Originally published at Breaking Modern:
Is driving doomed? Fewer young people are buying cars or getting drivers licenses ….
The US Supreme Court is currently considering allowing police to draw your blood involuntarily without a warrant in the event that you refuse a breathalyzer test if you are suspected of drunk driving. It is an incredibly invasive procedure, but the authorities and the courts are siding with the cops because, incredibly, they complained that sometimes it is too difficult to get search warrants for your veins and arteries quickly enough before your blood alcohol level dissipates to legal levels.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: Gas prices in California are at a record high for the third day in a row, up slightly more than a cent overnight at $4.668 for a gallon of regular just as motorists start their work week. The cost of fueling up has soared in recent days, as refinery and pipeline problems squeezed supply. The steep and sudden run-up caused Gov. Jerry Brown to call Sunday for a quick infusion of winter-blend gasoline.
Bankrupt and Corrupt, U.S. Can’t/Won’t Address Issues We Care About
Millions of Americans won’t vote this November. “Voter participation in the U.S. remains consistently below corresponding levels in most other western democracies,” the International Business Times reported last year. “In countries like Italy, Belgium, Austria and Australia, more than 90 percent of the voting public cast ballots at election time.”
They—the corporate politicians and their media mouthpieces—call it apathy. Obama advisor David Axelrod blamed it for the Iraq War. “There was apathy in 2000, and Al Gore lost that election to George W. Bush by 300 votes, and as a result we wound up in Iraq,” he told the Harvard Crimson. That’s crap. People don’t boycott elections because they don’t care. They are alienated.
We don’t care about two-party electoral politics because two-party electoral politics don’t care about us.
What are Americans most worried about this election season? The same thing we’ve been most worried about for years: the economy. You name the poll: local or national, liberals or conservatives doesn’t matter. Tens of millions of people are unemployed. People who still have jobs live in terror of layoffs. Real inflation is out of control but salaries are frozen or falling. (The fact that we have to specify “real” says a lot about the gap between life out here “on the ground” and over there “inside the Beltway.”)
We’re being ground down. Demoralized. Bankrupted. And they don’t care. Not only do they not care, they don’t notice.
The Fed and the White House are colluding in their quadrennial tradition of ginning up a pseudo-boomlet to support the incumbent. Thus the latest Dow bubble and phony 8.3 percent unemployment rate, which count people who have given up looking for work as “employed.”
Everyone knows the recovery is fiction. Who are you going to believe—the talking heads or your lying, overdrawn, second-mortage line of credit? According to the latest Gallup tracking poll, which actually asks actual people how they’re actually doing in the actual world, 9.1 percent of Americans are unemployed and 19.0 percent are underemployed. When 28.1 percent of Americans are broke, that affects everyone, including the richest 1% trying to sell goods and services.
People expect their “representative” democracy to represent their interests. To address their problems. And solve them.
No wonder why we’re so apathetic. Our “leaders” hardly talk about the economy.
Santorum is more worried about how easy it is to get sex than how hard it is to find work.
Romney thinks it’s 1992 and that he’s Ross Perot, the businessman who promised to run America like a corporation. As though it wasn’t already. As if that wasn’t the problem.
Obama imagines that we didn’t notice that he only started asking Congress to work on the economy after Congress fell under the control of the other party. We’re slow. We’re not deranged.
Our dying political system is unwilling and unable to address joblessness and the widening class divide because our misery isn’t an aberration. It’s an inherent manifestation of corporate capitalism. Ordinary Americans understand this. Half the citizens of this “conservative” country already prefer socialism or communism, according to a Gallup poll conducted in December—watch that go up—yet the political class dares not question the Crappy Economic System That Must Not Be Named.
Since they can’t take on the real issues the elites are reduced to the politics of distraction.
Kids and death.
Those are the D-grade “issues” the powers that be are using this week in order to avoid talking about the atrocious economy.
Federal regulators announced on February 27th that all cars manufactured after 2014 must feature rearview cameras that allow drivers to see what is behind them. The National Highway Traffic Administration says that “95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries could be eliminated each year by eliminating the wide blind spot behind a vehicle,” reported The New York Times. The estimated cost of the devices is $2.7 billion per year.
“In terms of absolute numbers of lives saved, it certainly isn’t the highest,” admitted Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety. “But in terms of emotional tragedy, backover deaths are some of the worst imaginable. When you have a parent that kills a child in an accident that’s utterly avoidable, they don’t ever forget it.”
No doubt. I can imagine. By all means, put in those cameras.
But there’s something screwy about a political culture that slaps this trivial story on the front page of the biggest newspaper in the country and makes it a Congressional priority while the elephants in the room go unaddressed. Every year 17,000 Americans die in slip and fall accidents—151 times the rate from backover car accidents. Maybe we should install cameras on the backs of our heads.
Yo, moron journalists and politicos: Jobs! We care about jobs!
If you idiots must obsess over cars, why aren’t you pushing through radical improvements in fuel efficiency, like requiring that every car made after 2014 be either electric or a hybrid? Autos are a major cause of air pollution, which triggers asthma attacks, which kill at least 5000 people annually in the U.S.
It’s not just about the kiddie-poos. The establishments is still wallowing in Bush’s hoary post-9/11 death cult.
The day after its hold-the-presses car-cameras scoop the Times was back with another page-one heartstopper:
“The mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware disposed of body parts of some victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by burning them and dumping the ashes in a landfill,” began the story. The victims were killed on Flight 93, which crashed in western Pennsylvania.
Gross? No doubt. Inappropriate? Unquestionably. Important? Hell no.
The worst thing that could ever happened to the people to whom those body parts belonged occurred before. They were dead. Murdered. What went down after that was comparatively trivial.
Not to stir up the Truthers (with whom I disagree), but a more appropriate front-page story would ask: “More Than 11 Years After 9/11, Why Hasn’t There Been an Independent Investigation?”
Here’s what we’ve come to: Get killed on Flight 93 and no one bothers to find out what really happened to you. Have your remains disposed of in a culturally insensitive manner and it’s a scandal.
What if Flight 93 had landed safely? Some passengers would gotten laid off. Some would have been foreclosed upon. And the government wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about them.
Why don’t people vote?
A better question is: Why do people vote?
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
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.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL