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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Outlook for Democrats in 2020 Currently Looks Bleak

Image result for sanders 2020

First: No. It’s not too early to discuss the 2020 election. The Iowa caucuses are only a year and a half away. Any presidential hopeful who hasn’t begun chatting up donors by now will find it nearly impossible to mount a viable campaign.

At this point insert the usual caveats that anything can happen, no knows anything, scandals happen, politicians get sick, a year is an eternity in politics.

Let’s speculate!

On the Right: Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee.

Impeachment? Republicans are knee-jerk loyal AF, so Democrats would have to initiate proceedings. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says impeachment “is not somewhere I think we should go.” Also, note the word “minority.” Democrats can’t do jack without taking back the House — far from a sure thing.

A serious Republican primary challenge? Most incumbent Republican presidents have nothing to worry about there but Donald Trump is not most presidents. You can imagine a right-wing version of Ted Kennedy’s devastating 1980 challenge to Jimmy Carter.

The GOP doesn’t have superdelegates so it’s harder for the RNC to fix the race the way Democrats did for Clinton in 2016. Still, I don’t think a serious (as opposed to symbolic) challenge will materialize from the three currently most-talked-abouts. Jeff Flake can’t raise enough dough. (Trump, on the other hand, already has a whopping $88 million.) Mitt Romney could self-fund but seems too bogged down in Utah’s primary race for Senate to have time to pivot for another presidential run in 2020. Ohio governor John Kasich is beloved by the Beltway media but not GOP primary voters. I could be wrong. But my political instincts say Trump will coast to renomination without a significant primary challenger.

On the Left: The Democratic nomination belongs to Bernie Sanders. If he wants it.

Neither the centrist-controlled Democratic National Committee nor its official mouthpiece the New York Times have learned anything from the debacle of 2016, when guaranteed-to-win Hillary Clinton lost to Trump because she and the party snubbed Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing of the party he represents. These days, they’re floating Elizabeth Warren.

Until 2016 progressives saw Warren as a Bernie alternative but then she lost her leftie street cred by endorsing and supporting Clinton.

“On her Western swing, Ms. Warren sought to strike a unifying chord. At a tapas restaurant in Salt Lake City, she said Democrats had to close ranks in 2018 in order to recapture the White House. “Perhaps most appealing to Democratic leaders,” wrote the Times, “Ms. Warren might please their activist base while staving off a candidate they fear would lose the general election. A candidate such as Mr. Sanders.”

Throughout the campaign, polls showed that Bernie Sanders would have beat Trump.

My gut tells me Warren doesn’t really want to run. If she does, she’ll have charisma problems. As Boston magazine pointed out last year, even the people of Massachusetts aren’t much into her. (Bernie Sanders has the highest home-state approval rating of any U.S. senator, 75%.)

Given a choice between Sanders and Warren, progressives will choose the reliable progressive over the accommodationist pragmatist. That said, Warren would make a fine veep option.

As mayor of Newark, then up-and-coming political star Cory Booker made headlines by rushing into a burning house to save a woman in 2012. But politics is a fickle mistress. In the “what have you done for us lately” category, Booker was chastised for tying right-wing Republican Mitch McConnell as the senator who received the most contributions from the big Wall Street banks who destroyed the economy in 2008-09. This won’t affect his standing among the corporatists who supported Hillary Clinton despite her fundraising in the Hamptons. But it makes him anathema to the progressive Democratic base.

Once again, Joe Biden is being touted as a possible Democratic candidate. But he has signaled that, once again, he’s funnin’, not runnin’. Yeah, but what if he does?

Biden would have no choice but to compete for centrist votes against Booker and California’s Kamala Harris. Though once known as more liberal, his vice presidency for centrist Democrat Obama, his focus on building a Southern strategy for the primaries and his disconnection from the left makes him unlikely to appeal to the Berniecrats.

Harris, a law-and-order “lock ‘em up” former prosecutor and California senator, seems to be running a Clinton-style identity politics-based campaign based on her double history-making potential as a woman of color. While it’s true that she hasn’t always been a lock-step establishmentarian, she has gotten much closer to banks, cops and other elites than ordinary Americans as she has considered how to market her policy positions.

Harris is canny.

Some say slippery.

Harris is the biggest threat to Bernie. Harris supports “the concept of single-payer healthcare, and bills to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, eliminate tuition and fees at four-year colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 and creating more campaign finance disclosure requirements for corporations, unions and super PACs.” Good stuff. Call her Berniedette?

But those are official positions. She doesn’t campaign on them. It’s like how Obama’s 2008 campaign website promised a public option on the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, but he never talked about it and then never proposed it in his healthcare bill. Good positions don’t get far unless they’re articulated loudly and repeatedly.

The Democrats are a 50-50 party divided between progressives and liberals. Three serious liberals — Harris, Warren, Booker and whoever else pops up between now and then — divvy up the liberal half. Bernie Sanders has the progressive half all to himself. So he wins the nomination —if he wants it.

I think he does.

In the general election? This is sad, and bad for America’s baby Left, but I think it’s true: Trump defeats Sanders. Not because he’s a self-declared democratic socialist though you can be sure GOP attack ads will be full of stock footage of old Soviet May Day parades. Also not because he’s too far left: he really would have beaten Trump in 2016.

Trump defeats Sanders because of the innate advantages of incumbency, the historical hesitancy to change horses midstream, Sanders’ advancing age and the sad fact that the DNC will never push for him as hard as they would have for one of their own: a Wall Street-friendly corporatist.

Again: anything can happen, no knows anything, scandals happen, politicians get sick, a year is an eternity in politics.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Read the Documents Here! LA Times Responds to Cartoonist Ted Rall’s anti-SLAPP Appeal

I sued the LA Times for wrongful termination and defamation in 2016. The Times responded with an anti-SLAPP motion asking the court to order me to pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars in their legal fees. They prevailed at the trial court level.

In 2017 I filed my anti-SLAPP appeal to the California Court of Appeals. Now the Times has responded to my appeal with their own brief.

Here are the relevant documents:

My Opening Brief for my anti-SLAPP appeal:

Ted Rall vs. Los Angeles Times: anti-SLAPP Appellate Brief by Ted Rall on Scribd

The Times’ Respondents Brief:

LA Times’ Respondents Brief for anti-SLAPP Motion in Ted Rall v. Ted Rall et al. by Ted Rall on Scribd

Now we are working on our response to their response. We will post our response brief here after it is finished and filed. After we file that, the court will advise of a date when they will hear my anti-SLAPP appeal.

Obviously my attorneys and I have thoughts about the Times’ arguments as stated in their brief, but Times attorney Kelli Sager reads my blog (hi!) so it would be unwise for me to say anything here about what we think.

However, thousands of heads are better than three! We might be missing something important in this struggle for free speech and against police control of the press. So if you have any thoughts about any of this, please comment here or feel free to contact me directly at rall.com/contact. Thank you for your support!

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The “Thin Grey Line” — The Media’s Conspiracy of Silence on Defamation and Libel

Even the shirt is “fake news.” Look at the text. It’s not actually printed on the fabric. (from LATimes.com)

I am suing for the Los Angeles Times and the $638 million newspaper conglomerate Tronc for the defamation and wrongful termination they carried out as a favor for the chief of Los Angeles Police Department.

I don’t know how things will turn out. But I have learned a lot about the justice system.

            I’ve learned there’s a “Thin Grey Line” — a conspiracy of silence that media outlets use to shield one another from public scrutiny and accountability. It’s not President Trump’s supposed “fake news.”

It’s No News At All.

A black hole.

If media misconduct falls in the woods, whatever sound it makes receives no coverage in “rival” media outlets.

The Thin Blue Line is a 1988 movie describing how police protect one another from allegations of wrongdoing by clamming up about what they know, leading to the railroading of an innocent man. Similarly, media organizations conspire to keep allegations of libel and other wrongdoing out of the public eye. You don’t cover my bad behavior and I won’t cover yours.

Of course, some libel lawsuits are too big to ignore. In those cases the Thin Grey Line slants their coverage to make the victims look like petulant crybabies or greedy pro-censorship fascists.

I learned about the Thin Grey Line when I reached out to media organizations about my situation with the LA Times. Although certain outlets did a good job covering my case — the UK Guardian and the New York Observer stood out — big papers like the New York Times and Washington Post wouldn’t touch it.

“Cartoonist Critical of Police Fired as Favor to LAPD after LAPD Pension Fund Buys Major Interest in LA Times’ Parent Company” has all the components of a major story: big guy crushes little guy, privacy violations, secret police spying on citizens going back decades, ugly conflicts of interest, a police department pension fund that bought newspaper stock so it could leverage it into editorial control of major newspapers, a criminal conspiracy at the highest levels of local government.

If the villain wasn’t a media company, a media outlet would be all over it.

Most U.S. media outlets ignored my story. Most that put out reports were either online-only or based overseas.

Some, like NPR, explained that my story required investigative reporting for which they didn’t have a budget.

Rall v. Los Angeles Times is a natural fit for The Intercept, the news site dedicated to the Snowden revelations and perfidy by government and the press. Indeed, an Intercept reporter worked the story, spending hours talking to me. Then he took it to his editors — who killed it. Was someone higher on the food chain connected to the Times or LAPD? Were they reluctant to take on a fellow media outlet? All I know is, the guy never called me back. That’s unusual to say the least.

Historically, problems at the local daily newspaper have been red meat to an alternative newsweekly, the scrappy underdog in many metro media markets. New York’s late Village Voice used to love taking on the Times, Post and Daily News. But things are different now. Journalists who follow Los Angeles are shocked that LA Weekly won’t cover my two-year-old lawsuit.

Major libel verdicts against media outlets get buried by the Thin Grey Line. A jury dunned the Raleigh News & Observer $9 million for libel in 2016. Two Cal Coast Weekly writers owe their defamation victim $1.1 million as of 2017. You probably didn’t hear about those.

But you probably did hear about Hulk Hogan’s $140 million libel verdict against Gawker, which put the site out of business. Most coverage bemoaned the supposed effect on press freedom, not Gawker’s crazy decision to publish a video of Hogan having sex or to keep it online after Hogan’s lawyer offered to let the whole thing go for zero cash if Gawker took it down.

            Legacy media still hasn’t figured out the Internet. But they’re good at propaganda. Exploiting Trump’s bombastic “fake news” broadsides against the press, they’re casting themselves as party organs of the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

“Democracy dies in darkness,” The Washington Post tells its readers.

“The truth is more important now than ever,” quoth The New York Times.

Hilariously, The Los Angeles Times: “Speaking truth to power.” (But not to the chief of police!)

            As a journalist and satirist who relies on the First Amendment, I am sympathetic to worries that news outlets might self-censor due to the threat of libel suits. But corporate media looks ridiculous when they portray every defamation and libel plaintiff as sinister threats to press freedom. And it’s downright silly to pretend that every libel and defamation case is inherently frivolous.

“The $140 million payout mandated by a Florida court in Hogan’s privacy case against Gawker, which was bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, was a chilling development for media companies that are already battling to keep costs down,” Keith Gessen wrote in Columbia Journalism Review.

Nowhere in Gessen’s piece did he mention that Gawker could have saved every penny of that $140 million by exercising a modicum of editorial judgment. Or that Thiel’s role merely leveled the playing field between an individual and a (then-) deep-pocketed media outlet.

The Hogan verdict is only “chilling” to publications so arrogant and stupid as to fight for the right to gratuitously publish material that can ruin a person’s life — material with zero news value — without a legal leg to stand on.

Based on the coverage of the Gawker-Hogan coverage I’ve read since the 2016 verdict, most media outlets are still pushing the Thin Grey Line narrative that Hogan had no grounds to complain. I say that Hogan has the right not to have his sex acts posted to the Internet without his permission.

Thin Grey Line aside, I bet most people agree with me.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Meet the For-Profit Prison Industry Raking in Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from Trump’s Mass Deportation Boondoggle

The Washington Post recently published a revealing and heartbreaking story about forced separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents — not the Trump-ordered fiasco we’ve watched over recent weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, but in the Midwest as the result of brutal ICE raids that have ripped families apart under Presidents Obama and Bush before him. It’s beautifully written, worthy of a literature award if not a Pulitzer for journalism.

One line leapt out at me: “Who benefits from this?”

Nora, an 18-year-old girl who lost both her parents to ICE raids and is now raising her 12-year-old brother like something out of a dark 1970s ABC Afterschool Special or a Dave Eggers story, wondered why the U.S. government carries out such vicious policies and tactics, like using offers of free food to lure poor migrants into the clutches of heavily-armed immigration goons.

“Was it American taxpayers, who were paying to finance the raid and resulting deportations? Or American workers, most of whom were so disinterested in low-paying farm work that Ohio had announced a crisis work shortage of 15,000 agricultural jobs? Or Corso’s Nursery, a ­family-owned business now missing 40 percent of its employees?”

OK, so the canard about Americans being unwilling to fill low-paid agricultural jobs is transparent BS. The key phrase is low-paid. If all the illegal immigrants disappeared tomorrow the labor-market version of the law of supply and demand would force agribusiness employers to offer higher wages. Plenty of Americans would be happy to pick fruit for $25 an hour. Sorry, Corso’s — if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you deserve to go out of business.

Still, Nora’s question is a good one. Whether you believe in open borders, want Trump to build The Wall or fall somewhere in between like me (build the wall, legalize the people already here who haven’t committed serious felonies, deport the criminals), everyone who cares about immigration should know the why and wherefore of how the U.S. government carries out deportations.

Contrary to what some liberals seem to believe, there is nothing unreasonable about border control. Determining who gets to enter your country’s territory, and who gets turned away, is one of the principal defining characteristics of a modern nation-state. Just you try to sneak into Latvia or Liberia without permission and see what happens. You can probably make it into Libya, but that’s because it’s a failed state.

After you catch illegal immigrants the question is, how do you deal with them?

Some countries, like Iran, deport unauthorized persons immediately, no due process. That’s what Trump wants to do.

Others treat them like criminals. Illegal immigrants caught in Italy face a hefty cash fine and up to six months in prison.

The United States falls in between. Applicants for political asylum are theoretically entitled to a hearing before an immigration court. Economic migrants receive no due process. Both classes face lengthy detentions before removal.

Lengthy detention is the key to Nora’s question.

So who benefits?

The answer is: America’s vast, secretive, politically connected, poorly regulated $5 billion private-prison industry. “As of August 2016, nearly three-quarters of the average daily immigration detainee population was held in facilities operated by private prison companies—a sharp contrast from a decade ago, when the majority were held in ICE-contracted bedspace in local jails and state prisons,” writes Livia Luan of the Migration Policy Institute.

Crime rates have been falling for years. So prison populations have been declining too. Adding to the down trend has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress; Democrats and Republicans agree that we need criminal justice reform centered around shorter sentences.

Originally sold as an innovative market-based solution to alleviate overcrowding in government-run prisons and jails for criminals, the private prison sector had been facing hard times before Trump came along. Private institutions were sitting empty. Until two years ago, private prisons had been scheduled to be phased out entirely by the federal sentencing system.

Trump made private prisons great again.

According to the UK Independent ICE arrests during Trump’s first nine months in office increased 43% over a year earlier. “Many of those immigrants are funnelled into a multibillion dollar private prison system, where between 31,000 and 41,000 detainees are held each night. In many cases, those private prison corporations — led by the behemoths GeoGroup and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America — have contracts with the federal government guaranteeing their beds will be filled, or that they will receive payment regardless of whether they have a full house on any given night.”

With profits guaranteed by pro-business government contracts, Wall Street is bullish on prisons for profit. “The Trump administration’s tough-on-immigration policies are unlikely to fade anytime soon, meaning investors should expect continued strict enforcement, more arrests by ICE and the need to accommodate a growing number of arrested individuals,” an analyst advised investors.

That’s likely to continue. In a classic example of the revolving door between government and private industry, the CEO of GEO is Daniel Ragsdale, who left his post as #2 at ICE in May 2017. Talk about swampy: ICE is extremely cozy with for-profit prisons.

When your customer base is as disenfranchised, unpopular and defenseless as convicts and undocumented workers, it’s tempting to cut corners on costs for their care. Reports of abuse and neglect are even more widespread in the private prison sector than in traditional government-run lockups. “The conditions inside were very bad. The facilities were old. The guards were poorly trained. If you got sick all they would just give you Tylenol and tell you to get back to your cell,” said Adrian Hernandez Garay, who served 35 months for illegal immigration at the Big Spring Correctional Institution, a Texas facility run by the private corporation GEO. He told Vice he was fed rice and beans seven days a week. He described Big Spring as “far worse” than other prisons where he was held.

Even if you think illegal immigrants are criminals who should be tossed out on their ears, you ought to be highly suspicious of the private prison industry. After all, they don’t want illegals deported. They want them housed indefinitely in their sketchy facilities. And you’re paying the bill.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Announcing the 2018 LA Times Bond Fundraiser: Hire a Cartoonist for One Cartoon

If you have followed my case defending myself against the libel and wrongful termination by the LA Times that they did us a favor for the LAPD into 2015, you know that they forced me to file a $75,000 cash bond just in order to pursue my claim. Normally when you deposit money, you earn interest. But not in Los Angeles. I have to pay the bond company $1250 every year just to keep the bond filed with the court. No, you’re not allowed to do it yourself, you have to use a private company. So anyway, I’m financially stretched so I am making the following offer, first come, first serve: for $1250 sent directly to my PayPal account, I will draw a 7 1/2 x 10″ cartoon about any subject that you want. Full color. You get the original artwork to do with as you please. You can print it or post it anywhere you want as long as it’s not on some right wing website. And I will send you the high-resolution and low-resolution files. If you have suggestions about how to do it or what to include, I will listen, but I don’t promise to take them.

If you’re interested, go to Rall.com/contact.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Blame is Bipartisan: How the Democrats Ruined Central America and Worsened the Mess at the Border

Image result for honduras coup

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat its mistakes blah blah blah, someone said —Americans don’t even pay attention to the news, so how the heck are they supposed to remember it after it becomes history?

So we keep making the same mistakes over and over. In foreign policy the biggest mistake the United States keeps making is interfering in the sovereign domestic politics of foreign countries it doesn’t know enough about. More often than not, the U.S. supports the wrong side: a privileged minority who oppresses the people, aka the majority. Eventually, because they are the majority, the people overthrow the jerks. Unsurprisingly to everyone except the State Department, the new government is pissed at the United States.

The progressive historian Chalmers Johnson called this stupid cycle “blowback.”

A classic example followed the decision of the CIA to arm the mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviets during the 1980s. The mujahedin gave rise to Al Qaeda, who caused us some sort of trouble in 2001 though I can’t remember exactly what happened there. Then there was the CIA-backed coup that ended the rule of the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran in 1953. I’d be shocked if five percent of Americans have heard of Mohammad Mossadegh, but the Iranians have and they remember and for some reason they just won’t shut up about it and sometimes they give our citizens a hard time.

Blowback isn’t always terrorism and it doesn’t always originate in the Muslim world.

At this writing the Trump Administration’s mistreatment of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico has drawn international condemnation, and rightly so. The cliché that most migrants come here to pursue economic opportunities is out of date. Nowadays much if not most of the migratory flow is comprised of refugees from violence, specifically from the so-called “Northern Triangle countries” of Central America: Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. Homicide rates are especially high in Honduras and El Salvador. A 2015 Doctors Without Borders survey of refugees from these countries found that most Central Americans seeking political asylum on the southern border were fleeing physical attacks or threats of violence against themselves or a close family member. More than 40% had had a family member killed in the previous two years.

American officials blame the violence on the drug trade, and accept some responsibility by noting the U.S. demand for illegal narcotics that is behind the violence. But while drug cartels are indisputably a big part of the problem, what no one wants to talk about — especially not Democrats who are having a field day watching the Republicans get beat up in the polls because the optics of forcibly separating children from their parents are so hideous — is the U.S. interventionism, most recently carried out by former President Barack Obama, behind the disintegration of civil society in Central America.

Shortly after becoming president in 2009, Barack Obama and his bellicose secretary of state Hillary Clinton faced a foreign policy dilemma: what, if anything, to do about a military coup that toppled Honduras’ democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. As Al Jazeera remembers: “Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office.”

Obama dithered.

The people’s will be damned; the U.S. government wanted Zelaya out because he was a leftist, an ally of Venezuela’s charismatic leader Hugo Chávez and an enemy of Honduras oligarchs, who had long been propped up by the U.S. and U.S. corporations. Zelaya’s crime: he wanted to reduce the country’s staggering chasm between a tiny clique of wealthy families and the rest of the population, who were desperately poor. But Obama had been elected post-Bush because he opposed the Iraq war. He couldn’t be seen as backing a Cold War-style intervention in favor of Latin American thugs.

So he played a double game. In public — after an embarrassing, telling silence — Obama decried the coup and called for Zelaya’s return to power.

Thanks to WikiLeaks we know that behind the scenes and in defiance of international law, Clinton reached out to the new junta leader to assure him of U.S. support and rejected the international community’s requests that the U.S. demand Zelaya’s reinstatement. The secretary of state worked hard to make certain democracy did not return to Honduras so that the new junta could remain in power.

The right-wing military junta, many of whom graduated from the Pentagon’s notorious assassin-training School of the Americas, were not good stewards. “The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity,” Al Jazeera reports.
Next door in El Salvador — the only other Northern Triangle nation with a higher murder rate than Honduras — Obama propped up sellout former leftist president Mauricio Funes, who abandoned his populist roots to open his country up to looting by transnational corporations. Poverty, violence and drug trafficking increased dramatically.

There is no excuse for the way the Trump Administration is treating applicants for asylum as they enter the U.S. from Mexico. But it’s worth noting that both major political parties are to blame here. Many of the children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border are there in the first place because of the mayhem to which Obama and Clinton contributed.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who Will Do Something About the Looming Retirement Crisis?

Image result for elderly homeless

In Douglas Coupland’s 1991 age-warfare classic novel “Generation X” a young man trashes a car because it bears a bumpersticker with the obnoxious slogan “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” Like Coupland I launched my career as something like a spokesperson for Generation X, raging on behalf of a demographic cohort perpetually struggling to make itself and its concerns heard in the wake of the older, bigger and wealthier Baby Boom generation. Culturally marginalized by the Boomers, forced to accept transient employment, hobbled by growing student loan debt and buffeted by recessions, Xers feared that they would never be able to save enough in order to retire, much less spend their kids’ inheritance.

The retirement crisis will be worse than we ever feared.

“We predict the U.S. will soon be facing rates of elder poverty unseen since the Great Depression,” New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci and Blackstone executive vice chairman Tony James write in the Harvard Business Review.

Sayonara, Kurt Cobain. Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire.

Retirement specialists from the political left and right concur: big segments of whole generations of the elderly will soon be impoverished, some homeless or even starving. After the Xers, the Millennial deluge; old age looks even bleaker for today’s young adults.

Experts vary on how much you should have saved by the time you retire. Fidelity advises a $75,000-a-year worker who retires at age 67 to squirrel away at least $600,000 in present-day dollars. Following the traditional rule of having 80% of your salary for 20 years pushes that desired minimum to $1.2 million.

The problem is, the average savings of 55- to 64-year-olds is a piddling $104,000. According to a 2015 study of people 55 and older by the General Accounting Office, 29% have nothing whatsover.

It’s a joke, but it’s not funny. Yet neither political party has much to say about the looming retirement crisis.

The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s. Political and business leaders are in denial about this issue. But the desperation of our grandparents and parents — not to mention the children charged with caring for them since they won’t be able to provide for themselves —will make voters vulnerable to demagoguery of all stripes. Instability will be rampant. Democracy could be in danger.
It isn’t hard to see how we got here.

Old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by defined-contribution benefit plans like IRAs and 401(k)s which are problematic for many workers. People don’t contribute enough. Employers pitch in less than they did to pensions, or nothing at all. When workers suffer a setback like a job loss, they borrow against their accounts. They make poor investment decisions. When the stock market suffers a downturn, accounts lose value. High administrative costs suck away returns. The average 401(k) has never been bigger — but still, we’re talking total savings of $104,000.

Try living on that for 20 or 30 years.

Baby Boomers enjoyed the last vestige of an economy where you might hold one or two jobs throughout your most of your working career. They grew up in two-parent households and enjoyed the fruits of the postwar boom.

By contrast, many Generation Xers and younger Millennials have divorced parents, which reduced their financial security. Gen Xers got slammed by the 1987 stock market crash as well as the 2000 dot-com collapse; both Xers and Millennials lost jobs and savings during the 2008-09 Great Recession. They work in the gig economy. Younger workers might not have to drive for Uber or rent out a room on Airbnb but their work lives are highly mobile and frequently disrupted. They get laid off and outsourced. They must go back to school or move to adjust to employers’ demands. Their real and net incomes are significantly lower than the Boomers’ and their savings rate reflects that.
Paying average monthly benefits of just over $1300, Social Security is a supplementary, not a primary retirement plan. Even if they’re content to live modestly, cash-poor Xers have a gaping wound for which Social Security is a Band-Aid.

Although many older people enjoy working, too many cannot. A record 19% of Americans over age 65 currently work at least part-time; of course, that means that 81% do not. Older people are prone to failing health. And it’s hard to find someone to hire them.

The older you are, the more likely you are to fall prey to age discrimination. Companies are also motivated by simple economics, cutting costs by firing older workers and replacing them with younger ones.

Hillary Clinton ignored the distress of downsized working-class whites in flyover country to her own, and her party’s peril. Donald Trump won his surprise victory partly because he acknowledged the rage of Rust Belters long neglected by both parties. The outcome might have been different had Democrats maintained their traditional 20th century focus on labor and the Midwest by promoting job-retraining programs and other attempts to get industrial workers back on their feet.

Now we’re looking at a problem as big as deindustrialization. If one of the two major parties is able to get ahead of the coming retirement crisis by putting forth some meaningful solutions now, before dystopia arrives, they will reap the benefits at the polls. Conservatives may want to support GRAs (Guaranteed Retirement Accounts) in which workers are required to withhold a portion of each paycheck in order to invest for their retirement. Liberals may prefer shoring up the Social Security system in order to increase monthly payouts.

Or we can do nothing as we marvel at the sight of our grandparents fighting over Dumpster scraps.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Rob Rogers Matters

It seems right to thank Rob Rogers in kind: when the corrupt LA Times fired me, he watched my back with his own thoughtful observations about my plight.

Rob was fired today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he had worked for the last 25 years. Overall, he has worked as a professional full-time political cartoonist for 33 years. This was not your garden-variety “let’s lay off the cartoonist so we can pay upper middle management even bigger bonuses” dismissal. After a couple of years of serious handwringing on the part of America’s Democratic Party-dominated editorial cartoonist community, Rogers has emerged as one of the first true victims of a Donald Trump-inspired purge.

Determined to move the P-G into a more pro-Trump editorial orientation, the publisher brought in a new editorial director, Keith Burris, whom he charged, among other things, with either bringing Rogers in line — convincing him to either draw pro-Trump cartoons or simply lay off the president entirely — or figure out a way to get rid of him. Anyone who knows Rob Rogers, or for that matter any decent political cartoonist, could guess that the odds of him agreeing to change his political orientation 180° was likely to fail. What the Post-Gazette wanted was a throwback to the political cartooning of over 100 years ago, when publishers dictated the cartoon that appeared in the next day’s paper. Financial pressures have been extraordinary against cartoonists but few have acquiesced to such rollbacks and Rob Rogers was certainly not going to be one of them.

So instead they decided to kill one of his cartoons. And another one. And another one. By the time they showed him the door, well over a dozen cartoons in a row had been drawn but failed to appear in print.

I’m not sure I really understand this tactic. I didn’t go to business school. I would imagine that humiliating and harassing someone into leaving works best when they can easily find another job in their chosen profession. That’s not really true in journalism.

If there’s a class about how to fire people at any decent business school, they should probably use the Rob Rogers firing as an example of exactly what not to do. Look, it’s their paper. They can publish or not publish whoever they want. Maybe it’s crazy for a city like Pittsburgh to have a pro-Trump newspaper but that’s their prerogative if they want to go under. They had the right to fire him.

But why do it that way? Why not simply call him into the office, explain the fact that the editorial orientation of the newspaper had changed, and offer him a generous severance package (I would think two or three years salary would be sufficient) along with full retirement? And send him out with a little bit of glory and dignity, allowing him to say his goodbyes in cartoon form and perhaps showcasing a few pages of his best cartoons over the years? 25 years of loyal service earned him that. More than that, Rob is a fixture in the community. He is always front and present, organizing and hosting cartooning-related panels and shows at art galleries. Disappearing him like a Soviet apparatchik airbrushed out of photos from the top of Lenin’s tomb is a little insane.

Alternatively, why not simply make clear that he could stay on board as a liberal cartoonist even though the editorials would be conservative? My former employer the Los Angeles Times did that with cartoonist Mike Ramirez in the 1990s, but in reverse. The paper had a liberal editorial orientation but Mike was very conservative. Many newspapers with a specific editorial orientation run columns by columnists whose politics disagree with them.

Rob deserved better than to be given the bum’s rush. I suspect that much of the national media will focus on the Trump aspect of the story but I think the real issue is the cruel treatment given to a loyal employee who never did anything wrong and wasn’t even accused of doing anything wrong. I don’t know how that publisher or that editor can live with themselves.

They’re both disgusting.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Suicide? No. Society Is Murdering Us. But There Is a Way Out.

Image result for golden gate bridge jumper

They say that 10 million Americans seriously consider committing suicide every year. In 1984, when I was 20, I was one of them.

Most people who kill themselves feel hopeless. They are miserable and distraught and can’t imagine how or if their lives will ever improve. That’s how I felt. Within a few months I got expelled from college, dumped by a girlfriend I foolishly believed I would marry, fired from my job and evicted from my apartment. I was homeless, bereft, broke. I didn’t have enough money for more than a day of cheap food. And I had no prospects.

I tried in vain to summon up the guts to jump off the roof of my dorm. I went down to the subway but couldn’t make myself jump in front of a train. I wanted to. But I couldn’t.

Obviously things got better. I’m writing this.

Things got better because my luck changed. But — why did it have to? Isn’t there something wrong with a society in which life or death turns on luck?

I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self that suicide isn’t necessary, that there is another way, that there will be plenty of time to be dead in the end. I’ve seen those other ways when I’ve traveled overseas.

In Thailand and Central Asia and the Caribbean and all over the world you will find Americans whose American lives ran hard against the shoals of bankruptcy, lost love, addiction or social shame. Rather than off themselves, they gathered their last dollars and headed to the airport and went somewhere else to start over. They showed up at some dusty ex-pat bar in the middle of nowhere with few skills other than speaking English and asked if they could crash in the back room in between washing dishes. Eventually they scraped together enough money to conduct tours for Western tourists, maybe working as a divemaster or taking rich vacationers deep-sea fishing. They weren’t rich themselves; they were OK and that was more than enough.

You really can start over. But maybe not in this uptight, stuck-up, class-stratified country.

I remembered that in 2015 when I suffered another setback. Unbeknownst to me, the Los Angeles Times — where I had worked as a cartoonist since 2009 – had gotten itself into a corrupt business deal with the LAPD, which I routinely criticized in my cartoons. A piece-of-work police chief leveraged his department’s financial influence on the newspaper by demanding that the idiot ingénue publisher, his political ally, fire me as a favor. But mere firing wasn’t enough for these two goons. They published not one, but two articles, lying about me in an outrageous attempt to destroy my journalistic credibility. I’m suing but the court system is slower than molasses in the pre-climate change Arctic.

Suicide crossed my mind many times during those dark weeks and months. Although I had done nothing wrong the Times’ smears made me feel ashamed. I was angry: at the Times editors who should have quit rather than carry out such shameful orders, at the media outlets who refused to cover my story, at the friends and colleagues who didn’t support me. Though many people stood by me, I felt alone. I couldn’t imagine salvaging my reputation — as a journalist, your reputation for truthtelling and integrity are your most valuable asset and essential to do your job and to get new ones.

As my LA Times nightmare unfolded, however, I remembered the Texas-born bartender who had reinvented himself in Belize after his wife left him and a family court judge ordered him to pay 90% of his salary in alimony. I thought about the divemaster in Cozumel running away from legal trouble back in the States that he refused to describe. If my career were to crumble away, I could split.

You can opt out of BS without having to opt out of life.

Up 30% since 1999, suicide has become an accelerating national epidemic — 1.4 million Americans tried to kill themselves in a single year, 2015 — but the only times the media focuses on suicide is when it claims the lives of celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While the media has made inroads by trying to cover high-profile suicides discreetly so as to minimize suicidal ideation and inspiring others to follow their example, it’s frustrating that no one seems to want to identify societal and political factors so that this trend might be reversed.

Experts believe that roughly half of men who commit suicide suffer from undiagnosed mental illness such as a severe personality disorder or clinical depression. Men commit suicide in substantially higher numbers than women. The healthcare insurance business isn’t much help. One in five Americans is mentally ill but 60% get no treatment at all.

Then there’s stress. Journalistic outlets and politicians don’t target the issue of stress in any meaningful way other than to foolishly, insipidly advise people to avoid it. If you subject millions of people to inordinate stress, some of them, the fragile ones, will take their own lives. We should be working to create a society that minimizes rather than increases stress.

It doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting to come up with major sources of stress in American society. People are working longer hours but earning lower pay. Even people with jobs are terrified of getting laid off without a second’s notice. The American healthcare system, designed to fatten for-profit healthcare corporations, is a sick joke. When you lose your job or get sick, that shouldn’t be your problem alone. We’re social creatures. We must help each other personally, locally and through strong safety-net social programs.

Loneliness and isolation are likely leading causes of suicide; technology is alienating us from one another even from those who live in our own homes. This is a national emergency. We have to discuss it, then act.

Life in the United States has become vicious and brutal, too much to take even for this nation founded upon the individualistic principles of rugged libertarian pioneers. Children are pressured to exhibit fake joy and success on social media. Young adults are burdened with gigantic student loans they strongly suspect they will never be able to repay. The middle-aged are divorced, outsourced, downsized and repeatedly told they are no longer relevant. And the elderly are thrown away or warehoused, discarded and forgotten by the children they raised.

We don’t have to live this way. It’s a choice. Like the American ex-pats I run into overseas, American society can opt out of crazy-making capitalism without having to opt out.

I’m Coming to Cambridge

If you happen to be in or around Boston next week, please come meet me Wednesday night where I’ll be speaking about my new book “Francis: The People’s Pope” at 7 pm at Barn Parish in Cambridge MA as part of the Harvard Forum series.

In other news, NBM Publishing will issue an up-to-date paperback version of my out-of-print graphic novel “The Year of Loving Dangerously,” drawn by Pablo G. Callejo and written by me, in 2019. “Year” is a reminiscence of my anni horriblis during which I was dumped by my girlfriend, fired from my job, expelled from my college and evicted from my dorm — and wound up homeless. It’s a tale of desperation and sexual commodification and very raw, and a great graphic journey through Reagan’s 1980s in New York.