Thoughts on the 1st Presidential Debate

Last week President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney squared off in the first of three debates. It is widely reported that Romney “won” the debate and gained some momentum in his otherwise stagnant campaign. Personally, I thought Romney came off as a bit more forceful and more conversational than I had seen him previously, while Obama didn’t seem to bring his A game. That being said, I don’t think it will swing the election to Romney; I still believe Obama will win a tight race.

Clearly Romney was prepped very well. While both candidates hammered their messages wherever possible, the former governor appeared more decisive and engaged. A few thoughts:

  • Romney asserts that his energy program would create 4 million new jobs. That’s an absurd claim and one that he never bothered to back up with any facts. Even more implausible was his proclamation that he would somehow create 12 million total new jobs. We are creating around 125,000 jobs a month now. If we double that, which isn’t likely, it would take five years of uninterrupted growth to get there. Does that seem reasonable to you? It simply can’t happen.
  • Throughout the debate Romney tried to position himself as the champion of the middle class, which after his 47% remark came off as a bit disingenuous to me. That being said, he was absolutely correct when he said that price increases crush the middle class. That is the brutal effect of inflation.
  • Romney was clearly pandering to middle America by claiming to support coal, which is on its way out as an important power source in this country. It is too dirty and has been supplanted by cheaper natural gas.
  • Romney hammered Obama for proposed tax cuts on the military. The truth is that our military budget is larger than the next dozen countries combined and can easily be reduced without sacrificing our defense one bit. Cuts must be made as part of a larger effort to reduce the deficit.
  • Romney was correct when he stated that raising taxes, as Obama proposes, will likely slow economic growth and stunt job creation. The best way to increase tax revenue is to broaden the tax base, not increase the tax burden. I also agree that we should move more spending from the national to the state levels.
  • I don’t understand how Romney can justify his opposition to Obamacare when it is build on virtually the same model as the health care program he instituted as the Governor of MA.
  • Obama correctly hammered Romney on his lack of specific details in his economic plans. It’s easy to say you’ll reduce taxes, add jobs and reduce the deficit. It’s harder to show how that’s actually possible. 
  • Romney had the best line of the night accusing Obama, with a nod to the Reagan-era, of “trickle down government”. I like that a lot.

Overall, Romney came across as better prepared, more on point and better engaged while Obama was hesitant and disengaged as he attempted to remain above the fray. I’m sure that will change with the next debate. Still, the debate is simply a beauty contest; more style than substance. It’s still Obama’s election to lose. And it’s one in which every American should vote because it affect’s your money and your life.

The Unemployment Rate Goes Down – What A Surprise

This morning the government reported that the unemployment rate for September dropped to 7.8% from 8.1% the prior month (and 8.3% the month before that). This is the lowest figure since March 2009. Hard to believe the government would report such a favorable number a month before the election, right? Hmmmmm.

As reported by the household survey, the number of unemployed persons was 12.1 million, down 456,000 from September. That’s a big decrease. Total employment rose by more than population growth. It was also reported that 114,000 new jobs were added in the month, basically in line with market expectations. And 86,000 jobs were added to the July and August totals by revisions, which suggests that the September number will be revised higher in subsequent months.

Just about any way you look at it, this was a positive number and cannot but help the chances that President Obama will be re-elected. It will also provide further headwind to a stock market already in rally mode. I’m not suggesting that the numbers are fraudulent, but I do believe, as I wrote in my last column, that government statistics cannot be trusted without deeper scrutiny and that they can be manipulated to serve those presenting them. So make of this report what you will.

I’m Mad As Hell

Last night I took my girlfriend and my kids to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey. It was an amazing three and three-quarter hours of music. As a singer, songwriter and live artist, Bruce is simply without peer in the annals of rock and roll history.

As I was there with my family, singing at the top of my lungs, I marveled at Bruce’s talent and energy, and at his unsparing, and often painful, take on life in America. He has always been the champion of the working man, the 99%, or the 47% that Mitt Romney so casually dismissed recently.

That got me thinking about the direction of this country, economically and politically. Let me state upfront that I’m a fiscally conservative Democrat with some Libertarian leanings. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of our elected officials really represents my interests any longer (if they really ever did), and that leaves me very sad, frustrated and angry. It seems as though the national good, our collective interest, has been abdicated by the extremists, special interests and partisan political hacks. Goodwill and compromise for the greater good has been replaced by nastiness and divisiveness in the callous hopes of “stealing” a few votes from the fringes. It’s disgusting, and I’m fed up with it.

Do you wonder, as I do, what could be done if these Super PACs were banned, and the untold millions of dollars being spent by billionaires to elect their puppet, I mean candidate, were diverted to paying down the national debt, or building a road or a school, or maybe curing cancer? What if there were a real debate on taxes and entitlements rather than simply partisan rhetoric about soaking the rich or trickle down economics? What if there was an honest discussion of OUR view of this country and it’s future, rather than being bombarded by vitriol-soaked ads cranked out by some caffeine-fueled media geeks? I could go on, but you get the point.

I’m mad as hell and ready for a change. And I don’t mean Obama or Romney. I mean a real change. And I’m afraid that only a serious crisis will precipitate that change. I’d rather we make some of these changes of our own volition, but I’m afraid the kind of change I envision will ultimately be thrust upon us, whether we’re ready for it or not. And it won’t be pretty.

No more Fed action please

Yesterday Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, is testified before Congress regarding the LIBOR scandal and available Fed policy tools that could be used to help prop up our flagging economy. As is usually the case when he speaks publicly, the market moved south. (Interestingly, the market moved higher later in the testimony and ultimately finished the day higher.) What traders want to hear are concrete plans for a new stimulus plan, or a QE3. The absence of such an announcement is viewed as a negative. To me, that’s a positive. There’s little, if any, true long term value ascribed to further monetary expansion policies. In fact, it will only further debase our currency end set the stage for even more punitive problems, like rampant inflation, down the road. As a nation, we need to accept our medicine and deal with our problems rather than try to put our thumbs in the dike that is our growing budgetary problem. But there is little collective will in this country, either among the population or our elected leaders, to accept hard times in the short run in order to put our country on a better footing for future generations. As a father of three teenagers, I worry about what life will be like for them and for my future grandchildren. It infuriates me to see how gutless our leaders truly are, and how they invariably pander to the monied special interests at the expense of the people who asked them to look out for their best interests. And I fear that this election will only bring us more of the same, now that the Supreme Court voted to allow unlimited donations to PACs. So the super wealthy like Sheldon Adelson can almost literally buy himself a president. It makes me want to puke.