Tag Archives: NATO

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Thrilla at Hofstra: Trump Beat the Spread

Image result for presidential debateHe won last night.

I know it runs counter to conventional wisdom – that’s so rare for me! – but I award last night’s first 2016 presidential debate to Donald Trump.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with what the mainstream men and women of the pundit class said they witnessed. Like them, I watched a well-prepared Clinton outmaneuver a political amateur who showed up to class after a night of partying following a year of refusing to crack open a book. Trump rambled, repeated himself, interrupted and bullied. He conflated NATO and the EU. He even unleashed a fat joke.

All things being equal, I would agree with the corporate media consensus that Hillary won. But that’s the thing – things are far from equal.

Hillary Clinton is a pro. She should have wiped the floor with Trump. Instead, she delivered a performance on the line between a B+ and an A-. Trump gets closer to a C-. That’s much closer than it ought to have been.

As they say in sports, Trump beat the spread.

It went down the same way during the Democratic primaries. Hillary Clinton had every advantage: domination of the Democratic National Committee, support of a sitting president, massive name recognition, experience and personnel from a previous run, a huge pool of wealthy institutional donors, a marriage to a popular ex-president fondly remembered for presiding over a great economic expansion. Despite all that, she nearly lost to Bernie Sanders – an aging self-identified socialist from a tiny, powerless state, with no name recognition. How, many people asked, could Hillary’s inevitable Goliath of a campaign have come so close to losing to such a David?

The answer was obvious. As we learned in 2008 when she lost to another obscure politician — Obama, with a weird name, who had little experience — Hillary Clinton underperforms. She has no charm. She doesn’t learn from her mistakes. She relies on outdated fundraising methods, like sucking up to big corporate donors. Not only does she lie, she insults our intelligence as when she emerged from her daughter’s Manhattan apartment days after being diagnosed with pneumonia. “I’m fine,” she said. What’s the matter with “pneumonia sucks”?

During last night’s debate, I was struck by how many chances Trump had to nail Hillary. If he were a better debater, she’d be toast.

Hillary tacitly confirmed that the United States was behind the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, implying that she deserves credit for forcing the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table. Because cyberwarfare is illegal, U.S. officials have always refused to comment on whether or not we helped create Stuxnet – so it remains classified. If Trump had been smarter, he would have said: “Jesus, Hillary! There you go again, revealing America’s secrets to our enemies.”

He also allowed her to weasel out of her on-again, off-again support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” agreement. Why didn’t he reference the verbal diarrhea of close Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe, who let slip the all-too-credible assertion that President Hillary would sign TPP shortly after coming to office?

His response to Hillary’s demand that he release his taxes came close to disastrous. If ever there was a time to interrupt, there it was. Instead, he just stood there waiting for her to finish. Clearly Trump has a lot to hide. Then he made a lame gambit: “I will release my tax returns — against my lawyer’s wishes — when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release. I will release my tax returns. And that’s against — my lawyers, they say, ‘Don’t do it.’ I will tell you this. No — in fact, watching shows, they’re reading the papers. Almost every lawyer says, you don’t release your returns until the audit’s complete. When the audit’s complete, I’ll do it. But I would go against them if she releases her e-mails.”

It was incoherent and ridiculous. But once he decided to go that direction, why not mention her secret Goldman Sachs speech transcripts? At least that way, he would have conveyed that she has two types of things to hide (emails, speeches) as opposed to his one (taxes).

Rookie errors. But hey, Trump did great for a guy who has never run for political office before – and didn’t cram for the debate. Hillary has debated at the presidential level so many times she could probably do it half of it in her sleep. If I go into the ring with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and manage to survive a round with all but one of my teeth, it’s fair to say that I won.

What’s baffling to me is that she wasn’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

Some of it is her inability to just be real.

Part of coming off as an authentic human being is a self-deprecating sense of humor. We saw that when Trump asked Secretary Clinton how she wanted to be addressed: “Now, in all fairness to Secretary Clinton — yes, is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me.” It was deferential. It almost seemed sweet. (Weirdly, she didn’t adjust to the honorific, failing to tack to “Mr. Trump.”)

Hillary seems allergic to humanism. Back to the TPP, for example, she could have countered Trump’s fictional assertion she “heard what I said about [TPP], and all of a sudden you were against it” with something along the lines of: “actually, that was Bernie Sanders.”

Another awkward moment was her apology for using a private email server. This should have been a win for her. It was the first time that she expressed regret in a straightforward manner. But she clearly wanted to keep talking, to make excuses, to mitigate. It was also a missed opportunity to make an email joke.

Maybe the herd is right. Maybe it’s a simple matter of she did better, he did worse. But I keep thinking, debates are graded on a curve. She was supposed to kick his ass. Yet there he is, dead even in the polls with her.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ukraine Is Not a Revolution.

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Mainstream news outlets in the United States, whose politics are closely aligned with those of the U.S. government, frequently criticize mainstream media outlets in Russia, whose politics are closely aligned to those of the Russian government. Current example: recent events in Ukraine.

“Russian officials have been doing everything they can to make it clear that they don’t recognize the legitimacy of this current parliament or its right to form an interim government,” NPR’s Corey Flintoff reported February 26th. “The impression that ordinary Russians would get from [their] news coverage is really that the Ukrainian Revolution is very much a thing to be feared.”

Flintoff made fun of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who called the overthrow of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych “essentially the result of an armed mutiny.” Russian Interior Minister Sergey Lavrov said it was “an attempt at a coup d’état and to seize power by force.”

Yet American media insist on the R-word: revolution.

Here we go again.

In U.S. and Western media, both the Tahrir Square “people power” demonstrations that removed Hosni Mubarak and the military coup that imprisoned the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi are called Egyptian “revolutions.” So is the Benghazi-based insurgency that toppled Libya’s Col. Moammar Gaddafi. If the civil war in Syria leads to the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad — even if, like Gaddafi, he gets blown up by a U.S. drone or a NATO fighter jet — they’ll call that a revolution too.

But those weren’t/aren’t revolutions. A revolution is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.”

A new system. Those are the key words.

Even if it occurs as the result of dramatic street violence, a change in leaders doesn’t mean there has been a revolution. If the system doesn’t change much, a revolution  has not taken place.

Egypt’s Tahrir Square was dramatic, an important event. But it wasn’t a revolution. This became evident last year, when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi arrested and jailed President Morsi. If the 2011 Tahrir uprising against Mubarak had been a revolution, Sisi — a high-ranking officer who served most of his career under Mubarak — would not have been in the military at all, much less a figure powerful enough to stage a coup.

In a real revolution, the old system — all of its most important components — are replaced. Military leaders aren’t merely shuffled around or replaced; the army’s core mission and organizational structure are radically altered. It isn’t enough to rejigger boardrooms and change CEOs; the class structure itself — which defines every other role in society — is changed. (In China, for example, landlords went from a privileged class to impoverished pariahs after 1949.) Reforms don’t make a revolution. In a revolution, everything old gets trashed. Society starts from scratch.

The bar for whether a political change qualifies as a full-fledged revolution is extremely high.

And yeah, the definition matters. It matters a lot. Because revolution — capital-R, blood-in-the-streets, head-on-a-stick Revolution is by far the biggest threat to our system of corporate capitalism and the ruling classes who have been stealing almost every cent of the fortune we the people create with our hard work. If our business overlords convince us that revolution is something short of actually changing the system — in other words, getting rid of them — then they’re safe no matter what. Even if we protest, even if we turn violent, we will never truly emancipate ourselves.

Maybe they’ll pay higher taxes. For a little while. Until they bribe their way back out of them.

Until we destroy the 1%, stripping them of their money, power and social status, we will be their slaves. And that will never happen if we forget what revolution is.

Bearing in mind what revolution means, Ukraine comes nowhere close.

Consider this quote from Nicolai Petro, a politics professor at the University of Rhode Island, on Amy Goodman’s radio show:

“Yes, [Ukraine] is pretty much a classical coup, because under the current constitution the president may be—may resign or be impeached, but only after the case is reviewed by the Constitutional Court and then voted by a three-fourth majority of the Parliament. And then, either case, either the prime minister or the speaker of the Parliament must become the president. Instead, that’s not what happened at all. There was an extraordinary session of Parliament, after—it was held after most members were told there would be no session and many had left town. And then, under the chairmanship of the radical party, Svoboda, this rump Parliament declared that the president had self-removed himself from the presidency.”

Note the trappings of “legitimacy”: Constitutional Court, Parliament, preexisting political parties, laws created under the old regime.

Under a revolution, old institutions would be abolished. Anyone who had anything to do with them would be discredited, and possibly in danger of being executed. Parties, if there were any, would be new (unless they’d been operating clandestinely), with revolutionary politics and brand-new organizational structures. You certainly wouldn’t see old establishment figures like the recently released former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (a leader of the “Orange Revolution” of 2004, which also wasn’t a revolution), seriously discussed as a potential new ruler.

Many Ukrainians know what revolution is — and they want one. “We need new people who can say no to the oligarchs, not just the old faces,” a 25-year-old economist told The New York Times. “The problem is that the old forces are trying to come back to take their old chairs,” said a shipping broker who waved a sign outside parliament that read: “Revolution, Not a Court Coup!”

U.S. reporters quote the would-be revolutionaries, but they can’t understand their meaning. After all, their country’s founding “revolution,” the American Revolution, was nothing of the sort. The elites became even more powerful. Slavery continued. Women still couldn’t vote. The poor and middle class didn’t gain power.

Just another coup.

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

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: Censorship of Civilian Casualties in the US

US mainstream media and the public’s willful ignorance is to blame for lack of knowledge about true cost of wars.

Why is it so easy for American political leaders to convince ordinary citizens to support war? How is that, after that initial enthusiasm has given away to fatigue and disgust, the reaction is mere disinterest rather than righteous rage? Even when the reasons given for taking the U.S. to war prove to have been not only wrong, but brazenly fraudulent—as in Iraq, which hadn’t possessed chemical weapons since 1991—no one is called to account.

The United States claims to be a shining beacon of democracy to the world. And many of the citizens of the world believes it. But democracy is about responsiveness and accountability—the responsiveness of political leaders to an engaged and informed electorate, which holds that leadership class accountable for its mistakes and misdeeds. How to explain Americans’ acquiescence in the face of political leaders who repeatedly lead it into illegal, geopolitically disastrous and economically devastating wars of choice?

The dynamics of U.S. public opinion have changed dramatically since the 1960s, when popular opposition to the Vietnam War coalesced into an antiestablishmentarian political and culture movement that nearly toppled the government and led to a series of sweeping social reforms whose contemporary ripples include the recent move to legalize marriage between members of the same sex.

Why the difference?

Numerous explanations have been offered for the vanishing of protesters from the streets of American cities. First and foremost, fewer people know someone who has gotten killed. The death rate for U.S. troops has fallen dramatically, from 58,000 in Vietnam to a total of 6,000 for Iraq and Afghanistan. Many point to the replacement of conscripts by volunteer soldiers, many of whom originate from the working class, which is by definition less influential. Congressman Charles Rangel, who represents the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Harlem in New York, is the chief political proponent of this theory. He has proposed legislation to restore the military draft, which ended in the 1970s, four times since 9/11. “The test for Congress, particularly for those members who support the war, is to require all who enjoy the benefits of our democracy to contribute to the defense of the country. All of America’s children should share the risk of being placed in harm’s way. The reason is that so few families have a stake in the war which is being fought by other people’s children,” Rangel said in March 2011.

War is extraordinarily costly in cash as well as in lives. By 2009 the cost of invading and occupying Iraq had exceeded $1 trillion. During the 1960s and early 1970s conservatives unmoved by the human toll in Vietnam were appalled by the cost to taxpayers. “The myth that capitalism thrives on war has never been more fallacious,” argued Time magazine on July 13, 1970. Bear in mind, Time leaned to the far right editorially. “While the Nixon Administration battles war-induced inflation, corporate profits are tumbling and unemployment runs high. Urgent civilian needs are being shunted aside to satisfy the demands of military budgets. Businessmen are virtually unanimous in their conviction that peace would be bullish, and they were generally cheered by last week’s withdrawal from Cambodia.”

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Devils We Don’t Know

Who Are the Libyan Opposition?

Hi. You don’t know me. See that big guy over at the bar? I’m going to pick a fight with him. Wanna back me up?

That’s what we, the American people, are being asked to do in Libya. We’re not picking sides. Picking sides implies that we know what’s going on. We don’t.

Give George W. Bush this: he respected us enough to lie us into war. Obama wants us sign a blank check, no questions asked.

“We do not have any information about specific individuals from any organization that are part of this [war],” Hillary Clinton said on “Meet the Press.”

“But of course, we are still getting to know the people [rebels] leading the Transitional National Council [TNC].”

“Of course.”

This was over a week into the war.

I don’t know what’s more frightening. That Secretary of State Clinton expects us to believe that the U.S. government is fighting, spending, killing—and soon, inevitably, dying—for a cause it doesn’t know anything about? Or that she may be telling the truth.

For all we know the Libyan TNC, also known as the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, is composed of and led by noble, well-intentioned, freedom-minded people everyone can get behind. But that’s the point: we don’t know.

Obama’s defenders say he’s different than Bush. Look! No cowboy talk! He got an international coalition! Even the French are on board!

Big deal. Hitler had a coalition too. Which also included the French.

Remember how, after 9/11, we got a history lesson about Afghanistan? Remember “blowback”? Remember how Al Qaeda came out of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s? How, if it hadn’t been for the U.S. and its CIA, Osama bin Laden would today be working for his dad’s real estate development business in Saudi Arabia? The last thing U.S. policymakers should want to do now is replicate the 1990s, when they had to tramp through the Hindu Kush, buying back Stinger missiles from the Taliban.

Incredibly, in Libya today, the U.S. may be crawling back into bed with a bunch of crazy Islamists.

Who are the Libyan opposition? We have few clues. From what we can tell, the TNC is apparently a peculiar alliance of convenience between monarchists and Islamists.

One TNC leader is the pretender to the throne. The TNC uses the flag of the former kingdom deposed by Kadafi.

Western media outlets ridiculed the Libyan dictator for blaming unrest on Al Qaeda. On February 25th CNN’s Paul Cruickshank reflected this official line: “Militant Islamists have played almost no role in the uprisings in Libya.”

How much changes in a month.

As bombs were raining down on Tripoli, military officials began to concede an open secret: eastern Libya has long been a hotbed for Muslim extremism. “Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior Obama official told the New York Times on condition of anonymity. NATO military commander Admiral James Stavridis admitted to a Senate hearing that there were “flickers” of foreign fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah presence among anti-Kadafi insurgents.

Constitutionalists to return to the Founders’ original intent. They say Congress, not the president, ought to decide whether or not to go to unleash the military. Obama didn’t even bother to get the usual congressional rubber stamp for this latest invasion.

But never mind Congress. War should be voted upon by the citizenry. After all, we—not Congress—bear the costs. If a president can’t be bothered to explain why we should kill and be killed and spend billions of dollars on a conflict, too bad for him and his pet defense contractors.

Starting with Obama’s carefully calculated conflation of civilians and insurgents, everything about Obama’s Libyan war stinks. The U.N. has authorized military operations to protect “civilians.” How, no matter how likeable they are, do Libyan rebels armed with anti-aircraft guns qualify as civilians?

As does this nightmare of a president’s what-if scaremongering, so reminiscent of Bush during the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq. What if there are massacres? But there weren’t any. What’s next—WMDs?

Hillary cites Kadafi’s “history and the potential for the disruption and instability” as casus belli. Funny, Moammar’s history didn’t bother her in 2009 or 2010—when her State Department had full diplomatic relations with his regime. As for the “potential” of “disruption and instability”—aw, hell, that could happen anywhere. Even here.

“If Jeffersonian Democrats take over in Libya, he’s a hero,” Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future said of Obama. “If he gets stuck in an ongoing civil war, then it could be enormously costly to the country, and to him politically.”

Which outcome would you bet on?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: A Tsunami 100 Times Worse Than Japan

Apocalypse Looms in Landlocked Central Asia

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last week has killed at least 10,000 people. It is terrible. It may be a sneak preview of something 100 times worse.

The next Big Flood will probably be the worst natural disaster in history. It could easily be avoided.

Yet no one is lifting a finger to save the lives of one to five million people.

Lake Sarez, in the eastern Pamir mountains of eastern Tajikistan, is known to Central Asians as the region’s “Sword of Damocles.” A mile wide and 600 feet deep, Sarez is one of the biggest high-altitude bodies of water on earth, at an elevation of 11,200 feet.

Lake Sarez was created just over 100 years ago in a remote corner of what was then czarist Russia. On February 18, 1911 a 7.4-scale earthquake, common in the Pamirs, shattered a mountain adjacent to the Murgab River. The resulting landslide formed a half-mile high natural dam that blocked the river. Today the lake is 37 miles long.

Geologists have been warning about the Sarez threat since Soviet times. Now it’s urgent. Due to climate change the clock on the Sarez time bomb runs faster every year. During the 1990s the water level was rising eight inches a year. Now it’s one or two yards.

Scientists say the dam is going to burst. Whether a quake dislodges a rockslide that creates a wave that crests the dam, or melting glaciers brings the water to the top, computer models predict a devastating inland tsunami sooner rather than later.

Seventeen cubic kilometers of water will be instantly released. A wall of water 800 feet high will cascade down a series of river valleys in four countries.

In 2007 I trekked up to Sarez in order to research a magazine article for Men’s Journal. The following is from that piece:

“The 75-mile Bartang Valley, cultural and spiritual heartland of the Ismaili Muslims, would lose 30 villages and 7,000 people. The Bartang empties into the Pyanj, a large river that marks the border with northern Afghanistan, then Uzbekistan, then Turkmenistan. Six hundred miles downstream from Lake Sarez, the flood would cross into another time zone. Even this far downstream, Scott Weber of the U.N. Department for Humanitarian Affairs told New Scientist in 1999, ‘the wall of water would still be as high as a two-story house.'”

“The city of Termiz in southern Uzbekistan is home to 140,000 people, the Uzbek-Afghan Friendship Bridge that the Soviets used to invade Afghanistan, and currently a German airbase with 3,000 NATO troops. Termiz would be obliterated. The water would keep going. The Pyanj is a tributary of the Amu Darya, which Alexander the Great knew as the Oxus. The flood path would continue along the Amu Darya, roughly marking the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, before emptying into the shrunken Aral Sea, 1,200 miles downstream of Sarez.”

“Five million people—mostly residents of landlocked deserts that routinely reach 125 degrees—would be drowned by snow melt.”

That will only be the beginning of the misery.

Most of the arable land in Central Asia will be destroyed by silt. Tens of millions of Turkmen, Uzbeks, Afghans and Tajiks could starve.

This might happen in 10 years. Or next week. It could be happening now.

We can prevent it.

The dam can be shored up. A bypass to release pressure can be tunneled through bedrock around the left flank of the natural dam. Liberal cost estimates of such an engineering project run around $2 billion.

Tajikistan is desperately poor. Over a third of its GDP comes from Tajiks who have moved to other countries and send money back home to their families. The Tajik government doesn’t have the cash.

However, $2 billion is small change to Western countries. The U.S. spends that to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan for one week.

When Men’s Journal published my piece on Lake Sarez in 2008 I hoped it would prompt the U.S. to act. Aside from preventing the worst natural disaster ever, couldn’t we use five million new best friends in the Muslim world?

I sent copies to Presidents Bush and Obama, members of Congress, the U.N., the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other international organizations. No one replied.

Interestingly, Japan is one of the few donor countries to have taken interest in Lake Sarez, having coughed up a few million dollars for a monitoring station. But there’s still no way to evacuate people living downstream in the event of a breach.

Why don’t the U.S. and other wealthy countries care about Lake Sarez? Maybe they’re just not paying attention. Also, the Tajiks don’t have oil or natural gas.

Whatever the reason, a flood that will make the current disaster in Japan look tiny by comparison is becoming increasingly likely. And it will be mostly our fault.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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