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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Notes on a possible Apocalypse...

Just now, I spoke to a senior dependent on Social Security. She came into a modest bequest, which she is using to refurbish her bathroom. I advised her to hold off on this project until after the debt limit crisis due date. No, she told me: She's plowing ahead now now now.

And what will she do if the Social Security checks stop coming? Apparently, she plans to scream at the gummint to cut out all the fat which she believes to be the real problem. She is especially bothered by the massive payments received (in her mind's eye) by undeserving welfare recipients.

I made a quick exit as the cliches about Washington started flying: "They waste money like it was their own..."

And there you have it. We are going to hell in a rocket sled because we live in a nation of fools who have never looked at a pie chart representation of how the federal budget is spent. People think they know where the money goes, and they can cite various anecdotes illustrative of waste. (Everyone can do that.) But they have no clue as to where the money actually goes.

They do not know, and they will not believe you if you tell them, that welfare cheaters are not the problem. After one factors out entitlements such as Social Security, the costs of empire (including all military-related spending), interest on the debt, and "corporate socialism," what's left is miniscule.

The deficit. I recently read an article -- can't recall if Salon or Slate published it -- about public concern over the deficit. The writer made a good point: Few care about the deficit during the relatively good times. Few cared when Dick Cheney made his outrageous pronouncement that "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." As long as people can pay the cable bill and go out for the occasional nice dinner, they simply don't care about a burgeoning national debt.

But when unemployment is high and wages go down, our propagandists tell us to put the blame on anything other than the actual problem. We are told not to blame slack demand or any other dysfunctional feature of an unregulated capitalism. We are told to blame the deficit. That's when the cliches come out: "Government needs to learn to live within its means just like a household. They spend the money like it was theirs..."

One of the 1992 debates between Clinton and Poppy Bush was a "town hall" affair that included questions from the audience. As you may recall, 1992 was an economically stressful year. One woman asked a confusing question about the deficit. It soon became achingly clear (at least to Clinton; Bush looked lost) that when she said "deficit" she meant "high unemployment." Hence the confusion.

Yes, I know that two concepts are very different. But not in her mind.

And not in the minds of most Americans. To our citizenry, "the deficit" is simply a catch-all term meaning "all economic problems." The word has no other definition. Even if we were still running a Clinton-style surplus, bad economic news would cause people to screech: "What are we going to do about the deficit?" In fact, that's what happened in 2000.

So all of the polls in which people express great concern over the deficit are nonsense. What people really want are jobs. They've been carefully taught to use the wrong word.

Matt Taibbi has a good piece on the debt ceiling debacle. Conservative and liberal pundits agree that "the Obama White House is using this same artificial calamity to pitch its own increasingly rightward tilt to voters in advance of the 2012 elections."
Krugman seems to believe that Obama has basically purged all of his real economic advisors and is doing what Bush did on foreign policy -- engaging in complex and portentous policy initiatives at the behest not of experts, but political advisors. Just as Bush had Karl Rove telling him when and how to launch military invasions and drop bombs on unsuspecting foreign human beings in order to establish electoral credentials, Obama might be playing chicken with the budget for the benefit of undecideds in Florida and Ohio...
If you're playing poker, you can't win the pot if you keep folding. Obama is not just folding: He's betting on the other guy's hand.

Obama sees it in his political interest for Social Security and Medicare to be cut. The Republicans see it in their interest to fight for a complete overhaul of entitlements.

They know that Obama won't really demand an end to the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. If those cuts had been rescinded, and if we stopped our stupid wars, much of the deficit would vanish. We would have enough money for a jobs-creating stimulus.

(The so-called "stimulus" bill passed in 2009 was, in fact, mostly a matter of useless tax cuts, unemployment benefits and aid to the states. Little of it went to create jobs. Our media keeps this fact a secret.)

Instead, Obama cut a deal to keep Dubya's tax cuts in place. In return, the Republicans allowed the unemployment checks to flow for a short while longer. That short while will soon end. When the checks stop, the economy will probably go all 2008 on us once again.

So my question is this: If there is no debt limit deal -- and that's a real possibility -- who would end up holding the blame bag, Obama or the Republicans?

I know that what I am about to say will annoy most regular readers of this blog, but it is in our interest to see that the Republican party -- or rather, the ideology of intransigent neo-liberalism -- receives the bulk of the blame. Yes, I know that Obama is no liberal. He is, in fact, a conservative. But that's a matter of mere reality. In terms of perception, he is considered a liberal. In fact, a staggering number of fools see him as some sort of socialist.

Therefore, if Obama holds the blame bag, then libertarianism will be seen not as the shitty philosophy that got us into this mess but as a beautiful, untried ideal (which is the false image that libertarians continually try to foist on us). We will be told incessantly that liberalism destroyed America. That's the fact, Jack -- and it's a grim fact indeed.

So again I ask: Who will get the blame bag if it all goes to hell?

I'm not asking for your personal opinion as to which party deserves that bag. I'm asking how this drama will play out in the mad, maddening theater of propaganda and perception.

The upcoming propaganda battle will determine whether this nation lives or dies.
The blame will go wherever the corporate owned media shills are told to place it. Just as they were directed to over look the skeletons in Obama's closet and his lack of accomplishment while slandering Hillary. Since Obama has out lived his usefulness to them I suspect he gets to hold the bag.
I don't see how this is a new or "annoying" idea, Joseph...some of us have been wringing our hands about this since 2008. the entire problem with Zerobama in the White house is that he's ruining the Dem brand. You've said as much before, I'm sure.

I like the idea of using pie charts....simpler ones, perhaps. And I wish you would resume your mulling over reclaiming the party, along with possible challenges to O from the left. His recent tossing of SS and medicaid, etc, on the bargaining table has jolted more Hopium diehards out of their haze.
Obama is very thin-skinned. Easy to rankle. Why leave all the rankling to the right?
Mr. Mike is right. The blame will accrue to the left. Unless a "Murdoch" happens to some of the American corporate media interests.

Maybe there will be some overreach that counts. Perhaps a water scandal. Imagine if people started dying in large numbers cos of contaminated water?

Or a food scandal? Or even a corruption scandal they cant suppress.

In the meantime some people are fighting media manipulation - even if it just our kids... Fight the sock puppets.

Trying not to sound all conspiracy-ish, but what if the reason for O's ridiculously improbable and rapid rise to fame and fortune was planned (by "Them") for just this outcome - to hold the bag?

That does sound conspiracy-ish, I know - but the whole of USA seems like one huge conspiracy these days.
The blame will go to the Democrats. Obama will make a deal with the Republicans that include so many poison pills for the Democrats that they will be forced into a Hobson's choice. Either vote down the debt bill and let the country default or vote for cutting social security and medicare and other needed programs(won't be surprised if unemployment also falls under the ax)and let themselves be permanently voted out of office.
Food for thought by James K. Galbraith:
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