Hillary Clinton’s campaign is spreading the media meme that a woman president would be “cool.” Yes, it would – but shouldn’t we hold out for a woman president, or any president, whose politics are more appealing?
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
Everyone knows how the political system works. Whenever there is a pressing need for legislative action, the politicians do nothing at all. Either that, or they wait until lots of people die, then enact laws that half-fix the problem, usually making things worse.
A case of the former in the United States: climate change. Not only has U.S. Congress failed to act, but the political party that controls both houses of Congress won’t even admit that the problem exists. An example of the latter is healthcare. Tens of thousands of Americans have been dying every year because they can’t afford to see a doctor, so finally the United States joined the rest of the world by passing a national healthcare system, a.k.a. Obamacare, which may mark the first time in history that the US government has charged poor people a fine for refusing to buy a service.
We know that this is not a good system.
But it is the system that America, like most other countries, has always had. In the same way that people who live near rhinos know that they may get stomped by one of the armored creatures on a rampage, Americans are accustomed to the dysfunction of their political system. While it might be too much to say that we like to pay a substantial share of our income in taxes to support a government that either ignores our needs and desires, or messes things up even worse when it pays attention to them, no one expects this to change anytime soon.
As with the sun rising in the east, this is our reality.
Which is why the latest news from Great Britain makes our selective heads hurt.
“Britain’s House of Commons gave preliminary approval Tuesday to permitting scientists to create babies from the DNA of three people, a technique that could protect some children from inheriting potentially fatal diseases from their mothers,” reports the Associated Press.
Did you know it was possible to make kids out of three people’s DNA?
No. Bet you didn’t.
How do I know? Because I didn’t. And I’m a double nerd: I read all the news and I’m especially interested in science. If there’s a weird story about science, and anyone has heard about it, it’s me.
Pretty freaky stuff. But that’s not the point here. The point is, Britain’s political system – which is even older than ours – is legalizing something that most people haven’t even heard of, much less been able to form an opinion about.
So far along are the Brits with this whole three-parent thing that their ethicists are publicly expressing a concern that this will open the door to eugenics on a grand scale, so-called “designer babies” whose genetic makeup would be predetermined by parents taking off a checklist of yesses and nos.
“The technique involves removing the nucleus DNA from the egg of a prospective mother and inserting it into a donor egg from which the nucleus DNA has been removed. This can be done before or after fertilization. The resulting embryo would have the nucleus DNA from its parents but the mitochondrial DNA from the donor. Scientists say the DNA from the donor egg amounts to less than 1 percent of the resulting embryo’s genes,” says the AP.
If 50 percent of Americans can define the word “mitochondria,” I will eat a garden slug. Hell, if 50 percent of American Congressmen were aware of this technique before today’s news, I’ll eat two.
I find it deeply distressing that there is an actual nation, much less one which kind of speaks English as one of its major languages, whose elected representatives (a) know anything about science, (b) know something about science before I do, and (c) have absorbed that knowledge so thoroughly that they are ready to propose, debate and actually pass a law in response to their scientific knowledge.
America is over.
Orwell’s Nightmares Come True — But Who Cares?
Another horror no one will care about: the government is spying on your snail mail.
The New York Times timed the release of the story so that it would come and go without notice: on the Fourth of July, when no one reads the paper or watches the news. But buried beneath a puffy lede is yet another privacy-killing whopper. After 9/11, the Times reports, the U.S. Postal Service created something called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program, “in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.”
Just a wild guess? How about: forever?
“Together,” the paper continued, “the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.” Any government agency — the FBI, local police, etc. — can request mail cover data. As with the rubber-stamp “FISA court,” the USPS almost always says yes to these outrageous mass violations of privacy.
From George Orwell’s “1984”: “As for sending a letter through the mails, it was out of the question. By a routine that was not even secret, all letters were opened in transit.”
“It’s a treasure trove of information,” the Times quotes former FBI agent James Wedick. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.” Your finances. Your politics. Your friends.
No doubt about it, the dystopian vision laid out by George Orwell in “1984” is here.
Thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, we’ve learned about the previously top-secret PRISM program, in which the U.S. government “collects the e-mail, voice, text and video chats” of every American to be stored in a $2 billion data farm in Utah, as well as sweeping telephone surveillance by Verizon and other telecommunications companies on behalf of the NSA. According to NBC News and other sources, “every single phone call made in the U.S. has been monitored by the U.S. government.” And not, merely, as President Obama and his media shills keep saying, “just” (!) the metadata. Under ECHELON, they listen in to “all telephone, fax and data traffic,” record it, and store it.
From “1984”: “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”
Yes they can.
The dominant eavesdropping technology in “1984” was a device called the “telescreen.” Installed in every home and workplace as an outlet for government propaganda, Orwell’s telescreen “received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”
Which sounds a lot like the creepy new two-way TV — you watch it and it watches you — for which Verizon filed a patent application in 2011. This TV would target “ads to viewers based on information collected from infrared cameras and microphones that would be able to detect conversations, people, objects and even animals that are near a TV. If the detection system determines that a couple is arguing, a service provider would be able to send an ad for marriage counseling to a TV or mobile device in the room,” reported the blog Fierce Cable. “If the couple utters words that indicate they are cuddling, they would receive ads for ‘a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers,’ or commercials for romantic movies, Verizon states in the patent application.”
Verizon’s patent was denied. But now Google TV is going for it. The technology exists; it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into our homes. Anti-privacy tech types point out it’s only to make ads more effective — the same way web ads react to your searching and browsing. But that’s just for now. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the NSA, FBI or other crazy spook outfit tapping into America’s telescreens in order to watch us in our living rooms and bedrooms.
Gotta stop the terrorists! Whatever it takes.
Ah, the terrorists. The enemies of the state. Bush had his Osama; Obama has Snowden. Bugaboos keep us distracted, fearful, compliant. “The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again,” the government official goon O’Brien lectures Winston Smith in “1984.” “The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease.”
Governments rule over the governed either by obtaining their tacit consent, or by crushing potential opponents by making them afraid to speak up. Option two is where we are now.
One horror follows another. At Guantánamo concentration camp, where les misérables of America’s War of Terror languish for year after year, uncharged with any crime, U.S. government goons announced that they will continue to force-feed more than 100 hunger strikers during Ramadan, a month-long holiday when devout Muslims are required to fast. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he fears extradition to and execution by the U.S.; Ecuador has discovered that some Western intelligence agency planted a bug to watch him. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden has been de facto stripped of his U.S. citizenship, his passport canceled, rendering him effectively stateless. Meanwhile, the megacriminals he exposed — Obama and his cronies — are living large.
Assange and Snowden are no longer important. They’ve done all the damage they can do. But the U.S. will never leave them, or any other enemy of the state, alone. It’s about terrifying potential political opponents into submission.
“Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared,” O’Brien tells Winston. “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
Enjoy your barbecue.
(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 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Why Won’t the Rich and Powerful Try to Save Themselves?
I spent last week at Occupy Miami and Occupy Fort Lauderdale. One question came up several times: What if the system responds—or pretends to respond—to our demands? What if the political class agrees to create more jobs, help the unemployed, let distressed homeowners keep their houses?
Then the Occupy movement (and American progressivism) will be out of business. “President Obama could finish us off over night,” I said. “A speech would be enough. He wouldn’t even have to do anything.”
Obama could announce a big jobs bill, knowing full well that Congressional Republicans would kill it. It would probably increase his reelection prospects.
But don’t worry.
America’s corporate rulers and their pet politicians know that people are furious. They understand that their actions and policies are accelerating the pace of income inequality and creating a growing, permanently alienated underclass.
They know history. Sooner or later, the downtrodden rise up, overthrow and kill their oppressors.
It’s not a nice way to rule. Nor is it smart. So—if all it would take for America’s masters to save themselves from the raging mobs of the not-so-distant future are a few empty words, why not try?
There’s no doubt about the nature or scale of the problem. Economists from left to right agree that the United States suffers from high structural inequality. “At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations,” reported The New York Times on January 5th. According to a Swedish study 42 percent of American boys raised by parents whose incomes fall in the bottom 40 percent of wage earners remain in the bottom 40 percent as adults—a much higher rate than such nations as Denmark (25 percent) and England (30 percent), “a country famous for its class constraints.”
To be poor in the United States is not unusual. Half of Americans live under two times the poverty line. But the depth and persistence of poverty in America is unique among developed industrialized nations. The gap between the poor and the rich is bigger. Mobility—access to the American Dream—is less.
Born rich? You’ll more likely to die rich in the U.S. than in other countries. Born poor? You’re likelier to die poor.
“Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa, found that just 16 percent of Canadian men raised in the bottom tenth of incomes stayed there as adults, compared with 22 percent of Americans. Similarly, 26 percent of American men raised at the top tenth stayed there, but just 18 percent of Canadians.”
When family background determines your fate you look for other options. Like getting rid of the system that makes things that way for your kids and their kids. That’s what happened in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917 and China in 1949.
There is no better predictor of revolution than an absence of economic mobility.
Right-wing extremists dismiss empirical data with anecdotal evidence. “If America is so poor in economic mobility, maybe someone should tell all these people who still want to come to the U.S.,” Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation told the Times.
Most Americans are poor. They don’t need to read these studies. They’re living them. Which is why they want politicians to create big jobs programs, raise wages, establish permanent unemployment benefits (standard in Europe) and impose a moratorium on foreclosures. The polls are clear.
No one cares about Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program.
Yet here we are in the heat of a presidential election year, and no candidate—not “liberal” Obama, not the weird Republican, Ron Paul, no one—is talking about the issues Americans care about.
During the 1930s and 1960s liberal leaders ended street protests by promising change. Why not now? Why isn’t anyone promising to address income inequality? They could lie and break their promises later.
First, the rich are feeling squeezed. The global capitalist system no longer has much room to expand. Emerging markets have emerged. Globalization is not only nearly out of steam, it’s allowing the weakest trading partners to drag down their healthier partners. Feeling squeezed, our rulers aren’t in the mood to be generous. They’d rather loot the scraps of the pending collapse than expand the social safety net.
Second, the ruling classes have fooled themselves into believing that they no longer need to exploit workers in order extract surplus value. They make their profits without us in massive arbitrage transactions that collect spreads from borrowed money. To be sure, it’s a bubble. It’ll burst. But it feels good now.
Third, the rich think they can insulate themselves from the roiling masses of the dispossessed, safe behind high-tech alarm systems inside their gated communities. Arrogance rules.
Louis XVI had good security too.
Finally, there has always been a division within the elites between enlightened liberals and hardass thieves. The liberals don’t like us; they fear us. So they try to keep us satisfied enough not to revolt. The thieves count on brute force—cops, pepper spray, camps—to keep the barbarians at bay. The balance of power has shifted decisively to the thieves—which is why figures like Obama can’t even pretend to care about the issues most important to the great majority of people.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
Why Won’t Obama Explain His Third War?
U.S. forces fired 110 cruise missiles at Libya on the first day of the war. Each one cost $755,000 to build; $2.8 million to transport, maintain and shoot. Austerity and budget cuts abound; there’s no money for NPR or teachers or firefighters. Note to union negotiators: the government has lots of money. They’re spending it on war.
For people too young to remember Bosnia, this is what a violent, aggressive, militarist empire looks like under a Democratic president. Where Bush rushed, Obama moseys. No one believed ex-oil man Bush when he said he was out to get rid of the evil dictator of an oil-producing state; Obama, the former community organizer, gets a pass under identical circumstances. Over the weekend, also the eighth anniversary of the start of the Iraq quagmire, there were few protests against Obama’s Libya War, all poorly attended.
I spent the weekend in New York at Leftforum, an annual gathering of anti-capitalist intellectuals. “What do you think about Libya?” people kept asking. What passes for the Left is ambivalent.
In part this waffling on Libya is due to Obama’s deadpan (read: uncowboy-like) tone. Mostly, however, the tacit consent stems from televised images of ragtag anti-Qadafi opposition forces getting strafed by Libyan air force jets. We Americans like underdogs, especially when they say they want democracy.
Still, the President is not a dictator. He can’t declare war. And while he might be able to lie his way into one, he and his party will pay at the polls if he fails to explain why we’re attacking a nation that poses no threat to the United States.
There are a lot of questions we—and journalists—should be asking Obama. Obviously, we’re broke. Our military is overextended, losing two wars against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. How can we afford this?
1. Whom are we helping?
The U.S. and its allies are destroying Libya’s air force in order to tip the balance in the civil war in favor of anti-Qadafi forces. A similar approach, aerial bombardment of Afghan government defenses, allowed Northern Alliance rebels to break through Taliban lines and enter Kabul in 2001. It could work again in Libya.
But who are these anti-Qadafi forces? Rival tribes? Radical Islamists? Royalists? What kind of government will they establish if they win? What are their ideological and religious affiliations? If anyone in the media or the White House knows, they’re not telling.
Or perhaps, as in Iraq, the White House doesn’t have a governance plan for post-Qadafi Libya. Which, as in Iraq, could lead to chaos. No nation should go to war without considering the long-term consequences.
Before we pick sides in a conflict, shouldn’t we know for whom we are going billions of dollars further into debt?
2. Does Qadafi have the right to defend himself?
From Shea’s Whiskey Rebellion to Confederacy to the Red Scares to the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, the U.S. government has violently suppressed armed rebellions. How then can the U.S. claim moral authority to prevent other governments from doing the same thing? (“The U.S. is more moral than Libya” is not an acceptable response. Obama murders and tortures more people than Qadafi.)
3. What about self-determination?
If the Libyan people rise up and overthrow Qadafi, an authoritarian despot well past his expiration date, that’s great. Shouldn’t that struggle be a Libyan matter, to be settled between Libyans? Isn’t a government that emerges from indigenous internal struggle more likely to enjoy widespread support than one that results from outside intervention?
“Free men set themselves free,” said James Oppenheim. Can a people truly feel emancipated when they owe their freedom—and later, inexorably, their oil and gas—to a foreign superpower?
4. Why are we OK with some dictators, but not others?
Since the Middle East began blowing up we’ve heard a lot of talk about Obama’s dilemma: How do we reconcile American values with American strategic interests? In a good country—at least a non-hypocritical one—they are the same.
Obama is employing circular logic. “Why strike only Libya, when other regimes murder their citizens too?” asks Chris Good in The Atlantic Monthly. “Obama’s answer seems to be: because the UN Security Council turned its attention toward Libya, and not other places.” But the UN reacted in response to the U.S.
In other words: We’re agreeing to a request that we made ourselves.
Ideology and policy must be consistent to be credible. If we have a policy to depose dictators, then all dictators must be targeted. We can’t just take out those in countries with lots of oil. We ought to start with tyrants for which we bear responsibility: our allies and puppets. At this writing the U.S. supports or props up unpopular authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere.
5. Is Libya our geostrategic business?
The United States has no substantial historical ties with, innate cultural understanding of, or geographic proximity to, Libya. Even under the imperialist doctrine of “spheres of influence” that governed international relations during the Cold War, Libya falls under the purview of other would-be interventionists. Italy, and to a lesser extent Britain and France, are former colonial masters. The Arab League and African Union have interests there. Even if you buy the sentimental argument—”Are we going to stand by and watch Qadafi slaughter his own people?”—why us? Why not the Africans or Europeans?
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Liberal BS on Income Inequality
Everyone talks about income inequality, but no one does anything about it.
Lately they’ve been talking more than ever.
“The United States is the rich country with the most skewed income distribution, ” Eduardo Porter asserts in his upcoming book “The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do.”
Porter continues: “According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average earnings of the richest 10 percent of Americans are 16 times those for the 10 percent at the bottom of the pile. That compares with a multiple of 8 in Britain and 5 in Sweden. Not coincidentally, Americans are less economically mobile than people in other developed countries. There is a 42 percent chance that the son of an American man in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will be stuck in the same economic slot. The equivalent odds for a British man are 30 percent, and 25 percent for a Swede.”
For students of history and economics, this is shocking stuff. Europeans came to America in search of opportunity, for a better chance at a brighter future. How can it be that it’s easier to get ahead in Britain—famously ossified, rigidly class-defined Britain?
Yet it’s true. David Leonhardt of The New York Times writes: “Income inequality, by many measures, is now greater than it has been since the 1920s.”
According to Nicholas Kristof, also at the suddenly class-conscious Times, we live in a time of “polarizing inequality” during which “the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent.”
This, we are informed, is bad. Not just for us. Income inequality hurts everybody—including the rich.
Cornell economics professor Robert Frank notes the correlation between financial stress and social dislocation. “The counties with the biggest increases in inequality also reported the largest increases in divorce rates,” reports Frank. Children of divorce are more likely to become a societal burden, committing crimes against everyone, including the wealthy.
Frank argues that our quality of life is suffering across the board due to income inequality. For example, traffic jams are getting worse: “Families who are short on cash often try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper—in many cases, farther from work. The [U.S.] counties where long commute times had grown the most were again those with the largest increases in inequality.” Everyone sits in traffic, even millionaires.
The “middle-class squeeze,” Frank explains, pressures voters to vote against higher taxes that would support improvements in public infrastructure. We all pay: “Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges, an unreliable rail system, and cargo containers that enter our ports without scrutiny. And many Americans live in the shadow of poorly maintained dams that could collapse at any moment.”
Is it wrong to giggle at the thought of selfish millionaires being washed away by a flood?
Citing the work of the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Kristof blames just about every societal ill on income inequality. Among the highlights: infant mortality, drug abuse, teen pregnancies, heart disease, even higher obesity among people who don’t eat more than others. This may be why high-unemployment Michigan has some of the nation’s fattest people. (The hormone cortisol, released when humans are stressed, increases fat retention.)
Porter notes that the income gap is increasing across the spectrum—including among high earners. One study shows that in the 1970s the top ten percent of corporate executives earned twice as much as the average exec. Now they get four times more. “This has separated the megarich from the merely very rich,” he says.
Rising income inequality means trouble. Not just for our waistlines, but for the system that has created the problem: corporate capitalism.
“If only a very lucky few can aspire to a big reward,” Porter warns, “most workers are likely to conclude that it is not worth the effort to try.” That would lead to less legitimate innovation, fewer new businesses. The best and the brightest will conclude, as they have in post-Soviet Russia, that crime is the only economic activity that pays.
So what is to be done?
Here the income-inequality-is-bad crew falls flat on its collective face.
Kristof’s prescription: “As we debate national policy in 2011—from the estate tax to unemployment insurance to early childhood education—let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today.”
Porter’s solution: “Bankers’ pay could be structured to discourage wanton risk taking.” But bankers aren’t the only culprits. How would this restructuring take place? Who would force bankers to accept it?
Frank’s answer: “We should just agree that it’s a bad thing—and try to do something about it.”
Workers of the world, try to do something about uniting!
I’m going to climb out on a limb here: The guys I’ve quoted are all smart. They know exactly what is causing this relentless increase in income inequality. Ruling elites have exploited globalization and technological advances to increase corporate profits through deregulation, union busting, and lobbying for federal subsidies and tax benefits. We’re witnessing exactly what Karl Marx predicted at the dawn of industrialization: capitalism’s natural tendency to aggregate wealth and power in the hands of fewer people and entities, culminating in monopolization so complete that the system finally collapses due to lack of consumer spending.
The pundits are also smart enough to know that there’s only one way to equalize income: revolution.
Increasing riches leads to increasing influence. No matter how nicely we ask, why would the rich and powerful give up their wealth or their power? They won’t—unless it’s at gunpoint.
Nothing short of revolution stands a chance of building a fair society. Not “pushing.” Not “restructuring.” If working within the Democratic Party and the election of Obama prove anything, it’s that reform within the system is no longer a viable strategy for progressives.
We’re way past “trying to do something about it.”
The sooner we start talking about revolution, the closer we’ll be to a non-BS solution to the social and political ills caused by inequality of income.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL