Here’s My Current Working Theory of How Republicans Will Ride Trump’s Impeachment to Victory in 2020

This can’t wait until next week’s syndicated column, so…

Back on 24th I wrote a syndicated column explaining that there is a strong chance that Donald Trump would be impeached and that House Speaker Paul Ryan would benefit as a result. This week’s developments confirm my analysis. Bear in mind, this is not a political prediction but rather a musing of how I see things going potentially. Your mileage may vary.

First: the almost certain fact that former FBI director James Comey was asked by President Trump to drop his investigation into former national security advisor General Michael Flynn sets up Trump for almost certain impeachment. Here’s why. First, moderate Republicans in the House and Senate are already peeling away and calling for a special prosecutor. Soon even right wingers will be joining them. A special prosecutor is a safe way for politicians to kick problems like Trump down the road. They can’t lose: if the prosecutor finds a lot of dirty stuff about Trump, oh well, not their fault, if anything they can take credit. If not, it’s not like even the radical right will hold them accountable for signing off on a special prosecutor. After all, there’s nothing wrong with getting down to the bottom of things. The problem for Trump is, the prosecutor is going to find out (a) that there’s a strong case for obstruction of justice and (b) all those meetings between Trump’s staff and Russian officials were corrupt quid pro quo transactions promising the elimination of sanctions over Ukraine in exchange for rubberstamping Trump-related business transactions in Russia. (Democrats should stop pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative because there doesn’t seem to be any thee there.)

Second, Republicans are hardly a united front. Yes, they came together to back up Trump when they thought that they would be able to push through their long awaited radical right political agenda. But now the Trump seems weak, ambitious figures like Paul Ryan can’t help but think to themselves “hey, I could become president now.” Because the Democratic Party is a total mess – this is the story no one is paying attention to you right now, but it’s absolutely key – more on that below – the Republican Party stands to benefit most from a Trump impeachment. Here’s how it plays out, perhaps.

Paul Ryan meets with vice president Mike Pence. “Mike,” he says, “let’s face it. You’ll never be elected president. You’re from Indiana, you call your wife mother, you’re creepy, probably a closeted gay. Let’s make a deal: I impeach Trump and you get to be president for the next three years. Schoolchildren have to memorize your name. You get to be on a stamp. Maybe one day on the three cent coin. In 2020, however, you step aside. You endorse me. I’m the Republican nominee.”

Pence goes along. Why wouldn’t he? Sure beats another three years of attending funerals.

After Trump, things turn calm. No more drama. This is very bad for women, gays, blacks. The Republican Congress works closely with Pence to pass a bunch of stuff that makes us look back at Ronald Reagan and wonder if that guy was really a liberal. Pence seems “normal” after Trump. The Republicans get lots of things done. Granted, all bad. But done.

In 2020, as I wrote in my column, Paul Ryan gets to present himself as the courageous man who took on a president from his own party because it was the right thing to do for the country. Powerful stuff. A true profile in BS courage.

Now, about the Democrats.

If you look back at 1976, vice president turned President Gerald Ford was hobbled by Watergate and his pardon of Richard Nixon. Everyone remembers that Jimmy Carter won. What they don’t remember is that it was a  close election. Incumbency really doesn’t matter. Ford wasn’t a very exciting president and he didn’t accomplish much at all. Mostly he just used his veto stamp. Carter was charismatic, young, and incredibly hard-working. He was a great candidate yet he just barely won against forward.

To win against a Republican incumbency in 2020, Democrats need a united party. If anything, the party is even more divided now than it was last year. The big rift between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton wings of the Democratic Party hasn’t been addressed. It has been swept under the rug, which only makes things worse. Progressives have been denied a meaningful voice within the party. Policy belongs to the corporatist wing. Angry Hillary Clinton supporters continue to beat up Bernie Sanders people for not showing up at the polls, blaming them for electing Donald Trump. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run. That leaves the most likely nominees for 2020 to be people like Cory Booker, former progressives who no longer have any credibility with the left within the party.

It’s a grim scenario. And it certainly going to change. But that’s how I see things right now.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Security Is Ruining the Internet

Image result for no radio sign car

Another major cyberattack, another wave of articles telling you how to protect your data has me thinking about European ruins. Those medieval fortresses and castles had walls ten feet thick made of solid stone; they were guarded by mean, heavily armored, men. The barbarians got in anyway.

At the time, those invasions felt like the end of the world. But life goes on. Today’s Europeans live in houses and apartment buildings that, compared to castles of the Middle Ages, have no security at all. Yet: no raping, no pillaging. People are fine.

Security is overrated.

The ransomware attack that crippled targets as diverse as FedEx and British hospitals reminds me of something that we rarely talk about even though it’s useful wisdom: A possession that is so valuable that you have to spend a lot of money and psychic bandwidth to protect it often feels like more of a burden than a boon.

You hear it all the time: Change your passwords often. Use different passwords for different accounts. Install File Vault. Use encrypted communications apps. At what point do we throw up our hands, change all our passwords to “password” and tell malicious hackers to come on in, do your worst?

I owned a brand-new car once. I loved the look and the smell but hated the anxiety. What if some jerk dented it? Sure enough, within a week and the odometer reading in the low three digits, another motorist scratched the bumper while pulling out of a parallel parking space. I was so determined to restore the newness that I paid $800 for a new bumper. Which got scratched too. That was 13 years, 200,000 miles and a lot of dings ago. Still drive the same car. I don’t care about dents.

I’m liberated.

The Buddha taught that material attachments bring misery. He was right. During the 1980s crack epidemic addicts stole car stereos to finance their fixes. To avoid smashed windows, New Yorkers took to posting “No Radio” signs on their cars. But the really smart drivers’ signs read “Door unlocked, no radio.” It worked.

Hackers, we’re told, are ruining the Internet. I say our reaction to hack attacks has ruined it. It’s like 9/11. Three thousand people died. But attacking Afghanistan and Iraq killed more than a million. We should have sucked it up instead.

Security often destroys the very thing it’s supposed to protect. Take the TSA — please! Increased airport security measures after 9/11 have made flying so unpleasant that Americans are driving more instead. Meanwhile, “civil aviation” flights out of small airports — which have no or minimal security screenings — are increasingly popular. So are trains — no X-ray machines at the train station, either. Get rid of TSA checkpoints at the airport, let people walk their loved ones to the gate so they can wave goodbye, and I bet more people would fly in spite of the risk.

It’s not just government. Individuals obsess over security to the point that it makes the thing they’re protecting useless.

For my 12th birthday my dad gave me a 10-speed road bicycle. I still have that Azuki. It weighs a ton but it runs great. It’s worth maybe $20.

Bike theft is rife in Berkeley and Manhattan, but I tooled around both places on that banana yellow relic of the Ford Administration without fear of anything but the shame of absorbing insults from kids on the street. I often didn’t bother to lock up my beater. Never had a problem.

In my early 40s and feeling flush, I dropped $2400 on a royal blue Greg LeMond racing bike. Terrified that my prize possession might get stolen, I only ride it to destinations I deem ridiculously safe or where I’ll only have to leave it outside for a few minutes. So I hardly use it.

I’m an idiot.

Nice things are, well, nice to have. But they’re also a pain in the ass. In college one of my girlfriends (who I am not suggesting was a “thing,” obviously, and whom equally obviously I never thought I “had” in any ownership-y sense) had dazzling big blue eyes and golden blonde hair down to her waist and was so striking that guys literally walked into lampposts while gawking at her. Being seen with her was great for my ego. But every outing entailed a risk of violence as dudes catcalled and wolf-whistled; chivalry (and my girlfriend) dictated that I couldn’t ignore all of them. I sometimes suggested the 1980s equivalent of “Netflix and chill” (Channel J and wine coolers?) rather than deal with the stress. (We broke up for other reasons.)

So back to the big ransomware attack. What should you do if your ‘puter locks you out of your files unless you fork over $300? Wipe your hard drive and move on.

Back up regularly, Internet experts say, and this threat is one reason why. With a recent backup you can usually wipe your hard drive and restore your files from a backed-up version that predates the virus. Take that, villains! But no one does.

Meanwhile, our online lives are becoming as hobbled by excessive security as the airlines. Like the countless locks on Gabe Kaplan’s Brooklyn apartment door in “Welcome Back Kotter,” two-step authentication helps — but at what cost? You have to enter your password, wait for a text — if you’re traveling overseas, you have to pay a dollar or more to receive it — and enter it before accessing a site. Tech companies force us to choose a new password each time we forget the old one. Studies show that makes things worse: most users choose simpler passwords because they’re easier to remember.

The only thing to fear, FDR told us, is fear itself. What if we liberated ourselves from the threat of cyberattack — and a ton of work maintaining online security — by not having anything on our Internet-connected devices that we care about?

This would require a mental shift.

First, we should have fewer things online. When you think about it, many devices are connected to the Internet for a tiny bit of convenience but at significant risk to security. Using an app to warm up your house before you come home is nifty, but online thermostats are hardly worth the exposure to hackers who could drive up your utility bills, start a fire or even cause a brownout. Driverless cars could be remotely ordered to kill you — no thanks! I laugh at the Iranian nuclear scientists who set back their nation’s top-secret research program for years because their desire to cybercommute opened their system to the Stuxnet attack. Go to the office, lazybones!

The Internet of Things needs to be seriously rethought — and resisted.

As for your old-fashioned electronic devices — smartphones, tablets and laptops — it might be time to start thinking like a New Yorker during the 1980s. Leave the door unlocked. Just don’t leave anything in your glove compartment, or on your hard drive, that you would mind losing.

(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.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Voters’ Message: We Exist

Dayton mummified

I think it was over Thanksgiving dinner. My mother’s best friend, a dear woman who has never been other than good to me and my mom, decided to poke some gentle fun, Dayton Ohio-style, at me.

Actually, let me be more specific. It wasn’t Dayton. The conversation took place in Kettering. It’s a suburb of Dayton. A small suburb called Oakwood separates Dayton and Kettering.

“Ted,” my mom’s friend began, “what’s with these terrible descriptions of our city? The way you write, you’d think this was some bleak post-industrial wasteland.” She motioned out the window to her manicured lawn, punctuated by a set of perfect flowers. As were those of her neighbors. As if to drive home her point, a bird chirped.

I held my ground. “What about down by Route 4? Rusted-out factories, meth houses. It’s like a war zone.”

“But that’s” — she searched for the word — “downtown. That’s not here.”

“It’s five or six miles, at most,” I pointed out. “You can walk there!”

And you can, if you don’t much care about personal safety.

Dayton is a mess. Once a booming manufacturing city, its population is plunging, having shrunk by half in 50 years. Its housing stock, including historical buildings, have been gutted. After decades of factory and corporate closures accelerated by free trade deals like NAFTA, the local economy sucks. Crime, driven by my hometown’s status as Ground Zero of the national opiod epidemic that has turned so many young men into corpses that the morgue ran out of room, has made Dayton even more dangerous than Chicago. The 2008-09 housing crisis left countless homes abandoned (but cheap! you can buy one for four figures). Fearing eviction in 2009 but receiving no help from a government who instead gave $7.77 trillion to the banks with no strings attached, one poor guy hanged himself; a kid found his mummified body five years later. He should have stuck around. The banksters never bothered to foreclose on his modest house.

So much misery, so little help from the government. Four out of five Ohioans who lost their jobs receive zero unemployment benefits.

Downtown Dayton, and its citizens, were dead to my mom’s friend. But not to me. I used to take the bus there to look at record stores and attend meetings at Democratic Headquarters. Sometimes, yes, I walked. After I left Dayton for New York, the road from the Dayton airport to my mom’s house sometimes took me through downtown. Downtown was real. Downtown existed.

If downtown Dayton was less than afterthought to suburbanites a hop, skip and jump away, it was a black hole as far as the national media and the political strategists were concerned. Daytonians didn’t donate to presidential campaigns. (They couldn’t afford to.) More than 40% black as the result of postwar “white flight” to suburbs like Kettering and Oakwood, downtown was reliably Democratic. Republicans didn’t bother; Democrats took Dayton for granted.

You’ve probably already figured out that this essay is a parable about the Rise of Trump. Downtown Dayton was far from unique. There were downtown Daytons all over the post-industrial Midwest: ignored, forgotten, taken for granted. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — states Hillary Clinton ought to have won, and was so sure she was going to win that she hardly showed up, but went Republican in 2016.

Dayton Congressman Tony Hall (disclosure: I worked for one of his campaigns) watched the growing chasm between his working-class — and unemployed poor — constituents and the national Democratic Party, in thrall to the Clintons, free trade, and Wall Street contributors. “A lot of Democrats in the Midwest feel that they didn’t leave the Democratic Party — they feel like the Democratic Party left them,” Hall says. That was me, for sure. “As long as we had our 10 or 12 auto plants, we were pretty good, but we felt that the NAFTA deal made it a lot easier for companies to go to Mexico — and they did. They shut down our factories,” remembers Hall. Young adult voters “saw their moms and dads lose their jobs and they didn’t think anyone did anything for them.”

Day after day, the citizens of Dayton and Flint and Milwaukee opened their newspapers and flipped the cable news channels. Never, ever was there anyone talking about, much less interested in solving, their problems. As far as the elites — and that included Democratic politicians like Hillary — were considered, victims of rapacious global capitalism didn’t exist and didn’t matter.

Until Trump.

Trump didn’t offer credible solutions. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help Rust Belters as president. What he did do was acknowledge their existence.

Writing about the French election, Édouard Louis wrote that a similar cri de Coeur motivated many Marine Le Pen voters. Louis grew up poor: “In the minds of the bourgeoisie…our existence didn’t count and wasn’t real.” That was the message of many Trump voters to the op-ed writers of The New York Times: we know he isn’t perfect, but at least he knows we exist.

Despite Bernie (and Trump), the Hillary Clinton Democrats still don’t get it. When Trump mentioned “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” in his inaugural address, my liberal New York friends shook their heads. Like my mom’s friend, they had no idea what Trump was talking about.

The misery is real.

They exist — sometimes they exist five or six miles away.

“They” are us.

(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.)

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The Eyes Have It: Ophthalmology Update

Thank you for your well wishes.

Short version update: my eyes look better, see worse.

The good news about my fight against a serious case of viral conjunctivitis is that it doesn’t hurt much anymore. If you saw me, you’d say I look pretty normal. The “pink” in pink eye is largely gone. It doesn’t feel like there’s sand lodged in my eyes anymore. I can think again. There’s hardly any discharge and just a small flow of tears. The doctor says I’m not contagious anymore.

The bad news is, my vision is not only improving, it’s getting worse. My doctor says there’s no way to know what happens next. It gets better. Or it doesn’t. Total recovery, blindness or permanent vision loss. Who knows?

Everything’s blurry. Really blurry.

I miss the sharp edges.

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Trump Wants To Reinvade Afghanistan. Here’s Why We’ll Lose (Again)

The Washington Post reports that President Trump wants to go after — really, really go after — the Taliban in Afghanistan:

President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.

The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.

The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

This will not, cannot work.

Give Trump’s military advisers points for clarity. Their war aim is clear:

“The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the U.S. is going to send more troops, but it’s not to achieve a forever military victory,” said Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Rather, it’s to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict.”

Still can’t work. Americans, American allies and Afghans are going to die for nothing. Here’s why.

I’ll spare you the Afghanistan As Graveyard of Empires argument that I’ve written about before. Yes, the Afghans beat the Brits thrice, the Russians once, and us every day since 9/11. Though the time (1842) they killed everyone in the British army except one guy is well worth reading about. A “signal catastrophe,” they called it. History repeats, especially in Afghanistan, but it isn’t predestination. Theoretically, the United States could defeat the Taliban. The reason they won’t is that they don’t have the political will to do so.

Militarily? Of course the U.S. can defeat the Taliban. The Taliban don’t have planes, long- or medium-range missiles. The U.S. can bomb the Taliban (and lots of non Talibs) to smithereens with a carpet-bombing campaign the likes of which the world has never seen before. They can drone them. They can send hundreds of thousands of highly trained and well-armed troops to invade and occupy the cities and villages and roads in between. If the U.S. declared Total War against the Taliban, if the U.S. were willing to dedicate its stunning economic and military power toward the goal of defending its puppet regime in Kabul, the Taliban would be killed and captured and driven over the mountains to Pakistan.

But that would be expensive. It wouldn’t take for very long before voters, and some journalists, began asking why the U.S. was willing to take tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and willing to spend billions of dollars a week to occupy the country.

Supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult. There is no obvious geopolitical payoff, not one worth such a high price. At this point, the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan boils down to (a) let’s fuck with Iran and (b) it’s a launching pad for bombing attacks on the Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. Not much payoff there.

Yes, there are mineral resources. But this isn’t Iraq or Libya — natural resources aren’t coming out of the ground in significant numbers for years to come. Not that the U.S. is particularly good at looting natural resources, as we’ve seen in Iraq.

What about forcing the Taliban to negotiate? First, no one figure speaks for the whole movement. It’s a diverse alliance of tribes, ethnicities and political impulses. Second, we’ve been here before. Nixon bombed Vietnam to soften up the communists before negotiating. Bush used back channels to try to talk to the Taliban. Such efforts are fruitless against an adversary with the tactical advantages that come from fighting a guerrilla war as an indigenous. They’re local. They live there. Time is on their side. They’ll wait us out.

In the end, it’s simple cost-benefit analysis: low gain, high expense. Afghanistan just isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, Trump and his henchmen won’t figure that out before more people have died over nothing.

Sad.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Despite Everything, I Am Happy Hillary Lost

Image result for hillary clinton hiking

His fans hoped he was another Ronald Reagan. His critics thought he was Hitler. Who would have guessed that, a hundred days into a presidency few besides me saw coming, Donald Trump would look like Jesse Ventura?

Largely forgotten today, former wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura” shocked the political world by defeating both major party candidates for governor of Minnesota in 1998. As an independent without party support, however, Ventura couldn’t govern effectively.

The parallel isn’t exact. Unlike Jesse, Trump was the nominee of a major party. A closer analogy here is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the body builder/“Terminator” actor who won California’s gubernatorial recall election in 2003. California’s Republican establishment initially resisted Schwarzenegger but, as the national GOP did last year, reluctantly embraced the arriviste after he emerged as the clear leader in the race. Even so, as an insurgent candidate Schwarzenegger neither fully gained the trust of state Republicans nor seduced a significant number of Democrats. His legislative record was lackluster.

It’s hard to see how Trump can achieve many of his major policy objectives leading a deeply divided Republican Party that barely trusts him against Democrats who have nothing to gain by lending him a hand. Which is why Obamacare repeal failed, Obamacare Repeal The Revenge is failing, his tax reform “plan” is a back of the envelope rush job, and judges borked the Great Deportations. Even the Wall looks doomed.

Despite Trump’s near catastrophic performance to date, there’s still flop left in this fish. There really is more than a little Hitler, and probably a lot of Mussolini, in Trump. Just watch: his fascist freak flag will fly free following a foreign policy crisis like a war or a terrorist attack.

This is the crazy calm before the inevitable, terrifying storm.

explainersmall            Liberals are already in full-on panic mode. As president, the Guardian’s David Smith noted, Trump has continued “the same bogus assertions, impetuous tweets, petty spats, brazen conflicts of interest, bilious attacks on the press (‘the enemy of the people’) and a distinct whiff of authoritarianism” from his 2016 campaign. As Smith’s colleague Richard Wolffe says, Trump is presiding over “a wild romp through all norms and rules.”

For non-progressive Democrats, this is the place where the mind naturally wanders to an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won. It’s natural to wonder aloud, as Smith does: “Where would we be on the 100th day of a Hillary Clinton administration?”

I didn’t vote for her. Despite everything — despite all the chaos I feel coming — I cite Edith Piaf:

Je ne regrette rien.

I read “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” a book by two reporters for The Hill who promise to make you feel sympathy for the defeated Democratic nominee and her followers. It didn’t work on me.

Like their subject, authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes ignore policy in favor of a behind-the-scenes investigation of how a Too Smart To Fail presidential campaign got clobbered by an orange reality TV star who spent almost nothing and who didn’t even have an organization in most states.

According to Allen and Parnes, there were too many warring centers of power within Clintonland. Without a strong leader at the top, her officials spent more time and energy vying for her loyalty (and stabbing one another in the back) than working on winning. She liked it that way, even though the same dysfunction had plagued her failed 2008 primary race against Obama.

Campaign manager Robby Mook is the book’s villain: so obsessed with granular data that he can’t see the big picture or feel the voters’ pulse, contemptuous of time-proven polling techniques, as convinced that he has nothing to learn from people with experience as a Silicon Valley Millennial. He’s the guy who told her she didn’t need to visit Wisconsin — and she hired others like him in 2008.

Staffers were blinded by personal loyalty, so they couldn’t perceive and move to address big problems before they blew up, like EmailGate. And they were ideologically homogenous. Coming as they all did from the center-right corporatist wing of the Democratic Party, they couldn’t Feel the Bern when Sanders emerged as a potent force or figure out how to reconcile with his progressive base who stayed home on Election Day as a result.

Most damning of all, “Hillary had been running for president for almost a decade and still didn’t really have a rationale [for why she wanted to win and what she would do if she did].” For such an experienced candidate, this was a rookie error; didn’t she remember what happened to Ted Kennedy when he couldn’t come up with an elevator pitch in 1980?

Page after page reinforces the conclusion that this is a woman who does not, cannot, does not want to learn from her mistakes.

When you think about her policy history, this rings true. After all, she voted to overthrow the secular socialist dictator of Iraq in 2003, lost the presidency in 2008 because of that vote, yet then as secretary of state advised Obama to arm and fund the radical jihadis against the secular socialist dictators of Libya and Syria. About which — despite creating two failed states — she has no regrets. There’s really no other way to put this, so I’ll just say it: this makes her an idiot.

She didn’t have the right personality to lead human beings. She didn’t deserve to be president. America, and the world, are better off without her.

Which does not mean I’m not scared of Trump.

(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.)

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Rall v. LA Times Update

As promised, my fight against the corrupt LA Times for defaming me as a  favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck continues.

After being ordered by the judge to conform to court rules governing the length of motions (15 pages, the Times did 27.5), the first of the Times’ three (!) abusive anti-SLAPP motions against me — a delaying tactic meant to discourage me for pursuing my claim — is due at the court in a couple weeks, in early May. We have eight days to respond to each of three, each due a week apart. Hearings resume over the course of three weeks in late June and early July and yes, are open to the public. So if you’re in LA…

For everyone else, I’ll keep you posted here.

In other news, I have one of the worst cases of viral conjunctivitis you can get. I literally might be blind in both eyes by the end of next week. Or not. This is the #1 cause of blindness in the world, so I’m taking it seriously.

Fortunately, I have an amazing pair of top-notch doctors working on it. But neither of them is particularly optimistic. So if you pray or cross your fingers or whatever, I could use your good vibes. If I suddenly stop posting any cartoons or columns within the next few weeks, that’ll be why.

People are asking me how I got it. I was tested and there are no underlying diseases responsible. Look this up and you’ll find zillions of possible infections that can manifest as “pink eye.” Such an innocuous name for such a nasty virus…like tennis elbow and swimmer’s itch, both of which seriously suck but sound cute. In my case, it’s just one of those random things. Someone with the virus touched something somewhere that I touched, and then I touched my face and that was that. So aside from washing your hands hundreds of times a day, there’s nothing much you can do to avoid my fate.

It’s a cliché, but here goes anyway: these things really make you appreciate things you take for granted. In my case, seeing things. I’ll really miss it if the worst happens and not just because I’m especially visual or because I earn a living drawing and writing. I could use Dragon Dictation or Siri to write. I could do radio and podcasts. I would find something to do for money.

Now back to my battery of multiple antibiotics, probiotics, Vitamin C tablets, zinc spray, anti-itch drops, ointments, etc.

P.S. I really want to see a jury trial where the Times is held accountable .

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sheryl Sandberg is the World’s Most Annoying Person

Image result for sheryl sandberg

It’s that time of the year again: Sheryl Sandberg is telling us how to live our lives.

Invariably promoted as launching a “movement” — as opposed to shilling books — the Facebook executive’s publicity blitzes are impossible to avoid. There’s the inevitable, inevitably self-involved New York Times op-ed. (The words “I,” “me” and “my” appear 15 times in the first 143 words.) She’s in Time and Fortune and USA Today and The Washington Post and HuffPo, which tells us “Why Sheryl Sandberg Decided To Speak Openly About Losing Her Husband (uh, to sell books?).

As far as I can tell, the only media outlet not to be shilling Sandberg’s pabulum is ISIS’ online magazine, proving that terrorists aren’t all bad.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience” is the bestselling sequel to her bestselling 2013 tome “Lean In,” which is a bestseller because every media outlet is pushing it and advises women in the workplace to get ahead the same way she did: be born the child of a well-off medical specialist in a rich enclave, go to Harvard without having to take out a student loan, suck up to a future U.S. Treasury Secretary (who thinks women are dumb) while you’re there, snag an MBA, and become best friends with Facebook megabillionaire Mark Zuckerberg.

“Option B” is about her rich tech giant husband’s “unexpected” death, how she’s been coping and how she’s helped their kids cope.

First, a couple points of clarification.

Dude fell off a treadmill at age 47, possibly due to cardiac arrhythmia. He was overweight. If you’re fat and male and in your late 40s, you’re at risk of a heart attack. Obviously it sucks for Sandberg and their kids and especially for Dave Goldberg that he’s dead. But his passing is not “unexpected” and therefore tragic and shocking in the way that the passing of an 8-year-old girl who gets blown up by a drone after a different drone blew up her brother, or a boy shot by some cop while he’s playing outside his house, is so unexpected and tragic and shocking that, all by itself, it justifies overthrowing the entire United States government.

Goldberg was one of two or three million Americans who croak every year. He was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. Unlike Prince or Bowie, he did not touch our lives or make a difference or make the world a better place. Goldberg was not any more special than your deceased friends and family members or mine.

Second, Goldberg died just two years ago. Sandberg’s children are preteens. Even setting aside the fact that this spectacularly wealthy and powerful woman has access to top-notch psychologists and other experts to help her kids navigate their grief, it’s too early for Sandberg to claim success as a parent. (Given publishers’ lead times, she probably started writing the book less than a year after he died.)

Get back to us in a few decades, Sheryl.

Judging from the flood of negative comments posted to articles about Sandberg and her books, I’m one of many people who find Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer pompous, pedantic, pretentious and generally insufferable. Like them, I can’t hate people without moral standing, credentials or unimpeachable experience who rise, Cicero-like, to share wisdom that turns out to be a series of “like, duhs:”

“And every kid faces challenges.”

“We can start by showing children that they matter.”

“Giving children undivided attention — something we all know is important but often fail to do — is another of the key steps toward building their resilience.”

Just.

Shut.

Up.

Coming the same week I’m reading about the inner workings of Hillary Clinton’s dysfunctional, out-of-touch campaign in the book “Shattered,” I had to ask myself if, as a middle-aged white male, my annoyance at Sandberg (and Hillary) owes something to misogyny.

Perhaps. I hope not.

What I keep coming back to is not Sandberg’s gender but her habit of individualizing experiences that ought to be universal.

“Lean In” addressed the serious economic and social problem of patriarchy by sidestepping its root causes with the Big Lie that if she could overcome, so could Jane Everywoman. “Option B” ignores how capitalism and employers make the passing of a loved one harder than it needs or ought to be in favor of vacuous declamations that boil down to “love them, time heals all wounds, it’ll all be fine.”

Times commenter “L.F.” articulates how our economic system brutalizes survivors: “The death of a breadwinner would plunge most American families with children into terrifying poverty. Dear God, the medical bills alone from a spouse’s final illness…and the loss of health insurance, which stops when the employed person takes their last breath or can’t keep working… I’ve literally known a family that landed in a homeless shelter after one parent passed away. The mortgage bank doesn’t give a damn about your need to teach the kids coping skills, and your boss might give you a week of bereavement leave, if you’re very, very, very lucky. Most American families don’t have $400 for an emergency. When people in my circles lose someone, they have to ask around for help from family, friends and church just to see them buried.”

Sheryl Sandberg helps run a company that makes America immeasurably worse off. Facebook prefers to hire cheap foreigners than hire un- and underemployed American tech workers. Though staggering rich, Facebook is cheap and thus intentionally understaffed to the point that the Facebook Killer’s snuff video stayed online for hours, as have pornographic photos of children, because there’s no way to reach them by phone.

Facebook is worth eight times as much as General Motors — yet employs fewer than one-tenth (17,000) as many full-time employees (207,000). That proportional shortfall of more than 1.5 million jobs could easily include the 272,000 journalists out of work in significant part due to Facebook.

If Sheryl Sandberg wants to help American parents, she should hire some.

(Ted Rall 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.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What a Real Passenger Bill of Rights Should Look Like

The violent ejection of a United Airlines passenger from a flight bound from Chicago to Louisville appears to have marked a long-awaited turning point. Dr. David Dao, 69, suffered a broken nose, lost two teeth and faces reconstructive sinus surgery. At last, America’s long-suffering flying public is crying as one, have you commercial airlines no shame?

Americans have been mad as hell. Now, it seems, they’re not going to take it anymore.

How will the politics of protecting travelers from rapacious — and sometimes brutal — air carriers play out? With the Republicans in control of all three branches of government, will this moment pass without significant legislative action as did the mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut? Or will Trump’s Congress be forced to act?

Thanks to nickel-and-diming us with $30 baggage and seat fees, the airlines are raking in billions. So they can easily afford changes that benefit consumers but cost their bottom lines.

Even the IRS is more popular than the airlines. So politicians aren’t taking any risks by taking them on.

Now is the time to act. Consumer advocates should set a high bar for their demands — and insist that Democrats get behind them. Dems should be able partner with Republicans on this one; “airlines suck” is bipartisan.

What would a genuinely kickass passenger bill of rights look like?

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Americans sometimes point to Europe as an example. But the EU code is toothless.

Case study: A service truck ran into my Norwegian Airlines plane before its scheduled morning takeoff from Martinique. The plane was grounded indefinitely. Understandable. Less understandable was how Norwegian treated us: late that that night, they flew us to the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe, put us up in a filthy, dangerous motel and flew us to New York the next day — more than 24 hours later.

EU rules say I should have received 400 euros compensation for the delay. Citing the time-honored corporate doctrine of “we don’t feel like paying just because,” the jerks at Norwegian denied my claim. Norway’s national aviation authorities gave me the brush-off, referring me to France. I contacted the French — lucky for me I’m fluent, but what if you’re not? — who’ve never bothered to reply.

Airlines poll just behind price-gouging low-service cable companies as America’s most hated business sector. This is a disaster. Since radical problems require radical solutions, let’s think big.

Class Warfare: Trudging through first class to steerage isn’t just an insult to human dignity. In a country that overthrew aristocracy, special titles and privileges (business class, Sky Club members, Platinum Gold Whatever) are anti-American. The airline class system incents efficiency experts to target the flying top 1% with beds at the expense of such amenities as room for the knees of the 99%. The Department of Transportation should ban class distinctions. Let all seats be created equal.

One Price Fits All: Obama-era DOT rules require airlines to clearly post fees for “extra” services like luggage. Two pieces, plus a purse or briefcase or small backpack, ought to be part of the flat fee everyone pays. The current system, in which the stripped-down Spirit appears as cheapest in listings but hits you up for $50 a bag and so winds up being the most expensive, is ridiculous.

NOverbooking: McDonald’s can’t sell the same Big Mac to two customers. How does it make sense to allow airlines to sell 140 tickets on a plane with 120 seats? That’s overbooking. If a paid passenger misses her fight, sell it to a standby if there is one. Otherwise let the seat fly empty and let us stretch a little.

Ban Surge Pricing: Sophisticated algorithms designed to maximize airline profits have frequent flyers sharing dubious tips (Tuesday is the cheapest day to buy your ticket) and clearing their web browser cookies to stymie airlines whose prices mysteriously creep up after each search (buy now or else). Whether on Uber or United, surge pricing is creepy and annoying and requires too much work for flyers. Set a price and stick with it, dammit! SFO to JFK on Delta should cost the same regardless of the time of day or day of week.

No Preferential Seating: With the exception of families traveling with small children, the disabled and trying to keep groups together, seats should be assigned randomly without consideration for frequent flier status or anything else. Particularly disgusting has been the recent practice of airlines that only allow advanced assignments for premium extra-cost seats, fooling some victims into buying something they don’t need and stressing out everyone else.

Ergonomic Reform: Leg room, pitch and seat width in coach have been shrunken to the point that the average person is cramped and uncomfortable. For safety reasons alone — evacuating a stricken aircraft through narrow aisles and rows is slow and thus dangerous — the FAA should set significantly more generous minimum standards for seat spacing. A middle-seat passenger ought to be able to get out to go the restroom without forcing his neighbor on the aisle to stand up.

Last and perhaps least, my personal bugaboo: what’s up with those last rows in some planes, where the seats can’t recline? That’s just mean.

(Ted Rall 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.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Confessions of a Frequent Guest on Fox News

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Report the news. Don’t become the news.” Not that Fox News has ever adhered strictly to boilerplate advice from Journalism 101, but the craziness on Sixth Avenue has come to a serious boil lately.

TV news elder statesman Ted Koppel called Sean Hannity “bad for America.” Sean freaked out and attacked Ted. Sean reportedly pulled a gun on fellow Foxer Juan Williams. Fox peeps reported it to management, who did nothing.

Bill O’Reilly and Fox paid $13 million to settle sexual harassment complaints filed by five women. Again, management knew — but stood by Bill. Advertisers are pulling out.

Last year Fox boss Roger Ailes was forced out in the aftermath of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson, who is now at MSNBC. Fox paid her $20 million and apologized. Julie Roginsky recently filed another suit against Ailes.

I’ve never worked at Fox. But I used to spend enough time there to gain insight into a dysfunctional organization.

This was during the years immediately following 9/11. George W. Bush and his wars were popular, especially with Fox viewers. And I went after Bush more aggressively than anyone else. So they were constantly begging me to come on as a liberal punching bag.

It became routine: Fox News popped up on caller ID. Would you like to come on The O’Reilly Factor/Hannity and Colmes/later just Hannity to talk about it? Why yes, I would. Bill or Sean would yell at me (as Alan silently cowered). I’d shoot back a volley of snark in hope that some of it would get through my deliberately tamped-down mic.

Going on Fox felt like going to war. These were the darkest days of the War on Terror: 2002, 2003 and 2004. Republicans were right-wing Republicans and so were Democrats. Someone had to stand up against wars of choice and legalized torture. Someone had to fight for the Bill of Rights. I was insulted (Hannity: “you have no soul”) and lied to (O’Reilly in response to my argument that the U.S. couldn’t win in Afghanistan: “I’ll bring you back to follow up”). But it was worth it. I’d take any opportunity to represent for the Left.

Lord knows the Democrats weren’t doing it.

Some of their tactics were risible. They were so extreme that, over time, no one to the left of Reagan would agree to appear on the network unless they’d never heard of it.

Ergonomic warfare, for example. My teetering armless guest seat was placed several inches lower so that, at 6’2″, I was forced to gaze up as O’Reilly lorded over his desk (which I couldn’t reach so as to rest my hands) from his comfy Aeron chair. A minute into O’Reilly’s oral arguments-style volley of hostile questions, it took most of my concentration not to roll backwards off the set.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but isn’t someone who takes the time to come to your studio, slap on pancake makeup and suck up a barrage of nasty questions and comments entitled to hospitality?

That said, I kind of liked Bill. He was cordial during breaks. Once, while one of my cartoons was provoking death threats (granted, mostly from Fox fans), he expressed genuine concern for my personal safety. Off-camera, he didn’t come off as an ideologue. I got the impression that he was in it for the money.

Hannity was a classic Long Island mook.

Unlike O’Reilly, the thick-necked Hannity followed me around the studio, trashtalking me with right-wing talking points while I searched for the restroom. “Save it for the show,” I advised him. What’s wrong with this guy? I thought. Give this to him: he’s for real. Hannity is a rabid culture warrior, a Goebbels for an America in free fall.

One episode turned me off Fox for good. Hannity’s producer invited me on to discuss a controversial “Doonesbury” cartoon. I was going to deliver my opinion and analysis as a political cartoonist, not talking about my own stuff. On the air, however, Hannity ambushed me instead with insults over a controversial cartoon I’d done months earlier about Pat Tillman, and which I’d already appeared on his program to defend.

I held up OK and kept my cool. But I was pissed. These appearances are discussed and agreed upon in detail: you’ll show the cover of my book at the beginning, you’ll identify me as “Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist,” you’ll be questioned about this and that. Switching to an entirely different subject violates the rules. At a well-run cable news network, punking a guest could lead to a warning or dismissal. Hannity’s crew just laughed.

Not long afterward, Sean’s producer called to apologize and begged me to return. I said I would if Sean would apologize on the air, the same medium where he’d tried to humiliate me. “He’s not likely to agree to that,” the producer said. I stayed home.
Two of my Foxiest memories took place in make-up.

A rushed make-up assistant accidently scraped my open eye. Years later, my left eye tears up in windy weather. Riding a bike, it runs full on. Stuff happens.

More startlingly, Sean entered the room while I was in the make-up chair. He didn’t trashtalk me or acknowledge my presence. My make-up artist was an undocumented worker. Sean knew. He told her that Fox was trying to determine how to pay her off the books and reassured her that they would figure it out.

As tempting as it would have been to expose the hypocrisy of a network and a personality who have raked in millions by spreading nativism and xenophobia, I didn’t go public for a simple reason. I didn’t want to strip an innocent hard-working person of her livelihood or, worse, subject her to possible deportation.

It was a confusing episode. Here was Sean Hannity, mega-mook, taking a risk by breaking the law to help an illegal immigrant. He almost seemed human. On the other hand, Fox News could easily afford to hire a U.S. citizen at a reasonable salary. There was more nuance in that minute-long conversation than in a year of Fox News broadcasts.

It was also revealing. Why would the top-rated channel in cable news break federal immigration law? The answer, it seems, is that Fox management didn’t think rules applied to them.

I’m still waiting to come back on O’Reilly to talk about Afghanistan.

(Ted Rall 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.)

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