I believe that you have crossed a line, Mr. Obama. At your recent press conference you very casually stated that “we tortured some folks:”
With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.
How long is the “immediate aftermath of 9/11″ (of 2001)? Is it hours, weeks, months, years — how long?
I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.
So, some “folks” tortured some other “folks,” but “we” shouldn’t be too “sanctimonious” because the “folks” who ordered and performed the torturing in extreme secrecy for the past 13 years had tough jobs?
Who the hell is this “we” of whom you speak when you say that, “it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect.”
When were “us” consulted about this? When did “us” demand that “folks” get tortured? Didn’t “us” have some, um, laws about torture?
It seems to me that “us” weren’t in the loop. I don’t remember at any time a movement of “us” demanding that the US withdraw from the UN Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line.
President Obama, this is where you have crossed a line. You have determined that a horrendous crime has been committed. However, in contradiction of the constitutional requirement of your office to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” you have opted not to enforce the law and “look forward.” Your desire for political expedience has trumped justice for far too long.
You say that you understand why “folks” committed torture and that “it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious” about it, however, while I am not a constitutional scholar, it seems pretty obvious that it is explicitly not your job to let these “folks” who ordered and committed these crimes escape prosecution.
Frankly sir, if you are going to let “folks” off the hook for torture, I can’t think of any crime that “folks” should be accountable for. “We” may as well open up the prisons and let all the “folks” out. Even murder is arguably not as bad as torture where sadists kill a person’s spirit and then day after day, year after year brutalize the remains of the person’s body and mind, for no damned good reason.
Here is a study in juxtaposition for your consideration:
“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Do you live near a railroad line? How about a pipeline? You might want to check into your proximity to those things.
Because America is the new Saudi Arabia, soon to be the world’s number one oil producer, the infrastructure that used to carry our energy products around is straining to meet the demand created by the new production.
A federal pipeline safety official admitted on camera recently that he made a point of ensuring his home wasn’t in the path of any pipelines before buying it, and that he wouldn’t advise anyone to build in the path of a pipeline. …
‘Here is what I did when I bought my house — I looked on all the maps, I looked for all the well holes. I found there is nothing around me but dry holes and no pipelines. And it’s not because I’m afraid of pipelines, it’s not because I think something will happen. It’s because something could happen. … You’re always better off, if you have a choice….’
Taken together with natural gas, the US is awash in domestic fossil fuels that are largely stranded in North America, and is now in a position to reconsider its scarcity-based energy policies.
Should the export ban be lifted, there will be even more pressure on the energy transportation infrastructure and, hence, more danger for Americans living near pipelines, rail lines and roads where there will be increased truck traffic.
The other day a friend on Facebook sent me a link to a petition. These days, I seem to receive invitations to sign petitions all of the time. Sometimes I wonder if they really do any good and if the people who are the targets of influence in the petitions pay any attention at all to them, particularly when they urge them to do things that they have little interest in doing.
The petition that my friend sent me was particularly graphic and was certainly a worthy cause, a petition to stop barbaric violence against women in Pakistan in this case:
Since I wouldn’t want to sign on to a bogus petition, I did some googling to find out if the story the petition reports was verifiable. It turns out that a reputable news source, The Independent, carried the story:
The punishment was death by stoning. The crime? Having a mobile phone
Two months ago, a young mother of two was stoned to death by her relatives on the order of a tribal court in Pakistan. Her crime: possession of a mobile phone.
Arifa Bibi’s uncle, cousins and others hurled stones and bricks at her until she died, according to media reports. She was buried in a desert far from her village. It’s unlikely anyone was arrested. Her case is not unique. Stoning is legal or practised in at least 15 countries or regions. And campaigners fear this barbaric form of execution may be on the rise, particularly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Women’s rights activists have launched an international campaign for a ban on stoning, which is mostly inflicted on women accused of adultery. They are using Twitter and other social media to put pressure on the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to denounce the practice.
The petition that I was invited to sign is to be presented to President Barack Obama:
Barack Obama is giving the Pakistani government $1.5 billion dollars in aid this year, not to mention probably spending many millions on drone bombings of non-combatant civilians.
WASHINGTON — The United States plans to give more than $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan for programs that had been blocked because of tension between the two nations over events including the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, American officials said Saturday.
While the petition is absolutely a worthy cause and Americans should certainly reach out and demand that their government cease supporting another government that gives sanction to a heinous, barbaric act of inhumanity like stoning, one has to wonder how the withdrawl of support would be seen by the populace of a country whose women and children our government is murdering with drones.
Surely the action of cutting off support to compel Pakistan to stop the stonings would cause gales of angry laughter amongst tears of rage.
Further, considering that Mr. Obama seems to wish to continue his murderous drone campaign that has used tactics like signature strikes:
[T]hese attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.
Between May 24 and July 23 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was reported by multiple media sources to have carried out a number of controversial drone strikes in the FATA region of northwest Pakistan.
Across seven attacks, reports suggested the agency had deliberately targeted a mosque with worshippers inside; to have targeted funeral prayers for a victim of a previous strike; and on six occasions, to have deliberately targeted people going to rescue victims and retrieve the dead from the scene of an earlier attack – a tactic also known as a ‘double-tap’ strike.
Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.
It seems likely that the Pakistani government would be far less accomodating of Mr. Obama’s drone strikes without the lubricant of billions of US dollars.
Taking a leap and assuming that such a campaign of sanctions against Pakistan would work, would Mr. Obama be willing to give up his barbaric drone campaign to stop violence against women?
Greetings Circus fans! Welcome back to the Circus that, like rust, never sleeps. For the past couple of days the red clowns have separated into rival gang factions to fight out their final strategery. Watching clowns enter into public backbiting and recriminations is always amusing for the audience and the pie has been flying.
It seems that according to the folks at the Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions that the Hot Potato of Blame has fallen into Boner T. Redclown’s Ring 1 and cannot be returned to Harry T. Blueclown’s Ring 3 due to a preponderance of audience belief.
The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.
The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) on Monday echoed Peter King’s statement that the person to blame for the current government shutdown is Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
‘If I had to cast blame anywhere, I would say it was Sen. Cruz and those who insisted upon this tactic that we all knew was not going to succeed,’ Dent told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
‘What he did essentially, Sen. Cruz, basically, he took a lot of folks into the ditch. Now that we’re in the ditch, you can’t get out of the ditch, the senator has no plan to get out of the ditch, those of us who do have a plan to get out of the ditch and will vote to get out of the ditch will then be criticized by those who put us in the ditch in the first place.’
As one group of the red clowns played “chase the scapegoat,” other set to work on what the red clown leaders strategery:
Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the Rules Committee, tells us Speaker John Boehner doesn’t yet have his debt-ceiling proposal finalized. For now, no legislation is headed toward his committee, and it’s all about messaging. … ‘I’d say if you ran the clock on it, 48 hours,’ Sessions adds, when asked how long it’ll take Boehner to unveil the leadership’s plan.
But even as Boner T. Redclown was busy juggling and formulating his strategery, out of a dark corner of Ring 1 came the nearly-famous Ryan T. Redclown who was once Mittens T. Redclown’s second in a clown duel with the Ringmaster. It appears that Ryan T. Redclown has been working on a little strategery of his own as he loaded the cannon with an op-ed from the Clown Street Journal which he fired off at the Ringmaster and the blue clowns in Ring 3.
In an editorial voice sweeter than the Circus’ cotton candy, Ryan T. Redclown turned away from the stage and projected his message at the audience in calm and reasonable tones. Why, his message was just like that of the Ringmaster:
Freddie Peacock of Rochester, New York, was convicted of rape in 1976. Last week he became the 250th person to be exonerated by DNA testing since 1989. According to a new report by the Innocence Project, those 250 prisoners served 3,160 years between them; 17 spent time on death row. Remarkably, 67 percent of them were convicted after 2000—a decade after the onset of modern DNA testing. The glaring question here is, How many more are there?
The meeting had all the hallmarks of an ordinary Congressional hearing. There was Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, discussing the problems faced by ordinary citizens mistakenly placed on terrorist watch lists. Then, to the astonishment of the crowd attending a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Mr. Kennedy offered himself up as Exhibit A.
Between March 1 and April 6, airline agents tried to block Mr. Kennedy from boarding airplanes on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist who had been barred from flying on airlines in the United States, his aides and government officials said.
Instead of acknowledging the craggy-faced, silver-haired septuagenarian as the Congressional leader whose face has flashed across the nation’s television sets for decades, the airline agents acted as if they had stumbled across a fanatic who might blow up an American airplane. Mr. Kennedy said they refused to give him his ticket.
“He said, ‘We can’t give it to you,’ ” Mr. Kennedy said, describing an encounter with an airline agent to the rapt audience. ” ‘You can’t buy a ticket to go on the airline to Boston.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘We can’t tell you.’ “
Hoping to prove the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was under the influence of Communists, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance.
The agency’s hidden tape recorders turned up almost nothing about communism.
But they did reveal embarrassing details about King’s sex life — details the FBI was able to use against him.
The almost fanatical zeal with which the FBI pursued King is disclosed in tens of thousands of FBI memos from the 1960s. …
When King learned he would be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the FBI decided to take its harassment of King one step further, sending him an insulting and threatening note anonymously. A draft was found in the FBI files years later. In it the FBI wrote, “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” The letter went on to say, “The American public … will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast,” and “Satan could not do more.”
The letter’s threat was ominous, if not specific: “King you are done.” Some have theorized the intent of the letter was to drive King to commit suicide in order to avoid personal embarrassment. “King, there is only one thing left for you to do,” the letter concluded. “You know what it is … You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia. …
“These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones,” said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA’s Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.
She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and “collected on” as they called their offices or homes in the United States. …
Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of “cuts” that were available on each operator’s computer.
“Hey, check this out,” Faulk says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out.
Now that the academic and evidentiary support for austerity is shot full of holes, President Obama has an opportunity to perform a face-saving extrication from his position. Will he do it?
A recent study by a grad student at the University of Massachussets has pointed out critical errors in celebrated Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff’s study which has been the much-cited intellectual underpinning of the austerity movement. In short R-R’s study showed a correlation between high levels of national debt (with a stated critical threshold point at 90% of GDP) and slow economic growth. The results of the study have been often stated as proof that debt at 90% GDP causes slow economic growth and that austerity measures must be employed to bring down debt.
Reinhart-Rogoff quickly achieved almost sacred status among self-proclaimed guardians of fiscal responsibility; their tipping-point claim was treated not as a disputed hypothesis but as unquestioned fact. For example, a Washington Post editorial earlier this year warned against any relaxation on the deficit front, because we are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Notice the phrasing: “economists,” not “some economists,” let alone “some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,” which was the reality.
There were good reasons for not accepting the Reinhart and Rogoff results even before this error was uncovered, as many of us had argued. Most importantly there is a serious issue of the direction causation. Countries tend to have high debt levels because their economies are doing poorly.
Unfortunately, there was not much press notice of the causation problem in R-R’s study, probably because it’s the kind of story that the media find too difficult to explain. But when the grad student from the University of Massachussets discovered spreadsheet errors in their work, now there was an issue that our news media could latch onto with confidence that it was within their ability to explain it. Consequently it has gotten quite a bit of coverage and R-R’s study has been discredited.
Austerity has been a failure where it has been employed
While Europe’s leaders shy away from the word, the reality is that much of the EU is in depression.
The loss of output in Italy since the beginning of the crisis is as great as it was in the 1930s. The youth unemployment rate in Greece now exceeds 60%, and the figure for Spain is above 50%.
With the destruction of human capital, Europe’s social fabric is tearing, and its future is being thrown into jeopardy.
The economy’s doctors say that the patient must stay the course. Political leaders who suggest otherwise are labelled populists. The reality, though, is that the cure is not working, and there is no hope that it will – that is, without being worse than the disease.
It will take 10 years or more to recover the losses incurred in this austerity process.
Anyone still advocating austerity, with all of the available evidence militating against it as a course of continued action is selling something very much other than a program to create broadly shared prosperity.
It’s time for President Obama to step back from his austerity plans.
Obama’s austerity plans are tied to Reinhart and Rogoff’s work
Despite the best laid plans careful preparations, the Catfood Commission ultimately failed to come to an agreement on a plan. This failure was largely ignored and the Commission chairs (Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles) wrote their own plan which has been used by the administration as a basis for the imposition of austerity.
These developments are poorly understood by those—most vocally, SB advocates—who continuously inveigh that we’re not “serious” about cutting spending. In fact, that’s the only thing we’ve been “serious” about so far, such that we’ve actually achieved 70% of the discretionary spending cuts called for in the SB budget plan.
“It’s an excellent study, although in some ways what you’ve summarized understates the risks.”— Former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
“The debt hurts the economy already. The canonical work of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff and its successors carry a clear message: countries that have gross government debt in excess of 90% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are in the debt danger zone. Entering the zone means slower economic growth.”— Doug Holtz-Eakin, Chairman of the American Action Forum.
“Economists who have studied sovereign debt tell us that letting total debt rise above 90 percent of GDP creates a drag on economic growth and intensifies the risk of a debt-fueled economic crisis.” — House Budget Committee Chairman and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
So, here’s where you can see how far a half a billion dollars goes in purchasing public policy. Two Harvard academics write a paper which the media and highly-visible public intellectual economists all claim as purported evidence that austerity is sorely needed. The President of the United States creates a commission that is rigged to provide the result of support for the idea that austerity is sorely needed; the commission’s findings rely on the underpinnings of the the Harvard academics’ paper. In Congress major budget legislation is put forward with the claim that austerity is sorely needed; the author of the Congressional legislation and its supporters all cite the Harvard academics’ work as justification.
Guess who the two Harvard economists who wrote the paper that all of the people who are calling for austerity cite?
I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count…
When Washington Post writer Suzy Khimm pointed out to Peterson that the U.S. built significant deficits during the financial crisis but maintained very low interest rates, Peterson responded that America still needed to be on high alert: “you know [Kenneth] Rogoff and [Carmen] Reinhart — I’ve talked to them, and they say [debt crises] are sudden, they’re sharp, they’re very substantial. The risk is simply too big. At some point, if we lurch from crisis to crisis, then confidence will decline on our economy in general.” …
Reinhart, described glowingly by the New York Times as “the most influential female economist in the world,” was a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics founded, chaired, and funded by Peterson. Reinhart is listed as participating in many Peterson Institute events, such as their 2012 fiscal summit along with Paul Ryan, Alan Simpson, and Tim Geithner, and numerous other Peterson lectures and events available on YouTube. She is married to economist and author Vincent Reinhart, who does similar work for the American Enterprise Institute, also funded by the Peterson Foundation.
Kenneth Rogoff is listed on the Advisory Board of the Peterson Institute. The Peterson Institute bankrolled and published a 2011 Rogoff-Reinhart book-length collaboration, “A Decade of Debt,” where the authors apparently used the same flawed data to reach many of the same conclusions and warn ominously of a “debt burden” stretching into 2017 that “will weigh heavily on the public policy agenda of numerous advanced economies and global financial markets for some time to come.” (Note that not everyone associated with the Institute touts the Peterson party line.)
So, the circle of influence is complete. A web off deceit has been spun by wealthy. influential people who are able to apply massive amounts of money to academics, think tanks, the media and politicians and purchase public policy favorable to their interests.
Is President Obama a spider that weaves the web, or a bug that has been caught in it?
It’s hard to know whether Mr. Obama is leading the charge for austerity or following the direction of others. He has worked assiduously to impose austerity during his administration. Early on, he chose to “go small” with economic stimulus as recommended by Larry Summers rather than the stimulus, larger by a trillion dollars, $1.6 – $1.8 Trillion stimulus recommended by the chair of his Council of Economic advisors, Christina Romer. Obama’s stimulus program was criticized for it’s small size by many more progressive economists outside the administration at the time.
President Obama’s early commitment to austerity was also evident in his budgets. Despite his rhetoric about social investments and infrastructure rebuilding, President Obama’s budgets since he took office have all been austerity budgets. Of course, Obama’s support for “entitlement reform” a euphemism, like “strengthening” Social Security (by cutting the earned benefits of those that the program is supposed to be for. It has been reported that within the Obama administration, the political team and particularly David Plouffe, pushed for Obama to seek entitlement reform:
[Top Adviser David] Plouffe urged the president to give [entitlement reform] a shot. “I said he [Obama] should be big on entitlements,” Plouffe told one former administration official, by which he meant reining in these budgetary elephants. Sure, this would enrage the party’s base. But the political upside with the rest of the country would more than make up for it … “Plouffe is pretty big on accomplishments trump normal politics,” said one White House colleague. “Plouffe’s view is that big trumps the little.”
So, now here we are, the rationale for austerity is in tatters, the web of deceit is unravelling. President Obama’s actions now will show whether he is a spider who seeks to weave the web back together or a bug who, freed from the web, goes on to pursue a different path outside the web.
$360 billion in Federal Reserve subsidies, by creating an artificial “spread” in interest rates
$120 billion in federal deposit insurance (through the FDIC, backed by the Treasury)
At least $100 billion in government-guaranteed loans, especially mortgages
At least $100 billion in monopolistic advantages in the secondary market for home mortgages
More than $100 billion in fees in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivative market. (The lack of capital required in these transactions and other special dispensations from the Fed provide the zombie banks with unlimited leverage and almost no public scrutiny.)
The first study indicates that the too big to fail banks are barely breaking even and they are getting fat and demanding on our largesse; the second study indicates that they are indeed not profitable at all. They are nothing but corporate welfare queens with a large budget to purchase politicians.
The headline news is that the big banks appear to be solvent again (at least as long as nobody pokes around too much); the banking sector is pretty much back to business as usual, with large profits and great pay and bonus packages for the bankers.
The jobs recovery is a complete and total myth. The percentage of the working age population in the United States that had a job in March 2013 was exactly the same as it was all the way back in March 2010. … [T]here are now more than 101 million working age Americans that do not have a job. But even though the employment level in the United States has consistently remained very low over the past three years, the Obama administration keeps telling us that unemployment is actually going down.
In fact, they tell us that the unemployment rate has declined from a peak of 10.0% all the way down to 7.6%. And they tell us that in March the unemployment rate fell by 0.1% even though only 88,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy. But it takes at least 125,000 new jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. So how in the world are they coming up with these numbers? Well, the reality is that the entire decline in the unemployment rate over the past three years can be accounted for by the reduction in size of the labor force.
In other words, the Obama administration is getting unemployment to go down by pretending that millions upon millions of unemployed Americans simply do not want jobs anymore.
Anyone who can read a chart or a graph can see that actual unemployment has remained quite stable during Mr. Obama’s presidency:
Surely it has an historical meaning and there are some roundabout descriptions of modern progressivism online like this one from Wikipedia:
Today, members of the Green Party of the United States are most likely to self-identify as liberal progressives. In the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and it is often in opposition to the more centrist or conservative Democrats who form the Blue Dogs caucus. It is also in near-continuous opposition to the Republican Party.
“The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”
Further, what does it mean when three quarters of the Congressional Progressive Caucus won’t stand up for the indispensable legacy of the progressive New Deal and Great Society advances, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.
While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
… Addressed to President Obama, the letter has enabled members of Congress to take a historic stand: joining together in a public pledge not to vote for any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. …
The Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, signed the letter. So did Barbara Lee, the caucus whip. But no signer can be found among the five vice chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Michael Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Jan Schakowsky. The letter’s current list of signers includes just 16 members of the Progressive Caucus (along with five other House signers who aren’t part of the caucus).
What about the other 54 members of the Progressive Caucus? Their absence from the letter is a clear message to the Obama White House, which has repeatedly declared its desire to cut the Social Security cost of living adjustment as well as Medicare. In effect, those 54 non-signers are signaling: Mr. President, we call ourselves “progressive” but we are unwilling to stick our necks out by challenging you in defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we want some wiggle room that you can exploit.
The most controversial element of Obama’s proposal is the inclusion of “chained CPI,” the adjustment that would over time reduce cost-of-living increases to Social Security and other federal benefit programs — effectively, a cut to Social Security benefits by tying them to inflation.
Progressives in the Media and the Blogosphere
So while many congressional “progressives” have chosen between their divided loyalties and come up as cowering yes men for the misguided juggernaut of the Obama administration, parts of the progressive media are spouting propaganda:
John Nichols tells only part of the truth in this piece and the failure to represent the whole truth makes it a specious bit of propaganda, that distracts and diverts attention away from those that are carrying out the agenda of the big money forces he decries.
[Perhaps this is a problem created by editing as Nichols is generally a reasonable guy, who has written a number of articles calling for opposition to President Obama's Chained CPI plan. This was a publication of The Nation magazine, so perhaps they edited it and it represents their editorial position more than Nichols' opinions and position. Since Nichols is the face, name and voice of this piece, however, the criticism will be directed at him and presumably if he gives a damn about what some blogger says, he can assert that the blame lays elsewhere.]
Nichols explains that in, as he puts it a, “Dollarocracy,” the ideas that get put forward are the ideas that have big money behind them, like cutting Social Security. He goes on to highlight the fact that austerity-loving-corporate-greedheads were able to get, “one of their own,” Paul Ryan on a ballot to run for Veep to push their plans. What Nichols fails to mention is that those austerity-loving-corporate-greedheads were going to win no matter what this election. They already have a Democratic president who is promoting their agenda on the other ticket. Guess what, they won! And there was no chance that they wouldn’t!
How is it that Nichols could have failed to notice and call out the Obama administration and the many Democrats that are performing the bidding of the, “Dollarocracy” with such alacrity these days? Nichols is an experienced pundit, he certainly has been around and allegedly paying attention long enough to know who has been pushing the 1%’s, “Dollarocracy” agenda.
Let’s take a trip through some of the evidence that one would have to ignore to create that Dollarocracy video with such a glaring omission in it…
Obama and the “Dollarocracy”
Perhaps some pundits might have missed what Barack Obama said when he was auditioning for the 1% back in 2006. Obama’s comments in 2006 show his willingness to upend the progressive orthodoxy regarding New Deal programs, which must have surely been music to our economic overlords’ ears. In a speech at the inaugural event of the Hamilton Project, Obama said:
“For those on the left, and I include myself in that category, too many of us have been interested in defending programs the way they were written in 1938,
believing that if we admit the need to modernize these programs to fit changing times, then the other side will use those acknowledgements to destroy them altogether.”
Someone declaiming against the, “Dollarocracy” certainly needs to understand the part that groups like the Hamilton Project play in perpetuating this, “Dollarocracy.” Some pundits were paying attention:
“So now let’s move to 2006, and a new group is formed as part of this constellation of moving the Democratic Party to the corporate right, and it’s a group called the Alexander Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution. And the director of it is Robert Rubin, who had been the Treasury Secretary for Clinton, had been at Goldman Sachs and, later, Citigroup. Roger Altman had been US Treasury Department under Clinton. And there’s an amazing thing. And this group is set up for budget deficit, international trade, taking on the teachers union, and they had their founding meeting in April 2006. And only one US senator shows up to speak at this founding meeting, and that’s a very new senator, Barack Obama from Illinois, who’s only been in Washington a little over a year. So for a lot of us who were tracking Obama in 2007, of course he got a lot of $25 and $50 donations from people that really wanted change they could believe in, but in 2007, way before he was a front-runner, he was out-fundraising all the other candidates from Wall Street. And it was something I’ve never quite been able to figure out. There were two presidential candidates from the state of New York, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, and Obama was out-fundraising them from Wall Street early in ’07. Now, Wall Street money and corporate money always goes to the front-runner. Obama was getting this money before he was the front-runner. So the missing piece to the puzzle is this clip where Obama is the only senator who shows up at the Alexander Hamilton Project.”
So, let’s say that a pundit entirely missed what other progressive pundits were picking up on, that Obama was a, “Dollarocracy” candidate. Let’s say they were completely bamboozled during the 2008 presidential race by Obama’s assurances that he was, “no doubt” a progressive and rhetoric like this about Social Security:
“Social Security is not in crisis; it is a fundamentally sound system, but it does have a problem, long-term. We’ve got 78 million baby boomers, who are going to be retiring over the next couple of decades. That means more retirees, fewer workers to support those retirees. We are going to have to do something about it. The best idea is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, potentially exempting middle-class folks, but making sure that the wealthy are paying more of their fair share, a little bit more.”
Let’s say the pundit was lulled into a false sense of security by Obama’s rhetoric and he failed to pay attention on the times when Obama followed up his statement with disclaimers like, “everything has to be on the table.”
Stephanopoulos: You’ve also said with social security “everything should be on the table.” Raising the retirement age …
Obama: Everything should be on the table
Stepanopoulos: Raising payroll taxes…
Obama: Everything should be on the table. I think that we should approach it the same way that Tip O’Neal and Ronald Reagan did in 1983. They came together … I don’t want to lay out my preferences beforehand, but what I know is that social security is solvable. It is not as difficult a problem as we’re gonna have with Medicaid and Medicare.
Well goodness, that was a dead giveaway that Obama is willing to put the, “Dollarocracy’s” agenda on the table and make concessions right there during the 2008 campaign.
The surprising truth is that from the start of his presidency Mr Obama has planned a steep decrease in discretionary spending as a share of national income.
Each year he has put a budget on the table. Each year that budget has called for a sharp decline in discretionary spending as a share of gross domestic product in 2012 and later years. His rhetoric about increasing public investments in America’s future has always been contrary to the budgets he has presented, though most of his supporters have been unaware of this contradiction.
The administration is now vigorously blaming the Republicans for the pending cuts. Yet the level of spending for fiscal year 2013 under the sequestration will be nearly the same as Mr Obama called for in the draft budget he presented in mid-2012. … Mr Obama’s supporters will be very puzzled – many will doubt the basic fact that these cuts have long been ordained by the president, at least in general terms, though not exactly as they will now occur. Why would a progressive president plan for deep cuts in discretionary spending relative to GDP even as he advocates larger investments in health, education, infrastructure, clean energy, science and technology, job training, early childhood development and more?
Why indeed. Could it be that Mr. Obama is a moderate Republican? Or is it just his 11th dimensional chess move to get Republicans to raise taxes if he unilaterally reduces spending so that it chokes off all of the progressive programs and advances?
No doubt, whoever is responsible for the omissions of fact in the, “Dollarocracy” video missed that too.
Gene Sperling said today on his Reddit chat that the president really prefers the Chained-CPI and that it’s not just an inducement to get the Republicans on board with the Grand Bargain. This may sound obvious, since it’s been clear from before the inauguration that the administration wants to “reform” the so-called entitlements. But Sperling made it clear today that they believe in this on the merits:
The cost of living question relates to how the government measures inflation. Today, we use a measure of inflation called the “CPI” or consumer price index. An alternative would be to switch to what is known as the superlative or “chained” CPI. The superlative CPI makes two technical corrections to the standard CPI: it accounts for consumers’ ability to substitute between goods in response to changes in relative prices and accounts for biases arising from small samples. Most experts agree that the Superlative CPI provides a more accurate measure of the average change in the cost of living than the standard CPI.
The President would prefer to have this adjustment in the context of a larger Social Security reform, but he has said to Speaker Boehner that if it is part of a larger agreement that would include tax reform that would raise revenue by cutting loopholes and expenditures from the most well off, that he would be willing to agree to it because in divided government, if we’re going to make progress, we have to be willing to compromise. One important note: any agreement to make this change to the CPI must include a dedication of a portion of the savings to protections for low-income Americans, certain veterans, and older Social Security beneficiaries. Our current offer which reduces the deficit by $230 billion over the next 10 years includes those protections.
Why do low-income Americans, veterans, and the elderly need “protection” from something that’s desirable, “preferable,” and nothing more than an “more accurate measure”?
It must have been getting really hard for whoever is responsible for Nichols’ video to avoid the fact that Obama was working so assiduously for the, “Dollarocracy,” by the time that he published his commentary. About the time of its publishing, other pundits had put the pieces together about who was working for the, “Dollarocracy.”
Check out noted economist Jamie Galbrith’s contemporaneous commentary for contrast and comparison:
[The] reality has been evident for a while, thanks to the President’s pattern of giving way to banks, lobbies, Republicans and right-wing extremists. Whether your prime interest is housing, health care, peace, justice, jobs or climate change, if you are an activist in America you have known for a long time that this President is not your friend.
Still, even on these shores disillusion often took a mildly forgiving form. The President was a “disappointment.” He was weak. He had “bad negotiating skills.” He had a tendency to “deal with hostage-takers,” to “surrender.” All of this fed the image of a man with a noble spirit, a good heart, the best intentions, but trapped by limited ability and the relentless and reckless determination of his foes.
Obama is no progressive
The debt deal will make things clear. The President is not a progressive – he is not what Americans still call a “liberal.” He is a willful player in an epic drama of faux-politics, an operative for the money power, whose job is to neutralize the left with fear and distraction and then to pivot rightward and deliver a conservative result.
What Barack Obama got from the debt deal was exactly what his sponsors have wanted: a long-term lock-in of domestic spending cuts, and a path toward severe cuts in the core New Deal and Great Society insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And, of course, no tax increases at all.
How could Nichols’ video featuring a progressive leaning pundit produced and published by a progressive leaning media outlet have such a well-developed blind spot? Is it denial or something else?
Kill the Zombie!
There is a phenomenon that one sees all over the progressive media and blogosphere; diatribes are spouted against Republicans in order to obfuscate the culpability of Democrats for the creation, sale and implementation of bad policy. When Democrats are called out by actual rather than acting progressives, elaborate excuses are forwarded along with appeals to be quiet lest the evil Republicans get a leg up electorally.
This phenomenon is at it’s height during election cycles, which is a shame because it is precisely during election cycles that activist leverage is at its zenith. During election cycles, all over the progressive blogosphere, activists are “shushed.” When they attempt to raise voices to press for real progressive commitments from politicians, they are warned about the spectre of, “Nader.” (Because the 24,000 Florida Democrats who voted for Nader are responsible for Gore’s 2000 loss, not the 308,000 Florida Democrats who voted for Bush, nevermind the fact that in 2000, only nine votes in Washington DC actually counted.) During elections progressive writers, pundits and commentators in progressive media outlets also blunt their criticisms, and rather than pressing for change, meekly toe the party line – presumably in hopes that their quiet acquiescence to party will result in a few bones being tossed their way.
Well, that plan hasn’t worked. Obama and many Conservadems are working hard to undermine the New Deal, formerly the sole project of right-wing loonies, though under the clever rhetorical guise of “saving” it. If there is such a thing as the progressive movement, it will have to get its act together and raise some hell or face the loss of its legacy and any sense of the utility that their advances have offered the public.
It is anticipated that there will be blowback from the usual suspects. As Digby put it in a recent post about Obama’s terrible budget proposal:
Meanwhile prepare for a barrage of savvy, world weary commentary from your fellow liberals telling you that this is no big thing and that Democrats will not suffer even a tiny bit if they vote for a common sense proposal like this one. You will be shushed and told to calm down and take a chill pill. In other words, you will be gaslighted by fellow liberals who are embarrassed that you aren’t being coolly accepting of something that is completely unacceptable. This is how this works. Tell them to STFU and move out of the way.
So, contact your legislators and let them know in no uncertain terms where you stand.
Want to give somebody a piece of your mind about their offer to degrade the New Deal, cut your earned Social Security, unemployment, medicare and veteran’s tricare benefits? Here’s the phone number:
As a seventh grader, Victor Alcantara towered over his peers. Already six feet tall and a substantial 190 pounds, Victor was well prepared by nature for what gave him the greatest pleasure – being a thug. Victor was not driven by circumstances into his chosen career field. He had an unremarkable but perfectly serviceable intellect.
His father was a University professor and his mother was a lawyer. That Victor lacked their passion for academic acheivement was something of an irritant to them as were the frequent calls from school administrators and the irate parents of Victor’s victims.
Victor had wisely chosen to form a strategic partnership with the next largest boy in seventh grade, Mark Ballis, who had been held back a couple of times making him the oldest seventh grader in the entire school system. Mark was neither tremendously bright nor capable, but generally not a bad sort of kid and Victor had decided that he needed something of a life remake. As part of Victor’s remake, he had renamed him, “Spike” and had had spent considerable effort on tutoring him as to how to comport himself with a certain thuggish silence and an attitude of cool equanimity. Spike became a perfect henchman.
Victor and Spike, while often scheming greater exploits mostly engaged in classic bullying, shaking down kids in the halls and at recess for their lunch money. Victor’s instincts led him to choose the social misfits, the nerds and the fat kids as his victims, steering clear of the popular kids.
One day, Victor and Spike had cornered a recently arrived fat kid on the playground. Victor got close up to the kid so that he had to look up at him at a sharp angle and pressed his demand. “You kind of bother me looking like that, I think that you should give my associate here Spike your lunch money.”
Normally, the implied threat of violence and the innate desire to flee caused most kids to hurriedly comply with Victor’s demands, but this kid did not seem to be in any hurry to comply. Victor leaned closer as the kid asked him, “What do you need it for?”
Nobody had ever asked Victor a question that went to the purpose of his enterprise before and he didn’t have a quick answer ready. His brain raced as he stalled for time. He fixed his portly interlocutor with an angry stare, the kind he had practiced in the mirror hundreds of times, but the kid just stood there, relaxed and expectant.
Then, from somewhere, Victor knew not where, the words came to him and he delivered them with a patient, but subtly insistent tone. “This isn’t about our needs. This is about you. You need to lose some weight and toughen up a bit. We will strengthen your ability to help yourself by removing one of the causes of your problem. Now, are you going to hand over the money or do we have to work harder to strengthen you?”
Victor, now an old man sitting in his favorite chair, reflected that this was the turning point in his life where he transitioned from being a mere thug to becoming a politician.
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