Tag Archives: John Kerry

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

IMG_2255Though it might not always seem like it, the news media is composed of human beings. Humans aren’t, can’t be, and possibly shouldn’t be, objective. Still, there’s a reasonable expectation among consumers of political news that journalists of all political stripes strive to be as objective as possible.

At their minimum, media outlets ought to be straightforward about their biases.

They certainly shouldn’t have, or appear to have, their thumbs on the scales.

Unfortunately, all too often, it appears that the political system is rigged – and that the major media companies play an important role in gaming the system. That’s what has happened throughout this year’s Democratic primaries, in which the vast majority of corporate media outlets appear to have been in the bag for Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, against self-described “democratic socialist” insurgent Bernie Sanders.

Examinations of coverage have confirmed the impressions of cable news junkies that Sanders has been the victim of a blackout, thus depriving him of a chance to make his case to voters. When the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, scheduled the first round of Democratic debates at times the party hoped nobody would be watching – again, a seemingly obvious ploy to deprive Sanders of exposure – corporate media outlets had little to say about it.

Then there has been the media’s complicity in spreading Clinton campaign talking points that bore little relation to the truth.

MSNBC and other DNC-aligned media outlets kept pointing out that Clinton won 3 million more votes than Sanders. True, technically. But that’s pretending that caucus states didn’t exist. Sanders did better than Clinton in caucuses.

Most recently, they conflated pledged delegates – those won by a candidate based on votes cast – with superdelegates, the Democratic politicians and party officials who will be able to vote however they want at the convention this coming July. Back in November, an Associated Press survey found that Hillary Clinton – unsurprisingly – enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the superdelegates. Assuming that the superdelegates will not change their minds, the AP called the Democratic race for Hillary Clinton on Monday, the night before a set of important primaries, including California. Does anyone doubt that calling a race over as the effect of depressing voter turnout?

It’s impossible to quantify that effect, to know how many people didn’t bother to show up at the polls because they were told it was all over. In California, however, Hillary Clinton won 56% of the vote in a state where polls showed the two candidates neck and neck. (California’s state election officials also did their best to keep voters away from the polls.)

As a journalist, I’m reluctant to categorically argue that the AP ought to have held its statistical analysis of the race until after Tuesday’s vote. News ought not to be suppressed. When you have it, you ought to report it. Similarly, I’m not sure that the New York Times was wrong to report the AP story. However, I do question the editorial wisdom of running it as a banner headline. The United States is a democracy. We elect our leaders based on votes actually cast by real people, not polls. Even after Tuesday’s vote, Hillary Clinton still didn’t have enough pledged delegates to claim the Democratic nomination. Since those superdelegates aren’t going to vote until July, she won’t be able to really claim the nomination until then.

Agreed, it’s a silly system. But it’s the system the Democrats have. They – and the media – ought to abide by it. Besides which, think how embarrassing it will be if the Justice Department indicts Hillary between now and July. There’s a lot to be said for leaving things hanging.

The thing that disgusts me most about this system – besides the perpetual state of war, the manufacturing of mass poverty, the prison industrial complex, the miserable state of the justice system, the fact that it’s impossible to make a decent living working 40 hours a week – is that it doesn’t even pretend to follow its own rules in a consistent way. Consider, for example, how the New York Times couldn’t wait to report its “Hillary Clinton becomes first woman nominee from a major political party” story until after the primaries in California et al. Would one or two days have made a big difference? (Well, yes. Sanders might have won California.) If the idea is to get the story out first, no matter what, even if it suppresses the vote, I can respect that. But then they ought to be consistent.

It was a very different story back in 2004. A few weeks before the general election in November, the New York Times researched and came to the conclusion that George W. Bush, the incumbent, may have cheated in at least one of the presidential debates against Sen. John Kerry. Photographs of the debate clearly showed a suspicious bulge in Bush’s shoulder; the Times did report the story as a light he-says-she-says piece. But then experts concluded that the tongue twisted former governor of Texas had been using a receiver paired with an earphone in order to get advice and retorts to carry from an unknown co-conspirator.

Editors at the paper decided to hold a serious exposé until after the election so that its coverage would not affect the results. Then they killed it. Four more years of Bush followed.

Actually, the corporate media’s policy is brutally consistent. If holding a story benefits the forces of reactionary conservatism, it gets held. If releasing it does so, it gets released. Time after time, the system exposes itself for what it is.

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

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Clueless in Gaza – We Americans Support Democracy, But Only When the Elections Go Our Way

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“Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once,” The New York Times noted about Obama on July 23rd. What the paper didn’t/won’t/can’t say is: Rarely has a president caused so many of his own crises.

This summer, most of Obama’s problems follow from his unwillingness to respect democracy overseas.

The U.S. government supports democracy in other countries — but only if the elections go its way. If not, anything goes to obtain a favorable outcome: economic sabotage, backing violent coups d’état, installing dictators to replace democratically-elected leaders, even ginning up all-out war.

Three recent examples showcasing U.S. contempt for electoral democracy include Egypt, and two places making news this week, Palestine and Ukraine.

Egypt’s 2012 election, the first after the overthrow of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is a recent case of American perfidy that’s embarrassing going on tacky. Mohamed Morsi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, won the presidency in elections international observers called as fair and transparent as could be expected in a nascent democracy.

The thing to do, of course would have been to congratulate Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, and offer assistance upon request.

Rather than accept the results, however, the Obama Administration “channeled funding … [that] … vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt.” A year later, Morsi was overthrown by a coup that restored Mubarak’s military junta minus the ailing former tyrant. Ignoring American law, Obama continues to finance General Abdel Fata al-Sisi’s violent, oppressive regime, which many human rights groups describe as even more brutal than Mubarak’s. Morsi, a democratically-elected leader whom a principled American president should demand to be restored to power, rots in a prison whose jailers are paid by American taxpayers.

To add Orwellian insult to neocolonialist injury, Secretary of State John Kerry is still saying that Egypt’s post-Morsi junta is “transitioning to a democracy.” Kerry’s mouthfart came a day after al-Sisi sent three foreign journalists away for long prison terms.

Overshadowed by Israel’s latest brutal swat-a-fly-with-laser-guided-missiles invasion and bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip is the fact that, as in Egypt, the United States got the elections it demanded in Palestine, only to succumb to buyer’s remorse after the ballots were counted.

The Palestinian elections of 2006 are hardly the most thrilling story ever told, so I won’t be surprised if you decide to look at this story about the guy who sent his wife a spreadsheet detailing all the excuses she gave him for not having sex and never look back.

Still here? Here’s an abridged recounting of an episode that not only sheds some light on the current conflagration between Israel and Palestine, but reveals the methods used by Israel and its allies to undermine Palestinian self-governance — and belies America’s loudly proclaimed commitment to democracy to boot.

Israeli leaders like to complain that the Palestinian side doesn’t offer them a viable partner with whom to negotiate peace. Read the following, however, and Israel’s right-wing government’s real agenda becomes clear: to demoralize and divide the Palestinian people in order to sap their resistance to economic and military oppression.

In the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, held both in the West Bank and Gaza in response to pressure from the United States, Hamas beat Fatah (Yasir Arafat’s more moderate party), 44.45% to 41.43%, entitling it to 74 seats in parliament over Fatah’s 45. (The current split, in which Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank, followed a later internal military clash.)

Israel’s interference with the 2006 elections began during campaign season, when it preemptively arrested and jailed 450 members of Hamas because they were involved in the elections as candidates or campaign workers. Despite this and other acts of sabotage, including trying to ban residents of East Jerusalem from voting, the elections went off well. The European Parliament’s spokesperson called the vote “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.”

The thing to do would have been to congratulate Hamas and the Palestinians, and offer assistance upon request.

Instead, the Bush Administration and its allies cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, ended diplomatic relations and imposed trade and other economic sanctions. Three months after Hamas formed its first government, in June 2006, Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, demolished and bombed civilian and government infrastructure, and arrested 25% of the members of parliament “because technically they were members of a terrorist organization although they may not be involved in terrorist acts themselves.” The U.S., which supplied the weapons used in the attacks, cited Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

Hamas, U.S. government-controlled media frequently reminds readers and viewers, is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. So to people who don’t hold tickets to the Way Back A Decade Ago Machine, the actions of America, Israel and their allies vis-à-vis Hamas, which rules Gaza, seem reasonable. They’re terrorists! They shoot rockets at Israel! (Really lame rockets, but still.)

Hamas remains boxed in and desperate under Obama. Israel and Egypt’s al-Sisi regime, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid military hardware, have shut the territory’s land crossings to Israel and Egypt and imposed a naval blockade on the Mediterranean coastline. Despite dozens of tunnels built to smuggle in goods, the West’s sanctions regime has been successful; Gaza’s economy has tanked, and unemployment among its 1.8 million people has risen to 38.5%. (The highest rate in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s was 25%.) Shooting rockets at civilians isn’t a great way to make friends — but desperation makes people do stupid things.

What the U.S. media doesn’t want you to know is: Hamas is popular. They won the last election, and they’d probably win again if one were held now. By pushing regime change in Gaza, therefore, the U.S. wants to replace a popular government with an unpopular one…in other words, subverting democracy.

Ukraine is yet another case of a democratically-elected ruler overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup.

Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2010 elections that were widely believed to have conformed to international standards according to foreign observers. The thing to do would have been to congratulate him and the Ukrainian people on a fair election, and offer assistance upon request. But the U.S. was wary of Yanukovych, worried he might not easily be tamed. (Sample American punditry at the time: “The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund.”)

He didn’t. Finally, in November 2013, Yanukovych sealed his fate by siding with neighboring Russia over a pending EU association agreement — thus rejecting closer ties to the West and the United States. Street protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 were likely indigenous, but would almost certainly not have succeeded in driving the president into exile without the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in covert U.S. funding to the Maidan organizers.

Though more of a money-motivated oligarch than a creature of the far right, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to accommodate right-wing factions, including neo-fascists, in Ukraine. Moreover, whatever you think of Poroshenko, he is not the legitimate ruler of the country. Nevertheless, President Obama has recognized him as such and offered economic and military hardware in his civil war against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern part of the country.

I’ll close with a quote from Noam Chomsky: “For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.”

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

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

 

 

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War and Peace, Made in USA

War and Peace, Made in USA

As the largest, most expansionary military empire in history and the world’s number one arms supplier, often to both sides in conflicts, the United States is once again offering, hilariously, to broker a peace agreement, this time between Hamas in Gaza, and Israel. First you start the war, or at least expand it, then you get credit for making peace!

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: If You Can Get Fired Over Your Politics, What Good is the First Amendment?

Now that the controversy over Mozilla’s firing of CEO Brendan Eich over his antigay politics has subsided (and before something similar happens again, which it surely will), it’s time for a brief tutorial on McCarthyism.

Because, if those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, Americans — who don’t notice history even as it’s happening, while it’s making headlines — are condemned to the endless purgatory of idiocracy.

McCarthyism, also known as the 20th century’s second Red Scare, took on several forms in the 1950s. Today, however, let’s focus on blackballing.

Blackballing, also often known as blacklisting (there are so many a.k.a.’s), is the act of denying employment to someone due to political opinions they express, and activities in which they participate, away from the workplace.

The qualifier “away from the workplace” is important. Denying you a paycheck because of your politics — politics you don’t express at work — is the essence of blackballing, and arguably the most powerful torture device in the censor’s toolbox. Examples of blackballing include the disgusting Hollywood blacklist of left-leaning actresses like Marsha Hunt and director Charlie Chaplin, and the 2004 firing of an Alabama woman because she had a John Kerry bumpersticker on her car. Also in 2004, Men’s Health magazine dropped my comic strip — which was about sex and relationships, 100% apolitical — because I opposed George W. Bush and his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Timothy Noah wrote about the bumpersticker firing: “Firing a person because you don’t like his or her politics runs contrary to just about everything this country stands for, but it is not against the law.” The U.S. embraces the savage fiscal Darwinism of “at-will employment,” which allows employers to hire and fire workers as they please, unless a victim can prove — which is difficult — discrimination due to race, color, religion, gender, age or disability.

Incredibly, your boss can fire you simply for being a Democrat or Republican.

Blackballing squelches expression and debate. Yet the American public doesn’t seem to mind that the First Amendment doesn’t protect them where they spend more than half of their waking hours — at work. Which set the stage for what happened to Brendan Eich.

Star LGBT columnist-editor-author Dan Savage “shrugged off” suggestions that Mozilla blackballed Eich: “No gay rights organizations had called for him to step down. This wasn’t really an issue in the gay community, it was an issue at Mozilla. There were people at Mozilla who didn’t want this man representing them.”

(Disclosure: Savage has commissioned work from me, and I have said nice things about him, which I meant.)

Savage is right. No gay rights groups weighed in. They kept quiet. None spoke out in Eich’s defense.

Hey, if someone offs this turbulent priest, it’s no skin off my ass.

“He was perceived by his own employees as an unacceptable CEO,” Savage remarked, pointing to Eich’s record of right-wing politics, which included supporting Pat Buchanan and Rand Paul, in addition to the $1000 campaign contribution to California’s Proposition 8 in 2012, which attempted to ban gay marriage in the state.

Exactly so.

Eich was perceived as “an unacceptable CEO” by Mozilla. But this was not because of his computer skills, which are widely seen as unimpeachable, or his management talent, which only came under fire after his politics came to light.

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki showcased the rationale of McCarthyism. Allowing that Eich is “a brilliant software engineer who had been the company’s chief technology officer,” Surowiecki explained: “The problem was that Eich’s stance was unacceptable in Silicon Valley, a region of the business world where social liberalism is close to a universal ideology.” To which one might ask: so what? If I only bought products made by companies whose CEOs I liked, my house would be empty.

And here, the “well, duh” logic that ignores the much bigger question of whether censorship is a good idea: “In interviews, [Eich] repeatedly spoke about the need to respect the diverse views of Mozilla community members…But there was something self-evidently odd about the pairing of Eich’s rhetorical support for diversity with his financial support for denying legal rights to gay people.”

Bear in mind: Eich pledged, in writing, not to discriminate against gay Mozilla employees. There’s no evidence that he ever mistreated any member of the LGBT community.

What is “self-evidently odd” about the argument that a company that values diversity ought to be able to make peace with a right-wing, anti-gay marriage CEO? Nothing. These “liberals” are blind to their own prejudice. In the same way that cable news channels believe that ideological diversity runs the gamut from center-right Clinton Democrat to right-wing Republican, Surowiecki and Mozilla’s top executives think acceptable political discourse allows for no disagreement on gay marriage.

This makes me nervous, and not just because I’m a political pundit or because gay marriage is an issue about which Americans have changed their minds at a breathtakingly rapid rate. If anything you say can be used against you in the court of the HR office, who is going to risk saying what they think? At Mozilla, Republicans would be wise to stay in the political closet. Isn’t that kind of…fascist?

Which is why I have consistently refused to join, actively opposed and publicly argued against boycott campaigns against right-wingers like Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh.

I think Eich is wrong about gay marriage. I disagree with his right-wing views. He’s a rich (former) CEO, so I don’t care about him personally. Nevertheless, Eich has become a symbol of something dangerous and wrong.

If you can lose your job due to your politics — especially if those in charge find those politics repugnant — there are only two options available to those of us who need to earn a living: keep our opinions to ourselves, or lie about them. If politics leaves the public sphere, forced underground by watchful employers and politically correct coworkers and anonymous online crusaders, how does the United States differ from East Germany?

(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: What Would President Hillary Do? She’ll Be the First Woman President.

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Hillary is the talk of 2016. Will she run? According to the pundit class whose water cooler speculation gets repackaged as “conventional wisdom,” the nomination is the former First Lady’s for the asking. Following a coronation that saves her cash and bruising primary battles, it’s currently hard to conjure a Republican who can stop her from taking the general election too.

But to paraphrase a recent viral music video, there’s one thing that no one knows:

What would President Clinton II do?

            I posed this question to “Ready for Hillary,” the main pro-Hillary Super PAC. “Ready for Hillary focuses on grassroots organizing, not policy,” replied Seth Bringman. “Policy decisions would be up to the campaign if Hillary runs, which we are certainly encouraging her to do. We amplify the causes Hillary is advocating for and spread the word to our more than one-and-a-half million supporters. We have done so when Hillary spoke out on immigration reform, health care, voting rights, unemployment insurance, and the government shutdown.”

Given that the pre-primary season doesn’t begin for another 18 months, it’s a little early to expect a fully fleshed-out policy platform from a probable candidate. But HRC isn’t a fresh young thing. She’s been kicking around politics for decades — so it’s more than a little strange that neither her fans nor her enemies has a clue what she’d do about a host of issues.

Long before 2000, Al Gore’s longstanding interest in climate change signaled that the environment would have been a priority in his administration. Beginning with his testimony in the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings, John Kerry’s career path predicted a preference for diplomacy over war. On the other hand, it was similarly clear long before 2008 that a John McCain Administration would have been belligerent and quirky, featuring occasional alliances of convenience with Democrats.

So, what about Hill? The only agenda item anyone could have reasonably predicted was a revival of HillaryCare — which is now basically Obamacare. The biggest arrow in her quiver is gone.

Ready for Hillary says it has raised $4 million from 33,000 donors during 2013. That’s a lot of money. You’d think the donors would know what they’re buying, but if that’s the case, they’re keeping it to themselves.

Hillary leads every poll of the Democratic field for 2016. But why? What is it about her that makes some liberal voters swoon?

I combed the Internet looking for signs of something approximating a political agenda. I pushed out the following question to social networks: “Support Hillary for 2016? Can you tell me what she would DO?”

The closest approximation to an answer came back: “She would be the first woman president.”

Yeah, we knew that — but would she be a first woman president who fires drones at wedding parties, or a first woman president who pushes for a $20/hour minimum wage, or a first woman president who continues the first black president’s policy of not using government to try to create jobs? Would she be a first woman president who closes Guantánamo? Would she be a first woman president who continued NSA spying on Americans? Would she be a first woman president who adds a public option to the Affordable Care Act?

As far as I can tell, the (Democratic) arguments for Hillary boil down to the following talking points:

  1. Unlike Obama, who let himself get rolled by the Republicans, Hillary is tough and battle-tested. She’s a good negotiator.
  2. She’s an experienced manager. “Ready on day one,” she argued in 2008. She knows everyone and everything in government.
  3. Like her husband, she’s somewhat more liberal than Obama.
  4. She’s pre-disastered, thus electable. If there were any more Travelgates, Whitewaters, etc., the media would have uncovered them by now.

These are personality traits, not prescriptions for America.

Hillary Clinton isn’t a candidate — she’s a brand. She doesn’t offer a set of ideas; she projects a vague sense of competence that feels absent in the current White House. (Didn’t she used to hold some kind of big job in that place?) Despite having held high posts in government, she can’t point to a single major legislative or ideological achievement — but that doesn’t matter to her supporters.

Mostly, Hillary represents the potentiality of a historical symbol: first woman president. As soon as she takes the oath of office, her campaign’s biggest goal, shattering the ultimate political glass ceiling, will have been achieved.

If this feels familiar, it should. Senator Barack Obama was Clinton in 2006 and 2007, projecting calm after long post-9/11 years of jittery Bushisms, with a light resume that served as a blank slate, allowing people to project their hopes and ideals upon him. In the end, all that mattered was the beginning: winning as a black man. For the Obamabots, all that followed — protecting Bush’s torturers, the bankster bailouts, the drones, the NSA — was beside the point of their politics of identitarian symbolism.

What will happen to the long-term unemployed under Hillary? If 2008 serves as a guide, the 2016 campaign will pass without Americans much talking or thinking about such questions.

(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: 54% of the Time, Americans Aren’t Protected by the First Amendment

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Of Hicks, Duck Dynasty and Free Speech

“Don’t talk about politics or religion.” It’s boilerplate advice, especially this time of year when family members and friends with varying cultural outlooks gather to break (if you’re a California liberal, gluten-free) bread.

Keeping your opinions to yourself is smart if your priority is conflict avoidance. But keeping the peace makes for seriously boring holiday meals.

Aside from the tense tedium of forced blandness, all that self-censorship accomplishes is to paper over conflicts and differences everyone knows or suspects are there anyway. Nothing gets resolved.

To the contrary, self-censorship enables bad ideas. Unchallenged year after year, the stupid people at the table return to their stupid homes as confident as ever in their stupid opinions, no matter how indefensible.

We are seeing the no-politics dictum play itself out with increasing frequency on a national level, with dismaying implications for freedom of expression.

This week we’re talking about “Duck Dynasty,” a reality TV show I haven’t watched. Phil Robertson, the ZZ Top-bearded patriarch of a Louisiana clan who struck it rich with a gadget that calls ducks, is the show’s star. He’s also a hick. Like many other hicks, Robertson holds stupid opinions about gays and blacks, which he expressed in media interviews.

After people complained about Robertson’s stupid thoughts, A&E “suspended” Robertson. He may or may not come back to the show.

Right-wingers, including ferret-faced Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and intellectual beacon Sarah Palin, played to their bigoted Republican base, issuing strident electronic missives decrying Robertson’s maybe-firing on the grounds of free speech. MSNBC and other Democratic Party mouthpieces responded in kind with a talking point that many Americans remember conservatives using against lefties during the Bush years: the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the right not to be fired.

“Yes, everyone is entitled to express his or her views,” Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian. “Not everyone is entitled to keep their jobs, though, if they decide to express views that are entirely odious and potentially costly to their employer.”

The same (used to be right-wing) left-wing talking point, cacophonously defending the capitalist “right” of bosses to shut up their workers, cropped up all over mainstream liberal outlets.

We’re again witnessing an odious truism: Americans defend free speech they agree with and sign on to the suppression of that they dislike. What if, instead of filling GQ magazine in on his far-right bigotry, Phil Robertson had gotten himself maybe-fired over an interview in which he expressed views that put him to the left of “mainstream”? What if, for example, he’d said instead that all Republicans are racists and homophobes? It’s a safe bet that joints like MSNBC and The Guardian would have denounced A&E for censoring him, and that Rush Limbaugh et al. would be the ones trotting out the “you can say whatever you want but you don’t have a right to get paid for it” bromides.

These free speech battles inevitably break down along partisan lines — but it’s dumb and hypocritical and needs to stop.

Let’s dispense with this sophistry that prevents us from getting to the meat of the matter. Yes, obviously, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. There is no legal issue. Under the law, A&E can fire Robertson.

The question is: should he be fired/suspended?

Should any employer be able to fire you because they dislike what you say?

On that point, my answer is 100%, unequivocally, no way.

“The right to freely speak your mind without government interference is crucial,” allows Filipovic in her essay. “But few of us are permitted in the course of our employment to say whatever we want without consequence from our employer.”

Legally, that’s true. To which I ask: why the hell not?

Americans spend 54% of their waking hours at work. What good is a First Amendment that ends at the keycard door? (Maybe we should rename it the Half Amendment.)

As someone who has lost gigs because I said something that someone didn’t like — usually about politics or religion — I’ve spent a lot of time imagining an America in which workers could express themselves freely. Try as I might, I don’t see the world falling apart if — I’m going to go extreme here — the bald guy at the hardware store turns out to be a Nazi skinhead — after all, the dude was a Nazi all along, right? If anything, it would be good to see him wearing a Nazi badge because, assuming I have the guts to confront him, there would then be a chance that someone could argue him into a better political place.

If you can be fired for expressing yourself at work — or, as in Robertson’s case, not at work, in an interview, which means that for him, 100% of waking hours are an A&E censorship zone — then free speech is a meaningless abstraction that applies only to the tiny fraction of superrich Americans who don’t have to worry about getting fired.

“It sounds nice in theory to say, ‘Walk away, and look for another job,’ ” says Lewis Maltby of the National Workplace Institute. “But in practice, most people just can’t take that risk. They just put up with it.” Which is why the American workplace is a fascist state. “In Arizona, you can be fired for using birth control,” noted The Guardian in 2012. “If you live in any one of 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be fired for being a fan of the Green Bay Packers if your boss roots for the Bears.” Many workers have gotten fired for off-the-cuff tweets.

Because it’s legal to fire louts like Robertson for mouthing off, it’s legal to fire you too, for saying just about anything, no matter innocuous. In his 2007 book “Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace,” Bruce Barry documents countless examples of people losing their jobs over banal political speech — for example, having a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car.

Any judgment about A&E’s action on “Duck Dynasty” has to consider the result.
What, exactly do the “social justice warriors” who led the charge against Robertson win if they succeed in getting him fired, or “Duck Dynasty” taken off the air?

I doubt they’ll change Robertson’s mind about gays or blacks. You can’t bully someone into political correctness. The cure to the illogic of bigotry is logical argument. Which requires more effort than organizing an Internet pile-on. All that PC bloggers get out of Robertson’s suspension is a “victory” that makes them feel good. But it diminishes society’s racism and homophobia not one iota.

Bigotry can also give way to experience — like the time a vanload of big black guys with gang tatts emerged from their vehicle, carrying tire irons, while my car was broken down in bad-old-1980s-days Bedford-Stuyvesant. They fixed me up and sent me on the way — after refusing a tip. Robertson obviously needs to spend some time with some LGBT people and people of color.

Getting someone fired, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a recipe for making new friends.

For Robertson and everyone else, the message is clear: keep your politics to yourself, and you’ll be OK. Unless, of course, your politics happen to coincide with whatever happens to be acceptable to whatever happens to be mainstream at a given time — which can, and eventually will, change — and bite you on the ass. So yeah, if you value your paycheck, shut up.

A society in which the workplace is a zero free speech zone is not free. A nation without the free exchange of ideas, where everyone can express themselves without fear of economic retribution, is not — cannot be — a democracy.

The First Amendment should be amended to include the workplace.

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COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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War is the Answer. What Was the Question Again?

War is the Answer. What Was the Question Again?

Back in September, Obama Administration officials said that Syria’s chemical weapons represented a grave threat to the United States and that they could never be eliminated without going to war. Now it’s November, and Syria is meeting its obligations to do so…yet the U.S. never went to war. Could it be that war is not always the answer?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: 7 Questions You Should Ask About Syria

Lightening-Quick Obama Makes Bush’s “Rush to War” Look Slow and Methodical

Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were beginning their war against Iraq. They wanted to invade hours after 9/11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat to us delayed the invasion until March 2003. This week, as the media celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, it is shock- and awe-inspiring to see how far America has come. Where it took a white president a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up a stupid, illegal war in the Middle East, our black president did it in a week.

Here we go again. A Baathist autocrat is in American crosshairs. The justification: WMDs. Also, he “kills his own people.” Which we haven’t cared about before. But: WMDs.

Ten years ago, the Baathist tyrant of Iraq denied the WMD accusations and invited UN weapons inspectors to verify his claim. Which they did. Because he was telling the truth. But the Bushies didn’t want to wait. No time! Had to invade right away!

And: again. “At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible,” an Obama official said five days after Syrian troops allegedly fired poison gas into a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, killing over 1000 people.

“Too late”? Really? Assad’s government OKed the inspection less than 48 hours after the UN asked. On a weekend. I have editors who don’t get back to me that quickly. Doesn’t seem like a slow response from a government that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Also, they’re kinda busy fighting a civil war.

Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from their coverage — concerns strikingly similar to issues that never got discussed back in 2002 and 2003.

1. “Chemical weapons were used in Syria,” Secretary of State John Kerry says. Probably. But by whom? Maybe the Syrian army, maybe the rebels. Experts tell NPR: “The Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack.” Maybe we should ease off on the cruise missiles before we know which side is guilty.

2. Assuming the attack was launched by the Syrian army, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it’s Assad or his top generals. Assad denies this, calling the West’s accusations “nonsense” and “an insult to common sense.” Which, when you think about it, is true. As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated, intelligent man Why would he brush off Obama’s “red line” about the use of chemical weapons last year? His nation borders Iraq, so it’s not like he needs reminders of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad’s forces, maybe it originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the U.S. go to war over the possible actions of a mid-ranked army officer who went rogue?

3. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” says the White House PR flack. So why is Obama “days away” from a military strike? To “send a message,” in Beltway parlance. But the air war that the attack on Syria is reportedly being modeled after, Clinton’s campaign against Serbia during the 1990s, caused the collapse of the Serbian government. Regional players think, and some hope, that degrading Assad’s military infrastructure could turn the war in favor of the Syrian rebels. If toppling Assad isn’t Obama’s goal, why chance it?

4. When you bomb one side in a civil war — a side that, by the way, might be innocent of the chemical attack — you help their enemies. Assad is bad, but as we saw in post-Saddam Iraq, what follows a dictator can be worse. Syria’s rebel forces include radical Islamists who aren’t very nice guys. They’ve installed Taliban-style Sharia law in the areas they control, issuing bizarre edicts (they’ve outlawed croissants) and carrying out floggings and executions, including the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy for making an offhand remark about Mohammed. Obama is already sending them arms and cash. Should we fight their war for them too?

5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the U.S. has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. And because we claim to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes: “We want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.” And, as Dominic Tierney argued in The Atlantic, “Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms.” If 100,000 people have died in Syria during the last two years, why are these 1000 deaths different?

6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. The U.S. uses non-chemical weapons that shock the world’s conscience, such as cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters designed to attract playful children. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the U.S. have the moral standing to act as jury and executioner?

7. Why us? Assuming that military action is appropriate in Syria, why is the United States constantly arguing that we should carry it out? Why not France, which has a colonial history there? Or Turkey, which is right next door? Or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? Why is it always us?

Because our political culture has succumbed to militarism. Which has made us so nuts that we’ve gone from zero to war in a week. Which brings up a quote from the “forgotten MLK,” from 1967: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Some things never change.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: Too Soon To Tell

I am pleased to announce that I am now writing a weekly long-form column for Al Jazeera English. Here is my second piece for Al Jazeera:

One Year Early, Obama’s Reelection Far From Certain

The American punditocracy (and, perhaps more importantly, Las Vegas oddsmakers) currently cite Barack Obama as their odds-on favorite to win next year’s presidential election. Some even predict a landslide.

Mainstream media politicos acknowledge the atrocious economy, with its real unemployment rate nearly matching the worst years of the Great Depression of the 1930s, as an obstacle to reelection. But most of them believe that other factors will prove decisive: disarray in the field of candidates for the nomination of the opposition Republican Party, the GOP’s reliance on discredited Reagan-style austerity measures for the masses coupled with tax cuts for the wealthy, and Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Maybe they’re right. But if I were the President, I wouldn’t be offering the White House chef a contract renewal any time soon. Count me among the majority of Americans (54 to 44 percent) who told a March 2011 CNN/Opinion Research poll they think Obama will lose the 2012 election.

I could be wrong.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, doesn’t think much of these so-called “trial-run” polls. “A review of polls conducted in the first quarter of the year preceding the election found many of them forecasting the wrong winner—often by substantial margins,” Keeter wrote in 2007, citing three elections as far back as 1968.

However, a historical analysis of the more recent presidential races, those over the two decades, reveals an even bigger gap. The year before a U.S. presidential election, the conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. The early favorite at this point on the calendar usually loses. So betting against the pundits—in this case, against Obama—is the safe bet at this point.

The meta question is: what difference does it make who wins next year? In practical terms, not much.

For one thing, American presidents tend to find more heartbreak than political success during their second terms. Had Richard Nixon retired in 1972, for example, he would have been fondly remembered as the architect of the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, the founder of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the defender of the working and middle class (for imposing wage and price controls to soften the effect of inflation). His second term saw him sinking into, and ultimately succumbing, to the morass of the Watergate scandal.

The next second termer, Ronald Reagan, was similarly preoccupied by scandal, in case the Iran-Contra imbroglio in which the United States traded arms to Iran in return for hostages held by students in Tehran and illegally funded right-wing death squads in Central America. Bill Clinton’s last four years were overshadowed by his developing romance, and the consequences of the revelation thereof, with intern Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush’s second term, from 2005 to 2009, was defined by his administration’s inept response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the deteriorating security situation in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic collapse that began in 2008. His number-one political priority, privatizing the U.S. Social Security system, never got off the ground.

Presidents rarely accomplish much of significance during their second term. So why do they bother to run again? Good question. Whether it’s ego—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is one hell of an address—or something else, I don’t know. Whatever, I have long maintained that a sane president would think of himself as standing for one four-year term, then announce his intention not to run again at the last possible moment.

From the standpoint of the American people and the citizens of countries directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, it is unlikely that the basic nature of the beast will change much regardless of Obama’s fortunes in the next election. One only has to consider the subtle “differences” between the tenures of Presidents Bush and Obama.

On the domestic front Obama continued and expanded upon Bush’s non-reaction to the economic crisis, exploiting the panic created by widespread unemployment, the bursting of the housing bubble and a massive foreclosure crisis that put tens of millions of Americans out of their homes in order to pour hundreds of billions of federal dollars into the pockets of the top executives of the nation’s largest banks, with no resulting stimulus effect whatsoever. Controversial attacks on privacy rights and civil liberties inaugurated by the Bush years were expanded and extended: the USA-Patriot Act, the National Security Agency “domestic surveillance” program that allowed the government to spy on U.S. citizens’ phone calls, emails and other communications. Obama even formalized Bush’s assertion that the president has the right to unilaterally order the assassination of anyone, including a U.S. citizen, without evidence or proof that he or she has committed a crime.

As promised during the 2008 campaign, Obama expanded the U.S. war against Afghanistan, transforming what Bush described as a short-term attempt to find Osama bin Laden after 9/11 into the most protracted military conflict in the history of the United States. The war continued in Iraq, albeit with “combat” troops redefined as “trainers.” During the last few years, the “global war on terror” expanded into Pakistan, east Africa, Libya and Yemen. Drone attacks escalated. Violating his campaign promises, he continued to keep torture available as a legal option—indeed, he ordered it against a U.S. solder, Private First Class Bradley Manning—and kept Guantánamo and other Bush-era concentration camps open.

If Obama goes down to defeat next year, then, the results should be viewed less as a shift in overall U.S. policy—hegemonic, imperialistic, increasingly authoritarian—than one that is symbolic. An Obama defeat would reflect the anger of ordinary Americans caught in the “two-party trap,” flailing back and forth between the Dems and the Reps, voting against the party in power to express their impotent rage, particularly at the economy. Mr. Hopey-Changey’s trip back to Chicago would mark the end of a brief, giddy, moment of reformism.

The argument that an overextended, indebted empire can be repaired via internal changes of personnel would be dead. With the reformism that Obama embodied no longer politically viable, American voters would be once again faced, as are the citizens of other repressive states, with the choice between sullen apathy and revolution.

Obamaism is currently believed to be unstoppable. If history serves as an accurate predictor, that belief is good cause to predict its defeat next November.

During the late spring and early summer of 1991, just over a year before the 1992 election, President George H.W. Bush was soaring in the polls in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, which the American media positively portrayed as successful, quick, internationalist, and cost the lives of few America soldiers. A March 1991 CBS poll gave him an 88 percent approval rating—a record high.

By October 1991 Bush was heavily favored to win. A Pew Research poll found that 78 percent of Democratic voters thought Bush would defeat any Democratic nominee. New York governor Mario Cuomo, an eloquent, charismatic liberal star of the party, sized up 1992 as unwinnable and decided not to run.

When the votes were counted, however, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Bush, 43 to 37.5 percent. Although Republicans blamed insurgent billionaire Ross Perot’s independent candidacy for siphoning away votes from Bush, subsequent analyses do not bear this out. In fact, Perot’s appeal had been bipartisan, attracting liberals opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico and globalization in general, as well as conservative deficit hawks.

The most credible explanation for Bush’s defeat was handwritten on a sign that the victorious Bill Clinton’s campaign manager famously taped to the wall of the Dems’ war room: “It’s the economy, stupid.” As the 1989-1993 recession deepened Bush’s ratings tumbled to around 30 percent. A February 1992 incident, in which Bush was depicted by The New York Times as wearing “a look of wonder” when confronted with a supermarket price scanning machine, solidified his reputation with voters as patrician, out of touch, and unwilling to act to stimulate the economy or alleviate the suffering of the under- and unemployed. “Exit polls,” considered exceptionally reliable because they query voters seconds after exiting balloting places, showed that 75 percent of Americans thought the economy was “bad” or “very bad.”

In 1995, Bill Clinton was preparing his reelection bid. On the Republican side, Kansas senator and 1976 vice presidential candidate Bob Dole was expected to (and did) win his party’s nomination. Perot ran again, but suffered from a media blackout; newspapers and broadcast outlets had lost interest in him after a bizarre meltdown during the 1992 race in which he accused unnamed conspirators of plotting to violently disrupt his daughter’s wedding. He received eight percent in 1996.

Clinton trounced Dole, 49 to 40 percent. In 1995, however, that outcome was anything but certain. Bill Clinton had been severely wounded by a series of missteps during his first two years in office. His first major policy proposal, to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military, was so unpopular that he was forced to water it down into the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise. Clinton’s 1993 attempt to deprivatize the healthcare system, mocked as HillaryCare after he put his wife in charge of marketing it, went down to defeat. He signed the pro-corporate, Republican-backed trade agreement, NAFTA, alienating his party’s liberal and progressive base. Low voter turnout by the American left in the 1994 midterm elections led to the “Republican Revolution,” a historic sweep of both houses of the American Congress by right-wing conservatives led by the fiery new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

1995 saw the so-called “co-presidency” between Gingrich and a cowed Bill Clinton, who was reduced to telling a press conference that “the president is relevant.” The United States, which does not have a European-style parliamentary system, had never seen a president so politically weak while remaining in office.

During the spring and summer of 1995 Bob Dole was already the heir apparent to the nomination of a Republican Party that traditionally rewards those who wait their turn. Dole was a seasoned campaigner, a Plains States centrist whose gentlemanly demeanor and credentials as a hero of World War II. Conventional wisdom had him beating Clinton. So did the polls. A March 1995 Los Angeles Times poll had Dole defeating Clinton, 52 to 44 percent in a head-to-head match-up. “Among all voters, Clinton’s generic reelect remains dismal, with 40 percent inclined to vote him in again and 53% tilting or definitely planning a vote against him,” reported the Times.

By late autumn, however, the polls had flipped. Though statisticians differ about how big a factor it was, a summer 1995 shutdown of the federal government blamed on the refusal of Gingrich’s hardline Republicans to approve the budget turned the tide. At the end of the year the die was cast. As Americans began to pay more attention to his challenger they recoiled at Dole’s age—if elected, he would have been the oldest president in history, even older than Reagan—as it contrasted with Clinton’s youthful vigor. The Democrat coasted to reelection. But that’s not how things looked at this stage in the game.

When analyzing the 2000 race, remember that Republican George W. Bush lost the election to Al Gore by a bizarre quirk of the American system, the Electoral College. The U.S. popular vote actually determines the outcome of elected delegates to the College from each of the 50 states. The winner of those delegates is elected president.

Most of the time, the same candidate wins the national popular vote and the Electoral College tally. In 2000, there is no dispute: Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, 48.4 to 47.9 percent. There was a legal dispute over 25 electoral votes cast by the state of Florida; ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court decided, along party lines, to award the state to Bush despite clear indications that Gore would have won recounts by tens of thousands of votes in that state.

Regardless of one’s views of the 2000 Florida recount controversy, from a predictive standpoint, one should assume that Gore won because no one could have anticipated a difference between the results of the electoral and popular votes.

Under normal circumstances Gore should have faced, as Dick Cheney said about the Iraq invasion, a cakewalk. A popular sitting vice president, he enjoyed the trappings of incumbency and a reputation as a thoughtful environmentalist and government efficiency expert. The economy was booming—always a good argument for the “don’t change horses in midstream” sales pitch. The early favorite on the Republican side, George W. Bush, was considered an intellectual lightweight who would get eaten alive the first time the two met in a presidential debate. But Monicagate had wounded Bill Clinton to the extent that Gore made a fateful decision to disassociate himself from the president who had appointed him.

A January 1999 CNN poll had Bush over Gore, 49 to 46 percent. By June 2000 the same poll had barely budged: now it was 49 to 45 percent. “The results indicate that the public is far more likely to view Texas Governor George W. Bush as a strong and decisive leader, and is also more confident in Bush’s ability to handle an international crisis—a worrisome finding for a vice president with eight years of international policy experience,” analyzed CNN in one of the most frightening summaries of the American people’s poor judgment ever recorded.

Gore didn’t become president. But he won the 2000 election. Once again, the media was wrong.

In the 2004 election, it was my turn to screw up. Howard Dean, the combative liberal darling and former Vermont governor, was heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination against incumbent George W. Bush. I was so convinced at his inevitability after early primary elections and by the importance of unifying the Democratic Party behind a man who could defeat Bush that I authored a column I wish I could chuck down the memory hole calling for the party to suspend remaining primaries and back Dean. In 2004, John Kerry won the nomination.

Oops.

But I wasn’t alone. Polls and pundits agreed that George W. Bush, deeply embarrassed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would lose to Kerry, a Democrat with a rare combination of credentials: he was a bonafide war hero during the Vietnam War and a noted opponent of the war after his service there.

Bush trounced Kerry. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” asked Britain’s Daily Mirror. Good question. Maybe that’s why no one saw it coming.

Which brings us to the most recent presidential election. First, the pundit class was wrong about the likely Democratic nominee. Former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, everyone “knew,” would win. It wasn’t even close. An August 2007 Gallup/USA Today poll had Clinton ahead of Obama, 48 to 26 percent. As it turned out, many Democratic primary voters were wowed by Obama’s charisma and annoyed by Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her brazenly cynical vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2003. Aging Arizona Senator John McCain, on the other hand, remained the best-funded, and thus the continuous favorite, on the Republican side.

Obama’s advantages over McCain became clear by 2008. “The political landscape overwhelmingly favors Obama,” reported USA Today in June. At this point in 2007?

He didn’t stand a chance.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

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