Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Will We Choose Courage Or Abdication?: Drawing A Line In The Sand Vs. Shutting Down The Government

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Frank Rich


As usual Frank Rich absolutely nails what the true stakes are in this relentless CLASS WAR that the rich and ruling class are currently waging against the poor, working, and middleclass in the United States and the severe and deadly consequences for us all if we don't fight back collectively on a massive national scale (the way heroic public employee workers and their unions are and have been fighting back in Wisconsin and some other states over the past two weeks!). It's especially way past time for the American Left as well as the masses of so-called "ordinary citizens" to DEMAND that the President and the Democrats in Congress actually do the job we elected them to do--which is to aggressively protect, defend, and support our interests as workers above, against, and beyond that of criminally wealthy banks, corporations, and Wall Street gangsters. As we sit shaking in fear and rage wondering whether millions of us will have any kind of job at all in the very near "future"-- with or without any rapidly disappearing or non existent "benefits", including pensions and other retirement funds or "entitlement program" safety nets like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (which the Republicans and the Tea Party are now going after with a vengeance)--we see that our extremely powerful and vicious enemies who are mostly multimillionaires and billionaires are absolutely determined to wipe us out in the spurious and fraudulent name of the national "deficit" that THEY are largely /criminally responsible for in the first place. We are at a major turning point in American history and what we do or don't do now as engaged or alienated citizens in response to these crises WILL determine whether we will survive with our democratic and human rights intact or not. Like always it's ultimately up to us to make the hard and necessary choices that are truly required to meet these challenges and to constantly demand that the President and Congress do the same...



Why Wouldn’t the Tea Party Shut It Down?

February 26, 2011
New York Times

NO one remembers anything in America, especially in Washington, so the history of the Great Government Shutdown of 1995 is being rewritten with impunity by Republicans flirting with a Great Government Shutdown of 2011. The bottom line of the revisionist spin is this: that 2011 is no 1995. Should the unthinkable occur on some coming budget D-Day — or perhaps when the deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling arrives this spring — the G.O.P. is cocksure that it can pin the debacle on the Democrats.

In the right’s echo chamber, voters are seen as so fed up with deficits that they’ll put principle over temporary inconveniences — like, say, a halt in processing new Social Security applicants or veterans’ benefit checks. Who needs coddled government workers to deal with those minutiae anyway? As Mike Huckabee has cheerfully pointed out, many more federal services are automated now than in the olden days of the late 20th century. Phone trees don’t demand pensions.

Remarkably (or not) much of the Beltway press has bought the line that comparisons between then and now are superficial. Sure, Bill Clinton, like Barack Obama, was bruised by his first midterms, with his party losing the House to right-wing revolutionaries hawking the Contract With America, a Tea Party ur-text demanding balanced budgets. But after that, we’re instructed, the narratives diverge. John Boehner is no bomb-throwing diva like Newt Gingrich, whose petulant behavior inspired the famous headline “Cry Baby” in The Daily News. A crier — well, yes — but Boehner’s too conventional a conservative to foment a reckless shutdown. Obama, prone to hanging back from Congressional donnybrooks, bears scant resemblance to the hands-on Clinton, who clamored to get into the ring with Newt.

Those propagating the 2011-is-not-1995 line also assume that somehow Boehner will prevent the new G.O.P. insurgents from bringing down the government they want to bring down. But if Gingrich couldn’t control his hard-line freshman class of 73 members in 1995 — he jokingly referred to them then as “a third party” — it’s hard to imagine how the kinder, gentler Boehner will control his 87 freshmen, many of them lacking government or legislative experience, let alone the gene for compromise. In the new Congress’s short history, the new speaker has already had trouble controlling his caucus. On Friday Gingrich made Boehner’s task harder by writing a Washington Post op-ed plea that the G.O.P. stick to its guns.

The 2011 rebels are to the right of their 1995 antecedents in any case. That’s why this battle, ostensibly over the deficit, is so much larger than the sum of its line-item parts. The highest priority of America’s current political radicals is not to balance government budgets but to wage ideological warfare in Washington and state capitals alike. The relatively few dollars that would be saved by the proposed slashing of federal spending on Planned Parenthood and Head Start don’t dent the deficit; the cuts merely savage programs the right abhors. In Wisconsin, where state workers capitulated to Gov. Scott Walker’s demands for financial concessions, the radical Republicans’ only remaining task is to destroy labor’s right to collective bargaining.

That’s not to say there is no fiscal mission in the right’s agenda, both nationally and locally — only that the mission has nothing to do with deficit reduction. The real goal is to reward the G.O.P.’s wealthiest patrons by crippling what remains of organized labor, by wrecking the government agencies charged with regulating and policing corporations, and, as always, by rewarding the wealthiest with more tax breaks. The bankrupt moral equation codified in the Bush era — that tax cuts tilted to the highest bracket were a higher priority even than paying for two wars — is now a given. The once-bedrock American values of shared sacrifice and equal economic opportunity have been overrun.

In this bigger picture, the Wisconsin governor’s fawning 20-minute phone conversation with a prankster impersonating the oil billionaire David Koch last week, while entertaining, is merely a footnote. The Koch Industries political action committee did contribute to Walker’s campaign (some $43,000) and did help underwrite Tea Party ads and demonstrations in Madison. But this governor is merely a petty-cash item on the Koch ledger — as befits the limited favors he can offer Koch’s mammoth, sprawling, Kansas-based industrial interests.

Look to Washington for the bigger story. As The Los Angeles Times recently reported, Koch Industries and its employees form the largest bloc of oil and gas industry donors to members of the new House Energy and Commerce Committee, topping even Exxon Mobil. And what do they get for that largess? As a down payment, the House budget bill not only reduces financing for the Environmental Protection Agency but also prohibits its regulation of greenhouse gases.

Here again, the dollars that will be saved are minute in terms of the federal deficit, but the payoff to Koch interests from a weakened E.P.A. is priceless. The same dynamic is at play in the House’s reduced spending for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service. and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (charged with regulation of the esoteric Wall Street derivatives that greased the financial crisis). The reduction in the deficit will be minimal, but the bottom lines for the Kochs and their peers, especially on Wall Street, will swell.

These special interests will stay in the closet next week when the Tea Partiers in the House argue (as the Gingrich cohort once did) that their only agenda is old-fashioned fiscal prudence. The G.O.P. is also banking on the presumption that Obama will bide his time too long, as he did in the protracted health care and tax-cut melees, and allow the Fox News megaphone, not yet in place in ’95, to frame the debate. Listening to the right’s incessant propaganda, you’d never know that the latest Pew survey found that Americans want to increase, not decrease, most areas of federal spending — and by large margins in the cases of health care and education.

The G.O.P. leadership faced those same headwinds from voters in ’95. As Boehner, then on the Gingrich team, told The Times in a January 1996 post-mortem, the G.O.P. had tested the notion of talking about “balancing the budget and Medicare in the same sentence” and discovered it would bring “big trouble.” Gingrich’s solution, he told The Times then, was simple: “We learned that if you talked about ‘preserving’ and ‘protecting’ Medicare, it worked.” Which it did until it didn’t — at which point the Gingrich revolution imploded.

Rather hilariously, the Republicans’ political gurus still believe that Gingrich’s ruse can work. In a manifesto titled “How the G.O.P. Can Win the Budget Battle” published in The Wall Street Journal last week, Fred Barnes of Fox News put it this way: “Bragging about painful but necessary cuts to Medicare scares people. Stressing the goal of saving Medicare won’t.” But the G.O.P. is trotting out one new political strategy this time. Current House leaders, mindful that their ’95 counterparts’ bravado backfired, constantly reiterate that they are “not looking for a government shutdown,” as Paul Ryan puts it. They seem to believe that if they repeat this locution often enough it will inoculate them from blame should a shutdown happen anyway — when, presumably, they are not looking.

Maybe, but no less an authority than Dick Armey, these days a leading Tea Party operative, thinks otherwise. Back in ’95, as a Gingrich deputy, he had been more bellicose than most in threatening a shutdown, as Bill Clinton recounts in his memoirs. But in 2006, Armey told a different story when reminiscing to an interviewer, Ryan Sager: “Newt’s position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They’re the advocates of the government. It is perfectly logical to them that Republicans would shut it down, because we’re seen as antithetical to government.”

Armey’s logic is perfect indeed, but logic is not the rage among his ideological compatriots this year. Otherwise, the Tea Party radicals might have figured out the single biggest difference between 1995 and 2011 — the state of the economy. Last time around, America was more or less humming along with an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent. This time we are still digging out of the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, with an unemployment rate of 9 percent and oil prices on the rise. To even toy with shutting down the government in this uncertain climate is to risk destabilizing the nascent recovery, with those in need of the government safety net (including 43 million Americans on food stamps) doing most of the suffering.

Not that the gravity of this moment will necessarily stop the right from using the same playbook as last time. Still heady with hubris from the midterms — and having persuaded themselves that Gingrich’s 1995 history can’t possibly repeat itself — radical Republicans are convinced that deficit-addled voters are on their side no matter what. The president, meanwhile, is playing his cards close to his vest. Let’s hope he knows that he, not the speaker, is the player holding a full house, and that he will tell the country in no uncertain terms that much more than money is on the table.


If we, President Obama, and the Democratic Party in Congress don't collectively draw a deep crimson line in the sand and emphatically tell the Republicans and Tea Party to Go Fuck Themselves and the ragged horse(s) they rode in on, the thugs of the U.S. rightwing both in and outside of government WILL continue to hold us ALL hostage forever to their oppressive agenda and eliminate any hope of anyone maintaining and extending even a tiny semblance of democratic/progressive reform. This is no joke and if these maniacs insist on shutting down the government in the process we must let them know that we will not be bullied by them for even one second longer. It's time to call these psychotics bluff and demand that they piss or get off the pot. If that means these rightwing assholes taking full and complete responsibility for suicidally shutting the government down in the midst of a massively destructive economic recession then so be it. Don't let these muthafuckas off the hook Mr. President! ENOUGH godammit!!


February 27, 2011

New York Times

Keep the Government Open

With only four days left to head off a crippling government shutdown, Senate Democrats have been receptive to a new proposal from House Republicans to keep the government going with only a modest round of cuts from President Obama’s own reduction plan.

The offer sounds as if it contains the germ of a good compromise, except for one big problem: it only extends government funding for two weeks.

In a matter of days, the two chambers would be right back where they are now, with House leaders demanding ruinous cuts and threatening to close the government’s doors if they did not get their way. Rather than take this deal, the Senate should build on the idea of advancing some of President Obama’s cuts but in exchange for paying for the government’s functions through the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30.

The threat of a shutdown is a serious one. Once the stopgap measure now supplying money to the federal government expires, hundreds of thousands of workers would be furloughed, halting vital services like veterans’ health care and passport processing, and possibly slowing the distribution of benefit checks. Essential services would continue, but the impact on a fragile recovery could be devastating.

None of that has in the slightest deterred House Republicans — the fire-breathing freshmen and the older members who are afraid of them — from pursuing their single-minded goal of disemboweling the government.

They took advantage of the Democrats’ failure to pass a budget last year and approved a bill that makes nearly $62 billion in cuts just over the next seven months. Much of the effort pursued longstanding partisan goals like eliminating programs for disadvantaged minorities, rather than real deficit reduction.

The impact of these reckless, largely ideologically targeted cuts could be even more devastating for the recovery than a brief government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs, and not just for a few days or weeks. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder would be hurt the most.

No one would have paid much attention if the stopgap spending resolution from last year did not run out on March 4. The House Republicans have exploited that leverage to the fullest, saying they won’t even consider a temporary spending resolution from the Senate that does not contain substantial cuts.

The latest offer from the House, drawing on an idea that has been discussed in the Senate, would buy two weeks of government operations in exchange for $4 billion in cuts. To make the offer palatable, the House is willing to make about $2.7 billion of those cuts from earmarks, and the rest from programs that the president has already proposed cutting in next year’s budget, including highway and education spending.

The House is essentially asking the Democrats to agree to all the easy cuts up front, while continuing to dangle a sword over the process that could drop again as early as March 18. The war of words would quickly begin again, as would the Republicans’ demands for their more damaging cuts. That would create ever more uncertainty in the markets and in the lives of many thousands of people who could be affected by a shutdown.

Repeatedly negotiating under threat is no way to run a government. The real battle should be over next year’s budget. Accelerating some 2012 cuts to get through this year makes sense, but only in exchange for a resolution that carries the government through Sept. 30. Democrats should insist on it, and if Republicans instead choose to close the government’s doors, at least the public will know the full price of their extremism.