Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, aren’t able to pay rent or their mortgages, and therefore face eviction or foreclosure. Yet the best that even “liberal” politicians are offering is a moratorium on evictions until some future point in time.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and the banks and airlines feel fine because even in the midst of economic collapse CEOs can sleep soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that the American taxpayer will bail them out. Again.
All they have to do is wait a respectable 6 to 12 months after the wire transfer clears to start giving themselves raises, renovating executive suites and buying back their stock.
That’s exactly what happened during and after the 2008-09 global economic crisis that followed the subprime mortgage meltdown. In 2008 alone banks that received government bailouts spent $1.6 billion on executive salaries, bonuses and benefits including “cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management,” the AP reported.
It has been a week since securities markets began a terrifying fall. Again, shamelessly, acting under the assumption that we have completely forgotten what they did last time, corporate lobbying groups like Airlines for America are already asking for a $60 billion bailout. Some people in the media are asking the right questions. Steve Inskeep of NPR’s Morning Edition asked an AFA spokesman about the $10 to $15 billion in profits the airlines have been raking in annually. Didn’t they save any of that? According to Bloomberg, the idiots spent 96% of their cash to buy back their stock even as they accumulated a mountain of debt.
As a society, however, Americans ought to be asking a bigger question: are we going to allow ourselves to be conned by these corporate douches the way we have been in the past?
Clearly the United States economy cannot recover from the coronavirus shock without a viable transportation system. That includes airlines. Similarly, we can’t allow banks to fail. But we should not repeat the mistakes of the Bush and Obama administrations, who bailed out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.
The federal government handed over $7 trillion interest-free, no strings attached, to the big banks in exchange for increasing liquidity in the credit markets—which they never did. It’s still too hard to get a mortgage or other type of loan. After 9/11 the feds gave $15 billion to the airline industry which has since treated American airline passengers like crap.
As with the bank bailout, much of the money was wasted and stolen.
As George W. Bush said, fool me once, shame on, shame on you, fool me, you can’t get fooled again. Or something like that.
I have little expectation that they will do this, but the Trump Administration should target federal assistance toward ordinary citizens who are losing their jobs rather than corporations. Not only is this the right thing to do, you get twice the bang for your buck. If Obama had helped distressed and unemployed people pay their mortgages and rent, it would have kept them in their homes, propped up the underlying mortgages that tanked derivatives and therefore saved the banks indirectly. Reducing the number of evictions would have mitigated the real estate crash caused by the deterioration of vacant houses.
To their credit, White House officials seem to be considering direct payments to prop up the economy during the coronavirus crisis. There’s even talk of a $1000 per person per month guaranteed minimum income reminiscent of Andrew Yang’s proposal. Seems like a lot of money but not when you compare it to the defense budget. Maybe we can take a break from killing Muslims?
But I would be surprised if they did that. The political class is just not that into us.
Trump should offer distressed corporations two options in exchange for being rescued from the financial downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Option one: nationalization.
If we save your automobile company or your oil company or your airline, we own it. All your stock gets transferred to the property of the U.S. Treasury. If the bailout is partial, we take a proportionate share based on a discounted rate of your devalued stock prices. If you are a competent CEO, you get to stay, but obviously at a greatly reduced salary. Once you start to do better, we deserve your profits.
Option two: we get to tell you how to run your company.
I’m picking on banks and airlines because they are particularly mean to their customers but you can extrapolate these principles to other lines of business.
If the U.S. taxpayer saves your bank, the U.S. taxpayer has the right to be treated like a human being when he or she does business with you. That means closing the gap between interest rates. It’s insane that banks pay out 0.5% interest on savings accounts while taking in 25% from credit cards. It’s immoral to charge lower fees to rich people with high bank balances than to poor people with hardly any money. Before we dole out money to these institutions, they must promise in writing to do better.
The list of sins of our widely-despised airlines is endless: seats packed so closely together that they would be difficult to evacuate in case of emergency, high flight change fees and baggage fees that have by themselves poured billions of dollars into airline coffers. As Columbia law professor Tim Wu says, “The change fees don’t just irritate; they are also a drag on the broader economy, making the transport system less flexible and discouraging what would otherwise be efficient changes to travel plans.”
The anti-American caste system—first class, business, coach, basic economy—should be abolished. If your flight gets canceled for a reason other than bad weather, you should be compensated. I’m tired of seeing my flights canceled because there would have been some empty seats. Even in case of bad weather, they should put you up in a decent hotel until it clears.
Big bailouts come with big strings. Not one dime of taxpayer money should ever find its way into executive salaries. And no stock buybacks.
Think I’m being draconian? If so, think of all the times you have asked an institution like a bank or an airline to cut you a break. How many times did they say yes? They had all the power and they used it to crush you. Thanks to the coronavirus the tables are turned. We, the people, have the power over the money that these jerks need to survive.
Let’s leverage the hell out of it.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
What it comes to climate change, most Americans think to themselves: someone will figure something out. And by someone, they probably mean the government. But this is the very same government that doesn’t seem to be able to address almost any other problem, most of which are much less complicated than climate change.
Imagine a store that makes its customers miserable. This interior is ugly and uncomfortable. At best the staff is indifferent and slow; at worst rude and incompetent. You pay sky-high prices for inferior goods. Often you pay full price yet leave the place empty-handed.
You don’t have to be a marketing expert to guess what would happen to such an establishment. It would go out of business. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if a mob of ripped-off consumers burned the place down.
I’ve just described the U.S. government.
You interact with government many times each day. How many of those encounters are positive?
Close to zero.
Let’s look at the single-most common connection between governments and citizens: the payment of taxes. Sales taxes on goods and services — painful and annoying. Income taxes — the same. What do you get back for paying for your taxes? Nothing specially for you. Sure you benefit from public schools, roads and so on. But those bennies are shared. And you might not even use those. What if you don’t have kids, or send your kids to private school because the public school isn’t good enough? Aside from the occasional unemployment check, most people never receive direct help from “their” government.
When we interact with agents of the state — the employees of the metaphorical store I described up top — it’s a miserable experience. OK, you’re thrilled when the firefighters show up. But you’ll probably never have to call them more than once in your life. The vast majority of the government workers you meet aren’t there to help you. They’re out to lower your quality of life.
Here, in rough order of frequency, are the government workers you are most likely to come into contact with:
Cops: they exist to give you tickets. Fines for minor offenses are exorbitant: $150 on average, up to $2400 in some states. Points raise your insurance rates. You might even lose your license. If you’re black they harass you; they might kill you. Once in a blue moon, they might save you from danger. Mostly it’s about the tickets.
TSA: the Blue Derps of the airport world delay your trip, mess up your neatly packed luggage and steal your precious fluids and sharp objects. There’s no evidence they’ve ever foiled a terrorist.
Clerks at government offices like courthouses, the DMV or Social Security: unlike the aforementioned they probably won’t take your money or possessions. Instead they waste your time. Sluggish, cynical and uncaring, the typical civil servant drags their feet with no apparent sense of urgency. Many are surly and rude.
Jury duty: in a perfect world, could be interesting. Most municipalities make jury duty as inconvenient as possible, particularly for the self-employed and parents and other caregivers. Why can’t you write a letter to ask to be excused?
IRS: if you hear from an agent, you’re being audited. Be prepared to cough up thousands. If you’re lucky.
Government facilities are as awful as the people who work there.
Government buildings and offices tend to be old and rundown. Given that wait times drag on interminably you’d think they might provide such basics as comfortable chairs with charging stations and work booths for your laptop and wifi, but no. They could pick up a cue from restaurants that give you a buzzer or text you to let you know when your table is ready so you could get a coffee or whatever while you’re waiting — right. Like they give a damn.
God help you if try to call a government office. Crazy voicemail phone trees, brief office hours (they’re open while you’re working), long hold times, arbitrary disconnections and, if you ever get through, probably no help in the end.
Obviously there are dedicated public servants who view taxpayers as valuable customers and work hard to help them. But these saints are exceptional. Here we’re discussing your typical interaction with government and government workers. Those interactions suck.
By global standards of injustice and inconvenience these problems pale next to getting blown up by a Hellfire missile or being raped or succumbing to cancer. Nevertheless they have serious repercussions.
Lousy customer service by government inexorably creates and grows contempt not merely for specific government agencies like the police but for government in general. Particularly on the right opportunistic politicians exploit the resentments of people who feel mistreated and neglected by a government that supposedly serves them. I get nothing from the government and I work hard, get rid of welfare for lazy slobs! Hell, as Ronald Reagan said, government is the problem, not the solution — get rid of it entirely!
Anti-government sentiment is a major motivation for Donald Trump’s Tea Party base. Liberal entreaties that we ought to appreciate such important “socialist” government services as a military that protects our borders and public universities that educate our children fall on deaf ears (and not just among conservatives) because those positives are psychological abstractions.
Our material day-to-day interfacing with government is as I describe it above: relentlessly negative. They suck away our cash, slow us down and disrespect us.
Crappy government is more of a feature than a bug. Offices are poorly maintained and uncomfortably furnished for a reason: budget planners don’t prioritize renovations. Financial cutbacks in the public sector mean below-market salaries and dead-end jobs without opportunity to advance so it’s hard to attract the best and smartest workers. You can’t blame those who get stuck there — even the good ones — for turning surly.
Bureaucratic dysfunction is so entrenched it’s hard to imagine an improvement. But the blowback will come.
Look at images of revolutionary uprisings throughout history. Crowds of people consumed with rage roam the streets destroying everything in sight.
Look at images of collapse. Hollow expressions from years of being beaten down.
Whether by revolution or implosion, a system that ladles out as many industrial-sized buckets of contempt-provoking annoyance and oppression as the United States government must inevitably go the way of that suicidal, idiotic store.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
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Originally published at Breaking Modern:
Here is former First Lady, ex-Senator, used-to-be Secretary of State, sure-thing 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest,” she (or more likely one of her staffers) tweeted yesterday.
Clinton’s tweeted remark was issued in response to a current measles outbreak, which has drawn renewed attention to the fact that many parents, particularly highly educated liberals, refuse to have their children vaccinated. In particular, she’s seeking to counter remarks by likely Republican challengers Chris Christie and Rand Paul, both of whom defended parents’ right to decide whether or not to have their kids get measles shots.
Clinton articulated the mainstream view, also seen on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” which described vaccination refuseniks as victims of “liberal idiocy.”
Science denialism is usually the province of the uneducated, political Right, where climate change is greeted with skepticism. So what’s with these Berkeley types willing to expose their kids — and ours — to flu and the mumps?
Sciencesplaining, the National Center for Biotechnology Information says “vaccines are becoming a victim of their success.”
“Since many people have never seen the effects of debilitating diseases, some have become complacent, or even skeptical, about the benefits of vaccinating, reports The Boston Globe. Then there are conspiracy theories: “The Internet worsens fears regarding vaccination safety, as at least a dozen websites publish alarming information about the risks of vaccines.” Skepticism about the combined MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine originate with a since-discredited 1998 study published in The Lancet medical journal by Andrew Wakefield, who has since been stripped of his medical credentials, which claimed a link between the shot and the advent of childhood autism. Many people think Wakefield was right, but shut down by Big Pharma, which makes billions selling vaccines.
Still, vaccination skeptics aren’t operating in a vacuum. Government and the healthcare industry have worked hard to earn distrust.
A Grim, Irresponsible History of Government Vaccination Programs
When people aware of U.S. history think of vaccines and government in the same breath, events like the federal Public Health Service’s infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which victimized hundreds of African-American men for four decade, come mind.
Although President Bill Clinton apologized for Tuskegee in 1997 (25 years later), victims and their families never received a penny in compensation.
The Pentagon also subjected soldiers, without their consent, to medical experiments that included mandatory vaccinations. “From 1955 to 1975, military researchers at Edgewood [Arsenal, Maryland] were using not only animals but human subjects to test a witches’ brew of drugs and chemicals,” CNN reported in 2012. “They ranged from potentially lethal nerve gases like VX and sarin to incapacitating agents like BZ. The military also tested tear gas, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and hallucinogens like LSD.”
In the late 1990s through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, the military again treated soldiers as human guinea pigs, injecting them with an experimental anti-anthrax vaccine that had not received FDA approval.
Veterans of both the Vietnam-era and post-9/11 vaccination programs report numerous long-term illnesses as a result of the substances with which they were forcibly injected.
A Government That Spies
Edward Snowden’s revelations of rampant spying on every American citizen by the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and other federal espionage agencies supposedly tasked with “keeping us safe” are merely the latest in a long chain of news stories that, combined with the political class’ refusal to apologize, much less change behavior, have convinced millions of Americans that their government is not to be trusted.
Similarly, it is impossible to overstate the distrust created by the Bush Administration’s 2002-03 PR campaign to increase support for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Presented as necessary to avoid an imminent attack against the United States using biological, chemical and/or nuclear weapons, the war’s rationale fell apart after the “WMDs” failed to turn up. Even worse than the brazen lying — there had, in fact, never been solid intelligence to indicate that Saddam had WMDs after 1991 — was the complete lack of accountability. No one was prosecuted or fired for lying to the public. No official was impeached. Bush and Cheney were reelected. The media failed to challenge them.
Hillary Clinton, who voted for the Iraq War, wrote in 2014 that she “thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had.” In fact, she had never seen any evidence to justify her decision at the time. It was just politics — the polls skewed right at the time. So did she.
Like the boy who cried “wolf,” you can’t repeatedly lie to the public and expect to be believed even — especially when — you claim to be giving them good advice, as to vaccinate their children.
A Heartless, For-Profit Healthcare System
Anti-vaccination activists are also reacting — understandably, considering their behavior — against a brutal for-profit healthcare industry that obviously cares more about its bottom line than Americans’ health.
From insurance companies that systemically reject legitimate claims because they know some people will be too sick to fight back, to doctors who kill and injure thousands of patients due to careless errors, to the inability to see a specialist or get a test you need to see or have to have because it would cost some CEO a dollar they’d rather have to buy a fourth vacation home, you can hardly blame Americans for despising their healthcare system, or disbelieving anything those who run it tell them.
Bottom line: People pay attention when you mistreat them. Which is why younger people are even more likely than older ones to refuse to vaccinate their children. They’ve grown up in the NSA era. They know not to trust their government.
You can’t lie and connive and steal over and over, cover it up repeatedly, and fail to punish miscreants — and then expect to retain a shred of credibility.
Even when you’re right.
According to federal government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, federal and local law enforcement agencies are using incredibly sneaky technology to track you as you drive the nation’s streets and highways. Their goal? Stealing your car.
This latest scandal — a mash-up of privacy violations on a wide NSA-like scale, corrupt asset forfeiture programs that make a mockery of the U.S. as a nation that respects private property rights, and brazen targeting of lawful gun owners — is a perfect political storm, an outrage that ought to bring liberals, libertarians and conservatives together in an alliance of freedom-loving people against an out-of-control government.
Given the collective shrug elicited by the Edward Snowden revelations, however, expecting a big reaction may be unrealistic.
In the shell of a nut: the ACLU has learned that the DEA and local police departments are scanning every motorist’s license plate as they drive down American streets. The NYPD and LAPD have each already collected hundreds of millions of time- and place-tagged license plate scans. One private security corporation sells its composite list of 2 billion scans to any police department or government agency that wants it. The Department of Homeland Security is teaming up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build and maintain a national database of license plate data to be shared with other parts of the U.S. security state apparatus.
Aggregated and analyzed, license plate tracking data forms a sophisticated model of your, and my, and everyone else’s habits, associations, shopping habits, friendships, and other activities. If you visit a porn store, they know — and their algorithms can predict when you’ll go again. But blackmail is not what’s on the cops’ minds…not for now, anyway.
They want your cash.
“Asset forfeiture” programs have become big business for law enforcement. Relying on dubious interpretations of the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, American police agencies are taking in billions of dollars a year from people they arrest. “Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing,” according to The Washington Post.
Total take: $5.3 billion.
If you think they’re confiscating the mounds of coke and machine guns they find in a drug kingpin’s trunk, think again. Pulled over for DUI? They take your car, sell it at auction and pocket the proceeds, or keep it for the cops’ own use. That’s on top of whatever jail time and fine the judge hands you if you get convicted.
Even if you’re found not guilty, they keep your car. And/or your cash. And/or jewelry. Anything valuable. Anything they want.
“No criminal charges are necessary for such seizures, and under federal and state laws, authorities may keep most or all seized assets even in the absence of formal charges. Countless innocent Americans have been victimized by what critics call legalized government theft,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” says the Post. “Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars.”
Talk about un-American: these renegade robber-cops are traitors.
Police have been so pleased with the money and other goodies they nab through asset forfeiture programs that they send officers to seminars that teach them how to maximize their take. Some victims have complained, and successfully proven in court, that they were targeted and entrapped by police whose motivation to detain and arrest them was solely to steal their possessions — but it’s expensive and time-consuming.
Among the money-making schemes cooked up by greedy cops was a 2009 plan by the DEA to “work closely” with officials of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) “in attacking the guns going to [redacted by government censors] and the gun shows, to include programs/operation with LPRs [license plate readers] at the gun shows.”
But the DEA and ATF didn’t care about gun violence. “One internal email acknowledged that the tracking program’s primary purpose is civil asset forfeiture,” the Journal reports. They planned to set-up checkpoints around gun shows, search attendees’ cars using the pretext of a traffic stop, and arrest drivers on whatever charge they can come up with — some legit, others ginned up, in some cases no indictment at all — as an excuse to take their money and their cars. Which, even if they beat the rap, the cops get to keep.
Note to self: carry $5 in cash, use a debit card.
The UK Guardian reports: “According to DEA documents, the primary goal of the program was to seize cars, cash and other assets belonging to criminals. However, the [license plate reader] database’s expansion ‘throughout the United States,’ as one email put it, also widened law enforcers’ capacity for asset forfeiture.”
“It’s deeply concerning and creepy,” lawyer Clark Neily of the libertarian Institute for Justice told the newspaper. “We’re Americans. We drive a lot.”
It is also disgusting, cause for the immediate firing of every “law enforcement” official who has overseen an asset forfeiture program, and a perfect illustration of why only an idiot would trust the government.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and 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
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
Noting that 2013 went down as the driest year since California began keeping rainfall records, Gov. Jerry Brown has officially declared a drought emergency that asks Californians to reduce their water usage by 20%.
Times columnist George Skelton predicts: “Next comes serious flooding.” Skelton says it’s a familiar pattern: “A drought proclamation, as issued by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday, changes the political climate. It focuses public attention on the need for costly new waterworks. Therefore governors and water officials are always reluctant to declare a drought over, even when rivers again leap their banks, fill reservoirs and send torrents of muddy snowmelt, uprooted trees and drowned livestock cascading into the Pacific.”
But some state pols say the guv waited too long to unleash the flow of aid to drought-stricken counties. “Today’s drought declaration is better late than never,” said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway.
Which got me thinking about the concept of disaster declarations. Whether a hurricane destroys the Gulf Coast or an earthquake levels a city or a drought deprives farms and rivers of water, it’s obvious to everyone — the victims, the governor, headline writers — that a disaster has occurred. There’s something inherently silly about having to issue a formal proclamation. (I know, it’s a formality designed to free up state funds and perhaps federal aid as well. Still.) Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a society where everyone could look outside, see that it hasn’t rained for a long time, and say: “Lo! A drought”?
On the other hand — for a cartoonist, nuance is a major intellectual hurdle — should an event that occurs at regular intervals be considered a disaster? When you live along a fault line, for example, you can’t really be shocked shocked shocked when the earth starts moving (unless you’re a state official). As Skelton notes, major sections of California’s climate are subject to the desert’s drought-flood-drought cycle.
Finally, what of whim? Should one man, even the governor, be able to determine, Solomon-like, whether or not Drought is occurring or not? These things keep me up at night, especially when I’m only allowed to drink 80% of my previously allotted water ration. Whatever that amounts to.
Smart Young People Reject Public Service — Because They’re Smart.
America’s best and brightest don’t go into politics.
(By which we mean mainstream two-party corporate politics. Democrats, Republicans, Washington. Politics as activism, as the ongoing debate over how we should live our lives, remains of great interest to young people.)
Mediocrity among the members of the political class is often cited as a reason for government’s ineptitude, its inability/unwillingness to address the great problems we face today: climate change, soaring income inequality, the Third Worldification of America. If we had smarter, more charismatic politicians, the reasoning goes, we’d get smarter, more effective problem-solving.
Forget it. The word from the trenches of academia is that that’s not going to change. Millennials just aren’t interested.
A national survey of 4200 high school and college students conducted last year found that only 11% might consider running for political office. Most young people say they want nothing to do with a career in government.
We don’t know how that number compares to the past. As Fareed Zakaria points out, “Americans have always been suspicious of government. Talented young people don’t dream of becoming great bureaucrats.”
Still, like other mainstream media types, Zakaria thinks disinterest in public service has increased. “The New Deal and World War II might have changed that for a while, but over the past 30 years, anti-government attitudes have risen substantially,” he says.
Young people think politicians can’t/don’t make much of a positive impact in people’s lives. In a poll of 18- to 29-year-olds, Harvard’s Institute of Politics found a 5% increase, to a third, in the portion of young adults who believe that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results.” When asked about the statement “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing,” 47% agree and 16% disagree.
I was thinking about this a few weeks ago while researching a column about the possible presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. First lady, senator, secretary of state — Clinton is one of the most successful political figures of our time. Yet what has she actually accomplished? How has she changed the life of the average American? Where is the big feather in her foreign policy cap? She’s been busy, but she hasn’t done anything historical — and the same could be said of almost all her peers.
Future coulda-been bests and brightests are paying attention to Washingtonian disfunction. “How deep is the disengagement?” Ron Fournier asked in The Atlantic. “I spent two days at Harvard, and couldn’t find a single student whose career goal is Washington or elective office. One wouldn’t expect to hear this at the Kennedy School of Government.“
Which prompts two questions:
Why are the young eschewing politics?
Can we do anything to make a career in politics/government more appealing?
Zakaria offers a “why”: “The ever-increasing obstacles — disclosure forms, conflict-of-interest concerns, political vetting — dissuade and knock out good candidates.”
I disagree. Getting exposed for financial or other improprieties is a concern for some political prospects in their 50s or 60s. But the most that your average 21-year-old college senior has to worry about getting outted over is drug use, and if current trends continue, no one is going to care about that in a few years. After all, George W. Bush and President Obama both used cocaine.
Not long ago I was approached by an Important Democratic Party Official about running for Congress. After he saw a talk I gave to a group of high school students, he pronounced himself so impressed that wouldn’t stop calling me. The party needs you, he said. So does your country.
Heady words. And I’m at least as egotistical as the next bear. So I looked into it.
I wasn’t concerned about personal disclosures. I’d be running as far to the left as you can in today’s Democratic Party; my district is very liberal on social issues. Whatever came out wasn’t bound to hurt my prospects. Anyway, I have a theory about political strategy: your opponents can’t use your deeds against you. They can exploit your denial of those deeds. Candidates who reveal their own skeletons find the electorate much more forgiving than when they’re uncovered by their opponent’s “opposition research” team.
Money would have been a major issue. You need at least $1 million to fund a Congressional campaign. It’s easiest if you have it yourself, and if you have rich friends willing to bankroll you. I don’t.
This is a grim system we have. “Wealthy candidates who try to buy office with their own money tend to lose, but in order to set up a campaign, you have to know a lot of wealthy people and wealthy special interests — and that’s something that most of us are not privy to,” Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, told CBS News.
I might have been able to sell out to local business interests in exchange for favor chits to be cashed in later. But then, why run in the first place? For me, the point of running for Congress is to have a chance to change things for the better.
Washington has plenty of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours corruption as it is. (I’m talking to you, Former Treasury Secretary/Warburg Pincus President Timothy Geithner.) They don’t need more from me.
The money thing is pretty much insurmountable.
Even presupposing a dramatic upturn in my finances (Powerball win? Selling a kidney to a desperate Internet billionaire? Kickstarter?), there’s the question of what I could accomplish in Congress. This is assuming, of course, that I win. Half of candidates lose, with nothing to show for their million-plus bucks.
Like the kids at Harvard, I can’t think of a single Congressman or, for that matter, Senator, who has managed to achieve much for the working class, or the environment, or anything big, since, well — my entire life. And I’m 50. As a political junkie, I would have heard of something.
Senator Ted Kennedy was one of my political heroes. I worked for two of his presidential campaigns. But let’s be honest. What was his greatest political accomplishment? Probably the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. A nice piece of law to be sure, but a small-bore one — and hardly worth spending decades of your life sitting through endless boring meetings.
And that’s what you do in Congress. You sit on your ass waiting for a chance to talk to people who are waiting for you to shut up so they can talk.
To an empty chamber.
Perhaps I should amend this: politics makes sense for right-wingers.
Republicans have radically transformed American society in recent years: legalized torture, extraordinary rendition, Guantánamo concentration camp, preemptive warfare, the doctrine of the unitary executive, sweeping tax cuts for the ultrarich and yes, even Obamacare — that one was dreamed up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.
Liberals and progressives, on the other hand…there’s not much for us in the world of mainstream politics.
If we want leftie — most young people are — bright young things to enter public service, public service is going to have to change first. Obviously, that doesn’t seem likely. So if you’re a smart, energetic young person who wants to change the world, there’s still a place to do that.
Not in Congress.
In the streets.
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles). This week: U.S. Border Patrol agents are asking Mexican and Central American TV stations to discourage illegal immigration. But simply reporting the news about the terrible US economy ought to do the trick.