|"Nothing Exceeds Like Excess"|
On the off-chance that some of you think that the Democrats are really, really sincere this time about helping poor jobless people, and that Barack Obama really, really means it when he says he will make income inequality the defining issue of his second term, permit me to gently burst your balloon.
Just because Obama has stopped vocally espousing cutting the safety net as part of his Grand Bargain of deficit reduction with his GOP frenemies doesn't mean that his deeply ingrained desire for austerity for the masses isn't still merrily simmering on the back burner of his mind.
Need proof? Just read the latest stenography from his favorite multimillionaire muse and golfing buddy, Thomas Friedman. His Sunday column is simply a laundry list of the pro-business centrist policies beloved of the New Democrats and Obama's Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission. To wit:
We have to raise the retirement and Medicare eligibility ages, so the greedy geezers will stop stealing from the young'uns! We have to reduce the corporate tax rate (as if corporate taxes were real), getting rid of pesky regulations that impede innovation! We have to frack, frack and frack some more! We have to get on with privatization of education, because:
In some cities, teachers’ unions really are holding up education reform. But we need to stop blaming teachers alone. We also have a parent problem: parents who do not take an interest in their children’s schooling or set high standards. And we have a student problem: students who do not understand the connection between their skills and their life opportunities and are unwilling to work to today’s global standards. Reform requires a hybrid of both teacher reform and a sustained — not just one speech — national campaign to challenge parents and create a culture of respect and excitement for learning.If only the Republicans were more reasonable, Friedman whines,
I’m certain that a second-term Obama, who is much more center-left than the ridiculous G.O.P. caricatures, would meet them in the middle. Absent that, we’re going to drift, unable to address effectively any of our biggest challenges or opportunities.As it is, poor beleaguered Obama is being forced to join the Democratic Orchestra's income inequality theme of Campaign 2014. And that leaves Thomas Friedman to toot out the cadenza in the Trumpet Austerity Concerto in Plutocrat-Major, Opus (Forbes) 400. It blares out dissonantly in this feel-good era of wedge-issue populism, but so what? It's out there, hovering malignantly in the poisoned acoustic atmosphere.
How, you may ask, does Thomas Friedman's Sunday screed tie in to President Obama's own shadow agenda? Dylan Byers of Politico wrote a revealing piece last fall about the macho White House bull sessions of which Friedman is a regular and valued participant:
The sessions, which have become more frequent in Obama’s second term — he held at least three in October — provide a stark contrast to the combative, sometimes cantankerous relationship between the White House and the press corps. They also serve as an alternate means of shaping the debate in Washington: a private back-channel of genuine sentiment that seeps into the echo-chamber, while Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, delivers largely scripted responses in the public briefings. Obama holds the occasional off-the-record meeting with top White House correspondents, but they are few and far between — a fact that rankles some members of the press corps.
The goal in these get-togethers, participants said, is two-fold: First, the president wants to convince the columnists that he’s right — about the debt ceiling, about health care, about Syria — and that his opponents are wrong.
“The president is thoroughly convinced that the course he has set out is correct, and that his opponents are either wrong-headed or crazy or, in the case of [House Speaker John] Boehner, insufficiently courageous,” said a journalist who has attended off-the-record meetings. “By getting together a group of intelligent people who are going to be writing about him or talking about him, he thinks he can show them how obviously everything he is doing makes sense.”
The second goal is more tactical: By meeting privately with the people who shape national opinion, the president ensures that his points of view will be represented in the media — even if those points of view aren’t directly attributable to him.
He sees columnists as portals,” another journalist who has attended meetings said. “It works — I feel it work with me. It’s almost impossible to spend hours face-to-face with the president, unfiltered, then write a column or go on television without taking his point of view into account.”It's impossible to read Friedman (or David Brooks, or David Ignatius, or the whole gamut of centrist Beltway elites) without also hearing the dulcet tones of Barack Obama in the background. And that is absolutely chilling. It's how democracy is subsumed by big money interests, and how public consent is manufactured.
Meanwhile, my published comment to Friedman's column, which had garnered the most reader recommendations, has been removed by the New York Times. I guess they thought I was being too mean to very serious important people. Here's what I wrote:
Just when we thought the zombies were finally taking their long-overdue winter nap, we are assaulted with another press release from the Fix the Debt cult of tax-phobic parasitical billionaires. The words "Alan Simpson" in the first sentence is our first warning to run for the hills. Simpson will not rest until an entire nation of impoverished retirees has been reduced to subsisting on cat food. He once derisively claimed (plagiarizing from Mencken) that Social Security is a "milk cow with 300 million tits." I guess he thinks the whole world is out to suck him and his rich friends dry. What a load of bull!
Paul Krugman just wrote a column celebrating the long-overdue debunking of deficit reduction as economic policy. At the time, I commented that the austerians were merely in temporary retreat, strategizing their next move.
Like malaria, deficit fever strikes when you least expect it. This time, the vector is another droning Friedman column, replete with all the usual neoliberal buzzwords (long-term challenges, innovation, heavy fiscal burden on our children) in a feeble attempt to disguise the true meaning: the rich shall get richer and the poor shall be damned.
We don't have a long-term deficit problem. We have a long-term greed problem.
Nice try, Mr. Friedman, at unleashing the pathogens from the test tubes of the plutocracy. But you should be aware that more and more of us are developing a healthy immunity to what you're trying to spread.Come to think of it, it's pretty amazing that my little rant survived for 36 hours before being relegated to the ether. Was it because of the tits part, the Friedman as a mosquito part, or the Friedman as Dr. Moreau part? But anyway, it was nice to see that Dean Baker took note, more politely than I did, that Friedman's readers told him he was full of crap.
As of this posting, my other comment on the equally annoying Ross Douthat column still survives in the digital domain of the Gray Lady. His particular brand of bunk comes from the far right side of the Right Wing Money Party. The big difference between him and Friedman is that he gets his anti-equality plutocratic talking points direct from Koch-funded stink tanks instead of through White House back-channels. So I says to Ross:
Here's just one example of how Douthat's beloved rich people are being squeezed:
As of January 2, the 900 wealthiest Americans became officially exempt from paying any more Social Security taxes for the rest of the year. That is because they earned the cap of $117,000 in only two days. If the billionaires of the Fix the Debt brigade of prosperity for them, austerity for everybody else, were truly interested in the long-term solvency of what they love to call "entitlements," they'd join with progressives and call for scrapping the cap entirely, expanding the program, and protecting the trust fund for Ross's beloved unborn children far, far, far into the future.
But Douthat and his conservative media cohort are too busy wasting their time, feverishly concern-trolling the poor now that their plutocratic claptrap is being called out for the fraud it is by the likes of DeBlasio, Elizabeth Warren and the Pope.
And we'd be remiss if we didn't also call out the studies referenced in his Think Tank Links. The Manhattan Institute is funded by the Koch Brothers, the Scaife Foundation, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and several too-big-to fail/jail banks. The Heritage Foundation does not disclose its donors. It recently gained notoriety with the disclosure that one of its experts (Jason Richwine) had previously and mendaciously claimed that Blacks and Hispanics have lower IQs than whites.
So, Ross, when you use such suspect sources as backup, your entire column becomes instantly tainted.