Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Bridge Too Slow

"Is this a shovel-ready project?" Mr. Biden asked Scott Christie, the state transportation official charged with deploying economic-stimulus money.

"It's ready to go," Mr. Christie answered. "I literally have the plans in the car right now."

It turns out, though, that shovel-readiness is in the eye of the beholder. Soon after his visit, Mr. Biden found out that his model stimulus project wouldn't see a shovel for almost four more months, possibly longer, knowing how such timetables slip. In North Middleton, [Pennsylvania] a White House eager for action had run up against locals eager to avoid disruption. The locals won."

So begins a piece by the Wall Street Journals' Michael Phillips on a flubbed photo op at a decaying bridge in Pennsylvania. While the Obama administration was eager to put a quick muscular public relations shine on the stimulus bill, the mundane reality of filling potholes means a much slower and much more pedestrian approach. While Obama was depending on the public works aspect to provide a burst of cash coursing through the economy, the reality is that these projects will take more time, therefore, have less economic impact. The town featured in the article wanted to put off the bridge project because the construction would disrupt a school bus route. So they did. The reality on the ground trumped the airy Washington propaganda needs.

In fact, the stimulus itself is a bit of a fraud. Most of the $787 billion goes to the states to prop up increasingly onerous state entitlement programs. When this amount of cash runs dry in two years, then what will the states do? Oh rats, I forgot the Obama group think line. It goes like this: In two years the economy will be better and state coffers will runneth over with plentiful tax receipts. Never mind, that some like Obama supporter and Depression-Era Investor, Seth Glickenhaus (he's 94) believes this economic swoon will last five years. Of course, if the imagined recovery doesn't take place, yet another stimulus bill will be required. Billions more will be thrown around. For what effect, we can't be certain. This is looks to be another spot for sunny rhetoric to fall to the hard ground of reality.

Near me, the stimulus money is repaving a stretch of road. While there are many such spots around here, the obvious need is two ancient massive nearby bridges nearby. While tossing a few thousand on a road to make the local news, works for some transitory positive spin, the greater needs are unmet. Building two huge bridges would take years. By the time, they're built Obama might not even be in office. No short term propaganda gain to be made there.

And this is the real problem with much of what is attempted by Barrack Obama. Talking and PR to create group think can work wonderfully on the campaign. By creating an illusion of experience, one can fool others into pulling that vote lever. When it comes to governing , it's different. Talk can facilitate action, but it can't substitute for it. Governing requires more than just spin. Spin only affects those within the group think orbit. Sometimes, those in that orbit cannot tell the limits of group think. This can lead to tragic consequences.

Take the book referenced here, A Bridge Too Far . This airborne operation by the Allies during WWII was supposed to end the war in four months, but the Germans were not subscribers to this sunny group think mindset. All doubts harbored by the soldiers involved were shunted aside in pursuit of a goal that in reality was the operational equivalent of a deadly lottery ticket. Dissenters were quickly dispatched. A young intelligence officer, who spotted two SS tank divisions in the landing zones near the Arnhem bridge was quickly forced onto sick leave. To their credit, the Allied soldiers fought with incredible vigor, but the plan was flawed from the start. The last bridge over the lower Rhine could not be taken, no matter what spin was applied. Allied casualties were more than double D-Day, including the almost total annihilation of a British airborne division. Such are the bitter rewards when group think meets reality.

In the present day, we are in an economic debacle. At some point, though, people want actions that lead to improvement in their economic lives. Obama can spin all he wants, but the tangible fruits of jobs, healthy companies and increased cash are the only things that matter. The group think mindset can still dominate if the experience and expectations are in sync. However, as the experience replaces the expectations, the chance of stumbling increases, especially if these two states become unlinked. Obama can rectify this, but he must embrace reality. In a word, he must change. As someone who has been quite adept at fashioning reality to his own needs, this may be all but impossible. Barrack Obama may end up one bridge short of his goal. Not because he couldn't change the reality, but that he couldn't change himself in that reality. Such are the perils of those who live in the bubble of group think.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Getting Smoked

Amid all the hoopla of Obama's World Tour '09, the initial act of the Obama tax raising saga took place back home. Who felt the bite first? Was it the ultra-rich, like Obama pal Warren Buffet? Nah. Was it those shady real estate types, like Tony Rezko, who profited handsomely from the housing bubble? Nope. Was it Rev. Wright and his profitable political operation masquerading as a church? Not a chance. However, it was another group who happen to have been almost as enthusiastic about Obama as the three I just mentioned.

And the unlucky winners are . . . cigarette smokers. They got the first puff on the Obama tax smoke and it was a harsh one. Obama signed a law that raises federal cigarette taxes by more than 150% to $1.01 a pack. Yeow!! Insert hacking cough here. Now most of the people smoking are: you guessed it, poor. In a recent Gallup survey, 34% of people making $6,000 to $12,000 smoked. For those making more than $100,000 in the survey, only a little more than 10% smoked. Since Obama got 60% of the votes of those making $50,000 or less, it would seem these Obama lovers got duped. Perhaps, they fully expected and wanted to be taxed more. According to Joe Biden logic, they are all more patriotic than the rest of us. However, all these mental meanderings are rendered mute by the O-man himself.

In his speech at the Democratic convention in Denver, Obama said ". .. the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class." I would call less than $100,000 middle class, though maybe to Obama these folks are working poor and therefore, raising their taxes first doesn't qualify as breaking a campaign promise to the middle class. If if we allow Obama this lawyerly puff of smoke, there is still another problem, that dratted $250,000 pledge. In Dover, NH on September 12th, 2008, the smokestack in chief said "I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 will see any form of tax increase." Having ditched this promise with only a lone AP news story as a witness, we all know why those families will never "see" this tax increase until it hits them. With legions of media sycophants, any substantive story about Obama is quickly drowned out with puff pieces about the First Dog or Michelle's lip gloss. For the vast majority of the news media, I feel exactly the same way LBJ did about Time magazine's Hugh Sidey, accusing him of being a "goddamn whore" for the other party.

Returning to the smoke room, here's another thought. This tax is supposedly being done to bestow health care for four million children. Funny thing though, with Obama care on the way (price tag $1 to $3 trillion!!) why was this needed at all. If you going to overhaul the whole system, why bother raising taxes for a program soon to be swallowed in the sea change of health care reform?

I'm guessing Obama care is going to cost way more than planned, though not a soul on god's green earth really knows what it will end up costing. The "placeholder" or first installment is around $600 to $700 billion. So that's just for starters. Odds are President Smoke Screen is going to need every single dime he can squeeze from everybody and anybody. As a constantly reviled group, smokers are the low hanging fruit. Or maybe, as a smoker himself Obama wanted to clock them as some kind of way for him to stop puffing.

In psychological terms, substitution works sometimes. The man who wrote Cigarettes are Sublime, supposedly substituted writing about cigarettes rather than smoking them as a way to kick the habit. One things for sure, there's no substitute for the voracious maw of government when it comes to increasing taxes for colossal undefined programs. Also, there's no alternative way to deal with lying grandstanding politicians. When they lie, it's best to just depart or tell them you're going out for a smoke and don't come back.