Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Neoliberals Have Trouble Telling the Truth

Media Wars and Manufacturing Consent:

Getting People to Vote Against Themselves

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

"Newt Gingrich: Obama's 'Bureaucratic Socialism' Kills Jobs" is one of many similar headlines appearing on dozens of web-based news portals in this 2012 election season. This one keeps popping up, and I'm getting sick of seeing it.

The reason? It manages to pack several major lies, each of which you could write a book about, into just five words-and hardly an editor anywhere takes a blue pencil to it.

Don't get me wrong. I've got no problem with 'socialism.' My shoot-from-the hip response when someone spits the 'S' word out in a political argument is, "Socialism? I've been a socialist all my life, and proud of it. We should be so lucky as to have some socialism around here. Unfortunately, we're not even close."

First of all, Barack Obama is not a socialist. Even back in his more youthful years in Illinois, at best on a good day, he was simply a neo-Keynesian liberal with a few high tech green ideas. Keynesians believe, among other things, that when markets fail, government has the task of being the consumer of last resort, even hiring people directly to build infrastructure and put people to work,

But these days, surrounded by a 'Team of Rivals' largely from Wall Street, Obama has set aside any earlier Keynesian policies he held and has been, wittingly or not, sucked into the black hole of the prevailing neoliberal hegemony.

What's 'Neoliberal hegemony?' That's a shorthand phrase for the current domination of our government by Wall Street finance capital. It simply wants to diminish any government initiatives or programs, except for those that line their own pockets.

Keynesians and others, in and out of government, have opposed the neoliberals. They've advocated a range of reasonable proposals for getting us out of the current crisis-ending the wars, Employee Free Choice Act, Medicare for All, the People's Budget submitted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. John Conyer's HR 870 Full Employment Bill-but they all keep getting declared "off the table" by the neoliberals.

On Gingrich's second charge, far from being 'bureaucratic,' Obama, wisely or not, has actually reduced the number of federal employees, and made other cuts that will cause the states to do likewise.

On the third charge, far from 'killing jobs,' Obama's initial proposals regarding employment have actually created a few jobs, but not nearly enough. Why? Because of the real job-killing votes of Gingrich's Republican allies in the House.

It doesn't take a chess champion to figure any of this out. Any decent checker player could make an honest call of the false moves in the 'socialist job killer' gambit of Gingrich and other GOP presidential pretenders running the same rap.

But why distort the truth this way? Newt Gingrich is a smart man. He knows that Keynesianism is designed to keep capitalism going, and that socialism is something quite different and has very little to do with this debate. So why does he keep this 'Big Lie' business up?

It's a smokescreen. At bottom, Gingrich, the GOP and the far right are promoting a grand neoliberal project to repeal the New Deal and the Great Society, the primary past examples of liberal government dealing with market failure.

The right's problem is too many things that came out of those periods had some success and are still popular with a majority of voters-the elderly like Medicare and Social Security, labor likes the Wagner Act and the right to bargain collectively, Blacks and other minorities like the Voting Rights Act, and women like Title Seven. To take them all down, which is what the neoliberal-far right alliance wants, means you have to attack them indirectly, rather than directly.

So how does it work? You have to start with what most people fear most-losing their jobs-and then combine it with the darker demons of our past, such as anti-communism, racism and sexism. Next you mush all your potential adversaries--the socialist left, the liberals and progressives, and the FDR-loving moderates--into one huge combined bogey man. You make it into a hideous package that's going to scare voters into casting ballots against themselves. To put a fancier term on it, it's called manufacturing consent to combine with outright coercive force in getting you to submit to a renewed hegemonic bloc.

That's what Newt is doing here. In short, it's when they get you to think all your neighbors and co-workers are your enemies, while all the guys on Wall Street are your friends. You're going to hear a lot of it over the next year. Don't fall for it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time to Get Serious About Full Employment

Yes, We Need a Jobs Program, But One

That Doesn't Tinker Around the Edges


By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Our regional daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to its credit, came out with an editorial today, Aug. 22, 2011, urging President Obama to push for a substantial jobs program over Republican opposition.

"Action on jobs: Obama must push hard to get people back to work" is the headline, and a key point stresses "Mr. Obama now needs to offer proposals equal to the size of the problem. That means bold strokes, not half-measures. If his Republican antagonists in Congress are determined to stand in the way of getting Americans back to work, the president must say so publicly -- and then go over their heads to enlist the nation in his effort."

Terrific, a good framing of the question. Unfortunately, however, once you get into the substance of the piece, it turns into a muddle. The Post-Gazette offers up a hodgepodge of proposals that tinker around the edges of the problem-more tax cuts and credits for jobs created, more unemployment benefits, and oddly, more trade deals, even though these deals mostly result in net job losses.

Here's the heart of the matter. In a down economy, jobs are created by increasing demand, by more customers with bigger orders coming to a firm's doors. The problem is that consumer demand has taken a nose dive when the credit bubble burst. People don't have money to spend. They're cutting back on everything, and trying to unload their debt. This means business-to-business orders shrink as well. Companies may be cash-rich and have high profits, but with no increase in orders or customers at their door, they aren't likely to hire people to do nothing just to get a tax credit.

This is where government has to become the key customer. It has to make huge productive purchases for local work and local materials to build productive infrastructure-county-owned green energy plants, new and improved schools, modernized locks and dams, Medicare for all, investment in young students and veterans like we did with the GI Bill, investment in research in new industries, and so on.

Most important, to work well, it can't be nickel-and-dimed to death. It has to be on the scale of the expenditures for World War 2. That's when the 'multiplier effect' can kick in, and related growth in manufacturing can take off in turn. And it has to be paid for by going to where the most appropriate money is, imposing a financial transaction tax on unproductive and destabilizing speculation by Wall Street.

The best the P-G does on this matter is to support Obama's proposal for an 'Infrastructure Bank,' but urges him to find a way to bypass a GOP roadblock in Congress.

But even that is too passive. It says, in effect, here's a small pot of money. If you want to repair some roads, come and get some.

What we really need is something like the New Deal's Tennessee Valley Authority and Works Progress Administration, but on steroids, a TVA-WPA-CCC 2.0. We need to pass John Conyer's HR 870 Full employment Bill. We need the Dept. of Energy and the Dept. of Labor to go to every county in the country with a fully funded proposal to build new green energy wind farms and solar power arrays as public energy utilities, hiring local workers at union scale, with no obstacles to a union election. And that's just for starters.

Yes, we need a serious jobs program. But it's time for everyone who utters that phrase to get serious themselves. Why? Because it's going to take a massive upsurge in class struggle to get it by removing those standing in the way.

[Carl Davidson is a Steelworker Associate and a retired computer technician living in Beaver County.  His 'Keep On Keepin' On' column appears in Beaver County Blue, website of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.]


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Progressive Cynicism and Misplaced White Anger

The Far Right's Two Magic Weapons for 2012

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

If you want a Republican sweep in the 2012 election, follow this simple formula: Keep blaming the White House alone as the main cause of every problem the country faces, and ignore the Tea Party as overblown has-beens.

That's not advice from me. That's from Richard Viguerie, who some might remember as the think-tanker  and skilled pollster of the 1970's New Right that helped usher in Reagan and the era of neoliberal hegemony we've suffered under ever since. That's what he hopes the center and left will do over the next year.

An Aug, 10, 2011 syndicated column by Viguerie reminds us that presidential elections don't require a majority of popular votes, but only a majority of votes in the Electoral College.

"The Aug. 8 Gallup tracking poll shows that Obama is at 50 percent or better approval rating in only 16 states, the majority of which are normally considered Democratic bastions. Those 16 states represent 203 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency." Then he adds: "Key states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida that contributed to Obama's 365-to-173 blowout of the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008, are in play at this time. It gets better. The states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, which are now in play, were three of the top states where the tea party wave swept new constitutional conservative members into Congress."

Viguerie goes on to discuss the role of the Tea Party insurgency in Michigan and California among angry white voters. He adds an astute point: if the GOP puts up a 'moderate' like Romney, Obama wins narrowly. But if it plays its 'wild cards' like Bachmann and Perry, the far right's  activist base is energized-and at a time when Obama's strategy is dissing his own left-progressive base for the wimpy and ever-narrowing 'center.'

In short, keep the left inactive, the progressives and the center divided, and the Tea Party energizer bunnies get their 270 electoral votes.

It's not a bad projection for the prospects of a neoliberal alliance with proto-fascists, with the latter in the driver's seat. The alternative view is that the majority of serious Wall St finance capital is circling the wagons around Obama. They're not interested in the wilder instabilities that would be fueled by Bachmann or Perry White House.

Maybe so. Serious money matters in American politics. But the far right has some serious money too, and they can combine it with an army of insurgents.

Therein lays our problem. At the moment, we have no candidate for peace and prosperity at the top of the ticket. But we need candidates of that sort at any level if we are to unite and mobilize a left-progressive base in 2012. We have the negative motivator of a possible Tea Party win, but only if we take them seriously. But we need more than that. We need candidates that will fight positively for what working-class people need, not what Wall Street needs. The People's Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is a good starting point. We'll have some candidates who will back it, but we'll need them placed in the states with clout in electoral votes. We don't have enough at the moment.

Don't expect much help from the Blue Dog and upper crust Democrats. No matter how you slice it, it's going to be a tough fight. So organize your co-workers and neighbors independently, and prepare for some fierce battles.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Money for War vs. Money for Jobs

True Cost of US Wars Unknown

By Nancy A. Youssef
Beaver County Peace Links via McClatchy Newspapers

The Pentagon says it spends about $9.7 billion per month, but its cryptic accounting system hides the true price tag of the two wars.

Aug 16, 2011 - When congressional cost-cutters meet later this year to decide on trimming the federal budget, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could represent juicy targets. But how much do the wars actually cost the US taxpayer?

Nobody really knows.

Yes, Congress has allotted $1.3 trillion for war spending through fiscal year 2011 just to the Defense Department. There are long Pentagon spreadsheets that outline how much of that was spent on personnel, transportation, fuel and other costs. In a recent speech, President Barack Obama assigned the wars a $1 trillion price tag.

But all those numbers are incomplete. Besides what Congress appropriated, the Pentagon spent an additional unknown amount from its $5.2 trillion base budget over that same period. According to a recent Brown University study, the wars and their ripple effects have cost the United States $3.7 trillion, or more than $12,000 per American.

Lawmakers remain sharply divided over the wisdom of slashing the military budget, even with the United States winding down two long conflicts, but there's also a more fundamental problem: It's almost impossible to pin down just what the US military spends on war.

To be sure, the costs are staggering.

According to Defense Department figures, by the end of April the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - including everything from personnel and equipment to training Iraqi and Afghan security forces and deploying intelligence-gathering drones - had cost an average of $9.7 billion a month, with roughly two-thirds going to Afghanistan. That total is roughly the entire annual budget for the Environmental Protection Agency.

To compare, it would take the State Department - with its annual budget of $27.4 billion - more than four months to spend that amount. NASA could have launched its final shuttle mission in July, which cost $1.5 billion, six times for what the Pentagon is allotted to spend each month in those two wars.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

‘My City of Ruins’ from Bruce Springsteen, Telling It Like It Is…Pass it on!


It's time for a Main Street Contract for the American People. National Nurses United has embarked on a campaign to reverse national priorities and policies that have placed the interests of Wall Street over the crisis facing American families today. The goal is to chart a new contract for the American people — for a better life today and a more secure future for our children and future generations.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

‘Deal’ Vote Reveals Lay of the Land

House Backs Debt Deal, But Dems Split

With 95 'Conscience' Democrats Voting 'No'

By John Nichols
Progressive America Rising via The Nation

August 1, 2011 - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reportedly told members of the House Democratic Caucus to vote their "individual consciences" when they were asked to approve the debt-celing deal cobbled together by the Obama White House and congressional Republicans.

Consciences divided evenly, with 95 Democrats opposed the compromise agreement while 95 supported it in a Monday evening vote that saw the measure pass primarily on the basis of Republican backing —despite the fact that this was a deal promoted aggressively by a Democratic White House.

The final tally was 269 in favor, 161 opposed [1].

Republicans generally backed the deal, with 174 voting "yes" while 66 voted "yes."

Democrats were far more closely divided, with widespread opposition to what Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, described as a violation of "core Democratic ideals."

While Pelosi cast her own viote in favor of the agreement, she did not "whip" her fellow Democrats to back the deal during a marathon caucus meeting Monday. The former speaker outlined the consequences of a default by the federal government if an agreement to raise the debt ceiling is not reached. But North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who attended the caucus session said Pelosi avoided pressuring House Democrats to fall in line with the Democrats in the White House. "She toldus to leave it to our individual consciences," Butterfield told reporters.

With the House vote done, the Senate will be vote Tuesday on the deal, which proposes radical cuts in federal programs—cuts that some fear will ultimately threaten Medicare and other Democratic “legacy” programs—in return for raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

The Senate is likely to back the deal that was cut between the Obama White House and Republican leaders; Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is already on board, as are key Republicans.

The general sense from the start was that the real test would come in the House, where Republican leaders had to scramble to keep Tea Party conservatives on board, and White House faced a revolt by progressives.

Even as Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer indicated personal support for the measure, a striking number of Democratic spoke out in opposition to Obama's position before the hastily-scheduled Monday evening vote.

Congressman Pete DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who frequently breaks with the White House when he feels the president is not doing enough to address unemployment, went to the House floor Monday to declare that this is a “no jobs” deal. Ohio Congressman Marcy Kaptur was opposed. Veteran New York Congressmen Jerry Nadler and Eliot Engle indicated early on that they are firmly opposed, as did former House Ways and Means Committee chair Charles Rangel, D-New York. Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was another “no.” California Congresswoman Maxine Waters announced her "no" vote with a declaration that the deal was "one of the worst pieces of public policy" she had ever seen.

The progressive opposition to the deal grew, as grassroots groups stepped up their lobbying against the package. Progressive Change Campaign Committee [2] co-founder Adam Green said: “This deal will kill our economy and is an attack on middle-class families. It asks nothing of the rich, will reduce middle-class jobs, and lines up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for cuts. Today, we’re putting in thousands of calls to Congress urging Democrats to keep their promise and oppose this awful bill. The 14th Amendment is unambiguous, and President Obama should invoke it to pay our nation’s debt. Then Democrats should focus on jobs—not cuts—in order to grow our economy.”

Progressive Democrats of America launched a national “No Deal!” push. “The corporatists in Congress recognize that the United States cannot go into default for the first time in its 235-year history,” said PDA director Tim Carpenter. “Yet, they are claiming that we can only increase the debt ceiling by cutting vital social programs designed to protect working class and poor people across this country. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid! [3] We can block this “deal” and demand a clean debt ceiling increase.”

At least 20 members of National People's Action, a group that seeks to hold banks and financial institutions to account for the damage their speculation has done to the U.S. economy, were arrested when they disrupted debate in the Capitol. Decrying the debt-ceiling agreement as "a raw deal," the NPA members chanted: "Hey, Boehner, get a clue, it's about revenue!"

Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus members expressed the most serious skepticism regarding the measure.

That skepticism was rooted in a sense that this was a bad deal for both the economy and a Democratic Party that has historically positioned itself as the defender of working families.

Harry Truman used to say: “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.”

If the thirty-third president was right, then Barack Obama did himself and his party a world of hurt by cutting the deal with the GOP leadership.

Faced with the threat that Tea Party–pressured Republicans in the House really would steer the United States toward default, and in so doing steer the US economy over the cliff, Obama had to do something. But instead of bold action—borrowing a page from Ronald Reagan to demand a straight up-or-down vote on raising the debt ceiling; borrowing a page from Franklin Roosevelt to pledge to use the authority afforded him by the Constitution to defend the full faith and credit of the United States—the president engaged in inside-the-Beltway bargaining of the most dysfunctional sort.

In cutting a deal with Congressional Republicans [4] that places Democratic legacy programs—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—at risk while cutting essential programs for working families and the poor, Obama has positioned himself and his administration to the right of where mainstream Republicans such as Howard Baker, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush used to stand in fights with the fringe elements of their party.

Now, the fringe is in charge of the GOP. And Obama is aggreeing to policies that are designed to satisfy Republicans that Britain’s banking minister describes as “right-wing nutters [5].’”

Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders claimed they have done everything in their power to avert deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And it is true that they have given the Republicans (and their paymasters) less than House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan was demanding with a budget proposal that turned Medicare into a voucher program and began the process of privatizing Social Security.

But a compromise with total destruction can still do a lot of damage.

The president’s bow to the political extremism—and the economic irrationality [6]—of a tiny circle of “right-wing nutters” in Congress and their dwindling Tea Party “base” will, according to reports based on briefings by White House and GOP aides, “raise the debt limit by about $2.7 trillion and reduce the deficit by the same amount in two steps. It would cut about $1 trillion in spending up front and set up a select bicameral committee to put together a future deficit-reduction package worth $1.7 trillion to $1.8 trillion. Failure of Congress to pass the future deficit-reduction package would automatically trigger cuts to defense spending and Medicare.”

An aide familiar with the deal told the Hill newspaper that the Medicare cut would not affect beneficiaries. “Instead,” the aide indicated, “healthcare providers and insurance companies would see lower payments.”

But that’s still a squeezing of Medicare in order to meet the demands of Congressional Republicans who have spent the past six months trying to put the program on the chopping block.

Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, responded to initial reports regarding the deal by describing it as “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich [7].”

Congressional Progressive Caucus [8] co-chair Raul Grijalva said Obama and his negotiators bent too far to the extremists. Like many progressives, Grijalva favored the straight up-or-down vote on debt ceiling. “Had that vote failed,” he argued, “the president should have exercised his Fourteenth Amendment responsibilities and ended this manufactured crisis.”

Grijalva joined members of the Congerssional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus at a Monday press conference, where they called on Obama to sidestep Congress and raise the debt limit by invoking the Fourteenth Amendment [9].

Obama has rejected this option.

Instead of taking a tough stance, the president blinked in the face of Republican recalcitrance. And in so doing Obama agreed to what the Progressive Caucus co-chair described as “a cure as bad as the disease.”

“This deal trades people’s livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it,” Grijalva declared Sunday afternoon. [10] “Progressives have been organizing for months to oppose any scheme that cuts Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and it now seems clear that even these bedrock pillars of the American success story are on the chopping block. Even if this deal were not as bad as it is, this would be enough for me to fight against its passage.”

Grijalva expressed immediate opposition to the deal. And he was not alone.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, slammed the deal. [11]

“Nada from million/billionaires; corp tax loopholes aplenty; only sacrifice from the poor/middle class? Shared sacrifice, balance? Really?” she complained, via Twitter, on Sunday.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-California, complained that she was “not sure how Social Security and Medicare” will be preserved by the bargain the president has cut with the Republicans. “We have to make sure that within this deal…Medicare and Medicare and Social Security and the most vulnerable are protected,” she said, while withholding an endorsement of the measure. “I worry about these triggers [for more cuts],” Lee concluded.

Grijalva objected, in particular, to the lack of shared sacrifice in the deal.

“This deal does not even attempt to strike a balance between more cuts for the working people of America and a fairer contribution from millionaires and corporations. The very wealthy will continue to receive taxpayer handouts, and corporations will keep their expensive federal giveaways. Meanwhile, millions of families unfairly lose more in this deal than they have already lost. I will not be a part of it,” the Arizona congressman explained. “Republicans have succeeded in imposing their vision of a country without real economic hope. Their message has no public appeal, and Democrats have had every opportunity to stand firm in the face of their irrational demands. Progressives have been rallying support for the successful government programs that have meant health and economic security to generations of our people. Today we, and everyone we have worked to speak for and fight for, were thrown under the bus. We have made our bottom line clear for months: a final deal must strike a balance between cuts and revenue, and must not put all the burden on the working people of this country. This deal fails those tests and many more.”

But Grijalva’s gripe was not merely a moral or economic one.

It was political, as well.

“The Democratic Party, no less than the Republican Party, is at a very serious crossroads at this moment. For decades Democrats have stood for a capable, meaningful government—a government that works for the people, not just the powerful, and that represents everyone fairly and equally. This deal weakens the Democratic Party as badly as it weakens the country,” explained Grijalva. “We have given much and received nothing in return. The lesson today is that Republicans can hold their breath long enough to get what they want. While I believe the country will not reward them for this in the long run, the damage has already been done.”

The question that remains is: How much damage? How much damage to vulnerable Americans? How much damage to the global reputation of the United States as a functional state? How much damage to a US economy that is threatened by rising unemployment? How much damage to the image of the Democratic Party as a defender of working families?

This deal cannot be defended as a sound or necessary response to a manufactured debt-ceiling debate and the mess that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has made of it.

That is why the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said: “I will not support the emerging debt deal.”

“I will have no part of a deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to appease the farthest reaches of the right wing of the Republican Party,” argued Grijalva. “It is unconscionable to put these programs on the chopping block and ignore the voices and beliefs of the millions of Americans who trust us to lead while continuing to give handouts to the ultra wealthy and the largest corporations. There is no human decency in that.”

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