While black political leaders and activists focus on turning off Fox News, and clownish disputes with Tea Partyers and the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, are they missing something more important? Can any good come from a Democratic president reaching across the aisle to team up with Republicans for a bipartisan “fiscal reform” that targets “entitlements,” meaning Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security? Is the silence of black leadership on the president's Cat Food Commission still more evidence of their irrelevance?
What's More Important For Black Leadership? Turning Off Fox News? Or Stopping the President's Cat Food Commission?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“...everybody knows what the commission’s targets are... Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.”
Rev. Al Sharpton and the NAACP's Ben Jealous, along with most of the old black political class want us to think the most important thing happening is their ongoing clown fight with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. The newer crowd of tech-savvy, social-network-aware types around Color of Change think the most key and crucial thing to do is to make airports, bus and train stations Turn Off Fox News. They're both wrong. The real action is someplace else.
Back in April, President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility & Reform. Its purpose is to recommend, this December 1, just after the elections, measures that will save the government money, “to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.” The president has pledged in advance that he will push whatever his commission recommends through Congress in the lame duck session.
And everybody knows what the commission’s targets are. They won't recommend ending the wars in Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. They won't suggest closing a few hundred of the thousand military bases the U.S. maintains in foreign lands, or scaling back the hundreds of billions Uncle Sam spends on militarizing Africa, or propping up its client regimes in Israel, Egypt or Colombia and elsewhere. The commission won't try to get back any of the trillions the Fed has given away to Wall Street, or stop it from handing out more. The commission is not about to close the banking loopholes that let wealthy corporations and individuals move trillions offshore to evade taxation, or shut off the many forms of corporate welfare. The commission's targets are Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
Not so very long ago, before 1965 passage of Medicare, the cost of health care for senior citizens was so high that hundreds of thousands of elders in the U.S. were eating cat food. Black seniors, as always, were the worst affected. Given its stated objective, of rolling back Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, it's easy to see why President Obama's debt commission has earned its label as the President's Cat Food Commission. It's much harder to see why black America's political leadership chooses to ignore the Cat Food Commission created by Democrats in power, and instead picks meaningless fights with Republicans out of power.
There are some gigantic lies loose in the land, lies endlessly repeated and embellished by corporate media; lies with names like “national security,” “free markets,” and “fiscal responsibility.” As flies beget maggots these lies and their larvae have thoroughly infested our national discourse. Among them are the notions of a “national debt” and the idea that a country's finances ought to be run like a family's. Back in the days of George Washington and John Adams, when currency was backed by gold and silver, there actually could have been a U.S. national debt, if creditors could collect it and debtors would pay it.
But nowadays the U.S. Federal Reserve creates money, not out of gold, or risk, or labor, but out of thin air. The tens of trillions the Fed spent in 2009, to buy up a fifth of the nation's mortgage-backed securities were created simply by crediting the accounts of the previous owners of those securities. In other words, 21st century money is a spreadsheet operated by the Fed. In the ongoing Wall Street Bailout, the government first creates money in the private accounts of favored banksters via spreadsheet, and calls it a low-interest or no-interest “loan.” The government then borrows the money back from the favored banksters at loan shark interest rates to spend on wars or whatever. This has become a large portion of the fictitious “national debt.” An entity that can do that lives in a different fiscal universe with fundamentally different rules than those governing your family's budget.
“Now a Democratic President Obama has joined the right's crusade against Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security”
If the powers that be wanted to, they could use their magic spreadsheets to close the modest gap which may appear in Social Security revenues two or three decades from now, or they could raise benefits immediately. They could restore full funding to schools, libraries and local governments for a fraction of what the Afghan war costs every week. For a fraction of what the top two banksters got, they could forgive all the nation's student loan debt. But the lies about the government “having to live within its means” and the fantasies that the Fed's magic spreadsheets can somehow “run out of money” because of greedy seniors and the medical care received by poor people are far more useful than the truth could ever be.
Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, the Cat Food Commission's co-chairs, make no secret of their bipartisan aims to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Democrat Bowles has called Social Security “a cancer” eating away at the nation's fiscal health. Republican Simpson recently and notoriously remarked that Medicare and Social Security had turned the nation into a milk cow with “310 million tits.” Simpson in particular has a long history of labeling social security beneficiaries as “greedy geezers,” as undeserving “little people,” and the like. No serious person doubts that their “fiscal reforms” will be carefully calculated to fatally undermine Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and set the stage for their ultimate privatization.
Since social solidarity, the idea that we're all in this together, is the core rationale for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the Commission will surely craft measures that will undermine this solidarity. They will likely employ the time-tested tactic of “two-tiering” benefits for the elderly, freezing in place the levels current seniors receive, while raising the retirement age and lowering the benefit levels for future senior citizens. If successful, this will create a permanent wedge between those receiving higher and lower benefit levels, a wedge that the right wing is poised to exploit.
Billionaire Pete Peterson is only one, the most prominent of the U.S. right's financiers of foundations, think tanks, academic and consulting careers, bloggers, web sites, radio and TV programming, conferences, talk show personalities and articles promulgating the lie that social security is about to go broke, or will bankrupt the nation. Pledging to plow his entire ten or eleven figure net worth into the foundations that advance this political agenda, he has, over the last decade or two, pretty much kept his word. And it's working. The “liberal” corporate media never tire of telling us that social security and the national debt are making paupers of all us. A substantial portion of people under 40 now believe that social security won't be there for them, cause it'll go broke long before they get old. The right wing has, over the past several decades, carefully laid the infrastructure for this effort to undermine and destroy Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the social solidarity that underlies them.
Now a Democratic President Obama has joined the right's crusade against Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. A Democratic President Obama uses his bully pulpit to trumpet about a crushing “national debt” and social security as if they were gospel truth. A Democratic President Obama has created and empowered the Cat Food Commission which will eviscerate these programs of human uplift in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”
The real tragedy isn't that the First Black President is doing this. The tragedy is that black leadership used to be the core of the left in this country. But in the era of Obama, the whole of black political leadership has willfully averted its eyes to the train coming down the track. When Republicans stuck it to them, they could at least squeal. But betrayed by Democrats, by our First Black President, they are silent, and powerless and irrelevant. They pick meaningless fights with Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, who for all their racist vitriol, are temporarily OUT of power, not IN. They craft social networking tools to help us turn off Fox News, while MSNBC, CNN and CBS spout the same falsehoods, from “national security” to “free markets” to “entitlement reform.” That's why they are what they are, diversionary fighting clowns, the epitome of a Black Misleadership Class.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He's a member of the GA Green Party's state committee, and can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.