Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Can't Resist the List

It's hard not to do lists at the end of the year, and I've succumbed to the temptation. Following are my personal picks for various 2003 titles:

Most Courageous: Former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Though his candid speech may change if he becomes the Democratic Party's nominee--for now, it is a breath of fresh air. Less "candidate speak" has come out of his mouth than from the mouth of any other major presidential candidate in memory.

Runner-Up: Private Jessica Lynch, who--despite walking a bit of a shaky road to do it--told the world that things just didn't happen the way the White House said they did.

Special Runner-Up: Pink, who turned down an invitation from Buckingham Palace to perform at Prince William's birthday party because the Prince kills animals for sport. The singer was William's first choice for a performer for his party. He has denied that he killed a small deer with a spear in Kenya, but he has nevertheless taken up hunting as a "sport."

Best Comeback: Ambassador Carol Mosely Braun, who finally revealed what she should have talked about years ago--that Carl Rove masterminded her demise as a Senator. Though it is true that Braun was not the best-liked person by her staff, she has been vindicated of any wrongdoing while she was both a senator and an ambassador. She is possibly the most articulate of all the presidential candidates, and has been a welcome addition to the debates and interviews.

Runner-Up: Ellen Degeneres, though--for many of us--she never really went away. DeGeneres's program is easily the best talk show on television, and one of the best that has ever aired.

Best Talking Head Show: The McLaughlin Group. Everyone on the show is intelligent, and they don't scream and yell at each other. John McLaughlin is a one-of-a-kind host--a real hoot.

Runner-Up: Washington Week. Gwen Ifill always has intelligent, articulate guests, and she is a pleasure to listen to.

Best Speech: Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who--during the federal judicial nominee hearings--stunned her audience with an old-fashioned filibuster-of-fire rant that was filled with history, indignation, local Louisiana color, and the senator's customary dry wit. "I will not yield!" may as well be engraved on her nameplate from now on. To quote the senator: "Take your dossier and...go somewhere else!"

Runner-Up: Congressman Dennis Kucinich, whose announcement of of his presidential candidacy was an eloquent mix of healing rhetoric and can-do pragmatism. Kucinich drew his inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt, the phrophet Isaiah, Theodore Roosevelt and the Statue of Liberty, and talked about not just the symptoms of an ailing nation, but also the causes and cures.

Most Impressive Performance: Justine Henin-Hardenne, who was about to drop out of the final part of the U.S. Open because of injury, but played anyway, in pain, and won the title.

Runner-Up: Meryl Streep, who played four different roles, each brilliantly, in HBO's Angels In America.

Most Scenic Fall: Rush Limbaugh. If I had a violin handy, I'd play it for him on his way down.

Runner-Up: Former Alabama State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who was stripped of his office because of civil disobedience in the interest of destroying the Constitution.

Biggest Disappointment: Senator John Kerry, an intelligent and solid liberal, who has used an inordinant amount of time and campaign energy either making unwarranted attacks on Howard Dean or aligning himself with the White House's war.

Runner-Up: Oprah Winfrey, who despite giving the appearance of being compassionate, continues, through her television show, to promote the wearing of fur.

Most Successful Lobotomy: MSNBC's Keith Olberman, the man who was once so disgusted by the news game that he asked to go back to the sports department. This time around, it appears his corporate bosses have successfully implanted the chip in his head.

Runner-Up: CNN's Soledad O'Brien. She used to be so intelligent, and now she doesn't even know that sexual assault is against the law in every state in the U.S. It really shocked and offended her to learn that the allegations against Arnold Schwarzenegger were criminal in nature.

Biggest Liar: George W. Bush, who lied about everything from weapons of mass destruction to his support of U.S. military veterans to his program to "reduce" mercury in the environment.

Runner-Up: National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, who has been a major liar every year she has been in her position. This year's whopper--that she had never heard about Ambassador Wilson's trip to Niger--is the kind of tall tale we have come to expect from her.

Biggest Scumbag: Maria Shriver, who single-handedly insured the election (considering what a bunch of idiots were voting) of her misogynistic, criminal, vulgar, idiotic husband to the governship of California.

Runner-Up: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who not only left behind a string of sexually abused women and one probable statutory rape, but also secret meetings with Ken Lay, on his way to the California governor's mansion.

Least Courageous: The United States Congress, who--despite lip service to the contrary--keeps going along with the White House, thereby making it much easier to destroy what's left of the country.

Runner-Up: The women sexually assaulted by Arnold Schwarzenegger (including the otherwise admirable Dr. Joy Brown), who--frightened to hear "You'll never work in this town again"-- failed to report the assaults to the police.

Biggest Narcissist: Andra, that horrible woman on Boy Meets Boy who believed that everything that happened was about her, not about her friend, Jim. She did have one great Freudian moment, though, when she blamed herself (of course) for whatever might go wrong with Jim's choice of "the mates": "I'm the one," she said tearfully, "who's been shoving them down your throat!"

Runner-Up: Joe Jackson--father of Michael, Janet, Jermaine, etc. A world-class child abuser and exploiter, he has the nerve to take credit for his children's successes, and the gall to whine about how injured he is over Michael's problems.

Biggest Asshole: Bill O'Reilly, but we should just give him a permanent award and be done with it. The man who threatened to kill Jeremy Glick still has no clue about decent behavior, and his version of "no spin" makes my head spin plenty.

Runner-Up: Toby Keith, who, at a concert, used a split screen to display Natalie Maines' face next to that of Saddam Hussein. What can you say but F.U.T.K.?

Biggest Disservice to the Nation: The news media's refusal to report on stories that expose the deceptions and machinations of the White House and its allies. Diebold, Halliburton, and the continuous pack of policy lies are universally ignored by corporate-owned major "news" media.

Runner-Up: The news media's refusal to give serious attention to the best of the presidential candidates, most notably Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

And finally...
The Fab Five's Best Makeover: Hardball's Chris Matthews, who still can't stop talking about George W. Bush's body in that flight suit.

Monday, December 29, 2003

The chickens have finally come home to roost--only they aren't chickens. The American cattle industry--a bastion of cruelty and societal abuse--is now in trouble.

This is the industry that transports cattle in trucks that are sometimes so crowded that some animals' legs are broken. Others may die of cold or heat. The injured animals are then tossed aside and left to die. The ones who aren't injured are not fed or given water. These are also the people who place veal calves in crates so tiny, the babies--already deprived of their mothers--cannot even move around. They often become ill, and are then dosed with antibiotics. They are left to develop anemia so that their skin will be pale. They are then obscenely fattened and slaughtered. The slaughter of cattle, by the way, is not "humane." It is obscene.

Dairy cows are hooked to milking machines for much of their lives. Their calves are taken away from them. They do not get to eat in a pasture. Their life consists of having babies and being attached to a machine.

In the meantime, those millions of "moral" Americans who think it's perfectly okay to eat tortured animals or to drink their milk pay their own price. Remember the antibiotics? Remember the downed animals? Then there are the hormones, of course. The result is the massive poisoning of the American diet.

And now there is mad cow disease. The cattle industry is going to suffer. Pardon me if I can't work up any sympathy.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Former president Jimmy Carter is known for winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, and for being a tireless worker for Habitat for Humanity. When people think of his presidency, they remember long gas lines and the Iran hostage crisis, and they tend to forget his considerable accomplishments. He protected over a million acres of land in Alaska (yes, that was his fault), overhauled the civil service system, created the Department of Education, gave the Panama Canal back to Panama, created a national energy policy, tried to pass national health insurance, mediated peace between Israel and Egypt, and ratified the Salt II treaty.

He also advocated for and signed the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA, though it was never ratified, was a major issue during Carter's presidency, but it has been purged from his biography by a number of sources. There is no mention of it in Carter's biography on the official White House website, no mention of it in his biography on the Encyclopedia Americana website, no mention of it on the Nobel Prize website, and--most surprising--no mention of it in the presidential timeline for the PBS show, "American Experience."

Why? It is hard to imagine that Carter's people would ask to have it omitted, but it is mystifying that it would fail to appear in so many biographies. What a sad commentary about the women's movement. Jimmy Carter's administration occurred at the peak of the Second Wave of feminism. The ERA was a landmark piece of civil rights legislation for a president who was committed to the enforcement of civil rights. People--especially young women--who read these biographies may wind up with no clue about the struggle American women waged in the 70's, and about President Carter's role in trying to win that struggle.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

In his December 23 column, Cal Thomas says that for two decades the media has depicted "gay as great with no downsides..." This statement indicates that Thomas has either been living in a cave for twenty years (we wish), or is having serious memory problems.

Let's talk about AIDS. First named GRID, for Gay Related Immune Deficiency, AIDS was immediately linked to the "evils" of homosexuality. (This was an interesting attribution, since lesbians were not getting AIDS, so what the ignorant moralizers really thought was that the syndrome was linked to the evils of gay men, I suppose.) Pat Buchanan declared that AIDS was God's punishment of the gay population. The news media did little--almost nothing--to stop the hysteria about AIDS. Gay men were abandoned by their employers, their families, and the health care system. Leaders like Mayor Koch and President Reagan did nothing to help (that is something we can call evil), and they were given a totally free ride by the media. The politics of AIDS research was outrageous, but the media left that subject alone, too.

In other words, the media contributed in a major way to the dangerous myth that looking crosswise at a gay man could result in "catching" AIDS, and it contributed, by neglect, to the societal hatred and abandonment of thousands of gay men and their partners and friends.

Then there was the business about gays in the military. The ignorant and bigoted Colin Powell and Sam Nunn were on television constantly, explaining how dangerous it would be to allow gay citizens to serve in the military (while they were saying this, of course, hundreds of frightened gay soldiers were serving their country as admirably as their heterosexual colleagues). When President Clinton created his inane "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the news media--tired of the story--hardly bothered to analyze it.

It is true that in the last few years, some media outlets have given more time to covering gay issues, and have even conducted some intelligent interviews with gay spokespeople. This is a good thing, but it is hardly a product of two decades.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Consider, if you will, all the many ramifications of your life. You go to work, at an office or a school or a clinic or a construction site. You eat three meals a day, either in your home or at a restaurant. You sleep a good part of the night. You help your children do their homework, and you take them to soccer games and dance practice. You watch television, read, go to the movies. You paint, garden, cook, do woodworking, play golf, work on cars, listen to music. You may be active in a church or a community organization.

How will any of those parts of your life be affected if two gay people get married?

I'm waiting...

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Aren't you just tired of hearing all of the criticism of Sen. John Edwards because of his year's worth of relentless TV talk show appearances leading up to his announcement that he was a candidate for president? Don't you wish the talking heads would stop criticizing him for so skillfully and obviously positioning himself like that?

Or how about that Gen. Wesley Clark? Wouldn't it be nice if the talking heads stopped giving him such a bad time for all of the air time he has put in since September 11? It was so obvious he was going to run for something, and that kind of ambition is so frowned upon by talk show hosts and guests.

What?! You haven't heard critcism of Edwards and Clark for this behavior?

No, you haven't. Because ambition is considered a virtue in a man. But the criticism of Sen. Clinton never lets up. Her positioning of herself is no different than that of Edwards and Clark (other than being much less frequent and intense), but since she is a woman, it is considered inappropriate, if not evil, for her to engage in the same behavior.

Sexism is alive, and nauseatingly well, in this culture.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

It's easy for me to understand that a person who beats and whips her children or who employs children in sweat shops or sells them into slavery would have no regard for the lives of non-humans. It's harder for me to understand that the nice people in your neighborhood who are kind to their children have no regard for the lives of non-humans.

Oh, they probably get very upset when they hear about a beaten dog, a cat who has been set on fire, or a horse that has been left to starve. But they don't seem to mind at all their own participation in relentless cruelty toward hundreds of animals.

For example, they probably eat meat. I, like many others, am opposed to the eating of other living creatures, but setting that aside for a moment, why would a "kind" person want to eat the meat of cows, pigs and chickens that have been brutally tortured and disgustingly deprived throughout their short, miserable lives? It is possible, after all, to buy the meat and the eggs of free-range animals who were not tortured and who were killed without causing them to have horrific, lingering, painful deaths.

Why would these people use cosmetics made by companies who continue to test their safety by pouring acid into the faces of cats, mice and rabbits?

Why would they wear leather if they can wear human-made shoes and belts that were not created by torturing and butchering animals?

Unless you live a vegan lifestyle, it is difficult to avoid all animal cruelty. The gelatin in your medication capsules is made with animal parts. The wine you drink was probably processed with animal parts. Few of us can completely avoid participating, but many more of us could decrease our participation, and we could demand that our products be created and processed without hurting living creatures.

Why don't we?

Friday, December 19, 2003

Pants on Fire, Part 2

The lies keep coming. The sugar growers of Louisiana, who represent one of the state's major industries, became understandably frightened when they heard that the elimination of sugar tariffs was part of the White House's deal for negotiating CAFTA. However, on November 12, the president--via Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin--sent a message to the Louisiana Congressional delegation that put them at ease. The message was that sugar was needed as an item only to get to the negotiating table, and then it would be dropped.

Now the word is out that the elimination of sugar tariffs is a significant part of the CAFTA deal. Oh my, Bush lied again. Imagine that.

Louisiana sugar producers are hopeful that the Louisiana Congressional delegation can do something to change this turn of events, but nothing can change the fact that the lies just keep coming.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

This morning, a caller on C-Span commented that both presidents Clinton and Bush declared that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He mentioned that people might be confused because Clinton "is a notorious liar."

That is an interesting comment. Clinton became notorious for a lie, yes, about his relationship with an intern. He gave a "legal" answer to the question, but it did not address the matter of actual truth. He is not notorious for any other lies.

Here are a few of Bush's lies:

"I served in the Texas Air National Guard for five years."
In reality, he served for about three and a half years and was a deserter for the remaining time. He promised to make up the missed time, but never did. He was never disciplined for either desertion or failure to make up the time.

"I turned around the education system in Texas."
The education system in Texas was turned around, all right, but Bush fought the reform every step of the way. Finally, defeated, he had the gall to take credit for the legislature's success.

"I commited substance indescretions in my youth."
He was thirty when he received the last DWI we know about.

"I intend to practice compassionate conservatism."
Whatever compassionate conservatism is, it cannot possibly be what Bush has done: refused to fund his own precious education program, cut services and pay for military personnel, quashed research for cures to debilitating illnesses; cut or tried to cut funding for children's hospitals, first responders, literacy education, job training, and workers' pensions. (It should be noted that these were all programs Bush said he supported and would work to expand.)

"Under my Medicare prescription program, seniors will have a choice."
Actually, under his plan, seniors lost choice.

"I believe in free speech."
That may be the biggest lie of all. Not only did Bush push through the atrocious Patriot Act, he is infamous for demanding that "free speech zones" be created when he addresses the public; that is, any citizens who dissent have to stand so far away that neither the president nor the television cameras can see them.

Talk about pants on fire.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Americans are known for being very bad at geography, but we are only just finding out how truly inept our citizens are at this subject.

A group of men from Saudi Arabia flew planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and caused destruction and havoc of a scale never to be forgotten. Saudi Arabia is so barbaric and misogynistic that little girls were left to burn to death in a building rather than be seen without their heads covered.

Pakistan is crawling with Al Queda members. People who know the country well say that Al Queda operates so openly there, they might as well put up kiosks.

Women in Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?) are being raped, sold and abused at frightening rates.

The solution? Blow up Iraq, of course. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are our friends, remember? Saudi Arabia is the particular friend of the Bush family. We "liberated" Afghanistan.

That's quite a geography lesson. There is no war on terror. Got it?

Friday, December 12, 2003

Candy Crowley of CNN says you are a "political junkie" if you remember that today is the anniversary of the 2000 Supreme Court decision in which George W. Bush was selected president of the United States.

Imagine that. According to Crowley, to just happen to never be able to forget the day that giant corporations--working hand in hand with the legal system and the religious right--stole a major election in the supposed land of the free...to just happen to not be able to forget that day makes you a political junkie.

And these last three years I was under the mistaken impression that it made me an American.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

In America, we get the best candidate money can buy, and the news media decides who gets the money. Consequently, there are people who should be running for president of the United States who will never have a campaign. And there are people who are running who would be good chief executives, but who don't stand a chance because they cannot raise enough money.

Take, for example, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a man of proven courage, and a true standard-bearer for what the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for. Yes, he is too "left" (America's ugliest curseword these days) for many, but he is also a champion of labor, minorities, and old-fashioned Constitutional patriotism.

On the other hand, there is Gen. Wesley Clark, who has spent most of his life as a Republican, has no political experience, and who is having quite a bit of trouble expressing his views, which change frequently. But Clark is good-looking and was already the darling of the news media, who pushed him into the presidential contest limelight over a period of two years.

Clark, therefore, is "electable," and can raise money. He is given more and more media time, as is Howard Dean, and the other candidates are given less. In the debates, articulate candidates like Kucinich and Mosely Braun are overlooked, while the media favorites are given an unfair amount of debate time. The media calls these other candidates the "minor" candidates, yet it is the media who has made them so.

In the meantime, Americans--those few who even bother to read or pay attention--make their decisions based on who is "electable" rather than who would be a good president.

Some system. We get what we deserve.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

By now, everyone has heard about the little boy in Lafayette, Louisiana who was punished by his teacher because he said his mom was gay and gave a very benign definition of what that means.

The superintendent of schools went out of his way to say that the school system would never punish anyone for exercising free speech and would never violate a student's civil rights, and that his agency was investigating the matter.

In the meantime, the school principal continues to insist that there were "other reasons" the child was punished. First, he said, it was because the boy said something very inappropriate, i.e., obscene. Within a week, he had changed his story, saying that the boy was punished because he had been "acting out."

If you think this change of story is suspicious, it's nothing compared to the hard evidence: The teacher sent home a note making it plain that she punished the boy because he said his mom was gay. Not only that, but the assistant principal signed the note.

And they wonder where children learn to lie.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Decades and multiple decades from now, when historians and anthropologists study what was the United States of America, they will be baffled by a strange phenomenon: that the only people who went missing and were abducted were blonde white girls.

Was it their skin color? they will ask. No, because the dark-haired ones seemed safe. What was it about their hair pigment that caused them to be vulnerable to disappearance?

If you are dark-skinned or have dark hair, fear not. It is obvious you are in no danger.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Today is World AIDS Day. On this day, it is a good idea to re-educate ourselves about AIDS, learn more about the latest attempts to reduce its spread, and learn how we can help.

Every minute, five people die of AIDS. In Africa alone, there are millions of AIDS orphans. There is no cure for AIDS, a syndrome which causes its victims to die of unusual and horrible diseases that attack a battered immune system.

There are now medicines which can keep HIV-infected people alive, but the medicines cost money, and infected persons must take them on a strict schedule. There are many places in the world where the government and the culture are in such denial about AIDS that nothing is done to treat it. Some of these places are in the United States.

The Vatican has sabotaged treatment of AIDS in places like El Salvador by demanding that residents be told that condoms do not protect against AIDS. Condoms are, of course, the best protection (short of abstinence) againt the virus. As a result of the Vatican's campaign, thousands more have died.

Fortunately, the Bush administration's $15 billion AIDS plan was altered to drop the no-condoms-no-generic-drugs provision. The fact that they existed to begin with is frightening, however. With millions of people suffering long, agonizing death, the White House was worried about the absurd Christian Right's political power, and about the fate of pharmaceutical companies.

A place where AIDS treatment has been successful is Haiti, thanks to the work of Dr. Paul Farmer. The government of India has announced that it will provide free AIDS medication, and the World Health Organization plans to treat 3,000,000 by 2005.

40 million people are known to be infected with AIDS, and 22 million people have died of AIDS complications. AIDS is the most serious problem in the world, and today is the day to remember that.