Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Hullabaloo Anniversary Holiday Fundraiser
This probably isn't the best day to do this, but I might as well go with it no matter how angst riddled we all are about the possible Grand Bargain, gun violence and all the rest: yes, it's that time of year, the time when I ask for your support to keep going for another one. If you're getting out your check books or credit cards today to do some Christmas shopping, and you value what you read each day here (even if it's only to get the blood pumping in anger) I'd be eternally grateful if you'd throw a few bucks into the kitty so we can carry on.
You can click on the donation buttons, or if you prefer, you can use the snail mail address over on the left.
Today, I think it's appropriate to take a trip down memory lane to January of 2009, just before the inauguration while everyone was still delirious over the Obama victory. I wrote the following:
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I can't believe what I saw yesterday: CNN showed a Shock Doctrine documentary called I.O.U.S.A. It is an amazing piece of propaganda, which, if it isn't designed to destroy any chance of enacting a necessary stimulus, will persuade more than a few Americans that the biggest problem we face at this moment is long term debt caused by entitlements --- and nothing short of massive spending cuts can save us. Here's the press release:
Wake up, America! We're on the brink of a financial meltdown. I.O.U.S.A. boldly examines the rapidly growing national debt and its consequences for the United States and its citizens. Burdened with an ever-expanding government and military, increased international competition, overextended entitlement programs, and debts to foreign countries that are becoming impossible to honor, America must mend its spendthrift ways or face an economic disaster of epic proportions.I suspect that people who read this blog know why that's deeply dishonest and why the timing for this crusade couldn't be worse. It's obvious to those who are following this story that what's required to avert a far worse recession and quite possibly a depression, is for the government to do the opposite of what these deficit obsessives say must be done. But I don't think everyone in the country has that understanding.
Pointedly topical and consummately nonpartisan, I.O.U.S.A. drives home the message that the only time for America's financial future is now.
I say this is a shock doctrine documentary because it is nearly impossible for me to believe that it is a coincidence that the deficit hawks have put together this slick "non-partisan" documentary and well financed campaign to cut spending at the moment of what many people believe is America's greatest economic peril since the 1930s. They are, quite obviously, attempting to use the crisis to dismantle the social safety net and avoid doing the real work of reforming the financial system. Shock Doctrine 101.
And when I say slick and non-partisan, it really is. The show also featured a panel with none other than the smarmy village saint Bill Bradley and the Clinton era deficit maven Alice Rivlin. Of course, it also included hedge fund king and deficit fetishist Pete Peterson and his little dog ex-CBO GAO chief David Walker. (Walker seems to be halfway aware that he might not be on the right track, but he's committed to this project.) It couldn't be more in keeping with the post-partisan, non-ideological zeitgeist.
Except it's ideological to the core.
One would think this message is so dissonant that no one could possibly find it persuasive. After all, they are worrying about some potential future catastrophic event while we are in middle of a current calamity. But it's actually very clever ---you can see by the press release that it sounds like they are talking about the current problem, even though their prescription is exactly the opposite of what is required . Indeed the diabolical effect of this project and its timing is that it's designed to make people believe that government spendingis the cause of the current economic crisis.
And it's smart. What they are prescribing makes more intuitive sense to many people than what is actually necessary to solve the problem. We are all coming to terms with the fact that we are going to have to stop spending beyond our means and pay down our debt in order to get our financial houses in order. Why shouldn't the government have to do the same thing, especially if it's facing an imminent "balloon payment" with all those retirees and sick people getting ready to explode the debt? We all know that the government has been spending like drunken sailors and it stands to reason that's why we find ourselves in this crisis, right?
The sainted Bill Breadley said it right out on the program:
People understand that if they run up debts in their own lives, it's no different than when the government runs up debts the same way.Americans have been mentally trained over the past few decades to believe drivel like that--- the free market is always the preferred method to solve economic problems, that the government should be run like a business (or your household budget) and, most importantly, that government is the cause of problems, not the solution. This deficit obsession plays into all those beliefs and makes it very difficult to explain in the middle of the crisis that the government isn't a business or a household and needs to go further into debt in periods when everyone else is trying to escape it. And, needless to say, it also sounds like the tax 'n spend libruls are at it again.
I'm sure it hasn't escaped anyone's notice that the deficit scolds are coming out of the woodwork now that the Republicans brought us to the brink, slashing taxes for the wealthy, larding their own contributors with earmarks, solidifying the notion that military industrial complex spending is a sacred, untouchable icon, and fetishing and deregulating the market until they finally brought the whole system to its knees. They certainly didn't say much about the debt while it was adding up these last eight years.
They did the same thing during the 80s, which is why Cheney uttered "Reagan proved deficits don't matter. (What was left out was "for Republicans." Democrats are endlessly and relentlessly harassed about deficits --- as they clean up the big mess the deficit spending Republicans leave behind.)
They've reanimated the yellow peril, which is only fitting. Last time, we were told that Japan was taking over the country by buying up all of our real estate. This time it's the Chinese buying up all our bonds. (In 92, Perot put a little zesty mexican salsa in the recipe.) It's always something. The foreigners are going to kill us in our beds unless we cut social security and medicare. And if we even think of enacting any new "entitlements" (a conservative buzzword designed to make you think people are getting something they don't really deserve) it's pretty clear that the Asian hordes are going to destroy our way of life (if the muslims don't get to us first.)
One of the fundamental characteristics of shock doctrine economics is extreme complexity for which a simple, intuitive solution is proposed. It's hard to argue with and it's hard to resist. Here are famous people who really seem to understand what's going on and the solutions they propose just sound like common sense. Even Joe the Plumber can see how right their view is. Unfortunately, they're completely wrong --- at least if you care about the country as a whole and the suffering of the millions of people who will have to endure their "solutions."
It's highly unlikely that they will fully have their way on this. We are in deep trouble and there are a lot of very smart people who know the deficit is the least of our problems at the moment and that "entitlement reform" is one sure way to deepen the panic and make personal spending contract further than it needs to. (There's a lot of wealth among seniors and near seniors. I can't imagine that chit-chat about how social security is going broke is particularly good news to people who've just lost a good portion of their portfolios in the real estate plunge and the stock market crash.)
But these people are going to cause us a lot of trouble no matter what, which comes as no surprise to me. I've been writing about this for years. It's one of the reasons why I believe in liberal rhetoric (and, yes, the dreaded "ideology.") If you don't bother to educate people counter to the myths and propaganda they hear from the right, they have nothing to hold onto except faith in the Democrats in the face of arguments that have been built layer by layer over many years. (And having faith in Democrats really take courage.) The fact that they refuse to do this doesn't automatically spell failure for Democratic policies, but it makes it many times harder to succeed.
They don't even seem to intend to do tank the stimulus, just restrict it. What they are doing is setting the stage for entitlement cuts and a swift, premature pullback on government spending --- thus extending the crisis. And if the Democrats are cowed by these people (they always are --- they hate being called spendthrifts) there will be enough egomaniacs in the congress to hamstring the administration and force them to adopt these "common sense" methods of running the economy --- which is precisely how we got into this problem in the first place.
We have a real crisis on our hands, but this campaign to cut the deficit is a very clever sleight of hand --- the problem, as we all know, is income inequality and free market ideology run amok. If they can misdirect the public to "reforming government" instead, they might be able to take the heat off enough to get back in the saddle before anyone notices.
That was almost four years ago and a lot of water has passed under the bridge in that time. But the battle to beat back this Grand Bargain has been waged nearly every day on this blog, by me and dday, when he was here, David Atkins in the last couple of years, tristero and various other contributors. ( I wish I could say that we'd won it --- but it ain't over 'til it's over.) It hasn't always been popular. There were a whole lot of people who said I was negative and obsessive for focusing on it so early. But from the minute I saw that documentary and read Obama's comments before the inauguration, I knew this was going to be an ongoing fight and I knew that liberals were going to tear themselves to pieces trying to figure out how to deal with it.
Unfortunately, it's on the menu:
I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your campaign some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"
"Yes," Obama said.
"And when will that get done?" I asked.
"Well, right now, I’m focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you described is exactly what we’re going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government? What are we getting for it? And how do we make the system more efficient?"
"And eventually sacrifice from everyone?" I asked.
"Everybody’s going to have give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin the game," Obama said.
"Structural deficit" is the exact wording used in I.O.U.S.A.
FDR went with "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but Obama is adopting "everybody's going to have to have to sacrifice." It's an unusual way to get people through a period of extreme economic insecurity, but maybe it will be character building.
It's not that I haven't been wrong about this many a time --- most obviously when I made the assumption that John Boehner would not walk away from Obama's horrific Grand Bargain offer in 2011. (Even after all these years I underestimated just how crazy the right wing really is ...) But, right or wrong, I think there is value in paying the kind of close attention we pay here and having a skeptical (and yes, perhaps jaded) approach to what the politicians --- and more particularly, the political media, are all saying. The old liberal blogosphere has largely morphed into new and exciting forms, but I think there's still a place for the kind of commentary and activism we do here.
All of this is to say that I'd like to keep doing it and I need your help. Ten years is a long time to do this thing, and I'm fairly shocked that I haven't burned out. But I seem to find it as satisfying as ever. I certainly couldn't have done it without all of you donating each year to my annual Christmas fundraiser. I'd be extremely grateful for your support one more time.
And Happy Hollandaise everyone!
BTW: Comments will be back in the New Year, along with a new look. In the meantime, you can always write me at the email listed on the left. I try to answer all of them.
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digby 12/19/2012 11:00:00 PM