Tag Archives: Politics

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Want Real Political Change? Hit the Streets — And Don’t Promise to be Nonviolent

Image result for medieval revolt

Tired of Trump? Congress can impeach him. But they won’t do anything unless you actually do something.

Doing something does not mean signing an online petition. Donating to Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution is nice, but your cash can’t depose the oligarchs. Doing something does not mean voting Democratic; both parties are beholden to corporations who demand business as usual. It doesn’t even mean supporting progressive Democrats in primaries against incumbent corporate Democrats; incumbents almost always win.

Doing something effective requires you to become a clear and present danger to the system and the people who run it.

Doing something that might change the fundamental nature of the system requires you to risk prison, injury and death.

Doing something demands that you operate outside the system.

It means taking it to the streets.

By itself, filling the streets with people and signs and chants isn’t enough. Tame street protests are doomed to failure. If you file for a parade permit or let the police pen you up in a ridiculous “free speech zone” or promise that you’ll be nonviolent no matter what, your street protest will be drowned out by the clinking of glasses and the popping of champagne corks in the salons of the ruling classes. It won’t matter whether you go home quietly or leave screaming in a paddy wagon.

Many Congressional Republicans still support the president. They’ll only change their minds if they face irresistible political pressure. Others would be open to supporting Trump’s removal if a groundswell of public opinion provided them with the requisite political cover.

The vast majority of Americans think Trump is doing a lousy job — and that includes many people who voted for him. Forty percent favor impeachment — and that number will continue to grow as he deports children and recklessly ramps up the risk of nuclear war. That’s tens of millions of Americans.

But those tens of millions are powerless. They’re sitting on their butts, waiting for someone else to do something.

The urban protests of the 1960s and 1970s were unsettling and frequently disintegrated into disturbing acts of violence, as seen during the running street battles between activists and the Chicago police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the shootings of students by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State. Since the late 1970s the streets have been calm, except for such episodes of periodic political violence as the 1992 L.A. riots and the Battle of Seattle over globalization in 1999. In recent years lefties expressed pride in the fact that large protest demonstrations like the 2002-03 marches against the invasion of Iraq, the anti-Trump Women’s March and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement were so studiously nonviolent that organizers deployed “peace police” to separate potential troublemakers from the cops.

It is no coincidence that the American Left hasn’t won a major policy victory, or that no Democratic president has proposed a major anti-poverty program, since the 1970s. Without pressure from the Left, the country has steadily moved right.

“We could have large-scale marches for every year of Trump’s presidency. It would do nothing!” says Micah White, best known for his role in OWS. Street protests have been ritualized, stripped of their drama, and thus defanged.

The Left has embraced a cartoonish militant pacifism that goes far beyond Gandhi (who wasn’t really against violence). Violence hasn’t disappeared. Now the authorities have a monopoly on violence. They operate with impunity against dispossessed people. The authorities have militarized local police forces. They’ve murdered countless people of color, spied on our emails and phone calls, and even declared the right to use drones to blow up U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

Street marches in the U.S. have become empty exercises, unguided support groups to make leftists feel better about themselves because they’re not alone. But that’s not how they started.

Historically, street protests were scary. They were carried out by angry mobs. There weren’t any speeches. These were riots. Drunken people ran around breaking and stealing things. The chaos ended in one of three ways: the rioters got tired and went home, the lord of the ancient and medieval city where the riot occurred had his soldiers kill the rioters, or the ruler so feared the complete destruction of his fiefdom — and for his own life — that he gave in to the rioters’ demands.

What makes violence, or more precisely the willingness to be violent, a useful tactic is that it isn’t necessary to kill anyone or break anything every time you want something. You don’t need actual violence to exert pressure against your enemy — you need the credible threat of violence. What makes that threat credible is the memory of a fairly recent act of actual violence. France and the U.S. both have nukes, for example. But only the U.S. has ever been crazy enough to use them. Which country scares other countries more?

Between 1811 and 1816 the Luddites broke into English mills and workshops to break the machines that were killing their jobs and slashing their pay. After that, terrified factory owners took the Luddites seriously. Luddites sometimes extracted concessions by sending a threatening letter signed “with Ned Ludd’s compliments.”

Consider the countervailing example of the Unite The Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. There weren’t that many racist attendees — fewer than a thousand. But they showed up with weapons, including assault rifles. One murdered a woman with his car and injured others. That violence gives the next alt-right rally a credible threat of violence and guarantees that the event will be taken seriously by the authorities and thoroughly covered by the news media.

I am not suggesting that progressives show up to their next anti-Trump march toting AR-15s, or that leftists should kill or injure anyone. That’s not who we are or what we’re about. We oppose Trump and the capitalist system precisely because they are violent and we loathe violence.

My message is more subtle: march peacefully. But don’t follow the rules. Don’t apply for parade permits. Don’t stay on the sidewalks when the police tell you to. And don’t promise not to break anything.

Be wild.

Power never yields unless it’s scared.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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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

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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