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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition

https://www.flotechinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/freshclam.jpg            From Clarence Thomas to Jerry Sandusky to Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, those who doubt their accusers always ask something similar to what Roy Moore said about those who accused him of sexual harassment and assault: “To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable.”

What takes so long? Why don’t alleged victims head straight to the police?

There are 17 good reasons in this great article.

Let me add two more that we don’t talk about enough: shame and fear of disbelief.

I’m not referring to the well-documented victims’ fear that they somehow brought the attack on themselves (for example, a woman who worries that she somehow sent mixed signals to a suitor who then raped her), but to something one rarely sees discussed in the media or talked about in typical conversations about victimhood.

Society doesn’t like victims. Victims make us uncomfortable. It’s probably a vestige of our Darwinian instinct for survival: the monkey clan prospers when its members are healthy and lucky, but finds life perilous around those who are sick and unfortunate. We turn away from the unlucky: the homeless man, the woman whose face bears burn scars, the black guy getting choked to death by cops. Not our business, not our problem, these are troubles to be avoided. I do it too.

This instinct goes double for those who refuse to soft-pedal their victimhood. Not even the most active social justice warriors have Rose McGowan’s back in her Twitter crusade against Harvey Weinstein — she’s a bit too angry for comfort. (Her recent drug arrest doesn’t help.)

I am not judging humanity here. I am trying to answer Roy Moore et al’s question. One of the answers is shame — the shame simply of being a victim in a shallow capitalist society that loves winners, hates losers and despises victims. Fake it to make it has a corollary: never let ’em see you sweat.

My friend Cole Smithey the critic told me a bit of film theory, after a character in a movie gets maimed (loses a hand, gets shot and acts shot, getting weaker and visibly bleeding, whatever), the audience stops liking and identifying with him or her. There are exceptions. Typically, however, a screenwriter will have a maimed character die, vanish or completely recover. Because no one likes a victim.

Getting fired and libeled by the LA Times reminded me of that anthropological truism. Immediately following my firing, I hardly heard from my fellow cartoonists. (That’s rare.) Friends resurfaced after I presented exculpatory evidence. A pair of taints (Loser and Liar) had been erased.

Then I sued the Times for defamation, and things tipped back. Some of my friends stayed true but others dumped me because they were scared that if they sided with me the Times and Tronc might deny them work, also because I’d gone Rose McGowan-y crusade-y. It’s true that the LAPD bought Tronc and the Times fired me for the LAPD, but it’s weird and anyway, no one likes a victim. Especially not an angry one.

Fear of not being believed is another underdiscussed yet potent inhibitor to victims considering whether to step forward, whether by filing a police report or going to the press.

I grew up poor with my single mom and we were short of money. To bring in some cash, my mom hooked me up with a job helping the janitor wash the blackboards after school at my junior high school. Looking back now, it was a situation perfect for an abuser: no one but an older male custodian and a 13-year-old boy in the otherwise empty building.

One afternoon the dude snuck behind me while I was working in a classroom and grabbed me, pinning my arms to my side. “Do you trust me?” he whispered in my ear. I remember his exact voice, the smell of his breath (alcohol, bourbon maybe). I felt his penis harden against my back.

I did not trust him.

But I told him I did, several times, and he believed me and let me go and I bounded exactly three steps toward the door, turned the knob and launched myself down the hall and flung myself down the stairs and hurled out the emergency exit, and I ran and ran and ran and it was so damn beautiful outside and I could hear the fire alarm ringing.

When my mom came home, I lied. I told her the job was over, the custodian no longer needed me.

Later a kid I didn’t know approached me at school. He might have been a year older. He asked me if I had worked for the dirty old janitor and whether he’d gone after me because the same thing had happened to him. I didn’t ask if he’d gone to the principal or told his parents and he didn’t ask me. It would have been the stupidest question in the world because no one would have believed us.

No one ever believed kids back then. About anything. The school administration wouldn’t have believed us about the English teacher who kept pot in his desk or the algebra teacher who seduced my friend or the driver’s ed instructor who grabbed my classmate’s breasts right in front of me and my best friend.

            We Gen X kids understood the world as it was: survival was up to us. Adults didn’t care; adults wouldn’t help. Decades later, when I told my mom that story, she admitted I was right. “I assumed you were lazy,” she said about my quitting the job.

If you’ve never been a victim of some kind, you may find this strange, but there is something worse than knowing (or suspecting) that you may not be believed, and that is coming forward and letting cops and courts and human resource officers decide for themselves, based on the evidence and their biases, whether they believe you or not.

As long as you keep your victimhood to yourself, you know your experience was real.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. 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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Rall v. LA Times: Now They Want Me To Pay Them $340,000

Hi, hope you’re enjoying the fall weather!
Here’s the latest on Rall v. LA Times.
As you may recall, the Times won their anti-SLAPP motion against me in LA Superior Court, and we are appealing that to the Court of Appeals.
We’re optimistic, but in the meantime the Times has filed their attorneys’ fees with the Court and is demanding that I pay them $340,000. That’s right — the LA Times defamed me, and now they’re abusing the law to try to bankrupt me!
There’s a court hearing about the Times’ insane legal bills on November 20; if you’d like to attend please let me know.
Among the highlights:
Times lawyer Kelli Sager charges $705 an hour to defend them against the people they libel, instead of simply publishing a retraction and an apology for their lies. No wonder newspapers are in financial trouble!
One of the defendant corporate entities, Tribune Media, ceased to relate to newspapers in a complicated restructuring that my previous lawyer didn’t know about. Sager was supposed to tell my former lawyer; that’s standard legal ethics. She didn’t. Yet she is billing more than $30,000 just defending that defendant…when she could simply have told my lawyer for the cost of a phone call.
If the Times wins on November 20th, they will likely go after the $75,000 bond posted in 2016 as a result of a previous court order. If that happens and I prevail at appeal, we’ll get it back.
Thank you for your support and, if you’ve been following the fight between Disney and the LA Times, remember: the LA Times are not First Amendment heroes.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Call H.R.? Why Not the Cops? The Weird Politics of Sexual Harassment

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5e/Kevin_Spacey_%40_San_Diego_Comic-Con_2008_-_b.jpg/170px-Kevin_Spacey_%40_San_Diego_Comic-Con_2008_-_b.jpg            When the Kevin Spacey story first broke, he stood accused of one act of wrongdoing: aggressively hitting on a 14-year-old boy.

If true, this is wrong. Very wrong. Obviously. Adults shouldn’t proposition children. But this happened more than 30 years ago. The nature of the response — Netflix distanced itself from the star of its hit show “House of Cards” by announcing its previously secret decision to end the series next year — seems like the wrong response to the actor’s behavior…and one that has become all too typical.

Bear in mind, this was before other people stepped forward to say Spacey had sexually harassed them. Some of Spacey’s accusers worked on “House of Cards.” After that, Netflix would have been derelict not to put Spacey on hiatus as the accusations get sorted out, and to fire him for creating a toxic work environment for its current employees. Which is what it did.

Sexual harassers getting their just comeuppance is a good thing. It is decades, centuries, millennia overdue. What I can’t figure is, why is the knee-jerk response to these accusations, the standard-issue form of social shaming in the 21st century, to fire them from their jobs — including jobs where they didn’t do anything wrong?

The NYPD may file criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein, whose name will for the forseeable future be preceded by the phrase “disgraced Hollywood producer.” But Weinstein is an exception. For most men accused of sexual harassment and assault during this post-Weinstein outcry, the standard demand is: fire him!

Depriving a man (or woman, if that happens) of their livelihood in response to piggishness seems both too little and too much.

For victims, the knowledge that their attacker lost their job hardly rises to the level of even minimal justice. Nor does it protect other women from falling prey as well. Any sanction short of a prison term for a rapist or a big-time sexual harasser is bound to feel trivial, as though society doesn’t weigh victimhood, as if victims are disposable.

For the falsely accused (e.g., the University of Virginia, probably also the Columbia student accused by a famously mattress-toting classmate), being deprived of a livelihood for a crime they didn’t commit is egregious. We live in a capitalist society without a minimal safety net, so losing your job can — if you are unable to find a new one — quite literally kill you.

Unless the incident occurs on the job, the connection between employment and sexual harassment and rape is as arbitrary and odd as that between employment and healthcare. If a society determines that healthcare is important, it should be available to everyone, not just workers fortunate enough to land a 40-hour-a-week job working at a company big enough to offer a health plan. Similarly, what does sexually harassing 30-plus years ago at a private party — yes, even a boy — have to do with Spacey’s then-current gig with Netflix?

It didn’t turn out to be the case, but try to imagine that the entire brief against Spacey had never expanded beyond Anthony Rapp’s tweet, which describes an incident that Spacey claims he doesn’t recall. It’s safe to say Spacey’s character on “House of Cards” would have been killed off. Spacey probably would have lost other jobs. He would likely have had trouble finding work in the future. You might say good, who cares? But this outcome would have been fair neither to Rapp nor to Spacey.

If Rapp is telling the truth, it would be better for that truth to be determined by the courts, should he decide to file charges. Statues of limitation are challenging in these cases, but the solution is for state legislatures to fix that problem, and for prosecutors to be induced to go after cases tougher than a slamdunk. As it is, political leaders are abdicating justice to social media lynch mobs and employers. There are also civil courts, where the standard of proof is lower.

As far as Spacey goes, is it ethical to take money out of his pocket over an accusation that has never been tried, much less proven, by a judge or jury?

On the other side of the coin, Fox News waited way too long to fire Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. I’m not typically sympathetic to corporations or their bottom lines, but if I’m the boss at a company, anyone who forces my organization to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement to a sexual harassment victim — because, let’s face it, corporations only pay when they’re guilty — is out the door before it happens again. Mark Halperin allegedly harassed women at ABC; ABC’s firing thus seems cut and dry.

Of the recent firings, NPR handled things better than most. Michael Oreskes hung on to his job as long as his accusers were out of his past, from his previous position at the New York Times. They let him go after a female NPR staffer said he’d harassed her.

These cases of sexual harassment and assault are more straightforward from a human-resources point of view: employers must not permit a hostile work environment. That requires them to fire harassers. But this does not go far enough. What of their victims? Is victims’ only recourse to sue in civil court, or try to get a book published? Here too, we need to adjust the criminal justice system to a post-“Mad Men” world that understands the toxic effects of workplace harassment. Bill O’Reilly probably misses his job, but he’s still rich and life goes on.

As I’ve written before, employers have way too much power over workers. While bosses have every right — and the duty — to fire those who abuse other employees at their current workplace, they shouldn’t be allowed to punish anyone for actions, no matter how heinous, that took place outside the workplace or at a previous job. Otherwise we wind up with insane politically-oriented censorship firings like the case of the neo-Nazi dude who never shared his views at his job at a pizzeria, yet got canned after he was photographed in Charlottesville, and the liberal woman whose marketing company employer let her go after she gave the finger to Trump’s motorcade — while biking, not at work.

Sexual harassers and assaulters should face prison time. So should false accusers. But bosses need to mind their own business — at their own business.

(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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: NYC Attack: Another Reason to Protect Bicycle & Pedestrian Paths

Image result for bike paths close to traffic

This week’s ISIS-inspired truck attack in lower Manhattan by Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov has prompted discussions on a number of fronts. There is blowback, the foreign-policy-chickens-come-home-to-roost indicated by an increasing number of radical Islamists emerging from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation whose brutal dictatorship is financed and armed by our U.S. taxdollars.

There is the ongoing verbal diarrhea of our mentally diseased president, whose tweets that Saipov deserves the “DEATH PENALTY” (caps his) were overshadowed by his even more outlandish suggestion that the suspect be reclassified as an “enemy combatant” (a Bush-era phrase undefined by American law) and sent to the U.S. torture-concentration camp at Guantánamo. Always the opportunist, Trump also said the “diversity visa” program ought to be abolished because Saipov came to the U.S. under what is more commonly known as the visa lottery.

Seems to me that the biggest issue raised by the New York attack is the one we’re not talking about: the need to protect bicyclists from cars and trucks on public roadways.

Saipov drove his rented Home Depot truck down the West Side Highway onto what becomes West Street, the six-lane road that follows the Hudson River in Manhattan. At Houston Street, just south of Greenwich Village, he made a quick right and a quick left onto the joint pedestrian-bike path that runs alongside the highway. There he mowed down cyclists and pedestrians, killing eight people.

Those eight people aren’t dead solely due to Saipov. They were also killed by the City of New York and its lousy urban planning.

Though in recent years there has been considerable progress in terms of setting aside asphalt for bike paths, walkways and urban parklets in New York and many American other cities, city officials seem largely oblivious to the risks of placing soft human bodies in close proximity to speeding cars, SUVs and trucks.

New York, where I live, is one of numerous cities to report success with bike-rental programs. Ours is called Citibike; you rent a bike from a kiosk and return it to a docking station near your destination. In between you make your way down and across city streets, where cars and trucks rule.

I almost understand the city’s reluctance to dedicate a bike lane to, or to dedicate entire streets to, along smaller crosstown thoroughfares. They’re too narrow; you’d have to eliminate a lot of street parking, which would create more congestion. But the way New York has handled bike lanes along big boulevards is nothing short of inexplicable.

Nothing separates the bike lane from motor vehicle traffic but a line of white paint or, in some cases, short plastic sticks. Forget terrorism — hype aside, terrorism kills so few people that the only rational way for individuals to respond to it is to ignore it and live your life. It’s the ordinary accidents that worry me: two cars collide, one or both lose control and enter the bike path. It happens all the time in New York and elsewhere.

The West Street path where Saipov murdered his victims benefits from a short jersey barrier along the automobile section. But it’s easily accessible to even a large truck driven by a person of ill will, as we saw a few days ago — not to mention the random drunk who thinks it’s a service road. And it contains yet another ridiculous design flaw: putting pedestrians and bicyclists in the same space. Cyclists weave between walkers, terrifying them. Walkers are oblivious to cyclists, creating more accidents. Each deserve safe, discrete spaces to enjoy the outdoors.

What’s maddening about this is that this is the kind of tragedy that is predictable and easy to avoid with minimal expense. Bike paths running adjacent to traffic should be separated by solid concrete or metal barriers between intersections. At intersections, a series of metal bars wide enough to allow bikes to pass through but too narrow for cars, and solid enough to stop one traveling fast, should be installed.

The same precautions should be taken along densely-populated urban streets in order to protect pedestrians. In May 2017 a man high on PCP drove on a sidewalk in Times Square, killing a woman and leaving more than dozen others injured. But it would have been worse had his vehicle not been blocked by a bollard. Sturdy metal barriers should be installed along busy streets to protect pedestrians from out-of-control cars; at intersections they should go with those poles I mentioned above.

You can’t protect everyone. You can’t anticipate every nefarious plot. But disasters that are predictable, easy to avoid or mitigate, and relatively inexpensive are a no-brainer.

(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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: #MenToo? Even Under Matriarchy, Rape and Sexual Harassment Would Still Be a Big Problem

Image result for men get raped

Post-Harvey Weinstein, the pitchforks are out — and with good reason. Women and girls have been diminished, objectified, exploited, terrorized, discriminated against, sexually harassed forever. Only fools thought sexism and misogyny at the hands of male oppression had been eliminated, but many people had reason to assume things had improved post-Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, when “male chauvinist pig” became a sit-com meme. Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly et al. demonstrate that, at the apex of the power structure, nothing really changed.

And that’s the point of this column, which I was reluctant to write for fear of being accused of minimizing the righteous anger of the women stepping forward to say enough, no more. Rape culture — the insidious vapor that women wade through every day, whether it’s inappropriate sexist or sexual remarks, gauging whether it’s safe to take their boss up on an offer for drinks that could lead to a promotion, and/or an unwanted sexual advance, or hesitating to tell a wolf-whistling construction worker where he can stick it because he could break her face without breaking a sweat — does not afflict men to any significant extent. Men feel fear walking down a city street at 1 a.m. in a bad neighborhood; women feel it all the time in every neighborhood.

Rape culture only afflicts women. But rape cuts across gender. One out of ten rape victims in the United States is male, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

This echoes what I was told as a member of a committee when I was a student. Barnard College, where I lived in a dorm, had recently established a rape crisis center with about 10 counselors. Someone brought up a surprising statistic. The campus security office reported that 10% of rape victims at Columbia University were male. (They didn’t say the sex of the attackers.) When I suggested that the crisis center might want to consider hiring one counselor with expertise with male victims, however, the other committee members laughed — all of them except the other guy.

To the extent that society discusses this hidden 10 percent — or, if you believe the 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38 percent! — the cliché is males raping males. Yet the BJS found that 46 percent of victims reported being raped by a woman.

No one can credibly minimize the devastating impact of sexual assault and harassment on the vast majority of victims, who are women. But, as inadequate as it is, there is awareness, and infrastructure, and sympathy for female rape victims. Can you imagine, as a man, trying to file a report with the police that you’d been sexually assaulted by a woman?

Given male anatomy that requires an erection for penetration, how can a woman rape a man? Well, she can. Really. As with female rape victims, physical arousal in men can be stimulated involuntarily. Don’t forget the effects of drugs, alcohol and psychological manipulation.

What about men’s superior upper body strength? Men are stronger on average. But many individual women are stronger, and some individual men are weaker, than the average. Sometimes there are multiple attackers. It happened to me.

To most guys even, getting jumped by two women sounds like a “Dear Mr. Guccione, I never thought I’d be writing this letter” scenario. But not every dude wants it all the time, no guy wants it from every woman, and sometimes you’re just not feeling it with a woman whom you might find appealing under different circumstances. Every “unwanted sexual advance” is unwanted until and unless it gets accepted; the trouble starts when the advancer refuses to take no for an answer, as happened in my situation, and it escalates when they get angry or vengeful. Like most men, I was socially programmed, Robocop Directive 4-style, never to lay a hand on a woman. I was lucky; I barely managed to escape my attackers, pants dragging on the floor, without hitting anyone.

It was easy to imagine another outcome: succumbing to rape or, worse, being charged with assault for defending myself. This happens to women too, of course — but it’s harder for male victims to mount a credible legal defense.

Similarly, men also fall prey to harassment in the workplace. I have been fired from two jobs, each after I had refused my female boss’ sexual advances. They cited other pretexts, but I’m sure that I would have lasted longer had I put out.

Many of Harvey Weinstein’s victims tell stories of turning up for a meeting hopeful that a connection with a high-powered producer could score them a great role in a cool movie, only to find that the only thing he wanted was sex. For those who got out of his hotel room without him touching them, the experience was degrading and a waste of time.

I get it. One night in the 1980s, the car service that took me home late from my job at a New York bank asked if I’d share a vehicle because heavy rain had made taxi scarce. I was in my early 20s. My taxi companion, a woman in her 40s, informed me that she was a top bank official looking to hire a new officer and invited me to lunch to discuss my career. At lunch, however, she made an indecent proposal: she’d put me on salary to a job I’d never have to show up to as long as I became her live-in boy toy. She didn’t threaten or grab my bits. But she wasted my time and my self-esteem. Was my body all this high-powered executive saw of worth in me?

When I confide this story, reactions range from incredulity — you should have gone for it! — to derision. Sounds hot! Dismissal, men who have been there will tell you, is typical. Former professional bicyclist Joe Papp told me he was “sexually harassed and then assaulted  (groped, kissed against my will) by [an] inebriated female colleague. One other female colleague present. Reported it to ownership next day — they laughed.”

Pundits point to Weinstein and Hollywood’s male-dominated executive suites as central to the propagation of rape culture. “To solve the problem, Hollywood needs new executives and decision-makers: women,” Adam Epstein writes at Qwartz. “Nothing of substance will get done until there are more women bosses in every department, and at every level, of the film business.” Gender equality is great — but it won’t eliminate sexual harassment and assault. According to one study, one-third of American men report being sexually harassed in their workplace during the last year.

As Roxane Gay wrote in The New York Times, “Sexual violence is about power. There is a sexual component, yes, but mostly it’s about someone exerting his or her will over another and deriving pleasure and satisfaction from that exertion.”

You could transform America into a matriarchy. It might be great. But it wouldn’t free us from rape or sexual harassment.

Only a revolution against inequality could do that.

(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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Girls in the Boy Scouts Feels Weird

Related image

I’m not a traditionalist. Progress is good. The fact that we’ve always done something a certain way is no argument for continuing to do it the same way.

I’m not a fan of single-sex environments, whether they be schools, workplaces or civic organizations. I’ve worked in all-male spaces (a Wall Street trading room, a taxi garage) and found the testosterone-fueled machismo toxic and thoughtless. I lived in a 99% female college dorm and worked in a 80% female office (banking consultancy); there was oppression there too, in a more groupthink conform-or-die way (like in the movie “The Beguiled,” but less murderous and more inane). The majority gender always discriminates against the minority.

So after it was announced that girls will be allowed to join the Boy Scouts, I wondered: why does this decision feel so weird? Not so much a bridge too far — objectively, admitting transgender Scouts earlier this year, and gays in 2013, felt more radical but also exactly like the right thing to do — as much as pointless and poorly executed.

As an only child raised by a single mom, and who saw my father six hours a week, I thrived in the male energy of Boy Scouting. Someone wrote that a father is a parent who doesn’t mother. That’s what I loved about it. At Woodland Trails scout reservation the troop leaders sat around drinking beer while we chased each other with pointy sticks, set fires with few regards for safety protocols and blundered into mayhem, like the time members of my patrol burned wood covered with poison oak and half the guys breathed in the smoke.

You see what I mean about stupidity and testosterone.

The world is mixed-gender. If the argument is that scouting prepares young people for adulthood, then gender segregation should go because it’s counterproductive and sets the stage for the same-sex sexual abuse scandals that have already occurred. Seen through that lens, a merger of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts into one mixed-gender youth organization would have made sense.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead of striking a decisive blow against sexism, the BSA “blindsided” the Girl Scouts without consulting with the group in advance, according to the latter group’s spokesperson, deploying a policy change that seems intended to boost the BSA’s sagging membership by poaching girls who are more into camping than making stuff in someone’s house. “If you have a mom who’s really into crafts and girlie stuff and being a princess, then that’s what your Girl Scout troop is going to be like. If you have a daughter who’s more rough and tumble, it’s not going to be a good fit,” Rebecca Szetela, a mother of four from Canton, Michigan, told The New York Times.

Oddly the BSA, historically more politically right-wing than the relatively progressive Girl Scouts, continues to prohibit atheist and agnostic kids from joining the organization.

Where there were once two, easy to digest options for kids, now there will be two and a half: Boy Scouts (for boys and girls), and Girl Scouts (girls only).

BSA is about to begin a transition period. Initially there will be a parallel girls-only program within Boy Scouts in which those girls who want to do so can earn the same Eagle Scout award I got at age 16. Unless that blows up somehow, I’d expect a full gender merger after 2020 or so, followed by the BSA dropping the “B” for Boy and simply becoming Scouts of America, or just Scouting.

That will leave the girls-only Girl Scouts, currently at 1.6 million members to the BSA’s 2.3 million, out in the cold — doomed to a slow fade or forced to fold shop and integrate their members into the Scouting Borg.

From the insane continuation of the Boy Scouts’ ban on atheists and agnostics (why force religion on an 11-year-old?) to their embarrassing decision to let Donald “You know life. You know life. So—look at you” Trump speak at their Jamboree, to this out-of-the-blue stab in the back to Girl Scouting, it’s evident that the national leadership is badly in need of clues.

The idea of girl Boy Scouts is novel — and it required a smooth rollout preceded by careful explanation of the pros and cons for all kids and for both organizations. Instead, a big change was dropped on our laps without any preparation or the cooperation of the girls’ organization. The end result comes off as unwarranted, motivated by ill will and just plain silly.

After the way they announced it, girls in the Boy Scouts makes almost as much sense as allowing Republicans to vote in a Democratic primary.

(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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Lawsuit Update

It has been a while since I filled you in on what’s going on with my lawsuit, so if you’ve been wondering, here’s what’s what.

The original judge in my case, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, retired. That was a bummer for me because she seemed to understand the case and its importance, and for the most part, she ruled in my favor. LA Superior Court handed the LA Times’ anti-SLAPP motion against me over to a temporary substitute judge, a retired gentleman brought back for a few months in order to help the court dig out of its formidable backlog. Judge Joseph Kalin informed us that he had over 500 cases on his docket. He also said that he had read all of the documents in my case over the previous week. Considering that they are over a foot high and amount to thousands of pages, call me skeptical. No human being could possibly handle all that work.

Adding to the challenge was getting sabotaged by my own lawyers. Rather than send a seasoned litigator to argue the crucial anti-SLAPP hearings (of which three were scheduled), Shegerian & Associates sent a junior associate just a few of years out of law school to argue against Times attorney Kelli Sager, a veteran litigator with decades of experience at a major white-shoe law firm that represents giant corporations trying to crush workers. She was timid, unprepared and failed to fight back when Sager said things that simply weren’t true. Unsurprisingly, the judge ruled against me.

With two more hearings to go, I asked the firm to send out the litigator that we had agreed upon. Carney Shegerian responded with a Notice of Termination. That’s right: my own lawyer fired me! It’s not because I was rude or anything like that. I wasn’t. I don’t know why he did it but I do know that other lawyers tell me that this kind of behavior, dumping a client right before a crucial hearing, is highly unethical.

I managed to find a new attorney in time for the next hearing, but Judge Kalin refused to grant me a continuance to allow my new lawyer time to familiarize himself with my case, and forced me to do my own oral argument. Naturally, the Times lawyer didn’t grant me the basic courtesy of a continuance. All along, they have been playing by scorched-earth tactics.

OK, so I did better than the junior litigator: the judge acknowledged that I had told the truth about my jaywalking arrest in 2001. Which means that the Times never should have written those two articles libeling me and that they should have retracted them and that they should have hired me back immediately. Instead, Judge Kalin ruled that, as a newspaper, the First Amendment gives the Times the right to publish anything, even lies, because of the anti-SLAPP law. Strike two.

Now we go to the Court of Appeals, where we will ask the Court to reverse Judge Kalin’s ruling.

I have a sharp new legal team for the appeal: appellate attorney Jeff Lewis and trial lawyer Roger Lowenstein. We’ve been strategizing and I feel we have a strong case base on the both the content and the spirit of the law, not to mention precedent.

We are drafting our appellate brief, which for anti-SLAPP the court considers de novo, or without consideration for the lower-court ruling. Then the Times gets to respond. Then the court sets a hearing date. Best guess right now is that the appeal will be heard in mid-2018.

If we prevail at that stage, then the case really begins: discovery, subpoenas, depositions of Times employees, etc. If we lose, that’s it. And I’ll owe the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars in THEIR legal fees. Anti-SLAPP is brutal and desperately needs reform to stop these megacorporations from abusing it to crush individual plaintiffs.

In the meantime, I will be incurring substantial costs related to the case, so if you feel inclined to support my fight against the collusion between the LA Times and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, you can help out at http://gofundme.com/tedrall.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Would the U.S. Look Like If We Built It From Scratch?

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Imagine that there was another revolution. And that nothing big had changed. Demographics, power dynamics, culture, our economic system and political values were pretty much the same as they are now. If we Americans rolled up our sleeves and reimagined our political system from scratch, if we wrote up a brand-new constitution for 2017, what would a brand-spanking-new United States Version 2.0 look like today?

A lot of stuff would be different. Like, there wouldn’t be an electoral college. (Only a handful of countries, mainly autocracies in the developing world, do.)

There probably wouldn’t be a Second Amendment; if there were, it would certainly be limited to the right to own pistols and hunting weapons. And the vast majority of gun owners believe in regulations like background checks.

Does anyone believe we would choose the two-party duopoly over the multiparty parliamentary model embraced by most of the world’s representative democracies?

Our leaders fail us in innumerable ways, but perhaps their worst sin is to accept things they way they are simply because that’s the way they have always been. Whether in government or business or a family, the best way to act is determined by careful consideration of every possibility, not by succumbing to inertia. Don’t just imagine — reimagine.

We live in the best country in the world. That’s what our teachers taught us, our politicians can’t stop saying (even the critical ones), and so most Americans believe it too.

But it isn’t true, not by most measures.

Americans suffer from drastic income inequality, massive adult and child poverty, an atrocious healthcare system, higher education affordable only to the rich, blah blah blah. Plus the candidate who gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily get to be president. It doesn’t have to be this way. We just need a little imagination.

Probably because I have a foreign-born parent and thus dual citizenship, and also because I have been fortunate enough to visit a lot of other countries, I bring an internationalist perspective to my political writing and cartoons. Like RFK I don’t accept things how they are. I imagine how things could be. Why shouldn’t we learn from China’s ability to build infrastructure? Why can’t we improve food quality standards like the EU? Aiming for the best possible result ought to be the standard for our politicians. For citizens too.

New New York Times columnist Bret Stephens called for repealing the Second Amendment following the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. His piece made a splash because he’s a conservative. Setting aside whether banning guns is a good idea, no one followed his suggestion to its logical conclusion: it won’t happen. Not just because guns are popular (which they are), or of the influence of the NRA’s congressional lobbyists (who are formidable), but because it’s impossible to amend the constitution over any matter of substance. In fact, the U.S. has the hardest-to-amend constitution in the world.

Girls can join the Boy Scouts and women can fight our wars, yet we live in a country that never passed the Equal Rights Amendment. We The People have moved past our ossified, stuck-in-1789 Constitution.

So has the rest of the world. In days of yore, when the U.S. was still that shining city on a hill, newly independent nations modeled their constitutions on ours. No more. Rejecting our antiquated constitution because it guarantees fewer rights than most people believe humans are entitled to, freshly-minted countries like South Sudan instead turn to documents like the European Union Convention on Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Other nations replace their constitutions completely an average of every 19 years. By global standards, our 228-year-old charter is ancient. More recent constitutions cover the right of every citizen to education, food and healthcare. Unlike ours, they guarantee the right of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I’m not suggesting that we convene a second constitutional convention. Not now! Two hundred twenty-eight years ago they had Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; we have Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan. This political class isn’t fit to rubberstamp a routine raising of the debt limit, much less figure out how this More Perfect Union could become new and improved.

I’m saying: it’s time to shed the illusion of the U.S. as some cute wet-behind-the-ears nation-come-lately. The frontier has been conquered. Even though 97% of Puerto Ricans want in, there will be no new states. In spirit and by chronology we are old, old as the hills, old like Old Europe, and we’ve gotten stuck in our ways. If we don’t want to get even more fogeyish and dysfunctional and incapable of progress, we have got to consider things with fresh eyes.

Look at a map. Would anyone sane divide administrative districts into 50 states whose populations and sizes varied as much as inconsequential Delaware and ungovernable California?

Citizens of Washington D.C. can’t vote in presidential or gubernatorial elections. Why the hell not?

You can fight and kill in the military at age 18. But you can’t drown your PTSD in beer before age 21. And you can’t rent a car until you’re 25. WTF?

Oh, and we can probably do away with that part of the Bill of Rights about not having to billet troops in your home.

(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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hugh Hefner Said His Critics Were Prudes and Puritans. The Negative Obits Prove Him Right.

 

No one has ever accused Ross Douthat of excessive astuteness. “Donald Trump isn’t going to be the Republican nominee,” he wrote in January 2016. Dude is paid to prognosticate politics. Even so, Douthat probably pulls down six figures at The New York Times, which doesn’t grant me the courtesy of a rejection letter. So people pay attention to him.

Hugh Hefner’s death didn’t move me. Penthouse was my print media stimulus of choice. I only read Playboy after the magazine’s late delightful cartoons director Michelle Urry commissioned some samples during her campaign to update the magazine’s hoary cartoon section with edgier, more political work. (Alas, those weird Marxist sex cartoons are lost to history.)

The worst cartoon editors are former aspiring cartoonists. Hef was one of those; he killed my stuff for being too edgy and political.

But Hefner sure managed to rile up Douthat.

“Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with Quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself,” Douthat wrote upon the Playboy founder’s passing.

As if syphilis hadn’t existed pre-Hef.

Or abortion.

Or porn, for that matter.

Banging out an all-out assault so shrill it would come off as over-the-top if it concerned Charles Manson, Douthat even blames Hefner for the sins of the political class: “Liberals should ask why their crusade for freedom and equality found itself with such a captain, and what his legacy says about their cause. Conservatives should ask how their crusade for faith and family and community ended up so Hefnerian itself — with a conservative news network that seems to have been run on Playboy Mansion principles and a conservative party that just elected a playboy as our president.”

Get real: I never met a liberal who considered Hefner a leader, much less the captain, of liberalism. And where exactly are these devout family-values crusading conservatives? Sending other people’s kids off to kill Middle Easterners for fun and profit, or pimping trickle-down economic BS to benefit their rich patrons?

I align myself neither with liberals nor conservatives nor Hefner. Honestly, though: the vituperative nature of so many Hefner postmortems have done more to validate Hefner’s claim that his critics were prudes and anti-sex identity feminists than everything he ever said or did.

There is more than a little ageism in these “The Loin in Winter” depictions of a porn entrepreneur who lived too long, couldn’t figure out the Internet and counted out his final years like a male Norma Desmond in the fading grandeur of a decaying Playboy Mansion, in denial that the culture had moved past him. Douthat opined: “Early Hef had a pipe and suit and a highbrow reference for every occasion; he even claimed to have a philosophy, that final refuge of the scoundrel. But late Hef was a lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan, playing at perpetual boyhood — ice cream for breakfast, pajamas all day — while bodyguards shooed male celebrities away from his paid harem and the skull grinned beneath his papery skin.”

A disgusting depiction — one that reflects upon its author more than its target.

Hef’s passing prompted a few genuinely positive assessments of the man and his product, like this from the refreshing Camille Paglia: “Pornography is not a distortion. It is not a sexist twisting of the facts of life but a kind of peephole into the roiling, primitive animal energies that are at the heart of sexual attraction and desire…It must be remembered that Hefner was a gifted editor who knew how to produce a magazine that had great visual style and that was a riveting combination of pictorial with print design. Everything about Playboy as a visual object, whether you liked the magazine or not, was lively and often ravishing.”

But most post-Hefs were like Peggy Drexler in CNN: “The terms of [Hefner’s] rebellion undeniably depended on putting women in a second-class role. It was the women, after all, whose sexuality was on display on the covers and in the centerfolds of his magazine, not to mention hanging on his shoulder, practically until the day he died.”

True enough. But not really fair.

Porn is weird.

Porn commodifies women, reducing them to flat 2-D imagery crafted to titillate. If you feel dirty after you use to it to masturbate, it’s because you feel at least a little guilty about the high probability that the women in those photos and videos almost certainly wouldn’t expose themselves if they didn’t really need the money. Yet Drexler misses that visuals are key to sexual attraction, and that includes the way hetero women assess men based on their physical appearance. We are all commodified by this culture of consumption and relationships based at least in part on mutual opportunism and exploitation.

Really-existing feminists rarely frame their critiques of pornography where it belongs, within the construct of a slave-labor capitalism in which construction workers and yoga teachers and professional athletes and UPS workers and cartoonists wear down their bodies for cash — or starve.

Largely divided between anti-Hefner obits and anti-Hefner obits that give the marketing genius his editorial due, what shines through is a deep discomfort with sex in mainstream American media. What is wrong with a 91-year-old man, even if he looks 91 and resorts to Viagra, viewing himself as a sexual being? Or a 101-year-old woman?

May we all be so alive until we are just dead.

Why does Douthat assume we should share his revulsion when he describes Hef as “a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies”? The aesthetics may not be yours, but the choices were his — which is as it should be. (On the other hand, criticism of Hefner seems legitimate when it attacks the man as manipulative of women in his orbit.)

As Paglia says, “Second-wave feminism went off the rails when it was totally unable to deal with erotic imagery, which has been a central feature of the entire history of Western art ever since Greek nudes.”

Relax. It’s just sex.

(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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Pledge of Allegiance is anti-American

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Right-wingers conflate nationalism with patriotism. But they’re not the same thing. Patriots love their country because it does good things; for nationalists it’s our country right or wrong. A lot of stuff nationalists call patriotic couldn’t possibly be more un-American.

The singing of the national anthem before sporting events, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, are prime examples.

The latest nationalism vs. patriotism controversy arrives courtesy of Colin Kaepernick, the African-American pro football player blackballed by the NFL for kneeling in silent protest over police shootings of blacks rather than stand for the signing of the national anthem alongside his teammates and fans before games. The “take a knee” movement has spread throughout the league, largely in response to President Trump’s crude remark that those who refuse to stand during “The Star Spangled Banner” are “sons of bitches.”

At football games and similar events where the anthem is sung, standers far outnumber kneelers — and that’s weird. Because if one person is kneeling against police brutality, then it stands to reason that standing up means you support cops gunning down unarmed black people. Are there really that many racists?

That, and when you stop to think about it, the whole idea of rote rituals to prove our loyalty run completely counter to what most Americans, liberal or conservative, think their country is about.

As I have written before, lefties and righties don’t have the same ambitions for the U.S. Following the tradition of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Left idealizes individual rights. They dream of a country where everyone is not only created equal, but treated accordingly. The Right values empire. Rightists’ ideal America is a global military and economic superpower.

Still, the two sides have something in common. They want to be left alone, to live their lives as free of government interference as possible. Progressives want the government out of their bedrooms. Traditionalists want it out of their incomes. Totalitarianism — a form of government whose control over citizens’ daily lives leads to the requirement that everyone attend one meeting after another and report dissent to the authorities — could no more catch on here than North Korean-style displays of signs flipped by synchronized flags or parades of military hardware (though Trump wants to start those).

Like the singing of the anthem at games, the Pledge of Allegiance reflects a totalitarian impulse you find in fascist and authoritarian regimes, not democracies. The U.S. and Canada are the only countries on earth where national anthems are played at the start of sporting events. Even in many authoritarian states, the requirement that children (and athletes) swear fealty to the nation (or, as here, its flag) would be considered too creepy to contemplate.

When your country is crazier than Zimbabwe, it’s time to take stock — even if you’re a Republican.

Other nations require oaths of allegiance from those taking public office, like members of parliament. Some ask the same of foreigners seeking to become naturalized citizens. But the U.S. may be the only nation on earth to have a widely-used pledge of allegiance.

Children who refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance are routinely punished, criticized and ostracized, even in public schools. I know — it happened to me in elementary school. Kaepernick, a top-tier athlete, has been denied employment. These are obvious violations of the all-American value of free speech and expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The addition of “under God” in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy era and its rancid loyalty oaths, further violates another core principle of Americanism, the freedom to worship as you please or not at all as protected under the Establishment Clause of the US. Constitution.

In one respect, however, the Pledge of Allegiance owes its origins to something that couldn’t be more American: a huckster out to make a few extra bucks.

Why do Americans pledge allegiance to the “flag,” as opposed to the nation or its government? It boils down to capitalist greed. The origins of the Pledge date to 1892, when James B. Upham, the marketing executive of the popular children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion used the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas to promote a conference in honor of the American flag. He pushed the Pledge in his magazine as a way to promote nationalism and sell flags to public schools. Schoolhouses purchased 26,000 flags the first year alone.

Kids reciting the pledge were supposed to raise their arms at the same time — yep, the Hitler “sieg heil” salute before Hitler. World War II put an end to that in American schools.

Having traveled extensively, I have observed that the countries whose governments insist upon the most extravagant displays of nationalism line up neatly with those with the least personal freedom. In authoritarian China and the police state of Turkmenistan, national flags and banners extolling slogans and quotes of the ruling party festoon every government office and pedestrian overpass. As Turkey moves away from democracy and closer to autocracy, Turkish flag stickers multiply on automobiles.

It is the opposite in the European democracies. A Frenchman who hung a French flag from his front porch would be ridiculed by his neighbors, socialist and Le Pen supporter alike. It is not that the French and the Dutch and the Spanish and other Europeans do not love their countries as much as Americans do; if anything, most Europeans are grateful that their countries are not like ours. They are patriots. And they remember World War II, when those who liked to wave flags and insisted on loyalty oaths to the state turned out to be dangerous.

Everyone should sit out the singing of the national anthem. It’s archaic and uncomfortably reminiscent of fascism.

It is time to leave the Pledge of Allegiance where it belongs, on the dungheap of history, remembered as a clever way to move piles of colored cloth.

(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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