Friday, March 20, 2015

Budget Shock & Awe

Spring is here, and so is another season of Budget Kabuki in the Feudal States of America. This is the horror show where the extreme right wing attacks and sucks up all the oxygen in the media room, forcing the gasping pseudo-journalist class to treat them seriously because they talk about personal responsibility and sharing the sacrifice. This is the movie where only the lonely Paul Krugman has the courage to call them out on their fraud and perfidy and end yet another column admonishing the liberal class to feel some outrage. 

Feel Krugman's outrage:
One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.
But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.
Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.
Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.
Krugman is so mad that he forgot to mention that there is even an alternative. So I mentioned it in my response to his column:
The GOP budgets are the usual dystopian manifestos we've come to know and despise, immiserating regular people as they leave the departments of surveillance and military aggression largely intact.

These Ayn Rand potboilers not only cause an annual shock-and-awe media frenzy--they allow the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party to move further to the right, as they trade more bliss for the rich for less drastic cuts to social programs. The military and Homeland Security budgets are always left largely intact, even increased, because Permawar has become essential to this financialized economy.

In the end, thanks to Citizen United, the interests of the oligarchs and the war-mongers will be served, because they own the place.

You might not know it, but there's also a progressive congressional People's Budget out there. It hardly gets covered at all, because cruelty and terror and outright fraud make for better copy. This humane budget contains a government jobs program, expansion of Social Security and other safety net programs like SNAP, a minimum wage increase, a debt-free  ollege education, a transition to single payer health care and a tax on carbon pollution.

It allocates $820 billion for infrastructure, taxes investments at the same rate as work, creates a new tax bracket for incomes over $1 million and terminates the carried interest deduction.

We need a lot more than outrage at the GOP. We need the People's Budget. We need a revolution.
Of course, with a name like "People's Budget," the corporate media crowd will automatically assume that it's a commie socialist plot. (And the Times moderators immediately buried my comment under their Golden Times Picks, all seemingly of the male persuasion* which variously cast aspersions on the evil GOP, the weak Democrats, the stupid voters, and, to show how fair and balanced they are, upon the "radical" Krugman himself. None of the comments mentioning the People's Budget was highlighted, lest The People discover its existence.)

And the sad part of it is, the People's Budget isn't even all that radical. As they did last year, our progressive congressional leaders deemed it necessary to immediately placate the phony plutocratic austerians by boasting that their budget reduces the deficit and balances the budget. It only offers a "pathway" for individual states to adopt Single Payer health insurance rather than calling for an immediate implementation of Medicare for All. Check out the neoliberal buzzwords in the intro:
The People's Budget fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead. Despite their skills and work ethic, most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities. They earn less and less as corporations and the wealthy continue amassing record profits. It has become clear to American workers that the system is rigged.
The People’s Budget levels the playing field and creates economic opportunity by increasing the pay of middle- and low-income Americans. More customers and higher consumer spending advance American businesses, not tax cuts and relaxed regulations. The People’s Budget drives a full economic recovery by creating high-quality jobs and reducing family expenses, restoring the buying power of working Americans.
The People’s Budget closes tax loopholes that companies use to ship jobs overseas. It creates fair tax rates for millionaires and provides needed relief to low- and middle-income families. It invests in debt-free college, workforce training and small businesses within our communities, helping return our economy to full employment and giving a raise to Americans who need it most. Investments in The People’s Budget boost employment and wages by addressing some of the biggest challenges of our time: repairing America’s rapidly aging roads and bridges, upgrading our energy systems to address climate change, keeping our communities safe, and preparing our young people to thrive as citizens and workers.
A fair wage is more than the size of a paycheck. It’s having enough hours, paid overtime, sick and parental leave, and affordable health and childcare. It’s being able to afford a good education for your kids and never living in fear that your job will be sent overseas. It’s knowing you can make ends meet at the end of the month. The People’s Budget helps achieve that with a raise for American workers, a raise for struggling families and a boost to America’s long-term global competitiveness.
But I quibble. The document does go on to call for public financing of elections and admits that our real unemployment rate is well over 11 percent. So were we still living in a functioning democracy, I would rate the "progressive" proposal as just left of center. It passive-aggressively emphasizes aid to states to finance their own programs, rather than federally mandate reforms.  It doesn't call for a free college education -- it only espouses a restructuring of onerous student debt and "investment" in pre-school education. Using the term "investment" when it comes to people is one of my biggest pet peeves. Stop referring to kids as though they were pork belly futures that might someday provide a huge return to speculators!

And then the alleged progressives use the weasel-worded phrase "modifies our defense postures to create sustainable baseline defense spending." What the hell does that even mean? I looked and I looked, but saw nothing in the "progressive" budget that would demilitarize the economy, defund or dismantle the NSA and other totalitarian Homeland Security behemoths. But, to their credit, the progressives do call for an end to the nefarious and open-ended war mongering slush fund euphemized as "Overseas Contingency Operations."

Meanwhile, President Obama is ignoring even these modest proposals and, like Krugman and other liberal pundits, is limiting his remarks to lambasting Republican cruelty and math deficiency. He has vowed to veto any cuts to military spending (and should this veto be overridden, that's where the OCO will come into play) while continuing to tout plutocrat-friendly small bore public-private initiatives like My Brother's Keeper and enterprise zones. So far, anyway, he hasn't threatened to veto any of the proposed cuts to the safety net. Those slashes will be modified in Congressional back rooms, as they have been in every other year, when such various manufactured crises as the Debt Ceiling and the Fiscal Cliff are dragged out of the Kabuki prop department for our terrorized delectation.

Oh, and the troops will now be staying in Afghanistan indefinitely. It's Permawar, remember?

* There has been an actual scientific study conducted on the New York Times reader commentariat. It turns out that only 25% of the comments are written by women. Of course, of the dozen or so regular op-ed writers that the newspaper employs, only three are women (Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins and Linda Greenhouse.)  So it figures, much in the same way that the nihilistic GOP budget figures.



Jay–Ottawa said...

Pretty good talking points, Progressive Caucus. Oh yeah. Likewise with Krugman, or have we forgotten his good service for the White House?

The so-called Progressive Caucus is another body, which, like Obama, has a great windup, but no follow through. Every batter they face, walks. And then is allowed to steal bases all the way home. How curious. Are they incompetent or throwing the game? Does it matter? Their achievements always add up to zero on the final scoreboard.

The Progressive Caucus is another iteration of the lesser of two evils: useless and no less complicit than the rest of the liar’s club on the Hill.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen....It's hard to believe only 1/4 of comments are written by women.

I'd say that LInda Greenhouse is not a weekly columnist, and is a S. Court specialist. She's not the most read. So the op ed page has 2 women regulars, more like each other and different from the men columnists. Not sure if Dowd is once a week now?

So it's still 10 men vs 2 women, an absurd ratio in 2015. It can only mean sexist attitudes by the editor. I wonder what the Times women reporters think of this.

Of course there's the woman business columnist, not op ed---her latest is:
S.E.C. Wants the Sinners to Own Up
"In a shift to its policy, the regulator is asking for more than settlements. It wants companies and individuals to admit to their misdeeds." I think I'll read it..

I should read her more often, and also Eduardo Porter, both in the business pages.
On the op ed pages, many columns avoid crucial topics, or crucial solutions. They often write about anything but--look at Joe Nocera. He called himself a 'pragmatist' once on a TV interview. We know what that means.

Meredith NYC said...

I meant that Greenhouse is not read by most op ed readers, not that she's not the most read. If it matters, But obviously Dowd and Collins are much more read--they're easier to read and hit the funny bone of many.

Karen Garcia said...


"Progressive" is beginning to lose its meaning, especially in light of its recent co-optation by the forces of fast track trickery.


You have a point. Since Dowd and Greenhouse only write once a week, the ratio of female:male in Times op-eds is a lot more damning when you factor in output along with gender.

I love Gretchen Morgenson. I look for her column on TimesWire on Saturday afternoons before they're buried on the business page. Eduardo Porter is good too. The Times must keep them around as token independent thinkers, unaligned with either side of the Money Party. I still don't get why Nocera scored a homepage column instead of one or both them. He does some good work on gun control, and occasionally on bankster malfeasance, but much of the time he seems to be taking dictation from a corporate press release, if not acting like a writer for the sports section.

I agree with you on Greenhouse. I find it difficult to engage, although she is obviously brilliant.

Meredith NYC said...

Good for you to read Morgenson. I have had a note by my computer for months to read her and Porter, and maybe also Steven Greenhouse, who writes a labor column----but I don't make the time. I will try.

Karen....what do you mean your comment was buried beneath times picks? There are many replies. The picks often are from the non trusted commenters, not the trusted.

I did a Times search for People’s Budget and Progressive Caucus and found zilch, googling NYTimes or the times search box. Is this possible? Maybe I should use different search terms?

Since Obama just gave a speech explicitly contradicting ‘trickle down' (a first for him?) Krugman might cite this, and give some explicit remedies all the iniquities he deplores.
He could use contrast---with other nations or our own past decades, that have worked. He expertly wields a sharp scalpel to dissect the gop flim flam as he once called it. But he leaves us outraged, and stuck. The most popular columnist of all won’t offend the Dems too much, which keeps confusion going.

It’s the gop budget that’s radical, not the Peoples Budget. The latter is more centrist and normal in some countries. But it’s all relative. It may be that they started at a much higher point in economic equality, so that EU budget cuts don’t bring their citizens down to as insecure a level as ours.
We had a lower point to start from, so our cuts and other policies lead to lower living standards at indecent levels. That would be an effective comparison for PK to make.

Denis Neville said...

The Kansas Democratic Party, in a state historically known for its populism, has been decimated by the failing Republican Brownbackistanian policies. Much like the national party Democratic Party, Kansas Democrats have resisted taking firm stances that would resonate with its natural constituencies. It didn't stand up for anything. Little of the once viable Kansas Democratic Party remains today. Democrats haven’t been able to save themselves from themselves in red state Kansas.

Tom Engelhardt writes about the demobilization of the American people and the birth of a grim new American system. It is our age of acquiescence.

Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, asks, “Why have Americans stopped resisting economic privilege?

Shock and awe?

“The strongest and most effective force in guaranteeing the long-term maintenance of power is not violence in all the forms deployed by the dominant to control the dominated, but consent in all the forms in which the dominated acquiesce in their own domination.” – Robert Frost

Karen Garcia said...


Engelhardt's piece is a must-read.

Naomi Klein wrote a review of "The Age of Acquiescence" --she complains that the author gives short shrift to contemporary social movements like Occupy and the fast food protests. Here's the link:

Still sounds like it's worth a read,even though it covers much the same historical ground as Zinn and Frances Fox Piven, from what I can glean from Klein's review.


Sometimes the NYT quickly "segregates" its own picks from the rabble, and fixes it so that the casual reader is immediately directed to the Picks when pressing the comment button. The Picks get a lot more attention the more quickly they are segregated. I just thought it was telling that not one of the Picks mentioned the People's Budget, although many of the unpicked ones did.

Digby also wrote something for Salon on the right-wing budget and the inordinate amount of attention it always gets compared to the "progressive" alternative. One of her commenters wrote to report that when she Googled People's Budget, she only got five hits, compared to many thousands for the GOP screed. So it is not surprising that the Times has no interest in covering it. When all is said and done, even the congress critters who put it out year after year seem to quickly lose interest and mainly use it as a fund-raising tool. It's all part of the age of acquiescence, I suppose.

Meredith NYC said...

Seems Collin's column was posted much earlier than the usual 330 or 4am. Egan and Blow had earlier times, b/c when I found them, they had hundreds of comments and were closed. So what's a reader to do? We never know. I sent an email to Sullivan and Rosenthal asking to at least keep it consistent.

Here's my comment to Collins today...a woman's place is on the 20 dollar bill--so far down, unlikely to get any replies, which would have been interesting:

Yes, what a concept! For a woman to achieve parity with the men on the a $20 bill.
But here are 2 other great concepts for women's parity--maybe more significant.

When will the US have a woman president at last?
And increase the number of women in both houses of congress, state legislatures, governors etc. Let's reach parity of women in political positions in many other countries in the world. We lag other nations. See wiki for the numbers.

When will The NY Times op ed page achieve more gender equality?!
Better than 2 woman to 10 men as regular op ed columnists, for this prestigious and influential, much quoted newspaper. That is a shockingly poor ratio, in 2015! Maybe apt for 2 generations ago. The op ed page lags some other papers. Why?

Can any readers think of a reasons for both of these examples? PLease discuss.

dPearl said...

Meredith NYC
Could it be that for a woman to reach the status of an acceptable reporter for the NYTimes, she is more likely to be writing controversial articles exposing the truth more often?

Women are becoming the ones from both parties speaking out and up about issues they don't like. It started with the immediate problems affecting their personal lives which are becoming more and more acceptable to be discussed which ultimately leads to the bigger
exposures. Look who is criticizing many of the backward issues in the Catholic Church - the Nuns, many of whom are quite outspoken about their treatment as well as other decisions made by the male hierarchy.
Therefore, the mainly men running the NYTimes are very careful not to choose female reporters and other staff contributors who might take aim at their cowardly sensitivities. They might also have trouble controlling the modern intelligent woman more than the subservient males on staff.

Meredith NYC said...

Denis....thanks for Robt Frost quote -- sums up so well. I think the US doesn't need any messy coup d'etat to entrench it's 1% power over our democracy. It only needs consent, and with weak pushback. And thanks for Fraser and Engelhardt. Very interesting.

Pearl....plz clarify.... you say, the times wants women to write controversial articles. the times' men don't hire women who aim at their cowardly sensitivities? I'm confused.
So how would you categorize the 2 op ed women--collins and dowd? They differ from the men columnists.

Pearl said...

Meredith: The Times is wary of women writing controversial articles and Dowd is not THAT controversial nor is Collins. I am thinking of the level of Karen's comments which are more careful than her columns to us and for which she will never be offered a job on the paper. Remember, she criticized things they supported like the Iraq invasion and had Karen sent in an article about the truth then, would have had her head handed to her if she was a staff member or not have her article published. Sometimes the editorial board which includes some women on it, but not the major ones, will publish critical articles but very carefully, to not offend those in power. So we can't tell the actual opinions of the individuals on that board.
After my first sentence on the previous comment, I should have added that the chances of a female reporter writing stronger articles ala Karen, would have been not well received, making trouble all around and therefore not have a great chance of being hired when males were available often with more resumes to offer. Also they would not be willing to accept lesser pay about which there was a scuffle not long ago involving a lawsuit. I forget the woman's name.

Denis Neville said...

Karen said Klein complains that Fraser gives short shrift to contemporary social movements like Occupy and the fast food protests.

Naomi Klein, in her review of The Age of Acquiescence, wrote, “We hear absolutely nothing directly from the leaders of these contemporary movements, all of whom are struggling daily with the questions at the heart of this book.”

Perhaps it was because Occupy was only the work of a small fragment of the left that failed.

OWS failed because it had no strategy or real agenda. They were visionless, plan less, and disunited. It was so concerned with process that it never achieved any results. It was the stunning disunity within the movement that doomed Occupy more than the police. As a result, OWS was crushed.

In her latest book, This Changes Everything, Klein herself writes, “The fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalization, is not a luxury today’s transformational movements can afford . . . Despite endless griping, tweeting, flash mobbing, and occupying, we collectively lack many of the tools that built and sustained the transformative movements of the past.”

True power resides with the movement not the party. OWS didn’t transform into a political movement.

Can we still have a radical uprising in America? It’s hard to see how this would happen.

annenigma said...


I think you hit the nail on the head. I've noticed for several years that the most incisive and controversial comments are by women commentators such as Karen. My own comments rarely get printed or are held for hours and end up at the bottom of the pile, even when I submit them early. Mostly they just don't make the cut.

Just this week I sent in a relatively innocuous (or so I thought) and brief comment to articles and editorials about Bibi's reelection. When one didn't get printed, I sent another of the same to a different piece, then another, then another. On my 4th try, it got almost immediately printed and was in the first 20 submissions, gaining Recommends fast. Then it suddenly disappeared.

What was this comment that was so difficult to get published, then vanished so fast?

"We should act quickly to implement an international BDS movement".

That was it! It's no wonder some people refer to it as the Jew York Times. They still won't allow comments about Israel getting all our raw data unfiltered and unfettered by rules or laws either. They draw their protective curtain whenever they can.

By the way, I did get the last laugh. After no mention of BDS appeared in any of those comments that were printed in those many articles, a guest editorial (an Arab?) actually recommended BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) and MANY comments made their way through the NYT's curtain supporting it. I didn't bother submitting a comment after my 3 strikes+ out and considering similar comments getting printed. I did get a satisfying laugh.

So count me as among probably many women who don't get counted at all. Some of us are censored for our radical thoughts.

Meredith NYC said...

re Occupy Wall St and possibly why it failed:

The problem is that Occupy was seen by many as ‘radical’. News pictures focused on a visual association with ‘anarchists’. Ordinary middle class Americans do not march in the streets in the US, lest they be seen as identifying with the underprivileged, the have nots. Not a prestige thing to do, in our land of the free meritocracy with b. of rights. Protesters are seen as outsiders, or even unpatriotic malcontents. Better to ally with the powers that be. This is the basic problem blocking our politics.

So Occupy and the lawmaking process couldn’t really connect. It just made good TV viewing, but that puts off many Americans, who wouldn’t be caught dead joining them, no matter what, even if they generally agree with main Occupy ideas in the abstract.

Previously, the news media had hardly mentioned the growing inequality, so Occupy may have thought that just exposing the 99 vs 1 percent truth at last, along with TV shots of the crowds and the encampment near Wall St., that this would connect with lawmakers.

But the Dems are too weak and timid, and tethered to big money for their campaigns. We don’t have a party with Occupy’s aims as their purpose. Yes, Occupy could have been better organized and realistic, but our political system doesn’t want to translate their aims into policy.

In countries with multi parties, and public funds for elections, the voters get a wider range of policy debate and choice, so an Occupy group could ally itself with an organized party already included in their election debates, and given free media time. Even after losing the election, this party may form coalitions with the winners, so some of their aims are realized.

We don’t have the mechanism to translate Occupy ideas into lawmaking. It’s climbing a mountain, due to big money influence. Occupy ideas weren’t radical at all by intl standards, just the basics of an advanced democracy.
Repealing Citizens United is the 1st step.

Jay–Ottawa said...

In light of above comments about the failure(s) of OWS, which comments I find persuasive, the following may fairly be concluded:

Many “thought leaders” of the hard left say that nothing less than a full bore revolution* is the only way out of our box.

However, the rich, the bourgeois, the pretend bourgeois, the Aynranders, the middle roaders, the tepid and the falling apart poor don’t do revolution.

Therefore, there will be no revolution today.

*(Most important––especially in light of periodic carbine thumping on the floor by Second Amendment enthusiasts––such a revolution must be sustained through the tactics of nonviolence.

However, next to nobody in the US or elsewhere has ever taken a serious look into the discipline and power of nonviolence.

Therefore, there will be no …. etc., etc.)