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The Party Line – July 29, 2011: Those Who Can’t Teach, “Compromise”

8:31 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

I seriously cannot believe I am again writing a post with one eye on the wire, still waiting for a conclusion to the debt-ceiling debacle, looking for real news to read, instead of just thrice re-boiled tea leaves. But here I am—here we are—sweating out a crisis that is as malicious as it is manufactured, knowing that when a “resolution” comes, no matter which version/option/compromise we get, it will be both terrible and impermanent.

That’s not easy to think about, but it is quite easy to say. There are no smart options on the table. There are not even smart planks left to use as bargaining chips. America, with its economy gasping for air, is left having to choose from a trio of plans that are all (as best as we are allowed to glimpse them) comprised of draconian cuts to so-called discretionary spending, no serious attempts at increases in revenue, and seismic blows to the bedrock programs of our social safety net—and none of which do a single, solitary thing to stimulate job creation. The only resemblance to a life preserver here is that all the plans look like a big, fat zero.

That the federal budget deficit is not even our real problem is a message completely absent from the national “debate.” That there is a difference between the debt ceiling and the deficit has been lazily obscured or purposefully ignored. And, again, the interests and desires of vast majorities of the American people—that jobs are more important than deficits, that a higher percentage of taxes should be paid by the very wealthy, and that the military should be cut before Social Security and Medicare—are marginalized as “extreme,” “not serious,” “unreasonable,” or (horror of horrors) “not adult.” Read the rest of this entry →

Emancipation and (Self) Preservation

3:30 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

It is perhaps ironic in the extreme to take to the internet to extol the virtues of contemplation, and to do so while discussing a story that, by the time you read this, will be over a full day old (a near-eternity in the blogosphere), but President Obama’s allusions to the Emancipation Proclamation (or more accurately, the release of a months-old talk where he praises Lincoln’s move as a marriage of principle and pragmatism) in the contextual crucible of the debt-ceiling debate, makes me wish we could really spend some time learning, relearning, and discussing the Proclamation and Lincoln’s actions in the context of his time and the lessons they might hold for action in ours.

It would be as fun as it would be enlightening for me (and a lot of others, I’d hope) to have a back-and-forth about what President Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation did and didn’t do—for slaves in Union and Confederate states, for the war effort on both sides of America’s Civil War, and for the future of the (as opposed to “these”) United States—because there is room for argument. And, it would be great if we could first pursue the pure knowledge and understanding before having to turn it into an ironclad metaphor for our current president and his very current “crisis” (another point open to interpretation). But Obama “went there”—first in a March talk with a group of students, and this weekend with the release of tape of that talk and another video alluding to the same issue—and so the metaphor, like a battle, is joined.

Because my preamble ramble is already closer to the pre-internet-age chat than I had intended, let me shorthand a lot of my thinking on Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation and say that while I feel comfortable in raising an eyebrow about just how few slaves were freed on its first day, January 1, 1863, and also feel comfortable in asserting that Lincoln understood the shrewd politics of the Proclamation’s exact language, a day of looking at recent scholarship on these issues also has me believing that “Emancipation,” such as it was proclaimed, did much to help the Union’s war effort by adding a second “cause” (the eventual abolition of slavery in addition to the opposition to southern secession) to the fight, by painting a stark moral contrast between the warring parties to European powers that had abolished slavery themselves, but still had other reasons to aid the Confederacy (such as Great Britain), and, quite notably, by allowing northern blacks and freed southern slaves to enlist and fight, swelling the ranks for the Union side.

All of this allowed Lincoln to attain his stated primary goal—the preservation of the Union—but it also (along with some very critical acts of Congress) laid the groundwork for the degradation of slavery in Northern slave states, the outlawing of slavery in US territories, and soon after, the passage of the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery across all states. (It also helped blunt any thoughts of a challenge to Lincoln’s re-nomination from the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party in 1864, which is interesting even in today’s context, and an attractive grace note to my point here.)
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The Party Line – July 8, 2011: A Broadside? That’s Rich

8:09 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

By now, many of you have probably read Frank Rich’s inaugural piece for New York Magazine. Freed from the bean counters and word counters of the New York Times, Rich pours forth pages (and pages) on what he calls “Obama’s Original Sin.”

That sin, as the story explains, is that the Obama administration’s failure to properly investigate the causes of the financial crisis, its failure to hold anyone accountable, and its embrace of some of the very people that helped push the US economy into the, uh, ditch have left the president’s reelection prospects on shaky ground.

Matt Taibbi (who is quoted in the Rich piece) has called the NY Mag article “Rich’s broadside,” and cites it as one of a growing list of “not quite mainstream media” stories on the epic failure that is the president’s approach to Wall Street. Taibbi sees Rich and raises him, but both are playing roughly the same hand: Frank Rich is being tough on Barack Obama.

I am not going to say that Rich is not being tough, per se, just that he isn’t as tough as he thinks.
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The Party Line – June 10, 2011
Hope Floats

8:19 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Watch this episode on YouTube

The Obama administration has a problem. As much Republican good will or corporate campaign cash as they expect to gain from their reinforcing of the deficit hysteria meme (which, let’s face it, will not be very much at all), even the most cynical of the president’s economic team realizes that all this budget cutting isn’t going to do squat for the current economy. Without something directly stimulative, the recovery likely stalls. Without some sort of jobs program, the unemployment picture continues to look grim. There is no “car” to worry about putting in reverse—it has been spinning its wheels for some time now, and, as most Americans see it, it never did drive out of that ditch.

Yes, with 2012 shaping up to be another “it’s the economy, stupid” election year, O & Co. has a problem—but with the same deficit hawks and scorched-earth partisans controlling Congress, what is a president obsessed with bipartisan-like process to do?

A natural place to look would be the deal the White House cut last December with House Republicans—and indeed, Obama went to that well earlier this week. During an appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president floated the idea of extending a central part of that deal, the two-percent payroll tax cut for employees, for another year. Then, never failing to miss an opportunity to negotiate with itself, the White House later posited an employer-side payroll tax break (instead of the employee-side cut? in addition to? hard to say, but it is fairly easy to guess which would be favored by the GOP) as an incentive to business for some sort of job creation.

Payroll taxes, however, are not some sort of rainy-day fund the government puts aside when it can, there to use if it needs a new washing machine. . . or the economy is in a ditch. These payroll taxes—the ones Obama is offering to cut—go to fund Social Security and disability. The 2010 deal cost roughly $112 billion, and it figures extending the cut another year will cost the same. If the employer-side cut is comparable, and it is paired with an extension of the employee-side holiday, Social Security could be out close to $400 billion by the end of next year.
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The Party Line – April 15, 2011
Three Men in a Room

6:17 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Congratulations, America, your federal budget process is now as efficient as New York State’s!

Here is what your grand vision of liberal government looks like–at least for the rest of FY 2011 (PDF). For example, part of Title X aid to family planning was what became shorthanded as the debate to defund Planned Parenthood. (A rider with language that specifically targeted Planned Parenthood was given an up-or-down vote yesterday–part of the Boehner-Obama pact on the continuing resolution. It failed, but Republicans have another vote to use in campaigns against Dems in conservative states come 2012.) As you can see (you can click images to enlarge), Title X wasn’t eliminated, but it was cut by $27 million compared to the original budget request–taking it $10 million below its FY 2010 line.

Bet you won’t find mention of that in Wednesday’s totally awesome speech.

[To watch the video in a separate window, click here.]

The Party Line – February 18, 2011

8:59 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Hey liberals, hey progressives, when President Obama says, “Social Security is not the huge contributor to the deficit,” he’s not backing you, he’s frontin’ you.

(In case that’s not enough for you, here’s an archive of previous editions of The Party Line.)

NN10 Liveblog: Fighting Obama’s Social Security “Death Panel”

3:17 pm in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

No FDL alumns on this panel, but it is a topic that should be near and dear ro many readers’ hearts.

Obama’s Social Security "Death Panel": Engaging Activists to Defeat the Drive to Cut Critical Social Programs

This panel will detail the push by anti-government organizations and the president’s debt commission to solve the “deficit problem” by slashing Social Security and other critical federal programs. It will describe the real factors driving the federal deficit, including tax cuts for the rich, two wars, rising health care expenditures and the Great Recession. The panel will debunk the most basic falsehood of the debt commission: that Social Security contributes to the deficit. Panelists will expose the hypocrisy of addressing the deficit without considering deep cuts to the bloated military budget or increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Panelists also will describe a newly formed coalition working to blunt attacks on Social Security and other domestic programs and how activists can get involved online and offline.
PANELISTS: Nancy Altman, Eric Kingson, Robert L. Borosage, Digby, Laura Clawson

Bob Borosage is first up. . . .

Bob is describing how, after the small stimulus passed, Obama fell pray to advisors telling him that people were concerned about deficits. Obama proposed a three-year freeze on domestic descretionary funding and a special panel to examine cuting the budget. Thus, Obama gave life to the rightwing frame and unleashed the Blue Dogs and deficit hawks.

We don’t have an entitlements crisis–our projected deficits are all from escalating healthcare costs.

During the last depression and after the war, leaders asked how can we build a robust, new economy that can provide for our citizens. They looked at taxes and encouraging new growth. Today, the only question is "How can we balance the budget?"

Eric Kingson is up. . . .

There is PowerPoint!

Point one: Social Security Works!

Eric quotes a couple of sages who explain that a) Legislators who offload responsibility to a commission are not worth their station; and b) Eisenhower once prediced that Soc. Sec. was so imporant to the American fabric that if anyone tried to cut it, their party would fall off the face of the earth. . .

Ike kinda maybe got that one wrong.

Why Soc Sec works:

Nothing provides more secure life, disability & retirement insurance for America.

(Many more points, Eric is speeding through the slides–not fair!)

The so-called funding crisis is very manageable. Right now everything is just fine through 2075.

Soc Sec has wide support among electorate.

3/4 of Tea Party types support Social Security.

Funding model was tweeked in the ’80s and is now fine, so right looks for new lines of attack.

They now argue that they are eviscerating benefits to "protect the young." Arguing there are priorities now that need spending.

Focus on deficit is a red herring debate made by people who don’t need the kind of support social programs provide.

Leninist deconstruction of attack: Tell the old we won’t touch their security; tell the young that their benefits will not be there.

He closes with–"We need the blogs" to raise awareness about this.

Laura Clawson now up. . . .

People want jobs, want jobs creation legislation–but when they don’t see a jobs bill, then deficit reduction creeps in as an issue.

If they don’t expect a fix for job situation, they figure, well, if I am not going to have a job, then please at least fix the deficit (for esoteric reasons? Not wuit sure she explained what people think deficits do to them. I know the arguments exist, but speakers on this panel are having to rush through).

Important for left to counter the deficit hawks, fill the info vacum.

Digby is up.

THIS IS THE BATTLE OF OUR LIVES. rw has it out for Social Security.

Shock doctrine–this crisis is giving guys like Pete Peterson an opportunity to roll out what he has been working on for years.

We need to learn from previous fight to stop privaization.

Saying there is no problem will not break through. Digby suggests "Strengthen SocSec, don’t cut it."

Right has rolled out a bunch of myths.

Age myth–people live longer today. Well, childhood mortality brought down avg. age, but the folks designed Soc Sec actually gamed out the system really well.

Other myth: not enough workers for all retirees. . .

Social Security planners figured this one out, too. We have been at roughly the same ratios for a long time, and things are functioning fine.

Be prepared to counter these myths. Go forth, do battle.

Question time!

Why not just raise the cap on taxable income?

Yes, says Nancy Altman, that would work. It would have to be phased in on the lower portions of the new tazable income. But it would fund it past the horizon.

Next question: Since this wil take a 2/3 vote (uh, no, that’s actually an old float that did not carry through to this catfood commission) and it will get folks kicked out of congress if they vote for it (um, hence the lame duck session that will take thsi up), isn’t this just a fake out by Obama–a distraction for the deficit hawks?

[picking jaw up off the floor]

Eric and Nancy respond. The commissionis stacked with like minds–and they are out to evicerate the program. Not just tweek, means test, etc. Kill it.

Bob adds: Even if we (the left) do win, and save the program, it will require massive energy and money–that, itself is a huge victory for the right.

Someone in the crowd yells out: Why, with a democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic President, do we even have to worry about this?

It is an angry question. . . a split emerges in the room with grumbling on one side saying give me a break and defending obama, others saying damn straight!

Bob Borosage jumps in to defend the president. Obama’s sermon on the mount at G-town about the new economy was. . . well, hell, Bob just called it "The Sermon on the Mount."

Someone asks about the frame–no one will say they are cuting Soc Sec. Eric adds that the indexing will be a third cut on young workers; older people will feel a pinch, too, as a balance to the cut on the young.

What can we do to hellp? is aksed–urge all to go to town hall meetings, ask all your candidates about this, and try to bring in young people. Honor 75 anniversary of SocSec coming in August. Go to OurFuture and StrengthenSocialSecurity.

(I might add that FDL ain’t gonna let this one go gently.)

(and, speaking of that, I see that David has a new post up that exposes how America Speaks inflated the number of people that favor a raising of the retirement age.)

Someone is asking about how to answer the argument that SocSec is theft, because they do not inherit a dead spouse’s money paid in to the program.

SocSec is an insurance plan. . . answer to that was rushed, I’m afraid.

And we are done here! Thanks all.