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​American Hustle: The debt ceiling version

Pepe Escobar
Pepe Escobar
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.
​American Hustle: The debt ceiling version
If only the US Congress was half as entertaining as American Hustle, the movie.

Well, for starters Republican House Speaker John Boehner is no Christian Bale. Not to mention Jeremy Renner. But a hustler he is.

Hardly anybody outside of the US remembers that Boehner started peddling his trademark hustle no less than three years ago. It was an extortion spectacular that could have been devised by the Mob. Boehner threatened to bring the United States of America to default if the Obama administration did not submit to some heavy-duty spending cuts. As in, “Gimme what I want, otherwise I’ll burn the house down.”

Now it seems the hustle – like in the movie – has run its course (and not because Boehner was “intercepted” by the FBI). Mr. Speaker in fact intercepted himself, and brought a clean debt-limit bill to the US Congress.

The bill passed, basically because of Democrat votes (199 Republicans voted against Boehner). Even though he has warned them in advance, as in, “We’re not going to make ourselves the story,” Republicans went ballistic. And predictably, US corporate media went bonkers with “surrender” (as applied to Boehner) and “victory” (as applied to President Obama), as if this was the snowboard halfpipe final at Sochi (which American Shaun White lost to Russian-born Iouri ‘iPod’ Podladtchikov).

Now, also predictably, the Mob – as in rabid right-wingers grouped in outfits such as The Senate Conservatives Fund (SNC), Tea Party Patriots and Freedomworks – wants, what else, Boehner’s head. He committed an unpardonable sin: he “sold out” on small government and would not “stop the massive spending and debt that are destroying our country,” according to the SNC.

Follow the money

He may have the charisma of a leftover salad in the fridge, but Boehner is a well-informed hustler. He changed his game plan for two simple reasons.

#1 (and the most important): to appease serious Wall Street money, which abhors political turmoil.

#2 is murkier. Boehner calculated that by extension he would be appeasing the Republican Party brand, which serves the Masters of the Universe very special interests, but has been hijacked by Tea Party-style fanatics. The problem, though, remains; even party leaders like Paul Ryan and Cathy McMorris Rodgers – who delivered the terminally boring Republican rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address – supported the insurgents.

U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) walks from a Republican caucus meeting to the Senate floor for a vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington February 12, 2014.(Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

In a nutshell, the hustle was bad for business. One just needs to check what Moody’s Investors Service managing director and chief credit officer, Anne Van Praagh, had to say about it: “A further lack of consensus would have potential negative consequences for the market and the economy.”

And the serious money, of course, was fully briefed. Those heavy-duty investors were keenly observing how US Treasury bill rates were increasing in February. The message: the US Congress would not be foolish enough to fail to raise the US borrowing limit on time, and keep those humongous $17 trillion-plus in debt growing and growing.

Although, as foolishness goes, with a US Congress popular approval rate of less than 10 percent, one could never tell.
Still, there’s no guarantee that the hustle won’t be back. After all, the Republican Party today is widely regarded by progressives across the US, and even enlightened conservatives, as the Party of “No.”

No to anything Obama wants or does, especially Obamacare. No to immigration reform. No to a national security strategy that makes a modicum of sense. No to all minorities, not to mention an absolutely crucial majority: women (as in rape is “legitimate”). This is essentially Angry Old Male territory. No wonder they’re doomed. They know they’re doomed. Yet they simply can’t stop looking back in anger at everything.

Still, with luck, the inevitable humongous funds, hardcore media manipulation and systematic peddling of lies, they have a chance of grabbing a Senate majority in the November mid-term elections. It’s easy to forget that despite the calibrated swagger, this is a lame-duck Obama administration.

The Obama administration can always mollify the Republican insurgents; for instance, by keeping the Pentagon budget apart from the budget sequester, just to let it grow and grow by the fiscal year 2016, when the Hillarator (Hillary Clinton) is bound to star in the second coming of Athena, now bent on capturing the White House.

Make no mistake; the show – and the hustle – will go on. And it ain’t over till the Angry White Males sing. Bored? Well, there’s always American Hustle on DVD, and Season 2 of House of Cards on NetFlix.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.