Archive for July, 2007

July 31, 2007

This Week’s Column

Here’s this week’s column, should you choose to comment:

The Sneaky War on American Motorists
NEW YORK–It was a beautiful afternoon in early autumn, and for an instant I mistook the brightly colored lights flashing in my rearview mirror for streaks of sunlight filtering through gently turning leaves. But only for an instant. Just past a curve on a steady downgrade a sign announced the end of the 55 mile-per-hour state speed limit and the beginning of the town 40. I hit the brakes but it was too late. That’s the purpose of a speed trap. Sixty-two in a 40, the policeman said.
Speeding tickets have always been a pain in the butt. You pay about $150, and if your insurance company chooses to be mean it uses the three fresh points on your license to justify a rate hike. In a recent legal transformation that has quietly gathered steam across the United States, however, getting caught speeding has become far more traumatic.
A year before the incident related above, a state trooper had plucked me out of a cluster of vehicles on the Long Island Expressway, dinging me for 72 in a 55(heavy volume had slowed traffic from its typical average of 80) That earned me a $185 fine plus six points–a point hike up from the long-standing three. A few months later the Department of Motor Vehicles sent me a letter notifying me that I owed an additional $300–bringing the total fine to $485–for a “driver responsibility assessment.” The 2004 law establishing the additional fees was passed in greater secrecy than the USA Patriot Act; even this devourer of three newspapers a day hadn’t heard of it.
My second ticket brought another letter billing me a second $300 driver responsibility assessment. But if I had plead guilty, New York would suspend my license for hitting the 12-point limit. I hired an attorney.
I spent eight months and more than $2000 fighting the ticket in municipal court. My lawyers–I needed two–kept filing motions to delay my trial date until my cop would be away on vacation. Finally, the judge asked my attorneys what it would take to get my case off her docket. A deal was cut. I paid $850 in fines, plus the state assessment, and performed 25 hours of community service. I was allowed to pick between sorting trash at the recycling center and filing at the zoning board. You can guess which one I chose.
Final tally for two speeding tickets: $3,935. No wonder so many people drive around with suspended licenses! They can’t afford the fines.
It helps to be a drug addict. When the 24-year-old son of President Gore got pulled over doing over 100 mph south of Los Angeles on July 4, cops found pot and controlled pharmaceuticals–Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Adderall and Soma–aboard his Prius. “He didn’t have a prescription for any of those drugs,” said Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino. Sentence: 90 days at a Malibu rehab clinic. If Al Gore III finishes the program, his arrest record will vanish–even though he has previous arrests for drugs and a DUI. “He had recently smoked marijuana, but it did not impair him enough that he was driving under the influence,” said Amormino. Gore’s fine: zero.
Michigan charges $1,000 over the fine amount for driving 20 mph over the legal limit. New Jersey raises $130 million a year through supplemental state fines. Texas cashes in to the tune of $300 million. Other states, including Florida, are considering similar laws. The War on Speederists has reached its fastest boil in Virginia, where the extra fines can run over $2,500. Exceeding the posted speed limit by 20 mph, for example, earns motorists a $200 fine plus a $1,050 “civil remedial fee.” In addition, reports the Washington Post, “drivers with points on their licenses–a speeding ticket usually earns four points–will be hit for $75 for every point above eight and $100 for having that many points in the first place.”
State legislators who sponsored Virginia’s stiff new penalties say they’re out to make the roads safer, but admit that their main objective is funding highway repairs. “My job as a delegate is to make people slow down and build some roads,” said David Albo, a Republican state representative.
It isn’t just budget-mad Americans. Even the land of Mad Max and the Tasmanian Devil is getting tough on speeders.
“Many people seem to believe that driving five, 10 or even 15 kilometers per hour [three, six or nine mph] over the limit is acceptable,” says Jim Cox, Infrastructure Minister for the Australian province of Tasmania. “For a pedestrian hit by a car, an additional [three mph] can literally mean the difference between life and death.” Fines for speeding will be raised by 300 percent.
OK, so speed kills. But when zealots like Cox say things like this–“research shows that even a one km/hr [six-tenths of one mile per hour] reduction in speed can result in a three per cent reduction in crashes”–you’ve got to wonder whether he’s been smoking too much eucalyptus.
Virginia courts are bracing for an onslaught of angry drivers forced to fight their tickets. “For someone who’s living near the poverty line, or even making $30,000,” said Fairfax attorney Todd G. Petit, draconian fees of over $1,000 have “a significant impact” that could lead to them losing their license and job. “It’s basically the Lawyer Full Employment Act,” chortled another happy member of the bar.
My friends have learned from my experience. Since every violation brings you a single ticket away from license revocation, challenging them in court is the smart way to go.
No one marches to demand a healthcare system as good as Mexico’s, but sky-high speeding fines have awakened America’s long-dormant spirit of rebellion. Virginia legislators say their offices have been “deluged by angry calls and e-mail from constituents threatening to vote them out of office.” Robert Marshall, a Republican delegate says: “You have no idea how angry people are.” Who knows? Maybe people will begin protesting the Iraq War.
Though the correlation between speeding and highway fatality rates is well established, fining speeders more than drugged drivers is disproportionate to the social impact of the offense. On the other hand, there’s no denying the deterrent effect. I pay a lot more attention to speed limit signs.

July 31, 2007

Homeland Security Boat Ride
Posted by Susan Stark

The ferry that runs from Staten Island to Manhattan and back is undeniably one the greatest free boat rides in the world, if not THE greatest. It provides a stunning view of the New York Harbor, from the Verrazano Bridge connecting Staten Island with Brooklyn and defining the border between the harbor and the ocean, to the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Tourists from all over the world experience this ride, as well as locals looking for a cheap, fun activity. But the ferry is also an absolute necessity for the 70,000 Staten Islanders who commute to Manhattan to work each day.

And ever since that fateful day six years ago on the 11th of September, the ferry experience has suffered.

For Staten Islanders like myself, we have a painful reminder of the missing Twin Towers, because they used to be the first thing we saw of Manhattan when coming down to the ferry terminal. Now we only see the absence of them.

After the attacks, the ferry was suspended for ordinary traffic, and only “essential personnel” where allowed into Manhattan (rescue workers, policemen, firemen, etc.). It wasn’t until the following Monday, on the 17th, that the ferry was open to foot traffic again.

But, in a certain way, the Staten Island Ferry is still suspended. The carefree boat ride isn’t what it used to be.

It started with the unfortunate but necessary suspension of car-ferry service, in which Islanders and other New Yorkers could drive their vehicles onto the ferry and across the water. Fear of car bombs put a stop to that. Car-ferry service has not resumed.

Worse, as far as I’m concerned, is the banning of musicians on the ferry. We used to have performers come on the ferry, much in the same way the subway still does today. Now they’re not allowed, allegedly because passengers wouldn’t be able to hear announcements over the PA system. However, I don’t ever remember the music being so loud that we couldn’t hear the loudspeaker. That enjoyment is a casualty of September 11th.

Another troublesome difference was the installation of security cameras on the boat. Apologists would say that, like the car-ferry and musician ban, this protects us. But I feel like I’m in a department store rather than on a free ferry ride, with roving little cameras fixing their beady little black eyes on me. In any case, the cameras aren’t much use against a terrorist, except for maybe identifying what happened after the act of terror occured, assuming the cameras weren’t disabled either before or after.

And if the musician ban and department-store cameras weren’t bad enough, there is the Coast Guard. I shouldn’t ever regret the presence of the Coast Guard, because of their search-and-rescue training. But on the little Coast Guard boat that escorts the ferry occasionally, there’s a wicked-looking semi-automatic perched up right were it can swivel and shoot a ferry passenger at will. Ostensibly, any shot-down ferry passenger will be a terrorist, but mistakes can be made, and innocent bystanders can be hit instead.

And, to top it all off, just last week I was on the ferry listening to my radio, when an NYPD helicopter decided to trail the boat, loud enough to drown out what I was listening to. I was outside on the top deck, so I got a pretty good view of the helicopter circling around the boat. Finally it “faced” me and started moving sideways, like some weird, flying crab. Presumably there might have been a reason for it’s presence, but if anything was happening on the boat, I don’t see what good a helicopter could’ve done.

I always believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and sensible precautions such as banning cars and using dogs to inspect bags and packages are necessary. The rest of it, unfortunately, is just a lessening of enjoyment and a waste of the taxpayers’ money.

July 30, 2007

Dawg Picnic
posted by TheDon

On Sunday, my rescue group had our annual alumni picnic honoring our founder. It’s a fund-raiser which raised almost $7,000 this year, despite a really serious threat of major storms. I spent most of Saturday grilling the burgers and dogs, wrapping them in foil packs suitable for re-heating over the grills in the park we used for the party. On Sunday I kept the bun-fillers (including veggie burgers, natch) hot and ready to eat as the crowd kept rolling in. We raffled off a set of Air Tran “tickets to anywhere”, won by a very lucky contestant. OK, it was Mrs. TheDon. I swear it wasn’t rigged, to the best of my knowledge. Really. I think.
Our founder, Bren, was a one-of-a-kind person. She was a successful local artist who took the money she made from selling her art, and from gentrifying a house in the city, and bought a house in the sticks to do rescue. The house had a daylight basement, and she filled it with dogs – sometimes as many as 50 at a time. She would load up the mini-van and go into Atlanta, taking applications from potential adopters. She gained and lost volunteers on a regular basis, but slowly built up a core group of people who have been the heart of the group for a long time. I met her early in 1999.
Over the years she developed ways of identifying the best homes for dogs, with the goal of finding a permanent home which would care for the dog under all circumstances. She developed techniques for dealing with dogs who were flight risks, who were potential biters, who had medical problems – you name it, she figured out a way to deal with it. She loved the dogs.
Bren attracted people with her love of dogs, her personal charm, her intelligence, her wicked sense of humor, and her knowledge of all things canine. For many of the volunteers, she was the first lesbian they had met, and the first atheist. She opened a lot of minds on a lot of subjects. She wasn’t always the easiest person to love, but if you cared about dogs she was always ready to work with you.
In March of 2004, Bren lost her decade-long battle with cancer, but is still with our group in every other way which matters. She left most of her estate to the rescue group she founded, and we have a nice, professional facility to show for it. Her rules are our rules, and if she could visit us now she would be proud and amazed. She taught me everything I know about dog rescue, and is the biggest reason that I am still in rescue.
I miss her less than I used to, but could cry for her after writing this post. I hope you are all lucky enough to meet someone as passionate and caring as she was. I hope you get to keep her in your life longer than I did.

July 30, 2007

Today’s Cartoon: “The Semantics of Torture”

The CIA says it will use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees in its secret prisons, but won’t say what they are. Your thoughts?

July 28, 2007

Cartoon Comments: “Good Things About the Iraq War”

If you have anything to say about today’s cartoon, here’s the place to post a comment!

July 28, 2007
TNN – Headline News
Posted by TheDon
Here at Ted’s News Network, it’s the weekend, so we’re polishing up our mastery of the obvious. A quick glance around the internets brings us today’s DOG BITES MAN stories. I call these products of “reporting” and “investigation” The Least Surpising Headlines:

Bush civil rights nominee under fire

New Study Shows (Wall Street) Analysts Getting Favors

U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia
TNN note – How many of these weapons will end up killing US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, or people around the world for that matter?

Suicide Attack and Protests Over Red Mosque Reopening

Scientists’ Tests Hack Into Electronic Voting Machines in California and Elsewhere

Recalled Canned Foods Continue to Be Found on Grocery Shelves

L.A. official steered work to relatives
Nearly $800,000 in contracts, often with inflated prices, went to family and firms with political ties, data show.

Frederic Von Anhalt Found Naked in Car
Ok, that one’s gratuitous, but predictable and funny.

Stay tuned to TNN for more unsuprising headlines!

Bush Dishonest
Tony Snow Evasive
Top Al-Qaeda Leader Killed In Iraq
Suicide Bombers In Iraq
Democrats Fail To Stop War
Progress Seen In Iraq
Top Al-Qaeda Leader Killed In Iraq
Troops To Stay In Iraq
Pat Tillman Was Murdered
Alberto Gonzales Lies To Congress
Top Al-Qaeda Leader Killed In Iraq
Print the list, and cross them off when you see the actual headline. When you have crossed them all off, send it in to TNN – Headline News. First completed entry wins a completely predictable prize!

July 27, 2007

Cartoon Commentary Thread

A very cool reader recently suggested that I set up the Rallblog to allow people to post their comments about it. I’m in the middle of revamping this site, but I’m not sure this is a good idea. As an interim test, however, I’m going to post a few cartoons and see how it goes. So here’s Thursday’s cartoon. If you have something to say, post your comment here. I’ll post Saturday’s toon up as well.

July 27, 2007

Where Are the Righties Now?

The sound of crickets chirping…that’s what you hear when I do cartoons mocking Nancy Pelosi and a particularly P.C. NAACP “burial” of the “N-word.” But when I do something that pisses them off (i.e., about their sainted soldiers, which is weird considering that no one’s stopping them from enlisting, you know?), they follow Michelle Malkin off into ban-them-all send-em-to-Gitmo land. Right-wingers cherrypick their outrage, never tempering their reaction with an acknowledgement that, as an editorial commentator I’m an equal opportunity offender who takes on the left as much as the right.

Then there’s the other Big Silence–the Republican reaction to a well-sourced argument that decimates their shibboleths. I expected a big reaction to this week’s column. After all, in just 1400 words I left the Heritage Foundation’s much-vaunted claim that US soldiers are at least as well educated and wealthy as the average Joe and Jane twisting in the statistical winds. I know the right-wing bloggers read it–I have the software to track that–but they decided not to say boo.

At least I’m honest. When right-wingers are right, I say so. Unfortunately, too many partisans–on all sides of the American political debate–simply put their hands over their ears and pretend that countervailing evidence never existed.

July 27, 2007

TGIF – Terror Cheese edition!
posted by TheDon

Sadly, it’s not even news that the TSA planted phony terror stories to distract the news media from bad administration news. I will admit that I was initially worried about blocks of cheese with wires inside them. That sounds like real terrorist dry runs, and that was the point of planting that lie. The fact that the cheese had no wires in it or even particularly near it, and that “cell phone components” in this case meant a wall charger didn’t make the initial story. I guess I’m still not cynical enough about this administration, but in my defense, we really are in uncharted waters here.
Toast the TSA with a plate of cheese, and one of these:
Red Alert
Fill a highball glass halfway with ice, and pour in a small Red Bull.
Add 3 oz vokda
Add 2 oz pomegranate juice
stir, enjoy!

July 27, 2007

AAEC Convention Photos, Pt. 1:
Posted by Mikhaela Reid

The Cartoonists With Attitude crew was out in full force at the 50th Anniversary Convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (of which organization Ted is Vice President) earlier this month. I had 200+ photos, which I’ve cut down quite a bit and divided into sets. Here’s the first bit (which you can also watch as a slideshow):

AAEC banquet afterparty

AAEC banquet afterparty: Brian McFadden, Masheka Wood, Mikhaela Reid, Ted Rall, Kate Salley Palmer

Brian McFadden makes a fist; Keith Knight picks his nose AAEC banquet afterpartyEngaged cartoonists Mikhaela Reid and Masheka Wood at the AAEC Banquet

Brian McFadden makes a fist; Keith Knight picks his nose at the AAEC banquet afterparty; Engaged cartoonists Mikhaela Reid and Masheka Wood at the AAEC banquet

Ted Rall and Tim Eagan at the AAEC Closing BanquetJP Trostle Vandalizes the Signage at the AAEC Hospitality Suite

Ted Rall and Tim Eagan at the AAEC banquet; JP Trostle Vandalizes the Signage at the AAEC Hospitality Suite

Joel Pett and Stephanie McMillanMatt Bors, Masheka Wood and Ben Smith at the AAEC banquetKeith Knight and Masheka Wood at the AAEC Banquet

Joel Pett and Stephanie McMillan; Matt Bors, Masheka Wood and August Pollak; Keith Knight and Masheka Wood

Cartoonists With Attitude Partial Group Photo at the AAEC Banquet

Cartoonists With Attitude Partial Group Photo at the AAEC Banquet (Back row L to R: Mikhaela Reid, Brian McFadden, August Pollak, Keith Knight, Ben Smith;
Front row L to R: Jen Sorensen, Matt Bors, Ruben Bolling)

Democratic Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich and wife Elizabeth Kucinich at the AAEC Banquet

Democratic Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich and wife Elizabeth Kucinich at the AAEC Banquet

As you can see, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was our banquet guest speaker. I have to admit that as much as I’ve been a big fan of Kucinich’s positions on pretty much everything, I was in such a hyped up mood (perhaps a result of sharing one small hotel suite with 5 other cartoonists for four days) that I didn’t really pay attention to his speech.

Coming up: coverage of AAEC and CWA panels and signings, etc.

Crossposted at The Boiling Point.