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Corrupt Politicians Should Stop Whining About Being Criticized and Do Their Jobs

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            No.

I refuse.

I don’t care what they say. No way, no how will I make excuses for America’s lazy, morally bankrupt, ineffectual and cowardly politicians.

Believe it or not, asking we the people to sympathize with our crappy legislators has lately become a Thing.

Poor dears, they have so much on their plates! “Those in decision-making positions are often forced to make consequential judgments on incomplete information in a compressed period in an attempt to solve difficult and enduring problems,” Peter Wehner explains in a New York Times op-ed. “And the outcome of those decisions may well be determined by contingencies that are difficult to anticipate.” What BS. Wehner, who worked in three Republican White Houses, doesn’t explain that that “incomplete information” is no one’s fault but those very same politicians.

Beltway insiders say: “Personnel is policy.” George W. Bush’s war cabinet was so full of warmongers and militarists that it fell to a former general, Colin Powell, to serve as the token voice of moderation as the administration weighed war against Iraq. Bush’s decision to exclude pacifists from the ranks of his top officials led directly to the deaths of over a million people. Though he ran as a Democrat, Barack Obama didn’t appoint a single liberal or progressive to his cabinet. So, if there was no one in the room to point out the stupidity and injustice of bailing out the big Wall Street banks at the expense of millions of distressed homeowners and laid-off Americans, that was his own fault. It’s not like antiwar activists and Marxist economists send presidents straight to voicemail when they call.

Nevertheless the ruling political class—the very same people to whom we pay handsome six-figure salaries (and they whine that they’re underpaid) in order to solve the climate crisis, the rising inequality crisis and the crumbling infrastructure crisis yet never manage to accomplish a damn thing—want us to feel sorry for them.

            Cue the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”

“When I worked in the White House,” Wehner writes, “I was struck by how many decisions involved weighing competing goods while from the outside they seemed to be simple matters of right and wrong.”

Let me fix that for him. Not competing goods. Competing interests. In the corridors of power in Washington, decision-making is not a noble struggle to determine right and wrong. It is a cynical cost-benefit analysis about which powerful people and organizations are most important to suck up to.

Government by the people and for the people? Not any more. Today’s American political class no longer bothers to pretend that they serve us. They sound more like kings and queens: The issues are too complicated for us idiots to understand. The problems involve too many factors. You do your crappy $13-an-hour job; let us do ours, which we have done for decades and will do now and forevermore. Begone!

A video that shows California Senator Dianne Feinstein being confronted at her office by a group of children supporting the “Green New Deal” in February perfectly illustrates the arrogance of America’s professional politicians. It went viral with 2.5 million views on Facebook.

As soon as one kid starts to talk Feinstein interrupts: “Well, the reason why I can’t is there no way to pay for it.”

A girl replies: “We have tons of money going to the military.”

“Well, I understand that,” condescends Feinstein. “The United States government does a lot of things with the money and they’re important things.” (Play-by-play: That’s Feinstein tacitly conceding that the first kid is right, there actually is a way to pay for it but that money is for the military, not for a Green New Deal.)

A girl starts to remind Feinstein that the government is supposed to be for the people and by the people but the senator cuts her off again. “You know what’s interesting about this group,” she ’splains, “is I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected. I just ran…So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”

Whether the Green New Deal is or isn’t a good idea, it doesn’t take a PhD in environmental science to see that the planet is in deep trouble. We have to act. Congress has to act. Feinstein has to get off her ass and do something big, right away. It really is “a simple matter of right and wrong”—not to mention smart versus idiotic. Truth is, Feinstein is scared: scared of the military lobby if she tried to cut the Pentagon budget, scared of the energy lobby if she were to antagonize them. Complexity, competing issues, blah blah blah have nothing to do with anything.

“[Many Americans] believe that all politicians are knaves and fools, and that the system is endemically corrupt and rigged, and so (figuratively speaking) the village needs to be burned to the ground,” Wehner complains. “This is dangerous nihilism. But oddly enough, it is a function of expectations that are too high, not too low: It is rooted in an assumption that governing is easy, that if our leaders really wanted to solve all our problems, or if we elected people who did, they could.”

Many Americans are 100% right.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Hacking Dirty Government Secrets Is Not a Crime

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British goon cops acting at the request of the United States government entered Ecuador’s embassy in London, dragged out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and prepared to ship him across the pond. After this event last month most of the mainstream media reacted with spiteful glee about Assange’s predicament and relief that the Department of Justice had exercised self-restraint in its choice of charges.“Because traditional journalistic activity does not extend to helping a source break a code to gain illicit access to a classified network, the charge appeared to be an attempt by prosecutors to sidestep the potential First Amendment minefield of treating the act of publishing information as a crime,” reported a pleased The New York Times.

At the time, the feds had accused Assange of hacking conspiracy because he and Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning allegedly discussed how to break into a Pentagon computer.

Bob Garfield of NPR’s “On the Media,” a veteran reporter who should and probably does know better, was one of many establishmentarians who opined that we needn’t worry because Assange isn’t a “real” journalist.

This being the Trump Administration, self-restraint was in short supply. It turns out that the short list of Assange charges was a temporary ploy to manipulate our gullible English allies. Now Assange faces 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act and a finally-concerned Times calls it “a novel case that raises profound First Amendment issues” and “a case that could open the door to criminalizing activities that are crucial to American investigative journalists who write about national security matters.”

Corporate media’s instant reversal on Assange—from rapist scum to First Amendment hero within minutes—elevates self-serving hypocrisy to high art. But that’s OK. Whatever gets Assange closer to freedom is welcome—even the jackals of corporate media.

May we linger, however, on an important point that risks getting lost?

Even if Assange were guilty of hacking into that Pentagon computer…

Even if it had been Assange’s idea…

Even if Manning had had nothing to do with it…

Even if Trump’s DOJ hadn’t larded on the Espionage Act stuff…

 Assange should not have faced any charges.

Included in the material Manning stole from the military and posted to WikiLeaks were the “Afghan War Logs,” the “Iraq War Logs,” files about the concentration camp at Guantánamo and the “Collateral Murder” video of the U.S. military’s 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad.

For the sake of argument let’s assume that Assange, without Manning, had personally hacked into a Pentagon computer and in doing so discovered proof that U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were guilty of war crimes, including torture and the mass murder of civilians for fun—and put that evidence of criminal wrongdoing online. Would Assange deserve a prison term? Of course not. He would merit a medal, a ticker-tape parade, a centrally-located handsome statue or two.

Even if Assange were “guilty” of the hacking charges, so what? The “crime” of which he stands accused pales next to the wrongdoing he helped to expose.

Good Samaritan laws protect people who commit what the law calls a “crime of necessity.” If you save a child from your neighbor’s burning house the police shouldn’t charge you with trespassing. Similarly if the only way to expose government or corporate lawbreaking is to steal confidential documents and release them to the press à la Edward Snowden, you should be immune from prosecution. That principle clearly applies to the materials Manning stole and Assange released as a public service to citizens unaware of the misdeeds committed under their name and at their expense.

Even among liberals it has become fashionable to observe that people who engage in civil disobedience must be prepared to face legal punishment. This is a belief grounded in practicality: individuals who confront the state need to understand that theirs will be a difficult struggle.

Over the past few decades, however, what was common sense has become perverted into a bizarre justification for oppression: Snowden/Assange/Manning/Winner violated laws, they knew what they were doing, that’s the risk they took, and so—this is the weird part—the Left need not defend them.

Yes, these whistleblowers knew (or ought to have known) that they risked prosecution and prison time. But that’s the way things are, not the way they ought to be. The project of a Left must be to fight for society and politics as they should be, not to blandly shrug our shoulders and accept the status quo. Laws should be rewritten to protect whistleblowers like Manning and journalists like Assange who expose official criminality.

Whistleblowers should never face prosecution.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Campaign 2020: Why Joe Biden is the Least Electable Democrat

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            As one of the few pundits who correctly called the 2016 election for Donald Trump, it would be wise to rest on my laurels rather than risk another prediction, one that might turn out wrong.

But how would that be fun? Let the 2020 political prognostications begin!

The arithmetic of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries is repeating itself on the Democratic side in 2020: a big field of candidates, one of whom commands a plurality by virtue of name recognition—which implies higher “electability”—while his 20-or-so opponents divvy up the rest of the single-digit electoral scraps.

The Trump 2016 dynamic will probably play out the same way when Democratic delegates are counted at the 2020 convention. But the outcome in November 2020 is likely to be the opposite: Trump gets reelected.

Here’s how I see it playing out.

In 2016 there were 17 “major” (corporate media-approved) GOP presidential candidates. Famous and flamboyant, Donald Trump consistently polled around 30% throughout the primaries. That left his 16 relatively obscure rivals to fight over the remaining 70%. Considering that 70% divided by 16 comes to 4.4%, his runner-ups Ben Carson (14%), Ted Cruz (9%) and Marco Rubio (9%) outperformed the field. Yet Trump’s lead was too big. They couldn’t catch him.

Twenty-four Democrats are running in 2020. Here again, we have one really famous guy—it’s hard to get more famous than former vice president of the United States—plus the rest. In this contest, the odds of an upset are even longer. Joe Biden polls at around 38%, significantly better than Trump did. The remaining pie slice is smaller than Carson, Cruz, Rubio, etc. and gets chopped up into even more pieces.

Next comes Bernie Sanders—the early frontrunner, now number two—at about 18%, with Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg each getting about 8%. (62% divided by 23 equals 2.7%.) Although Sanders is suffering from his failure to follow my advice to move left, it’s also easy to see why progressives suspect another DNC conspiracy to screw him.

“Having many candidates is a standard Democratic Party tactic to draw down support for any insurgent candidate,” writes Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a candidate for Congress from south L.A. “When it was just Bernie vs. Hillary, all the anti-Hillary Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and they all went to Bernie. But now Bernie’s votes will be split with progressive icons like Warren and Gabbard, as well as with progressive-sounding corporate politicians like Buttigieg, Harris, and Biden.”

Here I will insert my standard disclaimer that the elections are an eternity away, that things can and will change, you never know what will happen, blah blah blah.

But as things stand at this writing, Biden will probably take the nomination unless he dies or there’s a new scandal.

After the summer 2020 conventions, the 2016 scenario diverges from 2020.

I tend to discount “blue no matter who” and “anyone but Trump” chatter from centrist Democrats who argue that this president is such a threat to everything good and decent about the world that everyone must set their personal preferences aside in order to vote the bastard out. Besides, many of the people who urge unity have no credibility. They voted for Hillary but if Bernie had been the nominee they would not have turned out for him. Progressives weren’t born yesterday. Tired of 40 years of marginalization, they turned a deaf ear to the Clintonites’ self-serving unity pleas, boycotted the general election and denied Hillary her “inevitable” win.

And here’s the thing: they don’t feel bad about it.

If anything the schism in the Democratic Party between the progressive majority (72%) and corporatist centrist voters has widened and hardened over the past three years. Both sides are intransigent: Hillary’s voters accuse Bernie’s boycotters of handing the White House to Trump; Bernie’s supporters point to polls that consistently showed he, not Clinton, could have beat Trump.

Progressives are still angry that the Democratic establishment cheated Bernie Sanders out of the nomination last time. News that they’re doing the same thing now has enraged them.

That includes progressives who plan to vote for one of the other progressives or progressives-come-lately. By any measure, Joe Biden is not progressive. He’s number one in the polls but far behind the aggregate total of his progressive opponents. (I omit zero-policy candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg and centrists like Amy Klobuchar from my back-of-the-envelope calculations even though their support includes some progressives.) The party is ramming Biden the corporatist down the throats of Democratic primary voters using classic divide-and-conquer.

It will work. The Democrats will emerge from this nomination fight even more divided than the last cycle. Like the Mad Queen at the conclusion of “Game of Thrones,” Biden will inherit the ruins of a party he destroyed.

Trump goes into 2020 stronger than ever. Republicans are unified. Democrats look like fools for the debunked Russiagate fiasco and like wimps for refusing to try to impeach him. The economy looks strong. If the president lays off Iran, we’ll be relatively at peace. In the Rust Belt swing states it’s not just Republicans who like his trade wars. Abortion will not motivate as many voters as liberals hope.

At the same time, Joe Biden is the worst candidate in the Democratic field, even worse than Hillary Clinton. Some progressives voted for her because of her history-making potential as first woman president and her role trying to make healthcare policy. Biden offers nothing like that for progressive voters. He’s a warmonger who voted to kill a million people in Iraq. He’s against Medicare for all. He undermined Anita Hill, pretended to apologize years after the fact, and then took it back. And he’s just another old white man. No one is excited about him.

Only one thing can defeat Donald Trump: a unified, enthusiastic, progressive front. Biden’s rivals should pick one of their own, drop out and pledge to campaign for him or her. OK, two things: Biden should quit for the good of his party. Of course neither of these will happen.

I currently predict that Trump will win bigly.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

LA Times Guild: Classic Example of a Fake Union

Collective bargaining is good for workers with one notable exception: when those workers are represented by a “fake union.” Employees without a union understand their position. It’s weak. They need union representation and should organize. Employees represented by a fake union falsely believe that their best interests are being represented, outsource collective bargaining to their union representatives, and get screwed without knowing it.

As a former employee and plaintiff in a lawsuit against the LA Times, and as a long-time union advocate, I was thrilled when an overwhelming majority of Times journalists voted to unionize. Unfortunately, it turns out that the LAT Guild is one of those dreaded fake unions.

My case has kept me busy. But over time I began to wonder: why is a union that purports to represent LA Times workers so silent about my case?

Beginning with the newspaper’s previous owners Tribune Publishing and continuing under new owner, biotech billionaire Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, LA Times lawyers have aggressively argued in court that the First Amendment immunizes them from all wrongful termination claims. In other words, the LA Times (and all other media companies in the state of California) should be allowed to fire their employees for any reason, including gender discrimination, racial discrimination, discrimination based on sexual orientation, etc. Obviously workers cannot and should not abide such an argument. Any union worth its salt would be in court, by my side, fighting not just for me but for its own workers so that hard-earned basic employee rights would get be rolled back to the 1950s.

But when I reached out to the Guild, repeatedly, I got no reply–nothing but crickets. Guild reps are journalists. Not commenting is not what journalists do. When journalists go silent, I get suspicious. So I did a little digging.

The LAT Guild Twitter feed told me everything I needed to know. It had hundreds of followers but it only followed two Twitter feeds: those of owner Dr. Pat and the Times’ PR flack.

Weirdly, it stated that the Guild’s goal was to “safeguard” the Los Angeles Times and its journalists. The LA Times is the employer. The enemy.

No union should ever be in the business of protecting the opposite side in labor management negotiations. A union has only one side: labor. Dr. Pat has more than enough power and money to protect himself.

This attitude, reflected by public pronouncements issued by the LAT Guild, reminds me of the 1980s, when the so-called “team concept” was popular among auto unions and others. The idea was that labor and management had shared interests, specifically a mutual interest in their industry doing well. As far as it goes, that’s true. But it’s truer that labor and management have an inherently adversarial relationship. Management wants to extract as much work as possible for as little pay from workers; labor wants to earn as much pay for as little labor as possible. Most of those “we are all in it together” arrangements subsequently collapsed due to that simple truth.

The LAT Guild hasn’t gotten the message. Rather than boldly confront Dr. Pat, instead of militant action, this classic example of a fake union engages in boosterism, pussyfooting and millennial-style social media campaigns involving silly memes. Every now and then, they do a lunch-hour walkout. Strike? No way. Fight back an attack against them in court? Uh-uh.

Meanwhile, management is laughing their way to the bank.

According to the union itself, management lawyers have been wasting their time for months often showing up late or not at all to scheduled negotiating sessions. Dr. Pat has suggested that he has a 100-year plan for the survival of the LA Times–he’s 65! I want to see that!–so the LAT Guild has quite reasonably asked for a successorship provision that would require that any future company that buys the paper would adhere to the terms of the next contract. If Dr. Pat is telling the truth, if he really isn’t planning to sell the paper, he should easily be able to agree to this. But he’s adamantly refusing. That should tell LAT Guild negotiators everything they need to know.

It has been many long weeks of frustration for union negotiators as they’ve gotten jerked around by company lawyers. Having dealt with some of their lawyers, I can’t say that I’m surprised. They are bullies. They only respond to force. And they’re certainly not confronting any force in the form of the fake union.

Because the LAT Guild refuses to comment on my case, I can only speculate why. I imagine they are trying to maintain a friendly relationship with Dr. Pat. No doubt the word has gone out through LA Times corporate that no one should say anything about my case lest they be fired or punished.

If I were a member of the LAT Guild, I would ask myself, why the heck is the Guild, why am I scared to exercise my fundamental First Amendment right as a reporter to express myself? The whole point of belonging to a union is that you don’t have to be scared of your employer.

Media Censors the Opinions of 37% of Americans. And Now They’re Gloating About It.

1-3-18Thirty-seven percent of American citizens are socialist or communist. That’s far more people than voted for either Hillary Clinton (28% of eligible voters) or Donald Trump (27%) in 2016.

The majority is voiceless. A privileged minority rules. The United States is a political apartheid state.

If the Left were allowed on the ballot in this fake democracy, given space in newspapers and on television, invited to join political debates, and if it wasn’t brutally suppressed by the police and FBI, the Left wouldn’t need to wage a revolution in order to take over the country. Leftists could easily win at the ballot box if America were a real democracy.

Media censorship plays a major part in the conspiracy to deny the majority Left its rightful role as the nation’s rulers. Socialist and communist Americans read newspaper editorial pages and draw the false conclusion that they’re members of a lunatic fringe. More than 1,000 papers—yet not one single leftist opinion columnist or editorial cartoonist on staff?!?

Leftist Americans exist by the millions but many are isolated from one another. They watch CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews and figure they’re all alone. None of the three major cable news networks employs a single left-wing commentator. They go to the polls but there’s no left party on the ballot. Or if there is, they’ve never heard of it and don’t want to waste their votes.

To be a Leftist in America today is analogous to how black people felt until recently while watching TV: you don’t see anyone like you. The powers that be want you to feel like the Invisible Man, as though you didn’t exist. You know you exist. But you can’t miss the system’s message that you don’t matter.

American politics is a party to which you have not been invited.

This has been the state of affairs for as long as I can remember. Even as more Americans become disgusted by runaway capitalism, censorship of the Left has become increasingly thorough and ferocious.

There used to be a little space. In the 1990s lefties like me were granted occasional mentions in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and NPR. Even FoxNews had us on to serve as punching bags. Shortly after 9/11 we disappeared along with the Twin Towers, relegated to a few blogs and alternative weeklies. Now newspapers and cable TV news and corporate news websites never give space or air to representatives of the Left. (Don’t email me about AOC. She’s a Democrat, not a leftist.)

Censorship of the really-existing Left is impressively thorough. You’ll find exactly as much opposition to the government on the media here in the U.S. as you’ll find in North Korea.

Ashamed and afraid, the gatekeepers used to have the decency to keep secret their suppression of people whose political sin is that they really, truly believe that all humans are equal. They didn’t even think they were biased. They thought they were reasonable. Moderate. Middle of the road.

Censorship with a smile is no longer enough for America’s corrupt news media. Now they’re brazenly contemptuous. The bastards even seek to elevate censorship of the Left to a proud American value!

On May 12th the Times ran another in a string of hit pieces on RT America, a television network it described as the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.” RT, the Times complained, “amplifies voices of dissent, to sow discord and widen social divides. It gives the marginal a megaphone and traffics in false equivalence.” Imagine that: giving airtime to people we’ve always censored! “Voices of dissent” must never be “amplified.” They must be silenced.

This has become a standard talking point.

“RT America has a modest audience, exploring stories of dissent, injustice and poverty within the U.S. that it says American news outlets ignore,” NPR sneered in 2016, as if dissent, injustice and poverty were standard fare on corporate media outlets. Anyway, if RT’s audience is so small, why is the political establishment so worried about them?

The formerly-liberal Guardian has gotten into the act: Fringe opinion takes centre stage [on RT],” it wrote in 2017. “Reporting is routinely bolstered by testimony from experts you have never heard of, representing institutions you have never heard of.” It is true that RT rarely interviews “experts” like John Bolton and William Kristol, neocon architects of the Iraq War who despite their evil idiocy pop up everywhere from CNN to the Bill Maher show. Far more often, they interview people who have been right year after year about issue after issue—people like me.

I get interviewed by RT often. (Disclosure: I am a frequent guest on RT’s sister radio network Sputnik News and draw cartoons for them too.) Never once have they told me what to say or not say. I wish I could say the same about many “mainstream” U.S. media outlets.

Many attacks against RT originate with the U.S. government’s national security apparatus. The Times piece blithely cites the RAND Corporation, Molly McKew, a right-wing lobbyist for the anti-Russian government of Georgia, and the Director of National Intelligence to support its allegations. A 2017 report issued by the DNI groused: “RT’s reports often characterize the United States as a ‘surveillance state’ and allege widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use. RT has also focused on criticism of the U.S. economic system, U.S. currency policy, alleged Wall Street greed, and the U.S. national debt.”

Notably, the report did not question the accuracy of those assertions.

It certainly didn’t suggest that the U.S. stop doing all those things that make it look so awful.

To U.S. corporate propagandists the solution is clear: censor more and censor better.

Make censorship good.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Long Form Long Form Long Form! is the Future of Print Journalism

Image result for battered newspaper box Journalism is in trouble. Writers of articles pointing this out typically argue that this is really bad for democracy or America or whatever. Anyone who disagrees is too stupid to read this so I won’t bother to repeat this obviousness. Such writers also point out contemporaneous evidence of the media apocalypse; here are the three I came across this week.

1. 1,800 local newspapers have gone out of business in the last 15 years. Since print newspapers generate nine out of ten stories that appear on radio, TV and online, that’s a big loss.

2. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has closed. This is notable because it’s the first time in memory that a major city’s single major daily (OK, thrice weekly in recent years) has vanished. Its smaller Baton Rouge-based competitor remains but now it’s easy to imagine a real city having no daily paper whatsoever.

3. The influential and notably right-before-anyone-else investor Warren Buffett used to believe in newspapers enough that he bought some. No more. Now he says the only viable print papers are the national megapapers The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. (Disclosure: I write op-eds for the Journal.)

At the same time, the Mueller Report was a bestselling book.

A print book.

Note: you can read it for free online.

Why would anyone pay for the Mueller Report? For the same reason they paid to read the 9/11 Commission Report and the Starr Report about Bill Clinton, two other public documents freely available on the Internet that became bestsellers in print form. Which happens to be the same reason magazines like The New Yorker and The Economist make a profit while many others are tanking. It’s also why the Sunday edition of The New York Times does well.

Long stuff is easier to read in print.

Many readers read the Mueller Report on their electronic devices. As evidenced by the success of the book version, however, a lot of people are willing to pay money to avoid the eye and neck strain of peering and craning at a comparatively low-resolution screen—while retaining less of what they read—for more than 400 pages. And that is the future of print journalism.

In the 1970s the weekly news magazines Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report ran long-form analysis of the stories that had been reported the previous week by daily newspapers. Reporters at the newsweeklies dug deep, unearthed new details and told you what it all meant and why it mattered. They were giants, read by tens of millions of Americans.

Beginning with the rise of the Web in the 1990s, the newsweeklies lost their way. Editors thought the Internet proved that our attention spans were shortening so they slashed word counts. Stories got shorter. There were fewer of them too. So people stopped reading them. Why pay for the same content they could get free online, and sooner? Newsweek basically went out of business. U.S. News is online only. Once the cornerstone of Henry Luce’s empire, Time subsists.

The New Yorker and The Economist are prospering because they doubled down on their commitment to detailed long-form journalism about ongoing issues. Graphically they contain no evidence that the Web ever existed. They carry words, lots and lots of them, occasionally punctuated by hand-drawn illustrations. Some articles weigh in at 5,000, even 10,000 words. These publications don’t break news—they can’t. They deep dive.

You already know what happened. Long-form analysis tells you what it means.

Long form, long form, long form. Long form is the future!

Old formats endure because new ones can’t replace desirable functions. Despite expert predictions TV didn’t kill radio because you can’t watch TV while you drive or clean the house. Print is perfect for long-form publishing because many people prefer flipping pages to scrolling. And it’s easier on your eyes.

The future of print—which, digihype aside, is still where the money is to be made—is analogous to the 1970s, when people read daily papers for breaking news and news magazines for long-form analysis. When news breaks we’ll read about it online, on our devices. A new generation of print outlets will supply after-the-fact analysis that go on for thousands of words, along with comix journalism and complicated charts that require days (rather than minutes or hours) to research, compile and edit.

Newspapers, Buffett said, “haven’t figured out a way to make the digital model complement the print model.” It would be nice to suggest that he is mistaken, that beleaguered newspapers will finally pivot to long form, perhaps replacing their current seven-day runs with a single beefy weekend edition. Unfortunately, he’s right.

Newspapers have never been managed by people with less vision. They’ve fired the experienced out-of-the-box thinkers on their staffs in favor of underpaid Millennials who think they can guilt readers into subscribing the way NPR does during their pledge drives. Listeners support NPR because it offers unique content, not because listeners would feel guilty if it went under. Newspapers ought to have figured out long ago that no one will pay for the same exact news that they read yesterday, for free, on their phones.

“Creative destruction” will erase the dinosaurs. In their place will arise a new generation of print outlets dedicated to long-form analysis and commentary.

(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.)

 

Death to the Stump Speech

Image result for stump speechThroughout 2016 the presidential candidates who were not Donald Trump complained to Jeffrey Zucker.

“You showed hours upon hours of unfiltered, unscrutinized coverage of Trump!” Todd Harris, an advisor to Senator Marco Rubio, shouted at the head of CNN during a panel discussion after the election. “CNN helped make [Trump] by carrying every speech he made in the primary season,” added Larry King, the former CNN anchorman. “It was almost like the other guys didn’t exist.”

In the general election accusations of pro-Trump favoritism at CNN continued from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

“If we made any mistake last year, it’s that we probably did put too many of his campaign rallies in those early months and let them run,” Zucker ultimately confessed. “Listen, because you never knew what he would say, there was an attraction to put those on the air.” Hell, Trump probably didn’t know what he was going to say before he arrived at each podium.

He winged it, riffed off his audience, ran off at the mouth and scrammed before the country knew what hit it.

Trump rallies are freeform jazz. Anything can happen. Quality varies but give the president this: no two performances are the same. “Trump was simply more entertaining and generating more passion,” recalled David Sillito, media reporter for the BBC.

While Trump delivered the extemporaneous devil-may-care thrills of a candidate who doesn’t expect to win, Clinton and Trump’s primary opponents dutifully trudged the land delivering that deadliest of ought-to-be-deceased propaganda formats: the stump speech.

There was Hillary reading from a Teleprompter in Columbus, every word scrupulously stripped of life by her army of staffers, consultants and attorneys. There she was again in Atlanta: same words, same cadences, same gestures and facial expressions. Tune in, tune off. You can hardly blame CNN for skipping some of those cut-and-pasters—to do otherwise would have violated viewers’ human rights.

Stump speeches go back to the early 1800s. Politicians made their way from town to town, first on horseback and then by train, where they delivered the same speech while standing atop a sawed-off tree stump because many areas were freshly cleared forests.

Radio, television and the Internet have revolutionized communication. The last presidential election, in which ad lib shockingly defeated inevitability, demonstrated the obsolescence of the stump speech. Yet this boring tradition endures.

On April 29th former vice president and presidential wannabe-come-lately Joe Biden unleashed his stump speech in Pittsburgh. “There was a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it?” Biden asked a group of unionists. “No!” the unionists replied.

“Of course not!” Biden said.

Repetition in Des Moines and Akron and Buffalo and Knoxville will not make this exchange more exciting.

All the major Democratic presidential candidates rely on stump speeches. Introductions are modified to acknowledge local officials in attendance. Sections are dropped to adjust to tight schedules. Location determines the insertion or deletion of certain lines. But the basic structure is the same whether you’re in Dubuque or Decatur. It’s easy to see the appeal of the stump speech. Why pay for a hundred speeches when you can make do with one? Why risk gaffes when you can massage and road-test a veteran rallier?

The Associated Press described the drill in 2016: “Day after day, the candidates for president wake up, brush their teeth and pump themselves up to say the same thing they did yesterday. Most of what they say won’t make the evening news, or get tweeted or repeated. But that spiel they repeat, with variations, to audience after audience in state after state, is a campaign essential.”

What they’re missing is why it won’t make the news. By definition, repetition is not news.

Trump repeatedly made the news by repeatedly saying something new.

Campaigns that still rely on stump speeches are pretending that technology doesn’t exist. It’s impressive when Bernie Sanders talks to 20,000 people. But his real audience isn’t there. A limitless crowd, millions of voters perhaps—is watching on cable news and/or online. But networks won’t carry his rally unless it might break news. A stump speech can’t do that. Even diehard Berners won’t bother to livestream if they see pretty much the same event each time. Been there, saw that, next.

Today’s Democratic stumpers might want to take a cue from the stump speeches of the 19th century, which were actually vibrant and spontaneous expressions of frontier life.

“Refined politicians in the cities may have looked down on stump speeches,” writes history writer Robert McNamara. “But out in the countryside, and especially along the frontier, stump speeches were appreciated for their rough and rustic character. They were free-wheeling performances that were different in content and tone from the more polite and sophisticated political discourse heard in the cities.” America’s first politicians shot brutal insults; audiences rewarded the most outrageous slurs with their votes.

There’s a reason Trump looks uncomfortable reading from a script. He prefers to rock it old school.

(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.)

Saturday in LA: “Should we bomb the LA Times?”

Should we bomb the LA Times?
Beyond Baroque Gallery, LA — 8PM on Sat, May 11

In 1910, labor union militants dynamited the LA Times building. Their lawyer, Clarence Darrow, saved the bombers from hanging.
On Saturday, May 11, Darrow will return from the dead to ask the question, “Is it time we bombed the LA Times again?”

Portrayed by investigative reporter Greg Palast, Darrow makes the case to the jury — the audience — who will, at the end of his argument, vote to light the dynamite or not.

Palast is co-author of this short verse play, “The LA Times Bomb,” along with members of California Poets for Resistance, Matt Sedillo (also director), Irene Sanchez, Lee Boek and Cary Harrison, bringing to life the characters of the time when LA was the epicenter of a bloody revolution for worker and racial rights.

Premiering for one night only at:
Beyond Baroque Gallery
681 Venice Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90291
8pm, Tickets $10
Limited seating, so get your tickets NOW via Eventbrite!

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The Secret Campaign for 2020: Where the Democratic Candidates Stand on Foreign Policy

Image result for bernie sanders and george w. bush

Americans vote their pocketbooks. It’s the economy, stupid. Absent a war or recent terrorist attack, conventional wisdom believes that voters prioritize domestic issues. Right now, conventional wisdom is correct. According to the latest Pew Research poll, the five most important issues for Democrats are healthcare, education, Medicare, poverty and the environment.

So it’s not surprising that the major Democratic presidential contenders’ campaigns are focusing on economic and other America-centric issues. Nor is it shocking that the news media, never more anemic or less willing to question the candidates, is ignoring their stances on foreign policy. You could watch 5 hours and read 50 pages of news every day and never learn where a top Dem stands on issues of war and peace, defense spending, assassination drones, Guantánamo, NSA surveillance of Americans, foreign adventurism or human rights. Trust me, I know.

Still, voters deserve to know the would-be presidents’ positions on issues that extend beyond U.S. borders. Here’s what I found.

The Democrats on Our Crazy Defense Spending

            The military sucks up 54% of discretionary federal spending. Pentagon bloat has a huge effect on domestic priorities; the nearly $1 trillion a year that goes to exploiting, oppressing, torturing, maiming and murdering foreigners could go to building schools, college scholarships, curing diseases, poetry slams, whatever. Anything, even tax cuts for the rich, would be better than bombs. But as then GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in 2015, “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” If you’re like me, you want as little killing and breaking as possible.

Unfortunately, no major Democratic presidential candidate favors substantial cuts to Pentagon appropriations.

Current frontrunner Joe Biden (33% in the polls) doesn’t talk much about defense spending. He reminds us that his son served in Iraq (so he cares about the military) and that we shouldn’t prioritize defense over domestic programs. Vague. Though specific programs might get trimmed, Lockheed Martin could rest easy under a President Biden.

“Since he arrived in Congress, [runner-up] Bernie Sanders [19%] has been a fierce crusader against Pentagon spending, calling for defense cuts that few Democrats have been willing to support,” The Hill reported in 2016. “As late as 2002, he supported a 50 percent cut for the Pentagon.” Bernie is still a Pentagon critic but he won’t commit to a specific amount to cut. He wouldn’t slash and Bern. He’d trim.

Elizabeth Warren (8%) wants “to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors — then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts.”

Neither Pete Buttigieg (8%) nor Beto O’Rourke (6%) have articulated any firm foreign policy positions whatsoever. Buttigieg brags about having served in the Navy Reserve. Unlikely that either man would change much.

Kamala Harris (5%) has not weighed in on military spending. She has received substantial campaign contributions from the defense industry, though.

The Democrats on Wars for Fun

            As senator, Biden voted for the optional wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. He lied about his votes so maybe he felt bad about them. He similarly seems to regret his role in destroying Libya.

Sanders voted to invade Afghanistan. His comment at the time reads as hopelessly naïve about the bloodthirsty Bush-Cheney regime: “The use of force is one tool that we have at our disposal to fight against the horror of terrorism and mass murder… it is something that must be used wisely…and with great discretion.” Sanders voted against invading Iraq, favored regime change in Libya (albeit nonviolently) and voted to bomb Syria.

There have been no major new wars since 2013, when Warren joined the Senate so her antiwar bona fides have not been tested. Like many of her colleagues, she wants an end to the “forever war” against Afghanistan. She also wants us out of Syria.

Harris too is new to the Senate (2017). Statements on various conflicts indicate that she is a foreign policy hawk in the Hillary Clinton mold. Harris favors the U.S. bombing campaign against Syria, blank-check approval for Israel and sabre-rattling against North Korea. She buys into the discredited Russiagate narrative.

Warren is the only high-level antiwar candidate but she could be BSing.

Democrats on Drones

            The assassination drone program begun by Bush and expanded upon by presidents Obama and Trump have killed thousands of innocent people in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, almost all innocent. Drone strikes have demolished America’s moral standing. “Just about everywhere else in the world, opposition to drone strikes is sweeping,” The Washington Post reported in 2014. Anti-American terrorists often cite drone strikes as justification for attacking the U.S. It’s only a matter of time before other countries, and non-state actors like Hezbollah and ISIS, use them against us.

Though generally skeptical of large ground invasions like Iraq, Biden is a fan of drone assassinations. Sanders acknowledged in a 2015 interview with me that drones make killing “too easy” but nevertheless said he would continue terror-by-air as president. Warren doesn’t talk about drones. Neither does Harris.

None of the major Democratic candidates would cancel the drone program.

Democrats on Gitmo

Opened shortly after 9/11, the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo is a nasty blotch on America’s human rights record that terrorists use to justify killing Americans and put the lie to every pronouncement the government issues about human rights abuses in other countries. Torture, rape and even murder are routine at this notorious facility.

In 2005 Biden said the U.S. “needs to move toward shutting down” Gitmo. In 2016 he said he “hoped” it would close down. He has not called for an immediate shutdown.

Kamala Harris always refuses to comment—a stance that speaks volumes.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the only two who have consistently argued that Gitmo should be closed. “We look like hypocrites and fools to the entire world,” Sanders said in 2016.

Democrats on NSA Spying Against Americans

The mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden continue to scoop up every email, text message, phone call and every other form of communication you can think of within and into the United States. Whether the NSA and other agencies will be allowed to continue will determine whether we can avoid an Orwellian dystopia.

Joe Biden, though to the right on other foreign-policy issues, was a critic of NSA spying for years, going back at least to 2006. Under Obama, however, he backtracked. Even worse, Biden called the president of Ecuador in 2013 to request that he deny asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Bernie Sanders alone would end warrantless mass surveillance and said Snowden “did this country a great service.” Warren doesn’t discuss it much except to say it would be nice to have “an informed discussion.” Harris favors some limits but generally keeps quiet.

Except for Biden, the Democratic presidential field is dominated by progressives and progressives-come-lately—on domestic issues. When it comes to foreign policy, there isn’t as much difference as progressive voters would like between the Democratic and Republican parties.

(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.)