Thursday, December 21, 2006

Miss USA

So let me get this straight, the woman who won the country's biggest beauty contest is what one might be inclined to call a slut. The woman or, more appropriately, girl who was declared the hottest chick in the US likes to get down and so does the younger winner of the Miss Tenn USA pageant. Is that supposed to disturb us?

Considering we are talking about women who want to earn a living with their hot bodies should anybody be shocked? When you consider the vanity one must have to even participate in this contest it's shocking that these so-called scandals aren't the norm.

About 20 years ago Vanessa Williams had that crown snatched off her head for posing nude in some amateur porn pics. This was before Al Gore invented the internets so we had to wait for Penthouse to publish those pictures but once they hit the market Vanessa Williams was called on the carpet and her title of Miss America was stripped leaving her doomed to a life of anonymous sex with fat business men for spare change. Nobody ever heard of her again.

Actually, losing the crown was the best thing that could have happened to her. She became an instant star landing movie roles and singing chart topping songs. She became one of the biggest names in Hollywood and it was all made possible because she received more publicity for losing her crown than she did for winning it in the first place. It also helped that she was released from any contractual obligations tied to the pageant. Actually it was the woman crowned in Vanessa's place we never heard from again.

Her counterpart Jeri Ryan is also an actress but Jeri Ryan had to slowly claw her way into the business in spite of being a runner up in the 1990 Miss America pageant. Ryan's biggest role and claim to fame came in playing a virtual dominatrix in Star Trek: Voyager. The woman who won in that same year (1990), Debye Turner, has done little of note. In fact most Miss USA winners prove to be too vapid to qualify for any real jobs so they generally end up doing local news and if they manage to read their copy without too many mistakes some get a shot at national news reading.

Sadly, for the Miss USA pageant women who pose for Playboy often prove to have more noteworthy careers. Maybe it's because society respects somebody who doesn't pretend to be something she's not. We act as though these Miss USA contestants are innocent little virgins who are unaware of how beautiful they are. In reality they represent the very worst of female sexuality. They go beyond confidence and they exude that self-centered arrogance that makes everybody hate the prom queen. Miss USA pretends its about intelligence talent and personality as much as it is physical beauty but in the end it's all about looks. That's why Pamela Anderson is more respectable. She's never pretended it wasn't about her body. Maybe she's smarter than we give her credit for. She's certainly more successful than any Miss USA winner, aside from Vanessa Williams who technically didn't win.

Interesting. It would appear that America prefers hot women who put out. I know I do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Happy Holidays

Thanks to Bill O'Reilly millions of Americans have decided to take back Christmas. Instead of politely wishing people Happy Holidays, they intended to proliferate the social landscape with blood curdling screams of Merry Christmas. Some have even declared that they intend to inflict this holiday jeer on people they know or suspect as being non-Christian. Jesus must be proud. If you say Merry Christmas but mean go to hell does that make it OK?

Ironically the expression of Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings came about in mainstream parlance thanks to fundamentalist Christians who took umbrage that Christmas was associated with such a display of unabashed commercialism. When retailers would beckon holiday shoppers with attractive signage that wished everyone a Merry Christmas, these devout practitioners of the Christian faith would write letters and stage boycotts because they were offended that their savior was being used to boost year end sales figures. Jesus did not die on the cross for Hasbro.

Now that the flames of insecurity have been aggressively fanned be evangelists hurting for cash and pundits aching for ratings, the push is on to attach Christ to everything. Stores that refuse to specify Christmas are attacked by venomous wags and accused of waging war on Christmas and Christianity. The Nativity must be honored at all costs. Happy Holidays is what the terrorists want us to say.

It's sad because almost everything about Christmas has roots in paganism. The bright colored lights date back to solstice celebrations, the tree is rooted in Norse tradition and Santa Clause is a composite of a number of polytheistic and pagan characters. Jesus never gave anybody presents. He didn't slide down chimneys, or ride in a flying sleigh behind eight magic reindeer.

Theologians concur that Jesus wasn't born any where near the December 25th and peg his birthday in the late spring. In fact, the whole story of the Nativity appears to be a fairy tale concocted to dramatize the undocumented birth of Jesus. As the demand grew for a commemoration of this event, the Catholic Church opted to position the date to coincide with competing holy days. It's no coincidence that December is a busy month for spiritual celebrations. In the northern hemisphere it is the darkest time of the year and symbolizes the beginning of the coldest months. Instead of abolishing ancient tradition, the church decided to trump it. As it would turn out, Christ never really was in Christmas outside of a Papal decree.

Of course none of that matters. Spirituality is a personal matter and how a person chooses to celebrate their beliefs is entirely up to them. It's interesting that so many people of so many faiths choose December as a time to join family and friends to honor their personal beliefs... even if those beliefs are in holiday clearance sales and credit cards. If it brings people together it can't be that bad. Unless it's Old Spice, but then that doesn't bring people together, does it?

That's why people like Bill O'Reilly should just let it be. Why turn the Holidays into some misguided holy war? Whether praise be to Jesus, Santa, Allah, Rudolph, magic Hebrew candles, or low low prices can't we all just get along?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

KKKramer's tirade

Who would have guessed that Mel Gibson and Michael Richards (aka Kramer) were the charter members of Hollywood's chapter of the KKK? Mel tried to bury his bigotry with woeful tales of a life long battle with alcohol but a blood alcohol analysis revealed that Mel was not drunk enough to justify hitting on Star Jones, let alone deliver a blistering anti-semitic tantrum. Mel was just buzzed enough to be put off at being hassled by the cops. He was outraged that his popularity had waned and in the midst of his anger he allowed his deep-seated venom to spew. Jews! He wasn't drunk, he threw a pampered celebrity tizzy that escalated into Mein Kampf. Even if you give Mel a pass, the fact that his father offered an impromptu history lesson on the Holocaust reaveals that Mel comes from a long line of bigots.

Michael Richards can't hide behind the booze. The washed up doofus who stumbled into temporary super stardom on the hit sitcom Seinfeld has been desperately trying to find a market for his talent which is rather limited. The talent and the market. The iron was hot about six years ago, now the series is losing its luster in syndication. Game over, Mike.

Unlike the rest of the cast, Richards was a nobody before he got a part in a fledgling sitcom many thought would bomb. It was a side project for Jerry and an easy, no risk gig for Dreyfus and Alexander as both had established themselves as capable actors. Seinfeld might have made them rich beyond their wildest dreams but they had rubbed elbows with big stars and had solid credentials. Richards had a bit part in a Weird Al film. Even though his counterparts have struggled to capitalize on the fame their roles in the greatest sitcom ever provided, Alexander and Dreyfus have been granted numerous opportunities to carry on and seem content to call Seinfeld the pinnacle of their careers. Richards had one shot in a poorly conceived show that shamelessly tried to rehash the slapstick aspect of Kramer and nothing since.

It's ironic. The brilliant physical comedy that Richards used to propel a peripheral character into a primary role has been the bane of the actor's career since the show ended its run. Without that shtick Kramer would have been a semi-recurring character along the lines of Wayne Knight's Neuman, but Richards is forever typecast as a character who lacks the depth to carry a show.

So Richards, desperate to stay viable, opted to roll the dice and give stand up a shot. He generated genuine laughs on the show, so why not clown around on stage? The problem is that on TV the real geniuses (if the show is good) are in a back room writing the jokes and layering the comedy. Richards executed his role with brilliant comedic precision but without writers and directors to hone his performance, capturing that same magic is difficult if not impossible. For an actor who spent the better part of a decade riding a wave of enormous singular popularity, the downward spiral of anonymity is painful. Nobody wants to be a has been.

Michael Richards took the stage full of anger, resentment and desperation. He was up there trying take back his fame, laughter was secondary. When members of the audience called him out for the washed up hack he has become, Richards snapped and let loose a string of racial epithets directed at the African Americans who allegedly heckled him.

Mind you, this wasn't a Don Rickles type of rant where racial epithets are bandied about in jest. Richards seemed to lament the passing of the era where black men were hung from trees and tortured by white oppressors. Funny would have been racially-charged jokes about black people not watching Seinfeld. Funny would have been having enough cultural awareness to drop a few Martin Lawrence references. Really funny would be taking the high road and employing a little self-deprecating humor about being a one trick pony. Jon Stewart mines his less than stellar acting career for big laughs every other night.

Richards and Mel Gibson went beyond the reaches of anger and revealed an ugly side of their personalities. At least Richards has a plausible reason for launching into a racial tirade...the hecklers were black. Had he limited his outburst to a quick epithet and moved on an apology would be sufficient but Richards elaborated and revealed a social philosophy. Michael Richards doesn't like black people. That makes him a racist. There's a big difference between calling somebody a nigger and telling them that 50 years ago they would have been hanging from a tree.

Sadly, this is another example of how deep-seated the racial problem is in this country. If the guy who played Kramer is harboring such unmitigated hatred toward blacks and Mel Gibson is sitting on a powder keg of anti-Semitism we have to assume that its a rampant problem. How many business owners feel the same way?

Even if these people make an effort to suspend their bigotry in public exchanges these feelings will have an impact on their daily decisions. That means a guy like Mel Gibson is going to subconsciously find faults in a Jewish applicant while he overlooks flaws in a Christian candidate. Michael Richards will cut a white employee slack for being 10 minutes late but come down on the black one for violating the attendance policy.

There's not much we can do about it. Mel Gibson is who he is because he was raised in a culture of anti-Semitism and as an adult he has chosen to foster those feelings. Michael Richards is one of those angry white guys who sees the leveling of the playing field as an infringement on his rights. Both of these men resent the object of their rage. When Mel Gibson sees Jon Stewart and Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars he believes that it is an example of the tremendous power Jews have in Hollywood. When Michael Richards sees Dave Chappelle inking a 100 million dollar deal to perform bad sketch comedy he thinks it's because of affirmative action.

Guys like Mike and Mel see the world in US verses THEM terms. They don't want to accept that beyond race, culture and creed we are all just people and there is an extensive amount of common ground that can be exploited for personal gain in the entertainment field. Gibson could have enlisted the assistance of Hebrew theologians to consult with him on Passion. Richards could have combined comedy and his experience in Hollywood to probe the depths of racism in the casting office. While the success both have attained demonstrates that these men aren't exactly idiots, they are just ignorant enough to let their prejudice trip up their careers.

Racism is alive, well and a lot closer to home than anybody cares to admit.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What Americans Fear.

Al Jazeera.

What comes to mind when you see that name? Most Americans immediately think of terrorists and raving fundamentalists. That might be because most Americans can't tell you the difference between Al Jazeera and Al Qaeda. Those who know that Al Jazeera is actually an Arab news network mistakenly characterize it as a propaganda tool of extremists. Apparently American military strategists see it as easy pickings. Al Jazeera has had its offices bombed by American forces. Twice. Oops.

Ironically it's the extremists who seem to despise Al Jazeera the most. While certain totalitarian-leaning western conservatives believe that Al Jazeera expresses a view that is sympathetic to Al Qaeda, it's the fundamentalist leaders of Islamic nations who see Al Jazeera as a serious threat to their power. Funded primarily by the progressive emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Al Jazeera provides the Arab world unrestricted access to information, a thorn in the side of zealous leaders who relish complete control over their people. Knowledge is power and once a despot loses control of the information, he loses control of the people. Even though Al Jazeera's reporters infuriate western leaders by getting close to suspected terrorists who elude international authorities, the journalists seem motivated by a desire to offer the other side of the story. A side that most Americans don't want to hear.

Al Jazeera represents hope...the hope that the West and the Middle East aren't as divided by culture and creed as many believe. Organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda don't see themselves as terrorists but as liberators who are fighting an enemy too powerful to confront by traditional means. While no westerner in his right mind could justify the attacks perpetrated by these organizations, the fact remains that there are people in other parts of the world who can. Al Jazeera offers some insight into the circumstances people in these parts of the world face and that understanding can help us find find common ground. It's worth pointing out that it wasn't all that long ago British leaders described Colonial militants as terrorists. Our history books list those same men as patriots. Perspective is a funny thing.

Assuming that Al Qaeda is alone in despising American influence throughout the Middle East is undoubtedly erroneous but concluding that everybody in the Middle East wants all Americans dead is preposterous. We're being arrogant if we actually believe that Osama Bin Laden is out to get us because he disapproves of Desperate Housewives and bacon, the reality is that his issue is the heavy-handed manner in which the west has treated the Middle East. Al Jazeera simply communicates that point. Just because they present a side of the story we don't like doesn't mean they aren't unbiased.

Al Jazeera simply offers a global perspective that isn't readily available through domestic outlets. Even though CNN makes an effort to be worldly and the BBC has an uncanny knack for digging up hard to find news items from around the world, western networks are prone to self-aggrandizing and the story often gets lost in egos of those reporting the news. Christiane Amanpour is a prime example of an international reporter who has allowed her personality to become bigger than the news. We need a fresh perspective.

Al Jazeera recently opened up a Washington Bureau and will be launching an English language broadcast later this week. In spite of massive efforts to find outlets in the US, most cable providers have been reluctant to pick up the channel. It's ironic that a country so proud of its free press would see fit to stifle a voice simply because of ignorant misconceptions. The CEO's will offer up financial concerns as the reason they won't pick up Al Jazeera. They'll claim that there isn't enough of a market to justify offering up a channel, but with space being made for inane offerings like ESPN U and VH1 Classic, it would appear that barring Al Jazeera has more to do with good old fashioned American bigotry than it does free market economics.

Al Jazeera provides information.

What are we afraid of?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Unsympathetic Victims

Maurice Clarett had the world on a string. For one brief football season he was a god worshipped by a throng of scarlet clad minions screaming his name. Then, suddenly, the cheers were replaced with boos, insults and threats. As a freshman at The Ohio State University, Maurice faced long odds of getting significant playing time. Coach Jim Tressle had a reputation for diligently standing by his veterans while only the best and brightest of the freshman class would see meaningful playing time, let alone carry most of the load. Maurice increased his chances by graduating from high school in December and enrolling at Ohio State in January. This gave him the opportunity to get some reps with the varsity squad during the spring practice session. When he got his chance he proved to be a formidable weapon.

Mind you, Maurice wasn't some nobody. He was a record setting running back out of Northeastern Ohio, one of the most competitive bastions of high school football in the country. Texas might have gotten some notoriety thanks to Friday Night Lights, but if football is a religion, Northeastern Ohio is the Vatican. That's why the Pro Football Hall of Fame sits in Canton. People had big expectations for Maurice and he exceeded them.

What makes Maurice even more remarkable is the fact that Ohio State's offense was terrible. The line didn't control scrimmage, the passing game was inefficient at best and if it were not for the explosive running of Maurice Clarett, Ohio State's offensive production would have been rated dead last among the 117 Division I A programs. Somehow Maurice managed rush for well over 1000 yards in spite of every defense in the country keying on him. He even missed a few games, but fortunately they were against weaker foes. He was a major reason Ohio State went undefeated and he made the biggest play in the Fiesta Bowl against Miami to clinch a national title. Without Maurice Ohio State wouldn't have contended for the championship let alone win it. After that Maurice fell fast and hard, always finding a way to break through the cold hard tile of one low to reach a new depth. The story is well documented.

Now Maurice is facing potential charges that could land him in prison for 35 years. While it's unlikely he'll serve more than a fraction of that time it's clear that there is something wrong. He's mentally unstable, but it's doubtful he'll be ruled incompetent to stand trial. Maurice knows the difference between right and wrong. He just can't figure out why the rules should apply to him.

A lot of people are through with him. Most Buckeye fans closed the book on him the minute he insinuated that Ohio State might be less than perfect. Common sense leads one to believe that there was a lot of truth to the accusations levied at Ohio State, but it's also clear that Maurice had a vested interest in embellishing his story. Somewhere in the middle the truth is waiting to be revealed. However, as long as Ohio State brings in hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, the NCAA would like to leave that stone unturned. But Ohio State didn't try to rob two people this past January. Ohio State didn't lead police on a chase with loaded weapons in the car. Ohio State didn't resist arrest. Maurice is an adult and must be held accountable for his crimes.

Of course, things went sour a long time ago, when Maurice was still a kid. Former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie claims that Maurice Clarett frightened him on a recruiting visit because the then junior tailback wanted to graduate from high school after his junior year to start college early. Maurice wanted to get on the fast track to NFL money and Bob Davie smelled trouble. He refused to work with Maurice on an early admission and Clarett went elsewhere.

It's clear that Maurice did not have proper guidance as a child. He grew up in a lousy neighborhood around lousy people. His family always had their hands out, taking money from anybody willing to purchase a piece of the little kid with NFL written all over him. He was recruited to play at a high school that was not in his school district and that move helped Maurice's mom improve her standard of living, but Maurice didn't get his. Rules prohibited him from getting paid.

At Ohio State, Maurice had access to more revenue sources and, like any major football program, Ohio State was well-versed in looking the other way. Maurice landed himself a nice off campus apartment, a sweet little ride and a tidy stack of cash for playing around. While Maurice's mom might have seen a little coin back in his high school days, the story of Clarett's impoverished upbringing was all over the news. Young kid from the ghetto makes good. So why didn't anybody at Ohio State ask Clarett where the goodies were coming from? Standard Operating Procedure. Schools like Ohio State are successful because they have the resources to make sure their players are taken care of. It's off the books and the paper trail rarely implicates the coach or athletic director, but anybody who has watched the football team show up to practice knows that there's something going on. Nice cars, nice clothes, and everybody seems to becoming from a nice pad off campus.

Maurice made the mistake of getting caught. He filed a police report that detailed enough booty to make the NCAA take note. He later claimed that he filed a false report but the NCAA was already on the case and it was clear that Maurice was on the take. Even if he was dishonest about what was in the car, there was still the question of how that car was acquired. Conveniently, Ohio State was able to deny any culpability and Maurice was suspended.

That's where he really spiraled out of control. To Maurice college was just an obstacle preventing him from capitalizing on his talent. He didn't want to take some scraps in secret, his jersey was selling out in every store at over $100 a pop and he wasn't getting a dime. Maurice was single handedly generating millions of dollars and he was getting room, board and some half rate education he didn't even want. In his mind it wasn't that big a step up from being a slave. All the while his counterpart, Lebron James, was driving a Hummer to school and inking shoe contracts before he graduated. High School. Maurice had just won a national championship in one of the highest rated college bowl games in history and he was borrowing cars from a program friendly dealership. You bet he felt like a slave.

Maybe not slavery, but at least indentured servitude, and the NFL likes it that way. If players could skip college teams would draft them and eventually the NFL will have to earmark money to develop young prospects that formerly honed their skills at the college level. The players who simply went to college would have to be on the payroll which would expand rosters and that means less profits. The NFL likes the free farm system the NCAA provides and the NCAA loves the revenue it doesn't have to share with the talent. There are a lot of reach people associated with the NCAA and none of them are current players. It doesn't matter what the average fan thinks of the system. What matters is that a lot of players like Maurice Clarett don't like their choices. They don't like being subjected to arbitrary academic standards that don't apply to other students. They feel that college is a distraction from their ultimate goal.

They could be wrong. Perhaps college is a shining opportunity and they should be grateful. Maybe they should make the best of it and prepare themselves for the possibility that football is not in their future. But that's not fair. Nobody seems to discourage singers, actors and dancers from chasing their dreams. Nobody busts Bruce Springsteen's chops for not going to college. He had a dream and chose to live it. We find that trait admirable. After all, they can always go to college later. So why are we so insistent that college athletes take education seriously? Especially when there are so many non athletes on campus that don't take it seriously. Why do we want jocks to pretend they care? For a headstrong young man who doesn't like being told what to do, this system alone would be enough to push him over the edge.

But athletes face different circumstances. Guys like Maurice Clarett show tremendous talent at an early age. Instead of instilling a sense of discipline, people tend to coddle the athlete and make excuses. The more talented the athlete, the more crap people will put up with. As a society we wonder why professional athletes exhibit such irresponsible behavior, but if we look at the way we treat those young superstars we can see it. They are never held accountable. Maurice was coddled throughout his childhood. His mother was always looking for a way to make a buck off her son's ability, shuffling him from one youth team to another. The coaches catered to him and everybody tried to curry favor with a kid who needed a little guidance. In high school it was more of the same. Special treatment, limited discipline and whatever they could sneak him under the table.

It's not just Maurice, but he epitomizes what happens when a child becomes a god. We call it self destruction but it's more like sabotage. Maurice is going to face the consequences of his actions but the reason he lacks good judgment is because every adult in his life let him down. Even at college he was surrounded by advisors who told him what he wanted to hear and those who had a vested interest in Maurice staying out of trouble chose to look the other way for fear of upsetting the petulant star. That's why he couldn't make the cut with the Broncos. Maurice actually thought that the NFL was going to kiss the ground he walked on just as everybody had throughout his career. When he was treated like just another football player he withdrew and the Broncos sent him packing.

A lot of people won't even give Maurice that much. There are people who simply don't want to hear the sob story, but for every athlete we lift up we destroy another. James Brooks was a successful running back in the NFL. He played for 13 years, most of them as the featured back for the Cincinnati Bengals. A few years ago Brooks was convicted for felony nonsupport and it was revealed that he couldn't read. After a long successful career in the NFL, Brooks was trying to hold down a job as a security guard to cover his expenses. Dexter Manley was a dominate defensive end in the NFL who spent 11 years terrorizing quarterbacks. After he was suspended for failing a drug test Manley revealed that he was illiterate in spite of spending four years at Oklahoma State. Brooks spent six years at Auburn.

How does that happen? Most of us are functionally literate by fourth grade, if not earlier. How can somebody get through all those years of school and not be able to read? While Manley and Brooks both had opportunities to learn to read as adults, somebody still let them down as children. What sort of message does that send to the child? Shame on all of the people who let that happen. It's not just bad parenting, it's lousy stewardship by all the people involved in the child's welfare. Teachers, coaches, tutors, even sport agents share the blame for something so reprehensible. If basic education can be circumvented in the name of sports, is it so hard to imagine that the more intricate aspect of developing basic social skills is neglected as well?

Maurice Clarett is a jerk and he deserves what's coming to him. Sadly there are some other people who had a hand in sending him in the wrong direction who will never be held accountable. Sometimes athletes are victims and the crimes committed against them place those kids on a collision course with disaster. That's another dirty little secret in sports and it negates all of the positive things we attribute to athletic competition.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Root of the Problem

A lot of people seem eager to mitigate the transgressions of our troops and our government by contrasting some of the more mild offenses committed by our side with the brutal response of our opposition. This tactic is nothing new. It is called propaganda.

A prudent course of action in this ongoing war on terror would be to pick our battles wisely and use brute force sparingly. This would minimize our casualty rate, reduce collateral damage and win global supporters to our cause. Of course the most important element to an effective plan of action and a glaring deficiency in our current efforts is to understand the source of our enemy's rage. If we were to eliminate our enemy's motivation the war would end immediately.

The mistake we are making is believing that the so-called terrorists despise our lifestyle.Big Macs. Busty, breathless teenage sluts. Rap music. While there is no doubt that these fundamentalists disapprove of the things we enjoy, that is not the reason they readily sacrifice themselves for their cause. The motivation is not philosophical.

We have made enemies because of our economic and political influence over the Middle East. The U.S. consumes a ponderous amount of oil every year but the wealth doesn't seem to trickle down to the people who work hard to quench our thirst. In fact, our corporations and politicians have conspired to keep the money and the power in the hands of corrupt leaders who ignore the needs of their people. The fact is some of the most coveted targets of the terrorists we battle with are leaders of the very countries those terrorists call home.

In the US we think of citizens of oil producing countries as wealthy sheiks who drive expensive cars through the sweltering desert, but the majority of the people living in those countries are destitute. We don't hear about the millions of children dying of cancer because the water they drink is tainted with the byproducts of irresponsible drilling. To save a few bucks a barrel our government happily ignores these issues so Americans can continue to gas up the Excursion.

Bloody battles were waged on American streets so that our workforce could become empowered. We celebrate Labor Day because the working class united to demand a bigger share of the profits their hard work made possible. Laws were passed, regulations were enacted and wealth was shared. The result has been advantageous for everybody. We live in a nation of remarkable resources and opportunity. Unfortunately that oppressive greed that drove our workforce to gang violence wasn't eliminated, it was shifted overseas. How can we be surprised that we are now witnessing a backlash from those who have been exploited for so long?

It's time for Americans to accept some responsibility for this bloody war. The reason there is no end in sight is because we have failed to address the issues that started it. The blame for this failure falls squarely on the shoulders of a horribly under-qualified president who surrounded himself with arrogant corporate agents of greed who just don't care. The combination of ignorance and self indulgence is not only bad news for this country, but a serious problem the rest of the world will spend decades trying to recover from.

Bush ran on a values-oriented agenda. He even had the audacity to claim he was doing god's will, but a righteous man always judges himself before he attempts to scrutinize the actions of others. If Bush were truly a man of god he might have pondered such concepts as turning the other cheek or removing the plank from his own eye, but Bush tossed the bible aside in favor of John Wayne . The man of god became the cowboy when the chips were down and now that the hand is unfolding it's clear that a little patience and humility would have gone a long way. Instead were stuck in a no-win situation that we'll be paying for in years to come.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Voters need to claim power.

The shell game that is American politics is more transparent than ever. Democrats scurried from the liberal moniker like rats from a burning tenement in elections past, now Republicans are scouting out new territory in the coming midterm election. Senate seats are up for grabs and battle lines have been drawn on all of the rhetorical issues but it is clear that nobody is willing to take a stand on anything critical. At least not this far away from the election.

Republicans who are safe in this election are trying to rekindle the blind sense of nationalistic pride that provided the party with victories in elections past and of course the issue of homosexuality is back in the crosshairs, but voters seem poised to think things through this time around and it has politicians, particularly those on the right very concerned. Eight years of right wing politics has destabilized a once burgeoning economy. Prices are up, wages are down and Americans are terrified that medical care might become a luxury. And then we have war. Not one of those romantic wars where the enemy is clearly defined and progress is easily measured, but a nasty little war against ambiguous foes who seem impervious to our ponderous might.

In the coming months battles will heat up. Republicans will have to decided whether or not it’s time to throw Bush under the bus and reach toward the middle to bring the ship back to even keel, or lean even further to the right and dump the whole shebang into the murky waters of ultra-conservative politics.

Democrats won’t have to stake out much of a position. Republicans have enjoyed a staggering degree of control in Washington for the better part of eight years and the results have been awful. They managed to blame Democrats for their shortcomings in 2004, but now voters aren’t buying that one. Fool me once...can’t get fooled again. While it would be an excellent time for the Democratic Party to make its move to restore credibility and honor to the maligned cause of liberalism, it’s obvious that Howard Dean is going to lay up and play it safe counting on the power of disenfranchisement to sway voters to the left.

As reasonable as such a position might be given the state of modern politics, it’s painfully obvious that this country needs a complete overhaul of the political process. The basic structure of the government is fine, but layer upon layer of cheap paint has been slapped over what was once a masterpiece of statesmanship. When you remodel an old house you don’t tear it down and rebuild it, you rip out the shag carpet, knock out a few walls and remove the old fixtures. You get rid of the junk and invest in some high quality accessories. That’s what we need to do with our government.

Sadly the two power parties aren’t rising to that challenge. They haven’t addressed anything truly patriotic or humanitarian in decades and the corruption hangs in the air like the fetid smell of black mold. For years the ruling class has worked hard to insulate its grasp of power in this country and the result has gotten us right where we are today.

This November voters can take the keys to the kingdom back and unite to vote for candidates who are brave enough to align themselves with a third party. Libertarian, Green...even communist. It’s not really about who we elect, it’s about who we shut out. Let Democrats and Republicans sit one out and see how they respond.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rove Walks

Why is Karl Rove walking away from federal charges the least bit surprising? Was there ever any question that he would be protected from any reciprocity? Haven't these scandals always left the real culprits unscathed?

From John Adams and the XYZ Affair where bribes were paid to French diplomats, to Warren Harding's Teapot Dome scandal, deep rooted corruption has always gone largely unchecked in our government. They always put the screws to some patsy, but the power mongers who orchestrate everything walk. Who got nailed for Watergate? G. Gordon Liddy, a flunky FBI agent who was more than happy to blur the lines between duty and politics and a handful of henchmen, but Nixon resigned and was pardoned. Did any heavy hitters take the fall in the Iran Contra affair? Nope. Ollie North did some time but after he got out he was rewarded by those who appreciated him taking the fall and not naming names. He ran for office, writes a column and hosts a radio show.

What is surprising in this is the fact that Karl Rove is one of those peripheral characters who is normally offered up as a sacrifice when a scandal goes public. The Plame Affair has been linked to administration heavy Dick Cheney but as of right now the only head to roll is the one belonging to Scooter Libby. The fact that Rove is getting a pass reveals that he has a much stronger hold over this administration than anybody previously thought.

The Plame affair is a big deal. Valerie Plame's position as an active CIA operative was exposed in retaliation for her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, alleging that Bush was trying to offer bogus evidence as proof of Saddam Hussein's attempts to acquire weapons grade uranium. In fact, it took only a few days for Plame's CIA affiliation to be released after Wilson commented on the evidence.

It was a childish act of retaliation, but it sets a dangerous precedent. While it seems safe to assume that Plame wasn't a deep cover operative who was dispatched to corners of the globe to assassinate enemies and sabotage plans, the fact that CIA operations could be compromised for spite by the very men elected and appointed to guard against breaches of national security is cause for concern.

Furthermore this issue has challenged our understanding of the first amendment. Instead of accepting full responsibility for the leak, the Bush Administration has allowed some blame to be shifted on the press. Now there is serious discussion about imposing criminal charges on journalists who leak issues of national security.

That's just wrong. The press doesn't take an oath to uphold national security. In fact, the very nature of the press is the exact opposite. Reporters are supposed to be terrible at keeping secrets and nobody should expect anything they tell a reporter to remain in confidence. If that changes the press becomes censored and information falls under the control of the government. That is the ultimate form of corruption. The Bush administration is using the Valerie Plame affair, a scandal they created, to attack the media and limit the power of the press.

We expect our elected officials to uphold our national security. We trust them to hire qualified people to manage our nation's secrets and pay handsomely to ensure that said security is maintained through the worst possible scenarios. Valerie Plame wasn't a major player in the intelligence game, but the fact that this Administration would compromise the integrity of the CIA's security to retaliate against a former ambassador who dared to question the Bush Administration proves that our elected officials don't take security very seriously. How far will they go to lash out at their political enemies?

At the very least Dick Cheney should resign over this, but we know better than to expect something so appropriate. After all this is the same guy who got drunk, shot a buddy and hid from the police until his BAC was under control. Why would we expect Cheney to be a stand up guy and admit that he pulled the trigger on Valerie Plame? Even though Cheney should have taken the heat over this thing, we knew it wasn't going to happen.

The bottom line is that the Bush Administration has no qualms about being wicked. They lie, cheat and steal and don't care who knows it. They have surrounded themselves with those who never question them and even have a media network that happily obfuscates the truth for them. In spite of this country's long sordid past with scandal, this current administration has taken things to a new low. These guys aren't just corrupt, they're plain dirty and they don't care who knows it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Vatican Revealed

I haven't read The DaVinci Code. The premise for the book seems a bit convoluted and the hype all but assures me I'll be disappointed in the story. I'm not particularly interested in seeing the Movie. Frankly I just don't like Tom Hanks very much. Somewhere along the line he went from being a funny down-to-earth guy to being an elitist prick. He's dull and annoying.

This is odd because I typically enjoy anything that takes a shot at religion and the stir created over this book/movie enterprise makes The DaVinci Code interesting to me. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, but I still don't want to see or read it.

Atheism makes people uncomfortable. Even your casual practicioners of religion bristle at the notion that there are people around who laugh at the notion that there is some divine being floating amongst the clouds keeping a detailed record of who gets into heaven and who burns in hell. God could save some time and just buy Santa's list. It's not the people I dislike, but the institution of religion.

The Vatican made The DaVinci Code a huge hit. Had it not been for all the priests, bishops, cardinals and of course the Pope pitching a fit over the book and the way it represents Catholicism, Brown's tome would have flitted around the bookshelves for a few months before fading into oblivion. Nothing sells like controversy and the cloistered clowns with the Catholic church were all to happy to oblige. Cha-ching.

By the time the movie was released the Vatican realized what a hit it had made out of a mediocre book so they ignored the movie, refusing to provide any hype that might help Tom Hanks snag some award ceremony hardware. They dismissed the movie as mildly interesting at first before it slipped into a dull pseudo-thriller. Had they taken the same approach with the book there probably wouldn't be a movie unless some network executive bought the option for a summer programming filler. Anything would be better than 10.5.

The Vatican proved that it is essentially the headquarters of a very large corporation. The success of the business entity is based largely on public relations and the Catholic church has always been quick to take action based on public appeal. Recently the Vatican demonstrated more of this opportunism when church officials revealed the pontifical position of the church on current social issues.

Riding that wave of fundamentalism that has become so popular, the Vatican nominated a hardline pope with Nazi ties and has firmly staked out a position against gay marriage and birth control. This includes condoms. The church is not OK with rubbers. How's that for a giant step backward? I suppose the next step will be buying the naming rights to the NASCAR championship series when Nextel's contract is up. Catholic Cup.

The Catholic church has been promoting an abstinence only policy for nearly 2000 years. It doesn't work. Devout Catholics can't keep it in their pants. That includes priests, bishops and cardinals. Maybe young boys are part of that abstinence program, but not all clergy members are pedophiles. In this day and age, how can the Catholic church take a stand against birth control? Especially condoms.

Millions of children are born into poverty and disease. AIDS is still rampant in third world countries and other diseases are developing that resist treatment. In Latin America exploding birth rates are overwhelming the education systems and entire countries are being crushed by illiteracy, increasing poverty and a culture of drug cartels that are happily exploiting the situation. Sadly, it is in these countries where the Vatican has tremendous influence that condoms make the most sense. People in these countries have three things to look forward to: sex, drugs and church. Sadly, they take what they want from all three. The Church doesn't stop them from having sex, because they confess the sins and ask for absolution, but the hardline stance against condoms keeps disease spreading and babies coming. Forgive me father for I have sinned...but I didn't wear a rubber!

Jesus Christ was the sort of guy who would have wanted to address the welfare of his fellow man, not petty social issues. It seems that the Vatican would better serve humanity and this God they are so kooky about by implementing strategies that work instead of clinging to the myth of abstinence or railing against a couple of homos getting hitched. Somehow I think Jesus would have been a lot more interested in finding a cure for AIDS, feeding the hungry and putting an end to war than rubbers and lesbian weddings.

But the Vatican isn't in the business of making the world a better place. It's all about putting butts in the seats. They need money and that money comes from the customers. Sure they call them parishioners, but money changes hands. It's a business transaction. That body of Christ isn't free. About 20 years ago the Catholic Church softened its position on issues like birth control. While the Vatican didn't condone it, they did make it clear that using birth control was not a sin. Now, with fire and brimstone becoming popular once again, the Vatican has tinkered with its image to make the church more appealing. People don't want an understanding god these days. They wants wrath and vengeance. The Vatican has seen the paradigm shift and they are moving fast.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bigger than ever.

There are two ways you can get rich really quick in this country and before you ask, one of them is not purchasing property for no money down. No, the road to easy money involves creating a new diet or concocting some exercise plan. In fact, you can make even more money by recycling some passe trend and giving it a new twist. Take stodgy old Yoga, mix in some hip hop beats and call it something catchy like Booty Busting Yoga and you can pad your bank accounts for years to come. Just make it easy and painless. Americans are infatuated with losing weight and getting fit. Ironically, in spite of this obsession America keeps getting fatter. When you factor in the alarming number of half-starved immigrants allegedly pouring over our borders everyday the average girth ratio is astounding. Think what the percentage of overweight Americans would be if we closed the borders.

The problem is that Americans don't want reality. Losing weight and getting fit involve hard work, sacrifice and a little pain. That's unacceptable. Everybody wants some magic pill or magic surgery that will provide instant results with no effort. We all want to look sexy, but not if it involves things like breaking a sweat for 2 hours out of every week or skipping the Whopper Value Meal for lunch. But I have a coupon!
That's why that Atkins diet was huge for a while. The gimmick was this magical metabolic process that your body actuates when you cut carbs out of your diet and subsist on protein and fat. Since Atkins dropped dead due to cardiovascular complications the Atkins people have backed off of the caveman diet and taken a more balanced approach, but before they could brand the new program somebody took the idea and called it the South Beach Diet.

The fact is there is only one way to lose weight: Eat less. Yes exercise is important, but most Americans need to do more than walk 10,000 steps a day to offset the caloric surplus they consume each day. You have to stop putting food in your mouth. People who lost weight on Atkins and other "eat-all-you-want" clones over estimate the calories they actually consumed. The fact is protein and fat take longer to digest, thus making one feel fuller longer. Unfortunately the body is designed to run on carbs and forcing it to manufacture fuel out of protein or fat results in physiological problems that could have long term consequences. Like heart attacks, strokes and colon cancer. But enjoy the bacon, please.

Eating less is hard. Food is like a drug that you get addicted to. Starting your day off with a handful of granola thrown into a small cup of yogurt is not going to make you forget about all those mornings you gobbled a sausage biscuit with egg. It doesn't taste as good as a doughnut. Acquiring a taste for water instead of sucking down a 24 ounce bottle of Pepsi every three hours is not going to happen overnight and munching on steamed broccoli won't be nearly as satisfying as eating half a pizza. Cutting out all those Jelly Bellies isn't going to be easy either. Crack addicts have a much easier time getting clean. At least they have consequences to pay, getting fatter isn't illegal.

But maybe that's an idea. We can't jail fat people, but why not make them pay more for things? In some places they already do. Target is infamous for selling extended sizes at a higher price. A large shirt might retail for 10.99 but the XXL is 12.99. I'm suspicious that Target actually mislables their shirts to force more people into the extended sizes. That's something that needs to be looked into, but it's still a good idea. Why should leaner customers pay the same amount of money for half the fabric?

Why not extend this to other areas. Like license plates. People who own trucks pay more because trucks are heavier and capable of carrying more payload, but isn't a 300 pound woman carrying quite a payload? Fork it over, Bertha. Checking weight upon license renewal seems reasonable, how many people out there have a license that lists their weight a solid 30 pounds under what they really weigh? Isn't there a Homeland Security issue in play here? Is that fraud?

Insurance companies and employers would love to be able to adjust premiums based on weight. Not all fat people are unhealthy, but most are medical time bombs. Diabetes, arthritis, stress fractures, heart attacks, strokes, back pain. There are a host of problems associated with weight and giving companies the ability to pass the cost on to the individual would help fit people save money on healthcare. Sure, Tom in accounting could easily suffer a stroke in spite of being a competitive runner who only eats beef once a year, but insurance companies have done the math and they are willing to take a gamble on Tom. Take 100 fit people and 100 fat people and a massive percentage of those fat people are going to wear that insurance card out. You can carry that over to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as well. No benefits if you're morbidly obese. We can't have fat people draining public funds to tend to weight-related maladies when there are people suffering from illnesses that are entirely beyond their control.

It's disturbing. Every major retailer has electric carts for people to use when they shop. They aren't for disabled people, most disabled people already have the means to ambulate. How would they get into the store to use the cart? And sometimes the carts are taken advantage of by wobbly old ladies who can barely walk because of osteo-arthritis, but typically those carts are purloined by the ponderously pudgy. Hopeless fat slobs who simply have too much lard to lug around a store. And where do you find those fat bastards? Hogging up the free samples. You'd think it was rush hour in L.A. when they heat up a tray of those bagel bites. Oink, beep, oink.

Police departments around the country have taken to putting up these radar trailers that are supposed to shame speeders into slowing down. What they do is encourage people to speed up. Apparently everybody wants to know what their car's 30-60 time is. My mini van can do it in 6.2 seconds. The fact is those trailers don't work, but putting up scales in public places might. Set up a digital scale outside of McDonald's and watch the humiliation on people's faces as they waddle out. 244! Hey lady, that's beefy. 376! Yo, bro. I hope that's a salad in that bag. 72! Look! It's Lindsey Lohan. And she's got a ketchup packet!

Being fat isn't that bad if you can pull your weight. Lot's of people are heavy and many of us are genetically predispositioned to be big. But too many people hide behind that excuse. 400 pounds isn't big, it's disgusting. You don't have a glandular problem, you're a lazy slob. There's no excuse for it. You aren't disabled and you don't have mental problems. That's what's so infuriating about this issue. People don't want to shoulder the blame and there are countless quacks who are more than happy to tell them what they want to hear. So they keep getting fatter and fatter until they finally con some shrink in to prescribing bariatric surgery, which comes with a host of long term complications, such as a lifetime risk of gastric ruptures. If you think heart burn is bad...

It's impossible to make being fat illegal. Constitutionally it would never stand, but that doesn't mean that the general public should cater to this pity party for the portly. There was a time when fat people got teased and ridiculed. Hey, hey, hey! It might not have been nice, but is it only a coincidence that fewer people were obese? The humiliation inspired a lot of people to get into shape. There might have been a few suicides, but isn't that part of natural selection? Now we live in this touchy feely era of tolerance and while there is no place for racial or sexual discrimination, when did fat people qualify for PC courtesy? I guess it's hard to have thick skin when you stretch it to its limits.

Nobody should be judged or criticized for things beyond their control. There is simply no place for intolerance in these matters, but obesity, unlike homosexuality, really is a choice. Fat people choose to be fat because they choose to overeat. They indulge cravings every day and fail to account for those indulgences with a little exercise. So why should society go out of its way to accommodate them? Why should people who choose to put themselves into that position not be held accountable? We see nothing wrong with looking down on those freaks who pierce every square inch of their faces, so why not pass judgment on the slops who eat two Big Macs for lunch everyday? I didn't know cows ate meat.

The problem isn't fast food or marketing or video games. The reason so many Americans are fat is because we went too far in prohibiting meanness. Bring back the bullies and make fat uncool again. Then people will stop making excuses and start taking personal responsibility. America needs to end its love affair with pseudo-psychology and get back to being tough.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


In spite of the fact that I am a self-described pinko liberal I strongly support the second amendment. Not only do I believe Americans have a right to bear arms, I think they have a duty to arm themselves. And not with single shot muskets or antique dueling pistols either. I have no qualms about people owning fully automatic weapons with anti-armor tipped ammunition. I believe that I should be able to mount a fully functional .50 caliber machine gun nest on my roof. And I should be able to purchase that with food stamps. After all I am a liberal.

That's a pretty scary thought, isn't it? A 250 pound tree hugger packing heat. Puts those PETA freaks into perspective doesn't it? Instead of throwing red paint on your fur coat I just might shoot your fat ass and make a nice jacket out of you. Imagine the candor with which I would reply to Joan Rivers asking me: Who are you wearing? J-Lo

Ok, I'm not that extreme. But I'm not being sarcastic. In fact, quite a few liberals don't have an issue with the second amendment. Those of us who admire Thomas Jefferson know full well that he intended the people to retain power through detent. By arming the general public you provide them with the means by which to overthrow a corrupt government and start from scratch. The tree of liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots, and tyrants.

No sir, it's not about hunting or providing for a militia in times of national defense. Jefferson believed in open rebellion and keeping a cache of formidable weapons is every American's duty. I firmly believe that. Had Jefferson envisioned the scope of our military might in this day and age, he would undoubtedly endorse the public availability of fully armed battle tanks. So when the NRA called me asking for support you'd think that I'd be more than happy to cut them a check, right?

The National Rifle Association champions the second amendment. They lobby for gun owners rights, fight anti-gun legislation and even seek to educate gun owners on proper weapons handling. But they'll never see a nickel from me.

The problem is that they, like most conservative groups, wrap themselves in the flags of all the wrong causes. Literally. Typical NRA rallies feature wild-eyed militia members, Confederate flag waving white supremacist and ultra-conservative religious zealots. Instead of sticking to the simple facts of the second amendment, the NRA gets involved with too many people that have a so-called values agenda. Too often those values are so far outside of the spirit of the Constitution that the platforms are actually quasi-fascist. Interesting that history's greatest liberal (Jesus) was a Jew, while the world's most horrific fascist (Hitler) was a Christian. Ironic really.

The NRA stands for all the wrong things. They embrace all the wrong people. How can I send my money to an organization that financial supports politicians who happily rape the environment, denigrate the poor and ignore pressing social issues in favor of greedy corporate interests. How can I support the NRA when the clowns who sit on its board fail to hold those politicians who only pander to gun owners? How can anybody support an organization that refuses to distances itself from hatemongers and hypocrites?

Like abortion, the second amendment is a fine talking point during the election season, but once the votes are tallied the issue is shoved to the back burner and left to simmer until the next election. Nothing ever gets done. Politics as usual.

And that's how the NRA likes it. The NRA makes billions of dollars playing patty cake with the second amendment. If they are ever successful in securing the rights of gun owners, they won't need to raise all of that lobby money and Wayne LaPierre will have to log his fat ass onto Monster so he can find a real job. The NRA is a scam.

That's why they cater to the NASCAR demographic. White trash. A typical NRA rally looks and sounds like a KKK rally, except most of the participants aren't wearing white sheets nor are they burning crosses. Usually. NRA rallies are actually great recruiting events for the KKK since they attract so many like minded people. Stupid, angry white people.

The NRA loves this crowd because they are so-blinded by their own prejudices that they can't see through the NRA's nonsense. Nobody takes the NRA to task over where its money is spent. Nobody calls the NRA out on endorsing politicians who fail to sponsor gun-friendly legislation. People just keep forking over membership dues and buying bumperstickers with witty catch phrases like: This Car is protected by Smith and Wesson. Hardy Har.

So I fight my fight individually. If the NRA ever decides to stake a stand and let its members know that the NRA is about one issue and the rest of the garbage needs to be checked at the door, I'll fill out a membership card and pay my dues, but until they kick out the trash I'll go it alone. It's hard enough to protect my money from crooks. I don't need to hand it over willingly.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Oil Companies Raping land for Spite.

Two oil companies have suddenly decided to pick on Ohioans by exercising obscure mineral rights clauses that allegedly allow them to clear public forests that may or may not be encroaching on their rights of way. It started when Marathon/Ashland acquired an easement from Columbia Gas Transmission that allowed Marathon/Ashland to clear a 100 foot wide swath of land through some of Ohio's most interesting forest lands in the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. Not only were trees cleared, but pristine creeks and rivers were fouled when the pipeline was buried beneath the beds.

Obviously leaks and ruptures are a pressing concern, but more disturbing is the insistence that a considerable amount of land must be kept clear for dubious security matters. However, Marathon didn't stop there. They cleared municipal park land in Columbus to widen the pipeline easement and have even marked large trees in established Columbus neighborhoods for removal, leading people to question the motives as it is unlikely that any terrorist would be able to gain access to a pipeline buried deep beneath urban yards or metro parks. Somebody would see them and police would be called. Perhaps the portion of the pipeline that cuts through rural forest land would be at limited risk, but in the city? Not likely.

Columbia added insult to injury when they notified state officials that they intended to lay waste to hundreds of acres of forest in the Mohican State Park and Forest near Mansfield, Ohio. Park officials are skeptical that Columbia needs to clear a 300 foot radius around every well and question the need for clearing a 50 foot easement along its pipeline that serpentines throughout the park. The energy brokers aren't apologizing. They claim they have a right to protect their wells and pipelines and insist that the citizens are lucky because they have a legal right to clear more. Shouldn't it be these companies that feel lucky that they are permitted such intimate access to public land in the first place? Consider the record profits.

It's a real tragedy. Ohio has limited forest land available for recreational use and the most attractive areas are those that these two oil mongers have attacked so heartlessly. Columbia gave Marathon an outmoded easement in Hocking Hills to provide Marathon a free pathway on which to increase its profits and Columbia is setting its sites on one of the most intriguing hemlock forests Ohio has to offer in Mohican. Why?

If security is really a concern, it would be easy to partner with state and local officials to closely monitor the pipelines and wells. It's not as though simply clearing easements will make the areas more secure, time and money will still have to be invested in observation and that's on top of the money being spent on clearing the trees. So why not skip the tree cutting and ask the state to lend the help of it's rangers? See if local Sheriffs can be asked to drive an ATV through the rural stretches of the pipelines. If it really is a security issue, there would be no shortage of help.

It just doesn't make sense. There's no logic to it. Unless you factor in spite. Who loves the forests? Liberal tree huggers. By exercising perceived right of way variances during a political era of business friendly legislation, these companies can take a huge cheap shot at the liberals where it will hurt them the most: protected public land. Take that, pinko.

It's bad enough we have to put up with their comprehensive pollution that spoils our water, air and view when they erect their oil transport operations on private property. Now they can walk right on to public land and chop down grand old trees leaving tick infested weed beds in their wake. It's not about security, it's a vendetta. Plain and simple.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bush, Big Oil bleeding US dry.

Record profits.

That’s what big oil corporations have reaped during an economic period that has left millions of Americans bankrupt, underemployed and without health coverage. Since 2001, big oil companies have exploited every angle from war to tropical storms in an effort to charge increasingly high prices for fuel.

The American people share part of the blame. Our refusal to practice conservation and demand better fuel economy resulted in a dangerous dependence on oil, but much of the blame for rising fuel costs falls on the Bush administration and key members of the Republican party who are in the back pocket of big oil and other corporations.

Bush has used the high fuel prices to create a nationwide hysteria over foreign oil. Legislation has been proposed and passed that has drastically reduced environmental protection regulations and big oil has its sights set on our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges as potential oil fields.

In spite of all of the spin, the fact is big oil is taking advantage of cronyism to pad its pockets while it can. The technology that can but big oil out of business can no longer be restrained and the future brings the promise of fuel cells, renewable combustion fuel sources and dramatically increased fuel economy. Concern over emissions, dwindling oil reserves and global participation in the quest for better energy technology is chipping away at the economic foundation companies like Exxon, Marathon, and BP have built over the past 100 years.

The Bush administration has not been very aggressive in promoting conservation initiatives. Sure, they’ve paid some lip service to certain talking points that sound good, but nothing has been done to mandate improved fuel economy. Nothing has been done to prepare this country to make a transition from fossil fuel dependence to agricultural alternatives. The truth is, the Bush administration has effectively made us even more dependent on oil.

The results have been detrimental. American automotive giants, Ford and Chevy are in the process of cutting tens of thousands of jobs amidst massive revenue shortfalls, while Honda has seen impressive growth. Why? Fuel economy. While Chevy and Ford were racing to build a bigger pickup, Honda kept it’s eye on improved fuel economy. When the gas prices went up, buyers walked away from monstrous trucks and purchased smaller cars.

It’s no secret that the global reserves of oil are finite. One of the reasons there is so much unrest in the Middle East is because oil fields are becoming less productive. The combination of religious fundamentalism and illiteracy are major components of the chronic instability, but there is a sense of urgency among the people in power that compels leaders to fortify their positions in the coming years. Religion is simply a means of obfuscation. Oil will begin to run out and the only bargaining chip that anybody in the Middle East will have is power. That explains the desire for weapons of mass destruction

Since taking office Bush has demonstrated considerable favoritism toward industrial interests, particularly big oil. His refusal to impose a windfall tax on the massive profits reaped by oil companies demonstrates his painfully obvious bias. While it is easy to make the argument that it defies the spirit of capitalism to impose such a tax on a profitable business, the nature of the oil industry is a special case. The future of this country depends on solvent energy supplies. Oil companies have conspired with each other to set prices, with the government to maintain energy dependence on oil and with other businesses to ensure an unhealthy addiction to oil. The government isn’t suspending capitalism, big oil has long abandoned the spirit of a free market.

It is up to our elected leaders to balance the needs of the present with those of future generations. By failing to take a proactive stance on oil, Bush has allowed our country to reach the precipice of systemic economic collapse. Because we are not aggressively implementing renewable energy alternatives, our immediate and long term future is in jeopardy. Bush is to blame.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dixie Chicks Redux

A couple of years ago Natalie Maines started a fire storm in country music when she made her feelings about George W. Bush public on stage at a London concert. Redneck myopia prevailed and the Dixie Chicks became pariahs within their defined niche of country music. Stores pulled their records, radio stations stopped playing their songs and country music morons like Toby Keith piled on and reaped huge profits by exploiting the pseudo patriotic sub-genre that was setting the country charts afire.

After apologizing for choosing such a strongly worded condemnation of George W. Bush and expressing her concerns overseas, Natalie made it clear that she was not a Bush supporter and refused to back down from her statements. Her only regret was being disrespectful. Clarifying that point only made matters worse. The girls fired back at other performers, but eventually they disappeared from view and remained largely forgotten. They performed a few benefits and released a few stray songs, but for the most part they seemed to be on their way out.

Until now. The Chicks have returned with a powerful single Not Ready to make Nice from their latest album Taking the Long Way. The song is a departure from their bluegrass roots, embracing complex the complex musical arrangements of a pop power ballad. It's a sweeping musical score that revisits the political controversy and addresses critics with blunt indignation. Natalie makes it clear that she sees no reason to apologize for speaking her mind. The song conveys the pain the Dixie Chicks endured in receiving death threats from angry anti-fans.

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don'’t mind sayin’
It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

While American Country Music stations aren't embracing the song just yet, it is a hit on Canadian stations and has piqued the interests of American pop music fans. The video has appeared on VH-1 and will eventually claw its way into the V-Spot Top 20 countdown. The Dixie Chicks enjoyed a little crossover success when they covered Stevie Nicks' Landslide, and it would appear that Not Ready to Make Nice has been engineered to appeal to the much broader and more accepting pop audience. Maines has softened her twangy trailer park drawl and replaced it with a folksy vocal delivery that has country roots without being trashy. It's clear that the Dixie Chicks are ready to explore a new market for their music.

Some purists will knock them for cleaning up their image and catering to the pop market. Many will claim that this proves how wrong the Dixie Chicks were for taking an anti-war stance, but with pop artists typically doubling or tripling the sales of country performers is it really an example of a group hiding from their past or is it more likely an example of three women simply out growing a petty audience? Is it selling out, or moving up?

Regardless, the Dixie Chicks have struck back. Not Ready to Make Nice is a fantastic song with a powerful message. It has lyrical and musical depth. Even if Country fans aren't ready to accept the Dixie Chicks for speaking their minds, the pop charts will provide wide open spaces for these girls to make it big. Rednecks might have enjoyed a good chuckle when they were gleefully bulldozing stacks of Dixie Chicks records, but Natalie Maines and the girls will be having the last laugh.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cynthia McKinney guilty of crimes she won't be charged with

Cynthia McKinney should be ashamed of herself. As a black woman she should know what racism is and as a U.S. Representative to Congress it should be her mission to eliminate it. Instead, Cynthia chooses to make it worse. You see, instead of addressing the issue of racism as it applies to the black community, Cynthia wants to draw attention to the racism she believes affects her in her daily life as a career politician.

Racial discrimination is a serious issue in this country, perhaps more serious now than it has ever been. The reason is because too many people want to believe that racism is no longer an issue. Slaves have been emancipated, amendments have been passed and laws have been enforced so there is no longer a legal host in which racism can fester, but it is still there in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and the only thing that will remove it is time.

Of course time alone is meaningless. While the latent racism that remains still holds people of color back, the legal structure that is in place allows those who are willing to work a little harder an opportunity to overcome it. By achieving success and setting a positive example they can show other people of color that it is not impossible to beat racism, while giving the bigots out there less of a reason to cling to their ignorance.

The along comes an imbecile like Cynthia McKinney. Cynthia is not a black woman who pulled herself out of the ghetto in hopes of one day making the world a better place. She's a spoiled rich girl who got started in politics because her daddy put submitted her name as a write in candidate on a 1986 ballot for the Georgia state house. She's a career politician.

In 1992 Cynthia McKinney won her spot in the U.S. House of Representatives and immediately Cynthia decided to start trouble. In 1993 she had an altercation with a Capitol Police Officer which prompted the department to post her picture with all officers since Cynthia opted to not wear her security pin. Interestingly enough, this same issue is what led to the recent altercation.

Contributing to the problem is Cynthia's decision to change her hairdo from her trademark corn rows to a rather wild 'fro. It's a good look, but it certainly does alter her appearance. Her face is framed differently and she looks a little thinner-- even younger because her hair has a carefree look to it. And since Cynthia is a woman, she knows all too well that a change in hair style can completely change a woman's entire look. Most women count on it. So she should have expected a little confusion.

Cynthia initially claimed she was inappropriately touched, but after she realized that nobody was jumping on her bandwagon, she backed off and subsequently offered a carefully crafted apology. On one hand it looks like she is admitting that she was wrong, but it's vague enough that it can't be used against her in a court of law. She might be charged with assaulting an officer, which would seem a bit severe given the fact that the officer was not harmed. Cynthia's outburst was a tamer version of Zsa Zsa Gabor's incident where the aged actress slapped a cop for pulling her over. Cynthia is a spoiled brat who likes to be the center of attention. We get it.

Unfortunately Cynthia doesn't get it. As a black woman who has pursued public service, McKinney should have better judgment than that. There's more at stake than her ego. She's educated, having graduated from USC and attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy... Diplomacy? We didn't see any diplomacy in action during this whole ordeal, did we? In fact, McKinney displayed very little diplomacy or decorum at all. Even if she had a reason to be upset, there was a better way to express it.

If there was a situation with racial profiling that needed to be addressed, Cynthia knew that there were other means available that would have been more effective than a tantrum. She's a powerful woman with considerable resources. If that cop was guilty of racial discrimination she could have had him working third shift security at an Alexandria Burger King. But Cynthia's issue was not one of racism, it was one of ego. As a Representative she expects royal treatment. This wasn't a black thing. It was a diva thing.

The frustrating point in all of this is the damage McKinney did to the struggle against racism. By laying down that race card to defend her selfish actions, McKinney made future claims of racial discrimination a little less significant. Every time that race card is played out of turn, it makes the next problem that much harder to draw attention to. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have both suffered tremendous blows to their credibility for rallying to the wrong cause. Did you notice how neither of them wanted anything to do with McKinney? They know crap when they see it.

Cynthia McKinney already has a team of lawyers ready to handle anything that comes her way as a result of this. If criminal charges are filed, she'll have a pile of briefs and motions ready to have the case dismissed. If the cop files a civil suit, they'll have so much dirt on him he'll drop the claim. Chances are Cynthia McKinney will walk away from this with a slap on the wrist and a paltry fine. Given the details of the case, it's hard to expect much more. At least from a legal perspective.

Cynthia McKinney doesn't deserve to be in Congress, but only the voters in her district can do anything about that. Hopefully they're as disgusted over Cynthia's behavior as the rest of the country is and they do the right thing when Cynthia's seat is back on the block. Even if Cynthia can convince them that she was challenging an issue, there was a better way to do it. Instead of demonstrating intelligence, wisdom and a little diplomacy, McKinney went ballistic and made an ass of herself and by extension made fools of everybody in her district.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Republicans display a dangerous sense of arrogance

James Sensenbrenner's hotly contested immigration bill is only the latest in a long line of public displays of conservative bitterness. Like spoiled children being asked to share for the first time Republicans debate through tantrum and pass one-sided legislation without engaging in anything resembling diplomacy.

There's no doubt that illegal immigration is an issue that this country needs to address. With jobs being outsourced at an alarming pace, big corporations threatening to cut thousands of jobs over the next few years and the cost of education rocketing upward, it only makes sense to ensure that the dwindling employment opportunities are preserved for U.S. Citizens. The fact is illegal immigration artificially keeps wages down and has effectively created a serf class of laborers in this country who are willing to accept an appallingly low standard of living.

Unfortunately there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing it. The right way would include reaching out to the Hispanic community and drafting an amicable resolution. The ham-handed manner in which Sensenbrenner attacked the issue galvanized the Hispanic community and has once again polarized this country.

But this is nothing new. Back in June of 2005, Sensenbrenner threw a tantrum during a meeting where Democrats and Republicans were discussing the Patriot Act. When the judiciary Democrats brought up issues concerning the Iraq war and Guantanamo Bay, Sensenbrenner halted the meeting and ordered the court reporter out of the room and then shut off the C-Span cameras.

This sort of behavior has become typical of the Republican Party. This my way or the highway attitude might have started with the conservative pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but it has permeated through the rest of the party. Even moderate Republicans who meekly question the uber-conservative wing of the party are thrown under the bus and characterized as RINO's.

The previous two presidential elections were close contests and the final results of each remain questionable. What sets the past two elections apart, however, is not the margin of victory or the controversies surrounding them, but how bitterly divided the two sides were. The Republican Party is not enjoying a mandate, but rather a very narrow advantage in a hostile political climate. One would think that such a bitter divide would call for the party in power to reach across the aisle and try to find a little common ground, but that has not been the case. In fact, the opposite is true. Instead of seeking middle ground and engaging in some healthy diplomacy, the Republican party has embraced the totalitarian concepts espoused by the far right. Republicans only see things in black and white. There's simply no compromise on any issue.

Recently, Republicans have embraced religious zealots who seek to impose Christian theocracy on the country through the passage of laws that violate basic civil rights. The party refuses to distance itself from pundits who spread a message of hatred and intolerance. When Bill Bennett aired a hypothetical commentary about how aborting black babies would reduce the crime rate, Republicans dismissed it as an unfortunate remark. When Rush Limbaugh spouts his own version of encoded bigotry, nothing is done to distance the party from it.

The fact is that the Republican Party is the white man's party. They assumed that position in the 1960's when Democrats alienated their Southern constituents with the passage of Civil Rights legislation. Seeing an opportunity to steal votes, the Republican Party retooled itself as the party of the god-fearing white Christian.

Republicans take the simple argument on every issue. Everything is a 101 level class. The Economy, Sociology, Foreign Relations. In the Republican world it is all 101. Unfortunately life is a little more complex than the 101 class. In fact, that's why colleges offer such a variety of advanced classes in each curriculum.

This over-simplified view of reality is exactly why things are such a mess right now. The war in Iraq is the direct result of applying 101 logic to a 301 situation. Republicans are quick to accuse the UN of failing, but as a permanent member of the Security Council aren't we to blame? The fact is the UN only works if the US allows it to. When Bush went to the UN with a proposal for war the UN balked. So Bush threw a tantrum, called the UN names and started a war anyway. Who failed whom?

Internally, the massive protests over the immigration bill is the result of Sensenbrenner's failure to reach out to the Hispanic community. His bill has stirred up a vocal minority of angry white people who have turned the immigration bill into a racial epithet, screaming for those who embrace their Mexican heritage to pack up and leave. Has the Republican Party tried to distance themselves from this? No. They encourage it.

Michelle Malkin recently accused the Hispanic demonstrators of being racist. This observation was gleaned from the fact that many of the demonstrators are waving Mexican flags and chanting "Brown Power." Sadly Malkin, like most conservatives, just doesn't grasp what racism really is. Showing a little ethnic pride is not racist. Nobody accused the Irish of being racist when they marched around the country a few weeks ago to celebrate Saint Patrick's day. They had Irish flags and chanted slogans as well.

Racism is when you discriminate against somebody because of their race. A Racist might take pride in his or her heritage but what makes them a true racist is the desire to place their race in a position of superiority. That's the difference between "brown power" and "white power." Unfortunately people like Michelle Malkin and most of the Republicans in congress are smart enough to recognize that. They just choose to be obtuse because it's easier to embrace the simplicity of being wrong. You can't reason with them because they choose to abandon reason.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Michelle Malkin: Village idiot...

Ah yes, Michelle Malkin piled onto the story of a little black girl who expresses her father's racially motivated rage. Autum Ashante's poem White Nationalism Put U in Bondage compares Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin to vampires who sucked the blood out of black people. The poem express disgust at the way whites have addressed and continue to handle race in our country. While I don't agree with the message, I can't argue the fact that whites have inflicted a lot of harm on people of color and I can't be surprised if once in a while people in certain minorities are inclined to hate whites.

It's sad that Autum's father has raised her in this culture of hatred but what is even more tragic is the fact that idiots like Michelle Malkin seem to think that this one girl's poem is the result of social programs designed to help black people attain some success in our society. Malkin goes on in her March 15th column to complain about affirmative action and cultural sensitivity:

"Who is surprised? If you set aside a separate holiday for Black History Month in the public schools, if you set aside separate graduation ceremonies, college dorms, academic departments, recruiting programs, and government contracts and subcontracts by race, you send a message that hard-core racial separatism is not only acceptable -- but desired.

Autum Ashante' is the natural offspring of militant multiculturalism and government-sanctioned identity politics. We reap what we sow."

So in Michelle's world it would appear that we could have achieved racial harmony if Abe Lincoln would have just stayed out of slavery and minded his own business. And here I thought that people like Autum's father were angry over things like racist cops and a clear bias against blacks in our criminal justice system.

The poem has been denounced, by people like Michelle Malkin, as racist. However, I didn't pick up on racial undertones in this poem, I simply saw a different perspective:

White Nationalism Put U In Bondage

White nationalism is what put you in bondage
Pirate and vampires like Columbus, Morgan, and Darwin
Drank the blood of the sheep, trampled all over them with
Steel, tricks and deceit.
Nothing has changed take a look in our streets
The mis-education of she and Hegro — leaves you on your knee2grow
Black lands taken from your hands, by vampires with no remorse
They took the gold, the wisdom and all of the storytellers
They took the black women, with the black man weak
Made to watch as they changed the paradigm
Of our village
They killed the blind, they killed the lazy, they went
So far as to kill the unborn baby
Yeah White nationalism is what put you in bondage
Pirates and vampires like Columbus, Morgan, and Darwin
They drank the blood of the sheep, trampled all over them with
Steel laden feet, throw in the tricks alcohol and deceit.
Nothing has changed take a look at our streets.

Where's the smoking gun, Michelle? This is the poem that stirred up a hornets nest but I don't see a call to arms. What I read is a lot of pent up frustration with centuries of racial injustice. This is not the racist anthem it has been made out to be. It's simply a matter of white people not liking the message. Perhaps the guilt is a little thick.

It's interesting, I searched Michelle's archives and I never saw her stop to write an article about Lamb and Lynx Gaede. The twin sisters are better known as the musical duo Prussian Blue, a white nationalist band that specializes in charming Neo-Nazi rally music. The name refers to claims made by holocaust deniers alleging that the levels of Prussian Blue in the walls of gas chambers proves that they were not used to exterminate Jews. How's that for endearing?

The girls and their supporters claim that they don't sing about hate, but rather promote a message of racial pride but their song Victory Day clearly speaks of ethnic cleansing and refers to a bloody purging. Perhaps that's just a metaphor. Other songs feature similar lyrics. These girls even celebrate Adolph Hitler as a hero, wearing shirts adorned with a smiling caricature of the wayward dictator. The man was misunderstood!

Michelle Malkin actually did refer to the Aryan duo in her article lamenting the outburst of the seven year-old Autum Ashante. Michelle wondered if the media (read liberals) would be as outraged over Autum as they were over Prussian Blue. The answer is probably not.

The reason is simple, Autum Ashante doesn't represent a strong organized movement that endorses genocidal slaughter. Autum's poem expresses her father's frustration with racial prejudice and social injustice. It's misguided and unfortunate but Autum and her father do not speak on behalf of a culture of racism. The Gaede girls are Neo-Nazi propagandists who embrace genocide. Autum doesn't sell albums, Prussian Blue does. You can't compare an angry black man and his daughter to the Aryan Nation anymore than you can compare Al Sharpton to Adolph Hitler.

The difference between black and white racism is the results. Black people have never oppressed whites. Black racism is born out of frustration. It's only logical that some black people might succumb to anger after years of getting nowhere with reason. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were civil rights heroes who were both gunned down in their prime. John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy were committed to Civil Rights legislation and they were killed as well. It's not surprising that Autum wrote this poem, it's surprising more black children don't feel equally inclined.

Sadly, it's the outrage expressed by the likes of Michelle Malkin that reveal the racism that still dominates our society. Michelle and other white columnists made a big issue of this story and went out of their way to characterize the Ashantes as bigots, but the poem doesn't reveal any bigotry at all. It expresses outrage at the attitudes maintained by racist twits like Malkin.