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

[With President Obama cutting his Christmas vacation short yesterday and rushing back to Washington last night, the Fiscal Cliff-predicated “Grand Bargain” follies have apparently resumed.  Although it looked for a moment like the Tea Party-Republicans had inadvertently managed to save the day, preventing this deplorable deal through sheer unreasonableness (ironic, I know), the president is once again demonstrating his commitment to needlessly slashing entitlements and imposing austerity on the U.S.  And again, if we’re going to stop this train wreck (please, please, please), NOW would be a good time to call/write/fax your representatives, senators, and the White House and tell them that you oppose any “Grand Bargain” that cuts entitlements, even through sleight of hand B.S. like the “chained CPI” which will cut $130 billion from Social Security benefits over the next decade.]

Today I hope to illustrate a general point, suggested in the title of this blog, which is simply this: In today’s America, one must go beyond the establishment if one hopes to get a truly clear picture of what’s going on — and the best place to go is to principled progressives like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Dean Baker, Jane Mayer, and (in the spotlight today) Prof. William K. Black, the dogged former bank regulator who played a prominent role in resolving the Savings & Loan debacle of the 1980s (back when bankers who committed fraud on a massive scale were actually investigated, prosecuted, and jailed).

While I like a lot of Establishment Liberals (ELs?) just fine — from Jon Stewart to Paul Krugman to today’s featured EL, President Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, Prof. Robert Reich — I have learned to greatly value the difference between a decent (somewhat solid/fairly reliably progressive) EL like Mr. Reich and a boldly uncompromising progressive voice, like that of Mr. Black.  Carefully examining Reich’s and Black’s latest blogs and responding to various points they each make, I hope to impart some of that acumen to readers of this blog.  And here we go…

I. Responding to Prof. Reich’s latest blog (wherein the good prof. basically recommends that we head over the “Fiscal Cliff” — a fine idea that, if it comes to pass, will dramatically improve our chances of surviving this political crisis with entitlements intact… at least until the next debt ceiling “crisis” is hatched):

With language that promises to please liberals, Prof. Reich begins by comparing House Republicans to “fanatics” playing “chicken” with the president, with regard to the “Fiscal Cliff.”  The professor suggests that Speaker Boehner can use his caucus’s scuttling of his own (GOP-proposed) “compromise” measure (raising marginal income tax rates for millionaires a tiny bit in order to gratuitously slash entitlements) to plead powerlessness.  In essence, John Boehner can now assert that this failure proves that the GOP is unable to make concessions — and therefore the president must continue doing so in order to seal this abominable deal.  To reiterate: Obama must continue negotiating with himself, further and further to the right, until finally he can bring these recalcitrant Tea Party-Republicans on board…

Basically, Reich is saying that Boehner and the Republicans are playing “Good Cop/Bad Cop” to Obama, maneuvering the president into once again giving them “98% of what (they) wanted,” just as they did in the debt ceiling “negotiations” of 2011.  It’s a reasonable analysis and Reich is a very smart fellow, but his allegiance to the Democratic Party is showing.  Were party loyalty not a factor, I suspect the former cabinet member would be joining Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), economist Dean Baker, and countless other principled progressives in condemning the president for needlessly breaking his promises and relentlessly hawking the bogus “Fiscal Cliff” in the first place… as if he wanted this entitlement-slashing, economy-hobbling deal more than anyone else involved in these negotiations (else WHY cut that holiday vacation short, Mr. President?  And WHY offer to cut taxes for those making OVER $250,000 per year?  WHY offer to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and now propose the cruel and politically inept “chained CPI” that Democrats have rejected for decades?  WHY???).

Reich overlooks the abundantly obvious conclusion: it is President Obama who is playing “Good Cop/Bad Cop” (with his GOP partners) in order to convince Democrats and the American people that this wretched deal is somehow necessary. The evidence is in the herculean efforts he’s repeatedly made to nullify his many advantages and try to force a deal — when ALL HE HAS TO DO TO PROTECT ENTITLEMENTS IS LET FIVE LITTLE DAYS PASS (at which point, the Bush tax cuts expire and the Republicans’ negotiating position becomes dramatically weaker… at which point, the Democrats can simply put tax cuts for 98% of earners up for a vote and dare the GOP to commit political suicide by publicly opposing them on behalf of millionaires).

After December 31, the GOP’s hand will be so weak that they could probably be forced to accept some desperately needed infrastructure investment (cha-ching!) and economically vital extensions of unemployment benefits and food stamps — and who knows what else?  If the Democrats had the wherewithal to attach such measures to these politically popular (and economically sensible) tax cuts, considerably more would be possible.  The Democrats will have the GOP over a barrel in less than a week — only that’s an advantage they’re working overtime to undo.  After FOUR YEARS of this kind of “negotiating,” the conclusion is obvious: Obama and the Democrats are not interested in winning this debate for the left… or for the American people, who do NOT endorse his entitlement-slashing approach to deficit reduction (the truth is Wall Street wants this deal badly; so therefore does the Democratic leadership).

Reich’s whole framing of this issue — absolving Obama (and Boehner, too!) of all responsibility — is ultimately partisan and far too establishment-friendly (accepting the GOP’s excuses at face value, including the notion that “Boehner’s hands (are) tied,” plays right into Wall Street’s hands).  Reich gives far too much credence to the notion that going over the “cliff” will be “risky” when clearly nothing poses as great a threat to our economy as the kind of austerity that will come with any Grand Bargain.  Most alarming of all, the good prof. suggests that Democrats could “extend all the Bush tax cuts” for another full year in order to avert this “risk,” giving short shrift indeed to the potentially calamitous effects of such a move (it would guarantee at least one more round of hostage-taking/grand bargaining at some undetermined point in the future, with Republicans all but guaranteed to have a stronger negotiating hand than they do now — meaning that entitlements will be up AGAIN for drastic cuts).

Finally, Reich makes a surprisingly naive assertion: that the 2014 midterm elections will give Democrats an opportunity to “loosen the hold” that Republicans have on the House.  What a ridiculous pipe dream!  The sweeping election we just held established pretty clearly that the GOP’s House majority is virtually election-proof, with a million+ vote advantage for Democratic House candidates more than nullified by the outrageously gerrymandered Republican-leaning states.  Barring massive election reform, there is very little hope of a Democratic (or democratic) majority in Congress for many, many years to come.

II. Illuminating the appreciable difference between the establishment and the principled (and therefore marginalized) left, with excerpts from Prof. Black’s latest blog (and this time, for the sake of space, I think I’ll let Mr. Black do all the talking):

“Who insisted on creating the fiscal cliff, threatened Republicans in Fall 2011 when they wanted to eliminate or reduce it, and after the ‘failure’ of the November 2011 ‘super committee’ to reach a deal to inflict even greater austerity on the nation, made a veto threat to block a Republican proposal to eliminate or delay the fiscal cliff? The answer is: Obama.

— “The second question Obama should be asked is: given your warning that the fiscal cliff’s austerity would cause a recession, why are you demanding a Grand Bargain (sic, actually the Grand Betrayal) that would inflict austerity for a decade and likely cause multiple recessions and larger deficits?”

— “Obama’s austerity policy is so incoherent that in the same sentence he says that austerity (in the form of the fiscal cliff) must be prevented because it would cause a recession — and that the nation must embrace austerity not only today but for at least a decade.”

THANK YOU, Prof. Black.  And now, I’ll leave the last word to the president:

“John McCain’s campaign has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost of living adjustments or raise the retirement age.  Let me be clear: I will do neither.” — Barack Obama, Sept. 6, 2008

Today I’m featuring a simple list of excerpted statements made (very recently, in most cases) by some of the hardworking, principled, and courageous individuals who consistently inspire me and give me hope.  Among them are Pulitzer Prize winners, decorated military officers, and the longest serving chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  These extraordinary individuals have helped me to understand that NOW is the time for all halfway sensible patriots to resist oppression — and that, if we fail to do so, the future for our children and grandchildren will likely be very grim.

1. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, Chris Hedges (discussing the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act presently sailing through Congress, which will renew the 2012 NDAA’s provisions that quietly ended due process in America — at President Obama’s insistence, no less):

“The corporate state knows that the steady deterioration of the economy and the increasingly savage effects of climate change will create widespread social instability. It knows that rage will mount as the elites squander diminishing resources while the poor, as well as the working and middle classes, are driven into destitution. It wants to have the legal measures to keep us cowed, afraid and under control. It does not, I suspect, trust the police to maintain order. And this is why, contravening two centuries of domestic law, it has seized for itself the authority to place the military on city streets and citizens in military detention centers, where they cannot find redress in the courts. The shredding of our liberties is being done in the name of national security and the fight against terrorism. But the NDAA is not about protecting us. It is about protecting the state from us. That is why no one in the executive or legislative branch is going to restore our rights. The new version of the NDAA, like the old ones, provides our masters with the legal shackles to make our resistance impossible. And that is their intention.”

2. Former FCC chairperson Michael Copps (on Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow!, illuminating how little has changed, policy-wise, from George Bush to Barack Obama, with both presidents’ administrations pushing for relaxed media ownership rules, allowing further consolidation of an industry already dominated by conservative white men like Rupert Murdoch):

“…over the course of a generation, we have seen a few media behemoths gobble up independent local stations at great cost, I think, to localism and diversity, at great cost to the quality of our civic dialogue, and usually by a process that kind of mocks transparency and puts the cart ahead of the horse by voting on a document before the public has really been able to have a national conversation about it… I thought we would have made some changes, beginning in 2009, to reverse the ongoing trend toward media consolidation… Glitzy infotainment seems to be substituting for real accountability, hold-the-powerful-accountable journalism… And if we don’t have that kind of in-depth, resource-heavy journalism, we’re going to pay a heavy price in the quality of the decisions we make for our future, in a time that’s very, very challenging to the United States of America. We’ve got so many problems right now, there is no guarantee that America is going to come out of it all right.”

3. Prominent economist and author Dean Baker (on Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow!, skewering the bogus claim that Republicans oppose “big government” controls in our lives):

“I think this whole debate over ‘big government’ has always been silly, because it’s not about big government. It’s about who your friends are… I’ll just give you, you know, one very simple example. We spend somewhere close to $300 billion a year on prescription drugs, because the government gives drug companies patent monopolies… They get to charge whatever they want. If you didn’t have those monopolies, we’d spend about a tenth as much, somewhere around $30 billion. So that difference is close to $250 billion a year. That’s not entered on the budget, but the government is requiring us to spend extra money for drugs. That’s really big government, but the Republicans never, ever talk about that, because the pharmaceutical industry are big contributors. So we aren’t arguing about big government or small government; we’re arguing about who gets the money.”

4. Former GITMO Chief Prosecutor Col. Morris Davis, who was the third consecutive officer in that position to publicly excoriate the un-American proceedings at GITMO and subsequently find himself no longer in his job (after initially, prior to beginning his work there, defending, in principle, the installation and its tribunals; here’s Col. Davis on DemocracyNow!):

“I mean, we used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave; we’ve become the constrained and the cowardly for the past decade… this has been an unfortunate and regrettable decade in our country’s history, where we turned our back on what made us a great country, which was our respect for the law… there was torture… And the Obama administration has completely ignored their responsibility… I was very optimistic when President Obama took office that he was going to follow through on what he promised… When he began to backpedal, I wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that accused — that said it was a double standard, what we were doing. And I got my termination notice the next day. So, it was disappointing. I spent 25 years defending the Constitution, and then to be told that it didn’t apply to me. You know, we have free speech for everyone that has nothing to say.”

5. Former Army officer and diplomat, serving in the U.S. State Department — until she quit in protest of the imminent illegal invasion of Iraq — Col. Ann Wright (appearing on DemocracyNow!, explaining the Obama administration’s intentions to continue bringing war to Afghanistan well beyond 2014 and the effect that drones are having on America’s image in the world):

“The comment of Secretary of Defense Panetta that we will be leaving behind 6,000 to 10,000 military troops, I think, is a deal breaker… so many millions of people in Afghanistan actually have not received schools, have not gotten health clinics, roads that have not been built, but it’s all war. And the people of Afghanistan don’t want war anymore. That was the common thread of all of the talks that we had with people in Kabul… As we were talking to some seamstresses… a woman of very, you know, limited education but great heart, she said, as we were talking to them, ‘We are so concerned about ourselves, of course, but I want to tell you about other women, and we’ve heard about the attack in Gaza and women in Gaza that have been attacked by drones.’ …The image of the United States stinks throughout the world, and these drones have a heck of a lot to do with it.”

6. Acclaimed author and former reporter for NYT and Reuters, David Cay Johnston (interviewed on C-Span, explaining how our economy is no longer open or competitive, but “rigged,” involving the eradication of thousands of years of laws foundational to our civilization):

“…a number of big corporations have tried to thwart the rigors of market competition — create monopolies and duopolies and oligopolies (artificially raise prices, provide very poor service… and in a few cases, literally put lives at risk) — and how we don’t have a balanced system focused on competitive markets… We took a regulatory scheme that was balanced — that looked at the interests of companies, and looked at the interests of customers and other parties — and replaced it with a system of the corporations, by the corporations, that takes away consumer rights… In many cases, regulations and statutes are actually written by the companies… I show how, again and again and again, the market is being rigged. This is terrible for our national economy in the long run; it helps explain why we’re in these economic doldrums, and why we don’t have the job creation that we should be having… These laws were developed out of thousands of years of experience.  What we’re seeing now is these big corporations, very quietly with nobody noticing, undoing thousands of years of human experience to their benefit and to the detriment of the overall economy.”

[Forgive the ellipses, but I thought it appropriate to trim most of these quotes for space.  I’ve been careful to not distort, even slightly, the sense of the original comments, and I recommend clicking on the links I’ve provided to the original sources, that you may experience them in their entirety.  Thanks, reader, and happy holidays!]

I’ve been composing this difficult blog in the shadow of a national tragedy, as the country grieves for the 20 children and eight adults senselessly slaughtered at an elementary school in Connecticut last Friday.  Although it took a particularly horrific tragedy to jolt Americans into having an actual conversation on a taboo subject — the prevalence of gun violence and frequency of mass-shootings in the U.S. — it’s encouraging that we are finally somewhat soberly engaged in a national discussion addressing this serious problem (it’s my understanding that we’re even contemplating some normally unthinkable remedies, like Senator Feinstein’s proposed “perfected” assault weapons ban, which would exempt only 900 such weapons).  Today’s blog, however, is not focused on the recent events in Newtown, CT (or even on the similar tragic event that occurred in the city of Newtown, Australia, where a 1996 mass-shooting led to the passage of national gun laws that transformed Australia’s annual unplanned ritual of grief into a 15-year respite from such horrors — that’s 15 years, and counting, since Australia’s last mass-shooting event, proving that old axiom, Where there’s a will, there’s a way). 

This blog is about the urgency of expanding the present reality-based discussion to include the other grave challenges that America faces at this critical juncture in our history, challenges every bit as serious as gun violence (and that’s saying something, with over 30,000 annual gun fatalities in the U.S. and dozens of mass-shooting incidents since our last “wake-up call” at Columbine, just 13 years ago).  I don’t mean to downplay the terrible tragedy in Connecticut.  Twenty children were killed last Friday.  The world will never learn what those young people had to contribute, making their loss immeasurable.  I just accidentally saw the face of one of these young victims displayed during a DemocracyNow! musical break (breaks I usually skip past) — which, with Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” playing in the background, instantly brought a rush of emotion.  It’s like I was hearing the song for the first time; it suddenly meant something to me, especially when DN! host Amy Goodman reminded me that Mr. Clapton had written the song for his dead four-year old son.  Simply put, there’s no overstating this loss. 

Yet in the greater world, an estimated 6.9 million children under five have perished over the last twelve months, most due to the negligence of an economic/political order that is largely indifferent to their deaths — the vast majority of which were easily preventable, per the World Health Organization (WHO).  According to WHO, an additional 20 million children under five suffer from acute malnutrition, and over 170 million children worldwide have seen their growth stunted as a result of chronic malnourishment (a problem that is especially bad in places where the U.S. has been at war for many years, such as Afghanistan).

These statistics, appalling for many decades now, frankly reflect the values of our political and economic leaders.  Our leaders — from Wall Street CEOs all the way to their favorite/most effective lackey, President Obama — have proven themselves basically indifferent to massive human suffering and death, including the annual deaths of millions of children.  If that statement seems strongly worded, consider how long this nightmare has been going on.  Consider how these children’s deaths receive next to no mention in our corporate media and no mention whatsoever in our political contests and debates; consider the policy record, demonstrating that both of our leading political parties serve only the Corporatocracy, an unprecedented global tyranny that requires massive human suffering — slavery, war, and the deaths of scores of millions of children — in order to keep its filthy wheels turning (which is why there are MORE SLAVES in the world today, it is estimated, than at any previous point in history).

This is the fundamental truth that Americans STILL need to grasp after eight long, calamitous years of George W. Bush and four catastrophic years of Barack Obama: our government has been 99-100% corrupted by the greatest enemies of liberty and freedom to have ever walked the earth.  I don’t care how hyperbolic that may sound, it’s time for Americans to wake up and look at the world that’s been birthed by our leaders (with our tax dollars).  It is the Corporatocracy’s world, plain and simple — Mussolini’s vision, realized: autocratic, oppressive, heedlessly reckless, deeply corrupt (with only one value: PROFIT$), and monstrously cruel to hundreds of millions of human beings — the vast majority of whom will likely die prematurely over the next few decades, thanks to its machinations.  These are the threats that American policy (first and foremost) has unleashed: runaway climate change; institutionalized perpetual war, and the extraordinary squandering of resources which we all need to live, especially water (there’s a reason the Pentagon is preparing for a century of “water wars” and the European Union has tried to make financial bailouts conditional on water privatization: the world is quickly running out of potable water sufficient to support our growing population; the powers that be anticipate chaos and increased conflict as a result).

“Future wars will be fought over the issue of survival rather than religion, ideology or national honor” — from the Observer/UK newspaper’s summary of the key findings of a 2003 Pentagon report, focused on the projected impacts of climate change.

Earlier this month, Glenn Greenwald made an excellent point about how America is perceived in the world vs. how most Americans perceive themselves.  Discussing the flap arising from a Korean pop sensation’s “anti-American” (anti-torture) comments, Mr. Greenwald also noted that THE CROWD (before whom “Gangnam Style” artist Psy made his comment — that American torturers should be tortured themselves) ATE IT UP.  And South Koreans are our good allies!  Predictably, America’s image in the Muslim world has only continued to plummet in recent years, but it should be noted that America’s image problem goes well beyond the Middle East

The problem, as Greenwald notes, is that most Americans are still laboring under the twin misperceptions that a) we’re not so hated in the world; and b) those who hate us are the victims of anti-American propaganda.  These dumb clucks still think “They hate us for our freedoms,” but the ever-astute Mr. Greenwald correctly observes that that insipid refrain was never more than a hollow bit of propaganda itself, crafted to keep Americans “shopping” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — rather than better acquainting themselves with America’s monstrous history in the world, especially in the region that spawned our attackers (aka, the CIA’s old partners — like most of the people whose countries we attack: bin Laden, Saddam, Qaddafi, Bashar Assad…).

*          *          *

My point in writing this is not to “bash” America.  I still think that the best features of my country — our brilliant Constitution and respectable past traditions of providing a relatively democratic, transparent, and progressive government (at home, anyway) and my fellow citizens (many of whom don’t endorse torture and do have critical thinking capacities and a strong moral compass) — may yet redeem this moment… though such a turn of events is increasingly unlikely. 

My point is that we MUST respond to this moment, because everything (more or less) depends on how we respond to the existential crises that are upon us:

1) The literally existential threat to humanity — per the U.N. Secretary General, the Pentagon, and, most recently, the World Bank — is climate change.  There may yet be time to reverse the overall trend (unlikely, but possible, is my understanding).  But there’s definitely time to mitigate the effects on hundreds of millions (maybe even billions) of people, at great risk under the present scenario.

2) There’s also the clear threat to the moral/legal foundations of the country (threatening the country’s soul, if you will) posed by the Bush/Cheney post-9/11 (Global War on Terror-premised) framework that President Obama has needlessly enshrined into law.  Contrary to what many “liberals” tell themselves (folks cheerfully oblivious to the existence of Obama’s “Kill List” and other atrocities), President Obama has taken most of Bush’s worst abuses considerably further.  For instance, it was not Bush but Obama who officially retired “due process,” Posse Comitatus, and habeas corpus, and, effectively, several of the Bill of Rights amendments.  And it is Obama who has casually renewed the fascist PATRIOT ACT and the FISA reinvention that makes near-total surveillance of communications possible in today’s America).  Today’s Washington DC is an unambiguous affront to the founding values of the United States, and Obama has done nothing to improve the situation — quite the contrary.  Under Barack Obama’s leadership, our government has repeatedly bombed weddings, medical rescuers, children, and funeralsintentionally, killing countless innocents along the way (collateral damage, they call it).  With endless billions flowing from our unauditable Pentagon and government, the U.S. — Bush through Obama — supports Pakistan’s ISI, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and countless other terrorists in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and beyond (after fifteen years of voracious news-following and book-reading, I find it impossible to imagine a more committed supporter of global terrorism than the United States).  Finally, under the last two presidents, America has worked globally to deny rights to prisoners, journalists, and political dissidents (and not just in Bahrain, but here at home).

3) The assault on our electoral systems, ranging from the utter corruption of our campaign finance system to the wildly unequal voting conditions (hours’ long waits for millions) to the discriminatory voter I.D. laws in more than half the country, to the outrageous gerrymandering that enabled the Republicans to maintain control of the House despite the fact that their candidates (collectively/nationally) lost by over a million votes!  And then there are all of the GOP governors and state legislators working to pass laws that allow them to undo elections, replacing elected mayors, city councils, school boards, etc. with appointed corporate cronies (see Michigan).  In today’s America, voters are for disenfranchising and ignoring, no matter what promises were made during the campaign.  Speaking of which…

4) And then there’s the “Grand Bargain” I’ve been railing about for the last month.  It just keeps getting worse; in fact, it’s exactly as if Mr. Romney and the Republicans had won the election, based on the agenda they’re pursuing in DC.  So I guess I spoke too soon when I said that Democrats have apparently taken Social Security cuts off the table (that’s what I get for taking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at his word).  Such egregious cuts are now back on the table, with conservatives’ long-sought chained Consumer Price Index (or “chained CPI”) suddenly, bizarrely, being advocated and embraced by Nancy Pelosi and this faux-Democrat president.  This Democratic proposal translates into $130 billion in Social Security benefit reductions — cuts that Obama promised he’d never seek.  Once again, Barack Obama has begun negotiating with himself, further and further to the right — to the point that he’s now considerably to the right of most self-identified Tea Party Americans (70% of whom do not endorse cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit).  Taking my cue from some of the world’s most esteemed economists, I’ve already written a great deal about the lunacy of pushing austerity when the economy badly needs stimulus, but Americans need to understand that the nature of this crisis is political and not economic (and here, I’m just paraphrasing Nobel laureate Paul Krugman).  Our debt-GDP ratio is within acceptable norms, and the only real driver of America’s projected large deficits is our skyrocketing healthcare costs — which could be reined in, if only PhRMA and AHIP (the giant pharmaceutical and insurance lobbying groups, respectively) didn’t own our political institutions so completely.

My point is that we’ve created a global political/economic order — the Corporatocracy — that would make the Founding Fathers shudder.  Mega-powerful elites are not remotely constrained by law.  HSBC, one of our TBTF (Too Big To Fail) banks, has recently been busted for decades of money-laundering for drug cartels and terrorists — but no criminal charges will result, either for the bank or for the individuals who ran it.  They’re also too big to jail, it seems.  Just like Silvio Berlusconi: he routinely had underage prostitutes (child sex slaves, essentially) at his “bunga bunga” parties (for other above-the-law elites), and just a few weeks back he was convicted of bank fraud.  Is he headed to jail?  No, he’s considering running for a fourth term as Italy’s prime minister!  How about the Bush-era neocons and torturers?  Well, they’ve done very well for themselves, without a single domestic criminal investigation into their torturing, mass-murdering crimes against humanity (although the rest of the Western world has seen fit to at least compensate some of their many innocent victims).  Are there hundreds of thousands of people dead in Iraq as a result of Bush’s criminal war, founded on witting deceptions?  Yes, but that’s okay — you neocons and torturers still get top positions in the Obama administration, and you even get to resume your old tricks (like flooding Syria with al Qaeda, covert ops, and light-heavy arms, just because Assad won’t let Starbucks, Exxon, and Wall Street turn his country into another Western fief).  And then there’s Rupert Murdoch, perhaps the world’s slimiest media mogul, repeatedly misleading the British inquiry into his organizations’ phone-hacking.  Murdoch and his son have apparently lied repeatedly to the Brits, trying to cover up the role they personally played in this scandal — but will they be held to account?  Of course not; the hacking scandal also exposed Murdoch’s cozy infiltration and manipulation of official England, from the Prime Minister’s office to Scotland Yard.  In movie-mafia lingo, Rupert is a “made man” — he could phone hack the British royal family and get away with it… oh wait, he already has…  And now the Obama administration is laboring on Mr. Murdoch’s behalf to allow him to violate decades old media ownership laws (he’s preparing to purchase the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, both based in areas where Murdoch’s NewsCorp already owns significant other media outlets…  Yes, once upon a time, our government didn’t permit one rich bastard to own all the newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in one city — but those quaint days are behind us).

In short, the greatest criminal malefactors, frauds, and terrorists that the world has ever known are UNTOUCHABLE (like the Pope who spent decades shielding serial child molesters from the law).

This world order is unacceptable (and completely unsustainable), and most of the world’s population is trying desperately to resist it.  Americans need to join them, opposing and working to reform our broken government… while we still can.  We need to understand that the differences between Republicans and Democrats are wafer thin and amount to little or nothing, policy-wise.  We also need to understand who our real leaders are (plutocrats, hedge fund managers, and CEOs, with a Saudi prince or two, thrown in for good measure).  And we seriously need to comprehend that their atrocities threaten us all.  Austerity and drones — the “shock doctrine” and war on terror — have finally come for YOU, America.  You’ve already lost your privacy and the right to due process.  You’ve already had your economy plundered to the tune of $16 trillion by a bunch of frauds, aided and abetted by the government.  What’s it going to take to get you off the sidelines? 

The Corporatocracy that America built over the last several decades has grown into a great, murderous, historically destructive force in the world, one that increasingly does not recognize national sovereignty or the laws that have provided the basis of our civilizations for centuries.  They’re turning the world into an ever more chaotic and cruel place, one that might not have much of a future at all, if the most dire climate change predictions continue to come to pass.

My advice: RESIST!

(And you can start by calling your alleged “representatives” and the president TODAY, urging them to TAKE ENTITLEMENTS OFF THE TABLE AND GO OFF THE FISCAL CLIFF, IF NECESSARY…  After all, I’d rather see the military have to cut $600 billion in spending over a decade rather than a mere $100 billion, which is Obama’s latest, MIC-friendly revision; and I’d rather see tax rates go up MORE for the 1% than for the middle class — something else that will be undone with Obama’s latest offer.  Can somebody please remind me again, which side won the election we just had?  Because it sure seems like President Romney is getting everything the far right wanted and more…)

[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

"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!)