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UPDATE: After I finished the post below, House Speaker John Boehner on Friday, walked out of negotiations on the debt ceiling with President Barack Obama. Walked out! And then refused to return a phone call to the president! (I’ll have something to say about that next week.)
The country is now in crisis.
The president has called Congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House on Saturday beginning at 11AM. I think the post below still stands.
The economic picture in the U.S. – and, by extension, the world – is so bleak at this moment that it is reasonable to ditch most of the light fare presented in the weekly Interesting Stuff for a look at where the nation is and where it soon may be.
Here are a few things (among many) that stand out for me from the past weeks of prolonged discussion in Washington of the debt ceiling. Each may seem small in itself but is representative of dozens of additional outrages indicating to me that our country is in deep trouble.
• Grover Norquist holds no public office, has no official standing anywhere. Yet, the media interviewed him repeatedly about his no-taxes-ever pledge as though it were law. All but three or four Republicans in Congress have signed the pledge and they stick to it more closely than the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.
Maybe I should write a progressive pledge and get every Democrat in Congress to sign it. Why shouldn’t a pledge I write have as much force as Norquist’s? He’s got no more credentials than I do.
• The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was shut down last night because Congress, too busy flapping its gums over how to screw old and poor people, refused to allow airline and railroad employees to unionize.
Billions of dollars in airport construction is now halted (no pay for those workers) and the federal government will lose $200 million a week in ticket taxes.
• Congressional tea partiers – one-quarter of the House – are so stupid I doubt they can find themselves in a mirror. I heard one this week say that Obama is a Communist and he (the tea partier) will not allow the president to lead the nation into fascism.
That the guy believes Communism and fascism are the same thing is so idiotic it would be funny except he is an elected national leader. Which makes it frightening. What else is he ignorant of?
• That representative’s brethren at the state level pass insane legislation allowing people to carry guns to bars where alcohol is sold.
• In many states, they have limited abortion so severely that is it unavailable at all even, in some cases, when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and the health of the mother is at risk.
• They have enacted voter ID bills (to prevent fraud, they say) that make it all but impossible for millions of black, Latino and elder citizens to vote. Which is, of course, the real point since those groups lean strongly Democratic and if elders have not in the past, it’s a good bet they’ll switch parties when they see their Medicare and Social Security cut.
• The Social Security Administration announced yesterday that all offices throughout the country will henceforth close 30 minutes earlier than in the past. This is due to the $1 billion cut to the agency in this fiscal year’s budget.
Thirty minutes doesn’t seem like much but it is how right wing extremists operate; if they can’t get what they want all at once, they are quite happy to chip away at their irrational goals a little at a time. They’ve been doing it for years while the rest of us weren’t paying attention.
It’s not just the Republicans. President Barack Obama has failed repeatedly to stand up for the people of the United States against the batshit crazy Republicans and Wall Street. Why would it be any different this time?
No one knows for certain, but the president appears to have sold out Social Security and Medicare during these debt ceiling negotiations by possibly agreeing to change the method of calculating the Social Security COLA to the chained CPI which would decrease benefits over time by nearly six percent, and raise the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67.
Today is Medicare’s 46th birthday. Happy birthday, elders.
Here is what President Obama said at his Friday town hall meeting in Maryland where he continued to call for a “grand bargain” – you know, lots of cuts to safety net programs:
“This idea of balance, this idea of shared sacrifice, of a deficit plan that includes tough spending cuts but also includes tax reform that raises more revenue, this isn’t just my position. This isn’t just a Democratic position. This isn’t some wild-eyed socialist position…”
I’m enraged every time I see or hear the phrase, “shared sacrifice.” THERE IS NO SHARED SACRIFICE. What there is, are draconian cuts for old and poor people and maybe lifting a tax loophole for corporate jets.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are being cut after those who need them most have already lost their life savings in the 2008 crash and following that, their homes and their jobs.
There is nothing left to take from us but, of course, our health care and the income we spent decades in the workforce paying for.
The president continued on the bogus shared sacrifice theme:
“There are cuts that some people in my own party aren’t too happy about, and frankly, I wouldn’t make them if money wasn’t so tight,” he said.
One of the several reasons it is dangerous to cut safety net programs (or change any law) under deadline pressure (which should be obvious) is that it is easy to pass new legislation, but nearly impossible to rescind poor decisions. (e.g. Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.)
Polls consistently show that a large majority of the public want the debt ceiling raised, no changes to Social Security and to maintain the age of eligibility for Medicare where it is at 65. There is no indication that anyone in Washington is listening.
So here we are right now, today, ten days from default on America’s debt and both the Senate and House have shut down and gone home for the weekend.
What scares the bejesus out of me is that even if a bill, any bill that raises the debt ceiling, were to be passed on Tuesday, there might not be time before the 2 August deadline for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to do the markup to see what it would cost, then have votes in both houses of Congress.
Yesterday, in one of his blog posts, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Paul Krugman, had this to say:
“I am among those in a state of suppressed rage and panic over the president’s negotiating strategy…
[W]hat evidence do we have that Obama knows what he’s doing?” [emphasis mine]
My rage is not even suppressed and my panic is off the scale. Not only at the president, but all of them. The debt ceiling should have been voted as a matter of course, as it has been when needed for decades, on its own and then deal separately with spending and taxes.
(Do read the rest of Krugman’s blog post. I don’t disagree with his three-point dissection of Obama’s behavior.)
So that this Interesting Stuff isn’t a total loss, here are some fun items:
RESCUE OF A HUMPBACK WHALE
Nana Royer sent this video of a group of conservationists who took on a rare opportunity to save one of the creatures with whom we share this planet. Please don’t skip it for its length; it is worth every minute.
JUST ONE QUESTION
Peter Tibbles sent this. I use it tentatively, but I laughed loud and long and I’m sure some of you will too.
Question: What the fark is that arch made of?
OKAY, ONE MORE PIECE OF POLITICS
This was the cover on The Weekly Standard this week. Well done!