Cliff of fraud tests lame duck president


With the trauma of the endless election campaign behind us, it’s time for the latest time-, resources- and attention-wasting panic. This time it’s something called the fiscal cliff, and you can be forgiven if you hadn’t the faintest idea what it was right up until the time it became about the only thing you could hear about in the corporate news media.

On this topic the conservative Heritage Foundation reliably plays to its base, portraying the possible implementation of the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in 2011 in biblical terms: “Taxmageddon is a one-year $494 billion tax increase slated to strike the economy on Jan. 1, 2013. Taxmageddon is made up of several expiring tax policies and the beginning of some major tax increases from Obamacare.” Nice, scary work, Heritage — except that the fiscal cliff is better described as a slope, one that in no way prevents Congress from making corrections after Jan. 1.

According to Dean Baker, a less delusional economist for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “pretty much nothing happens on Jan. 1, 2013, if there is no budget deal in place. We will all be on a higher tax withholding schedule, and in principle, the government should be spending at a slower pace, but these effects will be virtually invisible on Jan. 1. In fact, they will just barely be visible even if we go the whole month of January without a deal. The tales of sharply slower growth and even a recession are based on Congress and the president going a whole year without a deal.”

Even the decidedly un-progressive CBS News let the cat out of the bag with a story titled “The fiscal cliff isn’t a cliff at all” on Nov. 26: “It’s true that many of us would see slightly more money coming out of our paychecks at the start of the year, but lawmakers could retroactively reverse the tax hike once they work out a deal. Since both parties agree that the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended for the vast majority of Americans, it’s unlikely that most of us would end up taking a serious hit over the long run.”

So why the panic? Because it’s the only way Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats stand a chance of forcing the president to fold on the superior hand he holds. From their hard-won position somewhere outside the right field foul line, their only hope of eviscerating the social programs they long to privatize for the benefit of their 1 percent backers is to stampede public opinion with false threats of impending doom. In terms of business ethics these fakers long ago abandoned, this would be called fraud.

And so Obama’s worthiness to lead progressively in his second term will be put to an early test. If he agrees to some kind of “grand bargain” before the New Year — if he needlessly throws Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security on the tracks — we will know he lacks the courage and/or the inclination to resist the dictates of the ruling corporate class. If on the other hand he ignores the extortive scenario now being foisted on the public and instead forces the wealthy to actually pay their membership dues to be citizens of this country, we of the 99 percent can begin to suspect we have the makings of an ally in the White House, at last. Of course, it will take a mighty push from the whole village to push him through.

It may occur to you that now, while the issue of debt and taxes are on the front burner, would be the ideal time to consider how we got to this point. How does the time-honored adage go? “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately, the corporate news industry is locked into presenting whatever their advertisers think we should be interested in and besides, a certain tax bracket doesn’t find it convenient for us to reflect too carefully on water they consider already under the bridge. You’ll have to either search for this “too true to be good” story online or consult the alternative press.

Basically, points out the no-nonsense biweekly Progressive Populist, President George W. Bush, an avowed right wing Republican, enacted two tax cuts (especially for the wealthy) and conducted two wars without bothering to pay for them. This increased the national debt upwards of $5 trillion. That was pretty handy work, but the roots of ruin run all the way back to the 1970s, when government-bashing President Ronald Reagan declared war on the sensible regulation of big business, ominously including controls on Wall Street’s financial activities.

The one percent had struggled for decades against the logical oversight of their gluttonous activities put in place by FDR’s New Deal, and in Reagan they finally found the perfect sheepskin-cloaked wolf. The rest, as they say, is history. With the dismantling and defunding of controls over the financial sector and the activities of large corporations, the stage was set for the collapse of 2008 and the single most expensive episode in U.S. history, one from which the country may never fully recover. In the absence of any real reform since the crash of 2007, the real cliff will be the next financial collapse.

Dave Wheelock is a member of the Oneida Nation who directs and coaches collegiate sports in Socorro. Contact him at