After my mother fell and broke her arm, she ended up in the hospital. Medicare covered five days in the hospital and three weeks of rehab. Then the insurance troubles began.
Highlights of President Mitt Romney’s First 100 Days are expected to include more tax cuts for the rich, voucherizing Medicaid, defunding Obamacare, and slashing all federal spending except the Pentagon. Maybe it would be easier to blow up the government using the nuclear football (launch codes).
America’s New Radicals Attack a System That Ignores Them
“Enraged young people,” The New York Times worries aloud, are kicking off the dust of phony democracy, in which “the job of a citizen was limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote” while decision-making remains in the claws of a rarified elite of overpaid corporate executives and their corrupt pet politicians.
“From South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street,” the paper continues, “these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over. They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.”
The rage of the young is real. It is justified. It is just beginning to play out.
The political class thinks it can ignore the people it purports to represent. They’re right–but not forever. A reckoning is at hand. Forty years of elections without politics will cost them.
Americans’ pent-up demand for a forum to express their disgust is so vast that they are embracing slapdash movements like Occupy Wall Street, which reverses the traditional tactic of organizing for a demonstration. People are protesting first, then organizing, then coming up with demands. They have no other choice. With no organized Left in the U.S., disaffected people are being forced to build resistance from the ground up.
Who can blame young adults for rejecting the system? The political issue people care most about–jobs and the economy–prompts no real action from the political elite. Even their lip service is half-assed. Liberals know “green jobs” can’t replace 14 million lost jobs; conservatives aren’t stupid enough to think tax cuts for the rich will help them pay this month’s bills.
The politicians’ only real action is counterproductive; austerity and bank bailouts that hurt the economy. Is the government evil or incompetent? Does it matter?
Here in the United States, no one should be surprised that young adults are among the nation’s angriest and most alienated citizens. No other group has been as systematically ignored by the mainstream political class as the young. What’s shocking is that it took so long for them to take to the streets.
Every other age groups get government benefits. The elderly get a prescription drug plan. Even Republicans who want to slash Medicaid and Medicare take pains to promise seniors that their benefits will be grandfathered in. Kids get taken care of too. They get free public education. ObamaCare’s first step was to facilitate coverage for children under 18.
Young adults get debt.
The troubles of young adults get no play in Washington. Pundits don’t bother to debate issues that concerns people in their 20s and 30s. Recent college graduates, staggering under soaring student loan debt, are getting crushed by 80 percent unemployment–and no one even pretends to care. Young Americans tell pollsters that their top concerns are divorce, which leaves kids impoverished, and global warming. Like jobs, these issues aren’t on anyone’s agenda.
This pot has been boiling for decades.
In 1996 I published “Revenge of the Latchkey Kids,” a manifesto decrying the political system’s neglect and exploitation of Generation X, my age cohort, which followed the Baby Boomers.
We were in our 20s and low 30s at the time.
Un- and underemployment, the insanity of a job market that requires kids to take out mortgage-sized loans to attend college just to be considered for a low-paid entry-level gig in a cube farm, the financial and emotional toll of disintegrating families, and our fear that the natural world was being destroyed left many of my peers feeling resentful and left out–like arriving at a party after the last beer was gone.
Today the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50. Life will always be harder for us than it was for the Boomers. If I had to write “Latchkey Kids” for today’s recent college grads, it would be bleaker still. Today’s kids–demographers call them Gen Y–have it significantly worse than we did.
Like us, today’s young adults get no play from the politicians.
The debts of today’s Gen Yers are bigger ($26,000 in average student loans, up from $10,000 in 1985). Their incomes are smaller. Their sense of betrayal, having gone all in for Obama, is deeper.
Young adults turned out big for Obama in 2008, but he didn’t deliver for them. They noticed: The One’s approval rating has plunged from 75 percent among voters ages 18-29 when he took office in January 2009 to 45 percent in September.
Politicians like Obama ignore young adults, especially those with college degrees, at their–and the system’s–peril. Now, however, more is at stake than Obama and the Democrats’ 2012 election prospects. The entire economic, social and political order faces collapse; young people may choose revolution rather than accept a life of poverty in a state dedicated only to feeding the bank accounts of the superrich.
As Crane Brinton pointed out in his seminal book “The Anatomy of Revolution,” an important predictor of revolution is downward mobility among strivers, young adults whose education and ambition would traditionally have led to a brighter future.
In February Martin Wolf theorized in The Financial Times that the Arab Spring rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia owed their success to demographics; those countries have more young people than old ones. On the other hand “middle-aged and elderly rig political and economic life for their benefit in the U.K. [he could also have said the U.S.]: hence the way in which policies on housing or education finance are weighted against the young.”
Right here and right now, though, the young and the old are on the same side. Though the young are getting screwed the hardest, almost everyone else is getting screwed too. And with 80 percent unemployment, the young have a lot of free time to rise up.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Democratic Party Needs a Democratic Primary Process
What a comedown!
In 2008 Barack Obama ran on hope and change. His reelection bid relies on fear (of Republicans) and stay-the-course (lest said Republicans slash even more Medicare than Obama is willing to give away).
Yeah, yeah, anything can happen in one year—the GOP could nominate Bob Dole again—but it’s getting harder to imagine a scenario in which Obama wins reelection. The tsunami of bad economic news has become so relentless that last week’s story that one out of six Americans have fallen below the poverty line came and went with nary a shrug. (On the bright side, we’re just ahead of Indonesia. On the other side, Russia won the Cold War after all.)
Obama’s threat to veto any debt bill that doesn’t include taxes on the rich is supposed to signal a “new, more combative phase of his presidency, one likely to last until next year’s election as he battles for a second term,” as the New York Times puts it. But it’s too nothing, too late.
Tax increases get rolled back; Medicaid cuts are forever.
Rick Perry thinks the earth is a week old and Mitt Romney wears pink underwear and Michele Bachmann has crazy eyes. Unless they fart into the camera on national television, however, any of the leading Republican candidates will likely trounce a president who did nothing while the labor force shrunk by at least six million.
OK, he did stimulate the Martha’s Vineyard golf club economic sector.
On fifth thought, voters might overlook flatulence.
I had been wondering what accomplishments Team Obama planned to point to next year. Times editor Bill Keller helpfully lays it all out (I use the word “all” loosely) in an op/ed: “Lost in the shouting is the fact that Obama pulled the country back from the brink of depression; signed a health care reform law that expands coverage, preserves choice and creates a mechanism for controlling costs; engineered a fairly stringent financial regulatory reform; and authorized the risky mission that got Osama bin Laden.”
Let’s take these Democratic talking points like the trajectory of the U.S. empire: in reverse.
The trouble with assassinating Osama bin Laden is that once you’ve killed Osama bin Laden no one thinks about Osama bin Laden anymore. The Bushies understood this. Putting the Al Qaeda chief on trial would have been smarter politics (not to mention a sop to basic legal principles).
The new banking and securities regulations were too granular and timid for anyone to notice. Show me a president who bans ATM, overdraft and late credit-card fees, on the other hand, and I’ll show you a shoo-in for reelection. Or sainthood.
I don’t know what kind of health plan they offer on 8th & 42nd, but no one—not conservatives, not liberals, not anyone—likes what we know about Obama’s healthcare reform. The Right thinks it’s socialism. The Left wishes it were. What matters is that it doesn’t matter—Obamacare doesn’t going into effect until 2014. You can’t ask for votes of gratitude for a law that no one has experienced—and that many suspect will be repealed by the GOP or overturned by the courts.
Then there’s Keller’s first assertion: “Obama pulled the country back from the brink of depression.”
Um—Bill? Depression? We’re soaking in it.
The real unemployment rate (the way the government calculated it during the 1930s) is over 24 percent. That matches the highest monthly rate during the Great Depression.
But this Depression is worse than the “Great” Depression. You could buy an apple for a nickel back then. Now there’s high inflation too.
Not only are one out of four Americans out of work, the salaries of the employed are stagnant and getting eroded by soaring food and gas prices.
U.S. state-controlled media outlets like the Times are in the president’s corner. But their “without Obama the economy would be even worse” narrative is reducing their man’s chances next November. If there’s anything worse than losing your job, it’s a media that pretends you that you and your reality don’t exist. There never was a recovery; the economy crashed with the dot-coms in 2000 and never came back, what they called a “stimulus” was nothing more than a giveaway to bank CEOs, and now tens of millions of pissed-off people are itching for a chance to make a noise.
This, as Keller should know from reading the polls in his own paper, is why the liberal-progressive base of the Democratic Party is drifting away from Obama. They won’t vote for Perry or whomever, they just won’t vote.
Not since 1980 have the Democrats headed into a reelection campaign with such a weak incumbent president. Which prompts a question: Why is Obama running unopposed? A Democratic Party, it should go without saying, needs a democratic primary process.
A group of liberals led by former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has issued a call for one or more progressive leaders to run against Obama in the spring primaries. “Without debates by challengers inside the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries, the liberal/majoritarian agenda will be muted and ignored,” Nader said in a press release. “The one-man Democratic primaries will be dull, repetitive, and draining of both voter enthusiasm and real bright lines between the two parties that excite voters.”
It’s a nice thought, though it would be impossible to raise enough money to successfully challenge Obama at this late stage.
So get ready for The Return of the Republicans. I’m no James Carville, but I’ve seen enough presidential politics to know that anger beats fear.
Especially during an Even Greater Depression.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Make DSK Whole—Then Jail Him
“Innocent until proven guilty.” We say it. We teach it to our children. But we don’t believe it.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with ambushing a hotel cleaning person at a hotel in midtown Manhattan and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, has been released.
This was not the usual case of a well-heeled defendant wielding money and influence to weasel out of responsibility for his crime. To the contrary, the NYPD and district attorney believed the alleged victim, initially characterized as a hard-working immigrant struggling to support her family. The cops aggressively pursued DSK, as the French media calls him. They even subjected him to the “perp walk” that signifies official contempt.
But that’s all over. District attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. says the case has fallen apart. The victim was unreliable at best, a conwoman at worst. The charges are dead. DSK is free.
Innocent until proven guilty, right?
But not really.
When you’re accused, the story screams in blood-red 112-point type above the fold on page one for weeks on end. When you’re exonerated, it runs one column-inch buried in the classifieds—on the day all your friends, relatives and colleagues happen to miss the paper.
Strauss-Kahn won’t go to prison. Not for whatever happened or didn’t happen at the Sofitel. (He will face a rape charge filed by a French reporter, who accuses him of going after her “like a chimpanzee in rut” years ago.)
Though legally innocent, DSK will not be restored to his job leading the International Monetary Fund, which he was forced to resign as he cooled his heels at Rikers Island. No reason given. Just: no.
Before getting dragged out of his first-class seat on an Air France jet bound for Paris, the deaccused rapist was widely considered a frontrunner for the Socialist Party’s nomination for the French presidency. Now George W. Bush has a better chance than DSK of moving into Elysée Palace. Too much dirt has come out. Legally innocent he may be, but too many voters harbor doubts.
Like the old Soviet Union, the United States and its Western puppet states (France included) mindlessly repeat too many sweet-sounding slogans devoid of real meaning: “Equal justice under the law.” “All men are created equal.” “One man, one vote.”
“Innocent until proven guilty.”
If legal innocence (i.e. the failure of the state to convict one of a crime) is to rise above the status of hollow rhetoric, people like DSK ought to be entitled to the full restoration of their pre-arrest status. In DSK’s case, he is morally entitled to his old job at the IMF and an open invitation by the French Socialists to run for his nation’s highest office. He also deserves to be compensated for the legal bills and bail costs he accrued during his ordeal.
Not many people reading this will agree with me. Which is my point: as a society, we don’t really believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”
We did not revel in Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest because of the crime that the legal system has since decided not to pursue, rape. We laughed and jeered because we hate(d) him.
We hate(d) DSK because he is rich and evil.
Had DSK been a run-of-the-mill accused rapist, few would have noticed and no one would have been as gleeful about his predicament. Here was the fearsome chief of the mighty IMF, an old, smug, white pig forced to shower with an electronic monitoring device locked to his ankle. “Le Perv!” shouted the New York Post.
After the arrest I published a cartoon showing DSK in a police interrogation room. I pride myself on my refusal to leap aboard media bandwagons, so I didn’t assume he was guilty. “What’s the big deal?” I showed him asking police detectives. “I’ve been raping the world for years!”
It takes a cruel genius to turn big profits on the backs of the world’s poorest people. Meet DSK’s IMF.
First IMF officials such as DSK convince the political leaders of say, Kyrgyzstan, that they could rapidly modernize their Fourth World backwater with a loan. Build some new highways! How about that long-awaited hydroelectric dam? Foreign corporations will rush in to do business! Paying us back will be a breeze!
This is, to be charitable, as overly optimistic as Countrywide telling slum dwellers they’ll never regret an adjustable-rate mortgage. There are good reasons that foreign firms do not invest in dumps like Kyrgyzstan. Those reasons do not change because there’s a new airport road or a new four-star hotel.
Increase in GDP or no, the IMF loans come due. What to do? IMF experts parachute in. Their recommendation: “structural adjustment.” No more profligate spending on social programs. Close those pricy health clinics! The IMF is the world’s biggest loan shark.
Ripped social safety nets cause social unrest. Kyrgyzstan, once relatively stable, was propped up by IMF loans in the late 1990s. They came due, forcing the poor nation to curtail social spending. It has since been swept by a series of riots, coups, ethnic cleansing and even warlordism.
Here in the United States, IMF-style gangster capitalism takes the form of Republican/Tea Party “starve the beast” demagoguery. There’s always money for rich people. And for wars. And for wars that make rich people richer. For the poor and middle-class, Medicare and Social Security are ostentatious and unaffordable luxuries. Socialized medicine, guaranteed cost-of-living increases and unlimited unemployment benefits are off the table.
It is this economic outlook, devoid of humanity and contemptuous of people’s basic needs, that Dominique Strauss-Kahn represents.
We all hate him. We hate those like him. That perp walk looked so…right.
He deserves prison, no doubt about it. Until there’s a revolution, however, DSK will never suffer for the crimes he committed as a globe-trotting financier.
Even as DSK flew first-class and left his most intimate DNA in $450-a-night suites at four-star hotels, his IMF was demanding that the citizens of Greece and Portugal slash pensions and hike college tuition. That is his biggest crime, undeniable and unforgivable, and the one for which he and those like him should someday face justice.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
The Statue of Liberty Stamp Error and the End of America
It may seem like a minor thing. Objectively it is a minor thing. But the Great Statue of Liberty Stamp Screw-up of 2011 presents a picture-perfect portrait of a society in the midst of collapse.
You can tell a lot about the state of a country from its stamps and its currency. At a nation’s peak its graphic iconography tends to be striking, elegant and original. As it begins to wane abstraction gives way to self-caricature, innovative design to self-parody, high art to kitsch.
Look at U.S. stamps and paper money from 100 or 50 or even 30 years ago and you’ll see my point. Quarters were nearly sterling silver; now they’re mystery metal (nickel-copper-zinc alloy).
America: we’re not what we used to be.
A century ago President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the famous Beaux Art sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the nation’s coinage. Among the results were Saint-Gaudens’ breathtaking $20 gold “double eagle”; numismatists consider it one of the most elegant coins of the 20th century.
How the mighty have fallen! According to U.S. Mint officials recent revamps of the $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 bills were undertaken without the slightest consideration for aesthetics. They didn’t even consult an art director. Stymieing counterfeiters was the sole concern.
Now the U.S. Postal Service has issued its newest first-class “forever” stamp. As the most widely used denomination, a new forever is a big deal.
The new stamp features a photo of the head of the Statue of Liberty. Well…not exactly. Instead of the Statue of Liberty paid for by coins donated by French schoolchildren, the proud iconic figure which has greeted millions of immigrants to New York, the stamp bears the visage of the small replica which stands in front of the New York-New York casino in Las Vegas.
Mistakes happen. As every philatelist knows, another error—the 1918 “Jenny Invert,” which features an image of an upside-down airplane—is one of the most prized collectibles in philately because Post Office officials destroyed all but one sheet of the 100 stamps.
That’s the usual response to a catastrophe in stampdom. Ten years ago Postal Service recalled and destroyed the entire run of a stamp that wrongly placed the Grand Canyon in Colorado.
But that was before the economic collapse that began in 2008. The Postal Service is broke. Quality standards? Can’t afford them. Incredibly, postal officials are allowing this monstrosity, this bastard creation, this artistic obscenity—the face is clearly the wrong one—to be sold at your local post office.
“We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway,” USPS spokesman Roy Betts told The New York Times.
“The [postal] service selected the image from a photography service, and issued rolls of the stamp bearing the image in December,” reported the newspaper. “This month, it issued a sheet of 18 Lady Liberty and flag stamps. Information accompanying the original release of the stamp included a bit of history on the real Statue of Liberty. Las Vegas was never mentioned.”
It’s bad enough that they use photographs. Stamps should be engraved. Engraved stamps look classier and more substantial.
But whether they are using an engraver, illustrator or photographer, a U.S. stamp ought to be a big gig. For an assignment such as this I would expect the USPS to hire a professional and pay huge money—six-figures huge. It’s a stamp, for Chrissake.
Nope. The U.S. Postal Service buys stock photos. For stamp design. That’s right—the same cheesy clipart you can download for your kid’s birthday party invitation.
In and of itself, this is no big deal. These are lean times. Austerity abounds. Why not save a few bucks?
It matters because symbolism matters. The kind of country that puts stock photos on its stamps is the kind of country that puts a single air traffic controller in charge of one of its biggest airports. The kind of country that doesn’t fix its mistakes is the kind that tells people under the age of 55 that they can go to hell and die when they get old and sick because it’s more important to cut taxes for rich scum than to fund Medicare.
As for the symbolism of a phony Statue of Liberty that stands in front of a casino in the nation’s gambling capital—well, that’s obvious.
It would be fine if the money being saved by printing crappy stamps went to new textbooks in inner-city schools. But it doesn’t. It goes to Halliburton and Bill Gates. Now that American workers have been hung out to dry, robbed and fleeced, wrung out and burned out, the government and its associated agencies (the USPS is quasi-governmental) have turned on themselves in service to the 21st century robber barons.
Don’t get mad about the stamps. Get mad at what they mean.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Straight Talk on Balancing the Budget
The federal budget deficit is like the weather. Everybody talks about it; except for Bill Clinton, no one ever does anything about it.
President Obama’s bipartisan Fiscal Debt Commission has released a draft report that starts out with a big problem: even talking about reducing spending is insane when you’re in the midst of a Depression. The real unemployment is over 20 percent. Creating jobs ought to be the feds’ top—perhaps sole—priority.
Let the insanity commence.
Triumphant Republicans say they want to balance the budget. So does Obama. Are they serious? Of course not.
Still, theoretical budget-balancing exercises help enlighten us about where our taxdollars really go. So let’s roll up our sleeves and start some back-of-the-envelope slashing.
The 2010 federal budget shows $3.6 trillion in spending and $2.4 trillion in revenues. Net deficit: $1.2 trillion. It’s a doozy, too. It nearly 13 percent of GDP. It’s the highest since 1943, during World War II.
The goal, then, is to close a $1.2 trillion budget gap. Can we find at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts? News flash: getting rid of the National Endowment for the Arts ($161 million in 2010, or about 0.01 percent of the deficit), ain’t gonna do the trick.
Any serious budget cutter has to start with defense. The reason is simple: it accounts for 54 percent of discretionary (i.e., optional) federal spending. It’s the biggest piece of the pie by far.
(Mainstream news reports usually state that defense accounts for 20 percent of federal outlays. But they’re fudging the facts in order to pretty up the military-industrial complex. For example, they include budget items like Social Security that no one can do anything about—they’re in a trust fund.)
Of that 54 percent, 18 percent is debt service on old wars. There’s nothing we can do about that—though that number should probably give us pause the next time a president wants to invade Panama or Grenada.
Anyway, that leaves 36 percent, or $1.3 trillion to play with. $200 billion a year goes to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let’s pull out. We’re losing anyway.
New Deficit: $1.0 trillion.
In 2007 Chalmers Johnson wrote a book about the staggering costs of American imperialism. “The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires,” he wrote. “Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world’s largest landlords.”
We’re broke. It’s time to bring those 2.3 million men and women home. At an average cost of $140,000 per employee—crazy but true—we could save $322 billion annually.
New Deficit: $676 billion.
After Defense, the other big costs are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The obvious place to start slashing is wealthy recipients. Why should Bill Gates, worth $58 billion, get Social Security or Medicare benefits? Dean Baker sums up the traditional liberal argument in favor of giving tax money to people who don’t need it: “Social Security enjoys enormous bipartisan support because all workers pay into it and expect to benefit from it in retirement. Taking away the benefits that better-off workers earned would undoubtedly undermine their support for the program. This could set up a situation in which the program could be more easily attacked in the future.”
Yeah, well, whatever. We. Are. Broke. “Means testing”—for example, eliminating benefits for the approximately one percent of families over age 65 who earn over $100,000 a year—could save $150 billion a year.
New deficit: $526 billion.
Now let’s talk about the other side of the equation: income. How can the U.S. government scare up some extra cash?
Allowing the Bush tax cuts for the richest three percent of Americans to expire on schedule would bring in $70 billion a year. Seems like a no-brainer: anyone earning over $250,000 a year is doing awesome. Moreover, if Democrats don’t insist on the expiration of at least some of those “temporary” tax cuts, what’s the point of the deal they cut with the GOP back in 2001?
New deficit: $456 billion.
When it comes to revenues, you have to go where the money is: the wealthy. The rich have gotten richer, which is a big part of the reason we’re in a Depression again. They’re hogging all the goodies. The rest of us can’t spend.
Despite the miserable economy, there are still 2 million American households earning a whopping $250,000 or more per year. (Their average income is $435,000.) If we were to increase these super-rich Americans’ marginal income tax rate from 35 to 50 percent—the same it was during the early 1980s under Reagan—we’d bring in an extra $131 billion a year. If we raised it back to 91 percent—the top rate during the boom years between 1950 to 1963—the Treasury would collect $487 billion.
Budget SURPLUS: $31 billion.
And we haven’t started on corporate taxes.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL