DMZ America #81: Southwest Airlines, Mark Santos and Section 42

What’s to blame for mass cancellations and dysfunction at the formerly beloved Southwest Airlines? Long Island has a new Congressman-elect, Mark Santos. But nothing he told us about himself seems to be true. Ironically, his lies make him look worse than the reality of his hardscrabble upbringing. Supreme Court is allowing Section 42 to remain in place, trapping tens of thousands of asylum seekers at the Mexico border. Surely there’s a better way. Editorial cartoonists Scott Stantis and Ted Rall break it down for you.



Big Collusion between Big Media and Big Government

            An FBI agent contacts Twitter’s head of trust and safety and asks him to censor every mention of a major news story from the social media network on the grounds that the story is false, a result of illegal hacking, or both. Twitter complies, even going so far as to suspend the account of the newspaper that published it. Later, the story—which hacking had nothing to do with—turns out to be accurate.

            Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, creates a special direct login platform so that the Department of Homeland Security can directly flag content on the networks in order to request that it be censored. But when political hate groups use Facebook to doxx their ideological enemies—who get murdered as a result—the company is impossible to get hold of.

            The FBI routinely hands lists of users the bureau would like to see banned or shadowbanned to Twitter. The government pays Twitter to carry out these requests. “I am happy to report we have collected $3,415,323 since October 2019!” a Twitter employee emails in February 2021. The people who lose their accounts have no recourse or way to call the company.

            After the Los Angeles Police Department pension fund becomes the #1 shareholder of the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, the Chief of the LAPD asks the publisher of the Times to fire its political cartoonist because his cartoons criticize the police and the chief. The police chief gives the publisher evidence that shows the cartoonist lied in print—evidence that turns out to have been falsified by the police. The paper refuses to fess up to its readers.

            Elite gatekeepers dismiss these and other stories of high-level collusion between government, traditional media and big tech media as “old news.” If so, where are the old news stories? Boldface names attack Elon Musk’s hypocrisy for banning the guy who tracks the movements of his private jet while claiming to be a champion of free speech. Nice deflection, but Musk’s inconsistencies don’t erase years of systemic corruption at the expense of free expression.

Or they call it a “nothingburger.” No big deal, nothing to see here, this is merely the way business has always been done between the old boys. The New York Times ran pro-Iraq war propaganda by Judith Miller and other hacks as a favor to her buddies in the Bush White House. As Edward Snowden revealed, giant telecommunications companies and technology firms voluntarily turned over their customers’ private information to the NSA and CIA—and got paid in return. The difference in Silicon Valley’s old-boys club is added flavor: there are young people and people of color too.

The argument that an outrage isn’t outrageous because it has long been an ongoing concern rests on the crappiest piece of plywood imaginable. Dismissing said outrage by claiming that it was previously digested by some nonexistent news cycle in some nebulous past demands a level of ignorance and stupidity so staggering that it cannot even be attributed to the average American.

Fact is, news consumers don’t know about the cozy partnership between big government and big media. If and when they think about such things, readers, viewers and social-media consumers view news-gathering organizations as the natural enemies of politicians and bureaucrats — a relationship not unlike that of a cat to a mouse. In the movies, the medium that most exposes the inner workings of newspapers and broadcasting companies, reporters and their editors are invariably depicted as cynical, hard-charging outsiders dying to score Pulitzers and promotions by publishing blockbuster exposes about politicians on the take and priests on the make.

In this ideal world, fading ever further in the rearview mirror, a newspaper publisher doesn’t know, much less take a phone call or a meeting with the local police chief. The FBI can’t get through to Facebook because they are helping customers take down threatening posts. No one at Twitter knows anyone at DHS, and if they do, they aren’t allowed to talk to them.

The truth, sadly for the accountability essential to democracy, is different. Top media organizations recruit rich kids from rich families that can afford to send their brats to journalism schools to which the poor and people of color need not apply because they hardly offer any financial aid. Journalists, 84% of whom come from privileged backgrounds, view rich and powerful individuals and corporations as friends and allies to cultivate as sources rather than as enemies to investigate and expose. “Access journalism” is stenography, not journalism.

No wonder pundits at corporate media outlets are irritated at the public response to the Twitter files and are baffled that the expressions of disgust refuse to fade away. In their world, one hand has always washed the other. They have never given a passing thought to adversarial journalism, much less endeavored to practice it.

            They ask: what’s the big deal?

            We reply: if you don’t know, you must go.

(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 #79: Musk’s Pronoun Wars, NYC’s War on the Homeless, Republicans’ Wars on Everything. Plus: Breaking News on Flamethrower Drones!

Editorial Cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis take a different view of the pronoun wars raging across America in response to Elon Musk’s jibes. Then they take on New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ policy of involuntarily detaining the homeless. Ted and Scott dismiss the Mainstream Left’s hopes and prayers that the Trump era is behind us. Most importantly, they announce the latest breakthrough in flamethrower-drone technology!!! 



Elon Musk, Gender and the War over Pronouns

            When you’re trying to get people to change forms of address, you have two options. You can bully them. Or you can convince them.

            Coercion can do the job, provided you possess that power. Less than 10 years after the Bolshevik revolution, Soviet citizens were mimicking the practice of pre-revolutionary communists, who called one another “comrade.” That anti-honorific honorific, meant to reinforce the regime’s message that all citizens were equal, vanished along with the collapse of the USSR and its replacement by a capitalist system that claimed nothing of the sort.

Conversely, convincing can be easy—when the proposed modification simplifies language. Introduced in the late 1960s and popularized by the 1972 launch of Gloria Steinem’s magazine of the same name, “Ms.” eliminated the guesswork inherent in the Miss/Mrs. binary, which required knowledge of a woman’s marital status and reinforced patriarchy by defining females by their relationship with men. Here, political progress hitched a ride on practicality.

Solving the is-she-or-isn’t-she problem led to rapid widespread acceptance. The GAO approved the use of Ms. on official government documents a mere month after the magazine appeared. By 2009 the European Parliament had officially banned the titles of Miss, Mrs., Madame, Mademoiselle, Frau, Fraulein, Senora and Senorita. The American Heritage Book of English Usage states: “Using Ms. obviates the need for the guesswork involved in figuring out whether to address someone as Mrs. or Miss: you can’t go wrong with Ms. Whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, Ms. is always correct.”

As is his gloriously insensitive wont, Elon Musk recently wandered into the politics of a proposed linguistic change that is not going nearly as well: transgender activists’ project of using titles and pronouns to reinforce the message that gender (as opposed to sex) is inherently arbitrary, exists on a broad spectrum and non-binary. “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” Musk tweeted. But I’m not interested in the Fauci thing.

Astronaut Scott Kelly complained: “Elon, please don’t mock and promote hate toward already marginalized and at-risk-of-violence members of the #LGBTQ+ community.”

“I strongly disagree,” Musk replied. “Forcing your pronouns upon others when they didn’t ask, and implicitly ostracizing those who don’t, is neither good nor kind to anyone.”

            Musk is a lout. He’s also mistaken. No one is forcing anyone to do anything. LGBTQ+ folks are asking. When someone asks you to call you by a certain name or in a certain way, the polite thing to do is to comply. My legal first name is Frederick. My first-grade classmates insisted on addressing me by the diminutive Fred, which was annoying due to the popularity of “The Flintstones” TV show at the time. I went by Ted, from my middle name Theodore, beginning in second grade. Yet even now some people—jerks on a power trip—want to call me Fred or Freddy.

Whether it’s an individual or a class of people or a nation—the U.S. government childishly continues to use the old British colonialist name Burma rather than Myanmar, which it has been since 1989—I say call people what they want to be called.

The challenge for activists advocating for the 1.6% of Americans who self-identify as transgender or nonbinary is that the change they are asking for increases rather than decreases the linguistic complexity of concepts they think and talk about all the time. The remaining 98.4% are no longer male or female but cis male or cis female—a tortured prefix that neither rolls off the tongue nor has roots in anything familiar to most English speakers. Unlike Ms., cis-ification creates a problem rather than solves one.

Pronouns and forms of address are among the most basic building blocks of everyday speech. He/him and she/her are simple. Trans-friendly grammar is confusing.

Along with novel pronouns like they/them, favored by transgender people, are others like ze/zie, xe/xem and ve/ver. Americans are being introduced to gender descriptors that only recently began to enjoy distribution in mainstream media: genderqueer, pangender, genderfluid, neutrois, two-spirit, intersex. New York City officially recognizes 31 distinct gender identities, yet Americans do not know anyone who is transgender, do not see transgender people or issues on the news they consume and do not know what many of these terms mean.

            On the other hand, most respondents to polls say they would support their child if they were to identify themselves as transgender and would use whatever pronouns they preferred. The challenge isn’t transphobia. It’s convincing people to modify their behavior and speech in response to changes that aren’t yet visible enough to feel real to many people.

            Elon Musk tapped into a silent but widespread feeling, even among people who may be transgender allies, that pronoun wars are silly.

“We cannot assume someone’s pronouns, in the same way we cannot assume someone’s name,” a statement by the Trevor Project declares. “It’s always best to confirm with a person what their name and pronouns are. You can do that by asking, or by introducing your own pronouns when you meet a person, which gives them the opportunity to share theirs.” Who, outside rarified political or academic gatherings, actually does this? In the real world, people assume others’ gender based on their appearance—and they’re almost always correct. Politics fail when activists promote fantasy: even among Democrats, only 16% agree that everyone should generally say their pronouns.

I may not be the most butch dude in the world but, even so, no one has ever needed to be told that my pronouns are he/him. After six decades on the planet, why has this (until recently) non-issue become so fraught that I’m scared to be writing this essay lest I get pilloried on Musk’s Twitter? Kamala Harris recently welcomed a group of disability advocates with hilariously trite obviousness: “I am Kamala Harris.  My pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her.’ I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit.” Well, duh. Has anyone ever wondered about the veep’s pronouns?

The pronoun thing also feels irrelevant to people who live in communities where they not only don’t know anyone who is transgender or nonbinary, no one they know knows someone who is. Politics fail when they don’t connect to perceived reality.

Can transgender Americans achieve full equality and eliminate discrimination without a radical grammatical transformation? If not, there is only one way to get there absent the kind of wholesale cultural transformation that took place in revolutionary Russia and its attendant social pressures. Stop preaching and wage a patient, persistent educational campaign that convinces most citizens that a more complicated world is a better one.

I’m not optimistic.

(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 #78: Kyrsten Sinema’s Bait and Switch, Brittney Griner Home After Prisoner Swap with Russia

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema took the wind out of the sails of Senatorial Democrats two days after they got a 51-seat majority, announcing that she will no longer be a Democrat. Meanwhile, WNBA player and convicted marijuana transporter Brittney Griner is back home in Texas after being traded for a Russian arms dealer. Editorial cartoonist Ted Rall and Scott Stantis, battling the flu, nevertheless find the energy to tell you what it all means and why you should care.



What To Do About Kanye West

Kanye West praises Hitler and embarrasses the Republican Party

            How to respond to Kanye West? His business partners severed ties. Liberal media outlets resorted to cancel culture. Elon Musk gave the artist now known as Ye a second chance on Twitter, only to regret his magnanimity after Ye posted a graphic of a swastika intertwined with a star of David, and kicked him back off the platform.

            The freak show that kicked off with Ye’s 2018 Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump—a moment whose strangeness was reminiscent of Nixon Meets Elvis—culminated over the last two months with, among other acts, Ye’s bizarre donning of a White Lives Matter shirt,  anti-Semitic threats on Twitter, hanging out with a white nationalist and praising Hitler and the Nazis during a video appearance with Alex Jones.

            I’m not a psychologist but you don’t have to be a mental health expert to see that Ye is suffering from some sort of personality disorder or illness that is causing or contributing to this former billionaire’s public decompensation. We know that he suffered from depression after the 2007 death of his mother and has been formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings. When someone is in the throes of a psychological crisis, responding politically subjects someone who ought to get help to punishment instead—punishment that can only exacerbate their pain.

            Trevor Noah suggested that Ye needs to be “counseled, not canceled.” But how?

            As a leftist I’m hardly predisposed to sympathizing with a billionaire who expresses loathsome racist and bigoted political views. Nor do I often agree with the point of view of corporations like Adidas, Balenciaga, Gap and Creative Artists Agency (CAA), all of which cut ties with the troubled rapper. But these companies can hardly be faulted for trying to protect their brands.

            Yet I have even less sympathy for liberals and progressives who take to their opinion columns to pompously approve of the dismantling of this man’s life and career. Where is their compassion? “If the culture averted its gaze from his indiscriminate bluster, what would be the loss?” Robin  Givham asked in The Washington Post. To me personally, nothing at all. I don’t listen to Ye’s music. That’s not the point.

            Because he is a human being in crisis, Ye deserves sympathy. Because celebrities and the way we treat them trickles down, his pitiful situation matters to the rest of us.

Society suffers when we don’t live up to liberals’ oft-stated declarations that we should sympathize with people who struggle because the organ that is broken happens to be their brain as opposed to, say, their lungs or their liver. If you saw a woman fall and break her leg, you would stop and help her. Watch the same woman curse at someone who isn’t there, and you avert your eyes and hasten by.

Yet judging that woman is self-destructive: any of us might lose our mind. All it takes is a shift in the chemical balance between your levels of dopamine and serotonin.

            Criminal courts and common people rightly consider mental state and motivation when assessing guilt or innocence, and, if guilt is found, severity of punishment.        The tricky question is: is Ye anti-Semitic, crazy or both?

After a drunken Mel Gibson went on an anti-Semitic rant after being pulled over by a police officer, he explained that he had “said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable.” But thoughts and opinions don’t come out of a vacuum. He didn’t speak Aramaic or reference string theory; he doesn’t know those. Gibson obviously has some dark thoughts about Jews rattling around in his brain. In vino veritas? Perhaps. We don’t know what he says in private when he’s sober. Fortunately for him and for filmgoers, Gibson seems to have managed to keep it together since then.

It’s also possible that Gibson stifles hate speech when he’s not residing at the bottom of a bottle and that Ye knows better than to indulge his inner self-hating white nationalist when he’s not in thrall to a manic episode or depression triggered by a messy public divorce. Intriguingly, were he feeling sane, Ye might not even believe that garbage, much less express it. Some studies have established a link between extreme racism and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders.

            Arguing in New York magazine that sanctions against Ye are appropriate if for no other reason than they serve as deterrents, Eric Levitz writes that “I don’t think we can actually know that West’s bigotry has nothing to do with his illness.” Just so. We don’t know. We can’t know. And that should be the determining factor. One of the core principles of Western culture is that the burden of proof rests with the accuser. If you don’t know for sure, you can’t convict.

            Also, if deterrence worked on crazy people, Ye would have altered his behavior the first time he lost a business deal.

            It is worth remembering that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects workers suffering from mental illness from getting fired. Ye wasn’t an employee of the companies that stopped working with him, so the law doesn’t apply. Nevertheless, corporate America should voluntarily stand for the principle that psychological problems should not be cause for terminating a contract. Businesses that are understandably shocked and disgusted by Ye’s crazy antisemitism—anti-Semitic craziness?—might instead have issued statements that deplored the sentiments, expressed concern for Ye’s mental well-being, and paused rather than severed their relationships until he seeks and receives the help that he needs.

            Hate speech like antisemitism is inherently insane. When the person speaking is off-kilter, a purely political response misses the point even if that hatred has a political tint.

(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 #77: Twitter Files Hunter Biden, Gender Transition for Kids, What to Do about Kanye West

Political cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis, coming from the left and the right respectively, analyze the fallout from the weekend’s media dump at Twitter. Not only was the Hunter Biden laptop story real, censorship of the New York Post was worse than you imagined. Should children be able to change their gender surgically or otherwise? Adults attempting to detransition are forcing a reevaluation. Finally, what’s the best way to deal with Kanye West?



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?