Dear California Supreme Court

Dear California Supreme Court,

All I want is a day in court.

All I want is for 12 Angelenos to hear my case.

All I want is for the jurors to hear what I have to say, what the LA Times has to say, and decide who they think told the truth: me or them.

The judge in the LA Superior Court told me that I told the truth, but that I shouldn’t get a day in court.

The Times’ lawyer told the court it didn’t matter if I told the truth.

That was after the court told me I had to pay $75,000 just to be allowed to have a case at all.

Then the justices in the Court of Appeal agreed with the Times’ lawyer. They said that, even though I told the truth and not the Times, I’m not allowed to have a trial.

When I took civics class in Kettering, Ohio in 1979, my teacher told me that everyone is entitled to a trial by jury. Liar.

You are my last hope. May I please have a jury trial? Please tell the Times that they’re wrong. Please tell them the truth does matter. Please let 12 Angelenos weigh the evidence and decide who’s being truthful.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Ted Rall

Bernie is running again. I wrote the book on Bernie.

Bernie Sanders is running again. If you haven’t picked up my graphic biography about the 2016 and 2020 presidential candidate, now would probably be a good time. It’s the only full-fledged biography of BERNIE in any form and it contains information you won’t find anywhere else about his life and politics.

Journalists Had Better Hope I Win My Case Against the Billionaire-Owned L.A. Times

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I have written extensively about my lawsuit against the LA Times. As I prepare for the next, do-or-die, stage of my case, it’s time to explain why Rall v. Los Angeles Times et al. has broad implications beyond me personally.

Freedom of the press is at stake.

The subtle yet fundamental question here is: who needs freedom of the press? The obvious answer is journalists: reporters and pundits. But journalists’ freedom to report and editorialize is in grave danger from a surprising enemy: their employers.

Once was, reporters like Woodward and Bernstein were on the same side as their employers. In this age of corporate aggregation of newspapers and other media outlets by publicly-traded media corporations and individual billionaires, however, newspapers and other media outlets are often compromised by their quest for profits, as the LA Times’ parent company was when it allowed its stock to be sold to the LAPD pension fund. In this struggle the media companies have framed themselves as guardians of press freedom at the expense of journalists, ironically securing the power to screw journalists in the guise of First Amendment protections.

If the California Supreme Court refuses to hear my case — which is probably what will happen — or hears it and rules for the Times’ anti-SLAPP motion against me, the court will send a chilling message to journalists and pundits across the country. Most Americans, and most reporters, live in states with anti-SLAPP statutes modeled on California’s.

The threat to journalists is unmistakable: rock the boat and you risk being destroyed.

Write an article critical of a powerful institution like the LAPD, the nation’s highly militarized, largest and most brutal police forces, controlling a $16 billion pension fund, and they can pull strings to get you fired. It can also happen in a tiny town like Baker City, Oregon.

Even worse, you can’t find another job because they use falsified “evidence” to smear your reputation for honesty. Even if you can prove that it’s BS — as I did — media companies use their editorial endorsements of jurists and politicians to rig the courts with their allies so you, the victim, get dunned hundreds of thousands of dollars for the villainous media company’s legal fees!

I have advice for journalists thinking about covering police abuse: don’t. The price for doing your job — termination, defamation and bankruptcy — isn’t worth it.

If I could go back to 2015 when the LAPD-owned LA Times trashed my reputation in service to a thin-skinned police chief, I would not draw or write anything about the cops. It’s too dangerous.

I have learned how big media companies have stacked the bench with sympathetic judges, lobbied for laws that protect them from accountability for breaking the law and used their influence to crush individual journalists for such crimes as reporting the news or having worked long enough to earn a high salary. The system doesn’t even pretend to be fair. Many judges are former prosecutors; how can they justify not recusing themselves from cases involving the cops?

Now there is a $330,000 judgment against me for having the gall to defend my reputation in court. Unless the California Supreme Court overrules it, that judgment will be final and will grow bigger. Journalists and pundits aren’t covering my case — they’re afraid, as they ought to be — but they are watching. If the judgment stands, who will be stupid enough to take on the LAPD or similar institution?

As if the chilling effect on journalists wasn’t enough reason to watch my case, the Times is arguing (so far, successfully) that media companies should no longer extend protections against discrimination by gender, age and sexual orientation to their workers. Unless the court overturns the lower court rulings against me, the door will be pushed open for the Times and other California media corporations to fire, say, its African-American or transgender employees without redress in the courts.

Then there’s the damage to defamation law. For hundreds of years it has been possible for a person wrongfully slimed by a news publication to go to court to try to clear their name. Abusive anti-SLAPP motions have made a mockery of libel law to the point that the National Enquirer, represented by the same lawyer as the Times, falsely claimed Richard Simmons had become a transsexual woman and Simmons was ordered to pay $130,000 to the Enquirer!

It should be challenging to sue for libel, not impossible.

“The quote/unquote truth doesn’t matter,” Los Angeles Times/National Enquirer lawyer Kelli Sager said in court. So far, she’s been right. Judges have bent over backwards to believe the Times’ many lies and ignore the plain truth right in front of them. Hopefully a court outside LA will let me get my day in court.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

On to the Supremes

A brief update about my case.

My attorneys are working on my petition for review to the California Supreme Court. They don’t accept most of these, so the odds are not great. On the other hand, there are constitutional issues involved. If the lower court anti-SLAPP verdict stands as is, I’ll owe the LA Times at least $330,000 in their legal fees, and hundreds of reporters in California will lose important protections against being discriminated against by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

If the high court accepts my case and rules in my favor, we move on to discovery. We’ll finally get to start preparing for me to get my day in court. We’ll subpoena documents and depose witnesses.

If they do not accept my case or rule against me, it’s over.

I’ll keep you posted.

It Never Works Yet Trump is Once Again to “Bomb Toward Peace”

Image result for christmas bombing 1972George Carlin said: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” Given the timing I assume he was referring to how the Nixon Administration ramped up bombing in order to strengthen its hand against the North Vietnamese at the upcoming 1972 Paris peace talks. Thousands of residents of Hanoi were killed with no practical effect at the negotiating table. “The wording of the [final peace] agreement was almost exactly the same as it had been at the beginning of December—before the Christmas bombing campaign, Rebecca Cesby wrote for the BBC.
Henry Kissinger, the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris, admitted as much. “We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions,” said Nixon’s secretary of state, never missing a chance to be droll while bathing in the blood of innocents.
Here Donald Trump goes again.

U.S. Heightens Attacks on Taliban in Push Toward Peace in Afghanistan,” read the headline in the New York Times on February 8th. One wag on my Facebook page commented: “It’s like the headline writers aren’t even trying anymore.”

“The Pentagon has stepped up airstrikes and special operations raids in Afghanistan to the highest levels since 2014 in what Defense Department officials described as a coordinated series of attacks on Taliban leaders and fighters,” began the Times piece. “The surge, which began during the fall, is intended to give American negotiators leverage in peace talks with the Taliban after President Trump said he would begin withdrawing troops and wind down the nearly 18-year war.”

Bombing a military target has obvious benefits: troops, equipment, materiel and infrastructure are destroyed or damaged that otherwise might have been deployed against you and your forces.

Military planners tout a more subtle theory in favor of the strategic bombing of civilians. Military planners assume as an evidence-free article of faith that blowing up urban areas accomplishes more than killing people and destroying their homes. They believe it “softens them up,” lowers their morale and undermines support for the government, perhaps even culminating in a popular uprising bringing the conflict to an earlier conclusion and the installation of a friendly new regime. The thing is, it only seems to have worked once—when Japan surrendered following the nukings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There is no evidence that non-nuclear bombing campaigns, no matter how ferocious or sustained, have ever accomplished more than leaving craters where people once lived. “Although more than 40,000 people died during the eight months of the Blitz and in London about 1,000,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, there were no riots and war production increased steadily,” notes an Economist review of the book “The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945” by Richard Overy. “People suffered, but the majority got used to it… Even when the Royal Air Force in 1942, closely followed by the U.S. Army Air Force, began to put together the famous ‘1000 bomber’ raids that were supposed to ‘knock Germany out of the war,’ German war production continued to ramp up and the Nazi regime never came remotely close to losing political control.”

Like the North Vietnamese in 1972, the Taliban in 2019 read newspapers. They know they’ve won. They know that the U.S. knows it has lost. They know U.S. voters have turned against the war against Afghanistan. Bombing or no bombing, all the Taliban have to do is hang tight before the U.S. leaves and tosses them the keys to the country on the way out.

Ramping up the violence now looks like what it is: a bitter, desperate, last-ditch effort to act even more like the monsters Afghans have become convinced that we are.

Aside from its pointlessness and total waste of life and treasure, what’s shocking about the Trump Administration’s “killing toward peace” campaign is its utter cluelessness about human nature. Trump won the presidency by accurately reading the mood of the electorate, particularly the long-neglected Rust Belt Midwest, when Democrats and the media could not. Why can’t his Defense Department see that an escalated bombing campaign against Afghanistan won’t improve our bargaining position and could make things worse?

For thousands of years in both the Western and Eastern worlds, the peace negotiations that ended the overwhelming majority of wars were concluded during ceasefires. Winding down armed conflict allowed the parties to mourn their dead, revel in their victory or wallow in loss. Most importantly, a ceasefire gives warring sides breathing space to begin to reframe their image of their soon-to-be former adversaries. Enemies become neighbors, eventually trading parties and perhaps even friends. Monstrous Others transform into who they were all along—people just like you and me.

We see now that the senseless slaughter of the 1972 Christmas bombings delayed the true peace of rapprochement between unified Vietnam the United States by years. If the U.S. is ever fortunate enough to reach a similar accommodation with Taliban-run Afghanistan, it will have been pointlessly delayed by America’s latest attempt to “bomb toward peace.”

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

The Disappearing of Generation X

Generation X — Americans born between 1961 and 1974 — have been “disappeared“ from the media like a fallen-out-of-favor Soviet apparatchik airbrushed out of a picture from atop Lenin’s tomb.

Gen X was an important facet of the start of my career. I used to write and draw a lot about Gen X. I authored a seminal Gen X manifesto, Revenge of the Latchkey Kids (1996). For a while there, it seemed like we were going to take our rightful place as the third-biggest generational cohort—not the biggest by any means but at least…extant.

Now the Internet is talking about a CBS News infographic in which zero Americans were apparently born between Boomers and the Millennials. CBS listed four generations:

“The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)”

“Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)”

“Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-37 years old)”

“Post-Millennials: Born 1997-present (0-21 years old)”

(The so-called “cusp kids” born between 1961 and 1964 are demographically Boomers because of high birth years but culturally Gen X because they share cultural touchstones with younger Americans.)

That’s right, Gen Xers: to CBS News, you’re less real and alive and important than someone who is zero years old. So much for Gen X culture—“Reality Bites,” “Slacker,” “Singles,” “Clerks,” anything by Quentin Tarantino or Richard Linklater, pretty much all indie rock ever, alternative cartooning, oh and the Douglas Coupland book called, um, “Generation X.” To CBS, that stuff matters less than the pee and poo and puke and drool emanating from a zero year old.

The disappearing of Gen X is a genuine widespread trend. A New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt discusses “the fleecing of the Millennials” by Boomers and attributes not only declining living standards but also the “burnout“ slur as being brand new to Millennials while in fact both of these characterized Gen X first, decades earlier.

When you read it, it’s downright bizarre that the phrase “Generation X” never appears anywhere. Online commenters were baffled.

These days all the conversation in the media is about the supposed stylistic differences and economic clashes between the Baby Boom and Millennial generations. Generation X is ignored; we don’t even get caught in the crossfire. In a recent SNL skit called “Millennial Millions,“ Millennials are offered prizes like free healthcare if they manage to shut up for 30 seconds while a Boomer talks trash about them. The game show host says, “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” I’m Gen X so I laughed.

Being deemed irrelevant is bad enough. What will it do to our already close-to-nonexistent self esteem to realize that everyone else in the country doesn’t even know we’re alive?

A Philadelphia Magazine article—that came out last year, for God’s sake—feels like the last nail in our once-notable demographic coffin. “Whatever Happened to Generation X?” asks the headline. What happened, apparently, is that we got relegated to “whatever-happened-to” pieces in friggin’ Philadelphia magazine. (It’s actually a good piece, and you should read it, but you won’t because Gen Xers don’t read about themselves and Millennials and Boomers only care about themselves.)

Forbes explains, I think credibly, that Gen X is far more influential than anyone thinks, though this particular line is unintentionally hilarious: “What they lack in numbers — just 66 million to boomers’ 75 million — they make up with a stellar engine that has quietly been revving over the years.”

“Stellar engine”? That’s the name of my new 1980s retro-synth band. We’re influenced by Soft Cell. Also, “just”? 66 million is “just”? Even compared to 75 million?
Anyway, Anna Sofia Martin writes, “a whopping 55% of startup founders are part of Gen X.” So much for slacking. Anyway, who can afford it? We Gen Xers, not Millennials, were the first generation to get crushed by student loan debt. Even so, we have “31% of U.S. income, but just 25% of the population.” So latchkey kids really are having a sort of revenge.

“Masters of self-deprecation,” Martin calls us. She’s right. So, when Millennials and Baby Boomers insist us on pretending that 66 million people simply don’t exist we’re, like…

what-ever.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Why We Lost the Afghan War (Again)

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December 11, 2001: Three months after 9/11, two months after George W. Bush ordered bombs to begin raining on Kabul, the day The Village Voice published one of my war reports from the front in Afghanistan.

“We’ve lost this war,” I wrote. To drive my point home, the headline was: “How We Lost Afghanistan.”

I continued: “So how much will it cost?”

Seventeen years later, the end of America’s longest war—since history suggests Afghans will keep killing each other long after our departure, it would be more precise to say the end of America’s involvement in Afghanistan—appears to be drawing near. Peace talks between the Trump Administration and the Taliban in Qatar have culminated with an “agreement on principle” whose main U.S. demand is easy for the Taliban to grant. Afghanistan, the Taliban must assure the U.S. and the Afghan puppet regime in Kabul, cannot again become a “platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.” Even according to estimates by the Obama-era CIA, Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan was more of a coincidence than a fearsome terrorist organization: “about 50 to 100 Qaeda operatives.”

They could have fit on one bus. For this we fought a war?

Now we know the pricetag of the invasion and long occupation: 2,400-ish U.S. troops killed, 4,000-ish U.S. “civilian contractors” killed, 59,000-ish Afghan soldiers and police killed, 38,000-ish Afghan civilians killed, 42,000 “enemy” Afghan soldiers killed, 50-ish journalists killed, 400-ish NGO workers killed, 20,000-ish U.S. troops wounded. No one counts the other non-fatal casualties. Obviously the non-U.S. death counts are way lowball.

U.S. taxpayers spent $5 trillionenough to wipe out all outstanding student loans three times over—on bombing and pillaging and torturing Afghans. Wind-down costs, interest on the national debt, etc. will cost more still. Caring for wounded veterans adds another $8 trillion going forward. For that total of $13 trillion you could pay off every debt owed by every American citizen: home mortgages, car loans, credit cards, student loans, everything.

No one estimates the total cost of the buildings and other Afghan infrastructure destroyed by the war.

Of course no one can begin to calculate America’s loss of moral standing in the world. You don’t get to invade the world’s poorest nation, kidnap the locals and torture them in gruesome concentration and death camps, coddle local perverts and child rapists and come out looking half-decent.

Special Forces captain Dan Quinn beat a U.S.-backed Northern Alliance commander he found sexually abusing an Afghan boy chained to his bed on a U.S. military base. “The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” Quinn said. “But we were putting people into power [the Northern Alliance] who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did—that was something village elders voiced to me.” Quinn was drummed out of the military.

As I mentioned at the top of this essay, the war was lost before it really began, in 2001.

Anyone who paid attention knew losing was inevitable.

Not many Americans paid attention. 89% of American voters polled in December 2001 approved of the invasion of Afghanistan. Now, 70% disapprove.

So why did we lose?

It’s too facile to say: graveyard of empires. Afghans really did welcome us as liberators in 2001. We had a better shot at success than the Brits and the Russians.

The short answer is: we did both too little and too much.

Too much cash spent, too little reconstruction.

“It would take billions of dollars to even begin rebuilding this country,” an American officer told me for my 2001 Voice piece. “Billions of dollars and many, many years. We don’t have that kind of attention span. Bombing Iraq will be a lot sexier than teaching Afghans how to read.” Afghanistan didn’t have phones, electricity, paved roads, bridges or public records. Streets didn’t have names, houses had no numbers—which was fine since there was no mail. There was no central bank or monetary system. People didn’t know their own last names.

Billions were spent, some of it on rebuilding public infrastructure. “A year ago it took about two days to drive between Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar. Today it takes about five hours on a smoothly tarmacked road paid for by millions of US taxpayers’ dollars,” the BBC reported in 2004.

Problem was, reconstruction money didn’t go to ordinary Afghans or even their towns. The U.S. installed a puppet president, Hamid Karzai, whose corrupt family looted millions, possibly billions, of dollars in cash. The drug trade, suppressed by the Taliban government before the U.S. invasion, exploded. “Private money, a substantial portion of it thought to be from the illegal drugs trade, is also funding a spurt of new building in the cities, but many say they have seen little change, especially in rural areas where most Afghans live, where villages without even basics like running water, power or schools remain the norm,” reported the BBC. By 2010 half of Afghans told pollsters they hadn’t seen any reconstruction whatsoever paid for by foreign aid. It’s just as bad now.

If an Afghan wanted to fix his house after it was damaged by a U.S. drone attack, that was on him.

Too little self-determination.

“The Afghan people have lost faith in the democratic political process, and regardless of the Taliban’s intimidation they have already boycotted the ongoing voter registration throughout the country,” Asia Times reported in 2018. What “democratic” process? Fraud was widespread in presidential and parliamentary elections. “Everyone was cheating in my polling station. Only 10% voted, but they registered 100% turnout. One man brought five books of ballots, each containing 100 votes, and stuffed them in the boxes after the elections were over,” an Afghan voting official said in 2009.

The message that elections can be fixed came straight from the self-declared crusaders of electoral democracy. In November 2001 while the initial invasion was still underway the U.S. staged a farcical political conference in Bonn, Germany where the Bush Administration attempted to foist the exiled king Zahir Shah, an 87-year-old exiled in Italy since the early 1970s, on the Afghans as a weak English-style constitutional monarch. Ironically, the Afghans present liked the idea—then the Americans pushed him out of the way to make room for Karzai.

The message was clear: American-style democracy is BS.

P.S. Afghanistan, it turns out, has vast mineral wealth worth more than $1 trillion. China has locked up the rights to exploit those reserves.

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

 

You No Longer Have the Right to a Jury Trial

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I was wronged. All I wanted was a trial by jury, a right enshrined in Anglo-Saxon legal tradition in the Magna Carta 803 years ago.

Is this still America? No. America is dead.

Not only have I been denied that fundamental right, I have been punished for having had the temerity to seek redress in the courts.

Justice is when wrongdoers are punished and victims are compensated. Instead, the California court system has provided Anti-Justice. The wrongdoers are getting off scot-free. I, the victim, am not merely being ignored or brushed off. I am being actively punished.

The ruling in Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times et al. came down last week. The California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Times’ “anti-SLAPP” motion against me. Anti-SLAPP law supporters, including the Times, say they’re supposed to be used by poor individuals to defend their First Amendment rights against big companies. But that’s BS. The Times—owned by the $500 million Tronc corporation when I filed suit, now owned by $7 billion biotechnology entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong—abused anti-SLAPP to destroy me.

My case was simple. I drew cartoons mocking the LAPD and then-Chief Charlie Beck for the Times, criticizing them for abusing people of color and the poor. A new publisher, Beck’s pal, took over. Beck asked publisher Austin Beutner to fire me and to smear me so I couldn’t work anymore. So the Times ran two pieces announcing that I’d been fired, not for offending Beck—violating their own Ethical Guidelines, they kept his identity secret—but for supposedly lying in a blog post discussing a jaywalking arrest in 2001. I hadn’t lied. I told the truth. And I proved it.
“One hell of a defamation case,” a lawyer told me. Another, a top expert on libel, said: “If you don’t win your case, defamation law in California is dead.”

But as the Times’ lawyer kept saying in court, “the quote/unquote truth doesn’t matter.” She was right. What mattered were power, money and influence.

The ruling means my case will probably never go to trial. The court has already ordered me to pay $330,000 to the Times for their legal fees because hey, a guy with $7 billion obviously needs and deserves to get cash from a cartoonist the Times used to pay $300 a week. That sum will definitely be higher—perhaps double—by the time the Times files the rest of its padded legal fees.

I will never get discovery, which means neither I nor the readers of the Times will ever learn the details about how then-publisher Austin Beutner (now superintendent of LA schools, where teachers are on strike because Beutner doesn’t want to give them a proper raise) arranged for the LAPD pension fund to become #1 shareholder of the Times’ parent company. Neither I nor the readers of the Times will ever know just how deep the corruption between the LA Times and the LAPD went, or to what extent the Times agreed to provide police-friendly coverage.

For me personally the ruling necessarily means bankruptcy and/or being forced to leave the United States so I can continue to earn a living. This used to be the kind of thing that happened to journalists in other countries, not the U.S. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get the ACLU behind me—because they don’t want to be seen as opposing the anti-SLAPP law.

I’m much luckier than Jamal Khashoggi—though the scorched-earth litigation tactics and lies deployed by National Enquirer/LA Times attorney Kelli Sager makes me pretty sure they would do the same thing to me if they could get away with it.

But the court’s real message isn’t directed toward me. What the court did in brazen deference to the LAPD and the LA Times and in direct opposition of the law was to send a message to journalists in California: do not mess with the cops and do not mess with a newspaper owned by the cops.

If you do your jobs, we will crush you.

At a time when reporters who still get to work are grateful to merely see their salaries slashed rather than join the ranks of the unemployed, you’d have to be a total goddamned idiot to criticize law enforcement.

There is one last slim reed of hope: the California Supreme Court. I am petitioning the high court to reverse the Court of Appeal’s anti-SLAPP ruling. But the odds are long. They hear fewer than five percent of appeals.

During his confirmation hearing Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh said that as a judge he wanted even the losing side to come out of the process feeling that his side had been heard and carefully considered.

I feel the opposite.

Since the start of my case it has been painfully obvious that the fix was in. As the plaintiff and as the victim of deliberate and repeated libel on behalf of one of the most corrupt police agencies in the country, I was the aggrieved party. Yet the courts treated me just like the Times did when they canned me: I was guilty until proven innocent and guilty even after having been proven innocent.

Pretzel logic has been a constant since 2015, when Beutner’s Times ran a piece about me which read that “a man and a woman can be heard speaking in the background at one point, but only a few of their words are intelligible…[they] appear to be having a conversation unrelated to the jaywalking stop.” Hey morons: if you can’t hear what they’re saying, how can you hear what they’re not saying?

The court’s ruling was no more intelligent.

The anti-SLAPP law requires judges to consider a theoretical construct at the anti-SLAPP stage of a case. Without judging the evidence, assume that the plaintiff’s case is 100% as presented, 100% accurate, all his evidence 100% true. Then assume that nothing the defense says is true. Would there be a smidge of a case there? If yes, the case moves forward.

As in many other anti-SLAPP cases, the judges didn’t even pretend to do that.

When my attorney Jeffrey Lewis mentioned that basic aspect of anti-SLAPP during oral arguments (listen here), the judges reacted as though they’d never heard such a thing before! Times lawyer Sager knew Lewis was correct which is why she didn’t touch the issue in her rebuttal. Yet the ruling in favor of the defendants didn’t mention, much less rebut the evidence rule. To the contrary: the justices ignored my arguments and evidence, assuming everything I said to be false. And they took everything the Times said, not at face value—because anyone reading the pieces could tell they were false—but beyond, crediting their goodwill beyond even what the Times alleged in its defense (for example, saying that the Times sent my enhanced audio for professional analysis, something the Times never claimed).

A couple decades ago I wrote that the court system was the last functional branch of government, the final resting place of the proposition that injustice could be addressed even when the villain was powerful. Perhaps I was right then. It certainly isn’t true now.

Any American who trusts the court system is a fool.

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

Our Pointless, Vicious, Very American Culture of Shame

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Puritanism’s obsession with guilt and shame, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed, was America’s original sin. We haven’t made much progress since “The Scarlet Letter.”

Do the crime do the time, goes the cliché. In the United States, when the time ends the shaming begins.

It starts when you look for a job. At least 65 million Americans have a felony or misdemeanor criminal record that makes them ineligible to work for the more than 90% of companies who run background checks to weed out applicants with a record. As for the few ex-cons who slip through this electronic dragnet, they are required by shaming laws to tell prospective employers about their checkered past. (Some states have slightly liberalized the requirement with laws like New York’s “Ban the Box” law, which requires disclosure only at the job offer stage.)

The only social benefit to convict-shaming is the shaming itself. “The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety,” notes a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project. But capitalism is dog-eat-dog. Each company looks out for itself, society be damned.

I dug into the issue of convict-shaming after an op-ed I wrote for the Wall Street Journal calling for automatic expungement of records of people previously convicted of buying recreational marijuana in amounts that would now be legal prompted a discussion online. Some readers agreed with me that it’s absurd to keep punishing people for acts that are now legal. Others felt that if it was a crime at the time a criminal is still a criminal.

In most countries most employers do not conduct criminal background checks and there is no legal or ethical expectation that ex-cons reveal that they have committed a crime.

A person is convicted, sentenced to prison time and/or to pay a fine, serves the term and coughs up the money. Isn’t there a logical contradiction between release—which assumes an inmate no longer presents a danger to society—and public shaming? I am thinking of one of the most extreme examples of convict-shaming, Megan’s Law. Based on the false assumption that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism, these statutes require that released inmates register in a database and notify local police and their neighbors of their address.

“What we’ve done,” Radley Balko wrote in The Washington Post in 2017, “is allowed sex offenders to be ‘released’ from prison, but then made it impossible for them to live anything resembling normal lives.” Websites linked to Google Maps allow anyone to check if their neighbor is a convicted sex offender. In some jurisdictions sex offenders are not allowed to reside within a set distance of a school or public park. In 2017 President Obama signed an “international Megan’s Law” that requires sex offenders against children to have the sentence “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor” stamped into their U.S. passports. So much for business travel.

Why such laws are popular is obvious. If a child molester lives down the block, parents want to know.

But vigilantes have used public Megan’s Law registries to locate and murder released sex offenders. In some communities the school and park restrictions are so draconian that there are so few legal places for released sex offenders to live that they’re forced to become homeless in order to comply with the law. All that harassment serves no real purpose except—you guessed it—serving the desire for cheap vengeance. “The [Megan’s Law] registry really didn’t protect kids at all” because “most child sexual abuse takes place in the home” and most of the victims of sex offenders listed in Megan’s Law databases are adults, says criminologist Emily Horowitz, author of Protecting Our Kids?: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us.

To look at it another way: if sex offenders are dangerous, shouldn’t we keep them locked up rather than rely on mere shaming? Megan’s Law can’t stop a child molester from raping a child.

David Brooks of The New York Times has the latest MSM take on what he calls the “Call-Out Culture,” in which self-appointed guardians of identity politics (critics call them “social justice warriors”) swarm those accused of political incorrectness on social media feeds in order to shame, ostracize and demoralize them. “I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever,” a man who went after a young women (ironically in retaliation for cyberbullying) told NPR.

Chinese Internet users have elevated doxxing and social media shaming to a high art called the “human flesh search engine” that costs victims their friends, family associations, jobs and sometimes their lives. But China is an outlier. While the phenomenon exists everywhere anecdotal evidence suggests that online “call-out culture” is neither as sophisticated or widespread in most nations as it is here in the United States.

It’s impossible to discuss shame culture without talking about the #MeToo movement. Criminal prosecution of accused sexual predators like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are exceptions. For the most part #MeToo is a shame-based movement. Sometimes, as in the case of comedian Aziz Ansari’s bad date, shame seems excessive and misplaced. In many cases, the targets seem to have had something coming—since it’s not jail we settle for job loss—and it’s unlikely they would have faced consequences otherwise. Then there are those who-the-hell-knows cases like Louis C.K. where the behavior was weird and pervy and consent is a nebulous issue (he asked, the women involved “laughed it off”).

#MeToo has a mixed record. I can’t help wonder if, for all the shattered careers and former celebrities who now take their meals at home rather than eating out at a fancy restaurant, the victims feel cheated. On the one hand, something finally happened to their tormentors. On the other, shame fades. Trauma is often forever.

Evildoers deserve real punishment. After punishment has been doled out shame is both a poor substitute and counterproductive overkill. But it’s what we’ve got.

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

Here is the Progressive Agenda

Image result for progressivism

Clintonite corporatists still control the Democratic National Committee despite their long string of failure at the polls. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party voters—72%—are self-identified progressives.

44% of House primary candidates in 2018 self-IDed as progressive. If you’re after the Democratic nomination for president you have to be—or pretend to be—progressive. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to be “a progressive who gets things done.”

All the top likely contenders for 2020 claim to be progressive—but they would prefer that voters ignore their voting records and unsavory donors. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have spent the past two years racing to the leftmost edge of respectable opinion,” reports New York magazine. “In recent weeks, they have also all reached out to Wall Street executives, in hopes of securing some funding for their prospective presidential campaign.” It does no good for your heart to be in the right place if your ass is owned by bankers.

“You don’t just get to say that you’re progressive,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told progressive donors recently.

Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called the 2020 election a chance to “leverage our power.” She says it’s critical “that we have some very clear guidelines about what it means to be progressive.”

Here are those guidelines.

You can’t be a progressive unless you favor a big hike in the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren, the first pretty-much-declared candidate for 2020, wants $15 an hour. But she told a 2013 Senate hearing that it would be $22 if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity. The official inflation rate makes that $24 today. And according to the real inflation rate (the official number as it was calculated before the Labor Department downgraded the calculation in 1980 and 1990) at ShadowStats.com, $22 in 2013 comes to at least $35 today.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 using the same methodology used to track inflation at the time, it would be closer to $80 per hour.

What should be the progressive demand for the minimum wage? Nothing less than $25 per hour.

(For the record, I see no reason why the minimum wage should be lower than the maximum wage. But we’re talking about progressivism here, not socialism or communism.)

Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign “free college became a litmus test for liberals,” notes The Atlantic. But a 2017 bill cosponsored by Sanders and Warren defines “college for all” rather narrowly. It only addresses public colleges and universities. It would “make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allow current student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.”

A quarter of American college students attend private schools. Considering that the average cost is $35,000 a year and some run as high as $60,000, even families earning more than $125,000 need help too.

The progressive stance on college should be three-pronged. First, the obscene $1.5 trillion student loan business should be abolished. Student loans should be replaced by grants but if loans exist at all they should be a zero-profit government program. Second, all outstanding loans should be forgiven or have their interest rates dropped to a zero-profit basis. Third, the government should rein in out-of-control public and private college tuition and fees—which have gone up eight times faster than wages—by tying them to the official federal cost of living index.

Progressives agree that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. With 70% of voters in favor, even centrist Democrats like Kamala Harris have climbed aboard Bernie Sanders’ call for “Medicare for all” bandwagon. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker now say they want single-payer public healthcare. Being progressive, however, means demanding more than what mainstream politicians deem practical—it’s about pushing hard for more ways to improve people’s lives.

In 2020 progressives should be calling for nothing less than universal healthcare. If it’s good enough for the rest of the developed world and many developing countries like Botswana and Bhutan, why not us?

I cosigned a letter to Sanders calling on the Vermont senator to use his platform as the country’s most prominent and popular progressive to talk more about foreign policy and to openly oppose militarism. Now it’s time to get specific.

Progressives should demand that U.S. troops come home from any country that did not attack the United States—i.e., all of them. They should put an end to the disgusting drone wars. The bloated nearly-$1 trillion Pentagon budget should be shredded; let’s see what they can do with $100 billion (which would still be far more than Russia’s defense spending).

From banks that charge usurious credit card interest rates to employers who fire full-time employees and hire them back as “independent contractors,” there are plenty of other targets for progressives to go after.

Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party. You own the joint.
Now’s the time to demand what’s yours, what you want and what’s right.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)