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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

December 28, 2008


The Environment: Not Just for Crazy, Tree-Huggin' Liberals Anymore

Lost in the mix of new, lower gas prices and their relationship to V-8 engines and SUV's is the one topic which should be center-stage in the Big Three auto bailout scenario: The environment.

While the Bush White House, with the help and support of K-Street lobbyists and a GOP majority in the House and Senate for most of its time in office, has helped allow polluters to police themselves with such policies as the "Clean Water Act" and the Clear Skies Initiative", the Big Three US auto makers haven't done a thing to change themselves. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler haven't put out a car that gets fifty miles per gallon, nor have they reduced their reliance on big, gas guzzling trucks and SUV's for profit. Sure SUV's make a guy feel "bigger", but no one could believe that they are the future...

Could they?

The Big Three haven't addressed the environment either. Their lust for profit have helped make the planet - our planet - less livable with the amounts of carbon being put into the air and loss of our natural resources.

The term "Peak Oil" (the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline -Wikipedia) has taken a front seat in the conversation on the environment, ecology and energy. We talk about energy as it relates to our national security ("our" oil is still under "their" sand) but hardly speak about it as it relates to saving The Earth anymore.

And it does need to be saved.

Somewhere along the line the cries of "Save the Whales" and "plant a tree" have made those who speak those phrases crazy, tree-huggin' Liberals. Shouldn't we all be crazy, tree-huggin' Liberals these days?

When gas prices soared to near-five dollar per gallon figures we were all thinking about conservation. Too bad it was only as it related to our pocketbooks and wallets. While we all care about our own "personal environment" we seem to care little for the environment as a whole. You can see it as smokers roll down the road tossing their cigarette butts out of the window of their Cadillac Escalades, then pull their gas guzzler into their driveway surrounded by their perfectly manicured lawns.

Even the White House, not surprisingly, looks at the environment as "our" issue alone. The White House web sites's Environment page's title reads this way:

"Protecting Our Nation's Environment"

What about the rest of the planet?

Hopefully President-Elect Obama will reverse the "live for today" environmental policies of the Bush years. Hopefully the Religious Right - a group so enamored with the Bushies that they allowed them to get away with whatever they and their lobbyists wanted to - will stay on the course of helping to protect our world's environment and help make it an issue for all of us and not just the crazy, tree-huggin' Liberals.

Go on... say it... Al Gore was right. Consider it therapy.

Hopefully the environment won't just be offered lip-service (at best) from here on in.

Obama and the Democratic Congress will have to reverse the "free trade" of pollution rights which the Bushies laid upon us. They're going to have to make the US auto industry apply real CAFE standards to their new vehicles. And our new government is going to have to address our "friends" in China and elsewhere around the planet. We're going to have to say to our allies, "Stop polluting or stop sending us your goods." In short, we're going to need a big change.

All of that talk about leaving the planet in a better way then when we got here; and all of that fuss about "our children's and grandchildren's futures" being at stake are no longer just for us "Liberals". You "Conservative" are going to have to figure our a way to help all of us "Conserve" in a whole new way.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

The best and worst of any given year tends to turn up first on TV and 2008 was no exception. Fraught with natural and unnatural disasters–earthquakes in China, floods in India and the Midwest, terrorism in Mumbai, rape and torture in Congo, the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq–all of the most awful aspects 2008 were presented on the tube in immediate and grisly detail. Unavoidable, as they should be.

Nevertheless, the omnipresent TV theme of 2008 for Americans was the election, which was played out as an extended and often exasperating mini-series on the tube. Election coverage, particularly during the primary, provided some of the best and worst TV moments of the year. Punditry was practically an Olympic-level sport, despite not having been on the roster at Beijing. The jousting, however, was often brutal and in the end, only one candidate was left standing.

Imbalanced media attention favoring Barack Obama took up a good deal of air time and also became such a source of contention among Hillary Clinton’s supporters during the primary that when “Saturday Night Live” began doing political skits about it, Clinton herself felt freed to discuss the issue publicly, even referencing the skits in a debate.

Sexism in TV news coverage became a point of discourse for cable and network pundits, although some were prime offenders.

The most egregious anti-Clinton commentary came from MSNBC. Chris Matthews, previously known for his man-crush on George Bush, couldn’t keep his man-crush on Obama in check. His sexist slams at Clinton ranged from his contention that she had only gotten votes because people felt sorry for her due to her husband’s adulterous affair to saying that she wanted to suck the breath out of Obama in his cradle.

Keith Olbermann also lost his head during the primary. In his anti-Clinton/pro-Obama zeal, he told Howard Fineman that a male super-delegate should take Hillary Clinton into a back room and only the super-delegate should come out.

The rape imagery outraged feminists and Clinton supporters.

Olbermann redeemed himself after the election with his impassioned Special Comment supporting same-sex marriage and excoriating Prop 8. But Ben Affleck’s portrayal of an over-the-top, frothing-at-the-mouth Olbermann on “SNL” was the image most viewers were left with post-election.

Political satire found a strong voice in 2008 with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Craig Ferguson taking the lead in political comedy.

But “SNL” was also one of the bests of 2008. Tina Fey, guest hosting the first show after the writer’s strike ended, declared her support for Hillary Clinton in a “bitch is the new black” commentary.

Then Fey almost single-handedly ruined Sarah Palin’s political future with her over-the-top impression of the VP contender. Many credit Fey’s impersonation with making it more difficult for voters to take Palin seriously as a political choice.

Regardless, Fey’s satirical take on Palin made “I can see Russia from my house” one of the most quoted lines of the entire election season.

One of the bests of 2008 was the new and improved Katie Couric. The perennial number three in the evening anchor division, CBS’s Couric also seemed to find her voice with Palin. Her interviews with the Alaskan governor were journalistically strong, subtly damning and had none of the paternalistic bashing quality that ABC’S Charlie Gibson interviews had.

Fox News once again gets the award for worst news coverage, most skewed news coverage and this year, new worsts: most racist and most sexist news coverage. Matthews and Olbermann might have been pushing the sexism envelope really far, but Fox made the envelope to begin with.

Media Matters declared Sean Hannity its 2008 “winner” for Misinformer of the Year, and we are loathe to disagree, but we *do* wonder how MM was able to choose just *one* of the Fox News folks for that accolade. It would seem that Brit Hume should at least have been runner-up.

Another of the worsts of 2008 was the non-coverage of Prop 8 by network and cable TV news. If you didn’t live in California, you had no idea that there were endless protests going on in California and across the country, because other than local news, the revoking of same-sex marriage rights was a non-issue (the news you’re not seeing) on anything but local California TV.

And if it weren’t for MSNBC’s lesbian talk show host Rachel Maddow, one of the bests of 2008, and a few other pundits, would anyone even know that there was controversy over Barack Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren--a strong supporter of Prop 8 who equates same-sex marriage with incest, bestiality and polygamy–to give the invocation at his inauguration?

On her Dec. 17 show, Maddow noted, correctly, that Obama’s excuse for choosing Warren–reciprocity for having been invited to Warren’s church a few years back–was not reciprocity at all.

Maddow went on to note that Obama wasn’t inviting Warren to his church or to his home, but to “convene the swearing in of the next president of the United States.” She also reminded her audience that Obama and Warren share the same view on same-sex marriage: that it’s wrong.

Maddow, whose support of Obama during the primary was perceived by many to be positively rabid, called the choice of Warren a “lose-lose” for Obama and “the first big mistake of his post-election politicking....When human rights activists look back on the inauguration of the first African-American president they will say ‘Boy, what a great moment–but what was that guy who compared homosexuality to incest doing there?’”

Thus, Maddow is our pick for best pundit of 2008 for consistently reminding her viewers of the news they aren’t seeing.

Speaking of which, no TV news outlet reported this little tidbit (courtesy of John Aravosis): Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church website *expressly* notes that homosexuals are not allowed to be members unless they repent their “lifestyle.”

Crossing the aisle is one thing. Burning a cross to get there is quite another.

That’s the news you’re not seeing.

Meanwhile, another worst for TV in 2008 was the writers’ strike. The timing and duration damaged existing programming which was largely replaced with unwatchably tedious reality shows requiring no scripts and non-actors. The strike inadvertantly destroyed some excellent new shows like “Pushing Daisies,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and the remake of “Bionic Woman,” which were among those that never recovered from the truncated season. All three shows had serious queer content, which makes the loss all the more sad.

A small screen best included queer storylines on “All My Children” and “As the World Turns.” Both shows presented realistic gay and lesbian couples with real-life problems like the struggle to be out, the homophobic responses of family and friends and maintaining a queer relationship in a straight culture.

Stellar actors made the roles of Bianca and Reese on “All My Children,” whose lesbian relationship is highly realistic, and Luke, Noah and Brian on “As the World Turns, ” who are involved in a ground-breaking gay male love triangle, believable and moving.

One of the worst queer storylines of the 2008 season was the lesbian affair between Erica and Callie on “Grey’s Anatomy.” During her brief (due to Brooke Smith being fired from the show and Erica being written out of the script entirely) affair with Erica, Callie spent more time having sex with Dr. Mark Sloan than she did with the woman she was allegedly in love with. (No safe sex in evidence, either, making it doubly bad as she moved from bed to bed.)

Another worst was Thirteen’s alleged bisexuality on “House.” After learning that she had an incurable terminal illness, Thirteen began having recreational sex with women–portrayed on the show in all its titillating pornographic detail. But the end of the season found Thirteen falling in love with her doctor/colleague–a man.

The show’s message was clear: sex with other women is explicative of weakness and out-of-control behavior while sex with a man is grown up and real.

“Dirty Sexy Money,” “Dexter,” “The Wire,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Desperate Housewives” and “True Blood” had some of the best queer characters on prime time, but “Brothers & Sisters” consistently failed to bring its queer couple, Kevin and Scotty, together as a real couple.

“Boston Legal” had the best bromance as well as the best same-sex marriage. Who could beat Alan and Denny being married by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for sheer outrageous camp?

“Project Runway” offered queer reality–a best. “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” offered the smarmy underside of bisexual pandering.

Logo continued to present great queer programming, but remained inaccessible to many markets.

In the end, 2008 was neither the worst nor the best year on the tube, but one that saw a wild fluctuation depending on what month it was and if the strike was on or off. The Olympics were endless, but Michael Phelps was amazing. The election was endless, but the last few weeks were enthralling. The best TV shows were truly superb, the worst galling for the air space they took up.

In the end, the best TV moment of the year was Election Night 2008. John McCain was gracious in defeat and Barack Obama sober in victory. The election of America’s first African-American president and the view of Chicago’s Grant Park with people as far as the eye could see was as uplifting a political and social moment as many Americans will ever get to see.

The New Year will start as it always does with the TV countdown by Dick Clark and the ball dropping on Times Square. Then on Jan. 20, the world will be watching as Obama is sworn in–alas, with hatemonger Rick Warren by his side.

Whether the inauguration augurs in a new era or not remains to be seen. But the moment in November in Grant Park will live forever as Americans saw it that night from their TV screens. That was reality TV worth watching and it was, for many Americans, the best TV they’ll ever see, because promise is always better than reality, history in the making always more powerful than history revisited.

Happy New Year and stay tuned!

In response to Rev. Rick Warren giving the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration, Ginger writes:

It wouldn't matter who Barack Obama chose to give the invocation. Some group is always going to protest. I wonder who the gays and lesbians would choose that somebody else wouldn't protest, or who the Conservatives could choose, same situation. There are many more pressing issues than this one, and protesting someone giving an invocation is hardly of earth-shattering importance.

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-Noah Greenberg