Tag Archives: Safety Net

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Bernie Sanders is a Socialist and So Are You

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/socialism/images/c/ce/Socialist_party_of_america_logo_.gif/revision/latest?cb=20090319232217            When it comes to politics, Americans are idiots.

Because American voters are political ignoramuses, Bernie Sanders found it necessary to take the stage at Georgetown University yesterday to explain what socialism, and democratic socialism are. The point being that too many Democratic primary voters plan to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, not because they like her or her ideas, but worry that a self-declared socialist (or democratic socialist) won’t be able to beat the Republican nominee in the general election.

Setting aside the rather idiotic idea of voting for a candidate because everyone else is voting for her — what’s the point of holding an election? we’d might as well turn elected office over to the candidate with an early lead in the polls — I have to wonder whether an electorate that knows nothing about socialism is qualified to vote at all.

And remember: these are Democratic primary voters. One must shiver in fear at the colossal dumbness on the Republican right, where climate change denialism is normative, Ronald Reagan was brilliant (and brought down This Wall) and Tea Party marchers famously carry signs demanding “government get out of my Medicaid.” To them, socialism means Stalin — if they know who he was.

Socialism, Marx and Engels explained, is the long transitional economic form between laissez faire capitalism and communism, an ideal utopian state that will only become possible after the rise of a New Man (and Woman) whose total commitment to communitarian ideals over individualistic concerns allows the state to wither away and people to rule themselves in small collectives. This true ideal communism, Marxists believe, is centuries away at best.

In contemporary politics, Communist Party rule in nations like the Soviet Union and China led to confusion, especially in the West, where capitalist news media was only too happy to turn a relatively simple idea into a muddle. Neither the Soviet nor the Chinese Communist Parties ever claimed to have achieved communism. With the exception of Pol Pot’s bizarre Kampuchea, communist parties governed self-declared socialist states, not communist ones. It was, after all, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

When Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist, he’s drawing upon a tradition of Western European electoral politics in which socialist principles live alongside free-market capitalist ones, rather than a fully fleshed-out transformation of the economy into one in which the workers control the means of production. For Sanders and the hundreds of millions of citizens of the nations of Europe and their post-colonial progeny (Canada, Australia, many African countries), democratic socialism is a system that looks a lot like the United States of America.

In the ur-democratic socialist nations of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, citizens’ elected representatives propose and vote on laws — just like here.

There is no state economy. There are, like here, small private businesses and giant corporations.

So what makes them socialist? Government regulations and the social safety net. Government agencies tell power companies, for example, how much they may pollute the air and sets the minimum wage. There is, as in all capitalist societies, poverty. But the government mitigates its effects. Welfare and unemployment benefits, social security for retirees, free or subsidized healthcare make things easier when times are tough.

The United States is a democratic socialist country, albeit a lame one.

Senator Sanders wants less lameness.

In his speech, The New York Times summarized, “he said he wanted an America where people could work 40 hours a week and not live in poverty, and that such a society would require new government entitlements like free public colleges, Medicare-for-all health insurance, a $15 minimum wage, $1 trillion in public works projects to create jobs, and mandatory [paid] parental leave.”

These benefits are standard in almost every other technologically advanced nation on earth, as well as many developing countries. Democratic socialism? It’s like that old dishwashing liquid ad: you’re soaking in it.

Yet here is Sanders, in what pundits are calling a do-or-die speech attempting to fix his “I like him but America won’t elect a socialist” crisis. David Axelrod, who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign, says, “The issue here is, is that word [socialism] a barrier for a sufficient number of voters that it creates an electoral ceiling for him?”

As far as I know, Bernie hasn’t emphasized the quality of public education in his campaign. But something is, no pun intended, radically wrong when so few Americans understand basic political and economic terms — especially when they apply to the political and economic system under which they themselves live.

By global standards, Sanders’ campaign is calling for weak socialist tea. In most European countries, all colleges are free or charge nominal fees. Socialized medicine, in which your doctor is a government employee and there’s no such thing as a big for-profit hospital corporation, is the international norm. Paid leave? Obviously. And most governments recognize the importance of public infrastructure, and not relying on the private sector to provide every job.

There can only be one reason Americans don’t know this stuff: they’re idiots. Their schools made them that way as kids. Media propaganda keeps them stupid as adults.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Germanwings Mass Murder-Suicide Caused by Punitive Rules, Coldhearted Capitalism

 

Investigators are still putting together the pieces, but from what we know so far, it’s likely that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz committed mass murder-suicide when he flew a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 149 passengers and fellow crewmen into the French Alps.

Authorities say they haven’t found a suicide note, but it’s a safe bet that Lubitz’s final act was prompted by depression (they found the meds), diminished vision, a deteriorating romantic relationship and his worry that the Lufthansa subsidiary would ground him if they found out about his problems, crashing a career he loved and blowing up his livelihood.

Though rare, pilot suicide isn’t unheard of. As long as the current system remains in place, it will happen again.

By “system,” I’m referring both to specific rules issued by the FAA and other countries’ aviation authorities to regulate pilots, and to that most coldhearted of socioeconomic systems, you’re-on-your-own capitalism.

“Before they are licensed, pilots must undergo a medical exam, conducted by a doctor trained and certified by the aviation agency,” explains The New York Times. Some airlines impose additional screening procedures, but they vary from company to company. Active pilots are required to have a medical screening once a year until they turn 40 and then twice a year after. Only when pilots are found to have mental health problems are they sent to a psychiatrist or psychologist for evaluation or treatment.”

At first glance, an incident like the Germanwings disaster seems to call for increased physical and mental monitoring. But leaning harder on pilots would only fix half the problem.

The current system is punitive – thus it encourages lying.

“But the system, Dr. [Warren] Silberman [a former manager of aerospace medical certification for the FAA] and others said, leaves pilots on an honor system, albeit one reinforced by penalties to discourage them from concealing any health issues that could affect their fitness to fly, including mental illness. Pilots who falsify information or lie about their health face fines that can reach $250,000, according to the FAA.”

Imagine yourself in that position. Knowing that public safety is at risk, you might do the right thing and step forward after your psychiatrist tells you that you shouldn’t be working, as happened to Lubitz. Then again, you might not.

First of all, you might doubt the diagnosis. That’s the thing about mental illness – victims’ judgment can be impaired. For example, there is evidence that Ronald Reagan suffered from early signs of dementia while serving as president. If true, that’s scary – but was the Gipper aware he was fading?

Second, you might think you could handle it, that with the help of psychiatric treatment and antidepressant medications, you could push through what might turn out to be a temporary crisis. Why risk everything over a passing phase?

Third, and this is likely, you might keep your problems to yourself because to do otherwise would ruin your life – or at least feel like it. At bare minimum, it would end your career, forcing you to start from zero. For many people, that seems too horrible to bear. In our society, social status is determined by our careers.

“The stigma [of having a mental illness] is enormous,” Dr. William Hurt Sledge, professor of psychiatry at Yale who has consulted for the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association and major airlines, told the Times. “And of course, none of them wants that to be known, nor do they want to confess it or believe that they have it.”

And for those who decide to ignore the stigma, what comes next? Where’s the safety net, professional, social and economic, for people who run into trouble, whether of their own making or not?

At the root of Lubitz’s decision to kill himself – whether he gave much thought to the 149 people on the other side of the reinforced cockpit door cannot be known – is that he lived, as we all do in the Western world, in a disposable society. Lose what you do and you lose what you are. The bills keep coming long after the paychecks stop; soon you have nothing left.

I could throw a dart at any daily newspaper to illustrate this point; today it would probably land on the results of an AARP survey that found – unsurprisingly to anyone over age 50 – that a single layoff after that age has devastating, long-term consequences. People over 50 are overwhelmingly more likely to wind up classified among the long-term unemployed and typically wind up earning less if and when they find a new job, often starting again from scratch in a new industry because their experience was in a line of work that no longer has openings.

I imagine a system in which people like Andreas Lubitz don’t need to see a psychological or other setback as the end of their world.

What if he could have confided in his bosses without fear? What if Lufthansa policy was to stand by him through his treatment, guaranteeing him a respectable job at equivalent salary – for as long as it took for him to get better? And if he couldn’t recover, what if he knew that his country’s government would provide for him financially and otherwise? Finally, what if no one cared what he did for a living, and it was just as prestigious and remunerative to work as a file clerk as to fly a plane?

I’m not sure, but I bet 150 people would be alive today.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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How Capitalism Deals with Inequality

President Obama and the Democrats have finally decided, five years after his election, to begin talking about the issue of income inequality, which has been increasing since the early 1970s. But their rhetoric makes it sound like inequality is a weird byproduct of capitalism when, in fact, it is a key feature of an economic system that relies on poverty and exploitation. This is the best system ever conceived?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Guilty After Proven Innocent

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?

Technically.

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.

How delicious!

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.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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Death Cult

It’s hard to say exactly what inspired this cartoon. It’s nothing in recent news, but rather my long-term observation that the U.S. government goes to extreme lengths to retrieve body parts. Examples include the 9/11 recovery effort and the decades-long campaign to get back body parts from U.S. servicemen who perished in Vietnam during the 1960s. Wouldn’t it make more sense to care about Americans while they’re alive?

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