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.)

Matt Bors Quits Political Cartooning

The news that Matt Bors is quitting political cartooning (though he will continue to work as a comics editor and cartoon in other formats) is a sad statement about the state of editorial journalism. In his mid-30s, a great draftsman who has received some of the profession’s top prizes, including a Pulitzer finalistship, Bors represented a possible future for American political cartooning. The fact that he decided drawing political cartoons was no longer worth his time — it’s not hard to guess that, like the rest of us, he watched his cartooning paycheck dwindle away to almost nothing — reflects poorly on the hundreds of editors at newspapers, magazines and websites who, day after day, choose not to run political cartoons at all, much less hire a staff political cartoonist to add to their stables of writers. Many of these editors are going to wake up someday, realize that editorial cartooning is dead and gone, and wonder what happened. They should look themselves in the mirror.

I was editor of acquisitions and development at United Media from 2006 to 2009. I signed Bors for syndication, we became friends, went to Afghanistan together in 2010. Things got fucked up between us when the LA Times targeted me for career termination in 2015. I miss talking to him about comics and politics. He is a smart guy.

Because he’s smart I’m sure he will go onto many bigger and better things. But I have to marvel at the fact that no editor at a newspaper, magazine or website ever called him to offer him enough money to keep a guy this smart and talented and passionate drawing political cartoons. That’s weird and one of the thousands of terrible decisions and non-decisions that have nearly destroyed journalism in this country.

My Predictions for Biden’s Probably-Truncated Presidency

            Beginning in March 2016 I repeatedly and almost famously warned overconfident Democrats—who ridiculed me for saying so—that Donald Trump would probably win the 2016 election. Days after Trump’s “softly sensuous” inauguration I accurately predicted the next four years: “Three scenarios show us what everyday life in Trumpian America will probably feel like: Third World dictatorships, prison and having an alcoholic parent.”

            “In a dictatorship,” I noted, “particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move.” Never have the American people obsessed for four exhausting years over a president as we did over Trump and his autocratic style.

“People who have done time will tell you that it’s important to study the guards, particularly the sadistic ones.” Like prison inmates, we studied Trump and his tweets and his strange corrupt family incessantly in a vain attempt to isolate the methods to his multiple madnesses.

            As I concluded in January 2017: “It’s never fun to be Cassandra.”

            Now it’s time to weigh in on what Joe Biden’s first — and despite his recent statement to the contrary, almost certainly only — term will probably look like.

            Spoiler alert: it probably won’t last four years.

            There’s a reason candidate Biden barely campaigned and almost never spoke extemporaneously, and that President Biden has only given one highly cringy press conference so far, a record low in the modern era. Biden, 78, is the oldest man to have taken the oath of office. And while a lot of 78-year-olds are physically vigorous and mentally sharp, Biden isn’t one of them.

Biden’s cabal of Obama-era handlers are doing their best to hide their fading commander-in-chief and his obvious-to-all-non-Democrats infirmities, running the country from behind the scenes. His media allies have sacrificed their last vestige of dignity in their heroic support for the Dems’ ridiculous “nothing to see here” narrative.

            As professional gamblers evaluate the president’s health and political performance, posted odds that he’ll remain in office through January 19, 2025—when he’ll be 82—have already plunged from 75% to 60%. My guess is that no one is more aware of Biden’s condition than DNC bosses. They would like Biden to hang on until after the November 2022 midterm elections, then step aside in order to allow Vice President Kamala Harris a year of incumbency, which could bolster her case for 2024.

Biden can still read a speech. But he is a husk, a placeholder leader like Pope Benedict XVI, who like Biden became pope at age 78. Benedict resigned at age 85, citing old age.

Following Trump’s bipolar rule and violent departure from office, Biden’s courtly elder-statesman style and successful passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill has him enjoying high approval ratings. But failures of commission and omission lie ahead. It’s mostly downhill from here.

The next major item on the Biden Administration’s legislative agenda is a $2.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Until recently building stuff seemed like one of the few areas in which a bipartisan grand bargain might be possible. Now, however, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has united the GOP in opposition. With DINOs like Joe Manchin of West Virginia going wobbly, it seems destined for outright defeat or, worse because it only pretends to fix the issue, severe dilution.

Voters judge presidential success and failure on two metrics. First, did the president correctly identify the problems people care about most? Second, did they fix those problems or at least do their best to try?

In part because they listened to progressives, Biden’s people wisely put money into people’s pockets to help them recover from the economic pain of the COVID-19 lockdown. As checks arrive this month, voters will feel warm fuzzies for the Democrats. But it wasn’t nearly enough. What happens in two or three months? Those single $1400 payments, a tiny fraction of a whole year of fiscal pain, will be spent and gone. The eviction and foreclosure moratorium ends June 30th. There is no indication that the White House plans another relief package.

Look for a long hot summer as complacency deteriorates into despair.

Biden’s presidency will likely crash on the shoals of the country’s numerous long-neglected problems. Legislation to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour will be tepid to nonexistent. The same goes for student loan debt relief. Biden promised to add a public option to the Affordable Care Act but there’s no sign of life there either. He talks a good game on racial justice yet offers nothing by way of forced federal reform of local policing.

If I’m right, the second two years of the Administration will belong to Kamala Harris as of 2023.

She is young, charismatic and relatively energetic. She will make the most of her historical moment as the first woman of color to hold the nation’s highest political office; the media will be on her side. But if history repeats itself by punishing the party in power Democrats will likely lose seats in the House and control of the Senate in the midterms, leaving her in an even worse position to get anything done in Congress. Nevertheless, she’ll be a formidable candidate in 2024.

As befitted him, Trump went out with a bang.

Biden will end with a whimper.

(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.)

 

           

 

China stands accused of stuff the US does

A recent State Department report on human rights abuses by China is remarkable for how almost every item is something that the United States does.

I’m adding my specifics in [brackets]:

“Arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government [drone assassinations, hit jobs like bin Laden]; forced disappearances by the government [Gitmo, domestic policing in which suspects don’t get phone calls or lawyers]; torture by the government [still “legal” when done by the CIA at Gitmo and black sites]; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions [every American jail and prison] . . . political prisoners [Chelsea Manning, 1960s radicals, Julian Assange, etc.]; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country [yours truly by LAPD/LA Times, every leftist too] . . . arbitrary interference with privacy [NSA]; pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring [Snowden told us all about it]; serious restrictions on free expression [crushing BLM and OWS], the press, and the internet [communications act, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members, and censorship and site blocking [social media outlets do this sometimes]; . . . severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom [talk to the Branch Davidians]; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; . . . forced labor and trafficking in persons [prisoners are coerced and forced to work for slave wages]; severe restrictions on labor rights [Taft Harley Act, Right to Work laws], including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor [kids under 18 work here].”

Demented Thinking About Joe Biden

Most Voters Believe Joe Biden in Early Stages of Dementia

            The president is suffering from dementia.

            I’m a cartoonist and a writer and I am most assuredly not a gerontologist. I did not go to medical school. If I am not an expert in aging and cognitive decline, how do I know Biden has dementia? The same way I and you and everyone else know things to be true despite our lack of credentials: experience and pattern recognition.

            I don’t need to be an ornithologist in order to identify a blue jay.

            I’m not a doctor yet I was right and my doctor was wrong when I told her I had a hernia and she said I didn’t; I’d had one on my left side in 1999 and this felt like that, but on my right. Knowing your own body sometimes counts for more than formal education.

            I didn’t go to NYU film school. Despite my lack of official accreditation in cinema I know, as do you, that Meryl Streep is a better actor than Brendan Fraser. We know this to be true because we have seen a lot of movies.

            When my car’s wheel well issues a rubbing sound that gets faster when I accelerate I know it’s probably an issue involving a) brake pads, (b) ball bearings (if the car has significant mileage) or (c) wheel alignment. I’m not a mechanic. But I’m 57, I’ve driven since I was 15 and had rubbing-something sounds enough to have learned what it probably means.

            When I watched Biden’s first presidential press conference last week I didn’t have to have an M.D. or Ph.D appended to my name to recognize the clear, painfully obvious signs of dementia. My mother died of Alzheimer’s a little over a year ago. The president looked and acted like my mom about two years before she died: valiantly struggling to hold it together, moments of lucidity and occasionally of brilliance alternating with terrifying brain freezes, random rambling in search of connection and reaction and cringy rhetorical crashes when the fremdschämen-o-meter shot to 11.

            It took five reporters a question and four follow-ups to make Biden understand that he was being asked whether he favored the elimination of the filibuster, a question at the top of political news since he came into office. Here’s what the commander-in-chief finally came up with: “If we could end it with 51 [votes], we would have no problem. You’re going to have to — the existing rule — it’s going to be hard to get a parliamentary ruling [my emphasis] that allows 50 votes to end the filibuster, the existence of a filibuster.”

            Abdicating journalism, corporate media outlets dutifully transcribed Biden’s response despite its glaring wrongness. Whether or not the filibuster-as-we-know it survives has nothing, nada, zip to do with a Senate Parliamentarian ruling. Paradoxically, a simple 51-vote majority could kill the filibuster.

Biden’s answer was, had to be—there’s no other possible explanation—the product of dementia. Pre-dementia, after all, Biden was as intimately knowledgeable about Senate rules and procedure as any human being on earth. He served 36 years as a senator and 8 years as vice president/president of the senate—a total of 44 years. Pre-dementia, there was no world in which Biden would have said anything so totally, crazily, amazingly incorrect. Not drunk, not asleep, not at all.

Dementia frustrates. As its victims’ inner life becomes harder to articulate to others, they occasionally lash out in disproportionate anger. We’ve seen this more and more with Biden, watching a famously affable guy with a patented aw-shucks grin deteriorate into nervous hardness and even rage.

            And dementia befuddles. It mixes your knowledge and memories and opinions into a blender; though you often sound OK what spews out of your mouth increasingly approaches randomness. That’s what happened to Biden during his presser. He obviously conflated two bits of news—the parliamentarian’s ruling that a proposed minimum wage increase be stripped from the coronavirus relief bill, which grabbed news attention, with the question about the filibuster. Vice President Biden would never have done that. Senator Biden wouldn’t have either. He knew/knows this stuff too well.

            Everyone forgets stuff. It happens more with age. What’s happening to Biden isn’t the occasional senior moment, nor is it stuttering—as Biden himself has said. Biden crashing and burning on a question about senate procedure would be like me messing up questions about Photoshop or Central Asia, two things that have been central to most of my life. If I start mixing up RGB and CMYK and Ashkabat and Astana, topics I know forward and backward and about which I am obsessed, that will point not to whatever-no-biggie but to worrisome cognitive decline.

Biden supporters who deny the visible signs of Biden’s mental deterioration are acting no more rationally than the Trumpies who made excuses for the former president’s crazy behavior. You can feel relief that Trump is gone and believe Biden to be an improvement while conceding that Biden isn’t up to the job and should step down in favor of Vice President Kamala Harris. This is the U.S. presidency. Good enough is anything but.

The fact that “Biden has dementia” is an RNC/Fox News talking point does not make it incorrect. Denying obvious truths—Trump is a racist jerk, climate change is real and caused by mankind, masks help fight COVID, Biden has dementia—makes you look stupid and silly and no one should listen to you.

Trump’s war against truth was toxic; his supporters and enablers undermined decency and logical rhetoric, essential foundations of civil discourse. Democrats who refuse to watch Biden’s dismal unscripted public appearances and who fail to question the president’s unwillingness to face the press at the same rate as his predecessors, and who omit mention of his frequent mental breakdowns, are no better than Trump and the Republicans.

(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.)

 

           

 

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