What a society spends its resources on reveals its priorities. The United States military has endless resources and massive budgets which it uses to slaughter people around the world for fun and profit. Now the United States healthcare system is under attack by the COVID-19 pandemic, and healthcare workers (not to mention ordinary citizens) can’t even find a $0.58 face mask.
Clintonite corporatists still control the Democratic National Committee despite their long string of failure at the polls. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party voters—72%—are self-identified progressives.
44% of House primary candidates in 2018 self-IDed as progressive. If you’re after the Democratic nomination for president you have to be—or pretend to be—progressive. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to be “a progressive who gets things done.”
All the top likely contenders for 2020 claim to be progressive—but they would prefer that voters ignore their voting records and unsavory donors. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have spent the past two years racing to the leftmost edge of respectable opinion,” reports New York magazine. “In recent weeks, they have also all reached out to Wall Street executives, in hopes of securing some funding for their prospective presidential campaign.” It does no good for your heart to be in the right place if your ass is owned by bankers.
“You don’t just get to say that you’re progressive,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told progressive donors recently.
Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called the 2020 election a chance to “leverage our power.” She says it’s critical “that we have some very clear guidelines about what it means to be progressive.”
Here are those guidelines.
You can’t be a progressive unless you favor a big hike in the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren, the first pretty-much-declared candidate for 2020, wants $15 an hour. But she told a 2013 Senate hearing that it would be $22 if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity. The official inflation rate makes that $24 today. And according to the real inflation rate (the official number as it was calculated before the Labor Department downgraded the calculation in 1980 and 1990) at ShadowStats.com, $22 in 2013 comes to at least $35 today.
If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 using the same methodology used to track inflation at the time, it would be closer to $80 per hour.
What should be the progressive demand for the minimum wage? Nothing less than $25 per hour.
(For the record, I see no reason why the minimum wage should be lower than the maximum wage. But we’re talking about progressivism here, not socialism or communism.)
Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign “free college became a litmus test for liberals,” notes The Atlantic. But a 2017 bill cosponsored by Sanders and Warren defines “college for all” rather narrowly. It only addresses public colleges and universities. It would “make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allow current student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.”
A quarter of American college students attend private schools. Considering that the average cost is $35,000 a year and some run as high as $60,000, even families earning more than $125,000 need help too.
The progressive stance on college should be three-pronged. First, the obscene $1.5 trillion student loan business should be abolished. Student loans should be replaced by grants but if loans exist at all they should be a zero-profit government program. Second, all outstanding loans should be forgiven or have their interest rates dropped to a zero-profit basis. Third, the government should rein in out-of-control public and private college tuition and fees—which have gone up eight times faster than wages—by tying them to the official federal cost of living index.
Progressives agree that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. With 70% of voters in favor, even centrist Democrats like Kamala Harris have climbed aboard Bernie Sanders’ call for “Medicare for all” bandwagon. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker now say they want single-payer public healthcare. Being progressive, however, means demanding more than what mainstream politicians deem practical—it’s about pushing hard for more ways to improve people’s lives.
In 2020 progressives should be calling for nothing less than universal healthcare. If it’s good enough for the rest of the developed world and many developing countries like Botswana and Bhutan, why not us?
I cosigned a letter to Sanders calling on the Vermont senator to use his platform as the country’s most prominent and popular progressive to talk more about foreign policy and to openly oppose militarism. Now it’s time to get specific.
Progressives should demand that U.S. troops come home from any country that did not attack the United States—i.e., all of them. They should put an end to the disgusting drone wars. The bloated nearly-$1 trillion Pentagon budget should be shredded; let’s see what they can do with $100 billion (which would still be far more than Russia’s defense spending).
From banks that charge usurious credit card interest rates to employers who fire full-time employees and hire them back as “independent contractors,” there are plenty of other targets for progressives to go after.
Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party. You own the joint.
Now’s the time to demand what’s yours, what you want and what’s right.
(Ted Rall, the 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.)
Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.
The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.
When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.
Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)
Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!
The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)
Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.
No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.
Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.
President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.
Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.
“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.
No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.
If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.
“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.
As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.
As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Late last year, I interviewed Bernie Sanders while working on my biography “Bernie.” I asked him if he planned to reduce the defense budget if elected president. “We will take a hard look at that,” he told me, agreeing that there’s an awful lot of bloat in America’s military spending that ought to be cut.
Why doesn’t he say that now?
A statement detailing his intent to reduce military spending — not just the on-the-books budget of the Pentagon, but also the “off the books” taxdollars that go to wars like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the National Security Agency and other parts of the surveillance state that have expanded radically since 9/11 — would help answer one of Sanders’ critics’ most potent criticisms: that he’ll be an irresponsible Santa Gone Wild, giving away free college tuition and Medicare for all without a care in the world for how to pay for it.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign, already reeking of desperation, is turning ugly. Bill Clinton, of all people, accused Bernie of lying, and his supporters of sexism. Clinton surrogate Madeleine Albright called female Sanders supporters traitors to their gender. The once-respected Gloria Steinem called them sluts, implying they were hanging out at Bernie’s big rallies to get laid by hunky Bernie bros.
Pathetic. But Hillary remains a potent force. She’s the mathematical favorite. When she casts herself as the realist (“a progressive who likes to get things done”), her argument that Bernie’s promises are politically unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible carries weight with Democrats who are still on the fence.
If Bernie can answer this two-part question, he wins the nomination: how will he get his far-left programs (by American standards, not those of the rest of the world) through Congress? How will he pay for them?
The first question, I think, isn’t as big a hurdle as the corporate punditry seems to think. Most voters can imagine a sustained progressive movement centered around street activism — Sanders’ “political revolution” — that pressures Congress so that, as Sanders puts it, Mitch O’Connell sees hundreds of thousands of people marching outside his window whenever he plots to thwart the people’s will.
Like Occupy Wall Street, except that the president is encouraging the movement rather than ordering the cops to beat up its members.
Anyway, liberal Democrats are angry. Hillary’s “half a dream” sales pitch isn’t half as enticing to them as Bernie’s ambitious agenda. Come on, Hill: did you take half a bribe from Goldman Sachs? Even if Bernie’s idealism gets dashed on the rocks of Republican intransigence, progressive Dems don’t care; they want to see Bernie try. Democrats haven’t watched a Democratic president push for radical change since LBJ.
The second question of the skeptics is: show me the money! Where is the cash to pay for free public college tuition and a single-payer healthcare system?
Sanders has said he would cover the $75 billion per year cost of his college reform program by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation. He would almost certainly increase taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals as part of moving the tax code back to a more progressive, pre-Reagan structure. Everyone would pay a higher tax rate to cover Berniecare, though working-class people would pay less than they’d save.
At the risk of sounding like a Republican, there’s waste throughout the federal budget. There is, for example, no evidence that the NSA has ever done its job by preventing a single terrorist attack. Meanwhile, as Edward Snowden informed us, they’re spying on all our phone calls and emails. Shut them down; save $10 billion a year or more. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security could be trimmed to a fraction of its current size or eliminated, with its tiny portion of useful activities transferred to other agencies, including law enforcement.
Last year’s defense budget was nearly $600 billion, or 54% of discretionary federal spending. That’s more than the next nine countries combined, including China and Russia. Conservatively, at least half of that is spent on waste and fraud by DOD contractors, so there’s $300 billion right off the bat. I bet we could cut it 90% and still not have to worry about a foreign invasion, something that hasn’t happened since 1812.
These cuts could easily cover the several hundred billion shortfall between Bernie’s tax increase on the rich and the cost of his healthcare plan.
Nothing says fiscal conservatism like pacifism. As of 2015 the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the most expensive in U.S. history, cost more than $1.5 trillion. More than $1 billion a year is still going down those ratholes. Bernie has said ISIS must be “crushed,” but he may want to revisit that. As of November, the anti-ISIS air and jihadi-training campaign had cost $5 billion and counting.
And obviously don’t start any new wars of choice.
Studies have shown that high student loan debt hobbles economic activity, delaying the age at which college graduates can afford to buy their first cars and homes. Freeing college graduates and their parents from exorbitant tuition bills would stimulate the automobile and real estate markets in particular, as well as the overall economy.
The same is true for healthcare costs. Every dollar you don’t spend on health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays is one you have for something else. That’s a lot of potential stimulus.
I don’t know why the Sanders campaign hasn’t issued a detailed plan explaining how President Sanders would cover the costs of free college tuition and Medicare for All. Maybe they’re worried about getting attacked as weak on national security by the hawkish Secretary Clinton and, in the general election, by the Republican nominee (probably Trump or Cruz).
Though a valid concern, it should take a back seat to plugging the Bernie-is-just-a-dreamer narrative Hillary’s camp is framing him with. He’ll never be able to out-militarist Hillary or the Republicans, who will try to brand him as the second coming of Vladimir Lenin anyway. Why bother to try?
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Originally published by ANewDomain.net:
Marking the total integration of lesbian and gay soldiers into the U.S. military, the Pentagon has announced that gay and lesbian troops will be covered by the equal opportunity policy that prohibits firing Americans due to their sexual orientation.
Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.
As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”
Excuse me while I puke.
Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.
It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.
The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.
What you might not know is that this isn’t new.
The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.
During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”
For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.
Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.
Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.
Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.
In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.
Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.
Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”
Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
“The drone is the ultimate imperial weapon, allowing a superpower almost unlimited reach while keeping its own soldiers far from battle,” writes New York Times reporter James Risen in his important new book “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.” “Drones provide remote-control combat, custom-designed for wars of choice, and they have become the signature weapons of the war on terror.”
But America’s monopoly on death from a distance is coming to an end. Drone technology is relatively simple and cheap to acquire — which is why more than 70 countries, plus non-state actors like Hezbollah, have combat drones.
The National Journal’s Kristin Roberts imagines how drones could soon “destabilize entire regions and potentially upset geopolitical order”: “Iran, with the approval of Damascus, carries out a lethal strike on anti-Syrian forces inside Syria; Russia picks off militants tampering with oil and gas lines in Ukraine or Georgia; Turkey arms a U.S.-provided Predator to kill Kurdish militants in northern Iraq who it believes are planning attacks along the border. Label the targets as terrorists, and in each case, Tehran, Moscow, and Ankara may point toward Washington and say, we learned it by watching you. In Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan.”
SkyNet, you recall from the Terminator movies, is a computerized defense network whose artificial intelligence programming leads it to self-awareness. People try to turn it off; SkyNet interprets this as an attack — on itself. Automated genocide follows in an instant.
In an article you should read carefully because/despite that fact that it will totally freak you out, The New York Times reports that “arms makers…are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target and whom to kill.”
More from the Times piece:
“Britain, Israel and Norway are already deploying missiles and drones that carry out attacks against enemy radar, tanks or ships without direct human control. After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets and to initiate an attack.
“Britain’s ‘fire and forget’ Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.[…]
“Israel’s antiradar missile, the Harpy, loiters in the sky until an enemy radar is turned on. It then attacks and destroys the radar installation on its own.
“Norway plans to equip its fleet of advanced jet fighters with the Joint Strike Missile, which can hunt, recognize and detect a target without human intervention.”
“An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,” says Steve Omohundro, a physicist and AI specialist at Self-Aware Systems. “They can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably.”
As usual, the United States is leading the way toward dystopian apocalypse, setting precedents for the use of sophisticated, novel, more efficient killing machines. We developed and dropped the first nuclear bombs. We unleashed the drones. Now we’re at the forefront of AI missile systems.
The first test was a disaster: “Back in 1988, the Navy test-fired a Harpoon antiship missile that employed an early form of self-guidance. The missile mistook an Indian freighter that had strayed onto the test range for its target. The Harpoon, which did not have a warhead, hit the bridge of the freighter, killing a crew member.”
But we’re America! We didn’t let that slow us down: “Despite the accident, the Harpoon became a mainstay of naval armaments and remains in wide use.”
I can see you tech geeks out there, shaking your heads over your screen, saying to yourselves: “Rall is paranoid! This is new technology. It’s bound to improve. AI drones will become more accurate.”
Combat drones have hovered over towns and villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last 13 years, killing thousands of people. The accuracy rate is less than impressive: 3.5%. That’s right: 96.5% of the victims are, by the military’s own assessment, innocent civilians.
The Pentagon argues that its new generation of self-guided hunter-killers are merely “semiautonomous” and so don’t run afoul of a U.S. rule against such weapons. But only the initial launch is initiated by a human being.” It will be operating autonomously when it searches for the enemy fleet,” Mark Gubrud, a physicist who is a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, told the Times. “This is pretty sophisticated stuff that I would call artificial intelligence outside human control.”
If that doesn’t worry you, this should: it’s only a matter of time before other countries, some of which don’t like us, get these too.
Not much time.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM