SYNDICATED COLUMN: To Do Next for the #NeverAgain Movement: Settle on a Clear Demand

Image result for march for our lives Notice the signs: where are the exact demands for Congress?

Eight hundred thousand people participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24th, say organizers with the #NeverAgain movement sparked by the Parkland, Florida school massacre. The turnout was impressive — but will it lead to new gun legislation?

History suggests no. But victory is achievable — if rallies are sharpened in focus.

Enthusiasm is necessary to launch a movement. Careful strategizing is required to sustain and grow it. The Million Moms March, also dedicated to curbing gun violence in 2000 drew a similar-sized crowd. Yet the next two decades saw one mass shooting after another, the NRA gaining rather than losing political influence, and a major reversal for the gun-control movement marked by the failure to renew the ban on assault weapons.

Whether it’s the Million Man March to promote unity and family values among African-American men or the 1981 Solidarity Day march to defend unions from Reagan-era attacks against organizations like the air traffic controllers union, there is a century-old tradition of large groups of Americans gathering in Washington, carrying signs, chanting slogans and being ignored by Congress and the president after they go home. To those shattered dreams you can add 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, another leaderless protest that came together and fizzled.

At almost all these events, speakers proclaimed themselves present at the continuation or initiation of a movement. But sustained movements must be organized. These were, like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, political spasms. Perhaps not theater as farce — but theater at most. At best, some presaged something later, bigger and effective.

Weighing in favor of the #NeverAgain movement’s chances of effecting real change is the role of social media, which can bring large groups of people together quickly. But they also need a simple, coherent, bumper-sticker-ready demand message.

Writing in USA Today, Rick Hampson argues that even the go-to granddaddy of all contemporary marches, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was less effective than advertised: “Even the 1963 civil rights march required so much effort, created so many internal divisions and produced so few immediate results (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed only after and because of President Kennedy’s assassination) that its leaders vowed never to attempt another.”

Hampson has a point. The 10 printed demands for the March on Washington remind us of American society’s failure to address the needs of the poor and oppressed since 1963. They wanted a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which is at least $15 today. Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refused to go over $12 in 2016. Still, they had a clear, coherent set of demands, beginning with: “Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.” And the Civil Rights Act did get passed.

The March 24th March for Our Lives opposed gun violence. The problem is, it failed to articulate a precise demand or set of demands.

“School safety is not a political issue,” read the Mission Statement. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”

Sorry, but those are weasel words.



Should we ban large-capacity magazines?

Would restoring the assault-weapons ban be enough?

Should we, as retired Justice John Paul Stevens suggested recently, repeal the Second Amendment entirely and ban all guns?

Asking Congress to simply “address” an issue is an invitation for more endless debate leading nowhere, or to a compromise so watered down that it undermines the cause. (The ACA is an example of the latter.) A movement must settle on an area of clear focus. Unlike Occupy, which was split between reformists and revolutionaries and talked about everything from restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to eliminating homelessness, #NeverAgain has that part down pat.

An effective movement also has to settle on the solution to a problem. Proposing a path forward does not guarantee success: demonstrators had a clear, straightforward demand in 2002-03: do not invade Iraq. The Bush Administration ignored them. On the other hand, it’s now painfully clear which side was right. That will add to the credibility of antiwar marchers the next time a president tries to start a war of choice.

Settling on a clear solution, as opposed to asking the political class to “address” the issue, entails risk. For #NeverAgain, advocating for a comprehensive gun ban will push away allies who prefer a compromise approach. On the other hand, a more moderate approach will generate less excitement among those in favor of a radical solution (and moderation generally elicits less enthusiasm). But to take a page from gun-toting military folks, it’s better to go into battle with half an army than a whole one riddled with confusion and no idea why they’re fighting.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Media Companies Are Abusing Anti-SLAPP Laws to Publish Fake News with Impunity

Image result for national enquirer richard simmons

The National Enquirer and Radar Online published a series of news stories that reported that Richard Simmons, the fitness instructor and TV personality, was transitioning to become a woman. “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman,” read an Enquirer headline.

He’s not.

The Enquirer lied about Simmons. So he sued.

Seems like a straightforward case of libel. Yet, insanely, thanks to California’s constitutionally dubious, nonsensical “anti-SLAPP” statute, a judge has ordered him — a bona fide victim of “fake news” — to pay the Enquirer $122,000. The miscarriage of justice in Simmons’ case is worth thinking about as well-intentioned progressives try to defend the Fourth Estate from toxic smears by President Trump.

Proposals like a federal “shield” law to protect journalists and their sources could help shore up the First Amendment. But the current push for a national anti-SLAPP law like the one that slammed Simmons is woefully misguided and would only bolster Trump’s argument that the media publishes lies with impunity.

Simmons, a gay icon who calls himself “an avid supporter of the LGBTQ community,” sued the media outlets for libel in Los Angeles. Simmons presented key evidence, an Enquirer document indicating that the newspaper could not rely on its source for the Simmons transgender story, his former assistant.

The landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case Sullivan v. New York Times established a standard that, in order to prove libel, a public figure such as Simmons must show that the defendants either knew a story was false at the time of publication, or that they had reckless disregard for the truth. Simmons seems to have the makings of a successful case on both counts.

Simmons says he sued because the stories violated his privacy and falsely portrayed him as someone he’s not. Also, given that as many as one out of four Americans are uncomfortable with and/or actually despise transgender people, it would not be unreasonable for Simmons to worry that he might lose business as a result.

Twenty-eight states have anti-SLAPP (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”) laws. They’re presented as a way for a poor individual or whistleblower to defend themselves from deep-pocketed corporations. The reality is a classic case study in unforeseen consequences: poorly-written, confusing anti-SLAPP laws are routinely abused by giant media outlets so they can avoid being held accountable for reckless smears and to send a chilling message to victims who seek redress in the courts.

The assumption behind anti-SLAPP appears to have originated during the Reagan-era “tort reform” movement. Courts, conservatives claimed, were clogged by frivolous lawsuits filed by giant companies. In 1996, for example, Texas cattlemen sued talk host Oprah Winfrey under the state’s “veggie libel” law for saying that she’d stop eating burgers. But there is no statistical evidence that the problem, if it exists at all, is widespread or can’t typically be disposed of by the standard litigation tactic of filing a motion for summary judgment.

In states like California, a libel or defamation defendant like the National Enquirer can file an anti-SLAPP motion as soon as it receives a lawsuit. Discovery stops. Plaintiffs aren’t allowed to subpoena documents or depose witnesses. A judge reads the legal complaint, assumes everything the plaintiff says is true and everything the defendant says is false and, based on those assumptions, assesses whether the case has minimal merit. If so, the anti-SLAPP motion is denied and the case moves forward.

If not, the case is thrown out of court and the plaintiff is ordered to pay the defendant’s attorneys’ fees. (The supreme courts of Minnesota and Washington have declared anti-SLAPP laws unconstitutional because they violate plaintiff’s right to a jury trial.)

That’s what happened to Richard Simmons. He is appealing.

Anti-SLAPP laws rely on a flawed theory. In reality, deep-pocketed interest groups like the cattlemen who sued Oprah aren’t deterred by the potential expense of having to pay the defendant’s legal fees. Moreover, the statutes are extremely confusing, featuring more exceptions to exceptions than French grammar. Moreover, anti-SLAPP asks judges to act against their very nature; for example, judges are not supposed to assess the evidence, but simply take everything the plaintiff says at face value. In case after case, judges simply can’t help themselves.

Judges are gonna judge.

Which is how Simmons, the gay icon, wound up on the hook for $122,000, forced to pay a newspaper that lied about him, that oppressed him, that common sense says owes him an apology and a retraction, as a martyr to transgender rights. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian ruled that Simmons falsely being declared a woman did not expose him to “hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy,” so no more defamation occurred than if they had falsely described the color of his clothes.

“While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian ruled.

If Simmons loses his appeal, California’s Court of Appeals will order him to pay the publications even more money.

To most people, Simmons’ case is a mere judicial curio. Not for me. I’ve taken an interest in anti-SLAPP laws since 2016. That was when the Los Angeles Times, defended by the same lawyers as the National Enquirer, filed a California anti-SLAPP motion against me. I had sued the Times for defaming me in a pair of articles they ran as a favor to the Los Angeles Police Department, which I had criticized as the paper’s editorial cartoonist, by falsely accusing me of lying and fabulism.

Like the judge in Simmons’ case, Judge Joseph Kalin failed to follow the letter of the anti-SLAPP statute. He ignored the minimal-merit standard. In his decision, he stated that the facts in the case were in my favor, not the Times. Nevertheless, he ruled against me using logic counter to the anti-SLAPP law and awarded the Times and their lawyers — the party that victimized me — $350,000. I am appealing too.

In both these cases and countless others, wealthy media conglomerates are shaking off cases that deserve their day in court before a jury, and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time from plaintiffs victimized by brazen journalistic malfeasance. Media companies might be winning in courthouses — but they’re getting clobbered in the court of public opinion.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hiring John Bolton is Donald Trump’s Most Dangerous Decision So Far

Image result for john bolton

Personnel is policy, they say in Washington. The appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor is by far President Trump’s most dangerous decision.

When the president considers foreign policy, no one is closer to his ear than his national security advisor. He will discuss questions of war and peace with military generals and members of his cabinet, but when there’s a diversity of opinion, the views of a national security advisor can be determinative.

Brent Scowcroft defined the role of the National Security Advisor (NSA),” wrote Stephen J. Hadley, former National Security Advisor under George W. Bush. “The only person to hold the job twice [under Ford and George H.W. Bush], Brent established the ‘Scowcroft Model’ for all who followed him in the job: Be an ‘Honest Broker,’ running a fair, transparent, and inclusive process for bringing issues to the president.”

John Bolton is not an honest broker. John Bolton cannot be an honest broker. No human being on earth is less qualified to be Donald Trump’s national security advisor.

Given the fact that Donald Trump already leans hard to the right wing of the Republican Party, and that his advisers are drawn from the extreme right as well, and “honest broker” national security advisor would by definition need to provide balance. Ideally it would come from the NSA himself. At minimum he would bring in people with opposing views. Bolton is congenitally incapable of either.

Bolton must be stopped.

His nomination does not require Senate confirmation. But there’s nothing preventing members of both parties from traveling to the White House to inform the president that Bolton is a nonstarter. Congress should have nothing to do with this president as long as this dangerous man is whispering sweet bellicose nothings into his ear.

If you haven’t been paying much attention, I don’t blame you for smelling a whiff of hysteria. How bad could this guy really be?

Bolton was the king of the George W. Bush-era neocons, a man who made Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz look like wimps. As Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, he remarked that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the institution disappeared or, evoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the building housing UN headquarters were to lose a few floors.

These days Bolton is touting “regime change” against Iran. Evoking the same arguments he used to justify the invasion of Iraq, he paints dark portraits of North Korea selling or giving nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that there are any links for common ideology between the two. Just after Trump — correctly, in my view — announced that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Bolton wrote an opinion essay laying out the so-called “legal” argument in favor of a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that comes up between American and North Korean officials setting up the summit in May.

Most foreign-policy experts, most ordinary Americans, and most sane people generally agree that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a military, political, economic, and propaganda disaster for the United States and the world. We were not “welcomed as liberators.” The war was sold (in large part by Bolton) based on the lie that the U.S. knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (they didn’t have them so we know that “knowledge” was a lie).

Anti-Americanism increased, as did terrorist attacks and the appeal of terrorist organizations that targeted Americans. Thousands of American troops were killed, tens of thousands wounded, and millions of Iraqis died because of the war. Billions of dollars were squandered and oil prices went up, not down as the neocons had hoped and expected, because of the resulting instability. Perhaps most damning of all, the long simmering Sunni-Shia divide widened into a gaping chasm that continues to chew up the Middle East in places like Yemen.

No one was more in favor of that war than John Bolton. For that reason alone, he’s unqualified to provide foreign policy advice to anyone more important than a small marsupial. But Bolton is more than just a warmonger — he’s a stupid warmonger. Which is why he still can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.

“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he told The Washington Examiner in 2015. “I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces. The people who say, ‘Oh, things would have been much better if you didn’t overthrow Saddam,’ miss the point that today’s Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone.”

Actually, things really would be better if we hadn’t overthrown Saddam.

“I think the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn’t welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime,” Bolton bloviated in a breathtakingly embarrassing 2002 interview. “And Iraqi opposition leaders of a variety of positions and views are discussing now what will happen after Saddam Hussein. I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we’ll have an important security role. I think concluding the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction themselves will be important.”

Wonder if the families of those dead and injured American soldiers think their role was “fairly minimal.”

I tell you what, John: you go and find those weapons of mass distraction and we’ll let you be national security advisor.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


Midwest Book Signing Dates Announced for “Francis: The People’s Pope” by Ted Rall

I’m coming to Ohio (Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus) and Chicago in late April 2018 to promote and discuss my new book Francis: The People’s Pope, a biography of the pontiff in graphic novel form. If you are interesting in inviting me to speak in your city, I need one of two things: a venue like a bookstore or a university that can promote and stage the event, or a venue willing to pay an honorarium and travel expenses. (That second one can be your house and the audience can be your friends!) Contact me via the Contact tab here at for details.)

Here are the dates so far:

Francis: The People's Pope by Ted Rall

Tuesday, April 24, 2018, 6-7 pm: Ted Rall Live in Chicago
Seminary Coop Bookstore
5751 S Woodlawn Ave
Chicago, IL 60637
Ted discusses his new graphic-biography “Francis: The People’s Pope.” Joining the discussion will be moderator Scott Stantis, editorial cartoonist for The Chicago Tribune.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018, Time 7-9 pm: Ted Rall Live in Dayton, Ohio
Books & Co Beavercreek
The Greene Shopping Center
4453 Walnut Street
Dayton, OH 45440
Ted discusses his new graphic-biography “Francis: The People’s Pope.”

Friday, April 27, 2018, 7 pm: Ted Live in Columbus
The Book Loft
631 S. Third St
Columbus, OH 43210
Ted discusses his new graphic-biography “Francis: The People’s Pope.”

Saturday, April 28, 2018, 6 pm: Ted Live in Cincinnati
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
2692 Madison Rd M
Cincinnati, OH 45208
Ted discusses his new graphic-biography “Francis: The People’s Pope.”

Guest Post: A Letter from American Teacher 

As previously stated, the opinions of this guest poster are their own, and do not reflect in any way, shape or form the opinions of Ted Rall or anyone else who posts here. This is here to provoke discussion.

Dear Students,

Ha! Ha! Ha!  You were played.

You didn’t have a walkout.  You had a seventeen-minute recess.  The walkout was yours in name only.  You should feel a bit silly.  It was embarrassing to watch your Abby Hoffman moment.

Superintendents, administrators and police chiefs shaped and framed the walkouts.  Principals directed them. The school board sent letters to  your parents, keeping them informed.

On March 14, when the curtain went up on your little walkout, school grounds had already been cordoned off.  “Cordoned off,” my little darlings, means no one gets in and no one gets out.  When an area has been cordoned off, political possibilities as well as any publicity you are seeking are cut off as well.

Three unmarked police cars were in the parking lot and two regular police cars were parked at the entrance to the school.  Uniformed officers were at the building’s entrances.

You were led out under a heavy police presence.  The town’s entire police force must have been there.  You might just as well as have been walking out in chains.  My good humor was quickly being restored.

You little dumplings were led out without fanfare by your principals.  Thank goodness no one saw you for it would have been clear that it was not a walkout.  No press, no news media whatsoever, no civic groups, not even parents.  I was laughing from a window on the third floor.

The school’s administration indulged you and it was hilarious that those of you who walked out failed to realize that.  Assistant principals ensured a smooth flow of traffic as you followed your principal wherever he led you.  You didn’t resist.  You demonstrated no power, no rebellion against authority.  Your leaders didn’t even get to lead you.  Then you milled around in little bands on the pavement, taking selfies.  It looked uncomfortably cold out there.  Finally, you were herded safely back in the school.  Adults commanded and you obeyed.

You probably don’t even know what a walkout really is.

For the past several weeks, we have been expected to take an intelligent interest in this event.  Everyone has been oddly reluctant to denounce you.  Everyone wants to be seen as supportive.  Celebrities want to pat your heads.  When will this adulation end?

I am not in adulation of you.  A walkout has no place in a high school.  It is a taboo that ought never be broken.  Many of you have no idea why you walked out.  You were on your phones most of the time.  You weren’t taking action.  You were just getting out of class.

Many of you kids are absolutely brutal to each other.  You are merciless in your teasing.  I have probably reamed some of you for what you have said to your classmates.  You probably play a role in creating these school shooters, tipping them over the edge.

You could have used those seventeen minutes to begin to address some of the social inequities in your school. You could have tutored someone who was struggling.  You could have shared a snack with someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends.  You could have read a book…oops, you are the first generation not to read and as Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools and founder of Students First, has noted, “the first generation of American students to be less educated than the previous one.”

You could have done a lot more than trot outside.  But bless you, you had your walkout.

Cheers to school districts who refused to accommodate you and gave you a cut.

Cheers to students who challenged the walkout and stayed in class.


American Teacher

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Should Run on Impeachment

Image result for impeach trump button

Democrats are already counting their electoral chickens for the midterms — but their unwillingness to lay out a clear agenda may be about to hand the party their second devastating defeat in two years.

Everyone is playing the Special Election Game.

Tealeaf readers are obsessed. Does last November’s Democratic win in the Virginia governor’s race presage a Blue Wave or was it simply a reflection of ongoing red-to-purple demographics? Should we be surprised that Alabama sent a Democrat (albeit a conservative one) to the Senate — or that he nearly lost to an alleged pedophile? What about the latest contest in Pennsylvania — would a Democratic upset in a GOP congressional district spell the beginning of the end for Donald Trump? Or nothing much at all?

Every midterm election is characterized as a referendum on the incumbent president. But the polarization vortex that is this unique president has raised the stakes far beyond the usual handicapping parlor game.

The rising suspicion that special counsel Robert Mueller may not be able to build enough of a Russia collusion and/or corruption case to bring down the president himself, only some of his associates, has Democrats terrified and appalled. For those who believe that Trump represents an existential threat to democracy and its replacement by a permanent new American authoritarianism, the republic’s last, only, best hope before It Does Happen Here is impeachment — but that would only be possible if and after Democrats have retaken control of Congress next year. Only a few Democrats have implied — though not promised — that they might impeach the president if voters put them back in charge. For Trump-hating Democrats, everything hangs upon winning back Congress and hoping their newly elected officials do the right thing.

70% of Democrats say they want the House of Representatives to hold impeachment hearings.

Democratic strategists are counting on a favorable enthusiasm gap this November, driven in large part by liberals who despise Trump. They pointed to another tealeaf: Texas’s early primary voting, where Democratic turnout was double that of 2014. Republican turnout was lower.

But then came election day. Never mind early voting; Republican voters flooded the polls when and where it mattered, on March 6th — by a three-to-two margin. Democrats lost.

Republicans remain fiercely loyal to Trump, with as many as 90% approving of the president’s job performance. (Trump can only claim the support of 9% of Democrats.) The greater the likelihood of a Democratic sweep, the more GOP voters will back up Trump if for no other reason than to deny liberals the satisfaction of removing a Republican president.

“Most conservatives consume pro-Trump media, which will downplay or distort virtually anything Mueller or the mainstream press discovers,” Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic in December. “And the more aggressively Democrats push for Trump’s removal, the easier it will be for Breitbart and Sean Hannity to rally Republicans against a ‘left-wing coup.’”

The problem for those who’d like to see Trump legislatively hobbled after 2018 is that, as Musa al-Gharbi noted in The New York Times, Democrats are divided into two camps. There are establishment “Hillary voters” who reliably support any Democratic nominee, and rebellious pro-Bernie Sanders left populists who only show up to vote when the Democratic candidate is credibly progressive. Anti-Trumpism is widespread and evokes passionate responses among Democrats yet its motivational power is effectively canceled out by the party’s disunity. As a result, “There does not seem to be an enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans.”

The solution for Democrats seems evident: increase the enthusiasm gap by shoring up their left populist base.

First, Democrats should nationalize the midterm elections the way Newt Gingrich did with his “Contract for America” in 1994.

Conservatives vote Republican because they think Democrats favor redistributionist policies like a more progressive tax system, a single-payer healthcare system and a robust minimum wage. Progressives don’t show up at general elections because Democratic politicians don’t actually push for those things. There’s much to gain and little to lose by laying out an unapologetically liberal series of campaign promises focused on addressing the problems of the poor and middle class, as well as such scandalously neglected crises as the opioid epidemic, excessive military spending and out-of-control college tuition costs.

Democrats could also steal some of Trump’s nationalist thunder by promising to prioritize labor and the environment in international trade agreements.

Party leaders are understandably reluctant to stamp a one-size-fits-all platform across an ideologically diverse series of contests, including many where conservative Democrats have to run in red districts. But they can’t avoid it. As they did in 2014 and 2010, Republicans will nationalize the midterms by framing their opponents as lapdogs of a radical “San Francisco liberal” — House minority leader Nancy Pelosi — and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a slick New Yorker. Democrats had might as well own it.

Similarly, Republicans will say that Democrats are coming to take away their guns, their freedoms and their president — so they must defend him. Who cares if Pelosi says impeachment is “not someplace that I think we should go” if Democrats take back the majority? No one who listens to Rush Limbaugh will ever hear her.

Since they won’t lose any swing voters by doing so, but they would generate enthusiasm among their currently weak progressive left flank, Democrats had might as well own impeachment too.

Everyone already knows that November is all about impeaching Trump. If the Democrats really want to win, the first promise in their national platform for the 2018 midterms ought to be a clear, unequivocal pledge to get rid of the president.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


Francis: The People’s Pope

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

Order at Amazon!

He thought his church career was drawing to a close. Then he was asked to take over a Catholic Church in crisis.

Religiosity was in decline in the West. And the Catholic Church was in bigger trouble than any other institution you could think of. Losing parishioners, shrinking in power and prestige and discredited by corruption and sex scandals, a 2000-year-old church that traces its origins to Saint Peter was on the ropes, in danger of losing its viability everywhere but Latin America.

So the council of cardinals turned to Latin America for its savior. Francis brought newfound humility, transparency and charisma to a church that desperately needed it…but first he had to answer some hard questions about the sins that came with his rise to power.

Current Events/Biography, 2017
Seven Stories Press Paperback, 5″x7″, 192 pp., $16.95

To Order A Personally Signed Copy directly from Ted:


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Guest Post: Those Adam Lanza Eyes

The following guest post is by a teacher at an American high school who has requested anonymity. As should be obvious, these opinions are not mine. In other words, I may agree with them. I may not. That’s not the point. I’m putting this here to add to the current discussion over school shootings.

A dark mentality lurks behind Adam Lanza eyes.  Something is dead in the people who take weapons to schools to shoot staff and students and we need to develop an unyielding standard about it.

Nicholas Cruz was an earthquake-in-the-making.  The burning question is why he was not stopped before that Uber ever dropped him off at Stoneman Parkland.  Adults apparently did nothing about this kid except kick him out of school.  At the expense of seventeen lives, Cruz was allowed to run amok while avoiding a criminal record.

We need the collective will to do something about these murderers-in-training.  The argument can be made that we don’t have to wait for school shooters to kill lots of kids and teachers before removing them from our midst.  It’s not a hard argument to make.  The elements of an impending bloodbath are by now well-known: persistent talk of guns, shooting, and death; holding other school shooters in high esteem.  There is no misunderstanding kids who pose with pics of guns and knives.  To read these pics of kids dabbling with weapons as child’s play is willfully to misinterpret.  There is no doubting the intentions.  Followed to its conclusion is mass murder.

There’s even a template for involuntary committal:  kill some animals, make some threats, and post disturbing pictures on instagram, and the balance has been tipped.  When people, even kids, especially these kids, are this transparent, they forfeit the right to live among us.  The consequence is proportionate to the threat.

My school has a student with Adam Lanza eyes.  Disturbing pictures show up on his instagram.  This student makes everyone nervous; however, as of yet, he has done nothing.  So administrators do what administrators typically do: shuffle his schedule and get him special education services.  He becomes untouchable.  His nonsense becomes part of his disability and we are forced to tolerate it.

Sometimes the collective good trumps the individual.  The individual cannot reign supreme when it comes to mass murder.  When it comes to mass murder, we need to be a little less careful about the rights of one person and a little more careful of accepting the dangerously anti-social and criminally insane into our communities. Things that are at odds with a conventional lifestyle always attract attention, but they don’t necessarily warrant committal.  Someone can be at odds with convention and still live among us; however, if you give yourself over to the study of mass shootings, sit in your room playing video games all day with the windows blacked out like Adam Lanza, then we are not going to tolerate you.

Toleration means the limits of what we can accept.  Mass murder of children should cross that threshold of acceptance.  We need to err on the side of caution because we don’t want another first grade class murdered.  Adults need to grasp that kids who are focused on killing present a lethal threat.  They have no claim to our toleration.

Adults need to recognize the signs of disturbing destructiveness in kids and do something about them.  Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County had said before the shooting that he would “measure his success by how many young people he kept out of jail.”  His standards were weak and ultimately catastrophic.  When you signal to people that you’re not going to put them in jail, they will think, “I’m good, I can do what I want.”

The argument that banning certain types of guns will stop school killings is alluring, but false.  In May, 2014, Maren Sanchez was fatally stabbed, nay, butchered, by classmate Christopher Plaskon at nine in the morning at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut because she turned him down for prom. Granted, it was not a mass killing, but surely Maren’s life mattered to her and her family and Christopher Plaskon had been reported to school administrators for threatening her.  Those administrators did nothing.

We are not removing someone from our public schools because we disapprove of them; we are making the case for the rights of our school community.  We reduce to insignificance the teachers-turned-martyrs and Sandy Hook first graders when we continue to allow the criminally insane in our schools.  When your fellow students are afraid to the point that they go to their teachers and counselors about you, when you raise questions about yourself to your peers, you have not earned a prison sentence.  But you have lost the right to move freely among us.

My mother was a registered nurse and as part of her training, she worked with the criminally insane at a psychiatric hospital.  She let her guard down once, giving a patient a fork, and was almost stabbed.  It was then that she realized that some people were untreatable.  My mother hated that part of her training.  “They [the patients] were sneaky, cunning, and untrustworthy,” she said.  “They could never be let out.”

They have been let out.  Society has become a mental ward.  Closing the asylums was an act of insanity.  Sociologist Rael Jean Isaac and journalist Virginia C. Arnett in Madness in the Streets (1990) insist that it is too simplistic to blame President Reagan for closing mental institutions in the 1980s and that deeper causes in the culture were at play.  Their work calumnies lawyers who worked to eliminate involuntary commitment laws as part of the 1960s civil rights movement.  These authors support the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill.  The mentally ill cannot always be treated in the community.

The road since Columbine has been a bloody one: little children from Newtown, Connecticut; a young woman from Milford, Connecticut; now teenagers in Parkland, Florida; and lots of teachers.  Banning the AR-15 will not get us out of this.  It is impossible to remove guns from American life, but it is not impossible to stop the killings.  The tale that we have been telling ourselves, that the criminally insane can be treated as outpatients, is a fairy tale.  It needs to become easier to treat someone without their consent.  Bring back the asylum.

—A Message from American Teacher

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It’s here: the latest in my critically-acclaimed series of graphic novel-format biographies (Snowden, Bernie, Trump). Now it’s Francis: The People’s Pope!

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Shoutout: Does Anyone Know the #NeverAgain Student Leaders?

I’m working on a book about the #NeverAgain movement. I need to contact and interview some of the student leaders and survivors from Parkland, Florida who are working as activists. But I’m having trouble contacting them.

If you are in touch with any of these student activists, can you please let me know? I’m at