Trump and Biden are Both Liars. Only Trump Gets Called Out.

           The following phrase, and its variants, has become ubiquitous: “Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud.” Mainstream news outlets have accelerated its use during the congressional hearings on the January 6th Capitol riot.

            The phrase is accurate. Though historically American elections have been marred by fraud and outright subversion, no evidence has surfaced to suggest that any such improprieties occurred during the 2020 presidential election that were substantial enough to change the result. As far as we know, Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

            But is it journalistically kosher?

            Fairness, accuracy and integrity are the core of journalistic ethics. Those values are compromised when they are applied inconsistently, as do American news companies.

            Republicans, conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump in particular have long complained that corporate media outlets have been harder on him than on other politicians or previous presidents. It’s hard to disagree. Journalists’ labeling of Trump’s allegations that the 2020 election was stolen as a lie is a case in point; it’s impossible to think of another American politician who has been so repeatedly editorialized against in non-opinion news stories or to have his claims — no matter how untrue — repeatedly denied in headlines.

            Biden and fellow Democrats, for example, have taken to calling high gas prices “Putin’s gas hike.” This is just as false as Trump’s election BS. The Wall Street Journal notes that gas prices were “turbocharged by a rebounding economy after a pandemic-induced slowdown” well before Russia invaded Ukraine. Anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West, led by the U.S., exacerbated the problem. Whether or not Joe Biden is responsible for $5 gas, no one can credibly blame Vladimir Putin for the effects of sanctions he imposed against Vladimir Putin.

You won’t see headlines describing Biden’s spin on gas prices as “baseless” or “false.” As they do when any politician other than Donald Trump lies, the press acts as stenographers, dutifully passing on communiqués regardless of their truthiness. “Biden blames Russia for gas prices,” reports The Politico. “Biden slams ‘Putin’s price hike,’” says CNN. Calling out Trump for lying is great. Doing so is a reporter’s job. Why not Biden?

            Willful inconsistency is the hallmark of how reporting becomes propaganda in the 21st century. As coverage of the January 6th hearings keeps reminding us, Donald Trump tried to steal the presidency. The same reporters had little to nothing to say about George W. Bush actually stealing the presidency; because Bush hates Trump, they treat the architect of torture, drones and Gitmo like an elder statesman. When the United States invades a foreign country there’s almost no attempt to humanize civilian victims but when the invading army belongs to a U.S. adversary coverage of the human cost – even the cost to animals — is exhaustive.
            The facile defense to this critique is that reporters are setting the record straight when they label Trump’s lies as such. Trouble is, there are so many lies being told by so many politicians of every conceivable ideological orientation that limiting factchecks to one individual, even a former president and possible future one for whom the truth appears to be a mortal enemy, looks exactly like what it is: choosing sides by giving your fellow partisans a free pass. Further, because the press’ anti-Trump bias is so over-the-top, there is a natural tendency to dismiss it.

            I’m not arguing that journalists should stop writing that Donald Trump is a liar. To the contrary, holding politicians accountable for untruths is long overdue. I’m saying they should do the same thing to other politicians as well.

Now that Russiagate has been thoroughly debunked, it would be nice to see news media say so. Instead of “US is worried about Russia using new efforts to exploit divisions in 2022 midterms,” CNN could say “US officials revive discredited claims on election ‘interference.’”

Instead of “Iraq War role was a stain on Powell’s record — one he openly said he regretted,” The Washington Post could say: “A million dead Iraqis later, Powell regretted lying America into Iraq War.”

Surely the courageous journalists who call out “Trump’s election lie” for what it is can present other stories in an equally straightforward manner. ABC’s “Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee condemns Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia” ought to be specific. After all, Khashoggi wasn’t passive-tense “slain.” In one of the most insane political assassinations in modern history, Khashoggi was viciously butchered in the Saudi consulate at the order of the Saudi crown prince. Biden isn’t merely going to Saudi Arabia, he’s planning to meet and shake hands with Khashoggi’s murderer. How about: “Fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi condemns Biden for upcoming visit with journalist’s murderer”?

(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 #53: UK Close to Extraditing Julian Assange to US

Ted and Scott break down the breaking news that British authorities have approved the extradition of Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges in connection with the Chelsea Manning leaks. Both Scott and Ted are deeply disturbed by the implications and threats to free speech, a free press and democracy itself.

 

 

Transgender People Shouldn’t Compete in Sports. Neither Should Cis People.

            A new Washington Post poll about Americans’ views of transgender athletes offers a lot to think about. I found the margins more interesting than the headline. Like, who are these 2% of people who think that transgender girls are at a physical disadvantage when they compete against cis girls in youth sports? Why would they think that?

Another takeaway is that 16% of respondents have a close friend or family member who is transgender. One in six! As a writer and cartoonist who works from home—but in New York, the most diverse city in the country—clearly I need to get out and meet more people. Last week a Pew poll found that 1% of Americans are nonbinary, a figure that rises to 3% for people ages 18 to 29. I know hundreds of people, including lots of Millennials. How come I don’t know anyone nonbinary in a country with 3.3 million of them?

But what I’ve been thinking about most is an issue that is so baked into our society that it is no issue at all: the idea that competition is a good thing.

Most respondents to the Post survey oppose allowing transwomen to participate against cis women in competitive sports at any level. Yet a majority are also concerned that the mental health of transgender athletes might suffer as a result of such a ban—meaning that, even among some of those who view such competition as unfair, some worry that transwomen athletes denied the opportunity to compete against other women in sports will suffer psychological damage.

It’s an intractable issue. As transgender athletes have argued, segregation by gender in sports is in and of itself arbitrary since some cis women have inherent biological advantages over some cis men. Any attempt to make physical competition fairer, as with weight classes in boxing and wrestling is inherently arbitrary. Where does it stop? Shall we have separate basketball leagues based on the players’ heights? Should the 152-to-164 lb. weight class be split up more finely? Down to the ounce?

There is little political appetite for allowing everyone to compete against one another regardless of sex or gender, and for obvious reasons: in most sports, people who are born male have bigger and stronger bodies, and hormonal advantages, on average than those born female. Eliminating the gender divide would effectively downgrade half the human race to intramural athletes, with no chance to win anything more than the joy and satisfaction of participating.

But then, what’s so great about competition? Personally, this cis male has always found competition of all kinds — in sports, at work, in the arts — to be toxic.

I attended elementary school in the mid-1970s, when soccer was first gaining a foothold in the United States. In my Ohio town it started out as exclusively intramural. I signed up and loved it. (It’s not relevant here, but I was pretty good.) Then they converted the intramural league to the competitive teams we have today. Coaches, and then players, got serious about winning. They turned mean. Grown men ordered us kids to target the best player on rival teams and injure them so that they couldn’t play. It wasn’t fun anymore so I quit.

Competition ruined every sport I tried: track, wrestling, baseball. Winning was the only thing that mattered. My teammates quickly took to trash-talking batters; I found the practice foul. To me, play is not something that you do at the expense of other people. I’m not alone: Survey data shows that 70% of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13.

Studies show that competition causes depression, anxiety and self-harm. And no wonder! Competition turns everyone but the winner into losers. The practice of my professors at Columbia University School of Engineering, who graded on a curve, illustrated the absurdity of America’s winner-take-all culture. No matter how brilliant the students in a class, half of us would receive an F. Objectively, of course, we were all superb at math and science and we all worked hard; we wouldn’t have been admitted otherwise. Objectively, we all should have gotten As. Instead, CU set up a system where they took thousands of students who were by far the best in their high schools, and turned three-quarters of them, me included, into expelled losers, unemployed with thousands of dollars in student loans.

Because of competitive grading, 49% of students feel a great deal of stress on a daily basis. Educators should consider following the example of Hampshire College, which does not issue letter grades.

If you have held a job, you know how dispiriting workplace competition can be. Brownnosers prevail over those who work harder. Intelligent workers get passed over in favor of those who don’t threaten their colleagues with difficult questions. Unfair promotions piss people off. Workers are more likely to quit a job after a colleague gets promoted than one in which no one gets promoted.

Competition in the arts is silly and destructive. What makes a song or a sculpture or a cartoon “better” than another one? It’s purely a matter of subjective taste. Who receives the Oscar or the Tony or the Nobel usually has far more to do with contemporary politics and the composition of the prize jury than the quality of the work.

Columbia University, which administers the Pulitzer Prize, has decided to abolish the editorial cartooning section in favor of a broad illustrated commentary category that also includes comics journalism, comic strips, graphic novels, magazine illustrations, you name it. Effectively they have reduced an editorial cartoonist’s chance of winning a Pulitzer from slim to none, which is bad for a nearly-extinct profession, which is why I added my name to a petition letter opposing it.

In a way, though, they’ve done us a favor. With few exceptions, each year’s announcement of the winners and finalists has been followed by a flurry of phone calls between the 99% of us who lost. We disagree with the choice of the winner. We bemoan the great work that’s been snubbed. We wonder what the hell happened in the room where it happened; what were the jurors thinking and why are their deliberations unaccountable? Most of all, we wonder what we could have done, if anything — spoiler, probably nothing — to have won ourselves? Even the winner is a loser, because for they know that few others are happy about their victory. I’ve been at this for more than a quarter of a century and I can’t remember any winner being greeted by anything close to universal acclaim by his or her colleagues.

If you can’t win, you can’t lose.

(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 #53: If I Were President! What We’d Do on Inflation/Economy, Human Rights/Foreign Policy & Guns/Red Flag Laws

Ted Rall and Scott Stantis believe that every political cartoonist should know what he or she would do if they became President of the United States. This week we put that question to the test. What, if anything, can the president do to combat inflation? As President Biden prepares to suck up to murderous Saudi Arabia, does he have an alternative? Are red-flag laws common-sense gun legislation or are they the first step down the path to dystopian authoritarianism?

 

 

Democrats Will Lose 2022. They Can Win 2024 if Biden-Harris Say They Won’t Run

            For the foreseeable future, the Democratic Party is in trouble. In today’s essay I will describe just how bleak the situation is – spoiler alert, very — and how I would advise party leaders to respond if they asked my advice.

            First, they’re probable going to lose big in the upcoming midterms.

            Prediction is fraught, things change, you never know, blah blah blah. Polls are mixed. That said, Republicans will almost certainly take back the House of Representatives and probably the Senate as well.

            The tea leaves look ugly. Plagued by the perception that he is tired, feeble and out of it, the nearly octogenarian President Biden’s approval ratings are at a near record low 41% and sinking. Gallup’s monthly poll of the issues that worry American voters lists the top problems as poor government leadership (20%),  inflation (17%), the economy in general (12%) and fuel/oil prices (6%). Rarely has a political situation been so straightforward; voters think the economy sucks and they blame Biden.

            The president has no one to blame but himself for the perception that he doesn’t understand how much pain inflation is causing, and that he doesn’t have a plan to bring it down. First he said that inflation wasn’t happening. Then he said it would be temporary. Now he’s blaming Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for an economic phenomenon that began a year earlier and that his sanctions against Russia are making worse. The White House’s most recent published statement focuses on attacking inflation by…taxing the rich and big corporations. I’m all for a progressive tax system. But changing who pays for missiles and bombs won’t bring down food and gas prices.

            Not that we’ll find out. Democratic proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy are dead in the water. So Biden’s idea to fix inflation is something he can’t try.

            Inflation, the problem that most scares voters, will remain high at least through the end of the year. And there’s nothing the president can do about it – he told us that himself last week. Biden’s inability to lead will prompt swing voters to cast rage votes for Republicans.

            So 2023 will likely begin with divided government.

The president will be the lamest of all lame ducks. Biden, 80 and about to topple over at any moment, will finally have to admit to himself and the nation what everyone already knows: he will not run for reelection. Heir-apparent Kamala Harris has one of the lowest popularity ratings of anyone in American politics, 31%, the same as for lawyers and big pharma. How bad is it? Not only is Harris incapable of clearing the field by scaring away potential rivals for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, she would almost certainly face the devastating embarrassment of a sitting vice president losing in the primaries.

Worse still, Republican control of Congress will make it impossible for the Biden-Harris administration to rack up any legislative accomplishments for them, or any Democrat, to run on in 2024.

When voters are miserable and hopeless because they don’t see government taking action that might alleviate their pain, they punish the incumbent party. So the trick for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election would be to shed the albatross of the failed Biden presidency. There’s only one way to do it: both Biden and Harris should announce early in 2023 that they do not plan to run for president, thus opening the field to all comers.

American elections are about the future. Sweeping the slate clean will make for one of the most exciting Democratic presidential primary campaigns in history and could attract new candidates who otherwise might have sat out the race.

Republicans, on the other hand, will almost certainly renominate an old white man, Donald Trump. The reality-TV real-estate pseudo-billionaire who once seemed so fresh as to be wild and crazy will be a bitter blast from the past.

My suggestion, of course, runs directly against the conventional wisdom that a first-term president becomes instantly impotent following the announcement that he will not run again and that it’s therefore better to keep up the fiction as long as possible. With Republicans controlling Congress, however, what difference will it make?

A soon-to-be-retired President Biden would be freed to pass all sorts of executive orders and other programs that require nothing more than a stroke of his pen. With Harris not running, no other candidate would be held to account for his actions beyond party affiliation. Biden could do all sorts of things on progressives’ wish list, thus shoring up the currently unenthusiastic party base: a blanket pardon of nonviolent drug offenders, closing Guantánamo Bay, forgiveness of federal student loans, canceling federal contracts with companies that engage in union-busting, pardoning political prisoners like Julian Assange and targets of the security state like Edward Snowden. He could follow the lead of Richard Nixon of all people, and impose wage and price controls to fight inflation.

There’s no point worrying about the 2022 midterms. Democrats are going to lose those. They need to look ahead to 2024. Job one is convincing Biden and Harris to stand down.

 (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 #52: An In-Depth Interview with Cartoonist Ted Rall by Scott Stantis

Scott, who was interviewed by DMZ America podcast co-host Ted Rall, finally returns the favor and interviews Ted. Where he came from and how his opinions were shaped. From a troubled and tumultuous childhood in Dayton, Ohio to becoming a bestselling and highly-regarded editorial cartoonist, columnist and author. Learn about Ted in this week’s Season One-ending episode.

 

 

DMZ America Podcast #51: Police Wuss Out in Uvalde. What To Do About Gun Violence. Ukraine Update.

Police are supposed to protect and serve, but apparently all they were good for at the school shooting in Uvalde Texas was standing outside and beating up distraught parents. Why are cops cowards? Ted and Scott have different theories. Can mass shootings be prevented? Probably not, but Scott and Ted have suggestions on ways to mitigate the bloodshed. Finally, the war in Ukraine. Looks like Russia has the upper hand. What’s next?

 

 

Our Culture of Violence Comes from the White House

            Reactions to mass shootings follow a predictable pattern.

            Liberal politicians call for gun control, and they have a point. Countries with gun control have less gun violence. The old assault weapons ban did some good. You have to pass a test to get licensed to drive a car or, in most states, to operate a boat—surely the same could be required of those who want to possess firearms.

            Conservative politicians call attention to America’s worsening epidemic of mental illness. They have a point too. Most mass shooters have untreated psychiatric disorders; most are suicidal.

            But neither side addresses America’s culture of violence. Why would they? They both feed into it.

            The ethical norms of a society become broadly accepted after they are defined and propagated by the acts and public statements of political and religious leaders, news and entertainment media and celebrities. If morale goes from the top-down, so do morals. If you doubt this is true, look at nations with low rates of violent crime like Switzerland, Denmark and Japan. Compared to our political discourse, which is often glib, macho and coarse, theirs is thoughtful, polite and reserved. Day-to-day interactions between citizens is less aggressive; their drivers are the safest and least likely to succumb to road rage.

            American political leaders, on the other hand, revel in cognitive dissonance, flashing a knowing wink at cameras as they call for peace in between indulging their swaggery inner cowboy: starting and prolonging wars, ordering assassinations and issuing one threat after another. Is it any wonder that a young man, made impressionable by mental illness and desensitized by over-the-top violence on film and interactive bloodletting in immersive video games, might draw the message that opening fire on a classroom full of schoolchildren is an acceptable way to express his frustration and rage?

            “There’s no place for violence,” Joe Biden said during the 2020 election campaign. But he wasn’t talking about state violence—he was condemning the destruction of property by Black Lives Matters demonstrators who were trying to stop police brutality.

Truth is, there’s plenty of places where rhetorical violence is acceptable in America—beginning at the White House podium. Even when reacting to last week’s massacre of 19 children and their two teachers in Uvalde Texas, Biden bottom-shelved grief and sorrow in favor of frustration, irritation and blame: “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage…What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone? Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick. And the gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons which make them the most and largest profit.” [Emphases mine.]

Where American politicians really revel in violent rhetoric at a fever-pitch level unheard of anywhere else on the planet, however, is where it’s easiest to other-ize their victims: foreign affairs.

“This strike was not the last,” Biden said after ordering an assassination drone to launch missiles into a house in Kabul in August 2021, deploying the butch verbiage of an action movie. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack [by ISIS-K at the Kabul airport] and make them pay.” (Actually, the drone strike killed 10 innocent civilians, mostly children.) Imagine a European prime minister talking like that!

On the campaign trail for Obama in 2012, then-Vice President Biden repeatedly bragged that his administration had carried out the extrajudicial assassination of Osama bin Laden and had ordered the Al Qaeda chief murdered after he was captured alive. “You want to know whether we’re better off?” Biden asked a cheering crowd of 3,500 in Detroit. “I’ve got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Charming.

For Americans, violence is the go-to solution to many foreign crises even when there are better alternatives. Bin Laden, for example, could have been put on trial, with 9/11 treated as a law-enforcement issue. It would have elevated us, provided answers to the victims’ families and diminished the prestige of the terrorists.

Following the bombastic, high-strung George W. Bush, Barack Obama cultivated an image of calm deliberation: “No Drama Obama,” his staff called him. Still, that didn’t stop him from tastelessly normalizing political murder. The president pointed to the Jonas Brothers during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner and joked: “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas,” Obama said as reporters guffawed. “Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming.” The thousands of innocent people blown up by Obama’s drones, none by legal means, must have found his depravity hilarious.

            Political leaders of other countries have started wars. Some have murdered rivals. But most have enough grace and attention to decorum to recognize that such acts are unpleasant—necessary, perhaps, in order to achieve their objective, but nothing to boast about. They deny involvement or refuse comment or invent cover stories to justify their crimes as Hitler did when he claimed that his 1939 invasion of Poland was an act of self-defense. Only Americans respond to an adversary’s sticky end with an unseemly spiking of the football.

Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state under Obama, also contributed to America’s uniquely cavalier attitude toward violence. While watching a video of Libyan jihadis murdering dictator Moammar Gaddafi by sodomizing him with a bayonet, she famously cackled: “We came, we saw, he died.” She then laughed heartily.

Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces occupying Iraq in late 2003. Never one for keeping his thumb off the scale, President George W. Bush called for the dictator—a former U.S. ally—to be executed: “I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty…for what he has done to his people. He is a torturer, a murderer, and they had rape rooms, and this is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice.” Self-awareness note: Guantánamo and other U.S. “black sites” set up by Bush for kidnapped Muslims also featured torture, murder and rape.

Americans don’t just like violence. Extrajudicial, illegal violence is in our DNA. We glorify Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas because he won and chuckle at his willingness to violate the customs of how war was fought at the time. American revolutionaries who ambushed the British using guerilla tactics weren’t cheaters, they were clever. Lincoln is considered great because he fought the Civil War over his refusal to accept the Confederacy’s legal decision to secede. Few Americans gave much thought to George H.W. Bush’s decision to invade Panama, a sovereign nation, and prosecute its president, in the U.S., like a common criminal even though he was probably innocent—but it was insane.

Is there a direct line between statements by presidents and Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter? No. But direct orders are not how cultural norms permeate a society. When a behavior is normalized it becomes, by definition, so commonplace and acceptable that it hardly occurs to anyone that there’s anything wrong with it. Violence in America is like the old Palmolive commercial: we’re soaking in it. So we don’t notice it. Political leaders who normalize violence (especially extrajudicial violence) as acceptable, entertaining and amusing shouldn’t be surprised when impressionable young men follow their example and resort to violence themselves.

(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.)

First They Came for the Foreigners’ Bank Accounts

            Adam Smith wrote that the efficiency of markets relies on the free movement of goods. What happens when governments seize property in order to exert political pressure—or out of greed?

            A major, arguably the primary, incentive of the capitalist system is that it offers the potential of accruing wealth. Individuals and companies rely on government to maintain order, keep conditions like interest rates stable and protect accumulated assets from bank failures, devaluation, fraud and theft, without regard for the political orientation of their owner. In recent years, however, the United States has increasingly been putting its thumb on the scale for ideological reasons, taking assets by ethically and legally dubious means, and imperiling its reputation as a safe haven for deposits and investments.

            From the 62-years-and-counting trade embargo against Cuba to the severing of ties with Iran following the hostage crisis to the isolation of South Africa to punish apartheid, the U.S. has repeatedly turned to economic sanctions in the postwar era. The outright seizure of foreign assets held in the U.S. has increasingly become a part of the mix of pressure tactics.

            President George W. Bush took $1.7 billion from Iraq’s foreign reserves in 2003 and transferred an additional $600 million to a slush fund to finance anti-Saddam Hussein factions.

            Shortly before the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moammar Ghaddafi, President Barack Obama ordered that U.S. banks freeze $30 billion held by the Central Bank of Libya and the Libya Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, and use some of the money to fund Benghazi-based anti-Ghaddafi rebel groups, some of which morphed into radical jihadi terrorist organizations.

            Obama signed a 2012 law allowing frozen Iranian assets to be made available to settle claims by families of Hezbollah victims in Lebanon. “It is theft … it is like stealing Iran’s money and we condemn it,” an Iranian spokesman said.

            Refusing to accept the legitimacy of the country’s sitting president, President Donald Trump attempted a backdoor economic coup in Venezuela with a 2019 order granting opposition leader Juan Guaidó—even though he wasn’t a government official—authorization to dispose of assets and property in U.S. bank accounts under the name of the government of Venezuela.

            The Biden Administration recently grabbed $7 billion in deposits at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the name of the central bank of Afghanistan, Da Afghanistan Bank. The Taliban, who seized power in late August, claim they are the new government and that the money should be sent to them so they can, among other things, address mass starvation resulting from the post-U.S.-withdrawal economic collapse. The U.S., however, refuses to recognize the Taliban (or the former regime led by Ashraf Ghani) as the government of Afghanistan.

            In February President Biden signed an executive order transferring $3.5 billion to a trust fund that may be used to settle civil claims by the families of 9/11 victims and the remaining $3.5 billion to a second fund that might eventually be drawn down upon by humanitarian aid organizations. China’s reaction received widespread, approving news coverage. “This is flagrant robbery and shameless moral decline. The U.S. should immediately return the stolen money back to the Afghan people, and compensate people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and more who died or suffered losses from the U.S. military invasions,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.

            As part of its sanctions against Russia to punish it for invading Ukraine, the U.S. has frozen $100 billion in Russian foreign-exchange reserves held at the Fed and moved to seize superyachts, luxury apartments and bank accounts held by oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), co-sponsor of a House resolution urging the sale of frozen Russian assets to benefit Ukraine that passed by an overwhelming majority, said that Russia should never get them back: “Can we imagine giving all of Russia’s wealth — the yachts, the bank accounts, the villas, the planes — back to Putin and his cronies as Ukraine lies in ruin, as the Ukrainians bury their dead? We cannot imagine doing that. We will not do that.”

            Russia, however, has long anticipated American sanctions and has engaged in a policy of “de-dollarization” of its foreign currency reserves to soften the blow. “Crucially, the once-dominant dollar now accounts for only 16% of Russia’s currency reserves, which Moscow has replaced with euros, China’s renminbi, and gold,” reports The New York Times.

            Other countries with less than perfect relationships with the United States are searching for ways to keep their assets out of our clutches. Brazil and India are worried about being targeted over their environmental policies. Do we really want to solidify our reputation as a place where your bank account and even your home can be taken by the U.S. government because you are friends with the president of your country at a time when the U.S. and your country aren’t getting along?

            Kleptomaniacal economic warfare has also become pervasive within our borders. Police agencies routinely use civil asset forfeiture to take the cars, houses, boats, cash and other property of people they suspect of involvement with crime or illegal activity. More than $68 billion worth of personal property has been seized by cops over the last 20 years within the United States, all without due process. Incredibly, property is not returned even when no charges are filed or a trial ends with a not-guilty verdict.

We may not have much sympathy for Russian oligarchs or people whose flashy lifestyles attract the wrong kind of attention from the police. But it’s not hard to imagine a not-distant future when the government might seize an average law-abiding citizen’s middle-class house because they espouse the wrong politics. The way things are going, we may soon see an ill-considered tweet lead to someone’s bank account being frozen and the assets redirected to some bureaucrat’s favorite cause.

 (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.)

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