Tag Archives: columbia university

SYNDICATED COLUMN: 50%+ of Americans Have Been Poor, and Capitalism Thinks That’s Awesome

Odds are, you are poor. Or you’ve been poor.

Conventional wisdom — i.e., what the media says, not what most people think — repeatedly implies that poverty is a permanent state that chronically afflicts a relatively small number of Americans, while the rest of us thrive in a vast, if besieged, middle class. In fact, most Americans between age 25 and 75 have spent at least one year living under the poverty line.

“One of the biggest myths about poverty in the United States is that a relatively small segment of the population is poor, and that this represents a more or less permanent underclass,” Columbia University economist and social work professor Irwin Garfinkel tells Columbia magazine. “But poverty is quite dynamic. Lots of people move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives. And it doesn’t take much for people at the edge to lose their footing: a reduction in work hours, an inability to find affordable day care, a family breakup, or an illness — any of these can be disastrous.”

Even if you bounce back, the effects of these financial setbacks linger. For young adults, attending cheaper colleges or passing up higher education — or being unable to afford to take a low-paid internship — burdens them with opportunity costs that hobble them the remainder of their lives (which will likelier end sooner). Debts accrue with compound interest and must be repaid; damaged credit ratings block qualified buyers from purchasing homes. Diseases go undetected and untreated during periods without healthcare. Gaps on resumes are a red flag for employers.

Americans pay a price for the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism. To find out exactly how high the cost is, Professor Garfinkel and his colleagues at Columbia have created the Poverty Tracker, dubbed “one of the most richly detailed studies of poverty ever undertaken in the United States.” The Poverty Tracker is “a meticulous long-term survey of 2,300 New York households across all income levels…for at least two years” that aims “to create a much more intimate and precise portrait of economic distress than has ever been conducted in any US city.”

Initial findings were distressing: “While the city’s official poverty rate is 21%, the Columbia researchers found that 37% of New Yorkers, or about 3 million people, went through an extended period in 2012 when money was so tight that they lost their home, had their utilities shut off, neglected to seek medical treatment for an illness, went hungry, or experienced another ‘severe material hardship,’ as the researchers define such extreme consequences.”

Wait, it’s even worse than that:

“Even the 37% figure understates the number of New Yorkers who endured tough times in 2012. The researchers estimate that two million more endured what they call ‘moderate material hardship,’ which, as opposed to, say, losing one’s home or having the lights shut off, might involve merely falling behind on the rent or utility bills for a couple of months. Many others were in poor health. Indeed, the researchers found that if you add together all of those who were in poverty, suffered severe material hardship, or had a serious health problem, this represented more than half of all New Yorkers [emphasis is mine].”

The researchers hope that “they will have enough data to begin helping public authorities, legislators, foundations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and private charities address the underlying problems that affect the city’s poor” by the end of 2014.

Nationally, more than 35% of all Americans are currently ducking calls from collection agencies over unpaid debts.

What can be done?

Under this system? Not much. Democrats, who haven’t even proposed a major anti-poverty program since the 1960s, aren’t meaningfully better on poverty than Republicans.

As things stand, the best we can hope for from the political classes are crumbs: a few teeny-weeny proposals for wee reforms.

Like expanding day-care programs. More school lunches. Housing subsidies. “Additional investments in food programs.”

A drop in the bucket in an ocean of misery.

The Poverty Tracker shows that poverty is a huge problem in the United States. Unfortunately its authors, who draw their salaries from an institution intimately intertwined with monied elites, dare not openly suggest what they know to be true, that the key to eliminating poverty is to get rid of its root cause: capitalism.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No College, No Job. College is Expensive. Is It Any Wonder Students Turn to Porn?

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/xx_factor/2014/Duke_porn.jpg.CROP.promo-medium2.jpg

Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.

Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.

Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”

Tabloids and gossip sites are reveling in their usual witches’ brew of judginess and salacious intrigue.

Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.

About that Post columnist:

Ruth Marcus, Old Enough to Be Knox’s Grandma and apparently a freelance psychologist, calls Knox a “troubled young woman.”

If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.

“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.

“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”

Charming.

Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”

Two things.

One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.

Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.

Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.

So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”

Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.

Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.

Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.

Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.

When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.

I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)

I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.

One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.

I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.

Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.

If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.

But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.

I thought Manhattan was Long Island.

Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.

The President says it too.

Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.

Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”

Wrong.

Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.

The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Psst. The Pulitzers are BS.

http://www.lexhamarts.org/theater/Pulitzer/JosephPulitzer.jpg

 

The winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes in journalism will be announced in a couple of months. I will not be one of them; I forgot to enter this year.

You read that correctly. Anyone can enter. All you need is fifty bucks, some clips and a dream. And good credit (no checks accepted). Remember that the next time you hear someone touted as a “Pulitzer Prize nominee.”

I’ve won awards. I’ve judged them. I’ve heard behind-the-scenes stories of how the winners are chosen.

I’ve concluded that the gap between public perception — that these prizes are meaningful, that they reward the year’s best work — and sordid reality — the selection process makes no sense and is corrupt to boot — is huge.

If people knew the truth, they’d be shocked. So here’s the truth.

Judges brazenly allow their political biases and personal connections (or grudges) guide their supposed-to-be objective decision-making. Their taste runs boringly middlebrow. No shock there.

What does come as a surprise to most people is the system. The judging processes for other contests are flawed too, but I’m focusing on the Pulitzer because, as the most prestigious award in the field, it is the one that most Americans have heard of and to which journalists are most likely to apply. (My rule is, don’t apply to awards that are less famous than I am.)

Winning a Pulitzer is good for careers. It can score you a raise, land a book deal, protect you from a round of layoffs and, at bare minimum, earn you ohs of respect when you’re introduced at a party.

Who wins the Pulitzer matters to American society. It directly impacts the evolution of journalism. For example, my fellow editorial cartoonists mimic the drawing styles, structural approaches and even the politics of previous winners in hope of someday winning a Prize themselves. Each announcement of a winner sends a message. Most years, corporate journalism establishment wants safe and middle-of-the-road — and what wins the Big P is what editors and producers consider safe. Some years, innovation is rewarded. The Pulitzer signals that one kind of daring may be OK, while others are too outré to be taken seriously, much less employable.

Given the Pulitzer’s impact, you’d think that Columbia University’s journalism school would award it thoughtfully, creating a set of criteria and judging mechanisms designed to reward the highest-quality news photographers, playwrights, editorial writers and so on in the United States.

You’d think.

Most people believe that the Pulitzer for cartooning, for example, goes to the best cartoonist of the year. The truth is complicated, almost byzantine. Actually, it goes to the best portfolio of 20 cartoons drawn by a cartoonist the previous year. Which the cartoonist selects himself.

A typical political cartoonist draws about 200 cartoons a year. Which means that the committee that judges political cartoons never sees 90% of any artist’s work. (Or, for that matter, that of cartoonists who don’t enter.) After particularly egregious winners are announced, a common refrain of jurors called to explain themselves is: “Hey, he had a great portfolio.” This, by the way, is rarely true.

Anyway, it is for the best that the judges only look at a tiny slice of U.S. political cartooning, since most Pulitzer jurors are completely ignorant of the field.

Each prize category — biography, fiction, cartooning, whatever — is judged by a committee. Until recently, the cartooning committee was comprised completely of editors and editorial page editors, some of whom didn’t run cartoons in their newspapers.  Others worked in other fields, like photo editors. Some admitted to their fellow panelists they’d never seen an editorial cartoon. None had the obsessive, comprehensive knowledge of American political cartooning you’d want or expect. Most jurors were ignorant of entire genres of cartooning. (One year, not long ago, a juror insisted that entries by alternative weekly cartoonists —Tom Tomorrow, Ward Sutton, Ruben Bolling, me — be set aside, and not considered, because she didn’t think our genre, which she’d never seen before, were political cartoons at all.) Because they hadn’t read many cartoons, they had no way to tell if an entry was original or hackneyed.

The committee selects three finalists. These are sent to the main Pulitzer Prize committee, which chooses the winner among the three finalists. Well, they can — they can opt not to award a category prize at all (this happened in fiction a few years ago) or to ignore the category committee’s recommendations and pull the winner out of thin air (that happened the year I was a finalist and yes, I took it personally).

In recent years, the cartooning committee has included one or two actual people who actually knew something about cartooning — an academic and/or previous Pulitzer winner. But most committee jurors are still drawn out of the never-seen-that-before pool.

Columbia tells committee members to choose finalists everyone can agree with. Unless someone throws a hissy fit — which they almost never do —  the result is a trio of compromise finalists. These choices are negotiated between one or two people who know what they’re talking about, and two or three who don’t.

Lowest common denominator wins.

The winner is selected by the very establishment, very old, very staid Pulitzer Board. Though it is possible that the classical philosopher, the rural South Dakota newspaper publisher, and the New Yorker writer who sit on the board are voracious consumers of the 60 or so political cartoons produced daily by the nation’s graphic satirists, it is far more likely that the opposite is true, and that they will be casting ballots in an important election between candidates they know nothing about.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Don’t Kids Want to Study Engineering? Because Engineering Friggin’ Sucks.

http://mcstemcareers.pbworks.com/f/1300060168/STEM%20Logo.png

Sexing Up Science Won’t Solve a Dearth of STEM Majors

According to a survey, nearly 90% of 16- and 17-year-olds have no interest in a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) career.

The climate is crashing, the NSA is tracking our porn, and the 99% haven’t gotten a raise in decades, but the party organ of America’s ruling class is truly, awfully worried about our imminent STEMlessness. A lot.

“The number of students who want to pursue engineering or computer science jobs is actually falling, precipitously, at just the moment when the need for those workers is soaring,” writes The Editorial Board of The New York Times, which is composed of editors no one has heard of, yet whose opinions we are all supposed to care about. “Within five years, there will be 2.4 million STEM job openings,” write The Editors.

Who, in the future, will program the great fleets of killer drones? Who will pilot them? It would suck to lose that business to the Chinese.

Whenever the question of Why No One Wants to Study Engineering comes up, the media always comes back with the same answer: conning convincing kids that STEM stuff isn’t boring.

“Most schools continue to teach math and science in an off-putting way that appeals only to the most fervent students,” the Times editors complain. Sex up the sciences — that’s the ticket!

Texas Instruments (they’re still around?) has hired neuroscientist/”Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik as a “STEM education brand ambassador” to sing the praises of partial differential equations using framing that the Kids of Today/Worker Bees of Tomorrow can relate to. “Who doesn’t know something about zombies or superheroes?” asks Bialik. “These cultural archetypes can do more than just entertain. Zombies, it turns out, can teach real science and mathematical concepts like exponential growth curves and the intricacies of human anatomy and anatomical degradation. Superheroes can prompt a variety of questions that draw on physics, such as: How does one actually travel faster than the speed of light?”

Is it me, or does this seem a little…forced?

Hey, I’m as geeky as they come. When an engineer who designed famous roller coasters gave a talk at my Ohio high school, I was enthralled. (My classmates, not so much.) But I still didn’t want to study engineering — and it wasn’t because science is boring.

I loved math, chemistry and physics in high school. I studied years ahead. I got perfect grades and tested so well that Columbia’s School of Engineering offered me a full scholarship and a well-paid teachers assistant job.

Still, I didn’t want to go. Not because math and science bored me — to the contrary. I dreaded it because I knew engineering school would probably be a sucky experience and that a career in the sciences would be depressing.

Not that my parents cared what I wanted. They bullied me into going anyway because (a) Columbia gave me the most financial aid of the schools I applied to, and (b) something “practical” like engineering guarantees a steady well-paid job after graduation. (Ha.) So off I went.

Guess what? Engineering school was a sucky experience.

My experience at Columbia highlights reasons — aside from the alleged tedium of math and science — that most young people aren’t interested in the STEM professions:

  • When you study math and science, your classmates are boring. At Columbia the engineering majors were politically disengaged, careerist, nose-to-the-grindstone types you’d never find working over the world’s problems at an overnight BS session — much less checking out a punk concert. They were academically smart and deadly dull. After graduation, people similar in personality to your fellow students become your colleagues. Engineering isn’t boring. Engineers are. Working with boring engineers is a bummer.
  • STEM majors get much lower grades than liberal arts majors. Tougher grading causes lower GPAs, so dropout and expulsion rates are also much higher: three out of four liberal art majors get a degree, only one out of four STEM majors. During freshman orientation, Columbia’s dean of students told us that 75% of us would drop out or get expelled. I wondered why I was there. (After three years, I was expelled with a 2.4 GPA. Which I worked hard for.) Why take out massive student loans for a one-in-four chance at a degree? Though some studies deny the difference, 60% of freshman engineering students are gone, dropped out or transferred to the liberal arts, by the end of their freshman year. These kids aren’t stupid or lazy — they were smart and studious enough to get admitted in the first place.
  • Low social status. Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear safety glasses; girls suddenly remember something they forgot in the ladies room when you tell them you’re an electrical engineer. Because (see above) engineers are boring. Also: in America’s anti-intellectual culture, it’s not cool or hip or prestigious to be a scientist.
  • STEM employment is sporadic (they say “cyclical”). What’s the point of playing it safe when it’s not, well, safe? The STEM major you pick as a freshman may easily be obsolete by the time you hit the senior year job fair. Even if not, it’s extremely unlikely your chosen scientific field will provide steady employment for years to come. Currently, as the Powers That Be say they need STEMmers, unemployment is sky high among STEM professionals. As of 2009, nearly 9% of electrical engineers were jobless. Oh, and it turns out that STEM majors actually don’t earn more than their liberal arts counterparts.

“Indeed, science and engineering careers in the U.S. appear to be relatively unattractive” compared with other career paths, Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, which funds basic scientific, economic and civic research, testified to Congress in 2007.

High-school students know what’s up. They hear from older siblings how hard it is to graduate from engineering school. They watch their friends’ parents lose their jobs from supposedly “safe” STEM outfits. They’re not going to change their minds until reality improves.

Some fixes:

  • De-ghettoize STEM majors within colleges and universities. Require STEM majors to take lots of liberal arts classes — it’s not like a math major shouldn’t study Spanish literature — and require liberal arts majors to take more math and science. Mix up the student bodies. Think about someone like Steve Jobs, whose design sense came from his love of art and calligraphy. The divide between English and physics majors is artificial and outdated. Crosspollinate.
  • Put an end to the grading disparity between STEM majors and liberal arts. It’s unfair and it’s stupid. At Harvard, the average grade is an “A-“, and why not? The average Harvard student is intelligent and hardworking — and so is the average Columbia engineering student. Harvard’s softer grading regime hasn’t cost the school any reputation points.
  • If America wants STEM majors from America, it ought to stop importing them from overseas. “When the companies say they can’t hire anyone [for STEM jobs], they mean that they can’t hire anyone at the wage they want to pay,” Jennifer Hunt, a Rutgers University labor economist, said in 2012. So they outsource STEM jobs overseas and game the work visa program to import cheaper foreign scientists. “Tech companies that import temporary workers, mainly recent graduates from India, commonly discard more expensive, experienced employees in their late 30s or early 40s, often forcing them, as Ron Hira and other labor-force researchers note, to train their replacements as they exit,” reports the Columbia Journalism Review. Until STEM unemployment among Americans is 0%, Congress ought to get rid of the visa program.
  • Even cultural perceptions can be changed. If President Obama and other members of the political class are serious about promoting STEM careers, they could start featuring our best mathematicians and chemists at events like the State of the Union Address rather than the usual parade of military veterans. The Soviet Union pimped its scientific minds big time; kids who admired these intellectual heroes followed in their footsteps.

Math and science aren’t boring. But asking people to dedicate their lives to careers that won’t pay off is dumb.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Does the Military Treat Soldiers Like Children?

Why Doesn’t the Pentagon Let Its Employees Be All They Can Be?

The U.S. military isn’t supposed to allow child soldiers to enlist (though reality can differ). So why does it treat recruits like children?

Other than religious avocations, it’s impossible to think of another major employer that asks as much of prospective workers as the Pentagon, yet offers so little. Salaries are lower than for comparable private-sector jobs. The skills one acquires don’t translate easily to other fields. The risks couldn’t be higher. But most baffling, for a force supposedly dedicated to defending our freedom, is that they get little freedom of their own.

You’ve heard the drill sergeant line in movie boot-camp scenes: “You are now the property of the United States of America.” That’s true. Once signed up, soldiers and sailors can be assigned anywhere, to any job, completely at their commanders’ discretion. Sometimes they take your skills, desires or ambitions into consideration. Not always.

Active duty, recruiters tell young men and women, lasts two to five years — after which they’re supposed to wind up in the reserves, free to go home unless there’s a national emergency. But the President can invoke the “stop-loss” provision, which means you can get stuck as long as eight.

It’s time for the military to catch up to the modern workplace.

American workers are getting more of a raw deal in many ways: lower wages and benefits, companies that ignore the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, no more pensions. Yet the fraying of the postwar labor-management social contract has also provided employees with greater flexibility. You may have to work three crappy jobs to make ends meet, but crappy jobs are easy to replace. You can move to another city and probably find three crappy jobs there. You certainly don’t have to worry about one of your crappy employers shipping you off to Afghanistan, much less coming home in a coffin.

The military’s insistence on treating its workers like property to be disposed of at whim is obsolete, making it increasingly difficult — even in a high-unemployment economy — to compete for recruits.

One example making recent headlines is the Air Force’s increasingly severe shortfall of fighter pilots. A new signing bonus totaling nearly a quarter million bucks (albeit spread over nine years), isn’t enough to compensate for starting salaries ($34,500 to $97,400) — not when the airlines are paying a median salary of $103,210 to commercial jet pilots. Nor are benefits like lower taxes and on-base housing.

“The military is difficult on the family with all the moving around,” Rob Streble, a former Top Gun and an official of the union that represents US Airways pilots, told The Los Angeles Times. “I added more stability by joining the airline.”

“People have no idea how hard it is when you have to move your family all the time,” admits John Wigle, a former F-15 pilot who is now a program analyst in the USAF’s operations, plans and requirements directorate.

Freedom was a determining factor for me.

The recruiter manning the desk at the Army Recruiting Office in Kettering, Ohio was way into me when I walked through the door at age 18. I had what they’re looking for: I was human, sentient, and ambulatory. I was also a catch: a straight-A engineering student who’d gone to an Ivy League school on full scholarship. When Reagan slashed financial aid for me and millions of other college students, I considered other options.

I aced the Army aptitude test. This didn’t surprise me, considering the lugs sitting in the test center next to me. Anyway, I test great. I drew the attention of a big über recruiter for the entire Midwest who wouldn’t stop calling. He made a lot of promises. We’ll fast-track you for officer! When you get out, we’ll pay your college tuition! What’s that, you want to draw cartoons for Stars and Stripes, just like Bill Mauldin during World War II? Sure, why not?

As a child of divorce, I’d learned to get promises in writing. Which, of course, military recruiters can’t and won’t do. (At the time, the Army paid “up to” $5,000 a year for college. Columbia was $13,000.) Sure, despite Reagan’s efforts, we weren’t at war. So getting killed was unlikely. But they could send me anywhere in the world, assign me to any job they wanted (from a military website today: “The Military will make every effort to match your interests and aptitudes with its needs. However, job assignments are ultimately made based on Service needs, as well as individual skills and test scores”), and the bottom line was, there’d be nothing I could do but salute and say yessir. That was the end of my flirtation with a military career. I wanted the basic freedom to choose where I lived and what I did for work.

I’m not alone. 89% of young Americans say they’d never consider a military career.

It will be a bummer for military officers, by temperament the biggest control freaks ever, but sooner or later they’re going to have to face reality: slavery is over. If you want to find quality sailors and soldiers, you have to treat them like adults. Let recruits choose their positions and where they live. Act like they’re workers. Which they are. For example, why can’t soldiers put in for vacation as opposed to applying for leave? If their chosen job is no longer needed, fine — they should be free to go. Yes, even during wartime — at least during the optional wars of choice the United States has fought since 1945.

During an invasion or serious attack against the U.S. by another nation, obviously, all bets are off. But don’t worry — that hasn’t happened since 1812.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

The Pulitzer Prize Makes Journalists Miserable

It’s a beautiful day in New York, and I presume in a lot of other places across America. But for thousands of journalists, it is a miserable time. We are on tenterhooks awaiting tomorrow’s announcement by Columbia University regarding who won this year’s Pulitzer prizes.

You might think of the Pulitzer Prize is an honor, a great reward for a job well done, the epitome of a journalist’s career. And of course, that’s what our moms and dads think. In reality, the Pulitzer Prize exists to make us all miserable.

The truth is, journalism would be much better off if the Pulitzer and all prizes simply ceased to exist. The worst aspect about it is the fact that it transforms everybody except one – or three, if you include the finalists – practitioner of a given category into a loser. It’s really no different than the high school homecoming dance; that guy is handsome, that girl is beautiful, and obviously you are not. Or anyway, you’re not as handsome or beautiful. And worst of all, all of your classmates have validated that decision by voting for it.

In any given category, whether it’s biography or criticism or editorial cartooning, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of people creating brilliant work every single day. But only one will win the Pulitzer Prize in each category. It’s shitty.

And that’s assuming that there is a way to judge the handsomest or prettiest homecoming king or queen in any kind of objective way. Often the people on the committee to elect these things choose their friends. And even if they can avoid that, parochial tastes always come into it.

The Pulitzer Prize and other awards in journalism and in other fields, of course, are no different. You know that. Over the years, as an editorial cartoonist, I have spoken to many people who have been on the committee that judges the editorial cartooning category. The small group of editors, cartoonists, and academics who are tasked with picking the three finalists that are then sent up to the main committee, which can then decide which of the finalists will get a prize, to not award in that category at all, or, as in the year that I was a finalist, pick someone else entirely, someone who was not one of the finalists.

I’ve heard some amazing stories. One year, when I filed comics journalism daily by satellite phone from Afghanistan, one of the members of the committee dismissed my entry because it was vertical. Editorial cartoons, apparently, are supposed to be horizontal. Another year, the year that I was a finalist, the reason that the main committee decided to snub me personally – and I did hear that it was personal – was because I didn’t draw in the same exact drawing style as most other editorial cartoonists. I have heard stories of drinking buddies being awarded Pulitzer prizes, plagiarists getting Pulitzer prizes after their plagiarism was known, and worst of all, that the methodology of selection almost guarantees middlebrow results. You’d expect to see a “12 angry men”-throwdown from time to time over who should win these things, but that’s not at all how it is. In fact, everybody’s eager to kick off to the free open bar at the end of the day, and no one wants to spoil the mood by getting into a fight over who should have won their category. So instead, everyone’s really collegial. The results tend to be three people that everyone can agree upon, not the best of the best. And you can really see the results. If you look at the list of Pulitzer winners in any given category over the years, you’ll certainly see some deserving names, some of the top practitioners in the field, but you also see a lot of people whose work is mediocre, and some that are downright embarrassing. I personally think of the American editorial cartoonists who won during World War II for editorial cartoons that were – yes, really – sympathetic to Hitler and the Nazis. What the hell were these guys thinking?

But even if it were possible to objectively decide who does the best novel or play or poetry of the year – and obviously it isn’t – there’s something incredibly depressing about an event that stands to disappoint so many people year after year after year. The results matter, of course, because the public and employers care about such things, and it’s possible to use an award or prize is a way to promote your career. I’ve won more than my fair share of awards, and they have certainly helped me. But the truth is that every cartoonist and every other creative person writes or draws their own Pulitzer prize every single day, when they start out with a blank piece of paper and then decide what goes on it. We are all going to be judged by our body of work. There are brilliant cartoonists and other creators who never received prizes; and then there’s of course the Nazi guy.

So to any journalists or anyone else fretting over tomorrow’s announcements at 3 PM Eastern time tomorrow, try to remember a few things. First, you’re probably not going to win. Second, if you do win, you probably don’t deserve it.

Third, there is something seriously wrong with the kind of good fortune that makes all of your best friends and colleagues miserable. So to you winners out there tomorrow, send your favorite losers a bottle of champagne. They deserve it more than you. They certainly need it more.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: Libya: The triumphalism of the US media

Obama and the US media are taking credit for Gaddafi’s downfall, but it was the Libyan fighters who won the war.

The fall of Moammar Gaddafi was a Libyan story first and foremost. Libyans fought, killed and died to end the Colonel’s 42-year reign.

No doubt, the U.S. and its NATO proxies tipped the military balance in favor of the Benghazi-based rebels. It’s hard for any government to defend itself when denied the use of its own airspace as enemy missiles and bombs blast away its infrastructure over the course of more than 20,000 sorties.

Still, it was Libyans who took the biggest risks and paid the highest price. They deserve the credit. From a foreign policy standpoint, it behooves the West to give it to them. Consider a parallel, the fall 2001 bombing campaign against the Taliban. With fewer than a thousand Special Forces troops on the ground in Afghanistan to bribe tribal leaders and guide bombs to their targets, the U.S. military and CIA relied exclusively on air power to allow the Northern Alliance to advance. The premature announcement that major combat operations had ceased, followed by the installation of Hamid Karzai as de facto president—a man widely seen as a U.S. figurehead—set the stage for what would eventually become America’s longest war.

As did the triumphalism of the U.S. media, who treated the “defeat” (more like the dispersing) of the Taliban as Bush’s victory. The Northern Alliance was a mere afterthought, condescended to at every turn by the punditocracy. To paraphrase Bush’s defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. went to war with the ally it had, not the one it would have liked to have had. America’s attitude toward Karzai and his government reflected that in many ways: snipes and insults, including the suggestion that the Afghan leader was mentally ill and ought to be replaced, as well as years of funding levels too low to meet payroll and other basic needs, thus limiting its power to metro Kabul and a few other major cities. In retrospect it would have been smarter for the U.S. to have graciously credited (and funded) the Northern Alliance with its defeat over the Taliban, content to remain the power behind the throne.

Despite this experience in Afghanistan “victory” in Libya has prompted a renewal of triumphalism in the U.S. media.

Like a slightly drunken crowd at a football match giddily shouting “U-S-A,” editors and producers keep thumping their chests long after it stops being attractive.

When Obama announced the anti-Gaddafi bombing campaign in March, Stephen Walt issued a relatively safe pair of predictions. “If Gaddafi is soon ousted and the rebel forces can establish a reasonably stable order there, then this operation will be judged a success and it will be high-fives all around,” Walt wrote in Foreign Policy. “If a prolonged stalemate occurs, if civilian casualties soar, if the coalition splinters, or if a post-Gaddafi Libya proves to be unstable, violent, or a breeding ground for extremists…his decision will be judged a mistake.”

It’s only been a few days since the fall of Tripoli, but high-fives and victory dances abound.

“Rebel Victory in Libya a Vindication for Obama,” screamed the headline in U.S. News & World Report.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

The Year of Loving Dangerously

This autobiographical graphic novel is a collaboration between me (my story, my writing) and Bluesman cartoonist Pablo G. Callejo. Travel with me to 1984, the year I lost everything. The place is New York City. In the space of a few months, I got expelled from Columbia University, fired from my job, arrested for drugs that weren’t even mine, dumped by the girl I thought was The One, and evicted. I hit the streets with $8 and the clothes on my back.

Desperate and prepared to succumb to homelessness, I invested a third of my worldly savings on pizza. There I met a girl who took me home for the night…and so began my “Year of Loving Dangerously.”

Year, currently in development to become a feature film, is a personal account about the commodification of sex and the ends to which anyone will go to survive, seen through the lens of a cruel Reaganism where the safety net is all but gone. As life becomes even tougher for America’s has-nots — most of whom don’t have my advantages as a white, Ivy-educated male — Year is a metaphor for the class war between the 1% and the 99%.

“Ted Rall is fearless. In The Year of Loving Dangerously, he turns his formidable journalistic skills on a very rich subject—himself. The memoir is not just a revealing and entertaining account of Rall’s misspent youth, but a gritty, alternative take on Manhattan in the boom years of the 1980s.”
—Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home”

Graphic Memoir, 2009
NBM Hardback, 6″x9″, 128 pp., Price $18.95

To Order A Personally Signed Copy directly from Ted:









Where do you live?
Want it dedicated? To whom?










Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone