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Posts tagged “Obama

The Obama Salute

There is a fair amount of outrage after video surfaced of President Obama saluting the Marine guarding Marine One with a coffee cup.
Sadly, I don’t get outraged by his highness’ failure to properly render a salute any longer. I expect nothing more from the Buffoon in Charge than a classless display of disrespect towards the Nation and the people who’ve sworn an oath to defend her. We’ve had 6 years of watching him improperly salute the flag and our troops, 6 years of his administration denigrating the very concept of service, duty and honor. 6 years of him kow-towing to foreign leaders.

But beyond the symbols of respect toward the United States that Obama and his minions routinely trample, there are the actions they’ve undertaken that demonstrate the sneering derision they have for their country. He’s complained on many occasions about being “constrained” by the Constitution. Then there are the three grievous inactions that are indicative of his attitude towards the people who believe in America.

First, there is the Benghazi debacle. Rather than order aid and assistance to a consulate under siege, Obama ordered the exact opposite. And then went off to play cards and take a nap. In the meantime, 4 honorable Americans were beaten, tortured and murdered. The administration’s attitude can neatly be summed up by Hillary’s response before Congress; “What difference does it  make?”

Second, there’s the case of Marine Sgt. Tamhooressi, held captive in a Mexican prison since this past spring. Not only has the White House failed to get him released, they haven’t even tried. Apparently, appeasing Mexican pride is preferable to a little arm-twisting.

And finally, we’ve got the mess at the VA. Despite years of promises of finally getting the VA to at least act like they care about America’s veterans, what we got was an administration that willfully turned a blind eye to the abuses. It was only when the politics became unmanageable, when the deaths of thousands of American veterans at the hands of the VA made headlines, that they at least made an appearance of honoring our service. Of course, now that the furor has subsided, the VA has merrily returned to killing veterans.

There are literally dozens of other examples. But you get the point. This guy doesn’t see anything wrong with rendering a Starbucks salute, because he doesn’t respect the men and women who’ve selected honor and duty and personal sacrifice. He doesn’t respect them because he can’t understand why anyone thinks the United States of America is worth making that kind of commitment towards. Asking him to respect something he can’t understand is asking too much.

So Much For That

President Obama’s “Son of Stimulus” (aka the American Jobs Act) is already dying the slow, tortuous death of a thousand paper cuts. And for good reason: the majority of Americans don’t buy the President’s latest smoke-and-mirrors plan. After all, stimulus was tried in 2009 and failed miserably. We were assured that spending nearly $800 billion in direct stimulus, plus billions more for “cash-for clunkers,” the automotive industry bailouts and banking industry bailouts would curb unemployment to 8% and have us under 7% by this point. More telling than the fact that was a terrible overshoot, is that nobody in the administration is willing to put any kind of number on how many jobs this latest round of stimulus would create. I doubt anyone in the White House actually believes this would really do much for the economy.

Americans intuitively understand that stimulus spending doesn’t really do much, except exacerbate the underlying cause of our economic malaise. Economists will tell you that the reason we’re in such a mess is because consumer demand – which fuels around 70% of total economic activity – is depressed. If only that were true.

The real cause for depressed sales is much more basic: people can no longer afford to buy consumer goods. They still want iPads®, flat-screen TV’s and new cell phones. But when they sit down with their bills each month, they aren’t willing to incur new debt to purchase them. After all, the debt frenzy that drove the last 20 years of economic growth met its inevitable end with the financial collapse of 2008. We’re still busy digging our way out from that mess and until the typical household reduces their debt burden, don’t expect them to begin spending again.

The same goes for government. The massive expansion of federal debt leaves Americans feeling equally queasy – after all, we just learned a valuable lesson about what happens when people and companies are over-leveraged. When public debt exceeds the total value of the economy and projected spending continues to go up, not down… Well, let’s just say we aren’t interested in finding out if an over-leveraged government can suffer the same fate as an over-leveraged household.

The debt ceiling is falling!

One thing that the popular media keeps forgetting about in their reporting about the debt ceiling negotiations: the sky will not fall and the US has no reason to default if a deal isn’t reached by August 2. That date was created out of thin air by Tim Geithner and I’ve been wondering what, exactly, his criteria is for that date. Aside from trying to get the story off the front pages of the newspapers before September, that is –which is traditionally when the general populace begins to seriously pay attention to the world of politics.

The chart below (courtesy of the Treasury Department) outlines the projected cash flow for the United States during the month of August:

The black line represents the money coming into the treasury, assuming they can’t borrow another dime. The bars represent the cumulative day-by-day expenditures. Note that on every single day for the month, spending on Social Security, Medicare, Defense and the debt interest is covered. What isn’t covered is what we commonly refer to as discretionary spending. There is a reason for that – discretionary spending isn’t necessary. Just like you might eliminate dining out or your Netflix subscription if your personal budget didn’t have the cash to cover them, these are the programs that are nice to have – but aren’t essential to a functioning country.

So when the President dramatically raised the stakes yesterday by suggesting that old-age pensioners won’t receive their Social Security checks, he prioritized a chunk of discretionary spending over Social Security. If you or I did that, we’d have to answer for that in a bankruptcy court. This is President Obama at his finest: threatening the most vulnerable – and vocal –constituency when he isn’t getting his way and looking to score political points.

Based on the Treasury’s own cash-flow predictions; we wouldn’t face the prospect of a default until mid-October. Even then, the federal government could do what a large number of the states are doing now: put off paying federal contractors for 180 days (among other programmatic delays), which would allow Washington until next April to hammer out a budget. (Irregardless of the fact one was due two weeks ago for FY2012 – and we still don’t have one for FY2011). I’m not sure where Geithner is getting his information, but I’m beginning to think it’s directly from David Plouffe.

This isn’t to say raising the debt ceiling won’t be required at some point. It will. But the Republicans should stick to their guns and insist that any rise in the ceiling be accompanied by budget cuts, both immediate and long-term.

Of Trains and Automobiles

Earlier this week, George Will published an opinion piece in which he argued that the reason the liberal wing of our democracy is in love with mass transit is…well…because they see it as a means of imposing a collective social order on Americans. Now, I normally like George, even if he can be a bit long-winded and leave me scrambling for a dictionary. I happen to think that most people who live in our urban metropolises understand the need for mass transit systems, regardless of political bent. I find it hard to believe that anyone who lives in New York or the immediate suburbs can imagine the city without the subway and extensive commuter rail systems. The same holds true for the citizens of Washington DC or Portland or Chicago or any of the other two dozen or so metro areas served by decent mass transit. It’s also hard to imagine that residents of densely crowded metro areas wouldn’t like alternatives (think Los Angeles and Atlanta). So, George probably is just a little off base with his premise. But I can understand where George (and frankly, many conservatives) get his premise: for too long, the discussions of trains and cars has been framed as an either/or proposition. But as any of us who live with both can tell you, the discussion needs to be far more nuanced than that.

The President, in announcing his high-speed rail initiative, failed miserably in seizing the chance to reframe the debate, succumbing to the decades-old “either/or” arguments. What’s more, he missed the opportunity to focus rail projects where they’re vitally needed. And he failed to propose a viable means of funding them.

First, the President envisions a country in which high-speed rail is an inter-city solution, rather than an intra-city one. That flies directly in competition with airlines (for long distances) or autos (for shorter distances). In terms of consumer cost, trains can’t compete. For instance, I can fly from New York to Boston for less than it costs to take the Acela. Round trip on the Acela, without 30 day advance booking, is approximately $290. Flying on a regional carrier costs about $250. Take away the federal subsidies for Amtrak, and rail becomes even less competitive. As for autos, I can drive to Philadelphia in about two hours. Total cost, including tolls and even the currently insane price of gas: around $35. Acela to Philadelphia, one-way: $118.

The second issue with this proposal is convenience. The President said something to the effect that he imagines being able to board a train in one place, and then debark at another within steps of your final destination. This is obviously the sign of somebody who doesn’t understand the way rail systems are designed. If I fly, 9 times of 10 I’ll need to rent a car in order to get to my final destination. That other 10% of the time, I’ll need to hire a taxi. If I take the train, 9 times of 10 I’ll need to rent a car to get to my final destination. That other 10%? I’ll need to hire a taxi. If I drive, I don’t need to worry about hiring a vehicle (and the additional costs that incurs). Once you take into account the time it takes to either find a cab or rent the car, driving my own vehicle often takes less time than taking either a train or plane. Another similarity between the rails and the skies is that you’re limited as the number and size of bags you’re allowed to carry-on, which in both cases is insanely inconvenient if taking a prolonged trip, or even a short trip with the whole family. When driving, of course, the only limitation I face is amount of luggage I can put in my car. One other note on the subject of convenience: the President’s vision also includes not having to pass through TSA checkpoints when boarding these high-speed rail cars. I’ll take that one with a grain of salt, as the TSA is already working on plans for “securing” the nation’s passenger rails.

Finally, the matter of funding comes into question. Building and maintaining railways is an expensive proposition. The reason there aren’t any private passenger rail companies today is they aren’t profitable – not even close. Amtrak lost $1.3 billion in 2010 and the American public will end up paying that from our taxes. The Acela service, which is the high-speed line between Washington and Boston, carried roughly 1/5 of Amtrak’s total passenger load of 27.2 million, yet it also lost money. The total ticket revenue from those 27+ million people was $1.6 billion, yet that barely covered ½ of the total operating expenses. That means we subsidized every passenger riding Amtrak to the tune of around $48 each. (If you’re interested, you can look all of this up on Amtrak’s financial statements.) The only hope that a high-speed rail system has for financial health is dramatically higher ridership than we’re currently seeing. The question is, will Americans prefer to travel by train? Over the last 70 years, the answer has been a resounding “No.” We simply prefer the convenience of the car to the train for intermediate distance travel and the speed of the airplane for long distance travel. Before you get on my about these being “high-speed” trains, picture the hullabaloo raised by folks who have a train barreling through their community at 300mph. And at 300mph (which is the current top speed for passenger service anywhere), you’re still traveling around 200mph slower than a plane.

In plain talk, trains can’t compete financially, technologically or convenience-wise, with the way we currently travel. Heck, even if gas went up to $10/gallon, that drive to Philly would still be cheaper and faster than taking the train!

So, refocus your attention where it’s needed, Mr. President. Improve light rail service in our cities. Improve connections between the suburbs and the downtown areas. Figure out a way to make those services profitable – or at least self-sustaining – then come back to us.