Sunday, November 2, 2014

His Penultimate Hurrah

You knew this was coming. President Obama, according to the political celebrity-focused pundit class, will be faced with a theatrical conundrum after midterm elections. He must either continue pretending to ineffectually despise Republicans while pleading for ineffectual legislation like the $10.10 minimum wage. Or, he can finally drop the pretense and reprise 2011, venturing even more boldly out of his right-wing closet to give John Boehner 99.999% of what he wants, to save Hillary the trouble and precious political capital.

Freed from the chore of grubbing money from Wall Street and Hollywood, Obama can hunker down with his fellow neoliberals across the aisle to ram through the corporate coup known as the Trans Pacific Partnership.  A reanimation of the "Grand Bargain" for the grandees (Social Security and Medicare cuts) isn't out of the question either. I imagine that the permanent immiseration of the old and poor will be the quid pro quo for a couple of token public-private infrastructure deals, temporary corporate tax loophole-closings, and temporary funding for corporate-run universal preschool.

  To paraphrase Bette Davis: Fasten your seat belts -- it's going to be a bumpy night/two years/decade/ass-killing slide down into the black pit of doom.

We got one of our first nauseating clues about what the Barack-Hillary interregnum will be like in today's New York Times. Peter Baker, who works the Oval Office trial balloon beat, puts it thusly:
Whipsawed by events and facing another midterm electoral defeat, President Obama has directed his team to forge a policy agenda to regain momentum for his final two years in office even as some advisers urge that he rethink the way he governs.
Without waiting for results from elections on Tuesday that few in the White House expect to go well for Mr. Obama, top aides have met for weeks to plot the final quarter of his presidency. Anticipating a less friendly Congress, they are mapping possible compromises with Republicans to expand trade, overhaul taxes and build roads and bridges.
So right off the bat, Obama is portrayed as the powerless victim of "event whipsawing," absolving him of any personal responsibility for the event horizon nose-thumbing about to be delivered to the American people. Politicians don't run the government -- events do. And the Big Event is not Ebola, or the ignored and looming catastrophe of climate change -- it is the not-so-invisible whipsaw of the free market plutocrats, who just bought themselves a new-old passel of corrupt politicians to do their bidding.
For a president who has lost public support and largely failed to move his agenda on Capitol Hill since winning re-election two years ago, there may be little hope for significant progress if Republicans capture the Senate and add to their House majority. But if Republicans are fully in charge of Congress rather than mainly an opposition party, both sides may have an incentive to strike deals, at least during a short window before the 2016 presidential campaign consumes Washington.
This approximately year-long window of opportunity is just perfect for the oligarchy. All eyes, courtesy of our corporate media Svengalis, will be directed to the stars of the 2016 horse-race, instead of on the back-room deals being forged between the bipartisan frenemies already in power. Paul Ryan, (R-Sadism) is not sated on what he cynically termed the "low-hanging fruit" of food stamp cuts and other concessions given him last year by Patty Murray (D-Masochism). Ryan wants to gnaw on the whole trunk of democracy like a busy little nihilist beaver. He's also shamelessly telegraphing his omnivorous gluttony for even more human flesh. He's betting that the conservative Obama will forgo the veto pen on legislative Social Darwinism if one of the prizes is the president's longed-for global corporate coup of the free trade deals. And he's probably betting right. Obama has never even taken Chained CPI and other poor-punishing treats off the neoliberal table-- he's just hidden them under his cheap tray of populist hors d'oeuvre and sugar-coated Halloween crumbs for the duration of his last campaign season.

The Nightmare Before The Nightmare

Ryan also promised that, just as they did in the Democratic-controlled Congress in the last throes of the Bush administration, Republicans will upend the filibuster by using budget reconciliation to ram through plutocrat-friendly legislation. Even so, the Democrats (mostly of the anonymous coward branch of the Party) quoted in stenographer Peter Baker's article are coyly pretending ignorance of the ploy -- which they themselves chose not to avail themselves of in the last six years of their majority: 
Joel P. Johnson, who was Bill Clinton’s counselor late in his presidency, said Mr. Obama should test Republican intentions soon after the new Congress takes office. “Make it clear there is a negotiating table awaiting, and don’t shut down the possibility that there could be a dialogue that results in something that’s progress,” he said.
In some ways, a change in the Senate majority may not make that big a difference. Other than presidential nominations, which can be passed with a simple majority, most significant legislation must still muster 60 votes, which neither party will have, to overcome a filibuster. One Democrat close to the White House said the election was just “the difference between 96 percent gridlock and 100 percent gridlock.”
Gridlock is the stale excuse used by both sides of the duopoly to explain why they can't get anything done. Actually, they get plenty done -- including protecting the security and police states and bloating the coffers of the military industrial complex to beyond bursting, ignoring the unemployed, and cutting deals to reduce food stamp benefits. and absolving themselves of ethical constraints to their insider trading and other methods of self-enrichment.

Fasten your seat belts. And rev your engines, honk your horns, screech your tires, blast your air brakes. Let's not make it easy or pleasant for them.  


Update, Sunday evening: Here's my response to Paul Krugman wondering why the logic of business tycoons, notably even in Japan, has such weird influence on gummint economic policies:
How can the twisted logic of austerity, as espoused by the billionaires, be kept off the to-do list of their surrogates -- the politicians that "we" elect to run the place?
Get the $$$ out of politics. Yes, easier said than done, given that politics and money are now essentially the same twisted entity. As Sen. Bernie Sanders told Bill Moyers this weekend, only a populist uprising massive enough to shake the corrupt duopoly to its very core will do the job.
Again, easier said than done, since a pervasive police/spy state now exists to quell such inevitable uprisings. The AP just got the goods on Missouri, which established a strict "no-fly zone" for news helicopters wishing to film the state brutality against the peaceful Ferguson protesters. The plutocrats and the politicians don't want a repeat of the aerial footage of the Watts riots of the 60s, which cemented public demand for various civil rights reforms and the War on Poverty. They want Nixon's ensuing counter-revolutionary Southern Strategy to remain the status quo. They want to keep that screw turned dead-right for as long as they can.
 It serves the interests of the greedy big business "thought leaders" to keep wages depressed and jobs scarce. And just in time for Halloween, Al Simpson was back on TV to play the folksy Grim Reaper. Despite the misery that misguided austerity has wrought, the plutocrats still want to burn Social Security at the stake.
The only deficit we have to fear is their empathy deficit.
(You can catch the Bernie Sanders clip on the Bill Moyers link located on my Blogroll. I wasn't all that impressed, because he essentially blamed voters for not holding Obama (whom he cloyingly still respects and admires) to his campaign promises when he filled his cabinet with Wall Streeters. Sanders also respects and likes Hillary. As far as I am concerned, Bernie basically succeeds in cancelling himself by refusing to criticize his fellow pols. That clip of his Iowa speech was great, though. He is quite the fiery orator.... as was/is Obama.)


Pearl said...

To salvage his presidency, Obama faces pressure to reboot - but will he? via @reuters

voice-in-wilderness said...

I'm afraid Karen's prediction is correct, that President Obama will do almost anything to reward his imagined corporate friends by ramming through the TPP give-away.

Denis Neville said...

America's folly will continue unabated after Tuesday’s election … the best government (“inverted totalitarianism”) that the moneyed elites can buy. Politicians pander to the rich for their money to run and pander to the ignorant public for their votes. Many of whom will vote their allegiance, against their own economic interests, to failed Reaganomics that favors tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and regressive sales taxes and property taxes for ordinary Americans, de-regulation and privatization of public functions, and the socialization of casino capitalism losses; in other words, "free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich."

Corrupt beyond salvation, the Democrats and Republicans agree on tax breaks for the wealthy, austerity for the rest of us, government snooping into our lives, and never ending wars.

The World Health Organization now acknowledges that poverty is the world’s greatest killer: “Poverty wields its destructive influence at every stage of human life, from the moment of conception to the grave. It conspires with the most deadly and painful diseases to bring a wretched existence to all those who suffer from it.”

America is "exceptional" for child poverty:

• one in four children (16 million) lives in poverty, the highest level in 20 years

• over million children are homeless

• one in four children (16 million) live in food-insecure families

• one in three children (47 percent of recipients) rely on food stamps for nutrition

• nearly one in two children live in families near the poverty line

• budget cuts have had a devastating impact on anti-poverty programs for children

• seven million children have no health insurance

• Children’s Health Insurance Program is scheduled to have its funding cut by 73 percent in 2016

• only half of children with mental disorders receive any form of mental-health services

Do the politicians care about America’s child poverty?

“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport." - William Shakespeare

“The capacity to suffer is, clearly, part of being human. But not all suffering is equal, in spite of pernicious and often self-serving identity politics that suggest otherwise. One of the unfortunate sequelae of identity politics has been the obscuring of structural violence, which metes out injuries of vastly different severity … It is possible to speak of extreme human suffering, and an inordinate share of this sort of pain is currently endured by those living in poverty.” – Paul Farmer, “On Suffering and Structural Violence”

In life choices structured by racism, sexism, political violence and grinding poverty, the poor are not only more likely to suffer, they are also more likely to have their suffering silenced.

“A wall between the rich and poor is being built, so that poverty does not annoy the powerful and the poor are obliged to die in the silence of history.” - Pablo Richard, Chilean theologian

Denis Neville said...

Child poverty in developed nations has risen significantly: 2.6 million children have sunk below the poverty line in the world’s most affluent countries since 2008, bringing the total number of children in the developed world living in poverty to an estimated 76.5 million. While early stimulus programs in some countries were effective in protecting children, by 2010 a majority of countries pivoted sharply from budget stimulus to budget cuts, with negative impact on children.

The number of the world’s billionaires doubled during this same time period and politicians were swilling at the Big Money troughs and conservatives and their selfish shills raged against “takers.”

“Contemporary conservatives still value that old American character. William Bennett in his lectures reads admiringly from an account of the Donner party written by a survivor that tells the story in spare, stoic style. He puts the letter down and asks incredulously, “Where did those people go?” - David Frum, Dead Right

What is the moral philosophy of cultural and social conservatives?

“Social conservatism is potentially more popular than economic conservatism. But severed from economic conservatism, social conservatism too easily degenerates into mere posturing. The force driving the social trends that offend conservatives, from family breakup to unassimilated immigration, is the welfare function of modern government. Attempting to solve these social problems while government continues to exacerbate them is like coping with a sewer main explosion by bolting all the manhole covers to the pavement. Overweening government may not be the sole cause of America’s maladies. But without overweening government, none would rage as fiercely as it now does. The nearly 1$ trillion the federal government spends each year on social services and income maintenance – and the additional hundreds of billions spent by the states – is a colossal lure tempting citizens to reckless. Remove those alluring heaps of money, and the risks of personal misconduct would again deter almost everyone, as they did before 1933 and even 1965.” - David Frum, Dead Right

Conservatism means forcing the poor and middle-class to sacrifice government programs whose existence is, or may be, in their economic interest in order that they be more Donner party-like look-alikes.

What is conservatism? The hallmark of all conservatism is the support of aristocracy: income inequality that crosses generations by families. Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

What is wrong with conservatism? Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

It has been really interesting to hear the change of tactic in the discussions around poverty. Because the Republicans can't deny that the policies they are promoting are causing more and more people to slip out of the middle class and into the working poor, they have taken a pro active stance saying that the American poor are not really poor when compared to the poor in Africa. As if this is a reasonable comparison! As if we want people starving to death and dying of diseases unknown in the First World in America. It is not as if these people would lift one finger to help those in poor countries as is our tepid response to the Ebola outbreak.

I have come to dread elections. They mean either more to the Republicans or a pathetic win to lying Democrats of the Obama ilk. Sadly, this tragic slide is in most developed countries. Those of us who care and want to work for change are becoming fewer and fewer.

I can't believe Bernie Sanders has much respect for Obama or Hillary. He probably believes he can do more good staying in the Senate. Sadly, you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. (No offence to all the great canines out there including my lovable lab.)

Denis Neville said...

Politicians who defend the interests of corporate America oppose any increase in the minimum wage.

Many middle-class Americans, like the following commenter, think poor people don’t behave the way they should:

”Minimum wage is meant to be a starter's job. If the minimum wage is enough for a starter, that's all it should need. If there are grown men and women doing minimum wage jobs, that points to a bigger problem: education. If people are getting to be near thirty and still need a job at McDonalds, that means they have no other skills to offer. This means they learned none. It's a vicious cycle. They have kids, and can't pay for good education because they didn't get one.”

What’s wrong with poor people? Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?

They are poor.

What it is like to live in poverty?

Slave wage poor people are exhausted, degraded, angry and depressed most days of their hopeless lives.

“Our bodies hurt, our brains hurt, and our souls hurt.”

"It's far more demoralizing to work and be poor than to be unemployed and poor. Working your balls off, begging for more hours, hustling every penny you can, and still not being able to cover your electric bill is soul-killing."

"We do not breed for sweet, sweet government cheese."

"I am not, for all my frustration, opposed to capitalism. Most Americans, poor ones included, aren't. We like the idea that anyone can succeed. What I am opposed to is the sort of capitalism that sucks the life out of a whole bunch of the citizenry and then demands that they do it better with what they have left." - Linda Tirado, Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

Listen to this GoodBooksRadio interview with Linda Tirado:

As Karen says, “The only deficit we have to fear is their empathy deficit.”