Why Are Women Falling Behind?

            Why do women keep getting pushed to the back of the line?

            The sociological history of the United States has been defined by struggles for equality with the landed white males, presenting as straight, who founded the republic. Though it’s still a continuing effort, the abolitionist movement and the fight for racial civil rights scored the first major triumph, emancipation in the mid-19th century.

            Gender equality and feminism achieved the second big win with the ratification of women’s suffrage in 1920. Since then, however, equal rights for women have frequently taken a back seat to other liberation struggles that got off the ground later. The Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, putting the United States among the tiny minority of nations that do not specifically guarantee equality between men and women in their constitutions. The Dobbs decision made the U.S. one of just three countries in the world to have rolled back the federally-guaranteed right to an abortion since 1994.

            The worrisome stalling of women’s progress is highlighted by the bipartisan passage in the Senate of a bill that will codify same-sex marriage at the federal level. The bill is now headed to certain passage by the Democratic-controlled House and will be signed into law by President Biden.

In this era of extreme polarization, it’s newsworthy that 12 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote alongside Democrats. What’s really interesting is that the Respect for Marriage Act addresses a theoretical threat to liberty over one that is extant. In the Dobbs opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Supreme Court’s newfound skepticism of a constitutional privacy right undermines the case law used to legalize contraception and same-sex marriage, and invited petitioners to bring test cases to the high court. But there was no indication gay marriage was on the judicial chopping block. Nor did the incoming Republican House leadership signal it wanted a ban—not that one would have survived the Senate or a presidential veto. This was a “just in case” move.

Abortion rights, on the other hand, were actually eviscerated by Dobbs. Half the states, comprising most of the area of the country and nearly half its population, ban abortion. Only 15 states allow the procedure without restrictions. Yet there is no possibility that the incoming Republican House will consider codifying Roe v. Wade at the national level. Even Democrats, packing their bags, offered only tepid lip service. As with the ERA, women will have to wait.

As seen with the progress on same-sex marriage, the movement for LGBTQ equality keeps moving forward—and at an impressive rate.

It’s harder to identify a discrete official start of the transgender rights movement, but media and political consciousness began to focus on the T in LGBT in the 1970s and 1980s. There still isn’t a federal law designating transgender as a protected class but the Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock decision prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people. By way of comparison, it remains legal to fire someone because they are too young, specifically under age 40.

Stonewall augured the rise of the gay rights movement 121 years after the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York did the same for women. Why does the women’s struggle, which got off the ground so much sooner, seem to have stalled, or even lost ground compared to more recent movements?

Barbara Jordan, the trailblazing congresswoman from Texas who won national attention during the Watergate hearings, said that she found it even more challenging to be a female politician than a Black one. In a country built on slavery and cursed by racism still embodied by racist policing every single day in every single town, that’s saying a lot.

Yet evidence that women are stuck is everywhere to see. Looking ahead to the 2024 presidential campaign, the growing buzz around Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, coupled with the poor approval ratings for Vice President Kamala Harris, raises the possibility that we might see a gay man become president before a woman—and remember, it’s been 36 years since Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman on a major party presidential ticket. Progress in closing the pay gap between men and women has stalled at 84%, with no sign of improvement in sight.

It is ironic that women, who comprise the biggest demographic of any of the traditionally oppressed minorities in the United States, are having such a hard time compared to smaller groups who got started later.

Hell, women aren’t even a minority at all.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #76: Another Shooting, Misinterpreting the Midterms, Should Greta Thunberg Offer Solutions?

Happy Thanksgiving! Ted Rall and Scott Stantis, two of the finest editorial cartoonists in all the land, dig deep into the ongoing rash of mass shootings in America. Is there any cause for hope? They demystify the meaning of the midterms and debate whether an activist has a larger obligation than just pointing out a problem. Should they also offer solutions? 

 

No One Should Have To Earn a Living

            The other day, I caught myself using the phrase “earn a living.” For the first time in my life, I questioned myself.

            The idea that one must “earn a living” is the fundamental assumption of capitalism. When you stop to think about it, that’s some extreme libertarianism.

            Americans are constitutionally guaranteed the right to speak freely, worship as they choose, purchase and own a firearm and keep their homes private from prying government officials. As important as these rights are, none are nearly important as the right to living. You can live without expressing yourself. Religions are fiction. We would be better off without guns.

            Yet life itself, without which no other right is worth a damn, is not guaranteed.

            We need a few things to keep breathing: clean water, food, shelter and medical care. Yet our society can’t even codify the government’s obligation to provide water. While some municipalities push liquid hydrogen oxide to our sinks for free — unless you count taxes — many others charge. Unless you earn that living to which you are not legally entitled, you die of thirst or are poisoned or starve to death or you die from exposure to the elements or you succumb to an injury or disease that science would have treated or cured.

            When you think about it, and we mostly don’t, the gap between the system and our psycho-cultural wiring is a gaping chasm. Capitalism says you aren’t entitled to drink or eat or sleep inside or see a doctor, that you must somehow “earn” those privileges or die. But for hundreds of thousands of years before settled civilization 6,000 years ago led to the grain storage that fed a previously-nonexistent profit incentive, homo sapiens lived in clans of hunter-gatherers.

There are accounts of traditional societies abandoning the elderly or driving the infirm to ice floes. But there is also considerable evidence that early societies took care of those who couldn’t take care of themselves. Archaeological digs have unearthed broken bones that were mended by primitive medical means. Ancient people carried their elderly and sick on litters. Even now, in situations where human beings find themselves separated from civilization’s requirement that everyone pay for the most essential goods and services, the overwhelming tendency is to help one another without expecting remuneration. Parents not only take care of their own children, they pay for the privilege. After a plane crashes in the wilderness or miners are trapped underground or a pair of buildings are destroyed in lower Manhattan, accounts inevitably emerge of the survivors’ camaraderie and generosity.

It would take one hell of a sociopath for a survivor of a shipping disaster to deny a share of his sunblock or his extra hat to his fellows in a lifeboat. Yet we routinely conform to psychosis that violates the communitarianism that is central to the lifestyle of our species. Almost every day, I walk by a woman sleeping outside my apartment building; sometimes I give her money but not always. Except for the cat, the extra bedroom in my apartment remains empty, neat, useless.

I have “earned” a living, you see. She has not.

It is cold. At night, it’s in the 30s.

I don’t know why she sleeps outside. Is she mentally ill? Lazy? Addicted to drugs? Maybe it’s bad luck. She worked in a field that’s no longer looking for workers. I do know she’s cold and hungry.

Capitalism gives me permission not to care. I justify my callousness by judging her choices, none of which I know anything about.

But this is only the beginning of the brief against capitalism. Capitalist society not only denies the concept of a human right to the most basic elements of survival, it creates necessities that no one ever needed or thought about before in order to commodify them and coerce us into feeding these new profit centers.

Were we to advance to the moral heights of our ancestors of previous millennia and constitutionally guarantee that everyone would be fed and housed regardless of their willingness or ability to earn a living as do Congo and Pakistan, it would be a revolutionary political and ethical development.

Yet billions of people would remain deprived of the new necessities of the modern age. Whereas hunter-gatherers spent every waking minute near everyone they knew and loved, we require pricey communications networks in order to keep in touch with our friends and families. Perhaps you are reading these words when they were published, over a Thanksgiving weekend when millions of Americans were driving and flying to visit relatives—spending billions of dollars on gas and airline tickets.

Higher education has become an essential need as well. Before the first settlement in Mesopotamia, people proved their suitability for mating by exhibiting skills like hunting, sewing and cooking. In America today, millions of men remain involuntarily single because women are more likely to have a college degree; they refuse to date “down” to a guy with a GED. A four-year degree at a private college can easily run a quarter million dollars.

Not only do you have to earn a living, what it takes to live has never been more complicated or out of reach.

The country is rich. Not everyone must work. There is plenty to go around. Those who work must share. Socialism and communism are political structures designed to distribute that sharing.

Please retire the expression “earn a living.”

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Only Biden Can Stop This Political Dumpster Fire Redux

8-5-22

          Grover Cleveland beat Benjamin Harrison in 1884. The same men faced off in 1888, with the opposite result. A second rematch took place in 1892, and Cleveland was restored. If you died in 1892, you didn’t miss a thing during your first four years of death.

What could be drearier or more indicative of calcified politics, save for four consecutive terms of FDR?

            Since Joe Biden’s milquetoast Democratism basically make him Hillary Clinton not-in-a-pantsuit, we now face the dreadful possibility of a third Trump run and a second Biden run that feels like his third. This could be a presidential campaign between two eldercoots we would have been better off never having seen run for, much less achieve, control of the executive branch in the first place. And it could happen all over again.

A Trump v. Biden rematch, of course, is the exact opposite of what we want.

            Two years from now, on Election Day 2024, Donald Trump will be 78 and Joe Biden will be nearly 82. Nancy Pelosi will be 84. There’s nothing wrong with old age per se — wisdom, experience, blah blah blah — but Biden, 78 at the time, didn’t have the energy to run a full-fledged campaign last time. What is he going to do when he’s 82, campaign from someplace even more convenient than the basement of his house? Will he Zoom in from bed?

A nation with this many octogenarians at its helm feels more like the Soviet Union during the bitter-end pre-collapse 1980s (Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko all died in short order) or Zimbabwe at its most wildly dysfunctional at the conclusion of Robert Mugabe’s endless reign. A country doesn’t have to be governed by Millennials to be vibrant or successful. Too many young people in charge can lead to disaster — look at Twitter before Musk swept in. Still, a repeat contest between two incredibly old white guys is algorithmically engineered to generate a tsunami of apathy.

            Nobody needs this retread. Well, Trump needs it; he thinks prosecutors will be reluctant to indict him for one of the myriad of crimes he has committed now that is a declared candidate for president, and he is right. But two-thirds of the voters, to the extent that they matter anymore, don’t want Trump to run again. Here, finally, we find bipartisan common ground: two-thirds of Americans also don’t want Joe Biden to run again!

True, they are different two-thirdses. But there’s overlap. Millions of Americans sing in perfect harmony that they want something or someone or two someones different. That has to count for something — even if it will take a week or two to tally in Arizona. A nation cries as one: Don’t run, baby, don’t run!

            Like all politicians, Joe Biden says a lot of things that aren’t true. Unlike things that people actually want, like abortion rights and student loan forgiveness that he lies about, Biden is almost certainly lying when he says he’s running again. And most Americans believe and hope that he’s lying about that.

            But he may be telling the truth.

            Insanely.

            Democrats lost the midterms. But they beat the point spread. So they’re declaring victory. Even as Biden goes from a Democratic House and Senate to a Republican House and Democratic Senate, he is upgrading his report card like a kid using a pencil to change a D to a B. After such a magnificent pyrrhic victory, maybe he really should run again! The New York Times and at least part of the White House staff seems to think his “victory” has earned him another shot at the White House. “[Biden] regularly notes that he is the only person who has ever defeated Mr. Trump, implying that he would have the best chance of doing it again,” the newspaper reports.

            I don’t see the logic. Then, neither does Biden.

            The United States has a pretty lame voter participation rate. In a country where it is already hard to convince people that they should care about politics and engage in the electoral system, nothing could be less exciting than recreating the 2020 presidential election—a race that only became exciting after Trump lost and tried to overthrow the government.

Which he did lamely. A younger despot’s putsch would have had more oomph.

But, as referenced above, Trump will stay in, do or die. He must, to stay out of prison. Perhaps Ron DeSantis or some other evil Republican will win the nomination instead. But right now, it’s Trump’s to lose.

            Biden, therefore, is the only human who can spare us from the horror of a 2020 replay. If he really loves America, if he cares about the American people, he will do the right thing and refrain from running again.

            Thus clearing the field for Hillary.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #75: Trump Runs Again. NATO Almost Starts WW3. What Should the 2024 Campaign Be About?

Donald Trump is running a third time. Editorial cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis discuss his prospects and possible challengers, as well as the media’s attempt to pretend he doesn’t exist. A stray Ukrainian missile kills two people in Poland, Poland blames Russia and NATO almost goes to war with Russia over the mistake. Did Russia have a point about an intertwined military alliance along its border? Finally, a contrast between what the 2024 campaign will look like and what, in a saner country with a functional political climate, it should be about.

 

 

DMZ America Podcast #74: Post-Election Analysis and Pre-Election Prediction Mea Culpas

Two of America’s top cartoonists perform their postmortem on the 2022 midterm elections. Ted Rall and Scott Stantis discuss what happened and, more importantly, what will happen going forward into 2023 and divided government, and a certain former president’s plans for the near future. They also revisit their pre-election predictions which were, (as Bob Uecker might say), juuuust a little outside.

 

 

How the Democrats Messed Up. What They Can Do Now.

           You can’t blame the Democrats for spinning the fact that their losses fell short of worst-case scenarios. But elections are arithmetic, not calculus. A loss is a loss. Democrats lost the midterms.

            Why They Lost

  1. History: In a two-party system, voters express anger and annoyance by lashing out at the party in power. They elect a president, get pissed at crimes of commission and omission, and punish the incumbents by voting for the other party two to four years later. This tendency worked against them.
  2. Weak Leadership: We live during an era of unprecedented connectivity. You can place a phone call to Mongolia for free. You can see a picture of what someone in Botswana had for dinner a minute ago. Voters want to hear from their president more than ever before—yet Biden, no doubt due to his advanced age and fading mental acuity, followed the longstanding trend of chief executives who give fewer primetime presidential addresses and press conferences than their predecessors. No wonder the number of voters who think Biden cares about people like them keeps plummeting. They feel disconnected from him.
  3. Denying Voters’ Reality: Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes? Voters’ top issue this year was the economy, specially inflation. Biden dismissed rising prices as a temporary blip while—political malpractice alert!—failing to emphasize a far more important economic indicator, low unemployment. Citizens worried about rising violent crime; Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) dismissed their concerns as “people’s feelings” while accusing Republicans of being “dishonest” about the issue, and almost lost a race that should have been a cakewalk. Even if you don’t have a solution for their problems, voters want to be “seen.” Donald Trump didn’t do anything about deindustrialization but Rust Belters loved him for being the first president to call out NAFTA.
  4. It’s the Future, Stupid. It’s nearly impossible to win a political campaign in the U.S. based on past grievances, yet that’s what the Democrats did in 2022, running against Trump, tying GOP candidates to the former president in ads and reminding voters about the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill riot. Yet investigations into Trump ranked 16th in the list of issues voters cared about. Voters want to hear politicians acknowledge their present problems—inflation, healthcare, gas prices, crime, gun violence, abortion rights—and offer a credible plan to fix them in the (near) future. Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act didn’t pass the smell test, Biden’s release of petroleum reserves addressed a dollars problem with cents of relief and had no credible solution to the Dodd SCOTUS decision with which to motivate angry women voters. P.S. If you don’t have a solution to a problem, say so. Voters don’t want magicians. They want elected officials to try.
  5. They Sounded Self-Serving: It took the hammer attack/home invasion against Paul Pelosi, a personal friend of the president, to bring him to the mic for a primetime address about crime—crime against politicians. Likewise, the Democrats’ pitch that voting GOP would lead to the end of democracy-as-we-know-it fell flat. Democrats should have been fighting for we, the people. They came off instead as fighting against Republican voter suppression—in other words, they fought our right to vote for Democrats. The democracy argument might have landed in a multiparty parliamentary democracy—but vicious Democratic lawsuits to keep the Green Party off the ballot ensure we don’t get that.

What Democrats Can Do Now

Act how House Republicans do when they’re out of power. It works.

  1. Obstruct! Newspaper pundits’ conventional wisdom says that voters dislike obstructionism, love compromise and want both parties to work together to get things done in Washington. History says the opposite. Recently, you need only look at the GOP’s relentless ankle-biting of Obama to see that a minority party that relentlessly blocks the majority’s agenda can be effective—ask Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland—and drive its acolytes into such a spasm of loyal enthusiasm that it later recaptures the majority. “This strategy of kicking the hell out of Obama all the time, treating him not just as a president from the opposing party but an extreme threat to the American way of life, has been a remarkable political success. It helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016,” Politico noted in 2016.
  2. Veto! Democratic voters don’t send Democratic politicians to Washington to give the Republicans what they want. They want that stuff shot down, with extreme prejudice. Biden should pull a Gerry Ford and veto every crazy bill the Republican Congress sends to his desk.
  3. Executive Orders! Executive orders have become abused and are overused and antidemocratic and—get real. End-runs around the legislative branch are here to stay, so Biden should go nuts doing stuff that will shore up his party’s progressive base and drive the Republicans to distraction. Pardon Edward Snowden and other political targets. Pardon every nonviolent drug offender and commute the prison sentence of every nonviolent criminal in federal custody. Tell states and cities that refuse to do the same that they’ll lose federal highway funding; that’s how we got the national drinking age of 21.
  4. Quorum Theater! The House of Representatives needs a quorum of 218 members present in order to conduct business. Democratic representatives should stick around for most matters. When Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his merry band of bigots try to pull something truly cruddy (ahem national abortion ban cough) there’s no reason for the Dems not to leave town on a secret road trip. Call your buddies in the Texas state legislature; they did it to bring attention to a GOP effort to suppress voting.
  5. Open Field! 75% of Democratic voters don’t want Biden to run again. Anyway, obviously, he can’t. He’s too feeble. So, politically, is Kamala Harris. Only 28% of Democrats want her to step in as their party’s nominee in 2024. That’s pathetic. The lame-duck #1 and #2 must step aside, open the field and refrain from issuing endorsements. The strongest nominee is, by definition, the winner of the primary process. Let a battle-tested candidate with the most support within the Democratic Party go on to face Trump or another Republican standardbearer. Abolish superdelegates. Dutifully sticking with a doomed sacrificial lamb, like Bob Dole in 1996, would be the height of idiocy.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

DMZ America Podcast 73: Ukraine War, British Pipeline Shenanigans and Midterms Prognostications

Leftie cartoonist Ted Rall and rightie cartoonist Scott Stantis file their last analysis and handicap before the 2022 midterm elections, both in agreement that things currently bleak for Democrats. Evidence surfaces implicating the British Navy in the bombing of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline. Congressional progressive Democrats are humiliated by having to withdraw their tepid call for diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia. Speculation abounds surrounding the brutal hammer attack against Nancy Pelosi’s husband in their San Francisco home.

 

 

Here’s What a Progressive Platform Looks Like

           “Be realistic. Demand the impossible.” —Situationist slogan, 1968.

            Demand #1: The $30-per-hour Minimum Wage.

            Not phased in over so many years that today’s $30 is worth $20 by the time it takes effect. $30 an hour for all workers, no exceptions, now. This is an eminently reasonable demand. If anything, it’s too little to ask. $7.25 is a sick joke. Congress’ abdication of its moral duty to reward American workers for their extraordinary productivity by increasing the minimum wage at or faster than inflation has eroded the base salary since the Vietnam era. Corporate profits have soared as workers’ wages have stagnated.

The federal minimum wage was $1.60 in 1968. Adjusting for the official inflation rate, that’s $30.00 today. Let’s party like it’s 1968.

Demand #2: Free national healthcare.

Not market-based, not a hybrid—we need real, actual, universal healthcare. Every nurse and every doctor becomes a federal employee. Health insurance vanishes as a business sector. Every check-up, every test, every doctor’s visit, every medication, every surgical procedure is fully covered, no questions asked, as long as it’s approved by a physician.

This is not too much to ask. Germany, where only 0.5% of the population is uninsured, pays only 10.7% of GDP for healthcare, compared to 16% here in the U.S. Norway, where hospitals are operated by the government, has a $210 per citizen per year deductible after which the government picks up the tab for everything; like Germany, overall healthcare costs in Norway are about 60% of ours.

Throw in dental, vision and mental health.

Demand #3: Slash military spending by 80%.

We’re not the world’s policeman. We’re its deranged serial killer. The U.S. squanders $800 billion a year to invade, occupy, assassinate, intimidate and bomb people who mean us no harm and destroy their infrastructure. That’s more than the next nine biggest-spending militarist nations combined. And those countries total 10 times our population.

Slashing the Pentagon budget would make the world safer. Fewer U.S. wars and proxy wars would reduce anti-Americanism and thus reduce the chance of another terrorist attack, save thousands of American lives and millions of people overseas, not to mention massively helping out the environment.

Those savings would easily cover

Demand #4: Free four-year college.

Young Americans have long been coerced into a devil’s bargain: without a college degree, they’ve been told, you won’t land a decent-paying job. College is insanely expensive so you’ll have to accept the burden of student loan debt. If you don’t make enough money after graduation due to bad luck or a bad economy or a changing workplace, too bad, you still have to pay. You can’t even discharge the loans in bankruptcy.

If the corporations who own our politicians require job applicants to have a college degree, a college degree should be free. 39 countries have free college. We deserve, and can afford, the same as Kenya, Iceland and Panama.

            Demand #5: Leadership to ban the most frightening weapons.

            As the world’s most aggressive militaristic nation and its biggest international arms dealer, only the U.S. has the standing and power to stop the arms races we’re starting. The U.S. should forswear its currently-stated, insane option of launching a nuclear first strike and invite all other nuclear powers to make the same commitment. It should join the 80% of the world’s nations that have pledged not to use landmines. It should ban drone-based weapons in its military, police and civilian sectors and demand that other nations do the same. The world must come together to ban lethal autonomous weapons; the U.S.’ early lead in this technology gives it leverage to lead the way.

            More to come.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Sympathy for Alex Jones

            Democrats reacted with outraged contempt after then-candidate Donald Trump pledged in 2016 to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” Trump’s proposal, Brown political-science professor Corey Brettschneider wrote in a Politico piece typical of the response, “would run contrary to our long-established understanding of the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press.”

So what’s with their crowing over the nearly $1 billion a Connecticut jury ordered Infowars host Alex Jones to pay the families of eight children murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school?

            Jones behaved reprehensibly. He repeatedly ranted on the airwaves that the 2012 massacre was a false-flag hoax perpetuated by the government in order to justify gun control, the parents were “crisis actors” and that the victims either never existed or might have been murdered by their own parents. Some people believed this garbage; 20% of Americans told a poll they think mass shootings are faked. Families reported receiving death threats and vicious communications from Jones’ followers.

Jones finally admitted the tragedy was “100% real” this past August.

Jones has a long history of cruelty and reckless rhetoric for profit. “He has had a role in spreading virtually every incendiary lie to dominate headlines over the past decade, including Pizzagate, the false claim that Democrats trafficked children from a Washington pizzeria; the ‘great replacement theory’ that ignited deadly neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; Covid vaccine lies; and the 2020 presidential election falsehoods that brought a violent mob to the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” noted The New York Times.

Despite committing a litany of the most egregious crimes against journalism, however, Jones is a journalist. Not a good journalist. Nor a responsible one. Because no one, certainly no media organization I can think of, can credibly or clearly draw a line between a “conspiracy theorist” like Jones and an acceptable “mainstream” publication that speculates about nonexistent links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, missing WMDs that were actually found or quashes the Hunter Biden laptop story before finally admitting that it’s actually a real thing. Let he who is without misinformation cast the first editorial—not that self-awareness has made much of an appearance following the Jones verdict.

Suing the media is hard because in a world where reporters are human, turning honest mistakes into legal causes of action would make journalism impossible. The wide latitude given to press organizations has a downside: it protects bad actors like Jones.

In the Jones case, however, the legal system was also a justice system. Defamation is a clearly defined exception to the First Amendment; the pain and trouble Jones caused a group of grieving parents merits punitive compensation. The guilty verdict was justified. But the $1 billion damage award?

Hell yes, say liberal commentators. WBUR, the NPR affiliate in Boston, said $1 billion “is a start.”

“A small but crucial consolation,” observed Slate.

“Alex Jones’ lawsuit losses are not enough,” an editorialist opined at NBC News’ website.

“Tonight, I come to you with a spring in my step, a song in my heart, emotionally and spiritually refreshed,” said Stephen Colbert. “You know how, as humans, we have to accept the fact that, sometimes, bad things happen to good people? Well, by the grace of God, sometimes, bad things happen to Alex Jones. That’s a good thing.”

The tap-dancing on Jones’ presumed fiscal grave falls along ideological lines. Democrats, it seems, do approve of Trump’s wish to “open up the libel laws”—when the perpetrator is, like Jones, a Trumpian Republican.

            In 1994 an angry jury in New Mexico ordered McDonald’s to pay $2.9 million (equivalent to $5.8 million today) to a woman who was severely scalded by a spill of the fast food chain’s coffee. The verdict, subsequently reduced by the trial judge to a quarter of that amount, was dubbed the “poster child of excessive lawsuits” by ABC News and energized the tort reform movement.

            A fact that particularly agitated the jury was that McDonald’s had received 700 other complaints about burns from its coffee, which was hotter than industry norms, yet had refused to lower the temperature. The plaintiff’s injuries were severe; she required reconstructive surgery.

            Even by the eye-popping standards of some of the biggest libel verdicts in recent history, the scale of the Jones figure is breathtaking. Oberlin College ordered to pay $33 million to a local bakery it helped to smear as racist; Amber Heard dinged for $10 million for falsely accusing Johnny Depp of abuse; blogger Tasha K told to remit $4 million to Cardi B for saying she was a coke-addicted prostitute suffering from sexually transmitted diseases; other high-profile verdicts amount to pennies on the dollar compared to the Jones verdict.

            Alex Jones’ behavior was repugnant. But no one was injured as a result. Was his behavior 200 times more egregious or harmful than McDonald’s?

Conservatives, Adam Serwer writes in an Atlantic essay sarcastically titled “The Martyrdom of Alex Jones,” “defend their own right to defame others while insisting that the law itself should be changed to make it easier for powerful political figures to silence their critics. What they conceive of is a society, backed by right-wing control of the federal judiciary, in which they have a right to say whatever they want about you, and you have a right to shut up and like it.”

Unlike Serwer, I don’t know what conservatives are secretly thinking. I do know that, whatever was said, no matter how outrageous the speech was, a $1 billion judgement sends a chilling message to anyone who expresses themselves in a public space. The message of the Jones verdict is not that lies or disinformation are harmful, but that there are two classes of libel defendants in American courts—one organized, corporate, connected and protected by judges and fellow members of the establishment and thus barely accountable; the other individual, ostracized, on the outside and thus fair game for jurors and judges seeking to make outsized points.

            The gleeful reactions of otherwise sober editorialists to this bloated verdict speaks to how rageful partisanship has become a blinding force in American politics. Defeating an ideological adversary is no longer enough. Like the nuclear weapons that can destroy humanity many times over, nothing short of radical overkill will do. Foes must be obliterated, proportionality and oft-repeated devotions to free speech be damned.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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