What’s I’d Do as NYC Mayor

Who will replace Bill de Blasio?

            New Yorkers go to the polls June 22nd to choose their next mayor. They’re primaries, but whoever wins the Democratic nomination will almost certainly move into Gracie Mansion.

            Media coverage has focused on the fading fortunes of former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the dearth of progressives in a wide field and the new, confusing ranked-choice voting scheme. (I have a lot of doubts about ranked-choice voting, which I will enumerate in this space at another time.)

            A New Yorker by choice most of my life and, unlike Yang, a guy who moved back to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic while others were running for the exurbs, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the next mayor should prioritize and what I would do if I were in charge of the city. Most of my readers don’t live in New York. But most do live in urban areas. Many who live in rural regions work and shop in cities. So New York’s problems are your problems too.

Even more than in other cities, New York’s mayor is not a king. He has, for example, no jurisdiction or control over the five boroughs’ sprawling mass-transit system, which falls under the aegis of the governor. Public schools were only transferred to mayoral control 20 years ago; they were still locked down by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to the pandemic. To get elected you’ll need allies in one of the city’s three loci of power: the police, real estate or Wall Street. If you win, it’s a bully pulpit job.

To lead NYC you have to have charisma, the gift of gab and a strong work ethic—unlike Bill de Blasio. And new solutions for old problems.
            Here’s what I’d do:

            Homelessness, a perennial problem and perhaps the most glaring failure of capitalism, has exploded over the last year. 80,000 New Yorkers are homeless—1% of the population. It’s shameful. Even if you don’t care about human misery, homelessness affects everyone else. Mentally-ill homeless people contribute to street crime and drive down property values. Let’s get our brothers and sisters off the streets.

            While our fellow citizens are sleeping on filthy, freezing cold or blazing hot sidewalks, tens of thousands of apartments and single-family homes sit empty for no good reason. There are between 2000 and 4000 “zombie homes,” mostly single-family houses abandoned by their owners. 27,000 apartment units are being warehoused by landlords holding out for rents that are even higher than the city’s stratospheric current rates. These properties should be seized under eminent domain—don’t worry, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such transfers are constitutional—and transferred to the control of a new city agency dedicated to housing, treating, rehabilitating and training homeless people with the eventual goal of returning as many of them as possible to the workplace. Among the side benefits would be the fact that you need a mailing address in order to apply for government benefits and jobs, which would defray the cost of my rehab programs.

            With a paltry 17% occupancy rate for New York commercial office space, it’s a safe bet that millions of square feet of empty office space will be vacant well after everyone has forgotten about COVID. Space that remains empty more than 12 months after the end of coronavirus safety rules should be seized and converted when possible—residential space has to have running water and windows—to housing for the homeless and the poor. Interior former commercial spaces should be allotted to artists and musicians by lottery.

            Half of New York apartments are subject to rent stabilization. Rent stabilization should be replaced by rent control so that increases can never exceed the federal inflation rate, and should apply to all rental units.

Let’s add commercial rent control as well. Late-stage gentrification led to the weird phenomenon of “luxury blight” in places like Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and lower Fifth Avenue, where landlords holding out for insanely high-rent increases have been warehousing empty storefronts for years. Lower rents with limits on future increases allow entrepreneurs to take chances, experiment and make neighborhoods and cities interesting and quirky. In New York as in other cities, state legislators will need to approve commercial rent control tied to inflation.

New York has one of the nation’s most racially and economically segregated public school systems. The potential of students of color is hobbled by buildings that look and feel like prisons, outdated books and equipment and burned-out teachers—all due to insufficient funding. Upper-class “nice” white parents finance “their” schools themselves though they and their kids drive themselves crazy hiring fixers to game a byzantine school-application system that begins with pre-K; many couples flee for the suburbs after kids arrive. 52% of white parents fork a median of $44,000 a year for private secondary school, more than many colleges.

Warren Buffett said the easiest way to fix public schools would be to “make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by lottery.” He’s right. Ban private schools; assign children to schools by lottery and watch equity reign as it has in countries like Finland and Cuba. Both nations did it decades ago; their students radically outperform students in neighboring countries. The best way to incentivize the city’s wealthiest citizens to support higher taxes for public education is to force them to have skin—their own children—in the game.

I’m out of space, so here’s one final idea: deescalate the NYPD. New York is not a war zone, being a police officer isn’t that dangerous—your life is far more in harm’s way if you’re a roofer, farmer or logger—and citizens have the right to be served by cops who neither act nor look like members of a hostile occupation army.

New York cops should take a cue from one of the 19 countries where the police do not carry guns and rarely use deadly force even against violent suspects, or Japan, where cops carry sidearms but rarely use them. “The first instinct is not to reach for a gun—what most Japanese police will do is to get huge futons and essentially roll up the person who is being violent or drunk into a little burrito and carry them back to the station and calm them down. The response to violence is never violence—it is to de-escalate,” BBC journalist Anthony Berteaux reported in 2017. I’d start with training cops in the technique of “policing by consent”—obtaining compliance from the public by earning respect rather than instilling fear—and, if that fails, I’d take away their guns as well as their bulletproof vests.

Some may ask, since you have so many ideas, Mr. Smarty-pants, why not run yourself? You need millions of dollars to run for mayor and I don’t know how to get it.

Maybe someone will fix that problem.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

What You Do after Work Shouldn’t Cost You Your Job

Outrage erupts over 'Karen' who called cops on Black birdwatcher in Central  Park - National | Globalnews.ca

            The Central Park Karen is suing her former employer for firing her.

I hope she wins. Karening is gross. But it’s not your boss’ business.

            Amy Cooper became the object of an Internet two-minutes hate last year when she called 911 on a Black birdwatcher who asked her to leash her dog per the rules and told the police he was threatening her and her dog. Unfortunately for her, the guy’s cellphone video showed no such thing.

            The viral video was viewed more than 45 million times. Cooper was internationally shamed as an emblematic wielder of white privilege used to oppress people of color. The shelter from which she adopted her Cocker Spaniel two years earlier took the animal away. She was charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. She eventually got her dog back and the charges were later dropped after she completed racial-sensitivity training. The birder, Christian Cooper (no relation), declined to cooperate with the DA’s investigation.

            Amy apologized the day after her confrontation. “I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart,” Christian explained about his decision not to help the DA, saying he released the video to make a broader point about white society’s scaremongering about Blacks rather than Amy specifically. Yet Franklin Templeton Investments, where she had been a head of insurance portfolio management, decided to do just that, joining the pile-on in an epic display of corporate cowardice. “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton,” the company tweeted.

            You don’t have to approve of Amy Cooper’s Karen act, or consider the nuances of her exchange with Christian (“I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” he told her, which might well freak out a nicer person than Amy) to see the danger in allowing employers to become judge, jury and executioner for her conduct, which occurred outside work and was unrelated to her duties for Franklin Templeton.

Executioner is no exaggeration. A certain rabid segment of woke America believes that those who misbehave ought not to be allowed to hold a job and thus not be able to feed themselves or their children. Let them die.

            Speech, they say—and behavior—have consequences. Indeed they do. And it did for Amy Cooper. Her 911 call got her banned from Central Park and publicly shamed. For several weeks she worried that she might never see her dog again. The legal system considered her crime, deemed prosecution unlikely to succeed and settled for reeducation. The appropriate venue for sanctions, if any, is the justice system, not the workplace. Firing her was inappropriate. It ought to be illegal.

            It is easy to imagine a case in which conduct off the job becomes fair cause for workplace cancel culture. Because the Associated Press had known and approved of news associate Emily Wilder’s online activism criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians before hiring her, they should not have fired her two weeks after she began in response to a write-in campaign by pro-Israeli Republicans. However, if the AP had not been aware of her stance and she had been assigned to cover the Middle East, a clear conflict of interest would have made it impossible for her to report credibly. In that theoretical situation, the AP should have reassigned her to a beat where she could be perceived as objective, or let her go.

            All too frequently, workers are canceled by their bosses for engaging in speech that has no bearing on their job. A Berkeley, California restaurant fired one of its employees because he attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. “The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog,” read a sign on the hot-dog joint’s door. “We believe in individual freedom and voluntary association for everyone.” Unless you’re a white supremacist. Then you’re supposed to be unemployed and homeless.

            Bet that made the guy less racist.

            The January 6th Capitol Hill riot prompted another surge of amateur detectives matching attendees to workplaces with the goal of getting them fired. An insurance company lawyer from Texas, an adjunct professor from Pennsylvania and a Chicago real estate agent were among many who joined the ranks of the jobless after their presence at the pro-Trump protest was unmasked.

Liberals have also been victims of livelihood cancellation. In 2004 Lynne Gobbell was famously fired by Enviromate, a company that made housing insulation, for driving to work with a John Kerry bumpersticker on her car. Because employment is at-will, neither Gobbell nor the right-wingers who have been canned over their politics had redress to the courts.

            If the racist hot-dog vendor and the rest broke a law (rioting, trespassing, etc.), let the authorities file charges. If the hot-dog guy insults customers due to their race while at work, fire him. Except for egregious conflict cases—the Catholic Church shouldn’t have to keep you on the payroll if you blog that God doesn’t exist—employers should stay out of their workers’ outside-work activities. Free speech means nothing if you have to worry about losing your job, your health insurance and your home every time you open your mouth, carry a sign or say something on social media.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Liberals’ Bizarre Fear of an Unmasked Nation

Wearing masks inside cars now mandatory in Bengaluru, even if you're  driving alone | The News Minute

            During last year’s campaign Joe Biden promised to “listen to the scientists.” He repeatedly said his coronavirus-response policy would be “informed by science and by experts.”

On issues from the environment to teaching evolution in public schools to the public health response to the COVID pandemic, liberals often accuse conservatives of putting emotions ahead of facts. While recognizing that the scientific process of acquiring knowledge and putting hypotheses to an empirical test can and often does lead to shifts in consensus, we on the left claim to trust scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease specialist and unlikely media icon.

            After Dr. Fauci and other authorities like the Centers for Disease Control told us to wear masks, Blue America listened. As of late June 2020, 86% of Democrats wore a facemask whenever they left home, compared to 48% of Republicans.

Now scientific consensus has changed. But lefties are choosing to ignore the new reality—not that it’s new. Beginning nearly a year ago in July 2020 the CDC stated that wearing a mask outdoors was unnecessary unless one is less than six feet away from someone else. Aside from crowded events like rallies, sports and concerts, risk of outdoor transmission is lower than a rounding error; there has only been one documented case of COVID transmission outdoors, between two Chinese villagers.

Clarifying its long-held stance, the CDC said on May 13th that people need not wear a mask outdoors unless we are in a crowd of strangers, or inside with our “pod” of friends and family members. Masking outside is “optional,” Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told The Washington Post. Optional, as in unnecessary.

Let’s pivot toward hope. Nearly half of American adults have been fully vaccinated and Pfizer is vaccinating children ages 12 to 15. We can go outside, have fun and socialize within the new liberalized guidelines yet too many people remain traumatized and grimly coasting on paranoid inertia. “It’s the return of freedom,” said Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Weeks after the latest CDC guidelines were issued, however, normalcy and freedom are still in short supply in liberal bastions like my neighborhood in Manhattan, where Biden won 91% of the vote. In compliance with the CDC, I walk outside without a mask because it’s unnecessary. Moreover, I’m fully vaccinated. Rules require that I put one on when I go into a store or ride the subway.

Furrowed brows, glares and general stink-eyes still abound. My neighbors are ignoring the CDC as much as right-wingers in West Virginia did last summer.

One would expect attitudes to evolve with the passage of time but that hasn’t been the case so far. When a fellow tenant confronted me recently about my masklessness in the lobby—where I’d been alone prior to her arrival—I informed her that I’d been fully vaccinated. “Everyone in the building has probably been vaccinated,” she said, “but here we still wear them.” I asked why. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she replied.

At a full-serve gas station in Manhattan the attendant demanded that I put on my mask before giving me a fill-up. “We’re outside,” I pointed out. It was windy to boot. “The CDC says you don’t need a mask.” “I don’t care what the CDC says,” he told me. “I’m going to keep wearing a mask forever, like in Asia.”

Half-empty streets in majority-Democratic areas—where people are far more likely to get vaxxed—are still, CDC be damned, dotted with people wearing one or two masks on sidewalks where no one can be seen for hundreds of feet. Many of the bemasked will tell you that they been fully vaccinated. You’ll see people jogging down lonely country roads, riding bikes and driving cars while wearing masks.

“You can understand that when people have been following a certain trend for a considerable period of time that it may take time for them to adjust [to the new mask rules],” Fauci said May 21st. “So I would not say that that’s irrational. I’d say that’s understandable.”

Go ahead, wear a mask indoors if you want to despite being vaccinated. Wear one outside if you feel like it. However, you are—sorry, Dr. Fauci—acting irrationally. What’s the point of the jab if you behave the same way as a year ago when we wiped down our groceries, bleached our counters and wore plastic gloves out of since-debunked worries over surface transmission?

Masks have devolved from medical imperative to virtue signaling. According to a May 5th Ipsos poll 63% of even vaccinated Americans were still wearing masks, outdoors down from 74% in April but still a surprisingly high number. That number ticked up to 65% the following week on May 11th. President Biden has begun appearing in public with his face fully exposed yet his supporters are not following his example.

What’s the harm in a fashion accessory that, as the vaxxed-yet-masked crowd informs you, merely tries to make other people feel more comfortable while also sending a subtle anti-MAGA message? It’s about thinking straight. Democrats can’t credibly claim the scientific high ground unless they adapt to the latest medical consensus.

You have the right to be anxious and illogical, not the right to be catered to. No one should wear a mask outside. Vaxxed Americans shouldn’t wear them at all.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter. Protests Matter.

Black Lives Matter protests: How focus differs between US and UK | UK News | Sky News

           Your opinion doesn’t matter—not by itself. No matter how heartfelt or important to you personally, your thoughts about Gaza or legal weed or the war on skinny jeans don’t mean anything merely because they reside inside your brain.

Your opinion matters only if you express it. Expression of an opinion doesn’t change anything unless it’s done effectively. Opinions expressed en masse, alongside others who share your views, are more likely to effect change—but that’s not enough to move the needle. What changes policy, what improves lives for the foreseeable future, what makes history on a radical scale, is a sustained mass movement that expresses an opinion so aggressively that the ruling classes are forced to change course or risk losing their power and privilege to revolutionary overthrow.

            American liberals and leftists have strong opinions on a variety of issues. But they express them on the couch or online rather than in the streets, where it matters. On the rare occasion when we venture into the public sphere, our protests are usually sporadic and unsustained, like the annual anti-Trump women’s marches with the pink pussy hats or militantly nonviolent, like the antiwar protests leading up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Neither had any effect. Leftie demonstrations rarely assume the dangerous character required to scare the powers that be: violent, or nonviolent while brandishing a credible threat of violence.

            Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were an exception, continuing every day for well over 100 consecutive days in over 500 cities, involving between 7 and 22 million people. Though mostly nonviolent, BLM demonstrations featured sufficient property damage and violence to lend the peaceful events a menacing swagger. Which is why BLM was effective.

Racist and brutal police are still a big problem. But BLM moved the ball down the field more than anyone would have expected previously. Defunding the police went from fringe to mainstream with cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco actually moving millions of dollars in their budgets. Chokeholds have been banned in dozens of cities. Confederate statues, the Stars and Bars at NASCAR, the names of sports teams and products whose names invoke the legacy of racism are biting the dust. Equity has become a policy priority for public educators.

            Liberals, progressives and leftists should take note of BLM’s successes and emulate their tactics for other causes. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1960s. Street activism works when it’s sustained—and a little dangerous.

            For the first time in memory a majority of Democratic voters tell pollsters they support the Palestinians in their struggle against apartheid in Israel and the brutal occupation and theft of land in the Palestinian Territories. Nice to see. But your disgust at the Israeli bombing of Gaza can’t be enough to help the Palestinians or pressure Congress to cut off the $4 billion in aid Israel receives each year from U.S. taxpayers. You have to fight for it.

            68% of voters want to add a public option to Obamacare. (And 55% want Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All.) The public option was one of Biden’s campaign promises but now he’s reneging. Two out of three voters is a big number, but Democrats won’t have to make good on their promises as long as we sit on our asses at home.

            63% of Americans say they want the minimum wage to go up to $15-an-hour immediately. Yet Democrats haven’t even announced a bill for their watered-down, half-hearted proposal to scale up to $15 by 2025. Biden and the Democrats talk to big-business donors and lobbyists, not you and me. Public opinion doesn’t matter by itself.

            Want the U.S. to use its enormous military and financial influence over Israel to force movement toward a two-state solution that emancipates the people of Palestine? Get out into the streets. Stay there. Be militant. Don’t stop until you get results.

            Want Congress to finally get serious about America’s insane for-profit healthcare system so that anyone who’s sick can see a doctor? Fill the streets of hundreds of cities for months at a time and refuse to leave until the corrupt fools in Washington see reason and let us join the numerous other nations who provide for their people’s basic needs.

            Want a living wage for anyone who puts in a full day’s work? Don’t just think it—do it. Go out there, confront the cops, refuse to be cowed, make everything stop until employers are forced to do the right thing.

            Last year’s BLM protests were fueled in size and intensity by the COVID-19 lockdown and high unemployment. Now that workplaces, schools and entertainment venues are reopening, it’s tempting to return to the ad-hoc passive activism of the pre-pandemic era. But wimpy succumbing to “free speech” zones to express grievances on the occasional Saturday or Sunday didn’t work then and it won’t work now. We need to rock the streets every day, hard, like it’s 2020 or 1968.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

No More False Equivalence: Israel Chooses War Over Peace

Israeli warplanes reportedly strike targets on Syria-Lebanon border; Israel on high alert over Syrian WMD - Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog | Fighter jets, Israel defense forces, Fighter

            No one is blameless in the ongoing violent conflict between Israel and stateless Palestinians. Both sides target and kill civilian noncombatants. But let’s put an end to false equivalence. “A pox on both houses” is not a morally or politically appropriate response to the one-sided war between Israel and Hamas.

            Israel wants war. If it wanted peace, it would have it.

Any attempt to assign all or most of the blame to one side in a long-running drama like the crisis in the Middle East is inherently pointless. No matter what arbitrary date or event in history you begin with in order to argue that it all started with this or that atrocity, someone can point to an earlier episode to which said act was a justifiable retaliation. Then there’s reality. Practicality and geography dictate that Israeli Jews and Palestinians (who are not all Arabs) have to live in the same country or (future) pair of countries are economically intertwined and therefore must figure out a way to get along. The question for them and for the part of the world vested in the issue is: which side has to compromise—and how—in order to achieve lasting peace?

            In any conflict between the strong/rich and the weak/poor the burden of compromise falls disproportionately upon the former for a simple reason. The latter have fewer concessions—financially, territorially, militarily—to make. The ongoing deluge of Israeli propaganda doesn’t obscure the obvious truth: if there is to be peace, Israel will have to meet the representatives of a future Palestinian nation-state 95% of the way.

            Israeli citizens have fallen victims to Hamas rockets. Every death is a tragedy. No one should die that way. Unlike its citizens, however, the State of Israel is no victim. In this struggle Israel is the clear aggressor.

Israel enjoys every advantage over its adversary. It has a seat at the United Nations, formidable moral authority created by its founding by the U.N. as a refuge for victims of the Holocaust and it has the most powerful ally on earth, the United States, which gives it $4 billion a year. Israel’s GDP is 13 times that of Palestine. The 15-year-old Israeli naval blockade of Gaza has driven the unemployment rate to a staggering 49%. Israel’s is 5%. Though many countries recognize Palestine as a state it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to travel between the three Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, much less overseas. Israel agreed to allow travel between Palestine’s noncontiguous regions in 2005 but has always ignored its commitment. Israel is a fully-integrated part of the international community.

Israel steals Palestinian land. “Israel’s settlement enterprise and related infrastructure, including roads that are off limits to Palestinians, cover approximately 42% of the occupied West Bank,” according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding. No Palestinian has stolen a single square millimeter of Israeli territory since 1949.

Israel’s F-35 jet fighters and sophisticated missile guidance systems reflect its extraordinary military prowess. Neither Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, nor Fatah, which runs the West Bank, has any air force. Hamas’ Qassam rockets are unguided pieces of crap that are easily intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. As a result, death counts between the two sides are always lopsided. In the summer of 2014 “more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians in Israel,” according to the BBC. At this writing 192 Gazans and 10 Israelis have been killed in this month’s battles.

            Regardless of where you stand on the existence of Israel as a Jewish state or who is more to blame (see first paragraph above), it is important for the sake of logic and reason to ignore the silliest and most intellectually bankrupt lines of propaganda used by the wealthy and powerful Israelis to justify bombing the desperately poor people who live in the most densely populated place in the world.

            Foremost among these is the human shield argument used to give cover to actions like destroying four high-rise buildings in Gaza that Israel claimed were used by Hamas. “Those buildings also contained homes and the offices of local and international news media organizations,” noted The New York Times. “The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields,” the IDF explained in a tweet, which probably doesn’t much miss the coverage of the Associated Press or Al Jazeera disrupted by the blasts.

            Occupiers from the Nazis in Europe to the Americans in Iraq always complain that resistance fighters hide among the civilian population. Why, they bitch, don’t these cowards put on proper military uniforms, build easy-to-see military bases and come outside to fight like real men? The question is so prima-facie silly that leftists dismiss it with an eye roll. But right-wing corporate media repeatedly gives the human-shield argument so much currency that it requires a direct response. So here it is.

            Outarmed and outmanned, indigenous resistance organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not “hide” within the civilian population. They live among the people, as Mao wrote in 1937, as a fish swims in the sea. Che Guevara echoed the sentiment, noting that “the guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people” or he will be ratted out to the authorities. Hamas fighters often are civilians, driving a taxi or teaching school during the day and fighting at night.

If an oppressed people like the residents of Gaza could support a regular army and had the manpower, training and materiel to construct and protect a military base, they wouldn’t be oppressed or occupied. Israeli troops couldn’t invade them. They could defend their territory from airstrikes and retaliate effectively.

If the Palestinians were able to fight “fairly” as the IDF and its allies in the media say they would prefer, they would be full-fledged citizens of a fully-sovereign Republic of Palestine, they would have a seat at the U.N. and none of this would be happening again.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

End Military Aid to Israel

Israel-Gaza violence intensifies – in pictures | World news | The Guardian

            Riding in the back of a truck into Afghanistan during the 2001 U.S. invasion, a journalist colleague from Russia who served in the Red Army during the 1980s asseverated that he was happy to be back in country. “Because this time,” he said, swinging his hands to indicate the swarms of refugees, bombed-out villages and nearby artillery fire, “all this shit belongs to you.” He pointed at me, the American. I looked around and immediately drew the obvious conclusion: we should get the hell out of Afghanistan.

That was 20 years ago. We were just getting in. But us being us—trying to win hearts and minds with corrupt proxies—and the Afghans being the Afghans—only able to agree on one thing, their intolerance of foreign domination—humiliating defeat and withdrawal were inevitable from the start.

            It would be impossible to overstate the advantages of not doing something, of not playing any role, of standing aside and allowing a situation to evolve or devolve without any involvement on your part. Like in the movie “War Games,” you win by doing nothing.

            This is a lesson that American foreign policy makers need to internalize more than any other. So do American voters, constantly tricked into lesser-of-two-evils conundra. We don’t have to vote for either lousy candidate. We don’t have to get involved in other countries’ politics or their wars. When all the options in a given situation stink to high heaven, the morally-correct choice is to sit on your hands and let someone else wallow in the morass.

            The latest ebullition of violence between Israel and Palestine makes the case for isolationism. Militant right-wing Jewish settlers encouraged and protected by the government of corrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are trying to evict hundreds of Palestinian families from homes they have owned for decades in East Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated future capital of a Palestinian state if one is ever established. The settlers argue in court that the land in question was originally owned by a Jewish trust and should revert accordingly. However, as The New York Times notes, the apartheid regime treats people differently depending on their ethnicity: “Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim ownership of land they vacated in 1948, but denies Palestinians the right to reclaim the properties they fled from in the same war.”

            The Israelis are brutalizing protesters and bombing Gaza; the Hamas government of Gaza is firing rockets into Israel. As usual, Israel is deploying disproportionately more violence: 67 Gazans and 7 Israelis have died so far.

The United States government sometimes pretends to be an “honest broker” in the Middle East crisis. Truth is, we have our fat thumbs on the scale and everyone knows it. The abyss between our yay-peace-and-democracy rhetoric and the reality of our foreign policy is a steaming pile of hypocrisy.

The U.S. turns a blind eye to Israeli violence and theft of Arab land, rarely lifting a finger to move toward a two-state solution while loudly decrying Arab violence against Israelis. The U.S. sends $4 billion a year to Israel—enough to give free healthcare to 1.4 million Americans if we wanted to. Joe Biden recently restored $235 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority that had been cut off by Trump—less than one-sixteenth of the package to Israel.

When the Israeli Air Force bombs apartment buildings full of civilians in densely-populated Gaza City, Palestinians get blown to bits using guided bombs and missiles fired from F-16s and F-35s made in Texas and California. The IDF targets street demonstrators in the West Bank with teargas canisters and stun grenades fired from launchers manufactured by a company based in Pennsylvania.

Israel’s mayhem is brought to you by America. Few Americans are aware of that. But Palestinians and Muslims around the world are.

Even if you support the existence of the Jewish state, and even if you think the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel goes too far, you should be able to view ending U.S. military aid to Israel (without boycotts or other sanctions) as a moral imperative. It would also be a smart foreign policy choice that would reduce global anti-Americanism as well as the chances of a future 9/11-type terrorist attack.

Contrary to Likud propaganda, cutting off military assistance would not create an imminent existential threat. Between the $85 billion of U.S. aid to Israel since 1949, its robust economy and closer ties to many of its Arab neighbors, there is little danger that this tiny, ferocious country would get pushed into the sea. And if that were to change, we could reevaluate the situation and resume funding—assuming Israel decided to try to make peace and were to cooperate with the establishment of a free and independent Palestine.

It is hardly surprising that Israel’s right-wing government cashes the blank check to do whatever the hell they feel like that we send them every year. The only way we can hold Israel accountable for repeated escalations, land grabs and ongoing brutality is to stop sending the gravy train. Will cutting off the cash change their behavior? Maybe. Whatever Israel decides to do on its own, however, it will do without our blessing and without our funding.

Often the best thing to do is nothing at all.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Burning a Police Station Led to Justice hi hi

            As people of good will celebrate or merely breathe a sigh of relief in response to the conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the videotaped torture and murder of George Floyd, it is worth noting that this victory would likely not have occurred had it not been for a spectacular act of property destruction.

            Yes, there was that damning video. True, the police chief testified for the prosecution. Those factors caused Chauvin’s rare conviction. But you can’t convict unless you indict first—and there was no move to indict Chauvin before city officials were scared into filing charges.

            Floyd was killed May 25, 2020. Three days later, demonstrators burned down the Minneapolis Third Precinct police headquarters, which had been abandoned by fleeing cops. On May 29, the next day after the conflagration, prosecutors announced charges against Chauvin.

            In October 2020 a right-wing “bugaloo boi” was charged with setting the building ablaze. But no one knew that right-wing infiltrators had been involved at the time of Chauvin’s arrest.

            Throughout the modern history of the American left there has been a raging debate between militant pacifists who believe violence has no place in the struggle for political emancipation and revolutionaries who think powerful institutions and individuals will never relinquish control or allow the radical solutions we need to our worst problems unless they face violence or the credible threat thereof.

            (Many on the left do not believe that destruction of property is a form of violence. Ignoring this question in this essay because it would be a distraction from the issue at hand, I use here “violence” as shorthand for any act of political resistance or protest which goes beyond physical passivity, including vandalism, arson, etc.)

            From the 1980s until the current Black Lives Matter movement, the pacifists won the argument. Marches against Reagan’s budget cuts and globalization, LGBTQA demonstrations and antiwar protests were coordinated with local authorities to obtain parade permits and internally disciplined by so-called, ironically violent “peace police” who separated violent pro-“black bloc” marchers from the cops. When I raised the temperature of my speech to the Occupy rally in D.C., shouting pacifist organizers dressed me down afterwards for what they believed to have been incitement.

            Everyone is for nonviolence as a tactic against oppression. Nonviolence is the dominant tactic to be used against a system we primarily oppose precisely because of its violence at home and abroad. But no one intelligent, no one who studies history, can deny that revolutionary change — the sweeping transfer of power from one class to another — has never resulted from the victory of a purely nonviolent movement. Indeed, the past 40 years of leftist activism in America, a period 99% characterized by nonviolent protest, is a case study in failure. Reagan’s destruction of the post-New Deal social contract was thoroughly internalized by presidents of both parties, including Barack Obama. Outsourcing American jobs and crushing labor unions is standard practice. We fight one war after another, none justified, all of them doomed efforts though we can’t admit it. We can’t even increase the minimum wage.

            No one knows whether the conviction of former Officer Chauvin will set a precedent that holds cops accountable for killing unarmed suspects in their custody. Personally, I doubt it. Very few police killings play out on video over nine minutes; defense attorneys can create a bucketload of reasonable doubt among jurors who wonder what they would do in the course of a few confusing seconds. As Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey pointed out before Chauvin was charged: “We are not talking about a split-second decision that was made incorrectly,” Frey said. “There’s somewhere around 300 seconds in those five minutes — every one of which that officer could have turned back, every second of which he could have removed his knee from George Floyd’s neck.” Frey called for Chauvin to be charged, but only after two days of rioting raised fears that the police had lost control of the city.

            That’s when city officials decided to throw Chauvin to the wolves in a trial with a surprising feature: the police chief testifying against one of his own officers.

            What we do know is that Chauvin’s conviction was a rare victory for a left unaccustomed to winning even when, as in the case of the brutal beating of Rodney King, the facts are not in question. We also know that that victory followed days of riots punctuated by a spectacular act of violence that terrified the powers that be into doing the right thing.

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

Biden’s Left Feint

            If you don’t dig deep Joe Biden appears to be governing as the most liberal president since LBJ. But conservatives needn’t worry. Biden is no progressive in centrist’s clothing. True, the president’s legislative agenda­—after the coronavirus relief bill, which was undeniably progressive—would expand the social safety net, increase direct aid to citizens in trouble and pay for this expansion of the federal government with tax hikes the way we leftists like them, on corporations and rich individuals—if passed.

Which it won’t. No one, Biden least of all, expects Congress to approve his big infrastructure or education packages. Recalcitrant Republicans and reluctant red-state Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia will probably water the proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill down to virtual under-$1-trillion insignificance. The $1.8 trillion education proposal, which would be funded by a capital-gains tax increase the GOP hates, is an even more desperate Hail Mary pass.

These bills aren’t serious attempts to legislate. Bidenism is a series of rhetorical feints, window dressing, kabuki theater designed to fail, just like Biden’s half-hearted dead-on-arrival attempt to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Since the Senate parliamentarian ruled against attaching it to the stimulus package, increasing the minimum wage hasn’t been heard from again.

The president’s agenda isn’t really an FDR-scale new New Deal. His true goal is to silence his party’s restive progressive base with so much slobbering lip service they won’t know how to hate him.

It’s working so far.

Biden had a front-row seat to the centrist-progressive split that tore the Democratic Party apart over the past quarter century. Though Bill Clinton’s politics of corporatist triangulation triumphed, early signs of trouble from the left emerged in the form of the anti-globalization movement and the 1999 “Battle of Seattle” that disrupted a meeting of the World Trade Organization. A full-fledged leftist rebellion began in 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street movement. OWS went after Obama and establishment neoliberal Democrats, setting the stage for Bernie Sanders’ surprise insurgency in 2016. Damage from that split hobbled enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, contributing to Donald Trump’s upset win five years later and a slate of presidential primary contenders forced to lean left in 2020.

Biden has drawn the lesson from Obama and both Clintons that dividing his party by stiff-arming the left doesn’t pay in the long run. His center-left incrementalist policy-orientations don’t much differ from his predecessors. But his style is friendlier.

Clinton had one progressive cabinet member, Labor Secretary Robert Reich, for a single term. Obama had none. Biden has appointed several. He populated second-tier federal posts with lefties and consulted with former Sanders and Warren staffers during the campaign. Now he’s pushing legislation that, though doomed, comes as a pleasant symbolic surprise to the progressives traumatized by decades in the political wilderness.

“The Biden administration and President Biden have definitely exceeded expectations that progressives had,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, leader of the democratic socialist “Squad” group in the House, told a virtual town hall meeting. “I think a lot of us expected a much more conservative administration.”

Biden’s approach is clever. Hey, man, we’re asking Congress for big, bold progressive legislation. It’s not our fault there’s a filibuster and a 50-50 Senate.

It’s tough for lefties to argue.

The president may not hold a royal flush. But he’s hardly making the most of the hand he has been dealt either. From immigration to the minimum wage to education there is no indication that the Administration is twisting arms or using its bully pulpit in the form of campaigning directly to the people in order to pressure his opponents—an approach used to great effect by Ronald Reagan even though Republicans didn’t control both houses of Congress, as Democrats do now.

Other members of the Squad see what Biden is up to. Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota wrote Biden to ask him to overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling to detach the $15 minimum wage from the COVID-19 relief bill; Biden refused. Omar slammed Biden over reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were planning to complete the gaps in “Trump’s xenophobic and racist” border wall on the Mexican border. Silence from the White House. Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts deplored Biden’s refusal to forgive up to $50,000 in college student loan debt. No luck there either.

Joe Biden plays a surprisingly progressive president on TV. But it is far from likely that he will leave behind a sweeping legacy that matches his rhetoric or his trial-balloon legislative offerings—not because he was beaten by Republican meanies, but because he never really intended to try.

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

Afghanistan Under the Taliban: It Won’t Be Like Last Time

Tandoori Pizza Afghanistan Kart-e-Now Branch Kabul | Tandoori pizza, Afghanistan, KabulWe’ve been in Afghanistan 20 years, Joe Biden’s generals told him. All we need is a little more time. The president overruled them, ordering a complete withdrawal of American troops by September 11th.

Madiha Afzal and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution articulate the opposition to Biden’s decision to call it quits. Remove the U.S. occupation forces that have maintained stability, they worry, and civil war will soon follow, culminating in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the return of the Taliban. They think it will be the late 1990s all over again: women back under burqas, stonings, 14th century Islam providing a safe haven for anti-Western terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

“The most likely outcome of any quick troop exit this year is very ugly, including ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter, and the ultimate dismemberment of the country,” Ms. Afzal and Mr. O’Hanlon write in USA Today. “No one can see the future, of course, but this type of outcome seems much more likely than any smooth transition to a new government run by a kinder, gentler, more moderate Taliban.” They urge a slower long-term drawdown.

I think they’re wrong.

I’m not clairvoyant. Yet I did foresee that the U.S. would follow the British and Soviet armies and meet defeat in the Hindu Kush: “We’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are,” I wrote from Afghanistan in December 2001, where I worked as an unembedded reporter for The Village Voice. “The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right—we’re not nation builders.”

Unlike the Brookings authors I’m more optimistic about Afghanistan without U.S. occupation forces than with them. First, whatever stability the U.S. and its allies have brought to Afghanistan is as artificial as the finger of the Dutch boy plugging the hole in the dike. The rural-based Taliban are like the sea, an inevitable force waiting to pour in. Whether or not we care for the end result, we can’t forestall the inevitability of a people’s self-determination at the cost of American and Afghan lives.

More importantly, the coalition presence has changed Afghanistan forever. When the Taliban ran most of the nation from 1996 to 2001, their draconian measures satisfied a desperate need for security in a place overridden with banditry, opium trafficking and addiction. Infrastructure was nonexistent: no phones, no electricity, no paved roads, no central monetary system. Afghans asked me to take their photos with my digital camera because no one owned a mirror; this was the first time in their lives they could see themselves.

Though security remains an issue, the coalition has built roads and highways throughout the country. We haven’t built a nation. But we have installed stuff. Cellphone service is more reliable and affordable than in the U.S. Cities like Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat are bursting at the seams with new construction. Access to the Internet is widespread in urban areas. Mineral and oil reserves, previously untapped due to lack of capital investment, are beginning to come online thanks to China and other countries.

Two decades of occupation have changed culture in surprising ways. Herat, in the northwest near the borders with Turkmenistan and Iran, was dotted with pizzerias when I was there in 2010. Young men in Mazar brazenly ignored strictures against drinking and eating during the daytime during Ramadan. I saw a couple making out in a park in Kabul.

The Taliban, or more precisely the neo-Taliban who have replaced them, are more moderate because they operate in a modernized environment.

Though they share their name and religious fundamentalism with their ascetic forebears who grew up in the madrassas lining Pakistan’s tribal areas, today’s neo-Taliban are sophisticated cynics, men more concerned with making money then enforcing sharia law. The Taliban burned poppy fields. The neo-Taliban profits from them. The Taliban first gained popular support in 1996 by killing kidnappers. The neo-Taliban runs checkpoints and ambush points where they seize victims and hold them for ransom. So while the world has just cause for concern about what happens next, we should understand that forthcoming evils will be new ones, not a simplistic replay of Taliban 1.0.

In a country where every gunman is for hire, the regime installed by the United States in 2001 relies far more on funding than direct military defense. With more than $12 billion in aid pouring in from last year through 2024, the government led by Ashraf Ghani could easily outlive most expectations. Still, it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. and its Western allies losing interest and cutting the cash flow after 2025, opening a power vacuum that the Taliban—which either fully controls or vies for control of 67% of Afghan districts—would fill.

Concern that Afghanistan will return to the barbarism of the late 1990s and that Afghan women will suffer dramatic setbacks is misleading because, in the rural majority of the country, the politics and culture of the late 1990s never disappeared. Women never stopped wearing the burqa and continue to be stoned to death, most recently last year in Ghor Province. Young boys are routinely raped, a practice to which American troops were ordered to turn a blind eye. Were the Taliban to return to national power, life in most of Afghanistan wouldn’t change.

Nor would the more liberal cities be greatly affected. Afghanistan’s economy generates nearly $20 billion in annual GDP. An incoming national government run by the profit-oriented neo-Taliban would be hesitant to interfere with the engine of that economic activity, the big cities and the “ring road” highway network that connects them. We would probably see a crude version of the “one country two systems” form of governance that China uses in Hong Kong: girls schools and tolerance for personal freedoms in central Kabul, sharia law and grinding poverty out in the sticks.

As demonstrated by their engagement in the Doha peace process overseen by the Trump Administration, the neo-Taliban want trade and formal diplomatic ties with other countries, something the Taliban could not obtain from 1996 to 2001, when they were totally isolated from the rest of the world. The need to maintain international connections would be a moderating influence, making worst-case scenarios like harboring extremist groups, ethnic cleansing and disintegration unlikely.

None of this is to say that Afghanistan will become a Central and South Asian paradise if and when the neo-Taliban come to power in Kabul. The corrupt and dogmatic neo-Taliban will likely function as an authoritarian narcostate with trappings of rough religiosity, like a hardscrabble Saudi Arabia that exports heroin. Afghanistan will present new challenges. But it will be mostly up to the people of Afghanistan—traumatized, energetic and influenced by 20 years of Western values—to address them.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the upcoming graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Destroy the Police in Order to Rebuild It

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            The killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop is the latest in a long line of high-profile shootings to have sparked widespread protests. As often occurs after these terrible incidents, politicians and editorial boards are floating ways to turn Robocop into Officer Friendly.

            The trouble with mainstream proposals is that they would nip at the edges of a systemic problem, assuming that the cabal of powerful police unions were to allow their implementation. Nothing short of completely destroying existing police departments and their methods will fix policing that is authoritarian, predatory and violent to its core. We must radically reinvent the purpose, personnel and posture of police officers if Americans seriously want to free people of color (and everyone else) of the abject terror they feel each time flashing lights appear in their rearview mirror.

            Many recent killings of Blacks by police followed stops or detentions over trivial matters. Brooklyn Center police said Wright was pulled over for an expired motor vehicle registration on his license plate; Wright told his mom the cop had an issue with an air freshener hanging from his mirror, a classic “pretextual stop” in which the police use a BS ordinance as an excuse to search for drugs or run plates for outstanding warrants.

The Texas state trooper whose arrest of Sandra Bland led to her death in jail three days later had a long history of zooming up behind cars so the driver would yield the lane and then writing them a ticket if the flustered motorist forgot to signal a lane change, as he did to Bland. George Floyd, whose videotaped asphyxiation under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer provoked outrage, was arrested after spending a counterfeit $20 bill. Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who famously cried “I can’t breathe” while being murdered by an NYPD officer in broad daylight, stood accused of the heinous crime of selling “loosie” individual cigarettes.

            None of these alleged offenses are the kind of cops-and-robbers scenario we watch on TV or the exciting manhunt for a dangerous criminal that makes kids want to join the police. Which makes them typical. A generic interaction between the police and a citizen who pays his salary is a traffic stop. A traffic stop is an attempt by the cop to bring money to municipal coffers: a smog inspection sticker is out of date, a headlight isn’t working, the victim made a bad turn or is driving too fast.

You could, and cops do, argue that these are issues of public safety. If the authorities really wanted to deincentivize reckless behavior, however, a fine would not be the solution. After all, rich people don’t mind paying tickets. Failure to keep one’s car properly maintained or repeatedly exceeding the speed limit could be sanctioned by non-financial inducements such as suspending the offender’s license. Cops care about making cash, not keeping you safe. They are literally highway robbers.

            If city officials need money, let them raise taxes. Policing should have nothing to do with revenue enhancement.

            Whether the police resort to physical force ought to be directly connected to the level of violence of the suspected crime. Depriving the City of New York of tax revenue and local merchants of the opportunity to sell tobacco products was the most non-violent crime imaginable; if Eric Garner had walked away after being confronted by the police officer, the safety of New Yorkers wouldn’t have been negatively impacted in the least. The same was true about George Floyd’s counterfeit currency and Sandra Bland’s supposed failure to signal a lane change, as well as Walter Scott’s broken taillight. Scott, worried about a warrant for overdue child support, was shot to death by a South Carolina cop as he ran away. If these master criminals choose to flee, who cares?

            The purpose of the police should be to protect the public from dangerous people and things, period. The only time they should pull out a Taser, a nightstick or a gun should be when they or another civilian faces imminent danger of serious bodily harm.

            The police have become increasingly militarized, from command structures that copy the army down to calling their cops “troops” to accepting decommissioned military hardware from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to recruiting one-fifth of their members from the ranks of ex-soldiers. The blurred line between units that occupy war zones overseas and patrol our neighborhoods should be sharply restored.

            I would go further. Throw away the armored personnel carriers and bulletproof vests, yes, but also fire any cop who has been the subject of a civilian complaint about excessive use of force, whether or not their fig-leaf “internal affairs” division cleared them, and start from scratch. Police departments actively discriminate against applicants for being too smart, rejecting those whose IQs are “too high.” This is insane. Recruit liberal arts majors and intellectuals instead of lunkheads.

            At many police academies rookies are taught that their number-one job is to come home alive to their families at the end of each shift. That mentality breeds cynicism, insularity and the willingness to resort to violence even when it’s counterproductive.

            A good cop cares most about getting you home safe and sound.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the upcoming graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available for pre-order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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