The dreaded budget-slashing "sequestration" is set to happen in just two days. It will cost North Carolina over $25 million in school funding, lay off 22,000 Defense Department workers in the state, and trigger major cuts in a variety of programs. (read here for more complete information on the cost of sequestration to N.C.)
Meanwhile, the national discussion of government debt has gone from panicky to ridiculous, and has now become little more than a scam.
Before going any farther, please note that a growing number of economists have shifted their view of the supposedly lethal debt "crisis." Watching the disastrous results of so-called austerity measures in Europe, more economists are concluding that the debt problem, although it does need to be addressed, shouldn't be dealt with until after the economy is expanding again. The growing consensus is that to suddenly hatchet out a trillion dollars from government spending would re-tank the economy and throw us into a deeper recession. Washington and the media, however, safely locked into their D.C. bubble, keep on reciting the scary debt crisis meme, so don't expect those mainstream institutions to wake up on this issue anytime soon.
Certainly, the "fix the debt" crusaders aren't about to change their tune - they're too busy urging America to ditch the country's already tattered safety net. As reported by Lynn Paramore, senior editor at Alternet, the Campaign to Fix the Debt - the group led by North Carolina's own Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson - has a war chest of $60 million in corporate-raised funds, and is parading its founding duo around the country, holding roundtables and buying up airtime on TV and radio. Bowles and Simpson are routinely hailed as Wise Men Who Know Best, in a kind of serial repetition contest among lazy journalists. Too bad, then, that the Wise Men's ideas are little more than boilerplate conservative/corporate notions. First, they say, make big cuts to conservatives' favorite whipping boys, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; replace mortgage interest and charitable-giving deductions with a fixed tax credit; and, you guessed it, "fix" the tax code so the wealthy get a big fat tax cut.
In other words, we're supposed to believe that the economy can be awakened from its coma - and its beleaguered citizens led to a new era of prosperity - by cutting the few federal programs that benefit the middle class, while shifting that money to the rich. Guess there's no need to wonder why New York magazine calls the Simpson and Bowles plan a "mass movement for millionaires."
It gets even better. On top of peddling ideas that benefit themselves and their Wall Street friends, it turns out that Bowles and Simpson are making a personal killing from their speaking tour - $40,000 each per appearance, as was revealed by the New York Times. Take note that every speaking appearance by Alan and Ersky brings each of them more than twice the amount of money a typical senior citizen gets from Social Security in a whole year.
Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media, including editorial writers at the Charlotte Observer, the Sunday talk shows, NPR, and the Washington Post are promoting Bowles and Simpson's unbalanced proposals as "a good start," while ignoring the corporate forces behind all the breathless "fix the debt" talk.
There is, however, one surefire remedy to the debt "crisis," but it is strangely absent in all the discussions by the corporate-funded "wise men." It's called a financial transaction tax (FTT). It's not exactly a new idea - the UK has had one since 1694 - and it's not like it hasn't been brought up in numerous budget discussions in America and elsewhere. The European Union will start implementing an FTT in either two or three years, and a few bills calling for it here have been introduced in Congress. One bill would impose a 0.03 percent tax on trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives, and would raise an estimated $400 billion in 10 years.
Another bill would apply a 0.5 percent tax, which would bring in $1.8 trillion in a decade. For more complete info on FTT's and the current "crisis," read here.
The FTT is a great idea. Its effect on the debt would save middle-class programs, it would force Wall St. to contribute to the overall public good for a damned change, and it could free up Congress to get off its butt and put people back to work.