Sometimes What a Van Gogh Needs Is a Splash of Tomato Soup

Anti-oil environmentalists pour tomato soup on van Gogh 'Sunflowers'  painting | Fox News

            From The Washington Post: “Just after 11 a.m. on Friday morning, two young climate protesters entered a room in the National Gallery in London containing one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings: ‘Sunflowers.’ They opened two cans of Heinz tomato soup, flung them on the painting, then glued their hands to the wall.”

            Phoebe Plummer of the Just Stop Oil movement, 21, shouted: “What is worth more, art or life?” She continued: “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet?”

            If you didn’t follow this story, you can easily imagine the response of many liberals: this action was stupid. Vincent Van Gogh had nothing to do with global warming. It’s counterproductive. It’s going to turn off people against the environmental movement. Liberals, who claim to care deeply about climate change, similarly deplored the group’s disruption of traffic and sporting events.

            “They sure know how to get attention. And while their passion is admirable, their tactics are repugnant,” said Mother Jones magazine editor Michael Mechanic. “All you did was anger the very people you’re trying to appeal to,” tweeted American comic book artist Jamal Igle. “Attacking Van Gogh’s Sunflowers—one of the world’s most loved paintings—will not gain public support, which is what is needed for real change,” said art historian Ruth Millington.

            It is largely forgotten that Van Gogh was a populist and a Marxist. Odds are, he would have approved of this attempt to raise awareness of the climate crisis.

            There was no damage to the painting, which was protected by a sheet of glass. The incident nevertheless reminded me of the discussion over the 2001 dynamiting of the giant Buddha statues at Bamian, Afghanistan, which prompted global outrage. The Taliban government, which had previously protected the statues, reversed course when a Swedish delegation along with UNESCO traveled to Afghanistan and offered money to buy and preserve the 1400-year-old sandstone relics at a time that the country was reeling under the weight of Western sanctions. Meanwhile, requests for medical and food assistance for living, breathing flesh-and-blood human beings fell on deaf ears.

            Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, an adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar explained, “[Our] scholars told them that instead of spending money on statues, why didn’t they help our children who are dying of malnutrition? They rejected that, saying, ‘This money is only for statues.’” Incensed, the Taliban decided to blow up the Buddhas to express their outrage. “If money is going to statues while children are dying of malnutrition next door, then that makes it harmful, and we destroy it,” Rahmatullah said.

            I wouldn’t have detonated the charge to blow up those statues. I’m too much of a history geek. But I saw Rahmatullah’s point. Sometimes the world needs a slap across its face to force it to pay attention.

            My first reaction to the Just Stop Oil action was: what good is a painting that no one will be around to see in 50 years?

            Then—and that’s where I am now—I thought, good for them. Radically mitigating climate change should be humanity’s top priority. 69% of all animals on earth died between 1970 and 2018. Since 1900, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish species have died 72 times faster than “normal.” Droughts are severe. Storms are getting more violent. This isn’t an emergency. It’s THE emergency.

            But international organizations aren’t doing anything, because the politicians who belong to them prioritize profits over the planet. Capitalism rules, so the politicians aren’t doing anything. (Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, as Biden promises, is so not going to happen that it’s hardly worth mentioning.) Citizens don’t understand how awful the situation is, or they feel alone in their understanding, so they’re aren’t doing anything.

We aren’t engaged in sustained protest. We aren’t rioting. We aren’t overthrowing our do-nothing governments. We aren’t even voting against politicians who aren’t doing anything. Here in the United States, only the Green Party cares about climate change—and their votes amount to a rounding error. And the media hardly ever talks about it.

            Truly, it’s the ultimate madness. The house is on fire, flames all around, and we’re not even calling 911, much less reaching for a bucket of water. We are all going to die, or if we’re old our children will, yet we remain oblivious, passive, resigned, disconnected, alienated, stupid—for no reason. 99.9% of humanity does not own energy stocks and we’re all willing to die for the tiny minority who do.

            So what if the Just Stop Oil activists bum out art lovers? If your blood boils over what they did more than it does over what they’re talking about, you’re too dumb to be won over in the first place. Complacency kills; outrage fights complacency.

            Pardon the young people who kinda-sort-of desecrate Van Goghs. For they may or may not know what they’re doing but they certainly know what’s important. If we’re all going to die for no good reason, some of us have the right to go out screaming.

(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.)

 

The Two-Party System is Under Attack, Stupidly

           At least at first, America’s founders famously disliked political parties, and so failed to provide for them in the Constitution. Like them or not, however, the two-party system has prevailed for 95% of our history. Given that third parties face high barriers to obtain ballot access, are shut out of televised debates and routinely denied media exposure, the duopoly is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future.

A corollary to Toqueville’s observation that a well-informed electorate is essential to democracy is that fuzziness and confusion at the ballot box means that voters cannot make an informed decision, will feel cheated and fooled, and will eventually lose faith in electoral politics altogether.

Alas, our two-party system is being corrupted by forces and reforms that trick and manipulate voters.

I’m not talking merely about the longstanding phenomenon of the conservative DINO Democrat or the liberal RINO Republican, though gray-zone wishy-washies do muddy the waters. What used to be a relatively simple choice between the party of liberalism and the common man versus the party of tradition and business is under heavy fire.

This year, for example, Democrats spent $53 million on ads across nine states on “six gubernatorial races, two Senate contests, and five House campaigns,” according to The Washington Post, in order to help far-right MAGA candidates and smear their moderate Republican opponents in GOP primaries—in the words of The New York Post editorial board, “putting their money where Donald Trump’s mouth is” on a bet that Trump-aligned Republicans will be easier to beat this November. Democratic interference worked in four of those.

Both parties have done this sort of thing before, but on nothing close to this scale.

Setting aside the hypocrisy of Democrats characterizing extremist Republicans as an existential threat to democracy and financing those nutty right-wingers so they advance closer to elected office, funneling funds across party lines is a fraud against voters of both parties. Democratic donors don’t send checks to the Democratic Party in order to support the Republican Party. If Dems asked their supporters for permission to divert their donations to their supposed political enemies, that would be something else—but there’s no evidence of that.

At the same time, the money sidelined for this mother of all Democratic dirty tricks covert operation might otherwise have been directed to cash-poor Democratic candidates who could have used it to prevail in the general election. The whole party is thus arguably a fraud.

If Republican primaries aren’t a forum for debate and discussion between and for Republicans only, what’s the meaning of a Republican nominee? Perhaps in an open- primary state they should be listed on general-election ballots as “Mostly Republican” or “Somewhat Republican,” since it’s theoretically possible for more than half the voters in a primary race to be Democrats.

More fundamentally to democracy, people who vote in these races are unaware of some major facts. If Democratic voters knew that their own party helped the “extreme right” Republican nominee, they might withhold their vote from both candidates in order to protest this practice. On the other hand, Republican voters might not reflexively support “their” party’s nominee if they thought they were being duped. Or they might be more likely to do so in order to teach Democrats a lesson. D vs. R isn’t the same as D vs. R*, though they’re labeled the same.

            Federal campaign finance laws ought to be clarified in order to prohibit the redirection of monies raised to support the candidates of one party to those of another party.

            Washington, California, Nebraska and Alaska have abolished party primaries in favor of blended primaries in which the top-two vote-getters compete in the general election. The law of unintended consequences is epitomized by this misbegotten attempt to reduce polarized outcomes, which has not worked. California’s top-two system was supposed to increase voter participation; instead Republican voters often stay home in the many districts where the general election is a face-off between a progressive Democrat and a moderate Democrat. Democrats often recruit insincere Republicans to dilute the Republican field enough to push their name into the top two. “Now you have someone in every little f—ing Assembly race trying to prop up the Republican,” Paul Mitchell with Political Data Inc. told CalMatters. “It’s become a part of the process as much as lawn signs. It’s part of the California campaign war chest.”

            In the recent Alaska contest for Congress lost by former governor Sarah Palin, 60% of voters wanted a Republican. Yet a Democrat won.

            Blended primaries have disenfranchised California Republicans and made it impossible for the average voter to understand who is paying for whom and why. Furtive motivations behind candidacies are anathema to a vibrant democracy that are supposed to be battles of ideas.

            Whatever their flaws, political parties provide concise branding for voters who prefer to spend their time doing something other than studying the 50-page ranked-voting guide sent to New York City voters in the last mayoral race. As a political cartoonist and writer, I am as well informed as any citizen can reasonably be expected to be, yet it isn’t realistic to expect me or anyone else to know about the personal and political history of every minor candidate. Like many voters, I’ve never heard of most of the hopefuls for city council or judges so I vote straight party line on the (hopefully not too incorrect) assumption that party affiliation relates to ideological bent. Nonpartisan primary systems require an excessive level of engagement and should be abolished.

            Similarly, open primaries in which people registered to one party may vote in the rival party’s primaries undermine the most appealing aspect of a two-party system, the ability of liberals to choose a liberal standardbearer without conservative influence and vice versa. Half the states have full, or partial open presidential primaries in which independent nonaffiliated voters may participate in a partisan primary.

            Especially in races where one party’s nominee runs unopposed, as did Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012, it is tempting for that party’s partisans to vote in the rival party’s open primaries for the express purpose of causing mischief. 7% of votes cast in Georgia’s recent “Republican” primaries were Democrats. Brian Kemp trounced David Perdue, the weaker candidate for whom the crossover Democrats most likely voted. But it isn’t hard to find other examples where 7% would change the outcome.

            I would have found it fun and hilarious, if I lived in Georgia, to vote in the Republican primary to mess with the results. As a leftist who believes systems ought to work fairly and intelligently, my right to a good time shouldn’t trump democracy.

            I would prefer a parliamentary system. Nations with set or de facto two-party systems like the United States (56% in 2016), the United Kingdom (62%), Canada (62%) and Japan (53%) have significantly lower voter participation rates than those with multi-party democracies like Turkey (89%), Sweden (82%) and Israel (78%). The cause is self-evident. Voters are more motivated to turn up at the polls when their preferred party might win a seat at the table; a minor party may join a coalition government under a parliamentary system.

            But let’s stick to reality. Until we free ourselves of the Democratic-Republican stranglehold, we’re stuck with the two-party system. And that system ought to be as easy to navigate as a supermarket shelf. Whether it’s a can of food or a political candidate, what is on the label of a product ought to be contained inside.

(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 #70: Ukraine War Update, Are These the Most Consequential Elections in Modern Times? How to Come Up with a Cartoon—Plus a Little French

Editorial Cartoonists Ted Rall (Left) and Scott Stantis (Right) bring the heat in this edition of the DMZ America Podcast. The first segment hears them putting the latest escalation in the Ukraine War into perspective and define what modern warfare has become. Next up, Ted and Scott debate the importance of the 2022 midterm elections. Lastly, these two top cartoonists discuss process in this muddled media market. Finally, they bring in a little French. You should listen.

 

 

DMZ America Podcast 69: Could Ukraine War Go Nuclear? Are Saudis Fixing the Midterms? How Bad Is Afghanistan?

Editorial cartoonists and best friends Scott Stantis (Right) and Ted Rall (Left) discuss the week’s news for their DMZ America podcast, where disagreement and civility go hand in hand. First, Washington floats the idea that Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons and suggests the US might escalate to a “hot” war with Russia. Second, Scott offers a unified theory explaining why Saudi Arabia and OPEC denied Biden’s pleas for increased oil production and how this might be an October Surprise. Finally, Afghanistan has collapsed again. Here’s why you should care.

 

 

From Pot to Jaywalking, Pay Compensation to Those Hurt by Repealed Laws

            Whether it’s a soaring literary classic like Les Misérables or generic Hollywood product like The Butterfly Effect, I’m drawn to stories in which a minor event triggers a series of unforeseen dramatic events. As Springsteen wrote and Dave Edmunds sang, from small things big things one day come.

            A real-life example transpired three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, when I was falsely accused of jaywalking — a misdemeanor at the time — by an LAPD officer who roughed me up and handcuffed me to boot. For 14 years, nothing happened as the result of that arrest on October 3, 2001. In the summer of 2015, without warning, getting busted for jaywalking blew up my life.

            Tiny problems can wreak havoc. Like the O-ring. Hell, I got expelled from college over a wart.

The jaywalking thing cost me my job as the staff cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times, damaged my reputation to the point where I was nearly blacklisted from journalism and cost me friends and colleagues. It made me doubt the ability or willingness of journalism, the love of my life, to do the right thing. It convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt that the justice system is hopelessly corrupt. I drank too much. Who knows—the weight I gained may eventually kill me.

I am grateful for every day that passes when I don’t think about jaywalking or the LA Frigging Times. Unfortunately there was no way to distract myself this week. California governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law decriminalizing jaywalking. As of the first of the coming year the Freedom to Walk Act means you’ll be allowed to cross a street in the Golden State—safely! look both ways before crossing, like mom taught you—without fear of being fined, handcuffed, beaten, arrested or even killed by a lunatic cop unless “a reasonably careful person would realize there is an immediate danger of collision with a moving vehicle or other device moving exclusively by human power.” (The legislation is silent on devices powered by other animals or plants.)

            Jaywalking tickets are big business in California. In Los Angeles alone, the LAPD raised $6.2 million in revenues by fining 31,712 accused jaywalkers between 2010 and 2020. Blacks were targeted more than three times their presence in the population.

            Several well-meaning readers contacted me to inform me of California’s new law, which I support wholeheartedly except for an all-too-common omission: it’s not retroactive. Those who have suffered fines, imprisonment and other punishments under a law that is subsequently repealed ought to be made whole. If slaves were emancipated by the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, escaped slaves and those who helped them who were punished for their “crimes” should receive apologies and restitution by 1866. Merely erasing a conviction from your criminal record, as some states that have legalized marijuana have done, isn’t enough.

Anyone who is charged and convicted for a crime that is no longer a crime ought to be refunded their fines and attorneys’ fees, plus compound interest charged at the highest credit card rate. Anyone who spent time in jail or prison for an offense that is no longer viewed as an offense under the law should be generously compensated by the state or city responsible for their conviction.

Even if California were to come to its senses and pay millions of dollars in penance to everyone who suffered under bigoted jaywalking laws that were originally conceived by automobile companies as a way to discourage walking and sell more cars, there still wouldn’t be any way to undo all the weird side effects of what we now recognize as an obsolete form of oppression.

For poor Californians, the $196 jaywalking fine was devastating. Under our vicious capitalist system, there can be no doubt that some people failed to make rent and even lost their homes after being targeted by police enforcing this idiotic statute.

As a solvent, able-bodied, white, cis male, Ivy League graduate, paying the citation was no big deal. But even for me, it was a train wreck.

Upset about being falsely accused — I wasn’t jaywalking, the cop made it up — and mistreated, I filed an internal affairs complaint against the officer back in 2001. Citizens are ignored in such cases 96% of the time, and I was no exception. By 2015 I had been working for the LA Times for six years. But I didn’t know two things. First, a thin-skinned police chief was furious every time I drew a cartoon criticizing the police. Second, in 2014, the LAPD union bought an interest in the parent company of the LA Times and formed an obscene corrupt alliance with the paper’s publisher, multibillionaire Austin Beutner.

In 2015 Beutner and Chief Charlie Beck held a secret meeting where, clearly needing more important things to do to fill their time—they should try golf, the evil rich love it—they conspired to ruin me. Beck dredged up my old IA complaint file, which contained an audio recording the cop had made of my jaywalking arrest: basically six minutes of wind and street noise. At Beutner’s direction the Times wrote a piece that argued the cop was kind and polite, and that my description of the encounter in a Times blog piece was false, so I must be fired for crimes against journalism.

Fox News, Breitbart and the rest of the right-wing mediasphere had a field day dragging the corpse of my reputation across the Internet.

Ultimately, I was vindicated. The doctoring of the tape, the Beck-Beutner conspiracy, the fact that I’d told the truth about what happened in 2001 while the LAPD Times had lied all came out in the media and through the course of a lengthy court battle. There’s no telling how much work I’m not getting as a result of the Times’ defamation campaign, though I am working.

The experience changed me, mostly for the worse.

Nothing could make me, or the other people hurt by California’s repealed jaywalking law, whole again. But the state should try.

Every state should try, every time it repeals a bad law.

(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 #68: Neofascism in Italy. Is the Fed destroying the economy for the rich? Snowden granted Russian citizenship

Ted Rall, coming at things from the Left and Scott Stantis, coming from the Right, tackle the major issues of the day. First off, Italy elects Giorgia Meloni, head of the Brothers of Italy, a political party founded by neo-fascists which begs the question: is the whole world going totalitarian or what? Next, Scott and Ted discuss the Fed and its passion for bringing back the ’70’s and all the economic pain that comes with it. Lastly, breaking news as Edward Snowden, ( Ted wrote his biography), is granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin. Is this just the Russian system working or is it Putin thumbing his nose at America? All of this and more on the best podcast in the world!

 

 

Why Business Wants a Recession

           Give Jerome Powell credit for candor: the Fed chairman admits that his policy of increasing interest rates to fight inflation might push the economy into a recession. “No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be,” he recently told reporters.

            If it does, one sector won’t be entirely displeased: employers.

            According to the Deloitte accounting firm, a typical Fortune 500 company spends $1 to $2 billion a year on payroll, averaging between 50% and 60% of total spending. Controlling labor costs, unsurprisingly, is a top priority for employers.

            In the boom-bust cycle of labor-management negotiations, the post-pandemic Great Resignation has triggered a labor shortage, a phenomenon we rarely witness and tends to fizzle out fast. Workers are quitting and retiring early, tanking the labor force participation rate. Those who remain enjoy the upper hand at interviews that feel like the job prospect is sizing up the company rather than the other way around. Labor shortages are driving up salaries, shortening hours, prompting signing bonuses and forcing bosses to accommodate people who prefer to work at home. Just 8% of office workers in Manhattan are back in the office a full five days a week.

            The most recent data published, for June, finds that wages and salaries soared 16.8% on an annualized basis as benefit costs went up 14.4%.

            Workers, angry and resentful after decades of frozen real wages and merciless downsizing, are becoming demanding. This reversal of a power dynamic in which workers were supplicants and bosses called the shots has also strengthened labor unions that had been losing membership for years.

            This, some CFOs may be thinking, calls for a recession.

            Company profit margins are at a 70-year record high, up 25% each of the last two years as the result of raising prices during the pandemic. Which means that, even allowing for an 8% inflation rate, a generic S&P 500 corporation should easily be able to ride out the average 26% earnings decline suffered in the most recent typical recessions that took place in 1990, 2000 and 2020. (A bigger crisis like the 2008-09 Great Recession, which reduced earnings by 57%, is another matter.)

            No corporate officer would voluntarily reduce earnings. Or would they, in order to get something more valuable: regaining leverage over labor?

            Traditional conservative allies of big business are openly arguing in favor of higher unemployment. “The recent drop in work and labor force participation—particularly among young workers—is troubling [my emphasis],” writes Sarah Greszler in a white paper for the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing think tank. “Job openings, at 11.3 million, remain near record highs, and record percentages of employers report unfilled positions and compensation increases.”

            Greszler summarizes: “Continued low levels of employment [sic] will reduce the rate of economic growth, reduce real incomes and output, result in greater dependence on government social programs, require higher levels of taxation, and exacerbate the U.S.’s already precarious fiscal situation.”

            Workers, of course, feel like they can finally breathe. High demand for labor means that they can quit positions where they feel unappreciated and/or undercompensated, pack up and move to another state and create a healthier balance between their family and work lives. The current situation is anything but “troubling.”

            Executives at employers like Apple, Tesla and Uber have had enough of workers calling the shots. They’re demanding that people get back to work — at the office — or find another job. “A quickly shifting employer-employee dynamic could give companies the ammunition to take a harder line against the full-time work-at-home arrangements that many employees have pushed for, according to corporate policies experts. In fact, they say more companies are likely to start pressing staffers to come back to the office — at least a few days a week,” reports CNBC. “The hybrid workforce is not going to go away, but the situation where employees refuse to come to the workplace at all is not likely to hold,” Johnny C. Taylor Jr. of the Society for Human Resource Management tells the network.

            Perhaps no one has told CEOs that at-home work empowers them too. Rather than hiring security goons to escort laid-off workers past their terrorized colleagues, companies can memory-hole the condemned by deactivating their remote-access passwords. Who’ll notice one less square on the Zoom screen?

I’m not subscribing to a dark Marxist suspicion that CEOs, the Fed and other powers-that-be are conspiring to slam the brakes on an economy that would otherwise be coming in for a soft landing as pent-up consumer demand from the pandemic naturally ebbs, in order to return their recently empowered employees to their rightful status as wage slaves. Powell and his fellow governors are doing what comes naturally to government, treating a disease based on a diagnosis that is close to a year out of date and, reasonably, including wage increases as part of their calculus of what constitutes a major driver of the inflation rate.

Business, however, does see what’s coming. If the captains of industry aren’t worried enough to be calling their pet politicians to demand an end to interest-rate hikes, one reason might be that they see a silver lining to the next recession.

(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 #67: Russian Plebiscites in Ukraine, Migrants up in the Air and the Midterms

Left-leaning editorial cartoonist Ted Rall and right-leaning editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis debate the two major developments in the Ukraine Russia war. Russia is calling up more troops and wants to hold plebiscites in the territory it controls with a view toward annexation. Ted and Scott have differing views about which aspect could lead to further escalation in the conflict. The governors of Texas and Florida are deporting asylums seeking immigrants to Northern states. We discuss the humanitarian and political aspects of this strange story. Finally: where are we in the upcoming key midterm elections?

 

 

Neither Democrats Nor Republicans Can Defeat Trumpism

           As you know if you are one of my regular readers, I’m skeptical of hysterical claims that Donald Trump and his supporters represent a uniquely existential threat to democracy and the American way of life. Right-wing populist demagogues are a recurring feature of American history; there is nothing new here. Many “mainstream” politicians have promoted and promulgated policies that stepped over the line into fascism: the Red Scares of the Palmer raids and McCarthyism, concentration camps for Japanese Americans, the John Birch society, COINTELPRO, mass surveillance by the NSA, George W. Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq and assassination drones come to mind.

Trump had four full years in office, one of which was marked by a bona fide national emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, that he might have exploited to impose martial law, yet the republic still stands.

Trump notwithstanding, it is true that democracy, even the watered-down worn-out version of our ancient republic, is fragile. Those wary of authoritarianism can never be too vigilant. So I’m always interested in what people perceive as a threat to the current system – and what they fail to see.

            New York Times writer David Leonhardt is an intelligent mainstream subscriber to Trump Derangement Syndrome. The former president, he argues, represents a double-barreled attack on American democracy. First, Trump’s refusal to accept his loss to Joe Biden spreads the virus of delegitimization. If nothing else, elections are supposed to settle the question of which candidate is most popular. If they don’t, what’s the point of holding them?

The second threat, Leonhardt says, is that “the power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.” The far-right Supreme Court, gerrymandering, the Senate filibuster, voter suppression and the Electoral College result in laws and rulings to the right of what most voters want.

            The sore loser concern seems overblown. Disputed elections followed by large segments of the population who refused to accept the results have occurred repeatedly. 42% of Republicans thought Obama was born in Kenya, meaning that he was unqualified to run for president. 85% of Democrats said they believed Bush cheated in the 2000 election. Conservatives thought JFK cheated Nixon out of a win in 1960 and strongly disapproved of FDR’s decision to break tradition and run for a third term in 1940. Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1876 but there’s no doubt that his ascent to the White House was the result of the most scurrilous skullduggery imaginable. Trump’s bitching is hardly unprecedented.

            The gap between the right-wing politics of Congress and the Supreme Court and a relatively left electorate is mitigated by the decision of most liberals to live where their values are codified by legislation; New Yorkers, after all, still have abortion rights. Though blue staters may feel anger and sympathy for women who can’t get the procedure in the Deep South, those emotions are academic rather than visceral. Pitchfork-wielding liberals won’t be a thing any time soon.

            My apologies for burying the lede, but the we-are-in-unusual-peril argument that leaps out at me is that “mainstream” corporatist—read, non-populist, country-club—Republicans are in bed with Trump… and that that makes all the difference. Leonhardt quotes Harvard Professor Steven Levitsky, co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.”

 “When mainstream parties tolerate these guys, make excuses for them, protect them, that’s when democracy gets in trouble,” Levitsky says. “There have always been Marjorie Taylor Greenes. What I pay closer attention to is the behavior of the Kevin McCarthys.” Republican House Leader McCarthy, he points out, has backed up Greene despite her violent rhetoric.

Leonhardt correctly points out that something similar happened during the 1930s in Germany and other European countries. Hitler came to power with the support of traditional conservative parties whose leaders thought they could control the “Austrian corporal.” These louche establishmentarians “typically do not initiate attacks on democratic rules or institutions but who also do not attempt to stop these attacks. Through their complicity, these semi-loyal actors can cause a party, and a country, to slide toward authoritarianism.”

            For decades Democrats have moaned: why don’t “respectable” Republicans speak out against the extremist Birchers/Klansmen/neoconservatives/Proud Boys/Trumpies/QAnoners in their midst?

The answer is that right-wing extremism is not a fringe group.

It is the Republican base.

Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, supporting violent policing are all baseline beliefs of the “mainstream” GOP. Far-right groups like those who gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville provide the muscle, intellectual grounding and excitement for a Republican Party that without them would be doomed to permanent minority status. “Acceptable” Republicans like McCarthy and Mitch McConnell aren’t so much afraid of being voted out or physically assaulted if they were to criticize Trump as they are afraid of losing a vital part of their party constituency.

The few Republicans who criticize Trump and by extension the right-wing populist wing of the party commit personal political suicide and risk destroying their basic coalition. Liz Cheney aside, it’s not going to happen. Anyway, Cheney is an outlier who recognizes that her future is to get hired by MSNBC as a token fake Republican.

Returning to the rise of Nazism, the only real threat to Hitler and his goons in the 1930s was Germany’s left-wing parties, the communists and the socialists. Left-wing parties maintained paramilitary organizations that took on the Nazi brownshirts in the streets. With over 30% of the vote between them—1.5 million votes more than the Nazis­—German leftists were numerous and militant enough to hold the Nazis at bay at the ballot box as well as in the streets.

Tragically and stupidly, however, the less militant socialists refused to join an alliance of convenience with the communists. Writing from exile, communist Leon Trotsky asked German socialists: “The policies of our parties are irreconcilably opposed; but if the fascists come tonight to wreck your organization’s hall, we will come running, arms in hand, to help you. Will you promise us that if our organization is threatened you will rush to our aid?” As the SPD dithered, the Nazis seized power with the complicity of traditional conservative parties. When socialists and communists finally came together, it was as inmates in Nazi concentration camps.

There is no point clinging to the foolish Democratic hope that corporate Republicans will cut Trumpies loose. The lesson of the 1930s is that the only force that can defeat an energetic and well-organized far right (and its Republican Party allies) is an energetic and well-organized far left.

(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.)

 

Wanted: Continuity Editors

The world needs more continuity editors.

            Filmmakers hire them to check for plot holes. Like, in “Forrest Gump” the lead character’s friend Lieutenant Dan couldn’t have invested their money in Apple Computer in 1976, because the company didn’t go public until four years later. Or, in “Pulp Fiction” when hitmen played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta narrowly avoid being shot, the bullet holes appear in the wall behind them before the first shot is fired.

Continuity editors ensure that a movie makes sense, has a consistent look, sound and feel throughout, and moves at the right pace or combination of paces. They axe scenes that don’t advance the plot and insert new ones to fill in explanations and backgrounds in order to smooth out awkward transitions.

They track the big picture.

            Hollywood isn’t the only place that needs them.

As the United States keeps sliding its slimy way through economic and sociopolitical decline toward the bubbly brown pit of collapse, our desperate need for people tasked with keeping track of the big picture and given the power to fix inconsistencies—or have access to those with that power—becomes increasingly apparent.

            The biggest, most storied organizations have a C-something-O for everything from CFO to CIO to CTO to CDO (diversity). Few (I’d say all but I must allow for the fact that I do not and cannot know everything and everyone) employ a person who brings an outsider’s viewpoint to the deep inside of a corporate boardroom.

            Large news organizations like The New York Times, for example, compile, process and disseminate a product whose breadth and depth objectively looks and feels like a miracle every single day. Yet the Times would benefit from an editor with a bird’s-eye view.

            Because the left hand of the New York Times Book Review, a Sunday supplement, doesn’t know what the right hand of the features editors who labor in the daily editions is up to, the paper often runs two or even three reviews of the same title. Meanwhile, it fails to review most titles entirely.

Pundits on the op-ed page and analysts in the business section crank out one prognosis after another, but no one ever analyzes their record of success or failure in order to determine whether they are worth paying attention to (I’m looking at you, Thomas Friedman).

Newspapers don’t see what’s missing; a country whose voters are 38% pro-socialist might like a socialist opinion columnist. No one ever takes a beat to consider the possibility that a nation in which R&B/hiphop has dominated music charts for years might not respond well to a music section in which jazz (1% of sales) and classical (also 1%) receives disproportionately high coverage.

            Our for-profit medical system is sorely lacking in many respects. One that leaps out is how à la carte recordkeeping makes it so that no one other than the patient themself enjoys comprehensive knowledge of a person’s health.

            My general practitioner, for example, maintains records of my vaccinations, lab test results, examination history and back-and-forth communications. She does not, however, have access to the files and test results collected by my pulmonologist or other specialists, some of whom I see outside my insurance network. Nor can she see the stuff from my local urgent care clinic or the doctors I’ve seen in other states or other countries, or hospital emergency rooms, or from physicians I saw in the past but who have since retired. My dental records, themselves segregated between a dentist and an orthodontist, are similarly inaccessible to my GP. This is the result of the artificial insurance divide between dental and medical care that persists despite the proven link between oral health and such “non-dental” ailments as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Eye care falls into the same “non-medical” category—again, contrary to science and common sense. No one has a comprehensive understanding of Ted Rall’s medical history except Ted Rall—and he didn’t go to medical school.

Everyone ought to be assigned to a big-picture medical professional who pores over all these records in search of patterns that may indicate an undiagnosed illness. Many lives could be saved; hell, insurance companies save cash when patients detect problems early, not that I care about those scum. But Americans are so accustomed to dysfunction (in this case, non-function) that we haven’t even begun to discuss the need for an integrated medical records database accessible by any licensed medical professional, much less a caste of medical analysts whose job it is to try to anticipate problems.

Like most societal shortcomings, our continuity editor-lessness comes straight from the top of the class divide: political and corporate elites. As much as our CEOs’ and political leaders’ smallmindedness is casting us adrift, no one is suffering higher opportunity costs than they are. A national high-speed rail system—the kind every other advanced country has—would open up development of new manufacturing, work and living spaces all over the nation. It would cost at least $1 trillion.

So it won’t happen any time soon.

But we spend three-quarters of a trillion bucks on “defense” every year—a budget replete with waste before you consider that the entire purpose of military spending is not merely wasteful but obscenely destructive. Slash 95% of that crap and national security would not suffer one whit. To the contrary, it would free up billions for worthwhile programs like making college free, modernizing public schools and a socialized healthcare system. Building new sectors and infrastructure from scratch generates more profits than maintaining what already exists. But they can’t even begin to think about thinking about such things, much less see them.

If and when the Revolution arrives, some of the formerly-rich may think to themselves as they journey atop their tumbrels: I should’ve hired a continuity editor.

(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.)

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