If This is a Democracy, Why Don’t We Vote for the Vice President Too?

            Let’s say you owned a house and needed extra cash to make ends meet, so you decided to rent two of your bedrooms. Would you agree to lease those rooms to two people, but under the condition that you could only meet and run a credit check on one of them? Would you allow an anonymous rando move into your second room, no questions asked, not even their name?

            It’s an absurd question. No one would do that. Yet that’s exactly what the parties ask millions of voters to do in American presidential primaries.

            Thanks to debates and news reports we’ve gotten to know Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and the other presidential contenders pretty well. Democratic voters have the information they need to vote for their party standardbearer. But they have no idea who will represent their party for vice president.

            We don’t even know what kind of veep the candidates would pick. Would Biden balance his centrism with a progressive, or someone younger like Pete Buttigieg? Would Sanders double down on progressivism by pairing up with Warren, or vice versa?

            Since four out of ten vice presidents have become president, this is not an academic question. (I include those who ran for the presidency using the formidable springboard of incumbency and the name reconciliation it bestows.)

            You might think no big deal, my choice for president will select a running mate with a similar temperament and ideological leanings. History shows that “balance,” i.e. contrast, is a common strategy. Bush, an affable moderate Republican, went with maniacal hardliner Dick Cheney—and by many accounts Cheney was the one in charge. The US (and Iraq!) lost a lot when Bush prevailed over Al Gore; whereas Gore was a staunch environmentalist and a thoughtful liberal, his running mate Joe Lieberman was a charmless Republican in sheep’s clothing. Whatever you thought of John McCain (in my case, not much) it would have been a tragic day for America had he croaked and been succeeded by the shallow imbecile Sarah Palin.

            It is strange—nay, it is insane—that a self-declared democracy allows, effectively, 40% of its future leaders to be elected not by the voters but by one person, the presidential nominee of one party or, at most, by a half-dozen of his or her confidants.

            Sometimes it works out. The assassination of William McKinley gave us Teddy Roosevelt, who set the standard for the contempt with which a president ought to treat big business. How long would we have awaited the Civil Rights Act had LBJ not been prematurely promoted? Still, this is not democracy.

            It is time for the United States to require that candidates for president announce their veep picks at the same time they announce their intent to run. It’s truth in advertising.

            Candidates’ terms don’t expire with them. If a president succumbs to an assassin’s bullet, a foreign drone or an aneurysm prior to the end of their four-year term, voters—primary voters—ought to have the right to know who would finish it out. Toward that end, they also ought to pre-announce their cabinet picks. Many cabinet positions are in the line of succession. And they can make a big difference. I would not have voted for Barack Obama if I had known he would appoint Goldman Sachs’ Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury Department.

            Announcing veeps early enough for voters to take them into consideration before casting their primary ballots would deprive political conventions of their last remaining bit of drama, but lower TV ratings are a small price to pay compared to what is to be gained: transparency and choice.

            It’s not like revealing the number-two spot ahead of time is a crazy idea no one has tried before.

            “Nowadays, once a candidate has locked up the presidential nomination, we expect them to choose their running mate by whatever process they choose to employ, introduce him (or, in two recent cases, her) to the public a few days before the convention, and we all understand that the convention will rubber-stamp that choice, and the veep nominee will make a televised speech, which will occur on Wednesday night, the third day of the four-day TV show that conventions have become,” Eric Black wrote for the Minnesota Post.

    “In the earliest days of the Republic—and this was the way the Framers of the Constitution intended it—whoever finished second in the Electoral College voting would become vice president. That’s how John Adams, the first vice president got the job. Even as the two-party system (which is not mandated by the Constitution) developed, that remained the case, which is how Adams (when he succeeded George Washington in 1796) ended up with his chief rival in the presidential race (Thomas Jefferson) as his vice president.”

            The parties usurped the voters’ role in the choosing of the vice president in 1832.

            We’re a weird country. Few electoral democracies elect a president the way we do and even fewer deal with succession the same way. Most nations replace their departed presidents with a temporary fix, typically an acting president who is a parliamentary official analogous to the Speaker of the House pending a special presidential election, or a quickie election to find a replacement. We’re pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out a better construction.

            What’s clear is that nothing would be lost and much would be gained by requiring presidential candidates to declare their running mates, and their cabinets, up front.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia

            Russia — OK, not the actual Russian government but a private click-farm company located in Russia — bought $100,000 worth of political ads on Facebook designed to change the outcome of the 2016 election. Except that only a small fraction of those ads were political. Also except that that small fraction was divvied up between pro-Hillary Clinton and pro-Donald Trump ads. And especially except that $100,000 in Facebook ads can’t affect the outcome of a $6.8 billion election.

            Now the same media outlets who touted Robert Mueller’s fizzled Russiagate investigation daily for three years is warning that Russia is planning to do the same thing in 2020.

            Be slightly afraid. Very slightly afraid.

            “Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and affect government policies,” read a statement from top Trump Administration security officials issued in November. “Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions.”

            Setting aside the question of whether it’s smart to take the U.S. government at its word — it isn’t — if Russia were to meddle in our domestic politics, we would have it coming.

            To say the least.

            Throughout its history the United States repeatedly attacked, sabotaged and undermined the Soviet Union. U.S. interference was one of the major contributors to the collapse of that country in 1991. So the Russian government that followed — the Russian system now in place — might not even exist if not for the United States.

            Imagine being one of the freshly-minted leaders of Russia in the months following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. You have a lot on your plate. The last thing you need is a U.S.-led invasion force of tens of thousands of troops invading your chaotic new country, most of which is primitive and dirt-poor. But that’s what they got. It took three years to kick out our troops.

            That’s a little more interferency than Facebook ads.

            During World War II the U.S. and the USSR were allies against Nazi Germany — enemy of my enemy and all that — but even after promising to jump in the feckless Americans dragged their feet for three years before getting into the war, content to stand down as tens of millions of Soviet citizens died. FDR “deliberately made the Soviet people shoulder the hardships of war and hoped to see the Soviet Union bled white,” a wartime commander named Ivan Kuzovkov told Tass news service in 1984.

            In 1962 JFK took the world to the brink of World War III because the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba, 90 miles away from Florida. Yet two years earlier the Soviets shot down American spy pilot Gary Powers in what became known as the U-2 incident. There’s no question that the plane was over Soviet airspace. It was an act of war. But even at the height of the Cold War the Soviets chose to look the other way. Can you imagine what would happen if Russia had done the same thing to us?

            In 1982 President Ronald Reagan approved an ingenious CIA operation to blow up a huge natural gas pipeline running across Siberia. “In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds,” recalled a former member of Reagan’s national security council. The result was economic disruption, environmental catastrophe and “the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

            Blowing up the equivalent of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was a tad more dramatic than releasing DNC emails. Not that there’s any evidence that Russia was behind that.

            In 1983 Korean Airlines flight 007 — gotta love the subtlety of the number — was shot down over northeastern Russia after its pilot turned off the plane’s transponder and ignored orders to withdraw from militarily-sensitive Soviet airspace. KAL flight 007 had penetrated 587 km into the USSR, a world record for “off course” aerial navigation. It’s impossible to know for sure but given the close ties between South Korea and the U.S. at the time it’s likely that the airline allowed the CIA to affix high-resolution spy cameras to the plane. They gambled the lives of the passengers on the assumption that the Russians wouldn’t fire on a civilian airliner.

            Another Reagan-era project involved economic sabotage. Because oil and gas were major Soviet exports, the U.S. convinced Saudi Arabia to ramp up production of its own energy reserves. Oil and gas prices fell globally, the Soviet economy went into a tailspin and U.S. taxpayers compensated the Saudis for doing them a favor. If Russia had purposefully caused the 2008-09 financial meltdown just to mess with us we would view it as an act of war.

            In 1991 the U.S. got its way, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Russia transitioned to free-market capitalism. You’d think that the Americans would reach out to help. They did send money: bribes for the tiny clique of corrupt former bureaucrats surrounding Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, from whom soon emerged a new class of violent oligarchs. Ordinary Russians got nothing. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 3 million Russian citizens died of hunger and other causes as a result of the collapse of communism and the refusal of the international community to step up.

            Talk about interference! The Americans worked hard to destroy the USSR. After they succeeded, when interference would have been welcome and appropriate, they left Russia to die.

            When the U.S. worries about Russia messing with its internal politics it sounds a lot like psychological projection.

            Or just desserts.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Iran Is Not What You Think

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            War, many people believe, often results from cultural differences and misunderstandings. President Trump’s assassination of General Qassem Suleimeni has Americans considering the possibility that we may soon add Iran to our list of unwinnable wars in the Middle East. As that calculus unfolds, no one questions the assumption that there are irreconcilable differences between our two peoples that can only be worked out via more bloodshed.

            Nothing could be further than the truth. No other people in the world are more temperamentally similar to Americans than Iranians. Certainly, the Iranians’ religion is different. So is their language. But we are a lot more like them than most Americans, and that includes members of the news media, assume.

            The problem is, very few Americans have been to Iran. The absence of diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution and the ensuing hostage crisis that brought down Jimmy Carter’s presidency, coupled with trade sanctions that prohibit American airlines from providing direct air service make it all but impossible for the most intrepid of travelers to get inside the country and see what’s going on for themselves.

            I’m not an expert on Iran. But this seems like an appropriate time to share what I learned nine years ago when I visited that country.

            As I said, getting in wasn’t easy. I paid numerous visits to the closest thing Iran has to a consulate in New York, Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, to little avail. Ultimately I shelled out a $5700 “arrangement fee” (some would call it a bribe) to a Washington D.C.-based agency that worked through the Iranian Interests section of the Pakistani embassy there to secure visas for myself and two fellow cartoonists.

            The main purpose of our trip was travel through Afghanistan for a book I was writing. Since our itinerary through that war-torn country would end with the Afghan city of Herat near the Iranian border, we wanted to leave via Iran after some tourism and rest and relaxation.

            You can get an idea of how unusual our plan was from the incredulous reaction of the Afghan border policeman who greeted us after we crossed the border from Tajikistan. “Point of exit?” he asked. When we told him Iran, he laughed. “You are American! There is no way,” he replied. When he showed our Iranian visas to his colleagues, they couldn’t believe their eyes. “How did you get these?” they wanted to know.

            Several weeks later, we walked across the border between northwestern Afghanistan and northeastern Iran. It seemed incredibly simple. We were already stamped in and on the curb outside the customs office waiting for a taxi when three bemused agents of Iran’s feared Ettela intelligence service tapped us on our shoulders and invited us into separate interrogation rooms. They grilled us for hours. Before they released us my agent asked me: “Do you know why we questioned you so diligently?” I didn’t. “You three,” he replied, “are the first Americans to cross this border since 1979.” I don’t know if that’s true. Clearly we were rare birds.

            The first thing that struck me, especially compared to the bleak devastation of Afghanistan, was how modern Iran was, even in this remote corner of the nation. Americans have an impression of the Middle East as a bunch of dusty pockmarked ruins and sand, but Iran looked and felt like Turkey or Israel in terms of its terrain and infrastructure. The second was how nice everyone was, even/especially after learning we were American.

            As required by the government, we had arranged for a travel agent to meet us and shepherd us around. He was a nice guy even though he liked to scam our money; we kept being put up in two-star hotels after we paid him for four.

            From the start, Iran wasn’t what we assumed. On the train ride to Mashhad, our fixer disappeared for about an hour. Upon his return he apologized and explained that he had picked up a woman who had taken him to her cabin for a quickie. His promiscuity wasn’t unusual. We were repeatedly flirted with or propositioned by women. The desk clerks at our hotel asked our fixer about our long beards, which we had grown out in order to blend in in rural Afghanistan. “Are your friends fanatics?” they wanted to know. “Would they spend the night with us?”

            Along with our beards we had acquired the traditional shalwar kameez white robes worn by conservative Afghans. Our fixer suggested we had a unique opportunity to smuggle ourselves into the haram (forbidden) section of the Imam Reza shrine so we could check out the stunning Timurid architecture. If anyone talked to us, our fixer advised, pretend not to understand them. Muslims come from all over the world to pray there so we could pretend to speak a different language. Worshipers circled the tomb of the 9th century Shia martyr Ali al-Ridha seemingly in a trance but, whenever someone spent too long in the center an attendant lightly dipped a pink feather duster strung from a pole onto the offender to ask him to move on.

            Two incidents stood out for me.

            At our hotel in Tehran we overheard a European couple complaining to the desk clerks that they had been mugged or pickpocketed, I don’t remember which, the night before. They had been robbed of €1200. The clerks repeatedly entreated them to report the loss to the police but the Europeans were understandably hesitant. The next day I encountered the pair in the elevator. “You won’t believe what happened,” the wife told me. “We went to the police and they gave us €1200.” There was a law that foreign tourists had to be made whole if they suffered a financial loss due to crime. Iranians we talked to were surprised that it wasn’t the same in the West.

            We flew from Tehran to Istanbul. At our last security checkpoint in Iran airport security personnel ordered us to remove our baggage from the conveyor belt leading to the x-ray machine. Great, I thought, we’re going to be detained. “You are guests in our country,” the equivalent of the TSA guy advised us. “It would be rude to subject you to a search.” We were Americans, citizens of the Great Satan, at Ayatollah Khomeini International Airport!

            Not everything was sweetness and light.

            There was always a sense of tension that comes with knowing that law-breaking could come with grave consequences. For the most part, however, we followed the rules. Most of the people we saw obeyed them too, but just barely. Many women wore the tightfitting manteau and barely covered their hair.

            When our Turkish Airlines flight lifted up from Tehran, many of the women on board dumped their chadors, revealing skin and sexy outfits and makeup. People smiled. Flight attendants began serving beer. This is what Iran would feel like if Iran’s government, which is not popular, were to go away tomorrow.

Trump’s latest actions and America’s myopic foreign policy, however, ensure that the religious government will probably remain in place for the foreseeable future.

            So does the fact that very few Americans have gotten to know Iran.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

 

A Grim New Definition of Generation X

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            People born in the 1960s may be the last human beings who will get to live out their full actuarial life expectancies.

            “Climate change now represents a near- to mid-term existential threat” to humanity, warns a recent policy paper by an Australian think tank. Civilization, scientists say, could collapse by 2050. Some people may survive. Not many.

            Some dismiss such purveyors of apocalyptic prognoses as hysterics. To the contrary, they’re Pollyannas. Every previous “worst-case scenario” prediction for the climate has turned out to have understated the gravity of the situation. “Paleoclimatologists have shown that past warming episodes show that there are mechanisms which magnify its effects, not represented in current climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Paris Accords,” reports The Independent. It’s probably too optimistic to assume that we’ll make it to 2050.

            Gives new meaning to Generation X.

            Millennials and the children we call Generation Z face the horrifying prospect that they will get stuck with the tab for humanity’s centuries-long rape of planet earth, the mass desecration of which radically accelerated after 1950. There is an intolerably high chance that today’s young people will starve to death, die of thirst, be killed by a superstorm, succumb to a new disease, boil to death, asphyxiate from air pollution, be murdered in a riot or shot or blown up in a war sparked by environmentally-related political instability long before they survive to old age.

            Long threatened, never taken seriously, not even now that it’s staring us right in the face, human extinction is coming for the children and grandchildren we claim to love but won’t lift a finger to save.

            Shelves sag under the weight of books that have been written arguing that we still have a chance to save ourselves. I wish I could believe that. Human population has tripled since the 1950s. More than a million species have gone extinct. Ninety percent of the fish in the ocean have vanished, replaced by one billion tons of plastic. Two-thirds of the trees have been cut down. The polar ice cap is gone; it’s never coming back.

            We can’t stop global warming. An increase of four degrees Celsius over the baseline set at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution means game over. We’re well on our way there. It doesn’t make sense to think that we can avoid extinction.

            What if we woke up and demanded action from our political leaders? Radical problems require radical solutions; only the most radical of solutions could resolve the most radical problem of ruining our planet’s ability to sustain us: revolution. We would have to rise up and abolish—immediately—consumer capitalism in all the major greenhouse gas-producing nations, prioritize cleaning the environment as the human race’s top concern, and pivot to an economic mindset in which we extract the bare minimum from the ecosystem that we need in order to survive and nothing more.

            Voting might achieve some incremental reforms but reform falls far short of what we require. Saving our young people (and their children, should they be foolish enough to have any) would require global revolution, the violent overthrow of the ruling elites and replacing them with people who understand what must be done. It would need to happen today. Fifty years ago would be better. Got a time machine?

            None of this is going to happen. We are going to sleepwalk to our doom in a haze of social media and corporate entertainment distraction.

            So it’s time for people who are younger than I am to start thinking about how they want to spend the rest of their likely-to-be-truncated lives, and how they plan to face mass premature death.

            Pending human extinction destroys the answers provided by religion and philosophy. Knowing that there won’t be anyone to know that we were ever here raises the question: why bother to do anything? This column, this year’s “important” presidential election, love, hate, everything will lose its meaning when the last member of our species draws her last breath. Earth is unlikely to be visited by an alien archaeologist, much less uncover everything we’ve made and created (assuming any of it survives), much less figure out what any of it meant, before the sun expands into a red giant and ends it all.

            Much is to be said for hedonism: eat, drink, have sex, and don’t bother to sort your recycling, for tomorrow we die. Stoicism has its advantages too; go out with dignity rather than weeping and gnashing your teeth and making your fellow survivors miserable.

            Nihilism is about to become the best worst possible life strategy. Life is meaningless. That will soon become obvious. Moral principles, relics of a time with a future, will blow away like the irradiated dust we leave behind.

            None of this will have mattered.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

The Articles of Impeachment Should Have Been These Instead

Image result for trump impeached headline

            Donald Trump deserved to be impeached. He deserves to be convicted in the Senate.

            Every president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors that could justify impeachment.

            But not on these charges. Not for threatening to withhold $400 million in aid that we shouldn’t have been sending to Ukraine in the first place, not as long as 38 million Americans are poor. Not for trying to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden; American voters have the right to know that the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and his son are on the take.

            Certainly not on the nonsensical count of contempt of Congress, which punished the president for the crime of using the legal system to defend himself.

            Impeachment is a political process that only has legitimacy when it’s bipartisan. In 1974 Democrats drafted wide-ranging articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. They appealed to constituencies across a wide spectrum of interests: corruption, financial fraud, bribing witnesses not to testify, privacy violations, opposition to the Vietnam War.

            The Nixon articles were crafted in order to attract support from Republicans. The media claims that the GOP has never been in thrall to a president as slavishly as it is to Trump but people who remember Nixon know better. Still, Nixon’s hold on Capitol Hill Republicans eroded as the latter realized they could no longer defend conduct like his wiretapping of and siccing the IRS on political opponents.

            Nancy Pelosi’s microaggression-based articles of impeachment against Trump couldn’t peel away a single House Republican.

 

            Here are the articles of impeachment I would have drafted instead.

 

  1. Racist foreign policy. President Donald J. Trump’s comportment as head of state and top official in charge of foreign policy has brought shame, contempt and opprobrium upon the United States of America. He has used his Twitter feed and spoken comments in order to insult foreign heads of state and call them names. A brazen racist, he has referred to sovereign nations in Africa, and Haiti, as “shithole countries.” If the U.S. should set the highest standard of conduct, Trump’s sets the lowest, recklessly destroying our relationship with the world. Threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, a nuclear power, is the kind of behavior that sparks conflicts. Few Republicans want another pointless war.
  2. The President may be psychotic. The president’s temperament and demeanor not only fail to rise to the bar expected of the office of President but bring disrepute upon the citizens of the United States he is tasked with representing. Anticipating the possibility that we might someday face a situation similar to that in England under King George III, the Founding Fathers conceived impeachment in large part as a way to remove a head of state who might be mentally ill, addicted to alcohol or other drugs or, in the flowery language of the time, indulge in “frequent and notorious excesses and debaucheries, and…profane and atheistical discourses.” A president not in full command of his mental faculties is an albatross; his tenure represents a threat to national security. Under the War Powers Act, the president has the right to deploy troops. He may decide whether a condemned prisoner is pardoned or executed. He can unilaterally order a nuclear attack without provocation. Although it is impossible to determine whether President Trump is mentally ill or under the influence of narcotics, his behavior is so unsteady that it is only prudent to plan for the worst and remove him before he causes a catastrophe. Republicans know he is dangerous.
  3. He endorses murder. After the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul, President Trump repeatedly sided with the murderers. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. The president’s statements makes it impossible for other countries to take us seriously when we pontificate about human rights. Republicans cannot and do not find what happened to Khashoggi acceptable.
  4. He endorses fascism. After white nationalists and other bigots gathered at a violent right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in the murder of a peaceful progressive activist, President Trump pretended there was equivalence between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters. There “were very fine people, on both sides,” he said. No there weren’t. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers died fighting fascism during World War II. President Trump dishonors them and increases the chances that fascism will rise again. Republicans do not agree with neo-Nazis.
  5. He is lining his own pockets at the public trough. Call it “emoluments” if you want to make voters’ eyes glaze over, call it what it is if you want to speak plainly: bribery. Trump has visited his own properties 400 times, filling rooms at full price with his retinue at taxpayer expense. Saudi Arabia has bailed out his failing hotels. He even suggested his own resort as the site of a G-8 summit. When foreign officials pay our president, they are buying influence. Republicans wouldn’t tolerate this behavior from their employees. The president is our employee.
  6. He kidnaps children—and loses them. The Trump Administration forcibly separated 5,400 kids from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many were locked in cages. After federal courts ordered them returned to their parents, the White House admitted that they couldn’t locate them. They were lost. Thousands may be never be reunited with their families due to neglect and bureaucratic incompetence. Trump has asked for two years to find them. Even anti-immigration Republicans do not agree with stealing people’s kids.

 

            I can think of other impeachable offenses—continuing and expanding Obama’s drone assassination program, backing Saudi Arabia’s genocidal proxy war in neighboring Yemen, airstrikes against Syria. But this column isn’t about what I care about. It’s a list of articles of impeachment that might have had a chance of attracting bipartisan support and thus resulting in Trump’s conviction in the Senate.

            Instead, Democrats have indulged in a pro forma charade that will set an awful precedent, tempting the House of Representatives to impeach every president of the opposite party over every little thing. They’ve trivialized an only-in-case-of-emergency process into a rushed lark, ignored what really matters and squandered the opportunity to hold the president to account for his many crimes and sins.

            Enjoy your “win,” liberals. Like your decision to abolish the judicial filibuster for nominations to the bench—in 2013 some Democrats actually thought there would never be another Republican president—you will soon rue it.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

 

A Nasty Christmas Gift from the LA Court of Appeal

The California Court of Appeal on Los Angeles has decided that I deserved a lump of coal this holiday season.

You may recall that the California state Supreme Court remanded my case against the LA Times to the Court of Appeal earlier this year. That decision resulted in part from the state Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the plaintiff in another defamation and wrongful termination case, Wilson v. CNN. Neither Wilson nor I have seen our day in court. We were still trying to get past California’s anti-SLAPP statute so we can pursue our claims. Wilson prevailed. I am still fighting.

Getting heard by the California Supreme Court is extremely unusual. So we were lucky there. Once heard, the remand procedure is standard.

The Court of Appeal was supposed to reconsider my case from scratch, in light of Wilson. California courts have been rolling back corporate and media defendants abuses of the anti-SLAPP statute. Wilson continued this trend.

Unsurprisingly, and pretty much as expected, the Court of Appeal doubled down on its previous decision against me, ordering me to pay the LA Times hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal fees. The LA Times is owned by multibillionaire biotechnology entrepreneur Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong. Another defendant in my case is Austin Beutner, a multibillionaire hedge fund manager, fired former LA Times publisher and currently the superintendent of LA schools.

The LA Times paid me $300 a week. Then, in 2015, they fired me as a favor to disgraced former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Seven leading First Amendment and free speech organizations have filed amicus letters supporting me against the LA Times:

  1. Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
  2. Cartoonists Rights Network International
  3. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
  4. Index on Censorship UK
  5. National Coalition Against Censorship
  6. National Writers Union
  7. Project Censored

As anticipated, we will now repetition the California Supreme Court.

If the court agrees to hear my case and rules in my favor, we will finally begin discovery.

If not, my case will be dismissed and I will face a judgment of roughly $1 million for having had the temerity to defend myself against the willful defamation published by the LA Times as a favor to the police, which owned them at the time.

Reading the latest decision, it’s hard not to conclude that these decisions so far are the result of corruption within the city of Los Angeles at the highest levels of city government, the media and the police rather than careful legal analysis. The court is ignoring the law and does not appear to have read my briefs.

The California Supreme Court is my last hope.

It’s also the last hope for press freedom in California. If the Court of Appeal ruling stands, it will be next to impossible for any employee of a media organization to hold media organizations accountable for any kind of wrongdoing, including race and sex discrimination.

You can fight the LA Times’ censorship by supporting me on Patreon or GoFundMe.

The Media Is down in the Gutter with Trump

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            How you respond to an attack defines you. Keep your cool, remain civil and others will respect the way you handle yourself, even if they disagree with you. Lower yourself to your assailant’s level and—at best—spectators will dismiss your dispute as a he-said-she-said between two jerks.

            So much has been written about Donald Trump’s debasement of rhetorical norms and his gleeful contempt for truth that there is no need to cite examples or quote studies that count the prolificacy of his lies. Trump’s attacks on journalists—“fake news,” mocking a disabled reporter’s body movements—are contemptible. They undermine citizens’ trust in news media, a serious menace to democracy and civil society.

            Less noticed is how major news organizations, incensed by the president’s trolling, have debased themselves to Trump’s moral level.

            American journalism used to adhere to strict standards. Though impossible to achieve, objectivity was paramount. At bare minimum, reporters were expected to project an appearance of political neutrality.

            Truth only derived from facts—verifiable facts. Not conjecture and never wishful thinking. Sources who wanted to be quoted had to go on the record. Anonymous sources could flesh out background but could not be the entire basis for a story.

            From the start of Trump’s run for president—before the start—Democratic-leaning media outlets abandoned their own long-cherished standards to declare war on him. Every day during the 2016 campaign The New York Times led its coverage with its forecast of Hillary Clinton’s supposed odds of defeating Trump. Setting aside the fact of the Times’ embarrassing wrongness—the day before Election Day they gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning—it cited odds rather than polls. Maximizing a sense of Clintonian inevitability was intended to demoralize Republicans so they wouldn’t turn out to vote. The two figures might suggest the same thing. But 85-15 odds look worse than a 51-49 poll.

            It’s downright truthy. And when truthiness goes sideways it makes you look really, really dumb. 51-49 could go either way. 85-15, not so much.

            The impeachment battle marks a new low in partisanship among media outlets.

            After Trump’s surprise-to-those-who’d-never-been-to-the-Rust-Belt win, outlets like the Times declared themselves members of a so-called “Resistance.” Opinion columnists like Charles M. Blow pledged never to “normalize” Trumpism; what this has meant, ironically, is that Blow’s essays amount to rote recitations on the same topic: normally, about the argument that Trump sucks. Which he does. There are, however, other issues to write about, such as the fact that we are all doomed. It would be nice to hear Blow’s opinions about taxes, militarism and abortion.

            Next came years—years!—of Robert Muellerpalooza. Russia, corporate media outlets said repeatedly, had “meddled” in the 2016 election. Vladimir Putin installed Trump; Hillary Clinton’s snubbing of her party’s 72%-progressive base had nothing to do with the loss of the most qualified person blah blah blah to an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame.

            Whatever happened to the journalistic chestnut: if your mother says she loves you, check it out? Russiagate wasn’t a news report. It was religious faith. Russia fixed the election because we, the media, say so, we say so because we were told to say so by politicians, who were told to say so by CIA people, whose job is to lie and keep secrets. No one checked out anything.

            What we knew and still know is that a Russia-based troll farm spent either $100,000 or $200,000 on Facebook ads to generate clickbait. Most of those ads were apolitical. Many were pro-Clinton. The company has no ties to the Russian government. It was a $6.8 billion election; $200,000 couldn’t have and didn’t move the needle.

            Anonymous Congressional sources told reporters that anonymous intelligence agents told them that there was more. The Mueller Report implies as much. But no one went on the record. No original or verifiable copies of documentary evidence has been leaked. The report’s numerous citations are devoid of supporting material. By pre-Trump journalistic standards Russiagate wasn’t a story any experienced editor would print.

            It was barely an idea for a story.

            Russiagate fell apart so decisively that Democratic impeachers now act like the Mueller Report—a media obsession for three years—never even happened.

            Speaking of impeachment, mainstream media gatekeepers are so eager to see Trump removed from office that they’re violating another cardinal rule of journalism: if it’s news, print it. The identity of the CIA “whistleblower” (scare quotes because actual whistleblowers reveal truths that hurt their bosses) who triggered impeachment over Trump’s menacing phone call to the president of Ukraine has been known in Washington, and elsewhere if you know where to look, for months.

            Federal law prohibits the government from revealing his identity, and rightly so. But it has leaked. It’s out. It’s news. Nothing in the law or journalistic custom prevents a media organization from publishing it. News outlets felt no compulsion to similarly protect the identity of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. So why aren’t newspapers and broadcast networks talking about it?

            “I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified,” New York Times editor Dean Baquet said. So much for the people’s right to know. Why should subscribers buy a newspaper that doesn’t print the news?

            There is a because-Trump change in media ethics that I welcome. What’s suspect is the timing.

            Trump is the first president to get called out for his lies right in the news section. Great! Imagine how many lives could have been saved by a headline like “Bush Repeats Debunked Falsehood That Iraq Has WMDs.” A headline like “Slurring Sanders’ Numerous Female Supporters as ‘Bros,’ Hillary Clinton Lies About Medicare-for-All” could have nominated and elected Bernie and saved many Americans from medical bankruptcy.

            But all presidents lie. Why pick on Trump? His lies are (perhaps) more numerous. But they’re no bigger than his predecessors (see Iraq WMDs, above). Yet discussion of former presidents remains respectful and slavish as ever.

            I say, give coverage of Obama and other ex-presidents the same tone and treatment as the current occupant of the White House gets from the news media:

            “Wallowing in Corrupt Wall Street Cash, Obama Drops $11.75 Million on Gaudy Martha’s Vineyard Mansion Estate”

            “Ellen DeGeneres Sucks Up to Mass Murderer George W. Bush”

            “Jimmy Carter, First Democratic President to Not Even Bother to Propose an Anti-Poverty Program, Dead at TK”

            (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)