Tag Archives: Trump

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.)

Where’s Your Football, Lucy?

President Trump’s order to withdraw American troops who created a buffer zone between Turkey and Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq was a controversial movie seen as a betrayal of a long-time American ally. But there’s a long history of US forces making extravagant promises to local forces, then withdrawing and leaving them to the wolves.

Democrats on the Issue(s) in the 2020 Campaign

Democrats were poised to wage a substantial campaign based on the issues against Donald Trump next year. The likely front runner at this point, Elizabeth Warren, has a plan for everything. These are issues that most working Americans care about, like the minimum wage and healthcare. But now that they’ve decided to impeach Trump, the odds of those issues getting any serious play have all but evaporated.

The New York Times Called a Famous Cartoonist an Anti-Semite. Repeatedly. They Didn’t Ask Him for Comment.

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The cartoon by António Moreira Antunes that prompted the perpetual ban on political art in the New York Times.

            Earlier this year the Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes drew one of the most controversial political cartoons in history. His cartoon about U.S.-Israeli relations sparked so much controversy that The New York Times, whose international edition published it in April, decided to fire its two staff cartoonists, neither of whom had anything to do with it. Then the Times permanently banned all editorial cartooning.

            Antunes took the most flak from the Times itself, as it furiously backpedaled from its own editorial decision to publish his cartoon. In five news stories and editorials, the Newspaper of Record unreservedly described Antunes’ cartoon as anti-Semitic. American media outlets followed the Times’ lead.

            “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist,” Antunes told me. “In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am in favor of two countries and I am against all annexations made by Israel.” The Times censored Antunes’ side of the story from its readers.

            Was Antunes’ cartoon, a metaphorical illustration depicting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind President Trump, anti-Semitic? That question is both inherently subjective and eminently debatable. “The cartoon is not anti-Semitic, but many political and religious sectors classify any criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic,” Antunes said in an interview.

            Pro-Israel groups disagreed. On the other hand, many cartoonists thought there was nothing wrong with it.

            But that’s not how the Times covered it. In article after article, Antunes’ cartoon was described as anti-Semitic. It was an objective truth. No one could doubt the cartoon’s anti-Semitism more than the fact that Washington is the capital of the United States.

            “Times Apologizes for Publishing Anti-Semitic Cartoon,” read the headline on April 28th.

            Not “allegedly anti-Semitic.”

            Not “cartoon criticized as anti-Semitic.”

            In an April 30th editorial, the paper called Antunes’ work “an appalling political cartoon” and “an obviously bigoted cartoon.” It explained: “The cartoon was chosen from a syndication service by a production editor who did not recognize its anti-Semitism.” Not “its possible anti-Semitism.”

            Two more articles on the subject appeared on May 1st: “Times Disciplines Editor and Cancels Cartoon Contract Over Anti-Semitic Drawing” (we don’t know what that discipline entailed, but unlike the cartoonist, the editor wasn’t fired) and “After the Publication of an Anti-Semitic Cartoon, Our Publisher Says We’re Committed to Making Changes.” The text of both pieces described the cartoon as self-evidently anti-Semitic.

            On June 10th a Times article announced the end of political cartooning in the Gray Lady. Antunes’ cartoon, the Times stated flatly, contained “anti-Semitic imagery.”

            Accusing a political cartoonist of anti-Semitism is as serious as it gets. So something jumped out at me as I read the Times’ repeated characterizations of Antunes’ cartoon as anti-Semitic, so devoid of mitigating language: where was his response?

            “The New York Times never contacted me at any time,” Antunes now says.

            I reached out to the Times about this; I asked why they didn’t talk to him and how the paper made the determination that Antunes’ cartoon was anti-Semitic. James Bennet, the editorial page editor who banned cartoons and presumably wrote the editorials, did not reply to my repeated queries. (I gave him nearly a week to do so.) Neither did two reporters who authored pieces about Antunes.

            I did hear back from Stacy Cowley, who wrote the April 28th piece. “I dug around online and was unable to find any contact information for Mr. Antunes,” Cowley explained. “He has no publicly posted contact information that I could find, and as of the date I wrote my article, he had not publicly commented to any other news outlets about his cartoon. (Had he done so, I would have linked to and quoted his comments.)” Cowley said she tried to reach the editors of Antunes’ home paper in Portugal. She noted that she was working on a tight deadline.

            I reached Antunes via Facebook; he replied via email.

            Contacting the subject of a news story for comment is Journalism 101, a basic ethos taught to students at high school newspapers. That goes double when the article is critical.

            “Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages,” the Times says in its Guidelines on Integrity. “But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond.” Given the gravity of the criticism leveled against Antunes, the Times appears to have fallen woefully short of its own standards.

            OK, Cowley was on deadline. What about the other articles? They appeared days later. One ran six weeks later. Antunes isn’t a recluse—he’s one of the most prominent cartoonists in Europe. I found him. So did other newspapers.

            The Times could have contacted the New York-based syndicate from which it bought Antunes’ cartoon; the syndicate has his contact information, as they do of all their contributors.

            Though scarred by his experience, Antunes says that he has not lost business. “The U.S. media” he says, “are prisoners of political correctness, right-wing turning [sic] and social media.” Europe, he says, is more tolerant.

            What’s clear is that the Times threw its cartoonist under the bus in a shockingly cavalier fashion—a practice that has become so common that it’s contributing to the imminent extinction of political cartooning.

            The Times owes Antunes an apology. They owe the two fired cartoonists their jobs back, along with back pay. Political cartoons should resume their rightful place in the paper.

            Finally, the Times owes its readers an assurance that they will never again succumb to the siren call of “fake news” as part of an ethically-challenged witch hunt.

(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.)

Finally, a War Even Progressives Could Get Behind

The United States is forever starting endless wars against adversaries who pose no danger to us. Now the president of Brazil is threatening the global climate by encouraging massive fires in the Amazon. Here, finally, is a war progressives could get behind…but it will never happen.

The Root Cause of Mass Shootings is the Rage of Alienation

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Mass shootings prompt simple explanations of the gunman’s motivation. At Columbine High School in Colorado, the killers supposedly snapped after being bullied. The guy who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was wild-eyed carrot-topped nuts. After a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online pointed to right-wing politics. Simple mental illness—if there is such a thing—appears to be the culprit in Dayton, Ohio. Also misogyny. But the Dayton shooter’s Twitter feed indicates the shooter liked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So right-wing media blames his progressive leanings.

And when there is no obvious explanation as in Las Vegas in 2017, when the mass murderer doesn’t leave a final message and doesn’t appear to have subscribed to extremist politics and was financially secure, but drank a lot and may have bought into Internet conspiracy theories, we shrug our shoulders and forget about it. But deep inside we believe there is a simple answer. We just haven’t discovered it yet.

Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles like the semi-automatic AR-15 used in so many mass shootings. But even if those guns disappeared overnight, gun-related massacres would still occur, albeit with lower body counts. Which would be nice, but it wouldn’t address the big question, the one we secretly ask ourselves after such incidents: where does the rage come from?

Flailing about in search of the enablers of personal mass violence (as opposed to state-ordered mass violence) is useful as far as it goes. The NRA and the gun lobby make money with every firearm purchase. Victims of mental illness go uninsured and thus undiagnosed and untreated. Hateful rhetoric, most common on the right and most recently epitomized by President Trump, legitimize the dehumanization of future victims.

In the beginning, though, is rage.

The blind anger that, like the medieval image of a succubus insinuating itself into a previously healthy brain, suggests that shooting a lot of people is either a solution or at least a satisfying way of venting, is the germ of the idea that leads to the first shot being fired at a military base, an elementary school, a country music concert.

The rage says: “I hate everybody.” It continues: “I wish everyone would die.” It concludes: “I will kill them all.”

I am mystified by the fact that so many people are mystified about rage.

I have been there. I have hated everyone. I have been so depressed that I didn’t care what happened to me. I was furious at how oblivious everyone was to my pain and how nobody cared about me. I wanted them to pay for it. Haven’t you ever felt that way?

Mostly it was when I was younger. In junior high school, when I was relentlessly bullied and beaten up and neither my classmates nor my teachers interfered—to the contrary, they thought it was funny—I fantasized about going to school and shooting everyone there.

When I was a junior in college, I spent finals week at the hospital due to a freak injury. Several of my professors refused to allow me to take a make-up exam because they were lazy, I got Fs and landed on academic probation, and the following semester one mean teacher gave me a C+ and so I got expelled. I lost my job, my dorm room and thus a place to live and wound up homeless on the streets of New York. Watching people go about their day, smiling and laughing and exchanging pleasantries and buying luxuries while I was starving, I despised them. Of course it wasn’t their fault. I knew that. What was their fault, in my view at the time, was their active decision not to engage in the struggle for a world that was fair and just, not just to me, but to everybody.

I imagine that most, if not all, homeless people feel that way watching me stroll down the street on my stupid smartphone. They hate me and they are right to hate me.

The NRA and the weapons business and Congress share responsibility, but what really causes mass shootings is the shooters’ alienation from society.

Why doesn’t America enforce mental health insurance parity? Because the American people don’t care enough to raise enough hell to force our elected officials to do so. If you have ever been broke and needed to see a therapist, you probably found out that they charge at least $200 an hour and that your insurance company probably won’t cover it—assuming that you have insurance. American society’s message to you is loud and clear: we don’t care about you. Go ahead and be insane. Die. Returning society’s contempt for you is perfectly understandable.

The so-called “incel” (involuntarily celebate) movement of men who hate women because they won’t sleep with them is a perfect example of society’s refusal to try to understand a legitimate concern. In 2014 an incel killed six people near Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer said in a video he posted before his rampage. In 2018 an incel killed 10 people in Toronto with his van.

Experts recommend writing laws to deny incels access to guns, shutting down their online forums so that they don’t work each other up, and improving their access to mental health care. Those may be good ideas. But they ignore the root of the problem.

Obviously no one has to have sex with anyone. Incels don’t have a constitutional right to get laid. But anyone who has ever been young and sexually frustrated (or old and sexually frustrated) knows that sexlessness can literally drive you crazy. Glibly suggesting to awkward or clueless or physically unattractive men to hit the gym and get their charm on is just as hopelessly naïve as Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. Feeling condemned to a life without love or physical companionship really truly sucks and we could start by acknowledging that.

Rage, I think, comes less from having a problem that feels hopelessly unsolvable than from the belief that no one gives a damn about you or your issues. People need to feel heard. People need to be heard.

Given how callous and unfeeling we are about so much suffering around us and among us, the only thing surprising about mass shootings is that they don’t happen more frequently.

(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.)

 

Progressives to Democrats: We Are Watching the Way You Mistreat “the Squad”

Image result for aoc squad Strictly speaking, Nancy Pelosi is right. Led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the four Congressional freshmen known as the Squad are, by Beltway standards, relatively powerless—just four votes, as the speaker said. They chair no committees and head no broad coalitions that can be counted upon to cast yeas and nays at their command. Yet they are important—and not merely due to their formidable social media following.

Building on Bernie Sanders’ outsider progressive legacy in the Senate and his two surprisingly successful presidential campaigns AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are a symbol of the progressive challenge to a Democratic Party still controlled by Third Way/DLC/Clintonista/Rahm Emanuel corporatist right-wingers despite the fact that 72% of its voters are self-identified progressives.

Progressive voters are watching. Is there room for them inside the Democratic Party? The signs are hardly encouraging.

Left populist Democrats are still seething with disgust from 2016 when a DNC then chaired by Clinton hack Debbie Wasserman Schultz stacked superdelegates in favor of Clinton against Sanders, was accused of laundering money for the Clinton campaign, “forgot” to send party officials to count delegates and caucus goers in pro-Sanders counties and quashed pro-Sanders delegates’ speeches at the national convention.

During the fall campaign right-wing Democrats let progressives know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t need or want their support. Hillary Clinton announced a pivot from right to righter to appeal to anti-Trump Republicans. (There weren’t many of those.) She never considered Bernie for vice president or a cabinet position.

No one likes to be where they’re not wanted. So many progressives stayed home on election day that Trump won.

Rather than accept responsibility for their losing strategy, however, DNC corporatists blamed the progressives they’d treated like crap. Two months after Trump took office, they installed one of their own, Tom Perez, as DNC chairman. “Leading Democrats think Bernie Sanders’s wing of the party will come back into the fold — even without their choice of DNC chair,” Jeff Stein wrote in Vox.

Democrats won the 2018 midterms, taking back the House. The Squad rode that wave. These young women were young, unabashedly left, exciting. How would the establishment treat them?

Now we know the answer: like petulant children.

Pelosi should have expressed her annoyance at the Squad’s votes against a border patrol funding bill—imagine the audacity, they wanted increased protection of children and families—privately. Instead, like an idiot, she vented to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that the Squad was impotent aside from “their public whatever and their Twitter world.” An ever-opportunistic President Trump leapt into the intraparty fray with a troll tweet pretending to defend Pelosi and calling for the Squad to be deported to, in the case of the three members who were born in the U.S….where? No one, Trump least of all, knows.

Eager to slap a Band-Aid on her deeply divided party, Pelosi engineered the passage of a toothless resolution to censure Trump’s racist remarks. As I said last week in The Wall Street Journal, it was too little too late. “It’s [now] possible,” I wrote, “to imagine a not-so-distant future in which progressive voters leave the Democrats to form a new party—or stop voting entirely.”

A series of tweets by CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed that the moderates still don’t get it. “House Democrats appeared unified in their votes this week but I’ve spent the day talking to a bunch of them and many are extremely frustrated,” Tapper said. “Other House Democrats are conflicted about having to defend the Squad given things they’ve said and done. House Dems cited: talk of supporting challengers to incumbent Dems in primaries, AOC’s use of the term ‘concentration camps,’ anti-Semitic comments by Tlaib & Omar.” (According to dictionaries, AOC is right. Neither Tlaib nor Omar are on record saying anything anti-Semitic.)

Tapper continued: “Others noted that this week the House Democratic Caucus stood by a group that is not perceived as standing by them…We were there for them; they should stop attacking us.”

Only in the vacuum-packed chambers of our do-nothing Congress does a consequence-free resolution pass as being “there for them.” Pelosi, Schumer and other Democratic leaders should have notified Trump that he must resign at once, that there would be no more business of any kind, including budgetary, passed in Washington until he leaves office. Repeatedly demanding that House members be “sent back” “where they came from” is intolerable—yet centrist Democrats continue to tolerate it.

Human beings are social animals. We feel comfortable when we feel welcomed and run away when we’re greeted with indifference or disdain. I remember joining Mensa at age 12. I was excited to attend my first meeting. But when I walked in, it was a cocktail party. Everyone was old. No one talked to me so I left and never went back. We were all smart but that wasn’t enough to make me want to hang out.

Progressives and liberals may both hate Trump but that doesn’t make them political allies. As even right-wing Democratic Times columnist remarked: “It is simply a fact that leftists, as well as the generally disaffected, need to be courted just as moderates do.” But the establishment right-wingers in charge of the Democratic Party are not only not courting leftists, they keep actively snubbing and insulting them. They’ve even renewed the last election cycle’s “Stop Sanders” propaganda campaign. Stopping progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appears to be the raison d’être of Joe Biden’s last-second candidacy.

Democrats’ dismissive and condescending treatment of the Squad sends a clear signal to progressives: We don’t like you. Go away.

They will.

(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.)

 

My Mother Is Dead But Her Body Is Still Alive

In my continuing series of cartoons about my mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and my work with her as her only caregiver, I discussed the fact that my efforts to keep her rooted to reality drew me closer to her than ever in the final years before she ended up in the memory care unit of an assisted care facility.