Survival of the Richest

In the natural world, the weakest generally don’t survive unless they are part of a highly evolved species.  The lessons of basic evolution are fairly simple, you either develop something that gives you a competitive advantage over those who wish to make a meal of you, or you and your offspring have a very brief and brutal existence.

Humankind evolved into something beyond a herd animal by developing tools and social contracts. Through trade, language, and invention, our evolutionary history has shown that competitive advantage does not have to involve size, brute force, speed, or trickery like camouflage.   Dogs evolved into a smart and numerous population by being genetically flexible.  Indeed, the more advanced beings tend towards flexibility and social interaction.  Nurturing, passing on survival skills, specializing, and adapting are all important survival skills for more highly evolved beings.  Many natural scientists now study the importance of how these species treat their youngest and the oldest, since the young are portents of the future and the elderly are the libraries of past knowledge and skills. Specialization allows creatures other than those with superior brute force to be contributors.  We wouldn’t have The David or knowledge of Gravitational Singularity if we evolved on pure brute force.  Evolutionary Biology learns a lot about a species by the way it treats its weakest, its young, and its elderly.

What amazes me most about the Cat Food Commission report is that it is so Republican that you wonder if anyone Democratic had anything to do with its inception or results. But of course, it was chartered by a Democratic President and co-chaired by a Democratic man.  For a group of Darwin denying theists,  Republicans believe and adhere to survival of the fittest in the most strict terms and this report wreaks of that view.  The winners of the moment get all the spoils, even if this is a short-sighted and factually-challenged view of reality.  Their ‘masters of the universe’ comic book world is everything that nature does not reward in the extreme long run.  It is inflexible and relies on brute force.  Their reality gives a species a very short and brutal life in the scheme of things and assigns the animal the limited roles of predator and prey. To the Cat Food Commission, the  majority of us are mere prey.

The draft from that dreadful commission came out yesterday and you can read the entire thing here at the NYT.  We knew from the moment the Simpson theatrics began that nothing good was going to come out of this effort.  Simpson put Social Security on the agenda immediately which was completely outside a deficit commission’s sphere.  President Obama did nothing to reel them back.  Simpson only got more theatrical and ill-mannered.  The commission itself could only get worse.

The draft–which is all they can achieve at the moment–suggests upending the social and political contracts made between the US government and the people in ways that I would never have thought possible.  It’s as if every third rail of politics is put to a match.  It was announced as a draft with these big bold red letters that say Do Not Cite as if there’s any hope left that we’ll join the rest of the developed and industrialized nations in realizing that we can choose our priorities differently.  It is an announcement to the rest of the world that we, the American Empire, choose to be so exceptional that we’ll do so to our extinction.  The rest of you just go ahead and cooperate and share, while we ensure the survival of the few over the existence of the many.   No one makes Spock’s choice.  We all go down with the ship and  an Ayn Rand third finger salute.

I read this draft and realize how co-opted we are by conservative ideology just as we are co-opted by religion over reason.  This is a nation that would rather believe than realize. The thing reads like a Republican manifesto.  It contains spending cuts in nearly everything imaginable while still making that fairy tale suggestion that if we overhaul the tax system and lower marginal tax cuts, the wealth will just trickle on down.

One of the major suggestions is to revisit the huge tax break given to mortgage holders on their first and second homes.   While it is worthwhile to review the usefulness of this deduction as blank check, the commission questions its entire existence.  I’ve always wondered what the deal is with giving tax breaks for a second home or a boat.  I’ve also wondered why we should give a huge tax break to people living in McMansions.  However, for ordinary people, this deduction leads to wealth building and security.  Perhaps rather than tearing down the entire thing, they should’ve given some consideration to making it something akin to local homestead exemptions?  But, this would be too compassionate and probably too collectivist for our masters of the universe.  Why can’t they just allow destructibility up to say, the average national price of a home? No, no, because their views of the world say that only corporations get get deductions.  People have to make do with making do. Masters of the Universe don’t have to compete because they are special.  Special treatment for them is something other than a handout or a hand up.

It seems like the commission set out to make radical suggestions.  Maybe it’s to make some of the worst portions of it more palatable if they can’t get the entire thing pushed on to some willing Congressional sponsors?   Part of the problem we have now in our struggling economy is those balanced budget amendments passed by states allowing them to spend crazily when tax revenues are coming in–when government spending should be restrained–while telling states to adopt austere budgets when their economies need a government spending boost.  What’s with these inflexible spending quotas rather than adopting rules that reflect the state of the economy?

You can see some of this worst of this obsession with strict guidelines by reading some analysis by Ezra Klein at WAPO.  I can’t imagine how they’re going to deal with caps like this if we do have a serious national threat like an invading army at our borders. Right now, we’re spending way too much money drone bombing Bedouins in caves. Talk about your spending priorities.

The co-chairs freeze 2012’s discretionary spending at 2010’s levels — and then start cutting it back further. By 2015, they project discretionary spending will be more than $200 billion less than the president’s budget currently envisions. They raise taxes, but rather unexpectedly, cap the revenues the tax system can generate at 21 percent of GDP. They also offer a number of options for tax reform, including one that eliminates all tax expenditures (including the mortgage-interest deduction, the exclusion for employer-based health care, and more) and brings the top rate down to 26 percent. Social Security comes in for both benefit cuts and tax increases — though there are substantially more of the former than the latter. There are a number of Medicare reforms. The co-chairs project that the deficit will fall to 1.6 percent of GDP by 2020 if the recommendations are implemented. The vast majority of those savings come from cuts in spending. Tax increases are a relatively minor contributor.

The commission definitely overstepped its charter in many ways.  The biggest overstep was to make suggestions on Social Security, which technically isn’t part of the general budget and is funded and governed off-budget and supposedly away from political hacks.  The recommendations for Social Security are shocking.  Again, I have to say that Social Security is not an entitlement.  It is a benefit program that we pay for through working.  To see it perpetually treated as some kind of social welfare scheme appalls me.

Here are a few blurbs from Fox News on the proposals dealing with Social Security.  They seem most interested in it because they support tearing the program to shreds.  It’s demise has been the holy grail of the right wing of Republican Party since its inception during the New Deal.  For some reason, you can buy old age benefits from a insurance brokering shitmonger and it’s just all in a day’s work.  If you let the government offer a lower cost alternative,  it’s communism in our midst.

The co-chairmen of the panel appointed by President Obama to cut the U.S. deficit recommend raising the retirement age to 68. It is currently 67 years for retirees to receive full benefits. The panel leaders also propose reducing the annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security.

The increase to age 68 would be implemented by 2050 and then would increase again to 69 by 2075. A “hardship exception” would be provided for certain occupations where older retirement would be unrealistic.

This “hardship exception” is a divide and conquer strategy if I’ve ever seen one.  It pits those of us that rely on social security for retirement against each other.  I see nothing but a series of political fights erupting over this if any one dares bring it to the legislative floor.  It is telling the dogs to fight for the scraps on the floor rather than going for the banquet on their master’s table.

There are a few other things in that are within the scope of the commission’s charter.  Some of them seem tucked in there as an after thought rather than central to a serious discussion on what should be funded and what should be defunded.

According to a source who spoke to Fox News, the 18-member panel led by former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, also may propose reducing the base rate on corporate taxes, phasing in spending cuts over time, reducing foreign aid by $4.6 billion, freezing federal salaries for three years and banning congressional earmarks. It is unclear how the commissioners would define a congressional earmark.

The proposal would also set a tough target for curbing the growth of Medicare. And it recommends looking at eliminating popular tax breaks, such as mortgage interest deduction. The plan also calls for cuts in farm subsidies and the Pentagon’s budget.

Let me just say this, foreign aid is less than 1 percent of our total budget outlay. It’s a pittance.  These kinds of things can only be seen in conservative dog whistle terms.  It makes me wonder exactly how far these folks are asking congress to go to appease Republicans because this can only be described as a plan tailor made for Republican talking points.

Again, I worry that something wasn’t done to narrow the scope of this motley crew way before this report came due.  It says something about the man in charge.  I’ll leave it to you to decide exactly what because my plan at this moment is to go further into the details and ferret out what remains of our country’s future.

And, just where are the Democratic politicians?  If you want some suggestions on this, just go read Black Agenda Report. Editor Bruce Dixon has his own theory.

The masters of corporate media proclaim that their raid on social security, is a done deal. “Entitlements,” their code word for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, will be cut in the lame duck session of Congress, with Democratic president Barack Obama taking the lead. Though the outlines of this raid have been clear for months, what passes for black America’s political leadership class have been silent. As far as we know, they have not been ordered to shut up. They have silenced themselves, in abject deference to the corporate black Democrat in the White House.

It took a Republican Richard Nixon to open relations with China in the seventies. It took Democrat Bill Clinton to impose draconian cuts in welfare and end college courses for prisoners in the nineties. And today, only a black Democratic president can sufficiently disarm Democrats, only a black Democrat can demobilize the black polity completely enough for the raid on “entitlements” to be successful.


41 Comments on “Survival of the Richest”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    This is a brilliant post, Dak.

    The BAR piece is really stunning. And this one by John Nicols is pretty good too: The Fight Over Social Security’s Future Is On—But Which Side Is Obama On?

    The debate about the future of Social Security has opened, and how progressives respond will decide whether the United States is a civil society or a pirate state where the government’s primary role is to take from the poor and give to the rich.

    So far, the response has been mixed. The signals from the Obama White House are bad, with the president indicating openness to “compromises” that would compromise the legacies of the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society.

    • dakinikat says:

      No wonder they’re announcing all of this when Obama is out of the country.

      • Dee says:

        Someone needs to put him in rehab.

      • TheRock says:

        First, GREAT POST! Second, I secretly suspected that his trip was timed not only to get away from the electorate, but to also put his lame-duck session agenda in the public eye without him being around to defend himself.

        I do take umbrage to the BAR’s characterization of the ‘cuts’ to welfare that President Clinton made. He should have commented on the outcome of his ‘cuts’ in terms of economic development in the country as well as job growth.

        I do want to say one thing. If the Dems in the House pass draconian cuts to the nation’s safety net, it will completely kill the Democratic party, and if Obumbles plan is to make the GOP the dominant party in this country, this will do it. And that might be more than even my girl and the only president I claim as my president to fix…

        Asshats.

        Hillary 2012

  2. NWLuna says:

    “may propose reducing the base rate on corporate taxes”

    That says it all right there. Once again, I’m thinking, “just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse….”

    Just like in the Dubya years.

  3. Dee says:

    I am just going to repeat this over and over again.

    Obama is a Judas Goat.

    A Judas goat is a trained goat used at a slaughterhouse and in general animal herding. The Judas goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination. In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead sheep to slaughter, while its own life is spared.

  4. Boo Radly says:

    It has been a seamless continuation of Dubya’s reign and the dufus thinks he looks better now……….. maybe the smirk is for how quickly BO reconstituted the r brand, he really does not care a fig that the majority of the voting population has figured out their game. They don’t count. Will the sycophantic pundit admirers panic now? Nope, because they control the message – does not matter which side.

    Just an aside – I don’t think the petitions nor emails are being considered, maybe something a little more visual in greater numbers is called for?

    For some reason I have been considering what has happened to our human “fight or flight” instinct – you know, the one that tells them – danger here. Mine kicked in to the nifth degree in 2000, but I’m primitive and basic.

    Great post Dak.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I linked to this article in the morning post. If you didn’t read it then, please check it out.

      Obama Was Used, And Is Now Used Up

      Maybe he agreed to be just a one-term president? If so, he really did stab African Americans in the back.

      • bostonboomer says:

        And now the conspicuous, embarrassing truth is that he’s not needed any more except as a tilt-up dummy sustaining the illusion of democracy. And you can see why. The rich owners of the country who put him into office in the certainty that he would be a smooth liar, able to sell the masses on the empty opiates of “hope” and “change” – they certainly don’t need him any more. Do the rundown.

        The owners of the banks don’t need him. They got their buddies, Obama’s appointees Geithner and Bernanke, to buy their trillions of dollars of toxic sludge with taxpayer money, saving them from imminent bankruptcy. They’ve got the Fed loaning them money at zero percent interest so they can loan it back to the government at three percent and to payday borrowers at hundreds of percent. It is literally a free, no-risk license to print money.

        The same bankers, the ones who caused the Great Collapse, got Obama to create the fiction of financial reform that left them bigger than they were before the collapse and with their exotic derivatives – Warren Buffet’s “financial weapons of mass destruction” – untouched. They are making the largest profits in their history and paying themselves the biggest bonuses on record. What do they need Obama for any more?

        The insurance companies don’t need him. They got him to create the fiction of health care reform by requiring 32 million Americans to buy their intentionally defective products and getting middle class chumps to pay for it. Their stock prices doubled as soon as the reform bill was enacted, a pretty clear sign of what the smart money boys knew about the deal.

        They got Obama to abandon his campaign promise of enacting a public option that would have actually brought down the cost of health care. So we still have a system that costs twice what any other industrial nation’s system costs and which delivers inferior results. It is still on track to bankrupt the country by consuming one out of every six (soon to be one out of five) dollars spent in the economy. What do they need Obama for any more?

      • Silent Kate says:

        That is interesting article. We all knew he was hand picked but I just can’t quite figure out what he’s up to now. He immediately got out of town after the election. He didn’t put any real effort into the election. It’s all so strange to me. It’s like he wanted to lose this midterm election. I don’t think he was used though. He knew exactly what he was doing and always talked so positively about Reagan. I think he was like a Trojan horse.

  5. grayslady says:

    I have never been a conspiracy theorist, but today’s articles in all the British papers about dangerous changes to unemployment compensation by Great Britain really makes me begin to wonder about the timing of all this. From The Independent (http://tinyurl.com/23sl3xk):

    Oxfam’s director of UK Poverty, Kate Wareing, said: “Changes to the benefits system proposed today will expose people to the risk of destitution.

    “Removing benefits and leaving people with no income will result in extreme hardship for them and their families.

    “This sanction, and the proposals to force people to do unpaid work are based on stigma. Most people receiving benefits do want to work, and punishing them as if they are criminals repaying a debt to society is not a fair way to treat someone entitled to support.”

    Does this sound familiar? Blue Dogs and Repubs voting against an extension of unemployment benefits? The Repub ideology of punishing those who can’t find a decent job?

  6. paper doll says:

    good Lord! I forgot to say fantastic post! Thank you Dak !

  7. HT says:

    I watch your political situation because what happens to you is ultimately imposed on us. E.G. yesterday, your news was that troops would remain in Afghan until at least 2014. Today with our withdrawal only two months away, our PM indicated that we would probably not totally withdraw until 2014 – quelle surprise.
    This whole Obama debacle makes me very, very sad. I’ve always assumed that Democrats were liberals (and yes, I know you folks think our liberals are socialists – we’re not), however this last election cycle has convinced me that your Democrats are the equivalent of our Conservative Coalition, and trust me, that’s not good. I do hope that this can be fixed, but as long as the entire Democratic leadership is committed to O and his Chicago machine, you’re screwed.

  8. mablue2 says:

    Did you guys see this? (via Paul Krugman)

    Obama to Congress: Stop shooting down deficit proposals

    President Obama is in Seoul, South Korea, where today he said lawmakers in the United States should hold off on comments about his fiscal commission’s proposals to slash the federal budget deficit through spending cuts, ending tax breaks, and a revamping of the Social Security system.

    “Before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts”

    WTF is going on?

  9. Pat Johnson says:

    Spent my day driving around and picking up donated food in order to replenish the local food bank and the Open Pantry who feed the hungry twice daily here in my city.

    Have any of these fools in DC ever been inside one of these places long enough to see the devastation that so many live with, or even who they are? The recipients are former vets, the elderly, recovering addicts, and families who are facing hard times.

    Have they ever sat outside an Oncology ward and witnessed the physical pain of people who are on the brink of death?

    Have they ever been told by a physician that there may be a cure for their suffering but unless they are insured or capable of paying on their own the cure must be withheld?

    Have they ever been present to observe job applicants looking for work but finding they are competing against five or six others for the same one position and knowing that this will be the same outcome the next day and the day after?

    Have they ever felt a sense of despair as they watch their utility rates rise along with property taxes and know they may not be able to pay both?

    What is wrong with this nation that we continue to turn our backs on those in need while fighting for the rights of the richest among us to have even more?

    I am sick at heart today because I have witnessed up close and personal the suffering of so many and I have nothing to offer beyond sympathy. Discouraging.

    • dakinikat says:

      Very discouraging. It’s good that there’s people like you that are still doing unselfish things, though. Maybe, eventually a few others will buy a clue.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    FDL has a petition. I don’t think anyone pays attention to them, but I suppose it’s worth a try.

    • dakinikat says:

      Digby put up that graph I was telling you about along with this:

      That a Democratic president was the one who created this commission is what makes this much more difficult to deal with. The Republicans couldn’t have dreamed that they would do this for them. It’s a real gift.

      Guess it’s Xmas in November!

      http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/self-destruction-for-dummies.html

      • Dee says:

        BB & dak (or anyone) – I really can’t stomach those “other places” so I have a question.

        Are they still trotting out the same old tripe that Hillary would have done exactly the same as Ozero? Or have they finally put that to bed?

        OBAMA IS A JUDAS GOAT

        • dakinikat says:

          I haven’t seen that yet. Can’t imagine it stopping yet.

        • bostonboomer says:

          I don’t spend much time at the “other places” either, but today I followed a ink to dailykos and there were some people defending him on the tax cuts issue. There are a lot more people who are angry than there used to be though. I also looked at Open Left, and they’re pretty mad. But Paul Rosenberg still thinks liberal Dems might decide to stand up for us.

          • dakinikat says:

            Here’s a neato post at a good ‘other place’. Violet on Accepting Apologies:

            http://www.reclusiveleftist.com/2010/11/11/accepting-apologies-on-line-1/

          • dakinikat says:

            Tapper’s reporting he seems to be going along with the cat food commission. He wants to give them room to pass it and he’s calling for ‘tough choices”.

            Mr Obama pointed out that the two co-chairs of the Commission – former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming — are trying to secure 14 out of 18 votes on the commission for their recommendations to go forward, “and I want to make sure they’ve got the room and the space to do so.”

            The president said he convened the commission “precisely because I am prepared to make some tough decisions” but he “can’t make them alone.”

            “I need Congress to work with me,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some tough choices. The only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together.”

            Critics of the Debt Commission recommendations have included conservative groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and liberal powerhouses ranging from the AFL-CIO to outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who called it a “non-starter.”

            But President Obama cautioned critics to hold their fire, saying “before anybody starts shooting down proposals I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts, I think we have to be straight with the American people. If people are in fact concerned about spending debt, deficits, and the future of our country then they’re going to need to be armed with the information about the kinds of choices that are going to be involved. And we can’t just engage in political rhetoric.”

  11. Silent Kate says:

    Dakinkat, I just wanted to tell you how happy I am to have found your site. I have missed you so much. You are so smart about economics and politics. I really enjoy your posts. I don’t know what happened at the Confluence, but it’s just lost so much with your absence. I just don’t like the direction it seems to be going. I haven’t been there as much as I’m taking a course and pretty busy. I just cannot understand what happened.

  12. cwaltz says:

    I think a lot of their ideas are going to go down in flames. I can’t in a million years figure they’ll get the votes on veterans programs or to make military folk pay for Tricare. I’m pretty sure even that would withstand a Republican majority.

    The only thing I can think of is that they threw out the truly radical non starters to make Social Security appear like a starter.

    • dakinikat says:

      yeah, that’s my thought to. It’s radically “conservative”. If they give in on the worst of it then it looks like a compromise when all the really wanted to gut was Social Security. Meanwhile, Dubya’s changes to medicare continue and do make that problem run out of funds.