DMZ America Podcast #86: Tyre Nichols Killed by Memphis Police, Biden’s Beach House Searched by the FBI, Now Ukraine now wants F-16s Too

Progressive editorial cartoonist Ted  Rall and Conservative Scott Stantis discuss and debate the breaking news of the day. They take a deep dive into the murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of the Memphis Police’s Scorpion Squad. What should real police reform look like? Scott and Ted offer an in-depth plan for turning the police from brutish adversaries to supportive problem-solvers. Next, Ted and Scott turn to the breaking news that Biden’s Delaware beach house has been searched by the FBI in search of classified documents. Is the Federal Government classifying too many documents? What about the implications for 2024? Lastly, Rall and Stantis look at  Ukraine, whose leaders are now asking for fighter jets on top of all of the military equipment the United States taxpayers have already gifted them. Scott and Ted consider if the U.S. should even be involved at all in this seemingly endless conflict. 

 

 

DMZ America Podcast #85: Pence’s Classified Documents, Ukraine Slog, Parents Rights & Trans Kids, the Fight to Save Downtowns

Editorial cartoonists Ted Rall (from the Left) and Scott Stantis (from the Right) break down another interesting week in news and current events. Former Vice President Mike Pence, it turns out, also had classified documents left over from his time in office. Is it time to admit that (a) everyone has classified documents and (b) way too much stuff is overclassified and we should just stop caring about this? Now Ukraine wants tanks. But it turns out many of President Zelensky’s top officials were corrupt, so he fired them. Should the U.S. establish a war aim to define what victory looks like? If so, what should it be? Angry parents, including some liberal Democrats, say schools should tell them if their kids are identifying as a different gender in the classroom. Do parents have a right to know that their boy is really a girl? Finally, downtowns are dying as a result of workers no longer going into the office. Why do Americans hate commuting so much?

 

 

Hire Back Workers Fired for Refusing Vaccine Mandates

            Once every generation or two, a crisis prompts the hysterical demands for quick solutions that lead to unsound decisions. Post-Pearl Harbor, worries about fifth columnists were followed by the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. 9/11 led to two wars, excessive airport security and the privacy-destroying USA-Patriot Act.

            The Covid pandemic sparked panic; panic fuels overreaction.

Enter vaccine mandates.

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York in October 2021, declared a city-wide vaccine mandate for municipal workers. “This mandate is a bold step that protects our families, friends, and communities, including those that are not yet eligible for the vaccine such as our city’s youngest residents,” he said weeks before expanding the requirement to private-sector workers employed by 184,000 businesses. Similar strictures quickly spread across the nation.

            Setting aside the debate between personal autonomy and the public good, it has since become clear that the rationale for the mandates—that unvaccinated people were spreaders—was flawed. Thousands of workers who were fired for refusing the shot were wronged. They ought to be compensated.

            The injustice resulted from that most common of honest mistakes committed by government committee: a conclusion based upon information that was out-of-date. Seven months before de Blasio’s decision, clinical trials had indicated that the Pfizer and Moderna double-doses were highly effective (94-95%) at preventing Covid-19. Eager to lift lockdowns and restart the economy, de Blasio and other mayors thought that restoring municipal services and in-office work depended upon citizens not having to fear infection from city employees as well as private-sector workers.

By the time public-health officials and politicians had imposed mandates, however, the dominant delta and omicron variants had already radically changed the calculus. The first round of vaccines, it was evident by summer 2021, were a lot less effective at preventing “breakthrough infections” of these less severe, more contagious versions of the disease. Government was fighting the previous battle.

The newer bivalent vaccines didn’t fix the problem. According to a CDC study released in November 2022, People who received the original monovalent vaccine 2 to 3 months before receiving the new bivalent booster enjoyed a vaccine effectiveness rate of just 28-31%. An overwhelming majority of Americans, vaccinated or not, have been infected.

“We can no longer say this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Vice President Cynthia Cox of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that most people dying of Covid had been vaccinated, told The Washington Post on November 27, 2022.

As liberals liked to say during the pandemic: follow the science. By the time the vaccine mandates went into effect, science said that the odds of a vaccinated NYPD officer contracting and spreading the virus weren’t much lower than those of an unvaccinated cop. Whatever you think of the anti-vaxxers who lost their jobs to mandates—that they were ignorant, paranoid, selfish—they didn’t represent a significantly greater threat to public health than those who did get the jab. Since that supposed danger—that higher danger—was the reason given for letting them go, and that danger differential wasn’t a big deal at the time, they never should have been targeted for termination in the first place.

Mandates no longer apply to private businesses in New York. Yet it remains in force for city employees. Asked in October 2022 about the contradiction, Mayor Eric Adams replied: “I don’t think anything dealing with COVID is—makes sense, and there’s no logical pathway.” State and city employees remain subject to mandates across the nation.

This is not an attack on vaccines. I’m fully vaxxed, boosted four times, and even though I’ve gotten Covid twice after being vaccinated, I’m pro-vaccine. If you’re vaccinated and get a “breakthrough infection,” you almost certainly won’t be hospitalized or die. That’s the benefit being touted by the CDC and the medical community. I have asthma but my recent illness, as the XBB.1.5 subvariant raged, felt like a cold. I believe the vaccine has saved my life.

Dr. Anthony Fauci declared the pandemic over in April 2022. As we return to our normal activities and assess the traumatic politics of the last few years, we should follow the example of President Ronald Reagan, who signed a law apologizing to the Japanese Americans sent to detention camps and paying them compensation.

Let’s cancel mandates and rehire the thousands of teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and other workers who lost their jobs because they refused vaccines at a time that their employers couldn’t see clearly. We should issue back pay and an apology to these victims of hysteria.

Penance is good for the soul. In this case, it would also alleviate the shortage of workers in these key professions.

(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 #84: Debating the Debt Ceiling, Biden’s Secret Papers and Potpourri

Internationally-syndicated Editorial Cartoonists Ted Rall and Scoot Stantis analyze the news of the day. Starting with a brisk debate about whether or not the Debt Ceiling should be lifted or if there should be one at all. Next, Ted and Scott weigh in on Secret Documents President Biden had piled up in his garage. Does this preclude a run for reelection in 2024? Lastly, a potpourri of topics ranging from the Wyoming Legislature proposing a ban on the purchase of electric vehicles to the Russian troop buildup in the west of Ukraine to recent projections that 90% of online content will be generated by AI by 2025. (This podcast is not, btw.) 

 

Burn After Reading: Why Classified Documents Don’t Matter

            The strange story at the top of the headlines—the current president and the most recent former president are both the subject of special-counsel investigations for taking home classified documents when they left the White House—rests upon two premises. One is patently false. The other is brazenly silly.

            Americans believe their nation exists in a terrifying state of endless peril. Propagandized by popular culture and the media, we imagine that we’re constantly teetering at the precipice of collapse or subjugation, surrounded by clever and ruthless fiendish enemies hellbent on undermining, attacking and ultimately destroying the United States and turning us into their slaves.

The era of great invading armies and empire-building is over. In our world, borders are largely settled so empires are built via economic influence rather than territorial gains. Bigger countries bump up against each other at the edges in search of incremental advantage.

Fewer nations in history have ever been less at risk than the U.S. in 2023. Buffered by vast oceans and bordered by vassal states, enjoying total command of the world’s oceans, the U.S. is uniquely impervious to invasion. No nation-state has launched a military attack on the mainland U.S. since the War of 1812—and we started that one. (In an attempt to buy time, warn us away from the western Pacific and to convince us to drop our oil embargo, Imperial Japan picked Pearl Harbor as a target because it was located on a remote American colony that was not yet a state. The Japanese didn’t think we would care as much as we did.) The danger to the U.S. is from within: right-wing counterrevolution, secession,  disintegration, environmental or economic collapse.

None of the “threats” we worry about—Russia, China, Iran, North Korea—want a war with the U.S., much less to invade. When U.S. adversaries saber-rattle, their motivation is to dissuade us from attacking them. To paraphrase Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” we are not the one who gets attacked. We are the one who attacks.

The hysterical reaction to the classified-documents idiocy rests on a cartoonish worldview derived from watching too many Bourne movies. In the fevered imagination of political-thriller scriptwriters, we would be totally screwed if the wrong Super Duper Important Document were to fall into the clutches of an Evil Enemy of America.

There is no such document.

When, if ever, has a classified document ever been so explosive that it represented a serious threat to national security? Almost certainly never. The exposure of classified material can lead to the theft of technology or the capture or murder of intelligence agents. And when such breaches have occurred, they have been inconveniences that required cleanups and workarounds. They were not existential dangers to the American nation-state. Nuclear launch codes are changed daily, so it wouldn’t even matter if a nefarious foreigner were to nick yesterday’s “gold codes” off the president’s desk.

The problem with classified documents is not the possibility that Donald Trump might, in the ridiculously overheated speculation by mainstream media outlets that ought to know better, sell them to the highest bidder. The problem is that there are too many of them.

Overclassification is wildly out of control. Publicly-available news articles are marked “top secret,” Should we impeach President Biden over keeping some of these next to his car? Description of foreign cultural practices, like wedding ceremonies, are marked “confidential,” so you can be prosecuted as a felon under the Espionage Act for mishandling one. The U.S. government has kept documents classified for a full century; in 2011 the CIA finally declassified World War I-era memos explaining how to expose invisible ink.

“Everything’s secret,” former CIA/NSA director Michael Hayden, remarked “I mean, I got an email saying, ‘Merry Christmas.’ It carried a Top Secret NSA classification marking.”

Get a grip, people!

There would be no effect whatsoever if 99.99999% of classified documents were to be posted to the Internet. Since that’s almost certainly the case about all the documents found in Biden’s garage and at Mar-a-Lago, it would be nice if both major political parties were to drop the posturing over the presidents’ sloppy record management and focus on real problems that affect real Americans every single day: climate change, healthcare for profit, high college tuition, the prison industrial complex, brutal and racist police, unemployment, homelessness, unaffordable housing.

Where would the money come from? We could start by abolishing the unnecessary agencies that churn out those zillions of useless classified documents.

(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 #82: Two Hosts, Two Cases of COVID! McCarthy’s Bosses’ House. Biden’s Pilfered Docs.

Political cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis may come from opposite sides of the political divide, but they have something in common: both of them currently have COVID-19. But they also have a work ethic! So here’s the brain-fog edition of the DMZ America podcast, complete with live Covid swab tests, a look at the House of Representatives in the Kevin McCarthy era, or more accurately the era of those who own Kevin McCarthy, and the entertaining prospect of watching Democrats explain the subtle differences between Joe Biden’s decision to take classified documents from the White House home with him, and Donald Trump’s decision to do the same thing.

 

 

May the Second-Best Person Win

            Only God and Kevin McCarthy know how long George Santos, the disgraced Republican freshman congressman from Long Island whose antipathy for the truth stands out even by politician standards, will be able to remain in office. If and when he is forced to step down, say, after an explanation for his mysteriously improving financial status finally surfaces, I do know how his seat will be filled.

And it’s totally unfair.

            There’ll be a special election. But Robert Zimmerman, the Democrat defeated by Santos in November, won’t even be guaranteed a second shot. Party bosses will pick the two candidates—of whom Zimmerman may or may not be one—like it’s 1880.

            Zimmerman was cheated. The “George Santos” who beat Zimmerman wasn’t a real person or a real candidate. The voters didn’t have the information they needed to choose their congressman. They were bedazzled by a fraud, seduced by a chimera. At bare minimum, Zimmerman ought to be guaranteed the Democratic nomination in a special election.

            But even that wouldn’t be fair to Zimmerman. Why should he have to campaign all over again?

Nor would it be fair to the taxpayers. Each special election costs millions of dollars. Each brings a fresh round of annoying attack ads. And each one requires thousands of voters to cast new ballots. For the sake of simplicity and common sense, let’s be done with it. We already have a winner: Robert Zimmerman.

            Even after the first-place winner gets disqualified for cheating, second-place finishers in politics are doomed to also-ran status. The most famous example of this type of injustice was the outrage, well-known yet rarely reconsidered, vested upon Senator George McGovern.

There is no question that President Richard Nixon cheated in 1972. Nixon’s goons broke into Democratic National Headquarters to steal McGovern’s secret campaign strategies. They burglarized VP candidate Thomas Eagleton’s psychiatrist’s office and leaked his patient records, forcing McGovern to replace his running mate mid-campaign. McGovern might have lost to Nixon anyway. But he never stood a chance after the Eagleton affair.

Three years later, the country knew Nixon was a crook and a big one at that. The Watergate break-in triggered a series of revelations and scandals that forced Nixon to quit. Justice!

But not really. In most cases, when one contestant cheats his fellow contestant and wins, fairness requires the winner to be stripped of his ill-gotten victory and the person he screwed over to be given the prize instead. Not in politics. Nixon slunk off to rebuild his reputation as an elder statesman. What of McGovern? He got nothing. Dead now, McGovern is still ridiculed for losing to Nixon in a record landslide—a landslide Nixon stole.

To add insult to historical injury, Nixon was never held to account for Watergate. He was allowed to appoint his own successor, fellow Republican Gerald Ford, who then pardoned him and continued many of his policies. Following Nixon’s resignation, fairness would have required McGovern to receive the office he was cheated out of in 1972, for a full four-year term followed by the chance to run for reelection.

Constitutional succession should make an exception for political office holders impeached or forced to resign as the result of a scandal. If former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had been forced to quit due to, say, poor health or had died in office, automatic constitutional succession by his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, would have been proper. Instead, Cuomo quit after being accused of serial sexual harassment. Under these sordid circumstances, allowing his Democratic Party to retain Cuomo’s seat, and his chosen successor to run for “reelection” with the advantages of incumbency, failed to punish his sleazy behavior or his enabling party. Marc Molinaro, his 2018 Republican opponent and the second-largest receiver of votes, ought to have replaced Cuomo for four years.

The same error occurs in other professions.

Milli Vanilli lost its 1990 Best New Artist award for lip syncing. The Grammys never bothered to make it up to any of the runner-ups (Neneh Cherry, Indigo Girls, Tone Lōc and Soul II Soul), all of whom were objectively more talented and important than the shamed winner.

There are no official Tour de France winners listed for the seven consecutive years between 1999 and 2005 when Lance Armstrong won. Armstrong, of course, was subsequently stripped of his title due to doping. The Spanish cyclist Joseba Beloki, the only runner-up during Armstrong’s run not to have been found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs, deserved to be awarded the yellow jersey he was denied in 2002. Instead, Beloki is wrongly consigned to obscurity.

It is as though once a runner-up, always a runner-up. However, the fact that the person who “beat” you did it by breaking the rules is not—or should not be—a mere footnote.

            If a gold medalist breaks the rules, the silver medalist receives the gold they were cheated out of. That’s how it works in the Olympics, and that’s how it should work in politics and everywhere else.

(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 #82: McCarthy Loses Again, “Don’t Run, Joe!” and Is It Time to Ban Football?

Big issues face our award-winning editorial cartoonists here on the DMZ podcast. Ted Rall and Scott Stantis analyze the deadlock in the race to choose the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. They beg President Biden not to run for reelection. Lastly, Scott and Ted debate whether football should be banned following the near-fatal injury Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin suffered during the recent game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Which comes on the heel of several studies showing that players suffer from significant brain damage after playing the sport for years. 

 

Say Another Go Ain’t So, Joe

            Well, Mr. and Mrs. Biden, the holidays are over. You know, the holidays during which you were going to decide whether or not to run for reelection. So, what did you decide?

            This being a democracy, we hope that you came down on the side of the 70% of voters who don’t want you to run in 2024. Even if that figure reflects the feelings of every single Republican (and it probably doesn’t), it includes a lot of Democrats too.

            At your age, Mr. President, decision-making can take a little extra time. Let me help you weigh the pros and cons.

            Pros: You get to try to beat Donald Trump again. You have some legislative achievements to brag about. You’ll make history as the oldest person to ever run and perhaps win.

            Cons: You have low poll numbers—and we may be heading into a recession. You might lose, which would suck, especially if it were to Trump. The Hunter Biden laptop investigation could turn ugly, maybe even implicate you in criminal wrongdoing. You won’t be able to campaign from your basement this time; a real presidential campaign is grueling and you’ll be 81. Actuarily, there’s a strong chance you would die during your second term, elevating the deeply unpopular Kamala Harris to the Oval Office. She would tarnish your legacy and hurt the Democratic Party.

            You’re still sharp enough to see the right choice.

            Next up: what to do about the vice president?

            With only 28% of Democrats saying they would vote for Harris in the 2024 Democratic primaries, she would be far from a shoo-in for the nomination, which ought to be a given for a sitting vice president. She was a terrible campaigner, I would say in the 2020 primaries, but she didn’t even make it into 2020. The former prosecutor, who still hasn’t worked to release the innocent Black men she sent to prison, could easily face a devastating, even lethal, primary challenge from the left.

            Cutting Harris loose is the smart, arguably required, move. But she’s a woman of color. Sidelining her will look racist and sexist. The only way to ease her out of the race somewhat gracefully is to make it look like her idea. Convince her that her only future in politics is a humiliating defeat. Find her a soft landing: university president, NGO CEO, MSNBC anchor.

            Being a lame duck won’t feel good. Run again or retire, Mr. President, you’re a lame duck either way. Republicans control the House, Democrats barely have the Senate, campaigning begins this fall. Legacy-defining legislation is in your rearview mirror.

            What matters now is nominating the strongest possible person to run against the Republicans next year. The best way to accomplish that is to subject the contenders to trial by fire. The nominee must be battle-hardened in preparation for the general election.

            2016 shows what happens when a candidate has the nomination handed to her by superdelegates, cheating, backroom deals, and other DNC shenanigans. Hillary Clinton was smart and experienced but also arrogant and entitled. And why not? The nomination was handed to her. If she’d gotten accustomed to having to fight for every vote, she might have felt the hunger and drive to campaign in Wisconsin in the general or refrained from insulting Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

            Clear the field, stand aside and give potential contenders as much time as possible to fundraise and organize their campaigns. Mr. Biden, as eminence grise and de facto leader of your party, you can pressure the DNC and top Democrats to abolish what remains of the superdelegate system and scrupulously refrain from endorsing or criticizing any contender for the Democratic Party nomination for president. Progressive or liberal, let the best person win and lead the party you have served for a half century to a victory that will serve as a lasting legacy of your wisdom.

(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.)

 

How about Equal Time for the Truth?

           Mark Twain said: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” Ironically, he didn’t. The quotation should correctly be attributed to Jonathan Swift. The lie remains in high orbit.

            Even when the truth comes to light, it gets nothing close to the wide distribution of the original disinformation. Liberal and conservative historians agree that the Tonkin Gulf incident, as described to Congress by an LBJ out to lie the country into invading Vietnam, never happened; how many Americans know that? Despite the absence of evidence, 40% of Americans believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Corporate media promoted the outlandish theory that Russia bombed its own natural gas pipeline and now admit there’s no way that’s true; even well-read and well-informed news consumers can be forgiven for having missed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it retractions.

            Can we fight the “psyopcracy,” a media environment saturated by sophisticated psychological operations that create an alternative reality designed to expand U.S. influence overseas and stifle dissent in the U.S.?

The challenge is enormous. Political partisans prefer news content that confirms their pre-existing biases. And corporate media outlets, having long abandoned oppositional coverage of the political class in favor of access journalism, are happy to help. Corporate bosses save expenses by allowing reporters not to have to check things out as long as those things are uttered by an official, wearing a suit. Why not dish out (free) government propaganda?

            We may not be able to win the fight for journalistic integrity. But we should define what winning, or at least, starting to win, might look like.

            In states like Utah, Michigan and Wisconsin newspapers, broadcast outlets and other journalistic organizations that publish a libelous story can dodge a defamation lawsuit by quickly issuing a retraction of equal or greater prominence than the offending article. The correction should amount to the same or a greater number of words or broadcast time, feature a headline of equal or greater size, appear in a similar font of equal or bigger size, and be placed at least as prominently as the original, mistaken piece. If the defamatory material appeared on the front page, a page 33 retraction is deemed inadequate.

            Dictating similar remedies on the federal level would not pass constitutional muster. But the following thought exercise is useful when, considering the standards that ought to be voluntarily adhered to by media organizations. Imagine, if you can, in this day of spin and bluster, that media outlets who publish misinformation and disinformation — specifically, those that do so intentionally, after having been made aware of serious doubts about the material — were required to give equal prominent to the corrections after they got a story wrong.

Though I empathize and sympathize with individual victims of libel, my concern here is major-league fraud, perpetrated against readers and news consumers, in some instances so severe that they can provoke international conflict.

What if we lived in a world where all the journalistic enterprises that distributed George W. Bush’s lies about Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction and supposed ties to Al Qaeda had been required to run the same number of stories, at the same word count, at equal levels of prominence, about the fact that Bush and his minions had lied the country into a war that killed a million Iraqis and destroyed America’s reputation around the world? Countering Bush’s propaganda with an equal flow of anti-Bush truth might have prompted voters not to reelect him in 2004.

Instead, half of Republican voters still believed, 12 years after the invasion in 2015, that the US had found WMDs in Iraq. It did not. If you don’t think delusions like that have widespread, political, implications, or that some of those Republicans might have become Democrats if they knew the truth about George W. Bush, I have a war I’d like to sell you.

Some journalists might worry about a chilling effect. What if a newspaper was more reluctant, more cautious to go with a story that they weren’t totally sure about? What if they were required to take an extra day or two to verify their assertions? What, if, in such cases, rather than endlessly repeating the same narrative, they published it fewer times? It’s hard to see how any of these consequences would pose a threat to a vibrant and free press.

Of course, the truth deserves more than equal time with lies. People who fall for the lies can easily miss, subsequent truthful, retractions.

Equal time isn’t nearly enough. But it’s a start.

(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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