SYNDICATED COLUMN: An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

How American Democracy Relies on Fascism What would you do if you learned that Bush Administration officials wanted to round up thousands of Americans and throw them into concentration camps? For all we know, there is no slippery slope. It’s entirely possible that extraordinary rendition, eliminating habeas corpus, and the torture camps at Guantánamo and elsewhere are exactly what the government says they are–tools for fighting terrorists, not domestic political opponents. But how likely is it? History is clear: Over and over again, the U.S. government places fascists in powerful positions. Once in office, they exploit wars and national tragedies to roll back hard-won freedoms. They’re Democrats as well as Republicans. As has happened with increasing frequency in recent years, another blockbuster story revealing the anti-democratic impulse within the top echelon of the U.S. government has appeared and vanished overnight. According to Cold War-era files declassified last week, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover repeatedly advised President Harry Truman to arrest…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Unfunny Pages

Artsy Comics Are Alienating Readers Love them or hate them, people react to cartoons. Comic strips like “The Far Side,” “Peanuts” and “Doonesbury” inspire devotional cults. Political cartoons, such as the recent Danish Mohammed illustrations and my own post-9/11 Bush-bashing scribbles, can arouse hateful mobs. What’s weird is when cartoons elicit no reaction at all. Which is what has (not) happened since 2005, when The New York Times began running “The Funny Pages,” a literary supplement to its Sunday Magazine section that includes a full-page comic strip in every issue. First up was “Building Stories,” a graphic novel by Chris Ware serialized in 30 weekly installments. To call Ware an award-winning graphic artist is like calling a cockroach prolific; the only accolade he hasn’t won is the Nobel. Yet. Comic book fans had hoped that The Funny Pages would convince normal adults, who limit their graphic art consumption to political cartoons and comic strips, to buy graphic novels. (Articles espousing…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats—The Other White Meat

Let’s Fight a Doomed War in Afghanistan, Not Iraq! NEW YORK–There is too a difference between the two major parties. Republicans want us to spend, die and lose in Iraq. Democrats want us to spend, die and lose in Afghanistan. There’s a difference between the two major wars, too. Afghanistan is even less justifiable than Iraq. It’s also less winnable. The lily-livered libbies’ “Bush took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan when he invaded Iraq” meme is back. “Six years after we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan–the origin of the 9/11 attacks–we still don’t have our priorities straight,” Barack Obama said in Des Moines this week. That followed an October speech in New Hampshire in which he described George W. Bush’s response to 9/11 as “perfectly reasonable.” “I supported the invasion of Afghanistan because the Taliban had been supportive and the base camp for Al Qaeda,” Obama said. “So I had no problem with that.” In…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Future Imperfect, Part III

Last week, I pointed out that print still accounts for more than 90 percent of newspaper revenues. This week, the third of a three-part series on the future of newspapers. Buy Stock in Newspapers, Weep For America In his book “The Vanishing Newspaper” Philip Meyer predicts that 2043 will mark the death of printed newspapers in the United States, “as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition.” Not a chance. Media companies report that their Internet editions are newspapers’ fastest growing sources of revenue. But the Web isn’t why I’m bullish about the industry.First, there is no Internet–not one that makes money for newsmongers. “Newspapers are growing the amount of revenue they derive from their Web operations,” reports E-Commerce Times, but “that revenue stream is growing too slowly to replace the losses represented by plunging circulation.” Merrill Lynch estimates that online ads generate seven percent of newspaper income. The firm’s media analysts say it’ll take at least…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Future Imperfect, Part II

This is the second of a three-part series about the media. Blind Newsman Gums Internet Dog Last week, I discussed the blind faith that is leading media executives to invest heavily in online ventures at the expense of print. This week: will the Internet ever be profitable? Americans are optimistic to a fault. Overthrow Saddam, we thought–yeah, that “we” includes a lot of liberals–and whatever came next would be better. I was skeptical. You couldn’t ask for a worse government than the Taliban, yet what followed them in Afghanistan–anarchy, chaos, rape, genocide–was even worse. Which is what happened in Iraq. Optimism is for suckers. Entropy rules the universe. In the absence of a powerful positive force to counterbalance it, things usually get worse. Media executives are like the neocons, in their blind faith that a brighter future will inevitably emerge from the rubble of the crumbling edifice of print media. Sometimes the old order just goes away. Sometimes there is…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Future Imperfect, Part I

When Media Content is Free, It’s Worth Every CentThis is the first of a three-part series. August J. Pollak was thrilled when the Huffington Post asked him to blog for them. Joining the widely-read liberal website was a great break, thought the astute political cartoonist/blogger whose work appears at the perfectly-named “Some Guy with a Website.” Then they told him about his salary: Zero. “I love the Huffington Post, and I love the exposure I get from them,” Pollak told me. “But it’s never going to pay my rent.” He’s right. The Huffington Post, capitalized to the tune of $10 million, employs 43 full-time employees, all of whom presumably receive actual cash money, and health benefits, and maybe even a 401(k), for their efforts. But, USA Today reports, “it has no plans to begin paying bloggers. Ever.” Ken Lerer, company co-founder, former Time Warner executive, and probably himself in it for the money, says: “That’s not our financial model. We…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sign the Pledge!

Trim Bush from American History A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column that resonated with a lot of people. Since 2001, I noted, “We’ve lost our right to see an attorney, to confront our accusers, even to get a fair trial. Government agents have kidnapped thousands of people, most of whom have never been heard from again. Bush even signed an edict claiming the right to assassinate anyone, including you and me, based solely on his whims. Torture, the ultimate sign that civilized society has been replaced by a police state,” has been legalized. None of the major presidential candidates are currently promising to do what it would take to restore democracy: close Gitmo and the CIA torture chambers, get out of Afghanistan and Iraq, revoke the protofascist USA-Patriot and Military Commissions Acts, obey the Geneva Conventions and turn over Bush, his torturers, his Congressional allies and his top civilian and military officials to an international war crimes…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Against Us Or Against Us

Pakistan’s Con Man Still At It “You’re either with us, or against us.” Bush had his then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell, deliver that stark message to Pervez Musharraf after 9/11. “Be prepared to be bombed,” Musharraf says Powell’s number two at State, Richard Armitage, told him. “Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.” Faced with that bleak choice, the military dictator promised Pakistan’s cooperation in the “war on terror.” Like Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi codenamed “Curveball,” Musharraf was nothing more than a con man. He collected $10 billion from American taxpayers. Six years later, all we have to show for it is Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, alleged Al Qaeda strategist, poster boy for waterboarding and a candidate for worst morning face ever. But don’t blame the general for selling us a line of crap. Allying himself “with us” was never an option. In October 1999 I was traveling along the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar in western China to…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Time-to-make-the-doughnuts Candidate

Hillary Clinton, Joyless Uniter “The fact that a lot of people dislike you is troubling,” says the director of the Quinnipiac University poll, talking about Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbagger, Slept Her Way Into National Prominence, NY). She scores 47 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, leaving Barack Obama (21 percent) and John Edwards (12 percent) in the dust. This is supposed to make her inevitable. Why bother to hold primaries? But a funny thing happens when Democrats and Republicans talk about 2008: they find common ground. “I can’t stand Hillary,” the Republican opens. “She’s disgusting,” the Democrat agrees. At last, a Uniter. Half the electorate hates her–and not just members of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. She’s a juggernaut, at least in a Howard Dean-in-November 2003 kind of way. Liberals will vote for her if she’s the nominee. But it’ll be a chore. She epitomizes joylessness. Win or lose, who cares? She’s the time-to-make-the-doughnuts candidate. Every voter has his or her limit,…
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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who Will Be Our Next Torturer-in-Chief?

George W. Bush has shoved American politics into the dark realm of the lunatic right, zipping past Joe McCarthy into territory previously covered by historical accounts of Germany in the 1940s. We’ve lost our right to see an attorney, to confront our accusers, even to get a fair trial. Government agents have kidnapped thousands of people, many of whom have never been heard from again. Bush even signed an edict claiming the right to assassinate anyone, including you and me, based solely on his whims. Torture, the ultimate sign that civilized society has been replaced by a police state, was repeatedly authorized by government officials who smirked the few times reporters had the temerity to ask them about it. The 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections have been and will prove to be decisive moments in American history. In each case the American people were offered a stark choice between a future of freedom and one under tyranny.In 2000 the…
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