Tag Archives: first amendment

Kathy Griffin Matters

We Americans pride ourselves on our supposed respect for free speech. In reality, however, few citizens seem to rally to the cause of freedom of expression when it’s under attack.

The latest major free-speech controversy surrounds the comedian Kathy Griffin, best known for co-hosting CNN’s coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square with Anderson Cooper:

Image result for kathy griffin cnn anderson cooper

Earlier this week, it came to light that a Griffin photo shoot with the photographer Tyler Shields included an image of Griffin holding up a (fake, obviously) head of President Donald Trump. The image evokes pictures of ISIS members displaying the decapitated heads of their victims:

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Reflecting America’s history of four presidential assassinations, there is a long-standing cultural and social taboo here against threats real or implied against a president’s life. Federal law prohibits such threats.

Reaction to Griffin’s Trump head photo was predictably swift and fierce. Politicians of both parties called for CNN to fire Griffin from her NYE gig. Trump himself tweeted: “My children, especially my 11-year-old son Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” (It may be time, Mr. President, to monitor Barron’s access to electronic devices.) After Anderson Cooper threw his “friend” under the bus on Twitter (“completely inappropriate“), CNN fired her.

Foolishly, she felt compelled to apologize too.

Griffin hasn’t gotten much support from the creative community. One exception was the comic actor Jim Carrey. “It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line at all times,” Carrey said. “That line is not real and if you step out into that spotlight and you’re doing the crazy things that (Trump) is doing, we’re the last line of defense. The comedians are the last voice of truth in this whole thing.”

Carrey is right. Satire is a high-wire act. If it’s not dangerous, it’s not funny — it’s Jay Leno at worst, Stephen Colbert at best. Pillorying Griffin for being “inappropriate” is ridiculous. She got fired for trying to do her job. So the image was disturbing and offensive. So what? No one would have paid attention to it if had been safe and bland, like most political satire.

Now, a primer on free speech.

For a creator, there is no “line.” When I work as an editor, I tell cartoonists that it’s their job to create and mine to censor. Pitch anything, go crazy, be wild. If I approve a piece, and all hell breaks loose, the person who should be fired for poor editorial judgement is the editor, not the artist. Artists shouldn’t self-censor.

Private companies can censor. The First Amendment is narrow. It only protects us from censorship by the government. But employers like CNN can and do censor. They should be called out when they do, and censorship should always be widely condemned and despised.

CNN blacklisted Griffin. Blacklisting is the practice of firing or refusing to hire a creator for work they did for someone else. Griffin didn’t post her Trump head pic on CNN.com. She didn’t display it on a CNN broadcast. So the Trump head was not CNN’s business. What was CNN’s business was what she did on the air with Anderson Cooper at Times Square, nothing more.

Unfortunately, blacklisting is common. Sports teams have disgusting “morals clauses” that allow owners to discipline athletes for expressing themselves off the playing field; if free speech means a thing, these should be prohibited. Employers have fired employees for the political bumper sticker on their car. Gross! I was fired from a gig drawing cartoons about sex and relationships for Men’s Health by a publisher who didn’t like a cartoon I drew for newspapers about politics — and that I never submitted to MH. Unless you’re born rich, you have to work. No employer should make you think twice about expressing yourself — yes, even if you’re expression is racist or otherwise offensive. Free speech is free speech.

The quality of the censored work or artist is irrelevant. I don’t give a shit about Kathy Griffin and never thought she was that funny, though she offered undeniable random charm in her NYE appearances. (Weird randomness is an essential ingredient of successful humor.) I don’t really understand the humor in the Trump head photo. From what I gather from social media, most Americans agree with me.

But what we think of a comedian’s work is completely unrelated to whether she deserves our support.

Remember when my colleague Garry Trudeau criticized the quality and content of the cartoons drawn by artists murdered by gunmen at the office of the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo? The effect of Trudeau’s remarks was to support ISIS against cartoonists, and to partially justify the slaughter. Whenever a value as fundamental as free expression is under attack, people of good conscience must rally to defend it, no matter the content. Though disgusted by Islamophobia, I was appalled by the attempt of two ISIS gunmen to murder right-wing anti-Muslim cartoonists in Texas in 2015. I condemned liberal attempts to get right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger fired, even though Rush has personally slimed me. When I had my radio show in Los Angeles, I took heat from pro-censorship liberals for bringing white supremacist David Duke on the air for a vigorous debate.

Reading this, some readers will say: you can say anything you want, but you don’t have the right to demand that someone hire you (or not fire you) if you do. This is sophistry.

In a capitalist society, you work or you starve to death. So, under our present system — you can be fired for saying stuff your boss doesn’t like, even stuff you say at home, not at work — your employer effectively has the right to kill you if your expression causes him (or his customers) offense. Most people aren’t rich enough not to have to worry about this. So they censor themselves.

By definition, therefore, we do not live in a free society. We are not free to say what we want, to be who we want to be.

Until we come to our senses and elevate freedom of expression to a true inalienable right that cannot be infringed upon by anyone or any entity, the only way to fight for free speech is to condemn censorship when we see it — especially when it’s incredibly clear and obvious.

Griffin’s situation is such a case.

The expression in question was clearly political speech. (Again, whether you thought it was tasteless or not is irrelevant.)

Griffin was fired by one employer, CNN — her highest profile gig — for something she did far away from CNN. This is blacklisting at its most McCarthyist, and must not be tolerated.

Citing Griffin’s Senator and former comic Al Franken said her “real, fulsome apology” means that, eventually, she may be able to recover from the Trump flap. A society in which a long-time professional comedian could be destroyed by one flop of a joke is not one that ought to be lecturing other countries about how it values freedom of speech.

Finally, Trump has this sort of satire coming. I’m not going to recite the President’s litany of disgusting statements and remarks about women, overweight people, Mexicans, and so on. The man is a colossal asshole. Instead let’s address the quaint notion that images of presidents and gruesome death shouldn’t mix.

Like his predecessors, Trump routinely orders airstrikes and drone strikes against countless innocent people. He has already murdered hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in the Middle East and South Asia. Shouldn’t we fire this guy, who actually causes real people to lose their real, actual bloodied heads, instead of Kathy Griffin?

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Rall v. LA Times: Lawsuit Update

Here’s the latest on my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times.

At the first of three hearings to consider the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions against me, the judge in the case chastised both the Times’ and my attorneys for violating court rules governing page counts.

The problem began because Times’ attorney Kelli Sager submitted a 27.5 page anti-SLAPP motion against me, asking the court to dismiss my suit and award the Times’ its six-figure legal bill. Court rules limit the page count to 15.

We adhered to the 15-page limit, but it wasn’t possible to reply to 27.5 pages of argument with 15 pages. So in order to effectively counter the Times’ 27.5 page motion, we used a smaller font size.

According to Law360.com: “At the start of the hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon announced she was continuing the hearings on all three motions to future dates and asked that the parties respectively submit amended court filings ‘in compliance with court’s rules and without appendices and footnotes.’ The refiled documents should not exceed 20 pages, she said. ‘I just want both of you to adhere to the California Rules of Court, that’s all I’m saying,’ Judge Sanchez-Gordon said. ‘I’m continuing this because I could not get through [them], I’m sorry.'”

Both the Times and I will resubmit revised anti-SLAPP and opposition to anti-SLAPP motions, respectively, to the court for hearings to be held in June and July.

“Many cartoonists in the States will watch what ensues with interest, considering it a timely test of the First Amendment,” reports Cartoonist Rights Network International.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sue the SOBs? It’s Harder Than You Think

8-15-16

Are you one of those Americans who say it’s too easy to file a lawsuit? As I can tell you from personal experience, it’s anything but. The canard that U.S. courts are jammed up by litigious jerks is based on anecdotes spread by corporate propaganda.

We do need “tort reform” — but we should make it easier to sue, not harder.

What about all those “frivolous lawsuits” you’re always hearing about? You hear about them because deep-pocketed corporations run TV ads complaining that they’re being victimized by predatory trial lawyers. The truth is, big companies don’t want to be held accountable in the courts for their misdeeds.
What most people don’t know is that judges are good at ferreting out frivolous lawsuits before they get very far. If you get sued, the first thing your defense lawyer will do is file a “motion for summary judgment” — a request that the judge throw out the case because it’s weak. Between this and other methods of winnowing out bad cases, at least 95% of civil claims never make it to trial.

The dirty secret is that American courts have created so many hurdles to sue that it’s become daunting for all but the most determined plaintiffs to pursue justice. My case against The Los Angeles Times illustrates how hard it is for an individual to sue a large entity.

The Times fired me as its editorial cartoonist in July 2015, apparently as a favor to LAPD’s police chief, whom I had mocked in my cartoons.

Neither I nor Times readers were aware that there was a conflict of interest between the paper and the fuzz: the LAPD’s union pension fund was a major shareholder of the Times’ parent company.

It ought to be illegal for a government agency or an entity associated with a government agency to buy stock in a media company — but it isn’t.

The Times published an article accusing me of having lied in a blog post. I was able to show that I’d told the truth. But after I sent the Times the exonerating evidence — which attracted worldwide media attention and calls for my reinstatement — instead of issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, Times executives doubled down, publishing a second piece reaffirming the first one. In March 2016, I filed suit in LA Superior Court against the Times for defamation, wrongful termination, blacklisting and other charges.

As I expected, the Times’ defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss my case on the grounds that it was not meritorious. The judge denied.

After that, California’s legal and financial hurdles became nearly insurmountable.
When free speech groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation get behind something, I’m usually all for it. The First Amendment is my religion. But speech advocates’ support for a federal anti-SLAPP law is wrong — and terrible for freedom of expression. Perhaps they haven’t thought this all the way through.

Twenty-eight states and D.C. have passed anti-SLAPP laws. On paper, they sound great. A “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit the plaintiff doesn’t think he’ll actually win. The purpose of a SLAPP is to harass you by forcing you to hire a lawyer and tie you up in court. It’s an intimidation tactic sometimes used by big companies to silence individual whistleblowers and critics. Is the problem really widespread? No one knows. No one has done a serious study.

If you get sued in a state with an anti-SLAPP statute, your anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful tool. Discovery (depositions, subpoenaing of evidence) halts. If the judge rules in the defendant’s favor that a suit is frivolous, the case gets tossed and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s attorney fees. This is supposed to make jerky plaintiffs think twice before filing a SLAPP.

There are two big problems with this theory.

First, anti-SLAPP isn’t likely to deter frivolous SLAPPs filed by wealthy companies and individuals. Wealthy entities have more than enough money to litigate anti-SLAPP and to absorb the potential awarding of attorney’s fees to defendants. In fact, proponents have never come up with any statistical evidence that anti-SLAPP laws deter frivolous lawsuits.

Second, the intent of anti-SLAPP laws — to protect the little guy from the big guys — is constitutionally prohibited. You can’t grant rights to some defendants but not others; there are plaintiffs and defendants, period. So there’s nothing to prevent a rich megacorporation from using anti-SLAPP against Joe Schmoe.

Which is how the LA Times, the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S. and part of a $512 million media conglomerate, was allowed to file an anti-SLAPP motion against a $300/week cartoonist. In other words, the Times censored my cartoons and tried to ruin my journalistic career for their owners, the police. Then they accused me of violating their First Amendment rights!

Starting with their anti-SLAPP motion, Times’ lawyers have unleashed a barrage of tactics to delay my suit and harass me. And it’s worked — for nearly a year, I haven’t been able to question Times editors or LAPD officials under oath or subpoena documents that would help me build my case — or my defense to the anti-SLAPP motion. I’ll get my case before a jury in 2018 or 2019 — if I’m lucky.

Or I’ll be broke.

Three days of anti-SLAPP hearings in Rall v. Los Angeles Times begin February 28th in LA Superior Court. My attorneys spent many hours preparing our opposition to that motion. Legal fees aren’t cheap, so the expense of defending against an anti-SLAPP filing before the case even begins is enough to deter some plaintiffs from filing valid lawsuits.

If the judge rules for the Times, I’ll be ordered to pay the Times their legal fees. The Times told the court their bills would be at least $300,000. If she rules for me, the Times can and probably will appeal to the Court of Appeals. That means more work for me and my lawyers and months, maybe another year, of delay — and justice delayed is justice denied. If the appellate court agrees with the Times, my case gets thrown out and I’ll have to pay the Times’ bills — which by then will be significantly higher.

I know I’m right. And I think the law is on my side. But by filing a lawsuit in an anti-SLAPP state, I’m risking bankruptcy. How many would-be plaintiffs get scared away from pursuing their legitimate claims? How many defendants get away with illegal behavior by abusing anti-SLAPP laws?

Anti-SLAPP opens the door to unfair defense tactics. LA Times lawyers invoked an obscure California statute to require me, as a non-California resident, to post a cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal bills if they win on anti-SLAPP. They asked for $300,000; the judge knocked it down to $75,000. Just to keep my case going — before it begins, really — 75 grand was the cost of entry.

Thanks to concerned readers who gave to my GoFundMe campaign, I raised the $75,000. After I turned over the money to a bond company who filed it with the court (more fees there), the Times tried to get the case thrown out on the ground that the form hadn’t been filled out perfectly.

Still think it’s too easy to sue?

There’s hope for change. In 2015 Washington State became the first state to find its anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional because it denies plaintiffs their fundamental right to a trial by jury. Anti-SLAPP, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, “seeks to protect one group of citizen’s constitutional rights of expression and petition — by cutting off another group’s constitutional rights of petition and jury trial.” Minnesota and D.C. may do the same.

Congress should pass a federal law about this — one that bans anti-SLAPP laws.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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You Did It! $75,000 Crowdfunding Effort Succeeds, LA Times Court Bond Filed

YOU DID IT!

746 people.

$75,390.

Thanks to you, we beat back the Times’ despicable attempt to deny me a chance to prove my case in court.

Thank you so much.

Below I am posting an image of the bond filed at LA Superior Court. Amazing that so much money buys you such a crappy piece of paper! I was expecting a wax seal and gold embossing.

Here’s what happens next:

Additional donations up to $80,000 will help cover the 5% GoFundMe fee of $75,000 x .05 = $3750, plus the $1250 bond company fee, for a total of $5000.

Donations over $80,000, if any, will be applied to legal expenses such as flying from New York to Los Angeles to consult with my attorneys and to attend hearings.

At a hearing on Tuesday, August 23, the judge will be informed that we filed the required bond. That means the case moves forward. Thank you!!!

The Times’ anti-SLAPP motion is currently scheduled to be heard in March 2017. (The court could change the hearing date.) We will use the months between now and then to draft our defense to their anti-SLAPP motion.

If the judge rules for the Times, I will be hit with a judgement for the Times’ legal fees, which are expected to reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. The $75,000 bond would be applied toward that balance. The Times will go after me for the rest.

If the judge rules in our favor, the Times has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals. Given their contemptuous behavior so far, we expect them to do that. We don’t know how long it would take to get a hearing date.

Again, if the Court of Appeals rules in the Times’ favor on anti-SLAPP, the Times will go after me for their legal fees.

If the Court of Appeals rules for me, however, we move forward toward trial in LA Superior Court on the fundamental issues of this case: wrongful termination, blacklisting, defamation, etc. We begin discovery, depositions. Finally, there is a court date.

After a verdict, of course, the  system provides for appeals to higher courts.

I am prepared for a long fight against an intransigent and unrepentant adversary, a corporate conglomerate without a conscience. I am mentally and physically strong. I have stamina and a lot of energy. Most of all, I have the truth on my side.

I want two things:

Accountability for Austin Beutner, Nick Goldberg, Paul Pringle, Deirdre Edgar, the Times, and Tronc. No one should be allowed to get away with what they did.

Exposing the corrupt relationship between the Times and the LAPD, and more generally between the press and the police, and government. In our system, you have to be rich or have (as I do) a public platform in order to get justice. It’s incumbent upon those few Americans who have the chance to fight back to show people what the system is really about: cozy backroom deals by the elites, who are determined to protect their privilege at the expense of the rest of us.

======================================
Here is the court filing document, filed Tuesday at LA Superior Court. When we realized that it would take 2-5 business days for GoFundMe to release funds and perhaps an additional full business day for the bond company to issue the bond and get it filed, a very generous friend of a friend stepped forward with a very short-term loan so we could get it filed by today’s deadline. He was certain that this fundraiser would succeed. He had blind faith — in you, in me, that justice would prevail.

He’ll be repaid by early next week, after the GoFundMe money hits my account.

Bond

BondStamp

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Jihadi Art Critics Circle

Garry Trudeau, creator of the comic strip “Doonesbury,” gave an acceptance speech for a Polk journalism award at which he criticized the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for creating work that was insensitive to Islam, crossed the line, and thus brought a “world of pain” upon France.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: 54% of the Time, Americans Aren’t Protected by the First Amendment

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Of Hicks, Duck Dynasty and Free Speech

“Don’t talk about politics or religion.” It’s boilerplate advice, especially this time of year when family members and friends with varying cultural outlooks gather to break (if you’re a California liberal, gluten-free) bread.

Keeping your opinions to yourself is smart if your priority is conflict avoidance. But keeping the peace makes for seriously boring holiday meals.

Aside from the tense tedium of forced blandness, all that self-censorship accomplishes is to paper over conflicts and differences everyone knows or suspects are there anyway. Nothing gets resolved.

To the contrary, self-censorship enables bad ideas. Unchallenged year after year, the stupid people at the table return to their stupid homes as confident as ever in their stupid opinions, no matter how indefensible.

We are seeing the no-politics dictum play itself out with increasing frequency on a national level, with dismaying implications for freedom of expression.

This week we’re talking about “Duck Dynasty,” a reality TV show I haven’t watched. Phil Robertson, the ZZ Top-bearded patriarch of a Louisiana clan who struck it rich with a gadget that calls ducks, is the show’s star. He’s also a hick. Like many other hicks, Robertson holds stupid opinions about gays and blacks, which he expressed in media interviews.

After people complained about Robertson’s stupid thoughts, A&E “suspended” Robertson. He may or may not come back to the show.

Right-wingers, including ferret-faced Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and intellectual beacon Sarah Palin, played to their bigoted Republican base, issuing strident electronic missives decrying Robertson’s maybe-firing on the grounds of free speech. MSNBC and other Democratic Party mouthpieces responded in kind with a talking point that many Americans remember conservatives using against lefties during the Bush years: the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the right not to be fired.

“Yes, everyone is entitled to express his or her views,” Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian. “Not everyone is entitled to keep their jobs, though, if they decide to express views that are entirely odious and potentially costly to their employer.”

The same (used to be right-wing) left-wing talking point, cacophonously defending the capitalist “right” of bosses to shut up their workers, cropped up all over mainstream liberal outlets.

We’re again witnessing an odious truism: Americans defend free speech they agree with and sign on to the suppression of that they dislike. What if, instead of filling GQ magazine in on his far-right bigotry, Phil Robertson had gotten himself maybe-fired over an interview in which he expressed views that put him to the left of “mainstream”? What if, for example, he’d said instead that all Republicans are racists and homophobes? It’s a safe bet that joints like MSNBC and The Guardian would have denounced A&E for censoring him, and that Rush Limbaugh et al. would be the ones trotting out the “you can say whatever you want but you don’t have a right to get paid for it” bromides.

These free speech battles inevitably break down along partisan lines — but it’s dumb and hypocritical and needs to stop.

Let’s dispense with this sophistry that prevents us from getting to the meat of the matter. Yes, obviously, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. There is no legal issue. Under the law, A&E can fire Robertson.

The question is: should he be fired/suspended?

Should any employer be able to fire you because they dislike what you say?

On that point, my answer is 100%, unequivocally, no way.

“The right to freely speak your mind without government interference is crucial,” allows Filipovic in her essay. “But few of us are permitted in the course of our employment to say whatever we want without consequence from our employer.”

Legally, that’s true. To which I ask: why the hell not?

Americans spend 54% of their waking hours at work. What good is a First Amendment that ends at the keycard door? (Maybe we should rename it the Half Amendment.)

As someone who has lost gigs because I said something that someone didn’t like — usually about politics or religion — I’ve spent a lot of time imagining an America in which workers could express themselves freely. Try as I might, I don’t see the world falling apart if — I’m going to go extreme here — the bald guy at the hardware store turns out to be a Nazi skinhead — after all, the dude was a Nazi all along, right? If anything, it would be good to see him wearing a Nazi badge because, assuming I have the guts to confront him, there would then be a chance that someone could argue him into a better political place.

If you can be fired for expressing yourself at work — or, as in Robertson’s case, not at work, in an interview, which means that for him, 100% of waking hours are an A&E censorship zone — then free speech is a meaningless abstraction that applies only to the tiny fraction of superrich Americans who don’t have to worry about getting fired.

“It sounds nice in theory to say, ‘Walk away, and look for another job,’ ” says Lewis Maltby of the National Workplace Institute. “But in practice, most people just can’t take that risk. They just put up with it.” Which is why the American workplace is a fascist state. “In Arizona, you can be fired for using birth control,” noted The Guardian in 2012. “If you live in any one of 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be fired for being a fan of the Green Bay Packers if your boss roots for the Bears.” Many workers have gotten fired for off-the-cuff tweets.

Because it’s legal to fire louts like Robertson for mouthing off, it’s legal to fire you too, for saying just about anything, no matter innocuous. In his 2007 book “Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace,” Bruce Barry documents countless examples of people losing their jobs over banal political speech — for example, having a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car.

Any judgment about A&E’s action on “Duck Dynasty” has to consider the result.
What, exactly do the “social justice warriors” who led the charge against Robertson win if they succeed in getting him fired, or “Duck Dynasty” taken off the air?

I doubt they’ll change Robertson’s mind about gays or blacks. You can’t bully someone into political correctness. The cure to the illogic of bigotry is logical argument. Which requires more effort than organizing an Internet pile-on. All that PC bloggers get out of Robertson’s suspension is a “victory” that makes them feel good. But it diminishes society’s racism and homophobia not one iota.

Bigotry can also give way to experience — like the time a vanload of big black guys with gang tatts emerged from their vehicle, carrying tire irons, while my car was broken down in bad-old-1980s-days Bedford-Stuyvesant. They fixed me up and sent me on the way — after refusing a tip. Robertson obviously needs to spend some time with some LGBT people and people of color.

Getting someone fired, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a recipe for making new friends.

For Robertson and everyone else, the message is clear: keep your politics to yourself, and you’ll be OK. Unless, of course, your politics happen to coincide with whatever happens to be acceptable to whatever happens to be mainstream at a given time — which can, and eventually will, change — and bite you on the ass. So yeah, if you value your paycheck, shut up.

A society in which the workplace is a zero free speech zone is not free. A nation without the free exchange of ideas, where everyone can express themselves without fear of economic retribution, is not — cannot be — a democracy.

The First Amendment should be amended to include the workplace.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Will the Next 9/11 Arrive via Drone?

Aggressive Drone Wars Set a Dangerous Precedent

There’s no denying it: we Americans, we have a lot of nerve.

We love to pick fights, but when someone punches back, man, the whining never stops. And boy, do we love to escalate. Nuclear weapons? We invented the suckers, used them not once but twice – the only country that ever has – the only anybody who ever has – yet we have the balls to slap economic sabotage on the Iranians and North Koreans and smear them as “rogue states” for even thinking about trying to get their own. Which these nations only want – irony alert – because they’re afraid of us.

You know the pattern. We escalate the arms race with some nifty new gadget devilishly designed to kill and maim more efficiently and effectively, then we deploy brute economic and military force (along with wildly hypocritical propaganda about how we’re nice and peaceful and the most trustworthy bunch around) to keep those fancy new weapons all to ourselves for as long as possible. Like cyber warfare. We started it.

The first major state-against-state – completely unprovoked – first strike in cyberspace was the Stuxnet virus unleashed against Iranian nuclear power facilities. A joint American-Israeli effort, it wasn’t enough for us to mess with the Iranians. We had to gloat.

Now it’s drones. Beginning in 2004 with George W. Bush, the drone warfare program against the peoples of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and God knows where else was greatly escalated by an Obama administration marketing itself as a regime ending two wars in public (though not really) while it secretly expands America’s military footprint.

And jokes about it.

Operating as usual in full-on bully mode, the U.S. blithely acts as though it’s entitled to the perpetual exclusive right to invade other nation’s sovereign airspace at will. Rather than assume the dignified posture of silence or the embarrassed sheep business of a kid who got caught in the cookie jar, Obama officials even had the gall to get all sassy and file a formal diplomatic protest after the Iranians shot at one of their spy Predators in November. In a different world, one where Iran had the world’s largest military and was the world’s undisputed number-one arms dealer, the Islamic Republic could have made a credible case under international law for war against the U.S.

In an ideal world – i.e., the kind of society people of goodwill work to create – these devices would be illegal under international law. Like landmines, drones do a lot more harm than good. You’d might as well declare the First Amendment dead and gone now that private corporations, the FBI, CIA, local police and just about anyone else can scan the crowds at antigovernment protests and identify demonstrators with facial recognition software. Who is going to dare to make a radical statement now? As it is, you can’t count on cops not to shoot unarmed African-American men. How many more innocent civilians are going to die due to the faulty judgment of a drone pilot miles away? As the first country to develop drone technology, the U.S. had the chance to keep this genie stuffed inside its bottle; instead, we let the monster loose and told it to run wild.

It doesn’t take a genius military strategist to worry about drone weapons proliferation. The technology is relatively simple and cheap, so cheap that soldiers occupying Afghanistan use throwaway six-pound mini-drones slightly larger than paper airplanes to see what’s around the next mountain.

The FAA is rushing to approve licenses to “tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300,” reports The New York Times, including everything from “remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.” Police departments from Seattle to Gadsden, Alabama have already bought these creepy devices. And it’s now possible for a private citizen to buy his own drone for $300. A peeping Tom’s dream!

It was only a matter of time – not much time – before other countries followed suit. Which prompts two questions.

What’s to stop a hostile nation-state from attacking the United States with drones?

What if terrorists get drones?

Answer to the first question first: Nothing can stop a nation from Hellfiring us. While there are practical and economic barriers to entry that reduce nuclear proliferation, even the poorest nations can develop a scary drone program. Israel and its American ally claim to be terrified of the prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv, but the threat of a conventional weapons attack via drone is really what should be keeping policymakers up at night. Iran unveiled its Shahed 129 drone plane, a device that can fly 24 hours in a row, in September. That’s the one they plan to export. In September an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon successfully took pictures of Israeli military facilities.

The trouble isn’t just the drones themselves. It’s how the United States uses them: aggressively, prolifically, violently and with little concern for legal or diplomatic niceties. “Skip the drone debate, just kill the terrorists before they kill us,” reads the headline of a FoxNews piece by Erick Erickson, one of the Right’s most reliable cretins. But it’s not that simple. When the United States, the first nation to develop and deploy drones for surveillance and military attack purposes, asserts the right to “defend” itself by looking anywhere it wants and blowing up anyone it feels like, including its own citizens and people who have never expressed the slightest desire to attack the United States, it sets a precedent.

“More than 50 nations have or are trying to get [drone] technology,” notes The Times. “The United States will set the standard for them all.” Osama bin Laden said he wouldn’t have hesitated to use a nuke against the U.S. because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian targets. Using the same reasoning as the Obama administration, why wouldn’t the government of Yemen be legally justified to deploy Yemeni drones over American airspace and use them to blow up any Americans or anyone else they felt like?

We don’t hold back. Why should anybody else?

While a nation-state might feel constrained by the international community, its allies or domestic public opinion from attacking civilian targets in the United States, an underground resistance organization would be far less likely to refrain from using drones to make a political statement and/or wage remote-control guerrilla warfare. Even terrorist groups care about PR – but, like bin Laden, they could easily make the case that we have it coming.

Though some commentators – mainly and interestingly, liberals aligned with the Obama administration, which makes one wonder if they’d change sides after a GOP electoral sweep – pooh-pooh the terrorist drone threat, this is one time when the smoke rising from the ashes of buildings in an American city isn’t a remote (no pun intended) possibility created by a fevered theorist but rather an absolute certainty. It isn’t a matter of if we’ll get hit by drones. It’s a matter of when.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Self-Respect

President Obama signed a new law last week that broadens federal limits on protests at military funerals for members or former members of the Armed Forces. The changes cover services held in private places as well as military cemeteries. Apparently this excessive respect for the war dead only applies to dead Americans.

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Every Lie is Sacred

In a little-noticed ruling issued concurrent to the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about having served in the military. Which made me think, (a) who’d want to admit they were in the military if they had been, much less brag about it if they hadn’t, and (b) politicians must be grateful now that their favorite activity–€”lying–€”has been deemed worthy of First Amendment protection.

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