Tag Archives: Politics

Trump: A Graphic Biography

Publication Date: July 26, 2016

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Everyone in America thought they knew Donald Trump: the real estate magnate, reality TV star and bigger than life personality lived his life in the tabloids. Little did they know – though he hinted at it repeatedly – that he planned to take American politics by storm. This graphic biography explores the little-known episodes that helped form the man who shocked the U.S. media by launching the hostile takeover of the Republican Party, and whose wild political agenda could subvert representative democracy for years to come.

Current Events/Biography, 2016
Seven Stories Press Paperback, 5″x7″, 192 pp., $16.95

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Bernie

Publication Date: January 19, 2016

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As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders was surrounded by grinding poverty that turned families against each other as they scrimped and saved to pay their bills.

Bernie saw politics as his chance to give a decent life to everyone, not just those born to wealth or the lucky few who hit it big. But the Democratic Party and the country overall were moving to the right.

Bernie joined a tiny independent party from Vermont. He ran for mayor. As a socialist. And won.

Now he’s running for the Democratic nomination for president. Check out his amazing story and what his campaign means to you.

Current Events/Biography, 2015
Seven Stories Press Paperback, 5″x7″, 208 pp., $16.95

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Babies With Three Parents: What UK Approval Really Means

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

Everyone knows how the political system works. Whenever there is a pressing need for legislative action, the politicians do nothing at all. Either that, or they wait until lots of people die, then enact laws that half-fix the problem, usually making things worse.

A case of the former in the United States: climate change. Not only has U.S. Congress failed to act, but the political party that controls both houses of Congress won’t even admit that the problem exists. An example of the latter is healthcare. Tens of thousands of Americans have been dying every year because they can’t afford to see a doctor, so finally the United States joined the rest of the world by passing a national healthcare system, a.k.a. Obamacare, which may mark the first time in history that the US government has charged poor people a fine for refusing to buy a service.

We know that this is not a good system.

But it is the system that America, like most other countries, has always had. In the same way that people who live near rhinos know that they may get stomped by one of the armored creatures on a rampage, Americans are accustomed to the dysfunction of their political system. While it might be too much to say that we like to pay a substantial share of our income in taxes to support a government that either ignores our needs and desires, or messes things up even worse when it pays attention to them, no one expects this to change anytime soon.

As with the sun rising in the east, this is our reality.

Which is why the latest news from Great Britain makes our selective heads hurt.

“Britain’s House of Commons gave preliminary approval Tuesday to permitting scientists to create babies from the DNA of three people, a technique that could protect some children from inheriting potentially fatal diseases from their mothers,” reports the Associated Press.

Whaaaaaaaa—?

Did you know it was possible to make kids out of three people’s DNA?

No. Bet you didn’t.

How do I know? Because I didn’t. And I’m a double nerd: I read all the news and I’m especially interested in science. If there’s a weird story about science, and anyone has heard about it, it’s me.

Pretty freaky stuff. But that’s not the point here. The point is, Britain’s political system – which is even older than ours – is legalizing something that most people haven’t even heard of, much less been able to form an opinion about.

So far along are the Brits with this whole three-parent thing that their ethicists are publicly expressing a concern that this will open the door to eugenics on a grand scale, so-called “designer babies” whose genetic makeup would be predetermined by parents taking off a checklist of yesses and nos.

“The technique involves removing the nucleus DNA from the egg of a prospective mother and inserting it into a donor egg from which the nucleus DNA has been removed. This can be done before or after fertilization. The resulting embryo would have the nucleus DNA from its parents but the mitochondrial DNA from the donor. Scientists say the DNA from the donor egg amounts to less than 1 percent of the resulting embryo’s genes,” says the AP.

Whoa.

If 50 percent of Americans can define the word “mitochondria,” I will eat a garden slug. Hell, if 50 percent of American Congressmen were aware of this technique before today’s news, I’ll eat two.

I find it deeply distressing that there is an actual nation, much less one which kind of speaks English as one of its major languages, whose elected representatives (a) know anything about science, (b) know something about science before I do, and (c) have absorbed that knowledge so thoroughly that they are ready to propose, debate and actually pass a law in response to their scientific knowledge.

Forget Sputnik.

America is over.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Presidential Politics: All Personality, No Platform

Distributed by Creators Syndicate (click the link to purchase for publication):

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Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.

The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.

“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.

There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.

If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.

Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.

Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?

Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.

Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.

2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”

Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?

Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.

They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?

We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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ANewDomain.net Essay: US Torture: What’s Really New Here?

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

A long-awaited report on torture under the Bush administration has just been released – sort of. Actually, it’s just the 600-page “executive summary.” The full 6,000 pages remains classified. Still, it’s making big news, and for good reason: it’s the first official attempt by the political class to walk back some of the most extreme American responses to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If you’re not like me, you haven’t been following the ins and outs of the torture debate since the very start. But I have, so I’m here to tell you what you need to know over the water cooler.

What’s new?
 Not that much. The CIA already admitted that it had subjected three detainees – men suspected of terrorism but never formally charged under American law, kidnapped and brought to so-called “black sites” (CIA secret prisons around the world, in countries like Romania and Thailand) – to waterboarding, which is a form of simulated drowning widely considered to be torture under international law. Due to the new Senate report, we know that it happened to a lot more than just these three men. But that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the CIA.

They’re liars. They’re spies. Same thing.

Most of the other revelations were previously leaked, including the use of threats to the lives of detainees’ wives and children, and of the use of a power drill during at least one torture session. Why is the media treating this stuff as new? After years of cuts in newsrooms, young journalists simply don’t remember this stuff or weren’t around when it happened.

What will happen as a result?
That’s hard to say, but probably nothing much.

US President Barack Obama set the tone back in early 2009, shortly after taking office, when he said that it was his inclination to look forward, not backward, by which he meant that the United States shouldn’t wallow in the past sins of the Bush administration by looking at torture and holding those responsible for it accountable. Backpedaling on that policy would open all sorts of cans of worms for him and his administration, setting the stage for unknown repercussions. Politicians rarely do this voluntarily. Don’t expect any calls for Bush-era torturers to be prosecuted, much less for the high-ranking officials, including former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and VP Dick Cheney, to be investigated.

So torture is pretty much a thing of the past, right?
 Wrong.

Although Obama says the United States no longer tortures, there is nothing that has happened under his administration that would prevent a future president from authorizing torture again. Obama has never canceled or declared null and void the shoddily worded and legally dubious legal opinions issued by the Bush White House’s Office of Legal Counsel, which means that the legal infrastructure authorizing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” remains in place. Which is why Obama used very lawyerly, very weasely words in his 2009 statement: “after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques…” The word “some” wasn’t an accident.

Even now, many of the abuses that took place at places like Guantánamo under Bush have been moved to more discreet locations such as a new expanded post-Guantánamo detention center for detainees held at Bagram airbase north of Kabul, Afghanistan. One of the reasons that Obama moved detainees from Cuba to Afghanistan was to be able to torture them more discreetly and deny them access to their lawyers, who were far more easily able to fly to Cuba.

Also, under the Obama rules, only the US military is specifically prohibited from torturing detainees. The CIA and other agencies in the so-called intelligence community still enjoy carte blanche. And Appendix M of the Army Field Manual still allows torture under Obama.

There’s a reason the Senate report doesn’t cover the period beyond 2009.

But now that people know the truth, aren’t they going to get mad and demand action?

Maybe, but there’s no reason to believe that now. The fact is, Americans have known for 12 years through one report after another, many of them filed by this reporter, and have chosen to either ignore the issue, shrug it off as a necessary way to extract information from terrorists who mean to attack the homeland, or outright applaud it as vengeance against those who mean us harm. True, Americans are much calmer now than they were in 2001 and 2002, but once a country has accepted a behavior as normal, it’s very hard for it to reconsider that and achieve a different political consensus. Also, there’s no evidence that there is widespread disgust among the public for torture. Earlier this year, a poll found that 68% of Americans approve of torture depending on the circumstances.

 Still, you cynical bastard, isn’t this report better than no report at all?

Yes. The truth is always a good thing. There’s no way for a country to begin a journey toward redemption until it starts to acknowledge its sins. Speaking of which, don’t take Sen. John McCain too seriously. He talks a good game about torture now, but when he had the votes to pass a bill that would have banned torture, he succumbed to pressure from the Bush White House to remain quiet when the president issued a “signing statement,” stating that the US government would ignore the law.

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Best System Over

Best System Ever

Between vast reserves of cash, her own giant Super PAC and a ground operation in waiting, Hillary Clinton appears to have the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 all locked up. So it’s unlikely that anyone will attempt, much less succeed, in challenging her.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: At Some Point, Progressives Need to Grow a Pair and Stop Having Anything To Do With the Democratic Party

 

At a certain point, if you have any relationship with dignity, you’re supposed to get sick of being used and abused. Speaking of which: liberal Democrats.

Democratic politicians act like right-wingers. Liberals vote for them anyway.

The Democratic Party espouses right-wing policies. Self-described progressives give them cash.

Comedian Bill Maher gave them a million cash dollars — yet Democrats don’t agree with him on anything. Why? Because he hates Republicans even more.

Why didn’t Maher save his money? Or better yet, fund a group or a writer or an artist who promotes ideas he actually agrees with? Because he, like tens of millions of other liberals, are stuck in the two-party trap.

The relationship between liberals and Democrats is dysfunctional and enabling, abused pathetics sucking up to cruel abusers. Progressives like Maher are like a kid with two rotten parents. The dad drinks and hits him; the mom drinks less and hits him less. The best call is to run away from home — instead, most children in that situation will draw closer to their mothers.

Voting-age progressives, on the other hand, are adults. When will they kick the Democratic Party to the curb, as Ricki Lake used to say?

Probably not in time for 2016. But they ought to.

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that the next presidential election promises nothing for liberals but more of the same: dismay, disappointment and disgust — in no small part with themselves.

Hillary Clinton, a conservative warmonger ideologically indistinguishable from Dwight Eisenhower, will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. But she isn’t really a Democrat. Traditionally, Democrats were pro-worker; she and her husband pushed through NAFTA, GATT, the WTO and a slew of free-trade scams that have destroyed American jobs and depressed salaries. Democrats cared about the poor; Hillary has never so much as suggested a substantial anti-poverty initiative. Democrats aren’t supposed to invade sovereign countries for the hell of it; Clinton repeatedly pushed WMD lies, voted to invade Iraq and still hasn’t apologized for the two million Iraqis whose deaths for which she shares responsity. Democrats want single-payer healthcare; instead, she created the template for Obamacare, which keeps rates high to protect insurance company profits.

Yet in today’s “Democratic” Party, Hillary is “inevitable.”

Yes, the highly resuméed, slightly accomplished ex-senator could face a challenge from the left. But not a real one. Even if party bosses allow an actual primary process (they did not in 2012), any primary challenge will be symbolic and impotent (hello Bernie Sanders), poorly funded and sad, raising the faded, tattered flag of liberalism in a quixotic bid to coat Hill’s coronation with a veneer of small-d democratic legitimacy.

If you’re a leftie, the Democratic establishment doesn’t care about your opinion. They certainly don’t want your input. What they want is your vote — in exchange for exactly nothing in return. They’re political parasites, draining the enthusiasm and idealism of progressives, simultaneously neutering and exploiting mainline libs.

Like a tick, mainline “centrist” (i.e. conservative) Democrats will suck you dry. First they misdirect your hope for real change. Then they extract your vote. By the time you realize you’ve been chomped, the buggers drop off, bloated on stolen power and wealth.

You’re left with drained political energy.

During the initial months following the election, you get angrier. You watch con artists like Obama take office, appoint right-wingers to the cabinet and ignore America’s victims — the poor at home, the bombed overseas. Off goes the president — your president, since you voted for him! — golfing and shooting hoops and vacaying on the Vineyard while millions lose their homes to illegal foreclosures, poverty soars, the military gins up new wars and expands old ones, Gitmo stays open and killer drone planes fill the skies. Eventually, of course, you get over it. You recover.

Then, two to four years later, the parasitical Dems are back to suck out whatever idealism you’ve managed to regenerate.

Progressive Democratic voters are understandably unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. After enduring her conservative Southern Democratic husband (major accomplishments: bombing Bosnia, ignoring Rwanda, NAFTA, trashing welfare) and Obama (major accomplishments: drones, Libya, Syria, Iraq again), they know what’s coming: more of the same. Because they’re not willing to ditch the Democratic Party, however, they’re trapped in a state of cognitive dissonance, unable to act in order to avoid certain disaster.

Thus progressives are resorting to ridiculously transparent non-tactics. For example: “deploy[ing] the spectral presence of [Elizabeth] Warren to extract as many [liberal] concessions as possible.”

“It’s not a crazy strategy,” libbies are told. “The mere thought of Warren seems to rattle the Clintons, who are haunted by the debacle of 2008.” Actually, it is crazy. Because the Clintons watch the news — and Warren ain’t running.

Noam Scheiber recently wrote a New Republic piece titled “How Hillary Won Over the Skeptical Left,” in which he argues…well, read the title. (Note: by “left,” Scheiber doesn’t mean left. He means centrist Obama supporters, who are slightly to the left of Hill.)

“It’s not that liberals don’t perceive some ideological distance between themselves and Hillary Clinton, at least as they become more informed,” writes Scheiber. Hillary became First Lady in 1993. What is there left to learn? “Nor is it that they recognize this gap and simply don’t care about it. It’s that, after the somewhat disillusioning experience of the Obama years, many actually consider this gap an advantage for Clinton.” In other words: we’re out to beat Republicans, not help poor people.

I’m quoting the following section from Scheiber’s piece at length because it supports my contention that, at this early stage, it is perfectly obvious that Hillary Clinton will screw over progressives. Not only is it evident that she will break their hearts, it is clear how she will go about it.

So let’s say Democrats’ faith in Clinton is rewarded and she wins the presidency. Here is how the 2016 transition is likely to play out. Having talked about inequality during the primaries, and maybe even the general election, she will feel pressure to appoint economists who know something about the issue. She will pluck a few advisers from the reserve army of liberals at think tanks like the Center for American Progress (home to many former Clinton White House aides over the years), the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But as the transition goes on, liberals will notice a disconcerting shift. They will watch most of the senior posts in her Treasury Department go to alumni of Wall Street. They will see her fill out the top echelons of financial regulators—the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency—with banking-industry lawyers. They will even notice bankers turning up in agencies with little role in finance, like the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. Though any one appointment may be justified—the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance should probably have a finance background, for example—the larger mass of Wall Street transplants will create a stubborn level of groupthink. Their skepticism toward policies like a financial transactions tax, aggressive prosecution of financial-market crime, and breaking up the megabanks will ensure they never happen.

Don’t come back in 2017 and say you were surprised.

(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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