Tag Archives: HIV-AIDS

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Please Speak Ill of the Dead

Image result for reagan grave

“Too soon!” That was a standard response to my criticisms of John McCain following his death.

My cartoon and social media posts reminded readers that McCain had volunteered to bomb innocent civilians in an illegal war of aggression to prop up a corrupt and reviled regime at the time of his capture. The real heroes of the Vietnam War were the tens of thousands of draft dodgers forced to give up their lives to flee to Canada and the many conscripted veterans who came home appalled by what they saw and did and spent the rest of their lives fighting for peace.

McCain, on the other hand, learned nothing from his experience. He never met a war — or a possible war — he didn’t like. McCain voted for war against Afghanistan and Iraq. He criticized Bill Clinton for limiting his war against Kosovo to airstrikes; he wanted ground troops too. He supported arming the Islamist jihadis in Syria and Libya, expanding the civil wars there. He threatened war against Iran. He sabre-rattled against Russia. North Korea and even China were in this deranged right winger’s sights.

These were not minor failings in an otherwise distinguished life. They were defining acts that erased the myths on which McCain built his career — his military service and his “maverick” persona. The war he fought in was disgusting and now widely considered a mistake. McCain was a run-of-the-mill right-wing Republican warmonger. His straight-talk shtick was fake as hell.

Media accounts sanitized the myriad of very bad things McCain did throughout his life. So I did my part to help counter the tsunami of BS.

“Do not speak ill of the dead.” This dictum, attributed to the 6th century BCE philosopher Chilon of Sparta, may be appropriate at your uncle’s funeral; who wants to hear that the dead man’s widow discovered foot-fetish websites in his browser history?

Public figures are different.

In cartoons and the written word I have attempted to counter the fulsome praise that followed the deaths of people like Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t trying to be mean to Nancy Reagan. Though I doubt she read my work.

Reagan hurt and killed a lot of people. As much as Reagan’s admirers didn’t enjoy my reminders that he (we believed at the time) murdered Moammar Gaddafi’s daughter or that he didn’t care about victims of HIV-AIDS, Americans who lost friends and relatives to the “gay plague” deserved to be acknowledged in assessments of Reagan’s life and legacy. The media pretended Reagan’s crimes never happened. I corrected the record.

The “too soon” and “can’t you wait until the body is cold?” arguments fall flat. What better time to point out and discuss a dead leader’s flaws than the time immediately following their death? That’s when obituaries appear, the eulogies are said and the nation is focused on the issues and policies they affected and effected. A few weeks later, no one cares.

Presumably referring to himself, former president Theodore Roosevelt argued in a 1910 speech that men of action — those “in the arena” — matter and their critics do not.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Roosevelt said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Soaring oratory! But self-serving and obsolete.

If effort and taking chances is all that matters when assessing a person’s life, the firefighter who enters a burning house to save a baby has no more worth than the serial killer who sneaks inside to kill it. Hitler and Stalin and Osama bin Laden all had grand visions they strove valiantly to turn into reality. They were daring. They achieved. They counted, but so what?

These days it’s the “timid souls” who stand aside, keeping mum while the mass media wallows in sordid orgies of mawkish praise for problematic figures like Reagan and McCain. Adding perspective and nuance to assessments of mass adulation requires courage. In this age of relentless propaganda and unmitigated BS, the critic is in the arena just as much as a dead senator.

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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Goosesteps in the Fascist Footsteps of FDR, Bush and Obama

            George Stephanopoulos, ABC News: “You’re increasingly being compared to Hitler. Does that give you any pause at all?”

Donald Trump: “Because what I’m doing is no different than what FDR [did]. FDR’s solution for Germans, Italians, Japanese many years ago. This is a president who was highly respected by all. He did the same thing — if you look at what he was doing it was far worse.”

When it comes down to core values, you can never make an exception.

This week shows why.

After Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for a ban against Muslims to enter the United States — all Muslims, including businesspeople, college students, athletes, performers, even U.S. citizens currently living abroad — corporate media and the experts in their contact lists called the idea outlandish.

Primarily, they said it was crazy because it is unprecedented.

For example, NYU law professor Nancy Morawetz told The New York Times: “This is just so antithetical to the history of the United States. I cannot recall any historical precedent for denying immigration based on religion.”

True, there hasn’t been a religious test for admission to the U.S. But in a broader sense, Trump’s idea continues a long tradition of using immigration rules as expressions of American racism and intolerance.

There have been plenty of blanket bans motivated by bigotry. The Chinese Exclusion Act comes to mind. The Immigration Act of 1924 banned all immigration to the U.S. by Asians and Arabs. People with HIV-AIDS weren’t allowed to visit the U.S. from 1987 to 2009.

In each case, supporters of blanket exclusions argued that their extraordinary measures were “temporary” (that’s what Trump says) responses to unusual threats, such as the 19th century “yellow peril.” (Asians with “special powers,” Americans were told, were going to crush white culture.) Now we understand that the threats were trivial or nonexistent, that these responses were outlandishly reactionary. At the time, however, idiots and opportunists exploited the masses’ fear and ignorance to whip up paranoia — which set some terrible precedents we’re living with today.

Trump’s no-Muslims-need-apply plan is being criticized harshly. Rightly so, though no one asks the obvious question: If this is about border security, wouldn’t a real Islamic terrorist lie when asked about his religious affiliation, or claim to have renounced Islam, while applying for a visa? After all, some of the 9/11 hijackers were clean-shaven, drank alcohol and hung out in topless bars.

If anything, criticism of Trump has been too muted. Not one single Republican presidential candidate or major GOP official has said he or she would not support Trump should he win the Republican nomination. Believe you me, they’ll all fall in line if The Donald becomes The Man running against Hillary or Bernie.

Such weaselry is part of the way these things usually go. First there’s some sort of shock. Then a demagogue enters the scene who frames the shock as part of a crisis, followed by overreaction (we must give up some freedoms to stay safe) based on “exceptional times” because “everything has changed. Ultimately sanity returns, thanks to the passage of time, the cooling of passions and moving on to other concerns. This is a pattern we’ve seen before and we will surely see again — mainly because previous overreactions, many of them never renounced, serve as a perfect justification for new crimes against humanity.

“Look at what FDR did many years ago,” Trump said by way of justification, “and he’s one of the most respected presidents.”

So, sadly, true.

During World War II Franklin Roosevelt issued presidential proclamations that allowed officials to declare people of German, Italian and Japanese ancestry to be “enemy aliens” who could be detained without trial. Even though there is no evidence that any Japanese-American ever committed a disloyal act during the war, FDR ordered the internal deportation of tens of thousands from the Pacific Coast to concentration camps. Many lost their homes and their businesses. (Trump hasn’t decided whether he’d create Muslim concentration camps beyond the existing facilities at Guantánamo and overseas.)

There are two problems with FDR’s assault on the basic legal principle that we are innocent until proven guilty: his actions themselves, and the failure of our political and legal culture to repudiate him and what he did.

Had they been reversed and retroactively annulled, the FDR actions cited so approvingly by Trump would nevertheless stand as historical precedent. When something Really Bad happens — a sneak attack on your naval base, planes crashing into buildings, a couple going berserk and shooting up their workplace — all bets are off, including the Constitution.

But they were never annulled, much less reviled. So they also stand as legal precedent.

As Trump says, FDR is considered one of our finest presidents. The New Deal and winning World War II are what we remember. The internment camps, which affected only people with yellow skin, are a minor footnote in history classes. The message is clear: No one cares. If we thought the camps were really so wrong, Roosevelt would stand with Nixon and George W. Bush among our worst leaders, the same way Woodrow Wilson’s accomplishments in World War I and with the League of Nations are now being eclipsed by his racism.

And he should. Send just one kid to a camp, as FDR did to thousands, and yeah, that really does erase the Social Security Act.

The United States has never fully renounced those concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. Forty-three years after the end of World War II, Congress finally issued an apology but only paid token $20,000 payments to each surviving victim. (40,000 of the 120,000 prisoners had died.) No one was compensated for lost property. It’s still a fairly obscure chapter in history; I’d be surprised if 10% of Americans know it happened.

Disgustingly, the legal underpinnings of Roosevelt’s actions remain in full effect, namely the 1944 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the government in Korematsu v. United States. Fear of espionage and sabotage — though completely unsubstantiated — outweighed the right to due process of Japanese-Americans, said a 6-3 majority.

As a rule Americans prefer “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as Obama said in 2009 about Bush-era torture. The trouble is, the future winds up looking a lot like the past unless that past is truly dead and buried.

Use waterboarding, as U.S. troops occupying the Philippines did with impunity against Filipino independence fighters, and it comes back after 9/11. (No Marines were ever prosecuted for using this form of torture, but the U.S. did execute Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs during World War II. Since Obama refused to prosecute CIA waterboarders, we can be sure it will happen again.)

Allow the president to fight a war without a formal declaration of war, “exceptionally” violating the Constitution as Congress did in 1950 with Korea, and a future president will do the same in Vietnam. And Panama. And Iraq. And Bosnia. And Afghanistan. And Iraq again.

And now Syria.

Because America never drives a stake through the darkest heart of its history, like the Korematsu decision, “exceptions” become precedents that keep coming back.

Several of George W. Bush’s memos calling for the suspension of the ancient right of habeas corpus cited Korematsu in order to justify holding Muslim POWs without charges or access to an attorney at Gitmo. In 2004, the Bush Administration used the precedent to fight a challenge by Gitmo detainees — prisoners who have been languishing under both Bush and Obama. (The Military Commissions Act of 2006 ended habeas corpus, the 800-year-old right to a court trial, for American citizens.)

As recently as 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling remained in effect. It was, he said, “wrong, but it could happen again in wartime.”

Or, under a President Trump, in peacetime.

Just this once.

Because this time is different.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, comes out January 12 and is available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Government’s Ebola Cover-up: Never Let You See Them Sweat

Refusing to succumb to panic is laudable and rational, and when the infection rate numbers in the single digits here in the U.S., there’s no reason to freak out. But mainstream media organizations and the government are diminishing their already scant credibility when they downplay the threat of Ebola.

Since a Liberian man appeared at a Dallas hospital and subsequently succumbed to the disease on October 8th, public health officials and reporters have repeatedly stated that Ebola is difficult to catch. Echoing widely circulated information about HIV-AIDS, they’ve told the public that the only way Ebola can be transmitted is through direct contact with bodily fluids.

Technically, this is true.

As with the Bush administration’s 2002 buildup to the invasion of Iraq, in which White House officials’ arguments omitted their lack of certainty about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass instruction, the official line on Ebola is undermined by a lie of omission. Sweat, you see, is a bodily fluid that can carry Ebola. If you touch a drop of sweat left on, say, the armrest of a seat on an airplane, by a carrier, you have been exposed to Ebola.

CDC and Obama administration officials have been reluctant to talk about this.

A rare exception to the perspiration blackout was an October 27th Congressional hearing, during which expert witnesses confirmed that sweat is included among the infected bodily fluids that transmit Ebola. Rep. Thomas Massey, a Kentucky Republican, asked Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary Dr. Nicole Lurie if Ebola could survive in perspiration left on an inert surface, like a bus seat, for at least 15 minutes, and then be transmitted to another commuter.

Lurie confirmed that the answer was yes: “it [the Ebola virus] can survive.”

At this point, there is no reason to shut down schools, much less airlines or mass transit. But the political class and the media that serves it are too clever by half if they think Americans don’t notice the omissions and inconsistencies in their official narrative.

Ebola is an extremely dangerous and contagious disease that kills about 50% of those who contract it. America’s post-9/11 airport security apparatus, obsessed with toothpaste and what’s inside your shoes, didn’t have the slightest screening system in place to deal with passengers arriving from West Africa, and even now contents itself with a half-assed temperature check that doesn’t even use reliable thermometers. Obama told us that he had this thing under control, that his team was prepared, but they plainly weren’t – and now that they’re finally paying attention, they’re imposing quarantines that are unnecessary, counterproductive – or voluntary, and thus pointless.

Given how poorly and dishonestly the government has communicated about Ebola, is it any wonder the public doesn’t trust them?

Government officials repeatedly state that Ebola is not an airborne disease. (Obama: “This is not an airborne disease. It is not easy to catch.”) However, the doctors and health workers who became infected while treating Ebola patients in Africa followed CDC protocol, wearing head to toe protective gear. They didn’t notice any tears or gaps. Yet they got the virus anyway. How? They don’t know. Many respected epidemiologists – not crazy right-wing conspiracy theorists – wonder aloud whether airborne transmission has already resulted from an as yet undocumented mutation. It isn’t an outlandish concern. After all, there was a 1989 version of Ebola which spread from monkey to monkey in the air, and a 2012 version – Ebola Zaire, involved in the present outbreak – documented to have spread from pigs to monkeys via the air.

And in a press release studiously ignored by corporate media, the CDC recently clarified a distinction without much of a difference: while it doesn’t consider Ebola an airborne-spread virus, it does consider it a “droplet-spread” virus: “Droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are coughed or sneezed from a sick person enter the eyes, nose, or mouth of another person. Droplets travel short distances, less than 3 feet (1 meter) from one person to another. A person might also get infected by touching a surface or object that has germs on it and then touching their mouth or nose.”

On the New York subway, no one gets a three foot radius to themselves.

Why are major television networks and print newspaper outlets continuing to tell us that there’s nothing to worry about, and continuing to imply that it’s as hard to get Ebola as it is to contract HIV-AIDS? If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s because the government and the media care more about keeping the economy and the Ebola-struck transportation industry humming along than about protecting the American people.

Ironically, there’s no better way to spread panic than to be less than completely truthful.

(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