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CFR Chair Erskine Bowles: “I Personally Would Like to Go after Spending First”

By: davidmizner Sunday August 29, 2010 1:22 pm

With people finally paying attention to the atrociousness of Alan Simpson, I thought it’d be a good time to take a quick look at his partner, Erskine Bowles. Former investment banker, chief of staff to Clinton, and neoliberal Senate candidate, he’s revealed himself to be nothing less than a budget cutting fanatic.

You probably heard that he called our debt a "cancer." You might not be aware of his other recent pubic pronouncements. And mind you, he’s the Democrat chosen by Obama to head the commission.

On Fox News.

BOWLES: Chris, look, first of all, Al and I are 100 percent together. We’re a team. I know that sounds strange to Washington to have a Republican and a Democrat agreeing with each other, but we do. My strategy is the same as Al. Let’s make sure the American people know we have a looming crisis. To do that, we have to have a real set of numbers. That means using the actuarial numbers from Social Security and from Medicare, and using the numbers prepared by CBO that most people agree are correct, the Congressional Budget Office. And then once we have gotten real numbers out there, let’s see if we can persuade people to trust each other, come together, and really take some of these tough stands to bring down spending.

WALLACE: So you want to go after spending first before taxes?

BOWLES: Look, I think we have to go after everything. Everything has to be on the table, whether it’s revenue or spending. I personally would like to go after spending first.

Spending first? But I thought they were going to put together a package of both benefit cuts and tax increases. What’s going here?

Here’s what.

Bowles pointed to steps taken recently by the new coalition government in Britain, which also faces an acute budgetary problem, as a guide to what the commission might use in its recommendations. That would mean about three-quarters of the deficit reduction would be accomplished through spending cuts, and the remainder with additional revenue.

Okay, so maybe spending won’t be first; it will merely be emphasized so as not to raise taxes on the wealthy.

But what’s the end game here? What’s Bowles’s shooting for?


Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman of the bipartisan White House Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, floated a long-term goal of reducing federal spending to about 21% of U.S. gross domestic product, slightly above the recent norm but significantly lower than current spending projections.

Sounds reasonable enough. Only problem is, it would "end progressive ambition" and decimate the budget.

This sounds like a bookkeeping matter. But Bowles’ goal would end progressive ambition, ratify America’s declining competitiveness and bury the American dream.

Why? For starters, federal spending under Ronald Reagan averaged 22 percent of GDP. Under Bowles’ view, therefore, the outer limits of the Democratic Party’s 21st-century aspirations would be to run government at a size smaller than did a 20th-century conservative icon.

What’s more, Reagan ran government at this size at a time when 76 million baby boomers weren’t about to hit their rocking chairs. In 1988, 32 million retirees received Social Security and 33 million were on Medicare, our two biggest domestic programs. By 2020, about 48 million elderly Americans will receive Social Security, and 62 million Americans will be on Medicare (then the numbers really soar).

As a matter of math, if you run the government at a smaller level than did Ronald Reagan while accommodating this massive increase in the number of seniors on our health and pension programs, you have to decimate the rest of the budget.

So if the Democratic co-chair of Obama’s Debt Commission were to have his way, he would decimate not just Social Security but the entire federal budget.

The Catfood Commission, Where Everything’s on the Table, including Meow Mix.


Just Shut it Down.

[Ed note: bumped from August 27, 2010 7:28 pm]


No, Mr President. The Real Problem in Gaza is not a Lack of “Job Opportunities.”

By: davidmizner Monday June 7, 2010 11:46 am

Sure, there are economic problems in Gaza. There are also economic problems in Darfur and Afghanistan. When discussing military-made humanitarian catastrophes, you generally don’t depict them as economic problems, not if you want to be honest. Discussing Gaza, President Obama sounds as if he’s talking about a struggling Rust Belt State.

Here’s what we’ve got. You’ve got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.

When I first read Obama’s comments, they slipped by me (as sophistry is designed to do.)
They struck me as just ordinarily bad — less bad certainly than those of Joe Biden, who mouthed the words that AIPAC wanted to hear. But various commenters, including this one at Open Left, made me take a second look at them.

On the one hand, these missiles are "raining down on Israel," which is quite the exaggeration (23 casualties in 10 years is hardly raining). Indeed, no mention of the artillery, white phosphorous or 500 pound HE bombs raining on Gaza. Or the snipers shooting at children. Or the American who was just blinded by a heroic IDF soldier.

On the other, the main problem Gazans have is a lack off business opportunities. That strikes me as some foul Randian BS, eh? No, the lack of clean water, food, schools or medicine isn’t an issue. It’s the lack of business opportunities. Roger that!

Deeply overstating the harm done to Israel while deeply understating the harm done to Palestinians. Note that Obama isn’t merely discussing one aspect of the issue but seeking to sum it up. "Here’s what we’ve got," he says. Here, in fact, is what we’ve got:

A "humanitarian implosion," says Oxfam.

The situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967. The current situation in Gaza is man-made, completely avoidable and, with the necessary political will, can also be reversed…The blockade has effectively dismantled the economy and impoverished the population of Gaza. Israel’s policy affects the civilian population of Gaza indiscriminately and constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children. The measures taken are illegal under international humanitarian law.

Perhaps these families would like to create businesses. But more pressing is finding something to eat other grass.

AS a convoy of blue-and-white United Nations trucks loaded with food waited last night for Israeli permission to enter Gaza, Jindiya Abu Amra and her 12-year-old daughter went scrounging for the wild grass their family now lives on.

“We had one meal today – khobbeizeh,” said Abu Amra, 43, showing the leaves of a plant that grows along the streets of Gaza. “Every day, I wake up and start looking for wood and plastic to burn for fuel and I beg. When I find nothing, we eat this grass.”

I’m not surprised by Obama’s comments. Especially where the I-P conflict is concerned, my expectations for him are low. It’s nonetheless horrifying that an American president refuses to, is afraid to, acknowledge what’s happening in Gaza. To portray mass deprivation and starvation as ordinary economic woes is to engage in the kind of denialism taking hold in some quarters.

US Blames Victims for Aid-Mission Massacre, Weakens UN Statement

By: davidmizner Tuesday June 1, 2010 6:59 am

The reaction of the Obama administration to Israel’s attack is coming into focus. According to ABC, "The U.S Will Stand With Israel."

I’m told there won’t be any daylight between the US and Israel in the aftermath of the incident on the flotilla yesterday, which resulted in the deaths of 10 activists.

Regardless of the details of the flotilla incident, sources say President Obama is focused on what he sees as the longer term issue here: a successful Mideast peace process.

“The president has always said that it will be much easier for Israel to make peace if it feels secure,” a senior administration official tells ABC News.

"Regardless of the details" — don’t you love that? Most appallingly, the Obama administration is attempting to justify its position by citing "the peace process."

US actions at the U.N. confirm ABC’s report. First, the U.S. representative to the U.N. put out a statement that quite clearly put the blame for the incident on those attempting to deliver aid:

As I stated in the Chamber in December 2008, when we were confronted by a similar situation, mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by member states and groups that want to do so. These non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms should be the ones used for the benefit of all those in Gaza. Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances.

Then the U.S. succeeded in watering down the statement sought by Turkey, Palestinians, and Arab nations.

After an emergency meeting and marathon negotiations that lasted nearly 12 hours, the 15 council members finally agreed on a presidential statement. It was weaker than what was initially demanded by the Palestinians, Arabs and Turkey because of objections by the United States, Israel’s closest ally.

The Islamic nations had called for condemnation of Monday’s attack by Israeli forces on the flotilla "in the strongest terms" and "an independent international investigation."

But the presidential statement that was finally agreed to and read at a formal council meeting instead called for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." And it only condemned "those acts" that resulted in deaths, without naming Israel.

The response of the U.S. is no less horrific for being predictable, and not all the blame can be placed on Obama. After all, huge majorities in the House and Senate recently signed an AIPAC letter indirectly rebuking Obama for its criticism of Israel. Three quarters of senators signed the letter — which was circulated by Boxer and Isaacson — including Feingold, Levin, Wyden, Franken, Merkely, and Mikulski.

Make no mistake: Obama and the United States are complicit in the illegal blockade of Gaza, which has caused what Oxfam describes as a humanitarian implosion.

The situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967. The current situation in Gaza is man-made, completely avoidable and, with the necessary political will, can also be reversed…The blockade has effectively dismantled the economy and impoverished the population of Gaza. Israel’s policy affects the civilian population of Gaza indiscriminately and constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children. The measures taken are illegal under international humanitarian law.

The good news this morning is that Egpyt — which has helped Israel maintain the blockade — today opened up the border.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday ordered the opening of the Rafah border crossing to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, the official MENA agency reported

Meanwhile more aid boats, including one named for Rachel Corrie, are headed to Gaza.

It seems possible that even with the United States protecting Israel, significant help might reach Gazans. Let’s hope.

“Barbaric Violence” – Winograd’s Statement on Israel’s Massacre of Peace Activists

By: davidmizner Monday May 31, 2010 1:10 pm

As many of you know, Winograd’s been a leader in the peace movement and in the struggle for a just and smart approach to the I-P conflict, so it’s no surprise she offers this statement.

"I suspect the murders were committed as a warning to others who might want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ironically, the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza."

Adds Winograd, "Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade, and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just, and lasting peace."

We’ll see what, if anything, AIPAC Jane says.

As Edward Teller points out in his diary, this could be construed as an attack on NATO, which would compel a response. NATO will hold emergency talks at Turkey’s request.

NATO will hold emergency talks on Tuesday at Turkey’s request after an Israeli commando unit stormed an aid convoy en route to Gaza, killing at least 10 passengers, spokesman James Appathurai said.

"Planning is underway for a meeting… at the request of the Turkish authorities tomorrow afternoon," Appathurai told the Agence France-Presse. The talks will gather ambassadors from the 28 NATO member countries at its Brussels HQ.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Santiago, Chile that his government was demanding the NATO council gather to address the deaths and accused Israel of committing "inhuman state terror" with its deadly raid on a fleet of aid ships bound for Gaza, the Turkish daily Hurriyye reported.

Obama Is Planning to Be Angry about the Spill This Morning

By: davidmizner Friday May 14, 2010 7:57 am

(BP) – President Barack Obama will be angry about the spill today in a late-morning press availability, several sources say. The White House would not release details on his expression of anger — how long it would last, for example, and how it would manifest — but according to my reporting, he will raise his voice at approximately 10:47 and rap the podium once at 10:49, and again at 10:52. His anger will subside by 11, at which point he will discuss his support for the Lieberman-Kerry climate change bill, which would expand offshore drilling.

I couldn’t not confirm a report that he might sneer when he says BP. There was a debate among his advisors over whether the President should refer to BP executives as "oil men." Advisor Valerie Jarret found the moniker sexist because there is, in fact, one woman on the BP executive management team.

Meanwhile Rahm Emmanuel worried that the "oil men" reference might be taken a swipe at George Bush and Dick Cheney and thereby upset Lindsay Graham, with whom Mr. Emmanuel is trying to work out a compromise by which Gitmo would be moved to Illinois. According to the deal, Gitmo would be closed and detainees would be continued to be tortured at the new facility in Illinois.

Today’s expression of populist anger would be the President’s first since his produced a brief flash over the actions of Wall Street executives, especially those who had not funded his presidential campaign. The move backfired when it prompted Wall Street to threaten to give more money to the GOP, terrifying Obama. Quickly reversing course, he praised Wall Street executives, whom he called "savvy."

"It’s politically risky to be publicly angry with powerful forces," said Obama advisor David Axelrod. "But the president is a bold leader, and will not hesitate to show anger when it is in his political interest to do so."

I asked Axelrod if Obama might choose to be angry about Shell’s beginning to drill for oil in the Artic. He said that he "has no plans to do so at this time."

Axelrod also took pains to distinguish the President’s anti-corporate expressions of anger, which are staged for political effect, from the his genuine expressions of anger, which are invariably directed at progressives, like the gay rights supporters who heckled him.

Saturday, May 1st, 2010 (Civility, Terrorism, and Drone Jokes)

By: davidmizner Thursday May 6, 2010 7:23 am

All of this happened on Saturday, May 1st. May Day. Or perhaps: Mayday, Mayday, Mayday…

President Obama gives the commencement address at the University of Michigan. A large chunk of his speech focuses on the need for civility in our public discourse.

The second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate.

Later, that evening, someone terrorized Times Square in New York.

The Times Square bomb threat shook New York city to its core on Saturday May 1st. The aim of the bomber was clearly to kill as many people as possible because the grey Nissan Pathfinder was parked in the middle of the busiest part of New York city on Saturday at around 6:30pm, a time when the square teems with life.

Still later, that night, President Obama performed stand up for White House reporters and said:

Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I’m joking?

The next day, May 2nd, in response, Jonathan Schwarz said:

You know what would have made a great punch line for Barack Obama’s joke about predator drones last night at the White House correspondents’ dinner? If the car bomb in Times Square had gone off at exactly that moment, and it turned out it in fact was in retaliation for strikes by predator drones.

Then the next night, when they were still washing blood and viscera off the streets of New York, the head of the Pakistani Taliban could have made a quip about killing people with car bombs at a fancy black tie dinner in Peshawar. And then the U.S. could have blown up more Pakistani civilians with drones. And the cycle of funniness would begin anew!

On May 5th., we learned this:

The Pakistani-American man suspected in Saturday’s attempted car bombing in New York’s Times Square has told authorities he was upset over U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, especially a drone attack while he was in the country, a U.S. official told Fox News.

If I had more time, I would provide some analysis of what this all means. Or perhaps not, because it’s so obvious. A ten-year old could connect the dots — but not with the eloquence of
Glenn Greenwald:

Preliminary, anonymous indications are that Faisal Shahzad, the American citizen accused of planting the failed car bomb in Times Square, was motivated (at least in part) by a desire for retaliation against America’s lethal and possibly criminal Predator drone attacks in Pakistan, including at least one such attack which occurred when Shahzad was in Pakistan. Not that any more should be needed, but if that’s true, it’d be merely the latest evidence proving that when we slaughter civilians in other parts of the world (and those drone attacks have killed hundreds of innocent people, at least), it causes others to want to do the same to us. That’s called "human nature." I’m sure President Obama’s giddy, sociopathic joke-telling about Predator drones at glitzy Beltway media events is extremely helpful in that regard.

Meanwhile "progressives" go on pretending there’s no link between American violence and anti-American violence.

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday…

It’s too early to know what motivated the Times Square terrorist, and we’ll never entirely know. That is, we don’t know for sure that Obama was joking about drones at the same time that drone-inspired terrorism was, well, terrorizing New York. (Presumably Obama’s joke would’ve been considered uncivil if the victims of drone attack were Republicans or White House reporters, not faceless nameless brown people). But in any case, both social science and common sense tell us that occupations and other forms of violence spark terrorism. To deny this is akin to denying that a punched person in a bar fight retaliated because he was punched. This fact, that violence begets violence, speaks not at all to the morality of the aggressor or retaliator; indeed, it’s sometimes hard to know who is who.

Look! Over There! Teabaggers!

By: davidmizner Thursday April 8, 2010 11:21 am

No, no, no, don’t look here.

Instead, in Barack Obama’s America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens — and a death penalty imposed — is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone’s guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America’s newspapers — cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they’re granted — to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist. It is simply asserted that Awlaki has converted from a cleric who expresses anti-American views and advocates attacks on American military targets (advocacy which happens to be Constitutionally protected) to Actual Terrorist "involved in plots." These newspapers then print this Executive Verdict with no questioning, no opposition, no investigation, no refutation as to its truth. And the punishment is thus decreed: this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because Barack Obama has ordered that it be done.

Or here.

US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.

Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother were shot on February 12 when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home in Khataba village, outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The precise composition of the force has never been made public.

Or here.

A former New Orleans police officer has given authorities a shocking account of the killing by police of two unarmed civilians and the wounding of four others on Danziger Bridge in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The account of the September 2005 incident by former Officer Michael Hunter, 33, who pleaded guilty yesterday to charges associated with the coverup of the shootings, is contained in a court filing that you can read in full below.

That’s right. Over there, at the teabaggers. Man, they sure are violent.

“The Vanishing Liberal”–A Must-Read Article

By: davidmizner Tuesday April 6, 2010 12:09 pm

I hope the cover story in this month’s Harper’s Magazine reaches a lot of eyes. The Vanishing Liberal: How the Left Learned to Be Helpless," by the excellent essayist and historical novelist Kevin Baker, provides a brief history of modern liberalism and explains how we’ve arrived at this dismal moment.

Here’s his thesis:

Democrats have been reduced to a state of psychological helplessness, one in which political obstacles—ranging from the prevarications of stalking horses like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, to the plaintive cries of the tea-baggers out in the streets, to the sterner demands of the Joints Chiefs or Big Pharma—are transformed into insurmountable organic obstacles.


Obama, the congressional Democrats, and most of our politicians at every level now maneuver within political confines defined by financial and military interests they cannot conceive of challenging.

One of my quibbles with the piece is that Baker claims that Obama underwent a rightward shift upon becoming president. Toward the end of the piece Baker acknowledges that "It is increasingly clear that he never intended to challenge the power structure he had so skillfully penetrated," but the word "penetrated" doesn’t strike me as apt. The power structure welcomed Obama, and with good reason.

Baker traces the pathological helplessness of Dems to the sixties and early seventies, when George Wallace introduced modern conservative populism, which convinced the media and Democrats themselves that they were out of step with "real Americans."

It turned out not to be necessary for the right to actually become populist. Absorbing the old cant now constantly echoed by an intimidated or captive mass media—that liberals are naïve, impractical, “out of the mainstream”—Democratic leaders fell for the idea that the right represented the true will of the people and acted accordingly.

Internalizing the right’s populism, self-loathing Dems abandoned their own populism, with disastrous results.

Assuming a posture of helplessness before the Republicans’ fraudulent Populism, the Democrats acquiesced to and assisted in bundling up the nation’s industrial base and shipping it overseas—a policy that shut down the working class escalator to a better life, gutted the unions, and deprived liberals of their main source of political power.

In the historical parts of the article, Baker makes clear his admiration for the populists of the 19th century, who, he says, created one of the great democratic movements in history. They were rebelling against two corrupt and unresponsive parties. (Sound familiar?)

In September of 1877, a small group of men met at a farmhouse in Lampasas County, in the heart of Texas. They called themselves the Knights of Reliance, and though that name was soon changed to the Southern Alliance, their original appellation reflected their determination to rely on themselves and no one else to alter their situation. By 1890, they were the National Farmers Alliance, with some 500,000 members in the South and another 100,000 in Kansas alone. Gathered under the banner of the People’s Party, and inviting input from everywhere, the Populists quickly assembled a host of solutions and formulated ways to get them done—perhaps the most imaginative and genuinely grassroots political movement in American history.

The leaders of the People’s Party organized a circuit of thousands of farmer-lecturers who spoke to audiences about problems they knew, in terms they understood. The Populists had ideas for dealing with every obstacle—many of them amazingly sophisticated and effective. In the halls of the nation’s legislatures, they demanded the public ownership of railroad, telegraph, and telephone infrastructure; a graduated income tax; the direct election of U.S. senators; recall provisions; the secret ballot; laws to allow labor unions to organize; an expanded money supply; and a “sub-treasury” system of storing crops so that farmers could not only wait for the most favorable conditions before putting their goods on the market but in the meantime could draw credit from that reserve rather than from Wall Street.

He seems to be referring to these citizen-activists when at the end of the piece he offers his solution for what ails us.

The idea of modern American liberalism has vanished among our elite, and simply voting for one man or supporting one of the two parties will not restore it. The work will have to be done from the ground up, and it will have to be done by us.