Ted Rall

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Updated: 3 hours 55 min ago

If you want me to speak in your town this fall, now is the time to plan ahead.

5 hours 34 min ago

My new graphic novel biography of Edward Snowden comes out in early September, and I’ll be doing a book tour to promote it. If you would like me to visit your city in September or October, now’s the time to get in touch. Mainly, I’ll need a venue: a book store, college or university, activist organization or civic group that can organize an audience and a place to speak, a theater, etc. It’s a major plus if travel costs, a hotel or an honorarium are available, but those aren’t necessarily deal breakers.

Click “Contact” here at Rall.com to get in touch.

Right Attacks Hillary From Left

12 hours 11 min ago

Right-wing groups are feeding material attacking Hillary Clinton from the left in the hope that it will weaken her support among progressives. What are liberals supposed to do, ignore her perfidy because they’re learning about it from conservatives?

Hillary Is Just Like You

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 00:57

Acknowledging that she isn’t viewed as likeable enough, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is launching a charm offensive to convince Americans that she is a regular Jane Sixpack, just like us.

Amtrak Train Crash: Train Was Going 107 MPH, Why That Matters

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 12:41

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an Amtrak commuter train that derailed at a sharp curve in Philadelphia was traveling 107 mph when it derailed. That’s twice the local speed limit. It must have seemed great before the disaster, especially to Northeasterners accustomed to frequent long delays on the Washington to New York corridor. The crash injured 200 and left seven dead Tuesday. There were 240 people on the train at the time of the crash.

The Killing of Osama Bin Laden: Seven Questions Americans Should Ask Now

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 12:39

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has unleashed a ferocious debunking of the official Obama Administration narrative, dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” of the 2011 assassination by Navy SEALS of Osama bin Laden. Everything you think you know about the killing of the Al Qaeda leader accused of ordering the 9/11 attacks, Hersh asserts, is total bullshit.

For its part, the White House is kind of sort of denying Hersh’s alternative history.

“The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll,” Hersh writes in the London Review of Books.

Here are the seven things Hersh’s piece makes one wonder about:

One: According to Hersh, the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency kept bin Laden under house arrest in Abbottabad between 2006 and 2011, kind of the way the Burmese junta did to hot dissident lady Aung San Suu Kyi. So when the SEALs came to kill him, it was less like bad-ass, well, SEALs, than shooting fish in a barrel. Anyway, they hid America’s most wanted man ever from us. Why are we paying the Pakistanis $1.6 billion a year? If we paid them $2.6 billion, would they be nicer to us?

Two: According to Hersh, careful intelligence gathering, torture, tracking that courier guy, none of that stuff led to bin Laden.

It was greed: ISI agent Amir Aziz walked into the U.S. embassy in Islamabad with evidence bin Laden was in ISI custody. “Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up,” Hersh says. He adds: “The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.” If you came into what we must assume is a significant share of $25 million — even if it’s just $5 million — wouldn’t you retire? Are all Pakistanis workaholics?

Three: Hersh says there was no firefight, that bin Laden never resisted, much less got off a shot. “The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme,” he says.

What about when the assassinations are executed with drones? Does the Obama Administration pretend drone victims first have to point a gun at the drone before the Hellfire missiles are loosed?

Four: After the raid, the SEALs were ordered to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) so the public wouldn’t learn that the rubout was a cowardly act of, one might say terrorism. “On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private,” Hersh wrote.

But two SEALs did talk, including Matt Bissonnette, who wrote the book “No Easy Day” (which was actually a walk in the park for all involved, excepting UBL and his family). Is it a violation of your NDA if you squawk, but it’s a lie, and it’s the same lie as the government’s?

Five: “Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers.” Hersh says there was never a “trove of terrorist information” because bin Laden was a prisoner, no longer the tactical head of Al Qaeda.

If the tapes weren’t terror stuff, what were they? Where are the videos now? Note to Langley: if there’s a VHS version of the 1988 cult movie “Tapeheads” in the bin Laden trove, do get in touch — I’ve been looking for that one.

Six: Remember the Pakistani doctor, still in prison, accused of using his vaccination program as a ruse to collect UBL’s DNA? Hersh says he did nothing of the kind — that the CIA threw him under the bus to cover for Aziz. “A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. ‘We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,’ the retired official said. ‘We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.’” What did Afridi do to get picked as a scapegoat? Is this what happens when you refuse to contribute to the Abbottabad Fraternal Order of Police fundraiser?

Seven: Hersh says “the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place… there had been ‘no burial at sea.’ added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials.’” There was also what Hersh terms “a complication”: “some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed.”

Do terrorist body parts often rain from the sky in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Were any goatherds, or goats, bonked on the head by bin Laden bits?

Most Transparent Administration Ever

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 00:22

U.S. Senators who want to read the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Asian countries can’t get a copy to read. Instead, they have view the long, confusing document in a secret locked room where they can take notes, but not keep them. The only way they could credibly consider the agreement would be if they had a photographic memory.

Seymour Hersh on Bin Ladin Capture: 86-ing “Zero Dark Thirty”

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 08:08

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Seymour Hersh has published a blockbuster expose that asserts that most of the narrative of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” was wrong. Bin Laden was a prisoner of the ISI since 2006. He never resisted. Seal Team Six was never in danger. The body was never buried at sea, nor were there Muslim rites. Will Kathryn Bigelow remake her film?

Nike TPP Promise: Ten Thousand to Be Hired If We Just Do It

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 08:06

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Nike promises to hire up to 10,000 people in the United States if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement passes.

 

Thank You For Your Service

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 23:23

Journalist Seymour Hersh publishes a blockbuster expose behind the killing of Osama bin Laden, which turned out to be more like shooting fish in a barrel since bin Laden was a prisoner of the Pakistanis. Despite all this, Seal Team Six retains their official status as heroes of the nation.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hillary Clinton’s Life of Crime

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 09:48

Bill and Hillary Clinton “earned” — can a mortal earn such stratospheric sums? — “at least $30 million over the last 16 months, mainly from giving paid speeches to corporations, banks and other organizations,” The New York Times reports. “They have now earned more than $125 million on the [lecture] circuit since leaving the White House in 2001.”

This is an important issue. But the big story has little to with what actually matters.

Coverage of the Clintons’ spectacularly lucrative speaking career has focused on how it affects Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign — specifically the political damage caused by the public’s growing perception that Hillary is out of touch with the common man and woman. It is a promising line of inquiry for her detractors (myself included).

Hillary is out of touch. She hasn’t been behind the wheel of an automobile for nearly 20 years, is a multi-multi-millionaire who nevertheless considered herself “dead broke” and still believes that she and her husband are not among “the truly well off.” (Maybe Bill still drives.) Ostentatious wealth coupled with tonedeafness didn’t help Mitt “47%” Romney in 2012, or John “I can’t remember how many houses I own” McCain in 2008 — and they were Republicans, a party that gleefully despises the poor and jobless. For a Democrat under heavy fire from her party’s progressive base — with Elizabeth Warren, Bill di Blasio and Bernie Sanders leading the charge — this stuff could be politically fatal.

But the media ought to focus on the real issue. FDR was wealthy, yet he created the social safety net as we know it (what’s left of it, anyway). JFK and RFK came from money, yet no one doubted their commitment to help the downtrodden. Liberals distrust Hillary due to her and her husband’s long record of kowtowing to Wall Street bankers and transnational corporations, supporting jobs-killing “free trade” agreements, backing the NSA’s intrusions into our privacy, and as an unrepentant militarist. Her progressivism appears to have died with her law career.

Conflict of interest: that’s why we should be concerned about all those $250,000 speeches.

The big question is: why do corporations and banks shell out a quarter of a million dollars for a Hill Talk?

Corporations and banks don’t pay big bucks to Hillary Clinton because they’re dying to hear what she has to say. After having been front and center on the national political scene for a quarter century, she and Bill don’t have new insights to share. And even if I’m wrong — even if you’re a CEO and you’re dying to learn her ultimate (new) recipe for baking cookies — you don’t have to invite her to speak to your company to get the dish. You can ask one of your CEO pals who already had her speak at his firm — or pay to attend one of the zillions of other lectures she gives.

This is not about Hillary’s message.

Corporations and banks bribe the Clintons to buy political favors. The speaking racket is a (flimsy) cover.

Like, there’s the time Goldman Sachs paid $200,000 for a Bill Talk a few months before the financial conglomerate lobbied Hill when she was secretary of state. At least 13 companies paid Bill and Hill at least $2.5 million in similar sleazy deals.

Those are just the brazen quid pro quo deals.

Among the companies that have lined Hillary’s pockets over the last 16 months are “a mix of corporations (GE, Cisco, Deutsche Bank), medical and pharmaceutical groups (the California Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association), and women’s organizations like the Commercial Real Estate Women Network,” the Times says. “Mr. Clinton’s speeches included a number of talks for financial firms, including Bank of America and UBS, as well as technology companies like Microsoft and Oracle.”

GE, Cisco and Deutsche Bank aren’t run by idiots. Nor are lobbying groups like the female realtors. Their boards know that Hillary may well become president. Even if she loses, those bribes — er, speaking fees — are a smart investment in DC influence. The Clintons have strong ties at the highest levels of the Democratic Party establishment and on Wall Street. If you’re GE, it makes sense to make nice with people whose help you might want someday, so they’re likelier to pick up the phone when you call to, say, grease the skids for a merger in danger of getting derailed by antitrust laws.

Laws governing the sale of political access are relatively clear, but rarely enforced. The ethics, however, are simple: honest people don’t take money from people they may be charged with governing or regulating in the future.

“Behind every great fortune,” Balzac maintained, “lies a crime.” If there were any justice, the Clintons would be in prison for a generation of criminal activity that has left America a corrupted, Third Worldified nation, poorer for having been looted by the companies and banks whose criminality they aided and abetted.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Our Hearts and Prayers Go Out…”

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 20:16

 

When Did Post-Disaster News Conferences Become Long-Winded Oscar Acceptance Speeches?

This is for you older readers: when did news conferences become long-winded acceptance speeches?

I’m too young to remember for sure, but There must have been a time when, after a train derailment or a tornado or a flood or a race riot or whatever, public officials stepped up to the microphones to deliver a status update (“as soon as we learn more, we’ll let you know”), and perhaps some advice to the public (“avoid downed live wires, especially the ones that are sparking, like in that movie The Ice Storm”), answered reporters’ questions and left the stage.

Today’s news conferences are a dreary, undignified mélange of pro forma acknowledgements and sentimental pabulum.

A news conference following this week’s fatal high-speed derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia was a typical example:

SENATOR PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): The scene is a horrific and heartbreaking scene. My prayers go out to the people who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy, to those who were injured, to all of their families. I also want to take a moment to express my appreciation to the first responders, the men and women of this city’s police and fire forces who have responded with such professionalism. Mayor Nutter deserves a great deal of credit. He and his team have pulled together a very, very effective and well-coordinated effort that’s included the federal as well as the city officials. So we appreciate what they’re doing. And we wanted to express both our condolences and our appreciation for that effort. As Senator Casey pointed out, a big part of my being here and his being here is to make sure that Mayor Nutter and city of Philadelphia knows if there’s anything the federal government can be doing to help, we want to make sure it does that.
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D-Phila.): Senators Casey and Senator Toomey, thank you both. The response at the federal level has been tremendous here. With that in mind, let me also report to you that shortly after the earlier press conference today, I had the honor and opportunity to speak directly with President Barack Obama, who called, wanting to get on-the-ground information and facts. The president is very concerned about what has happened here, expressed his condolences as well, but also pledged the full support of the federal government and all the agencies under the executive branch of the government. The president feels very saddened by what has happened, but he was tremendously supportive and encouraging of our efforts here on the ground. For that, I want to say thank you to President Barack Obama for all of his leadership and support in these difficult and tragic times. With that, let me open to some questions for anything that we can answer.

I’m only picking on Philly because it’s the most recent example. I could quote the same crap, virtually verbatim, from press briefings following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, you name it. Our prayers always “go out to the victims and their families.” We always praise the sainted “first responders.” If you’re a federal politician, you thank the local hack; if you’re a local politician, you suck up to the leech who just parachuted in from the Beltway.

In pro forma post-bad-things-happening briefings, natural and manmade disasters are heartbreaking, devastating, tragic, incomprehensible, terrible and/or horrific. Crimes of mass violence, especially those committed by terrorists, are always brutal and vicious, cowardly acts. Killing children is always unthinkable.

Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, shortly after the Aurora shootings, after the 2012 Newtown elementary school shootings: “The heart of every person in Colorado goes out to every person in Connecticut.”

Secy. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, after a helicopter carrying U.S. soldiers crashed in U.S.-occupied Iraq: “My heart and prayers go out to the families and the loved ones of those people.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, commenting on the first death from Ebola on U.S. soil: “Our hearts go out to all the families who have been affected and our prayers are with them.”

House Speaker John Boehner after tornadoes killed people in 2014: “Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who have been victimized by this storm.”

I could fill a book.

It is possible that politicians like President Obama, seen biting his lip in apparent sadness while announcing that one of his drones accidentally killed an American hostage held by Al Qaeda in Pakistan earlier this year, really meant it when he offered his “grief and condolences” to the poor dead SOB’s family…even though he was yukking it up with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots about “deflategate” a few hours later.

It is possible. But it isn’t likely.

Fair or not cut-and-paste expressions of grief (“our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families”) come off as ridiculously insincere — just as fake and phony as those Academy Award-style “I’d like to thank my agent, my children, and my dog” thank-yous while we’re waiting to find out if and when the trains will begin running again.

But you know what’s worse than listening to our lame political class pretend to care? Their low regard for our intelligence, as evidenced by their obvious assumptions that they don’t have to try harder, and that we believe them.

We may be dumb. But we ain’t stupid.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

None Knowns

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 14:15

Asked whether he would have attacked Iraq knowing what we know now, that Saddam didn’t have WMDs and that civil war would result, Jeb Bush echoed his brother Dubya, saying that he would indeed have done the same. As usual, the media missed the real story. But was it an accident?

African vs Mexican Immigrants: Get My Gun

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 08:04

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Americans are sympathetic to the plight of African immigrants drowning while trying to enter Europe, but they seem to care a whole lot less when the “illegal immigrants” are Mexican immigrants coming into the United States.

United Rhapsody: Gag Me with A Pop Culture One Percenter

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 08:03

Culture has always been class-based. Rich people went to the opera; the poor listened to heavy metal. But what we read and watch and listen to is becoming segmented into more striations with wider gaps between them, reflecting income distribution.

I was thinking about this while reading that ultimate periodical for, by and about the richest one percent: The Sunday New York Times.

The Times is historically elitist: You get lots of reviews of classical music and fine arts, hardly anything about rock, hip-hop or comics. In Timesworld, a $150 dinner qualifies as a moderately expensive meal. A $650 hotel room is something you might actually consider.

But recently I’ve noticed that the gaps between what the Times prints to try to attract the audience targeted by its advertisers and the interests and tastes of most of its upper-middle-class striver readers are getting more pronounced. Just this weekend, I was tearing through the Sunday edition. (Despite lower page counts, it is still a whale of a paper.) I did it in under an hour.

The Times doesn’t have many pieces I want to read anymore.

The paper was always a pretentious publication. Now it’s pretentious and blah. The Times delivers too many puff pieces on corporate executives, too many political horserace articles minus actual politics and way too many dreary profiles of boring authors, musicians, etc.

But the really big change in The Times? It’s the tone of the stuff they print.

Good writing draws you in no matter what the topic. A decade or two ago, you could count on The Times, more so than The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, to print words strung together in a way that would make you care about anything from asparagus cultivation to arbitrage. Now, not so much. Everything in there reads like it was written by a pod person on a triple dose of Prozac.

The Times is all flat-line affect.

Which, in a way, is interesting — interesting in a dull way but still interesting: You see, to make it as a successful journalist in 2015, you have to be able to make videotaped mass beheadings dull.

This is, in a way, a skill. But who has time to read it?

So, today I read The Times in a slow-down-to-check-out-the-car-wreck way. And I came across an item that brought home the widening cultural class divide. Here it is:

Breaking News!  United Airlines has a new in-flight magazine, but it’s only for those who pay top dollar for flights. And it only features the type of literary fiction Timesians like long-time book critic Michiko Kakutani classify as “high-end.”

Good God.

Reports Alexandra Alter:

“As airlines try to distinguish their high-end service with luxuries like private sleeping chambers, showers, butler service and meals from five-star chefs, United Airlines is offering a loftier , more cerebral amenity to its first-class and business-class passengers: elegant prose “

Alter continues, “There are no airport maps or disheartening lists of in-flight meals and entertainment options in Rhapsody.”

But wait. Rich people don’t need airport maps? How do they navigate airports — teleportation?

“Instead,” she writes, “the magazine has published ruminative first-person travel accounts, cultural dispatches and probing essays about flight by more than 30 literary fiction writers.”

She reports a list of authors that includes “literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, Amy Bloom, Emma Straub and Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two years ago.”

I’m glad I’m in Coach. Every one of those writers bores the shit out of me.

To paraphrase the fictional Nazi in Hanns Johst’s play via Mission of Burma, whenever I hear the phrase “literary fiction” I reach for my revolver. Then I run away screaming.

Fiction is good or bad. There is no such thing as non-literary fiction.

Purveyors of literary fiction sometimes wonder aloud why their non-genre genre doesn’t get more attention (from the marketplace). Though I infrequently observe a relationship between quality and sales, I can answer this question: literary fiction is written for an upper crust, very white, well-educated but not-as-smart-as-they-think sliver of the word-consuming public — whose number is too small to create a Stephanie Meyer-scale bestseller.

Ninety years ago, these would be the same people who hate Hemingway.

They hate anyone just for writing non-MFA approved sentences that anyone could read, understand, enjoy — and not notice.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, who argued that any library would be improved simply by the absence of any books by Jane Austen, I will endure United’s cramped coach class more stoically thanks to my awareness that there isn’t a copy of Rhapsody in the seat pocket in front of me.

The Times, again:

A United marketing flack ‘said the quality of the writing in Rhapsody brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music and a branded scent.’ “

Gag me with a plastic TSA-approved spoon.

But wait, there’s more …

‘We’re not going to have someone write about joining the mile-high club,’ said Jordan Heller, the editor in chief of Rhapsody. ‘Despite those restrictions, we’ve managed to come up with a lot of high-minded literary content.’”

Listen. There was a time, not long ago, during my own young adulthood, back when upper middle class and upper class people read the same books and magazines. The former aspired to the latter; the latter imagined themselves in touch with the former.

Now there’s literary fiction, a category designed as an exclusion.

In music, this is jazz. In movies, it’s documentaries and art films. It’s NPR and The Times and the Democratic Party.

Today, the rich live in gated communities of the mind. Every house and every person inside them look and talk exactly the same. No weeds on the perfectly manicured lawns.

Just boring, bland, flat bullshit.

As much as they work to keep us out, I know what keeps the cultural one percenters awake at night: Their very real fear that we don’t want to get it.

LAPD’s crosswalk crackdown: Don’t police have something better to do?

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 08:03

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

This one is personal.

Just over 10 years ago, I was ticketed – and handcuffed – for an alleged pedestrian violation while crossing Melrose Avenue. Ironically, this was one of the rare times that I was innocent of even jaywalking, something I do every day.

Anyway, I had done everything right. I waited for the green “walking man” signal before stepping off the curb. I walked between the crosswalk lines. I got across the street just as the flashing red signal began.

All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop.

Another motorcycle officer appeared, asked the colleague what the heck he was thinking and ordered him to let me go, which he did. But not before he threw my driver’s license into the sewer.

I filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department. A few months went by without my hearing anything, so I called to check in. I was told that the complaint was dismissed. They had never notified me.

Stories about the LAPD’s current ticketing crackdown against people who enter the crosswalk after the pedestrian crossing signal has begun flashing red and counting down reminded me of my incident. The Times reports that the LAPD has ticketed four times as many pedestrians for this violation in the division that includes downtown than in other areas of the city.

Is this really a worthwhile use of police resources? Two City Council members have asked for data on whether such tickets really improve public safety.

As Times columnist Steve Lopez points out, the price of these tickets – $197 – is wildly out of proportion to the scale of the so-called “offense.” Moreover, few Angelenos know that stepping into the crosswalk after the red flash of death starts is against the law. “Many… think, as I did, that the countdown is there to tell you how much time you have to cross the street,” writes Lopez.

Because, you know, it’s a countdown. In seconds. If you are familiar with the space-time continuum, and you have crossed the particular street before, you’re probably able to judge with a fair degree of accuracy whether you will be able to make it across in time. Why show the countdown if we aren’t supposed to use that information?

At a certain point, it’s easy to conclude that this is less about pedestrian safety than it is about revenue enhancement. Besides, how safe is the scenario I depict in my cartoon, in which people are racing across intersections at breakneck speed in order to avoid paying nearly $200 in fines?

It Depends on the Meaning of Trustworthy

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 00:24

Hillary Clinton has repeatedly been caught lying about, among other things, her emails as secretary of state, yet 48% of Americans and 4 out of 5 Democrats describe her as “trustworthy.” Do they even know the meaning of the word?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The NSA Loses in Court, but the Police State Rolls On

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 14:38

Edward Snowden has been vindicated.

This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.

Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.

Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.

A unanimous three-judge ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.

On the surface, this is good news.

It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.

One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.

Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”

Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.

Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.

The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.

What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Well, ain’t that peachy.

As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.

It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

First They Came for the Purposefully Provocative Danish Cartoonists…

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 00:22

First they came for the cartoonists whose style and politics were different than mine…and I said nothing. You know the rest.