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Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

[First, if you’re still basically confused about the whole “Fiscal Cliff” thing, I recommend former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s 2.5 minute video primer on the subject.]

A third of the way into December, the “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations have progressed to the point where both sides have made their opening offers, making it possible to get into specifics (where specificity exists, that is): 

1. AARP and others have apparently convinced the compromise-minded Democratic leadership that now is not the time to cut Social Security benefits — so they’re going to save that betrayal for the next manufactured crisis (appallingly, President Obama has signaled his openness to chaining the program’s annual cost of living increases to the Consumer Price Index, which would reduce individual benefits considerably over time). 

2. The Democratic leadership is telegraphing, however, that cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will likely be a big part of any final “Fiscal Cliff” deal.  Cuts to Medicaid will have the effect of undoing some of the more sensible and humane provisions of the Affordable Care Act, undercutting, at least over the next few years, Obama’s signature achievement.  Cuts to the former — well, that’s where there’s some uncertainty.  On the negative side of the ledger, President Obama has reiterated his willingness to raise the eligibility age for Medicare to 67, an idea which pleases Republicans but will likely reap very little savings for the federal government ($10 billion/year) — while making healthcare MORE expensive for millions of Americans.  On the plus side, however (albeit on the highly unlikely side), part of the president’s opening offer to Republicans is his proposal that the federal government obtain the bulk of $400 billion in Medicare savings by allowing the program to negotiate drug prices with PhRMA!  Although I suspect this bid represents nothing more than the president’s incrementally improved negotiating skills, it would be truly earth-shattering news (and a game-changer, in terms of my esteem for Mr. Obama’s domestic accomplishments) if he turned out to be serious about giving Medicare this power.  Not only are REAL savings possible under such a change, but the savings would come not from Medicare beneficiaries but, rather, from the highly profitable industry that’s been gouging them.

3. Republicans have again failed to identify which tax loopholes they’re inclined to close (making up their proposed $800 billion in new revenue), but experts, including Nobel Economics laureate Paul Krugman, have noted that there is no way that this approach will not end up increasing taxes for the bottom 98% of Americans (including those who will see their payroll taxes go up, if Republicans get their way).  Besides, the barely-chastened post-election GOP is still demanding a bunch of nonsense, everything from repealing ObamaCare outright (which would add $2 trillion to the deficit over the next two decades, per the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office) to adopting a territorial tax system for corporations (which would cost Uncle Sam at least $130 billion over the next decade, per most estimates) — NOT TOO FISCALLY SERIOUS, THESE FOLKS!  And neither party is genuinely suggesting that we curtail corporate welfare or military spending (I mean it’s a “fiscal cliff,” not the apocalypse!  Let’s stop slashing once we get to the entitlements people have worked their entire lives earning!).

4. President Obama has self-corrected (somewhat) after beginning the talks with some self-negotiation in the wrong direction (almost talking himself out of the core promise he’s repeatedly made to Americans: that the income tax rate for the top 2% needs to return to the Clinton-era rate; someone apparently reminded him that this is the bone that he needs to throw the left after he slashes Medicare and Medicaid).  Obama’s offer to leave Bush’s estate tax cuts intact is disappointing, but considerably more so are his failures to propose a tiny (but potentially lucrative, at $35 billion/year) financial transaction tax (FTT) aimed at Wall Street and a return to taxing capital gains as income.  These sensible, progressive (or hell, just fair) reforms are long overdue.  One final disappointment: ignoring the strong constitutional argument in his favor, the president has foolishly ceded his authority to raise the debt ceiling.  What could have been an assertion of the Chief Executive’s ability to execute the laws passed by Congress, has instead been turned into yet another bargaining chip for the Republicans, guaranteeing many future hostage-takings (with the Tea Party Republicans holding America’s economy for ransom again and again).

Summary and caveats: Although these negotiations could certainly be going better, they’re not going terribly, for what that’s worth (not a ton, considering the infrastructure/jobs-based conversation we should be having).  President Obama seems to appreciate that Democrats won the election, and he’s bargaining a bit more aggressively than he has in the past (huzzah).  The problem is he’s still inclined to argue completely on Republican turf — from a traditionally Republican position (promoting austerity rather than investment, slashing entitlements needlessly as his opening bid) — and at a time when the economy can ill afford it (and when a few weeks’ inaction would simply hand him all of the “concessions” from the GOP for which he is about to slash entitlements; as usual, Obama is preparing to fold cards while holding a royal flush).  

“Protect entitlements” just won HUGE at the ballot box, but the politicians apparently didn’t hear us.  Whom have they heard?  A billionaire by the name of Peter J. Peterson, who has spent a billion dollars purchasing this moment.  The American austerity conversation has come to dominate our discourse thanks largely to one plutocrat’s determined efforts — not that an establishment as corrupt as ours needs much encouragement when it comes to serving Wall Street’s interests.  The politicians and MSM have been telling us for years that “America is broke,” and the only solutions to our fiscal peril lie in massive deregulation and privatization, tax cutting for “job creators,” union-busting, trade pacts, and entitlement-slashing.  In short, everything they’ve been telling us for the past few decades about what’s good for the economy is unadulterated crap (consider the example of trade pacts alone, which have cost Americans millions of jobs). 

And now they’ve got us chasing the European austerity train(wreck) when we desperately need to invest in the country’s future.  It’s pathetic, but for these “Democrats” there has also been some progress (but that, too, has been pathetic).  One day, I hope, we’ll be celebrating them getting something right, instead of praising them for not screwing us over as badly as their counterparts would have…

“Meanwhile, we will have wasted nearly two years in an unnecessary argument about how to hurt the economy the least, rather than how to help it.” Mark Gongloff at HuffingtonPost.com

"Costumed Parties" Redux: The Grand Bargainers(I’ve linked my cartoon to Robert Kuttner’s latest blog regarding the alleged grand bargain, “The Fiscal Myth” — BRILLIANT.  Kuttner explains why cutting entitlements is both unnecessary and increasingly likely, with President Obama poised to hand the right a historic victory in the ongoing negotiations.  Crippling austerity is coming to America… unless we SPEAK UP!)

NO BARGAIN: America's “fiscal lemmings” are about to effectively reverse the election result and grant HUGE victories to the right (for no good reason)“The deficit hawks… see a crisis over this fiscal stand-off as providing an excellent opportunity to cut Social Security and Medicare. For this reason, the deficit hawks are doing everything they can to convince the public that waiting until after 1 January to reach a deal would be an economic disaster.”

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

I’ve linked my poster art (below) to an article about the statement recently issued by nearly 350 prominent economists, warning against the so-called “Grand Bargain” that’s about to be passed in the lame duck session of Congress (the negotiations are well underway, and the president has already repeatedly signaled his willingness to slash entitlements and cut corporate taxes as key components of this brutally lopsided deal).  Many observers have noted the grim irony that after their Election Day drubbing, conservatives are about to score a historic victory, plundering the New Deal after decades of failed attempts to do so.

I certainly hope that we prevent this terrible victory for radical conservatism and, toward that end, I welcome my readers to print this poster (below) and display it as you feel appropriate.  And spread the word that NOW is the time to push the politicians to defend entitlements… before this Raw Deal is sealed.

STOP the “GRAND BARGAIN” NOW! (Pretty please?)And here are a few more choice excerpts from the (Jobs Not Austerity) economists’ joint statement:

“…too many in Washington are fixated on cutting public spending to balance the budget, not on how to put people back to work and get our economy going. There is no theory of economics that explains how we can deflate our way to recovery.”

*

“If you cut spending and consumer purchasing power in an already depressed economy, unemployment rises and revenues fall — and the goal of a smaller deficit keeps receding like a mirage in a desert.”

*

 “The budget hawks have the sequence backwards. Public outlay for jobs and recovery come first, growth is restored, and revenues follow. Budget cuts in a deep slump lead only to a deeper slump.”

This is the proverbial “hill to die on,” my friends.  And NOW is the time to act.  All reports indicate that the establishment left, led by President Obama, is poised to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and let the .01% run roughshod over the American people.  Obama and the Republicans (“Good Cop” and insanely “Bad,” respectively) are about to impose $3 trillion of deadly austerity on America and hack into the New Deal (starting with Medicare and Medicaid, and possibly Social Security) in order to close this raw deal — the alleged “Grand Bargain,” authored by the corporatists it so clearly benefits (to the detriment of the economy of the 99%). 

While the president could allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and then proceed to bargain from a position of strength, there is no reason to hope that he will do so.  President Obama has repeatedly signaled his willingness to needlessly slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), as well as his willingness to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 (which will only increase the total amount of spending on healthcare — no “savings” there).  In short, Obama has already strongly indicated that he’s anxious to sign any deal (however fiscally hopeless and grotesquely unfair) as long as it raises taxes slightly on the top two percent of earners — for that is the crumb he will toss Americans after he breaks our backs with austerity in order to placate the billionaires.

Negotiations supposedly begin in earnest on Friday, which means that the election results are just days away from being fundamentally reversed UNLESS WE SPEAK UP.  (Act now, or don’t look surprised when austerity does to America what it’s done to Greece, Ireland, Britain, Spain…) 

H E R E ’ S   H O W   W E   W I N :

Begin by making some phone calls (some suggestions below, re: how to go about that).  Also, write e-mails/letters/faxes to your representatives in Congress and to President Obama.  Sign one (or all!) of the many anti-austerity petitions currently in circulation.  Urge your friends and family to act, and spread the word (Tweet, Facebook post, whatever).  Contact AARP, big unions like SEIU and the AFL-CIO, and liberal groups like People for the American Way and MoveOn.org — tell them to mobilize further against this extraordinary betrayal of the electorate.  Organize, if you can, but, however you can, SPEAK UP!

1. PHONE CALLS TO POLITICIANS: In addition to calling the President and your congressional representatives, it would be advisable to call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (775-686-5750) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (415-556-4862).  And, though you’ll likely get a cooler reception, it wouldn’t hurt to call the offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (502-582-6304) and House Speaker John Boehner (513-779-5400).  Clearly express your strong opposition to any “bargain” that restructures and slashes entitlements.

A. Call the White House (202-456-1111) — Sample script:

“Please tell the president that voters did not reelect him so he could needlessly slash entitlements while cutting corporate tax rates and leaving Pentagon waste and corporate welfare untouched.  The ‘Grand Bargain’ is a raw deal for the middle class and working people.  The politicians need to leave Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security 100% alone!  If President Obama leads the fight to defend entitlements 100%, he will have my complete support.”

B. Call the congressional switchboard (202-224-3121) and get transferred first to your two Senators, and then to your Representative (though our best hope likely lies with the Senate).  The following is my suggestion for a scripted call, but you should personalize your call as much as possible:

“I am a constituent, and I want Senator/Representative ____________ to oppose the ‘Grand Bargain.’  I want (him/her) to HEED THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTION and leave Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security 100% alone! Raise taxes on corporations and the rich, reduce corporate welfare, and tax financial transactions before you further burden the middle class.  Thank you.”

C. Other phone numbers Here are some other Democratic Party and GOP phone numbers that we can resort to if the main congressional switchboard gets clogged up (as it often does):

* Democratic National Committee (202) 863-8000

* Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (202) 224-2447

* Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (202) 863-1500

* Republican National Committee (202) 863-8500

* National Republican Senatorial Committee (202) 675-6000

* National Republican Congressional Committee (202) 479-7000

2. E-MAILS, LETTERS, and FAXES: In addition to phone calling, make the time (if you can) to send a brief written message to the politicians — LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!

A. Politicians’ websites (linked for e-mailing) and FAX numbers:

* President Obama: FAX# 202-456-2461

* Senate Majority Leader Reid: FAX# 202-224-7327 (DC) or 702-388-5030 (NV)

* House Minority Leader Pelosi: FAX# 202-225-8259 (DC) or 415-861-1670 (CA)

* Senate Minority Leader McConnell: FAX# 202-224-2499 (DC) or 502-582-5326 (KY)

* House Speaker Boehner: FAX # 202-225-0704 (DC) or 513-779-5315 (OH)

B. Bonus Rhetoric (oh boy!) — Here are some more facts, rhetorical arguments, and links to consider while crafting your message:

* I like Robert Reich’s approach to cutting $4 trillion over ten years without painful austerity measures and regressively restructured entitlement programs: Tax financial transactions, go back to taxing capital gains like income, restore America’s traditionally progressive taxation rates, and end the gravy train of corporate welfare.

* During the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations, the Congressional Progressive Caucus authored a plan for eliminating the budget deficit entirely and returning America to surpluses — without slashing entitlements.  Their plan supports my values and priorities far more than anything presently being contemplated in the so-called “Grand Bargain.”

* According to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) a single-payer healthcare system would save America an estimated $350 billion per year, improving health outcomes and knocking out the single largest driver of deficits going forward: skyrocketing healthcare costs.

* Any “Grand Bargain” that remotely resembles the recommendations of Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles represents a GREAT BETRAYAL of the American people. On Election Day, Americans voted overwhelmingly against austerity and for the preservation of Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid — the politicians need to leave entitlements alone and tax the oligarchs!

* Social Security is not in crisis.  If left alone entirely, the program will struggle for a while (with benefits down to 70% of today’s at the projected cycle’s nadir) until the last of the Baby Boomers have shuffled off their mortal coils, when the program is projected to return to 100% solvency.  The program can weather the full impact of retiring Baby Boomers without reduced benefits if we’re willing to raise the salary cap and make a few other minor adjustments… a humane, sensible course, which the politicians (of course) aren’t even discussing.  What they are reportedly considering — chaining Social Security’s annual cost of living increases to the Consumer Price Index — should be a non-starter, as it will eventually cut benefits enormously.

[I’ll take a brief moment on this Veteran’s Day to acknowledge the sacrifices of America’s servicemen and women, which have been great indeed in recent years.  To be clear (and consistent): I see very little morality or intelligence in the policies of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) — but that critical assessment does not reflect my view of the majority of individuals who have enlisted.  In fact, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was members of the U.S. military who, in many, many instances, fought the Bush/Cheney assault on human rights and the rule of law most vigorously, at GITMO (where one chief prosecutor after another QUIT in protest) and in the rest of the world, opposing: institutionalized torture, undemocratic/politicized tribunals, and even the ethnosectarian cleansing of Baghdad’s Sunnis euphemistically known as “The Surge.”  I would like to acknowledge the countless individuals who have honorably represented the United States of America and exemplified the best values of our nation.  Thank you for your service.]

Okay, I’ve just decided to let Cenk Uygur (of The Young Turks) do a lot of the talking for me today.  I’ve been working on this blog for a couple of days now, roughing out a few paragraphs and reading and archiving articles and perspectives that best explain (for my money) the folly of the so-called “Grand Bargain” that’s looming, but in my opinion Cenk’s latest column gets it exactly right — so today I’m recommending that you read someone else’s work before my own… even if you leave my website right now, before you read another… word.

(Still there?  Or, better yet, are you back?  Excellent.)

I’m taking this unusual step (directing my readers elsewhere today) because I believe that Cenk Uygur’s “Why the Grand Bargain is One-Sided and Totally Unfair” can do some real good in America right now — THE MORE PEOPLE WHO READ IT, THE BETTER.  This column provides a superb (concise and elegant) explanation of what the politicians are about to do to us in the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress (in short, to put it in my own words, they’re going to take the first truly significant step toward bringing European-style austerity to America, dealing our economy a crippling blow and locking in the permanent contraction of our middle class).

But again, Cenk says it best.  Read his piece.  Share it.  Link it on Facebook.  Tweet about it.  Nag your friends and family with it and e-mail it to your congressional representatives… and tell them they’d better start thinking about balancing the budget some other way if they’d like to be reelected!

Liberalism just won BIG on Election Day, with: 1) a three-million vote advantage (and growing, as the ballots continue being counted) for President Obama; 2) a more than twelve-million vote (collective) advantage for all of the Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate; and 3) a half-million vote (collective) advantage for all of the Democratic candidates for the House (a House that would be under Democratic control right now, if the side with the most votes won — which they would have, many analysts have offered, had Republicans not so thoroughly gerrymandered their districts two years ago).

Even so, thanks to the (near-total) corruption of our political system, Liberalism is about to suffer a historic defeat… unless we act NOW.

*          *          *

Finally, here are some of the links I was preparing for use in this blog — before I decided to make it the “Wow, check out what Cenk Uygur is saying” edition (you real wonks and readers will enjoy some of the facts and perspectives below, but my advice is to read Cenk first).

1. “The U.S. Austerity Fight Cometh” by John Buell (including austerity’s catastrophic failures in Europe and the fact that it was bailing out the financial giants that jeopardized the struggling European economies in the first place): http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/11/07-10?print

2. “Wall Street Urges Obama to Commit the Great Betrayal” by William Black (on the “Grand Bargain,” which he terms the “Great Betrayal”; also flagging “Third Way” as the austerity-shilling, fake-liberals they are and enumerating austerity’s dismal track record in Europe): http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/11/bill-black-wall-street-urges-obama-to-commit-the-great-betrayal.html

3. “Let’s Not Make a Deal” by Paul Krugman (brilliantly explaining how the “fiscal cliff” is no such thing; noting that the President has a strong mandate to protect entitlements; and arguing that Obama must be willing to let the Bush tax cuts expire if the ritual hostage-taking of the U.S. economy is ever going to stop): http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/opinion/krugman-lets-not-make-a-deal.html?pagewanted=printv

4. “Voters Didn’t Ask for Bi-Partisanship, They Demanded Good Policies” by Richard Eskew (wherein the author takes issue with the MSM’s preferred, austerity-supporting, narrative and explains what Americans tried to tell our broken establishment last Tuesday: “Protect entitlements and tax the rich!”): http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/11/08-4?print

5. “10 Filthy-Rich, Tax-Dodging Hypocrites Pushing Disastrous Austerity on America: The Fix the Debt coalition is using the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ to push the same old corporate agenda of more tax breaks while shifting the burden on to the rest of us.” by Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger (well worth the read, especially for fans of chutzpah): http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/29-7?print