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Print view: Matt Bai joined Lawrence O'Donnell and Lady Collins in driving the plutocrats' war
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BAI NOW, PAY LATER! Matt Bai joined Lawrence O’Donnell and Lady Collins in driving the plutocrats’ war: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2010

Keith Olbermann, first-order fool: Keith Olbermann rarely shows us much. But last night, he was just god-awful, as he spoke with Ezra Klein about the president’s tax proposal.

For the record, nothing is necessarily “wrong” with what the president has proposed. In 2001, all prevailing tax rates were lowered as part of President Bush’s tax cuts. Those lowered tax rates are slated to return to previous levels at the end of this year. Obama has proposed retaining all the lowered rates, except for the rate on marginal income. This highest tax rate affects two percent of tax-payers.

Nothing is necessarily “wrong” with this proposal. But Olbermann is very big on the idea that these tax rates should be rebranded as the “Obama tax cuts,” a point he stressed all through last night’s teases. There’s nothing automatically wrong with that, although it strikes us as massively silly. But there really is something wrong with Grade A bullsh*t like this:

OLBERMANN (9/15/10): Facing the potentiality of a Tea-fueled tidal wave in November, a political movement united in its demand to shrink government debt, the Democratic party is right now debating whether maybe it might be a good idea to stand up against a plan to add another half trillion or so to the debt to pay for a tax cut for the richest two percent of Americans. Our third story tonight: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell put a bow on this gift today. But despite strong words from the president, it`s still not clear whether Democrats will be smart enough to take that gift.

Specifically, the Washington Post reports today that McConnell was asked how he would pay for his proposal to extend and add to all the Bush tax cuts, a plan that would nearly double projected deficits over the next ten years, adding four trillion in just the first decade, and more in decades subsequent.

How to pay for four trillion plus? His office told the Post McConnell supports a spending freeze that would save 300 billion dollars. Good, only 3.7 trillion dollars to go, Mr. McConnell!

What a hack! It’s true—McConnell’s proposal would add roughly $4 trillion to the debt over ten years. His spending freeze would only off-set a small part of that revenue loss. But what was wrong with Olbemann’s snark? It was left to poor Ezra Klein to tell his hapless host:

KLEIN: I don’t think people have a sense of what the numbers are here. When we talk about the tax cuts, the Republican plan right now, it would add four trillion dollars to the deficit over the next ten years. Nothing that Obama has done [to this date], even if you multiply it by itself a couple times over, has done anything like that. That is five times larger than the stimulus. That is—I think it’s about 15 times larger than what Tarp will end up being, which will only be about 66 billion dollars.So this is a huge increase on the deficit.

And by the way, Obama’s middle class tax plan is about 3.2 trillion on the deficit. So we just went, in a couple of months, from everybody saying the deficit is the most important issue in American politics to should we increase it by three trillion dollars or four trillion dollars? This is what American politics is.

And nobody levels with the American people on it, right? The Republicans don’t say, “We think this is worth four trillion on the deficit.” Obama doesn’t say, “I think it’s worth three trillion on the deficit.” We just sort of swing back and forth between pretending we’re concerned about the deficit and pretending we`re concerned about taxes. And never ever deal as a country with the dissonance between those two positions.

What an idiot. Olbermann had been mocking McConnell for adding $3.7 trillion to the debt. It was left to Klein to explain that Obama’s plan would add $3.2 trillion! For the record, Klein was at his best as he stepped back and drew the larger picture about this piddling distinction. “This is what American politics is,” he scornfully said, to one of its dumbest practitioners.

Olbermann’s voice grew a bit tight after Ezra thus declaimed. But he did come up with a skillful save—a save in which he excused the Dems while trashing that phony Tea Party:

OLBERMANN (continuing directly): If you take as a given that the Democrats get away with that because they’re experienced politicians, and it’s business as usual and the rest of that, how do people in the Tea Party look at themselves in the mirror under the same circumstances and say, wait, do I want to cut taxes or do I want to cut the deficit? Or do they just not appear in their own mirror?

Skillfully, Olbermann let Obama off the hook, then savaged the phonies in the Tea Party! If we might adapt KO’s favorite statement: That man is an idiot!

It has become increasingly hard to make George Will right on anything, but people like Olbermann have been succeeding with this foolish approach. In last Sunday’s Washington Post, Will mocked this approach: “The stance of other Democrats seems to be that the Bush cuts were wicked in conception, reckless in execution—and should be largely, and perhaps entirely, extended.” To see this approach flawlessly expressed, just check out this post by Steve Benen. Shorter Benen: The Bush tax cuts were a massive disaster. Let’s retain almost all these tax cuts!

We liberals slept in the woods for years, emerging with brain muscles badly shriveled. Olbermann was pathetic last night. We thought Klein went the extra half-mile in tackling his clownish construction.

Special report: Thirty-year war!

PART 3—BAI NOW, PAY LATER (permalink): When Digby walked into that Albertson’s store, she encountered a trio of voters who simply didn’t understand how Social Security works (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/10). Various erroneous statements were made. But these were the mothers of them all:

DIGBY (9/10/14): The woman was saying that there's no money left in the social security system, that they'd spent it all.

The clerk said, "Yeah, I heard that too, there's nothing left.”

[…]

The other person (also in her 40s) said, "all I know is that everybody says there won't be any money there for us.”

“There won't be any money there for us,” a woman in her forties said. In truth, this statement makes no earthly sense (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/10). But that woman was certainly right on one score; that plainly is what “everybody says,” including many of the nation’s most famous pseudo-liberals. Two famous players had made the following statements in the weeks before Digby walked into that gin joint:

Gail Collins, New York Times, 8/28/10: The system is supposed to run out of money in 2037.

Lawrence O’Donnell, Countdown, 8/30/10: When your time comes to collect, the money will not be there, according to all the projections that we have today.

Collins and O’Donnell had offered those pearls on August 28 and August 30. Then too, we had the disgraceful nonsense penned by the New York Times’ Matt Bai on August 26.

Back in May, Bai began writing a weekly “Political Times” analysis piece in this, our dumbest newspaper. Sometimes, his work is perfectly good; his piece today, about the demonizing of Obama, is basically right on the mark. But on August 26, Bai pondered the task which is facing Obama’s “bipartisan panel on the national debt.” In the process, he offered an astounding account of the Social Security program.

No, we didn’t make this up. Yes, this appeared in the New York Times, two days before Collins said the system “is supposed to run out of money:”

BAI (8/26/10): The liberal groups that are already speaking out against the debt panel's unfinished work have chosen to start with Social Security because it is likely to be at the center of any budget compromise. ''If there's a place where it looks like Republicans and Democrats can reach agreement, we're afraid it's Social Security,'' says Frank Clemente, the director of Strengthen Social Security. (In other words, the two parties might actually work together on something. They must be stopped!)

The coalition bases its case on the idea that Social Security is actually in fine fiscal shape, since it has amassed a pile of Treasury Bills—often referred to as IOUs— in a dedicated trust fund. This is true enough, except that the only way for the government to actually make good on these IOUs is to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases—none of which seem like especially practical options for the long term. So this is sort of like saying that you're rich because your friend has promised to give you 10 million bucks just as soon as he wins the lottery.

Somehow, Bai managed to avoid repeating the claim that the program was going to “run out of money.” But that is an astonishing account of the program’s structure—of its basic logic and finances.

Checking on Google, we see that a significant number of liberal and progressive sites complained about Bai’s piece at the time. Each of us will have to decide if those presentations were clear enough to undermine the massive confusion created in voters’ minds by a thirty-year disinformation war concerning this vital program. For ourselves, we’ll only say that no one complained about Bai’s piece at the sites we review every day. Steve Benen, Josh Marshall? Not a word. Did Joan Walsh complain? You’ve got to be kidding! Did the social arbiter Digby speak, perhaps from the fainting couch she maintains for the days when she must interact with the lower classes? Not a word was said. After all, Bai isn’t one of the little people—the kinds of people we pseudo-liberals simply love to loathe.

In a word, Bai’s account was astounding. The problem began with the silly snark he aimed at liberals like Clemente, who just want to make sure that the two parties never “actually work together on something.” But in the second paragraph we’ve posted, the propaganda comes thick and fast—straight from the plutocrat spin tanks which have scripted this thirty-year war. Are the treasury bills in the system’s trust fund “often referred to as IOUs?” Yes, they are referred to that wey—by the propagandists who have waged a war of disinformation against this vital program! But so what? Bai simply adopted the opposition’s language as he continued his hapless scan.

Will Social Security “run out of money,” the claim those Albertson’s shoppers have heard? Bai didn’t make that claim directly, as Collins and O’Donnell would do, just days later. But what a clown this “analyst” was as he assessed this program! In his account, Bai compared the system’s chance of survival to the chances of an individual winning a $10 million lottery jackpot! To state the obvious, this is the equivalent of the claim those shoppers say they have constantly heard.

“There won't be any money there for us,” one shopper said, noting that this is what “everyone says.” Two weeks earlier, O’Donnell and Collins had said this directly. Rather plainly, Bai said the same thing, though not in so many words.

Those Albertson’s shoppers were badly confused, but they were certainly right on one score. Everybody does say this, even at the top of the “liberal” world, even in our most famous newspaper. And when people like Bai/Collins/O’Donnell say this, big liberals persistently sit and stare, unwilling to call them on the carpet for the role they play in this plutocrat war. Joan Walsh is quite good at spotting the bigots, tens of millions at a time. But Joan is very, very silent when the nation’s movers and shakers repeat the basic talking-points of this disinformation war. (Such people are from her own high class. People! Careers are involved!) Rachel Maddow is eager to sneer at lower-class rubes like Christine O’Donnell, who she’s currently trying to get elected to the senate. But when Lawrence O’Donnell talks utter smack, she keeps her millionaire trap shut, respecting the greatness of her colleague and the play-list of her corporate owners. Even worse, she brings Lady Collins onto her show, where she can kiss her big fat ass. On September 9, Lady Collins guested on the Maddow Show. Ass was kissed, as always happens when this dope appears on this gong-show:

MADDOW (9/9/10): Gail Collins, columnist for the New York Times, and always a very welcome guest here—thank you for coming in.

COLLINS: Great to be here.

MADDOW: Nice to see you.

Career wh*res don’t challenge big players like Collins. Though in truth, it’s unlikely that Maddow could really explain what was wrong with the thing Collins said. (For the record, Collins was invited on the show that night to trash Terry Jones, the crackpot Florida preacher. Crackpots like Jones get jumped on the Maddow show. Numbskulls like Collins do not.)

Tomorrow, we’ll return to Digby’s column, focusing on the ways her commenters lit into the dumb stupid rubes she was forced to endure at Albertson’s. Digby ran home to tell her readers about the dumb things these people had said; she hadn’t bothered telling her readers about the dumb things that were said by O’Donnell, Bai, Collins. At Digby’s place, pseudo-liberals gather around to mock the dumbness of average (white) people. Little time gets spent on the big liberal players who have driven this war along.

That said, let’s examine the heart of Bai’s “reasoning.” In the following passage, he explains why hoping to get Social Security is like hoping to win the lottery. We’ll change our point of focus:

BAI: The coalition bases its case on the idea that Social Security is actually in fine fiscal shape, since it has amassed a pile of Treasury Bills—often referred to as IOUs— in a dedicated trust fund. This is true enough, except that the only way for the government to actually make good on these IOUs is to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases—none of which seem like especially practical options for the long term. So this is sort of like saying that you're rich because your friend has promised to give you 10 million bucks just as soon as he wins the lottery.

That highlighted statement is basically accurate. It’s also an increasingly frequent talking-point in this disinformation war. It miscasts the logic of the situation Bai pretends to explore.

It’s true: The federal government has borrowed money from the Social Security trustees over the past 27 years. More specifically, it has borrowed the annual over-payment of taxes written into the system in the 1983 reforms authored by President Reagan. How were those (perfectly sensible) over-payments designed to work? Preparing for their future retirement, workers would pay more into the system each year than was required to pay the benefits of that year’s recipients. These over-payments would be borrowed by the federal government, thus reducing the amount of money the government had to borrow from other sources. These over-payments would be repaid to the trustees in future years, when retiring baby boomers began to place a stress on the system.

Boomers would pay extra money each year, then get paid back when they started retiring. There was nothing complex about this plan, and the arrangement made perfect sense. But then, the plutocrats set out to create confusion about the transactions involved in this program. Bai repeated one of their points as he “explained” what the government must do to repay those workers for their decades of over-payments.

It’s true! To pay back the money it borrowed from the trustees, the federal government will have to “issue new debt, take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose tax increases.” That said, the government will basically “issue new debt”—it will simply borrow more money from somewhere else to pay the trustees back. But this is what the government always does when it pays back its many loans, whether to the Social Security trustees or to those big Chinese banks. Duh! The federal government runs big annual deficits; where do you think it gets the money to pay back the money it previously borrowed when such loans come due? The president doesn’t hike through the woods, hoping to find big sacks of lost money. To pay back its debts as they come due, the federal government borrows again! You may not like the fact that your government borrows money each year to fund its large deficits. But this is the way it repays its debts—all of them, to all its debtors.

People like Bai come along and turn this process into a mystery. They make it sound like this troubling practice is somehow unique to Social Security—and like it’s very, very risky. Sorry—that is disinformation, though Bai may not have realized. This misleading construction was born in spin tanks, funded by the plutocrat forces who have waged war on the public’s understanding of this vital system.

It’s true! The federal government will have to borrow more money to pay back those annual over-payments. But this is what the government always does; there’s nothing unusual about it. But so what? By the time Bai got through, he made it sound like a very risky maneuver. It’s so unlikely that this can be done, he compared it to the odds of winning a major lottery.

How did people in that Albertson’s store get so disinformed about Social Security? Many players have been involved over the course of the past thirty years. Skilled plutocrats dreamed up disinformation—and hacks like Collins, Bai and O’Donnell dumbly (or deliberately) recite it for them. Second-order hacks, like Walsh and Maddow, keep their big fat traps shut tight when this garbage occurs.

Eventually, Digby walks into a store, and hears the fruit of this disinformation as three average people correctly describe what “everybody says.”

Tomorrow, we’ll show you how we liberals, the world’s dumbest people, commented about Digby’s post. In the process, you will be seeing how the plutocrats win.