28 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

May 09, 2017

Trump Wants To Reinvade Afghanistan. Here’s Why We’ll Lose (Again)

By Ted Rall

President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.

The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.

Afganistan_map

The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

This will not, cannot work.

Give Trump’s military advisers points for clarity. Their war aim is clear:

“The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the U.S. is going to send more troops, but it’s not to achieve a forever military victory,” said Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Rather, it’s to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict.”

Still can’t work. Americans, American allies and Afghans are going to die for nothing. Here’s why.

I’ll spare you the Afghanistan As Graveyard of Empires argument that I’ve written about before. Yes, the Afghans beat the Brits thrice, the Russians once, and us every day since 9/11. Though the time (1842) they killed everyone in the British army except one guy is well worth reading about. A “signal catastrophe,” they called it. History repeats, especially in Afghanistan, but it isn’t predestination. Theoretically, the United States could defeat the Taliban. The reason they won’t is that they don’t have the political will to do so.

Militarily? Of course the U.S. can defeat the Taliban. The Taliban don’t have planes, long- or medium-range missiles. The U.S. can bomb the Taliban (and lots of non Talibs) to smithereens with a carpet-bombing campaign the likes of which the world has never seen before. They can drone them. They can send hundreds of thousands of highly trained and well-armed troops to invade and occupy the cities and villages and roads in between. If the U.S. declared Total War against the Taliban, if the U.S. were willing to dedicate its stunning economic and military power toward the goal of defending its puppet regime in Kabul, the Taliban would be killed and captured and driven over the mountains to Pakistan.

But that would be expensive. It wouldn’t take for very long before voters, and some journalists, began asking why the U.S. was willing to take tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and willing to spend billions of dollars a week to occupy the country.

Supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult. There is no obvious geopolitical payoff, not one worth such a high price. At this point, the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan boils down to (a) let’s fuck with Iran and (b) it’s a launching pad for bombing attacks on the Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. Not much payoff there.

Yes, there are mineral resources. But this isn’t Iraq or Libya — natural resources aren’t coming out of the ground in significant numbers for years to come. Not that the U.S. is particularly good at looting natural resources, as we’ve seen in Iraq.

What about forcing the Taliban to negotiate? First, no one figure speaks for the whole movement. It’s a diverse alliance of tribes, ethnicities and political impulses. Second, we’ve been here before. Nixon bombed Vietnam to soften up the communists before negotiating. Bush used back channels to try to talk to the Taliban. Such efforts are fruitless against an adversary with the tactical advantages that come from fighting a guerrilla war as an indigenous. They’re local. They live there. Time is on their side. They’ll wait us out.

In the end, it’s simple cost-benefit analysis: low gain, high expense. Afghanistan just isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, Trump and his henchmen won’t figure that out before more people have died over nothing.

Sad.

Afganistan_map2

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


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April 14, 2017

THE SIX KINKIEST MOVIE SEX SCENES

One man's kink is the same as a woman's in the big bad world of BDSM. Films from William FriedkinLuis Buñuel, Steven Shainberg, David Cronenberg, Nicholas Wendig Refn, and David Lynch provide this sexy video essay with meat for kink. You might want a fork and a spoon. 


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April 09, 2017

5 Things Democrats Could Do To Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t) — TED RALL

SUPERCoupla weeks ago, I speculated that we may soon witness the end of the Democratic Party as we know it. I was kind. I didn’t mention the fact that the party is all out of national leaders. I mean, can you name a likely, viable Democratic candidate for president in 2020? Can you name three?

I followed up with more crystal-balling in a piece predicting that the meek will not inherit the earth if and when Trump gets dragged out of 1600 Penn by Senatorial impeachment police. The meek — the Democrats — could have/should have been the Anti-Trump Party. But they’ve dropped the ball. After the deluge, Paul Ryan.

With everyone so focused on the Trump Administration dead pool — how will he go? when? — we’re overlooking that Republicans could come out of the Trump debacle stronger than they went in. How crazy is that?

Now I want to look at another facet of this political Rubik’s cube: what the Democrats could do to avoid political irrelevance.

Not that they will.

—Democrats should stop calling themselves “The Resistance.” It’s an insult to the actual resistance fighters of World War II who were tortured and murdered. It’s also an attack on Strunk and White’s diktat not to stretch words beyond their plain meaning. Resistance to Republicans hasn’t been part of Democratic politics for generations. Quit the hype. Under-promise, over-deliver.

—Democrats should actually resist Trump and the Republicans. They shouldn’t have gone along with any of his nominees, but their promise to filibuster pencil-necked right-wing libertarian freak Neil Gorsuch would be a nice place to start. No Democrat, including those from purple/swing states, should vote for any GOP nominee or legislative initiative. Let’s not hear any more stupid talk of finding “common ground” with Trump on infrastructurespending or anything else. The GOP controls all three branches of the federal government so they’ll get whatever they want — and they should own whatever happens as a result. Democrats shouldn’t get their hands dirty.

—Democrats ought to articulate an alternative vision of what America would look like if they were in charge instead of Trump and the Republicans. It’s nice (not least for the 24 million people who would’ve wound up uninsured) that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare imploded. But that victory goes to rebellious Republicans, not Democrats. Here was a national debate over the ACA — Obama’s signature achievement — and Democrats didn’t even participate! How crazy is that? Never mind that they wouldn’t have gotten a vote on it — Democrats should have proposed their own bill reforming the ACA, one that moves left by adding single payer. Every Republican idea should be countered by an equal and opposite Democratic idea. Other countries call this act of self-definition shadow governance or, in a time of war perhaps loyal opposition. Whatever you call it, refusing to let your adversaries frame the acceptable ideological range of political debate is basic. In other words, a standard party-out-of-power tactic (e.g., the Tea Party 2009-2016).

—Democrats need to stop disappearing between elections. Campaigns are exhausting and it’s natural to want to catch one’s breath and conduct a postmortem to determine what went well and wrong. But it’s gotten to the point that the only time left-of-center voters hear from the Democratic Party is the year of a major election, for the most part only a few months before November and then only to ask for money. In the era of the 24-7 news cycle and the Internet, that hoary see-you-in-two-to-four-years approach is as outmoded as Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s cut-and-paste stump speeches and network TV shows that take summers off for something called “vacation.” A modern party should become part of our everyday lives. Every burg needs a Democratic Party storefront bustling with activity. Every Republican officeholder needs a ferocious Democratic challenger, even at the localest of local levels. Door-to-door campaigning and grassroots organizing should happen every day of every month of every year — in every state, regardless of presidential race electoral vote considerations, just like Howard Dean said.

—Bernie Sanders says Democrats can and should do class issues and identity politics. He’s right. As we’ve seen with the increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent years, the two are intertwined: gays’ incomes have risen But here’s the rub: you can’t really take on poverty and income disparity while accepting contributions from banks and other corporations whose interest lies in perpetuating economic misery by keeping wages low. The biggest lesson Dems should internalize from Bernie’s candidacy is his reliance on small individual donations.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Why is Trump So Hated? It’s the Tribalism, Stupid — TED RALL

TRUMP
This one is in post-9/11 cadence: why do liberals hate Trump so much?

It’s his style.

This being about politics, one would think — would hope — that the president’s atrocious Watergate-level poll numbers were the result of his self-evident idiocy, Muslim-bashing, far-right cabinet and court picks and his policies. Rancid as they are, Trump’s politics don’t seem to be the main reason he riles up so many Democrats.

You pick the Trump outrage that’s got liberals in a tizzy and I’ll point to an equal and not-so-opposite they had no problem with when it was authored by a Democrat.

Trump’s first major policy decision was his ban on travel to the U.S. by the citizens of seven (later revised to six) Muslim countries. Thousands of protesters converged on JFK and other airports. Federal judges across the nation issued emergency stays. Subjecting people to a religious test? Such evil nativism could not stand! Right-wing media pointed out/claimed/stretched that President Obama — who, save for the short-lived Occupy Wall Street protests, suffered few complaints from America’s impotent Left — had thrown a wrench into immigration by Iraqis to the U.S.

False equivalence? Perhaps. It became harder to avoid the stink of progressive hypocrisy when Trump authorized his Department of Homeland Security to deport non-citizens, including green card holders, whom the authorities even suspect of an offense — which could be as trivial as a traffic ticket. Millions of law-abiding Americans — if you’re born in Mexico and came here at age four and never lived outside of America what else are you but American? — were in Trump’s crosshairs. It was racist and nativist and disgusting and why the hell didn’t Democrats take to the streets to call Obama racist and nativist and disgusting when he deported more undocumented workers than any other president in history?

Trump ran as an anti-interventionist. America First! Leave the world to its troubles; the U.S. has too much infrastructure to build and a country to make great again to bother with foreign BS. In a extemporaneous portfolio short on detail and long on invective, isolationism after 15 years of Global War on Terror was a Trump thing most of us ought to have been able to get behind. Now, after three months of beribboned armchair generals whispering belligerent nothings into his ears, Trump has discovered his inner carpet bomber. Syria must be bombed! Well, bombed more.

The U.S. destruction of Syria began under Team Obama-Clinton, of course. Surely even Trump remembers that; he talked about it all last year at his rallies. Hillary told Barry to fund and arm something called the Free Syria Army which no one knew anything about and turned out to be mostly a thing called the Al Nusra Front which is pretty much Al Qaeda and seems to be friends with ISIS now.

Remember all the antiwar rallies in 2012? Remember how Obama got primaried for destroying Libya and Syria? Neither do I. But don’t be surprised if the streets fill with signs opposing Trump’s Syria war — signs that might have made a difference to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed by American-made and –funded weapons under Obama.

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign mantra was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now it’s tribalism and it sure is stupid.

There isn’t much ideological distance between neoliberal warmonger Obama and corporatist warmonger Trump. There is, of course, all the difference in the world in their styles.

Obama was a bourgeois liberal Democrat’s sopping wettest dream: affable, professorial, so calm a pundit called him Spock. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Doris Kearns Goodwin! Bet he (or Michelle) owns at least one tote bag from an NPR pledge drive.

Who cared that he called Snowden a traitor and ramped up NSA spying on Americans and kept Gitmo open and kept torture and said it was OK for American cops to use killer drones to kill Americans on American soil? He was a fascist. But he was our fascist. Our fascist with a smile.

Trump frowns. Like Churchill, he thinks.

Their fascist.

Trump, on the other hand, is Republican and crass and loud. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he doesn’t care that everyone knows it. He dates and marries trophy ladies. His cabinet picks don’t know significantly less about the world than Obama’s did or Hillary’s would have. The difference between his and his and hers is that Trump’s gang is ugly and brash (Bannon, Flynn) to the Democrats’ Tuesday night kill list pretend seriousness.

Democrats aren’t a party. They’re a sports team.

Not convinced? Consider the Did Russia Install Trump hysteria.

There is, after thousands of articles and scores of hours of Congressional testimony, still not a smidgen of evidence (much less proof) that Russia influenced the election. Yet here you have Democrats — the gang that’s supposed to be into the Truth about climate change and science and all — calling for impeachment. Why this bizarre conspiracy theory? Why not simply impeach the SOB for being stupid? But I digress.

Russia-bashing completely without cause, older readers will recall, is the traditional go-to of the right-wing. What are fine Rachel Maddow-watchers like you doing in an ugly hidey-hole like this?

Tribalism. Y’all are rabid over Trump for doing the same crap Obama did because Trump’s an R and hangs with the jocks and you’re a D and a geek so you hate Trump and miss Obama. Junior high school cafeteria seating system, anyone?

The worst thing about America’s political system is that it has no politics.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

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March 27, 2017

ON THE FRINGE: FILMSTRUCK STREAMING WITH COLE SMITHEY

The four films presented here form a dominant harmony of ‘70s era independent movies from filmmakers operating on the fringe of Global Cinema. Les Blank, Werner Rainer Fassbinder, Costa-Gavras, and John Waters are all maverick filmmakers whose non-traditional approaches bounce off one another in this specially curated collection with personal, political, and social resonance against the technology-driven global realities of 2017. You won't find any cell phones here, just some heavy doses of nitty-gritty humanity. 

Multiplemaniacs

Multiple Maniacs” was made in 1970. Viet Nam’s influence is written all over the film. Bourgeois citizens gather to witness crude performers committing vile acts, only to be shaken down for their cash in a violent climax to the confrontational entertainment that came before. Meanwhile, network television shows the horrors of the Viet Nam war every night's news reports. Baltimore’s real-life counter-culture (check out David Lochary as Mr. David) take their cut of John Waters’ fearless (prototypical Punk) fantasy that comes complete with a necessarily Shakespearian tableau. Waters pushes the film's defiant tone toward a public episode of violence, in an ending that Clifford Odets could appreciate.   

Here is the ultimate filmic and political palate cleanser. Divine can’t help but moan at being seduced into anal play within religious walls, but that doesn’t mean she owes her new lover (Mink Stole) any more respect than she gives any of the other people she treats like disposable fetish objects.

John Waters cuts to a deeper social quick than any other American filmmaker because he understands the innate beauty of all people, regardless of how they look, much less how wild their imaginations and libidos run. “Multiple Maniacs” wallows in perversion for perversion’s sake because that’s what it’s there for; that's how it's done. Social class lines are clearly drawn. 

You can fight the ideas, but you can’t fight the orgiastic feelings that John Waters transmits because his respect for filth runs so deep. Dirt is good for you even when it tastes like spinach pulled from manure. “Multiple Maniacs” is dirtier than that. Get filthy.

State-of-siege

Costa-Gavras is an exquisite leftist filmmaker because he is too much of a pragmatist to fall into idealistic traps of the left or the right. His unique upbringing, as the son of a Pro-Soviet (Communist) Greek Resistance fighter in the Greek Civil War, meant that attending university in Greece or in the United States was out of the question. France offered the perpetual outlier an education in law in 1951, that paved the way for a switch to film school and apprenticeships with directors Jean Giono and Rene Clair.

Like "The Battle of Algiers," "State of Siege" includes a gut-wrenching scene of torture, this time performed on a theater stage for a private audience of military officials and other well-dressed reprobates. What was once a shocking scene of inhumane torture comes across as normalized when watching it in 2017.

Celebrated in critical circles for his groundbreaking film “Z” (1969), Costa-Gavras made fresh tracks across the backs of America’s power-grabbing military pawns of capitalist exploitation (think The United Fruit Company) with “State of Siege” (1972), a political thriller released at the height of the Watergate scandal. The efforts of the radical left are just as dimwitted as the vastly more effective methods of rightwing corporate raiders; the difference is that one has all the money and guns. Living by the sword always means dying by the same blade regardless of who is doing the transporting and who is doing the cutting.

Motherkusters

FilmStruck is committing an enormous public service by showcasing Rainer Werner Fassbinder, New German Cinema’s hottest and most prolific star. Fassbinder is the German version of Lou Reed if Lou had been a German filmmaker.

Although the version of “Mrs. Kusters Goes to Heaven” currently being shown on FilmStruck does a fake-you-out move by spelling out, and including, two different endings, this movie presents a compelling case for autonomy of the individual. In an age when the NSA utilizes the same data that social media crunches to decide the plot of the next Hollywood movie you sit through like a hungry cat sniffing fresh tuna in the air, “Mrs. Kusters” puts the media, politics, and familial trust in same trash bin. Brigitte Mira’s elderly matriarch is a postfeminist every bit as complex as the outsider character she played in Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Heaven is what you make it.

Les-blank-always-for-pleasure

Les Blank’s intuitive sense of documentary filmmaking is purely organic. His films allow for a natural symbiotic exchange to occur between the viewer and the work at hand. You can feel it happening when “Always For Pleasure” (1978) gets into the Second line musicians and partiers at a funeral procession. Irreverent joy overflows into Blank’s wanton absorption of a melting pot made up of Black, White, European, French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican, Appalachian, and West Indian influences. Outside of society, and yet minted within primal human instincts for shared communal experience, the Second line musicians and their followers give back all that has been taken away from most of America’s citizens. You can guess the rest, with a smile on your face.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

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January 31, 2017

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Case for Left Nationalism

Make America Great Again. Trump’s campaign slogan was a direct appeal to nationalism. As a son of the Rust Belt city of Dayton, Ohio, I wasn’t surprised to see that it worked. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1b/Muralbelfast2.jpg/200px-Muralbelfast2.jpg

People in the postindustrial Midwest and in much of the rest of flyover country are tired of being ignored by the urban coastal elites who seem to think laid-off factory workers should shake off their blues and get a job as a coder. Not that the children of the dispossessed stand a better chance: Silicon Valley is a great wealth generator but a lousy job creator. Many highly skilled American tech workers are unemployed, cheated out of jobs by sleazy companies who abuse the H1B visa program to hire compliant foreigners for a fraction of the cost.

If you’re one of the millions of left-leaning Americans shocked and awed at Donald Trump’s first week as president, his “America First” inauguration speech, his orders to build his Mexican border wall, tear up NAFTA, start a trade war, and especially the sudden brutalism of his Muslim travel ban, I have news for you: there are just as many others who are cheering him on, thrilled that he’s keeping his campaign promises. As far as they’re concerned, the rest of the world — including refugees from countries whose wars were started by the U.S. — can go to hell.

After all, their hometowns already have.

As Sabrina Tavernise recently wrote in The New York Times, victims of economic decline and their attendant societal ills — depression, alcoholism, the meth and opioid epidemics — revolted in the 2016 election against elites “who lived in isolated islands of economic opportunity and sneered at people who didn’t.” She cited NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who sees a clash between globalists and nationalists. “The globalists, who tend to be urban and college-educated, want a world like the one described in John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ — no religion, walls or borders dividing people. The nationalists see that as a vision of hell…They also want to limit immigration, an instinct that globalists are often to quick to condemn as racist.”

Globalism dominates economic policymaking in the Democratic Party. Beginning with the takeover of the party by the Clintons’ Democratic Leadership Council in the early 1990s, Democrats have pushed through free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and the creation of the World Trade Organization. This has not come without consequences: Globalization eroded the power of Big Labor, formerly a major source of income and manpower for the party. It also turned off people in Ohio and Michigan and Illinois and Pennsylvania — those who lost their own jobs, as well as their friends, families and neighbors. Democratic politicians have been so blind to the suffering all around that they never even once proposed a bill that would have helped victims of outsourcing with money or job retraining. Some even publicly praised the fact that wages were going up in places like Mexico! Trump gave long-seething Americans an outlet for their rage.

The globalist left vs. nationalist right paradigm is, however, is a recent thing. In fact, the right part of that equation only dates back to last summer; pre-Trump, exporting American jobs via trade deals was a point of bipartisan consensus.

The short history of Democratic globalism suggests that one way back from defeat and political irrelevance, both for the party and for the broader Left, is to make the case for a leftist nationalism.

Until the 1970s, Republicans promoted free trade agreements. Democrats opposed them. Protecting workers, especially the highly-paid blue-collar laborers, from foreign competition, kept union donations pouring into party coffers. But then party fundraisers found Wall Street. Big finance craves freedom of movement for capital so business owners can find the cheapest raw materials, supplies and workers in the world — and a broken, dispirited workforce unable to organize and bargain collectively. Wall Street told the Democrats: dump your other girlfriend. You can’t have us as well as big labor. Workers have gotten ground up under the bus ever since.

The grassroots campaign of Bernie Sanders — and of Donald Trump, whose fundraising tactics and social media-driven campaign emulated Sanders’ down to the fonts and spacing of his email solicitations — have broken big corporate donors’ hold on campaign financing. Meanwhile, look what happened to Hillary Clinton (“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders“) and her base of corporate and wealthy individual backers. Nationalism, not globalism, is the future of American politics — but right now, it’s only the right that’s riding the wave.

Though patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and the first of the nativist, history shows us a long and honorable record of left-wing nationalism. The Chinese civil war turned in favor of the Communists over Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists after Mao Tse-Tung directed his cadres to lead the patriotic resistance against Japanese occupation. Most members of the French Resistance against the Nazis were communist. Fidel Castro was an ardent patriot/nationalist; so was Ho Chi Minh. These leftists understood that the oppression of workers by the ruling class often manifests itself via forms of globalization: invasions, colonialism, the establishment of puppet states via imperialism. It is not necessary to succumb to the dark forces of bigotry, or to deny refuge to victims of war as Trump did last week, to stand up for the citizens of your own country against those who would exploit or abuse them.

There’s nothing wrong with imagining a world without borders. It’s good for Americans, and for decency, when wages of workers in other nations increase — there are fewer wars and more consumers. As things stand today, however, nation-states are here to stay. In fact, there are more of them than ever before.

Is it really so unreasonable for American workers to expect the leftists who claim to care about them, to fight for them to earn higher wages? A left unable to appeal to nationalism has no future.

By Ted Rall

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

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January 03, 2017

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Useless Impotent Democrats Will Not Lift a Finger to Fight Trump

By TED RALL

Donald“There’s no savior out there.” That’s a line from “Lord’s Prayer,” a song written by TV Smith for the Lords of the Church, a band that trafficked in 1980s melodic punk. Here’s some more:

“There ain’t no savior out there

Your stairway to heaven leads nowhere

Don’t look to me for emancipation

You are your only salvation.”

That’s my message to Americans who want to resist Donald Trump and his works — or more precisely the policies of the most right-wing cabinet in American history. Waiting for divine intervention is lunacy. If you’re serious about slowing down the Pencites, you’d better get ready to take them on yourselves.

You sure won’t be able to count on the Democratic Party.

Take Trump’s cabinet nominees — please! In the old days, Democrats would only have needed 40 senate seats to filibuster a would-be attorney general accused of racism, an energy secretary who forgot the name of his own department and a sitting CEO of ExxonMobil as secretary of state.

Unfortunately for the republic, then-majority leader Harry Reid was such a fool that he thought Democrats would never lose another election. So, in a fit of staggering ahistoricity, he eliminated the filibuster for most nominees in 2013. As a result Trump will probably get all his picks, perhaps minus Sessions because he’s widely disliked by his colleagues.

OK, so unless you’re a character in the too generously reviewed movie “Arrival,” what’s past is past, no do-overs. But Democrats don’t seem to have much appetite for anti-Trump combat even when you consider their new self-imposed limits.

Democrats’ approach to policy is likely to boil down to “let the Republicans do what they want, then take the blame when they overreach.” They may even let the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration’s sole major policy achievement. “Republicans are about to learn that there’s a big difference between being against something and being for something,” said Steve Israel (D-New York). “They’ve already stumbled out of the gate, and we should let them continue to stumble.” Unasked: How many Americans will die for a smart tactic?

On the nominees, look for bureaucratic foot-dragging of approvals with procedural votes and other stalling tactics. “I don’t want to needlessly prevent President Trump from being successful,” Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) told The Politico. “But accelerating the confirmation of unacceptable candidates who have views that are outside the mainstream is not constructive.” In the end, though, those unacceptable candidates will get their gigs.

Dems even plan to try to find common ground on rebuilding infrastructure — an admirable goal that I’ve pushed for years. But Trumpism is already so extreme that Democrats ought to ask themselves whether they’re missing the fuhrer for the trees: is it possible to get behind an autobahn without endorsing the tyrant who builds it?

If they really wanted to mount a resistance to Trump, Congressional Democrats could do so with considerably more vigor.

Notably, any single senator can place a personal “hold” on a nominee or bill. There’s no time limit or limit on the number of holds. In 2008, for example, Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) placed a hold against a funding bill for 12 federal programs. A hold only goes away one of two ways: the senator lifts it, or the 60% of the Senate votes against it. Democrats could use the hold to replace the filibuster Reid got rid of.

But there’s no reason to believe Democrats will put up a serious fight against the Trumpists. “In the end, a hybrid strategy might make the most sense for Democrats — use Trump and the GOP as a foil and slow them where they can — while seeking to pick one or two areas where his aspirations coincide with their values,” CNN muses. “A las Barricadas!” this is not.

Democratic impotence is nothing new; since the 1970s leaders have pushed the party’s ideology to the right while abandoning every pretense of resistance to the expansion of the corporate gangster capitalism that grinds up working and middle-class people’s hopes and aspirations. Now that Trump is about to impose an especially right-wing (here’s another punk reference, to The Clash) clampdown on ordinary Americans, the Democratic Party will lie completely exposed in the full glory of its uselessness.

Screw the Dems. You are your only salvation.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

December 27, 2016

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Please Stop the Fear and Loathing of 2017

By Ted Rall

THE_RETREAT_FROM_AFGHANISTANI admit it: it’s hard to find empathy for the liberal Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton and are now shocked, shocked, shocked that That Horrible Man Donald Trump is about to become president. We lefties kept saying (and liberals kept scoffing) that Bernie would have beaten Trump; now that we’ve been proven right it’s only natural to want to keep rubbing the Hillarites’ faces in their abject wrongness.

But what’s the point? Empirical evidence can’t convince a squishy liberal to move left. Liberals are congenitally attached to the big status quo, the capitalist system itself. Unlike leftists, liberals just want to reform capitalism into something less savage. This, of course, is impossible. Yet liberals’ fears — of revolution, of violence, of the chance they’ll lose their current status — block their ability to see the truth.

Anyway, many of my best friends are liberals. And they’re terribly depressed at the prospect of four to eight years of President (or more for President-for-life) Trump.

I hate to see so many people so miserable (even though the very same people gloated over their Bernie-supporting brethren’s pain last May). More importantly, they’re right about Trump. He is a dangerous mofo for sure. We on the left, accustomed to do all the protesting and carrying on ourselves, are going to need all the help we can get from sad Hillary Clinton Democrats to take on Trump, his Republican House, his Republican Senate, his soon-to-be Republican Supreme Court and, oh yeah, his thousands of police departments, soldiers and killer drones.

So this, my dear dismayed Democrats, is for you. Things will be OK — eventually. Between now and then, they’re going to get a lot worse. But those eventual improvements will only come about if you buck up, roll up your sleeves and prepare for a lot of hard work.

The first thing I want you to understand is, there are no quick fixes to Trumpism.            You already saw the futility of silly games like asking the Electoral College to throw the election after the fact. Only two “faithless electors” defected from Trump; five dumped Hillary! Also, please stop thinking Trump will be impeached. It’s technically possible, but highly improbable since no president has ever faced impeachment by a Congress controlled by his own party. The system will not correct itself. The system is broken; that’s why Trump won.

So what to do? Work outside the system. Resistance must take many forms, but creating a crisis of governance by militant — i.e., unpermitted, uncooperative — action in the streets is essential to dislodging the tyranny which many of us suspect Trump will bring into being. But not yet. First, we must allow the system’s failure to become evident for all to see.

As Che Guevara wrote: “Where a government has come into power through some form of popular vote, fraudulent or not, and maintains at least an appearance of constitutional legality, the guerrilla outbreak cannot be promoted since the possibilities of peaceful struggle have not yet been exhausted.”

At first, the left-liberal anti-Trump coalition must keep its powder dry. Let Trump and his junta cabinet of ultra-right generals and billionaires commit their atrocities. Let the media report on them, with little result. Watch Congress fail to exercise its constitutionally mandated oversight. Count on Democratic resistance that never materializes. See the Supreme Court validate some of Trump’s horrors and reject others only to be ignored and thus exposed as impotent.

Those of us who follow politics closely know that Trump is a fascist-in-waiting. Most Americans, however, are in wait-and-see mode. If we protest too early (c.f., the anti-Trump demonstrations following Election Day), people won’t support us. Let the possibilities of peaceful struggle exhaust themselves first.

Another advantage of waiting is that it allows us to study our incoming enemy. Trump will inherit Obama’s police state. But he will alter its structure, tactics and strategies in ways no one can predict with certainty. We’re outarmed, outequipped and outnumbered. Let’s watch, and wait to see what we’re up against before lashing out.

Here I take a cue from the Afghans. Poor and remote, these fierce people have repeatedly repelled invasion forces launched by far richer, better-equipped enemies: Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States. When foreign armies arrive, the Afghans melt away into the mountains. They let their adversaries settle into Kabul and other cities. They study them, poking and prodding in search of weaknesses. Then, when the time is right — typically many years after the other side declared “victory” — the Afghans unleash a ferocious assault that drives out the interlopers.

Trump was born in Queens. But it helps to think of him as an invader. His mish-mash protofascism, ferocious gracelessness and aversion to linear thinking or consistency are foreign to American politics and culture. He doesn’t belong here. He’s un- and anti-American. He’s got to go.

But we have to be smart about this. That starts with you liberal Democrats: stop staring down the barrel of 2017 with fear and loathing. It’s time to start planning.

We have to take our country back.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

October 06, 2016

THE DIRECTORS VIDEO ESSAY SERIES: BY COLE SMITHEY

ROBERT ALTMAN: SATIRIST

 

JIM JARMUSCH: OUTLIER

 

SAM PECKINPAH: LIBERATOR

 

KEN LOACH: SOCIAL REALIST

 

JOE CARNAHAN: THE BEST-KEPT SECRET

 

CATHERINE BREILLAT: TRANSGRESSOR

 

WERNER HERZOG: MENSCH


DAVID FINCHER: MODERNIST


WILLIAM FRIEDKIN: THE MUSCLE


JOHN CASSAVETES: INDIE ICON


PAUL VERHOEVEN: REBEL


LARS VON TRIER: PROVOCATEUR


QUENTIN TARANTINO: MAVERICK

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: MASTER OF SUSPENSE

 

LUIS BUNUEL: FETISHIST

Every year critics habitually bemoan how awful the previous year's film were. However, 2016 truly was the worst year for Hollywood movies as far back as you or anyone you know can remember. Cinematic abominations like Ben-Hur, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad or Sully don't stack up. Sure there were exceptions — Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Snowden and The Shallows were pretty good, but even these rarities don't come up to par against solid foreign offerings such as Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake or Paul Verhoeven's Elle.

September 02, 2016

SHAKEDOWN

Why Brazilian Police and Establishment Media Shook Down and Defamed Olympic Swimmers
By Cole Smithey

Pixote

Remember the reports of the broken bathroom door, and broken mirror, and broken soap dispenser? All lies espoused by the oh-so-reliable Brazilian police who were busy shooting protesters with rubber bullets and killing hundreds of other impoverished Rio citizens as part of the daily violence that goes on in the same hellhole that filmmaker Hector Babenco famously captured in his unforgettable neo-realist drama “Pixote” in 1981. Babenco’s film was, and is, a cinematic plea for an end to an inhuman social system in and around Rio that has blood running in the streets on a minute-to-minute basis. An all too common, and tragic, footnote to "Pixote" came a few years later when the film's charismatic non-professional lead actor Fernando Ramos de Silva was murdered by a cop in the city's litter-strewn streets. Evidently, not much has changed since 1981.

Ryan Lochte

You got played if you’re one of the suckers who bought into the establishment media’s pillorying of American Olympic champion swimmers Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger. They fell victim to anti-American public relations attack designed and executed by Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously corrupt police officials. As if ignoring the public robbery of four Olympic athletes wasn’t enough, the Brazilian Police Department exploited the crime to deflect blame and extort money from the victims. The “security guard” bandits were never even named, much less arrested. Here is a criminal international incident twisted to blame American Olympic champions and humiliate anyone who isn’t Brazilian.

An utter lack of editorial oversight and responsibility would be a generous alibi for the thousands of media outlets (American and otherwise) that fell for the Brazilian police's ploy. The first rule of engagement with any media outlet that everything is a lie, and you have to read between the lines to come away with any semblance of truth.

Long story short: a Rio yellow taxi with four American Olympic swimmers inside pulls up to a gas station in the wee hours of the morning. Gas station workers and security guards shark the [obviously drunk] America Olympic athletes desperate to relieve themselves. Bathroom doors are locked. The four young men go behind the station and urinate in the grass.

Let he or she who has not peed upon sage or brush, throw the first stone. If you pretend to feign indignation at four inebriated guys peeing in the grass behind a gas station at six in the morning, you be frontin’ homie.

An armed guard approaches the athletes, presumably in the act of urinating. Lochte plays the punk when he pulls down a paper ad posted on the side of the gas station as he exits the area. The athletes calmly get inside their waiting cab before being ordered out of their taxi by two black-clad men with badges, both waving around loaded guns. Happy 2016 Olympics suckers.

Rio Gas Station

At gunpoint the athletes are made to sit down with their hands raised, execution style. At one point in the video of these events, we see Lochte stand up to argue with the guards holding he and his pals at gunpoint. Brave or dumb. Doesn’t matter. Dude stood up. Ryan Lochte did the right thing in the heat of the moment regardless of how drunk he was. He’s a patriotic hero. You feel me? 

An English/Portuguese-speaking man intercedes to translate what the guards are saying to their victims. This ringer tells the athletes that the guards are demanding that each of the four American hostages pay up for damages done to the gas station property. Who knows if that grass will be able to survive so much Olympian pee? The four swimmers forked over whatever money they had, and were allowed to leave. The badges wearing men-in-black used semi-automatic handguns to rob four American Olympic champions at gunpoint, and got away with it Scot-free. You feel me now?

Don’t forget that this was these athletes’ big night of celebration behind a punishing schedule of Olympic heats. Why these Olympic athletes didn’t have proper chauffeurs and official escorts for their big night out on the town remains a burning question that no one in corporate media has thought to ask.    

Rio

If Lochte and his teammates are smart they’ll hire a big American law firm to sue every single media outlet that libeled them, and also personally sue each Rio police official responsible for the miscarriage of justice and public smearing they committed. If these athletes do follow up in the courts, Ryan Lochte Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger could become the most financially successful Olympic athletes in its history.

So what about the legacy of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games? Police officials on an international revenge crusade have reduced that sporting relic to the public mugging, and consequent pillorying, of four of the fastest swimmers in the world. File the 2016 Olympics in the file entitled, “Mistakes to never make again.”

Dilma-rousseff

Brazilian politicians and authorities are still smarting two years after Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s spying on Brazil’s [now impeached] president Kilma Rousseff. Whether you call Rousseff’s ousting a “soft” coup or a hard one, one thing’s for sure; there was nothing legal or proper about it. At the time, the Guardian news outlet called the situation, “the most serious diplomatic fallout to date from the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden."

Aside from the monies they extorted, the Rio police’s lust for vengeance derives from the slaughter that their soccer team received at the hands of the German team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup before a crowd of 58,000 in Brazil. The 7 to 1 loss spoke volumes of inconvenient truth about where the rubber meets the road in World Cup soccer.

At the recent Olympics, Brazil’s shootout match victory against Germany, that delivered gold to Brazil’s soccer team for the first time in history, has drawn much suspicion for obvious reasons. Sometimes, winning is losing. Let’s also not forget the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent indictment of Marco Polo Del Nero, the president of Brazil’s soccer federation. Salt on an open wound.   

Rio-de-Janeiro-riot-police fire teargas as Olympi torch arrives

I stopped watching the Olympics the second the story about the robbery of the U.S. swimmers came out. I wasn’t the only one. Brazil sent its message loud and clear, if you come to Rio you can expect to be robbed at gunpoint. The police will then rob you again before they let you leave the country. We know this because they made Lochte’s companions each pay a charity donation in the neighborhood of $15,000. You don’t need to worry about the nature of the unidentified charity; this is strictly a cash deal. False arrest, kidnapping, extortion, and liable per se are just a few of the charges that a large firm of American attorneys should be looking over.

Whether or not you bought into the lies dreamed up by the Rio police, which every media outlet in the world regurgitated like twice-vomited split pea soup, I bet you’re not in any hurry to vacation in Rio anytime soon.

If the shoe were on the other foot, and this same sequence of events played out for a group of foreign athletes visiting a city in America, this automatically politicized narrative would have played out in a very different way. You can bet the gas station guards would be sitting in the pokey, and not the athletes.

Much has been made of Ryan Lochte’s exaggeration of specifics involving the proximity of the gun pointed in his direction, and cocking of said pistol, but there is no question that two guns were drawn and the four swimmers were made to sit down, at gunpoint.

2016+Olympic+Team+Swimming+Trials+Day+6+cu05bULLHPFx

More egregious than Lochte’s enriched telling of events were exaggerations from the Rio police, who stated that the American swimmers had vandalized a bathroom at the gas station. Supposedly, this unruly group of hooligans reportedly broke a door, a mirror, and a hand-soap dispenser broken. That none of this happened didn’t stop every newswire in the world from running the lies. Good luck finding any retractions. What you will find, however, in supposedly respectable news outlets such as the Guardian, is reference to “the Olympic gas station hold-up that wasn’t.” Except that it was a hold-up followed by a police shakedown.

Welcome to Rio, now give us all your cash along with your reputation, and we'll sell you back your passports for $15,000. Don't come back, or [better yet] don't come at all. Brazil's tourism industry will suffer the backlash it deserves.

Cole

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