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


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—”


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.


“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.)



Little Nothings and On Odd Hours get reviewed

April 5, 2010 by  

Trondheim’s Little Nothings keeps sweeping ‘em up! ICv2:

“A solidly entertaining look at the life of an artist.  Fans of his other work may find this an interesting piece of slice of life graphic novels.”

From Comics Worth Reading:

“Reading each new volume of this series is like a vacation, traveling the world from the comfort of your home, and expanding your mind through vibrant observation and humor. The cartooning is impressive in its achievement, a wonderful journey through both subject matter and skill.”

Comics Waiting Room on Odd Hours didn’t much like the main character but does say:

“By tapping into the spirit of the pieces, ON THE ODD HOURS delivers an unforgettable visual tour of one of the worlds greatest museums.”

A few reviewers expressed dislike of the main character. Yeah, he’s burly but he’s also rebelling against a society that misunderstands deaf people…


2 reviews for Mr. Easter

April 5, 2010 by  

…and people seem to be sharing our enthusiasm for Brooke Allen’s energetic new graphic novel:

“Allen’s artwork is an extension of Tesana: bold, fantastical and beautiful in its purity. The book is fast-paced as Tesana and Mr. Easter are almost continuously in motion, and while the action panels are uncomplicated while still expressive, moving the book along nicely.”
Avril Brown at Comics Waiting Room


Rall’s 2nd Afghanistan trip funded, see the Newsarama piece

April 5, 2010 by  

Newsarama ran a great piece about Ted Rall’s getting funding at Kickstarter (see previous blog entries), this will give you all the fascinating background.

Now, of course, Ted has reached his lofty goal of $25,000. It was down to the wire.

See the book we published of his first trip right during the start of the war after 9/11: To AFGHANISTAN & BACK (scroll down). And the comics are also available on the iPhone from Panelfly.

Ted Rall

Mission Accomplished

April 3, 2010 by  

With a few hours more than a day to go, more than 200 supporters came through with the $25,000 I was trying to raise through Kickstarter:


At this writing, there is $25,845 in funding provided by 210 people. (Kickstarter allows supporters to make pledges over the funding amount; any funds over my initial $25,000 request will be used toward trip expenses that would otherwise have come out of my pocket.) Amazing!

Thank you to everyone who pledged funds toward my upcoming return to Afghanistan. I am in awe of your tremendous generosity and commitment to independent journalism, literally putting your money where my mouth is, at a time of extreme economic pain and when the mainstream media seems to have abandoned the search for truth in favor of access. I promise to work hard to justify your trust and faith in me.

I will be posting updates here and elsewhere to keep you advised about the progress of this project. In the next few months, I will need to obtain visas for Afghanistan and neighboring countries, including Iran, arrange flights and alert fixers, find the perfect hat to keep the desert sun off, and consider the painful prospect of growing the world’s ugliest beard. I’m currently planning for a trip throughout the month of August.

I will file blog entries from Afghanistan, and when I get back I’ll have a book to write. And hopefully I will find out some things worth knowing about a country the United States military has been occupying for nearly a decade—with no end in sight.


A New Geary in June

April 2, 2010 by  

Here’s what we’ve got slated for June, solicited in comics stores now:


A Treasury of XXth Century Murder
The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans
Rick Geary
Nights of terror! A city awash in blood! New Orleans right after the First World War. The party returns to the Big Easy but someone looks to spoil it. Grocers are being murdered in the dead of night by someone grabbing their axe and hacking them right in their own cushy beds! The pattern for each murder is the same: a piece of the door is removed for entry, the axe is borrowed on the property, and the assailant aims straight for the head! Why? How could he fit through that piece in the door? The man is never found for sure but speculations abound which Geary presents with his usual gusto!
A Junior Library Guild selection
6×9, 80pp., B&W, jacketed hardcover, $15.99 ISBN 978-1-56163-581-8

See the previews.

And from EUROTICA:

KRISTINA, Queen of Vampires
Chapter 3
Kristina’s coven of vampires come over to rescue her with their own blood but as she revives she cannot resist being with her little group of human subjects who provide her with such delicious sex. Will it be her un-doing?
8 1/2 x11, 48pp, full color trade pb.: $11.99, ISBN 978-1-56163-585-6
see previews, click on the Coming up in June banner.

Order all of these from your comics store today or you can pre-order from us here.


From PAPERCUTZ, our sister co.:

“Tinker Bell and The Wings of Rani”

By Teresa Radice, Augusto Machetto and Giulia Conti
Daniela Vetro, Emilio Urbano, Roberta Zanotta, artists.

Five stories featuring Tinker Bell and the rest of the Fairies of Pixie Hollow! In “The Lost Fairy” Tinker Bell and Prilla search for one of their missing friends while “The Wings of Rani” sees the only wingless fairy, Rani, strive to save her friend Beck from a huge waterfall. “The Most Beautiful Dress” pits Beck, Vidia and Prilla against each other in a dress contest, leaving Tinker Bell to keep the competition from getting out of hand. Beck learns the true value of friends in “The Color of Friendship,” and lastly all of the Fairies find themselves looking a bit silly when Queen Clarion accidentally loses her shoes, leading all the Fairies to do the same, thinking it’s the newest fashion trend! A collection of warm and funny stories starring Tinker Bell and friends.

5 x 7 1/2, 80 pages, full-color paperback, $7.99, ISBN: 9781-59707-226-7
Also available in collector’s hardcover: $12.99 ISBN 978-1-59707-227-4

Graphic Novel #10
Cyrano de Bergerac
By Edmond Rostand
Adapted by Peter David and Kyle Baker
The classics romance comes to comics in this adaptation by celebrated graphic novelist Kyle Baker and Peter David, in which the tragedy and romance of Rostand’s 19th century play are presented. Cyrano de Bergerac yearns to confess his love to for his cousin Roxanne; he is a talented poet and musician who should have no trouble doing so. Yet his large nose has him convinced that no woman would ever be interested in him. When Cyrano finds out that Roxanne is enamored with the handsome Christian de Neuville, a tale of romance and heartbreak begins that is wonderfully captured by David and Baker.

6 1/2 x 9, 56 pages, full-color hardcover, $9.99,
ISBN: 978-1-59707-197-0

Order all of these from your comics store today or you can pre-order from us here.

Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Out-Republicaning the Republicans

April 1, 2010 by  

Obama Revives Clinton’s Disastrous Triangulation Strategy

NEW YORK—”It was Bill Clinton who recognized that the categories of conservative and liberal played to Republican advantage and were inadequate to address our problems,” President Obama wrote in his book The Audacity of Hope. “Clinton’s third way…tapped into the pragmatic, non-ideological attitude of Americans.”

Clinton’s “third way” was “triangulation,” a term and strategy invented by his pollster Dick Morris. Triangulation is a candidate’s attempt to position himself above and between the left and the right. A Democrat, Clinton insulated himself from Republican attacks by appropriating many of their ideas.

Obama is even more of a triangulator than Clinton.

Triangulation can work for candidates in the short term. Clinton got reelected by a landslide in 1996. (It failed, though, for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.) But triangulation hurts parties, which sell an ideological point of view. Clinton worked so hard to out-Republican the Republicans that he forgot he was a Democrat-. He also forgot that Democratic voters expected to see liberal policies.

Clinton’s greatest achievements ended up being Republican platform planks: free trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, welfare reform, balancing the federal budget on the backs of the poor and working class.

By the way, Dick Morris is now a Republican. Maybe he always was.

Because of Clintonian triangulation, the liberal base of the Democratic Party saw the 1990s as a squandered opportunity: eight years of unprecedented economic expansion with not one new social program, not even national healthcare, to show for it. They got the message: voting Democratic doesn’t guarantee Democratic policies. Unenthused, liberals stayed home or voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Liberal disgust for triangulation (they called it “selling out”) sufficiently reduced Al Gore’s margin of victory to allow George W. Bush to steal Florida and the national election. It took the Democrats six years to begin to recover.

Obama ran as a centrist. It would come as little surprise if he were governing as one.

But he’s not a moderate president.

Obama is a Republican.

A right-wing Republican. Thanks to triangulation gone wild.

In his first year Obama chose to continue numerous Bush Administration policies, many of which originated in the far extreme wing of the GOP. Each of the following asterisks represents a broken campaign promise:

Keeping the Guantánamo torture camp open*

Continuing the war against Iraq*

Expanding the war against Afghanistan

Renewing the USA Patriot Act*

No-string bank bailouts

Continuing “military commission” kangaroo trials*

Reserving the right to torture*

Continuing the NSA’s “domestic surveillance” program of spying on innocent Americans’ emails and phone calls*

It took over a year, but Obama can finally point to two legislative achievements: healthcare reform and reducing private banks’ role in the issuance of student loans. The student loan bill, though a step in the right direction, is liberal but too modest. Student loans ought to be replaced by grants. Ultimately, universities and colleges will have to be nationalized.
Obama’s revamp of healthcare, on the other hand, goes too far, perverting the liberal desire to provide healthcare for all Americans into a transfer of wealth from poor to rich that the hard right never dreamed of.

Buying into the classic, flawed, American assumption that a bad system can’t get worse (ask the Iraqis and Afghans), ObamaCare entrusts 30 million new customers, to the tune of roughly ten grand a year each, to the tender mercies of private insurance companies.

ObamaCare pours hundreds of billions of dollars, some from taxpayers, the rest from poor people, into the gaping coffers of giant corporations. Once people find themselves paying even more for visits to the same crappy doctors and hospitals they can’t afford now, they’ll hold the Dems responsible at the polls. If Republicans stopped to think, they’d love it.

And if Democrats stopped to think, they’d hate it.

Most Americans, and almost all liberal Democrats, want socialized medicine. Like they have in the rest of the world. Failing that, they were willing to settle for single-payer. When Obama let it be known that Mr. Audacity was going to lead as anything but, they prayed for a “public option.” What they got: zero.

Actually, less than zero: We were better off before. Taxes will go up for the already insured. For those about to be forcibly insured, they’ll have to pay more. And here’s the kicker: not only will the insurance companies be making higher profits at our expense, so will the federal government.

The Congressional Budget Office, invariably described in pieces like this as “the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office,” projects that the U.S. Treasury will come out ahead by $130 billion over 10 years.

Deficit negativity helped score votes among Democratic deficit hawks in Congress. But again, think about it: If the healthcare bill is making a profit for the U.S. government, where is that $130 billion coming from?

Correct: you and me. Our taxes will be higher than they should be, our health benefits will be less.

Obama, the media and many of us have forgotten what the problem was in the first place. Healthcare costs were too high. Thanks to this monster of a bill, they’ll go even higher.

The government should not make a profit off sick people.

Even the Republicans wouldn’t propose a tax this regressive.

Now Obama is echoing Sarah Palin, right-winger-turned-Tea-Partier. “Drill, baby, drill!” says the president, guaranteeing oil-soaked beaches decades after he has retired. It’s a terrible policy for the environment, won’t lower gas prices by one red penny, and will further turn off liberal Democrats.

Democrats will lose seats in Congress this fall. It may already be too late for Democrats to keep the White House in 2012. But if they continue to follow the Clinton-Obama triangulation strategy, they could destroy themselves for years to come. They might even expose the overall bankruptcy of our two-party pseudo-democracy.

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