SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hope and Change? Not for Americans

Turmoil from Mideast to Midwest

If irony were money we’d be rich.

“You’ve got to get out ahead of change,” President Obama lectured a week ago. “You can’t be behind the curve.” He was, of course, referring to the Middle East. During the last few weeks there has been a new popular uprising every few days: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya.

And now, Wisconsin.

In Madison, where a new Republican governor wants to gut the rights of state workers to form unions and negotiate for higher wages, tens of thousands of protesters have filled the streets and sat in the State Capitol for days. “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days,” said Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Revolutionary foment is on the march around the globe, but Mr. Hopey Changey is nowhere to be found now that it’s here in the U.S. Whatever happened to “get ahead of change?” What’s good for the Hosni isn’t good for the Barry.

Deploying his customary technocratic aloofness in the service of the usual screw-the-workers narrative, President Obama sided with the union-busters: “Everybody has to make some adjustments to the new fiscal realities,” he scolds.

“Everybody,” naturally, does not include ultrarich dudes like our multi-millionaire president. Obama, who declared a whopping $5.5 million in annual income for 2009 (the last year available), has neither reduced his salary nor donated a penny of his $7.7 million fortune to the Treasury to help adjust to those “new fiscal realities.”

Hard times, doncha know, are for the little people. “We had to [my italics] impose a freeze on pay increases for federal workers in the next two years as part of my overall budget freeze,” said Obama. “I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do [in Wisconsin].”

“Had to.” Interesting pair of words. They imply that there was no other choice. What a brazen lie.

Three more words: Tax. The. Rich. Rich people and corporations are making out like bandits. If they paid their fair share, there’d be no need to cut budgets.

“Adjustments.” How bloodless. For normal people, Herr President, losing two percent of one’s pay is not a mere adjustment. It hurts.

Obama’s grandstanding had-to freeze on federal pay will save $5 billion over two years. Which is nothing. That’s what the Pentagon chucks down the Iraq and Afghanistan ratholes in a single week.

The federal deficit is $14 trillion. That’s $14,000 billion. Obama’s federal pay freeze, which amounts to a piddling four hundredths of one percent, is empty symbolism.

As the striking members of the PATCO air traffic controllers union learned in 1981, higher wages and working conditions are for foreigners, not Americans. Ronald Reagan had nothing but praise for Solidarity in Poland (declaring that “the right to belong to a free trade union” was “one of the most elemental human rights”).

At the same time he was defending Polish workers Reagan fired all of America’s 11,345 striking air traffic controllers and ordered their union decertified.

All political systems are built on contradictions that eventually lead to their downfall. The U.S. relies on a whopping chasm between soaring rhetoric (freedom, democracy, individual rights) and brutish reality (preemptive war, supporting dictators, torture, spying on citizens)—a gap that is so wide and so glaring that it is amazing anyone ever takes the propaganda seriously.

A recent report in The New York Times slathers on a rich quadruple serving of syrupy irony. The Obama Administration asked the CIA to prepare a secret memo about the revolutions in the Middle East, specifically analyzing “how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.”

What, exactly, are those “strategic interests”? Business. Dictators cut sweetheart deals with big corporations that donate to the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Democracy—real democracy, the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison, is incompatible with free-market capitalism.

Which is what union members in Wisconsin, as well as those of us who don’t belong to unions but understand that we would be working 100-hour weeks in death-trap factories without them, see clearly. The American Dream is just that— a dream. And it’s not for Americans.

Obama’s statement about the Arab autarchies is astonishingly tone deaf to realities here at home. “I think that the thing that will actually achieve stability in that region is if young people, if ordinary folks, end up feeling that there are pathways for them to feed their families, get a decent job, get an education, aspire to a better life,” he said. “And the more steps these governments are taking to provide these avenues for mobility and opportunity, the more stable these countries are.”

Well, yes.

According to a recent Bloomberg National poll, most American adults believe that their children will have worse lives than they do.

That’s true even about those who have all the so-called advantages.

At this writing the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 80.3 percent.

How will they pay their loans?

The rate is even higher for other young adults.

In a way, the unemployed and underemployed should thank Obama and the plutocrats he helps protect. The ruling classes’ shortsighted refusal to give up some of the loot they’ve stolen will soon bring about the real changes Americans require and deserve.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

21 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hope and Change? Not for Americans

  1. Oh, BTW, after reading this I changed my mind about the struggle in Wisconsin between the tax-feeding union thugs and the tax-feeding thuggish governor (emphasis added):

    Wisconsin’s budget stalemate over union bargaining rights shows no sign of resolution – and it could be a long wait.

    The governor isn’t budging. AWOL Democrats aren’t planning to come back. And, despite talk of deadlines and threats of mass layoffs, the state doesn’t really have to pass a budget to pay its bills until at least May. Even then, there may be other options that could extend the standoff for months.

    Go Wisconsin “revolutionaries”! If your struggle means a jam-locked government, I’m all for it! No new laws, no new regulations, no tax hiking, oh the horror! Wisconsin tax-victims should thank their deity for small favors.

  2. Who says I don’t?

    Problem is, it’s impossible to contemplate actions independent of ideology when one is so clearly driven by the other. Generally, I find the actions proposed by Democrats to be more beneficial to more people, so they get my support.

    Obviously I’m in favor of no one getting screwed. But if someone has to get screwed, and it seems that the current political landscape makes that inevitable, it damn well should the people that have been doing the screwing for the past 30 years. It’s past time they take their turn on the other end.

  3. Whimsy, you should apply your “theory of greed” a little more often to governmental actions, independent of ideology, or what passes for it, in the American political landscape.

  4. Monetary policy has nearly nothing to do with the current mess we’re in, sorry.

    The current mess we’re in was caused by wealthy elites using their power and influence to get oversight lifted from the financial sector so they could knowingly engage in risky business practices to enrich themselves further.

    Strong oversight or a lack of greed on their part would’ve completely stopped this mess. And since you are correct about greed always being here, that merely points up the need for control of the markets.

    It’s simple-minded to DISMISS greed as a motivating factor, friend. We should always take it into account, especially when designing fiscal policy.

  5. As for what got us into this mess, its greed. Pure and simple.

    I’m sorry, that is a very simple-minded explanation. Greed was there before, it’s still here, will always be here. Greed doesn’t insufflate bubbles, misguided and deluded monetary policy does.

  6. @buchephalus Well then, since you didn’t disagree with my basic premise that markets MUST be controlled, what is your solution?

    Also, you’re incorrect about FDR. Those public works program was on track to end the depression entirely by 1939, then in 1937 FDR foolishly listened to those clamoring for austerity and 4 more years of depression resulted until the war caused even the austerity brigade to support the necessary spending to get us out of the depression.

    As for what got us into this mess, its greed. Pure and simple.

  7. @Whimsical: Both levers are “jammed” if they ever worked, my friend (they didn’t). Your previous recipe is just another way to create an artificial boom, the same thing that got you into this mess in the first place. It’s also inefficient, by the way: the hailed public works during FDR’s reign failed to restore unemployment to pre-Depression levels. Unemployment only got back to those levels after the War.

  8. @bucephalus You cannot seriously be arguing for uncontrolled markets? Without control, markets become amoral, conscienceless entities- in other words, sociopaths. This cannot be allowed without creating a mess even worse than we’re seeing now.

    And given that markets MUST be controlled, that makes the argument between the supply lever and the demand lever a valid question; though given the decades of evidence which document the more or less complete and utter failure of the supply level to benefit anyone but those already at the top, I’d say it’s a question that has been thoroughly answered.

  9. @dizi and zombies:
    Can you folks read? What in my responses justifies you thinking I like either Dumbya or Limbaugh or that I’m a neo-con? Have I called for perpetual war against Muslims? Do you know what a troll is in netspeak, or do you just use it as a synonym for people that don’t see eye to eye with you on absolutely everything?

  10. @bucephalus: Government can get smaller; it looks like Obama is putting the nix on the Defense of Marriage Act which tried to tell people whom they were allowed to love and marry! But, yes, it is an uphill battle to get these wars smallered, the agricultural subsidies smallered etc. Yes, that is a big problem. Yes, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    When businesses failed to step up to the plate the government should have used our trillion dollars to stimulate Main Street (i.e., private sector employers), not Wall Street. And, until businesses are again vigorous, we still should, by contracting public works projects to private contractors, etc. It’s not just the public sector jobs that need our financial support in this time where the business cycle is letting us down.

  11. Totally agree “drooling z e” – In the past, I used to try and have sensible conversations with “neo-con” people and it was worse than trying to train a dog to mow the lawn. “That” crowd of folks have all the answers, yet cannot explain why we are not living in paradise. Since 1980, we have had 20 years of Republicans and only 10 years of Democrats leading the country. I mean (Arlo Guthrie style) Bush #2 had 8 years in office, the deficits soared as did the nation debt, yet “those” people have no answer, only blaming liberal everything (media, people in general, etc.) I now avoid all conversations with “those” type of people. They are not on my intellectual level and never will be. They bitch, while I live happily, no matter who is in charge. And ol’ Rush Limbaugh et al are laughing all the way to the bank, each and every day “those” idiots support them. Ha-fuckin-Ha!

  12. @Whimsical:

    Yours is basically the flip-side to supply-side economics, both assume that there’s a lever to push to “fix” the economy, the discrepancy being whether to crank it leftwards or rightwards. What this recipe guarantees is yet another central government-created bubble that would burst in the not so long run. Investment creates jobs, and sound investment can only be made by assessing market supply and demand. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that I don’t think giving large banks loads of artificially created “money” is good for the economy, either.

    @Lee: Ok, so you’re not a hardcore socialist like Ted Rall and Stephanie McMillan, or a somewhat mellower, but still thoroughly socialist Susan Stark. You don’t want to go down the slippery slope any more than I do, but let me ask you, how exactly do you put a stop on it? Cause every new day, special interests will demand “food security”, “energy security” or (from a right-wing perspective) “homeland security” with the end result always being the expansion of government.
    Let me ask you another question: why do you think government workers should be spared a fate that unfortunately falls on many of the people who pay their salaries? Why should government be made artificially “invulnerable” to the ebbing of the economy?

  13. bucephalus — Since we’re focusing on only the bad aspects of government — let’s also focus only on the bad aspects of capitalism. Capitalism is based upon the premise that if you or your ancestors stole/coerced land/assets/opportunities from me or my ancestors then I have to pay you rent when I use that land, etc.

    We use democracy, taxation, and socialism, gasp, to level the playing field a little for present day people. I stress “a little” because we’re not talking confiscation here, despite what some right-wing nuts may say. Instead what we’re talking about is the abolition of indentured servitude (no matter how “voluntary” it may superficially seem), the forty-hour work week, the right to organize unions, public education, public services such as police and fire, and, yes, even a base level of health care. (Though this right-wing boon to the insurance companies isn’t what I had in mind.)

    I know you fear the slippery slope and that this will ultimately lead to confiscation, but you needn’t. Let’s make a deal: you won’t accuse me of trying to nationalize everything and I won’t accuse you of supporting “might makes right” gang-warfare as an alternative to government. Instead let’s consider each issue on only its own merits.

    In Wisconsin, the question is whether it is worth it to keep people employed doing public service at reasonable wages. So, although bailing out the billionaires on Wall Street might not have been a good enough reason to run large deficits, keeping local economies and public services from collapse is good policy.

  14. Well, let me take a crack at this:

    Taxing.The.Rich and taking that money and investing it in infrastructure will generate jobs for millions of people. These jobs will give them something known as ‘disposable income’, of which a portion will be spent on books/CD’s/DVD’s/games sold at Borders, creating this funny thing known as “demand”.

    The more of this “demand” that there is for the things that Borders sells, the more likely they are to open/re-open stores and hire more people.

    Demand creates jobs. In fact, its the only thing that creates jobs. Giving rich people more money never does, cause without demand they’ll just stick it in the bank.

  15. Whole lotta commenting here:

    Quoth Susan: I’m going to repeat what Ted said. Tax. The. Rich. Not the mom-and-pop store on the corner. The rich, Bucephalus. The rich. Understand? You know, the people who actually have the money that can be taxed.

    Ok, now explain to me how taxing. The. Rich. Is going to help Borders out of bankruptcy and into opening new stores (or re-opening the closed ones) and thus hiring more people, since that’s the part of my comment you’re quoting and criticizing. Also, explain to me how Obama taxing the rich will help those bankrupt states, unless you mean federal money being funneled into them. In that case, I’ll add a bonus question: why aren’t those bankrupt states taxing. The. Rich?

    I would also add that what you consider the “free market” does not exist in reality, but only in libertarian publications.

    Right back at you, the socialist paradise you, Ted and the rest of you merry band of Commies dream of exists only in socialist literature. The real, briefly existing socialism was a lot different from a paradise, and considerably worse than most existing societies, even down here in the so-called third world. And don’t give me some smarmy talk about Western European style welfare state, ’cause that’s not socialism, or “real democracy”, in Rall’s terms.

    Because whenever somebody becomes successful enough, or is born into success, they will set up and maintain protection rackets that prevent others from participating in said “free market”, i.e. dictators that work for imperial powers to keep their subjects in desperate poverty, which benefits the protection racketeers.

    Hey, you won’t get a peep of support for crony capitalism and favoritism from me, we’re on the same page here. Problem is, those “protection rackets” are set up by overbearing and too powerful governments selling their favors to connected private partners. No big government, no big protection rackets. Given that you mention mom-and-pop store, I take it in your version of an idyllic socialist society those would still be allowed (shuddder!) to exist. I ask, in all honesty: when do they become “too big”? When pop buys a second store on the other side of town? When mom buys the property next door and doubles the size of their business? And how, if at all, would you prevent them from doing so?

    The jibe about the Viagra thing was just a tongue-in-cheek (but accurate, if CNN is to be believed) way to remind us that what these tax-feeders are fighting for is not a smaller than 100 hour week, or against death-trap offices, but rather perks that most mundanes don’t have (and that mom-and-pop’s cannot afford).

    Quoth Lee: According to the “free market” types, trying to help corporations open up international markets makes one a hero.

    According to all free market types (lose the scare quotes, you’re not in the NY Times)? Have you read them all? Or is that according to Glenn Beck and William Kristol (hardly free market types, if you ask me)? Like I said above in my reply to Susan, you won’t hear a word of support from in defense of big government favoring and leveraging big business. That, incidentally, is only possible if big government exists at all.

  16. Also, it defies common sense to suggest that that the Wisconsinites and their supporters have been outside in the bitter cold for more than a solid week, and that their state senators have exiled themselves to Illinois merely because teachers are not getting free Viagra.

    Really? This whole thing is about Viagra? Gosh. Do Wisconsinite males all have erectile dysfunction? Did not know that. It’s a good thing you’re around to inform us of these things, Bucephalus.

  17. bucephalus — please pardon me while I put on my Che and Marx disguise …

    According to the “free market” types, trying to help corporations open up international markets makes one a hero. But helping employees (“illegal aliens”) who wish to cross national borders is called “harboring a fugitive.” That ain’t a “free market” that’s a corporatocracy!

    Allowing a corporation to choose how it negotiates with others is a “free market”, but if employees wish to choose how to represent themselves, why that must be “Che and Marx”! That ain’t a “free market” that’s a corporatocracy!

  18. Bucephalus, you’re attempt at Limbaugh-humor runs a bit short. But I’ll address it:

    >>>That’s some good advice for business that are reeling and shedding jobs all around. Just jack up the prices and gut the customers! That is, if the analogy between customer and taxpayer held any water…>>>>

    I’m going to repeat what Ted said. Tax. The. Rich. Not the mom-and-pop store on the corner. The rich, Bucephalus. The rich. Understand? You know, the people who actually have the money that can be taxed.

    >>>>And I guess CNN has been working laboriously to conceal the Che and Marx signs in those Arab demonstrations. Uh-huh.>>>

    I don’t see why the Arabs would carry around pictures of Che and Marx. They are mostly fighting for better jobs, less corruption, and more of a say in the direction their individual countries are going. I would also add that what you consider the “free market” does not exist in reality, but only in libertarian publications. Because whenever somebody becomes successful enough, or is born into success, they will set up and maintain protection rackets that prevent others from participating in said “free market”, i.e. dictators that work for imperial powers to keep their subjects in desperate poverty, which benefits the protection racketeers. The Bush family is especially adept at this–they’ve turned the entire United States government into a big protection racket for themselves.

  19. In Madison, where a new Republican governor wants to gut the rights of state workers to form unions and negotiate for higher wages…

    Let’s not forget the right to free Viagra prescriptions.

    Three more words: Tax. The. Rich. Rich people and corporations are making out like bandits. If they paid their fair share, there’d be no need to cut budgets.

    That’s some good advice for business that are reeling and shedding jobs all around. Just jack up the prices and gut the customers! That is, if the analogy between customer and taxpayer held any water…

    Democracy—real democracy, the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison, is incompatible with free-market capitalism.

    Which is to say, real democracy (or whatever you think it is) is incompatible with freedom. Never mind the fallacy of equating government midwifing sweetheart deals for connected businesses with the free market. And I guess CNN has been working laboriously to conceal the Che and Marx signs in those Arab demonstrations. Uh-huh.

  20. As the striking members of the PATCO air traffic controllers union learned in 1981, higher wages and working conditions are for foreigners

    Oh yeah Ted! Glad to see you mentioning this. You must’ve been on the PATCO wiki page as well this morning. LOL.

    And Ted – It’s sweet to see you coming in swinging the rhetorical hammer Thor-style.

    May the Gods smile on you.

Leave a Reply