by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
Hugo Chavez did two great things for Venezuela. He wiped out illiteracy, and reduced the poverty rate from 80% to 20%. In other words, he empowered the poor. He had the imagination to think big (like promoting a South American Bolivarian Union) and the cojones to act big (like nationalizing oil, banking and land).
And what do our leaders do in America?
Nothing big. Nothing much. Unless it's wasting time and money and words on fake problems like the deficit and “reforming” Social Security, or trying to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
What are our real problems?
I see four big ones: unemployment, rising health costs, income/opportunity inequality, and Wall Street fraud.
So how can we solve them?
There's a simple solution to rising health costs: Medicare for all. Put it out there as an option, and watch everyone sign up except the rich who can afford to pay doctors, hospitals, Big Pharma and the health insurance industry the exorbitant rates they like to get away with. The state of Vermont has Medicare for all already, and maybe other states will follow suit, so that the Feds won't ever have to get around to it, which they are constitutionally unable to do anyway.
As for unemployment, we don't ever have a real discussion about it. Add up the officially unemployed of 12 million, the underemployed of 8 million, the 6.8 million who are not counted in the labor force but say they want a job, and you have 26.8 million unemployed and underemployed. That's a pretty big chunk out of the 155 million employed Americans.
What's to be done? Perhaps we should be talking about some imaginative solutions, ferchrissake. Just for starters.
Like maybe we should be talking about a four-day work week. What with machines taking over, there might not be enough work for everybody anyway, so we could employ more people if we shorten the work week.
Or maybe we should discuss a massive investment in a new Public Works Administration. Here we are paying out gazillions in unemployment insurance to our millions of unemployed, when our government could pay them wages instead to work on fixing our infrastructure (rated F by our engineers), and building new infrastructure.
Those are two real solutions, and they're not even being discussed.
Then there's the fact that Wall Street gets away with fraud (and laundering drug lord money and terrorist funds), and therefore will continue to do so, which will continue to sabotage our economy. When he had the chance, Obama lacked the imagination to nationalize the big banks, fire their management, break them up and sell the parts back to private industry, as advocated by no less an economist than Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz. And this week Eric Holder admitted that Wall Street banks are too big to jail. In other words, he's not man enough to prosecute Wall Street fraudsters. Doesn't have the balls. Take them to court if you can't take them to jail: that might be enough to scare them into behaving. He doesn't even have the balls to prosecute HSBC for laundering millions in drug cartel money despite being warned not to. But he does have the balls to go after medical marijuana suppliers. What an asshole.
As for income equality: well, at least Obama has put raising the minimum wage on the table — except he wants it to go to only $9 an hour, when doubling it will inject a huge amount of spending into our economy, which our big corporations are not doing, even though they're making bigger profits than ever before. If some of their big profits were diverted into the pockets of their employees, our entire economy would benefit.
Let's not forget that corporate profits have doubled since 2000, while median household incomes are 8.1% less than they were in 2000. All the productivity gains of the American worker go to their bosses instead of to them. If workers were paid to reflect their productivity gains since 1980, our average annual household income today would be $92,000 instead of $50,000. That's $42,000 a year the top 1% have been stealing from the 99%. Think what an amazing economy we'd have today if our median household income were $92,000.
What is the biggest force against income inequality? The labor union movement. So where is Card Check, which would make union recruitment easier? Not a word from our leaders about it.
Instead we worry about Iran getting a nuclear bomb, which would actually be a very good thing, because it might establish a counterweight to Israel acting like the big regional bully.
Or we worry about the deficit. The problem is not that we should cut our deficit, which is actually shrinking from year to year (did you know that?), but that the government should be creating a bigger deficit, because what we need now is more spending from government to give our economy a jolt in the butt. At a time when we should be arguing about spending more, Washington is having a debate about spending less. Apparently they don't understand the first thing about economics. Just like in Europe, where they think that austerity is the solution to their recession, when it's actually making things worse.
Chavez is an exemplary example in another regard. He kept a close alliance with his nation, and especially to the poor. He actually loved them, and they loved him back. He had a TV show every week where he interacted with them.
But our politicians have little connection with our citizens. Our citizens are worried about unemployment, but our politicians are not. Our citizens think Wall Street should be held accountable for tanking our economy, but our politicians don't. Our citizens are worried about income inequality, but our politicians aren't. Our leaders probably don't know anyone personally who is out of work, like the rest of us have friends who can't find a job, so they don't worry about the unemployed.
Our politicians live in a bubble. I'm reminded of these words by the American political philosopher Herbert Croly (1869–1930) about what wealth can do to people.
“In the long run men inevitably become the victims of their wealth. They adapt their lives and habits to their money, not their money to their lives. It preoccupies their thoughts, creates artificial needs, and draws a curtain between them and the world.”
Substitute the word “power” for “wealth”, and you have the reason why Washington is America's problem, instead of a place where solutions are engendered.
I can think of only four politicians who talk to me like they have any appreciation of the problems of regular Americans: Elizabeth Warren, Alan Grayson, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown.
Note that Barack Obama is not one of them. The big thing he could learn from Chavez is this: Chavez demonized his enemies as much as they did him. He endeared himself to me forever when — speaking at the UN after George W. Bush had spoken there — he joked that the Devil had been there, and that he could still smell the sulphur. Unfortunately Obama is not like that. He tries to work with his arch-enemies, the GOP, instead of crushing them, like a Chavez would.
The fact that Obama does not realize that the GOP is everything that is wrong with America shows what a political fool he is. Instead of promoting his own agenda (whatever that may be: maybe he doesn't have one), he is trying to accommodate a GOP agenda with deficit and Grand Bargain games. He is in fact willing to put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table as bargaining chips. Three programs that regular Americans don't want any messing about with (except to lift the cap on Social Security contributions).
Today we have a country in which Washington does not try to solve our problems. In fact, they actually create them, like they've just done with sequestration.
If only Obama were more like Chavez. But he isn't. He lacks the three things Chavez had in abundance: imagination and balls. Obama does not even have the imagination of the 185,000 nurses of National Nurses United, who are pushing for a financial transactions tax. When our nurses have more common-sense imagination than our leaders, you know we're in trouble.
Our entire political class lacks balls and imagination. Washington can't think or act big anymore, and America is all the smaller for it.
Chavez was a big man who made his nation bigger. We have incredibly shrinking leaders who are creating an incredibly shrinking America. Heck, we used to have big leaders. FDR. LBJ. Where are they now that we need them?
Nowhere, dear reader, nowhere.