Monday, December 20, 2010

Sarah Palin’s Hypocrisy Is Bad For Your Health

(Cross-posted from The Corner Tavern.)

Oh, sure. I know it’s just politics. I know former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is purposefully divisive, using the stage she’s been given not to edify the public or to advocate for the good of the country but to whip her base into an anti-Obama frenzy – maybe to increase her chances to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, maybe just to line her own pockets. But either way, it’s nothing personal. Right?

But is that really the way we want our political leaders to behave? Or perhaps I should ask, is that the way we want our media phenomena to behave, since that’s an apter description of the woman who quit her one term as Alaska governor half-way through to sell books and do reality television. Because sometimes the way political creatures like Sarah Palin behave can be harmful to your health.


(CNN) – Sarah Palin is again taking aim at Michelle Obama over her anti-obesity campaign, taking the opportunity in Sunday’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” to land a diss against the first lady’s efforts to improve nutrition.

While making s’mores at one point during Sunday’s episode, the former Alaska governor proclaims the marshmallow and chocolate treat is “in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.”

It’s not the first time Palin has taken a job at Mrs. Obama over her campaign to discourage fattening foods, especially from public schools. The former vice presidential nominee told conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham last month that “the first lady cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat.”

Palin also hand-delivered cookies to a Pennsylvania school last month before delivering a speech there, saying: “Who should be deciding what I eat? Should it be government or should it be parents? It should be the parents.”

Of course, one might ask when, exactly, did Ms. Obama suggest that the government should tell parents what to feed their children – because she hasn’t. Ever, so far as I can tell. She’s tried toeducate kids and their parents about nutrition and exercise so that they can make better individual choices about what they eat and how they live. And she lobbied for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the purpose of which is to require school districts to provide healthier food for kids so that if parents choose to have their kids eat school lunches, or if parents can’t afford to provide lunches to their kids and have to rely on the meals provided by their local schools, their kids have healthier options. So, in fact, all Michelle Obama’s ever done is to give parents information so that they can make informed decisions about diet and exercise, and to give them healthy options for school lunches so that they can choose to have their kids eat healthier meals in school. All of which is about choice – the very thing Sarah Palin claims to believe in.

It’s odd, really, that Sarah Palin and her fellow conservatives attack Michelle Obama over her childhood obesity and healthy eating initiatives, given that it was Republican Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower who created the President’s Council on Physical Fitness way back in 1956. That’s right, it was a Republican who first thought to use the bully pulpit of the White House for thepurpose of “encouraging American children to be healthy and active,” creating what was originally known as the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (imagine how it would’ve made Sarah Palin’s head throb if it’d been Pres. Obama who came up with a name like that!). Oh – and guess who was the first Chairman of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Why it was none other than conservative Republican icon Richard Milhous Nixon. And later, Pres. George W. Bush – you remember him, the conservative Republican who was president from Jan. 2001 to Jan. 2009 – created the President’s Challenge website and introduced the President’s Active Lifestyle Award.

Yet I’ve never – never – heard anyone on the right (or the left, for that matter) complain about the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, or the President’s Challenge, or the President’s Active Lifestyle Award. Ever. All those years when I was a kid in the 1960s and ’70s, when we had to take those President’s Physical Fitness tests, counting how many sit ups and push ups and pull ups we could do, no one ever suggested Pres. Nixon or Ford or Carter was trying to dictate anything to our parents, or trying to deprive them of their right to make decisions for their kids. Because they weren’t; Pres. Nixon and Ford and Carter weren’t doing anything nefarious at all – they were doing the one thing Americans once uniformly agreed the presidentought to do: Encouraging, not dictating, good personal habits.

But now that a moderately liberal (and African American) President and First Lady occupy the White House, all of the sudden, out of the clear blue sky, the idea that the First Lady would use her public position to encourage kids to eat healthy and to exercise – now it’s a reason for Sarah Palin and other conservatives to cry foul. When nobody ever complained about any previous administration doing essentially the same thing through the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. For more than fifty years.

That’s some world class hypocrisy, my friends.

And don’t kid yourself. It’s hypocrisy that’s not without serious consequences.

Earlier today I mentioned Sarah Palin’s attacks on Michelle Obama to my wife, who’s a food blogger, and she quickly referred me to the Trust for America’s Health, an organization that gathers health statistics from around the country. The Trust for America’s Health reports that 30% of kids in 30 U.S. states are obese, and 75% of kids who are overweight as kids will also be overweight as adults – which will cost something like $145 billion a year in healthcare costs for people who are overweight. But that doesn’t stop Sarah Palin from attacking Michelle Obama’s efforts to reverse that trend. And she – Palin – does it for base political purposes. Or self-aggrandizement.

My wife’s conclusion? “Sarah Palin is insane.”

Yeah. That’s kind of what I thought.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Name Is Asher Brown

So, today’s unenviable task is to write about the most awful subject imaginable without being completely maudlin. And I’m not talking about the GOP retaking the House and Senate in November, although that would rank high on the list of most-awful-subjects, that’s for sure.

No, today’s subject is something even worse than a return to the failed economic and foreign policies of the Bush/McConnell/Boehner Party of No. Worse, at least, for those of us unfortunate enough to have dealt with it head on.

Because today’s subject is – and there’s no easy way to put this – suicide. Specifically, teenage suicide, and, more specifically still, the alarming number of suicides among gay, lesbian and transgender teens who have been bullied by their peers.

First, some cold facts courtesy of Think Progress:

Last week, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after two classmates secretly recorded his sexual relationship with a man and broadcasted it over the internet. Tragically, Clementi marks the fourth gay student to commit suicide in three weeks because of anti-gay harassment from fellow students. Seth Walsh, 13, Asher Brown, 13, and Billy Lucas, 15, also took their own lives last month because fellow students bullied them in school.

The growing number of suicides reveal the “unique set of safety concerns” that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students face both in secondary school and college. According to a National Education Policy Center study released yesterday, “over 85% report being harassed because of their sexual or gender identity, and over 20% report being physically attacked.” The “highly troubling pattern of mistreatment, negative consequences” and “the dramatic failure” of educational institutions to “adequately address” LGBT students’ concerns has contributed to a suicide rate among LGBT students that is “3-4 times higher than that of their straight counterparts.”

That’s hard enough to bear no matter who you are or what you’ve experienced in life: The thought of a young man or woman so distraught – and so badly mistreated by the people around him or her – that the only way out appears to be off the edge of a bridge, or, in the case of eighth grade honor student Asher Brown, at the business end of a loaded pistol.

But it’s harder still to bear if you’ve actually been there. And by “there,” I mean sitting at home when the phone rings and you find out that somebody you care about, maybe your older brother who was the best man at your wedding, took an early exit and there’s nothing you can do or say to get him back. Because that sucks like nothing else you’ll ever experience in your life, even if you experience a boatload of suck. And if you’ve gone through that yourself, chances are you’d like to spare anyone from ever having to go through that particular hell. Because that’s what it is, really: It’s hell you go through when the call comes and it’s too late to help your brother, or your best friend, or, God forbid, your kid.

In my case, it was my brother John. It was along time ago – April 1991 to be precise, about 19 years ago. John wasn’t gay and he wasn’t bullied. He was clinically depressed. And he wasn’t a teenager; he was just shy of 36 years old.

But the thing is, it’s hard enough to deal with, the suicide of somebody close to you, even when that person is an adult and is more or less in control of his own life. When it’s a kid who does it, what the hell can you say about that.

And that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about kids. Tyler Clementi was 18 years old when he took his life; Asher Brown was only 13, as was Seth Walsh, and Billy Lucas was only 15. What the hell. Nineteen years ago I watched my mother place her hand on my brother’s coffin to say good bye, and I thought I would never see anything sadder than that. But to think about what these parents are going through – the parents of Clementi, Brown, Walsh and Lucas – and what the parents of thousands of other LGBT teenagers all over the world are going through, and likely will go through … well, honestly, I cannot quite wrap my brain around that.

But the overwhelming sadness of it cannot be the thing that stops us from doing something about it. Sadness in the face of tragedy can be paralyzing, but it doesn’t have to be. Enter Dan Savage, openly gay advice columnist, and his husband Terry:

[Savage] realized that, while it was too late to talk to Billy Lucas, it wasn't too late to talk to the millions of kids just like him. So, right then and there, he and his husband decided to do just that. They sat down in front of a camera and told their stories about their horrific high school experiences and, more importantly, how they both survived, thrived and have gone on to live happy, healthy, joyful lives. They posted the video on YouTube and asked other gay, bisexual and transgender adults to do the same. And that’s when the It Gets Better project began.

There are now dozens of videos posted on Dan and Terry’s It Gets Better channel on YouTube, including messages from the American Civil Liberties Union, the cast of the musical Wicked, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Of course, it will be impossible to gauge the impact of this project, but it has to help. Somehow we have to get the message to kids who are in this situation – who are bullied to the point of desperation, or ostracized and alone and staring up from the bottom of that abyss – we have to get the message to them that there is a way out and it’s not off the edge of a bridge or at the wrong end of a gun.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can do something even more remarkable than to say to kids “it gets better.” We can make it better now. We can stop tolerating intolerance. We can reach out to the kids in our community, gay or straight, who are treated like crap and we can defend them. We can act like grown ups and take responsibility for our schools and our neighborhoods and our kids. Because we own every last one of them – we own the good kids and the bad; we own the kids who bully and the kids who suffer from it.

No mother should ever have to lay her hand on her kid’s coffin to say good-bye. Not, at any rate, so long as we have the ability to stop hate before it kills another innocent kid.

[Photo at the top of post: A Raku vessel made by my brother John in the mid-1970s, given to me by my parents for Christmas in 1991.]

Saturday, September 4, 2010

@SarahPalinUSA, Your Crazy Boyfriend @TedNugent Is At It Again

I have a theory about mediocre guitarist/serial ranter Ted Nugent, whose Twitter persona can be found here. And the theory is: he’s not so much a political conservative as he is just plain nuts. As in, if you think Gary Busey is a bit, uh, bizarre, Nugent makes Busey look like the sanest, most rational person you’ve ever met.

But crazy or not, Terrible Ted loves him some Sarah Palin. Last spring, The Motor City Mediocrity shared his rock ’n roll fantasies about Gov. McQuitter with Time magazine, and it was, well, kind of creepy:

If Sarah Palin played a loud, grinding instrument, she would be in my band. The independent patriotic spirit, attitude and soul of our forefathers are alive and well in Sarah. In the way she lives, what she says and how she dedicates herself to make America better in these interesting times, she represents the good, while exposing the bad and ugly. She embraces the critical duty of we the people by participating in this glorious experiment in self-government.

(H/t Huffington Post.)

(A “loud, grinding instrument”? You mean, like this?)

And Sarah, apparently, loves her some Terrible Ted:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gun rights enthusiasts welcomed Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as she made an appearance Friday [July 10, 2009] on a radio talk show, whose callers included rock n’ roller turned avid hunter Ted Nugent.

Palin spoke on the Michael Dukes’ “Firearms Friday” show on KFAR radio in Fairbanks. She was in Alaska’s second largest city to sign a gun rights bill and several resolutions.

Nugent, well-known for the 1970s hit “Cat Scratch Fever,” told Palin from his home in Michigan that he was firing up the grill to cook up some Alaskan black bear backstrap in her honor.

The governor told Nugent that she thought that was “awesome.”

Really, it’s like these two were caught passing notes in study hall or something. Just ask her to the prom, Ted. You know she wants you to.

Anyway, if you dip into Ted Nugent’s utterly insane Twitter stream, you’ll normally find bizarre nuggets of testosterone-fueled rage, juvenile hyperbole about his latest crappy rock concert, and, of course, a lot of warped nonsense about hunting disguised as spirituality (not altogether unlike that “Monty Python” skit about mosquito hunting: “I’ve been a hunter all my life. I love animals – that’s why I kill them …”). But every so often Ted really lets his creep flag fly, saying things that make you wonder whether he’s just insanely stupid, or maybe genuinely depraved. To-wit, yesterday’s offering:

Wait. Final solutions?! Really? It’s not like that ominous phrase – The Final Solution is obscure, even to a washed-out draft dodger like Nugent. I’d like to chalk it up to stupidity, that Nugent tweets like he plays guitar or writes lyrics. Which is to say, stupidly. Then again, it sure looks like Nuge chose his words carefully: As my friend Jesus’ General points out, the word “operator” is commonly used in military circles to refer to commandos (see, e.g., here); and I highly doubt a macho guy like Ted Nugent chose that word accidentally.

Of course, this is not the first time Nugent has said things that make you wonder whether he’s a bigot. Just last month at a concert in Dubuque, Iowa, he blurted out: “There’s a lot of white people in this crowd -- I like that! (Dubuque) is a white town.” Nugent also “pointed out at least one audience member and questioned his race.” And that, according to the Dubuque Tribune Herald, is par for the course for Detroit’s most infamous has-been:

This wasn’t a first for Nugent. For example, there was the Texas governor's inaugural ball in 2007. A newspaper reported that Nugent, whose conservative politics and pro-gun beliefs are well known, “appeared on stage wearing a cut-off T-shirt emblazoned with a Confederate flag and shouting unflattering remarks about undocumented immigrants, including kicking them out of the country.”

Enter Ted Nugent’s name in Google and you'll be treated to many racist and sexist gems. Here’s a Nugent rant delivered at a National Rifle Association conference: “Remember the Alamo! Shoot ’em! To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want ’em dead. Get a gun, and when they attack you, shoot ’em.”

(If you want more of Ted’s lunacy, Media Matters has gathered links to several of his more “incendiary” comments here.)

In any event, as to Ted’s use of the term “Final solutions,” I recognize that he was referring to hunting rather than genocide. So, I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I’m willing to believe that he’s not anti-Semitic – at least, not genocidally so – but he is a racist jerk.

And at a bare minimum, Ted Nugent is so out of touch with the world outside his narrow, Sarah-Palin-loving right-wing political cult, he apparently didn’t realize how stupid and offensive it is to use a phrase like that. Which speaks volumes about the both of them.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

@SarahPalinUSA: Closet Socialist!

Today’s pearls of wisdom from the Half-Term Governor Extraordinaire, on the occasion of Pres. Obama’s Oval Office Address announcing the end of combat operations in Iraq:

As always, I’m here to provide the Sarah-to-English translation for the uninitiated. Quoth Gov. McQuitter:

Obama’s speech tonight may make you dig out your old Orwell books so rewritten history can be deciphered, depending on who is given credit for the Iraq surge.

Now, I may be giving Sarah a bit too much credit here, but I believe she’s preemptively accusing Pres. Obama of rewriting history in tonight’s speech, and, therefore, literate Palinites (ahem!) will want to refer to their favorite George Orwell books – 1984, perhaps, or maybe Animal Farm or Homage to Catalonia (nah, that last one’s probably a bit too obscure for them) – so as to familiarize themselves with common Orwell themes. Like, for instance, doublethink:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.

Or newspeak:

Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

Okay, so, anyway, this, apparently, is what she’s suggesting Pres. Obama will do in tonight’s speech – if, that is, he fails to give proper credit for the “surge” in Iraq. Credit for the “surge,” presumably, is supposed to go to George W. Bush (you know, they guy who said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had operational links to al Qaeda – that George W. Bush). Never mind the fact that there is sharp disagreement over whether the “surge” itself – that is, the significant escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq beginning in early January 2007 – actually had a positive effect there; the real question is whether the Ex-Governor really wants to go around citing George Orwell in the first place.

Because Orwell was, or became later in life, the very thing that Sister Sarah so vehemently abhors: A socialist.

But you don’t have to take my word for it; Matt Yglesias has done the work for us:

[H]ere’s Orwell on socialism from “Why I Joined the Independent Labour Party”:

I have got to struggle against that, just as I have got to struggle against castor oil, rubber truncheons and concentration camps. And the only regime which, in the long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a Socialist regime. If Fascism triumphs I am finished as a writer — that is to say, finished in my only effective capacity. That of itself would be a sufficient reason for joining a Socialist party.

I have put the personal aspect first, but obviously it is not the only one.

It is not possible for any thinking person to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it. For perhaps ten years past I have had some grasp of the real nature of capitalist society. I have seen British imperialism at work in Burma, and I have seen something of the effects of poverty and unemployment in Britain. In so far as I have struggle against the system, it has been mainly by writing books which I hoped would influence the reading public. I shall continue to do that, of course, but at a moment like the present writing books is not enough. The tempo of events is quickening; the dangers which once seemed a generation distant are staring us in the face. One has got to be actively a Socialist, not merely sympathetic to Socialism, or one plays into the hands of our always-active enemies.

In “Toward European Unity”, written after the war, he explained that “a Socialist United States of Europe seems to me the only worth-while political objective today.”

(Note that the emphasis is in the original post by Matt.)

Heh. Socialism is “the only worth-while political objective today.” So said George Orwell, Sarah Palin’s go-to guy on politics.

Sarah Palin, pallin’ around with socialists!

Well, anyways, thanks for the tip Gov. McQuitter!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time for Self-Refudiation: @SarahPalinUSA Goes Full-Metal Bigot

Really, it was bound to happen. Staring down the end of another long hot summer of right-wing craziness – last year it was the health-care-town-hall insanity; this year it’s mosques and gay marriage – it was just bound to happen. Right-wingers have been race-bating so long, skirting right up to the edge of common decency and beyond … you had do know that one of ’em was going to lose it; that one of ’em was going to embrace his or her Inner Bircher and go full-on racist.

Enter “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger, a self-professed advice-giver/relationship specialist with a PhD in … physiology? Anyway, last week “Dr.” Schlessinger went on a now-infamous rant all full of n-wordy-goodness, explaining to an African American caller who was offended by her white husband’s friends’ racist remarks that black folks are just too darn sensitive about race; that African American comics on HBO (that, apparently, being the gold standard of African American culture to “Dr.” Laura) use the n-word regularly, so it’s okay for a right-wing white radio host to do the same … and ultimately telling the caller, “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.”

Yeah. Um. Sure. It’s only Two-thousand-friggin’-ten. If you’re in an interracial relationship you’d better expect to face racist interrogations by alleged friends of your spouse. So, suck it up!

Of course, even the usually unapologetic “Dr.” Laura quickly realized she’d taken a long walk off a short pier, career-wise; so, she came back the next day, metaphoric tail between her legs, saying:

I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the “n” word all the way out - more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again - that was wrong.

So she acknowledged she was wrong to say the n-word, but she stood by the rest of her rant – including her comments to the effect that African Americans are too sensitive about race and that if you marry “outside your race” you should expect to face a racial inquisition every time you get together with your spouse’s friends.

Hey, “Dr.” Laura, 1967 called. It wants its racially charged dinner party back.

Meanwhile, “Dr.” Laura’s apology tour continued earlier this week when she appeared on Larry King’s show on CNN. Once again, she said she felt bad that she’d offended people, but nonetheless reaffirmed her view that African Americans are too sensitive, and she went on to tell King she intends to leave her radio program at the end of the year to “regain [her] First Amendment rights.” Oy. Because, you see, conservatives have the First Amendment right not to be criticized for the insanely stupid things they say. Got it?

Anyway, you’d expect “Dr.” Laura to have become a pariah on the right, especially after the Breitbart/Palin/Tea Party wing of the Republican Party spent the entire summer insisting they’re not racists while calling anyone who criticizes them … racist. After all, if they really want to prove their racial neutrality, their “color blindness” as they like to say, you’d think Sarah’d get out her Big Book of Refudiation and throw it at the n-word-spewing, interracial-marriage dissing “Dr.” Laura. Right?


Allow me to translate from Palin-Speak to English: “Dr. Laura – don’t retreat, reload. ([Schlessinger] Step[ped] aside [because] her First Amend[ment] [rights] ceased [to] exist [thanks to] activists trying [to] silence [her] [and that] ‘isn’t American, [and it’s] not fair’).” I’m not sure who Palin was quoting when she said “isn’t American, not fair”; maybe it was the voices in her crazy-scary right-wing head.

But, so, between opposing the construction of the Park 51/Cordoba House project in lower Manhattan – which necessarily means she equates all Muslims with the 9/11 attackers (and that folks, is the very definition of racism) – and endorsing “Dr.” Laura’s views on race and interracial marriage, what else can you say about the Half-Term Wonder? She’s finally showing her true colors (pardon the pun); she’s finally putting down the dog whistle and shouting out loud: I’m a bigot and I’m proud of it!

Glad we got that cleared up.

Garland Jeffreys’ 1973 tribute to New York City, “Wild in the Streets,” also included on his 1977 album, Ghost Writer.