It’s Not That Biden Is Too Slow. It’s That He’s Going Too Small.

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           In the intraparty Democratic war between progressive leftists and corporate centrists, each side speaks a different language. The two factions’ takes on Joe Biden’s first weeks as president starkly demonstrate that inability to communicate.

            Biden’s base is his centrist supporters, those who backed him against Bernie Sanders during the primaries on the grounds that his moderate demeanor and years of wheeling and dealing would allow him to find common ground with Republicans who would probably continue to control the Senate. Centrists’ response to criticism of Biden is that Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, the shattered economy and the deep wound to our national psyche caused and embodied by the January 6th Capitol insurrection will require a long time to fix. Impatience, they say, is unrealistic and unfair.

The same principle applies to Biden’s response to longer-standing policy issues that predate Trump, like climate change and the healthcare system. They say, he just moved into the White House. Chill.

But progressives aren’t complaining that Biden is too slow—although they obviously feel a sense of urgency. They are complaining that his policy prescriptions are too small.

Biden came out of the gate fast with dozens of executive orders. But policy-obsessed progressive populists weren’t impressed by their close-to-nonexistent impact.

            On January 22nd the president issued a mandate that federal workers become subject to a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Given that the “Fight for $15” movement began in 2012, satisfying that progressive demand would require $17 after adjusting for inflation. More vexing is that Biden’s order doesn’t do anything. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management fewer than 20,000 of the nation’s 2.1 million federal government employees—fewer than one percent—currently earn less than $15 an hour. The administration made a splash but 99% of federal workers won’t see an extra penny.

Biden claims that he wants to reform American prisons, an idea for which progressives have been fighting and where common ground with Republicans may be achievable. But his executive order, which tells the Department of Justice not to renew contracts with privately-operated, for-profit prisons, affects only 14,000 out of nearly 152,000 federal inmates currently incarcerated, or fewer than 10% of federal prisoners. There were 1.8 million people in American prisons as of the middle of last year. Biden’s executive order will lead to the transfers of fewer than 1% of the total prison population.

“When it comes to private prisons, the impact of this order is going to be slight to none,” Fordham law professor John Pfaff tells NBC News. Because it fools us into believing in a nonexistent improvement it might even make things worse. “The symbolism carries the very real risk of making us blind to the nearly identical incentives of the public prison sector, and the public side is so much vaster in scope,” Pfaff warns.

One Biden order promises to replace the federal government fleet of 645,000 vehicles with electric ones. The catch is, he doesn’t say when. Unless it happens before 2035 and no future administration issues another executive order reversing this one, companies like General Motors will render the issue moot. The automaker has announced that it will stop making gas-powered passenger cars and SUVs that year.

I was pleasantly surprised by Biden’s decision to push his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package through Congress using the budget reconciliation process, which only requires 50 votes rather than a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. Democrats finally seem to be waking up to the reality that Republicans really, really hate them and aren’t going to cooperate with their initiatives. But here’s the thing: neither the one-time $1400 per person payout nor the $15/hour minimum wage can lift us out of the deep coronavirus depression. The American workforce has lost at least 10 million jobs over the last year. Millions of people face eviction or foreclosure. There is widespread consensus among economists that Biden’s plan, assuming it passes intact, is insufficient and will fail to provide long-lasting relief.

If Biden has big plans in mind, now—while Democrats control the Senate and he enjoys high approval ratings—is the time to tee them up.

First, the president should communicate to the public that sizable coronavirus relief packages will be an ongoing part of fiscal policy until the pandemic is over, recovery is at hand and the rising tide has already begun to lift most boats. The current ad hoc approach inherited from Trump is woefully inadequate and creates unnecessary anxiety among individuals and in the securities markets. Stimulus in fits and starts doesn’t work. We need a Universal Basic Income.

Second is the environment. Long neglected by both major parties, the climate change crisis represents both an enormous opportunity as well as an existential threat to humanity. Auto manufacturers that are rapidly moving toward electric vehicles and big energy companies that already understand the future lies outside fossil fuels prove that the marketplace is ahead of government when it comes to the Green New Deal. Biden deserves credit for talking about the problem but he wants to do way too little way too late.

He should work to push through a comprehensive plan to radically reduce the emission of greenhouse gases within the next few months.

There are, of course, a myriad of other policy challenges ahead—militarism, immigration, an increasingly authoritarian Silicon Valley—but if I were Biden I would tackle racism and particularly racist policing quickly. American police are vicious, stupid and predatory. They make communities more dangerous, not safer. Cops should get out of the revenue enhancement business. Protecting the public must take priority over protecting themselves. Harassing people based on ethnicity and other demographic profiles must end. Biden can use the threat of withholding federal funding to force states and cities to reinvent policing from the ground up.

We want Biden to be fast. More than that, though, we want him to be bold.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

 

No, Virginia, It’s Not Too Early to Criticize Joe Biden

Torture Used by U.S. Military at Guantanamo Bay Despite Being Banned, UN  Says

Joe Biden approves of this message.

            Censorship in mainstream corporate American media outlets is subtle. It’s not so much that they spin the truth. It’s that they omit pertinent facts and exclude relevant points of view.

            So it is with politics. Among the tools available to messaging and framing experts is “flooding the field” — dominating the news with a blizzard of headlines in order to obscure actions they ought to be undertaking but are instead ignoring. That’s what we are seeing, or not seeing, from the new Biden Administration.

            Donald Trump and his predecessors left behind a hell of a mess. But much of what you and I consider unfinished disasters to be reversed or cleaned up is to this centrist Democrat’s cronies and top administrators just business as usual, perfectly desirable neoliberal policy that, as far as they are concerned, can and should continue. Only one thing to get in the way of the continuationists: voters noticing what they are up to.

            A lot of important items are missing from Biden’s executive orders and his early legislative proposals. He and his allies are hiding behind the usual fig leaf of “give the guy time, he just got in, he has a lot of stuff to fix.” But that’s malarkey. There is only one reason that issues near and dear to progressives couldn’t have been prioritized for early action alongside the over three dozen presidential executive orders that have already been signed: the White House’s agenda isn’t the same as ours.

            Take the concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay. It’s an international embarrassment that turns everything the United States preaches about human rights into a joke. It should have been closed years ago. The inmates are all innocent as a matter of law (none has been charged in a real court) and should be released, to the United States if their home countries won’t take them or are too dangerous, and all prisoners past and present should be generously financially compensated and offered physical and psychological health treatment for the remainder of their lives.

            Biden doesn’t care about Gitmo and we should hold him to account for his immorality. He has had almost nothing to say about this boil on the ass of America since he began running for president. He blames Congress for a 2014 law forbidding the military from transferring prisoners to the U.S., shrugs his shoulders and talks about other things.

            Nothing prevents the President from closing the facility. He could do it with a stroke of a pen. Actually, the entire naval base should be returned to Cuba, from which it was stolen as a spoil of the based-on-lies Spanish-American War. Let Congress figure out what to do with its torture victims.

            Considering how easy it would be for him to take bold and decisive action on an issue that would earn him widespread claim from human rights organizations and the international community, it is more than fair to criticize Biden for ignoring this huge issue in favor of the relatively trivial question of whether transgender women should be allowed to compete in high school athletics.

            Another blight on our country’s international reputation is the ongoing drone war. International polls are clear; everyone on earth except citizens of the United States despises us for invading foreign airspace with assassination robots and murdering people who almost always turn out to be completely innocent. Like his predecessors, Biden is responsible for personally signing off on blowing up people on the other side of the planet for no good reason. And he could stop it with a stroke of a pen. It’s not like he’s too busy.

            As with Guantánamo, however, Biden has been silent on drones. Biden’s new Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was an Obama lawyer who signed off on Obama’s drone “kill list” between 2010 and 2015. She also helped cover up CIA torture. “We know that in almost all cases that she said it was legal to put these names on the kill list, and people were subsequently killed by drone, including American citizens,” says CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou. (Disclosure: I have been interviewed by Kiriakou and consider him a friend.) But the media doesn’t much talk about that. They’re super excited that this miserable turd of a human being is female.

            On January 29, Biden ordered a mass killing by drone strike against Somalia. If he is “too busy” cleaning up Trump’s mess, how did he have time to do that?

            The talking point that a new president is busy and should be allowed time to do what’s right is an effective but ridiculous argument. The President of the United States has a huge staff reporting directly to him; he can walk and chew gum and stand on a foot and bark like a dog at the same time. And if he’s too busy to do the right thing, he should certainly be too busy to do the wrong thing.

            Progressives and other critics of the administration shouldn’t grant Joe Biden a honeymoon that he doesn’t seem interested in taking for himself.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Read This and Tell Me Biden Isn’t Losing It

I have been criticized for saying that Joe Biden is suffering from dementia. Many Democrats point to his scripted appearances where he is reading prepared remarks from a Teleprompter as evidence of his being of sound mind and body, but what really matters is your ability to speak extemporaneously. That’s where the president falls short. I was watching one of his press conferences yesterday and was amazed by the word salad coming out of his mouth. Check out this exchange as an example and tell me that this president should be in charge of this country at this time.

Q: What is unity when you see it and as you define it?

A: Well, Annie, I think it makes up several of the points you made. One is, unity requires you eliminate the vitriol, make anything that you disagree with about the other person’s personality or their lack of integrity or they’re not decent legislators and the like. We have to get rid of that. I think that’s already beginning to change, but God knows where things go, number one.

Unity also is trying to reflect what the majority of the American people, Democrat, Republican, Independent, think is within the fulcrum of what needs to be done to make their lives and the lives of Americans better. For example, if you look at the data, and I’m not claiming the polling data to be exact, but if you look at the data, you have I think it’s, I hope I’m saying it, I guess, you may correct me if I get the number wrong. I think it’s 57%, 58% of the American people including Republicans, Democrats, and independents, think that we have to do something about the COVID vaccine. We have to do something about making sure that people who are be hurting badly, can’t eat, don’t have food are in a position where they’re about to be thrown out of their apartments, et cetera, being able to have an opportunity to get a job, that they all think we should be acting. We should be doing more.

Unity also is trying to get, at a minimum, if you pass a piece of legislation that breaks down on party lines, but it gets passed, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t unity. It just means it wasn’t bipartisan. I’d prefer these things to be bipartisan, because I’m trying to generate some consensus and take sort of the, how can I say it, the vitriol out of all of this. Because I’m confident, I’m confident from my discussions. There are a number of Republicans who know we have to do something about food insecurity for people in this pandemic. I’m confident they know we have to do something about figuring out how to get children back in school. There’s easy ways to deal with this. One, if you’re anti-union, you can say, “It’s all because of teachers.” If you want to make a case though that it’s complicated, you say, “Well, what do you have to do to make it safe to get in those schools?”

Now we’re going to have arguments. For example, I propose that because it was bipartisan, I thought it would increase the prospects of passage, the additional $1,400 in direct cash payment to folks. Well, there’s legitimate reason for people to say, “Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X-number of dollars or Y?” I’m open to negotiate those things. That’s all. I picked it because I thought it was rational, reasonable and it had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House when it passed.

But this is all a bit of a moving target in terms of the precision with which this goes. You’re asking about unity, 51 votes, bipartisan, et cetera. The other piece of this is that the one thing that gives me hope that we’re not only going to sort of stay away from the ad hominem attacks on one another, is that there is an overwhelming consensus among the major economists at home and in the world that the way to avoid a deeper, deeper, deeper recession moving in the direction of losing our competitive capacity is to spend money now. From across the board, every major institution has said, “If we don’t invest now, we’re going to lose so much altitude in terms of our employment base and our economic growth it’s going to be harder to re-establish it.”

We can afford to do it now. As a matter of fact, I think the response has been, “We can’t afford not to invest now. We can’t afford to fail to invest now.” I think there’s a growing realization of that on the part of all, but some very, very hard-edged partisans, maybe on both sides. But I think there is a growing consensus, whether we get it all done exactly the way I want it remains to be seen, but I’m confident that we can work our way through. We have to work our way through. Because as I’ve said 100 times, there is no ability in a democracy for it to function without the ability to reach consensus. Otherwise, it just becomes executive fiat or battleground issues that get us virtually nowhere. I don’t want to hold, my colleague may know, the Vice President, but I think there were very few debates on the Senate floor the whole last year on almost any issue. Well, that benefits no one. It doesn’t inform anybody. It doesn’t allow the public to make judgments about whose they think is right or wrong. I am optimistic that it may take some time, but over the year, if we treat each other with respect, and we’re going to argue like hell, I’m confident of that. Believe me, I know that. I’ve been there. But I think we can do it in a way that we can get things done for the American people.

 

Biden’s Presidency Has Already Failed

Over 1,000 NYC chain stores have closed this past year, the biggest drop in a decade | 6sqft

            Donald Trump may soon look back at his defeat as the best thing that ever happened to him. The former president has been disgraced, double-impeached and faces criminal prosecution. Fortunately for him, he slipped out of D.C. just in time to avoid the blame for an economic catastrophe no one can fix.

            No one inside this political system, anyway.

            5.2 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment over the last month. The key civilian labor force participation rate is 61.5%. Those are staggeringly bad numbers, comparable to the Great Depression. And this is following a year of atrocious job losses. “It’s literally off the charts,” Michelle Meyer of Bank of America said in May. “What would typically take months or quarters to play out in a recession happened in a matter of weeks this time.”

A little history: The last time the economy tanked was at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, during the 2008-09 subprime mortgage crisis. We were seriously freaking out by the time Barack Obama was sworn in. The Great Recession was the worst meltdown since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs and/or their homes, many to illegal bank foreclosures.

Yet the Great Recession, bad as it was, was nothing compared to what we face now. In January 2009 first-time unemployment filings totaled 600,000. We were terrified! And rightly so.

It’s nine times worse now.

And in January 2009 the labor force participation rate was 65.7%. About 7 million Americans have been unemployed so long that they have given up looking for work since 2009. They’re not in the official unemployment rate, but they’re jobless in all the ways that matter. They’re broke, they’re not paying taxes and they’re a burden on the welfare and healthcare systems.

Obama’s first-term economic stimulus package was anemic. It bailed out Wall Street, not Main Street. So it took seven years to dig out of the hole—nearly the entirety of Obama’s two terms as president. Insufficient stimulus led to big Democratic losses in the 2010 midterm elections, the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left, and Trump’s populist takeover on the right (interestingly, Trump carried counties where it took longer to recover).

Every intelligent Democrat looks back in regret at Obama and the Democratic Congress’ decision not to go big. “The Obama stimulus was too small and too subtle,” Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic. “It was too small because the Republican opposition was intransigent, and the Democratic coalition was uncomfortable with the multitrillion-dollar deficits necessary to close the GDP gap.” Joe Biden faces exactly the same situation.

But the problem is worse—much worse. “The magnitude of the crisis in 2008 was enormous, but this time we’ve got multiple overlapping crises,” Biden’s senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan remarked in September.

It’s a six-alarm fire. But help is not on the way. “Key Republicans have quickly signaled discomfort with — or outright dismissal of — the cornerstone of Biden’s early legislative agenda, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan including $1,400 stimulus checks, vaccine distribution funding and a $15 minimum wage,” The Washington Post reported on January 24th. “On top of that, senators are preparing for a wrenching second impeachment trial for President Donald Trump, set to begin Feb. 9, which could mire all other Senate business and further obliterate any hopes of cross-party cooperation. Taken together, this gridlock could imperil Biden’s entire early presidency, making it impossible for him to deliver on key promises as he contends with dueling crises.”

            Even if Biden were to pull a miracle bunny out of his hat by convincing Congress to pass his stimulus package intact, those $1400 checks won’t be nearly enough to pull the economy out of a tailspin. Obama’s stimulus, worth $950 billion in today’s dollars, was half the size of Biden’s. But Biden has a hole nine times bigger to dig out of. In relative terms, then, Obama’s stimulus was 4.5 times bigger than Biden’s—and everyone agrees it was way too small.

            Progressive economists, the same experts who were right about Obama’s mini-stimulus 12 years ago while Very Serious Pundits were dead wrong, calculate that Biden should spend two to three times the $1.9 trillion he is requesting from Congress in order to save the economy. “Congress is debating a stimulus package right now that would leave our estimate of true unemployment still hovering around double digits,” says Mark Paul, political economist at the New College of Florida and the coauthor of an analysis report by the progressive thinktank the Groundwork Collaborative. “We have the tools to put the economy back on track. Unfortunately, Congress lacks the political will to act.”

            The painfully slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, exploding infection rates and soaring unemployment point to a brutal winter followed by a long hot summer, 1968-style. Biden isn’t asking for enough, Congress won’t approve the little bit he’s asking for and the failure of American democracy to address our crises will soon be evident to everyone.

            As rage boils over from far left to far right, the January 6th coup attempt at the Capitol may soon look like less of a historical anomaly than a precursor to collapse or revolution. If I were Biden, I might call The Donald and ask him if I could hide out at Mar-a-Lago.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

If You Miss Donald Trump, You’ll Love Joe Biden

Joe Biden snaps at reporter asking about son Hunter

            From mainstream left to mainstream right, the media deluge of Trump postmortems share the assumption that 45 represented a departure, deviation or innovation from the comportment and policies of previous American heads of state. True, he was the first man elected president without political or military experience. And as I have previously observed, Trump revolutionized campaigning by relying on social media instead of big travel budget and ad-libbing rather than repeating a pre-packaged stump speech.

            But there was nothing new about the way he governed.

            In policy, even with his vicious tone, Trump was a typical Republican president.  Ford told New York City to drop dead, Reagan called Blacks “welfare queens” and dog-whistled to the Klan, Bush legalized torture—nothing Trump did was worse than those. In some respects, Trump wasn’t much worse from Democrats.

Trump’s low approval ratings following the second impeachment for his January 6th coup d’état attempt, and the revulsion most Americans currently feel for him give us a rare opportunity to acknowledge an ugly truth. Our nation’s political culture is toxic and has been for a long time; we tend to elevate politicians who reflect our basest and coarsest inclinations. In this respect, Trump was the perfect president for us.

During the 2016 campaign Trump shocked many of us by gleefully encouraging violence, as when he offered to pay the legal bills of a MAGAhead who beat up a liberal protester. He continued to spew bloodthirsty rhetoric throughout his four years in office (like when he implored cops “please don’t be too nice” to suspects), up to and including the day of the Capitol riot that left five people dead. The politics of degeneracy.

Yet Biden is no improvement. He’s a continuation.

You don’t get admitted to the ruling classes unless you pledge fealty to the might-makes-right politics of American empire. So when a technocrat in a nation with a smidge of respect for the rule of law might soft pedal or deny involvement in a brazenly illegal political assassination for which he ought to spend the rest of his life in prison, dirtbag American leaders brag about fomenting murder. “If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple,” then-Vice President Biden smirked during Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

That followed Secretary of Hillary Clinton’s disgusting reaction to the murder of Libyan ruler Moammar Ghaddafi. “We came, we saw, he died,” she cackled after viewing the dictator being sodomized by a bayonet wielded by a U.S. ally after his convoy was blown up by a U.S. drone missile.

At a September presidential debate Biden hypocritically accused Trump of using “racist…dog-whistle” language. The new President has a long history of spewing similar verbiage while arguing for right-wing legislation that destroyed Black lives. “We must take back the streets,” Biden said, sounding like Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” while fighting for his infamously racist 1994 crime bill. “It doesn’t matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter or my son or daughter, my wife, your husband, my mother, your parents, it doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth. It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they’re about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.” Everyone understood who “they” were: Blacks.

It might be reasonable to brush off this 26-year-old rant as the product of a political mind still in development—except for one thing. Biden has never apologized for either his racist dog-whistling or his racist legislation.

Until and unless you recant and make amends for your past, your past is your present.

One stain on Trump’s presidency was emoluments—using his office for personal financial gain. Biden’s actions on behalf of his son Hunter may not rise to the frequency of the Trump family’s rampant nepotism. Morally and ethically, however, selling access to the (vice) presidency is a distinction without a difference.

Trump’s worst sin was his repeated lying, even about such inconsequential matters as the attendance size at his inauguration. But Biden is a serial liar too. During a primary debate with Bernie Sanders, Biden looked right into an incredulous Sanders’ eyes and said he had never voted for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion. In fact, he had supported it repeatedly, for many years. Typically, he never admitted wrongdoing.

Biden lied about supporting civil rights. He even falsely claimed to have been arrested by police in apartheid-era Soweto, South Africa. His best-ever fib was smearing the man involved in the car wreck that killed his first wife and young daughter; he claimed the driver had “drunk his lunch” when, in fact, he was sober and the accident was his wife’s fault.

Again, you could dismiss Biden’s lies as youthful immaturity. After all, he was six months younger when he lied in Sanders’ face. The problem for us is, he’s still at it.

In December Biden said he wanted to send Americans a $2,000 stimulus check in order to prop up the economy. Congress approved and Trump signed a bill granting $600 instead. Now the Weasel-in-Chief says Trump’s $600 was a “downpayment”—so we’re only getting, assuming that Congress approves, $1,400. (Never mind that single payments are a joke compared to the 80% of salary, paid monthly, issued to victims of COVID-19 lockdown victims in the United Kingdom, 70% in South Korea, etc.)

Don’t be fooled by Biden’s tight-fitting suits, a distinct sartorial improvement over Trump’s glossy too-long red ties, or his phony aw-shucks grin, an aesthetic improvement over Trump’s ridiculous scowl. In the ways that matter most, back to normal is exactly the same as the weirdness of the last four years.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Congress Votes to Arm Violent Mobs That Storm through Capitols around the World

Kyrgyzstan's second tulip revolution | Kyrgyzstan | The Guardian

            Terrified political leaders watched the police who were assigned to protect them melt away. They fled as an angry mob of hooligans, riled up by sketchy allegations of rigged elections, stormed up the stairs of the government building that hosted the debates and deliberations of their venerable democracy. The rioters, reactionary right-wingers from the nation’s rural hinterlands, rampaged through the corridors of power, smashing windows, vandalizing offices and looting files and furniture.

            Political elites deplored the physical appearance and comportment of the protesters. “I’d like to believe and hope that the actions of a mob high on narcotic substances will not totally destabilize this republic,” remarked a top official of a neighboring country.

            This scene didn’t take place at the Capitol. It occurred at the “White House,” the seat of parliament and the presidential staff in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

In March 2005, the mob got its way. President Askar Akayev, the only leader of a former Soviet republic in Central Asia to have been democratically elected, fled into exile. The Tulip Revolution, as Western news media approvingly dubbed the coup, prompted the all-but-total collapse of the country’s economy and politics into chaos so intense that parts of the country have become a failed state where currency has stopped circulating. When I entered via Tajikistan in 2009, the illiterate border guards didn’t even have a stamp in order to mark my passport.

Stability remains elusive. Mobs similarly toppled Akayev’s successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010 and, in a barely noticed bit of international drama eclipsed by the U.S. election, Bakiyev’s replacement in October 2020.

Those Kyrgyz mobs of Muslim young men from the conservative Ferghana Valley didn’t materialize by chance in 2005. They were trained and funded by you and me.

Scores of CIA agents permanently stationed in southern Kyrgyzstan trained a bunch of hicks to overthrow a northern-based secular government that had annoyed the Bush Administration. The Akayev regime’s real sin? Not fixing an election. It was their demand for higher rent payments from the U.S. to use Bishkek’s airport as a base for bombing runs into Afghanistan.

“It would have been absolutely impossible for [the overthrow of Akayev] to have happened without that help [from the U.S.],” said Edil Baisolov, who led an NGO financed by the U.S. government. Freedom House, a CIA cover operation masquerading as an NGO, published anti-Akayev newspapers. The U.S. Congress allocated $12 million a year under the Freedom Support Act toward undermining Central Asia’s sole democracy.

“Hundreds of thousands more filter into pro-democracy programs in the country from other United States government-financed institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy. That does not include the money for the Freedom House printing press or Kyrgyz-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a pro-democracy broadcaster,” reported The New York Times. Bakiyev, the president who took over after the coup forced Akayev to flee, was himself trained in the U.S.

American media outlets loved the Kyrgyz insurrection. They grouped it with other CIA-backed “color revolutions” against the governments of Ukraine and Georgia, spinning the overthrow of Akayev, an intellectual physicist, as the liberation of the people from an authoritarian despot.

So please excuse me if I don’t shed geysers of tears over the traumas endured by the pampered lobbyist-fattened members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate while idiots wearing horned Viking masks desecrated the hallowed hallways of the Capitol.

What happened on January 6th is infinitely less than chickens coming home to roost. A few hours of mayhem is but a tiny taste of the far greater violence and misery those 535 men and women vote to inflict on countries around the world. According to one study, the United States interfered overtly or covertly in the free elections of 81 foreign countries between 1946 and 2000. The U.S. tried to overthrow the president of Venezuela in 2002, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq where it replaced the local governments with puppet regimes, set off a war within the Palestinian Authority by trying to get rid of Hamas in 2006, and is currently trying to destroy Yemen, Syria, Iran and Libya, which thanks to the U.S. has become a failed state. This is by necessity a truncated list.

Here is true American exceptionalism. Our Congress throws billions of dollars a year at regime change operations around the globe but, with the exception of events like the 9/11 attacks, nothing happens here. Blowback is infrequent, relatively small-scale and never directly impacts the people who are responsible, i.e. the political class. Given that one of the few things Democrats and Republicans still agree upon is to finance the cash-bloated military, I don’t see that changing.

It would be nice, however, for the members of Congress who finance and arm the rampaging mobs that illegally overthrow the sovereign governments of other countries to take it on the chin when the same thing kind of, sort of, almost happens to them.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

The Coup I Predicted Has Begun

My regular readers know that I’ve been concerned about an attempt by outgoing president Donald Trump to stay in office via a violent coup.

Regardless of what happens at the Capitol, if the invasion ends, the coup attempt is underway and cannot be considered behind us until Biden is sworn in. Democrats have cornered Trump.

He is fighting for his life, to stay out of prison for the rest of his life. He will do anything to avoid that. If

Biden and the Democrats Could Change Everything. But They Won’t Try.

Man in hammock featuring hammock, woods, and forest | High-Quality People Images ~ Creative Market

            “When someone shows you who they are,” Maya Angelou said, “believe them the first time.” We’re about to be reminded who and what the corporate-owned Democratic Party is—something they showed us in 2009.

            A pair of upset victories in the widely-watched pair of Georgia senatorial runoff elections has handed Democrats what they said they needed to get big things done: control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. If they want, they have argued over the last year, Democrats will be able to push through a lot of important legislation on the liberal agenda: a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, student loan forgiveness, an eviction ban, Medicare For All, expanded economic stimulus and addressing the climate crisis come to mind.

            They don’t want to. They won’t try.

            And they’ll have an excuse. Democrats will still be 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to override Republican filibusters. The billion dollars spent to elect those two Democrats in Georgia created some interesting symbolism about the rising influence of Black voters and hopes for further Democratic inroads in the South, but it didn’t defang Mitch McConnell. Gridlock goes on.

            Not that Biden and his pet Democratic Congress have much of an agenda. He’ll reverse Trump’s executive orders on stuff like rejoining the Paris Agreement but he won’t move the policy meter left of where it stood under Obama—a guy who was so far right of progressives that they launched the Occupy Wall Street movement to oppose him. Biden campaigned tepidly on adding a “public option” to Obamacare, but McConnell will almost certainly block it and anything else that requires GOP votes. The exception, of course, will be the next bloated military spending bill. For six consecutive decades Americans have been able to count on death, taxes, rising income inequality and bipartisan support for blowing up brown people in countries we can’t find on a map with $640 toilet seats.

            But you shouldn’t let the filibuster get you down. Even if Nonexistent God were to smite 10 deserving GOP senators with the coronaplague and said smitten senators had represented states whose Democratic governors were to appoint their replacements thus giving the Bidenocrats a coveted 60-vote supermajority, nothing would get better.

            We know this because it happened 12 years ago, during the 111th Congress.

            Obama’s presidency began in the strongest power position of any Democrat since FDR. With the economy in a tailspin and shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month—back then we still thought that was a lot—voters were both desperate and optimistic that our young new leader would lead us out of the Great Recession. He had a 68% approval rating, indicating bipartisan support. Democrats had picked up 21 seats in the House, giving them a 257-to-178 majority. They had a 59-to-41 majority in the Senate. (This included two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, who caucused with Democrats.) They were one tantalizing vote short of a supermajority.

            That changed on September 24, 2009, when the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death was temporarily filled by a fellow Democrat, until February 4, 2010, when Scott Brown, a Republican, won the Kennedy spot in a special election.

            Democratic apologists explain away Obama’s lack of progress on progressive policy goals during that halcyon period by pointing out that total Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress “only” lasted four months, during which they passed the Affordable Care Act.

            Let’s temporarily set aside the question of how it is that Ronald Reagan rammed an agenda so far right that it still affects all of us today through a 243-to-191 Democratic House and “just” 53 GOP seats in the Senate. What about those four magic months during which Obama could have gone as far left as he and his fellow Democrats wanted?

            Well, Democrats did pass one of those 60 straight bloated defense bills. That would have happened under Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. They extended unemployment benefits by 14 to 20 weeks, depending on in which state the poor jobless schmuck lived. And the ACA. And that’s it.

            In order to secure the vote of Lieberman—who represented the insurance company-owned state of Connecticut—the ACA did not include the “public option” that Obama had promised during his campaign. DNC chairman Howard Dean, then in his pre-neutered state, called the deletion of the public option “the collapse of healthcare reform in the United States Senate. And, honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.” He was right, but Obama, his House and his supermajoritarian Senate didn’t bother. Like Lieberman, they cared about insurers, not patients.

            Four months isn’t that long. Yet Reagan used less time than that to crush his opponents and pass tax cuts for the rich that shredded the New Deal social safety net. “The president used the bully pulpit to overcome opposition among House Democrats, building support for the cuts,” recalled Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. “He gave a speech on television, urging citizens to write their legislators and tell them to support the cuts. House Democrats, now the sole base for the party in Washington, joined in once they saw the public pressure.” LBJ took less time to “set Congress on the path to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as a tax cut and Medicare,” wrote presidential scholar Jeffrey Tulis. FDR created modern liberalism in under three months. You can imagine what Trump would have done during four months of a GOP House and Senate supermajority.

            Republicans didn’t prevent Obama from taking on the minimum wage or student loan debt or poverty. Obama had four months to do those things. No one could have stopped him. He didn’t try.

            And neither would Biden if he had the chance.

CORRECTED 1/6/21 to reflect that Brown won a statewide special election. He was not appointed, as I wrote initially. I regret the error.

            (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

My To-Do List for the first two-thirds of 2021, in Order:

January: Recover from Covid! Walk long, run short, bike, drink less, eat better, lose 30 extra Covid pounds (!) and beat my lungs like they’re a CEO begging for mercy after the Revolution.

February: Deep dive into my next book, a memoir about my mom’s life and her battle with Alzheimer’s.

April: Covid will be fading, so time for book tour! I’ll do it at private homes if stores aren’t ready yet. Indie bookstores preferred, though. “The Stringer” graphic novel with Pablo Callejo comes out April 21 and is SO AWESOME.

June: I’ve been working on a graphic novel parody of…I’ll say later…for 13 years. Time to finish that damn script.

July: Travel, goddammit. With the kid. Road trip across the US? Canada? Through Mexico? I don’t care where. Just. Travel.

August: Should be a long hot summer. Revolution, dammit!

Trump is Still Plotting a Possible Coup

Violence erupts in D.C. after the 'Million MAGA March' as protesters and Trump supporters brawl | Daily Mail Online

            Late last month I wrote that there was a strong chance–I called it 50-50—that Donald Trump would engineer a “self coup” in order to remain in power despite having lost the election.

            The president is a desperate cornered rat. Once he leaves office, he becomes vulnerable to several criminal investigations. By far, the one he has to worry about the most is being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney into his corrupt business practices, charges that could not be discharged by a presidential pardon if Joe Biden were to issue one. “[Trump] could spend the rest of his life in prison,” I wrote, “unless he declares martial law and becomes America’s first dictator.”

            I acknowledged that Trump “doesn’t have the support of the military—but he doesn’t need it.” Instead of a Latin American-style military coup, I said, “his would be a ‘police coup’ carried out by the numerous local police departments whose unions endorsed him for reelection, alongside federalized state police and deputized paramilitary MAGA goons.”

            It hasn’t happened yet, and maybe it won’t, but nothing has changed about Trump’s precarious legal situation. No human need trumps the motivation for personal survival. An intelligent assessment of Trump’s thinking must begin with the question: why wouldn’t he attempt a coup?

            Patriotism? Love of country? Respect for constitutional norms? I won’t go as far as many of the president’s other critics, who call him a narcissist who doesn’t care about anyone except himself. They don’t know that. Neither do I.

Here’s what I do know: whatever love of country and the craftwork of the Founding Fathers is in Trump’s soul cannot possibly weigh as heavily on his mind as the prospect of dying in prison, the first president in history to have faced prosecution and conviction. And that’s after months or years of humiliating hearings and trials and appeals where he has to sit quietly and watch his lawyers try to save his skin as prosecutors try to “flip” members of his family lest they, too, wind up inside the Graybar Hotel.

A more powerful reason to hesitate is the possibility of failure. If Trump’s “police coup” goes belly up, he goes to prison, possibly for treason, for life. Terrifying yet no worse than the New York charges that he’s so scared of. Anyway, what would you rather go to jail for, cheating on your taxes or trying to take over the government?

The only reason I can imagine that Trump would leave office peacefully on January 20th would be that he is psychologically broken. It’s theoretically possible. But the continuing rambunctiousness of his Twitter feed and recent public statements reveal zero evidence that he’s resigned to his fate.

Feel free to dismiss this column as the paranoid rant of a left-wing political cartoonist, albeit one who told you we would lose the Afghanistan war and predicted that Trump would win the 2016 election when everyone else was telling you something different. But you should probably consider this: The dean of Very Serious Journalist Persons, columnist David Ignatius of the Washington Post—a foreign affairs writer so mainstream and respectable that he supported invading Iraq and argued that the CIA should not be held accountable for torture—now agrees with me. In doing so, he draws upon some interesting deep-state sourcing.

“Not to be alarmist,” Ignatius wrote on December 26th, “but we should recognize that the United States will be in the danger zone until the formal certification of Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, because potential domestic and foreign turmoil could give President Trump an excuse to cling to power.”

“Trump’s last-ditch campaign [for Republican members of the House and Senate to challenge the electoral college vote count certification on January 6th] will almost certainly fail in Congress,” Ignatius says. I agree.

“The greater danger is on the streets, where pro-Trump forces are already threatening chaos. A pro-Trump group called ‘Women for America First’ has requested a permit for a Jan. 6 rally in Washington, and Trump is already beating the drum: ‘Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!’” Ignatius worries. “Government officials fear that if violence spreads, Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military. Then Trump might use ‘military capabilities’ to rerun the Nov. 3 election in swing states, as suggested by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.”

Trump officials recently discussed martial law at the White House.

Ignatius continues: “The Pentagon would be the locus of any such action, and some unusual recent moves suggest pro-Trump officials might be mobilizing to secure levers of power.” If I were his editor, I would have reworded this because it wrongly implies that Trump is planning a coup with Pentagon support. What Trump really requires, as I wrote a month ago, is Pentagon neutrality. He needs troops to remain in their barracks. As long as the armed forces stay out of the way of local and state police, a coup may succeed.

Ignatius’ description of Trump’s latest behind-the-scenes maneuvers is worth quoting in its entirety:

Kash Patel, chief of staff to acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller, returned home ‘abruptly’ from an Asia trip in early December, according to Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Patel didn’t explain, but in mid-December Trump discussed with colleagues the possibility that Patel might replace Christopher A. Wray as FBI director, one official said. Wray remains in his job. Another strange Pentagon machination was the proposal Miller floated in mid-December to separate the code-breaking National Security Agency from U.S. Cyber Command, which are both currently headed by Gen. Paul Nakasone. That proposal collapsed because of bipartisan congressional opposition. But why did Trump loyalists suggest the NSA-Cyber Command split in the first place? Some officials speculate that the White House may have planned to install a new NSA chief, perhaps Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the young conservative recently installed to oversee Pentagon intelligence activities.

These moves follow the post-election firings of the Secretary of Defense and top officials at Homeland Security.

Ominous as hell, though I think Ignatius’ conclusion misses the point: “With firm control of the NSA and the FBI, the Trump team might then disclose highly sensitive information about the origins of the 2016 Trump Russia investigation.”

A more obvious motivation for hijacking direct control of the nation’s top foreign and domestic intelligence agencies is command and control during a coup. The NSA and FBI would monitor and disrupt resistance inside government as well as in the streets.

“Trump won’t succeed in subverting the Constitution,” Ignatius assures us. Maybe.

It’s going to be an eternity between now and January 20th.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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