Thursday, September 15, 2011

Death's Own Party? The Very Tough War on Defense Cuts (Being Afraid of Shadows Is Quite Expensive!) Screw the Workers! (Colbert In the House!)

How about a wee bit of the ha-ha among the movers and shakers who realize just how low the limbo stick has gone in evaluating the ludicrosity of the moment?

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Barack Obama's American Jobs Act - Paul Krugman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Al Gore
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

As an especially important public service, I'd like to present this essay for your close and thorough reading (makes me remember my childhood when people asked bewilderedly why rich people like the Kennedys cared about the decency of the lives of the lower classes):

[If any viewers desire to see this economically bereft site continue its existence, please make a contribution through the PayPal site at the upper left-hand portion of this blog. Thank you so much for your continued support!]

Killing US Softly

Yesterday some prominent people signed a letter urging the so-called "Super Committee" to "go big" on cuts to the Federal budget. Many of these people would describe themselves as "moderate" and "centrist." Some would call themselves liberal. I've met a few of them casually, both Republicans and Democrats, and they seemed like very nice people.
They're nothing like the audience members at the Republican Presidential debate who shouted "yes!" when asked if society should let a young man die because he didn't buy health insurance. They're courteous and civilized, and were undoubtedly appalled by the shouts from the crowd.
That sort of thing isn't done in the salons or think tanks of Washington. You wouldn't catch anyone who signed that letter behaving that way.
But are they really all that different?
Donner, Party of Four
It's fair game to label today's Republicans as (in Terrance Heath's words) "Death's Own Party." The GOP earned that name when it filibustered disaster relief for flood and hurricane victims this week, as it did when it passed a budget that slashed funding for lifesaving weather warnings, police, and firefighters.
It's also reasonable to call the Tea Party's more blood-crazed members a "Cult of Death" funded by the ultra-rich, as William Rivers Pitt did after the debate. They cheered executions last week, and last night they let us know it's a death-penalty offense to make the wrong insurance purchasing decision, too.
These responses come from independent critical voices. It's different when powerful people, whether they're "moderate" Republicoans and self-described "centrist" Democrats, privately cluck over these Tea Partiers. These insiders are in a position to address their fears and explain what's been done to them, to channel their outrage constructively.
Instead they've formed a mob of their own, so they can urge leaders to "go big" with assaults on services that help average Americans - including those who follow the Tea Party.
Go Big
That phrase is just one more reflection of these Orwellian times. "Go big" really means "go small." Small government. Small future. Small dreams.
The letter said "we urge you to 'go big' and develop a large-scale debt reduction package sufficient to stabilize the debt as a share of the economy." It called for going "well beyond" the Committee's $1.5 trillion goal for additional deficit reduction, and proposed "major reforms (a Beltway code word for "cuts of entitlements" and "reforms" to the tax code (which typically means lower taxes that would increase the deficit.)
The signatories proposed to "restore Americans' faith in the political system" - by imposing cuts that most Americans in both parties oppose. Now that would be a trick ...
The List
Who are they?
Many of the signers are the usual suspects, professionals from both parties who have pushed the same anti-government agenda for decades.
They're functionaries and hired academic guns who have long benefited from the pro-austerity largesse of right-wing billionaire Pete Peterson and like-minded plutocrats. They're Democrats like Erskine Bowles and Alice Rivlin and like-minded Republicans like Alan Simpson (whose public outbursts make the worst Tea Party dustup look like a meeting of the Emily Post Fan Club) .
The list also includes some of the "bipartisan" architects of today's economic crisis, people like Robert Rubin. Rubin pushed for the deregulation that crashed the economy, joined the worst of the bloated and incompetent banks and made hundreds of millions, and is now pushing to have middle and lower-income America foot the bill for what he has wrought.
There were one or two disappointments like economist Laura Tyson, who's attaching herself to a document that any reasonable economist knows is a recipe for economic disaster. It calls for the same austerity that's decimating Europe and unraveling the social contract which built its postwar prosperity.
The austerity approach pushed in this letter has already shattered investor confidence in the US economy, driving down the stock markets and making them surge up and down like the paroxysmal double-takes of a vaudeville clown. And now they want us to "go big" with it.
And yet none of them, with the probable exception of Simpson, would ever shout anything crude about death in a public place.
Death in Private Places
That's ironic, since people will surely die as a result of the policies they're advocating. Somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance. If the President listens to the people who signed this letter, as many people believe he will, he'll propose raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67.
One study showed that Medicare reduces mortality for its members by about 13% per year, and lowers the number of days spent in the hospital by about the same percentage. So the austerity economics these people are proposing will lead to death.
It's true that they're not shouting in public places. They're whispering their opinions in the ears of the powerful. You can decide for yourself which form of behavior is more obscene.
Hating the Victim
We're seeing it all across Washington: The demonization of the victim. It's in the public hatred for underwater homeowners, which began at the first Tea Party rally (on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) and now reaches to the highest halls of power in both parties, where we told that helping struggling homeowners would be "rewarding the undeseverving."
(Funny - the word "undeserving" wasn't mentioned when both parties rescued Wall Street's megabanks. Rescuing homeowners, many of whom were persuaded to take out bloated loans by those same banks, would help stimulate the economy in a way those bankers have yet to do.)
We saw it in the question that stirred the bloodlust last night, too. Here's what Wolf Blitzer asked:

"You're a physician, Ron Paul... Let me ask you this hypothetical question: A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I'm not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I'm healthy, I don't need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it.
Who's going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

The spin in that question encapsulates the Beltway bias: A "healthy" thirty-year-old "makes a good living" (which is unusual, with youth unemployment at 25%) but cavalierly decides not to spend "200 or 300" dollars. That's the common insiders' picture of the uninsured American as the villain of the piece.
Reality TV
Blitzer didn't ask this, more realistic question:

"The father in a family of four lost his job, so his wife is working double shifts without health insurance to pay the bills. Premiums would cost at least $14,000 per year (let's say $7500 under the new law) for insurance that still sticks them with big out-of-pocket costs. They couldn't come up with the money to pay United Healthcare, and then he had this accident ..."
That's the kind of real-life scenario that doesn't get portrayed much on television these days. 
Now let's change it again, in one detail: The man is 66 years old. The "go big" crowd is urging the President to exclude that man from Medicare, making him even more unemployable and his insurance even more unaffordable. And he's much more susceptible to life-threatening questions.
We'll ask the question again: How different are the people who signed the letter from the audience at the debate?
Civil Discourse
We're told we can disagree without being disagreeable. I hope so. 
I've met Tea Party members, and I understand their fear and their anger. I think it's very misdirected, and at times very ugly. But I understand it. And as I've said, I've met a couple of the people who signed that letter, too. We had pleasant chats. If we meet again, that chat may be pleasant too.

But as long as we're talking, let's talk honestly. The shouters and haters are disturbing, and we face a terrible threat from the big-money financiers stoking their fears. But it's easy for civilized people in the corridors of power to look down on the shouting rabble. Easy - and cheap.
I worry just as much about the ones who are welcome in the salons of both parties, the ones who are heard at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. They're the powerful ones. They're the quiet ones. While we're looking at the loudmouthed shouters on television, they're the ones who are killing us softly.

If you've grown an economy that is vibrant and worth a huge chunk of change, wouldn't you, a savvy industrialist and/or dead-smart defense chief try to figure out a way to get your part of that sweet cake to increase by at least half if you could? And the devil take the leavings?

After all, if we can be made afraid of shadows . . . no expense is too great to protect our fearful souls. And the country's rich. We can afford it. (Of course we can in a trillion dollar economy. What they've decided they can't afford anymore is a comfortable middle class and a lower class that has a chance to move out of its economic position through hard work and education alone.)

The Military-industrial Complex’s War on Defense Cuts

Michael Tennant

12 September 2011

The military-industrial complex is pulling out all the stops to ensure that not one dime of its vast federal largess is taken away even as the nation faces nearly $15 trillion in debt. Defense contractors, (Congressional) representatives, Senators, and current and former Defense Secretaries are working together to thwart actual and potential cuts in defense spending resulting from the August debt ceiling deal.

The deal calls for $350 billion in defense cuts over 10 years — an average of $35 billion per year. In addition, it tasks the newly created congressional super-committee with finding an additional $1.2 trillion in savings over that same time period. Should the committee fail to come to an agreement on those savings, automatic cuts totaling the same amount, split evenly between defense and domestic spending, are slated to occur. If that took place, defense spending would then be reduced by $600 billion, an average of $60 billion per year.

That may sound like a huge dent in the Pentagon’s budget, but there are two things to keep in mind. First, those cuts are almost certainly reductions in the projected rate of budgetary growth, not actual reductions in spending. Second, total defense spending is around $1 trillion, according to economist Robert Higgs, of which $676 billion was budgeted to the Defense Department — up from $432 billion in 2001. Moreover, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

Overall, nearly half of the growth in defense spending over the past decade is unrelated to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — personnel costs grew while end strength remained relatively flat, the cost of peacetime operations grew while the pace of peacetime operations declined, and acquisition costs increased while the inventory of equipment grew smaller and older. The base budget now supports a force with essentially the same size, force structure, and capabilities as in FY 2001 but at a 35 percent higher cost. The Department is spending more but not getting more.

Surely there is plenty of room for slowing the defense budget’s growth, if not slashing it outright — but not according to the defense industry and its pals in Washington.

Just days after the debt deal was struck, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared that the potential for increased defense cuts under the deal was a “doomsday mechanism” that “could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation.” Such a scenario, he said, would be “completely unacceptable.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Panetta, saying: “To loosen the pin unnecessarily through debilitating and capricious cuts ... puts at grave risk not only our ability to accomplish the missions we have assigned, but those we have yet to be assigned as well.”

Not to be outdone by Panetta in the doomsday department, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
, in a recent interview with Human Events, flatly stated that if Congress cuts the defense budget in the slightest, “we’re doomed to suffer another [terrorist] attack of some kind.”

“Rumsfeld,” the magazine adds, “stressed that the military cuts looming today may be similarly disastrous to those that occurred at the end of the Cold War — a precursor, he claims, to creating the vulnerable environment that bred 9/11.”
Of course, as noted above, the United States was spending $432 billion on defense in 2001 — still far more than any other country — and subsequent spending increases have not significantly improved its defense capabilities.

In addition, a much more plausible explanation for the “vulnerable environment that bred 9/11” would be misuse of those dollars to bomb foreign countries such as Iraq and Yugoslavia, to inflict cruel sanctions and a no-fly zone on Iraq, and otherwise to meddle in other nations’ affairs, thereby making numerous enemies for the United States. If the Defense Department couldn’t protect its own headquarters on a $432 billion budget, it hardly seems probable that giving it more money in perpetuity is going to improve its capabilities much.

Defense contractors are getting into the act, too. Reuters reports that “top U.S. arms makers are set to meet with” Panetta on Tuesday “to discuss their concerns about possible deep cuts to the Defense Department budget, the head of the industry’s chief trade and lobbying group said.” Panetta is scheduled to meet members of the Aerospace Industries Association’s 18-member executive committee, according to the group’s president, Marion Blakey.

“The committee,” says Reuters, “is currently chaired by James Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing Co’s commercial airplanes unit. Boeing is the Pentagon’s No. 2 supplier by sales, behind Lockheed Martin Corp.” Other members of the committee: the CEOs of Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, BAE Inc., and General Dynamics Corp.

It would be nice to think that these individuals are concerned about defense cuts because they believe they would be detrimental to national security, but the reality is that their companies stand to lose hundreds of billions of dollars in government contracts if the Pentagon’s budget is cut or its growth rate is slowed. That they are more concerned with their own bottom lines than with the defense of the country should be obvious from the fact that, according to Reuters, those meeting with Panetta “will also seek to discuss strategy to preserve the U.S. industrial base,” which is to say their taxpayer-dependent businesses.

Leaving nothing to chance, defense contractors have a firm hold on the super-committee as well. According to the
Associated Press, all 12 members of the committee “represent states where the biggest military contractors … build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers.”
For committee members, writes the AP, “the threat of Pentagon cuts is an incentive to come up with $1.5 trillion in savings over a decade. Failure would have brutal implications for hundreds of thousands workers back home and raise the potential of political peril for the committee’s 12.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a committee member, said, “I think we all have very good reasons to try to prevent” the automatic cuts that would result from the committee’s failure to reach an agreement, adding, “That is not the optimal outcome here.”

Another member of the panel, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), threatened to resign from the committee if the subject of trimming defense spending is even raised. “I’m off of the committee if we’re going to talk about further defense spending,” he told conservative think tanks immediately following the committee’s initial meeting. Kyl’s adamant refusal to consider any reductions in Pentagon outlays is hardly surprising in light of the fact that Raytheon Corp., a major defense contractor, has operations in Arizona, and the company’s political action committee and employees are among the Senator’s top contributors.

There is no getting around the fact that both domestic and defense spending need to be cut significantly. At the same time, those on the receiving end of such transactions can be expected to use every means at their disposal to prevent the cuts; and their enablers in Washington will be only too happy to assist them. Those who expected the debt deal and the super-committee to rein in spending are sure to be sorely disappointed.

I've heard this (incredulously, to be sure) myself from many in the temp-job industries of today.  And they didn't mean low wages for those at the top of the car-building pyramid.

“I was making more money as a door greeter at Wal-Mart than I am now”

Maintenance of Low Wages Key to US Auto Profits
By Jerry White and Matthew Brennan

13 September 2011
Such wages are a key part of the “growth strategy” of the UAW apparatus, which wants to entice the companies to relocate production back in the US in order to boost the number of dues-paying workers. The UAW is also seeking to expand into the non-union plants operated by European and Asian automakers in the southern US states by promising to cut labor costs and boost productivity.

At $14.69 an hour, Tier Two workers barely bring home $30,000 a year, less than the cost of most of the vehicles they build. Such a worker makes just above 130 percent of the US poverty rate for a family of four — the cutoff for eligibility for food stamps in Michigan and other states.
Put in a historical perspective, the hourly pay of a tier two worker is the equivalent, once inflation and the deduction of union dues are taken into account, of the 92 cents an hour his counterpart made in 1931, four years before the UAW was founded.
Workers outside of Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, in the Detroit suburb of Wayne, spoke angrily about this situation to reporters from the WSWS. A worker in his mid-50s said, “I’m tired of showing up to work every day worrying if you’re going to be fired. They basically dare you to miss a day or call in sick so they can fire you.
“I’m for getting rid of these two-tier wages. Everyone should be paid one wage and they need to get rid of this temp BS. Everyone should get $28 an hour. That’s the only contract I'm going to vote for — one that gets rid of the two-tier.”
Concerned about the growing opposition of the rank and file, UAW President King has recently made vague references about raising the starting wage of new-hires, while reassuring the companies the UAW will do everything to hold down “fixed costs.” Even if new-hires get a minimal increase, it will not change their status as a cheap labor source. Moreover, any raise will be paid for by maintaining a wage freeze or imposing other concessions on traditional workers, who have not seen a pay increase since 2003.

So, there's that cost saver built in.

No comments: