Archive for January, 2009

Unimpressed in Advance

January 20, 2009

Like all sane people, I am relieved that that worthless shit-for-brains is leaving office tomorrow. It wasn’t always certain, you know. After he all, he did steal the presidency in the first place.

But I am not likely to be thrilled by Obama, either. Tomorrow, we will no doubt hear an excellent speech, maybe even a great one. We will also read about some presidential executive orders, including one to close Gitmo, that will give cause for optimism to many Americans.

But it shouldn’t.

Pretty words are nice, but the facts belie them. Every indication is that Obama is a DINO–Democrat in name only. His cabinet, which doesn’t contain a single liberal, makes centrist Bill Clinton look like a Marxist in comparison. Conservatives and centrists are not going to be able to deliver the radical solutions needed to solve our many radical problems.

Obama’s economic program only promises to create 4 million jobs by 2011–when we will have lost about 29 million at current projections. By 2011, if Obama gets his way, we will be in a deep, deep Depression. We will be lucky if the country still exists in its present form if that happens.

The Gitmo closing is nice, but Obama doesn’t plan to prosecute those who ordered the torture and other war crimes that occurred there. Moreover, he doesn’t plan to release all the inmates. Gitmo could stay open another year or more. The CIA secret prisons could stay open. CIA torturers won’t be prosecuted. Neither will Bush and Cheney, who ordered it personally.

You get the idea.

Pretty words. Not much meat.

Don’t be taken in. Take it out–to the streets. Now, more than ever, is the time for intelligent Americans to speak out and be heard.

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Dear President Obama: You Have A Choice

January 19, 2009

by Susan Stark

This is a sincere and heartfelt open letter to you, Mr. Obama. A letter addressed to a man who is quite obviously a deep thinker, and with an incredibly focused and disciplined will. And someone who I wouldn’t bother with if I didn’t think that he had the ability to change things for the better and save an entire country.

Since you won the election on November 4th, there have many people in the media and otherwise, telling you what to do in your first weeks of office. I could tell you what to do as well, like any other of the millions of bloggers and columnists and other media figures in the world, but would it do me any good?

In Buddhism, there is a teaching that the mind is the greatest of inhibitors to enlightenment, mainly because of the illusions and deceptions that the mind allows itself to entertain. I am certainly no Buddhist master, but I can certainly see the wisdom in that.

Being that I’m not in your physical presence on a regular basis, I can only base my evaluation of you by your actions (and really, is there no better barometer to judge a person?). And based upon your actions so far, I can conclude that you are under the snare of an incredibly powerful illusion. And that is:

You believe that this country, the United States of America, can continue as it has been; that it can continue along the course it has been taking. That it can take and take and take, without giving anything in return. That it can ignore the ordinary people of the world as if they were so much rubbish–that they are just pawns on a chessboard. That is a delusion. A deception. An illusion. And I think that somewhere along the line, the young community activist that still exists in you knows that I’m right.

And since that idealistic community organizer still exists in you, the one that truly wants to make difference, I am going to give you my own advice, and it is not the advice those talking heads and blow-hards on cable TV, and those financially failing newspapers, are giving you.

This is what you need to realize:

NUMBER ONE.

Imperialism Is Dead. The days when this country could do anything it wanted to do, when it wanted to do it, are OVER WITH. Finished. Caput. Dead. We can’t afford it anymore. We are in debt up to our hairline. You need to realize this before you realize anything else. We are not an Empire any more. We have lost Latin America. We have lost Russia. And we never had China to begin with. And we are losing Africa to China. And what’s more, we’ve lost the Middle East, even though it doesn’t look like it. We’ve lost it, and we need to withdraw our troops from the area. It costs more money to maintain troops over there than the value of the oil in the ground that we’re “protecting”. The United States can still be a force in the world, but not as an Empire. It’s over with, Mr. Obama, and that’s that. All of this means that we need stop pretending that Hugo Chavez is our enemy, and that we need to stop the proxy oil wars with Russia and China. Which leads me to

NUMBER TWO.

We need to wean ourselves off of oil and gas, as much as humanly possible. That means trains. We have millions of miles of train tracks that are not currently being used as passenger transport. They need to be turned over to that use. We need buses. We need trains. We need hybrid vehicles. We need trains. We need hydrogen fuel. We need trains. We need solar and electric. We need trains. And we can get people back to work again setting up these post-petroleum infrastructures.

NUMBER THREE.

You have emphasized jobs in rebuilding infrastructure. I agree. But that is not enough to get this country back into shape again. We need to start MAKING THINGS AGAIN. During the 80’s and 90’s and 00’s, there was massive job loss in the manufacturing sector, because companies could take their factories elsewhere for cheaper labor. This trend must be reversed, or we will not recover economically. And, we must hire US Citizens in this endeavor; they cannot be foreigners on work visas (no more cheating on this, Mr. Obama). And any factory owner who shuts down his or her plant from now on will have their property confiscated and the workers put back to work in the same plant. No more layoffs in manufacturing. And, we need not go back to the days when manufacturing was a big, polluting mess. We can provide incentives for environmental controls. And there’s nothing like building train cars, buses, hybrid vehicles, solar panels, and more recycling plants to get this country moving in the right direction. Lastly, we can also set up cottage industries like soap-making and pottery, etc.

So what are you going to do, President Obama? If you refuse to take my advice, then the ordinary people of the country might decide to take matters into their own hands and do what needs to be done themselves. The choice is yours.

Cartoon for January 19, 2009

January 19, 2009

My feelings about Bush’s politics are well-documented. As a political cartoonist, however, a subject like that only comes along once in a lifetime.

Cartoon for January 17, 2009

January 17, 2009

No one fears for the future of our once-great, now collapsing, country more than me. But if everything falls apart, Americans certainly won’t be able to claim it came out of nowhere.

Cartoon for January 15, 2009

January 15, 2009

Bush—er, Obama—can’t come up with $1 trillion to fill what Paul Krugman describes as a nearly $3 trillion hole. Yet he, and no one else, ever questions the wisdom of escalating our other doomed war, the one against the people of Afghanistan.

Archive Update

January 14, 2009

The key year of 2002 just went live. That includes “terror widows” and other post-9/11 treats. The archives go back to 1991. I still need to add 1995-2001, keyword tag 2004 and 2005, and replace pixelated JPEGs with clean versions.

Cartoonists Misderemember Bush

January 14, 2009

The Washington Post has a piece quoting cartoonists about what they’ll miss most about the Bush years–not as people, but as cartoonists.

And here I was thinking cartoonists were people.

Third-Hand Smoke Cartoon Comes to Life Ten Years Later

January 13, 2009

Ten years ago (sorry, it’s not in the archives yet, though I recently added 1994 and 2002), I did a cartoon about “third-hand smoke.” Now, it seems my silly idea is coming to life.

Coincidence? You Be the Judge

January 13, 2009

Last week’s Ted Rall column suggested that we follow Willie Sutton, and go where the money is by soaking the rich:

If broke consumers are the problem, shoveling money into their pockets is the way to get them spending again. Where do get it? The reason Willie Sutton robbed banks, he supposedly said, was because “that’s where the money is.” These days, the money is the hands of corporations and rich individuals.

Today’s New York Times has a column by staff columnist Bob Herbert entitled, of all things, “Where The Money Is”:

At some point, however, someone is going to have to talk about raising revenue. The dreaded T-word is going to come up: taxes. Well, there’s a good idea floating around that takes its cue from the legendary Willie Sutton. Why not go where the money is?

“Floating around.” Such an interesting way to put it.

Speaking of coincidences, Herbert goes on to suggest a stock transaction tax as the solution for raising money. That’s an idea that I’ve been promoting since 2004, when I published it in my book “Wake Up! You’re Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right.”

On the one hand, it could just be that two people independently came up with the same analogy at the same time. It happens. Or it could be that a writer who reads a lot of syndicated columns might have misremembered that what he thought was “his” idea really wasn’t. Not such a big deal, really, but kind of annoying considering that the “liberal” Times refuses to employ even one true leftie on its editorial staff. Considering that we lefties have been right about just about everything, and the moderates and conservatives wrong about just about everything, well…you know. It’s kind of annoying.

So what do you think? Coincidence? Or not?

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Oprah’s Book Snub

January 13, 2009

How Winfrey Elevates Lowbrow Tastes and Hurts Reading

Oprah’s Book Club, The New York Times wrote when the talk show queen revived it in 2005, is “a boon to authors and publishers.”

OBC has certainly been good for authors who lie and the greedy publishers who put out their books. Oprah’s first post-hiatus pick was James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” a memoir of substance abuse and rehab whose muscular Hemingway-lite style screamed inauthenticity. It also contained numerous fabrications.

Oprah wasn’t alone; Frey’s lies fooled many stalwarts in America’s state-controlled media. “As Frey takes pains to make clear, he was a particularly hard case–an omnivorous drinker, crack smoker and occasional drug dealer who was wanted in three states on outstanding charges,” wrote a Times reviewer who recommended the book. Neither Oprah’s staff nor the Times bothered to check whether criminal records verified his “harrowing” account. (They didn’t.)

Thanks to its placement on Oprah’s Book Club “Pieces” spent 15 weeks as a number one bestseller and generated at least $2.3 million in sales. When Oprah invited Frey back on the show to dress him down for lying, people winced at Frey’s humiliation. I hope he thanked her; it generated more sales.

Oprah narrowly dodged a bullet with another of her picks, the maudlin 1997 Holocaust memoir “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years,” by Misha Defonseca. This purported tale of a young Jewish girl who travels through Europe in search of her parents before being adopted by a pack of wolves, à la Romulus and Remus (!), turned out to be less than authentic. Quelle surprise. For one thing, “Misha”‘s real name was Monique de Wael. For another, she was Catholic, not Jewish. And she never left home. As for the wolves…well, you can guess how truthful that part was. In March 2008 Defonseca (née de Wael) admitted “is not actual reality, but was my reality, my way of surviving.”
Fortunately for Oprah, the truth came out before the show she taped urging her audience to buy “Misha” was released.

“The single greatest love story, in 22 years of doing this show, we’ve ever told on the air,” Oprah called a Holocaust-era romance (notice a trend?) between Herman Rosenblat and his wife Roma. The couple’s 1996 appearance on her show scored them deals for two books–leading to Oprah’s latest embarrassment. Herman’s story that his future wife had saved his life by tossing apples over a fence at Buchenwald were belied by historical accounts of the camp’s layout.

Before the truth caught up with them, the Rosenblats’ Oprah imprimatur also secured them a $25 million movie deal. The film is in production at this writing.
Oprah claims she was duped by greedy, lazy publishers. Yet her website still recommends the fake books by Frey and the Rosenblats. Even so, the problem isn’t Oprah’s credulousness. It’s that she has atrocious taste. That, and a platform for promoting her bad taste.

Books picked by Oprah’s Book Club sell in the millions. Once such title was Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel “The Road,” a plodding and vacuous depiction of phony connectivity between father and son after something terrible–we never learn what–has happened. (“The Man” and “The Boy,” he calls them. This passes for clever.) Like many of Oprah’s picks, and like many of the titles promoted such influential mainstream venues as The New York Times Book Review, it’s a book written in the form of a good book–spare prose, brooding tone, and who doesn’t love a good post-whatever societal meltdown tale?–that is not actually good.

An excerpt:

“Are we going to die?
Sometime. Not now.
And we’re still going south.
Yes.
So we’ll be warm.
Yes.
Okay.
Okay what?
Nothing. Just okay.
Go to sleep.
Okay.
I’m going to blow out the lamp. Is that okay?”

Sure, it’s okay. But only if you blow your brains out first. This tendentious crap won the friggin’ Pulitzer friggin’ Prize. It’s going to be a movie. McCarthy is gonna make millions. And he sucks.

To which one might ask: So what?

Los Angeles Times book editor David L. Ulin weighed in when the Frey scandal broke. “Whatever [Frey’s] intent, ‘A Million Little Pieces’ clearly moved many readers—Oprah included—or it wouldn’t have been as successful as it was,” he wrote. “Why did it elicit such an emotional response, and is that response rendered invalid if its source is revealed to be a lie?”

Yes. It is. Of course. Because the readers were fools to have fallen for such tripe in the first place. First of all, because it was obviously untrue and second, because the writing was so bad. The problem isn’t bad and dishonest writers. They can’t help themselves. The problem is that mainstream American culture is gullible, sentimental, and dumb.

No is more blameworthy for Americans’ stupidity than publishers and book reviewers who act as taste-makers. As in all creative pursuits, publishing exposure is a zero-sum game. Rising tides don’t lift all boats; anyway, they’re more like thrones than tides. A few titles suck the air out of the room as the rest wither and die due to lack of attention.

Each decision to review a bad book results in a better book going unreviewed, unnoticed, and its author unremunerated–and thus less likely to keep publishing. Each prize committee’s decision to grant an award to a bad book takes away praise that might otherwise have drawn acclaim and sales to a good one. When bad books do well, authors study what works in the marketplace and copy the formula–resulting in more bad books.

Readers who rely on popular hype to choose books often come away disappointed. A few may decide to deep deeper, but most won’t. Burned readers become non-readers.
A few years ago, I read Robert Fisk’s magesterial “The Great War for Civilisation–The Conquest of the Middle East,” in which the legendary war correspondent used a “Pulp Fiction”-like wrap-around structure to tie together personal and sweeping historical narratives of the West’s 20th century relationship with the Middle East to staggering effect. It’s a 1136-page monster, yet I savored every sentence.

Everyone I know who has read it came away with the same impression. Yet “The Great War” never made the bestsellers list. It languishes at #43,498 on Amazon, the victim of book reviewers and media mavens who chose to ignore it in favor of dull, sentimental crap, some of which isn’t even true. In case you were wondering, “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World” is #2 on The New York Times bestsellers list (non-fiction category, natch).

Imagine what the book world would look like if books like Fisk’s tome or my current favorite, George C. Herring’s monumental “From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776,” were an Oprah’s Book Club pick. Of course, that will never happen. Which is why, if Oprah truly cares about books, she’ll stop trusting herself and her tastes, and shut down her stupid book club.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL