Commentary Magazine


Topic: Warren Buffett

Buffett’s Overtaxed, Underpaid Secretary

In case the nation had not yet heard quite enough about Warren Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, she is back in the news. To her credit, it was due to an appearance at a charitable event. And, no, this time it wasn’t to do with her earning no ordinary secretarial salary. Rather, it was a particular comment she made in a scripted performance that merits brief attention.

She came onstage to list in jest the five things she would buy with the extra money she would accrue by falling into Buffett’s tax bracket, a bemusing statement noted by the host, who proceeded to clarify:

Host: Wait, wait, wait. I thought Warren [Buffett] wanted to get more people into the upper [tax] bracket?

Bosanek: I’ll take the lower bracket, thank you. Read More

In case the nation had not yet heard quite enough about Warren Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, she is back in the news. To her credit, it was due to an appearance at a charitable event. And, no, this time it wasn’t to do with her earning no ordinary secretarial salary. Rather, it was a particular comment she made in a scripted performance that merits brief attention.

She came onstage to list in jest the five things she would buy with the extra money she would accrue by falling into Buffett’s tax bracket, a bemusing statement noted by the host, who proceeded to clarify:

Host: Wait, wait, wait. I thought Warren [Buffett] wanted to get more people into the upper [tax] bracket?

Bosanek: I’ll take the lower bracket, thank you.

Indeed, like the host, we were under the impression that, in Buffett’s – and Obama’s – vision, Bosanek’s (or, at least, the lower salaried taxpayers she is meant to represent) tax rate would remain as it is, and the novelty was the ‘‘Buffett rule,’’ a millionaires’ tax designed solely to raise the rate for high earners. Although the entire Buffett affair was, as far as Obama was concerned, about ‘‘fairness,’’ and raising Buffett’s tax rate and lowering Bosanek’s does not contradict that objective (as the president understands it), that never appeared to be the idea. Indeed, to reduce the tax rate for lower earners could obviate the need for a millionaires’ tax, based on the ”fairness” rationale.

Either way, the takeaway here is that neither the lower earners (whom Bosanek is meant to represent) nor the higher earners (of whom Bosanek, despite her apparent credentials, is almost certainly one) want to pay more taxes. Everyone would prefer a lower tax bracket. Of course we already knew this, but it’s amusing to hear it from one of the saga’s stars herself.

Perhaps in jest Buffett’s secretary is teaching President Obama a profound lesson: fairness is not in paying more to the government for expensive services of dubious quality, but in having more of one’s own hard-earned money to use as one sees fit. In a similar vein, as she put it, with the extra cash will she be able to purchase ‘‘a brand new iMac so I can stop using those crappy PCs [Buffett] gets from Bill Gates.’’

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Leave it to Chris Christie

Leave it to Chris Christie to say what all the other Republican politicians are thinking, but don’t have the guts to say about Warren Buffett:

Piers Morgan: Warren Buffett keeps screaming to be taxed more.

Chris Christie: Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up. Really. And just contribute. Okay? I mean, the fact of the matter is, that I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he has the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

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Leave it to Chris Christie to say what all the other Republican politicians are thinking, but don’t have the guts to say about Warren Buffett:

Piers Morgan: Warren Buffett keeps screaming to be taxed more.

Chris Christie: Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up. Really. And just contribute. Okay? I mean, the fact of the matter is, that I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he has the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

It’s no wonder Christie is still being asked – by the public and media alike – whether he’ll reconsider and run for president. After a week of Rick Santorum’s gaffes, and Mitt Romney’s floundering, Christie’s interview with Piers Morgan only heightens the sense that the best Republican candidates are not in the race.

So what is it about Christie that makes him so likable, even when he’s taking shots at the opposition? And what exactly does he have that the presidential candidates are lacking?

Obviously there’s his confidence, the sense that he has a real comfort with his own beliefs. He’s grounded enough in his principles to actually listen to the critique from the other side, which is how he ends up cutting through the nonsense that a lot of other politicians overlook or get bogged down in. That solid foundation is missing in both Romney and Gingrich. For Romney, it means he can’t effectively articulate the principles he claims to believe in. For Gingrich, it means he switches sides without explanation when it’s politically opportune.

Gingrich and Santorum also seem to lack Christie’s faith in the rationality of the public. They condescend to voters. Gingrich often panders. Meanwhile, Santorum can come off as bitter and defensive during arguments, giving the impression that he feels his ideas are under siege by a large portion of the public who can’t be reasoned with.

Christie’s strengths are ones most lacking in the current field. And that’s why the calls for him to run won’t let up, even when it’s clearly not going to happen.

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The Truth About Buffett and Taxes

For show-and-tell at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Obama had Warren Buffett’s secretary sitting next to the First Lady. Debbie Bosenek has become the poster child for the allegation that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of federal taxes.

But Buffett’s secretary is not exactly poverty stricken. On “Fox and Friends” this morning, it was reported that she earns $200,000 a year. CEO’s secretaries, on average, earn $67,000, according to Michael Patrick Leahy. She has also apparently bought a second house, in Arizona.

According to Buffett’s article in the New York Times last August, he pays far less in taxes than the working stiffs in his office:

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For show-and-tell at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Obama had Warren Buffett’s secretary sitting next to the First Lady. Debbie Bosenek has become the poster child for the allegation that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of federal taxes.

But Buffett’s secretary is not exactly poverty stricken. On “Fox and Friends” this morning, it was reported that she earns $200,000 a year. CEO’s secretaries, on average, earn $67,000, according to Michael Patrick Leahy. She has also apparently bought a second house, in Arizona.

According to Buffett’s article in the New York Times last August, he pays far less in taxes than the working stiffs in his office:

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If Warren Buffett submitted a filing at the SEC this dishonest, he’d be in big trouble. But, since this fits the party line, the president took it as gospel, and the mainstream media has carefully refrained from asking any inconvenient questions. (h/t Powerline).

By conflating payroll (FICA) taxes and income taxes, Buffett is playing the intellectual equivalent of three-card monte. FICA taxes are collected only on wages, to a limited amount, in order to provide a limited income in retirement. Technically, they are not taxes at all, but “contributions,” (although I wouldn’t recommend deciding not to contribute). The fact that the federal government commingles these contributions with general revenues in order to make the federal deficit look better is a disgrace. Since Buffett’s income comes overwhelmingly from investment income and he is one of the richest people in the world, of course the people working for him in his office pay a higher percentage of their incomes in FICA taxes.

And, as I have discussed earlier, he ignores the fact that his investment income, from dividends and capital gains, has already been taxed–at 35 percent–at the corporate level. So the personal taxes he pays on it are double taxation. His actual effective tax rate is closer to 44 percent than 15 percent. He’s paying far more in taxes, as a percentage of income, than his secretary.

People sometimes have trouble grasping that corporate profits are the profits of the stockholders, especially as the corporate income tax has been in place for 100 years now. So let me see if I can make clear what is involved here.

Say a man owns a house he rents out. His income from the property, after expenses, is $25,000. He’s in the 30 percent bracket, so he pays $7,500 in taxes on the income and the $17,500 remaining is his.

Now, in an effort to make the rich pay their fair share (and, of course, anyone who owns rental property is rich, at least in liberal newspeak), the federal government decides to require that all rental properties must file their own tax returns and pay a 35 percent tax on income after expenses. That means that the house itself now pays an income tax of $8750. It then sends the rest, $16,250 on to the owner. But he’s in the 30 percent bracket himself, so he has to pay 30 percent on what he gets after the house has paid its taxes, $4875. So now he’s left with $11,375 to spend or save, not $17,500. Thus, the owner is now paying a tax of 45.5 percent on his rental income, not 30 percent.

For someone as good as Warren Buffett at numbers and financial analysis to call 45.5 percent 30 percent is to tell a bald-face lie. For President Obama and the mainstream media to call it truth is, well, typical.

 

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not even Dana Milbank can make excuses for Imam Abdul Rauf: “He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.”

Not even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is advocating a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. “If [Republicans] were to come back and say, ‘hey, let’s just do one year for the top 2 percent, and permanent for the middle class,’ that would be something that obviously people would have to think about,’ Van Hollen said in an interview with Bloomberg this past weekend. Van Hollen’s suggestion partially mirrors a plan outlined by former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who argued that Democrats and Republicans should back a fixed two year extension of all the tax cuts and then end them altogether.”

Not even Senate Democrats want to end the Bush tax cuts: “[T]he list of Senate Democrats in favor of an extension is now up to five. Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Ben Nelson (Warren Buffett) were already on board, and this week Connecticut Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s Jim Webb came around.”

Not even Connecticut is safe for the Democrats. “Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in Connecticut, a state he carried by an overwhelming margin 2 years ago. A majority of likely voters — 52% — in the Quinnipiac poll disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president. Only 45% approve of his performance. The Quinnipiac survey found Blumenthal leading former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 6 points — 51% to 45%.” Hey, if Scott Brown can win “Ted Kennedy’s seat” then McMahon can win ” Chris Dodd’s seat.”

Not even competent, says Mona Charen, of the president: “The president himself doesn’t at all concede that government is attempting to do too much (and failing at most of it). On the contrary, his vanity (and it is a common one for left-wingers) is that he believes his particular ideas on business investment, medical procedures, housing, and thousands of other matters are the solutions to our woes, but ‘politics’ keeps getting in the way.” All that Ivy League education did, it seems, is convince Obama of his own brilliance.

Not even Imam Abdul Rauf may be able to resist pressure to move the Ground Zero mosque. Now he’s telling us it is all about serving Lower Manhattan’s Muslim residents. Gosh, seems like there already are mosques in the neighborhood.

Not even second place for Charlie Crist if this trend continues: “The independent Senate bid of Florida Governor Charlie Crist is in serious trouble, according to a new Fox News poll. Crist drew 27 percent of likely voters in the poll of the three-way race. Republican Marco Rubio registered 43 percent support. Democrat Kendrick Meek came in third with 21 percent.” Republican Senate candidates also lead in the Fox poll in Nevada (by one point), Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Barbara Boxer is up by only 2 points.

Not even Dana Milbank can make excuses for Imam Abdul Rauf: “He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.”

Not even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is advocating a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. “If [Republicans] were to come back and say, ‘hey, let’s just do one year for the top 2 percent, and permanent for the middle class,’ that would be something that obviously people would have to think about,’ Van Hollen said in an interview with Bloomberg this past weekend. Van Hollen’s suggestion partially mirrors a plan outlined by former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who argued that Democrats and Republicans should back a fixed two year extension of all the tax cuts and then end them altogether.”

Not even Senate Democrats want to end the Bush tax cuts: “[T]he list of Senate Democrats in favor of an extension is now up to five. Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Ben Nelson (Warren Buffett) were already on board, and this week Connecticut Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s Jim Webb came around.”

Not even Connecticut is safe for the Democrats. “Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in Connecticut, a state he carried by an overwhelming margin 2 years ago. A majority of likely voters — 52% — in the Quinnipiac poll disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president. Only 45% approve of his performance. The Quinnipiac survey found Blumenthal leading former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 6 points — 51% to 45%.” Hey, if Scott Brown can win “Ted Kennedy’s seat” then McMahon can win ” Chris Dodd’s seat.”

Not even competent, says Mona Charen, of the president: “The president himself doesn’t at all concede that government is attempting to do too much (and failing at most of it). On the contrary, his vanity (and it is a common one for left-wingers) is that he believes his particular ideas on business investment, medical procedures, housing, and thousands of other matters are the solutions to our woes, but ‘politics’ keeps getting in the way.” All that Ivy League education did, it seems, is convince Obama of his own brilliance.

Not even Imam Abdul Rauf may be able to resist pressure to move the Ground Zero mosque. Now he’s telling us it is all about serving Lower Manhattan’s Muslim residents. Gosh, seems like there already are mosques in the neighborhood.

Not even second place for Charlie Crist if this trend continues: “The independent Senate bid of Florida Governor Charlie Crist is in serious trouble, according to a new Fox News poll. Crist drew 27 percent of likely voters in the poll of the three-way race. Republican Marco Rubio registered 43 percent support. Democrat Kendrick Meek came in third with 21 percent.” Republican Senate candidates also lead in the Fox poll in Nevada (by one point), Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Barbara Boxer is up by only 2 points.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Warren Buffett doesn’t think Goldman Sachs did anything wrong: “t doesn’t make any difference whether it was Paulson on the other side of the deal or whether Goldman was on the other side of the deal or whether Berkshire was on the other side of the deal.”

Obama sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help Congressional Democrats: “President Barack Obama’s Washington-bashing could boomerang on his own party in Congress if he’s not careful, House Democratic leaders warned White House senior adviser Daivd Axelrod in a closed-door meeting Thursday. The fear — raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — is that Democrats have more to lose if anti-Washington sentiment is not directed at one party or the other.” Somehow Obama thinks voters won’t notice that he’s part of Washington.

Hezbollah and Syria have gotten the idea that the Obami aren’t going to do anything about the Scud missiles in Lebanon: “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Lebanese militia had a ‘legal and humanitarian’ right to amass weapons in order to protect those ‘oppressed and threatened by Israel,’ Israel Radio reported Saturday.”

The Gray Lady criticizes Obama for not doing anything about the Florida oil spill for days: “The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative. A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush’s hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.” Ouch.

Big Insurance can’t find anything wrong with the Obami’s financial-reform bill. But “don’t expect this fact to get in the way of Obama portraying this bill as a broadside to the special interests. And that reformer-vs-industry narrative, like an old blanket or a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, is too familiar and too comfortable for the mainstream press to shed.”

Matt Continetti doesn’t see anything that will absorb Obama and his fellow Democrats as much as bullying his opponents: “Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. The euro zone is in crisis. The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10 percent. America’s social insurance programs threaten to bankrupt the country. And—most unusual—the Washington Nationals are above .500. But rest easy. None of this is distracting the Obama administration and congressional Democrats from their full-time occupation: demonizing the political opposition.”

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think Charlie Crist’s independent run changes much of anything in the senate outlook: “Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.” He thinks “the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control).”

Is anything going the Democrats’ way? Not really, says Charlie Cook: “The most recent, and quite compelling, bad omen surfaced in an April 27 Gallup report. The polling organization found that, based on interviews with more than 5,000 registered voters from April 1-25, Democrats had a 4-point lead in the generic congressional ballot test among those ‘not enthusiastic about voting.’ Among the all-important ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd, aka the folks most likely to vote, Democrats trailed by a whopping 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent. . . . Even Democratic analysts don’t express much optimism about their party’s chances this fall.”

Warren Buffett doesn’t think Goldman Sachs did anything wrong: “t doesn’t make any difference whether it was Paulson on the other side of the deal or whether Goldman was on the other side of the deal or whether Berkshire was on the other side of the deal.”

Obama sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help Congressional Democrats: “President Barack Obama’s Washington-bashing could boomerang on his own party in Congress if he’s not careful, House Democratic leaders warned White House senior adviser Daivd Axelrod in a closed-door meeting Thursday. The fear — raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — is that Democrats have more to lose if anti-Washington sentiment is not directed at one party or the other.” Somehow Obama thinks voters won’t notice that he’s part of Washington.

Hezbollah and Syria have gotten the idea that the Obami aren’t going to do anything about the Scud missiles in Lebanon: “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Lebanese militia had a ‘legal and humanitarian’ right to amass weapons in order to protect those ‘oppressed and threatened by Israel,’ Israel Radio reported Saturday.”

The Gray Lady criticizes Obama for not doing anything about the Florida oil spill for days: “The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative. A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush’s hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.” Ouch.

Big Insurance can’t find anything wrong with the Obami’s financial-reform bill. But “don’t expect this fact to get in the way of Obama portraying this bill as a broadside to the special interests. And that reformer-vs-industry narrative, like an old blanket or a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, is too familiar and too comfortable for the mainstream press to shed.”

Matt Continetti doesn’t see anything that will absorb Obama and his fellow Democrats as much as bullying his opponents: “Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. The euro zone is in crisis. The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10 percent. America’s social insurance programs threaten to bankrupt the country. And—most unusual—the Washington Nationals are above .500. But rest easy. None of this is distracting the Obama administration and congressional Democrats from their full-time occupation: demonizing the political opposition.”

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think Charlie Crist’s independent run changes much of anything in the senate outlook: “Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.” He thinks “the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control).”

Is anything going the Democrats’ way? Not really, says Charlie Cook: “The most recent, and quite compelling, bad omen surfaced in an April 27 Gallup report. The polling organization found that, based on interviews with more than 5,000 registered voters from April 1-25, Democrats had a 4-point lead in the generic congressional ballot test among those ‘not enthusiastic about voting.’ Among the all-important ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd, aka the folks most likely to vote, Democrats trailed by a whopping 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent. . . . Even Democratic analysts don’t express much optimism about their party’s chances this fall.”

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Tax Day

“Can I deduct the cost of marijuana if it’s for medical use?”

“Only if you’re filing a joint return.”

The Cato Institute has an excellent short film on all that is wrong with the federal tax system. In short, that system violates all four principles of taxation described by Adam Smith:

1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

As Warren Buffett complained, his effective tax rate is half that of his secretary.

2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary.

The system is so complex that not even professionals can be sure what people owe. Send out the tax information of a middle-class couple with children to six tax accountants and they will come up with six different sums owed. That experiment has been run numerous times. The advice the IRS itself gives out is frequently wrong.

3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it.

Most people never see the money, as it never gets into their paychecks. Those with incomes not subject to withholding must estimate in January, April, July, and October, regardless of whether those months are convenient.

4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state.

Well over 50 percent of filers hire people to fill out the forms because they can’t understand them. The corporate income tax is even worse. As the Wall Street Journal explains today, the cost of complying with the corporate income tax this year will equal 89 percent of the revenues received by the government. General Electric’s tax return, filed electronically, will be the equivalent of 24,000 pages long.

The current tax system benefits two groups: the rich and powerful, who are able to lobby Congress for loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc., and the 535 members of Congress, who sell those loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc. Yes, sell. They are traded for campaign contributions. It’s as legal as it is disgraceful.

There is no reforming the current system, as it is permeated with corruption. But Congress is utterly unable to write a new tax code from scratch. If this country is to ever get out from under a tax code that has become a clear and present danger to American prosperity and power, it will have to be done using a means similar to the military base closings after the Cold War: in secret, with Congress voting up or down, no amendments.

Only overwhelming pressure will make that happen. That’s another reason why the 2010 election might turn out to be the most consequential midterm election in American history.

“Can I deduct the cost of marijuana if it’s for medical use?”

“Only if you’re filing a joint return.”

The Cato Institute has an excellent short film on all that is wrong with the federal tax system. In short, that system violates all four principles of taxation described by Adam Smith:

1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

As Warren Buffett complained, his effective tax rate is half that of his secretary.

2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary.

The system is so complex that not even professionals can be sure what people owe. Send out the tax information of a middle-class couple with children to six tax accountants and they will come up with six different sums owed. That experiment has been run numerous times. The advice the IRS itself gives out is frequently wrong.

3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it.

Most people never see the money, as it never gets into their paychecks. Those with incomes not subject to withholding must estimate in January, April, July, and October, regardless of whether those months are convenient.

4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state.

Well over 50 percent of filers hire people to fill out the forms because they can’t understand them. The corporate income tax is even worse. As the Wall Street Journal explains today, the cost of complying with the corporate income tax this year will equal 89 percent of the revenues received by the government. General Electric’s tax return, filed electronically, will be the equivalent of 24,000 pages long.

The current tax system benefits two groups: the rich and powerful, who are able to lobby Congress for loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc., and the 535 members of Congress, who sell those loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc. Yes, sell. They are traded for campaign contributions. It’s as legal as it is disgraceful.

There is no reforming the current system, as it is permeated with corruption. But Congress is utterly unable to write a new tax code from scratch. If this country is to ever get out from under a tax code that has become a clear and present danger to American prosperity and power, it will have to be done using a means similar to the military base closings after the Cold War: in secret, with Congress voting up or down, no amendments.

Only overwhelming pressure will make that happen. That’s another reason why the 2010 election might turn out to be the most consequential midterm election in American history.

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Eloquent No More

The mainstream media is slowly waking up to the fact that Obama is a bore. No, really. He’s long since stopped saying anything new or interesting, and he talks constantly, at great length. So when he went into a mind-numbing filibuster to a perfectly reasonable question from a woman at a Q&A session in Charlotte as to whether it was smart to throw a load of new taxes into health-care “reform,” not even the Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut could conceal her — and the audience’s — disdain for the Condescender in Chief:

He then spent the next 17 minutes and 12 seconds lulling the crowd into a daze. His discursive answer — more than 2,500 words long — wandered from topic to topic, including commentary on the deficit, pay-as-you-go rules passed by Congress, Congressional Budget Office reports on Medicare waste, COBRA coverage, the Recovery Act and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (he referred to this last item by its inside-the-Beltway name, “F-Map”). He talked about the notion of eliminating foreign aid (not worth it, he said). He invoked Warren Buffett, earmarks, and the payroll tax that funds Medicare (referring to it, in fluent Washington lingo, as “FICA”). . .

Halfway through, an audience member on the riser yawned.

But Obama wasn’t finished. He had a “final point,” before starting again with another list — of three points.

“What we said is, number one, we’ll have the basic principle that everybody gets coverage,” he said, before launching into the next two points, for a grand total of seven.

His wandering approach might not matter if Obama weren’t being billed as the chief salesman of the health-care overhaul. Public opinion on the bill remains divided, and Democratic officials are planning to send Obama into the country to persuade wary citizens that it will work for them in the long run.

It was not evident that he changed any minds at Friday’s event. The audience sat politely, but people in the back of the room began to wander off.

And, of course, he never answered the lady’s question. Why is it we are raising taxes for those making less than $200,000? Why are we raising $52.3 billion in new taxes over 10 years? Obama has no response, or no effective one, to these queries; so he vamps and bloviates, as he did in the health-care summit when confronted with troublesome facts to which he had no adequate response (e.g., Rep.Paul Ryan’s list of fiscal tricks). Just as he failed to keep the attention of the Charlotte crowd, he’s long since lost the American people who now tune him out. Eloquent? Hardly. Persuasive? Not in the least, as evidenced by multiple polls showing that a large majority of Americans aren’t buying his health-care arguments. (And he’s eroding his party’s credibility on issues over which they previously held a commanding advantage. Rasmussen reports, for example: “Following the passage of the health care bill, 53% now say they trust Republicans on the issue of health care. Thirty-seven percent (37%) place their trust in Democrats.”)

His rhetoric (which to the amazement of many conservatives – who noticed he was largely talking New Age gibberish during the campaign – transfixed a great number of people for a very long time) is now seen for what it is — a smokescreen for bad ideas and an exercise in misdirection. Unfortunately for Obama, he may discover that once the president has lost the interest and trust of the voters, it’s hard to get these precious commodities back.

The mainstream media is slowly waking up to the fact that Obama is a bore. No, really. He’s long since stopped saying anything new or interesting, and he talks constantly, at great length. So when he went into a mind-numbing filibuster to a perfectly reasonable question from a woman at a Q&A session in Charlotte as to whether it was smart to throw a load of new taxes into health-care “reform,” not even the Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut could conceal her — and the audience’s — disdain for the Condescender in Chief:

He then spent the next 17 minutes and 12 seconds lulling the crowd into a daze. His discursive answer — more than 2,500 words long — wandered from topic to topic, including commentary on the deficit, pay-as-you-go rules passed by Congress, Congressional Budget Office reports on Medicare waste, COBRA coverage, the Recovery Act and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (he referred to this last item by its inside-the-Beltway name, “F-Map”). He talked about the notion of eliminating foreign aid (not worth it, he said). He invoked Warren Buffett, earmarks, and the payroll tax that funds Medicare (referring to it, in fluent Washington lingo, as “FICA”). . .

Halfway through, an audience member on the riser yawned.

But Obama wasn’t finished. He had a “final point,” before starting again with another list — of three points.

“What we said is, number one, we’ll have the basic principle that everybody gets coverage,” he said, before launching into the next two points, for a grand total of seven.

His wandering approach might not matter if Obama weren’t being billed as the chief salesman of the health-care overhaul. Public opinion on the bill remains divided, and Democratic officials are planning to send Obama into the country to persuade wary citizens that it will work for them in the long run.

It was not evident that he changed any minds at Friday’s event. The audience sat politely, but people in the back of the room began to wander off.

And, of course, he never answered the lady’s question. Why is it we are raising taxes for those making less than $200,000? Why are we raising $52.3 billion in new taxes over 10 years? Obama has no response, or no effective one, to these queries; so he vamps and bloviates, as he did in the health-care summit when confronted with troublesome facts to which he had no adequate response (e.g., Rep.Paul Ryan’s list of fiscal tricks). Just as he failed to keep the attention of the Charlotte crowd, he’s long since lost the American people who now tune him out. Eloquent? Hardly. Persuasive? Not in the least, as evidenced by multiple polls showing that a large majority of Americans aren’t buying his health-care arguments. (And he’s eroding his party’s credibility on issues over which they previously held a commanding advantage. Rasmussen reports, for example: “Following the passage of the health care bill, 53% now say they trust Republicans on the issue of health care. Thirty-seven percent (37%) place their trust in Democrats.”)

His rhetoric (which to the amazement of many conservatives – who noticed he was largely talking New Age gibberish during the campaign – transfixed a great number of people for a very long time) is now seen for what it is — a smokescreen for bad ideas and an exercise in misdirection. Unfortunately for Obama, he may discover that once the president has lost the interest and trust of the voters, it’s hard to get these precious commodities back.

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Whom Do You Trust More?

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so – just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so – just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

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A Fiscal Suicide Pact

If you believe the Obama administration (and I doubt there is a person on the planet not in custodial care who actually does), ObamaCare will, if enacted, save the government $132 billion over the next 10 years. In the world ordinary citizens live in, one of mortgage payments and tuition bills, that sounds like a lot of money, more than the net worth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined.

In the world of Washington, however, it’s chump change, an average of $13.2 billion a year, when the government will spend $3.7 trillion this year alone. Indeed, as Hotair points out, $132 billion is equal to only 59 percent of the deficit that the federal government racked up just in the month of February 2010, when the government spent $220.9 billion more than  it took in, the highest monthly shortfall in history.

As Michael Barone and others have noted, Nancy Pelosi seems to be having increasing trouble rounding up votes to jam ObamaCare through the House. The fact that it would be a political suicide pact for Democratic congressmen is surely the speaker’s biggest problem. But that it would be a fiscal suicide pact for the federal government might be an increasing factor. Only in Washington, after all, do people have trouble understanding what “we can’t afford it” means.

If you believe the Obama administration (and I doubt there is a person on the planet not in custodial care who actually does), ObamaCare will, if enacted, save the government $132 billion over the next 10 years. In the world ordinary citizens live in, one of mortgage payments and tuition bills, that sounds like a lot of money, more than the net worth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined.

In the world of Washington, however, it’s chump change, an average of $13.2 billion a year, when the government will spend $3.7 trillion this year alone. Indeed, as Hotair points out, $132 billion is equal to only 59 percent of the deficit that the federal government racked up just in the month of February 2010, when the government spent $220.9 billion more than  it took in, the highest monthly shortfall in history.

As Michael Barone and others have noted, Nancy Pelosi seems to be having increasing trouble rounding up votes to jam ObamaCare through the House. The fact that it would be a political suicide pact for Democratic congressmen is surely the speaker’s biggest problem. But that it would be a fiscal suicide pact for the federal government might be an increasing factor. Only in Washington, after all, do people have trouble understanding what “we can’t afford it” means.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams on the selective indignation over Liz Cheney’s criticism of Justice Department lawyers who previously worked for al-Qaeda clients: “Where were all these principled folk when [John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee were being attacked for giving a legal opinion? As Ted Olson said, why is it fine to protect a terrorist client but not the client called the USA? I refused to join those who want to push half the argument- and then excommunicate those on the other half. That’s left-right politics, not a principled argument.” And it’s perfectly legitimate to explore whether those lawyers have a conflict of interest because of past representation.

Scott Johnson lays out the tick-tock on Sami al-Arian and concludes that “Tom Campbell flunks the al-Arian test.”

The Ohio Senate seat looks safe for the Republicans: “None of the top contenders for the U.S. Senate in Ohio are gaining ground at this point, with Republican Rob Portman still holding a modest lead. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Portman leading Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 39%.”

The president obsessed with campaigning rails against the Washington scene, which is “obsessed with the sport of politics.”

Because you can never have too many foolish blabbermouths: “Biden Brings Chris Matthews to Israel.”

Roger Clegg on the Obami’s idea of “civil rights” in education policy: searching for evidence of disparate impact in school discipline policies. “The disparate-impact approach will also pressure school systems who are not engaged in actual discrimination to get their numbers right, so they won’t be investigated. And how will they do that? There are two ways: Either they will start to discipline, say, Asian students who are not really deserving of such discipline, or they will forego disciplining, say, black students who really ought to be disciplined. The former is merely unfair; the latter, which is the more likely outcome, will be disastrous for all children in the school system, of whatever color.”

Chris Buckley supports Warren Buffett on health care (scrap it!): “I, for one, would sleep very soundly if Warren Buffett were president of the United States, or speaker of the House, or Senate majority leader, or chairman of the Joint Chiefs, yeah.” Alas, he told everyone to vote for Obama, whose monstrous health-care plan Buffett wants to dump.

Two more pro-life Democrats say “no” to ObamaCare without the Stupak anti-abortion-subsidy language.

The buzzards are circling the Charlie Crist campaign: “National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn said Monday that his endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s GOP Senate primary was ‘selfish’ and that the committee will not stand in Marco Rubio’s way. Cornyn (R-Texas) said he stuck by the endorsement, but he also began minimizing it, now that it looks like Crist may well lose the primary. Recent polls have shown Rubio stealing virtually all the momentum in the race and opening a lead over Crist.”

More buzzards, via Ben Smith: “Alexi Giannoulias — an old Obama ally, but not his preferred candidate — will be by the White House for Greek Independence Day tomorrow. … I’m told he’s likely to stop in and chat with political aides like Axelrod and Patrick Gaspard, part of a running effort to convince national Democrats not to write the race off.” Or look for a replacement.

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams on the selective indignation over Liz Cheney’s criticism of Justice Department lawyers who previously worked for al-Qaeda clients: “Where were all these principled folk when [John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee were being attacked for giving a legal opinion? As Ted Olson said, why is it fine to protect a terrorist client but not the client called the USA? I refused to join those who want to push half the argument- and then excommunicate those on the other half. That’s left-right politics, not a principled argument.” And it’s perfectly legitimate to explore whether those lawyers have a conflict of interest because of past representation.

Scott Johnson lays out the tick-tock on Sami al-Arian and concludes that “Tom Campbell flunks the al-Arian test.”

The Ohio Senate seat looks safe for the Republicans: “None of the top contenders for the U.S. Senate in Ohio are gaining ground at this point, with Republican Rob Portman still holding a modest lead. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Portman leading Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 39%.”

The president obsessed with campaigning rails against the Washington scene, which is “obsessed with the sport of politics.”

Because you can never have too many foolish blabbermouths: “Biden Brings Chris Matthews to Israel.”

Roger Clegg on the Obami’s idea of “civil rights” in education policy: searching for evidence of disparate impact in school discipline policies. “The disparate-impact approach will also pressure school systems who are not engaged in actual discrimination to get their numbers right, so they won’t be investigated. And how will they do that? There are two ways: Either they will start to discipline, say, Asian students who are not really deserving of such discipline, or they will forego disciplining, say, black students who really ought to be disciplined. The former is merely unfair; the latter, which is the more likely outcome, will be disastrous for all children in the school system, of whatever color.”

Chris Buckley supports Warren Buffett on health care (scrap it!): “I, for one, would sleep very soundly if Warren Buffett were president of the United States, or speaker of the House, or Senate majority leader, or chairman of the Joint Chiefs, yeah.” Alas, he told everyone to vote for Obama, whose monstrous health-care plan Buffett wants to dump.

Two more pro-life Democrats say “no” to ObamaCare without the Stupak anti-abortion-subsidy language.

The buzzards are circling the Charlie Crist campaign: “National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn said Monday that his endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s GOP Senate primary was ‘selfish’ and that the committee will not stand in Marco Rubio’s way. Cornyn (R-Texas) said he stuck by the endorsement, but he also began minimizing it, now that it looks like Crist may well lose the primary. Recent polls have shown Rubio stealing virtually all the momentum in the race and opening a lead over Crist.”

More buzzards, via Ben Smith: “Alexi Giannoulias — an old Obama ally, but not his preferred candidate — will be by the White House for Greek Independence Day tomorrow. … I’m told he’s likely to stop in and chat with political aides like Axelrod and Patrick Gaspard, part of a running effort to convince national Democrats not to write the race off.” Or look for a replacement.

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Bending the Cost Curve Down

As Jennifer pointed out this morning Warren Buffett thinks the Obama administration should “come up with new [health care] legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” So does everyone else who thinks health-care reform should be about reforming the wildly distorted health-care economics in this country and about not expanding government control over it — which is the sole purpose of ObamaCare.

If you want a textbook example of how to “bend the cost curve down,” I recommend taking a look at the state of Indiana and how it funds health care for its employees. The governor, Mitch Daniels, explained it yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The state of Indiana puts $2,750 into a medical savings account for every state employee who signs up for this sort of coverage. (When it started five years ago, 4 percent signed up; this year 70 percent signed up.) The employee then pays all medical expenses out of that account. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it’s the employee’s to keep. If expenses exceed that sum, the state shares expenses up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000 and covers all expenses above that sum.

The program has been a huge success, saving millions for both employees and the state. Why? As Governor Daniels explains,

It turns out that, when someone is spending his own money alone for routine expenses, he is far more likely to ask the questions he would ask if purchasing any other good or service: “Is there a generic version of that drug?” “Didn’t I take that same test just recently?” “Where can I get the colonoscopy at the best price?”

In other words, a system that incentivizes health-care consumers (that’s everybody) to ask the magic question, “How much is this going to cost?” will drain billions of wasted money out of the health-care system, as Indiana has already demonstrated.

The “great mentioner” is increasingly mentioning Governor Daniels as a possible 2012 Republican nominee for president. Michael Barone explains why. He’s a man to watch.

As Jennifer pointed out this morning Warren Buffett thinks the Obama administration should “come up with new [health care] legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” So does everyone else who thinks health-care reform should be about reforming the wildly distorted health-care economics in this country and about not expanding government control over it — which is the sole purpose of ObamaCare.

If you want a textbook example of how to “bend the cost curve down,” I recommend taking a look at the state of Indiana and how it funds health care for its employees. The governor, Mitch Daniels, explained it yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The state of Indiana puts $2,750 into a medical savings account for every state employee who signs up for this sort of coverage. (When it started five years ago, 4 percent signed up; this year 70 percent signed up.) The employee then pays all medical expenses out of that account. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it’s the employee’s to keep. If expenses exceed that sum, the state shares expenses up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000 and covers all expenses above that sum.

The program has been a huge success, saving millions for both employees and the state. Why? As Governor Daniels explains,

It turns out that, when someone is spending his own money alone for routine expenses, he is far more likely to ask the questions he would ask if purchasing any other good or service: “Is there a generic version of that drug?” “Didn’t I take that same test just recently?” “Where can I get the colonoscopy at the best price?”

In other words, a system that incentivizes health-care consumers (that’s everybody) to ask the magic question, “How much is this going to cost?” will drain billions of wasted money out of the health-care system, as Indiana has already demonstrated.

The “great mentioner” is increasingly mentioning Governor Daniels as a possible 2012 Republican nominee for president. Michael Barone explains why. He’s a man to watch.

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The Inactive President

It’s been quite a week. Democrats are fleeing for retirement. The president has spent days in meetings with national-security advisers and fending off claims that he does not take his job as commander in chief seriously. The Republican Senate candidate in Massachusetts has the momentum. And C-SPAN, joined by the rest of the media, is bashing the Obami for reneging on their promise to televise the health-care negotiations. Who’d have thought that this is what the Obama presidency would look like?

Obama and his party seem to be careering from one political debacle to the next, waiting for the next high-profile incumbent to drop out and bracing themselves for the next round of criticism, which is sure to follow another in a series of damage-control statements. The “No Drama Obama” has been replaced by the Perils of Pauline presidency. (Or is it the Keystone Kops?) The aura of competence has been shattered, replaced by the realization that the president finds governance very, very hard and has accomplished quite little despite large congressional majorities.

It’s ironic that Obama most likely sealed his election win during those fateful days in September 2008 when the financial sector seemed to melt before our eyes. Sen. John McCain was the frantic one then. (The campaign is off! It’s on!) Obama did virtually nothing – merely staging thoughtful meetings with Paul Volker and Warren Buffett and saying rather little. That, with the help of a fawning media, was enough to convince a majority of voters that he was good in a crisis, calm and reflective. What he wasn’t then — and what he has not been since taking office — was assertive, bold, decisive, or innovative. He just had a lot of meetings.

And that’s what he does now — have meetings (endlessly) on Afghanistan, the Christmas Day bombing, jobs, and the rest. There is a professorial or perhaps bureaucratic quality to it, as if the meetings themselves were the solution or the appearance of thoughtful discussion would soothe the public. But that’s what gets you through a campaign. Now, when he’s invested with the full power and responsibility of the presidency, he doesn’t appear to be leading or setting policy. Rather, he’s buffeted by one or another crisis.

His policies may be wrongheaded and may have put off many voters. Certainly that’s part of what ails him and what’s caused his poll numbers to plummet. But it’s his persona that is especially disconcerting. There is a void, an absence of resolute leadership. It’s not enough to seem calm and have meetings. He needs to do something. Right now, what he’s doing mainly is reacting to events and hoping the public and media will calm down. And that’s not what we expect of our president.

George W. Bush was mocked when he referred to himself as the “Decider.” But come to think of it, that’s what we could use — a no-nonsense and decisive leader who can (as Bush did on the Iraq war) see when policy has gone awry, fire advisers, and communicate complete determination to achieve his aims. We could use some of that now. And fewer meetings.

It’s been quite a week. Democrats are fleeing for retirement. The president has spent days in meetings with national-security advisers and fending off claims that he does not take his job as commander in chief seriously. The Republican Senate candidate in Massachusetts has the momentum. And C-SPAN, joined by the rest of the media, is bashing the Obami for reneging on their promise to televise the health-care negotiations. Who’d have thought that this is what the Obama presidency would look like?

Obama and his party seem to be careering from one political debacle to the next, waiting for the next high-profile incumbent to drop out and bracing themselves for the next round of criticism, which is sure to follow another in a series of damage-control statements. The “No Drama Obama” has been replaced by the Perils of Pauline presidency. (Or is it the Keystone Kops?) The aura of competence has been shattered, replaced by the realization that the president finds governance very, very hard and has accomplished quite little despite large congressional majorities.

It’s ironic that Obama most likely sealed his election win during those fateful days in September 2008 when the financial sector seemed to melt before our eyes. Sen. John McCain was the frantic one then. (The campaign is off! It’s on!) Obama did virtually nothing – merely staging thoughtful meetings with Paul Volker and Warren Buffett and saying rather little. That, with the help of a fawning media, was enough to convince a majority of voters that he was good in a crisis, calm and reflective. What he wasn’t then — and what he has not been since taking office — was assertive, bold, decisive, or innovative. He just had a lot of meetings.

And that’s what he does now — have meetings (endlessly) on Afghanistan, the Christmas Day bombing, jobs, and the rest. There is a professorial or perhaps bureaucratic quality to it, as if the meetings themselves were the solution or the appearance of thoughtful discussion would soothe the public. But that’s what gets you through a campaign. Now, when he’s invested with the full power and responsibility of the presidency, he doesn’t appear to be leading or setting policy. Rather, he’s buffeted by one or another crisis.

His policies may be wrongheaded and may have put off many voters. Certainly that’s part of what ails him and what’s caused his poll numbers to plummet. But it’s his persona that is especially disconcerting. There is a void, an absence of resolute leadership. It’s not enough to seem calm and have meetings. He needs to do something. Right now, what he’s doing mainly is reacting to events and hoping the public and media will calm down. And that’s not what we expect of our president.

George W. Bush was mocked when he referred to himself as the “Decider.” But come to think of it, that’s what we could use — a no-nonsense and decisive leader who can (as Bush did on the Iraq war) see when policy has gone awry, fire advisers, and communicate complete determination to achieve his aims. We could use some of that now. And fewer meetings.

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