The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Fundamentalism and Fascism

Social Security Howlers Watch

Now that Bush looks like he is finally going to put forth a proposal on privatizing Social Security, we will see if the media totally falls for the scam or whether there are still reputable elements who will call out this ridiculousness for what it is.

The bottom line: Social Security has already been saved.

Paul Krugman broke silence from a break he is taking to publish an article in the NYT yesterday which addresses the ideas I’ve been going on about for a while now:

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.

The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come. . . . .
But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one. . . . .
For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it.

You see? It’s all just a shell game. Making working class people who pay wage taxes pay a lot more, promising them Social Security . . . and then taking away Social Security because of a “crisis”. Greenspan is not only duplicitous in this deliberate fleecing. He is also the chief engineer of both halves of it. There is a book on this issue, published in 1999, called “Social Security: The Phony Crisis”.

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has recently been increasing his examination of these issues as well. Here is a critique of some current debate on the issue, as well as a historic look at how the media responded when Al Gore tried to point out that Bush was trying to privatize SS unnecessarily during the 2000 campaign. Here are some examples of the media response to Gore:

Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Norah, let’s start in talking about this amazing campaign. Who would have believed that George W. Bush would have looked so clean and so good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain? He’s up five points in a number of polls this week, and yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his…It’s the same thing he did to Bill Bradley—attack, attack, attack.

Russert, CNBC, May 6, 2000:
JOE KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he’s kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
TIM RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky…Why—why—why does Gore just, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?

Inside Politics, CNN, May 17, 2000:
CHARLES COOK: For Governor Bush, it’s a chance to show sort of bold leadership…But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and it’s going to test all of George Bush’s abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care… BERNARD SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and there’s been a lot of criticism that he’s been overly negative. Once again, here, attack, attack.

KONDRACKE (4/30/00): Look, the dynamic here is perfectly obvious. Gore is behind in all the polls, so he's doing what worked with Bill Bradley, attack attack attack, and, you know, and he's hoping that it'll work on George W. Bush. The difference is that George W. Bush is not going to take it forever. I mean, George W. knows how to counterpunch, and I predict soon that he'll start doing it.
BARNES: Yes, he's not going to be the guy on the ropes just getting punched. No rope-a-dope for him. But look, Gore was attack attack attacking, and he's—in the beginning, and now he's been going down as a result of that attack attack attacking. He doesn't—I don't think he knows how to deal with Bush, who doesn't want to really get—engage him in a back-and-forth, wisely.

Do you see a pattern?

Somerby then examines some GOP claims about how little the transition to private accounts will cost. (One suspects the upshot of this will be similar to Iraq: they’ll lie like crazy to create some semblance of consensus in the media, then they’ll do what they want, then when it all goes to hell they will pretend not to notice). Somerby responds to Krugman’s column and in this essay, he shows how Tim Russert, as just one example, is willing to shill this lie to the public. Expect performances like this to be common as this “debate” begins in earnest, but beware of people who are screaming “crisis”. There isn’t one.

Like Bush’s War and Bush’s Election, this Social Security “reform” is the next big crisis that I fear America is waltzing blindly into. As in the first two cases, I pray it is not too late for the US to stop making such stupid, easily avoided mistakes. But we are up against the Bush propaganda machine, and as we’ve seen at least twice before, they have a powerful way of separating ourselves from what is good for us.

Fundamentalism and Fascism Watch

Quick quiz: What is wrong with this quote about Christian fundamentalists in this country?:

They hate liberated women and all that symbolizes them. They hate it when women compete with men in the workplace, when they decide when or whether they will bear children, when they show the independence of getting abortions. They hate changes in laws that previously gave men more power over women.

They hate the wide range of sexual orientations and lifestyles that have always characterized human societies. They hate homosexuality.

They hate individual freedoms that allow people to stray from the rigid sort of truth they want to constrain all people. They hate individual rights that let others slough off their simple certainties.

Answer? Sorry, it was a trick question. That quote actually refers to Islamic fundamentalists, and what they don’t like about America (in addition to our foreign policy). As you can see, the differences are pretty slight. We have our own homegrown American Taliban right in our own country.

The quote comes from this interesting essay, “The Fundamentalist Agenda” on the similarities of all fundamentalisms, found in a scholarly study of the phenomenon about a decade ago. An excerpt:

They identified five characteristics shared by virtually all fundamentalisms. The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God—and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right—must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase “overcoming the modern” is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created.

The essay goes on to catalog the roles of fundamentalist versus progressive drives, and to show how progressive agendas can be accpeted if they use the trappings of fundamentalist emotions.

Digby, who is well aware of the fact that Democrats need to market themselves better, examines this essay and proposes a re-framing of the debate as “fundamentalism versus America” being the real struggle. This does three things: it pits us against Islamic fundamentalism, it highlights the progressive ways in which we differ from fundamentalism as a culture (which are in danger), and it also helps to push American fundamentalism out of the mainstream, where it so desperately wants to be. Together these two essays shed a great deal of light on recent human behavior, and point to a useful strategy for getting our culture back on the track towards humanity (maybe humaneness is a better word).


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