A Joe Biden Empathy Tour We Could All Get behind

Joe Biden scores big points for appearing to be empathetic with victims of tragedy. Considering all the tragic wars to which he contributed, perhaps he should go on an empathy tour of the over 1 million survivors of the people he helped kill in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Electoral Trolley Problem

Voting is always an ethical dilemma. For people thinking about voting for Joe Biden, one of the things that they might not be thinking about as they fantasize about the somewhat remote possibility of a liberal stalwart replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the higher probability that Biden, given his history, will start another war in the Middle East.

High Crimes against Journalism and Decency: Jeffrey Goldberg’s Insane “Trump Called Troops Suckers” Piece Is a New Low

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Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for The Atlantic that could harm Donald Trump’s chance to win re-election. Setting aside the controversial content of the remarks attributed to the president, it is important to note that this is an atrocious example of journalism.

You could almost call it “fake news.”

And corporate media is taking it at face value.

You may think Trump is a turd—I do. You may want him to lose the election—I do. (I also want Biden to lose, but that’s another column.) You may believe that Trump probably said what Goldberg reports—I think there’s a good chance. But everyone who cares about journalism ought to be deeply disturbed by the nonexistent sourcing for this story and its widespread acceptance by media organizations that ought to know better.

It’s easy to see why Democratic-leaning media corporations jumped all over Goldberg’s piece: it hurts the president and it reinforces militarism. But they’re degrading journalistic standards to manipulate an election.

According to Goldberg, four anonymous sources told him that Trump called American marines who died in World War I “losers” and repeatedly questioned why anyone smart would join the military or be willing to risk their life by fighting in one of America’s wars.

Anonymous sources have their place. I have used them. But basing a news story entirely on accounts of people who are unwilling to go on the record is journalistically perilous and ethically dubious. There are exceptions, as when a Mafia source fears physical retribution.

There is no such claim here. Most media organizations’ ethical guidelines are clear: news without attribution is not news. It is gossip.

            The Los Angeles Times, a publication my readers know that I hold in low regard, nevertheless takes a stance against anonymous sources. “When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving,” the paper’s ethical standards say. “An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and we should state those reasons when they are relevant to what we publish.”

            The Atlantic piece falls way short.

Likewise, writing that strips statements of necessary context is anti-ethical. Trump, writes Goldberg, “expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. ‘He’s not a war hero,’ Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. ‘I like people who weren’t captured.’” He goes on to note that Trump wanted to deny McCain the honor of lowering flags to half-mast after McCain died.

Goldberg frames Trump’s comments as part of a general bias against the military and portrays his attacks as unprovoked. Truth is, long before Trump made those comments he had been engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with the Arizona senator. McCain based his political career on his military service and the five years he spent as a POW in Vietnam. McCain was Trump’s enemy, and there is considerable evidence that McCain—known for a sharp tongue—started the war of words. Trump gave back in kind.

“Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004,” Goldberg continues in another context-free passage. Khan’s father famously spoke against Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said. In Trumpian terms, Khan started it. But Goldberg’s omission makes it look like Trump attacked a fallen soldier out of the blue.

Goldberg does this a third time: “When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him.” Both sides have insulted each other; as far as the record shows, Trump is usually running offense, not defense—but Goldberg falsely portrays the enmity as a one-way street.

One of the praiseworthy aspects of this president is his relatively restrained approach to military interventionism, coupled with his willingness to directly engage adversaries like North Korea and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the latter which recently signed a peace agreement with the United States. It is logical for Trump, who is skeptical of illegal wars of choice like Afghanistan and Iraq, to question why people would volunteer to fight and possibly die in such a pointless conflict. For Goldberg, militarism is a state religion. Questioning it is intolerable.

Goldberg’s piece, the tone of which reads like the pro-war hysteria following 9/11, reflects the aggressively militaristic neoliberalism of the Democratic Party in 2020.

Goldberg references Trump’s 2017 visit to Arlington cemetery with then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan … Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’ Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”

            Joining the military, of course, is hardly a non-transactional decision. Soldiers get paid. They get medals. They get free college. They are revered and thanked for their service. Military service gives you a leg up when you run for political office.

Moreover, Trump’s question is one Americans should be asking more often. Why would a 29-year-old man volunteer to travel to Afghanistan in order to kill the locals? No one in that country threatened the United States. No one there did us any harm. Afghans don’t want us there. Why did Robert Kelly go?

Goldberg seems obsessed with Trump’s description of fallen soldiers as suckers. “His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country, as well as those who are taken prisoner, or are wounded in battle,” Goldberg writes. But is he wrong?

            LBJ suckered us into Vietnam with the Tonkin Gulf incident, which historians of all stripes accept was a lie.

            George H.W. Bush suckered us into the first Gulf War with a tale of Iraqi soldiers rampaging through a Kuwaiti hospital and pulling babies out of incubators. Another lie.

            After 9/11 George W. Bush suckered us into Afghanistan by saying Osama bin Laden was there—he was not.

            Of course Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. More suckering. (At the time, Goldberg spread the lie that Saddam Hussein was allied with his enemy Al Qaeda.)

            Assuming that anything in Goldberg’s piece was true, Trump was right.

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

 

Trump and Biden: Equally Awful

Trump, Biden in virtual tie in Texas in new poll - HoustonChronicle.com

Front and center in the raging debate among liberals and progressives over whether they should support Joe Biden or opt out of the two-party trap by voting third-party or not at all is the assumption that Biden would do less harm both to the world and to American leftism than Trump.

Even many hard-core Bernie-or-Busters accept the premise that Biden wouldn’t be as bad as Trump. They believe the additional damage that would result from a second Trump administration is an acceptable price for teaching the DNC a lesson and building a progressive movement.

But it’s not true that Biden wins the harm mitigation sweepstakes.

For every respect in which Biden would be better than Trump—or less awful—there is a compelling counterfactual that carries equal or greater weight.

If Trump wins, for example, we can count on his uniquely toxic combination of anti-science propaganda and organizational ineptitude to unnecessarily prolong and increase the body count of COVID-19. The WHO says that millions could die in the dreaded second wave; a disproportionately high number of those people could be Americans. Let’s guesstimate half a million dead here in the U.S.?

The net cost of Trump is equal to the total number of deaths here under his second term, minus the number that would occur under Biden. Since Biden can’t do anything about the pandemic until late January when he takes office and herd immunity appears to be closer than we previously believed, whether a ridiculously incompetent Trump or a refreshingly competent Biden is president after January probably doesn’t make a big difference. There’s a chance we have seen the worst of COVID-19. Still, it’s fair to say that thousands more Americans will succumb to the coronavirus under Trump and Biden.

On the other hand, Biden is likelier to start wars than Trump and Trump is likelier to end them. Biden voted to bomb Bosnia and invade Afghanistan. He was a big cheerleader and enabler for the Iraq war. Currently he’s threatening to start a hot war with Venezuela and new cold wars against China and Russia. He also promises to keep increasing the defense budget. Donald Trump was the first American president in decades to directly negotiate with the Taliban, with whom he signed a peace agreement to bring home all American troops from our longest war.

When we assess which candidate would do the most harm, even the breathtakingly disgusting body count from COVID-19 doesn’t come close to the over 1 million people who died in the Iraq war alone. Will Biden go to war against Iran? North Korea? Anything is possible. Biden’s record is clear; he is an extremely dangerous man. And even if you don’t care about all the brown people he would kill as president, remember 9/11. Our wars come to our shores sometimes.

Despite the usual election year hysteria, there is no daylight between Trump and Biden on most major issues. Neither old white man promises to restore the $600 a week supplemental unemployment insurance. Neither is in favor of the Green New Deal. Neither wants student loan forgiveness. Neither would sign Medicare For All. Both prioritize corporations over individual citizens. Neither would significantly liberalize immigration policy.

Even on the issue of the year, police violence, Trump and Biden are competing to see which one is more palatable to the Blue Lives Matter crowd. “You know me,” Biden assured the far right in a recent speech, referencing his authorship of the notorious mass incarceration crime bill and the USA-Patriot Act that destroyed fundamental privacy rights. “You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” When someone tells you they are an authoritarian, believe them.

The real difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump has nothing to do with policy. No matter which evil man wins, we are in for a lousy four years.

This election comes down to personality. How do you like your monsters? Obnoxious and buffoonish? Or polite and affable? I prefer truth in advertising: Americans are up in arms about crappy American policies precisely because Donald Trump puts an appropriately nasty face on them.

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

 

 

Delay the Election? Presidents Often Do Things They Can’t Do

Trump Won't Steal the Election, but Your Governor Might | The NationThe stock response to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the general election might be delayed because voting during a pandemic would involve a record number of mail-in ballots, a format he argues is unreliable and susceptible to fraud, is that he doesn’t have that power.

NBC News is typical: “The president has no power to delay an election.” [Emphasis is mine.]

What the president understands, and most mainstream commentators fail to accept, is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. That goes double when the powers in question are limited by a document that lies in tatters, repeatedly ignored.

            Liberal politicians and news outlets point out that the Constitution assigns the scheduling of elections exclusively to Congress. Republicans tepidly (and troublingly) stopped short of denying Trump’s power to push back the big day, while insisting that the election ought to take place on time. “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again this November 3rd,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

In an era of rampant cynicism it is sweetly naïve and the amusingly charming to see Americans put so much faith into the constitutional checks and balances they learn about in high school civics class. “‘Trump can’t delay the election,’ experts say,” reads a headline in The Washington Post.

            Since when has a 221-year-old piece of paper stopped presidents from doing anything?

I think first of war powers. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the right “to declare war” resides exclusively with Congress. Such key founders as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton—men whose right to define original intent can hardly be questioned—believed that presidents could not dispatch troops without legislative approval except in cases of immediate self-defense. Congress signed off on sending soldiers and sailors to the Quasi-War with France in 1798, naval conflicts with the Barbary States of Tripoli and Algiers, and clashes with Native American tribes in the West.

Congress has since abdicated its war-making powers to the executive branch. Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration since World War II. Yet we have fought countless wars. Presidents have launched military attacks against Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Serbia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these wars of aggression were legalistically constructed as “police actions” or “peacekeeping missions” under the aegis of the UN. The fact remains, this is not what the drafters of the Constitution intended. And it has never been amended. Presidents do what they want; lawyers twist logic to justify their illegal slaughters.

President Abraham Lincoln earns democracy points for holding the 1864 election during the Civil War. Yet he suspended habeas corpus and ignored a ruling by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court saying that he didn’t have the power to do so. George W. Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 also suspended habeas, for anyone the U.S. government arbitrarily defined as an “enemy combatant.” Until the Supreme Court ruled against him two years later, Congress was complicit with the MCA. Even after the court ruling, the internment facility at Guantánamo Bay remains open; 40 men remain there, not one of whom has ever been charged or tried under basic constitutional standards.

FDR almost certainly didn’t have the constitutional right to send 127,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Yet he did.

From domestic surveillance by the NSA that violates the agency’s founding charter to asset forfeiture programs that allow the police to seize money and property from people who have never been charged, much less convicted of a crime, Americans live in a society oppressed by a political class that takes no notice of constitutional limits it deems inconvenient.

Does the president have the legal right to delay an election? No.

Does he have the power? Yes, unless We The People refuse to accept it.

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

Mad about You

George W. Bush never would have been able to go to war against Iraq if Joe Biden hadn’t gathered the necessary Democratic votes to support him. Biden has never apologized. He simply makes excuses and would probably do the same exact thing again. Should we elect such a man to the presidency?

Blue No Matter Who

Some Democrats say that they are “blue no matter who.” Trump, they say, is such an existential threat that they will vote for anyone who winds up as the Democratic nominee for president. But is it really wise to extend such a blank check to a party that has disappointed us so many times before?

I Told You So: Only Idiots Believed in Russiagate

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There they go again.

In 2002 and 2003 corporate media idiots speculated that secular socialist Saddam Hussein might give nukes that he didn’t and couldn’t have to radical Islamists who wanted to kill him. That story wasn’t true. Worse than that, it couldn’t have been true. I said it over and over and over. So did others.

But we skeptics were outsiders. Corporate media’s strict idiots-only hiring policy keeps journalists-as-stenographers, propagandists and broken-brain logic-haters employed by censoring those of us who are always right. The idiots’ idiotic lies about WMDs justified a war that left more than a million Iraqis dead.

Corporate media didn’t fire their idiots after the WMD fiasco. Why would they? They were in the war business and the suck-up-to-government business. Had they been in the truth business, losing their credibility might have mattered.

Idiots gonna idiot. So it’s no surprise that in 2016 the same corporate media morons fabricated another conspiracy theory so outlandish that not only was it obviously untrue, it could not possibly have been true—and that it would again have devastating real-world consequences.

Russiagate was a propaganda campaign waged by the Democratic Party and its media allies with a daily blizzard of overheated speculation that Russia installed Donald Trump as its stooge by hacking the 2016 presidential election. Several years and millions of dollars later, special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that it didn’t happen.

Of course it didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened.

As I wrote last year: “You’re asking us to believe that Trump’s people met with Putin’s people, not to discuss Trump’s sleazy real estate developments in the former Soviet Union, but to encourage Russian hackers to break into the DNC, steal Hillary’s emails and funnel them to WikiLeaks with a view toward angering enough voters to change the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. Trump doesn’t even read one-page memos. Yet we’re being asked to believe that he supervised a ridiculously complex Machiavellian conspiracy?

“WikiLeaks didn’t get the DNC documents from Russia or any other state actor. They got them from a disgruntled pro-Bernie Sanders staffer at the DNC. Anyway, the intelligence community — you know, the friendly folks at the CIA, FBI and NSA whom Democrats worship the way Republicans revered firefighters after 9/11 — says whatever Russian hacking occurred did not affect the outcome of the election.

“Then there’s this: Trump didn’t actually want to win. Why would he go to such lengths to steal something he didn’t want?”

As Chris Christie pointed out January 28th, how the hell could a shoestring operation like the Trump campaign, which was “just trying to figure out how to get field people hired in places like Pennsylvania” be so internationally sophisticated as to “run some sort of Tom Clancy operation”?

My colleague Matt Taibbi writes, and he’s right: “Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.” Whatever credibility U.S. media still had after pimping those imaginary Iraqi WMDs, The Los Angeles Times allowing its stock to be sold to the LAPD and then taking orders from the police, and “experts” repeatedly reporting that Donald Trump had no chance of winning, lies in tatters.

The media idiots’ WMD BS cost a million-plus Iraqis their lives. Their Russiagate crap has vastly increased the chances that Trump will win reelection. Russiagate will make it all but impossible to impeach the bastard as he deserves and as the country desperately needs.

As I said on the radio after the Mueller news broke: “Business corruption would have been, should have been the focus of Democrats looking for legal means to remove this president. That’s the low-hanging fruit; that’s where something actually happened. Instead, they went after the president for something he didn’t actually do, and so they look really foolish, and Trump is going to beat the Mueller report over the heads of the Democrats all through next year, and it’s going to be hard for the Democrats to put this behind them.”

Trump is a corrupt real estate magnate with ties to the mafia and sleazy autocrats around the world. Anyone out to get him should have started by following his misbegotten money. Instead Democrats tried to do three things at once: get Trump, destroy U.S.-Russia relations to provoke a new Cold War that would profit the military-industrial complex and explain away the bankruptcy of Hillary Clinton’s brand of centrist corporatism.

Democrats are now turning their attention to the New York-based investigations of Trump and his business affairs by U.S. Attorneys. The president faces significant legal jeopardy on several fronts, including abusing a charitable organization to evade taxes and the likelihood that his hush-money payoffs to Stormy Daniels violated federal campaign finance laws. When he leaves office, Trump might even face jail time.

But none of that matters. Trump is so old and fat he’ll probably die before facing prosecution. The real threat to Trump from New York is current and political. Thanks to Mueller’s exoneration on Russiagate, Trump is largely politically inoculated from the New York stuff even if the Department of Justice files major charges. “Just another witch hunt,” he’ll say—and voters—not just his base—will nod their heads. The media will go on and on about wrongdoing that under normal circumstances would amount to one hell of a scandal—but who will listen other than partisan Democrats?

The second Trump Administration that just became likelier will hasten the destruction of the planet by pollution and climate change, widen income and wealth disparity and gut the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. system may never recover. All because the corporate media idiots went after a serial criminal for the one crime he didn’t commit.

Wanna know the richest irony? Trump knew how this would turn out. He knew what the Mueller Report would say. For two years he’s been watching DNC mouthpieces like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow rant about Russiagate. He knew he’d use those clips for one attack ad after another.

Actual collusion! Democrats and their media outlets conspired to install Donald Trump as president in 2020.

(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.)

 

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