For as long as anyone can remember, the United States government has wallowed in fear mongering. Now there’s actually a real legitimate threat to the national health, and many people, especially the young, aren’t listening to warnings.
As a society degenerates, life cheapens. The rhetoric that follows death coarsens. Respect paid to fallen rivals is replaced by triumphalism.
Historians observed this trend in ancient Rome. As republic turned to empire and domain expanded and so also arrogance and hubris, vanquished chieftains who previously might have been allowed to keep their thrones as the head of a vassal state were gruesomely executed at public triumphs. Early Christians got tossed to the lions. Gladiatorial combat became all the rage.
The assassination of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. special forces operating under orders from President Trump reminds us that ours is a nation in moral decline—bloodthirsty and crass, functioning more like a vengeful crime family sending a message to its rivals than a nation of laws, a hell pit so devoid of basic ethics that it doesn’t even occur to its ruling party’s adversaries to raise the question of legality.
Nor does it cross the minds of journalists to mention the United States’ responsibility for the rise of ISIS. Rather than defend the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad or staying out of it, the Obama Administration armed and funded the Free Syria Army, parts of which allied with ISIS. This began the civil war. By most accounts al-Baghdadi was radicalized by his time in a hellish prison in U.S.-occupied Iraq—that’s on George W. Bush.
Inserting the caveat that ISIS committed many terrible crimes under al-Baghdadi ought not to be necessary here. Alas, such is the depth of our depravity that to omit such a mention is to risk being accused of approving of ISIS, its religious extremism, its kidnapping, enslavement, torturing and beheading because one suggests, as I do here, that a culture that had not lost its moral moorings would not tolerate what Trump did, what the media fails to question and what even those on what passes for the “left” not only tolerate but cheer.
So here: ISIS sucks. Moving on:
“Thank you and congratulations to our special operations forces and others involved in tracking and getting rid of ISIS/Daesh leader Baghdadi,” tweeted Tulsi Gabbard.
Getting rid of.
Gabbard is, by far, the least militaristic candidate for president.
“In tone and substance,” Vox noted, “the announcements of the deaths of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden couldn’t have been more different.” In 2011 Barack Obama used “nearly clinical tones” in his taped statement; Trump made fun of the dead jihadi, dubiously claiming that he left this world “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” before detonating a suicide vest. He “died like a dog, died like a coward,” Trump told a press conference. Perhaps Caesar had something similarly classy to say about Vercingetorix.
If ISIS had been defeated as the president previously stated, the death of al-Baghdadi wasn’t a military victory. Worse than the BS was the undiluted repulsiveness of the president’s statement. Trump’s degeneracy did not spring out of thin air; rather, it was the culmination of his predecessors’ increasingly shameless contempt for the human lives we have given them the power to snuff out, and their discovery that holding up a severed head as a trophy can get you votes.
Obama played it cool. He put his surrogates in charge of his death-gloating. “If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Vice President Joe Biden bragged as he stumped for Obama in 2012. No one in the media questioned the White House about the lack of legal justification for the operation.
“We came, we saw, he died,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cackled in 2011 after she watched on TV as a U.S. drone missile hit the Moammar Khaddafi’s car, driving him into the hands of American-armed radical Islamists who sodomized the Libyan leader with a bayonet. Running for president in 2016, she reminded audiences that she’d been in the Situation Room watching bin Laden being whacked.
“Good riddance,” George W. Bush said after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was hung and decapitated. Bush invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Colin Powell admitted to associates that the evidence he presented in a ballyhooed speech to the United Nations was “bullshit.” Saddam never threatened the U.S. Impeaching Bush for conning America into war, Nancy Pelosi said in 2006, was “off the table.”
We have come a long way since 1981, when Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican, signed Executive Order 12333, which states: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”
E.O. 12333—which remains in force—was part of the aftermath of the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s, which exposed assassinations and other illegal acts committed by the CIA in Latin America and elsewhere at the height of the Cold War. American spooks conspired to murder political adversaries and heads of state, mainly on the left, all over the world. Back then, the political class had the grace to pretend to be ashamed.
When asked whether they had ordered extrajudicial assassinations, presidents of that era issued what came to be known as the Glomar response: they refused to confirm or deny. They would never have admitted, much less boasted about, murdering people. The press would never have looked the other way. If they had, the American people would not have tolerated either the politicians or the journalists.
(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.)
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.
“The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just,” Frederick Douglas said in 1857. “The poet was as true to common sense as to poetry when he said, ‘Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.’”
Do not call for a battle for which you are not willing to fight yourself. To do otherwise is to earn contempt.
For three years Congressional Democrats repeatedly took to the nation’s airwaves and prose media outlets to tout the Mueller Report and their certainty that the former FBI director’s team would uncover proof that Donald Trump and his team were traitors because they conspired with a foreign adversary, the Russian Federation, to steal the 2016 presidential election from Hillary Clinton. Mueller would provide the evidence needed to justify impeachment.
Though Democrats dropped the I-word from their rhetoric near the end of the campaign, Democratic voters’ support for impeaching Trump motivated voter turnout in the 2018 midterms and led to Democratic gains. A June 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 70% of Democratic voters wanted Democrats to retake the House of Representatives so they could hold impeachment hearings.
Like a dog who caught a car (like Trump caught a presidency he reportedly didn’t want), Democrats captured the House. But they don’t want to impeach. Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders say impeachment would divide the country, turn off swing voters and risk the kind of backlash Republicans suffered in 2000 after they voted to impeach Bill Clinton. As New York Times columnist Gail Collins, a Democrat, advises, “Let’s just vote the sucker out” next year.
Refusal to impeach is a serious tactical error. It could cost them the 2020 election.
Like most bad tactical decisions, this one follows a faulty analysis of the past and applying historical lessons to a present under which conditions have changed. First, Republicans hardly got destroyed in 2000. They won the presidency (albeit via a judicial coup d’etat), held on to the House following the net loss of one seat and the Senate went to a tie following a net four-seat loss. Second, polarization has resulted in the virtual extinction of the once mighty swing voter. Third, there was no bipartisan consensus that lying about receiving oral sex was impeachable. Trump didn’t collude with Russia but even many Republicans have trouble with Trump’s WWE temperament, early morning tweetstorms and overall erratic personality (personality, not politics, would form a solid foundation for impeaching the current president).
Trump is in a much better position than he was in 2016. Now he leads a united GOP. He probably won’t face a significant primary challenger. His base adores him. Though many have been left behind, by most measures the economy is booming. And he hasn’t started any big new wars. By historical standards this feels something like peace. Democrats should not underestimate him again.
Presidential elections are referenda on the incumbent. Incumbent Trump is sitting pretty, especially now that he can credibly claim exoneration on claims of Russian collusion. Unless something big happens, inertia rules; enough Americans go ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it to reelect him.
As the party out of power, the only chance Democrats have is to promise a future that’s dramatically more appealing as well as practical to create. Most of the major Democratic presidential contenders have embraced Bernie Sanders’ holy trinity: Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, free public college tuition. Improvements to be sure, but exciting enough inducements to defeat a strong incumbent? I doubt it.
This is where Frederick Douglas comes in. Democrats have a well-earned reputation for snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, often due to a failure of nerve. Democrats whine. They preen. But they don’t fight.
The Republican Senate guarantees Trump wouldn’t be removed from office, yet impeaching the president would help assure the Democrats’ repeatedly-disappointed progressive base that the party’s long run of appeasing Republicans had finally come to an end. Democrats don’t stand a chance against a unified Republican party without firming up their base too.
Moreover, Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. They pimped the Mueller Report and Russian collusion as the road to Trump B Gon only to have that narrative evaporate in light of the facts. Douglas was right. Asking the voters to do next year what they’re not willing to do themselves this year—get rid of Trump—is an invitation for nothing but the brutal contempt of mass indifference.
(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.)
The estimated total cost of the US war against Afghanistan is now running $13 trillion, enough to pay off all debts of all Americans. Why didn’t the CIA, which the media trusts implicitly these days, warn us that we’d lose after spending all that money and destroying hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides?
Personnel is policy, they say in Washington. The appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor is by far President Trump’s most dangerous decision.
When the president considers foreign policy, no one is closer to his ear than his national security advisor. He will discuss questions of war and peace with military generals and members of his cabinet, but when there’s a diversity of opinion, the views of a national security advisor can be determinative.
“Brent Scowcroft defined the role of the National Security Advisor (NSA),” wrote Stephen J. Hadley, former National Security Advisor under George W. Bush. “The only person to hold the job twice [under Ford and George H.W. Bush], Brent established the ‘Scowcroft Model’ for all who followed him in the job: Be an ‘Honest Broker,’ running a fair, transparent, and inclusive process for bringing issues to the president.”
John Bolton is not an honest broker. John Bolton cannot be an honest broker. No human being on earth is less qualified to be Donald Trump’s national security advisor.
Given the fact that Donald Trump already leans hard to the right wing of the Republican Party, and that his advisers are drawn from the extreme right as well, and “honest broker” national security advisor would by definition need to provide balance. Ideally it would come from the NSA himself. At minimum he would bring in people with opposing views. Bolton is congenitally incapable of either.
Bolton must be stopped.
His nomination does not require Senate confirmation. But there’s nothing preventing members of both parties from traveling to the White House to inform the president that Bolton is a nonstarter. Congress should have nothing to do with this president as long as this dangerous man is whispering sweet bellicose nothings into his ear.
If you haven’t been paying much attention, I don’t blame you for smelling a whiff of hysteria. How bad could this guy really be?
Bolton was the king of the George W. Bush-era neocons, a man who made Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz look like wimps. As Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, he remarked that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the institution disappeared or, evoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the building housing UN headquarters were to lose a few floors.
These days Bolton is touting “regime change” against Iran. Evoking the same arguments he used to justify the invasion of Iraq, he paints dark portraits of North Korea selling or giving nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that there are any links for common ideology between the two. Just after Trump — correctly, in my view — announced that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Bolton wrote an opinion essay laying out the so-called “legal” argument in favor of a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that comes up between American and North Korean officials setting up the summit in May.
Most foreign-policy experts, most ordinary Americans, and most sane people generally agree that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a military, political, economic, and propaganda disaster for the United States and the world. We were not “welcomed as liberators.” The war was sold (in large part by Bolton) based on the lie that the U.S. knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (they didn’t have them so we know that “knowledge” was a lie).
Anti-Americanism increased, as did terrorist attacks and the appeal of terrorist organizations that targeted Americans. Thousands of American troops were killed, tens of thousands wounded, and millions of Iraqis died because of the war. Billions of dollars were squandered and oil prices went up, not down as the neocons had hoped and expected, because of the resulting instability. Perhaps most damning of all, the long simmering Sunni-Shia divide widened into a gaping chasm that continues to chew up the Middle East in places like Yemen.
No one was more in favor of that war than John Bolton. For that reason alone, he’s unqualified to provide foreign policy advice to anyone more important than a small marsupial. But Bolton is more than just a warmonger — he’s a stupid warmonger. Which is why he still can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.
“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he told The Washington Examiner in 2015. “I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces. The people who say, ‘Oh, things would have been much better if you didn’t overthrow Saddam,’ miss the point that today’s Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone.”
“I think the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn’t welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime,” Bolton bloviated in a breathtakingly embarrassing 2002 interview. “And Iraqi opposition leaders of a variety of positions and views are discussing now what will happen after Saddam Hussein. I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we’ll have an important security role. I think concluding the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction themselves will be important.”
Wonder if the families of those dead and injured American soldiers think their role was “fairly minimal.”
I tell you what, John: you go and find those weapons of mass distraction and we’ll let you be national security advisor.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
“Report the news. Don’t become the news.” Not that Fox News has ever adhered strictly to boilerplate advice from Journalism 101, but the craziness on Sixth Avenue has come to a serious boil lately.
TV news elder statesman Ted Koppel called Sean Hannity “bad for America.” Sean freaked out and attacked Ted. Sean reportedly pulled a gun on fellow Foxer Juan Williams. Fox peeps reported it to management, who did nothing.
Last year Fox boss Roger Ailes was forced out in the aftermath of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson, who is now at MSNBC. Fox paid her $20 million and apologized. Julie Roginsky recently filed another suit against Ailes.
I’ve never worked at Fox. But I used to spend enough time there to gain insight into a dysfunctional organization.
This was during the years immediately following 9/11. George W. Bush and his wars were popular, especially with Fox viewers. And I went after Bush more aggressively than anyone else. So they were constantly begging me to come on as a liberal punching bag.
It became routine: Fox News popped up on caller ID. Would you like to come on The O’Reilly Factor/Hannity and Colmes/later just Hannity to talk about it? Why yes, I would. Bill or Sean would yell at me (as Alan silently cowered). I’d shoot back a volley of snark in hope that some of it would get through my deliberately tamped-down mic.
Going on Fox felt like going to war. These were the darkest days of the War on Terror: 2002, 2003 and 2004. Republicans were right-wing Republicans and so were Democrats. Someone had to stand up against wars of choice and legalized torture. Someone had to fight for the Bill of Rights. I was insulted (Hannity: “you have no soul”) and lied to (O’Reilly in response to my argument that the U.S. couldn’t win in Afghanistan: “I’ll bring you back to follow up”). But it was worth it. I’d take any opportunity to represent for the Left.
Lord knows the Democrats weren’t doing it.
Some of their tactics were risible. They were so extreme that, over time, no one to the left of Reagan would agree to appear on the network unless they’d never heard of it.
Ergonomic warfare, for example. My teetering armless guest seat was placed several inches lower so that, at 6’2″, I was forced to gaze up as O’Reilly lorded over his desk (which I couldn’t reach so as to rest my hands) from his comfy Aeron chair. A minute into O’Reilly’s oral arguments-style volley of hostile questions, it took most of my concentration not to roll backwards off the set.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but isn’t someone who takes the time to come to your studio, slap on pancake makeup and suck up a barrage of nasty questions and comments entitled to hospitality?
That said, I kind of liked Bill. He was cordial during breaks. Once, while one of my cartoons was provoking death threats (granted, mostly from Fox fans), he expressed genuine concern for my personal safety. Off-camera, he didn’t come off as an ideologue. I got the impression that he was in it for the money.
Hannity was a classic Long Island mook.
Unlike O’Reilly, the thick-necked Hannity followed me around the studio, trashtalking me with right-wing talking points while I searched for the restroom. “Save it for the show,” I advised him. What’s wrong with this guy? I thought. Give this to him: he’s for real. Hannity is a rabid culture warrior, a Goebbels for an America in free fall.
One episode turned me off Fox for good. Hannity’s producer invited me on to discuss a controversial “Doonesbury” cartoon. I was going to deliver my opinion and analysis as a political cartoonist, not talking about my own stuff. On the air, however, Hannity ambushed me instead with insults over a controversial cartoon I’d done months earlier about Pat Tillman, and which I’d already appeared on his program to defend.
I held up OK and kept my cool. But I was pissed. These appearances are discussed and agreed upon in detail: you’ll show the cover of my book at the beginning, you’ll identify me as “Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist,” you’ll be questioned about this and that. Switching to an entirely different subject violates the rules. At a well-run cable news network, punking a guest could lead to a warning or dismissal. Hannity’s crew just laughed.
Not long afterward, Sean’s producer called to apologize and begged me to return. I said I would if Sean would apologize on the air, the same medium where he’d tried to humiliate me. “He’s not likely to agree to that,” the producer said. I stayed home.
Two of my Foxiest memories took place in make-up.
A rushed make-up assistant accidently scraped my open eye. Years later, my left eye tears up in windy weather. Riding a bike, it runs full on. Stuff happens.
More startlingly, Sean entered the room while I was in the make-up chair. He didn’t trashtalk me or acknowledge my presence. My make-up artist was an undocumented worker. Sean knew. He told her that Fox was trying to determine how to pay her off the books and reassured her that they would figure it out.
As tempting as it would have been to expose the hypocrisy of a network and a personality who have raked in millions by spreading nativism and xenophobia, I didn’t go public for a simple reason. I didn’t want to strip an innocent hard-working person of her livelihood or, worse, subject her to possible deportation.
It was a confusing episode. Here was Sean Hannity, mega-mook, taking a risk by breaking the law to help an illegal immigrant. He almost seemed human. On the other hand, Fox News could easily afford to hire a U.S. citizen at a reasonable salary. There was more nuance in that minute-long conversation than in a year of Fox News broadcasts.
It was also revealing. Why would the top-rated channel in cable news break federal immigration law? The answer, it seems, is that Fox management didn’t think rules applied to them.
I’m still waiting to come back on O’Reilly to talk about Afghanistan.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
To my many friends and readers who plan to vote for Hillary Clinton: please stop bullying me.
Also please lay off other people, progressives and liberals and traditional Democrats and socialists and communists, citizens who identify with the political left, who plan to vote for Dr. Jill Stein or stay home.
I’m not going to vote for Donald Trump. I agree with the mainstream liberal consensus that he should never hold political power, much less control over nuclear launch codes. He’s dangerous and scary. But that doesn’t mean I have to vote for Hillary Clinton.
So I won’t.
- The main reason that I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton is the same exact main reason that I’m not going to vote for Donald Trump: I don’t vote Republican. Being age 53, Nixon was the first president I remember. Hillary Clinton’s politics (and her paranoia and insularity) remind me of Richard Nixon’s. I can’t bring myself to think of a Democrat as someone who solicits millions of dollars from Wall Street or votes with crazy Republicans (like George W. Bush, whose stupid wars she aggressively supported) to invade foreign countries just for fun. She plays a Democrat on TV, but we know the truth: she’s a Republican.
- I’m anti-political dynasty. There should be a constitutional amendment banning anyone related by blood or marriage to a former president from running for the presidency.
- There’s a big difference between an impressive resume and a list of accomplishments. Hillary has the former, not the latter. I hold her resume against her: she has held tremendous power, yet has never reached out to grab the brass ring. As senator, her record was undistinguished. As Secretary of State, she barely lifted a finger on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contributed to the expansion of the Syrian civil war, and is more responsible than almost anyone else for destroying Libya. What she did well she did small; when she went big she performed badly.
- #MuslimLivesMatter. More than a million people died in Iraq. She voted for that. So she isn’t, as the current Clinton campaign meme goes, merely a “flawed” candidate. Voting for the violent deaths of over a million people, and the maiming of God knows how many more — when there was no reason whatsoever to think Iraq had WMDs — is not an “oops, my bad” screw-up. Those were real people, real human beings, and they’re dead because of her. You don’t get to soak your hands in that much blood and just walk away, much less into the White House.
- She still hasn’t made an affirmative case for herself. By clinging to President Obama, she’s running as his third term. The standard way to pull this off is to present yourself as new and improved: the old product was great, the new one will be even better. Her campaign boils down to “I’m not Donald Trump.” No matter how bad he is, and he is awful, that’s not enough. Watching her in the first presidential debate, at the beginning when Trump was besting her over trade, I kept asking myself: why doesn’t she admit that the recovery is good but has left too many Americans behind? Why hasn’t she proposed a welfare and retraining program for people who lose their jobs to globalization? A week later, the only answer I can come up with is that she has no imagination, no vision thing.
- She has made no significant concessions to the political left. Frankly, this makes me wonder about her intelligence. Current polling shows that the biggest threat to her candidacy is losing millennial, working class, and Bernie Sanders supporters to the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson. She would not have this problem if she’d picked Sanders as her vice presidential running mate. Even now, she could bag the millennial vote by promising the Vermont senator a cabinet post. Why doesn’t she? For the same reason that she won’t embrace the $15-an-hour minimum wage (she gets $225,000 for an hour-long speech but wants you to settle for $12) — she’s a creature of the corporations and therefore the political right. She’s not one of us. She doesn’t care about us.
- My vote is worth no less than the vote of someone who supports a major party nominee. So what if the polls say that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected president? Why, based on those polls, should I strategically vote for someone whose politics and personality I deplore? By that logic, why shouldn’t they change their votes to conform to mine? I have my vote, you have your vote, let Diebold add them up.
I don’t have a problem with you if you plan to vote for Hillary. This year is the best argument ever for lesser evilism. But the fact that we are selecting between two equally unpopular major party presidential standardbearers indicates that the two-party system is in crisis, if not broken. We need and deserve more and better options. The only way to get them is to start building viable third parties — voting for them, contributing money to them. What better time to start than now?
Anyway, there’s absolutely no way that my refusal to vote for Hillary will put Donald Trump into the White House.
How do I know? Arithmetic. The closest state margin in an American presidential election was four, in Maryland in 1832. Like you, I only get one vote. Whatever I do can’t and won’t change the result.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)