Ted Rall

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama Trolled by ISIS

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 08:50

 

President Obama’s reaction to the videos of two American freelance journalists getting beheaded by Islamist militants gives me the uncomfortable feeling that the American people are getting punk’d — again.

The same thing happened 13 years ago this week, when a dozen and a half Muslim fundamentalists attacked our financial and political capitals using our own planes. The hijackers got exactly the reaction that they wanted: overreaction.You should never underestimate an adversary, least of all when their remarkable success against difficult odds have demonstrated the wisdom of their tactics. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, like the 9/11-era Al Qaeda from which it split, is not run by stupid people. Stupid people don’t take half of Syria away from its longtime authoritarian dictator – whose armed forces happen to be better equipped and trained – and half of Iraq away from a puppet regime backed by the world’s most ferocious superpower – in two years.

Considering ISIS through the lens of proper respect for their leaders’ intelligence, what were they thinking when they posted those two gruesome videos? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abu Suleiman al-Naser and other top officials of the Islamic State had to know they would provoke a political reaction. It has: More Americans (94%) are aware of the ISIS execution videos than any other news event in the last five years.

ISIS’ leaders also must have anticipated a military reaction. After the videos, a war-weary American public’s apathetic stance toward the civil war in Syria flipped toward strong support in favor of the bombing campaign announced by Obama (who paradoxically continues to poll poorly on foreign policy).

Clearly ISIS’ top brass believe they stand more to gain than to lose from the coming onslaught by U.S. drones and fighter jets. This should frighten us.

Put yourself into the mindset of the insurgents. Their enemies are the existing governments of the countries they seek to occupy: Syria, Iraq, possibly Jordan, certainly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. But – again, like Al Qaeda in the early 2000s – they have a more formidable adversary: moderation.

To survive and expand, radical jihadists don’t need all, or even most, Muslims to join the fight. But they do require the tacit consent of the governed in the areas they control, and the political sympathy that prompts donors to send them the financial contributions that allow them to arm new recruits and hold their territory — factors that fuel legitimacy.

As radicals and fundamentalists, ISIS’ Manichean worldview portrays the West, and especially the United States and Great Britain, and their Middle Eastern client states – obviously Israel most of all – as monsters hell-bent on the oppression of Muslims, the exploitation and appropriation of Muslim lands, using moral corruption and godless capitalism as means toward global domination at their expense.

Until recently, most Muslims – including most Sunnis – didn’t buy it. Hundreds of millions of them drank, smoked, failed to pray regularly, and envied the liberalism and economic power of the West.

The genius of 9/11 was to provoke the United States and its allies into behaving exactly like the monsters Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups had long argued they were. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, brazenly embracing torture and mass kidnappings and opening a gulag archipelago of secret prisons everywhere from Eastern Europe to Guantánamo to jail ships floating in the Indian Ocean, as well as the brazen disregard for innocent civilians demonstrated by Bush and Obama’s willy-nilly drone program, convinced countless fence sitters and former moderates to join the militants, cut them a check, or at least look the other way. By the end of the Bush years, the United States was wildly unpopular, viewed as “violent” and “selfish” throughout the Muslim world.

We got trolled.

The tactics Obama plans to use against ISIS are more of the same. Once again, U.S. warplanes and remote-controlled killer air robots will rain death upon people, the vast majority of whom were innocent and had nothing to do with the group responsible for beheading those poor journalists. Once again, although we will on occasion succeed in killing some #1 or #2 “top terrorist,” we will lose this battle for hearts and minds because (a) the nature of guerrilla warfare is that no leader is indispensable and anyone can and will be replaced, and (b) each civilian death will generate thousands of fierce lifelong enemies – yes, some family members and many friends, but most of all the one group of people American pundits and journalists rarely reference when discussing “collateral damage” – ordinary people, there and in the region and around the world, who react with disgust and rage at our cruelty.

Ironically, disgust and rage are the very same emotions that triggered America’s latest tumble into the Islamist trap.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out this week. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Yes Means Yes

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 03:04

Coming soon: California is poised to enact a “yes means yes” law – based on the so-called Antioch College rules – that will require college students to get “affirmative consent” – clear, verbal agreement – for each intended stage and type of sexual activity.

No Protection

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 03:24

Obama says the US should resume bombing Iraq, and send troops back there, in order to protect diplomatic personnel and troops who remained there after the occupation was nominally ended. By this logic, the United States can invade any country with Americans in it.

ISIS Plans Ahead

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 03:47

The radical Islamist army ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) received weapons and training from the United States in its war against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. They’re still opening the weapons systems we sent them via the Gulf States and directly. Yes, we’ve bombed our former allies before, but never in recent memory has there been such a rapid change of relations.

The Cashless Society is Here

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 03:52

I have seen our future dystopian cashless society. What could go wrong? After all, it’s not the government would ever use its power to shut off people’s access to their money with a flip of a switch.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Are “Feminists” Telling Women Not To Protect Themselves from Rapists?

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:31

Identity politics, a writer friend reminds me, is where liberalism goes to die.

The oceans are boiling, freelance journalists’ heads are getting lopped off, and there’s not the slightest sign of resistance to income inequality so out of control it would worry Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yet the Internet’s politically-correct “social justice warriors” are dedicating their formidable energies into attacking pissant trivialities.

Anyone who doubts that online slacktivists have their heads so far up their collective asses that they can’t see daylight need only read up on the controversy over Undercover Colors, which is a nail polish that allows women (or men, but they’re not the target audience) to discreetly discover whether their drink has been spiked by one of several common “date rape” drugs.

(My advice to women: if you’re at a party or with a guy so sketchy that you think you may have been slipped a mickey, don’t bother with the fancy polish. Just scoot. You don’t want to be there anyway.)

Better safe than sorry, right?

Wrong.

“Anything that puts the onus on women to ‘discreetly’ keep from being raped misses the point,” writes Jessica Valenti, a once-influential feminist blogger whose hammer-to-the-skull-obvious post-motherhood columns for The Guardian add to the case for automatically censoring any piece of writing by a parent about their children. “We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it.”

Um, what?

Valenti is serious about this: “So long as it isn’t me isn’t an effective strategy to end rape. ‘Undercover Colors’ polish and products like it only offer the veneer of equality and safety. And that’s simply not good enough.”

Which is true. And stupid.

Like: wearing shoes isn’t an effective strategy to stop assholes from breaking glass bottles on streets. Since assholes do leave shards of glass all over the place, however, walking barefoot isn’t smart.

Installing a car alarm or using an anti-theft device like The Club is an example of “individual avoidance.” One wishes that it were possible to leave one’s automobile unattended free of fear that someone might steal it. But reality dictates that, if you park in a high-crime neighborhood, you take measures to deter thieves. True, it’s a “so long as it isn’t me” strategy. But what else can you do? We’re not likely to see an effective strategy to eliminate car theft any sooner than “an effective strategy to end rape,” a crime endemic in every culture throughout history.

How removed from the real world are writers like Tara Culp-Resser of Think Progress, who also criticized the entrepreneurs who invented the anti-date-rape polish? “It would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis,” she wrote. “Like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk.”

To my horror, I have known men who bragged about having raped inebriated women. (Since their accounts were devoid of details, it would have been pointless to report them to the police.) They didn’t violate women because of “cultural assumptions.” They did it for the same reason that CEO pigs issue themselves huge raises the same day they fire thousands of employees: because they can.

This reminds me of the complaint against liberals who claim to support public education, yet send their kids to private school. If your local public schools are decrepit or dangerous, it’s unconscionable to subject your children to them if you can afford not to. Obviously, we should fight to ban private schools, and for that matter the capitalist system that separates American kids into pre-poor and pre-rich educational systems — but until the revolution is achieved, it’s every man and woman for himself and herself.

Feminist propaganda can’t stop rape. No marches, no poster campaign, no hashtag bullshit. Men will stop raping women when they no longer can.

Neither I, nor the social justice types, know how to achieve that better society. Until someone comes up with that Big Idea, anything women can do to protect themselves — self-defense classes, carrying pepper spray, even a nail polish — is just common sense.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out this week. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

 

The End of Racism

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 03:51

Homophobia faded after straights realized that many of their friends and close relatives were gay. Racism remains an intransigent problem. Could a similar solution be at hand? probably not.

Bombs? Or More Bombs?

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 07:51

Have you ever noticed that, when there’s some crisis overseas, the debate on American media takes place between those who want to use bombs, and those who want to use bigger bombs? Never is it seriously considered that we should not get involved.

Kirkus Likes “After We Kill You”

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 10:28

Here’s their review:

A political agenda can’t undermine the author’s credibility as an observer who gets close to the Afghan people and sees what otherwise goes unreported.

As a cartoonist, alternative-weekly correspondent, and author of previous books on American imperialism and international intervention (Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East, 2014, etc.), Rall lays his cards on the table at the beginning. His subject is “the war against Afghanistan” rather than “the war in Afghanistan”—“Like all choices of language, this is a political choice.” The author is not one of the reporters with big rolls of bills and accommodations at the best hotels, subsidized by major news organizations, nor is he embedded with the soldiers, a position he finds hopelessly compromised: “The Taliban are right: American journalism has been reduced to rank propaganda.” Through cartoons, dispatches and contextual analysis, Rall shares what he has learned through two trips to an Afghanistan that Americans rarely see and comes to conclusions that invite readers to share his outrage: “We have spent $229 billion here. Meals cost less than a dollar. No Afghan should be starving—yet millions are.” He argues that America’s longest war is unwinnable, since “Afghan resistance forces live there. We don’t. Sooner or later, U.S. troops will depart. All the Afghan resistance has to do is wear us down and wait us out….All occupations ultimately fail.” Talking with Afghans and staying in their villages has allowed the author to understand their puzzlement and resentment at an occupying force with so many resources but so little expenditure in terms of infrastructure support in comparison with military spending. There’s a particularly telling photograph of a “children crossing” sign in which the caricatures are practically stick figures: “In Afghanistan, even abstract symbols are emaciated.”

Even readers who do not share Rall’s politics will find his reporting powerful and convincing.

Images from the Decatur Book Festival

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 09:30

Here are a few images from my Sunday talk at the Decatur Book Festival, near Atlanta. It was a well-attended event, very well organized, smart questions. A great start to the book tour!

Addicted to Afghanistan: Ted Rall

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 09:17

Addicted to Afghanistan: Ted Rall
Download: here
by Brian Heater
Publishers Weekly
August 29, 2014

I will be signing at the Strand on Wednesday

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 14:06

One of New York City’s best bookstores is the Strand at Broadway and 12th St. in Manhattan, and I will be signing my new book about Afghanistan under US occupation, a hybrid work of prose and comics, there this coming Wednesday night. There will also be a visual presentation including photographs and comics. Here are the details:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
7:00 PM

The Strand
828 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Note: the event will be in the rare books department, on the third floor. I believe the entrance is to the left of the main entrance, but I might be mistaken.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: 50%+ of Americans Have Been Poor, and Capitalism Thinks That’s Awesome

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:06

Odds are, you are poor. Or you’ve been poor.

Conventional wisdom — i.e., what the media says, not what most people think — repeatedly implies that poverty is a permanent state that chronically afflicts a relatively small number of Americans, while the rest of us thrive in a vast, if besieged, middle class. In fact, most Americans between age 25 and 75 have spent at least one year living under the poverty line.

“One of the biggest myths about poverty in the United States is that a relatively small segment of the population is poor, and that this represents a more or less permanent underclass,” Columbia University economist and social work professor Irwin Garfinkel tells Columbia magazine. “But poverty is quite dynamic. Lots of people move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives. And it doesn’t take much for people at the edge to lose their footing: a reduction in work hours, an inability to find affordable day care, a family breakup, or an illness — any of these can be disastrous.”

Even if you bounce back, the effects of these financial setbacks linger. For young adults, attending cheaper colleges or passing up higher education — or being unable to afford to take a low-paid internship — burdens them with opportunity costs that hobble them the remainder of their lives (which will likelier end sooner). Debts accrue with compound interest and must be repaid; damaged credit ratings block qualified buyers from purchasing homes. Diseases go undetected and untreated during periods without healthcare. Gaps on resumes are a red flag for employers.

Americans pay a price for the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism. To find out exactly how high the cost is, Professor Garfinkel and his colleagues at Columbia have created the Poverty Tracker, dubbed “one of the most richly detailed studies of poverty ever undertaken in the United States.” The Poverty Tracker is “a meticulous long-term survey of 2,300 New York households across all income levels…for at least two years” that aims “to create a much more intimate and precise portrait of economic distress than has ever been conducted in any US city.”

Initial findings were distressing: “While the city’s official poverty rate is 21%, the Columbia researchers found that 37% of New Yorkers, or about 3 million people, went through an extended period in 2012 when money was so tight that they lost their home, had their utilities shut off, neglected to seek medical treatment for an illness, went hungry, or experienced another ‘severe material hardship,’ as the researchers define such extreme consequences.”

Wait, it’s even worse than that:

“Even the 37% figure understates the number of New Yorkers who endured tough times in 2012. The researchers estimate that two million more endured what they call ‘moderate material hardship,’ which, as opposed to, say, losing one’s home or having the lights shut off, might involve merely falling behind on the rent or utility bills for a couple of months. Many others were in poor health. Indeed, the researchers found that if you add together all of those who were in poverty, suffered severe material hardship, or had a serious health problem, this represented more than half of all New Yorkers [emphasis is mine].”

The researchers hope that “they will have enough data to begin helping public authorities, legislators, foundations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and private charities address the underlying problems that affect the city’s poor” by the end of 2014.

Nationally, more than 35% of all Americans are currently ducking calls from collection agencies over unpaid debts.

What can be done?

Under this system? Not much. Democrats, who haven’t even proposed a major anti-poverty program since the 1960s, aren’t meaningfully better on poverty than Republicans.

As things stand, the best we can hope for from the political classes are crumbs: a few teeny-weeny proposals for wee reforms.

Like expanding day-care programs. More school lunches. Housing subsidies. “Additional investments in food programs.”

A drop in the bucket in an ocean of misery.

The Poverty Tracker shows that poverty is a huge problem in the United States. Unfortunately its authors, who draw their salaries from an institution intimately intertwined with monied elites, dare not openly suggest what they know to be true, that the key to eliminating poverty is to get rid of its root cause: capitalism.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

The 7% Solution

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 03:32

From the New York Times, August 19, 2014: “Encouraging more participation in the democratic process in a community that feels alienated from political power – hence the demonstrations – seems like an obviously good idea; and one that’s particularly compelling because it’s so simple. Voting is an alternative to protesting in the streets.” The establishment, especially Democrats, are starting voter registration drives and using Ferguson as a rallying cry in black communities. According to the statistics, blacks are 7% short of no longer falling prey to trigger-happy white cops.

Video from Wednesday’s Chris Hedges-Ted Rall Panel

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 02:22

Here are some video excerpts from Wednesday night.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: iDeasy

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:47

It sounded like a great idea at the time: L.A. would give students a boost into the 21st century by putting tech directly into their hands. The city’s United School District would buy 700,000 iPads from Apple, each loaded with educational software supplied by Pearson, the major textbook publisher.

“In June 2013, the [Los Angeles] Board of Education approved a deal with the Apple/Pearson team after senior staff assured members that its proposal was both the least expensive and highest in quality, Pearson provided curriculum; Apple was to supply iPads,” Howard Blume writes in the Times.

Apple’s sleek tablets appeared in 47 Los Angeles public schools during the 2013-14 academic year. Right out of the gate, however, it became clear that there were problems with the $1 billion contract. At a time of drastic budget cuts and brutal teacher layoffs, Apple charged L.A. more per device than other districts had paid. Pearson’s software was glitchy and incomplete. Schools weren’t set up to deal with security concerns — protecting the hardware, and blocking students from viewing inappropriate Internet content proved difficult. The district bought iPads at full cost even though their model was about to be replaced by a newer version. “Students at three campuses, for example, deleted security filters so they could browse the Internet — prompting officials to prohibit the use of the devices outside school. At times, officials also provided conflicting or incorrect answers about the project to a technology committee headed by school board member Monica Ratliff.”

When government bureaucracies wind up paying too much money to private contractors for goods and services that fall short — especially when the deal gets cut quickly — it’s reasonable to wonder whether the bidding process was open and transparent. Based on a series of emails disclosed at the request of the Times under the California Public Records Act, communications between L.A. schools superintendent and executives at Pearson and Apple, and the complaints of rivals who tried to land the district’s business, appear to indicate that an arm’s-length approach gave way to a level of institutional coziness that verges on outright political corruption.

“It looked like Apple was positioned to be the choice,” Chiara Tellini of Irvine-based Mind Research Institute, groused to Blume.

From Blume’s report:

In one email, from May 24, 2012, then-Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino seems to strategize with higher-ups from Pearson, an international education-services company, on how to ensure that it got the job.

“I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one,” wrote Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before joining L.A. Unified.

Deasy was one of the last to participate in that email exchange and made his comments after Aquino’s, which covered several topics.

“Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly,” Deasy wrote. “I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits.”

Charming.

(More from Blume: “On Sunday, Deasy said that the conversations were only about a ‘pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation. We did work closely on this pilot.’”)

Under fire and possibly facing an ethics probe, L.A. Unified has suspended the Apple/Pearson deal.

“You should make every bidder think they have a slim chance of getting the job,” Stuart Magruder, a school bond oversight committee member who questioned the deal at the time and got fired over it only to be later reinstated, told Times columnist Steve Lopez. Deasy “didn’t do that.” Lopez is not alone in wondering aloud whether Deasy’s days at L.A. Unified are numbered.

If not, they ought to be. In politics as in business, there’s little effective difference between the appearance of impropriety and outright corruption. Taxpayers have the right not to have to wonder whether their money is being safeguarded — and students have the right not to know they’re being shortchanged by a regime heavy on high tech and low on actual teaching.