Archive for October, 2008

Cartoon for October 30, 2008

October 30, 2008

As everyone argues about who’s to blame for the mess, the economy continues to implode. I know, I know–this isn’t a party-line take. To which I say, I’m not a party-line guy.

Fix the thing first. Jail CEOs second.

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Don’t Think About Reelection

October 29, 2008

Why Obama Should Consider Himself a One-Term President

Barring some unforeseen cataclysmic event, Barack Obama will be elected president Tuesday. Please allow me to be the first to congratulate you, President-Elect Obama, on an historic victory following an extraordinarily disciplined campaign. Are you sure you’re really a Democrat?

Enough BSing.

As a student of history and the American presidency and a guy who plans to vote for you despite serious doubts, here’s the best advice I can give you: Starting on Inauguration Day, consider yourself a one-term president.

This isn’t exactly an original idea. When John McCain launched his own run for the Republican nomination, he originally planned to center his entire campaign around a promise not to seek a second term. “Less than a day before he was set to speak in New Hampshire on April 25,” The Atlantic magazine reported, “McCain ordered his aides to excise…the pledge.” But McCain was on to something. Voters want a president who isn’t constantly triangulating, studying polls, and sucking up to contributors.

I realize that telling anyone you’re a one-termer would be dumb. Why tie your own hands by declaring yourself a lame duck on Day One? So don’t.

I’m suggesting that you privately adopt a state of mind. Back in 2007, you laid out three guiding principles to your campaign: “Run the campaign with respect; build it from the bottom up; and finally, no drama.” It worked. Now it’s time to transmit a new guiding principle to your cabinet officers: “We don’t care about 2012.”

With one exception, I’ve never understood why presidents worry about getting reelected. The “second-term curse”–the tendency of lame-duck presidencies to flounder in scandal, blowback and impotence–has prevented every modern president from accomplishing anything worth bragging about during years five through eight.

Harry Truman squandered his credibility by playing footsie with McCarthyism and doubling down on a disastrous stalemate on the Korean peninsula. Johnson screwed up in Vietnam and on the burning streets of American cities. Nixon had Watergate; Eisenhower and Reagan succumbed to virtual senility and scandal (the U-2 spy plane affair and Iran-Contra, respectively). Of course, Clinton had Monica.

The exception, of course, was George W. Bush. His quest for a second term was understandable. “Bush knows that he did not carry the popular vote in 2000,” Gus Tyler wrote in The Forward in 2003. “He ran a half-million votes behind Democrat Al Gore. He knows that he really did not carry Florida to give him his thin edge in the Electoral College.” Dubya wanted to win in 2004 because he lost in 2000.

Technically, 2005-to-2008 was Bush’s first term. Nevertheless, the second-term curse struck again. Bush had an ambitious agenda, but it was thwarted by both circumstance and the consequences of policies he pursued during his first four years. Privatizing Social Security, tort reform, stricter test standards for high school graduation–all abandoned and forgotten in the fires of Iraq and the maelstrom of Hurricane Katrina. Bush’s approval rating is now 23 percent, the lowest in the history of the Gallup Poll. He wasn’t even invited to the Republican National Convention. He seems destined to be added to the short list of our worst leaders.

So forget that second term. They never do anyone any good.

George Clinton said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” Give up the hope you can’t believe in and embrace the reality you have already achieved.

So, President-Elect Obama: It’s true. You face challenges: Iraq and Afghanistan (which you are wrong wrong wrong about) and torture and our international standing and–obviously!–the economy. But think of what you’ve got going for you. You are young and sharp-minded and vigorous. The electorate is desperately worried, and thus more willing to embrace big changes. Your party will enjoy a commanding majority in Congress–I’m guessing 58 seats in the Senate and 268 (to 167) in the House, the biggest since Watergate. I’m pretty sure you’re going to pick a team of top officials that will make Americans wonder how they ever tolerated intellectual midgets like Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice–the Best and the Brightest for the new millennium. The rest of the world already loves you, and you haven’t even begun.

But be careful. The second you move into 1600 Penn, you will be surrounded by people, many of them your close friends, who will want nothing more than to keep the cool jobs you give them for as long as possible, i.e. eight years. Beware the “permanent campaign”–the drive to make every decision based on how they will affect you and your party’s chances for reelection. “[Pollster] Dick Morris even asked voters where Bill Clinton should go on vacation,” remembered Joe Klein in Time.

“[The permanent campaign] has been a terrible thing,” Klein continued. “Presidents need to be thinking past the horizon, as Jimmy Carter belatedly proved. Some of his best decisions–a strict monetary policy to combat inflation, a vigorous arms buildup against the Soviet threat–bore fruit years after he left office and were credited to his successor, Ronald Reagan.”

Radical problems require radical solutions. Guess what? We have radical problems. Your kids-only healthcare mandate concept would be a Band-Aid where major surgery is required. Iraq and Afghanistan don’t need another division of Marines here, another detachment of Special Forces there. Nothing short of immediate pullout will satisfy the world, our ruined national budget or, for that matter, the Iraqis and Afghans. Your 90-day proposed moratorium on foreclosure evictions is nice as far as it goes–well, 90 days–but it’s going to take years of direct government assistance to millions of Americans to save the country from economic disintegration.

Even with a bully pulpit and a Democratic Congress, it’s going to take some serious nads to ignore the special interests. Big insurance companies like the current healthcare “system” just the way it is. Defense contractors are psyched about our serial preemptive wars against anyone and everyone (except those who actually attack us). And the banks aren’t going to stop taking people’s homes unless you take over the banks. It isn’t going to be easy.

But running the country as if you had nothing to lose–running your first term as if it you knew it will be your last–will make it a little easier. For all you know, it might make a second term more likely.


A Totally Irrelevant Quote

October 27, 2008

From Mark Mazower’s “Hitler’s Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe”:

The early 1940s are thus a prime example of how the violence of war—especially when short-sighted and ideologically driven political leadership is combined with overwhelming military superiority—may lead to an almost limitless escalation in the use of force and a constant revision of rules and norms. The Nazis embraced the idea of pre-emptive war and did not regard themselves as generally bound by international law; as a result, only their own ethical constraints (which intense racial nationalism weakened where non-Germans were concerned) set limits to what they regarded themselves as justified in doing. Yet if war allowed the regime to conquer territory, it was also a means—as Hitler himself well understood—to change the Germans and their values.

Totally irrelevant.

Cartoon for October 27, 2008

October 27, 2008

McCain must have amazing powers of persuasion to convince crowds of poor people to cheer his call for him, as a multimillionaire, to pay fewer taxes at their expense.

Cartoon for October 25, 2008

October 25, 2008

As you’ve no doubt heard, “Joe the Plumber” turns out to be yet another Republican fraud–not a plumber, not named Joe, doesn’t even pay taxes. I’ve long been fascinated by poor conservatives who don’t want rich people to be taxed in case they someday become rich themselves–even though their politics will prevent them from ever becoming rich themselves.

Portland Radio Interview with Greg Palast, Lloyd Dangle, et al.

October 23, 2008

I was interviewed on Portland radio this morning. You can listen to the online.

BBC News in Spanish

October 23, 2008

There’s an interview with me and several other U.S. editorial cartoonists on the BBC’s Spanish-language website. Scroll to the middle of the page and click the cartoon graphic.

THIS WEEK’S COLUMN: President Obama—Shut Down This Camp!

October 23, 2008

Next President Should Shut Gitmo on January 20

* Camp has become its own raison d’être
* Hundreds locked in legal limbo
* Jerking around detainees and their families
* Gesture would resonate around the globe

François Mitterand brought civilization to France. One of his first acts as president was to end the death penalty. A guy named Philippe Maurice had his date with the guillotine cancelled.

Amazing but true: the country that gave the world “The Rights of Man” was still lopping off heads in 1981.

Fortunately, things change. Other countries followed France’s lead. Today, just a quarter century later, fewer than a quarter of the world’s nations still carry out capital punishment. Nations that do can’t get into the European Union.

Our next president–probably Barack Obama–has a similar opportunity to create a transformative moment toward a fully civilized United States. I’m not talking about abolishing executions, though that is long overdue. President Obama (or McCain) should close Guantánamo.

Not after appointing a commission to look into it. Not after finding a nation willing to take the detainees. Like Mitterand, he should do it immediately.

After years of denial, Bush Administration officials now admit that hundreds of men and children–as young as 13!–have been tortured and otherwise abused at Gitmo. Inmates were penned up in dog cages, denied exercise, and waterboarded.

One guard vehemently denied urinating on a prisoner’s Koran. His defense? “The guard had left his observation area post and went outside to urinate,” according to a Defense Department report. “He urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into the [prisoner’s cell].” You see, he wasn’t trying to pee on the Koran. He was trying to pee on the prisoner. His urine stream had inadvertently splashed off the man onto the book.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the inmates–who’d been sold to U.S. troops by Afghan warlords, locked up for years without being accused of anything, denied access to an attorney or their families, denied most of all of hope–freaked out. Some hung themselves. Others went on hunger strike. The military’s response? Suicide, they said, was a diabolically clever act of “asymmetrical warfare.” They strapped the hunger strikers into special chairs, pried open their jaws and jammed feeding tubes down their throats so roughly that they vomited blood.

Most of this kind of fun, the government claims, no longer happens at Club Gitmo. But there’s no way to verify that. Reporters and human rights groups are denied access to the facility and its misérables. Wherever there’s a secret, there’s something to hide. Like the detainees, Guantánamo should be presumed guilty until it is proven innocent.

Life at Guantánamo has entered a weird second phase. Originally dedicated to the forceful extraction of information about impending terrorist attacks, prisoner interrogations now torture inmates in order to obtain information on activities within the camp itself. “The primary focus is the safety of the detainees as well as the detainee guard force, and that’s why we have this intelligence activity,” said the camp’s commander, Navy Rear Admiral David Thomas in August. In other words, the circumstances of the prisoners’ incarceration necessitate further incarceration.

Kafka would have loved it. We keep them in Gitmo, not to keep us safe, but to keep Gitmo itself safe.

As anyone who has spent time behind bars will attest, uncertainty is worse than abuse. Bruises heal; urine dries. Not knowing whether you will ever again be free to walk down a street, sit in a café or hug your children is constant torment. You deaden your emotions in order to survive, wondering whether you’ll ever be able to get them back.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of America’s premier gulag, however, is its use and abuse of military and civilian courts to jerk around inmates and their families. The quasi-judicial system set up to process the detainees is itself a paragon of psychological torture characterized by sadistic glee and aggressive indifference.

There is, of course, the case of the Uyghurs, Muslims who live in China’s far west Xinjiang province, which is part of Central Asia. I was one of the first American commentators to champion their cause. Guantánamo’s Uyghurs are members of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), encouraged by U.S.-financed Radio Free Asia to rise up against Chinese occupation. They obtained weapons training at camps in neighboring Afghanistan. After 9/11, however, China threatened to use its U.N. security council veto to stop the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan unless the Bush Administration threw its pet Uyghurs under the bus.

The U.S. promptly reversed its policy, not only declaring ETIM an officially-designated “terrorist organization,” but agreeing to dispatch its leaders to Guantánamo. Bush even invited officers from China’s Ministry of State Security to interrogate the Uyghurs at Gitmo, softening them up with torture before the Chinese arrived.

The Uyghur prisoners cooperated with interrogators. The Pentagon concluded they weren’t anti-American. “[The Uyghurs] were transferred to Guantánamo more than six years ago and were cleared for release in 2004,” according to Newsweek.

Proven innocent, the U.S. has kept them at Gitmo for the last four years. They can’t go back to China. Why? “The U.S. government credibly feared they would be tortured.” Well, they would know.

Except for Albania, which agreed to take five Uyghurs in 2006, other countries don’t want to validate Guantánamo by accepting those released through its illegal military tribunal system. “The Bush Administration has conceded that none of the Uyghurs is an enemy combatant,” reports Newsweek. A federal judge ruled that 17 Uyghur detainees be freed from Gitmo and brought to the United States. And that should have been that.

But when it comes to Gitmo, that is never that.

Government lawyers persuaded an appeals court to stay the ruling, arguing that the 17 Uyghurs are dangerous. Get this–they’re dangerous to America because, the Justice Department argues in court documents, the Uyghurs “were detained for six years by the country [the U.S.] to which the district court has ordered them brought.” They may not have hated America before–but they might now.

This week the Pentagon decided not to pursue charges against five other Gitmo prisoners. Apparently government prosecutors were afraid that the trials–even those conducted by the military’s kangaroo courts–would publicize how people are treated at America’s Devil’s Island. “They have been cornered into doing this to avoid admitting torture,” said Claire Algar, executive director of the legal group Reprieve.

So the lucky five go free, right? Wrong. “There are no plans to free any of the men, and the military said it could reinstate charges later,” writes the Associated Press.

Bush, it came out recently, “never considered proposals” to close Gitmo. Both Obama and McCain say they want to shut it down, but neither has said when. Their reticence stems from the mentality expressed by a Bush Administration official: “The new president will gnash his teeth and beat his head against the wall when he realizes how complicated it is to close Guantánamo.”

There is nothing complicated about it. Gitmo is useless. It’s evil. It–and the secret detentions at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere–have destroyed America’s reputation far too long.


EARLY RELEASE: Cartoon for October 23, 2008

October 21, 2008

I’m releasing Thursday’s cartoon early because of its newsworthiness and because my syndicate’s online division has decided not to release it on its official website.

I know that some readers, particularly supporters of John McCain, will be offended by my referencing of a classic 1931 Life magazine photo of an Indiana lynching which shocked the nation. However, I believe it is fair to call McCain, Palin and their campaign for their dangerous tolerance of intolerance among some of their supporters.

At a number of their campaign rallies, attendees have shouted comments like “kill him!” and “terrorist!” and “treason!” about Barack Obama. Now, as my readers know, I have been sharply critical of Obama and will continue to criticize him and his policies as I see fit in the future. Furthermore, I am well aware that crazy people show up anywhere and everywhere, and that the McCain-Palin campaign is not responsible for the random hateful comments of some of their supporters.

It is shocking, however, that neither candidate is willing to tell racists that their support—and attendance at rallies—is not wanted. When McCain, and especially Palin and their surrogates, hear these comments, they are silent. This amounts to tacit consent. When they appear on television to answer questions about hate speech at their rallies, both of them deflect. They do not directly confront the issue by saying, as they should have said at their rallies: “Bigots and racists are not welcome in our campaign or the Republican Party. We do not want their votes or their support.”

Instead, at the third presidential debate, McCain responded to Obama:

Let me just say categorically I’m proud of the people that come to our rallies. Whenever you get a large rally of 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people, you’re going to have some fringe people. You know that. I’ve and we’ve always said that that’s not appropriate.

But to somehow say that group of young women who said “Military wives for McCain” are somehow saying anything derogatory about you, but anything—and those veterans that wear those hats that say “World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq,” I’m not going to stand for people saying that the people that come to my rallies are anything but the most dedicated, patriotic men and women that are in this nation and they’re great citizens.

And I’m not going to stand for somebody saying that because someone yelled something at a rally—there’s a lot of things that have been yelled at your rallies, Senator Obama, that I’m not happy about either.

In fact, some T-shirts that are very unacceptable.

In other words, says McCain, calling racists to account is tantamount to insulting war veterans. And he dares to compare his supporters’ calls—calls he didn’t speak out against at the time–for Obama’s assassination to T-shirts (he didn’t say what he didn’t like about the shirts).

I was only three months old on November 22, 1963, but I am reminded of historical accounts of the hateful atmosphere that had poisoned Dallas before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. McCain and Palin are playing with fire. I am calling them out for their drive to win at any cost—including that of our national soul.

Before releasing this cartoon, I searched archives of editorial cartoons to see if anyone else had done anything else similar. Apparently, no one else has. I don’t know why—the idea seemed obvious to me. And it needs to be said.

Now let’s see how many newspapers have the guts to print this.

Letter to NYT Book Review

October 20, 2008

The New York Times reviewed Feiffer’s latest book (a collection of his early Village Voice cartoons) yesterday. The good news is, it was on the cover, it was comics, and Feiffer is great (and a big influence on me). The bad news is, the review was written by someone who obviously doesn’t know much about the subject.
So I’ve written them the following Letter to the Editor. Don’t hold your breath seeing it in print:

To the Editors:
You wouldn’t assign the review of a political memoir to a writer who doesn’t know much about politics. You wouldn’t let a food writer tackle a history book. So why didn’t you respect Jules Feiffer’s collection of early cartoons (“The Explainers”) enough to get a person who knows a lot about political cartooning?

David Kamp’s review was favorable, and it ought to have been–“The Explainers” is a great collection of cartoons by a highly influential artist. He clearly did the best he could. But his attempt to fit Feiffer’s work into a broad cultural context was as embarrassing as watching Sarah Palin discuss foreign policy. He was clearly out of his depth–which ill serves your readers.

“You also detect portents of Art Spiegelman, Mark Alan Stamaty and the entire graphic novel genre,” Kamp writes. One can only wince. Hasn’t he been to the graphic novel section of a bookstore? There’s no such thing as a “graphic novel genre”–any more than there is a “newspaper genre.” Graphic novels are a printing format–perfect-bound books with comics in them; they’re novels and novellas and short strips and manga and alternative comix and war correspondency and superheroes and romance and, well, anything.

Anyway, Feiffer’s great influence isn’t on graphic novelists. His example launched scores of wordy, multi-panel cartoonists who work in the alternative weeklies–artists like Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling, Lloyd Dangle and Tim Krieder (none of whose collections ever get reviewed in the Book Review)—as well as text-oriented comic strips from “Doonesbury” to “Bloom County.”

Let me give you a hint. When a reviewer spends two-thirds of the word count paraphrasing and quoting a book’s intro, it’s a hint that he or she doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about.

There are a number of fine academics who specialize in the field of political cartooning. For that matter, there are a number of working political cartoonists who–like Feiffer–are superb writers. Why not ask one to review political cartoon books for you?

Contempt for the profession of political cartooning appears to be accelerating at The Times. First is the fact that you’re one of the few big-city daily newspapers that doesn’t employ a staff cartoonist (or two) for your editorial pages. It isn’t lost on cartoonists or their millions of fans that, if every paper followed The Times’ dismal example, there wouldn’t be any Feiffers.

Earlier this year, when The New Yorker’s cover of the Obamas’ “fist bump” sparked controversy, your reporter interviewed late-night comics and comedians. You didn’t bother to interview a single political cartoonist–you know, someone who actually knows about political cartoons. “The Week of Review,” which before 9/11 was a national showcase of some of the nation’s more interesting political cartoons, has been shrunk down, degraded to one-panel “Laugh Lines” presented next to gags by, again, late-night TV comedians.

If there is no place for serious-minded political art in the pages of The Times, how about serious book criticism?

Ted Rall
President, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists