Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is There Recourse When A Political Party Decides To Sabotage The Economy To Undermine The Country?


When I retired from my job at Warner Bros, one of the happiest thoughts I had is that I would never have to go to a Grammy Awards show again-- nor anything like it-- and never have to be a prop in the audience in someone's lame TV extravaganza. All those shows made me sick and I had to go to all of them. However... there was only one I actually did like and that was the U.K. version of the Grammies, the BRIT Awards. I was at the 1998 version, the night before my birthday at the London Arena, primarily to support Fleetwood Mac, who were performing and getting an Outstanding Contribution to Music Award, or something like that. I had a table right up front for the event, right next to Cherie Blair, Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife.

I recall a band with a catchy tune I had barely heard of getting up to play a song, the one Ezra referenced in the video about the American economy Friday night (in the video above), "Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again)." Chumbawumba were an anarchist punk band and they were wearing t-shirts that said "Sold out" and "Labour whore" and changed the lyrics of their hit song to "New Labour sold out the dockers, just like they sold out the rest of us." Sitting right across from me at Cherie's table was Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, basking in the glory of how Labour wasn't Margaret Thatcher but was hip and cool enough to be hobnobbing with the pop stars. Unfortunately for Prescott, people were becoming aware that Labour-- or at least Blair's New Labour actually was Margaret Thatcher (just a slightly defanged, less bloodthirsty version). Labour had just decided to not support the striking Liverpool dockworkers, inspiring Chumba singer/guitarist Danbert Nobacon to jump up on the table and empty a bucket of ice water on his head. Nothing like that has ever happened-- nor could ever happen-- at the staid old boring, hideous Grammies, where "politics" is a no-no.

Now the point of Ezra's rant that brought up Chumbawumba (several times), the Scarborough/Krugman debate on the Charlie Rose Show and Venn diagrams, is that the Austerity-minded Republicans are sabotaging the American economy. And they are. There's no question about it. Perhaps it's unfair to assign motivation but you can't seriously dispute that John Boehner and Miss McConnell are undermining growth and literally doing everything they can to drive up unemployment numbers. That's what they do; that's what they are-- the sworn enemies of working families. And what about the Democrats? Glad you asked.

The progressives in Congress have some ideas for growing the economy and gradually decreasing the deficit at the same time. The Big Money behind the Democratic Party does not like what they've been hearing from these guys and gals. And they've made a massive push-- along with elements of the Beltway political Establishment-- to empower a more Big Business-oriented faction, the New Dems, very much like Blair's New Labour, or failed U.S. attempts to undermine progressive ideals within the Democratic Party in the past (DLC, Blue Dogs, Boll Weevils, Bourbon Democrats, Dixiecrats). So will Al Barr or Ken Casey jump up on a table and pour a bucket of water over hipster Joe Crowley, Allyson Schwartz, Jim Himes, Rick Larsen or Ron Kind, the corporate whores at the heart of the New Dem take-over of the House Democratic Caucus? [If you didn't click on that "hipster Joe Crowley" link, you missed something none of your friends know about.]

Voters need to start understanding that not all Democratic members of Congress are Democrats the way we think of Democrats. Blue Dogs and New Dems are, basically, your father's Republican Party. Backed by the Village, they have a mission-- a Grand Bargain with the Republicans that pushes the failed European Austerity agenda. Robert Reich discusses it with Ezra in the video above-- although they both just blame the Republicans. But lifelong Republican (opportunistically calling himself a "Democrat" now) Patrick Murphy rounded up a band of naive freshmen Democrats to start sacrificing working families on the alter of Republican Austerity. Last week Tom Edsall went a long way towards explaining why Obama shouldn't cut Social Security and Medicare in a smart NY Times column. There's no support in the country, among actual Americans outside the Beltway, for these cuts. Edsall even as a suggestion of what the Democrats ought to do instead:
So why don’t we talk about raising or eliminating the cap-- a measure that has strong popular, though not elite, support?

When asked by the National Academy of Social Insurance whether Social Security taxes for better-off Americans should be increased, 71 percent of Republicans and 97 percent of Democrats agreed. In a 2012 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of respondents thought upper-income Americans paid too little in taxes.

Medicare, in turn, is financed by a flat 1.45 percent tax on the first $200,000 of earnings for a single person and $250,000 for a married couple, matched by the employer, after which it rises by a modest 0.9 percent on all income above the $200,000 and $250,000 levels.

...As 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, 72 percent of them are currently without the protection of a defined benefit pension plan, which leaves growing numbers dependent on inadequately funded 401(k) and other voluntary (defined contribution) plans to keep their heads above water.

Cutting benefits is frequently discussed in the halls of Congress, in research institutes and by analysts and columnists. The idea of subjecting earned income over $113,700 to the Social Security payroll tax and making the Medicare tax more progressive-- steps that would affect only the relatively affluent-- is largely missing from the policy conversation.

The Washington cognoscenti are more inclined to discuss two main approaches that are far less costly for the affluent: means-testing of benefits and raising the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare. (Sidenote: policy makers and national journalists who weigh in on this issue generally earn more than $113,700 a year.) Means-testing and raising the age of eligibility as methods of cutting spending appeal to ideological conservatives for a number of reasons.

First, insofar as benefits for the affluent are reduced or eliminated under means-testing, social insurance programs are no longer universal and are seen, instead, as a form of welfare. Public support would almost certainly decline, encouraging further cuts in the future.

Second, the focus on means-testing and raising the age of eligibility diverts attention from a much simpler and more equitable approach: raising the payroll tax to apply to the earnings of the well-to-do, a step strongly opposed by the ideological right.

Third, and most important in terms of the policy debate, while both means-testing and eliminating the $113,700 cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax hurt the affluent, the latter would inflict twice as much pain.

The C.B.O. estimates that elimination of the payroll earnings cap would cost the well-to-do the equivalent of 0.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product, while substantially reducing Social Security payments to the top third of the income distribution, through means testing, would only cost those better off recipients the equivalent of 0.1 percent of G.D.P.

...In the rarefied community that sets many of the terms of national policy making, a recurring theme is the notion that the federal government is subsidizing the “good life” of the nation’s elderly at the expense of needed investments in young people, in infrastructure and in innovation.

...In this kind of conflict over limited goods, one of the most valuable resources that can get lost in the fray is the wisdom of the electorate at large. In this case, the electorate is pointing toward progressive tax increases for those closer to the top far more readily than members of the political class, for whom high-earners are a crucial source of campaign contributions.

The very nature of the basic security Americans are entitled to is at stake.

It's a losing argument economically and politically. Democrats shouldn't be stampeding into making it in the false name of bipartisanship. New Labour was thumped and the New Dems, if they make the same mistake again, will be as well. By the way, and apropos of nothing at all, here's my favorite version of "Tubthumping," one that didn't get much play in America. I dedicate it to... Ezra:

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At 7:16 AM, Anonymous me said...

Interesting story about the grammies. Not watching television, I don't have personal experience, but I can imagine. I had no idea that audience members with brains were bored shitless - I thought they all enjoyed it and wanted to be there.

John Boehner and Miss McConnell are undermining growth and literally doing everything they can to drive up unemployment numbers

They've been doing that since January 2009. Their hatred of that man in the White House knows no bounds. Not only is he not one of them, but he's BLACK! In their minds, the world has turned upside down.

It reminds me of republicans' reaction to Franklin Roosevelt. They considered FDR a traitor to his class (the very wealthy). They hated him with boundless passion. They continued to hate him for nearly 50 years, until the public finally forgot who he was and what he did, and Bill Clinton arose to take his place in their cross-hairs. (Not that Clinton was any FDR of course.)

And Clinton would have remained their main enemy for another 50 years if Hillary had won, or Obama had not been black. (Too bad neither of those two can measure up to FDR either.)

You're right to say that the Dems are part of the problem. The wealthy know that for years the republican brand has been turning sour. It's worse now than ever. That is why they've turned their efforts toward corrupting the Democrats. So far, they've had a fair amount of success, but we still have some good ones on our side.

Thank you for your efforts.

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