The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
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 TeasersTed Rall Blogview

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1. My vote is a personal endorsement. It says, “I, citizen Ted Rall, approve of Joe Biden’s career in public office.” I do not. Voting for Biden would be a retroactive endorsement of his vote to invade Iraq, which killed over 1 million innocent people. Voting for Biden would be a retroactive endorsement of his long history of racism, beginning with his disgusting opposition to court-ordered busing.

2. Biden has never apologized for his numerous right-wing policy positions, such as writing the fascist USA Patriot Act and the 1994 crime bill that expanded mass incarceration of Black men. Biden’s refusal to apologize indicates that he still believes he did the right thing, and that he would do them again in the future. Why should I forgive him? He has never asked for forgiveness.

3. Joe Biden lies a lot. He falsely claimed to hold three bachelor’s degrees and to have graduated at the top of his law school class with a full scholarship. He falsely claimed to have come from a family of coal miners in northeastern Pennsylvania. He plagiarized in law school and when he wrote his speeches. He said he was arrested with Nelson Mandela; it didn’t happen. During his recent debate against Bernie Sanders, he looked Sanders and the American people in the eye and falsely claimed not to have repeatedly supported the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion. One of the biggest reasons to despise President Donald Trump is that he lies so often. What’s the point of replacing one liar with another?

4. Even in the middle of a viral pandemic, Biden says he would veto Medicare for All if a bipartisan Congress were to pass such a bill. Twenty-seven and a half million Americans were without health insurance before COVID-19. That number has more than doubled due to coronavirus lockdown-related unemployment. I cannot vote for anyone who wants my fellow Americans to die, and that goes double when the murderer is motivated by corruption: Of the approximately 20 candidates in the 2020 Democratic primaries, Joe Biden received the most contributions from the health care industry.

5. Joe Biden wants to kill the planet. He still refuses to support a Green New Deal whose goal is zero net carbon emissions by 2030. He wants to do it by 2050. Way too late! Climate change experts say that human civilization may be extinct by then. I cannot vote for anyone who wants everyone on Earth to die. Here, too, Biden has been corrupted by giant contributions by oil and natural gas energy companies.

6. Biden refuses to name his Cabinet. Given his advanced age — he would be the oldest person ever elected president — his supporters say a Cabinet of “best and brightest” department secretaries would pick up the slack as Biden’s mental abilities continue to fade. If that’s true, what are those names? Unless he proves otherwise, before the election, we have to assume a Biden administration will be run by Obama-era corporate hacks, not one of whom are liberal. You shouldn’t hope for the best from someone who still has Laurence Summers, an idiot who thinks women aren’t smart enough to be scientists, on speed dial.

7. Whether or not you believe that the Democratic National Committee conspired to install Joe Biden as the nominee, a vote for Biden is a vote for a conservative Democratic Party. Consider what will happen if Biden wins with substantial progressive support. Internal pollsters will conclude that there’s no need to kowtow to progressive voters because they will vote for a corporatist even if they don’t receive any ideological concessions. The argument is get rid of Trump first, and then push Biden to the left. Voting for Biden would actually resume the party’s push toward the right.

8. America deserves more than two parties. Both major parties began small. They never would have grown had 19th-century voters been unwilling to ignore the two-party trap and “waste” their votes and financial contributions on organizations that didn’t initially seem to stand a chance. If you don’t believe in either Donald Trump or Joe Biden, vote for and contribute to a smaller party. If you support the lesser of two evils in election after election, don’t complain that a better alternative never emerges.

9. Joe Biden is mentally unfit for the presidency. He is clearly suffering from dementia, which is why his campaign is hiding him. Now they’re trying to come up with excuses for him not to debate Trump. If the electorate wants to hand over nuclear launch codes to a man who is senile, let them commit this madness without me.

10. Biden’s team thinks that their guy can win without campaigning or articulating an affirmative platform of forward-looking ideas simply because so many of us are disgusted by Trump. They may be correct. But it’s dangerous. If Biden’s non-campaign campaign model is successful, it will be emulated. People will become president without being properly vetted, without the American people getting to know them. Nothing could be less democratic.

I anticipate the usual objection to this essay: But Trump! He’s so crazy and racist and stupid and evil!

All true. But none of Trump’s many shortcomings eclipse the sum total of the concerns raised above. Considering everything, in the aggregate, Biden and Trump are equally awful. In some ways, Biden is worse. For me, the conclusion is obvious: Don’t vote for either one.

Take to the streets.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2020 Election, Donald Trump, Joe Biden 
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What would President Joe Biden do? His supporters are making it hard to read the tealeaves.

They say he’d appoint a great Cabinet. But he won’t tell us who would be in it.

They say he’d be progressive. Yet his “unity platform” doesn’t include a single major policy position endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

As they warn in those investment company ads, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. But there’s a reason Wall Street analysts pour over historical data: Past performance is a strong indicator of what a stock will do next. So if you want to know what kind of president Biden would be, it’s smart to study his record, which has been consistent over 44 years in public office.

With a few exceptions, Biden has always positioned himself either at the center or to the right of the ideological 50-yard line of his party. When he has written or sponsored legislation with broad implications, such as the 1994 crime bill and the USA Patriot Act, it has been so reactionary that it could easily have been authored by a right-wing Republican. Biden has never been responsible for a major law that could be described as liberal.

It’s impossible to know what was in Joe Biden’s heart as he considered policy decisions throughout his four decades in Washington. All we know is what he actually did. There were few acts of foresight, much less courage. Even when the choice between right and wrong was clear to many others, Biden was on the wrong side of history.

Could this conservative Democrat, age 78, suddenly reverse course and turn into a progressive? Anything is possible. But it isn’t likely.

I was 12 years old in 1975, but I remember how people felt about court-ordered busing in order to desegregate public schools. Racists were against it; anti-racists were for it.

Biden was against it. He was so against it that he cosponsored an amendment against busing with Sen. Jesse Helms, the Republican far-right segregationist. Biden said in what ought to have been a career-killing rant: “What it says is, in order for your child with curly black hair, brown eyes and dark skin to be able to learn anything, he needs to sit next to my blond-haired, blue-eyed son. That’s racist! Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?”

He has never apologized.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, Biden failed to protect professor Anita Hill from scurrilous attacks by Republican committee members during televised hearings. He seemed to value his working relationship with the GOP more than protecting a Democratic witness. Scandalously, Biden failed to call Sukari Hardnett, who corroborated Hill’s account. Thomas’ confirmation might not have survived her testimony.

Over the past few decades, Americans have liberalized their views about drugs, coming to favor the legalization of marijuana and opposing the “war on drugs” that criminalized substance abuse rather than treating it as a medical condition. Biden is on the opposite side of that trend. He is still against legalizing pot. And he was an aggressive proponent of the war on drugs. In 1983, he joined far-right racist Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond in cosponsoring the legislation that launched the modern asset forfeiture program, which allows police to steal property belonging to people suspected of possessing drugs even if they are not ever charged, much less convicted, of a crime.

Biden has been on the side of the angels a few times. He is fairly strong on LGBTQIA rights. He voted against the 1991 Gulf War. Most of the time, however, he sides against oppressed people and in favor of military intervention.

Many people reading this will ask: But what about Donald Trump? Isn’t he so much worse that Biden has to be an improvement?

Trump is terrible. His nonresponse to the coronavirus pandemic and his relentless racism and dog whistling to neo-Nazis are execrable and impeachable. As awful and insane as he is, however, there’s no reason to think that he is any worse than Joe Biden would be.

At the end of the next four years, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are more likely to be alive if Donald Trump is president rather than Joe Biden. Trump has resisted new wars and is bringing an end to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan; Biden has repeatedly voted for new wars and backed policies that destroyed countries like Libya and Syria.

Though he hasn’t gone nearly far enough, Trump seems to understand the need to direct stimulus money into the pockets of unemployed and underemployed Americans. Biden, on the other hand, is a devotee of austerity. He was an architect of former President Barack Obama’s decision to ignore millions of unemployed and newly homeless workers while handing $7 trillion in federal aid to big banks. One can easily imagine Biden reprising the role of former President Bill Clinton, another Democrat who became a deficit hawk, at a time when the Treasury should be spending money like water. It took former President Richard Nixon to go to China; it takes a Democrat to screw the working class.

Vote for Joe Biden if you want to. But please don’t delude yourself. You’ll be voting for a change, not an improvement.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2020 Election, Donald Trump, Joe Biden 
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President Donald Trump is terrible. Joe Biden is just as bad. In some ways, the Democrat is worse.

You shouldn’t vote for either one.

Trump is erratic and unpredictable, which is dangerous. Even so, Biden is worse than Trump on international relations.

At the center of the president’s worldview is a deep, admirable and prescient skepticism about foreign interventionism. Trump began criticizing the Iraq War soon after it began, when the U.S. invasion was still popular. His critiques continued during the 2016 primaries — have you known of another Republican to campaign against militarism? As president-elect Trump told a room full of service members, “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.”

Trump signed the first peace agreement with the Taliban; he plans to bring home the last American troops in Afghanistan before Election Day, even sooner than required under the deal. He refuses to be goaded into a new Cold War against Russia, has met with the leader of North Korea and has offered direct talks with Iran — positions far to the left of hawkish pro-war Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Because most Americans are self-centered and unconcerned about brown people in other nations, it’s ridiculous yet necessary to remind you that the Afghans we bomb are real people like you and me; that Iraqis are scarred for life when their children are hobbled by American bullets; that Yemenis cry for their dead blown to bits by American missiles; that our insane decision to turn Libya from the most prosperous country in Africa into a failed state with 21st-century slave auctions is an atrocity; that we have murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last couple of decades for no reason that can be justified under common sense or international law.

The United States is the greatest exporter of death, oppression and exploitation on the planet. Every human being has the duty to oppose it. We who pour our taxes into the U.S. government have the biggest duty of all to fight the war machine. That begins with holding the murderers and their enablers accountable for their — there is no better word — evil.

Wars of choice are not horrors of happenstance, like a tornado. Political leaders vote to slaughter and maim men, women and children, and ruin economies around the globe, leading to still more death. Some politicians are especially nefarious, convincing other politicians to vote for mass murder.

Politicians like Joe Biden.

Most recently, after Trump signaled his willingness to dump U.S.-backed rightist Juan Guaido and meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a socialist, Biden called Maduro a dictator and pledged fealty to right-wing Venezuelan exiles in south Florida. It was the latest in a long line of foreign policy calls that we have come to expect from a right-wing Republican like former President George W. Bush — yet Biden plays a “Democrat” on TV.

Branko Marcetic, writing for Jacobin, observed: “He’s registered some antiwar positions from time to time, as when he voted against the first Gulf War or opposed the funding of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s. But overall, he’s racked up a track record of supporting overseas adventures.”

Biden, notes Marcetic, pushed for “the 1999 bombing of Serbia, which actually dissolved the local pro-democracy movement and rallied popular support around the country’s dictator.” Biden voted for the U.S. wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again,” Biden said in August 2003. Now he defends himself by saying he was so stupid that he fell for Bush’s lies about WMDs.

Biden was the guy who convinced Obama to ramp up Bush’s drone assassination program, which kills 50 innocent bystanders for every 1 targeted “militant” — who often gets away and is rarely a threat to the United States, just to our authoritarian allies. Someday soon, Biden’s drone killings abroad will be used to justify killing Americans here at home.

Elsewhere, Marcetic writes: “When Reagan invaded Grenada in 1983, bombing a hospital in the process, Biden said he ‘did the right thing.’ When he bombed Libya three years later, killing 36 civilians and dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s 15-month-old daughter, Biden said, ‘There can be no question that Gaddafi has asked for and deserves a strong response like this.’ And when George H. W. Bush invaded Panama three years after that, an outrageous war to depose a leader who had been a CIA asset and that saw dead civilians ‘buried like dogs,’ as one witness put it, Biden called it ‘appropriate and necessary.'”

A vote for Biden isn’t just a vote against Trump. It’s a vote in favor of Biden’s vote to kill 1 million Iraqis. If we elect Joe Biden, we will send a message to the world: America hates you; we’re glad we killed all those people, and we plan to kill more.

It will also send a message to Biden: Heckuva job, Joe!

 
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Once again, the Democratic Party is asking progressives to vote for a presidential nominee who says he disagrees with it about every major issue. This is presented as an offer it cannot refuse. If it casts a protest vote for a third-party candidate like the unionist and environmentalist Howie Hawkins of the Green Party or stays home on that key Tuesday in November, Donald Trump will win a second term — which would be worse than Biden’s first.

Which is better for the progressive movement: fall into the two-party trap and vote for Biden, or refuse to be co-opted and possibly increase Trump’s reelection chances?

My new book, “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party,” documents the last half-century of struggle between the party’s left-leaning voters and its right-leaning leadership class. History is clear. When progressive voters compromised their values by supporting corporatist candidates, they were ignored after the election. Only when they boycotted a general election did the DNC start to take them seriously.

Throughout the 1980s, party bigwigs manipulated the primaries in favor of establishment corporatist candidates over insurgent progressives: Jimmy Carter over Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis over Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Democrats were united but unenthused; all three lost.

Carter won once, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each won two terms, all three with progressive support. Democratic victories didn’t help progressives.

Most people have forgotten that Carter was the first of a string of conservative Democratic presidents. He brought back draft registration. The “Reagan” defense buildup actually began under Carter, as Ronald Reagan himself acknowledged. Carter provoked the Tehran hostage crisis by admitting the despotic shah to the U.S., boycotted the Moscow Olympics and armed the Afghan mujahideen, who morphed into al-Qaida.

Carter became the first president since Franklin Roosevelt not to propose an anti-poverty program. Instead, he pushed a right-wing idea, “workfare.”

Progressives got nothing in return for their votes for Jimmy Carter.

Like Carter, Clinton and Obama governed as foreign policy hawks while ignoring pressing domestic issues like rising income and wealth inequality. Clinton pushed through the now-disgraced 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration of people of color; signed the North American Free Trade Agreement that gutted the Rust Belt and sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas; and ended “welfare as we know it,” massively increasing homelessness. Obama bailed out Wall Street while ignoring Main Street, smashed the Occupy Wall Street movement and supported al-Qaida affiliates that destroyed Libya and Syria.

There was only one arguably progressive policy achievement over those 16 years: the Affordable Care Act, which originated in the bowels of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

Progressives kept holding their noses and voting for Democrats. Democrats took them for granted. Democrats didn’t push to increase the minimum wage. They watched silently as generation after generation succumbed to student loan debt. As the Earth kept burning, they hardly lifted a finger to help the environment, except for symbolic actions like Obama’s fuel efficiency regulations, which required less than automakers were doing by themselves.

Personnel, they say in D.C., is policy. Carter had one progressive in his Cabinet for his first term, Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Obama had none. Citigroup chose his Cabinet.

After the defeat of Bernie Sanders in 2016, progressives tried something new. Millions of disgruntled Sanders primary voters stayed home, voted for Trump or cast votes for third-party candidates like Jill Stein. Hillary Clinton, who was so sure she could take progressives for granted that she put Sanders at 39th on her list of vice presidential picks, was denied her presumptive shoo-in victory. (Don’t blame Stein. Adding all of her votes to the Hillary Clinton column would not have changed the result.)

Three years later, something remarkable happened. Most presidential hopefuls in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign emerged from the centrist corporatist wing of the Democratic Party yet felt pressured to endorse important progressive policy ideas. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and even Michael Bloomberg came out in favor of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Most of the mainstream candidates proposed some sort of student loan forgiveness and “Medicare for All.” Nearly all support a Green New Deal.

What forced the Democratic Party to shift left after decades of moving to the right? Fear that progressives will withhold their votes this coming November. After years of empty threats from progressives, the November 2016 voter boycott proved they wouldn’t sell their votes without getting something in return.

The answer to the question “What should progressives do?” is easy in the long term. Progressives should boycott Democratic candidates who don’t credibly pledge to support progressive policies. Biden says he would veto Medicare For All, a Green New Deal or student loan forgiveness. He is hawkish on Russia and Venezuela. He doesn’t want your vote. Why give it to him for free?

The trouble is, every election is also about the short term. Progressive voters have to game out the next four years.

If Trump wins, he may have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court justice. He will certainly appoint more federal judges. He will continue to coddle hate groups and spew lies. Many of the weak and vulnerable will suffer. On the other hand, activism will be sustained. Resistance, and possibly even revolutionary change, may emerge. Trump will be a lame duck likely wallowing in scandal; very few presidents get much of anything done during their second term.

If Biden wins, his Supreme Court picks may not be significantly more to the left than Trump’s. He is likelier than Trump, who shows restraint on interventionism and ended the occupation of Afghanistan, to start a new war. Big problems will get small solutions or none at all. Streets will be quiet. If there are any demonstrations, for instance by Black Lives Matter, his Department of Homeland Security will suppress it, as Obama did to Occupy. As under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the left will go back to sleep. Progressives will watch Biden appoint one corporatist Cabinet member after another as their dreams of making the country a better place fade away.

And in 2024, we will again face a choice between a rabid right-wing Republican and a wimpy, sell-out Democrat. This election, Democrats will say as they always do, is too important for ideological purity. Progressives should wait until some future election when less hangs in the balance. Perhaps in 2028? Maybe 2032? 2036?

 
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COVID-19 has created the ideal medium for a summer of continuous protest.

Political protests and demonstrations used to be weekend affairs during which angry leftists shouted at empty government offices before shuffling home Sunday afternoon to gear up for the workweek. With 1 out of 4 workers having filed for unemployment and many more working from home, tens of millions of Americans have free time to march in the streets. Sporting events, movie theaters, retail stores and even houses of worship are closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The usual distractions of a leap year are absent: The Summer Olympics are canceled, and presidential campaigning is so close to nonexistent as to be irrelevant. Politics is no longer about the politicians. Politics is in the street, where there’s nothing to do but gather, chant and dodge teargas cannisters.

The vacuum created by the lockdown and the impotence of a political class that no longer pretends to lead during a staggering medical-economic crisis has been filled by the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. BLM has won important symbolic victories like the toppling of Confederate statues and a renewed push to remove the stars and bars from the Mississippi state flag. As the movement against police brutality and institutional racism continues, look for more substantive systemic reforms in policing.

What comes next? The eviction-and-foreclosure-resistance movement.

Thanks to Congress’s reluctance to pass another big stimulus package, protests in general will continue into the foreseeable future. But they won’t all be against evil cops. A looming eviction-and-foreclosure crisis could broaden the struggle from one centered around racial grievances into a class-based fight for economic justice.

Courts are about to get flooded by eviction hearings. Thirty percent of Americans missed their June housing payment. Supplemental $600-per-week unemployment checks expire July 31.

“I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis and very quickly,” Columbia Law professor Emily Benfer, a housing expert who tracks eviction policies, told The New York Times May 30. Without government action, she warned, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”

There is no sign that the government will lift a finger to help people who lost their jobs and will soon face homelessness. Even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the most progressive members of the U.S. Senate, refuse to consider a rent or mortgage payment holiday. They support a tepid “moratorium,” not a rent freeze. Under a moratorium, back rent would pile up and come due at once later on. Millions of people would be kicked outside this winter during a possible “second wave” of COVID-19. That’s the best scenario. Odds are there won’t even be a moratorium. Congress will do little to nothing to help struggling tenants and homeowners.

Millions of homeowners and renters displaced from their homes during the 2008-09 subprime mortgage meltdown received zero assistance from the government. There were no protests worth mentioning. This time will be different.

First, there’s safety in numbers. The scale of this eviction crisis is much bigger. Three times more people have lost their jobs than during the Great Recession, during a much shorter period of time. Members of an eviction-resistance movement can help one another block county sheriffs from kicking them out. Among those who are still working, the tenuous nature of the labor market has everyone in there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I mode. We are in this together.

Second, this economic cataclysm wasn’t some act of God. People were ordered to shelter in place by the government. That’s why they lost their jobs, not a seemingly random stock market fluctuation. Targets of eviction and foreclosure won’t internalize any shame. They know they haven’t done anything wrong. They followed social distancing, as asked. Why should they sleep on the streets now because public health officials required them to go without income?

Third, Black Lives Matter has demonstrated the efficacy of street protests and of grassroots solidarity. Cops are currently about as popular as a sexually transmitted disease. How enthusiastically will police respond to a landlord’s request to fight their way through an angry crowd to throw a family onto the street? It depends on the municipality. Things will quickly turn ugly.

Finally, memories of how the big banks squandered their Bush-Obama bailouts on exorbitant CEO salaries and luxurious executive washroom renovations are still fresh. Even on the right, it will be tough to garner political support for banks trying to remove homeowners whose only crime was following stay-at-home orders.

There is a long but now largely forgotten history of tenant resistance movements in this country, mostly led by the communist left. Each first of the month between now and this fall brings us closer to a new radical struggle between people who ask nothing more than to keep the roof over the head and a system that prioritizes the right to own and control property over the most basic of human needs.

That movement will bring us closer to revolution.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Coronavirus, Housing, Poverty 
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Culturally informed by Roman Catholicism’s expectation that regret must prompt an apology as well as penance, Western European tradition calls for a rhetorical journey by politicians who claim to have changed course. A chastened leader should explain why and how he came to his previous belief, explain the circumstances that changed his mind and make the case for his new, different policy. He must expend political capital in order to get changes enacted.

Charles de Gaulle, who wanted France to retain control of Algeria, had observed the popularity and ferocity of the Algerian independence movement during his frequent visits to Algiers. In 1960, the French president admitted that he’d long been mistaken. “The Algerians will have the free choice of their destiny,” he informed a nation stunned by his dramatic reversal. Speaking of political capital, some military officers felt so betrayed they tried to assassinate him. But he brought the Algerian crisis in for a soft landing and regained support.

A rare American example occurred in 1987. Then-President Ronald Reagan first denied negotiating with Iranian hostage takers. Then he apologized to the public for Iran-Contra. Taking “full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration,” Reagan said, he then admitted to misleading the public. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he said. “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Reagan’s admission was a low point for his presidency but bolstered his reputation in the long run.

Atonement doesn’t play a frequent role in American politics.

Yet it works. After former President John F. Kennedy accepted responsibility for the attempted overthrow of the Cuban government at the Bay of Pigs — he could have schluffed the fiasco off on Dwight Eisenhower, whose administration planned it — his popularity soared.

But it might not have worked for Ike. A study undertaken in 2017 in nine nations including the U.S. found that, especially in the U.S., conservatives are less willing than liberals to apologize, and that they’re less likely to accept an apology.

Conservatives mocked former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for “apology tours” during which they expressed regret over America’s role in the slave trade and Middle East interventionism, respectively. Being Republican means never having to say you’re sorry.

The fertile soil for a culture of atonement occurs on the left.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden needs to unify the Democratic Party. He has the center-left Hillary Clinton wing in the bag. He leads in the polls but has an enthusiasm gap in progressives who supported Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Neither the Black Lives Matter movement nor progressives have forgiven the former vice president for supporting the police-group-written 1994 crime bill, which contributed to mass incarceration. They’re angry that he voted for war against Iraq. A fulsome apology followed by substantial atonement — the way Sanders now says he shouldn’t have voted for the war against Afghanistan — could help Biden with activists.

So far, so tepid.

Biden hasn’t expressed regret, apologized or explained his change of heart, much less promised to do better when contemplating issues of law and order, or wars of choice in the future. Why should the left forgive a man who hasn’t asked for it?

Sen. Kamala Harris is on the short list for the vice presidency. Her prospects are clouded by her history as a pro-cop prosecutor. She might consider that confession is good for the soul as well as the polls — especially among the progressive Democrats Biden needs. Harris could renounce her “lock them up and throw away the key” past as an attorney general. She could urge the release of Kevin Cooper, now on death row for murders that he may not have committed because she opposed DNA testing. Harris said she felt “awful about this.” Never mind the pabulum. Write a check to the Innocence Project.

Empty talk won’t save organizations either.

The NFL is trying to pivot away from its longstanding prohibitions against players expressing opposition to racism and police violence, a policy symbolized by blackballing Colin Kaepernick. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” commissioner Roger Goodell said.

Goodell’s statement “has rightfully been met with skepticism from the masses,” Vincent Frank wrote at Forbes. “But if Kaepernick remains unemployed once the 2020 NFL season starts in September, it will have been proven that Goodell’s words were nothing more than an attempt to appease the masses through a well thought out PR stunt.”

Biden, Harris and the NFL need to atone for their sins. We don’t want their words. We need action.

 
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Dear Mr. Pearlstine: Last week, you issued a statement acknowledging the role your newspaper has played in the racist oppression of people of color, according to the “LA Podcast.” “The Los Angeles Times has a long, well-documented history of fueling the racism and cruelty that accompanied our city’s becoming a metropolis,” you wrote. You promised reforms including “addressing the concerns of people of color in the newsroom.”

You admitted that this is merely a start and asked for suggestions for how the Times can redeem itself and earn the trust of readers, especially people of color.

I will take you at your word.

To begin with, the Times should come clean about its longstanding, cozy relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department. And it should end this deep conflict of interest, which makes it impossible for your paper to report objectively about the police. When the media fails to hold the police accountable, the police are free to abuse the citizens they are supposed to protect.

My case shines a light on how the media censors critics and breeds self-censorship by journalists. I was an editorial cartoonist for the Times from 2009 to 2015. My cartoons often criticized police brutality and racist policing. Instead of stopping their abuse of minorities, however, the police apparently repeatedly demanded that the papers that ran my cartoons fire me. That fell on deaf ears until 2014, when the Times brought in a new publisher, Austin Beutner. Beutner, a hedge fund billionaire who is now superintendent of LA schools, midwifed a deal by which the $16.4 billion LAPD pension fund purchased No. 1 shareholder status in Tribune Publishing, which owned the Times and 14 other newspapers. (Yes, it’s legal for the cops to buy media companies.) The LAPD police union gave an award to Beutner.

The union has a history of buying newspaper stock. It seeks to hide its motives. It seeks to remove negative coverage of the police from “its” papers. “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced,” the union’s then-president explained in 2009, after it acquired interest in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Me being fired was not enough for then-LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck. The LAPD also wanted to send a chilling message to journalists throughout the Southland: If you criticize the police, we will destroy you. So the Times published a smear article about me.

I proved the evidence was bogus and that I had been truthful, yet editorial page editor Nick Goldberg ignored it.

The Times was determined to ruin me and didn’t care that I had done nothing wrong. Inexplicably, Goldberg still works at the Times.

My case is not just about me. It opens a window into why and how the Times’ relationship with the police corrupts its commentary and coverage.

It shows why and how victims of police brutality have been ignored or diminished.

It explains why and how police narratives are taken at face value, no matter how ridiculous.

How can anyone read about what happened to me and still believe anything the Times has to say about cops?

Mr. Pearlstine, if this is not empty talk, if you are serious about turning over a new leaf, you should address my case. Hiring more people of color in the newsroom is overdue, important and necessary. But black reporters aren’t more likely than white journalists to go after the police if they’re equally afraid of getting fired. Everyone at the Times knows what the paper did to me; they know it could happen to them, too, if they go “too far” against the cops.

The LAPD got rid of their most irritating critic and a pundit who made going after police brutality a priority. The Times never replaced me.

Rehiring me would make a powerful symbolic statement that the Beutner era of corruption and complicity with the police is finished. It would demonstrate you do not edit a police propaganda rag. You could take down the two articles about me that are still on your website. You could issue a retraction and an apology.

The Times’ current owner, Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, should pledge not to enter financial partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Like many other papers, the Times relies on the police to tip off reporters about breaking local news. This relationship should be severed. Reporters ought not socialize with cops, much less rely upon them for stories. Refusing to be a police lapdog requires hiring more journalists — but Soon-Shiong is a biotech billionaire. He can easily afford them.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

Ted Rall

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Censorship, Police 
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Few things are more terrifying than the unknown, as we are discovering as we struggle to navigate, avoid and (if we fail to avoid) survive a mysterious new virus. That goes double when reliable information is hard to come by; it is unquantifiably worse without credible leadership.

“Who ya gonna believe,” Chico Marx asked, “me or your own eyes?” More than other cultures of which I am aware, Americans are acculturated to ignore their instincts and the truth of their observations. A smoker might wake up coughing up phlegm every morning for decades, yet he only begins to internalize that tobacco is dangerous to his health after a surgeon general he has never met issues a report. You might live in the same house for years on end but discount your observation of the fact that it used to snow but now it doesn’t; global warming only becomes official when hundreds of climate scientists certify what you already knew.

Sometimes you have to trust yourself.

Even when you are mistaken about some details.

I’m 90% sure that I had COVID-19. It was in November. I was in LA for several weeks. In March, I blogged about my symptoms: “I had an incessant dry cough … I had a constant fever. My temperature ranged from about 101 degrees during the day to closer to 103 degrees at night. My chest was tight: it felt like a car was parked on it. I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. I was exhausted. Even walking half a block, I had to take a break. I would get back to my hotel after a meeting and be asleep by 6 PM. I would sleep 14 hours and wake up still wiped out. ‘What the hell,’ I would ask myself, ‘is going on?'”

I tested negative for influenza. An X-ray revealed early-stage pneumonia. I was prescribed antibiotics and a nebulizer. Obviously, I recovered; here I am writing this. But I’m still weak and tired.

If I could prove I had the novel coronavirus in November, it might be a news story. Aside from a New Jersey mayor who says he is sure that he had COVID-19 in November and a 55-year-old Chinese man whom doctors say had the disease on Nov. 17, the scientific and journalistic consensus is that the coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, in December. Last week, my physician administered a serology test to determine if I have antibodies consistent with past infection with SARS-CoV-2. It came back negative. I was puzzled. If I hadn’t had COVID-19, or the flu, what the hell was this horrible illness?

I’m 56. I’ve had trouble with my lungs my entire life: asthma, lots of bronchitis, several cases of pneumonia, swine flu. My symptoms are remarkably consistent. My November experience was nothing like anything before. What bronchitis gives you fever for weeks at a time? What pneumonia?

The day after my doctor called with the negative antibody test result, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement essentially declaring such lab tests worthless for the purpose of figuring out whether you’ve ever had COVID-19. So even if it had come back positive, it wouldn’t have meant anything.

Even if my test had been 100% reliable and had come back positive, all the test result would have proven is that I had COVID-19 at some point . It would not have evidenced that I contracted COVID-19 in November. I could have caught something else in November and caught COVID-19 asymptomatically later.

Further reducing my reliability as a possible COVID-19 Patient Zero is a failure of memory: In my blog, I wrote — because I believed it — that this happened in January. When I subsequently reviewed my records, I came across a selfie I took while using the nebulizer in a West Hollywood urgent care clinic. It was dated Nov. 15, and I had already been sick for a couple of weeks. You may be less surprised that I made such a mistake when I tell you that my mom was desperately ill at the time, and she died on Feb. 7 after a year of hell. Whatever it was, COVID-19 or something else, definitely happened in November.

Does it matter? Scientifically, of course, the answer is yes. Epidemiologists benefit when they can trace a viral pandemic to its roots. Personally, medically, probably. Though the experts remain officially uncertain whether someone can be reinfected by COVID-19, the evidence appears to say that COVID-19 survivors probably cannot get reinfected to a significant extent. It wouldn’t prompt me to go out in public without a mask or stop washing my hands. I know it’s selfish, but I won’t deny it: I would love the peace of mind of knowing that this particular beast isn’t going to kill me. And I would like to donate blood for use as plasma in order to treat coronavirus victims.

As it stands, most of my thoughts on this subject are a muddled rumination about the nature of humanity and the reliability of personal knowledge. If I were an animal and had never heard of science, and had memory and self-awareness, I would know — know with the same certainty that I am typing this column — that I had COVID-19 and that I should probably worry about something else more than the possibility that I might get it again. But I am not an animal. I am an American filled with self-doubt, in awe of science and the desire to document what can probably never be proven and in fact might not be true at all.

 
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I shouted the text of my latest story about the invasion from a Palm Pilot into a balky Iridium satellite phone. It was at least my third attempt, and the battery was dying. A Village Voice employee assigned to take dictation on the other side of the world interrupted me.

“I don’t understand,” she said, irritated. “Why don’t you just go to Kinko’s and email it to us?”

I stood shin-deep in the pitch dark of a muddy rut in northeastern Afghanistan and scanned pockmarked mud-brick walls. I was on a street, but it was 2001, so there wasn’t any pavement. There were buildings but no lights because decades of civil war had left the nation without an electrical grid. There were no bridges that hadn’t been blown up, no phone lines, no sewers. There was no water.

No Kinko’s.

Motorized transport belonged to the privileged: NGOs, warlords, invading armies and journalists like me. People wanted me to take their picture, not to be photographed but to see themselves in my camera’s viewfinder for their first time in their lives. There weren’t any mirrors.

Minus a central bank, rival warlords printed banknotes from identical plates with ink of varying color. Most people preferred barter.

Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion was the 14th century plus mines and AK-47s.

The land of the Taliban was bleak and desolate. After America bombed them out of Kabul after 9/11, they fled into the dusty countryside and rugged mountains that became staging grounds for attacks against U.S. and NATO forces for more than 18 years. Thousands of Americans and tens of Afghans lost their lives in a war that, in a poignant echo of Vietnam, lost its purpose. “What were we trying to do here?” Gen. Douglas Lute, who led U.S. forces under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, recalled asking. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

On Feb. 29 of this year, the U.S. tacitly conceded defeat. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban signed a deal as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the ceremony in Doha.

They called it a peace agreement. But it didn’t guarantee that fighting would stop (and it hasn’t), only that the U.S. will withdraw within 14 months.

Under the Doha agreement, the Taliban will now negotiate terms with the Afghan government that the U.S. installed in early 2002. The expectation is that the Taliban will recognize the regime of President Ashraf Ghani and lay down their weapons. It’s far more likely that the group will wait for Ghani’s NATO protectors to leave. Vietnam again: This is “peace with honor.”

This fig leaf allows us to withdraw with our pride intact. And that’s fine. Fifty-eight percent of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan think the latter conflict was a waste. They’re right. We were never going to win. President Donald Trump gets credit for ending America’s longest war.

So what happens next?

The Taliban will grant us a grace period of relative calm while we turn our focus to other issues and places. Ultimately, they will seize power with surprising speed and ferocity. This, dating back to the First Afghan War against the British between 1839 to 1842, is the way of Afghan guerilla warfare: Wait. Observe. Probe. Swarm.

Then the Taliban will be back in Kabul.

But it won’t be the Taliban — not the Taliban with whom we went to war in 2001. The Ur Taliban are dead and gone.

The bearded fighters to whom the Trump administration has turned over the future of Afghanistan are not your father’s Taliban. South Asia experts call these fellows the “neo-Taliban.” Formerly based in the former tribal areas of Waziristan in western Pakistan along the Afghan border, Afghanistan’s neo-Taliban is a pastiche of radical volunteers and recruits from jihadi hot spots throughout Asia: Kashmir, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, eastern Iran and Pakistan proper. Many of these young men were orphans of the refugee camps and madrassas that sprung up around the Afghan diaspora of the 1990s and post-9/11 era. Modern and tech-savvy, they carry smartphones to coordinate attacks, often on motorcycles. They earn money from kidnapping and the drug trade.

The original Taliban who ruled 90% of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 were a simpler, indigenous, more homogenous breed. Veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance, they began as vigilantes against bandits and rapists. Befitting the devastated hellscape of the failed state they terrorized with the whip-wielding goons of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, they were ascetic. When American soldiers entered the abandoned home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, they were surprised to discover that the Taliban head of state had lived modestly, even primitively.

The neo-Taliban are nominally religious, but their primary devotion is to leveraging their power into income. They are far more interested in making money than in policing women’s hijabs. They are not feminists. They would oppress women. But they wouldn’t be as thorough or ruthless as the Taliban of the 1990s.

I returned to Afghanistan nine years after I covered the war for the Voice. The difference was staggering. The U.S. and NATO occupation has radically modernized the nation’s infrastructure.

High-tension power lines run alongside smooth new highways. Conditions remain primitive in the countryside, but even smaller cities have electricity most of the day. Formerly ubiquitous donkey carts have been replaced by cars, wells by water pipes, empty skies by billboards advertising soft drinks and candidates for parliament. Stores bustle. Homes and big buildings are constantly going up. There are credit cards, banks and ATM machines, guarded by AK-toting private security guards in flak jackets. There are fewer dropped cellphone calls in Afghanistan than in Los Angeles.

If and when they take over, the neo-Taliban won’t want to destroy this nascent, violence-prone, bustling capitalist state. They will seek to control, protect and tax it.

Afghanistan under the neo-Taliban will look something like other Islamic developing nations in the region such as Pakistan or Bangladesh. Political and financial corruption will be endemic. Out in the sticks, away from the eyes of the few foreign journalists still in country, there will still be an occasional stoning. Overall, this new regime will be more modern, more corrupt and, to Western eyes, more tolerable than the Taliban who blew up the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

There still aren’t any Fedex offices (formerly Kinko’s) in Afghanistan. But there are plenty of cybercafes — and there’s at least one for women only.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military, Taliban 
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The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare two fundamental flaws in the American health care system.

No. 1: There’s a reason that other rich countries treat health care as a taxpayer-financed social program. Employer-based health insurance was stupid pre-COVID-19 because our economy was already steadily transitioning from traditional full-time W-2 jobs to self-employment, freelance and gig work. The virus has exposed the insanity of this arrangement. Millions of people have been fired over the last two months; now they find themselves uninsured during a global health emergency. The unemployed theoretically face fines for the crime of no longer being able to afford private health care.

The second inherent flaw in the U.S. approach is that it’s for profit. Greed creates an inherent incentive against paying for preventative and emergency care. Even people who are desperately ill with chronic conditions see 24% of legitimate claims denied.

When your insurance company issues a denial, it doesn’t merely pocket that payment. It also adds to future profits. Even if you’re insured, the hassle of knowing that you might get hit by a surprise bill for uncovered/out-of-network charges makes you more likely to stay home rather than to risk seeing a doctor or filling a prescription and going broke. “Visits to primary care providers made by adults under the age of 65 … dropped by nearly 25% from 2008 to 2016” due to routine denials by insurers, reports NPR.

Denials also create a societal effect: News stories about patients with insurance receiving bills for thousands of dollars after being treated for COVID-19, even just to be tested, prompt people to stay away from hospitals and try to ride out the disease at home. Some of those people die.

There’s a third structural problem exposed by the pandemic, but it’s not receiving attention from public policy experts or the media. I’m talking about America’s lack of a centralized health care system.

A centralized health care system has nothing to do with who pays the doctor. A centralized system can be fully socialized, government-subsidized or fully for profit. In such a scheme, all patient records are stored in a central online database accessible to physicians, pharmacists and other caregivers regardless of where you are when you need care. If you fall ill while you’re on a trip away from home, the admitting nurse at a walk-in clinic or hospital has instantaneous access to your complete medical history.

The current system is primitive. Data is not transferable between doctors or medical systems without a patient’s directive, which is often required by the obsolete technology of sending a fax. That assumes the sick person is sharp enough to remember which of his previous doctors did what when. And that’s it’s not a weekend or a national holiday or a Wednesday, when some doctors like to golf.

Unless an unconscious patient happens to be wearing a medical alert bracelet, there is currently no way to determine whether the person is allergic to a drug or has a chronic illness, or whether there’s a treatment regimen proven to be more effective. Even if the patient is alert and conscious, a new doctor may ignore her request for a specific medication in favor of cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all treatment.

A few months ago, I developed the classic symptoms of what we now know to be COVID-19. I live in New York. I succumbed while on business in Los Angeles. Trying in vain to fight off a relentless dry cough, difficulty breathing and day after day of brutal aches and fever, I visited a CVS walk-in clinic. I have a long history of respiratory illnesses: asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, swine flu. I requested a third- or fourth-generation antibiotic since I knew from experience that I would inevitably decline with anything less. “We do not treat viral infections with antibiotics,” the nurse, a charmless Pete Buttigieg type, pompously declaimed. I pointed out that viral lung infections usually have a bacterial component that should be treated with antibiotics.

This would not have been an issue back home in New York, where both my general practitioner and my pulmonologist know my medical history. Either doctor would have prescribed a strong antibiotic and a codeine-based cough syrup.

Because I happened to be in LA, I left CVS empty-handed.

I declined.

It got to the point that I couldn’t walk 100 feet without pausing to catch my breath. I felt like I was going to die.

I called my doctor back in New York. She called in a prescription to the same CVS. It helped arrest my decline. But I wasn’t getting better.

I visited a different walk-in clinic, in West Hollywood. It was a better experience. They tested me for flu (negative), X-rayed me (diagnosis was early-stage pneumonia) and put me on a nebulizer. I began a slow recovery.

A centralized system would have been more efficient. The CVS nurse would have seen my history of non-response to treatment devoid of strong antibiotics. He also might have taken note of my pulmonologist’s effective use of a nebulizer to treat previous bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia. I might have been prescribed the proper medication and treatment as much as a week sooner.

COVID-19 almost certainly would have been detected in the United States sooner if we had a centralized medical system. “One example of a persistent challenge in the early detection of health security threats is the lack of national, web-based databases that link suspected cases of illness with laboratory confirmation. This leaves countries vulnerable, as they cannot accurately and quickly identify the presence of pathogens to minimize the spread of disease,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Algorithms can automatically scan massive volumes of information for signs of novel infectious diseases, help identify potential problems and focus responses where they are needed most.

How many people’s lives could have been saved if lockdown procedures had begun earlier? If public health officials had seen the coronavirus coming back in December — or November — they might have been able to protect vulnerable populations and avoid a devastating economic shutdown.

There are substantial privacy considerations. No one wants a hacker to find out that they had an STD or an employer to learn about documented evidence of substance abuse. Keeping a centralized health care system secure would have to be a top priority. On the other hand, there is no inherent shame in any kind of illness. In a nightmare scenario in which medical records were to somehow become public, no one would have anything to hide or any reason to look down on anyone else.

We can’t pretend to be a First World country until we join the rest of the world by abolishing corporate for-profit health care and decouple insurance benefits from employment. But reform without centralization would be incomplete.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Coronavirus, Health care 
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