Tag Archives: Economics

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who’s Really To Blame for Brexit (and Trump)

At this writing, securities markets and the international community are reeling at the news that British voters have opted to leave the European Union. The “Brexit” has provoked angry reactions from the pro-Remain camp, who accuse Leave voters of stupidity, shortsighted ignorance and, worse, thinly-disguised racism and nativism posing as nationalism.

Political analysts point out that British voters were divided geographically – Scotland wanted to stay, England wanted to leave – as well as demographically. One chart that managed to go semi-viral online displayed high support for the Brexit among older voters, opposition among the young, alongside the actuarial average years remaining that each age group would have to live with the consequences of the vote. The smartest of these pundits focus on the class divide between shiny expensive youth-oriented cities like London, where pro-European sentiments are strong, and England’s version of the Rust Belt, abandoned hellholes where citizens barely subsist in a ruined landscape of shut down factories and widespread unemployment.

“If you’ve got money, you vote in,” a voter in Manchester told The Guardian. “If you haven’t got money, you vote out,” she said.

Amid all the concern about a collapsing British pound and the possible dissolution of not only the European Union – looks like France and the Netherlands may have a similar plebiscite in the near future – but also the United Kingdom, everyone’s out to cast blame. However, no one is pointing at those who are most responsible if (and it’s far from certain) Brexit leads to an economic downturn and/or a political debacle: the West’s incompetent political class, and its idiotic enablers in the corporate media.

The postwar order began to fray during the 1970s, when business leaders and their allies in government started to push aggressively for policies that encouraged the transfer of manufacturing industries to the developing world away from what was then called the First World in preparation for what we now call the information economy. Globalization is the shorthand term for deindustrialization – some call it outsourcing, others prefer the simpler “shipping jobs overseas” – and digitalization of culture and intellectual property.

This essay isn’t about whether globalization is good or bad. It’s about the way a trend that has been consistently declared irreversible has been poorly managed. That mismanagement led to the Brexit, and may elect Donald Trump.

Even during the 1970s, globalization’s downward pressure on wages was easy to foresee. Capital was becoming increasingly fluid, crossing borders with incredible ease in search of places and people where the production of goods and services could be done as cheaply as possible. If you own a factory in Michigan, and you can figure out a way to transport your product to market at reasonable cost, doing the patriotic “made in USA” thing feels like leaving money on the table when you consider what your expenses would look like in Vietnam or Indonesia.

Workers, on the other hand, are confined by international borders, linguistic and cultural limitations, family ties, and just plain inertia, to the nations — and often the regions within those countries — where they were born. If the highest wages in the world are paid in the United Arab Emirates, you can’t just hop on a plane and expect to find a job, much less a work permit. Workers are stuck; capital moves freely. This economic imbalance between labor and management is a significant contributing factor to the decline in real median wages in countries like Great Britain and the United States since the 1970s.

Now let’s say that you’re a high-ranking member of the ruling class: a Fortune 500 CEO, a head of state, a congressman, the publisher of a big-city newspaper. You don’t need a major in history or political science in order to anticipate that subjecting tens of millions of people to long-term unemployment and underemployment is a recipe for social dysfunction and the kind of class resentment that can be exploited by a demagogue or radical populist movement.

You can do one of two things with that knowledge. You can ignore victims of economic dislocation. Or you can help them.

If you ignore them, if you greedily grab up every dollar and pound and euro you can while city after city slowly collapses into alcoholism, drug abuse and rising crime, you know you’re setting yourself up for a future of political instability. It may take a long time, but the chickens will come home to roost. When things turn ugly, it could cost you a pile of cash you amassed during your orgy of greed.

That’s what happened during the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan dismantled the post-World War II social safety nets. Precisely at a time when the UK and the US needed more welfare, national healthcare and public education programs, they slashed them instead. Those austerity policies continued under Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, David Cameron, and – against reason and common sense – under Barack Obama after the 2008 economic meltdown.

The British and American political classes made a conscious decision over the last 40 to 50 years not to lift a finger to help those who lost their jobs to deindustrialization and globalization. Go back to college, they say. Get retrained. But most Americans can’t afford college tuition — the jobless least of all! We need(ed) a GI Bill for the dispossessed.

Even this week, many establishment types continue to criticize aging pensioners and unemployed workers over age 50, denigrating them as selfish, clueless, unwilling and unable to adapt themselves to the new – brutal – world in which we find ourselves.

No doubt: nativism and racism played a role in the Brexit vote. England is an island nation with an island mentality. Though only a few thousand Syrians entered the UK last year, with nary a passport check, images of refugees riding the roof of trains from France through the Chunnel felt like an invasion to some Britons. But bigotry shouldn’t let us ignore the economic factor. When jobs are plentiful and salaries are rising, no one minds immigration. Xenophobia grows in the soil of scarcity.

What did the elites think? Did they really believe it was possible to make so many people so desperate and so angry for so long without a risk of them lashing out?

Donald Trump is not a brilliant man. But the political classes could learn a lesson from him. He knows that an awful lot of people are angry. And he knows why.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)

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Donald Trumpism Explained: It’s Free Trade, Stupid

Originally published at Skewed News:

Skewed NewsDonald Trump is a nativist asshole. Why is he leading in the polls, and what does this say about Americans and/or Republicans?

Analysts and pundits are obsessing over these questions even more now that the real estate developer billionaire candidate seemed to have jumped the political shark with his statement that he wants to ban Muslims from emigrating to or even merely visiting the United States as tourists. Some writers called that the beginning of the end, yet his poll numbers shot up as a result.

Are likely Republican primary voters a bunch of xenophobes and racists? Yes, that’s part of it. The GOP has a long, sorry history of race-baiting and bigotry. A 2012 AP poll found that 79% of Republicans are racist, compared to 32% of Democrats.

There’s nothing new about Republican racism. But Trumpism, being increasingly compared to fascism, is clearly a new phenomenon in modern American politics, which had seemed to be moving away from the charismatic populist Huey Long and Ross Perot types and increasingly toward the bland European postwar technocrat model epitomized by President Obama.

Experts are struggling to explain the effectiveness of Trump’s special sauce — militant xenophobia with a dual focus on keeping out Muslims (because some might be terrorists) and throwing out Mexicans (because some are rapists). He’s soaring, month after month, despite being untelegenic, way short on specifics, obviously ignorant, and being repeatedly caught lying.

Why is he having so much success, despite his shortcomings?

Mark Krikorian of the anti-immigration group Center for Immigration Studies comes the closest of anyone to the answer — but even he doesn’t fully get The Donald’s appeal.

“Every society needs elites, but our elites have come to reject the basic worldview of the people they purport to lead,” Krikorian writes. “We have, as the late Samuel Huntington wrote, a patriotic public and a post-American, post-national elite that is mystified, at best – and disgusted, at worst – at the public’s demand that our government put the interests of Americans first. This disconnect is why immigration policy is at the core of Trump’s success.”

Absolutely right. But then, he goes a little off the rails:

“Mass immigration is perhaps the most potent symbol of the elite’s unconcern with America’s sovereignty and the well-being of ordinary people. Many Americans – not just Republicans but also independents and some Democrats – want policies that promote America’s sovereignty and self-determination. Our elites are more out-of-step with the public on immigration than on any other issue. The Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs surveyed both the public and opinion leaders on a variety of issues broadly related to foreign policy and found the biggest gaps on immigration policy. Even questions like support for the United Nations or support for foreign aid didn’t show as big a gap as immigration. Surveys of specific constituencies found the same thing. Whether union leaders vs. union members, religious leaders vs. their members, or minority leaders vs. minority voters, the results were the same – huge gaps between the demands of ordinary people for tighter borders and commitment to American workers vs. elite preference for amnesty, loose borders and increased immigration.”

Krikorian is right: illegal immigration is a symbol, but it’s not the big problem itself.

Numerous studies have shown that illegal immigration has a neutral or even upward effect on the wages of legal citizens working in the United States. Overall, however, real wages of U.S. workers have been stagnant or declining since the 1970s, while the richest 1% and superrichest 1% of 1% have seen a massive surge in income and wealth.

Elections are mostly about pocketbook issues, and 2016 is no exception. Adding to pressure on average American workers is the fact that, since the 2008-09 financial crisis, credit has been extremely difficult to obtain. Not only are you losing ground to inflation year after year, you’ve maxed out your credit card and the banks aren’t sending you any new ones.

Worries about declining living standards are at the top of the concerns of American voters. But neither the Democratic nor Republican parties are talking, much less doing anything about, people’s fears that they and their children will keep finding it harder and harder to pay their bills.

It is true that the borders have been open for years, as Trump says. The two parties have long been perfectly fine with this. The Republicans’ business allies like the cheap labor and Democrats think second-generation Latinos are likelier to vote for them. But as I said above, open borders are only a symbol, particularly now that the U.S. economy is so bad that more Mexicans are going back home than coming here.

Both parties have also been in cahoots on free trade. From NAFTA to the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), the Ds and Rs in Congress have rubberstamped every proposal to liberalize trade. But these deals are terrible for American workers, not least because they outsource U.S. jobs overseas.

Trump is the first major candidate in years to oppose free trade deals, saying he would kill both NAFTA and the TPP. “I am all for free trade, but it’s got to be fair. When Ford moves their massive plants to Mexico, we get nothing. I want them to stay in Michigan,” he said. Poor and working-class voters, many of whom are backing Trump right now, have long opposed free trade agreements.

Bernie Sanders also opposes free trade. Interestingly, Sanders would beat Trump, whereas Hillary Clinton would not.

I would modify Krokorian’s thesis to say that Trumpism is the primal scream of an American public sick and tired of politicians who put don’t put the interests of American workers first.

For Skewed News, I’m Ted Rall.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Bernie Sanders is a Socialist and So Are You

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/socialism/images/c/ce/Socialist_party_of_america_logo_.gif/revision/latest?cb=20090319232217            When it comes to politics, Americans are idiots.

Because American voters are political ignoramuses, Bernie Sanders found it necessary to take the stage at Georgetown University yesterday to explain what socialism, and democratic socialism are. The point being that too many Democratic primary voters plan to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, not because they like her or her ideas, but worry that a self-declared socialist (or democratic socialist) won’t be able to beat the Republican nominee in the general election.

Setting aside the rather idiotic idea of voting for a candidate because everyone else is voting for her — what’s the point of holding an election? we’d might as well turn elected office over to the candidate with an early lead in the polls — I have to wonder whether an electorate that knows nothing about socialism is qualified to vote at all.

And remember: these are Democratic primary voters. One must shiver in fear at the colossal dumbness on the Republican right, where climate change denialism is normative, Ronald Reagan was brilliant (and brought down This Wall) and Tea Party marchers famously carry signs demanding “government get out of my Medicaid.” To them, socialism means Stalin — if they know who he was.

Socialism, Marx and Engels explained, is the long transitional economic form between laissez faire capitalism and communism, an ideal utopian state that will only become possible after the rise of a New Man (and Woman) whose total commitment to communitarian ideals over individualistic concerns allows the state to wither away and people to rule themselves in small collectives. This true ideal communism, Marxists believe, is centuries away at best.

In contemporary politics, Communist Party rule in nations like the Soviet Union and China led to confusion, especially in the West, where capitalist news media was only too happy to turn a relatively simple idea into a muddle. Neither the Soviet nor the Chinese Communist Parties ever claimed to have achieved communism. With the exception of Pol Pot’s bizarre Kampuchea, communist parties governed self-declared socialist states, not communist ones. It was, after all, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

When Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist, he’s drawing upon a tradition of Western European electoral politics in which socialist principles live alongside free-market capitalist ones, rather than a fully fleshed-out transformation of the economy into one in which the workers control the means of production. For Sanders and the hundreds of millions of citizens of the nations of Europe and their post-colonial progeny (Canada, Australia, many African countries), democratic socialism is a system that looks a lot like the United States of America.

In the ur-democratic socialist nations of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, citizens’ elected representatives propose and vote on laws — just like here.

There is no state economy. There are, like here, small private businesses and giant corporations.

So what makes them socialist? Government regulations and the social safety net. Government agencies tell power companies, for example, how much they may pollute the air and sets the minimum wage. There is, as in all capitalist societies, poverty. But the government mitigates its effects. Welfare and unemployment benefits, social security for retirees, free or subsidized healthcare make things easier when times are tough.

The United States is a democratic socialist country, albeit a lame one.

Senator Sanders wants less lameness.

In his speech, The New York Times summarized, “he said he wanted an America where people could work 40 hours a week and not live in poverty, and that such a society would require new government entitlements like free public colleges, Medicare-for-all health insurance, a $15 minimum wage, $1 trillion in public works projects to create jobs, and mandatory [paid] parental leave.”

These benefits are standard in almost every other technologically advanced nation on earth, as well as many developing countries. Democratic socialism? It’s like that old dishwashing liquid ad: you’re soaking in it.

Yet here is Sanders, in what pundits are calling a do-or-die speech attempting to fix his “I like him but America won’t elect a socialist” crisis. David Axelrod, who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign, says, “The issue here is, is that word [socialism] a barrier for a sufficient number of voters that it creates an electoral ceiling for him?”

As far as I know, Bernie hasn’t emphasized the quality of public education in his campaign. But something is, no pun intended, radically wrong when so few Americans understand basic political and economic terms — especially when they apply to the political and economic system under which they themselves live.

By global standards, Sanders’ campaign is calling for weak socialist tea. In most European countries, all colleges are free or charge nominal fees. Socialized medicine, in which your doctor is a government employee and there’s no such thing as a big for-profit hospital corporation, is the international norm. Paid leave? Obviously. And most governments recognize the importance of public infrastructure, and not relying on the private sector to provide every job.

There can only be one reason Americans don’t know this stuff: they’re idiots. Their schools made them that way as kids. Media propaganda keeps them stupid as adults.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Here We Go Again

Wages remain stagnant but housing prices, propelled by speculating investors, are shooting upward. How will the housing market avoid crashing after all the investors get tired of holding on to their properties? Well, this is where we start to look at 2007 again…

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Presidential Politics: All Personality, No Platform

Distributed by Creators Syndicate (click the link to purchase for publication):

http://bcdownload.gannett.edgesuite.net/desmoines/35546125001/201312/2679/35546125001_2932958940001_vs-52aba36ce4b0146dc5990b24-672293880001.jpg?pubId=35546125001

Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.

The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.

“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.

There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.

If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.

Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.

Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?

Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.

Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.

2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”

Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?

Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.

They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?

We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: 50%+ of Americans Have Been Poor, and Capitalism Thinks That’s Awesome

Odds are, you are poor. Or you’ve been poor.

Conventional wisdom — i.e., what the media says, not what most people think — repeatedly implies that poverty is a permanent state that chronically afflicts a relatively small number of Americans, while the rest of us thrive in a vast, if besieged, middle class. In fact, most Americans between age 25 and 75 have spent at least one year living under the poverty line.

“One of the biggest myths about poverty in the United States is that a relatively small segment of the population is poor, and that this represents a more or less permanent underclass,” Columbia University economist and social work professor Irwin Garfinkel tells Columbia magazine. “But poverty is quite dynamic. Lots of people move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives. And it doesn’t take much for people at the edge to lose their footing: a reduction in work hours, an inability to find affordable day care, a family breakup, or an illness — any of these can be disastrous.”

Even if you bounce back, the effects of these financial setbacks linger. For young adults, attending cheaper colleges or passing up higher education — or being unable to afford to take a low-paid internship — burdens them with opportunity costs that hobble them the remainder of their lives (which will likelier end sooner). Debts accrue with compound interest and must be repaid; damaged credit ratings block qualified buyers from purchasing homes. Diseases go undetected and untreated during periods without healthcare. Gaps on resumes are a red flag for employers.

Americans pay a price for the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism. To find out exactly how high the cost is, Professor Garfinkel and his colleagues at Columbia have created the Poverty Tracker, dubbed “one of the most richly detailed studies of poverty ever undertaken in the United States.” The Poverty Tracker is “a meticulous long-term survey of 2,300 New York households across all income levels…for at least two years” that aims “to create a much more intimate and precise portrait of economic distress than has ever been conducted in any US city.”

Initial findings were distressing: “While the city’s official poverty rate is 21%, the Columbia researchers found that 37% of New Yorkers, or about 3 million people, went through an extended period in 2012 when money was so tight that they lost their home, had their utilities shut off, neglected to seek medical treatment for an illness, went hungry, or experienced another ‘severe material hardship,’ as the researchers define such extreme consequences.”

Wait, it’s even worse than that:

“Even the 37% figure understates the number of New Yorkers who endured tough times in 2012. The researchers estimate that two million more endured what they call ‘moderate material hardship,’ which, as opposed to, say, losing one’s home or having the lights shut off, might involve merely falling behind on the rent or utility bills for a couple of months. Many others were in poor health. Indeed, the researchers found that if you add together all of those who were in poverty, suffered severe material hardship, or had a serious health problem, this represented more than half of all New Yorkers [emphasis is mine].”

The researchers hope that “they will have enough data to begin helping public authorities, legislators, foundations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and private charities address the underlying problems that affect the city’s poor” by the end of 2014.

Nationally, more than 35% of all Americans are currently ducking calls from collection agencies over unpaid debts.

What can be done?

Under this system? Not much. Democrats, who haven’t even proposed a major anti-poverty program since the 1960s, aren’t meaningfully better on poverty than Republicans.

As things stand, the best we can hope for from the political classes are crumbs: a few teeny-weeny proposals for wee reforms.

Like expanding day-care programs. More school lunches. Housing subsidies. “Additional investments in food programs.”

A drop in the bucket in an ocean of misery.

The Poverty Tracker shows that poverty is a huge problem in the United States. Unfortunately its authors, who draw their salaries from an institution intimately intertwined with monied elites, dare not openly suggest what they know to be true, that the key to eliminating poverty is to get rid of its root cause: capitalism.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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How Capitalism Deals with Inequality

President Obama and the Democrats have finally decided, five years after his election, to begin talking about the issue of income inequality, which has been increasing since the early 1970s. But their rhetoric makes it sound like inequality is a weird byproduct of capitalism when, in fact, it is a key feature of an economic system that relies on poverty and exploitation. This is the best system ever conceived?

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The Pope Code

65% of Americans say they agree with Pope Francis I’s critique of capitalism. But because we’re not allowed to publicly voice our opposition to capitalism, we resort to a sort of “dog whistle” — a “pope code” — in which we express our approval of the pope as an acceptable way to transmit our closet sympathies for socialism and communism.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Iran – Because Two Wars Aren’t Enough

Why Doesn’t Anyone Call Out Romney for Warmongering?

Mitt Romney had a barnburner of a weekend in Israel. The GOP nominee apparent shared his unique combination of economic and anthropological wisdom, attributing the fact that Israel’s GDP and average income is many times higher than those of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to Israelis’ superior “culture.”

As if spewing one of the most overtly racist lines in recent presidential campaign history wasn’t enough, eschewing “containment” (read: “diplomacy”), Romney also endorsed a preemptive Israeli military strike against Iran in order to prevent the latter’s nuclear program—Israel’s own, illegal nuclear weapons stockpile is OK since it’s a U.S. ally—from moving forward.

“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Romney said, stating that “no option should be excluded.”

He didn’t say how he knew the intentions of Iran’s leaders. Clairvoyance? Bush had it too.

Though Mitt slightly walked back his campaign’s sabre rattling, the message was clear. If he is elected, Israel will receive a blank check to begin a war against Iran, one of the most well-equipped military powers in the Middle East—a conflagration in which the United States could easily wind up getting dragged into. (In a subsequent interview he reiterated that “we have all options on the table. Those include military options.”)

Most criticism focused on Romney’s flouting of the traditional proscription against candidates questioning a sitting president’s foreign policy while visiting foreign soil. Though, to be fair, the differences between his and President Obama’s approach to Israel and Iran are tonal and minor.

As usual with the U.S. media, what is remarkable is what is going unsaid. Here we are, with the economy in shambles and the public worried sick about it, the electorate tired of 12 years of war against Afghanistan and nine against Iraq, yet Romney—who could be president six months from now—is out ramping up tensions and increasing the odds of a brand-new, bigger-than-ever military misadventure.

Warmongering has gone mainstream. It’s a given.

In a way, Romney’s willingness to risk war against Iran is merely another example, like the car garage and dressage, of how clueless and out of touch he is. Most Americans oppose war with Iran. For that matter, so do the citizens of the country on whose behalf we’d be killing and dying, Israel. But even Romney’s Democratic opponents give him a pass for Romney’s tough-guy act on Iran.

The reason for the somnolent non-response is obvious: it’s nothing new. Year after year, on one foreign crisis after another, American presidents repeatedly state some variation on the theme that war is always an option, that the military option is always on the table. You’ve heard that line so often that you take it for granted.

But did you know that “keeping the military option on the table” is a serious violation of international law?

The United States is an original signatory of the United Nations Charter, which has the full force of U.S. law since it was ratified by the Senate in 1945. Article 51 allows military force only in self-defense, in response to an “armed attack.” As Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in The Los Angeles Times in March, international law generally allows preemptive strikes only in the case of “imminent threat.” In 1842 Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote what remains the standard definition of “imminent,” which is that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” The enemy’s troops have massed on your border. They have superior force. What must be done to stop them is evident. There’s no time for diplomacy.

Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t come close to this definition, even from Israel’s standpoint. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under Reagan, told Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! Magazine: “It is nothing short of bizarre to claim, as the Obama Administration is doing, that the mere capability to make a bomb is justification for a preemptive attack. That’s a recipe for perpetual war. Almost any country could have the capability to make a bomb. They are torturing the word ‘imminent’ to the point that it has no meaning.”

By endorsing an Israeli attack against Iran at a time when there is no proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, intends to develop them, or use them if it does, Romney is going farther than Obama, who has engaged in back-channel diplomacy.

The Allies’ main brief against the Nazi leaders tried at Nuremberg was not genocide, but that they had violated international law by waging aggressive war. Yet every American president has deployed troops in aggressive military actions.

Aggressive war hasn’t been good for America’s international image, the environment, our economy or the millions who have died, mostly for causes that are now forgotten or regretted. But unless we draw the line against reckless, irresponsible rhetoric like Romney’s, it will go on forever.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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