|What a gorgeous beginning to 2005.
The Christmas tsunami that reshaped the coastlines of the Indian Ocean killing tens of thousands, served as a reminder that the wrath of nature is unmatched. According to the New York Times, the energy unleashed in a 9.0 quake, is roughly the amount that would be unleashed if it were possible to create and explode a bomb made of 32 billion tons of TNT. And just as Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed women, gays and other "sinners" for the attacks on the World Trade Center, Sumana, a Buddhist monk in Galle Sri Lanka told Japan Today that the tsunami was a sign that "people are not living according to religious virtues." Ah, faith.
And while the man-made, Neocon tsunami that killed perhaps as many in Iraq has been relegated from the headlines, the violence and mayhem continues unabated. After George W. Bush finally bothered to disrupt his Crawford vacation to respond to the tsunami -- only following global criticism for his stunning silence and the paltry sum initially offered as aid -- he sent his brother Jeb Bush and Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to the region to witness the devastation first hand. One can rest assured they won't be popping into Fallujah or Mosul for the same reasons.
The cost of the War on Iraq is set to reach $152 billion at the end of January 2005. (This amount is based on the National Priorities Project analysis of the three requests made by the Bush Administration for funding for the Iraq War, and what Congress actually allocated). According to some estimates, the War on Iraq costs approximately $177 million per day. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the cost of "prosecuting" a war against Iraq at up to $9 billion per month, on top of an initial outlay of up to $13 billion for the deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf region. In the upcoming defense budget, basic personnel costs would run to at least $110 billion, and expenditures to train, equip and maintain those forces would add an additional $150 billion.
"Faith teaches us that even through the most difficult and painful trials, as with the calamity in Southeast Asia, God never abandons us," the Pope lied from his luxurious apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square.
It is perhaps, when compared with these staggering sums, that the paltry offer of $15 million appeared stingy to anyone with either a brain or a calculator. "Well, I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed," Mr. Bush responded from his Texas ranch, upping the amount to $35 million. "We're a very generous, kindhearted nation, and, you know, what you're beginning to see is a typical response from America."
"We spend $35 million before breakfast every day in Iraq," said Democratic Senator, Patrick J. Leahy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The estimated budget for the President's January inauguration is $30-40 million, but that will not cover security costs - said to be unprecedented as the first inauguration since September 11th 2001. Security during the Republican National Convention in New York cost $76 million.
In his 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush announced that he would ask Congress to commit $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. In 2004, Congress provided about $2 billion -- still $1 billion short of the goal -- and the president's request for 2005, no doubt less important than the escalating costs of the war, also fell hundreds of millions of dollars short. Despite Bush's failure to keep promises, and former President Clinton's post-Presidency comittment to addressing AIDS, President Bush named his father, George Bush and Mr. Clinton to lead private fund-raising to help tsunami-stricken regions in an attempt to erase the already-seared image of American insensitivity.
But these are only numbers, and we live in an age of compassionate conservatism, where compassion is just as meaningful as money. And in the United States there are far more important things to worry about. Like faith.
The Catholic Church offered the victims of the tsunami prayer and some feel-good advice. "Faith teaches us that even through the most difficult and painful trials, as with the calamity in Southeast Asia, God never abandons us," the Pope lied from his luxurious apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square. He also said that the Vatican earmarked at least $6 million in church aid for the affected areas. By the mid-1990s the church faced more than two hundred lawsuits concerning allegations of sexual abuse that cost the church $400 million in settlements, legal fees, and medical expenses for abuse victims.
According to the Associated Press, the Bush Administration gave more than $1 billion in 2003 to organizations it considers "faith-based," with some going to programs where prayer and spiritual guidance are central and some to organizations that do not consider themselves religious at all. "We will continue to improve our public schools and uphold our deepest values of faith, family and service," President Bush said in his New Year address.
And faith it will be.
The simplistic interpretation of America's recent election is that there are red states in the middle with blue states on the edges. The blue Kerry states lost to the red Bush states on the basis of morality and values. The reality is far more complex, rendering this basic color analysis about as effective as Tom Ridge's terror alert system. A more realistic color coding would render the entire map of the United States varying hues of purple, with widely varying definitions as to morality and what it represents.
And just what exactly does faith-based morality look like?
Phil Burress, the President of faith-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV) cares about families alright, but certainly none of those impacted by the tsunami. The CCV homepage offers a hotline for strippers to quit their jobs and dire warnings about the normalization of homosexuality, but nary a word of support or attempt to raise funds for the victims of the tsunami.
A self-describer "former pornography addict," Phil Burress is on a critically important crusade to prevent gay people from marrying. (Or is it to quell the unknown urges he can't control when he thinks of penis, anus, vagina and your children?) You've seen the type, perhaps. They usually spend a longer time than required in public bathrooms lasciviously taking longer than necessary to shake the last few drops (As a former union negotiator for truck drivers, Burress probably has more than just pornography fodder fueling his lewd, rest-stop imagination). They usually consider homosexuality a contagious disease -- an absurd notion that only makes sense to those who ever caught it. Their professions to purity in children tends to mask the prurience they associate with said children.
"I don't have a homophobic bone in my body," Burress told the New York Times recently. Of course not. Predictably the man who is driven to attack America's constitution under the guise of "protecting marriage" by preventing gay people from marrying has been married three times. He has four daughters from two of the marriages. Indeed those seeking to genuinely protect the sanctity of the institution don't propose a constitutional amendment prohibiting divorce, because few of them can actually hack a long-term marriage.
"I don't have a homophobic bone in my body," Burress told the New York Times recently. Of course not.
Mid-to-late-life crises and questionably moral epiphanies by perverts are usually an unhealthy foundation upon which to construct legislation, however. While Phil Burress may be a hero in Cincinnati, his self-claimed "fire-in-the-belly morals," are focused on your children, and you'd better be careful, because the fire raging is not exactly in the belly, and those little blue diamond shaped pills that Senator Bob Dole so gratuitously pawned for Pfizer, are all that stands between your precious kids and this man's unnatural focus on them. Keep him as far away as possible.
What does this have to do with tsunamis, one wonders?
Ernest Rodriguez, a picture-snapping tsunami survivor and educator in Bangkok who happens to have a Thai boyfriend, evoked this response, despite his boyfriend appearing very clearly to be a young man: "I flipped through the pictures with awe at the power of the sea, but was ultimately disgusted to find out that the creator of the site is presenting his young gay Thai boy-lover... " Terribly important thing to be disgusted by. Not the devastation, death, homelessness or desparation. Fortunately Mr. Rodriguez teaches in Bangkok, because if it was Costa Mesa, Orange County, he would probably be fired.
While survivors struggle to cope with the devastating effect of the tsunami, eighteen delightful people from Orange County are demanding that St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa accept only families that sign a pledge to live by Catholic doctrine - a move that effectively would kick out of the school two young sons of a gay couple. The move, a written demand letter, followed the Pope's condemnation of gay adoptions, apparently less preferable to the Holy See-Nothing than molestations in the parishes. Thankfully, Father Martin Benzoni, who oversees the 550-student elementary and middle school, rejected the group's demands, releasing a new policy stating that a child's education is paramount.
In Alabama, a bill by Representative Gerald Allen, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda." Although such a bill would ban information related to the United Airlines Flight 93 and openly gay Mark Bingham's role in fighting the hijackers on September 11th, such idiocy remains unchallenged. To date, a bill protecting children and the constitution from Gerald Allen's unacceptable agenda has yet to be submitted.
In this kind of environment, it would hardly come as a surprise if America decided to add a proviso that any aid being disbursed to tsunami victims only be given through faith-based organizations that make sure that homosexuals, adulterers and anyone refusing to accept Jesus as their savior, be denied American assistance.
So here we are, approaching another year -- the fifth since September 11th -- in a new and dark era of Americana under an egomaniacal, former coke-snorting, dry alcholic.
Under the current United States policy, no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the life of the woman, rape, or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country. Non-compliance will result in loss of funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
So here we are, approaching another year -- the fifth since September 11th -- in a new and dark era of Americana under an egomaniacal, former coke-snorting, dry alcholic. "The people have spoken," has been the common mantra from politicians to prostitutes. (Even I was paraphrased in The San Francisco Chronicle as having conceded the President won the election fair and square, although my caveat was sorely missing. Assuming, I had added, electronic vote counting was to be trusted.)
The media determined that electronic voting was "a success," despite the many dramas surrounding the company responsible for most of the touch-screen voting machines, Diebold Election Systems. The most egregious of which had Walden "Wally" O'Dell, the chairman of the board and chief executive, writing a letter to Republicans in which he announced his commitment to "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President."
Additionally, accusations of hacking vulnerabilities, insecure servers and damning internal memos the company sought to suppress fueled the passions of conspiracy theorists and die-hard Kerryists, unwilling to concede defeat on the basis of flawed poll crunching yet again.
The only reason electronic voting has been hailed as a success is because there were few enough abnormalities to raise any serious red flags, despite numerous reports of more votes than voters in many precincts around the country - particularly Florida and Ohio. The bottom line is that since there is no paper trail by which to match the votes, it is impossible to assert that it worked. Period. Keep the faith though, since we have elections in Iraq to think about now. And Amber Frey.
Amber Frey, the adulterous mistress of convicted wife and fetus murderer, Scott Peterson, has come out swinging in 2005 with a new book to promote and appearances on Oprah and the Today Show with Matt Lauer. The timid blonde that was perpetually sheltered by the overeager publicity whore, Gloria Allred, is now poised to dazzle us with such enchanting insights as "I wonder if Scott thinks about me," dutifully reported by CNN news scrolls beneath tsunami-ravaged Indonesian orphans.
The upcoming State of the Union address; Pentagon and media orchestrated Iraqi elections; homo-frantic attempts to ban everything gay from marriage to usage of the very word; and, naturally, Amber book mania, will keep us busy and distracted enough to ignore the real carnage of both the War on Iraq and tsunami until Martha Stewart is released and hype begins for her new TV show and upcoming book.
Reality? Nah. The future is faith-based and scripted.