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I Can Has Shared Sacrifice?

The whole bloody mess – u201cshared sacrificeu201d (Obama; heh) / austerity / u201cThrow Grandma from the Fiscal Cliffu201d – is appalling, and dispiriting.

The whole bloody mess - \u201cshared sacrifice\u201d (Obama; heh) \/ austerity \/ \u201cThrow Grandma from the Fiscal Cliff\u201d - is appalling

The whole bloody mess — “shared sacrifice” (Obama; heh) / austerity / “Throw Grandma from the Fiscal Cliff” — is so appalling, and so dispiriting, that there’s only one way forward:

Do it for the lulz.Because if there’s any form of infrastructure that America can still build, it’s the Internet meme. So, dear readers, do feel free to viralize this JPG of “shared sacrifice” on your social media of choice, including the mail that you send to hundreds of your family and friends, your elected representatives, your blogs, etc., or vote it up. (To be clear on the trope: The “sacrifice” is the hearts of the American people, ripped from their chests and “shared” by the priests of the political class, who lift them to the sky where the invisible austerity Gods live: the 1%. Then the priests throw the bodies down the steps of the pyramids which represent, I would think, the banks, the Fed, and any of the other large white buildings in Washington, DC.)

* * *

[See update below.]

That’s really all I have to say, but since nobody else chewed Bernie Sanders’ ankles for drinking the “shared sacrifice” Kool-Aid and proving himself unworthy of the name “Socialist,” I will. It’s hard work, but somebody’s got to do it. Here’s an excerpt from a highly praised speech letter that Sanders recently made wrote; I’ve added some helpful interpretive material in brackets:

Everyone [who is anyone] understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce the deficit [except not]- a deficit that was caused mainly by Wall Street greed, tax breaks for the rich, two wars, and a prescription drug program written by the drug and insurance companies [unlike ObamaCare. Not]. It is absolutely imperative, however, that as we go forward [in the midst of a never-ending recession] with deficit reduction we completely reject the Republican approach that demands savage cuts [so mild cuts are OK?] in desperately-needed programs [but other program are fair game?] for working families, the elderly, the sick, our children and the poor [even if Obama’s self-conceived mandate is for “the middle class”*, i.e., not working families, not millions of elders, not at least 25% of our children, and most certainly not millions of the poor or the the 17.4% of the working population that is disemployed] while not asking the wealthiest among us to contribute one penny [so cuts are OK if taxes on the wealthiest are raised? Yes. Such a deal!].

Mr. President, please listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe [not] that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice. The wealthiest Americans and the most profitable corporations in this country must pay their fair share [whatever that means]. At least 50 percent [why not 100 percent?] of any deficit reduction package must come from revenue raised [the United States, as the sovereign issuer of its own currnecy, is not revenue constrained and cannot be forced to default] by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and eliminating tax loopholes that benefit large, profitable corporations and Wall Street financial institutions. A sensible deficit reduction package must also include significant cuts [yeah, let’s start by scuttling a few aircraft carriers] to unnecessary and wasteful Pentagon spending [there’s some other kind?].

So, did you hear Bernie Sanders, Socialist firebrand, the second coming of Eugene V. Debs, calling for “Not one penny of cuts?” No, me neither.

In practice, in the world where sausage is made, the position crypto-Democrat Sanders has staked out is indistinguishable from Obama’s: The wealthy are to pay more in taxes and the rest of us will get even worse social insurance. But all the players know this deal is bogus; no matter that the wealthy are supposed to pay “a little more” (Obama) or some “pennies” (Saunders), their only real costs will be the accountants they hire to avoid or evade what isn’t even real money to them; but the costs will be very real to us, and will come out of our hides. The wealthy may suffer a twinge as they lose a little “self-actualization” at the tippy top of Maslow’s pyramid, but the rest of will suffer real pain at the base: Loss of health, loss of food, loss of resources. Luxuries at the margin are not a fair trade for necessities paid for by social insurance. The sacrifice may be shared, alright, but not equally, because it cannot be.**

Here is what the baseline should be: “Not one penny of cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other social insurance program, and any savings to be paid out as benefits.” Hear that from Bernie? Any Democrats? Didn’t think so.

We have already sacrificed, whether through the loss of our jobs, our health, our homes, our net worth, or from real wages being flattened for the last forty years, or from paying some well-fed smiling usury-stinking weasel their cut on the deal every time we turn around. The proper amount of additional sacrifice for us is, precisely and exactly, zero.

And while we’re at it, the age for Social Security eligibility should be lowered, to 60, so that some of us oldsters who are planning to work ’til we drop can get out of the work force, and maybe more young people can get jobs. And while we’re at it, Social Security benefits should be age neutral. None of this “I’ve got mine” stuff; that benefits get worse the younger you get is a sham and a travesty and a policy a political class with an smidgeon of human decency would never have put into place (even if the sainted Tip O’Neil and the sainted Ronald Reagan cut the first such deal, back in the day, and people of my age let him get away with it).

C’mon, Bernie. Socialist? As much a socialist as Obama’s a socialist. Or a Kenyan, for that matter. Go on. Prove me wrong!

NOTE * To be fair, Obama’s self-conceived mandate includes “families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class.” Never mind what “working hard” means — the Victorians, too, distinguished between the deserving and the undeserving poor, after all. But not all rational actors want to be “middle class,” since the passport to credentials involves massive debt. Others, “try” as they may, will not make it. Under the bus with them!

NOTE ** Everybody’s got to have skin in the game. So you can sell one of your kidneys, and I’ll sell one of my yachts!

UPDATE 3:25AM Perhaps I need to release my incisors from this portion of Bernie’s website and re-fasten them on his latest speech and, more importantly, on today’s presser (hat tip AH and GC in mail for links). It is true — and it’s good that it’s true — that the “shared sacrifice” verbiage has been removed. That does not mean, however, that a sacrifice will not be performed.

First, I want to set the policy baseline. Je répète:

“Not one penny of cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other social insurance program, and any savings to be paid out as benefits.”

Careful wording here. Note especially no cuts to “any other social insurance program.” AFAIK, and I’d love to be wrong, the anti-austerity efforts are silo-ed: Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare. But money’s fungible: It doesn’t help my household budget (which is not like a governments) if Medicaid isn’t cut, but food stamps or unemployment insurance or home heating oil aid or school lunches are cut. All the money comes out of the same small pile. The Democrats — and Sanders, too, oddly for a socialist — are defending programs. But what they ought to be defending is households.

Note also “savings to be paid out as benefits.” If the administration’s minions at OMB come up with more efficient ways to deliver services — or, more likely, new ways to game the formulas — that should not mean that the program budget is cut. Rather, the newly available money should be passed on to households.

That is the policy baseline. Now for the historical baseline. The Democrats, and especially “progressive” Democrats, have a long history of fine words. But fine words butter no parsnips, and the history of Democratic betrayal is long. (Obama took back his fine words that he would filibuster on FISA reform, and voted for the bill, thereby retroactively legalizing Bush’s program of warrantless surveillance, in July 2008, presaging his Bushian view of executive powers.) Here are some fine words from Bernie’s speech (video; rough transcript AH):

SANDERS: So we are going to demand — and that’s what this election was about – you know what? Every now and then elections have consequences. WE WON. (applause, hurray’s).

Except. Does anybody remember 2009, when the Democrats “WON” and had the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and an overwhelming mandate for “hope and change”? And what were the “consequences” of that election? Well, on Obama’s signature domestic initiative, he betrayed the “progressive” public option advocates, who themselves betrayed the single payer advocates (more). Interpreting the words of Democrats and quasi-Democrats through a hermeneutic of suspicion isn’t driven by fear or projection, but reason and experience. And how does a weaker election result with a smaller electorate bring a stronger policy outcome?

Credit due, Bernie’s speech ditches “shared sacrifice,” so I’ll temporarily exempt Bernie — but not the rest of official Washington, a wholly owned subsidiary of Peter Peterson — until we have a policy outcome. Not bad:

That is we’re going to send a loud message to the leadership in the House, Senate and President Obama; do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid, do not cut … (applause). Deficit reduction is a serious issue but it must be done in a way that is fair – We must not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children or the poor.

Or the workers, who go unmentioned — a curious omission for a socialist — but put that aside. Notice that Sanders doesn’t meet the policy baseline: No cuts to social insurance programs. Again, money’s fungible in the household budget, so households need to be protected, not programs.

But that was a speech for the camera in the Senate chamber. Let’s look at Bernie on the same day before the camera insiders watch: C-SPAN. I had to make this transcript because C-SPAN’s CC-based tool is so horrible, so any inaccuracies are mine:

C-SPAN: Senator Sanders, let’s talk about entitlement programs that you advocated for and fought for: Is there room to negoiate on the eligibility age of Medicare, or Social Security? Where can you negotiate on those?

SANDERS: Let me just back up for a second and I hope every knows that when we talk about going over the cliff it’s a ten year process, and I want everybody to be clear that if by December 31 an agreement is not reached, that does not mean that an agreement could not be reached in January or Feburary, which would make unnecessary many of the terrible cuts people have talked about.

In terms of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, let me say the following: The first point to be made, and I am very happy that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has recently made this point, and ironically enough back in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan made this point: Social Security, right now, has not contributed one nickel to the deficit, because as everybody knows, it’s funded independently by the payroll tax, the 6.2% that workers put in, the full amount that employers put in. When people talk aout deficit reduction, we have a serious problem, but Social Security has nothing to do with that. Today, the Social Security Trust Fund, a $2.70 trillion surplus, can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 21 years. Our goal is to make Social Securty solvent for the next 75 years, so we have wprk to do, but Social Security, in my view, should not [sic] be removed from this discussion. I was glad that Harry Reid made that point. I hope the President agrees wth that.

In terms of Medicare and Medicaid, what we should be clear about is that in the so-called ObamaCare Affordable Care Act, we extended the life of Medicare by over ten years. I think we have got to do more In America right now, we are the only nation in the industrialized world that does not gaurantee health care for all people as a right, which is why I am an advocate of a single payer/Medicare for All system. I hope the system of Vermont will lead the country in that direction The bottom line is our system today including Medicare, is a wasteful, too bureaucratic. We can make efficiencies in it, but at a time when seniors are struggling right now with their health care bills, I will not support cuts in the benefits for people on Medicare. For example, one way to save money in Medicare is that when we passed the Medicare Prescription Drug Part D program, the Democrats insisted on language that said Medicare could not negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. The result of that is in many instances, Medicare is paying higher prices for the drugs than the Veterans Administration or the Department of Defense. That is absurd. If we do that, we can save Medicare substantial suns of money. In terms of Medicaid, we are in the middle of a horrendous recession. We have 50 million people today who have no health insurance, and to say that we are just going to willy nilly deny millions of kids health insurance by removing Medicaid from them just does not make sense of me. My point is that right now, we have an incredibly unequal distribution of wealth and income in this country. People on top are doing phenomneally well. As Warren Buffet reminds us, their effective tax rate is quite low. I think that by asking the wealthiest people to start paying their fair share of taxes, by ending enormous loopholes within corporate tax law, by taking a hard look at defense spending, in which we’re spending three times as much as we did in 1997, the other wast that exists in Federal programs, we can move to deficit reduction in a serious way without attacking the needs of middle income or working families. [phew]

Well, one sees that Bernie does indeed have a talent for the filibuster!

But did Bernie ever answer the question? Well, no. No, he didn’t. And I don’t live evasion when simple and clear answers are available and easy. To me, it looks like the “No cuts… No cuts…. No cuts!” on the Senate floor went the way of Biden’s “flat out guarantee.” Surely, the simple answer should come readily to hand? “There’s nothing to negotiate. There will be no cuts.” Note also that in all of the left-inflected bafflegab, there’s no promise that there will be no cuts to social insurance, which is the baseline. Note further that in the midst of a “horrendous” recession, Sanders still wants to funnel savings to the deficit, and not households! Why?

For the rest of it — and it’s late, and I can’t parse any more transcripts tonight or tomorrow — Sanders does not challenge the importance of the deficit, and does not point out that the “fiscal cliff” is a wholly political construct. You can’t win a battle of ideas by adopting your enemy’s terms! And that’s before we get to the central misconception in the entire debate: That taxes “fund” spending…

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