Tag Archives: media

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Russian Hacking: Where’s the Evidence?

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At the smallest, crappiest newspaper in the world – even at a high school paper – no sane editor would publish a story that wasn’t backed by solid evidence. As the 20th century print journalism cliché goes, if your mother says she loves you check it out. So why are the nation’s most prestigious multi-Pulitzer-winning newsgathering organizations repeatedly claiming that hackers working for the Russian government stole emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and gave them to WikiLeaks?

Because the CIA says so.

Well, not the actual CIA. Some unidentified people who claim to have seen some report say so.

The charge against Russia is explosive. “In a ‘closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week,’ intelligence officials told senators that it was now “quite clear’ that electing Trump was Russia’s goal,” according to Vox. Hothead Sarah Palin enabler and senior Arizona Senator John McCain called it “an act of war.”

Even Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman — historically a voice of reason and prescience — dove into the neo-Red-baiting morass of this weird month, writing that “bad guys hacked the election” thanks to “useful idiots” (a Cold War slur used against lefties like, um, Krugman, pinned here to Trump and his advisors).

(Hypocrisy alert! I’ll save my catalog of covert U.S. attacks against other nations’ democratic elections — Obama’s role in the recent coup in Honduras comes to mind — for some future book, a format where word counts aren’t as constricting.)

explainersmallAnyway, newspapers and magazines and radio and television and Internet news sites say that Russia was behind the hacks. So, as my editor at the Columbia Daily Spectator would surely have asked, what is the basis of this contention?

“The CIA.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday,” wrote the Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau. “Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

The primary basis of this “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” appears to be that whoever hacked the DNC also hacked the RNC but only released the DNC stuff to WikiLeaks. “If the Russians were going to interfere, why on earth would they do it to the detriment of the candidate that was pro-Russian?” asked Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

My editor at the Spec would not have been impressed.

As Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept, “you can’t help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates.”

This is one of those awkward times when you have to admit that Donald Trump has a point: why should we take the CIA, whose BS Iraqi WMD intel led to the deaths of over a million people, at its word?

Why would the very same journalists who let themselves get duped 13 years ago dutifully transcribe what amounts to nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations?

I don’t know if Russia is innocent of hacking those emails — any more than the New York Times and the Washington Post and CBS News and so on know that they’re guilty.

No one knows.

Well, the CIA (and the hackers, if there indeed were hacks) might know. But if the spooks have any evidence, much less proof, they aren’t showing it to us or those idiotic media outlets. Which makes this an unsourced story — and one whose geopolitical implications, involving the world’s most heavily-armed nuclear states makes it incomprehensibly, irredeemably irresponsible to spread around.

If the government wants to warn us that a Russian puppet is about to move into the White House, they ought to take a cue from JFK, who went on television to show secret US spy photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Show us the evidence or shut up.

As if this “Russia hacked the election” episode wasn’t enough to showcase the intellectual bankruptcy of America’s state-controlled news media, the stenographers are ignoring a far more credible explanation for how WikiLeaks got the Podesta/DNC emails: they were leaked, not hacked.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and WikiLeaks associate, told The Daily Mail that a DNC insider motivated by “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders” personally gave it to him in Washington. “Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,” Murray says. “The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray is a paragon of integrity, having sacrificed his diplomatic career in order to call out Islam Karimov, the sadistic tyrant of Uzbekistan known for boiling political dissidents to death and his cozy ties to the U.S. (His account “Murder in Samarkand” is highly recommended for its brutal honesty.)

Regardless of your politics, Murray is infinitely more believable than the CIA.

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange confirms that “the Russian government is not the source.” Assange too has an impeccable reputation.

As far as I can tell, only one U.S. outlet, the right-wing Washington Times, has covered the Murray angle.

Everyone “knows” that Russia hacked the election. But it may or may not be true. To the contrary! The facts point to a leak.

There is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that the moral midgets of American corporate media don’t have the slightest interest in uncovering the truth. How perfect as we enter the Age of Trump.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please consider supporting 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: Now, A Postmortem By Someone Who Actually Saw Trump’s Win Coming

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You’ve read post-election analysis by the discredited corporate pundits who thought Hillary was a shoo-in. Since I saw Donald Trump’s “upset” coming, my take on what happened and why may be of more interest.

As with any large-scale disaster, the ascent of a spectacularly unqualified buffoon to the most powerful political office on earth came about as the result of numerous system failures and operator errors. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of what went wrong.

System Failures: Problems Hardwired Into the Machine

  1. Democrats took their progressive base for granted.

Following George McGovern’s landslide loss to Richard Nixon in 1972, the Democrats’ conservative southern wing seized control of the DNC and other leadership apparatus. Center-right Dems won four presidential races with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but at a cost. Election after election, liberals and progressives — the party’s base and thus its greatest potential source of votes, donations and enthusiasm — were taken for granted as the party moved right in search of swing voters. Where else, the Clintonian Brahmins asked smugly, could lefties go? The answer was nowhere: snubbed, unmotivated and disgusted, they stayed home this November.

  1. No safety net for workers displaced by globalization and deindustrialization.

NAFTA wasn’t the beginning; it was the last nail in the coffin of the postwar boom that elevated blue-collar manufacturing jobs to professions paying enough to finance the American Dream. Year after year, millions of workers lost good jobs and were forced to make do with two lousy ones. Inner cities, and not a few suburbs, rotted and died. Neither major party talked about the Making of America Not Great Anymore, much less tried to do anything about it. Trump scored big Rust Belt points merely by acknowledging the long-ignored pain of millions.

  1. In media coverage of the horse race, some candidates are more equal than others.

If you were designing American democracy from scratch, you’d probably make it a rule that every candidate for office receives the same attention from the media. (France does this.) But we’re light years away from that ideal. Trump received more TV minutes and column-inches than his Republican rivals because he was (a) outrageous and (b) a celebrity. Clinton’s coverage overshadowed Sanders’ because media gatekeepers were (a) enamored of their pre-fab “first woman president follows first black president” narrative and (b) couldn’t imagine that an elderly socialist from Vermont could be a serious contender. Who would be president-elect today had Rand Paul, Carla Fiorina and Bernie Sanders been given a fair chance to make their cases to the voters? Probably not Trump.

Operator Errors: Screw-Ups By Individual Politicians and Organizations

  1. Hillary’s campaign partied like it was 1996.

Campaigning has changed since the Clintonian heyday of the ’90s, but Hillary’s strategists didn’t get the memo. Trump ad-libbed outrageous vidbytes at his rallies, making them must-see TV and earning billions in free exposure; Hillary stuck to her deadly dull stump speech, doomed to be ignored. While Trump worked Twitter like a tween at 3 am — ensuring that story-hungry editors would see his hilarious rants when they arrived at their desks — it took 12 Clinton staffers to compose a single tweet whose made-by-committee provenance made it dead on arrival. She spent many millions on a repeat loop of anti-Trump TV ads featuring clips everyone had already seen. Considering that she barely survived Bernie Sanders’ primary challenge, it should have been obvious to her team that the Democratic party has moved left (as has the nation). So why did her 2016 campaign follow the old Dick Morris move-right-for-the-general-election model from 1996, moving right in order to “reach out to Republican megadonors“? Meanwhile, Morris himself understood the new reality. “But Trump is doing more than driving populist Democrats into Republican arms,” Morris wrote. “He is separating the establishment left of the Democratic Party from its populist base. His candidacy separates the blue-collar social populists from their partisan moorings even as his economic populism appeals to the Sanders left.” He wrote that in May.

  1. The DNC ignored polls that showed Bernie was a better candidate than Hillary.

Trump’s “surprise” win wasn’t shocking to people who were paying attention. Throughout the primary and general election, the DNC brushed off head-to-head tracking polls that showed that Hillary Clinton never enjoyed a commanding lead over, and sometimes fell behind, Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, consistently held a double-digit lead, sometimes as high as 20 percent, over Trump. As it turned out, Trump would have lost to Sanders. In a change year when Americans were in the mood for radical populism, Sanders offered all the stuff voters liked about Trump — his anti-free trade message, economic populism, opposition to stupid foreign wars, the fiery, outspoken energy of a loud New Yorker — minus his manic loopiness and offensive comments about women and minorities. Granted, Bernie’s poll numbers would have suffered under an onslaught of ads depicting the Vermont senator as the second coming of Stalin, Soviet May Day parade footage and “The Internationale” playing incessantly. But the Cold War is over. Americans are more afraid of cost-cutting CEOs than commissars.

  1. Hillary Clinton didn’t appoint Bernie Sanders as vice president, or to a cabinet position.

Democratic voters wanted Hillary — a lifelong right-wing Democrat — to balance the ticket by choosing a progressive running mate like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker or her rival Bernie Sanders. But she never considered any of them, going instead with some guy who’s name I still struggle to remember. Ironically, no one understood the disastrous implications of Hillary’s choice better than right-wing blogger Wayne Allyn Root in The Blaze: ” Hillary desperately needed a shot in the arm; an exciting and edgy vice president by her side…Tim Kaine isn’t just boring… Kaine is an affront to every Bernie Sanders supporter – which happens to be all the youth and energy in the entire Democrat Party.”

(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: Khizr Khan and the Triumph of Democratic Militarism

Against the wishes of her New York Democratic constituents, Hillary Clinton voted with Senate Republicans to invade Iraq. (It was a pivotal vote. Without Democratic support, George W. Bush’s request for this war of aggression would have failed.)

Humayun Khan, 27, was an army captain who got killed during that invasion.

Eight years later, the dead soldier’s parents appeared at the 2016 Democratic National Convention — not to protest, but in order to endorse one of the politicians responsible for his death: Hillary Clinton.

Even more strangely, Clinton’s opponent Donald Trump is the one who is in political trouble – not because Trump sent Khan to war, but because Trump committed a relatively minor slight, especially compared to the numerous outrageous utterances to his name. Trump didn’t denigrate the dead Humayun Khan. Nor did he directly insult his parents. Lamely trying to score a feminist point concerning radical Islam, Trump insinuated that Mr. Khan didn’t allow Mrs. Khan to address the crowd because as a Muslim, he doesn’t respect women.

Let us stipulate that no one should impugn the courage of the war dead. (Not that anyone did here.) Let us further concede that Donald Trump is a remarkably tactless individual. Those things said, the Khan controversy is yet another spectacular example of the media distracting us with a relatively minor point in order to make a much bigger issue go away.

A week ago corporate media gatekeepers managed to transform the Democratic National Committee internal emails released by WikiLeaks from what it really was – scandalous proof that Bernie Sanders and his supporters were right when they said the Democratic leadership was biased and had rigged the primaries against them, and that the system is corrupt – into a trivial side issue over who might be responsible for hacking the DNC computers. Who cares if it was Russia? It’s the content that matters, not that it was ever seriously discussed.

Now here we go again.

Hillary’s vote for an illegal war of choice that was sold with lies, was a major contributing factor to the death of Captain Khan, thousands of his comrades, and over a million Iraqis. Iraq should be a major issue in this campaign — against her.

Instead, it’s being used by his parents and the Democratic Party to bait Donald Trump into a retro-post-9/11 “Support Our Troops” militaristic trap. Khan, you see, was “defending his country.” (How anyone can say U.S. soldiers in Iraq, part of an invasion force thousands of miles away where no one threatens the United States, are “defending” the U.S. remains a long-running linguistic mystery.)

“Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son ‘the best of America,’” Khizr Khan told the convention. Unfortunately, the moniker can’t apply to once-and-possible-future-first-daughter Chelsea Clinton, who never considered a military career before collecting $600,000 a year from NBC News for essentially a no-show job. But anyway…

“If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America,” Khizr Khan continued. The cognitive dissonance makes my head spin. Obviously, Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims is racist and disgusting. Ironically, however, it would have saved at least one life. If it was up to Donald Trump, the Khans would still be in the United Arab Emirates. Humayan would still be alive. As would any Iraqis he killed.

“Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution?” asked Khizr, who is originally from Pakistan. “I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.” A good question. While we’re at it, however, where does it say in the U.S. Constitution that the president can send troops overseas for years at a time without a formal congressional declaration of war? Where does it say that the United States can attack foreign countries that have done it no harm and have never threatened it?

As you’d expect Trump, he of little impulse control, has handled this about as poorly as possible. Asked about Khizr Khan’s remark that Trump hasn’t made any sacrifices, he idiotically attempted to compare his business dealings with the death of a son. Still, you have to grudgingly admire Trump for fighting back against a guy you are officially not allowed to say anything mean about.

It has been widely remarked, always approvingly, that this year’s Democrats have successfully appropriated images of patriotism and “optimism” – scare quotes because this is not the kind of actual optimism in which you think things are going to actually get better, but the bizarro variety in which you accept that things will really never get better so you’d might as well accept the status quo – from the Republicans. This is part of Hillary Clinton’s strategy of taking liberal Democrats for granted while trying to seduce Republicans away from Trump.

The Khan episode marks a high water mark for post-9/11 knee-jerk militarism.

Even the “liberal” party whose sitting incumbent two-term president captured the White House by running against the Iraq war demands that everyone fall to their knees in order to pay homage to the “good” Muslims — those willing to go to the Middle East to kill bad ones.

Next time you see a panel of experts discussing a foreign crisis, pay attention: does anyone argue against intervention? No. The debate is always between going in light and going in hard: bombs, or “boots on the ground.” Not getting involved is never an option. As long as this militaristic approach to the world continues, the United States will never have enough money to take care of its problems here at home, and it will always be hated around the world.

Most Americans believe the Iraq war was a mistake. Who speaks for us? No one in the media. And no one in mainstream politics.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His new book, the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” is now available.)

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Trump’s Maniacal First 100 Days

Trump’s political genius is centered around his manic style. He issues one outrageous statement after another, so that the media and critics can only begin to respond to each before it gets eclipsed by the next one, with the net effect that nothing ever gets fully processed. If elected president, he’ll probably do the same thing. Hey, it worked for George W. Bush!

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The Leftie Who Came In From The Cold

After a hard-fought primary campaign, Bernie Sanders capitulated and endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton for the presidency. In the final analysis, Clinton gave up little more than lip service to Bernie’s agenda of a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition at public universities, and universal healthcare. To the contrary, Clinton is now moving to the right, considering a general as vice president and asking the platform committee not to oppose the TPP free trade agreement.

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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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Unqualified

First Hillary Clinton told a newspaper that Bernie Sanders wasn’t qualified to be president. When he shot back that her judgement made her unqualified, she pretended he’d attacked her out of nowhere. Such are the dynamics of a media narrative: it’s impossible to tell the true truth, only their truth.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Inside the Media Bubble, No One Can Hear Us Scream

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New York Times headline, April 12: “Donald Trump, Losing Ground, Tries to Blame the System.”

To normal people like you and me, it may seem strange that Trump might be denied the Republican nomination despite winning most of the primaries, and by sizable margins.

Not to the establishment.

Dripping with a what-a-whiny-baby tone, the Old Gray Lady argues that Trump has no one to blame for himself for losing states he, you know, won:

Donald J. Trump and his allies are engaged in an aggressive effort to undermine the Republican nominating process by framing it as rigged and corrupt, hoping to compensate for organizational deficiencies that have left Mr. Trump with an increasingly precarious path to the nomination.”

“Our Republican system is absolutely rigged. It’s a phony deal,” the Times quoted Trump, saying that he was “accusing party leaders of maneuvering to cut his supporters out of the process.”

“They wanted to keep people out,” Trump continued. “This is a dirty trick.”

Any normal person would agree. You win the most votes, you win the election. Especially when it’s not close. Which, in the case of Trump (8.2 million) vs. Cruz (6.3 million) vs. Kasich (3 million), it isn’t. But the big corporate news media outlets don’t hire normal people; they hire rich kids who can afford graduate degrees from journalism schools that don’t give financial aid…kids born on third base who think they constantly hit home runs because they’re so damn smart.

The system is working great for them. Why change it?

The Times goes on to accuse Trump of “seeking to cast a shadow of illegitimacy over the local and state contests to select delegates” and “blaming the process rather than his own inadequacies as a manager.” Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is praised because he cleverly “outmaneuvered him [Trump].”

Trump had complained — “whined,” many news outlets called it — that he won the popular vote in the Colorado primary, yet came away with zero pledged delegates. This was because Cruz and his forces flooded the zone at the Colorado State Republican Convention, enticed party officials with trips and other gifties, and came away with all 33 delegates pledged to him.

The same thing happened in Louisiana.

Trump even expressed sympathy for Bernie Sanders. Despite winning all the most recent dates, the Democrats’ “superdelegate” system let insider favorite Hillary Clinton start this marathon at mile 16. “Bernie wins, Bernie wins, Bernie wins,” Trump said. “And yet he’s not winning. I mean, it’s a rigged system.”

He’s right. It’s also convoluted, arcane and corrupt.

Normally, when a system is widely viewed as overly complicated, and when it yields results that don’t make sense, people roll up their sleeves and try to fix it. We saw that recently in Hollywood, when no actors of color were nominated for the Oscars. There was an outcry. And a boycott. Then there were reforms.

Not American politics. In politics, you can win and win and win — and they can still take it away from you. After you get screwed, for the good of the country, you’re supposed to shut up and try again later (c.f. Nixon 1960) or slink off and get fat (c.f. Gore 2000).

So when Trump complains about losing what he’s winning, journalists never for a second consider the possibility that he’s right.

“You call them ‘shenanigans,'” CNN’s Anderson Cooper ridiculed Trump. “Those are the rules. And didn’t you know those rules?”

“I know the rules very well,” Trump replied. “But I know that it’s stacked against me by the establishment. I fully understand it.”

“You could have had a better organization on the ground,” Cooper scolded. “Your critics say it says something about your leadership ability — for somebody who touts himself as somebody who’s an organizational genius, who’s created this amazing business organization, that you couldn’t create an organization on the ground that could beat Ted Cruz’s organization.”

Inside the bubble, no one can hear us scream.

Talk about blaming the victim! Sure, Trump could have hired teams of professional politicos to navigate the peculiarities of each state’s primaries. As a billionaire, he certainly could have afforded them. Why didn’t he? I have no idea.

But why should he have to? Why should Trump, or any other candidate, be subject to such a strange system? Democracy should be simple and straightforward: one person, one vote. All these crazy rules — the signatures required for ballot access, the polls used to determine who gets to debate on television, winner-take-all primaries, superdelegates, delegates secretly pledged to candidates other those they’re sent to the convention to represent, the electoral college — exist for one reason. They exist in order to dilute the influence of we the people so that They — the ruling class — continues to get its way.

When They win, we lose. We lose our jobs. Our standard of living. Our rights.

If you’re like me — on the left and generally unsympathetic to billionaires — you may be tempted to join the media when they dismiss Trump as a whiner. But this is different. In business, Trump is the consummate insider. But he’s a political naïf. When someone as sleazy and unprincipled as Donald Trump is shocked by how dirty politics are, you have to take note.

And if they can steal elections from someone as rich as Donald Trump, there is nothing left of American democracy.

(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: Everyone But the Media Saw Trumpism Coming

  If you suck at your job, you’ll get fired.

If you suck because you’re lazy, you’ll definitely get fired.

Unless you’re a member of the political and economic establishment of a disintegrating superstate. If you’re incompetent and indolent but reliably loyal and unquestioning, your sinecure in the system that props up the powers that be is safe.

The New York Times, an institution so beholden to the establishment that it subjects a major presidential candidate to a media blackout and Orwellian post-publication memory-holing, is this week’s case study in establishmentarian unaccountability.

After effectively donating nearly half a billion dollars of free media coverage to the campaign of Donald Trump (or is it $1.9 billion? who can count?), corporate media is finally beginning to wonder whether teeing the country up for its first potential bona fide fascist dictatorship was a good idea.

In the Times, reliably mistaken op-ed columnist David Brooks allowed that, just maybe, opinion mongers like him ought to have noticed the building voter outrage over “free trade” deals like NAFTA and TPP — agreements supported by him and his paper’s editorial board — that gutted America’s industrial heartland and are driving the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns. “Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else,” Brooks wrote March 18th.

“Moreover,” continued the man who thought invading Iraq would be a cakewalk, “many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.”

This is a stunning admission.

Let’s set aside the question of how likely it is that Brooks really will make the effort to get out more. (My guess: not very.) Why should the Times ­— and, more to the point, the readers whose paid subscriptions pay Brooks’ salary — keep a man on staff who admits that he sucks at his job because he’s too lazy to interact with the American people?

Brooks deserves to have plenty of company as he walks the unemployment version of the Long Green Mile.

On March 28th fellow Timesman Nicholas Kristof, famous for taking young men and women to Third World nations devastated by U.S. foreign policy (though I doubt he tells them why those dumps look so dumpy), went even further, in a piece titled “My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump.”

“We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated,” Kristof wrote.

Most Americans are working-class. In other words, Kristof and his colleagues admit they don’t cover the problems that affect most Americans. Again: why does he still have a job?

Believe it or not, there are scores — maybe hundreds — of opinion writers who do know what’s going on in their own country. Who write well. Who get stories right. Pundits who saw the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders populist phenomena coming. But you won’t find any of them in the print pages of major newspapers like the Times, or even in the low-pay ghettos of their web-only content.

Because you can’t be a good journalist and a shill for a corporate media obsessed with access to the powers that be.

As usual in these moments of MSM navel-gazing, they almost get it right. Kristof continues: “Media elites rightly talk wabout our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.”

Class diversity is a real thing. Newsrooms at stodgy institutions like the Times have their token women and people of color, but most are women and POC from well-off families. They attend expensive journalism schools that don’t offer scholarships, and thus don’t produce graduates from poor families and towns. As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton prove, coming from a traditionally disadvantaged minority group is no guarantee that someone understands or cares about the troubles of the economically oppressed.

More to the point, we need a new class of intuitive journalists. Men and women with empathy. People who have a clue about what’s happening in their own country.

(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: My Critique of Bernie Sanders’ Campaign

Full disclosure: If New York’s primary were held today — not that it typically has a significant electoral impact, since it’s relatively late on the calendar — I’d vote for Bernie Sanders.

Why Bernie? Because he’s the best this system has to offer: a flawed candidate whose overall message is important enough, and his record free enough of corruption and evildoing, that I can overlook the things I don’t like about his record and fill in the bubble next to his name on the ballot without feeling like a terrible person.

Hillary Clinton is nowhere close to acceptable. She has no message, other than the dead end of liberal identity-politics tokenism: sure would be neat (for her) if there were a first woman president. Her corruption is spectacular: served on the board of Wal-Mart, where she signed off on union-busting, was paid by Goldman Sachs, ran a charitable foundation like a money laundry. Voted for both of Bush’s wars, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, then destroyed Libya and Syria.

A vote for Hillary is a vote against working people, for the plutocrats, and for genocide.

However, just because I plan to vote for Bernie — even though I wrote the book on him— doesn’t mean I can’t see ideological and tactical flaws in his campaign. With that in mind, here’s my report card on the insurgent from Vermont’s bid to date.

The Good

            Paris and San Bernadino aside, any political scientist will tell you that pocketbook issues — voters’ feelings about the economy, whether or not they’re prosperous, and how they perceive their future career prospects — usually determine the outcome of American presidential elections. Assuming there isn’t another 9/11-scale national security threat, the 2016 race will be about Americans’ sense that they’re working harder while earning less, and their anger that they’re still digging out of the 2008-09 financial crisis while the banks who created it are making bigger profits than ever.

No other candidate, left or right, can touch Bernie’s credibility on the economy. For decades, while no one paid attention, he shouted that the American economy was rigged in favor of the billionaire class at the expense of everyone else. Now most people agree.

Bernie owns the number one issue in the campaign.

That, as Donald Trump would say, is yuuuuge. Neither The Donald’s newfound openness to tax people like himself, nor Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s awkward attempt to co-opt Sandersism with words instead of policies, stands a chance at denting the Bern on the number. One. Issue.

The other major metric for voters is character. Love him or hate him, everyone knows Sanders has integrity, which is why the Clinton camp’s cut-and-paste attempts to portray him as an NRA shill are falling flat. “Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her,” columnist Charles Blow of The New York Times observes.

For an American politician, being widely perceived as honorable is virtually unheard of. It’s worth a billion dollars in attack ads.

The Bad

            The biggest danger to Sanders’ campaign isn’t failing to get enough black votes in Southern states. (If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, voters down South who haven’t paid much attention to the race yet will check him out — and he’ll do fine.)

Sanders’ third rail is being perceived as a Johnny One Note candidate obsessed with economic justice at the expense of everything else.

I’ve read everything written about and by Bernie Sanders. But his foreign policy prescriptions are as thin on the ground as U.S. troops in ISIS-controlled Iraq. Whether he’s disinterested in foreign affairs or simply cares more about all matters domestic, he doesn’t talk much about America’s role in the world. Big mistake. Voters expect a robust foreign policy agenda from their president.

As far as I can tell, a Sanders Doctrine is neither militaristic nor isolationist, deploying ground troops and aerial attacks more sparingly than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama. He told me he’d even continue Bush-Obama’s drone assassination program, which is illegal since it has never been authorized by Congress.

If I were running his campaign, I’d spin Sanders’ views as “real pragmatism” to take some air out of Hillary’s hawkish tough-broad sails. But I long for something more.

By 2016 measures Bernie’s foreign and domestic policy agendas are inconsistent. A self-described Scandinavian-style “democratic socialist” doesn’t usually favor wars of choice like Afghanistan (which Sanders supported) or drone killings. Voters assume he’s a pacifist or wish he were — why not become one? I wish he’d align his laudable desire for justice and equality at home for Americans with a push for freedom and self-determination abroad for citizens of other nations. Like: we don’t attack any other countries unless they go after us first.

Sanders is hobbled by some major communications problems. Hillary has exploited his failure to fully explain his healthcare plan by accusing him of wanting to increase taxes, outright lying. “If I save you $10,000 in private health insurance and you pay a little bit more in taxes in total, there are huge savings in what your family is spending,” Bernie tried to rebut at the fourth debate. Not clear enough.

Here, let me help: “Under my plan, your health insurance will be free. Free! The average American will save $10,000 a year. Your taxes will go up, but that tiny increase will be so much less than you’ll save. It’s the same deal almost every other country has, people all around the world love it, and you’ll love it too.”

The Ugly

            Capitalism is less popular than most pundits know; socialism and communism are more popular too. In a general election campaign, however, it is true that Republican SuperPACs will air so many anti-Bernie attack ads featuring hammers and sickles you’ll think you’re at an old May Day parade in Moscow.

Bernie has to do more than explain his “democratic socialism.” Post-Hillary, he has to own it. And sell it to the American people.

“[Democratic socialism] builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor,” Bernie said in November. Nice start, but can he erase a century of anti-communist propaganda in 10 months?

To me, the term is political self-mutilation. Sanders isn’t a socialist. He’s a old-school liberal Democrat, like George McGovern was in 1972. It’s ridiculous to have to defend something that you said about yourself when it isn’t true.

Next week, I critique Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is being released today.)

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