Cartoon about abortion dropped by some US newspapers

Doonesbury comic strip comparing Texas abortion law to rape causes controversy.

Doonesbury, the political cartoon which runs in 1,400 newspapers across the US, has caused controversy with a strip about abortion.

Several US newspapers are refusing to run the cartoon, which lampoons a law in Texas and other states that requires women to have an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, so that they will see the foetus and potentially reconsider. Other papers will publish it on their editorials page rather than in the comic section.

The cartoon sequence, to run over six days, depicts a woman arriving at an abortion clinic in Texas. She is told to take a seat in "the shaming room".

doonesbury

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In the next strip, a state legislator then asks whether she has previously visited the clinic. She replies that she has been to get contraceptives. With echoes of Rush Limbaugh's controversial comments last week, he says: "Do your parents know you're a slut?" Later, the woman says she doesn't want the invasive vaginal examination. A nurse tells her: "The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand." The nurse continues: "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."

Universal Uclick, the syndicator that distributes Doonesbury, said they had had inquiries from between 30 and 40 newspapers asking about a substitute cartoon strip.

Doonesbury's creator, Garry Trudeau, told the Guardian:

I write the strip to be read, not removed. And as a practical matter, many more people will see it in the comics page than on the editorial page

I don't mean to be disingenuous. Obviously there's some profit to controversy, especially for a satirist. If debate is swirling around a particular strip, and if its absence creates blowback, then I'm contributing to the public conversation in a more powerful way. But I don't get up in the morning and scheme about how to antagonise editors. Some of these folks have supported me for decades.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation