25 posts categorized "Politics"

September 06, 2017

OPERATION SNOWBALL: MY FIRST CAREER IN SHOW BUSINESS

By Cole Smithey

You’d be hard-pressed to track down any information on Google about Jerry Harmon’s Operation Snowball. Sometime in December of 1967, when I was just three-years-old, my stepdad Jerry Harmon launched a touring magic act project called Operation Snowball. Under its auspices, “King Karnak, Barbie, and Cole” would become a ten-year annual touring magic show across the state of Virginia. The purpose of the act was to provide Christmastime entertainment for the patients at all of the mental institutions in Virginia; there were a lot mental hospitals in those days. Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virginia was on the list.

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Every year we’d kick off the tour with a show at the Towne Theater on Broad Street in Richmond before heading over to the Governor’s office for a photo op with the Governor, who would give his blessing for our two-week tour that followed. I distinctly remember meeting Govenor Mills Godwin on several occasions. A government limo would drive us to a nearby airport where a government appointed pilot from Civil Air Patrol would fly us, with our gear, in a Cesna twin-engine plane to our shows. Sometimes we had to land in cow pastures. Sometimes we hit severe turbulence that would make the most hardened pilots lose their lunch.  

Jerry had been a medic in the Korean war before being switched to intelligence where he trained soldiers in specialized combat techniques, such as decapitation using piano wire. He flew fighter pilot missions, during one of which he had to crash-land his plane. The plane’s windshield exploded into his face, leaving scars from where tiny pieces of glass had to be extracted. The story goes that he killed one of his own men for being a traitor. When he started Operation Snowball, Jerry was riding ambulance duty in a volunteer rescue squad in Richmond, Virginia when he wasn’t doing television news broadcasts for a local station. He’d later become a radio announcer for WEZS (Easy Listening), while teaching Standard First Aid to police recruits every Tuesday night. I spent more Tuesday nights at the Richmond Police Station than I can remember.

Jerry cared about the Mental Health movement in Virginia. He worked for a Mental Health agency headquartered in one of the most beautiful buildings on Monument Avenue. So it was that we’d pull into the parking lot of Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg in the early afternoon, rush in to a cafeteria area with a stage, and perform for a half hour to war vets and mentally ravaged patients whose suffering was only being exacerbated by abuses they were suffering at the hands of their guards.

Jerry Harmon was a consummate performer. He had a line of patter that was so shiny you could eat off it. “Ice, the only thing in the world that is what it is cracked up to be.” My mom and I were the assistants. I had my “Twiggy and Stumpy” bit that I did where I pulled faces. I wore a Philip Morris-styled outfit with a pill box hat with an elastic cord that wrapped under my chin. It was uncomfortable as hell but this was show business after all.

I don’t have much memory of specific years; they all just blend together. But I have a strong memory of the first time I became aware of just who our audience was. I looked out from the stage at the grinning faces of people who would return to an abyss of sadness the moment we left their facility. I saw a Viet Nam war vet in a wheelchair. The man had no arms or legs. I was probably five or six at the time but I didn’t need anyone to explain to me how or why this poor man had arrived at this sad fate. War. War had robbed this human being of his humanity. Long before I hit puberty, I had an ingrained hatred of war that I carry to this day.

Jerry used a clothes hamper that he had dressed into a snazzy rolling lectern from which he would take out rope, Chinese Linking Rings, and a host of other tricks. KING KARNAK was emblazoned across the front. Jerry was a master at sleight of hand. Billiard Balls were a favorite. The show would climax with Jerry chopping my mom’s head off with a guillotine. Some members of the audience would have to be escorted out of the room before the trick could be completed. The patients would frequently mob us as we made our way to our waiting limo. It was frightening sometimes, but we were already on our way to our next show. We did two or three shows a day for our two-week run.

I’ve since gone down to Richmond looking through microfiche files of the Richmond Times Dispatch and the Richmond News Leader for articles or photos from the Operation Snowball years (1967 to 1976), but I couldn’t find anything. It’s funny to think that I had my introduction to show business at such a young age, but I learned the same fundamental lesson that anyone who dares set foot on the boards does; the show must go on.

I took special pride in bringing a fleeting moment of pleasure to people who had no hope in their lives. Jerry treated Operation Snowball like a military mission that had to be prepared for, executed, and completed. He never got paid a dime for his efforts. He might not have been the best dad, but Jerry was a humanitarian, as evidenced by his actions. Jerry had a huge ego, and was quite the braggart, but I never once heard him brag about Operation Snowball. That was something special. Perhaps someday you'll be able to see and read evidence of it on the internet.

September 04, 2017

Today’s Outrage Is Tomorrow’s Memory By TED RALL

This cartoon came about when I was thinking of ideas related to things Trump has done and said. I thought to myself, why bother? Anything I draw about will be forgotten about in a day or two because of whatever Trump will say or do between now and then. Whether the frenetic pace of activity and outrage is Trump’s personality or the result of a clever stratagem, it seems to be working for now. Who can keep up with this guy?

July 17, 2017

How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99% By Ted Rall

24_main_new.1483632584I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and girls will be boys”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocked plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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.)

July 16, 2017

HOW YOUTUBE SCAMS CREATORS WITH COLE SMITHEY

Needless to say, I've given up on YouTube. I stopped putting videos up on YouTube a couple of years ago after they insisted on stealing all of the ad revenue from my video coverage of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. By then I was so worn down from YouTube's constant bullying and harassment every single time I uploaded a video that I had no patience to put any more work into my YouTube channel. After more than a year of abstinence from YouTube I went through my channel and deleted 95% of my videos whose revenue was going entirely to someone else. 

After working with Forbes I decided to do an experiment and return to putting videos up on YouTube that had already passed muster with one of the biggest corporate websites in the world. Once again YouTube came at me like strung-out heroin junkie with a switchblade and a bad attitude. YouTube's practices are at best ethically and morally corrupt, and at worst fraudulent. Color me disgusted. 

I am looking to sign on to every single class-action lawsuit brewing against these thieves that go by the name of YouTube. If you are an attorney working on such a case, please get in touch with me. Thanks.

June 13, 2017

Democrats’ Obsession with Russian Election Hacking Makes Them Look Dumb

By Ted Rall

Nf1crtngi3iyThey got Al Capone for tax evasion — only tax evasion. It wasn’t very satisfying for his prosecutors. But they couldn’t prove murder or racketeering. So they got him where they wanted him: behind bars. It wasn’t elegant. But they got the job done.

Congressional Democrats need some of that prohibition-era pragmatism. They want Donald Trump impeached. But unlike Capone’s tormentors, Dems are largely ignoring Trump crimes they can prove in favor of those they can’t — Russian “election hacking” that may not have happened at all.

Democrats seem determined to maintain their status as a political version of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Day after day, Democratic leaders and their allies in corporate media have been going on and on about how “Russia hacked the election.” Exactly what they mean by “hacking” been so frustratingly vague, and solid evidence so consistently absent, that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re making it all up or, à la Bush and the WMDs in Iraq, conflating they suspect with what they know.

This throw-hacking-allegations-at-the-wall-and-hope-they-stick approach has fed a dark alt-right media narrative about an attempted “deep state” coup against a democratically-elected president who won despite the virtually universal contempt of the gatekeeper class.

As the Dems derp around deep in the weeds of their confused and confusing Russia hacking narrative, they’re neglecting the much tastier, low-hanging impeachment fruit they could easily use to hasten the day when D.C. Metro cops frogmarch The Donald out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: straightforward corruption.

Russian hackers may have accessed a U.S. voting machine company. But even the spooks who accuse Russia of “meddling” — whatever that means, no one seems able to articulate — say they didn’t affect the election results. Hillary would have lost anyway. So why is this even a thing? Anyway, there’s almost certainly no tie there to Team Trump. Perhaps not a nothingburger, but useless to Democrats hell-bent on impeachment.

Then there’s the DNC emails posted by WikiLeaks. As I’ve noted before, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange said he didn’t get them from Russia. Also at WikiLeaks, Craig Murray says they were handed to him by a pro-Bernie DNC staffer. So it was a leak, not a hack. Anyway, even if Russia gave them to WikiLeaks — which looks doubtful — we should thank Team Putin for revealing just how venal and corrupt the DNC was when they decided to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination.

Telling the truth about lying DNC scoundrels who belong in prison is “meddling”?

If so, I’ll take more meddling, please.

The Democrats are right about one thing: there’s lots of smoke. They’re wrong about the type of fire.

The real Trump-Russia connection to look into is about a corrupt quid pro quo. It goes something like this: Trump aides tell their Russian contracts in 2016: if our guy wins the election, we’ll drop U.S.-led economic sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea. In return, you let our guy build as many ugly hotels in Russia as he wants. They might also forgive millions of dollars his businesses owe to Russian banks and oligarchs.

By declaring Trump’s election a constitutional crisis from day one, Democrats have been overreaching. Pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative — when there’s still no public evidence it happened at all, much less that Trump had anything to do with it if it did — is getting way ahead of the story.

If Democrats were smart, they’d focus on the corruption angle.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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.)

June 02, 2017

KATHY GRIFFIN'S FIRING PROVES FREE SPEECH IS A LIE

By Ted Rall

We Americans pride ourselves on our supposed respect for free speech. In reality, however, few citizens seem to rally to the cause of freedom of expression when it’s under attack.

The latest major free-speech controversy surrounds the comedian Kathy Griffin, best known for co-hosting CNN’s coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square with Anderson Cooper.

KathyGriffin2

Earlier this week, it came to light that a Griffin photo shoot with the photographer Tyler Shields included an image of Griffin holding up a (fake, obviously) head of President Donald Trump. The image evokes pictures of ISIS members displaying the decapitated heads of their victims:

Reflecting America’s history of four presidential assassinations, there is a long-standing cultural and social taboo here against threats real or implied against a president’s life. Federal law prohibits such threats.

Reaction to Griffin’s Trump head photo was predictably swift and fierce. Politicians of both parties called for CNN to fire Griffin from her NYE gig. Trump himself tweeted: “My children, especially my 11-year-old son Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” (It may be time, Mr. President, to monitor Barron’s access to electronic devices.) After Anderson Cooper threw his “friend” under the bus on Twitter (“completely inappropriate“), CNN fired her.

Foolishly, she felt compelled to apologize too.

Griffin hasn’t gotten much support from the creative community. One exception was the comic actor Jim Carrey. “It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line at all times,” Carrey said. “That line is not real and if you step out into that spotlight and you’re doing the crazy things that (Trump) is doing, we’re the last line of defense. The comedians are the last voice of truth in this whole thing.”

Carrey is right. Satire is a high-wire act. If it’s not dangerous, it’s not funny — it’s Jay Leno at worst, Stephen Colbert at best. Pillorying Griffin for being “inappropriate” is ridiculous. She got fired for trying to do her job. So the image was disturbing and offensive. So what? No one would have paid attention to it if had been safe and bland, like most political satire.

Now, a primer on free speech.

For a creator, there is no “line.” When I work as an editor, I tell cartoonists that it’s their job to create and mine to censor. Pitch anything, go crazy, be wild. If I approve a piece, and all hell breaks loose, the person who should be fired for poor editorial judgement is the editor, not the artist. Artists shouldn’t self-censor.

Private companies can censor. The First Amendment is narrow. It only protects us from censorship by the government. But employers like CNN can and do censor. They should be called out when they do, and censorship should always be widely condemned and despised.

CNN blacklisted Griffin. Blacklisting is the practice of firing or refusing to hire a creator for work they did for someone else. Griffin didn’t post her Trump head pic on CNN.com. She didn’t display it on a CNN broadcast. So the Trump head was not CNN’s business. What was CNN’s business was what she did on the air with Anderson Cooper at Times Square, nothing more.

Unfortunately, blacklisting is common. Sports teams have disgusting “morals clauses” that allow owners to discipline athletes for expressing themselves off the playing field; if free speech means a thing, these should be prohibited. Employers have fired employees for the political bumper sticker on their car. Gross! I was fired from a gig drawing cartoons about sex and relationships for Men’s Health by a publisher who didn’t like a cartoon I drew for newspapers about politics — and that I never submitted to MH. Unless you’re born rich, you have to work. No employer should make you think twice about expressing yourself — yes, even if you’re expression is racist or otherwise offensive. Free speech is free speech.

Kathygriffin

The quality of the censored work or artist is irrelevant. I don’t give a shit about Kathy Griffin and never thought she was that funny, though she offered undeniable random charm in her NYE appearances. (Weird randomness is an essential ingredient of successful humor.) I don’t really understand the humor in the Trump head photo. From what I gather from social media, most Americans agree with me.

But what we think of a comedian’s work is completely unrelated to whether she deserves our support.

Remember when my colleague Garry Trudeau criticized the quality and content of the cartoons drawn by artists murdered by gunmen at the office of the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo? The effect of Trudeau’s remarks was to support ISIS against cartoonists, and to partially justify the slaughter. Whenever a value as fundamental as free expression is under attack, people of good conscience must rally to defend it, no matter the content. Though disgusted by Islamophobia, I was appalled by the attempt of two ISIS gunmen to murder right-wing anti-Muslim cartoonists in Texas in 2015. I condemned liberal attempts to get right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger fired, even though Rush has personally slimed me. When I had my radio show in Los Angeles, I took heat from pro-censorship liberals for bringing white supremacist David Duke on the air for a vigorous debate.

Reading this, some readers will say: you can say anything you want, but you don’t have the right to demand that someone hire you (or not fire you) if you do. This is sophistry.

In a capitalist society, you work or you starve to death. So, under our present system — you can be fired for saying stuff your boss doesn’t like, even stuff you say at home, not at work — your employer effectively has the right to kill you if your expression causes him (or his customers) offense. Most people aren’t rich enough not to have to worry about this. So they censor themselves.

By definition, therefore, we do not live in a free society. We are not free to say what we want, to be who we want to be.

Until we come to our senses and elevate freedom of expression to a true inalienable right that cannot be infringed upon by anyone or any entity, the only way to fight for free speech is to condemn censorship when we see it — especially when it’s incredibly clear and obvious.

Griffin’s situation is such a case.

The expression in question was clearly political speech. (Again, whether you thought it was tasteless or not is irrelevant.)

Griffin was fired by one employer, CNN — her highest profile gig — for something she did far away from CNN. This is blacklisting at its most McCarthyist, and must not be tolerated.

Citing Griffin’s Senator and former comic Al Franken said her “real, fulsome apology” means that, eventually, she may be able to recover from the Trump flap. A society in which a long-time professional comedian could be destroyed by one flop of a joke is not one that ought to be lecturing other countries about how it values freedom of speech.

Finally, Trump has this sort of satire coming. I’m not going to recite the President’s litany of disgusting statements and remarks about women, overweight people, Mexicans, and so on. The man is a colossal asshole. Instead let’s address the quaint notion that images of presidents and gruesome death shouldn’t mix.

Like his predecessors, Trump routinely orders airstrikes and drone strikes against countless innocent people. He has already murdered hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in the Middle East and South Asia. Shouldn’t we fire this guy, who actually causes real people to lose their real, actual bloodied heads, instead of Kathy Griffin?

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May 31, 2017

JESSICA CHASTAIN WHITELADYSPLAINS THE 2017 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

OH NO SHE DI'ENT. OH YES SHE DI'ID.

Jessica Chastain Dumps On All The Films In Competition At Cannes

Jump to 04:08 to watch Jessica Chastain whiteladysplain how poorly female characters were represented in the films-in-competition this year at Cannes. Sadly, Ms. Chastain is unable to articulate examples from the undisclosed films that she ham-fistedly calls out. As a result, no one has any idea what she's talking about. When Chastain opines about not seeing female characters she "recognizes," it begs the question of who exactly who the wealthy actress imagines — possibly the neighbors in her apartment building next to Central Park. It's a good thing that her refurbished Manhattan apartment only set her back $5.1 million. Refurbishing the 19th century apartment cost more. 

Chastain's dubious intention seems to draw attention to herself, rather than to the matter at hand. It just doesn't pass the BS detector test as the facial expression of female interpreter sitting behind Chastain evinces. This is clearly not Jessica Chastain's finest hour. 

Chastain at Cannes

That Chastain's buzzkill remarks come during a year when two women filmmakers were recognized with major awards at Cannes — Lynne Ramsey took home the Best Script Award for "You Were Never Really Here," and Sofia Coppola won the Best Director Award for "The Beguiled" — further blunts Chastain's point. Perhaps it would have served the press conference better to celebrate the female filmmakers whose (ostensibly) ethical artistic efforts stood in opposition to depictions of women characters Chastain disapproved of in the unnamed films that she cast aspersions on.

A little preparation for making her point might have served her better. When taken in the context of the daggers being shot by Pedro Almodovar's translator, it seems that such whiteladysplaining isn't everyone's cup of tea. And I'll take Vera Farmiga, as an actress, over Jessica Chastain any day of the week. If you haven't checked out "Bates Motel," I highly recommend it. Farmiga runs circles around Chastain with acting chops that match Naomi Watts, another polished actress who outperforms Jessica Chastain. I could go on. Have you seen what Gina Gershon can do? Whew. I guess it brings us around to Kirsten Dunst, whose performance in "The Beguiled" didn't pass the Bechtel test. 

Agnes Jaoui

Fortunately, Agnes Jaoui took over the baton to reduce the issue to meeting the criteria of the Bechtel Test — wherein in two female characters discuss something other than a male. Admittedly, that's setting the bar pretty low. Wait, Noah Baumbach's movie "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" didn't pass the Bechtel Test? — Shocker. Take it up with Noah.

Will Smith pitched in to clean up Chastain's mess by noting that having a couple of black folks (filmmakers in competition) "wouldn't be a bad thing either." Smith may fill the shoes of a boisterous American abroad, but he nevertheless presented a suave and worldly representative of Global Culture. Cheers to Will Smith as a responsible envoy of cinematic culture to put a pin in Chastain's entitled Trumpian version of truth. 

Will Smith

May 27, 2017

What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows. By Ted Rall

RedBlueIn the 1970s, when I was a kid, I asked my mother to explain the difference between the two major parties. “Democrats,” she explained, “are the party of the working man. Republicans represent big business.”

She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”

The two-party system was easy to understand.

Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.

Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.

So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.

“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observes New York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”

Yes they do.

Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.

Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.

What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?

As far as I can tell, nada.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.

When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?

They don’t. Even though 58% of American voters want a European-style taxpayer-subsidized single-payer system, the Democratic Party platform does not propose significant reforms to Obamacare.

The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?

Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t much to say.

“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.

Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.

When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?

Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.

Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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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May 18, 2017

Here’s My Current Working Theory of How Republicans Will Ride Trump’s Impeachment to Victory in 2020

By Ted Rall —

This can’t wait until next week’s syndicated column, so…

Back on 24th I wrote a syndicated column explaining that there is a strong chance that Donald Trump would be impeached and that House Speaker Paul Ryan would benefit as a result. This week’s developments confirm my analysis. Bear in mind, this is not a political prediction but rather a musing of how I see things going potentially. Your mileage may vary.

Donald-Trump-Impeachment

First: the almost certain fact that former FBI director James Comey was asked by President Trump to drop his investigation into former national security advisor General Michael Flynn sets up Trump for almost certain impeachment. Here’s why. First, moderate Republicans in the House and Senate are already peeling away and calling for a special prosecutor. Soon even right wingers will be joining them. A special prosecutor is a safe way for politicians to kick problems like Trump down the road. They can’t lose: if the prosecutor finds a lot of dirty stuff about Trump, oh well, not their fault, if anything they can take credit. If not, it’s not like even the radical right will hold them accountable for signing off on a special prosecutor. After all, there’s nothing wrong with getting down to the bottom of things. The problem for Trump is, the prosecutor is going to find out (a) that there’s a strong case for obstruction of justice and (b) all those meetings between Trump’s staff and Russian officials were corrupt quid pro quo transactions promising the elimination of sanctions over Ukraine in exchange for rubberstamping Trump-related business transactions in Russia. (Democrats should stop pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative because there doesn’t seem to be any thee there.)

Second, Republicans are hardly a united front. Yes, they came together to back up Trump when they thought that they would be able to push through their long awaited radical right political agenda. But now the Trump seems weak, ambitious figures like Paul Ryan can’t help but think to themselves “hey, I could become president now.” Because the Democratic Party is a total mess – this is the story no one is paying attention to you right now, but it’s absolutely key – more on that below – the Republican Party stands to benefit most from a Trump impeachment. Here’s how it plays out, perhaps.

Paul Ryan meets with vice president Mike Pence. “Mike,” he says, “let’s face it. You’ll never be elected president. You’re from Indiana, you call your wife mother, you’re creepy, probably a closeted gay. Let’s make a deal: I impeach Trump and you get to be president for the next three years. Schoolchildren have to memorize your name. You get to be on a stamp. Maybe one day on the three cent coin. In 2020, however, you step aside. You endorse me. I’m the Republican nominee.”

Pence goes along. Why wouldn’t he? Sure beats another three years of attending funerals.

After Trump, things turn calm. No more drama. This is very bad for women, gays, blacks. The Republican Congress works closely with Pence to pass a bunch of stuff that makes us look back at Ronald Reagan and wonder if that guy was really a liberal. Pence seems “normal” after Trump. The Republicans get lots of things done. Granted, all bad. But done.

In 2020, as I wrote in my column, Paul Ryan gets to present himself as the courageous man who took on a president from his own party because it was the right thing to do for the country. Powerful stuff. A true profile in BS courage.

Now, about the Democrats.

If you look back at 1976, vice president turned President Gerald Ford was hobbled by Watergate and his pardon of Richard Nixon. Everyone remembers that Jimmy Carter won. What they don’t remember is that it was a  close election. Incumbency really doesn’t matter. Ford wasn’t a very exciting president and he didn’t accomplish much at all. Mostly he just used his veto stamp. Carter was charismatic, young, and incredibly hard-working. He was a great candidate yet he just barely won against forward.

To win against a Republican incumbency in 2020, Democrats need a united party. If anything, the party is even more divided now than it was last year. The big rift between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton wings of the Democratic Party hasn’t been addressed. It has been swept under the rug, which only makes things worse. Progressives have been denied a meaningful voice within the party. Policy belongs to the corporatist wing. Angry Hillary Clinton supporters continue to beat up Bernie Sanders people for not showing up at the polls, blaming them for electing Donald Trump. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run. That leaves the most likely nominees for 2020 to be people like Cory Booker, former progressives who no longer have any credibility with the left within the party.

It’s a grim scenario. And it certainly going to change. But that’s how I see things right now.


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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.

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(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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