For most of the 20th century left-of-center politics was defined by class struggle between the rich and the poor. Now the left has been completely subsumed by identity politics, the struggles for historically disadvantaged demographic groups for equality. Unfortunately the class struggle (which largely drove the oppression of women and minorities) has been all but forgotten by mainstream liberal politicians and political parties.
Hillary Clinton is extremely concerned about Americans who lost their homes. Well, she’s particularly worried about one: herself. The home she used to live in, of course, is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Hillary, solving the housing crisis one person at a time.
Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.
We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.
Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.
Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.
Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.
Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.
Traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by stingy 401(k)s and similar programs which employers no longer pay into, cap how much you can contribute (assuming you can afford it), take a beating during downturns in the stock market, and allow workers to tap when they’re laid off or run into financial trouble. After years of sketchy raids and outright theft, workers with old-fashioned corporate and government pensions can’t be sure their money will be there when they need it. The first Generation Xers — many of whom never had the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to several long recessions that impacted them particularly hard — will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the year 2024.
The facts are brutal:
No savings: The average Gen Xer only has a net worth of about $40,000 — enough to live on for a year. Maybe. In Akron. 36% of Americans don’t have a dime saved for retirement.
Later Social Security: Thanks to that lovable wacky Ronald Reagan, the Social Security retirement age was quietly raised to 67 for Gen Xers born after 1960. When you finally get Social Security, it doesn’t pay enough. The U.S. ranks third to last in social security benefits among developed nations.
Age discrimination: The continuing post-2008 recession hit those in their 50s especially hard; employers want cheaper, younger workers. 25% of Americans over age 55 now have no savings whatsoever.
About those pension plans: When journalists mention the retirement crisis, they focus on problems with the defined-benefit system. But that’s irrelevant to most Americans. 90% of private-sector workers don’t have one. Most government workers do — but 85% of Americans work in the private sector.
401ks suck (if you have one). Three out of four workers have no pension plan. What they might have is a 401k. The average Gen Xer who has a 401k — 69% don’t — has a $63,000 balance.
Financial experts say 92% of U.S. workers fall significantly short of what they’ll need to live decently after retirement. “In the decades to come,” Edward Siedle writes for Forbes, “we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”
This is about you — not some theoretical lazy Other.
“At some point,” Siedle says, “lack of savings, lack of employment possibilities and failing health will catch up with the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elders. Let me emphasize that we’re talking about the overwhelming majority, not a small percentage who arguably made bad decisions throughout their working lives.” [Emphasis is mine.]
America’s army of starving old people will drag down younger people too. “Public finances will be pushed to the limit, crowding out other priorities such as education,” Christian E. Weller predicts in The Hill. “Moreover, economic growth will be slower than it otherwise would be because employers will have more workers whose productivity is declining, while many older families, who could start successful new businesses, will forego those opportunities.”
And the pols?
Useless, Siedle concludes. “Conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.”
We can hit the streets to demand action now — or we’ll be living on them later.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Some dude posted a Kickstarter asking for $10 to make a potato salad. “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad,” he wrote. Thousands of backers gave him tens of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, worthier Kickstarter projects - and charities - go unfunded. Most of the potato salad supporters wouldn’t give anything to help refugees in South Sudan.
Why Don’t More Soldiers Walk Away?
American news media portrays Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his apparent decision to simply walk away from the war in Afghanistan as bizarre and incomprehensible.
I wonder why it doesn’t happen all the time.
From The New York Times:
“Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.”
There’s little doubt. Bergdahl was politicized by what he saw.
“The future is too good to waste on lies,” a 2012 Rolling Stone article quotes an email from Bergdahl to his father. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”
Among other traumas, the then 23-year-old Idaho native witnessed an Afghan child run over by a U.S. Army vehicle. His fellow soldiers, he recalled, didn’t seem to care.
The Times paints a portrait of a soldier who was alienated, burned out and possibly a victim of PTSD. “He wouldn’t drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds,” the paper quotes Cody Full, a member of Sergeant Bergdahls platoon, in an interview arranged by the Republican Party. “He was always in his bunk. He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there [in Afghanistan], learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.”
Bergdahl’s walk-away echoes Tim O’Brien’s allegorical 1978 novel “Going After Cacciato,” in which a U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam goes AWOL, determined to walk all the way to Paris. His buddies go after him. It soon becomes clear that Cacciato’s comrades are less interested in catching him than in following his example.
All military forces contend with deserters, and the United States is no exception. “Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War — when they peaked at 5 percent. In the 1970s they hovered between 1% and 3%, which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers,” according to NBC News. By 2007, the fourth year of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the rate was up 80%, to nine out of 1,000.
Few deserters pull a Cacciato, opting out in the combat zone. Instead, while on leave, most just fail to report back.
Given the conditions faced by many U.S. soldiers in war zones, it’s surprising that more don’t lose it and take off.
Contrary to standard practice among armed forces in the West for hundreds of years, American soldiers are assigned to repeated, long combat tours without sufficient time between missions to recuperate. They are often underequipped and, as was apparently the case in Bergdahl’s unit, poorly disciplined and rarely given any context for their operations.
Then there’s the nature of the wars themselves.
Since 1945, since they weren’t authorized by Congress, every single one of America’s wars have been illegal. They’ve all been wars of aggression — neither the Koreans nor the Vietnamese nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans posed any threat to the United States. And they’ve all featured aspects of what historians dubbed “total war” after World War II: combat in which civilian casualties are not regrettable accidents, but strategically considered and intentional.
When soldiers become vets, they’re cast out into the streets, where many become homeless.
It doesn’t take long for the truth to hit home. All but the stupidest active-duty soldiers realize that they’re peasant mercenaries for a cruel and uncaring empire.
Why don’t more guys (and women) pull a Bergdahl? The main incentive to remain at their posts has to be the unremitting hostility of the locals — something Bergdahl no doubt experienced during five long years of captivity.
(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
No expense is spared to retrieve dead bodies, whether it’s the victims of the Malaysian Flight 370 victims at the bottom of the Indian Ocean or the mudslide victims buried by sludge in coastal Washington State or the soldiers who cannot be left behind on the field of battle. Yet when we’re ALIVE, we can’t get help when, for example, we lose our jobs.
Doesn’t matter if they deserve it: criticizing the work of a creative person who isn’t successful is mean. Not to mention pointless. If they’re not doing well, and their work sucks, the system is working.
Take on a cartoonist or writer who is raking in the cash, on the other hand, and his fans will accuse you of sour grapes. “You’re just jealous!” they’ll say.
Which is true, but also not true.
I’ll start with the not-true part.
I’ll focus on cartoonists because that’s my chosen profession, and I happen to think I’m good at it, and I sometimes issue broadsides against cartoons I think are such an insult to my profession that their shitsmeariness literally takes money out of my pocket merely by toiling in the same genre.
Lots of cartoonists make more money than I do. Yet you won’t find me tearing them a new critical asshole. Matt Groening makes more money than he can count. Is he perfect? Hell no. But as far as I can tell, he deserves every cent. Charles Schulz, Gary Larsen, Garry Trudeau, Bill Mauldin, James Thurber — all cartoonists who made or make bank. Schulz still makes tens of millions a year, and he’s dead. All got more awards than I could dream of. As far as I’m concerned, the system worked in these cases.
If my criticisms of other cartoonists were motivated by simple sour grapes, by the simple equation of he-has-more-good-stuff-than-I-do, I would attack the most successful, richest cartoonists the most. Or I’d draw a line at my level of income and fame, and grouse about everyone above it. Of course, this would delegitimize my complaints.
Some of the cartoonists whose work I criticize respond by saying that my work sucks. In other words, I don’t have standing to attack them. Which, if true, is silly: you don’t have to be a (rich) film director to have a (valid) opinion on a movie. Then they fall back on the sour-grapes argument: I’m jealous of their talent.
Indeed, I am jealous of other cartoonists’ talent. I wish I drew as well as Matt Bors, wrote as brilliantly as Ruben Bolling, had as much passion as Stephanie McMillan, as much control as Jen Sorensen, as much crossover appeal as Shannon Wheeler, as much consistency as Tom Tomorrow. None of whom, by the way, make more money or have earned more awards than I have. Which, for me, is evidence that the system is not working. They should make more money and win more awards — not than me, goddammit! — than the hacks whose crap I ridicule.
Am I jealous? Damn right, I’m jealous.
I’m jealous when people get stuff they don’t deserve.
Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, is one of the worst published writers in an American newspaper, an insult to logical reasoning, and more damning of all, deadly wrong about major issues. His job is to prognosticate, yet he has no ability to see past his bushy porn-star mustache. He was, for example, in favor of invading Iraq because he thought the U.S. would do a good job there. He was wrong when a lot of other people were right. He was listened to. They weren’t. And the consequences were devastating. Friedman lives in a palace. Does he deserve it? Hell no. Do I deserve it? More than him, that’s for sure.
I recently applied to a minor cartooning contest called “Best of the West.” It’s for political cartoons that run in the Western United States. Since I do cartoons for The Los Angeles Times, I applied. When the results came out, I was disgusted. This is because (a) it turned out the judge for the contest is close friends with the first-prize winner. They’re co-hosting the editorial cartoonists’ annual convention in three months. Talk about conflict of interest. I was jealousgusted (new word! use it, spread it around) by (b) by no objective standard could the first- or second-prize winners of Best of the West be judged to have done better cartoons than me or, say, Jen Sorensen, who also applied. Jen’s worst-ever cartoon is better/smarter/more political than number one or number two’s best-ever cartoon. So is mine. It’s not even close. We wuz robbed. So were others, including third-place “winner” Matt Bors. No one with eyes would put number two — who the same week published an “editorial cartoon” that, if I were on a prize committee, would have by itself have disqualified him from consideration — above Matt Bors in an editorial cartooning contest.
I bring up “Best of the West” because it literally means nothing. Well, maybe 0.02% of nothing. No prize money. No acclaim. The only reason I applied was that it’s been years since I won any prize whatsoever, and in a tough environment even 0.02% acclaim might be worth having. So just to be clear: I’m jealous. Not of Matt Bors, who got screwed as much as I did, well, slightly less, but still. I’m jealous of numbers one and two, who hold jobs, with full benefits, while I don’t. And I’m angry at the judge, because he knew — or should have known — that he made a shitty decision, and one devoid of basic ethics to boot.
Now several of my colleagues have taken me to task for talking about how certain hack cartoonists have staff jobs, with medical benefits, while I don’t. This, they tell me, makes me look petty.
If the homeless veteran on the street outside the Starbucks where I am writing this sees me typing this on my shiny $3000 laptop, a $2.40 coffee cooling at my side, $650 glasses perched on my nose, is he jealous? Well, he should be. I don’t blame him if he comes in here and beats me to death. The gap between what I have and what he doesn’t have is so huge that he would literally have to be stupid and crazy not to hate me. I don’t deserve what I have, not compared to him. I don’t deserve to be the beneficiary of that gap.
Now let’s take a detour down Theoretical Lane: Imagine that — and that this is somehow provable — that by objective standards, he has led a better life than me. That he has worked harder, made better choices, been nicer, more creative, etc. Let’s further imagine that he and I both know this fact. Does he have a right to be jealous? Damn right he does. Would it be petty for him to express this fact? To tell passersby: “Hey, look at that (relatively) rich asshole in there. I spent my life saving children, creating great art and giving generously to the poor. All he’s done is draw pictures and whine about the president.”? Of course it wouldn’t. He’d have every right. Not only that, he’d be wrong not to make such a point. Because it would make a Very Important Argument: that the System does NOT work. If the system, which governs everything, doesn’t work, then everything is suspect. Clearly this calls for radical and immediate reassessment. It’s like capital punishment: a faulty tax audit is an injustice, but putting an innocent man to death represents such a grotesque and immense gap between the way things should be and the way they actually are that you have to stop executing people entirely.
I’m not comparing my loss in “Best of the West” (or, for that matter, the Pulitzer Prize) to the case of Todd Willingham, the innocent man poisoned to death by the state of Texas under Governor Rick Perry (who then tried to cover it up). What I am arguing, in certain cases, is that to reflexively accuse a critic of petty jealousy/sour grapes is to automatically assume that injustice either (a) doesn’t exist or (b) shouldn’t be complained about — in other words, to assume the role of the oppressor.
When I write about bad cartoons, I mention the Pulitzers and six-figure salaries of their creators first, in order to show my hand (a key component of integrity in arguing): I’m annoyed at said bad cartoon not because it is bad per se (there are millions of bad cartoons by, say, high school newspaper cartoonists that don’t deserve mention); and second, to make the case that the system is disproportionately rewarding those who don’t deserve it at the expense of those who do. This is important, because there are people like Lisa Klem Wilson, my former boss at a newspaper syndicate that has since gone out of business called United Media, who believe, as she said at a morning meeting, that “we live in a meritocracy. The best stuff rises to the top.” I remember thinking and saying: “What world do you live in?” When you look at, say, the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and compare them to some of the high-profile creators who lost those same years, it’s hard to see where people like Lisa are coming from. But they’ll never change their minds unless those of us who see things differently point these things out.
I am envious of anybody who has more than I do. Who, besides a monk, doesn’t want a nicer house? A bigger bank account? A good job? But I’m not angry about it, except in the generalized rage I feel about inequality in general, which informs my politics. No one deserves more anything than anyone else. To believe otherwise is to accept and enable evil.
Matt Bors won a major cartooning award, the Herblock Award, two years ago. $15,000! They cover the taxes! Tom Tomorrow won this year. I was envious, but I wasn’t jealous. They’re both great cartoonists. They deserved it. Jealousy is directed at the undeserving. As long as they have nice things that other people deserve more — a lot more — I’ll be jealous.