Resist Evictions and Foreclosures

How to Stop Eviction — End Eviction

            COVID-19 has created the ideal medium for a summer of continuous protest.

Political protest demonstrations used to be weekend affairs in which angry leftists shouted at empty government offices before shuffling home Sunday afternoon to gear up for the workweek. With one out of four workers having filed for unemployment and many more working from home, tens of millions of Americans have free time to march in the streets. Sporting events, movie theaters, retail stores and even houses of worship are closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The usual distractions of a leap year are absent; the summer Olympics are canceled and presidential campaigning is so close to nonexistent as to be irrelevant. Politics is no longer about the politicians. Politics is in the street, where there’s nothing to do but gather, chant and dodge teargas cannisters.

            The vacuum created by the lockdown and the impotence of a political class that no longer pretends to lead during a staggering medico-economic crisis has been filled by Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd. BLM has won important symbolic victories like the toppling of Confederate statues and a renewed push to remove the Stars and Bars from the Mississippi state flag. As the movement against police brutality and institutional racism continues, look for more substantive systemic reforms in policing.

            What comes next? The eviction and foreclosure resistance movement.

Thanks to Congress’ reluctance to pass another big stimulus package, protests in general will continue into the foreseeable future. But they won’t all be against evil cops. A looming eviction and foreclosure crisis could broaden the struggle from one centered around racial grievances into a class-based fight for economic justice.

            Courts are about to get flooded by eviction hearings. 30% of Americans missed their June housing payment. Supplemental $600-per-week unemployment checks expire July 31st.

“I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis and very quickly,” Columbia Law professor Emily Benfer, a housing expert who tracks eviction policies, told The New York Times May 30th. Without government action, she warned, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”

            There is no sign that the government will lift a finger to help people who lost their jobs and will soon face homelessness. Even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the most progressive members of the U.S. Senate, refuse to consider a rent or mortgage payment holiday. They support a tepid “moratorium,” not a rent freeze. Under a moratorium back rent would pile up and all come due at once later on. Millions of people would be kicked outside this winter during a possible “second wave” of COVID-19. That’s the best scenario. Odds are, there won’t even be a moratorium. Congress will do little to nothing to help struggling tenants and homeowners.

            Millions of homeowners and renters displaced from their homes during the 2008-09 subprime mortgage meltdown received zero assistance from the government. There were no protests worth mentioning. This time will be different.

            First, there’s safety in numbers. The scale of this eviction crisis is much bigger. Three times more people have lost their jobs than during the Great Recession, during a much shorter period of time. Members of an eviction resistance movement can help one another block county sheriffs from kicking them out. Among those who are still working, the tenuous nature of the labor market has everyone in there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I mode. We are in this together.

            Second, this economic cataclysm wasn’t some act of God. People were ordered to shelter in place by the government. That’s why they lost their jobs, not a seemingly random stock market fluctuation. Targets of eviction and foreclosure won’t internalize any shame. They know they haven’t done anything wrong. They social distanced as asked; why should they sleep on the streets now because public health officials required them to go without income?

            Third, Black Lives Matter has demonstrated the efficacy of street protests and of grassroots solidarity. Cops are currently about as popular as an STD. How enthusiastically will police respond to a landlord’s request to fight their way through an angry crowd to throw a family onto the street? It depends on the municipality. Things will quickly turn ugly.

            Finally, memories of how the big banks squandered their Bush-Obama bailouts on exorbitant CEO salaries and renovating luxurious executive washrooms are still fresh. Even on the right, it will be tough to garner political support for banks trying to remove homeowners whose only crime was following stay-at-home orders.

            There is a long but now largely forgotten history of tenant resistance movements in this country, mostly led by the communist Left. Each 1st of the month between now and this fall brings us closer to a new radical struggle between people who ask nothing more than to keep a roof over their heads and a system that prioritizes the right to own and control property over the most basic of human needs.

            That movement will bring us closer to revolution.

(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.

Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Publication Date: June 23, 2020

Ted Rall’s latest is a no-holds-barred look at the civil war raging within the Democratic Party in the graphic style of his national bestseller, Bernie.

There’s a split in the Democratic Party. Progressives are surging with ideas and candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 72 percent of Democratic voters are progressives. But centrists like Tom Perez and the Clintons still run the DNC party apparatus–and they don’t want to compromise. Intraparty warfare exploded into the open in 2016. It’s even bigger now.

The struggle goes back decades, to the New Left and the election of Richard Nixon over George McGovern. It continued with the Democratic establishment’s quashing of insurgent progressives like Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader and Howard Dean. The vast scale of the DNC’s secret conspiracy to stop Bernie Sanders in 2016 nomination came out courtesy of WikiLeaks.

Will Democrats again become the party of the working person? Or will the corporatists win and continue their domination of electoral politics? Ted Rall gets to the bottom of the story neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want you to know: how the civil war in the Democratic Party poses an existential threat to the two-party system.

Current Events/Biography, 2020
Seven Stories Press Paperback, 5″x7″, 192 pp., $16.95

Click here to Order Online.

Our Politics Need a Culture of Atonement

George Clooney v Daily Mail, round 3 - SubScribe14

            Culturally informed by Roman Catholicism’s expectation that regret must prompt an apology as well as penance, Western European tradition calls for a rhetorical journey by politicians who claim to have changed course. A chastened leader should explain why and how he came to his previous belief, explain the circumstances that changed his mind and make the case for his new, different policy. He must expend political capital in order to get changes enacted.

Charles de Gaulle, who wanted France to retain control of Algeria, had observed the popularity and ferocity of the Algerian independence movement during his frequent visits to Algiers. In 1960 the French president admitted that he’d long been mistaken. “The Algerians will have the free choice of their destiny,” he informed a nation stunned by his dramatic reversal. Speaking of political capital, some military officers felt so betrayed they tried to assassinate him. But he brought the Algerian crisis in for a soft landing and regained support.

A rare American example occurred in 1987. President Ronald Reagan first denied negotiating with Iranian hostage takers. Then he apologized to the public for Iran-Contra. Taking “full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration,” Reagan then admitted to misleading the public. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Reagan’s admission was a low point for his presidency but bolstered his reputation in the long run.

            Atonement doesn’t play a frequent role in American politics.

Yet it works. After JFK accepted responsibility for the attempted overthrow of the Cuban government at the Bay of Pigs—he could have schluffed the fiasco off on Eisenhower, whose administration planned it—his popularity soared.

But it might not have worked for Ike. A study undertaken in 2017 in nine nations including the U.S. found that—especially in the U.S.—conservatives are less willing than liberals to apologize and that they’re less likely to accept an apology when one is offered.

            Conservatives mocked Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for “apology tours” expressing regret over America’s role in the slave trade and Middle East interventionism, respectively. Being Republican means never having to say you’re sorry.

            The fertile soil for a culture of atonement occurs on the left.

            Joe Biden needs to unify the Democratic Party. He has the center-left Hillary Clinton wing in the bag. He leads in the polls but has an enthusiasm gap in progressives who supported Sanders and Warren. Neither Black Lives Matter nor progressives have forgiven the former vice president for supporting the police-group-written 1994 crime bill, which contributed to mass incarceration. They’re angry that he voted for war against Iraq. A fulsome apology followed by substantial atonement—the way Sanders now says he shouldn’t have voted for the war against Afghanistan—could help Biden with activists.

So far, so tepid.

Biden hasn’t expressed regret, apologized or explained his change of heart, much less promised to do better when contemplating issues of law and order or wars of choice in the future. Why should the left forgive a man who hasn’t asked for it?

            Kamala Harris is on the short list for the vice presidency. Her prospects are clouded by her history as a pro-cop prosecutor. She might consider that confession is good for the soul as well as the polls—especially among the progressive Democrats Biden needs. Harris could renounce her “lock them up and throw away the key” past as a attorney general. She could urge the release of Kevin Cooper, now serving on death row for murders that he may not have committed because she opposed DNA testing. Harris said she felt “awful about this.” Never mind the pabulum. Write a check to the Innocence Project.

            Empty talk won’t save organizations either.

The NFL is trying to pivot away from its long-standing prohibitions against players expressing opposition to racism and police violence, a policy symbolized by blackballing Colin Kaepernick. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” commissioner Roger Goodell said.

Goodell’s statement “has rightfully been met with skepticism from the masses,” Vincent Frank wrote at Forbes. “But if [Colin] Kaepernick remains unemployed once the 2020 NFL season starts in September, it will have been proven that Goodell’s words were nothing more than an attempt to appease the masses through a well thought out PR stunt.”

Biden, Harris and the NFL need to atone for their sins. We don’t want their words. We need action.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Internal Affairs Is a Joke

Listening just now to NPR talking about internal affairs departments that “self investigate” the police, I naturally think about my now-notorious encounter with an LAPD motorcycle officer on October 3, 2001.

First and foremost, the cop watched me cross the street legally, with the signal, within the crosswalk, safely, without traffic. He arrested me for jaywalking. He knew it was false. He wrote me a bullshit ticket because he could. I assume he needed the numbers.

He roughed me up and handcuffed me for no reason. This was after I’d already voluntarily presented my ID. Obviously I wasn’t going to run away.

He was snotty and rude throughout the encounter, which culminated with him uncuffing me and throwing my driver’s license into the gutter after pretending to hand it back to me. I was scrupulously polite and cooperative the entire time.

I filed a complaint with the internal affairs department of the LAPD. They never contacted me. I called and left a message but they never got back to me. Finally they sent a letter saying that they had investigated and found my claim groundless. Of course, they never investigated. How could they? They never talked to me.

IA is a joke. That same year, the internal affairs division of the Los Angeles police department found that zero out of 1356 bias complaints were legitimate. At the same time, fewer than 2% of police officers are responsible for over 50% of complaints filed by citizens. That’s one hell of an interesting coincidence.

Numbers are similar elsewhere. In New York, internal affairs investigated 2495 reports of police bias over four years. IA agreed with citizens 0% of the time, cops 100% of the time.

A person well-connected with LAPD asked around the department about my cop. “A real asshole,” he reported back. “He has a terrible reputation.” That’s not surprising. The officer worked for the infamous West Traffic Division, where quotas were so rampant that police who refused to issue false tickets were retaliated against and discriminated against. The city ultimately had to pay out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by good cops who were treated like shit by the LAPD because they followed the law.

(This was the cop the LA Times pretended to choose to believe over me when I related the above account in a blog for the LA Times. They fired me and labeled me. I sued. The LA Times has fought ferociously to avoid letting me have my day in court over this. Right now things look pretty bleak. Even though the LA Times knows for a fact that I told the truth, and have admitted as much in court, they continue to try to bankrupt me. So far it’s going  well. For them.)

To put it mildly, I have no respect and only contempt for the police. And I have even less respect and even more contempt for what pretends to pass as a system of justice. The whole system needs to be destroyed.

An Open Letter to Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine

Dear Mr. Pearlstine,

On June 5th you issued a statement acknowledging the role your newspaper has played in the racist oppression of people of color. “The Los Angeles Times has a long, well-documented history of fueling the racism and cruelty that accompanied our city’s becoming a metropolis,” you wrote. You promised reforms, including “addressing the concerns of people of color in the newsroom.”

You admitted that this is merely a start and asked for suggestions for how the Times can redeem itself and earn the trust of readers, especially people of color.

I will take you at your word.

To begin with, the Times should come clean about its longstanding, cozy relationship with the LAPD. And it should end this deep conflict of interest, which makes it impossible for your paper to report objectively about the police. When the media fails to hold the police accountable they are free to abuse the citizens they are supposed to protect.

My case shines a light on how the media censors critics and breeds self-censorship by journalists. I was the Times’ editorial cartoonist from 2009 to 2015. My cartoons often criticized police brutality and racist policing. Instead of stopping their abuse of minorities, however, the police repeatedly demanded that the papers that ran my cartoons fire me. Those requests fell on deaf ears until 2014, when the Times brought in a new publisher, Austin Beutner. Beutner, a hedge fund billionaire who is now superintendent of LA schools, midwifed a deal by which the $16.4 billion LAPD pension fund purchased #1 shareholder status in Tribune Publishing, which owned the Times and 14 other newspapers. (Yes, it’s legal for the cops to buy media companies.) Sealing the deal and in violation of the Times’ ethical guidelines, the LAPD police union gave an award to Beutner.

The LAPD police union has a history of buying newspaper stock. They don’t hide their motives. They seek to remove negative coverage of the police from “their” papers. “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced,” the union’s president explained in 2009, after it acquired interest in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Months after the LAPD-LA Times deal, then-LAPD police chief Charlie Beck arranged a secret meeting at Beutner’s office. Fire your cartoonist, Beck demanded. Beutner agreed.

But firing me was not enough for Beck. The LAPD also wanted to send a chilling message to journalists throughout the Southland: if you criticize the police, we will destroy you. So the Times published a smear job about me.

The Times’ article didn’t mention the meeting between Beck and Beutner. It didn’t talk about the LAPD pension fund’s ownership of the Times. To this day, those facts have never been revealed to Times readers. The piece relied upon faked evidence provided by Beck to characterize me as a liar (in a blog about jaywalking, of all things). I proved the evidence was bogus and that I had been truthful, yet editorial page editor Nick Goldberg—under orders from Beutner—ignored it.

Goldberg later admitted that the truth didn’t matter. The Times was determined to ruin me and didn’t care that I had done nothing wrong. Inexplicably, Goldberg still works at the Times.

My case is not just about me. It opens a window into why and how the Times’ relationship with the police corrupts its commentary and coverage.

It shows why and how victims of police brutality have been ignored or diminished.

It explains why and how police narratives are taken at face value, no matter how ridiculous. While I was being given the bum’s rush, reporter Paul Pringle, assigned to be the Times’ hatchet man, told me that he had verified that the bogus LAPD materials were authentic. How? I asked. “The LAPD told me,” he said. I laughed. He was serious, though. Pringle still works at the Times too. He recently won a Pulitzer Prize.

How can anyone read about what happened to me and still believe anything the Times has to say about cops?

Mr. Pearlstine, if this is not empty talk, if you are serious about turning over a new leaf, you should address my case. Hiring more people of color in the newsroom is overdue, important and necessary. But black reporters aren’t more likely than white journalists to go after the police if they’re equally afraid of getting fired. Everyone at the Times knows what the paper did to me; they know it can happen to them too if they go “too far” against the cops.

The LAPD got rid of their most irritating critic and a pundit who made going after police brutality a priority. The Times never replaced me.

The LAPD terrorized other journalists. They won.

Rehiring me would make a powerful symbolic statement that the Beutner era of corruption and complicity with the police is finished. It would demonstrate you do not edit a police propaganda rag. You could take down the two libel-filled articles about me that are still on your website. You could issue a retraction and an apology.

The LAPD has since divested itself of its Tribune stock. The Times’ current owner, Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, should pledge not to enter into financial partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Like many other papers, the Times relies on the police to tip off reporters about breaking local news. This relationship should be severed. Reporters ought not socialize with cops, much less rely upon them for stories. Refusing to be a police lapdog requires hiring more journalists—but Soon-Shiong is a biotech billionaire. He can easily afford them.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

Ted Rall

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. 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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Did You Know That It’s Legal for a Police Department to Own a Newspaper?

Policemen who kill and brutalize civilians are the story of the week, month and year. We rely on newspapers to tell us the facts about the police and police brutality—you may not read one but 90% of news still originates in newspapers before it is broadcast over the radio, television and the Internet.

But what if your local paper is owned by the police? How can you trust anything you read or see on the news? The answer is: you can’t. Yet it’s perfectly legal.

I was shocked to find this out. I learned about this grotesque conflict of interest five years ago. In 2015, the LAPD, which owned the biggest share of stock in Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the LA Times, asked the Times to fire me because my cartoons criticized the LAPD for abusing people of color. How could they say no? The LAPD literally owned them.

The LAPD also owned a substantial share of newspapers in San Diego, Chicago, Baltimore and Orlando. Yet there was no requirement to tell readers that they were ethically compromised. To this day readers of the LA Times have no idea that their cartoonist disappeared at the personal request of the police chief at the time, Charlie Beck, or that new owner Patrick Soon-Shiong has continued the LAPD’s vendetta against me for years.

For the LAPD, firing me was a double win. Not only did they get rid of a critic, they sent a chilling message to journalists throughout California: if you criticize the cops, we will get you canned. And if you see them—which I did—they will use overpriced lawyers to try to destroy you and your reputation and your finances. What reporter wants to take a chance like that? Especially when journalism jobs are almost impossible to find? Better to focus on something else or to go easy on the cops.

Police reform is important but it will get nowhere unless Congress acts. Police departments and pension funds should not be allowed to purchase stocks in media corporations.

Did I or Didn’t I Have COVID-19? Blundering through Unknowable Truths

Coronavirus Testing Capacity Is Going Unused - WSJ

            Few things are more terrifying than the unknown, as we are discovering as we struggle to navigate, avoid and (if we fail) survive a mysterious new virus. That goes double when reliable information is hard to come by; it is unquantifiably worse without credible leadership.

            “Who ya gonna believe,” Chico Marx asked, “me or your own eyes?” More than other cultures of which I am aware, Americans are acculturated to ignore their instincts and the truth of their observations. A smoker might wake up coughing up phlegm every morning for decades yet he only begins to internalize that tobacco is dangerous to his health after a surgeon general he has never met issues a report. You might live in the same house years on end but discount your observation of the fact that it used to snow but now it doesn’t; global warming only becomes official when hundreds of climate scientists certify what you already knew.

            Sometimes you have to trust yourself.

            Even when you are mistaken about some details.

            I’m 90% sure that I had COVID-19. It was in November. I was in LA for several weeks. In March I blogged about my symptoms: “I had an incessant dry cough…I had a constant fever. My temperature ranged from about 101° during the day to closer to 103° at night. My chest was tight: it felt like a car was parked on it. I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. I was exhausted. Even walking half a block, I had to take a break. I would get back to my hotel after a meeting and be asleep by 6 PM. I would sleep 14 hours and wake up still wiped out. ‘What the hell,’ I would ask myself, ‘is going on?’”

            I tested negative for influenza. An x-ray revealed early-stage pneumonia. I was prescribed antibiotics and a nebulizer. Obviously I recovered; here I am writing this. But I’m still weak and tired.

            If I could prove I had the novel coronavirus in November, it might be a news story. Aside from a New Jersey mayor who says he is sure that he had COVID-19 in November and a 55-year-old Chinese man whom doctors say had the disease on November 17th, the scientific and journalistic consensus is that the coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan, China in December. Last week my physician administered a serology test to determine if I have antibodies consistent with past infection with SARS-CoV-2. It came back negative. I was puzzled. If I hadn’t had COVID-19, or the flu, what the hell was this horrible illness?

            I’m 56. I’ve had trouble with my lungs my entire life: asthma, lots of bronchitis, several cases of pneumonia, swine flu. My symptoms are remarkably consistent. My November experience was nothing like anything before. What bronchitis gives you fever for weeks at a time? What pneumonia?

            The day after my doctor called with the negative antibody test result, the FDA issued a statement essentially declaring such lab tests worthless for the purpose of figuring out whether you’ve ever had COVID-19. So even if it had come back positive, it wouldn’t have meant anything.

            Even if my test had been 100% reliable, and it had come back positive, all the test result would have proven is that I had COVID-19 at some point. It would not have evidenced that I contracted COVID-19 in November. I could have caught something else in November and COVID-19 asymptomatically, later.

            Further reducing my reliability as a possible COVID-19 Patient Zero is a failure of memory: in my blog, I wrote—because I believed it—that this happened in January. When I subsequently reviewed my records, I came across a photo selfie of me on the nebulizer in a West Hollywood urgent care clinic. It was dated November 15th and I had already been sick for a couple of weeks. You may be less surprised that I made such a mistake when I tell you that my mom was desperately ill at the time, and she died on February 7th after a year of hell. Whatever it was, COVID-19 or something else, definitely happened in November.

            Does it matter? Scientifically of course the answer is yes. Epidemiologists benefit when they can trace a viral pandemic to its roots. Personally, medically, probably. Though the experts remain officially uncertain whether someone can be reinfected by COVID-19, the evidence appears to say that COVID-19 survivors probably cannot get reinfected to a significant extent. It wouldn’t prompt me to go out in public without a mask or stop washing my hands. I know it’s selfish but I won’t deny it: I would love the peace of mind of knowing that this particular beast isn’t going to kill me. And I would like to donate blood for use as plasma in order to treat coronavirus victims.

            As it stands, most of my thoughts on this subject are a muddled rumination about the nature of humanity and the reliability of personal knowledge. If I were an animal, and had never heard of science, and had memory and self-awareness, I would know—know with the same certainty that I know I am typing this column—that I had COVID-19 and that I should probably worry about something else more than the possibility that I might get it again. But I am not an animal, I am an American filled with self-doubt, in awe of Science and the desire to document what can probably never be proven and that in fact might not be true at all.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Pre-Order Now: “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party”

As you know, I have been writing about and drawing about the division between progressives and corporate centrists within the Democratic Party for quite some time.

On June 23, my book comes out from Seven Stories Press. Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted book sales and the publishing industry due to the closure of brick and mortar bookstores. So more than ever, I’m asking you to support my work by buying this book. I’m also asking you to consider pre-ordering because pre-orders help book reviewers and bookstore buyers decide how many copies they want to buy – and I hope and pray that book stores are going to be opening in the real world soon.

The book is in the same format as my graphic novel biographies but rather than focus on one personality, it’s about the historical split in the party and how it impacts electoral politics and non-electoral politics going forward. I’m proud of it and I think you’ll like it.

What Happens Next in Afghanistan? The Neo-Taliban

The Taliban is on the move – Kabul stands in the line of fire ...

            I shouted the text of my latest story on the invasion from a Palm Pilot into a balky Iridium satellite phone. It was at least my third attempt and the battery was dying. A Village Voice employee assigned to take dictation on the other side of the world interrupted me.

“I don’t understand,” she said, irritated. “Why don’t you just go to Kinko’s and email it to us?”

I stood shindeep in the pitch dark of a muddy rut in northeastern Afghanistan and scanned pockmarked mudbrick walls. I was on a street but it was 2001 so there wasn’t any pavement there—or anywhere else in the country. There were buildings but no lights because decades of civil war had left the nation without an electrical grid. There were no bridges that hadn’t been blown up, no phone lines, no running water, no sewers.

No Kinko’s.

Motorized transport belonged to the privileged: NGOs, warlords, invading armies and journalists like me. People wanted me to take their picture, not to be photographed but to see themselves in my camera’s viewfinder for the first time in their lives. There weren’t any mirrors.

Minus a central bank, rival warlords printed banknotes from identical plates with ink of varying color. Most people preferred barter.

Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion was the 14th century plus mines and AK-47s.

The land of the Taliban was bleak and desolate. America bombed them out of Kabul after 9/11 they fled into the dusty countryside and rugged mountains that became staging grounds for attacks against U.S. and NATO forces for more than 18 years. Thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans lost their lives in a war that, in a poignant echo of Vietnam, lost its purpose. “What were we trying to do here?” General Douglas Lute, who led U.S. forces under Bush and Obama, recalled asking. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

On February 29th the U.S. tacitly conceded defeat. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban signed a deal as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the ceremony in Doha.

They called it a peace agreement. But it didn’t guarantee that fighting would stop (and it hasn’t), only that the U.S. will withdraw within 14 months.

Under the Doha agreement the Taliban will now negotiate terms with the Afghan government that the U.S. installed in early 2002. The expectation is that the Taliban will recognize the regime of President Ashraf Ghani and lay down their weapons. It’s far more likely that they will wait for Ghani’s NATO protectors to leave. Vietnam again: this is “peace with honor.”

This fig leaf allows us to withdraw with our pride intact. And that’s fine. 58% of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan think the latter conflict was a waste. They’re right. We were never going to win. President Trump gets credit for ending America’s longest war.

So what happens next?

The Taliban will grant us a grace period of relative calm while we turn our focus to other issues and places. Ultimately they will seize power with surprising speed and ferocity. This, dating back to the First Afghan War against the British from 1839 to 1842, is the way of Afghan guerilla warfare: wait, observe, probe, swarm.

Then the Taliban will be back in Kabul.

But they won’t be the Taliban—not the Taliban with whom we went to war in 2001. The Ur Taliban are dead and gone.

The bearded fighters to whom the Trump Administration has turned over the future of Afghanistan are not your father’s Taliban. South Asia experts call these fellows the “Neo Taliban.” Formerly based in the former Tribal Areas of Waziristan in western Pakistan along the Afghan border, Afghanistan’s Neo Taliban are a pastiche of radical volunteers and recruits from jihadi hot spots throughout Asia: Kashmir, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, eastern Iran and Pakistan proper. Many of these young men were orphans of the refugee camps and madrassas that sprung up around the Afghan diaspora of the 1990s and post-9/11 era. Modern and tech savvy, they carry smartphones to coordinate attacks, often on motorcycles. They earn money from kidnapping and the drug trade.

The original Taliban who ruled 90% of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 were a simpler, indigenous, more homogenous breed. Veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance, they began as vigilantes against bandits and rapists. Befitting the devastated hellscape of the failed state they terrorized with the whip-wielding goons of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, they were ascetes. When American soldiers entered the abandoned home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, they were surprised to discover that the Taliban head of state had lived modestly, even primitively.

The Neo-Taliban are nominally religious but their primary devotion is to leveraging their power into income. They are far more interested in making money than in policing women’s hijabs. They are not feminists. They would oppress women. But they wouldn’t be as thorough or ruthless as the Taliban of the 1990s.

I returned to Afghanistan nine years after I covered the war for the Voice. The difference was staggering. The U.S. and NATO occupation has radically modernized the nation’s infrastructure.

High-tension power lines run alongside smooth new highways. Conditions remain primitive in the countryside but even smaller cities have electricity most of the day. Formerly ubiquitous donkey carts have been replaced by cars, wells by water pipes, empty skies by billboards advertising soft drinks and candidates for parliament. Stores bustle, homes and big buildings are constantly going up. There are credit cards, banks and ATM machines, guarded by AK-toting private security guards in flak jackets. There are fewer dropped cellphone calls in Afghanistan than in Los Angeles.

If and when they take over, the Neo-Taliban won’t want to destroy this nascent, violence-prone, bustling capitalist state. They will seek to control, protect and tax it.  

Afghanistan under the Neo-Taliban will look something like other Islamic developing nations in the region like Pakistan or Bangladesh. Political and financial corruption will be endemic. Out in the sticks, away from the eyes of the few foreign journalists still in the country, there will still be an occasional stoning. Overall this new regime will be more modern, more corrupt and, to Western eyes, more tolerable than the Taliban who blew up the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

There still aren’t any Fedex Offices (formerly Kinko’s) in Afghanistan. But there are plenty of cybercafes—and at least one for women only.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. 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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