Friday, November 9, 2012

The Slippery Slope of the Fiscal Cliff

Feel like reading the handwriting on the wall about what your overlords have in store for you this week? Even better, are you up for getting really bold and reading between the lines? Look no further than the homepage of The New York Times on any given day for the latest trial balloons, controlled leaks, fear-mongering and all-purpose propaganda.

Connecting the dots is the way this game is played. There are two stories and one op-ed up today that at first glance may not seem to be related. But they definitely are.

The first headline screams something about lawmakers in Washington scrambling like mad to cut a budget deal in the lame-duck session to avert a national catastrophe quaintly known as the "Fiscal Cliff." This totally manufactured piece of disaster theater was set up after the Debt Ceiling Kabuki a year ago by an unelected senatorial "Supercommittee" which stipulated that unless Congress cuts a budget deal this year, there will be horrible terrible cuts to Pentagon spending and the Bush tax cuts will expire. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Not so fast, citizens. Another headline shrills that one of our unarmed American spy drones was shot at by the Iranians a few miles off their own coast, in a terrifying act of misplaced aggression! So if you thought that going off the fiscal cliff and cutting money off from our eternal war machine is still a good idea, be afraid be very afraid. Feel the terror, and submit before you hurl.... off the cliff.

Even though reasonable people reasonably state that the fiscal cliff is more like a gradual slope and that there is no urgency in letting us slide gently down it for awhile next year until a new,
somewhat more liberal Congress can deal with it at its customary leisure, The Times is having none of this calm rationale. It sees a "rising urgency" in getting a deal cut. That is because Catfood Commissioners Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson (the B.S. Duo) are leading an astroturf rampage of Wall Street CEOs in a Bain-like campaign to gut the social safety net in order to enrich themselves. The Times article reads like an unedited press release from a centrist think tank (Third Way comes to mind):
 Senior lawmakers said Thursday that they were moving quickly to take advantage of the postelection political atmosphere to try to strike an agreement that would avert a fiscal crisis early next year when trillions of dollars in tax increases and automatic spending cuts begin to go into force. (hurry to take advantage of a cowed populace still basking in the O-gasmic afterglow and too busy trashing Karl Rove to notice the incipient betrayal.)   
Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said he had begun circulating a draft plan to overhaul the tax code and entitlements, had met with 25 senators from both parties and “been on the phone nonstop since the election.” (Before his own self-congratulatory tears had even dried on his face,President Obama was also on the phone, reaching out to Boehner and McConnell, while his starstruck fans slept, blissfully unaware of the incipient betrayal.)
Senator Olympia J. Snowe, the Maine Republican who will retire at the end of the year, made it clear that she intended to press for a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff and get serious on the deficit, lame duck or not.
“The message and signals we send in the coming days could bear serious consequences for this country,” she said. “It could trigger another downgrade. It could trigger a global financial crisis. This is a very consequential moment.” (What a bunch of bullshit. It's not critical, it's not consequential, the deficit is not important to anyone but CEOs, and no way are these clowns even remotely serious. Seriously cynical, maybe. Did Olympia mention she is under consideration for an Obama Administration appointment in between revolving door spins to lobby shops?)
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, extended an olive branch to Republicans, suggesting Thursday that he could accept a tax plan that leaves the top tax rate at 35 percent, provided that loophole closings would hit the rich, not the middle class. He previously had said that he would accept nothing short of a return to the top tax rate of Bill Clinton’s presidency, 39.6 percent. (Democratic mandate? What Democratic mandate? Oh, never mind. Chuck's constituency is the Wall Street plutocracy. But since he's not up for re-election to his permanent seat for several years yet, it's safe to play Bad Cop.) 
Meanwhile, the Iranian attack on a piece of flying metal that resembles an upside-down-spoon was announced for the blatant purpose of scaring us. Call your Congress Critters pronto, and demand that open-ended funding for the eternal war machine to avoid the precipice! If we go down the fiscal cliff in a few months, that will not be good for American Empire and definitely not good for the defense contractors' bottom lines. Drone production will come to a screeching halt unless we act, and act right now, to avert fiscal catastrophe.

Oh, and although the alleged attack took place a week before the election, it was not revealed until the Fiscal Cliff crescendo had reached a fever pitch, within hours of the Obama victory. What a coincidence.

And now for the op-ed. The president has safely won re-election, so Paul Krugman is finally getting around to playing Good Cop, urging him not to "cave" to Republican demands for a deficit reduction deal in the lame duck session. The only thing he seems to miss is that it's President Obama himself and the Blue Dog cohort who are leading the charge for a B.S. type of deal. Too many people are still under the impression that Barry is the hapless victim of Republican intransigence, and that it is up to us to urge him to stand strong for the People. Inveterate letter-writer Bernie Sanders says he should go on another 50-state tour (as if the last two years of campaigning were not enough) to repudiate the Grand Bargain the president himself wants. Oh yeah. We are really going to hold Obama's feet to the fire now. Here's my response to Krugman: 

We can't say we weren't warned. The president did promise throughout the campaign that he would collaborate with the GOP on a deficit reduction program. Social Security and Medicare will be put on the table in exchange for a bit of token revenue from the plutocrats. The free market, which is laughably portrayed by the media as an actual living being with feelings, must be placated at all costs. Wall Street actually went all droopy the day after the election. Fetch the smelling salts, quick.

But no worries. The confetti was still floating through the Chicago air when the president picked up the phone to reach out to Boehner and McConnell.Never mind the liberal mandate that was handed to him by an increasingly progressive nation. Never mind that only 10% of respondents in exit polls said their main concern is the deficit.

The "fiscal cliff" is a contrived bit of disaster capitalism dreamed up by the corporate class that runs things in this country. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are leading an astroturf movement of 80 CEOs, yammering hysterically for social spending cuts in the name of increased profits and lower taxes for themselves. Meanwhile, the complicit news media spews endless propaganda to keep the populace cowed. Economic collapse, we are told, can be averted only by tightening our own belts, funding the endless wars, and enriching the oligarchs.

Grand Bargain? More like a Bargain for the Grandees, and a grand betrayal of everyone else.

Even though Mitt Romney lost, the powers-that-be are still operating under the theory that the deficit hawks and the vulture capitalists hold all the cards.  No matter that, excepting for Barack "Teflon Don" Obama himself, every single candidate who voiced support of Bowles Simpson, lost their races this week.

So, you voted and thought you were giving the victors a mandate? Think again.

As Sheldon Wolin wrote in "Democracy, Inc.",

Today elections have replaced participation. Elections enact a kind of primal myth in which “the people” designate who is to rule them, that is, who is to authorized to wield government power. Authority or authorization means not only that some official is enabled to perform a particular action (e.g. has the means  to enforce the law) but also that he or she is entitled to assume that citizens will accept the decision and comply. Thus an election, at one and the same time, empowers a Few and causes the Many to submit, to consent to be obedient. Submission entails more than obeying the law. Citizens, regardless of whether or not they voted for the elected candidate, are expected to defer to those who were elected, to give them the benefit of whatever doubts there are about the wisdom of a particular action or law, to the identification of democracy largely with voting, there is the risk that legitimation can become automatic, tantamount to a slippery slope ending in Tocqueville’s submissive citizenry.



James F Traynor said...

I've just sent an email to Sen. Nelson (FL,D) to inform him that I expect him to fight against compromise with the Republicans on the 'fiscal cliff'. That he, the president and the Democratic Party have, for four years, let down the Democratic base. And to read Krugman's column today and the resulting comments.

I await, with interest, his response. I imagine, if he makes one, it will say how wonderful 'compromise' is. If so, I will respond with a declaration of war on the Democratic Party. And I fucking well mean it!

cek said...

Tour de force, Karen.
And so exactly right we know it in our bones, even some of those who wept with adulterated joy at the Second Coming of BO.
it's no accident your comment on Krugman's piece is the top of the heap, with well over 1,000 in agreement.

"Cat" will do said...

Well, Karen - with any luck the "Ladies of the House (and Senate)" will use the media to explain all this to folks! I'll wager Elizabeth Warren will have something to say "Cliffwise" soon as she gets her bearings.

thanks, cat

Kat said...

The official anti austerian of the establishment* is looking for new work as official apologist of the Obama administration? Hmmm...
Pleased to see that your excellent response is on the top of the heap as cek says. And you didn't even have to mention Mitt or the evil obstructionists once to get there! What is going on? Perhaps this Social Security thing is popular.

*position may be revoked at any time when diverging from neoliberal line. Other terms and conditions apply.

James F Traynor said...

Karen, I congratulated you on the previous thread for your comment on Krugman's column. But again. Terrific! Maybe the Gray Lady is finally waking the fuck up! An email to Sen. Nelson was not quite enough. I called his DC office. I played the prostitute by voting for Obama and now I want my pay! That bastard had better develop a spine!

Zee said...


I have tried to make similar bargains with politicians. The trouble is that, unlike honorable crooks, politicians don't STAY bought.

Good luck collecting your "pay."

I certainly never did.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Outstanding analysis about the Fiscal Cliff, Karen.

Spectres usually disappear when someone turns on the lights. The across-the-boards cuts that come with the Fiscal Cliff do not touch Social Security or Medicare. But don't we love those Pentagon cuts? Did you remind us that the Bush Tax cuts also end when we go over the fiscal cliff?

On the other hand, Social Security and Medicare will be the main targets of a Grand Bargain. Like the weak sheriff before the lynch mob, Obama is sure to step aside. That's just about all he did on the big stuff between 2008 and 2012.

I'm sending your post to my Democratic Congressman-elect, Dan Maffei (NY 35th District), who just beat out the Republican who beat him out two years earlier during the Tea Party Fever.

I worry a little that my sending Maffei your post could result in your name being placed on a 'list" somewhere. But it makes me feel so useful to get the word out like that. I console myself with the thought that a few individuals (but not I) must be sacrificed so the entire community might survive.

This Fiscal Cliff/Grand Bargain thing will be the biggest domestic issue in the coming year, he predicted with the usual aplomb.

Denis Neville said...

Karen, excellent as always!

They are really going to hold Obama's feet to the fire now! Beating the dead horse of “make him not do it.” ROTFLMAO!

Let’s make a deal. Do the Grand Bargain during the lame duck
Congress, then get outta town!

Once again, the proverbial “Lucy” Obama, his football, and the hapless, trusting “Charlie Brown” progressives!

What will they do when Barry mercilessly yanks those bedrock New Deal and Great Society programs - Social Security and Medicare – away, thereby erasing the large liabilities owed to the Social Security Trust Fund from the General Revenue Fund that were borrowed to finance the follies of the last decade?

Why is the focus on “entitlement” reform? For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. That is where the money is.

Republicans once ran on balancing budgets that merely made them the ‘tax collectors for the welfare state.’ Obama and Democrats are now running on deficit reductions that will make them the ‘austerity promoters for the starve-the-beast state.’

Slippery slope? It’s a greased chute.

“Obama is still a highly effective politician capable of this level of exploitation: exploiting people’s hopes and desires. When you combine that with the desire to believe — to feel once again that he will uplift people’s lives and that the hope one placed in him was justified and not misguided: nobody wants to feel like they were successfully defrauded — it’s an easy trick to repeat…that it’s a grand Manichean battle between Our Great Leader and Their Evil Villain — and there will be plenty of endorphins pumping through people’s brains. There will be enough to drown a large country.” – Glenn Greenwald

Jay - Ottawa said...

HuffPost yesterday laid out the percentages of the national vote down to and including Third Parties. The count for Third Parties, I suspect, is short or incomplete. Wishful thinking, maybe.

Closer to my political landscape, Dan Maffei (correction, of the 24th Congressional District), who lost his seat in 2010 by less than 700 votes, won it back by about 14,000 on Tuesday.

But here's what is interesting, the count for the Green candidate.

Democratic candidate Dan Maffei — 131,681
U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R — 117,206
Green Party candidate Ursula Rozum — 21,463

That's a few votes short of 8% for the Greens in Upstate New York. Is NY's 24th District that unusual across the land when it comes to third parties? Or do the voting machines count better than elsewhere?

falken751 said...

He said he was willing to make some concessions as long as the final fiscal bargain was properly balanced between new tax revenue and spending cuts.

“I’m not wedded to every detail of my plan,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m open to compromise.”

Sounds like he is ready to start cutting where the people don't want him to cut, SS and medicare etc, and I wouldn't put it past him.

spreadoption said...

What disturbs me about the election is that the popular vote was so close (just as we would have expected it to be). Like most of us, I have no idea why we allow the Electoral College to decide. In any case, we have no reason now to believe the Republicans in Congress will behave one bit differently; if anything, they may become even more entrenched in a death-spiral to perpetuate their intentions on behalf of the 1%.

As I see it, Rmoney was a financial technician, nothing more. Neither a manager nor a leader in any real sense. With his framed Harvard MBA on the wall, he simply discovered a technique by which he could wrangle control of a weak company and manipulate it to his own gain alone. The future of the company and the well-being of its employees were of zero concern to him. But surely as a leader in his church he must have had some compassion, we wonder. Nope! There exists a separation of business and church. Can't understand it, can't condone it, but there it is. Let that dog on the car roof be the enduring symbol of Rmoney’s (and the Republicans’) inhumanity. Hey, what’s wrong with that; he’ll enjoy it up there! Besides, he's only a dog.

But Rmoney is a great business leader who would have made a great President, they assert. Nope. Anyone who uses a private elevator in the statehouse to avoid confronting his legislators is a wimp. Vetoing 800 bills is the measure of a bully-tyrant. As I understand it, Rmoney started out in venture capitalism, interested in promising start-ups. That's a highly risky form of doing business, with relatively modest returns on average. What Rmoney discovered in vulture capitalism was much less risk with much higher reward, accomplished quickly. Do whatever it takes to win big money for yourself and your few investors.

Anyway, what an enormous relief it was that Rmoney lost! Running a business venture is not at all like heading a democratic government. Remember the last time we let a Harvard MBA try it? Well okay, Rmoney is done, finally, but most assuredly the Republicans are not.

Worse, though, we have no reason to think that Obama will be any different. Every time he gets on the phone with Boehner or McConnell or puts something "on the table" in another gesture of “compromise” or willingness to listen, we know the 99% are about to lose something valuable.

Now, will Obama move from the right toward the center-left? He chose a course for himself years ago. How many of us humans can turn 180 degrees on a dime? It takes many miles to turn a ship and there are multiple icebergs dead ahead. Obama needs to listen to Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz... but he hasn’t and it’s my guess that he won't. Among the most important positions in the next administration will be at Treasury to replace Geithner, but all the names being bandied about portend more of the same.

I may yet find a degree or two of hope, but I have little reason for optimism. What we need is massive movement... like right now, today!... by the citizens of this country to turn the great ship of state before it’s too late. But while I do believe that more people are waking up, that popular vote was not especially encouraging.

Denis Neville said...

Obama promised that “the best is yet to come” in his second term.

The best is yet to come? For whom?

Look at his drones.

Currently his drones are very busy - an average of 33 per month - more than at any moment in the 11 years of the Afghan conflict. He will continue and expand their use in his second term.

Did Obama’s drone wars - sanitized and carefully controlled and censored - bother his enthusiastic supporters?

“To all those now hailing the re-election of Barack Obama as a triumph of decent, humane, liberal values over the oozing-postule perfidy of the Republicans, a simple question: Is this child dead enough for you?” asks Chris Floyd.

“What are you celebrating? How far will you go? What won't you celebrate?”

“And so step by step, holding the hand of the "lesser evil," we descend deeper and deeper into the pit.”

We “Won't get fooled again.” “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” - Pete Townshend, The Who

James F Traynor said...

They're beating the drums for Hillary Clinton! And maneuvering to keep Elizabeth Warren off the banking committee. Schumer is probably leading the charge.

Will said...

Here's a tweet I ran across this morning:

U.S. announces $6.7b arms sale to one of world's most repressive regimes/foremost supporter of terrorism. Happy Vets Day!