Russia!

I’m going to Russia!

Needless to say, I’m excited to be (a) traveling overseas, (b) going somewhere interesting and beautiful with cool people and (c) getting to check out a place that has been submerged into a US newsmedia black-out zone due to the pullout of most MSM news outlets.

Logistics:

Yes, it’s legal for a US citizen to travel to Russia.

No, Russians won’t be mean to me due to me being American. We do that kind of thing. People in other countries do not.

Yes, I have a visa.

No, I don’t use cannabis. Nor do I vape.

It’s unclear to what extent sanctions will be a pain in my ass. Will my US smartphone work? I’m thinking probably yes. Will my US debt/credit cards? 50-50; the Internet is unclear on this point.

You can’t fly over the EU. So I’m flying around the EU. Well, the pilot will.

I’ve been before, but it’s been years.

I’ll be doing a lot of tourist stuff.

If there’s anything you’re curious about, feel free to post in the comments section.

DMZ America Podcast #58: With special guest, Editorial Cartoonist Mike Thompson! Workplace Bullying, the VERY Shallow Democratic Bench for 2024 and Hunter Biden

Ted and Scott welcome their colleague Editorial Cartoonist Mike Thompson (ex-USA Today, Detroit News) to the podcast as a guest. Mike has written a cool graphic-journalism piece on workplace bullying and its role in the Great Resignation. We go on to handicap the candidates for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination. (Spoiler alert: It’s bleak.) Finally, we go into the sordid story of Hunter Biden. Should we care that the Mainstream Media doesn’t give a rip about this growing scandal? 

 

What’s Worse Than Inflation? Fighting Inflation.

            Inflation is a cancer. It eats away at savings and consumer confidence. But the tools the United States government uses to fight inflation are often worse—they’re a form of chemotherapy that’s even more likely to kill the economy than the underlying disease. When your car is careening down a hill, slamming on the brakes is an inexperienced driver’s first instinct. But it’s the last thing you should do. Unfortunately, the history of inflation-fighting indicates that monetary policymakers seem to prefer crashes to soft landings.

            Fueled in large part by massive deficit spending as the Pentagon tried to bomb its way to victory in the unwinnable Vietnam war, inflation ran rampant from the latter part of the presidency of Richard Nixon through that of his successor Gerald Ford, and infamously contributed to the destruction of Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.

Inflation encourages consumer spending because, if you put off a purchase, it will cost more later. Enter Paul Volcker, appointed to the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1979. Determined to radically reduce spending and wages, he applied the anti-stimulus of sky-high Fed interest rates that peaked out at nearly 20% in 1981, Reagan’s first year in office. The result was two back-to-back recessions, which saw unemployment soar even higher than during the Great Recession of 2008-11.

            Inflation was dead for the foreseeable future. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the cost of taming inflation was too damn high.

            Reagan’s supply-side policies, which centered around tax cuts for large corporations and wealthy individuals coupled with austerity for everyone else, combined with Volcker’s hard line on inflation to create an anemic mid-1980s recovery before the 1987 stock market crash marked the start of yet another Republican bust.

It is, of course, impossible to brush away the cynical conclusion that crushing workers and their economic power was and remains a feature of the capitalist system and its stewards in government and finance. Reagan and his merciless smashing of the air traffic controllers union—leading to years of union-busting—coincided neatly with those 30+ years of non-existent raises, as well as private-sector union membership falling off a cliff. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there were between 200 and 400 major strikes by labor unions each year. When Reagan left office in 1988, there were 40. There were just seven in 2017.

Unsurprisingly, taking away power from workers and giving it to bosses made things worse for workers. The Reagan years radically widened the income gap between low- and high-income earners for the following three decades—even though the average American worker was increasingly efficient and productive year after year. Between 1979 and 2019, productivity increased 60% while wages only went up 16%. Windfall profits went to shareholders and owners.

            Ironically, wage stagnation came to its merciful, all-too-brief conclusion in 2020, when people weren’t working at all. Between March and June of that year, when many furloughed workers were sitting at home during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, government stimulus checks  caused real wages to increase relative to inflation. Increased savings allowed employees to quit in droves in the so-called Great Resignation; labor unions chalked up some impressive victories as emboldened wage slaves stood up for themselves.

            The worst inflation crisis of the past century was sparked by the end of World War II-era price controls on a wide array of rationed commodities and a surge in pent-up demand. (The latter is, at a smaller scale, the main force behind inflation today.) In 1947, the inflation rate rose to 20%. What’s interesting is what the Fed did not do in response: raise interest rates. It couldn’t. It didn’t have that power then.

Instead, fiscal policy makers refused to extend additional credit to the big banks — which had contributed to inflation — and waited for consumers to satisfy their pent-up demand. This they did by 1948. With no one to slam on the brakes, there was a quick, mild recession in 1949 followed by an impressive period of economic expansion in the 1950s. This episode from the Truman era strongly suggests that current Fed policy of raising short-term interest rates is a mistake. The only solution to pent-up demand is no solution at all. Just sit back and wait.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with 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 #57: Cowardly Cops and the Middle East: Who Should We Cozy up with, Iran or Saudi Arabia?

Political cartoonists Scott Stantis and Ted Rall engage in a lively debate over the Middle East. Iran claims to have nuclear weapons technology, whatever the hell that means, which has Scott worried to the point that he’s contemplating bombing the country. Meanwhile Biden cozied up to Saudi Arabia’s dictator this week, prompting Ted to to go off the rails. But first, the final report is out on the police non-reaction at the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the question is: can the cops be redeemed?

 

 

Saudi Arabia is a Bulwark against Iran. So Who’s the Bulwark against Saudi Arabia?

            The Washington Post recently published an op-ed purportedly written by President Joe Biden that tried to justify his visit with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the psychopath who ordered the murder, dismemberment and dissolution in acid of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for—wait for it—The Washington Post. Let’s hope MbS likes Biden’s “writing” better than Khashoggi’s.

            A publication whose motto is that “democracy dies in darkness” probably owes its readers the truth about who writes its articles. There is 1,000,000% no way in hell that Biden wrote that piece. Listen to him talk, then read it, you’ll see. Truth in advertising is important; accurate labeling more so. When I purchase a can labeled carrots, I don’t want to find pigs’ feet inside. Yet many newspaper opinion pieces and books bylined by high-ranking political figures and celebrities, like the piece that got Amber Heard sued, are ghostwritten. These are flagrant violations of journalistic ethical guidelines regarding attribution, a fraud against the readers, propaganda that elevates inarticulate fools into ersatz statesmen, and if editors won’t cut it out Congress should make it illegal.

            It is the underlying argument, however, that makes “Why I’m going to Saudi Arabia” interesting. “I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” “Biden” “writes,” going on to “say” that human rights concerns must take a backseat because the kingdom can help the U.S. “counter Russia’s aggression” in Ukraine, “outcompete China” and serve as a bulwark against Iran.

            Even by the standards of the Beltway natsec Blob types whose “Risk” worldview considers countries and governments to be little more than pieces to be shuffled around a gameboard, “Saudi Arabia is a bulwark” is a shibboleth hard to top in its idiocy.

            A bulwark?

Against what?

            MbS rules the most notoriously barbarous, moronic and viciously violent regime on earth—one that by any metric is far worse than Iran, Russia or China. Torture, arbitrary arrests and political murders are commonplace. “Saudi courts have sentenced people to flogging for extramarital sex, drinking alcohol, and other offenses. While rarely, if ever, carried out, stoning sentences have been issued for adultery. The authorities have used and carried out sentences, albeit rarely, for amputation of limbs for theft,” according to Human Rights Watch. Saudi Arabia executes people, including children, for nonviolent drug offenses as well as witchcraft and sorcery.

            In a single day this past March, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people, including non-citizens, for a variety of crimes, including “disrupting the social fabric and national cohesion” and “participating in and inciting sit-ins and protests.”

            Saudi Arabia is one of the top destinations in the world for human traffickers, slave labor and sex trafficking.

            Saudi women are treated like children under the law by the nation’s male guardianship program. As a result, the kingdom has the lowest female worker participation rate in the world, 5%.
            Saudi Arabia finances countless radical Islamic terrorist groups around the world, including those who carried out the 9/11 attacks, and has spent an estimated $100 billion to spread its toxic brand of Wahhabi Muslim extremism to other countries. It has waged a brutal proxy war in neighboring Yemen, creating one of the worst humanitarian disasters on the planet.

The moral bankruptcy of American policy is exposed by the fact that Iran, which we target with sanctions, is a much more pluralistic and secular country than our frenemy Saudi Arabia. Iran has Jewish synagogues, Christian churches and Zoroastrian temples; its parliament has 14 non-Muslim members. Saudi Arabia, where anti-Semitism is widespread, required U.S. soldiers stationed there during the Gulf War to fly to international waters to observe Jewish services.

            Iran’s support of international terrorism pales next to the Saudis’.

            “For the past few decades,” Omar Bekdash wrote in the Cornell Diplomat in 2019, “women have enjoyed many more rights in Iran than in Saudi Arabia. In Iran, women are allowed to vote in every election and stand as candidates: six percent of Iran’s parliament is comprised of women, which is greater than the rate in cosmopolitan Lebanon, four percent.  Women work and open businesses in Iran without the need for male approval—either from their male elders or their husbands.”

            Iran has a vibrant opposition press; Saudi Arabia takes a zero-tolerance approach to dissent.

            Given the record, it would make much more sense to cozy up to Iran as a bulwark against Saudi Arabia. The truth, of course, is that we have more in common with Saudi Arabia—because they’re the worst.

(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 #56: Another day, another mass shooting in America, Putin’s victory and Hillary 2024 is a thing

Ted and Scott have a full plate. First off, they discuss the latest mass shooting, on July 4th in Highland Park Illinois, and what, if anything, can be done to prevent the next ones. (Spoiler:they actually come close to agreeing on a solution). Next up, Ted predicted it and, sadly, it looks like Putin’s forces are pushing on to victory in eastern Ukraine. What comes next? Lastly, (and we are not making this up), there is movement afoot suggesting the Democrats need to make Hillary their nominee in 2024. Scott and Ted totally agree on what should be done about this…

 

 

Want Abortion Back? First, Women Have to Die.

            The Supreme Court has sent a message: we’re no longer in the business of ratifying social change. No more legislating from the bench. If Americans want abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception legalized as opposed to merely tolerated, they should look to Congress.

            Distraught over the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many women are searching for a quick fix—and they’re right. A 20,000-abortion-per-week nation can’t go to 10,000 overnight without dire social, economic and medical consequences. But the system won’t give us the rapid remedy we need.

            Women will have to die. They’ll have to die in ugly ways. Their deaths will have to be public.

            Congress won’t help. Bless her heart, Elizabeth Warren articulated the Democrats’ plan, which is magical thinking at its finest: “If we pick up two more senators [in November], we can ditch the filibuster and make Roe the law of the land.” Odds of Democrats losing seats and Senate control are solid; odds that they’ll gain two or more seats are slim to none.

            Neither will the Supreme Court. Only one justice, Clarence Thomas, is likely to die in the next year or two. He’s 74, overweight and rumored to be in poor health. Even if Mitch McConnell allowed Biden to hold a vote and the president were to replace Thomas with a liberal, the conservative majority would remain 5-to-4. Adding new (liberal) justices to the Supreme Court is a pipe dream that would require a 60-vote Democratic supermajority, not to mention changing Biden’s mind about packing the court.

            We the people won’t act either. Now that Roe is no more, look at what has happened in the streets: Nothing, unless you count a few sporadic, easily-ignored, low-attendance protest demonstrations. Pro-choice groups like NARAL are still fundraising, not mass-mobilizing.

            Want abortion back? Women are going to have to die hard, ugly, public deaths.

            A 2021 study estimates that 140 additional women will die each year in the U.S. due to complications from pregnancies that otherwise would have been terminated in abortions.

            Vaguely- and carelessly-written statutes allowing for abortions in case of medical emergencies will kill even more. Women with heart conditions and diabetes are at higher risk of death during childbirth, but what level of risk rises to an emergency? Who makes the call, a doctor or a judge? How many doctors will take the safest course—for themselves—and refuse to perform a needed abortion? Some abortion bans are so sweeping that the procedure isn’t permitted even in case of a miscarriage, which can lead to fatal sepsis unless the fetus is removed.

“What does the risk of death have to be, and how imminent must it be?” University of Michigan reproductive health professor Lisa Harris asked in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Might abortion be permissible in a patient with pulmonary hypertension, for whom we cite a 30-to-50% chance of dying with ongoing pregnancy? Or must it be 100%?”  Doctors in states where abortion is now illegal will probably “wait to that very last minute when it’s clear that a patient will die to do the procedure, and that’s just not an ideal time to do any kind of intervention.”

Pathetic and absurd and wrong, yet plainly true, is that the quickest and likeliest route toward codifying abortion rights into federal law will begin with one, or more likely several, highly-publicized cases of women who suffer hideous deaths because Roe is no more. If enough of those tragedies go viral on social media, there may eventually be enough horror and outrage across the political spectrum to persuade some Republicans to join Democrats into passing an abortion-rights law.

            This, of course, is no guarantee. Many thousands of innocents have been slaughtered in mass shootings, all caught in gruesome high-definition video and spread via social media, yet Congress has barely begun to act on gun control measures. Cops routinely murder Black men on video yet the police remain woefully un-defunded. Women’s deaths may be like that, piling up with nary a “thought and prayer” for a generation or more until the United States rejoins the developed world and restores Roe.

            Without the Supreme Court, a functional Congress or sustained, energetic grassroots activism, however, outrage prompted by social media and high-profile martyrs are all we can hope for under this current system.

(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 #55: Jan. 6th Investigation Gets Hot, Abortion Gets Aborted, Russia Bites Back

Political cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis debate and discuss the week’s issues from the Left and the Right. The Democrats’ Jan. 6th hearings turned interesting as a White House staffer claims she overheard the Secret Service discussing Trump’s trying to grab the wheel of the Presidential limo to lead the insurrection. Office gossip or treason? Women’s right to choose—is it toast in the red states or will a sustained campaign of protest…never mind. As Russia consolidates its gains in Ukraine, Presidents Rall and Stantis propose peace terms.

 

Supreme Court to Progressives: Wake Up

            The Supreme Court just sent us a wake-up call. Pro-reality Americans, i.e. the 40% of voters to the left of the Democratic Party, should be grateful.

            A freedom essential to half the population never should have hinged upon a flimsy and poorly-reasoned legal opinion. Congress should have followed the example of other countries where abortion is legal, and passed a federal law decades ago. Instead, neither party acted on behalf of women. (And let’s not forget men—many of them want/need their partners to have abortions.)

Democrats are not the answer. They had the chance to codify abortion in 2009, when they had a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and control of the House. Then-President Barack Obama chose not to lift a finger. “Not the highest legislative priority,” Obama sneered as he focused on what he cared about, doling out trillions to Wall Street megabanks. Instead he channeled his inner laissez-faire Republican, urging Americans to “reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.” Women should despise him and the do-nothing Democrats.

            The overturning of Roe v. Wade shines a spotlight on other rights that rest upon the shaky foundation of a Supreme Court decision: men’s right to have sex with one another, same-sex marriage, marriage between different races, parental rights over child-rearing and the sale of contraceptives. This is no way to run a government.

            Whether or not the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court is mean and stupid is less important than fundamental truth that has been revealed: the separation of powers is broken.

            When something is important, there oughta be a law.

Not a ruling.

When a majority of voters arrive at a societal consensus on an issue like those mentioned above, a functional political system responds with a corresponding law negotiated and passed by a legislature. The U.S., however, is too riddled with partisan dysfunction and corrupted by corporate lobbyists to effectively address advances in culture and technology. Thus Congress can’t or won’t accommodate the 7 out of 10 Americans who want a European-style national healthcare system and higher taxes on the rich or the 56% who want to slash Pentagon spending.

Because Congress is impotent, the highest court of the judicial branch has been stepping in to legislate from the bench rather than limit itself to its intended role as arbiter of conflicts between laws and the constitution.

            Americans have accepted the bastardization of the separation of powers because the result tended to respect popular opinion. In 2015 when the Supremes legalized same-sex marriage, for example, 57% of voters agreed. (Now it’s 71%.)

Not any more. The rightward shift of the court following Trump’s three appointees, embodied by polls that show voters wanted to keep Roe by a two-to-one margin, and that New Yorkers were 80% in favor of the SCOTUS-overturned state gun law, have exposed the limits of expediency over ordered governance.  “Up until a couple years ago, it used to be the case that where the court fell was well within the lines of the average Americans’ positions,” notes Harvard public policy Professor Maya Sen. “Now we are estimating that the court falls more squarely in line with the average Republican, not the average American.”

            Short of revolution—which I favor—those who wish to see American laws represent current American political and social values have one way forward. Forget the courts. Voters must force legislators to legislate and the president to sign popular bills into law.

            The majority isn’t always right. Sometimes politicians should lead the people before they’re quite ready. In general, however, a representative democracy that ignores the will of the people is a failure.

            Americans who support a woman’s right to choose an abortion — all women, not just those privileged enough to live in a blue state or those in red states with enough money for travel expenses—face a choice.

They can embark on something this country hasn’t seen since the 1960s with the brief exception of the 2021 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which were unusually intense and effective because they were fueled  by the COVID lockdown: a sustained campaign of angry agitation. We need a relentless round of street protests. Economic and cultural boycotts should turn red states into backwater pariahs. Voters can exert financial pressure via contributions that makes congressmen and senators on the wrong side of history and public opinion miserable enough to support a federal law legalizing abortion whether they like it or not. Republicans are obvious targets because Democrats need at least 10 GOP senators to federalize abortion rights. Democrats who aren’t fierce allies of choice (hello, Manchin) should be primaried out or face voter boycotts. Protests should erupt in every city, every day, loud and disruptive and terrifying to the powers that be.

Or pro-choicers can bemoan the HandmaidTale-ification of America, attend one or two photogenic parades on a conveniently-scheduled Sunday afternoon and recite ridiculous fantasies about packing the Supreme Court (you’d need a 60-vote supermajority) or hoping that its conservative members die under Democratic rule. Meanwhile, Southern women will have to drive a thousand miles to terminate a pregnancy

Roe was unsustainable. The liberal court was never going to last. Now that the bubble has burst, don’t whine. It’s time to organize.

(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 #54: Roe v Wade Killed, Guns, Ukraine and Male Masturbation

The DMZ America podcast falls off of the rails hard, but first Ted and Scott discuss the SCOTUS decision to throw abortion back to the states. Earlier the court struck down a New York gun law. Then the boys discuss Ukraine and living the narrative vs reality. Finally, the conversation inexplicably turns to masturbation and involuntarily celibates aka Incels.

 

 

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