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First they came for welfare….

10:33 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In Obama’s America, each day is Halloween. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) should be afraid, very afraid! Why? Uncle Sam is bankrupt. He lives merely on the kindness of strangers. Only painful actions can remedy this situation.

Uncle Sam, you see, has long suffered from Affluenza. While the condition is often mistaken for a state of healthy well-being, the illness can be terminal. There are limits. They need to be respected. Austerity looms. The open question before Americans today: What kind of austerity will we have? The common answer amounts to this: Uncle Sam’s Affluenza would be fatal but for the remedies which a public commitment to fiscal austerity can provide.

The medicine is harsh and drastic, but necessary.

Or, so it is often claimed by a large fraction of America’s political and economic elite. Bob Urie, on the other hand, points out that:

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed — ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Urie suggests that the rich have prevailed in the democratic class struggle and now wish to deepen and intensify their exploitation of the “lesser people,” using the federal state and its fiscal situation as their hammer:

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas — by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes (sic) a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Doomed? Yes….

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity — we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for — they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe

Even the ‘gifts’ of income transfers, support for education and public transportation, Medicaid, subsidized housing, occupational training, works programs, etc. are not lacking in social benefits which directly and indirectly improve the quality of life enjoyed by every American. Every American would benefit from a fair and humane society, from a better standard of living. Such a society serves a common and public good. Who, after all, wants to watch the homeless die on the street for want of food and medical care? How might the United States compete with the emerging Asian economic powers when its education system, long the envy of the world at large, falters because of a lack of fiscal and political support? Who wants to bring children into the world when they will intimately know insecurity and want?

But the Nobel Laureate Americans just reelected wishes to create neither a fair nor humane society. He is a system politician who serves his various masters. The latter are cruel and greedy. Americans of the lesser kind along with the world at large deserve much better than Barack Obama. They truly need a man much better than him..

Another endgame driven by money

12:44 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Thomas Ferguson and his collaborators have warned us about an endgame surge by the Romney campaign, a possible leap in his popularity that might eventually bury the Obama presidency. In this respect the Romney campaign may mimic the Bush campaign of 2000. Both have been fueled by massive spending and guided by lying. These, to be sure, are core competencies of the Republican Party. It is because of this late cycle spending that G.W. Bush jumped over Gore in the last days of the electoral season, although his election victory was helped by a corrupted electoral mechanism and a most dubious Supreme Court decision. Additional political disasters followed the constitutional coup d’état of December, 2000. Campaign money brought the country to that situation.

This is the post-Citizen’s United age in American politics, and money collection and spending along with elite ‘generosity and civic mindedness’ are the true stories of the current electoral season. This fact does not distinguish the 2012 elections from its recent predecessors. The defining mark this year issues from the quantities of money spent during the campaign. Billions of dollars will be spent on the presidential race alone. The Romney campaign, according to Ferguson, et. al., lately seems to be spending large sums of this money in the battleground states to win a victory next week. This effort favors Romney, of course.

A Romney victory fueled by big donor cash would certainly prompt outrage by Democratic Party partisans, although their rage would obscure the massive amounts of money raised and spent by the 2012 and 2008 Obama campaigns. The Democratic Party lacks clean hands in this matter. It, like the Republican Party, serves as a tool of Wall Street, the security-surveillance apparatus and, in a word, the empire. Thus the cries of the partisans ought to be considered mere hypocrisy rendered into obscure sounds, wholly without intrinsic importance. The somewhat obscure significance of this kind and degree of campaign spending lies elsewhere. Ferguson and company rightly locate and identify the effect produced by this money:

Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.

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Trumka put lipstick on a pig

10:50 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Richard Trumka, leader of that political black hole the AFL-CIO, had this to say about Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the recent Wisconsin recall election:

We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people.

Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity, and decency that we believe in. We hope Scott Walker heard Wisconsin: Nobody wants divisive policies.

Yes, Trumka wanted to elect the Democrat in this election. We know this because the AFL-CIO always wants to elect Democrats. The Democratic Party and ‘big labor’ have a special relationship. Trumka wanted ‘big labor’ to have a seat at the table. After all, AFL-CIO unions would need to be at the table in order to ‘negotiate’ the concessions the political and economic elite want unions to make. What Trumka did not want was the elimination of that furniture which never includes the majority of Americans. He thus wanted ‘big labor’ to have more political power than it now has, but not so much political power that that power would threaten to eliminate its seat at the table.

Actually, the election and the campaign beforehand hardly made Walker answer for his class politics. In fact, the outcome legitimized Walker’s class politics. Wisconsin voters affirmed a victory by the political reactionaries in America’s class war. Moreover, Walker’s easy victory made it clear to anyone with eyes that the left cannot challenge the party duopoly that governs America. The labor movement in America lost this election. Left populists lost this election. The system ‘worked.’

Finally, despite Trumka’s claim to the contrary, many Americans want divisive politics. The left especially wants divisive politics. The left wants to improve the lot of the poor, the working and middle classes; it wants to increase political accountability and democratic participation. These goals are inevitably divisive in the United States today. The Trumkas of the world do not want a divisive politics. They are, in a word, complacent. Gomperism lives. Complacency, unfortunately, produces system affirmative outcomes such as we have recently seen in Wisconsin and saw in 2008.

The ungrateful bastards

6:07 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

The New York Times reported that:

President Obama’s re-election campaign is straining to raise the huge sums it is counting on to run against Mitt Romney, with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.

From Wall Street to Hollywood, from doctors and lawyers, the traditional big sources of campaign cash are not delivering for the Obama campaign as they did four years ago. The falloff has left his fund-raising totals running behind where they were at the same point in 2008 — though well ahead of Mr. Romney’s — and has induced growing concern among aides and supporters as they confront the prospect that Republicans and their “super PAC” allies will hold a substantial advantage this fall.

To whom does the Obama campaign turn when the stuffed-pocket crowd has turned its collective back on him?

With big checks no longer flowing as quickly into his campaign, Mr. Obama is leaning harder on his grass-roots supporters, whose small contributions make up well over half of the money he raised through the end of March, according to reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

The Republican Super PACs are fat with cash just as one should have expected after the Supreme Court’s very controversial Citizens United decision (.pdf). This problem has thus forced the Obama campaign to make appeals for funding to the lesser people whose interests he failed to serve during his first term.

Caveat emptor!

President Obama wants to respect Constitutional limits

6:56 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

After Barack Obama’s meeting today with Republican leaders — during which they discussed the pain they would spread around the country and when they also agreed that they could live with the pain they will cause if they go through with their plans — it was left to Treasury Secretary Geithner to whip up Congressional support for the latest austerity budget. In this matter, the New York Times reports:

Mr. Geithner appeared to be playing a role not unlike that of Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who warned lawmakers in the fall of 2008 that unless Congress voted to bail out the banking system, the credit crisis threatened to plunge the United States into a depression. Stunned by Mr. Bernanke’s dire depiction, the lawmakers undertook measures that were until then unthinkable.

Lest his warnings go unheeded,

…Mr. Geithner told the lawmakers the White House did not believe it had the authority, under the Constitution, to continue issuing debt if it reached the debt ceiling. Nobody in the room disputed Mr. Geithner’s bleak assessment, the officials said.

Naturally, this President, a man of principle and a Constitutional scholar, would not want to exceed the authority given to his office by the Constitution. Never would he choose a path marked by political excess and legal impropriety. He would not act unconstitutionally even though his acting thusly would spare so many Americans the pain the emerging austerity budget will inflict upon them. It is just not in his nature. He will not flinch when forced by circumstances to look deeply into the abyss; nor would he refuse to throw the “lesser people” into this nothingness when Constitutional duty demands that he do so. He, like President Kennedy, would ask the “lesser people” what they can do for their country. The Constitution, as we have been told, is sacred and enduring, the Demos, on the other hand, is profane and transient.

Way too much is just enough for them

Atlas shrugging?

8:16 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

An early report shows organized labor might be withdrawing its financial support for candidates for federal office:

Union donations to federal candidates for the first three months of 2011 are far lower than donations during the same period in 2009 and in 2007, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Unions’ political action committees have contributed $4.75 million to federal candidates this year through the end of March, according to the Center’s research. In 2009, union PACs donated $8.44 million — and in 2007, union PACs donated $6.77 million — through the same period.

It is still not clear why donations are down 40 percent, although a fraction of this percentage may be due to PACs who have not yet filed any paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. The biggest PACs file monthly campaign finance reports with the FEC, but PACs that file semi-annually in 2011 won’t submit their first reports to the FEC until next week.

Even if Union PAC money were eventually proven to be higher than the sum revealed by the Open Secrets report, the decrease now evident may be the first sign of organized labor withdrawing its financial support for the Democratic Party. This change should not be too surprising given the structural features of the current economy, which promote high-unemployment and low-wages, and the role the Democratic Party has played in the creation of this situation. Why, after all, would labor support a party like the Democratic Party, a party that has adopted anti-labor policies for a while?

It should not support the Democratic Party unless, of course, it supports candidates that promise to support a labor agenda and do eventually deliver on their promises.

I cross-posted this article at All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go

Partinost at work

9:12 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Netroots Nation recently gave Barack Obama’s Presidency a ‘thumbs up’, according to Roll Call and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research:

Despite their grousing about the administration during the Netroots Nation conference, liberal activists and bloggers are relatively happy with President Barack Obama’s performance.

A straw poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 80 percent either approve or strongly approve of the president more than a year before voters head to the polls to decide whether he deserves a second term. The results broke down to 27 percent strongly approving of Obama and 53 percent approving “somewhat.” Thirteen percent said they “somewhat disapprove,” and 7 percent strongly disapprove of the president.

The poll of 519 people was conducted via iPad in the Minneapolis Convention Center on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

We should give thanks to Apple for giving the world the iPad! I wonder, though, what the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll would have revealed had the poll included participants using different gear. An inclusive poll might have exposed the frustration present at the convention, frustration that some reporters noticed and wrote about (see this, this, this, this, etc.)? Perhaps. It also might have shown a common awareness among the activists that the situation of the moderate left is now untenable. As one_outer pointed out:

The unofficial theme of this conference was of a movement at a crossroads, with a choice between our most deeply cherished principles and our understandable concern in accidentally empowering an insane and openly fascist Republican Party over a corrupt, ideologically conservative, and fully propagandized Democratic Party.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was….

It is typical for the left in the United States to feel compelled to vote for the “lesser evil” candidate, which, for the left, is always a Democrat, even though participating in the Democratic Party in some way means working within and for the political machine. To make myself clear on this point I must point out that this political machine necessarily includes the Republican Party as a constitutive element. The two parties support each other. Moreover, the goals of this machine appear in the work of its apparatus. As one_outer noticed: “These professional political types are well on their way to full commodification of progressive politics for their own gain, as the elite gatekeepers of progressive votes, volunteer hours, and wallets.” They are brokers, and they trade in money, votes and flesh. They are not populists. Nor are they interested in promoting political accountability. They are interested in machine politics, such as the politics practiced by the professional political types found at Netroots Nation. This politics is intrinsically bipartisan because it must be bipartisan if it is to work at all, according to Walter Karp and Robert Lafollette (Karp, 1993, p. 31). And a fully commodified progressive politics would affirm machine politics as a matter of course. When the Golden Rule of politics is operative, those who have the gold make the rules. The holders and hoarders of this gold will not often be found at places like Netroots Nation.

For the left in general, the path is and has long been clear: It must abandon the Democratic Party if it wants to accomplish anything worth having.

This article can also be found at All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go

What’s wrong with this thought?

8:19 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

E.J. Dionne, while discussing the Wisconsin conflict, asserted that:

It’s said that this fight is all about partisanship — and it’s true that Walker’s proposal is tougher on the most Democratic-leaning public-employee unions than on the ones more sympathetic to Republicans.

But this goes beyond partisanship. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which swept away decades of restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections, has already tilted the political playing field toward the country’s most formidable business interests. Eviscerating the power of the unions would make Republicans and Democrats alike more dependent than ever on rich and powerful interests and undercut the countervailing strength of working people who, as those Kohler workers know, already have enough problems.

Even critics of public-employee unions should be able to recognize a power grab when they see one.

The key problem here, as I see it, is one of timing. Labor in the United States today hardly stands as a countervailing power to the power available to American capital and its political allies. Union membership as of 1.2011 amounts to 11.9% of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 6.9% of private sector workers belong to a union while a mere 36.2% of America’s public sector workers belong to a union. Simply put, a fraction of America’s economic and political elite had already broken the union movement before Scott Walker put his name on the 2010 Wisconsin ballot. It used the Stagflation Crisis of the 1970-80s as a pretext on which to make a public assault on America’s unions. The AFL-CIO’s 1981 Solidarity March failed to intimidate the Reagan faction of the GOP or to embolden the remnants of the New Deal Coalition who cared about the fate of America’s working class. And it is because organized labor lacked the power to defeat the Reaganite onslaught of the 1980s that it ceased to provide a base from which sympathetic Democrats could contest the rightward drift of the American political elite.

The Democratic Party already depends upon and prefers the help it gets from big capital. Organized labor may have a seat at the big table, but it literally pays dearly for the meager results it gets for its money. One need only to consider the fact that both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama supported the horrible Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 Arkansas primary, and gave her this support even though a Lincoln nomination would only produce a defeat in November. Moreover, Obama’s election along with his very disappointing tenure as President supports nothing else but the conclusion that the leaders of the Democratic Party belong to the FIRE sector of the economy. In fact, one can measure Obama’s labor sympathies by the fight he made in support of the Employee Free Choice Act while President.

As for my take on Wisconsin: What we are seeing in Madison today is not organized labor fighting a state politician and his party in defense of the right of some workers to collectively bargain with the State of Wisconsin. Nor, for that matter, is the conflict a local instance of the national Democrats making a stand on behalf of its base. What we are seeing instead is a troubled part of American society defending itself against the predatory practices of a social and political system dominated by big capital, its money and its political allies. What about the legacy parties in Washington? As we know, they are already spoken for by their well-heeled friends. At least some Democratic Senators of the Wisconsin Senate had the nerve to flee to Illinois, thus saving the Party from colluding once more with the Republicans. That is far more than one could reasonably expect from the national Democrats.

Cross-posted at All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go

The DLC Will Soon Go Tits up

3:24 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Politico’s Ben Smith reports:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday. [link added]

The Progressive Policy Institute, the place for pragmatic progressives, according to the Progressive Fix website, will carry the DLC banner in the future, according to Smith. The PPI was once a part of the DLC.

What does this collapse mean? It seems to mean that the reform-minded members of the Democratic Party will no longer have the DLC to kick around although the spirit that drove the DLC over the decades will remain intact.

Weak Democracy and its Base in America

8:22 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In his most recent truthdig article, “Do Not Pity the Democrats,” Chris Hedges speaks the truth about power in the United States today:

There are no longer any major institutions in American society, including the press, the educational system, the financial sector, labor unions, the arts, religious institutions and our dysfunctional political parties, which can be considered democratic. The intent, design and function of these institutions, controlled by corporate money, are to bolster the hierarchical and anti-democratic power of the corporate state. These institutions, often mouthing liberal values, abet and perpetuate mounting inequality. They operate increasingly in secrecy. They ignore suffering or sacrifice human lives for profit. They control and manipulate all levers of power and mass communication. They have muzzled the voices and concerns of citizens. They use entertainment, celebrity gossip and emotionally laden public-relations lies to seduce us into believing in a Disneyworld fantasy of democracy.

Who, according to Hedges, should we not fear and who actually threatens us?

The menace we face does not come from the insane wing of the Republican Party, which may make huge inroads in the coming elections, but the institutions tasked with protecting democratic participation. Do not fear Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Do not fear the tea party movement, the birthers, the legions of conspiracy theorists or the militias. Fear the underlying corporate power structure, which no one, from Barack Obama to the right-wing nut cases who pollute the airwaves, can alter. If the hegemony of the corporate state is not soon broken we will descend into a technologically enhanced age of barbarism.

We should fear, Hedges claims, the American system itself, as it now exists and as it likely will exist tomorrow and the day after. Fear, that is, America’s version of Democratic Capitalism. We should fear it because the American system includes as a necessary component a compromised democratic political system. By compromised democracy I mean to refer to the institutions and mechanisms which make the holders of political and socio-economic power unaccountable to the citizens who suffer elite decisions and which insulates the elite from democratic control from below. This is system with a diminished civil society and public sphere. It is a system with a phantom citizenry. And it is a system in which the elite need not perform to the satisfaction of its citizens or, perhaps, subjects. This makes it an unresponsive system, for “A government is ‘responsive’ if it adopts policies that are signaled as preferred by citizens” (Manin, Przeworski, Stokes, p. 9). It is natural to believe an unresponsive and irresponsible government would be voted out of office by those citizens whom it betrayed. But in America’s compromised system, voting out one unresponsive and irresponsible party entails opting for another unresponsive and irresponsible party. This “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” electoral mechanism makes immediate and long-term systemic reform an unfeasible goal.

Hedges’s solution to America’s democracy deficit? Viable political work can occur only when it rejects America’s compromised democracy:

Hope is a word that is applicable only to those who grasp reality, however bleak, and do something meaningful to fight back—which does not include the farce of elections and involvement in mainstream political parties. Hope is about fighting against the real forces of destruction, not chanting “Yes We Can!” in rallies orchestrated by marketing experts, television crews, pollsters and propagandists or begging Obama to be Obama. Hope, in the hands of realists, spreads fear into the black heart of the corporate elite. But hope, real hope, remains thwarted by our collective self-delusion.