SYNDICATED COLUMN: In Defense of Extremism

From The Washington Post: “The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.”

From USA Today: “Contrary to the popular opinion that radical Islam is the primary threat to homeland security, Christianity provides the other four groups with their extremist rationale.”

“Extremism” is the new “terrorism” – a word that so automatically conjures revulsion that its user is under no pressure to justify its use with logic or reason. The U.S. government and those charged with disseminating its propaganda – wait, we’re supposed to call them “talking points” now – in the media like to define themselves as the 50-yard line of politics. Like an ideological Goldilocks, neither too left nor too right but just perfect for this time and place and species, these self-described “centrists” and “moderates” vilify their enemies, opponents, and rivals with the E-word.

Upon examination, however, it becomes clear that few words are less meaningless in political discourse than “extremism.” (At least “terrorism” means something. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians in order to promote or achieve political ends.)

An extremist is only an extremist in comparison to what is mainstream/centrist/moderate. Whatever system of political, religious or economic belief happens to dominate at a particular moment in time smears its opponents as extreme and therefore beyond normal and acceptable discourse. But that can change. Today’s extremism becomes tomorrow’s moderation under a different system.

(This is even true when the system doesn’t change. In the U.S., 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was defeated because he was considered a right-wing extremist. Today, 50 years later, he would be too far to the left to be a viable candidate in the Democratic party.)

In the quote from the Washington Post above, the deeds allegedly committed by the Islamic State are violent, brutal and arguably barbaric. But even within the bounds of ideological discourse of mainstream U.S. corporate media, there is nothing “extreme” about what ISIS did. American fighter jets routinely kill civilians in the Middle East with the same impunity – ironically, sometimes while attacking ISIS – the only difference is the weapons and tactics used to achieve the same result: death.

We should demand that journalists use more specific, useful words than “extremist” to describe ideological opponents of the current system, which can credibly be called extremist in a number of important respects.

It’s pretty extreme, for example, to tell sick, poor and unemployed people that they are on their own, responsible for their own trials and tribulations, and should expect no help from their government. Indeed, very few other societies in the West believe such things. Executing the mentally ill makes the U.S. basically unique in the world. And if the “exceptionalist” American legal doctrine that U.S. law applies in every other country, allowing Americans to violate foreign territory and capture suspects of interest to the U.S. isn’t extreme, I don’t know what is.

The media conflates extremism with purism. Islamic State fighters want to restore the medieval Muslim caliphate and governance by Sharia law; those goals indicate fundamentalism or purism, not necessarily extremism.

One measure of an adjective in politics is, does anyone use it to describe themselves? No one calls themselves a terrorist; no group calls itself extreme. When you see those words in print or spoken by a broadcaster, therefore, you know you are looking at a smear, an insult, lazy shorthand masquerading as argument.

Frankly, anyone who has trouble finding legitimate reasons to oppose ISIS – beyond their supposed “extremism” – doesn’t deserve our attention. For starters: ISIS members believe in God; God doesn’t exist. They massacre innocent civilians to carry out ethnic cleansing; a pluralistic world is more interesting than a homogeneous one. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are ignorant, stupid hicks; who else would behead journalists who were willing to let them tell their story? Stupid hicks shouldn’t be in charge of anything.

Most dangerously, if we accept the framing of the current state of affairs as normal and that of groups and people who want to change it as extreme, few people will ever consider alternatives to the way that we do things now. Many Americans still view communism or socialism as beyond the pale, not because of what those ideologies espouse – many of them don’t know – but because they have absorbed decades of government and media propaganda describing them as fringe, weird, extreme. The result is a remarkably incurious, passive citizenry that accepts the status quo merely because it’s the status quo.

Which is pretty extreme.

(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

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ANewDomain.net Essay: Beware the Invasion of the X-rated iDevice

I wrote the following for ANewDomain.net:

So this is one of those stories that purports to report about A Thing, and there’s really no way to know whether it really is A Thing and if it is, how much of A Thing it is.

Often media stories about these new developments are so over-the-top that it would be a pity not to make fun of them and make sure that everyone who hasn’t heard of it has been made aware of it in the process. This is kind of like what happened a few years back when The New York Times claimed that doga – yoga with your dog – was A Thing, but no one seemed to have ever personally seen it or witnessed it or even seen a listing for it. (Best Wikipedia line ever: “Doga has received some criticism from the yoga community.”)

Well, now The New York Post is reporting that real human females are inserting electric devices into their special places so they can enjoy a secret moment at work, in the subway, wherever. Devices in this new generation of sex toys are controlled remotely, by an Apple iPhone or iPad…

Read the rest here.

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ANewDomain.net Cartoon: Two Wrongs Make Iraq

The New York Times reports that there were indeed proscribed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) – chemical weapons – found in Iraq. However, the Pentagon ordered soldiers to cover them up because they were designed by the U.S. and U.S. troops fell ill upon finding them.

My cartoon is exclusive to ANewDomain.net, so please click here too.

Two Wrongs Make Iraq

 

 

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FALL BOOK TOUR: “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests”

Here are the current confirmed dates for my tour for AFTER WE KILL YOU:

Sunday, October 26, 2014
11:00 AM
BookHampton
41 Main Street
East Hampton, NY 11937

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
5:30 PM – 8:30 PM

National Press Club Book Fair
529 14th Street NW
Ballroom
Washington, DC 20045

Thursday, November 20, 2014
7:30 pm
Powell’s Books
1005 W Burnside St
Portland, OR 97209

Friday, November 21, 2014
7:00 pm
Elliott Bay Book Company
1521 10th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122

Saturday, November 22, 2014
7:00 pm
Village Books
1200 11th St
Bellingham, WA 98225

Sunday, November 23, 2014
3:00 pm
Orca Books
509 4th Ave E
Olympia, WA 98501

Would you like Ted to speak to your reading group,organization, rally, university, or local store? Click below!
BOOK TED RALL FOR YOUR EVENT

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Millions of Gen Xers Will Be Homeless Before You Know It

Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.

We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.

Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.

Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.

Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.

Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.

Traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by stingy 401(k)s and similar programs which employers no longer pay into, cap how much you can contribute (assuming you can afford it), take a beating during downturns in the stock market, and allow workers to tap when they’re laid off or run into financial trouble. After years of sketchy raids and outright theft, workers with old-fashioned corporate and government pensions can’t be sure their money will be there when they need it. The first Generation Xers — many of whom never had the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to several long recessions that impacted them particularly hard — will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the year 2024.

The facts are brutal:

No savings: The average Gen Xer only has a net worth of about $40,000 — enough to live on for a year. Maybe. In Akron. 36% of Americans don’t have a dime saved for retirement.

Later Social Security: Thanks to that lovable wacky Ronald Reagan, the Social Security retirement age was quietly raised to 67 for Gen Xers born after 1960. When you finally get Social Security, it doesn’t pay enough. The U.S. ranks third to last in social security benefits among developed nations.

Age discrimination: The continuing post-2008 recession hit those in their 50s especially hard; employers want cheaper, younger workers. 25% of Americans over age 55 now have no savings whatsoever.

About those pension plans: When journalists mention the retirement crisis, they focus on problems with the defined-benefit system. But that’s irrelevant to most Americans. 90% of private-sector workers don’t have one. Most government workers do — but 85% of Americans work in the private sector.

401ks suck (if you have one). Three out of four workers have no pension plan. What they might have is a 401k. The average Gen Xer who has a 401k — 69% don’t — has a $63,000 balance.

Financial experts say 92% of U.S. workers fall significantly short of what they’ll need to live decently after retirement. “In the decades to come,” Edward Siedle writes for Forbes, “we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”

This is about you — not some theoretical lazy Other.

“At some point,” Siedle says, “lack of savings, lack of employment possibilities and failing health will catch up with the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elders.  Let me emphasize that we’re talking about the overwhelming majority, not a small percentage who arguably made bad decisions throughout their working lives.” [Emphasis is mine.]

America’s army of starving old people will drag down younger people too. “Public finances will be pushed to the limit, crowding out other priorities such as education,” Christian E. Weller predicts in The Hill. “Moreover, economic growth will be slower than it otherwise would be because employers will have more workers whose productivity is declining, while many older families, who could start successful new businesses, will forego those opportunities.”

And the pols?

Useless, Siedle concludes. “Conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.”

We can hit the streets to demand action now — or we’ll be living on them later.

(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

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: I’m Not Changing My Passwords Just Cuz Hackers

http://i2.wp.com/cdn.bgr.com/2014/04/hackers-hacking-2.jpg?w=952

The 2003 film “House of Sand and Fog” depicts a tragic string of events that follows a woman who loses her house after ignoring eviction notices mistakenly sent to her for nonpayment of county taxes. A recovering drug addict recently abandoned by her husband, she’s overwhelmed by the deluge of bureaucratic housekeeping demanded by contemporary American society.

I think of that beleaguered woman’s character whenever I receive yet another notice from my credit card company that they are changing their terms and conditions, when an airline urges me to join their frequent flyer program, when a client informs me that they never received the email I’m sure I sent out, but now I can’t find in my sent messages. So much crap, so many petty details, why bother to get up in the morning?

Never is this deluge more front and center than during the immediate aftermath of the latest mass hacking, typically, allegedly, by online gangs in the former Soviet Union. During the Cold War, they said they would bury us. Now they are — in security-focused inanity.

In the latest fiasco that has to make one question if we are really better off now than we were in the old days of passbook savings, they’re saying that as many as 76 million households may have had their account information compromised by an incursion into computers at the banking conglomerate JPMorgan Chase. “The intrusion compromised the names, addresses, phone numbers and emails of those households, and can basically affect anyone — customers past and present — who logged onto any of Chase and JPMorgan’s websites or apps,” reports The New York Times. “That might include those who get access to their checking and other bank accounts online or someone who checks their credit card points over the web. Seven million small businesses also were affected.”

Understand this: we are supposed to be very very scared. And we’re supposed to be scared for a reason: they want us to act. They – the banks and corporations – want us to spend an awful lot of time and energy protecting their money.

Bear in mind, when someone steals your credit card data and makes unauthorized purchases or withdrawals, you’re not responsible. In short, it’s not your problem. But the media is colluding with the megabanks in order to make us care about something that we really shouldn’t.

Consider, for example, this advice to us banking customers in the Times article: “Those who want to add a layer of security to their financial life should consider a ‘security freeze,’ one of the strongest tools against theft because it prevents someone from trying to open a new account in a consumer’s name. When you freeze your reports, the big three credit bureaus will not release your credit reports to any company that does not already have a relationship with you. Financial providers and other companies typically request such reports before issuing a new account.”

Considering that this is something that the powers that be want us to do, they’re not making it easy.

The paper continues: “Consumers need to approach each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and may need to pay a small fee, depending on where they live. The process can be a hassle because the freeze has to be ‘thawed,’ or lifted, to apply for a new credit card, for instance, or for a mortgage. (And consumers may need to keep PINs and other information handy to do that).”

Uh-huh.

So let me get this straight. Credit agencies that earn billions of dollars selling our information, much of it erroneous, want to charge us for our own data, so we can protect the big banks that we bailed out in 2009 at taxpayer expense and even now refuse to refinance mortgages or lend to small businesses, a major reason that the economy is still terrible, and waste God knows how many hours online or on the phone dealing with this boring crap.

Well, hear this, Russian hackers and American banksters: I’m a busy person. I have a lot to do. Like most Americans, I work three jobs. If I ever find myself with any spare time, it’s going to be on the beach and is going to involve margaritas and good books.

I am not going to change my passwords every time I read one of these scare stories. I refuse to pick new unique passwords for each of my dozens of accounts. I will not freak out on behalf of people who don’t give a damn about me or anyone I care about. And it will be a cold day in hell before I put a credit freeze on my own account, and pay for the privilege.

(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

 

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Drought Goes On, California Goes On Too

Happy Hour

 

Some “deep green” environmentalists believe that the tab for two-plus centuries of industrialization is about to come due in the form of a catastrophic ecological disaster — one that might lead to the great sixth mass extinction on a scale similar to the meteor believed to have taken out the dinosaurs. (Yes, that means you, human reader.)

Here in California, the current drought — which some scientists believe may be the worst in 500 years — understandably leaves many Golden State residents, always aware of water restrictions in a region surrounded by deserts, with a sense of disquiet. What if this goes on? Will the California Dream turn to dust and blow away?

Apparently not. Like the Earth in general, California’s climate is surprisingly resilient, according to recent computer models.

State climate researchers ran a projection of what would happen after “even decades of unrelenting mega-drought similar to those that dried out the state in past millennia,” reports Bettina Boxall of the Times.

“The results were surprising,” Jay Lund of UC Davis told her.

If you own stock in the ag business, you might want to consider unloading them. Agriculture, the climatologists found, would be hit hard. “In their computer simulation, annual runoff into rivers and reservoirs amounted to only about half the historical average. Most reservoirs never filled. Under that scenario, experts say, irrigated farm acreage would plunge…The state’s 8 million acres of irrigated cropland could fall by as much as half, predicted Daniel Sumner, director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. Farmers would largely abandon relatively low-value crops such as cotton and alfalfa and use their reduced water supplies to keep growing the most profitable fruits, nuts and vegetables. They would let fields revert to scrub or dry-farm them with wheat and other crops that predominated before California’s massive federal irrigation project transformed the face of the Central Valley in the mid-20th century.”

Biodiversity would suffer too. “Aquatic ecosystems would suffer, with some struggling salmon runs fading out of existence.”

Water prices will rise. Desalination plants will be built along the coast. While initially painful, the agrishock would only affect 4% of the state’s economy — notable, but not fatal.

Bottom line: “The California economy would not collapse. The state would not shrivel into a giant, abandoned dust bowl. Agriculture would shrink but by no means disappear.”

Paradoxically, this good news (or not-that-bad news, anyway) is bad news.

Political and economic leaders tend to ignore problems before they turn into a crisis — especially when heading off the issue would cost money. The news that California’s drought probably won’t lead to ruin within their lifetimes, or our children’s lifetimes, ensures that they’ll keep ignoring environmental destruction. Species will keep going extinct. Flocks of birds will continue to thin out. Invasive species will accelerate the process. These things may not sink the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but they really really really suck.

This is one of those rare times when I wish — almost — that the scientists had lied about what they discovered.

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