DMZ America Podcast #148: Israel the Pariah, Alito’s False Flags, Artificial Journalism

It’s the DMZ America podcast, where political cartoonists bring their smart takes on the news to spirited, intelligent, civilized dialogue from both sides of the political aisle. Ted Rall (WhoWhatWhy, Creators Syndicate) comes from the Left, Scott Stantis (Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News) comes from the Right and sparks fly.

First up: the guys react to the increasing diplomatic isolation of Israel, marked by the decision of the International Court of Justice to order Israel to stand down in the Gaza Strip, following on the heels of the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Scott, a supporter of Israel, debates Israel’s intentions and war aims with Ted, a supporter of Palestinian emancipation.

Second: Scott’s expertise as a vexologist comes into play in light of Supreme Court Samuel Alito’s decision to fly flags associated with the extreme Right at his homes. How much should we make of Alito’s flag choices? Scott argues: a lot. Should he recuse himself from Trump’s Jan. 6th case?

Third: The Washington Post tries to solve its budgetary difficulties by putting A.I. “everywhere in the newsroom,” whatever that means. Considering that Google AI is a total disaster, this might need to be rethunk. Too bad a rich guy like Jeff Bezos can’t afford to save the paper.

Watch the Video Version: here.

(Video will be live approximately 6:30 Eastern Daylight time May 24th)

The Final Countdown – 5/24/24 – UN Court Orders Israel to Cease Rafah Offensive

On this episode of The Final Countdown, hosts Angie Wong and Ted Rall discuss a range of topics from around the globe, including ICJ ordering Israel to halt the offense of Rafah. 

Armen Kurdian – Political Commentator 
Jamie Finch – Former Director at the National Transportation Safety Board 
Gerald Celente – Trends journal publisher and founder of the Trends Journal Institute 
Mark Sleboda – International relations and security analyst 
The show begins with political commentator Armen Kurdian weighing in on Hunter Biden’s legal woes, including his upcoming trials. 
Then, former National Transportation Safety Jamie Finch shares his perspective on the Norfolk Southern settlement, agreeing to pay $310 million over the Ohio train derailment in East Palestine. 
The second hour starts with Trends Journal publisher Gerald Celente on Senator Schumer vying to invite Netanyahu to Congress and ICJ ordering Israel to stop its offensive on Rafah. 
The show closes with international relations and security analyst Mark Sleboda sharing his perspective on the arrest of Russia’s deputy defense minister and the latest out of Ukraine. 

My Stolen Rent Check Shows Why America Is Broken

           When my landlord’s management company informed me that they hadn’t received my rent check, I was surprised. As for most Americans, housing is by far my biggest expense. So of course I noticed when the money vanished from my account. The mystery deepened when I conjured up an image of the canceled check on my bank’s website. There was my check, canceled and endorsed. I sent a screenshot to my management company.

            Look closer, they responded. We didn’t cash it. That’s the signature of some random person—not us.

            So it was. How could my bank clear a check for thousands of dollars made out to a company like “XYZ Management Corp.” but endorsed by a completely unrelated individual—one who doesn’t work there, natch—like “John Smith”? What were my rights in this situation? The answers to those two questions provide insight into state of a country that has lost its way.

            There is a prequel to the first question: how did the thief access my check?

I mailed the check from the mailbox right in front of my local post office. (This, banks say, is a best practice. Clearly not.) When I inserted the envelope, the slot felt weird. I shoved it in as much as I could but I wasn’t sure it went all the way in. Turns out there is a “mail fishing” scam where miscreants put something sticky at the opening of the mailbox and scoop out items like my rent check. It’s one thing to try something like that on a box in the middle of nowhere but here we’re talking about a box a few feet from the door to a Manhattan post office. When thieves are this brazen, law and order is breaking down.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the USPS made mail fishing easier when they replaced the old-fashioned swivel openings up their drop boxes with those with skinny slots, which only take letters, in response to the fear that terrorists like the one who blew up TWA Flight 800 in 1996 would use them to mail package bombs. Actually, neither mail nor terrorists had anything to do with the crash of Flight 800. The impetus for this change was the post-disaster diktat that Postal Service customers could no longer mail items heavier than 16 ounces from letterboxes. The government solved a nonexistent problem and created a new, real one.

Half a lifetime ago, I was a banker. Back in the 1980s, there was no way any bank would clear a check that wasn’t endorsed by the payee. Forgers had to work for their/your money.

Some scoundrels still display good old American ingenuity. They wash your check and change the amount from, say $9 to $9,000, and alter the payee to themselves. But that wasn’t the case with my check. The payee remained the same. The rent was substantial to begin with; besides, when I saw the correct amount of my check go out of my account it didn’t arouse suspicion for weeks, allowing plenty of time for the thief to move my money elsewhere.

The person who stole my check deposited it via a mobile app. Check fraud through mobile banking is costing the banking system over $1 billion a year. And, like mine, many of these bad checks are so poorly executed that any moron who looked at it would flag it. The problem is, no one is looking—only a computer.

You really have to wonder whether this technology is ready for prime time. A 2021 story from Indianapolis is typical: “The type font used to alter the information on the [fraudulent] checks is clearly different than the type used on the rest of each document. And one of the photocopied checks shows the name and address of the original payee were sloppily covered by strips of paper that the perpetrator cut and pasted onto the altered document. As far as con-jobs go, this wasn’t even a good one.” The other culprit is bank executives. Technology that automatically scans for tells like this is available—but it’s more expensive. Those ridiculous bonuses aren’t going to pay for themselves.

A friend in college had a night job clearing checks for a small bank in New Jersey. All the checks went through a scanning machine but the larger sums were personally handled by a human being: Jim. Jim was handsomely paid so, naturally, all the Jims have been replaced by machines. But, like Google AI, the machines don’t do a very good job.

If banks are so allergic to hiring actual people that they’re willing to absorb the resulting cash shrinkage, so be it. But they’re not. They’d rather pass on the cost of the grift to us.

I would name my bank here­—but that would only expose me to more bank fraud.

As soon as I became aware that my rent check had been stolen, I got on the phone with customer service. Not only was there no option in the phone tree to report fraud, there was no option to talk to a human being. I hit “0” several times, cursing loudly, and eventually was put through to someone in, I’m guessing South Asia, who had a lovely lilting accent I could hardly understand. She made me understand the bank would mail me an affidavit to sign and return. Which they did, though it contained several major errors. After an investigation, a process that takes months, I may or may not get back my money—which, remember, the bank gave away to some idiot without exercising the slightest iota of due diligence to make sure it was a legitimate transaction. But this should be their problem, not mine. Given that this was 100% their mistake, shouldn’t they have credited my account and gone after the rapscallion themselves? (For the record, I would be happy to testify against this creep in court.)

When the form arrived, I made my way to my local branch where an officer informed me about their hilariously Kafkaesque policy. Closing your account is a major pain, requiring you to notify all your direct depositors and automatic withdrawals of your new account information. But if you refuse, the bank will not consider refunding the lost money unless you sign a form indemnifying them for any and all fraud of any kind in perpetuity. As a worker in the dying field of journalism, I don’t think indemnifying a large transnational bank is smart. Obviously, closing the account is the right move. But if you close your account, the bank said, they have no way to return the stolen money. I asked them to close it anyway—but they can’t due to “pending transactions.” Which won’t clear because the account is blocked.

It’s really quite beautiful, an enigma wrapped in a paradox smeared with poo.
            Just another indignity suffered by just a typical consumer in the naked city. And it explains everything that’s wrong with this country: humans replaced by robotic morons, American jobs outsourced to foreign incompetents, systems designed for abuse, security measures that make things less secure, corporations that never accept blame for their mistakes, all the weight of the screw-ups placed on the shoulders of individuals who can’t afford it.

To my landlord: Hopefully I’ll get your/my money back in three months.

            (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.)

The Final Countdown – 5/22/24 – Fani Willis Wins Democratic Primary, Trump Legal Saga Continues

On this episode of The Final Countdown, hosts Angie Wong and Ted Rall discuss a variety of current events, including Trump’s legal saga and Fani Wilis winning the Democratic primary. 

Scottie Nell Hughes – Veteran political commentator 
Jamie Finch – Former Director at the National Transportation Safety Board
Esteban Carrillo – Editor of The Cradle, Beirut-based journalist 
George Szamuely – Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute 
The show kicks off with political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes sharing her perspective on President Biden’s plummeting approval ratings. 
Then, Jamie Finch weighs in on the flight turbulence that tragically resulted in the death of a Singapore Airlines passenger and injured 20 others. 
The second hour begins with Beirut-based journalist Esteban Carrillo discussing the latest out of Gaza amid the latest ICC arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other top Israeli and Hamas officials. 
The show closes with Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute George Szamuely discussing the WEF executive stepping down. 

The Final Countdown – 5/21/24 – Costello Takes the Stand Again in Trump Trial Amid Heightening Tensions with Judge

On this episode of The Final Countdown, hosts Angie Wong and Ted Rall cover the latest developments from around the globe, including Trump’s hush money trial. 

Steve Gill – Attorney 
Dan Kovalik – Human rights lawyer 
Elijah Magnier – Veteran war correspondent 
Andrii Telishenko – Ukrainian whistleblower and former diplomat 
The show begins with attorney Steve Gill sharing his analysis on the latest developments out of Trump’s hush money trial amid the defense resting the case. 
Then, human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik shares his expertise on the ICC arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, other top officials, and various Hamas leaders. 
The second hour starts with veteran war correspondent Elijah Magnier sharing his analysis of the DRC coup attempt. 
The show closes with Ukrainian whistleblower and former diplomat Andrii Telishenko to discuss the EU agreeing to give Russia assets to Ukraine. 

Age. Race. Sexual Orientation. Should Political Expression Be a Protected Class Too?

            Your boss can’t fire you because of the color of your skin. He can’t get rid of you because he doesn’t like your religion. Federal law protects you against employment discrimination based on your sex, race, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, genetic information or (if you are over 40) age.

            Should he be able to deprive you of your ability to pay your rent because you’re a Democrat? Or a Republican? Of course not—yet he can.

It’s time to add another protected class to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: political expression.

            Every year, especially during election years, American employers fire, demote and/or retaliate against loyal workers because they disagree with their constitutionally-guaranteed right to hold a political opinion. While a company may well have a reasonable interest in keeping politics out of the workplace—the owner of a restaurant might not want a waiter to engage in a political debate with their customer, for example—many employees get let go despite never having expressed a political opinion on the job. In most states, they can’t sue.

Going after a person over their politics is unfair. But it’s a much bigger problem than a violation of common decency. Because threatening a person’s livelihood over their opinions has a chilling effect on the expression of other workers as well, allowing such thuggish behavior stifles the speech necessary for a vibrant political system and is thus profoundly undemocratic.

“Most important,” a 2022 New York Times editorial opined, “freedom of speech is the bedrock of democratic self-government. If people feel free to express their views in their communities, the democratic process can respond to and resolve competing ideas. Ideas that go unchallenged by opposing views risk becoming weak and brittle rather than being strengthened by tough scrutiny.” Most Americans, however, do not feel that they live in a Land of the Free. Only a third of voters said they felt free to express their political views freely, according to a contemporaneous poll.

Nowhere is speech circumscribed more than at work—unless you’re a government employee, where you’re protected by the First Amendment, or you live in one of the handful of states that protect private-sector workers who express political opinions. Private employers are authoritarian dictatorships where it’s best to keep your views to yourself. Your boss’ harsh governance should end at the end of your work shift.

Yet it does not.

            Employment discrimination in response to political expression is not limited to victims with fringe political views, like the pizza-shop and hot-dog-joint workers who got fired after online sleuths discovered that they had attended a far-right white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, or the white-collar workers canned for their presence at the January 6th Capitol riot. To be clear, however, there was no evidence that the doxxed-and-dumped employees in these situations had expressed their views while on the job. They should not have been let go.

            Citizens with vanilla affiliations within the duopoly are targeted too.

            An Alabama woman was famously fired from her job at an insulation company in 2004 for being a Democrat, and more specifically the Kerry-Edwards bumpersticker on her car, which she parked in the employee parking lot. (Her boss, a Bush supporter, had passed out GOP flyers to his workers.) She had no right to sue.

            In 2022 a woman who co-founded a non-profit organization that provides financial stipends for Congressional interns was fired by her own board after it learned she was a conservative Republican. She filed a long-shot federal lawsuit, which is pending.

            More recently, antiwar activists who oppose Israel’s war against Gaza have found themselves the victims of retaliation. People have been fired for personal social-media posts supporting the Palestinians. Pro-Palestine college students have been doxxed, suspended, expelled and blacklisted by prospective employers. Google fired 50 employees for staging a protest against the company’s contracts with Israeli tech firms; the company said they lost their jobs for causing a disruption rather than their opinions. A baker’s dozen of federal judges went so far as to declare that they wouldn’t hire any student who graduated from Columbia University—my alma mater and ground zero for a wave of campus encampment protests—regardless of their views, or lack thereof, about the Israel-Hamas War.

            Corporations routinely discriminate based on politics. A 2019 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that employers are less likely to hire a job applicant when they become aware that they favor different parties. And workers are well aware that they face political discrimination. A 2020 Cato Institute/YouGov poll found that 32% of workers were “personally are worried about missing out on career opportunities or losing their job if their political opinions became known.” Only 32%?

            We have a choice. We can build a politically permissive society where a wide range of views and opinions may be freely expressed (with exceptions for defamation or calling for specific violence) without fear of being discriminated against, understanding that we will frequently take offense at what is being said. Or we can continue to push politics underground, keeping our views so secret that some “shy” voters won’t even admit their party affiliation to pollsters. We may feel more comfortable in a seemingly politics-free zone but, as the Times editorial argued above, censorship and self-censorship will encourage the spreading of outlandish, stupid and demonstrably wrong ideas that occasionally become the law of the land.

            (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.)

The Final Countdown – 5/15/24 – Trump Hush Money Trial, Israel-Egypt Relations, Rumble vs Google and More

On this episode of The Final Countdown, hosts Angie Wong and Ted Rall discuss a wide range of topics from around the globe, including the Trump hush money trial, Egypt-Israel relations, and more. 

Tyler Nixon – Counselor-at-law
Robert Fantina – Author, Journalist, and Activist
Craig ‘Pasta’ Jardula – Co-host and Co-founder of The Convo Couch
John Kirakou – Former CIA Whistleblower
The show begins with Tyler Nixon analyzing the implications of Michael Cohen’s testimony in the Trump hush money trial.
Then, Robert Fantina provides an in-depth look at the recent Israeli invasion of Rafah.
The second hour starts with Craig ‘Pasta’ Jardula weighing in on Rumble’s lawsuit against Google regarding fairness in digital advertising.
The show closes with former CIA whistleblower John Kirakou delving into the case of an Australian whistleblower who was sentenced to five years for exposing war crimes in Afghanistan.


The Final Countdown – 5/13/24 – Michael Cohen Takes the Stand as Trump’s Hush Money Trial Intensifies

On this episode of The Final Countdown, hosts Angie Wong and Ted Rall discuss hot topics from around the globe, including the latest developments out of the Trump hush money trial. 

Steve Abramowicz – CEO of Heartland Journal
Dr. Reese Halter – Award-winning Broadcaster, Conservation Biologist
Mohamed Gomaa – RT Journalist
Mark Sleboda – International Relations and Security Analyst
The show begins with CEO of Heartland Journal Steve Abramowicz discussing the impact and significance of Michael Cohen’s testimony in the Trump hush money trial.
Then, Dr. Reese Halter examines the devastating floods in Brazil, explaining how climate change is intensifying such weather events globally and the ecological impacts involved.
The second hour starts with RT journalist Mohamed Gomaa providing an update on the dire situation in Gaza, amid Israel’s invasion of Rafah.
The show closes with Mark Sleboda delving into the latest developments out of Ukraine. He also discusses the strategic reshuffling of Russia’s defense minister. 

My Brand New Book! “2024: Revisited”

My first new book in three years is an old book. Sort of. Please support my work, and let me know what you think of the book. Here’s the promotional text:

Back in the year 2000, Ted Rall wrote and drew his graphic novel, 2024.

It seems like an eternity. Bill Clinton was president. The biggest TV shows in America were ER and Friends; the Foo Fighters and Linkin Park topped the music charts. More than 90% of households had a landline phone. Blockbuster Video had 9,000 brick-and-mortar stores. No one had heard of YouTube or Netflix. No one had ever been “canceled” the way we now understand that word.

2024 was Rall’s loving parody and update of George Orwell’s dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was also an attempt to predict what society would look and feel like 24 years into the future…now.

This was a time when one-third of Americans still relied on dial-up landline phone connections to access the Internet. The Blackberry, the first device we would recognize as a smartphone, came out in 2002. The iPhone wouldn’t be introduced for seven more years; a Nokia cellphone where you pulled up the antenna to make a call was the best you could buy.

Few people imagined what was about to happen to us.

But Rall did.

Rall didn’t think we would succumb to Orwell’s authoritarian nightmare—because America’s ruling elites wouldn’t need a fearsome Party to spy on its nonexistent dissidents. We the People would become ever more docile and distracted. Thanks to the Internet, we would become so addicted to our devices that it would not be necessary for government to actively oppress us. Instead, we would oppress ourselves with our own stupidity.

Rall predicted a media environment developing where no journalism could be trusted because digital content would be intrinsically mutable, which would erase old consequences for being caught lying or making mistakes. Relationships between friends, lovers and colleagues would become so replaceable as to become valueless, rendering old values like loyalty and integrity obsolete. Anti-intellectualism, as old as America itself, would become the dominant paradigm of the 21st century.

2024 Revised is an expanded and enhanced edition of Rall’s prescient work from a quarter-century ago, now fully colorized for the first time. It also includes Rall’s detailed annotations of the text that elucidate his references to politics, history and pop culture. There’s also a brand-new foreword.

The future is now. 2024 Revised is a time capsule and a fun trip into retrofuturism. What did Rall get right? What did he miss? What should we have seen coming?

Order “2024: Revisited”: here.

DMZ America Podcast Ep 146: Biden Cuts Off Israel, Stormy Daniels Rages, Our Weird Economy

Political cartoonists Ted Rall (from the Left) and Scott Stantis (from the Right) debate the week in news and culture as friendly adversaries to bring you spirited debate and smart insight.

First up: President Biden’s patience with the war cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expired. After warning Bibi not to enter the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Bibi went ahead and did just that, cutting off aid trucks at the border to boot. For the first time in memory, the president put a “pause” on the delivery of 3,500 bombs that were set to be delivered to Israel for use against Gaza. How significant is this? Is this a rupture or just a temporary squabble between allies?

Second: Porn actor Stormy Daniels testified in the Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan. It says a lot about the current state of politics that the first-ever criminal trial of a former President of the United States, in which he faces jail time, is not a huge story. Yet the implications, both legal and political, are significant.

Finally: American voters continue to be dissatisfied with the state of the economy. Scott and Ted dissect the good, the bad and the ugly in the current situation.

Watch the Video Version: here.