Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fat Cats and Suck-Ups

The headline in the so-called Progressive Congressional Caucus's latest budget proposal tells the whole sordid, regressive story:


Austerity is dead, and income inequality has been proclaimed as the defining challenge of our time. So long live.... Deficit Reduction?

Somebody hasn't been reading their Paul Krugman, who rightly observes that it's stupid to worry about deficit reduction during economic downturns. Somebody didn't get the message that the Fix the Debt cult of billionaire deficit hawks just turned diseased tail feathers and ran.  Somebody didn't notice that shrinking deficits are not economy boosters.

If the Democrats are wondering why their electoral chances in the mid-terms are looking so dismal, they should look no further than the progressive wing of their own increasingly right wing corporate party. Why do even the most liberal members of Congress seem to have a pathological need to tout deficit reduction in their "Better Off" budget? The headline of their document should be making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Because nobody cares about deficit reduction except obscenely rich people.

Robert Borosage of Campaign for America's Future valiantly parses the  doubletalk (by the way, I would love to see a think tank or lobby call itself something like Fight the Miserable Status Quo for Change Today, or People Against the Soul-Crushing Present) Whenever a group with "future" in the title sends me a fund-raising email, the hairs on the back of my neck remain at full attention. Because time's a-wastin'!). But, I quibble. Writes Borosage:
This is the most progressive budget that will be introduced in the Congress.  It contains bold reforms, but it also accepts a remarkably conservative fiscal framework.  
It devotes over $1 trillion more of the increased revenues from its tax reforms to deficit reduction than to investment over 10 years. It projects an annual deficit of 1.6 percent GDP in 2024, far below a sustainable level of from 2.5 to 3 percent. The CPC rightfully challenges the destructive austerity policies of the last years, calling for repeal of the sequester and the wrong-headed Budget Control Act. But it responds to the alarms of the deficit hawks. Wall Street will howl at the tax proposals, but bankers should be pleased at the tribute paid to deficit reduction.

Holy sacred cow, Batman! These pragmatic suck-ups are worse than that wimpy Oregon couple who called 911 because they were "trapped" in their bedroom by their tantrum-throwing fat cat. Aptly named "Lux."

On the one hand, the progressive budget "rightfully" challenges violently destructive, over-the-edge austerity policies. On the other hand, it politely "asks" the rich to pay just a tad more, as it tacitly gives credence to their mantra of fiscal responsibility. Much of the additional tax revenue in this budget would go toward paying down the debt instead of much-needed spending to stimulate the economy. Even if it passed, the CEOs would simply gnash their teeth in public, but purr in private, complacently licking their paws as they lose a corporate jet deduction here, a vacation home write-off there.

Because the fat cats are safe, we're still trapped, and there's certainly no law enforcement named Eric Holder's DOJ to answer our calls for help. Even Eric Holder's own DOJ watchdog admits that they're unwilling to herd fat cats.

With a few extra progressive-sounding meat by-products ( e.g.,"restoring" cuts to the previously too-meager food stamp budget and "reversing" the federal wage freeze ) this progressive budget is not too far from what the Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission has been calling for this whole time! Tax credits that reward the "hard work" of regular people, closing of tax loopholes for corporations to make it all seem fair.

It obediently falls in party lock-step with the president's own paltry suggested minimum wage of $10.10 -- rather than the more generous $15 an hour being demanded by fast food workers.

And rather than call for true universal health care in the form of Medicare for All, the We Suck Less Budget suggests "building on the successes and efficiencies" of Obamacare through a public option, and graciously allowing individual states to pursue single payer plans.... in the future, of course. Not right now, with upwards of 40 million people uninsured right now and not having the power to put off getting sick until the future.

Not only is this Better Off campaign propaganda document disturbingly vague and disturbingly conservative, it's also disturbingly pro-war and surveillance state. They don't want to end NSA domestic spying (or better yet, cut off funding entirely for the NSA, the CIA and all the other acronyms of over-the-edge authoritarianism). The Progressive Caucus is merely calling for the usual veneer of more fake transparency. They want an annual accountability report from the president to ensure that we are being spied upon in a thrifty way. There's even an ominous bit about continued funding of diplomatic efforts to effect "stability" in governments other than our own. It's suspiciously pro-regime change-sounding, as in supporting undemocratic coups that put fascist puppets into power. See: Ukraine. Why domestic spying and continued meddling abroad would even remotely make us "better off" is not explained by the progressive caucus.

The usual suspects herded into the Democratic veal pen are screeching because this bold milquetoast budget is not getting the same attention by the corporate media as Obama's worse budget and Paul Ryan's terrible budget. Progressives really should be howling in embarrassment and fury that the words debt and deficit are in a progressive document at all. Austerity words have become acceptable parts of the liberal lexicon, and are being used as olive branches to placate wealthy campaign bundlers who donate equally to both parties. Because no matter which side wins at the polls, the plutocrats will remain the pampered show cat champions. Their money, after all, determines both the campaign themes and election outcomes. They will continue getting better, and better, and better off.

And meanwhile, keep paying attention to what our politicians actually do, rather than to what they say in speeches or write in their aspirational fund-raising budget manifestos. The usual bipartisan suspects of the Millionaire Senate, for example, have just come to a tentative agreement that would resume short-term benefits to the long-term unemployed, in exchange for allowing cheap-ass bosses to "delay" contributing to the pension plans of those lucky duckies fortunate enough to still have jobs. Extending jobless benefits to a few million people for a few more lousy months would also be paid for by a regressive user tax on airline travelers. It's the same old, same old: they rob from the struggling to pay for the barely surviving. The hoarding rich shall not be inconvenienced as they grow richer and more bloated by the day. But they assuredly will continue to howl in mock outrage, victims of their own psychotic persecution complex.

The fat cat plutocrats and the suck-up politicians they own are to democracy what malignant tumors are to an organism. They neither know nor care that the cancer always dies right along with the host.


Anonymous said...

And they're not even trying to
convince us of their bullshit
anymore - just getting out the line to the party faithful. The whole charade has become so obvious.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Yeah, in terms of either effectiveness or even willingness to attempt effectiveness, the Congressional "Progressive" Caucus seems to be worth its weight in shit. They're just pathetically limp, no backbone nor any stiffness anywhere. Give these people some political Viagra, they certainly need it. Meanwhile, the people continue to get shafted by the neo-liberals and the so-called conservatives.

That said, there is the danger of conflating multiple issues under labels such as "austerity", "deficit reduction" and such. Most strongly, that's done deliberately by Social Darwinists and other reactionaries who want to conceal their true agendas. It's done by the neoliberals, in bed with the corporations.

But progressives/leftists in focusing on these terms are falling into the trap, all-too-often allowing the right and the neolibs to define the debate. Genuine progressives should themselves be re-defining the debate to 1) emphasize government's both necessary and desirable roles, 2) greatly restrict the undesirable/dangerous roles such as imperial and domestic militarism and surveillance, and 3) make a genuine commitment to both real and proper governmental efficiency.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of both real and proper with respect to governmental efficiency. The Clinton-Gore governmental supposed "efficiency" push ("reinventing government") was just a smokescreen for deregulation, with severe negative effects for most people. (See for instance the fine William K. Black piece from last year, at ). And Ronald Reagan was grossly deceptive, immoral, and "penny-wise and pound-foolish". (Particularly disgusting examples of the latter involve public health. Reagan supposedly "saved" something like $20 million by reducing public health nurses who used to go out into under-served communities such as the homeless to diagnose and treat TB cases. TB, including drug-resistant varieties, subsequently exploded, and I read years ago that just returning to the previous status quo would require spending each year for decades five times what Reagan supposedly "saved". And of course, it's been well-documented that much cost, misery, and death resulted from Reagan and "conservatives" not responding to HIV in a timely manner.)

We need governmental efficiency, but it should be a both moral and intelligent efficiency. If we had that, long-term much of the deficit would probably disappear as a natural consequence.


@Karen: My (tardy) congratulations to you for now being featured at Truthout. Now if only the NYT would have an epiphany and substitute your column for Brooks, Douthat, or Friedman (among others)!!!

Jay–Ottawa said...

The spectrum has shifted; the old words mean nothing. The so-called ‘progressives’ of today are the same ‘liberals’ of the previous generation so scorned by Chris Hedges. They sit around a pale fire and draft position papers about what would be so nice to see, eventually, if only someone else would hand them that long overdue great tomorrow on a silver platter.

Tepid liberals and foot-dragging progressives are content to eat the dust of moneyed interests tearing down the road to another national crash.

Here’s a neat line from an article over at Truthout (about a parallel universe, the Catholic Church, similarly hobbled by lukewarm leadership):

“ … nothing makes a liberal quite as uncomfortable as a radical.”

What we need today are radicals, people who can keep up with events and take control of traffic, at least once in a while. And when radicals can’t slow things down or speed things up for the benefit of the average citizen, they can at very least, with both feet and repeatedly, splash into the plates of plutocrats feasting on our bones and our money. Today’s progressives could never bring themselves to be so rude.

James F Traynor said...

Below is my comment on Stiglitz' piece in the NYT; 'On the Wrong Side of Globalization'.

The tacit assumption here among Obama apologists is that he really doesn't know the probable consequences of TPP. He most certainly does, as did Clinton before him and as Hilary knows today. The Republicans are at least honest as to their intentions; the Democrats, by secretly agreeing with the intentions of the other party, have betrayed not only their base but the country. We are gradually and knowingly being sold off into financial slavery.

Jay–Ottawa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay–Ottawa said...


Good !!!

Obama et al. object to Putin's erasure of Ukraine's national border, yet Obama et al. are OK with eliminating the notion of sovereignty just about everywhere. Under overarching "constitutions" like TPP nation states will amount to considerably less than the almighty Corporate Powers. That's where the ultimate power rests from now on. Presidents, even those of exceptional states, are about to come under the thumb of CEOs. So many political science books will have to be rewritten. Interesting times.

annenigma said...

This is my favorite line:

"The fat cat plutocrats and the suck-up politicians they own are to democracy what malignant tumors are to an organism. They neither know nor care that the cancer always dies right along with the host."

And they're all pretty busy spreading their cancer and other diseases, addictions, and bad habits here at home as well as all over the world.

Naomi Klein had it right in Shock Doctrine. The opportunity value of Crises4Cash to the 1% is so good that they manufacture them. Not only do they cash in, but attention is also successfully diverted away from their own culpability. Now we have Ukraine, which threatens to escalate into a hot war with Russia. I'm sure they have even more locations cooked up to distract us from their evils here at home while making cash abroad. It's been great that they're getting so paranoid lately, worrying about the unwanted negative attention, but sure enough we end up with the equivalent of 'Look! There's Halley's Comet!' What seemed to be a ripe opportunity to keep shining the spotlight on them is once again slipping away.

Now we also have the wealthy entertainment industry making 'White Trash' the stars and focus of television shows instead of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous of the past. Nothing like glorifying poverty and depravity of the masses to keep their Proud2bTrashy movement going. Soon they'll have a big segment of the population happy as a clam to be poor and proud of it. Be proud you can dumpster dive! They might even make it an Olympic Event to help score more Golds for America.

Movie critic John Podoretz yesterday wrote 'Hard Times: the White Trashing of American Television'. In it he says "Rich Hollywood folk making mincemeat out of poor rural folk is another element of the ongoing American culture war that should not go unremarked." I agree, so I am passing it along here.

The 1% are entertaining and enriching themselves by mocking poor people. They could care less about the results, just as Karen stated in terms of cancer destroying the host. What I'd really like to see as regular weekly series are programs about the crimes of the FatCats&SuckUps. Karen could write some really great television scripts about them - based simply on daily news. Truth is stranger than fiction. Karen, that's your new career!

We need shows that educate everyone, and not just Americans either, about the damage done by these FatCats&Suck-Ups - the type of productions that make for powerful political movements as well as blockbuster movies and popular tv shows. The growing Proud2bIgnorant mantra needs to be nipped in the bud right now. As the wealthy know so well, entertainment is a powerful medium to educate OR to cultivate ignorance as well as cash. Too bad they control most of the purse strings. Perhaps entrepreneur billionaire Pierre Omidyar could be convinced to invest in a tv series or has connections with someone who could. Karen, you should pitch his team the idea. You have the write stuff politically and imaginatively and there is a huge need. People lucky enough to have some connections are a valuable asset (like Pearl!)

Aim high.

Graham Ryan said...

This is the worst journalism Ive read in a long time. Inflammatory, talking-point based conjecture without acknowledging any of the realities of political climates.

Please, enlighten me as to what the preferable course of action might be rather than the minority party submitting a budget proposal that cuts military spending, invests in green energy, taxes investment income equitably to wage taxes,shifts defense budgets to diplomacy, calls for transparency for national security budges... etc.

Your maligning the last few advocates for justice and fairness left in the swamp. If you discount the entire process, why are you singling out the only people willing to persist on our behalf throughout the process that our country is encumbered with.

To fill a blog? Shame.

Karen Garcia said...

@Graham Ryan

The reality of the political climate is that every year, the spring peepers, aka the Progs, put out a budget and then immediately proceed to use it as a fund-raising hook. If they were truly progressive, they would have put more actual details and fewer talking points into their alleged budget. (More green energy and infrastructure and cops, hurray!) If they were truly progressive, they would not put "deficit" in the headline. They would have stridently and correctly proclaimed (as did Darth Cheney) that "deficits don't matter" and declared all-out war on corruption and bipartisan neoliberalism.

Instead of calling for an investigation and/or dismantling of the NSA, they merely call for "transparency." So yes, I guess at least you could say that they are progressively authoritarian.

I received an invitation from the Progressive Congress (linked above under fundraising) the other day, which invited me to become a "citizen sponsor" of the Better Off Budget. When I clicked the link to "learn how to help" after providing my email, I just got a page with a plea for cash with boxes of various denominations. (Daily Kos was among the beneficiaries)... so that they can be financially "better off" to help my family save money and fight for my "future." Then, I got an immediate deluge of emails from Democratic candidates inviting me to join them in solidarity for the $10 minimum wage.... by forking over some more of my money for their war chests.

Their budget will not pass; they have no intention of any such thing (they're too busy fund-raising and whining about the press they will not get) but won't we all feel better off as we wax indignant at that useful idiot Paul Ryan?

The sooner people recognize this sham as seasonal good cop/bad cop, Spring Edition, the better off we actually might have a chance of becoming.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Graham Ryan:

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

But I'll describe where mine comes from. First of all, I'm a lifelong registered Democrat, and I and many others on this forum are old enough to remember a different time --- one when Democratic politicians fought, and fought hard, for progressive programs. During the past three-plus decades increasingly-many Democrats have voted to the right of positions Richard Nixon would have advanced when he was president. We progressives have watched this deterioration with dismay, and concluded --- not from any one vote but from a lengthy, complex aggregation of evidence that includes campaign contributions accepted, statements made, positions taken, votes cast --- that many Democratic politicians are Democrats In Name Only. Other Democratic politicians may not have formally "sold out", but perhaps through cowardice and/or the desire to retain office in an increasingly right-wing nation, have increasingly rationalized their own rightward lean.

But their behavior is a slippery slope. Why is this an increasingly right-wing nation? There have indeed been some failures of Democratic ideology, but by far the greater factor for this rightward transformation, we believe, is that when Democratic politicians fail to fight for progressive legislation, defeat of progressive positions becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is Negotiations 101. Fail to adequately make your case to the public, fail to fight for your positions, perhaps even concede much before negotiations begin, and you are guaranteed to be ineffective. Many of us at this forum believe that even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which should be fighting tooth and nail for truly progressive positions, is but a pale shadow of what it should --- and could easily --- be. It takes more than a mildly-progressive budget proposal every year or so to have any progressive impact, and we are profoundly disappointed that they don't fight and do more. It seems as though they, like the proverbial "house negroes" of the antebellum south, "know their place" and won't rock the boat.

If you would care to see a much greater elaboration of my views on contemporary Democrats, please see my 2012 blog post at:

I also strongly recommend Sheldon Wolin's book "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism", which may illuminate for you the role that contemporary Democrats play.

Graham Ryan said...

I grew up in an environment that taught me to choose my words deliberately and from your repeated assertion here, you obviously are unhappy with the progressive caucus’s choice of including ‘deficit’ in their budget proposal. But pardon me for my reservations at your use of rhetoric that I would roll out exclusively for those that were opposed to my beliefs rather than those that were in line with mine but diverged at 80%.

Before we go any further, you’ve as much as called Keith Ellison a Fat-Cat. While that should make anyone with any grasp of our current political environment question your own word choice, it also calls into question your judgement and aims. While I agree with Thom Hartmann and others who rightly state that the progressives are losing the war of words and our national dialog, Im wondering how dialog of this nature is intended to further the cause. Perhaps you write clickbait headlines on the side and are predisposed to hyperbole and exaggeration, but this was a little too drawn out and Fox-esque to be a mere hit generator.

Essentially deriding progressive aims that by necessity, require pragmatism.

Instead of proposing a budget that won’t pass that speaks to moderate issues but is actually progressive and restores some equity to our system, they should propose a budget that still won’t pass but ignores moderates and appeals only to all or nothing ultra leftists?
Instead of calling for transparency in national security surveillance budgets, they should call for an end to programs that the national security surveillance agency could simply deny even exist due to secret and black budgets?
Instead of furthering the Affordable Care Act and offering a public option, they should go all Boehner on em and try to ram an un-winnable bill through the house 50 times?

Other than that, you’ve conveniently ignored the other 80% of the bill that calls for $750 billion dollars in infrastructure investment, cuts defense budgets, audits the pentagon, repeals oil subsides and so on and kind of just kept zeroing in on that one line about ‘deficit’. I feel like I’ve heard this formula of ignoring the context and substance of an issue and bleating on about a soundbite to make a point. Maybe the left needs an O’Reily or Hannity, but I don’t think so.

Anthony Kennerson said...

Ummmm, Mr. Ryan??

I happen to be one of those "ultra Leftists" who happen to agree with Ms. Garcia that the Progressice Caucus "Better Budget" simply gives too much ground to conservatives, is merely a fundraising vehicle, and is so far beyond the curve for what is actually needed to be rendered useless.

The main point is that it is not the responsibility of people on the Left to appeal to an invisible "center" by tailoring their proposals to please everyone. Their core responsibility should be to represent their constituency by promoting and imparting policies that directly represent the issues that constituency face, as well as the policies that would directly improve that base.

I fear that you, Mr. Ryan, have so swallowed up the Kool-Aid of the Democratic Leadership Council's "always try for the 'center'" claptrap that you are oblivious to anything happening outside the Beltway that goes beyond the narrow spectrum.

No, Keith Ellison is not a "fat cat"...and that's not the point of this criticism. The point is that the CPC has been effectively marginalized by the establishment Democrat/Tea Party Republican majority in both houses of Congress to the effect that they can only propose pablum that eases their conscience and has no chance of passage. They have become reduced to nothing more than a yearly press conference fundraiser for the typical liberal blogosphere and a veal pen for harnessing and controlling the leftward side of the spectrum.

The best push for authentic reform will come not from the "insider" strategy of pruning legitimate proposals to meet the need of reaching a "majority"; it will come from outside agitation from those who have suffered the most and are simply not willing to settle for crumbs that can be taken away in the next political cycle. If the CPC can't understand that and transform themselves to an actual fighting force and open themselves up to stronger, newer ideas and higher goals of equality, then they will find themselves as irrelevant as their proposals, and eclipsed by movements that will fight for real principles. (MMT, Job/Basic Income Guarantee, worker representation, etc.)