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Third Term

The president’s defenders told liberals and progressives that Obama would burst out as a liberal during his second term. But he renewed 99.5% of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. He nominated Chuck Hagel, a homophobic Republican, as Secretary of Defense. For Treasury Secretary he picked a veteran of Citibank who bet on the housing market to collapse. What’s going on? Maybe Obama will turn into FDR in his third term.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why We’re Apathetic

Obama and Romney Ignore the #1 Issue

Don’t be apathetic, they tell us. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. But how can people get excited about a political campaign that doesn’t address the issues we care about most?

Polls show that Americans are more concerned about the economy than any other issue. That has been the case since Obama became president in 2009.

Ignoring the elephant in the room, neither Obama nor Romney have put forth credible plans for getting the unemployed back to work or getting raises for those who still have jobs—and forget about underemployment. (In the long run, America’s biggest jobs problem isn’t that workers don’t have enough skills, but that millions are working beneath their level of intelligence and educational attainment.)

Obama says he inherited a mess. He’s right. His supporters say climbing out of the hole created by the 2008 meltdown and Bush’s deficit spending will take time. Which is true. But Obama never proposed a jobs program—so he can’t claim that Republican Congressional meanies blocked him.

Bizarrely, the President doesn’t explicitly promise that the economy will get better if we reelect him. His reelection campaign is mostly backwards looking, pointing to his achievements so far: healthcare, pulling out of Iraq, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, and his unpopular bailout of the big banks. On the economy, his overall approach has been to counsel patience, while hoping for things to improve.

Say this for Mitt Romney: he doesn’t share the president’s reticence. “If I become president, you’re going to see an economic resurgence: manufacturing resurgence, high-tech, health care. You’re going to see this economy take off,” Romney told supporters in New Jersey last month. “And I say that because I know what I’m going to do, and I know what kind of impact it will have.”

Romney’s ads strike the same can-do tone. “By day 100, President Romney’s leadership brings new certainty to our economy, and the promise of new banking and high-tech jobs.”

Whoa.

How will this kickass FDR-like miracle transpire? Romney has put forth what John Cassidy of The New Yorker calls a “ragtag collection of proposals—59 of them, ranging from eliminating the inheritance tax, to capping federal spending at twenty per cent of GDP, to opening up America’s energy reserves for development [which have been] widely dismissed as inadequate by his fellow Republicans.”

Trickle-down redux. Warmed-over drill-baby-drill

Sarahcuda. A dash of Steve Forbes (remember him?). In short: not so whoa.

If I were Romney I’d be proposing a conservative-based jobs-growth agenda—i.e., one that puts money into the pockets of business. Tax incentives for employers to hire new workers. Federal subsidies for job training programs. Higher payroll deductions for corporations. Capital gains tax cuts conditioned on funds being invested into projects that generate new jobs.

Romney could shore up his party’s nativist base by promising to build an impenetrable fence along the border with Mexico and to crack down on undocumented workers.

Thanks to the Republican Congress, it would be easy for Obama to make the case to voters that he’s trying to create jobs. He could propose something bold and grand, a new WPA that directly employs 20 million Americans building high-speed rail lines, new bridges and tunnels, teachers, artists, you name it. Best of all, it’s a promise he wouldn’t have to keep. The GOP would block it—turning them into the obstructionists Democrats portray them as.

Obama could also pursue small-bore approaches to the jobs problem, such a “first fired, first rehired” law that requires large employers to offer new jobs to their first layoff victims. The United States should join European countries, which don’t set arbitrary time limits on unemployment benefits. Layoff victims shouldn’t lose their homes; a federal program should cover their rent or mortgage payments until they get back on their feet.

Would these ideas fix the economy? Maybe not. But they would certainly go a long way toward reversing the current toxic state of electoral politics, in which the major parties float irrelevant wedge issues in their perennial battle over two or three percent of the vote in a handful of swing states, by engaging citizens in the process.

Will either party push forward a credible solution to the economic crisis? Probably not. Which is a reflection of the system’s inability to reform itself, and a harbinger of revolutionary change to come.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Recovery? What Recovery?

Behind the New Jobs Numbers, Dull Statistics Tell a Terrifying Story

“Worst U.S. Jobs Data in a Year Signals Stalling Recovery,” The New York Times ran as its lead headline on June 2. The Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy created 69,000 jobs during May. The three-month job-creation average was 96,000. Unemployment ticked up a tenth of a point, from 8.1 to 8.2 percent.

Once again, the media is downplaying a blockbuster story—recovery? what recovery?—by dulling it down with a pile of dry, impenetrable statistics.

Wonder why you can’t find a job or get a raise, and your house has been sitting on the market for years? The new jobs numbers are the key to understanding how bad the economy is—and why it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Q: If nearly 100,000 Americans per month are finding jobs, why are securities markets tumbling?

A: Because it’s actually a net jobs loss. The U.S. population is growing, so the work force is too. We need 125,000 new jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs,” President Obama claimed in his January 2012 State of the Union speech. True or not, a more straightforward claim would have been net job creation: 350,000 jobs over 22 months, or 15,000 per month. (Politifact rates Obama’s line as Half True.)

Q: If we’re losing jobs, why is the unemployment rate hovering? Why isn’t it going up faster?

A: Discouraged workers, i.e. people who would take a job, but have given up looking, don’t count as officially unemployed. Neither do those whose unemployment benefits have run out, yet haven’t found new work. Ditto for those who are underemployed—a laid-off middle manager who earned $100,000, now scraping by on a fraction of her former salary by taking odd jobs.

The officially unemployed—men and women who lost their jobs recently enough to still collect unemployment benefits—are remaining more or less steady. Since the number of long-term unemployed is rising, however, the unofficially unemployed is growing fast—but neither the government nor the media acknowledges their existence.

To muddy things up even further, the feds have rejiggered the numbers to make it look like there are fewer officially unemployed than there used to be. The respected blog Shadow Government Statistics, which calculates unemployment using the way the Labor Department did until the 1980s, says this Alternate Unemployment Rate is about 23 percent—about the same as at the peak of the Great Depression.

No wonder why there are so many empty storefronts.

The really interesting number is the Labor Force Participation Rate: how many people want a job, but don’t bother blitzing the Internet with their resume? Melinda Pitts of the Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve Bank points to “marginally attached” “nonparticipants” in the labor force. “A nonparticipant who is marginally attached indicates they want employment or are available for employment. Also, they indicate having looked for a job in the previous year but not actively looking for a job at present,” she says. This group is failing to return to the “real” labor force at higher rates than in the past.

Q: So what’s up?

A: The jobs figures reflect a big structural problem in the U.S. economy. Real wages have been steadily dropping since the 1970s. We’re creating a permanent class of unemployed and underemployed. And there’s no help on the way from government or private sector, both of which are cutting back and laying off. Even if we got “up” to 125,000 new jobs a month, that would still leave at least 8.1 million people who lost jobs between 2007 and 2010 out of work.

That’s a huge hole. Taking Obama at his Half True word of 15,000 net new jobs a month, it would take 45 years to find gigs for the victims of the 2007-to-2010 subprime mortgage meltdown. Only something big and dramatic, like a new FDR-style Works Progress Administration, could fill it. “Normal” post-recession growth can’t do it. And this recovery—if you can call it that—is anemic at best.

Q: Anything else?

A: Yeah. Jobs don’t equal jobs. If you replace a $70,000-a-year job with a $60,000-a-year job, that’s a net decline in income. Politicians will claim that the old lost jobs have been replaced with new ones, but multiply that trend over millions of workers, and you’ll see reduced consumer spending. Among the still-employed, inflation-adjusted wages are dropping.

Oh, and what about the debts people accrued while they were between jobs? Because many employers refuse to hire jobseekers with bad credit, the unemployed are punished for being unemployed with…more unemployment. As for those who return to work, even workers who get the same pay have to pay off credit card bills they lived on.

The economy is a whale of a problem. But politicians of both parties—and the media—are only paying it the thinnest of lip service.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out this week. His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fight the Powerlessness

The Left’s Case for Boycotting Obama in November 2012

Three years in, it’s obvious to all but the most willfully obtuse liberals and progressives that their 2008 votes for Obama have not paid off.

The president blames obstructionist Republicans for his lack of action on, well, everything. His blame-the-GOP argument would be plausible if not for one thing: Before the Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, Obama had enormous political capital, a supportive media and Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

Had Obama wanted, he could have governed to the left. Far to the left. To the left of FDR.

Remember how scared we were? The economy was in freefall. We lost 600,000 jobs the month he took office. We would have gone along with anything he asked for, including a new WPA program and permanent jobless benefits.

He didn’t ask.

Obama didn’t govern like a liberal because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to because he’s not a liberal.

Many progressives are angry. They want to send Obama and his fellow phony Democrats a message next November. But they don’t know how to counter the central argument of the two-party trap.

It goes like this:

“Voting for Obama sucks. He’s just going to do more stuff I hate, like bailing out banksters and starting more wars while ignoring the terrible economy. But what else can I do? I can’t vote for some science-denying, Bible-thumping Republican ignoramus who’d be even worse.

“Not voting? That’s almost as bad as voting Republican. With so much at stake, there’s no choice but to hold my nose and vote Democratic.”

This powerful argument has kept liberals in the Democratic fold since 1976, when Jimmy Carter pushed the party to the right with his huge defense build-up.

Fear of a GOP nation drove them to vote for Bill Clinton, even though his major accomplishments—welfare reform, NAFTA and the WTO—were right-wing.

There’s always something at stake. Every election is “one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.” As a result, there hasn’t been a liberal presidential nominee for 40 years. Mainly, this is because liberal voters are willing to vote for right-wing Democrats.

A lot of liberals, feeling even more conned than usual, are asking me how to counter the two-party trap argument.

Here’s what I tell them:

First and foremost, your vote (or lack thereof) cannot and will not put Rick Perry or Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin in the White House. It’s simple statistics. By definition you can only change one vote: your own. And no state’s electoral votes have ever come down to a single vote.

No election in U.S. history has ever come down to one vote. Not even a local one.

Even in Florida in 2000, the outcome hinged on about 150 ballots. I don’t care how big your family or circle of friends is—you are not going to change 75 or more votes one way or the other. Mathematically speaking, your vote is purely symbolic.

Point two: Democratic Party strategists take liberal voters for granted. Don’t take my word for it; check out books by Washington insiders like former Clinton pollster Dick Morris and “The Political Brain” author Drew Westen. Democratic leaders obsess over “Reagan Democrats,” “soccer moms,” “security moms” or whatever catchphrase equates to “swing voter” during a given year—people who might vote Republican one election, Democratic the next. That’s why “Democrats” run as—and govern like—Republicans.

As for liberals, progressives and leftists, Democrats ask: Where else are they going to go?

Refusing to vote for Obama answers their question: If you don’t stop taking us for granted, we will take our votes elsewhere—whether to the Republicans, a third party, or limbo, boycotting the process altogether.

Point three: Voting for immoral leaders makes you immoral.

It’s one thing to be duped, as liberals were by Carter in 1976. It’s another to knowingly vote for a politician you know or at least strongly suspect will promulgate policies you believe are wrong—which is exactly what most liberals did when they voted for Obama in 2008.

Most Americans and the vast majority of lefties were against the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. During the campaign Obama pledged to send even more troops there. From a moral standpoint, the blood of every Afghan wounded or killed after January 2009 is on the hands of those of us who pulled a lever, pushed a button or punched a chad for Barack Obama. (That includes me.)

Obama lied about other issues. He promised to close Gitmo, to push for a real healthcare plan (one with a public option), and to withdraw from Iraq. Now, however, we know that he lied.

Knowing what you know now, a vote for Obama in 2012 would be an enthusiastic vote of support for torture, extrajudicial assassinations, drone attacks, corporate healthcare, doing nothing about jobs and staying in Iraq. Your eyes are open. A liberal who votes for Obama would be directly responsible for the torture, the killings, and the suicides of the desperately unemployed.

The two-party trap is the sort of sick game that sadistic concentration camp guards like to play.

“I’m going to shoot this old man or this little boy. You decide which. If you refuse to choose, I’ll shoot both.”

There is only way to deal with ideological terrorists:

Don’t.

Let evil scum do what they like. You can’t stop them anyway. If the guard shoots both the man and the boy, it’s a terrible crime—but the blood is all on his hands.

For a progressive, voting for Obama is like asking the camp guard to shoot one person rather than two. In the short run, it seems like the right decision. In the long run, the man and the boy die—and it’ll partly be your fault,

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s the Matter with Obama?

It’s the Not Caring About the Economy, Stupid

As a pundit it’s my job to explain why politicians do the things they do. Every now and then, however, a pol behaves so irrationally that I have to throw up my arms and ask:

What the hell is this guy thinking?

That’s what Obama has me doing. For over two years. Why isn’t he worried about unemployment?

Thomas Frank wondered in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” why Americans don’t vote their (liberal) self-interest. What I can’t figure out is why President Obama isn’t following his self-interest.

Obama says he wants a second term. I believe him. Every president wants one.

Americans vote their pocketbooks. Not exclusively—they care about a candidate’s values—but no president has ever been reelected with an unemployment rate over 7.2 percent. Right now it’s 9.1 percent. Unless there’s an unexpected reversal, it will still be way high by Election Day 2012.

Economists surveyed by USA Today predict that the jobless rate will be pretty much the same, 8.8 percent, at this time next year. Goldman Sachs is even more pessimistic. They think it will be 9.25 percent by the end of 2012—with a “meaningful downside risk” that it will be even worse.

Polls indicate that economic insecurity, specifically high unemployment, has been the biggest issue on voters’ minds since Obama took over in 2009.

77 percent of Americans tell Gallup the economy is getting worse. That’s up from 62 percent a month ago.

If Obama wants to get reelected he has to do something about jobs. Something BIG. Failing that—and that’s an epic fail—he has to at least be perceived as trying to do something about jobs. But he hasn’t done squat so far. And his job approval rating, now at an all-time low of 39 percent, reflects that.

I don’t like admitting this, but I’m mystified. Why isn’t Obama even trying to look like he cares about the one issue that could make or break his reelection chances?

What’s up? Are he and his advisors morons, or just out of touch? Do they have some secret jobs-related October Surprise that will magically reemploy the 22 percent of Americans who are out of work during the last few weeks of the election? Are they the Chicago Black Sox of politics, determined to throw the race to the Republicans? Psychologist Drew Westen can’t figure it out either, wondering aloud if Obama is sick in the head.

Some ask: Is Obama a Republican?

“Government doesn’t create jobs,” tweeted GOP candidate Herman Cain recently. “Businesses create jobs. Government needs to get out of the way.” Obama and his fellow fake Democrats never challenge this right-wing framing.

Maybe they believe it. “The White House doesn’t create jobs,” Obama press secretary Jay Carney said August 5th.

But the meme is wrong. In the real world where flesh-and-blood American workers have been living since 2000, businesses haven’t created any jobs. Instead, they’ve eliminated millions of them. And shipped millions more overseas.

Those job-killing trends—eliminating workers, increased automation and globalization—won’t change soon. “Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people,” Catherine Rampell recently reported for The New York Times.

There’s also a death-spiral effect. Elena Semuels of The Los Angeles Times sums it up: “Economists say the nation is stuck in a Catch-22 scenario: The economy won’t improve until businesses hire, but many won’t hire without consumer demand, which is weak because of the current state of the job market and concerns about the future.”

“Everyone says, ‘How can we have a recovery without jobs?’ [But] until I start seeing my competitors add jobs, I’m not going to do it,” Loren Carlson of the CEO Roundtable tells MSNBC.

Recovery won’t come from business. The scope of the post-2008 meltdown is too vast.

On the other hand, government can and does create jobs. Indirectly, it creates the veneer of law and order that permits commerce. Government can also employ people directly.

FDR orchestrated the direct hiring of 9 million Americans as government employees for the WPA and other programs. The federal government even hired writers and artists. Adjusted for population growth, that’s the same as 22 million people today. Obama could have done something like that in early 2009.

Too late now, of course. Obama’s inaction on the economy prompted a Republican sweep in the 2010 midterms. They won’t go along.

Keynes 101: the time for austerity is during a boom, when you can afford to save up for a rainy day. Governments are supposed to spend their way out of a recession or depression. The GOP-conceived debt ceiling deal is 200-proof insanity.

“An anti-Keynesian, budget-balancing immediacy imparts a constrictive noose around whatever demand remains alive and kicking,” wrote Bill Gross of the bond-trading firm Pimco in The Washington Post. “Washington hassles over debt ceilings instead of job creation in the mistaken belief that a balanced budget will produce a balanced economy. It will not.”

Rather than criticize this austerity lunacy, Obama is still going along. “Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact,” reports the New York Times.

“We’re at a loss to figure out a way to articulate the argument in a way that doesn’t get us pegged as tax-and-spenders,” admits a Democratic Congressional advisor. For God’s sake, grow a pair! Make your case to the public.

Anything that doesn’t have “much economic impact” isn’t going to have much electoral impact either. And neither are token gestures like a three-day bus tour, revamping the patent process, or another overhyped speech. (Scheduled for September. Because, why rush?)

As you read this Obama is off to Martha’s Vineyard, hanging out with millionaires.

Really—what’s going on? Can Obama really be that stupid? Can anyone?

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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