As Long as Enemies of the State Keep Dying Before Trial, No One Should Trust the State

Image result for jeffrey epstein ambulance            There is no other way to say it: it was a political assassination.

Osama bin Laden was unarmed. SEALs captured him alive. Following brazenly illegal orders from Washington, they executed him. “The [Obama] administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead,” The Atlantic reported on May 4, 2011.

State-controlled media outlets like The Atlantic claimed that Obama was desperate to avoid a trial that would give the Al Qaeda leader a “high-profile platform for spreading his extremist views.” Left unsaid, as so much is in the American steno-journalism reminiscent of the Soviet Union, was a more pressing reason to silence the Saudi scion.

As much as the families of 9/11 victims craved justice, it was infinitely more important to the U.S. political establishment to deny bin Laden an opportunity to publicly expound on his ties to the CIA and the CIA-funded Pakistani intelligence agency ISI when they were training and funding the “Afghan Arabs” who fought Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Letting people learn that 9/11 would likely never have happened if not for the CIA would have been…awkward.

Such is the fate of enemies of the state.

Last week, not so much an enemy but a man whose existence had become inconvenient, not exactly to the state but certainly to a cabal of powerful men including a former president as well as the sitting one, joined bin Laden in the kingdom of the dead.

The official narrative of billionaire accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s death shifted faster than a New York subway rider when a homeless guy plops down next to them on a hot day. First they said Epstein had been on suicide watch, then that he hadn’t. Prisons are full of cameras yet there’s still no video of Epstein’s death. Then, suicide watch or not, they claimed he’d been checked on every 30 minutes. Then more like every three hours. The medical examiner said his injuries were consistent with strangulation by a second person but then thought better of it and ruled Epstein’s convenient demise a suicide.

I tweeted the morning of Epstein’s passing: “Bill Clinton is the happiest man in America today.” Clinton flew on Epstein’s infamous “Lolita Express” private jet at least six times, including to such sex-tourism destinations as Thailand and Hong Kong. Perhaps he refrained from partaking of the underaged prostitutes and rape victims Epstein stands accused of procuring for his traveling companions. Whatever happened or didn’t, the Epstein-Clinton connection is sketchy as hell.

As is Epstein’s suicide—the first at the Manhattan Correctional Facility since 1998.

At this writing it seems unlikely that we’ll ever know who killed Epstein, whether it be himself or someone else. What we do know is that, if we take the government at its word, it was incompetent and negligent to an unfathomable extent. Being insanely stupid and lazy is its defense.

            Now we’re descending into the usual idiotic post-death-of-a-pain-in-the-ass debate between credulists (those who believe anything the government and its pet media say) and conspiracy theorists. Truth: no one knows anything. We weren’t there. The video was—but they deep-sixed that.

We don’t know how Epstein bit it but the fact of Epstein’s death tells us everything we need to know about America today. No matter what, Epstein died because the government let it happen. He was a ward of the state, the highest of high-profile prisoners, a man whose trial stood to expose extreme wrongdoing at the expense of numerous horribly violated victims, yet no one in charge took steps to make certain that he appeared at every hearing happy, healthy and alive.

The powers that be’s carelessness de minimis reflects their confidence that they shall never, ever, be held accountable for anything whatsoever.

So another man vanishes, few questions asked with many left unanswered—intentionally.

So it was with Moammar Khaddafi, the Libyan dictator who signed a deal with the U.S. to rid Libya of a nuclear program only to be blown up by one of Obama’s assassination drones lest he say too much about his relationship with the Bush administration.

So it was with Chris Dorner, the police officer who went on a shooting spree after he was fired by the LAPD, apparently in retaliation for reporting a fellow cop’s excessive force against a mentally-ill suspect, before being hunted down and killed in a cabin the police set ablaze with “pyrotechnic tear gas” cannisters.

So it was with Sandra Bland, the African-American woman beaten, jailed and supposedly suicided by the police for the crimes of failing to signal a lane change, sassiness and the likelihood she would have spoken out about being brutalized.

So it was with a bunch of Nazi war criminals who escaped judgment at Nuremberg.
So it was with Lee Harvey Oswald, whom the authorities couldn’t resist parading before reporters, without screening attendees like Jack Ruby for weapons.

More will die.

It’s better for those in charge.

(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 Root Cause of Mass Shootings is the Rage of Alienation

Image result for alienation

Mass shootings prompt simple explanations of the gunman’s motivation. At Columbine High School in Colorado, the killers supposedly snapped after being bullied. The guy who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was wild-eyed carrot-topped nuts. After a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online pointed to right-wing politics. Simple mental illness—if there is such a thing—appears to be the culprit in Dayton, Ohio. Also misogyny. But the Dayton shooter’s Twitter feed indicates the shooter liked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So right-wing media blames his progressive leanings.

And when there is no obvious explanation as in Las Vegas in 2017, when the mass murderer doesn’t leave a final message and doesn’t appear to have subscribed to extremist politics and was financially secure, but drank a lot and may have bought into Internet conspiracy theories, we shrug our shoulders and forget about it. But deep inside we believe there is a simple answer. We just haven’t discovered it yet.

Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles like the semi-automatic AR-15 used in so many mass shootings. But even if those guns disappeared overnight, gun-related massacres would still occur, albeit with lower body counts. Which would be nice, but it wouldn’t address the big question, the one we secretly ask ourselves after such incidents: where does the rage come from?

Flailing about in search of the enablers of personal mass violence (as opposed to state-ordered mass violence) is useful as far as it goes. The NRA and the gun lobby make money with every firearm purchase. Victims of mental illness go uninsured and thus undiagnosed and untreated. Hateful rhetoric, most common on the right and most recently epitomized by President Trump, legitimize the dehumanization of future victims.

In the beginning, though, is rage.

The blind anger that, like the medieval image of a succubus insinuating itself into a previously healthy brain, suggests that shooting a lot of people is either a solution or at least a satisfying way of venting, is the germ of the idea that leads to the first shot being fired at a military base, an elementary school, a country music concert.

The rage says: “I hate everybody.” It continues: “I wish everyone would die.” It concludes: “I will kill them all.”

I am mystified by the fact that so many people are mystified about rage.

I have been there. I have hated everyone. I have been so depressed that I didn’t care what happened to me. I was furious at how oblivious everyone was to my pain and how nobody cared about me. I wanted them to pay for it. Haven’t you ever felt that way?

Mostly it was when I was younger. In junior high school, when I was relentlessly bullied and beaten up and neither my classmates nor my teachers interfered—to the contrary, they thought it was funny—I fantasized about going to school and shooting everyone there.

When I was a junior in college, I spent finals week at the hospital due to a freak injury. Several of my professors refused to allow me to take a make-up exam because they were lazy, I got Fs and landed on academic probation, and the following semester one mean teacher gave me a C+ and so I got expelled. I lost my job, my dorm room and thus a place to live and wound up homeless on the streets of New York. Watching people go about their day, smiling and laughing and exchanging pleasantries and buying luxuries while I was starving, I despised them. Of course it wasn’t their fault. I knew that. What was their fault, in my view at the time, was their active decision not to engage in the struggle for a world that was fair and just, not just to me, but to everybody.

I imagine that most, if not all, homeless people feel that way watching me stroll down the street on my stupid smartphone. They hate me and they are right to hate me.

The NRA and the weapons business and Congress share responsibility, but what really causes mass shootings is the shooters’ alienation from society.

Why doesn’t America enforce mental health insurance parity? Because the American people don’t care enough to raise enough hell to force our elected officials to do so. If you have ever been broke and needed to see a therapist, you probably found out that they charge at least $200 an hour and that your insurance company probably won’t cover it—assuming that you have insurance. American society’s message to you is loud and clear: we don’t care about you. Go ahead and be insane. Die. Returning society’s contempt for you is perfectly understandable.

The so-called “incel” (involuntarily celebate) movement of men who hate women because they won’t sleep with them is a perfect example of society’s refusal to try to understand a legitimate concern. In 2014 an incel killed six people near Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer said in a video he posted before his rampage. In 2018 an incel killed 10 people in Toronto with his van.

Experts recommend writing laws to deny incels access to guns, shutting down their online forums so that they don’t work each other up, and improving their access to mental health care. Those may be good ideas. But they ignore the root of the problem.

Obviously no one has to have sex with anyone. Incels don’t have a constitutional right to get laid. But anyone who has ever been young and sexually frustrated (or old and sexually frustrated) knows that sexlessness can literally drive you crazy. Glibly suggesting to awkward or clueless or physically unattractive men to hit the gym and get their charm on is just as hopelessly naïve as Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. Feeling condemned to a life without love or physical companionship really truly sucks and we could start by acknowledging that.

Rage, I think, comes less from having a problem that feels hopelessly unsolvable than from the belief that no one gives a damn about you or your issues. People need to feel heard. People need to be heard.

Given how callous and unfeeling we are about so much suffering around us and among us, the only thing surprising about mass shootings is that they don’t happen more frequently.

(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.)

 

Ted Rall v. Los Angeles Times: What You Need To Know

My lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times is a long, complicated story. The following is an attempt to bring you up to speed in digestible form.

I became the staff cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times in 2009. Unbeknownst to me, in 2014 the LAPD Pension Fund became the biggest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, parent company of the Times. No one at the Times told me to lay off cartoons about the cops, probably because my editors too were unaware of the secret deal. In 2015 the Times fired me at the request of the LAPD.

The LA Times’ Nutty Audio
I was walking from a Bill Maher show taping to dinner in West Hollywood in October 2001 when an LAPD motorcycle officer confronted me, handcuffed me and roughed me up, drawing a crowd of passersby. He wrote me a ticket for jaywalking. I had not been jaywalking. I filed an Internal Affairs complaint about the false arrest but nothing came of it.
Image result for charlie beckIn July 2015 a LA Times reporter informed me that the officer had secretly audiotaped my arrest, that the LAPD (actually, it was Police Chief Charlie Beck, see below) had given the Times (actually, to publisher Austin Beutner, see below) the tape and that the tape showed I had lied about being handcuffed and mistreated by the cop in a 2015 blog that was posted with a cartoon that I did for the Times about an LAPD jaywalking crackdown.
The sound quality is atrocious. It’s 6-1/2 minutes of static, wind and traffic noise. There is evidence that it was spliced or otherwise tampered with. The LAPD audio neither confirms nor denies my account, which was truthful. Nevertheless, the Times decided to terminate me AND to publish a libelous “Editor’s Note” to readers intended to destroy my reputation as a journalist so that I would never work again.
I had the audio “enhanced”—cleaned up so that voices and other sounds could be heard. The enhancement confirmed my version of the encounter, including a woman shouting “Take off his handcuffs!” at the officer. I sent the vindicating evidence to my editors at the Times. They ignored me.

The Times Doubles Down
Three weeks passed. During this time, pressure built on the Times to reverse their decision. Journalistic organizations, Times subscribers commenting on their website, letter writers and social media from left to right urged the Times to reinstate me. They refused questions from reporters at other press outlets, censored the letters and shut down online comments at latimes.com. Thanks to the enhanced audio, the Times knew it had libeled me in the Editor’s Note. Rather than issue a retraction and offer me back my job, the Times issued a second article, this one by the Times’ ombudsman, that doubled down on the allegations from the first article, which they knew to be false.

My Lawsuit
I waited seven months for the Times to do the right thing. Finally, in 2016, I sued the Times, its parent company Tribune, and four individuals for defamation and wrongful termination. I am determined to defend my reputation against these scurrilous smears.

Here are the individual defendants:

Austin Beutner
Image result for Austin BeutnerTimes publisher at the time, hedge-fund multi-billionaire Austin Beutner was subsequently fired by Tribune for trying to orchestrate an inside-the-boardroom coup. Beutner secretly met with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who subsequently resigned in disgrace. At this meeting Beck handed Beutner the audio recording from 2001. Beck demanded that I be fired for criticizing the police in my cartoons; Beutner, Beck’s political ally and a man who’d like to run for mayor or governor, complied. (The Times still hasn’t told readers where the audio came from.) Beutner is currently the superintendent of the Los Angeles public school district, the largest in the country. His refusal to give teachers a raise prompted an acrimonious walkout by educators.

Nicholas Goldberg
Image result for nick goldberg la timesTimes editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, a middle manager, appears not to have been trusted with inside knowledge of the high-level conspiracy between Beutner and Beck. It’s hard to know anything for sure before the courts grant discovery, but Goldberg’s role was likely limited to that of hatchet man: his by-line is on the Editor’s Note.

Paul Pringle
Image result for paul pringle la timesBypassing Goldberg, Beutner probably assigned Times investigative reporter Paul Pringle to look into my story. Pringle informed me that the LAPD was accusing me of lying and questioned me at length about what happened the evening of the jaywalking arrest. Pringle, who worked the “cop shop” beat for years and thus spent a lot of time with police, made clear that he believed the cops, not me. Among other silliness, he asked why the low-quality audio didn’t contain the sound of my driver’s license (made of paper) hitting the ground after the officer tossed it or the click of the handcuffs going on. He also wondered why there was no sound of me arguing with the officer; I repeatedly explained that I was compliant, that I don’t argue with cops. In order to determine the authenticity of the LAPD audio, he told me, he asked the LAPD if it was legitimate. Pringle won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism.

Deirdre Goebel Edgar
Image result for deirdre edgarUntil 2018 Deirdre Goebel Edgar was the “Reader’s Representative” of the Times. The reader’s representative is the ombudsman of a newspaper; though paid by the paper her duty is akin to Internal Affairs at a police agency: to make sure the paper is upholding journalism’s highest ethical standards in service to readers. Indeed, in 2014 she authored the Times’ Ethical Guidelines. Among other things, the guidelines require that the subject of a critical story be interviewed at length, in person, to give their side. Edgar wrote the second “doubling down” article in 2015 smearing me as a liar. She did not contact me.

The Times Hits Me With an Anti-SLAPP Motion
Image result for kelli sagerCalifornia’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law was designed to stop individuals and whistleblowers from being slammed by big corporations like real estate developers out to crush community activists by tying them up in court with frivolous defamation claims. After I sued the Times, Kelli Sager—a high-powered $715/hour attorney employed by such reputable enterprises as the National Enquirer to fend off legitimate libel lawsuits—hit me, a fired $300/week cartoonist, with an anti-SLAPP motion alleging that I was using my power and influence to deprive the Times of its First Amendment free speech rights. The Times is currently owned by Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, who is reportedly worth $7 billion. Soon-Shiong gets a lot of good press that he doesn’t deserve; he has continued to employ Sager.
Before the case begins, the anti-SLAPP motion must be resolved. First up: the trial court.

Superior Court
At trial court in Los Angeles, the Times filed a motion for summary judgement against me, arguing my claim to be frivolous. The judge at the time, who retired a few months later, denied the Times’ motion.
Switching tacks, Sager filed a motion demanding that I post $300,000 cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal fees in the event that it won anti-SLAPP and won a judgement that required me to pay the Times’ attorneys’ fees, because I live in New York and not California. The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Hundreds of people contributed to my GoFundMe. I posted bond. Every year I pay the bond company $1250 to hold the money.
After a blizzard of stalling tactics by Sager, Judge Joseph Kalin heard the anti-SLAPP motion in 2017. Just days before the second and third of three anti-SLAPP arguments, attorney Carney Shegarian abruptly fired me as his client. I do not know why. I quickly found a new attorney but Judge Kalin ruled that I had to represent myself against Sager in oral arguments.
Anti-SLAPP requires judges not to assess the evidence, but to assume that all the claims are true to see if the complaint has any merit. Kalin assessed the evidence, agreed that the audio enhancement showed I was innocent, and nonetheless ruled against me. He ordered me to pay the Times $330,000 for Sager’s fees.
I appealed.

Court of Appeal
Earlier in 2019 the Court of Appeal, also in Los Angeles, heard my appeal. Like Kalin, the Court of Appeal ignored the anti-SLAPP rule about assessing evidence. During oral argument Justice Elizabeth Grimes, seemed shocked when my attorney Jeff Lewis brought it up. Grimes ruled for the Times.
I appealed. The California Supreme Court accepts fewer than 5% of petitions for review so I was pleasantly surprised when they agreed to hear my appeal. Seven major First Amendment organizations issued amicus letters supporting my appeal to the state Supreme Court.
My petition was a “grant and hold,” which means it’s tied to the outcome of a related case, in this situation Stanley Wilson v. CNN. Wilson claims he was wrongly terminated and defamed by CNN as a ruse, with the real reason being race discrimination.

California Supreme Court
The high court ruled in favor of Wilson in a ruling that urges lower courts to grant discovery in anti-SLAPP cases, something that was denied us. That bodes well. We’re waiting to hear if the court remands us back to the Court of Appeal with instructions to rehear us in light of Wilson, or schedules oral arguments before them directly.
A favorable ruling by the Supreme Court would mean that the $330,000 judgement would be erased, we can begin discovery and, four-plus years after the fact, the actual case would commence.

Here is Exactly Why Congress Won’t Act on Gun Violence, Climate Change, Impeaching Trump or Anything Else

Image result for beauty is in the street I’m from Dayton so I’m thinking about this today: Why hasn’t Congress done anything to address our national epidemic of mass shootings, namely reviving the assault weapons ban? People—Democrats and not a few Republicans—ask me that all the time. I bet all left-leaning pundits get that question.

The answer is simple. But it’s not something most people want to hear. It’s the same answer I give to another question I get a lot: why hasn’t Trump been impeached?

Congress hasn’t gotten off its collective pasty lobbyist-fattened ass because the streets of every major city are not currently filled with millions of pissed-off people throwing rocks at store windows and who refuse to go home until Congress passes real gun control.

Democratic voters want Trump impeached. They want it—lackadaisically. They don’t want him impeached so badly that millions of demonstrators are willing to fill the streets of every major city day after day, night after night, turning over police cars and setting stuff on fire, until Nancy Pelosi begins impeachment hearings.

This is a fun game! You name an issue lots of people care about. I’ll explain why the political class is ignoring it.

For example: What with experts predicting imminent human extinction, 98% of Americans are worried about climate change. (Who are the 2%? Happy to die but too lazy to commit suicide?) So why isn’t the U.S. government doing anything about it? Because—yes, you’ve got it now—the streets of America’s major cities are not choked by millions of citizens up for breaking things and fighting back the cops 24-7 until the politicians do something to increase humanity’s odds of survival.

You may disagree with my answers on the grounds that breaking windows is mean to storeowners, that burning things generates toxic gases, that cops are scary or that it’s more fun to sit home watching TV or playing video games than to run around in the streets dodging tear gas. You can rightly point out that the United States has no organized left-wing political group, much less one on the grassroots level, capable of organizing a mass street movement. You can, even more rightly, point out that we shouldn’t have to take to the streets because it’s Congress’ goddamn job to fix the environment and get rid of our insane president and ban the sale of military-grade guns to inbred derps.

What you cannot argue is that I am wrong.

It is an irrefutable incontrovertible fact that, when the nation’s cities are clogged with millions of angry Americans demanding radical change day after night after day after night, who break stuff and refuse to disperse and fight back against the cops and are willing to get beaten up and sometimes killed for their cause, and it’s impossible to carry on business as usual, our worthless public officials will yield to their demands and do what’s right.

Until then, mass shooters will continue to terrorize our public spaces, SUVs will belch greenhouse gases and Trump will tweet crazy racist BS. Bad things happen because good people don’t force them to stop.

Wishing out loud for other people, like Congress, to do something is worse than worthless. It’s damaging. You’re abdicating your responsibility to act. If you trust in “leaders” whose history shows they can’t be trusted, you’re committing political suicide.

(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.)

 

Bernie’s Plan to Address the Retirement Crisis: It’s Good That It Exists. But It’s Not Nearly Enough to Solve the Problem

Image result for elderly homeless Two weeks ago Bernie Sanders announced his “right to a secure retirement” plan. The media didn’t notice, the voters didn’t care, no one’s talking about it. But the problem is huge and about to get huger. And the government isn’t doing jack. As I wrote a year ago in a column that no one gave a crap about: “Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire…The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s.” Make that 58.

For the first time, the elderly now account for one out of five suicides. Experts expect that number to rise.

Like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren wants to shore up the finances of the Social Security system by imposing Social Security taxes on all income brackets, not just the lower ones, and replacing the current cost of living calculus with a metric that more realistically captures seniors’ spending habits. But only Sanders has proposed a plan to address the millions of Americans growing into old age with inadequate savings and pensions as healthcare costs soar.

So let’s take a look at Bernie’s plan.

“Beyond implementing Medicare for All and expanding it to include dental, hearing and vision coverage, Sanders’s health care plan will offer seniors supports and services at home ‘without waitlists, asset and income restrictions, and other barriers,’” reported The Hill. Heavier reliance on at-home care is one of the way more advanced countries like France care for older people. Well into her descent into Alzheimer’s my French grandmother continued to live at home; an attendant did her cooking, cleaning and laundry. She only moved to the hospital at the very end. (She tried get out of bed to go to the bathroom, fell, hit her head and died.)

Caring as I am now for my mom, who also has Alzheimer’s, I have to say that dental, hearing and vision costs—though significant—pale next to the $60,000-a-year-plus expense of nursing home care. Sanders’ plan would not address this pressing need.

Sanders wants to improve wages and working conditions for America’s beleaguered homecare workers. This is desperately needed—for the workers. For the aged and their caregivers, however, this means increased costs. Though happier homecare assistants will presumably do a better job, it’s odd that Sanders includes this idea as part of a retirement security agenda.

Sanders would expand “the 1965 Older Americans Act that would seek to create a new office within the Administration for Community Living to study social isolation among seniors and its impact and provide grants to states and municipalities to address the issue.” Sounds like another opportunity for state governments to fritter away poorly supervised federal funds on higher bureaucratic salaries and to plug holes in their budget when what is really needed is a direct transfer of cash into the bank accounts of older Americans and their families.

Sanders’ plan is full of Band-Aids like that. He would “expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to guarantee heating and cooling assistance, bolster the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to combat hunger among seniors and cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent and curtail the practices of loan sharks to protect seniors from ‘scams and predatory financial practices and instruments.'”

Make no mistake: when you can’t pay your heating oil bill and it’s February in Minnesota, you’re happy for any help you can get. Meals on Wheels is awesome. Credit card rates are too damn high. The creatures who record your “yes” when a robocaller calls you so they can run up unauthorized charges on your cards should be drawn and quartered.

But this is such lame legislation and in such small portions. Anyone who still believes Sanders is unrealistically ambitious need only look at this stuff.

If politics is the art of the possible, Americans should realize that what’s possible is much, much more than they’ve ever been told by either party or the press.

Under President Hugo Chávez gas cost 7 cents a gallon in Venezuela. Chávez’s logic was unimpeachable: Venezuela was the hemisphere’s largest producer of fossil fuel. Why shouldn’t Venezuelans benefit from their own country’s natural resources?

The United States has quietly become the largest energy producer on earth. Not just the elderly—everyone in the U.S.—should be paying next to nothing for fuel. (Spare me the emails about the environment. We need to ditch fossil fuels yesterday but, until we do, this is about economic justice.)

No one—again, not just senior citizens—should go hungry in this, the richest nation on the planet. It’s simply a matter of reallocating resources from the super wealthy and lawbreaking corporations to individual people who need them more.

The average bank savings account pays 0.1%. Bernie’s 15% cap on credit card rates doesn’t go nearly far enough. How about 1%? Banks would still make a profit.

My takeaway: Bernie Sanders deserves credit for trying to turn the looming retirement crisis into a 2020 campaign issue. It’s long overdue. His plan is detailed, plausible and stands               head and shoulders above his rivals merely for existing.

But it’s weak tea. Even if it were enacted in its entirety it would still leave millions of Americans in coming years homeless and living in abject poverty. It doesn’t address the primary problem: paying for nursing home care that currently runs over $7,700 per month.

I wish progressives like Sanders would take a cue from President Trump in political negotiations: ask for the stars and you might wind up with the moon. Compromise with yourself in anticipation of your rivals’ complaints, ask for the upper atmosphere and you’ll likely get nothing much at all.

(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.)

 

Lawsuit Update: Good News from the California Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court has just ruled in favor of Stanley Wilson’s defamation and race discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, CNN. This is good news for me and for people who care about free speech rights for cartoonists and other journalists because the California Supreme Court agreed to hear my case against the LA Times — specifically the anti-SLAPP portion of the case — as a “grant and hold” petition pending the outcome of Wilson v CNN, which is similar in several important respects.

The opinion just came out today so my attorneys and I are still reviewing it. So far the main takeaways appear to be this:

The court is clearly trying to provide guidance to confused lower courts on the state anti-SLAPP statute. For example, if you followed my case you know that the Court of Appeal justice who ruled against me left us gobsmacked when she claimed ignorance of a key proviso of the law, the rule that at this stage in the case all the allegations of the plaintiff are assumed to be true for the purpose of evaluating whether or not it is viable under prong two of the statute. The Wilson opinion clearly states upfront that this is absolutely the law in the state of California. Given the fact that that did not happen at the trial court or appellate court levels in my case, that bodes well for me.

The court is also concerned about media companies trying to use anti-SLAPP as a way to get rid of all complaints, whether legitimate or frivolous. In a very clear, intelligently reasoned opinion, the justices in a unanimous decision said that CNN and other media companies like the LA Times cannot avoid exposure for their crimes merely because they have First Amendment protections. That overturns the reasoning of the decisions that went against me at the trial and appellate court levels.

Even in the minutiae of anti-SLAPP, point by point, the Wilson opinion reads like a refutation of the LA Times’ defense against me.

So what happens next? There are several possibilities.

The court may remand — send back — my case to the Court of Appeal with orders to take the Wilson decision into account. If they fail to do so, we can appeal back to the Supreme Court to be heard there. If they do, the Times can appeal but it’s unlikely that they would accept their appeal.

Alternatively, the court may schedule oral arguments in my case at the supreme court level. Obviously that would be more efficient and help move along a case that, thanks to the ass-dragging of a lawyer who charges $715 an hour, has been in the courts for 3 1/2 years, all of them dedicated to preliminary hearings under anti-SLAPP.

Once we get past anti-SLAPP, discovery, subpoenas, etc. will begin. Then we can finally start digging to the bottom of the corrupt relationship between the LAPD, the LAPPL pension fund, Tribune Publishing, the Los Angeles Times, current LA school superintendent Austin Beutner, and biotechnology billionaire doctor Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong that led to the LAPD ordering my firing and the LA Times using bogus evidence to carry it out and smear my name even after they became 100% certain that they were wrong.

Thank you so much to the people and organizations who have and are supporting me throughout this fight.

Progressives to Democrats: We Are Watching the Way You Mistreat “the Squad”

Image result for aoc squad Strictly speaking, Nancy Pelosi is right. Led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the four Congressional freshmen known as the Squad are, by Beltway standards, relatively powerless—just four votes, as the speaker said. They chair no committees and head no broad coalitions that can be counted upon to cast yeas and nays at their command. Yet they are important—and not merely due to their formidable social media following.

Building on Bernie Sanders’ outsider progressive legacy in the Senate and his two surprisingly successful presidential campaigns AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are a symbol of the progressive challenge to a Democratic Party still controlled by Third Way/DLC/Clintonista/Rahm Emanuel corporatist right-wingers despite the fact that 72% of its voters are self-identified progressives.

Progressive voters are watching. Is there room for them inside the Democratic Party? The signs are hardly encouraging.

Left populist Democrats are still seething with disgust from 2016 when a DNC then chaired by Clinton hack Debbie Wasserman Schultz stacked superdelegates in favor of Clinton against Sanders, was accused of laundering money for the Clinton campaign, “forgot” to send party officials to count delegates and caucus goers in pro-Sanders counties and quashed pro-Sanders delegates’ speeches at the national convention.

During the fall campaign right-wing Democrats let progressives know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t need or want their support. Hillary Clinton announced a pivot from right to righter to appeal to anti-Trump Republicans. (There weren’t many of those.) She never considered Bernie for vice president or a cabinet position.

No one likes to be where they’re not wanted. So many progressives stayed home on election day that Trump won.

Rather than accept responsibility for their losing strategy, however, DNC corporatists blamed the progressives they’d treated like crap. Two months after Trump took office, they installed one of their own, Tom Perez, as DNC chairman. “Leading Democrats think Bernie Sanders’s wing of the party will come back into the fold — even without their choice of DNC chair,” Jeff Stein wrote in Vox.

Democrats won the 2018 midterms, taking back the House. The Squad rode that wave. These young women were young, unabashedly left, exciting. How would the establishment treat them?

Now we know the answer: like petulant children.

Pelosi should have expressed her annoyance at the Squad’s votes against a border patrol funding bill—imagine the audacity, they wanted increased protection of children and families—privately. Instead, like an idiot, she vented to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that the Squad was impotent aside from “their public whatever and their Twitter world.” An ever-opportunistic President Trump leapt into the intraparty fray with a troll tweet pretending to defend Pelosi and calling for the Squad to be deported to, in the case of the three members who were born in the U.S….where? No one, Trump least of all, knows.

Eager to slap a Band-Aid on her deeply divided party, Pelosi engineered the passage of a toothless resolution to censure Trump’s racist remarks. As I said last week in The Wall Street Journal, it was too little too late. “It’s [now] possible,” I wrote, “to imagine a not-so-distant future in which progressive voters leave the Democrats to form a new party—or stop voting entirely.”

A series of tweets by CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed that the moderates still don’t get it. “House Democrats appeared unified in their votes this week but I’ve spent the day talking to a bunch of them and many are extremely frustrated,” Tapper said. “Other House Democrats are conflicted about having to defend the Squad given things they’ve said and done. House Dems cited: talk of supporting challengers to incumbent Dems in primaries, AOC’s use of the term ‘concentration camps,’ anti-Semitic comments by Tlaib & Omar.” (According to dictionaries, AOC is right. Neither Tlaib nor Omar are on record saying anything anti-Semitic.)

Tapper continued: “Others noted that this week the House Democratic Caucus stood by a group that is not perceived as standing by them…We were there for them; they should stop attacking us.”

Only in the vacuum-packed chambers of our do-nothing Congress does a consequence-free resolution pass as being “there for them.” Pelosi, Schumer and other Democratic leaders should have notified Trump that he must resign at once, that there would be no more business of any kind, including budgetary, passed in Washington until he leaves office. Repeatedly demanding that House members be “sent back” “where they came from” is intolerable—yet centrist Democrats continue to tolerate it.

Human beings are social animals. We feel comfortable when we feel welcomed and run away when we’re greeted with indifference or disdain. I remember joining Mensa at age 12. I was excited to attend my first meeting. But when I walked in, it was a cocktail party. Everyone was old. No one talked to me so I left and never went back. We were all smart but that wasn’t enough to make me want to hang out.

Progressives and liberals may both hate Trump but that doesn’t make them political allies. As even right-wing Democratic Times columnist remarked: “It is simply a fact that leftists, as well as the generally disaffected, need to be courted just as moderates do.” But the establishment right-wingers in charge of the Democratic Party are not only not courting leftists, they keep actively snubbing and insulting them. They’ve even renewed the last election cycle’s “Stop Sanders” propaganda campaign. Stopping progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appears to be the raison d’être of Joe Biden’s last-second candidacy.

Democrats’ dismissive and condescending treatment of the Squad sends a clear signal to progressives: We don’t like you. Go away.

They will.

(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.)

 

It’s Up to Nancy Pelosi to Cave In

Image result for Nancy Pelosi AOC How should the Democratic Party resolve its civil conflict between progressives and centrists? Society has a simple rule. When an argument gets out of control, it’s up to the side with the most money, power and social standing to extend an olive branch. Even when kids are wrong, parents must make nice first.

In the workplace, a good boss knows that smoothing her employee’s ruffled feathers is her responsibility.

The same is true about international diplomacy. When a dispute between two nations becomes a crisis there’s a stronger chance of keeping the peace when the bigger, stronger, richer country makes the first concession. (The United States doesn’t see things this way, which leads to many unnecessary wars.)

The vast majority of Democratic voters are self-identified progressives. Left populist progressives like “the Squad”—House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—have millions of followers on social media, providing them with outsized influence beyond their status as incoming freshmen.

Yet the party apparatus remains under the control of the same center-right corporatist clique that took over in the 1970s. The DNC is chaired by Tom Perez, a moderate aligned with the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. They control party pursestrings, ballot access, debate invitations and the imprimatur of legitimacy in the media outlets they control, like The New York Times, NPR and MSNBC.

It’s easy to see why establishment Democratic leaders like Pelosi are irritated by upstarts like AOC and “their public whatever and their Twitter world,” as she recently sniped. But Pelosi is 79 years old to AOC’s 29. She’s worth $30 million; AOC has zero savings. As Speaker of the House she has sat in the room watching President Obama blow up people with drone missiles. AOC was tending bar.

Nancy Pelosi is a big girl. And she should act like one.

She should be mending the rift within her party. She should not be picking fights with someone young enough to be her granddaughter. It makes her look small. And it alienates progressive voters. When 72% of your party’s voters are progressives and you’re not progressive yourself, you have to step gingerly if you want to avoid a revolt that topples you from power. If she wants to preserve her and her center-right faction’s control of the party, Pelosi should make amends with AOC’s Squad in word and in deed.

Episodes from opposite sides of the electoral-political spectrum illustrate the foolishness of the Pelosi Democrats’ broadsides against insurgent progressives.

California and national Republicans had been wary of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he entered the wild gubernatorial campaign that followed the 2003 recall of California governor Gray Davis. GOP leaders thought he was too moderate. But Schwarzenegger climbed in the polls, party bosses embraced him and he won.

Faced with rising political stars within their party of whom they initially disapproved, Republican gatekeepers have been remarkably nimble at pivoting to adjust to the popular will expressed by their voters. They wanted Jeb! Bush in 2014 and 2015 but were happy to join the formerly dreaded Team Trump by 2016.

Faced with populist challenges, Democratic bosses stubbornly defend their preselected moderates against populist challenges from the left: Jimmy Carter against Ted Kennedy in 1980, John Kerry against Howard Dean in 2004, Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in 2016. They’re repeating the pattern now with Joe Biden.

What’s baffling is how the DNC alienates progressives in the general election campaign after it crushes them during the primaries. Uniting the party wouldn’t be hard: have the nominee support some progressive platform planks, pick a progressive as vice president, pledge to include progressives in the cabinet.

Center-right Democrats give progressives no quarter. They’re like Genghis Khan’s army, slaughtering with abandon, salting the fields, nothing left behind.

Hillary embodied this take-no-prisoners approach. After defeating Sanders—by repeatedly, overtly cheating—she offered no quarter. No offer of a veep spot. Even though they were popular with voters she wanted none of his ideas. She refused to hire Sanders’ campaign workers.

It mostly went unnoticed but Obama did the same thing, ignoring the progressive surge of John Edwards’ “two Americas” campaign during the 2008 primaries. Obama’s cabinet didn’t include a single liberal.

Dean and his supporters similarly found themselves left out in the cold after Kerry secured the 2004 nomination.

Considering the fact that snubbing the progressive base rarely works out for Democrats—it failed in 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004 and 2016—you’d think DNC insiders would rethink their strategy. It’s pretty clear that they would rather lose as a center-right party than win as a center-left one.

Pelosi’s open disdain for her party’s newest progressive stars continues this self-defeating tradition.

(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 Difference Between Liberals and Leftists

Image result for liberals vs leftists
Living as they do in a bipolar political world where politics consists of Democrats and Republicans and no other ideology is real, media corporations in the United States use left, liberal and Democrat as synonyms. This is obviously wrong and clearly untrue—Democrats are a party, leftism and liberalism are ideologies, and Democratic politics are frequently neither left nor liberal but far right—but as Orwell observed after you hear a lie repeated enough times you begin to question what you know to be true rather than the untruth. Sometimes it’s useful in this postmodern era to remind ourselves that words still have meaning, that distinctions make a difference.

Let us now delineate the difference between liberals and leftists.

Bernie Sanders votes and caucuses with the Democratic Party, campaigns as an independent and self-identifies as a “democratic socialist”—an ideology without a party in the U.S. but that draws comparisons to Scandinavia. His stances on the issues are left of center but American politics have drifted so far right that he’s really a paleo-Democrat—there’s no daylight between Sanders 2020 and McGovern 1972. No wonder voters are confused!

Liberals and leftists want many of the same things: reduced income inequality, better working conditions, more affordable housing and healthcare. There are differences of degrees. A liberal wants the gap between rich and poor to shrink; a communist wants no class differences at all. They’re very different when it comes to foreign policy: liberals support some wars of choice whereas leftists would only turn to the military for self-defense.

Reading the last paragraph it is tempting to conclude, as I used to and many people still do, that there is enough overlap between the two to justify, even require, cooperation. Liberals and leftists both want to save the planet and the human race from climate change—why not join forces to fight the polluters and their allies the denialists?

The Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is the ultimate liberal: a professor at Columbia, ex-chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and former chief economist for the World Bank. An op-ed he recently published in The New York Times provides a perfect illustration of why a lasting working relationship between liberals and leftists will always be a pipe dream.

As is often the case with screeds by smart liberals, there is a lot to like in “Progressive Capitalism Is Not an Oxymoron.” (Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes it is.)

Stiglitz correctly identifies the problem: “Despite the lowest unemployment rates since the late 1960s, the American economy is failing its citizens. Some 90 percent have seen their incomes stagnate or decline in the past 30 years. This is not surprising, given that the United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest levels of opportunity.”

He correctly apportions the blame on “wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking),” businesses like hedge fund management that do not create anything but profits and the legacy of Reaganism: “Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities,” Stiglitz writes. “We relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.”

Then: “We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad. We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.” Boom! This.

Liberals like Stiglitz and leftists like me part ways when the discussion turns to solution. As Lenin asked: What is to be done?

Stiglitz answers: “It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve.”

“Government action is required,” he says.

We need “a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed,” he says.

Follow the link. Read the whole thing. I’ve included all the meat.

Stiglitz knows what is to be done. Mostly, he’s right. What he wants might not be enough. But it would do more good than harm.

What he does not know is how to make his proposals happen. Like the politics of all liberals, his is a toothless musing, a vacuous fantasy.

He said it himself: “Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.” This late-capitalism death spiral will not cure itself. There is no world in which corporations and their pet politicians and corrupt media propagandists will “recognize the vital role of the state.” They will not regulate themselves. They will not create “a new social contract.”

They are rich and powerful. The rich do not wake up one day and say to themselves, “Time to stop being a selfish ass, I’m going to redistribute my income.” The powerful do not care that the weak are miserable.

Money gets taken away from the rich one way: by force. The powerful are divested of their privileges the same way: when they have no choice.

Liberals and leftists identify many of the same problems. Only leftists understand that real solutions require serious pressure on the ruling elites. The credible threat of force—for example, a peaceful protest demonstration that could turn violent—may be enough to force reforms. But reforms always get rolled back after the left stops watching. Ultimately the rulers will have to be removed via revolution, a process that requires violence.

Liberals do not demand change; they ask nicely. Because they oppose violence and credible threats of violence, they tacitly oppose fundamental change in the existing structure of politics and society. Unlike leftists they are unwilling to risk their petty privileges in order to obtain the reforms they claim to crave. So, when push comes to shove, liberals will ultimately sell out their radical allies to the powers that be. And they will run away at the first sign of state oppression.

If you can’t trust your ally, they are no ally at all.

(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.)