Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Against Philanthropy

As Hurricane Victims Freeze, Billionaire Mayor Gives Away $1 Billion to Wealthy Med School

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines over the weekend with his announcement that he has donated $345 million to Johns Hopkins University. Added to his previous donations, the media baron has given his alma mater over $1 billion – the largest charitable contribution to an educational institution in US history.

Bloomberg received plaudits for his generosity by the usual media sycophants. Along with death and taxes, another thing you can count on is being told to be grateful when masters of the universe give away some of their loot (even if none of it goes to you.) As pundits fawned, thousands of New Yorkers – residents of Queens whose homes got damaged by superstorm Sandy – were shivering under blankets in heatless homes in 15° weather because restoring electricity and housing storm victims isn’t one of the mayor’s top priorities.

Disgusting.

This was a man, New Yorkers remember, who wanted the mayoralty so badly that he subverted the people’s will, bribing and bullying the City Council into overturning term limits passed by an overwhelming majority so that he could keep the job a third term.

No one should claim that he didn’t want responsibility for those poor cold slobs out in the Rockaways.

If there’s anything more nauseating than watching this rich pig bask in the glow of his philanthropy while the citizens he is tasked with caring for turn into popsicles, it’s the failure of anyone in the system – columnists, local TV anchor people, even Bloomberg’s political rivals – to call him out. For $345 million the mayor could have put his city’s storm victims up at the Four Seasons for years.

Bloomberg’s donation to one of the wealthiest universities on earth, with an endowment of $2.6 billion, serves to remind us that philanthropy is evil.

You could argue that generous rich people are better than cheap rich people. And if you like the way things are, with the gap between rich and poor at record levels and spreading – you’d be right. But most people are not happy with our winner-take-all economy.

No one deserves to be rich. And no one should be poor. Everyone who contributes to society, everyone who works to the best of their skills and abilities, deserves to earn the same salary. Of course, I realize that not everyone adheres to such basic Christian – er, communist – principles. (Anyone who denies that Jesus was a commie never cracked open a Bible.)

But most people – certainly most Americans – agree there’s a line. That too much is too much. People like Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have worked hard and created products that consumers purchased in great numbers – but no one can work $25 billion hard (Bloomberg’s estimated net worth). There aren’t that many hours in the day; the human skull doesn’t contain enough synapses; no idea is worth that much.

One of the big problems with charitable giving is that it mitigates the injustice of inequality: sure, maybe it’s a little crazy that Bloomberg has 11 luxurious homes while people are starving to death and sleeping outside, but at least he’s generous. He’s giving it away. The implication, that the chasm between rich and poor isn’t that bad, is a lie. It’s also evil: If inequality isn’t that bad, it’s not important to talk about – much less fix.

“For many people, the generosity of these individuals who made so much money eliminates the problem that wealth poses, inequality poses, in the society,” says Robert Dalzell, author of “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us.” “We tend to conclude that such behavior is typical of the wealthy, and in fact it’s not…This whole notion of ‘the good rich’ I think reconciles us to levels of inequality in the society that in terms of our democratic ideology would otherwise be unacceptable.”

It’s better for society when rich people are unlikeable jerks like Mitt Romney. Knock over old ladies, stiff the waitress, talk with a pretentious fake British 19th-century accent, install a car elevator. Bad behavior by our elite oppressors hastens the revolution.

Bloomberg’s billion-dollar gift to a school that doesn’t need a penny illustrates the inherent absurdity of capitalism: aggregating so much wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals. It’s obscene and morally reprehensible to allow a disproportional share of resources to fall under the control of the arbitrary whims of a few quirky rich dudes.

Why should National Public Radio, which received a $200 million bequest by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, get all that cash while the Pacifica radio network – more avant-garde, better politics – teeters on the edge of bankruptcy? It’s nice that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation fights AIDS in Africa, but who are Bill and Melinda Gates to decide that AIDS in Africa is worse than, say, diarrhea, which kills more people? It’s amusing to hear that the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune gave $100 million to an obscure poetry journal – but again, people are sleeping outside. Why not musicians? Or cartoonists?

People are dying because they can’t afford treatment by a doctor. People have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and executed because they couldn’t afford a competent lawyer to defend them.

If a government agency were allocating public funds based on the personal whims of its director, there would be a scandal. Under the veil of “philanthropy” billions of dollars that could help millions of people are being spent in a haphazard manner – and we’re supposed to applaud because it’s up to the “private sector”?

In an ideal world no one would have that kind of power. We’d be as equal as the Declaration of Independence declares us to be. We’d make decisions about who to help and what problems to try to fix collectively. The most unfortunate people and the worst problems would get helped first –long before Johns Hopkins.

Our world isn’t perfect. But it is our duty to do everything in our power to make that way. Toward that end, billionaires like Michael Bloomberg ought to have their assets confiscated and redistributed, whether through revolutionary political change or – for the time being – high taxes.

If we can’t pull off nationalization or truly progressive taxation, if we are too weak, too disorganized and too apathetic to form the political movements that will liberate us, the least we should do is to denounce “generous” acts of philanthropy like Michael Bloomberg’s for what they are: arbitrary and self-serving attempts to deflect us from hating the rich and the inequality they embody.

(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 November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Men of Dishonor

A Congress of 21st Century Cynics Dodges 19th Century Rules

People are calling the recently adjourned 112th Congress “the most dysfunctional ever” and the least productive since the infamous “do-nothing Congress” of the 1940s. There’s lots of blame to go around, but one cause for congressional gridlock has gone unnoticed and unremarked upon: we no longer have a sense of honor.

Back in the late 18th and 19th centuries, when our bicameral legislature and its rules were conceived of by a bunch of land-owning white males, a gentleman’s word was his most precious asset. Integrity and the lack thereof were literally a matter of life and death; consider the matter of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. As Thomas Jefferson and his de facto wife Sally Hemings could attest, civility was far from guaranteed under this old system. It certainly could have worked better for Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Massachusetts senator who was nearly beaten to death by a proslavery colleague on the floor of the Senate in 1856. (He was avenging what he considered libelous rhetoric against his family.)

Though less-than-perfect, there was a lot to be said for a culture in which a person’s word was his bond, legalistic quibbling was scorned, and a legislator was expected to stake out and defend a principled position, even in the face of political and personal adversity.

It’s hard to imagine the “fiscal cliff” showdown unfolding in the 1800s or even the first half of the 1900s for two simple reasons. First, the general fiscal health of the country would have come ahead of partisanship. Second, and more importantly, members of the two political parties would have stuck to the deal that they struck a decade earlier. When George W. Bush and his Republicans pushed for a set of income tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans in 2001, they argued the standard GOP trickle-down economics talking point that the tax cuts would pay for themselves by stimulating the economy so much that revenues into government coffers would more than make up for the cost. In order to get enough Democratic support for passage, the Republicans agreed to a five-year time period, after which taxes would revert to their Bill Clinton-era levels.

By 2006 there was still no evidence to show that the tax cuts had stimulated the economy. In fact, by many measures, things were worse. The housing bubble was beginning to burst; unemployment and underemployment had increased. If this had been the 19th century, Republican legislators would have acknowledged that their experiment had failed and that would have been that. A gentleman didn’t run away from the facts or his mistakes.

Voters seemed to agree. Unhappy with the invasion of Iraq as well as the state of the economy, Americans returned Democrats to control of Congress in 2006. Republicans had a pretty good idea—the polls were damning—that their unpopular policies were driving them toward a decisive defeat in the midterm elections. For men and women of honor, this would have been a time to reassess and back off.

Nevertheless the GOP jammed through an extension of the 2001 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy months before the midterm election. No honor there.

Here we are nearly 12 years later, and the verdict is in: the Bush tax cuts failed miserably. No doubt about it, it’s absolutely ridiculous that President Obama and the Democrats agreed to extend them for all but the richest one-half of one percent of American income earners. But the debate should never have gotten this far in the first place. Had the Republicans who proposed it in the first place possessed an iota of good old-fashioned 19th-century honor and integrity, this misbegotten legislative abortion would have died in 2006.

Robert’s Rules of Order and other quaint traditions of parliamentary procedure don’t translate to a quibbling little time like ours, when White House lawyers torture widely understood words like “torture” and “soldier” or claim that a US military base in Cuba is in no man’s land, neither in Cuba nor under US control, and that members of both major political parties say anything in order to get their way. Consider, for example, the current push to reform the filibuster, in order to clear the logjam on judicial nominations and other business that used to be considered routine.

The Senate, the only house of Congress that permits a filibuster, draws upon a tradition of principled minority protest that goes back to Cato in ancient Rome. Until the 1970s, filibusters were a rarity, averaging one a year. Senators viewed them as a bit of a nuclear option and only considered deploying a one-man block on debate of a bill a few times during a long political career, to take a stand on an issue where he felt it mattered most. Now the filibuster is not only a daily routine but gets deployed in an automated way so that the Senate has effectively become a body in which nothing gets done without a 60% vote in favor.

Everyone in the Senate understood what filibusters were for. No one abused them. It was a matter of honor.

But honor is too much to ask when even the most basic of all political considerations—ideology and party affiliation—bend like a reed in the winds of change.

Last week the Republican governor of New Jersey and a Republican congressman from Long Island, New York were so incensed by their party’s refusal to approve disaster relief funds for their states after hurricane Sandy that they went public with disparaging remarks about the Republican leadership in Congress. Fair enough. Standing up for your constituents against rank parochial self-interest is what integrity is all about.

On the other hand, the immediate willingness of some so-called liberal and progressive Democrats to welcome Chris Christie—a Tea Party favorite—and Peter King—a notorious nativist and anti-Muslim bigot—into their party’s ranks indicates a willingness to overlook basic principles that would have startled most self-described gentlemen of a century or two ago, much less those who’d entered public service. Back then, of course, the American political party system wasn’t as settled as it is today, so there were mass changes of party affiliation as parties appeared, metastasized and vanished. Still, it wasn’t acceptable behavior to change parties over a minor spat like the hurricane aid or for a party to accept members who didn’t adhere to its principles.

It’s almost enough to make you wish for a duel.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Contempt is Bipartisan

Both Zombie Parties Too Stubborn To Admit They’re Dead

Neither party gets it.

They both think they won. And they sort of did.

But we still hate them.

Democrats are patting themselves on the back, congratulating themselves for a mandate that neither exists–50.4% to 48.1% does not a mandate make–nor, if were real, would be actionable (Republicans still control the House). “Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change,” Democratic columnist E.J. Dionne sniped in the Washington Post.

Not likely. If Republicans could change anything, it would be the weather. “If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” Karl Rove told the Post. (Which leaves out the fact that the places hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey, are not GOP states.)

“We [Congressional Republicans] will have as much of a mandate as he [Obama] will,” claimed Speaker John Boehner.

The donkeys and the elephants think they’re awesome. Their plan to govern America for the next four years? Keep on keeping on. Why change?

Both parties are insane and self-delusional.

Voters are narrowly divided between the Ds and the Rs–because we can’t decide which one we hate most.

One out of three people think the two-party system is broken, and complain that neither party represents their political views.

A staggering number of people are boycotting quadrennial exercises in pseudodemocracy. Despite the advent of convenient early voting by mail, Election Day 2012 saw a “major plunge in turnout nationally” compared to 2008. About 42.5% of registered voters stayed home this year.

There were a substantial number of protest votes.

In one of the most ignored and interesting stories coming out of Election Day, one and a half million people voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Since Johnson and Stein were even more thoroughly censored than previous third-party candidates–Johnson and Stein were denied interviews on the major networks and locked out of the presidential debates–many of these votes must have been for “none of the above.”

Democrats didn’t win this election.

Neither did the Republicans.

Give the parties credit: They’ve united us in our contempt. Liberals and progressives hate the Democrats, which takes their votes for granted and ignores them. Conservatives hate the GOP for the same reasons. And moderates hate both parties because they don’t get along.

Who won? Not us.

Since the economy collapsed in 2008, Americans have made consistently clear what their number-one priority was: jobs. Yet the two major parties have focused on anything but.

The Tea Party convinced Republicans to campaign on paying down the national debt. Deficits, the debt and entitlements are important–but those problems are not nearly as urgent as unemployment and underemployment. When you’ve lost your job–as millions of Americans have since 2008–you need a new job now. Not next week. Not next year. NOW. You sure don’t need a job next decade–and that’s if you believe that austerity stimulates the economy. “Romney is not offering a plausible solution to the [unemployment] crisis,” Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine back in June. Romney never did.

And that’s why he lost.

Jobs were the #1 issue with voters, Obama never reduced unemployment and Romney had a credible narrative as a corporate turnaround expert. By all rights, Romney should have won. But he never delivered what voters wanted: a credible turnaround plan for the terrible jobs market–one with quick results.

Not that Obama and the Democrats have much to celebrate.

The president nearly lost to one of the worst challengers of all time, a bumbling, inarticulate Monopoly Man caricature of an evil capitalist. Democrats only picked up a few seats in Congress–this to a Republican Party whose platform on social issues was lifted from the Taliban, and whose major political figures included two rape apologists.

Like the GOP, Democrats paid lip service to the economy but never put forward a credible proposal that would have created millions of new jobs next week, not next decade. In 2009, while millions were losing their homes to foreclosure, Obama dwelled instead on healthcare reform. Like the deficits, the healthcare crisis is real and important–but it wasn’t nearly as urgent as the jobs catastrophe. Which, planted stories about fictional recoveries to the contrary, continues unabated.

Four years into an existential crisis that likely marks the final crisis of late-stage capitalism, an economic seizure of epic proportions that has impoverished tens of millions of Americans and driven many to suicide, the United States is governed by two parties that don’t have a clue about what we want or what we need.

Change? Not these guys. Not unless we force them to–or, better yet, get rid of them.

(Ted Rall‘s is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Small Government? It’s Here

When disaster strikes, as it did when New York City was flooded by Hurricane Sandy, we can see that small government–€”the quest of the right–has already arrived.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

FEMA in Waziristan

As Americans reacted with sympathy to images of homes devastated by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the United States, one wonders why there’s a total lack of interest in the victims of America’s drone strikes against Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia–most of whom have been proven to have been innocent civilians.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone