Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama’s Katrina

May 27, 2010 by  


<i>The President Can’t Lead. So He Should Quit.</i>

British Petroleum isn’t dithering. Yes, it’s been five weeks since the most devastating oil spill in U.S. history. But it’s probably impossible to fix.

The company’s execs just look calm. Deep inside, they’re roiling with anguish. Keeping it low-key is how Brits roll. Especially when they’ve got something to hide.

Talk about something to hide. Talk about tacky: a new BP document has come to light. It is a smoking gun: to save a few bucks BP executives decided to go with a cheaper, riskier well casing at its doomed Deepwater Horizon platform—one without a redundant safety system that might have prevented the explosion and subsequent spill. Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas at Austin told The New York Times that BP’s choice was “without a doubt a riskier way to go.”

So here we are. And millions of fish and dolphins and pelicans aren’t.

Why hasn’t President Obama acted like one—a president, that is? Why hasn’t he seized BP’s assets? Obama’s torturers at Gitmo and Bagram are winding up 15-year-old Taliban teenagers and taxi drivers. Why aren’t BP’s execs learning the finer points of electrodes and nipple clamps?

The damage caused by BP’s negligence is incalculable. Experts who talked to National Geographic magazine say the pressure at 5,000 feet below sea level is so high that the well under BP’s doomed Deepwater Horizon platform will gush oil until it bleeds out. That could take years.

“You’re talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it,” said David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“We don’t have any idea how to stop this,” said Matthew Simmons, retired chair of the energy-industry investment banking firm Simmons & Company International. Ideas like jamming the leaking pipe with golf balls and other debris are a “joke,” he added.

By the way, a Purdue engineering professor called before Congress now estimates the flow rate at 95,000 barrels, or 4 million gallons, of crude oil a day—20 times the company’s official claim. If oil continues to contaminate the Gulf at that rate, by the end of July this BP spill will become the worst oil disaster ever. The previous record was set by Iraq in 1991, which deliberately dumped 336 million gallons into the Persian Gulf to slow down U.S. invasion forces during the Gulf War. Twelve years later, almost all of the Saudi coastline, including its marshes and mudflats, was devoid of life.

“It was amazing to stand there and look across what used to be a [Saudi] salt marsh and it was all dead—not even a live crab,” Miles Hayes, co-founder of the consulting firm Research Planning, Inc. and one of those who studied the spill’s aftermath, recalled.

Lovely.

So this is Obama’s Katrina. Or his second: he still hasn’t done much to help those who lost their jobs or to create new ones. Technically, he also inherited Bush’s Katrina—he hasn’t helped the 2005 flood victims on the Gulf Coast either.

What’s different this time is that people are pissed. Not fake pissed, like the Tea Partiers who think he’s a socialist (now wouldn’t that be nice!) because of his lame healthcare package. They’re actually, seriously, this-time-we-mean-it pissed. Because, get-the-guvmint-outta-my-life rhetoric aside, Americans expect their government to do something when something this big and this stupid happens. They have that right. Taxes ought to accomplish something other than killing Iraqis and Afghans.

So where is Obama?

Stuck changing planes on his way to Clueistan, evidently.

“We will not rest until this well is shut, the environment is repaired and this job is complete,” Obama told workers at Solyndra Inc., a solar panel manufacturer near San Francisco. If the experts are right that 12 years won’t make a dent in a spill this size, Barack’s going to be a busy guy after he retires.

“The spill in the Gulf, which is heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources,” he argued.

Voilà! That’s the extent of Obama’s response to Deepsix Horizon: talking about alternative energy.

Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and transitioning to solar, wind and other clean sources of energy is long overdue. But that would/will take decades. We don’t have years. To update Keynes in an age of global warming and mass species extinctions: In the short run, we are all dead. We need radical cuts in energy consumption to slow down the rate of acceleration of global warming: at least 75 percent, according to most climatologists. Although 100 percent may not be enough.

Not that Obama is even trying. His new 2012 budget calls for a mere $6 billion increase—the same amount we spend to kill Iraqis and Afghans for three weeks—for subsidies to companies trying to develop greener fuels. From 2002 to 2008, while gas prices and profits were skyrocketing, Big Oil received $72 billion in your taxdollars. A preemptive bailout, I assume.

Obama’s efforts on automobile fuel efficiency have been equally lackluster. He has signed a law requiring cars and light trucks to get at least 34 miles per gallon by the year 2016. By 2016, industry analysts say, cars would have been getting 40 mpg anyway.

If Obama were half as hopey changey as he claimed during the campaign, BP’s North American operations would now be U.S. government property, nationalized in order to compensate the fishermen and other injured parties in the Gulf. If he had an ounce of toughness he would require that every car sold in the U.S. beginning in 2011 be a hybrid. Sales of SUVs and light trucks would be banned; existing models would have to be retired from U.S. roadways within two years. All offshore drilling would be prohibited. (Yes, gas prices would rise: about three to four cents a gallon over the next ten to fifteen years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Whatever.)

He could do other things. The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq caused a huge leap in oil prices. Bring them home. Solar panels should be mass produced by government-owned and operated factories and distributed at federally subsidized prices to homeowners and developers. The wind power and geothermal industries could be radically expanded with the two billion dollars a week we’d save by ending the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Obama can’t lead. He’s in the pocket of Big Oil. In fact, he’s making things worse: even after the spill began in the Gulf, his Department of Energy was still issuing new offshore drilling permits!

Resign, Mr. President. You won’t be missed.

(Ted Rall is the author of the upcoming “The Anti-American Manifesto,” to be published in September by Seven Stories Press. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL


Ted Rall

Afghanistan Update

May 26, 2010 by  


I’m leaving for Afghanistan the second week of August. I have three goals:

1. Go to Taloqan in Takhar Province, to revisit the place where I spent much of the fall of 2001 during the battle of Kunduz. I’ll try to track down my fixer and his family to see how they’re doing (and give them some money) and see how things have changed during the last nine years of America’s longest war. Taloqan has changed hands several times recently between forces loyal to the central government and the Taliban.

2. Visit the site of the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. This is supposed to be north of Herat. TAP is one of the most underreported stories of the last decade.

3. Travel to the remote western deserts near the Iranian border where U.S. forces and reporters rarely venture or report from. I will stay with local families to see how life is going for them.

And of course I’ll be working on a book for Farrar, Strauss & Giroux’s Hill & Wang imprint.

I will also be filing a daily cartoon blog about my observations and experiences along the way.

We’ll be “in country” one month—that’s the limit set by most media outlets for reporters covering rural Afghanistan, and with good reason. It’s a hard place to travel, not just from a security standpoint but also because of the harsh climate and poor food and lodging, not to mention lack of basic infrastructure (running water and electricity).

You can follow our route on the attached map. We’ll fly into Dushanbe, Tajikistan, obtain permission from the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enter the restricted 100-kilometer zone along the southern border with Afghanistan, then drive overland to Taloqan, and head west and then south before crossing the border into Iran.

We’ve purchased our Aeroflot flights to Dubai, ongoing via the tiny Somon Air (two planes!) to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. So we’re applying for visas from Tajikistan. We have also applied for media visas for Iran. Since we’ll end up in western Afghanistan, it makes sense to drive to Teheran and catch a flight to Europe from there. Hopefully we’ll be able to get these without any problem, but we won’t know for 25 days, according to the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. We’re also applying for Turkmen visas to allow for the possibility that we can’t exit through Iran.

Ah, yes. “We”?

Going along will be two of America’s most gifted cartoonists, Matt Bors and Steven Cloud. Matt Bors (www.mattbors.com), is a brilliant editorial cartoonist I signed for syndication at United Feature Syndicate. Steven Cloud (www.stevencloud.com) is currently on hiatus from his amazing “Boy on a Stick and Slither” webcomic; hopefully, he will start doing cartoons again in the near future. This will be Matt’s first trip outside the United States. Hell-o, diarrhea! Steven caught the Central Asian travel bug last year when he drove a car in a charity rally from eastern Europe to Mongolia via, among other places, Kazakhstan and Russia.

More updates when there’s something to say. Wish us luck!


Rick Geary

Axe-Man

May 20, 2010 by  


“The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans,” one of the nation most mysterious serial killers, gets the full treatment in my newest graphic novel, due out this summer. Here is a preview in the form of a four-page episode.

Mail609Mail610Mail611Mail612


NBM

The complete Trondheim

May 19, 2010 by  


A great overview presentation of Lewis Trondheim at Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6 site. An excellent way to get to know more about this prolific genius.


NBM

Mr. Easter lays beautiful eggs

May 19, 2010 by  


 

Publishers Weekly on A Home for Mr. Easter by Brooke A. Allen:

“Halfway between Precious and The Incredible Hulk, obese urban teen Tesana is the unlikely hero of this delightful debut book from Allen. Allen’s unrefined black and white line art is similar to Nate Powell’s, but her subject matter is refreshingly light. The characters rush through a very satisfying one volume adventure that hits all the right notes and leaves no threads unresolved, like a well-written screenplay. Mr. Easter signals Allen as a new artist to follow.”

“By the time I was done I had a big smile on my face. Allen’s story has heart, and her art is fantastic. As a first graphic novel, A Home for Mr. Easter is an impressive debut. I definitely look forward to seeing what she has up her sleeves next.”

Read About Comics


NBM

Dungeon Twilight 3 reviews and a guide to the Dungeon world

May 18, 2010 by  


“I always enjoy these French mainstream fantasy comics, even when I’m not sure what it is I’m enjoying. Certainly creators/plotters Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar are modern exemplars when it comes to how one straddles mainstream success and artistic achievement, and as page-to-page, madcap cartooning it’s hard to go wrong with watching their mostly well-selected art teams put the well-designed original characters through their paces.”

Says Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter.

“One of the things that I do appreciate, and love, about Dungeon is the way that major things — the shape of the world, a fortress, family members, a distinctive suit of armor — are lost quickly and definitively, in an almost offhand manner. The world of Dungeon is one where every day — sometimes every moment — that a character can spend alive is the result of a struggle. Sfar and Trondheim don’t spare their major characters, either.”

Andrew Wheeler at his Antick Musings blog.

And Jeff Vandermeer on Amazon’s Omnivoracious and elsewhere:

“With the just-released Dungeon Twilight, Vol. 3: The New Centurions, the amazing Dungeon series created by French geniuses Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim continues from strength to strength in its English-language translation incarnation from NBM Publishing. The Twilight strand of the infinitely-expanding Dungeon web of related series has long been my favorite. In an earlier volume it features one of the most audacious events in the history of fantasy comics: the exploding of an entire world that then reforms as floating islands.

Soon-to-be-classic characters like Marvin the Red, a rabbit in armor, and the wise lizard-dragon known as The Dust King must make their way through a transformed landscape, battling evil creatures, overcoming the plots of kings and barons, and contending with odd new rules of planetary travel.”

And Jeff goes on to provide a very helpful guide to all Dungeon books and its worlds.


Ted Rall

Cartoon: Droning Along

May 14, 2010 by  


Droning Along


NBM

July: Badger/Jones: Carabella on the Run!

May 13, 2010 by  


An action-packed suspenseful graphic novel on the hot topic of privacy in a world dominated by the internet and mobile connection is NBM ‘s star graphic novel in July being solicited in comics stores now:

NETWORKED: CARABELLA ON THE RUN
Mark BADGER, Gerard JONES
Some alien invasions are loud and bloody…some are quiet and friendly. The blue-skinned girl named Carabella thinks she’s escaping the oppression of her own world, but instead she’s exposing the earth to an invasion so soft and friendly that everyone welcomes it—until Carabella herself sees what’s happening and tries to make someone, anyone see that our websites, our cell phones, and even our shoes (yes, shoes) are being used to steal first the privacy and then the freedom of everyone on earth.
6×9, 128pp., full color trade paperback: $12.99, ISBN 978-1-56163-586-3

See previews but also you can read the whole thing online at Privacy Activism with whom we’re working on this hotly topical story. Need we introduce the famous duo of Mark Badger and Gerard Jones?

Also in July from the mad mind of Greg (Vatican Hustle) Houston:

ELEPHANT MAN
Greg HOUSTON
Baltimore has a great hero. He’s always there just when he’s needed to thwart crime! This marvel is Elephant Man. Yes, none other than the deformed and hideous man himself! But such power and the adulation that follows it begets much jealousy. Before you know it, one of the city’s best known TV anchors, ‘handsome’ Dick Denton and another hideous being fused by some radioactive accident: the Priest, The Rabbi and The Duck, come together to seek his demise and ridicule him in public! Will Elephant Man overcome this new challenge? Another hilariously silly exercise in grotesquery, spoofing superheroes, from the acclaimed brilliant artist of Vatican Hustle.
6×9, 80pp, B&W trade pb., $9.99, ISBN 978-1-56163-588-X

See previews

From Eurotica that month, the next Noe:

PIN-UP ARTIST
Noe
The best-selling author of Convent of Hell and the Piano Tuner brings us to an exhibition of the great pin-up artist Gil Spam. He’s now a very old man in a wheelchair who can’t even speak, taken care of by his lovely niece. Chapter by chapter we get to discover the real dirty story behind each wonderful slightly naughty famous piece being exhibited. How could such charmingly risqué paintings have been inspired by such utter lechery and sexual abandon? Noe delivers another raunchy, funny and beautifully painted story.
81/2 x 11, 64 pp., full color trade pb., $13.99, ISN 978-1-56163-587-1

Pre-order all these at your comic bookstore now or online right here.


Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Holiday in the Sun

May 13, 2010 by  


Travel Planning for Afghanistan

How are things going in Afghanistan? The best way to find out is to go see for yourself. I’m doing that this August.

You can tell a lot even before you go. I’m in the planning stages: reserving flights, applying for visas, buying equipment.

“Whatever you do,” a friend emailed me from Kabul, “don’t fly into the Kabul airport.” He wasn’t worried that my flight would get shot down by one of Reagan’s leftover Stinger missiles—although there’s a risk of that. (In order to improve the odds, pilots corkscrew in and out.)

His concern is corrupt cops. “[Afghan president Hamid] Karzai’s policemen are crazy,” my normally taciturn buddy, who works for an NGO, elaborated. “They’ll hold you up at gunpoint right in the airport.”

One option is to hitch a flight on a military transport to the former Soviet airbase north of town at Bagram, now a U.S. torture facility being expanded by the Obama Administration in order to accommodate detainees being transferred from Guantánamo. But I’m an old-fashioned journalist. War reporters shouldn’t tag along with soldiers.

So I’m not flying into Kabul. Which works out, since getting to my destination—Taloqan, in Takhar province near the Tajik border—would have required traveling north toward Mazar-e-Sharif from Kabul. Among the highlights of the Kabul-Mazar road are landslides and a trek through the war-scarred Soviet-era Salong Tunnel. It also offers an assortment of thugs both political (Taliban) and apolitical (bandits).

To avoid corrupt airport cops and the dicey north-south highway, I’ll fly into Dushanbe, the capital of Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, Tajikistan. This means spending an extra $800 on airfare, not to mention chancing travel on one of Tajikistan Airlines’ aging Tupolev 154s. It takes a full day to drive from Dushanbe to the Afghan border on mostly unpaved roads.

But I’ll be stuck in Dushanbe for two or three days waiting for government permits. You can’t travel to the special “security zone” along the border with Afghanistan without a permission document issued by the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When I met the minister in 2001, I asked him whether treating the 100-kilometer zone like no-man’s land sent an unfriendly message to the Afghans. He laughed. “Afghanistan,” he said, “is our very difficult neighbor. If they behave better, so will we.” The policy remains in place.

No journalist operating in a war zone is safe without a fixer. Things you can easily do yourself back home can be impossible in the Fourth World. A fixer makes things happen: government permits, cars and drivers, places to stay. I’ve accumulated a set of fixers throughout Central and South Asia over the years.

But it’s hard to arrange a fixer in advance in Afghanistan. There’s hardly any mail, telephone service or electricity outside Kabul, much less email. I’ll probably have to just show up, then hire people as I travel.

Nevertheless, I contacted another Kabul-based Friend of Rall about lining up fixers for the regions I plan to visit: Takhar, which I mentioned above, Kunduz, then northern Afghanistan en route to and around Heart (near the Turkmen and Iranian borders), and finally Nimruz province.

There’s heavy fighting in Kunduz. The Taliban recently beheaded four guards working for U.S. forces near Herat. In Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz, suicide bombers just took out the governor’s compound.

“No one wants to go where you’re going,” my friend informed me.

The average salary in Afghanistan is $30 per month.

“I pay $150 a day,” I replied.

“I know a guy. But he’s a whiner. He’ll complain about it the whole time. And you’ll have to promise a death bonus to his wife if something happens.”

Communications are a challenge. I want to file a daily cartoon blog. I can scan a drawn cartoon into my laptop, assuming it doesn’t get stolen by some greedy border guard. But how will I access the Internet?

I can rent a satellite phone and use dial-up. It won’t be fast; at 9600 bps it takes an hour to send one a simple black and white cartoon. And it won’t be easy. Dial-up lines drop. In 2001, when I paid $7 a minute for satellite service, I cried when that happened. The search for power will be endless. Solar panels, car batteries, renting a generator for an hour, whatever it takes to feed greedy phones and laptops.

I’m not complaining. I’m just saying.

Afghans are allowed to complain. They live there.

Of course, the biggest inconvenience is danger.

Everyone worries about me. “Keep your head down.” “Come back alive.” “Don’t get killed.”

They’re sweet and loving sentiments. But they’re also kind of funny. Most of my friends still think of Afghanistan as the Good War, the one that had something—they’re not sure what—to do with 9/11. They think we’re there to help the Afghans. They think the carnage is in Iraq; actually, it’s more dangerous for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

If the Afghanistan War is going so well, why is everyone so worried?

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

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL


Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Publishers, Heal Thyselves

May 6, 2010 by  


Seven Suggestions for Newspapers

I’m on the road. On May 3rd I gave a talk at Wright State University. I showed my political cartoons, excerpts from graphic novels past and future, and something new I’ve been working on the last couple of years: two-minute-long animations for the Web.

But no one wanted to talk about comics. The first audience question was: “How can we save newspapers?”

That happens a lot nowadays. Never mind cartoons; people want to save the papers the cartoons run in (and, increasingly, used to run in). The Q&A session following my April 28th appearance at Philadelphia’s Pen and Pencil Club was dominated by the same “are papers doomed?” question. The thing is, the Pen and Pencil is the oldest press club in America. The audience included reporters and editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. I should have been asking them about the future of media. Then again, their minds were preoccupied. Both papers had just been sold to a new owner no one knew much about.

This newspapers-in-trouble thing is weird. Tens of millions of Americans still want them enough to pay for them. Yet circulation and revenues keep plunging. Normally, when demand exists for a product, it is possible to sell it at a profit. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that poor management is at least partly to blame for the industry’s problems.

I tell my audiences: If I knew the answer to saving the newspaper business, I wouldn’t be talking to them. I’d be hanging out with Rupert and the other press barons, billing them millions for my sage advice. I certainly wouldn’t be watching my income plunge as my workload expands.

I don’t have answers. But I do have thoughts.

Here they are:

Embrace The New Yorker Theory. I hate The New Yorker. I hate its tone, I hate its attitude, I even hate its font. I can’t stand the cartoons. But I read the magazine anyway. Not because I’m a masochist. Because I live in New York, I’m a media person, and if I don’t read The New Yorker I’ll look stupid at parties. When you’re competing for reader dollars against millions of websites and thousands of publications, you need to become like The New Yorker: so essential that people will buy your product, not because they like it, but because they have to.

Assume smart readers. Editors think readers are dumb. They say so in private. And they make it clear by what they’re doing to newspapers: shorter stories, less coverage of international news, obsessive celebrity gossip, bland opinion pages, boring features. But editors are wrong. Anyone who seeks out and pays for a newspaper in 2010 is curious and intelligent by definition. Newspaper buyers are looking for challenging, deep analysis, not newsbytes that mimic the Internet (which they get for free anyway). Unfortunately, they’re not finding it. Which brings us to…

More analysis, less news. The evening newspaper and network TV nightly news are dinosaurs. Whether you read it online, on your iPhone, or heard it on the radio or from a coworker, by the time you get home from work you already know about the coup in Kyrgyzstan and who won the game. What you need now is someone to tell what it all means. Who is the new Kyrgyz president? How will the coup affect the war on terror? How do the playoffs look now?

With one exception, newspapers should stop trying to break news. They shouldn’t even summarize it. Papers can’t compete with online news sites. They should publish a daily version of what Time or Newsweek could be if they weren’t lame: lengthy analyses, complete with colorful charts and graphs, along with opinions all across the political spectrum.

In a way, this is the hardest advice for papers to follow. They’re set up to break stories and to confirm other outlets’ stories. For a forward-looking paper, out-of-work magazine feature writers might be a better fit than retooling someone who has been working the city hall beat.

The exception? Investigative journalism. Few online sites have the money or time to invest in unmasking the mayor as the corrupt bastard we all know he is. When written well, an exposé can be as riveting as a Robert Ludlum novel.

Stop sucking. Newspaper circulation began falling decades before anyone heard of HTML. The reason is simple: they got boring. Compare today’s paper with an issue from the 1940s, when the industry was at the top of its game. The differences are striking: lively prose, nice mix of high (in-depth analysis) and low (tons of comics and columns). Indian newspapers, still growing as the Web spreads in that country, even deploy cartoonists to illustrate news, thus jazzing up what would otherwise be merely another car crash story. Internet news and opinion sites have learned that people prefer brash, edgy and opinionated to bland and “safe.” (Actually, “safe” is dangerous. It’s a recipe for bankruptcy.)

Stop giving it away. It ought to go without saying that giving away content for free online was an obviously stupid idea when newspapers started it a decade ago. Inexplicably, they’re still at it. Stop it, idiots!

Charge more. As Peter Osnos writes in The Atlantic, the English-language paper Americans buy overseas offers a model for the future: when advertising dries up, charge readers more. “There is relatively little advertising in the [International Herald-Tribune], even less of course than before the crash. But there has never been all that much advertising. The key to revenue is a high cover price,” Osnos says. “In Italy, the daily costs €2.50 (about $3.40), and prices elsewhere are comparable.” Sound like a lot? Cigarettes are ten bucks a pack in Manhattan. “A newspaper specifically shaped for an audience of ‘elite’ readers,” as Osnos describes the IHT, should be able to charge four bucks. “It is eighteen pages of quality news and analysis, with extensive business coverage and enough cultural and sports news to be comprehensive rather than overwhelming.”

Sit tight. The buzzword de l’année is “curate.” Americans, especially those older ones who spend long hours at work and with family, will become increasingly disillusioned with the spin and disinformation that passes for news online and on a thousand channels. Soon they will yearn for someone to figure out what’s important, package it into a digestible format, and deliver it to them—i.e., to “curate” the news. And they’ll pay.

Oh, how they’ll pay.

Of course, it might take 10 or 20 years for people to decide that they’d rather have their news spoon-fed to them than to sift through crap online. But what else do newspaper publishers and editors have to do?

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

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL