Ted Rall

What a Real Passenger Bill of Rights Should Look Like

The violent ejection of a United Airlines passenger from a flight bound from Chicago to Louisville appears to have marked a long-awaited turning point. Dr. David Dao, 69, suffered a broken nose, lost two teeth and faces reconstructive sinus surgery. At last, America’s long-suffering flying public is crying as one, have you commercial airlines no shame?

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Get Over It: Mass Shootings Are the New Normal in America

What is wrong with Americans?

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In the Old Days, When the Los Angeles Times Stood Up For Cartoonists

Nearly three weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times fired me as its editorial cartoonist at the request of powerful local interests. That request came from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which provided a 14-year-old audiotape to make their case that I ought to be dismissed for lying about the circumstances of my 2001 arrest for jaywalking.

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As the Country Falls Apart, It's Time for Our Revolution

The following is an excerpt from Ted Rall's book, The Anti-American Manifesto (Seven Stories, 2010).

You can feel it. Or maybe you can't.

It doesn't matter whether you feel it or not. It's happening. The story of the United States of America as we know it -- not merely as the world's dominant superpower, but as a discrete political, economic, and geographic entity -- is drawing to a close due to a convergence of emerging economic, environmental, and political crises.

Nothing lasts forever, empires least of all. And this one, which only began to expand in earnest circa the year 1900, doesn't feel like it has the staying power of ancient Rome.

Not at all.

But we're not here to talk about the vague possibility of collapse at some point in the future. We are here -- in this book and within this historical moment -- because the collapse feels as though it is currently in progress.

We are here because the U.S. is going to end soon. There's going to be an intense, violent, probably haphazard struggle for control. It's going to come down to us versus them. The question is: What are you going to do about it?


Us: Hard-working, underpaid, put upon, thoughtful, freedom-loving, disenfranchised, ordinary people

Them: Reactionary, stupid, overpaid, greedy, shortsighted, exploitative, power-mad, abusive politicians and corporate executives

In 2008, like the people of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, we put our hopes into a young new leader. He is the kind of fresh-faced reformer who just might have been able to do some good had he been put into power decades ago. "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job," read the headline in the satirical weekly newspaper the Onion after Barack Obama won. He has failed. It is by design that internal reformers like Mikhail Gorbachev and

Obama inevitably come too late to actually accomplish anything. Even if a leader like Obama were inclined to push for the sweeping reforms that might save American late-stage capitalism from itself, as did Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and there is no evidence that the thought has crossed Obama's mind -- his fellow powerbrokers, fixated on quarterly profit statements and personal position, would never allow it.

The media talks a lot about reform. But it's too late for nips and tucks. Reform can only fix a system if the system is viable and open to change. Neither is true about the United States of America.

A veneer of normalcy slapped -- sloppily slapped -- on top of a stinking pile of obviously out-of-control unsustainability can no longer disguise the ugly truth: The United States of America is finished. Shopkeepers still take our dollars, foreigners still fear our bombs, but watching the crazy federal deficits, the wildly expanding international military presence, the putrid joke that is our healthcare/education/employment system, and a natural world in free fall (mainly due to the crap pumped into the air and water by the people and corporations of the United States) makes the debate over whether Democrats are better than Republicans feel surreal.

Government exists to serve economic power. In the U.S. and globally, economic power is concentrated in business, namely the large corporations whose profits account for more than ten percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Corporations can't operate without the government. They are codependent, yet independent of and barely responsive to the nation. A nation goes on with or without its government, with or without the big businesses we take for granted.We are not the government that serves those companies. They are parasites, vampires, hideous monsters that underpay and overcharge us and get fat on the spread. Who are we then?

We are their victims. We are weak and pathetic. But only by choice.

We can wait for the system to collapse of its own accord, for the rage of the downtrodden and dispossessed to build, for chaos of some sort to expose and destroy it. But implosion might take a long time. And when it happens, we may find ourselves even more powerless than we are now. They -- the hardcore, racist, undereducated, fundamentalist Christian, anti-civil liberties Right -- are preparing to step into the breach, to seize power. They can't wait to unleash their venomous hatred on the city-dwelling commie hipster fags they despise. They are armed. They recognize that the system is doomed. They've seen this coming. They're organized and willing to merge their disparate brands of conservatism under a common
leadership. Most importantly, they get it. They don't need to be convinced that everything is in play. They're putting it in play.

Christian fundamentalists, the millennial end-of-the-worlders obsessed with the Left Behind series about the End Times, neo-Nazi racists, rural black-helicopter Michigan Militia types cut from the same inbred cloth as Timothy McVeigh, allied with "mainstream" gun nuts and right-wing Republicans, have been planning, preparing, and praying for the destruction of the "Godless," "secular" United States for decades. In the past, they formed groups like the John Birch Society and the Aryan Nations. Now the hard Right has a postmodern, decentralized non-organization organization called the Tea Party.

Right-wing organizational names change, but they amount to the same thing: the reactionary sociopolitical force -- the sole force -- poised to fill the vacuum when collapse occurs. The scenario outlined by Margaret Atwood's prescient novel The Handmaid's Tale -- rednecks in the trenches, hard military men running things, minorities and liberals taken away and massacred, setting the stage for an even more extreme form of laissez-faire corporate capitalism than we're suffering under today -- is a fair guess of how a post-U.S. scenario will play out unless we prepare to turn it in another direction.

Although the U.S. has fascist tendencies, it is unlikely that an ascendant American right would embrace fascism in its classic form. But a post-collapse reactionary government would likely have some attributes of fascism. Robert Paxton, who was my history professor at Columbia and is widely regarded as the nation's leading expert on the field, wrote the book on the subject (The Anatomy of Fascism). As Professor Paxton told me in 1991, the United States is the nation that is the most likely to go fascist, the one that has the most of the necessary ingredients -- including distrust of parliamentary democracy, extreme militarism, and a highly industrialized society -- required for a true fascist state. As things stand, there will be no one to prevent this nightmare.

So this book is a call to arms. And an appeal to self-preservation to those who know we can do better.

If Not Now, When?

A war is coming. At stake: our lives, the planet, freedom, living. The government, the corporations, and the extreme right are prepared to coalesce into an Axis of Evil. Are you going to fight back? Will you do whatever it takes, including taking up arms?

History does not really repeat itself. No two historical moments are ever the same. The circumstances that govern a given street corner in Pittsburgh at 8:00 p.m. on December 9, 2011, will never recur.

Yet the motivations and needs of human beings remain constant. There are always parallels with the past, lessons to be learned, bits and pieces that will apply to present and future circumstances. There are even a few eternal truths.

Thinking about the present situation, the historical analogy that best seems to fit the current crisis is the collapse -- to be exact, the period shortly before the collapse -- of the Soviet Union. The parallels are instructive and scary:

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You Know Your Country Sucks When You Look Wistfully Back at Stalin

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

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At Some Point, Progressives Need to Break Up With the Democratic Party

At a certain point, if you have any relationship with dignity, you're supposed to get sick of being used and abused. Speaking of which: liberal Democrats.

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Isn't It Time We Talk About the Skyrocketing Suicide Epidemic?

As I waited for the body of a man who jumped in front of my train to be cleared from the tracks — less than a week before another train I was riding struck a suicide victim — it occurred to me that (a) I should check whether suicide rates are increasing due to the bad economy (they are, especially among men in their 50s), and that (b) talking about suicide is long overdue.

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The Fictional War On Terrorism

We have killed thousands of Muslims and taken over two of their countries. We're spending billions of dollars to make it easier for our government to spy on us. But we haven't caught bin Laden, al-Qaeda is doing better than ever, and airport security is still a sick joke. So when are Americans going to demand a real war on terrorism?

Recent suicide bombings in Riyadh and Casablanca proved with bloody eloquence that al-Qaeda and similar extremist groups are anything but "on the run," as George W. Bush puts it. Bush's tactics are a 100 percent failure, yet his band of clueless Christian soldiers continues to go after mosquitoes with shotguns. "So far," Bush furiously spun after the latest round of attacks, "nearly one-half of al-Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed," and he promised to "remain on the hunt until they are all brought to justice."

Can Bush really be this stupid? All underground organizations, including al-Qaeda, employ a loose hierarchical structure. No individual member is indispensable, so the capture of even a high-ranking official cannot compromise the group. Each lost member is instantly replaced by the next man down in his cell. It doesn't matter whether we catch half, three-quarters or all of al-Qaeda's leadership -- hunting down individual terrorists is an expensive and pointless game of whack-a-mole. Only Allah knows how many eager recruits have sprung up, hydra-like, to fill Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's flip-flops.

Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham caught heat for calling the war on Iraq "a distraction" from the war on terrorism, but he was far too kind. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have replaced a real war on terrorism, and they've vastly increased the likelihood of future 9/11's. Bombing Afghanistan scattered bin Laden, his lieutenants and their foot soldiers everywhere from Chechnya to Sudan to China's Xinjiang province; fleeing Talibs spread new anti-American seed cells while the Taliban and other radical groups retain their pre-9/11 Pakistani headquarters. With radical Shiite clerics like the Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim poised to fill the post-Saddam power vacuum, Iraq could become a Shia version of Taliban-era Afghanistan: an anarchic collection of fiefdoms run by extremist warlords happy to host training camps for terrorist organizations.

"We're much safer," Tom Ridge claims. If this is safety, give me danger. Taking over Iraq and Afghanistan didn't score us any new fans among Muslims. We could have won them over with carefully crafted occupations, but chose instead to allow the two states to disintegrate into chaos and civil war.

Rarely have incompetence and cheapness been wed with such impressively disastrous results. In Afghanistan, we paid off warlords we should have bombed. Puppet president Hamid Karzai is threatening to abdicate his Kabul city-state because "there is no money in the government treasury." One of Karzai's ministers warns The New York Times: "Very soon we will see armed conflict."

As USA Today reported on May 7, "Iraqis say they view the U.S. military with suspicion, anger and frustration. Many even say life was in some ways better under the regime of Saddam Hussein: the streets, they say, were safter, jobs more secure, food more plentiful and electricity and water supplies reliable."

"Governance is a long-term process," says Bush Administration reconstruction official Chris Milligan, but that's just another lame excuse. The truth is that we haven't even tried to restore law and order, much less govern. The Pentagon plans to leave just two divisions -- 30,000 men -- to patrol Iraq. That's significantly fewer than the 50,000 peacekeeping troops NATO stationed in Kosovo -- a nation less than one-fifth the size of Iraq. 95 percent of Afghanistan has no peacekeepers whatsoever, with fewer than 8,000 in Kabul.

We're sleeping soundly -- do you think Scott Peterson really did it? -- but the guys who hate us so much they're willing to die to make their point are industriously exploiting our stupidity to sign up new jihadis. "Since the United States invaded Iraq in March," the Times quoted top Administration honchos on May 16, "the [al-Qaeda] network has experienced a spike in recruitment. 'There is an increase in radical fundamentalism all over the world,' said a senior counterterrorism official based in Europe."

Ariel Sharon offers living proof that hard-ass tactics strengthen, rather than weaken terrorist groups. Each time Israel assassinates a Palestinian leader or demolishes an Arab home, moderates angered by those actions become radicalized. Israelis and Palestinians have suffered through this endless attack-retaliation-attack cycle for decades. Surely we can learn from their pain.

It's still early in this game. Shut down the bloated and pointless Homeland Security bureaucracy -- since it doesn't include the CIA and FBI, it didn't stop interagency squabbling -- and apply the money we'll save into a fully funded rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop squandering money and our civil rights on boneheaded data-mining schemes like Total Information Awareness (now renamed Terrorism Information Awareness), and recruit some old-fashioned spies to infiltrate extremist groups. Charge the Guantánamo detainees with a crime or send them home; their legal limbo is an international embarrassment. Stop fingerprinting Muslim tourists -- it's insulting and does nothing to prevent terrorists from entering the country. Quit supporting brutal anti-American military dictators like Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, whose oppressed subjects rightly blame us for their misery.

"The only way to deal with [terrorists] is to bring them to justice," Bush says. "You can't talk to them, you can't negotiate with them, you must find them." He couldn't be more mistaken. We'll never find them all. And while we shouldn't negotiate with those who call us the Great Satan, we must talk to the millions of Muslims who watch the news every night. Their donations keep al-Qaeda going. If we want them to stop financing the terrorists, we'd better stop acting like a Great Satan.

Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan," an analysis of the underreported Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project and the real motivations behind the war on terrorism.

How We Lost the Victory

NEW YORK -- We wanted it to be true. It wasn't.

The stirring image of Saddam's statue being toppled on April 9th turns out to be fake, the product of a cheesy media op staged by the U.S. military for the benefit of cameramen staying across the street at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel. This shouldn't be a big surprise. Two of the most stirring photographs of World War II -- the flag raising at Iwo Jima and General MacArthur's stroll through the Filipino surf -- were just as phony.

Anyone who has seen a TV taping knows that tight camera angles exaggerate crowd sizes, but even a cursory examination of last week's statue-toppling propaganda tape reveals that no more than 150 Iraqis gathered in Farbus Square to watch American Marines -- not Iraqis -- pull down the dictator's statue. Hailing "all the demonstrations in the streets," Defense Secretary Rumsfeld waxed rhapsodically: "Watching them," he told reporters, "one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain."

Hundreds of thousands of cheering Berliners filled the streets when their divided city was reunited in 1989. Close to a million Yugoslavs crowded Belgrade at the end of Slobodan Milosevic's rule in 2000. While some individual Iraqis have welcomed U.S. troops, there haven't been similar outpourings of approval for our "liberation." Most of the crowds are too busy carrying off Uday's sofas to say thanks, and law-abiding citizens are at home putting out fires or fending off their rapacious neighbors with AK-47s. Yet Americans wanted to see their troops greeted as liberators, so that's what they saw on TV. Perhaps Francis Fukuyama was correct -- if it only takes 150 happy looters to make history, maybe history is over.

Actually, they were 150 imported art critics. The statue bashers were militiamen of the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Saddam outfit led by one Ahmed Chalabi. The INC was flown into Iraq by the Pentagon over CIA and State Department protests. Chalabi is Rumsfeld's choice to become Iraq's next puppet president.

Photos at the indispensable Information Clearing House website place one of Chalabi's aides at the supposedly spontaneous outpouring of pro-American Saddam bashing at Firdus Square.

"When you are moving through this country there is [sic] not a lot of people out there and you are not sure they want us here," Sgt. Lee Buttrill gushed to ABC News. "You finally get here and see people in the street feeling so excited, feeling so happy, tearing down the statue of Saddam. It feels really good." That rah-rah BS is what Americans will remember about the fall of Baghdad -- not the probability that Buttrill, part of the armed force that cordoned off the square to protect the Iraqi National Congress' actors, was merely telling war correspondents what they wanted to hear. In his critically acclaimed book "Jarhead," Gulf War vet Anthony Swofford writes that Marines routinely lie to gullible reporters.

ABC further reported: "A Marine at first draped an American flag over the statue's face, despite military orders to avoid symbols that would portray the United States as an occupying -- instead of a liberating -- force." Yet another lie. As anyone with eyes could plainly see, American tanks are festooned with more red, white and blue than a Fourth of July parade. And that particular flag was flying over the Pentagon at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Defense Department gave it to the Marines in order to perpetuate Bush's lie that Iraq was involved in the 9-11 attacks.

Patriotic iconography is a funny thing. I've known that the Iwo Jima photo was fake for years, but it nonetheless stirs me every time I see it. Firdus Square's footage will retain its power long after the last American learns the truth.

The Phony War Ends, the Phony Liberation Begins

It was a fitting end for a war waged under false pretexts by a fictional coalition led by an ersatz president. Bush never spent much time thinking about liberation, and even his exploitation is being done with as little concern as possible for the dignity of our new colonial subjects.

What a difference a half-century makes! American leaders devoted massive manpower and money to plan for the occupation of the countries they invaded during World War II. What good would it do, they asked, to liberate Europe if criminals and tyrants filled the power vacuum created by the fleeing Nazis? Thousands of officers from a newly-established Civil Affairs division of the U.S. Army were parachuted into France on the day after D-Day, while bullets were still flying, with orders to stop looting, establish law and order and restore essential services.

GWB is no FDR. Three weeks after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Civil Affairs was still stuck in Kuwait. Rumsfeld's war plan didn't allow for protecting museums and public buildings from looters, or innocent Iraqi women from roving gangs of marauding rapists. At the same time thousands of irreplaceable archeological treasures from the National Museum of Iraq were being sacked by thousands of looters, dozens of American troops were hanging around the Saddam statue videotaping, trying to be quotable.

As priceless ancient Sumerian jewelry and Assyrian sculptures were being carried away on donkeys and carts, archeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad tried to convince Marines manning a nearby Abrams tank to stop the looters. "I asked them to bring their tank inside the museum grounds," he told The New York Times. "But they refused and left."

"Stuff happens," Rummy said. "Freedom's untidy." He has the same taste in art as the Taliban.

This Administration's policy of perpetual war has become a case study in entropy, the distinctly pessimistic notion that no matter how bad things get we can figure out a way to make them worse. Entropy triumphed in Afghanistan, as the world's worst regime was replaced by dozens of thuggish warlords. The end of Saddam Hussein comes as welcome news, even if it's merely the accidental byproduct of a barely-disguised oil grab. But as Iraq's cities burn and its patrimony is hustled off into the black market and its women wail and the rape gangs rule the night, it's hard to escape the conclusion that we've lost this war as well.

Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan," an analysis of the underreported Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project and the real motivations behind the war on terrorism.

Totally Idiotic Americans

darpa logoThe official seal of the Pentagon's new Total Information Awareness Office (TIA) bears a spooky eye above a pyramid -- you know the one, it's on the back of the one-dollar bill -- peering at the globe. The fact that the TIA was quietly funded under the auspices of the bill creating the new Department of Homeland Security suggests that its mission is a vital part of the war on terrorism. But Europe and Asia, the two main continents of the eastern hemisphere, which appear on the TIA logo, are not in fact its principal targets. You are.

Rear Admiral John Poindexter, the scandal-scarred Iran-Contra figure who heads the $62.9 million "data mining" operation for the Defense Department, says that the TIA's mission is "to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists -- and decipher their plans -- and thereby enable the U.S. to take timely action to successfully preempt and defeat terrorist acts." Sounds like a magnificent idea. So why do such unusual allies as the American Civil Liberties Union, The New York Times, William Safire and Republican senator Charles Grassley say it's dangerous?

According to the TIA's website, Poindexter's new office will "develop architectures for a large-scale counter-terrorism database, for system elements associated with database population, and for integrating algorithms and mixed-initiative analytical tools ... invent new algorithms for mining, combining, and [refining] ... revolutionary new models, algorithms, methods, tools, and techniques for analyzing and correlating information in the database to derive actionable intelligence."

In English: Total Information Awareness will use sophisticated computer-modeling programs to search every database they can get their hands on. They'll scan credit card receipts, bank statements, ATM purchases, Web "cookies," school transcripts, medical files, property deeds, magazine subscriptions, airline manifests, addresses--even veterinary records. The TIA believes that knowing if and when Fluffy got spayed--and whether your son stopped torturing Fluffy after you put him on Ritalin--will help the military stop terrorists before they strike.

Most of this raw data is already available to businesses trying to market their products. The TIA represents the first full-scale attempt by a government agency--the Department of Defense--to collect and analyze that information. "There has obviously been a growing problem within the private sector over collection of information for targeted marketing," says David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "What's different now is the government is putting major resources into getting access to privately collected data."

Critics are understandably anxious that the TIA is merely the Bush Administration's latest effort to emulate the most unsavory aspects of Soviet society. "If the Pentagon has its way, every American--from the Nebraskan farmer to the Wall Street banker--will find themselves under the accusatory cyber-state of an all-powerful national security apparatus," warns Laura Murphy of the ACLU.

Is Poindexter more interested in digging up dirt on Bush's political foes than fighting Islamist terrorism? Should we believe him when he says that he respects the Fourth Amendment? Short of running a TIA profile on the man, there's no way to know whether he's hoping to turn the United States into a police state. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the TIA plans to respect our privacy rights and that it won't yield to the temptation to use its findings to smear political opponents.

Even if Poindexter and his domestic spying operation means well--and that's a big if--the TIA is a classic case of fighting your last battle all over again.

Like Attorney General John Ashcroft's Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information Prevention System)--the Orwellian Justice Department program that asks cable installers, postal workers and meter readers to turn in their customers if they see any suspicious behavior--the TIA assumes that the next big attack will be committed by members of Arab "sleeper cells" living in the United States. Why do we assume this? Because that is what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

Presuming there will be an exact replay of Sept. 11 has led to long security lines at airports and no screenings whatsoever at train stations and bus depots. Which targets would you go after if you were a terrorist?

As proven by their ability to elude arrest, Osama bin Laden and his allies are no fools. As Al Qaeda operatives plot their next attack against the United States, they will exploit the weaknesses we aren't aware of or have chosen to ignore. Another plane hijacking is unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. So are strikes carried out by illegal-immigrant operatives with a fondness for strip joints living in the United States. Terrorists are opportunists, not serial killers predictably utilizing identical methods for each act.

Whatever you least expect: expect.

Since most of the data the TIA analyzes relates to loyal American citizens, Total Information Awareness creates the potential for abuse of governmental power on an unprecedented scale. Because it won't track the most likely future terrorists--people who live in, for example, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia--it's a waste of money that furthers the illusion that our government is protecting us.

Since Sept. 11, George W. Bush has asked us to trade our precious freedoms for a little security. The TIA forces Americans to sacrifice privacy for nothing.

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