The price of the show

While politicians put on a show around the ‘fiscal cliff,’[1] a Los Angeles man lit a homeless woman on fire, critically injuring her.[2] The Los Angeles Daily News account focused on the perpetrator of the latter crime as a criminal, while the New York Times recounted tales of interrupted holidays with families as another set of perpetrators was summoned back to Washington, D.C., to continue the show.

The show, yet another “showdown” over budget issues, appears set to be a very expensive show for people who can least afford it,[3] while politicians bicker over how many wealthy people should pay a bit more in taxes, reprising the “job creator” fraud,[4] while those fortunate enough to have jobs take home an ever lower share of gross domestic product, while those supposed job creators pay an ever lower share in taxes, promising jobs they often fail either to deliver or to preserve, and instead return to the very financial games that wrecked the economy in 2008.[5] And like any good show, it is a misdirection, diverting attention away from problems that real people are having right now, that is, unemployment and a weak economy that will be made weaker through austerity, to avert a fiscal crisis that never actually appears.[6]

Contrary to the way it’s often portrayed, the looming prospect of spending cuts and tax increases isn’t a fiscal crisis. It is, instead, a political crisis brought on by the G.O.P.’s attempt to take the economy hostage. And just to be clear, the danger for next year is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small, and hence plunge America back into recession.[7]

“Dennis Petillo, 24, of Los Angeles was arrested shortly after the attack [on the homeless woman], which was reported at 12:51 a.m. at Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way, officials said. He was jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail.”[8] As in any number of these attacks, a homeless person was vulnerable and defenseless, an easy victim, prey for whatever malice lurks in attackers’ minds. By contrast, those who depend upon the social safety net, including those hypocrites who condemn it,[9] can be stigmatized as “undeserving,” and legally—but just as surely—set upon.[10] But it is practically unpatriotic to suggest that taxes should be raised on the rich.[11] We have become a country that celebrates a particular kind of bully. We might convict and imprison Petillo, but we will not address the reality that left the woman he attacked sleeping on a bus stop bench.

  1. [1]Jared Bernstein, “Over the “fiscal cliff” we go!” Salon, December 22, 2012,; Aaron Blake, “Beware of ‘fiscal cliff’ pessimism,” Washington Post, December 28, 2012,; Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman, “Obama summons congressional leaders for ‘fiscal cliff’ talks,” Washington Post, December 27, 2012,; Manu Raju and Jake Sherman, “Fiscal cliff deal increasingly unlikely,” Politico, December 26, 2012,; Jennifer Steinhauer, “Summoned Back to Work, Senators Chafe at Inaction,” New York Times, December 27, 2012,
  2. [2]Los Angeles Daily News, “L.A. man arrested, accused of setting homeless woman on fire as she slept on Van Nuys bus bench,” December 27, 2012,
  3. [3]Marcella S. Kreiter, “Fiscal Cliff: Social Security, Medicare eyed as spending cut targets,” United Press International, December 16, 2012,; Lambert Strether, “Grand Bargain or Great Betrayal? Reading the Tea Leaves of Fiscal Intentions for Entitlements,” Truthout, November 14, 2012,
  4. [4]Nick Hanauer, “Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators,” Business Week, December 7, 2011,
  5. [5]Steve Fraser, “The Archeology of Decline: Debtpocalypse and the Hollowing Out of America,” TomDispatch, December 2, 2012,; Gretchen Morgenson, “One Safety Net That Needs To Shrink,” New York Times, November 3, 2012,; Floyd Norris, “For Business, Golden Days; For Workers, the Dross,” New York Times, November 25, 2011,; Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Some Are More Unequal Than Others,” New York Times, October 26, 2012,; Louise Story, “As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price,” New York Times, December 1, 2012,
  6. [6]Ezra Klein, “For Republicans, it’s not about deficit reduction,” Washington Post, December 24, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Hawks and Hypocrites,” New York Times, November 11, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “The Forgotten Millions,” New York Times, December 6, 2012,
  7. [7]Krugman, “Hawks and Hypocrites.”
  8. [8]Los Angeles Daily News, “L.A. man arrested, accused of setting homeless woman on fire as she slept on Van Nuys bus bench.”
  9. [9]Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff, “Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It,” New York Times, February 11, 2012,
  10. [10]Kristina Cooke, David Rohde, and Ryan McNeill, “The Undeserving Poor,” Atlantic, December 20, 2012,; Thomas B. Edsall, “Is Poverty a Kind of Robbery?” New York Times, September 16, 2012,
  11. [11]Hanauer, “Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators.”

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