SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ban Drones

Image result for sky full of drones           Ban drones.

Why not?

We have succumbed, in recent years, to technological passivity, the assumption that there’s nothing we can (or should) do about what an older generation used to call “progress.” But that’s not true.

War goes on, yet most of the world’s nations came together to ban landmines. Mines, humanity decided, were a horror we could no longer live with because their murderous potential remained long after the frontlines moved elsewhere, even after hostilities ceased, and mostly hurt civilians. Similarly, chemical weapons were banned after mustard gas scarred the World War I generation.

Here in the United States, societal consensus supports bans of hollow-point bullets that explode inside the body (they’re currently banned by the military), high-capacity magazines for guns, the bump stocks that came to our attention after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, and semi-automatic assault rifles.

Weapons aren’t the only tech to which society simply responds: “Hell no. Just. No.” Human cloning has prompted calls for bans by those who believe we shouldn’t plow ahead without better understanding the potential downsides. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned for children. Lots of drugs are banned. Banning products is a well-established societal and political prerogative.

Drones should be banned too: military drones as well as recreational ones. We already have a substantial body of evidence that they are dangerous. Potential advantages, on the other side, seem relatively modest. They’re cool. I’ve played with them.

No one has sat down to consider, in a careful measured way, the pros and cons of unmanned aerial vehicles. Where, as our skies are about to turn into the Wild West, are the Congressional hearings and expert opinions?

If you stop to think about it, selling drones to any yahoo with $400 is a recipe for chaos. Launched from the roof of a Manhattan apartment building, a pervert’s drone can peep through windows. A terrorist, or merely a doofus, can fly one into the blades of a low-flying helicopter or into the engine or windshield of a plane approaching the airport. And they will. It’s only a matter of time.

The terrorism potential became evident in 2015 when a guy accidentally flew his Phantom drone onto the White House lawn. Loading one with explosives is easy. Or a gun—a father and son affixed a pistol to a drone and fired it remotely in the woods of Connecticut.

I’m even less sanguine about corporate and institutional applications. Whether it’s Uber and NASA’s announcement that they plan to launch flying taxis in Los Angeles or Amazon’s imminent fleet of delivery drones, I’m not sure I want to live long enough to hear buzzing drones where birds are supposed to sing, or see some dude’s dinner pass overhead. Maybe a sane compromise is possible, like limiting the gadgets to flight paths above major roadways. Why can’t we figure that out now, before the inevitable technological growing pains (aka deaths and injuries and overall crapitude)?

While it’s easy to imagine how drones can improve our lives—they have already found missing hikers in the wilderness, for example—it is impossible to overstate how creepy it would be to put them into the hands of law enforcement. Obama attorney general Eric Holder said in 2013, and no legal expert challenged him, that the feds have the right to launch military drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil. California cops used one to track a rogue LAPD officer a few years ago. Local law enforcement drones could catch speeders, scan for expired vehicle registration and inspection stickers (stationary devices already do) and use thermal imaging devices to conduct warrantless searches. And there will come a day, not in the distant future, when the same Cleveland police department that shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death for the crime of playing while black will type commands into an iPad that controls an armed drone that blows up more innocent civilians.

This is serious, major dystopian horror-show crap. Can’t we stop it before it starts?

Overseas, and thus far from the decreasingly vigilant eyes of our increasingly establishmentarian journalists, the Trump Administration is expanding the military drone assassination program Obama expanded after inheriting it from Bush. Formerly focused on killing young men and whoever happens to be nearby in South Asian zones like Pakistan, where studies show that 98% of the thousands of victims were innocent, the drone killers are ramping up in new places like Africa.

“The number of American strikes against Islamist militants last year tripled in Yemen and doubled in Somalia from the figure a year before,” reports The New York Times. “Last month, an armed drone flown from a second base in Niger killed a Qaeda leader in southern Libya for the first time, signaling a possible expansion of strikes there.”

Like the innately disconcerting notion of letting local-yokel cops run wild with facial-recognition-enabled autopiloted self-guided missile drones, it is impossible to overstate how self-defeating America’s drone program has been to U.S. interests. Unlike here, where the nearly daily attacks barely rate a mention in the news, people in other countries and especially in the Muslim world are well aware of the fact that the vast majority of victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children. (Even the “guilty” men who die aren’t threats to the U.S., but rather to the corrupt local governments we supply with arms.) Local populations in cities where drones patrol the skies are jittery and resentful. Many have PTSD.

True, drones eliminate harm to American soldiers. But we operate them in macho cultures that prize honor and courage. Our unwillingness to risk our sons and daughters in ground combat makes us look not just like aggressors, but cowards worthy only of contempt. In a war for hearts and minds, drones are propaganda suicide.
We’ve begun a new arms race. When a foreign country or non-state actor attacks us with drones, who will listen when we complain?

Even in the short run, drone killings don’t work. “Eliminating jihadi military leaders through drone operations could temporarily disorganize insurgent groups,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, deputy director of the International Crisis Group told the Times. “But eventually the void could also lead to the rise of new and younger leaders who are likely to engage into more violent and spectacular operations to assert their leadership.”

A drone ban doesn’t have to be forever. But it should last long enough for us to figure out, as Donald Trump used to say on the campaign trail, what the hell is going on.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, 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.)

Guest Post by an American Teacher: Children From Hell

The following is a Guest Post by an anonymous American Teacher who does not want to be identified. I do not endorse the opinions expressed. I present them in order to stimulate discussion on an issue of interest to readers. Comments are, as always, welcomed. –Ted

I am not the norm.  In the free-for-all of other public school classrooms, there is all manner of dining.  Not in mine.  Food is for lunchtime and in the cafeteria. I do not allow students to munch in my room.  So when Dylan brought in a hoagie from Subway, a truly awful transgression, I told him to go to the cafeteria.  He ignored me, his body hunched in an obstinate fashion.  I told him again.  Students turn nasty when corrected. Dylan put the sandwich in the bag and chucked it at me.  My stomach lurched.  It is unsettling to have something thrown at you.  You can’t suddenly switch to having a civilized class.  And writing reports on students usually causes an uproar with parents. Students always have the last word and the version of the teacher gets scant attention.  With parents backing them, there is no price for students to pay.

I have met students like Dylan not just once or twice, but again and again.  These are the Children from Hell that it is my burden to manage and accommodate.

A false impression, that the Obama administration created the discipline problems in public schools that allowed for the likes of Nikolas Cruz to run amok, reigns among some on the American right.  It is true that Obama signed off on programs such as My Brother’s Keeper and used his power to investigate racial disparities in public school discipline; however, discipline problems were wreaking havoc in America’s schools long before he took office.

Sometime between when I graduated high school and when I began to teach high school, wisdom died.  The problems of the street and home entered the calm and boring classroom; student performance declined; the expectations of teachers were lowered.  The public schools changed direction because the bedrock of society, the family, was crumbling.  The younger generation depends upon the older to do the right thing, but today the moral authority of the parents is nonexistent.  In the absence of a sense of right and wrong, families stopped working with schools towards compatible goals.  They became adversaries.  Nothing is worse than a parent not supporting the school their child attends.

As any administrator will tell you, they can’t control the parents. All that they can do is go after teachers. Go after us they did.  We are saturated with workshops on classroom management and differentiating instruction. It is easy to see through the nonsense.

Mountains of gobbledygook have been produced on the subject of classroom management, the tricks that education consultants swear will get kids to behave.  By its very nature a political term, classroom management dictates the way people speak about student misbehavior in class.  Instead of the onus on the student to behave himself, the onus falls on the teacher to manage the class.  The public is seduced by the shift because it lets parents off the hook for their children’s misbehavior.   Administrators breathe the air of classroom management because they don’t have to discipline students.  They can send the teacher to a reeducation camp.  If the student does something wrong, the teacher is either not engaging enough or is not managing the students properly.  Maybe they are even looking at the student the wrong way and the student is feeling uncomfortable.  The same classroom management strategies are uncritically repeated in education classes and workshops year after year, but the information is of little use.  There are no tricks, just a teacher putting up with increasingly bad behavior.  Nevertheless, the rules of the classroom have been changed. It is no longer possible to say something critical of students. The term classroom management has even ensnared the teacher into believing that disruptions are somehow his fault.

At the time that the moral authority of the family lost its compass, we also began accommodating students, completely accepting their differences, from the socio-economic to the ethnic and cultural to the bad day.  A bad day can be very bad, very bad indeed.  It might simply mean that the student was concussed in a car accident the previous week.  The student may have trouble refraining from cursing out a teacher for the length of the concussion.  Or she may feel anxious about returning to school and need home-tutoring for a month.  Let me tell you, it is not easy being a teacher, having to accommodate all of these misfits…oops, I meant scholars.

When the moral authority of the family collapsed, dysfunction hit the schools. One thing that students never fail at is dysfunction.  Now it is up to the school to fix it. Upon arrival, students get to go to counseling, lounging in peach-painted offices instead of history class, sitting on soft cushions embroidered with flowers rather than upright in a chair in front of a heavy text. They can leave regular class and go to their own sort of personal AA meetings with a school psychologist or social worker.  Giving students this space, to ramble on about the problems in their lives, simply means the problems develop a stranglehold on them and their schoolwork never gets done.  To feel better about yourself you actually have to accomplish things.  Perhaps a little repression is not such a bad thing.  Maybe therapy should be illegal in the public schools.

Classroom management and accommodating students changed the political climate of education.  Expecting the school system to become the parent is an impossibly tall order, but as parents do less and less parenting, they more and more expect the schools to raise their offspring and then they want to dictate to other adults about how to do it. Parents want to be pleased and to please them you have to tell them what they want to hear or they are all over you like a rash.  These parents have broken the teachers’ authority and thrown the whole system of public education into question.

Although difficult to find, there are still mommies and daddies in the same home, but there are also parents who have affairs and leave home.  Others either have criminal records or are in jail.  Too many just want to be their offspring’s friend.  Because telling one’s child ‘no’ is absent from this parenting curriculum, lippy children are never out of print.  Children are not getting nicer and nicer.  It is not wonderful to be with them, particularly when they throw things at you.  The respectable and well-brought up do not come to us.  We are sent Satan’s spawn.

Perhaps it was the way that I looked at him, perhaps it was the tone of my voice, but nevertheless, that Spawn of Satan who chucked his food at me should have been compelled to say aloud, in front of his class, an apology.  Instead he was simply shuffled off to some other class.  No doubt the shuffle has left him with a scar.

Public schools have been manipulated into trying to cure familial problems; however, schools cannot mend the problems of dysfunctional students and their parents.  One institution cannot save the other.  And progress, new-fangled pedagogical and social ideas, is destroying us.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Distractor-in-Chief Trump Is Gaslighting Us Into Forgetting America’s Real Issues

Image result for distraction trump

Eight days before Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath before a crowd whose size the president still insists on fibbing about, I wrote a column titled “Life Under Trump—What Happens Now?”

“In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move. These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan,” I wrote on January 12, 2017. I described how the founding dictator of that post-Soviet authoritarian state was manic, “constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind.”

“Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi,” I wrote back then, “the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi.”

Sadly, my predictions usually come to pass. As I expected, the United States remains a democratic republic but under Trump, everyday life has assumed some of the characteristics of an authoritarian regime, especially our obsession with Trump.

OMG can you believe what he tweeted?

            What the hell is wrong with him?

            How long can this go on?

            Trump’s antics have prompted two strains of pundit reaction. One, represented by the comedian John Oliver, urges us to “keep reminding yourself this is not normal.” Others argue for ignoring the Keeper of the Launch Codes, at least his tweets. Ever the contrarian, I subscribe to None of the Above.

You can’t ignore the President of the United States. He’s too powerful. On the other hand, chasing down and driving rhetorical stakes through a maniac’s barrage of nonsense is exhausting and futile. You feel like a character at dusk in a vampire novel — too many undead, not enough stakes, definitely not enough coffee. The proper tack is insipid: Keep Calm and Carry On.

            Here I offer my apologies.

For 15 months I have, like my competitors in the mainstream media, been reacting to Trump: to his tantrums, to his weirdness, and the incongruous hypocrisy of Democrats who complain about stuff Trump does that is exactly the same as what Obama did (mass deportations, bombing Syria). To paraphrase Walter White in the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” it was fun. I enjoyed it. And frankly, I didn’t think he would last this long. Trump was the Political Satirist Full Employment Act of 2016. I didn’t want to miss out.

But I’ve been remiss. I have always tried to be forward-looking, to change the conversation, to argue for what we Americans ought to be doing and talking about. Reacting to the agenda of our worthless political “leaders” was something I left to the mainstream idiots of the corporate media.

I snapped back to reality a few days ago after reading another piece about the booming economy. Never mind whether Trump is priming the pump before busting the joint or whether the good times are about to end with yet another recession. Things are humming now — so now, while the getting is good, is while Americans ought to be demanding that Trump and his Congress fork over big bucks to fix the country’s long-neglected problems.

Workers ought to be out in the streets agitating for a raise: a $25-an-hour minimum wage is literally asking for nothing, since it’s the same, adjusted for inflation, as it was in the 1960s. I say go for $50. While we’re at it, let’s set a $200,000-a-year maximum wage. No one needs more.

Universal health care: it’s time America joined the rest of the First World (and most of the Third).

Three out of ten American workers are self-employed. They ought to qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose work.

A high-speed national rail system is essential to modernize America’s infrastructure and bring it up to global standards circa 1990. Estimated cost: $500 billion. No big deal: Obama spent $800 billion on his 2009 bank-giveaway stimulus bill.

Then there’s stuff that wouldn’t cost a dime, like doing something about guns and gender inequality and police brutality.

Lack of money isn’t why we’re not addressing these issues. Trump recently gave $1.5 trillion in taxpayer funds to his rich friends (and his family). The problem is a lack of focus — because we’re all too busy focusing on the Lunatic-in-Chief.

It’s time to stop being reactive. This is our country. This is our time. These are our lives. It’s up to us to ignore the twitterstorms and the random rants and demand what is our birthright as Americans: the best possible lives we can afford.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, 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.)

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Media Never, Ever Gives Peace a Chance

Image result for newspaper headline war

At this writing, President Trump is considering “the possibility of retaliation in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack on young children and families in the Syrian city of Douma,” reported CBS News. “If it’s the Russians, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out,” Trump said. “Nothing’s off the table,” including a military attack by the United States.

Whether that possibility involves a cruise missile strike, drone attacks or conventional bombing raids by fighter jets, this is deadly serious business. People, mostly innocent civilians and Syrian grunts who had nothing to do with the “suspected” chemical attack, will die. People will be injured. Survivors will be traumatized. An attack could escalate and expand the current conflict, leading to more death and destruction.

The stakes are high, but U.S. policymakers are as glibly insouciant as if they were choosing between Hulu and Netflix. This is not new or Trumpian. It’s always been like this. American leaders don’t take these life-and-death decisions seriously.

If the United States were a sane country populated by rational, civically-engaged citizens, Americans would pour derision and ridicule on anyone who seriously considered raining bombs over a “suspected” anything. And the skepticism in this case ought to be exponentially greater considering that this is Syria.

We’ve already been down this “Syria’s Assad regime used chemical weapons against their own people so we should bomb his forces” road. It happened under Obama. What is certain here is uncertainty: maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh pointed out in 2014, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed that at least one major faction of the Syrian opposition, the al-Nusra Front, possessed significant manufacturing facilities and stockpiles of sarin nerve agent and other proscribed toxic chemicals.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Since when is “maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t, oh well” sufficient?

American political culture has devolved from the Vietnam era, when pacifists were marginalized, to a kneejerk bellicosity in which they don’t exist as part of the debate.

To its credit, The New York Times — still with blood on its hands from its unwholesome publishing of Judith Miller’s pro-Iraq War screeds — has printed statements by those who oppose rushing into war with Syria. “We would prefer to start with a proper investigation,” the newspaper quoted Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations. It also ran letters to the editor that expressed doubts about Syria’s motivations and Trump’s trustworthiness.

Nowhere to be found was a pacifist: someone who opposes war, all war, no matter what. Nor were there any anti-interventionists: people who say Syria is not our business and should be left to sort out its own affairs.

It’s the same at The Washington Post. Some writers there wonder aloud whether Trump’s sabre-rattling is more “Wag the Dog” than “Doctor Strangelove”: if he bombs Syria, will it be to take our minds off the Russia stuff? Also, weirdly, this headline: “Something for Trump to keep in mind on Syria: His strikes last year were pretty popular.” How does Amber Phillips sleep at night? Again: no pacifists. No anti-interventionists.

It’s not like they’re not out there in Real America. The nativist America Firsters who formed the core of Team Trump in 2016 included a lot of isolationists — and Trump ran on a no-more-nation-building platform. They’re disgusted more by the cost of the bombs we drop on Muslim countries than the lives they destroy; if there’s any nation-building to be done, they ask quite reasonably, why not start with America’s own rusted-out, broken-down infrastructure?

Getting the paper out every day is a miracle. Editors can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting to cover all the bases by offering a wide spectrum of solutions to the problems covered by their news stories and debated in their opinion sections. The same goes for the producers laboring through cable news’ 24-7 news cycle. At a certain point, however, they ought to take a step back and consider the effect of their editorial decisions. They’ve created a relentless culture of ultraviolence, a debate without diversity between those who want bombs and those who want even more wars, to the point that not going to war isn’t even something we get to consider as a legitimate option.

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

 

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.

“Address”?

How?

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 Rall.com 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.

Love,

American Teacher