Many Americans bemoan the normalcy before the lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Until we can get back to normalcy, however, we can do all the things that make America America by using technology.
What a society spends its resources on reveals its priorities. The United States military has endless resources and massive budgets which it uses to slaughter people around the world for fun and profit. Now the United States healthcare system is under attack by the COVID-19 pandemic, and healthcare workers (not to mention ordinary citizens) can’t even find a $0.58 face mask.
For the last 18 years, the United States has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on drone assassination warfare. Now, as predicted, other countries are starting to use unmanned aerial vehicles, as seen with the recent attack against Saudi oil refineries. This might have been avoided if the U.S. had not set such a terrible precedent.
There is no other way to say it: it was a political assassination.
Osama bin Laden was unarmed. SEALs captured him alive. Following brazenly illegal orders from Washington, they executed him. “The [Obama] administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead,” The Atlantic reported on May 4, 2011.
State-controlled media outlets like The Atlantic claimed that Obama was desperate to avoid a trial that would give the Al Qaeda leader a “high-profile platform for spreading his extremist views.” Left unsaid, as so much is in the American steno-journalism reminiscent of the Soviet Union, was a more pressing reason to silence the Saudi scion.
As much as the families of 9/11 victims craved justice, it was infinitely more important to the U.S. political establishment to deny bin Laden an opportunity to publicly expound on his ties to the CIA and the CIA-funded Pakistani intelligence agency ISI when they were training and funding the “Afghan Arabs” who fought Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Letting people learn that 9/11 would likely never have happened if not for the CIA would have been…awkward.
Such is the fate of enemies of the state.
Last week, not so much an enemy but a man whose existence had become inconvenient, not exactly to the state but certainly to a cabal of powerful men including a former president as well as the sitting one, joined bin Laden in the kingdom of the dead.
The official narrative of billionaire accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s death shifted faster than a New York subway rider when a homeless guy plops down next to them on a hot day. First they said Epstein had been on suicide watch, then that he hadn’t. Prisons are full of cameras yet there’s still no video of Epstein’s death. Then, suicide watch or not, they claimed he’d been checked on every 30 minutes. Then more like every three hours. The medical examiner said his injuries were consistent with strangulation by a second person but then thought better of it and ruled Epstein’s convenient demise a suicide.
I tweeted the morning of Epstein’s passing: “Bill Clinton is the happiest man in America today.” Clinton flew on Epstein’s infamous “Lolita Express” private jet at least six times, including to such sex-tourism destinations as Thailand and Hong Kong. Perhaps he refrained from partaking of the underaged prostitutes and rape victims Epstein stands accused of procuring for his traveling companions. Whatever happened or didn’t, the Epstein-Clinton connection is sketchy as hell.
As is Epstein’s suicide—the first at the Manhattan Correctional Facility since 1998.
At this writing it seems unlikely that we’ll ever know who killed Epstein, whether it be himself or someone else. What we do know is that, if we take the government at its word, it was incompetent and negligent to an unfathomable extent. Being insanely stupid and lazy is its defense.
Now we’re descending into the usual idiotic post-death-of-a-pain-in-the-ass debate between credulists (those who believe anything the government and its pet media say) and conspiracy theorists. Truth: no one knows anything. We weren’t there. The video was—but they deep-sixed that.
We don’t know how Epstein bit it but the fact of Epstein’s death tells us everything we need to know about America today. No matter what, Epstein died because the government let it happen. He was a ward of the state, the highest of high-profile prisoners, a man whose trial stood to expose extreme wrongdoing at the expense of numerous horribly violated victims, yet no one in charge took steps to make certain that he appeared at every hearing happy, healthy and alive.
The powers that be’s carelessness de minimis reflects their confidence that they shall never, ever, be held accountable for anything whatsoever.
So another man vanishes, few questions asked with many left unanswered—intentionally.
So it was with Moammar Khaddafi, the Libyan dictator who signed a deal with the U.S. to rid Libya of a nuclear program only to be blown up by one of Obama’s assassination drones lest he say too much about his relationship with the Bush administration.
So it was with Chris Dorner, the police officer who went on a shooting spree after he was fired by the LAPD, apparently in retaliation for reporting a fellow cop’s excessive force against a mentally-ill suspect, before being hunted down and killed in a cabin the police set ablaze with “pyrotechnic tear gas” cannisters.
So it was with Sandra Bland, the African-American woman beaten, jailed and supposedly suicided by the police for the crimes of failing to signal a lane change, sassiness and the likelihood she would have spoken out about being brutalized.
So it was with a bunch of Nazi war criminals who escaped judgment at Nuremberg.
So it was with Lee Harvey Oswald, whom the authorities couldn’t resist parading before reporters, without screening attendees like Jack Ruby for weapons.
More will die.
It’s better for those in charge.
(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.)
Americans vote their pocketbooks. It’s the economy, stupid. Absent a war or recent terrorist attack, conventional wisdom believes that voters prioritize domestic issues. Right now, conventional wisdom is correct. According to the latest Pew Research poll, the five most important issues for Democrats are healthcare, education, Medicare, poverty and the environment.
So it’s not surprising that the major Democratic presidential contenders’ campaigns are focusing on economic and other America-centric issues. Nor is it shocking that the news media, never more anemic or less willing to question the candidates, is ignoring their stances on foreign policy. You could watch 5 hours and read 50 pages of news every day and never learn where a top Dem stands on issues of war and peace, defense spending, assassination drones, Guantánamo, NSA surveillance of Americans, foreign adventurism or human rights. Trust me, I know.
Still, voters deserve to know the would-be presidents’ positions on issues that extend beyond U.S. borders. Here’s what I found.
The Democrats on Our Crazy Defense Spending
The military sucks up 54% of discretionary federal spending. Pentagon bloat has a huge effect on domestic priorities; the nearly $1 trillion a year that goes to exploiting, oppressing, torturing, maiming and murdering foreigners could go to building schools, college scholarships, curing diseases, poetry slams, whatever. Anything, even tax cuts for the rich, would be better than bombs. But as then GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in 2015, “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” If you’re like me, you want as little killing and breaking as possible.
Unfortunately, no major Democratic presidential candidate favors substantial cuts to Pentagon appropriations.
Current frontrunner Joe Biden (33% in the polls) doesn’t talk much about defense spending. He reminds us that his son served in Iraq (so he cares about the military) and that we shouldn’t prioritize defense over domestic programs. Vague. Though specific programs might get trimmed, Lockheed Martin could rest easy under a President Biden.
“Since he arrived in Congress, [runner-up] Bernie Sanders [19%] has been a fierce crusader against Pentagon spending, calling for defense cuts that few Democrats have been willing to support,” The Hill reported in 2016. “As late as 2002, he supported a 50 percent cut for the Pentagon.” Bernie is still a Pentagon critic but he won’t commit to a specific amount to cut. He wouldn’t slash and Bern. He’d trim.
Elizabeth Warren (8%) wants “to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors — then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts.”
Neither Pete Buttigieg (8%) nor Beto O’Rourke (6%) have articulated any firm foreign policy positions whatsoever. Buttigieg brags about having served in the Navy Reserve. Unlikely that either man would change much.
Kamala Harris (5%) has not weighed in on military spending. She has received substantial campaign contributions from the defense industry, though.
The Democrats on Wars for Fun
Sanders voted to invade Afghanistan. His comment at the time reads as hopelessly naïve about the bloodthirsty Bush-Cheney regime: “The use of force is one tool that we have at our disposal to fight against the horror of terrorism and mass murder… it is something that must be used wisely…and with great discretion.” Sanders voted against invading Iraq, favored regime change in Libya (albeit nonviolently) and voted to bomb Syria.
There have been no major new wars since 2013, when Warren joined the Senate so her antiwar bona fides have not been tested. Like many of her colleagues, she wants an end to the “forever war” against Afghanistan. She also wants us out of Syria.
Harris too is new to the Senate (2017). Statements on various conflicts indicate that she is a foreign policy hawk in the Hillary Clinton mold. Harris favors the U.S. bombing campaign against Syria, blank-check approval for Israel and sabre-rattling against North Korea. She buys into the discredited Russiagate narrative.
Warren is the only high-level antiwar candidate but she could be BSing.
Democrats on Drones
The assassination drone program begun by Bush and expanded upon by presidents Obama and Trump have killed thousands of innocent people in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, almost all innocent. Drone strikes have demolished America’s moral standing. “Just about everywhere else in the world, opposition to drone strikes is sweeping,” The Washington Post reported in 2014. Anti-American terrorists often cite drone strikes as justification for attacking the U.S. It’s only a matter of time before other countries, and non-state actors like Hezbollah and ISIS, use them against us.
Though generally skeptical of large ground invasions like Iraq, Biden is a fan of drone assassinations. Sanders acknowledged in a 2015 interview with me that drones make killing “too easy” but nevertheless said he would continue terror-by-air as president. Warren doesn’t talk about drones. Neither does Harris.
None of the major Democratic candidates would cancel the drone program.
Democrats on Gitmo
Opened shortly after 9/11, the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo is a nasty blotch on America’s human rights record that terrorists use to justify killing Americans and put the lie to every pronouncement the government issues about human rights abuses in other countries. Torture, rape and even murder are routine at this notorious facility.
Kamala Harris always refuses to comment—a stance that speaks volumes.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the only two who have consistently argued that Gitmo should be closed. “We look like hypocrites and fools to the entire world,” Sanders said in 2016.
Democrats on NSA Spying Against Americans
The mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden continue to scoop up every email, text message, phone call and every other form of communication you can think of within and into the United States. Whether the NSA and other agencies will be allowed to continue will determine whether we can avoid an Orwellian dystopia.
Joe Biden, though to the right on other foreign-policy issues, was a critic of NSA spying for years, going back at least to 2006. Under Obama, however, he backtracked. Even worse, Biden called the president of Ecuador in 2013 to request that he deny asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Bernie Sanders alone would end warrantless mass surveillance and said Snowden “did this country a great service.” Warren doesn’t discuss it much except to say it would be nice to have “an informed discussion.” Harris favors some limits but generally keeps quiet.
Except for Biden, the Democratic presidential field is dominated by progressives and progressives-come-lately—on domestic issues. When it comes to foreign policy, there isn’t as much difference as progressive voters would like between the Democratic and Republican parties.
(Ted Rall, the 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.)
We have succumbed, in recent years, to technological passivity, the assumption that there’s nothing we can (or should) do about what an older generation used to call “progress.” But that’s not true.
War goes on, yet most of the world’s nations came together to ban landmines. Mines, humanity decided, were a horror we could no longer live with because their murderous potential remained long after the frontlines moved elsewhere, even after hostilities ceased, and mostly hurt civilians. Similarly, chemical weapons were banned after mustard gas scarred the World War I generation.
Here in the United States, societal consensus supports bans of hollow-point bullets that explode inside the body (they’re currently banned by the military), high-capacity magazines for guns, the bump stocks that came to our attention after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, and semi-automatic assault rifles.
Weapons aren’t the only tech to which society simply responds: “Hell no. Just. No.” Human cloning has prompted calls for bans by those who believe we shouldn’t plow ahead without better understanding the potential downsides. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned for children. Lots of drugs are banned. Banning products is a well-established societal and political prerogative.
Drones should be banned too: military drones as well as recreational ones. We already have a substantial body of evidence that they are dangerous. Potential advantages, on the other side, seem relatively modest. They’re cool. I’ve played with them.
No one has sat down to consider, in a careful measured way, the pros and cons of unmanned aerial vehicles. Where, as our skies are about to turn into the Wild West, are the Congressional hearings and expert opinions?
If you stop to think about it, selling drones to any yahoo with $400 is a recipe for chaos. Launched from the roof of a Manhattan apartment building, a pervert’s drone can peep through windows. A terrorist, or merely a doofus, can fly one into the blades of a low-flying helicopter or into the engine or windshield of a plane approaching the airport. And they will. It’s only a matter of time.
The terrorism potential became evident in 2015 when a guy accidentally flew his Phantom drone onto the White House lawn. Loading one with explosives is easy. Or a gun—a father and son affixed a pistol to a drone and fired it remotely in the woods of Connecticut.
I’m even less sanguine about corporate and institutional applications. Whether it’s Uber and NASA’s announcement that they plan to launch flying taxis in Los Angeles or Amazon’s imminent fleet of delivery drones, I’m not sure I want to live long enough to hear buzzing drones where birds are supposed to sing, or see some dude’s dinner pass overhead. Maybe a sane compromise is possible, like limiting the gadgets to flight paths above major roadways. Why can’t we figure that out now, before the inevitable technological growing pains (aka deaths and injuries and overall crapitude)?
While it’s easy to imagine how drones can improve our lives—they have already found missing hikers in the wilderness, for example—it is impossible to overstate how creepy it would be to put them into the hands of law enforcement. Obama attorney general Eric Holder said in 2013, and no legal expert challenged him, that the feds have the right to launch military drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil. California cops used one to track a rogue LAPD officer a few years ago. Local law enforcement drones could catch speeders, scan for expired vehicle registration and inspection stickers (stationary devices already do) and use thermal imaging devices to conduct warrantless searches. And there will come a day, not in the distant future, when the same Cleveland police department that shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death for the crime of playing while black will type commands into an iPad that controls an armed drone that blows up more innocent civilians.
This is serious, major dystopian horror-show crap. Can’t we stop it before it starts?
Overseas, and thus far from the decreasingly vigilant eyes of our increasingly establishmentarian journalists, the Trump Administration is expanding the military drone assassination program Obama expanded after inheriting it from Bush. Formerly focused on killing young men and whoever happens to be nearby in South Asian zones like Pakistan, where studies show that 98% of the thousands of victims were innocent, the drone killers are ramping up in new places like Africa.
“The number of American strikes against Islamist militants last year tripled in Yemen and doubled in Somalia from the figure a year before,” reports The New York Times. “Last month, an armed drone flown from a second base in Niger killed a Qaeda leader in southern Libya for the first time, signaling a possible expansion of strikes there.”
Like the innately disconcerting notion of letting local-yokel cops run wild with facial-recognition-enabled autopiloted self-guided missile drones, it is impossible to overstate how self-defeating America’s drone program has been to U.S. interests. Unlike here, where the nearly daily attacks barely rate a mention in the news, people in other countries and especially in the Muslim world are well aware of the fact that the vast majority of victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children. (Even the “guilty” men who die aren’t threats to the U.S., but rather to the corrupt local governments we supply with arms.) Local populations in cities where drones patrol the skies are jittery and resentful. Many have PTSD.
True, drones eliminate harm to American soldiers. But we operate them in macho cultures that prize honor and courage. Our unwillingness to risk our sons and daughters in ground combat makes us look not just like aggressors, but cowards worthy only of contempt. In a war for hearts and minds, drones are propaganda suicide.
We’ve begun a new arms race. When a foreign country or non-state actor attacks us with drones, who will listen when we complain?
Even in the short run, drone killings don’t work. “Eliminating jihadi military leaders through drone operations could temporarily disorganize insurgent groups,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, deputy director of the International Crisis Group told the Times. “But eventually the void could also lead to the rise of new and younger leaders who are likely to engage into more violent and spectacular operations to assert their leadership.”
A drone ban doesn’t have to be forever. But it should last long enough for us to figure out, as Donald Trump used to say on the campaign trail, what the hell is going on.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, 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.)