9/11 Had Nothing to Do with Afghanistan

            Better late than never: most Americans now believe that invading Afghanistan was a mistake. But what good does it do to recognize a screw-up unless you learn from it?

Failure to understand what went wrong, and why, sets you up for doing the same thing later. That’s what happened after Vietnam; rather than face up to the truth that we went there to prop up a corrupt puppet regime and exploit natural gas, we wallowed in ridiculous “Rambo” mythology about politicians stabbing our valiant warriors in the back by not allowing them to win, and libels of vicious hippies who supposedly spat on veterans returning to their hometown airports. (Never happened.)

            It’s tempting to kick the dust of Afghanistan off our metaphorical boots and, as Americans prefer, look forward rather than backward. But an advanced civil society requires an after-action report. That’s what the military and other organizations do after an engagement in an intelligent effort to repeat what worked and avoid what didn’t.

            Unless we conduct a sober reassessment of Afghanistan, ideally in the form of a congressional investigation, there is nothing to indicate that we wouldn’t start a similarly stupid war again in the future. That’s because the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was based on a big lie — and that lie is still circulating as widely as it was when the first bombs started raining down on Kabul in October 2001. If we want to avoid another $2 trillion war that claims thousands of American lives, we have to drive a stake through that BS narrative.

            Big Lie: Afghanistan and the war against it was revenge for 9/11.

            American voters like wars that are framed as righteous retribution against unprovoked acts of naked aggression, like the Spanish-American War (“remember the Maine!”) and World War II in the Pacific (“remember Pearl Harbor!”). Never mind that we invaded Cuba over an accidental explosion that Spain almost certainly had nothing to do with and that a U.S.-led oil embargo drove Japan to the desperate act of bombing Hawaii. A war that seems to come out of thin air, like the Bush Administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, on the other hand, prompts big protests and widespread opposition.

            So it’s easy to see why the White House and its press allies marketed the Afghan war as revenge against Al Qaeda. We were attacked. It was unprovoked (not really, but that’s what Americans thought). We had to strike back.

            Al Qaeda was based in Pakistan. 9/11 was planned in Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, the man held most responsible, lived in Pakistan. Much of the money came from Saudi Arabia, by far the largest international funding source of radical Islamic fundamentalism. The hijackers were Saudi and Egyptian. Not a single hijacker was Afghan. The hijackers had attended training camps in Afghanistan for jihad generally, not 9/11 specifically. If we were interested in getting even for 9/11, we would have attacked Pakistan or Saudi Arabia instead.

            This information is well-known and widely available. Yet President Joe Biden, who deserves accolades for sticking to his guns and pulling out U.S. troops, chose September 11, 2021 as the final deadline for the withdrawal and the official end date of the war. “Setting the 9/11 date…underscores the reason that American troops were in Afghanistan to begin with — to prevent extremist groups from establishing a foothold in the country again that could be used to launch attacks against the U.S.,” the Associated Press reported on April 14th.

            “Again”?!

            There it is, 20 years later, the big lie again. 9/11 wasn’t planned by terrorists from a “foothold” established in Afghanistan. It was planned by terrorists from a foothold established in Pakistan, specifically in the city of Karachi, precisely at the home of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

            In total opposition to the facts, Biden keeps repeating the big lie. “As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives. That’s why we went.”

Afghanistan never was a “base” of attacks against the United States; said attacks couldn’t possibly “continue” because there never were any originating from Afghanistan. Bin Laden, of course, was assassinated in Pakistan. Which is an entirely different country from Afghanistan. And no, we didn’t follow any trail from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Biden piles on the lies. People remember symbolism.

            Choosing the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as the official withdrawal date was the White House’s way to reinforce the long-standing national slander against Afghanistan, while leaving our frenemies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia off the hook.

We have got to stop talking about 9/11 and Afghanistan in the same breath.

The lie that links Afghanistan to 9/11 is so powerful that even people on the progressive left bought into it. Only one member of Congress, Barbara Lee of California, had the courage and brains to vote against the Afghanistan war. The antiwar left cobbled together a few pathetic protest demonstrations during the September-October 2001 run-up to the U.S. invasion, but their number and turnout was a tiny fraction of those who marched against the Iraq War. Even now that it’s clear that both wars were equally unjustified and based on lies, liberals get much more agitated over Iraq than Afghanistan.

 As usual, the media is the guiltiest cog in the machine of militarism. “Americans like me ignored—or scorned—protesters who warned of an endless quagmire in Afghanistan. Next time, we should listen to the critics,” Conor Friedersdorf kindly acknowledged in The Atlantic in 2019. Perhaps that will happen somewhere somehow. But not in The Atlantic. Like every other corporate media outlet, the magazine refuses to hire me or any other writer or artist who criticized the Afghanistan war when everyone else was all in.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

How to Stop the Next Stupid War before It Starts

News - Afghan War - President Bush Announces Start of War - 7 Oct 2001 - CNN - YouTube

            Americans are politically fractured but they agree that our longest war was a mistake. 77% of Americans, including many Republicans, told a recent CBS News poll that they agree with President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. That’s a reversal from the conflict’s early days, when between 85% and 90% of Americans supported the invasion.

            What changed? We were lied to; now we know it. The Taliban were characterized by the news media as primitive religious fanatics, a fringe group that ruled by fear in a power vacuum created by our abandonment of the anti-Soviet mujahedin in the late 1980s. In fact they were a popular, homegrown phenomenon perfectly situated to frame themselves as a nationalist resistance organization. To whatever extent that Afghans felt “abandoned,” they wanted cash and infrastructure with no strings attached. Instead we imposed a corrupt puppet regime that they viewed as a humiliation.

            The main casus belli, revenge for 9/11, fell apart after the world’s most wanted man was found and assassinated in Pakistan in 2011. If Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan for years, why were we still looking for him in Afghanistan? Why were we paying his Pakistani hosts billions of dollars? Voter support for the war evaporated after the killing of bin Laden.

            Barack Obama said “we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq,” which he called the “dumb war.” He argued that “our real focus has to be on Afghanistan.” Now most people agree that they were both dumb.

            How do we avoid fighting more stupid wars in the future? How can we stop ourselves from wasting trillions more dollars and thousands of more lives?

First we must remember how most wars start—with government lies. From the Tonkin Gulf non-incident to fairy tales about Iraqi soldiers yanking Kuwaiti babies out of ventilators to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, American presidents, generals and media stenographers have conned one gullible generation after another into killing and being killed. The truth eventually comes out. By then, though, it’s too late.

            The next time a president goes on TV to tell us we ought to go to war, we should turn our skepticism dial up to 11. After all, we’ve been lied to so often in the past—why give them any benefit of the doubt?

            Ironically for a country whose values center around free-thinking and rugged individuality, naïvely going along with the call to war is hardwired into our political culture, no matter how outlandish the justification. If the president asks us to sacrifice our lives in a war, we’re expected to comply, no questions asked.

Consider the infamous Supreme Court decision in which chief justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously wrote that “protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” In the case in question, Holmes continued, “the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger…”

In Schenck v. United States the court ruled that, when it comes to war, there is no room for vigorous debate, much less dissent—First Amendment be damned.

 The subject of that case is lost to history: Socialists Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer were jailed for the crime of mailing out flyers urging men to resist the military draft during World War I. The “clear and present danger” was not to the country itself. It was to pro-war propaganda. What if the leftists’ argument were to succeed? What if the government had to work harder in order to convince young men to fight and die in the charnel house across the Atlantic?

Holmes came to regret his decision and Schenck was partly overturned and discredited. Yet schoolchildren are still taught that the First Amendment runs into limits with “shouting fire in a theatre.” Those who ought to know better, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, went so far as to write that “while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, no one has a right to falsely shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater,” in an op-ed favoring gun control in 2012.

 As Christopher Hitchens noted, the governments of Europe and the United States lit and fanned the flames of a war most of its combatants believed to have been pointless. The socialist pacifists were trying to restore sanity.

            Someday, no doubt sooner rather than later, this president or the next will take to the airwaves in order to ask us to support another war. War is the most serious undertaking that a nation-state ever considers. It is therefore the highest duty of every citizen to carefully weigh the evidence and justification given to attack a foreign adversary with an open mind including the jaundiced knowledge that such arguments often unravel after the spilling of a lot of blood.

            If we had lived up to our civic duty back in 2001, we would have done a little digging ourselves. We would have paid attention to the fact that none of the 19 hijackers was from Afghanistan. We would have noted the news reports that bin Laden was already in Pakistan and that the majority of Al Qaeda’s training facilities were also in that country, not in Afghanistan. We would have listened to academic experts and veterans of Russia’s failed occupation during the 1970s and 1980s, who warned that Afghanistan was the “graveyard of empires” because the one thing that pulled its people together was hatred of foreign invaders.

            We should not have given George W. Bush a blank check to invade a sovereign state that never attacked us and never meant us harm. We should have withheld our support and tacit consent. We should have protested and demanded that Congress stop the war before it began.

            We should never again take a presidential call to war at face value.

 (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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

The Worst Countries for Women (Afghanistan Isn’t on the List)

            Concern-trolling over the dismal plight of women in Afghanistan is powerfully appealing to liberals who look for reasons for the United States to maintain a military presence there. If and when the Taliban return to power, the warmongers argue, the bad old days of stonings, burqas and girls banned from school will come back—and it’ll be our fault because we didn’t stick around.

            Outrage over women’s inequality is often only ginned up in the service of some other aim, like invading Afghanistan or banning transwomen from high school girls’ sports teams. Scratch the thin veneer of phony feminism and the true agenda, which has nothing to do with women or girls, is quickly exposed.

            You may be surprised to learn that, according to a U.S. News & World Report analysis of data provided by the United Nations, Afghanistan isn’t among the ten worst countries for women. Which nations do have the worst gender inequality?

A list of staunch pals of the U.S.

But you’ll never see “woke” news media go after the U.S.’ best bros for treating women like dirt, much less the suggestion that these countries ought, like Afghanistan, to be bombed, droned, invaded and subjected to two decades of brutal occupation under a corrupt U.S.-installed puppet regime.

#1 worst nation in the world for women is the United Arab Emirates (“close friends and strong allies…with shared interests and common values,” crows the UAE’s embassy website, which showcases a cute photo of Biden). Common values that we apparently share with the UAE are its form of government (tribal autocracy), the torture and disappearance of political dissidents, female genital mutilation, wife beatings (perfectly legal), marital rape (perfectly legal) and “honor killings” (frowned upon and largely ignored). Women may vote, drive, buy property, travel and go to college. But they need signed permission from their “guardian”—who is usually their father or their husband.

Continuing down the list, we find U.S. “strategic ally” Qatar (#2), U.S. ally Saudi Arabia (#3), U.S. “treaty ally” India (#4), U.S. “partner” Oman (#5), major recipient of U.S. military aid Egypt (#6), U.S. “major non-NATO ally” Morocco (#7), U.S. ally South Korea (#8), U.S. “regional strategic ally” Sri Lanka (#9) and U.S. “key partner” Jordan (#10). Anyone who cares about the oppression of women should backburner Afghanistan, start with the UAE and work their way down this list of misogynist nightmare nations.

Not to say that the women of Afghanistan don’t have anything to worry about as the Taliban return to power. They do. Taliban spokesmen tell reporters that they’ve moderated their views about the status of women since 2001, that they would even allow women to work as judges and will now allow girls to continue their education and for women to work so long as they wear hijab. “Local sources told us the Taliban removed art and citizenship classes from the curriculum, replacing them with Islamic subjects, but otherwise follow the national [U.S.-backed government] syllabus,” the BBC reports from Balkh province near Mazar-i-Sharif. “The government pays the salaries of staff, but the Taliban are in charge. It’s a hybrid system in place across the country.”

 Reality in areas controlled by local Taliban commanders hasn’t corresponded with this relatively cheery and pragmatic vision. There are reports that the Taliban have demanded that girls over 15 and widows under 45 be forcibly married and, if they aren’t Muslim, converted to Islam. Taliban rule will likely be harsher and stricter in more rural areas.

It is perfectly reasonable to worry about the future of Afghan women. Though, to be fair, many were viciously oppressed, forced to wear the burqa, denied an education and even stoned to death, throughout the last 20 years of U.S. occupation. If you don’t, you are morally deficient.

But don’t forget the hierarchy of needs: women are even worse off in a number of other countries, all of which get a pass from the American press and giant chunks of American tax dollars from the American government. So the next time you hear someone affiliated with the U.S. government or in mainstream corporate media talking about how the Taliban mistreats women, remember that their real agenda is oppression and militarism, not emancipation.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

The Taliban’s Dramatic Military Victory

            Now that President Biden has pulled the U.S. military out of Afghanistan, it’s clear that we have little to show for more than $2 trillion and thousands of soldiers killed over two decades of occupation. We will soon be back where we were on September 10, 2001, when the Taliban governed Afghanistan.

Afghan government troops have neither the will nor the training to protect their corrupt leaders in Kabul. Defeat of an Afghan government sinking in passivity and denial will occur within months or weeks.

Soldiers of the regime installed by the administration of George W. Bush and propped up by his successors are deserting and fleeing across the border to Tajikistan. Taliban troops have surrounded and briefly taken over both Kunduz, a city whose wobbly back-and-forth allegiances make it an Alsace-like wartime bellwether, and Herat, long considered unconquerable because it was controlled by Ishmail Khan, a former Northern Alliance warlord long considered the nation’s fiercest and most competent opponent of the Taliban. The Taliban can and will return for good.

They recently captured key border crossings with Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The Iran border post alone generates about $20 million per week in customs duties—revenue that now belongs to the Taliban.

Kabulis await the inevitable triumph of the Taliban, resigned to whatever fate awaits them.

Even tongue-shaped Badakhshan province on the remote northeastern border with China is “on the verge of falling completely” to the Taliban. Badakhshan was the Northern Alliance’s last redoubt, the only section of the country that successfully resisted the Taliban when the militants ruled between 1996 and 2001.

Media coverage about the coming transition will focus on the plight of women, the role of ISIS, reprisals and the return and style of sharia law. What will be lost, but deserves to be noted as well, is that the Taliban have just achieved a stunning military victory.

Never in recent history, not even in Vietnam or in Afghanistan against the British in the 19th century, has a rural guerilla army achieved such a dramatic defeat against a colossus that held every military, political and economic advantage.

With the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world, hundreds of cruise missiles and a huge fleet of assassination drones, the U.S. enjoyed complete dominance of the skies throughout the war. The Taliban didn’t have a single plane. Whereas the Viet Cong were enthusiastically armed and trained by China and fought alongside the nation-state of North Vietnam, poorly-sourced reports allege that the Taliban may have received—at best—sporadic, extremely limited support from Iran and Russia. They were forced to live underground, constantly hiding from American forces.

Not only did the Taliban win a protracted war against the world’s biggest superpower, that superpower is leaving them a brand-new nation built from the ground up. Twenty years ago, Afghanistan was a failed state with 14th century infrastructure. Roads, all unpaved, didn’t even have names. There was no electricity, no phones, no sewage, no running water. There wasn’t even a banking system.

The United States is leaving them $8 billion worth of roads and highways, a $1 billion power grid, dams, canals, levees, drainage systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, the Internet, you name it. 85% of the country’s population is covered by cellphone service; that’s not true of the Hamptons.

We have gifted the Taliban $36 billion in infrastructure spending.

You’re welcome.

Military historians will study the Taliban insurgency for years to come. In the meantime, empires like the U.S. and resistance movements like the Taliban can each draw important lessons.

Whether they are an indigenous movement like the Taliban resisting foreign invasion or a revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow a domestic government, anyone who seeks to take on a state with superior manpower, training and weapons should take the failure of the U.S. invasion of  Afghanistan as proof that an inferior force need not be intimidated by such daunting disparities. From the revolutions in France, Russia and China to the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia, many notable regime changes have succeeded despite the odds. If you have the support of the people and relentless dedication to fight steadfastly through countless setbacks, you can prevail in an asymmetric conflict. This is particularly true if your adversary is foreign and requires domestic political will and to maintain long and expensive supply lines.

Big powers like the U.S. can impose their will overseas, but within limits. It is possible to imagine an alternative scenario in which the U.S. might have succeeded in Afghanistan. First and foremost, the United States should have allowed Afghans, a fractious people united only by their opposition to foreign domination, to choose their own leaders rather than sidelining the exiled king at the 2002 loya jirga. Installing Hamid Karzai, a paid CIA operative, as president, was a catastrophic misstep. Brazenly interfering with Afghanistan’s internal politics re-legitimized the Taliban’s message that Westerners are corrupt and exploitative hypocrites and exposed our rhetoric about self-determination as hollow.

Allowing democracy to run its course would have been risky but smart. Walking our talk and keeping our thumb off the scale would have outweighed the downside risk that Afghans might have elected the “wrong” leaders.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), author of the books “To Afghanistan and Back” and “After We Kill You We Will Welcome You as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” is also the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Abandon Afghanistan and Don’t Look Back

Uncertainty Surrounds US Pullout From Afghanistan | Voice of America - English

            Joe Biden deserves nothing but praise and support for his decision to honor America’s commitment, negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban, to finally withdraw from Afghanistan. After more than 20 years of wasted lives, endless property damage and squandering of billions of U.S. tax dollars that would have been better spent on just about anything else you could think of, it’s incredible that corporate media is still giving airtime to the idiots and warmongers who want to keep troops over there. “I have heard general after general, as you have, say, just give us a little more time,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz said July 4th.

It’s been two decades. There was no legal or moral justification for the war to begin with. They’ve had too much time as it is.

For those of us who have been closely connected to America’s longest war last week’s abandonment of Bagram airbase, the biggest U.S. facility in occupied Afghanistan, makes the long-promised withdrawal feel real.

And the hand-wringing over what comes next has built to a fever pitch. Will the Taliban come back? Will it be like 1997 all over again, with women subjugated and horribly oppressed? Will the Taliban kill the translators, fixers and other Afghans who worked for U.S. occupation forces? Will Afghanistan once again become a staging ground for terrorist attacks like 9/11?

Some of these questions are reasonable. Others couldn’t be less so, based as they are on assumptions fed by lies.

What’s important to remember is the motivation for sewing these doubts. The military industry and its pet media outlets want to change our minds about withdrawal or, if they fail to do so for now, to set the stage for ground troops to invade again in the near future.

Afghanistan will not “again” become a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the United States or any other Western power because it was hardly one in the first place. In 2001 there were four Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan; there were 6,000 in Pakistan. On 9/11 Osama bin Laden was almost certainly in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The attacks were planned by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. Most of the funding came from the royal family of Saudi Arabia, as did 15 of the 19 hijackers; none came from Afghanistan. It is true that the hijackers all trained in Afghanistan but that’s a distinction without a difference; they could just as easily have picked up the same education in Pakistan, where 99% of Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and personnel had been situated.

There is good reason to worry about the immediate future after we leave. It is likely that the Taliban will quickly topple the militarily inferior and wildly unpopular U.S. puppet regime installed by the George W. Bush Administration. Neighboring countries are bracing for flows of Afghan refugees; hundreds of Afghan government soldiers have already fled to Tajikistan. Violence is inevitable: military casualties in the civil conflict, reprisals against political opponents and repressive acts against women and other targets of Muslim fundamentalists. But nothing can change the truth: Afghanistan is not a U.S. colony. It is a sovereign nation. As such, it has the right and duty of self-determination. The Afghan people must sort out amongst each other what kind of future they want to have.

In the event of a Rwanda-scale genocide, intervention could be justified in conjunction with an international force under the auspices of the U.N. At this writing, however, that seems unlikely. The Taliban are far more sophisticated, younger and modern than the regime that took over Kabul in 1996. So is the population that they seek to govern. Afghans are interconnected with the wider world and its culture via the Internet and cellular phones. They are Muslim extremists, but they are far more pragmatic than ISIS. Afghanistan under the Taliban will feel more like Pakistan than ISIS-held Syria. As is currently the case, rural areas will be more conservative—burqas, girls banned from schools, the occasional stoning—than the cities.

Certainly the United States has the moral obligation not to repeat its habit of discarding its local employees after withdrawal. We should offer green cards and economic support to our Afghan collaborators on an expedited basis rather than the shameful foot-dragging that has been reported. Otherwise the Taliban may execute them as traitors.

Be prepared, as Biden’s September 11, 2021 deadline for withdrawal of the last U.S. troops draws closer, for a rising chorus of voices calling for him to change his mind. Don’t abandon Afghanistan again, the war pigs will cry.

Don’t listen to their siren song of imperialism. The invasion was a mistake, the occupation was a mistake, and so was our propping up of our corrupt puppet regime. We never should have been there in the first place and it has taken 20 years too long to get out.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

When Will Politicians Start Caring about People’s Actual Problems?

Paying Higher Taxes for Healthcare | Ted Rall's Rallblog

When you crank out five editorial cartoons and a couple of opinion essays a week, not to mention opining on the radio about this issue and that, it is easy to forget about the basics.

The big issues.

The stuff that really matters to you. It’s just as easy to forget to ask: what are our political leaders doing to address our most pressing problems? This is, after all, their job. It’s what we pay them for.

Pew Research Center pollsters regularly ask Americans what they consider to be the problem that worries them most. On April 15th, the #1 Biggest Problem in America was “the affordability of healthcare.” 56% of respondents called huge medical bills “a very big problem” and 30% said it was “a moderately big problem,” for a total of 86%. That’s pretty much everyone. It even includes people who have “good” insurance through their employers.

“Healthcare costs is the only issue of the 15 asked on the survey seen as a very big problem by a majority of Americans, though about half say that the federal budget deficit (49%), violent crime (48%), illegal immigration (48%) and gun violence (48%) are very big problems,” Pew reported.

This is proof positive. The Affordable Care Act obviously hasn’t fixed the problem it was designed to address, skyrocketing medical expenses. According to Gallup, a whopping 80% of patients still worry a great deal or a fair amount about healthcare costs, a number that has remained essentially unchanged year after year since Obama became president.

What are the two major political parties doing about healthcare costs? Not much.

Democrats think we should be grateful for the crappy system we have now. Three weeks ago the White House announced that President Biden had placed a phone call to Obama to celebrate Obamacare’s tenth anniversary. Biden campaigned on adding a “public option” to the ACA but then left it out of his budget. He floated reducing the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60, then dropped the idea when asked where the money would come from. Democrats have no plans to fix Obamacare; they think it’s perfect as is.

Not that the Republicans are any better.

The Supreme Court ruling in favor of the ACA has forced the GOP to give up on its vague Trump-era “repeal and replace” mantra. Now they’re saying nothing at all. “If the Republicans have a health care agenda, they haven’t shown their cards,” Drew Altman, who runs the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently told Politico. They whine about Obamacare to get votes. But they don’t want to change it.

To recap: Americans worry about high doctors’ bills more than any other single issue. Yet neither party is even talking about, much less trying to actually do, anything to ease our pain. No wonder only 31% of Americans think Congress is doing a good job.

Run down the list of Americans’ other top priorities and you’ll find the same lack of responsiveness from “our” elected officials. Forget actual action. Our “public servants” don’t bother to give us lip service.

So it goes with other Big Worries: no action, no ideas, no hope.

Biden’s coronavirus-recovery and infrastructure spending plans blow up the budget deficit that voters cite as their #2 most worrisome issue; Democrats have no plan to offset their spending by, for example, slashing the constantly bloated Pentagon budget. Republicans, obsessed with social issues, issue easily-ignored boilerplate statements that the deficit is too high that presents “like a rote effort; like Republican karaoke,” as Scott Galupo described it in The Week. Not that Republicans have any credibility on the issue of fiscal responsibility.

On the #3 Big Issue, violent crime, both parties offer, again, nothing. Republicans and Democrats alike are urging municipalities to not defund the police, i.e., they want force levels and tactics to remain where they are now. Neither party offers an alternative or additional approach, like an initiative to increase access to mental-health treatment. In the absence of a new response nothing much will substantially change, as Biden tells donors.

            Neither party has a real plan to address Top Issue #4, illegal immigration, or #5, gun violence. Democrats and Republicans alike intend to leave the southern border partially open in order to allow employers access to cheap labor, while continuing mass deportations to terrorize those workers into accepting slave wages. Neither party wants to do anything substantial about the proliferation of handguns used in the current spasm of violent crime, or question whether we still need the Second Amendment in the 21st century.

My point here is not to discuss the specifics of healthcare, the deficit, crime, etc. or what the best solutions to those problems are. Nor am I out to blame one party more than the other. My point is that neither the president nor Congress nor either of the two major parties is addressing the issues we care about in a credible way. When a political system fails to respond to people’s concerns or even take them seriously in the first place, it is doomed.

No one should be surprised when the whole bankrupt piece of garbage implodes.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

NYC Exposes the Flaws in Ranked-Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting

Progressive Democrats have long been among the most fervent advocates of ranked-choice voting. Many believed, though scientific data has yet to be proffered in support of their thesis, that it would have been harder for corporate DNC Democrats to cheat Bernie Sanders in 2016 had the party’s primaries been conducted using ranked-choice. Now we have a strong case study: the race for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City.

The winner won’t be announced until July. But the big result is already in: ranked-choice voting sucks.

I could see the advantages of ranked-choice voting in, for example, the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. I might have voted: #1 Bernie Sanders, #2 Elizabeth Warren, #3 Cory Booker. For the majority of Democratic voters, there was an abundance of talent on offer in that race. Many of the candidates were well-known to the voters. But that’s not always the case.

Out of the eight or so major contenders for NYC mayor, no viable progressive emerged. This year it was difficult for many New Yorkers to identify one candidate to support, much less two or more. I didn’t have a second- or third-best choice, so my vote counted less than someone who was less discriminate or happy with any of a number of centrist moderates.

Ranked-choice voting was so complicated that registered voters had to be mailed a 48-page “NYC Votes” explainer booklet to help unravel the new scheme’s mysteries. It was daunting to me, and I’m a political junkie. Experts agree: “The Democratic Party position now is that we need to remove barriers to voting, and I think ranked-choice voting is counter to that,” Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, told The New York Times last year. “My research shows that when you make things more complicated, which this does, there’s going be lower turnout.”

Many arguments in favor of RCV defy common sense. “Ranked-choice voting could ensure that a winner has the approval of a majority of voters by taking into account their preferences, apart from first choice. In this way, the problem of winning on a mere plurality is mitigated and public servants are chosen because they more truly reflect the electorate’s desires,” according to Quartz. But you can’t achieve a political mandate by winning a bunch of votes from citizens for whom you were just a second or third choice.

In normal elections the question of whether a particular ideological segment of the Democratic Party carries a race depends upon the number of candidates competing for that segment. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the Democratic Party is half-centrist and half-progressive. In a race in which one progressive runs against ten centrists, several of the centrists will divide the centrist vote enough to hand victory to the progressive candidate, or vice versa. Not ideal to be sure, and RCV claims to solve this problem. Under RCV, however, you have the opposite conundrum: a strong candidate who would otherwise have won can be defeated. If there’s one strong progressive in a field of ten candidates, who would have won 45% of the vote, one of the nine other centrists can win because their voters are willing to accept their second, third, etc. choices. Progressive voters, who only have one candidate they can support, see their votes underweighted.

My biggest objection would be if, as advocates favor, primaries are abolished in favor of a system in which all candidates regardless of party first run together and then the two top vote-getters face off in the general election. This might seem benign in a state that is evenly divided between parties. But what about those that are lopsided, such as in a California gubernatorial race? The weak state of the GOP there would more often than not have the effect of a general election campaign without any Republican candidate for governor on the ballot. 24% of state voters are registered Republicans. Should they be disenfranchised?

And you still have the problem of voters not feeling vested in the final result.

Quartz again: “In a 2016 essay in Democracy, Simon Waxman argues that RCV doesn’t actually lead to a candidate who represents the majority of voters. Also, an easily exhausted electorate doesn’t always rank all the candidates on a ballot, according to a 2014 paper in the journal Electoral Studies that looked at ballots from 600,000 voters in California and Washington counties. As a result, some voters end up with their ballots eliminated and no say in the final outcome.”

Weirdly, many centrists support RCV as a way to keep out “extremists”—in other words, progressives. Andrew Yang and other corporate Democrats argue that the practice encourages more civil campaigning and nonaggression pacts in which two candidates say, hey, vote for the two of us, one as your first choice and the other as your second. Truth is, there’s isn’t enough data to know whether that’s the case. Anyway, who’s to say that we want what Yang wants? Americans clearly respond to negative campaigning and sharp partisan attacks. And what’s wrong with “extremism” anyway? A compromise solution—let’s vaccinate half of Americans for COVID—doesn’t always fit the bill.

The American political system has major flaws: the two-party trap, the near-impossibility of winning as an independent candidate, the difficulty of amending the Constitution, the electoral college, the corrupting influence of money in politics, voters who are under-informed or poorly educated. RCV doesn’t fix any of these troubles. It replaces a system that leaves up to 49% of the electorate unhappy with one that is so complicated that fewer people will bother to participate in the first place.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

What’s I’d Do as NYC Mayor

Who will replace Bill de Blasio?

            New Yorkers go to the polls June 22nd to choose their next mayor. They’re primaries, but whoever wins the Democratic nomination will almost certainly move into Gracie Mansion.

            Media coverage has focused on the fading fortunes of former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the dearth of progressives in a wide field and the new, confusing ranked-choice voting scheme. (I have a lot of doubts about ranked-choice voting, which I will enumerate in this space at another time.)

            A New Yorker by choice most of my life and, unlike Yang, a guy who moved back to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic while others were running for the exurbs, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the next mayor should prioritize and what I would do if I were in charge of the city. Most of my readers don’t live in New York. But most do live in urban areas. Many who live in rural regions work and shop in cities. So New York’s problems are your problems too.

Even more than in other cities, New York’s mayor is not a king. He has, for example, no jurisdiction or control over the five boroughs’ sprawling mass-transit system, which falls under the aegis of the governor. Public schools were only transferred to mayoral control 20 years ago; they were still locked down by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to the pandemic. To get elected you’ll need allies in one of the city’s three loci of power: the police, real estate or Wall Street. If you win, it’s a bully pulpit job.

To lead NYC you have to have charisma, the gift of gab and a strong work ethic—unlike Bill de Blasio. And new solutions for old problems.
            Here’s what I’d do:

            Homelessness, a perennial problem and perhaps the most glaring failure of capitalism, has exploded over the last year. 80,000 New Yorkers are homeless—1% of the population. It’s shameful. Even if you don’t care about human misery, homelessness affects everyone else. Mentally-ill homeless people contribute to street crime and drive down property values. Let’s get our brothers and sisters off the streets.

            While our fellow citizens are sleeping on filthy, freezing cold or blazing hot sidewalks, tens of thousands of apartments and single-family homes sit empty for no good reason. There are between 2000 and 4000 “zombie homes,” mostly single-family houses abandoned by their owners. 27,000 apartment units are being warehoused by landlords holding out for rents that are even higher than the city’s stratospheric current rates. These properties should be seized under eminent domain—don’t worry, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such transfers are constitutional—and transferred to the control of a new city agency dedicated to housing, treating, rehabilitating and training homeless people with the eventual goal of returning as many of them as possible to the workplace. Among the side benefits would be the fact that you need a mailing address in order to apply for government benefits and jobs, which would defray the cost of my rehab programs.

            With a paltry 17% occupancy rate for New York commercial office space, it’s a safe bet that millions of square feet of empty office space will be vacant well after everyone has forgotten about COVID. Space that remains empty more than 12 months after the end of coronavirus safety rules should be seized and converted when possible—residential space has to have running water and windows—to housing for the homeless and the poor. Interior former commercial spaces should be allotted to artists and musicians by lottery.

            Half of New York apartments are subject to rent stabilization. Rent stabilization should be replaced by rent control so that increases can never exceed the federal inflation rate, and should apply to all rental units.

Let’s add commercial rent control as well. Late-stage gentrification led to the weird phenomenon of “luxury blight” in places like Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and lower Fifth Avenue, where landlords holding out for insanely high-rent increases have been warehousing empty storefronts for years. Lower rents with limits on future increases allow entrepreneurs to take chances, experiment and make neighborhoods and cities interesting and quirky. In New York as in other cities, state legislators will need to approve commercial rent control tied to inflation.

New York has one of the nation’s most racially and economically segregated public school systems. The potential of students of color is hobbled by buildings that look and feel like prisons, outdated books and equipment and burned-out teachers—all due to insufficient funding. Upper-class “nice” white parents finance “their” schools themselves though they and their kids drive themselves crazy hiring fixers to game a byzantine school-application system that begins with pre-K; many couples flee for the suburbs after kids arrive. 52% of white parents fork a median of $44,000 a year for private secondary school, more than many colleges.

Warren Buffett said the easiest way to fix public schools would be to “make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by lottery.” He’s right. Ban private schools; assign children to schools by lottery and watch equity reign as it has in countries like Finland and Cuba. Both nations did it decades ago; their students radically outperform students in neighboring countries. The best way to incentivize the city’s wealthiest citizens to support higher taxes for public education is to force them to have skin—their own children—in the game.

I’m out of space, so here’s one final idea: deescalate the NYPD. New York is not a war zone, being a police officer isn’t that dangerous—your life is far more in harm’s way if you’re a roofer, farmer or logger—and citizens have the right to be served by cops who neither act nor look like members of a hostile occupation army.

New York cops should take a cue from one of the 19 countries where the police do not carry guns and rarely use deadly force even against violent suspects, or Japan, where cops carry sidearms but rarely use them. “The first instinct is not to reach for a gun—what most Japanese police will do is to get huge futons and essentially roll up the person who is being violent or drunk into a little burrito and carry them back to the station and calm them down. The response to violence is never violence—it is to de-escalate,” BBC journalist Anthony Berteaux reported in 2017. I’d start with training cops in the technique of “policing by consent”—obtaining compliance from the public by earning respect rather than instilling fear—and, if that fails, I’d take away their guns as well as their bulletproof vests.

Some may ask, since you have so many ideas, Mr. Smarty-pants, why not run yourself? You need millions of dollars to run for mayor and I don’t know how to get it.

Maybe someone will fix that problem.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

What You Do after Work Shouldn’t Cost You Your Job

Outrage erupts over 'Karen' who called cops on Black birdwatcher in Central  Park - National | Globalnews.ca

            The Central Park Karen is suing her former employer for firing her.

I hope she wins. Karening is gross. But it’s not your boss’ business.

            Amy Cooper became the object of an Internet two-minutes hate last year when she called 911 on a Black birdwatcher who asked her to leash her dog per the rules and told the police he was threatening her and her dog. Unfortunately for her, the guy’s cellphone video showed no such thing.

            The viral video was viewed more than 45 million times. Cooper was internationally shamed as an emblematic wielder of white privilege used to oppress people of color. The shelter from which she adopted her Cocker Spaniel two years earlier took the animal away. She was charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. She eventually got her dog back and the charges were later dropped after she completed racial-sensitivity training. The birder, Christian Cooper (no relation), declined to cooperate with the DA’s investigation.

            Amy apologized the day after her confrontation. “I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart,” Christian explained about his decision not to help the DA, saying he released the video to make a broader point about white society’s scaremongering about Blacks rather than Amy specifically. Yet Franklin Templeton Investments, where she had been a head of insurance portfolio management, decided to do just that, joining the pile-on in an epic display of corporate cowardice. “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton,” the company tweeted.

            You don’t have to approve of Amy Cooper’s Karen act, or consider the nuances of her exchange with Christian (“I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” he told her, which might well freak out a nicer person than Amy) to see the danger in allowing employers to become judge, jury and executioner for her conduct, which occurred outside work and was unrelated to her duties for Franklin Templeton.

Executioner is no exaggeration. A certain rabid segment of woke America believes that those who misbehave ought not to be allowed to hold a job and thus not be able to feed themselves or their children. Let them die.

            Speech, they say—and behavior—have consequences. Indeed they do. And it did for Amy Cooper. Her 911 call got her banned from Central Park and publicly shamed. For several weeks she worried that she might never see her dog again. The legal system considered her crime, deemed prosecution unlikely to succeed and settled for reeducation. The appropriate venue for sanctions, if any, is the justice system, not the workplace. Firing her was inappropriate. It ought to be illegal.

            It is easy to imagine a case in which conduct off the job becomes fair cause for workplace cancel culture. Because the Associated Press had known and approved of news associate Emily Wilder’s online activism criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians before hiring her, they should not have fired her two weeks after she began in response to a write-in campaign by pro-Israeli Republicans. However, if the AP had not been aware of her stance and she had been assigned to cover the Middle East, a clear conflict of interest would have made it impossible for her to report credibly. In that theoretical situation, the AP should have reassigned her to a beat where she could be perceived as objective, or let her go.

            All too frequently, workers are canceled by their bosses for engaging in speech that has no bearing on their job. A Berkeley, California restaurant fired one of its employees because he attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. “The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog,” read a sign on the hot-dog joint’s door. “We believe in individual freedom and voluntary association for everyone.” Unless you’re a white supremacist. Then you’re supposed to be unemployed and homeless.

            Bet that made the guy less racist.

            The January 6th Capitol Hill riot prompted another surge of amateur detectives matching attendees to workplaces with the goal of getting them fired. An insurance company lawyer from Texas, an adjunct professor from Pennsylvania and a Chicago real estate agent were among many who joined the ranks of the jobless after their presence at the pro-Trump protest was unmasked.

Liberals have also been victims of livelihood cancellation. In 2004 Lynne Gobbell was famously fired by Enviromate, a company that made housing insulation, for driving to work with a John Kerry bumpersticker on her car. Because employment is at-will, neither Gobbell nor the right-wingers who have been canned over their politics had redress to the courts.

            If the racist hot-dog vendor and the rest broke a law (rioting, trespassing, etc.), let the authorities file charges. If the hot-dog guy insults customers due to their race while at work, fire him. Except for egregious conflict cases—the Catholic Church shouldn’t have to keep you on the payroll if you blog that God doesn’t exist—employers should stay out of their workers’ outside-work activities. Free speech means nothing if you have to worry about losing your job, your health insurance and your home every time you open your mouth, carry a sign or say something on social media.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Liberals’ Bizarre Fear of an Unmasked Nation

Wearing masks inside cars now mandatory in Bengaluru, even if you're  driving alone | The News Minute

            During last year’s campaign Joe Biden promised to “listen to the scientists.” He repeatedly said his coronavirus-response policy would be “informed by science and by experts.”

On issues from the environment to teaching evolution in public schools to the public health response to the COVID pandemic, liberals often accuse conservatives of putting emotions ahead of facts. While recognizing that the scientific process of acquiring knowledge and putting hypotheses to an empirical test can and often does lead to shifts in consensus, we on the left claim to trust scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease specialist and unlikely media icon.

            After Dr. Fauci and other authorities like the Centers for Disease Control told us to wear masks, Blue America listened. As of late June 2020, 86% of Democrats wore a facemask whenever they left home, compared to 48% of Republicans.

Now scientific consensus has changed. But lefties are choosing to ignore the new reality—not that it’s new. Beginning nearly a year ago in July 2020 the CDC stated that wearing a mask outdoors was unnecessary unless one is less than six feet away from someone else. Aside from crowded events like rallies, sports and concerts, risk of outdoor transmission is lower than a rounding error; there has only been one documented case of COVID transmission outdoors, between two Chinese villagers.

Clarifying its long-held stance, the CDC said on May 13th that people need not wear a mask outdoors unless we are in a crowd of strangers, or inside with our “pod” of friends and family members. Masking outside is “optional,” Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told The Washington Post. Optional, as in unnecessary.

Let’s pivot toward hope. Nearly half of American adults have been fully vaccinated and Pfizer is vaccinating children ages 12 to 15. We can go outside, have fun and socialize within the new liberalized guidelines yet too many people remain traumatized and grimly coasting on paranoid inertia. “It’s the return of freedom,” said Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Weeks after the latest CDC guidelines were issued, however, normalcy and freedom are still in short supply in liberal bastions like my neighborhood in Manhattan, where Biden won 91% of the vote. In compliance with the CDC, I walk outside without a mask because it’s unnecessary. Moreover, I’m fully vaccinated. Rules require that I put one on when I go into a store or ride the subway.

Furrowed brows, glares and general stink-eyes still abound. My neighbors are ignoring the CDC as much as right-wingers in West Virginia did last summer.

One would expect attitudes to evolve with the passage of time but that hasn’t been the case so far. When a fellow tenant confronted me recently about my masklessness in the lobby—where I’d been alone prior to her arrival—I informed her that I’d been fully vaccinated. “Everyone in the building has probably been vaccinated,” she said, “but here we still wear them.” I asked why. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she replied.

At a full-serve gas station in Manhattan the attendant demanded that I put on my mask before giving me a fill-up. “We’re outside,” I pointed out. It was windy to boot. “The CDC says you don’t need a mask.” “I don’t care what the CDC says,” he told me. “I’m going to keep wearing a mask forever, like in Asia.”

Half-empty streets in majority-Democratic areas—where people are far more likely to get vaxxed—are still, CDC be damned, dotted with people wearing one or two masks on sidewalks where no one can be seen for hundreds of feet. Many of the bemasked will tell you that they been fully vaccinated. You’ll see people jogging down lonely country roads, riding bikes and driving cars while wearing masks.

“You can understand that when people have been following a certain trend for a considerable period of time that it may take time for them to adjust [to the new mask rules],” Fauci said May 21st. “So I would not say that that’s irrational. I’d say that’s understandable.”

Go ahead, wear a mask indoors if you want to despite being vaccinated. Wear one outside if you feel like it. However, you are—sorry, Dr. Fauci—acting irrationally. What’s the point of the jab if you behave the same way as a year ago when we wiped down our groceries, bleached our counters and wore plastic gloves out of since-debunked worries over surface transmission?

Masks have devolved from medical imperative to virtue signaling. According to a May 5th Ipsos poll 63% of even vaccinated Americans were still wearing masks, outdoors down from 74% in April but still a surprisingly high number. That number ticked up to 65% the following week on May 11th. President Biden has begun appearing in public with his face fully exposed yet his supporters are not following his example.

What’s the harm in a fashion accessory that, as the vaxxed-yet-masked crowd informs you, merely tries to make other people feel more comfortable while also sending a subtle anti-MAGA message? It’s about thinking straight. Democrats can’t credibly claim the scientific high ground unless they adapt to the latest medical consensus.

You have the right to be anxious and illogical, not the right to be catered to. No one should wear a mask outside. Vaxxed Americans shouldn’t wear them at all.

(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.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Menu
css.php