Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is Your Pension as Big as Theirs?

John Whitesides and Samuel P. Jacobs of Reuters report, Obama takes offensive against Romney in debate rematch:
U.S. President Barack Obama launched aggressive attacks against Republican rival Mitt Romney on jobs, energy and Libya in their second debate on Tuesday as the Democrat tried to reclaim the momentum in a tight White House race.

Obama was much sharper and more energetic than in their opening debate two weeks ago, when his listless performance was heavily criticized and gave Romney's campaign a much-needed boost in the run-up to the November 6 election.

The president scolded Romney for accusing him of trying to take political advantage of the attack by Islamist militants in Libya last month that killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as commander in chief," Obama said during the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, calling the accusation "offensive."

"I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and that's why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what happened," Obama said.

Romney questioned Obama's claim that he called the Benghazi attack "an act of terror" in the White House Rose Garden the day afterward, but moderator Candy Crowley of CNN corrected the Republican. Transcripts show Obama did use the term that day.

The Republican accused Obama of failing to follow through on the promises of his 2008 campaign.

In one of his stronger moments in the 90-minute debate, Romney took aim at Obama's economic record in office, saying it has led to 15 million more people on food stamps, slow growth and a lack of jobs.

"The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again. He keeps saying, 'Look, I've created 5 million jobs.' That's after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country," the former Massachusetts governor said.

Polls showed voters judged Obama the winner. A CNN survey gave him the edge by 46 percent to 39 percent, while CBS had Obama the winner by 37 percent to 30 percent.

"I think Obama won this one. I'll say I'm a Romney supporter, but I don't think he effectively got all his points," said audience member James Digirolamo, from Long Island, New York.

"I was a little disappointed how the moderator handled the debate, in particular the issue with the ‘terror' remark," he said, referring to criticism by Republicans that moderator Crowley intervened in favor of Obama during the exchange over Libya.

PRIZE FIGHTERS

Both candidates roamed the stage to talk directly to participants in the town-hall format, where undecided voters from Long Island asked the questions.

At times the two men circled each other warily at center stage like prize fighters, talking over each other and bickering frequently about the rules and who had exceeded their time.

Romney confronted Obama face-to-face at one point to ask repeatedly if licenses and permits for energy drilling on federal land had been reduced during his administration.

Recent polls have put the race for the White House at a virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the election.

Obama seems to have stopped his slide after the last debate. In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday, he gained a bit more ground on Romney for the third straight day and led 46 percent to 43 percent.

But a Gallup/USA Today survey showed Romney ahead by 4 percentage points in the 12 most contested states.

After being slammed for his passive performance in the first debate, Obama attacked Romney repeatedly this time.

He resurrected his charge that the economic proposals put forward by the former private equity executive were designed to protect and bolster the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

"Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules," Obama said.

Romney said Obama's economic record speaks for itself.

"The president has tried, but his policies haven't worked. He's great as a speaker and at describing his plans and his vision. That's wonderful, except we have a record to look at and that record shows that he just hasn't been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need."

Arguing that he supports equal opportunities for women, Romney said he once had "binders full of women" candidates for cabinet jobs when he was Massachusetts governor. The quote suggested that influential women were not part of Romney's circle and prompted a flurry of comments on social media.

The two also clashed over the Obama administration's 2009 auto bailout, with Romney saying Obama had misrepresented his position that General Motors should go into a managed bankruptcy.

"He keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt," Romney said. "You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did."

Obama responded: "What Governor Romney said just isn't true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs."

The pair meet again next week in Boca Raton, Florida for their final debate, which will be on foreign policy.
Let me give you my thoughts on last night's debate. First, it was a much better debate than the first one. I didn't fall asleep and kept tweeting my thoughts on Twitter. Second, in my opinion, Romney won the first debate but Obama crushed him last night, taking a cue from feisty Joe Biden. (Note: I'm a Canadian of Greek origin, absolutely love US politics but think both Democrats and Republicans are  hypocrites who continuously pander to the financial elite).

Nonetheless, I think it's important to go over some of the main points of contention because both candidates made interesting remarks:
  • On taxes: I believe Governor Romney when says he won't raise taxes on the middle class. Problem is he won't raise taxes on anyone, including his ultra rich private equity buddies. At one point, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine, retweeted one of my tweets: "Romney doesn't want to tax carried interest for private equity and hedge funds. Thinks they're part of small businesses." Now, I got nothing against the rich and ultra rich and couldn't care less if Romney once headed Bain Capital, a well known private equity firm, but think it's ridiculous lumping in private equity and hedge funds with small businesses. There is an argument to be made that 98% of small businesses shouldn't be taxed more but that argument breaks down once you reach hedge funds and PE funds. These guys have been getting away with murder for years, as both Republicans and Democrats have pandered to the financial elite, ignoring the plight of Main Street.
  • On regulations: That brings me to my second point. I'm tired of people blaming poor old George "W" Bush for the 2008 financial crisis. Admittedly, "W" wasn't the sharpest president and his policies of deregulation didn't help, but the seeds of the financial crisis can be traced back to the Clinton administration, the repeal of Glass-Steagall and massive deregulation in the derivatives market. Back then, Rubin, Summers and the mighty Alan Greenspan all ignored Brooksley Born's warning about deregulating the derivatives market. The next time someone tells you that the Bush administration caused the financial crisis, please correct them and state the fact that the Bush administration continued the dangerous deregulation that took off during Clinton's reign (love listening to Clinton speak but his record on financial deregulation is abysmal).
  • On gas prices: One of the weakest arguments that Romney put forth last night was how gas prices doubled since Obama took office. The President countered by stating: "gas prices were low when I took office because the economy was on the verge of collapse" and added "it’s conceivable that Gov. Romney could (bring down) gas prices" because his policies are the same as Bush's. Americans need to understand that politicians do not control gas prices, period. 
  • On coal, energy, and Canadian pipelines: Some of Governor Romney's better points were on coal, energy, and pipelines. One of the reasons behind the decline of US coal companies over the last few years is the heavy handed regulations by Obama's Environmental Protection Agency. A more important reason, however, is the recession in Europe, the slowdown in China and the decline in natural gas prices. Ironically, if the US does drill for more nat gas, it will put downward pressure on nat gas prices, leading to more utilities shifting away from coal to using nat gas. Interestingly, now that nat gas prices started to rise and it seems like Europe and China are turning the corner, coal stocks are gaining momentum (regardless of who wins, I am long US coal shares). As far as drilling on public lands, think Obama answered that question appropriately but he was weak explaining why he didn't approve the pipeline from Canada. In order to propel a manufacturing renaissance in the US, politicians have to focus on the global game changer and allow pipelines from Canada (US and Canadian environmentalists are out to lunch when it comes to pipelines and so are bleeding heart Hollywood liberals).
  • On job creation and a Greek-style debt crisis: As I stated a couple of days ago, smart money is falling off a cliff, overly focused on eurozone's woes, a 'hard landing' in China and the US fiscal cliff. Meanwhile, the US economic recovery is gaining momentum and regardless of who wins, this trend will continue over the next few years.  In fact, I am more bullish on America than most Americans reading gloom & doom nonsense in mainstream media and on blogs like Zero Edge. I almost jumped out of my seat last night when Romney stated the United States will go the same way as Greece if President Barack Obama is re-elected president. As a Greek-Canadian who knows all too well the Greek economy and what's really plaguing Greece, let me assure you that the US economy has nothing in common with Greece and can never experience a Greek-style debt crisis for the simple reason that the Federal Reserve prints the world's reserve currency. And once again, politicians around the world need to accept that the real crisis is a jobs crisis, not a debt crisis, and until you address the former, you'll never bring the latter under control (not the other way around). In Greece, devastating and moronic austerity measures applied primarily to the private sector have pushed the country into a depression, exacerbating the debt crisis. Europe's moment of truth has arrived and Merkel et al. better wake up or else they're headed for a long period of deflation/ deleveraging/ depression.
  • On pensions: At one point, President Obama quipped 'my pension is not as big as yours', but neither candidate addressed much needed reforms in pensions, ignoring the pathetic state of state plans, America's 401(k) nightmare and how the US needs new thinking to address the retirement crisis. In fact, Obama recently signed a law allowing companies to contribute billions of dollars less to their workers' pension funds, raising concerns about weakening the plans that millions of Americans count on for retirement. Romney's plan is the same as Gov. Chris Christie, namely, to tackle pension deficits by closing public defined-benefit plans, shifting workers to defined-contribution plans, exacerbating pension poverty. As far as Romney's personal investments in China, he was right to counter that anyone with a 401(k) is invested in China. I would also point out that Americans, Canadians and Europeans are all addicted to cheap Chinese goods, shopping at Wal Mart and other low cost stores for their latest iGadgets.
That pretty much sums up my thoughts on Tuesday's historic debate. Below,  watch the second presidential town hall debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the run up to the general election in November. It's going to be a very close race but remember, no matter who wins, stay bullish on America!