Next, the Whimper

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Obama Administration

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
–T.S. Eliot

… except, I think the world will go on. I see little hope that America will pull out of its nosedive, however.

The creatures about to re-infest the House will hasten the deterioration of the U.S. economy. On issue after issue, what Republicans want to do is exactly the wrong thing, and nobody seems willing to stop them. What the economy sorely needs — to raise taxes on the very well off; to extend unemployment benefits; more stimulus spending to get the economy moving; and health care reform — will be blocked.

Republican economy theory boils down to this — what’s good for rich people is the right thing to do. And kicking the less fortunate in the teeth is an even better thing to do.

Senate Republicans blocked a vote on extending only middle-class tax cuts; it’s all or nothing, they said. Meanwhile, the best thing one can say about the deficit commission recommendations is that they probably won’t go anywhere.

Still, the recommendations regarding Social Security won’t die. Of all the Big Budget issues we’re facing now, Social Security is the least problematic, yet that’s the one people want to talk about. Why? Paul Krugman writes,

The answer, I suspect, has to do with class.

When medical expenses are big, they’re big; even the very affluent are grateful when Medicare pays the bills for their mother-in-laws bypass or dialysis. The importance of Medicare, in short, is obvious to all but the very rich.

Social Security, by contrast, is something that matters enormously to the bottom half of the income distribution, but no so much to people in the 250K-plus club. A 30 percent cut in benefits would represent disaster for tens of millions of Americans, but a barely noticeable inconvenience for VSPs and everyone they know. A rise in the retirement age would be a vast hardship for people who do manual labor, but if anything a gift to VSPs, who don’t want to step aside in any case. And so on down the line.

So going after Social Security is a way to seem tough and serious — but entirely at the expense of people you don’t know.

Matt Bai has an piece on the deficit commission in the New York Times that misses a lot of points, but I want to point to his definition of “American exceptionalism” —

It isn’t simply that America, by virtue of symbolizing liberty, has a unique responsibility to shape the affairs of humankind. It’s also the belief that free markets can create a kind of endless prosperity, driving an economic and military dominance that exempts Americans from having to accept constraints or trade-offs.

This fantasy is what’s killing us. Bai continues,

For much of the Industrial Age, and especially between World War II and the oil crises of the 1970s, this was, in fact, reality. Wages and profits rose, the social safety net and the nation’s military reach both expanded, and government lived largely within its means. College education, suburban lawns, good pensions and blissful security all became part of the pact with the middle class, as much a part of the constellation of entitlements as Medicare and Medicaid.

That was the legacy of the big government spending program called “World War II.” That and the entitlements given to veterans after, such as the GI Bill and mortgage assistance, was the foundation of the prosperity enjoyed by the Greatest Generation. They spent their childhood in the Depression but retired to luxury condos in Florida.

And the good life began to stall in 1972, at the point the white middle class was in full revolt against “welfare” and “tax and spend liberals.” And life in America has gotten tougher and tougher ever since, and “liberals” continue to be blamed for it, even though Washington hasn’t been genuinely “liberal” since the 1960s. But the worse things get, the more American voters embrace the very policies that are making things worse.

Bai doesn’t make that connection, and he doesn’t seem to consider that many of the “sacrifices” recommended by the Catfood Commission would take us further down the road to ruin. They are Very Serious People, after all, so they must know what they’re talking about.

I don’t hear any whimpering yet, although that may be because we don’t hear the voices of the very poor and the growing number of formerly self-sufficient workers who have been dumped by the economy. Yes, some sacrifices need to be made, but not by the people who are being forced to make them. The ones who should be sacrificing have exempted themselves, because they have the power to do so.

So, I have little hope that the state of the nation won’t get a lot, lot worse, and it will get so much worse that “better” will be only a relative term.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. uncledad  •  Dec 5, 2010 @1:50 am

    The creatures about to re-infest the House will hasten the deterioration of the U.S. economy. On issue after issue, what Republicans want to do is exactly the wrong thing, and nobody seems willing to stop them. What the economy sorely needs:

    To raise taxes on the very well off; No doubt 39% and the same for dividends and estate. Meaning 39% for wall street and 39% for Grandma’s cash.

    To extend unemployment benefits; My belief is that benefits should be tied to contribution (how long you had a job). Something set and definitive, like 12 months for 5 years continuous work, 18 months for 15 years, and a maximum of 24 months. It’s insurance it has to be defined or it don’t work. 99ers (or 104’ers) need to go on welfare if they qualify. I tend to disagree with the endless jobless benefit.

    So instead of trading 2 years of tax cuts to the rich for one year of unemployment, I say we end tax cuts for the rich and end extensions of unemployment as well. 104 weeks is more than enough, after that programs are available. You need to start looking for something else.

    More stimulus spending to get the economy moving:

    Absolutely not. Remember folks we don’t make anything in this country. Pouring goverment funds into our economy (service jobs and healthcare) just creates more waste. We don’t need to pour money into the system we have, we need to rebuild, so we actually have a system that creates something. While we shopped at wal-mart, bought Toyota’s, and learned how to text, the cocktail crowd was busy robbing us blind. They sold off every job, sold every skill. Now our skilled labor comes a shore in a container, mass produced, skill reduced to carbon copy, lives and families traded for profit.

    Do you want a cheap big screen TV, or do you want a future?

    In closing, I’m almost done with Obama, once the two year extension of tax cuts for rich folks goes through, I am gonna make sure that the rich folks are in charge for at least ten more years. I think we really need to see the waste land and let it sink in, with only one political party to blame. Hopefully something will be left.

  2. maha  •  Dec 5, 2010 @8:13 am

    Uncledad:

    To extend unemployment benefits; My belief is that benefits should be tied to contribution (how long you had a job). Something set and definitive, like 12 months for 5 years continuous work, 18 months for 15 years, and a maximum of 24 months. It’s insurance it has to be defined or it don’t work. 99ers (or 104′ers) need to go on welfare if they qualify. I tend to disagree with the endless jobless benefit.

    No one is talking about “endless” jobless benefits, and I believe you are missing the point. The issue here is what is good for the economy, and unemployment benefits during times when jobs are scarce are very cost-effective stimulus to the economy. When jobs become more plentiful, then you think about whether the people receiving benefits “deserve” them.

  3. uncledad  •  Dec 5, 2010 @2:08 am

    So, I have little hope that the state of the nation won’t get a lot, lot worse, and it will get so much worse that “better” will be only a relative term.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bF2HULxGpU&feature=related

  4. Candide  •  Dec 5, 2010 @7:41 am

    I know that quite a few conservatives think that The Rapture will be on December 21, 2012, followed immediately by Armageddon (the End Times). This has got something to do with the Mayan calendar and the Yellowstone Volcano, if I’m not mistaken.

    Anyway, it’s not surprising that conservatives aren’t worried by the fact that they’re destroying the nation (and possibly the world). They will be Raptured – thus Armageddon is a good thing. Rejoice that the Republican Party will do all it can to bring about the apocalypse right on schedule, only 6 weeks after Sarah Palin wins the presidential election.

    A footnote: Alan Greenspan says that Wall Street banksters will be able to take their stolen billions with them during Rapture, and that there are NO TAXES in Heaven. Praised be – the Lord believes in small government.

  5. erinyes  •  Dec 5, 2010 @8:27 am

    In all the discussuions regarding social security, several things do not get mentioned. The older folks move into retirement to make way for the next generation,and how are older workers supposed to compete against younger workers, especially when it comes to several things related to aging; ie, more frequent bathroom breaks, loss of stamina, a slow down of the thought process, and believe it or not, there IS a bias against old people.It is true that we are living longer, but we are doing so with bad knees, diabetes, heart problems, Parkinson’s, and various forms of dementia.I have worked on some jobs where the boss stands around watching for any break in stride, then yells at the person who does so; bridge building in particular. The jobs are bid with very little profit margin, so every man hour and every scrap of plywood is valuable.
    Where are the jobs for the next generation if the older workers are keeping them?
    Most of the men I worked with in California back in the 70’s and 80’s are dead, and they all died between the ages of 59 – 65; almost all due to cancer.

    The last 10 years has taught me that you can’t have it all forever, not while the greedy never get their fill; there is never enough power, and money IS power.
    Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from Canada.
    They take care of their people and their banks are intact;damned socialists.

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Dec 5, 2010 @9:15 am

    “Republican economy theory boils down to this — what’s good for rich people is the right thing to do. And kicking the less fortunate in the teeth is an even better thing to do.”
    I agree. But you can boil down it down even further to the idea that their entire philosophy of life is the following: ‘Do anything and everything you can to piss off the Liberals. Rinse and repeat endlessly.’ It’s as if they took Groucho’s song, from “Horsefeathers” I believe, and made it their anthem – “Whatever it is, I’m against it!”
    The Republicans remind me of the Bolsheviks and Anarchist’s in Russia. And if you want a good look at our future, take a look at the dying decades of the USSR. Where, no matter how bad things were getting, they continued to trumpet the success of The Communist Party at home and abroad. And they thought they were “Exceptional,” too!
    And, if you know the history, which is too long for a Sunday morning, though they claim to hate him, the real idol for Republicans is V. I. Lenin. They won’t say it. Many, if not all of them, definitely don’t even know it. But they follow Lenin’s prinicples for getting, and maintaining, power – minus the Karl Marx, of course. I think I wrote about that here somtime in ’04 or ’05.

    And, since we’re on a T. S. Eliot kick, the Republican Party has quite a few ‘hollow men, their headpieces filled with straw.’

    Slightly OT – When I turn on the news, and they have Republican Congressmen on, I see some amazing nitiwts, numbskulls, and absolute lunatics and imbeciles. Pence, Kingston, Gohmert, Bachmann, etc., come to mind. And I wonder, who are the comparable Dem’s in the House? Sure, the Blue Dogs, you may say, but I don’t think any one of them is as much of an idiot as Pence or Kingston, or a nujob like Gohmert (Pile of Sh*t) or Backmann. Heath Shuler’s an idiot, but he couldn’t hold Pence’s drool bucket.
    So, who’s the Democratic equivalent of Pence, Kingston, Gohmert, Bachmann? There’s got to be one, right? The House if full of these kinds of people, but for the life of me, I can’t think, off the top of my head, of one from our side of the aisle right now. Oh well, as I said, off topic.

  7. Chief  •  Dec 5, 2010 @11:30 am

    Maha,

    I have made several posts at Liberty Street vis-a-vis increasing the marginal tax rate back up to the 1950s level.

    But you mention 1972 as a stalling point. I will suggest you consider two related events. First, Nixon took the USA off the gold standard in August 1972.

    Second, the agreements reached at Bretton Woods in 1944 were thrown out during the 1970s. Between 1971 (Chile) and 1981 (United States), most countries abandoned the Bretton Woods concept.

    This is Reagans real legacy.

    I have never understood the difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy. But what I believe to be true is that the demise of the unions and the leaving behind the concepts of Bretton Woods has led to our current situation.

  8. Doug Hughes  •  Dec 5, 2010 @11:49 am

    “Yes, some sacrifices need to be made, but not by the people who are being forced to make them. The ones who should be sacrificing have exempted themselves, because they have the power to do so. ”

    Democrats repeatedly demonstrate – indeed they seem to cultivate through practice – the ability to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. The dynamics of the situation would make it sooooo easy to take political high ground and fracture the conservatives from the wingnuts.

    I see the conservatives and wingnuts as two different groups united against all things liberal. Conservatives are not crazy but frequently misinformed. Wingnuts KNOW what they are doing and are motivated by an evangelical or libertarian passion. The strategy for democrats has to be to SPLIT the ignorant manipulated moderates from the wingnuts who are the source of extremist candidates.

    The economic reform of the batshit-crazy teabaggers and/or the catfood commission will gut the essential benefits of the BASE of the GOP. Teabaggers running for office depend on independents to vote anti-liberal. Do you think the moderate ex-republicans, now independents, are aware that by voting for teabaggers they voted to slash their own Medicare and Social Security benefits?

    Here’s the point. The Democrats need to define as the FIRST plank of the party platform that they support WITHOUT RESERVATION Medicare and Social Security and that the Democrats will oppose any cuts in benefits to Americans who have paid into those programs. Make Medicare and Social Security benefits the front-and-center issue. Either you are 100% in favor of seniors or you are not. Make the GOP declare to the base that they are for tax cuts to the wealthy but undecided about slashing SS and leaving the elderly with partial & conditional medical coverage.

    Make unconditional Support of Medicare and Social Security THE ISSUE in 2008 and the GOP will go down in flames. Period. It’s that easy. But we will let the GOP set the agenda, and the election will be about Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell – the Mosque at Ground Zero and abortion rights and 5000 wedge issues that the GOP plays so well.

    The GOP wants the economy to the the central issue in 2008. The jobless rate will still be high and wages will still be falling. Banks will still be evicting and foreclosing. Democrats will blame the GOP and the reverse. There’s no gain in letting the economy be the central issue. Every time the GOP wants to talk about the sad economy – we have to ask how slashing benefits to the elderly will help the economy. Again and again and again. Defend seniors (for real) and we will split the GOP base. In every election from the White House down to the county government, make the argument protecting seniors – and the GUARANTEE that democrats will make – and the conservatives can’t.

  9. allwarisbad  •  Dec 5, 2010 @1:11 pm

    As I understand the Bush tax cuts were passed not by 60 votes in the senate but by reconciliation. Why don’t the Democrats pass the “middle-class” tax cuts in the same way? Why is it not an option and why is nobody talking about it – while the Dems still have a 50+ in the senate ?
    Am I missing something? Please let me know …

  10. erinyes  •  Dec 5, 2010 @1:58 pm

    Chief,
    I think you’re right about the demise of the unions. We lived in So. Cal. in the 70’s and 80’s. I worked through the pile driver’s union; my wife was with retail clerks. We had a great life as far as earnings and benefits go.
    In the late 80’s, the retail clerks agreed to a two tier wage scale, and the store employed few full timers, most worked 32 hrs, and new hires did NOT get benefits with the new agreement.This happened under Reagan / Bush.

  11. jamie  •  Dec 5, 2010 @3:11 pm

    The Repugs like to talk about how the Kennedy tax cuts spurred the economy but they never tell us how long the tax rate on the wealthiest has to be at 90% to get that bounce in the economy. Always thought it was strange how they would leave that part out

  12. moonbat  •  Dec 5, 2010 @3:47 pm

    I get Matt Bai and Matt Taibbi confused; it turns out both spent significant time in the Soviet Union. Matt Taibbi made this remark in an interview about his recent book Griftopia. Taibbi may well be the heir to the writing/journalism mantle of the old master, Hunter Thompson. His prose snaps and crackles and is a delight to read.

    Interviewer: You’ve said that every country has scam artists; but only in a dying country, only at the low end of the most distressed third world, are people like that part of the power structure. Do you really mean that?

    MT: I lived in Russia for ten years, and one of the things that attracts me to this Wall Street story was that it reminded me of what I had seen in Russia. In the former Soviet Union, I saw this incredible pessimism. There was no belief in the future because there was so much instability that people who had the ability to take anything, steal anything, were doing it. They wanted to get the money and get out of the country as quickly as possible. They might steal the money from the government and buy a villa in France. That was the modus operandi in those years. That’s how I see the financial services industry in America with the mortgage scam.

    It’s the same mindset, whether it was the guys at companies like Countrywide who were pushing people into bad loans when they qualified for good ones, or the banks who were immediately taking these loans and selling them off to pension funds and insurance companies knowing that they were going to explode, or the hedge fund guys who were intentionally creating masses of crappy loans to dump off on other people, or the ratings agencies who were rating stuff that they knew was crap. Then at the very top you had companies like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank that were basically getting the taxpayer to buy this stuff through the bailouts, knowing that it was severely over-valued. It was the “let’s get what all we can right now before it all blows up” mindset that you see in a third world country….

    I don’t think this is all going to go down with a whimper. People are still waking up to the reality that Obama is not who he was advertised to be. People have yet to realize the magnitude of the theft that is going on. By all appearances – many people still go to jobs, gas costs pretty much what it did last month, and there are no shortages in the food stores – America still looks like America. When any of this changes – and peak oil, let alone the Great Recession – just about guarantees this stability won’t last – you’ll then see what a nation of gun owners fed by paranoid electronic hallucinations can do.

  13. PurpleGirl  •  Dec 5, 2010 @4:37 pm

    Uncledad: I thik I figured out why your comment above angered me. I’m assuming that you assume every unemployed person got/gets benefits for 99 weeks. A lot of people think that. But not all of us have gotten benefits for that long. In NYS, the unemployed only gets through tier 3 benefits, which is modified by NY policy of giving only a year of benefits total. So while I’m unemployed longer, my benefits were cut off back in the spring. I’ve been living on savings and 403(B) money since then. And that is running out. My next option is to apply for welfare, which will be dependent on me finding someone to guarantee my rent because NYS only gives a single adult w/o children living with them $284 a month for rent. (There are states which don’t give any support to a child-less adult at all.) Remember not everyone gets/got 99 weeks.

    See: http://unemployedworkers.org/sites/unemployedworkers/index.php/site/faq_basics

    Also, what do you suggest about people who have been working for many years and are in their 50s when let go? I was at my last job 15.5 years.

  14. c u n d gulag  •  Dec 5, 2010 @7:44 pm

    PurpleGirl,
    I hear you, I”m in NY State, too. My UI is about to expire. I’m single, in my ’50’s, but thankfully, my parents are still alive so I live with them. If you told me I’d be living like this 30 years ago, I’d have either laughed, or worked on killing myself faster.
    Best wishes, and good luck!

  15. PurpleGirl  •  Dec 5, 2010 @8:03 pm

    C u n d: Thank you.

  16. moonbat  •  Dec 5, 2010 @8:05 pm

    See DKos diary Death of the American dream – why I left America! American expat’s tale of escaping GOP class warfare. Subtitled, “British Jobless Benefits Never Expire”. The author, “Democrats Ramshield” has an entire series on why he left. In this article, check: the chart showing generosity of long term unemployment benefits, by country, and the photo later in this article, telecast by Glenn Beck, of a family having a meal during the Great Depression.

  17. erinyes  •  Dec 5, 2010 @10:25 pm

    Moonbat; there are several British families from my neighborhood who have returned to the U.K. after their business here failed, their houses now vacant and in foreclosure. They were all very conservative Bush supporters when the tide was high………..

  18. Jonathan Versen  •  Dec 6, 2010 @12:09 am

    Maha you write “… the worse things get, the more American voters embrace the very policies that are making things worse.”

    I wonder if this a is true reflection of public sentiment. Less than 40 per cent of eligible voters participated in the mid-terms, and the shift in votes to get to a GOP controlled house was probably less than 15 per cent of that 40 per cent. The right is much better organized, and pays attention to its base, whereas Obama and the rest of the dem leadership view the lefty rank and file with disdain if not outright contempt. The democrats aren’t viable as an opposition party any more; they are the mirror of the GOP, just somewhat less so in some superficial ways.

  19. erinyes  •  Dec 6, 2010 @6:16 am

    Jonathan makes a good point, I wonder what % of the general population is mesmerized by FOX politics and believes their disinformation.

  20. Swami  •  Dec 6, 2010 @9:40 am

    Look at the Glenn Beck video on the link that moonbat posted. That’ll give you an idea of how much stupidity the American public is sucking up.



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