Tag Archives: Bailout

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Get Pissed Off and Break Things

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Why Are Americans So Passive?

There’s a reason “Keep Calm and Carry On” is everywhere. When people lose everything — their economic aspirations, their freedom, their privacy — when there’s nothing they can do to restore what they’ve lost — all they have left is dignity.

Remember Saddam? Seconds before he was hanged, disheveled and disrespected, the deposed dictator held his head high, his eyes blazing with contempt as he spat sarcastic insults at his executioners. He “faced death like a lion,” said his supposed body double, Latif Yahia, and no one could argue. He left this life with the one thing he could control intact.

Dignity. That’s what “Keep Calm and Carry On” is all about. That’s what we think of when we think of the Battle of Britain. As German bombs rained down, the English went about their business. Like the iconic photo of the milkman tiptoeing over rubble. Like the bomb-damaged stores whose shopkeepers posted signs that read “We are still open — more open than usual.”

Man, that is so not us.

You’ve seen the T-shirts, with their clean Gill Sans-esque lettering and iconic crown. There are mugs, postcards and posters. Of course. It’s a reproduction of a propaganda poster from World War II, an (unsuccessful, because it wasn’t distributed) attempt by the British government to steel jittery citizens during the Blitz.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” merch dates to 2000 but really took off after 9/11; the popularity of the image, the stoicism of its call to stiffen upper lips everywhere, and numerous parodies (“Stay Alive and Kill Zombies”) has generated millions of dollars of profits, inevitably sparking lawsuits and inspiring a song by John Nolan.

Why is a meme originally prepared for a possible German invasion of the UK (which is why it wasn’t released) popular now? Zizi Papacharissi, communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, points to the crappy economy. “We are undergoing a profound and fairly global economic crisis, so it is natural to revisit the saying: Keep calm and carry on. It reminds us of courage shown back then, and how courage shown helped people pluck through a crisis.”

It’s also a reaction to terrorism — or more accurately a reaction to the initial reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks: hysteria, jingoism, multiple wars of choice, all doomed. More than any other factor, Obama owed his 2008 victory to his (Maureen Dowd called him) Vulcan personality: cool, implacable, possibly non-sentient, the anti-Dubya.

What wouldn’t we give for a 2001 do-over? No invasions, no Patriot Act, no Gitmo, no “extraordinary renditions,” no New York Times op-ed pieces arguing in favor of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Treat 9/11 like a crime, let the FBI go after the perps. Reach out to Muslims, reconsider our carte blanche to Israel, and most of all: go slow. Don’t freak out.

Perspective: 3,000 deaths is awful. 9/11 was shocking. We killed 2 million Vietnamese people, yet they’re going strong. With a minimum of whining.

And yet…

Sometimes you need some perspective to your perspective.

There are times when it’s appropriate to freak out. When, in fact, it’s downright weird and unhealthy and wrong not to flip your lid. For example, when you get diagnosed with a terrible disease. When someone you love dies.

There are also times when big-picture, impersonal stuff, including politics and the economy, ought to make you crazy with rage or grief or…something. Not nothing. Not just keeping calm and carrying on.

Keeping calm and carrying on was an appropriate response to the Blitz.  Short of moving away from the targeted area, there’s nothing you can do about bombs. Living or dying is a matter of happenstance. Keeping calm might help you make smart decisions. Panic is usually more dangerous than self-control.

The same is true of terrorism. Terrorists will kill you, or not — probably not. You can’t fix your fate.

But that is decidedly not true about the economy. Not when what is wrong with the economy is not something no one can control — a giant meteor, bad weather, panic in the markets — but something that most assuredly can and indeed should be, like the systemic transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich that has characterized the class divide in Western nations since the 1970s. The appropriate, intelligent and self-preserving response to mass theft is rage, demands for action, and decisive punishment of political and economic leaders who refuse to change things.

As one revelation about the National Security Agency’s spying follows another, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme seems less like an appeal to dignity and calm reserve than the much older, classic response of the power elite to their oppressed subjects: Shut the Fuck Up.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in March 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Hanging Around in Bangladesh

Bangladesh isn’t some crappy Third World country like the United States, where capitalists can crash the economy and get away clean – and loaded.

Blend the Stimulus

This one was inspired by a conversation with Matt Bors. We were wondering aloud why Obama was in such a rush to pass the bailout bills, only to drag his ass in actually distributing the money. It’s not like they can’t do things quickly.

The Mathematics of Greed

It’s sick math–and it’s probably even worse than how I depicted it in this cartoon. No matter how you crunch the numbers, there is no way anyone can justify the bank bailout as anything other than a massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to greedy corporations.

Too Big to Fail

This is the kind of cartoon I expected lots of my mainstream cartoonist colleagues to have come up with.

But I couldn’t find any, so I went ahead with the idea anyway. I hope I’m right and that I was first and only, in which case this is an instant classic. Otherwise it’s just another typical mainstream cartoon.

Drawing dinosaurs was fun, though.

Unconditional Begging

I’m confused. First the banks and other companies requesting government bailouts claimed they would go under if they didn’t get them. Now they’re offering to return the money because the conditions are too onerous. So they didn’t really need the money in the first place, right? Or am I missing something?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why We Hate Them

Mistreated Customers Fuel Populist Rage

“Populist anger in America is the anger of dispossession,” writes Newsweek‘s Rick Perlstein. “The delinking of effort and reward has become all too manifest. That always makes Americans angry. We do not like to reward those who do not produce.”

That’s not it. This is about abused customers. After decades of insults, they can’t believe they’re being made to save companies that treat them like crap.

I’m a calm person. Yet my most recent bank statement featured three items that brought my blood to a fast boil. One was a $10 “income wire transfer fee.” A newspaper that publishes this column paid for it by wiring the money to my account. The bank charged me ten bucks–for depositing money! Money that, by the way, they invest in what the banking industry calls “the overnight call float.”

The same statement included a $3 fee for using an ATM that belongs to a different bank. Compared to my bank, loan sharks are sweethearts. If I take out $20 every day and pay three dollars each time, that’s 15 percent interest a day–or 5,475 percent a year. Did I mention that the fee was a mistake? I never use ATMs at other banks. To straighten out this $3 fee, I’ll have to waste my time explaining myself to someone at a call center in India, typing my account number into a keypad so I can repeat it by voice after waiting on hold.

Then there’s what my bank calls AN IMPORTANT CHANGE CONCERNING THE PROCESSING OF YOUR CHECKS EFFECTIVE MARCH 20, 2009: “As checks you have written are presented to us for payment during the course of a business day,” they explain, “we will place a hold on available funds in your account of those checks, resulting in a reduction in your available account balance throughout that day.” This is Bankese for: “You will pay bounce fees even when you have enough money in your account for checks to clear.”

I won’t even mention the time they hit me with a $120 fine in a single month–twelve separate fees at $10 a pop–for being stupid enough to use the line of credit they once begged me to take.

I hate my bank. My bank is Citibank. Citibank sucks.

If Citibank wasn’t an evil, customer-hating band of fee vultures, I might not be quite so annoyed at the fact that its parent company, Citigroup, had just received $20 billion in direct investment plus $306 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. government (i.e. us), of which I am a subsidiary. That’s $1,100 per American citizen, plus compound interest paid to Chinese investors who buy U.S. Treasury obligations. The fact that Citigroup “didn’t produce” has nothing to do with it. I would rather set $1,100 on fire than hand it over to Citigroup.

Which brings us to the American International Group. As you know, AIG executives sparked populist anger by paying themselves $165 million in bonuses after accepting a government bailout. “Take away taxpayers’ sense of ownership stake in an issue (especially, as with AIG, when taxpayers literally own the company) and their rage will not go away,” says Perlstein. “It festers…And that’s when the ‘bad’ kind of populism–the hateful kind; the violent kind; the demagogic kind–can flourish.”

Wrong again. Americans’ “ownership stake” in AIG isn’t why they’re in torches-and-pitchforks mode. Those bonuses only amount to 55 cents per person–no biggie. The Iraq War will cost us at least $10,000 each. The reason we’re enraged is that AIG is an insurance company.

We hate insurance companies.

Health insurers are the worst. They repeatedly deny claims they know are legitimate because many sick patients will give up fighting and eat the expense. They arbitrarily decide that tests, procedures, and even life-saving operations are “optional.” They literally murder their customers! Insurers even “make use of sophisticated data tools dubbed ‘denial engines,’ which are touted to reduce reimbursements by three to ten percent,” says U.S. News & World Report. But homeowner insurance companies aren’t better. State Farm’s refusal to pay victims of hurricane Katrina because their policies covered wind but not flooding is typical. “They said, ‘If a tornado came through and two days later the water came, it’s all flood,” remembers a Katrina victim in Louisiana.

They were lucky State Farm told them anything. Other storm survivors spent hours on hold, trying in vain to get through to companies that had happily collected their premiums for years.

Banks like Citibank and insurance companies like AIG may well be “too big to fail,” as Obama’s team at Treasury argues. So don’t let them fail. Nationalize them instead. And send their current and former executives to Bagram.

Also writing for Newsweek, Robert J. Samuelson calls our contempt for corporate leeches “a dangerous mindset” that “justifies punitive taxes, widespread corporate mandates, selective subsidies and more meddling in companies’ everyday operations.” Gee, how terrible that would be, what with them doing so well without meddling from the guvmint.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Samuelson and the high-flying captains of industry he champions: If banks and insurance companies want taxpayers to save their steak-fattened butts, let them accept some changes that will make Americans like them better. For banks, no more fees on checking or savings accounts. Period. For credit card companies, reset all interest rates at one percent over prime. Give customers a full month to pay their bills. No more unilateral changes in rates. For insurance companies, the presumption should be that all claims are legitimate unless proven otherwise. If a doctor approves it, pay out without being asked twice.

Oh, and one more thing: Get rid of phone trees. Fire the half-a-world-away call centers. Ban voice recognition systems–“say yes or no–I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” Hire actual people to answer the phone. Make them pick it up on the first ring and transfer calls to the proper department.

I’d pay $1,100 for that.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL