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The following phrase, and its variants, has become ubiquitous: “Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud.” Mainstream news outlets have accelerated its use during the congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The phrase is accurate. Though American elections have historically been marred by fraud and outright subversion, no evidence has surfaced to suggest that any such improprieties occurred during the 2020 presidential election that were substantial enough to change the result. As far as we know, Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

But is it journalistically kosher?

Fairness, accuracy and integrity are the core of journalistic ethics. Those values are compromised when they are applied inconsistently, as do American news companies.

Republicans, conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump in particular have long complained that corporate media outlets have been harder on him than on other politicians or previous presidents. It’s hard to disagree. Journalists’ labeling of Trump’s allegations that the 2020 election was stolen as a lie is a case in point; it’s impossible to think of another American politician who has been so repeatedly editorialized against in nonopinion news stories or to have his claims — no matter how untrue — repeatedly denied in headlines.

Biden and fellow Democrats, for example, have taken to calling high gas prices “Putin’s gas hike.” This is just as false as Trump’s election BS. The Wall Street Journal notes that gas prices were “turbocharged by a rebounding economy after a pandemic-induced slowdown” well before Russia invaded Ukraine. Anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West, led by the U.S., exacerbated the problem. Whether or not Biden is responsible for \$5 gas, no one can credibly blame Vladimir Putin for the effects of sanctions Biden imposed against him.

You won’t see headlines describing Biden’s spin on gas prices as “baseless” or “false.” As they do when any politician other than Trump lies, the press acts as stenographers, dutifully passing on communiques regardless of their truthiness. “Biden blames Russia for gas prices,” reports Politico. “Biden slams ‘Putin’s price hike,'” says CNN. Calling out Trump for lying is great. Doing so is a reporter’s job. Why not Biden?

Willful inconsistency is the hallmark of how reporting becomes propaganda in the 21st century. As coverage of the Jan. 6 hearings keeps reminding us, Trump tried to steal the presidency. The same reporters had little to nothing to say about George W. Bush actually stealing the presidency; because Bush hates Trump, they treat the architect of torture, drones and Gitmo like an elder statesman. When the U.S. invades a foreign country, there’s almost no attempt to humanize civilian victims, but when the invading army belongs to a U.S. adversary, coverage of the human cost — even the cost to animals — is exhaustive.

The facile defense to this critique is that reporters are setting the record straight when they label Trump’s lies as such. Trouble is, there are so many lies being told by so many politicians of every conceivable ideological orientation that limiting fact checks to one individual, even a former president and possible future one for whom the truth appears to be a mortal enemy, looks exactly like what it is: choosing sides by giving your fellow partisans a free pass. Further, because the press’s anti-Trump bias is so over-the-top, there is a natural tendency to dismiss it.

I’m not arguing that journalists should stop writing that Trump is a liar. To the contrary, holding politicians accountable for untruths is long overdue. I’m saying they should do the same thing to other politicians as well.

Now that Russiagate has been thoroughly debunked, it would be nice to see news media say so. Instead of,”US is worried about Russia using new efforts to exploit divisions in 2022 midterms,” CNN could say, “US officials revive discredited claims on election ‘interference.'”

Instead of, “Iraq War role was a stain on Powell’s record — one he openly said he regretted,” The Washington Post could say, “A million dead Iraqis later, Powell regretted lying America into Iraq War.”

Surely the courageous journalists who call out “Trump’s election lie” for what it is can present other stories in an equally straightforward manner. ABC’s “Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee condemns Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia” ought to be specific. After all, Khashoggi wasn’t passive-tense “slain.” In one of the most insane political assassinations in modern history, Khashoggi was viciously butchered in the Saudi consulate at the order of the Saudi crown prince. Biden isn’t merely going to Saudi Arabia; he’s planning to meet and shake hands with Khashoggi’s murderer. How about, “Fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi condemns Biden for upcoming visit with journalist’s murderer”?

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Donald Trump, Joe Biden 

A new Washington Post poll about Americans’ views of transgender athletes offers a lot to think about. I found the margins more interesting than the headline. Like, who are these 2% of people who think that transgender girls are at a physical disadvantage when they compete against cisgender girls in youth sports? Why would they think that?

Another takeaway is that 16% of respondents have a close friend or family member who is transgender. One in six! As a writer and cartoonist who works from home — but in New York City, the most diverse city in the country — clearly, I need to get out and meet more people. Last week, a Pew poll found that about 1% of Americans are nonbinary, a figure that rises to 3% for people ages 18 to 29. I know hundreds of people, including lots of Millennials. How come I don’t know anyone nonbinary in a country with 3.3 million of them?

But what I’ve been thinking about most is an issue that is so baked into our society that it is no issue at all: the idea that competition is a good thing.

Most respondents to the Post survey oppose allowing trans women to participate against cis women in competitive sports at any level. Yet a majority are also concerned that the mental health of transgender athletes might suffer as a result of such a ban — meaning that, even among some of those who view such competition as unfair, some worry that trans women athletes denied the opportunity to compete against other women in sports will suffer psychological damage.

It’s an intractable issue. As transgender athletes have argued, segregation by gender in sports is in and of itself arbitrary, since some cis women have inherent biological advantages over some cis men. Any attempt to make physical competition fairer, as with weight classes in boxing and wrestling, is inherently arbitrary. Where does it stop? Shall we have separate basketball leagues based on the players’ heights? Should the 152-to-164-pound weight class be split up more finely? Down to the ounce?

There is little political appetite for allowing everyone to compete against one another regardless of sex or gender, and for obvious reasons: In most sports, people who are born male have bigger and stronger bodies, and hormonal advantages, on average than those born female. Eliminating the gender divide would effectively downgrade half the human race to intramural athletes, with no chance to win anything more than the joy and satisfaction of participating.

But then, what’s so great about competition? Personally, this cis male has always found competition of all kinds — in sports, at work, in the arts — to be toxic.

I attended elementary school in the mid-1970s, when soccer was first gaining a foothold in the United States. In my Ohio town it started out as exclusively intramural. I signed up and loved it. (It’s not relevant here, but I was pretty good.) Then they converted the intramural league to the competitive teams we have today. Coaches, and then players, got serious about winning. They turned mean. Grown men ordered us kids to target the best player on rival teams and injure them so that they couldn’t play. It wasn’t fun anymore, so I quit.

Competition ruined every sport I tried: track, wrestling, baseball. Winning was the only thing that mattered. My teammates quickly took to trash-talking batters; I found the practice foul. To me, play is not something that you do at the expense of other people. I’m not alone: Survey data shows that 70% of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13.

Studies show that competition causes depression, anxiety and self-harm. And no wonder! Competition turns everyone but the winner into losers. The practice of my professors at Columbia University School of Engineering, who graded on a curve, illustrated the absurdity of America’s winner-take-all culture. No matter how brilliant the students in a class, half of us would receive an “F.” Objectively, of course, we were all superb at math and science and we all worked hard; we wouldn’t have been admitted otherwise. Objectively, we all should have gotten “As.” Instead, CU set up a system where they took thousands of students who were by far the best in their high schools and turned three-quarters of them, me included, into expelled losers, unemployed with thousands of dollars in student loans.

Because of competitive grading, 49% of students feel a great deal of stress on a daily basis. Educators should consider following the example of Hampshire College, which does not issue letter grades.

If you have held a job, you know how dispiriting workplace competition can be. Brown-nosers prevail over those who work harder. Intelligent workers get passed over in favor of those who don’t threaten their colleagues with difficult questions. Unfair promotions piss people off. Workers are more likely to quit a job after a colleague gets promoted than one in which no one gets promoted.

Competition in the arts is silly and destructive. What makes a song or a sculpture or a cartoon “better” than another one? It’s purely a matter of subjective taste. Who receives the Oscar or the Tony or the Nobel Prize usually has far more to do with contemporary politics and the composition of the prize jury than the quality of the work.

Columbia University, which administers the Pulitzer Prize, has decided to abolish the editorial cartooning section in favor of a broad illustrated commentary category that also includes comics journalism, comic strips, graphic novels, magazine illustrations, you name it. Effectively, they have reduced an editorial cartoonist’s chance of winning a Pulitzer from slim to none, which is bad for a nearly extinct profession, which is why I added my name to a petition letter opposing it.

In a way, though, they’ve done us a favor. With few exceptions, each year’s announcement of the winners and finalists has been followed by a flurry of phone calls between the 99% of us who lost. We disagree with the choice of the winner. We bemoan the great work that’s been snubbed. We wonder what the hell happened in the room where it happened; what were the jurors thinking and why are their deliberations unaccountable? Most of all, we wonder what we could have done, if anything — spoiler, probably nothing — to have won ourselves? Even the winner is a loser, for they know that few others are happy about their victory. I’ve been at this for more than a quarter of a century, and I can’t remember any winner being greeted by anything close to universal acclaim by his or her colleagues.

If you can’t win, you can’t lose.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Sports, Transgenderism 

For the foreseeable future, the Democratic Party is in trouble. In today’s essay I will describe just how bleak the situation is — spoiler alert, very — and how I would advise party leaders to respond if they asked my advice.

First, they’re probably going to lose big in the upcoming midterms.

Prediction is fraught, things change, you never know, blah blah blah. Polls are mixed. That said, Republicans will almost certainly take back the House of Representatives and probably the Senate as well.

The tea leaves look ugly. Plagued by the perception that he is tired, feeble and out of it, the nearly octogenarian President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are at a near-record low 41% and sinking. Gallup’s monthly poll of the issues that worry American voters lists the top problems as poor government leadership (20%), inflation (17%), the economy in general (12%) and fuel/oil prices (6%). Rarely has a political situation been so straightforward; voters think the economy sucks and they blame Biden.

The president has no one to blame but himself for the perception that he doesn’t understand how much pain inflation is causing, and that he doesn’t have a plan to bring it down. First, he said that inflation wasn’t happening. Then he said it would be temporary. Now he’s blaming Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for an economic phenomenon that began a year earlier and that his sanctions against Russia are making worse. The White House’s most recent published statement focuses on attacking inflation by … taxing the rich and big corporations. I’m all for a progressive tax system. But changing who pays for missiles and bombs won’t bring down food and gas prices.

Not that we’ll find out. Democratic proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy are dead in the water. So, Biden’s idea to fix inflation is something he can’t try.

Inflation, the problem that most scares voters, will remain high at least through the end of the year. And there’s nothing the president can do about it; he told us that himself last week. Biden’s inability to lead will prompt swing voters to cast rage votes for Republicans.

So, 2023 will likely begin with divided government.

The president will be the lamest of all lame ducks. Biden, 80 and about to topple over at any moment, will finally have to admit to himself and the nation what everyone already knows: He will not run for reelection. Heir-apparent Kamala Harris has one of the lowest popularity ratings of anyone in American politics, 31%, the same as for lawyers and Big Pharma. How bad is it? Not only is Harris incapable of clearing the field by scaring away potential rivals for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination but she would almost certainly face the devastating embarrassment of a sitting vice president losing in the primaries.

Worse still, Republican control of Congress will make it impossible for the Biden-Harris administration to rack up any legislative accomplishments for them, or any Democrat, to run on in 2024.

When voters are miserable and hopeless because they don’t see government taking action that might alleviate their pain, they punish the incumbent party. So the trick for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election would be to shed the albatross of the failed Biden presidency. There’s only one way to do it: Both Biden and Harris should announce early in 2023 that they do not plan to run for president, thus opening the field to all comers.

American elections are about the future. Sweeping the slate clean will make for one of the most exciting Democratic presidential primary campaigns in history and could attract new candidates who otherwise might have sat out the race.

Republicans, on the other hand, will almost certainly renominate an old white man, Donald Trump. The reality-TV real-estate pseudo-billionaire who once seemed so fresh as to be wild and crazy will be a bitter blast from the past.

My suggestion, of course, runs directly against the conventional wisdom that a first-term president becomes instantly impotent following the announcement that he will not run again and that it’s therefore better to keep up the fiction as long as possible. With Republicans controlling Congress, however, what difference will it make?

A soon-to-be-retired Biden would be freed to pass all sorts of executive orders and other programs that require nothing more than a stroke of his pen. With Harris not running, no other candidate would be held to account for his actions beyond party affiliation. Biden could do all sorts of things on progressives’ wish list, thus shoring up the currently unenthusiastic party base: a blanket pardon of nonviolent drug offenders, closing Guantanamo Bay, forgiveness of federal student loans, canceling federal contracts with companies that engage in union-busting, pardoning political prisoners like Julian Assange and targets of the security state like Edward Snowden. He could follow the lead of Richard Nixon of all people and impose wage and price controls to fight inflation.

There’s no point worrying about the 2022 midterms. Democrats are going to lose those. They need to look ahead to 2024. Job No. 1 is convincing Biden and Harris to stand down.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 

Reactions to mass shootings follow a predictable pattern.

Liberal politicians call for gun control, and they have a point. Countries with gun control have less gun violence. The old assault weapons ban did some good. You have to pass a test to get licensed to drive a car or, in most states, to operate a boat — surely the same could be required of those who want to possess firearms.

Conservative politicians call attention to America’s worsening epidemic of mental illness. They have a point, too. Most mass shooters have untreated psychiatric disorders; most are suicidal.

But neither side addresses America’s culture of violence. Why would they? They both feed into it.

The ethical norms of a society become broadly accepted after they are defined and propagated by the acts and public statements of political and religious leaders, news and entertainment media and celebrities. If morale goes from the top down, so do morals. If you doubt this is true, look at nations with low rates of violent crime like Switzerland, Denmark and Japan. Compared with our political discourse, which is often glib, macho and coarse, theirs is thoughtful, polite and reserved. Day-to-day interactions between citizens is less aggressive; their drivers are the safest and least likely to succumb to road rage.

American political leaders, on the other hand, revel in cognitive dissonance, flashing a knowing wink at cameras as they call for peace in between indulging their swaggery inner cowboy: starting and prolonging wars, ordering assassinations and issuing one threat after another. Is it any wonder that a young man made impressionable by mental illness and desensitized by over-the-top violence on film and interactive bloodletting in immersive video games might draw the message that opening fire on a classroom full of schoolchildren is an acceptable way to express his frustration and rage?

“There’s no place for violence,” Joe Biden said during the 2020 election campaign. But he wasn’t talking about state violence; he was condemning the destruction of property by Black Lives Matter demonstrators who were trying to stop police brutality.

Truth is, there’s plenty of places where rhetorical violence is acceptable in America — beginning at the White House podium. Even when reacting to last week’s massacre of 19 children and their two teachers in Uvalde Texas, Biden bottom-shelved grief and sorrow in favor of frustration, irritation and blame: “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage … What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone? Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, (SET ITAL for God’s sake. It’s just sick. And the gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons which make them the most and largest profit.” (Emphases mine.)

Where American politicians really revel in violent rhetoric at a fever-pitch level unheard just anywhere else on the planet, however, is where it’s easiest to other-ize their victims: foreign affairs.

“This strike was not the last,” Biden said after ordering an assassination drone to launch missiles into a house in Kabul in August 2021, deploying the butch verbiage of an action movie. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack (by ISIS-K at the Kabul airport) and make them pay.” (Actually, the drone strike killed 10 innocent civilians, mostly children.) Imagine a European prime minister talking like that!

On the campaign trail for President Barack Obama in 2012, then-Vice President Biden repeatedly bragged that his administration had carried out the extrajudicial assassination of Osama bin Laden and had ordered the Al Qaeda chief murdered after he was captured alive. “You want to know whether we’re better off?” Biden asked a cheering crowd of 3,500 in Detroit. “I’ve got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Charming.

For Americans, violence is the go-to solution to many foreign crises even when there are better alternatives. Bin Laden, for example, could have been put on trial, with 9/11 treated as a law-enforcement issue. It would have elevated us, provided answers to the victims’ families and diminished the prestige of the terrorists.

Following the bombastic, high-strung President George W. Bush, Obama cultivated an image of calm deliberation: “No Drama Obama,” his staff called him. Still, that didn’t stop him from tastelessly normalizing political murder. The president pointed to the Jonas Brothers during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner and joked: “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas,” Obama said as reporters guffawed. “Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming.” The thousands of innocent people blown up by Obama’s drones, none by legal means, must have found his depravity hilarious.

Political leaders of other countries have started wars. Some have murdered rivals. But most have enough grace and attention to decorum to recognize that such acts are unpleasant — necessary, perhaps, in order to achieve their objective, but nothing to boast about. They deny involvement or refuse to comment or invent cover stories to justify their crimes, as Hitler did when he claimed that his 1939 invasion of Poland was an act of self-defense. Only Americans respond to an adversary’s sticky end with an unseemly spiking of the football.

Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state under Obama, also contributed to America’s uniquely cavalier attitude toward violence. While watching a video of Libyan jihadis murdering dictator Muammar Gaddafi by sodomizing him with a bayonet, she famously cackled: “We came, we saw, he died.” She then laughed heartily.

Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces occupying Iraq in late 2003. Never one for keeping his thumb off the scale, Bush called for the dictator — a former U.S. ally — to be executed: “I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty … for what he has done to his people. He is a torturer, a murderer, and they had rape rooms, and this is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice.” Self-awareness note: Guantanamo and other U.S. “black sites” set up by Bush for kidnapped Muslims also featured torture, murder and rape.

Americans don’t just like violence. Extrajudicial, illegal violence is in our DNA. We glorify Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas because he won and chuckle at his willingness to violate the customs of how war was fought at the time. American revolutionaries who ambushed the British using guerilla tactics weren’t cheaters; they were clever. Lincoln is considered great because he fought the Civil War over his refusal to accept the Confederacy’s legal decision to secede. Few Americans gave much thought to George H.W. Bush’s decision to invade Panama, a sovereign nation, and prosecute its president, in the U.S., like a common criminal even though he was probably innocent — but it was insane.

Is there a direct line between statements by presidents and Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter? No. But direct orders are not how cultural norms permeate a society. When a behavior is normalized it becomes, by definition, so commonplace and acceptable that it hardly occurs to anyone that there’s anything wrong with it. Violence in America is like the old Palmolive commercial: We’re soaking in it. So we don’t notice it. Political leaders who normalize violence (especially extrajudicial violence) as acceptable, entertaining and amusing shouldn’t be surprised when impressionable young men follow their example and resort to violence themselves.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Military, Gun Control, Mass Shootings 

Adam Smith wrote that the efficiency of markets relies on the free movement of goods. What happens when governments seize property in order to exert political pressure — or out of greed?

A major, arguably the primary, incentive of the capitalist system is that it offers the potential of accruing wealth. Individuals and companies rely on government to maintain order, keep conditions like interest rates stable, and protect accumulated assets from bank failures, devaluation, fraud and theft, without regard for the political orientation of their owner. In recent years, however, the United States has increasingly been putting its thumb on the scale for ideological reasons, taking assets by ethically and legally dubious means, and imperiling its reputation as a safe haven for deposits and investments.

From the 62-years-and-counting trade embargo against Cuba to the severing of ties with Iran following the hostage crisis to the isolation of South Africa to punish apartheid, the U.S. has repeatedly turned to economic sanctions in the postwar era. The outright seizure of foreign assets held in the U.S. has increasingly become a part of the mix of pressure tactics.

President George W. Bush took \$1.7 billion from Iraq’s foreign reserves in 2003 and transferred an additional \$600 million to a slush fund to finance anti-Saddam Hussein factions.

Shortly before the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, President Barack Obama ordered that U.S. banks freeze \$30 billion held by the Central Bank of Libya and the Libya Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, and use some of the money to fund Benghazi-based anti-Gadhafi rebel groups, some of which morphed into radical jihadi terrorist organizations.

Obama signed a 2012 law allowing frozen Iranian assets to be made available to settle claims by families of Hezbollah victims in Lebanon. “It is theft … it is like stealing Iran’s money and we condemn it,” an Iranian spokesman said.

Refusing to accept the legitimacy of the country’s sitting president, President Donald Trump attempted a backdoor economic coup in Venezuela with a 2019 order granting opposition leader Juan Guaido — even though he wasn’t a government official — authorization to dispose of assets and property in U.S. bank accounts under the name of the government of Venezuela.

The Biden administration recently grabbed \$7 billion in deposits at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the name of the central bank of Afghanistan, Da Afghanistan Bank. The Taliban, who seized power in late August, claim they are the new government and that the money should be sent to them so they can, among other things, address mass starvation resulting from the post-U.S.-withdrawal economic collapse. The U.S., however, refuses to recognize the Taliban (or the former regime led by Ashraf Ghani) as the government of Afghanistan.

In February, President Joe Biden signed an executive order transferring \$3.5 billion to a trust fund that may be used to settle civil claims by the families of 9/11 victims and the remaining \$3.5 billion to a second fund that might eventually be drawn down upon by humanitarian aid organizations. China’s reaction received widespread, approving news coverage. “This is flagrant robbery and shameless moral decline. The U.S. should immediately return the stolen money back to the Afghan people, and compensate people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and more who died or suffered losses from the U.S. military invasions,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.

As part of its sanctions against Russia to punish it for invading Ukraine, the U.S. has frozen \$100 billion in Russian foreign-exchange reserves held at the Fed and moved to seize superyachts, luxury apartments and bank accounts held by oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., co-sponsor of a House resolution urging the sale of frozen Russian assets to benefit Ukraine that passed by an overwhelming majority, said that Russia should never get them back: “Can we imagine giving all of Russia’s wealth — the yachts, the bank accounts, the villas, the planes — back to Putin and his cronies as Ukraine lies in ruin, as the Ukrainians bury their dead? We cannot imagine doing that. We will not do that.”

Russia, however, has long anticipated American sanctions and has engaged in a policy of “de-dollarization” of its foreign currency reserves to soften the blow. “Crucially, the once-dominant dollar now accounts for only 16% of Russia’s currency reserves, which Moscow has replaced with euros, China’s renminbi, and gold,” reports The New York Times.

Other countries with less-than-perfect relationships with the United States are searching for ways to keep their assets out of our clutches. Brazil and India are worried about being targeted over their environmental policies. Do we really want to solidify our reputation as a place where your bank account and even your home can be taken by the U.S. government because you are friends with the president of your country at a time when the U.S. and your country aren’t getting along?

Kleptomaniacal economic warfare has also become pervasive within our borders. Police agencies routinely use civil asset forfeiture to take the cars, houses, boats, cash and other property of people they suspect of involvement with crime or illegal activity. More than \$68 billion worth of personal property has been seized by cops over the last 20 years within the United States, all without due process. Incredibly, property is not returned even when no charges are filed or a trial ends with a not-guilty verdict.

We may not have much sympathy for Russian oligarchs or people whose flashy lifestyles attract the wrong kind of attention from the police. But it’s not hard to imagine a not-distant future when the government might seize an average law-abiding citizen’s middle-class house because they espouse the wrong politics. The way things are going, we may soon see an ill-considered tweet lead to someone’s bank account being frozen and the assets redirected to some bureaucrat’s favorite cause.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

 

On top of the \$2 billion it already sent to Ukraine, the Biden administration has asked Congress to ignore its previous request for \$10 billion to pay for updated COVID-19 vaccines for American citizens (Pandemic? What pandemic?) and send an additional \$33 billion to Ukraine instead. The House of Representatives not only obliged but authorized more than Biden wanted: \$40 billion.

The U.S. Congress does this with military spending all the time. They live to please!

Every Democratic congressman voted “yes” to send weapons to a country that has “several hundred monuments, statues, and streets named after Nazi collaborators,” according to The Forward. That even includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Squad,” who claim to be progressive.

In the Senate, a rare voice of opposition was raised by libertarian Republican Rand Paul. “We don’t need to be the sugar daddy and the policemen of the world,” Paul remarked. For his trouble, Paul was bizarrely accused of “treason” by online commenters who suggested that his surly Kentucky neighbor should assault him again. All Paul wanted was a week to go over exactly where all that money is going.

Whatever you think of the crisis in Ukraine, Paul has a point. A week isn’t going to make any difference. We should distrust bullies who tell us there’s no time to think, hurry up, shut up, do what we tell you. The total lack of debate in Washington, and in the news media, over the quick transfer of \$40 billion to a country that is not a U.S. ally, has a grim human rights record and recently banned a bunch of political parties and opposition cable news channels, ought to prompt some sort of discussion. First and foremost, we ought to consider just how much money \$40 billion is and what it could do here in the United States, for Americans.

The \$40 billion we are sending to Ukraine will not change the outcome of the war. The United States would never commit enough money or ground troops to do that because it would risk World War III with Russia. The \$40 billion will buy a lot of weapons and ammunition that will kill Russians and Ukrainians. Nothing more; nothing less.

So how much, exactly, is \$40 billion?

Here in the United States, here are some of the things that \$40 billion could do:

A \$2,000 scholarship for every college student.

A \$6,000 scholarship for every college student who is officially in poverty.

\$72,000 to every homeless person.

\$2,400 to every veteran.

\$410,000 to every public school.

\$1.3 million to every public high school. It could be used to buy books and other equipment, fix broken infrastructure, build something new for the kids. \$1.3 million would pay the salaries of 20 new teachers for 10 years.

\$500 to each American family. I pledge to use my \$500 not to kill any Russians or Ukrainians.

\$420 to every cat. That’s a lot of kibble and litter. Cats don’t kill Russians or Ukrainians.

\$2 million each to every person wrongfully convicted of a murder they didn’t commit.

Give a new, fully loaded car to a million people.

Give a sweet, fully loaded Macbook Pro laptop to 10 million people.

Give a sweet new TV to 100 million people.

Everyone who currently subscribes to Netflix gets three years for free.

Every adult gets a free subscription to the Washington Post digital edition for three years.

Every adult gets 15 free tickets to the actual, real, in-person, not-at-home movies.

\$40 billion would repair almost all of the 220,000 bridges in the United States that need to be repaired and replace all of the 79,500 that need to be replaced. Add the \$2 billion we already sent to Ukraine and you can delete the word “almost.”

\$40 billion would buy Twitter.

\$86,000 for everyone raped over the last year.

\$7,000 to help care the caregivers of everyone suffering from dementia.

It would hire 50,000 journalists for 20 years. There are only 6,500 now.

\$4,000 to every self-identified Native American and Alaska Native. It’s not nearly enough considering what has been done to them, but it’s better than the current nothing.

What if, for some strange reason, we don’t want to use that \$40 billion to help our own people right here at home, one out of nine of whom is officially poor, some of whom are actually starving? While the inclination to shovel money at other countries while so many of our own citizens are suffering is nearly impossible to understand, some people (the president, several hundred members of Congress) have such a mindset and therefore must be addressed.

If we’re looking for a country in dire need of, and richly deserving of, \$40 billion, we need look no further than Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, which the U.S. brutally occupied for 20 years after invading without just cause, is suffering from the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. Half its population — 20 million people — is suffering from “acute hunger,” according to the United Nations. The nation collapsed because the U.S. pulled the plug on the economy when it withdrew, imposed draconian economic sanctions in a fit of spiteful pique and seized \$7 billion in Afghanistan government funds. Biden has promised a little aid, though none has shown up in Kabul.

From the Intercept: “A senior Democratic foreign policy aide, who was granted anonymity to openly share his thoughts on the Biden administration’s actions, said the policy ‘effectively amounts to mass murder’ According to the aide, Biden ‘has had warnings from the UN Secretary General, the International Rescue Committee, and the Red Cross, with a unanimous consensus that the liquidity of the central bank is of paramount importance, and no amount of aid can compensate for the destruction of Afghanistan’s financial system and the whole macro economy.'”

Democrats recently joined Republicans to vote no on a modest proposal to study the effect of U.S. sanctions against the Afghan people.

Then again, we really do need that COVID money.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Joe Biden, Russia, Ukraine 

The effect of Western sanctions may cause historians of the future to look upon the conflict in Ukraine as a net defeat for Russia. In terms of the military struggle itself, however, Russia is winning.

Watching American and European news coverage, you might ask yourself, how can that be? It comes down to war aims. Russia has them. They are achievable.

The United States doesn’t have any.

“As the war in Ukraine grinds through its third month,” the Washington Post reports, “the Biden administration has tried to maintain a set of public objectives that adapt to changes on the battlefield and stress NATO unity, while making it clear that Russia will lose, even as Ukraine decides what constitutes winning. But the contours of a Russian loss remain as murky as a Ukrainian victory.”

War aims are a list of what one side in a military conflict hopes to achieve at its conclusion.

There are two kinds.

The first type of war aim is propaganda for public consumption. An overt war aim can be vague, as when President Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to enter World War I in order to “make the world safe for democracy” (whatever that meant), or specific, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s demand for the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers. A specific, easily measured metric is better.

Covert war aims are goals that political and military leaders are really after. A covert war aim must be realistic. For example, contrary to the long-standing belief that he viewed the outbreak of the Korean War as an irritating distraction, Joseph Stalin approved of and supported North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950. He didn’t care if North Korea captured territory. He wanted to drag the United States into a conflict that would diminish its standing in Asia and distract it from the Cold War in Europe. The Soviet ruler died knowing that, whatever the final outcome, he had won.

A publicly stated war aim tries to galvanize domestic support, which is especially necessary when fighting a proxy war (Ukraine) or war of choice (Iraq). But you can’t win a war when your military and political leaders are unable to define, even to themselves behind closed doors, what winning looks like.

America’s biggest military debacles occurred after primary objectives metastasized. In Vietnam, both the publicly stated and actual primary war aim was initially to prevent the attempted overthrow of the government of South Vietnam and to prevent the spread of socialism, the so-called Domino Theory. Then the U.S. wanted to make sure that soldiers who had died at the beginning of the war hadn’t died in vain. By the end, the war was about leveraging the safe return of prisoners of war. A recurring theme of accounts by soldiers in the jungle as well as top strategists at the Pentagon is that, before long, no one knew why we were over there.

Again, in Afghanistan after 2002, war aims kept changing. Mission creep expanded from the goal of defeating Al Qaeda to apprehending Osama bin Laden to building infrastructure to establishing democracy to improving security to using the country as a base for airstrikes against neighboring Pakistan. By 2009, the Pentagon couldn’t articulate what it was trying to accomplish. In the end, the U.S. did nothing but stave off the inevitable defeat and collapse of its unpopular Afghan puppet regime.

Clear war aims are essential to winning. Reacting to his experience in Vietnam, the late Gen. Colin Powell led U.S. forces to victory in the first Gulf War with his doctrine that a successful military action enjoys strong domestic political support, is fought by a sufficient number of troops and begins with a clear military and political objective that leads to a quick exit. After Saddam Hussein’s forces were routed from Kuwait, George H.W. Bush ignored advisers who wanted to expand the conflict into Iraq. America’s mission accomplished, there was a ticker tape parade down Broadway, the end.

The U.S. too often involves itself in foreign conflicts without declaring clear war aims — or even knowing themselves what they are. In Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, unclear or shifting war aims led to endless escalation followed by fatigue on the homefront, declining popular will and defeat. Our involvement in the proxy conflicts in Yemen and Syria also have the character of forever wars, though American voters won’t pay much attention as long as the cost is limited to taxpayer dollars rather than their sons and daughters.

I wrote a piece in 2001 titled “How We Lost Afghanistan.” Given that the U.S. had just overthrown the Taliban, it was cheekily counterintuitive. But I was looking at the Afghan war from the Afghan perspective, which is why I was right, and the mainstream media was wrong. I see a similar situation unfolding in Ukraine. We are so misled by our cultural biases that we fail to understand the Russian point of view. The U.S. failure to articulate war aims stems from arrogance. We think we’re so rich and powerful that we can beat anyone, even if our strategy is half-assed and we don’t understand politics on the other side of the planet, where the war is.

President Joe Biden’s approach to Ukraine appears to boil down to: Let’s throw more money and weapons into this conflict and hope it helps.

That’s not a strategy. It’s a prayer.

Biden says he wants to preserve Ukraine as a sovereign state and defend its territory. But how much territory? How much sovereignty? Would Biden accept continued autonomy for the breakaway republics in the Donbas? The White House appears unwilling to escalate by supporting an attempt to expel Russian forces from eastern Ukraine, much less Crimea, where they are welcomed by a population dominated by ethnic Russians. Short of a willingness to risk nuclear war, the likely ultimate outcome of the U.S. position will be a Korea-like partition into western and eastern zones. A divided Ukraine would create a disputed border, which would disqualify a rump Ukrainian application to join NATO.

Russia’s primary demand is that Ukraine not join NATO. If America’s goal winds up resolving the main reason President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, why is the U.S. involved? A war aim that neatly aligns with one’s adversary’s is grounds for peace talks, not fighting.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently added a second Ukraine war aim: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” Weakened to what extent? Reduced to a failed state? Mildly inconvenienced? Not only is the policy dangerous but it fails to define a clear objective.

Russia, on the other hand, has secured its allies in the autonomous republics and created a buffer zone to protect them. Crimea will remain annexed to Russia. NATO membership for Ukraine, a chimera to begin with, is now a mere fever dream. Unlike the U.S., the Russians declared their objectives and achieved the important ones.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, NATO, Russia, Ukraine 

A friend and I were at a bar when someone opined that France didn’t resist the German invasion in 1940. “It’s true, France lost fast,” my friend replied. “But they fought hard. They lost 90,000 troops in six weeks. It was a bloodbath. We lost 58,000 over a decade in Vietnam but we’re still whining about it.”

Every conflict ends with a winner and a loser. There is no shame in losing — only in not trying.

Democrats need to learn this lesson. Voters want their elected representatives to fight for them.

This administration is not without accomplishments: Last year’s coronavirus stimulus package saved millions of Americans from bankruptcy and prevented a recession; though poorly executed, President Joe Biden deserves praise for the withdrawal from Afghanistan; and, inflation aside, workers are benefitting from rising wages and record-low unemployment. The pandemic seems to be in our rearview mirror. Now, The New York Times reports, party bosses are trying to decide on a unified message for the midterms: “Should they pursue ambitious policies that show Democrats are fighters, or is it enough to hope for more modest victories while emphasizing all that the party has passed already?”

Democrats have been bragging about their accomplishments for months. But “Democrats deliver” — their flaccid midterm slogan — hasn’t delivered.

The news that the United States Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade may well sweep aside the other issues that have been percolating in voters’ minds over the last few months. But conservatives are just as energized as liberals when it comes to abortion. And many progressives are asking themselves: Why didn’t Democrats pass a federal abortion rights law when President Barack Obama had a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate? At other times, why didn’t they go on the record with a vote? Abortion repeal probably helps Democrats, but not as much as they think and not enough to keep control of Congress.

Before the Supreme Court leak, Biden’s own pollster was repeatedly warning Democrats that disaster loomed in November. The president’s approval ratings stubbornly refuses to budge above a dismal 40%, hobbled by incredibly shrinking support among voters under age 30. Vegas bookies give the GOP 3-1 odds of recapturing the Senate and a 90% chance of taking back the House. “We haven’t sold the American people what we’ve actually done,” Biden moaned recently.

Messaging isn’t the only problem. “Allies and some voters note that polling is partially driven by anger over extraordinary events, including the war’s impact on gas prices, that the White House could not fully control,” the Times says. Of course, it was Biden’s decision to get involved in Ukraine and to impose sanctions against Russian oil and gas. Gas prices wouldn’t be soaring if Democrats hadn’t gone after Russia. It was an unforced error.

When you control Congress and the White House, and voters are angry at you because they don’t think you have done anything for them, you don’t calm them down by telling them that they are wrong and stupid and that, actually, you have done all sorts of good things for them that they have been too ignorant or ungrateful to recognize. There’s only one way to campaign: tell people that you get it, you understand their pain and you’re going to fight like hell to make them feel better.

“People can forgive you, even if you can’t get something done,” Nina Turner, a progressive challenging an establishment Democrat for an Ohio congressional seat, argues. “What they don’t like is when you’re not fighting. And we need to see more of a fighting spirit among the Democratic Party.”

For Democrats, however, not fighting — not even going through the motions of pretending they are fighting — is longstanding procedure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi maintains a strict policy of not putting a measure up for a vote unless she is certain that a Democratic bill will pass. Like other corporate Democrats, she believes a losing vote is a sign of weakness.

Thus the refusal to try to federally legalize abortion rights.

Refusing to hold losing votes in Congress has led to one disappointment after another for progressives. After counting votes in the Senate, Obama decided in 2010 not to hold a vote on a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act. He blamed recalcitrant Republicans. Without forcing them to oppose this wildly popular idea on the record, however, Republicans could never be held to account in attack ads. (“Congressman Jackson hates people like you. That’s why he voted against health care for your babies!”) Meanwhile, Obama took heat from the left for breaking his campaign promise.

You can argue that you secretly, in your heart of hearts, wanted something that you never put up for a vote. But who will believe you?

Obama betrayed his promise to close Guantanamo for the same reason: He didn’t think he had the votes in the Senate. No one remembers that now. Americans who care about the issue remember that Obama was unwilling to spend political capital to shut down the camp.

Biden’s adherence to Democrats’ count-votes-first practice on his Build Back Better infrastructure plan was more understandable. After conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he wouldn’t support it, the White House pulled the \$1.75 trillion bill from Senate consideration because it would have highlighted internal divisions within the party. Sometimes, however, a rogue member of your own caucus must be reined in. If Democrats wanted to show their left-leaning base voters that they were fighters, they would have disciplined Manchin by taking away his committee memberships and held the vote despite inevitable defeat. Then they could have run ads against Republican senators who opposed a giant jobs package.

Democrats have failed to hold votes on increasing the minimum wage to \$15 an hour, student loan forgiveness or bold action to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. While it is true that these ideas might go down to defeat against a united GOP and Democrats in Name Only like Manchin, young voters in particular would like to see them put up for a vote and fought for. And those “nays” could be leveraged against vulnerable Republicans.

Republicans understand the optics of appearing to fight for a cause dear to their voters even if it’s doomed — especially if it’s doomed. Knowing full well they didn’t stand a chance at succeeding, the GOP voted 70 times to repeal Obamacare. After Donald Trump won in 2016, however, they didn’t move to repeal or truncate — because the ACA was popular. “Now that it makes a difference, there seems to not be the majority support that we need to pass legislation that we passed 50 or 60 times over five or six years,” Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama admitted. Fighting and losing — even pretending to fight only when defeat is assured — gets more results than pointing at your supposed actual accomplishments.

It may well be that corporate Democrats are too beholden to their major donors to, say, increase the minimum wage. Unless the polling changes in a big way, Democrats will have an opportunity to virtue-signal about the minimum wage and student loan forgiveness the same way the Republicans did on the ACA beginning early next year.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 

“He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed,” Iago tells Othello in William Shakespeare’s play. The belief that defamation is serious, and that the perpetrator of libel or slander deserves to be punished, is a standard trope in popular culture.

The Hollywood screenwriter falsely accused of communist sympathies struggles to clear his name in the 1950s. The journalist breaks a big story only to be smeared by the rich and powerful men whose crimes he exposed. The narrative of the innocent person sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit relies on dual tragedies, the injustice of undeserved suffering as well as a conviction that results in society wrongly believing that the condemned is an evildoer.

In the real world, however, there is little sympathy for a person whose reputation has been damaged by a falsehood spread by a malicious enemy. One example is actor Johnny Depp’s \$50 million defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who has countersued him for \$100 million. Both parties accuse each other of physical and emotional abuse.

Much of the public commentary in response to Depp’s trial, currently underway in Virginia, is of the eye-rolling “they both deserve each other” variety. This happens a lot.

I’ve learned from personal experience as the plaintiff in two defamation cases that it’s often hard for society to separate the victim from his or her victimizer. Some suspect that the victim somehow brought the libel down on himself or herself. Others think that whatever was said wasn’t that serious, and that the target of slander ought to brush it off and move on. Sometimes the libeler benefits from high social status that prompts outside observers to sympathize with them; the media elites who sided with snide Gawker over downscale Hulk Hogan in the sex-tape case come to mind. Many people simply don’t like lawsuits or those who file them.

Americans’ bias against defamation plaintiffs has created a lopsided judicial landscape in which it is nearly impossible for even the most meritorious defamation claims to make it to a jury trial, much less result in a substantial damage award.

In 1999, I wrote a cover story for The Village Voice that criticized graphic novelist Art Spiegelman for, among other things, deploying disproportionate power within New York’s publishing world. As if to prove my point, the artist’s allies and colleagues went after me with threats of violence. One of Spiegelman’s buddies, a pornographic illustrator whose name I won’t mention here because it would only further his desire to aggrandize himself at my expense, decided to teach me a lesson — via identity theft. He wrote an obnoxious email, signed my name to it, and sent it to my colleagues and employers. My editor at the New York Times op-ed page believed it was from me and fired me.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the creep sent out more messages under my name.

My lawyer hired a proto-cyberdetective to identify him, costing me thousands of dollars. After we tracked him down, we sent several cease-and-desist letters, which he ignored. To the contrary, he replied that he had done nothing wrong and would feel free to use my name in the future however he pleased.

I sued. New York case law is clear: Impersonation of a journalist or “man of letters” is libel per se, or an act of written defamation so extreme that it is necessary only to prove that it happened, not to prove specific lost business opportunities. At a pretrial hearing, a judge commented that the defendant “couldn’t have done more harm to Mr. Rall if he had walked up behind him in the street and shot him in the head.”

Because Spiegelman’s avenger didn’t have a defense, he filed for one delay after another. Online, he characterized me as a humorless jerk who was angry that he had made fun of me. Both tactics worked. My lawyer eventually died of brain cancer; my case is still technically pending on the court docket 23 years later. And many people in the cartooning community think that the two of us deserve each other, or that he’s a free-speech martyr. Never mind that I had never done anything to the guy, met him or even heard of him before he tried to destroy my career.

I know I was right. The law was on my side. But those things didn’t matter.

The last two decades have seen a flurry of legislation that has made justice even more elusive for defamation plaintiffs. The most pernicious are “anti-SLAPP” laws, which stop discovery, dismiss cases and force plaintiffs to pay defendants’ legal fees. Because anti-SLAPP laws have been sold to state legislators and the public as a tool for small individual defendants to fight off big corporate plaintiffs in frivolous liable claims, they are popular with Republicans and Democrats alike: the ACLU, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and TV host John Oliver are all fans of anti-SLAPP laws.

Actually, anti-SLAPP laws solve a problem that doesn’t exist. If a plaintiff lashes out at you with a libel lawsuit, the first thing your lawyer will do is file something called a “motion for summary judgment.” If the lawsuit is baseless, the judge will throw it out right at the start, and you’ll walk away paying zero to nominal legal fees.

Because there is no distinction under U.S. law between rich and poor plaintiffs and defendants, anti-SLAPP laws perversely protect some of the worst people in the world against their victims. Donald Trump used anti-SLAPP against Stormy Daniels after she sued him for calling her a con woman; her case was tossed, and she was ordered to pay Trump’s \$300,000 legal fees. Trump also used anti-SLAPP to further bankrupt a victim of his Trump University scam. He’s currently using anti-SLAPP against Jean Carroll, who says the former president raped her in a dressing room.

Libel-loving newspapers have been having a field day with anti-SLAPP. There is no question that the New York Times gleefully and intentionally smeared Sarah Palin as inspiring a mass shooter, yet wants the ex-Alaska governor to pay their fees — even though New York’s anti-SLAPP law was enacted after she sued. The National Enquirer knew that Richard Simmons wasn’t transitioning from male to female yet Photoshopped images of him wearing women’s clothes on its cover story to that effect. He was right; they were wrong; he sued; they hit him with anti-SLAPP; the victim was ordered to pay his attacker \$130,000. My readers are well aware of how the Los Angeles Times, then owned by the Los Angeles Police Department pension fund, intentionally smeared me and went after me with anti-SLAPP as well.

From the Scarlet Letter to people’s tendency to turn away from the homeless and physically disabled to the observation by moviemakers that audiences tend to lose affection for a character after he suffers a wound, the psychology of our reptilian brain often causes us to feel revulsion for fellow humans visibly suffering from an injury. The plaintiff often notices the glint of contempt in the eyes of the judge in a defamation case: Why can’t you just stop whining and go away?

But the proper way to consider someone sleeping on the street is to think that there but for the grace of God go you. And the same thing is true when you look at a defamation case. Depp might just be a wuss lying about getting beaten up by his younger wife. But it’s far more likely that he thinks he was destroyed by ruinous lies, and that he has no choice but to sue in order to set the record straight. It’s a serious claim, one that anyone in his position should have the right to explore before a judge and jury.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Judicial System 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has made painfully clear, our health care system is a disaster; 12% of Americans are uninsured and 21% are underinsured. Many counties have zero or just one health care plan on offer through their local Affordable Care Act marketplace, so there is no price competition whatsoever. Due to the lack of competition, and price gouging, by for-profit insurers, the average family of four who buys insurance through Obamacare pays a whopping \$25,000 a year in premiums and deductibles-more than a third of their income after taxes.

More than 18,000 Americans die annually due to lack of medical insurance.

This is very sad, especially for them and their families. But nothing can be done about it. Lame as it is, the Affordable Care Act is as good as it gets — until the Republicans get back in charge, when they will try to get rid of it again. Political dysfunction, amirite?

When they care about something, however, the U.S. government can be incredibly efficient.

The U.S. government really cares about war.

Just two days after Russia invaded, President Joe Biden signed a memo authorizing the transfer of \$350 million of weapons to Ukraine. Within three weeks, almost all the anti-tank weapons, kamikaze drones and other war materiel had arrived in Ukraine. That’s less time than it takes first-class mail to get to some places within the United States.

If you are sick and uninsured, consider a move to Kyiv. As we saw in Afghanistan, U.S. weapons have a habit of disappearing and being sold for profit in war zones. If you still have enough energy and a little luck, you might be able to pilfer one of those American-made radar systems or a few boxes of grenade launchers to finance your chemotherapy. Even if not, Ukraine offers something the United States probably never will: a universal health care system.

Out-of-control college tuition costs have pushed 9 million young borrowers and their families into default on \$124 billion in student loans. Eighty percent of these young men and women came from families with total incomes under \$40,000. So, they’re not deadbeats; they’re poor. The burden of student loan debt hobbles America’s best and brightest just as they are starting out their adult lives. They defer or never purchase homes and cars and are unable to save for retirement. This hurts the real estate, automobile and durable-goods businesses and turns many talented people into future welfare recipients.

This is highly unfortunate, especially for them and their families. But nothing can be done about it. Lame as it was, Biden’s campaign promise to cancel \$10,000 in student loan debt was as good as could be hoped for. And he never followed through. Responding to pressure from Republicans and right-wing Democrats, Biden’s latest federal budget for 2022 doesn’t contain any provisions for student loan forgiveness. They said they were too worried about the deficit.

Republicans and right-wing Democrats, on the other hand, only worry about the deficit sometimes. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and every other strain of American House representative and senator quickly approved an additional \$13.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine less than a month after the first shipment of cash. There was strong bipartisan support for the measure, which was immediately signed into law by Biden. Yay, America!

So don’t despair if you are broke, defaulting on your student loans and unable to escape poverty because even under bankruptcy you can’t get rid of student debt. Scrape up whatever money you still have and hop a plane to Ukraine. Even for non-Ukrainian citizens, the total cost of tuition, housing, food, books and other fees at colleges and universities in Ukraine rarely exceed \$4,000 a year — and they’re usually cheaper. Alternatively, you can try to pass yourself off as Ukrainian at Texas A&M or Hampton University in Virginia, both of which now offer free room, board and tuition to Ukrainian nationals. Americans, of course, need not apply.

One out of six American children, 12 million total, officially live in poverty. Neither political party seems much to care, and child poverty has not been a major campaign issue in decades. So, the problem continues to worsen.

This is a total bummer, especially for the kids and their families. But nothing can be done about it. Republicans and right-wing Democrats vote against child tax credits, citing the need to balance the budget and concerns that some parents might not use the money to take care of their kids.

But the budget doesn’t always matter. Nor is careful stewardship of public funds always a priority. When the need is great, both parties come together and overlook such trivialities. Biden, with the support of Republicans, liberal Democrats and right-wing Democrats, just announced an additional \$800 million in military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total to more than \$2.5 billion. Who cares if some of that gear winds up in the hands of neo-Nazis? In \$100 bills, the cash would weigh 25 tons.

Those who criticize the United States government as inefficient couldn’t possibly be more mistaken. Congress and the White House are lightning quick and incredibly generous — when it matters.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Military, Coronavirus, Health care 
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