Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Out With the Old Crap, In With the New

Many of us recognized that when President Obama declared in a December speech that Income Inequality is "the defining challenge" of our time, it was just one more dollop of whipped rhetorical crap designed to co-opt the populist message of the wildly popular new Pope. After all, he'd attempted the same trick within weeks of his orchestrated crackdown of the wildly popular Occupy movement in 2011.

His most recent Inequality shtick didn't even last a month before the Ruling Class began howling "Class War!" and he obliged them by hastily burying the Inequality word by shifting to the more neoliberally palatable "Equality of Opportunity" dump in his State of the Union speech.

And noticing that people are noticing the hastily buried doo-doo, the White House apparently enlisted trusty New York Times stenographer reporter Jackie Calmes to clean it up --  by hilariously blaming voters,  rather than paranoid filthy-rich people, for Obama's frantic forced January pivot away from the December pivot:
Like so many political fights, the one between President Obama and Republicans over income inequality has become a battle over language. Is it about inequality of incomes or of opportunity? On this question, the president and his party have moved in Republicans’ — and voters’ — direction. (my bold.)
Let's nip that lie right in the bud, shall we? Every recent public opinion poll has at least two-thirds of respondents howling mad over the most extreme wealth gap in American history. People didn't just wake up this morning, scratch their heads, and recognize "It's the Opportunity, Stupid," and that the poor billionaires are being unfairly maligned, and thus we need to stop the creeping threat of Marxism before Democracy explodes.

Obama is bending to the will of the voters, all right -- the voters who really count. He's simply continuing to bend over to voters who donate the big bucks to the politicians. The voters whose votes are weighted with gold. The voters of the One Percent. Calmes continues:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, recently wrote a column in The Hill newspaper condemning the decades-long trend of worsening income inequality, then advised “banish that term.” (into the Bastille!)
“However salient reducing income inequality may be,” he wrote, “it is demonstrably less important to voters than any number of other priorities” — including reducing poverty.
The differences are not just a matter of politics, but of policies, too. For both parties, their emphasis in talking about opportunity over income inequality matters because it affects the outcome of what the government might do, and what Democrats and Republicans can possibly agree on. (Bipartishit always rules in the Beltway.)
The president should “steer this debate” away from income inequality and “in a direction where we can find some unity,” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former congressman from Minnesota. “I would not, if I were him, hit hard on income distribution, because everybody goes to their ideological corners right away and we’re at war.” (We millionaires in Congress are all in this together!)
And "over cocktails in the White House," Calmes continues, N.Y. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street) urged the president to bury the Inequality crap. Because although it was never anything but a clump of plastic doggy-doo from a novelty shop in the first place, such talk from Obama was still making the sensitive patrician noses of Schumer's constituency positively wrinkle in fear and loathing.

Judging from the reader comments to Calmes's puff piece, people are just not swallowing the propaganda any more. William Neil of Rockville, MD. called her article "the intellectual equivalent of airbrushing." There is a class war, and it's being waged by the oligarchy against the rest of us. My published comment:
By euphemizing income inequality into "the opportunity gap," the rhetorical onus has been subtly shifted from the lords right back onto the serfs. The message from our politicians is clear: the rich shall not be taxed, nor corporations regulated, in order to narrow the gap. Rather you, the regular person, might also become rich someday, if you only work hard and "play by the rules." In other words, they want you to buy into the corporate cult of selfishness and "personal responsibility" rather than demanding justice and fairness for society as a whole. (Remember what Ronnie's partner in neoliberalism, Margaret Thatcher, said about "society" -- it doesn't exist!)
Instead of channeling Theodore Roosevelt and calling out the "malefactors of great wealth," and echoing FDR's "I welcome their hatred," President Obama is reaching out to the same coddled plutocrats who've caused the record wealth disparity in the first place. Among the CEOs invited to the White House last week to "voluntarily" consider hiring the long-term unemployed was the head of Bank of America. This bank is given the red carpet treatment at the same moment the Department of Justice is trying to extract a nearly $1 billion mortgage fraud settlement from it.
The elites get carried interest deductions and deferred prosecution agreements. The rest of us get bromides and platitudes interspersed with the regular beatings meant to improve our morale.


fahrenheit451 said...

I read the article just the way you did, Karen, and many others as well apparently; great comment.

Which led me to remember a line which I read last night - an epigraph, actually. It's from De Tocqueville, the observer so often quoted from, and hurled into American political discussions. Here he is on the coming of the French Revolution:

"Never was any such event so inevitable yet so completely unforeseen."

Pearl said...

Never fear dear friends: Superwoman Hillary will come to the rescue. I saw a headline indicating that democrats were disturbed by the current publicity regarding funds promised to her should she run and said to myself: my god, are the democrats waking up to the realization that it is madness to allow this woman to become president?
But no: they were just concerned that funds needed for the coming
Congressional elections would be thwarted and upon polling democratic voters found that the majority of voters - in very high numbers - would fight tooth and nail for her election. Meanwhile, there is silence so far, from the progressive leadership ranks unless I have missed something.

There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow I'm afraid and the IQ of democratic voters has fallen into the retarded area. But if nothing else we have to keep telling the truth in case some poor souls will be grateful and have an open mind should opportunity for change fall into our laps. We have to stop blaming Obama for all the destruction because he knows he can do and say anything to explain why problems continue and get away with it.Political education is the key, especially for the coming questioning hordes of young people entering the marketplace with no road map in sight.

I hope Abraham Lincoln wasn't mistaken about not being able to fool all the people all the time.

James F Traynor said...

Yeah, they're getting scared and I think they really ARE beginning to listen to the public .The comments in the NYT are getting increasingly impatient with the Gray Lady's view of things. They are starting to reject the bipartianshit as Karen terms it. Maybe the fog of bullshit is becoming penetrable to the eyes of the hoi polloi.

Zee said...

@Karen and @annenigma--

I agree with you that Obama's latest “pivot*” from “income inequality” to “equality of opportunity”—another example of Obama blurting stuff out before he consults with his puppet-masters, stuff that he subsequently is ordered to “walk back”—is merely a diversionary tactic on his part to protect his plutocrat buddy donors from increased taxes on their wealth. Still, I believe that the principle of equality of opportunity is far more important than reducing income inequality merely for the sake of reducing income inequality.

Some time ago, Noodge put it so well that I see no reason not to purloin his words here. Though his words were written in a slightly different context ( viz., the importance of advancing equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome), I think they apply equally well to the relative importance of advancing equality of opportunity vs. reducing income inequality.

“[Equality of opportunity] is the problem that most needs addressing. Equality of opportunity means that everyone should have a roof over their heads, food on their tables, an excellent education, and access to decent medical care. It also means doing whatever is necessary to prevent the creation of a de facto aristocracy (large estate taxes are an important element in this effort).

But equality of opportunity does not mean equality of outcome, and it shouldn't. There is a big difference between ensuring that everyone has the same and ensuring that everyone has enough, and our government's primary concern should be ensuring that everyone has enough to build whatever life they desire. There really shouldn't be any problem with people being as rich as they like as long as we take pains to guarantee their wealth doesn't buy them things like media dominance, undue political influence, and preferential treatment under the law. All those things are achievable without mandating equality of outcome...

And once we have true equality of opportunity, outcomes will no longer be so skewed. All things being equal, any system tends toward the mean with time, but it's the "all things being equal" part that's so hard to get right.”


I have no objections to progressively increasing beyond current the tax rates—income, capital gains, carried interest, etc. —on the rich and super-rich to accomplish the foregoing (and additional) goals, or even an increase in taxes on people in my income bracket.

But I do tire of hearing about how the rich need to be taxed fairly. Apart from a smooth, non-linear, concave-upward, steadily increasing tax rate vs. income (above a democratically-decided-upon “zero-tax poverty threshold) to achieve a well-thought-out set of national objectives, I have yet to hear any definition of a “fair tax rate” that is convincing as such.
* Pivot (Def.): In basketball as in politics, to spin endlessly about on a single foot which is permanently planted on the court floor, without ever advancing so much as a single step in any given direction.

Jay - Ottawa said...


To increase the Quality of Opportunity
Or to decrease the Inequality of Income:
That is the question.

Whether ‘tis nobler to salute the gifted,
The avaricious, and the lucky born ––
And even to support them further as they
Zoom down the unobstructed lanes
Made special for them
At full throttle in daddy’s caddie
On the wide road to Comfort
Greed and Excess

And, by the way, for all of whom
The Starting Line of their existence
Is so f*cking close to the Finish Line
Of still more good fortune
Whose Starting Line may even be
On the doorstep of the Finish Line
Whether or not they backstroke,
Butterfly or float in the warm
Waters of their own good luck ––

Or to pivot in favor of the unlucky born
Whose daddies sadly had no caddies
Who are average, more or less,
In body and mind, financially or socially
And who strain from birth to death
To climb over the many obstacles
Laid down between them
And that faraway Finish Line
By capricious gods
And righteous men

What blameworthy fools
Those born unlucky
Short of physical wholeness
Short on intellect
Short of connected friends
Blind to the balanced view
What fools to have picked
As their Starting Line
Of all places
The doorstep of Want
And to remain stuck there by
Circumstances beyond their control
Light years from Barely Enough
Where, so they claim,
Quality of Opportunity
Means absolutely nothing.

annenigma said...

Excellent, Jay!

Karen Garcia said...

Thank you Jay. Superb. I will now take the opportunity granted to me by Google to reprint your soliloquy in main blog format... because that is my choice, that is my freedom.

Noodge said...

Zee: Thank you very much for the kind words and for remembering mine.

I do want to hasten to point out, though, that equality of opportunity for me means something quite different than it does for David Brooks and his ilk (which apparently now includes Barack Obama). For me it means first that everyone should have a roof over their heads, a decent education, medical care, food, and clothing. It also means having an equal say in the political process. In order to provide these things for everyone in this country it will be necessary to tax the wealthy far more than they are being taxed today. Brooks somehow believes that someone who lacks these basic requirements can still have an equal opportunity to succeed.

That's simply absurd.

Zee said...


I remembered your words because I agree with them in full; which is why I pretty much quoted you in full regarding what “equality of opportunity” should mean:

“it means first that everyone should have a roof over their heads, a decent education, medical care, food, and clothing. It also means having an equal say in the political process.”

I also stated in my most recent comment that I have no objection to raising taxes on the rich and super-rich to accomplish the objectives that you (and I) specified. Realist that I am, though, I would expect my taxes to increase in order to accomplish those goals, too. And I’m certainly not rich; I see myself as pretty much at the bottom of what most might call the “upper middle class.”

What I don’t believe is possible--or even desirable--to try to achieve, is full equality of outcomes. Sardonickistas are free to disagree with me on that point, as I’m sure they very soon will do--probably with all barrels blazing.

But whether our society elects to achieve real equality of opportunity or real equality of outcome (probably neither in for the foreseeable future), the question that I am trying to ask--and, apparently, not doing a very good job of it--is: What is the rational, realistic, and, yes, fair path forward?

The simplistic but assuredly emphatic response of most Progressives seems to be: “Tax the rich fairly!” sans further explanation, as if that answers all questions. Just like the simplistic bumper sticker that is popular around Albuquerque, “Tax the rich, not workers!”

But exactly who are “the rich?” What constitutes “fair taxation,” and why?” What are our revenue needs to achieve our goals? Are there enough “rich” out there, alone, to be squeezed to meet our added revenue needs? And, by the way--and in some detail--tell me, exactly what are our goals?

These seem to me to be not unreasonable questions to want answered before we bound down yet another rabbit hole in search of ill-defined “hope and change.” I would have thought that most participants in this forum would have seen where that led us on their last blind leap of faith.

Zee said...


I appreciate your literary skill, but if your poem was directed in part at me, I think that you do me a bit of an injustice. I don’t believe that at any time while participating in this forum, I have failed to acknowledge the opportunities accorded me by the accident of my birth.

Still, it was just that: an accident. I don’t believe that I need to embrace it as some form of new, “original sin”--to be atoned or apologized for daily--just as most Progressive Christian churches have abandoned the first version of original sin.

Noodge said...

Zee: I fully understood your meaning; I was merely trying to reinforce mine. Again, many thanks. I was and am truly flattered. Apologies if my response offended.

Don't know if I've ever set it down on these pages, but my idea for guaranteeing that everyone has enough without wasting our time worrying about whether anyone has too much (whatever that is) starts by eliminating all of the guaranteed income programs we have (food stamps, welfare, etc.) and replacing them with a single program of guaranteed employment at a living wage (say $30,000 per year). Couple that with Medicare for all, and the government no longer has to be in the business of telling people what foods to buy, where they can live (via section 8), or anything else involving how people choose to spend their own money.

If we add to that bringing back laws preventing concentration of media ownership and adding public financing of elections, most of the worries we have about the integrity of election campaigns would disappear. You could have all the money you want, but if you couldn't use it to unfairly influence elections it really wouldn't matter to me what else you might choose to do with it.

As for taxing people fairly, I would institute a flat tax that does a few things. First, it would exempt all income up to the minimum living wage (that $30,000 I spoke of earlier). Second, I would tax all capital gains at the same rate we tax labor. Third, there would be no deductions for any reason. That seems to me to be fair. It would retain elements of progressivity and would, by insisting on no deductions for any reason, keep the tax code from being used as a spoils system for favored constituencies.

Slap a steep inheritance tax on top of all that and we can eliminate most worries about a de facto aristocracy (which is what we have now).

Zee said...


Absolutely no offense was taken.

I, too, was merely further clarifying my position.

The Black Swan said...


I've been swamped with work and school, but I still have my essay on Basic Income that I'd like to get edited down to a manageable form for this blog. It covers a bit of what Zee and Noodge touched on. One thing, I don't agree at all with guaranteed employment at a living wage. I think a Basic Income regardless of work, is the way to go. Employment just feeds into the consumer based capitalist death machine that is currently turning our planet into plastic and toxins. We need lives, not jobs.

Another note. We can't have wealth and equality. Or we need to decouple money the resource, from money the purchaser. If money is a resource, then wealth creates scarcity, scarcity drives inflation, inflation causes hardship for those without wealth while enriching the wealthy.

However we provide for our food, education, shelter, medicine, leisure, needs to be separate from whatever denominates wealth.

We have passed the point of tinkering with capitalism, passed the point of tinkering with the status quo, and passed the point of saving the institutions of the 20th century. Whatever is going to save us is going to be something completely new (and maybe rooted in things very old).

Noodge said...

@ Black Swan: Ultimately, if you guarantee income, but ask for nothing in return, most people will take the income and give nothing in return. That's simply human nature. Franklin Roosevelt called it the poverty of the dole.

And I'm not sure how it is that someone who works for an income is feeding some sort of capitalist death machine, but someone who is given an income and works only if he feels like it is somehow more human. Doesn't a lot depend on how you choose to be employed?

Guaranteed employment programs during the New Deal gave us things of great lasting value. How many plays were written and performed? How many public works of art created? How many parks were built? The rural South was electrified, quite literally.

Ben Shahn's iconic "Lest We Forget" helped fuel the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Shahn was paid by the WPA. Neither he nor the farmers he fought for were part of a capitalist death machine, but both worked hard to provide us essentials; the one fed our bodies, the other our souls. And while Shahn quite probably would have continued to paint had his income been guaranteed without requiring that he paint, it's highly unlikely the farmers would have continued to work the fields if their incomes had been guaranteed regardless of whether they ever picked up a hoe. So both Hahn and the farmers would have had incomes, but neither one of them could have used the incomes to buy any food.

The fact is, not everyone shares your sense of right and wrong, nor your social conscience (both of which I admire). Neither wishing nor a guaranteed income will make it so.

Finally, equality, the equality that matters, isn't measured by the quantity of stuff you can buy, as long as the stuff you can buy doesn't include political power. What matters is equality before the law and equality in the political process. If we all have a decent home to live in, why should I care if you have a 10,000 square foot house, while I make do with 1,200? I believe we can build safeguards into our political process that remove the influence of money. It will be extremely difficult given the power of today's corporate state, but less difficult than creating the society you speak of.