"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Domestic Spending’

America In Decline

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm

  Oldspeak:” ‘American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.  The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests. By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward – as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.’-Noam Chomsky. Quickest and least painful ways to eliminate U.S. debt that aren’t being discussed? Withdraw from foreign wars, slash the ‘defense budget, nationalize health care, cut subsidies for dirty energy (oil, natural gas, nuclear, coal) and invest heavily in clean energy (wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydrogen, elecrtic) , end tax breaks for corporations and the top 1% and institute a financial transactions tax. Unfortunately none of these common sense solutions will be seriously explored with a government for the corporatocracy, by the corporatocracy.

By Noah Chomsky @ Truthout:

 

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science Quarterly.The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War ’90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

Corporate power’s ascendancy over politics and society – by now mostly financial – has reached the point that both political organizations, which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending – though even that limited initiative probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit. Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House (of Representatives) are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget.”

The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”

The final “compromise” – more accurately, capitulation to the far right – is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, which are enjoying record profits.

Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies’, which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian. Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions tax.

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street. The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial fraud. The Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

Congress wields other weapons in its battle against future generations. Faced with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American Electric Power, a major utility, shelved “the nation’s most prominent effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming,” The New York Times reported.

The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called “the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to so-called FIRE: finance, insurance, real estate) and the offshoring of production. The ideological triumph of “free market doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy decisions.

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers and the like, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

In parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy has been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

“The major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy or Target,” Ferguson writes. “Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process.” The legislators who contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result, according to Ferguson, is that debates “rely heavily on the endless repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested for their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the leadership relies on for resources.” The country be damned.

Before the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their general impact may be negative: “The successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”

By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward – as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.

(Noam Chomsky’s most recent book is ”9-11: Tenth Anniversary.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

© 2011 Noam Chomsky


America Held Hostage To Two-Party System Failure: Government Of, By & For The Corporations

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2011 at 10:41 am

Oldspeak:There is no correlation between who drove the economic crisis and who is paying the price. The disparity of wealth is stark, as compensation at publicly traded Wall St. firms hit a record $135 billion in 2010. “Austerity” and “shared sacrifice” are Washington code for preserving tax advantages and privilege for the wealthiest, while transferring private debt and risk to the public, onto the backs of the working/middle class.” –Michelle Swenson.  The Peoples Budget, written by the Congressional Progressive Caucus is not even being considered even though it is the most sensible, would create a surplus in 10 years, eliminate the deficit sooner than the Obama or Ryan budget and reflects the will of most of the American people. “It would end the main budget deficit drivers – the Bush tax cuts and Middle East wars; restore progressive income and estate taxes; add negotiation of bulk drug rates to Medicare and preserve Medicare, Medicaid Social Security; eliminate tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies; close loopholes for multinational corporations; and tax speculative financial transactions“- Michelle Swenson. In other words, Oligarchy rules the day in the U.S.A.

By Michelle Swenson @ Truthout:

Washington rhetoric waxes Orwellian in proportion to inside-the-Beltway disconnect around cause and effect of the US economic crisis. Ranging from the Ryan Budget – “kill Medicare to save it” – and some Democrats – “cut Medicare and Social Security to save them” – to claims that deficit reduction (not jobs) is “what the people want,” to the “greed is good” creed that assigns entitlements in the form of taxpayer bailouts to wealthy financial institutions that take for granted the ability to shift risk for their liar’s loans and speculative transactions. “Austerity” and “shared sacrifice” are Washington code for preserving tax advantages and privilege for the wealthiest, while transferring private debt and risk to the public, onto the backs of the working/middle class.

Phil Angelides, chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, notes that 24 million Americans lack work and nearly $9 trillion in household wealth has vanished since the 2008 economic crisis. The commission’s January report detailed “the recklessness of the financial industry and the abject failures of policymakers and regulators that brought our economy to its knees in late 2008.”

Writes Angelides, there is “no correlation between who drove the crisis and who is paying the price.” The disparity of wealth is stark, as “compensation at publicly traded Wall St. firms hit a record $135 billion in 2010.” He notes that, in the face of overwhelming evidence of the causes of economic catastrophe, Wall Street and its allies are revising history, e.g., Republicans like Paul Ryan ignore the fact that “our federal budget deficit has ballooned more than $1 trillion annually since the financial collapse.” Instead of confronting the real causes of the deficit, budget shortfalls are conflated with “the long-term challenges of Medicare” as an excuse to shred the social safety net. Rather than rein in widespread lending abuses, Republicans seek to weaken the authority of the new consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz calls out the titans of finance, who continue to make mega bonuses for their companies’ mega losses, even after they set the global economy in a tailspin and shifted all risks for their unregulated credit default swaps onto taxpayers. He describes a nation of, by and for the 1 percent that enjoys 25 percent of economic benefits, largely purchased by Washington lobbyists. The Republican (Ryan) budget plan would cut $5.8 trillion from government spending over the next decade and reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, while increasing next year’s Pentagon budget by $17 billion. The highly touted Bowles-Simpson proposal for deficit reduction is a recipe for a weaker economy, warns Stiglitz, as it will decrease jobs, and in turn, decrease revenues. A primary means to decrease the deficit is to increase jobs, a goal that ultraconservatives wrongly equate with large tax breaks for the wealthy – so-called “job creators” – never mind that the Bush tax cuts failed to provide jobs over a decade.

It is easier to destroy than to build democracy. Concerted assaults on democracy over four decades serve the ends of those who deem it their right to rule and reign: Republican religious ideologues and acolytes of Milton Friedman economics. Disaster capitalists precipitate crises by running up huge deficits (during the Reagan and Bush one and two regimes), followed by demands for balanced budgets and deficit reduction, as a means of drastically cutting domestic spending and gutting public education, government jobs and public pensions and shifting all wealth upward.

The political right has laid waste to democratic principles by sabotaging elections and the economy and auctioning government to the highest bidder. Some rightists deem it a “citizen’s duty” to challenge the legitimacy of the “ruling regime” by refusing to obey the law – i.e., “destroy the nation to save it.” Certain issues should be advanced “for the purpose of prompting a constitutional crisis,” pronounced law professor Russell Hittinger. The 2000 Supreme Court majority selection of George W. Bush reset the bar for challenges to the constitution, as did Citizens United vs. FEC in 2010.

The 1994 Gingrich revolution ushered in the large-scale sell-off of government to corporate interest groups. Corporate lobbyists were invited to write legislation to eradicate regulations for worker safety, labor rights and environmental protections – the so-called “Project Relief” part of the Republican agenda. Simultaneously,Republican House Whip Tom DeLay (“The Hammer”) pressured corporate political action committees (PACs) to contribute solely to the GOP, reasoning, “People that are pro-free enterprise should support people who are pro-free enterprise.”

In 1995, then-GOP Conference Chair John Boehner handed out tobacco PAC money checks to Republicans on the floor of the House, even as Newt Gingrich warned lobbyists, “For anyone who’s not on board now it’s going to be the two coldest years in Washington.” Republican leaders in a private 1997 meeting with 200 top corporate executives of the Business Roundtable demanded that all contributions to Democrats cease, or corporations would forfeit access to the Republican Congressional majority. Grover Norquist, riding herd over the “K Street Project,” demanded that big business hire GOP-credentialed lobbyists and fire those with Democratic connections. By the 108th Congress, it fell to Sen. Rick Santorum to reward party loyalty by vetting the hiring decisions of major lobbyists. “If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules,” pronounced DeLay.

The “defund-the-left” campaign was abetted by Virginia Lamp Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, and a key staff member for then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who compiled a hit list of liberal groups and nonprofit groups. More recently, Virginia Thomas reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars from groups that had expressed direct interest in the outcome of cases that came before her husband, including Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which struck down any limitations on corporate contributions to elections, sealing the Republican deal to crush democracy.

In the ’90s, Democratic leadership, reinforced by such corporate-backed groups as the Democratic Leadership Council, turned increasingly to corporate money, away from working people. With both major parties in thrall to corporate money and influence, “we the people” has effectively become “the silenced majority,” discounted voices sought out only for votes during election years, an increasingly futile exercise as big money buys candidates and outcomes.

The majority (53 percent) of Americans who opposed the 2010 extension of the Bush tax cuts watched in dismay as President Obama started with compromise and met his Republican hostage-takers more than half way. Neither did majority popular support result in passage of strong financial regulation, importation of lower-cost drugs or government-payer universal health care.

The fatal flaw of Barack Obama’s presidency seems to be the compulsion to compromise with the likes of Norquist, bent on destroying democracy by “drowning government in a bathtub.” The deficit in public investment imperils us more than the budget deficit, observes former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, citing tax revenues that are less than 15 percent of the total economy, the lowest in 60 years. Large reductions in federal taxes affect state and local revenues, placing more locales on the brink of bankruptcy – thus fulfilling Norquist’s fondest wish for state bankruptcies and “bitter nastiness and partisanship” in state capitals.

The president’s failure to lead by using the bully pulpit to educate about the true nature of economic crisis and recovery has resulted in Democrats’ surrender to Republicans of the economic narrative around deficits, spending, taxes, health care etc. More than the Tea Party corporate shills, disingenuous rhetoric around the economy and the lack of any counter-narrative by the president discouraged voters from going to the polls in 2010 and will likely discourage them again in 2012.

In 1995, a highly secretive umbrella group of America’s right-wing leaders, the little known
Council for National Policy Action, circulated a confidential memo urging members to push for a governmental shutdown in order to force President Clinton to cave to their budget demands. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Indiana) was quoted: “This is our maximum point of leverage to insist that parts of the revolution are executed.” The brief government shutdown that followed failed to achieve their goals. Republicans have willingly upped the ante, holding the country hostage to the threat of economic catastrophe in order to achieve their long-time goal of gutting all New Deal and Great Society programs, while codifying tax cuts for the wealthy. Americans are again being held for ransom in a naked high-stakes grab for total wealth and power.

The majority of people are hungry for a truth teller/leader, like Sen. Bernie Sanders. Instead, corporate media reloops the one-note deficit propaganda of the right-wing sound machine, not seeing fit to even mention The People’s Budget, written by the Progressive Caucus. The People’s Budget would eliminate the deficit sooner than either the proposed Obama or Ryan Budgets and raise a $31 billion surplus in ten years. It would end the main budget deficit drivers – the Bush tax cuts and Middle East wars; restore progressive income and estate taxes; add negotiation of bulk drug rates to Medicare and preserve Medicare, Medicaid Social Security; eliminate tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies; close loopholes for multinational corporations; and tax speculative financial transactions. All are goals supported by the majority of people.

Likewise, Medicare-for-All would contribute substantially to economic recovery. Reich writes that expanding the Medicare risk pool to include all healthy young and sick elderly would save $58 billion to $400 billion annually and sharply reduce the budget crisis, while also permitting negotiation of lower rates with hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies. Payment reform to reward quality not quantity care would provide additional savings.

Circular talk around the deficit short circuits meaningful action around the creation of jobs and financial and election reforms. Sorely needed to counter the corruption of money in elections are the Fair Campaigns Now Act, free media time for all serious candidates and other remedies such as instant runoff voting and reversing the notion of corporate “personhood.” Humboldt County, California, passed a county ordinance in 2006 to prohibit nonlocal corporate contributions to elections and also asserting that corporations cannot claim the First Amendment right to free speech. Counties nationwide should follow the lead of a number of counties that have drafted ordinances to deny corporate personhood.

The two main political parties are failing to serve the people, both locked in a dance of dysfunctional political posturing in service of power. In a candid moment this spring, speaking to Charlie Rose, some New York Times correspondentsacknowledged the sorry state of our politics: Tom Friedman remarked that we are trapped in a “corrupt duopoly.” Crony capitalism is the norm in Washington, lamented David Brooks. Both expressed the wish for a reputable third party to break the Washington gridlock.

Now is the moment for voices that have been willfully ignored in recent years to come together to form a true grassroots movement to advocate for progressive change. Sponsored by over 100 groups led by MoveOn.org, “Rebuild the American Dream” house meetings across the country convened starting July 16 and 17, providing the opportunity for participants to begin writing a “Contract for the American Dream” to serve the people.

The time is a now or never to restore the promise of democracy stolen by the oligarchs.


Obama’s Compromising On Democratic Legacy Programs Stirs Talk of Democratic Primary Challenge In 2012

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Oldspeak:”I think there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president, who believe that with regard to Social Security and other things, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president—who cannot believe how weak he has been for whatever reason in negotiating with Republicans, and there’s deep disappointment. So my suggestion is: I think one of the reasons the president has made the move so far to the right is that there is no primary opposition to him and I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama believes he’s doing.”-Sen. Bernie Sanders “Obama’s approval rating among liberals has dropped to the lowest point in his presidency, and roughly one in four Americans who disapprove of him say they feel that way because he has not been liberal enough, a new high for that measure.”-Keating Holland. Whew. Glad to know I’m not the only one not pleased with Obama’s moonwalk to the right. What remains to be seen is who will step up. Given the fact that most democrats are bought and paid for just like Obama, I’m not holding my breath. Add to that the fact you have to raise be a billion dollars to even mount a credible presidential run. But Alas, should we really be surprised that Obama is more of the same? This is what Democratic presidents do. Campaign on a progressive platform,  govern conservative right. Carter Did it. Clinton did it. And now Obama is doing it. Moral of the story? The Corporatocracy rules.

By John Nichols @ The Nation:

President Obama and his political counselors do not appear to recognize or respect the depth of the disenchantment among Democrats who fear he is preparing to abandon the commitments made by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and generations of Democratic leaders to not just preserve but expand Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

At a recent gathering with liberal Democrats and progressive independents in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Obama’s home state of Illinois, I have been struck by the extent of the frustration with the president is growing. There has always been a good deal of griping about Obama’s maintenance of the Bush administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and his decision to launch a new fight with Libya—as well as compromises on issues ranging from health-care reform to regulation of Wall Street, but this is different. As Obama has seemed to abandon a commitment to preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, anger with the president has become dramatically more widespread.

A new CNN/ORC International Poll confirms the phenomenon. The number of Americans who say they disapprove of the president’s performance because he is not liberal enough has doubled since May. “Drill down into that number and you’ll see signs of a stirring discontent on the left,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland, who explains that, “Obama’s approval rating among liberals has dropped to the lowest point in his presidency, and roughly one in four Americans who disapprove of him say they feel that way because he has not been liberal enough, a new high for that measure.”

The number of Democrats who say Obama should face a primary challenge in 2012 is growing, with almost a quarter of party backers surveyed by CNN refusing to say they thought the president should be renominated.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, gave voice to that sentiment Friday during a regular appearance onThom Hartmann’s popular national radio show. When a caller who expressed frustration with Obama’s apparent willingness to accept cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Sanders said: “Discouragement is not an option. I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition.”

Sanders explained: “Let me just suggest this: I think there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president, who believe that with regard to Social Security and other things, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president—who cannot believe how weak he has been for whatever reason in negotiating with Republicans, and there’s deep disappointment. So my suggestion is: I think one of the reasons the president has made the move so far to the right is that there is no primary opposition to him and I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama believes he’s doing.”

Sanders says Obama’s weak approach to negotiations with Republicans with regard to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and tax cuts for the rich has caused him to “give thought” to encouraging a progressive Democrat to mount such a challenge.

That led to immediate talk about the prospect that Sanders might mount a primary challenge. That won’t happen. Sanders is not a Democrat. Besides, he is busy running for reelection in Vermont in 2012.

When Sanders said in March that “if a progressive Democrat wants to run, I think it would enliven the debate, raise some issues,” he explained that: “I’ve been asked whether I am going to do that. I’m not. I don’t know who is, but in a democracy, it’s not a bad idea to have different voices out there.”

No other “name” Democrat has, so far, engaged in a public discussion about making a primary run against the president.

There is some organizing on the ground among Democrats who would, at the very least, like to use Democratic caucuses and primaries to send a message to Obama.Antiwar Democrats in Iowa have talked up the prospect of a challenge in the state where the Democratic nominating process begins with caucuses that attract the party’s most activist base. There have also been stirrings in the District of Columbia, where resentment over Obama’s failure to defend the interests of the nation’s capitol is running high.

But those initiatives aim more toward getting the president’s attention and shaking up a complacent national party, perhaps by asking caucus and primary voters to send uncommitted delegates—as opposed to committed Obama backers—to next year’s Democratic National Convention. Uncommitted delegates, at the least, could generate platform fights and pressure the president’s team on particular issues.

Even this project could be a tough one, however, as the nominating process is largely controlled by Obama operatives, who have already been working the schedule and putting in place structural supports for the president’s reelection run. Obama’s team is looking at the caucuses and primaries as tools to build enthusiasm for the president’s fall reelection campaign against the Republican nominee.

But if they are serious about that fall campaign, they are going to need to recognize and respond to the disenchantment among Democratic activists whose enthusiasm level will decide the fate of Obama’s 2012 campaign. Even if there is no primary challenge, Obama must reconnect with liberal Democrats and progressive independents if he hopes to be reelected. And he will not do so by cutting a deal with Republicans to cut Democratic “legacy programs” such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.