Ted Rall

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Live Tonight at Powell’s

5 hours 23 min ago

If you’re in Portland, Oregon…I’ll be speaking here tonight!

Thursday, November 20, 2014
7:30 pm
Powell’s Books
1005 W Burnside St
Portland, OR 97209

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Dianne Feinstein’s Would-Be Successors Gear Up for 2018

7 hours 18 min ago

 

Many Californians, and not just Republicans, would like to see fresh faces representing the state in the United States Senate. At ages 81 and 73 respectively, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not only some of the most senior senior citizens holding representative office in Washington, they appear somewhat incongruous given California’s culture of youth worship.

Boxer’s current term expires in 2016 and Feinstein in 2018. Polls that show Californians interested in replacing them with someone else may not mean much – after all, in many cases that would mean convincing lifelong Democrats to vote Republican – but the possibility that one or both groundbreaking women legislators might retire an array of boldface state political figures eyeing the possibility of a run in two to four years.

The Times’ Cathleen Decker reports:

By the middle of October, according to the last full report available, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had spent more than $544,000 on his campaign and had almost $3 million in the bank. And he was sending out none-too-subtle fundraising appeals with lines such as: “For us, it’s all about the day after Election Day, the day after that, and all the days ahead when we’ll make big decisions about California’s future.” Since the lieutenant governorship is a vast, responsibility-less black hole, those big decisions presumably center on Newsom’s future.

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, meanwhile, had spent more than $2.2 million by mid-October, with almost $2.4 million in the bank. And she was blanketing the state with let-me-introduce-myself ads noting that she “aggressively prosecuted predators who victimize the vulnerable … cracked down on sex trafficking of women and children … took on the transnational gangs … prosecuted sexual assaults and enforced laws requiring equal pay for equal work.” No pushover, in other words.

Although I am in part persuaded by the seniority and experience argument in favor of returning Boxer and Feinstein to Washington – their tenure has earned them positions on key committees that allow them to leverage more power to the Golden State – I tilt more toward the belief that the term “career politician” ought to be considered an oxymoron, and the public service are not to be a career, but rather a chance to briefly give back to society before resuming private life.

Power has a tendency to become so entrenched that it is often hard for people who hold it to relate to the concerns of ordinary people – i.e. their constituents. In Feinstein’s case, for example, it was telling that after years of running interference for the national security agency and its massive infrastructure of illegal surveillance against the American people revealed by Edward Snowden – as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which is actually charged with policing the NSA, not justifying its actions – Feinstein only took issue with spooks when they tapped into her own investigative committee’s computers. Plainly she had spent too much time with people like director of national intelligence James Clapper, who famously lied under oath by saying that the NSA didn’t “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans, to keep her ear to the ground.

I don’t think that the two senators are too old to serve effectively. I think they’ve been in office too long to serve us. Retiring soon in order to open up the field to a younger generation of public servants would be a classy move.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Praise for bin Laden’s Killer Exposes Americans as Barbarians

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 19:51

 

France is grappling with the damage to its reputation as the global capital of intellectualism after the nation’s minister of culture sheepishly confessed that she doesn’t read books. “Barbarism is here,” declared the writer Claude Askolovitch. “If one can be culture minister without reading, then we are mere technocrats and budgeters.”

Oui.

Evidament.

At least there are still some among the French who care about their nation’s image.

Here in the United States, the face of barbarism appeared in the banal form of Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL who claimed on Fox News to have been the SEAL Team Six member who shot the fatal shots that killed Osama bin Laden.

O’Neil is very proud of himself. “Standing on two feet in front of me, with his hands on his wife’s shoulders behind her was the face that I’d seen thousands of times, UBL,” O’Neill told Fox. “Very quickly I recognized him and then it was just pop, pop pop.”

Military men, including some of O’Neill’s former comrades, criticized him for speaking publicly about a classified operation, going against SEAL tradition. Others questioned whether he really fired the fatal shots.

But no one went after him for being, you know — a first-degree murderer. (Since four other people were killed in the raid, it’s probably closer to the truth to say mass murderer.)

What happened to America? We used to have morals. We celebrated Rosa Parks. Assassins were scum.

As recently as the 1980s, a right-wing president, Reagan, signed an executive order banning political assassinations. Which is exactly what the bin Laden rubout was.

There was never any intention to try to capture bin Laden alive. To the contrary — an eyewitness, bin Laden’s daughter, says the Al Qaeda leader was captured alive, then blown away, mafia-style. The man — in this crime, which is what it was, we have to call him the victim — was certainly unarmed. We’ll never know for sure, since no medical examiner got a peek at the victim’s body before it was dumped into the ocean.

The assassination of Osama bin Laden diminished what little was left of America’s moral authority. Calling it “justice” was a mockery of law and due process. It also denied his victims their right to see the facts about his alleged — since he was never tried, we have to say alleged — crimes revealed in open court.

As Geoffrey Robertson wrote at the time: “The U.S. is celebrating summary execution, rationalized on the basis that this is one terrorist for whom trial would be unnecessary, difficult, and dangerous. It overlooks the downsides: that killing bin Laden has made him a martyr, more dangerous in that posthumous role than in hiding, and that both his legend and the conspiracy theories about 9/11 will live on undisputed by the evidence that would have been called to convict him at his trial.”

The operation was, without question, illegal. If the U.S. were a nation of equal justice under the law, everyone involved, from O’Neill to the president, would face murder charges.

I don’t care how you feel about bin Laden. Assassinating him was disgusting, might-makes-right bullshit.

If anyone in the media agrees with me, however, I can’t find them.

“If [O'Neill] killed bin Laden, then he deserves the recognition that comes with it. … I say, ‘Well done, O’Neill, tell it like it is and let them howl. They’ll criticize you no matter what. Hooyah,'” wrote an editorial writer in the otherwise charming town of Saint George, Utah. Time magazine called the shooting of an unarmed suspect (while invading a foreign country, by the way) an “action that warrants…acclaim.”

Don’t forget the hit film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which portrayed the bin Laden murder — as well as the torture that preceded it — as heroic.

What happened to us?

Top Nazis, responsible for a lot more deaths than 9/11, were put on trial at Nuremberg. Just two decades ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a state-sponsored assassin would garner praise for his role in a “wet op” (as long as he really did it).

Or that a president would brag about ordering it. (“Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Vice President Biden crowed.)

Or that said president would enjoy a bump in his polls as a result (as opposed to a knock on the door from the FBI).

ISIS? Mere pikers.

Barbarism, c’est nous.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

Numble

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 14:54

A new study finds that young adults believe that the key to survival in the future is to be nimble. My cartoon: http://www.breakingmodern.com/ted-rall-quitting-job-already-toon/

Pessimistic about optimism

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 09:47

As a Gen Xer, I’m pessimistic about the fact that millennials are so optimistic. http://www.breakingmodern.com/ted-rall-im-pessimistic-optimism/

Masters of Sameness

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 04:47

From dead CEOs to live presidents, rich and powerful men often choose to wear the same clothes every day. What’s with that, and does it matter?

Best System Over

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 04:45

Between vast reserves of cash, her own giant Super PAC and a ground operation in waiting, Hillary Clinton appears to have the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 all locked up. So it’s unlikely that anyone will attempt, much less succeed, in challenging her.

We Want You (Conditions May Apply)

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 04:41

The US Army in particular and the US military in general are laying off numerous career officers, forcing them to retire at reduced rank and thus significantly lower pay. So much for all the promises those recruiters make.

Five Wrongs Make a Right

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 06:14

Voter ID laws passed by dozens of states prevent Americans from choosing from two parties, neither of whom care about their concerns. At a certain point, you have to wonder: do multiple wrongs make a right?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why I Miss the Berlin Wall

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 11:47

 

This week’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brought me back, not to warm fuzzies about peace and freedom and Gipper Ron Ron and winning the Cold War, but the reaction of my former BFF Dan (whom I miss for his talent for lightening-quick, wicked-brilliant repostes).

The Berlin Wall has fallen, I informed him. Germany is reunited.

Thoughts?

“This,” he replied as usual without missing a beat, “is like the reunion tour recently announced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I didn’t care for any of their previous collaborations, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.”

The former two Germanies haven’t given us another Hitler. Not yet. But Germany 2.0 did revive and realize the Führer’s dream of uniting Europe into a unified trading bloc, with a common currency, big enough to give the United States a run for its devalued money. The new euro was, naturally, pegged to the old Deutsche Mark. Germany is by far the most powerful nation in Europe.

Which is a good place to start my List of Reasons I Miss the Berlin Wall.

As usually-correct economist-professor-columnist (and usually ignored) Paul Krugman has pointed out over and over, the German-dominated European Union — which would never have come into being had the Wall remained standing and the Soviet bloc continued to exist — has been an unwieldy amalgam of political autonomy and fiscal union, dragging relatively poorer nations like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“PIGS”) into a vicious cycle of austerity, budget cuts and seemingly endlessly rising unemployment. “The creation of the euro was about politics and ideology, not a response to careful economic analysis (which suggested from the beginning that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency),” Krugman wrote in May.

Why should hard-working Germans bail out lazy, corrupt Mediterranean nations? Protestant pundits ask. Scratch the surface of the Eurozone crisis and you find that the Germans aren’t the victims here. Far from propping up their swarthy southern partners, Germans are using their control over the euro to turn the PIGS into trade debtors.

Adolf blew his brains out but Germany won the war. Cuz: reunification.

The most important consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall was, of course, the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Economic shock therapy” — U.S.-backed Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s misbegotten attempt to convert the USSR’s state economy to neoliberalist capitalism overnight — led to the infamous Russian Mortality Crisis, when death rates soared 40% in Russia, and even higher in other former Soviet republics.

It has been estimated that 30 million people either died or will die as the result of the catastrophic dissolution of the USSR.

Socialism was destroyed but not replaced. The power vacuum opened by the collapse of the Soviet system was quickly filled by gangsters. Corrupt former factory managers forcibly seized state property and industries whose profits might otherwise have been used to create a blow-softening social safety net for the millions who lost their jobs. Hard drugs from Central Asia and Afghanistan, set free to fall apart after Gorbachev stepped down, supplemented rampant alcoholism. The infamous Russian oligarchy rose during this period, widening the gap between rich and poor, and set the stage for Putinism supported by traumatized Russians who happily chose authoritarianism over the anarchy of the post-Soviet period.

No wonder most Russians tell pollsters they miss the Soviet Union.

Former Soviet client states lost their financial and military backing. Nations like Somalia and Congo disintegrated into bloody civil conflict.

But hey. The demise of the Evil Empire was good for the United States, right?

Not really.

American and European citizens paid trillions for the Cold War. After 1991, pundits promised a “peace dividend” — lower taxes, more public spending on infrastructure and social programs. Barely two years later, the peace dividend was gone — spent, ironically, on the high costs of the Soviet collapse.
“Defense cuts and reductions in military forces have brought in their wake a series of job losses,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 1993. “The transitional costs of the end of the Cold War, combined with the inadequacy of government responses across Western Europe, have meant that we are worse, not better, off.”

You’d think that, as believers in the magic of the marketplace, Americans would see the value of competition in the world of ideas, militarily and politically, on the international scene. Whether or not they admit it, however, citizens of the United States have gotten softer and dumber after assuming their status as the world’s last remaining superpower. Unchallenged ideologically and otherwise, Americans questioned themselves and their beliefs in capitalism and American exceptionalism even less after the 1990s than before. But now, as de facto rulers of the last empire, Americans became the obvious targets of choice for opposition forces that want to change the new order, like fundamental Islamist movements.

It’s tough to disagree with the French writer Nicolas Bonnai, who noted in Pravda in 2012: “The US oligarchy [went] berserk, started new wars everywhere with the Bush dynasty and ruined [its] finances. Drastic inequality became the lemma of this crazy society driven by lunatic leaders and wars. Today America leads to nowhere; America is just a [locus] (Al Qaeda) of the new global matrix made of wars and terrors, manipulation and deregulation.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall created at least as many hardships as blessings.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Man on the Street

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 05:46

Before and after elections, Americans interviewed on national television repeatedly display their ignorance of politics and current events. So why is it a good idea to encourage MORE people to vote?

Pacific Northwest Book Signings

Sun, 11/09/2014 - 06:06

Here’s the current schedule for my Pacific Northwest book tour for After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan:

Thursday, November 20, 2014
7:30 pm
Powell’s Books
1005 W Burnside St
Portland, OR 97209

Friday, November 21, 2014
7:00 pm
Elliott Bay Book Company
1521 10th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122

Saturday, November 22, 2014
7:00pm    
Village Books
1200 11th St
Bellingham, WA 98225

Sunday, November 23, 2014
3:00pm   
Orca Books
509 East 4th Ave
Olympia, WA 98501

Hope to see you there!

Ted Rall’s email tips

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 10:05

In which I tell you you don’t know how to write email: http://www.breakingmodern.com/ted-rall-how-to-write-email-really/

American Democracy Explained

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 06:14

After Republicans picked up seats in the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats promised to cooperate with victorious Republicans. As usual. Never mind that, for six years, minority Republicans refused to cooperate at all.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Roommates from Hell

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 07:22

 

Southern California has always had one of the priciest real estate markets in the United States, but in recent years the gap between what people can afford to pay for rent or mortgage and median housing prices has opened to a gaping chasm.

Tim Logan of the Times reports about new data that reflects just how bad things have gotten for most Southlanders:

            Nearly half of all working-age adults in Los Angeles and Orange counties live in a home with another adult who is not their spouse — a higher percentage than any other big city in the country, according a new report by real estate website Zillow. In second place: the Inland Empire.

Economists at Zillow crunched U.S. census numbers and found that 47.9% of adults in metro L.A. lived in “doubled-up” households in 2012, a number that has grown rapidly — up from 41.2% in 2000 — as the recession and yo-yo-ing housing market have pushed more people to share apartments.

“You’ve got a lot of households that are blending together,” said Zillow economist Skylar Olsen. “They’re doing that to make housing more affordable.”

That’s especially true in Southern California, where relatively high costs and relatively low wages combine to create what is, by some measures, the least affordable housing market in the country, especially for renters.

One has to wonder: how is this sustainable? Although there’s been some improvement in the economy, unemployment, especially long-term, remains stubbornly high. Wages remain stagnant. You can’t squeeze blood out of a stone. Won’t people just move away to somewhere more affordable?

Maybe eventually. For the time being, the pull of family ties, whatever work they currently hasveand just plain inertia is keeping hundreds of thousands of people stuck in houses and apartments that they can’t really afford. Until things turn around, maybe, someday, who knows when, they are doubling up and tripling up with friends, lovers and random people they find on Craigslist. As someone who has from time to time been forced to participate in the so-called “sharing economy” to make ends meet, I have nothing but sympathy for this situation.

Having a roommate you don’t want, simply for economic reasons, violates your privacy and sense of personal calm at least as much as secret government surveillance programs that intercept your email. This goes double if, like me, you are an introvert.

For this week’s cartoon, however, I do appreciate the fact that this predicament makes for a fun sight gag. If I had the ability to add sound here, imagine all the characters either snoring or growling ominously like zombies.

You have to click to get my take on the election results

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 10:22

But I hope you will. ANewDomain.net is running my analysis of the 2014 midterm election results, which shockingly do not jibe with what everyone else is saying. Please click here and take a read and comment if you feel like it. Or even if you don’t.

Wednesday morning quarterbacking yesterday’s midterm election results is bringing out a lot of the usual claims that everything is changed, nothing has changed and anyway, what does it all mean for the 2016 presidential race.

I’ll leave the partisan politics to the Democratic and Republican surrogates and paid pollsters whose job it is to, respectively, make their side look less bad or better than it deserves. My interest is the big picture, so that’s what you’re going to get here.

Keep reading…

I Want to be a Drone President

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 04:38

It’s easy to criticize President Obama for continuing and radically expanding President Bush’s program of targeted assassinations using unmanned drone planes. But let’s face it. Everyone knows what they would do with those drones if they got the job.

EXCLUSIVE SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Really Went Wrong at First Look Media

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 09:14

Just over one year ago, billionaire eBay cofounder Pierre Omidyar issued one of the most dramatic announcements America’s beleaguered journalists had experienced in their lifetimes. After decades of closing newspapers, shrinking newsrooms, vanishing foreign bureaus and the near extinction of investigative reporting due to brutal, relentless budget-cutting, Omidyar would endow a new company, First Look Media, with a staggeringly large sum of cash – $250 million – to be deployed in the service of a breathtakingly ambitious attempt to reinvent advocacy journalism in everything from investigations of financial corruption to sports coverage.

Even better, from the standpoint of progressives living in the political wilderness since the rise and fall of George McGovern, First Look Media would be edited by leftist pundits and advocacy journalists like the legal columnist Glenn Greenwald, to whom former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked more than a million classified US government documents, the documentarian Laura Poitras, also involved intimately in the Snowdon saga, and the respected anti-militarism critic Jeremy Scahill.

As some cynics opined, it all sounded too good to be true. (Disclosure: for just shy of a month earlier this year, I worked for Pando Daily.) Why would a billionaire like Omidyar bankroll a bunch of antiestablishment types like the financial reporter Matt Taibbi – hired away from Rolling Stone – whose mission in life is in large part to undermine global capitalism?

Although it’s too soon to declare First Look dead and gone, and Omidyar claims to be as committed to his utopian company as ever, things have gone from bad to worse over the last year. Omidyar’s $250 million pledge shrunk to $50 million. The mission to fund hard-hitting journalism and commentary was recast as, among other things, possibly a “platform” expected to generate significant revenue. Tales of shrinking budgets, diminished expectations, shrinking ambitions and staffers leaving after complaining of managerial incompetence appeared with increasing frequency in the trade press.

From the outside, it quickly became clear that First Look was less than a well-oiled machine, or even a reasonably functional journalistic startup. Fellow writers and cartoonists who responded to First Look’s repeated calls for resumes (disclosure: I was one of them) described treatment ranging from unprofessional snubbing of award-winning pros to outright rude, such as going silent after asking them to come in for an interview.

Even more damning was the company’s egregious violation of Jeff Bezos’ axiom: always underpromise and overdeliver. One year after declaring itself a left-wing media monolith to rival Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, all First Look has to show for itself is a crappy WordPress blog with less basic functionality than many private individuals feature on their personal cat-photo websites. Updates have been scattershot and infrequent. Coverage has been anything but wide-ranging. And the journalists gone wild implied by Omidyar’s original big splash either never got hired or, if they did, never saw print.

Where, everyone wanted to know, did the $250 million go?

A couple of months ago, a First Look staffer emailed me to find out how much it would cost to run my syndicated cartoons. When they got the quote – which was lower than much larger websites pay, certainly we’re not talking about websites backed by a quarter billion dollars – they said they wouldn’t be able to afford cartoons. I’m paraphrasing here, but not by much: we were under the impression, the staffer replied, that cartoon content is cheap.

Aside from the terrible politics – if a billionaire can’t pay decent prices for content, who can? – I began to wonder whether Omidyar was starving First Look.

Media outlets, understandably interested in an experiment that, if successful, might have led to a new model for public interest and advocacy journalism in the digital age, have speculated and reported obsessively on last week’s departure of Taibbi, hired to run what was going to be First Look’s second “magazine,” or “vertical,” in industry vernacular, after The Intercept, where Greenwald writes about the Snowden revelations.

As always, when there’s a disaster there are numerous causes. But all of the coverage I’ve read so far has missed the biggest flaw of all in First Look’s business model: the fact that Pierre Omidyar kept, and is still keeping, tight control of the purse strings.

It amazes me that people as savvy as First Look’s top editors didn’t insist, before leaving respectable publications like the UK Guardian and Rolling Stone for a start-up, that Omidyar put the $250 million (or $50 million, or single-digit millions now) in escrow, or at least under the control of a group of trustees of whom Omidyar would be just one, and would include top editorial staff like Greenwald.

I met with a high-level First Look official during the summer to discuss the possibility of working together. I asked: “Where’s the $250 million?” He didn’t know. He couldn’t say.

A structure that allowed Omidyar complete control of the company’s finances was bound to put a crimp on editorial independence, which was apparently the main reason Taibbi left. Who wants to be a billionaire’s plaything? No matter how well the job pays, it only ends badly. Given Omidyar’s reported authoritarian control freak personality, which apparently even extends to personally signing off on – and denying – taxi receipts, it seems even more insane to take a job leaving him in complete charge of the money.

I wasn’t there (though I would’ve loved to have been), but this looks to me like a group of writers working in a profession that had been mistreated for so long that they were exceptionally vulnerable to the seduction of a smooth-talking charmer who passed himself off as an angel investor in the future of liberalism and journalism. Of course, this might all work out in the end. I hope it does.

Hell, Greenwald is supposedly going to meet his boss Omidyar in person for the very first time.

Better a year late than never.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Lose-Lose

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 04:36

War is raging in Syria between the Baathist government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State (ISIS). The United States doesn’t want either side to win. The solution, naturally, is careful calibration to keep both sides equal until they both kill each other.