With the raising of the debt ceiling, the “official” federal debt immediately surged past a new and unwelcome benchmark: The national debt now exceeds 100 percent of the gross domestic product for the first time since the Second World War era. With the debt now at $14.58 trillion and climbing vertiginously every day even as the economy continues to stagnate, it will not be very long before the national debt reaches 200 percent and higher. In fact, with over $45 trillion owed to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid recipients both present and future, the actual size of the national debt is already more than four times the GDP.
As for the so-called “cuts” enacted by this Congress, the long and rancorous debate produced essentially nothing. In exchange for statutory authority to raise the debt ceiling by another $2.4 trillion, the bill provides for cuts of only $900 billion, and for a special congressional committee to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings — over the next decade in projected future spending. In other words, the bill makes no meaningful cuts in the government while providing for another $1.5 trillion in debt over the next year or so — this in exchange for vague promises of a comparable amount in cuts spaced out over 10 years, while the debt ceiling is raised again and again. Such is the nature of “compromise” in official Washington.
President Obama’s pledge to recover the economy has taken a long and winding detour, but his 2008 campaign pledge to regulate corporate America is right on course — despite the fact that In January, the White House issued an executive order to review regulations for all federal agencies, with the intent to root out oppressive regulations on American businesses.
The initiative ordered agencies to review regulatory procedures and ensure that all rules "promote predictability and reduce uncertainty" and "identify and use the best, most innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends."
But the Washington Times observed that during the past several months, the President’s edict has gone nowhere:
The state of Nevada was the fortunate recipient of a $490,000 federal grant to grow trees and plants — and of course, to "stimulate" the state’s economy. The only problem is the stimulus spawned a whopping 1.72 permanent jobs. In 2009, the U.S. Forest Service awarded the federal money to Nevada’s Clark County Urban Forestry Revitalization Project with the intent of enlivening urban areas of the county with trees and plants, and of providing green-industry training.
However, the project yielded not even two permanent jobs, and created only 11 short-term jobs, according to the Nevada State Division of Forestry. "Looking at the failure of the stimulus to live up to its promises, not just in Nevada, but throughout America, I think the question becomes, ‘Is there any good use of stimulus money?'" asked Douglas Kellogg, communications manager for the National Taxpayers Union.
"If the question is ‘was this a job-creating project?’ the answer is 'no, it wasn't,'" contended Bob Conrad, an officer for the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Since its inception almost a century ago, the Federal Reserve has enjoyed a cloak of secrecy that has grown more opaque over the years. When the economy imploded in 2008, Bernanke’s Fed swung into action behind the scenes, handing out immense sums in bailouts to a host of ailing financials, through direct loans to the very biggest banks — what Robert Litan, a former Justice Department official, called “the aristocracy of American finance.” The exact figures, however, have been a closely guarded secret, until now.
It took a Freedom of Information Act request, months of litigation, and even an act of Congress, but dogged investigators at Bloomberg News finally gained access to the figures, and, after crunching the numbers, concluded that the Fed — unilaterally and with zero congressional oversight — had doled out as much as $1.2 trillion in taxpayer monies. That's about $500 billion more than the separate, hotly contested, and widely publicized $700 billion bailout pushed through Congress at the same time.
In 1941, the United States was first assigned the so-called “triple A” or AAA rating, a reflection of the widespread belief, at least in the free world, that the United States government could be relied upon absolutely to pay its debts. At the time, the United States had recently grown into the world’s largest economy. The dollar, after the end of the Second World War, became the world’s reserve currency under the terms of the Bretton Woods agreement. Other hard currencies were to be convertible to U.S. dollars, which were in turn convertible (for international investors, at least) into gold (the so-called “gold exchange standard”).
The general perception of the dollar as the world’s backstop currency and of U.S. government debt as being as good as gold survived President Nixon’s closing of the “gold window” in 1971 and the decade of economic malaise — which included significant inflation — that followed. This is surprising in hindsight because Nixon’s action certainly fulfilled the criteria for a partial default, being motivated by the inability of the United States to service debts incurred in the Vietnam War.
Every four years, the two major political parties choose their nominees for President of the United States. The Republican and Democrat standard-bearers, like the political parties themselves, then represent the opposing sides of the political divide between conservatism and liberalism — or so we are told. In truth, though the major-party standard-bearers certainly appeal to different constituencies, the substance of what they would do as President is much more similar than their rhetoric suggests.
For too many years, regardless of whether the occupant in the White House is a Republican or Democrat, the President has generally pursued a course of more socialism at home and more interventionism abroad. Consider the TARP bailout of the big financial institutions: GOP Senator John McCain and Democrat Senator Barack Obama both voted for the TARP legislation prior to the 2008 election — an election that supposedly pitted an opponent of redistributing the wealth (remember how McCain embraced “Joe the Plumber”?) against an advocate of socialism. Despite the rhetoric, if McCain were elected President in 2008, he could have been expected to continue supporting socialist bailouts, just like the last GOP President, George W. Bush, did.
Only 26 percent of the public approves of President Obama's handling of the economy in the latest Gallup poll, conducted Aug. 11-14, while a whopping 71 percent said they disapproved. That’s down from Obama’s previous low point of 35 percent on this top issue.
The public’s growing dissatisfaction shouldn’t be surprising. Going back to 1890, reports the National Bureau of Economic Research, the only U.S. president with a worse record than Obama in job creation in his first two and a half years in office, measured in terms of percentage change, was Herbert Hoover, presiding over the emergence of the Great Depression.
“Official unemployment is 9.1 percent,” stated a New York Times editorial on August 15, decrying the nation’s jobs picture, “but it would be 16.1 percent, or 25.1 million people, if it included those who can only find part-time jobs and those who have given up looking for work.”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) made his position on cutting entitlement spending as part of the SuperCommittee’s attempt to reduce the deficit perfectly clear, sort of: "It’s awfully hard to tell someone … who might be 82, that they’ve gotta go back to work, because their benefits are gonna be chopped. That’s not going to happen. We’re not gonna allow that to happen." Of course, no one is suggesting any such thing.
The most ambitious of the various trial balloons on the entitlement issue have to do with reducing benefits slightly for future participants in Social Security and Medicare, not current beneficiaries. But some observers say this appears to be typical of Upton on many issues that have faced Congress in recent years: focusing on something that is irrelevant in order to avoid the important, or the embarrassing.
For instance, when Upton was nominated by House Speaker John Boehner to the SuperCommittee, he could have decided to keep the promise he made in taking his oath of office:
While the debate over the raising, lowering, or demolishing the debt ceiling is new(ish), the fact that the federal government’s financial house is in disorder is a situation that has existed for over a century. The last few Presidents (of both parties), in collusion with an all too compliant Congress (regardless of which party was in the majority), have spent money on a scheme of government expansion that would drive any nation into the abyss of fiscal desolation in which America now finds itself.
For example, Democrats, whether in the White House or on Capitol Hill, zealously protect their core bloc of voters by throwing themselves in front of any legislative attack on any of the myriad entitlement programs that assure their electoral success and support.
Republicans, on the other hand, are equally vigilant in their watch over the corporate welfare that lines the pockets of their big oil, big bank, military industrial complex-connected cronies. Some of this money, they rightly assume, will find its way into their own campaign coffer, thus perpetuating the cycle of deceit and destruction.
Wall Street professionals' expectations are modest over Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s highly anticipated remarks at the Jackson Hole symposium this Friday. Unlike last year when the chairman announced the start of his program to purchase government securities in order to keep the economy from slipping into a recession and possibly deflation, known as Quantitative Easing II (QE2), his options now are much more limited. The anticipated bounce in the economy has fizzled, inflation is increasing, the banks are stuffed full of reserves but few are borrowing, and interest rates are already at zero and are expected to remain there well into 2013.
What can he say and, more importantly, what can he do? Jim O’Sullivan with MF Global suggested: “We are not forecasting more easing,” while Tom Porcelli of RBC Capital Markets confirmed, “We expect news out of Jackson Hole will be more about getting a feel for the Fed’s opinion on its easing options.” Analysts at Barclays Capital are expecting Bernanke to “reiterate that the Fed predicts growth to accelerate,” while Capital Economics thinks that he “will probably emphasize that the Fed has the tools to boost the economy if deemed appropriate.” In other words, there will be a lot of words, but little expected in the way of change.
Which is probably very smart in light of the hole the Fed has dug itself in trying to stimulate the economy. As noted in Barrons magazine, Alan Abelson wrote,