Some Democrats say that they are “blue no matter who.” Trump, they say, is such an existential threat that they will vote for anyone who winds up as the Democratic nominee for president. But is it really wise to extend such a blank check to a party that has disappointed us so many times before?
In 2016 the corporate-controlled Democratic National Committee decided to pull out all the stops to prevent insurgent candidate Bernie Sanders from taking away the nomination from their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. That decision contributed to the surprise victory by Donald Trump because many of Sanders’ supporters decided not to come to the polls in November. Now it looks like corporate Democrats are repeating the same exact mistake.
A spate of shootings of innocent black men by white police was followed by a mass shooting of 12 policemen in Dallas. Afterwards, Very Reasonable People assured us that it was up to “both sides” – blacks and the police who oppress, abuse and kill them – to put their differences aside and compromise to achieve peace. Actually, it’s always up to the oppressors to stop oppressing.
It began with the global economic crisis.
All around the world, millions of people who had nothing to do with the stock market crash — who didn’t earn enough money to save, much less invest, that much less speculate — lost everything nevertheless. They lost their jobs, then, in short order, their homes. They were scared.
The failure of democratic governance transformed their completely understandable fear into savage, uncontrolled anger.
Presidents and parliaments dithered. Part of the blame lie with the Constitution. It provided for a strong executive branch. Rather than grease the skids of government, it prompted members of the congress to dig in their heels, blocking every initiative they could because it was the only way to stay relevant.
The politicians knew they had a terminal systemic crisis on their hands, but they couldn’t agree how to respond. So they didn’t. The misery deepened.
The economy recovered. A little. Not much. But almost all the gains fell into the pockets of the wealthy and well-connected. Almost everyone else felt left out. They seethed.
Seeing opportunity amid the armies of the alienated and dispossessed, the perennial almost-candidate of the nationalist, nativist far-right began campaigning in earnest. Breaking all the rules of conventional campaigning, he drew huge crowds with a simple message:
Trust me, he assured his audiences, and I will make the country great again.
He was short on specifics and liberal with insults. Idiots, he called the incumbent politicians. They were losers — losers whose stupidity had betrayed a once-great country.
“People from this country can’t find a job. They can’t earn a decent living,” he ranted. “Foreigners must be expelled so our people can work!”
Forward-looking leaders within the establishment parties worried about the growing popularity of this strongman in the making. His intentions, after all, were dangerously radical — and they’d been published years before in a bestselling book. He was, he said himself, a “militarist.” Wars, fragmentation, scapegoating were all in the cards if he were allowed to come to power. But the parties weren’t motivated to respond. The system couldn’t save itself.
Some establishment analysts thought he was a flash in the pan, a buffoon whose appeal would fade in good time of its own accord. “The ranting clown who bangs the drum outside the…circus,” The Guardian called him.
The future tyrant’s natural ideological opposition couldn’t get it together. During key elections, they split their votes between the socialist Left and moderate liberals. Ultimately, however, historians blamed the Right most of all, for failing to rein in one of their own.
Traditional conservatives had played a dangerous game for years, using political “dog whistles” to appeal to citizens’ bigoted views of foreigners and ethnic minorities. As the economy worsened, this approach became more effective. Conservatives doubled down, setting the stage for what came next.
What the old guard didn’t understand was, that given a choice between half-hearted racism and the genuine article, the electorate would choose the authentic candidate. “He tells it like it is, and we need that now in a president,” 44% of voters told a major newspaper.
The conservative establishment faced a choice too: support a candidate of the left, or forsake true conservatism in favor of a fascist. To a man, they went with the fascist.
A tone of increasing violence accompanied the demagogue’s rise in the polls. Not only did he personally condone violence against his movement’s political opponents, his party offered its lawyers to defend partisans arrested for beatings in its name. Even his close associates were implicated in violent assaults; when they were, the Leader stood by them. “I think it’s a very very sad day in this country when a man could be destroyed over something like that,” he said.
The aging president was reluctant to issue an outright condemnation. “Troubling,” he called the gathering storm clouds.
The Leader’s authoritarian movement attracted a plurality of the vote — yet he wasn’t popular enough to consolidate a simple majority. Had his opponents set aside their personal ambitions and ideological biases, and united in favor of the national good, he could have been denied the chancellorship.
Alas, twelve years later, all would be ruins.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Originally published at Breaking Modern:
You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies.
After World War II, Germany abandoned its old values of obedience, conformity, militarism and most recently, Nazism. When veterans of the SS were asked about their military service in the form of that most famous question “what did you do during the war, daddy?” they lied about it. They either claimed that they hadn’t served at all, or that they had served in the regular army, or if there was no way to deny having been in the SS, said they had been nowhere near any atrocities or death camps.
Postwar Germany’s liars projected positive values: anti-militarism, anti-fascism, pacifism, principled opposition to violence.
Here in the United States, our liars lie about the exact opposite things — and their lies reveal an awful set of societal values.
To his credit, NBC News anchor Brian Williams never enlisted in the US military, and thus never shot at a Libyan or a Panamanian or a Grenadian or an Iraqi or an Afghan, or dropped a bomb on one in an undeclared illegal war of imperialist aggression. He should be proud of that. Any American who does not join the military ought to consider it a point of honor to refuse to participate in an institution that has not been called upon to actually defend American territory since at least 1945.
Unfortunately, Williams lives in a country whose media and political class constantly yammer on and on about how “the troops” are the best of the best (although few enlistees are turning down Harvard scholarships), the bravest of the brave (but not as brave as the poorly equipped soldiers they are assigned to kill), and how we owe them our lives and for our precious freedoms (even though the wars they fight do nothing to defend our borders but piss off generations of future terrorists).
So rather than brag about his nonmilitary service as a journalist, talking head and all-around studmuffin, Williams made up at least one story that he thought made him sound like more of a macho man, the next best thing to a real-life actual US soldier. After having been embedded with US soldiers in US-occupied Iraq (see the 2003 US Navy picture above), Williams falsely claimed that he survived the crash of his helicopter after it came under fire in 2003.
I don’t really care whether Williams keeps his job reading the news. That’s not real journalism; no one thinks it is. But it would be nice if this episode were to prompt news organizations to reconsider their participation in the military embedding program.
Since 2002 print and broadcast media companies have almost exclusively assigned their reporters to accompany American troops into war against Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Embedding has become so standardized that when a journalist suggests going into a war zone independently – the way it was often done before 9/11 – his or her editors or producers either refuse to let them do so, or strongly discourage them. It’s a sad state of affairs, one that has led to a complete failure to get the story about what is marketed as a war for hearts and minds in the Muslim world from, you know, the actual Muslims who live there. Locals who watch American journalists travel with hated occupation troops naturally conclude that they are merely propagandists – unfortunately, they’re usually right. It just isn’t possible to think independently when you spend all of your time with soldiers you know may be called upon to shoot people who are shooting at you.
Like other journalist types who got too close to the troops – hey Brian, when’s the last time you spent the night in a private home in Afghanistan or Iraq? – Williams has clearly become a victim of a militaristic variety of Stockholm syndrome.
“People who have worked with Williams say he does not regularly embellish personal stories but does project a kind of confident swagger that can be off-putting. One former colleague said he enjoys throwing around military slang, such as using ‘bird’ for helicopter, despite never having served in the armed forces,” reports the Washington Post.
You can’t report war without covering U.S. troops. But you can’t cover war only covering U.S. troops. Which has been the problem since 9/11.
The cult of militarism is clearly in the Kool-Aid at the NBC break room. Williams’ predecessor at the network, former anchor Tom Brokaw, authored and constantly flogged paeans to our sainted armed forces with books like “The Greatest Generation,” about America’s victory in World War II. If a leader of a US “enemy,” like a member of the Taliban, has ever been interviewed by NBC, I’ve missed it.
In a sense, Williams is a victim: he has fallen prey to a rancid set of national values that places aggressive militarism ahead of the humanism that ought to set the standard for behavior.
What Williams ought to be lying about is having had anything to do with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which will go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes the United States has ever made in foreign policy, which is saying something.
The soldiers Williams was traveling with were all volunteers, which makes them guilty and complicit with a crime of monumental proportions, which ultimately led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people. The fact that he felt motivated to increase, rather than downplay, his purported role in propagandizing the Iraq War to the American people is terribly revealing.
Reports about Brian Williams’ phony Iraq war story have referenced Hillary Clinton’s tall tale about taking fire on the tarmac at the airport in Bosnia, and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s false claims of having served in the US military during the Vietnam War.
They weren’t alone. So many Americans pretended to have received Congressional Medals of Honor, or having served as Navy SEALs or members of the Army Special Forces, that Congress passed and President Bush signed a law, the “Stolen Valor Act of 2005,” to punish the fakers. (The Supreme Court later overturned it as a violation of the First Amendment.)
Most of the world, and many Americans – not least to those who were actually there – view America’s intervention in Vietnam during the 1960s as a mistake at best, an atrocity at worst. Two million Vietnamese lost their lives. Contrary to what pro-war politicians told the public, North Vietnam did not threaten the U.S.; they won, yet over there they stayed.
Yet Sen. Blumenthal obviously believed that his prospects as an American politician would be bolstered by pretending to have participated in that mistake/atrocity.
He was actually ashamed of not having blood on his hands.
Then there were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both of whom avoided service during the Vietnam War, and were repeatedly attacked – from the left! – for having not participated in the killing of people who had never threatened the United States.
I long to live in a country whose values are more like – this is quite a thing to say – Germany after 1945. If you are going to lie to make yourself better, the thing that makes you look better ought to be something that is objectively good. Voluntarily participating in, and using the media to promote illegal wars for fun and profit is something that we should never do.
But if and when we do succumb to militarism, at least we should lie about it.
Is there any justification at all for bombing ISIS?
There isn’t any Congressional authorization, much less a declaration of war. Is there even a good reason for the U.S. to be involved?
There is no better time to ask this question than now, as much of the world (me included) is disgusted by the Islamic State’s beheadings of two kidnapped Japanese nationals, the second one an acclaimed journalist and humanist who lost his life trying to rescue the first.
It is easy to forget, too easy, that for Americans going to war was until recently an act undertaken only after every other alternative had been thoroughly explored and completely exhausted, that the bar for casus belli was high, and that war wasn’t the standard response to outrage or international crisis, but quite unusual, a deviation from the normal order of business. Hard to imagine now, but the United States did not declare war against Germany after its U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania in 1915, killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans. Instead, President Woodrow Wilson demanded compensation and a promise from Germany not to do it again.
War has since become much too easy.
We go to war fast, without national discussion — much less debate. We go to war indiscriminately. We war against several nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria), at the same time we’re warring against a tactic (terrorism), as well as various so-called “non-state actors” (discrete branches of Al Qaeda, Khorasan, Abu Sayyaf). War, war, war, all the time. So much war we think it’s normal that, especially when someone/something/some group does something we deem wrong, like slitting the throats of reporters as GoPros record the bloodshed in glorious high resolution, war is the knee-jerk response.
Yet, as the Lusitania example reminds us, this was not always the case, and so this is not how it necessarily must be.
In just one single day over the past weekend, the U.S.-led coalition carried out 27 airstrikes against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq. We have no way to know how many ISIS soldiers, and civilians, were killed or wounded in those bombardments.
U.S.-led forces are responsible for at least 16,000 airstrikes against ISIS in the last six months, killing an unknown number of people — but guesstimates logically begin in the tens of thousands, including civilians. Despite all that carnage, the air campaign has not had the desired effect: ISIS is stronger than ever, continuing to conquer new territory and consolidate control over old ground, and the authoritarian government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an adversary of the U.S. its ally Israel, is benefiting as well.
American war officials concede that the air war is failing. “I think [the war against ISIS] may require a forward deployment of some of our troops,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told CNN. “I would say we’re not there yet. Whether we get there or not, I don’t know.”
“This is going to be a long, nasty, dirty war that in many ways is going to look a lot like the first go-around in Iraq,” Stephen Biddle, ex-adviser to Army General David Petraeus, told U.S. News & World Report.
Why are we in this “long, nasty, dirty war” against ISIS?
Why aren’t we asking why we are at war against ISIS?
No one is arguing that the Islamic State is run by nice people. ISIS has carried out ethnic cleansing, enslaved women, raped children, slaughtered POWs in summary executions and Talibanized areas under their control, imposing their brutal, brutal medieval version of Sharia law on citizens accustomed to modern life under socialist, secular states.
But ISIS is not alone in its barbarism.
Saudi Arabia routinely carries out public beheadings and floggings, as well as crucifixions, and treats women like dirt. Yet we don’t bomb them. To the contrary, the Saudis are close allies. President Obama cuts short important diplomatic trips in order to join the Saudis as they mourn their dead king.
Another close U.S. ally, the government of the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, either boils or freezes political dissidents to death, depending on the government’s mood. Quirky! No air raids there either.
Among the worst nations on earth for human rights abuses are Yemen and Pakistan, both of which like ISIS are fundamentalist Islamist regimes, but receive hundreds of millions of dollars in American weapons and cash.
So what’s special about ISIS? Why did we go to war against them?
“When it comes to human rights abuses, they (Islamic State militants) are in a class of their own,” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said last summer in support of a Congressional resolution supporting America’s newest war. But that’s not true. ISIS is no worse than any number of other regimes we choose to leave alone (or actively support).
The New York Times’ editorial board says ISIS “poses a dire threat to the United States and its allies.” How so? They can’t attack the U.S. Yes, they’re in Iraq, which we kinda sorta view as an ally after invading it, but that war was lost in 2003. ISIS can’t invade Israel. So why are we attacking them? And why aren’t we asking why?
War is serious business. It takes lives, costs money, destroys infrastructure and the environment, and creates new problems, including laying the ground for future wars. The least — the very least — we can do is think about it, and talk about it, before starting one, and then letting inertia carry it on.
(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
Two years before leaving office, President Obama is offering approximately 5 million illegal immigrants temporary legal status. But what happens if they come out of the shadows, and then the political climate changes due, for example, to a nativist Republican presidential administration?
This week’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brought me back, not to warm fuzzies about peace and freedom and Gipper Ron Ron and winning the Cold War, but the reaction of my former BFF Dan (whom I miss for his talent for lightening-quick, wicked-brilliant repostes).
The Berlin Wall has fallen, I informed him. Germany is reunited.
“This,” he replied as usual without missing a beat, “is like the reunion tour recently announced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I didn’t care for any of their previous collaborations, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.”
The former two Germanies haven’t given us another Hitler. Not yet. But Germany 2.0 did revive and realize the Führer’s dream of uniting Europe into a unified trading bloc, with a common currency, big enough to give the United States a run for its devalued money. The new euro was, naturally, pegged to the old Deutsche Mark. Germany is by far the most powerful nation in Europe.
Which is a good place to start my List of Reasons I Miss the Berlin Wall.
As usually-correct economist-professor-columnist (and usually ignored) Paul Krugman has pointed out over and over, the German-dominated European Union — which would never have come into being had the Wall remained standing and the Soviet bloc continued to exist — has been an unwieldy amalgam of political autonomy and fiscal union, dragging relatively poorer nations like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“PIGS”) into a vicious cycle of austerity, budget cuts and seemingly endlessly rising unemployment. “The creation of the euro was about politics and ideology, not a response to careful economic analysis (which suggested from the beginning that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency),” Krugman wrote in May.
Why should hard-working Germans bail out lazy, corrupt Mediterranean nations? Protestant pundits ask. Scratch the surface of the Eurozone crisis and you find that the Germans aren’t the victims here. Far from propping up their swarthy southern partners, Germans are using their control over the euro to turn the PIGS into trade debtors.
Adolf blew his brains out but Germany won the war. Cuz: reunification.
The most important consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall was, of course, the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Economic shock therapy” — U.S.-backed Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s misbegotten attempt to convert the USSR’s state economy to neoliberalist capitalism overnight — led to the infamous Russian Mortality Crisis, when death rates soared 40% in Russia, and even higher in other former Soviet republics.
It has been estimated that 30 million people either died or will die as the result of the catastrophic dissolution of the USSR.
Socialism was destroyed but not replaced. The power vacuum opened by the collapse of the Soviet system was quickly filled by gangsters. Corrupt former factory managers forcibly seized state property and industries whose profits might otherwise have been used to create a blow-softening social safety net for the millions who lost their jobs. Hard drugs from Central Asia and Afghanistan, set free to fall apart after Gorbachev stepped down, supplemented rampant alcoholism. The infamous Russian oligarchy rose during this period, widening the gap between rich and poor, and set the stage for Putinism supported by traumatized Russians who happily chose authoritarianism over the anarchy of the post-Soviet period.
Former Soviet client states lost their financial and military backing. Nations like Somalia and Congo disintegrated into bloody civil conflict.
But hey. The demise of the Evil Empire was good for the United States, right?
American and European citizens paid trillions for the Cold War. After 1991, pundits promised a “peace dividend” — lower taxes, more public spending on infrastructure and social programs. Barely two years later, the peace dividend was gone — spent, ironically, on the high costs of the Soviet collapse.
“Defense cuts and reductions in military forces have brought in their wake a series of job losses,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 1993. “The transitional costs of the end of the Cold War, combined with the inadequacy of government responses across Western Europe, have meant that we are worse, not better, off.”
You’d think that, as believers in the magic of the marketplace, Americans would see the value of competition in the world of ideas, militarily and politically, on the international scene. Whether or not they admit it, however, citizens of the United States have gotten softer and dumber after assuming their status as the world’s last remaining superpower. Unchallenged ideologically and otherwise, Americans questioned themselves and their beliefs in capitalism and American exceptionalism even less after the 1990s than before. But now, as de facto rulers of the last empire, Americans became the obvious targets of choice for opposition forces that want to change the new order, like fundamental Islamist movements.
It’s tough to disagree with the French writer Nicolas Bonnai, who noted in Pravda in 2012: “The US oligarchy [went] berserk, started new wars everywhere with the Bush dynasty and ruined [its] finances. Drastic inequality became the lemma of this crazy society driven by lunatic leaders and wars. Today America leads to nowhere; America is just a [locus] (Al Qaeda) of the new global matrix made of wars and terrors, manipulation and deregulation.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall created at least as many hardships as blessings.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Possible GOP Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, whose father entered the US illegally, says the US is full up, that there just isn’t any room left in the US for new immigrants, including the children arriving at the border with Mexico. But when you actually consider how much space there is in the country, that’s obviously untrue.
Heavily-armed men who took over Crimea last week refused to say who they were, so foreign media outlets dutifully refused to accuse Russia of invading Ukraine until after it had happened. Imagine how much better the invasion of Iraq would have gone if nobody had been able to blame the United States for it?