Archive for March, 2007

March 30, 2007

Call to Action: Write Your Congressperson and Senator!

Many in the media are gearing up for the 2008 presidential campaign, relegating the illegitimate, corrupt, murderous liars of the Bush Administration–with their 28 percent approval rating–to the status of yesterday’s news. But there’s still plenty of time for Bush and his monstrous cronies to do plenty of damage. For the next two years, if given the chance, they will kill hundreds of thousands more Iraqis and Afghans, thousands more American soldiers and waste billions of our taxdollars…and that’s if they don’t start another war, against Iran.

There’s only one way to prevent even more carnage, and that’s impeachment. And there’s only one way impeachment is going to happen, even with a Democratic Congress: a smoking gun so ugly, so undeniable that even Republicans will be forced to call for the entire wretched crew’s heads.

We now have the opportunity to unmask such a smoking gun. And you can help.

The New York Times has published an editorial calling for a Congressional investigation of the Defense Department, which repeatedly claimed that Corporal and former NFL football player Pat Tillman had died while leading a charge against the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan when it knew that, in fact, he had died in a “friendly fire” accident. Tillman’s service had been used by the Army as a recruiting tool for the illegal wars against Afghanistan and Iraq–and his death was used as a noble example young people were supposed to emulate.

From the NYT Editorial: The Pentagon’s investigation of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger who became an administration icon for its war on terror, has left the corporal’s family doubtful that the truth has really come out. Even as the Army reaffirmed its belief that Corporal Tillman deserved a Silver Star for valor, the family denounced the award as “part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster.”
The circumstances of this byzantine case cry out for Congressional hearings to get an independent evaluation of just who pulled the strings to sugar-coat a terrible battlefield accident as an instance of heroism under hostile fire.

The Pentagon’s internal investigation has tagged nine officers, including four generals, for wrongdoing in the cover-up. Naive observers may be satisfied, but anyone who has watched the Bushist gangsters operate since seizing power in 2000 can’t help being cynical. If four generals are the fall guys, how far up must this go?

Here, I’ll say it: All the way to the top. To then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House–Rove, Cheney and/or Bush themselves–were personally briefed or more directly involved in this massive cover-up. If that’s true–and if it isn’t, why have the Bushies been stonewalling a Congressional investigation?–it would justify impeachment (for obstruction of justice and lying, among other “high crimes and misdemeanors” that brought down Nixon).

Only a full-fledged Congressional investigation, replete with full subpoena powers to get the complete record that despite a series of phony self-investigations the Tillman family has repeatedly been denied by the Pentagon, will reveal the full truth and bring these bastards down.

Write to your Congressperson and both of your United States Senators right now–send your letter by snail mail AND fax since those are counted with greater weight than emails–and demand a full investigation of the Tillman cover-up. Make a little history.

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March 30, 2007

Follow-Up Interview Re: Coulter Censorship

The excellent New England-based LGBT newspaper Bay Windows has a follow-up interview with me about the campaign by some gay organizations to get Ann Coulter’s column cancelled by newspapers. I oppose censoring Coulter because opposing censorship is always the right thing to do, even–especially–when the person being considered is unappealing. Sadly, the First Amendment is the least popular part of the Constitution–everyone is in favor of speech they agree with.

March 13, 2007

Human Rights Campaign Responds; I Reply

A spokesman for the HRC (I’ll spare her email in-box by not posting her name) has replied by email to my Open Letter about their campaign to get Ann Coulter out of newspaper syndication. Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you for contacting the Human Rights Campaign regarding censorship and the First Amendment.

We take freedom of speech and First Amendment issues very seriously, and we understand your concerns.

We believe that this is not a question of censorship. There are plenty of other people on the right who share Coulter’s values and views but understand the value of civility and respect.

Ann Coulter is free to spew her vile and hateful speech but as a community we are also free to exercise our collective power. And when Coulter defends herself on Fox News by saying “‘faggot’ isn’t offensive to gays,” it is our responsibility to make sure she, and those who carry her columns, understand that we know otherwise. “Faggot” is a loaded word — a word that too often is used as a weapon to demean and wound our community.

If she had made a racist or anti-Semitic remark, there would not have even been a question of whether a newspaper should continue carrying her columns. We must speak out in order to move the “F word” into that same column of universally understood hate speech.

Thank you again for contacting us and if you have any other questions please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Now here’s my reply:

I hate to belabor the point–well, really two points–but it’s important to note that Coulter’s comment did not appear in her column, but rather in a speech. Surely there’s a First Amendment issue involved when one is punished for one’s views, no matter how reprehensible, by being deprived of earning a livelihood in another forum.

If I own a restaurant, for example, should I fire a waiter after I learn he is a neo-Nazi skinhead? Even neo-Nazi skinheads are entitled to pay their rent, as long as they don’t spew their political beliefs at my customers, other waiters or myself. To believe otherwise is to advocate economic censorship. To say otherwise is to embrace the sophistic statement that one is free to say whatever one pleases as long as one is willing to accept starvation as a result.

You are mistaken when you write: “If she had made a racist or anti-Semitic remark, there would not have even been a question of whether a newspaper should continue carrying her columns.” Coulter has in fact made numerous racist comments in her column, including her use of the derogatory slur “raghead” to refer to Muslims. It is a tribute to the Muslim-American community that they did not try to counter her bigotry in this respect with a call for censorship–one that only would have served to strengthen her.

I agree with you that “faggot” is not a word that elevates civilized debate. Its use epitomizes not only homophobia in the most literal sense, but the anti-intellectual strain that keeps America from being as good a nation as it could be. But it’s only a word—and no word should prompt us to go down the road that leads to any form of censorship or would-be censorship.

There are more constructive ways for political progressives to flex their muscle. When gays and lesbians in Columbus, Ohio had trouble convincing local bar owners to open their doors to a “gay night” a few years back, they wrote “gay money” on their paper money and spent it locally. When “gay money” began turning up in the till, bar owners realized they were ignoring a potential source of income at their own detriment.

Anyway, Ann Coulter is not the enemy. The “mainstream” Republicans who embrace her as their attack dog, such as presidential candidate Mitt Romney who introduced her at CPAC, are those who are truly keeping us back.

March 12, 2007

An Open Letter to the Human Rights Campaign

New York City, March 11, 2007

Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036-3278
Via email: hrc@hrc.org

Media Matters for America
1625 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Via email: mm-tips@mediamatters.org

Re: Ann Coulter Censorship Campaign

To the Boards of Directors:

As a progressive American who shares your views, it pains me to learn that the Human Rights Campaign and Media Matters for America have sunk to the same tactics to silence syndicated columnist Ann Coulter as right-wing extremists deployed against me and other commentators critical of the Bush Administration during the politically repressive years following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I find Coulter’s work both ideologically and tonally at odds with my own. She is an intellectually dishonest purveyor of hate speech whose cover—”it’s only a joke”—is belied by the fact that she isn’t funny. My contempt for her is also personal. At the 2006 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., and in her column, she slandered and libeled me by falsely stating that “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau and I had both entered Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest.

So Coulter is no friend or ally. She is my foe and, I believe, an enemy of core American values of decency, generosity and common sense. As a fervent proponent of the First Amendment and an opinion monger who relies upon the right to free expression to earn a living, however, I must set aside my personal resentment—and I ask you to do the same. “I disapprove of what you say,” Voltaire supposedly said (but probably didn’t), “but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s a noble and very American sentiment even if it’s a quotation misattributed to a Frenchman.

It is without pleasure but with profound sincerity that I respectfully request that you drop your campaign to ask newspapers to drop Coulter’s column in the aftermath of her archetypically reprehensible remark that Senator John Edwards is a “faggot.”

During the 1950s, a defining characteristic of McCarthyism was to deprive actors of work in Hollywood to punish them for political views expressed elsewhere. Attempting to stifle a creative person in a forum in reaction to content that did not appear in that forum is a chilling revival of the spirit of McCarthyism. Coulter’s “faggot” slur occurred in a speech to the 2007 gathering of CPAC, not her column. Displeasure at her remark would be more appropriately directed at that organization, which invited her back despite her equally distasteful rhetoric last year.

Moreover, the specific means you are encouraging people to use to contact newspaper editors are pernicious and possibly illegal. Many will misrepresent themselves as regular readers and/or subscribers to these publications, advocating a kind of fraud that may constitute a crime—”tortious interference with contract”—in many states. Your websites contain form letters and “talking points” which you ask people to send to a list of editors of newspapers that carry Coulter’s column. Your obvious intent is to convince each editor that his or her newspapers’ readers are angry about her column when, in fact, 99 percent of the emails received by each editor will be sent by someone who lives nowhere near the publication’s area of circulation, and her column is not directly at issue.

Will this work? Possibly, in some cases. Right-wing extremist groups used similar sleazy tactics against me between 2001 and 2005, asking conservatives to impersonate angry subscribers to my client publications. While most editors saw through the deception, some didn’t. In the ideologically charged atmosphere of the time, even papers with sterling, left-of-center reputations were cowed into submission. During the Clinton years, I was one of The New York Times’ most frequently reprinted editorial cartoonists, and a contributor to the Op-Ed Page. Under Bush my work appeared a few times before disappearing.

Now that the political winds have changed in our favor, progressives whose views were marginalized, insulted as acts of treason and subsequently vindicated by events are understandably tempted to get even with caustic personalities like Coulter for their vitriol and intolerance. More than ever, however, we must resist the urge to lower ourselves to their level. How can we complain about right-wing hatred if we match it with our own? How can we bemoan right-wing censorship campaigns if we do the same thing?

We must take the high road, and not merely because it’s the right thing to do. Remember, the “they do it too” race to the bottom cuts both ways. A few years ago, liberals who complained about right-wing censorship were reminded of 1990s-era campaigns to boycott the sponsors of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio show and get Rush Limbaugh fired from his side job as a sports commentator.

“The issue is that anti-gay epithets should be so beyond the pale that anyone who uses them immediately becomes anathema to public discourse,” wrote HRC President Joe Solmonese in The Huffington Post. Even for a militant defender of gay rights like me, this argument makes me shudder. Once we establish one litmus test for who’s allowed access to the public square—no “F” word, no “N” word—who’s to stop the other side for doing the same—no Bush-bashing, no criticizing the troops?

Censorship of pundits who spew idiotic words like “faggot” only adds to their hateful power. HRC would be much better off directing its energies towards it core mission of “working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality…[and] end[ing] discrimination against GLBT citizens.” Isn’t making marriage available to everyone who falls in love more important than spinning your wheels in a vain attempt to erase a single vulgar slur from the dictionary?

Media Matters for America’s mission statement states that it is “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” Where does censoring people like Ann Coulter fit with this goal? She is, after all, one of the leading purveyors of “conservative misinformation.” If you get her and her ilk to shut up, what will you have to monitor, analyze and correct?

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Very truly yours,
Ted Rall

Ted Rall, winner of the 1995 and 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged, is a syndicated editorial cartoonist and columnist for Universal Press Syndicate. He is, most recently, author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?”

March 9, 2007

Censorship Campaigns

Memo to HRC: Please fucking STOP!

RIght-wing campaigns to censor me after 9/11 were profoundly anti-American. Now that the left is ascendant, groups like the Human Rights Campaign are calling for Universal Press Syndicate–which also distributes my work–to drop columnist Ann Coulter.

These campaigns, whether directed against Coulter or myself, are wrong. Censor the other side and you justify censoring your own side. If people are upset about Ann Coulter’s anti-gay slur against John Edwards, they need to ridicule her. Or, better yet, just ignore her and move on. Or, better than that, write their own insults against John McCain!

March 7, 2007

Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression

A pair of censored Ted Rall cartoons along with the backstory thereof appear in David Wallis’ new anthology “Killed Cartoons”. From the official website:

The collection, heralded by cartoonist Gahan Wilson of the New Yorker as “amazing in its range,” includes spiked art about everything from the Iraq War to teen fashion trends. Works by renowned contemporary artists such as Garry Trudeau , Steve Brodner, Edward Sorel, Doug Marlette, Ted Rall, Paul Conrad, Matt Davies and Anita Kunz are displayed alongside unearthed gems by legends like David Low, Herblock and Norman Rockwell.

March 7, 2007

The Blog I’d Write If Someone Paid Me

The Rallblog makes me feel guilty. Every day tens of thousands of people pull up this URL—tune in, if you will—to see if I’ve opined on this or that. And, for the most part, I haven’t.
Failing to meet consumer expectations is not a sound business strategy. A few years back the CEO of Blockbuster Video surveyed the company’s customers and found that, the vast majority of the time, they couldn’t find the video they’d most hoped to rent. Look at Blockbuster now. (Well, Netflix didn’t help.)
The trouble is, the Rallblog isn’t a business. It’s a net loss, not only in the time it takes to feed its gaping word-count maw, but in the cost of paying for server space. In an average week, I owe three editorial cartoons and a column to my syndicate, two cartoons to freelance clients, and half a book chapter to my publisher—plus whatever random projects (movie pitches, nascent animation schemes, searching for WMDs) I happen to be working on at a given time. If I were starting out now and were, say 24 years old, a blog would be a great way to practice writing and gain attention. Now it’s a distraction from paying work. This is why the best blogs are written by 24-year-olds and pros who get paid by someone.
Today I proffer the kind of stuff I’d talk about if I had the time. After today, well—back to catch as catch can.

March 7, 2007

Ashamed to be from Ohio

Something happened to the residents of the Buckeye State since I left in 1981. People renowned for their common sense have lost their minds.
Case Study: Democrats have joined Republicans in Ohio’s infamously corrupt state legislature to sponsor a bill, the proposed Kristen’s Law, that would require convicted “violent sex offenders and child predators to place fluorescent green license plates on their cars.” Governor Ted Strickland, who makes me ashamed of my first name, says he’ll sign the bill if it passes the General Assembly.
Talk about a good inducement to force people to use mass transit! Of course, they’ll probably force the pervs to buy color-coded fare cards.
What’s next? Mandatory forehead tattoos?
Fortunately, there are people who get it–sorta. Representative Bill Seitz, Republican of Cincinnati and Majority Whip, says: “I certainly want to keep our children safe from sexual predators, but I worry about casting the scarlet A, instead of on Hester Prynne, around Hester Prynne’s family.” After all, it’s not just daddy perv who drives the family SUV. What if his non-perv son or daughter gets dragged out of the marked vehicle and beaten to death by vigilante neighbors?
But Seitz doesn’t go far enough. The real question, as I’ve asked repeatedly, is this: If sex offenders are dangerous recidivists, why release them? The answer, despite the political posturing, must be one of the following: (a) They’re not really all that dangerous; or (b) Keeping them locked up for life is too expensive.
I’m guessing the answer is a bit of (a) and all of (b). Many so-called sex offenders are really statutory rapists—19-year-old men with 17-year-old girlfriends. The system conflates these harmless “criminals” with the sickos who leap out of the bushes to attack schoolchildren after class. It’s more politically palatable to outsource the policing of these people to us ordinary citizens with stupid laws named after victims of sex crimes, like Megan’s Law, than to raise taxes for new prisons and mental health treatment centers.
Dangerous sex predators don’t deserve to find their windshields smashed every time they emerge from their Kroger’s. They deserve effective treatment and, if that’s not possible, we deserve to be protected from them—forever.

March 7, 2007

Even in Death, Silence About Thomas Eagleton

The death last week of former Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, was marked by obituaries notable for what they didn’t say.
In what became known as “The Eagleton Affair,” Eagleton got dumped as the 1972 Democratic nominee for Vice President when it emerged that he had checked himself into the hospital for psychiatric treatment, including shock treatment, during the 1960s, due to “nervous exhaustion.” In this age of pop psychiatry and Prozac, it’s hard to believe that a political career would suffer much by such a revelation. In 1972, however, it was enough to force George McGovern to cut him loose.
Media accounts, including in such relatively liberal outlets as NPR and PBS, mentioned the revelation of Eagleton’s psychiatric treatment in the passive voice: “When it was revealed that…” “When it came out that…”
Strictly speaking, a pair of reporters working for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain broke the story. But how’d they find out the information in the first place?
The answer, of course, was that the Republicans’ infamous “dirty tricks” operatives. Confidential medical records were stolen by Nixon’s henchmen and leaked. But now that’s just history.

March 7, 2007

The Libby Verdict

So long, Scooter. It’s small consolation to Valerie Plame or the CIA whose agent was outed, but a medium-sized bass—something between a big and little fish—has finally paid the price for the Bush Administration’s perfidy. The optimist in me hopes that it’s merely the first of many convictions—and prison sentences—for this gang of imposters, liars, thieves and murderers.
Anyone who serves this gangster Administration at the cabinet or departmental levels has his or her hands dirty—and deserves to rot behind bars for the rest of their miserable lives. I’d make an exception for Libby, though: In exchange for his testimony against Thug-in-Chief Dick Cheney, I’d let him walk. Heck, I’d even let him keep his pension.