Tag Archives: Austerity

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: State Debt

Math Not Good Like

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget projects paying off $28 billion in state debt. But the debt actually totals hundreds of billions of dollars. Possible solutions to paying off the whole thing? Maybe we could start by nationalizing Apple Computer.

Austerity Made Simple

All over the world, and now here in the United States with the so-called “fiscal cliff” accounting crisis, ordinary people are being told that they must tighten their belts. Why? In order to pay the bills of wealthy elite individuals and corporations that enjoyed almost all of the profits of the boom times and indeed are continuing to live lavishly today.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: A New Logo for the U.C. System

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: University of California officials said they were trying to project a “forward-looking spirit” when they replaced the university system’s ornate, tradition-clad logo with a sleek, modern one. What they got was an online revolt complete with mocking memes, Twitter insults and a petition to restore the old logo. Students and alumni have taken to Facebook and Photoshop to express their displeasure, showing the new symbol ready to be flushed down a toilet and as a permanently stalled computer operating system. One critic suggested the controversial image be tattooed on its creators’ foreheads as punishment.

Pre-Old Blues

Paul Ryan says he won’t reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits if the Republicans win–at least not for people who are currently elderly. What about people under 55 years old–the pre-old? How are they supposed to avoid a future of dumpster-diving?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Guilty After Proven Innocent

Make DSK Whole—Then Jail Him

“Innocent until proven guilty.” We say it. We teach it to our children. But we don’t believe it.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with ambushing a hotel cleaning person at a hotel in midtown Manhattan and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, has been released.

This was not the usual case of a well-heeled defendant wielding money and influence to weasel out of responsibility for his crime. To the contrary, the NYPD and district attorney believed the alleged victim, initially characterized as a hard-working immigrant struggling to support her family. The cops aggressively pursued DSK, as the French media calls him. They even subjected him to the “perp walk” that signifies official contempt.

But that’s all over. District attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. says the case has fallen apart. The victim was unreliable at best, a conwoman at worst. The charges are dead. DSK is free.

Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Technically.

But not really.

When you’re accused, the story screams in blood-red 112-point type above the fold on page one for weeks on end. When you’re exonerated, it runs one column-inch buried in the classifieds—on the day all your friends, relatives and colleagues happen to miss the paper.

Strauss-Kahn won’t go to prison. Not for whatever happened or didn’t happen at the Sofitel. (He will face a rape charge filed by a French reporter, who accuses him of going after her “like a chimpanzee in rut” years ago.)

Though legally innocent, DSK will not be restored to his job leading the International Monetary Fund, which he was forced to resign as he cooled his heels at Rikers Island. No reason given. Just: no.

Before getting dragged out of his first-class seat on an Air France jet bound for Paris, the deaccused rapist was widely considered a frontrunner for the Socialist Party’s nomination for the French presidency. Now George W. Bush has a better chance than DSK of moving into Elysée Palace. Too much dirt has come out. Legally innocent he may be, but too many voters harbor doubts.

Like the old Soviet Union, the United States and its Western puppet states (France included) mindlessly repeat too many sweet-sounding slogans devoid of real meaning: “Equal justice under the law.” “All men are created equal.” “One man, one vote.”

“Innocent until proven guilty.”

If legal innocence (i.e. the failure of the state to convict one of a crime) is to rise above the status of hollow rhetoric, people like DSK ought to be entitled to the full restoration of their pre-arrest status. In DSK’s case, he is morally entitled to his old job at the IMF and an open invitation by the French Socialists to run for his nation’s highest office. He also deserves to be compensated for the legal bills and bail costs he accrued during his ordeal.

Not many people reading this will agree with me. Which is my point: as a society, we don’t really believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”

We did not revel in Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest because of the crime that the legal system has since decided not to pursue, rape. We laughed and jeered because we hate(d) him.

We hate(d) DSK because he is rich and evil.

Had DSK been a run-of-the-mill accused rapist, few would have noticed and no one would have been as gleeful about his predicament. Here was the fearsome chief of the mighty IMF, an old, smug, white pig forced to shower with an electronic monitoring device locked to his ankle. “Le Perv!” shouted the New York Post.

How delicious!

After the arrest I published a cartoon showing DSK in a police interrogation room. I pride myself on my refusal to leap aboard media bandwagons, so I didn’t assume he was guilty. “What’s the big deal?” I showed him asking police detectives. “I’ve been raping the world for years!”

It takes a cruel genius to turn big profits on the backs of the world’s poorest people. Meet DSK’s IMF.

First IMF officials such as DSK convince the political leaders of say, Kyrgyzstan, that they could rapidly modernize their Fourth World backwater with a loan. Build some new highways! How about that long-awaited hydroelectric dam? Foreign corporations will rush in to do business! Paying us back will be a breeze!

This is, to be charitable, as overly optimistic as Countrywide telling slum dwellers they’ll never regret an adjustable-rate mortgage. There are good reasons that foreign firms do not invest in dumps like Kyrgyzstan. Those reasons do not change because there’s a new airport road or a new four-star hotel.

Increase in GDP or no, the IMF loans come due. What to do? IMF experts parachute in. Their recommendation: “structural adjustment.” No more profligate spending on social programs. Close those pricy health clinics! The IMF is the world’s biggest loan shark.

Ripped social safety nets cause social unrest. Kyrgyzstan, once relatively stable, was propped up by IMF loans in the late 1990s. They came due, forcing the poor nation to curtail social spending. It has since been swept by a series of riots, coups, ethnic cleansing and even warlordism.

Here in the United States, IMF-style gangster capitalism takes the form of Republican/Tea Party “starve the beast” demagoguery. There’s always money for rich people. And for wars. And for wars that make rich people richer. For the poor and middle-class, Medicare and Social Security are ostentatious and unaffordable luxuries. Socialized medicine, guaranteed cost-of-living increases and unlimited unemployment benefits are off the table.

It is this economic outlook, devoid of humanity and contemptuous of people’s basic needs, that Dominique Strauss-Kahn represents.

We all hate him. We hate those like him. That perp walk looked so…right.

He deserves prison, no doubt about it. Until there’s a revolution, however, DSK will never suffer for the crimes he committed as a globe-trotting financier.

Even as DSK flew first-class and left his most intimate DNA in $450-a-night suites at four-star hotels, his IMF was demanding that the citizens of Greece and Portugal slash pensions and hike college tuition. That is his biggest crime, undeniable and unforgivable, and the one for which he and those like him should someday face justice.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Revolution Will Not Be Deactualized

Oct. 6th: Will Tahrir Square Come to Washington?

I used to work for Democratic candidates. I was a campus activist. I marched in protests.

But, in the 1980s, I quit politics. I was fed up. The Left was impotent and inept. They didn’t want to change things. They were content with theater. Bad theater at that: dorks on stilts, boring speakers, stupid slogans, the same old chants. “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Except—we were defeated. We didn’t even fight.

Our protests were poorly attended. The media ignored us. And we always lost. Even the Democrats didn’t care about us or our opinions. By the time Bill Clinton won in 1992, the progressive wing of the party was good for one thing: voting Democratic.

Along with millions of others, I drifted away.

Now, finally, for the first time in decades, I am excited.

We can change everything. Here. In America. Now.

People are rising up in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Patriotic Afghans, Iraqis and Yemenis are fighting puppet dictators propped by U.S. military occupation. They demand an end to violent, corrupt governments that serve themselves but not their citizens. People in the Middle East and European countries such as Greece refuse to accept systemic poverty and unemployment so that a tiny slice of corrupt, well-connected elites can continue to amass wealth.

Why just in other countries? Why not here?

Why can’t we have a Tahrir Square?

Lord knows we need one.

Here in the United States, corrupt politicians and their corporate overlords have raped the wealthiest nation in the history of civilization, reducing one out of five Americans to unemployment as the income of the rich skyrockets. They tell us our schoolchildren must do with less, that we cannot afford to see doctors when we are ill; meanwhile they start prolonged, seemingly endless wars of aggression against nations that posed no threat whatsoever: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen.

Did you know that Egypt and Tunisia had lower unemployment and disparity of income than the United States?

Organizers are calling a demonstration planned for October 6, 2011 in Washington’s Freedom Square “the biggest story on the progressive sphere of the Internet tomorrow.” October 6th marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

This, they say, will not be the usual sad protest demonstration in which people show up, chant slogans, march around, then pack up their signs and go home.

[Full disclosure: I have endorsed October 6th and will attend.]

The idea behind October 6th is simple: to recreate Tahrir Square two blocks away from the White House.

“We are not packing up and leaving this time,” says Tarak Kauff, one of the October 6th organizers. “We are preparing to stay as long as we possibly can or until some basic demands are met. If we are driven out, we will return.”

In other words, clear your calendar for the 6th, the 7th, the 8th…however long it takes for the Obama Administration to yield to key demands, including immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the other wars. Participants are being asked to sign a pledge to attend at http://october2011.org.

“Previous demonstrations were one-day events which were simple for the Administration and Congress to ignore,” Margaret Flowers, another organizer, told me. “The large demonstrations usually happened on weekends when there was little going on in Washington. “This is different because it is an occupation that begins on a Thursday, a day of business, and will continue.”

They will keep the heat on. “We intend to stay and to have waves of nonviolent civil resistance. The time for symbolic actions has ended. Too many people are suffering and dying here and around the world because of the policies of this nation. The planet is suffering because of the policies of this nation. This government has demonstrated that it is incapable of acting in the best interests of the people and planet. We say that this is unacceptable and we will stay and resist until this changes,” Flowers said.

All the participating groups have pledged to remain nonviolent. However, it is not hard to imagine the Washington police or other state security apparatus reacting brutally to the occupation of part of downtown Washington by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Hoover crushed the Bonus Army. Antiwar demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention were beaten. Chinese authorities refused to tolerate the occupation of Tiananmen Square. We have seen dissent crushed in Iran, Bahrain and Syria.

A real demand for real change? The system will view that as a threat.

Flowers: “If the police respond violently, we will do our best to maintain a nonviolent response. If we responded with violence, it would reinforce the police violence and they have weapons, so more people would be hurt. We do not want that. It will be very unfortunate if the police and others working for the security state choose violence. But that is a possibility as we are seeing in this country and around the world. Empires have a history of violence. We want a different kind of society—one that is peaceful, just and sustainable. That is the kind of society we intend to model during our occupation.”

Unlike previous demonstrations, which tended to center around one issue like globalization or gay rights, October 6th is an attempt to unify the American Left into a holistic attack upon the main cause of most of the problems we face: the hegemony of big business that is the inevitable culmination of late-stage capitalism.

Tarak Kauff: “October 6 is…a call for people to stand up to, and resist the root cause not only of our global war-making for profit, but of near catastrophic ecological disaster, pollution, an austerity budget cuts that will devastate the poor and working class, lack of adequate health care and just about every social ill you can think of. What’s the root cause? You got it before I can say it. That’s right, the corporate state.”

October 6th has lit up the leftie blogosphere. If things come together, it could be The Big One: the major event that marks the beginning of the end of the two-party trap and a political system that extracts wealth from the poor and middle-class for the benefit of the wealthy.

Organizer Kevin Zeese adds: “I expect that we will be staying, and not just for the 7th and 8th. We will be working through various scenarios on what will happen depending on how the government responds. In similar events around the world there have been a range of actions and protesters have had to adjust depending on them. Our intent is to stay until we are satisfied with the response.”

“History is not a fairy tale you read to your children at night,” reads the mission statement. “It is not something someone else did in another place. History is right here and right now, in front of you.”

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Thrifty Families and Other Lies

Like Their Government, Americans Live on Debt

his State of the Union address President Obama repeated this ancient canard: “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in,” he said. “That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”

Republicans have used this “families balance their budgets, so should government” line for years. Now Democrats are doing it too. Everyone is jumping aboard the pseudo-austerity bandwagon. (Why pseudo? Neither party really wants to balance the federal budget because it can only be done by bringing home the troops, shrinking the Pentagon by 90 percent, ending corporate welfare, and soaking the rich—i.e. major campaign donors—with higher taxes.)

The family budget talking point is a fascinating meme that reflects a rarely considered national blind spot. As with other cases of mass denial (we think we’re generous do-gooders around the world, foreigners see us for the crazy mean torturers we also are), we give ourselves more credit than we deserve.

We Americans value thrift and personal responsibility. We believe we should live within our means. These cultural ideals stem from our Puritan history.

But we don’t live up to our ideals. Not even close.

Americans are up to the ears in debt.

Four out of five individuals have at least one credit card. The average family has an outstanding balance of $10,700. It spends 21 percent of its monthly income to pay interest on that balance.

The average American family has assets: It owns a house worth $160,000. But it owes $95,000 to the bank. As the housing market continues to crash, equity shrinks.

Our average family’s savings are virtually nonexistent: $3,800 in the bank, no retirement account whatsoever (for half of families, average retirement savings $35,000 for the other half), no mutual funds, no stocks, no bonds.

The claim that American families live within their means is a joke.

To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. The typical American family only earns $43,000. It’s hard to buy much of anything, much less the house that embodies the American Dream, with that. And it’s impossible to save.

So they/we borrow.

As grim as a life of indebted servitude may seem, imagine what the American economy would look like if families really did live within their means, spending no more than they earned. No debt. No credit.

Markets for big-ticket items—homes, automobiles, major appliances—would crash and burn. Countless businesses would go under.

According to the National Association of Realtors 23 percent of homebuyers paid cash in January. That’s more than ever before but that still leaves at least 77 percent relying on mortgage financing. (Why “at least”? Most “cash” transactions include money borrowed from banks and credit unions.) Take 77 percent of purchasers out of the buy side of the equation and million-dollar homes would be worth five figures.

Pop! Credit is the biggest bubble of all.

If credit went away, most Americans’ biggest asset would vanish. Everyone would be “under water” to their lenders. The burbs would soon look like Afghanistan.

The same goes for cars: At least 88 percent of buyers take out a loan.

What would happen if these buyers had to save actual cash money before they could hit the showroom? They wouldn’t buy a car. Air would get cleaner but the economic collapse that began in 2008, which has put one out of five Americans out of work, would accelerate dramatically.

Two-thirds of the U.S. economy directly relies on consumer spending. People can only purchase goods and services using one of three sources: income, savings or credit. As we’ve seen, the average American family doesn’t have savings. Its income has been falling since 1968.

That leaves credit. If consumer credit vanished, the corporato-capitalist system currently prevailing in the U.S. would deteriorate from its current, merely unsustainable form into total chaos. Without credit cards and other loans citizens would seethe, trapped between the mutually irreconcilable forces of falling wages and the aggressive advertising and marketing of products they would never be able to afford. There would only be two possible long-term outcomes: revolution, or the ruling classes would be forced to pay substantially higher wages to workers. To corporate elites, the latter choice would be too unpalatable to countenance.

The typical American family cannot live within its means because it cannot earn enough to sustain its lifestyle. Were it to downgrade its living standards to a level it could afford, there wouldn’t be enough consumer spending to drive the economy. This would force further personal austerity. Eventually we’d all be living outside.

You know what’s funny? Unlike the American family, the U.S. government can spend less than it earns. It can increase revenues by raising taxes. Unlike families, it spends trillions of dollars on stuff—wars—that it doesn’t need and actually makes things worse.

It could even use its power to force employers to pay workers what they deserve. If the government did that, families might not need credit.

They could (finally) live within their means.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Stamped Out

The Statue of Liberty Stamp Error and the End of America

It may seem like a minor thing. Objectively it is a minor thing. But the Great Statue of Liberty Stamp Screw-up of 2011 presents a picture-perfect portrait of a society in the midst of collapse.

You can tell a lot about the state of a country from its stamps and its currency. At a nation’s peak its graphic iconography tends to be striking, elegant and original. As it begins to wane abstraction gives way to self-caricature, innovative design to self-parody, high art to kitsch.

Look at U.S. stamps and paper money from 100 or 50 or even 30 years ago and you’ll see my point. Quarters were nearly sterling silver; now they’re mystery metal (nickel-copper-zinc alloy).

America: we’re not what we used to be.

A century ago President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the famous Beaux Art sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the nation’s coinage. Among the results were Saint-Gaudens’ breathtaking $20 gold “double eagle”; numismatists consider it one of the most elegant coins of the 20th century.

How the mighty have fallen! According to U.S. Mint officials recent revamps of the $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 bills were undertaken without the slightest consideration for aesthetics. They didn’t even consult an art director. Stymieing counterfeiters was the sole concern.

Now the U.S. Postal Service has issued its newest first-class “forever” stamp. As the most widely used denomination, a new forever is a big deal.

The new stamp features a photo of the head of the Statue of Liberty. Well…not exactly. Instead of the Statue of Liberty paid for by coins donated by French schoolchildren, the proud iconic figure which has greeted millions of immigrants to New York, the stamp bears the visage of the small replica which stands in front of the New York-New York casino in Las Vegas.

Mistakes happen. As every philatelist knows, another error—the 1918 “Jenny Invert,” which features an image of an upside-down airplane—is one of the most prized collectibles in philately because Post Office officials destroyed all but one sheet of the 100 stamps.

That’s the usual response to a catastrophe in stampdom. Ten years ago Postal Service recalled and destroyed the entire run of a stamp that wrongly placed the Grand Canyon in Colorado.

But that was before the economic collapse that began in 2008. The Postal Service is broke. Quality standards? Can’t afford them. Incredibly, postal officials are allowing this monstrosity, this bastard creation, this artistic obscenity—the face is clearly the wrong one—to be sold at your local post office.

“We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway,” USPS spokesman Roy Betts told The New York Times.

Uh-huh.

“The [postal] service selected the image from a photography service, and issued rolls of the stamp bearing the image in December,” reported the newspaper. “This month, it issued a sheet of 18 Lady Liberty and flag stamps. Information accompanying the original release of the stamp included a bit of history on the real Statue of Liberty. Las Vegas was never mentioned.”

It’s bad enough that they use photographs. Stamps should be engraved. Engraved stamps look classier and more substantial.

But whether they are using an engraver, illustrator or photographer, a U.S. stamp ought to be a big gig. For an assignment such as this I would expect the USPS to hire a professional and pay huge money—six-figures huge. It’s a stamp, for Chrissake.

Nope. The U.S. Postal Service buys stock photos. For stamp design. That’s right—the same cheesy clipart you can download for your kid’s birthday party invitation.

Insane.

In and of itself, this is no big deal. These are lean times. Austerity abounds. Why not save a few bucks?

It matters because symbolism matters. The kind of country that puts stock photos on its stamps is the kind of country that puts a single air traffic controller in charge of one of its biggest airports. The kind of country that doesn’t fix its mistakes is the kind that tells people under the age of 55 that they can go to hell and die when they get old and sick because it’s more important to cut taxes for rich scum than to fund Medicare.

As for the symbolism of a phony Statue of Liberty that stands in front of a casino in the nation’s gambling capital—well, that’s obvious.

It would be fine if the money being saved by printing crappy stamps went to new textbooks in inner-city schools. But it doesn’t. It goes to Halliburton and Bill Gates. Now that American workers have been hung out to dry, robbed and fleeced, wrung out and burned out, the government and its associated agencies (the USPS is quasi-governmental) have turned on themselves in service to the 21st century robber barons.

Don’t get mad about the stamps. Get mad at what they mean.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL