Sunday, April 26, 2009
Interview with RI Sec’y of Treasury, Frank Caprio
I don’t often talk about local politics on this blog, but I noticed with interest an interview with RI Secretary of the treasury, Frank Caprio which aired this morning against NBC 10 news veterans Jim Taricani and Bill Rappleye. The two baited Caprio for the whole half hour, and I couldn’t help but notice the patience and composure of the man as well as the surprisingly excellent answers he gave. Rappleye’s questions were the most obtuse: “do you think that teacher assignments should be based on merit rather than seniority?” Then later, after Caprio explained that he wouldn’t want to micromanage school districts, and by the way, neither should the legislature, Rappleye adds, “but a bedrock tenet of unions is seniority, if you tell teachers that seniority doesn’t count anymore [sic], you’re going to upset the unions, aren’t you?” Please! Where does this nonsense come from?
Caprio is a contender for Governor, and though a Democrat, seems to be handling taxpayer money, even through this most difficult period in our history, with a degree of prudence. He is also pro-life, and thinks some of the anti-business tax policies, which scare away job growth in the state, are a danger to the state’s economic wellbeing.
A memorable remark, and I paraphrase: “In our region, New Hampshire has the lowest tax rates; New Hampshire has the lowest unemployment. You think that’s a coincidence? RI has some of the highest tax rates; RI has one of the highest unemployment rates…When the Federal government raises taxes, it doesn’t cause taxpayers to flea the country, but when RI raises taxes, those who bare the burden leave,…” and I would add, those who leave are the ones paying the most, leaving behind an even greater burden on a fewer number left to pay the tab for the public trough. And all the while the number on public assistance grows and grows into a death spiral for the state and its economy.
With Stave Laffey out of the race, and with the hyper-liberal 1970’s peacenik and appeaser Lincoln Chafee threatening to run for governor, Republicans should consider their options well.
Labels: Rhode Island
Saturday, April 25, 2009
We View the [Bush] Policy as Having Failed
From the NYT, HT: Donna Doleman
Clinton Scores Points [with the whackos of the world] by Admitting Past U.S. Errors
Kena Betancur/Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during a press conference in Santo Domingo, on Friday.
By MARK LANDLER
Published: April 17, 2009
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — It has become a recurring theme of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s early travels as the chief diplomat of the United States: she says that American policy on a given issue has failed, and her foreign listeners fall all over themselves in gratitude.
On Friday, Mrs. Clinton said here that the uncompromising policy of the Bush administration toward Cuba had not worked. That, she said, is why President Obama decided earlier this week to lift restrictions on travel and financial transfers for United States residents with relatives in Cuba.
“We are continuing to look for productive ways forward, because we view the present policy as having failed,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference in this sun-dappled capital, hours before flying to join Mr. Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
The contrition tour goes beyond Latin America. In China, Mrs. Clinton told audiences that the United States must accept its responsibility as a leading emitter of greenhouse gases. In Indonesia, she said the American-backed policy of sanctions against Myanmar had not been effective. And in the Middle East, she pointed out that ostracizing the Iranian government had not persuaded it to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Like other leaders around the world, Mrs. Clinton’s host, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, responded effusively on Friday, hailing the secretary and her boss, Mr. Obama, for their view on Cuban policy, which he said took “great courage” and could utterly transform the political landscape of Latin America.
“President Obama is paving a new road,” he said. “It is recognition of the fact that previous policies have failed. Fifty years of a policy that has not generated the originally sought purposes can be called a failure.”
In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s aides clarified, she was not condemning the half-century-old trade embargo against Cuba, which the Obama administration has not yet agreed to lift. Rather, her reference was to the strict travel and financial restrictions imposed by the Bush administration.
But it hardly seemed to matter. For a senior American official — someone who almost became president — to declare that the United States had erred, makes a major impact on foreign audiences.
Mrs. Clinton drew a similarly gratified response when she said in Mexico recently that the huge American appetite for drugs was fueling the booming narcotics trade in that country and elsewhere in the region.
She repeated that message in the Dominican Republic on Friday, telling a questioner at a town hall meeting here, “We acknowledge we have a responsibility, and we have to act in concert with you.”
Regret is a new role for Mrs. Clinton, but one that she has had plenty of opportunity to observe up close. On a single trip to Africa in 1998 her husband, former President Bill Clinton, apologized for American participation in slavery; American support of brutal African dictators; American “neglect and ignorance” of Africa; American failure to intervene sooner in the Rwandan genocide of 1994; American “complicity” in apartheid; and even for a failure that occurred far from Africa — America’s slow response to the bloodshed in Bosnia.
In most cases, Mrs. Clinton has been simply disavowing a policy of the Bush White House — something she did with zeal as a Democratic candidate. But the words carry much more weight overseas. And there is some evidence that these gestures are starting to register.
On Friday, Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, welcomed the administration’s easing of travel restrictions, saying he was open to dialogue with the United States on a full range of topics, including human rights and the release of political prisoners — something Mrs. Clinton had demanded a day earlier.
“We have seen Raúl Castro’s comments and we welcome this overture,” she said. “We are taking a very serious look at it, and we will consider how we intend to respond.”
Last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, softened his tone against the United States, suggesting that Iran would make a new offer to the West on its nuclear program.
There are holdouts, of course: North Korea has greeted the Obama administration by testing a missile, ratcheting up its language and threatening to pull out of multiparty talks on its nuclear program. Mrs. Clinton, in turn, has had few warm words for North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il.
But in many countries, her statements have elicited an almost palpable sense of relief. And she suggested that the Obama administration’s drive for warmer relations with old foes was just getting started.
Asked whether the United States would build bridges to hostile Latin American leaders, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Mrs. Clinton said, “Let’s put ideology aside; that is so yesterday.”
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Candy Store Generation, Part 4 - The Panic of 2008
Then banks that were "too big to fail" started to fail. We learned they were "too big to allow to fail"--or so we were told. How many billions of dollars were authorized or appropriated to rescue failing banks? Was it $700 billion? I think the earlier stimulus bill was about $300 billion, so that put us at a trillion dollars, spent or authorized, to prop up an ailing economy.
Of course, we weren't through yet. Bail-out of the United Auto Workers at General Motors and Chrysler was to come, a paltry $20 billion or so. Then there's the next stimulus package, passed in the early days of the Obama administration. There's no telling where that ended up. No one read the bill in any of its several versions. $800 billion is the best guess, but it might be a hundred more.
So we are up to about $2 trillion dollars of spending, give or take a couple of hundred billion, either already done or fixin' to be done, to keep our economy from going into a depression. We, the Baby Boomers in control of Congress, the Baby Boomers who are running the corporations, the Baby Boomers who are filling the majority of places in the work force and beginning to creep to retirement age (the oldest of our group are already there) have done this. Where did we get the money? Did we have it, stashed in a failing bank? Was it buried in a field? Of course, no. We manufactured it out of thin air. We are either going to print it or borrow it. Borrowing we are familiar with, since we've done so much of it over the years. Printing money is kind of new, but we are willing to try it. Call it "Instant Money".
And, typical of the Baby Boomers, the Candy Store Generation, we are not looking far enough ahead to think about how we will pay the bill for debt service when it comes due. We'll no doubt piddle around with it over the next ten years, but really the bill will be paid by the next generation, the Gen X-ers as they are called, or maybe even the ones after them, Generation Y. One of these groups will eventually take real steps to fix everything. That will be when the bills come due and the taxes need to be raised to pay them and they will stand up and say "had enough." Had enough of borrowing. Had enough of confiscatory taxation. Had enough of these lame-brained Baby Boomer schemes to continuously live off other people's money. And they will be called the "Had Enough" Generation.
I don't know if I'll live to see the Had Enough Generation clean up the mess the Candy Store Generation has made. It's a good sized mess. Candy wrappers everywhere. Failing social programs. Failing retirement programs (i.e. Social Security, which we wouldn't fix for our children so long as it still worked for us). Expansion of rights based on prosperity not on what God gave us. Unrealistic expectations suddenly crashing down around us. A debt amassed that no reasonable bank would loan proportionately to any corporation or individual. We've sure made a mess that we're leaving the Had Enough-ers to clean up.
I guess "The Greatest Generation" didn't teach us too good.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The Candy Store Generation, Part 3: Even the Corporations
By the 2000s we were running the corporations; we were stockholders--sometimes major stockholders; we ran the mutual funds; we called the shots. Among the worker bees who filled the ranks of corporate employees, while the next generation had begun to join us, most of the workers who produced most of the good and services were being produced by Baby Boomers. So we made the products, provided services, managed the companies, received the dividends, and benefited from stock price increases. Or, if we weren't yet to the point of being stockholders, our parents were, and they would soon be assuming room temperature and those stocks would be ours.
So what did we do with all this influence? As the instant generation, we expected instant results for our money. Stockholders demanded dividends each quarter and rising stock prices. Corporate boards, being of the same mind themselves, were quite happy to oblige the stockholders. CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and all the other C--Os, being of the same mind themselves, were quite happy to manage the businesses that way. So the focus became extremely short-term, only to the end of the next quarter.
I wanted to develop this train of thought more, but suddenly I'm out of ideas or words. Hopefully I have painted a clear picture. We, the Baby Boomers, being in the candy store, ran our economy with such a short-term focus that long-term success was improbable if not impossible.
Labels: Candy Store Generation
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Candy Store Generation, Part 2: The Bush Years
Bush, being narrowly elected, and with an evenly divided Congress, was slow to act. Except when a crisis such as 9-11-2001 required fast action, Bush seemed to be a plodder in both his thinking and his doing. It took years for him to bring forth legislative proposals for Social Security reform and a comprehensive national energy plan, just to name two things. That slowness, though, was actually calming. How glad I would be for such slowness today.
Yet, faced with the crisis of 9-11, and its barely related crisis of the Iraq war, Bush's call to the American Citizen on how best to support the national effort was: Spend! Travel! Fly! Live life as normal. Don't let our enemies know we even felt their gnat buzzing at our face. Don't worry about sacrifice. The candy store was on fire, yet we were called upon to keep buying and ingesting.
Which we did, as if this would end the problem. Digital TVs awaited, and newer, slimmer, and more powerful devices for playing more song. Thus we sought instant correction of a national disaster.
And that describes the Candy Store Generation: the instant generation. Instant resolution of crises in a 30 or 60 minute TV drama or a two hour movie. Instant information for purchasing decisions in a 30 second commercial. Instant food from the microwave or the restaurant. Instant promotions in business without taking the normal development time. Instant replay. Instant prosperity through borrowing.
Or, rather, instant appearance of instant prosperity through borrowing. Over=sized houses full of stuff, driveways full of cars bought with other people's money, hours full of comings and goings that cost money, the bills delayed to a future time, to be paid in cheaper dollars. We borrowed our way into personal prosperity, our long-term views dampened by instant success. Never did we seek to see over the next hill. Life was too good on this side.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The Candy Store Generation, Part 1: Election 2000
The backdrop was the winding down of the Clinton presidency, the last six years of which were with Republican majorities in Congress, both House and Senate--majorities large enough that Clinton could not pick off a few disgruntled Republican moderates or liberals (yes, the latter existed back then, as Rhode Islanders know too well) and get his preferred agenda passed into legislation. He had to deal with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole then Trent Lott, who set the economic agenda. Fiscal responsibility was in, and "The era of big government [was] over."
Nearing the end of those six years, the budget was more or less balanced, and, thanks more to Congress than to the president, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting surpluses as far as could be forecast, perhaps totalling a trillion dollars over a decade. Conditions not seen for a generation--or two--or maybe three.
So the presidential debates took place amid economic good times, and a key topic was what to do with the surplus. Gore's solution: bold new social programs, and pay off the national debt in twelve years, rather than continue to roll it over (as a taxpayer who expected to be in twelve of his sixteen peak earning years during that time, I wasn't sure why I should be called on to obliterate in twelve years what a procession of Congresses created in forty), no relief for tax payers. Bush's solution: bold new social programs, coupled with tax reductions that paid lip service to the notion that the surplus would be (remember, it hadn't actually happened yet; it was just a projection) an excess of government revenue--taxes and fees--over government needs. It wasn't the government's money; it was the taxpayer's money. And the candidates were fixin' to either spend all or most of it on social programs, programs unthinkable a generation before, "rights" suddenly discovered as possible through prosperity, not endowed by God.
I was struck by the idiocy of it all, and how everyone running for office, everyone in the media, everyone around me listening to the rhetoric, lapped it all up. I saw myself in a candy store, watching those around me. Gore and Bush were children in the candy store, there with their daddies. Daddy, who came of age during a depression, was a frugal soul, and normally gave each child a few grudging pennies and told them to buy as much as he could. But on this day, as I watched, their daddies gave each of them $100 dollars and turned them loose. Children expecting Daddy to give them a few pennies when he gave the 10,000 are dangerous. They went crazy, created havoc as they purchased a full hundred dollars worth and made themselves sick on the confections.
Besides the election of Republican majorities elected in 1994, Congress changed in another way between that year and 2000. In 1981 when Ronald Reagan took office, with a Democratic House and Republican Senate, he was able to make headway toward fiscally responsible government because Congress was still composed of a majority (or at least a sizable contingent including the leadership) of "the greatest generation"--those born in the late teens, 20s, and early 30s of the 20th Century, who weathered a long depression, fought and won a world war, drove the nation to post-war prosperity, and faced their own racial prejudices and enacted public policies to offset what their bigoted hearts felt. But by 1994, the balance in Congress had begun to tip, a process more or less completed by 2000, from that generation to its progeny--the Baby Boomers, a generation raised on privilege and ease, coddled by our televisions and indiscriminately drinking words of the information age, accepting of big government--my generation.
In three additional posts (hopefully over the next three days, if the creek don't rise), I'll explore this concept of the Baby Boomers being the Candy Store Generation. This will be my thoughts, rather than extensive research. Perhaps, some day, the research will follow.
Labels: Candy Store Generation
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Pointing Out Obama’s Pirate Problem
Mack Owens of Newport, RI, and a prolific writer in such periodicals as the Wall Street Journal, National Review, and the RI’s own Anchor Rising, points out Obama's problem in dealing with the piracy.
When Somali pirates hijacked the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama this week and took 20 Americans hostage, President Barack Obama refused to comment. It seems that our new president is desperate to do everything he can to distance himself from his predecessor, which is why his team has launched a campaign to rebrand the War on Terror. The results are mystifying. "Overseas contingency operations" is the new name for the war, while "man-caused disasters" is a euphemism for terrorist attacks.
But read the whole thing.
Labels: Age of Obama
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