insurance get it through their employers — 160 million of them — although recent surveys have shown that number is declining as businesses try to cope with the rapidly rising cost of insurance.
The employer-provided benefit is not taxed as income and critics say the tax break encourages workers to seek a more generous benefit package than they might want if it was taxed.
You shouldn’t be getting as “generous” a benefit as you now have, you see – government decrees it and will remedy the “problem” with a tax. You skew their cobbled together system as if it is “the” system, not your welfare, which is most important.
Result – more money out of your pocket at the Doctor’s office (as you scale back the benefit to reduce the tax) and more money out of your pocket to the government.
And you wondered what you’d spend that $13 a week windfall on didn’t you?
This may never come to pass, but understand that when it comes to taxes, the “tax cut” promised is mostly smoke and mirrors – whatever income it preserves will be gotten some other way, mark my words. The government wants revenue and there’s only one large pool available too it. It may not be income, per se, that’s taxed, but government will manage to find a way to get what it needs from you in the coming years. It has bridges to build and signs to make.
UPDATE: If you need more proof of this, here it is:
Despite President Obama’s promise that “If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increase a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime,” his new budget raises 45 percent of its revenue from energy taxes that will be paid by everyone who fills a gas tank, pays an electric bill, or buys anything that was grown, shipped, or manufactured.
Who in the world do you think will actually end up paying the “cap-and-trade” bills? It’s the “excise tax” of the ’30s and will have the very same effect. Read the whole article.
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.
Well sort of. He tells us in his latest piece that he considers himself a “moderate-conservatitve” (what in the world is that?) and he finds the Obama budget (and agenda) waaay to “progressively liberal” for his taste.
Like David Broder, he seems to be surprised by that.
But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.
So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.
The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.
The lesson the left learned from the Clinton era is to move boldly and unapologetically toward what they want while they have the power and popularity to do so instead of screwing around with moderation, incrementalism and governing from the center. And the Republicans only reinforced the lesson when they tip-toed around while they had power, seemingly more worried about being liked than getting things done that agreed with their principles. Well, as Brooks and the “moderates” who were fooled into thinking Obama would be another Clinton have found out, there’s nothing “centrist” to this bunch now in power.
To their horror, they find they’re getting exactly what they were told they would get and, for some reason, they’re surprised and don’t like it. But without them, this little progressive song and dance never had a chance of hitting the main stage.
Now, per Brooks, its up to the moderates to save the country.
Pardon me if I don’t hold my breath. The squishy middle save us from anything? Based on what? What principles do they rally too? As easily as they were gulled in the last election, they have little credibility when it comes to such activities. And to whom or what would they appeal? Other moderats who were as clueless as they were? Then what?
But losing the middle would be a bit of a blow to the Obama administration’s plans. Obama is presently trading off of his popularity and there seem to be more questions about his true intentions than satisfactory answers. A loss of popularity might stiffen the spines of some blue dog Dems and slow this rocket sled to hell down a bit. Of course, it seems there’s a RINO in the weeds for every blue dog that says no, so I’m not sure what real impact that would have. But hey, even the RINOs may get the message (again, not holding my breath).
I know it’s not much to hope for, but it is interesting to see the scales finally begin to fall from moderate eyes. It demonstrates the brilliance of the candidate being the projection screen and with a few key words like “hope” and “change”, conning the middle into pretending that the fantasies they’ve conjured up and projected on him would become reality. Now we pay the piper for that little screw up, don’t we?
As you might imagine, the 5% (the taxable “rich”) are trying to figure out how to become a part of the 95% (the “tax cut” rest):
President Barack Obama’s tax proposal – which promises to increasetaxes for those families with incomes of $250,000 or more — has some Americans brainstorming ways to decrease their pay, even if it’s just by a dollar.
I’m sure this comes as a horrific surprise to those who have been clapping their hands gleefully in anticipation of the “rich” finally “getting theirs”. But the “rich”, or at least some of them, may have other ideas. The following anecdote best illustrates the most important points:
Dr. Sharon Poczatek, who runs her own dental practice in Boulder, Colo., said that she too is trying to figure out ways to get out of paying the taxes proposed in Obama’s plan.
“I’ve put thought into how to get under $250,000,” said Poczatek. “It would mean working fewer days which means having fewer employees, seeing fewer patients and taking time off.”
“Generally it means being less productive,” she said.
“The motivation for a lot of people like me – dentists, entrepreneurs, lawyers – is that the more you work the more money you make,” said Poczatek. “But if I’m going to be working just to give it back to the government — it’s de-motivating and demoralizing.”
Like the probable results of the Obama plan so far?
Fewer employees (that’s jobs for those missing the point), less money (which means a tax cut instead of a tax increase), less production (scarcity), less in taxes for the government and thus less in revenue with which to meet its spending goals.
She is, of course, exactly right – working to make the government’s coffers fatter is both de-motivating and demoralizing.
So assuming that the majority of that percentage of the population now under the tax hike gun is successful in lowering their earning profile to the “tax cut” category, what alternative does that leave for a government hungry for revenue?
It can redfine “rich”.
The cycle repeats with the “new” rich going through the same type of cutting back – letting employees go, doing less work and leaving government with less anticipated revenue. The engine of commerce – the engine of prosperity and jobs – goes into reverse as each new attempt to secure the funding necessary to move the dream agenda forward is scuttled by selfish Americans not willing to work just to hand over what they earn to government.
I can’t imagine why people still wonder why I want to see the Obama agenda fail?
It seems so hard to remember those halcyon days, long ago, when there was some optimism about the country’s economic future. Why, it seems like just last week, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was telling us to be cautiously optimistic about the near future.
In his twice-yearly testimony to Congress, Bernanke conceded the economy was undergoing a “severe contraction”, but held out hope of recovery if the White House’s latest bail-out helped to unblock lending to households and businesses.
“Only if that is the case, in my view there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery,” he told the Senate banking committee, adding that healthier global markets would also be essential if the US economy was to return to health.
Some were willing to go even farther, in those happier days of February, 2009. Some chap named Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group who seems really to believe that happier days are just around the corner.
“We are not doomed to a lost decade of the sort experienced by Japan in the 1990s,” Mr. Baumohl says. “Nor are we in a depression. We view the drop in GDP in the last quarter, which we may see repeated in magnitude this quarter, [as] symptomatic of a recession in its final convulsive stages, to be followed by a recovery in the second half of the year.”
Oh, wait. That was last week.
This week started off with the S&P 500 dropping another 4.66% today, closing at 700.82, and the Dow off by 4.24% to close at 6,763.29. Well, you can’t slip something like that past the boys at the Dallas Morning News.
“The number 7,000 is not what is important,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman of Illington Advisors in Albany, N.Y. “What is important to everyone is the message that the market is sending us with these losses.”
And that message is that the current recession probably will be longer and more severe than most people expected. For months, the consensus on Wall Street was that the low of 7,500 that the Dow hit in November 2008 would mark the bear market bottom.
Many market analysts predicted that while the Dow would “retest” that low, it would not break through it. They were wrong. The scary thing now is where the Dow and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index will make their next stand.
As I’ve mentioned several times, both on the blog, and on the podcast, the historical long-term trend is for the average P/E ratio to drop back to 15. Well, that implies that our equilibrium point is somewhere in the vicinity now of 6,000 on the Dow, and about 620 or so for the S&P. So we’ve still got a ways to go if that historical trend holds true.
Of course, we also have a tendency to drop below an average P/E of 15 as we pull back off the highs, so a 5,000 Dow doesn ‘t seem like an overly pessimistic prediction.
I know I’ve been consistently downbeat on the economy for the last several months, and nothing I’ve seen since I started writing about this in 2007 has changed my mind. I’m not counting on a recovery in 2009, or even in 2010.
Sometimes, a message has to get out there, so that the people who need to hear it can hear it. Often, however, the message can’t be gotten out by presidents, finance ministers, or Fed officials. But, someone has to make the arguments. Samizdata’s Brian Micklethwait takes up the task today.
It needs to be said that under certain circumstances easily now imaginable, many Western citizens would argue, strongly and vocally, that those idiot foreigners who are now lending money to Western governments should in due course be told: sorry sunshine, you ain’t ever going to get it back. Our governments are bankrupt. Why the hell should we and our descendants in perpetuity be paying tribute to you? You knew that the money to pay you back would have to be stolen from us. You assumed we’d just cough up indefinitely. Well, we damn well won’t. You are now a definite part of our problem, and telling you to take a hike is going to be part of our solution. Our thieving class is now “borrowing” money from your thieving class like there is no tomorrow, and we are not responsible for the actions of either gang. A plague on both your houses.
We want you foreign thieves to stop lending to our thieves, now. And the best way for us to convince you that you should indeed stop lending, is to tell you that you are extremely liable never to see most of your money back.
Which has the added virtue of probably, approximately, being true, already.
The last sentence is the real kicker, because it’s beginning to look more like a question of when, rather than if. And, who of course. Of the Western nations, my favored picks, in no particular order, for winning 1st place in the 21st Century Debt repudiation race are, in no particular order: Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.
Second place will be too close to call.
And you don’t have to couch it in Mr. Micklethwait’s incendiary libertarian rhetoric about their thieves and our thieves. I mean, I agree with it, but the plain fact is that even if you grant that everyone has the best intentions in the world, it still seems that we are very close to a tipping point where it could begin to happen. Bruce wrote about it earlier today.
If one of the Euro Zone nations decide to revert to Lira or Escudos, or whatever, the news that such a deal is in the offing will not only hammer the nation that tries, but anyone else who looks iffy, and, untimately, the Euro itself.
Investors are not going to sit around and wait to have their Euro-denominated paper revalued in Drachma. They’ll immediately start dumping that paper, and moving all the assets they can out of not only the offending nation, but any other country that looks like a weak sister. As the article Bruce quoted notes, “Such a wholesale shift would lead to a collapse in the money supply…” Gee, you think?
Germany, of course, would probably get the lion’s share of that new money, and to avoid a general economic collapse, they’d probably have to dump the Euro, too, and redenominate all that nice cash in Deutschemarks to avoid getting hammered as the rest of the Euro Zone economies collapse. Or, Germany might be the Euro Zone. Maybe France, too. France is more of a hindrance than a help, really, but palling around with the French is the price Germans paid for re-admittance to the human race, after the recent…unpleasantness.
No finance minister can yet say such unpleasant things publicly. But someone needs to to say them, especially since they are starting to sound less and less extreme.
This is the fourth nominee by Obama that has come under scrutiny due to failure to pay taxes.
Need anymore evidence that taxes are too high, the tax code is difficult to understand and the tax system is broken? Look no further than appointees of Barack Obama.