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Thursday, September 08, 2011

 

The Jobs "Plan"

The President asked Congress to invite him to speak to a joint session about jobs in hopes of preserving his, and Congress obliged after a little spat concerning the date and time. No matter about that, the question was what kind of plan would the President roll out. It soon became obvious there was no plan as the White House spent the last several days lowering expectations. In the end, the President rolled out a convoluted series of recycled proposals rather that any kind of cohesive plan, but included a couple of wrinkles, a nod or two to the Right, offset here and there by a nod or two to the Left. He did return to a more energetic and animated delivery which may give his likability number (already pretty high) a bit of a boost. And there were a couple of new ideas that amounted to reality checks concerning what has a chance to pass versus what doesn't. There was a nod to American exceptionalism, American individualism, an admission that A. Lincoln was a Republican, all proving that someone in the White House has at least been skimming the WSJ op ed pages.

In the recycled category, there was stimulus (round 3 or 4?) type public works stuff that states used to do (schools, roads, etc.), extended, even deeper payroll tax cuts (the taxes that fund our already under water entitlements), and extension of the extended 99 week unemployment benefit. I'm not sure how that last one creates any jobs. In the new wrinkle category, we have payroll tax cuts for employers (something that might actually help), tax credits for hiring the long term unemployed, (a stretch for most employers but modeled after a successful Georgia program),and refinancing help for under water mortgages (good luck on that one). In the cynical category were a bunch of recycled ideas, none more phony than the pushing of the free trade pacts which the administration has refused to submit to Congress for approval until Congress commits to the job retraining program the administration wants. Of course, that money would go to the Dems' union friends with the understanding that a good portion of it will be recycled back to the Democratic campaign committees. So the House is not going to go for that. This doesn't stop the administration from blaming Congress for failing to ratify agreements it won't submit!

The cynicism doesn't end there of course. There was the nod to unions and environmentalists when the President promised not to expand trade with partners who don't play by the rules, meaning the US Left's ideas of labor and environmental rules. There was the President taking credit for deregulation on the basis of the administration's purge of completely outmoded regulatory language long not enforced and on last week's decision not to implement the EPA's ludicrous smog standard, hoping to deprive Republicans of an easy campaign issue. Meanwhile, the EPA, the FCC, the FTC and others continue to torture industry and eliminate jobs with unnecessary regulatory burdens. And of course, not word one about rolling back PPACA and Dodd Frank, the two biggest job inhibitors of all.

In fact, there was this entire paragraph of business bashing:

"But what we can't do — what I won't do — is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn't be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that's a race we can win."

So we'll all be broke but at least we can wear the blue ribbon for winning the race to the top, whatever that is.

This is typical of Obama's rhetorical style. Giving with one hand while bashing with the other, and letting the listener try to figure out where he's really going. But after this long, we know, and in the end, he makes no one happy because he doesn't deliver results.

The biggest howler of all was Obama's claim that this "program" is paid for. How? First, the usual unspecified, and probably unachievable medicare/medicaid cuts, such as those that came with PPACA which have already been rescinded. Then, there is the request that the deficit commission find the rest of the cuts needed. This is after the President and his Dem colleagues negotiated a reduction in the cuts that the commission is committed to. So they'll give the R's the cuts they originally wanted in exchange for the new jobs stimulus. Only in Washington.

Republicans will find a few things in this hodgepodge that they could and should move on, such as the Georgia proposal, the free trade pacts (if they are ever submitted) and tax reform in 2012 or 2013. But if anyone actually believes this program is going to change our jobs picture, they don't have the slightest idea where jobs come from, which is the same problem the President has.
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I found it amusing that Lauren Bush decided her new married name would be Lauren Bush-Lauren (and not simply Lauren Lauren). It reminded me of an old Mad Magazine feature where they would dream up celebrity marriages where the women would wind up with funny names, such as those that rhymed. But contrary to popular opinion, those Bush's are just too sharp.
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The post office, which is only a quasi-governmental operation, is broke anyway, to the surprise of ...no one. Frankly, the business model has been made largely irrelevant because of e-mail and electronic bill paying. The talk is that Saturday mail deliveries will be curtailed, as well as a lot of local post offices. This does not go nearly far enough in my opinion. I would reduce mail deliveries to three days a week, giving businesses the option to ride on over and collect their own mail as often as they like from their P.O. Box or local post office. Frankly, Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be plenty of deliveries for me. Or even just Tuesday and Friday. Whether I get my solicitations and junk catalogues a day or two later means nothing to me.
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Sunday is the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and I have studiously avoided reliving the day on TV as many of the networks would have us do. For those of us in NYC that day, and the weeks and months that followed, even if we weren't downtown, the memories are still fresh enough, thank you. We still cherish the memories of the friends and acquaintances we lost for no good reason, and worry about the health of those first responders and ground zero workers we know.

Tonight we hear that Homeland Security has alerted the NY and D.C. police officers about specific credible threats for the next few days. That actually figures. Lets hope that the preparations and security procedures implemented will prevent any incidents.
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On 8/31, we removed our Royal Bank of Scotland preferred shares (RBS.PR.E) from the portfolio. We sold 1200 at 10.71, a capital loss of about $8,600, some of which we had recouped in the form of dividends over the years. Still, you don't buy preferred's to lose money. Nevertheless, RBS has suspended its dividends, and depends on the UK government for its solvency. It was a good time to get out.

On 9/2 we resumed buying. We bought 100 shares of Shaw Group (SHAW), a zero buy at 22.57. On 9/6, we bought 100 shares of Hartford preferred for the IRA (HIG.PR.A) at 19.62, which seems like a nice price. Yesterday, we bought 1100 shares of FSI International (FSII) for the IRA, a value buy at 2.04.

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