Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Free the Troops

April 14, 2010 by  


The Case for Professionalizing the U.S. Military

The number of new U.S. Army recruits who are high-school dropouts soared during the Bush years, peaking at 29.3 percent in 2007. The economic collapse made life easier for military recruiters. “Only” 17 percent of soldiers who joined in 2008 failed to graduate from high school. But high unemployment hasn’t resulted in enough new high-quality soldiers and sailors.

Recruit quality is important. Uneducated or incapable soldiers are less likely to do well operating high-tech equipment. And they’re more likely to do stupid things, like beating up, robbing and raping civilians in U.S.-occupied territories.

The U.S. military is bigger than ever. But it’s becoming dumber. It’s also getting meaner: in 2008 one in five recruits received a “morals waiver” because they had a criminal record, including felonies. “The main reason for the decline in standards is the war in Iraq and its onerous ‘operations tempo’—soldiers going back for third and fourth tours of duty, with no end in sight,” reported Slate’s Fred Kaplan in 2008.

As if that weren’t bad enough, America’s armed services are losing their smartest officers faster than ever. After graduating from West Point, cadets must serve five years. More high-caliber officers are choosing not to reenlist than at any time since the Vietnam War: 44 percent in 2006, up from 18 percent in 2003. Some analysts blame the endless wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.

There isn’t much glory in shooting up buses and taxis at checkpoints in the hot dust of Central Asia and the Middle East. And it doesn’t help that, yellow-ribbon magnets aside, the United States of America doesn’t give a damn about its veterans. Whereas other countries treat their warriors like heroes, providing them with free housing and other benefits, the U.S. uses up and discards them like tissue paper. “Veterans make up almost a quarter of the homeless population in the United States,” reports CNN. “The government says there are as many as 200,000 homeless veterans; the majority served in the Vietnam War. Some served in Korea or even World War II. About 2,000 served in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Higher salaries would increase the military’s applicant pool and thus the quality and quantity of enlistees. But no one ever talks about the most obvious way to professionalize the U.S. military: treat servicemen and servicewomen like professionals.

Consider my experience.

Motivated by curiosity, contrarian rebellion and the loss of my full scholarship due to the Reagan budget cuts, I went down to my local Army recruiting station during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I thought perhaps there was some way to finance the remainder of my education by doing military service. The recruiter set up an appointment for me to take an aptitude test.

Then the phone calls began. They were excited. Apparently I had gotten a perfect score. This didn’t happen often.

Which didn’t surprise me. Two things leapt out at me when I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. First: it was appallingly easy. I was an AP student; I hadn’t seen material so simple since elementary school. Second: the other guys taking the test were dolts. Where did they find such losers? Even my school’s shop classes didn’t feature such a sad collection of yahoos, misfits and morons.

Allowing for the obvious seduce-and-destroy tactics of Army recruiters, I did believe that they wanted me more than the average schlub who took the ASVAB. I was a straight-A student. All my test scores were in the top percentile, including a perfect score on the math SAT. I’d gotten into Columbia University’s engineering program. I knew I was a catch.

I went in to talk.

One recruiter handed me a brochure. One of the photos showed a German village. “You’ll probably be sent to Germany,” he said. Probably.

“Can you put that in writing?”

Of course not. You go where they send you. That’s the Army way. The military way. But look at it from the viewpoint of an 18-year-old. I had options! I could stay in school, take out student loans, earn a degree and get recruited by some deep-pocketed defense contractor. A deep-pocketed defense contractor that couldn’t make me pack up and ship off to, say, Afghanistan or Iraq. A deep-pocketed defense contractor whose job I could quit just like that.

I was drawing cartoons and doing reporting for my campus newspaper.

“You’ll almost certainly end up as a military journalist,” the other recruiter said. “Stars and Stripes. Would you like that?”

Well, shucks and golly gee, why not? I’d be another Bill Mauldin! “Will you guarantee that?” I asked.

Nope. You do what they assign you to do. Where they tell you to do it. For as long as they want you to do it.

“Can I put in a request for the kind of job I’d prefer?” I asked. “Or for where I’d like to be stationed?”

There was a pause. The two men glanced at each other. I noticed a smirk, ever so slight, on one of their faces. As I knew it would be, the answer was a lie:

“Well, um, sure, I suppose we could submit your preferences,” the liar-recruiter lied.

“No reason why not,” the other one chimed in.

They only had one real carrot: the college tuition program. I was looking at paying $13,000 a year in tuition and fees. They were offering $4,000 a year for one term of enlistment. Actually, “up to $4,000.”

If the military wants to attract smart young men and women like I used to be, with high test scores and clean criminal records, they’re going to have to start treating recruits like employees, not slaves or indentured servants. Fix enlistment terms, abolish both the current “stop-loss” rule scheduled to end next year and commit never to start a new one. Let people choose their jobs. (They can request one now. That’s not enough.) Let people decide where they want to serve. If a brilliant recruit doesn’t want to go to Afghanistan, why not let her serve elsewhere? The intelligent, independent thinkers a 21st century military needs demand and deserve the same respect they would enjoy in the private sector.

What about war? Shouldn’t a president be able to send troops wherever he wants, consent be damned?

No.

When the public supports a war, there are plenty of volunteers and enlisted men and women ready to go and fight. If there aren’t enough people willing to go, there isn’t enough political will to win. No one should be asked to fight—or die—for a cause they don’t believe in.

(Ted Rall is working on a radical political manifesto for publication this fall. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL


NBM

2 of our Manhwa make top ten must-read.

April 12, 2010 by  


A post over at Manga critic that makes us blush. Around an exhibit of Manhwa and a list provided there of the best, this critic sought to make a revision and added two of our 3 manhwas to a top ten must-read list: Run Bon-Gu, Run and at the very top: Buja’s Diary.


NBM

Mr. Easter gets attention

April 12, 2010 by  


From ComicMix:

“Her black and white artwork is unique and comical. This is a terrific first effort and I look forward to more from Ms. Allen.”

Realms of Fantasy will soon have this review by Andrew Wheeler:

“[Tesana]’s soon being chased by a large and varied cast of ne’er-do-wells, stage magicians, animal rights activists, nasty pet-shop owners, and – scariest of all – her own mother. Throughout it all, Allen has a light touch with her dialogue and a great eye for caricature and grotesquerie in her pen. This isn’t a major graphic novel, but it’s a great romp and a wonderful debut.”


NBM

MoCCA: Mr. Easter a sell-out!

April 12, 2010 by  


Saturday was a busy day at the MoCCA Fest last weekend, definitely an upbeat event with many who came ready to buy.

One of the hits was the premiere of A Home for Mr. Easter, Brooke A. Allen‘s debut graphic novel. It sold out by mid-afternoon of that day. We had to go back to the office to scrounge for more copies for Sunday! The book was also a featured give-away at the MoCCA after-party which was packed that evening.

This wasn’t the only book that sold well. Greg Houston’s Vatican Hustle also sold out  that day which meant having to cancel his appearance on Sunday… Ted Rall sold all of his books and so did Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani of The Big Khan.

Nice to see such enthusiasm and also nice to see this show pulled off without any hitches we were aware of, in a venue with a comfortable temperature level (last year’s was sweltering).


NBM

MoCCA party saturday night

April 9, 2010 by  


Re-posting this from Brian Heater’s Cross Hatch:

“The always-amazing Paul Pope was kind enough to create the poster for the official MoCCA after party (designed by the folks at Dark Igloo). The party is this Saturday, after the festival. There will be live comics readings from the likes of R. Sikoryak and Michael Kupperman; DJ sets from Pope, Dean Haspiel, and myself; live rapping from one of Top Shelf’s Swedish artists; giveaways; and lots more.”

And we’ll add that the first 25 who show up, we’re giving away free copies of A Home for Mr. Easter!

See ya there.


NBM

Meet us and our artists at MoCCA this weekend

April 8, 2010 by  


The MoCCA Festival is coming right up, here in NYC this weekend of April 10 and we’ll be busy with quite a few of our authors appearing! Come and meet:

Brooke A. Allen premiering our brand new ‘A Home for Mr. Easter.’
Greg Houston
(Vatican Hustle)
Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani (The Big Khan, Brownsville)
Ted Rall (The Year of Loving Dangerously) but also with ‘A Silk Road to Ruin’ about Central Asia which is astir with Kyrgyztan’s revolution.

Here’s the schedule of their appearances:

Saturday

11-1: Brooke Allen & Ted Rall
1-2: Nicolas Cinquegrani
1-4: Greg Houston
2-4 Brooke Allen
4-5: Nicolas Cinquegrani
4-6 Ted Rall

Sunday:

11-1: Ted Rall
noon-1: Neil Kleid/Nicolas Cinquegrani
1-4: Brooke Allen
1-3: Greg Houston
3-5: Kleid/Cinquegrani
5-6: Houston

And of course, we’ll be bringing our latest graphic novels for sale besides these guys’!

Meet ya there.


Ted Rall

Ted Rall on the Revolution in Kyrgyzstan

April 8, 2010 by  


As you probably know, I have traveled extensively through Central Asia. Among my favorite nations there is the Kyrgyz Republic. Despite formidable challenges—as one of the Central Asian republics without reserves of natural gas or oil, it is one of the poorest, with an average income of about $30 a month—its people are kind and hospitable. Known as the “Switzerland of Central Asia” because of its beautiful Tian Shan mountains, it is also a mecca for outdoorsmen of all kinds, particularly alpinists and white-water rafters.

I am sad about the violence in Bishkek but optimistic that the results will benefit the Kyrgyz people. That is, as long as the United States stays out of it.

During the 1990s Kyrgyzstan was Central Asia’s great democratic hope: the only CAR with a democratically-elected president, Askar Akayev, a math professor. The other CARs were, and still are, run by Soviet-era Communist Party bosses as authoritarian states.

In the late 1990s the World Bank and IMF pressed loans upon the Kyrgyz government that it could not afford, then imposed structural adjustment policies that precipitated economic collapse.

After 9/11 the Bush Administration pressed Kyrgyzstan to accept a U.S. airbase at Manas Airport near Bishkek to supply the occupation of Afghanistan. In typical Central Asian style, the Kyrgyz accepted nominal rent, then asked for an increase after the troops were installed.

The Bush Administration was incensed. They decided to oust Akayev and, in 2005, CIA-backed insurgents from the Muslim heartland of Osh, in the Ferghana Valley, stormed the presidential palace in Bishkek. Akayev ordered security forces not to fire, and he fled into exile. He is now a mathematics professor at Moscow State University.

An Osh-based politician, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, took over. Proving my oft-stated dictum that any bad situation can become worse, Bakiyev brought authoritarian rule to Kyrgyzstan. Opposition politicians were murdered and “disappeared.” Southern provinces fell under the control of local warlords. Corruption escalated; he was reelected in elections that international monitors described as completely tainted. Bakiyev’s men looted what little was left of the country, plunging the economy into freefall.

Misery escalated, and thousands of men with nothing to lose have been fighting with security forces in Bishkek for the past few days.

At its heart, this is a conflict between the Sovietized secular north, from which Akayev came, and the Muslim south, home to Bakiyev.

The current unrest will have sweeping psychological effects upon neighboring states, as the Kyrgyz are widely considered the peacekeepers of the region. When border disputes break out between other CARs, Kyrgyz mediators are often called in to settle them.

There will also be repercussions for the U.S. Not only could we be ejected from the airbase, anti-Americanism could escalate. After all, Bakiyev and the misery over which he presided was in no small measure the fault of U.S. foreign policy.

The worst-case scenario would be civil war. Bakiyev is said to be hiding in Osh, the country’s largest city. Were he to try to rally his forces to retake the capital, the bloodshed could be extraordinary.

The Obama Administration, closely linked to the Bakiyev regime, would be well advised to stay out of Kyrgyz politics and lock down the airbase at Manas before recognizing whatever new regime takes power. One can only hope that secular democratic forces take over the government and restore Kyrgyzstan to its rightful place as the friendliest, most beautiful nation in Central Asia.

For further information about Kyrgyzstan, the 2005 Tulip Revolution that overthrew President Akayev, and Central Asia in general, please check out my book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?

Also worth checking out for breaking news from Central Asia is EurasiaNet.org.

PRESS INQUIRIES: I am available for comment and interviews about the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Please contact: chet@rall.com


NBM

Kyrgyztan: see Silk Road to Ruin

April 8, 2010 by  


As Kyrgyztan goes up in riots and the government may be toppled, you might find SILK ROAD TO RUIN (scroll down) a fascinating way to find out more about this country and the others around it which also have been ruled by petty dictators. The book is a series of travelog articles, comics chapters and fun facts about Central Asia as compiled by Ted Rall

Once again, as for Afghanistan where’s he’s returning, looks like Rall predicted this powder keg pretty well…


Ted Rall

Ted Rall in NYC This Weekend

April 7, 2010 by  


I’ll be signing copies of “The Year of Loving Dangerously” and other titles at the MoCCA Art Festival this weekend. Look for me between 11 am and 1 pm at the NBM Publishing table.

Where: Saturday and Sunday
April 10 & 11, 2010
11 AM – 6 PM (but I’m only signing 11 AM – 1 PM)

69th Regiment Armory
68 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY

P.S. As usual, I have not been invited to speak or participate in any panels, so please don’t ask me. Ask them. Don’t ask me. As you were.


Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: This Time It’s Impersonal

April 7, 2010 by  


One year ago, I was fired.

Not laid off—fired. In a layoff, you go home until the factory calls you back to work. I got fired.

Everyone knew there would be a bloodbath. Management tried to keep it secret. But we knew.

Human resources experts say mass firings should take place on a Friday. Worker bees are used to going home for the weekend. Duh.

Mine took place on a Thursday. Which was my fault. A couple of weeks earlier, when management still believed that their Big Layoff was a big secret, I had told my boss I wanted that Friday off. They rescheduled the firings for me. To my erstwhile coworkers: sorry about harshing your Friday.

When it came, I knew there was a good chance I’d be on the death list. It wasn’t rocket science: my boss didn’t like me. “Painful as it may be, a layoff is a good time to terminate marginal employees,” wrote Guy Kawasaki in “The Art of the Layoff.” Painful for the employee. Fun for the boss. “Marginal” is corporatese for “disliked by one’s boss.”

I worked three days a week for a company called United Media, which syndicates comic strips like “Dilbert” and “Peanuts” to newspapers. It is owned by E.W. Scripps, a media conglomerate based in Cincinnati. My title was editor of acquisitions and development. I was a talent scout: I recruited cartoonists and writers, worked with them to craft their features into saleable features, then edited them after they launched. It was fun. It was also hard. On several occasions, I was pressed to do things I thought were unethical, things that screwed cartoonists and writers. As a cartoonist and writer myself, I refused.

My reviews were mostly positive. But I was given two bits of negative feedback: I didn’t seem to care about filling out forms. (There were a lot of forms.) And I sided with the “talent” rather than the company.

I began to suspect the axe was going to fall months before it did, when Lisa—Lisa was my boss—dithered about, then refused to approve, my travel to the 2009 San Diego Comicon. Sure, times were tight, especially in the media business. But I’d gone in 2007 and 2008. And other execs were getting their travel approved. Lisa went to Germany for a book fair. Hm.

Lisa harassed me relentlessly. She gave me impossible tasks with no chance of success: “Develop a turnkey solution for newspaper websites.” Citing the flimsiest of excuses, she canceled projects she had previously green-lighted. I was an executive; she assigned me to menial tasks previously left to junior editors. She insulted me during staff meetings. “Why don’t you do your job, Ted? For once?”

In retrospect I realize she had just given up trying to goad me into quitting.

Sitting fake-casually on the big red sofas by the “Peanuts” ephemera in the lobby that Thursday morning were two huge goons. Each wore those nametags you get when you visit an office. Subtle.

I closed my office door and called a friend to discuss my sense of impending doom. “I’ve been through it six times,” he told me. “Here’s how it’ll happen. Lisa will ask you: ‘Can you step in for a minute?’ You’ll go in. Someone from HR will be there.”

I hung up. I worked on a memo about how the company should adapt to the changing syndication market by offering marketing and management services to freelance, non-syndicated cartoonists and other content providers. I cc-ed my fellow execs, most of whom already knew what I was about to learn. Send. A half-hour passed. No replies. The phone rang. It was Lisa. “Ted? Can you step in for a minute?” she asked. I walked down the hall, turned left and walked into her office. Carol from HR was sitting under the stuffed Dilbert.

“As you know, the blah blah problems in the business blah blah position is being eliminated blah blah blah not acquiring new properties blah there’s a meeting at 11 for everyone who’s being reduced blah blah blah blah blah—”

“Reduced”?

You’ve heard the euphemisms: Downsizing. Rightsizing. Me, I was part of a “reduction in force.”

I had been fired from other jobs. I got fired when I was younger and even snottier than I am now. I came late, left early, took long lunches. “Get the hell out of here!” my boss at the local supermarket yelled at my bratty 17-year-old self. “You’re worthless! A slacker!” I didn’t argue. He was right.

But I had never been “laid off.”

They say getting laid off is better than being “fired for cause.” You qualify for unemployment benefits. It looks better to future prospective employers (ha! as though those still existed). Getting laid off isn’t personal.

For me, that was the problem.

True, if there’s anything worse than having to have a job, it’s losing one. Once you’re on the way out the door, the details of how it goes down don’t really matter. You don’t know how you’re going to pay your bills. Will you lose your home? Will you end up living in your car? Those are the big questions.

Somehow, though, how they do it—how they fire you—matters.

I prefer the personal approach.

If there’s a moment that calls for honesty, it’s firing someone. If Lisa had called me into her office and told me: “Ted, it’s like this: I don’t like you. I can’t work with someone I don’t like. I used to trust you and your judgment, I used to appreciate what you did, but I’ve changed my mind. It’s over. You’re fired. Go home,” I still would still have had that hole-in-your-stomach feeling for the next few months. But I would have respected her.

It would have been personal. Honest.

Instead, I got Carol from HR.

It wasn’t Carol-from-HR’s fault. She did what she was told to do, no doubt by someone in Cincinnati who had never so much as laid eyes on me or the other seven people sitting around the table in the conference room, staring at the thick pile of documents in the E.W. Scripps folder she had handed us. Elsewhere, at other Scripps-owned companies around the country, similar meetings were being held. I wondered: were they simultaneous? You know, to allow for different time zones?

Scripps is a cheap company. The previous year, a perfect employee evaluation earned a Scripps worker a four-percent raise. Next came a pay freeze, and with it a lie: a pledge not to lay anyone off. The severance offer was consistent with their previous tightwaddery: four weeks pay.

Whatever.

“The sooner you get the severance agreement signed and sent to me,” Carol repeated, “the sooner you’ll get paid.” I flipped through the lengthy document. There was no way I could sign it. Among the provisions: I could never work for another media company the rest of my life.

If I’d signed it, writing this column would be a breach of contract.

For a lousy four weeks of severance.

There was a deadline by which to sign. As it approached, Carol emailed me. We talked on the phone, and again when I came into the office to pick up my personal items. I told her about the media company provision. Would they delete it? “It’s a reduction of force,” she replied. “We can’t change it.”

I had discussed it with several lawyers. One said it was so breathtakingly overreaching that no judge would enforce it in a court of law. “But a ‘reduction of force’ isn’t a legal term,” I said. “It doesn’t mean anything. You can delete that section if you want to.”

She refused.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “we wouldn’t enforce that part.” Sure.

She seemed surprised that I didn’t trust them.

Six months later, Scripps bought the Travel Channel for $181 million.

(Ted Rall is working on a radical political manifesto for publication this fall. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL