Feeling the noise in our cross-wired America

Ron Legro

Ron Legro
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, USA
October 12
A lapsed and reformed journalist, one-time for-profit soldier of fortune in the private sector, and political functionary, Ron is now re-learning the joys of hanging around while watching the microcosm unfold. But he's not above rising out of his enlightened stupor to call out perfidy and hypocrisy when he sees it. Ron was an award-winning reporter who worked at several newspapers, including the Milwaukee Sentinel and Wall Street Journal. His assignments took him aboard ice breakers and into the private lives of sexually miscreant clergy. In his years pounding the street with a notebook, he covered everything from tavern brawls to mob hits to political assassinations. He has contributed to various magazines, incuding Time. As editor-in-chief of a weekly public affairs journal, he led coverage of Wisconsin government down to every last legislative vote. Ron also pulled duty as a daily TV columnist and film critic, who spent most of his space examining the sociopolitical implications of mass media. He moved on to become a consultant to communities, nonprofit interest groups and government institutions on open networks. He's also worked for a power utility, several elected officials, a housing authority, and a university. He produced cable TV programming and once acted in a commercial, just to see what it was like. He and his dear wife enjoy beach combing on Lake Michigan near their home. They go bike hiking on city streets or trails. They like sailing and cross-country skiing, too, but never seem to find the time. They hang their laundry on clothes lines. That's them in the photo, regarding the ultra-modernist, bird-winged cathedral that is the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 25, 2013 3:16PM

GOP `disaster capitalism' is key to the sequester

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When House Speaker John Boehner and his legion of absolutists complain that the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama are refusing to negotiate on a deal to end the impending super-sequester, our political system truly has wandered through an Alice in Wonderland mirror into the nonsensical.
Because, very clearly it's the GOP that's refusing to negotiate.

To augment a line from the film "Cool Hand Luke," what we have here is a willful failure to communicate. And politicians refusing to deal is like pandas refusing to eat bamboo. Deal-making, for all its pluses and minuses, is integral to the DNA of a functioning representative government. But now, Republicans want to toss all that out, reshaping the country as an authoritarian society where a well-heeled minority gets to make all the important decisions.

The Democratic stance in the sequester fight is this: We're willing to negotiate on details of a package that includes spending cuts and tax increases. The Republican stance is this: We're not willing to negotiate anything but spending cuts. Of course, if both sides were now to agree that accepting the GOP approach were the way to move forward, it would, from the Democratic point of view, amount to total capitulation.

After all, a deal that only involved spending cuts would necessarily savage Social Security, Medicare and most domestic, discretionary programs. But far more important, such a deal would mean no deal and no negotiation at all, because the GOP already knows what it wants, and everyone (even the GOP) knows that what it wants is non-negotiable. Call the Department of Tautology Department, immediately!

But, it's the Democratic Party that's unwilling to negotiate? Righhhhhhhht.

This is just the latest version of a scam the Repubs have been running since Bush II, namely: Let's both parties negotiate a deal in which Democrats make all the compromises and agree to agree entirely with our pre-stated position. If we don't get everything we want -- and perhaps even if we do! -- there will be no deal. "Compromise" is defined downward to mean only that Republicans expect Democrats to completely compromise their own positions, without any budge on the right, except perhaps further retreat rightward.

The bigger issue here -- which has been largely overlooked -- is that Republicans now are the key instrument effecting "diasaster capitalism" -- so well defined by Naomi Klein in her book, "The Shock Doctrine."

Disaster capitalism is when special interests  deliberately invite crisis and then seek to profit from it at the expense of many innocents. It is, in essence, political blackmail: In order to save ourselves from the effects of their decisions, we are told we must agree to screw ourselves, in ways dictated by the self-same perpetrators of our misery. This is authoritarianism writ large and has nothing at all to do with the tenets of a democracy or a republic.

So, we're going to have the sequestration, and unless the GOP relents soon after it begins, automatic federal budget cuts are going to cause a new recession. The key thing is Republicans seem fine with that outcome (except, of course, that they think the military spending cuts in the sequestration would wreck the country -- as a party, the GOP is now performing in a re-make of, "The Man With Two Brains").

On the surface, both the GOP and the Democratic Party agreed in crafting the sequester that its effects would be too horrible for either party to actually sanction -- a sort of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) gambit like the one the USA and USSR played with nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Trouble is, back in the Cold War both sides truly believed in MAD, but now, in the case of the sequester, it's obvious Republicans were only posturing when they said refusing to avert sequestration was unthinkable.

In blaming Obama for creating the sequester in the first place (when it was clearly a bipartisan invention), Republicans are making much of a recent Bob Woodward column in the Washington Post. Woodward wrote that the final sequestration deal reached in 2011 between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequestration package.

However, as Beverly Mann over at Angry Bear duly notes, that deal obliged both sides to agree upon an actual list of budget changes that would avert the sequester. A bipartisan congressional super committee failed to achieve that. Negotiations then returned to the purview of the entire Congress and the president. The original deal, as Mann noted, "did not, of course, include an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the final agreement to replace sequester 18 months later."

Mann added:

If Bob Woodward really believes that Obama agreed in Aug. 2011 to cut the federal budget deficit by about $3 trillion (or whatever the figure is) almost entirely through cuts to (near-elimination of large parts of) the social safety net and other non-defense “discretionary” spending--and that is exactly what Woodward is claiming--then I want to offer to sell him a quitclaim deed to the Brooklyn Bridge.  
See her full piece at

In other words, the GOP blame-Obama game is all semantics. The only reason we have sequestration heading right at us right now is that Republicans wouldn't budge off their rigid positions the first time, nor   the second time, and now the third time. But Obama's the one not willing to wheel and deal? All aboard the clue train, please.

 [Cross-posted at DailyKos]

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if you insist on being ruled by politicians, if you insist on living in a society where rich and poor are equally free to pursue happiness, then here is the natural result.

if getting democracy is too hard, then learn to endure plutocracy. endure in silence, so people think you enjoy being screwed.
You have to wonder what has happened to Bob Woodward that he would make such an elemental error -- unless he has some hidden agenda for making it. The "sequester" was supposed to be the stick so terrible it could force the "super committee" to come up with an actual package of spending cuts and tax hikes to meet the deficit reduction goals that were the ransom Democrats had to pay to Republicans to do the responsible thing and raise the debt ceiling to pay for expenses already incurred.

The fact that the sequester itself did not call for revenue increases is immaterial since the sequester was never supposed to become law. It was just the hostage both sides were willing to allow to be taken. But Republicans would never have agreed to automatic tax hikes as a "trigger," which is why Democrats had to settle for the next best thing -- or the next best "hostage" -- which was cuts in defense.

But the idea that the sequester was a Democratic idea invented without duress, or that because there were no tax hikes in the sequester itself means Democrats are moving the goal posts by insisting they be part of the final package for turning the sequester off now, is just nuts.
Great analysis, Ron. This political game of chicken is what the GOP always applies to accomplish their goals. The Tea party wing is now wagging the Republican dog and they actually want this sequestor. All they want are budget cuts no matter the pain involved. This has been evident in their actions since the 2010 election. They want to tear down our system and re-build it in their own vision. It is truly sad and scary. I hope they are all blamed and exposed for the maniacal zealots they really are.
Maybe this is good thing if the whole thing causes the federal government to live within its means. We need major cuts to all programs especially defense. We need to up the tax rate and not just the super rich, but even the upper and middle class if we are going to fix the problem.

Both parties signed off on the deal, both parties created the problem and both parties are afraid to do what needs to be done.

The government is no different than you or me. If we make X and your expenses are Y then you either have to increase X or reduce Y or a combination of the two in order to stay within budget.