The fix is in for Social Security

When Obama announced his deal with the Republicans, I said that I was suspicious of his decision to reduce the payroll tax from 6.2% to 4.2% for one year. I said that this would help to actually create a crisis in the Social Security trust fund (that is currently in good shape) that those who want to loot that fund need in order to push through their plans. I am becoming more and more convinced that my cynicism was justified.

The first reason is that we have seen that no tax cut is ‘temporary’. As with the Bush ‘temporary’ tax cuts that were due to expire this year, not continuing them is now being portrayed as a tax increase. So it will be at the end of next year when the payroll tax cut expires. People who oppose the end of this cut will refer to the end as a tax increase and the Democrats will cave and continue it, and this will actually throw all the actuarial calculations out of whack, just as the looters want.

Secondly, the idea that the payroll tax cut will spur consumption (that will in turn act as source of economic stimulus) does not hold up. The small rise in the take home pay (less that $100 per month for a median household income of $50,000) is unlikely to cause people to rush out and buy stuff. If a one-year stimulus plan were the goal, it would have been better to keep the tax level unchanged and send that same family a single check for $1,000, which has a greater chance of being spent. This is the same kind of gimmicky tax rebate stunt that George W. Bush pulled, but it causes less damage than a ‘temporary’ payroll tax cut that will become permanent. (Note that I personally think that a consumption-based economy is insane but for the purpose of argument I am staying within that framework.)

I have a very bad feeling about this. It reinforces my belief that when it comes to adopting policies that harm the poor and middle class, the Democrats are the party of choice for the oligarchs because they know that party supporters will not revolt against their own leadership. They used Bill Clinton to cut welfare benefits to the poor and they are using Obama to attack Social Security. Their plan seems to be working.

How the rich win coming and going

The sub-prime mortgage debacle that fuelled the current economic crisis has been devastating for a lot of people. But not all. We know that some actually made huge profits from it. A recent report reveals that some of these same people then made even more profits from the government’s bailout plans, using the low interest money they were given.

The news reporter says, “The fact that some investors who profited amid the financial downturn benefited from TALF could elicit questions about why a U.S. bailout using taxpayer money helped finance new investments for them.” She is living in a fantasyland. Questions are rarely raised about why the government goes out of its way to help the wealthy get even wealthier. Only policies that help poor people get that kind of close scrutiny.

Competing explanations

Obama apologists say that he had to bribe the Republicans with tax breaks (income, estate, dividends) for wealthy people in order to get the things he really wanted (extension of tax cuts for families earning less that $250,000, extension of unemployment benefits).

But there is an alternative hypothesis that explains the same events: that what Obama really wanted was to give the wealthy their tax breaks and that he had to bribe his supporters with the other package in order to get them to support it.

Given his track record and the discussion that has ensued since the deal was announced, which hypothesis makes more sense?

Why the greater fuss over the latest WikiLeaks release?

Chris Floyd takes a stab at why this particular WikiLeaks release has aroused much greater fury than the previous ones that dealt with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that this joint action by the world elite to shut down WikiLeaks – which has been operating for four years – comes after the release of diplomatic cables, not in response to earlier leaks which provided detailed evidence of crimes and atrocities committed by the perpetrators and continuers of Washington’s Terror War. I suppose this is because the diplomatic cables have upset the smooth running of the corrupt and cynical backroom operations that actually govern our world, behind the ludicrous lies and self-righteous posturing that our great and good lay on for the public. They didn’t mind being unmasked as accomplices in mass murder and fomenters of suffering and hatred; in fact, they were rather proud of it. And they certainly knew that their fellow corruptocrats in foreign governments – not to mention the perpetually stunned and supine American people – wouldn’t give a toss about a bunch of worthless peons in Iraq and Afghanistan getting killed. But the diplomatic cables have caused an embarrassing stink among the closed little clique of the movers and shakers. And that is a crime deserving of vast eons in stir – or death.

WikiLeaks will doubtless try to struggle on. And Assange says he has given the entire diplomatic trove to 100,000 people. By dribs and drabs, shards of truth will get out. But the world’s journalists – and those persons of conscience working in the world’s governments – have been given a hard, harsh, unmistakable lesson in the new realities of our degraded time. Tell a truth that discomforts power, that challenges its domination over our lives, our discourse, our very thoughts, and you will be destroyed. No institution, public or private, will stand with you; the most powerful entities, public and private, will be arrayed against you, backed up by overwhelming violent force. This is where we are now. This is what we are now.

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Why the Australian PM is angry with WIkiLeaks

I was surprised that the new Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has been such a harsh critic of WikiLeaks, since its editor Julian Assange is an Australian citizen after all and WikiLeaks has not committed any crime. I suspected that there may be more to the story.

Well, yet another released cable may explain it. The Age reports that:

FEDERAL minister and right-wing Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib has been revealed as a confidential contact of the United States embassy in Canberra, providing inside information and commentary for Washington on the workings of the Australian government and the Labor Party.

Secret US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available exclusively to The Age reveal that Senator Arbib, one of the architects of Kevin Rudd’s removal as prime minister, has been in regular contact with US embassy officers.

His candid comments have been incorporated into reports to Washington with repeated requests that his identity as a ”protected” source be guarded.

Embassy cables reporting on the Labor Party and national political developments, frequently classified “No Forn” – meaning no distribution to non-US personnel – refer to Senator Arbib as a strong supporter of Australia’s alliance with the US.

They identify him as a valuable source of information on Labor politics, including Mr Rudd’s hopes to forestall an eventual leadership challenge from then deputy prime minister Julia Gillard.

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The hysterical and lawless war against WikiLeaks

Although WikiLeaks itself has not been charged with any crime, the US and other governments are talking about the organization as if they as criminals and taken actions against them without any due process. This lawless behavior by governments is now routine and the establishment media goes along with it but it is really quite extraordinary how vicious the reaction has been.

What the WikiLeaks furor has revealed is the oligarchic nature of the national security state, when with wink and a nod, governments can enlist the support of the business sector (Banks, Amazon, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal) in its war on information. (PayPal said they closed the WikiLeaks channel simply because the State Department asked it to.) We saw this before when the telecommunications companies colluded with the government to spy on people, and we should expect to see more unless they are exposed enough that people wake up and see the extent to which the national security state has taken over their lives.

John Naughton has an excellent article in The Guardian that says that governments are upset because WikiLeaks has exposed how they systematically lie to their own people.

‘Never waste a good crisis’ used to be the catchphrase of the Obama team in the runup to the presidential election. In that spirit, let us see what we can learn from official reactions to the WikiLeaks revelations.

The most obvious lesson is that it represents the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.

And as the backlash unfolds – first with deniable attacks on internet service providers hosting WikiLeaks, later with companies like Amazon and eBay and PayPal suddenly “discovering” that their terms and conditions preclude them from offering services to WikiLeaks, and then with the US government attempting to intimidate Columbia students posting updates about WikiLeaks on Facebook – the intolerance of the old order is emerging from the rosy mist in which it has hitherto been obscured. The response has been vicious, co-ordinated and potentially comprehensive, and it contains hard lessons for everyone who cares about democracy and about the future of the net.

There is a delicious irony in the fact that it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamouring to shut WikiLeaks down.

In going after WikiLeaks with such ferocity, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can be assured that the US media will not accuse them of hypocrisy. For example, NPR’s Morning Edition had a recent item on how high levels in the Chinese government tried to hack into Google earlier this year to gain information on human-rights activists. This lengthy report was based on a single speculative cable sent by a US diplomat and released by WikiLeaks. Hillary Clinton said at that time said that Barack Obama on his visit to China had “defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.” Because of course we know how highly Obama and Clinton value the free flow of information.

People like Obama and Clinton have no shame because those noble sentiments only apply to other countries. Are NPR’s investigative reporters looking into who is behind the denial-of-service attacks on the WikiLeaks servers? You can be sure that Tom Gjelten, who reported the NPR story about Chinese government abuse, won’t investigate because he has long been a slavish admirer of the Pentagon and the US government, which is why I always think of him as the correspondent for National Pentagon Radio.

Naughton continues:

One thing that might explain the official hysteria about the revelations is the way they expose how political elites in western democracies have been deceiving their electorates.

The leaks make it abundantly clear not just that the US-Anglo-European adventure in Afghanistan is doomed but, more important, that the American, British and other Nato governments privately admit that too.

The problem is that they cannot face their electorates – who also happen to be the taxpayers funding this folly – and tell them this. The leaked dispatches from the US ambassador to Afghanistan provide vivid confirmation that the Karzai regime is as corrupt and incompetent as the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was when the US was propping it up in the 1970s. And they also make it clear that the US is as much a captive of that regime as it was in Vietnam.

The political elites of western democracies have discovered that the internet can be a thorn not just in the side of authoritarian regimes, but in their sides too. It has been comical watching them and their agencies stomp about the net like maddened, half-blind giants trying to whack a mole. It has been deeply worrying to watch terrified internet companies — with the exception of Twitter, so far — bending to their will.

But politicians now face an agonising dilemma. The old, mole-whacking approach won’t work. WikiLeaks does not depend only on web technology. Thousands of copies of those secret cables – and probably of much else besides – are out there, distributed by peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent. Our rulers have a choice to make: either they learn to live in a WikiLeakable world, with all that implies in terms of their future behaviour; or they shut down the internet. Over to them.

Government lies have to be exposed if democracy is to have any meaning because otherwise they are not accountable.