Archive for February, 2008

February 29, 2008

Cartoon for March 1

Republicans are accusing Barack Obama of not being patriotic. Their reasons include his decision to stop wearing an American flag lapel pin because the symbol had been hijacked by right-wing neocons, his failure to place his hand over his heart during the National Anthem, and his wife’s comment that she was proud of the United States for the first time during her adult life.

February 28, 2008

Cartoon for February 28

The New York Times accused John McCain of having an affair with a lobbyist for whom he did special favors, thus dishonoring his office. If the Times was wrong, and imperiled both his marriage and his run for the presidency, why didn’t McCain file a libel lawsuit?

February 26, 2008

TED RALL COLUMN: HOPE YOU CAN’T VOTE FOR

Ralph Nader Appeals to Disenfranchised Liberals

“What,” editorializes U.S. News & World Report, “does Ralph Nader bring to the political dialogue this year? Answer: nothing except for his own inflated ego.” Dimestore psychoanalysis was the standard reaction to Nader’s third third-party presidential bid. “An ego-driven spoiler,” the Des Moines Register called him. “He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work,” jabbed Barack Obama.

You see, other politicians who seek the presidency are like the Dalai Lama, humble and self-effacing. Obama and Hillary? Two sweeties. Not an ounce of ego between them.

Even our former colonial masters put in their two pence. Nader’s “egotism and cult of left-wing purity has been an utter disaster for the values he affects to espouse,” railed the UK Independent. Nader’s values would fare better, apparently, were he to shut up and keep them to himself.

Is Ralph really a spoiler? To answer “yes,” you have to buy three assumptions:
First, that the two-party system is written in stone. But it’s not. There’s nothing in the Constitution about two parties, or about parties at all. (The Founding Fathers were dismayed when parties emerged around 1800.) Besides, the Democratic-Republican stranglehold ill serves a diverse population of 300 million. Because parliamentary democracies offer voters a wide selection of parties representing almost every conceivable ideology, voter turnout in Europe typically exceeds 80 percent. In the U.S., most registered voters stay home.

Assumption two: voters ought to vote strategically, i.e., for the lesser of two evils. Even for those who accept this curiously alienating concept, however, evil often comes in pairs. Most citizens think the U.S. has lost more than it has gained under NAFTA; neither Obama nor McCain want to repeal it. Most people want the U.S. out of Iraq; both men have repeatedly voted to prolong the war. How shall anti-NAFTA, antiwar voters divine which will prove least anathematic as president? Should they resort to a ouija board?

The third leg of the Nader=Spoiler tripod relies on a belief that opinions espoused by a small minority of a population are inherently worthless. But, as anyone who has successfully gambled on a business can attest, today’s fringe thinking becomes tomorrow’s conventional wisdom. After 9/11, nine percent of Americans thought George W. Bush was a lousy president. Seventy-two percent feel that way now. America’s greatest political achievements–emancipation, women’s suffrage, the 40-hour work week–were first espoused by tiny voting blocs led by figures on the political fringe.

But that’s not why Ralph says he’s running. His platform seeks to promote causes that are popular with an overwhelming majority of American voters, yet have been sidelined by the two major parties and their allies in the media.

Fifty-five percent of Americans believe that Bush deserves to be impeached, according to a November 2007 American Research Center poll. (Considering Iraq, Guantánamo, domestic surveillance and torture alone, it’s surprising the number isn’t higher.) But “impeachment is off the table,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced as the Democrats recaptured Congress in 2006, and they haven’t mentioned it since. America’s pro-impeachment majority obviously can’t expect Republicans to prosecute their own guy. Aside from most voters, only Ralph Nader wants impeachment proceedings against the “criminal recidivist regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney.”

So who are the fringe weirdoes: the out-of-touch media elite, or the guy who agrees with most of the people?

The two remaining major Democratic presidential contenders think that repeatedly name-checking John Edwards is sufficient to draw votes from his liberal Democratic supporters. But liberals “don’t like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama–for them, he sold out even before he was bought in,” the Independent mocks. Only Nader offers “left-wing purity.”

And what’s wrong with that?

While McCain, Obama and Clinton repeatedly vote for funding the Iraq War, at the same time calling for expanding the war against Afghanistan–a doomed effort that was lost years ago–Nader wants to slash defense spending, the number-one cause of our skyrocketing federal deficit.

Americans favor “socialized medicine” (43 to 38 percent, says the February 14th Harris poll); only Nader agrees with them. Nader would repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, which destroyed labor unions; the other candidates haven’t said squat about the single biggest reason real wages are shrinking.

What’s wrong with that, say Democratic Party officials, is that Nader’s first run attracted 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000. Nader drew support from liberals who didn’t think Al Gore had enough “left-wing purity.”

“This time I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone,” said Hillary. Nader “prevented Al Gore from being the ‘greenest’ president we could have had.”

Maybe the Dems and their pundit pals ought to get their story straight. If Nader’s “left-wing purity” is so fringe and wacky, how can he hurt them?

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL

February 25, 2008

Cartoon for February 25

The media bemoans the psychological problems suffered by U.S. troops returning from Iraq. What about the people they killed?

February 23, 2008

Cartoon for February 23

Even Democratic commentators confuse Obama’s name with another guy who’s incredibly famous and charismatic (though not exactly as much of a charmer). Name recognition matters!

February 21, 2008

Cartoon for February 21

Bush Administration officials refuse to confirm or deny that they torture prisoners of war (or, as they call them, “detainees”). The reason for this vagueness, they explain, is national security: If they confirm that they torture, future victims could prepare themselves against it. If they deny it, no one will be sufficiently terrified of us.

This cartoon is a riff on the parenting book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

February 20, 2008

Dear Albanians: You’re Screwed
posted by Susan Stark

These past few days mark what American State-Controlled Media are calling the “independence of Kosovo” from Serbian control. And from all appearances, it appears to be so. Kosovar Albanians certain believe it. They even have a beautiful, bright, shiny new flag to prove it.

There’s just one eensy, weensy, little problem with this. In fact, quite a few little problems with it.

This independence, unlike many other independences, i.e. Estonia, Lithuania, etc., is not accepted by a good number of people. Some major powers, such as Russia, China, and Spain, and quite a few other countries, do not recognize this little independence cocktail party, mainly out of fears that it will embolden separatist groups in their own countries.

Yet, somehow, this doesn’t seem to matter to the American, UN, and NATO geniuses who decided to bitch-slap Serbia by unilaterally stripping it of it’s terrority. Unilaterally meaning, nobody negotiated with Serbia about this, or even sent them a memo.

Some people would say that Serbia deserves this, but much of what Serbia has been accused of over the years has been grossly exaggerated, particularly what they supposedly did to the Albanians. Remember those 100,000 “mass graves” of Albanians that supposedly existed during the NATO bombing back in ’99? It turns out there were less than 3000 graves, and they were multi-ethnic. So much for genocide. And what about the Serbs driving out the Albanians from Kosovo? No less than the distinguished MIT professor Noam Chomsky stated that before the time of the NATO bombings, there were NO Albanian refugees. In other words, it can be said the the Albanians were fleeing NATO more than they were fleeing Serbs.

The arrogance with which the Bitch-Slappers have declared that it is only a matter of time before world-wide acceptance of this farce as inevitable is exactly the same arrogance that existed right before the Invasion of Iraq, when the US would be greated as liberators and flowers given to US troops.

And for the 200,000 Serbs who still live in Kosovo, the ones not kicked out by the fascist KLA thugs? Why, to put it in Dick Cheney’s terminology, they’re just “dead-enders” and “Milosevites”. They won’t be a problem, will they? Oh, they will, when the bombing starts. And it’s already started. Already, Serb fighters from the North are creeping into Kosovo as I write this. And much of Kosovo is bordered by Serbia proper, so coming in isn’t as hard as you think.

But enough about the Serbs. Let’s get back to the Albanians. The Albanians, unlike the Iraqis, have greated the US with cheers and flowers. God, that must feel like a fresh snort of blow for Bush Jr. after the mess he made in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yes, the Albanians are throwin’ a party! They’re jubilant! And I feel the most profound pity for them. Because the slave who is the most enslaved is the one who thinks he’s free. There are 17,000 NATO troops in Kosovo, the number of which can be expanded at any time, and a good number of KFOR troops. And now there is a nice puppet Prime Minister that will do NATO’s (read, the US’s) bidding. And I guarantee you that, if Wal-Mart starts invading Kosovar villages and putting the town shopkeepers out of business, or if Starbucks starts shutting down the local coffee-holes in Pristina, the Albanians will realize they’ve merely exchanged one master for another.

As the Native Americans here in the United States historically know, the US doesn’t give something without taking either the same or more in return. That is where the term “Indian Giver” comes from. Ironically, the Serbs know this. If and when the Serbs start fighting back vigorously, there might actually be Albanians with them. Now that would be a delicious irony.

February 19, 2008

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: TALK NO, VOTE YES

How do Sleazy Senators Get Away With It?

A weird new tactic is highlighting the troubling extent to which the news media fails to hold our elected officials accountable. First, a politician calls a press conference where he issues a strident declaration for or against a bill. Big headlines follow. Then, when the matter comes up for a vote, he votes exactly the opposite of what he had said he would. And no one pays attention.

Ten years ago, not even the most outrageous legislator would attempt such brazen perfidy. Back then, “flip-flopping”–changing one’s mind about an issue, voting one way and then the other–was the worst sin a pol could commit. Now he can take to the Senate floor, shout about a proposed law being a threat to mom, God and apple pie–and the next day vote “yes,” secure in the knowledge that no reporter will call him on it. Thus can a reputation for courage and integrity be built. It’s just that easy.

John McCain pulls this neat trick all the time. He even did it on the same issue twice: torture.

In 2005 the Arizona senator grandstanded in favor of an anti-torture amendment to a defense bill. Bush signed it, but then took it back with one of his notorious “signing statements.” NYU law professor David Golove, an expert on Congressional politics, explained that Bush would continue to order torture in U.S. prisons and concentration camps. “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to,'” he said.

Senator McCain earned media plaudits for trying to stop torture. But he didn’t try hard enough. He was too afraid of losing the backing of Bush and the GOP establishment for his 2008 presidential big. Bush conned him, and he shut up.

Then, on February 13th of this year, the Senate passed a bill that would ban waterboarding and other types of torture. This time, McCain came out and voted “no”.

In its typically sloppy Orwellian style, The New York Times gave McCain credit for opposing torture–in his imagination–even as he voted in favor of it in the real world, on the Senate floor. “The leading Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war who steadfastly opposes the use of torture, voted against the bill,” scrode The Times. “Steadfast”? “Formerly opposed” is more like it. Better yet, “sort of formerly opposed.”

Everyone knows that Senator Barack Obama was against the Iraq War since the beginning. He’s been blasting it in speeches since October 2002. He was still at it a few days ago, telling supporters: “John McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for a war in Iraq that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. A war that is costing us thousands of precious lives and billions of dollars a week.”

Nice talk. But less than a year ago, on March 27, Senator Obama voted to fund the Iraq War to the tune of $122 billion. On April 26 he voted yes again, for a $124 billion version of the same bill. On November 16, he voted for another $50 billion. Billions of dollars a week…

Reporters don’t ask Obama why he keeps voting for the war if he’s against it. Former President Bill Clinton did: “…there was no difference between [Obama] and George Bush on the war and…there’s no difference in [Obama’s] voting record and Hillary’s…This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” He was absolutely right.

The media pressured Clinton–not Obama–to apologize.

Obama built his career on headlines that portray him as a hopeful proponent of personal liberty and opportunity. Then, when no one is paying attention, he votes like a fascist.

Passed without debate in the grim months following 9/11, the USA-Patriot Act violates our basic privacy rights by allowing the government to spy on us. “Obama’s Stand Against Patriot Act Cheered,” declared a June 26, 2005 Associated Press story that appeared in hundreds of newspapers. Finally! Civil libertarians were happy. Many would go on to support Obama’s presidential campaign. Indeed, any reasonable reader would infer that he was, as the story said, against the Patriot Act. Did he try to repeal it? No. He voted to renew it.

At a January 5th Democratic debate Senator Hillary Clinton confronted Obama: “You said you would vote against the Patriot Act–you came to the Senate and voted for it.” It takes a hypocrite to know one. Hillary voted for it twice.

One of the most accomplished big talkers/vote wimps in the Senate is Clinton’s fellow New Yorker Charles Schumer. On issue after issue Schumer, a notorious publicity hound, loudly lambastes the Republicans and their works. “The most dangerous place in Washington,” Bob Dole once quipped, “is between Charles Schumer and a television camera.” When push comes to a roll call vote, however, the Democrats’ attack dog turns into a teacup poodle.

In January 2006 the Senate held confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. “70 percent of all Americans,” Schumer told CNN, “say they do not want a Supreme Court justice who will vote to overturn Roe [v. Wade].” If confirmed, he said, Alito “would vote to overturn.” Since the right to an abortion is a key Democratic platform plank, everyone read his statement as a declaration of jihad against Alito’s nomination.

On the first day of the hearing Schumer called Alito a right-wing extremist: “In case after case after case, you give the impression of applying careful legal reasoning, but too many times you happen to reach most conservative result. You give the impression of being a meticulous legal navigator, but, in the end, you always seem to chart a rightward course…Under your view, the President would…have inherent authority to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, to ignore Congressional acts at will, or to take any other action he saw fit under his inherent powers.”
Schumer voted against Alito’s confirmation. But, as a powerful member of the senate leadership, his support for a liberal-led filibuster could have kept Alito off the high court. He did nothing.

Eighteen months later, he issued a rare apology. “Every day,” he said, “I am pained that I didn’t do more to try to block Justice Alito…Alito shouldn’t have been confirmed.”

National news organizations chose not to cover Schumer’s apology. You see, the news media doesn’t merely refuse to call out say-one-thing-vote-the-opposite politicians. It won’t even let them call themselves out.

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL

February 18, 2008

Book Review: “The Age of American Unreason”

My review of Susan Jacoby’s new book is in the San Diego Union-Tribune today.

February 18, 2008

Cartoon for February 18

The government wants to use “evidence” collected during waterboarding to execute Guantánamo POWs.

Since waterboarding sometimes kills, this prompts a strange yet obvious question: Can evidence gathered through waterboarding be used to retroactively convict a detainee murdered through waterboarding?