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The Obama Presidency

December 1, 2013

POTUS

 

When Senator Obama was running for president, one of the concerns highlighted for me by someone smarter than me was that he had never before actually run anything in his life. He had never been in the position of being responsible for an income statement and balance sheet. His single greatest accomplishment was writing a book…about himself.

He then decided to run to be the chief executive of the planet’s biggest income statement and balance sheet. Unless one has been in that role, even on a small scale, one just doesn’t know whether they’ll have the capability to make the necessary decisions, ask the right questions and have the correct judgement to be a CEO.

President Obama has been described to me by an American friend (retired USAF Colonel who lived most of his early years overseas and then built up and sold a plastics business with 700 employees) who voted Obama the first time as going from America’s Commander in Chief to America’s Commander in Confusion.

If you’re interested in US politics this thorough New York Times article may be of interest.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/us/politics/inside-the-race-to-rescue-a-health-site-and-obama.html?ref=business&_r=1&

 

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270

November 7, 2012

270 is the number that Obama needed to win last night’s US general election. As of this morning he has 303 electoral college votes with a few more to be concluded.

President Obama won a second term, but not with a resounding victory as many of the pundits were claiming last evening.

Yes, he has a formidable majority in terms of electoral colleges, but he either won (by 0.75%) or lost (by 0.04%) the popular vote by my last calculations. He still doesn’t have control of the House of Representatives nor do the Democrats have the all important super-majority to block filibustering in the US Senate.

America is terrifically divided. Approximately 50% of its population did not want to award President Obama a second term.

In order to be successful he is going to have to show real leadership. He is going to have to reach across the aisle in a sincere and bona fide way in order to get anything meaningful done in the next four years.

Equally, the Republicans are going to have stop their obstruction of the President and work with him.

I hope both Obama and the Republican leadership in the House and Senate can do what Clinton and his counterparts did during his second term. Unfortunately I’m not optimistic. Neither President Obama or Congress’ leadership have shown a proclivity for deal making.

Let’s hope that Obama’s campaign for “Change” includes change in attitudes in the Oval Office and on the Hill.

Obama’s belief in government as the solve-all to America’s ills is unfortunate.

The current administration, with the support of the Democratically controlled Congress, has used its non-negotiable belief in the purity of government to expand itself at rates not seen since WWII.

Amongst other things, it has impeded labour rights by eliminating the right to secret ballot during union drives and it has encroached on the free markets by becoming America’s biggest corporation.  All the while it is undertaking an overhaul of its health care system (look at the obscene size – more than 2,00o pages – of the health care bill in the picture below) that is going to cost trillions.

The Obama administration has done this by financing our future.

The massive deficits that President Obama is now running will be exacerbated by the following axis of evil (yes, Obama has one too – he just may not yet know it):

(1) reduced tax revenues from retiring baby boomers.

(2) increased government spending on social programs (medicaid, medicare and the current health care reforms amongst others), and

(3) a run up in interest rates (increasing the financing costs of Obama’s debt, leaving less money for his cherished government programs).

So, Obama is either going to have to reduce his spending, increase America’s taxes or, put off the inevitable to his successor by continuing to run these questionable, bloated and growing deficits.

For our sake, I hope he gets this under control quickly.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin has a short piece on this very topic in today’s Wall Street Journal.  If you’re interested then visit this link for good read: The Coming Deficit Disaster.

These matters are very topical for our political and free enterprise leaders.  President Obama, Prime Minister Harper, Prime Minister Brown and other leaders are facing tremendous economic challenges.

While one may think these are matters isolated to 2009 and beyond, you may be interested in taking a few minutes to watch this excerpt from the 1980 Republican leadership debate between George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

As we now all know, Reagan went on to defeat Bush and then Carter to become president.  President Reagan embarked on a terrific agenda of tax cutting and free enterprise policies.  They worked.

One can only hope that President Obama, presiding over one of the largest increases of government in history, reviews his history lessons and takes a second look at the direction he has selected.

Sarah Palin

July 6, 2009

I have had a long standing interest in following US politics and I found the 2008 US election to be one of the most exciting.  While I don’t agree with much of the tonic President Obama is administering to the current economic illness, I think the two choices American’s had for president in 2008 were both exceptional candidates.

When Senator McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his nominee for vice president I was surprised.  She wasn’t someone on any list of prospects I had seen.  At the time I described that decision as McCain’s Hail Mary pass for the election.  As we now know this didn’t pay off for him.

The position of US vice president is important primarly because the occupant of that office becomes president in the event that the incumbent becomes incapacitated.  The vice president is also a member of the legislative branch of government in his or her capacity as president of the Senate.  The Senate’s president casts the deciding vote in the event of a tie.

If I were a betting man I’d predict that John McCain will be alive in November 2012 – which means that, barring a catastrophe, it would have been highly doubtful that a VP Sarah Palin would haved needed to be called upon to replace McCain.  Nonetheless, she would still have been ” a heart beat away from the presidency.”

The more I learn about her, the more pleased that she isn’t today’s vice president.  Now she may over time become well equipped for the job of president, but she’s got a lot of work to do between now and then.  This Vanity Fair article, which was linked form a recent Wall Street Journal on Palin, does a pretty good job of describing Palin, a bit of her history and, most concerning, her character.

Vanity Fair is not gospel when it comes to politics.  So I take the writer’s comments with a grain of salt.  Nonetheless, it’s a worthwhile read if you’re interested in the free world’s leadership.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/08/sarah-palin200908

George Bush was often maligned for his “I’m not interested in nation building” comment in the 2000 election. He couldn’t foresee the 9/11 attacks and, unfortunately for him, he had to deal with the aftermath.

In today’s Wall Street Journal Barack Obama is quoted as saying, “I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government”. This from a man who is presiding over one of the largest expansions in US government, including effecting a 60% equity position in what was once a bastion of American capitalism.

Many armchair quarterbacks accuse politicians of double speak, speaking out of two sides of their mouths and lying. I’m sure some politicians do lie, (one can find a liar in any profession). But in many cases, elected officials are doing what they think is right in the face new circumstances and data. This is reality. Bush’s reality was the 9/11 attacks and Obama’s reality, while predicted, is the very serious economic downturn.

For a variety of reasons, I don’t agree with much of Obama’s approach. I think my generation is going to be paying dearly for it during our peak earnings years and thereafter. Nonetheless, I express my admiration for both Bush and Obama for having to deal with exceptional circumstances facing their presidencies.

Here’s a link to the WSJ piece: http://tinyurl.com/n9psba

“It’s the economy, stupid” was a popular phrase during President Bill Clinton’s first run for the White House when he challenged President George H. W. Bush in 1992. Fast forward to 2009 and Congress has passed a $787 billion “stimulus” package that is supposed to create jobs and invest in America’s future.

Government has this nasty habit of passing “temporary” legislation. In Canada our 1917 Income War Tax Act is a classic example. This was a temporary national general tax on personal and corporate income (the first in Canada) meant to help fund Canada’s costs associated with World War I. Last time I checked this temporary tax is still imposed – every two weeks for most people.

Last week the US Congress passed a 1,073 page “bi-partisan” (243 House Democrats, 57 Senate Democrats and 3 Senate Republicans) stimulus bill as a one-time jolt to the US economy. If we are to believe one of President Obama’s chief advisors, David Axelrod, this bill is the answer to all of America’s woes. It will create jobs. It will invest in infrastructure. It will save the US from the brink of depression. It will prove that President Obama is the world’s saviour.

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece this weekend which detailed each category and associated amounts of spending under this bill. After printing the 38 page article, (I read better off of paper than the computer screen. I do re-use paper where it is possible), I spent some time sifting the data to determine how much of the $787 billion is actually meant for investing in America’s future and how much is going to “temporarily” expand the size of government.

These are important distinctions. I’m not generally a supporter of government intrusion or bail outs, but if it is accepted that government is going to provide stimulus (and it is) then the stimulus should be in the form of capital investments and not ongoing program expenditures.

Capital investments in roads, railways, telecommunications infrastructure, satellite communications, hospitals etc. will provide long term benefits. Ongoing programs will do nothing more than permanently expand the size of America’s government.

In broad strokes, I’ve defined:

  1. Investment as capital expenditures that invest in plant and infrastructure.
  2. Programs as spending that will either need to be cut once the tap is turned off or be maintained by the government in perpetuity (remember Canada’s temporary 1917 Income War Tax) with increased taxes.
  3. Tax adjustments as anything that provides a deferral of tax (not actually a reduction), acceleration of write downs (not really a tax deduction), tax credits (refundable and non-refundable) and tax reductions.

Here’s a summary of how this bill spends taxpayers’ money:

stimulus-bill-02162009

 

Aside from the concept of a government stimulus, the thing that concerns me the most about this huge government stimulus is that 43% of the money (almost $332 billion) is allocated to programs that will be anything but temporary. Once the stimulus runs out, the US government will either need to keep funding these programs or the people they employ will be out of work.

Only 19% of the stimlus is marked for investing in America’s future. If this were truly a “job creation” program and not a “government expansion” program, I propose that none of this misplaced stimulus would be for programs and all of it would be alocated to rebuilding US plant and equipment.

I haven’t performed the same analysis on Canada’s recent budget, but am interested in seeing any research that you may have done.