Ted Rall

Syndicate content
Smart Politics in Pictures and Words
Updated: 1 hour 31 min ago

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Never Trust a Realist

10 hours 47 min ago

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why,” Robert F. Kennedy famously said. “I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘why not?’”

RFK was an idealist — someone who views the world as a blank slate full of possibilities.

So am I.

Realists — people who strive to make improvements within the constraints of the current situation — are important. No society can live with its head in the clouds. But we also need people who look to the stars. Where are they now?

For as long as I can remember, American politics and media have been dominated by self-identified realists to the exclusion of idealists. In many cases, the “realists” are just bullies pushing agendas with no real grounding in reality (c.f., Bush’s neo-cons). Still, some of these Very Reasonable People, as Paul Krugman calls them, have achieved incremental victories that have made life somewhat better in some respects (c.f., Obamacare).

But no civilization can achieve greatness without idealists. If you’re looking for one big reason the United States seems to be on the wrong track, try the marginalization of idealism that coincided with the collapse of the peace movement and the American Left at the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. The death of every strain of American Leftism from liberalism to revolutionary communism has left us with a nation that doesn’t know how to dream big.

If we’d been like we are now when Sputnik launched, it’s a fair bet we never would have gone to the moon. We couldn’t have justified the massive budget. Or it would have died in Congress. The money would have been spent, but on stuff no one needs — invading foreign countries, tax cuts for the rich and big corporations — with nothing to show for it.

America has become too small to fail.

In an excerpt from his upcoming book that appeared recently in The Atlantic, Michael Wolraich recently discussed the tendency of Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin senator and leading light of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to hold out for radical progress over incremental, less satisfying gains. La Follette’s big-picture approach — so idealistic — was, in its way, more realistic than what passes for realism today:

“He might have passed more legislation by compromising [with his enemies], but he refused to dilute his proposals. There was that stubbornness again but also strategy. La Follette took a long view of political change. In contrast to Roosevelt’s pragmatic approach, he believed that temporary defeat was preferable to compromised legislation, which would sate public demand for reform without making genuine progress. ‘In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,’ he argued. ‘Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.’ Legislative defeat, on the other hand, served a useful political purpose. He would use the defeat of a popular bill to bludgeon his opponents in the next election, and he would keep assailing them with it until they yielded or lost their seats.”

Or, as the revolutionary “situationists” who took over Paris in May 1968 cried: “Be realistic: Demand the impossible!

When I read this, I thought: Yes! Here’s a perfect articulation of the politics we’re missing.

With USA Today recently joining the chorus of media describing Barack Obama, who championed realism in the form of diminished expectations, as a failed president and a “lame duck before his time,” and Hillary Clinton once again marketing herself a yet another drab uber-realist for 2016, a reminder of La Follette’s ambitious approach to politics is especially timely.

Consider, for example, Obamacare.

La Follette would see the Affordable Care Act as a classic case of the “half a loaf” that “dulls the appetite” for true reform — in this case, socialized medicine or at least European-style “single payer.” In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.

Democrats defended Obamacare to liberals and progressives as an imperfect, insurance company-protecting interim measure. Obamabots encouraged libs to support the conservative Democratic president because the ACA would move America closer to the single-payer ideal.

Now we see how wrong the “realists” were. As La Follette would have predicted, the appetite for the “full loaf” of single payer has diminished, partly sated by the “half loaf” of Obamacare. Regardless who wins in 2016, single-payer will be off the agenda for another four to eight years. Obamacare killed single-payer.

Imagine, on the other hand, where we’d be if Obama had gone the idealist La Follette route, proposing a single-payer healthcare reform bill that had suffered defeat at the hands of Congressional Republicans.

Six years after the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis, several more million of Americans would be uninsured. Hospital emergency rooms, bursting at the seams as it is, would be in a greater state of crisis — which would add to support for reform. You can easily imagine Obama and the Democrats beating up “Republicans who don’t care about sick and dying Americans” on the campaign trail. Sooner or later — I’d bet sooner — they’d have to cave in and vote for this big new social program, just as they did with the New Deal and Great Society, or face oblivion.

Of course, Obama’s appetite for single payer was never ferocious. He promised a single-payer “option” during the 2008 campaign — yet never tried — but the point remains, the American people allowed themselves to be “realistic.” Which left them with far less than they might have gotten had they held out for full-fledged single-payer.

As we head into the 2016 campaign, remember what “realism” really is: the siren song of mediocrity, written by the elite to make you settle for less than you deserve.

(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 Long Goodbye

17 hours 51 min ago

Despite a series of executions that have stretched out over an hour or even more, many Americans continue to approve of capital punishment. Many Internet commenters love longer executions. Which means doing them intentionally can’t be far away.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Great Streets? Or Just Gentrification?

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 13:04

 

 

One of the last books published by the modernist author Sherwood Anderson (now known for his revolutionary, transgressive short story collection “Winesburg, Ohio“) was “Home Town,” a WPA-funded 1940 examination in prose and photos of the waning small American town, with its inevitable strip of unpretentious diners, practical hardware stores and other staple businesses around which community life revolved. Even in the late 1930s, the rise of the automobile was expanding horizons, enabling sprawl and killing the intimacy of smaller communities that Anderson, like many Americans, found simultaneously comforting and stifling.

Decades of highway construction drove development away from urban centers all over the country and around the world, but nowhere has that phenomenon been more pronounced than Los Angeles, a city of more than 3.8 million people with such a remarkable absence of a clearly delineated central downtown — “Downtown” itself having become a ghost town at night and, for that matter, during many hours of the day — that it does not contain a highly symbolic target for post-9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Urban Dictionary calls L.A. “a massive tangle of highways and roads, also rumored to contain people and houses.”

For at least half a century, however, Americans have suffered a case of automotive and suburban remorse in the form of angst-ridden cris de coeur in the vein of Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road” (1961). A notable architectural reaction against sprawl was/is the New Urbanism movement that began in the 1980s, an attempt to recreate the small-town vibe documented by Anderson by increasing population density in new developments centered around pre-fab mini-downtown business districts that seek to be pedestrian-friendly.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Great Streets” program follows this tradition, though at a scale whose ambitions are currently constrained by a lack of “the money and the space to add the types of transportation that would significantly reduce traffic congestion, such as widening streets or adding expensive mass transit,” write David Zahniser, Matt Stevens, and Laura J. Nelson in the Times.

“In a process the mayor describes as ‘urban acupuncture,’ the city plans to add bike racks, plazas, crosswalk upgrades and other amenities aimed at drawing in pedestrians and attracting new businesses” to 15 thoroughfares.

Some Angelenos are skeptical. Some worry Great Streets will fail, as have similar initiatives attempted by Garcetti’s predecessors. Others worry it will screw up traffic, a perennial problem in the city. Then there are those who worry it will work:

“In Highland Park, once sleepy York Boulevard has become a magnet for an array of middle- and upper-middle class needs: coffee, comic books, vegan ice cream, and $5 donuts. Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, once favored mainly by locals, is now a regional tourist destination with prices to rival Rodeo Drive. Backers of the Great Streets program hope to achieve similar success.”

Overpriced coffee, pretentious deserts and overpriced pastries spell one thing: gentrification, the process of “improving” a neighborhood by driving up rents and expelling long-time residents, many of whom happen to be poor and/or have brown skin. (I’m OK with stores that sell comics, though.)

Aside from inconveniencing poor people and minorities with evictions and forcing them to commute from more distant suburbs to their jobs, gentrification makes neighborhoods strips ethnic flavor and makes them bland. Surely it should be possible to attract pedestrians to city streets minus gentrification — a mix of commercial rent control, curation of businesses and guarantees to long-term residents that they will be allowed to remain over the long run — but it hardly happens after the developers get involved. Given this history, it’s far more likely that Great Streets will become Great Streets for Upscale White People.

Debut Book Signing for “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests”

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 06:58

Good news! Preview copies of  “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be on sale, and I will be there to sign them, in just a matter of days. This event will be in East Hampton, New York, to benefit the public library:

Saturday, August 9, 2014
5:00 PM
Authors Night
36 James Lane
East Hampton, NY 11937

The GOP Finally Takes on Poverty

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 05:31

Republican Congressman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, infamous for budget proposals that denigrate and starve the downtrodden, has changed tack with an anti-poverty proposal that actually includes safety-net items like expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Still, the Republican Party remains in thrall to trickle-down economic theories that, if they worked, would take years to help poor people who need money now.

Spaced Out

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 05:30

Possible GOP Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, whose father entered the US illegally, says the US is full up, that there just isn’t any room left in the US for new immigrants, including the children arriving at the border with Mexico. But when you actually consider how much space there is in the country, that’s obviously untrue.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Dumbistan

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 09:46

Silicon Valley zillionaires feel entitled. They like to get everything their way. They order off the menu. Steve Jobs, who famously parked across two handicapped spaces, prompted a note riffing on Apple’s famous advertising slogan: “Park different.” So it was bound to a matter of time — a short time — before they began screwing around with politics, and doing it in their usual brash, short-sighted way.

Timothy Draper made his money the old-fashioned way: his father made a bunch of smart investments that paid off. Like most members of the American nobility, being born at mile 25 ½ in the marathon of life has convinced Draper that he knows best how to cure everything that ails California:

Split the state into six smaller states.

Draper has submitted 1.3 million signatures to state election officials, which allowing for disqualified signatures will probably be enough to meet the 807,615-signature requirement to place his referendum — the Chinese Communist Party would call his idea “splittism” — on the ballot for consideration by voters in November 2016.

California, Draper says, is too big to not fail. With six smaller states governed from six new capitals, he argues, these state governments will be closer to the people — geographically, anyway. Personally, I don’t see the logic. If geographic proximity led legislatures to take better care of constituents, wouldn’t the city governments of state capitals be cleaner, safer and less corrupt than cities and towns further away from legislators’ offices? From Sacramento to Austin to Harrisburg to Albany, however, there is no evidence of that.

Patrick McGreevy writes in The Times:

A Field Poll in February found that 59% of California voters oppose a breakup of the state, Maviglio noted, and the strategist predicted the business community and Democratic and Republican leaders will will campaign against it. “There is no groundswell of support  for this,” said Maviglio. California, he said, “is going to bea laughing stock on [TV comedy shows, including] Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman because of this idea. For anyone considering investment in our state, this raises a question of uncertainty.”

Even if voters approve the ballot measure, breaking up California would have to win approval of Congress, which he said is doubtful. “Is Congress going to give California 10 more senators?” Maviglio asked.

The Republican House? Give Democratic California 10 more senators? Probably not.

So this is a perfect referendum: except for its dubious constitutionality, political unpopularity and almost certain unfeasibility. Which makes me wonder: who are the 1.3 million Californians who signed Draper’s petitions? Sure, I know that voting to put something on the ballot isn’t the same thing as turning up to vote and then supporting a measure. Still, some ideas are so dumb we shouldn’t have to waste our time discussing them in the first place — and this one clearly qualifies.

Which has me thinking: maybe these people need a place all to themselves.

A dumb place.

Clueless in Gaza

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 09:29

As in previous conflicts, Israel claims its right to defend itself in its current conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But its response, killing hundreds of civilians in response to the deaths of a few Israelis, is wildly disproportional and thus a violation of international law.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Clueless in Gaza – We Americans Support Democracy, But Only When the Elections Go Our Way

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 12:27

“Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once,” The New York Times noted about Obama on July 23rd. What the paper didn’t/won’t/can’t say is: Rarely has a president caused so many of his own crises.

This summer, most of Obama’s problems follow from his unwillingness to respect democracy overseas.

The U.S. government supports democracy in other countries — but only if the elections go its way. If not, anything goes to obtain a favorable outcome: economic sabotage, backing violent coups d’état, installing dictators to replace democratically-elected leaders, even ginning up all-out war.

Three recent examples showcasing U.S. contempt for electoral democracy include Egypt, and two places making news this week, Palestine and Ukraine.

Egypt’s 2012 election, the first after the overthrow of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is a recent case of American perfidy that’s embarrassing going on tacky. Mohamed Morsi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, won the presidency in elections international observers called as fair and transparent as could be expected in a nascent democracy.

The thing to do, of course would have been to congratulate Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, and offer assistance upon request.

Rather than accept the results, however, the Obama Administration “channeled funding … [that] … vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt.” A year later, Morsi was overthrown by a coup that restored Mubarak’s military junta minus the ailing former tyrant. Ignoring American law, Obama continues to finance General Abdel Fata al-Sisi’s violent, oppressive regime, which many human rights groups describe as even more brutal than Mubarak’s. Morsi, a democratically-elected leader whom a principled American president should demand to be restored to power, rots in a prison whose jailers are paid by American taxpayers.

To add Orwellian insult to neocolonialist injury, Secretary of State John Kerry is still saying that Egypt’s post-Morsi junta is “transitioning to a democracy.” Kerry’s mouthfart came a day after al-Sisi sent three foreign journalists away for long prison terms.

Overshadowed by Israel’s latest brutal swat-a-fly-with-laser-guided-missiles invasion and bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip is the fact that, as in Egypt, the United States got the elections it demanded in Palestine, only to succumb to buyer’s remorse after the ballots were counted.

The Palestinian elections of 2006 are hardly the most thrilling story ever told, so I won’t be surprised if you decide to look at this story about the guy who sent his wife a spreadsheet detailing all the excuses she gave him for not having sex and never look back.

Still here? Here’s an abridged recounting of an episode that not only sheds some light on the current conflagration between Israel and Palestine, but reveals the methods used by Israel and its allies to undermine Palestinian self-governance — and belies America’s loudly proclaimed commitment to democracy to boot.

Israeli leaders like to complain that the Palestinian side doesn’t offer them a viable partner with whom to negotiate peace. Read the following, however, and Israel’s right-wing government’s real agenda becomes clear: to demoralize and divide the Palestinian people in order to sap their resistance to economic and military oppression.

In the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, held both in the West Bank and Gaza in response to pressure from the United States, Hamas beat Fatah (Yasir Arafat’s more moderate party), 44.45% to 41.43%, entitling it to 74 seats in parliament over Fatah’s 45. (The current split, in which Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank, followed a later internal military clash.)

Israel’s interference with the 2006 elections began during campaign season, when it preemptively arrested and jailed 450 members of Hamas because they were involved in the elections as candidates or campaign workers. Despite this and other acts of sabotage, including trying to ban residents of East Jerusalem from voting, the elections went off well. The European Parliament’s spokesperson called the vote “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.”

The thing to do would have been to congratulate Hamas and the Palestinians, and offer assistance upon request.

Instead, the Bush Administration and its allies cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, ended diplomatic relations and imposed trade and other economic sanctions. Three months after Hamas formed its first government, in June 2006, Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, demolished and bombed civilian and government infrastructure, and arrested 25% of the members of parliament “because technically they were members of a terrorist organization although they may not be involved in terrorist acts themselves.” The U.S., which supplied the weapons used in the attacks, cited Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

Hamas, U.S. government-controlled media frequently reminds readers and viewers, is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. So to people who don’t hold tickets to the Way Back A Decade Ago Machine, the actions of America, Israel and their allies vis-à-vis Hamas, which rules Gaza, seem reasonable. They’re terrorists! They shoot rockets at Israel! (Really lame rockets, but still.)

Hamas remains boxed in and desperate under Obama. Israel and Egypt’s al-Sisi regime, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid military hardware, have shut the territory’s land crossings to Israel and Egypt and imposed a naval blockade on the Mediterranean coastline. Despite dozens of tunnels built to smuggle in goods, the West’s sanctions regime has been successful; Gaza’s economy has tanked, and unemployment among its 1.8 million people has risen to 38.5%. (The highest rate in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s was 25%.) Shooting rockets at civilians isn’t a great way to make friends — but desperation makes people do stupid things.

What the U.S. media doesn’t want you to know is: Hamas is popular. They won the last election, and they’d probably win again if one were held now. By pushing regime change in Gaza, therefore, the U.S. wants to replace a popular government with an unpopular one…in other words, subverting democracy.

Ukraine is yet another case of a democratically-elected ruler overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup.

Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2010 elections that were widely believed to have conformed to international standards according to foreign observers. The thing to do would have been to congratulate him and the Ukrainian people on a fair election, and offer assistance upon request. But the U.S. was wary of Yanukovych, worried he might not easily be tamed. (Sample American punditry at the time: “The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund.”)

He didn’t. Finally, in November 2013, Yanukovych sealed his fate by siding with neighboring Russia over a pending EU association agreement — thus rejecting closer ties to the West and the United States. Street protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 were likely indigenous, but would almost certainly not have succeeded in driving the president into exile without the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in covert U.S. funding to the Maidan organizers.

Though more of a money-motivated oligarch than a creature of the far right, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to accommodate right-wing factions, including neo-fascists, in Ukraine. Moreover, whatever you think of Poroshenko, he is not the legitimate ruler of the country. Nevertheless, President Obama has recognized him as such and offered economic and military hardware in his civil war against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern part of the country.

I’ll close with a quote from Noam Chomsky: “For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.”

(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 High Price of Abortion Rights

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 03:57

Hillary Clinton supporters are resurrecting an argument made by Obamabots to progressives: Despite her support for right-wing policies like NAFTA and voting for war against Iraq, liberals should vote for her because she might get to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court that might determine whether abortion remains legal. I’m pro-choice, but I’m nauseated by the thought that the right to an abortion necessitates voting for someone like Hillary Clinton, who has the blood of millions of innocent people on her hands.

False Equivalence

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 03:56

The American media’s coverage of the current fighting between Israel and the Hamas government of Gaza is a case study in false equivalence. More than 200 Palestinians have died; only one Israeli. Yet they are portrayed as intractable, equivalent foes.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: You Know Your Country Sucks When You Look Wistfully Back at Stalin

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:05

 

You can tell a lot about the state of a country by comparing the state of its public and private infrastructure.

Take a look, if you can sneak past the gated community guard shack and peek through the privets without getting tackled by a rented goon, at the homes of the wealthy. Note the manicured lawns of the one percenters, fertilized the months recommended by experts depending on climactic zone, painstakingly controlled for weeds, irrigation calibrated by volume, on timers. Check out the garden: lines of shrubs that run a hundred bucks each, red-dyed mulch hiding the dirty brown dirt and tamping down unwanted dandelions before they get a chance to sprout. The driveway is flat, smooth, free of cracks. Stucco walls, if you live out West, are similarly crack-free; if you’re east of the Mississippi, bricks are framed by perfect pointing. Every detail, from the brass numbers on the mailbox to the baseboards to the perfect absence of cobwebs in high ceiling corners, reflects thorough, routine, frequent maintenance and repairs by a retinue of professional service providers.

Tasteful. New. Kept up.

Bear in mind: all this perfectly-maintained stuff houses a single family. At most, we’re talking two parents, four kids and a nanny or two. Certainly fewer than 10 people.

Now look at our public infrastructure.

Drive on a public highway in any major city: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. It’s a disaster. Potholes so big you worry about breaking an axle. (And you should. In New York State, for example, a recent study estimated that bad roads and bridges cost motorists $20.3 billion in repairs annually.) Cracked concrete and asphalt everywhere. Missing guardrails, stolen signs, and everywhere you turn, garbage. Graffiti and vandalism take a toll but mostly it’s all just old. Old, rusted, worn out, years of “deferred maintenance” — i.e., none at all. Yeah, people throw crap out their car windows — but municipal governments don’t clean it up for days, weeks months at a time.

Connecting two of NYC’s biggest boroughs, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is used daily by 160,000 vehicles. It is hideous. It is narrow. It is literally falling apart. Constantly. “With its multitude of trucks and dangerous on-ramps, the BQE is a den of congestion at virtually all hours of the day,” The New York Times reported in 2012. “But one factor has condemned this antiquated 16.8-mile stretch of highway to a place of longstanding infamy in the New York metropolitan area, if not all of urban America: construction that never seems to end. As Gerry Michalowski, a truck driver who has traveled the BQE since 1978, put it, ‘It was under construction then, and it’s still under construction now.’”

Think again about that house I described at the beginning of this column.

It’s used by half a dozen people a year.

The BQE is used by 58 million vehicles a year.

If you don’t think there’s something wrong with this, if you defend the “right” of the wealthy to aggregate more and more until the point when they own everything including our bodies and souls, consider this: rich people have to drive on those roads too. By definition, 580,000 of those BQE users are one percenters.

America isn’t broke, but most Americans are. The reason is simple: too few people have too much of our national wealth. The pauperizing of our common property — the deliberate starving of public funding for roads, bridges, parks, schools, public hospitals, even hospitals charged with caring for veterans of America’s oil wars — reflects the economic and political system’s ass-backward priorities. It’s immoral. Because any society that spends more resources to maintain and upgrade private homes than public works is crazy stupid.

And it hurts the economy.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States needs to spend $3.6 trillion over the next six years to replace and repair the nation’s decaying dams, upgrade its parks and outdated schools, rusting water mains, and our crumbling airports, train and bus terminals, roads and bridges — many of which have deteriorated to Third World standards. (Although, to be fair to the Third World, I’ve seen U.S.-funded roads in Afghanistan in better shape than some in L.A.) The ASCE gives the U.S. a D+ on infrastructure.

The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 25th in the world in infrastructure, behind Oman, Saudi Arabia and Barbados.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Josef Stalin, of all people, showed how infrastructure could be prioritized over private property. The dictator approved every extravagance — and why not? Obama signs off on every luxury the military can dream up.

Determined that his new Moscow Metro be a “palace of the people” for the Soviet capital’s subway commuters, Stalin ordered that no expense be spared to create a system that was not only fast and efficient, but beautiful. “In stark contrast to the gray city above,” The Times wrote as late as 1988, “the bustling, graffiti-less Metro is a subterranean sanctuary adorned with crystal chandeliers, marble floors and skillfully crafted mosaics and frescoes fit for a czar’s palace.” With good reason: first Stalin had chandeliers ripped out of the czar’s old palaces and moved underground; for future stations he had even more stunning ones designed from scratch using radically innovative techniques.

The Moscow Metro remains a showcase of what socialism could do at its best: prioritize the people and thus improve their daily lives.

Then there’s us.

Earlier this week President “Obama appeared at the I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington, Del., a span that has been closed since June, when engineers discovered that four of its columns were leaning to one side. That has created a traffic nightmare for the 90,000 vehicles that travel the major East Coast highway every day.”

The President went to Delaware to “announce new initiatives to encourage private-sector investment in the nation’s infrastructure, including the creation of a ‘one-stop shop’ at the Department of Transportation to forge partnerships between state and local governments, and public and private developers and investors.” In other words: the usual too little, too late, and even that probably won’t happen.

You know you’re in trouble when you look up to Stalin.

(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

 

War and Peace, Made in USA

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 03:55

As the largest, most expansionary military empire in history and the world’s number one arms supplier, often to both sides in conflicts, the United States is once again offering, hilariously, to broker a peace agreement, this time between Hamas in Gaza, and Israel. First you start the war, or at least expand it, then you get credit for making peace!

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: In Need of Weed

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 06:22

 

“It’s the balloon theory,” Jeff Raber, president of a cannabis testing lab in Pasadena, tells The Times‘ David Pierson about an unintended effect of Proposition D, which prompted a crackdown by local authorities on storefront marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. Hundreds of the stores have closed. “They think taking down all the dispensaries will make it go away. But it’s not going away. It’s going to morph into something else.”

“Something else” turns out to be dial-a-bud services: pot delivered direct to your door. “Once a small, word-of-mouth phenomenon, mobile marijuana businesses now number in the hundreds across Southern California. Nationwide, pot delivery services have nearly tripled in three years, from 877 to 2,617, according to Weedmaps, a Yelp-like online directory for pot businesses,” Pierson writes. Can it be long before Amazon offers to mellow out your evening by dispatching Cambodian Red via drone?

Services that offer the convenience of marijuana by phone (or text or email) aren’t legal. For the time being, however, the fuzz is laying off. Pierson explains the tacit modus vivendi:

“California cities have mostly allowed the services to operate freely. State medical marijuana laws don’t mention delivery services, which, like dispensaries, require patients to join as members of a collective. A few cities, including Riverside, have banned marijuana delivery. The L.A. city attorney’s office said mobile businesses are prohibited under Proposition D, but it has yet to prosecute any.”

If you know potheads — and I do — you might share my two-fold reaction. On the one hand, I don’t see the harm. As long as the delivery people aren’t using the product, who cares? On the other, I can’t help think that this is yet another way that capitalism is conspiring to turn Americans into the laziest and most indolent people on earth.

Before legalization, scoring pot required some effort. You often had to get off your butt and drive somewhere — perhaps to an unpleasant neighborhood — to obtain party favors, as they call them on Craigslist. You might spend the night, or the week, in a stoned stupor. Beforehand, however, you benefited an hour or two of physical effort and socio-cultural eye-opening.

The dispensaries dispensed with the exotic visits to strange and unusual sectors. Still, there was the separation of buttock from seat cushion.

Now that’s gone.

Stoners can order “packets of marijuana buds, gummies, hard candies and a fat joint” from their smartphones. If your couch is near a window, you don’t even have to get up.

Ever.

Like the vomitoria where overstuffed wealthy Romans regurgitated meals of titmice and wrens, and the cautionary easy chair-toilet combo in “Idiocracy,” pot to your door is probably not a signifier of a society in ascendance.

My Cartoon Appropriated for a Poster at a University in India

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 06:33

Cool. It’s at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Lemmings, Moths to Flames and Liberal Democrats

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 03:01

Once again, liberals are being taken for granted by the Democratic Party. This time, they’re presenting the possibility of a lame, poorly-funded and thus merely symbolic primary challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left, via Bernie Sanders or possibly Elizabeth Warren, as ersatz democracy and a way to make progressives, whose concerns are ignored by the party bosses, feel less badly about holding their noses and voting for Hillary in the fall of 2016.

Ready for Hillary, 2017/Overseas Edition

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 03:00

Echoing the Obama campaign’s claim that electing the first black president would make history, the incipient Hillary Clinton campaign says that, as the first woman president, Hillary Clinton would do the same. But Obama continued many of Bush’s worst policies, including drones. So, it seems clear, would Clinton. What would “history” look like, especially under fire by American drones? Pretty much like the same old, same old.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Those Kids Crossing the Border from Mexico Wouldn’t Be There if Obama Hadn’t Supported a Coup the Media Doesn’t Talk About

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 08:55

If you’re reading this, you probably follow the news. So you’ve probably heard of the latest iteration of the “crisis at the border”: tens of thousands of children, many of them unaccompanied by an adult, crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States, where they surrender to the Border Patrol in hope of being allowed to remain here permanently. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention and hearing system has been overwhelmed by the surge of children and, in some cases, their parents. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to approve new funding to speed up processing and deportations of these illegal immigrants.

Even if you’ve followed this story closely, you probably haven’t heard the depressing backstory — the reason so many Central Americans are sending their children on a dangerous thousand-mile journey up the spine of Mexico, where they ride atop freight trains, endure shakedowns by corrupt police and face rapists, bandits and other predators. (For a sense of what it’s like, check out the excellent 2009 film “Sin Nombre.”)

NPR and other mainstream news outlets are parroting the White House, which blames unscrupulous “coyotes” (human smugglers) for “lying to parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of traffickers and get to the United States that they will be able to stay.” True: the coyotes are saying that in order to gin up business. Also true: U.S. law has changed, and many of these kids have a strong legal case for asylum. Unfortunately, U.S. officials are ignoring the law.

The sad truth is that this “crisis at the border” is yet another example of “blowback.”

Blowback is an unintended negative consequence of U.S. political, military and/or economic intervention overseas — when something we did in the past comes back to bite us in the ass. 9/11 is the classic example; arming and funding radical Islamists in the Middle East and South Asia who were less grateful for our help than angry at the U.S.’ simultaneous backing for oppressive governments (The House of Saud, Saddam, Assad, etc.) in the region.

More recent cases include U.S. support for Islamist insurgents in Libya and Syria, which destabilized both countries and led to the murders of U.S. consular officials in Benghazi, and the rise of ISIS, the guerilla army that imperils the U.S.-backed Maliki regime in Baghdad, respectively.

Confusing the issue for casual American news consumers is that the current border crisis doesn’t involve the usual Mexicans traveling north in search of work. Instead, we’re talking about people from Central American nations devastated by a century of American colonialism and imperialism, much of that intervention surprisingly recent. Central American refugees are merely transiting through Mexico.

“The unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States are leaving behind mainly three Central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The first two are among the world’s most violent and all three have deep poverty, according to a Pew Research report based on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) information,” reports NBC News. “El Salvador ranked second in terms of homicides in Latin America in 2011, and it is still high on the list. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America. Thirty percent of Hondurans, 17 percent of Salvadorans and 26 percent of Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day.”

The fact that Honduras is the biggest source of the exodus jumped out at me. That’s because, in 2009, the United States government — under President Obama — tacitly supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. “Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades,” The Guardian noted at the time. “During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.”

Honduras wasn’t paradise under President Manuel Zelaya. Since the coup, however, the country has entered a downward death spiral of drug-related bloodshed and political revenge killings that crashed the economy, brought an end to law, order and civil society, and now has some analysts calling it a “failed state” along the lines of Somalia and Afghanistan during the 1990s.

“Zelaya’s overthrow created a vacuum in security in which military and police were now focused more on political protest, and also led to a freeze in international aid that markedly worsened socio-economic conditions,” Mark Ungar, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, told The International Business Times. “The 2009 coup, asserts [Tulane] professor Aaron Schneider, gave the Honduran military more political and economic leverage, at the same time as the state and political elites lost their legitimacy, resources and the capacity to govern large parts of the country.”

El Salvador and Guatemala, also narcostates devastated by decades of U.S. support for oppressive, corrupt right-wing dictatorships, are suffering similar conditions.

Talk about brass! The United States does it everything it can to screw up Central America — and then acts surprised when desperate people show up at its front gate trying to escape the (U.S.-caused) carnage. Letting the kids stay — along with their families — is less than the least we could do.

(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