DMZ America Podcast #55: Jan. 6th Investigation Gets Hot, Abortion Gets Aborted, Russia Bites Back

Political cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis debate and discuss the week’s issues from the Left and the Right. The Democrats’ Jan. 6th hearings turned interesting as a White House staffer claims she overheard the Secret Service discussing Trump’s trying to grab the wheel of the Presidential limo to lead the insurrection. Office gossip or treason? Women’s right to choose—is it toast in the red states or will a sustained campaign of protest…never mind. As Russia consolidates its gains in Ukraine, Presidents Rall and Stantis propose peace terms.

 

Supreme Court to Progressives: Wake Up

            The Supreme Court just sent us a wake-up call. Pro-reality Americans, i.e. the 40% of voters to the left of the Democratic Party, should be grateful.

            A freedom essential to half the population never should have hinged upon a flimsy and poorly-reasoned legal opinion. Congress should have followed the example of other countries where abortion is legal, and passed a federal law decades ago. Instead, neither party acted on behalf of women. (And let’s not forget men—many of them want/need their partners to have abortions.)

Democrats are not the answer. They had the chance to codify abortion in 2009, when they had a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and control of the House. Then-President Barack Obama chose not to lift a finger. “Not the highest legislative priority,” Obama sneered as he focused on what he cared about, doling out trillions to Wall Street megabanks. Instead he channeled his inner laissez-faire Republican, urging Americans to “reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.” Women should despise him and the do-nothing Democrats.

            The overturning of Roe v. Wade shines a spotlight on other rights that rest upon the shaky foundation of a Supreme Court decision: men’s right to have sex with one another, same-sex marriage, marriage between different races, parental rights over child-rearing and the sale of contraceptives. This is no way to run a government.

            Whether or not the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court is mean and stupid is less important than fundamental truth that has been revealed: the separation of powers is broken.

            When something is important, there oughta be a law.

Not a ruling.

When a majority of voters arrive at a societal consensus on an issue like those mentioned above, a functional political system responds with a corresponding law negotiated and passed by a legislature. The U.S., however, is too riddled with partisan dysfunction and corrupted by corporate lobbyists to effectively address advances in culture and technology. Thus Congress can’t or won’t accommodate the 7 out of 10 Americans who want a European-style national healthcare system and higher taxes on the rich or the 56% who want to slash Pentagon spending.

Because Congress is impotent, the highest court of the judicial branch has been stepping in to legislate from the bench rather than limit itself to its intended role as arbiter of conflicts between laws and the constitution.

            Americans have accepted the bastardization of the separation of powers because the result tended to respect popular opinion. In 2015 when the Supremes legalized same-sex marriage, for example, 57% of voters agreed. (Now it’s 71%.)

Not any more. The rightward shift of the court following Trump’s three appointees, embodied by polls that show voters wanted to keep Roe by a two-to-one margin, and that New Yorkers were 80% in favor of the SCOTUS-overturned state gun law, have exposed the limits of expediency over ordered governance.  “Up until a couple years ago, it used to be the case that where the court fell was well within the lines of the average Americans’ positions,” notes Harvard public policy Professor Maya Sen. “Now we are estimating that the court falls more squarely in line with the average Republican, not the average American.”

            Short of revolution—which I favor—those who wish to see American laws represent current American political and social values have one way forward. Forget the courts. Voters must force legislators to legislate and the president to sign popular bills into law.

            The majority isn’t always right. Sometimes politicians should lead the people before they’re quite ready. In general, however, a representative democracy that ignores the will of the people is a failure.

            Americans who support a woman’s right to choose an abortion — all women, not just those privileged enough to live in a blue state or those in red states with enough money for travel expenses—face a choice.

They can embark on something this country hasn’t seen since the 1960s with the brief exception of the 2021 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which were unusually intense and effective because they were fueled  by the COVID lockdown: a sustained campaign of angry agitation. We need a relentless round of street protests. Economic and cultural boycotts should turn red states into backwater pariahs. Voters can exert financial pressure via contributions that makes congressmen and senators on the wrong side of history and public opinion miserable enough to support a federal law legalizing abortion whether they like it or not. Republicans are obvious targets because Democrats need at least 10 GOP senators to federalize abortion rights. Democrats who aren’t fierce allies of choice (hello, Manchin) should be primaried out or face voter boycotts. Protests should erupt in every city, every day, loud and disruptive and terrifying to the powers that be.

Or pro-choicers can bemoan the HandmaidTale-ification of America, attend one or two photogenic parades on a conveniently-scheduled Sunday afternoon and recite ridiculous fantasies about packing the Supreme Court (you’d need a 60-vote supermajority) or hoping that its conservative members die under Democratic rule. Meanwhile, Southern women will have to drive a thousand miles to terminate a pregnancy

Roe was unsustainable. The liberal court was never going to last. Now that the bubble has burst, don’t whine. It’s time to organize.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. 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 #54: Roe v Wade Killed, Guns, Ukraine and Male Masturbation

The DMZ America podcast falls off of the rails hard, but first Ted and Scott discuss the SCOTUS decision to throw abortion back to the states. Earlier the court struck down a New York gun law. Then the boys discuss Ukraine and living the narrative vs reality. Finally, the conversation inexplicably turns to masturbation and involuntarily celibates aka Incels.

 

 

Trump and Biden are Both Liars. Only Trump Gets Called Out.

           The following phrase, and its variants, has become ubiquitous: “Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud.” Mainstream news outlets have accelerated its use during the congressional hearings on the January 6th Capitol riot.

            The phrase is accurate. Though historically American elections have been marred by fraud and outright subversion, no evidence has surfaced to suggest that any such improprieties occurred during the 2020 presidential election that were substantial enough to change the result. As far as we know, Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

            But is it journalistically kosher?

            Fairness, accuracy and integrity are the core of journalistic ethics. Those values are compromised when they are applied inconsistently, as do American news companies.

            Republicans, conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump in particular have long complained that corporate media outlets have been harder on him than on other politicians or previous presidents. It’s hard to disagree. Journalists’ labeling of Trump’s allegations that the 2020 election was stolen as a lie is a case in point; it’s impossible to think of another American politician who has been so repeatedly editorialized against in non-opinion news stories or to have his claims — no matter how untrue — repeatedly denied in headlines.

            Biden and fellow Democrats, for example, have taken to calling high gas prices “Putin’s gas hike.” This is just as false as Trump’s election BS. The Wall Street Journal notes that gas prices were “turbocharged by a rebounding economy after a pandemic-induced slowdown” well before Russia invaded Ukraine. Anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West, led by the U.S., exacerbated the problem. Whether or not Joe Biden is responsible for $5 gas, no one can credibly blame Vladimir Putin for the effects of sanctions he imposed against Vladimir Putin.

You won’t see headlines describing Biden’s spin on gas prices as “baseless” or “false.” As they do when any politician other than Donald Trump lies, the press acts as stenographers, dutifully passing on communiqués regardless of their truthiness. “Biden blames Russia for gas prices,” reports The Politico. “Biden slams ‘Putin’s price hike,’” says CNN. Calling out Trump for lying is great. Doing so is a reporter’s job. Why not Biden?

            Willful inconsistency is the hallmark of how reporting becomes propaganda in the 21st century. As coverage of the January 6th hearings keeps reminding us, Donald Trump tried to steal the presidency. The same reporters had little to nothing to say about George W. Bush actually stealing the presidency; because Bush hates Trump, they treat the architect of torture, drones and Gitmo like an elder statesman. When the United States invades a foreign country there’s almost no attempt to humanize civilian victims but when the invading army belongs to a U.S. adversary coverage of the human cost – even the cost to animals — is exhaustive.
            The facile defense to this critique is that reporters are setting the record straight when they label Trump’s lies as such. Trouble is, there are so many lies being told by so many politicians of every conceivable ideological orientation that limiting factchecks to one individual, even a former president and possible future one for whom the truth appears to be a mortal enemy, looks exactly like what it is: choosing sides by giving your fellow partisans a free pass. Further, because the press’ anti-Trump bias is so over-the-top, there is a natural tendency to dismiss it.

            I’m not arguing that journalists should stop writing that Donald Trump is a liar. To the contrary, holding politicians accountable for untruths is long overdue. I’m saying they should do the same thing to other politicians as well.

Now that Russiagate has been thoroughly debunked, it would be nice to see news media say so. Instead of “US is worried about Russia using new efforts to exploit divisions in 2022 midterms,” CNN could say “US officials revive discredited claims on election ‘interference.’”

Instead of “Iraq War role was a stain on Powell’s record — one he openly said he regretted,” The Washington Post could say: “A million dead Iraqis later, Powell regretted lying America into Iraq War.”

Surely the courageous journalists who call out “Trump’s election lie” for what it is can present other stories in an equally straightforward manner. ABC’s “Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee condemns Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia” ought to be specific. After all, Khashoggi wasn’t passive-tense “slain.” In one of the most insane political assassinations in modern history, Khashoggi was viciously butchered in the Saudi consulate at the order of the Saudi crown prince. Biden isn’t merely going to Saudi Arabia, he’s planning to meet and shake hands with Khashoggi’s murderer. How about: “Fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi condemns Biden for upcoming visit with journalist’s murderer”?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. 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 #53: UK Close to Extraditing Julian Assange to US

Ted and Scott break down the breaking news that British authorities have approved the extradition of Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges in connection with the Chelsea Manning leaks. Both Scott and Ted are deeply disturbed by the implications and threats to free speech, a free press and democracy itself.

 

 

Transgender People Shouldn’t Compete in Sports. Neither Should Cis People.

            A new Washington Post poll about Americans’ views of transgender athletes offers a lot to think about. I found the margins more interesting than the headline. Like, who are these 2% of people who think that transgender girls are at a physical disadvantage when they compete against cis girls in youth sports? Why would they think that?

Another takeaway is that 16% of respondents have a close friend or family member who is transgender. One in six! As a writer and cartoonist who works from home—but in New York, the most diverse city in the country—clearly I need to get out and meet more people. Last week a Pew poll found that 1% of Americans are nonbinary, a figure that rises to 3% for people ages 18 to 29. I know hundreds of people, including lots of Millennials. How come I don’t know anyone nonbinary in a country with 3.3 million of them?

But what I’ve been thinking about most is an issue that is so baked into our society that it is no issue at all: the idea that competition is a good thing.

Most respondents to the Post survey oppose allowing transwomen to participate against cis women in competitive sports at any level. Yet a majority are also concerned that the mental health of transgender athletes might suffer as a result of such a ban—meaning that, even among some of those who view such competition as unfair, some worry that transwomen athletes denied the opportunity to compete against other women in sports will suffer psychological damage.

It’s an intractable issue. As transgender athletes have argued, segregation by gender in sports is in and of itself arbitrary since some cis women have inherent biological advantages over some cis men. Any attempt to make physical competition fairer, as with weight classes in boxing and wrestling is inherently arbitrary. Where does it stop? Shall we have separate basketball leagues based on the players’ heights? Should the 152-to-164 lb. weight class be split up more finely? Down to the ounce?

There is little political appetite for allowing everyone to compete against one another regardless of sex or gender, and for obvious reasons: in most sports, people who are born male have bigger and stronger bodies, and hormonal advantages, on average than those born female. Eliminating the gender divide would effectively downgrade half the human race to intramural athletes, with no chance to win anything more than the joy and satisfaction of participating.

But then, what’s so great about competition? Personally, this cis male has always found competition of all kinds — in sports, at work, in the arts — to be toxic.

I attended elementary school in the mid-1970s, when soccer was first gaining a foothold in the United States. In my Ohio town it started out as exclusively intramural. I signed up and loved it. (It’s not relevant here, but I was pretty good.) Then they converted the intramural league to the competitive teams we have today. Coaches, and then players, got serious about winning. They turned mean. Grown men ordered us kids to target the best player on rival teams and injure them so that they couldn’t play. It wasn’t fun anymore so I quit.

Competition ruined every sport I tried: track, wrestling, baseball. Winning was the only thing that mattered. My teammates quickly took to trash-talking batters; I found the practice foul. To me, play is not something that you do at the expense of other people. I’m not alone: Survey data shows that 70% of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13.

Studies show that competition causes depression, anxiety and self-harm. And no wonder! Competition turns everyone but the winner into losers. The practice of my professors at Columbia University School of Engineering, who graded on a curve, illustrated the absurdity of America’s winner-take-all culture. No matter how brilliant the students in a class, half of us would receive an F. Objectively, of course, we were all superb at math and science and we all worked hard; we wouldn’t have been admitted otherwise. Objectively, we all should have gotten As. Instead, CU set up a system where they took thousands of students who were by far the best in their high schools, and turned three-quarters of them, me included, into expelled losers, unemployed with thousands of dollars in student loans.

Because of competitive grading, 49% of students feel a great deal of stress on a daily basis. Educators should consider following the example of Hampshire College, which does not issue letter grades.

If you have held a job, you know how dispiriting workplace competition can be. Brownnosers prevail over those who work harder. Intelligent workers get passed over in favor of those who don’t threaten their colleagues with difficult questions. Unfair promotions piss people off. Workers are more likely to quit a job after a colleague gets promoted than one in which no one gets promoted.

Competition in the arts is silly and destructive. What makes a song or a sculpture or a cartoon “better” than another one? It’s purely a matter of subjective taste. Who receives the Oscar or the Tony or the Nobel usually has far more to do with contemporary politics and the composition of the prize jury than the quality of the work.

Columbia University, which administers the Pulitzer Prize, has decided to abolish the editorial cartooning section in favor of a broad illustrated commentary category that also includes comics journalism, comic strips, graphic novels, magazine illustrations, you name it. Effectively they have reduced an editorial cartoonist’s chance of winning a Pulitzer from slim to none, which is bad for a nearly-extinct profession, which is why I added my name to a petition letter opposing it.

In a way, though, they’ve done us a favor. With few exceptions, each year’s announcement of the winners and finalists has been followed by a flurry of phone calls between the 99% of us who lost. We disagree with the choice of the winner. We bemoan the great work that’s been snubbed. We wonder what the hell happened in the room where it happened; what were the jurors thinking and why are their deliberations unaccountable? Most of all, we wonder what we could have done, if anything — spoiler, probably nothing — to have won ourselves? Even the winner is a loser, because for they know that few others are happy about their victory. I’ve been at this for more than a quarter of a century and I can’t remember any winner being greeted by anything close to universal acclaim by his or her colleagues.

If you can’t win, you can’t lose.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. 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 #53: If I Were President! What We’d Do on Inflation/Economy, Human Rights/Foreign Policy & Guns/Red Flag Laws

Ted Rall and Scott Stantis believe that every political cartoonist should know what he or she would do if they became President of the United States. This week we put that question to the test. What, if anything, can the president do to combat inflation? As President Biden prepares to suck up to murderous Saudi Arabia, does he have an alternative? Are red-flag laws common-sense gun legislation or are they the first step down the path to dystopian authoritarianism?

 

 

Democrats Will Lose 2022. They Can Win 2024 if Biden-Harris Say They Won’t Run

            For the foreseeable future, the Democratic Party is in trouble. In today’s essay I will describe just how bleak the situation is – spoiler alert, very — and how I would advise party leaders to respond if they asked my advice.

            First, they’re probable going to lose big in the upcoming midterms.

            Prediction is fraught, things change, you never know, blah blah blah. Polls are mixed. That said, Republicans will almost certainly take back the House of Representatives and probably the Senate as well.

            The tea leaves look ugly. Plagued by the perception that he is tired, feeble and out of it, the nearly octogenarian President Biden’s approval ratings are at a near record low 41% and sinking. Gallup’s monthly poll of the issues that worry American voters lists the top problems as poor government leadership (20%),  inflation (17%), the economy in general (12%) and fuel/oil prices (6%). Rarely has a political situation been so straightforward; voters think the economy sucks and they blame Biden.

            The president has no one to blame but himself for the perception that he doesn’t understand how much pain inflation is causing, and that he doesn’t have a plan to bring it down. First he said that inflation wasn’t happening. Then he said it would be temporary. Now he’s blaming Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for an economic phenomenon that began a year earlier and that his sanctions against Russia are making worse. The White House’s most recent published statement focuses on attacking inflation by…taxing the rich and big corporations. I’m all for a progressive tax system. But changing who pays for missiles and bombs won’t bring down food and gas prices.

            Not that we’ll find out. Democratic proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy are dead in the water. So Biden’s idea to fix inflation is something he can’t try.

            Inflation, the problem that most scares voters, will remain high at least through the end of the year. And there’s nothing the president can do about it – he told us that himself last week. Biden’s inability to lead will prompt swing voters to cast rage votes for Republicans.

            So 2023 will likely begin with divided government.

The president will be the lamest of all lame ducks. Biden, 80 and about to topple over at any moment, will finally have to admit to himself and the nation what everyone already knows: he will not run for reelection. Heir-apparent Kamala Harris has one of the lowest popularity ratings of anyone in American politics, 31%, the same as for lawyers and big pharma. How bad is it? Not only is Harris incapable of clearing the field by scaring away potential rivals for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, she would almost certainly face the devastating embarrassment of a sitting vice president losing in the primaries.

Worse still, Republican control of Congress will make it impossible for the Biden-Harris administration to rack up any legislative accomplishments for them, or any Democrat, to run on in 2024.

When voters are miserable and hopeless because they don’t see government taking action that might alleviate their pain, they punish the incumbent party. So the trick for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election would be to shed the albatross of the failed Biden presidency. There’s only one way to do it: both Biden and Harris should announce early in 2023 that they do not plan to run for president, thus opening the field to all comers.

American elections are about the future. Sweeping the slate clean will make for one of the most exciting Democratic presidential primary campaigns in history and could attract new candidates who otherwise might have sat out the race.

Republicans, on the other hand, will almost certainly renominate an old white man, Donald Trump. The reality-TV real-estate pseudo-billionaire who once seemed so fresh as to be wild and crazy will be a bitter blast from the past.

My suggestion, of course, runs directly against the conventional wisdom that a first-term president becomes instantly impotent following the announcement that he will not run again and that it’s therefore better to keep up the fiction as long as possible. With Republicans controlling Congress, however, what difference will it make?

A soon-to-be-retired President Biden would be freed to pass all sorts of executive orders and other programs that require nothing more than a stroke of his pen. With Harris not running, no other candidate would be held to account for his actions beyond party affiliation. Biden could do all sorts of things on progressives’ wish list, thus shoring up the currently unenthusiastic party base: a blanket pardon of nonviolent drug offenders, closing Guantánamo Bay, forgiveness of federal student loans, canceling federal contracts with companies that engage in union-busting, pardoning political prisoners like Julian Assange and targets of the security state like Edward Snowden. He could follow the lead of Richard Nixon of all people, and impose wage and price controls to fight inflation.

There’s no point worrying about the 2022 midterms. Democrats are going to lose those. They need to look ahead to 2024. Job one is convincing Biden and Harris to stand down.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. 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 #52: An In-Depth Interview with Cartoonist Ted Rall by Scott Stantis

Scott, who was interviewed by DMZ America podcast co-host Ted Rall, finally returns the favor and interviews Ted. Where he came from and how his opinions were shaped. From a troubled and tumultuous childhood in Dayton, Ohio to becoming a bestselling and highly-regarded editorial cartoonist, columnist and author. Learn about Ted in this week’s Season One-ending episode.

 

 

DMZ America Podcast #51: Police Wuss Out in Uvalde. What To Do About Gun Violence. Ukraine Update.

Police are supposed to protect and serve, but apparently all they were good for at the school shooting in Uvalde Texas was standing outside and beating up distraught parents. Why are cops cowards? Ted and Scott have different theories. Can mass shootings be prevented? Probably not, but Scott and Ted have suggestions on ways to mitigate the bloodshed. Finally, the war in Ukraine. Looks like Russia has the upper hand. What’s next?

 

 

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