Tag Archives: jimmy carter

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Progressive, Heal Thyself

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Many progressives are stupid. Unless they get smart soon, “The Resistance” to Donald Trump will fail, just like everything else the Left has tried to do for the last 40 years.

Stupid progressive thing #1: letting yourself be shocked by Trump.

Far too many lefties still can’t believe that the Orange One won the election, or that as president he’s so stupid and mean and right-wing.

Know the cliché, “if you’re not angry you’re not paying attention”? If you didn’t see Trump’s victory coming, you weren’t paying attention to the anger of your fellow citizens — and neither was the Democratic Party. NAFTA cost a million Americans their jobs. Since the 1970s automation has put 7 million people out of work. Democrats marketed themselves as the party of Joe and Jane Sixpack, but Bill Clinton pushed for and signed NAFTA, a Republican idea. Neither Clinton nor Obama lifted a finger to save the Rust Belt; as a candidate Hillary Clinton didn’t care either.

For those who opened their eyes to see, every aspect of Trump’s “surprise” win was visible in plain sight.

2016’s Rust Belt Trumpers were yesteryear’s Reagan Democrats and the “angry white males” of the 1990s.

Democratic disunity was another big factor. But the schism between Hillary Clinton corporate Democrats and Bernie Sanders progressives directly paralleled the 1980 split between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.

Shocked by Trump’s radical anti-intellectualism? That his only qualification for the nation’s highest political office was celebrity? Don’t be.

Trump is merely the logical culmination of a trend that goes back at least to celebrity politicians John Glenn, Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Al Franken, all of whom exploited their celebrity to defeat more experienced public servants. Though George W. Bush and Obama both had legislative experience, neither man accomplished much before running for president. Both famously adjusted their voices and accents to come off as dumber than they were.

Trump wasn’t a surprise. He wasn’t an anomaly. American politics won’t get nicer or smarter after he’s gone. He’s crazy and mean and dangerous — but he’s not a bizarre departure from the American norm.

Stupid progressive thing #2: viewing Trump’s politics as significantly more dangerous or extreme than, say, Obama’s.

            Worried that Trump will pull a Greg Stillson (“the missiles are flying”) on North Korea? Me too. But please get real. Trump’s needlessly bellicose rhetoric and gleeful overuse of the war machine hardly represent a radical shift in foreign policy from his predecessors. Obama gleefully ordered a political assassination (Osama bin Laden), financed civil wars that destroyed Libya and Syria, slaughtered thousands of civilians with drones and joked about it. All Trump did was alter the tone of U.S. propaganda from fake they-made-me-do-it to his more honest I-like-it.

Stupid progressive thing #3: always reacting, never acting.

Benghazi wasn’t a real issue that Americans cared about. Fox News zeroed in on it, pimped it, and pounded away at Obama-Clinton’s alleged responsibility for the deaths of American diplomats in Libya until it gained traction and ultimately became a Thing. Republicans know how to alter the playing field.

Contrast that to issues progressives actually care about, like Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. Aware that his decision would be controversial, Trump released the news late Friday — a classic media dump. Not only that, Hurricane Harvey was about to hit Houston. The Arpaio story got swept away by a flood of Houston headlines.

It’s so easy to play progressives.

Weekends pass. So do hurricanes. Why didn’t progressives schedule some big anti-Arpaio/Trump demonstrations for late the following week? Just put a reminder into your phone! Because they’re used to reacting. Progressives will never win unless they steal a page from the GOP playbook and start setting the agenda — and pounding away at it relentlessly, lack of reaction be damned.

Stupid progressive thing #4: never learning from past mistakes.

Fighting the last war — fixing the mistakes you made last time without anticipating the challenges of the next encounter — is a classic error of strategy. But progressives aren’t even good enough to make that error. They don’t even learn from their previous screw-ups.

Inspired by Tahrir Square, the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement suffered from its lack of centralized leadership, a lack of formal demands, its welcoming of the homeless and mentally ill and a rift between revolutionary and reformist wings. But OWS’ biggest mistake was calendrical.

They occupied public parks. Parks are outside. OWS began in the fall. The weather got cold, occupiers drifted away, morale turned sad. By the time Obama smashed the encampments with federally-coordinated violent raids, there wasn’t much of a movement left to destroy.

Here we go again.

Refuse Fascism has a plan to get rid of Trump. “On Saturday, November 4—approximately a year after President Donald Trump’s election—members of the Resistance will descend on America’s major cities,” reports The Politico. “They’ll march and demonstrate, as they have in the past, but this time, say organizers, they won’t go home at the end of the day. Instead, the plan is to occupy city centers and parks and not leave until, and only until, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have fallen.”

November.

It’s cold in November.

I know, I know — it’s easy to criticize. Which is why I chose criticism as a job. So let me offer a concrete suggestion.

Starting in November? Occupy indoor spaces.

(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: Trump’s Fascism Picks Up Where Obama’s Leaves Off

Related imageDonald Trump wants to deport three million illegal immigrants, and he’s willing to split up families to do it. Expect resistance: street protests, networks of safe houses, American citizens willing to risk prison to hide undocumented workers.

Barack Obama deported two million — more than any other president. Thousands of kids lost their parents. Yet demonstrations were few. Anglo solidarity was nowhere to be found. Same action, different reaction. Why? As we’ve seen under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, progressives go to sleep when Democrats are in the White House.

Trump will be deplorable. But as the unrest that followed his victory signals, he’ll have a salutary effect on American politics: Liberals will resist the same fascist horrors for which they’ve been making excuses under Obama (and would have continued to tolerate under Hillary Clinton).

Ironically, their struggle will be made all the more challenging due to the fascist moves promulgated by Barack Obama, a president revered by liberals — but whose administration has been characterized by a stream of fascist policies.

Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and other government agencies are spying on all of our communications: phone calls, email, texts, video, even snail mail. But the fiercest reactions came from people outside the U.S. It was 2013 and Obama was president. For the most part liberals — the political faction you’d expect to raise hell — trusted their charming first black president not to abuse his powers.

Trump will inherit Obama’s Orwellian surveillance apparatus. During the campaign, he said “I wish I had that power.”

When Obama took over from Bush in 2009, he issued a symbolic denunciation of the torture his predecessor had legitimized and institutionalized. In practice, however, nothing changed. Sending a clear message that he approved of their actions, Obama ordered his Justice Department not to prosecute anyone for waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” saying infamously that it was time to “look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.” He went to Langley to tell CIA agents he’d watch their backs. He refused to issue a presidential executive order banning torture by the CIA.

Trump will take over that bureaucratic infrastructure of torture, including the legal opinions issued by Bush’s White House counsel that Obama failed to annul. During the campaign, Trump pledged to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” whatever that means.

Upon taking office Obama tepidly attempted to follow up on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo concentration camp. But he caved in the face of congressional opposition. Though Obama has managed to winnow down the number of inmates in America’s Cuban gulag to double digits, his lackadaisical unwillingness to expend political capital on the issue has left the camp open. It has also legitimized the formerly unthinkable practice of holding prisoners indefinitely without charging them with a crime or putting them on trial.

Trump says he’ll keep the camp open, expand it, and “load it up with some bad dudes,” including American citizens whose politics he doesn’t care for.

Part of the justification given for indefinite detention is the Bush-era Military Commissions Act of 2006, which eliminated the right of habeas corpus, the right to a speedy and fair trial enshrined in Anglo-American law for eight centuries. Under the MCA, the U.S. government can throw you into a concentration camp where you’ll never see your family or a lawyer. As far as we know, Obama never availed himself of this power.

Do you trust Trump to exercise similar restraint? Thanks to Obama’s failure to get rid of the MCA, Trump may make good on his promise to disappear U.S. citizens.

Obama has vastly expanded Bush’s program of drone assassinations of political opponents to nasty American client states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. His Tuesday “kill list” star chamber has issued hits against thousands of people; 98% of the victims have been hapless bystanders.

Could President Trump deploy drones against American citizens (or non-citizens) on American soil? Yes, he could, says Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder. Obama could have declared that he — and future presidents — did not have that power. Better still, he could have asked Congress to pass a law banning domestic drone killings. Instead, he went golfing.

From what we know of Trump’s likely cabinet appointments, the next few years promise to devolve into a dystopian nightmare of authoritarian repression the likes of which few Americans ever imagined possible. As we head into the maelstrom, it will be tempting to look back fondly upon the Obama years as a period of relative calm and liberalism.

But don’t forget the truth. Fascism under Trump will merely continue Obama’s fascism with a smiley face — a fascism that we let him get away with for far too long.

(Ted Rall 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: Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote For Me

 Hey Bernie supporters: Hillary has a talking point for you.

Confident that she has the Democratic nomination pretty much locked down and turning toward a general election contest against Donald Trump, Secretary Clinton’s surrogates and paid Internet trolls are targeting Sanders devotees via email and seeding comment threads on political websites with a low-key sales pitch.

It goes like this: We’re not asking you to vote for Hillary in November. We are asking you to work for and donate to “down ticket” Democratic candidates for Congress, governor, state rep and so on. Oh, and if you could kindly hold your fire against Hillary — because those attacks help Trump — that would be awesome too, thanks.

Like all things Clinton, this tightly scripted DNC-approved don’t-vote-for-me-vote-for-other-Dems argument carries more than a whiff of triangulation, big data analytics and well-managed focus groups. It also reeks of desperation.

At this stage in a presidential campaign, the likely nominee normally wants to unify the party by convincing voters who voted against her in the primary to see her as next best, good enough, and enough of a champion for some of her defeated opponent’s ideas to justify supporting her with some enthusiasm. I can’t recall, even following the bitter Democratic primary fight in 1980, Jimmy Carter telling Ted Kennedy’s acolytes not to bother with him but to please pull levers for Democratic state senators.

Hillaryites are sweating the progressive #BernieorBust movement — a recent poll of Sanders voters found one out of four swearing they won’t vote for Clinton in November, no way, no how. Like Miley Cyrus’ pledge to leave the U.S. if Trump wins, these promises are more hot air than statements of serious intent. But it’s not like that 25% drops to 0 by November 8th. Some Berners will stay home on election day. Disaffected Sanderians will give Jill Stein’s Green Party the biggest surge it has ever seen. (That’s probably how I’ll roll.)

And yes — despite the opinions of the center-right pundits who have been wrong about everything all year long — a significant number of liberal Democrats will defect to Donald Trump. As a friend told me, “I always vote Democratic. In this race, Donald Trump is the Democrat and Hillary Clinton is the Republican.”

If Hillary wins the nomination, she’ll need as many votes from former Berners as she can get. So why is she giving up on them already?

There are two answers.

  1. She doesn’t think she can convince Sanders’ supporters that she’s a good-enough second-best.
  2. She doesn’t want to try.

She may be right about the first point. Stretching back over more than two decades, Clinton’s public record in national politics is too long and too consistent to make a credible case that she has a left-of-center bone in her body. From Hillarycare to NAFTA to welfare reform to the crime bill to Iraq and Libya and Syria, she’s always sided with neo-con war profiteers and corporations over people. (Hillary’s folks claim that she was secretly against NAFTA, in private, before she came out in favor of it, in public. But secretly doesn’t count in politics.)

Hillary’s refusal to make concessions to Sanders’ surprisingly successful democratic-socialist insurgency is highly illuminating about who she is and where she stands.

Clinton and Sanders are now tied in national polls. Does anyone doubt that if he were as well known when he began his campaign last year as he is now, that he would have trounced her? Given Sanders’ popularity and the real threat he presented to her, a smarter and/or less pigheaded candidate than Hillary would have co-opted the man, his ideas and his supporters. But there’s zero sign that she’s considering him as her vice president or a cabinet position. She has stolen many of Sanders’ topics. But she hasn’t adopted any of his major ideas.

At one of the debates she misleadingly implied that she supports Bernie’s national $15/hour minimum wage. Actually, she supports a Scroogesque $12. (If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be over $22.)

She still doesn’t want to make public college tuition free, as Bernie Sanders does. Nor would she lift a finger to replace the insurance profit protection racket that is Obamacare with the universal healthcare available around the globe.

In Hillary Clinton we have a right-wing Democrat who campaigned as a right-wing Democrat and who will now tack even farther right this summer and fall. She’s so far right that she won’t even bother to pretend to throw a bone to progressives, much less bring Sanders or his ideas into an Abe Lincoln-style Team of Rivals à la Hillary.

No one should say they’re surprised when President Hill turns out to a rabid rightie.

(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.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: America is in Decline. Get Used To It.

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We knew this was coming.

The American Century, after all, was the 20th.

Things were bound to go downhill.

Like 4th century Romans and post-World War II Europeans, Americans are beginning to realize that they are no longer citizens of an unrivaled superpower. And they’re kind of freaking out about it.

Using a novel “purchasing power parity” measure, the World Bank estimates that China’s economy will surpass the United States later this year. By per capita GDP — and most useful indices — the U.S. still maintains its lead. Nevertheless, many Americans agree with the thesis of Marxist economist Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” thatAmerica’s boom days are behind us, unlikely to be seen again. As The Economist summarizes Piketty: “The middle of the last century was unusual in its growth rates as well as in the distribution of income; the good times most of us see as our due as residents of rich economies were in fact a fleeting anomaly.”

By historical terms, back to normal slogging is a yawner. But humans don’t live in historical terms. We compare where we are now with where we were 10, 20, 30 years ago, and where our parents were. Psychologically if not fiscally, you’re better off never having experienced prosperity than to have had it and lost it. Downward mobility as America’s middle class has experienced it over the last 40 or 50 years — a boom-and-bust cycle featuring shorter expansions and longer, deeper recessions and depressions — is a bummer.

“We’re walking small,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote on May 3rd. “And that shift in our gait and our gumption has been palpable for many years, during an unusually sustained period of frustration that has the feel of something more than a temporary dive: a turned corner, the downward arc of a diminished enterprise.”

As Bruni points out, we have good cause for bad ennui: America’s shameful global ranking on education quality (#39), collapsing social mobility (it’s easier to get rich in Old Europe and Canada), and our crumbling infrastructure. China unveils its awesomely cool pressurized bullet train to the Tibetan plateau; when they’re not hours late, our Amtraks derail.

Not that there aren’t upsides. “Less assertiveness could mean less overreach. Less confidence could mean less hubris. And money isn’t everything,” Bruni allows.

Not that the U.S. doesn’t have at least as much money as it used to. Overall, the U.S. is richer. The trouble is, all our loot has gotten aggregated into the claws of too few people. As The Times’ Nicholas Kristof notes in a piece titled “We’re Not No. 1! We’re Not No. 1!”: “Over all, the United States’ economy outperformed France’s between 1975 and 2006. But 99% of the French population actually enjoyed more gains in that period than 99% of the American population. Exclude the top 1%, and the average French citizen did better than the average American.”

Of course, Americans have always worried that America was in decline.

A kind of depression has set in,” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote in 2011. “We’ve lost our mojo, our groove.”

Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “malaise” speech (which despite our faulty collective memory contains neither the word malaise nor its existential French cousin “ennui”), addressed what he called a “crisis of confidence…the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” (And that was before the Iran hostage crisis.)

The Atlantic’s James Fallows (age 64) addressed America’s longstanding we’re-screwed vibe in 2010:

“Through the entirety of my conscious life, America has been on the brink of ruination, or so we have heard, from the launch of Sputnik through whatever is the latest indication of national falling apart or falling behind. Pick a year over the past half-century, and I will supply an indicator of what at the time seemed a major turning point for the worse. The first oil shocks and gas-station lines in peacetime history; the first presidential resignation ever; assassinations and riots; failing schools; failing industries; polarized politics; vulgarized culture; polluted air and water; divisive and inconclusive wars. It all seemed so terrible, during a period defined in retrospect as a time of unquestioned American strength. ‘Through the 1970s, people seemed ready to conclude that the world was coming to an end at the drop of a hat,’ Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland, told me. ‘Thomas Jefferson was probably sure the country was going to hell when John Adams supported the Alien and Sedition Acts,’ said Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate. ‘And Adams was sure it was going to hell when Thomas Jefferson was elected president.'”

Context matters, and it’s smart not to panic.

Unless…

Unless we really are screwed now. The usually-ignored takeaway from The Boy Who Cried Wolf is that there really was a wolf.

In other words, it is entirely possible the events Fallows and Perlstein downplayed — environmental degradation, the military disasters in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, soaring energy prices and institutionalized political corruption that has gotten so much worse that Nixon now looks like a saint — really were as bad as the worrywarts fretted because, throughout the conscious life of someone Fallows’ age, the U.S. really has been in decline.

Aside from a lot of geopolitical and ecological (metaphorical) birds coming home to roost, the simple truth is that there’s only one world and the U.S. is being forced to share its stuff. Despite a foreign policy centered around disruption and harassment of emerging major regional powers such as China, India, Brazil and Iran, Americans had better get used to a smaller share of power and wealth.

Which isn’t the worst thing. It sucked at the time, but losing their colonial empires is the best thing that ever happened to Europe’s once great powers, both morally and economically. The question for Americans is: What do we do about it? Do we allow our slide into Third Worldism to continue? Or do we scale back the drones and stupid wars, reject the NSA’s Orwellian (and wildly expensive) security nightmare, tax the hell out of the rich, and rebuild the social safety net?

One thing’s for sure: we can’t vote our way out of this problem.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Working Classism at Work

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The Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson Racism Trials

Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson have more in common than dumb opinions about blacks. They’re examples of working classism at work.

The billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, the grazing fee refusenik Nevada rancher and the hillbilly patriarch in the TV reality show “Duck Dynasty” are bit players in a familiar drama.

After being embraced by the establishment — right-wing Republican politicians and media figures in the case of the last two, the NAACP for the former — their not-so-previously-secret racism exposes itself through their big mouths. After which said establishment proclaims shock and surprise, runs away screaming, and gets rid of their once-favorite racists faster than a chick-turned-chicken after Easter.

The racism trifecta is very 2014, but there’s nothing new about this overall dynamic.

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright was so close to the Obamas that he officiated their wedding. However, when Wright’s sermons criticizing American foreign policy came to light during the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama quit his church and publicly insulted him.

Unlike Sterling, Bundy and Robertson, Wright’s controversial comments came from the Left of the corporate “mainstream.” As a progressive, Wright identifies with African-Americans, the poor and working class.

Nevertheless, it was the same basic theme in action: an establishment figure defining himself as “mainstream” by ostracizing an erstwhile ally, one who is identified with or as a member of the working class.

Sterling and Robertson are both very wealthy; by most measures, Bundy is rich. Culturally, however, Bundy the rancher and Robertson the redneck automatically go into the outsider box along with their hick accents. Ditto for Sterling, née Tokowitz, a self-made man who hustled in the trenches as a crass L.A. divorce lawyer—and offended polite society by slutting around with hookers and age-inappropriate courtesans.

Only in America can you be worth a billion bucks yet still be classified as white trash.

Even if your accents are northeastern and your diplomas issued by the Ivies, political identification with the plight of the underclass makes you a target for the first-we’re-friends-next-not-so-much rug-pull.

Also in 2008 and also in reaction to attacks from the right, Obama shunned former leftie activist Bill Ayers — formerly a member of the revolutionary Weather Underground in the late 1960s — and disavowed their previous interactions in local Chicago politics. Obama’s campaign strategists believed it was important for a candidate who sought to become the country’s first black president to reassure the white power elite that he was one of them, or at least not enamored of the underclass whose wrath they reasonably feared, and so were quick to jump at the chance to exploit Ayers and Wright to achieve double “Sister Souljah moments.” (More on Souljah below.)

Obama’s Republican rival that year, John McCain, similarly embraced “Joe the Plumber” as an embodiment of salt-of-the-earth America, taking the Ohioan on the campaign trail with him. Inevitably, their public bromance soured, and McCain distanced himself after his working-class buddy turned out to be a bit of a liar concerning his tax status, a gun nut and, well, just too lumpen to establishment tastes. (Joe’s 2012 assertion that Germany’s Jews were doomed by gun control under the Third Reich is a classic example of widely-believed historical manure.)

It isn’t necessary for the establishment big-shot to personally know his working-class-identified victim in order to betray her. All that’s needed is to point out someone with dangerously antiestablishment ideas and smear her for personal gain.

Sister Souljah, the hip-hop artist and author after whom the term “Sister Souljah moment” was coined, got lambasted by Governor Bill Clinton during the 1992 primaries for musing: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Clinton, who played golf at a no-blacks-allowed country club, played the punk card, opting to beat up someone who couldn’t hit back: “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black,’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” The media didn’t give Souljah a platform to reply.

Souljah’s career foundered for years as a result, but Clinton—personally suspect by major donors and the political class because he’d grown up poor, and continued to exhibit picayune tastes in such signifiers as fast food and big-haired Arkansan women—won the White House, where he used his power to push through NAFTA, the WTO and other free trade agreements that decimated workers.

In 2000, GOP primary contender John McCain shot for the ultimate Sister Souljah moment by saying: “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

Farrakhan and Sharpton were identified with black militancy; Robertson and Falwell were leaders of the Christian evangelist movement, which was predominantly poor and working class. In U.S. corporate politics, defending the downtrodden—whether progressive or reactionary—is defined as “extreme” and bizarre.

Even family isn’t exempt from working classism. As President, Jimmy Carter—former governor, agribusiness entrepreneur and Naval Academy graduate—distanced himself from his brother Billy, targeted by the press as a hard-drinking embarrassment.

Why do the 31% of Americans who self-identify as working class put up with working classism?

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Quagmire Pattern

Ten Years into the Iraq War, the U.S. Repeats in Syria

The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way.

There’s a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be Of Strategic Importance (i.e., energy reserves, proximity to energy reserves, or potential pipeline route to carry energy reserves).

During this initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build public support – or at least apathetic tolerance – the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.

The U.S. must get involved!

If not us, who?

Alternative answers to this question – the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, or nobody at all – what about self-determination? – are shrugged off. It is as if no one has said a word.

The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical (because they’re the most fanatical fighters), and sends them money and weapons and trainers.

It works. The regime falls. Yay!

Civil war ensues. Not so yay.

The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in this second stage. Because they’re militant and well-trained (by the U.S.). Suffering from buyers’/backers’ remorse, American policymakers have a change of heart. Pivoting 180 degrees, the U.S. now decides to back the most moderate faction (because they’re the most reasonable/most pro-business) among the former opposition.

Then the quagmire begins.

The trouble for Washington is, the radicals are still fanatical – and the best fighters. Minus outside intervention, they will win. So the U.S. pours in more help to their new moderate allies. More weapons. Bigger weapons. More money. Air support. Trainers. Ground troops. Whatever it takes to win an “honorable peace.” And install a moderate regime before withdrawing.

If they can withdraw.

The moderates, you see, never enjoyed the support of most of their country’s people. They didn’t earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Because of U.S. help, they never had to up their game militarily. So they’re weak. Putting them in power isn’t enough. If the U.S. leaves, they collapse.

Boy, is the U.S. in a pickle now.

Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. The harder the Americans try to crush the nuts, the stronger and bigger they get (because excessive force by invaders radicalizes moderate – but patriotic – fence sitters). Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. Far from being grateful, the stooges resent the fact that the U.S. armed their enemies during the original uprising against the fallen dictatorship. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.

Starting with the Carter and Reagan Administrations’ arming of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and continuing today with the ineffectual and ornery Hamid Karzai, the Quagmire Pattern is how the U.S. intervention unfolded in Afghanistan.

However, the American electorate isn’t told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment – as opposed to isolationism – is the problem. “The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan’s future in the ’90s,” claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo in a standard retell of the Abandonment Narrative.

The logical implication, of course, is that the U.S. – er, the “international community” – shouldn’t have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We ought to have remained indefinitely. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 straight years, and have little to show for our efforts. (It also ignores history. The U.S. was involved in the 1996-2001 Afghan civil war. It helped both sides: weapons to the Northern Alliance, tens of millions of dollars to the Taliban.)

The Abandonment Narrative is total bullshit – but it has the force of media propagandizers behind it.

The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan. And in Iraq. Again in Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama Administration is sitting on its hands as Islamist militias engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Now the Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the U.S. rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Jihadis received most of the bang-bang goodies. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition. And President Obama is considering using sketchy allegations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons – here we go again with the WMDs – as a pretext for invading Syria with ground troops.

Dobbins admits that there are “geopolitical risks,” including distracting ourselves from America’s other Big Possible Future War, against Iran. Yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of Al Qaeda.

There is, he told NPR, “the possibility that the intervention wouldn’t work and that it would look like a failure.”

“Possibility”? Such interventions have never worked.

So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?

“I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater.”

In other words: we do what we do because that’s what we do.

That’s how the Quagmire Pattern works.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: If You Vote, You Can’t Complain

Why It’s OK for Disgusted Liberals Not to Vote for Obama

Here we go again. Like Charlie Brown considering Lucy’s offer to hold the football so he can kick it–and Lucy’s promises not to pull it away at the last second, as she’s done every time in the past–lefties are being urged to set aside their disgust over the last four years and vote Democratic.

At least Lucy respected Charlie Brown enough to lie to him. President Obama isn’t even bothering to tell disappointed progressive voters that things will be different this time. At last night’s second presidential debate, for example, he promised to create jobs years in the future–not now, when we need them.

Despite my well-documented doubts, I voted for Obama in 2008. Not this time.

“If you don’t vote for Obama, you’re letting Romney win.” (So many friends, colleagues, family members, correspondents, bloggers and random whoevers have told me that that it hardly seems fair to single one out for attribution.)

Nonsense!

No election in the U.S. has ever been decided by one vote. None.

Thus, by definition, my vote is purely symbolic. (Don’t give me that “if everyone thinks the same way…” garbage. If everyone bought my book, it would be a #1 bestseller. If everyone used trashcans, there wouldn’t be litter. If everyone…if if if. The only vote you control, the only action you can take, is your own.)

My vote has no value other than as a symbolic endorsement. And I refuse to endorse what this president has done and failed to do.

I won’t symbolically endorse his drone war, which has killed thousands of Pakistanis–98% of them innocent civilians, the other 2% political dissidents with no designs against the U.S.

I will not endorse Obama’s 2009 decision to hand $7.77 trillion–$24,000 for every man, woman and child in the country–to bankers, no strings attached, who ought to be in prison while consciously standing by and allowing millions of homeowners to fall victim to illegal foreclosures and failing to abolish the time limit for unemployment benefits, as is standard in other countries.

Obama can go golfing more than 100 times while prisoners the Pentagon has declared innocent continue to rot in Gitmo dog cages. I can’t stop his war crimes. But he can commit them without my tacit silence-equals-death consent, much less my voluntary endorsement.

I could write a book.

The comedian George Carlin said: “People say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote and you elect dishonest, incompetent people into office who screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem; you voted them in; you have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote, who in fact did not even leave the house on election day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done and have every right to complain about the mess you created that I had nothing to do with.”

If you’re like me, you think Mitt Romney would be even worse than Obama. What should you do? Whatever you want.

I don’t care if you vote for Obama, or for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein of the Greens, or if you don’t vote at all. Do whatever you want, but don’t think about it. Electoral politics is a distraction.

You should be spending your time and energy thinking about revolution.

Between now and the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, we have to fend off a lot of stupid pro-Democrat entreaties to forget the dead Pakistanis and the desperate poor and your own bank balance and endorse the man and the administration who made them possible. To help you refute your pseudo-liberal, Obama-loving, Democratic apologist friends, here are some powerful counterarguments to their lesser-evilism.

Argument 1: If you don’t vote for Obama, Romney will win.

Your response: Bull. That might be true if you live in a swing state. (If you’re one of the three out of four Americans who don’t live in a swing state, stop reading here.) A 2010 study found that zero out of 20,000 elections–including for Congress and Senate–has ever come down to one vote. The closest margin, for one race in 1910, was six votes. Feel free to stay home. Hell, vote for Romney. Won’t make any difference.

Argument 2: Obama will be more liberal in a second term.

Your response: How do you know? Not having learned anything from the last four years, Obama still says he’ll be “more than happy to work with Republicans” after the election (to help them dismantle Medicare). Let’s take the man at his lack of word: he hasn’t promised much. Even if we stipulate Obama’s secret, silent liberal intentions, how will he push them through House that will likely remain Republican? Not to mention, lame duck presidencies aren’t renowned for their record of legislative achievement. Obama will have as much chance of signing big new programs into law sitting in his kitchen in Chicago as in the Oval Office.

Argument 3: Romney will push the country even further to the Right.

Your response: The U.S. has moved to the right since the early 1970s. But it wasn’t just because of Reagan and Bush Jr. Presidents Carter, Clinton and yes, Obama also moved the needle to the right. Their most important actions were pro-Republican: Carter’s pre-Reagan defense build-up and arming the Afghan Islamists, Clinton’s gutting of welfare and hollowing out of American manufacturing with “free trade” deals, Obama’s expansive drone wars and bank bailouts, which increased the chasm between the rich and the poor. They ridiculed, marginalized and silenced liberals and progressives within the Democratic Party. Most of all, they didn’t hold the line against GOP ideas, rarely resorting to filibusters and frequently going along with conservative initiatives.

Whether Romney or Obama wins, the Right will continue to get their way. That’s how the system works.

Don’t forget the ironic only-Nixon-could-go-to-China phenomenon: Democratic presidents sometimes go further right than Republicans can. If George W. Bush were still president, he would have taken a lot more heat from the left than Obama has. It’s easy to imagine him being forced to, for example, extend unemployment benefits indefinitely–something Obama hasn’t even tried–to avoid a revolutionary uprising.

In the short run, it makes sense for liberals to vote Democratic. In the long run, voting for conservative Democrats costs libs their leverage. During times of crisis, like now, short-term and long-term considerations intersect. This is not a time to vote same-old, same-old–or to think that voting matters.

(Ted Rall‘s latest book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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Loopers

The 2000th U.S. soldier has died in Afghanistan, killed by an Afghan government soldier working for the Karzai puppet regime in a “blue on green” attack. Afghan government troops are trained to fight the Taliban. The Taliban originated with the mujahedeen, trained and armed by the U.S. during the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union in a proxy war. At some point you have to ask yourself: how do we unwind this mess?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Rebranding of the President, 2012

Why Is Obama Running on His Record?

“It’s not clear what [President Obama] is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years,” writes David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. “The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.”

Addressing the DNC Wednesday night, Bill Clinton came as close as any Democrat has this year to answering Brooks: “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in. I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”

Nicely done—though this argument only works for voters stuck in the two-party trap. But the biggest piece is still MIA: Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda for a second term.

Two principal arguments are being advanced in favor of Obama’s reelection: first, that he “took out” Osama bin Laden; second, that we are “absolutely” better off economically than we were four years ago.  These arguments, if they continue to be the Democrats’ main talking points, will lead Obama to defeat this fall.

U.S. history shows that the candidate who presents the most optimistic vision of the future usually prevails. The future he sells doesn’t have to be specific (Romney’s 12 million new jobs, say). Ronald Reagan, who projected vague aw-shucks optimism reflected by a 100%-pabulum campaign slogan, “It’s Morning in America,” defeated Jimmy “Malaise” Carter and Walter “Let’s Tell the Truth About Taxes” Mondale. (Never mind that Carter and Mondale were more honest, smarter and nicer.)

Obama followed the Reagan model in 2008: hope, change, charming smile, not a lot of specifics. And it worked. (It didn’t hurt to run against McCain, the consummate “get off my lawn, you damn kids” grouch.) So why is Obama trading in a proven winner? Why is he running on his first-term record?

Obama’s entourage has obviously talked themselves into believing that the president’s record is better than it really is—certainly better than average voters think it is. Grade inflation is inevitable when you evaluate yourself. (In 2009, at the same time the Fed was greasing the banksters with $7.77 trillion of our money—without a dime devoted to a new WPA-style jobs program—he gave himself a B+.)

First, the extrajudicial assassination of bin Laden, an act of vengeance against a man in hiding who had been officially designated to pose no threat since at least 2006, makes some people queasy. Sure, many voters are happy—but getting even for crimes committed more than a decade ago still doesn’t spell out an optimistic vision for the future.

Similarly, and perhaps more potently since jobs are the most important issue to Americans, claiming that we are better off than we were four years ago, either personally, or nationally, is a dangerous argument for this president to make. Four years ago marks the beginning of a financial crisis that continues today. GDP remains a low 1.7%. Credit remains so tight that it’s still strangling spending.

Four million families lost their homes to foreclosure, millions more were evicted due to nonpayment of rent, and a net 8 million lost their jobs under Obama. Structural unemployment is rising. New jobs are few and pay little.

Most Americans—by a nearly two-to-one margin—feel worse off now than they did four years ago. Coupled with the media’s ludicrous claim that the recovery began in mid-2009, Obama’s “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” (or pocketbook) sales pitch is so insulting and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s tone-deaf attitude during the 1992 recession that it can only prove counterproductive.

The historical lesson for Obama is 1936. Franklin Roosevelt is the only president in recent history to have won reelection with unemployment over 8%, as it is currently (it was 17%). Why? FDR’s New Deal showed he was trying hard. And things were moving in the right direction (unemployment was 22% when he took office).  Fairly or not, Obama can’t beat Romney pointing to improvement statistics don’t show and people don’t feel.

Obama must articulate a new vision, relaunching and rebranding himself into something completely different—in other words, running as though the last three four years had never happened. Like this was his first term.

New image. New ideas. New policies. New campaign slogan.

Not only does Obama need to float big new ideas, he needs to convince voters that he can get them through a GOP Congress. Not an easy task—but there’s no other way.

It isn’t enough to simply say that Romney will make things worse. Lesser-evil arguments are secondary at best. As things stand now, with people angry and disappointed at government inaction on the economy, Romney’s “Believe in America” meme—though stupid—is more potent than Obama’s reliance on fear of a Ryan budget.

(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’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Leading From the Back

Obama Accepts 21st Century View of Gay Marriage

In the BDSM world the phrase “topping from the bottom” means conditional submission: when the sub questions or disobeys the instructions of his or her dom. Subverting the submissive role defeats the whole purpose of a BDSM relationship; it is thus frowned upon.

President Obama frequently engages in the political equivalent: leading from the back.

True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible. They open the space where long-held dreams intersect with current reality, allowing progress. “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Emerson advised.

The role of a leader has been clearly defined since the first time a member of a clan convinced his tribe they should follow him if they wanted to find more food. So why has it been so long since we Americans had real one?

In recent decades we have had two kinds of political leaders, bullies and followers. Beginning with Nixon but more so with Reagan and George W. Bush, Republican presidents have been bullies. Unwilling or unable to achieve the consensus of the majority for their radical agendas, they got what they wanted by any means necessary—corrupting the electoral process, lying, smearing opponents, and fear-mongering.

The Democrats—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—have been followers, and thus far less effectual. Leaders from the back.

Carter was the proto-triangulator, tacking right as a hawk on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, while ignoring his liberal supporters. Clinton famously relied on toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris to develop stances and market memes that synced up exactly with public opinion on micro mini wedge issues. Both men left office without any major accomplishments—unless you count their sellouts to the Right (beginning “Reagan”‘s defense build-up, NAFTA, welfare reform).

Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is classic Morris-style “leading from the back.”

“Public support for same-sex marriage is growing at a pace that surprises even professional pollsters as older generations of voters who tend to be strongly opposed are supplanted by younger ones who are just as strongly in favor,” notes The New York Times. “Same-sex couples are featured in some of the most popular shows on television, without controversy.”

No wonder: the latest Pew Research poll shows that 47 percent of voters support gay marriage, versus 43 percent against. (Among swing voters—of more interest to the Obama campaign—support is 47-to-39 percent in favor.)

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Obama said days before the 2008 election. At that time, Americans were running 40-to-56 percent against allowing same-sex couples to wed.

I can’t read his mind, but I bet Obama was OK with gay marriage in 2008. Like most other educated people. Cynically and wrongly, he sided with anti-gay bigots because he thought it would help him win.

The president’s change of ideological heart was painfully awkward. “I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” he told ABC. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

But now that’s changed, he said. “It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

If Obama was a real leader, he wouldn’t care about offending “a lot of people”—i.e., right-wing homophobes. He would have gotten out front of the issue four years ago, when it mattered. The truth is, Vice President Joe Biden’s unscripted remarks a few days ago forced the issue.

Maybe Biden has the makings of a leader.

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay weddings. True, the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage (and which Obama’s Justice Department defended in June 2009). But it comes too late to be meaningful.

Gay marriage was a historical inevitability before Obama spoke.

That hasn’t changed.

“For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone-banked to help elect Barack Obama, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this president in the first place,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, a pro-Democratic Party interest group.

Maybe so. I don’t see it that way. I see a nation that led itself on this issue. The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.

Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.

So tell me—what good is he, exactly?

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

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