May 16, 2012
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This week a bunch of rich white guys held a "Fiscal Summit" and agreed that:
1. Despite the fact that unemployment is causing untold suffering for millions of people, it's not very important.
2. Despite the fact that wage stagnation is destroying the middle class, that's not important either.
3. Despite the fact that we need the social safety net more than ever after what they've done to the economy, it's expendable.
4. Despite the fact that our government can borrow money at record low rates and use it to put people to work, thereby ending the recession and jumpstarting the economy, that option's not even worth discussing.
5. Despite the fact that these men all possess great power, wealth, and/or influence, everything that's wrong with the economy is your fault.
6. Since it's all your fault, you better get ready to pay up.
Oh, and one other thing:
7. They're all very smart and very brave. It's too bad the rest of you people are such jerks.
Any questions? Let's hope not, because they're all busy men and it's great golfing weather this week in DC.
(Sure it's hot, but the weather calls for refreshing bouts of rain.Those are the perfect moments for cooling off under a rain-soaked cabana or golf cart umbrella. Precious moments, meant for breathing in the smell of wet grass as waiters marinated in Maryland raindrops refresh your gin and tonic. Mr. President? Mr. Speaker? Last one to the clubhouse is a rotten egg!)
The Summiteers convened in a nation wracked by unemployment and filled with crumbling schools and bridges. There they concluded that our most urgent problem is ... government deficits. That's like preaching about water conservation when your house in on fire.
Stuff White People Like
The best that can be said about this billionaire-funded display of arrogance, ignorance, and self-satisfied moral decay is this: If bullish*t were nickels they could have ended the deficit today.
Then there's the self-congratulation. It doesn't matter what nonsense they spout: They think their long years in insulated, oak-lined boardrooms means they know more than you do. It wouldn't have surprised me if one of them had suddenly burst into Rutger Hauer's soliloquy as a dying android in Blade Runner:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
And yes, all of these guys are rich. Some have more money than others, but nowadays anybody with a guaranteed income and a lavish source of retirement income is. Fat pensions? They all have 'em - at your expense.Until then they can bank on some sort of cushy job or income stream from the Pete Petersons of this world if things turn sour for them politically.
The behavior of Reps. John Boehner and Paul Ryan was, if nothing else, predictable. Sure, it's always shocking to observe the callous indifference of rich people toward those in financial need. But their callousness is baked into their politics.
I Got Mine 2012
The low point of the day was the spectacle of former President Clinton mouthing false platitudes designed to gut everything his party once represented. The bogus arguments put forward by Clinton and the session's other willfully uninformed participants have been decisively refuted time and time again since they were first raised - in 1935!
And they were decisively put to rest by a bipartisan committee
(doesn't the sacred word "bipartisan" help?) assembled by a Republican President - in 1958
Think of it: The Bowles/Simpson plan touted by Clinton would gut student loans and other educational programs that might someday help some other young kid from Hope, Arkansas follow in his footsteps. You'd think that would mean something. But then, like the other major participants, Bill Clinton's already got his.
Maybe that should have been the event's name: "I Got Mine 2012."
Can't Stop Won't Stop
The welfare "reform" which Clinton supported
has swelled the ranks of the poor and separated mothers from their children while doing nothing in the long run to end poverty. That added special piquancy to the sight of the self-satisfied post-President silkily arguing that we should take the same "reform" hatchet to Social Security and Medicare.
If Bill Clinton had any moral perspective he'd be holding Jimmy Carter's hammer at a Habitat For Humanity building site somewhere, not pushing programs that would doom the middle class.
But he won't stop, of course - not as long as billionaire Pete Peterson is able to entice Clinton and other "Summit" participants will all the flattery and free publicity money can buy. Peterson's also able to spoon-fed them those predigested economic lies which serve his agenda as Nixon's former Commerce Secretary: the downsizing or dismantling of any government programs that don't directly enrich corporations.
The Simpson/Bowles agenda which Clinton embraced is the perfect example: It actually lowers the top tax rate for the nation's highest earners, while promising to raise taxes a little elsewhere (mostly by eliminating deductions that help the struggling middle class, like the mortgage interest deduction, and removing the employer health insurance deduction that provides millions of working Americans with at least a modicum of health coverage.)
Simpson and Bowles are two rich white guys, too: A retired Republican Senator and a Democratic insider turned hedge fund speculator. Under their plan the middle class would melt away like - how did the android put it? - "like tears in rain."
Former President Clinton wasn't the only wealthy and powerful white man to take the stage. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, and Speaker of the House John Boehner joined Commerce Secretary-turned-hedge-fund billionaire Peterson. While they might have differed slightly on the details, they spoke with one voice about how our problems came about in the first place: It's your fault.
Yeah, you. Don't look to the right or left. You. As a non-rich and non-powerful American, you're to blame for all our woes. Too many of you chose to be born as baby boomers, says Clinton. Your grandparents are "greedy geezers," says the perennially unpleasant Alan Simpson. You took that bank loan, just because the bank told you a house was your best investment. (So did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.)
As billionaires, Presidents, Cabinet secretaries, and leaders of Congress, what chance did they have against seniors, working people, and the disabled? It was never a fair fight.
So when they cut your Social Security check and dismantle Medicare, remember: It's your fault. Now it's time to pay the piper.
That's the kind of nonsense you can buy with a billionaire's money. Tax filings show that Pete Peterson put nearly half a billion dollars into the foundation that held this summit - and that's just in four years. He's been trying to gut Social Security, Medicare, and other vital government programs for at least twenty-five years. Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim outlined
some of the initiatives Peterson has founded or funded over the decades: the "America Speaks" town halls, the Fiscal Times, the "Indebted" series on MTV, the Social Security specialist at the Urban Institute, the "Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget," a politically biased high school curriculum ... the list goes on and on.
But Blumenthal and Grim missed a few organizations Peterson secretly formed. They overlooked the Daughters of the American Revolution, SDS (he wrote the Port Huron Statement - but not the compromised second draft), the Quarrymen, the Royal Order of Buffalo, and the Shriners. (Hats and tiny cars? Brilliant! It's even better than Budgetball
Okay, maybe not the last few. The point is, a whole lot of politicians and policy wonks have benefited from Peterson's billions, which have been spread around a variety of organizations in order to create the illusion of consensus - consensus which slowly became real in Washington, and which is diametrically opposed to the public's preferences.
The Rich Get the Elevator. The Middle Class Gets the Shaft.
"Simpson-Bowles makes the Social Security system more progressive," said Bill Clinton. Actually, it would gut Social Security benefits while lowering the top tax rate for billionaires like Peterson and millionaires like Clinton. That's the opposite of "progressive." But it would give the illusion of 'progressivity' by offering a slight benefit bump to the extremely poor, funded by benefit cuts for the middle class.
It would also give a tiny bump to seniors who live an especially long time after retirement. That would also be funded by middle-class benefit cuts. And since minority and low-income life expectancy is still far below that of white people in general - and white women in particular - this would also be economically regressive.
(Given its demographic impact, perhaps these wealthy white men created this policy as an early Valentine's Day gift for their wives.)
The fact that this false 'progressively' would transform a social insurance program into a welfare program seemed to disturb the former President not one bit. And he seemed entirely unaware of the what it means to the political discourse when a former Democratic President argues for a plan that would cut taxes even more for the wealthiest Americans, while cutting the few hundred dollars per month received by many elderly and disabled Americans in order to provide benefits for the poor. Bill Clinton calls that "progressive."
And that was the leftmost wing of the Fiscal Summit's leadership.
Needless to say, the conservative movement got a lot of bang for Peterson's buck. "There are Democrats and Republicans who largely agree with each other on how best to tackle these challenges," said Paul Ryan. "Unfortunately, it's not the current president and it's not the Senate leadership that we're dealing with right now."
The radical right-winger then added: ""I personally believe if we can remove these partisan roadblocks, that we can get to a moment where we're going to have a solution once and for all for this problem and hopefully in time to prevent an austerity-like debt crisis."
The "partisan roadblocks" to which Ryan refers are the words and deeds of those few politicians who try to do the public's will in Washington. Thanks to events like these, the vox populi is seldom heard anymore around these parts. It's like a barely noticeable scent clinging wisp-like to the flowering trees along the capital's boulevards.
At a Peterson event, the word "partisan" is used to describe any position which is both politically popular and economically sound.
Crying Time Again
An "austerity-like crisis" is precisely what we'll have if the programs promoted at this event are implemented.I ts agenda closely resembles the one that's currently decimating Europe. Thank God Tim Geithner was there to speak for our newly-populist President and his Administration. What did Geithner say to refute all this radical right-wing talk? How did he fight for investment in our individual and collective futures? What did he say to champion the cause of rebuilding our crumbling nation - and our crumbling dreams?
The final compromise will look a lot like Simpson/Bowles, said the Treasury Secretary.
And was our fiercely independent media there, unwilling to be bought at any price and tireless in its quest for the truth? Yes. NBC's Tom Brokaw fearlessly spoke truth to power, summoning the vision and ferocity of the Biblical prophets as he chastised ... the American Association of Retired Persons. Brokaw said its ads defending Social Security were "in (politician's) faces."
That's our media for you. It's ever fearless in its defense of the powerful against the powerless. (Brokaw to old folks: Hey, "Greatest Generation," put a cork in it!)
Pete Peterson's campaign needs to be exposed. Bill Clinton needs to step away from the public sphere. Propaganda disguised as 'journalism' needs to be discredited. Washington's fraudulent claim to bipartisanship needs to be retired once and for all. Unless and until these thing happen, our dreams as a nation and our financial futures as individuals will continue to melt away like ... well, like tears in rain.
RJ Eskow is a writer, business person, and songwriter/musician. He has worked as a consultant in public policy, technology, and finance, specializing in health care issues, domestically and in over 20 foreign countries.