Why don’t more victims of depression call for help? Some people who do wind up not with help but a giant medical bill.
Eight days before Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath before a crowd whose size the president still insists on fibbing about, I wrote a column titled “Life Under Trump—What Happens Now?”
“In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move. These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan,” I wrote on January 12, 2017. I described how the founding dictator of that post-Soviet authoritarian state was manic, “constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind.”
“Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi,” I wrote back then, “the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi.”
Sadly, my predictions usually come to pass. As I expected, the United States remains a democratic republic but under Trump, everyday life has assumed some of the characteristics of an authoritarian regime, especially our obsession with Trump.
OMG can you believe what he tweeted?
What the hell is wrong with him?
How long can this go on?
Trump’s antics have prompted two strains of pundit reaction. One, represented by the comedian John Oliver, urges us to “keep reminding yourself this is not normal.” Others argue for ignoring the Keeper of the Launch Codes, at least his tweets. Ever the contrarian, I subscribe to None of the Above.
You can’t ignore the President of the United States. He’s too powerful. On the other hand, chasing down and driving rhetorical stakes through a maniac’s barrage of nonsense is exhausting and futile. You feel like a character at dusk in a vampire novel — too many undead, not enough stakes, definitely not enough coffee. The proper tack is insipid: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Here I offer my apologies.
For 15 months I have, like my competitors in the mainstream media, been reacting to Trump: to his tantrums, to his weirdness, and the incongruous hypocrisy of Democrats who complain about stuff Trump does that is exactly the same as what Obama did (mass deportations, bombing Syria). To paraphrase Walter White in the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” it was fun. I enjoyed it. And frankly, I didn’t think he would last this long. Trump was the Political Satirist Full Employment Act of 2016. I didn’t want to miss out.
But I’ve been remiss. I have always tried to be forward-looking, to change the conversation, to argue for what we Americans ought to be doing and talking about. Reacting to the agenda of our worthless political “leaders” was something I left to the mainstream idiots of the corporate media.
I snapped back to reality a few days ago after reading another piece about the booming economy. Never mind whether Trump is priming the pump before busting the joint or whether the good times are about to end with yet another recession. Things are humming now — so now, while the getting is good, is while Americans ought to be demanding that Trump and his Congress fork over big bucks to fix the country’s long-neglected problems.
Workers ought to be out in the streets agitating for a raise: a $25-an-hour minimum wage is literally asking for nothing, since it’s the same, adjusted for inflation, as it was in the 1960s. I say go for $50. While we’re at it, let’s set a $200,000-a-year maximum wage. No one needs more.
Universal health care: it’s time America joined the rest of the First World (and most of the Third).
Three out of ten American workers are self-employed. They ought to qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose work.
A high-speed national rail system is essential to modernize America’s infrastructure and bring it up to global standards circa 1990. Estimated cost: $500 billion. No big deal: Obama spent $800 billion on his 2009 bank-giveaway stimulus bill.
Then there’s stuff that wouldn’t cost a dime, like doing something about guns and gender inequality and police brutality.
Lack of money isn’t why we’re not addressing these issues. Trump recently gave $1.5 trillion in taxpayer funds to his rich friends (and his family). The problem is a lack of focus — because we’re all too busy focusing on the Lunatic-in-Chief.
It’s time to stop being reactive. This is our country. This is our time. These are our lives. It’s up to us to ignore the twitterstorms and the random rants and demand what is our birthright as Americans: the best possible lives we can afford.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, 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.)
The Trump Administration is guilty of countless wrongdoing, including monstrous acts that no one cares about, at least not in the press. In the meantime, the media is obsessing over a meeting between a 2016 Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Donald Trump, Jr. and a number of other attendees.
This week’s political coverage — probably next week’s too — will likely be dominated by deposed FBI director James Comey’s incendiary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Trump’s “lies, pure and simple” are limited neither to the president’s claim that Comey’s FBI was “in disarray, that it was poorly led” nor his litany of falsehoods — most recently, that the mayor of London doesn’t care about terrorism and that Trump’s First 100 Days were the most productive of any president in history.
Comey’s lucid, Hemingway-tight testimony feels like the beginning of the end for this administration. Anything could happen, of course. But it feels overly optimistic to imagine this circus lasting another year.
If and when the obituary for Trump’s political career is written, his admirers will record his historic, meteoric rise. Indeed, Donald Trump was the most effective presidential campaigner of my lifetime: repeated what lines worked, ditched the ones that didn’t, mastered social media, ignored outdated dogma, tapped into voters’ long-ignored resentments, nailed the electoral college map, and did it all for pennies on the Hillary Clinton donor dollar.
True, the brilliant campaigner can’t govern. But that’s a story for another time.
His critics’ postmortems will emphasize that Trump’s brightly burning campaign rallies were fueled by lies: Obama was Muslim, Obama wasn’t born here, global warming is a Chinese hoax, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border (years ago they were, no longer), police officers are the real victims (as opposed to the numerous black men they shoot).
These lies are scandalous. They ought to be remembered. But we shouldn’t let them overshadow Trump’s biggest lie of all: that he would be different, outside the ideological box of the two parties.
“Trump meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate,” Doug Ahler and David Broockman wrote in the Washington Post last December. “Trump has the exact ‘moderate’ qualities that many pundits and political reformers yearn for in politicians: Many of Trump’s positions spurn party orthodoxy, yet are popular among voters. And like most voters — but unlike most party politicians — his positions don’t consistently hew to a familiar left-right philosophy.”
Trump promised a hodgepodge ideology, a “pick one from column D, pick one from column R” Chinese menu that appealed to many voters whose own values don’t neatly adhere to either major party platform. Who cares about doctrine? Let’s do what works.
As president, however, that turned out to be a lie.
Trump has governed to the far right. In fact, on just about every issue you can think of, Donald Trump has governed as the most extreme far-right politician of our lifetimes, and possibly in the history of the Republican Party.
Candidate Trump criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom law” and said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. President Trump rescinded the right of transgender students to use the school restroom of their choice.
Flip, flop, from somewhat to right-wing conservative, over and over and over again.
Candidate Trump lit up the GOP (and relieved not a few Democrats) by criticizing the stupid Iraq War and promising to put America First. President Trump’s cabinet of generals is bombing the crap out of Syria and asking Congress for a 10% increase in Pentagon spending.
Candidate Trump was all over the place on abortion rights. President Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood and appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing extremist who will likely cast the decisive vote against Roe v. Wade.
He even welched on his most controversial promise: to improve relations with Russia. Within a few months, he allowed that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low.”
“Trumpism was never a coherent worldview, much less a moral code that anchors the president,” Graham Vyse wrote in The New Republic.
Trumpism is extremely coherent and consistently extremist. Donald Trump turns out to be Ronald Reagan times ten, minus charm.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
House Republicans voted to overturn the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Now it’s off to the Senate. Because the House vote was considered political suicide, triumphant Democrats began taunting Republicans on the floor of the Congress, on national TV. You’d hardly know lives were at stake.
Late last year, I interviewed Bernie Sanders while working on my biography “Bernie.” I asked him if he planned to reduce the defense budget if elected president. “We will take a hard look at that,” he told me, agreeing that there’s an awful lot of bloat in America’s military spending that ought to be cut.
Why doesn’t he say that now?
A statement detailing his intent to reduce military spending — not just the on-the-books budget of the Pentagon, but also the “off the books” taxdollars that go to wars like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the National Security Agency and other parts of the surveillance state that have expanded radically since 9/11 — would help answer one of Sanders’ critics’ most potent criticisms: that he’ll be an irresponsible Santa Gone Wild, giving away free college tuition and Medicare for all without a care in the world for how to pay for it.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign, already reeking of desperation, is turning ugly. Bill Clinton, of all people, accused Bernie of lying, and his supporters of sexism. Clinton surrogate Madeleine Albright called female Sanders supporters traitors to their gender. The once-respected Gloria Steinem called them sluts, implying they were hanging out at Bernie’s big rallies to get laid by hunky Bernie bros.
Pathetic. But Hillary remains a potent force. She’s the mathematical favorite. When she casts herself as the realist (“a progressive who likes to get things done”), her argument that Bernie’s promises are politically unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible carries weight with Democrats who are still on the fence.
If Bernie can answer this two-part question, he wins the nomination: how will he get his far-left programs (by American standards, not those of the rest of the world) through Congress? How will he pay for them?
The first question, I think, isn’t as big a hurdle as the corporate punditry seems to think. Most voters can imagine a sustained progressive movement centered around street activism — Sanders’ “political revolution” — that pressures Congress so that, as Sanders puts it, Mitch O’Connell sees hundreds of thousands of people marching outside his window whenever he plots to thwart the people’s will.
Like Occupy Wall Street, except that the president is encouraging the movement rather than ordering the cops to beat up its members.
Anyway, liberal Democrats are angry. Hillary’s “half a dream” sales pitch isn’t half as enticing to them as Bernie’s ambitious agenda. Come on, Hill: did you take half a bribe from Goldman Sachs? Even if Bernie’s idealism gets dashed on the rocks of Republican intransigence, progressive Dems don’t care; they want to see Bernie try. Democrats haven’t watched a Democratic president push for radical change since LBJ.
The second question of the skeptics is: show me the money! Where is the cash to pay for free public college tuition and a single-payer healthcare system?
Sanders has said he would cover the $75 billion per year cost of his college reform program by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation. He would almost certainly increase taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals as part of moving the tax code back to a more progressive, pre-Reagan structure. Everyone would pay a higher tax rate to cover Berniecare, though working-class people would pay less than they’d save.
At the risk of sounding like a Republican, there’s waste throughout the federal budget. There is, for example, no evidence that the NSA has ever done its job by preventing a single terrorist attack. Meanwhile, as Edward Snowden informed us, they’re spying on all our phone calls and emails. Shut them down; save $10 billion a year or more. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security could be trimmed to a fraction of its current size or eliminated, with its tiny portion of useful activities transferred to other agencies, including law enforcement.
Last year’s defense budget was nearly $600 billion, or 54% of discretionary federal spending. That’s more than the next nine countries combined, including China and Russia. Conservatively, at least half of that is spent on waste and fraud by DOD contractors, so there’s $300 billion right off the bat. I bet we could cut it 90% and still not have to worry about a foreign invasion, something that hasn’t happened since 1812.
These cuts could easily cover the several hundred billion shortfall between Bernie’s tax increase on the rich and the cost of his healthcare plan.
Nothing says fiscal conservatism like pacifism. As of 2015 the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the most expensive in U.S. history, cost more than $1.5 trillion. More than $1 billion a year is still going down those ratholes. Bernie has said ISIS must be “crushed,” but he may want to revisit that. As of November, the anti-ISIS air and jihadi-training campaign had cost $5 billion and counting.
And obviously don’t start any new wars of choice.
Studies have shown that high student loan debt hobbles economic activity, delaying the age at which college graduates can afford to buy their first cars and homes. Freeing college graduates and their parents from exorbitant tuition bills would stimulate the automobile and real estate markets in particular, as well as the overall economy.
The same is true for healthcare costs. Every dollar you don’t spend on health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays is one you have for something else. That’s a lot of potential stimulus.
I don’t know why the Sanders campaign hasn’t issued a detailed plan explaining how President Sanders would cover the costs of free college tuition and Medicare for All. Maybe they’re worried about getting attacked as weak on national security by the hawkish Secretary Clinton and, in the general election, by the Republican nominee (probably Trump or Cruz).
Though a valid concern, it should take a back seat to plugging the Bernie-is-just-a-dreamer narrative Hillary’s camp is framing him with. He’ll never be able to out-militarist Hillary or the Republicans, who will try to brand him as the second coming of Vladimir Lenin anyway. Why bother to try?
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Confronted with an optimistic opponent who promises substantial changes in American foreign and domestic policy in the form of Bernie Sanders, establishment candidate Hillary Clinton has been reduced to promising incremental improvements, and defending past gains. She argues her approach is more pragmatic. But will voters be satisfied with more of the same?
This is what happens when you trust free markets.
You probably heard that the Supreme Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, a.k.a. The Great Transfer of Taxpayer Dollars to Scumbag Health Insurance Companies. That news broke during a major news day.
What you likely missed, because it came out on July 3rd when everyone was driving to the beach or flying somewhere fun for their Independence Day weekend getaways instead of paying attention to the news, was that the ACA is tanking. That’s why you have me: to read depressing tidbits about America’s decline, and to annoy Obamabots with another I-told-you-so.
When Obama resurrected 1993’s benighted Hillarycare scheme, I warned that there were two major problems with this convoluted hybrid of government-managed healthcare and for-profit healthcare.
First, the Affordable Care Act kept the insurance companies in business. Aetna, United Healthcare and the other big insurers are a huge drain on the system, sucking out billions in profits and driving up costs. Profitmaking has no place in healthcare, which is a basic human right, like air and water. Air and water are free; healthcare should be free too. But that’s the opposite of what drives health insurers: they want to give you as little care as possible while charging you as much as possible.
Second, the ACA diminished Americans’ zeal for socialized medicine, the standard in the developed world. “In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,” Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin Progressive of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pointed out. “Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.” I wrote last year: “In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.”
Now that the public has had a chance to use and pay for Obamacare, support for single-payer is back up to 50%.
Back to that story that broke on the deadest news day of the year. From The New York Times: “Health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20% to 40% or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected…Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans — market leaders in many states — are seeking rate increases that average 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota, according to documents posted online by the federal government and state insurance commissioners and interviews with insurance executives.”
Did your paycheck go up 20%, much less 40%, in the last year? I didn’t think so.
The proper reaction to this disgusting move — remember, we’re talking about a for-profit corporate sector that rakes in billions of dollars a month and pays its CEOs millions of dollars a year — is to line up the executives responsible against a wall and shoot them full of holes, then deny the healthcare claims of any who survive just because, as the rest of us routinely experience.
Since that would be illegal, however, the second-best approach should be to shame the bastards relentlessly on social media, until they’re forced to go join ISIS because people would subject them to Two Minute Hates wherever they go. (Not to say that ISIS, which provides free healthcare, would want these human turds either.)
This is where one naturally turns to political leadership. Surely the President of the United States, a.k.a. He For Whom Obamacare Is Named, will crack down on these insurance pirates?
Not so much. Obama “said that consumers should put pressure on state insurance regulators to scrutinize the proposed rate increases. If commissioners do their job and actively review rates, he said, ‘my expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested.'”
No doubt the healthcare industry itself, which rakes in billions each year from their new involuntary customers, hears our anger.
Not so much. Marinan Williams, CEO of the Scott & White Health Plan in Texas, which applied for a 32% rate hike, says: “Over the next three years, I hope, rates will start to stabilize.” How about we “stabilize” her salary at 32% less than she gets now?
How’s your interest in the “full loaf” — single-payer socialized medicine — now?
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the first biography of NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. It is in graphic novel form, and will publish August 18th. You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Investigators are still putting together the pieces, but from what we know so far, it’s likely that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz committed mass murder-suicide when he flew a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 149 passengers and fellow crewmen into the French Alps.
Authorities say they haven’t found a suicide note, but it’s a safe bet that Lubitz’s final act was prompted by depression (they found the meds), diminished vision, a deteriorating romantic relationship and his worry that the Lufthansa subsidiary would ground him if they found out about his problems, crashing a career he loved and blowing up his livelihood.
Though rare, pilot suicide isn’t unheard of. As long as the current system remains in place, it will happen again.
By “system,” I’m referring both to specific rules issued by the FAA and other countries’ aviation authorities to regulate pilots, and to that most coldhearted of socioeconomic systems, you’re-on-your-own capitalism.
“Before they are licensed, pilots must undergo a medical exam, conducted by a doctor trained and certified by the aviation agency,” explains The New York Times. Some airlines impose additional screening procedures, but they vary from company to company. Active pilots are required to have a medical screening once a year until they turn 40 and then twice a year after. Only when pilots are found to have mental health problems are they sent to a psychiatrist or psychologist for evaluation or treatment.”
At first glance, an incident like the Germanwings disaster seems to call for increased physical and mental monitoring. But leaning harder on pilots would only fix half the problem.
The current system is punitive – thus it encourages lying.
“But the system, Dr. [Warren] Silberman [a former manager of aerospace medical certification for the FAA] and others said, leaves pilots on an honor system, albeit one reinforced by penalties to discourage them from concealing any health issues that could affect their fitness to fly, including mental illness. Pilots who falsify information or lie about their health face fines that can reach $250,000, according to the FAA.”
Imagine yourself in that position. Knowing that public safety is at risk, you might do the right thing and step forward after your psychiatrist tells you that you shouldn’t be working, as happened to Lubitz. Then again, you might not.
First of all, you might doubt the diagnosis. That’s the thing about mental illness – victims’ judgment can be impaired. For example, there is evidence that Ronald Reagan suffered from early signs of dementia while serving as president. If true, that’s scary – but was the Gipper aware he was fading?
Second, you might think you could handle it, that with the help of psychiatric treatment and antidepressant medications, you could push through what might turn out to be a temporary crisis. Why risk everything over a passing phase?
Third, and this is likely, you might keep your problems to yourself because to do otherwise would ruin your life – or at least feel like it. At bare minimum, it would end your career, forcing you to start from zero. For many people, that seems too horrible to bear. In our society, social status is determined by our careers.
“The stigma [of having a mental illness] is enormous,” Dr. William Hurt Sledge, professor of psychiatry at Yale who has consulted for the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association and major airlines, told the Times. “And of course, none of them wants that to be known, nor do they want to confess it or believe that they have it.”
And for those who decide to ignore the stigma, what comes next? Where’s the safety net, professional, social and economic, for people who run into trouble, whether of their own making or not?
At the root of Lubitz’s decision to kill himself – whether he gave much thought to the 149 people on the other side of the reinforced cockpit door cannot be known – is that he lived, as we all do in the Western world, in a disposable society. Lose what you do and you lose what you are. The bills keep coming long after the paychecks stop; soon you have nothing left.
I could throw a dart at any daily newspaper to illustrate this point; today it would probably land on the results of an AARP survey that found – unsurprisingly to anyone over age 50 – that a single layoff after that age has devastating, long-term consequences. People over 50 are overwhelmingly more likely to wind up classified among the long-term unemployed and typically wind up earning less if and when they find a new job, often starting again from scratch in a new industry because their experience was in a line of work that no longer has openings.
I imagine a system in which people like Andreas Lubitz don’t need to see a psychological or other setback as the end of their world.
What if he could have confided in his bosses without fear? What if Lufthansa policy was to stand by him through his treatment, guaranteeing him a respectable job at equivalent salary – for as long as it took for him to get better? And if he couldn’t recover, what if he knew that his country’s government would provide for him financially and otherwise? Finally, what if no one cared what he did for a living, and it was just as prestigious and remunerative to work as a file clerk as to fly a plane?
I’m not sure, but I bet 150 people would be alive today.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM