In recent years, the First Amendment has been shoddily invoked to justify decisions that ultimately diminish its very raison d’être, quite possibly leading us to fascism.
Alarmingly, we’re now seeing state-level absurdities such as Florida removing sociology as a core course in its college curriculum and replacing it with a course teaching the “historically accurate account of America’s founding.” Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita has launched the creepily-named “Eyes on Education” portal for the public to report “indoctrination” in classrooms. The West Virginia House just passed a bill allowing for the prosecution of librarians if an “obscene” item falls into a minor’s hands.
This cartoon is based on the AP story entitled “Prisoners in the US are part of a hidden workforce linked to hundreds of popular food brands” that was published recently. (It’s a long piece, so if you’re in a hurry, you can check out their “takeaways” article summarizing the report.) To put it briefly, prisoners are doing a lot more labor in the food supply chain than I think most of us realized. While some inmates choose to work, many are compelled to do so under threat of punishment. The 13th Amendment allows involuntary labor as punishment for a crime, so the practice — which disproportionately affects people of color — can look an awful lot like slavery. The Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where inmates do farm work, is literally located on a former slave plantation. These jobs often pay pennies or nothing at all.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir responded “Hague Schmague” after the world court allowed South Africa’s charges of genocide to proceed. Netanyahu’s Twitter account posted “Nobody will stop us – not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else.” Whenever you hear government officials attempting to discredit The Hague, that is a huge warning sign that something has gone very wrong in that country. Yes, Hamas committed heinous crimes requiring a response, but Hamas is not the same as the whole population of Gaza, which is being indiscriminately slaughtered and starved to death. Journalists reporting on the carnage are being targeted as well.
For more background on the third panel about the State Department making human rights exceptions for Israel, see this Guardian article.
Almost overnight, the internet has become flooded with junky AI content (the word “content” really does apply here). I tend to do a lot of research for my cartoons, both image and news searches, and the top results used to be mostly trustworthy publications, or at least sites I was familiar with. Now I get walls of search engine-optimized garbage. A publisher of a tech website complained on social media the other day that AI sites are showing up in news results instead of their publication that employs actual human journalists. Amazon’s website has been notoriously plagued by AI-generated products, including fake books on Kindle. Sports Illustrated, which just got shut down (!), made news a little while ago for using fake AI-created writers with realistic biographies.
A few weeks ago, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump is ineligible for the ballot due to his attempt at insurrection. And then the mewling of the performatively unbiased pundit class began. Among the worst examples was New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who laughably wrote that insurrection was “not the most precise term. When I have the chance to use a longer description, I generally say that Trump attempted to secure an unelected second term.” Several others platitudinally argued that we should “let the voters decide” — as though we didn’t already go through that with the candidate in question, who very much did not respect the voters’ decision, and would likely never let them decide again.
This cartoon was inspired by recent events at Harvard, but the same dynamic is happening at many universities. Harvard’s behavior is shameful, allowing a petty tyrant to rule the university with an iron fist. They need to reinstate Gay. It seems we’re knee deep into an authoritarian era even without Trump back in the White House.
This cartoon is about the Texas abortion case in which 31 year-old mother of two Kate Cox had to flee the state to end a non-viable pregnancy that threatened her ability to have children in the future and possibly her life. I’ve been thinking lately about how extreme things have gotten, and how if you’d told me about some of these developments back in the ’90s, I’d have been skeptical. Also, there is this flawed idea that abortion is a “cultural” issue that is secondary to real, “material” concerns, like the economy, which I find infuriating because it doesn’t get much more real than your own body, or having to financially support a whole new human being.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the president of COP28 who also happens to be CEO of the UAE’s state oil company, made this and other disturbing remarks while speaking with three women at a She Changes Climate event. “Polarization” has become a weasel word for bad actors to stop legitimate criticism. The fact that we’re seeing it used by an oil CEO to deny climate science should set off alarm bells. The term erases differences in power, places dominant and marginalized groups on the same plane, and implies a false equivalence between violent movements and vulnerable people trying to defend themselves. In this case we see it being used to provide cover for corporate interests that are harming all of us.
I find myself both deeply disturbed and morbidly curious about Kissinger’s philosophy of putting the world in the “correct” order without regard to human rights or international law. Isn’t this exactly how all brutal dictators think, from Putin to Assad to MBS to Xi and pretty much anyone else committing crimes against humanity? This “order over justice” approach only seems reasonable if you’re sure you’re never going to be on the wrong side of it. That’s what led me to draw Kissinger as the victim of his own doctrine.
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I had hoped that I would never have to draw Trump again, but those hopes were dashed as he made headlines recently for his use of the word “vermin” to describe political opponents at a rally in New Hampshire. I’m glad to see that the comment has been widely condemned for what it is. Yet I find myself wondering if this will follow the same pattern as so many other examples of extremism that shocked us initially, only to become normalized over time. After the January 6 insurrection, many corporate donors tried to distance themselves from the coup attempt. Now we have an election denier as Speaker of the House, and others making regular appearances on talking head shows. It seems there is no limit to the erosion of norms through sheer repetition and a focus on horse race coverage.
At this point, many articles have been written about the term’s origins in Black vernacular; I recall “woke” taking off on Twitter in 2016 after Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay Mckesson was arrested during a protest in Baton Rouge. Mckesson (depicted and quoted in the first panel) famously wore a t-shirt with the #StayWoke hashtag. Within just a few short years, right-wing media and politicians had hijacked the word, which simply meant “awareness of injustice,” and deployed it as a turbocharged (and more racialized) version of “political correctness,” itself a vague insult that sloppily demonized all efforts to address inequality. (Yes, there are always people who take things too far, proposing well-intentioned but silly ideas or engaging in abusive behavior — which the left certainly has no monopoly on — but we can criticize such things without using authoritarian terminology. Always be specific in your criticism!)
Over the past few weeks, protests organized by Jewish Voice for Peace have poignantly made the case against the slaughter of civilians in Gaza with slogans such as “Never again for anyone” and “My grief is not your weapon.” A rabbinical student wrote a heartfelt essay for 972Mag about her reasons for participating in a sit-in on Capitol Hill alongside other rabbinical students and rabbis. Yet those who speak out against collective punishment for Hamas’s brutal attacks are routinely demonized as antisemitic. Of course, we should call out antisemitism when we see it. I spend a lot of time swimming in the waters of progressive social media, and my own experience has been that most people are opposed to the siege of Gaza while also critical of the few instances of bigotry they’ve seen in activist spaces. By and large, it isn’t protesters who are extremists; that label belongs to those who dehumanize whole civilian populations. It’s a false binary to suggest that terrorism can’t be addressed without indiscriminate bombing, killing thousands of children in the process.