A little noticed aspect of the fiscal cliff deal between congressional Republicans and the White House involved the establishment of a new way to calculate the federal inflation rate. Now we will have the so-called “chained consumer price index.” The chained CPI literally assumes that, as products increase in price, we don’t have to actually counts them as having increased in price because consumers can replace those more expensive items with cheaper substitutes. This allows the government to claim that inflation is lower or nonexistent, thus denying recipients of Social Security and other federal entitlement programs their right to a cost of living increase.
If Romney Loses, Blame His Running Mate
Unless something surprising and dramatic happens, Obama will win the election. Earlier this week the Associated Press released an analysis of public and private polls that put “within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term.” Obama is running ahead in many major swing states, including Ohio—a necessity for a GOP candidate to win. Yeah, yeah, this week’s presidential debates could make a difference—but they rarely do.
What went wrong with the Romney campaign? (Insert the usual fat-lady-not-over-blah-blah-anything-could-happen disclaimer here.)
All things being equal, this should have been a cakewalk for Romney—or any half-decent Republican. The economy is still awful. The official unemployment rate is over 8%, a magic number that historically kills reelection campaigns. Since Obama hasn’t promised any big jobs programs, neither Hope nor Change is on offer. And Romney has/had a sales pitch tailored for hard times: he turned around companies; his business experience will/would help him turn around the U.S. economy.
This election is/was Romney’s to lose—and apparently he has. The cause can be summed up in two words: Paul Ryan.
Sure, there were plenty of other missteps. His bizarre “47%” remark turned out to be a game changer that alienated swing voters. Like the (unfair) story about how George H.W. Bush was so out of touch that he’d never seen a supermarket price scanner (no wonder that preppy pipsqueak didn’t care about Americans who’d lost jobs under the 1987-1992 recession), Romney’s 47% slag fit neatly with our overall impression that Romney is a heartless automaton of a CEO who doesn’t feel our pain. Worse, he’s a man with something to hide; his refusal to release his taxes proves it.
Though greeted by Very Serious pundits as a canny combination of intellectual heft and Tea Party cred, the selection of running mate Paul Ryan has been a bigger disaster than Sarah Palin in 2008. (To be fair to John Cain, Palin was a Hail Mary pass by a campaign that was way behind.) As Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times, the selection is beginning to shape up as a “referendum” on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy.”
Which is Ryan’s fault.
Before the veep announcement, the campaign was a referendum on Obama’s stewardship over the economy. Which was good for Romney. Since August it has been about Paul Ryan, known for his plan to trash reform entitlement programs. Misfire! The one time you don’t attack the safety net is when people are feeling squeezed and pessimistic about the future.
Sensing resistance, Republicans walked back Ryan’s extreme agenda using the classic “divide and conquer” approach, guaranteeing that people over 55 would keep their Medicare and Social Security. No sale. Romney-Ryan forgot something: senior citizens have children and grandchildren. Older Americans want younger people to enjoy the same benefits they’re getting now. Many senior citizens no doubt see the slippery slope of austerity: taking away Social Security for people under 55 next leads to going after those over 55. Finally, with the U.S. Treasury squandering trillions of dollars on wars, it’s hard to argue that the sick and old ought to resort to Dumpster-diving.
The Romney–Ryan campaign understood that voters were pissed at Obama. But they didn’t understand why.
There were two types of anger against Obama. Mostly prompted by Obamacare, right-wingers hate the president for growing an intrusive federal government. But there is also liberal resentment—shared by many moderates—at Obama’s refusal to help the jobless and foreclosure victims. Lefties also dislike Obamacare—but because, minus a public option, it’s a sellout to the insurance conglomerates. Romney could have seduced these voters with his own plans to help the sick and poor. Instead, he went with Ryan—who would destroy programs that are already too weak—and frightened disgruntled Democrats back into Obama’s camp.
Romney ignored the time-tested tactic of moving to the center after winning your party’s nomination. Romney repackaged himself as a right-winger to win the GOP nomination. In the general election, he needed to appeal to Democrats and swing voters. Choosing Paul Ryan sent the opposite signal.
This is not to say that President Obama will have an easy second term. Unlike 2008, when the vast majority of Americans felt satisfied that they had made the right choice, Obama is only likeable enough (the words he used to describe Hillary Clinton) compared to Romney. The only reason Obama seems headed to victory this November is that he was lucky enough to run against one of the most staggeringly inept campaigns in memory, headed by an unbelievably tone-deaf plutocrat.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
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
US political ideologies are converging on the right, but the power of ideas doesn’t matter in this popularity contest.
“President Obama’s support is eroding among elements of his base,” began a front-page story in the September 16th New York Times. Experienced readers understood what was meant. The U.S. Democratic Party “base” is comprised of liberals, progressives (to the left of liberals), and self-identified leftists (composed of socialists, communists and left libertarians).
These and other groups that compose the Democratic coalition—feminists, gays and lesbians, labor unions, etc.—pursue separate agendas. For decades American media consumers received granular, detailed analyses of each segment, their goals, accomplishments and failures to influence the party and the nation. No longer. These factions are increasingly being excluded and omitted from coverage in favor of something new: a formless, mushy whatever.
Call it “the base.”
Conventional wisdom—in other words, talking points repeated by columnists for big-city newspapers and cable-television news commentators—holds that the American electorate is roughly divided as follows: 40 percent who consistently vote Democratic, and another 40 percent who always vote Republican. These 80 percent of party loyalists are their base: if they vote at all, they always vote for the same party.
The outcome of elections depends on the whims of the remaining 20 percent, “swing voters” who may vote Democratic one election, Republican the next.
With a few exceptions, strategists and candidates for the two major parties direct most of their appeals to this “vital center” of the ideological spectrum. “Where else are they going to go?” is the constant, cynical refrain of political operatives when asked about the bases of the parties. If you’re a liberal voter, in other words, you probably won’t vote Republican. If you’re a conservative voter, you won’t jump to the Democrats no matter how disappointed you are with “your” party. (Historically, however, the Republican Party tends to coddle its right-wing base—with rhetoric as well as policy shifts—more than the Democrats pay attention to the left.)
The quest for swing voters relies on simple math. Convince a “swing voter” to switch from their party to yours and you’re up two votes. Lose a “base” voter and you’re down one. Swing voters count double.
Calls for a return to post-9/11 “unity” in the US, flirt with the elementary constructs of fascism, author says.
In the days and weeks after 9/11 the slogan was everywhere: T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards that previously read “Your Ad Here” due to the dot-com crash, inevitably next to an image of the American flag.
The phrase carried with it a dark subtext. It wasn’t subtle:
United We Stand —or else.
Or, as George W. Bush, not known for his light rhetorical touch, put it: “You’re either with us or against us.”
“Us” was not meant to be inclusive. Le Figaro’s famous “nous sommes tous américains” headline aside, non-Americans were derided on Fox News (the Bush Administration’s house media organ) as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” (Never mind that that phrase, from the TV show “The Simpsons,” was conceived as derisive satire of the Right, which frequently derided the French as intellectual and thus weak and effete.)
Many Americans were disinvited from the “us” party of the early 2000s. Democrats, liberals, progressives, anyone who questioned Bush or his policies risked being smeared by Fox, right-wing talk radio hosts and their allies. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for example, called me “the most anti-American cartoonist in America.”
For a day or two after the attacks on New York and Washington, it was possible even for the most jaundiced leftist to take comfort in patriotism. We were shocked. More than that, we were puzzled. No group had claimed responsibility. (None ever did.) Who was the enemy? Sure, there was conjecture. But no facts. What did “they” want?
“We watched, stupefied—it was immediately a television event in real time—and we were bewildered; no one had the slightest idea of why it had happened or what was to come,” writes Paul Theroux in the UK Telegraph. “It was a day scorched by death—flames, screams, sirens, confusion, fear and extravagant rumors (‘The Golden Gate Bridge has been hit, Seattle is bracing’).”
Politically, the nation reminded deeply divided by the disputed 2000 election. According to polls most voters believed that Bush was illegitimate, that he had stolen the presidential election in a judicial coup carried out by the Supreme Court. Even at the peak of Bush’s popularity in November 2001—89 percent of the public approved of his performance—47 percent of respondents to the Gallup survey said that Bush had not won fair and square. During those initial hours, however, most ordinary citizens saw 9/11 as a great horrible problem to be investigated, analyzed and then solved. Flags popped up everywhere. Even liberal Democrats gussied up their rides to make their cars look like a general’s staff car.
Dick Cheney and his cadre of high-level fanatics at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were salivating over newly-drawn-up war plans. “There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. “We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around.”
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
Voters Focus on Spending at Just the Wrong Time
Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist who elevates bland to middle-brow art for The New York Times, thinks Republicans have overreached in their showdown with Obama over the debt ceiling. “[The Republicans’] inability to make even symbolic concessions has turned a winning hand into losing one,” he says.
Advantage, according to Douthat, representing the mainstream media: Obama.
Of course, Obama had already agreed to begin dismantling Social Security and Medicare, surrenders Republicans have craved for decades. If he pulls off this “victory” Obama will have done more damage to the Democratic Party and its core values than any president in our lifetimes. How will he promote what Douthat fears will be a “victory”? I wonder.
Or, to lift a line from “Double Indemnity”: I wonder if I wonder.
Back a few pages, Times reporter Jesse MacKinley finds himself in the curious position of writing that no one really cares about a story that has dominated the headlines for weeks.
“Indeed, the drama of whether the government will raise the debt ceiling (to the chagrin of some conservatives demanding tighter financial belts) or allow it to remain as is (to the horror of the administration and economists who predict financial ruin) seemed largely lost on a populace involved in more pressing—and more pleasant—summer distractions,” asserts MacKinley.
No one cares about the debt ceiling.
Among the few political geeks who understand what’s going on, much less have an opinion, the tide is allegedly turning in favor of Obama because he’s willing to compromise and the Tea Party-led GOP isn’t.
Conventional wisdom floggers like Douthat say that if Congress can’t strike a deal and economic consequences follow—a reduction in the ratings of U.S. government-issued securities and a panic in the securities market—voters will hold Republicans accountable in 2012. Even if things don’t turn that far south, the GOP will pay for their intransigence. Obama wins in a cakewalk.
I’m not so sure.
In the same way that generals usually refight the last war, mainstream political pundits often apply old scenarios to new situations. This is not 1995, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich orchestrated a shutdown of the federal government that set the stage for Bill Clinton’s reelection the following year.
Without a doubt, the Republicans’ willingness to imperil the pure platinum credit of Treasury notes and bonds is reckless and irresponsible. There is also no denying their naked hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty. These so-called “deficit hawks” voted 19 times to raise the debt ceiling by $4 trillion.
If Republicans were serious about balancing the federal budget they’d start by slashing the military, which accounts for 54 percent of discretionary spending—and which hasn’t done anything to defend the U.S. from a real enemy since 1945. The Department of Homeland Security, a vast new bureaucracy created by Bush after 9/11 in order to make us take off our shoes, should be eliminated.
Moreover, the middle of the biggest economic meltdown since the industrial revolution is no time to be cutting debt. Read your Keynes: governments are supposed to spend their way out of downturns, and pay down debt during upswings.
Republicans, it seems, are trying to finish off an economy that is already gravely wounded.
Politically, however, I think they’re onto something. Year after year of warnings about the expanding national debt—remember Ross Perot’s charts?—the American people are finally, genuinely alarmed about the pace and scale of government spending. The current national debt of $14 trillion isn’t the magic number that flips some sort of switch in the public.
It’s simply that, at certain times, public opinion on an issue that has been around for years, divisive and apparently intractable, suddenly coalesces into widespread consensus. Climate change. Gay marriage. The war in Afghanistan, which was so popular in 2008 that Obama won by promising to expand it, but is now seen as stale and unwinnable.
Win or lose on the debt ceiling showdown, GOP strategists are betting than voters will reward them for taking an uncompromising stand on spending against a president who has increased the national debt faster than any of his predecessors. It’s not 100 percent—but I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.
This is the worst possible time for the American people to start worrying about out-of-control federal spending. But it’s good for the GOP.
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