I think in political terms it would be far wiser for Team Obama to say that problems are complex and have no easy solutions; that they will try to continue with what they thought worked the last eight years and won’t with they thought didn’t; and that there are too often only bad and worse choices. All that would be honest and would lower expectations, much more honestly and effectively than the constant “We are in a Great Depression” rhetoric or “The world hates us” screaming.
So is rendition fascistic or necessary? Is FISA shredding the Constitution or problematic? Is the Patriot Act now necessary, and no longer dictatorial? Is Guantanamo a Gulag that must be shut down, or a complex issue requiring a task force and a year of study? Should we have been out of Iraq by March 2008, or are we to withdraw according to the General Betray US/”suspension of disbelief” Petraeus plan? Will there a Hollywood movie Rendition II? Or a Nicholson Baker Knopf sequel to Checkpoint?
I think we are ignoring three things about the stimulus package. First, the soaring deficits and mounting aggregate debt in the 2000s contributed to our present debacle. (Yes, Bush and the Republican Congress are to be blamed for spending sprees that cannot be explained entirely by 9/11, Katrina and the two wars). We were already ‘stimulated’ and running a Keynesian economy, so why is more of what got us into this trouble the solution?
Second, the crash in oil prices from $148 a barrel to less than $40 has resulted in, along with dives in imported natural gas, a monstrous stimulus–perhaps three-quarters of a trillion dollars per year for consumers. Can’t we pause a month or three to see the effects of thousands of dollars in cheaper heating and transportation costs for the American household?
Third, interest on US treasury bonds is nearing almost nothing. Yet, Asia and Europe are still buying them. The result is that the US is receiving trillions in free loan money that should be translating into cheap mortgages and interest rates, and an infusion of cash that will soon kick in unexpectedly dramatic fashion.
In other words, while we scream about the Great Depression, there are insidious, rarely mentioned stimuli already in play that are far more helpful that borrowing a $1 trillion to redistribute and hire more government employees.
(Addendum: Can anyone follow the politics of the simuli? Republicans who between 2001-6 oversaw massive borrowing and spending are suddenly fiscal conservatives when out of power; Democrats who blame the Keynesian Bush for getting us into this mess, now want to out-Bush Bush and spend and borrow in ways he never imagined?
Can’t Republicans say,”Sorry, we spent too much, and now, out of power, we realize that and want to reform and go back to our core philosophies and not spend what we don’t have it, so trust us this time.” And can’t Democrats say, “We had no problem with Bush’s big-government deficit spending, and so we think the answer to the current mess is to create even greater deficit spending.” At least that would be honest, and preferrable to Republicans suddenly appearing as Eisenhower fiscal conservatives, and Democrats trashing Bush ad nauseam while following his expansionary policies.)
Brave New World
I wonder sometimes how many Americans think they are going crazy as they sense a certain reality that cannot be spoken of for a variety of political, or cultural reasons. What sort of system subsidizes an unemployed single mother to have fertility treatments to deliver 8 more children to ensure a family of 14, after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in past state entitlements? Was the Dr. involved desirous of the assured business from a subsidized patient, were the parents oblivious to the ill-equipped daughter living in their home, would the mother have delivered the children had she not been assured of free medical services?
I drove from Peppderdine to Fresno on Friday and tried to tune into local radio stations as they came in and went out of range. As I left the LA basin, went into the San Fernando Valley, descended into Bakersfield, passed through Delano, and whizzed on by Visalia, there was a disturbing pattern. In every on-the-half-hour news flash, some illegal alien or gang member was announced as wanted for hit-and-run/drunk driving, or arrested for gang shootings, or suspected of some sort of theft or armed robbery. At these moments I was looking around at hundreds of cars in the three lanes of freeways (yes, in the pouring rain), and wondering whether they too were listening to these frightening news accounts—and wondering about the billions of dollars necessary to offer emergency room surgeries, rehab, and follow ups, legal bills to try, defend, sentence, jail, and release such felons, and the tab for providing interpreters and entitlement support for dependents of such criminals. And then I remembered that even to cite the above is to incur the charge of racism or illiberality. Strange times.
It doesn’t compute
One senses something is very wrong with our tax system when quite well-off people like Daschle, Geithner, Killefer, and Solis simply don’t pay their taxes and then suddenly do only when they are nominated for administration posts. That raises the question: those of us who go to an accountant, pass on any deduction that is iffy, try to take a lot of withholding to pay the fed early, and do not quibble on anything with our quite legalistic accountant, are, well, in a minority.
Those who have more money, and know more about the tax code, seem not only to cheat, but to cheat until they are forced to pay something back at the 11th hour, and then are never charged for what might well have put the rest of us in jail. I have no idea whether the phenomenon is specific to Washington or liberal Democrats, or the rich in general. But I do know that there are thousands in my environs who work off the books, are paid in cash and do not pay their proper share either—as the country is ripped off by both the top and bottom ends of the spectrum. Past time for the fair or flat tax.