Running Dogs

Time for the Real Barack Obama to Stand Up

By: Leighton Woodhouse, Firedog Lake

Sunday November 11, 2012 2:19 pm

There are two schools of thought among progressives. For those who consistently support the President despite being well to the left of his record, there’s the widespread conviction that Obama is a closet progressive who has been consistently and tragically hemmed in by the Republicans, by public opinion, or by the reality of governing in Washington DC. According to this theory, the President hasn’t been able to achieve the policy aspirations of ideological progressives because powerful forces have stopped him short or pushed him in other directions. Remove or overcome those obstacles, and you’ll find a different Barack Obama than the one his official record suggests, an Obama who would not hesitate to enact real universal healthcare with a public option, real help for homeowners who are underwater, labor law reform, major global warming legislation, criminal investigations of the bankers most responsible for the financial collapse, an end to the Keystone pipeline project, etc.

Then there’s the alternative theory, which argues that for the last four years, Obama has governed as Obama has seen fit to govern. Certainly, he has faced major opposition to many parts of his agenda from Congressional Republicans, from powerful corporate lobbies, etc., as any Democratic president would. But he has been largely successful in achieving an overall policy framework that conforms to his political convictions, which are by and large centrist and technocratic. He hasn’t pursued criminal prosecutions of bankers because he doesn’t see bankers as criminals or their greed and overreach as the catalysts of the financial meltdown. He doesn’t see helping homeowners who are upside down on their mortgages as necessary to fix the economy, and he doesn’t see doing so as the government’s responsibility. He supports the Keystone XL Pipeline on its merits (with some modest environmental safeguards attached), he believes in healthcare reform only within the parameters of “market-based” approaches, and he doesn’t really care about labor law reform. He’s no right wing radical, but he’s no social justice activist, either. The record of his first four years, disappointing as it has been for progressives, was shaped largely by his own policy preferences, not by the intransigence of his political opponents.

One theory sees the record of the first term of the Obama presidency as the failed aspirations of an ideological ally. The other sees it as the successful implementation of a political philosophy that is simply not progressive in any way.

Leaked Woodward Memo Offers Road Map on Grand Bargain

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday November 12, 2012 8:30 am

Bob Woodward leaked the deal memo from the proposed 2011 grand bargain, which didn’t happen for a number of reasons, none of them being Barack Obama’s reticence to cut a deal. In addition to cuts to things like TRICARE and Pell grants and veteran retirement, the “sequester,” the punishment for Congress not reaching a deficit resolution, would have directly cut Medicare and Medicaid by $425 billion (including $150 billion in raising Medicare premiums) and a permanent 20% reduction in tax rates on the top bracket (from 35% to 28%), with four total tax rates (10%, 15%, 25% and 28%). Increases in the Medicare eligibility age were in the plan, as well as the chained-CPI change to Social Security cost of living adjustments, a net benefit cut.

This was what the President signed off on, before the Gang of Six embarrassed him by calling for more revenue. He was perfectly willing to not only endorse this deal, but force the Democratic leadership to swallow it as well. And this is why Ryan Grim can be so sure that the next set of talks will include reductions in benefits to the elderly, the poor and the middle class. That’s what happened before, after all.

Any sane observer of economic reality understands that the biggest concern in the near term is that the deficit will end up to small, not too large. We don’t have a deficit problem but a health care cost problem, and it’s not entirely clear we even have that as much as we have a CBO which over-hypes the health care cost problem in their models (the fact that CBO wanted to talk with Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith for daring to question their model is quite telling). We have countless examples of counter-productive austerity in a time of a slowly recovering economy.

Cutting the deficit has been discussed in terms of a moral imperative for the past two-plus years. But now we’ve arrived at a situation where the deficit would get cut a significant amount, and budget analysts make the obvious, inconvenient case that this would throw the economy back into recession. All the alternative explanations from the deficit scolds – a lack of confidence, the threat of higher interest rates – have nothing to do with the fiscal slope. It’s just that it would pull back on federal spending and raise taxes to such a degree that the economy would suffer.

I think the way elites plan to handle this is to not handle this, and merely say a bunch of contradictory things all at once, in the hopes nobody but maybe Krugman will notice. And he can be easily ignored, especially if the rest of the media plays along, hyping the “fiscal cliff” as a dread scenario for which a deficit reduction deal is the only prescription, even though the “fiscal cliff” is, in fact, a deficit reduction deal.

The Presidential Election Exposed, Again, the Death of the Liberal Class

By Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Monday, 12 November 2012 11:00

The presidential election exposed the liberal class as a corpse. It fights for nothing. It stands for nothing. It is a useless appendage to the corporate state. It exists not to make possible incremental or piecemeal reform, as it originally did in a functional capitalist democracy; instead it has devolved into an instrument of personal vanity, burnishing the hollow morality of its adherents. Liberals, by voting for Barack Obama, betrayed the core values they use to define themselves-the rule of law, the safeguarding of civil liberties, the protection of unions, the preservation of social welfare programs, environmental accords, financial regulation, a defiance of unjust war and torture, and the abolition of drone wars. The liberal class clung desperately during the long nightmare of this political campaign to one or two issues, such as protecting a woman’s right to choose and gender equality, to justify its complicity in a monstrous evil. This moral fragmentation-using an isolated act of justice to define one’s self while ignoring the vast corporate assault on the nation and the ecosystem along with the pre-emptive violence of the imperial state-is moral and political capitulation. It fails to confront the evil we have become.

Liberals have assured us that after the election they will build a movement to hold the president accountable-although how or when or what this movement will look like they cannot say. They didn’t hold him accountable during his first term. They won’t during his second. They have played their appointed roles in the bankrupt political theater that passes for electoral politics. They have wrung their hands, sung like a Greek chorus about the evils of the perfidious opponent, assured us that there is no other viable option, and now they will exit the stage. They will carp and whine in the wings until they are trotted out again to assume their role in the next political propaganda campaign of disempowerment and fear. They will, in the meantime, become the butt of ridicule and derision by the very politicians they supported.

The ineffectiveness of the liberal class, as I saw in the former Yugoslavia and as was true in Weimar Germany, perpetuates a dangerous political paralysis. The longer the paralysis continues, the longer systems of power are unable to address the suffering and grievances of the masses, the more the formal mechanisms of power are reviled. The liberal establishment’s inability to defy corporate power, to stand up for its supposed liberal beliefs, means its inevitable disappearance, along with the disappearance of traditional liberal values. This, as history has amply pointed out, is the road to despotism. And we are further down that road than many care to admit.

“They attacked liberalism,” Stern writes of the fascists emerging at the time in Germany, “because it seemed to them the principal premise of modern society; everything they dreaded seemed to spring from it; the bourgeois life, Manchesterism, materialism, parliament and the parties, the lack of political leadership. Even more, they sense in liberalism the source of all their inner sufferings. Theirs was a resentment of loneliness; their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world with fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together. All this, liberalism denied. Hence, they hated liberalism, blamed it for making outcasts of them, for uprooting them from their imaginary past, and from their faith.”

The corporate state, faced with rebellion from within and without, does not know how to define or control this rising power, from the Arab Spring to the street protests in Greece and Spain to the Occupy movement. Rebellion always mystifies the oppressor. It appears irrational. It does not make sense. The establishment asks: What are their demands? Why do they hate us? What do they want? The oppressor can never hear the answer, for the answer is always the same-we seek to destroy your power. The oppressor, blind to the brutality and injustice meted out to sustain dominance and prosperity, escalates the levels of force employed to protect privilege. The crimes of the oppressor are seen among the elite as the administering of justice-law and order, the war on terror, the natural law of globalization, the right granted by privilege and power to shape and govern the world. The oppressor cannot see the West’s false humanism. The oppressor cannot, as James Baldwin wrote, understand that our “history has no moral justification, and the West has no moral authority.” The oppressor, able to speak only in the language of force and increasingly lashing out like a wounded animal, will be consumed in the inferno.

Hawks and Hypocrites

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: November 11, 2012

Back in 2010, self-styled deficit hawks – better described as deficit scolds – took over much of our political discourse. At a time of mass unemployment and record-low borrowing costs, a time when economic theory said we needed more, not less, deficit spending, the scolds convinced most of our political class that deficits rather than jobs should be our top economic priority. And now that the election is over, they’re trying to pick up where they left off.

They should be told to go away.

It’s not just the fact that the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far. Recent events have also demonstrated clearly what was already apparent to careful observers: the deficit-scold movement was never really about the deficit. Instead, it was about using deficit fears to shred the social safety net. And letting that happen wouldn’t just be bad policy; it would be a betrayal of the Americans who just re-elected a health-reformer president and voted in some of the most progressive senators ever.

About the hypocrisy of the hawks: as I said, it has been evident for years. Consider the early-2011 award for “fiscal responsibility” that three of the leading deficit-scold organizations gave to none other than Paul Ryan. Then as now, Mr. Ryan’s alleged plans to reduce the deficit were obvious flimflam, since he was proposing huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations while refusing to specify how these cuts would be offset. But in the eyes of the deficit scolds, his plan to dismantle Medicare and his savage cuts to Medicaid apparently qualified him as a fiscal icon.

So what we get instead, for example in a white paper on the fiscal cliff from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, is a garbled set of complaints: The adjustment is too fast (why?), or it’s the wrong kind of deficit reduction, for reasons not made clear. Or maybe they are made clear, after all. For even as it rails against deficits, the white paper argues against raising tax rates and even suggests cutting them.

So the deficit scolds, while posing as the nation’s noble fiscal defenders, have in practice shown themselves both hypocritical and incoherent. They don’t deserve to have a central role in policy discussion; they really don’t even deserve a seat at the table. And they certainly don’t deserve to have one of their own appointed as Treasury secretary.

I don’t know how seriously to take the buzz about appointing Erskine Bowles to replace Timothy Geithner. But in case there’s any reality to it, let’s recall his record. Mr. Bowles, like others in the deficit-scold community, has indulged in scare tactics, warning of an imminent fiscal crisis that keeps not coming. Meanwhile, the report he co-wrote was supposed to be focused on deficit reduction – yet, true to form, it called for lower rather than higher tax rates, and as a “guiding principle” no less. Appointing him, or anyone like him, would be both a bad idea and a slap in the face to the people who returned President Obama to office.

Some Personal Thoughts

by Ian Welsh

2012 November 11

Our response to the financial crisis, a totally optional crisis which was based almost entirely on fraud, was to make the poor and the middle class pay through austerity, while bailing out the rich with trillions and trillions of dollars.  We gutted property rights completely so that banks could easily foreclose on homeowners and four years in, the economy, for ordinary people, has never recovered.  We are now in a depression, and if it’s not yet a Great Depression, it’s bad enough.  Now when I say pay, I mean suffer.  People died, wives and children were beaten, people became homeless, lost their jobs, their health and their self respect because of a completely optional crisis and the criminals who caused the crisis were not just let off, they were rewarded with a huge bailout.

This was done in a bipartisan manner, but it could not have happened in the form it did without Obama.  To give just one example, TARP was going to not pass the House.  Nancy Pelosi was going to let it fail if the Republicans wouldn’t vote for it in equal proportion to Democrats.  This is a fact, I was following it closely at the time as it was my job to do so.  Calls were running between a 100:1 to 1200:1 against TARP.  Obama got down and dirty and twisted arms, and I do mean twisted.  Serious threats were made.  TARP would not have passed without Obama.  This policy of bailing out criminals who caused death and suffering continued throughout Obama’s reign.

We could go on and on, the point is simple enough.  Evil has been done, and it is unnecessary evil. There were other options, I’ve written of them many times, and I’m not going to bother going over it again.  Obama and Dems in Congress could have instituted different policies if that’s what they wanted to do.  They didn’t.  Bush and his Congress could have if they wanted to, they didn’t.

The people who sadden me are left-wingers who carried Obama’s water, who I know know better.  I know they know his record.  I know they know where this is all leading.  I know because I was a professional blogger for years.  I’ve met these people in person, I have corresponded with them, and I have talked to many of them.  I have worked with many of them.

They know what Obama is, and they lied about him.

What I have seen, from many lefties, bloggers and non-bloggers, is that they have become compromised.  One needs the Supreme Court to stay as it is for his career, another works for a union think tank, and the policy is to carry Obama’s water, so he carries their water.  Another got the words on gay rights he wanted, so he carries Obama’s water as he did in 2008, acting as Obama’s outlet for rumors they couldn’t plant in the media directly.  A few are honest sellouts, admitting why they are carrying the water, others aren’t.  Some make the lesser evil argument honestly, most don’t.

And what I realized one sad day is that most of them are limited.  I am a left winger, and what academic training I have is in sociology.  I believe that people are, largely, a product of their environment.  If we want better people, we need a better environment.  To blame the poor as a group for their own travails is stupid, if they had richer parents, they would have different outcomes and be different people  The same is true of the rich, the middle class, and so on.  They are products of their environment, and most people are little more than that. Nothing is more pathetic than people acclaiming their identity through the TV shows they consume, the branded clothes they wear and so on.  They are simply choosing from a menu created by others.  They are limited people, products of their environment, claiming they are something more.

I thought many of my ex-colleagues were more.  I really did.  I believed that they had some ability to stand outside society, even a little bit, and see it for what it was, and that in that detachment they could find honesty and an ability to see the world beyond the lens of their own place and their own needs.  Upton Sinclair’s comment, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” is the perfect description of a limited person, intellectually and morally.  If we cannot see beyond our own self-interest, or beyond our own need to feel good about ourselves, then we will never seen the world with anything even approaching clarity.  If we cannot separate our interests from the interests of other people and from the interests of society, we are not fit to play any role in running society or commenting on it.

If society is to function again for the benefit of all a lot of things need to be done.  One of them is to fix the world of influentials, of whom bloggers are very minor members.  To be an influential should be to be an intellectual, and to be an intellectual is to be able to stand outside ones own society, to see it through the dual eyes of an outsider and a member, then report the truth of what one sees.

People respond to incentives like Pavlov’s dogs.  If you want to be more than a dog, you have to train yourself to overcome your conditioning.  It’s hard, and you won’t be able to do it all the time (and if you did, you’d be thrown in an insane asylum or be so non functional in society you’d be ostracized), but it is what is required to be an honest, useful influential.  But knowing and believing something is only one part of it, you must then tell it.

A lot more people are going to suffer and die due to policies which are evil.  Part of what makes that happen are the people who know better and lie, part of that is due to the people who convince themselves that evil is necessary because it is in their interests.  They are not the most responsible, no.  But they are responsible.

And I really did think better of so many of them.

Become more than your background, more than a function of the incentives placed in front of you.  See the evil you yourself do, your society does, and stop needing to feel good about yourself.

Stop being someone else’s dog.

Obama Plans to Hit Road With Oh-So-Popular Message of Cutting Social Security and Medicare

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday November 12, 2012 10:00 am

President Obama plans to meet with business, labor and civic leaders early this week about the fiscal slope, according to Reuters. Congressional leaders will huddle with Obama at the end of the week. Labor has immediately and vocally rejected the concept of a grand bargain, at least for now, so judging their behavior after this meeting will be critical. The presence of corporate executives who have pull on Republicans probably matters more than the presence of labor, to whom I assume there will be an attempt to dictate terms.

After this inside game and as the negotiations continue, the President plans to hit the road in support of a deal, which sounds to me like a terrible idea for him.

Maybe the White House thinks they can seduce their base once more, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them. The Obama coalition has always been more tribal than ideological, willing to take their cues from their standard bearer. But maybe it’s worth pointing out that the public soundly rejected the kind of bargain that Obama appears to have in mind. Exit polling shows large majorities opposed to cuts in social insurance. Almost every candidate personally endorsed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson lost their election. Who exactly will stand behind this effort once it leaves the friendly confines of the Beltway? The grand bargain only works behind closed doors.

One thing the President has going for him is a pliant media. The Washington Post is practically giddy at the prospect of cutting the retirement benefits of old people. The National Journal … described a "left divided" on the subject of a grand bargain, a description only achievable by putting Third Way on the left.


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