Ukraine War Lies Debunked

For Senate Dems Pushing Weapons for Ukraine, Neo-Nazis Not Top of Mind

            Even the wars that historians judge to have been noble and beneficial rely on popular support marketed and sustained by lies. Contrary to what the English government told its people during World War I, German soldiers didn’t bayonet Belgian babies in their cribs. The “cocaine” U.S. troops claimed to have found in Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s home was nothing of the sort. The Taliban offered to turn over Osama bin Laden – it was George W. Bush who refused to take him, because to accept would have denied him his excuse to invade Afghanistan.

As General and Director of British Military Intelligence John Charteris observed after World War I, “to make armies go on killing one another it is necessary to invent lies about the enemy.”

            America’s incipient proxy war against Russia over Ukraine is no exception to the rule. BS has been flying fast and furious as media outlets dutifully align behind the U.S. government war machine and the array of defense contractors that influence it. As usual, their purpose is clear: spook the American people into supporting a war in a country they hardly know anything about, take the side of a highly problematic regime and create a world of death and destruction for the benefit of greedy warmongers before the rubes/voters figure out they’ve been conned.

            Let’s take a look at some of the biggest lies being used to garner and prop up support for the Ukrainian government of President Volodymyr Zelensky:

            Lie #1: Ukraine is a democracy.

            Zelensky won the presidency in a fair election in 2019. But context is critical. The 2019 election was held in the immediate aftermath of a brutal coup d’état. In 2014 a violent mob comprising neo-Nazi extremist groups like the Azov Battalion and Right Sector, and covertly supported by the Obama Administration, forced President Viktor Yanukovych, democratically-elected and pro-Russian, to flee for his life.

            The new revolutionary government held an election in 2014, which Petro Poroshenko won. Zelensky is Ukraine’s second post-coup ruler.

            Here’s an analogy for Americans: instead of failing, Trump’s January 6th coup succeeds. Biden flees to Canada and, even though he lost, Trump serves a second term. Trump endorses Mike Pence in 2024. Pence wins that election. Is Pence a legitimate president? Is America a democracy?

            Democrats would answer no.. As do the 49% of Ukrainians, including many ethnic Russians, who voted for Yanukovych. They feel the same way about Zelensky, that he’s not legitimate. Which is why ethnic-Russian areas in the eastern Donbas region, Donetsk and Luhansk, declared independence and broke away from Ukraine after the 2014 coup, and ethnic-Russian Crimeans greeted Russian forces when they annexed the peninsula.

            To half its people, Ukraine doesn’t feel like a democracy.

            Lie #2: Ukraine is a free society.

            Ukraine is an authoritarian state with a veneer of democracy. Zelensky recently signed a decree ordering that all TV broadcasters in the country show the same exact government-controlled programming on every channel. “It’s important that the country has a unified information policy” under martial law, read the edict. This followed his banning of 11 rival political parties, threatening “a tough response” to politicians who disagree with him.

            Lest these repressive measures be excused as regrettable wartime excesses, Zelensky also banned three “pro-Russian” TV channels a year before Russia’s invasion “in order to protect national security,” his spokesperson said. An opposition politician and ally of the stations’ owner was locked under house arrest and accused of treason. Anti-government protesters in Zelensky’s Ukraine are brutally beaten and jailed. In May 2021 the mayor of Kiev said that Zelensky sent thugs from the Ukraine state security agency SBU to his apartment, where they demanded that he toe the line of Zelensky’s policies or else.

            “U.S. officials have long been fond of portraying Ukraine as a plucky democracy fending off the menace of aggression from an authoritarian Russia,” Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian Cato Institute wrote in 2021, before the war. “Washington’s idealized image has never truly corresponded with the murkier reality, but the gap has now become a chasm.”

            Lie #3: Ukraine is an ally that we have an obligation to defend.

            If Ukraine were a member of NATO, the United States would have a duty to defend it against Russia. But important members of the alliance like France and Germany oppose Ukrainian membership because it is riddled with corruption and not a full-fledged democracy. “In a 2020 analysis, Transparency International, an anticorruption watchdog, ranked Ukraine 117th out of 180 countries on its corruption index, lower than any NATO nation,” according to The New York Times.

            Ukraine is not a U.S. ally. It is in Russia’s sphere of influence every bit as much as Canada and Mexico are in ours. We have no historic or cultural ties to Ukraine.

            We have no legal or moral obligation whatsoever toward Ukraine.

            Lie #4: Russia’s attack was unprovoked.

            I’m not going to endorse Russia’s invasion. But arguing that the move was unprovoked is ridiculous. Ukraine wants to join the EU and NATO, a Cold War-era relic formed as a U.S.-led military counterbalance to Russian influence in Europe. Ukraine has been shelling the Donetsk and Luhansk breakaway regions for years, killing an estimated 14,000 people, mostly ethnic Russians. Not only is Ukraine on Russia’s border, it’s the same exact route Nazi Germany took to invade the Soviet Union during World War II. Ukraine is Russia’s most vulnerable border — and it wants to join a heavily armed, nuclear-capable alliance of states determined to destroy Russia.

            Imagine, if you can, Mexico trying to join a Russian-led military alliance. How would we respond?

            Lie #5: The neo-Nazi thing is overblown Russian propaganda.

            Zelensky is Jewish; he lost family members in the Holocaust. How, goes the argument that concerns about right extremism are mere disinformation, could Ukraine and its government be heavily influenced by neo-Nazism? Well, Barack Obama was Black. Why is the American police still full of racists? Because the president of a country can only do so much. He governs the country he inherits, not the one he wants.

            Ukraine has a long and infamous history of far-right politics in which Nazism and anti-Semitism play a starring role. While it’s true that Europe and the United States also have such nasty groups, no other country in the world has as many as a percent of the population. None legitimizes Nazism and fascist collaboration during World War II the way that Ukraine does. “Ukraine is erecting new plaques and monuments to Nazi collaborators on a nearly weekly basis,” The Forward reported last year. Stefan Bandera, a notorious Nazi collaborator, is a national hero with numerous statues in his honor. France had Pétain and Norway had Quisling, but both are officially condemned.

And certainly no other country in the world has police and soldiers openly serving as Nazis, drawing government paychecks while wearing swastikas and other fascist insignia on duty.

            Most Ukrainians, arguably an overwhelming majority, are not pro-Nazi. However, an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians, including Zelensky and his government, are highly tolerant — to an obnoxious, intolerable degree — of Nazis serving openly in parliament, controlling a substantial portion of the police and national guard as well as the military. They allow neo-Nazis to control the historical narrative of their country, even elevating traitorous anti-Semites to founding heroes who deserve statues in the streets of major cities.

Lie #6: We have to do something.

It’s a big world. Misery abounds. At any given time there are invasions, proxy wars, regional conflict, civil strife and illegal occupations on almost every continent. Yemen is on fire. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict grinds on. Afghanistan is starving. Those are three cases where the United States is involved, as usual on the wrong side. There are dozens of other conflicts in which the United States has little to no interest. The only reason we are involved in Ukraine is because the media tells us to be.

It is entirely reasonable to look at the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and decide that it’s simply not our business, that neither side is worthy of support.

(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.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

 

Why I Work for Sputnik

Western Balkans: Russia′s Sputnik skews public opinion | Europe | News and  current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.09.2021

           I have won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, been a Pulitzer Prize finalist, published more than 20 books and have seen my political cartoons and columns appear in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. So why do I have Russian state media as one of my clients?

            I’m on Sputnik News’ website—as a freelancer, not on staff—and a frequent guest on its radio feed for the same reason that former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and former MSNBC talk host Ed Schultz appeared on the now-shuttered RT America television network:

I’m a leftist.

            It’s an article of faith that the United States is a conservative country. But 38% of American voters prefer socialism to capitalism. That’s a remarkable figure considering this country’s history of suppressing the Left from the Palmer raids to McCarthyism to the methodical legislative destruction of trade unionism.

The American Left is bigger than you may think, and it’s growing. Yet leftist voices—antiwar, anti-capitalist, militantly environmentalist—are nowhere to be found in the mainstream, corporate-owned print, broadcast and online news media outlets consumed by the vast majority of U.S. citizens.

It doesn’t matter how entertaining or relevant or smart or funny you are. Communists, socialists, anarchists, left libertarians, deep-green environmentalists and populist progressives need not apply as opinion columnists, radio or television commentators. There isn’t even space in mainstream media for pundits who align with establishment progressives like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, whose ideas are indistinguishable from old-school liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.

Fortunately, some leftists found a home on RT or Sputnik. Conservative critics often accused them of being mouthpieces for the Russian government. But that’s not my experience of the Americans I know. They had their own opinions and found a platform where those opinions were welcome.

Working for Sputnik puts a target on your back. Even though I’m not on staff, Twitter and Facebook label links to my Sputnik cartoons as Russian state media. And in the current atmosphere of hysteria over the Russia-Ukraine war to which the U.S. isn’t even a party, reactionaries tar me with that 1950s Cold War classic, guilt by association. Just this week, for example, another cartoonist had the nads to call me “a traitor to American ideals and to democracy,” “Putin’s puppet, a Kremlin propagandist, and a useful idiot.” If this were the 18th century, I’d demand satisfaction from the cur.

Useful idiot, of course, is an insult popularized by fascists during McCarthyism. It is still used by the extreme right.

I’m curious: what would this neoconservative, who was in favor of invading both Afghanistan and Iraq and now wants another stupid war in Ukraine, have people like me do? Sit in silence forever?

Apparently, yes. If you’re on the “actual left,” with a worldview influenced by Marxist class analysis rather than identitarianism, no amount of talent or popularity will get you on the airwaves or into “respectable” print. Until last week, if you were a lucky leftist, you’d be invited to host a show on RT or appear as a guest, where—unlike on CNN, MSNBC or Fox—you’d be treated with respect, asked intelligent questions and given time to answer them.

Is it really possible that there are no insightful communist economics experts? No funny socialist editorial cartoonists? No sharp, telegenic, anarcho-syndicalist TV commentators? Of course such mythical creatures exist—they appeared on RT and, before it was deplatformed by Comcast and DirecTV in 2016, Al Jazeera America. The real reason for the Left’s lack of representation in mainstream media, one suspects, is ideological discrimination.

If “democracy dies in darkness,” as The Washington Post’s motto reads, why not allow all ideas to be discussed openly?

            Even cable TV’s most “liberal” channel refuses to air content to the left of the center of the Democratic Party. MSNBC fired left-leaning political talk host Phil Donahue in February 2003, at the peak of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq even though he had the highest ratings of any program on the network. Bosses blamed production costs. But an internal MSNBC memo worried that Donahue presented a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” and provided “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”

            “They were terrified of the antiwar voice,” Donahue recalled.

Twelve years later MSNBC fired feisty pro-worker talker Ed Schultz. He claimed that they fired him for insisting upon covering Bernie Sanders’ 2015 campaign launch speech. “You’re not covering Bernie Sanders,” network president Phil Griffin ordered Schultz.

 “I think that they were in the tank for Hillary Clinton, and I think that it was managed, and 45 days later I was out at MSNBC,” Schultz who died in 2018, remembered. Like other exiled lefties, Schultz landed at RT. “There was more oversight and more direction given to me on content at MSNBC than there ever has been here at RT,” he added.

            RT’s diverse team of commentators wasn’t limited to leftists. The roster included Hedges, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, “Star Trek” actor William Shatner, ex-CNN host Larry King, leftist comedian Lee Camp and right-wing pundits Dennis Miller and Steve Malzberg. Guests included academic experts, political activists and politicians like former Green Party presidential candidates Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, both of whom were marginalized by U.S. news media and denied spots in presidential debates.

The small sliver of American viewers who gave RT a chance encountered excellent production values and high-quality news and opinion programs that didn’t talk down to the audience. RT was unpredictable, entertaining and frequently more engaging than the three major cable news channels. It was nominated for five Emmys.

            Critics of RT and Sputnik, however, have complained that RT shines a spotlight on schisms in U.S. politics and society, for example “push[ing] divisive racial narratives, including stories emphasizing allegations of police abuse in the United States and highlighting racism against African-Americans within the military,” as The New York Times wrote in 2020. Since when, however, is the U.S. or any other government entitled to positive news coverage? If racism makes America look bad, don’t eliminate coverage of racism—eliminate racism.

            Opponents also deride RT and Sputnik’s news coverage as Russian government propaganda. Which is, of course, objectively subjective.

            On RT/Sputnik as on other outlets, bias is largely a matter of omission. In my experience what runs on Sputnik is fact-checked. But it shouldn’t be anyone’s go-to source for criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, any more than you should look to MSNBC for harsh takes on Joe Biden or Fox for sharp attacks on Donald Trump. One could argue, and many on the Left have, that “respectable” American news outlets have frequently worn their biases on their sleeves often, and are often accused of disseminating propaganda. The absence of thoughtful antiwar voices during false WMDs claims during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and denying coverage to Bernie Sanders come to mind.

            RT America shut down last week after it was deplatformed by Roku, DirecTV and cable networks in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Before it went dark on television, it had earned a sizable online audience. In 2013 the channel became the first to reach 1 billion views on YouTube, numbers driven in part by its willingness to cover third-party candidacies that no one else would touch and round-the-clock reporting on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

            The leftist Australian blogger Caitlyn Johnstone has frequently remarked that RT America and Sputnik News would have become instantly unviable had left-leaning voices been invited onto mainstream American media outlets. “There’s this bizarre, stupid notion people have accepted that socialist and antiwar voices should never allow Russian media to platform them, and should instead wait until they are given a large platform by Western mainstream media, and keep waiting, and waiting, and just keep on waiting until we all die in a nuclear holocaust,” Johnstone wrote. “If you have something important to say and you know it’s a true and helpful message, then it doesn’t matter if it’s the Russian government who’s giving you your platform or anyone else, because the message itself is intrinsically valuable.”

            I agree. When I tell friends that I’m on Sputnik News, an online radio service and news site accessible via the web and therefore less vulnerable to Ukraine-related cancellation in the United States than in Europe, where it is banned, some cock their heads and give that “Really?” expression. Those who check it out are impressed, surprised that the overall tenor of discussion is smarter and sharper than, say, NPR. Sputnik is still operational, with 57 million visits online in the last month. They grant me a platform for my ideas, which are discussed by an appreciative, well-informed audience. They don’t censor me. And they pay.

            Until the revolution destroys capitalism, leftists must compromise their principles in order to survive. I’ve never been published by a media organization with which I shared all of my political ideals. As a realist with bills to pay, where would I find a media organization with which I share most of my political ideals? I disagree with Sputnik about various issues; I also disagree with NPR and even with Jacobin, the socialist magazine.

            I would work for pretty much any media outlet that doesn’t constrain my freedom of expression beyond what I consider reasonable limits. (Sputnik has never told me what to say, which is more than I can say for many of my other clients.) But over the past 20 or so years, the media has been turning farther and farther to the right. Left voices, especially before 9/11, were occasionally allotted space alongside liberal Democrats on the opinion pages. I was one of them. Leftists sometimes appeared on cable news television. Again, I was one of them. So was Rachel Maddow. She survived, and thrived, by moving right into mainstream liberalism.

That tiny sliver of openness has vanished. Anti-interventionists rarely if ever—I would say never, but I can’t watch 24-7—appear on those panels of talking heads who discuss foreign policy crises; the acceptable range of discussion runs from pro-interventionist to more pro-interventionist. When is the last time you heard anyone on cable news suggest that the U.S. ought to stay out of an overseas hot spot entirely, that it’s not our business?

            All the Left needs for a fair shot at readers and viewers is one angel investor. But millionaires tend to dislike socialism. George Soros, bête noir of the right, funds Democrats, not lefties.

            This piece was submitted to The New York Times and The Washington Post. Both rejected it.

For leftists, Sputnik is still one of the few games in town.

(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.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Afghanistan, Not Ukraine, Is the Biggest Humanitarian Crisis

            Maybe it’s time to change the flag on your social-media avatar.

            To the extent that objective guideposts exist in international relations, the United States has no legal obligation to defend Ukraine. Ukraine, a U.S. strategic partner, is neither an ally nor a member of NATO. Nor is it in our neighborhood. Much as the Monroe Doctrine declares the entire Western hemisphere under American sway, Russia has long declared all the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, to belong to its “sphere of privileged interest.”

            Despite our newfound obsession with a nation two out of three Americans couldn’t find on a map last month, American journalists and ordinary citizens have been so moved by scenes of death and destruction that members of both major parties have quickly come together to declare that they #StandWithUkraine, want to welcome Ukrainian war refugees, favor sending advanced weapons to aid Ukraine in its defense and support an array of harsh sanctions against Russia so wide-reaching that they ban Russian opera singers, paralympians and cats.

            Headlines aside, Ukraine is not the most miserable place on earth right now. And the cruelest inflictor of human pain isn’t Russia.

It’s the United States.

            “Afghanistan has become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” Jane Ferguson reported in The New Yorker in January. “More than 20 million people are on the brink of famine.”

            “Afghanistan,” says the U.N. World Food Program, “teeters on the brink of universal poverty. As much as 97% of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line.”

            The afghani, the national currency, has lost 30% of value since the American withdrawal last August—a collapse so precipitous that the U.N. worries that a liquidity crisis is imminent. Money exchanges in major Afghan cities have ceased operations, portending a return to the cashless subsistence economy, based on barter, that prevailed before the 2001 U.S. invasion, when Afghanistan was officially designated a failed state. Imports, which make up a high percentage of consumer goods, have been soaring in price as unemployment has shot up following the cessation of international aid that accounted for more than 40% of GDP. UNICEF warns that up to one million children under age five may die from malnutrition and lack of essential services by the end of 2022.

            Schoolchildren are taught outside in the snow because schools can’t afford electricity for lights. Desperate Afghans are selling daughters and their own kidneys (going rate $1500) to survive.

            “U.S. politicians and media frequently treat Afghanistan these days like a TV series that had its finale in 2021,” observes James Downie of The Washington Post. “But Afghans’ suffering is very much ongoing, and American decisions continue to make it worse.” With all eyes on Ukraine, no one is paying attention to the graver situation in Afghanistan—even though (or because?) the spiralizing disaster there is largely our fault.

            1.4 million Ukrainian refugees have fled; 200,000 are internally displaced. Compare that to Afghanistan: 2.2 million Afghans have gone to neighboring countries in the last six months and 3.5 million are internally displaced.

 

            Even if we don’t exactly care about the people of Afghanistan, what about self-interest? It’s curious strange that we’ve already forgotten that an unstable, impoverished Afghanistan can pose a danger to the region and the world.

            Downie notes: “That famine is a direct consequence of the United States’ failure to create a self-sustaining economy there over two decades.” During the occupation we created a kleptocracy by dumping billions of dollars on pallets of shrink-wrapped $100 bills into the hands of corrupt government officials, connected oligarchs and warlords while small entrepreneurs were shaken down for protection money. “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” an American official told The New York Times, “was the United States.”

            Coverage of the Afghans’ plight, such as it is, focuses on the $7 billion to $9.5 billion held by the former Afghanistan government in U.S. banks, now frozen by the Biden Administration, which stubbornly refuses to recognize the reality of Taliban rule.

Biden wants to siphon off $3.5 billion of the Afghan funds to settle legal claims by the families of 9/11 victims, a bizarre stance given the fact that no Afghan national had anything to do with the terrorist attacks. The remaining monies, says the president, will only be released to the Taliban after they allow girls to attend school, guarantee universal human rights, form an inclusive government and promise to sever all ties with terrorist groups.

            The Taliban say they’re open to negotiations, but none have been scheduled.

            While the White House dithers, babies are starving to death in Afghan hospitals without medicine.

            Biden’s statements border on fantasy. “[The money] is not going to the Taliban; it is going to be used for the benefit of the Afghan people,” an anonymous White House official told the Post. The U.S. government couldn’t control the fate of aid money to Afghanistan while occupying with tens of thousands of soldiers. Now we’re gone, without a single embassy or consulate in the whole country.

            Like it or not, the Taliban is the government of Afghanistan. They will rule the country for the foreseeable future. There is no realistic way to help the Afghan people without recognizing their government, lifting sanctions and restoring the flow of aid money.

            Now, in the middle of an especially harsh winter in a mountainous country whose meager agricultural operations are disproportionately impacted by climate change, there is no time to lose. The U.S. should offer a helping hand immediately, without preconditions.

Give Afghanistan its money back.

We can set deadlines for the Taliban to meet U.S. benchmarks on women’s rights and other issues, stating that non-compliance will mean there will be no resumption of aid.

Even if the Taliban spend its billions carefully, it won’t last long in a country of 40 million people. Over the coming years, the U.S. has a moral obligation as well as a vested interest to help Taliban-ruled Afghanistan transition from a bloated welfare state dependent upon foreign aid to a modern, developing, independent economy.

            Whether or not we relate more easily to blonde European Christians than darker-skinned Central Asian Muslims, back-burnering the U.S.-made catastrophe in Afghanistan in favor of the more telegenic mayhem in Ukraine is unconscionable.

(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.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

 

How We Got Here: A Brief History of the Ukraine Conflict

The United States Is Reaping What It Sowed in Ukraine - Progressive.org           American media outlets characterize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as, variously and concurrently, the bloodthirsty act of a Hitlerian madman, part of an attempt to reconstitute the former Soviet Union and, predictably continuing the silently-debunked Russiagate narrative of the last six years, an assault on the concept of democracy motivated by President Vladimir Putin’s supposed fear that his own people might get jealous of the freedom next door. Senator Marco Rubio even implied that U.S. intelligence officials believe two years of COVID lockdown drove Putin nuts.

            Any, some or none of these explanations born of pure speculation may be accurate. None of them is as likely as something simpler. The fall of the Soviet Union was followed by three decades of nearly constant provocation and encirclement by the United States and its Western allies. Putin decided enough is enough; here’s where we draw a line on the steppe.

            Frenemies fighting the common threat of Nazi Germany, World War II concluded with Europe divided along the lines where the Allies and the Red Army met in 1945, with Germany divided between the two.

Proxy conflicts in which the Soviets took sides in Turkey, Greece and Czechoslovakia prompted Western European nations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a U.S.-run collective-security arrangement formed in 1949 under President Harry Truman. Famously, an attack against one member is considered as an attack against all. Weirdly, no one was bothered by the fact that World War I began in large part because of a similar set of entangled alliances.

The USSR retaliated by grouping the Eastern European countries under its domination under the Warsaw Pact. This 1955 alliance was structured as a direct response to NATO and organized the same way except that all major decisions were controlled directly by Moscow, whereas NATO theoretically required unanimous consent by its members.

The Soviet Union was disbanded in 1991. Russia, economically devastated, politically demoralized and militarily emasculated under the incompetent and corrupt presidency of alcoholic pro-Western President Boris Yeltsin, became merely the largest of 15 now-independent former Soviet republics. Russia has three-quarters the land mass and half the population of the old USSR.

The Warsaw Pact went away. Yet NATO lived on.

NATO’s website explains: “NATO endured because while the Soviet Union was no more, the Alliance’s two other original if unspoken mandates still held: to deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratization and political integration in Europe. The definition of ‘Europe’ had merely expanded eastward.” Toward Russia.

Russia focused inward, transitioning into capitalism. Yet the West and NATO acted as though the Cold War had never ended.

In 1991 NATO was far away from Russia. The post-communist Russian Federation was separated from NATO territory by Eastern Europe plus the former Soviet republics of Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, also former republics of the USSR. That soon changed.

Over the next 20 years all of the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe joined NATO, shrinking an 800-mile buffer zone by half. The Baltics signed up in 2004.

Moldova’s constitution guarantees neutrality so it will never join NATO, but its geopolitical status as a buffer state is relatively inconsequential. Belarus remains a staunch Kremlin ally. Which brings us to Ukraine.

If Ukraine were admitted to NATO, Russia’s buffer zone would vanish. In its place would appear a vast open corridor between Russia and Europe. Ukraine, the same route Nazi Germany used to invade the Soviet Union in 1941, resulting in the deaths of 27 million Soviet citizens — the same place where many Ukrainian locals greeted advancing German forces as liberators — would fall under the control of the NATO alliance. Russia’s enemy would be at its border.

The current Ukrainian government wants to join NATO. It came to power as the result of a U.S.-backed coup d’état. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, democratically-elected and pro-Russian, was deposed in a 2014 covert operation carefully orchestrated by the Obama Administration. “The United States had no right to try to orchestrate political outcomes in another country—especially one on the border of another great power,” Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute commented in 2017.

Adding to Russian anxiety, right-wing extremists, including neo-Nazis, played an outsized role in the 2014 Maidan uprising.

Now notorious anti-Semitic paramilitary groups like the swastika-wearing Azov Battalion have become an important component of the official Ukrainian military. As the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes, however, American media consumers are not being told about this. FAIR reports that a “crucial case of propaganda by omission relates to the integration of neo-Nazis into the Ukrainian armed forces. If the corporate media reported more critically about Western support for the neo-Nazi-infested Ukrainian security services, and how these forces function as a front-line proxy of U.S. foreign policy, public support for war might be reduced and military budgets called into greater question.”

The BBC reported back in 2014 that “ultra-nationalists, and their extreme right fringe, are a small part of the overall campaign — a subgroup of a minority.” But the leaders of the new government “have at various points seemed unable, unwilling or even afraid to rein in the radical right, who are mostly concentrated in an umbrella organization called Right Sector.”

Azov has grown since 2014. It has now become a movement with its own politicians, newspaper, even children’s camps.

Another far-right extremist group, C14, now controls Ukraine’s police and National Guard, according to Reuters. The Trump Administration considered declaring Azov and the Ukrainian National Guard a terrorist organization. Now, The New York Times reports, alt-right militants from France, Finland and other European nations are flocking to fight Russia alongside the Azov Battalion, whose ranks include soldiers wearing Nazi insignia.

Though Jewish himself, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has turned a blind eye to the neo-Nazis within his own government. So have his American allies. Sam Biddle of the Intercept reported last week that “Facebook will temporarily allow its billions of users to praise the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit previously banned from being freely discussed under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy.”

For Americans, an enemy of an enemy is always a friend. Unlike Russia, Americans don’t live next door to a country that welcomes Nazis into its military.

NATO repeatedly provoked Russia over the past few decades, most notably planning to place ballistic missiles in the former Warsaw Pact nation of Poland. “From what we have seen in recent years—the creation of a missile defense system, the encirclement of Russia with military bases, the relentless expansion of NATO—we have gotten the clear impression that they are testing our strength,” then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev observed in 2008.

Until last August, NATO and the U.S. had fully occupied Afghanistan—which borders the former USSR—for 20 years.

The United States portrays itself as a critic of aggressive militarism carried out by Russia. At this writing, however, Russia has one military base outside the former Soviet Union, in Syria. The United States has over 800 around the world. After the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Bush Administration rented military airbases from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia along Russia’s southern border, which it claimed it needed in order to wage airstrikes and deliver materiel inside U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

The U.S. took over the Khanabad base in three former Soviet republics bordering and near Russia: Uzbekistan, Bishkek airport in Kyrgyzstan, and the airfield in Kulob, Tajikistan. NATO forces set up a base at Termiz, Uzbekistan, and outside the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

The U.S. troop presence in former-Soviet Central Asia ended in 2014. But maintaining American military forces within striking distance of southern Russia is clearly still on American officials’ minds. In April 2021 the new Biden Administration reached out to the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan about using bases there.

            None of this is to justify all of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Still, it is impossible to accurately assess the current crisis in the far reaches of Eastern Europe without considering Russia’s motivations. After years of encirclement in a one-sided Cold War directed at Russia, a Ukraine that is anything less than at least neutral (or ideally an ally) is simply too close for Moscow’s comfort.

(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.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

It’s the Inflation, Stupid

18 Curious Facts You Didn't Know About Hyperinflation – Len Penzo dot Com

           Franklin D. Roosevelt, scion of one of the wealthiest families in American history, was worth about $67 million in today’s dollars. He attended the prestigious Groton boarding school, Harvard College and Columbia Law. He was relatable to the masses despite his privileged background. In the words of a PBS documentary, he was “a patrician who spoke the language of the dispossessed.”

            Bill Clinton, on the other hand, had every tool he needed in order to connect with ordinary voters. He grew up poor in rural Arkansas with his mother and abusive alcoholic stepfather. When he ran for president he was the lowest-paid governor in America, not even bringing in $40,000 a year. He deployed the common touch he picked up via his background during his successful election campaign.

As president, however, he succumbed to the D.C. bubble, initially prioritized the right of gays to serve in the military, and pushed a convoluted healthcare plan and disastrous trade deals like NAFTA that devastated what was left of the industrial Midwest. He won two terms at the expense of a future realignment; his cluelessness and cruelty planted seeds of frustration and rage that blossomed with the election of Donald Trump over Clinton’s wife. The Rust Belt, once a bastion of union-aligned Democrats, shifted into the Republican column in part because a president who grew up poor forgot where he came from while a later one who grew up rich convinced folks in flyover country that he felt their pain.

            You don’t have to be a member of the proletariat to earn their trust. You have to show them that you understand their problems.

            Because Democrats are failing to do that, they are headed toward disaster in the 2022 midterm elections.

            General David Petraeus wanted to “flood the zone” with American troops in Iraq. The same strategy is generally effective in electoral politics — bombard the airwaves and print with a steady torrent of consistent, on-brand, compelling messaging that sets the agenda for political discussion and forces your adversary to respond, thus unwittingly reinforcing your framing of issues and proposed solutions. Trump was a master at this. He would say or propose something dramatic or outrageous on Monday but by the time Democrats settled upon and began disseminating their counter-spin on Tuesday, Trump was onto the next act that would dominate the news cycle.

            The Biden Administration is a messaging vacuum.

            The president hardly holds any press conferences. He delivers few prime-time televised speeches. Messaging, when it happens, is outsourced to social media, press secretary Jen Psaki, allies and surrogates. Republicans and their media allies fill the vacuum; Democrats enable conservative framing by comparing themselves to former and possibly future president Donald Trump.

            When it comes to voters’ top concerns, the White House’s instinct is to ignore or deflect.

            Americans tell pollsters they’re more worried about inflation than any other issue, followed by immigration and the COVID pandemic. Both Democrats and Republicans say the economy is getting worse.

            But voters aren’t hearing much about those issues from Democrats. Biden is instead focused on Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, defending a drug treatment program that Republicans claim would distribute free crack pipes at taxpayer expense and complaining that the GOP is blocking his nominees to the Federal Reserve Board.

            Guess how many people care about the Fed nominations.

Voters support Biden’s Ukraine policy, which boils down to stern disapproval coupled with more sanctions. But they need to hear about inflation. They need the administration to stop trying to change the subject to job creation: “If you can’t remember another year when so many people went to work in this country, there’s a reason: It never happened,” Biden said last week. He’s right. It has never been easier to find a job or to demand a raise. But what good is a raise that gets eaten up by inflation?

People need to hear, as they did during Roosevelt’s fireside chats, that the president recognizes the issues that afflict their lives. They need the president to explain what’s going on and hear a list of credible actions he is undertaking to fix those problems. Unfortunately for the Democrats, neither the president nor leading officials are doing that.

No wonder his approval numbers continue to decline. A CBS/YouGov poll showed that 58% of Americans said that Biden wasn’t focusing enough on the economy; 65% said this about inflation. Only 33% said that Biden and the Democrats are focusing on issues they care about most.

When he does deign to discuss inflation, the president appears out of touch. In December, he said inflation had peaked and would soon start to decline. He passed the buck to the Fed in January, saying that dealing with rising prices was their job. He accepted reality in early February, saying: “We have been using every tool at our disposal.” Yet inflation continues to rage. If the White House has been doing everything it can, or perhaps more precisely everything it can think of, and prices keep going up, voters will naturally draw the conclusion that help is not on the way, at least not from the Democrats.

            It is understandable for the president to focus on a major foreign-policy crisis. But obsessing over the fate of a country that is not a traditional ally, has little history of shared values with the United States and falls under the sphere of influence of another superpower is politically dangerous, particularly when it comes at the expense of economic issues close to home.

(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.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

DMZ America Podcast #36: Should the U.S. Send troops to Ukraine? Sarah Palin Gets anti-SLAPPed and a Look into the Cartooning Creative Process

In this episode, Scott and Ted debate what the United States response ought to be should Putin’s Russia invade Ukraine. Ted goes deep into the weeds to explain how anti-SLAPP laws in America have been used by the powerful to screw over the weak and damaged, and destroy defamation law. (You know it’s bad when the likes of Ted feel sorry for Sarah Palin.) The third segment has Ted and Scott discussing what they are going to create, and how, as they are teamed up to draw on the same day on CounterPoint.

 

How Do You Feel About Sarah Palin? It Shouldn’t Matter.

            Scrolling through the comments sections under news stories about Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times—dismissed by a judge while a non-sequestered jury was still deliberating and no doubt next heading to an appeals court—provides ample evidence of the dismal state of political tribalization in this country. With few exceptions conservatives wanted to see her prevail against a media outlet they revile, while liberals who care neither for her politics nor her style argued that she deserves to lose because she helped contribute to the rhetorical toxicity in which they themselves are unwittingly participating.

Politics is personal. But the personal shouldn’t obscure policy.

            If they stopped to think about it, lefties ought to sympathize with Palin. Declaring herself “powerless,” Palin testified: “I was in Wasilla, up against those who buy ink by the barrel and I had my No. 2 pencil on my kitchen table.”

She’s not wrong. Having been a few million votes away from being a heartbeat away from the presidency 14 years ago may well make her something of a historical immortal, but that past doesn’t alter the present truth. Palin is now a private citizen, a relative David challenging a $7 billion Goliath with iconic cultural clout and the deepest of establishment ties, backed by decades of case law that protects media defendants to the extent that most aggrieved would-be plaintiffs never dare to sue. The New York Times, on the other hand, is hardly a sympathetic defendant. As progressives recall, the Times allowed reporter Judith Miller to propagandize in favor of invading Iraq, ran interference for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders, and studiously stifles ideological expression to the left of the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party.

Without Palin’s proto-Trumpism, from a team-politics mindset she’d be the left’s inherent favorite.

            I am impervious to her charms. As I said in 2008, I voted for Barack Obama in large part because I worried that John McCain’s age and health increased the likelihood that the kooky Alaska governor would wind up in control of nuclear launch codes. I will always have contempt for anyone who thinks it’s cool to shoot wolves from a helicopter. But none of that matters in her lawsuit, which comes down to an important question: our society and democracy rely on robust freedoms of the press, but must the First Amendment remain a license to defame and an inducement to journalistic laziness, as has become the case since the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan?

            Defenders of free expression have often found themselves legally allied with controversial and disreputable figures. In 1978 the ACLU supported a neo-Nazi group’s application to march through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb where many survivors of the Holocaust lived. Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt received support from high-profile celebrities in his 1977 obscenity trial in Cincinnati as well as his 1983 legal defense against Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell; the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, of which I am a member and a former president, supplied an amicus brief in the Falwell case. The ACLU has consistently opposed attempts to ban the burning of the American flag at political protests.

The fact that these legal battles involved fascists, a notorious pornographer and profound disrespect of a revered national symbol is neither ironic nor bizarre; censors rarely target milquetoast or middlebrow expression.

            Several aspects of Palin v. New York Times ought to concern liberals and progressives.

            First and foremost, journalists who don’t check their facts and then print outrageous falsehoods about a person, even a public figure like Palin, ought to risk legal exposure. If it can happen to her, it can happen to you. Yet Federal Judge Jed Rakoff, 78, a liberal appointed by Bill Clinton, stated in his dismissal ruling: “Certainly the case law is clear that mere failure to check is not enough to support ‘reckless disregard’ in the context of any libel claim.” If he’s right, “reckless disregard for the truth” is a phrase without meaning—and that needs to change.

            Evidence favorable to Palin’s “actual malice” argument was brushed off in media coverage and, apparently by the judge. “What was missing from the whole production was any indication that Bennet was out to smear Palin,” wrote Erik Wemple of The Washington Post. Maybe there wasn’t a “smoking gun,” as Wemple noted. But what about motivation? What about conflict of interest? Former Times editorial page editor James Bennet—responsible for smearing Palin—has a brother, Michael Bennet. Michael happens to be a United States senator from Colorado—and Palin endorsed his Republican opponent. Michael despises Palin, calling her an “extremist.” Maybe James, a Democrat from a family of Democrats, doesn’t share his brother’s opinion of Palin. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Rakoff didn’t allow the jury to hear that tidbit.

Ex post facto (or retroactively applied laws) are specifically prohibited under the Constitution. Palin sued in 2017 yet Rakoff ruled that her case was subject to the state’s newly-amended “anti-SLAPP” law enacted in 2021 and so requires her to meet the high bar set by Sullivan for public figures to prevail in libel and defamation claims. Do we want to live in a country where the rules change after the game has started?

Every plaintiff and defendant should enjoy an equal playing field but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. The Times was permitted to make the distracting, spurious argument that Palin’s reputation wasn’t harmed. “The Masked Singer. Do they put on inciters of violence?” David Axelrod asked during closing arguments. Under straight defamation, Palin would have to show she had lost income or opportunities. But she sued for defamation per se, a finding that what the Times said about her was so over-the-top that she deserves punitive damages without having to prove actual damages.

There are other indications that the judge harbored animus against Palin. “She is, of course, unvaccinated,” Rakoff remarked on January 24th after she tested positive for COVID-19. Of course, vaccinated people get the virus too. I did.

Then there was the judge’s unusual decision to dismiss her case while the jury was deliberating. Under anti-SLAPP, she will be ordered to pay the Times’ attorneys’ fees. Palin didn’t get justice but rather a brutalist simulacrum of due process. She was teased with the possibility of victory, both sides’ attorneys’ fees mounting at her expense, only to have it snatched away at the whim of one man rather than the judgement of 12 peers. And we were deprived of a clear jury verdict on a matter of public importance.

            Experts believed Palin’s right-wing politics might hurt her with her jury in New York, one of the most liberal cities in the country. “In this case, you have a very prominent plaintiff who is suing in a city that I would say would not be her favorite place to be judged,” First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, who sides with the Times, told Politico.

It didn’t help her with the judge. And it’s disgusting. Whatever Palin has done to the body politic or to wolves in Alaska, she is the victim here. No one, including the Times, disputes that the newspaper unfairly characterized her as being partly responsible for a fatal mass shooting when there was no evidence that that was true.

Palin’s personality and politics are irrelevant. The question here was not whether or not you like Sarah Palin. It was whether James Bennet engaged in “reckless disregard for the truth,” part of the standard of “actual malice” under Sullivan that Palin’s attorneys need to clear, or the paper got to walk away without paying her—indeed, she has to pay them—because it issued a correction after it discovered it was wrong.

It still is.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the weekly DMZ America podcast with conservative fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

How Sarah Palin May Save Defamation Law

           How easy should it be to sue a newspaper or other news outlet for defamation? Thanks to a 1964 Supreme Court decision and the proliferation of constitutionally-dubious “anti-SLAPP” laws, it’s virtually impossible for someone who accuses a media company of lying about him to get to trial, much less win a damage award. If your local paper decides to smear you, the truth is, there’s not much you can do about it.

Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times poses the first threat in years to the American press’ ability to print whatever it wants. Opening statements in her trial began last week; the fact that a public figure is getting her day in court against a major newspaper is a news story in and of itself.

            The 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan set a high standard for a public figure like Governor Palin, or even a “limited public figure” like an editorial cartoonist, to prevail in a libel or defamation claim. Publishing an untruth isn’t enough. Under Sullivan the printed lie must be demonstrably damaging to the victim’s reputation and must result from “actual malice.” Actual malice, the court ruled, means that the publisher either knew that the smear was false before they published it, or that they demonstrated “reckless disregard for the truth.” 

It is unusual for a publication to go so far as to knowingly print a falsehood with a view toward damaging someone’s reputation, as The Los Angeles Times did to me as a favor to the LAPD in 2015, which owned the newspaper at the time, was a political ally of the then-publisher, and wanted me destroyed in retaliation for criticizing police misconduct. As with most libel cases, Palin v. New York Times comes down to the second half of the definition of actual malice.

            On its face the Times’ actions against Sarah Palin seem to embody reckless disregard for the truth. In 2017 the paper published an editorial, “America’s Lethal Politics,” that pinned the blame for the shooting of a Congressman on a Palin political TV ad. “The link to political incitement was clear,” the paper claimed.

It was anything but.

As the Times put it in a correction posted several hours later, the Times editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between [Palin’s—though the paper didn’t mention her by name] political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.”

            “In our view, this was an honest mistake,” Times lawyer David McCraw told the Washington Post in 2019. “It was not an exhibit of actual malice.” But James Bennet, the editorial page editor who wrote most of the editorial, ignored his own fact checker, who told him that the Times itself had already published an article debunking a link between Palin’s ad and the Gifford shooting. The Atlantic, where Bennet had previously served as an editor, had also debunked the Palin-Giffords meme. In a business where “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” is the 11th Commandment, failing to check it out is, or ought to be, the very definition of reckless disregard for the truth.

            In recent years, however, most judges have been strongly biased against plaintiffs in defamation and libel cases and so have turned a blind eye to the reckless-disregard half of the “actual malice” definition under Sullivan. Newspapers and other media defendants have largely been able to get away with rhetorical murder using the “my bad” defense.

            Adding to the media’s ability to wield the First Amendment as a cudgel to destroy reputations are anti-SLAPP statutes. Thirty-one states, including many of the most populous, have anti-SLAPP laws whose main effect is to make it close to impossible to sue for defamation or libel. In order to get to trial, defamation plaintiffs have to convince a judge that they would be likely to convince a jury at trial—but they aren’t allowed to subpoena evidence or depose witnesses to build their case. Many lawsuits die there.

If a plaintiff fails, which they usually do because judges routinely ignore or don’t understand the convoluted language of anti-SLAPP statutes, not only do they not get their day in court, they have to pay bloated legal expenses to the deep-pocketed corporate media defendant who libeled them. That’s what happened to me in my five-year fight against the LA Times. Anti-SLAPP laws are a nightmare but they aren’t going anywhere because they are supported by both pro-corporate conservatives and misguided liberals.

            Among some recent victims of anti-SLAPP are fitness icon Richard Simmons, who was ordered to pay $130,000 to the National Enquirer after he sued the tabloid for brazenly lying that he was transitioning to become a woman, and Stormy Daniels, who was ordered to pay Donald Trump $293,000 after she sued him for calling her a liar. In these and many similar cases, the law turned reality on its head and re-victimized the aggrieved party. But even the ACLU won’t stand up for them because the group reflexively supports anti-SLAPP, the Constitution be damned.

            If a New York jury, which is likely to be overwhelmingly Democratic, overlooks its political distaste for Palin and rules against the Times, the case may head to a U.S. Supreme Court that seems more open to the possibility of scaling back Sullivan. “How do you balance free speech rights with the right to your individual reputation, and in the context of public officials who have volunteered for public service and do need to be held to account?” asks former Palin attorney Elizabeth Locke. “Redrawing that balance does not mean that we lock up journalists or that any falsehood should result in a huge jury verdict. But imposing the potential for legal liability, which is virtually nonexistent with the Sullivan standard in place, would create self-restraint.”

            No one wants to strip media companies of the First Amendment protections they need in order to do their work on a day-to-day basis. But it’s also time to stop screwing defamation plaintiffs with meritorious cases, not to mention protecting lazy journalists. An artful and legally correct remedy would be for the high court to declare Sullivan (and the anti-SLAPP laws that rely upon it) unconstitutional as applied rather than throw it out entirely. To restore sanity to defamation law and start to hold out-of-control media companies accountable, lower courts should be directed to establish two common-sense propositions.

            First, defamation claims should be allowed to proceed unless there isn’t the barest possibility of prevailing at trial, in which case they should be tossed during an early-stage motion for summary judgment to dismiss. That’s what anti-SLAPP case law says in states like California, where my case was litigated, but judges routinely hold defamation claims to a much higher, basically impossible, standard.

            Second, the Supreme Court should clarify that, while Sullivan indemnifies a defendant from being sued over an honest mistake that is quickly corrected, ignoring basic journalistic due diligence clearly constitutes reckless disregard for the truth.

            I never expected to write the following words but here goes: Good luck, Sarah Palin.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the weekly DMZ America podcast with conservative fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #34: Banned Books, Affirmative Action, Elon Musk’s right to privacy and, of course, Flame Thrower Drones!

 

In this edition of the DMZ America Podcast Ted explains his dislike of “Maus” cartoonist Art Spiegelman while Scott explains how this particular book banning is no banning at all. The boys go on to discuss Senator Ted Cruz’s ham-handed attack on Affirmative Action that may, in fact, have some merit. They conclude the episode by defending Elon Musk’s right to privacy and, of course, Ted brings up his favorite subject: Flamethrower Drones.

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