Sunday, May 17, 2015

Opportunity Is the New Austerity

President Obama took a theatrically brave stance last week when he lambasted Fox News for using the horrible word "leeches" to describe poor people. 

Unfortunately, despite his indignant verbiage, this is not exactly the same thing as directly advocating for the poor themselves. Obama's words are a way to make liberals and MSNBC feel vindicated. It's a way to deflect our attention from this government's de facto war on the poor, and frame the media narrative into just one more he said-she said bickerfest between the two legacy parties. Just who on Fox called them leeches, and when, where, how, and why did they utter their foul words?!?! Fact-checkers immediately got to work. The score is Obama 1, Fox/GOP 0.

"Our" side won! Hooray for the Dems!

Barack Obama's staged concern-trolling during a panel discussion at Georgetown University succeeded unadmirably in turning a true national humanitarian crisis into a battle of personalities between Barack Obama and Bill O'Reilly. Both are multimillionaires, of course. Obama called out Fox pundits for poor-hating anyone owning an ObamaPhone. Fox pundits denied ever calling "the least among us" (Obama's folksy Biblical term for the lesser people) any such thing.

And lost in the shuffle are the actual suffering people "out there," beyond the Beltway. Lost are the Detroit residents who are getting their water shut off again this week because of their inability to pay. Lost are reports from myriad sources showing that the richest country on earth ranks near dead last in nearly all measurements of human well-being. According to the OECD, the US poverty rate is the highest in the developed world. And it has the most billionaires.

Yet what we heard about in the mainstream media was how Obama took umbrage over Fox taking umbrage over poor people's Obamaphones. No actual poor people participated, either by phone or in person with a seat at the round table.

Moreover, as is all too wearily typical of our pivoting president, Obama immediately cancelled out his righteous refreshing criticism of Fox News and greedy hedge fund managers by repeating some of the same right-wing talking points beloved of reactionaries and plutocrats and professional Beltway narrators (aka journalists.) 

For, despite glaring evidence that bipartisan neoliberal policies have been hollowing out the middle class and further immiserating the poor for decades -- while allowing the rich to get more bloated by the day -- he didn't actually criticize such concrete items as food stamp cuts and the end of long-term unemployment insurance....  or heaven forbid, his own job-destroying secret corporate coup attempts masquerading as trade treaties. He didn't actually call for taxing the rich, expanding Social Security or prosecuting the Wall Street crooks sucking us dry.  Because while throwing a bone to the populace over how incensed he, too, is over Fox Noise and the greed of CEOs and hedge fund managers, he also gave undeserved credibility and respectability to right wing sadists:
And there are a lot of folks here who I have worked with -- they disagree with me on some issues, but they have great sincerity when it comes to wanting to deal with helping the least of these.  And so this is a wonderful occasion for us to join together.
Yes, those folks from the Kochs' American Enterprise Institute, like panelist Arthur Brooks, are indeed greatly sincere in wanting to "deal with" helping the leastiest. The conservative elites are so damned noble for deigning not to deny that there are Lesser People breathing the same air as them. Wunnerful, wunnerful. Come together and let's give each other a great big hegemonic group hug, okay? And let's be careful not to jab each other with our American flag lapel pins.
Part of the reason I thought this venue would be useful and I wanted to have a dialogue with Bob and Arthur is that we have been stuck, I think for a long time, in a debate that creates a couple of straw men.  The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don't care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that's one stereotype.  And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and -- (laughter) -- think everybody are moochers.  And I think the truth is more complicated.
Did you get the little false equivalency there? If leftists who just want to insanely pour the entire US Treasury down the gullets of the poor are straw men for the Right, then so too are Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney and the entire Republican clown car naught but straw men for the Left! Paul Ryan's actual existence, his actual devotion to Ayn Rand, his actual belief that "everybody are moochers" (sic) are fantasies dreamed up by a bunch of crazy hippies who have no earthly idea what we are talking about. Bad progressives. Bad, bad progressives to not believe in the "culture" of willful poverty!
I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do.  And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.
The dream of false equivalency must never die. Even the rabid billionaire Murdochs of News Corp are forking over a few token hate-spawned millions to Obama's My Brother's Keeper philanthro-capitalist "initiative." Maybe it's because they interpret "keeper" as someone who owns other human beings and gets to keep them forever. More likely, it's to get a big fat Treasury refund check for make-believe profits temporarily lost in the corporate charity recycle bin.

But I digress. It seems to me that Obama is again calling for more public-private partnerships to substitute for a progressive reprise of such New Deal programs as the CCC and the WPA, and such Great Society programs as the Job Corps, whose budget he's recommended cutting. He agrees with the reactionary canard that dysfunctional families are just as much the causes of poverty as they are the victims of it. As David Brooks and the conservative punditocracy love to moralize, we have to get those indigent parenting skills improved!  Maybe government has some role, but not the whole role. The Free Market has already taken over education, infrastructure "maintenance", incarceration, pension funds, international aggression, even water supplies for the thirsty poor here at Home. Look how well that is working out.

 There will be no wealth redistribution on Obama's watch.(just in case you were still hoping, given the surge of the Warren Wing and the Pope's upcoming visit.)

But back to Obama's roundtable remarks. Here is that buzzword moment that I know all of you have been waiting for:
Now, that does not lessen our concern about communities where poverty remains chronic.  It does suggest, though, that we have been able to lessen poverty when we decide we want to do something about it.  In every low-income community around the country, there are programs that work to provide ladders of opportunity to young people; we just haven't figured out how to scale them up.
He should have just come right and said that the filleting of human flesh in a back room is fraught, with his main challenge being putting some anesthetizing freshness back in the stale populist rhetoric.

That is disingenuous to the EXTREME ( the extreme center). Obama, besides his failure to give up his addiction to buzzwords, hasn't figured out how to arm-twist Congress into appropriating more cash for the downtrodden as well as he does for re-appropriating the cash upwards, straight up into the pockets of the One Percent -- the political donor class. He's been working overtime to get fast track for the oligarchy through the Senate, even if it takes trashing the Warren Wing of his own party. Because the only party that counts is the Plutocratic Orgy.
And so one of the things I’m always concerned about is cynicism.  My Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough -- we take walks around the South Lawn, usually when the weather is good, and a lot of it is policy talk, sometimes it’s just talk about values. And one of our favorite sayings is, our job is to guard against cynicism, particularly in this town.  And I think it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do -- because there’s a lot we can do.  The question is do we have the political will, the communal will to do something about it.
Not greed, not corruption. Cynicism. The image of Obama strolling around on a manicured sunshine-y lawn with the same guy who tried to keep the Senate Torture Report a secret from the public and strong-armed Congress to get the necessary redactions and protections for torturers, schmoozing about cynicism and values brings a tear to my eye and the bile up my throat. "Values" is another one of those neoliberal buzzwords designed to obscure rather than address actual issues. The president and his consigliere didn't plot, I gather, about how to raise teacher pay or strengthen labor unions. They talked about everybody's attitude problem.

Obama continued his poverty concern-trolling in his Weekly Address to the people, aka his weekly dog-whistle to Wall Street. I'm not going to parse the whole thing, just highlight the telltale buzzwords masking the true intent. "Creating Opportunity for All" is code for perpetuating austerity for the many and prosperity for the few. I'll point to more evidence after this partial parse-a-prez. The bolds are mine and meant to signify cynical dog-whistle meanings, or just outright meanness. Take your pick.
Hi, everybody (fellow insiders of the Permanent Political Class). Everything we’ve done over the past six years has been in pursuit of one overarching goal: creating opportunity for all. (all rich people and political donors)
That sense (it's all in their heads of course) of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest (righteous rage) that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York. It has many causes -- from a basic lack of opportunity to groups feeling unfairly targeted (what whiners; the beatings are all in their heads) by police – which means there’s no single solution. (how do you solve a problem like Maria, the flibbertigibbet!) But there are many that could make a different (sic) and could help. And we have to do everything in our power to make this country’s promise real for everyone willing to work for it. (promise is meaningless and undefined, but even so, the moochers will have to work for ephemera until they drop.)

Oh, That Towering Unfairly Targeted Feeling
  That’s why last Tuesday, at a summit organized by Catholics and evangelicals, I sat down with a conservative scholar and a poverty expert for a discussion on what it takes to open more doors of opportunity.(precursors to the ladders of opportunity leading to Heaven.)
 We know our efforts matter: since 1967, we’ve brought poverty down by about 40 percent, thanks in part to programs like Social Security and the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families. (mention of income inequality is studiously avoided)  And we know that there are folks from all faiths, and across the ideological spectrum, who care deeply about “the least of these.” So I hope this conversation continues, not as a question of whether, but of how, we can work together to grow opportunity. Because it’s not words, but deeds, that make a difference. (So let's continue conversing amongst our elite selves and forget about the deed-doing for the time being. Sheesh)
 Of course, lack of opportunity is not the only barrier between too many of our young people and the kind of future they deserve. On Monday, I’ll travel to Camden, New Jersey, a city that has faced one of the highest violent crime rates in America. I’ll highlight some of the innovative things they’ve done to help police do their jobs more safely and reduce crime in the process. And I’ll highlight steps all cities can take to maintain trust between the brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line, and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect.(insert your own &$^)*^%???!!! here).
The reason that I slugged this post Opportunity Is the New Austerity is because notorious deficit hawk billionaire Pete Peterson (known for the Fix the Debt campaign for Social Security and Medicare cuts and for funding Obama's infamous and discredited Simpson-Bowles Catfood Commission) is hosting his annual austerian Fiscal Summit in This Town on Tuesday. Guess what this year's theme is?

The usual plutocratic cast of usual suspects will meet to converse about what a shame it is to be poor, but that does not take away from the serious fiscal "challenges" that the indigent must and will face so that the rich may prosper and tinkle down all those golden drops of delight. Apparently, there are many doors to be entered, many ladders to hoist ourselves up on. But not for them:

 Opportunity for America will focus on the need and the opportunity to strengthen America’s fiscal foundation, in order to ensure we have the resources to invest in our own future and build a prosperous and inclusive economy for the next generation. (our trust fund kids) This is the opportunity for America.
Wow. Opportunity will focus on Opportunity will focus on Opportunity. Godzillionaire ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg will take the opportunity to be there. So will Ayn Rand fanboy and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. So will former Bush chief of staff Andy Card and former Obama chief of staff William "Morgan Stanley" Daley. A Who's Who of simpering Washington Press Corpse hacks will be on hand to moderate The Conversation (TM), live on C-Span. But strangely absent, for the very first time in the Summit's history, will be Mr. Welfare Reform himself, the one and only Bill Clinton. I wonder why he'd skip a confab extolling the virtues of rich people and bemoaning the absence of values in poor people while importuning them with all his opportunistic goodness?

Now, don't be cynical, hear? If we're going to Win the Future, we have to put our big boy/girl Opporsterity pants on. Made in a sweatshop not near you.

Throwing Us a Beaner in His Opporsterity Jeans: Nike/TPP Designer Edition


Meredith NYC said...

Karen... should be page you say “richest country on earth ranks near dead last in nearly all measurements of human well-being. According to the OECD, the US poverty rate is the highest in the developed world. And it has the most billionaires.”
And a lot of them lawmakers. How many millionaires do parliaments abroad have? Aside from the House of Lords in Britain. But even there, how many?

If Obama goes to Camden, I hope he meets the mayor.
Three women mayors were on Cspan recently on a ‘reducing violence’ panel---Camden, Oakland, CA and Minn, MN, They were all impressive, in fact heroic, and articulate about economic problems plaguing their towns. Mayors have a lot to cope with.

One mayor said the US is the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have subsidized day care for children. That makes it harder for women to work, adding to poverty, coupled with bad public trans, and also the sadistic “on call” work arrangements in some businesses---they only find out that day if no work or a double shift.

I’m watching cspan ---lawyer/author Caroline Frederickson “ Under The Bus, How working women are being run over” Cspan q/a 17may

Few American workers have paid family leave, which is normal in other nations.

From W. Post... “we have the Family and Medical Leave Act. But the stipulations to use it are overwhelming: must be with an organization of 50 or more employees. Must have worked there for a year. It’s unpaid. We’re the only industrialized nation that does this. We share this medal of honor with one other nation (still): Papua New Guinea.” (is this possible??)
“So what do our new moms do when a baby is born? They patch things like disability, vacation time and sick days together, if they have them, so they can recover and maybe take a little time to bond with their new child.”

The America of ‘Family Values’. Exceptional on the entire plan

Meredith NYC said...

my last sentence in post above should have been 'on the entire planet'. not plan.

Valerie said...

What Obama and all those people "helping" the "least among us" won't own to is that we need JOBS, the kind of working class jobs our job creating corporations have shipped off to the Developing World. Not everyone is intelligent or academically inclined. That doesn't mean they don't have a good work ethic or are reliable and able to hold down a good job. We need good working class jobs that pay a living wage. And all the social programs and "hand outs" aren't going to make that truth go away.

I love how Obama is going to offer some job retraining program if the TPP is fast tracked through Congress. Retrained for what? I hope he doesn't get away with this stunt.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Another great post in parsing the texts of officialdom. The rich will tell you the art of deconstruction is a sure road to cynicism. Deconstruction is in fact essential to protect one’s self and the people around us.

The rich tell us poverty is simply suicide––of the poor, by the poor, to the poor. Unh-uh, just maybe it’s murder, done to the poor from outside their ranks.

Disparity, we’re being told in so many words, is acceptable murder to straighten out the poor. We have to starve them down to fatten them up. Opportunity, ladders, bootstraps: why, they're all on a par with God’s gift of “free will.” In other words, the rest is supposed to be up to us. Choose. Yeah, right. And so, the rich keep paneling these useless conferences from on high and putting out their guilt-mined white papers telling the poor to stop harming themselves through idleness and start to climb the ladders of opportunity sent down from above. What more can Dives do?

Karen’s post is echoed elsewhere in the ether. Must be something in the journalistic air this week. The last sentence of Chris Hedges’ first paragraph of another Monday morning also helps put the engineered disparities in context:

“The pathologies of the poor, when set against the pathologies of rich white people, are like a candle set beside the sun.”

Or as Lenin put it almost a hundred years ago: “Who whom?”

Pearl said...

Wonderful response, Karen, to Krugman's Errors and Lies. Here's mine:

Where were you, Dr. Krugman, when the media including the NYTimes was supporting the rush to invasion in Iraq and did you speak out about the possible lethal mistakes being made?
Learning the truth after the fact, especially not long after the tragedy of Vietnam is unsettling since how do we know that our current foreign policies could lead to more fatal errors in judgment?
Living in Canada, the stories coming out about the U.S.invasion of Iraq were totally different and highly critical. In fact, several well known American reporters were invited by the CBC to explain why their concerns were not permitted to be aired and how they were completely silenced.
The influence of the media in U.S. political and military decisions is something that should have been more explored in your otherwise well reported article.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks everybody. Great comment on Krugman, Pearl, and maybe Meredith can post her excellent (and popular)riposte as well. Mine was essentially a hastily scribbled rehash of stuff I have written many times before. I made the mistake (again) of responding to a column trashing Jeb by bringing up Obama's continued Bush policies and worse civil rights record.

Obama's administration is a hideous hodgepodge of Reagan, Clinton and Bush. But actually worse, because he still paints himself as a progressive, and a lot of people are still swallowing the triangulating BS. Nowadays if you're a realist, you're painted as either delusional or a closet right-winger.

annenigma said...

Excellent comment to Krugman, Meredith!

Meredith NYC said...

Karen...your point is have more than a frank discussion. We need prosecutions and truth commissions, etc. Just like the race and police issue, we need more than a conversation, we need some prosecutions.
Judith Miller was on MSNBC touting her book. Any comment?

I’m interested in comparing how various countries have coped with their shameful histories, in school teaching and in media---like Germany and Japan for instance. If you see anything on that plz cite it.

Pearl---I wish Krugman would trace the media role in the Iraq war, with some sharp prose.

I was glad to see Rima Rigas say ...” How disappointing... Another Bush column. I was hopeful, when I saw that Professor Krugman blogged about the TPP, that, finally, we would get an op-ed on it. I miss the Paul Krugman used to push Democrats into doing the right thing...” (I also thought PK would write on TPP, and was surprised by another Iraq column).

Rima’s comment got the fewest recs ever for her. But then MNW replied, “Beating this drum cannot be overdone as Jeb Bush must be deterred from his political course of action - and relentlessly so.” He’s got a good point, and I must say Krugman wrote his piece very well. He’s got 1302 comments by now, maybe the most ever for his column.

Here’s my comment---I managed to get it in early, so was high up on the thread. (I should have used the phrase ‘trickle down’, but I forgot!)

Lies? We were also lied into our economic mess and the downward spiral of the middle class---that the trade agreements like Nafta would mean more jobs not less for Americans. That TPP will do same?

That low wealth taxes would unleash job creation by companies. That dismantling financial regulations would lead to greater prosperity and ‘competitiveness’ vs other countries. That huge CEO salaries would keep the best and brightest heading American business.

We’ve been lied into ignoring that the US has the least equality and most poverty of any democracy. That economic distress is the individual’s fault.

But where is the frank discussion of all these false narratives, proven destructive to millions of our citizens over and over?

Maybe the biggest lie was told by the Supreme Court, which is really the Supreme Engineer of Super Wealth at the Top---that unlimited campaign donations by billionaires are protecting our precious Constitution’s free speech, and that our democracy can survive this unique, legalized corruption.

So many lies Mr. Krugman. How many columns can you devote to them all? At this point exposing the war fraudulence is easy. It’s the other frauds, that continue, that need even more exposure and refutation.

Meredith NYC said...

Interesting article today, ‘Bernie Sanders Wants to Be President, but He’s Already Facebook Royalty.’ Get it? Royalty vs President! Anything for a headline. Says he has emerged as a king of social media early in the campaign. Uh, oh.

At least Bernie is king of something. Doesn't that merit some attention, say from Krugman then? Long overdue.

Kat said...

But why Meredith? Why does it matter if it is Bush? If not Bush, then Walker? or Cruz? What difference does it make?

Jay–Ottawa said...

Several years ago ago when I thought it important to keep up with every issue of “The New Yorker” I was brought up short by one of their self-deprecating covers. It was a cartoon image revealing the typical New Yorker’s image of the whole USA in his or her head.

Three quarters of the cover was taken up by a few iconic streets and buildings of New York City bordered by the lapping waves of the Atlantic off Coney Island. So much for America east of the Mississippi. In the inch or so left on the left side of the cartoon there was a little space representing flyover territory and to the west of that a narrow strip of something that looked like California and its Pacific shoreline.

New York and its fabled institutions are so very important. They are practically everything that matters. So I can certainly understand and sympathize with New Yorkers of today carrying around in their heads a similar cartoon image of the world in like proportions, which they believe is centrally important, wholly important and nothing but important.

DW said...


That was Saul Steinberg's legendary cover...

Drawn in 1976.

it has been a poster, a t-shirt and who knows what else for years..

It doesn't do it justice to describe as "one of their self-deprecating cover." It is probably their most famous cover ever.

It had a huge impact. And parodied many times.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Thanks, DW, for providing the link to the thing itself. Good old Steinberg.

Karen Garcia said...


due to health issues, blogging will be nonexistent to nil for the foreseeable future. Be back when I can.


Kat said...

I hope you're OK.

Will said...

Hope you feel better soon, Karen. Sending positive love vibes your way all day every day till you return! :)

Meredith NYC said...

Best wishes Karen. Hope your back soon.

Patricia M. said...

Karen -
You'll be sorely missed. The "foreseeable future" feels like a big long loss. Please take care. Keep us informed, if possible.
Very best wishes.

Kat Garcia said...

Hey, all, this is Kat, Karen's daughter. She is in hospital and has had surgery, but will be back in a couple of days. Thank you for all your kind words - she really appreciates them and they make her feel much better. :)

Pearl said...

America's views align surprisingly well with those of "socialist" Bernie Sanders via @motherjones

A hopeful sign for the future?

Jay–Ottawa said...


I was out of town (and away from the net) for a couple of days and just returned to read that your mother was receiving serious medical attention. Please pass along my best wishes along with those expressed earlier by other fans of Sardonicky.