Will Clinton Democrats Vote for a Progressive Against Trump?

George McGovern. (Associated Press) ** FILE **The campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination appears to be an exception. Once again the contest appears to be coming down to a choice between a “centrist” establishmentarian corporatist with institutional backing (Joe Biden) and a left-leaning populist progressive (Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders) preferred by Democrats, of whom three out of four voters self-identify as progressives. In 2016 the DNC smooshed their thumbs all over the scale, brazenly cheating the insurgent progressive Bernie Sanders so they could install their preferred choice, the right-leaning Hillary Clinton. They won the battle but lost the war. Fewer than 80% of Democrats who supported Bernie in the primaries voted for Hillary in the general election. Disgruntled progressive voters—especially those who sat at home on election day—cost her the race.

 Who’s to blame for President Trump? Democrats have been arguing about this ever since.

 Centrists call Bernie’s backers sore losers and say leftists are untrustworthy supporters of a man who never officially declared fealty to the Democratic Party, and myopic beyond understanding. Why didn’t progressives understand that nothing was more important than defeating the clear and present danger to the republic represented by Donald Trump?

 Progressives counter that after decades of dutifully falling in line after their candidates fell to primary-time centrist-favoring chicanery—Ted Kennedy to a sleazy last-minute change in delegate rules, Howard Dean to a media-engineered audio smear, John Edwards to censorship—the party’s sabotage of Bernie was one crushed leftie dream too far. Democrats, progressives say, had to be taught a lesson. The left isn’t a wing, it’s the base. Anyway, who’s to say that Trump is so much worse than Hillary would have been? At least Trump doesn’t seem to share her lust for war.

 The fight for the Democratic Party matters because it informs dynamics as well as the strategic logic of the current primary clash. At this writing pollsters are calling it a three-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders, but this campaign is really a repeat of 2016: Biden vs. {Warren or Sanders}.

 (If Warren or Sanders drops out it’s a safe bet that the surviving progressive receives the exiting contestant’s endorsement and his or her voters.)

 Democrats tell pollsters they care about electability, i.e. choosing a candidate with a strong chance of defeating Trump. But who is that, Biden or Warren/Sanders?

 In current theoretical head-to-head matchup polls, Biden beats Trump by 12 points, Warren wins by 5 and Sanders bests the president by 7. But it’s a long way to November 2020. At this point these numbers are meaningless except to say that there’s a credible case for any of the top three as viable challengers to Trump.

 2016 clearly illustrates the risk of nominating Biden: progressives probably won’t vote for him. Some might even defect to Trump, as did a substantial number of Bernie voters in 2016.

 If anything, Biden is even less appealing to the progressive base than Hillary was. Clinton offered the history-making potential of a first woman president and a sharp mind; Biden is another old white man, one whose repeated verbal stumbles are prompting pundits to wonder aloud whether he is suffering from dementia. Assuming he survives another 14 months without winding up in memory care, Biden will probably lose to Trump.

 If Biden secures the nomination, centrists will again argue that nothing matters more than beating Trump. I see no sign that progressives will agree.

The real question is one that no one is asking: what if Warren or Sanders gets the nod? Will centrists honor their “blue no matter who” slogan if the shoe is finally on the other foot and the Democratic nominee hails from the left flank of the party?

 There isn’t enough data to say one way or the other.

 The party’s silent war on Bernie Sanders broke out into the open earlier this year. “I believe a gay Midwestern mayor can beat Trump. I believe an African-American senator can beat Trump. I believe a western governor, a female senator, a member of Congress, a Latino Texan or a former vice president can beat Trump,” said Jon Cowan, president of then right-wing Democratic organization Third Way, said in June. “But I don’t believe a self-described democratic socialist can win.” On the other hand, he is the “second choice” of most Biden supporters.

 As Sanders stalls at the 20% mark, self-described capitalist Elizabeth Warren continues to receive more media coverage and thus increasing popular support. But would Bidenites show up for her in November? No one knows.

 Progressives haven’t had a chance at the brass ring since November 1972 when George Mc Govern suffered one of the unfairest losses in American electoral history, to a warmongering sleazeball who was forced to resign less than three years later over a Watergate scandal that had already broken out. It was a bitter conclusion to a campaign that was in many ways ahead of its time. McGovern wanted universal healthcare. Like Andrew Yang, McGovern proposed a universal basic income to lift up the poor.

 Even after the party convention centrist Democratic leaders like John Connally formed Democrats for Nixon, an oxymoron if there ever was one, to try to undermine McGovern’s candidacy. It’s hard to imagine their modern-day counterparts resorting to such brazen treason. More likely, they would withhold their enthusiastic support for a progressive like Sanders or Warren.

 If Biden withdraws from the race—a real possibility given his obviously deteriorating mental state and the long arc to next summer’s nominating convention—centrists will have to choose between four more years of Donald Trump and atoning for the sins of 1972.

(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.)

Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted

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The first draft of this column came not to bury but to praise Donald Trump. I planned to applaud the president’s peace initiative with the Taliban, his strategy of ignoring the corrupt and discredited puppet regime Bush installed in Kabul and his desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. This was a move I have been almost alone in promoting since the U.S. idiotically invaded the country in 2001 and I congratulate Trump for having the courage to unwind Bush and Obama’s mistakes. The Afghan people should be allowed to shape their future free of imperialist interference.

But then, hours before representatives of the Taliban which controls about half of Afghanistan were set to board a plane to Washington where they were scheduled to meet with Trump at Camp David, the president canceled their visit and scuttled years of progress toward ending America’s longest war, which has killed more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen and at least 30,000 Afghans. “He claimed that it was because the Taliban had been behind a recent attack that killed an American soldier,” reported Politico.

There is, of course, no requirement that combatants observe a ceasefire during peace negotiations. Richard Nixon’s “Christmas bombing” campaign in 1972, which killed 1,600 Vietnamese civilians, was a U.S. attempt to soften up North Vietnam at the upcoming Paris peace talks. The United States has killed numerous Taliban soldiers throughout 2019.

“This [decision to scuttle peace talks] will lead to more losses to the U.S.,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. “Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.” He is right.

Few Americans pay attention to Afghanistan. Fewer still are aware of America’s history of proving itself an untrustworthy diplomatic partner in that war-torn country—a tradition that Trump’s fickleness continues. “The Taliban have never trusted American promises; [Trump’s] volte-face will only deepen that mistrust,” observes The Economist.

In the late 1990s Afghanistan was the world’s leading producer of opium. The U.S. and its European allies were seeking to mitigate a heroin epidemic and the Clinton Administration was negotiating terms for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. So, even though the U.S. had imposed sanctions on the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and denied them diplomatic recognition, Clinton paid the Taliban $114 million in 2000 to encourage them to ban the farming of opium poppies. Bush followed up with $43 million in 2001.

For the most part the Taliban held up their side of the bargain. Their ban on poppy cultivation reduced production of exported heroin by about 65%. Considering Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure, poor communications and fractious political culture during an ongoing civil war, that was as much as the U.S. could have hoped for.

But tensions grew between the Taliban and the U.S. over the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project. The U.S. tried to lowball the Taliban with below-market transit fees, the Taliban refused and American negotiators became angry. “Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” a U.S. negotiator snapped at her Taliban counterparts at a meeting in Islamabad. It was August 2001, three months after Secretary of State Colin Powell paid the Taliban $43 million and weeks before 9/11.

It’s impossible to know for certain why the U.S. chose to invade Afghanistan, which had nothing to do with the attacks. The hijackers were recruited from and funded by Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan, where the terrorists were trained. Central Asia watchers speculated that the U.S. was more interested in controlling the then-only pipeline carrying the world’s largest untapped energy reserves than catching bin Laden.

We do know what the Taliban took away from the experience. They cut a deal, did their part and got bombed, invaded and occupied in return.

Both sides say they are open to resuming talks. If and when they do, the Taliban—who, after all, didn’t invade anyone and are defending their territory from foreign aggression—hold the moral high ground over the United States.

Heckuva job, Donnie.

(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.)

 

Billionaires Who Promise to Save Journalism and Then Default: It Ought To Be a Crime.

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Let’s talk about fraud: “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities,” the dictionary calls it.

Let’s also discuss breach of contract. “A breach of contract occurs when the promise of the contract is not kept, because one party has failed to fulfill their agreed-upon obligations, according to the terms of the contract. Breaching can occur when one party fails to deliver in the appropriate time frame, does not meet the terms of the agreement, or fails to perform at all,” says a random legal website I googled. Sounds right.

Pierre Omidyar cofounded eBay. He became a billionaire at age 31 when eBay went public. Forbes says he’s now worth $12.8 billion.

As you know, journalism is in trouble. So it sounded almost too good to be true when Omidyar lured Glenn Greenwald, who famously received the Edward Snowden stash of secret documents that proved the U.S. government is spying on us, away from the UK Guardian in order to helm a new, fearless, left-leaning journalism organization by the name of First Look Media.

Best of all, Omidyar promised to fix the biggest problem faced by 21st century journalists: shrinking budgets. First Look Media, Omidyar said, would get a whopping $250 million in order to support “independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest.”

Geld macht frei.

Watch this crazy announcement video from 2013. No, really, watch.

First Look Media, Omidyar promises in his video, would feature a “flagship” online magazine—The Intercept, edited by Greenwald—that would “cover news and stories from entertainment and sports to politics and business.” In addition, he pledged, there would be “a family of digital magazines.” (Spoiler: the sports, business and entertainment stuff never materialized.)

One of First Look’s “verticals,” in publishing vernacular, was to be called Racket, “a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy” to be edited by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. (Disclosure: I met with Taibbi to discuss the possibility of working for him. Another disclosure: I talked to a reporter at The Intercept about covering my lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times. He was excited but went cold after he pitched it to his editors.)

According to Taibbi and also Greenwald, Taibbi chafed under Omidyar’s incessant micromanaging on everything from whom he could hire to where they would sit. Taibbi quit and returned to Rolling Stone. That was the end of Racket.

Then the fickle billionaire pulled the plug on his other playthings. “Omidyar made clear that there were no plans to launch any more digital magazines in the near term,” Greenwald wrote in 2014. First Look did pick up the cartoon site The Nib in 2016 and added the nonfiction storytelling publication Topic in 2017, only to cancel both and fire their staffs as part of “cost-cutting moves” in 2019.

Omidyar did not explain why an organization backed by a man worth $12.8 billion needs to cut costs, nor how he reconciles his fickleness with that I’ve-got-your-back video. Really, watch it! (To put this in terms a normal person can understand, if you’re worth $500,000, Omidyar’s $250 million pledge is equivalent to $9,000. If you have $500,000 and you can’t spare $9,000 you’re doing something wrong.)

Earlier this year, Omidyar decided to shut down First Look’s maintenance of the Snowden archive. Given that that trove was the company’s original raison d’être, alongside its dedication to investigative journalism, it left loyalists like First Look cofounder Laura Poitras scratching their heads. In March the company laid off its team of researchers.

The point of First Look, remember, was to give good reporters plenty of cash so they could focus on writing and research.

According to Columbia Journalism Review Omidyar has made good on just $90 million of his $250 million commitment. Which is still a lot of money, but it won’t last forever when you’re burning up cash paying exorbitant wages to editors like Greenwald. He collected $1.6 million between 2014 and 2017 while entry-level grunts are making do with $55,000 in a Manhattan where one-bedroom apartments go for $3,500 a month.

Left-leaning journalism types have been whispering about the shenanigans at First Look for years. But few are willing to speak out in public. Omidyar is powerful and wealthy. What if you might want to work for him someday?

Billionaires are purchasing social good will in the hope that they will be “credited with the accomplishments or qualities” of contributing to the “public good,” as Omidyar says in his over-the-top video.

And I’m fine with that—as long as they don’t breach their contract with the public. Omidyar promised us a passel of verticals/online magazines. Where are they? He promised journalists virtually unlimited freedom to investigate, travel, whatever it takes to do their jobs. Budget cuts and mass layoffs are a clear violation of that pledge. He cheated us. He should be held accountable.

Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong is another billionaire, this one from biotech, who has burnished his image as a savior of American journalism by purchasing The Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper. Soon-Shiong is purportedly worth $7.1 billion.

But there’s already a stink, and I’m not talking about the smell of jet fuel raining down on the Times’ new low-budget office building in El Segundo, directly under the flight approach to LAX. The Times previous home was an art deco gem downtown on Times-Mirror Square. Why, one wonders, can’t a man worth $7.1 billion shell out the $50 million-ish cost of a downtown office building rather than move reporters a three-hour drive away from some parts of the city they’re supposed to be covering? (That’s $3,500 for someone worth $500,000.) Why do so many of his new hires skew so young, Millennial and thus so cheaply five-digit?

Despite slavishly sucking up to him in public statements, the union representing Times employees has been rewarded with contempt by Soon-Shiong, who refuses to negotiate in good faith.

Jeff Bezos, self-proclaimed savior of The Washington Post, has a similar attitude toward workers at his newspaper.

I don’t have a problem with derps derping, even when they’re running major news outlets. What seriously pisses me off is when those derps are billionaires who market themselves as saviors to be admired, when they’re anything but.

(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.)

 

Freedom of the Press? Not in the U.S.

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            The United States ranks 48th among nations for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders. Since few other countries have the equivalent of our First Amendment, learning that we rank below Botswana and Slovenia may come as a surprise.

Mostly the organization pins this dismal state of affairs on Trump’s attacks on the news media. They reference the White House’s revocation of CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press card, the president’s “fake news” and “enemy of the people” jibes and his tacit approval of the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by the government of Saudi Arabia. “At least one White House correspondent has hired private security for fear of their life after receiving death threats, and newsrooms throughout the country have been plagued by bomb threats and were the recipients of other potentially dangerous packages, prompting journalism organizations to reconsider the security of their staffs in a uniquely hostile environment,” reports RWB. (Cry me a river! I’ve received hundreds of death threats.)

Like most other mainstream analyses of the state of press, RWB focuses on how easy it is for large, corporate-owned media conglomerates with establishmentarian political orientations to do their jobs.

Independent journalists, especially those whose politics are left of the Democrats or right of the Republicans, have much bigger problems than deep-pocketed mega-conglomerates like CNN.

No consideration of freedom of the press in the U.S. is complete without a hard look at the case of Julian Assange. The founder and publisher of WikiLeaks is rotting in an English prison, awaiting extradition to the United States for possession and dissemination of classified information—exactly what The New York Times did when it published the Pentagon Papers and the Edward Snowden revelations. He is being “treated worse than a murderer, he is isolated, medicated,” says journalist John Pilger, who recently visited him. Incredibly, corporate media is siding with the Trump Administration, not merely ignoring Assange but mocking him and accusing him of treason (which is impossible, since he’s not American).

Censorship is insidious; readers and viewers can’t know what they’re not told. Almost as sinister as the persecution of Assange is the wholesale erasure of left-wing politics from U.S. news media. 43% of Americans tell pollsters they want the U.S. to become a socialist country. 36% of registered Democrats currently support self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, whose campaign promises closely align to Sanders’.

The nation’s 1,000-plus newspapers employ countless Democrats and Republicans. But there isn’t a single staff columnist or editorial cartoonist who agrees with that 43% of the public that socialism would be better than capitalism. There isn’t a single one who says he or she supports Sanders or Warren.

Watch CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews and the other cable news outlets. Once in a very long while you might catch a token leftist joining a yakfest. You’ll never see socialist get a gig as a regular contributor, much less be asked to host a show. If you don’t think it’s weird that 43% of the country’s population is being censored, I don’t know what to tell you.

Pervasive among both corporate and independent journalists is self-censorship. Apologists say that freedom of the press doesn’t include the right to be published, and that’s true. Because journalists are like everyone else and can’t survive without earning money, however, the real-world practical effect of having to earn a living is that reporters and pundits have to watch what they say lest they become unemployable pariahs like I was after 9/11. “Sorry, man,” an editor I considered a friend told me after I asked him for work at his business magazine, “you’re radioactive.”

The Washington Post and other corporate news companies ridiculed Bernie Sanders’ recent assertion that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Post influences its coverage. As Sanders noted, it’s not like Bezos calls Post editors to tell them what to print and what to censor.

Self-censorship is subtle. Post executive editor Marty Baron is technically correct when he retorts that “Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence.” But he’s dodging the meat of the matter. Baron and other Post editors know who their bosses are: Bezos and, more generally, his allies in the corporate ruling class. No matter how much they protest that they can follow any lead and print anything they want, that knowledge of who butters their bread informs every move they make. It’s why, when the editorial page editor sorts through the day’s nationally syndicated political cartoons, he never ever publishes one from a left-wing political orientation, no matter how well-written or well-drawn it is. It’s why, when they’re hiring new staffers, they never hire a leftie. They’re smart enough not to bite the hand that feeds them. It’s also why the person making that hiring decision is not himself or herself one of the 43%.

I’m more audacious. Yet I too know not to go too far.

I’ve learned that I can draw a cartoon or write a column criticizing “free trade” agreements without fear of getting fired or assassinated. There is also no fear that it will be published by a corporate newspaper—so why bother? Over the long run, I have to give editors material they want to publish; if I send out too much stuff about a verboten topic like free trade I’ll lose clients.

Most people who hear about my defamation lawsuit against the Los AngelesTimes support me. But most people don’t hear about it for a simple reason: when one member of the press is besieged—especially when it’s justified—the others circle the wagons. Reporters for The Washington Post, The New York Times and fake-left outfits like The Intercept contacted me eager to write about how the LAPD pension fund bought the Los Angeles Times in 2014 and then ordered the paper to fire me because I criticized the police in my cartoons. (It’s still legal for the the cops to buy a newspaper.) Invariably they went silent after talking to their editors.

Corporate gangsters stick together.

As I said, I’m not that brave. My editor didn’t tell me about the LAPD deal with the Times. I assume she didn’t know. If she had called and said “hey, lay off the police, they own us now, draw about something else,” I would have. I have to make a living.

48th? When it comes to press freedom, the U.S. is benefiting from grade inflation.

(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.)

As Long as Enemies of the State Keep Dying Before Trial, No One Should Trust the State

Image result for jeffrey epstein ambulance            There is no other way to say it: it was a political assassination.

Osama bin Laden was unarmed. SEALs captured him alive. Following brazenly illegal orders from Washington, they executed him. “The [Obama] administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead,” The Atlantic reported on May 4, 2011.

State-controlled media outlets like The Atlantic claimed that Obama was desperate to avoid a trial that would give the Al Qaeda leader a “high-profile platform for spreading his extremist views.” Left unsaid, as so much is in the American steno-journalism reminiscent of the Soviet Union, was a more pressing reason to silence the Saudi scion.

As much as the families of 9/11 victims craved justice, it was infinitely more important to the U.S. political establishment to deny bin Laden an opportunity to publicly expound on his ties to the CIA and the CIA-funded Pakistani intelligence agency ISI when they were training and funding the “Afghan Arabs” who fought Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Letting people learn that 9/11 would likely never have happened if not for the CIA would have been…awkward.

Such is the fate of enemies of the state.

Last week, not so much an enemy but a man whose existence had become inconvenient, not exactly to the state but certainly to a cabal of powerful men including a former president as well as the sitting one, joined bin Laden in the kingdom of the dead.

The official narrative of billionaire accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s death shifted faster than a New York subway rider when a homeless guy plops down next to them on a hot day. First they said Epstein had been on suicide watch, then that he hadn’t. Prisons are full of cameras yet there’s still no video of Epstein’s death. Then, suicide watch or not, they claimed he’d been checked on every 30 minutes. Then more like every three hours. The medical examiner said his injuries were consistent with strangulation by a second person but then thought better of it and ruled Epstein’s convenient demise a suicide.

I tweeted the morning of Epstein’s passing: “Bill Clinton is the happiest man in America today.” Clinton flew on Epstein’s infamous “Lolita Express” private jet at least six times, including to such sex-tourism destinations as Thailand and Hong Kong. Perhaps he refrained from partaking of the underaged prostitutes and rape victims Epstein stands accused of procuring for his traveling companions. Whatever happened or didn’t, the Epstein-Clinton connection is sketchy as hell.

As is Epstein’s suicide—the first at the Manhattan Correctional Facility since 1998.

At this writing it seems unlikely that we’ll ever know who killed Epstein, whether it be himself or someone else. What we do know is that, if we take the government at its word, it was incompetent and negligent to an unfathomable extent. Being insanely stupid and lazy is its defense.

            Now we’re descending into the usual idiotic post-death-of-a-pain-in-the-ass debate between credulists (those who believe anything the government and its pet media say) and conspiracy theorists. Truth: no one knows anything. We weren’t there. The video was—but they deep-sixed that.

We don’t know how Epstein bit it but the fact of Epstein’s death tells us everything we need to know about America today. No matter what, Epstein died because the government let it happen. He was a ward of the state, the highest of high-profile prisoners, a man whose trial stood to expose extreme wrongdoing at the expense of numerous horribly violated victims, yet no one in charge took steps to make certain that he appeared at every hearing happy, healthy and alive.

The powers that be’s carelessness de minimis reflects their confidence that they shall never, ever, be held accountable for anything whatsoever.

So another man vanishes, few questions asked with many left unanswered—intentionally.

So it was with Moammar Khaddafi, the Libyan dictator who signed a deal with the U.S. to rid Libya of a nuclear program only to be blown up by one of Obama’s assassination drones lest he say too much about his relationship with the Bush administration.

So it was with Chris Dorner, the police officer who went on a shooting spree after he was fired by the LAPD, apparently in retaliation for reporting a fellow cop’s excessive force against a mentally-ill suspect, before being hunted down and killed in a cabin the police set ablaze with “pyrotechnic tear gas” cannisters.

So it was with Sandra Bland, the African-American woman beaten, jailed and supposedly suicided by the police for the crimes of failing to signal a lane change, sassiness and the likelihood she would have spoken out about being brutalized.

So it was with a bunch of Nazi war criminals who escaped judgment at Nuremberg.
So it was with Lee Harvey Oswald, whom the authorities couldn’t resist parading before reporters, without screening attendees like Jack Ruby for weapons.

More will die.

It’s better for those in charge.

(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.)

 

The Root Cause of Mass Shootings is the Rage of Alienation

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Mass shootings prompt simple explanations of the gunman’s motivation. At Columbine High School in Colorado, the killers supposedly snapped after being bullied. The guy who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was wild-eyed carrot-topped nuts. After a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online pointed to right-wing politics. Simple mental illness—if there is such a thing—appears to be the culprit in Dayton, Ohio. Also misogyny. But the Dayton shooter’s Twitter feed indicates the shooter liked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So right-wing media blames his progressive leanings.

And when there is no obvious explanation as in Las Vegas in 2017, when the mass murderer doesn’t leave a final message and doesn’t appear to have subscribed to extremist politics and was financially secure, but drank a lot and may have bought into Internet conspiracy theories, we shrug our shoulders and forget about it. But deep inside we believe there is a simple answer. We just haven’t discovered it yet.

Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles like the semi-automatic AR-15 used in so many mass shootings. But even if those guns disappeared overnight, gun-related massacres would still occur, albeit with lower body counts. Which would be nice, but it wouldn’t address the big question, the one we secretly ask ourselves after such incidents: where does the rage come from?

Flailing about in search of the enablers of personal mass violence (as opposed to state-ordered mass violence) is useful as far as it goes. The NRA and the gun lobby make money with every firearm purchase. Victims of mental illness go uninsured and thus undiagnosed and untreated. Hateful rhetoric, most common on the right and most recently epitomized by President Trump, legitimize the dehumanization of future victims.

In the beginning, though, is rage.

The blind anger that, like the medieval image of a succubus insinuating itself into a previously healthy brain, suggests that shooting a lot of people is either a solution or at least a satisfying way of venting, is the germ of the idea that leads to the first shot being fired at a military base, an elementary school, a country music concert.

The rage says: “I hate everybody.” It continues: “I wish everyone would die.” It concludes: “I will kill them all.”

I am mystified by the fact that so many people are mystified about rage.

I have been there. I have hated everyone. I have been so depressed that I didn’t care what happened to me. I was furious at how oblivious everyone was to my pain and how nobody cared about me. I wanted them to pay for it. Haven’t you ever felt that way?

Mostly it was when I was younger. In junior high school, when I was relentlessly bullied and beaten up and neither my classmates nor my teachers interfered—to the contrary, they thought it was funny—I fantasized about going to school and shooting everyone there.

When I was a junior in college, I spent finals week at the hospital due to a freak injury. Several of my professors refused to allow me to take a make-up exam because they were lazy, I got Fs and landed on academic probation, and the following semester one mean teacher gave me a C+ and so I got expelled. I lost my job, my dorm room and thus a place to live and wound up homeless on the streets of New York. Watching people go about their day, smiling and laughing and exchanging pleasantries and buying luxuries while I was starving, I despised them. Of course it wasn’t their fault. I knew that. What was their fault, in my view at the time, was their active decision not to engage in the struggle for a world that was fair and just, not just to me, but to everybody.

I imagine that most, if not all, homeless people feel that way watching me stroll down the street on my stupid smartphone. They hate me and they are right to hate me.

The NRA and the weapons business and Congress share responsibility, but what really causes mass shootings is the shooters’ alienation from society.

Why doesn’t America enforce mental health insurance parity? Because the American people don’t care enough to raise enough hell to force our elected officials to do so. If you have ever been broke and needed to see a therapist, you probably found out that they charge at least $200 an hour and that your insurance company probably won’t cover it—assuming that you have insurance. American society’s message to you is loud and clear: we don’t care about you. Go ahead and be insane. Die. Returning society’s contempt for you is perfectly understandable.

The so-called “incel” (involuntarily celebate) movement of men who hate women because they won’t sleep with them is a perfect example of society’s refusal to try to understand a legitimate concern. In 2014 an incel killed six people near Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer said in a video he posted before his rampage. In 2018 an incel killed 10 people in Toronto with his van.

Experts recommend writing laws to deny incels access to guns, shutting down their online forums so that they don’t work each other up, and improving their access to mental health care. Those may be good ideas. But they ignore the root of the problem.

Obviously no one has to have sex with anyone. Incels don’t have a constitutional right to get laid. But anyone who has ever been young and sexually frustrated (or old and sexually frustrated) knows that sexlessness can literally drive you crazy. Glibly suggesting to awkward or clueless or physically unattractive men to hit the gym and get their charm on is just as hopelessly naïve as Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. Feeling condemned to a life without love or physical companionship really truly sucks and we could start by acknowledging that.

Rage, I think, comes less from having a problem that feels hopelessly unsolvable than from the belief that no one gives a damn about you or your issues. People need to feel heard. People need to be heard.

Given how callous and unfeeling we are about so much suffering around us and among us, the only thing surprising about mass shootings is that they don’t happen more frequently.

(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.)

 

Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times: What You Need To Know

My lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times is a long, complicated story. The following is an attempt to bring you up to speed in digestible form.

I became the staff cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times in 2009. Unbeknownst to me, in 2014 the LAPD Pension Fund became the biggest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, parent company of the Times. No one at the Times told me to lay off cartoons about the cops, probably because my editors too were unaware of the secret deal. In 2015 the Times fired me at the request of the LAPD.

The LA Times’ Nutty Audio
I was walking from a Bill Maher show taping to dinner in West Hollywood in October 2001 when an LAPD motorcycle officer confronted me, handcuffed me and roughed me up, drawing a crowd of passersby. He wrote me a ticket for jaywalking. I had not been jaywalking. I filed an Internal Affairs complaint about the false arrest but nothing came of it.
Image result for charlie beckIn July 2015 a LA Times reporter informed me that the officer had secretly audiotaped my arrest, that the LAPD (actually, it was Police Chief Charlie Beck, see below) had given the Times (actually, to publisher Austin Beutner, see below) the tape and that the tape showed I had lied about being handcuffed and mistreated by the cop in a 2015 blog that was posted with a cartoon that I did for the Times about an LAPD jaywalking crackdown.
The sound quality is atrocious. It’s 6-1/2 minutes of static, wind and traffic noise. There is evidence that it was spliced or otherwise tampered with. The LAPD audio neither confirms nor denies my account, which was truthful. Nevertheless, the Times decided to terminate me AND to publish a libelous “Editor’s Note” to readers intended to destroy my reputation as a journalist so that I would never work again.
I had the audio “enhanced”—cleaned up so that voices and other sounds could be heard. The enhancement confirmed my version of the encounter, including a woman shouting “Take off his handcuffs!” at the officer. I sent the vindicating evidence to my editors at the Times. They ignored me.

The Times Doubles Down
Three weeks passed. During this time, pressure built on the Times to reverse their decision. Journalistic organizations, Times subscribers commenting on their website, letter writers and social media from left to right urged the Times to reinstate me. They refused questions from reporters at other press outlets, censored the letters and shut down online comments at latimes.com. Thanks to the enhanced audio, the Times knew it had libeled me in the Editor’s Note. Rather than issue a retraction and offer me back my job, the Times issued a second article, this one by the Times’ ombudsman, that doubled down on the allegations from the first article, which they knew to be false.

My Lawsuit
I waited seven months for the Times to do the right thing. Finally, in 2016, I sued the Times, its parent company Tribune, and four individuals for defamation and wrongful termination. I am determined to defend my reputation against these scurrilous smears.

Here are the individual defendants:

Austin Beutner
Image result for Austin BeutnerTimes publisher at the time, hedge-fund multi-billionaire Austin Beutner was subsequently fired by Tribune for trying to orchestrate an inside-the-boardroom coup. Beutner secretly met with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who subsequently resigned in disgrace. At this meeting Beck handed Beutner the audio recording from 2001. Beck demanded that I be fired for criticizing the police in my cartoons; Beutner, Beck’s political ally and a man who’d like to run for mayor or governor, complied. (The Times still hasn’t told readers where the audio came from.) Beutner is currently the superintendent of the Los Angeles public school district, the largest in the country. His refusal to give teachers a raise prompted an acrimonious walkout by educators.

Nicholas Goldberg
Image result for nick goldberg la timesTimes editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, a middle manager, appears not to have been trusted with inside knowledge of the high-level conspiracy between Beutner and Beck. It’s hard to know anything for sure before the courts grant discovery, but Goldberg’s role was likely limited to that of hatchet man: his by-line is on the Editor’s Note.

Paul Pringle
Image result for paul pringle la timesBypassing Goldberg, Beutner probably assigned Times investigative reporter Paul Pringle to look into my story. Pringle informed me that the LAPD was accusing me of lying and questioned me at length about what happened the evening of the jaywalking arrest. Pringle, who worked the “cop shop” beat for years and thus spent a lot of time with police, made clear that he believed the cops, not me. Among other silliness, he asked why the low-quality audio didn’t contain the sound of my driver’s license (made of paper) hitting the ground after the officer tossed it or the click of the handcuffs going on. He also wondered why there was no sound of me arguing with the officer; I repeatedly explained that I was compliant, that I don’t argue with cops. In order to determine the authenticity of the LAPD audio, he told me, he asked the LAPD if it was legitimate. Pringle won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism.

Deirdre Goebel Edgar
Image result for deirdre edgarUntil 2018 Deirdre Goebel Edgar was the “Reader’s Representative” of the Times. The reader’s representative is the ombudsman of a newspaper; though paid by the paper her duty is akin to Internal Affairs at a police agency: to make sure the paper is upholding journalism’s highest ethical standards in service to readers. Indeed, in 2014 she authored the Times’ Ethical Guidelines. Among other things, the guidelines require that the subject of a critical story be interviewed at length, in person, to give their side. Edgar wrote the second “doubling down” article in 2015 smearing me as a liar. She did not contact me.

The Times Hits Me With an Anti-SLAPP Motion
Image result for kelli sagerCalifornia’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law was designed to stop individuals and whistleblowers from being slammed by big corporations like real estate developers out to crush community activists by tying them up in court with frivolous defamation claims. After I sued the Times, Kelli Sager—a high-powered $715/hour attorney employed by such reputable enterprises as the National Enquirer to fend off legitimate libel lawsuits—hit me, a fired $300/week cartoonist, with an anti-SLAPP motion alleging that I was using my power and influence to deprive the Times of its First Amendment free speech rights. The Times is currently owned by Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, who is reportedly worth $7 billion. Soon-Shiong gets a lot of good press that he doesn’t deserve; he has continued to employ Sager.
Before the case begins, the anti-SLAPP motion must be resolved. First up: the trial court.

Superior Court
At trial court in Los Angeles, the Times filed a motion for summary judgement against me, arguing my claim to be frivolous. The judge at the time, who retired a few months later, denied the Times’ motion.
Switching tacks, Sager filed a motion demanding that I post $300,000 cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal fees in the event that it won anti-SLAPP and won a judgement that required me to pay the Times’ attorneys’ fees, because I live in New York and not California. The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Hundreds of people contributed to my GoFundMe. I posted bond. Every year I pay the bond company $1250 to hold the money.
After a blizzard of stalling tactics by Sager, Judge Joseph Kalin heard the anti-SLAPP motion in 2017. Just days before the second and third of three anti-SLAPP arguments, attorney Carney Shegarian abruptly fired me as his client. I do not know why. I quickly found a new attorney but Judge Kalin ruled that I had to represent myself against Sager in oral arguments.
Anti-SLAPP requires judges not to assess the evidence, but to assume that all the claims are true to see if the complaint has any merit. Kalin assessed the evidence, agreed that the audio enhancement showed I was innocent, and nonetheless ruled against me. He ordered me to pay the Times $330,000 for Sager’s fees.
I appealed.

Court of Appeal
Earlier in 2019 the Court of Appeal, also in Los Angeles, heard my appeal. Like Kalin, the Court of Appeal ignored the anti-SLAPP rule about assessing evidence. During oral argument Justice Elizabeth Grimes, seemed shocked when my attorney Jeff Lewis brought it up. Grimes ruled for the Times.
I appealed. The California Supreme Court accepts fewer than 5% of petitions for review so I was pleasantly surprised when they agreed to hear my appeal. Seven major First Amendment organizations issued amicus letters supporting my appeal to the state Supreme Court.
My petition was a “grant and hold,” which means it’s tied to the outcome of a related case, in this situation Stanley Wilson v. CNN. Wilson claims he was wrongly terminated and defamed by CNN as a ruse, with the real reason being race discrimination.

California Supreme Court
The high court ruled in favor of Wilson in a ruling that urges lower courts to grant discovery in anti-SLAPP cases, something that was denied us. That bodes well. We’re waiting to hear if the court remands us back to the Court of Appeal with instructions to rehear us in light of Wilson, or schedules oral arguments before them directly.
A favorable ruling by the Supreme Court would mean that the $330,000 judgement would be erased, we can begin discovery and, four-plus years after the fact, the actual case would commence.

Here is Exactly Why Congress Won’t Act on Gun Violence, Climate Change, Impeaching Trump or Anything Else

Image result for beauty is in the street I’m from Dayton so I’m thinking about this today: Why hasn’t Congress done anything to address our national epidemic of mass shootings, namely reviving the assault weapons ban? People—Democrats and not a few Republicans—ask me that all the time. I bet all left-leaning pundits get that question.

The answer is simple. But it’s not something most people want to hear. It’s the same answer I give to another question I get a lot: why hasn’t Trump been impeached?

Congress hasn’t gotten off its collective pasty lobbyist-fattened ass because the streets of every major city are not currently filled with millions of pissed-off people throwing rocks at store windows and who refuse to go home until Congress passes real gun control.

Democratic voters want Trump impeached. They want it—lackadaisically. They don’t want him impeached so badly that millions of demonstrators are willing to fill the streets of every major city day after day, night after night, turning over police cars and setting stuff on fire, until Nancy Pelosi begins impeachment hearings.

This is a fun game! You name an issue lots of people care about. I’ll explain why the political class is ignoring it.

For example: What with experts predicting imminent human extinction, 98% of Americans are worried about climate change. (Who are the 2%? Happy to die but too lazy to commit suicide?) So why isn’t the U.S. government doing anything about it? Because—yes, you’ve got it now—the streets of America’s major cities are not choked by millions of citizens up for breaking things and fighting back the cops 24-7 until the politicians do something to increase humanity’s odds of survival.

You may disagree with my answers on the grounds that breaking windows is mean to storeowners, that burning things generates toxic gases, that cops are scary or that it’s more fun to sit home watching TV or playing video games than to run around in the streets dodging tear gas. You can rightly point out that the United States has no organized left-wing political group, much less one on the grassroots level, capable of organizing a mass street movement. You can, even more rightly, point out that we shouldn’t have to take to the streets because it’s Congress’ goddamn job to fix the environment and get rid of our insane president and ban the sale of military-grade guns to inbred derps.

What you cannot argue is that I am wrong.

It is an irrefutable incontrovertible fact that, when the nation’s cities are clogged with millions of angry Americans demanding radical change day after night after day after night, who break stuff and refuse to disperse and fight back against the cops and are willing to get beaten up and sometimes killed for their cause, and it’s impossible to carry on business as usual, our worthless public officials will yield to their demands and do what’s right.

Until then, mass shooters will continue to terrorize our public spaces, SUVs will belch greenhouse gases and Trump will tweet crazy racist BS. Bad things happen because good people don’t force them to stop.

Wishing out loud for other people, like Congress, to do something is worse than worthless. It’s damaging. You’re abdicating your responsibility to act. If you trust in “leaders” whose history shows they can’t be trusted, you’re committing political suicide.

(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.)

 

Bernie’s Plan to Address the Retirement Crisis: It’s Good That It Exists. But It’s Not Nearly Enough to Solve the Problem

Image result for elderly homeless Two weeks ago Bernie Sanders announced his “right to a secure retirement” plan. The media didn’t notice, the voters didn’t care, no one’s talking about it. But the problem is huge and about to get huger. And the government isn’t doing jack. As I wrote a year ago in a column that no one gave a crap about: “Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire…The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s.” Make that 58.

For the first time, the elderly now account for one out of five suicides. Experts expect that number to rise.

Like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren wants to shore up the finances of the Social Security system by imposing Social Security taxes on all income brackets, not just the lower ones, and replacing the current cost of living calculus with a metric that more realistically captures seniors’ spending habits. But only Sanders has proposed a plan to address the millions of Americans growing into old age with inadequate savings and pensions as healthcare costs soar.

So let’s take a look at Bernie’s plan.

“Beyond implementing Medicare for All and expanding it to include dental, hearing and vision coverage, Sanders’s health care plan will offer seniors supports and services at home ‘without waitlists, asset and income restrictions, and other barriers,’” reported The Hill. Heavier reliance on at-home care is one of the way more advanced countries like France care for older people. Well into her descent into Alzheimer’s my French grandmother continued to live at home; an attendant did her cooking, cleaning and laundry. She only moved to the hospital at the very end. (She tried get out of bed to go to the bathroom, fell, hit her head and died.)

Caring as I am now for my mom, who also has Alzheimer’s, I have to say that dental, hearing and vision costs—though significant—pale next to the $60,000-a-year-plus expense of nursing home care. Sanders’ plan would not address this pressing need.

Sanders wants to improve wages and working conditions for America’s beleaguered homecare workers. This is desperately needed—for the workers. For the aged and their caregivers, however, this means increased costs. Though happier homecare assistants will presumably do a better job, it’s odd that Sanders includes this idea as part of a retirement security agenda.

Sanders would expand “the 1965 Older Americans Act that would seek to create a new office within the Administration for Community Living to study social isolation among seniors and its impact and provide grants to states and municipalities to address the issue.” Sounds like another opportunity for state governments to fritter away poorly supervised federal funds on higher bureaucratic salaries and to plug holes in their budget when what is really needed is a direct transfer of cash into the bank accounts of older Americans and their families.

Sanders’ plan is full of Band-Aids like that. He would “expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to guarantee heating and cooling assistance, bolster the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to combat hunger among seniors and cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent and curtail the practices of loan sharks to protect seniors from ‘scams and predatory financial practices and instruments.'”

Make no mistake: when you can’t pay your heating oil bill and it’s February in Minnesota, you’re happy for any help you can get. Meals on Wheels is awesome. Credit card rates are too damn high. The creatures who record your “yes” when a robocaller calls you so they can run up unauthorized charges on your cards should be drawn and quartered.

But this is such lame legislation and in such small portions. Anyone who still believes Sanders is unrealistically ambitious need only look at this stuff.

If politics is the art of the possible, Americans should realize that what’s possible is much, much more than they’ve ever been told by either party or the press.

Under President Hugo Chávez gas cost 7 cents a gallon in Venezuela. Chávez’s logic was unimpeachable: Venezuela was the hemisphere’s largest producer of fossil fuel. Why shouldn’t Venezuelans benefit from their own country’s natural resources?

The United States has quietly become the largest energy producer on earth. Not just the elderly—everyone in the U.S.—should be paying next to nothing for fuel. (Spare me the emails about the environment. We need to ditch fossil fuels yesterday but, until we do, this is about economic justice.)

No one—again, not just senior citizens—should go hungry in this, the richest nation on the planet. It’s simply a matter of reallocating resources from the super wealthy and lawbreaking corporations to individual people who need them more.

The average bank savings account pays 0.1%. Bernie’s 15% cap on credit card rates doesn’t go nearly far enough. How about 1%? Banks would still make a profit.

My takeaway: Bernie Sanders deserves credit for trying to turn the looming retirement crisis into a 2020 campaign issue. It’s long overdue. His plan is detailed, plausible and stands               head and shoulders above his rivals merely for existing.

But it’s weak tea. Even if it were enacted in its entirety it would still leave millions of Americans in coming years homeless and living in abject poverty. It doesn’t address the primary problem: paying for nursing home care that currently runs over $7,700 per month.

I wish progressives like Sanders would take a cue from President Trump in political negotiations: ask for the stars and you might wind up with the moon. Compromise with yourself in anticipation of your rivals’ complaints, ask for the upper atmosphere and you’ll likely get nothing much at all.

(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.)