Monday, July 30, 2012

Going for Gold at the Austerity Olympics

In the spirit of profit-driven global fellowship with such outsourcing, tax-evading and polluting corporate sponsors as G.E. and BP, Barack Obama is taking a break from attacking his outsourcing and tax-evading fellow candidate on TV this week. Instead of hosting Mitt's off-key rendition of "America the Beautiful" with those dystopian scenes of abandoned factories, the president is relaxing in a tastefully decorated living room, soft music playing in the background. He discreetly interrupts the endless commercial of NBC tape-delayed Olympics to bring you the following very serious message:
I believe the only way to create an economy built to last is to strengthen the middle class. Asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can pay down our debt in a balanced way. So that we can afford to invest in education, manufacturing and home-grown American energy for good middle-class jobs. Sometimes politics can seem very small. But the choice you face? It couldn't be bigger.

That, in a nutshell, is Barack Obama's agenda for a second term. The wealthy will be politely asked, but not forced, to pay a wee token smidgen more. There will be no scrapping of the FICA cap in order to make the Social Security trust fund solvent for generations to come. The "debt" (new-speak for what little of the nation's wealth is still in the hands of the underclass) will be "paid down" (transferred up) in a "balanced" way, meaning that the Grand Bargain of Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security cuts is still very much on the table. Grandma will have to go a little cold and hungry at the same time Jamie Dimon might have to give up the tax deduction on his corporate jet, at the same time "entitlement" cuts will mean he gets another raise and buys a tenth vacation home. That is what is meant by the "balanced approach" by the centrist cult of the Third Way.

In his kinder, gentler campaign ad, the president does not mention that deficits should not matter in recessions. He chooses not to tell us that borrowing costs are now so low we could actually profit by borrowing more. Profits will continue to be privatized at the very top, and the costs will go on being socialized.

And forget about legislation for a living wage to lift Americans out of poverty. The short-lived middle class jobs of the future are in fracking and deepwater drilling and construction of the tar sands pipeline -- "home-grown" energy projects tantamount to a Garden of Earthly Delights. He does not mention climate change, pollution of air and water, or the health hazards of his folksy panacea for middle class angst. He euphemizes fracking as though it were a horticultural project.

You have to give the guy credit, though. He is not lying. He is not bothering to make campaign promises he has no intention of keeping. He has been there, done that, and lived to suffer the onslaught of disappointment from the Professional Left.  He is telling us exactly what he plans to do --which is to preserve, protect and defend the interests of the One Percent. He just does it more circumspectly, classily and charmingly than that plutocratic parody named Mitt Romney. 

The choice you face? It couldn't be smaller. Pick between the personable technocrat you know, and the robotic technocrat you don't know. Take your fourth Bush Term as a main course of corporate Clintonites with a side of Wall Street transplants, and some national security Bushies for dessert. Or choose as your Bush Fourth Term entree some aged corporate Cheneyites with a side of Wall Street transplants, topped off by national security Bushies for dessert.

As Matt Stoller wrote on Naked Capitalism over the weekend, this presidential election is probably the least important contest of the past half-century. Neither Romney nor Obama is really all that into us:

As an experienced political hand told me, the two candidates are speaking not to the voters, but to the big money. They hold the same views, pursue the same policies, and are backed by similar interests. Mitt Romney implemented Obamacare in Massachusetts, or Obama implemented Romneycare nationally. Both are pro-choice or anti-choice as political needs change, both tend to be hawkish on foreign policy, both favor tax cuts for businesses, and both believe deeply in a corrupt technocratic establishment.
It’s useful to remember, this election season, that the way the debate is framed matters. That Obama isn’t choosing to discuss in public what he will do to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that Romney isn’t specific about it either, should show you who this election is for. But in addition, that both Bush, Clinton, and Obama (in his first term) failed at cutting Social Security means that an aroused public can stop austerity, when politicians feel their office is at risk. Clinton chose to abandon his plans to gut entitlements when facing impeachment and Bush chose to stop when his plan threatened the Republican Congress.
So, how to stop austerity this time? Despite what the mainstream media would have us believe, the Occupy Movement is not dead. Its first anniversary is less than two months away, right after the political conventions, when campaign frenzy will be in full swing. That the government is still taking desperate measures to suppress dissent should be cause for encouragement, not despair. It shows they're worried about the real anger of real people.That the United Nations, and the rest of the civilized world, are noticing that the American police state continues its crackdowns on protesters should theoretically keep the political elites on their best behavior, at least until November. Neither Obama nor Romney want a repeat of '68 Chicago at their little shindigs. And we can always dream that at least one of the debate moderators will ask them how they will protect the social safety net, demanding substance over the current empty posturing.

We are the richest nation on earth, yet the One Percent would have us become a country of serfs. The politicians give us bland promises of a fair shot and a fair shake at a fair share. What is true is that we have a fair chance of actually getting shot, thanks to the shadow government of the NRA and 300 million weapons for anyone with a pulse. Fair share is more like the big short. Shared sacrifice is a euphemism for the most blatant wealth disparity in American history. We are shaken, and we are stirred. History, as well as the laws of physics, have proven that too much weight at the top always causes the whole structure to collapse.

Keep Sept. 17th open on your calendars, and keep making them sweat even more in this climate-changed summer of our discontent. What else have we got to lose?


Will said...


Good news on the "fair chance of actually getting shot" front. Our odds of survival have just gotten better. Thanks to a grant from the fine folks at DHS, the mayor's office in Houston produced this video showing us exactly what to do the next time a James Holmes-type starts shooting up the joint. (Or in this particular scenario, a Vin Diesel look-alike.)

Only in America.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Will. That was some glitzy, fear-fomenting video. The Hollywood-DHS connection is certainly helping solve the jobless crisis. How much do you want to bet that they got their extras from the Houston unemployment line and the "set" is some foreclosed office building in the greater Houston area? They obviously took real cops and service members from their real duties for this acting gig, though. Keep fear alive and above all, never suggest stricter gun control laws to keep us safe. It's Texas, a whole 'nother country, after all. I guess we should be grateful they did not suggest bringing your gun to work. But that's probably being saved for the sequel.

Pearl said...

It is interesting that a report about a comparatively small number of
protesters to the Olympics were removed to a "safe place" where they would not disturb traffic or people's sensibilities. They objected to the huge amounts of money invested in London for special facilities while ignoring the needs of residents in neglected areas plus the involvement of royalty,corporate money, etc. There also was an article questioning whether or not the money invested in Olympics are financially covered when the events are over.

Watching the spectacle of the opening ceremonies my own feelings were
centered on wondering how much it cost as it seemed to me to be overkill
regardless of the messages being delivered which were not clear in all the hubbub. There were also numerous articles (by the right wing press) about the presence of Michelle Obama in very expensive outfits at a time when the U.S. is in such financial difficulties but unfortunately the criticism was very hateful and ugly personally with racial components. Nevertheless Michelle's prominence there and at Buckingham palace made for much media copy when her husband is running for the presidency.

I personally feel that the purpose of the Olympics is not clear when so much
corporate advertising of products used such as drink, foods, clothes are
involved. The fierce competitiveness involved is not my idea of celebrating
athletic achievement as it is an elitist nationality divided event which very few young people have the opportunity to pursue. One athlete was
extolling the virtues of the democratic basis for contenders in that only hard work is the criteria for success without the use of connections or favoritism. But there are many athletically gifted young people who never get a
chance to shine because of their personal circumstances as money, time and family attention is usually needed to train potential Olympians.

I know my critical questions about the fierceness of competitiveness where hundredths of a second decide an athlete's future may not be popular. I can't help thinking how wonderful it would be if such intensity of purpose internationally could represent peace, or the general health and well being of young and old, or concern about the faltering environment instead of lionizing individuals who win in events.

Regular sports such as baseball, basketball, football have become a financial bonanza for players and owners with the cost of tickets eliminating many viewers and resulting in drug and other scandals because of the emphasis on the financial aspects. (Penn State comes to mind).

I am all for people watching and being involved in sports, but without the intrusion of the money making aspects which corrupt the whole process and spoils some of the enjoyment of watching the Olympics.

Pearl, the Grinch, who still enjoys swimming.

Denis Neville said...

Does anyone believe that our elites are inclined to act in the national interest?

Bill Keller, the son of a former chairman and chief executive of the Chevron Corporation, is the latest. “If you were born before 1946 or after 1964, you are free to go. Kindly close the door on your way out. I need a private moment with my fellow baby boomers…FELLOW boomers, we have done more than our share to make this mess. It’s not our fault that there are a lot of us, but we have resisted any move to fix the system. We should make a sensible reform of entitlements our generation’s cause.”

Keller refers to “a soon-to-be released study by the incorrigible pragmatists at Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank. The study takes a familiar refrain and presents it with a graphic wallop. Though it was intended as a wake-up call, not an indictment of a generation, it can be read as both…Centrists like those at Third Way and the bipartisan authors of the Simpson-Bowles report endorse a menu of incremental cuts and reforms that would bring down costs without hitting the needy or snatching away the security blanket from those nearing retirement.”

Atrios, “The Boomers took all the money, and therefore they are morally obligated to cut retirement benefits for subsequent generations.”

Flawless logic!

Who are the Third Way?

What does the Third Way say?

“Why Democrats Must Back Entitlement Reform…Public investments and entitlements are on a collision course...And as the cost of entitlement [sic] programs like Medicare and Social Security has skyrocketed, we’ve spent less and less of our budget educating kids, building roads, and curing disease. In this report, we argue that the only way for Democrats to save progressive priorities like NASA, highway funding, and clean energy research is to reform entitlements. The lame duck offers Congress a “Now or Never” chance to set the terms of a budget deal that saves money on entitlements, raises revenue, and protects investments. And the heart of the Democratic brand is depending on it.”

The heart of the Democratic brand is NASA and highway funding?

Where better to turn for fiscal prudence and our future than our elites? What could possibly go wrong?

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Denis, for mentioning Bill Keller so I didn't have to. And thanks for the link to the Third Way, which I lazily didn't explain in my post. We are slowly but surely being hynotized into believing that Entitlement Reform is big, bold and brave. The austerity craze is alive and well in the small elite circle of national punditry, and nowhere else.

Pearl said...

And now l6 year old female swimmer Ye Shewin has been suspected of using drugs to win competitions that beat the record of the fastest male swimmer! This is where the affects of competition have negative results but we will have to await further information on this situation. Chinese athletes in the past have been involved with doping scandals which does not lead to better international relations. Stay tuned.

Pat in Minnesota said...

Off topic here, but I must commend you Karen for your wonderful comment to Joe Nocera's column about the Post Office in today's NYT. Gloom and doom reign in the many processing plants and post offices across the country. With 27 years in the PO I can't believe what this once fine institution has come to. The processing facility where I work is scheduled to close next February, and no one has any idea what will become of 100+ employees here. No word on early outs, transfers, layoffs, nothing. My hope was to take an early retirement and supplement my whopping $400 a month pension by getting whatever job I could find out there. Alas my plans have changed though; 3 weeks ago my husband left me a note (coward) stating he had filed for divorce. Seems I've been a cash cow to him the last 7 years and since I will no longer be contributing 50+k to the household, it's time for me to find my own place. Not looking for pity here, but it serves as a reminder that life can turn on a dime. Literally.

Patricia said...

"a fair chance of actually getting shot" was right on the money. Unfortunately, the austerity hysteria continues. What gives me pause is that no one is looking back ( I think the President actually said we can't do that, about Shrub) to 1930's Germany. What came out of that austerity? So much frustration on the part of the German people that Hitler seemed like a good idea. That's what is really scary.

Karen Garcia said...

It's terrible how this rotten economy and the malfeasance of our elected officials are actually contributing to the dissolution of marriages. I am so sorry for your troubles, Pat. If you wish to write to me privately, please do so.

(this is course applies to other readers wishing to contact me as well.)

I will be writing more about the post office soon. Meanwhile, for those of you who don't access the NYT, here is my response to Joe Nocera's excellent column:

The U.S. Postal Service is prime fodder for the rapacious maw of capitalism. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night has stood in the way of mail delivery since Benjamin Franklin created the agency in 1775 by decree of the Continental Congress. But that was then.

Now, more than 200 years later, possibly the worst Congress ever is determined to destroy the post office and with it, more than half a million jobs. As is usual in cases of privatization, the poor will suffer the most. Poor people depend on the post office for delivery of their paper Social Security checks and other snail mail, because they often lack both computers and internet connections. According to a report by Reuters, fully 80% of post offices on the chopping block are in impoverished rural areas.

The postal service also happens to have the largest union in the world, and is one of the few employers left in our banana republic which actually still pays a living wage. No wonder the right wingers feel compelled to manufacture a phony crisis right out of Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine." Peter Orszag, former director of management and budget in the Obama administration, is the most recent public proponent of privatization in the phony cause of fiscal responsibility, so beloved of the centrist cult of Beltway austerity.

Of course, he is now a vice president at Citigroup, sure to be among the big corporate bidders in the ongoing game of Post Office, slash and burn edition.

Neil Gillespie said...


Thanks for your many years of service in the post office.

Ralph Nader posted online a letter April 26, 2012, "Letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe – It Is Time to Resign"

"Dear Mr. Donahoe, You are actively presiding over the demise of one of our country’s greatest founding institutions..."

Nader has some good ideas to revitalize the post office, such as offering a notary service, cashing most checks, reviving the U.S. postal savings system, the need for Congress to free the Postal Service to enter the digital world, and requesting Congressional authority to establish a Post Office Consumer Action Group (POCAG).

Last week I wrote to Sen. Bill Nelson about problems with a local CPU - contract post office. Yesterday I got a courtesy reply card promising someone will respond later.

One good website is Save The Post Their story "Contract post offices, closing faster than they open" gives a lot of information about private CPUs

And there was a postal hunger strike supporting the post office in June.

Hunger strikes are underused in my view. They can get people’s attention.

The Doktor said...

Great Piece Karen, made me Laugh Out Loud!

Thank you.

More Later,

The Doktor

P.S. my solution to everything is almost updated....

Kat said...

How horrible! My condolences. Keep us updated.

Denis Neville said...

Going for the Gold…

In the spirit of the profit-driven, free-market gospel, hospital ERs as hunting grounds for collectors of medical debt:

The NY Times reports, “Accretive Health, one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debt, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Minnesota state attorney general’s office to settle accusations that it violated a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care, even if patients cannot afford to pay.”

Bob Lawless @ Credit Slips asks, “How does an organization get itself to the place where it collectively comes to think such strong-arm collection tactics on hospital patients are a good idea, let alone morally defensible?”

Excerpt from the profile in Crain's Chicago Business of Accretive's CEO, Mary Tolan: "My objective is just to be a happy, confident capitalist," says the devotee of Ayn Rand's and Milton Friedman's free-market gospel, which she applies with a combative, survival-of-the fittest management style.

One ER patient, as she was hemorrhaging in the ER, was informed she owed $300.


Zee said...

@Pat in Minnesota--

Allow me to echo @Neil's "thank you" for your long service in one of America's oldest and finest institutions.

Also, please do not take this as "pity," but allow me to offer you my sympathy regarding your shabby treatment by both our government--I am shocked at the diminuitive size of your pension after 27 years of service--and your cad of a husband.

Living in a mostly rural state (New Mexico) that often lacks cell phone or internet coverage, I KNOW that the U.S. Postal Service is the only means by which rural folk can pay bills, send/receive holiday/birthday cards and gifts, etc.

The USPS is their lifeline in such remote regions, and it is a crime to reduce the size of the USPS under these circumstances.

Zee said...


You have kindly provided an e-mail address with which to contact you directly, and I am interested in discussing a number of topics with you off-line--mostly for comment length considerations--as possible topics for general discussion on Sardonicky.

I do not have an anonymous e-mail address, nor do I wish to hide behind one. But if I contact you directly via e-mail, it will not take you long to parse out who I am as both I and Mrs. Zee have a very unusual names, which are part and parcel of our gmail address.

I don't care if YOU choose to identify me via Google or or any other means. You seem like a responsible person, even if we disagree on many issues.

But I would still like to preserve my anonymity and e-mail address beyond you. The internet can be a strange place sometimes.

Assuming that I don't abuse my e-mail contact privileges with you--and I won't--would you be willing to preserve my anonymity amongst the rest of the participants in Sardonicky and on the greater web?

And if I do abuse my e-mail privileges, well, you are free to turn me in to the FBI and FCC & etc., because it won't take long to track me down.

As I have stated before to others, I think that @Valerie and @The Dok can testify that I am not an e-mail pest.

Karen Garcia said...

I never divulge the email addresses or real/last names of my correspondents on this blog.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Zee said...

"A penpal relationship is often used to practice reading and writing in a foreign language, to improve literacy, to learn more about other countries and life-styles, and to make friendships." --