The Collapse of the U.S. Government

Taxes are the price we pay for government. But a government that doesn’t provide basic bureaucratic services is no government at all—and it doesn’t deserve our tax dollars.

Afghan translators, and others who worked for the U.S. military and American journalists and NGOs, aren’t Americans and don’t pay taxes. But the U.S. government’s failure to process their applications for Special Immigrant Visas in a timely manner highlights the breathtaking scale of dysfunction, or non-function—to which too many Americans have become accustomed.

When the Biden Administration took over in January, it inherited a backlog of 18,000 SIV applications filed by Afghans who wanted to leave before the scheduled U.S. pullout on September 11. Biden’s folks managed to process 100 a week, before stopping entirely because of a spike in Covid cases in Afghanistan (though no one has explained what the novel coronavirus has to do with immigration given the existence of vaccines and quarantines). Even if they hadn’t quit, at that rate the State Department would only have processed 3,200 applications by 9/11/21, leaving almost 15,000 Afghans out of luck. And that’s not counting the additional 70,000 applications that came in after January.

We discovered water on Mars. We beat Nazi Germany. The IRS processes 240 million returns a year, many of them complicated. If we left the Afghans hanging as the Taliban closed in, it’s because we—well, Biden and his administration—wanted to.

The president’s eviction relief package is another example of bureaucratic no-can-do.

Anyone could see the right way to pay off back rent for Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own but rather because they or their employers complied with the government’s orders to stay home and away from work: administer the program federally under HUD, keep paperwork simple, set up a fully-staffed 1-800 number to help distressed tenants, and wire money directly to landlords so the dough doesn’t get diverted to other bills. These days, however, the last thing anyone, including the government, wants to do is to hire full-time employees—an attitude that is, of course, a big part of the joblessness problem. So Congress outsourced Biden’s $46.5 billion federal rental aid program to the states. Because the feds didn’t offer to compensate them for the extra work, many states didn’t bother. As a result, only about 10% of the rental assistance funds have been disbursed. Now the Supreme Court has stopped the CDC’s eviction moratorium—and Americans who should have received help will lose their homes.

Even the IRS, an organization whose mandate is to extract cash from companies and individuals, has collapsed. Millions of people are waiting for refunds because the agency has a backlog of 35 million unprocessed returns, a fourfold increase over a year before.

Government doesn’t work. Contact a Congressman or Senator via their official website and you may not even receive an automated acknowledgment, much less actually hear back about your concern.

Call a government office—local, state, federal—and, if they’re not closed for some obscure holiday, you’ll wind up on permahold. Or they’ll hang up on you after ages on permahold.

Americans are self-reliant. If you want something done, do it yourself. I’m fine with that.

What I’m totally not fine with is paying good money for a service I don’t get. That’s a ripoff. If you advertise that you perform a service and I pay for that service, you had better give me what I paid for. To do otherwise is fraud.

Our government commits fraud every day.

Congressmen promise to serve their constituents. Their websites say they reply to queries. If they don’t, why are we paying their salaries?

I don’t want to hear excuses about being short-staffed. Early American politicians like Thomas Jefferson set aside hours a day to reply to letters from citizens. “From sun-rise to one or two o’clock,” our third president noted, “I am drudging at the writing table.”

You know neither Ted Cruz nor AOC spends 15 minutes a day doing that. It’s a bigger country now, but computers and freelancers easily make up for the higher volume of correspondence.

About Afghanistan again, what’s the value of American citizenship if your passport doesn’t get you out of a war zone? Many Americans were stuck in Kabul, unable to get to the airport due to large unruly crowds and Taliban checkpoints. Yet the military refused to leave the airport to escort them from their places of shelter. Only when news accounts emerged about other countries like France and the United Kingdom, real countries with actual governments that work sometimes, sending their troops into the streets to rescue their nationals, did the U.S. order a few desultory forays into Kabul which, by the way, the Taliban had no objection to.

Oh, and State Department officials: there is no excuse for leaving the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the biggest consular operation in the world, empty. The Taliban didn’t ask us to do so; to the contrary, they’re guarding the compound in the hope that we’ll return. Abandoning that facility is a cowardly abdication of our duty to U.S. nationals and allied Afghans who need diplomatic assistance and representation. It is absurd that, if I return to Afghanistan, there will be no U.S. presence in a country that actually wants it. There’s danger—but many career diplomatic corps types would gladly accept the risk. I’m not a tax resister, but why am I paying taxes?

For Christ’s sake, hire some staff!

Ronald Reagan campaigned on the joke that some of the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from that government and I’m here to help.” That joke would fall flat now. No one from the government promises anything; assuming they exist in the first place, they don’t even bother to return your phone call.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

How the US Succeeded in Afghanistan

The US is being mocked for having spent $83 billion to train and equip a modern and efficient army in Afghanistan that cut and run at the first sign of being challenged by the Taliban.

Biden’s Presidency Has Already Failed

Over 1,000 NYC chain stores have closed this past year, the biggest drop in a decade | 6sqft

            Donald Trump may soon look back at his defeat as the best thing that ever happened to him. The former president has been disgraced, double-impeached and faces criminal prosecution. Fortunately for him, he slipped out of D.C. just in time to avoid the blame for an economic catastrophe no one can fix.

            No one inside this political system, anyway.

            5.2 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment over the last month. The key civilian labor force participation rate is 61.5%. Those are staggeringly bad numbers, comparable to the Great Depression. And this is following a year of atrocious job losses. “It’s literally off the charts,” Michelle Meyer of Bank of America said in May. “What would typically take months or quarters to play out in a recession happened in a matter of weeks this time.”

A little history: The last time the economy tanked was at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, during the 2008-09 subprime mortgage crisis. We were seriously freaking out by the time Barack Obama was sworn in. The Great Recession was the worst meltdown since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs and/or their homes, many to illegal bank foreclosures.

Yet the Great Recession, bad as it was, was nothing compared to what we face now. In January 2009 first-time unemployment filings totaled 600,000. We were terrified! And rightly so.

It’s nine times worse now.

And in January 2009 the labor force participation rate was 65.7%. About 7 million Americans have been unemployed so long that they have given up looking for work since 2009. They’re not in the official unemployment rate, but they’re jobless in all the ways that matter. They’re broke, they’re not paying taxes and they’re a burden on the welfare and healthcare systems.

Obama’s first-term economic stimulus package was anemic. It bailed out Wall Street, not Main Street. So it took seven years to dig out of the hole—nearly the entirety of Obama’s two terms as president. Insufficient stimulus led to big Democratic losses in the 2010 midterm elections, the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left, and Trump’s populist takeover on the right (interestingly, Trump carried counties where it took longer to recover).

Every intelligent Democrat looks back in regret at Obama and the Democratic Congress’ decision not to go big. “The Obama stimulus was too small and too subtle,” Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic. “It was too small because the Republican opposition was intransigent, and the Democratic coalition was uncomfortable with the multitrillion-dollar deficits necessary to close the GDP gap.” Joe Biden faces exactly the same situation.

But the problem is worse—much worse. “The magnitude of the crisis in 2008 was enormous, but this time we’ve got multiple overlapping crises,” Biden’s senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan remarked in September.

It’s a six-alarm fire. But help is not on the way. “Key Republicans have quickly signaled discomfort with — or outright dismissal of — the cornerstone of Biden’s early legislative agenda, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan including $1,400 stimulus checks, vaccine distribution funding and a $15 minimum wage,” The Washington Post reported on January 24th. “On top of that, senators are preparing for a wrenching second impeachment trial for President Donald Trump, set to begin Feb. 9, which could mire all other Senate business and further obliterate any hopes of cross-party cooperation. Taken together, this gridlock could imperil Biden’s entire early presidency, making it impossible for him to deliver on key promises as he contends with dueling crises.”

            Even if Biden were to pull a miracle bunny out of his hat by convincing Congress to pass his stimulus package intact, those $1400 checks won’t be nearly enough to pull the economy out of a tailspin. Obama’s stimulus, worth $950 billion in today’s dollars, was half the size of Biden’s. But Biden has a hole nine times bigger to dig out of. In relative terms, then, Obama’s stimulus was 4.5 times bigger than Biden’s—and everyone agrees it was way too small.

            Progressive economists, the same experts who were right about Obama’s mini-stimulus 12 years ago while Very Serious Pundits were dead wrong, calculate that Biden should spend two to three times the $1.9 trillion he is requesting from Congress in order to save the economy. “Congress is debating a stimulus package right now that would leave our estimate of true unemployment still hovering around double digits,” says Mark Paul, political economist at the New College of Florida and the coauthor of an analysis report by the progressive thinktank the Groundwork Collaborative. “We have the tools to put the economy back on track. Unfortunately, Congress lacks the political will to act.”

            The painfully slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, exploding infection rates and soaring unemployment point to a brutal winter followed by a long hot summer, 1968-style. Biden isn’t asking for enough, Congress won’t approve the little bit he’s asking for and the failure of American democracy to address our crises will soon be evident to everyone.

            As rage boils over from far left to far right, the January 6th coup attempt at the Capitol may soon look like less of a historical anomaly than a precursor to collapse or revolution. If I were Biden, I might call The Donald and ask him if I could hide out at Mar-a-Lago.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Previewing a Biden Presidency: Dementia, Impotence, Collapse

If he had a fast-ball, it's gone': Critics ask if Joe Biden is sharp enough to win the presidency

            At this writing two days after the election, Joe Biden appears to be six electoral votes away from winning the presidency.

The Trump campaign has requested a recount in Wisconsin. Republicans are suing in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada to demand the right to observe vote counts and challenge absentee and COVID-related mail-in ballots.

Recounts rarely change the outcome of an election, and never do so when the margin is significant, which it is in Wisconsin. The filing is a doomed Hail Mary pass—a delaying tactic at best. Trump’s fading hopes remain, as I have written previously, with the obscure 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution. If legal challenges prevent another state from certifying its results to the electoral college by the December 14th deadline, the incoming House of Representatives votes by state delegation for the new president. Most states are Republican so Trump would win.

With Biden a single state away from legitimately declaring victory, however, the one to focus on appears to be Nevada. Of the states still in light-blue or light-red play, it’s the only one leaning toward Biden, by 0.6%. If Trump can reverse that trend, possibly by disqualifying Democratic votes, he may remain in the White House. But Trump’s legal challenges in Nevada, though technically still alive, face long odds.

So the wind is at Biden’s back, even if it feels more like a mild breeze. Which makes it a good time to consider what a Biden presidency could/will look like.

Few presidents in American history have entered the White House as politically impotent as Joe Biden. No Democrat since and including Andrew Jackson has ever been elected without Democratic control of both houses of Congress, as Biden will face GOP control of the Senate. (The most recent Republican to face congressional opposition on day one was Ronald Reagan in 1981.)

Biden’s inverse coattails made history: Democrats lost five seats in the House. They had expected to pick up 15.

After months of smugly predicting a blue wave landslide, Democrats can’t possibly argue that they enjoy a national mandate for significant change. This margin is too tight and too similar to the electoral college map four years ago. They are already arguing that Biden won more votes than any other candidate in history. But Republicans were energized too. Trump won the second highest. Could the Democratic Party’s endlessly fruitless search for anti-Republican Republican swing voters finally be finished?

Biden’s advisers have to be obsessing over the words of former House speaker John Boehner in 2010: “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.” “It” was President Obama’s agenda. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell added at the time: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” McConnell is even more of an obstructionist today. And now he’s the majority leader.

Even if Joe Biden were predisposed to a bold agenda, which progressives have a good reason to doubt, McConnell will block the crap out of it. Unlike Obama, who had a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, Biden will have a valid excuse to accomplish nothing. If I were him, I’d sleep in every day.

And that’s assuming that he is able to function in the first place. All the Democratic denials in the world can’t hide the possible president-elect’s worsening dementia. At a recent campaign event Biden introduced his granddaughter as if she were his dead son: “This is my son, Beau Biden, who a lot of you helped elect to the senate in Delaware.” Wrong gender, wrong generation, wrong sentience. He tried to correct himself. “This is my granddaughter, Natalie.”

Actually, Natalie is a different granddaughter. His son Beau died five years ago. Beau never even ran for the Senate. This is dementia, not “stuttering.” It’s sad. It’s also scary. As commander-in-chief, Biden can single-handedly launch a nuclear attack.

Biden’s defenders point to evidence that Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s, but there was zero evidence of the disease when he took office in 1981. Woodrow Wilson suffered cognitive decline after a stroke, but that was toward the end of his second term. Biden will be the first president to begin his first term with clear signs of dementia.

An old joke goes: I want to die like my grandfather, in my sleep. Not screaming like the passengers in his car. Joe Biden is about to drive the country off a cliff and he may not even know it.

Impotence, dementia and gridlock. This is exactly the opposite of the strong leadership we require during a medical and economic crisis of staggering proportions. The best way to avoid collapse is for Biden to step down and hand the reins to Kamala Harris.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

A New Shithole Country

If nothing else, the political and economic collapse of the United States means it no longer has much stomach for lecturing other countries.

Climate Change Is Pass Fail

Although Joe Biden’s website hat-tips the Green New Deal, he is opposed to it. Instead, he wants to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The problem is, scientists project the end of human civilization by 2050. So it’s a moot point. The environment is pass-fail. Incrementalism is doomed.

The Deficit Is Gone but so Is the Country

One theory about the collapse of ancient Rome is that a pair of plagues, probably the bubonic plague, precipitated the end. Now we are dealing with the COVID-19 plague. Conservatives are worried about the deficit as the costs of stimulating the economy add up, but what alternative do they have?

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