Saturday, August 27, 2011

Libya here

In the wake of the Gulf War, that is, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there was a lot of right-wing triumphalism, going after war opponents who had predicted the conflict would be longer and bloodier than it was. (Full disclosure: I was among those opponents.) "Whaddaya think now, huh? Still think it was a bad idea now? Huh, huh?" The underlying claim, of course, was that the war's success (which was never in any real doubt) and relative ease (for a war) provided a retroactive justification for it to which, they were insisting, opponents were now obliged to admit.

Ignore for the moment who was proved right about both the logic and justice of the war by later events and consider just the mockery. It was simply an example of the age-old practice of mocking a (supposedly) defeated enemy, expressed in ways as major as desecrating the bodies of enemy dead, as brutal as seizing women as "prizes" for victory, and as childish as an ass-wiggling touchdown dance. In all instances, they represent the emotional maturity of a six- year-old sticking out their tongue and going "nyah-nyah."

Despite that long and very human, um, "tradition," it still was disturbing to see liberal (or, to put a finer and more accurate point on it, Obamabot) triumphalism in the wake of the fall of Muammar Qaddafi's regime.

A few days ago, ThinkProgress, one of that whole range of "the answer to every question is 'more better Democrats'" outfits, tweeted this:
Does John Boehner still believe US military operations in Libya are illegal?
The chuckling sneer being audible right through the screen.

Well, I can't speak for Sir John of Orange, but I do!

A quick re-hash of the arguments I laid out over the course of this war in posts in February, April, May, and June:

Initially, PHC* offered no real legal justification either for a US-imposed "no fly zone" over eastern Libya nor for the bombing of Libyan forces on the ground. He talked about a "humanitarian response" to prevent a "slaughter" in Benghazi - a response whose necessity was proved more by assertion than by evidence - but not about his own legal power to take military action. He sought no authorization from Congress even though everyone agrees he had it for the asking, preferring to assert he didn't need one. Hillary Clinton went so far as to tell a group of House members that Obama would simply ignore any attempts by Congress to assert its Constitutional authority.

Then he cited the War Powers Act, which allows a president to use US military forces for 60 days without Congressional authority. Unfortunately for Mr. O's claims to rationality, that is only allowed in the case of, quoting the Act,
a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.
No one but no one claimed any such attack had occurred or would occur; Obama did not even claim a threat to a single American citizen. What's more, it almost immediately became clear that he had lied about the extent and purpose of the bombing as it quickly moved from "defending unarmed civilians" to open support of the rebel drive, with Obama openly saying that the mission could not stop so long as Qaddafi remained in power.

At the 60-day limit set by the War Powers Act, the White House was unable even to offer a legal theory as how continued involvement was within the power of the President - even as the Pentagon announced that US participation in the Libyan mission was going forward unchanged, a "participation" that at the time included the use of armed Predator drones targeting Tripoli. This despite the fact that at that limit, again quoting the act, "the President shall" - notice the word is "shall," not should or can or might or anything else, but "shall" - "terminate any use of United States Armed Forces" involved unless Congressional authorization has been obtained. The only exception in the Act is an additional 30-day window specifically to allow for the safe withdrawal of forces, which obviously was not a factor in Libya.

At the 90-day limit, things passed from bizarre to surreal. At that point, the White House PR flaks asserted that the War Powers Act - the very same act Obama had asserted as providing his authority - does not apply to Libya because the US was not involved in “hostilities.” The situation, they said, does not involve
sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.
In other words, the Barack Obama team (I used to say that Bill O'Reilly had the world's most perfect initials; I'm no longer so sure he can hold the title) rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon, the DOJ, and the Office of Legal Counsel and instead asserted that he was free to use whatever military force he wanted, however he wanted, for as long as he wanted, because the Libyans were unable to shoot back. And therefore this president and all future presidents have unrestrained authority to launch US military attacks on any people, any movement, any nation, anywhere, any time, provided only that those people or movements or nations are incapable of defending themselves.

In April, I wrote this:
Barack Obama, the supposed Constitutional scholar, has shit on the Constitution and disgraced himself, the office of the presidency, and the best principles of the nation. And instead of the condemnation such arrogance, such centralization of power, deserves, it has in too many cases been ignored, downplayed, or worst cheered by people who damn well should know better but are just so happy to have a "liberal" war president ("We're not weak! We're not weak!") that they lose - or rather willingly abandon - the capacity for rational thought.

When George Bush raised the notion of "preemptive war," a policy of, as it was described, attacking real or imagined enemies before they became serious threats and so supposedly preventing such threats from arising, it was quite properly met with a chorus of condemnation from the left. But not this time. Not when PHC - excuse me, GHC - is in charge. Rather, a distressingly, depressingly, large number of ostensibly liberal or left voices have instead been a hallelujah chorus: "He's gone to the UN! He's working with NATO! That is just so totally different from Bush that it's just, just awesome! Thank you, sir, may I have another?"
And the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, as welcome as it is to anyone who retains hopes for justice, does not change a single word of that.

Self-Congratulatory Footnote: Noted for no particular reason beyond the fact that it's one of those round numbers we love so much is the fact that this is the 4000th Lotus post.

Libya there

So at this point, as of this writing, Muammar Qaddafi is nowhere to be found - he may be in hiding, in flight, he may have already left the country, or he may be surrounded and trapped. Whichever, in a very real sense it doesn't matter: The regime of dictator Muammar Qaddafi is over. And none too soon.

Now comes the real battle.

Before getting to that, however, I want to point out that this is not the first time Qaddafi has been in our (that is, US) gunsights. We have bombed Tripoli (killing Qaddafi's daughter in the process) and twice have shot down Libyan fighter jets in the Gulf of Sidra.

On the other hand, as I wrote in February,
Qaddafi ingratiated himself with a West addicted to oil when he withdrew his support for various revolutionary (or "terrorist") groups around the world and shut down his nascent nuclear weapons program. But those same Western nations turned a blind eye to his continued violent repression of any opposition. And here, once again, our preference for stability over justice, for convenience over conscience, may well come around to bite us on the ass.
As in so many other cases, our view was based far more on our interests than those of the people of Libya, whose subjection did not end at those times. Even as Qaddafi was described, just as Saddam Hussein often enough was, as "taking steps in the right direction" and maybe he really wasn't such a bad guy after all, the fact remained that his doing what we liked did not change the character of the regime, a regime now happily ended.

The question now is what happens next and are Libyans going to, as a good many Iraqis did, wind up looking back with nostalgia on "the old days" of dictatorship that at least offered some stability. A senior American military officer was quoted as saying "There [is] no clear plan for a political succession or for maintaining security in the country. The [African and Arab] leaders I have talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will play out."

The immediate and perhaps biggest problem is that in the course of the months-long stalemate that preceded the collapse of the regime
three distinct rebel factions developed – all with disparate identities and different tribal roots.

There were the originals in the east, drawn largely from a rebellious middle class; a second group in the centre, who fought the war's most intense battles; and the mountain men from the west who saw getting to the capital first as their higher calling.
The government established by the rebels centered in Benghazi in the east calls itself the National Transitional Council. It's authority has been recognized by 32 countries, but it has yet to gain the full support of other factions. The members of the NTC apparently realize that time is critical: They have announced intentions to move to Tripoli as soon as possible and have already drafted a constitution.

The question is if such moves will be enough: Libya is a fiercely tribal nation, one where ties to family and clan can easily outweigh ties to the nation as a whole. And with some 140 tribes and clans, each of which wants to lay some claim to a role in the new Libya, producing a unified government will take more than good intentions or even good ideas.

As just one example of the conflicts,
[r]ebel forces in the western city of Misrata, Libya's third-biggest, have gone out of their way to register their contempt for the transitional council with foreign reporters, insisting that they refuse to take instructions from Benghazi.
A potentially even more serious one relates to the suspicious death of rebel military commander Abdel Fattah Younis. In late July, he was taken for questioning by his own side - and was killed. The NTC investigated and now says it knows who is guilty but won't immediately name them for fear of hurting the revolution; the fear probably is of sparking tribal divisions.

That doesn't sit well with leaders of the Obeidi tribe, of which Younis was a member. They are demanding that the killers be brought to justice by the NTC and say their patience is limited.
“If we [need] to take our justice by ourselves, we will do it,” [Obeidi leader Ali Senussi] says in a tent surrounded by fellow tribesmen in Benghazi, after breaking the Ramadan fast. A nearby tribal leader adds: “Tribal law is stronger than government law.”
But just raising Younis's name raises another question: The nature of the NTC itself. Back in April I noted how the emerging leaders of the NTC were not the students, professors, and so on who sparked revolution, but often were former supporters and even members of the Qaddafi regime from business and the military who saw which way the wind was blowing and switched sides with the intention of trying to preserve whatever part of their influence they could. I wondered just what they understood the word "freedom" to mean.

I still do - especially in light of the fact that the rebel cabinet was dissolved earlier this month and there has been no move to appoint a new one.

Well, Abdul Fatah Younis is a good illustration of those doubts: Before defecting to the rebels, Younis had been in charge of Libya's special forces for the past 41 years. He had served Qaddafi ever since the 1969 coup that brought the dictator to power. Despite the claims he made to the contrary, he seemed poor material for a devotee of democracy and political freedoms.

The truth is, whether we are actually seeing the emergence of a "new" Libya or just the layout of a new playing field on which competing tribal blocks are eager to test their relative strengths remains to be seen. We (and to be clear, I mean us as individuals, not as the US) have to keep watching, hoping to be of good aid where and how we can while knowing there may be nothing we can do.

But pay attention we must because it is too easy to lose the thread of a matter. Consider Egypt.

After the victory of what was not entirely but still essentially a nonviolent revolution, the media was drowning in stories about the "new, free" Egypt. Then, they essentially stopped paying attention except for the coverage focused on the trial of Hosni Mubarak. That he is getting a public trial - as opposed to just being put up against a wall and shot - is being trumpeted as a great proof of the success of the revolution.

But at the same time that media ignored - or mentioned only in passing - a more important, much more ominous, development: On August 1, police and the military forcibly removed democracy activists from Tahrir Square, the square famous as the focus, the epicenter, of the protests that lead to Mubarak's downfall. The square is now occupied by military and police and
[a]rmed forces now surround the central square area, literally taking up the space occupied by the democracy movement only a few days ago.
Even more ominously, a few days later, on August 5, the military made an unprovoked attack on a group of a few hundred unarmed, peaceful protesters. They were on a traffic island off the square, where they broke their Ramadan fast and held a brief rally. They had made it clear they inteded to demonstrate and then leave and had no intention of trying to re-occupy the square itself. No matter: They were attacked by the soldiers carrying clubs. In the words of an eyewitness:
The soliders beat dozens of protesters indiscriminately, most of whom were simply trying to escape. I repeatedly saw groups of five to ten soldiers chase down boys who couldn’t be any older than ten years old and beat them with yard-long sticks. The soldiers chased protesters many blocks from Tahrir Square, all the way to the Kasr-al-Nile Bridge half a mile away, for the purpose of beating them.

Many dozens of bullets were fired as the soldiers chased the protesters through the streets, presumably into the air. Though there haven’t been reports of anyone being shot, though many protesters were hospitalized from their beating injuries.

Clearly, the purpose of the attack was not just to clear that little island of the square. The level of brutality suggests that its true purpose was to strike fear in the hearts of anyone who wants to make public political expression in the main town square of Egypt.
That eyewitness said these events meant that the members of the ruling Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Hey, have we forgotten that the military is now in charge in Egypt?) "don’t understand the importance of that place for the democratic development of Egypt." On the contrary, I'd suggest that it means that they do understand its importance and intend to redefine that meaning - as well as the meaning of "freedom" - on their own terms.

It is always vital, absolutely vital, to remember, in Libya just like in Tunisia and in Egypt: The battle doesn’t end with the end of the battle.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Winning and losing and winning

An observation sparked by the Wisconsin recalls: Not everything comes down to being either total victory or abject defeat. There are, as it were, way stations en route from the latter to the former.

That would seem to be so obvious as to be utterly banal, and yet based on a number of the reactions I've seen over the past few days, it's still something that has to be pointed out, because at some point we have to recognize and embrace that "utterly banal" observation in a way all too many of us have not. The alternative, ultimately, is cynicism and despair.

To put this in the immediate context, the first thing to say is that Wisconsin was, quite obviously, not an outright victory for the more liberal wing of Wisconsin politics: The hope had been for a net gain of three seats, thereby giving control of the state Senate to the Democrats as a means to create a bulwark against the further ambitions of Governor Walkalloveryou and his reactionary allies. They got two. However, even as they came up short, the practical, political, fact remains that the Wisconsin Senate had been split 19-14 in favor of the right wing and now it's 17-16 - which means it now takes only one GOPper to be sufficiently spooked by what they have seen and are seeing to throw a roadblock in front of Gov. Walkalloveryou's plans.

In fact, there is a further, potentially important, point to be made: One of those 17 GOPpers voted against the bill to strip away collective bargaining rights and has been, according to John Nichols at The Nation, a moderate on education and labor issues - so there could be an effective, a working, 17-16 pro-labor, pro-education majority in the Senate. (This, obviously, assumes that the Dems being recalled will both win their elections, which I do predict.)

That won't undo what's been done (that would require passing new legislation and overcoming the inevitable veto) but it can, again, block any further advances by the right wing.

Partly because of that, it's been easy for some to overplay the significance of the result, as Nichols clearly does. He not only makes the valid point about the possibility of a working "anti-the-worst-excesses-of-the-reactionaries" majority in the state Senate, he goes on about how all these recalls were in staunchly GOPper districts, some of which had been Republican-held for over a century, and all but says it was a remarkable achievement and proof of The Solidarity Of The People that the recalls occurred at all.

Which would be a little more convincing as an argument if he hadn't been on MSNBC the day before the balloting, openly raising the possibility of a net gain of four seats.

Greg Sargent also goes with the too-amazing-for-words view:
Wisconsin Dems and labor ... reminded us that it’s possible to build a grass roots movement by effectively utilizing the sort of unabashed and bare-knuckled class-based populism that makes many of today’s national Dems queasy.
Which, again, would be more persuasive if it weren't for published reports - which I can't find now to provide links, dammit - that the Dems in those races were "downplaying" and "de-emphasizing" their pro-labor stances for fear of, you got it, "alienating moderates."

The problem with trying to label failing to achieve your goal as actually a smashing victory is that a lot of people simply won't buy it and there are only so many times that high hopes can be dashed, only so many times that you can fall short, particularly if that is combined with after-the-fact insistence that the goals were unrealistic in the first place, before people get discouraged and cynical about campaigns and come to think there is no point in hoping (and therefore working at change) at all. (To cite an immediate example: Just how deflated will a lot of folks feel if one of the two Dems being recalled on Tuesday loses?)

Even so, overplaying the results still may well be preferable to the alternative, which was to turn the result into a crushing loss that only proves the hopelessness of our situation. That attitude was generally summed up in the assertion that the results were a mere and pointless "moral victory."

Truth be told, only in the world of the already psychologically defeated would picking up two seats in a 33-member legislative body be regarded as only a "moral" victory. (Just consider: If the same result had been achieved in a regular legislative election, would it then be regarded as pointless?) Rather, the outcome was, in fact, a good example of what I have called a "successful loss," one in which you do not actually win but you do make progress. Because, no, this was not, by its own terms, an outright victory - but it did represent a gain, a measurable gain, against the forces of reaction. Even if that gain is only to slow the advance of the enemy, it is still a gain. Even if that gain is only to make the enemy more vulnerable while it remains in at least nominal control, it is still a gain.

I suppose I have to make it clear here that I am addressing this in the context of the situation at hand. I do not think that "more and better Democrats" is or can be the goal on anything other than a short-term, reality-of-the-moment tactical basis, that it can be anything more than one of those way stations on the path from defeat to actual victory, an actual victory meaning - and I have said this before in different ways - a society of justice, a full justice: economic, social, and political. A justice that rejects the ascendency of bombs over bread, of private greed over public good, of profits over people. If you want that in a condensed form, try victory being democratic socialism attained through nonviolent revolution.

Which, in a way, brings me to the final thing I wanted to address here, which is that the moaning about mere "moral victories" was often enough tied to some form of the dismissive claim that "moral victories don't build movements," that they are mere feelgood events that accomplish nothing except to ease the agony of defeat even as they, in the words of one, "strengthen the enemy's ability to consolidate its power."

"Moral victories don't build movements?" Bullshit! Moral victories are the only thing that ever has. No movement starts out winning - it takes years, even decades, of "moral victories" (that is, again, "successful losses") to build winning movements.

Let's not forget that the recent advances of the right wing do not start from some hypothetical pure zero baseline; rather it is a drive to undo what it took those on the left several decades to build, build over active and often enough violent opposition. The New Deal legacy that so many of us are focused on defending did not appear with FDR, it was the outgrowth of agitation and organization extending back well before 1900 (efforts often lead by socialists). And even after that, civil rights laws, anti-poverty programs, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental programs, all of that and much more took another 30 to 40 years of work just to get as far as we have, and we are still short of our goals another couple of decades beyond that.

On the other side, the current power of the right did not appear out of nothing and nowhere but rather out of decades of effort, effort which at times seemed to many to be utterly pointless, even ridiculous, because it was so extreme, so "out of the mainstream." At times it looked so bad - such as after the 1964 Goldwater debacle (which supposedly put a permanent end to the political power of the right wing of the right wing; we can see how well that worked out) and again after the disaster of the 1974 post-Watergate Congressional elections - there was serious talk about if the Republican Party itself could survive.

Of course movements are built on moral victories, on successful losses, on incremental gains that sometimes appear as small as "a shift in the wind." As Margaret Mead is supposed to have said, "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."*

What's more - and this is a good reason why the Democratic Party, devoted to short-term election victories rather than advancing principles, cannot be the vehicle for actual progressive change on anything more than an ad hoc basis - movements are not built by, as far too many would have it, "appealing to as wide a populace as possible." Instead, they are built by aggressive advocacy for what you believe in, by arguing for your convictions, and doing it without backing down or up. You don't build movements by joining the mainstream, you build them by moving the mainstream closer to where you are. The essence of political change lies in shifting the consensus, that is, not by appealing to as many as possible but by convincing as many as possible.

I won't take the time or space here to go into my own approach to activism in general and to electoral politics in particular, but if you're curious you might try this on the power of the individual in protest or this on constructing a "counter-narrative" on the theme of "Justice, Compassion, Community" or this on "Why should I ever vote for someone?" or this on the role of independent and third parties or the link at "successful losses" above.

And as for the general issue of "moral victories," even though I now wish I had been more explicit in saying what I was writing about was the whole scope of activism, not limited to electoral politics and especially not to DemParty politics, I think you might want to read my post "On the duty of defiance."

*While commonly attributed to Mead, the statement appears nowhere in any of her published works. However, her family has said they believe the quote to be authentic because it accurately reflected her views and they figure it was probably said during a Q&A after a speech or in some unrecorded interview.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Geekian Chronicles

Hey! Wow! We've found water on Mars!

Um, wait, haven't we known that for some time?

Well, yes - for one thing, it's been known for some time that the Martian polar ice caps are water ice (a lot of it) and there's ample evidence that at some point in the past Mars was much warmer and wetter than it is now (the Mars rovers showed that) and there very likely were large seas. More recently, upon examination some features of the planet's landscape can best be explained by flows of water in the "recent" past - "recent" in quotes because what was meant was geologically recent, which could be 100,000 years ago or more. (Hey, when you're used to talking in terms of tens of millions or even billions of years, 100,000 years just ain't that long.)

So what's so cool about this latest news? Because a)we're not talking about ice, we're talking about liquid water and b)we're not talking about 100,000 years ago, we're talking about now. We're talking about seasonal flows of liquid water on Mars, now.

To be more precise, not exactly water but salty mud. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that any water that actually was free on the surface would boil away to vapor vary quickly, so this is likely water mixed with soil - that is, mud. And it's likely salty because the freezing point of salty water is below that of fresh water and Mars is so cold that the difference matters.

Scientists, of course, are not claiming this is absolute, rock-solid proof - only that present-day seasonal flows of salty mud are the best explanation anyone has come up with of the observations. But that doesn't change two facts: One, this is about the strongest evidence to date that liquid water is to be found on present-day Mars and two, that first fact increases the chances that there may be something alive there. It would be unlikely in the extreme to be anything more than microbes - but it would be life on another planet.

And that is just damn cool.

I love science.

Just to take a short break

A new species of butterfly has been found flying around Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sealing our fates one last time

Updated Everyone else has chimed in on it, so I suppose I feel obligated to offer my take on the debt ceiling deal. So here it is.

The debt ceiling deal is hideous, a disgrace, a monstrosity; it's an affront to justice, an insult to our intelligence, and above all a clear demonstration of on whose behalf "our" government actually works.

It is capitulation camouflaged as compromise; it is a right-winger’s wet dream, with all of the burden placed on the poor and what remains of the middle class, while the rich and the comfortable and the corporations and their paid-for flunkies go untouched. Listening to wingnuts grouse and gripe about how the deal "betrayed their goals" (I originally wrote "principles" but I didn't like the implication that they have any) is like listening to a whining two-year old throwing a tantrum because they got only nine of the ten pieces of candy on a plate.

Very briefly, here's what is in the deal: An immediate increase in the debt ceiling of $400 billion with another $500 billion in September, which latter amount hypothetically could be blocked by Congress but won't be. This is coupled with $917 billion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. Certain programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, WIC, veterans’ benefits, and some others are exempt, which just means deeper cuts everywhere else: SNAP (i.e., food aid), housing aid, LIHEAP (i.e., heating assistance), TANF (i.e., welfare), jobs programs, unemployment assistance, education, infrastructure, science, environmental protection, transportation, and more. What it does not involve (of course) is any tax increases of any sort.

It also sets up a “Super Congress” or "super committee" of doubtful Constitutionality. (But who's going to challenge it and if they did and if the courts accepted the challenge, itself a questionable proposition, what are the chances a decision could be rendered in time?) It would include three Dims and three GOPpers from each house (independents, it seems, need not apply) for a total of 12.

This Super Congress - or, by appropriate abbreviation, the SuperCon - is to identify at least $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction. Nothing is exempt. Everything, including "the big three" of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, can be targeted. Hypothetically, targets could also include “revenue enhancements,” but beyond the possibility of limitation or elimination of tax deductions most useful to the middle class, such as home mortgage interest and medical expenses, I expect the chances of any such "enhancements" being included are just a tiny fraction this side of are you kidding.

The SuperCon reports by November 23; its proposals, which cannot be changed, amended, or filibustered, are fast-tracked to an up-or-down vote by December 23. If they are passed, there is a dollar-for-dollar increase in the debt ceiling. If they are not or if the SuperCon can't reach an agreement, a likely possibility, the debt ceiling can be raised an additional $1.2 trillion but that triggers automatic across the board dollar-for-dollar cuts in federal spending. Again, no tax hikes.

(It also requires both houses to have a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment, which will give some people the opportunity to strut and posture for the benefit of their Toilet Paper - excuse me, Tea Party - constituency, but means little beyond that.)

Oh, and something else: Rep. Barney Frank said that he had planned to vote yes until he learned more about some of the details, including that cuts in military spending are only guaranteed for the first two of those 10 years and that none of the cuts can come from expenses for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which continue to drain hundreds of billions of dollars annually even as increasing majorities of Americans oppose them.

What does all of this mean? It means that, in thrall to their banker masters and cowed by the bluster of the ratings agencies (in fact, of only one such agency; Standard & Poor's was the only one to make a big fuss while the other two of the big three just muttered a little), the leaders of "our" government agreed to spend less at a time when they need to spend more and invest less in the economy at a time they need to invest more. What they did, in short, was good for the banks, good for the investment houses, good for the bond-holding rich, but destructive for the rest of us.

The fact, which will come as no surprise to you, is that we still live in a depressed economy: Only 18,000 jobs were created in June. Eighteen thousand! During the first six month of 2011, the economy grew only as fast as the population - in other words, it essentially went nowhere. And now the feds are going to spend even less than they would have. Which is incredibly stupid and will only depress the economy further.

"But oh no, that's not true!" cry the slick and the sycophants. "This will show The Market (pbiu) that we are Serious About Controlling Spending (on things important to you, not to us, they add under their breath)! That will give businesses Confidence! The Confidence needed for them to invest! To create jobs! To grow the economy! Confidence, we say, Confidence!"

Which only goes to prove we have a government full of confidence men.

Look, I've noted this before: Corporations are now sitting on record amounts of cash and raking in record levels of profit. That should give them all the confidence they need - especially since, hey, isn't profit supposed to be the reward for risk? Why should we have to assure them there is no risk before they'll get off their cash-soaked butts and do something? (Or does that answer itself?)

Claiming all businesses need is "confidence" flies in the face both of the historical record and of plain logic. If they were going to invest, they already have the means and they clearly have the opportunity. What they don't have is the desire.

Because the simple fact is, businesses are not going to hire people they don’t need. If you have a job, great, I'm happy for you. But you need to understand that the owners of the business you work for don't see you as a benefit, they see you as an unhappily necessary cost, one that they would just as soon be rid of if the bottom line allowed for it. Businesses, to put it differently, are not going to hire you unless they think that the benefit to their profit outweighs the cost that you represent.

To put it a third way, they are not going to hire you to produce goods and services no one is buying.

The simple fact is that the claim that "business creates jobs" is utter bullshit. Complete malarky. Thoroughgoing crap. No matter what you've been told, no matter what you think, with the possible exception of some sort of goddam lefty do-gooder outfit, no business has ever created a job. They haven't. Period.

At the same time, let it be said that one way the right wing is correct is that it's also true that, at least for the most part, government does not create jobs.

Demand creates jobs! The demand for goods and services which government can supply or private businesses can sell. And while the government can't create jobs, what it can do, and do it in a way and to a degree of which private industry is simply incapable, is create demand.

Government can create demand by spending, by spending money on goods and especially on supplying services which people need. It can do it by putting money into the hands of people either by social programs or by direct employment on government projects. It can do it by redistributing income from people who won't spend it because they have more than they can use, to people who will spend it because they need the goods and services which that money can obtain. And it can do that by raising taxes on those who dammit have the money to redistribute.

But instead, government is going to shrink, is going to do less. And in so doing, "our" government is denying, betraying, repudiating, one of the basic reasons for its existence. (Governments are instituted among men to secure the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Sound familiar?) And so it is denying, betraying, and repudiating us.

The result for you? Richard Eskow ran down some of it at a Campaign for America's Future blog:

- If you're out of work, you’re less likely to find it. If you've got a job, you're less likely keep it. if you do manage to keep it, you’re less likely to get a raise.

- If you have a house, you’re more likely to lose it because help for distressed homeowners is off the table, so foreclosures will continue unabated. If you have a house and manage to keep it, its value is more likely to go down as communities continue to have local values depressed.

- Your social security benefits will be lower. I've mentioned this before; it's the plan to switch methods of calculating the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security from CPI to "chained-CPI" a change that will guarantee (yes, guarantee) smaller COLAs in the future, creating a stealth benefit cut, stealth because since you'd still get an increase, the hope is you won't notice it's less of an increase than it would have been otherwise - and that difference, of course, is a benefit cut.

Eskow also raises the possibility of a large tax increase via eliminations of middle-class-friendly deductions. That certainly is a possibility, as I mentioned above - but I have to say I think it's unlikely. The GOPpers are rigidly committed, politically and ideologically, to the idea of "no tax increases" (and no matter how many times they intoned "revenue enhancements" instead of "tax increases," their TPer base, with its tax radar always on full alert, would not be fooled) so I don't see that coming out of the SuperCon. In fact, I predict that group will, absent another Dummycrat capitulation (which is always a possibility) deadlock. That would lead to the triggered cuts - which again do not involve tax hikes. So I don't expect any significant tax increases.

What I do expect, however, and something Eskow doesn't mention, is that your Medicare costs will go up, perhaps by 15% or more. Part of the debt ceiling agreement is that Medicare is supposed to be cut by no more than 2% and the cuts will be directed against “providers,” not beneficiaries - the cuts will come from reducing the amounts paid to doctors and hospitals. Doctors and hospitals, that is, who already complain about the low rates which Medicare pays.

Cutting payments to providers, quite bluntly, will lead to fewer physicians accepting Medicare patients and fewer of those who do accepting assignment, with the net result for you of higher out-of-pocket expenses and fewer doctors from which to choose.

What will be the overall result? A good summary, oddly enough, came from Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO of a bond investment firm called Pimco, who said:
Unemployment will be higher than it would have been otherwise.... Growth will be lower than it would be otherwise. And inequality will be worse than it would be otherwise.
The honor of the best description of the deal, however, goes to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who called it a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." In fact, I very much think he wanted to use a different s-word, but he was, after all, on television at the time.

Still, I suppose in one sense, the deal should not be surprising: It's just another front in the on-going, ugly war being waged against the middle class and the poor, a decades-long attack that no longer resembles class war so much as it does class annihilation, as a century of slow aching progress toward justice is beaten back and the gap between rich and poor - indeed, between the rich and the rest - now yawns as widely as it did more than 80 years ago, a chasm that "compromises" such as this, delivered by "our" government, will make even wider.

It's past time for anger, even for outrage. It's time for cold fury, the kind of focused rage that spends itself neither in the perhaps momentarily satisfying but still pointlessness of violence nor in directionless emotion but which drives concentrated, conscious action. Yes, petition, talk to neighbors, write letters to the editor, call your representative, lobby, vote (if you still can with all the roadblocks being erected), do all that stuff.

But face a hard fact: We've been doing that. focusing on that. We've been doing it for how long? Since at least Bill Clinton, when the Kewl Kidz decided that stuff like demonstrations were icky and uncool and like, so, y'know, so '60s 'n' stuff and how they weren't going to waste time on that sort of stuff, that they were going to be Serious People. And where has it gotten us? It has gotten us recession, an increasing economic divide, and our big success, a president who thinks being "the adult in the room" means repeatedly rolling over in the face of an opposition that has come - with good cause - to count on him caving. Watching Barack Obama "negotiate" and "stand firm" is like watching a parent who has forgotten who the parent is, being worn down by a foot-stomping brat screeching "No!" and "I don't wanna!" and "Gimmie!" It has gotten us failure and betrayal.

So yes, absolutely: Write letters. Make phone calls. Petition, lobby, vote, do all of it. Yes.

But face the fact that that will not be enough. It never was. It never has been. It can get you some short-term victories, win you some elections, but it can't sustain a drive for real progress - that is, measurable, meaningful, and instituted progress of a sort that can't easily be undone. Not as long as there is no penalty for those we elect, for those we pinned our hopes on, when they ignore us, which they will as long as they know we will continue to vote for them even in the face of their betrayal because after all, god forbid a GOPper should win!

So no, it's not enough. We need to be angry and more importantly to be visibly angry. We need to be on the streets, dammit. We need to generate the sort of social disruption that characterized the '60s, yes, the dreaded '60s. We need to take those forces, economic and social and political, that have turned their backs on us, on justice, on fairness, on equality, on what is right in order to curry favor with (and sometimes become) the aristocracy which we deny we have, and we need to make their lives miserable. We need to harass them, embarrass them, mock them, ridicule them, picket them, protest them, wherever they gather whenever they gather. We need small groups picketing, we need mass numbers marching in the streets, we need guerrilla theater, we need civil disobedience, we need it all.

Do not underestimate the difficulties here; I don't: Police and other forces of repression have become much more adept at achieving the goal of providing a quiet life for the elites, a life untroubled by any noise from the riff-raff. Determination is vital and courtesy may sometimes be a (temporary) victim of circumstances.

But what's even more important in the face of that possibility is creativity. I was recalling earlier today an incident back in the day when the Air Force parked a Minuteman ICBM at a local shopping mall as part of an exhibit. A small group of us made a plan to protest the display (and nuclear arms) by having a couple of us rush at the missile (which was surrounded only with theater stanchions and velour rope), taping "Practice Nonviolence" cards all over it, while a few others passed out leaflets designed for the occasion, after which we'd take off. It was supposed to be over in less than five minutes - and in thinking about it now, I thought of it as being kind of like a politically-oriented flash mob. That kind of action - show up, do it, and go - may become more important if cities continue to increase efforts to prevent any sort of mass rallies. The important thing is that they are visible. And that, more than anything else, is what we have to be now.

Because we have been ignored and we have been betrayed. Forty-five Dummycrat Senators voted for this hideous deal, including a number of liberal heroes like Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Sheldon Whitehouse, John Kerry, Ron Wyden, and Al Franken. In the House, 95 of the "We're on your side! Really!" party voted Aye, including, again, several liberal heroes, like James Clyburn, Luis Gutierrez, Nancy Pelosi, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. I'm sure that some of them echoed Cleaver's description of the bill - Pelosi, for one, did - but the way you deal with a Linkshit sandwich is not by eating it but by stuffing it back in the face of the person who pushed it on you. And that they utterly failed to do in an act that revealed when push comes to shove which side they are on and which should, if justice is ultimately done, see them on the dustbin of political history.

And if that sounds like I am willing to see, would even like to see, some "good people" lose elections, yes, I am. Because the way - the only way - to win is to be willing to lose. That's what we haven't been but what we need to be. I suspect that over the next several months we're going to find out if we are willing. And if we're not - we have already lost.

Updated with a Correction: The original version of this post said that credit ratings agency Moody's was "the only one to make a big fuss" about the US credit rating; in fact it was Standard & Poor's. The post has been corrected to reflect that.

Interestingly, S&P started mouthing off about reducing the US's credit rating shortly after the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in July 2010. That bill subjected the credit ratings agencies to a bit more oversight and a slightly-higher standard of conduct. S&P has renewed the threat to downgrade the rating several times since, although the justification has varied. And now they have, of course, downgraded the rating despite having offered a variety of shifting explanations and despite having made a whopping $2 trillion error in their projection of future deficits.

S&P, by the way, is being investigated by the SEC for possible civil fraud in its ratings of mortgage debt leading up to the blowup of the housing market in 2008 and the question is being raised if the threat of rating downgrades is being used to pressure the government to drop the case.

(Thanks to Firedoglake for the above.)
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