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The Media Is down in the Gutter with Trump

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            How you respond to an attack defines you. Keep your cool, remain civil and others will respect the way you handle yourself, even if they disagree with you. Lower yourself to your assailant’s level and—at best—spectators will dismiss your dispute as a he-said-she-said between two jerks.

            So much has been written about Donald Trump’s debasement of rhetorical norms and his gleeful contempt for truth that there is no need to cite examples or quote studies that count the prolificacy of his lies. Trump’s attacks on journalists—“fake news,” mocking a disabled reporter’s body movements—are contemptible. They undermine citizens’ trust in news media, a serious menace to democracy and civil society.

            Less noticed is how major news organizations, incensed by the president’s trolling, have debased themselves to Trump’s moral level.

            American journalism used to adhere to strict standards. Though impossible to achieve, objectivity was paramount. At bare minimum, reporters were expected to project an appearance of political neutrality.

            Truth only derived from facts—verifiable facts. Not conjecture and never wishful thinking. Sources who wanted to be quoted had to go on the record. Anonymous sources could flesh out background but could not be the entire basis for a story.

            From the start of Trump’s run for president—before the start—Democratic-leaning media outlets abandoned their own long-cherished standards to declare war on him. Every day during the 2016 campaign The New York Times led its coverage with its forecast of Hillary Clinton’s supposed odds of defeating Trump. Setting aside the fact of the Times’ embarrassing wrongness—the day before Election Day they gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning—it cited odds rather than polls. Maximizing a sense of Clintonian inevitability was intended to demoralize Republicans so they wouldn’t turn out to vote. The two figures might suggest the same thing. But 85-15 odds look worse than a 51-49 poll.

            It’s downright truthy. And when truthiness goes sideways it makes you look really, really dumb. 51-49 could go either way. 85-15, not so much.

            The impeachment battle marks a new low in partisanship among media outlets.

            After Trump’s surprise-to-those-who’d-never-been-to-the-Rust-Belt win, outlets like the Times declared themselves members of a so-called “Resistance.” Opinion columnists like Charles M. Blow pledged never to “normalize” Trumpism; what this has meant, ironically, is that Blow’s essays amount to rote recitations on the same topic: normally, about the argument that Trump sucks. Which he does. There are, however, other issues to write about, such as the fact that we are all doomed. It would be nice to hear Blow’s opinions about taxes, militarism and abortion.

            Next came years—years!—of Robert Muellerpalooza. Russia, corporate media outlets said repeatedly, had “meddled” in the 2016 election. Vladimir Putin installed Trump; Hillary Clinton’s snubbing of her party’s 72%-progressive base had nothing to do with the loss of the most qualified person blah blah blah to an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame.

            Whatever happened to the journalistic chestnut: if your mother says she loves you, check it out? Russiagate wasn’t a news report. It was religious faith. Russia fixed the election because we, the media, say so, we say so because we were told to say so by politicians, who were told to say so by CIA people, whose job is to lie and keep secrets. No one checked out anything.

            What we knew and still know is that a Russia-based troll farm spent either $100,000 or $200,000 on Facebook ads to generate clickbait. Most of those ads were apolitical. Many were pro-Clinton. The company has no ties to the Russian government. It was a $6.8 billion election; $200,000 couldn’t have and didn’t move the needle.

            Anonymous Congressional sources told reporters that anonymous intelligence agents told them that there was more. The Mueller Report implies as much. But no one went on the record. No original or verifiable copies of documentary evidence has been leaked. The report’s numerous citations are devoid of supporting material. By pre-Trump journalistic standards Russiagate wasn’t a story any experienced editor would print.

            It was barely an idea for a story.

            Russiagate fell apart so decisively that Democratic impeachers now act like the Mueller Report—a media obsession for three years—never even happened.

            Speaking of impeachment, mainstream media gatekeepers are so eager to see Trump removed from office that they’re violating another cardinal rule of journalism: if it’s news, print it. The identity of the CIA “whistleblower” (scare quotes because actual whistleblowers reveal truths that hurt their bosses) who triggered impeachment over Trump’s menacing phone call to the president of Ukraine has been known in Washington, and elsewhere if you know where to look, for months.

            Federal law prohibits the government from revealing his identity, and rightly so. But it has leaked. It’s out. It’s news. Nothing in the law or journalistic custom prevents a media organization from publishing it. News outlets felt no compulsion to similarly protect the identity of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. So why aren’t newspapers and broadcast networks talking about it?

            “I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified,” New York Times editor Dean Baquet said. So much for the people’s right to know. Why should subscribers buy a newspaper that doesn’t print the news?

            There is a because-Trump change in media ethics that I welcome. What’s suspect is the timing.

            Trump is the first president to get called out for his lies right in the news section. Great! Imagine how many lives could have been saved by a headline like “Bush Repeats Debunked Falsehood That Iraq Has WMDs.” A headline like “Slurring Sanders’ Numerous Female Supporters as ‘Bros,’ Hillary Clinton Lies About Medicare-for-All” could have nominated and elected Bernie and saved many Americans from medical bankruptcy.

            But all presidents lie. Why pick on Trump? His lies are (perhaps) more numerous. But they’re no bigger than his predecessors (see Iraq WMDs, above). Yet discussion of former presidents remains respectful and slavish as ever.

            I say, give coverage of Obama and other ex-presidents the same tone and treatment as the current occupant of the White House gets from the news media:

            “Wallowing in Corrupt Wall Street Cash, Obama Drops $11.75 Million on Gaudy Martha’s Vineyard Mansion Estate”

            “Ellen DeGeneres Sucks Up to Mass Murderer George W. Bush”

            “Jimmy Carter, First Democratic President to Not Even Bother to Propose an Anti-Poverty Program, Dead at TK”

            (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

I Am Serializing My Roman-à-Clef Political Murder Thriller

Here’s a little gift for the holidays: my first-ever prose novel. It’s a roman-à-clef political murder thriller about a serial killer with a big agenda. I’m serializing it at Rall.com/chain-of-command. A new chapter goes up every Thursday or so.

Thanks for reading me in a different format. I look forward to hearing your thoughts as the story unfolds…

Chapter 1.

OTTMAR MERGENTHALER MIDDLE SCHOOL (DECOMMISSIONED)
THE UPTON SECTION OF BALTIMORE

“What the fuck is that?”

“What the fuck is what,” Denny Romero mumbled as he cut-and-pasted “I love you” from a text to his wife into the thread with his girlfriend. Tony was always bugging out about everything. Which usually turned out to be nothing. When they were kids growing up together in what passed for the bad part of Annapolis the “awesome stash of print porn” Tony unearthed from the basement turned out to be a bundle of their mom’s old Cosmos. As business partners Tony’s blockbuster can of Mercury dimes in the abandoned bungalow morphed in the light of day into a bunch of worthless bottle caps.

“That what the fuck!” Tony shouted as though he were on the opposite side of the site. He slapped at Denny’s phone.

Tony pointed toward one of the mountains of bricks and plaster and pipes and rotten planks that a better city in a better time had arranged into the shape of a school.

In 1924 people did things right.

Despite the shadow cast by the office tower next door and clouds of swirling mystery powder you could tell Mergenthaler Middle School had been a gorgeous building. What a difference a century makes. Now companies like Romero Building Salvage bid for the privilege to breathe through face masks and sift through the rubble of public works to scavenge bits of molding and copper fixtures. Some would be sold on consignment to hipster couples hoping to de-generify their cookie-cutter converted lofts.

Tony and Denny merged the faint beams of their iPhone ARs toward the spot where Tony gestured. Insufficient. The brothers reached in tandem for their Mag lights. Protruding from beneath a hillock of battered bricks and plaster fragments directly beneath a splintered wooden door whose window bore the words “Vice Principal” in frosted drop-shadow lettering was a pair of legs.

In the same way you can tell from her giant hands that the beautiful woman with big eyes and a button nose at the bar was physically born male, there was no mistaking that these body parts belonged to a woman. The skinny probably-dead legs wore knee-high socks with wide black-and-white stripes. Red slippers trimmed with sequins adorned her probably-dead feet.

“We’re not in Kansas any more, Denny!”

Men less experienced than the Romero brothers sometimes mistook corpses for mannequins. But bodies were more common than mannequins. Demolition and salvage workers found them all the time.

Police chased the homeless off the streets. Some walked into banks, announced a robbery and waited to be arrested so they could secure two hots and a cot. Others took shelter in one of the city’s abandoned structures. City building inspectors were assigned to ferret these societal rejects out before the old places came down. But they were workfare recipients who could barely be bothered to show up for work, much less feign dedication to their jobs.

Anyway, vagabonds were expert sneaks. They secreted themselves in nasty asbestos-laden nooks, ignoring amplified warnings to leave due to impending demolition. Explosives were set, connected and detonated. Bye bye bum, hello a downward nudge of the unemployment rate.

Some of them must have gone out that way on purpose. Suicide by gentrification.

“Help me move this shit,” Tony beckoned his brother.

Denny didn’t argue. This was their site. They were salvagers.

“What do you think? Fake or real? A prank?” Denny asked.

“Dig,” Tony ordered.

If it was a dead woman and she was carrying cash or jewelry they had dibs. If they called 911, Baltimore’s Finest would loot their corpse.

“Maybe the munchkins got her,” Denny joked, chucking a cinderblock. “Or the same tornado that took out K.C. got the Wicked Witch of the West!”

Denny stared at the legs. “East.”

“I know, dumbshit,” Tony huffed. “Auntie Em’s house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East. It’s her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, who runs down Dorothy for corpse-robbing her dead sisters’ shoes.”

Denny dug.

They worked fast and gingerly, like emergency workers trying to rescue earthquake victims inside a ruined house minus. Finally the tableau was revealed.

The woman was definitely dead. She was still, dusty, white and in her mid-fifties. Or maybe sixty? Her face wore that perpetually-surprised Botoxed look, her hair frosted like the talking heads on the old Fox News channel. She wore a crushed-velvet purple jacket with broad shoulder pads.

And a tall black witch hat.

Her skin wasn’t discolored. No odor, unless you counted perfume overpowering enough to make itself known above the dust. She couldn’t have been dead long.

She was bound, hands tied firmly behind her back, her legs to its legs, to an wooden school desk scarred with ancient graffiti. There was a hole on the upper right corner for the student’s inkwell.

“Looks like some kinky schoolboy shit,” Tony said as if he were answering a question. “They gagged her with a fucking apple and duct tape.”

“What the fuck is in her nose?” Denny asked. He answered his own question: “Paper.”

Denny tugged on the sheet sticking out a few inches out of the dead woman’s face. He pulled it open and read: “Common Core Mathematics Level 8 Answer Sheet.”

Practiced hands searched pockets, violated lace-covered intimacies. No cash. A choker made of big metal balls. Probably costume but you never knew. Denny yanked, severed and pocketed the jewelry while Tony called 911.

(C) 2019 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Government Lied about the Afghanistan War. They Couldn’t Have Done It without Lapdogs like the Washington Post.

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            “In ten years or so, we’ll leak the truth,” the Dead Kennedys sang. “But by then it’s only so much paper.”

            But it might just score you a Pulitzer Prize.

            Award bait and bragging rights are no doubt the principal goals of The Washington Post’s self-congratulatory data dump, “The Afghanistan Papers.” As the headline implies, the 2000 pages that a court ordered the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to release to Jeff Bezos’ newspaper paints a Robert McNamara-esque portrait of not-so-best-or-bright Bush and Obama Administration bozos privately admitting what they knew all along—that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was always an unwinnable, counterproductive mistake—at the same time they were telling the American people that victory in the post-9/11 “good war” was right around the corner. All we had to win was win Afghan hearts and minds.

            “The [I.G.] documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting,” the Post reported. “Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul—and at the White House—to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

            “The Afghanistan Papers” is a bright, shining lie by omission. Yes, our military and civilian leaders lied to us about Afghanistan. But they could never have spread their murderous BS—thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans killed, trillions of dollars wasted—without media organizations like the Washington Post, which served as unquestioning government stenographers.

            Press outlets like the Post and New York Times weren’t merely idiots used to disseminate pro-war propaganda. They actively censored people who knew we never should have gone into Afghanistan and tried to tell American voters the truth.

            People like me.

            I was among the tiny minority of journalists and commentators who opposed the Afghanistan war from the very beginning. Nine days after 9/11, I published the first of my cartoons pointing out that Al Qaeda was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so there was no moral or legal justification for invading. As the war dragged on I pointed out that the men and women in charge of the war didn’t have a clue about Afghanistan or the Afghan people. According to “The Afghanistan Papers,” those men and women knew they were screwing up, wouldn’t admit their ignorance and refused to bring in experts.

            I went to Afghanistan to check things out for myself. It was obvious the U.S. didn’t stand a chance there. “The principal goal of this adventure in imperialistic vengeance, it seems obvious, should be to install a friendly government in Kabul. But we’re winning neither hearts nor minds among either the commoners or the leadership of the current regime apparent,” I wrote from Afghanistan on December 11, 2001. “And so we’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are. The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right—we’re not nation builders…we ought to tally our dead, write up our losses, and count ourselves lucky to still be called a superpower.” My piece, for The Village Voice, was titled “How We Lost Afghanistan.”

            It was published eighteen years ago. But not in the Post. They didn’t want to hear what lefties like me had to say.

            They still don’t.

            Afghanistan was not a passing fancy for me. I wrote hundreds of essays and drew hundreds of cartoons urging an end to the madness. It was lonely. Even Democrats liked the Afghan war; they called it the right war while Iraq was the dumb one.

            I went back to the country, traveling independently as an unembedded reporter, several times. I wrote the first book about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the only book about oil pipeline politics in that country, a book placing Afghanistan in the context of Central Asia, and yet another book comparing the state of Afghanistan when Obama said we were pulling out—another lie—with how it was at the start of the war.

            What was my reward for being right while everyone else was wrong? Hundreds of death threats. Getting fired by my client newspapers and magazines. It’s hard to believe now but back in 2004 George W. Bush was popular and being compared to Winston Churchill; that was the year that the “liberal” New York Times and Washington Post stopped running my work.

            Major news outlets and book reviewers ignored my books. Editors refused to hire me. Producers wouldn’t book me. Anyone opposed to the Afghanistan war was censored from U.S. corporate media.

            Not that Afghanistan was ignored. It was the subject of countless analysis pieces and opinion articles in American newspapers—all of it pro-war propaganda. There were thousands of television and radio stories about the Afghan war on radio and television. Corporate media repeatedly trotted out the same retired generals, former CIA officers, and random right-wing warmongers for quotes and analysis. Never, ever did they invite critics or opponents of U.S. interventionism in Afghanistan to share their thoughts with readers, listeners and viewers.

            Nothing has changed. Whenever there is a foreign policy “crisis,” you will never read or hear or see someone completely opposed to U.S. involvement given a voice in the media. Certainly not in the Post.

            So, 18 years and tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars too late, it’s nice to see the media finally shame these scumbags and their government handlers. But they ought to save a big portion of the blame for themselves.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Democrats Aren’t Doing Impeachment Right

Democrats aren’t doing impeachment right.

Impeachment is a political process. It requires a broad base of support to succeed; there’s no way to get to 67 votes in the Senate without overwhelming support from voters of both parties.

The only way you get to the high threshold of popular support necessary to impeach in the House and convict in the Senate is by impeaching based on counts that are clearly proven and undeniable, and that a lot of Americans, not just members of the impeaching party, care about.

The impeachment of Donald Trump should have been based on issues that nobody could deny and that everybody, regardless of which party they belonged to, could see was a major problem.

Most Republicans do not care about Ukraine. Neither do many Democrats! Besides, the issue of intent is far from proven. It’s not a unifying issue for Americans.

I would have gone after him for his bad temperament. Everyone agrees a president should be calm and deliberate. Andrew Johnson was impeached partly because of his nasty disposition, and came one vote from conviction in the Senate. No one would argue that Trump’s personality is presidential.

Child separation would have been powerful. Not even Republicans approve of stealing kids and then losing them.

Emoluments would have worked too. Lining your pockets as president is frowned upon by everyone.

I would have started this process in 2017 so as not to have this current rush job prior to an election campaign. I would have used the courts to compel recalcitrant administration officials to testify; starting in 2017 would have allowed that process to occur.

This impeachment is too little too late. Democrats will regret it.

Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does

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            “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters, okay?” Donald Trump said at an Iowa campaign rally in January of 2016. That remark gets quoted, mostly by liberals bemoaning the unquestioning loyalty of the president’s stupid supporters, a lot.

            But there’s another, more interesting, facet of that meme: Trump, it’s clear, can get away with just about anything—impeachment included. He will be impeached without turning a single voter against him.

            Nothing has ever been less deniable than the president’s imperviousness to, well, everything. Trump’s haters hate it, his fans love it, everyone accepts it. A month ago Trump’s lawyers for real argued in open court that, if their client actually were to go on a shooting spree in midtown Manhattan, he couldn’t be charged with a crime until he was no longer president.

            Without enumerating President Trump’s rhetorical offenses and deviations from cultural and political norms, how does he get away with so much? Why doesn’t he lose his base of his electoral support or any of his senatorial allies?

            It’s because of framing and branding. Trump isn’t held accountable because he has never been held accountable. He has never been held accountable because he has never allowed himself to be held accountable.

            Hitler believed that, in a confrontation, the combatant with the strongest inner will had an innate advantage over his opponent. Audacity, tenacity and the ability to keep your nerve under pressure were essential character traits, especially for an individual up against stronger adversaries. Trump never read “Mein Kampf” but he follows the Führer’s prescription for success. He never apologizes. He never admits fault or defeat. He lies his failures into fake successes, reframing history into a narrative that he prefers. It’s all attitude: because I am me, I can do no wrong.

            I’m not a billionaire real estate grifter turned billionaire presidential con man.

            But I get this.

            When I began my career as an editorial cartoonist, I staked out ideological territory far to the left of my older, established colleagues, most of whom were ordinary Democrats. In the alternative weeklies, other cartoonists were as far left as me. But they weren’t syndicated. I went after mainstream daily newspapers. My first two syndication clients were the Philadelphia Daily News and the Los Angeles Times.

            My status as an ideological outlier reduced the number of newspapers willing to publish my work. But the editors who did take a chance on me knew what they were getting and so were able to defend me against ideological attacks. Once they saw that braver papers were publishing my cartoons, moderate publications picked them up too.

            Despite being an unabashed, unrepentant leftist, I became the most reprinted cartoonist in The New York Times. Secretly, many of the “Democratic” cartoonists were as left as me. They were jealous: how had I gotten away with wearing my politics on my sleeve in such bland outlets as The Des Moines Register and The Atlanta Constitution?

            First, I was willing to take some heat. I accepted that I would get fewer clients and thus less income. I insisted on drawing the work I wanted to do, never watering down my politics. If everyone rejected me, that was fine. Better not to appear in print than to do wimpy work. And in the long run, I was better off. There have been rough patches. But progressives have taken over the Democratic Party. I’m one of the few pundits the left can trust for a simple reason: unlike Bill Maher and Arianna Huffington, I have always been one of them, regardless of prevailing winds.

            Second, I developed an unusual drawing style. When I started out most editorial cartoonists mimicked two icons of the 1960s and 1970s, Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly. The “OliNelly” house style of American political cartooning was busy, reliant on caricature and crosshatching. Daily newspaper staffers drew single-panel cartoons structured around metaphors, labels and hoary symbols like Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant.

            I did everything the opposite. I drew multiple panels, wrote straightforward scripts inspired by comic strips. My drawing style stripped down to a brutally simple abstract look in which most characters looked almost identical. No metaphors—you didn’t need to learn how to read a Ted Rall cartoon. They weren’t as pretty as MacNelly’s. The chairman of the Pulitzer committee, whose death I shall toast, denied me the prize because I didn’t “draw like a normal editorial cartoonist.” But you knew my stuff wasn’t by anyone else. Branding.

            I created space for myself ideologically and stylistically. So I got away with—still get away with—more than many of my peers.

            Finally, I learned to never apologize.

            Most of the time when a cartoonist apologizes for causing offense, they don’t mean it. Their editors, themselves feeling the heat from an avalanche of letters-to-the-editor and social media opprobrium, force them to say they’re sorry. This I will not do. It’s too undignified.

            Sometimes cartoonists really do screw up. In one particular cartoon I took aim at the president and instead wound up wounding a group of disadvantaged people. So I acted like a human being: I apologized.

            What a mistake! Papers that had stuck with me through previous controversies abandoned me, canceling my work. The group I’d apologized to proclaimed itself satisfied and appealed to the quislings to reconsider, in vain. I learned my lesson. Never apologize, especially when you’re wrong. Americans forgive evil, never weakness.

            With his far longer reach, influence and experience than yours truly, Donald Trump has figured out how to carve out room for himself to run off at the mouth, offend protected groups and defy cherished traditions. No one can make him stop. No one but him. And no one can make him say he’s sorry.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

If There’s a Warrant for Your Arrest, the Government Should Have to Tell You

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            There ought to be a law.

            I read about Eric Barrier, half of the classic rap duo Eric B. and Rakim, and how he recently wound up in jail. The story is interesting not because it’s unusual but because it’s typical.

            Without getting into the weeds of his original 2002 offense because that would distract from my point here, Barrier’s lawyer told him to skip his sentencing hearing because his presence wasn’t required.

            Wrong. Unbeknownst to Barrier, New Jersey authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest. “More than 17 years passed before he first learned of the warrant, from law enforcement authorities in Vermont when he came into the United States from Canada last month,” according to The New York Times. In October Barrier presented himself to court officials, who promptly arrested him. He was freed on bail November 12. Weeks in prison! I’m 99% sure he would have addressed the issue if he’d known about it.

            This is a common problem. Every day, courts across the United States issue thousands of arrest warrants for crimes ranging from serious felonies to offenses as minor as failing to pay a parking ticket, jaywalking or not renewing a dog license. Millions of Americans have outstanding warrants. In 2016, there were 1.5 million warrants for New Yorkers—one out of six residents of the city.

            The vast majority have no idea they’re wanted.

            “Most jurisdictions around the nation are doing nothing with warrants like this. Nothing,” said Professor David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Criminals and innocent citizens alike conduct their daily routines oblivious of the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads until they get pulled over for a traffic stop or otherwise come into contact with a police officer. The computer spits out their name, handcuffs get slapped on and off they go, sucked into the system.

            When it’s a rapist or a murderer, that’s great. But does a system that only snags rapists and murderers who don’t make full stops and drive over the speed limit make sense?

            It’s not so great to arrest and process people who committed minor offenses, many of whom would have happily paid their old tickets if the state didn’t keep them ignorant about their legal peril.

            Many friends I talked to about this subject told me that they or someone they knew had been arrested on a warrant they’d never heard of. It’s hardly surprising. About 7 million Americans are driving around with their licenses suspended because municipalities believe they owe money for unpaid parking tickets or moving violations. Many of them have no idea they are a single traffic stop away from a seriously bad day.

            I got a speeding ticket and paid the fine, on time. But the municipality didn’t credit me. I had my canceled check so I assumed I was in the clear. Later, when I was pulled over for something different, the officer informed me that my license had been pulled over the “unpaid” ticket—the DMV never notified me of the suspension, and no, I hadn’t moved—so the cop arrested me and took me to the station for an hour or two. Setting things straight ultimately cost me thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

            Warrants and license suspensions can be life-changing events. What if you get nabbed on your way to pick up your child from school and they take away your phone while you’re being booked? Given how disruptive warrants are, not just to civilians but also to law enforcement officers who should be chasing actual criminals, there ought to be a federal law mandating that states and local municipalities send notices via the mail to the last or most likely address for people wanted for arrest or whose driving privileges have been suspended. Notices should be mailed repeatedly, at least annually, to give people a chance to make things right.

            Police departments and other government agencies have massive comprehensive universal databases, some with facial recognition and DNA, that make it possible for them to find almost anyone in the United States if they really want to.

            So why don’t issuers of arrest warrants tap into these resources? The cynic in me has an answer: governments make millions of dollars by dunning scofflaws with additional fines, fees and bail. That’s a revenue stream that would vanish if most people knew they owed cash and where to send it in to settle their debt.

            If Congress acts, life will get a little easier. More importantly, it will restore a bit of the faith Americans have lost in our government and public officials.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Billionaires and Corporations Love anti-SLAPP Laws. Why Does John Oliver?

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Why does this multibillionaire need a cartoonist’s money?

            John Oliver recently dedicated his HBO show to why we need a federal anti-SLAPP law. Like most of his stuff, the episode was witty and engaging. It was also sloppy, thoughtless and poorly researched. From now on, I’ll wonder whether I can trust anything he says.

            An anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful legal maneuver available to defendants against libel and defamation lawsuits. In the 27 states that have them, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion brings everything to a halt until a judge — not a jury — decides various issues about a case. Does it involve a matter of public interest? Is there a chance the case would succeed at trial? If the judge rules for the defense, the case is thrown out and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s legal fees.

            Liberals and conservatives alike like anti-SLAPP. Supporters say they protect activists, whistleblowers and average individuals from being bankrupted if they get sued by deep-pocketed corporations and wealthy individuals who use the courts to harass their victims. In his show Oliver described his experience being sued by a coal baron who wanted to chill criticism. HBO, Oliver said, spent $200,000 to defend him because the suit was filed in a state without anti-SLAPP.

            It’s easy to see why someone like Oliver, targeted by a frivolous defamation claim designed to tie him up in court and waste his employer’s lucre, would yearn for a federal anti-SLAPP law. His must have been a frustrating experience.

            There is, however, an inherent design flaw in anti-SLAPP: the United States Constitution. Under the equal protection clause, you can’t give rights to one class of defendant and not another. You can’t limit anti-SLAPP protections to impecunious individuals and small businesses; rich people and giant corporations have to get the same legal prerogatives.

            Which is what has been happening. Billionaires and corporate conglomerates use anti-SLAPP to crush legitimate libel and defamation lawsuits filed by ordinary individuals and whistleblowers. Happens a lot. Why don’t you hear about these cases? Because media companies love, love, love anti-SLAPP.

            In 2016 The National Enquirer published a cover story about fitness headlined: “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman.” He wasn’t. “Secret Boob & Castration Surgery,” the tabloid screamed, “Yes, This Photo Shoot Is Real!” It wasn’t. The cover photo of “transwoman” Simmons was Photoshopped.

            Thanks to anti-SLAPP, what should have been an open-and-shut defamation case turned a travesty of justice into a farce. While acknowledging that the paper lied about Simmons, Los Angeles judge said that letting Simmons’ case go forward was tantamount to saying that it is bad to be trans. Simmons was an innocent victim and the Enquirer knowingly lied. Yet the court ordered him to pay American Media, owner of the paper, $130,000 in legal fees. So much for anti-SLAPP as being a tool for the little guy! AMI brought in $310 million in revenues last year.

            In 2018 MSNBC host Joy Reid [disclosure: I have appeared on Reid’s show] retweeted a photo of a Trump supporter yelling at a high school student at a Simi Valley, California city council meeting. Reid added the following text: “He showed up to rally to defend immigrants…She showed up too, in her MAGA hat, and screamed, ‘You are going to be the first deported’…’dirty Mexican!’ He is 14 years old. She is an adult. Make the picture black and white and it could be the 1950s and the desegregation of a school. Hate is real, y’all. It hasn’t even really gone away.”

            Hate is real. The story was not. The kid said that Roslyn La Liberte, the woman in the photo, was trying to keep things “civil.” She never said that stuff.

            La Liberte’s son emailed to inform Reid of the truth. Reid nevertheless reposted the image, this time alongside a black-and-white image of pro-segregation protesters in Little Rock in 1957 with this caption: “It was inevitable that this image would be made. It’s also easy to look at old black and white photos and think: I can’t believe that person screaming at a child, with their face twisted in rage, is real. B[ut] everyone one of them were. History sometimes repeats. And it is full of rage.”

            La Liberte was wronged. Rather than settle or plead guilty, MSNBC’s lawyers hit the working grandmother with an anti-SLAPP motion. Ignoring the fact that Reid’s posts easily qualify under as “reckless disregard for the truth” under the landmark libel case Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), the judge wallowed in pro-corporate sophistry: “the juxtaposition of the photographs does not ‘make clear that [La Liberte] is alleged to have engaged in specific racist conduct akin to that demonstrated during desegregation.’” La Liberte’s case was thrown out, denying her justice. Adding injury to insult, she has to pay MSNBC’s legal fees. MSNBC is owned by NBC Universal, a $203 billion company.

            President Trump used anti-SLAPP against Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who sued him for calling her a liar. Trump is worth $3 billion. Daniels owes him $293,000 for his legal fees.

            My readers are familiar with my case against the Los Angeles Times. No one disputes the fact that they lied about me, fired me as a favor to the LAPD (which owned them at the time) and tried to destroy my journalistic reputation in order to send a chilling message to journalists who criticize the police. My anti-SLAPP case is still working its way through the court system—and things currently look good—but there is already a $330,000 judgment against me. They want me to pay that money to two billionaires, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and LA schools superintendent and former Times publisher Austin Beutner, with a combined net worth of $16 billion.

            Bill Cosby has been using the anti-SLAPP statute against his rape victims.

            Faced with these cases, anti-SLAPP apologists sometimes say that the law isn’t bad, that it is simply being abused. If a law is written in such a way that it can be routinely abused, it is bad by definition.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

For Progressives, Capturing the Democratic Party is More Important Than Beating Donald Trump kik

Image result for trump derangement

            Nothing, leading Democrats say, matters more than beating Donald Trump. 2020, they argue, is the most important election of our lifetimes (OK, they always say that).

            It’s not true. If you’re a progressive voter, taking back control of the Democratic Party from the DLC-Clinton-Biden centrist cabal is more important than defeating the incumbent.

            For four long decades progressives—Americans who put people before profits—have been living in the political wilderness. Progressives account for 72% of Democratic voters. Figuring lefties had nowhere else to go, party leadership took them for granted, ignoring their desire for a stronger social safety net and fewer military adventures in favor of a pro-corporate agenda. What other choice did they have, vote Republican?

            People who often didn’t vote turned out for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign, proving that many non-voters weren’t apathetic. They were disgusted. After the DNC got caught pulling their usual dirty tricks, however, sabotaging Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton, enough Bernie-or-Busters boycotted the November general election or cast protest votes for Trump to cost her the election.

            Look at what happened! Progressives scored their first major win since the War on Poverty of the 1960s.

            Yes, Trump has been a disaster. He is a terrible president, an international embarrassment, insane, brazenly corrupt, overtly racist, with over-the-top authoritarian tendencies.

            But consider the alternative.

            If Hillary Clinton were running for reelection, progressivism would still be on the outs. Like Obama, Hillary wouldn’t have appointed a single liberal, much less progressive, to her cabinet. She’s so far to the right of Trump on foreign policy that she might have gone to war against Iran. Russian national security analysts concluded that Clinton was crazy enough to start World War III. She’s equally awful on domestic stuff. Hillary is against any increase in the minimum wage. She opposes Medicare For All. She hates the Green New Deal. Her bankster backers would be running wild.

            Because progressives withheld their votes in 2016, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the Democratic frontrunners, enjoying the combined support of 50% of primary voters. Both support a $15 minimum wage, Medicare For All, free college tuition and the Green New Deal. There is no way, no how, that those policy positions would be part of a Clinton 2020 campaign.

            Progressives are so close to seizing control of the Democratic Party that they can taste it. Why, at mile 25 of this political marathon, should they let up on the pressure? They’re about to win!

            If Bernie Sanders is the nominee, supporting him is a no-brainer for progressives. He’s been one of them forever. He’s trustworthy. (It’s a different calculus for leftists like me. Among other things, he needs to swear off militarism.) Progressives will vote for him.

            Warren’s bonafides are squishy. She used to be a Republican, endorses capitalism and keeps Hillary on her speed dial. Is she a prog-come-lately or another fauxgressive who would sell out to Goldman Sachs? She would have to come up with some way to reassure voters that she’s more Sanders than Clinton.

            But what if the DNC shoves Joe Biden or another centrist/moderate/corporatist down our throats again? As usual they’ll say that we have to pull together behind some turd in order to defeat the dastardly Donald Trump. But why?

            History is clear. Lame-duck presidents don’t get big laws, new wars or much in the way of policy accomplished during their second terms. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan was hobbled by dementia and Iran Contra, Clinton was impeached because of Monica and the second Bush spent his last four years in the quagmires of Iraq and then the bursting of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Obama avoided scandal but an intransigent Republican Congress left him with little to show for years five through eight.

            By 2021 Trump will almost certainly have already been impeached. Congress will probably still be Democratic. I ask my fellow Trump-haters: what exactly are you so afraid of in a second term? What do you think the president can do in a second term that he hasn’t already done? Does he strike you as the kind of person who has been plotting some big right-wing surprise to unleash in case he wins reelection?

            Forget the Supreme Court-is-everything argument. As Obama proved when he refused to push for Merrick Garland, Democrats don’t move the needle. Anyway, it’s a right-wing court now. Write that sucker off.

            There is a nightmare scenario: Trump dies early on. Mike Pence has three years to establish himself before running in 2024. That would really and truly suck. That is a real risk. But is fear of a Pence planet powerful enough to go back to letting the centrist scum take progressives’ votes for granted?

            If the DNC robs Warren or Sanders in favor of Biden or whomever or Hillary again, Democratic progressives have little to lose by boycotting the general election again. It may be that the corporatists need to be taught the same bitter lesson a second time: without progressives there is no Democratic Party.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

I Seriously Don’t Understand Why Centrist Democrats Think That Progressive Should Care about Their Argument That Nothing Matters More Than Getting Rid of Donald

I understand why centrist/liberal Democrats are so determined to prevent Donald Trump from being reelected. What I don’t understand is why they think progressives should be as concerned about the prospect of a second term under Donald Trump.

1. In 2016, for the first time in decades, progressives withheld their votes from the centrist/right wing Democratic nominee in sufficient numbers to deny her victory. Look at where we are now: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren account for about 50% of the Democratic primary vote. We’re talking about Medicare for all. Free college tuition. $15 minimum wage. There is no way, no way at all, that we would be talking about these things if Hillary Clinton were running for reelection.

2. What exactly would be so horrible about doing the same thing in 2020 if the Democrats nominate a conservative like Joe Biden? Perhaps the DNC needs a second dose of medicine in order to learn their lesson that they can’t win without progressives.

3. I don’t really understand what liberals are so terrified about anyway. Let’s say there’s a second term. What is Trump going to be able to do in that second term that he wasn’t already able to do in his first four years?

4. Presidential second terms are rarely a time when a president can accomplish anything at all from a legislative or policy point of view. Richard Nixon had Watergate. Ronald Reagan was hobbled by dementia and Iran Contra. Bill Clinton had impeachment and Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush had Iraq and the financial crisis. Obama had an intransigent Republican Congress. Trump already has to deal with impeachment. And he will also have a Democratic Congress. Seems to me that the prospects of him getting anything significant accomplished are slim to none.

5. The worst case scenario is, he gets reelected and Mike Pence has three years to establish himself. That could truly suck.

6. Forget the Supreme Court argument. The supreme court is gone gone gone. It’s right wing from now on.

7. All in all, considering everything, it makes no sense for progressives to vote for the Democratic nominee unless he or she is a progressive.

Comments Moderation

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