This can’t wait until next week’s syndicated column, so…
Back on 24th I wrote a syndicated column explaining that there is a strong chance that Donald Trump would be impeached and that House Speaker Paul Ryan would benefit as a result. This week’s developments confirm my analysis. Bear in mind, this is not a political prediction but rather a musing of how I see things going potentially. Your mileage may vary.
First: the almost certain fact that former FBI director James Comey was asked by President Trump to drop his investigation into former national security advisor General Michael Flynn sets up Trump for almost certain impeachment. Here’s why. First, moderate Republicans in the House and Senate are already peeling away and calling for a special prosecutor. Soon even right wingers will be joining them. A special prosecutor is a safe way for politicians to kick problems like Trump down the road. They can’t lose: if the prosecutor finds a lot of dirty stuff about Trump, oh well, not their fault, if anything they can take credit. If not, it’s not like even the radical right will hold them accountable for signing off on a special prosecutor. After all, there’s nothing wrong with getting down to the bottom of things. The problem for Trump is, the prosecutor is going to find out (a) that there’s a strong case for obstruction of justice and (b) all those meetings between Trump’s staff and Russian officials were corrupt quid pro quo transactions promising the elimination of sanctions over Ukraine in exchange for rubberstamping Trump-related business transactions in Russia. (Democrats should stop pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative because there doesn’t seem to be any thee there.)
Second, Republicans are hardly a united front. Yes, they came together to back up Trump when they thought that they would be able to push through their long awaited radical right political agenda. But now the Trump seems weak, ambitious figures like Paul Ryan can’t help but think to themselves “hey, I could become president now.” Because the Democratic Party is a total mess – this is the story no one is paying attention to you right now, but it’s absolutely key – more on that below – the Republican Party stands to benefit most from a Trump impeachment. Here’s how it plays out, perhaps.
Paul Ryan meets with vice president Mike Pence. “Mike,” he says, “let’s face it. You’ll never be elected president. You’re from Indiana, you call your wife mother, you’re creepy, probably a closeted gay. Let’s make a deal: I impeach Trump and you get to be president for the next three years. Schoolchildren have to memorize your name. You get to be on a stamp. Maybe one day on the three cent coin. In 2020, however, you step aside. You endorse me. I’m the Republican nominee.”
Pence goes along. Why wouldn’t he? Sure beats another three years of attending funerals.
After Trump, things turn calm. No more drama. This is very bad for women, gays, blacks. The Republican Congress works closely with Pence to pass a bunch of stuff that makes us look back at Ronald Reagan and wonder if that guy was really a liberal. Pence seems “normal” after Trump. The Republicans get lots of things done. Granted, all bad. But done.
In 2020, as I wrote in my column, Paul Ryan gets to present himself as the courageous man who took on a president from his own party because it was the right thing to do for the country. Powerful stuff. A true profile in BS courage.
Now, about the Democrats.
If you look back at 1976, vice president turned President Gerald Ford was hobbled by Watergate and his pardon of Richard Nixon. Everyone remembers that Jimmy Carter won. What they don’t remember is that it was a close election. Incumbency really doesn’t matter. Ford wasn’t a very exciting president and he didn’t accomplish much at all. Mostly he just used his veto stamp. Carter was charismatic, young, and incredibly hard-working. He was a great candidate yet he just barely won against forward.
To win against a Republican incumbency in 2020, Democrats need a united party. If anything, the party is even more divided now than it was last year. The big rift between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton wings of the Democratic Party hasn’t been addressed. It has been swept under the rug, which only makes things worse. Progressives have been denied a meaningful voice within the party. Policy belongs to the corporatist wing. Angry Hillary Clinton supporters continue to beat up Bernie Sanders people for not showing up at the polls, blaming them for electing Donald Trump. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run. That leaves the most likely nominees for 2020 to be people like Cory Booker, former progressives who no longer have any credibility with the left within the party.
It’s a grim scenario. And it certainly going to change. But that’s how I see things right now.
More than half of the people who managed to score a personal one on one meeting with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State donated money to the Clinton Foundation, either as an individual or through a company where they worked. “Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million,” the Associated Press reported.
Does that make Hillary corrupt?
Yes. It does.
At this writing, there is no evidence that anyone received any special favors as a result of their special access to Clinton. Not that treats were not requested. They were. (The most amusing was Bono’s request to stream his band’s music into the international space station, which was mercifully rejected.)
That’s irrelevant. She’s still corrupt.
Clinton’s defenders like to point out that neither she nor her husband draw a salary from their foundation. But that’s a technicality.
The Clintons extract millions of dollars in travel expenditures, including luxurious airplane accommodations and hotel suites, from their purported do-gooder outfit. They exploit the foundation as a patronage mill, arranging for it to hire their loyalists at extravagant six-figure salaries. Only a low portion of money ($9 million out of $140 million in 2013) makes its way to someone who needs it.
“It seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons,” says Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group.
As a measure of how institutionally bankrupt American politics is, all this crap is technically legal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not corrupt.
Public relations experts caution politicians like the Clintons that the appearance of impropriety is almost as bad as its actuality. If it looks bad, it will hurt you with the polls. True, but that’s not really the point.
The point is: access is corruption.
It doesn’t matter that the lead singer of U2 didn’t get to live out his rocker astronaut fantasy. It’s disgusting that he was ever in a position to have it considered. To put a finer point on it, ethics require that someone in Hillary Clinton’s position never, ever take a meeting or correspond by email or offer a job to someone who donated money to her and her husband’s foundation. Failure to build an unscalable wall between government and money necessarily creates a corrupt quid pro quo:
“Just got a call from the Clinton Foundation. They’re shaking us down for a donation. Should we cough up a few bucks?”
“Hillary could be president someday. Chelsea could end up in the Senate. It couldn’t hurt to be remembered as someone who threw them some money when they asked.”
This, I 100% guarantee you, was the calculus when Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hillary for a one- or two-hour speech. She doesn’t have anything new to say that everyone hasn’t already heard a million times before. It’s not like she shared any valuable stock tips during those talks. Wealthy individuals and corporations pay politicians for one thing: access.
“It’s not pay to play, unless somebody actually gave someone 50 cents to say I need a meeting,” counters DNC interim chair Donna Brazile. “No. In this great country, when you meet with constituents, when you meet with heads of states, when you meet like Bono, who I love, you meet with them because they want to bring a matter to your attention. That’s not pay to play.”
It ain’t 50 cents.
But it is pay to play. Absolutely.
Access is a zero-sum game. If I get a meeting with a senator, that’s a meeting someone else doesn’t get. I shouldn’t get a leg up over you because I donated to a politically connected, nominally charitable foundation. For that matter, I shouldn’t get a meeting you can’t get because I know someone, or because I’m famous, or whatever. Access should be, has to be in a democracy, determined solely by meritocratic criteria. Political leaders like Hillary Clinton need to be meeting with people who can offer them the best advice and who need the most help — not those who bought their way in.
Anyone who doesn’t understand that access always equals corruption, even when access doesn’t result in favors, doesn’t deserve to hold political office.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee.)
REVISED 9/13/16: In last week’s column,”At the Clinton Foundation, Access Equals Corruption,” I wrote that the charity rating agency Charity Navigator did not rate the Clinton Foundation due to its poor performance. While that was true in the past, and I relied on that previous information while researching my piece, at present the Clinton Foundation actually receives a fairly respectable rating from Charity Navigator. This essay has been revised to reflect this changed information.
I’ve been asked to lay out the chronological narrative of what happened between me and the LA Times/LAPD. Please excuse my use of the third person; I think it’s easier to follow.
Jaywalking Arrest October 3, 2001, 8 pm
Cartoonist Ted Rall leaves CBS Television City in the West Hollywood section of L.A. after taping an appearance on “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.” He plans to meet a group of friends and family on nearby Melrose Boulevard.
As he walks on the north side of Melrose, LAPD Motorcycle Officer Will(ie) Durr, an approximately 5-year veteran of the West Traffic Division, confronts him and accuses Rall of jaywalking across the intersection of N. Spaulding St. Rall had not jaywalked. Nevertheless, he is quiet, polite and compliant. He does not argue with Durr.
Rall volunteers his ID, a California driver’s license. Durr grabs Rall, roughly pushes him against a wall, and handcuffs him. He orders Rall not to move, then steps a short distance, perhaps 10 feet away close to his motorcycle on the curb, where he calls in Rall’s information and writes him a ticket.
A small crowd of bystanders, about two dozen people gather around Rall and Durr. Some just watch. Others discuss among themselves. Several confront the officer. A woman demands: “Take off his handcuffs!” Durr replies: “No no no no, I’m giving him a ticket first.” Several other people insult the officer, implying that he wants to sodomize Rall and offering to sate his sexual urges. Someone complains that there are bigger problems going on in L.A. As people talk to him, Durr whistles loudly.
Durr finishes writing the summons, which later turns out to be for misdemeanor jaywalking, a charge that would go on a permanent criminal record. He explains to Rall that he should call the number on the ticket. Rall asks Durr about the cost of the fine; Durr claims he doesn’t know (probably untrue; it’s currently a flat $197). Durr tells Rall he wants to remove Rall’s handcuffs so he can sign the ticket. Durr removes Rall’s cuffs.
Durr says that he’s returning Rall’s license, but instead tosses it in the gutter. (In one of a few recountings of the incident over the years, mistakenly remembers it as tossing his wallet, which contains his license. Rall correctly states it’s just the license in the relevant May 11th blog. Also, Rall sometimes calls it the “gutter,” at other times, the “sewer.” Though “gutter” is preferred, the two words are interchangeable.)
Rall, now late to find a restaurant to tell his friends and family about, asks Durr if he knows any place to eat. (Psychologists call Rall’s unusual question “normalizing” behavior — an attempt to de-escalate a high-tension confrontation.) At about this time, a white LAPD motorcycle policeman (Durr is black) pulls up. He urges Durr to stop what he’s doing. The two leave together.
Rall goes to dinner, where he describes what just happened to his friends and family, some of whom urge him to file a formal complaint. One, a local Angeleno, offers to contact City Hall to find out how to handle the ticket. She later tells Rall she managed to have the misdemeanor charge dropped but that he nevertheless has to pay the fine, which he does. (This is a standard disposition of jaywalking violations in L.A.)
October 13, 2001
Rall writes a letter to the LAPD to complain about Durr for false arrest and rude behavior. Acting on advice from the aforementioned friend not to mention the handcuffing (because it was legal, he wasn’t injured and might provoke retaliation from LAPD), Rall omits the handcuffs and rough treatment from his complaint.
May 11, 2015
The Los Angeles Times publishes Rall’s blog/column to accompany his weekly editorial cartoon. Since the cartoon is about an LAPD jaywalking crackdown, Rall opens his blog with a few paragraphs recounting his 2001 arrest.
Thursday, July 23, 2015 Afternoon
Rall receives a phone call from Paul Pringle, an LA Times investigative reporter. Rall replies quickly answers all of Pringle’s questions thoroughly.
In a recorded phone interview, Pringle tells him LAPD is disputing his May 11th blog on the basis of an audiotape secretly made by Durr of the 2001 stop. Rall has drawn at least 17 cartoons for The Los Angeles Times criticizing the police for being violent, unprofessional and inept.
Pringle says LAPD says Rall’s depiction of an unprofessional Durr “never happened”: no angry crowd, no handcuffs, no toss of the license. Pringle grills him about “discrepancies” between the apparently “polite encounter” on the tape and Rall’s description of an unprofessional policeman. (No mention is made of the false arrest.) He even asks why the sound of the license striking the ground cannot be heard.
Pringle tells Rall that Officer Durr has never handcuffed anyone throughout his long career with LAPD.
Rall is being treated as “guilty until proven innocent,” based upon the LAPD tape.
Asked what Pringle is working on — a story? — Pringle replies that he doesn’t know, that “they asked me to look into this.” This indicates that he probably was not the recipient of the tape.
Though tight-lipped about other matters, Pringle curiously volunteers that he knows the LAPD-supplied tape is legit and has not been tampered with, because the LAPD itself has assured the Times of this. The Times does not send the recording to an outside audio expert to have it analyzed for signs of manipulation such as splicing or editing. The Times also does not have the tape “enhanced” to see if more voices or sounds can be heard on it. (According to the paper in a statement issued August 19th, it still had not tried to have it enhanced, a common procedure.)
Rall then gets a call from Times editorial page editor Nick Goldberg. Goldberg, evidently not in the loop, asks: “What’s going on?” Rall fills him in, explaining his side of the story. Goldberg’s call implies that he did not order Pringle to investigate Rall.
Rall receives more calls from Pringle, who asks Rall to download a digitized version of the audio file via Dropbox. As Pringle listens on the phone, Rall listens to the tape, which contains 20 seconds of barely audible chatter by Durr followed by 6 minutes of inaudible noise. “This is a joke!” Rall tells Pringle it’s a “he said/he said” situation, arguing that it doesn’t prove or disprove anything in dispute: him being handcuffed, his driver’s license getting tossed, or the presence of the angry crowd. Without video, audio tells little, Rall says. Furthermore, the quality of the recording is atrocious.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Rall files his usual cartoon and blog for the Times because the Opinion Pages go to bed Friday afternoons. Goldberg emails Rall that the paper will make its decision after the weekend. However, Rall’s work does not appear Monday. This means the paper has decided to fire him less than 24 hours after talking to him, without having the tape analyzed or authenticated, without allowing him to tell his side of the story to members of the Editorial Board, the usual arbiter of decisions about an editorial cartoonist.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Rall calls deputy editorial page editor Susan Brenneman, who fills in for his usual editor, deputy editorial page editor Cherry Gee when she is on away. (Gee is on vacation to Japan for three weeks.) Brenneman tells Rall she is out of the loop on this issue, and has not attended any meetings about it. This means the Editorial Board was probably not involved.
At 3 pm PDT, Goldberg calls to inform him that the paper will run an Editor’s Note the next morning telling Times readers that due to discrepancies between Rall’s blog and the LAPD-supplied audiotape, the paper will no longer use his work. In journalism, this is the “nuclear option” normally reserved for extreme cases of malfeasance, such as repeated plagiarism.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Goldberg’s Editorial Note is published.
Tom Ewing of ANewDomain.net publishes an article that points out numerous YouTube videos of Angelenos standing in handcuffs while receiving tickets for jaywalking. Rall sends this to Goldberg, who does not reply.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Rall posts a short snippet of cleaned-up audiotape processed from the LAPD WAV file in which the woman shouting “Take off his handcuffs!” can be heard. Rall writes Goldberg and the Editorial Board to inform them that this shows that, in fact, he was handcuffed and that there was at least one angry passerby, as he’d originally claimed on May 11th. Rall receives no reply.
Rall also posts an article to ANewDomain.net pointing out that Durr has indeed cuffed at least one suspect — and made fun of him as he stood waiting, for a lesser offense than jaywalking. He’s quoted and photographed in, of all places, the LA Times. Rall sends this to Goldberg. There is no reply.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Rall posts a full-length “enhanced” audiotape cleaned up by a professional L.A. post-production company, Post Haste Digital. The 6:20 enhanced version reveals many new voices not audible on the original audiotape, including 3-4 people giving Officer Durr a hard time as described above. Comparing the two audiofiles, it becomes clear that Durr’s whistles were a deliberate attempt to drown out the mic so that the sounds of the angry members of the crowd are not audible. Rall emails Goldberg and the Editorial Board again, asking them to reconsider their decision in light of the new facts. The Times does not react.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Nearly three weeks after Rall supplied the first enhanced audiotape, the Times posts a 2500-word screed reaffirming its belief that the May 11th blog shouldn’t have run (but, weirdly, not mentioning the paper’s decision to fire him in a humiliating and defamatory way). For the most part, the second statement repeats Goldberg’s July 28th Editor’s Note, adding in quotations that reflect Rall’s dislike of the police.
Update, Aug. 2, 2015: We now have the latest enhanced version (v. 2) of the Los Angeles Police Department tape dub that cops used to convince Los Angeles Times editors that Ted Rall lied in print about police mistreatment on a 2001 jaywalking stop on Melrose Ave. The Times fired Rall early last week as a cartoonist and columnist based on that tape.
But this latest pro-enhanced version, released by Rall and aNewDomain today, Monday, Aug. 3, 1 a.m. Pacific, conclusively backs up Rall’s story that LAPD officer Will Durr in fact handcuffed him in front of a crowd of loudly protesting onlookers. The LAPD and Times never bothered to enhance the 6:20 tape, six minutes of which was incomprehensible static. But we did. Here’s Rall on this new tape, which even clearer and more damning than the version we released late last week. – Ed
I was buoyant. There, I’d met former MTV VJ Kennedy. And Woody Harrelson, who was hanging out in the green room, had just told me he was a fan. I was having a great night. I was on my way to dinner with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, agent, radio producer and some friends. I crossed the north side of Melrose at the corner of Gardner Street. With the light. In the crosswalk.
That’s when the cop, LAPD Officer Will Durr, appeared.
Officer Durr (shown at right) angrily accused me of jaywalking, though he would’ve known full well I did no such thing if he’d actually watched me cross Melrose.
He threw me against a wall. I’m a big guy, so that’s saying a lot. Then he handcuffed me and began writing up my ticket. As he wrote it up and I stood there, stunned and cuffed, an angry crowd of people gathered on the street; many of them loudly protested his mistreatment of me. He whistled, strangely, in response to most of the comments of the people giving him a hard time. And then he was done, he threw my license in the gutter.
On May 11, 2015 I wrote about my experience in a blog for the website of The Los Angeles Times, where I’d been a cartoonist and commentator since 2009. (It was a long relationship. The Times ran my syndicated editorial cartoons since the early 1990s.)
But last week, on July 27, Times reporter Paul Pringle and editorial page editor Nick Goldberg (pictured at left) called me at my New York home office. Based on an audiotape I never knew existed, one that Officer Durr clandestinely recorded on the scene 14 years ago, they told me my May 11, 2015 blog post was a lie.
According to the LAPD and that tape that someone at the LAPD gave them (the Times refuses to answer questions from reporters, so we don’t know who slipped it to them), they believed I had never been handcuffed, there had been no angry crowd and no nasty toss of my license. And they said they believed the tape evidence alone made it clear that, based on the tape and the tape alone, I was a liar.
Pringle played me the tape. The audio was awful (listen here). The 6:20 tape contained only about 20 seconds of semi-audible speech — and lots of bizarre whistling. But the majority of the tape — fully six minutes worth — was incomprehensible noise and static.
The LAPD and the Times made no apparent attempt to enhance, or authenticate, the LAPD-supplied audio using commonly available audio technology and talent. Nevertheless, Goldberg informed me, I was fired, based on that tape. Not only that, I would be publicly humiliated. The next day, he published an Editor’s Note announcing my firing and the LAPD’s allegations in the print and online editions of the newspaper. It took me two days to come up with the first enhanced version. Still mostly inaudible, it revealed at least one bystander’s voice loudly asking Durr to “take off his handcuffs.”
The audio engineers we hired at Post Haste Digital to clean it up gave us this new tape, the newly enhanced version of the tape we’re posting now, early Aug. 3, 2015. It gives a really clear idea of what went down October 3, 2001 at the corner of Melrose and Gardner.
See the full transcript below the fold. And listen to both tapes below. Caution: Both contain adult language, including obscenities, frank sexual innuendo and vulgar language not suitable to family viewing or listening.
Here’s the newly enhanced version of the LAPD police tape dub (release: August 3, 2015)
For comparison, here’s the original LAPD-made dub of LAPD Officer Durr’s personal tape of the incident, as supplied to the Los Angeles Times as “proof” that I was lying.
Transcript of the New Tape
3.364 – Officer Will Durr, to Ted Rall: “You have an ID?”
7.570 – Officer: “the LA County Police Department, the reason I stopped you, you got a red light, and you just walked across just as free as you wanted to, so…”
15.654 – Ted Rall: “I’m really sorry, I totally missed”
16.902 – Officer: “That’s alright, you’re gonna get a ticket for it, I need you to take that out, of your wallet, please.”
30.585 – “Is this your current address? ‘kay…”
34.173 – Click Click (may be handcuffs going on)
(at this point, Ted is waiting, and probably handcuffed, while officer writes ticket)
55.363 – Officer whistles
1:00.580 – Officer hums
1:03.186 – Unintelligible noise – possibly zipper. (Note: Officer may be attempting to cover up microphone by zippering uniform more, as he notices bystanders coming closer.)
1:26.700 – Voice, female
2:05.207 – Voice, unclear if male or female
2:13.000 – Voice, female
3:00.314 – Officer whistles, possibly to cover up her voice
3:07.426 – Voice, unclear if male or female
3:13.662 – Voice, unclear if male or female
3:17.756 – Woman1 (possibly Asian): “Why’d you handcuff him?”
3:21.672 – Voice, male
3:22.549 – Woman1: “Why’d you…”
3:26.706 – Ted talking to Woman1: “, and I’m from New York,” Woman1: “yeah!” Ted: “So I can say that.”
3:33.351 – Woman1, to Ted: “You just tell him…”
3:35.000 – Officer whistles while Woman1 yells
3:37.864 – Woman2, to officer, disgusted: “Don’t think about his family”
3:39.621 – Ted, protesting: “I have a right to a ”
4:04.845– Woman2, mocking officer, disgusted: “Let’s go murder some widows!”
4:06.730 – Woman3: “Stop it!” (shouting)
4:07.063 – Officer: “I’m doing the right thing.”
4:11.736 – Woman2 mocking, “You’re gonna make a big tip!”
4:14.054 – Woman2, mocking officer, “I’m just a big girly-boy, give or take”
4:15.908 – Possibly woman3: “He’s behind him, this makes it…”
4:18.738 – Woman3 or 4, British, “Don’t forget to ride his asshole!”
4:21.054 – Officer, mocking back: “Well, I appreciate it.”
4:22.209 – Woman1 , mocking officer: “Here, fuck me and get over it!”
4:23.450 – Woman2, to officer: “I mean, don’t you got other problems going on in LA right now?”
4:27.114 – Officer responding to woman2, “Not especially.”
4:28.192 – Woman2, disgusted: “Well, go over there.”
4:31.198 – Officer, mocking back “Oh, I feel really scared.”
4:36.500 – Officer, humming into mic.
4:34.500 – Officer, humming into mic.
4:51.452 – Officer: “Alrighty, sir, you’ve been cited for 21456(B) of the vehicle code”
4:58.224 – Officer, sarcastic: “Here, I’ll take that until we’re done, there ya go” – (Here he seems to be referring to taking off handcuffs, so Ted can sign ticket
5:00.930 – Officer: “You did a violation, so…”
5:04.436 – Officer: “I need you to go ahead and sign at the X, you’re not admitting guilt …”
5:08.094 – Officer: “It has the before the you”
5:11.948 – Ted, withdrawn: “ ‘kay… can you tell me how much it is?”
5:15.317 – Officer: “’Scuse me?”
5:16.000 – Ted: “Can you tell me how much it is, or?”
5:17.352 – Officer, sarcastic tone: “No, we don’t know how much it is. There, I’ll show you a number on the back of the ticket. You can call and find all that information out as well as where you can go if you want to fight the ticket, or any other options.”
5:36.719 – Officer, sarcastic tone: “Here’s your license back…”
5:42.644 – Click, then scuffle noise – This may be license hitting the ground and the sound of Ted getting down to pick it up
5:46.048 – Officer: “Copy of your citation, like I said, there’s a lot of information on the back, you might wanna read it..”
5:50.766 – Ted, “Do what? Okay..”
5:53.400 – Officer, sarcastic: “Thank you sir… what?”
5:58.158 – Ted:
6:00.428 – Officer: “You know what? This is my first month here, so I don’t know any of the local eateries, unfortunately… I don’t hang out down there. Alright, have a good day.”
6:16.276 – Officer: “Contact complete.”
Select Clip – Optimized
Below, find a comparison between the LAPD dub the police gave the Times as proof that I lied about the crowd and the handcuffing and the newly enhanced (v. 2) tape we received from audio engineers on Sunday, Aug. 2.
3:17.756 – Woman1 (possibly Asian): “Why’d you handcuff him?”
LAPD-supplied audio clip:
Enhanced audio clip:
At this writing, spokespeople for neither the LAPD or the Los Angeles Times have returned our reporters’ repeated calls for content. And Goldberg’s Editor’s Note, which explains Rall’s firing as a result of the original tape’s contents, is still online.
Forty years ago, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he would resign effective the next day.
At the time, aside from a tiny minority of dead-enders and a few desultory Congressional Republicans, an exhausted nation had arrived at a consensus that Nixon had to go. Politics had become too toxic, distrust of government too profound, and – most of all – the seriousness of the president’s crimes couldn’t be ignored. Judicial sanction wasn’t in Nixon’s future — Jerry Ford’s controversial pardon ensured that — but the ultimate political punishment, impeachment, seemed like the absolute minimum sanction in order to send the message that no man, no matter how powerful, was above the law. Nixon’s resignation, Ford assured Americans and the media agreed, proved that the system works.
Looking back now at what felt like a national cataclysm, however, we probably ought to dig up Tricky Dicky’s bones and beg him to accept our big fat apology.
Students of the Watergate scandal that led to that surreal day in August 1974 — the third day, expunged from history for fear of a repeat performance, when great crowds surrounded the White House, demanding that Nixon depart— will recall that it wasn’t the botched 1972 break-in at Democratic national headquarters that did Nixon in, but the cover-up.
Five and a half years after taking office, President Obama finally admitted what informed citizens have known since 2002: the United States tortures.
Obama has been covering up Bush-era torture throughout his tenure. (Not the act of torture by Americans, which has been widely reported and has inspired best-selling books and hit movies, but the governmental admission that attracts widespread attention and eventually creates pressure for action.) And even now, after finally admitting that the U.S. ranks with Myanmar and North Korea when it comes to this most basic of human rights, Obama refuses to authorize a formal investigation and prosecution of America’s torturers.
“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe – and I think any fair-minded person would believe – were torture, we crossed the line,” Obama told a press conference last week.
Better late than never. But not much better. Because, like so much of Obama’s rhetoric, they’re empty words.
Normally, when one crosses a line – is there a more clearly disgusting line than torture? – one faces consequences. Thanks to Obama, however, no one from the CIA, US military or other American government employee has ever suffered so much as a 1% pay cut as the result of drowning detainees, many of whom were released because they never committed any crime whatsoever, sodomizing kidnap victims with flashlights and other objects, subjecting people to extremes of heat, cold and sleep deprivation – not even for murdering detainees or driving them to suicide at American-run torture centers like Guantánamo concentration camp.
Though Obama had repeatedly promised throughout the 2008 presidential campaign that he would investigate war crimes under the George W. Bush administration and prosecute anyone found to have committed torture, soon after moving into the White House in 2009 Obama backtracked and infamously said that it was time to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” – in other words, there would never be a serious investigation.
That promise, he kept.
“At the CIA,” Obama said in 2009, “you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”
The president didn’t explain why causing concern to torturers would be bad.
Even now, while Obama is supposedly admitting that torture happened, he uses hokey countrified verbal constructions to diminish the horror while making excuses for those who committed them: “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were when the Twin Towers fell,” Obama said, as though there had been a universal demand for indiscriminate torture against teenage goatherds from Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had.”
Forget the IRS, AP and Benghazi. The real scandal this week — the corrupt politicization of the nation’s top law enforcement agency — is President Obama’s decision to carry water for one of the world’s most evil dictators.
In a little-noticed move, Obama’s FBI has arrested Fazliddin Kurbanov, a 30-year-old Uzbekistani political dissident who, were this 1983, would be dubbed a “freedom fighter.”
Kurbanov faces the generic catchall charges used since 9/11 by the feds against low-level Islamists: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization — in this case, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and conspiracy to provide material support to (individual) terrorists. As usual, the “material support” charge doesn’t amount to much: the indictment alleges that he researched and made videos about how to make IEDs to use in Uzbekistan.
Major plot point: Kurbanov’s “terror plot” did not target the United States.
Nearly as important: the IMU is not at war with the U.S.
Originally based in rural Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan, the IMU’s goal is to overthrow Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, the most brutal of the dictators that have run the Central Asian republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After Andijon, even the ethics-deficient Bush Administration decided that enough was enough, pulling U.S. forces out of Kashi-Khanabad airbase, which it had leased since 2001, and slashing military aid.
Which did nothing to rein in the tyrant. “The Uzbek constitution imposes a two-term limit, but Karimov was elected to a third term…His government engages in routine torture of citizens and has subjected dissenters to forced psychiatric treatment,” reportsParade magazine. All three of Karimov’s “opponents” in the 2007 election campaigned on his behalf.
Even by the cynical standards of international realpolitik, Karimov is radioactive — the kind of over-the-top despot Americans normally consider targets of “regime change” or at least trade sanctions. No civilized country should maintain diplomatic relations with Karimov, a tyrant whose abuses equal or exceed those of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi.
“Radioactive” is an unfortunate choice of words, since Uzbekistan’s uranium mines (along with vast reserves of Caspian Sea natural gas, oil, and a pipeline and refinery network strategically linked to its petroleum-rich neighbors Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) is part of the reason the United States is sucking up to him.
Rather than targeting Karimov with drones or cruise missiles, Obama has the butcher of Andijon on speed dial, reaching out in 2011 to ask the Uzbek leader for permission to ship war materiel through his benighted country into U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. In 2012, despite a Human Rights Watch report that found that life under Karimov had gotten worse since Andijon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama agreed to restore Karimov’s billion-dollar aid package.
Even in this economy, it seems, a billion bucks only goes so far. To further ingratiate the U.S. to Karimov, the White House has targeted the IMU. Bear in mind, the IMU has never attacked the U.S. Even though a U.S. airstrike killed an IMU founders in 2001, the group has never declared its intent to attack the U.S. Its beef is with Islam Karimov; its goal is to establish an Islamist state in Uzbekistan.
The IMU’s misfortune has been to fall on the wrong side of the “enemy of our friend is our enemy” equation. We’re in bed with Karimov and his fellow Central Asian dictators. Our icky prisoner-boiling pals hate the IMU.
No doubt, the IMU is a violent insurgent group. During one of its periodic summer offenses, the IMU kidnapped four American mountain climbers in early 2000 — an offense that prompted Bush to declare the group a State Department-designated terrorist organization. But the fact that the climbers were American appears to have been unrelated to their capture. IMU offensives also swept up Tajik and Kyrgyz civilians and soldiers, and four Japanese geologists. (Kyrgyz security forces claim to have disrupted a 2003 IMU plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, but such claims, often ploys to attract U.S. foreign aid, should be met with skepticism.)
Like many radical Muslim groups in Asia, some members of the IMU — a small cadre of fighters estimated to number between 300 and 500 men — trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. After the 2001 U.S. invasion they fled across the border into Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, where they established alliances with and fought alongside various Pashtun Islamist groups. IMU fighters have clashed with U.S. occupation forces in Waziristan and Afghanistan. But the IMU has shown no sign of bringing the fight to the U.S. IMU ideology is local and regional, limited to spreading Sharia-based governments first and foremost in Uzbekistan, and in countries like Pakistan if possible. No one — not even the FBI — alleges that the IMU plans to attack the U.S.
The U.S. government is at war with radical Islam. The question for Americans is: In a conflict between a monstrous dictator and a small group of would-be revolutionaries trying to overthrow him, should we take sides — especially the side of the dictator?
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
“Ted Rall, mop-headed antiestablishment political cartoonist, has abundant talent, a 1,400-drawing portfolio, seven years’ experience, the acclaim of peers and the approval of newspaper editors who, every so often, print his work. What he lacks is someone who will hire him full-time.”
That’s from The New York Times.
Editorial cartooning, a unique art form whose modern version originated in 18th century France and has become more pointed, sophisticated and effective in the United States than any other country, was in big trouble back then. Newspapers, the main employers of political cartoonists, were closing and slashing budgets. Those that survived were timid; cowardly editors rarely hire, much less retain, the controversial artists who produce the best cartoons, those that stimulate discussion.
Things are worse now.
Hard numbers are difficult to come by but the number of full-time professional political cartoonists now hovers around 30. In 1980 there were about 300. A century ago, there were thousands.
Cartoonists blame tightfisted publishers and shortsighted editors for their woes. Many decry news syndicates for charging low rates for reprinted material. “If an editor can get Walt Handelsman and Steve Kelley for ten bucks a week, why would he pay $70,000 a year for a guy in his hometown?” asked Handelsman, then the cartoonist for The New Orleans Times-Pacayune, in the 1995 Times piece cited above.
There’s also the Internet. As happened across the world of print media, the Web created more disruption than opportunity. Dozens of cartoonists tried to sell animated editorial cartoons to websites. Two succeeded.
Digitalization decimated the music business, savaged movies and is washing away book publishing. If the titans of multinational media conglomerates can’t figure out how to stem the tide, individual cartoonists who make fun of the president don’t stand a chance.
We can only control one thing: the quality of our work. It pains me to admit it, but to say we’ve fallen down on the job would be to give us too much credit.
Day after day, year after year, editorial cartoonists have been churning out a blizzard of hackwork. Generic pabulum relying on outdated metaphors—Democratic donkeys, Republican elephants, tortured labels, ships of state labeled “U.S.” sinking in oceans marked “debt,” cars driving off cliffs, one hurricane after another, each labeled after some crisis new or imagined. Cut-and-paste art styles slavishly lifted from older cartoonists down to the last crosshatch. Work so bland and devoid of insight or opinion that readers can’t tell if the artist is liberal or conservative. Cartoons that make no point whatsoever, such as those that mark anniversaries of news events, the deaths of corporate executives like Steve Jobs, and even holidays (for Veterans Day: “freedom isn’t free”).
To be sure, editors and publishers have hired and promoted the very worst of the worst. Prize committees snub brilliance and innovation in favor of safe and cheesy.
In the end, however, it’s up to the members of any profession to police themselves individually and collectively. I often say, no one can publish your crappy cartoon if you don’t draw it in the first place. Amazingly my colleagues have chosen to ignore the existential crisis that faces American political cartooning. Rather than rise to the challenge, their work is becoming even safer and blander.
Moreover, we cartoonists are failing to hold one another to basic journalistic standards. This year political cartooning has been hit by two plagiarism scandals. David Simpson, a long-time Tulsa political cartoonist with a history of this sort of thing, was fired by the weekly paper there after he got caught tracing old cartoons by the late Jeff MacNelly on a lightbox. Jeff Stahler, a cartoonist familiar to readers of USA Today, was recently forced to resign by The Columbus Dispatch after long-standing rumors of stealing ideas exploded into a series of too-close-for-comfort pairings of his work and classic material from The New Yorker.
They’re only the tip of the iceberg.
There are plagiarists who have Pulitzer Prizes sitting on their shelves. There are even more “self-plagiarists”—people who shamelessly recycle the same exact cartoon, changing labels on the same image in order to meet a deadline. They shortchange their readers and their clients—and collect the biggest salaries in the business.
Meanwhile, it is impossible for the “young” generation of talented cartoonists who came out of the alt weekly newspapers—those under 50—to find work at all.
Within the mainstream of the profession the general consensus is that we should keep quiet and wait for the storm to pass. They make excuses for serial plagiarists, self-plagiarists, and hacks. At this writing the professional association for political cartoonists, which in 2009 imposed its first penalty for plagiarism in its 50-year history under my presidency, has still failed to act to enforce that rule or issue a code of ethics.
“This is bad for the profession,” I heard from more than one colleague after the Stahler story broke. “Let’s be quiet.”
What’s bad for the profession is bad work. How can we expect editors and publishers to respect us unless we respect ourselves?
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.