Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Debt-Limit Ceiling Blues II (The Fix Is In) + Video: James Baldwin

President Obama signing the bill to raise the debt limit ceiling (Pete Souza/The White House)
So the bill to raise the debt-limit ceiling has passed both houses of Congress and the President has signed it. The GOP, the President and presumably a large number of Democrats in both the House and Senate got what they wanted, which is a plan to impose massive cuts to discretionary spending, with potential cuts to the social safety net and non-discretionary sectors of the government down the road, and above all no guarantees of future federal income tax increases whatsoever, including no repeal of the deficit-expanding Bush tax transfers to the rich.  We currently are suffering through 9% unemployment, with about 25 million of people are more jobless, many of them for years, and perhaps double that in underemployment. We are still facing record domestic housing foreclosures. The economy is barely growing and contracted far more severely than previously estimated between 2007 and 2009.  There simply is not enough demand to power the economy forward, because millions of people have little or no money, and millions have no jobs or are barely working. 

Despite this the President and Democratic leaders--save House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-CA)--could not be bothered to make a compelling, let alone a weak case, to the American people that an all-out push, using all the levers of the federal government and Federal Reserve, to create jobs would lower the deficit by ensuring more revenues.  They were silent about the fact that reverting to the Clinton-era rates, in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act (the health insurance reform bill), would also dramatically lower the deficit at least by the same margins or more as the current bill's spending cuts. Because, it's clear, the fix was in. The President, the Democrats and the Republicans, for all their pantomime, they achieved their main goal: not to raise any additional federal taxes on rich people. That's it. That's what this is all about.

Oh well. My federal legislators took opposing sides on this mess. I did my usual spiel of calling and sending emails, but my Congressperson, Albio Sires (D-NJ), still voted for this horrible, job-and-Democratic-Party-killing legislation. My two US Senators, Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, however, were among the 26 members of that body who voted against it. Senator Menendez said that "it simply does not force shared sacrifice as the American people have demanded," while Senator Lautenberg rightly said, "This legislation was a shakedown, not a compromise." As the American people demanded. Not that anybody leading either party really cares about what the "American people," if multiple polls or economic statistics or indicators are to be believed, demand or want or, most importantly, need. Not that following failed economic policies will lead to more failure. Ideology and politics are the most important thing, as is the chimera also known as "centrism" or "bipartisanship" or whatever label it assumes, particularly when invoking "tax reform." Because that "centrism" or "bipartisanship" ensures one thing these days: not to raise any additional federal taxes on rich people.  Don't believe me? Here's Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner stating it quite clearly to George Stephanopoulos (h/t Digby) during an ABC interview yesterday:

TIM GEITHNER: Get this budget agreement in place behind us so we remove the threat of default in the economy. Pass these trade agreements to help expand exports. Find a way to help make sure we can expand investment infrastructure so more people particularly in construction get back to work, and find ways through tax reform we can strengthen
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How can you strengthen investment when you’re calling for overall deficit reduction?

TIM GEITHNER: Well, you have to figure out a way to pay for it responsibly but there -- we've got a long term tradition of making sure we finance infrastructure over time in a way that's deficit-neutral. We can do that. We can afford to do that.
Nice work if you can get it....


87 years ago today, the one and only James Arthur Baldwin was born in Harlem.  I think of him as one of the most important and still undervalued figures in 20th century American life. An author, preacher, public intellectual, political activist, cultural pioneer, sage and mentor, and fearless figure, Baldwin blazed multiple paths that I and countless others have, with deepest gratitude to him, since trod. 

I cannot but think that were he still alive, as overjoyed as he would have been at the election of President Obama and his political gifts, he also would be dismayed at his policies, and might also be speaking out, as one of the nation's eminent octogenarians, on a range of issues affecting us today. What, I wonder, might he think of many of the other shifts in racial, gender and sexual politics since the end of the Reagan era? What might he say about same-sex marriage or where the LGBTQ movement has gone?  How would he appraise contemporary American literature and culture, and African-American arts, letters and culture more broadly? How might he talk about contemporary France and Europe more broadly, where he spent a large portion of his life? I do often wonder. 

When I was younger I often wished I could have met him, but unfortunately never had an opportunity to do so, but several of my friends of mine did, and his passing in December of 1987 was the trigger for the founding of the Dark Room Writers Collective, to which I belonged for many years.  Baldwin's name and spirit were frequently invoked there, and as they have been in many other creative spaces in which I have spent time. Here is a video from the film James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, that offers a glimpse, a tiny one, of who he was.  Enjoy.

From Third World Newsreel's James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket

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