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America and Its Discontents


Three Gallup poll records were shattered this week. First, American satisfaction with government is at a record low—18%. Second, the Republican Party’s favorability rating is at an all-time low of 28%. Third, the highest ever percentage of respondents cited “dysfunctional government” as the number one problem facing the U.S.—above even the economy.

Americans’ discontent is plenty justified. In addition to the government shutdown, a default is imminent, which Bloomberg News says would be “a catastrophe dwarfing Lehman’s fall”. To make matters worse, Republicans are making an agreement on the debt ceiling contingent on cuts to social programs. For example, a letter signed by 51 House Republicans shows they want to use the debt ceiling crisis as a “window to preserve the long-term viability of Social Security”. Translation: cut social security benefits.

The previous page of that letter considers the following ways to “preserve Social Security’s solvency” (another euphemism for cutting benefits):

* Continuing and expanding the phase-in of raising the retirement age

* Adjusting the inflation formula used for calculating future growth

* Means-testing benefits of high income recipients of Social Security

* Gradually restoring the cap on wages subject to FICA to its Reagan-era levels

Each of these represents either a reduction of Social Security benefits or a threat to the program. The labyrinthine wording—e.g. ‘continuing and expanding the phase-in of raising the retirement age’, instead of simply ‘raising the retirement age’—is natural, given how profoundly unpopular and regressive these schemes are. The road to inequality is paved with vague prose.

If the past is any predictor of the future, Obama will give the GOP the benefits cuts that they’re hoping for. Recall that in July 2011, Obama offered to cut Social Security and Medicare by $700 billion in exchange for passage of his “Grand Bargain”—a grandiose term that tries to evoke the New Deal yet represents the exact opposite: cuts in benefits. This was not the only time that Obama has offered to cut both Social Security and Medicare. The Green Party’s chief economic adviser, Jack Rasmus, covers Obama’s numerous attempts at cutting these social programs.

Without a serious social movement like Occupy to ply the demands of the 99%, it is likely that Obama will continue to serve the 1%, the true beneficiary of his administration.  A recent study from UC Berkeley demonstrates that “the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery.” One interviewer confronted Obama with this statistic and even he couldn’t disagree, offering the lame excuse that “the folks in the middle and at the bottom haven’t seen wage or income growth…over the last 15 years”; the implication being that he inherited this problem and that it is a historical fact, out of his control.

Meanwhile the same group that naïvely expects Obama to advocate for their interests in this debt-ceiling fiasco is celebrating his nomination of the supposedly progressive Janet Yellen. One need not read far to realize she represents the same tried and tragic policies of her predecessor. As CNN plainly stated, “her views are considered to be closely aligned with current Chairman Ben Bernanke, and for that reason, the leadership transition is expected to be smooth once his term ends in January.” New boss same as the old boss.

Notable among her professed views is a commitment to the same form of Quantitative Easing (QE) that Bernanke pursued; i.e., giving $13 trillion to banks and investors. Small wonder that American discontent is breaking historical records.

Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, WI, USA, where he edits whiterosereader.org He can be reached via email at kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com or on Twitter @kenklippenstein


Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or by email: kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com

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