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Reading headlines can be hazardous to your health. Maybe there should be a warning label. I recently scanned a one page summary of top stories and blanched at the increasing level of polarization being fomented by the Obama Administration. President Obama might as well assume the title of Fomenter-in-Chief.
Consider these teaser headlines for which the Fomenter-in-Chief is directly responsible: Obama Attempts to Intimidate Contributors to Romney’s Campaign; Most Unpopular US government in 15 Years; Blue Collar Dems Jealous, Angry Over Lavish Vacations. And how about these that the Obama administration presides over: Plunge: Growth Falls to 2.2%; US Firms Add Jobs but Mostly Overseas; Falling Home Prices Drag New Buyers Underwater.
In such a target-rich environment it is difficult to know where to begin to tear apart the failings of this President and his administration. It has been said that at the personal level President Obama is likable. I sure don’t find him so. I would take a pass on so much as having a beer with this particular leader of the Free World. I have no respect for someone who has no respect for the Office of President.
Mr. Obama seems to care about reelection more because of his competitive spirit than in his fierce desire to lead a willing nation in a difficult battle for our future. He has been using the Office to intimidate the opposition in ways we, as Americans, deplored in the Nixon Administration. His campaign is publishing lists of Romney donors and defiling their names. As Kimberly Strassel recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, it is dangerous to cross swords with the power of an incumbent President who controls the mighty levers of government. Imagine exercising your First Amendment right of free speech and then being contacted by the Justice Department, the SEC, and the IRS. You could be indicted, fined or audited for political beliefs alone.
Is it any wonder why people grow weary of politics and are reluctant to run for office? It is the politics of division using a Scorched Earth Policy. No prisoners. No survivors. Take the opposition off at the knees.
If we are still, indeed, suffering the effects of the Great Recession, why is it acceptable for the President to play golf as often as he does while millions are out of work? And why does the First Family take such opulent and frequent vacations? Michele’s vacation to Spain cost about a half million dollars. Why not vacation in Detroit? They could sure use the stimulus. Or maybe indulge in a Stay-cation like so many of us are reconciled to do with the economy in the dumps. Michele could take the kids to the Smithsonian. It’s free! There will be ample opportunity and resources for the Obamas to globetrot on personal vacations once this administration is over. A little self-restraint would be appreciated by us taxpayers.
On the economy, once again growth for the past fiscal quarter has been revised downward. It now stands at 2.2%. That is anemic growth and a far cry from the 3% that was first reported. And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that 3% is wild growth, either. It is simply the line above which we create an appetite that begins to eat into our massive unemployment numbers. Put in some perspective, the rate of growth in China is moderating to about 8%. A mature economy such as ours would tolerate 3 ½% to 4% to reabsorb the un- and under-employed.
Home ownership, long considered to be an indication of prosperity in America, is at a 10 year low. Now, only 53% of Americans feel their home is worth more than what they paid for it. That is down from 92% only 5 years ago. Only a third feels that their home will increase in value in 2012.
A home reflects the bedrock investment for a family. It is where you start a marriage and raise a family. It is where you establish yourself in a civil society. In a vibrant economy, mobility is essential for economic success. When you are underwater with your home mortgage, or cannot afford to pay the realtor fees required to sell your home, economic opportunities simply pass you by. You are no longer mobile.
The election in November will reflect many issues. We all have our lists and there will be many distractions to the main issue from which the President cannot escape: the economy needs to grow. And it needs to grow organically without the type of Federal stimulus we saw in 2009. A vibrant economy will restore confidence and revenues.
There is an expression that I am fond of: Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way. On the first two points, this administration has failed. Last week, Michele Obama revealed a “secret fantasy” during an interview with CNN. She said, “…you know one fantasy I have…is to walk right out the front door and just keep walking.”
That is a fantasy of mine, as well. I ask only one thing. Please take the President with you. And please stay out of the way.
In a very visceral manner, there is something deeply troubling to me about the country these days. The dismal economy is taking a toll on Americans in a way unseen since perhaps the days of the Dustbowl. I recently flipped through John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Is it me or is there a resurgence of Okies in America? Far too many people remain out of work. Far too many people fear for their jobs. Far too many people have lost hope and lost confidence. They no longer can look in a mirror without questioning the meaning of their entire lives. They sense judgment in other people’s eyes as they are forced to swallow their pride and put out their hand. First it is from their friends, then their community and finally, their government. In the words of John Steinbeck, “Okie means you’re scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.”
A recent front-page story in the New York Times recounted tales of once proud conservative Americans in Minnesota. They were the type who never would support taking entitlements. They do now. The affect such charity on their souls is palpable. These are the same sort of Midwesterners of which Steinbeck wrote. They were guilt ridden and unsure if they would ever get off the dole. They qualify for Earned Income Tax Credits. Their pride is crushed as they accept school lunches for their children. Said the Times article, “…they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it.”
Some might call these entitlements a gravy train. In many cases, that is true. In the very same article a man described people who paid for their $400 tattoos with government disability checks. Ironically, the sister of that very tattoo artist was receiving disability payments and living in an assisted living facility.
Governor Romney had to remove his foot from his mouth when he said that he did not worry about the poor in America because they had an effective safety net. Crude as the remark sounded; there is a good deal of truth in that statement. There are many comprehensive programs to deal with the poorest among us. Here is the interesting fact, however: the poorest in America, the lower quintile, are receiving a far smaller share of entitlement spending than they did in 1980 when they received more than one half of entitlement spending. It is down to about one third. The middle quintile, those proud members of blue collar America, has actually seen their share grow by fifty percent.
What that tells me is that the poor remain so but are being joined by middle class families sliding down the scale to meet them in despair.
Ironically, statistics show that support for conservative Republican runs higher in States where government benefits outweigh taxes. The opposite also runs true. Liberal Democrats are favored where the outflow of taxes exceeds payout. Nobody can fully explain this phenomenon. What is clear, however, is that the majority of people who are forced to accept these payments would rather be working for what they need rather than extending their hand for a government check. They recognize the paradox of taking for themselves today while burdening their children with debt.
This brings us back to the subject of many of our conversations over the past year. The economy, job growth and the role that the Federal government can or should play in creating an environment that supports growth. Whether one loves or hates the corporation, business will drive growth for its own survival. It will do so wherever the environment for that growth is fertile.
The government cannot stop business from trying to remain in business. Government must lead, follow or get out of the way. While small business is the “canary in the cave,” so to speak, large business is the tail that wags the dog of small business. They control the vast majority of manufacturing jobs in America and drive small businesses to produce. They have the capacity, given the proper incentive, for determining the fate of those remaining jobs and the fate of those offshored already. Some indicators are leaning towards relocating some more highly technical manufacturing out of China. Given a proper environment many of them can come back to the United States.
Lack of talent in the American workforce will prove to be our Achilles Heel if we do not start getting the right people into technical pipelines. There is a group of manufacturers in Massachusetts who are taking matters into their own hands. They are Manufacturing Vigilantes. They see their future vitality directly connected to a steady influx of machinists, tool and die makers, CAD programmers and technicians. The vocational schools have not been successful in promoting manufacturing careers. These careers have an average pay in Massachusetts of $1500 -$2500 per week. That is a nice piece of change. These businesses have realized that they cannot afford to wait for government to solve their problems so they are willing to go it alone.
Nationwide, there are 600,000 open positions in manufacturing. Last count, some 19 million people are under or unemployed. The multiplier effect of filling those jobs would be to create perhaps additional 2 million more. In short order, there will be a steady influx of veterans either returning home from war or being involuntarily discharged under new budget guidance. This fresh crop of dedicated and intelligent people should be the ones targeted for placement in our manufacturing positions.
The New ‘Okies are everywhere. The economic dustbowl is very real. It is forcing contrarian behavior in our middle class ethos.
Steinbeck also said, “I know this… a man got to do what he got to do.”