Author Archives: Ted Rall

About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

Progressives to Democrats: We Are Watching the Way You Mistreat “the Squad”

Image result for aoc squad Strictly speaking, Nancy Pelosi is right. Led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the four Congressional freshmen known as the Squad are, by Beltway standards, relatively powerless—just four votes, as the speaker said. They chair no committees and head no broad coalitions that can be counted upon to cast yeas and nays at their command. Yet they are important—and not merely due to their formidable social media following.

Building on Bernie Sanders’ outsider progressive legacy in the Senate and his two surprisingly successful presidential campaigns AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are a symbol of the progressive challenge to a Democratic Party still controlled by Third Way/DLC/Clintonista/Rahm Emanuel corporatist right-wingers despite the fact that 72% of its voters are self-identified progressives.

Progressive voters are watching. Is there room for them inside the Democratic Party? The signs are hardly encouraging.

Left populist Democrats are still seething with disgust from 2016 when a DNC then chaired by Clinton hack Debbie Wasserman Schultz stacked superdelegates in favor of Clinton against Sanders, was accused of laundering money for the Clinton campaign, “forgot” to send party officials to count delegates and caucus goers in pro-Sanders counties and quashed pro-Sanders delegates’ speeches at the national convention.

During the fall campaign right-wing Democrats let progressives know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t need or want their support. Hillary Clinton announced a pivot from right to righter to appeal to anti-Trump Republicans. (There weren’t many of those.) She never considered Bernie for vice president or a cabinet position.

No one likes to be where they’re not wanted. So many progressives stayed home on election day that Trump won.

Rather than accept responsibility for their losing strategy, however, DNC corporatists blamed the progressives they’d treated like crap. Two months after Trump took office, they installed one of their own, Tom Perez, as DNC chairman. “Leading Democrats think Bernie Sanders’s wing of the party will come back into the fold — even without their choice of DNC chair,” Jeff Stein wrote in Vox.

Democrats won the 2018 midterms, taking back the House. The Squad rode that wave. These young women were young, unabashedly left, exciting. How would the establishment treat them?

Now we know the answer: like petulant children.

Pelosi should have expressed her annoyance at the Squad’s votes against a border patrol funding bill—imagine the audacity, they wanted increased protection of children and families—privately. Instead, like an idiot, she vented to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that the Squad was impotent aside from “their public whatever and their Twitter world.” An ever-opportunistic President Trump leapt into the intraparty fray with a troll tweet pretending to defend Pelosi and calling for the Squad to be deported to, in the case of the three members who were born in the U.S….where? No one, Trump least of all, knows.

Eager to slap a Band-Aid on her deeply divided party, Pelosi engineered the passage of a toothless resolution to censure Trump’s racist remarks. As I said last week in The Wall Street Journal, it was too little too late. “It’s [now] possible,” I wrote, “to imagine a not-so-distant future in which progressive voters leave the Democrats to form a new party—or stop voting entirely.”

A series of tweets by CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed that the moderates still don’t get it. “House Democrats appeared unified in their votes this week but I’ve spent the day talking to a bunch of them and many are extremely frustrated,” Tapper said. “Other House Democrats are conflicted about having to defend the Squad given things they’ve said and done. House Dems cited: talk of supporting challengers to incumbent Dems in primaries, AOC’s use of the term ‘concentration camps,’ anti-Semitic comments by Tlaib & Omar.” (According to dictionaries, AOC is right. Neither Tlaib nor Omar are on record saying anything anti-Semitic.)

Tapper continued: “Others noted that this week the House Democratic Caucus stood by a group that is not perceived as standing by them…We were there for them; they should stop attacking us.”

Only in the vacuum-packed chambers of our do-nothing Congress does a consequence-free resolution pass as being “there for them.” Pelosi, Schumer and other Democratic leaders should have notified Trump that he must resign at once, that there would be no more business of any kind, including budgetary, passed in Washington until he leaves office. Repeatedly demanding that House members be “sent back” “where they came from” is intolerable—yet centrist Democrats continue to tolerate it.

Human beings are social animals. We feel comfortable when we feel welcomed and run away when we’re greeted with indifference or disdain. I remember joining Mensa at age 12. I was excited to attend my first meeting. But when I walked in, it was a cocktail party. Everyone was old. No one talked to me so I left and never went back. We were all smart but that wasn’t enough to make me want to hang out.

Progressives and liberals may both hate Trump but that doesn’t make them political allies. As even right-wing Democratic Times columnist remarked: “It is simply a fact that leftists, as well as the generally disaffected, need to be courted just as moderates do.” But the establishment right-wingers in charge of the Democratic Party are not only not courting leftists, they keep actively snubbing and insulting them. They’ve even renewed the last election cycle’s “Stop Sanders” propaganda campaign. Stopping progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appears to be the raison d’être of Joe Biden’s last-second candidacy.

Democrats’ dismissive and condescending treatment of the Squad sends a clear signal to progressives: We don’t like you. Go away.

They will.

(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.)

 

It’s Up to Nancy Pelosi to Cave In

Image result for Nancy Pelosi AOC How should the Democratic Party resolve its civil conflict between progressives and centrists? Society has a simple rule. When an argument gets out of control, it’s up to the side with the most money, power and social standing to extend an olive branch. Even when kids are wrong, parents must make nice first.

In the workplace, a good boss knows that smoothing her employee’s ruffled feathers is her responsibility.

The same is true about international diplomacy. When a dispute between two nations becomes a crisis there’s a stronger chance of keeping the peace when the bigger, stronger, richer country makes the first concession. (The United States doesn’t see things this way, which leads to many unnecessary wars.)

The vast majority of Democratic voters are self-identified progressives. Left populist progressives like “the Squad”—House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—have millions of followers on social media, providing them with outsized influence beyond their status as incoming freshmen.

Yet the party apparatus remains under the control of the same center-right corporatist clique that took over in the 1970s. The DNC is chaired by Tom Perez, a moderate aligned with the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. They control party pursestrings, ballot access, debate invitations and the imprimatur of legitimacy in the media outlets they control, like The New York Times, NPR and MSNBC.

It’s easy to see why establishment Democratic leaders like Pelosi are irritated by upstarts like AOC and “their public whatever and their Twitter world,” as she recently sniped. But Pelosi is 79 years old to AOC’s 29. She’s worth $30 million; AOC has zero savings. As Speaker of the House she has sat in the room watching President Obama blow up people with drone missiles. AOC was tending bar.

Nancy Pelosi is a big girl. And she should act like one.

She should be mending the rift within her party. She should not be picking fights with someone young enough to be her granddaughter. It makes her look small. And it alienates progressive voters. When 72% of your party’s voters are progressives and you’re not progressive yourself, you have to step gingerly if you want to avoid a revolt that topples you from power. If she wants to preserve her and her center-right faction’s control of the party, Pelosi should make amends with AOC’s Squad in word and in deed.

Episodes from opposite sides of the electoral-political spectrum illustrate the foolishness of the Pelosi Democrats’ broadsides against insurgent progressives.

California and national Republicans had been wary of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he entered the wild gubernatorial campaign that followed the 2003 recall of California governor Gray Davis. GOP leaders thought he was too moderate. But Schwarzenegger climbed in the polls, party bosses embraced him and he won.

Faced with rising political stars within their party of whom they initially disapproved, Republican gatekeepers have been remarkably nimble at pivoting to adjust to the popular will expressed by their voters. They wanted Jeb! Bush in 2014 and 2015 but were happy to join the formerly dreaded Team Trump by 2016.

Faced with populist challenges, Democratic bosses stubbornly defend their preselected moderates against populist challenges from the left: Jimmy Carter against Ted Kennedy in 1980, John Kerry against Howard Dean in 2004, Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in 2016. They’re repeating the pattern now with Joe Biden.

What’s baffling is how the DNC alienates progressives in the general election campaign after it crushes them during the primaries. Uniting the party wouldn’t be hard: have the nominee support some progressive platform planks, pick a progressive as vice president, pledge to include progressives in the cabinet.

Center-right Democrats give progressives no quarter. They’re like Genghis Khan’s army, slaughtering with abandon, salting the fields, nothing left behind.

Hillary embodied this take-no-prisoners approach. After defeating Sanders—by repeatedly, overtly cheating—she offered no quarter. No offer of a veep spot. Even though they were popular with voters she wanted none of his ideas. She refused to hire Sanders’ campaign workers.

It mostly went unnoticed but Obama did the same thing, ignoring the progressive surge of John Edwards’ “two Americas” campaign during the 2008 primaries. Obama’s cabinet didn’t include a single liberal.

Dean and his supporters similarly found themselves left out in the cold after Kerry secured the 2004 nomination.

Considering the fact that snubbing the progressive base rarely works out for Democrats—it failed in 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004 and 2016—you’d think DNC insiders would rethink their strategy. It’s pretty clear that they would rather lose as a center-right party than win as a center-left one.

Pelosi’s open disdain for her party’s newest progressive stars continues this self-defeating tradition.

(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 Difference Between Liberals and Leftists

Image result for liberals vs leftists
Living as they do in a bipolar political world where politics consists of Democrats and Republicans and no other ideology is real, media corporations in the United States use left, liberal and Democrat as synonyms. This is obviously wrong and clearly untrue—Democrats are a party, leftism and liberalism are ideologies, and Democratic politics are frequently neither left nor liberal but far right—but as Orwell observed after you hear a lie repeated enough times you begin to question what you know to be true rather than the untruth. Sometimes it’s useful in this postmodern era to remind ourselves that words still have meaning, that distinctions make a difference.

Let us now delineate the difference between liberals and leftists.

Bernie Sanders votes and caucuses with the Democratic Party, campaigns as an independent and self-identifies as a “democratic socialist”—an ideology without a party in the U.S. but that draws comparisons to Scandinavia. His stances on the issues are left of center but American politics have drifted so far right that he’s really a paleo-Democrat—there’s no daylight between Sanders 2020 and McGovern 1972. No wonder voters are confused!

Liberals and leftists want many of the same things: reduced income inequality, better working conditions, more affordable housing and healthcare. There are differences of degrees. A liberal wants the gap between rich and poor to shrink; a communist wants no class differences at all. They’re very different when it comes to foreign policy: liberals support some wars of choice whereas leftists would only turn to the military for self-defense.

Reading the last paragraph it is tempting to conclude, as I used to and many people still do, that there is enough overlap between the two to justify, even require, cooperation. Liberals and leftists both want to save the planet and the human race from climate change—why not join forces to fight the polluters and their allies the denialists?

The Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is the ultimate liberal: a professor at Columbia, ex-chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and former chief economist for the World Bank. An op-ed he recently published in The New York Times provides a perfect illustration of why a lasting working relationship between liberals and leftists will always be a pipe dream.

As is often the case with screeds by smart liberals, there is a lot to like in “Progressive Capitalism Is Not an Oxymoron.” (Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes it is.)

Stiglitz correctly identifies the problem: “Despite the lowest unemployment rates since the late 1960s, the American economy is failing its citizens. Some 90 percent have seen their incomes stagnate or decline in the past 30 years. This is not surprising, given that the United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest levels of opportunity.”

He correctly apportions the blame on “wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking),” businesses like hedge fund management that do not create anything but profits and the legacy of Reaganism: “Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities,” Stiglitz writes. “We relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.”

Then: “We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad. We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.” Boom! This.

Liberals like Stiglitz and leftists like me part ways when the discussion turns to solution. As Lenin asked: What is to be done?

Stiglitz answers: “It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve.”

“Government action is required,” he says.

We need “a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed,” he says.

Follow the link. Read the whole thing. I’ve included all the meat.

Stiglitz knows what is to be done. Mostly, he’s right. What he wants might not be enough. But it would do more good than harm.

What he does not know is how to make his proposals happen. Like the politics of all liberals, his is a toothless musing, a vacuous fantasy.

He said it himself: “Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.” This late-capitalism death spiral will not cure itself. There is no world in which corporations and their pet politicians and corrupt media propagandists will “recognize the vital role of the state.” They will not regulate themselves. They will not create “a new social contract.”

They are rich and powerful. The rich do not wake up one day and say to themselves, “Time to stop being a selfish ass, I’m going to redistribute my income.” The powerful do not care that the weak are miserable.

Money gets taken away from the rich one way: by force. The powerful are divested of their privileges the same way: when they have no choice.

Liberals and leftists identify many of the same problems. Only leftists understand that real solutions require serious pressure on the ruling elites. The credible threat of force—for example, a peaceful protest demonstration that could turn violent—may be enough to force reforms. But reforms always get rolled back after the left stops watching. Ultimately the rulers will have to be removed via revolution, a process that requires violence.

Liberals do not demand change; they ask nicely. Because they oppose violence and credible threats of violence, they tacitly oppose fundamental change in the existing structure of politics and society. Unlike leftists they are unwilling to risk their petty privileges in order to obtain the reforms they claim to crave. So, when push comes to shove, liberals will ultimately sell out their radical allies to the powers that be. And they will run away at the first sign of state oppression.

If you can’t trust your ally, they are no ally 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.)

Political Cartooning Was Murdered. Here’s the Autopsy.

Image result for charlie hebdo massacre

A century ago newspapers employed more than 2000 full-time editorial cartoonists. Today there are fewer than 25. In the United States, political cartooning as we know it is dead. If you draw editorial cartoons for a living and you have any brains you’re working in a different field or looking for an exit.

You can still find them online so political cartoons aren’t yet extinct. But they are doomed. Most of my colleagues are older than me (I’m 55). As long as there are people, words and images will be combined to comment on current affairs. But the graphic commentators of tomorrow will be ad hoc amateurs rather than professionals. They won’t have the income and thus the time to flesh out their creative visions into work that fulfills the medium’s potential, much less evolves into a new genre.

With zero youngsters coming up in the ranks and many of the most interesting artists purged, our small numbers and lack of stylistic diversity has left us as critically endangered as the wild cheetah. The death spiral is well underway.

June 2018: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fired Rob Rogers, a 25-year veteran, for drawing cartoons making fun of President Trump. (Rogers had always been a Democrat.)

January 2019: Steve Benson, the widely-syndicated winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was fired by the Arizona Republic after three decades of service.

            May 2019: Gatehouse Media fired three cartoonists on the same day: Nate Beeler of the Columbus Dispatch, Rick McKee at the Augusta Chronicle and Mark Streeter at the Savannah Morning News.

June 2019: In one of the strangest offings, the New York Times fired both of its cartoonists, Heng and Patrick Chappatte, in order to quell criticism over a syndicated cartoon—one drawn by an entirely different cartoonist. The Syrian government thugs who smashed Ali Ferzat’s hands with a hammer in 2011 were more reasonable than editorial page editor James Bennet; the goons only went after the actual cartoonist whose cartoons offended President Bashar Assad. Nor, by the way, did the Syrian dictator ban all cartoons. Political cartooning is now and forever banned from the 100%-censored Times.

And of course in 2015 the Los Angeles Times, whose parent company had recently been purchased by the Los Angeles Police Department pension fund, fired me as a favor to a prickly police chief because he was angry at my cartoons. In 2018 the same paper fired cartoonist David Horsey for the crime of accurately describing White House press flak Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ looks as those of a “slightly chunky soccer mom.” As at a Stalin-era show trial, they forced Horsey to apologize before giving him the boot.

Individual cartoonists are under fire around the world. Only in the United States, “land of the free,” has the art form as a whole been targeted for systematic destruction by ruling elites and cultural gatekeepers. After decades of relentless, sweeping and never-reversed cutbacks there are now far more political cartoonists in Iran than in the United States. After terrorists murdered 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, a single publication in France, hundreds of U.S. newspapers ran editorials celebrating the power of cartoons; 99% of these hypocritical blowhards didn’t employ a single cartoonist.

American editorial cartooning didn’t just die. It was murdered.

Here’s how it happened/it’s happening:

Cartoonists were overrepresented in mass layoffs. Publishers fired numerous journalists. But they always came first for the cartoonists.

Scab syndication services undercut the market. A few discount syndication companies, one in particular, sold bulk packages of heavily discounted hackwork, undercutting professionally-drawn cartoons.

Publishers killed the farm system. The early 1990s marked the start of a vibrant new wave of “altie” political art by Generation Xers. Urban free weeklies carried our work but deep-pocketed dailies and magazines refused to hire us. Gifted young cartoonists realized they’d never be hired and abandoned the profession.

Social media mobs spook editors. Twitter and Facebook make it easy for six angry dorks to look like thousands of angry readers ready to burn down a newspaper over a cartoon. Cowardly editors comply and sack their artist at the request of people who don’t subscribe to the paper.

Prize committees reward(ed) bland cartoonists. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Alties like Tom Tomorrow, Andy Singer, Clay Butler, Ruben Bolling, John Backderf and Lloyd Dangle were reinventing American political cartooning. Their revolution would not be recognized. The Pulitzer Prize committee snubbed alties. (Though some have been finalists—me in 1997—no altie has won a Pulitzer.) Among the older traditional cartoonists as well, prizes usually went to safe over daring. Awards signal what’s acceptable and what’s not. Editors pay attention. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.

Legacy employers blackballed edgy cartoonists. Click data proves that controversy is popular. Faced with shrinking circulation, however, print newspapers and magazines played it safe and avoided controversy. Kowtowing to advertisers rather than the readers who drive circulation, publishers fired the controversial cartoonists—the ones whose work readers were talking about—first. Another self-fulfilling prophecy: the dull cartoons Americans saw in major outlets like USA Today elicited little response from readers. They weren’t missed after they vanished.

Billionaire newspaper “saviors” refuse to hire cartoonists. When billionaires buy papers they invest in reporters and editors. Not cartoonists. One exception is Sheldon Adelson, who hired Mike Ramirez at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But 90% of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway-owned newspapers employ zero cartoonists. Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the LA Times after they fired Horsey and me; his paper hired a bunch of underpaid Millennial writers but never replaced or brought back the two cartoonists. To his credit Jeff Bezos kept Tom Toles and Ann Telnaes on at the Washington Post, but he hired “dozens of reporters”—and no one new to draw cartoons. (Historically many newspapers have employed multiple cartoonists.)

Twee identity-politics cartoons are boring. Boosters sometimes point to sites for Millennial cartoonists as a bright spot. For the most part, these cartoons are flat, preachy and predictable. Right or left, political correctness is death to political cartooning.

Online media sites refuse to hire cartoonists. News sites like Huffington Post, Salon, Slate and Vox are heirs to print newspapers. None employ cartoonists. Don’t they realize theirs is a visual medium?

Cartoonists fulfill the market for crappy cartoons. Editors, publishers and award committees have made clear what kind of cartoons they are most likely to buy and reward. Jokes should be conventional, preferably derivative. Sacred cows must not be criticized. Patriotism is mandatory. Artistic styles remain frozen safely in the 1960s, when most editors were kids. Cartoonists have a choice: give the marketplace what it wants or go hungry. Many cartoonists produce work they know is beneath their talents, readers don’t react when they appear in print and no one takes note when the cartoonist gets laid off.

I love editorial cartooning. All I ever wanted to do was draw for a living. When I was growing up, political cartooning was clever and dangerous. Punk rock.

Now it’s Muzak.

Muzak is dead.

(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.)

At Harvard, Thoughtcrime on Crack

Image result for Thoughtcrime 1984

Eventually, tech theorist Clay Shirky has argued, so many people will have nude photos on the Internet that there will be no shame in one of them being yours. Privacy will no longer be necessary. It will be a halcyon time for politicians: no matter how much dirt your enemies dig up, none of it will stick because having done bad things and making stupid mistakes will be considered normative.

Eventually isn’t here yet. So in the meantime, people who are either too boring to have done anything wrong or so lucky that they haven’t gotten caught are deploying social media in a vicious online pogrom against those deemed politically incorrect. It’s Orwell meets the Salem witch trials via “The Lord of the Flies,” social justice warrior-style.

Thoughtcrime is already a prosecutable offense. A U.S. federal court has indicted WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange for thinking about, merely for what-if musing in conversation with Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, about hacking a government computer. The government admits there was never an actual hack. Undercover FBI agents entice young Muslim men into nonexistent terrorist plots in order to entrap them. An Ohio man on probation for possession of child pornography was sentenced to seven years in prison for a handwritten diary he had written for his own use that depicted rape and torture of children—disgusting but purely theoretical.

Coming of age pre-Internet I rest secure in the knowledge that most of my screw-ups and youthful indiscretions remain blissfully undigitized and unsearchable. I was wrong, I did bad things, hopefully I learned and won’t repeat the same ones.

People under age 35 or so don’t have that luxury. As Edward Snowden remarked, “They understand what it means to make a mistake, have someone with a smartphone in the room and then have it haunt you for the rest of your time in high school or college or whatever.”

If and when Shirky’s vision is realized, it won’t matter. Digital evidence of intemperate language and drunk texts and obscene selfies will be so widespread that their revelation will be met with a collective shrug. Until then, we will have cases like that of Kyle Kashuv.

Kashuv, 18, is the right-wing counterpart of David Hogg. Both men survived the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida and both got into Harvard College. Unlike Hogg, however, Kashuv is a right-winger and speaks at pro-gun rallies. Also unlike Hogg, it has been revealed that Kashuv spewed a bunch of racist and anti-Semitic slurs online when he was 16. After Kashuv issued a series of apologies, Harvard rescinded his acceptance.

Let that sink in: when he was 16.

Kashuv claims to have become “a better person.” Maybe, maybe not. But even if he hasn’t, even if he’s still and really a bigot, how are his private and political thoughts any of Harvard’s business as long as he keeps his racist BS to himself?

Harvard is extremely unforgiving of its prospective freshmen. They previously rescinded admissions from ten kids who shared dirty memes about the college on Facebook, and also famously from a woman who served time in prison for murder, because she didn’t reveal her record on her application. Why should she have to? She did her time. Let her study up and move on.

It is notable that Kashuv apologized at length, eloquently, repeatedly. The only way to fix bad words is with good words and he did that. Was he sincere? Only he knows that; frankly, that should be enough.

The admissions officers are punishing something even more ephemeral than thoughtcrime. Call it post-thoughtcrime.

Harvard is turning this guy away either because they suspect he is insufficiently repentant or, more likely, because they think that what he said two years ago was so awfully distasteful that he deserves to be sanctioned despite and after he recanted, reformed and (claimed to have) stopped being the person who wrote those racist and anti-Semitic comments. Thoughtcrime is sinister and invasive; post-thoughtcrime goes still further because it eliminates even the possibility of redemption.

This, Harvard College is telling the world, is not a young man, a tabla rasa whose future is unwritten. His racist comments at age 16 make him as forever toxic as Chernobyl, a filthy demon worthy only of scorn and contempt. Harvard chooses to believe that he is as he behaved at his worst, two years ago. They choose to ignore him as he claims to be now, better. The evil must be true; the good must be a lie. Apologies are worthless, merely the self-serving rhetoric of the justly condemned villain. There is nothing for Kashuv to do but slink away and die.

Social media comments about Kashuv applaud Harvard’s lack of mercy. It never occurs to the howling mob that someday they or someone they love might need and want some mercy themselves.

Harvard’s attitude is no outlier. It is an interesting iteration of a society that sentences criminals to the longest prison terms in the world—and they’re getting longer. If and when you get out, the system forces you to tell employers that you’re an ex-con—so you can never find a good job. In America all it takes to ruin your life is one bad decision.

Even in “1984” all that Orwell’s totalitarian state required of its citizens was to love Big Brother. Former dissidents cured of their heresies by terror and torture were permitted to live out their lives. The Party didn’t hold the fact they hadn’t always loved Big Brother against them.

(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.)

 

In Defense of Purity Tests

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            Supporters of center-right Democrats like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have a response to left progressives who criticize their candidates for cozying up to Wall Street banks and trying to execute innocent men: stop with the purity tests!

            The term is everywhere these days. “In the political world,” Alan MacLeod writes for FAIR, “the term ‘purity test’ has a very specific meaning, largely used by elites to chastise and attack the left, or to gaslight them into supporting more centrist or right-wing policies.”

Progressives should not fall for the purity-test smear. Voters have every right to demand certain standards of behavior and policy positions in exchange for their support. And so far, lefties have not asked for much: $15-an-hour minimum wage, Medicare For All, free college tuition, eschew donations by corporations. Yet even these modest attempts to nudge the needle to the left go too far for the Third Way/Democratic Leadership Council/moderates clinging to control over the Democratic Party.

Barack Obama is leading the charge. The former president and self-described “moderate Republican” recently argued that Democrats “sometimes creat[e] what’s called a ‘circular firing squad’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.” The word “allies” is interesting. Is someone who disagrees with you on important issues really an ally?

Here’s a typical use of the term from the June 6th edition of that most elitist of establishmentarian power-sucking publications, the New York Times: “In a contest where purity tests on the left have already propelled leading campaigns to disavow super PACs and reject money from federal lobbyists, is [accepting] tech money still politically acceptable?” The corrupting influence of super PACs is well-documented yet the Times wants us to think a politician can take their cash without being bought.

Framing is everything in politics and the “purity test” trope is one of the cleverest reframes in recent history. Describing the world as complicated—well, duh—the purity test narrative portrays politicians who fall short of the progressive Puritans’ impossibly high standards as victims of a shrieking mob. Virtuous attackers become fanatic Javerts, persecutors of minutiae. Corrupt, bloodthirsty scoundrels deserve our sympathy—and our votes.

Screw that.

Everyone—left, right, center—assesses candidates based on their personal metrics. Some are demographic: Is Mayor Pete too young? Is Bernie too old? Some are relatively arbitrary: Is Amy Klobuchar too mean of a boss? Is Beto too spazzy?

What right-wing Democrats call “purity tests” are what used to be called “standards.” They’re about ideology. And they’re valid.

Eighteen years into the losing war against Afghanistan, left-leaning Americans have good cause to question militarism and its enablers. Joe Biden voted for the Iraq War. He’s never even apologized. Bernie Sanders voted no when it was unpopular to oppose Bush. Why shouldn’t progressives conclude that Sanders is closer to them—not to mention smarter? Biden voted to kill more than a million Iraqis for no reason whatsoever; being held accountable for contributing to one of the biggest mass murders in history no more constitutes a purity test than voting against Charles Manson for mayor.

The Democratic tent has long included officials who oppose abortion. Now that states are passing bans against abortion that don’t even include exceptions for incest and danger to the life of the mother, however, Democratic presidential candidates like Harris and Julián Castro say that all Democrats should be pro-choice. Given how strident the pro-life movement has become and the fact that Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned, it’s hard to dismiss this as an inane “purity test.”

Don’t be fooled, progressives. You have the right to vote for, or against, any candidate you want, for any reason you want. Personally, I can’t support anyone who doesn’t oppose drones, Gitmo, torture, militarism, wars of choice and doesn’t support huge cuts in defense spending. I can’t support someone who doesn’t think saving the planet from ecocide is our top priority. I can’t support a person who doesn’t want to tax the hell out of the rich and eradicate poverty.

Center-rightists tell me that my standards are too high, that none of the current field of 24 presidential candidates can pass my test. They’re probably right. But it’s not my problem. It’s theirs.

(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.)

Corrupt Politicians Should Stop Whining About Being Criticized and Do Their Jobs

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            No.

I refuse.

I don’t care what they say. No way, no how will I make excuses for America’s lazy, morally bankrupt, ineffectual and cowardly politicians.

Believe it or not, asking we the people to sympathize with our crappy legislators has lately become a Thing.

Poor dears, they have so much on their plates! “Those in decision-making positions are often forced to make consequential judgments on incomplete information in a compressed period in an attempt to solve difficult and enduring problems,” Peter Wehner explains in a New York Times op-ed. “And the outcome of those decisions may well be determined by contingencies that are difficult to anticipate.” What BS. Wehner, who worked in three Republican White Houses, doesn’t explain that that “incomplete information” is no one’s fault but those very same politicians.

Beltway insiders say: “Personnel is policy.” George W. Bush’s war cabinet was so full of warmongers and militarists that it fell to a former general, Colin Powell, to serve as the token voice of moderation as the administration weighed war against Iraq. Bush’s decision to exclude pacifists from the ranks of his top officials led directly to the deaths of over a million people. Though he ran as a Democrat, Barack Obama didn’t appoint a single liberal or progressive to his cabinet. So, if there was no one in the room to point out the stupidity and injustice of bailing out the big Wall Street banks at the expense of millions of distressed homeowners and laid-off Americans, that was his own fault. It’s not like antiwar activists and Marxist economists send presidents straight to voicemail when they call.

Nevertheless the ruling political class—the very same people to whom we pay handsome six-figure salaries (and they whine that they’re underpaid) in order to solve the climate crisis, the rising inequality crisis and the crumbling infrastructure crisis yet never manage to accomplish a damn thing—want us to feel sorry for them.

            Cue the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”

“When I worked in the White House,” Wehner writes, “I was struck by how many decisions involved weighing competing goods while from the outside they seemed to be simple matters of right and wrong.”

Let me fix that for him. Not competing goods. Competing interests. In the corridors of power in Washington, decision-making is not a noble struggle to determine right and wrong. It is a cynical cost-benefit analysis about which powerful people and organizations are most important to suck up to.

Government by the people and for the people? Not any more. Today’s American political class no longer bothers to pretend that they serve us. They sound more like kings and queens: The issues are too complicated for us idiots to understand. The problems involve too many factors. You do your crappy $13-an-hour job; let us do ours, which we have done for decades and will do now and forevermore. Begone!

A video that shows California Senator Dianne Feinstein being confronted at her office by a group of children supporting the “Green New Deal” in February perfectly illustrates the arrogance of America’s professional politicians. It went viral with 2.5 million views on Facebook.

As soon as one kid starts to talk Feinstein interrupts: “Well, the reason why I can’t is there no way to pay for it.”

A girl replies: “We have tons of money going to the military.”

“Well, I understand that,” condescends Feinstein. “The United States government does a lot of things with the money and they’re important things.” (Play-by-play: That’s Feinstein tacitly conceding that the first kid is right, there actually is a way to pay for it but that money is for the military, not for a Green New Deal.)

A girl starts to remind Feinstein that the government is supposed to be for the people and by the people but the senator cuts her off again. “You know what’s interesting about this group,” she ’splains, “is I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected. I just ran…So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”

Whether the Green New Deal is or isn’t a good idea, it doesn’t take a PhD in environmental science to see that the planet is in deep trouble. We have to act. Congress has to act. Feinstein has to get off her ass and do something big, right away. It really is “a simple matter of right and wrong”—not to mention smart versus idiotic. Truth is, Feinstein is scared: scared of the military lobby if she tried to cut the Pentagon budget, scared of the energy lobby if she were to antagonize them. Complexity, competing issues, blah blah blah have nothing to do with anything.

“[Many Americans] believe that all politicians are knaves and fools, and that the system is endemically corrupt and rigged, and so (figuratively speaking) the village needs to be burned to the ground,” Wehner complains. “This is dangerous nihilism. But oddly enough, it is a function of expectations that are too high, not too low: It is rooted in an assumption that governing is easy, that if our leaders really wanted to solve all our problems, or if we elected people who did, they could.”

Many Americans are 100% right.

(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.)

Hacking Dirty Government Secrets Is Not a Crime

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British goon cops acting at the request of the United States government entered Ecuador’s embassy in London, dragged out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and prepared to ship him across the pond. After this event last month most of the mainstream media reacted with spiteful glee about Assange’s predicament and relief that the Department of Justice had exercised self-restraint in its choice of charges.“Because traditional journalistic activity does not extend to helping a source break a code to gain illicit access to a classified network, the charge appeared to be an attempt by prosecutors to sidestep the potential First Amendment minefield of treating the act of publishing information as a crime,” reported a pleased The New York Times.

At the time, the feds had accused Assange of hacking conspiracy because he and Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning allegedly discussed how to break into a Pentagon computer.

Bob Garfield of NPR’s “On the Media,” a veteran reporter who should and probably does know better, was one of many establishmentarians who opined that we needn’t worry because Assange isn’t a “real” journalist.

This being the Trump Administration, self-restraint was in short supply. It turns out that the short list of Assange charges was a temporary ploy to manipulate our gullible English allies. Now Assange faces 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act and a finally-concerned Times calls it “a novel case that raises profound First Amendment issues” and “a case that could open the door to criminalizing activities that are crucial to American investigative journalists who write about national security matters.”

Corporate media’s instant reversal on Assange—from rapist scum to First Amendment hero within minutes—elevates self-serving hypocrisy to high art. But that’s OK. Whatever gets Assange closer to freedom is welcome—even the jackals of corporate media.

May we linger, however, on an important point that risks getting lost?

Even if Assange were guilty of hacking into that Pentagon computer…

Even if it had been Assange’s idea…

Even if Manning had had nothing to do with it…

Even if Trump’s DOJ hadn’t larded on the Espionage Act stuff…

 Assange should not have faced any charges.

Included in the material Manning stole from the military and posted to WikiLeaks were the “Afghan War Logs,” the “Iraq War Logs,” files about the concentration camp at Guantánamo and the “Collateral Murder” video of the U.S. military’s 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad.

For the sake of argument let’s assume that Assange, without Manning, had personally hacked into a Pentagon computer and in doing so discovered proof that U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were guilty of war crimes, including torture and the mass murder of civilians for fun—and put that evidence of criminal wrongdoing online. Would Assange deserve a prison term? Of course not. He would merit a medal, a ticker-tape parade, a centrally-located handsome statue or two.

Even if Assange were “guilty” of the hacking charges, so what? The “crime” of which he stands accused pales next to the wrongdoing he helped to expose.

Good Samaritan laws protect people who commit what the law calls a “crime of necessity.” If you save a child from your neighbor’s burning house the police shouldn’t charge you with trespassing. Similarly if the only way to expose government or corporate lawbreaking is to steal confidential documents and release them to the press à la Edward Snowden, you should be immune from prosecution. That principle clearly applies to the materials Manning stole and Assange released as a public service to citizens unaware of the misdeeds committed under their name and at their expense.

Even among liberals it has become fashionable to observe that people who engage in civil disobedience must be prepared to face legal punishment. This is a belief grounded in practicality: individuals who confront the state need to understand that theirs will be a difficult struggle.

Over the past few decades, however, what was common sense has become perverted into a bizarre justification for oppression: Snowden/Assange/Manning/Winner violated laws, they knew what they were doing, that’s the risk they took, and so—this is the weird part—the Left need not defend them.

Yes, these whistleblowers knew (or ought to have known) that they risked prosecution and prison time. But that’s the way things are, not the way they ought to be. The project of a Left must be to fight for society and politics as they should be, not to blandly shrug our shoulders and accept the status quo. Laws should be rewritten to protect whistleblowers like Manning and journalists like Assange who expose official criminality.

Whistleblowers should never face prosecution.

(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.)

 

Campaign 2020: Why Joe Biden is the Least Electable Democrat

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            As one of the few pundits who correctly called the 2016 election for Donald Trump, it would be wise to rest on my laurels rather than risk another prediction, one that might turn out wrong.

But how would that be fun? Let the 2020 political prognostications begin!

The arithmetic of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries is repeating itself on the Democratic side in 2020: a big field of candidates, one of whom commands a plurality by virtue of name recognition—which implies higher “electability”—while his 20-or-so opponents divvy up the rest of the single-digit electoral scraps.

The Trump 2016 dynamic will probably play out the same way when Democratic delegates are counted at the 2020 convention. But the outcome in November 2020 is likely to be the opposite: Trump gets reelected.

Here’s how I see it playing out.

In 2016 there were 17 “major” (corporate media-approved) GOP presidential candidates. Famous and flamboyant, Donald Trump consistently polled around 30% throughout the primaries. That left his 16 relatively obscure rivals to fight over the remaining 70%. Considering that 70% divided by 16 comes to 4.4%, his runner-ups Ben Carson (14%), Ted Cruz (9%) and Marco Rubio (9%) outperformed the field. Yet Trump’s lead was too big. They couldn’t catch him.

Twenty-four Democrats are running in 2020. Here again, we have one really famous guy—it’s hard to get more famous than former vice president of the United States—plus the rest. In this contest, the odds of an upset are even longer. Joe Biden polls at around 38%, significantly better than Trump did. The remaining pie slice is smaller than Carson, Cruz, Rubio, etc. and gets chopped up into even more pieces.

Next comes Bernie Sanders—the early frontrunner, now number two—at about 18%, with Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg each getting about 8%. (62% divided by 23 equals 2.7%.) Although Sanders is suffering from his failure to follow my advice to move left, it’s also easy to see why progressives suspect another DNC conspiracy to screw him.

“Having many candidates is a standard Democratic Party tactic to draw down support for any insurgent candidate,” writes Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a candidate for Congress from south L.A. “When it was just Bernie vs. Hillary, all the anti-Hillary Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and they all went to Bernie. But now Bernie’s votes will be split with progressive icons like Warren and Gabbard, as well as with progressive-sounding corporate politicians like Buttigieg, Harris, and Biden.”

Here I will insert my standard disclaimer that the elections are an eternity away, that things can and will change, you never know what will happen, blah blah blah.

But as things stand at this writing, Biden will probably take the nomination unless he dies or there’s a new scandal.

After the summer 2020 conventions, the 2016 scenario diverges from 2020.

I tend to discount “blue no matter who” and “anyone but Trump” chatter from centrist Democrats who argue that this president is such a threat to everything good and decent about the world that everyone must set their personal preferences aside in order to vote the bastard out. Besides, many of the people who urge unity have no credibility. They voted for Hillary but if Bernie had been the nominee they would not have turned out for him. Progressives weren’t born yesterday. Tired of 40 years of marginalization, they turned a deaf ear to the Clintonites’ self-serving unity pleas, boycotted the general election and denied Hillary her “inevitable” win.

And here’s the thing: they don’t feel bad about it.

If anything the schism in the Democratic Party between the progressive majority (72%) and corporatist centrist voters has widened and hardened over the past three years. Both sides are intransigent: Hillary’s voters accuse Bernie’s boycotters of handing the White House to Trump; Bernie’s supporters point to polls that consistently showed he, not Clinton, could have beat Trump.

Progressives are still angry that the Democratic establishment cheated Bernie Sanders out of the nomination last time. News that they’re doing the same thing now has enraged them.

That includes progressives who plan to vote for one of the other progressives or progressives-come-lately. By any measure, Joe Biden is not progressive. He’s number one in the polls but far behind the aggregate total of his progressive opponents. (I omit zero-policy candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg and centrists like Amy Klobuchar from my back-of-the-envelope calculations even though their support includes some progressives.) The party is ramming Biden the corporatist down the throats of Democratic primary voters using classic divide-and-conquer.

It will work. The Democrats will emerge from this nomination fight even more divided than the last cycle. Like the Mad Queen at the conclusion of “Game of Thrones,” Biden will inherit the ruins of a party he destroyed.

Trump goes into 2020 stronger than ever. Republicans are unified. Democrats look like fools for the debunked Russiagate fiasco and like wimps for refusing to try to impeach him. The economy looks strong. If the president lays off Iran, we’ll be relatively at peace. In the Rust Belt swing states it’s not just Republicans who like his trade wars. Abortion will not motivate as many voters as liberals hope.

At the same time, Joe Biden is the worst candidate in the Democratic field, even worse than Hillary Clinton. Some progressives voted for her because of her history-making potential as first woman president and her role trying to make healthcare policy. Biden offers nothing like that for progressive voters. He’s a warmonger who voted to kill a million people in Iraq. He’s against Medicare for all. He undermined Anita Hill, pretended to apologize years after the fact, and then took it back. And he’s just another old white man. No one is excited about him.

Only one thing can defeat Donald Trump: a unified, enthusiastic, progressive front. Biden’s rivals should pick one of their own, drop out and pledge to campaign for him or her. OK, two things: Biden should quit for the good of his party. Of course neither of these will happen.

I currently predict that Trump will win bigly.

(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.)