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Social Insecurity

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The Crisis That Wasn’t.

“It’s hard to escape the sense that debt panic was promoted because it served a political purpose — that many people were pushing the notion of a debt crisis as a way to attack Social Security and Medicare. And they did immense damage along the way, diverting the nation’s attention from its real problems — crippling unemployment, deteriorating infrastructure and more — for years on end.”

In the NYT, Paul Krugman reviews the waning of the deficit witchhunt. “I’m not sure whether most readers realize just how thoroughly the great fiscal panic has fizzled — and the deficit scolds are, of course, still scolding.” Of course they are. Now would be the time for embarrassment, if the Simpson-Bowles types out there were capable of it.

Geithner: Wrong on Everything

“At every turn on housing — on mass refinancing, on principal reduction, on leverage for homeowners in the bankruptcy process, on forcing banks to write down mortgages, on a modern-day HOLC–the evidence points to Tim Geithner preferring whatever option put the least pressure on banks, rather than actually helping ordinary people. He made far more excuses to do nothing than any effort to make a difference…In fact, the programs were never meant to help homeowners, designed only to ‘foam the runway’ for the banks, to spread out foreclosures and allow banks to absorb them.”

In the wake of Tim Geithner’s new rehab book tour — currently being aided and abetted by Wall Street’s usual court stenographer, Andrew Ross Sorkin — Dave Dayen says not so fast. “I don’t have to just focus on housing; this is indicative of Geithner’s worldview, which sees protecting the financial system at all costs as the only thing that matters.”

Yves Smith has also ably eviscerated Geithner’s game of “Three Card Monte”: “The entire edifice of the piece is a sleight of hand…The focus on TARP (and to a lesser degree, Lehman) allows Sorkin to omit mention of actions that were clearly Geithner’s doing…The bigger point, which is not lost on the public, was there were plenty of other options for saving the system. The one chosen, that left the banks largely unreformed and no one of any consequence punished, was clearly just about the worst of the available options, unless, of course, you are, like Geithner, a banker.”

And here’re economics and finance professors Atif Mian and Amir Sufi: “Whatever reasons he had for opposing assistance to underwater homeowners, a careful evaluation of the policy effects was not among them. The evidence is pretty clear: an aggressive bold attack on household debt would have significantly reduced the horrible impact of the Great Recession on Americans. The fact that Secretary Geithner and the Obama administration did not push for debt write-downs more aggressively remains the biggest policy mistake of the Great Recession.”

Noam Scheiber has his say in TNR: “[The article] inadvertently highlights something deeper about Geithner, which is the shocking extent to which he’s accepted financialization of the economy as a benign, even admirable, development. The people who spend their days shuffling trillions of dollars around the globe are really just like you and me, except with nicer offices. They deserve the same sympathy and respect, notwithstanding their abysmal track record. That blinkered view colors pretty much every one of Geithner’s utterances as he makes the rounds hawking books.”

Also of note: Geithner doesn’t seem to understand how Social Security works, and, in classic #ThisTown fashion, he — the Secretary of the Treasury! — just parrots the same ignorant Beltway line about zomg out-of-control entitlements as all Very Serious People™ do. To wit, from Geithner’s book:

“I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer [a senior advisor to the Obama White House] wanted me to say Social Security didn’t contribute to the deficit. It wasn’t a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a ‘dog whistle’ to the left…code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.”

And here’s the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik: “But let’s get to the nub. Does Social Security ‘contribute to the deficit’? The answer is, bluntly, no. By law, it can’t contribute to the federal deficit, because Social Security isn’t allowed to spend more than it takes in. Those who claim — as Geithner has at one point or another — both that the program contributes to the deficit yet will be forced to reduce benefits to retirees once its trust fund is depleted are trying to have things both ways: The reasoning behind the threat of reduced benefits is that Social Security can’t engage in spending money it doesn’t have, i.e., deficit spending. Pick one, fellas. If it can contribute to the deficit, then there’s no reason to cut benefits.”

So is there’s anything positive about Geithner’s rewriting of history here? Well, the Sorkin piece does include this telling anecdote: “At another point, [Geithner] cheerfully relayed a story that also appears in his book about the time he sought advice from Bill Clinton on how to pursue a more populist strategy: ‘You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley,’ Clinton said, ‘and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again.'”

Could somebody please tell me again why I should be excited about Hillary 2016?

Update: Sheila Bair offers her take. “On his book tour, to explain the need for bailouts, Tim has used a clever analogy of a pilot trying to land a plane that is on fire and in the back, sit the terrorists who started it. He argues that the pilot can’t leave the cockpit to put them in handcuffs. He first has to land the plane. The problem with this analogy is that the plane landed at the end of 2008. And let’s face it, instead of handcuffing the terrorists, we escorted them to the executive lounge.”

Ryan: Still Clownshoes.

“[S]everal economists and social scientists contacted on Monday had reactions ranging from bemusement to anger at Ryan’s report, claiming that he either misunderstood or misrepresented their research…The Columbia researchers found that, using their model of the SPM, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012. Ryan only cites data from 1969 onward, ignoring a full 36 percent of the decline.”

Still Clownshoes: Republican Serious Person™ Paul Ryan’s attempt to get super-serial about policy research turns out disastrously, as multiple authors he cites in his new anti-War on Poverty screed say that he’s misrepresented their work. “In my experience, usually you use all of the available data. There’s no justification given. It’s unfortunate because it really understates the progress we’ve made in reducing poverty.”

The above pic of the learned statesman in question via Mansplaining Paul Ryan dot tumblr dot com. Also, I see Jonathan Chait has already gone there, but this is the obvious movie reference here:

The Can Likes Kickbacks.

“In 2014, for the first time in three years, the vote to extend the nation’s debt ceiling did not bring the US to the brink of default in a high-stakes game of slash and burn…It was a striking turnaround for the forces of austerity. One of the biggest losers? The Campaign to Fix the Debt, the $40 million AstroTurf austerity group, financed by Pete Peterson and other Wall Street big wigs, and fronted by Maya MacGuineas, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Call it Alan Simpson’s last harrumph.”

In general, I think victory laps are a bad idea, especially since sequestration continues and it’s not like austerity is suddenly out of fashion in this godforsaken town. Nonetheless, The Nation‘s Mary Bottari looks at how citizen and netroots activism helped beat back (for now) the deficit witchhunt, and much of the corporate rapacity and profiteering attending it.

The pic above is my friend Alex Lawson crashing a Pete Peterson Astro-Turf event a few months ago. “‘Aaar!’ he said. ‘Fix the debt, but let me keep my corporate booty! Fix the Debt’s founders have more than $500 million in offshore corporate booty.'”

The Neverending Shutdown.

“[W]ith recovery still perilously weak in 2010, the obvious response would have been a second dose of stimulus spending. But the political world was already moving in the opposite direction…In the end, for reasons both political and ideological, Obama decided that he needed to demonstrate that he took the deficit seriously, and in his 2010 State of the Union address he did just that…The Beltway establishment may have applauded Obama’s pivot to the deficit, but much of the economic community saw it as nothing short of a debacle.”

It’s the Austerity, Stupid: In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum surveys the rise of deficit hysteria in the Beltway over the past several years, with particular attention paid to the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle. “It’s not as if we needed the skills of Nostradamus to predict the consequences of austerity. It’s pretty much textbook economics.” (Rhino via here.)

“It was an awful time. Federal employees had to take unpaid furlough days. Beneficiaries were thrown off of federal programs. Courthouses had to be sold. Federal agencies like the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health strained to meet commitments, leading to more crime, more outbreaks of disease and less basic research, among other horrors. This may sound like a description of the recent government shutdown, which ended October 16. But this describes the fallout from sequestration, the across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending that took effect March 1—arbitrary reductions that closely parallel the effects of the shutdown.”

Meanwhile, as David Dayen recently noted in The New Republic, the deficit witchhunt is continuing to wreak havoc across America, in the form of the sequestration budget. “Sequestration and artificial spending caps have become the new normal, and it’s redefining the role of government, rolling back the ambitions of the past, and constraining needed investments in the future. So let’s call it what it is: a government shutdown that’s infinitely worse than the one that just ended.”

Nihilists, Dude.

“‘It’s imperative to act now, Cruz warns, before the full benefits of Obamacare kick in and Americans get “hooked on the sugar, hooked on the subsidies.’ His plan: Yoke the defunding of Obamacare to the must-pass budget bill the House will take up in September. The endgame? To force a government shutdown so painful and protracted that Barack Obama would have no choice but to surrender the crown jewel of his presidency. ‘As scary as a shutdown fight is,’ Cruz insists, ‘if we don’t stand and defund Obamacare now, we never will.'”

Another dispatch from the madhouse: In a fine piece of reporting, Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson delves inside the Republican suicide machine. “Having backed the GOP into a shutdown fight that congressional leaders never wanted, the insurgents are winning, and establishment leaders are running scared. America is now careening toward a catastrophic voluntary default on our debt because no one in the Republican Party with the authority to put on the brakes has the guts to apply them, for fear of being toppled from power.”

An important point Dickinson makes here that cannot be emphasized enough: We didn’t just stumble into this crisis: Taking the government and the debt ceiling hostage was the strategy all long, and the right-wing insurgents have been planning for this for months. “They’d drawn a dangerous lesson from the previous battle: Brinksmanship works…In February, the House temporarily suspended the debt ceiling — intending to give the president’s poll numbers three months to come back to earth.”

Hey, speaking of polling numbers coming back to Earth

In any case, see also the NYT on this: “To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known.”

So we’re not in this hostage crisis by accident. The GOP even changed the House rules so they could maximize this confrontation. Republicans saw Obama fold in December 2010 on the Bush tax cuts and in August 2011 on the last debt ceiling hike. They think they can make him fold again here, and on every subsequent debt ceiling hike, and sadly, history is on their side on this. As Ted Cruz put it a few months ago: “If you have an impasse, you know — one side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight? Don’t blink.”

Another small digression: If, like Ralph Nader this morning, you’re wondering why the right-wing of the GOP always seems to pull these sorts of stunts off while the left-wing of the Dems are usually completely marginalized, two quick answers: 1) The lefties don’t have billionaires backing their plays, and 2) we’re the People’s Front of Judea. They’re the right, they’re inherently better at the goose-stepping.

That being said, this whole episode also illustrates why it’s useless for Democrats to try to meet these fools halfway on policy: Republicans have now spent almost three years voting constantly to end the Affordable Care Act. To break a health care law originally penned by the Heritage Foundation and enacted by Mitt Romney, they have shut down the government and sent us to the brink of an economic default. So, how, exactly, would things be different if we had just passed Medicare for all, and/or a public option? They were going to lose their shit regardless, just like they did on Social Security, on Medicare, and any other progressive issue you can think of. There’s no point in trying to placate people who aren’t bargaining in good faith.

Anyway, as it happens, and as Andrew Sullivan recently pointed out, we’ve seen a minority party in America rejected at the polls try to take the entire nation hostage before. Here’s Abe Lincoln in 1861:

“What is our present condition? We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us, or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union.”

So too here: This time the scalp the GOP wants is the Affordable Care Act, or the Ryan budget, or social insurance cuts, or Malia Obama. “‘The girl. Bring us the girl,’ said Congressman Steve King (R-IA)..’The bill may pass, but the firstborn shall be ours.'” It’ll be something else the next time and the time after that.

That’s why John Judis is calling this “one of the worst crises in American history“, and why Jon Chait wrote that “Allowing Republicans to default on the debt now is better than trading something that allows them to threaten it later.” Because if Obama buckles this time — and, let’s remember, we already gave the GOP their sequester-funding-levels — the Republicans will just keep taking the American government and economy hostage to get whatever they want. And quicker than you can say he-said, she-said, the rest of the lazy Beltway media will come to treat this sort of hostage-taking as politics as usual. It has to end here, or it never will.

Strange Voices Are Saying…

“I don’t think there’s much hope at this point in blocking the nomination from the outside; apparently a chief executive can make terrible choices for dodgy reasons whenever he wants, as we’ve learned time and again…It’s good to be the king, especially when the court is so cowed (and by court I mean the professional DC liberal class).”

As rumors fly that — despite the obvious terribleness of the pick — Obama has virtually settled on Larry Summers as Fed Chair, David Dayen wonders aloud if this is all part of a Grand Bargain redux:

“You’re a President with a very tough set of fiscal fights coming up. You’ve wanted entitlement reforms for five years, but cannot get it worked out. You’ve been playing footsie with the Senate Republican caucus all year. Now you’re in a situation where you need Republican votes…I mean, any rational human would have given up on grand bargaineering by now…[but now] the White House can argue that they simply had to go along with, I don’t know, the chained CPI measure they put in their own budget, because it was a way to ‘get’ Larry Summers, among other things.” Frighteningly plausible.

For Want of a Spreadsheet Check…

“This error is needed to get the results they published, and it would go a long way to explaining why it has been impossible for others to replicate these results. If this error turns out to be an actual mistake Reinhart-Rogoff made, well, all I can hope is that future historians note that one of the core empirical points providing the intellectual foundation for the global move to austerity in the early 2010s was based on someone accidentally not updating a row formula in Excel.”

As Mike Konczal of Rortybomb explains, the Reinhart-Rogoff paper “Growth in a Time of Debt,” which argued that high debt-to-GDP ratios stymie growth and has been one of the key economic foundations for recent deficit hysteria, turns out to be fundamentally flawed.

“This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession,” embraced by both Paul Ryan and the Washington Post. And it’s totally upside down. As Konczal says, “[t]he past guides us…it tells us that a larger deficit right now would help us greatly.”

Update: Dean Baker weighs in. “If facts mattered in economic policy debates, this should be the cause for a major reassessment of the deficit reduction policies being pursued in the United States and elsewhere. It should also cause reporters to be a bit slower to accept such sweeping claims at face value.”

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Kodos. | Deficits Now!

“Barack Obama proposes a painful hit to middle-class and working-class seniors, in return for an increase on taxes on the rich so small that they will hardly notice. Bargain? Yes. Grand? Not so much. By legitimating changes that could lead over time to the conversion of Social Security into a means-tested program for the elderly poor only, Barack Obama has proven himself to be a true and worthy successor of his predecessor, George W. Bush.”

As Obama — to no one’s surprise who was watching the last two years closely — definitively reveals he wants to go all Nixon-in-China on Social Security, Michael Lind notes the many similarities between Bush and Obama on social insurance. “Both Bush and Obama crafted their Social Security plans solely with an eye to the approval of the bipartisan economic elite, most of whom prefer cutting Social Security benefits, which they don’t need, to raising taxes on members of their class.”

One key difference: When Dubya tried to slash Social Security benefits in 2005, Democrats stood up as one against him. Now that an ostensible Dem is in the White House and wants to enact social insurance benefit cuts for ridiculous reasons, not so much. But this time, we can’t countenance the usual Third Way spinelessness. As PCCC’s Stephanie Taylor said: “‘You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts…The President has no mandate to cut these benefits, and progressives will do everything possible to stop him.'”

***

“People really don’t like deficits…But hold on a second. Why do we hate deficits? ‘Balancing the budget’ sounds really nice, but what reason do we have to believe it’s actually valuable?” In the WP and in very related news, Dylan Matthews punctures the various talking points driving deficit hysteria:

We’re broke! America is going to be bankrupt! We’re really not. The U.S. Treasury never has to default on any of its debts. That’s because we control our own currency. If we owe debts and don’t have the tax revenue to pay them, we can always just print the money and hand it over. That may not be the best approach, and in the very worst-case scenario this leads to hyperinflation so bad that defaulting is the less-bad option. But we’re so far from that situation today that worrying about it doesn’t seem worthwhile.”

***

Update: “The president’s major purpose is not to address mass unemployment, not to build a new foundation for the economy, not to revive the middle class or redress Gilded Age inequality. The president’s overriding priority is to cut a deal – and a deal that continues to impose austerity on an already faltering recovery.”

As Obama’s budget is officially released — $2 of spending cuts for every dollar in revenue is NOT a good thing. See also: Austerity in EuropeRobert Borosage reads the administration the riot act. See also Bob Kuttner: “You can understand Republicans wanting to crush government and hoping to slow the recovery in a way that harms the Democrat in the 2014 midterm elections. But what is the president thinking?…Now voters can conclude that they can’t trust either party.”

Oh yeah, and all that happy talk about addressing climate change and raising the minimum wage in the State of the Union? You won’t see it in this budget. Meanwhile, the GOP are loading up the cannons.

The Clown has a Point.


Hey all. Apologies yet again for the lack of updates around here. As I said a couple of times last year, I’m still figuring out where the old Ghost fits in the scheme of life these days. There’s a negative feedback loop happening where I don’t post at GitM that often, so fewer people swing by here, so there are no comments or feedback on the posts that I do spend some time on, which makes me even less inclined to post, so thus even fewer people swing by here…you get the point.

I was thinking of starting up the movie reviews around here again for 2013, but having just spent a looong time on another giant project that few if any will ever peruse, I’m not really seeing the point of dedicating myself to spending even more hours of my day writing long-winded reviews that nobody ever reads. It’s just a lot of work with very little gain. I’ve been writing this blog for over 13 years and the reviews for over ten — If either were ever going to gain an audience, they would have done so by now.

As for politics…eh. On the domestic front, all reasonable and common-sense attempts at achieving forward progress have been stymied for years now, mainly because of bipartisan infatuation with a totally fake problem. Sure, Obama (finally) talked a good game last night about climate change, voting rights, infrastructure, equal pay, housing, the minimum wage — things we expected from a progressive president four years ago, and that would undeniably make a profound difference for a lot of American families. But this is year five of this presidency — We know the score by now. When push comes to shove, he’ll be promoting Simpson-Bowles nonsense, extolling the Grand Bargain again, and advocating a chained CPI, all because, presumably, those evil, evil Republicans made him. Good cop, bad cop.

Over on foreign policy, our Hope-and-Change president has accorded himself the power to kill anyone he so desires by executive fiat. And the response? Ostensible progressives back this ridiculous play, and a full 83% of America is totally cool with Death from Above without due process. Awesome.

Speaking of due process, it is flat-out-ridiculous that we live in a world where Aaron Swartz was hounded to suicide by a DoJ-enabled Javert for freeing up JSTOR articles, of all things, and Bradley Manning is kept in a tiny box as Public Enemy #1 for exposing bad behavior by the military. And yet, our national torture experiment has still gone unpunished (because, hey, it worked!), and not a single bankster of note has been prosecuted, despite the massive levels of fraud that have been exposed and that brought the American economy to its knees. To the contrary, the president can’t stop asking self-serving and patently corrupt assholes like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein how we can better structure our public policy to cater to their whims.

Admittedly, I partake in it myself semi-often, but I’m just tired of a Twitter-driven political-journalism culture that seems to think that the lulz of Marco Rubio being really thirsty is a more pressing issue to cover than the myriad holes in his obviously stupid, self-serving, and faith-based ideas. Or that Jack Lew having a funny signature is a more vital point to discuss about the probable next Treasury Secretary than whatever the hell he was doing at Citigroup when the goddamned house was burning down.

I hate on the hipster Twitter kids, but establishment journalism is even worse. We live in a world where the totally inane Politico rules the roost and “wins the day”. Where our papers of record will keep warrantless wiretaps and drone bases quiet for years because the powers-that-be asked them to. Where idiot right-leaning “centrists” like David Brooks, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, and Cokie Roberts are queried for their inane views constantly, even though they don’t know anything and have never done anything with their lives but constantly mouth Beltway platitudes as if they were Holy Scripture. Where “journalists” like Chuck Todd, John King, and Jake Tapper — the latter of whom, let’s remember, made it big by kissing-and-telling on his Big Date with Monica Lewinsky — are taken seriously because they tsk-tsk about deficits like Serious People™ and passively nod along whenever obvious liars are lying. This isn’t journalism. It’s Court Stenography, Versailles-on-the-Potomac.

Ain’t no use jiving. Ain’t no use joking. Everything is broken. So, no, I don’t feel particularly inclined to talk about politics these days either, because there’s only so many times you can bellow in rage about it all, especially when nobody swings by this little corner of the Internet anyway. I’m not officially quitting GitM or anything, but let’s be honest. I’m not really what sure when, if ever, it’ll get its groove back. I’m not sure I see the point. And besides, as Richard said, a withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

Panetta/Burns or Bust.


“Think of the economy as a car, and the rich man as a driver. If you don’t give the driver all the money, he’ll drive you over a cliff. It’s just common sense.” As a public service announcement of sorts, the estimable C. Montgomery Burns explains the fiscal cliff. (See also Tom Tomorrow on this.)

The 39% of Americans with an opinion about Bowles/Simpson is only slightly higher than the 25% with one about Panetta/Burns, a mythical Clinton Chief of Staff/former western Republican Senator combo we conceived of to test how many people would say they had an opinion even about something that doesn’t exist.” Speaking of a different Burns — Conrad, not Monty — a Public Policy Polling survey finds that Simpson-Bowles fares only slightly better than completely imaginary legislation in the public mind. As it should!

Actually, if you’re a looking for a good summary of the Simpson-Bowles plan, it’s hard to beat this one by Kevin Baker (via Past Punditry): “A prescription for hunting down every last remaining vestige of the middle class in this country and beating it to death with a stick…By the way, if the notion of putting a crazy old, obnoxious right-wing coot and Bill Clinton’s chief fund-raiser at Morgan Stanley in charge of a committee to make the very richest people in America still infinitely richer while at the same time ripping open the underbellies of working people in this country from stem to stern seems like a puzzling idea coming from the great avatar of hope and change, you’re onto something.

Also in PPP’s findings: “49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn’t exist anymore.” [rimshot]

The Grand Bargain…Isn’t.

A simple historical fact: There is no political payoff for Democrats in presiding over governmental austerity. The evidence goes far back to long before Bill Clinton.” Historian Rick Perlstein explains what should be obvious to every Democrat worthy of the party name: America didn’t vote for a Grand Bargain. “Barack Obama didn’t win by promising a grand bargain…He won despite it. Democrats won’t win in the future by ‘reforming’ entitlements. If they do it, they will lose, precisely because of it, and possibly for generations. If he believes things to be otherwise, God help the party of Jefferson and Jackson.”

Along the same lines, Paul Krugman explains why no bargain is a better option than a bad deal. “Mr. Obama essentially surrendered in the face of similar tactics at the end of 2010, extending low taxes on the rich for two more years. He made significant concessions again in 2011, when Republicans threatened to create financial chaos by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And the current potential crisis is the legacy of those past concessions. Well, this has to stop — unless we want hostage-taking, the threat of making the nation ungovernable, to become a standard part of our political process.

So, is the president listening? Well…er…the jury’s out. Right now, White House spokespersons are emphasizing Obama’s flexibility and the president himself has said that we have to “continue to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements.” Which is horseshit, quite frankly, because, as Galbraith pointed out in 2010, the Very Scary Deficit Projections everyone’s using to keep this slash-Social-Security-and-Medicare train hurtling along are, in a word, bunk.

In the meantime, the 2011 iteration of the Grand Bargain has leaked, and it’s as terribad as you might imagine.

The Change is Us. It Has to Be.

So, how about that Election Night? Once you factor in that the ridiculous gerry-mandering of 2010, coupled with Obama’s terrible, coattail-cutting first debate performance, killed any chance of Democrats retaking the House, Tuesday night went about as well as it possibly could. Every swing state except North Carolina swung blue. The Senate kept some of its best progressives (Sanders, Brown) and added a few more very promising contenders (Warren, Baldwin). Gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization both made important footholds. California moved to end Howard Jarvis’ Tax Revolt, now in its fourth decade. And the Republicans — again, the House notwithstanding — were routed, and their cruel Ayn Rand-inflected ideology decisively repudiated at the polls.

All things considered, it was a great night, and all the more for what it portended about elections to come. Ever-growing in recent years, the Rising American Electorate — unmarried women, people under 30, people of color — showed its power on Tuesday night, displaying its centrality as the backbone of our new Democratic coalition and sending Karl Rove, Bill O’Reilly, and other White Men of a Certain Age into very public paroxysms of despair. (Good times. Enjoy that 2004 experience, y’all.) And while the Republican base is looking long in the tooth these days, our Democratic coalition is only continuing to grow.

As I noted in 2010, even despite the dismal showing then, demography is destiny, and the rest of the country is and will continue to experience Californication. Today we got the first taste of what a really multicultural America will be like at the polls. See also David Simon of The Wire and Treme on this: “A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

So, all in all, 2012 was a great victory for we progressives, and things are suddenly looking up. But, of course, we’ve been here before.

I really hope President Obama and his closest advisors are looking at the same demographic realities as the rest of us, and that he decides to spend his second term governing closer to what he promised back in 2008. But I trusted in hope last time around, and, needless to say, that didn’t get it done.

The fact of the matter is our Democratic standard-bearer, at least up to this point, is behaving and governing in a fashion that is clearly to the right of the growing Democratic base that got him elected and now re-elected. No more benefit of the doubt: It is up to us to put pressure on this administration to make sure they hold to the promises they’ve made. That work has to begin right now.

We all know what’s coming up first, and Glenn Greenwald already laid out the dismal pattern we can expect — and need to break — on the Grand Bargain front. True to form, Peter Orszag — and what does it say about our president’s priorities that he staffed up his first administration with this kind of jackass? — has already sent out the let’s-fiddle-with-social-security trial balloon. Erskine Bowles’ name has been aggressively floated as the new SecTreas and High Inquisitor in the matter of the Deficit Witches. By all accounts, President Obama seems to think he can play Nixon-in-China on Social Security and Medicare. But this is not at all why voters gave him a Democratic mandate, and that’s exactly the sort of wrong-headed notion, coupled with Katrina, that turned the electorate against Dubya in 2005.

In his victory speech on Tuesday night, President Obama continued his recent turn toward the progressive rhetoric of citizenship and self-government. He said: “The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.”

On one hand, I should be overjoyed that the President has taken this rhetorical turn, since it’s something I’ve been pushing for here for as long as GitM has been running. At the same time, President Obama has shown over the years an irritating penchant for co-opting progressive rhetoric only to serve centrist, corporatist, and/or neoliberal ends. It would be a shame if we let that happen again.

A presidency really concerned with fostering civic responsibility and self-government would look quite different than the one we have experienced up to this point. In the strictest and most literal sense, it would acknowledge, sometime before the second-term election night, that both our voting and campaign finance systems have been broken for decades, and require a significant overhaul. But, even more than that, a philosophy of encouraging citizenship and self-government presupposes different priorities and different policies.

First and foremost, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, it would recognize that necessitous men and women are not free men and women, and work harder to ensure everyone has the basic economic liberty to choose their own path through life. It would not, to take just one example, make the center of their housing reform a foreclosure program designed to help banks rather than homeowners.

An administration advocating citizenship and self-government would do more to emphasize the fundamental importance of education at all levels, and invest mightily not just in schools and teachers but in after-school programs, early childhood education, anti-poverty and anti-hunger initiatives, and all the other efforts that can help alleviate the various and persistent environmental factors limiting children’s potential in America. That requires a significantly different and more comprehensive approach to the education issue than simply competitive grants that reward grant-writing skills and teaching to the test.

It would mean emphasizing a conception of citizenship that is broader and richer than just a world of workers, consumers, and automatons — one that, as per Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herbert Croly, encourages introspection, critical thinking, and self-exploration. This is a hard nut to crack, of course. But at the very least we could fight to give more men and women freedom from the necessities of work to do whatever it is they want to do. We are not just our jobs, or at least we shouldn’t be, unless that’s what we want. That means pushing for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for men and women holding the same job, increasing access to affordable child care, more worker protections, and a shorter work week.

Emphasizing self-government only works if the political system remains accountable to its citizens. That means, along with voting and campaign finance reform, working to break the hold of any particular special interest over the political process — namely, corporate power. But as Matt Stoller, Glenn Greenwald, and others have noted, this administration has perpetuated and even accelerated a two-tiered system of political and economic justice in America. The losses of bankers and corporate elites have been subsidized by the public, even when they clearly broke the law. Meanwhile, the average homeowner and debtor has been disparaged and left on their own underneath a crushing burden — so much so that inequality has actually increased over the last four years. Similarly, the Bush-era torture regime has been swept under the rug, while whistleblowers have been aggressively prosecuted. This will not do.

Meanwhile, even though Obama himself has been a user of illcit drugs, as have the last several presidents, there has been no attempt at all by this administration to undo the drug war destroying communities and putting so many in jail — Quite the contrary, in fact. Nor has this administration done anything to stop the reprehensible practice of private prisons selling their “workforce” as forced labor.

Citizenship is a bond — Being a citizen means that one is part of a larger community and has a stake in it, a sense that we’re all in it together. So emphasizing citizenship means investing in big projects and big ideas that bring the American community together in larger purpose, from a massive rebuilding of America’s infrastructure to a re-energized space program to a WWII-sized response to the climate change crisis. Instead, this administration has trafficked in deficit hysteria for several years, and clearly plans to bring another dose of it in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, the biggest project we have been involved with as a people in recent years is expending blood and treasure on remaking Afghanistan and Iraq. This, it is now clear, has been not just a considerable waste of public resources, but a policy that has resulted in thousands and thousands of lives lost around the world.

Especially in America, where we are tied together not by blood but by an idea, being a citizen also means agreeing on a story — a shared narrative that ties the members of the community together. Because our connection is a story — even a fiction, some might say — it is all the more important that our government uphold the founding values of that story. (As Charles Pierce eloquently argues here, this is why Obama’s re-election is important independent of everything else — it reaffirms our conviction that race is no longer any barrier to the highest office in the land.) But, quite obviously, this administration has not lived up to our founding ideals in many ways, especially with regard to how it has prosecuted the War on Terror. As Mark Danner says in the piece I just linked, “President Obama has taken a position so strongly in favor of unremitting military violence that he has left his Republican rival, struggle though he may to shoulder his way past him, no place to stand.” And let’s be honest: As a party, we Democrats utterly failed to call the president out on this.

So, yes, an emphasis on citizenship and self-government could very well be the basis of a new progressive politics. But, unless he makes a marked shift from his first term, I fear this president is just going to use these words as a new rhetorical toolbox to push for more half-assed, neo-liberal Third Wayisms and lousy Republican ideas from the mid-80’s. We face dire problems in this country, and yet this administration is somehow afraid to even consider the time-tested New Deal ideas, from public works to the HOLC, that worked in the past.

The only way President Obama will make that progressive shift, it is now clear, is if the American people push him in that direction. In this, what Obama said on election night is absolutely correct. No matter what the president has said on the campaign trail, we can no longer hope this administration will bring change we can believe in. He is going to have to be forced into it by a Democratic electorate that refuses to accept anything less. It’s not a coincidence that the two progressive reforms Obama finally embraced this year — same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act — were ones that had passionate, vocal, and uncompromising reform movements behind them.

The election results showed that progressives are and can be ascendant in America. But we need to be much tougher on this administration than we have been in the past. Lip service to good intentions and progressive ideals is no longer satisfactory. And that hard work of keeping this administration in line has to begin right now, before the tentpoles of our current social insurance system are chipped away at by way of Grand Bargain.

Democrats just elected this president for a second time, and we don’t want to see any more compromising with and capitulating to economic terrorists. It is past time for this president and this administration to do right by us.

The Rightward Drift.

What you saw, I think, anyway, was…the end product of thirty years of a Democratic Party that has slid so far to the center-right that a Democratic president found himself arguing with a ‘severely conservative’ Republican candidate over the issues of how much the Democratic president had cut out of the budget, how many regulations he’d trimmed, how much more devoted to the middle-class-kick-in-the-balls Simpson-Bowles ‘plan’ he is, and how he would ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare — and, frankly, a Democratic president losing some of those arguments to his left.

Hey all. Haven’t given up on the blog again, but I am in the midst of the final ascent on the old dissermatation. (With two more hopefully brief chapters to go, I just rounded page 1055. Yes, I know. This whole thing has just gotten out of hand. Ohhhh well. Everybody needs a coping strategy.) Anyways, between that and work GitM is back to being neglected for a few weeks. In the meantime, I strongly endorse this Esquire piece by Charles Pierce on exactly why Obama stunk up the bed so badly in the first Republican primary debate general election debate.

Basically, if you give America a choice between a Republican and a Republican, the Republican will win every time. The problem wasn’t Obama had an off night. The problem is this former great hope of the left actually believes Simpson-Bowles is a good idea (it isn’t) and that the deficit is a huge problem (it’s not.) Even while the Obama campaign is trying to convince us to get more than just a wee bit cult-y “For All”, the Grand Bargain train is already leaving the station.

In short, we seem to have reached a point where so many top Democrats have spent so many years doing the protective camouflage thing that they’ve completely forgotten which way is up. As a party, we are now clearly to the right of Nixon and verging on being right of Reagan. The president’s stinker of a performance on Wednesday was just a clearer-than-usual, real-time manifestation of the Democratic Party’s deeper dilemma: We have lost our way.

More of the Same.

If Republicans are willing, Obama said, ‘I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises’ that could even rankle his own party. But he did not get specific.” (*cough* Grand Bargain *cough*)

Change you can believe in? If you relished the first term but really wished the White House would fold a winning hand even more often, the president has your back for Term 2. Because, in the face of 8% unemployment, 15% poverty, and rising seas, what America really needs right now is more mealy-mouthed centrism, hysteria about a fake problem, and rank capitulation to domestic terrorists. Real Democrats please. Our party has lost its way — We’re now rather clearly to the right of Nixon and coming up on Reagan these days.

Mitt’s Serious Man™ is Clownshoes.

Unfortunately, Mitt choosing Paul Ryan this morning means we’re probably going to be stuck with the media treating the Congressman from Wisconsin like he’s a Very Serious Person™ for at least the next three election cycles. But on the bright side, I’ve already said everything I need to say about this clownshoes, so I’ll just direct you to my post on Ryan from last year. And if you don’t particularly feel like clicking through, here’s the meat of what I said, below.

For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.

In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.

And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)

By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!

Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.

(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)

In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.

Bowlesed over.


For the Obama administration, Bowles has a number of qualifications. For one thing, Republicans adore him. Ryan has called him ‘my favorite Democrat.’ Appointing Bowles to be Treasury Secretary would ensure a smooth confirmation, and it would be interpreted as a sign of goodwill and ‘seriousness’ both by Republicans and by the media.

Er…Not a single one of those are pluses. And neither the Republicans nor the media are in any way serious anymore, and they haven’t been for close to two decades. So why cater to them? In any case, Ezra Klein starts floating Erskine Bowles, one of the high priests of the deficit witchhunt, as the second term Treasury Secretary. Actually, Ezra, that’s a fucking terrible idea, because guess what? The deficit is not and has never been a real problem, and you should know that. Nonetheless, folks, start girding yourself for the Grand Bargain…Our president has made it patently clear that that’s the direction he plans to head should he be granted a second term. And this is pretty much why I won’t be posting about Election 2012 here all that often.

The Wisdom of the Deficit Owl.


What fiscal crisis? The great unasked question in this summer of sound-and-fury is ‘why?’ The United States has many problems at the moment: a high-and-stubborn unemployment rate, a foreclosure catastrophe, a slowing economy that has not recovered and will not recover…and the ongoing challenges of infrastructure, energy and climate change. Fiscal crisis? The entire thing is a figment, made up of wise-men’s warnings repeated endlessly.

James K. Galbraith, who warned of the deficit witchhunt a year ago, weighs in on the debt ceiling endgame currently playing out in Washington, as well as Obama’s role in it:

[W]hat do we have, from a President who claims to be a member of the Democratic Party? First, there is the claim that we face a fiscal crisis, which is a big untruth. Second, a concession in principle that we should deal with that crisis by enacting massive cuts in public services on one hand and in vital social insurance programs on the other. This is an arbitrary cruelty. Third, a refusal to stand on the strong ground of the Constitution, against those whose open and declared purpose is tear that document and the public credit to shreds.

Yep, that’s about it. When it became clear that Obama had fully inhaled voodoo economics and was once again going to give away the store in these needless negotiations, I said on Twitter: ““I’ll take [Boehner/Cantor/Lannisters/Littlefinger] at his word!” I just realized: Obama negotiates like Ned Stark. Now, winter is coming.

But, really, that gives this president too much credit. He’s not a nobly deluded sap. He’s getting exactly what he wants: a Third Way-approved Grand Bargain that takes money out of a sputtering economy and needlessly slashes our social insurance system, all in response to a problem that is basically imaginary.

But, of course, the chatterers and the Serious People™ will applaud this bargain as being wise, centrist, and independent no matter what damage it causes — hey, only Nixon can go to China! And all the while the economy and labor market will continue to tank. What a fucking fiasco. [Rorschcat via here.]

Another D’oh From Simpson.


Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true,’ said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September. Understanding life expectancy rates at age 65 in 1940 is central to understanding Social Security itself.

In keeping with his informative interview with Alex Lawson last fall, former Wyoming Senator and co-head of the president’s deficit commission Alan Simpson — while railing against AARP — proves once again knows as little about Social Security as he does about hip-hop. So, yeah, by all means let’s put him in charge of social insurance “reform.”

Simpson’s forceful gesture came after an extended diatribe against Social Security, which he said is a ‘Ponzi’ scheme, ‘not a retirement program.’ Simpson argued that Social Security was originally intended more as a welfare program.Um, no. But, in Simpson’s defense, the president who appointed him also harbors some misunderstandings about Social Security. And at least the Senator is right on public financing of elections. So, there’s that.

If it ain’t broke…

You can practically break a search engine if you start looking around the Internet for those words. They’re used repeatedly with reference to our local, state and federal governments, almost always to make a case for slashing programs — and, lately, to go after public-employee unions. The phrase is designed to create a sense of crisis that justifies rapid and radical actions before citizens have a chance to debate the consequences. Just one problem: We’re not broke.

Swimming upstream against a tide of misleading soundbites and outright idiocy — from Republicans and Democrats both — E.J. Dionne tries to explain the obvious: America has plenty of money right now. “A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

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