Welcome to the end of Week One in Sequester World, accurately described as a "self-inflicted wound" at a time when the economy is still weak. But it is more than that, more than just a deliberately stupid attempt to deal with the deficit in the worst possible way.
It's a the latest move in a long running campaign to impose an agenda on the country that a majority of Americans do not want and have rejected at the polls. It's only possible because even Democrats have accepted many of the tacit assumptions underlying it, and the press has largely swallowed it down whole, including the need for unnecessary pain that will be felt by millions for years to come.
If the sequester was intended to be so painful for both political parties that they'd hammer out some kind of agreement to avoid it, what went wrong? And why are there people actually cheering it on?
WARNING: This is a long post heavy with links. I've spent days putting it together and polishing the arguments I'm trying to make; don't expect to breeze through it in a couple of minutes. That being said, I hope you will find your time well rewarded if you care to dive in.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
There's a lot of puzzlement about what the motivation for the sequester is at this point. It goes back to about two years ago when the Republicans were throwing a hissy fit over the debt ceiling, as part of the greater hissy fit over the deficit AKA "the government has a spending problem." It set an arbitrary deadline for automatic budget cuts that would be applied across to board to almost every Federal agency and program, to theoretically ensure that everyone in Congress and the Administration would feel pain over at least one item in the budget near and dear to them. (Craig Hardegree put together a review of the timeline of how it happened.)
It was intended to be so awful, so stupid, it would motivate both sides to come up with a plan to do something to avoid it. Now is the worst time for the government to cut back on spending; the economy is still weak despite February job numbers, corporations aren't hiring or spending, unemployment is still far too high. So why is it happening?
Some BackgroundIt is not possible to understand what the sequester is about without examining the larger context that produced it. This is just the latest bump in that road to Hell paved with both good and bad intentions. (A truly bipartisan effort.) To that end, I'm going to review some relevant material I've discussed before.
Simply talking about Democrats versus Republicans, Liberals versus Conservatives doesn't really describe the players we have to keep an eye on. When poll after poll finds that both ordinary Democrats and Republicans favor policies that their alleged leadership isn't even considering, that should indicate something besides party affiliation is at work. (For purposes of discussion, Republican will be used interchangeably with Conservative, and GOP for short.)
At this point in time the Republican party is almost wholly conservative, and it is a conservatism of an extreme nature. A party that can argue in all seriousness that...
• corporations are people...is a party best treated as a cult.
• money is equivalent to free speech
• the rich pay too much in taxes while the poor don’t pay enough
• nearly half of the country are freeloaders, dependent on government
• tax cuts pay for themselves
• giving more money to the wealthy will make them work even harder, while you have to take stuff away from the poor to make them work at all.
• minorities have too many privileges; white males are the true victims of racism
• Religious freedom is the freedom to impose religious values on others
• Religious freedom can only be exercised through America as a Christian nation
• Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem
• Taxes must always be cut; government must always be shrunk
• The Public Interest is best served by allowing the private sector free rein/reign.
• etc. etc.
An authoritarian cult.
Bob Altemeyer has done an incredible job analyzing the elements of authoritarian movements. To greatly oversimplify, they have two components: followers and leaders bound together in an authoritarian relationship, that is, top-down hierarchal in nature.
Authoritarian followers tend to be rigid in their beliefs, approach the world with fearfulness and distrust, and depend on authoritarian leaders to provide them with a world view that reinforces their identity while providing them with protection from outsiders. Political observers are often mystified why people consistently vote against their own self-interests. It's not a mystery - they define their self-interest in terms of the groups they feel they belong to, and the self-image they have of themselves as members of those groups. That image is manipulated by their leaders to steer them in the direction they want to go - and quite often they're voting AGAINST what they think are their enemies rather than FOR anything that benefits them.
Authoritarian leaders demand unquestioning obedience from the group, do not tolerate dissent, and provide followers with a rigid structure to explain the world, and - very important - enemies to explain why it fails to work the way the followers are told it should. Which, among other things is why they have problems with science and education - can't have carefully constructed fantasy worlds destroyed by reality.
Authoritarian movements tend to attract and organize around leaders who manifest a high Social Dominance Orientation. (SDO) This means they enjoy exercising power over others, are very anti-egalitarian, are personal empire builders, view the world as a zero sum dog eat dog game, and are quite often amoral. They're seriously lacking in empathy for others - perfect example here. Also throw into the mix an over-appreciation of their talents, wit, and ego, aka narcissism.
Sara Robinson does a good job summarizing this in more detail here. For the bigger picture, John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience builds on Altemeyer's work to dissect the modern conservative movement. (Robinson drew heavily on it for her discussion.)
A high SDO leader tells the followers what they want to hear while exploiting them to gain wealth and power. They're very skilled at manipulation of others. While they may actively talk up the values the followers within the group are expected to embrace, they themselves do not feel bound by them. A high SDO type approaches decisions with these criteria in mind:
what's in it for me
what can I get away with
what do my followers want to hear
who can I take advantage of
who can I divert any consequences to,
and so on. They take the larger needs and desires of the group into consideration only so far as they to need to in order to meet their own needs and desires. While they may have an intricate set of rationales to justify their actions (in public at least), at the core it all boils down to "Because I say so, and because I can."
Let's be clear about one thing though. This is not an exclusively GOP pathology. There are left wing as well as right wing authoritarian movements. There are high SDO types within the Democratic party, and they're just as toxic as their right wing counterparts. But, they can't be as blatant about it and they have nowhere near the dominance of their counterparts on the right.
The greater diversity of the Democratic base makes it harder to find convenient external scapegoats. The kind of mindset that leads people to adopt a somewhat more liberal view of the world is less susceptible to manipulation through unreasoning fear and anger. (We could use a bit more fear and anger for rational reasons though!) A leadership which at least gives lip service to the idea of the public interest and fact-based policies is one which is more likely to admit to accountability for its actions in the real world. An organization which claims egalitarianism just might have some use is less likely to pursue socially destructive policies.
In general terms, the only real difference between a right wing authoritarian group and a left wing authoritarian group is the excuses their high SDO leaders use to rationalize their excesses. They demand orthodoxy from their followers, defiance of their designated enemies, and total devotion from their followers. Life (and death) under a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Pol Pot doesn't leave much to choose between.
Political parties attract high SDO types because they provide power through a supply of followers, aka cannon fodder, marks, rubes, etc. - but there are other places where high SDO traits can find a ready home: religion for one. Any religion based on the idea of a supreme being and revealed truth that can't be questioned has an authoritarian bias right out of the box just waiting for a high SDO leader to take advantage of it. (Horrifying example here.) It automatically divides the world into 2 kinds of people: believers and non-believers. Challenging the leadership on any issue risks being declared a heretic or worse. When an authoritarian political movement teams up with authoritarian religion, look out!
The Problem with Authoritarian Movements...The thing to remember about high SDO leader types is they don't really give a damn about their followers, other than as a source of power and as people who can be manipulated and exploited. The values of the group have no use to them except as tools for that manipulation. When push comes to shove, their one priority is their own self interest. What they say in public, what they say to their base is whatever serves to keep them in power, to keep their followers in line. When it comes to core convictions, there ain't none. Numerous examples abound.
Take deficits and "the government has a spending problem" for example. Deficits are only a problem when Democrats have nominal responsibility for the government. Government spending doesn't matter when it comes to profiteering off it. Look at Mitt Romney's imitation of a weather vane in a hurricane, when it comes to declaring what he really believes. The Etch A Sketch comment was an accidental truth emission/admission. The high moral principles and values conservatives are always claiming for themselves turn out to be for sale when you follow the money. The party of family values sure picked a winner with this guy and his marital record. Speaking of family values, this family really takes the cake. And compassionate conservativism? Not when it counts, not even for one of their own.
Rick Perlstein's piece on The Long Con: Mail Order Conservatism lays out in detail just what a racket the modern conservative movement has become. In reference to Mitt Romney's constant string of lies on the campaign trail,
It’s time, in other words, to consider whether Romney’s fluidity with the truth is, in fact, a feature and not a bug: a constituent part of his appeal to conservatives. The point here is not just that he lies when he says conservative things, even if he believes something different in his heart of hearts—but that lying is what makes you sound the way a conservative is supposed to sound, in pretty much the same way that curlicuing all around the note makes you sound like a contestant on American Idol is supposed to sound.emphasis added
Essentially, high SDO leaders in an authoritarian organization are running a con game based on making their followers believe they really do care about them and their interests. I've referenced this before, but it's still worth repeating. The scene from The Music Man leading into the "Trouble in River City" song number shows the techniques at work: get people fearful and angry about a convenient enemy or danger (pool in this case), convince them you are one of them (watch the dog whistle references he throws in, like the scandal of a jockey sitting right on a horse!), watch the exaggeration of threats (Libertine men! Scarlet women! Ragtime!) - all to get them primed for his sales pitch for a boy's band which comes shortly thereafter at a town meeting. (The disruption of the Town Meeting, BTW is eerily like the Tea Partiers disrupting Democrats holding town meetings.)
And forget the happy ending in the musical. The real life version of a Harold Hill would have skipped town leaving the librarian disgraced and pregnant, the townspeople with a bunch of cheap band instruments and kids who couldn't play them, and a lot less money and social order. Instead of pool, the threat could just have easily been something a lot nastier, like whipping up a frenzy about those immigrants with the funny names and non-protestant religion, or black people moving out of the south and threatening their way of life, or the anarchists pushing some kind of union movement. It's just a question of picking the kind of threat the marks will be freaked out by, one that you can use to sell them something and lead them around by the nose.
...And Why Negotiating Or Seeking Compromise With Them is a Fool's GameThe problem with negotiating with high SDO leaders has at least three aspects. Number one, by treating with them on their terms, you end up legitimizing the scam. This is one of the biggest mistakes Democrats make, letting Republicans define the 'problems' and set the language. The result is to end up fighting on terrain that favors them. It's a form of pre-emptive concession.
Number two, they can't compromise on their public positions because they risk disenchanting their followers who might realize they've been conned. And, followers really believe this stuff. We're talking about people who view the world in black and white, us versus them. From their point of view, compromise would be like God agreeing to meet Satan half way. Further, leaders who stray too far from what their flock wants risk losing their leadership to those waiting to displace them within their own ranks. High SDO types are nothing if not ambitious - and loyal only to themselves.
Number three is perhaps the most insidious. They know they're running a con - they figure you must be running one too. They don't believe their own bullshit - why should they believe yours? The more you try to impress them with your sincerity - the more they think you're trying to deceive them. This is called projection; they know what they'd do in your shoes and react accordingly. Here's an outstanding example of projection from Herbert London: The President's Hard Authoritarianism.
The corollary is if they DO think you're sincere, that you actually believe what you're saying (and what they're saying), they think you're a mark who can be rolled and will attempt to do so. Award winning cartoonist Dan Perkins captures the dynamic at work in this classic This Modern World strip, that also shows how we ended up with a sequester agreement. Paul Krugman has a blog post laying out once more that trying to negotiate with the Republicans is futile.
The old saying "You can't cheat an honest man" might be better phrased "You can't make an honest bargain with a crook". The most effective way to negotiate with high SDO authoritarian leaders is from a position of strength - because strength is all they respect. Do not try to appeal to their better nature. Part of the high SDO profile is not having one.
Free-Floating High SDO Leaders & Their Force Multiplier: MoneyIf we were only dealing with sociopathic whack jobs in the Republican party, things would be bad enough. The problem is, our society has been reshaped to make it ever more hospitable to high SDO types at the expense of the rest of us. The huge increase in inequality, the destruction of the middle class, and the suppression of social mobility isn't just the work of Republicans alone. They've had plenty of help from Democrats too, following the money, or - God help us! - trying to reach across the aisle in the spirit of Bipartisanship.
While high SDO leaders in a political movement are dangerous enough, they are constrained more than a little by the need to keep their followers happy, or risk losing them. But there's another place where high SDO types do very well: the world of Business. Corporations by their nature are authoritarian organizations. Orders come down from the top and must be followed at the risk of unemployment. Management answers to stockholders and the board of directors - but as far as real accountability goes, the only criteria that matters is making sure they're getting enough money to keep them happy. Being a sociopathic CEO is a lot easier than being a politician (as witness Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld). And as far as Wall Street goes, being a high SDO type is part of the job description.
In the 2005 book, "The Sociopath Next Door," Harvard University psychologist Martha Stout claims one out of every 25 people in America is a sociopath. She defines sociopath as a person with no conscience.emphasis added
"Sociopath" and "psychopath" describe a similar range of anti-social traits, including a lack of empathy, no regard for consequences and unbridled risk-taking. Ms. DeCovny defines them this way: "Back when we were little children…and we were learning right from wrong, they didn't get it."
Sometimes these people turn out to be Jeffrey Dahmer and drill a hole through your skull. But if you send them to Harvard and dress them in a fine suit, they could become your boss, your CEO or your senator. They excel in any arena where aggressive behavior is rewarded and where grandiose levels of confidence can result in rousing applause.
These are the people who've piled up tons of money and use it to buy politicians to pass the laws they want. These are the people who set up foundations, fellowships and think tanks to churn out studies and provide speaking platforms for those who will advance their agenda: making the world ever easier pickings for them. These are the people who fund astroturf groups and attack ads. These are the people who've packed the courts with business friendly judges and the media with sychophants. These are the people who provide shock troops for the Brooks Brothers Riot. These are the people in that pool drawn on to fill high administration appointments, staff commissions, and provide their imprimatur of approval to policy proposals. They don't need an army of followers like their fellow grifters in politics, because they can rent or buy troops as needed - and do.
(If you want a sample of their brilliance in action, over at Salon Lynn Stuart Parramore has selected The 6 most appalling statements of America's biggest CEOs)
Charles P. Pierce has an uncomfortable analysis of their failure to not quite complete the hostile takeover of the country yet, looking at the Koch brothers in particular.
I resist the notion that the 2012 election proves that the Citizens United decision is less of a monstrosity than it is. First of all, it enshrined in attempted constitutional perpetuity some ideas — corporate personhood, money as speech — that are rancid simply on their merits and can only get worse with time. Second, I am more of the opinion that the new era opened by the decision caught everyone by surprise, including the people best equipped to take advantage of it. They will adjust, not their positions on the various issues, but simply their strategies for buying what they want out of the people in the government. Does anyone seriously think the Kochs are going to take direction from Karl Rove or, more hilariously, a third-rate tire salesman like Reince Priebus, let along some unnamed Republican operatives who are running their mouths? The Kochs haven't had to take direction from anyone since they were zygotes. The great thing about having fk-you money is the sheer number of people to whom you can say fk you.Money gives them access, money gives them leverage, money gives them power, money gives them the biggest megaphone for 'free speech' and opinion shaping. And the last thirty years have given them ever more money and the power that goes with it. These are the people with so much money, spending millions to get what they want barely ruffles through the petty cash.
A hat tip to Working America for pointing to this video. It shows just how incredibly distorted our country has become because of the incredible concentration of wealth in the hands of the tiny minority at the top. If you haven't seen it, take a few minutes to do so now.
They have so much power and influence these days, thanks to their incredible concentration of wealth, it distorts everything in America. When they're not happy, they make sure our government leaders know. This is what Matt Taibbi is writing about in Griftopia, the strangle hold they have on the country. The fact that a Democratic president is tapping this person to be budget chief tells you all you need to know (see Charles P. Pierce for real outrage), as does the number of Wall Streeter indictments that followed the crash of 2008, and the number of big banks that were broken up. They have rigged the government to put them first. They've managed to erase Occupy Wall Street from the news. They don't give a damn about unemployment or the slow economy where there are no jobs and people have no money. They do, and they're doing just fine.
Randy Newman sums it up pretty well.
The Courtier Class ProblemSpeaking truth to power has never been a good career move, but never more so than lately. The role of a free press is to inform the public - but the money in that isn't what it used to be. Over at Salon, Robert McChesney has a look at how traditional print media is having a hard time finding a business model that works in the digital age. Heavy consolidation in the press, cutbacks on basic reporting - it's hard enough for an intrepid reporter to do investigative journalism, but fewer outlets and fewer resources make it less likely that the press will fill its traditional role of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.
Television news is not much help either; FOX is a propaganda outlet that still gets treated as a legitimate news operation by the rest of the fourth estate; the remainder tend to spout the common wisdom, such as it is and avoid anything that has the least appearance of partisanship - even if supported by facts. Speak the truth, and disappear from the networks. Charles P. Pierce has a regular weekly summary of the Sunday Talking Head follies of the Courtier Class; this past Sunday was a keeper. His take on the discovery that the right wing media has been engaging in deliberate journalistic malpractice is matched only by his contempt for the regular media that made it possible in the first place.
The huge effort conservatives have put into warping the media machine has paid off. Conservative voices dominate the airwaves; conservative framing shapes the issues; conservative positions get primacy, and alternatives don't even get heard. Digby and Kevin Drum both have takes on Dylan Matthew's report on a study that shows politicians - both liberal and conservative - consistently think their constituents are more conservative than they actually are.
So much for liberal media bias. Conservative spin is pretty much the common wisdom. Corporate owned media has no incentive to upset their owners after all, or the Very Serious People who tell them what is allowable to say. The end result is a growing class of professional courtiers whose rank and income depends on making sure they don't run afoul of the high SDO's who own them, who dictate what views are acceptable, who can deny access if offended, and who throw all the best parties. A symbiosis develops that is toxic to democracy and the free flow of information.
And thus even the supposed opposition party keeps seeking accommodation and compromise in exchange for...nothing. Meanwhile the vast majority of Americans are badly served, misinformed, and denied a voice. Digby and Atkins go into it here, here, and here. This is how high SDO types operate, by manipulating people - and controlling information is one of their major tools. That's why Republican party efforts to reinvent themselves after the 2012 defeats are all about coming up with new marketing strategies, not changing any of their fundamental beliefs.
Facts are stupid things.
The Enabler in Chief and the Geometry of BetrayalThe reasons we've ended up with the sequester are not the reasons being tossed around as explanations. Republican-stated fears about the deficit and out of control government spending are lies; the deficit is going down and the government isn't spending enough; it's been shrinking. But then we already knew Republicans don't really give a damn about the deficit in any case.
But it wouldn't have happened without the White House agreeing to it in the first place. The President's fixation on coming to a 'reasonable' accord with the Republicans to 'reform' entitlements in a Grand Bargain is causing him to offer up things that should never have been on the chopping block in the first case, are unnecessary, and a majority of Americans do not want.
It's like the mirror image of "Only Nixon could go to China". Nixon did it as an attempt to distract everyone from Watergate. It was an act of desperation, the right thing for the wrong reasons. Obama apparently believes that the price for putting the fiscal security of the country on a sound footing for the long term is 'reforming' Social Security and Medicare; Only a Democrat can trade away the social safety net. Unlike Nixon, he's doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
Thomas B. Edsall has a must read piece in the NY Times, the War on Entitlements. (hat tip to Digby) He makes the case that the dogma calling for trimming back Social Security and Medicare is based on fallacies and outright deception, framed as a "moral obligation" by people who A) will never have to worry about their own welfare and B) haven't a clue about how important those programs are to millions of Americans. But, they've convinced themselves that it would be a sacrifice in a good cause - just not a sacrifice they'll feel. And a lot of what they 'know' is total bull shit.
Republicans have never liked Social Security or Medicare - they've spent years building up this scam; all they need is a Democrat to pull it off for them. There's nothing more dangerous than a Idealist convincing himself to work with Grifters to a Noble End. As long as everyone has "skin in the game", it should work out, right? Except, to repeat again, you can't make an honest bargain with a crook.
Even worse is a bunch of people who should be idealists going along with the con because they think it's the only way to get anything done. They tell themselves they mean well even as they facilitate the bigger crime being played out on America.
David Atkins spells out the duplicity coming from the White House. The President represents the part of the Democratic party heavily invested in business as usual in Washington, the part desirous of those big campaign contributions, the part that lives in a bubble disconnected from the rest of America, the part that keeps turning to people who ARE the problem to run things. The part that got steamrollered by Ronald Reagan and has never recovered.
Great hopes for a progressive President willing to work to reverse the Reagan Revolution that has given us this rolling disaster should have foundered on the remembrance that Senator Obama came to Washington seeking Joe Lieberman for a mentor.
Still, there’s no question that his passions are confined by intense caution. Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, tells the story of how, after [Senator] Obama voted for the class-action bill, he attended a meeting of public-interest groups. “We were worried about what his vote indicated about him for the future,” she said. “And he told us, ‘Sometimes you have to trim your sails.’ And I asked myself, Trim your sails for what? You just got elected by a wide margin–what are you trimming your sails for?”Let's not forget it wasn't all that long ago we had a 'progressive' Democratic president who balanced the budget and was actually paying down the national debt because we were running a surplus. He stated explicitly "the era of big government is over" and triangulated, adapting Republican rhetoric and ideas to kneecap their opposition. He was and is still popular, far more popular than the man who succeeded him in office. He attempted to forge a new dynamic in American politics, a third way approach. It was an attempt to outflank and co-opt the Reagan Revolution.
Great tactics perhaps, but terrible strategy.
Clinton's reward for balancing the budget, reforming welfare, endorsing smaller government, embracing ideas from the right: unreasoning hatred, hostility in the press, and impeachment. Manufactured scandals and conspiracies that blew up even more when a real one finally surfaced - albeit one of the kind politicians on both sides of the aisle have succumbed to. Much hypocrisy ensued (sample here) disguised as high moral dudgeon. The moment the Republicans took back the White House (thanks to the Supreme Court they'd packed), the surplus and fiscal responsibility was out the window.
The conservative heirs to the Clinton wars have learned nothing, forgotten nothing, and have doubled down on the most irrational elements of their con game on America. Yet these are the people President Obama is obsessed with reaching a Grand Bargain to 'reform entitlements' to assure the long term fiscal health of the country. Further, he's surrounded by an establishment that believes it's the right thing to do.
To repeat the point made above, you can't make an honest deal with a crook. The grifters now running the GOP and the economy can not be trusted to keep any kind of bargain. The only thing saving the President from this folly is their steadfast resistance to anything he proposes, no matter how much of their real agenda it enables. Dean Baker lays out how badly Obama has miscalculated:
We will never know if President Obama could have garnered support for more stimulus and larger deficits if he had used his office to pound home basic principles of economics to the public and the media. But we do know the route he chose failed.Digby riffs on Baker here, with some additional insights.
He apparently thought the best route to get more stimulus was to convince the deficit hawks that he was one of them. He proudly announced the need to pivot to deficit reduction after the passage of the stimulus and then appointed two deficit hawks, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, to head a deficit commission.
This set the ball rolling for the obsession with deficit reduction that has dominated the nation’s politics for the last three years. Instead of talking about the 9 million jobs deficit the economy faces, we have the leadership of both parties in Congress arguing over the debt-to-GDP ratios that we will face in 2023.
This would be comical if lives were not being ruined by the charade. The unemployed workers and their families did not do anything wrong, the people running the economy did.
Now the sequester comes along throwing more people out of work, worsening the quality of a wide range of government services and denying hundreds of thousands of people benefits they need. Yes, this is really stupid policy and the Republicans deserve a huge amount of blame in this picture.
But it was President Obama who decided to play deficit reduction games rather than being truthful about the state of the economy. There was no reason to expect better from the Republicans in Congress, we had reason to hope that President Obama would act responsibly.
Robert Reich looks at the other side, in a righteous rant about the Tea Party in Congress celebrating the train wreck they've always wanted.
Tea Party Republicans are crowing about the “sequestration” cuts beginning today (Friday). “This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington,” says Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), a Tea Partier who was first elected in 2010.Just as the Republican party embraced racism with the Southern Strategy and found itself going down a slippery slope into the hands of the high SDO grifters, the Democrats have found Clintonian triangulation and the 'third way' comes with some inevitable consequences. Deliberately trying to blur the difference between parties has destroyed the Democratic brand. By moving towards Republican positions on issues, they've ended up more and more incorporating Republican assumptions and talking points into their own positions, to the extent that they're now doing the Republican's work for them while moving ever farther away from what their own base wants and needs. It's political malfeasance.
Sequestration is only the start. What they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist – slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending worker protections we’ve had since the 1930s, eroding civil rights and voting rights, terminating programs that have helped the poor for generations, and making it impossible for the government to invest in our future.
And the more they try to triangulate on Republican issues and policies, the farther the Republicans move away from them. They have to - they can't keep their authoritarian con game going if the marks start to lose track of which side is which. Democrats end up moving ever father to the right in the delusion that somewhere they can all come together and are triangulating themselves right over the cliff the GOP leapt off years ago. And it's working great for the G.O.P. The more they move to the right, the more concessions they get from the Democrats anxious to not appear too partisan, anxious to make some kind of deal. Obstructionism and hostage taking works. The best thing about it is, they get what they want and the Democrats get the blame for it.
President Obama actually considers himself a moderate Republican, circa 20 years ago - and seems to believe that's a good thing. He's surrounded by people who also seem to think that's a good thing.
So Here We All AreWhat we're feeling is the result of the domination of our country by high SDO personalities in positions of power, either through politics, money, or the combination of both. (La Feminista has a great rant on exactly why we're seriously fcked.)
What we're seeing is a reflection of their followers view of the world and the fear their leaders use to keep them in line. Once upon a time they used the threat of International Communism to keep their followers drinking the Kool Aid. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, they've substituted the Federal Government and Liberals as targets for official hating, along with women and brown people. The Democratic ideal that we're all one country, that we all need to work together? Fuggeddaboudit. If you're not one of them, you're the enemy. Or a sucker.
Functional democratic government is a threat to their existence because (at the instinctive level):
• They oppose any authority that supersedes private and personal authority. "You're not the boss of me."More specifically, we have the sequester because it serves the larger agenda above with some very practical effects. (Practical if you're a high SDO type running a con that is):
• They oppose taxation because no one takes their stuff - and they have no comprehension of the idea that they owe anything at all to their country, their society, or humanity at large. "Nobody ever helped me. I built this all by myself."
• They oppose the rule of law, because that implies accountability and consequences for their actions. "It doesn't count if you don't get caught."
• They don't believe in the public interest or the public good. "The political is always personal."
• They hate regulation and limits. "Nobody tells me what to do."
• They hate fact-based policies. A government that runs on the best available information, one that operates in the real world is a government that is treading on their fantasies, or what they would like people to believe. "I know what I know."
• It discredits the very idea of functional government.Watch as all the cuts made for the sequester become the New Normal, the baseline which the next crisis will use as a starting point for still more cuts. In fact, you don't even have to wait that long. Here's proof of the folly of trying to negotiate with these people.
• It conditions people to expect nothing from government.
• It's a poke in the eye of the President.
• It's part of the ongoing strategy to deny the President any successes.
• It's a deliberate attempt to saddle the President with blame and paint him as uncompromising.
• It's the latest shot of the 2014 midterm election campaigns.
• It's a distraction from all the other sabotage they're doing.
• It's red meat for their base.
• It's what they've always wanted to do.
• Because they can.
• They don't believe in government in any case, so why should they care?
• They think they can get away with it without suffering any real consequences.
• One artificial crisis after another is how they implement the Shock Doctrine here in America.
But wait - it gets worse.
The States of the NationThere is this about the Federal Government. It's too big a prize for any one bidder to claim...so far. If we ever end up with a House, Senate, and White House all in G.O.P. hands at the same time, it will be game over. The only thing that will hold them back is that it will be a little too hard to blame Democrats for the inevitable disaster that will follow. It's all about deniability and scapegoating when you're a high SDO.
They'll stuff every branch of the administration with their stooges, turn Federal agencies into Turkey Farms doing the bidding of those they're supposed to regulate, and they'll pack the courts to make sure no one will be able to challenge the laws they'll ram through. They expected to pull off this trifecta with Romney in 2012 - the country really dodged a bullet. That's one of the big reasons they're being even bigger a-holes now: that sense of entitlement and privilege denied.
You don't have to look far to see what the Republican style of government looks like. All you have to do is look at the states where they already have full control. It's not pretty. One reason they want the Federal government to be as dysfunctional as possible is because it lets them get away with murder at the state level. They can exploit resentment of Washington DC among the voters for whom it's a religion, and blame the Feds for everything people don't like. At the state level, they prey on a chronic problem in America.
Think of it as The Ongoing War Between the States. Conservative con artists warn "If the state raises the minimum wage, businesses will move to other states." They warn "If the state tries to protect air, water, and land with burdensome regulations, businesses will move to other states." They threaten "Raise taxes on corporations and the job creators and..." well you get the picture.
Meanwhile, states are at war with each other, trying to attract businesses to bring in jobs and revenue - by undercutting other states in a race to the bottom. David Atkins has an example here. (For the orthodox conservative version of the story, compare and contrast Atkins with this at NRO.) The politicians may boast about all the jobs they've brought in - but they seldom add up the costs of sweetheart tax breaks, infrastructure costs on the tax payers, or just how good those jobs really are.
And here's the kicker. Those states that are "business friendly"? Typically you'll find they lag in education, health care, income. Low wage, low benefit jobs make for a population that needs help just to survive, like food stamps, Medicare, Federal aid to schools, etc. etc. The end result? They get lots of help from the Federal government who is in effect ripping off the more prosperous states to subsidize the giveaways to business, a double whammy on states trying to ensure ALL of their citizens are doing well just to line the pockets of the high SDO con men in both the business community and in politics.
A shining example of what money and total amorality can accomplish is on full display in Kochistan, the state formerly known as Wisconsin. Charles P. Pierce is marveling at the latest developments as the Koch Brothers cat's paw Scott Walker and the legislature ram through the agenda they've been given.
It is a very good time to be Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, who continues to be on one of history's longest winning streaks. Last week, without a lot of fanfare, the John Doe investigation into the illegal political activities of Walker's office when he was the county executive in Milwaukee shut down without ever having laid a glove on Walker himself.SNIP
At the same time, in a spectacularly rowdy nine-hour session of the state senate, Walker got a mining deregulation bill passed that will clear the way for the opening of a massive open-pit iron mine in the northern part of the state. It weakens worker safety rules and environmental protections and, most egregious of all, it transfers the financial responsibility for the mine's infrastructure to dozens of small Wisconsin towns that car barely afford to keep the streetlights on now. Some bills are sweetheart bills. This bill is free mimosas on the balcony at a hideaway in Cancun. And, of course, every effort was made to make the operation as opaque as possible. Not long ago, the Republicans in charge of the state legislature took over the process by which the media is credentialed to cover the activities of that same legislature. You didn't have to be Kreskin to see where that was heading.And that's all of a piece with Walker's Tax Cuts. State workers had to be sold down the river in Wisconsin two years ago because of a budget shortfall - but that was then. Suddenly deficits don't matter in what's left of Wisconsin.
And it gets even worse. The latest from Pierce on the mining bill shows just how outrageous it is.
The legislation was written in such a way as to defang the state's Department Of Natural Resources, provide what is essentially a liability shield for the company, overturn over a century of environmental protection laws for the benefit of a single company, and it even contained a provision repealing a state legal law dating back to the 1880's that prevented Wisconsin land from being controlled by foreign corporations or government, leading more than a few people to wonder exactly who's going to get the 75 kajillion jobs that Walker and his pet legislature insist the mine will provide. In short, despite the fact that polls show substantial opposition to both the bill and the mine itself, and despite the fact that its sponsors admit the destruction it inevitably will cause, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law not only to permit the project to go forward, but to immunize the corporation against any destruction the project might wreak on the state and the people therein. They gave away public lands to this company while arranging that the political entity known as the state of Wisconsin, and therefore the people they ostensibly represent, would be unable to protect themselves from the damage the company will do. Self-government, and the political commonwealth that arises from it, is just something else gouged out of Wisconsin for a buck. This is astonishing. This is something that happens in China.And it happens in the brave new corporate America conservatives are building state by state.
While what Republicans are doing in Washington is outrageous enough, what they'e doing at the state level is just as egregious if not more - and it hardly gets any national media attention even though it's well coordinated across the country. Pierce takes a regular weekly sampling of the cess pool in a recurring feature at his blog - The Laboratories of Democracy. Try this one, or this one or this one to see what's happening outside the beltway and mostly under the radar so far as national news coverage goes.
So Where Do We Go From Here?The first step in getting where you want to go, is to know where you're starting out from. To summarize:
• The country has a major political party in the hands of amoral sociopaths whose chief concern is their own self aggrandizement at the expense of their own followers, the rest of the country, and the entire planet.Admittedly, the summary above is a bit of a generalization. The people driving this rolling train wreck come in all kinds of flavors as Kos notes. Not everyone on the conservative side is necessarily of evil intent either; Sheer stupidity is enough to explain some. Some of them just don't know any better - the real purpose of the GOP efforts to render education nothing more than a training school for future worker drones with no understanding of history, no exposure to 'forbidden knowledge' and no critical thinking skills. Never underestimate the power of stupid and ignorant people in large numbers. Combine them with well-meaning fools on the other side, and that's more than enough to create a critical mass for disaster.
• The only restraint on their ambitions is their own assessment of what they can get away with.
• They are aided and abetted by a concentration of wealth that recognizes no limits on what it can do, and admits to no accountability at all.
• Their only real interest in government is corrupting it to their own ends for their exclusive benefit.
• They have no interest in sharing power with anyone.
• They engage in willful lies, deception, and obstruction to get what they want.
• They believe they are fully justified in what they do.
• They answer to no one, not willingly.
• They are enabled by a political establishment - including the nominal opposition party and the press - that is in denial about all of the above even while it seeks to accommodate it.
As a working hypothesis, it's good enough for a starting point. Once you understand this is the context the sequester is part of, it should be possible to start working on actions that address the real issues, focus on not just winning the battles but the larger war. Step One is to stop playing the Con Game.
Enough With The Lies, Already!Let's start by throwing out the common 'wisdom' among the disconnected elites in Washington. The deficit is NOT the most serious immediate problem we have. The best way to fix it is to put people back to work and get the economy moving again. It can be addressed over the long term once the economy is stronger. In fact, it's already getting better just from the economy slowly improving AND the winding down of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Deficit hysteria is a scam. It needs to be said LOUDLY AND OFTEN. Republicans are using it as a hammer to block any spending by the President. They're using it as an excuse to dismantle government programs they don't like. They're using it as an excuse to saddle Democrats with the consequences of Republican mismanagement. We have massive deficits because REPUBLICANS waged two wars they didn't pay for - while cutting taxes on the rich! We have massive deficits because people lost millions in a housing bubble and a stock market melt-down made possible by policies REPUBLICANS enacted. We have deficits because the government is having to deal with the economic wreckage while corporations sit on billions of dollars AND bail-outs they're not using for the public good - just private profit.
Paul Krugman's column on this peels away the facade of rationalizations the Deficit Fetishists cling to, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Under these conditions, of course, the government should ignore its short-run deficit and ramp up spending to support the economy. Unfortunately, policy makers have been intimidated by those false priests, who have convinced them that they must pursue austerity or face the wrath of the invisible market gods.I beg to differ with Krugman on one point however in that summary. While there may be some fear-feeders and prejudice-peddlers suffering from willful ignorance, there are plenty among them who know exactly what they're doing. It ties right in with one of their other big cons: the government spending 'problem'.
Meanwhile, about the stock market: Stocks are high, in part, because bond yields are so low, and investors have to put their money somewhere. It’s also true, however, that while the economy remains deeply depressed, corporate profits have staged a strong recovery. And that’s a bad thing! Not only are workers failing to share in the fruits of their own rising productivity, hundreds of billions of dollars are piling up in the treasuries of corporations that, facing weak consumer demand, see no reason to put those dollars to work.
So the message from the markets is by no means a happy one. What the markets are clearly saying, however, is that the fears and prejudices that have dominated Washington discussion for years are entirely misguided. And they’re also telling us that the people who have been feeding those fears and peddling those prejudices don’t have a clue about how the economy actually works.
The Government does NOT have a Spending Problem; the COUNTRY has an INCOME problem! Millions of Americans are not in trouble because the government takes their money and gives them nothing; they're hurting because they don't get enough money in the first place. The video above on wealth inequality up above shows what happened.
All of the increases in productivity over the last 30 years, all of the investments in education and hard work, all of the resulting growth in the economy - it has all been siphoned away from millions of Americans into the the pockets of the super rich. When Ronald Reagan said government wasn't the solution, government was the problem, that was the start of the long con that has killed the American Dream. It's not Big Government that's out of control - it's Big Money. Massive amounts of research show inequality is bad for almost measure of quality of life you want to pick.
An America that is setting record levels in the stock market again, an America that has massive amounts of wealth at the top end, an America that has corporations with huge profits they refuse to spend is an America that can afford Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare and the rest of the social safety net AND can afford to invest more in them. It's an America that can afford to give every American a decent education, a secure retirement, and rebuild our neglected infrastructure for the 21st Century. We have plenty of money - it's just in the wrong places. We can fix that. We must fix that.
It's time to STOP THE WAR ON GOVERNMENT. We need government because the market fails time and time again to provide fairness, to provide for the future, to regulate itself. We need government because there are things the private sector won't do, can't do, or can't be trusted to do. We need government "in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity". (The Preamble to the Constitution is one hell of a mission statement.)
The Founding Fathers didn't sit back and say "We don't need government. The invisible hand of the Free Market will take care of everything for us." (It is one of the great jokes being played on the Tea Party that they are completely lacking in awareness that the incident they they use for inspiration was the colonist's response to a multinational corporation ripping them off with the help of the government.) Time and time again the private sector has created disasters only the government has been able to save it from, and too often those disasters have come from the private sector crippling or corrupting government.
The Founding Fathers didn't sit back and say "Surely we are destined by God for great things. All we need to do is open our hearts to the Lord and let Divine Providence order our affairs." They'd rebelled against a King who claimed his authority to rule based on the Will of God; they'd rather good reason to think instead that God helps those who get off their butts and work at creating justice, prosperity, and order. They created the government to help them do that.
It's time to stop arguing over the size of government and instead ask what it needs to take on the tasks we need it to do, just as the Founding Fathers did. There are more Americans than ever; the challenges we face are greater than ever. Government of, by and for the people is what got us here today. Government is just one of many tools available to humans to organize their affairs; it's as good - or bad - as the people who wield it. But it's a tool we can't continue to disparage. It's essential. (More here at this website too. Bookmark it!)
While we're at it, let's stop mindless worship of the Job Creators. There ain't no such thing, not in the way they'd have us believe. This is one of the really big lies. No one starts a business to create jobs. They start a business to make a profit. Period. Jobs are an incidental side effect.
Business theory is simple: maximize profits by reducing expenses, and employees are an expense. Cut wages, cut benefits where you can, never pay more than you have to, extract the maximum value from employees, and keep their numbers as low as possible. Corporations with lots of money don't hire people because they have lots of money; they do it only if they need them in order to make more profits. Period. They can create jobs - but only if they have to.
Government CAN and DOES create jobs, directly and indirectly. It is another big lie that taxation is theft. (It can be in the hands of a corrupted government, but it doesn't have to be.) Taxes can be considered a form of investment; they fund services that the private sector can't or won't, but are still needed. They fund employment of people to provide those services - and those people pay their share right back. They provide for infrastructure that everyone needs for a functioning society. They provide for order, education, safety, and much much more.
And government has a low overhead because it doesn't have to yield a profit. It doesn't have to satisfy stockholders who have 'no skin in the game'. Everybody owns a share of government in a real democracy; everyone is entitled to their share of the benefits - AND the costs. We're not in trouble because the government has a spending problem and taxes are too high; we're in trouble because the costs and the benefits are being skewed to the advantage of the few over the many, who've corrupted government to their benefit.
So, What To Do Right Now?• Priority One: Stop playing the Con Game. Stop using Republican framing of the issues. Stop triangulating around their wish lists. Stop chasing them over the cliff! DUH!
• Priority Two: KILL THE GRAND BARGAIN. Putting Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block is a GIANT BETRAYAL, with or without tax increases in return. It's a tactical and strategic mistake of the highest order. The surest proof of this is the people who are in favor of it.
• Priority Three: Stop pretending the Republicans and the oligarchs behind them are nice people who have our best interests at heart. Start pointing out they have repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises. The Reagan Revolution has failed the majority of Americans - smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation has NOT made us richer, safer, or more secure. The heirs of Reagan have done even worse. Make them OWN their record. Don't be afraid to practice partisanship for a purpose! Stop blurring the differences!
• Priority Four: Get money out of politics! Kill Citizens United. This is one place where real bipartisanship would be appreciated.
David Sirota has some suggestions to make Republicans really feel the pain of smaller government. Make them put up or shut up - but it should be done in a way that exposes their hypocrisy on small government without reinforcing the meme. Robert Reich has suggestions for things Obama should propose (but probably won't). Kevin Drum takes notice of a critical need Obama has been neglecting: better judges and more judges. The conservative onslaught has been fueled at critical moments by their installation of conservative jurists everywhere they can slip them in - and their opposition to anyone with the least tint of liberality.
And it wouldn't hurt if the Democratic National Party revived Howard Dean's 50 state initiative. We need boots on the ground everywhere to provide counter-messaging to the oligarchy media machine, the Mighty Wurlitzer of the Right Wing. We need people able to give local media a kick when they turn a blind eye to abuses, or descend into outright partisanship. We need to have better candidates in the primaries as well as on election day. We need to stop writing off a good chunk of the country - because the oligarchs want it all and they've got people working 24/7 everywhere to get it for them. We can't expect to win everywhere - but we can certainly expect to lose everywhere we don't even try.
For the longer term, we need to make some fundamental changes. We have to make the world less susceptible to the baneful influence of the high SDO sociopaths. We can not afford them free rein when they control enough power, enough resources to end civilization and possibly human life on this planet just so they can continue to play their games of power and wealth. The process is underway. Thresholds are being crossed. The evidence is clear. We can make better choices, explore new options. But not while we let them limit what is possible.
We need to restructure our economy. Where fewer people are needed to produce the necessities of life - and beyond - how do we ensure everyone gets an equitable share? We need to think about what an honest day's wage for an honest day of work is worth. We need to have meaningful anti-trust laws again, and stop treating corporations as people while we treat people as disposable. We need to undo the massive transfer of wealth into the hands of the few. We can do it peacefully, in a controlled fashion, or we can await the inevitable collapse.
We need to restore the idea of the public good, the public interest. We need to restore the balance between the private sector and the public. We need to restore the idea that government is a public trust, that it can be a force for good, for justice. We need to promote the idea that taxes are an investment in civilization, in the future, in ourselves. We need to do more than give lip service to the rule of law. We need to recognize we have regulations to protect ourselves from our own worst impulses. We need to realize that civilization doesn't just happen.
Perhaps most of all, we need to embrace accountability. We need to ensure there are consequences for bad behavior. We need to learn from our mistakes instead of practicing denial on an industrial scale. We need to stop indulging in willful ignorance. We need to pay attention. We're approaching the tenth anniversary of a massive abdication of accountability; it's a national character test we've largely failed.
I'm going to bring this to a close with one more video that should remind us of what happens when we let ourselves buy into the con game, when we swallow the snake oil. You can't make an honest bargain with a crook.
UPDATE: Community Spotlight - Thanks!