Tag Archives: Sputnik

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Never Trust a Realist

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“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why,” Robert F. Kennedy famously said. “I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘why not?'”

RFK was an idealist — someone who views the world as a blank slate full of possibilities.

So am I.

Realists — people who strive to make improvements within the constraints of the current situation — are important. No society can live with its head in the clouds. But we also need people who look to the stars. Where are they now?

For as long as I can remember, American politics and media have been dominated by self-identified realists to the exclusion of idealists. In many cases, the “realists” are just bullies pushing agendas with no real grounding in reality (c.f., Bush’s neo-cons). Still, some of these Very Reasonable People, as Paul Krugman calls them, have achieved incremental victories that have made life somewhat better in some respects (c.f., Obamacare).

But no civilization can achieve greatness without idealists. If you’re looking for one big reason the United States seems to be on the wrong track, try the marginalization of idealism that coincided with the collapse of the peace movement and the American Left at the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. The death of every strain of American Leftism from liberalism to revolutionary communism has left us with a nation that doesn’t know how to dream big.

If we’d been like we are now when Sputnik launched, it’s a fair bet we never would have gone to the moon. We couldn’t have justified the massive budget. Or it would have died in Congress. The money would have been spent, but on stuff no one needs — invading foreign countries, tax cuts for the rich and big corporations — with nothing to show for it.

America has become too small to fail.

In an excerpt from his upcoming book that appeared recently in The Atlantic, Michael Wolraich recently discussed the tendency of Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin senator and leading light of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to hold out for radical progress over incremental, less satisfying gains. La Follette’s big-picture approach — so idealistic — was, in its way, more realistic than what passes for realism today:

“He might have passed more legislation by compromising [with his enemies], but he refused to dilute his proposals. There was that stubbornness again but also strategy. La Follette took a long view of political change. In contrast to Roosevelt’s pragmatic approach, he believed that temporary defeat was preferable to compromised legislation, which would sate public demand for reform without making genuine progress. ‘In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,’ he argued. ‘Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.’ Legislative defeat, on the other hand, served a useful political purpose. He would use the defeat of a popular bill to bludgeon his opponents in the next election, and he would keep assailing them with it until they yielded or lost their seats.”

Or, as the revolutionary “situationists” who took over Paris in May 1968 cried: “Be realistic: Demand the impossible!

When I read this, I thought: Yes! Here’s a perfect articulation of the politics we’re missing.

With USA Today recently joining the chorus of media describing Barack Obama, who championed realism in the form of diminished expectations, as a failed president and a “lame duck before his time,” and Hillary Clinton once again marketing herself a yet another drab uber-realist for 2016, a reminder of La Follette’s ambitious approach to politics is especially timely.

Consider, for example, Obamacare.

La Follette would see the Affordable Care Act as a classic case of the “half a loaf” that “dulls the appetite” for true reform — in this case, socialized medicine or at least European-style “single payer.” In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.

Democrats defended Obamacare to liberals and progressives as an imperfect, insurance company-protecting interim measure. Obamabots encouraged libs to support the conservative Democratic president because the ACA would move America closer to the single-payer ideal.

Now we see how wrong the “realists” were. As La Follette would have predicted, the appetite for the “full loaf” of single payer has diminished, partly sated by the “half loaf” of Obamacare. Regardless who wins in 2016, single-payer will be off the agenda for another four to eight years. Obamacare killed single-payer.

Imagine, on the other hand, where we’d be if Obama had gone the idealist La Follette route, proposing a single-payer healthcare reform bill that had suffered defeat at the hands of Congressional Republicans.

Six years after the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis, several more million of Americans would be uninsured. Hospital emergency rooms, bursting at the seams as it is, would be in a greater state of crisis — which would add to support for reform. You can easily imagine Obama and the Democrats beating up “Republicans who don’t care about sick and dying Americans” on the campaign trail. Sooner or later — I’d bet sooner — they’d have to cave in and vote for this big new social program, just as they did with the New Deal and Great Society, or face oblivion.

Of course, Obama’s appetite for single payer was never ferocious. He promised a single-payer “option” during the 2008 campaign — yet never tried — but the point remains, the American people allowed themselves to be “realistic.” Which left them with far less than they might have gotten had they held out for full-fledged single-payer.

As we head into the 2016 campaign, remember what “realism” really is: the siren song of mediocrity, written by the elite to make you settle for less than you deserve.

(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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Learned Nothing From 9/11

Ten Years Later, Americans Still Stupid and Vulnerable

They say everything changed on 9/11. No one can dispute that. But we didn’t learn anything.

Like other events that forced Americans to reassess their national priorities (the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, Sputnik) the attacks on New York and Washington were a traumatic, teachable moment.

The collective attention of the nation was finally focused upon problems that had gone neglected for many years. 9/11 was a chance to get smart—but we blew it.

First and foremost the attacks gave the United States a rare opportunity to reset its international reputation. Even countries known for anti-Americanism offered their support. “We are all Americans,” ran the headline of the French newspaper Le Monde.

The century of U.S. foreign policy that led to 9/11—supporting dictators, crushing democratic movements, spreading gangster capitalism at the point of a thousand nukes—should and could have been put on hold and reassessed in the wake of 9/11.

It wasn’t time to act. It was time to think.

It was time to lick our wounds, pretend to act confused, and play the victim. It was time to hope the world forgot how we supplied lists of pro-democracy activists to a young Saddam Hussein so he could collect and kill them, and forget the “Made in USA” labels on missiles shot into the Gaza Strip from U.S.-made helicopter gunships sold to Israel.

It was time, for once, to take the high road. The Bush Administration ought to have treated 9/11 as a police investigation, demanding that Pakistan extradite Osama bin Laden and other individuals wanted in connection with the attacks for prosecution by an international court.

Instead of assuming a temperate, thoughtful posture, the Bush Administration exploited 9/11 as an excuse to start two wars, both against defenseless countries that had little or nothing to do with the attacks. Bush and company legalized torture and ramped up support for unpopular dictatorships in South and Central Asia and the Middle East, all announced with bombastic cowboy talk.

Smoke ’em out! Worst of the worst! Dead or alive!

By 2003 the world hated us more than ever. A BBC poll showed that people in Jordan and Indonesia—moderate Muslim countries where Al Qaeda had killed locals with bombs—considered the U.S. a bigger security threat than the terrorist group.

In fairness to Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld and Bush’s other leading war criminals, everyone else went along with them. The media refused to question them. Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, cast votes in favor of Bush’s wars. Democrats and leftist activists ought to have pushed for Bush’s impeachment; they were silent or supportive.

9/11 was “blowback”—proof that the U.S. can’t wage its wars overseas without suffering consequences at home. But we still haven’t learned that lesson. Ten years later, a “Democratic” president is fighting Bush’s wars as well as new ones against Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Now he’s saber-rattling against Syria.

American officials correctly inferred from 9/11 that security, particularly at airports but also in ports where container ships arrive daily from around the world, had been lax. Rather than act proactively to close gaps in transportation security, however, bureaucrats for the new Department of Homeland Security created a gauntlet of police-state harassment so onerous that it has threatened the financial health of the aviation industry.

“Aviation security is a joke, and it’s only a matter of time before terrorists destroy another airplane full of innocent passengers,” wrote Barbara Hollingsworth of The Washington Examiner after the 2009 “underwear bomber” scare. As Hollingsworth pointed out, the much-vaunted federal air marshals have been removed from flights because the TSA is too cheap to pay their hotel bills. (This is illegal.) What’s the point of taking off your shoes, she asked, when planes are still serviced overseas in unsecured facilities? No one has provided an answer.

Ten years after 9/11, there is still no real security check when you board a passenger train or bus. Perhaps the sheer quantity of goods arriving at American ports makes it impossible to screen them all, but we’re not even talking about the fact that we’ve basically given up on port security.

While we’re on the subject of post-9/11 security, what about air defenses? On 9/11 the airspace over the Lower 48 states was assigned to a dozen “weekend warrior” air national guard jets. Every last one of them was on the ground when the attacks began, allowing hijacked planes to tool around the skies for hours after they had been identified as dangerous.

Which could easily happen again. According to a 2009 report by the federal General Accounting Office on U.S. air defenses: “The Air Force has not implemented ASA [Air Sovereignty Alert] operations in accordance with DOD, NORAD, and Air Force directives and guidance, which instruct the Air Force to establish ASA as a steady-state (ongoing and indefinite) mission. The Air Force has not implemented the 140 actions it identified to establish ASA as a steady-state mission, which included integrating ASA operations into the Air Force’s planning, programming, and funding cycle. The Air Force has instead been focused on other priorities, such as overseas military operations.”

Maybe if it stopped spending so much time and money killing foreigners the American government could protect Americans.

On 9/11 hundreds of firefighters and policemen died because they couldn’t communicate on antiquated, segregated bandwidth. “Only one month away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” admits FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, “our first responders still don’t have an interoperable mobile broadband network for public safety. Our 911 call centers still can’t handle texts or pictures or video being sent by the phones that everyone has.”

Because the corporate masters of the Democratic and Republican parties love the low wage/weak labor environment created by illegal immigration, American land borders are intentionally left unguarded.

A lot changed on 9/11, but not everything.

We’re still governed by corrupt idiots. And we’re still putting up with them.

What does that say about us?

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL