Tag Archives: Trump

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump is Crazy. Invoke the 25th.

Image result for crazy trump           Never mind the policies. For the purpose of this discussion—a discussion our country desperately needs to have—politics are an annoying, distracting rabbit hole.

Donald Trump should be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

The reason Trump should be de-presidented has nothing to do with his legislative actions or foreign policy initiatives. Unlike George W. Bush in 2000 (and arguably in 2004), Trump won fairly. Unlike Barack Obama, he has kept his promises. His presidency is legitimate.

It has nothing to with his alleged ethical and legal breaches. Impeachment is the proper instrument for charging and possibly removing a sitting president.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1965 following the Kennedy assassination. It provides a mechanism for replacing a president who has become incapacitated physically—or, as seems to be the case for Trump, mentally.

“Section 4 stipulates that when the vice president and a majority of a body of Congress declare in writing to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House that the president is unable to perform the duties of the office, the vice president immediately becomes acting president,” according to the History channel. Currently then, Mike Pence and a majority (currently Republican) either of the House or the Senate would write to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Nancy Pelosi of California will probably replace Ryan after the new Congress is sworn in January.

The VP and a majority of Trump’s 24 cabinet members could begin the process instead of Congress. “It would only take 14 people to depose the president” in that scenario, according to Business Insider.

Trump could appeal. “The president can then submit a written declaration to the contrary and resume presidential powers and duties—unless the vice president and a majority body of Congress [i.e. both houses] declare in writing within four days that the president cannot perform his duties, in which case Congress will vote on the issue.”

High-ranking officials inside the Trump Administration have been so concerned about the president’s fitness to serve that they thought about invoking the 25th Amendment just two weeks after Trump’s inauguration. After the president fired FBI director James Comey, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein went to Comey’s then-acting replacement Andy McCabe, whom he told he thought “that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment,” according to The New York Times.” Rosenstein floated the idea of wearing a wire to catch audio of Trump talking crazy.

An anonymous Times op-ed by a Trump official claimed that several cabinet members had considered invoking the 25th Amendment.

Trump has called himself “a very stable genius.” Genius? This is a native-born American who attended college, who said his mom “gestated” her Thanksgiving turkey. But stable?

Trump’s manic blizzard of strangeness on Thanksgiving 2018 made the case for the 25th Amendment better than anything I’ve read in an inside-Trump tell-all book.

Asked what he was most thankful for, he said himself: “I made a tremendous difference in our country.”

Trump’s CIA had just issued a report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. “I hate the crime, I hate the coverup,” Trump told reporters. “I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it.” Why would the prince hate his own crime?

Bizarrely, Trump blamed “the world” for the killing. “Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a very, very vicious place,” Trump said insanely. For the record, “the world” did not kill Khashoggi. Bin Salman did.

Later he discussed one of his favorite topics, The Wall with Mexico.

“We took an old, broken wall and we wrapped it with barb wire plus,” Trump said. “I guess you could really call it barb wire plus. This is the ultimate. And nobody’s getting through these walls. And we’re going to make sure they’re the right people because that’s what you and your family want and all of your families. That’s what they want. And that’s why we’re all fighting. You know, we’re fighting for borders. We’re fighting for our country. If we don’t have borders, we don’t have a country. So we’re doing very well on the southern border. We’re very tough. We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side. We always lose, and then you lose again and again, and then you hopefully win at the Supreme Court, which we’ve done. But it’s a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border. It’s a disgrace. So we’re winning. And you’re winning. And I appreciate very much.”

Oh. My.

God.

Psychiatrists have openly speculated that Trump is mentally ill or suffers from at least one serious personality disorder, typically severe narcissism. One even calls him a sadist, “the essence of evil.”

I am a cartoonist and columnist, not a psychologist. I don’t know what exactly is wrong with Trump. Former presidential aide Omarosa Manigault Newman thinks he is succumbing to dementia; it’s certainly possible. Trump is 72. His father developed Alzheimer’s, which points to an increased chance for the president.

It’s probably several things.

What I know is that Trump is not mentally fit enough to serve as president. I think those closest to him know it too. The vice president, his aides and advisors, his cabinet members, members of Congress—they all know that this behavior does not fall within the normal range for a 72-year-old man and that it puts the nation and the world at risk.

It is grossly irresponsible to allow a crazy person to sit in the Oval Office.

“In a time like this of unusual crisis, one has to count on leaders in the executive branch and Congress to really be patriots, not partisans,” Joel Goldstein, a constitutional expert at St. Louis University, told a symposium where the 25th Amendment was discussed.

Republican leaders should act soon. Trump’s mental deterioration, so evident now, will only become worse by the height of the 2020 reelection campaign. If Trump is removed now, Pence will have more than a year to earn the voters’ trust and make his case for four more years.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

What If White House Reporters Actually Held the President Accountable?

If White House reporters had any self-respect or were oppositional at all, they would fight back against Donald Trump’s ruthless mistreatment at press conferences.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Brett Kavanaugh Sex Scandals Teach Us That Extremism, Even Supporting Torture, Are A-OK

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What is wrong with us? Specifically: what is wrong with liberal Democrats?

Liberal Democrats are out to get Brett Kavanaugh. They are right to be; he is dangerous. Confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would lock in a right-wing majority for a generation. Abortion rights would be imperiled, true, but his rulings would also impact us in countless ways no one can predict: privacy, technology, balance of powers, corporate influence.

What’s weird is how the “Resistance” is going after the nominee: they’re #MeToo-ing him.

They’re only #MeToo-ing him.

One woman says he tried to rape her when she was 15 and he was 17. Another says that he pulled out his penis and shoved it in her face at a college party. U-S-A! Best country ever!

At this writing a third accuser waits in the wings.

If true these are—obviously, undeniably, absolutely—nasty acts. They prompt serious questions about whether Kavanaugh has the judgment—pun intended—required of the highest court. The fact that these charges date back decades, even to his childhood, does not change that. If he were up for a less important job, one could perhaps chalk them up to youthful douchebaggery. But he’s not applying for deputy undersecretary of agriculture.

What I don’t understand is: how did Kavanaugh’s candidacy get this far? How did his bid last long enough to get to the point where it was imperiled by #MeToo-related personal misbehavior? Why didn’t it founder first on the rockier shoals of his insane ideology?

As a judge the nominee was quoted saying that the NSA’s mass surveillance of every American’s emails, phone calls and texts is “entirely consistent” with the Constitution. As a lawyer once told me, that is not and cannot be true. “In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this [NSA] program,” Kavanaugh wrote. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this issue. The NSA programs exposed by Edward Snowden transformed the United States from the supposed “land of the free” to an authoritarian Orwellian dystopia. Surely Senate Democrats might have found something to object to there.

As George W. Bush’s White House lawyer Kavanaugh worked on Alberto Gonzalez’s notorious “torture memos,” the flimsy legalistic covers Bush used to justify waterboarding and murdering innocent Muslim kidnap victims at Guantánamo concentration camp and CIA dungeons around the world. We don’t know what he told other lawyers when the memos were written but even if he opposed them he had a legal and ethical obligation to resign, contact the World Court and speak publicly about these brazen war crimes. He did not.

Not only did Kavanaugh enable Bush’s merry band of torture goons, he played what Senator Chuck Schumer described as “a critical role” in Bush’s novel use of “signing statements.” The vaunted John McCain-sponsored bill banning torture was a classic example. Bush signed it. Then he signed a signing statement that amounted to crossing his fingers behind his back: the federal government would not enforce the law. McCain’s bill became law but torture continues.

Most disturbing of all—this is a high bar given the above—Kavanaugh is a fervent devotee to the weird counterconstitutional “doctrine of the unitary executive” promoted by such fellow neocons as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. “In its most extreme form, unitary executive theory can mean that neither Congress nor the federal courts can tell the President what to do or how to do it, particularly regarding national security matters,” explained Watergate alum John Dean.

You can see why Donald Trump is into this guy.

Supporting torture. Undermining Congress and the rule of law. Contempt for habeas corpus. Giving the president the powers of a king. Any of these are more than enough reason to oppose Kavanaugh but Democrats ignored or barely mentioned them during judiciary committee hearings. There were no rants, no floor speeches. Liberal protesters did not gather to condemn Kavanaugh on torture. Liberal groups did not air ads about it.

Give the Democrats benefit of the doubt: maybe they determined, perhaps via focus groups and tracking polls, that the sexual allegations would have longer legs, would make more headway, than Kavanaugh’s judicial extremism. Marketing money is limited. Better to focus on what works.

Trouble is, we’re not just filling a court vacancy. We’re sending messages to the world. The message Democrats are trying to send, the one that powerful men will remember if Kavanaugh’s confirmation fails, is that women can no longer be disrespected. That’s fantastic. It’s long overdue. It needs to be repeated.

But it isn’t enough.

The Democrats’ decision to ignore Kavanaugh’s stances on important policies tacitly conveys that they either endorse torture themselves or don’t much care about it, that they either tolerate the imperial presidency or don’t care about it, that they sign off on un-American views about government or are willing to look the other way.

A reasonable reading of political tea leaves has to conclude that Democrats are now a pro-torture party. In 2009 Obama refused to prosecute Bush-era CIA torturers. In 2013 Obama appointed John Brennan, also a torturer, to CIA director. In 2018 Senate Democrats like Dianne Feinstein voted to give the top CIA job to Gina Haspel, a monster who personally conducted waterboarding sessions.

Those messages to the world are toxic and dangerous. Our national moral high ground has been further eroded because Democrats took the easy path to non-confirmation.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Russia-Trump Conspiracy Theory is a Dead Letter. Here’s Why.

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The Democrat-led anti-Trump “Resistance” and its numerous media mouthpieces have been promoting their “Russia hacked the election” narrative for two years. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fired the biggest recent salvo in this campaign after Trump invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington.

“The notion that President Trump would invite a tyrant to Washington is beyond belief,” Pelosi said in a statement on Friday, calling Putin a “thug.” (The recurring use of “thug” to describe Russians has become so consistent as to have become a de facto ethnic slur.) “Putin’s ongoing attacks on our elections and on Western democracies and his illegal actions in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine deserve the fierce, unanimous condemnation of the international community, not a VIP ticket to our nation’s capital.”

Despite liberals’ uncharacteristically focused and sustained efforts — imagine if Obama and company had pushed as hard for a public option on healthcare! — their #RussophobiaMatters campaign is doing poorly. Fewer than one percent of voters think Russia is a major issue.

Democratic leaders are confused. They’ve got the newspapers and NPR and a passel of cable news stations all over their “Trump colluded with Russia” story. Why don’t people care? Christ, even Democratic voters don’t care!

Aside from famine and war few things are sadder than the sight of a hopelessly perplexed House and Senate Democratic leadership. So rather than let them spend a third year wondering why Russiagate keeps being greeted by a great national yawn, I’m here to explain it to them.

Everyone else can stop reading now.

Dear Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi:

First: even if the story were true, it wouldn’t make sense. You’re asking us to believe that Trump’s people met with Putin’s people, not to discuss Trump’s sleazy real estate developments in the former Soviet Union, but to encourage Russian hackers to break into the DNC, steal Hillary’s emails and funnel them to WikiLeaks with a view toward angering enough voters to change the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor.

Trump doesn’t even read one-page memos. Yet we’re being asked to believe that he supervised a ridiculously complex Machiavellian conspiracy?

WikiLeaks didn’t get the DNC documents from Russia or any other state actor. They got them from a disgruntled pro-Bernie Sanders staffer at the DNC.

Anyway, the intelligence community — you know, the friendly folks at the CIA, FBI and NSA whom Democrats worship the way Republicans revered firefighters after 9/11 — says whatever Russian hacking occurred did not affect the outcome of the election.

Then there’s this: Trump didn’t actually want to win. Why would he go to such lengths to steal something he didn’t want?

Second: everything you accuse Russia and/or Putin of doing is something the U.S. has done or is doing bigger and worse. Russia undermined Ukraine and forcibly annexed Crimea. By current international standards Russia committed a misdemeanor; as The Washington Post noted at the time: “Most people in Crimea wanted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.” Meanwhile, the U.S. was occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq. Those are felonies: neither the Afghans nor the Iraqis want us around.

Third: I’m going to use small words here — where’s the evidence of Russian “meddling”?

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy went on TV to discuss the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Because he needed Americans to trust and believe that the threat he described was real, he displayed aerial surveillance photos of the missiles in his speech to the nation. This meant revealing the existence of spy technology the Soviets weren’t aware of, so it was a difficult decision for him. But providing credible evidence was more important.

At this writing, the Democrats’ Russia arguments boil down to:

  • Media outlet quotes anonymous congressional official or anonymous intelligence agency employee.
  • Said anonymous source says the intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the election.
  • Details of how Russia accomplished said meddling are absent.
  • Details of how effective said meddling was are absent.

If evidence of said meddling actually exists, Democrats should follow the JFK example and cough it up. In detail. And explain what it means ­— also in detail.

Until then, Russia as a political issue will continue to be a dead letter.

Kisses,

Ted

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Meet the For-Profit Prison Industry Raking in Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from Trump’s Mass Deportation Boondoggle

The Washington Post recently published a revealing and heartbreaking story about forced separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents — not the Trump-ordered fiasco we’ve watched over recent weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, but in the Midwest as the result of brutal ICE raids that have ripped families apart under Presidents Obama and Bush before him. It’s beautifully written, worthy of a literature award if not a Pulitzer for journalism.

One line leapt out at me: “Who benefits from this?”

Nora, an 18-year-old girl who lost both her parents to ICE raids and is now raising her 12-year-old brother like something out of a dark 1970s ABC Afterschool Special or a Dave Eggers story, wondered why the U.S. government carries out such vicious policies and tactics, like using offers of free food to lure poor migrants into the clutches of heavily-armed immigration goons.

“Was it American taxpayers, who were paying to finance the raid and resulting deportations? Or American workers, most of whom were so disinterested in low-paying farm work that Ohio had announced a crisis work shortage of 15,000 agricultural jobs? Or Corso’s Nursery, a ­family-owned business now missing 40 percent of its employees?”

OK, so the canard about Americans being unwilling to fill low-paid agricultural jobs is transparent BS. The key phrase is low-paid. If all the illegal immigrants disappeared tomorrow the labor-market version of the law of supply and demand would force agribusiness employers to offer higher wages. Plenty of Americans would be happy to pick fruit for $25 an hour. Sorry, Corso’s — if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you deserve to go out of business.

Still, Nora’s question is a good one. Whether you believe in open borders, want Trump to build The Wall or fall somewhere in between like me (build the wall, legalize the people already here who haven’t committed serious felonies, deport the criminals), everyone who cares about immigration should know the why and wherefore of how the U.S. government carries out deportations.

Contrary to what some liberals seem to believe, there is nothing unreasonable about border control. Determining who gets to enter your country’s territory, and who gets turned away, is one of the principal defining characteristics of a modern nation-state. Just you try to sneak into Latvia or Liberia without permission and see what happens. You can probably make it into Libya, but that’s because it’s a failed state.

After you catch illegal immigrants the question is, how do you deal with them?

Some countries, like Iran, deport unauthorized persons immediately, no due process. That’s what Trump wants to do.

Others treat them like criminals. Illegal immigrants caught in Italy face a hefty cash fine and up to six months in prison.

The United States falls in between. Applicants for political asylum are theoretically entitled to a hearing before an immigration court. Economic migrants receive no due process. Both classes face lengthy detentions before removal.

Lengthy detention is the key to Nora’s question.

So who benefits?

The answer is: America’s vast, secretive, politically connected, poorly regulated $5 billion private-prison industry. “As of August 2016, nearly three-quarters of the average daily immigration detainee population was held in facilities operated by private prison companies—a sharp contrast from a decade ago, when the majority were held in ICE-contracted bedspace in local jails and state prisons,” writes Livia Luan of the Migration Policy Institute.

Crime rates have been falling for years. So prison populations have been declining too. Adding to the down trend has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress; Democrats and Republicans agree that we need criminal justice reform centered around shorter sentences.

Originally sold as an innovative market-based solution to alleviate overcrowding in government-run prisons and jails for criminals, the private prison sector had been facing hard times before Trump came along. Private institutions were sitting empty. Until two years ago, private prisons had been scheduled to be phased out entirely by the federal sentencing system.

Trump made private prisons great again.

According to the UK Independent ICE arrests during Trump’s first nine months in office increased 43% over a year earlier. “Many of those immigrants are funnelled into a multibillion dollar private prison system, where between 31,000 and 41,000 detainees are held each night. In many cases, those private prison corporations — led by the behemoths GeoGroup and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America — have contracts with the federal government guaranteeing their beds will be filled, or that they will receive payment regardless of whether they have a full house on any given night.”

With profits guaranteed by pro-business government contracts, Wall Street is bullish on prisons for profit. “The Trump administration’s tough-on-immigration policies are unlikely to fade anytime soon, meaning investors should expect continued strict enforcement, more arrests by ICE and the need to accommodate a growing number of arrested individuals,” an analyst advised investors.

That’s likely to continue. In a classic example of the revolving door between government and private industry, the CEO of GEO is Daniel Ragsdale, who left his post as #2 at ICE in May 2017. Talk about swampy: ICE is extremely cozy with for-profit prisons.

When your customer base is as disenfranchised, unpopular and defenseless as convicts and undocumented workers, it’s tempting to cut corners on costs for their care. Reports of abuse and neglect are even more widespread in the private prison sector than in traditional government-run lockups. “The conditions inside were very bad. The facilities were old. The guards were poorly trained. If you got sick all they would just give you Tylenol and tell you to get back to your cell,” said Adrian Hernandez Garay, who served 35 months for illegal immigration at the Big Spring Correctional Institution, a Texas facility run by the private corporation GEO. He told Vice he was fed rice and beans seven days a week. He described Big Spring as “far worse” than other prisons where he was held.

Even if you think illegal immigrants are criminals who should be tossed out on their ears, you ought to be highly suspicious of the private prison industry. After all, they don’t want illegals deported. They want them housed indefinitely in their sketchy facilities. And you’re paying the bill.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Blame is Bipartisan: How the Democrats Ruined Central America and Worsened the Mess at the Border

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Those who forget history are doomed to repeat its mistakes blah blah blah, someone said —Americans don’t even pay attention to the news, so how the heck are they supposed to remember it after it becomes history?

So we keep making the same mistakes over and over. In foreign policy the biggest mistake the United States keeps making is interfering in the sovereign domestic politics of foreign countries it doesn’t know enough about. More often than not, the U.S. supports the wrong side: a privileged minority who oppresses the people, aka the majority. Eventually, because they are the majority, the people overthrow the jerks. Unsurprisingly to everyone except the State Department, the new government is pissed at the United States.

The progressive historian Chalmers Johnson called this stupid cycle “blowback.”

A classic example followed the decision of the CIA to arm the mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviets during the 1980s. The mujahedin gave rise to Al Qaeda, who caused us some sort of trouble in 2001 though I can’t remember exactly what happened there. Then there was the CIA-backed coup that ended the rule of the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran in 1953. I’d be shocked if five percent of Americans have heard of Mohammad Mossadegh, but the Iranians have and they remember and for some reason they just won’t shut up about it and sometimes they give our citizens a hard time.

Blowback isn’t always terrorism and it doesn’t always originate in the Muslim world.

At this writing the Trump Administration’s mistreatment of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico has drawn international condemnation, and rightly so. The cliché that most migrants come here to pursue economic opportunities is out of date. Nowadays much if not most of the migratory flow is comprised of refugees from violence, specifically from the so-called “Northern Triangle countries” of Central America: Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. Homicide rates are especially high in Honduras and El Salvador. A 2015 Doctors Without Borders survey of refugees from these countries found that most Central Americans seeking political asylum on the southern border were fleeing physical attacks or threats of violence against themselves or a close family member. More than 40% had had a family member killed in the previous two years.

American officials blame the violence on the drug trade, and accept some responsibility by noting the U.S. demand for illegal narcotics that is behind the violence. But while drug cartels are indisputably a big part of the problem, what no one wants to talk about — especially not Democrats who are having a field day watching the Republicans get beat up in the polls because the optics of forcibly separating children from their parents are so hideous — is the U.S. interventionism, most recently carried out by former President Barack Obama, behind the disintegration of civil society in Central America.

Shortly after becoming president in 2009, Barack Obama and his bellicose secretary of state Hillary Clinton faced a foreign policy dilemma: what, if anything, to do about a military coup that toppled Honduras’ democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. As Al Jazeera remembers: “Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office.”

Obama dithered.

The people’s will be damned; the U.S. government wanted Zelaya out because he was a leftist, an ally of Venezuela’s charismatic leader Hugo Chávez and an enemy of Honduras oligarchs, who had long been propped up by the U.S. and U.S. corporations. Zelaya’s crime: he wanted to reduce the country’s staggering chasm between a tiny clique of wealthy families and the rest of the population, who were desperately poor. But Obama had been elected post-Bush because he opposed the Iraq war. He couldn’t be seen as backing a Cold War-style intervention in favor of Latin American thugs.

So he played a double game. In public — after an embarrassing, telling silence — Obama decried the coup and called for Zelaya’s return to power.

Thanks to WikiLeaks we know that behind the scenes and in defiance of international law, Clinton reached out to the new junta leader to assure him of U.S. support and rejected the international community’s requests that the U.S. demand Zelaya’s reinstatement. The secretary of state worked hard to make certain democracy did not return to Honduras so that the new junta could remain in power.

The right-wing military junta, many of whom graduated from the Pentagon’s notorious assassin-training School of the Americas, were not good stewards. “The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity,” Al Jazeera reports.
Next door in El Salvador — the only other Northern Triangle nation with a higher murder rate than Honduras — Obama propped up sellout former leftist president Mauricio Funes, who abandoned his populist roots to open his country up to looting by transnational corporations. Poverty, violence and drug trafficking increased dramatically.

There is no excuse for the way the Trump Administration is treating applicants for asylum as they enter the U.S. from Mexico. But it’s worth noting that both major political parties are to blame here. Many of the children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border are there in the first place because of the mayhem to which Obama and Clinton contributed.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Distractor-in-Chief Trump Is Gaslighting Us Into Forgetting America’s Real Issues

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Eight days before Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath before a crowd whose size the president still insists on fibbing about, I wrote a column titled “Life Under Trump—What Happens Now?”

“In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move. These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan,” I wrote on January 12, 2017. I described how the founding dictator of that post-Soviet authoritarian state was manic, “constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind.”

“Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi,” I wrote back then, “the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi.”

Sadly, my predictions usually come to pass. As I expected, the United States remains a democratic republic but under Trump, everyday life has assumed some of the characteristics of an authoritarian regime, especially our obsession with Trump.

OMG can you believe what he tweeted?

            What the hell is wrong with him?

            How long can this go on?

            Trump’s antics have prompted two strains of pundit reaction. One, represented by the comedian John Oliver, urges us to “keep reminding yourself this is not normal.” Others argue for ignoring the Keeper of the Launch Codes, at least his tweets. Ever the contrarian, I subscribe to None of the Above.

You can’t ignore the President of the United States. He’s too powerful. On the other hand, chasing down and driving rhetorical stakes through a maniac’s barrage of nonsense is exhausting and futile. You feel like a character at dusk in a vampire novel — too many undead, not enough stakes, definitely not enough coffee. The proper tack is insipid: Keep Calm and Carry On.

            Here I offer my apologies.

For 15 months I have, like my competitors in the mainstream media, been reacting to Trump: to his tantrums, to his weirdness, and the incongruous hypocrisy of Democrats who complain about stuff Trump does that is exactly the same as what Obama did (mass deportations, bombing Syria). To paraphrase Walter White in the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” it was fun. I enjoyed it. And frankly, I didn’t think he would last this long. Trump was the Political Satirist Full Employment Act of 2016. I didn’t want to miss out.

But I’ve been remiss. I have always tried to be forward-looking, to change the conversation, to argue for what we Americans ought to be doing and talking about. Reacting to the agenda of our worthless political “leaders” was something I left to the mainstream idiots of the corporate media.

I snapped back to reality a few days ago after reading another piece about the booming economy. Never mind whether Trump is priming the pump before busting the joint or whether the good times are about to end with yet another recession. Things are humming now — so now, while the getting is good, is while Americans ought to be demanding that Trump and his Congress fork over big bucks to fix the country’s long-neglected problems.

Workers ought to be out in the streets agitating for a raise: a $25-an-hour minimum wage is literally asking for nothing, since it’s the same, adjusted for inflation, as it was in the 1960s. I say go for $50. While we’re at it, let’s set a $200,000-a-year maximum wage. No one needs more.

Universal health care: it’s time America joined the rest of the First World (and most of the Third).

Three out of ten American workers are self-employed. They ought to qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose work.

A high-speed national rail system is essential to modernize America’s infrastructure and bring it up to global standards circa 1990. Estimated cost: $500 billion. No big deal: Obama spent $800 billion on his 2009 bank-giveaway stimulus bill.

Then there’s stuff that wouldn’t cost a dime, like doing something about guns and gender inequality and police brutality.

Lack of money isn’t why we’re not addressing these issues. Trump recently gave $1.5 trillion in taxpayer funds to his rich friends (and his family). The problem is a lack of focus — because we’re all too busy focusing on the Lunatic-in-Chief.

It’s time to stop being reactive. This is our country. This is our time. These are our lives. It’s up to us to ignore the twitterstorms and the random rants and demand what is our birthright as Americans: the best possible lives we can afford.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Media Never, Ever Gives Peace a Chance

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At this writing, President Trump is considering “the possibility of retaliation in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack on young children and families in the Syrian city of Douma,” reported CBS News. “If it’s the Russians, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out,” Trump said. “Nothing’s off the table,” including a military attack by the United States.

Whether that possibility involves a cruise missile strike, drone attacks or conventional bombing raids by fighter jets, this is deadly serious business. People, mostly innocent civilians and Syrian grunts who had nothing to do with the “suspected” chemical attack, will die. People will be injured. Survivors will be traumatized. An attack could escalate and expand the current conflict, leading to more death and destruction.

The stakes are high, but U.S. policymakers are as glibly insouciant as if they were choosing between Hulu and Netflix. This is not new or Trumpian. It’s always been like this. American leaders don’t take these life-and-death decisions seriously.

If the United States were a sane country populated by rational, civically-engaged citizens, Americans would pour derision and ridicule on anyone who seriously considered raining bombs over a “suspected” anything. And the skepticism in this case ought to be exponentially greater considering that this is Syria.

We’ve already been down this “Syria’s Assad regime used chemical weapons against their own people so we should bomb his forces” road. It happened under Obama. What is certain here is uncertainty: maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh pointed out in 2014, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed that at least one major faction of the Syrian opposition, the al-Nusra Front, possessed significant manufacturing facilities and stockpiles of sarin nerve agent and other proscribed toxic chemicals.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Since when is “maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t, oh well” sufficient?

American political culture has devolved from the Vietnam era, when pacifists were marginalized, to a kneejerk bellicosity in which they don’t exist as part of the debate.

To its credit, The New York Times — still with blood on its hands from its unwholesome publishing of Judith Miller’s pro-Iraq War screeds — has printed statements by those who oppose rushing into war with Syria. “We would prefer to start with a proper investigation,” the newspaper quoted Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations. It also ran letters to the editor that expressed doubts about Syria’s motivations and Trump’s trustworthiness.

Nowhere to be found was a pacifist: someone who opposes war, all war, no matter what. Nor were there any anti-interventionists: people who say Syria is not our business and should be left to sort out its own affairs.

It’s the same at The Washington Post. Some writers there wonder aloud whether Trump’s sabre-rattling is more “Wag the Dog” than “Doctor Strangelove”: if he bombs Syria, will it be to take our minds off the Russia stuff? Also, weirdly, this headline: “Something for Trump to keep in mind on Syria: His strikes last year were pretty popular.” How does Amber Phillips sleep at night? Again: no pacifists. No anti-interventionists.

It’s not like they’re not out there in Real America. The nativist America Firsters who formed the core of Team Trump in 2016 included a lot of isolationists — and Trump ran on a no-more-nation-building platform. They’re disgusted more by the cost of the bombs we drop on Muslim countries than the lives they destroy; if there’s any nation-building to be done, they ask quite reasonably, why not start with America’s own rusted-out, broken-down infrastructure?

Getting the paper out every day is a miracle. Editors can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting to cover all the bases by offering a wide spectrum of solutions to the problems covered by their news stories and debated in their opinion sections. The same goes for the producers laboring through cable news’ 24-7 news cycle. At a certain point, however, they ought to take a step back and consider the effect of their editorial decisions. They’ve created a relentless culture of ultraviolence, a debate without diversity between those who want bombs and those who want even more wars, to the point that not going to war isn’t even something we get to consider as a legitimate option.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Should Run on Impeachment

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Democrats are already counting their electoral chickens for the midterms — but their unwillingness to lay out a clear agenda may be about to hand the party their second devastating defeat in two years.

Everyone is playing the Special Election Game.

Tealeaf readers are obsessed. Does last November’s Democratic win in the Virginia governor’s race presage a Blue Wave or was it simply a reflection of ongoing red-to-purple demographics? Should we be surprised that Alabama sent a Democrat (albeit a conservative one) to the Senate — or that he nearly lost to an alleged pedophile? What about the latest contest in Pennsylvania — would a Democratic upset in a GOP congressional district spell the beginning of the end for Donald Trump? Or nothing much at all?

Every midterm election is characterized as a referendum on the incumbent president. But the polarization vortex that is this unique president has raised the stakes far beyond the usual handicapping parlor game.

The rising suspicion that special counsel Robert Mueller may not be able to build enough of a Russia collusion and/or corruption case to bring down the president himself, only some of his associates, has Democrats terrified and appalled. For those who believe that Trump represents an existential threat to democracy and its replacement by a permanent new American authoritarianism, the republic’s last, only, best hope before It Does Happen Here is impeachment — but that would only be possible if and after Democrats have retaken control of Congress next year. Only a few Democrats have implied — though not promised — that they might impeach the president if voters put them back in charge. For Trump-hating Democrats, everything hangs upon winning back Congress and hoping their newly elected officials do the right thing.

70% of Democrats say they want the House of Representatives to hold impeachment hearings.

Democratic strategists are counting on a favorable enthusiasm gap this November, driven in large part by liberals who despise Trump. They pointed to another tealeaf: Texas’s early primary voting, where Democratic turnout was double that of 2014. Republican turnout was lower.

But then came election day. Never mind early voting; Republican voters flooded the polls when and where it mattered, on March 6th — by a three-to-two margin. Democrats lost.

Republicans remain fiercely loyal to Trump, with as many as 90% approving of the president’s job performance. (Trump can only claim the support of 9% of Democrats.) The greater the likelihood of a Democratic sweep, the more GOP voters will back up Trump if for no other reason than to deny liberals the satisfaction of removing a Republican president.

“Most conservatives consume pro-Trump media, which will downplay or distort virtually anything Mueller or the mainstream press discovers,” Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic in December. “And the more aggressively Democrats push for Trump’s removal, the easier it will be for Breitbart and Sean Hannity to rally Republicans against a ‘left-wing coup.’”

The problem for those who’d like to see Trump legislatively hobbled after 2018 is that, as Musa al-Gharbi noted in The New York Times, Democrats are divided into two camps. There are establishment “Hillary voters” who reliably support any Democratic nominee, and rebellious pro-Bernie Sanders left populists who only show up to vote when the Democratic candidate is credibly progressive. Anti-Trumpism is widespread and evokes passionate responses among Democrats yet its motivational power is effectively canceled out by the party’s disunity. As a result, “There does not seem to be an enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans.”

The solution for Democrats seems evident: increase the enthusiasm gap by shoring up their left populist base.

First, Democrats should nationalize the midterm elections the way Newt Gingrich did with his “Contract for America” in 1994.

Conservatives vote Republican because they think Democrats favor redistributionist policies like a more progressive tax system, a single-payer healthcare system and a robust minimum wage. Progressives don’t show up at general elections because Democratic politicians don’t actually push for those things. There’s much to gain and little to lose by laying out an unapologetically liberal series of campaign promises focused on addressing the problems of the poor and middle class, as well as such scandalously neglected crises as the opioid epidemic, excessive military spending and out-of-control college tuition costs.

Democrats could also steal some of Trump’s nationalist thunder by promising to prioritize labor and the environment in international trade agreements.

Party leaders are understandably reluctant to stamp a one-size-fits-all platform across an ideologically diverse series of contests, including many where conservative Democrats have to run in red districts. But they can’t avoid it. As they did in 2014 and 2010, Republicans will nationalize the midterms by framing their opponents as lapdogs of a radical “San Francisco liberal” — House minority leader Nancy Pelosi — and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a slick New Yorker. Democrats had might as well own it.

Similarly, Republicans will say that Democrats are coming to take away their guns, their freedoms and their president — so they must defend him. Who cares if Pelosi says impeachment is “not someplace that I think we should go” if Democrats take back the majority? No one who listens to Rush Limbaugh will ever hear her.

Since they won’t lose any swing voters by doing so, but they would generate enthusiasm among their currently weak progressive left flank, Democrats had might as well own impeachment too.

Everyone already knows that November is all about impeaching Trump. If the Democrats really want to win, the first promise in their national platform for the 2018 midterms ought to be a clear, unequivocal pledge to get rid of the president.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)