Thursday, November 11, 2010

The National Debt Crisis and The Political Abdication of the Obama Administration To the Right


Though many of us don't want to hear it this is the truth and we had all better wake up in the U.S. generally and Black America in particular to what is REALLY going on--and President Obama's clearly inept and sadly manipulative role in it-- before it's too late (and we're very close to that point already--much closer than any of us would care to admit)...Any other course is not only massive irresponsibility on our part as citizens but a sure recipe for disaster because after last week's horrific vote for a Republican majority in the House chamber of Congress the virulently racist, very powerful, extremely wealthy, and well organized rightwing in this country is gonna continue to relentlessly attack and destroy not only Obama's presidency but this society in general. In that case if we as citizens don't properly respond on a national scale to this dangerous challenge in a politically aggressive and well organized and coordinated manner only we will be the huge losers in both the short and long run...

The following extraordinary article by Glen Ford, editor of the Black Agenda Report (BAR) was initially published three weeks ago on October 20, 2010 and has turned out to be eerily and disturbingly prophetic given the shocking press conference held today by the Co-Chairmen of Obama's debt commission which made a series of very reactionary and ethically bankrupt recommendations (for the ugly details read today's New York Times article "Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases" by Jackie Calmes following the Glen Ford piece below)...


Obama Prepares to Triangulate Himself
By Glen Ford
October 20, 2010

Black Agenda Report


by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

What a guy! Barack Obama has neutralized Blacks, the white left, and the majority of his own party in service to Wall Street, and some still call him “liberal” (The insane call him “socialist.”) With Social Security and Medicare in his sights, “the stage is set for a performance of presidential political gymnastics that will make Bill Clinton, once known as the Great Triangulator, bow down to the master.”

“Obama invented the deficit reduction commission as his customized vehicle to subvert his own party’s cherished ‘entitlement’ programs.”

One thing is certain: the corporations will win and civilization will lose on November 2nd. The outcome is foreordained, since the dwindling electoral forces of civilization don’t have enough candidates in contention even to fill an effective caucus.

With 83 nominal members, the Progressive Congressional Caucus [5] is, on paper, the largest of the House ideological groupings, but has been neutered since Barack Obama entered the White House. The Congressional Black Caucus has not been a coherent force for progressive change for most of this century, and now behaves as if lobotomized by the presence of a Black chief executive. Having allowed themselves to be whipped, kicked and scorned by a White House concerned only for the president’s most narrow interests and schemes, “left” Democrats are at their nadir of legislative influence, despite their chairmanships.

Whether the GOP actually wins one or both chambers of Congress or not, the people’s interests are in deep trouble. The most immediate threat looms, not from the Tea Party, which will no doubt have its own little caucus in the next Congress, but from Barack Obama and his President’s National Commission [6] on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. When the right-heavy commission makes its recommendations in early December, the stage will be set for a performance of presidential political gymnastics that will make Bill Clinton, once known as the Great Triangulator, bow down to the master.

Barack Obama will triangulate himself.

“’Left’ Democrats are at their nadir of legislative influence, despite their chairmanships.”

President Clinton skillfully triangulated his own Democrats, seeking to position himself between the party’s liberal-ish core and the Republicans, thus moving the center of political gravity rightward through the Nineties. Obama, whose first major act while still a candidate was to save the Bush bank bailout after it failed a first vote in October, 2008, has elevated Clinton-style triangulation to what he hopes passes for statesmanship. Obama likes to calls it “non-partisan,” “consensus-building” politics and other variations on the theme, but the result is always the same: the fundamental interests of corporations are protected at the beginning of the process, which can only end with the people in worse shape than before it started. This is how a broad and deep public demand for comprehensive health reform was transformed into a guaranteed, subsidized, central role in the national health system for the hated insurance and drug companies for the foreseeable future.

Obama, a genius at creating opportunities for himself while undermining the life prospects of others, invented the deficit reduction commission as his customized vehicle to subvert his own party’s cherished “entitlement” programs: Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and others. Republicans didn’t force his hand or box him in. Instead, Obama set the torpedoes in motion against entitlements in the days before his inauguration, declaring, on January 8, 2009 [7], that an overhaul of Medicare and Social Security would be “a central part” of his presidency. Not long afterwards, he said that Social Security and other entitlements would be “on the table” for cutting. All this, before any Republican had blurted an angry word about Obama in congressional debate.

“Obama has elevated Clinton-style triangulation to what he hopes passes for statesmanship.”

Obama’s ambush of entitlements is premeditated. He was determined from the very start to succeed where George Bush failed – by gutting Social Security. That’s how Obama measures greatness.

The problem was, most Republicans remembered Bush’s Social Security debacle of 2005 [8], and were not anxious to relive the experience, while debating Social Security was the last thing on Democratic congressional minds. With Republicans in no mood to launch a legislative attack on Social Security, there was nobody for Obama to make one of his grand comprises with. So, in February of this year, he issued an executive order [9] creating his own anti-entitlement missile, the 18-person [10] panel that quickly became known as the “cat food” commission [11], harkening back to the pre-Social Security days when many of the elderly where reduced to eating cat food.

Obama’s trick was to conjure up a political demand for the gutting of entitlements when no serious movement in that direction existed in the Congress. The commission route allowed him to concoct a majority right-wing constituency in a bottle, so to speak, by weighting the membership with pro-corporate players.

No one doubts that the panel is rigged to recommend cuts that Democrats (and a few Republicans) would be prepared to fight tooth and nail if proposed by the GOP. Blood would flow in the halls of the House and Senate, and in the end the assailants would likely lose. But by packaging the poison in a commission, Obama is allowed to behave as if the entitlement debate has oozed from the ether, demanding to be made manifest.

“The commission route allowed him to concoct a majority right-wing constituency in a bottle, so to speak.”

Now comes the good part. In a classic triangulation, Obama would position himself as close to the Republican legislative position as politically convenient. However, that’s easier said than done, and full of risks, in the heat of debate on tricky congressional terrain. Instead, the presidential commission, acting as the supposed “deliberator” of the fate of the nation’s sick and elderly, will spew forth a range of recommendations from which Obama will pick and choose. He will vow to protect “the most vulnerable” from the more draconian ideas put forward by his commission. In the end he will stake out and occupy a “non-partisan,” “consensus” center as defined by the makeup of the commission, the president’s own creation.

Obama will have triangulated himself, and screwed us all. Mark my words.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases
November 10, 2010
New York Times

WASHINGTON — The chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt outlined a politically provocative and economically ambitious package of spending cuts and tax increases on Wednesday, igniting a debate that is likely to grip the country for years.

The plan calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending, a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax, limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security.

Those changes and others, none of which would take effect before 2012 to avoid undermining the tepid economic recovery, would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says, and stabilize the accumulated debt.

“It’s time to lay it out on the table and let the American people start to chew on it,” said Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader who is one of the co-chairmen, along with Erskine B. Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.

Their outline will be the basis for negotiation within the commission, which has a Dec. 1 deadline for submitting a final plan. It represents a challenge to both parties: to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, to show in the wake of the midterm election that they are serious about their pledges to address long-term deficits, and to Republicans, who for the most part have ruled out consideration of tax increases even as they have promised new adherence to fiscal responsibility.

Liberal groups immediately condemned the plan when news of it broke, for its Social Security and Medicare changes and for the scope of the spending cuts. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in a statement called it “simply unacceptable.”

The furor on the left was not matched — yet — by a similar outcry from the right to the draft’s proposed revenue increases, cuts to the military or other options.

The plan has many elements with the potential to draw intense political fire. It lays out options for overhauling the tax code that include limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. It envisions cutting Pentagon weapons programs and paring back almost all domestic programs.

The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.

But the plan would not count Social Security savings toward the overall deficit-reduction goal that Mr. Obama set for fiscal year 2015, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to help balance the nation’s books.

Mr. Obama created the commission last February in the hope it would provide political cover for bold action against deficits in 2011. His stance now, in the wake of his party’s drubbing, will go a long way toward telling whether he tacks to the political center — by embracing such proposals — or shifts to the left and leaves them on a shelf.

For Republicans, the chairmen’s proposals and a similar report coming next week from a private bipartisan group will challenge their contention that the budget can be balanced by spending cuts alone. That is a claim that many conservative economists and budget analysts reject, given the scale of projected debt as the baby boom generation retires and begins claiming costly federal benefits, after a severe recession.

Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson said their plan was “a starting point” as members of the commission met behind closed doors to consider it.

That was clear from the initial reactions of the members, nine of them Democrats, seven Republicans. None embraced the package and several made clear they would not support it without big changes.

“I think every member of the commission would agree that this is not the plan,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, who is perhaps the panel’s most liberal member.

The group had made no decisions before the midterm elections, to avoid politicizing the painful options. Even so, the election results — by emboldening victorious antitax conservatives and having led to the defeat of many fiscally conservative Congressional Democrats — are widely seen as having reduced the already slim chance that a supermajority of the commission could agree to a package of proposals by Dec. 1.

Under Mr. Obama’s executive order creating the panel of 12 members of Congress and six private citizens, 14 of the 18 commissioners must agree in order to send any package to Congress for a vote in December. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and Ms. Pelosi, who will remain the speaker until January, have promised in writing that the Senate would vote first and, if it approves a plan, the House would vote.

“I think it’s possible” that 14 members will agree, said Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Oklahoma Republican who worked closely with the chairmen on proposed reductions from the military and in so-called tax expenditures, the myriad tax breaks for individuals and businesses that cost more than $1 trillion a year. “You don’t know until you see what the final plan is.”

In five hours of deliberations on Wednesday, the commission did not discuss the plan’s particulars much but instead talked at length about whether a lame-duck Congress would have time to write specific legislation and then vote, members said in interviews. It was unclear, they said, whether that was a sign other members thought the commission actually could reach agreement, or whether they were hiding behind concerns about legislative procedures to avoid tough policy decisions.

“At least people stayed in the room,” Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview, recalling his concerns and others’ that Republicans would walk out if taxes were on the table and Democrats if Social Security and other spending programs were.

Right now the biggest issue facing the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend the Bush-era income tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31, for all taxpayers, as Republicans want, or for income below $250,000, as Mr. Obama and Democrats want. The Bowles-Simpson plan includes one option that assumes only the lower-income rates are extended and another that ends all Bush tax rates and replaces the tax code with simpler, lower rates and many fewer tax breaks.

Extending all the Bush tax cuts through 2020 would add more than $4 trillion to the debt — coincidentally, about the same amount that the chairmen’s painful options are designed to cut in the same time frame.

Their proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks — including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments — so that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under one option, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent for the lowest income bracket (it is now 10 percent) and to 23 percent for the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would be reduced to as low as 26 percent.

But how low the rates are set would depend on how many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. Some of them, including the mortgage interest deduction and the exemption from taxes for employees’ health benefits, are political sacred cows.

The 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax would rise by 15 cents between 2013 and 2015 so that transportation spending no longer requires money from the general treasury.

The plan would cut $2 from spending for every $1 in new revenues. Total spending would be about 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, and revenues would be held to 21 percent.

Cuts in annual discretionary spending, domestic and military, would be the largest in recent decades. Farm subsidies would be reduced. To further reduce growth in the fast-growing entitlement programs, the plan would expand on the hard-won Medicare cost savings in Mr. Obama’s health care law. And it would limit malpractice awards, long a Republican goal.