Robert J. Elisberg

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Robert J. Elisberg

Robert J. Elisberg
Los Angeles, California,
December 31
Robert J. Elisberg has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post since 2006. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, and Los Angeles Magazine, and served on the editorial board for the Writers Guild of America. He has contributed political writing to the anthology, "Clued in on Politics," 3rd edition (CQ Press). Born in Chicago, he attended Northwestern University and received his MFA from UCLA, where he was twice awarded the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. Most recently, he wrote the comedy-adventure screenplay, “The Wild Roses,” for Callahan Filmworks, and had published his comic novella, "A Christmas Carol 2: The Return of Scrooge."


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JUNE 15, 2011 10:26AM

What “Cutting the Debt” is Really About

Rate: 11 Flag

There are several ways to know that Republicans do not actually care about the national debt, most particularly not reducing it.

One is to understand that Republicans didn't complain when the previous president, George W. Bush, doubled the national debt to $11 trillion.  You'd think that a party supposedly outraged by debt would have been bellowing outrage, wouldn't you?  Not one peep.

A second way is to know that in the last 70 years, there have been six full administrations when the national debt increased - and every single one was Republican.

A third way is to remember that it was Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff who infamously said, "Budget deficits don't matter."  (Deficits and debts of course are kissing cousins.)  How outraged were Republicans?  They chose that man, Dick Cheney, to be vice president.

But all of these - clear as they are - pale when compared to a gaping fourth reason.

We'll get to that in a moment.  But first, you must remember what Republicans are crying for when they say that The Most Important Thing is reducing the national debt.  When they say they will risk worldwide financial collapse by not raising the credit limit unless the national debt is reduced.

To reduce the national debt, Republicans say that "Everything is On the Table."  Everything.  Absolutely everything.  The most sacred, cherished programs to Americans - Social Security, Medicare - they are on the table.  Not only on the table, but they're the centerpiece surrounded by doilies and a candelabra.  Cutting government pensions for teachers, nurses, janitors, bus drivers, park rangers, that's on the table. too.  Remember, Everything is On the Table.  Funding for NPR, Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, social issues that touch all Americans, cutting them is on the table.  Because Everything - Everything is On the Table.

"Everything is on the table," Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told ABC's This Week last November.

To cut the national debt, Republicans insist that Everything…truly Everything…is On the Table.

"We have to live within our means," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said on Fox News last December.   "It means all of us will sacrifice."

Sacrifice.  All of us.  Every American. We ALL have to sacrifice.  And that's why Everything is On the Table.


Absolutely everything.

Except raising taxes for the wealthy.

"Nothing is off the table, except raising taxes," John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters on May 6.

Tax hikes are "off the table," he repeated on the Today show, May 10.  "Everything else is on the table."  Mind you, only the day before Speaker Boehner swaggered on Fox that "Everything is on the table and everything should be on the table."  

Apparently, the word "everything" comes with a qualifier to Republican leaders.

Just four days later, the GOP chose Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) to speak for the party and give their weekly address.  "Everything should be on the table," she explained.  "Everything, that is, except tax increases."

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Congress should raise taxes on the wealthy. Or shouldn't.

What I am saying is that when you declare "Everything is on the table" and "All of us must sacrifice" - and the only thing you take off the table is raising taxes on the wealthy, then the only sacrifice you are actually asking for is from those who can least afford it.  Cutting Medicare, Social Security, pensions, compensation benefits, and unemployment insurance only impact the middle and lower classes.  The lone sacrifice you can ask of the wealthy, of corporations, of Wall Street investment houses and big banks is to have their taxes raised - and Republicans took that off the table.

If you insist therefore that We All Must Sacrifice and that Everything is On the Table - and the sole thing you won't do is raise taxes on the wealthy, then your lie is exposed.

It doesn't matter your "reason" why taxes shouldn't be raised.  All things being cut have reasons why they shouldn't be.  But "everything" means "everything."  And "we all must sacrifice" means "all."

When you insist that "Nothing is off the table, except raising taxes," your goal can't be cutting the debt - since raising taxes would obviously cut the debt.  What's clear is that you are protecting financial institutions. All at the expense of Middle America and the poor.

But ultimately, it's more than that, because something else is driving the conservative Republican bus.

And what conservatives most care about, and have cared about for decades, is not cutting the debt but getting rid of programs they hate.  Making an issue of "cutting the debt" - something we repeatedly see they have never cared about, nor do now - is, rather, a way to get Social Security, Medicare, and social programs cut, unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps, low-income public housing assistance, NPR, PBS and more.  That's what conservatives want cut.  Not the debt.  Republicans have never cared about the debt.  And if you listen to what John Boehner and his fellow Republicans say, you hear them tell you.

And if they're not clear enough for you, then let Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) be blunt.  

"We want to see real structural, cultural-type changes," he told The New York Times in April.  "Game-changing kinds of changes."

That's what this is all about.  Cultural changes.  And he just told you.  

If you think the calls for program cuts are about anything else to conservatives, you're wrong.  Because they not only just told you - they keep telling you.  Over and over.

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Please note the other item conspicuously not on the table: military spending. We can afford to blow up anything, anywhere. Just don't ask us to educate our own children.
And apparently cutting military spending isn't "On the Table" either. Oh, sure, they'll make little noises about cutting waste by not buying military hardware that the Pentagon doesn't want anyway (and then turn around and do exactly that, because it benefits someone's district), or closing a couple barely-used foreign military bases. But things like ending wars and occupations? Closing substantial numbers of military bases? Drastically (or even modestly) scaling back our empire? Definitely Not On the Table. Not even in the same room. Not even in the same galaxy.

"We want to see real structural, cultural-type changes," he told The New York Times in April. "Game-changing kinds of changes."

That's what this is all about. Cultural changes. And he just told you.

Our president was equally candid when he spoke of transforming America. The difference is that Obama wants to transform in the direction of collective responsibility whereas conservatives want to reverse that trend and return to the principles of individual responsibility and initiative that made America exceptional in the first place.

The electorate will soon have an opportunity to determine which direction is best. It already started in 2010.

Your suggestion that conservatives want to "end" the social programs you cite is hyperbolic propaganda, impure and simple.
Sorry, I should have said "get rid of" instead of "end."
It's not hyperbole, Gordon. Seriously, they say it at every turn.

The American Experiment has always been a balancing act between the rugged individualist myth and the we're-part-of-a-society reality. I am sick to death of "the free market will take care of everything if the government will just get out of the way." No, the "free market" will throw all non-wealthy citizens under the nearest bus in its rapacious striving for the next dollar. Free-market adherents are, to me, fundamentally anti-American.

And "American exceptionalism" is the belief that God has blessed the US above all other countries. I think citizens of most other countries will disagree. We are only Americans by a happy accident of birth; there's nothing particularly noble about any of us, as the current crop of Republican leaders are demonstrating.
Why should I care about the debt? Except as a way of satisfying the assholes on Wall Street that the biggest corporations won't face higher taxes due to a revenue shortfall--a shortfall that they were instrumental in bringing about--what possible utility does this entire debate have? I worked in business for a long time, and I know exactly what the debt is, and what it is NOT. And one of the things it most certainly is NOT is some sort of tag attached to each of us to pay a certain amount in the future. That's insipid bullshit pushed by those who make a living shilling for the big investment class. I'm sorry, but you, Mr. Elisberg, with all your wise concern about the debt, are only about two steps away from the assholes on the right.
Well Robert, I am one Republican who does care about the debt.
I know plenty more who do too. Since when is quoting politicians
on either side a reflection of the peoples' thinking. Are you saying all Denmocrats in office speak and act for you? I doubt it.
Well all GOP politicians don't speak or think for me.
For instance, I do not support getting screwed out of SS after 30 years of paying ~ 250K in just because I am only 54 right now.
Paul Ryan does not speak for me on this issue. ON the other hand I would love to just be given back my money and let me be on my merry way. And if I was 22 yrs old right now I'd say leave my money alone or put it in an UNTOUCHABLE account with MY name on it.

I would suggest that a poll of the people asking if they care about the debt and their party affiliation would yield a large number of people on each side that care. And a bunch of people on bith sides who don't care. Simply because there are a huge number of clueless people that affiliate with a party but probably cannot actually tell you what the national debt is ( and I mean what it "is" not how much). Nor do they know the difference between debt and deficit. There are a lot of clueless people out there but that are certain about one thing. What party they call themselves.

So, people care, they just disagree about how to fix it. Which is nothing new.

Which of course you already knew.
Perfectly stated Robert. And I'll second what froggy said re military spending. Since Reagan's day the agenda has always been to drive up the deficits (and consequently the debt). Then you yelp about tax hikes and military cuts and consequently the only way to eventually balance the budget is to cut social programs. David Stockman spelled this out around 30 years ago.
Nicely laid out.

I heard it suggested by someone, probably an MSNBC anchor—I'm thinking maybe Lawrence O'Donnell since he's good about noticing things like this, that the present situation is actually the successful endgame of a stated strategy: the starve the beast strategy. One can't simply go starving beasts just for fun so one has to manufacture a reason. What better way than by first overspending (and making sure all that money goes into your friends' pockets) and then insisting everything must be cut except your own favorite programs (so you get your cake and eat it, too). Having been successful at the national level, this neatly packaged practice is being tried fractally at the state levels, which is how we ended up in the Wisconsin mess. My understanding is that they took a more or less balanced budget, gave tax breaks to the wealthy to manufacture an overspending crisis and then demanded all kinds of concessions from workers to make up for the crisis.
The only way to reduce debt is to spend less than you make. If all your costs (including interest) are 1 dollar and you make 99.9 cents then your debt will continue to increase. If you make 1 dollar you will not go into deeper debt, but you will not get out of debt. But, here is the hitch, more and more of that dollar will be consumed by interest cost meaning you will have to cuts to other areas to maintain a balanced budget. To get out of debt you have to make more than a dollar and apply that surplus to your debt thereby reducing your debt and interest.

There is no other way. This can be accomplished three ways. Reduce spending, increase revenues, or reduce spending and increase revenues to the point there is a surplus that can be applied to the debt. That's it. Period. No magic formula here - it’s simple first grade math.

So any discussion of cutting spending or raising taxes that does not actually leave money for debt reduction is worthless because that only means we might slow the rate of debt increase not reduce it or even keep it the same.

The question is will our elected officials have the stones to do what needs to be done (cut cost and raise revenues) and even more important will we as Americans allow them to do it?
I have no idea what noble experiments you have in mind, but American capitalism is apparently not one of them.

Many of your statements are just flat out false. The notion that American exceptionalism is primarily spiritually based is poppycock. I and most of the most confirmed exponents of exceptionalism I know are confirmed atheists. What makes America exceptional is the design of a political system based on the sovereignty of the individual and suspicion of government and political power. That's what conservatives are fighting to preserve, and because of its bald repudiation by Obama and his collectivist henchmen, it's becoming an increasingly easy fight.

And while you're getting "sick," permit me to say that I'm getting sick of power hungry politicians who resort to sob-sister tales of the suffering of the poor to mask power grabs for themselves. An individual who voluntarily helps the poor is noble; a politician who uses another's resources through taxation is both parasitic and, more morbidly, seeking to weaken the productive elements of society as a grab to make political hay out of weakened economic power of producers.
Excuse me while I pull up my soap box, Okay, every word here is true. The Republicans have had a single goal since 1933, to remove every last trace of Franklin Roosevelt from the government and return to the glory days when people like Pullman, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Getty, and the rest ruled this country like subterranean kings. The hate that they have institutionalized within their upper ranks is passed from father to son now and accepted as holy writ.

I think they still long for the day when an employee could be worked to death and tossed aside like so much fecal material in the slop buckets that the lower classes would still be using instead of flush toilets had Roosevelt not stepped up and taken power from them and their secret masters.

If you read conservative editorials in newspapers from 1932 on you will see the same ideas still being repeated as though the industrialization and massive growth of the economy that characterize the era between 1938 and 1968 never happened.

Even moderate Republicans tried to warn us about what was going to be the end result of returning the robber barons of industry to the secret throne. We didn't listen, we were much to frightened about women's lib, pot, homosexuality, and long hair.

We lost in Vietnam ( a republican style war) save for the fact that allowing it to be reported directly brought it in to the living rooms of America in a way that showed people exactly what a war looks like and that is how so many changed in their support for that war. We let fear of change drive a generation of Americans underground, they are still there today they were smart enough to learn the lesson intended by the shootings at Kent State, keep your mouths shut or we'll kill you.

We swallowed the lie that the rampant inflation and economic woes of the nation were all Jimmy Carter's fault and elected the worst president in our nations history Ronald Reagan. Reagan turned the nation back over to the long silent industrial kings. He rode herd over the destruction of trade unions, he instituted an official policy of ignoring our constitution when it came to the wishes of government or their masters. He rewrote the rules so that he could just banish millions of unemployed people from the records by labeling them as "no longer in the workforce". He began the active destruction of the New Deal in earnest and by the time George the first became president had managed to make sure that every working American was so far in debt that he/she could never take a stand if he/she wanted to.

As the working class debt grew we allowed those industrialists to escape from responsibility to the workers by letting them sell off our industrial base. No pesky minimum wage or workers compensation in the third world. We even gave them tax breaks to do it. This allowed corporate profits to look inviting to investors so they kept on selling to run up stock prices. We encouraged workers to abandon pensions for 401ks that were pretty much destroyed by the stock market in the end. They still want to destroy any vestige of a national responsibility to the workers by selling off the rest of the meager social security money to the same brokers and bankers that traded each other re-labeled bad debts until the same taxpayers who were out the cash that they deposited in private accounts had to pay them not to run off with the rest.

They talk in code and they will deny it even when called out in the middle of a lie. The best example right now is the fact that they are quoted over and over again in the media as saying "everything is on the table" when, as you point out everything seems to only include social programs.
You frame the argument in a succinct way that delineates clear talking-points to share with our neighbors and in our daily discourse.
I'm no fan of Coburn, but he's the only Republican I've seen with the guts to stand up to Grover Norquist. In fact, he dared to say that Grover is irrelevant. I'm sure that twit Grover can't wait to show him otherwise and run another mouth-breathing Teapartian against Coburn in the next R primary.
So let me get this right. Y'all think there should be no limit to the national debt? The government should be able to spend whatever it wants on whatever it wants to.

Since what we pay in interest on the debt is more than the total economy of some 3rd world countries, there is no reason to worry about it. There will always be someone for Robin Hood to rob.

There are things that the constitution says we must pay for, such as defense. I'm having trouble finding PBS and NPR in there. So there are more things on the table than others. Those we shouldn't even be doing just need to go.

The one thing that is true about raising taxes is when you do the amount of money to the government goes down. That holds true even when Republicans do it.

And for those of you who hate those evil rich capitalists I have a suggestion for you. Tomorrow when you get to your job, find the man who put up his money to start it and tell him what you think about being a capitalist, then quit. I'm sure that there is a broke person around who is willing to pay you money they don't have to do a job they don't need done. You shouldn't soil your hands for someone like that.

I just asked my employee who said for you to keep your hands off her paycheck. She doesn't care how much money I make, she is paid a fair wage and taken care of.
I don't think you hava clue about what you are talking about, and Greece is the proof.
“GOPer5 to GOPerBASE, over”

“GOPer5, over”

“GOPerBASE, covert operation to harm teachers, nurses, janitors, bus drivers, park rangers, etc.,. has been compromised. . . . repeat . . . compromised, over”

“GOPer5, no such operation exists . . . over”

“GOPerBASE, Robert J. Elisberg has exposed the plan to take away funding from NPR, Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and social issues that touch all Americans. Despite immense technical problems, memorandum indicating operation is compromised is occasionally viewable on OS . . . over”

“GOPer5, no such operation ever existed . . . over”

“GOPerBASE, memorandum also exposes plan to take away Social Security and MediCare . . . over”

“GOPer5, what are you smoking . . . and. . . where can I get some? . . . . over”

“GOPerBASE, say again . . . over”

“GOPer5, are you declaring an emergency? . . . . over”

“GOPerBASE, negative . . . . However, mission to reduce entitlement disbursements in the interest of reducing the national debt IS . . . . repeat . . . . IS . . . blown. Suggest alternate excuse be manufactured immediately to cover potential sacrifices necessary by socialists, progressives and leftists of all kinds . . . . . . over”

“GOPer5, REPEAT . . . . there never was. . . nor is there now. . . . a plan to reduce entitlement spending just to harm beneficiaries. Repeat . . . . NEVER . . . . and . . . NOT NOW. OUT!”

“GOPer5 to GOPerBASE, over”

“GOPer5, over”

“GOPerBASE, covert operation to protect wealthy from higher taxes and to further enrich them in the interest of reducing the national debt has been compromised . . . over”

“GOPer5, no such operation exists . . . over”

“GOPerBASE, writer for Huffington Post has exposed the plan to enrich the wealthy by not raising taxes on them at the expense of the middle class by reducing their entitlements under the pretense of reducing the national debt. . . . over”

(loud laughing in the background) “GOPer5, what action are you suggesting?”

“GOPerBASE, revise excuse for not taxing the rich while reducing entitlement benefits for the poor . . . . over”

“GOPer5, willco, OUT!”
Mr. Elisberg, where do you get off telling the GOP that it must like the programs that you like? If you like them so much, pay for them out of your pocket and keep your hands out of other people's pockets. The party in power often uses that power to take steps that the other party doesn't like, such as ObaminationCare. If the Dems stop doing it, maybe the GOP will stop too.
"Starve the beast" is just one excuse for several reasons Republicans generate massive debt. "Rip the Beast Off" is another reason. "Fake an economy through credit bubbles" -- caustic Keynesianism -- is another. Adherence to a flawed ideology covers most of it.

Having a successful failed ideology requires many elements of willful ignorance. No matter how badly "conservatism" has performed -- and it has destroyed our economy-- it doesn't matter if there are enough propaganda outlets to place blame elsewhere and ideological simpletons to believe it. The conservative-libertarian sell-out of America won't end until our country has been purchased by China -- the only country to gain from conservatarian policies.
@ Paul

Buddy, don't let me EVER catch you shopping at Walmart. . . .
Only PJOR could come up with "successful failed ideology" and "conservatarian." Rumor has it that a new edition of his personal dictionary will be issued by Alice in Wonderland Press soon.
@ Gordon, think they'll put out a Portuguese edition? You know, to sell in Brazil? Which reminds me how are the boys these days?

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