Blog

Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label

Image result for bernie socialism

            Bernie Sanders is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and everyone else knows exactly how the Republicans will attack him if and when he becomes the nominee: old-fashioned redbaiting.

            China became communist in name only during the 1980s, the Soviet Union shut its doors in 1991, the Cold War is dead, and the 64% of Americans under age 50 have no memory of an actually-existing socialist regime. Yet Trump and the GOP have already broadcast their plans to hang the “democratic socialist” label around Bernie Sanders’ neck.

            Whether such archaic fear-mongering—against long-dead adversaries—will be effective even with elderly voters is anyone’s guess. Considering the fact that 40% of Americans consistently tell pollsters they prefer socialism or communism to capitalism, branding Bernie Sanders as a nefarious democratic socialist might have the unintended effect of bringing out people who don’t normally vote to support an ideology they’ve never had the chance to get behind before.

            On the other hand, only 76% of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist.

            One thing is for sure: the socialism thing will be Sanders’ biggest challenge. And so what? Every candidate enters the game with a handicap of some sort.

            Elizabeth Warren has acquired a reputation for deception and opportunism. Amy Klobuchar plays a mean girl on TV and behind closed doors. Pete Buttigieg is gay; only 78% of voters say they’d consider a gay candidate. He’s also inexperienced. Joe Biden appears to have been suffering from dementia for years.

            Political weaknesses are inevitable; what makes or breaks a candidacy is how his or her campaign chooses to address it. History’s answer is clear: take it on honestly, directly and credibly.

            Own your crap. Americans voters hate sneakiness and avoidance.

            Bernie has no one but himself to blame for this potential electoral albatross. As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, the independent senator from Vermont is not really a socialist: “He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning.” He is a New Deal Democrat indistinguishable from old liberal figures like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The economic model Sanders wants to establish isn’t the USSR or even Yugoslavia, but the Scandinavian countries with their superior safety nets and enlightened penal systems. Capitalism as we know it would continue, albeit with reduced overall cruelty.

            Bernie is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For some unknown reason, however, he chose to label himself as a democratic socialist. “It’s mainly about personal branding,” Krugman speculates, “with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state.”

            Now he’s going to have to explain himself and his beliefs to American voters who have been propagandized through education and the media to believe that socialism equals communism equals totalitarian dystopia.

            If he’s smart – and there’s no reason to believe that he and his staff are anything but—he will own the phrase and address those concerns head on.

During the 1960 campaign John F. Kennedy responded to worries about his Roman Catholicism that he might take orders from the pope in a speech that allowed anti-Catholic voters to take a chance on him. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act,” Kennedy said.

            Aware that he was going to run for president in a few years, Barack Obama discussed his drug use as a young man, specifically the fact that he had tried cocaine, in his memoir and in an interview published ahead of the race. By the time he ran in 2008, the coke thing was old news baked into the politics of the time.

            “Democratic socialism” is a pretty meaningless term. Which is not necessarily bad. Because it doesn’t define an existing party or ideology in the real world, Bernie can imprint his own definition upon his awkward tabula rasa.

            Like every crisis, this is an opportunity. Voters want to know what Bernie stands for. Their confusion about democratic socialism (confusion caused by Sanders’ weird word choices) is his chance to explain himself and his policies.

            The one thing he should not and cannot do is to shy away from the S word. No matter how much he protests, Republicans are going to call him a Marxist, a communist, a socialist and worse. So there’s no point in protesting. “Yes,“ he could say, “I am a socialist. A democratic socialist. A democratic socialist is a person who cares more about you as an ordinary American than about greedy billionaires and corporations who pollute your water and lay you off at the drop of a hat.”

            Nothing neutralizes an attack more effectively than to cop to it.

            If nothing else, even if he loses, Bernie can rehabilitate socialism as an acceptable economic alternative. In the long run, that would be a greater accomplishment than anything Sanders could accomplish in eight years as president.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the forthcoming “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.)

About Me and My Mom

            My mom died last week. Her obituary is online. It is, as obits should be, about her. Too many women’s lives are contextualized around their roles as wives and mothers. So I kept myself, and our relationship, in the background.

            Now for a personal remembrance.

            Like all mothers and sons, we argued. A recurring conflict concerned religion. When my son was born I promised my mom to raise him Catholic. I figured that, like me, he would abandon the faith but move on with some useful ethical and cultural residue. I had him baptized. Which, according to the film “Warlock,” should protect him from getting eaten by Julian Sands.

            We didn’t attend mass, though. My mom badgered me about it. Finally, I admitted the truth: “I did intend to, but, with a newborn, a lazy morning over bagels and the Sunday Times is too precious to squander on getting dressed up to talk to someone who isn’t there.”

            A decade later she was bitterly ranting about my religious abstinence for the God-knows-what time when I snapped: “Come on, mom! You’re an intelligent person. You can’t possibly believe that some man in the sky controls everything.”

            “Of course not. God is a myth. I’m French. Being Catholic is about culture!” WTF?

            Fifty-plus years about God wants this, God hates people who, God wants you to pray blah blah, and it was propaganda all along! Conscious propaganda. She knew it was a lie. The funny part was that she thought she could guilt me into doing obedience. It never worked on me. Nor on her.

            It took my mom most of my life to realize that we were wired the same way. “Mom,” I said, “if you had made the cultural argument from the start I might have bought it.”

            She grimaced. Her eyes grew bigger. “Well, damn,” she smiled. She loved the life of the mind. Her true religions were ruthless criticism and logical rigor.

            We had fun.

            She retired, late, at 70. “You’re going to drop dead in front of your students” unless you quit, I warned. I should have shut up. She didn’t have a second act in her. She puttered around her small house, read, took lunch with friends and watched CNN and too much Fox News. I may be wrong; I worry that retirement set the stage for Alzheimer’s. The tons of artificial sweeteners she consumed didn’t help.

            I don’t do denial. I watched her box of medicines expand as she aged, believed her when she said she wouldn’t be around forever and determined to spend as much time with her as possible before she died. I tried to make her life bigger, to keep her intellectually challenged and connected.

            I called her at least daily. Our conversations typically included discussions of the day’s news. She enthused about the books she read well past any indication that I was interested; a side benefit of her death is that I will never again have to hear about Madame de Sévingné.

            Inevitably, she would wonder aloud about her failed marriage to my father. Why did he leave her? Why couldn’t he love her back? Would I be angry if she got back together with him? (No.) “Mom,” I’d repeat, “he remarried during the Nixon Administration. He’s still with her. He’s never coming back. Why don’t you find someone new?”

            “All the men are too old,” she’d say.

            “You’re old,” I’d point out.

            Silence. With my mom, no reply equaled grudging agreement.

            Upon arrival at her house, she’d motion me toward the sofa. “Sit down,” she ordered. She expressed exasperation at my whinging that I had just traveled 1,000 miles, needed to pee or wanted to shower or whatever. If she’d had her way we would have spent every waking hour of my visits to Dayton in her living room, staring at one another while she talked on and on.

            I rebelled. “From now on, whenever I come here, we have to travel somewhere by car,” I informed her. “Sitting in your living room is intolerable.”

            “OK,” she said. She respected when you put your foot down.

            We did.

            We went to the Kinsey Institute (surprisingly dull), Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, the bourbon trail in Kentucky, the bizarre domed hotel at French Lick, Indiana, countless house museums. Toward the end we wandered alone, just the two of us, through the hulking freezing shambles of the Mansfield Reformatory where they filmed “The Shawshank Redemption.” 

“I don’t like this,” she told me. “It feels like being dead.”

            Our last sortie before The Fall/The Home/The Dying was a year ago to the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina. I rented a Dodge Charger because my mom liked fast cars that made a big noise but never owned one. We got it to 110 in Tennessee. “Not very impressive,” she said, eyes twinkling even as the Alzheimer’s stole more of her.

            No one was sharper than Yvonne Rall. Late in life she self-diagnosed after reading about Asperger’s syndrome; we agreed hers was a mild case. There was no need to confirm with an expert. Hers was the kind of smart that was simply always correct.

            She was a perfectionist. “That could have been a good cartoon,” she’d say. “Appliques-toi.” Apply yourself. Her house was meticulous.

            Nothing frustrated my mother more than laziness, whether physical or intellectual. Any problem could be solved; all that was lacking was gumption. On a trip to France she insisted on joining me on a mountain biking expedition. She kicked my butt. She was 65.

Bicycling in Dayton, age 80.

            She understood the awful callousness that feeds tolerance of injustice. When Bush began his drone assassination program, I predicted that American liberals would protest in the streets. “No they won’t,” she predicted. “No one cares about brown people.” Yet she couldn’t understand why rich people didn’t give their money to the poor.

            She wasn’t perfect. She spanked and slapped and whipped me with a belt (usually not with the buckle side) until I was 13 or 14 and surpassed her in height and informed her that I would kill her unless she stopped. I was serious. She stopped.

            I was sexually assaulted by a junior high school custodian; she didn’t believe me.

            After I moved away I worked hard to forgive her, she reciprocated by listening and owning her crap and really, actually changing, and we forged a close friendship. People heard me talking to her in fast-loud French and assumed we were fighting. No, we were spirited. My mom interrupted constantly. “I have so many thoughts in my head I need to get out and I’m afraid I’ll forget them,” she said. I shouted to slip a word in edgewise but I wasn’t angry. We laughed a lot.

            My values come from my mom. We live with infinite possibilities. We can make work rewarding and end wars and take care of one another. We just have to do the work.

            Yvonne Rall died, as the euphemism goes, from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, on February 7, 2020. She was 84 years old.

            No one who knew her will meet anyone like her again.

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

Yvonne Rall, Educator and Passionate Advocate of French, Dead at 84

            Yvonne Rall, a brilliant and demanding educator who left her mark on thousands of high school French students, died February 7th in Kettering, Ohio. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

            She was 84.

            She was my mother.

            A native of France who arrived in the United States at age 25 in 1961, my mom became a memorable presence at Centerville High School near Dayton, Ohio for her stylish wardrobe, commanding presence—she was 5’9” with hazel eyes that could transition from a kind glint to piercing contempt in an instant—and passionate advocacy of French language and culture.

            During her tenure from 1973 to 2005 Rall initiated the school’s advanced-placement French program, began a French Honor Society and was named Teacher of the Year in 2001. She held a bachelor’s degree from Wright State University and a master’s from the University of Dayton, both in education.

            She was as feared as she was fondly remembered. Students recalled a sharp-tongued teacher who enforced a zero-tolerance policy toward slouching, laziness and the use of English in class. She was also kind. She arrived early and worked late each day in order to tutor students who needed extra help. She inspired several of her students to become French teachers.          

            Née Yvonne Touzet in Mugron in the southwest department of Landes, she was born on May 3, 1935 to Charles Touzet, an orphan, merchant mariner and fisherman who suffered from alcoholism and had trouble holding a job, and Marie Le Corre, her mother. Marie apprenticed to wash and fold the distinctive bigoudène lace headdress of Brittany but that work dried up after a government campaign to unify the country by eradicating expressions of Breton, Basque and Provençal culture.

            Born at the height of the global Great Depression, Yvonne’s childhood was defined by abuse, poverty and deprivation. “My parents repeatedly told me I was an accident and that they didn’t want me,” she told me. Weeks after her fifth birthday, Germany invaded France. As the army disintegrated and the government crumbled before the Nazi advance, Marie dispatched Yvonne and her older sister Janine to the town well to fetch water for the stream of refugees now called l’éxode. “They passed by our house for months,” she recalled. “No one said a word.”

            World War II was traumatic. Touzet’s second-grade teacher, accused of resistance activity, was executed by a Gestapo firing squad in the school courtyard as she and her classmates were forced to watch. A member of the Communist Party, her father joined the Resistance. His long absences left the family without a breadwinner. German authorities targeted the family members of the maquis for reprisals, which forced the Touzets to move from town to town in the Vichy-administered “free zone.” Seeking work meant exposure to arrest. Hunger was constant. Her 1943 Christmas present was an egg.

            On a hot day in July 1944 Yvonne found herself alone in a village main square when she noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. As a column of vehicles drew closer she saw that the lead tank carried an American flag. To alert the townspeople that liberation had arrived she raced into the village church. Forty years later a resident recognized her: “You’re the girl who rang the bell!”

            “I fell in love with America that day,” she said.

            A voracious reader—she loved history, politics and anthropology—blessed with a steel-trap memory, she drew on her encyclopedic power of recall and curiosity to rise to the top of her classes. But the French economy remained hobbled during the postwar years. She couldn’t afford to attend college.

            She moved to Paris in search of work. At age 25 in 1960 she landed at NATO headquarters as an office worker. There she met her future husband, Fred Rall, Jr. A bright aeronautical engineer who has been called “the father of the modern Air Force,” Rall was on assignment as an officer. The two were married in Chicago in 1961. They lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts while he studied at MIT before moving to Kettering, Ohio after he was reassigned to Wright-Patterson air force base. She worked as a homemaker and, after I was born in 1963, as a mother.

            My parents were a poor match. Like many men of his generation, Fred was a dry, laconic workaholic and political conservative who viewed his wife as subservient. Urbane, charismatic and witty, Yvonne did not believe in limits when it came to the American Dream. She described Fred as cold and authoritarian. After Fred expressed approval upon learning of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the marriage disintegrated. The couple separated in 1965 and divorced in 1968.

            In divorce negotiations my mom traded away alimony in exchange for college tuition. Active in social-justice movements, she protested the Vietnam War and marched for women’s and gay rights. She volunteered for Democratic campaigns. She chose the teaching profession because the workday ended at 3 p.m. so she could be home when I came home from school. She became a leader of her teacher’s union.

            She became a U.S. citizen during the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. In addition to teaching, she was a published poet and paid translator.

            Always unorthodox, she engaged with citizenship in her own way.

            A devout Roman Catholic and opponent of abortion, she nevertheless supported Roe v. Wade. “It’s not the government’s business,” she said. She worked for the release from prison of a teenager who murdered her child after concealing her pregnancy and secretly delivering it.

            Sitting on a jury for the trial of a young man charged with selling drugs and assaulting the police officers who arrested him, she pointed out to fellow jurors that the cops were each twice the defendant’s size. “It was ridiculous,” she said, “the assault charges were just not credible.” Hers was the lone vote to acquit. She refused to change her mind. He walked.

            After the man was released she asked his lawyer to arrange a meeting. “You’ll never get another juror like me,” she warned him. “Next time it will be a bunch of white Republican racists. So straighten up.”

            My mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s was the subject of a National Public Radio profile in 2019. She lived independently, as she preferred, until the last year of her life, when she suffered serious injuries from a fall.

            Yvonne Rall is survived by her son, the political cartoonist and writer Ted Rall and her grandson, Erick Rall. She never remarried.

            Donations may be made in Yvonne Rall’s name to The Montgomery County Drug-Free Coalition, an organization fighting the opioid crisis in Dayton or, alternatively, to the Bernie Sanders for President campaign, which she supported.

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

My Mom Yvonne Rall Died Last Night

It is tempting, when a parent dies, to center your remembrance of them through the lens of your relationship to them as a child.

Self-centered as we are — at least as self-centered as I am — we ignore their individuality in favor of their effect upon us, especially the things that they taught us.

My mother, who died last night at the age of 84 (I always knew she would die midwinter, she so hated the Midwest’s relentless cloud cover), of course taught me many things. She was supposed to.

She raised me alone so she did some of the things that fathers were supposed to do too.

She taught me how to ride a bike, running and hanging onto the back of the banana seat of my Schwinn and then letting it go when she thought I was balanced properly, urging me back on after I fell, insistent that I keep doing it until I got it right which of course I did after some scrapes.

When we figured out that I had an interest in cartooning, she took me to the now-long-closed Fernandez art supply store at Town and Country shopping center, bought me “fancy” paper and then showed me how to make my own comic book by holding the pages and cutting them and stapling them together.

She taught me things her generation mistakenly believed that my generation would need, like ballroom dancing. I balanced atop her feet as she showed me the steps in our living room, music playing on records she later gave away without asking me along with the colonial-style console stereo system. We laughed.

She messed things up too. When the long-haired blonde girl from the supermarket checkout gave me a ride home, my mom came out of the house to see why I was taking so long to come inside. Rapping on the window with her knuckles, she cried: “What are you doing?” So much for my first kiss. Parents are supposed to mess things up.

So many memories, too many to share, boring to anyone but me, swirling around right now. Soon I will share the ones you might care about. Personal stories only have relevance if they have relevance.

For now she deserves to be remembered more than the mother of Ted Rall the Cartoonist, and that’s how I’m going to write her obituary. She was a remarkable person with an interesting life in her own right, a woman who had an impact on thousands of people, and not just her students. That woman deserves to be celebrated.

She was cool as shit, striding toward me waving her arms at me in her white men’s Levi’s hiphuggers (they didn’t sell jeans for women yet), a bright smile and a kiss, asking me how was school.

Democrats’ Wimpy Impeachment Has Made Trump Stronger Than Ever

Image result for trump impeachment

            “Many Democrats fear that Trump may be laying an impeachment trap,” Stephen Collins wrote for CNN last May. “It’s possible that the wider political divides get, the more Trump benefits. The spectacle would help him charge up the political base he needs to turn out in droves in 2020 with claims their 2016 votes were being stolen by political elites.”

            Give that man whatever passes for a cigar in this smokeless age.

            Any number of metaphors serves to illustrate the unintended effect that the hapless failed impeachment of Donald Trump is having on his base of support. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; the Democrats did just that with an attack that didn’t stand a chance of felling its target.

            If you’re thinking about taking a swing at a bully at a bar, be sure you can deliver a roundhouse punch that’s going to lay the bastard out flat on the floor. But if you don’t have what it takes to bring him down with the first blow, sneak out to the parking lot.

            The coronavirus outbreak has me thinking about disease. There’s a medical metaphor that I like best: when fighting off an infection it’s better not to use any medication than to take a weak antibiotic and risk strengthening what ails you.

            No matter the analogy, President Trump emerges from his Senate impeachment trial as a more formidable adversary than he was before. While his overall popularity remains at about 46%, the number of voters who “strongly” support him just hit a three-year high, indicating that he is better off than before impeachment. This should come to the surprise of no one who remembers the humiliation of Bill Clinton. Republican overreach over Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky led to the Democrat leaving office in 2000 with soaring popularity.

            Probably the biggest movement in favor of Trump has been with formerly “anti-Trump Republicans” who now see the truth of the President’s supporters’ claims that Democrats would do and say anything in order to get rid of a sitting Republican president. The ranks of Never Trumpers are shrinking, throwing a wrench into the strategy of centrist candidates like Biden and Buttigieg.

            Polls in key swing states show disproportionately high disapproval for impeachment. Voters in these places tend to prefer antiestablishment candidates. Impeachment allows Trump to frame himself as the rebel getting picked on by the in-crowd, Congressional Democrats.

            Impeachment — more specifically, this very lame, rushed, pro forma impeachment — also dispirits Democratic voters who see, once again, that the Democratic Party only seems to wage wars it knows it can’t win. What’s the point of voting for these clowns?

            One thing is for sure: no matter what perfidy is discovered or comes to light in the future, it’s going to be all but impossible to take a second stab at impeachment. Now Trump really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Impeaching the same President twice is all but inconceivable.

            How did this happen? Democrats made one mistake after another.

            First and foremost was the lousy choice of impeachment counts. Pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens looked and felt too much like political business as usual, not a breach of normality so outrageous as to justify removal from office. Shades of Rob Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois.

            The Ukraine line of inquiry prompted as many questions as it tried to ask. If Trump is corrupt, what about the Bidens? Why were we giving aid to Ukraine in the first place when millions of Americans are homeless or poor? Why should Americans care about Ukraine? The country certainly isn’t, as Democrats alleged, important to American national security.

            A slim majority thought the Ukraine call was wrong. But they didn’t care enough to impeach him over it.

            Americans did care about emoluments and the president using his office to enrich himself. They did care about his wacko temperament and erratic behavior. They did care about separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Inexplicably, the Democrats let the good bad stuff go.

            Democrats screwed up badly with timing. You don’t have to be James Carville to know that it’s foolish to start an impeachment trial at the beginning of a presidential election campaign. You certainly don’t do it when many of your big-name candidates are senators who can’t campaign because they are stuck in Washington. Yet that’s exactly what Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff did.

            Starting the impeachment process so late in Trump’s first term forced Democrats into a rushed pro-forma process. Because Trump Administration officials broadcasted their intention to resist congressional subpoenas and the courts might have taken months to compel them to testify, Democratic prosecutors didn’t bother to subpoena key Republican witnesses or documents. (GOP obstruction became the basis for a dubious second count, “contempt of Congress.”)

            None of this would have been a problem had the “resistance” started working on impeachment in 2017. If they were worried about the politicizing effort of impeachment on the midterm elections, they could have begun impeachment in December 2018, which would have given them enough time to work through the court system last year.

            No serious student of politics thought there was a real chance that this process, rushed over a relatively inconsequential issue, could convince 17 Republican Senators to vote to remove a president for the first time in American history. Nevertheless, Democrats started a fight they knew they couldn’t win.                        

            Now liberals are dispirited. The president goes into his reelection campaign stronger than ever. A second term looks likelier than ever. Heckuva job, Nancy and Adam.

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

Corporate Crap That Doesn’t Kill Bernie Just Makes Him Stronger

Sanders supporters before a campaign event in Des Moines on Monday.

            On January 19th the New York Times oddly co-endorsed Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two days later, the key New Hampshire primary showed Warren down four points. Bernie Sanders’ surge continued. What happened?

            To the extent that they ever did, the editorial boards at corporate-owned media outlets no longer seem to be helping the candidates they support. But I think it goes further than that. In a Democratic Party increasingly dominated by insurgent progressives, authenticity (or the perception thereof) is a politician’s most valuable asset. The approval of “mainstream” establishment entities has become a curse. The imprimatur of an officialdom widely seen as hopelessly corrupt dilutes a candidate’s reputation for authenticity, independence and the voters’ belief that he or she will stand up for we the people over the powers that be.

            Much to the frustration of ruling elites, Bernie Sanders keeps gaining support despite repeated attempts to sandbag him. It began, of course, with a well-documented campaign by the Democratic National Committee to cheat Sanders out of a fair shot at the nomination in 2016. Though less brazen, the sympathies of the DNC, still dominated by Hillary Clinton allies, remain evident in the current cycle. As in 2016, Democratic-aligned media outlets rarely mention Sanders other than to frame him as an elderly fringe wacko. The “Bernie Blackout,” featuring graphics of TV polls where Sanders’ name had been excised, became so ridiculously obvious that it got its own Reddit.

            The last few weeks have been especially instructive. There was the infamous sandbagging of Bernie Sanders at the hands of a CNN moderator. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” became, seconds after Sanders issued a categorical denial, “why did you tell Elizabeth Warren that you did not believe that a woman could win the election?,” a statement that wouldn’t be sexist if he said it and that runs counter to everything he has said and done over the last 40 years.

            Next came the bizarre New York Times two-fer endorsement of Warren and Klobuchar, which included the demonstrably false claims that Bernie Sanders is hard to work with in the Senate and refuses to compromise. This was quickly followed by the news that Hillary Clinton, the nation’s least popular political figure, told a Hulu documentarian that “nobody likes” Sanders, the most popular, and that he’s a “career politician.” As opposed to herself and her husband?

            In the bubble-wrapped imaginations of ruling elites like Clinton and the editors of the New York Times, the hoi polloi care deeply about what they say and think. They think we take their lead.

            Reality is quite opposite.

            It’s not that we don’t listen. We do. We pay attention to what Those In Charge say and what they want us to do—so that we can do the exact opposite.

            Contempt for our “leaders” is one of the key reasons Donald Trump won the presidency. “To the extent that people are using Trump as a way of venting about their general unhappiness, trust is irrelevant,” Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina observed during the summer of 2016. “They’re just trying to send a message that they’re tired of being taken for granted and screwed by both sides.”

          People wanted to send another message, albeit a childish one, to the elites: we hate you. 14% of Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in the news media. Congress’ approval rating is 27%. Last time Gallup bothered to check, Hillary was at 38%.

            Americans’ disdain for their masters was placed in sharp relief by polls that showed that many Trump voters would have voted for Bernie Sanders had he been the Democratic nominee and that one out of ten Bernie Sanders’ primary supporters ended up voting for Donald Trump in the general election. Trump and Sanders were the change candidates in a change year. And 2020 is even changier.

            We are witnessing political jiu-jitsu. The more viciously that neoliberals attack Bernie Sanders, the higher progressive estimations of Sanders’ authenticity rises.

            Many on the left, me included, have held doubts about Bernie Sanders. We worry that he isn’t far left enough, especially on foreign policy. After all, he’s OK with drone assassinations, was pretty much silent about the Israeli invasion of Gaza, praised the illegal assassination of Osama bin Laden that denied justice to 9/11 victims, and has not proposed specific numbers by which he would cut the Pentagon budget.

            Even on domestic issues, Sanders’ forte, he is weaker than we would like. The $15-an-hour minimum wage he is pushing for now would have been OK when he started working on it years ago, but due to inflation $20 or $25 an hour would make more sense now. By global standards, Sanders is no radical. He’s a garden-variety liberal—the Democratic Party under FDR.

            Fortunately for him, reactionary goons like the New York Times remind us that whatever his shortcomings Sanders is still the best game in this very right-wing town, the farthest left Democrat to have presented himself for our consideration in the last 40 years.

            If Hillary Clinton and CNN and MSNBC hate Bernie so much, maybe he’s all right.

            It is increasingly likely that Bernie Sanders will become the Democratic nominee and perhaps President of the United States. If and when that happens, when this “democratic socialist” takes the oath of office, he ought to give a shout-out to the clueless enemies who made his victory possible.

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

If This is a Democracy, Why Don’t We Vote for the Vice President Too?

            Let’s say you owned a house and needed extra cash to make ends meet, so you decided to rent two of your bedrooms. Would you agree to lease those rooms to two people, but under the condition that you could only meet and run a credit check on one of them? Would you allow an anonymous rando move into your second room, no questions asked, not even their name?

            It’s an absurd question. No one would do that. Yet that’s exactly what the parties ask millions of voters to do in American presidential primaries.

            Thanks to debates and news reports we’ve gotten to know Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and the other presidential contenders pretty well. Democratic voters have the information they need to vote for their party standardbearer. But they have no idea who will represent their party for vice president.

            We don’t even know what kind of veep the candidates would pick. Would Biden balance his centrism with a progressive, or someone younger like Pete Buttigieg? Would Sanders double down on progressivism by pairing up with Warren, or vice versa?

            Since four out of ten vice presidents have become president, this is not an academic question. (I include those who ran for the presidency using the formidable springboard of incumbency and the name reconciliation it bestows.)

            You might think no big deal, my choice for president will select a running mate with a similar temperament and ideological leanings. History shows that “balance,” i.e. contrast, is a common strategy. Bush, an affable moderate Republican, went with maniacal hardliner Dick Cheney—and by many accounts Cheney was the one in charge. The US (and Iraq!) lost a lot when Bush prevailed over Al Gore; whereas Gore was a staunch environmentalist and a thoughtful liberal, his running mate Joe Lieberman was a charmless Republican in sheep’s clothing. Whatever you thought of John McCain (in my case, not much) it would have been a tragic day for America had he croaked and been succeeded by the shallow imbecile Sarah Palin.

            It is strange—nay, it is insane—that a self-declared democracy allows, effectively, 40% of its future leaders to be elected not by the voters but by one person, the presidential nominee of one party or, at most, by a half-dozen of his or her confidants.

            Sometimes it works out. The assassination of William McKinley gave us Teddy Roosevelt, who set the standard for the contempt with which a president ought to treat big business. How long would we have awaited the Civil Rights Act had LBJ not been prematurely promoted? Still, this is not democracy.

            It is time for the United States to require that candidates for president announce their veep picks at the same time they announce their intent to run. It’s truth in advertising.

            Candidates’ terms don’t expire with them. If a president succumbs to an assassin’s bullet, a foreign drone or an aneurysm prior to the end of their four-year term, voters—primary voters—ought to have the right to know who would finish it out. Toward that end, they also ought to pre-announce their cabinet picks. Many cabinet positions are in the line of succession. And they can make a big difference. I would not have voted for Barack Obama if I had known he would appoint Goldman Sachs’ Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury Department.

            Announcing veeps early enough for voters to take them into consideration before casting their primary ballots would deprive political conventions of their last remaining bit of drama, but lower TV ratings are a small price to pay compared to what is to be gained: transparency and choice.

            It’s not like revealing the number-two spot ahead of time is a crazy idea no one has tried before.

            “Nowadays, once a candidate has locked up the presidential nomination, we expect them to choose their running mate by whatever process they choose to employ, introduce him (or, in two recent cases, her) to the public a few days before the convention, and we all understand that the convention will rubber-stamp that choice, and the veep nominee will make a televised speech, which will occur on Wednesday night, the third day of the four-day TV show that conventions have become,” Eric Black wrote for the Minnesota Post.

    “In the earliest days of the Republic—and this was the way the Framers of the Constitution intended it—whoever finished second in the Electoral College voting would become vice president. That’s how John Adams, the first vice president got the job. Even as the two-party system (which is not mandated by the Constitution) developed, that remained the case, which is how Adams (when he succeeded George Washington in 1796) ended up with his chief rival in the presidential race (Thomas Jefferson) as his vice president.”

            The parties usurped the voters’ role in the choosing of the vice president in 1832.

            We’re a weird country. Few electoral democracies elect a president the way we do and even fewer deal with succession the same way. Most nations replace their departed presidents with a temporary fix, typically an acting president who is a parliamentary official analogous to the Speaker of the House pending a special presidential election, or a quickie election to find a replacement. We’re pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out a better construction.

            What’s clear is that nothing would be lost and much would be gained by requiring presidential candidates to declare their running mates, and their cabinets, up front.

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

America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia

            Russia — OK, not the actual Russian government but a private click-farm company located in Russia — bought $100,000 worth of political ads on Facebook designed to change the outcome of the 2016 election. Except that only a small fraction of those ads were political. Also except that that small fraction was divvied up between pro-Hillary Clinton and pro-Donald Trump ads. And especially except that $100,000 in Facebook ads can’t affect the outcome of a $6.8 billion election.

            Now the same media outlets who touted Robert Mueller’s fizzled Russiagate investigation daily for three years is warning that Russia is planning to do the same thing in 2020.

            Be slightly afraid. Very slightly afraid.

            “Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and affect government policies,” read a statement from top Trump Administration security officials issued in November. “Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions.”

            Setting aside the question of whether it’s smart to take the U.S. government at its word — it isn’t — if Russia were to meddle in our domestic politics, we would have it coming.

            To say the least.

            Throughout its history the United States repeatedly attacked, sabotaged and undermined the Soviet Union. U.S. interference was one of the major contributors to the collapse of that country in 1991. So the Russian government that followed — the Russian system now in place — might not even exist if not for the United States.

            Imagine being one of the freshly-minted leaders of Russia in the months following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. You have a lot on your plate. The last thing you need is a U.S.-led invasion force of tens of thousands of troops invading your chaotic new country, most of which is primitive and dirt-poor. But that’s what they got. It took three years to kick out our troops.

            That’s a little more interferency than Facebook ads.

            During World War II the U.S. and the USSR were allies against Nazi Germany — enemy of my enemy and all that — but even after promising to jump in the feckless Americans dragged their feet for three years before getting into the war, content to stand down as tens of millions of Soviet citizens died. FDR “deliberately made the Soviet people shoulder the hardships of war and hoped to see the Soviet Union bled white,” a wartime commander named Ivan Kuzovkov told Tass news service in 1984.

            In 1962 JFK took the world to the brink of World War III because the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba, 90 miles away from Florida. Yet two years earlier the Soviets shot down American spy pilot Gary Powers in what became known as the U-2 incident. There’s no question that the plane was over Soviet airspace. It was an act of war. But even at the height of the Cold War the Soviets chose to look the other way. Can you imagine what would happen if Russia had done the same thing to us?

            In 1982 President Ronald Reagan approved an ingenious CIA operation to blow up a huge natural gas pipeline running across Siberia. “In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds,” recalled a former member of Reagan’s national security council. The result was economic disruption, environmental catastrophe and “the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

            Blowing up the equivalent of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was a tad more dramatic than releasing DNC emails. Not that there’s any evidence that Russia was behind that.

            In 1983 Korean Airlines flight 007 — gotta love the subtlety of the number — was shot down over northeastern Russia after its pilot turned off the plane’s transponder and ignored orders to withdraw from militarily-sensitive Soviet airspace. KAL flight 007 had penetrated 587 km into the USSR, a world record for “off course” aerial navigation. It’s impossible to know for sure but given the close ties between South Korea and the U.S. at the time it’s likely that the airline allowed the CIA to affix high-resolution spy cameras to the plane. They gambled the lives of the passengers on the assumption that the Russians wouldn’t fire on a civilian airliner.

            Another Reagan-era project involved economic sabotage. Because oil and gas were major Soviet exports, the U.S. convinced Saudi Arabia to ramp up production of its own energy reserves. Oil and gas prices fell globally, the Soviet economy went into a tailspin and U.S. taxpayers compensated the Saudis for doing them a favor. If Russia had purposefully caused the 2008-09 financial meltdown just to mess with us we would view it as an act of war.

            In 1991 the U.S. got its way, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Russia transitioned to free-market capitalism. You’d think that the Americans would reach out to help. They did send money: bribes for the tiny clique of corrupt former bureaucrats surrounding Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, from whom soon emerged a new class of violent oligarchs. Ordinary Russians got nothing. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 3 million Russian citizens died of hunger and other causes as a result of the collapse of communism and the refusal of the international community to step up.

            Talk about interference! The Americans worked hard to destroy the USSR. After they succeeded, when interference would have been welcome and appropriate, they left Russia to die.

            When the U.S. worries about Russia messing with its internal politics it sounds a lot like psychological projection.

            Or just desserts.

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

Iran Is Not What You Think

Image result for iran manteau

            War, many people believe, often results from cultural differences and misunderstandings. President Trump’s assassination of General Qassem Suleimeni has Americans considering the possibility that we may soon add Iran to our list of unwinnable wars in the Middle East. As that calculus unfolds, no one questions the assumption that there are irreconcilable differences between our two peoples that can only be worked out via more bloodshed.

            Nothing could be further than the truth. No other people in the world are more temperamentally similar to Americans than Iranians. Certainly, the Iranians’ religion is different. So is their language. But we are a lot more like them than most Americans, and that includes members of the news media, assume.

            The problem is, very few Americans have been to Iran. The absence of diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution and the ensuing hostage crisis that brought down Jimmy Carter’s presidency, coupled with trade sanctions that prohibit American airlines from providing direct air service make it all but impossible for the most intrepid of travelers to get inside the country and see what’s going on for themselves.

            I’m not an expert on Iran. But this seems like an appropriate time to share what I learned nine years ago when I visited that country.

            As I said, getting in wasn’t easy. I paid numerous visits to the closest thing Iran has to a consulate in New York, Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, to little avail. Ultimately I shelled out a $5700 “arrangement fee” (some would call it a bribe) to a Washington D.C.-based agency that worked through the Iranian Interests section of the Pakistani embassy there to secure visas for myself and two fellow cartoonists.

            The main purpose of our trip was travel through Afghanistan for a book I was writing. Since our itinerary through that war-torn country would end with the Afghan city of Herat near the Iranian border, we wanted to leave via Iran after some tourism and rest and relaxation.

            You can get an idea of how unusual our plan was from the incredulous reaction of the Afghan border policeman who greeted us after we crossed the border from Tajikistan. “Point of exit?” he asked. When we told him Iran, he laughed. “You are American! There is no way,” he replied. When he showed our Iranian visas to his colleagues, they couldn’t believe their eyes. “How did you get these?” they wanted to know.

            Several weeks later, we walked across the border between northwestern Afghanistan and northeastern Iran. It seemed incredibly simple. We were already stamped in and on the curb outside the customs office waiting for a taxi when three bemused agents of Iran’s feared Ettela intelligence service tapped us on our shoulders and invited us into separate interrogation rooms. They grilled us for hours. Before they released us my agent asked me: “Do you know why we questioned you so diligently?” I didn’t. “You three,” he replied, “are the first Americans to cross this border since 1979.” I don’t know if that’s true. Clearly we were rare birds.

            The first thing that struck me, especially compared to the bleak devastation of Afghanistan, was how modern Iran was, even in this remote corner of the nation. Americans have an impression of the Middle East as a bunch of dusty pockmarked ruins and sand, but Iran looked and felt like Turkey or Israel in terms of its terrain and infrastructure. The second was how nice everyone was, even/especially after learning we were American.

            As required by the government, we had arranged for a travel agent to meet us and shepherd us around. He was a nice guy even though he liked to scam our money; we kept being put up in two-star hotels after we paid him for four.

            From the start, Iran wasn’t what we assumed. On the train ride to Mashhad, our fixer disappeared for about an hour. Upon his return he apologized and explained that he had picked up a woman who had taken him to her cabin for a quickie. His promiscuity wasn’t unusual. We were repeatedly flirted with or propositioned by women. The desk clerks at our hotel asked our fixer about our long beards, which we had grown out in order to blend in in rural Afghanistan. “Are your friends fanatics?” they wanted to know. “Would they spend the night with us?”

            Along with our beards we had acquired the traditional shalwar kameez white robes worn by conservative Afghans. Our fixer suggested we had a unique opportunity to smuggle ourselves into the haram (forbidden) section of the Imam Reza shrine so we could check out the stunning Timurid architecture. If anyone talked to us, our fixer advised, pretend not to understand them. Muslims come from all over the world to pray there so we could pretend to speak a different language. Worshipers circled the tomb of the 9th century Shia martyr Ali al-Ridha seemingly in a trance but, whenever someone spent too long in the center an attendant lightly dipped a pink feather duster strung from a pole onto the offender to ask him to move on.

            Two incidents stood out for me.

            At our hotel in Tehran we overheard a European couple complaining to the desk clerks that they had been mugged or pickpocketed, I don’t remember which, the night before. They had been robbed of €1200. The clerks repeatedly entreated them to report the loss to the police but the Europeans were understandably hesitant. The next day I encountered the pair in the elevator. “You won’t believe what happened,” the wife told me. “We went to the police and they gave us €1200.” There was a law that foreign tourists had to be made whole if they suffered a financial loss due to crime. Iranians we talked to were surprised that it wasn’t the same in the West.

            We flew from Tehran to Istanbul. At our last security checkpoint in Iran airport security personnel ordered us to remove our baggage from the conveyor belt leading to the x-ray machine. Great, I thought, we’re going to be detained. “You are guests in our country,” the equivalent of the TSA guy advised us. “It would be rude to subject you to a search.” We were Americans, citizens of the Great Satan, at Ayatollah Khomeini International Airport!

            Not everything was sweetness and light.

            There was always a sense of tension that comes with knowing that law-breaking could come with grave consequences. For the most part, however, we followed the rules. Most of the people we saw obeyed them too, but just barely. Many women wore the tightfitting manteau and barely covered their hair.

            When our Turkish Airlines flight lifted up from Tehran, many of the women on board dumped their chadors, revealing skin and sexy outfits and makeup. People smiled. Flight attendants began serving beer. This is what Iran would feel like if Iran’s government, which is not popular, were to go away tomorrow.

Trump’s latest actions and America’s myopic foreign policy, however, ensure that the religious government will probably remain in place for the foreseeable future.

            So does the fact that very few Americans have gotten to know Iran.

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