The National Rifle Association’s opposition to the regulation of firearms isn’t only guided by the staunch position to protect the “constitutional rights” of gun owners. The NRA has received tens of millions of dollars from the firearms industry since 2005, which it in turn has used to lobby against even the most common-sense gun laws. GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support criminal background checks to qualify for purchasing a gun, yet the NRA continues to lobby against mandatory federal background checks, suggesting it has more than just its constituents’ interests in mind. The NRA has also been using campaign donations and lobbying to promote state legislation, such as Florida’s 2005 “shoot first” Stand Your Ground Law, which has now been adopted by half of the country. All of this contributes to a legal environment where both ownership and the size of the firearms economy are as widespread and large-scale as possible, and the ability to use deadly force is given to any citizen who purchases a gun.
Using the the term “piracy” to describe copyright infringement is a pejorative metaphor that takes copyright infringement and file sharing, something that is relatively benign and non-destructive (though definitely disruptive to the way we currently distribute media) and maps it onto theft and violence. There are certainly still conversations to be had about content and media distribution and compensation, but these discussions would be best served by cutting out deceptive language like “piracy.” Aaron Swartz wrote on this misconception in a blog post, where he wrote:
“Stealing is wrong. But downloading isn’t stealing. If I shoplift an album from my local record store, no one else can buy it. But when I download a song, no one loses it and another person gets it. There’s no ethical problem. The evidence that downloading hurts sales is weak, but even if downloading did hurt sales, that doesn’t make it unethical. Libraries, video rental places, and used book stores (none of which pay the artist) hurt sales too. Is it unethical to use them?”
Swartz also elaborated on this topic in a cut NYT point/counterpoint.
Given the European interests they were based on, it’s amazing that the Middle East’s borders have survived this long. With the institutions of government in Iraq and Syria failing to maintain legitimacy with their people, the central authorities appear to become just another organized armed group in the region’s chaotic power struggle. While re-drawing the map isn’t currently being discussed, the inability of the Iraqi and Syrian central governments to control their official territory demonstrates just how unsubstantiated these antiquated and foreign boundaries really are.
Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine recently received an ominous text message based on their proximity to the ongoing demonstrations in the center of the city. It’s easy to feel like technology is helping citizens organize and protest against the government until you receive a targeted text message reminding you that the government is watching your every move. While this cartoon is inspired by the events in Ukraine, it can be applied much more generally to protest and dissent in any country, as mass surveillance technologies like facial recognition continue to develop and become ubiquitous.
After explaining that he used to smoke weed, David Brooks writes that legalizing weed, which he conflates with encouraging use, may make it harder for people to become who they want to be. What he neglected to mention is that a criminal record, or prison sentence, for possession of pot definitely makes it harder for people to be who they want to be. It can prevent individuals from getting student loans or a state job. Plus, despite similar rates of use, African Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession as white people.
The unsolved problems that have dominated the national discourse this year will only intensify as we make our way into another election year.
2013 was the first year that I kept a consistent schedule, working with The Gabbler’s editors to pitch ideas and angles for cartoons. Again and again, I found myself focusing on certain themes: the intimate relationship between moneyed interests and the government; technology and the perpetually-multiplying powers of the executive branch; and political events that are shaping the direction of the world.
The closeness between the government and moneyed interests is clearly on display in the legal treatment of banks for their far-reaching crimes. My first cartoon this year – an admittedly conventional and unimpressive illustration of an unidentified character shouting at the DOJ’s Lanny Breuer and an oversized personification of HSBC – was a reaction to small fines for heinous money laundering practices. This topic came up again in October, when J.P. Morgan Chase and their acquisitions WaMu and Bear Sternes also avoided criminal charges for recklessly tanking the economy.
This theme will likely be even more pronounced in 2014, as corporations continue to shape our government by blatantly using massive amounts of money to choose who gets elected, and the gap between the rich and poor widens.
I also spent a lot of time considering the terrifying pace of technology in 2013. This shows in different ways, from the Facebookification of our Daily News to shadowy government agencies’ abilities to gather and store every piece of information we transmit (and we transmit a lot). The revelations from hero-of-the-year Edward Snowden fostered a forceful public awareness of the burgeoning domestic security state. For me, this was prominently seen during the manhunt for Boston Marathon Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev less than a mile away from my apartment, as the overwhelming force of the nation’s many-pronged security apparatus came down on an enemy of the state.
Internationally, President Obama’s drone wars became the iconic image for cartoonists looking to portray Obama succumbing to the seductive power of new technology in service of a boundless global war. The administration’s memo legally justifying the assassination of U.S. citizens made the increasing use of a “national security exception” even more frightening. Despite all this, the GOP continued to fixate almost exclusively on criticizing the President’s health care reform.
Elsewhere in the world, Syria continues to be a tragic and seemingly immutable catastrophe; Turkey’s Prime Minister holds on to power; and a series of power changes leaves the autocratic foundation of Egypt’s state intact. The U.S. winds down in a chaotic and corrupt Afghanistan, admitting after 12 years that we’re much better at destroying states than we are at fixing them (and maybe we aren’t the best role models).
I’ll be looking at these persistent issues in 2014, as well as looking at some new trends in our fascinating world ( like private prisons in America). Over the past few months, I’ve felt that certain topics are so rich with irony and absurdity that they require a more narrative and research-based cartoon – like the recent one below. Hopefully trying out new formats and formulas will help cartoons be engaging, and keep the robots from taking my job.
I think an important and often missing part of the on-going “low wage” conversation is how a company’s decision to pay below-poverty-line wages affects more than just the employees. The vast majority of individuals receiving public benefits are from working families that are poorly paid, which costs taxpayers an estimated quarter trillion dollars every year.
I don’t want to frame this only as an issue of “poor workers are costing taxpayers money.” Instead, it’s an issue of corporations with profits in the billions of dollars taking advantage of public money to subsidize their labor operations in order to keep prices low. People say raising the minimum wage will also raise costs for consumers at these businesses. That seems appropriate, or at least it makes more sense than every American subsidizing their labor costs. And the argument that increasing wages will lead to a favoring of capital over labor, or increased automation, is an issue that this country will have to face (and the subject of my Amazon and Google cartoon a couple weeks ago) but is not a good argument for continuing to treat workers unfairly.