Monday, July 25, 2011

"All we want are the facts, ma'am."

Dragnet's Joe Friday character used the statement, "All we want are the facts, ma'am," fairly often--not to be confused with a variant of it, "just the facts, ma'am," which he never used, but which has, over the years, been imputed to the Jack Webb character.

The need for facts permeates our society to such a degree, that we now have the Car Fox urging used-car buyers to ask for the CARFAX before buying a used car, with the now familiar demand, "Show Me the CARFAX!".

With politicians shading the facts, and shaving them to spin them for the consumption of their base, into cotton candy, or into a Castor-oil concoction, depending on whether they wish to repulse, or to entice, a new site was developed primarily to sift through their various claims, and expose them to the light of truth.

That site is politiFact. Unfortunately, I couldn't find on the site a slogan that equals that of CARFAX, or a phrase that's as catchy as the one used by Joe Friday. To correct this obvious oversight, and to assure that the site remains as trendy as possible, I created one: "PolitiFact: Where Facts and Politics Merge."

Okay, it needs work!

Recently, I spent some time prowling a few blogs (Now, that's an interesting image!). I wanted to see what issues were capturing, and captivating, the minds of black conservative bloggers. During my prowling, I came upon a black conservative blogger with an entry titled:
"The Debt Ceiling Debate - Liars and Losers on display"
I was moved to leave a comment in response to his entry, but learned that the blog employed comment moderation. Rarely do my comments slip pass the watchful eyes of the blog minder. For that reason, I don't take time to respond.

As these bloggers are careful to include only like-minded posts, other bloggers err in the other direction, permitting all kind of disgusting, racist, homophobic, misogynist, anonymous, and not so anonymous, comments in the interest of free speech, not realizing the simple truth--speech may be free, but not a platform.

What was once a great blog for liberal and progressive blacks to meet, talk, and vent, has now become a cesspool of fecal matter. Sensible, reasonable, thoughtful, and intelligent commenters (a few have stayed behind, holding their nose) have deserted the blog, for pastures that are better kept, free of noxious weeds, and more fit for intellectual grazing.

I digress, but not much. The black conservative blogger on "The Debt Ceiling Debate," provided this scathing, blistering, opening statement:

I have been watching the debt ceiling debate with absolute disgust. Seriously, I am on the verge of vomiting from the outright lies, distortions, political games and typical Washington foolishness. Never in my life have I witness such dysfunction!

First we have Obama who has now taken to flat out lying to the American people. Today on CBS News Obama was asked a straight forward question about whether or not Social Security checks would go out next month and here is what the Liar In Chief said:

CBS News: President Obama on Tuesday said he cannot guarantee that retirees will receive their Social Security checks August 3 if Democrats and Republicans in Washington do not reach an agreement on reducing the deficit in the coming weeks.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, according to excerpts released by CBS News.
Undeterred, our blogger unleashes the full force of his rant, sparing no one he believed was responsible for allowing Democrats to dictate what is factual about the debt ceiling and what is not.

This is a bold face lie, plain and simple. The Social Security Administration claims to have $2.5 trillion surplus. Monthly expenditures for Social Security is about $60 billion. How then on God's green Earth can Obama say with a straight face that he cannot guarantee seniors will receive their on August 3rd?

Obama should be shown the door immediately for lying to the American people like this and CBS News should have their licence revoked for not calling Obama out on such a lie. It is absolutely disgusting!

Aside from a lapdog media, Obama is comfortable lying to the public because he knows he is dealing with a bunch of loser Republicans. The Republican leadership is a bunch of losers because they immediately went down the road of agreeing to raise the debt ceiling from the get go.

Back in January when they took control of the House, Republicans were quick to agree with the left's lie that calamity would befall the world if the debt ceiling was not raise. Now we have Republican leadership willing to abdicate it constitutional authority of the purse strings to the president in order to avoid political heat.

I don't believe that I ever called Bush a liar, although it's documented that he lied about many things. If I did, I'm pretty sure that I phrased it more delicately. I can say, however, with absolute certainty, that I never called Bush "Liar-In-Chief."

In my comment section, it's been discussed many times, how the news media fan the fires of anger, because this emotion, above all others, serves the agenda of government and of corporations that are busy extracting money from our economy at a rate that's both frightening to behold and contemplate.

Earlier, I mentioned PolitiFact. Had our black conservative blogger consulted that site, he might have modified his accusation (but I doubt it), and would have, perhaps, given the president the benefit of the doubt, as to whether the government will meet its legal obligation to seniors, and others who look to a government check once a month to live on.

After Rep. Joe Wilson bellowed his now infamous "You lie!" the ice was broken, and chunks of it has floated in Tea, and have since iced other, not so soft, drinks. We have yet another Joe, Rep. Joe Walsh, stirring the ice in his glass, telling President Obama to Quit Lying." And Sarah Palin scooping up several pieces of the ice, to call Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama liars in one of her Fox News interviews. If you want to see it, you'll have to endure a short commercial for the trouble.

Remember, our blogger accused President Obama of "flat out lying to the American people." So certain was he, he didn't bite his tongue, or moderate his statement,

As it turns out, it's not quite that simple--but then, very things are, especially when they're as complex as our federal government.

Rather than taking the president's word, or the word of Sarah Palin, or of either of the two Joes, PolitiFact subjected President Obama's remarks to very careful scrutiny, and concluded that he didn't lie, but that his remarks are only partially true, receiving a HALF TRUTH on the TRUTH-O-METER. A closer reading suggests that the Obama statement, depending on some very iffy technical stuff, may prove to be wholly true.

So here's what we have, according to PolitiFact:

Social Security is a mandatory program supported by a trust fund, so Social Security benefits don't have to be formally approved by Congress every year. However, Social Security Administration employees are paid through appropriated funds. The real question about a government shutdown was whether those employees would be kept from going to work and if so, whether the checks would sit idle rather than arriving in mailboxes nationwide. The rules that cover government shutdowns provide some leeway for federal workers to carry out core Social Security functions. This flexibility allowed checks to go out during a 1995 shutdown, even as less-urgent agency functions lagged.

However, the two scenarios -- a government shutdown caused by the absence of funding approved by Congress and a debt ceiling impasse that prevents new borrowing -- are different. So the consequences of one do not necessarily match the consequences of the other.

Will the issuance of checks need Social Security Administration employees to make it happen? If so, the issuance of checks might not take place, if a shutdown ensues from the "debt ceiling impasse that [will, in all likelihood] prevent new borrowing."

Here's more:

Delaying certain payments, even while making others, could ripple through the economy and drag down already weak economic growth. "Removing a portion of government spending from the economy would leave behind significant economic effects and would have an effect on" gross domestic product, CRS wrote.

There are also some specific technical challenges for shifting funding into and out of the Social Security Trust Fund, which our friends at the Washington Post Fact-Checker column looked into here.

Most of the experts we interviewed agreed that the federal government, if push came to shove, could probably find a way to prioritize Social Security or other payments, though none expressed absolute certainty. However, most of the experts also acknowledged practical challenges of using such tactics.

While he thinks the GAO's green light for payment prioritization carries significant weight, Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute added that "with so much being borrowed, it is hard simply to pick on a few programs" to continue in the face of a debt ceiling impasse.

Ronald M. Levin, a professor at the Washington University School of Law said, "I interpret the president to be saying, 'Stopping Social Security checks would be hugely costly, but other curtailments would also be hugely costly. ... Something will have to give, and I cannot responsibly guarantee that it won’t be Social Security.' That is not quite what he said, but to my mind it’s close."

Where does this leave us? The critics likely have a point when they say Obama is playing up the risk to the most sympathetic potential victims -- Social Security recipients, 23 percent of whom live in households that depend on the retirement system for 90 percent or more of their income. While it's not a certainty that the Obama administration could prioritize cutting checks to seniors, there's a reasonable shot that the administration could do it.

On the other hand, doing so would likely cause a lot of collateral damage to other American creditors, federal workers, students, Pentagon vendors and countless others -- and could also hamper the broader economy at a particularly sensitive time. The president is probably justified in saying that the possibility of an un-raised debt ceiling jeopardizes Social Security checks -- after all, it hasn't happened before, so no one knows for sure. But we also think the president probably has tools at his disposal to avoid the worst-case scenario for seniors that he expresses concern about. Acknowledging that there are a lot of uncertainties, we rate his statement Half True.
Read more here.

I think it's better for the president to express "uncertainty," rather than certainty, just in case he can't deliver--putting aside the possibility of earning political capital by equivocating. Saying that he can deliver, and learning later that he can't, would have a far greater impact on check recipients.

When you realize that this debt ceiling crisis has been purposely manufactured (all Congress had to do was simply pass what would have amounted to no more than a two-page bill to raise the debt ceiling), the catastrophic fallout could have been prevented.

If by defaulting, our credit rating tanks, this will have a long-term, deleterious effect, not only on the price government will have to pay for borrowed money, but the price that all American will have to pay to buy a house, a car, or new appliances, if they're compelled to buy them on credit.

As I prepare to publish this, House Speaker Boehner is preparing to speak. It appears that a breakthrough in the debt-ceiling talk has been negotiated.


Greg L said...


I missed this post earlier, so I'm a bit late with my comments. I'm reading this after my recent post on the same topic and you and I are definitely on the same page here.

I don't think that many people are thinking very deeply about this issue and that includes many black blogs. Most of the debate is either about the president being under attack or the right wing claptrap about Obama being some sort of socialist who's responsible for this mess. In other words, the debate generally is a mirror of the debate that's staged in the press. Hence, whether Obama's truthfulness about the SSI checks is something easy for his opponents to latch onto, but really is beside the point IMO. The main point is that we're being set up for austerity and there's been a consensus around this among the powers that be and the "play" that's being acted out on stage is to merely move us toward that end.

As I write this, there are reports that some economists are projecting a ratings downgrade on treasuries. There has been a steady drumbeat of those announcements and now they're saying that's a certainly regardless of any resolution of the debt limit issue. That downgrade means a risk premium is in order and that means higher interest rates on government debt. Since there's a lot of it, that means an even larger slice of the budget must be devoted to debt service and that can't happen unless there's some room made and that leads right back to entitlement cuts. It's the perfect setup---first a political crisis that creates a problem which creates an opening for the bondholders to extract more from the taxpayers. Who are the major bondholders? It's the same people that we bailed out with the TARP. It's the same people who've enjoyed the largess of the Federal Reserve while you and I had to pay more at the pump and the grocery store as a result.

Look no further than Ireland and Greece to understand what's being set up here. In those nations, the public purse has basically been turned over to the banks and bondholders and via the IMF, the US taxpayer has actually even bailed out these same people abroad. They're doing the same thing here and there's no one, absolutely no one, standing in the gap to represent the interest of the people. As a matter of fact, there's so much confusion around this issue, that the people don't even know they're getting fleeced and that leaves us in an appreciably worst condition than the folks in Greece and Ireland.

This is a real problem.

Black Diaspora said...

@Greg L: "It's the perfect setup---first a political crisis that creates a problem which creates an opening for the bondholders to extract more from the taxpayers."

For us to understand this, required a great deal of digging, and application of attention.

What most people are seeing is a congress that appears to be fighting for the welfare of the American people, albeit from two different perspectives--cut government, and don't raise taxes, or raise taxes and save entitlements.

As you stated, this is not what's going on: The crisis is designed to transfer money from the people into the hands of bondholders, investors whose only allegiance is to the grey and green and not the red, white, and blue.

"Most of the debate [on many black blogs] is either about the president being under attack or the right wing claptrap about Obama being some sort of socialist who's responsible for this mess."

Which brings me to this point: Many people don't seem to care about the facts. They'd rather believe that Obama is a Muslim, that the birth certificate he provided is a fake, and that he's done nothing for blacks during his time in office.

And when you provided them with the facts, they turn angry and dismiss you.

How in the world are they going to find the truth when the lie is serving a greater purpose--underscoring their bigotry and biases.

Rather than, "You can't handle the truth," it becomes, instead, "You don't want to know the truth."

"As a matter of fact, there's so much confusion around this issue, that the people don't even know they're getting fleeced and that leaves us in an appreciably worst condition than the folks in Greece and Ireland."

My prowling reveals just how much we have allowed ourselves to be snookered. The news media has worked its magic. Playing to the people's biases and bigotry, the media has created a populace that can't think for itself without first consulting Rush Limbaugh or some pundit on Fox News.

On Morning Joe, this morning, the usual Republican talking heads still insist that Obama leads from behind.

The several meeting he's had with congressional leadership over the last several weeks, struggling to find compromise and consensus, puts the lie to this.

As I recall, this same kind of intense negotiating took place at the White House around the passage of the healthcare reform bill.

It seems Obama's style is this: step in when a deadlock occurs, and referee a satisfactory outcome for both antagonists.

But to say that Obama leads from behind is to suggest that he only intervenes after a compromise or consensus has been reached.

Here's the perennial black question, whether you're President Obama, or a black clerk at the bank: How much of the behavior and action directed toward us is racial in origin, or just the result of people who're generally boorish toward all people?

"This is a real problem."

How did we come to this? We put too much faith and trust into our elected officials, thinking that because we elected them, they'll work on our behalf, rather than their own, and their real benefactors--special interests that fill their war chests to allow them to run again, when their government job is at stake.

Greg L said...

>>>Here's the perennial black question, whether you're President Obama, or a black clerk at the bank: How much of the behavior and action directed toward us is racial in origin, or just the result of people who're generally boorish toward all people?<<<

That is always the $ 1000 question and is always an open question. That's one of the reasons why it's important to carefully evaluate the power equation as often if that equation is in one's favor, these sorts of issues are often rendered mute.

>>What most people are seeing is a congress that appears to be fighting for the welfare of the American people, albeit from two different perspectives--cut government, and don't raise taxes, or raise taxes and save entitlements.<<<

Here's what I believe must be understood to put events that are occurring here and elsewhere in the globe in context. First, the same players are involved everywhere and they did the same thing everywhere. Second, the worldwide economy is going through debt deflation where much of it won't get paid and the demand for debt is lessening dramatically either as people try to pay down what they have or come to believe that debt is evil and move to a cash and carry type behavior. Both of these phenomenon mean less profits for the banks and the most viable means to replace those profits is to extract rents from the people indirectly via the government purse or directly with the move towards privatization of government services. For example, in Greece, the banksters have grabbed the state lottery and other government enterprises in exchange for the debt. Basically, what these guys want to do now is grab what they can to preserve their wealth and power.

IMO, this is why the troubled banks should have been nationalized when Obama came in as that would have broken their power, but they set up this notion that if they fell, the entire economy would fail, which is patently false IMO. Instead, we would have broken the stranglehold they have now which is more or less reflected in the debt ceiling debate. Iceland is only one country who has rejected the banker takeover mainly because the people were involved in a referendum that rejected a government bailout. They let them eat their losses and as a result they're fine. Of course, for them to pull that off the people were engaged and likely had a media that informed rather than parrot the government/oligarch line.

We desperately need clarity and involvement of the people here,but the media is a big problem. The crap you don't need to know and can live without is readily available, but the stuff you really need to know requres much digging.