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The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
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Russia — OK, not the actual Russian government but a private troll farm company located in Russia — bought $100,000 worth of political ads on Facebook designed to change the outcome of the 2016 election. Except that only a small fraction of those ads were political. Also except that the small fraction was divvied up between pro-Hillary Clinton and pro-Donald Trump ads. And especially except that $100,000 in Facebook ads can’t affect the outcome of a $6.8 billion election.

Now the media outlets who touted special counsel Robert Mueller’s fizzled Russiagate investigation daily for two years are warning that Russia is planning to do the same thing in 2020.

Be slightly afraid, very slightly afraid.

“Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and affect government policies,” read a statement from top Trump administration security officials issued in November. “Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions.”

Setting aside the question of whether it’s smart to take the U.S. government at its word — it isn’t — if Russia were to meddle in our domestic politics, we would have it coming.

To say the least.

Throughout its history, the United States has repeatedly attacked, sabotaged and undermined the Soviet Union. U.S. interference was one of the major contributors to the collapse of that country in 1991. So the Russian government that followed — the system now in place — might not even exist if not for the United States.

Imagine being one of the freshly minted leaders of Russia in the months following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. You have a lot on your plate. The last thing you need is a U.S.-led force of tens of thousands of troops invading your chaotic new country, most of which is primitive and dirt-poor. But that’s what they got. It took three years to kick out our troops.

That’s a little more interference than Facebook ads.

During World War II, the U.S. and the USSR were allies against Nazi Germany — enemy of my enemy and all that — but even after promising to jump in, the feckless Americans dragged their feet for three years before getting into the war, content to stand down as tens of millions of Soviet citizens died. Then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “deliberately made the Soviet people shoulder the hardships of war and hoped to see the Soviet Union bled white,” a wartime commander named Ivan Kuzovkov told Tass news service in 1984.

In 1962, then-President John F. Kennedy took the world to the brink of World War III because the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba, 90 miles away from Florida. Yet two years earlier, the Soviets had shot down American spy pilot Gary Powers in what became known as the U-2 incident. There’s no question that the plane was over Soviet airspace. It was an act of war. But even at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets chose to look the other way. Can you imagine what would have happened if Russia had done the same thing to us?

In 1982, then-President Ronald Reagan approved an ingenious CIA operation to blow up a huge natural gas pipeline running across Siberia. “In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds,” recalled a former member of Reagan’s national security council. The result was economic disruption, environmental catastrophe and “the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

Blowing up the equivalent of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was a tad more dramatic than releasing Democratic National Committee emails, not that there’s any evidence Russia was behind that.

In 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 — gotta love the subtlety of the number — was shot down over northeastern Russia after its pilot turned off the plane’s transponder and ignored orders to withdraw from militarily sensitive Soviet airspace. The plane had penetrated 587 kilometers into the USSR, a world record for “off-course” aerial navigation. It’s impossible to know for sure, but given the close ties between South Korea and the U.S. at the time, it’s likely that the airline allowed the CIA to affix high-resolution spy cameras to the plane. It gambled the lives of the passengers on the assumption that the Russians wouldn’t fire on a civilian airliner.

Another Reagan-era project involved economic sabotage. Because oil and gas were major Soviet exports, the U.S. convinced Saudi Arabia to ramp up production of its own energy reserves. Oil and gas prices fell globally; the Soviet economy went into a tailspin; and U.S. taxpayers compensated the Saudis for doing them a favor. If Russia had purposefully caused the 2007-09 financial meltdown just to mess with us, we would view it as an act of war.

In 1991, the U.S. got its way; the Soviet Union collapsed; and Russia transitioned to free market capitalism. You’d think that the Americans would reach out to help. They did send money: bribes for the tiny clique of corrupt former bureaucrats surrounding Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, from whom soon emerged a new class of violent oligarchs. Ordinary Russians got nothing. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 3 million Russian citizens died of hunger and other causes as a result of the collapse of communism and the refusal of the international community to step up.

Talk about interference! The Americans worked hard to destroy the USSR. After they succeeded, when interference would have been welcome and appropriate, they left Russia to die.

When the U.S. worries about Russia messing with its internal politics, it sounds a lot like psychological projection.

Or just desserts.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: American Military, CIA, Russia, Russiagate 
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War, many people believe, often results from cultural differences and misunderstandings. President Donald Trump’s assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani has Americans considering the possibility that we may soon add Iran to our list of unwinnable wars in the Middle East. As that calculus unfolds, no one questions the assumption that there are irreconcilable differences between our two nations that can only be worked out via more bloodshed.

Nothing could be further than the truth. No other people in the world are more temperamentally similar to Americans than Iranians. Certainly, the Iranians’ religion is different. So is their language. But we are a lot more alike than most Americans, including members of the news media, assume.

The problem is that very few Americans have been to Iran. The absence of diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the ensuing hostage crisis that brought down Jimmy Carter’s presidency and the trade sanctions that prohibit American airlines from providing direct air service make it all but impossible for travelers to get inside the country and see what’s going on for themselves.

I’m not an expert on Iran. But this seems like an appropriate time to share what I learned nine years ago when I visited that country.

As I said, getting in wasn’t easy. I paid numerous visits to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations — the closest thing Iran has to a consulate in New York — to little avail. Ultimately I shelled out a $5,700 “arrangement fee” (some would call it a bribe) to a Washington D.C.-based agency that worked through the “Iranian Interests” section of the Pakistani embassy there to secure visas for myself and two fellow cartoonists.

The main purpose of our trip was to travel through Afghanistan for a book I was writing. Since our itinerary through that war-torn country would end with the Afghan city of Herat near the Iranian border, we wanted to leave via Iran after some tourism and relaxation.

You can get an idea of how unusual our plan was from the incredulous reaction of the Afghan border policeman who greeted us after we crossed the border from Tajikistan. “Point of exit?” he asked. When we told him Iran, he laughed. “You are American! There is no way,” he replied. When he showed our Iranian visas to his colleagues, they couldn’t believe their eyes. “How did you get these?” they wanted to know.

Several weeks later, we walked across the border between northwestern Afghanistan and northeastern Iran. It seemed incredibly simple. We were already stamped in and waiting for a taxi when three bemused agents of Iran’s feared Ettela intelligence service tapped us on our shoulders and invited us into separate interrogation rooms. They grilled us for hours. Before they released us, my agent asked me, “Do you know why we questioned you so diligently?” I didn’t. “You three,” he replied, “are the first Americans to cross this border since 1979.” I don’t know if that’s true. Clearly we were rare birds.

The first thing that struck me, especially compared to the bleak devastation of Afghanistan, was how modern Iran was, even in this remote corner of the nation. Americans have an impression of the Middle East as a bunch of dusty, pockmarked ruins, but Iran looked and felt like Turkey or Israel in terms of its terrain and infrastructure. The second was how nice everyone was, even — and especially — after learning we were American.

As required by the government, we had arranged for a travel agent to meet us and shepherd us around. He was a nice guy, even though he liked to scam our money; we kept being put up in two-star hotels after we paid him for four.

From the start, Iran wasn’t what we assumed. On the train ride to Mashhad, our fixer disappeared for about an hour. Upon his return, he apologized and explained that he had picked up a woman who had taken him to her cabin for a quickie. His promiscuity wasn’t unusual. We were repeatedly flirted with or propositioned by women. The desk clerks at our hotel asked our fixer about our long beards, which we had grown out in order to blend in in rural Afghanistan. “Are your friends fanatics?” they wanted to know. “Would they spend the night with us?”

Along with our beards, we had acquired the traditional “shalwar kameez” white robes worn by conservative Afghans. Our fixer suggested we had a unique opportunity to smuggle ourselves into the “haram”(forbidden) section of the Imam Reza shrine so we could check out the stunning Timurid architecture. If anyone talked to us, our fixer advised we pretend not to understand them. Muslims come from all over the world to pray there, so we could pretend to speak a different language. Worshipers circled the tomb of the 9th century Shia martyr Ali al-Ridha seemingly in a trance, but whenever someone spent too long in the center, an attendant lightly dipped a pink feather duster strung from a pole onto the offender to ask him to move on.

Two incidents stood out for me.

At our hotel in Tehran, we overheard a European couple complaining to the desk clerks that they had been robbed of 1,200 euros the night before. The clerks repeatedly entreated them to report the loss to the police, but the Europeans were understandably hesitant. The next day, I encountered the pair in the elevator. “You won’t believe what happened,” the wife told me. “We went to the police, and they gave us 1,200 euros.” There was a law that foreign tourists had to be made whole if they suffered a financial loss due to crime. Iranians we talked to were surprised that it wasn’t the same in the West.

We flew from Tehran to Istanbul. At our last security checkpoint in Iran, airport security personnel ordered us to remove our baggage from the conveyor belt leading to the X-ray machine. Great, I thought, we’re going to be detained. “You are guests in our country,” the airport official advised us. “It would be rude to subject you to a search.” We were Americans, citizens of the Great Satan, at Ayatollah Khomeini International Airport!

Not everything was sweetness and light.

There is always a sense of tension that comes with lawbreaking and its potentially grave consequences. For the most part, however, we followed the rules. Most of the people we saw obeyed them, too, but just barely. Many women wore tightfitting manteaus and barely covered their hair.

When our Turkish Airlines flight lifted up from Tehran, many of the women on board dumped their chadors, revealing skin, sexy outfits and makeup. People smiled. Flight attendants began serving beer. This is what Iran would feel like if Iran’s government, which is not popular, were to go away tomorrow.

Trump’s latest actions and America’s myopic foreign policy, however, ensure that the religious government will probably remain in place for the foreseeable future.

 
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People born in the 1960s may be the last human beings who will get to live out their full actuarial life expectancies.

“Climate change now represents a near- to mid-term existential threat” to humanity, warns a recent policy paper by an Australian think tank. Civilization, scientists say, could collapse by 2050. Some people may survive. Not many.

Some dismiss such purveyors of apocalyptic prognoses as hysterics. To the contrary, they’re Pollyannas. Every previous “worst-case scenario” prediction for the climate has turned out to have understated the gravity of the situation. “Paleoclimatologists have shown that past warming episodes show that there are mechanisms which magnify its effects, not represented in current climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Paris Accords,” reports The Independent. It’s probably too optimistic to assume that we’ll make it to 2050.

Gives new meaning to Generation X.

Millennials and the children we call Generation Z face the horrifying prospect that they will get stuck with the tab for humanity’s centuries-long rape of planet Earth, the mass desecration of which radically accelerated after 1950. There is an intolerably high chance that today’s young people will starve to death, die of thirst, be killed by a superstorm, succumb to a new disease, boil to death, asphyxiate from air pollution, be murdered in a riot or shot or blown up in a war sparked by environmentally related political instability long before they survive to old age.

Long threatened, never taken seriously, not even now that it’s staring us right in the face, human extinction is coming for the children and grandchildren we claim to love but won’t lift a finger to save.

Shelves sag under the weight of books that have been written arguing that we still have a chance to save ourselves. I wish I could believe that. Human population has tripled since the 1950s. More than a million species have gone extinct. Ninety percent of the fish in the ocean have vanished, replaced by one billion tons of plastic. Half of the trees have been cut down. The polar ice cap is melting; it’s never coming back.

We can’t stop global warming. An increase of four degrees Celsius over the baseline set at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution means game over. We’re well on our way there. It doesn’t make sense to think that we can avoid extinction.

What if we woke up and demanded action from our political leaders? Radical problems require radical solutions; only the most radical of solutions could resolve the most radical problem of ruining our planet’s ability to sustain us: revolution. We would have to rise up and abolish — immediately — consumer capitalism in all the major greenhouse gas-producing nations, prioritize cleaning the environment as the human race’s top concern, and pivot to an economic mindset in which we extract the bare minimum that we need for survival and nothing more.

Voting might achieve some incremental reforms, but reform falls far short of what we require. Saving our young people (and their children, should they be foolish enough to have any) would require global revolution, the violent overthrow of the ruling elites and replacing them with people who understand what must be done. It would need to happen today. Fifty years ago would be better. Got a time machine?

None of this is going to happen. We are going to sleepwalk to our doom in a haze of social media and corporate entertainment distraction.

So it’s time for people who are younger than I am to start thinking about how they want to spend the rest of their likely-to-be-truncated lives, and how they plan to face mass premature death.

Pending human extinction destroys the answers provided by religion and philosophy. Knowing that there won’t be anyone to know that we were ever here raises the question: Why bother to do anything? This column, this year’s “important” presidential election, love, hate — everything will lose its meaning when the last member of our species draws her last breath. Earth is unlikely to be visited by an alien archaeologist who can uncover everything we’ve created (assuming any of it survives) and figure out what any of it meant before the sun expands into a red giant and ends it all.

Much is to be said for hedonism: Eat, drink, have sex, and don’t bother to sort your recycling, for tomorrow, we die. Stoicism has its advantages, too; go out with dignity rather than weeping and gnashing your teeth and making your fellow survivors miserable.

Nihilism is about to become the best worst possible life strategy. Life is meaningless. That will soon become obvious. Moral principles and relics of a time with a future will blow away like the irradiated dust we leave behind.

None of this will have mattered.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Global Warming 
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Donald Trump deserved to be impeached. He deserves to be convicted in the Senate.

Every president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors that could justify impeachment.

But not on these charges. Not for threatening to withhold $400 million in aid that we shouldn’t have been sending to Ukraine in the first place, not as long as 38 million Americans are poor. Not for trying to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden; American voters have the right to know that the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and his son are on the take.

Certainly not on the nonsensical count of contempt of Congress, which punished the president for the crime of using the legal system to defend himself.

Impeachment is a political process that only has legitimacy when it’s bipartisan. In 1974, Democrats drafted wide-ranging articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. They appealed to constituencies across a wide spectrum of interests: corruption, financial fraud, bribing witnesses not to testify, privacy violations, opposition to the Vietnam War.

The Nixon articles were crafted in order to attract support from Republicans. The media claims that the GOP has never been in thrall to a president as slavishly as it is to Trump, but people who remember Nixon know better. Still, Nixon’s hold on Capitol Hill Republicans eroded as the latter realized they could no longer defend conduct like his wiretapping of and siccing the IRS on political opponents.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s microaggression-based articles of impeachment against Trump couldn’t peel away a single House Republican.

Here are the articles of impeachment I would have drafted instead.

No. 1: Racist foreign policy. President Donald J. Trump’s comportment as head of state and top official in charge of foreign policy has brought shame, contempt and opprobrium upon the United States of America. He has used his Twitter feed and spoken comments in order to insult foreign heads of state and call them names. A brazen racist, he has referred to sovereign nations in Africa, and Haiti, as “shithole countries.” If the U.S. should set the highest standard of conduct, Trump’s sets the lowest, recklessly destroying our relationship with the world. Threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, a nuclear power, is the kind of behavior that sparks conflicts. Few Republicans want another pointless war.

No. 2: The president may be psychotic. The president’s temperament and demeanor not only fail to rise to the bar expected of the president but also bring disrepute upon the citizens of the United States he is tasked with representing. Anticipating the possibility that we might someday face a situation similar to that in England under King George III, the Founding Fathers conceived impeachment in large part as a way to remove a head of state who might be mentally ill, addicted to alcohol or other drugs or, in the flowery language of the time, indulge in “frequent and notorious excesses and debaucheries, and … profane and atheistical discourses.” A president not in full command of his mental faculties is an albatross; his tenure represents a threat to national security. Under the War Powers Act, the president has the right to deploy troops. He may decide whether a condemned prisoner is pardoned or executed. He can unilaterally order a nuclear attack without provocation. Although it is impossible to determine whether Trump is mentally ill or under the influence of narcotics, his behavior is so unsteady that it is only prudent to plan for the worst and remove him before he causes a catastrophe. Republicans know he is dangerous.

No. 3: He endorses murder. After the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul, Trump repeatedly sided with the murderers. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. The president’s statements make it impossible for other countries to take us seriously when we pontificate about human rights. Republicans cannot and do not find what happened to Khashoggi acceptable.

No. 4: He endorses fascism. After white nationalists and other bigots gathered at a violent right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in the murder of a peaceful progressive activist, Trump pretended there was equivalence between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters. There “were very fine people, on both sides,” he said. No there weren’t. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers died fighting fascism during World War II. Trump dishonors them and increases the chances that fascism will rise again. Republicans do not agree with neo-Nazis.

No. 5: He is lining his own pockets at the public trough. Call it “emoluments” if you want to make voters’ eyes glaze over; call it what it is if you want to speak plainly: bribery. Trump has visited his own properties 400 times, filling rooms at full price with his retinue at taxpayer expense. Saudi Arabia has bailed out his failing hotels. He even suggested his own resort at the site of a G7 summit. When foreign officials pay our president, they are buying influence. Republicans wouldn’t tolerate this behavior from their employees. The president is our employee.

No. 6: He kidnaps children — and loses them. The Trump administration forcibly separated 5,400 kids from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many were locked in cages. After federal courts ordered them returned to their parents, the White House admitted that they couldn’t locate them. They were lost. Thousands may never be reunited with their families due to neglect and bureaucratic incompetence. Trump has asked for two years to find them. Even anti-immigration Republicans do not agree with stealing people’s kids.

I can think of other impeachable offenses — continuing and expanding Obama’s drone assassination program, backing Saudi Arabia’s genocidal proxy war in neighboring Yemen, airstrikes against Syria. But this column isn’t about what I care about. It’s a list of articles of impeachment that might have had a chance of attracting bipartisan support and thus resulting in Trump’s conviction in the Senate.

Instead, Democrats have indulged in a pro forma charade that will set an awful precedent, tempting the House of Representatives to impeach every president of the opposite party over every little thing. They’ve trivialized an only-in-case-of-emergency process into a rushed lark, ignored what really matters and squandered the opportunity to hold the president to account for his many crimes and sins.

Enjoy your “win,” liberals. Like your decision to abolish the judicial filibuster for nominations to the bench — in 2013, some Democrats actually thought there would never be another Republican president — you will soon rue it.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Ukraine 
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How you respond to an attack defines you. Keep your cool, remain civil, and others will respect the way you handle yourself, even if they disagree with you. Lower yourself to your assailant’s level and — at best — spectators will dismiss your dispute as a he-said-she-said between two jerks.

So much has been written about President Donald Trump’s debasement of rhetorical norms and his gleeful contempt for truth that there is no need to cite examples or quote studies that count the prolificacy of his lies. Trump’s attacks on journalists — “fake news,” mocking a disabled reporter’s body movements — are contemptible. They undermine citizens’ trust in news media, a serious menace to democracy and civil society.

Less noticed is how major news organizations, incensed by the president’s trolling, have debased themselves to Trump’s moral level.

American journalism used to adhere to strict standards. Though impossible to achieve, objectivity was paramount. At bare minimum, reporters were expected to project an appearance of political neutrality.

Truth only derives from facts — verifiable facts. Not conjecture and never wishful thinking. Sources who wanted to be quoted had to go on the record. Anonymous sources could flesh out background but could not be the entire basis for a story.

From the start of Trump’s run for president, Democratic-leaning media outlets abandoned their own long-cherished standards to declare war on him. Every day during the 2016 campaign, The New York Times led its coverage with a forecast of Hillary Clinton’s supposed odds of defeating Trump. Setting aside the Times’ embarrassing wrongness — the day before Election Day, they gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning — the paper led with odds rather than polls. Maximizing a sense of Clintonian inevitability was intended to demoralize Republicans so they wouldn’t turn out to vote. The two figures might mean the same thing. But 85-15 odds look worse than a 51-49 poll.

It’s downright truthy. And when truthiness goes sideways, it makes you look really, really dumb. A 51-49 poll could go either way. The reported 85-15 odds? Not so much.

The impeachment battle marks a new low in partisanship among media outlets.

After Trump’s surprise-to-those-who’d-never-been-to-the-Rust-Belt win, outlets like the Times declared themselves members of a so-called resistance. Opinion columnists like Charles M. Blow pledged never to “normalize” Trumpism. What this has meant, ironically, is that Blow’s essays amount to rote recitations on the same topic: normally, about the argument that Trump sucks. Which he does. There are, however, other issues to write about, such as the fact that we are all doomed due to climate change. It would be nice to hear Blow’s opinions about taxes, militarism and abortion.

Next came years — years! — of Robert Muellerpalooza. Russia, corporate media outlets said repeatedly, had “meddled” in the 2016 election. Vladimir Putin installed Trump; Hillary Clinton’s snubbing of her party’s 72%-progressive base had nothing to do with the loss of the most qualified person to an inductee in the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Whatever happened to the journalistic chestnut: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out”? Russiagate wasn’t a news report. It was religious faith. Russia fixed the election because we, the media, say so; we say so because we were told to say so by politicians, who were told to say so by CIA agents, whose job is to lie and keep secrets. No one checked out anything.

What we knew and still know is that a Russia-based troll farm spent more than $100,000 on Facebook ads to generate clickbait. Most of those ads didn’t specifically reference either Trump or Clinton. The company has no proven ties to the Russian government. It was a $6.8 billion election; $100,000 couldn’t have moved the needle.

Anonymous Congressional sources told reporters that anonymous intelligence agents told them there was more. The Mueller report implies as much. But no one went on the record. No original or verifiable evidence has been leaked. The report’s numerous citations are devoid of supporting material. By pre-Trump journalistic standards, Russiagate wasn’t a story any experienced editor would print.

It was barely an idea for a story.

Russiagate fell apart so decisively that Democratic impeachers now act like the Mueller report — a media obsession for three years — never even happened.

Speaking of impeachment, mainstream media gatekeepers are so eager to see Trump removed from office that they’re violating another cardinal rule of journalism: If it’s news, print it. The likely identity of the CIA “whistleblower” (scare quotes because actual whistleblowers reveal truths that hurt their bosses) who triggered impeachment over Trump’s menacing phone call to the president of Ukraine has been known in Washington for months.

Federal law prohibits the government from revealing his identity, and rightly so. But it has leaked. It’s out. It’s news. Nothing in the law or journalistic custom prevents a media organization from publishing it. News outlets felt no compulsion to similarly protect the identity of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. So why aren’t newspapers and broadcast networks talking about it?

“I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified,” New York Times editor Dean Baquet said. So much for the people’s right to know. Why should subscribers buy a newspaper that doesn’t print the news?

There is a “because Trump” change in media ethics that I welcome. What’s suspect is the timing.

Trump is the first president to get called out for his lies right in the news section. Great! Imagine how many lives could have been saved by a headline like “Bush Repeats Debunked Falsehood That Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction.” A headline like “Slurring Sanders’ Numerous Female Supporters as ‘Bros,’ Hillary Clinton Lies About ‘Medicare for All'” could have nominated and elected Bernie and saved many Americans from medical bankruptcy.

But all presidents lie. Why pick on Trump? His lies are (perhaps) more numerous. But they’re no bigger than those of his predecessors (see Iraq weapons of mass destruction, above). Yet discussion of former presidents remains respectful and slavish as ever.

I say, give coverage of Barack Obama and other former presidents the same tone and treatment as the current occupant of the White House:

“Wallowing in Corrupt Wall Street Cash, Obama Drops $11.75 Million on Gaudy Martha’s Vineyard Mansion Estate.”

“Ellen DeGeneres Sucks Up to Mass Murderer George W. Bush.”

“Jimmy Carter, First Democratic President to Not Even Bother to Propose an Anti-Poverty Program, Dead at TK.”

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Donald Trump, Russiagate 
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“In ten years or so, we’ll leak the truth,” the Dead Kennedys sang. “But by then it’s only so much paper.”

But it might just score you a Pulitzer Prize.

Award bait and bragging rights are no doubt the principal goals of The Washington Post’s self-congratulatory data dump, “The Afghanistan Papers.” The papers — 2,000 pages that a court ordered the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to release to Jeff Bezos’ newspaper — paint a Robert McNamara-esque portrait of Bush and Obama administration bozos privately admitting that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was always an unwinnable, counterproductive mistake while also telling the American people that victory in the post-9/11 “good war” was right around the corner. All we had to do was win Afghan hearts and minds.

“The (inspector general) documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting,” the Post reported. “Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

“The Afghanistan Papers” is a bright, shining lie by omission. Yes, our military and civilian leaders lied to us about Afghanistan. But they could never have spread their murderous nonsense — causing thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans to be killed and trillions of dollars wasted — without media organizations like The Washington Post, which served as unquestioning government stenographers.

Press outlets like the Post and The New York Times weren’t merely idiots used to disseminate pro-war propaganda. They actively censored people who tried to tell American voters the truth — that we never should have gone into Afghanistan.

People like me.

I was among the tiny minority of journalists and commentators who opposed the Afghanistan War from the very beginning. Nine days after 9/11, I published the first of my cartoons pointing out that al-Qaida was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so there was no moral or legal justification for invading. As the war dragged on, I pointed out that the men and women in charge of the war didn’t have a clue about Afghanistan or the Afghan people. According to “The Afghanistan Papers,” those men and women knew they were screwing up, wouldn’t admit their ignorance and refused to bring in experts.

I went to Afghanistan to check things out for myself. It was obvious the U.S. didn’t stand a chance there. “The principal goal of this adventure in imperialistic vengeance, it seems obvious, should be to install a friendly government in Kabul. But we’re winning neither hearts nor minds among either the commoners or the leadership of the current regime apparent,” I wrote from Afghanistan on Dec. 11, 2001. “And so we’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are. The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right — we’re not nation builders … we ought to tally our dead, write up our losses, and count ourselves lucky to still be called a superpower.” My piece, for The Village Voice, was titled “How We Lost Afghanistan.”

It was published 18 years ago. But not in the Post. They didn’t want to hear what lefties like me had to say.

They still don’t.

Afghanistan was not a passing fancy for me. I wrote hundreds of essays and drew hundreds of cartoons urging an end to the madness. It was lonely. Even Democrats liked the Afghan war; they called it the right war, while Iraq was the dumb one.

I went back to the country, traveling independently as an unembedded reporter, several times. I wrote the first book about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the only book about oil pipeline politics in that country, a book placing Afghanistan in the context of central Asia and yet another book comparing the state of Afghanistan when Obama said we were pulling out — another lie — with how it was at the start of the war.

What was my reward for being right while everyone else was wrong? Hundreds of death threats. Getting fired by my client newspapers and magazines. It’s hard to believe now, but back in 2004, George W. Bush was popular and being compared to Winston Churchill; that was the year the “liberal” New York Times and Washington Post stopped running my work.

Major news outlets and book reviewers ignored my books. Editors refused to hire me. Producers wouldn’t book me. Anyone opposed to the Afghanistan War was censored from U.S. corporate media.

Not that Afghanistan was ignored. It was the subject of countless analysis pieces and opinion articles in American newspapers — all of it pro-war propaganda. There were thousands of television and radio stories about the Afghan War on radio and television. Corporate media repeatedly trotted out the same retired generals, former CIA officers and random right-wing warmongers for quotes and analysis. Never, ever did they invite critics or opponents of U.S. interventionism in Afghanistan to share their thoughts with readers, listeners and viewers.

Nothing has changed. Whenever there is a foreign policy “crisis,” you will never read or hear or see someone completely opposed to U.S. involvement given a voice in the media. Certainly not in the Post.

So, 18 years, tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars too late, it’s nice to see the media finally shame these scumbags and their government handlers. But they ought to save a big portion of the blame for themselves.

 
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“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” President Donald Trump said at an Iowa campaign rally in January of 2016. That remark gets quoted a lot, mostly by liberals bemoaning the unquestioning loyalty of the president’s stupid supporters.

But there’s another, more interesting, facet of that meme: Trump, it’s clear, can get away with just about anything — impeachment included. He will be impeached without turning a single voter against him.

Nothing has ever been less deniable than the president’s imperviousness to, well, everything. Trump’s haters hate it; his fans love it; everyone accepts it. A month ago, Trump’s lawyers for real argued in open court that if their client actually were to go on a shooting spree in midtown Manhattan, he couldn’t be charged with a crime until he was no longer president.

Without enumerating Trump’s rhetorical offenses and deviations from cultural and political norms, I wonder: How does he get away with so much? Why doesn’t he lose his base of electoral support or any of his senatorial allies?

It’s because of framing and branding. Trump isn’t held accountable because he has never been held accountable. He has never been held accountable because he has never allowed himself to be held accountable.

Hitler believed that, in a confrontation, the combatant with the strongest inner will had an innate advantage over his opponent. Audacity, tenacity and the ability to keep your nerve under pressure were essential character traits, especially for an individual up against stronger adversaries. Trump never read “Mein Kampf,” but he follows the Fuhrer’s prescription for success. He never apologizes. He never admits fault or defeat. He lies his failures into fake successes, reframing history into the narrative that he prefers. It’s all attitude: Because I am me, I can do no wrong.

I’m not a billionaire real estate grifter turned billionaire presidential con man.

But I get this.

When I began my career as an editorial cartoonist, I staked out ideological territory far to the left of my older, established colleagues, most of whom were ordinary Democrats. In the alternative weeklies, other cartoonists were as far left as me. But they weren’t syndicated. I went after mainstream daily newspapers. My first two syndication clients were the Philadelphia Daily News and the Los Angeles Times.

My status as an ideological outlier reduced the number of newspapers willing to publish my work. But the editors who did take a chance on me knew what they were getting, so they were able to defend me against ideological attacks. Once they saw that braver papers were publishing my cartoons, moderate publications picked them up, too.

Despite being an unabashed, unrepentant leftist, I became the most reprinted cartoonist in The New York Times. Secretly, many of the “Democratic” cartoonists were as left as me. They were jealous: How had I gotten away with wearing my politics on my sleeve in such bland outlets as The Des Moines Register and The Atlanta Constitution?

First, I was willing to take some heat. I accepted that I would get fewer clients and thus less income. I insisted on drawing the work I wanted to do, without watering down my politics. If everyone rejected me, that was fine. Better not to appear in print than to do wimpy work. And in the long run, I was better off. There have been rough patches. But progressives have taken over the Democratic Party. I’m one of the few pundits the left can trust for a simple reason: unlike Bill Maher and Arianna Huffington, I have always been one of them, regardless of prevailing winds.

Second, I developed an unusual drawing style. When I started out, most editorial cartoonists mimicked two icons of the 1960s and 1970s, Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly. The “OliNelly” style of American political cartooning was busy, reliant on caricature and crosshatching. Daily newspaper staffers drew single-panel cartoons structured around metaphors, labels and hoary symbols like Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.

I did everything the opposite. I drew multiple panels and wrote straightforward scripts inspired by comic strips. My drawing style was stripped down to a brutally simple, abstract look, in which most characters looked almost identical. No metaphors — you didn’t need to learn how to read a Ted Rall cartoon. They weren’t as pretty as MacNelly’s. The chairman of the Pulitzer committee, whose death I shall toast, denied me the prize because I didn’t “draw like a normal editorial cartoonist.” But you knew my stuff wasn’t by anyone else. Branding.

I created space for myself ideologically and stylistically. So I got away with — still get away with — more than many of my peers.

Finally, I learned to never apologize.

Most of the time when a cartoonist apologizes for causing offense, they don’t mean it. Their editors — the ones feeling the heat from an avalanche of letters-to-the-editor and social media opprobrium — force them to say they’re sorry. This I will not do. It’s too undignified.

Sometimes cartoonists really do screw up. In one particular cartoon, I took aim at the president and instead wound up wounding a group of disadvantaged people. So I acted like a human being: I apologized.

What a mistake! Papers that had stuck with me through previous controversies abandoned me, canceling my work. The group I’d apologized to proclaimed itself satisfied and appealed to the quislings to reconsider, in vain. I learned my lesson. Never apologize, especially when you’re wrong. Americans forgive evil, never weakness.

With his far longer reach, influence and experience than yours truly, Trump has figured out how to carve out room for himself to run off at the mouth, offend protected groups and defy cherished traditions. No one can make him stop — no one but him. And no one can make him say he’s sorry.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump 
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There ought to be a law.

I read about Eric Barrier, half of the classic rap duo Eric B. and Rakim, and how he recently wound up in jail. The story is interesting not because it’s unusual but because it’s typical.

Without getting into the weeds of his original 2002 offense because that would distract from my point here, Barrier’s lawyer told him to skip his sentencing hearing because his presence wasn’t required.

Wrong. Unbeknownst to Barrier, New Jersey authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest. “More than 17 years passed before he first learned of the warrant, from law enforcement authorities in Vermont when he came into the United States from Canada last month,” according to The New York Times. In October, Barrier presented himself to court officials, who promptly arrested him. He was freed on bail Nov. 12 after weeks in prison. I’m 99% sure he would have addressed the issue if he’d known about it.

This is a common problem. Every day, courts across the United States issue arrest thousands of arrest warrants for crimes ranging from serious felonies to offenses as minor as failing to pay a parking ticket, jaywalking or not renewing a dog license. Millions of Americans have outstanding warrants. In 2016, there were 1.5 million warrants for New Yorkers — one out of six residents of the city.

The vast majority has no idea they’re wanted.

“Most jurisdictions around the nation are doing nothing with warrants like this. Nothing,” said Professor David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Criminals and innocent citizens alike conduct their daily routines oblivious of the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads until they get pulled over for a traffic stop or otherwise come into contact with a police officer. The computer spits out their name, handcuffs get slapped on, and off they go, sucked into the system.

When it’s a rapist or a murderer, that’s great. But does a system that only snags rapists and murderers who don’t make full stops and drive over the speed limit make sense?

It’s not so great to arrest and process people who committed minor offenses, many of whom would have happily paid their old tickets if the state didn’t keep them ignorant about their legal peril.

Many friends I talked to about this subject told me that they or someone they knew had been arrested on a warrant they’d never heard of. It’s hardly surprising. About 7 million Americans are driving around with their licenses suspended because municipalities believe they owe money for unpaid parking tickets or moving violations. Many of them have no idea they are a single traffic stop away from a seriously bad day.

I got a speeding ticket and paid the fine, on time. But the municipality didn’t credit me. I had my canceled check so I assumed I was in the clear. Later, when I was pulled over for something different, the officer informed me that my license had been pulled over the “unpaid” ticket — the DMV never notified me of the suspension, and no, I hadn’t moved — so the cop arrested me and took me to the station for an hour or two. Setting things straight ultimately cost me thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Warrants and license suspensions can be life-changing events. What if you get nabbed on your way to pick up your child from school and they take away your phone while you’re being booked? Given how disruptive warrants are, not just to civilians but also to law enforcement officers who should be chasing actual criminals, there ought to be a federal law mandating that states and local municipalities send notices via the mail to the last address for people wanted for arrest or whose driving privileges have been suspended. Notices should be mailed repeatedly, at least annually, to give people a chance to make things right.

Police departments and other government agencies have massive comprehensive universal databases, some with facial recognition and DNA, that make it possible for them to find almost anyone in the United States if they really want to.

So why don’t issuers of arrest warrants tap into these resources? The cynic in me has an answer: Governments make millions of dollars by dunning scofflaws with additional fines, fees and bail. That’s a revenue stream that would vanish if most people knew they owed cash and where to send it in to settle their debt.

If Congress acts, life will get a little easier. More importantly, it will restore a bit of the faith Americans have lost in our government and public officials.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Police State 
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John Oliver recently dedicated his HBO show to why we need a federal anti-SLAPP law. Like most of his stuff, the episode was witty and engaging. It was also sloppy, thoughtless and poorly researched. From now on, I’ll wonder whether I can trust anything he says.

An anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful legal maneuver available to defendants against libel and defamation lawsuits. In the 27 states that have them, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion brings everything to a halt until a judge, not a jury, decides various issues about a case. If the judge rules for the defense, the case is thrown out and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s legal fees.

Liberals and conservatives alike like anti-SLAPP. Supporters say they protect activists, whistleblowers and average individuals from being bankrupted if they get sued by deep-pocketed corporations or wealthy individuals who use the courts to harass their victims. In his show, Oliver described his experience being sued by a coal baron who wanted to chill criticism. HBO, Oliver said, spent $200,000 to defend him because the suit was filed in a state without anti-SLAPP.

It’s easy to see why someone like Oliver, targeted by a frivolous defamation claim, would yearn for a federal anti-SLAPP law. His must have been a frustrating experience.

There is, however, an inherent design flaw in anti-SLAPP: the United States Constitution. Under the equal protection clause, you can’t give rights to one class of defendant and not another. You can’t limit anti-SLAPP protections to impecunious individuals and small businesses; rich people and giant corporations have to get the same legal prerogatives.

Which is what has been happening. Billionaires and corporate conglomerates use anti-SLAPP to crush legitimate libel and defamation lawsuits filed by ordinary individuals and whistleblowers. Why don’t you hear about these cases? Because media companies love anti-SLAPP.

In 2016 The National Enquirer published a cover story about fitness headlined: “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman.” He wasn’t. “Yes, This Photo Shoot Is Real!” It wasn’t. The cover photo of “transwoman” Simmons was Photoshopped.

Thanks to anti-SLAPP, what should have been an open-and-shut defamation case turned a travesty of justice into a farce. While acknowledging that the paper lied about Simmons, Los Angeles judge said that letting Simmons case go forward was tantamount to saying that it is bad to be trans. Simmons was an innocent victim and the Enquirer knowingly lied. Yet the court ordered Simmons to pay American Media, owner of the paper, $130,000 in legal fees. So much for anti-SLAPP as being a tool for the little guy! AMI brought in $310 million in revenues last year.

In 2018, MSNBC host Joy Reid (Disclosure: I have appeared on Reid’s show) retweeted a photo of a Trump supporter yelling at a high school student at a Simi Valley, California, city council meeting. Reid added the following text: “He showed up to rally to defend immigrants. … She showed up too, in her MAGA hat, and screamed, ‘You are going to be the first deported’ … ‘dirty Mexican!’ He is 14 years old. She is an adult. Make the picture black and white and it could be the 1950s and the desegregation of a school. Hate is real, y’all. It hasn’t even really gone away.”

Hate is real. The story was not. The kid said that Roslyn La Liberte, the woman in the photo, was trying to keep things civil. She never said that stuff.

La Liberte’s son emailed to inform Reid of the truth. Reid nevertheless reposted the image, this time alongside a black-and-white image of pro-segregation protesters in Little Rock in 1957 with this caption: “It was inevitable that this image would be made. It’s also easy to look at old black and white photos and think: I can’t believe that person screaming at a child, with their face twisted in rage, is real. … History sometimes repeats. And it is full of rage.”

La Liberte was wronged. Rather than settle or plead guilty, MSNBC’s lawyers hit the working grandmother with an anti-SLAPP motion. Ignoring the fact that Reid’s posts easily qualify under as reckless disregard for the truth under the landmark libel case Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), the judge wallowed in pro-corporate sophistry: the juxtaposition of the photographs does not ‘make clear that (La Liberte) is alleged to have engaged in specific racist conduct akin to that demonstrated during desegregation.'” La Liberte’s case was thrown out, denying her justice. Adding injury to insult, she has to pay MSNBC’s legal fees. MSNBC is owned by NBC Universal, a $203 billion company.

President Donald Trump used anti-SLAPP against Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who sued him for calling her a liar. Trump is worth $3 billion. Daniels owes him $293,000 for his legal fees.

My readers are familiar with my case against the Los Angeles Times. No one disputes that they lied about me, fired me as a favor to the LAPD and tried to destroy my journalistic reputation. My anti-SLAPP case is still working its way through the court system, but there is already a $330,000 judgment against me. They want me to pay that money to two billionaires, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and LA schools superintendent and former Times publisher Austin Beutner, with a combined net worth of $16 billion.

Bill Cosby has been using the anti-SLAPP statute against his rape victims.

Faced with these cases, anti-SLAPP apologists sometimes say that the law isn’t bad, that it is simply being abused. If a law is written in such a way that it can be routinely abused, it is bad by definition.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Judicial System 
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America has lots of leftists. Forty percent of voters say that they would prefer to live in a socialist country than a capitalist one.

Yet America has zero leftists running for president.

Think about that the next time someone tells you we live in the greatest country on Earth — or, for that matter, that this is a democracy. If the United States were democratic or, more precisely, had a truly representative form of government, 40% of the electorate would have someone to vote for.

According to the mainstream media, the Democratic Party is left and the current crop of contenders for president has never been more left.

Beto O’Rourke, Fox News says, had a “far-left presidential platform.” He likes pro-corporate, job-exporting free trade agreements, backs a blank check to Israel’s right-wing government and wants to send teenagers to prison for 15 years for sexting. If that’s far-left, I have a Palace of the Soviets I’d love to sell you.

“If Democrats select a nominee who is unelectable because of a far-left or socialist agenda, then their beds will be made,” frets The Hill.

“As a left-wing San Francisco liberal, I can say to these people (progressive candidates): What are you thinking?” asks Nancy Pelosi. How can you be “a left-wing San Francisco liberal” and vote to invade Afghanistan?

It’s BS, but over time, even the most strong-minded among us succumb to the never-ending tsunami of propaganda. Like Winston Smith in “1984,” we doubt ourselves and believe the lies. No wonder 47% of Americans say the Democratic Party has moved too far left.

Now more than ever, we need a reality check. Electoral politics has no space whatsoever for the real, actual left: communism, socialism, left anarchism, left libertarianism, etc. Corporate journalistic outlets employ no actual leftists. There is no organized left in the United States.

Under a socialist economy, workers own the means of production, which means they are no longer exploited. As Karl Marx wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.” So, those who aren’t able to work due to physical or mental infirmities, for example, have equal access to the good things in life.

Though the “Green New Deal” espoused by Bernie Sanders would theoretically employ millions of Americans as government workers, those employees wouldn’t own their workplaces. Similarly, “Medicare for All” would abolish private insurance, but it wouldn’t put health care workers on the government payroll, as is the case in other countries. Those two ideas, if implemented, would resemble New Deal-era programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Contrary to the dogma of the conservatives who currently control the national political dialogue, if it’s socialist for the government to hire somebody, then any place with a single cop is a socialist country.

None of the 2020 candidates for president in the Democratic primaries favors the nationalization of currently private businesses that would be required to achieve a socialist economy. You can’t have a far left without nationalization or socialism.

None of the Democratic candidates opposes war in the manner of pacifists, much less adapts to the analysis of the left that there should be no war but class war.

“The main enemy is at home,” noted the German Spartacist Karl Liebknecht, referring to the ruling classes.

“We differ from the pacifists,” Vladimir Lenin wrote during World War I, “in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within a country; we understand that wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created; we also differ in that we regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by an oppressed class against the oppressor class, by slaves against slaveholders, by serfs against landowners and by wage workers against the bourgeoisie, as fully legitimate, progressive and necessary.”

A left — certainly a “far-left” — candidate for president of United States would categorically oppose all wars of aggression, imperialism and neocolonialism. Contrast that leftist ideal to the most anti-militaristic Democrats in the current race.

Tulsi Gabbard, arguably the most stridently anti-war candidate in the cycle, nevertheless touts her military service, even as she declaims “regime change wars.” She praised President Donald Trump’s order to assassinate ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She took $100,000 in campaign contributions from arms dealers. “When it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” she said. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

Bernie Sanders, also on the left flank of the Democrats, told me that he would continue the drone assassinations that have killed thousands of innocent people.

We will never get the chance to live in that better world embodied by the ideal of socialism and communism unless we understand that we have an awful lot of work to do before we can get there. Allowing commentators and the Democrats themselves to describe anything that’s going on in mainstream electoral politics as “far-left” is self-destructive and an endorsement of the worst kind of lie: the fiction that the most important ideals are represented by anyone in American political life.