SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who Will Do Something About the Looming Retirement Crisis?

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In Douglas Coupland’s 1991 age-warfare classic novel “Generation X” a young man trashes a car because it bears a bumpersticker with the obnoxious slogan “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” Like Coupland I launched my career as something like a spokesperson for Generation X, raging on behalf of a demographic cohort perpetually struggling to make itself and its concerns heard in the wake of the older, bigger and wealthier Baby Boom generation. Culturally marginalized by the Boomers, forced to accept transient employment, hobbled by growing student loan debt and buffeted by recessions, Xers feared that they would never be able to save enough in order to retire, much less spend their kids’ inheritance.

The retirement crisis will be worse than we ever feared.

“We predict the U.S. will soon be facing rates of elder poverty unseen since the Great Depression,” New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci and Blackstone executive vice chairman Tony James write in the Harvard Business Review.

Sayonara, Kurt Cobain. Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire.

Retirement specialists from the political left and right concur: big segments of whole generations of the elderly will soon be impoverished, some homeless or even starving. After the Xers, the Millennial deluge; old age looks even bleaker for today’s young adults.

Experts vary on how much you should have saved by the time you retire. Fidelity advises a $75,000-a-year worker who retires at age 67 to squirrel away at least $600,000 in present-day dollars. Following the traditional rule of having 80% of your salary for 20 years pushes that desired minimum to $1.2 million.

The problem is, the average savings of 55- to 64-year-olds is a piddling $104,000. According to a 2015 study of people 55 and older by the General Accounting Office, 29% have nothing whatsover.

It’s a joke, but it’s not funny. Yet neither political party has much to say about the looming retirement crisis.

The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s. Political and business leaders are in denial about this issue. But the desperation of our grandparents and parents — not to mention the children charged with caring for them since they won’t be able to provide for themselves —will make voters vulnerable to demagoguery of all stripes. Instability will be rampant. Democracy could be in danger.
It isn’t hard to see how we got here.

Old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by defined-contribution benefit plans like IRAs and 401(k)s which are problematic for many workers. People don’t contribute enough. Employers pitch in less than they did to pensions, or nothing at all. When workers suffer a setback like a job loss, they borrow against their accounts. They make poor investment decisions. When the stock market suffers a downturn, accounts lose value. High administrative costs suck away returns. The average 401(k) has never been bigger — but still, we’re talking total savings of $104,000.

Try living on that for 20 or 30 years.

Baby Boomers enjoyed the last vestige of an economy where you might hold one or two jobs throughout your most of your working career. They grew up in two-parent households and enjoyed the fruits of the postwar boom.

By contrast, many Generation Xers and younger Millennials have divorced parents, which reduced their financial security. Gen Xers got slammed by the 1987 stock market crash as well as the 2000 dot-com collapse; both Xers and Millennials lost jobs and savings during the 2008-09 Great Recession. They work in the gig economy. Younger workers might not have to drive for Uber or rent out a room on Airbnb but their work lives are highly mobile and frequently disrupted. They get laid off and outsourced. They must go back to school or move to adjust to employers’ demands. Their real and net incomes are significantly lower than the Boomers’ and their savings rate reflects that.
Paying average monthly benefits of just over $1300, Social Security is a supplementary, not a primary retirement plan. Even if they’re content to live modestly, cash-poor Xers have a gaping wound for which Social Security is a Band-Aid.

Although many older people enjoy working, too many cannot. A record 19% of Americans over age 65 currently work at least part-time; of course, that means that 81% do not. Older people are prone to failing health. And it’s hard to find someone to hire them.

The older you are, the more likely you are to fall prey to age discrimination. Companies are also motivated by simple economics, cutting costs by firing older workers and replacing them with younger ones.

Hillary Clinton ignored the distress of downsized working-class whites in flyover country to her own, and her party’s peril. Donald Trump won his surprise victory partly because he acknowledged the rage of Rust Belters long neglected by both parties. The outcome might have been different had Democrats maintained their traditional 20th century focus on labor and the Midwest by promoting job-retraining programs and other attempts to get industrial workers back on their feet.

Now we’re looking at a problem as big as deindustrialization. If one of the two major parties is able to get ahead of the coming retirement crisis by putting forth some meaningful solutions now, before dystopia arrives, they will reap the benefits at the polls. Conservatives may want to support GRAs (Guaranteed Retirement Accounts) in which workers are required to withhold a portion of each paycheck in order to invest for their retirement. Liberals may prefer shoring up the Social Security system in order to increase monthly payouts.

Or we can do nothing as we marvel at the sight of our grandparents fighting over Dumpster scraps.

(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.)

Rob Rogers Matters

It seems right to thank Rob Rogers in kind: when the corrupt LA Times fired me, he watched my back with his own thoughtful observations about my plight.

Rob was fired today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he had worked for the last 25 years. Overall, he has worked as a professional full-time political cartoonist for 33 years. This was not your garden-variety “let’s lay off the cartoonist so we can pay upper middle management even bigger bonuses” dismissal. After a couple of years of serious handwringing on the part of America’s Democratic Party-dominated editorial cartoonist community, Rogers has emerged as one of the first true victims of a Donald Trump-inspired purge.

Determined to move the P-G into a more pro-Trump editorial orientation, the publisher brought in a new editorial director, Keith Burris, whom he charged, among other things, with either bringing Rogers in line — convincing him to either draw pro-Trump cartoons or simply lay off the president entirely — or figure out a way to get rid of him. Anyone who knows Rob Rogers, or for that matter any decent political cartoonist, could guess that the odds of him agreeing to change his political orientation 180° was likely to fail. What the Post-Gazette wanted was a throwback to the political cartooning of over 100 years ago, when publishers dictated the cartoon that appeared in the next day’s paper. Financial pressures have been extraordinary against cartoonists but few have acquiesced to such rollbacks and Rob Rogers was certainly not going to be one of them.

So instead they decided to kill one of his cartoons. And another one. And another one. By the time they showed him the door, well over a dozen cartoons in a row had been drawn but failed to appear in print.

I’m not sure I really understand this tactic. I didn’t go to business school. I would imagine that humiliating and harassing someone into leaving works best when they can easily find another job in their chosen profession. That’s not really true in journalism.

If there’s a class about how to fire people at any decent business school, they should probably use the Rob Rogers firing as an example of exactly what not to do. Look, it’s their paper. They can publish or not publish whoever they want. Maybe it’s crazy for a city like Pittsburgh to have a pro-Trump newspaper but that’s their prerogative if they want to go under. They had the right to fire him.

But why do it that way? Why not simply call him into the office, explain the fact that the editorial orientation of the newspaper had changed, and offer him a generous severance package (I would think two or three years salary would be sufficient) along with full retirement? And send him out with a little bit of glory and dignity, allowing him to say his goodbyes in cartoon form and perhaps showcasing a few pages of his best cartoons over the years? 25 years of loyal service earned him that. More than that, Rob is a fixture in the community. He is always front and present, organizing and hosting cartooning-related panels and shows at art galleries. Disappearing him like a Soviet apparatchik airbrushed out of photos from the top of Lenin’s tomb is a little insane.

Alternatively, why not simply make clear that he could stay on board as a liberal cartoonist even though the editorials would be conservative? My former employer the Los Angeles Times did that with cartoonist Mike Ramirez in the 1990s, but in reverse. The paper had a liberal editorial orientation but Mike was very conservative. Many newspapers with a specific editorial orientation run columns by columnists whose politics disagree with them.

Rob deserved better than to be given the bum’s rush. I suspect that much of the national media will focus on the Trump aspect of the story but I think the real issue is the cruel treatment given to a loyal employee who never did anything wrong and wasn’t even accused of doing anything wrong. I don’t know how that publisher or that editor can live with themselves.

They’re both disgusting.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Suicide? No. Society Is Murdering Us. But There Is a Way Out.

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They say that 10 million Americans seriously consider committing suicide every year. In 1984, when I was 20, I was one of them.

Most people who kill themselves feel hopeless. They are miserable and distraught and can’t imagine how or if their lives will ever improve. That’s how I felt. Within a few months I got expelled from college, dumped by a girlfriend I foolishly believed I would marry, fired from my job and evicted from my apartment. I was homeless, bereft, broke. I didn’t have enough money for more than a day of cheap food. And I had no prospects.

I tried in vain to summon up the guts to jump off the roof of my dorm. I went down to the subway but couldn’t make myself jump in front of a train. I wanted to. But I couldn’t.

Obviously things got better. I’m writing this.

Things got better because my luck changed. But — why did it have to? Isn’t there something wrong with a society in which life or death turns on luck?

I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self that suicide isn’t necessary, that there is another way, that there will be plenty of time to be dead in the end. I’ve seen those other ways when I’ve traveled overseas.

In Thailand and Central Asia and the Caribbean and all over the world you will find Americans whose American lives ran hard against the shoals of bankruptcy, lost love, addiction or social shame. Rather than off themselves, they gathered their last dollars and headed to the airport and went somewhere else to start over. They showed up at some dusty ex-pat bar in the middle of nowhere with few skills other than speaking English and asked if they could crash in the back room in between washing dishes. Eventually they scraped together enough money to conduct tours for Western tourists, maybe working as a divemaster or taking rich vacationers deep-sea fishing. They weren’t rich themselves; they were OK and that was more than enough.

You really can start over. But maybe not in this uptight, stuck-up, class-stratified country.

I remembered that in 2015 when I suffered another setback. Unbeknownst to me, the Los Angeles Times — where I had worked as a cartoonist since 2009 – had gotten itself into a corrupt business deal with the LAPD, which I routinely criticized in my cartoons. A piece-of-work police chief leveraged his department’s financial influence on the newspaper by demanding that the idiot ingénue publisher, his political ally, fire me as a favor. But mere firing wasn’t enough for these two goons. They published not one, but two articles, lying about me in an outrageous attempt to destroy my journalistic credibility. I’m suing but the court system is slower than molasses in the pre-climate change Arctic.

Suicide crossed my mind many times during those dark weeks and months. Although I had done nothing wrong the Times’ smears made me feel ashamed. I was angry: at the Times editors who should have quit rather than carry out such shameful orders, at the media outlets who refused to cover my story, at the friends and colleagues who didn’t support me. Though many people stood by me, I felt alone. I couldn’t imagine salvaging my reputation — as a journalist, your reputation for truthtelling and integrity are your most valuable asset and essential to do your job and to get new ones.

As my LA Times nightmare unfolded, however, I remembered the Texas-born bartender who had reinvented himself in Belize after his wife left him and a family court judge ordered him to pay 90% of his salary in alimony. I thought about the divemaster in Cozumel running away from legal trouble back in the States that he refused to describe. If my career were to crumble away, I could split.

You can opt out of BS without having to opt out of life.

Up 30% since 1999, suicide has become an accelerating national epidemic — 1.4 million Americans tried to kill themselves in a single year, 2015 — but the only times the media focuses on suicide is when it claims the lives of celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While the media has made inroads by trying to cover high-profile suicides discreetly so as to minimize suicidal ideation and inspiring others to follow their example, it’s frustrating that no one seems to want to identify societal and political factors so that this trend might be reversed.

Experts believe that roughly half of men who commit suicide suffer from undiagnosed mental illness such as a severe personality disorder or clinical depression. Men commit suicide in substantially higher numbers than women. The healthcare insurance business isn’t much help. One in five Americans is mentally ill but 60% get no treatment at all.

Then there’s stress. Journalistic outlets and politicians don’t target the issue of stress in any meaningful way other than to foolishly, insipidly advise people to avoid it. If you subject millions of people to inordinate stress, some of them, the fragile ones, will take their own lives. We should be working to create a society that minimizes rather than increases stress.

It doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting to come up with major sources of stress in American society. People are working longer hours but earning lower pay. Even people with jobs are terrified of getting laid off without a second’s notice. The American healthcare system, designed to fatten for-profit healthcare corporations, is a sick joke. When you lose your job or get sick, that shouldn’t be your problem alone. We’re social creatures. We must help each other personally, locally and through strong safety-net social programs.

Loneliness and isolation are likely leading causes of suicide; technology is alienating us from one another even from those who live in our own homes. This is a national emergency. We have to discuss it, then act.

Life in the United States has become vicious and brutal, too much to take even for this nation founded upon the individualistic principles of rugged libertarian pioneers. Children are pressured to exhibit fake joy and success on social media. Young adults are burdened with gigantic student loans they strongly suspect they will never be able to repay. The middle-aged are divorced, outsourced, downsized and repeatedly told they are no longer relevant. And the elderly are thrown away or warehoused, discarded and forgotten by the children they raised.

We don’t have to live this way. It’s a choice. Like the American ex-pats I run into overseas, American society can opt out of crazy-making capitalism without having to opt out.

I’m Coming to Cambridge

If you happen to be in or around Boston next week, please come meet me Wednesday night where I’ll be speaking about my new book “Francis: The People’s Pope” at 7 pm at Barn Parish in Cambridge MA as part of the Harvard Forum series.

In other news, NBM Publishing will issue an up-to-date paperback version of my out-of-print graphic novel “The Year of Loving Dangerously,” drawn by Pablo G. Callejo and written by me, in 2019. “Year” is a reminiscence of my anni horriblis during which I was dumped by my girlfriend, fired from my job, expelled from my college and evicted from my dorm — and wound up homeless. It’s a tale of desperation and sexual commodification and very raw, and a great graphic journey through Reagan’s 1980s in New York.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Blended Primaries Are an Assault on Democracy

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California’s “jungle primary” system, in which the two candidates who win the most votes advance to the general election in November regardless of their party affiliation, might have resulted in several bizarre outcomes. Look out: given the state’s role as a political trendsetter, this weirdness could go national someday.

Two Democrats could have wound up facing off against one another for governor, leaving the state’s Republicans with no candidate to support. Democrats narrowly avoided getting shut out of four Congressional races in majority Democratic districts, which would have led to a twisted form of antimajoritarianism. Most citizens of a district would not have had a chance to vote for a candidate representing their preferred party.

Democracy dodged a bullet — this time.

Voters weren’t as lucky in 2012, two years after Californians approved a ballot referendum instituting the top-two scheme. Six candidates ran for the U.S. House seat representing the 31st district, which had a clear plurality of Democrats. Because there were four candidates on the Democratic side to split the vote, however, only the two Republicans made it to the general election.

In 2016 Democrat Kamala Harris won California’s U.S. Senate seat, against a fellow Democrat. Republican candidates had been eliminated in the top-two primary. Sixteen percent of voters, no doubt including many annoyed Republicans, left their senate ballots blank, the highest rate in seven decades.

Proponents argued in 2010 that jungle primaries would lead to the election of more moderates. “We want to change the dysfunctional political system and we want to get rid of the paralysis and the partisan bickering,” said then-outgoing California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, after voters approved Proposition 14. But there is no evidence the jungle primary system has led to more moderate candidates, much less to more victorious moderate candidates.

“The leading [2018] Democratic contenders [for governor]…have pledged new spending on social programs,” Reid Wilson reports in The Hill. “The leading Republicans…are pitching themselves as Tea Party allies of President Trump.” These candidates reflect an electorate with whom polarization is popular. “Republicans are in a Republican silo. Democrats are in a Democratic silo. And independents don’t show up in the numbers that one might hope,” notes John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

A bland cabal of militant moderates controls the media, which they use to endlessly promote the same anti-party line: American politics are too polarized, causing demagoguery, Congressional gridlock and incivility at family gatherings. Centrism must be the solution.

It is a solution without a problem.

In the real world where actual American voters live, partisanship prompts political engagement. Hardcore liberals and conservatives vote and contribute to campaigns in greater numbers than swing voters. Rather than turn people off, partisanship makes for exciting, engaging elections — which gets people off their couches and into the polls, as seen in 2016.

As seen in 2012, moderation is boring.

It’s also becoming irrelevant. A 2014 Pew poll found that the most politically active members of both major parties are increasingly comprised of ideological purists: 38% of Democrats were consistent liberals, up from a mere 8% in 1994. Among Republicans 33% were consistent conservatives, up from 23%. It’s a safe bet those numbers will continue to rise.

Media trends and vote counts are clear. People prefer sharply defined political parties. Reaching across the aisle feels like treason. Compromise is for sellouts. A strident Donald Trump and a shouting Bernie Sanders own the souls of their respective parties.

Yet, defying the will of the people, shadowy organizations like No Labels and the Independent Voter Project and people like the late Pete Peterson continue to promote party-busting electoral structures like California’s “jungle primary” and so-called “open primaries” in which registered Democrats and independents can vote in Republican primaries and vice versa. And it’s working. Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana have versions of jungle primaries; 23 states have open presidential primaries.

These blended primaries purport to promote democracy. They’re really antidemocratic wolves in reasonable-sounding clothing.

Far more voters turn out for general elections (42% in California’s previous gubernatorial election in 2014), not primaries (25%). Blended primaries disenfranchise voters while placing a disproportionate amount of power in the hands of the few who turn out for primaries.

Despite the possibility of organized mischief-making, the threat posed by an army of Democrats cross-voting for the least-feasible Republican in a primary race (and vice versa) remains purely theoretical. However, there is a real-world concern: when a jungle primary shuts out one party from a major race like for governor or senate, it tends to depress turnout among the excluded party’s supporters in the general election, which can have a ripple effect down-ballot, even on races in which both parties have a standardbearer.

Like it or not — and I don’t — we still have a two-party system. Representative democracy would be better served by a more inclusive regime that broadens the ideological spectrum, whether it’s rank-choice voting or moving to a European-style parliamentary system or something else entirely. Until we think things through and have a new system to replace it, the current two-party system ought not to be insipidly sabotaged as though nibbled to death by feckless ducks.

(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.)

 

Guest Post by an American Teacher: A Crash Course in Being a Teacher

This guest post by an anonymous American Teacher does not reflect my opinions. I present it here for the purpose of encouraging discussion.

Everything I do is for the sake of expedience.  So when I go to work, I’m on sleep mode.  I have a passionless day.  For seven hours, I feel what it is like not to feel anything. I move on the fringe and stay out of the limelight.  I am very close to being off everyone’s radar, completely unimportant. I am not to be condemned for that.  Reality, after all, is on my side.

Plenty of people switch off at their jobs.  Just because I am not actively contributing does not mean that I am screwing things up.  I’m not doing any harm. So what if the future stock boys of America don’t know when the Civil War ended?

I have seen teachers who don’t survive.  They don’t know how to get through outrage after outrage and they give up.   I have seen young teachers suffering, drained of energy, older teachers struggling years into a nightmare, wrung out like a soiled dish cloth.  So many teachers are like cases of walking pneumonia.  I could cure them.

The burned out, the fed up, these are the people I would like to teach.  Don’t live that life, I would tell them.  Do not agonize and do not quit. Leaving a job like this doesn’t make sense.

I would show them the successful prototype of the disengaged teacher:  Me.  I am the ne plus ultra of the lax and uncommitted.  I’d raise the consciousness of the downtrodden and show them how to shake off their old ways.  My methods are 99.9% foolproof.

Teachers, there is such a thing as survival.  I have the answers. I will be your most important guide.  Hang on to my every word.

First, don’t embrace your job.

A high school is a place where people move closely with people about whom they know little. Some of the students won’t know your name for months.  And you will quickly be forgotten once summer arrives.  The only mark you will leave on them is akin to a snail leaving its slime. Their connection to you is threadlike. Keep it that way.

Your students are freeloaders.  They are punks, snitches, and will turn on you when convenient.  Some of them may even be spies for the administration.  Nothing they do can be taken seriously, as many of them are on Aderall and Ritalin, yet they govern you and not the other way around.  Far from being encouraged to teach, you will be encouraged to pass them with the highest grades possible, A’s and B’s.  Do it.

If you don’t follow this diktat, you will frequently hear complaints, from students, administrators, and parents. You are not trusted by them.  The claims of the student will always be prioritized over the claims of the teacher.

The administration just wants to use you as a tool to do their dirty work, enforce the dress code, have standards, and when you do so, they will throw you right under the bus.  Don’t ever try to discipline a student. You will be overturned. Self-preservation should should be your first instinct. Your first priority should be to safeguard your psyche from stress.  Your peace-of-mind should override every other consideration.

So don’t dive into your class. Operate at a remove.  Lots of ways to shave time off a class.  Look around your room and think of some. Linger in the hall as long as possible after the bell rings. Shut the door slowly.  Pass out papers slowly. Collect them slowly. Seconds add up.  Shorten the amount of time you interact with kids to a minimum. Some of them can’t even count to ten. Show lots of video clips and at least one movie a marking period. Don’t take teaching seriously. You can look to everyone else like you are teaching when, of course, you’re really not. Hunch forward over your desk with a batch of papers to make it look as though you are correcting when all you are doing is playing on your phone.  Look like the hardest working and be careful not to use the school wifi. Trawl the news. Read the newspapers on your school computer and pretend you are doing work.

Stay focused on some narrow goals, like never giving anyone less than a B-.  Teaching in a public school is less about having students master a subject and more about winning a popularity contest.  It’s not about math and grammar; it’s about you having a rapport with these hellcats.  A teacher is a fiction in today’s world. You need little academic background to teach. You need to play the game.  Working well in a public high school is a public relations job. You should become familiar with two important words: support and succeed.  Even though you don’t mean it, you always want to be sure to say that you are there to support your students and that you want to help them succeed.  Practice saying those phrases on your drive to work.

Choose your words with students carefully.  They can be used against you.   Hone your use of language so that you communicate as little as possible with kids.  Try not to allow them within spitting distance of you.

You will want to spit on parents, but make your encounters with them frictionless. They are another area on which to cultivate your hypocrisy.  Students either just don’t stand out or they stand out in the worst way possible.  You can know absolutely zilch about them, be completely unable to distinguish one student from another, and still manage to say the right things to parents.  Praise the worst idiot in your class.  Say good things, great things if you can manage it.  Be careful.  Great things might make you choke unless you have mastered the art of hypocrisy.

Everything your education professors told you is hollow. Teaching is inspirational only if students answer the call.  They never will. The best teachers are useless when students are not driven.  You are not going to change these kids’ minds. You are mistaken about your ability to contribute to society and change someone’s life.  You do not have any power. There will never be any evidence that the stuff you were taught in teaching school is working so cultivate the inner life.  If you actually think that teaching will lead to change, you are a fool.  You are a footnote in your students’ lives.

There are teachers who arrive at the building while it is still dark out.  Don’t do that. At the end of the day, rush to leave.  Gleefully skip out.  It will be an exhilarating moment, but if it’s not and you’re leaving exhausted, you have done your job badly.  Apathy can now end. You can start to feel again.  Enjoy your private life.  Fill it with your own interests, with love and happiness. Take a walk at sunset.  Admire the silhouettes of the trees in winter, the sulphurous pink flowers in spring.  Have a glass of wine, a cup of tea.  Enjoying yourself is the only revenge.

Every week, submit yourself to some self-examination.  How secure are your practices? Are you tightened up?  Can you be blindsided?  Be rigorous about your laxness.

There will be days that you need to set multiple alarms in order to get up.  If you need to power up with more than one cup of coffee in the morning, don’t go in. Take those days off.  Those are the days that you’ll trip up. Don’t ever throw cold water on your face in order to wake up. Go back to bed.

Work on your skill at softball. You can play on the team and brown nose the administrators upon whom you would like to throw battery acid.  Be as appealing as possible whenever there is an administrator around, but learn how to evade them.  Don’t question them ever. A smiling face is a defiant face.

Your skill at brownnosing can make you the envy of the other teachers. Don’t be a show-off.  Pretend you disdain administration.  Watch the other slackers in your building. They are your school’s true professionals.  Admire and respect them.

Once you start doing these things, the fire will go out and the oilier you will become.  Soon there will be nothing left of your former convictions. The best part about apathy is that once it settles in, the harder it becomes to shake. The days will bleed into each other and before you know it, it will be June.  It’s time to be giddy with delight.

Stick to this process–like glue–and you will survive. If you do not, you will grow sad and sour.  You will be wiped out. Let others serve as a cautionary tale to you.

If you get through a year without a parental complaint or getting called down to an administrator, congratulate yourself. Job well done.  Surviving is an art.

This is the only path forward, and the good news is that many of these things can be learned by osmosis.  You don’t have to purchase a how-to guide.  A pound of commonsense and a dash of experience, and you can do these things well, too.  Teaching can be fun, in its way, when you follow my basics.

I am not offering you any motivational nonsense.  I offer you the cleverest tips for keeping your job and your sanity. Do not let any book, any workshop change your mind about this.  You can only be miserable and enslaved if you allow yourself to be.  Do not repeat the mistakes of other teachers.  Your biggest mistake can only be not listening to me. I am your light in the dark.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Austin Beutner: L.A.’s Creepy New School Superintendent Keeps Failing Up, Leaving Destruction in His Wake

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The Los Angeles Unified School District faces big problems. Magnet schools and second language programs have failed to slow declining enrollment; each of the 12,000 kids who pulls out this year means less state funding. The sprawling bureaucracy seems unable or unwilling to respond to chronic bullying centered in the elementary schools. L.A. United is in the peculiar position of raising its budget — most recently to $7.5 billion — while still having to cut back support personnel.

L.A. Unified requires strong, decisive leadership by an education expert in it for the long haul. The last thing the district and its 640,000 students need is a narcissist dilettante with one agenda: prettying up his resume. But that’s what it’s getting in the form of Austin Buetner.

The shadowy 58-year-old hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist, a self-declared political nonpartisan (but Bill Clinton ally) who began accruing his fortune making shady investments amid the ashes of the collapsed Soviet Union under Boris Yeltsin and co-founded the shady boutique investment and consulting company Evercore Partners, recently got the nod from the school board to take charge of L.A. United’s nearly one thousand schools as superintendent. Scratch the thin surface of Beutner’s resume, however, and what you find is a Hillary Clinton-like predilection for failing upward.

“Cynics might look at Beutner’s conquest of Los Angeles — the fastest takeover of a major global city since the Visigoths sacked Rome — and suggest that Southern California’s institutions must be awfully weak to keep seeking the services of the same finance guy,” Joe Mathews sardonically observed in The San Francisco Chronicle. “They might question why he keeps getting jobs while only staying in previous ones for a short time (a year or so) and without producing a record of sustained success.”

Beutner’s first major foray into public service was as deputy mayor, but he only lasted a year at City Hall. He quit to run for mayor, but gave that up when it became clear that his candidacy had fewer takers than New Coke.

In 2014 Beutner, who had no journalistic experience and as far as we know has never even delivered a newspaper, was named publisher of The Los Angeles Times, following more than a decade of brutal budget cuts, declining circulation and diminishing relevancy. No one but the man himself knows why he wanted the job; Southland political observers theorized that he wanted to leverage the editorial page to run for mayor again or perhaps for California governor. To be fair, no one man could have fixed what ailed the Times after its long gutting — but if such a miraculous creature existed, it wasn’t Austin Beutner.

The problem as always for Beutner is that while he knows how to slap backs and twist arms in the toniest corridors of power, he has no natural political constituency amid the electorate. He “lacks…name recognition,” the Times drily reported during Beutner’s aborted 2011 mayoral run.

Disclosure: Violating journalism’s traditional wall between the editorial and business sides of the operation, Beutner fired me as the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist as a favor to his biggest political ally, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, because I had made fun of the cops. Overeager to please the fuzz, he even published a pair of articles about me that pretty much defined the word libel. I’m suing him and the Times for defamation and wrongful termination.

Beutner’s dealings with the LAPD, whose pension fund purchased substantial shares of the Times’ parent company during the short Beutner era, may be one of many moving parts of what school board member Scott Schmerelson, who voted against Beutner for the superintendent post, was referencing when he complained that the board majority failed “to exercise due diligence regarding Mr. Beutner’s lengthy and tangled business affairs.” Quoting Schmerelson, the Times lazily allowed: “Schmerelson did not cite an example, but Beutner, who is wealthy, has wide-ranging investments and a complex business background.”

To say the least.

Just over a year after taking the helm at Times Mirror Square, Beutner brazenly attempted a failed boardroom coup to seize both the Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from the clutches of the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing (now known as Tronc). The Tribbies were so appalled that they ordered him unceremoniously removed with his banker’s box full of office supplies, turning off his Times email account so he had to send his farewell via Facebook.

Now this creepy dude is running the schools. Which prompts a few questions.

Beutner is loaded. He doesn’t need the job. Why does he want it? (Although he’s apparently not so much of a billionaire that he turned down the job’s $350,000-a-year paycheck.)

Will he last more than a year this time?

Will there be parent-political blowback from the, to be charitable, less than transparent way that he won the support of the school board over Vivian Ekchian, the incumbent interim superintendent and career educator?

Asked the first question, Beutner responded, as he often does, with a stream of pablum: “It’s about the kids. My own roots, my mom was a teacher, my dad worked very, very hard to make sure that I had a great public education. It’s that common place — it’s the community place, the commonplace, the community connects. And if we can provide students that same opportunity I had with a great public education, what a gift, what an honor to be able to work towards that.”

In other words, who knows what Austin wants? The most obvious answer is that Beutner is a wannabe political animal who recognizes his biggest political problem: no one knows who he is. Being perceived as having turned around the schools might be leveraged into a mayoral or even gubernatorial run. Perhaps he’ll want to connect his business allies to lucrative contracts supplying the district; if so, he would merely be following up such fiascoes as the district’s 2013 plan to issue iPads to every student, which devolved into scandal. Beutner is a proponent of charter schools, but he faces a dilemma there: every student who transfers to a charter school takes away more revenue from the traditional institutions.

The Beutner-aligned Southern California media universe isn’t spilling much ink on the aftermath of the Ekchian snub. But a lot of parents, not to mention women reveling in the #MeToo movement, felt rubbed the wrong way by the appointment of a rich white male educational neophyte over a woman with 32 years of experience working within L.A. Unified, where she began as a teacher assistant.

“The man you’re about to choose has no history of success anywhere,” warned ex-school board president Jeff Horton. “What that says to all of the educators that you depend on to deliver your product is, ‘We don’t really care whether a person knows about education. We have other criteria — which are connected with our donors and our backers.’” The majority in the 5-2 vote received a total of $15 million in donations from the charter lobby.

One thing is certain: even for a miracle worker, it will take a lot longer than Beutner’s usual year-long tenure to demonstrate significant improvement in the district. Times columnist Steve Lopez lists the issues: “Falling enrollment, rising pension and healthcare costs, academic struggles, billions in deferred building maintenance at hundreds of schools, political division on the board and an ongoing philosophical difference between charter school supporters and those who believe they are draining traditional schools staffed by union teachers.”

Here’s the rub: even if Beutner somehow manages to make a dent in L.A. Unified’s longstanding problems, there’s no metric in place to judge success that everyone agrees upon. Knowing Beutner — as you can imagine, I’ve studied him closely — I’d lay better-than-even odds that, as ever in search of a quick score to pump up his political prospects, he’ll throw up his hands and walk away again before long.

(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.)

Guest Post: “The Wisdom of an American Teacher”

Here’s a Guest Post by an anonymous American Teacher who has posted here before. Please bear in mind, I do not endorse these opinions. I am presenting them to stimulate discussion only.

In the 1970s, intense pressure was brought to bear on public schools to include all students in the regular classroom.  Mainstreaming changed everything. Today, American schools favor what is called accessibility and inclusion.  The current order of things is taken for granted.  We are living in the unfortunate, extended afterlife of a dystopian experiment that has deskilled the American classroom.  While well-intentioned, mainstreaming students lowered standards for everyone.  It has been a change on a tremendous scale.  Education is no longer special when these students are put in the regular classroom.  It is time to abandon this project.

What is a special education student?  It has really come to be an indeterminate term.  They are a heterogeneous bunch.  We talk about them as though they are one entity, but they come in so many flavors:  the dull, the disruptive, and the dumb.  What no one wants to acknowledge about them is their abnormality.  Perhaps this point is so obvious as to be banal, but genuinely special ed students are ghastly.  Sometimes their ghastliness lies in their work; other times, it lies in their personalities.

A very basic yet simple question needs to be asked:  what is so special about special education students?  The answer: Nothing.  Nothing special is either visible or hidden in these students.  They are abnormal, irregular misfits.  Only the special can be called special.  We have become careless about this word, making it interchangeable with the abnormal. We have turned this word into just another well-meaning attempt at democratization.  Furthermore, we no longer interrogate the criteria by which we call someone special.  When even the ghastly are special, we have become dishonest.

I absolutely know that these students are not special.  I learn firsthand about these students every year in the regular classroom.  My heart races with distress in late August when I look at my roster and see all the abnormal students shoved in my room.  The difficulties with putting them there should be obvious.  With their outbursts and temper tantrums, their violations of social norms, they spark crises.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that these monsters are the creation of a beautiful God.  They are not able to conform socially.  They cast a shadow on the ability of everyone else to learn.  Their IQs tilt to the below average and they find it challenging to communicate and interact with others.  They need constant repetition; you can never give directions to them too many times.  I feel just a little bit glum when I look at their IEPs (individualized education plans) that lists all the ways the teacher must go out of his way to accommodate them.  When nearly half of a class gets extended time, preferential seating and their own study guides, the burden is not bearable.

Because mainstreaming is taken as a given, the misfits, instead of congregated in one place, are now dispersed throughout the school.  They feed into the classroom at unacceptably high rates.  Their numbers have way passed educationally possible levels, to the point where the classroom has become incoherent. I have had classes where forty percent of the students have been labeled special ed.  Sometimes I linger in the hall after the bell has rung, so much do I dread going in and dealing with the misfits.

Yet the school administration takes an unprecedented interest in these students, devoting faculty meetings and workshops to their needs.  State legislators also take a keen interest in them.  The normal student or the gifted student is no longer the driving force of the school.  He or she has become a distraction.

To be against mainstreaming is to go against the status quo; however, all of us have a duty not to look away from the uncomfortable: the abnormal have no place in a normal class.  Mainstreaming causes harm.

Putting these different kinds of misfits in the regular classroom has been an awful mistake.  The most important lesson to be drawn is that abnormal have gained more from all of this at the expense of the normal.  The casualty of mainstreaming is the normal student who now has to engage with the abnormal. Their right to a normal education has been sucked away from them.  They have been abandoned by the schools that they attend. Mixing the abnormal with the normal has proven destructive to the latter’s learning. We act as if there is very little we can do about it, yet there is a lot we can do to save the normal.

As mainstreaming has tapped into a huge parental population thirsting for services, parents have seized the government’s purse, putting their greedy hands in an expensive grab bag of accommodations.  Their kids get social workers, an IEP, a legal document which must be followed to the letter, a support class taught by a special ed teacher and a paraprofessional, and at least one meeting with administrators, social workers, speech therapists, and teachers a year.  It is easy to understand the allure of having your child labeled ‘special.’  When a child is labeled ‘special’, their services are endless.  When I first began teaching, many years ago, a severely handicapped boy was a student in my class.  Wheelchair bound, his senses, cognition, and obviously, motor-skills were severely impaired.  It was as though his mind was not plugged into his body.  Sometimes his arms jerked about.  He could not speak, read or write, yet he was taking algebra and biology.  He had his own bus bring him to school; his own aid do everything for him, from getting out his materials to taking him to the bathroom.  His parents, who lived in a home that at the time was valued at $700,000, sued the state for a $10,000 computer so that he could communicate.  The student was so cognitively impaired that the computer was useless.

People who cannot learn biology or algebra should not be in a biology or algebra class.  More important, they should not be allowed singlehandedly to derail a class with their flailing and moans.

Another year, I had a student with Turrets Syndrome in my class.  Not a day went by when he did not call out, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.”  I ask you, is this desirable?  (I don’t know why these people cannot call out “I love you”, but that is another topic.)  His antics tore up the classroom.  The normal, talented students in my class were sabotaged by him.

Mainstreaming has achieved nothing except to remake the classroom, subjecting the class to the rule of the abnormal.  The normal can no more make normal progress.  The constant, uninterrupted disturbance of my classes, of teaching and learning, has to end.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this.  We can say no to this exasperating project and put the abnormal back in their own rooms where they belong.  When states across this country find themselves in financial straits, it is incumbent upon legislators to say no to the special education lobby and cut mandates that are unworkable.  If we stopped funding this waste with our taxpayer dollars, it would collapse.  The highest priority of a school should be education, not inclusion.  We should grant the gifted and talented the same seriousness we do the misfits, but their programs are the first to be cut.

It is to be expected that some will complain that removing the abnormal from the regular classroom is akin to a Nazi killing program.  To be clear, no one is arguing that the abnormal are unworthy of life.  They are just unworthy of life in a regular classroom.  We are not trying to determine who will live and who will die.  We are trying to create a high-functioning classroom.  After all, the misfits could be working twelve hours a day, six days a week for two dollars an hours at a factory in Chengdu.  They are not.

It is time to move past mainstreaming.  We don’t have to shove abnormal students out of sight while keeping them out of a normal classroom.  Abnormal students have no place in the regular classroom.  They can be educated to the best of their abilities in their own rooms.  A regular classroom cannot be maintained with irregular people in it. An alternative to mainstreaming has to be developed and that can only mean a separate classroom in some other wing of the building where abnormal people cannot infect the normal with their abnormalities.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: #MeToo: A Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure

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Then there was Eric Schneiderman.

After using his office as a bully pulpit to ride the #MeToo wave, the now-former New York state attorney general is yet another boldface male name to succumb to charges of extreme misogyny. Four of his exes say he subjected them to physical abuse, including choking and slapping their faces. Schneiderman claims the violence was BDSM-related fun for all concerned, just “role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.”

Students of political crisis management will see something less than an uncategorical denial of guilt in Schneiderman’s “serious allegations, which I strongly contest.” “Strongly contest” resides far on the denial-o-meter from “it absolutely did not happen” and closer to nolo contendere — which, considering that he resigned rather than stuck around to fight, it effectively is.

Schneiderman’s implosion followed the standard script of #MeToo: accusation leads to career loss. Only career loss. This is a radical departure from how American society deals with what are, after all, crimes: going to the police, filing charges, prosecuting in court. The legal system is getting cut out of the loop.

In New York, slapping someone’s face with the intent to cause physical injury is assault in the third degree, a felony punishable by up to a year in jail. Failing a documented sustained injury, prosecutors often downgrade the charge to a misdemeanor, either attempted assault or harassment. Former AG Schneiderman is having an unpleasant week. But he probably won’t be arrested.

More than a dozen men and teenage boys accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexual harassment (a tort), statutory rape and attempted rape. Prosecutors in Los Angeles and the UK are weighing whether to file rape charges, but so far the only actual sanctions have been professional, like Netflix’s cancellation of Spacey’s hit series “House of Cards.” Even so, rehabilitation may be imminent. Legendary director Bernardo Bertolucci already says he wants to work with the disgraced actor.

The only #MeToo casualties in serious legal jeopardy are the recently convicted mickey-slipping sexual-assaulting comedian Bill Cosby and predatory producer Harvey Weinstein, though Weinstein’s problems aren’t all directly attributable to the sordid behavior that destroyed his Hollywood empire. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. is also investigating whether Weinstein misused company money to pay hush money to his accusers.

For the most part, #MeToo targets who stand accused in the court of public opinion for criminal acts will never face them in a court of law. Comedian Louis C.K. and PBS talker Charlie Rose are alleged to have committed indecent exposure (a misdemeanor that can get you 15 days in prison plus a $250 fine in New York, where Rose lived). Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly lured a 14-year-old girl into his car for sex, which would expose him to felony charges and 10 years in prison (but the statute of limitations has expired). If Today show star Matt Lauer used the secret Bond villain-like button under his desk to prevent a woman from leaving his office while he was hitting on her, that’s unlawful detention in the second degree, a misdemeanor that carries a one-year prison term. These men lost their jobs. But there’s no indication they’re in danger of prosecution.

#MeToo seems both too much and too little.

Too much, because the loss of hard-won career success is no small thing. On February 10, 2018, President Trump asked aloud: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” Setting aside the hilarious incongruity of a person who kills with drones fretting over due process, Trump is correct in one respect: the #MeToo movement has claimed a lot of scalps in a very short time.

The president probably wasn’t thinking of Al Franken, but in his case the ratio of sanction — being forced out of the Senate — to seriousness of alleged offense — butt-groping — felt excessive to Democrats. As a liberal and self-professed feminist, however, the added charge of hypocrisy came into play.

If you were raped or sexually assaulted, however, #MeToo sanctions may feel like too little.

What even many thoughtful men fail to understand is that #MeToo is not, nor does it seek to be, a legal process. It is a cultural reaction to a legal system that fails women accusers. It is a workaround. It is a drive to change what constitutes acceptable behavior on a date, at the office, in the bedroom. It has nothing to do with due process — because due process hasn’t worked for women victims.

Victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment who want to hold attackers criminally accountable face structural challenges: embarrassment, fear that their attacker will hurt them again, a culture of slut-shaming that questions whether a woman “asked” for “it,” police personnel who discourage them from going forward and even threaten them with jail for lying, and the trauma of having to relive a terrible experience most people would rather put behind them. In part because of those obstacles about two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported to police. 97% of rapists get away scot-free, a higher percentage than for other crimes.

Some women who don’t go to the police think the cops won’t do anything to help. They’re not necessarily wrong.

Any DA will tell you that sexual assaults are tough to prosecute. There is almost never a witness, so things come down to “he said/she said,” with two people giving differing versions of the same event. No one wants to see innocent men convicted of rape or sexual assault on the word of one person, the accuser.

The problem is, the legal system makes filing charges so daunting that the court system never gets a chance to adjudicate many cases. The accused are entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence. But accusers deserve access to the courts.

Many #MeToo cases involve sexual harassment, where the only legal redress available is filing a civil lawsuit. There too the hurdles are close to insurmountable for all but the most determined and/or deep-pocketed of plaintiffs, beginning with the simple problem that few lawyers take such cases on a contingency and ending with the inherent challenge of proving that the acts happened in the first place. On the other hand, there’s zero barrier to entry on Twitter.

            This is not to say there aren’t false accusations, or at least accusations that don’t rise to the level of reliability necessary for a conviction. The Columbia University “mattress” case and the University of Virginia/Rolling Stone fiasco come to mind here. Though some #MeToo activists urge us to “believe all women,” granting automatic credibility to any demographic or social category defies common sense.

What is necessary is for the authorities not to automatically believe every accusation, but to take accusers seriously and treat them with respect. Until that happens, those seeking justice for sex crimes will continue to make do with the clumsy, imperfect and startlingly extrajudicial process of cultural and professional shunning embodied by #MeToo.

(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.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Thanks to Trump’s Perfidy, Iran is Now on a Higher Moral Plane Than the U.S.

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            President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear weapons deal that President Obama cut with Iran brings with it a number of negative ramifications.

First and foremost, this unilateral act of reckless brinkmanship increases the chance of war. That’s unconscionable. By the way, Iran isn’t like Afghanistan or Iraq: it’s a big, modern country, half the size of Europe, with a real military and an air force that can defend itself.

Second, like many of Trump’s actions, the pullout is a policy decision based on a lie: by every reliable metric, Iran was keeping up its end of the agreement.

Third, the American decision will hurt the Iranian economy. Sanctions make ordinary people suffer. And they will increase, not decrease, support for that country’s religious establishment and the sectors of the government it controls. Ask the people of Cuba if sanctions and economic deprivation lead to regime change.

But there is an aspect of this “I’m taking my toys and going back to my yard” action that may have even broader implications than war and peace, yet receiving short shrift by the American media: Trump just put Iran on a higher moral plane than the United States.

Honor matters.

That’s especially true in international diplomacy, the art of mitigating and resolving conflicts between nations that often don’t share a common language, much less cultural or religious attitudes. When a nation as powerful as the United States, which has done more to shape the postwar international order then any other country – there’s a reason that the United Nations is in New York — behaves dishonorably, it establishes a precedent whose repercussions will reverberate long after the crisis at hand is a distant memory.

A core principle within high-level dealmaking is that regime change does not erase treaty obligations. A revolution can overthrow a government or a shah, an ancien régime may wind up on the trash heap of history, but other nations expect each successor regime to honor deals signed by its predecessor. Border lines remain intact, embassies respected, peace deals honored. In the real world, of course, stuff happens, as when Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic revolution and held staffers hostage for over a year. Still, the ideal remains. And the duty to live up to that ideal falls hardest on the biggest and most powerful nations.

One important aspect in which the Islamic Republic of Iran has respected the international order has been its commitment to honor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even though it was ratified by a government it opposed and violently replaced, led by the deposed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1970.

Since the revolution the International Atomic Energy Commission has never found Iran in violation of the NPT. Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that the country does not want to develop nuclear weapons. In 2005 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even signed a fatwa banning the “production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.” Most reasonable people believe the Iranians do not want nuclear weapons, only nuclear power.

Yet the West, led by the United States, has often accused the Iranians of using the pretext of nuclear power development and medical research as a cover for such a proscribed program. But positive proof of Iranian noncompliance — which admittedly would be difficult to obtain — has never been presented publicly. In 2014, Iran agreed to the Obama Administration’s “Joint Plan of Action,” which increased inspections and reduced the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium in exchange for gradual easing of economic sanctions.

Again, there is no reason to believe that Iran hasn’t kept its end of the deal.

Now here comes Donald Trump, killing the JPA for little apparent reason other than the fact that it was put into place, not by a previous government with a completely different political orientation as was the case for the NPT ratified by the Shah and maintained under the Islamic Republic, but merely a different president, a Democrat, Barack Obama.

Trump’s announcement was long on red herrings, pretzel logic and silly smears, and woefully short on evidence, much less proof, that there is any justification to gin up yet another crisis in the Middle East. Contrary to the facts, Trump even cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clownish presentation of obsolete 15-year-old Iranian documents as “definitive proof” that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu’s bluster proved nothing of the sort.

Trump says he wants to make a new deal. But who can trust him, or the United States, if the terms of an agreement can be changed on the political whim or after the election of a new president? Credibility and trustworthiness are hardearned; fecklessness destroys in an instant what it takes decades or even centuries to build up.

Now we are facing the ludicrous request by the leaders of Great Britain, France, and Germany that Iran continue to keep up its end of the deal despite the #USexit. Germany and Britain urged Iran to “continue to meet its own obligations under the deal.”

Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. Whatever happens next, though, the Iranians are not the ones tarnished by the dishonor of failing to adhere to an agreement negotiated by their own government.

(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.)