May 27, 2017

What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows. By Ted Rall

RedBlueIn the 1970s, when I was a kid, I asked my mother to explain the difference between the two major parties. “Democrats,” she explained, “are the party of the working man. Republicans represent big business.”

She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”

The two-party system was easy to understand.

Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.

Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.

So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.

“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observes New York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”

Yes they do.

Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.

Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.

What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?

As far as I can tell, nada.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.

When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?

They don’t. Even though 58% of American voters want a European-style taxpayer-subsidized single-payer system, the Democratic Party platform does not propose significant reforms to Obamacare.

The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?

Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t much to say.

“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.

Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.

When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?

Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.

Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


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May 18, 2017

Here’s My Current Working Theory of How Republicans Will Ride Trump’s Impeachment to Victory in 2020

By Ted Rall —

This can’t wait until next week’s syndicated column, so…

Back on 24th I wrote a syndicated column explaining that there is a strong chance that Donald Trump would be impeached and that House Speaker Paul Ryan would benefit as a result. This week’s developments confirm my analysis. Bear in mind, this is not a political prediction but rather a musing of how I see things going potentially. Your mileage may vary.

Donald-Trump-Impeachment

First: the almost certain fact that former FBI director James Comey was asked by President Trump to drop his investigation into former national security advisor General Michael Flynn sets up Trump for almost certain impeachment. Here’s why. First, moderate Republicans in the House and Senate are already peeling away and calling for a special prosecutor. Soon even right wingers will be joining them. A special prosecutor is a safe way for politicians to kick problems like Trump down the road. They can’t lose: if the prosecutor finds a lot of dirty stuff about Trump, oh well, not their fault, if anything they can take credit. If not, it’s not like even the radical right will hold them accountable for signing off on a special prosecutor. After all, there’s nothing wrong with getting down to the bottom of things. The problem for Trump is, the prosecutor is going to find out (a) that there’s a strong case for obstruction of justice and (b) all those meetings between Trump’s staff and Russian officials were corrupt quid pro quo transactions promising the elimination of sanctions over Ukraine in exchange for rubberstamping Trump-related business transactions in Russia. (Democrats should stop pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative because there doesn’t seem to be any thee there.)

Second, Republicans are hardly a united front. Yes, they came together to back up Trump when they thought that they would be able to push through their long awaited radical right political agenda. But now the Trump seems weak, ambitious figures like Paul Ryan can’t help but think to themselves “hey, I could become president now.” Because the Democratic Party is a total mess – this is the story no one is paying attention to you right now, but it’s absolutely key – more on that below – the Republican Party stands to benefit most from a Trump impeachment. Here’s how it plays out, perhaps.

Paul Ryan meets with vice president Mike Pence. “Mike,” he says, “let’s face it. You’ll never be elected president. You’re from Indiana, you call your wife mother, you’re creepy, probably a closeted gay. Let’s make a deal: I impeach Trump and you get to be president for the next three years. Schoolchildren have to memorize your name. You get to be on a stamp. Maybe one day on the three cent coin. In 2020, however, you step aside. You endorse me. I’m the Republican nominee.”

Pence goes along. Why wouldn’t he? Sure beats another three years of attending funerals.

After Trump, things turn calm. No more drama. This is very bad for women, gays, blacks. The Republican Congress works closely with Pence to pass a bunch of stuff that makes us look back at Ronald Reagan and wonder if that guy was really a liberal. Pence seems “normal” after Trump. The Republicans get lots of things done. Granted, all bad. But done.

In 2020, as I wrote in my column, Paul Ryan gets to present himself as the courageous man who took on a president from his own party because it was the right thing to do for the country. Powerful stuff. A true profile in BS courage.

Now, about the Democrats.

If you look back at 1976, vice president turned President Gerald Ford was hobbled by Watergate and his pardon of Richard Nixon. Everyone remembers that Jimmy Carter won. What they don’t remember is that it was a  close election. Incumbency really doesn’t matter. Ford wasn’t a very exciting president and he didn’t accomplish much at all. Mostly he just used his veto stamp. Carter was charismatic, young, and incredibly hard-working. He was a great candidate yet he just barely won against forward.

To win against a Republican incumbency in 2020, Democrats need a united party. If anything, the party is even more divided now than it was last year. The big rift between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton wings of the Democratic Party hasn’t been addressed. It has been swept under the rug, which only makes things worse. Progressives have been denied a meaningful voice within the party. Policy belongs to the corporatist wing. Angry Hillary Clinton supporters continue to beat up Bernie Sanders people for not showing up at the polls, blaming them for electing Donald Trump. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run. That leaves the most likely nominees for 2020 to be people like Cory Booker, former progressives who no longer have any credibility with the left within the party.

It’s a grim scenario. And it certainly going to change. But that’s how I see things right now.


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May 09, 2017

Trump Wants To Reinvade Afghanistan. Here’s Why We’ll Lose (Again)

By Ted Rall

President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.

The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.

Afganistan_map

The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

This will not, cannot work.

Give Trump’s military advisers points for clarity. Their war aim is clear:

“The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the U.S. is going to send more troops, but it’s not to achieve a forever military victory,” said Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Rather, it’s to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict.”

Still can’t work. Americans, American allies and Afghans are going to die for nothing. Here’s why.

I’ll spare you the Afghanistan As Graveyard of Empires argument that I’ve written about before. Yes, the Afghans beat the Brits thrice, the Russians once, and us every day since 9/11. Though the time (1842) they killed everyone in the British army except one guy is well worth reading about. A “signal catastrophe,” they called it. History repeats, especially in Afghanistan, but it isn’t predestination. Theoretically, the United States could defeat the Taliban. The reason they won’t is that they don’t have the political will to do so.

Militarily? Of course the U.S. can defeat the Taliban. The Taliban don’t have planes, long- or medium-range missiles. The U.S. can bomb the Taliban (and lots of non Talibs) to smithereens with a carpet-bombing campaign the likes of which the world has never seen before. They can drone them. They can send hundreds of thousands of highly trained and well-armed troops to invade and occupy the cities and villages and roads in between. If the U.S. declared Total War against the Taliban, if the U.S. were willing to dedicate its stunning economic and military power toward the goal of defending its puppet regime in Kabul, the Taliban would be killed and captured and driven over the mountains to Pakistan.

But that would be expensive. It wouldn’t take for very long before voters, and some journalists, began asking why the U.S. was willing to take tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and willing to spend billions of dollars a week to occupy the country.

Supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult. There is no obvious geopolitical payoff, not one worth such a high price. At this point, the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan boils down to (a) let’s fuck with Iran and (b) it’s a launching pad for bombing attacks on the Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. Not much payoff there.

Yes, there are mineral resources. But this isn’t Iraq or Libya — natural resources aren’t coming out of the ground in significant numbers for years to come. Not that the U.S. is particularly good at looting natural resources, as we’ve seen in Iraq.

What about forcing the Taliban to negotiate? First, no one figure speaks for the whole movement. It’s a diverse alliance of tribes, ethnicities and political impulses. Second, we’ve been here before. Nixon bombed Vietnam to soften up the communists before negotiating. Bush used back channels to try to talk to the Taliban. Such efforts are fruitless against an adversary with the tactical advantages that come from fighting a guerrilla war as an indigenous. They’re local. They live there. Time is on their side. They’ll wait us out.

In the end, it’s simple cost-benefit analysis: low gain, high expense. Afghanistan just isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, Trump and his henchmen won’t figure that out before more people have died over nothing.

Sad.

Afganistan_map2

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


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April 14, 2017

THE SIX KINKIEST MOVIE SEX SCENES

One man's kink is the same as a woman's in the big bad world of BDSM. Films from William FriedkinLuis Buñuel, Steven Shainberg, David Cronenberg, Nicholas Wendig Refn, and David Lynch provide this sexy video essay with meat for kink. You might want a fork and a spoon. 


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April 13, 2017

2017 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL LINEUP

CANNES 70

For its 70th festival, Cannes breaks with its well-guarded tradition of opening the festival with a Hollywood movie. Festival regular Arnaud Desplechin takes that significant honor with “Ismael’s Ghosts,” about a filmmaker (played by Mathieu Amalric) whose life is upended when a lover from his past shows up as he’s about to start shooting his latest picture. Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Louis Garrel also star.

Cannes16

Hollywood's absence at Cannes extends across the films in competition for the Palme d'Or, and across the entire festival. Hollywood has clearly lost its place on the premiere stage for Global Cinema. — R.I.P. Hollywood. Superhero Movies Killed The Motion Picture Star.

Cannes3

Conventional wisdom has it that Cannes traditionally skips a year as regards the quality of films shown every year. It is yet to be decided if this year’s selection will pale in comparison to last year’s imperfect lineup. Palme d'Or Competition films by Michael Haneke, Hong Sangsoo, François Ozon, Naomi Kawase, Todd Haynes, and Lynne Ramsay promise to give critics and jury judges some high-quality films to choose between.

French New Wave veteran Agnès Varda’s “Visages, Villages” is sure to be a hot ticket at a determinedly French festival that never forgets its own. Oh Cannes, how we adore you! 

CANNES 70 OFFICIAL SELECTION

OPENER

Ismael's ghosts

“Ismael’s Ghosts” (Arnaud Desplechin)

Canne25

COMPETITION

120BeatsPerMinute

“120 Beats per Minute” (Robin Campillo)

Beguiled

“The Beguiled” (Sofia Coppola)

“The Day After” (Hong Sangsoo)

“The Day After” (Hong Sangsoo)

A Gentle Creature

“A Gentle Creature” (Sergei Loznitsa)

Good Time

“Good Time” (Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie) 

Happy End

“Happy End” (Michael Haneke)

In the Fade

“In the Fade” (Fatih Akin)

Jupiters-moon

“Jupiter’s Moon” (Kornél Mundruczó)

Killing of a Sacred Deer

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Lamant-double

“L’amant double” (François Ozon)

Le redoubtable

“Le redoubtable” (Michel Hazanvicius)

Loveless

“Loveless” (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

The Meyerowitz Stories

“The Meyerowitz Stories” (Noah Baumbach)

OKJA

“Okja” (Bong Joon-Ho)

Radiance

“Radiance” (Naomi Kawase)

Rodin

“Rodin” (Jacques Doillon)

Wonderstruck

“Wonderstruck” (Todd Haynes)

“You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay)

“You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay) 

Cannes5

UN CERTAIN REGARD

“After the War” (Annarita Zambrano)

“April’s Daughter” (Michel Franco)

OPENER — “Barbara” (Mathieu Amalric)

“Beauty and the Dogs” (Kaouther Ben Hania)

“Before We Vanish” (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

“Closeness” (Kantemir Balagov)

“The Desert Bride” (Cecilia Atan & Valeria Pivato)

“Directions” (Stephan Komandarev)

“Dregs” (Mohammad Rasoulof)

“Jeune femme” (Léonor Serraille)

“L’Atelier” (Laurent Cantet)

“Lucky” (Sergio Castellitto)

“The Nature of Time” (Karim Moussaoui)

“Out” (Gyorgy Kristof)

“Western” (Valeska Grisebach)

“Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan) 

Cannes4

OUT OF COMPETITION

BladeOfTheImmortal

“Blade of the Immortal” (Takashi Miike)

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

“How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (John Cameron Mitchell)

Visages  Villages

“Visages, Villages” (Agnès Varda & JR) 

Cannes20

MIDNIGHT SCREEENINGS

“Prayer Before Dawn” (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire)

“Prayer Before Dawn” (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire)

The Merciless

“The Merciless” (Byun Sung-Hyun)

The Villainess

“The Villainess” (Jung Byung-Gil)

Cannes10

SPECIAL SCREEENINGS

“12 Jours” (Raymond Depardon)

“An Inconvenient Sequel” (Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk)

“Claire’s Camera” (Hong Sangsoo)

“Demons in Paradise” (Jude Ratman)

“Napalm” (Claude Lanzmann)

“Promised Land” (Eugene Jarecki)

Sea Sorrow

“Sea Sorrow” (Vanessa Redgrave)

“They” (Anahita Ghazvinizadeh)

70TH ANNIVERSARY EVENTS

24-Frames

“24 Frames” (Abbas Kiarostami)

Come Swim

“Come Swim” (Kristen Stewart)

“Top of the Lake” (Jane Campion)

“Top of the Lake” (Jane Campion)

“Twin Peaks” (David Lynch)

VIRTUAL REALITY

“Carne y arena” (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Carne y arena


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April 09, 2017

5 Things Democrats Could Do To Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t) — TED RALL

SUPERCoupla weeks ago, I speculated that we may soon witness the end of the Democratic Party as we know it. I was kind. I didn’t mention the fact that the party is all out of national leaders. I mean, can you name a likely, viable Democratic candidate for president in 2020? Can you name three?

I followed up with more crystal-balling in a piece predicting that the meek will not inherit the earth if and when Trump gets dragged out of 1600 Penn by Senatorial impeachment police. The meek — the Democrats — could have/should have been the Anti-Trump Party. But they’ve dropped the ball. After the deluge, Paul Ryan.

With everyone so focused on the Trump Administration dead pool — how will he go? when? — we’re overlooking that Republicans could come out of the Trump debacle stronger than they went in. How crazy is that?

Now I want to look at another facet of this political Rubik’s cube: what the Democrats could do to avoid political irrelevance.

Not that they will.

—Democrats should stop calling themselves “The Resistance.” It’s an insult to the actual resistance fighters of World War II who were tortured and murdered. It’s also an attack on Strunk and White’s diktat not to stretch words beyond their plain meaning. Resistance to Republicans hasn’t been part of Democratic politics for generations. Quit the hype. Under-promise, over-deliver.

—Democrats should actually resist Trump and the Republicans. They shouldn’t have gone along with any of his nominees, but their promise to filibuster pencil-necked right-wing libertarian freak Neil Gorsuch would be a nice place to start. No Democrat, including those from purple/swing states, should vote for any GOP nominee or legislative initiative. Let’s not hear any more stupid talk of finding “common ground” with Trump on infrastructurespending or anything else. The GOP controls all three branches of the federal government so they’ll get whatever they want — and they should own whatever happens as a result. Democrats shouldn’t get their hands dirty.

—Democrats ought to articulate an alternative vision of what America would look like if they were in charge instead of Trump and the Republicans. It’s nice (not least for the 24 million people who would’ve wound up uninsured) that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare imploded. But that victory goes to rebellious Republicans, not Democrats. Here was a national debate over the ACA — Obama’s signature achievement — and Democrats didn’t even participate! How crazy is that? Never mind that they wouldn’t have gotten a vote on it — Democrats should have proposed their own bill reforming the ACA, one that moves left by adding single payer. Every Republican idea should be countered by an equal and opposite Democratic idea. Other countries call this act of self-definition shadow governance or, in a time of war perhaps loyal opposition. Whatever you call it, refusing to let your adversaries frame the acceptable ideological range of political debate is basic. In other words, a standard party-out-of-power tactic (e.g., the Tea Party 2009-2016).

—Democrats need to stop disappearing between elections. Campaigns are exhausting and it’s natural to want to catch one’s breath and conduct a postmortem to determine what went well and wrong. But it’s gotten to the point that the only time left-of-center voters hear from the Democratic Party is the year of a major election, for the most part only a few months before November and then only to ask for money. In the era of the 24-7 news cycle and the Internet, that hoary see-you-in-two-to-four-years approach is as outmoded as Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s cut-and-paste stump speeches and network TV shows that take summers off for something called “vacation.” A modern party should become part of our everyday lives. Every burg needs a Democratic Party storefront bustling with activity. Every Republican officeholder needs a ferocious Democratic challenger, even at the localest of local levels. Door-to-door campaigning and grassroots organizing should happen every day of every month of every year — in every state, regardless of presidential race electoral vote considerations, just like Howard Dean said.

—Bernie Sanders says Democrats can and should do class issues and identity politics. He’s right. As we’ve seen with the increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent years, the two are intertwined: gays’ incomes have risen But here’s the rub: you can’t really take on poverty and income disparity while accepting contributions from banks and other corporations whose interest lies in perpetuating economic misery by keeping wages low. The biggest lesson Dems should internalize from Bernie’s candidacy is his reliance on small individual donations.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Why is Trump So Hated? It’s the Tribalism, Stupid — TED RALL

TRUMP
This one is in post-9/11 cadence: why do liberals hate Trump so much?

It’s his style.

This being about politics, one would think — would hope — that the president’s atrocious Watergate-level poll numbers were the result of his self-evident idiocy, Muslim-bashing, far-right cabinet and court picks and his policies. Rancid as they are, Trump’s politics don’t seem to be the main reason he riles up so many Democrats.

You pick the Trump outrage that’s got liberals in a tizzy and I’ll point to an equal and not-so-opposite they had no problem with when it was authored by a Democrat.

Trump’s first major policy decision was his ban on travel to the U.S. by the citizens of seven (later revised to six) Muslim countries. Thousands of protesters converged on JFK and other airports. Federal judges across the nation issued emergency stays. Subjecting people to a religious test? Such evil nativism could not stand! Right-wing media pointed out/claimed/stretched that President Obama — who, save for the short-lived Occupy Wall Street protests, suffered few complaints from America’s impotent Left — had thrown a wrench into immigration by Iraqis to the U.S.

False equivalence? Perhaps. It became harder to avoid the stink of progressive hypocrisy when Trump authorized his Department of Homeland Security to deport non-citizens, including green card holders, whom the authorities even suspect of an offense — which could be as trivial as a traffic ticket. Millions of law-abiding Americans — if you’re born in Mexico and came here at age four and never lived outside of America what else are you but American? — were in Trump’s crosshairs. It was racist and nativist and disgusting and why the hell didn’t Democrats take to the streets to call Obama racist and nativist and disgusting when he deported more undocumented workers than any other president in history?

Trump ran as an anti-interventionist. America First! Leave the world to its troubles; the U.S. has too much infrastructure to build and a country to make great again to bother with foreign BS. In a extemporaneous portfolio short on detail and long on invective, isolationism after 15 years of Global War on Terror was a Trump thing most of us ought to have been able to get behind. Now, after three months of beribboned armchair generals whispering belligerent nothings into his ears, Trump has discovered his inner carpet bomber. Syria must be bombed! Well, bombed more.

The U.S. destruction of Syria began under Team Obama-Clinton, of course. Surely even Trump remembers that; he talked about it all last year at his rallies. Hillary told Barry to fund and arm something called the Free Syria Army which no one knew anything about and turned out to be mostly a thing called the Al Nusra Front which is pretty much Al Qaeda and seems to be friends with ISIS now.

Remember all the antiwar rallies in 2012? Remember how Obama got primaried for destroying Libya and Syria? Neither do I. But don’t be surprised if the streets fill with signs opposing Trump’s Syria war — signs that might have made a difference to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed by American-made and –funded weapons under Obama.

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign mantra was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now it’s tribalism and it sure is stupid.

There isn’t much ideological distance between neoliberal warmonger Obama and corporatist warmonger Trump. There is, of course, all the difference in the world in their styles.

Obama was a bourgeois liberal Democrat’s sopping wettest dream: affable, professorial, so calm a pundit called him Spock. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Doris Kearns Goodwin! Bet he (or Michelle) owns at least one tote bag from an NPR pledge drive.

Who cared that he called Snowden a traitor and ramped up NSA spying on Americans and kept Gitmo open and kept torture and said it was OK for American cops to use killer drones to kill Americans on American soil? He was a fascist. But he was our fascist. Our fascist with a smile.

Trump frowns. Like Churchill, he thinks.

Their fascist.

Trump, on the other hand, is Republican and crass and loud. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he doesn’t care that everyone knows it. He dates and marries trophy ladies. His cabinet picks don’t know significantly less about the world than Obama’s did or Hillary’s would have. The difference between his and his and hers is that Trump’s gang is ugly and brash (Bannon, Flynn) to the Democrats’ Tuesday night kill list pretend seriousness.

Democrats aren’t a party. They’re a sports team.

Not convinced? Consider the Did Russia Install Trump hysteria.

There is, after thousands of articles and scores of hours of Congressional testimony, still not a smidgen of evidence (much less proof) that Russia influenced the election. Yet here you have Democrats — the gang that’s supposed to be into the Truth about climate change and science and all — calling for impeachment. Why this bizarre conspiracy theory? Why not simply impeach the SOB for being stupid? But I digress.

Russia-bashing completely without cause, older readers will recall, is the traditional go-to of the right-wing. What are fine Rachel Maddow-watchers like you doing in an ugly hidey-hole like this?

Tribalism. Y’all are rabid over Trump for doing the same crap Obama did because Trump’s an R and hangs with the jocks and you’re a D and a geek so you hate Trump and miss Obama. Junior high school cafeteria seating system, anyone?

The worst thing about America’s political system is that it has no politics.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

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March 27, 2017

ON THE FRINGE: FILMSTRUCK STREAMING WITH COLE SMITHEY

The four films presented here form a dominant harmony of ‘70s era independent movies from filmmakers operating on the fringe of Global Cinema. Les Blank, Werner Rainer Fassbinder, Costa-Gavras, and John Waters are all maverick filmmakers whose non-traditional approaches bounce off one another in this specially curated collection with personal, political, and social resonance against the technology-driven global realities of 2017. You won't find any cell phones here, just some heavy doses of nitty-gritty humanity. 

Multiplemaniacs

Multiple Maniacs” was made in 1970. Viet Nam’s influence is written all over the film. Bourgeois citizens gather to witness crude performers committing vile acts, only to be shaken down for their cash in a violent climax to the confrontational entertainment that came before. Meanwhile, network television shows the horrors of the Viet Nam war every night's news reports. Baltimore’s real-life counter-culture (check out David Lochary as Mr. David) take their cut of John Waters’ fearless (prototypical Punk) fantasy that comes complete with a necessarily Shakespearian tableau. Waters pushes the film's defiant tone toward a public episode of violence, in an ending that Clifford Odets could appreciate.   

Here is the ultimate filmic and political palate cleanser of a movie. Divine can’t help but moan at being seduced into anal play within religious walls, but that doesn’t mean she owes her new lover (Mink Stole) any more respect than she gives the other people she treats like disposable fetish objects. Divine is the ultimate whore/slut/reprobate cross-dresser. You'd have to call up Iggy Pop to find a pop star act of such Dionysian design.

John Waters cuts to a deeper social quick than any other American filmmaker because he understands the innate beauty of all people, regardless of how they look, much less how wild their imaginations and libidos run. “Multiple Maniacs” wallows in perversion for perversion’s sake because that’s what it’s there for; that's how it's done. It's supposed to be messy to reflect the ugliness of the Viet Nam War. Social class lines are clearly drawn. In the words of Elvis Costello, "If I'm going to go down, you're going to come with me."

You can fight the ideas, but you can’t fight the orgiastic feelings that John Waters transmits like a circus ring leader because his respect for filth runs so deep. Dirt is good for you even when it tastes like spinach pulled from manure. “Multiple Maniacs” is dirtier than that. Get filthy.

State-of-siege

Costa-Gavras is an exquisite leftist filmmaker because he is too much of a pragmatist to fall into idealistic traps of the left or the right. Costa-Gavras' unique upbringing, as the son of a Pro-Soviet (Communist) Greek Resistance fighter in the Greek Civil War, meant that attending university in Greece or in the United States was out of the question. France offered the perpetual outlier an education in law in 1951, that paved the way for a switch to film school and apprenticeships with directors Jean Giono and Rene Clair.

Like "The Battle of Algiers," "State of Siege" includes a gut-wrenching scene of torture, this time performed on a theater stage for a private audience of military officials and other well-dressed reprobates. What was once a shocking scene of inhumane punishment comes across as normalized for audiences watching it in 2017.

Celebrated in critical circles for his groundbreaking film “Z” (1969), Costa-Gavras made fresh tracks across the backs of America’s power-grabbing military pawns of capitalist exploitation (think The United Fruit Company) with “State of Siege” (1972), a political thriller released at the height of the Watergate scandal. The efforts of the radical left are just as dimwitted as the vastly more effective methods of rightwing corporate raiders; the difference is that one has all the money and guns. Living by the sword always means dying by the same blade regardless of who is doing the transporting and who is doing the cutting.

Motherkusters

FilmStruck is committing an enormous public service by showcasing Rainer Werner Fassbinder, New German Cinema’s hottest and most prolific star. Fassbinder is the German version of Lou Reed if Lou had been a German filmmaker.

Although the version of “Mrs. Kusters Goes to Heaven” that is currently being shown on FilmStruck does a fake-you-out move by spelling out, and including, two different endings, this movie presents a compelling case for autonomy of the individual. In an age when the NSA utilizes the same data that social media crunches to decide the plot of the next Hollywood movie you sit through like a hungry cat sniffing fresh tuna in the air, “Mrs. Kusters” puts the media, politics, and familial trust in same trash bin. Brigitte Mira’s elderly matriarch is a postfeminist every bit as complex as the outsider character she played in Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Heaven is what you make it.

Les-blank-always-for-pleasure

Les Blank’s intuitive sense of documentary filmmaking is purely organic. His films allow for a natural symbiotic exchange to occur between the viewer and the work at hand. You can feel it happening when “Always For Pleasure” (1978) gets into the Second line musicians and partiers at a funeral procession. Irreverent joy overflows into Blank’s wanton absorption of a melting pot made up of Black, White, European, French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican, Appalachian, and West Indian influences. Outside of society, and yet minted within primal human instincts for shared communal experience, the Second line musicians and their followers give back all that has been taken away from most of America’s citizens. You can guess the rest, with a smile on your face.


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March 20, 2017

The Splitting Up of the Democratic Party: Why It’s Probably Coming Sooner Than You Think

Photoshopsurfing4Before the election, some pundits were predicting that a Trump defeat would cause the Republican Party to split into at least two discrete new parties — one representing the old GOP’s business establishment, the other for the populist firebrands of the Tea Party. As the fight over gutting Obamacare reveals, those factions are in an uncomfortable marriage. But a full-fledged rupture doesn’t appear imminent.

A bigger story, one the corporate political writers aren’t focused on, is on the left. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Democratic Party split in two.

In my imagined scenario, the liberal Democratic base currently represented by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren file for divorce from the party’s center-right corporatist leadership caste. What next? Led by Sanders/Warren or not (probably not), prepare to see a major new “third” party close to or equal in size to a rump Democratic one.

I even have a name for this new 99%er-focused entity: the New Progressive Party, or simply the Progressive Party. Since this is ahistorical America, no one remembers the Bull Moosers.

Today’s Democratic Party is evenly divided between the Bernie Sanders progressives who focus on class issues and the Hillary Clinton urban liberals who care more about identity politics (gender, race, sexual orientation and so on).

In the short run, a Democratic-Progressive schism would benefit the GOP. In a three-way national contest I guesstimate that Republicans could count on the roughly 45% of the electorate who still approve of Trump after two months of hard-right rule. That leaves the new Progressives and the old Democrats with roughly 27.5% each — hardly a positive outlook for the left in the first few post-schism elections.

But as the cereal box warning goes, some settling may — in this case will — occur…and sooner than you’d think.

First, some “Republicans” in the Trump coalition — those Obama and Sanders voters who switched to Trump — will migrate left, attracted to a Progressive left-nationalist economic message that puts working-class Americans first minus the racism and nativism of the anti-NAFTA Trump right. Doesn’t feel like it this second, but bigotry is finding fewer adherents.

Second, demographic trends favor any left-of-the-Democrats party. Slightly more than half of Americans age 18 to 29 oppose capitalism in its current form. Some Millennials will move right over time, John Adams style — but most will not, mainly because the capitalist economy isn’t likely to reward them with better-paying jobs as they age. A strong Progressive Party — and 27.5% of the vote is strong, guaranteeing access all the way down the ballot to minor races and a spot on the national presidential debate stage — would be the natural home for America’s long-disenfranchised political left.

Third, the Progressives would attract sustained media attention. Excitement generates enthusiasm.

Finally, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that some mainstream Republicans disgusted by a Trump/Tea Party-dominated Republican Party might scoot over to the old Democrats — whose current politics are Republican Party circa 1980, so it’s not like it would be an uncomfortable fit — adding to their numbers.

Granted, this is all very back of the envelope. But my instincts tell me we’ll probably wind up with three surprisingly evenly matched parties before too long.

To be clear, a Democratic split isn’t inevitable. It may not even be more likely than not, not in the next few years anyway. But 10 or 20 years out? The further you extend the timeline, I’d bet a tidy sum that the left will finally hear what the Democratic Party leadership has been telling them for half a century — we don’t need you, we don’t owe you, we won’t do anything for you — and walk.

Why am I so convinced that today’s Dems will go the way of the Whigs?

Still controlled by center-right Clintonistas, the Democratic National Committee continues to snub progressives and leftists despite the fact that Bernie could have beaten Trump.

Throughout the campaign, polls showed Bernie would outperform Hillary in the fall. Still, the DNC cheated on her behalf. And they sleazily lined up the superdelegates for her.

She never considered him for veep. She didn’t even promise to appoint him to the cabinet. Big mistake.

She didn’t adopt any of his signature platform planks.

After the debacle Democratic leaders blamed everyone but themselves: WikiLeaks, Russia, the FBI, the media, even Bernie voters. They didn’t think they did anything wrong.

In the race for DNC chair and thus for the soul of the party, they picked the establishment choice over the progressive.

If you’re a Bernie Sanders Democrat, you have to be a complete idiot to believe that the Democratic Party has learned the lesson of 2016: lean left or go home. Even after it became clear that Trump was putting together the most right-wing administration in American history, Democrats were still voting in favor of Republican appointees.

I can’t predict how the great split-up of the former Democratic Party will play out. But given the escalating rage of the party’s progressive base in the Age of Trump and the absolute refusal of the DNC leadership to grant them concessions, it’s hard to imagine this restive crowd staying calm and keeping Democratic.

The tsunami is coming. Lefties have a choice: get washed away, or grab a surfboard.

By Ted Rall

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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THE 11 BEST PUNK BANDS!

The only time I've had front-row seats for a concert was at a San Diego Lou Reed show for the "New Sensations" tour. I went with my girlfriend Lori, and brought along a demo cassette of my band ("The Rockin' Dogs). At the end of the show I stood up just as Lou was turning to walk off stage and yelled his name as I tossed the demo onto the floor of the stage. Lou reached down and picked up the tape and stuck it in the back pocket of his faded black jeans. I'll never forget seeing the outline of the Rockin' Dogs demo in Lou's pocket. I'm sure he listened to it at least once. Even though nothing ever came of it, I love that Lou picked up the demo and took it with him. This video is for you Lou. 


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