Thursday, April 4, 2013

House of Pain

Here's my problem with much of the media coverage of the gratuitous and cruel imposition of national austerity known as Sequestration -- or if you will, "The Sequester." No human faces or names are even being appended to it anymore. The generic Congress Critters gave birth in their laboratory, and abandoned the baby. And we, to paraphrase a line in H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau, have become the bubbles blown by the baby.

So, instead of "President Obama and hundreds of bought-and-paid-for politicians in Congress are cutting thousands of poor children from Head Start", we're being told that the Sequester Did It.

Today's Washington Post headline blares "Cancer Clinics Are Turning Away Thousands of Medicare Patients. Blame the Sequester."

The Huffington Post is running a shocking piece that lists 100 agencies already feeling the "stinging cuts" of the Sequester. Wow. That Sequester sure is one sharp-nailed beast, huh? We certainly didn't see that one coming out of the torture chamber known as Washington. And Congress is still on vacation, raising all that campaign cash.  

Words matter. Semantics matter. Media should be naming and shaming. Instead, they're allowing the politicians to not only disown responsibility for the monster they created, but to act as though there is no way to just kill the damn thing.

"They had certain Fixed Ideas implanted (by Moreau... Pete Peterson?)  in their minds which absolutely bounded their imaginations. They really were hypnotized, had been told certain things were impossible, and certain things were not to be done, and these prohibitions were woven into the texture of their minds beyond any possibility of disobedience or dispute." (H.G. Wells)

Chillingly, our elected officials are now actually celebrating and embracing austerity by ostentatiously giving up some of their own perks and pennies to appease their vile creation. They pretend to suffer in order to make us feel like whiners if we're not enjoying our own suffering. 

President Obama, leading from behind even as he kicks the public in its collective behind, is playing Austerity Catch-up by relinquishing a paltry portion of his own paycheck to the Treasury in order to show "solidarity" with federal workers victimized by the Frankenstein Furlough. Instead of demanding Death to Sequester, he is helping to push austerity normalization right along. The politicians who have now disowned their monster will be falling all over themselves to Give Back in a massive outbreak of noblesse oblige. The Huffington Post will no doubt start running a tally of all the political holdouts who are selfishly withholding their paychecks from the Share the Sacrifice Cause -- much as they are doing now for the pols who are still refusing to jump on the Gay Marriage bandwagon.

And as far as sending a check to the Treasury is concerned, Obama might as well be writing a check to Goldman Sachs, Exxon-Mobil, G.E. or any number of tax-exempt, tax-evading corporate welfare queens who treat our national community chest as their own personal piggy bank. His gesture would mean more if he contributed to one of those community cancer centers turning away chemo patients, or to a local subsidized day nursery having to lay off its minimum-wage child care providers. 

Instead of calling for shared prosperity, the president is holding himself up as a paragon of shared austerity. For a guy who just issued a clarion call to map the human brain, he is not demonstrating too much in the way of either brains or empathy. Then again, he is more Reagan than Johnson, more Hoover than FDR, more Dr. Moreau than Dr. Schweitzer.

And his 5% contribution is not even particularly generous, let alone original. The LA Times provides some history:
Herbert Hoover put his salary in a separate account, then divvied it up, giving part to charity and part to employees he felt were underpaid, according to an interview he gave in 1937. John F. Kennedy donated his presidential salary to various charities, according to Stacey Chandler, an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
George Washington refused pay during the latter part of his military career, according to researchers at Mount Vernon. He tried to refuse a presidential salary, but Congress required that the position pay $25,000.
Next up -- privatized soup kitchens, since the Sequester Creature is eating up all the goodies in the subsidized food banks and nutrition programs. Maybe they can even be funded by mobsters and drug cartels. Maybe there's a 21st century Al Capone waiting in the wings to feed hungry children. Maybe the Walmart heirs can share the sacrifice and clean up their own grisly image by volunteering to man the IV drips in the community cancer clinics.

Nah, scrub that idea. There have already been too many cheesy remakes of The Island of Dr. Moreau



Zee said...

Obama may be docking himself 5% of his own salary, and grade school kids may not get to tour their White House this summer owing to the sequester, but Barry and Michelle's entertainment budget sure ain't suffering under the budget cuts:

You can bet that We, The Taxpayers will be picking up at least part of this tab for security, etc.

And I'm sure glad to know that a chunk of my annual contribution to PBS will be used to pay off some of the rest, so that Barry, Michelle and the First Kids will be entertained in the style to which they have become accustomed.

Oh, barf!

Denis Neville said...

Another Obama fig leaf…

For his approval of Keystone XL:

It’s hard to sell aggressive environmental action to Americans who are still struggling in a difficult economy to pay bills, buy gas and save for retirement.

“You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your number-one concern. And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.” – Obama

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Obama’s (and neoliberalism’s) four big economic goals:

1. Health care “reform” — a privatized alternative to Medicare expansion [done]
2. A “grand bargain” in which social insurance benefits are rolled back [in work]
3. Plentiful oil & gas and passage of the Keystone Sludgepipe (KXL pipeline) [in work]
4. Passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement [in work]

Mission almost accomplished,

As Yves Smith says, “Obama wants his legacy and the public be damned. And Bill Clinton proves that being a front person for neoliberalism is a very lucrative post-Presidential line of work.”

James F Traynor said...

That bit about Georgie and his pay. The thing is he operated on an expense account during his military service and reportedly (Chernow) so screwed the Congress that they insisted on a salary in lieu of his receiving an expense account as president - which is what Washington wanted.

Washington was a great leader and a consumate politician but a fairly lousy general who gets a lot of praise for what he didn't do and relatively little for what he did.

pete v said...

"The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow." ~ H.G. Wells

Zee said...


I'm not familiar with the Chernow biography of George Washington beyond what I have read about it in Wikipedia, but it sounds like something that I need to add to my ever-growing "to-be-read" list.

I think that generally I agree with your one-sentence analysis of Washington, but I think that if he was largely a "lousy general," he was at least smart enough to recognize it and also to realize that he didn't have to WIN the Revolution, he merely had to avoid LOSING it long enough to exhaust the British, which is what he more-or-less accomplished with the help of the French.

Washington's true greatness lies in his dedication to the rule of law and, later, the Constitution's vision of American freedom.

It seems that there is no real evidence that Washington was offered an American "kingship"--if there is such a word--but the idea seems to have been considered by at least one individual:

It is almost certain, however, that Washington could been "President-for-Life" in true banana-republic style had he chosen to be, but instead he chose to retire to Mt. Vernon after two terms and offer advice from a distance to his successors.

And to me, therein lies his true greatness, to actually refuse power.

Try to imagine that today.