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.

After The Donald, The Deluge?

French Revolution Series Ordered at Netflix - ComingSoon.net

           Joe Biden enjoys a double-digit lead over the incumbent president because he promises a return to normalcy—not the platonic ideal of objective normalcy in a country that doesn’t torture or spy on its citizens or let them starve because their coding chops are a few years out of date. Americans desperately want to resume “normal” political life as Americans knew it before the last four years of manic presidential tweetstorms, authoritarian strongman antics and pandemic pandemonium. As Michigan voter Katybeth Davis told The Guardian, “I just want it [the Trump presidency] to be over with. I really do.”

            Be careful what you wish for. Things could get even crazier under Biden.

            Even though it’s only a few weeks away, I am hesitant to call the election. Biden has a huge lead in the polls but Trump has an ace in the hole: an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots due to the COVID pandemic, which will run predominantly Democratic and provide attractive targets for Republican attorneys to drag out state vote counts past the December 14th electoral college certification deadline, which would trigger the obscure 12th Amendment scenario in which 50 states each get one vote for president in the next House of Representatives, in which case Trump wins even if Biden wins the popular vote by a lot.

            But let’s assume Biden prevails. Let’s say it’s a blue wave election and the Democrats expand their majority in the House and take control of the Senate. What happens next? Revolution, maybe.

            Revolution would certainly be likelier under Biden than under Trump.

            One of history’s least-discussed ironies is a counterintuitive pattern: it is not the vicious tyrants who are overthrown by angry mobs, but well-meaning liberal reformers who promise to fix a broken system and fall short of expectations.

            A Biden Administration will face several daunting existential challenges. Unlike Obama, whose high approval rating at inauguration prolonged his political honeymoon into his second year, Biden will enjoy little to no support from Republican voters or elected representatives. Progressives will pressure him from the left. Worse, Biden will inherit problems that have been neglected or exacerbated for so long that no solution will be able to come fast enough.

A president who will have achieved victory by campaigning against his predecessor’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic will be expected to quickly turn around the ongoing medical and economic disasters with lightning quick results. Like Obama, Biden has promised to add a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act; he’ll need to do that right away. That’s only the beginning: the ACA will collapse unless Congress vastly increases premium subsidies to middle-class patients and orders Medicaid expansion nationally.

The $600-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits that both parties allowed to expire during the summer will have to be replaced in some form. There will need to be meaningful broad-based relief for distressed renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure; without an infusion of cash millions of people who formerly belonged to the middle and working classes will become homeless, adding to social and political instability. Billions will have to be pumped into the economy in the form of direct stimulus checks to every man, woman and child. The alternative is economic collapse.

The presidency, of course, is about more than policy. Many Americans who believed in exceptionalism a few years ago are wondering aloud whether the U.S. is literally over and done. During times of crisis, leaders are called upon to reassure citizens that a wise and steady hand is at the helm and that a team of intelligent and innovative advisors is running the show behind the scenes.

Can Biden deliver? On most fronts, probably not.

The Democratic Party is too beholden to its corporate donors to enact the FDR-style stimulus and social programs that are required to dig out of an economic hole filled with tens of millions of newly unemployed workers and where one out of five businesses have gone broke. Biden comes out of the Clinton/Obama/Democratic Leadership Council austerity wing of his party. His instinct will be to spend as little as possible in order to try to balance the budget.

“When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” says Ted Kaufman, who will run the transition office that will select Biden’s top personnel. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about COVID-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.” Kaufman, a former Delaware senator, promises that Biden won’t significantly increase federal spending.

The streets are already seething. Austerity will bring things to a boil.

Political suicide by fiscal means.

The Soviet Union didn’t collapse under Josef Stalin. It couldn’t have. He would have ruthlessly crushed any meaningful opposition. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev presided over graduated liberalization but it was under Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of perestroika, that the USSR went out of business. Gorbachev, arguably the best, brightest and most decent premier the Soviet system could allow to come to power and the best the Russian people could hope for, failed to deliver the improvements in living standards and personal freedoms people wanted and needed. It was precisely the fact that he was so excellent, yet couldn’t deliver, that exposed the corruption and incompetence inherent to the system.

Neither Khrushchev nor Brezhnev nor Gorbachev were the problem. The system itself was. It had to go.

Similarly, the French Revolution couldn’t have succeeded under Louis XIV; the Sun King was too brutal and autocratic. Louis XVI attempted numerous reforms to make life better for the French, including the free distribution of grain, slashing the royal budget and the abolition of torture and servitude. He granted equal rights to Jews and Protestants, tried to tax the nobility (they refused) and began a transition toward parliamentary monarchy as in Great Britain. But the reforms were insufficient, internal forces were intransigent and resentments had built up for too long. The French were hungry and angry so Louis XVI lost his head to the guillotine.

So it went in Russia. Although Czar Nicholas II was a bit of a clueless dolt, he recognized the crisis and desperately tried to save a collapsing system. He introduced civil liberties, worked to increase literacy, granted representation to local districts throughout the country and modernized the empire’s infrastructure. Again, it wasn’t enough. He destroyed the economy by squandering the treasury on wars of choice, refused to consider democratization and ultimately succumbed to the resistance of shortsighted Russian aristocrats. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had long argued that the Russian government was corrupt and unwilling to provide for the needs of the people. Only when Nicholas II’s reforms proved to be too little too late did they agree and rise up.

Like Gorbachev, Louis XVI and Nicholas II, President Biden will disappoint at the worst possible time.

(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.)

 

 

We Need a Hollywood President

Climate climate change could cause human extinction by 2050. What would the president do if he or she were in a Hollywood action thriller?

Democrats, Always in Touch with the Concerns of the American Voter

Democratic and many Republican voters share the same priorities in their lives. They want to live in a safer world. They want a real healthcare system, a cleaner planet, jobs that pay well, less poverty all around. So why is the Democratic Party singularly focused on impeaching President Trump over his attempt to influence the president of Ukraine?

It Isn’t Easy Being a Democrat

Many Democrats fantasize that a recession or other economic downturn will hurt Donald Trump’s chances of reelected. But of course they would be affected too.

The Boom-Bust Cycle of Capitalism

With salaries representing the biggest expense for employers, it’s not paranoid to suggest that, as soon as workers begin to gain advantage in a tight labor market, bosses are ready to tank the economy to keep workers’ wages in check.

Recovery: New Job, Day One

There are signs of a genuine nascent recovery in the US economy, four years after it was formally announced by government propagandists. But the new jobs pay less, and it will take a long time before newly hired workers feel safe enough to risk spending again.

Brother, Can you Spare a Dime? How to be Unemployed

Originally published at Breaking Modern:

Your phone rings. It’s your boss. “Hey, Ted, can you step into my office now?”

You enter your boss’ office. The first thing you notice is the lady from human resources is also with your boss. He says, “Have a seat, Ted.”

Then informs you you’re out of work.

Here comes that hollow stomach feeling.

What do you do now?

The first thing to do is to understand that you are not alone. They say the economy is recovering, and by many measures it is, yet 300,000 Americans still lose their jobs every year. If this is the first time for you, congratulations! With the old “work at the same company your whole life and retire with a gold watch” days dead and gone, the boom-and-bust cycle, coupled with the economic disruptions created by mobilization and new technology, jobs coming and going throughout your life is the new normal. If this is the second or third or fourth time, sorry – but it doesn’t make you a bad person. It isn’t personal. It’s capitalism.

The second thing to do is to not do something:

Don’t Get Angry.

You may be tempted to call your soon-to-be former supervisor bad names. You might want to cry. Trashing the office might seem like a satisfying way to go. Don’t. This particular form of temporary satisfaction comes at an unacceptably high price.

Why did you work there in the first place? Survival. You have bills to pay. Now that you have gotten fired/laid off/downsized/rightsized/whatever they’re calling it nowadays, survival is about to get tougher. Maybe your boss was an asshole, maybe it wasn’t your fault, who knows? You might even have a genuine lawsuit to file down the road. But that’s not the first, second or third thing you need to take care of.

Save your revenge for later. Right now, you have work to do.

That’s right: being unemployed is a full-time job.

Make a Graceful Exit.

This is an age of instant communications and social networks. Flame out as you head out the door with your banker’s box full of office supplies, and word will get out – most worriedly, to future potential employers who work in the same field. Assume a stoic demeanor. Take your dismissal with dignity, say goodbye to your co-workers, and be sure to leave your personal email and other contact information with those you’d like to be in touch with in the future.

Give Yourself Time to Adjust.

One of the best pieces of advice anyone gave me the last time I got laid off was: “Give yourself some time to process what has happened.” What that means in practical terms is, don’t go home and start sending out resumes right away.

You’ve just gone through the wringer; getting fired, especially in a country like the United States where your societal status is closely tied to your work, and which has a ridiculously thin safety net, is one of the most-stressful setbacks you will experience in your life. Allow yourself to pass through the four stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, acceptance.

If you feel like going out and getting drunk, do it. Wallow, rage, call your friends and chew their ears off about how evil your boss was. Vent.

But don’t make it a lifestyle. You have bills to pay, remember? The mourning process deserves at least a week, but no more than two.

File for Unemployment.

If you’re eligible – in other words, you were working a regular job, one that issues you a W-2 form, as opposed to a 1099 for freelance work – you probably qualify for state unemployment benefits.

Filing for unemployment is one of the first things you should do when you get home. Like: on day one.

Don’t feel guilty about filing for unemployment. It’s not welfare. You paid into your state’s unemployment system; all you’re doing is taking your money back out now that you need help. Depending on where you live, your salary at your previous job, and how long you worked there, your maximum unemployment benefits range from $240 to $674 per week. Considering the fact that the average duration of a job hunt is about 10 weeks, you’re going to need every penny to get by. Since we are talking about government bureaucracy, it probably will take several weeks before you start to see any money. So file quickly.

The old days of standing in line at the unemployment office are over. It’s easy to file online; simply Google the name of your state and the phrase “file for unemployment benefits.”

Answer the questions truthfully, but bear in mind that every question can and will be used against you as an excuse to deny paying you. So if you aren’t sure whether or not you’re going to receive severance, it’s better to answer the question “Will you receive severance?” with a no.

A few important quirks to bear in mind about unemployment benefits:

They don’t last forever.

If you earn money while looking for a new job, you have to deduct the earnings from that gig from your benefits. In other words, if you are getting $430 a week from the state, and you pick up $200 in freelance work that week, you have to report it, and the state will only pay you $230 that week.

However, you can mitigate this effect. Let’s say you receive two checks, each for $500. You could deposit them both the same week, report that income toward that one week, and the state will only withhold one $430 payment, in the example above.

While on unemployment, you will be expected to be looking for a new job. Most states require that you file at least three applications per week. But it’s not as hard as you think: sending an email to a prospective employer qualifies. Just keep track of the name and contact information for the companies; they will ask you for them later.

Some states will also require you to attend a “job training” seminar. Basically this will involve teaching you how to prepare a resume and cover letter and how to search job sites. Most people will find this kind of silly and useless, not to mention a distraction from actually looking for a job, but conservative politicians have managed to make this a legal requirement for receiving unemployment benefits. This will take place at an office at your nearest county seat.

Thanks to President Ronald Reagan, unemployment benefits are taxable. So remember that at the end of the year Uncle Sam will come looking for his piece of those “huge” payments you’ve been living high on.

If you were fired “for cause,” you won’t qualify for unemployment. Basically, “cause” means they let you go for a legitimate reason other than a general economic downturn or simply not meeting your position anymore, something like theft, incompetence, absenteeism, disobedience, etc.

If you really did something wrong, suck it up and learn a lesson and don’t do it anymore at your next job. But some employers fire good, honest workers “for cause” because it’s cheaper: they don’t have to pay severance and, in some states, unemployment subsidies.

That happened to me in California: I took a vacation day, came back to work and got fired, allegedly for not asking for the day off. Fortunately, I had printed out both my request email as well as my supervisor’s response message authorizing the vacation day. I applied for unemployment, the state opened an investigation, I faxed them the two emails, and they ruled in my favor in less than a week.

If you don’t deserve it, don’t let your former employer screw you. File for unemployment and make sure you present a clear, easy-to-follow case that explains why you didn’t deserve to be fired.

Maybe Do COBRA.

Federal law gives you the right to keep your existing company health insurance for up to 18 months. But your employer no longer subsidizes it. You pay for it in its entirety, which can make it pretty expensive, even if it’s at the corporate rate. I recommend you sign up for it for a month or two, and then apply for Obamacare either via the federal Affordable Care Act website or the one for your state. If you are still unemployed in a couple of months, you may qualify for Medicaid or highly subsidized health care that is a lot cheaper than COBRA.

Of course, if you are a “young invincible” millennial without any major health concerns, you might choose to go without health insurance until you find a new job. Obviously not a great idea – you never know when a meteor might crash through your ceiling – but if you go that route, make sure you stay healthy.

Tell Everyone.

The second thing you should do after filing for unemployment is to let everyone you know – friends, family members, neighbors, everyone you meet – that you’re looking for work, any work, while you struggle to get back on your feet. Even if that last part about taking any work isn’t 100% true – you’re probably not really going to get involved in asbestos mitigation or fishing for Alaskan king crab – it broadcasts both your desperation and your character. People want to help you, but showing that you are open to branching out outside of your comfort zone and aren’t too proud gives them a solid inducement to do so.

Since networking is by far the most effective way to land a new job, getting the word out that you are available, and keeping the word out by repeatedly checking in with your personal and business contacts both by email and by phone, has the best chance by far of paying off.

Negotiate Severance.

If you got laid off as part of corporate downsizing, there is a strong chance that your former employer will offer you a severance payment. In bigger companies the amount will be tied to the length of your service; in smaller ones it will basically be as little as they think they can pay you to get you to shut up.

About the shutting up part: severance payments usually go with a so-called “separation agreement” that the company will ask you to sign. Among the highlights will likely be passages in which you agree not to smear your former employer in a public venue like the Internet (a “non-disparagement clause”), promise not to share company secrets (a “nondisclosure clause”), and possibly a “noncompete” section in which you agree not to go to work for your former company’s competitors.

It will be tempting, given how broke you are about to become, to take the money and run – in other words, sign the separation agreement without attempting to negotiate. If the agreement is relatively benign, that may be okay, but read it over carefully, and if you don’t understand it have a lawyer take a look at it. Separation agreements are often legal minefields that take advantage of people who have just been fired and are still in shock.

When I got laid off from United Media, a subsidiary of Scripps Howard, they demanded that I agree to all the standard sections I described above, plus something outrageous: that I agree to never work in print or online media again. For the rest of my life. I wanted the $5,700 severance, but to never work again in my chosen field, $5.7 million wouldn’t have been enough. Scripps refused to give an inch or change a word, so I ended up leaving without getting a penny of severance. (They claimed they would never have enforced it, but if that were true, why ask for it?) Going without severance made my layoff harder, but looking back now, I’m happy I didn’t sign.

Like any legal document, you’ll have to live with the ramifications of a separation agreement for years to come. Be careful. Give your former employer what they need, like the nondisclosure and non-disparagement sections, but draw the line there. Remember: HR wants to close the file on you just as much as you want that last check.

Can You Sue? Probably Not.

It comes as a surprise to most American workers to learn that, unlike employees in most other Western countries, they are “at will” workers – in other words, their employers can fire them at any time, without notice, for no reason.

There are two exceptions to this:

If you have an employment contract that specifically states possible causes for termination, and they want to let you go for some other reason, you have legal standing to challenge your firing. But most American employment contracts specifically state that you are an at-will employee.

If you can prove that your firing is the result of discrimination due to your age (for being too old, not too young), race, gender, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, you can sue your ex-employer for back wages, reinstatement and punitive damages. Some discrimination laws depend on the state where you were working; others are federal. However, you have to reach a very high bar to prove workplace discrimination and, thanks to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, that bar has been raised even higher. Among other things, you will have to obtain testimony from within the company, as well as documents, that confirm a systemic pattern of, say, sexism, to which you fell prey. That is almost impossibly hard.

Launching a successful discrimination lawsuit requires either deep pockets or a lawyer willing to work on a contingency, as it will likely take many years to see your day in court, which even if you win, will be followed by countless appeals. And even if you ultimately prevail, the odds are that you will not walk away with millions of dollars, but perhaps only a nominal sum, or enough to pay your attorney’s fees.

In short, you might be able to sue, but you probably don’t want to. (An exception would be in order to make a political stand against discrimination that would protect workers from being similarly abused in the future.)

Furthermore, suing a former employer all but guarantees that you will never again find work in the same profession. Once the word gets out that you are litigious, no one will want to hire you lest you turn around and sue them too someday. So unless you are one of those 1% of 1% of 1% for whom suing is a righteous cause in and of itself, hide those revenge fantasies of soaking your evil former boss for billions of dollars away in the dark recesses of the back of your brain.

Job Hunt Smart.

You’ve read those stories about people who have been unemployed for a long time: “I sent out 5,000 resumes and never heard back from any of them.” Job sites like Indeed, Monster and LinkedIn are useful, and people do find work from them, but you are literally five to six times more likely to get a job through direct contact than by replying to a job listing.

Direct contact means exactly that: reaching out to an employer where you’d like to work, and where you’d be a good fit, regardless of whether or not they have advertised for a position. Email the big boss – yes, the president or CEO or top manager – with a cc to human resources if they have such a department just to show that you are willing to work through the system – with a two- to three-paragraph email explaining who you are, why you want to work for them, and what you can do for them. Personalize it as much as possible but don’t go crazy; you’re not going to hear back from most of them so it’s not worth spending hours on each email. The shotgun approach will work as long as it isn’t painfully obvious to your prospects.

Don’t spend all day burning yourself out sending out emails. It’s very easy to get depressed while you’re not working, and depression clouds your mind and makes it more difficult for you to brainstorm about what to do next. I recommend getting out of the house in order to clear your mind, heading down to Starbucks or your local café with your laptop, and spending from 9a.m. to 12 noon every day, Monday through Friday, with a view toward just sending out resumes and cover letters to people and places for whom you’d like to work. Don’t bring your dog with you, don’t take any phone calls, don’t chitchat with anyone else there, just work. If the café is too distracting, head to the local library.

Then kick off and enjoy the extra free time. (Some of which should include staying in good physical condition, since being in good shape will keep you mentally healthy and make you more appealing to potential employers.)

Work While You Don’t Work.

Try to scare up some freelance work while you are looking for something permanent and full time. As with unemployment benefits, every penny you have coming in will stave off financial ruin.

Think outside the box. Consider renting out that extra bedroom on Airbnb. If you live in a city or a resort community, the income could be substantial.

What you should not do, however, is to take a poorly paid full-time job – at least not until all your other prospects have been exhausted and your unemployment benefits are gone. The reason is simple: if you are working 40 hours a week at $10 an hour, when will you have time or energy to look for a job that pays $30 an hour?

Budget Cut Smart.

You’ll find it easier to find additional income than to cut your budget to solvency. After all, you can’t cut your budget to zero.

In other words, focus on the job hunt, not on cutting expenses.

That said, we all have expenses that we can cut back upon. If you have premium cable, you might be able to live with basic cable instead or cut the cord and rely on video streaming. But don’t cut back anything that could impede your job hunt, like high-speed Internet service. You’re going to need that. Same thing with the phone. Any communications lifelines have to be paid up on time.

A successful job hunt relies upon persistence, ingenuity and open-mindedness. Even if you don’t have great luck at first, keep looking and eventually you will find something.

Consider ways you can apply your existing skills that may not have previously occurred to you. For example, you might want to look into fields that you wouldn’t otherwise have considered. And be open to the world: Talk to everyone, ask questions, think about opportunities and jobs no matter what they are and where they come from.

Anger is Greek to Them

After EU-imposed austerity pushed Greek unemployment to 26% and reduced educated people to abject poverty, Greece elects a leftist government. To hear the elites describe it, you’d think it was a communist revolution, which, if they keep it up, is exactly what could happen.

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