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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Don’t Fall for the First Amendment = Free Speech Trick

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Like climate change, this is one of those problems I keep expecting people to wise up about but — because they never do — it keeps getting worse.

Thus this tutorial.

The problem is that too many Americans conflate the First Amendment with free speech.

You see it when people discuss the current social-media crackdown against controversial right-wing radio talk show host Alex Jones and his website InfoWars. Jones was banned by Facebook, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Apple and Spotify, and more recently suspended by Twitter for one week. Writing in The New Yorker Steve Coll mocked Jones for calling himself the victim of “a war on free speech.”

“Such censorship is not unconstitutional,” Coll reminds readers. “The First Amendment protects us against governmental intrusions; it does not (yet) protect speech on privately owned platforms.”

The U.S. government is rarely in a position to censor Americans’ freedom of expression. Because the vast majority of censorship is carried about by non-government entities (like the social media companies blocking Jones) the First Amendment only bans a tiny portion of censorship.

Some government agencies do censor the press. A federal judge ordered The New York Times to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The LAPD, whose pension fund owned part of the parent company of The Los Angeles Times and was angry about my work criticizing its brutality and incompetence, ordered the Times to fire me as its cartoonist. They complied. Annoyed by an editorial in the local paper criticizing them for conducting random searches of high school students at basketball games using dogs, the police in Baker City, Oregon created a fake dossier of crimes committed by the editorial writer, which they used to get him fired from his job.

These cases are covered by the First Amendment. But they are outliers.

We can’t protect existing rights if we don’t understand the current parameters of the law. New rights arise from unfulfilled political needs and desires; we can’t fight for expanded protections without defining what is lacking yet desired. Schoolchildren and student journalists, both public and private, are constantly running up against censorship by teachers and administrators. Employers constrain political speech, obscenity and other forms of expression on the job. These are free speech but not First Amendment issues.

In recent decades opponents of free speech, mostly but not exclusively on the right, have relentlessly conflated First Amendment debates with those over free speech. The effect has been to reduce society’s expectations of how much freedom we ought to have to express ourselves.

Take the Jones case.

Writing for the website Polygon, Julia Alexander provides us with a boilerplate (liberal) response to Jones and his allies’ complaints that the big social media companies are suppressing his free speech. First she described some of the episodes that prompted banning Jones, such as pushing PizzaGate and Sandy Hook shooting denialism. Then she pounces: “It’s not a freedom of speech issue, nor one of censorship,” Alexander writes. “The First Amendment…gives American citizens the freedom of speech…The United States government isn’t bringing the hammer down on Jones. This isn’t a political issue, as badly as Jones might want to pretend otherwise.”

See what Alexander did? In just a few sentences she squeezes and smooshes the extremely broad practice of “censorship” into the relatively tiny box of “the U.S. government…bringing the hammer down.” I don’t mean to pick on her — I’ve seen this same exact ball of sophistry used over and over by countless other pundits.

Of course Twitter, Facebook et al. are censoring Jones. Of course the First Amendment doesn’t cover him here. Obviously it’s a freedom of speech issue. The question — the question pro-censorship folks like Alexander doesn’t want us to ask — is, is it right?

For what is right is not always what is legal (see: slavery). Alex Jones and his allies may or not be legit. Their political arguments often are not. But the question they’re asking here is legit and important: should companies like YouTube have the power to suppress speech — any kind of speech?

Alexander ends with a message you ought to find chilling: “Don’t publish vile content, and your video will probably be a-ok.”

“Probably”?

Who gets to define “vile”? Alexander? Mark Zuckerberg, apparently.

Obviously it is a political issue. But that’s not the main point here.

Free speech used to belong to the man with the means to buy ink by the barrel. Now you can buy a newspaper for pennies on the dollar, but who will read it? Much if not most of the political debate in our civic life takes place on platforms owned, controlled and censored by the companies blocking Jones’ content. They write and enforce their own rules. As private companies they are unaccountable to we, the people. We don’t know how they make censorship decisions or who makes them.

Perhaps this is a splendid state of affairs. Maybe Americans don’t mind surrendering control of political debate to faceless tech giants.

Whatever we decide, however, we deserve a transparent discussion. We ought not to let ourselves be fooled into falsely equating free speech to the First Amendment. Free speech means exactly that: everyone and anyone can say anything at all, anywhere they please, to anyone.

Every First Amendment case is a free speech issue. But only a tiny fraction of free speech issues is a First Amendment case.

(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.)

Distributed by Creators Syndicate

(C) 2018 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat to the Republic? Not Even Close.

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This past week more than 300 American newspapers colluded — if the word fits… — to simultaneously publish editorials declaring themselves, contra Trump, not “the enemy of the people.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it too did not consider the press to be, in a phrase that evokes the rhetoric of the former Soviet Union, state enemies.

The Boston Globe organized this journalistic flash mob.

“The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful,” the Globe‘s editorial board wrote. “To label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.” President Trump has repeatedly derided the media as “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news” on Twitter and at campaign rallies.

The First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, the Globe wrote, “has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.”

Is it really?

The surprise election of Donald Trump has elicited more the-sky-is-falling handwringing than any other political event in my lifetime (I will turn 55 next week). Very Serious People have warned in Big Important Newspapers that the rise of Trump harkens the transformation of the U.S., and other Western democracies, into fascist states. Even before he took office, the ACLU called Trump “a one-man constitutional crisis.”

No doubt, Trump’s rhetoric evokes the president’s authoritarian instincts: deriding his foes as anti-American, calling for and ordering mass deportations, supporting torture, and yes, press-bashing showcase the mindset of a man who doesn’t support democratic values and probably doesn’t even know much about the history or philosophy behind them.

But let’s separate Trump’s crude rally remarks and crass online rants from his Administration’s policies. What is he actually doing? How does his day-to-day governance represent a radical departure from the norms established by presidential precedents?

When you set aside Trump’s talk in order to focus instead on his walk, it is hard to conclude that he is an outlier by American standards. A better analogy, a friend observes, is Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer commonly associated with AIDS. It can kill you. But it’s not the main reason you’re having problems.

In other words, Trump isn’t — despite what 300-plus newspaper editorial boards would have us think — a root cause of American crisis. He is a symptom of preexisting conditions. This is important. Because if we delude ourselves into thinking that getting rid of Trump will fix what ails us, things will only get worse.

Running down the list of what offends people about Trump, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before — and ignored when other presidents did them.

Trump stands accused of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election. There is still zero evidence that this happened. It’s still just vague insinuations leaked to newspapers with histories of cozying up to the CIA-FBI-NSA by anonymous CIA-FBI-NSA spooks.

There is, on the other hand, ample evidence that Ronald Reagan colluded with Iran to delay the release of the 52 American embassy hostages held in Tehran in order to destroy Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.

Richard Nixon colluded with a shadowy Taiwanese business executive with ties to South Vietnam in order to scuttle the Johnson Administration’s last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between South and North Vietnam just before the 1968 election. Nixon squeaked by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by 0.7%. LBJ said Nixon was guilty of “treason,” but nothing happened.

Trump has been criticized for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including separation of children from their parents, and rightly so.

But there is nothing new about Trump’s actions on immigration. Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, George W. Bush deported 10 million and Obama deported 5 million. (Obama’s numbers were lower but more robust because he ordered ICE to charge illegal immigrants as criminals. They faced prison if they returned. Previous presidents merely sent them home on buses and planes.)

As the National Immigration Law Center points out, “President Trump is exploiting the tools and infrastructure set in place by previous administrations to (1) expand the definition of who should be banned and deported and (2) militarize federal agencies and build up the deportation machine.”

Separating children from their parents at the border began under Obama, albeit in smaller numbers.

Trump has legitimized the “alt-right,” i.e. the psychotic right-wingers we used to call Nazis, Klansmen and fascists. Even after a fascist murdered a woman and injured others at an alt-right riot in Charlottesville, the president wallowed in false equivalence: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Coddling racists is disgusting. But it’s not new to American politics.

During the 1990s then-First Lady Hillary Clinton called some African-American youth “superpredators.”

Reagan relied on racist dog-whistles during his 1980 campaign, which he launched in the small Mississippi town where the Klan murdered four Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “I believe in states’ rights,” Reagan said. States right was political code for supporting racial segregation.

Reagan also referred to Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps on the campaign trail.

On substance, legislation and regulation, Donald Trump is virtually indistinguishable from his predecessors, many of whom are responsible for far more serious attacks on democracy.

George W. Bush alone is guilty of far more heinous crimes. He introduced the dangerous explosion of “signing statements” in which the president signs a bill into law and then crosses his fingers behind his back, secretly ordering that the law not be enforced. And he invaded Iraq preemptively, an extreme violation of international law, which states that nations may only go to war in self-defense or when faced with a grave and imminent military threat.

Where Trump differs from previous presidents is in tone. He is obnoxious and obscene. He lies — loudly. At least in public — they all swear in private — Americans like their leaders calm, deliberative and low-key.

It isn’t surprising that Trump’s trash-talking is freaking people out. But we shouldn’t conflate rudeness with an existential threat to democracy. Democracy, decency and civility were never real American values in the first place. That, not Trump, is the real problem.

(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 independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Corporate Democrats Would Rather Lose Than Include Progressives

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When 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset a ten-term incumbent congressman in Queens, New York in a set of Democratic primaries that saw self-proclaimed democratic socialists in the Bernie Sanders mold pick up seats across the country, The New York Times (which, true to its institutional establishmentarianism, didn’t bother to cover her campaign) predicted that her victory would “reverberate across the party and the country.”

That was June 26th.

Now the Times’ fellow elitist rag The Washington Post is reacting to another round of Democratic primaries. This time it Hillary Clinton-like centrist-corporatists did well. “Signs of a Tea-Party-like movement in the Democratic Party that would throw winnable races to far-left candidates appear to be fading,” concluded David Weigel on August 8th.

Has the political world changed that much in six weeks? Of course not.

As Donald Trump said about something else entirely: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

What we’re reading and what is really happening is a big wet dollop of the freakouts we see from American pundits incapable of placing current events within a historical context. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution overthrew the czar in Russia, many Americans experienced “a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent — a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of Life,” Murray Levin remembers in his book “Political Hysteria in America.” After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Francis Fukuyama made bank selling his book “The End of History,” arguing that neither communism nor any other alternative to capitalism would ever be viable again. He said we had arrived at “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Both were alarmist and wrong: both capitalism and the communist ideal remain and will survive into the foreseeable future.

Then there’s my editor at Time magazine who, following 9/11, informed me that no one in America would ever be interested in humor or satire in any form ever again.

It’s OK to be shocked by big events. But things usually get back to normal.

For decades the normal within the Democratic Party has been a schism between left progressives (George McGovern, Howard Dean when he ran for president, Bernie Sanders) and centrist-corporatists (Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton). As I wrote in my essay for the Wall Street Journal, “Civil War in the Democratic Party”: “DNC-approved ‘mainstream’ presidential prospects have adopted left-leaning positions on a variety of issues. Yet the populist left doesn’t trust them, and for good reason. [Kamala] Harris was caught fundraising in the Hamptons; [Cory] Booker is too close to bankers; [Kirsten] Gillibrand may have vested too much in #MeToo; [Oprah] Winfrey is a billionaire arriviste. They’re all silent on the working class.”

The same dynamic is taking place in local races, where corporate Democratic candidates are adding some Bernie-like policy promises to their campaigns in order to attract the party’s leftist base. “The party’s establishment has embraced ideas like expanding the Affordable Care Act, shrinking the space between its leaders and its disrupters,” Weigel wrote. He quoted Washington Governor Jay Inslee: “Trump has been the great doctor, stitching up our scars and healing us organically.”

I doubt it. The evil Trump can’t heal what ails the Democratic Party. Though I noted in a different Journal piece the possibility that outsider attacks against the left by Republicans like Trump and James Comey might prompt centrists to defend them, leading to Democratic détente, what Weigel is describing is not coming together under a big left-leaning tent but rather the old 1960s conceptual tactic of co-option.

What the DNC and the centrist-corporatists who control it still refuse to accept is that anti-Republicanism — even anti-Trumpism — is not now, nor will it ever be, enough to lure the progressive populist left to the polls. Against history, against the 2016 election results, they assume that the default mode of a left-leaning voter is Democratic.

In fact, the natural state of a left voter — and of all American voters — is not voting. Most Americans do not vote. Most registered voters do not show up to most elections.

Voters go to the polls when they have an affirmative reason to do so: something to believe in. Someone to hate leaves them cold and they stay home. Centrist-corporatists liked what they saw in Hillary so they showed up in November 2016. Leftists and progressives did not so between three and four million Democrats who voted for Bernie in the primaries stayed home rather than vote for Hillary. Remember, primary voters are fanatics!

When they don’t vote, they mean it.

The cure for the Democratic civil war is simple: get behind and consistently push for, major progressive policies.

Jail the banksters. Restore Glass-Steagall. Bring home the troops. A $20/hour minimum wage. Free college tuition. Interest-free college loans. Medicare for all.

The DNC hires pollsters. They conduct focus groups. They analyze social media. They read exit polls. They must know why progressives aren’t that into them.

The fact that corporatist Democrats refuse to give progressives what they want leads me to an uncomfortable conclusion: they’d rather lose to the Republicans than govern as partners with progressives.

(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.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Here’s the Constitutional Amendment We Need But Never Thought About

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Amendment XXVIII: No law governing a basic human need shall be passed in a jurisdiction whose government fails to provide citizens with the means to fulfill that need.

Start gathering petition signatures.

If you’ve ever had to work for someone else, you’ve probably been presented with a no-win situation of someone else’s making. “Be promptly at your desk at 9 am,” my boss ordered me. “We can’t have customers calling at the start of business with no answer.” Reasonable. But it was a two-man office — him and me — he had the only key and he was often late. When customers complained, he’d yell at me. “What would you have me do,” I’d ask, “break in?” Unreasonable.

A lot of bosses are stupid little tyrants. But government should know better than to pass a law its citizens can’t obey.

Like most cities, New York prohibits public urination. It’s no longer a criminal offense but public pee-ers still risk a ticket and a fine. The NYPD issues 20,000 to 30,000 such summons a year. Yet, as The New York Times noted in 2016, “New York City…is one of the most public-bathroom-resistant places in the world.”

People pee. People poo. A city that chooses not to provide people to pee and poo knows that some folks won’t find their way to Starbucks or other de facto public restrooms before it’s too late.

The city wants people to pee and poo in public.

Experts estimate that properly equipping Gotham’s streets with the thousands of toilets necessary to serve the city’s inhabitants and visitors would cost tens of millions of dollars. “I gave you a pot to piss in” isn’t the legacy most mayors want to be remembered for (though perhaps they should reconsider). Getting NYC to do the right thing by everyone with a bladder would require ratification of my proposed 28th Amendment.

If nothing else, those who answer nature’s call in the streets and avenues could do so without fear.

Some people charged with a crime have successfully used the “necessity defense” that the harm they committed was necessary in order to avoid a greater wrong or harm. If you’re trying to escape from someone trying to kill you, a judge should dismiss the charge that you trespassed on private property to get away.

Yet, even though it defies common sense, American law still permits government to pass laws that are impossible to follow. In June the California Supreme Court ruled on a law requiring gunmakers to microstamp bullets fired from semi-automatic weapons with unique identifying information.

The court’s ruling was complicated but it included this gem: “impossibility can occasionally excuse noncompliance with a statute, but in such circumstances, the excusal constitutes an interpretation of the statute in accordance with the Legislature’s intent, not an invalidation of the law.” In other words, an impossible-to-follow law can be passed and no court can invalidate it. Each individual who wants to be exempted on the basis of impossibility must hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

The Impossible Law Amendment (ILA) would ensure that any law deemed impossible for any citizen to follow would be overturned on constitutional grounds.

Impossible-to-follow laws are more common than you might think.

The Affordable Care Act requires people to purchase health insurance from private for-profit corporations or get slapped with a fine when they file their annual tax returns.

The cheapest healthcare plans in the Obamacare marketplaces run around $1600 to $1800 in many counties. One out of four Americans say they can’t afford healthcare. If the United States insists on spending tax dollars on blowing up brown people in Muslim countries rather than caring for its own sick people, that’s a political priority this nation is free to select. But it’s insane to charge people a fee for not buying something they can’t afford. Punishment is immoral if there was no intent or desire to disobey the law.

The ILA would effectively eliminate an entire class of government fines for things people are mandated to buy but must have in order to live: motor vehicle registration fees, smog inspection fees, parking.

On July 27 The New York Times reported that parents, usually mothers, are routinely arrested and have their children taken away from them by child-welfare authorities, because they can’t afford daycare and so are found guilty of such “abusive” behavior as leaving their kid in the car for a few minutes while running into a store.

Children have died of heatstroke in locked cars, so it reasonable for the police to be concerned when they come across a possible case of neglect. But society should not criminalize the behavior of people who have no other choice. Daycare runs about $200 per week per child. Individual average income runs about $500 a week before taxes, or $350 after taxes. Unless the average American goes without food or shelter — which child-welfare authorities will look down upon at least much as leaving a kid in a car — he or she can’t afford daycare. In many other (civilized) countries, of course, daycare is provided gratis by the government.

If and when the U.S. provides daycare for all, it may prosecute parents for refusing to use it.

A government that passes laws that anyone — much less a significant portion of the population — cannot obey, yet imposes fines and jail terms, deserves nothing but contempt. Ratify the ILA!

(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.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Russia-Trump Conspiracy Theory is a Dead Letter. Here’s Why.

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The Democrat-led anti-Trump “Resistance” and its numerous media mouthpieces have been promoting their “Russia hacked the election” narrative for two years. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fired the biggest recent salvo in this campaign after Trump invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington.

“The notion that President Trump would invite a tyrant to Washington is beyond belief,” Pelosi said in a statement on Friday, calling Putin a “thug.” (The recurring use of “thug” to describe Russians has become so consistent as to have become a de facto ethnic slur.) “Putin’s ongoing attacks on our elections and on Western democracies and his illegal actions in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine deserve the fierce, unanimous condemnation of the international community, not a VIP ticket to our nation’s capital.”

Despite liberals’ uncharacteristically focused and sustained efforts — imagine if Obama and company had pushed as hard for a public option on healthcare! — their #RussophobiaMatters campaign is doing poorly. Fewer than one percent of voters think Russia is a major issue.

Democratic leaders are confused. They’ve got the newspapers and NPR and a passel of cable news stations all over their “Trump colluded with Russia” story. Why don’t people care? Christ, even Democratic voters don’t care!

Aside from famine and war few things are sadder than the sight of a hopelessly perplexed House and Senate Democratic leadership. So rather than let them spend a third year wondering why Russiagate keeps being greeted by a great national yawn, I’m here to explain it to them.

Everyone else can stop reading now.

Dear Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi:

First: even if the story were true, it wouldn’t make sense. You’re asking us to believe that Trump’s people met with Putin’s people, not to discuss Trump’s sleazy real estate developments in the former Soviet Union, but to encourage Russian hackers to break into the DNC, steal Hillary’s emails and funnel them to WikiLeaks with a view toward angering enough voters to change the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor.

Trump doesn’t even read one-page memos. Yet we’re being asked to believe that he supervised a ridiculously complex Machiavellian conspiracy?

WikiLeaks didn’t get the DNC documents from Russia or any other state actor. They got them from a disgruntled pro-Bernie Sanders staffer at the DNC.

Anyway, the intelligence community — you know, the friendly folks at the CIA, FBI and NSA whom Democrats worship the way Republicans revered firefighters after 9/11 — says whatever Russian hacking occurred did not affect the outcome of the election.

Then there’s this: Trump didn’t actually want to win. Why would he go to such lengths to steal something he didn’t want?

Second: everything you accuse Russia and/or Putin of doing is something the U.S. has done or is doing bigger and worse. Russia undermined Ukraine and forcibly annexed Crimea. By current international standards Russia committed a misdemeanor; as The Washington Post noted at the time: “Most people in Crimea wanted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.” Meanwhile, the U.S. was occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq. Those are felonies: neither the Afghans nor the Iraqis want us around.

Third: I’m going to use small words here — where’s the evidence of Russian “meddling”?

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy went on TV to discuss the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Because he needed Americans to trust and believe that the threat he described was real, he displayed aerial surveillance photos of the missiles in his speech to the nation. This meant revealing the existence of spy technology the Soviets weren’t aware of, so it was a difficult decision for him. But providing credible evidence was more important.

At this writing, the Democrats’ Russia arguments boil down to:

  • Media outlet quotes anonymous congressional official or anonymous intelligence agency employee.
  • Said anonymous source says the intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the election.
  • Details of how Russia accomplished said meddling are absent.
  • Details of how effective said meddling was are absent.

If evidence of said meddling actually exists, Democrats should follow the JFK example and cough it up. In detail. And explain what it means ­— also in detail.

Until then, Russia as a political issue will continue to be a dead letter.

Kisses,

Ted

(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 independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Outlook for Democrats in 2020 Currently Looks Bleak

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First: No. It’s not too early to discuss the 2020 election. The Iowa caucuses are only a year and a half away. Any presidential hopeful who hasn’t begun chatting up donors by now will find it nearly impossible to mount a viable campaign.

At this point insert the usual caveats that anything can happen, no knows anything, scandals happen, politicians get sick, a year is an eternity in politics.

Let’s speculate!

On the Right: Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee.

Impeachment? Republicans are knee-jerk loyal AF, so Democrats would have to initiate proceedings. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says impeachment “is not somewhere I think we should go.” Also, note the word “minority.” Democrats can’t do jack without taking back the House — far from a sure thing.

A serious Republican primary challenge? Most incumbent Republican presidents have nothing to worry about there but Donald Trump is not most presidents. You can imagine a right-wing version of Ted Kennedy’s devastating 1980 challenge to Jimmy Carter.

The GOP doesn’t have superdelegates so it’s harder for the RNC to fix the race the way Democrats did for Clinton in 2016. Still, I don’t think a serious (as opposed to symbolic) challenge will materialize from the three currently most-talked-abouts. Jeff Flake can’t raise enough dough. (Trump, on the other hand, already has a whopping $88 million.) Mitt Romney could self-fund but seems too bogged down in Utah’s primary race for Senate to have time to pivot for another presidential run in 2020. Ohio governor John Kasich is beloved by the Beltway media but not GOP primary voters. I could be wrong. But my political instincts say Trump will coast to renomination without a significant primary challenger.

On the Left: The Democratic nomination belongs to Bernie Sanders. If he wants it.

Neither the centrist-controlled Democratic National Committee nor its official mouthpiece the New York Times have learned anything from the debacle of 2016, when guaranteed-to-win Hillary Clinton lost to Trump because she and the party snubbed Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing of the party he represents. These days, they’re floating Elizabeth Warren.

Until 2016 progressives saw Warren as a Bernie alternative but then she lost her leftie street cred by endorsing and supporting Clinton.

“On her Western swing, Ms. Warren sought to strike a unifying chord. At a tapas restaurant in Salt Lake City, she said Democrats had to close ranks in 2018 in order to recapture the White House. “Perhaps most appealing to Democratic leaders,” wrote the Times, “Ms. Warren might please their activist base while staving off a candidate they fear would lose the general election. A candidate such as Mr. Sanders.”

Throughout the campaign, polls showed that Bernie Sanders would have beat Trump.

My gut tells me Warren doesn’t really want to run. If she does, she’ll have charisma problems. As Boston magazine pointed out last year, even the people of Massachusetts aren’t much into her. (Bernie Sanders has the highest home-state approval rating of any U.S. senator, 75%.)

Given a choice between Sanders and Warren, progressives will choose the reliable progressive over the accommodationist pragmatist. That said, Warren would make a fine veep option.

As mayor of Newark, then up-and-coming political star Cory Booker made headlines by rushing into a burning house to save a woman in 2012. But politics is a fickle mistress. In the “what have you done for us lately” category, Booker was chastised for tying right-wing Republican Mitch McConnell as the senator who received the most contributions from the big Wall Street banks who destroyed the economy in 2008-09. This won’t affect his standing among the corporatists who supported Hillary Clinton despite her fundraising in the Hamptons. But it makes him anathema to the progressive Democratic base.

Once again, Joe Biden is being touted as a possible Democratic candidate. But he has signaled that, once again, he’s funnin’, not runnin’. Yeah, but what if he does?

Biden would have no choice but to compete for centrist votes against Booker and California’s Kamala Harris. Though once known as more liberal, his vice presidency for centrist Democrat Obama, his focus on building a Southern strategy for the primaries and his disconnection from the left makes him unlikely to appeal to the Berniecrats.

Harris, a law-and-order “lock ‘em up” former prosecutor and California senator, seems to be running a Clinton-style identity politics-based campaign based on her double history-making potential as a woman of color. While it’s true that she hasn’t always been a lock-step establishmentarian, she has gotten much closer to banks, cops and other elites than ordinary Americans as she has considered how to market her policy positions.

Harris is canny.

Some say slippery.

Harris is the biggest threat to Bernie. Harris supports “the concept of single-payer healthcare, and bills to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, eliminate tuition and fees at four-year colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 and creating more campaign finance disclosure requirements for corporations, unions and super PACs.” Good stuff. Call her Berniedette?

But those are official positions. She doesn’t campaign on them. It’s like how Obama’s 2008 campaign website promised a public option on the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, but he never talked about it and then never proposed it in his healthcare bill. Good positions don’t get far unless they’re articulated loudly and repeatedly.

The Democrats are a 50-50 party divided between progressives and liberals. Three serious liberals — Harris, Warren, Booker and whoever else pops up between now and then — divvy up the liberal half. Bernie Sanders has the progressive half all to himself. So he wins the nomination —if he wants it.

I think he does.

In the general election? This is sad, and bad for America’s baby Left, but I think it’s true: Trump defeats Sanders. Not because he’s a self-declared democratic socialist though you can be sure GOP attack ads will be full of stock footage of old Soviet May Day parades. Also not because he’s too far left: he really would have beaten Trump in 2016.

Trump defeats Sanders because of the innate advantages of incumbency, the historical hesitancy to change horses midstream, Sanders’ advancing age and the sad fact that the DNC will never push for him as hard as they would have for one of their own: a Wall Street-friendly corporatist.

Again: anything can happen, no knows anything, scandals happen, politicians get sick, a year is an eternity in politics.

(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.)

 

Read the Documents Here! LA Times Responds to Cartoonist Ted Rall’s anti-SLAPP Appeal

I sued the LA Times for wrongful termination and defamation in 2016. The Times responded with an anti-SLAPP motion asking the court to order me to pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars in their legal fees. They prevailed at the trial court level.

In 2017 I filed my anti-SLAPP appeal to the California Court of Appeals. Now the Times has responded to my appeal with their own brief.

Here are the relevant documents:

My Opening Brief for my anti-SLAPP appeal:

Ted Rall vs. Los Angeles Times: anti-SLAPP Appellate Brief by Ted Rall on Scribd

The Times’ Respondents Brief:

LA Times’ Respondents Brief for anti-SLAPP Motion in Ted Rall v. Ted Rall et al. by Ted Rall on Scribd

Now we are working on our response to their response. We will post our response brief here after it is finished and filed. After we file that, the court will advise of a date when they will hear my anti-SLAPP appeal.

Obviously my attorneys and I have thoughts about the Times’ arguments as stated in their brief, but Times attorney Kelli Sager reads my blog (hi!) so it would be unwise for me to say anything here about what we think.

However, thousands of heads are better than three! We might be missing something important in this struggle for free speech and against police control of the press. So if you have any thoughts about any of this, please comment here or feel free to contact me directly at rall.com/contact. Thank you for your support!

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The “Thin Grey Line” — The Media’s Conspiracy of Silence on Defamation and Libel

Even the shirt is “fake news.” Look at the text. It’s not actually printed on the fabric. (from LATimes.com)

I am suing for the Los Angeles Times and the $638 million newspaper conglomerate Tronc for the defamation and wrongful termination they carried out as a favor for the chief of Los Angeles Police Department.

I don’t know how things will turn out. But I have learned a lot about the justice system.

            I’ve learned there’s a “Thin Grey Line” — a conspiracy of silence that media outlets use to shield one another from public scrutiny and accountability. It’s not President Trump’s supposed “fake news.”

It’s No News At All.

A black hole.

If media misconduct falls in the woods, whatever sound it makes receives no coverage in “rival” media outlets.

The Thin Blue Line is a 1988 movie describing how police protect one another from allegations of wrongdoing by clamming up about what they know, leading to the railroading of an innocent man. Similarly, media organizations conspire to keep allegations of libel and other wrongdoing out of the public eye. You don’t cover my bad behavior and I won’t cover yours.

Of course, some libel lawsuits are too big to ignore. In those cases the Thin Grey Line slants their coverage to make the victims look like petulant crybabies or greedy pro-censorship fascists.

I learned about the Thin Grey Line when I reached out to media organizations about my situation with the LA Times. Although certain outlets did a good job covering my case — the UK Guardian and the New York Observer stood out — big papers like the New York Times and Washington Post wouldn’t touch it.

“Cartoonist Critical of Police Fired as Favor to LAPD after LAPD Pension Fund Buys Major Interest in LA Times’ Parent Company” has all the components of a major story: big guy crushes little guy, privacy violations, secret police spying on citizens going back decades, ugly conflicts of interest, a police department pension fund that bought newspaper stock so it could leverage it into editorial control of major newspapers, a criminal conspiracy at the highest levels of local government.

If the villain wasn’t a media company, a media outlet would be all over it.

Most U.S. media outlets ignored my story. Most that put out reports were either online-only or based overseas.

Some, like NPR, explained that my story required investigative reporting for which they didn’t have a budget.

Rall v. Los Angeles Times is a natural fit for The Intercept, the news site dedicated to the Snowden revelations and perfidy by government and the press. Indeed, an Intercept reporter worked the story, spending hours talking to me. Then he took it to his editors — who killed it. Was someone higher on the food chain connected to the Times or LAPD? Were they reluctant to take on a fellow media outlet? All I know is, the guy never called me back. That’s unusual to say the least.

Historically, problems at the local daily newspaper have been red meat to an alternative newsweekly, the scrappy underdog in many metro media markets. New York’s late Village Voice used to love taking on the Times, Post and Daily News. But things are different now. Journalists who follow Los Angeles are shocked that LA Weekly won’t cover my two-year-old lawsuit.

Major libel verdicts against media outlets get buried by the Thin Grey Line. A jury dunned the Raleigh News & Observer $9 million for libel in 2016. Two Cal Coast Weekly writers owe their defamation victim $1.1 million as of 2017. You probably didn’t hear about those.

But you probably did hear about Hulk Hogan’s $140 million libel verdict against Gawker, which put the site out of business. Most coverage bemoaned the supposed effect on press freedom, not Gawker’s crazy decision to publish a video of Hogan having sex or to keep it online after Hogan’s lawyer offered to let the whole thing go for zero cash if Gawker took it down.

            Legacy media still hasn’t figured out the Internet. But they’re good at propaganda. Exploiting Trump’s bombastic “fake news” broadsides against the press, they’re casting themselves as party organs of the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

“Democracy dies in darkness,” The Washington Post tells its readers.

“The truth is more important now than ever,” quoth The New York Times.

Hilariously, The Los Angeles Times: “Speaking truth to power.” (But not to the chief of police!)

            As a journalist and satirist who relies on the First Amendment, I am sympathetic to worries that news outlets might self-censor due to the threat of libel suits. But corporate media looks ridiculous when they portray every defamation and libel plaintiff as sinister threats to press freedom. And it’s downright silly to pretend that every libel and defamation case is inherently frivolous.

“The $140 million payout mandated by a Florida court in Hogan’s privacy case against Gawker, which was bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, was a chilling development for media companies that are already battling to keep costs down,” Keith Gessen wrote in Columbia Journalism Review.

Nowhere in Gessen’s piece did he mention that Gawker could have saved every penny of that $140 million by exercising a modicum of editorial judgment. Or that Thiel’s role merely leveled the playing field between an individual and a (then-) deep-pocketed media outlet.

The Hogan verdict is only “chilling” to publications so arrogant and stupid as to fight for the right to gratuitously publish material that can ruin a person’s life — material with zero news value — without a legal leg to stand on.

Based on the coverage of the Gawker-Hogan coverage I’ve read since the 2016 verdict, most media outlets are still pushing the Thin Grey Line narrative that Hogan had no grounds to complain. I say that Hogan has the right not to have his sex acts posted to the Internet without his permission.

Thin Grey Line aside, I bet most people agree with me.

(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 independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Meet the For-Profit Prison Industry Raking in Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from Trump’s Mass Deportation Boondoggle

The Washington Post recently published a revealing and heartbreaking story about forced separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents — not the Trump-ordered fiasco we’ve watched over recent weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, but in the Midwest as the result of brutal ICE raids that have ripped families apart under Presidents Obama and Bush before him. It’s beautifully written, worthy of a literature award if not a Pulitzer for journalism.

One line leapt out at me: “Who benefits from this?”

Nora, an 18-year-old girl who lost both her parents to ICE raids and is now raising her 12-year-old brother like something out of a dark 1970s ABC Afterschool Special or a Dave Eggers story, wondered why the U.S. government carries out such vicious policies and tactics, like using offers of free food to lure poor migrants into the clutches of heavily-armed immigration goons.

“Was it American taxpayers, who were paying to finance the raid and resulting deportations? Or American workers, most of whom were so disinterested in low-paying farm work that Ohio had announced a crisis work shortage of 15,000 agricultural jobs? Or Corso’s Nursery, a ­family-owned business now missing 40 percent of its employees?”

OK, so the canard about Americans being unwilling to fill low-paid agricultural jobs is transparent BS. The key phrase is low-paid. If all the illegal immigrants disappeared tomorrow the labor-market version of the law of supply and demand would force agribusiness employers to offer higher wages. Plenty of Americans would be happy to pick fruit for $25 an hour. Sorry, Corso’s — if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you deserve to go out of business.

Still, Nora’s question is a good one. Whether you believe in open borders, want Trump to build The Wall or fall somewhere in between like me (build the wall, legalize the people already here who haven’t committed serious felonies, deport the criminals), everyone who cares about immigration should know the why and wherefore of how the U.S. government carries out deportations.

Contrary to what some liberals seem to believe, there is nothing unreasonable about border control. Determining who gets to enter your country’s territory, and who gets turned away, is one of the principal defining characteristics of a modern nation-state. Just you try to sneak into Latvia or Liberia without permission and see what happens. You can probably make it into Libya, but that’s because it’s a failed state.

After you catch illegal immigrants the question is, how do you deal with them?

Some countries, like Iran, deport unauthorized persons immediately, no due process. That’s what Trump wants to do.

Others treat them like criminals. Illegal immigrants caught in Italy face a hefty cash fine and up to six months in prison.

The United States falls in between. Applicants for political asylum are theoretically entitled to a hearing before an immigration court. Economic migrants receive no due process. Both classes face lengthy detentions before removal.

Lengthy detention is the key to Nora’s question.

So who benefits?

The answer is: America’s vast, secretive, politically connected, poorly regulated $5 billion private-prison industry. “As of August 2016, nearly three-quarters of the average daily immigration detainee population was held in facilities operated by private prison companies—a sharp contrast from a decade ago, when the majority were held in ICE-contracted bedspace in local jails and state prisons,” writes Livia Luan of the Migration Policy Institute.

Crime rates have been falling for years. So prison populations have been declining too. Adding to the down trend has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress; Democrats and Republicans agree that we need criminal justice reform centered around shorter sentences.

Originally sold as an innovative market-based solution to alleviate overcrowding in government-run prisons and jails for criminals, the private prison sector had been facing hard times before Trump came along. Private institutions were sitting empty. Until two years ago, private prisons had been scheduled to be phased out entirely by the federal sentencing system.

Trump made private prisons great again.

According to the UK Independent ICE arrests during Trump’s first nine months in office increased 43% over a year earlier. “Many of those immigrants are funnelled into a multibillion dollar private prison system, where between 31,000 and 41,000 detainees are held each night. In many cases, those private prison corporations — led by the behemoths GeoGroup and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America — have contracts with the federal government guaranteeing their beds will be filled, or that they will receive payment regardless of whether they have a full house on any given night.”

With profits guaranteed by pro-business government contracts, Wall Street is bullish on prisons for profit. “The Trump administration’s tough-on-immigration policies are unlikely to fade anytime soon, meaning investors should expect continued strict enforcement, more arrests by ICE and the need to accommodate a growing number of arrested individuals,” an analyst advised investors.

That’s likely to continue. In a classic example of the revolving door between government and private industry, the CEO of GEO is Daniel Ragsdale, who left his post as #2 at ICE in May 2017. Talk about swampy: ICE is extremely cozy with for-profit prisons.

When your customer base is as disenfranchised, unpopular and defenseless as convicts and undocumented workers, it’s tempting to cut corners on costs for their care. Reports of abuse and neglect are even more widespread in the private prison sector than in traditional government-run lockups. “The conditions inside were very bad. The facilities were old. The guards were poorly trained. If you got sick all they would just give you Tylenol and tell you to get back to your cell,” said Adrian Hernandez Garay, who served 35 months for illegal immigration at the Big Spring Correctional Institution, a Texas facility run by the private corporation GEO. He told Vice he was fed rice and beans seven days a week. He described Big Spring as “far worse” than other prisons where he was held.

Even if you think illegal immigrants are criminals who should be tossed out on their ears, you ought to be highly suspicious of the private prison industry. After all, they don’t want illegals deported. They want them housed indefinitely in their sketchy facilities. And you’re paying the bill.

(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 independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Announcing the 2018 LA Times Bond Fundraiser: Hire a Cartoonist for One Cartoon

If you have followed my case defending myself against the libel and wrongful termination by the LA Times that they did us a favor for the LAPD into 2015, you know that they forced me to file a $75,000 cash bond just in order to pursue my claim. Normally when you deposit money, you earn interest. But not in Los Angeles. I have to pay the bond company $1250 every year just to keep the bond filed with the court. No, you’re not allowed to do it yourself, you have to use a private company. So anyway, I’m financially stretched so I am making the following offer, first come, first serve: for $1250 sent directly to my PayPal account, I will draw a 7 1/2 x 10″ cartoon about any subject that you want. Full color. You get the original artwork to do with as you please. You can print it or post it anywhere you want as long as it’s not on some right wing website. And I will send you the high-resolution and low-resolution files. If you have suggestions about how to do it or what to include, I will listen, but I don’t promise to take them.

If you’re interested, go to Rall.com/contact.