Tweedledum and Tweedledee

 

The credit ratings agency Fitch has put the UK on negative outlook (meaning that a downgrade is likely over the next two years).

Said Fitch:

In light of the considerable uncertainty around the economic and fiscal outlook, including the risks posed to economic recovery by ongoing financial tensions in the eurozone and against the backdrop of a still large structural budget deficit and high and rising government debt, the Negative Outlook indicates a slightly greater than 50% chance of a downgrade over a two-year horizon.

In other words, the British government is spending and borrowing too much, and if the eurozone collapses, we are toast.

Ed Balls, who has spent the last couple of years urging the government to spend even more, is worried:

It shows that there’s a growing worry that our economy’s not growing, that unemployment’s rising, that our borrowing’s not coming down as George Osborne had planned.

Mr Balls has called for Mr Osborne to borrow and spend more. His old Brownian nostrums are becoming more ridiculous by the day.

In truth, Mr Osborne and Mr Balls both have the same prescription to get us out of our problems. That is to extract more tax out of us.

Mr Balls thinks that if the government spends even more, it will “stimulate the economy” and the tax receipts will roll in.

Mr Osborne doesn’t agree. He thinks explicit tax rises are needed, and has indeed enacted them, including that VAT rise.

What they both have in common is that they both think the State is sacrosanct. Mr Osborne wants to protect it by whacking the rest of us with higher taxes. Mr Balls wants to protect it – and indeed increase it – by borrowing even more.

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats – they all believe in the State as a kind of benevolent Big Brother. They don’t see the State as a provider of vital services that should do it at lowest possible cost. Instead they see the State as the solution, as a player, as the planner that will decide how Britain is to prosper.

In short, they are all what used to be called Social Democrats.

No wonder David Cameron is getting on so well with Barack Obama. They are political soul-mates.

So here we are, with the electoral system rigged in favour of the three old parties, who all agree on almost everything. But there is a wind of change coming. Support for parties outside that cosy threesome has been growing for some years now. Even within the old parties, the MPs and especially the activists are increasingly restless. Mr Cameron should enjoy his time basking in the sun, because it won’t last.

Uncle Vince Puts His Foot in it Again

Vince Cable MP addressing a Liberal Democrat c...
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Vince Cable: Insulting Our Allies

Vince Cable has attacked “US right wing nutters” who are the “biggest threat to the world financial system”:

The irony of the situation at the moment, looking to markets opening tomorrow morning, is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American Congress rather than the eurozone.’’ Democrat President Barack Obama is desperately trying to get Republicans in Congress to agree to lift the £8.8trillion limit on US borrowing.

The background to this is that Republicans in the US Congress and the US President have been negotiating for weeks on public spending and tax. The US government will run out of money in early August unless a bill is passed increasing the limit on what the government is allowed to borrow.

The Republicans want a deal to cut public spending over the next few years before they will agree to the increase. The President prefers more tax, and fewer cuts.

Mr Cable, then, is wide of the mark in blaming Republicans for the impasse. The truth is that there is a disagreement in the US about the right way forward, and both sides have so far failed to give in. The Republicans want spending cuts; the President wants higher taxes. Mr Obama could have a deal today if he agreed to the cuts.

Mr Cable could just as easily have blamed “the left wing nutter in the White House” rather than “right wing nutters in Congress”.

It is also pretty fatuous to draw attention to this disagreement in the US, when events in Europe, including the recent huge bailout of Greece, have been destabilising the world financial system for months. Mr Cable, though, is a Liberal Democrat, and the Lib Dems are the most Euro-fanatic British political party, so for him, the EU can do no wrong and the US is a threat.

But all of this rather misses the most important point here. Mr Cable is a British Government Minister and he was talking about senior politicians in our closest and most important ally.

Mr Cable’s antics will have damaged Britain’s reputation in the US and therefore damaged British interests. They were also gross interference in the internal politics of another country. His comments were ill-judged and inappropriate.

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Obamatory

Barack Obama
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Barack Obama – How Good an Orator Is He Really?

In recent years, a habit has crept across the Atlantic from the US to Britain, of ending every sentence on an upswing. It is as though every statement is a question, or as though the speaker is looking for affirmation from the listener that yes, the listener agrees with what is being said.

Indeed, Americans often nod continuously as they speak?, you know?, in all those, like, questions?

Now, where does Barack Obama fit in with that?

No, he certainly does not share the questioning habit. In fact, that’s really the problem.

With Mr Obama, every single phrase. Never mind every sentence. Ends in a downswing. As though he is definitely not asking questions.

It seems to me that he has been coached to do it. He seems to be consciously rejecting the normal American way of speaking, in order to sound more decisive, more like a leader.

Because leaders. Just don’t ask questions. They speak their minds. And they are certain. So everyone accepts what they say.

It sounds pretty obvious to me, indeed clunkingly unsubtle. And yet everyone seems to think he is a great orator.

All great orators use a whole list of oratorical tricks of course – but the greatest ones are so subtle in their use of them, that you don’t notice.

With Mr Obama, you do notice. Well, I do, anyway. Every time.

Here’s a clip of the man himself. Have a listen and see if you can see what I mean.

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Utterly Clueless

Does He Really Think Americans are Stupid?

While Britain’s government seeks to get its finances in order and the country back on an even keel, over the water President Obama is planning on spending even more.

He wants to splurge $50 billion on infrastructure improvements this year, and more over the next few years. He plans on rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, improving 4,000 miles of railways, rebuilding 150 miles of airport runways, and on making the nasty oil companies pay for it.

He’s also going to create an “infrastructure bank”. So his government is going to take a load of money in taxes, put it in a new “bank” and then use it for … something or other later. Probably just before his re-election campaign.

This is a plan that will be fully paid for and will not add to the deficit over time — we’re going to work with Congress to see to that

declared the President. Yes, he’s going to put up taxes to pay for it. But this time by “closing a number of special tax breaks for oil and gas companies”. It seems the oil companies have replaced the banks as Obama’s bogeymen, following the BP oil spill.

Mr Obama also wants $12 billion in tax breaks and a $30 billion “lending fund” for small businesses, taking the total to almost $100 billion.

Ah yes, a “lending fund”. More money salted away for later.

The trillion dollar “economic stimulus” package (aptly christened “porkulus” by one of the commenters on the article I linked to) was supposed to create jobs. Unemployment has now risen to 9.6 percent.

But the answer is, according to Obama, more of the same. Except that this time he isn’t going to borrow the money and have taxpayers pay for it later. This time he’s going to get those nasty oil companies to pay for it right now.

This, apparently, is the start of the mid-term election campaign. Mr Obama thinks the American people are stupid enough to believe that jobs will be created by a $100 billion tax hike and a spending splurge.

And if that allows him to salt away a little for a pre-election give-away in a couple of years time, why obviously that’s in the national interest.

The President in Danger of Becoming a Laughing Stock

Now Look, Today is Monday. On Mondays, I Don’t Believe in Drilling.

November 2009: Barack Obama is elected US President, promising to stop offshore drilling for oil.

March 31st 2010: President Obama reverses his position on offshore drilling and opens up over 500,000 square miles of US coastal waters for oil exploration.

June 14th 2010: President Obama asks his supporters to back his new clean energy policy for America:

Beyond the risks inherent in drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month – including many in dangerous and unstable regions.

In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardise our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.

Yes, he has reversed his position on this important issue twice in just six months.

There is a fateful line of no return for politicians, beyond which they are simply laughed at by the people. Once a politician passes that line, there is seldom any way back. Whatever they say, whatever they do, they are never taken seriously again.

Mr Obama has been President of the US for only a few months. Already he is nudging that line.

Stop those drills! No wait, the public want more oil! Drill, baby, drill! No, stop, there’s been an environmental disaster. It’s somebody else’s fault, isn’t it? Maybe Tony Hayward? Yeah, he’s British. He’ll do. We should never, ever again, drill for oil off the coast. What’s that? The Presidential helicopter needs oil? Well, maybe I’ll make an exception just for that….

President Obama Leaves the White House for His Fourth Trip to the Gulf Oil Spill

Barack Obama – The Audacity of Mediocrity


President Obama

I have been reading The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama. (It was given to me by my mother. I think she is trying to make me less of a right wing nutcase.)

Despite the nauseating title, I must say the book is much more interesting than I expected.

Mr Obama’s anecdotes, about the Capitol, about meeting President Bush, about the daily business of government are not the central purpose of the book – but they are the most interesting part of it. They are told with simplicity and a straightforward style that brings the reader right into those encounters.

But before I could turn around to go, the President himself appeared in the doorway and waved me in.

“Obama,” the President said, shaking my hand. “Come here and meet Laura. Laura, you remember Obama. We saw him on TV during election night. Beautiful family. And that wife of yours – that’s one impressive lady.”

“We both got better than we deserve, Mr President,” I said, shaking the First Lady’s hand and hoping that I’d wiped any crumbs off my face. The President turned to an aide nearby, who squirted a big dollop of hand sanitizer in the President’s hand.

“Want some?” the President asked. “Good stuff. Keeps you from getting colds.”

Not wanting to seem unhygenic, I took a squirt.

Of course, since Mr Obama is a Democrat, there is quite a bit of left wing sentiment in his book – and yet it is trotted out with a strange lack of conviction, as though out of habit or perhaps out of a belief that those things have to be said to win those all-important votes. Mr Obama talks of the poor with a distinct detachment, with a cool aloofness that makes one wonder whether he really feels much kinship with them:

I am a Democrat after all…I am angry about policies that consistently favour the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist that Government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all.

Wow – doesn’t that anger just come through loud and clear in that carefully political sentence? (“Average Americans” rather than “the poor“, “insisting” on that clinically “important role“.)

The real passion only comes through, just a little, when he talks of the issue of race:

I am a prisoner of my own biography: I can’t help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives.

As he says, “My wife will tell you that by nature I’m not somebody who gets real worked up about things.

This aloofness strays more than once into a certain smugness, a certain arrogance about his own superiority, not only to Republicans, but even to members of his own party. Others are petty enough to argue with each other; but Obama is above all that, sailing serenely across the political landscape that he graces with his presence:

Democratic audiences are often surprised when I tell them that I don’t consider George Bush a bad man, and that I assume he and members of his Administration are trying to do what they think is best for the country.

Aren’t we lucky to have such a pragmatic and generous man as President – not at all like all those miserably partisan run-of-the-mill Democrats?

There is also plenty of partisan pleading. Although that is to be expected, it is not done particularly intelligently. In a ridiculous passage in the first chapter, for example, he defends Bill Clinton and claims that:

[Newt Gingrich and other members of the Republican Right] understood the threat Clinton posed to their vision of a long term conservative majority, which helps explain the vehemence with which they went after him. It also explains why they spent so much time attacking Clinton’s morality, for if Clinton’s policies were hardly radical, his biography (the draft letter saga, the marijuana puffing, the Ivy League intellectualism, the professional wife who didn’t bake cookies, and most of all the sex) proved perfect grist for the conservative base.

Mr Clinton’s well documented lapses brought the office of President into disrepute. Obama spends much of his book urging Americans to come together and be less partisan. He should be more willing to credit the attackers of Clinton’s lapses with some genuine love and passion for the America that Mr Clinton was besmirching by those acts.

Indeed, a few pages later, Obama decries a modern politics that:

not only allows but often rewards behaviour that we would normally think of as scandalous…[such as] distorting the obvious meaning of what other people say, insulting or generally questioning their motives.

He falls into the same misrepresentation of his opponents when he talks about the abortion debate:

Most anti-abortion activists, for example, have openly discouraged legislative allies from even pursuing those compromise measures that would have significantly reduced the incidence of the procedure popularly known as partial-birth abortion, because the image the procedure invokes in the mind of the public has helped them win converts to their position.

Are those anti-abortion campaigners really so cynical and manipulative that they would be willing to condemn (as they would see it) infants to death to “win converts to their position”? Can Mr Obama really not understand that those activists have genuine conviction about their position, and not a mean-spirited political calculation?

What comes across more powerfully than anything in the book, is Mr Obama’s belief that somehow the disagreements don’t matter. That the arguments only happen because the politicians involved are too mean spirited to recognise each other’s humanity. That if we only talk together, we can work everything out.

And that in turn sheds enormous light on his current difficulties. Did he really believe before he started that there weren’t any genuine disagreements on the major issues of the day? That if he, Barack Obama, were there to help everybody hug each other, everything would be all right?

The truly great American Presidents – of both parties – have not been those who lacked conviction or passion. One thinks of Abraham Lincoln, or Roosevelt, or John F Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan. Those men each had powerful conviction. They were certainly not afraid to argue, to fight for the vision they believed in, and to attack their opponents. And yet, those Presidents at the same time managed to speak for the whole nation, in a sense to embody the nation in their own person; they had the charisma to be true leaders of the whole of America.

History has not been kind to Presidents who have been narrowly partisan and not carried the nation with them, like George W Bush. But neither has it been kind to Presidents who lack conviction and belittle the genuine disagreements that flourish in a democracy.

On the evidence of The Audacity of Hope, as well as on his record so far, Mr Obama is not destined to be a great President. He may achieve some small improvements, and he may suffer some small failures. His lack of conviction and passion will ensure that he does not either wreak any historic transformations, or suffer any ignominious disasters. But America has critical problems that need historic solutions. And Obama isn’t equipped to provide them.