SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election

Image result for democratic party 2020            “I am not a member of any organized political party,” Will Rogers said ages ago. “I am a Democrat.”

So frustration with America’s officially-licensed nominally liberal political party is not new. Even for them, though, I can’t imagine that any party ever worked as hard to pull defeat from the jaws of victory as the Dems are doing now.

Democrats ought to be poised for great things. True, they recently suffered a shattering rout. But eight months feels like a million years ago. Trump’s disapproval rating is a whopping 64%. That’s Nixon During Watergate level — and it includes a third of Republicans, who say the president has no respect for democratic institutions. (What are the other two-thirds thinking?)

After a mere five months in office, impeachment is a realistic possibility.

And OMG the non-Trump Republicans — they’re stuck! Tax cuts for the rich and infrastructure bills are dead letters. They can’t repeal Obamacare — not their “mean,” benefits-slashing way — without pissing off the vast majority of the country. And they can’t not repeal it without pissing off the GOP’s hard-right base. “I don’t know that we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution right now,” Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said in March. They’re even more screwed now, reduced to trying to pass their secret repeal bill in the dead of night so no one notices.

Oh, to be a Democrat in an age of GOP political suicide! Except for one big problem: they’re in even more trouble than the Republicans.

Many Dems think they’re headed to a big win in 2018, dreaming of taking back both houses of Congress. After four years of Trump (or four years of Trump, impeachment, then Pence), a grateful nation will turn to the Democrats — right?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Pundits are so focused on the civil war tearing apart the GOP that they’re missing the even wider schism within the Democratic Party. Despite leading the party to defeat, the centrist-Third Way-DLC-Hillary Clinton wing of the party still runs the DNC and the state apparatuses. They’ve never made nice with Bernie Sanders or his leftist-progressives — the party’s base and its most committed ideologues — after repeatedly insulting and marginalizing them during the campaign. To the contrary, they’re still at it.

The Clintonites blame the Sandernistas for not voting and giving us Trump; the Berners ask, what part of “we’re not just falling in line for another corporate Democrat anymore” do you not understand? (I still can’t get over the fact that Hillary sought endorsements from war criminals Henry Kissinger and Condi Rice.)

You’ve been there with a spouse or a former friend: the two factions don’t speak the same language. Cynical incrementalism versus ambitious idealism don’t mix. So, as Democrats have tried to process 2016, talking (i.e., blaming) has only made things worse.

Certainly, Democrats may pick up seats next fall. But they certainly shouldn’t feel cocky about 2020.

Even if Trump is removed from office in disgrace, my first-Pence-then-Ryan scenario would leave the Republicans with a more united party and a standardbearer (Ryan) whose relatively sane demeanor will be less likely to motivate Democratic voters to the polls to vote against him.

Which leaves the question of who Democratic voters would be asked to vote for.

The answers are not promising.

The current frontrunner is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Once a promising charismatic upstart in the Obama vein, however, he has followed the golden footsteps of Hillary Clinton by selling out to the big Wall Street banks. Occupy Wall Street is dead but its death-to-the-banks spirit lives on among the Bernie Sanders faction of the party. As Hillary learned, Democrats can win nominations without the Bernie folks, but not general elections.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a center-right operator best known as the Clintons’ personal real estate guarantor, is gearing up a proto-campaign. He has a certain charisma. But consider how The Politico describes his elevator pitch: “a popular swing-state governor with a record to run on, a business background, and more connections to donors than any first-time presidential candidate ever.” Sounds like a winner…in 1992.

True, progressive stalwart Elizabeth Warren is flirting with a run — but this political animal predicts she won’t pull the trigger. So is Bernie Sanders. But he’ll be 79 in 2020. He’s energetic, but still — odds are, he’ll stay in the Senate.

Things can and will change. At this writing, though, there is no presidential prospect left enough for the Berners to get excited about and right enough for the party leadership to allow.

You can bet the Republicans will benefit from that vacuum.

(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: They’re Baaaack!

My defamation lawsuit against the LA Times, Tronc, editorial page editor Nick Goldberg, ombudsman Deidre Edgar and (since fired) publisher Austin Beutner resumes at 9 am on Wednesday, June 21st in LA Superior Court.

My struggle began when Times fired me in 2015 as their cartoonist two years ago and falsely accused me of lying in an opinion blog. Even though there was no evidence that I had lied, and what evidence there was backed me up, they worked hard to try to destroy my reputation. As we came to learn as the result of my lawsuit, they did this as a favor to LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck, whom I had mocked in my cartoons. (The Times still has never admitted to its readers that Beck and Beutner orchestrated these events at a secret closed-door meeting.)

At the time, the LAPPL police union owned a large amount of stock in the parent company of the Times.

Knowing that they behaved contrary to basic rules of journalistic ethics and in violation of a number of laws, Times lawyers have deployed a variety of sleazy stalling tactics to try to make my case go away.

1. They filed an anti-SLAPP motion against me. Anti-SLAPP motions were designed to protect poor individuals from big corporations out to suppress their free speech, but Tronc – a $500 million company – is using one against me, their former $300/week cartoonist.

If they prevail, the Times told the court they want me to pay at least $300,000 for their legal fees!

2. They invoked an obscure statute that discriminates against out-of-state plaintiffs, asking the judge to make me pay (by posting 100% bond in advance) the $300,000 in order for the case to proceed so they could collect if they win anti-SLAPP.

The judge knocked it down to $75,000, which is still outrageous since I can’t even have my case heard before I post it. Fortunately, hundreds of people contributed to my GoFundMe campaign, and I posted the $75,000 on time, allowing the case to move forward. The Times is no doubt disappointed that their efforts to bankrupt me have not yet succeeded.

3. The Times’ anti-SLAPP motion violated court rules limiting the length of such documents to 15 pages. Theirs was 27.5 pages. Did the Times lawyer do this on purpose to rack up more legal fees that I might have to pay if I lose anti-SLAPP? It’s hard to believe that a high-powered lawyer like her made such a rookie error.

Lawyers told me they expected the judge to throw out the Times’ anti-SLAPP on the page count technicality; instead, she scheduled a do-over. This time, the judge ordered, both sides must limit their motions to 20 pages, no footnotes allowed. The first of those new motions will be considered June 21st.

4. The Times has refiled their second anti-SLAPP. It’s 20 pages, but with footnotes. Also, they use quotes from our response to their first anti-SLAPP, which they only get to do because they violated court rules in the first place. At a certain point, you have to wonder whether they’re doing this on purpose.

We now have a new judge. The previous one retired recently.

Based on statutes and case law, however, my attorneys and I believe we will prevail on anti-SLAPP and the case itself.

What’s next:

1. There will be three anti-SLAPP hearings: June 21, June 28 and July 6.

2. The judge will issue his ruling.

3. If we win, the Times will no doubt appeal to the Court of Appeals, incurring more fees I might have to pay. If they win, we will appeal.

4. The Court of Appeals will issue its ruling. If we win, we will file a “SLAPP back” motion requesting to be awarded our attorneys’ fees.

If we lose, the case is over and the Times will be awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars. I will have to pay it, which I cannot. So I will go bankrupt.

5. If we win anti-SLAPP, THEN the case actually begins.

6. We would begin “discovery.” We can subpoena materials from the Times and depose them under oath, and vice versa. Unless sealed by a judge, the materials become public records under California law. I’m sure there are many interesting communications to be found.

7. A trial would be scheduled

8. Appeals to the Court of Appeals, California Supreme Court and US Supreme Court are theoretically possible.

These events would be disrupted in the event that the Times accepts a guilty verdict or there were to be a settlement (which, for me, would necessarily have to be public). To date, the Times has not approached us to discuss anything.

Thank you so much for your awesome support and interest in my case!

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats’ Obsession with Russian Election Hacking Makes Them Look Dumb

 

Image result for russia trump connection

They got Al Capone for tax evasion — only tax evasion. It wasn’t very satisfying for his prosecutors. But they couldn’t prove murder or racketeering. So they got him where they wanted him: behind bars. It wasn’t elegant. But they got the job done.

Congressional Democrats need some of that prohibition-era pragmatism. They want Donald Trump impeached. But unlike Capone’s tormentors, Dems are largely ignoring Trumpy crimes they can prove in favor of those they can’t — Russian “election hacking” that may not have happened at all.

Democrats seem determined to maintain their status as a political version of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
Day after day, Democratic leaders and their allies in corporate media have been going on and on about how “Russia hacked the election.” Exactly what they mean by “hacking” has been so frustratingly vague, and solid evidence so consistently absent, that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re making it all up or, à la Bush and the WMDs in Iraq, conflating what they suspect with what they know.

This throw-hacking-allegations-at-the-wall-and-hope-they-stick approach has fed a dark alt-right media narrative about an attempted “deep state” coup against a democratically-elected president who won despite the virtually universal contempt of the gatekeeper class.

As the Dems derp around deep in the weeds of their confused and confusing Russia hacking narrative, they’re neglecting the much tastier, low-hanging impeachment fruit they could easily use to hasten the day when D.C. Metro cops frogmarch The Donald out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: straightforward corruption.

Russian hackers may have accessed a U.S. voting machine company. But even the spooks who accuse Russia of “meddling” — whatever that means, no one seems able to articulate — say they didn’t affect the election results. Hillary would have lost anyway. So why is this even a thing? Anyway, there’s almost certainly no tie there to Team Trump. Perhaps not a nothingburger, but useless to Democrats hell-bent on impeachment.

Then there’s the DNC emails posted by WikiLeaks. As I’ve noted before, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange said he didn’t get them from Russia. Also at WikiLeaks, Craig Murray says they were handed to him by a pro-Bernie DNC staffer. So it was a leak, not a hack. Anyway, even if Russia gave them to WikiLeaks — which looks doubtful — we should thank Team Putin for revealing just how venal and corrupt the DNC was when they decided to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination.

Telling the truth about lying DNC scoundrels who belong in prison is “meddling”?

If so, I’ll take more meddling, please.

The Democrats are right about one thing: there’s lots of smoke. They’re wrong about the type of fire.

The real Trump-Russia connection to look into is about a corrupt quid pro quo. It goes something like this: Trump aides tell their Russian contacts in 2016: if our guy wins the election, we’ll drop U.S.-led economic sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea. In return, you let our guy build as many ugly hotels in Russia as he wants. They might also forgive millions of dollars his businesses owe to Russian banks and oligarchs.

By declaring Trump’s election a constitutional crisis from day one, Democrats have been overreaching. Pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative — when there’s still no public evidence it happened at all, much less that Trump had anything to do with it if it did — is getting way ahead of the story.

If Democrats were smart, they’d focus on the corruption angle.

(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: Donald Trump’s Other Lies: His Campaign Promises

Image result for trump campaign

This week’s political coverage — probably next week’s too — will likely be dominated by deposed FBI director James Comey’s incendiary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Trump’s “lies, pure and simple” are limited neither to the president’s claim that Comey’s FBI was “in disarray, that it was poorly led” nor his litany of falsehoods — most recently, that the mayor of London doesn’t care about terrorism and that Trump’s First 100 Days were the most productive of any president in history.

Comey’s lucid, Hemingway-tight testimony feels like the beginning of the end for this administration. Anything could happen, of course. But it feels overly optimistic to imagine this circus lasting another year.

If and when the obituary for Trump’s political career is written, his admirers will record his historic, meteoric rise. Indeed, Donald Trump was the most effective presidential campaigner of my lifetime: repeated what lines worked, ditched the ones that didn’t, mastered social media, ignored outdated dogma, tapped into voters’ long-ignored resentments, nailed the electoral college map, and did it all for pennies on the Hillary Clinton donor dollar.

True, the brilliant campaigner can’t govern. But that’s a story for another time.

His critics’ postmortems will emphasize that Trump’s brightly burning campaign rallies were fueled by lies: Obama was Muslim, Obama wasn’t born here, global warming is a Chinese hoax, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border (years ago they were, no longer), police officers are the real victims (as opposed to the numerous black men they shoot).

These lies are scandalous. They ought to be remembered. But we shouldn’t let them overshadow Trump’s biggest lie of all: that he would be different, outside the ideological box of the two parties.

“Trump meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate,” Doug Ahler and David Broockman wrote in the Washington Post last December. “Trump has the exact ‘moderate’ qualities that many pundits and political reformers yearn for in politicians: Many of Trump’s positions spurn party orthodoxy, yet are popular among voters. And like most voters — but unlike most party politicians — his positions don’t consistently hew to a familiar left-right philosophy.”

Whiff!

Trump promised a hodgepodge ideology, a “pick one from column D, pick one from column R” Chinese menu that appealed to many voters whose own values don’t neatly adhere to either major party platform. Who cares about doctrine? Let’s do what works.

As president, however, that turned out to be a lie.

Trump has governed to the far right. In fact, on just about every issue you can think of, Donald Trump has governed as the most extreme far-right politician of our lifetimes, and possibly in the history of the Republican Party.

Candidate Trump criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom law” and said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. President Trump rescinded the right of transgender students to use the school restroom of their choice.

Flip, flop, from somewhat to right-wing conservative, over and over and over again.

Candidate Trump lit up the GOP (and relieved not a few Democrats) by criticizing the stupid Iraq War and promising to put America First. President Trump’s cabinet of generals is bombing the crap out of Syria and asking Congress for a 10% increase in Pentagon spending.

Candidate Trump was all over the place on abortion rights. President Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood and appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing extremist who will likely cast the decisive vote against Roe v. Wade.

Candidate Trump promised bigger, better and cheaper healthcare for all Americans. Trumpcare will leave tens of millions of patients with no insurance whatsoever.

He even welched on his most controversial promise: to improve relations with Russia. Within a few months, he allowed that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low.”

“Trumpism was never a coherent worldview, much less a moral code that anchors the president,” Graham Vyse wrote in The New Republic.

#Wrong!

Trumpism is extremely coherent and consistently extremist. Donald Trump turns out to be Ronald Reagan times ten, minus charm.

(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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Kathy Griffin Matters

We Americans pride ourselves on our supposed respect for free speech. In reality, however, few citizens seem to rally to the cause of freedom of expression when it’s under attack.

The latest major free-speech controversy surrounds the comedian Kathy Griffin, best known for co-hosting CNN’s coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square with Anderson Cooper:

Image result for kathy griffin cnn anderson cooper

Earlier this week, it came to light that a Griffin photo shoot with the photographer Tyler Shields included an image of Griffin holding up a (fake, obviously) head of President Donald Trump. The image evokes pictures of ISIS members displaying the decapitated heads of their victims:

Image result for griffin head trump

Reflecting America’s history of four presidential assassinations, there is a long-standing cultural and social taboo here against threats real or implied against a president’s life. Federal law prohibits such threats.

Reaction to Griffin’s Trump head photo was predictably swift and fierce. Politicians of both parties called for CNN to fire Griffin from her NYE gig. Trump himself tweeted: “My children, especially my 11-year-old son Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” (It may be time, Mr. President, to monitor Barron’s access to electronic devices.) After Anderson Cooper threw his “friend” under the bus on Twitter (“completely inappropriate“), CNN fired her.

Foolishly, she felt compelled to apologize too.

Griffin hasn’t gotten much support from the creative community. One exception was the comic actor Jim Carrey. “It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line at all times,” Carrey said. “That line is not real and if you step out into that spotlight and you’re doing the crazy things that (Trump) is doing, we’re the last line of defense. The comedians are the last voice of truth in this whole thing.”

Carrey is right. Satire is a high-wire act. If it’s not dangerous, it’s not funny — it’s Jay Leno at worst, Stephen Colbert at best. Pillorying Griffin for being “inappropriate” is ridiculous. She got fired for trying to do her job. So the image was disturbing and offensive. So what? No one would have paid attention to it if had been safe and bland, like most political satire.

Now, a primer on free speech.

For a creator, there is no “line.” When I work as an editor, I tell cartoonists that it’s their job to create and mine to censor. Pitch anything, go crazy, be wild. If I approve a piece, and all hell breaks loose, the person who should be fired for poor editorial judgement is the editor, not the artist. Artists shouldn’t self-censor.

Private companies can censor. The First Amendment is narrow. It only protects us from censorship by the government. But employers like CNN can and do censor. They should be called out when they do, and censorship should always be widely condemned and despised.

CNN blacklisted Griffin. Blacklisting is the practice of firing or refusing to hire a creator for work they did for someone else. Griffin didn’t post her Trump head pic on CNN.com. She didn’t display it on a CNN broadcast. So the Trump head was not CNN’s business. What was CNN’s business was what she did on the air with Anderson Cooper at Times Square, nothing more.

Unfortunately, blacklisting is common. Sports teams have disgusting “morals clauses” that allow owners to discipline athletes for expressing themselves off the playing field; if free speech means a thing, these should be prohibited. Employers have fired employees for the political bumper sticker on their car. Gross! I was fired from a gig drawing cartoons about sex and relationships for Men’s Health by a publisher who didn’t like a cartoon I drew for newspapers about politics — and that I never submitted to MH. Unless you’re born rich, you have to work. No employer should make you think twice about expressing yourself — yes, even if you’re expression is racist or otherwise offensive. Free speech is free speech.

The quality of the censored work or artist is irrelevant. I don’t give a shit about Kathy Griffin and never thought she was that funny, though she offered undeniable random charm in her NYE appearances. (Weird randomness is an essential ingredient of successful humor.) I don’t really understand the humor in the Trump head photo. From what I gather from social media, most Americans agree with me.

But what we think of a comedian’s work is completely unrelated to whether she deserves our support.

Remember when my colleague Garry Trudeau criticized the quality and content of the cartoons drawn by artists murdered by gunmen at the office of the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo? The effect of Trudeau’s remarks was to support ISIS against cartoonists, and to partially justify the slaughter. Whenever a value as fundamental as free expression is under attack, people of good conscience must rally to defend it, no matter the content. Though disgusted by Islamophobia, I was appalled by the attempt of two ISIS gunmen to murder right-wing anti-Muslim cartoonists in Texas in 2015. I condemned liberal attempts to get right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger fired, even though Rush has personally slimed me. When I had my radio show in Los Angeles, I took heat from pro-censorship liberals for bringing white supremacist David Duke on the air for a vigorous debate.

Reading this, some readers will say: you can say anything you want, but you don’t have the right to demand that someone hire you (or not fire you) if you do. This is sophistry.

In a capitalist society, you work or you starve to death. So, under our present system — you can be fired for saying stuff your boss doesn’t like, even stuff you say at home, not at work — your employer effectively has the right to kill you if your expression causes him (or his customers) offense. Most people aren’t rich enough not to have to worry about this. So they censor themselves.

By definition, therefore, we do not live in a free society. We are not free to say what we want, to be who we want to be.

Until we come to our senses and elevate freedom of expression to a true inalienable right that cannot be infringed upon by anyone or any entity, the only way to fight for free speech is to condemn censorship when we see it — especially when it’s incredibly clear and obvious.

Griffin’s situation is such a case.

The expression in question was clearly political speech. (Again, whether you thought it was tasteless or not is irrelevant.)

Griffin was fired by one employer, CNN — her highest profile gig — for something she did far away from CNN. This is blacklisting at its most McCarthyist, and must not be tolerated.

Citing Griffin’s Senator and former comic Al Franken said her “real, fulsome apology” means that, eventually, she may be able to recover from the Trump flap. A society in which a long-time professional comedian could be destroyed by one flop of a joke is not one that ought to be lecturing other countries about how it values freedom of speech.

Finally, Trump has this sort of satire coming. I’m not going to recite the President’s litany of disgusting statements and remarks about women, overweight people, Mexicans, and so on. The man is a colossal asshole. Instead let’s address the quaint notion that images of presidents and gruesome death shouldn’t mix.

Like his predecessors, Trump routinely orders airstrikes and drone strikes against countless innocent people. He has already murdered hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in the Middle East and South Asia. Shouldn’t we fire this guy, who actually causes real people to lose their real, actual bloodied heads, instead of Kathy Griffin?

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Updates: My Stupid Eyes, The Stupid LA Times

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive over my struggle against a severe case of viral conjunctivitis. I am both sorry and happy to report that there hasn’t been a significant improvement in my vision. On the other hand, it hasn’t gotten worse. It isn’t unheard of for these cases to drag on for months or even over a year. Basically, I can see but things are blurry. And while the itching and pain are gone, there’s still a lot of tearing. Of course, seasonal pollen doesn’t help. Anyway, it goes on.

Speaking of pains in the ass that won’t go away, the Los Angeles Times is continuing its campaign of McCarthyist retaliation against me for taking on the LAPD (whose pension fund effectively owned the parent company of the LA Times at the time). Yesterday they filed the first of three — of a second set! — of anti-SLAPP motions directed against me. Their goal: to bankrupt me by forcing me to pay their legal fees! That’s right: a $500 million corporation wants to make me pay at least $300,000 to them. (They paid me $300/week before they fired me in a corrupt secret deal with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.)

I am suing the LA Times for defamation, wrongful termination and blacklisting, as well as other charges related to their publication of two libelous pieces about me in which they described me as a liar even though I was telling the truth. The Times is terrified that my case will get in front of a jury, so they’re abusing the anti-SLAPP statute — which was designed to protect small-time individual whistleblowers against big corporate institutions like the Times — to try to bankrupt me.

You can learn about the Times’ sleazy tactics and contribute if you are so moved here.

My lawyers are preparing their response to the Times’ disgusting anti-SLAPP motion this week.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Spending is the Biggest Scam in American Politics

Image result for etching spanish american war           Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.

The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.

When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.

Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)

Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!

The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)

Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.

No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.

Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.

President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.

Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.

“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.

No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.

If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.

“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.

As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.

As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows.

Image result for split in democratic party

In the 1970s, when I was a kid, I asked my mother to explain the difference between the two major parties. “Democrats,” she explained, “are the party of the working man. Republicans represent big business.”

She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”

The two-party system was easy to understand.

Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.

Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d be their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.

So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.

“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observes New York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”

Yes they do.

Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.

Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.

What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?

As far as I can tell, nada.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.

When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?

They don’t. Even though 58% of American voters want a European-style taxpayer-subsidized single-payer system, the Democratic Party platform does not propose significant reforms to Obamacare.

The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?

Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t have much to say.

“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.

Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.

When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?

Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.

Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.

(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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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

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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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