The Sorensen Monologues


Big Box o’ Poverty

Weed War: Superweeds vs. Super-herbicides

Dow Chemical wants to put out a new herbicide called Enlist Duo to combat so-called “superweeds” that have grown resistant to Roundup and are now spreading like… weeds. It’s an absurd arms race (farms race?) against nature, which the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others, has been warning about for years.

Meanwhile, an enormous pro-industry propaganda arm muddies the debate with pseudo-scientific websites like the “Genetic Literacy Project” (part of the right-wing STATS organization) to fool clueless journalists. It’s 1984-level disinformation trying to ensure that chemical companies can do whatever they want.

Farm workers are already exposed to ridiculous levels of toxic stuff, with predictable results, which rarely gets discussed in these debates. Hence panel three.

A Salute to the Great Etta Hulme

Etta Hulme self-portrait from the Star-TelegramPioneering editorial cartoonist Etta Hulme, who worked for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram for decades, passed away recently at the age of 90. She drew cartoons well into her eighties, retiring in 2008. Hulme was, at times in her career, the only female political cartoonist working professionally in the entire country. She was a great artist and a political iconoclast in Texas, in the Molly Ivins and Ann Richards mold.

It’s puzzling to me how this amazing woman flew under the radar of the powers-that-be for her entire life. She never won a Pulitzer, despite her high-caliber talent that, in my opinion, exceeded that of many Pulitzer winners. Her Wikipedia entry is only a few lines long. Apparently she didn’t merit a New York Times obituary — unlike many obscure businesspeople, authors, and filmmakers who populate that section. But you can read remembrances of her on the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs, which interviewed several cartoonists, including me. The Star-Telegram has more.

Buffer Buffoonery

You can see a graphic comparing the 35-foot clinic buffer zone with the Supreme Court’s luxurious 252-foot buffer zone here.

I’ve been to a couple national political conventions now where the “free speech zones” can hardly even be found by convention-goers. This has always struck me as questionable. And yet the slender measure of security afforded to visitors of Massachusetts’s abortion clinics, which have been subjected to horrific violence in the past, is unconstitutional? Seems like the justices are playing legal Calvinball here.

More recommended reading on McCullen v. Coakley: this piece and this other piece by Dahlia Lithwick on Slate. A key quote:

the First Amendment shouldn’t be a Trojan horse that swallows every other right that we cherish. I think the First Amendment and I need to see other people for a few days.

And yes, things have only gotten worse in the 24 hours since I drew this cartoon.

CD cover art: Relache “Comix Trips”

CD cover art for Relache's "Comix Trips"

Belatedly sharing this CD cover project for classical label Meyer Media. Relâche is collective of musicians in Philadelphia that has been performing avant-garde “Downtown meets Dada” compositions since 1979. I was honored to be asked to illustrate the cover of their latest album, “Comix Trips.” It’s a good album, too! Really quirky, fun, modern compositions that cartoon fans would appreciate.


Iraq: Now and Zen

Ugh, doing cartoons about Bush administration neocons and Iraq is giving me terrible flashbacks of the early oughts. I never thought I’d spend time thinking about the ill-groomed John Bolton again, but there he was on Fox News, saying that past decisions are “irrelevant to the circumstances we face now” and that he’s “happy to discuss the past 10 years and we can start 10 years before that if you want,” but that it’s “not the question that America faces today.” I also happen to be reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, which contains reflections on Buddhism. The hotheaded Bolton is probably the farthest a person can get from a Buddhist monk, and yet he shares a Zen master’s single-minded — some might say insistent — focus on the now.

Making a Point

Relevant article showing photos of the London spikes here. Apparently the number of homeless there is increasing:

Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, said: “This is happening in a context where rough sleeping has gone up massively. Over the last three years rough sleeping has risen by 36% nationally and by 75% in London. More than 6,400 people slept rough in London last year.”"The reason for that increase is the continuing economic downturn, the housing shortage, and cuts to benefits, particularly housing benefit.”

Yay austerity! Why not add a dollop of hostile symbolism while you’re at it?

Soldier Falls Into Hands of American Taliban

The thuggish behavior on the right toward Bowe Berdgahl, his family, and his community has been nothing short of disgusting. In the past week, his parents have received multiple death threats. Officials in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho are being harassed with profane and sometimes intimidating phone calls, such as one promising “consequences” if the town held a welcome home party.

We don’t know all the details yet of what Bowe was thinking when he wandered off his base – or the state of his mental health. But he paid a price for that mistake: five years of hell. Republicans and their media stooges have been trying to gin up controversy about soldiers killed searching for Bowe, but as the NY Times reported by doing actual journalism, the reality was far more complicated. It is reprehensible that CNN has been presenting as fact highly charged claims that this article shows to be very dubious.

I’ve been to Hailey, and saw the weather-worn yellow ribbons flying for Bowe long after the country had moved on from that news story – and from Afghanistan altogether. If Bowe wandered off, so did the rest of America.

Special thanks to Markos Moulitsas, author of American Taliban.


Shooting Star

To be clear, I have no problem with how the Isla Vista shootings have led to a discussion of misogynist hate groups and violence against women. That’s an important conversation to have. What I’m criticizing is the folly of obsessing over details of a shooter’s life and broadcasting his every utterance in the name of “understanding” what happened. Studies show these events are a kind of social contagion exacerbated by certain kinds of news coverage. Austria faced an analogous situation with a spate of subway suicides; a campaign urged less dramatic and personalized coverage, and after Austrian media took this advice subway suicides declined by 80%. (See this PDF from the CDC and other medical groups for details.)

Many progressives bristle at the thought of holding any information back; they associate it with censorship, priggish schoolmarmism, and McCarthyism. But our current methods of reporting on these tragedies do sweep something under the rug: the media context for these events. The news doesn’t just passively reflect reality, and sometimes less really is more. Good journalism does not require publishing shooters’ pictures nor their manifestos, and if news outlets do, they should acknowledge that they are quite possibly contributing to more deaths in the name of keeping the public “informed.”

I’m not saying we shut down all discussion completely; there are ways to report on a mass killer’s motivations without promulgating his entire oeuvre. Responsible reporters can write non-sensationally about the web communities he frequented, etc. And certainly we can talk about the need for better gun control. Changing the nature of reporting is not incompatible with discussing the root causes that lead to these tragedies.

The point I am making is not new. Garry Trudeau made much the same argument back in 1977 in his famous criticism of the New York Daily News coverage of Son of Sam (below I reprint the first of six Doonesbury strips on this topic). Nobody listened then and nothing has changed.

Doonesbury Son of Sam cartoon by Garry Trudeau

Solar Tax Quacks

As this LA Times article lays out, an unholy alliance of the Koch Brothers, ALEC, Grover Norquist and utility companies is mounting a nationwide effort to roll back states’ renewable energy requirements and penalize solar customers with a hefty monthly surtax. Apparently all that stuff about cutting taxes and drowning government in a bathtub goes out the window when profits are threatened.

Not all conservatives are on board, though. It’s safe to say that taxing solar panels isn’t sitting well with off-the-grid Tea Party types. in Arizona, Barry Goldwater Jr. is leading an effort called Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, or TUSK, stating that “Monopoly utilities want to extinguish the independent rooftop solar market in America to protect their socialist control of how we get our electricity.” That’s an interesting way of putting it, reminding me a little of my “corporate collectivism” cartoon from a few weeks ago.

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Jen Sorensen is a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist whose work has appeared in The Progressive, The Nation, Daily Kos, Austin Chronicle, NPR, Ms., Politico, and many other publications. The recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, she tweets at @JenSorensen.