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You Don’t Have to be a Miner to be a Mine Hero

I was sure that the Liberal, Jewish, Gay, Vegan media would spend Labor Day podcasting renditions of the Internationale and running old footage of the Crandall Canyon accident in their ongoing attack on American and corporate values. I was wrong on both counts, the holiday passing with little media attention to workers and their “grievances” old and new. This leaves us free to celebrate true heroes, not your union-made Joe Hills and Mother Joneses, but unsung modern heroes of the mines, who eschew martyrdom yet sacrifice so much. I speak of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and MSHA president Richard Stickler, and, of course, CEO Robert Murray. To them I present the Awards for Non-Miner Mine Heroes. Because you don’t have to be a miner to be a mine hero.

I announce these awards just hours before the Senate holds what it calls an "investigatory hearing" -- and what I call a witch hunt-- on "The Utah Mine Disaster and Preventing Future Tragedies." Ironically, and undoubtedly, the heroes praised on these pages will be the scapegoats slandered on the hill.

Bronze Non-Miner Mine Hero Award goes to Elaine Chao. Hers is the typical American story of reward for hard work. The daughter of a shipping magnate, Chao left China for the United States in 1961 . She has labored as a banker, sweated as Bank of America vice-president, and worked herself to the bone at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. She toiled tirelessly to raise $100,000 for George Bush, which earned her the honor of being a “Bush Pioneer.” Chao generously shared the keys to the kingdom of job security in an interview this summer: “American employees must be punctual, dress appropriately and have good personal hygiene…. They need anger-management and conflict-resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction.” Chao has already moved to organize an “independent” probe into the mine collapse, which, the indefatigable Chao will personally oversee, even if it cuts into time with her husband, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who received $100,000 in campaign contributions from CEO Murray. Like so many great non-miner mine heroes, Chao is now being persecuted by OCD senators like Ted Kennedy, who is demanding that Chao hand over a ridiculous number of documents related to the Crandall Canyon accident.

Silver Non-Miner Mine Hero Award goes to Richard Stickler. The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration isn’t named Stickler for nothing. Stickler has dedicated many years to the mines as a high-level executive, and it is this, no doubt, that allows him to creatively interpret the MINER safety act passed after the Sago mine tragedy. For instance, Stickler allows mine operators to meet deadlines by ordering safety equipment (like additional breathing devices), and not having it be on hand. Stickler’s qualifications outweigh the fact that a mine under his supervision had injury rates three times the national average and racked up 3,000 safety violations. Stickler is so bipartisanly respected in Washington that Bush appointed him during a recess after congress had twice rejected Stickler’s nomination. In true stickler character, Stickler is aggressively investigating the collapse: “We want to see if we can get an inkling if there may have been an indication there was a problem before this event.” I’m sure the Stickler means a sign that is more substantial than the cave-in that occurred in Crandall Canyon in March, which he knew about, but did not report, violating federal law. It’s no surprise that Stickler is being slandered by bleeding heart liberals like Arlen Spector, who say Stickler is not “the right man for the job” and cry baby Ted Kennedy, who is

particularly troubled by reports that roof failures, similar in kind to the August 6 collapse, previously occurred in sections of the mine where retreat mining was being conducted, and that this roof failure may not have been reported to MSHA regulators as required by law.

Of course, rather than being allowed to continue his already scrupulous investigation, Stickler will be dragged off to today's hearing and bombarded with endless rounds of questions.

Gold Non-Miner Mine Hero Award goes, of course, to Robert Murray. Like so many activists before him, Murray has many enemies, including several senators who, I'm sure, will attempt to crucify the CEO during today's hearings. Having gulped the liberal media’s poisonous Kool-Aid, Robert’s own workers have turned against him and “Lil Bob” piñatas are selling like hotcakes in both the U.S. and Mexico. An understandably outraged Murray responded to the Utah Republican Governor, who had called his behavior “unconscionable” and demanded inspections of all of Murray’s mines, by sending the Governor a “personal and confidential” letter threatening to cut Utah mine jobs if the governor continued to treat him like his “whipping boy.” And sure enough, four days later, Murray laid off 270 workers from his other Utah mine, explaining to the workers that the noisy governor, the “unfair” Salt Lake Tribune, and the vicious Ted Kennedy were responsible for the Tower Mine closing.

Murray insists the collapse was “totally unforeseen by anyone” and brought on by an earthquake and not retreat mining.

Yet there is evidence to the contrary: A similar incident in March caused a delay in mining – which was never reported to the MSHA, though required by federal law. Murray Co. repeatedly (and successfully) petitioned the MSHA for permission to do retreat mining in areas the previous company had left alone because it deemed that mining in the area would be too dangerous for “personnel and the environment.”

Before making the awards decision, I had to reconcile the words of this compassionate CEO with the facts that have surfaced. Liberal conspiracy theorists claim Robert Murray is a liar who puts profits over people, whose greed, unchecked by a complicit Bush administration, has resulted in the death of hard-working miners. And yet the truth, as always, is far more complicated and nuanced. Far from killing and injuring his workers through his ruthless avarice, Robert Murray is, himself, an injured worker, the victim of an occupational hazard, an on the job injury: early onset dementia. It is because Murray so identifies with his workers that, while his body is healthy, his soul is with his six missing employees suffocated and crushed in the depths of the Crandall Canyon mine. Murray is not lying about the retreat mining and the change in mining plans. He forgot about them. He did not invent an earthquake. He experienced it in his demented state.

Of course, my heart goes out to the six missing miners and the three miners who died while trying to rescue them. But these miners are gone. And besides, they have received more than enough attention and sympathy from the media, the church, and the self- serving unions, which are attempting to exploit this tragedy in order to organize miners so that tragedies like this do not happen again. After the accident, in fact, the family members asked the union to represent them. Luckily, the always impartial MSHA has said that only the miners themselves can ask to be represented. I guess the miners should have thought about that before they entered the mine for the last time on August 6th. While we must honor their memory, we must heal the victim who is still alive: Robert Murray. I hope the Non-Minor Mine Hero Gold Award helps to heal his battered soul and brain.

UPDATE: I have just learned that Robert Murray will not be testifying at Wednesday's Senate hearing on mine safety. As usual, Murray is thinking not of himself, but of his workers, explaining he would not be able to “give the situation in Utah the proper attention it needs if I have to travel to Washington to testify.” I like to think that receiving the GNMH (Gold Non-Miner Mine Hero) award emboldened the principled CEO to defy the Senate's Big Brother meddling. Even though we won’t be able to see Murray testify today, we can always see him testify here.

HUNGER FOR A PURPOSE

climate fastFasting is in the zeitgeist, or, rather, “dietgeist,” as those witty Ethicureans like to say. In the past two weeks I’ve heard about several fasts that activists are encouraging people to participate in as an exercise in consciousness raising—one’s own, and others. I was so intrigued, I actually signed on to two of them. After ten and a half days of a liquid fast, I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty. I am really, really looking forward to eating solid food again. Food for thought is all well and good, but not very filling.

Giving your body an occasional break from food is a common practice in many cultures, whether for religious purposes or simply to give your digestive system a rest. Fasting in America, though, tends to consist of trendy crash diet/detox strategies like the Master Cleanse, which requires subsisting on nothing but fresh-squeezed lemon juice mixed with cayenne pepper, maple syrup and water for ten days. This regime is popular with women who are in a hurry to get back into their “skinny” jeans, and it seems to work pretty well, until you start eating again.

Starving yourself for fashion’s sake doesn’t really interest me, but the notion of foregoing food to make a social statement has a long and noble history, so I was intrigued when I heard about the Globesity Festival, a 7 day event coming to NYC in October to draw attention to all the havoc overconsumption is wreaking on our bodies and the planet.

I decided to see if I could handle the 10 day juice fast they’re asking participants to undertake. So I stopped eating solid food and consumed nothing but smoothies, juices, and plant-based brothy soup concoctions I whipped up in my trusty vintage Vita-Mix, a pulverizing machine that can make sawdust out of two-by-fours, though that’s not recommended.

OK, I did cheat once or twice, eating a few of our own cherry tomatoes and grapes that were just hanging there waiting to be picked—they were only going to wait so long, after all. And I had a few bites of a meal I made for a guest, just to check that the feta hadn’t gone fetid and the chili was sufficiently spicy. Oh, and a teeny bit of homemade corn ice cream—does that count as solid food?

Other than that, though, it has been all liquid, all the time, while Matt surreptitiously savored all kinds of yummy-looking and highly aromatic foods. It took enormous will power, and I was, obviously, counting the days till I could eat again. Yesterday was the 10th day, so I would have resumed eating solid food today, until the Climate Emergency Fast came along, asking Americans to “Give up food for one day now to draw attention to the fact that others may have no food tomorrow unless we halt global warming.” That one day happens to be today, September 4th, the day Congress returns from recess.

The U.S. Climate Emergency Council, a DC-based non-profit dedicated to fighting global warming at the grassroots level, was looking for a thousand Americans willing to give up food on September 4th to draw attention to the threat posed to food supplies all over the world by climate change. Drought, floods, and plagues of pests and diseases threaten crops all over the world, but the poorest countries are sure to be the hardest hit.

As of today, they’ve exceeded their goal, with 1102 folks signing on to the Climate Emergency Fast, myself included. But to what end?

…The overwhelming urgency of the climate situation is motivating this call. We don't think the climate movement can accept that there will be little of substance coming out of this Congress while President Bush is in office. We can't, in essence, let Congress off the hook for another two years. We must do as much as we can, we must push ourselves to do more than we're used to doing, to step it up now.
What will we be calling for? Three things: no new coal or coal-to-liquid plants; freeze greenhouse gas emissions and move quickly to reduce them; and a down payment of $25 billion for energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy.

All worthy goals, but skeptics abound--including my friend Steve, who noted that I totally trashed “Don’t Buy Gas Day.” How is not eating for a day any different than not buying gas?

Well, for one thing, Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Van Jones, and other highly respected activists have thrown their weight behind the Climate Emergency Fast, and they’re organizing a press conference on Capitol Hill this afternoon. Will it generate the response they’re aiming for?

Our hope is that this fast will generate the kind of media coverage and grassroots response sufficient to pressure Congress to act quickly and decisively.

So far, the only places I’ve read about the Climate Emergency Fast are Grist and Daily Kos. It doesn’t seem likely to become frontpage news in an era when calling on Americans to make even the most modest sacrifice is viewed with suspicion. But I’m happy to participate, because, after all, I’m hungry for change. Really hungry.

FOR LABOR DAY, HAVE A WORKING CLASS HERO AND A CESAR CHAVEZ SALAD

Today is one of the three most popular days of the year to have a barbeque, according to CNN, with millions of Americans firing up their grills and engaging in the obligatory Labor Day meatfest (the other big barbeque holidays are, of course, the fourth of July and Memorial Day.)

Ah, but how does this animal flesh-eating frenzy mesh with your newly raised consciousness about meat-eating’s contribution to climate change? Won’t a charcoal-charred burger leave a smudge on your carbon footprint?

You don’t have to set up a solar cooker and fry yourself a veggie burger to make your holiday barbeque more eco-friendly. CNN says there are simpler ways to ”turn your backyard barbeque green”:

... you may be concerned that your backyard barbecue is adding to global warming and wondering what you can do to make burger flipping a bit more environmentally sound…

Before you get too worried, Jay Gulledge, senior research fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, counsels that "the carbon footprint of backyard grilling is not that significant compared to what people do in their everyday lives. Lights, TVs, cars, these are much more significant than grilling."

He also notes that backyard grilling with either gas or charcoal is likely to be a better environmental option than "using an electric stove in your house" that is powered by a coal-burning power plant.

Maybe the best way to reduce your carbon footprint when you grill might just be to turn off all the unnecessary electric lights in your home while everyone is outside around the barbecue.

Hey, I’m all in favor of conserving electricity, and it’s entirely possible a grill is more energy efficient than an electric stove. But Gulledge’s advice conveniently skirts around the inconvenient truth about skirt steaks, or whatever cut of meat you care to cook: meat production generates more greenhouse gases than cars do.

Let’s say you’re one of those climate change naysayers who thinks this whole global warming thing is just a lot of hot air. Oh, and you really don’t care about animal welfare, either. Why can’t I back off, already, and stop trying to rain on your barbeque?

Well, because even though you don’t care about rising sea levels and institutionalized animal abuse, you’d probably rather not get cancer. Go ahead and savor that flame-broiled burger, but bear in mind that it may be dripping with carcinogens and toxins. Just ask health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, as one concerned lover of barbeque lovers did:

Q. What's the Best Barbecue?

My family loves summer barbecues, but I think the foods are unhealthy - all that meat! And I wonder about the grilling process itself. Any advice?

A. (Published 7/4/2006)

Your family probably won't thank you for looking into the health issues surrounding barbecuing, but in no way does the typical all-American cook-out qualify as a healthy meal. In the first place, there's the potentially carcinogenic smoke produced when you grill hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken over charcoal. Switching from charcoal to a gas or electric grill can eliminate the smoke hazard. If you do use charcoal, avoid using lighting fluid or self-lighting packages of charcoal briquettes - both add residues from toxic chemicals to food.

Then there are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are formed when meats are cooked at very high temperatures until they char. There is evidence indicating HCAs are carcinogenic. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute found a link between the risk of stomach cancer and cooked meats - those who ate beef medium-well or well-done had three times the risk of those who ate beef rare or medium-rare. They also found that people who ate beef four or more times a week had more than twice the risk of stomach cancer than those consuming beef less often. There is also evidence that a high intake of barbecued meat is associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancer. (The same goes for well-done and fried meats.) HCAs form on chicken and fish as well as beef.

You may be able to reduce some of the risks of barbecuing meat by precooking it and just finishing it on the grill. Marinating meats (particularly chicken) may also reduce HCA formation (use garlic, ginger and especially, turmeric in the marinades)…

…On the positive side of the barbecue, you may induce your family to eat more vegetables if you marinate them and cook them on the grill. You don't have to worry about HCAs because they don't form on vegetables.

There you have it, further proof that a plant-based diet is the way to go! And what better way, on Labor Day, to celebrate the legacy of labor leader Cesar Chavez, than to go veggie? Chavez was as passionate about animal rights as he was about workers’ rights:

"I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings.”

Chavez believed that "kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

So I’m offering a Labor Day menu that honors the memory of a man who fought for fair treatment for all--the two-footed and four-footed alike:

CESAR CHAVEZ SALAD (serves four)

The foundation for a great Caesar salad is, of course, a nice fresh (i.e., local) head of Romaine lettuce, which, unlike pale, watery iceberg lettuce, actually contains a decent amount of nutrients such as folate, iron, and potassium. Like other darker colored lettuces, Romaine is also higher in beta carotenes, too. This vegetarian variation on the classic Caesar salad omits the anchovies:

First, make the croutons (feel free to use store bought, but try to find a whole grain crouton that’s free of partially hydrogenated oils—good luck!):

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take 2 slices whole grain bread, brush (or spray) with olive oil, and, if you like, add a little garlic. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp.

Next, make the dressing:

6 ounces firm silken tofu (ideally, organic, non-GMO if you can get it)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons drained capers
1/4 cup nutritional (or brewer’s) yeast
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Puree ingredients in a blender or food processor till smooth.

Tear one large head of Romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces and top with dressing, freshly grated Parmesan, and the croutons.

(I adapted this recipe from the Canyon Ranch Cooks book, and as an anchovy lover myself, I was skeptical about whether you could really make a true Caesar salad without these tasty little fish. But I am always amazed at the way this dressing mimics that delicious and distinctive anchovy tang.)

WORKING CLASS HERO

The definition of a hero is pretty elastic these days, and that goes double for hero sandwiches, which have historically consisted of anything you feel like putting on a roll, from cold cuts and cheese to pickled peppers or grilled vegetables. As Craig Claiborne wrote in the New York Times on August 27, 1963:

Hero sandwiches would be thoroughly appropriate for the forthcoming Labor Day weekend because they are casual fare and notably suited to ice cold beer and soft drinks. They are also easy to prepare and, as far as fillings are concerned, almost anything goes that is edible.

So stock up on freshly baked whole wheat or multigrain rolls, slice ‘em up and slather on your favorite cheeses and grilled vegetables—onions and bell peppers are the classic choices, but mushrooms, summer squash and eggplant work great, too.

And if you can’t handle going cold turkey on the cold cuts, consider some of the better veggie sausages and deli slices from Yves, Tofurkey, Lightlife, and others who make surprisingly satisfying soy-based meat substitutes. They may be fake, but they’re a real option for those of us who want to reduce our meat intake.

If a meat-free Labor Day is a no-can-do for you, then at the very least try to go grass-fed. Even CNN’s catching on to the grassroots groundswell for grass-fed meats:

Organic or local grass-fed meats are the best environmental options and often are considered the best nutritionally and in terms of taste. Shop for meat and poultry at your local farmer's market or look for meat that is USDA certified organic or certified by Humane Farm Animal Care.

A barbeque featuring tofu dogs or veggie burgers would be enough to start a riot in some American backyards, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the grass-fed burgers and hot dogs we buy from Hawthorne Valley and Fleisher’s. Hey, I even ate a non-grass-fed burger (and a dog) at the Teamsters Cookout at Yearly Kos. I’m not a purist (for the record, Marion Nestle had a hot dog, too—it’s all about moderation.) I just think we’d all be better off eating a lot less meat, and avoiding any meat (or dairy, or eggs) from factory farms. Note to Teamsters: pasture-raised meats contain brain-boosting omega 3’s, and you need all the brainpower you can get to cope with globalization and grow the grassroots labor movement!

CORPORATIONS CURDLE BREAST MILK CAMPAIGN

Kanye West’s post-Katrina comment that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” caused a bit of a ruckus, but given the wholesale abandonment of our devastated dixieland by the current administration, I’m inclined to agree with the fine folks at colorofchange.org: Kanye was right.

In fact, I’ll go one step further, and say that George Bush doesn’t care about babies, whatever color they may come in. How else can you interpret the story in Friday’s Washington Post that the Bush administration put the financial interests of infant formula manufacturers over the health of America’s babies?

The advantages of breastfeeding are well-documented; it protects infants from illness, allergy, and infection, enhances cognitive development, and reduces the likelihood of type 1 diabetes and childhood obesity, among other benefits. There are pluses for mothers, too, including a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers and osteoporosis.

Breast milk has no excess packaging, and it’s free. Eco-friendly, and economical, too! No wonder it’s so popular in Europe. In the US, on the other hand, the rate of breastfeeding is on the rise, but well short of what it could be thanks to the popularity of infant formula.

Infant formula is a necessary option for those unable to breast feed, including adoptive mothers and those with HIV, but many women who could breast feed rely on infant formula instead without realizing that they may be burdening their babies needlessly with preventable health problems. Mothers least likely to breastfeed tend to be young, black, rural, less-educated, poor and unmarried.

So federal health officials decided to launch a hard-hitting ad campaign to encourage more young mothers to breastfeed. Their research indicated that the most effective way to accomplish this was by emphasizing the hazards of relying on infant formula, such as the fact that “Babies who aren’t breastfed are 40% more likely to suffer Type 1 diabetes.”

The infant formula makers, whose parent companies include conglomerates such as Nestlé and Bristol-Meyers Squibb, happen to be among the “most generous campaign donors in the nation,” according to the Washington Post. They complained that the planned ad campaign implied that “mothers who use infant formula are placing their babies at risk.”

Well, yeah, that was kinda the point. Not wanting to see their products passed up by better educated consumers, the infant formula makers sprang into crisis mode and rounded up the usual suspects to pressure the government to neuter its campaign—former high level government officials now employed as lobbyists by the infant formula industry.

I don’t have to tell you what happened after that, but I will, anyway. The campaign got totally watered down, to the point that the ad company resigned in protest.

Dr. Lawrence Gartner, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics' breast-feeding division, told the Washington Post that the original ads were backed by sound science, and that “this campaign needed to be much stronger than it was.”

This is all coming to light now thanks to Congressional testimony from former surgeon general Richard Carmona that the Bush administration routinely played politics with public health policy. The allegations are being investigated by Henry Waxman’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

As John Edwards declared in a speech the other day, “the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It's rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits.”

Mothers’ milk—pure, wholesome, and pure poison to George Bush’s true constituency.

My Durst Time: Talking with Comic Will Durst about the All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing


Will Durst is a San Francisco-based comic, pundit, and “Quite possibly the best political satirist working in the country today.” He and I first met when we performed at a Laughing Liberally show in LA.

A year later, we got a chance to reconnect in New York, where Will is making everybody laugh with his new one-man show Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing. From left to right and everywhere in between, from the New York Times to the New York Post, the critics are raving.

When we met on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Durst was reading the sports section over a cup of black coffee. No doubt he had finished reading the latest issue of the Nation magazine and drunk his chai-organic-double-vegan-latte before I got there. But he wasn't fooling me. And soon we were talking about getting flipped off by Olympia Dukakis, helping the terrorists win, necrophilia and other things liberals enjoy.

Katie Halper: Why do you hate America?

Will Durst:
I'm not an America-hater, I'm an America-lover. Dissent is the ultimate patriotic act. Just like every liberal commie pinko weenie says.

Halper:
When did you start hating America?

Durst:
I started loving America right away. Free water. Water fountains everywhere. Refrigerated, cold, refreshing water. You try getting that anywhere else. Try getting that in France, not gonna happen. Go head, I dare you. It's $5.

Halper:
Funny, I was going ask you why you don't move to France. But I guess it's the whole water thing. Anyway, you have moments of redemption when you praise Bush, calling him a father figure.

Durst:
He has been like a father to me. Just in terms of providing.

Halper:
So he's a good provider?

Durst:
Yes, not just a decider and a commuter; he's also a provider. Not just for me, but for editorial cartoonists, columnists, anyone with a speck of consciousness. He is very fecund and fertile.

Halper:
He is very virile.

Durst:
He's like a rising tide. The rising tide of Bush lifts all boats. It's a wonderful rain, it's a hard rain.

Halper: I saw Olympia Dukakis sitting right in front of me in the theater [at your show] and I knew I was in a scary place: a theater in New York, a woman who represents the unholy alliance between the Hollywood elite and liberals. But I was impressed when you got into a hissing match with her. Because anyone who hisses at a Dukakis is a friend of mine.

Durst:
Yeah, I told a tough joke about Hillary, which I thought was fair, and then she hissed at me. I got her back on my side by doing the second part of the joke. I didn't know it was Olympia Dukakis at the time. But then when she came backstage, I recognized her. "Oh, my living god. I got heckled by an Oscar winner."

Halper: I think you got flipped the bird too.

Durst: Oh really? She flipped me off?

Halper:
Yeah. How does it feel being flipped off by a Democrat?

Durst: Well somebody's gotta do it. I feel like Dennis Miller.

Halper: You make fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing a law outlawing having sex with corpses. Why do you want to legalize necrophilia?

Durst:
It's a freedom issue. Like the sanctity of life. It fits into the whole pro-life thing. It's actually part of the pro-life movement.

Halper: Right, the right-to-lifers for necrophilia. And then you're not wasting the seed either.

Durst: Right. Although I'm not sure exactly how that fits in, so to speak.

Halper:
In your show you provide immigrants and terrorists with a plan for getting across the border. Why do you help the terrorists win?

Durst:
I am of two minds about putting that portion in the show. I understand it could be considered aiding and abetting the enemy to let them know they could go around the 700-mile-long, 16-foot-high wall that covers a 1,952 mile-long border. Or they could bring a ladder. But since they have already started building tunnels, they probably already thought of it. But I really hope that you don't make a big deal of it. Maybe you shouldn't even print this.

Halper:
What do you think that political comics can achieve?

Durst: I think we can distill what seem to be incredibly complex questions into something any audience member can understand. They don't have to be a poly-sci major. You can empower them to know that their opinion is important. There's no way that people are going to become enlightened. You're usually preaching to the choir. But it's nice to get the choir to sing. Especially after we've been used as human dart boards for the last six and a half years.

It's funny because there was a time when you couldn't do jokes about Bush. Even though we were, starting on Jan. 21st, 2001. Then Sept. 11th happened, and you couldn't touch him. It was seen as unpatriotic; we were involved in a war. Then Katrina happened. And taking on Bush became fashionable, and now it's considered old hat. We had a window of 18 months for Christ's sake when it was OK. And then it was, "Oh no, Bush is low-hanging fruit," or, "Everybody bashes Bush." Fuck you! We haven't hit him hard enough, and we're gonna hit him until ... until he dies, OK, until he dies, and we'll keep hitting, and then that still won't be enough.

Halper:
And then you'll have sex with him?

Durst:
Exactly, goes back to the Schwarzenegger law.

Halper: We've really come full circle. Speaking of dead people and perverts, let's go back to the Democrats. My favorite part of the show, obviously, is when you focus on your Clintons, your Kerries, your Dukaki. More of your thoughts on them?

Durst:
The Democrats seem more interested in getting re-elected than they are in changing anything for the better. When Gore ducked the Kansas Board of Education teaching intelligent design along with evolution and said, "Children should be exposed to varying theories," I just wanted to dick-slap him, I really did. And he would have had to have been very close, and I understand that. Not that I don't believe in Giselle the Mountain Sprite. She's from where all things flow. She's my goddess.

Halper: Do you renew the show every day with new news stories and headlines?

Durst:
I try to. There was a quote from yesterday about dog fighting, and I'm chomping at the bit, so to speak, to put it in the show tonight.

Halper:
And how do you actually get your news?

Durst:
First I wake up at noon. Then I have to clear all the potato chip bags and beer cans that are covering the floor.

Halper: And the copies of the Nation?

Durst: Of course. Then I find a phrase that I love, and I try to come up with a punch line. I'm all one-liners. They're strung on top of each other so that hopefully the previous punch line is a set up for the next joke. It's piggybacking, which is a timing that I learned works because if you wanna do political comedy in Stockton, Calif., at Uncle Chuckles Fun Hut, then you have to learn how to get them to shut up.

There are about four places where we can work and people really know what we're talking about. N.Y., San Francisco, D.C., Boston. And I don't blame people because it's such a morass, it's so ugly, it's hard to keep up. The names are constantly changing. The circus remains the same, but the clowns are different. So I don't blame people if they don't know what I'm talking about. They have families, jobs, they have a life. It's our job to keep up on this shit and try to put it in terms they understand.

Halper:
Was your comedy always political?

Durst: When I started doing standup in 1974, there was the Vietnam War and everything was, "We're gonna fight the man, man." Now, we are the man, man. But everything was political then. High school arithmetic was political. Of course in Wisconsin we didn't get the '60s until about 1974 anyway.

Halper:
Was there one thing in particular that politicized you?

Durst:
There were some riots in Milwaukee. I actually got run over by a horse. I was there for the chicks. That's what everyone went to rallies for no matter what they say. That was about as political as I got. I was never a big Weatherman kinda guy. I thought blowing shit up to protest blowing shit up was kinda oxymoronic.

Halper: Why a show and not just standup?

Durst: Bigger canvas, more paint, and with writing you can plant a seed in the first paragraph and follow it until it blooms in the last paragraph. That's something I can do with the show. I can take my time between laughs. I always thought I was more literary than most comics. Which doesn't mean they're not smart. Comics are smart. They have a lot going on in their minds. Most are ADHD.

Halper:
Are you?

Durst: I dunno. When I was a kid, I was hyper. They started feeding me coffee at the age of 10. That was a popular therapy at the time, over-amping the kid to short-circuit him.

Halper: What's the worst thing that ever happened to you at a show?

Durst:
A guy threw his prosthetic leg at me. He was trying to be funny. I held it up. Then I had a glass ash tray shatter behind me on the wall. The woman said she threw it because she was laughing so hard. Then I had a guy taken out on a stretcher because he had a heart attack right before I went on stage. I had a corporate gig the week after 9/11 for a law firm in Palo Alto, and they had an office in the World Trade Center and had just lost 16 people. So they had a moment of silence, and then they brought me on stage. I swear to fucking god.

Another time, this guy started yelling at me, and I couldn't hear him. And someone was taping the show, so he rushed at the camera and tried to grab it and had to be escorted out. It turns out he was an out-of-work right-wing talk show host. So he's calling all the radio stations in Sacramento and saying he was molested by the club staff, saying his freedom of speech was violated. Nobody would return his calls. Another time someone was going to beat me up in a club, but he got into a fight with someone who liked me, and they beat each other up. Good times.

Halper: Are you going to be sad at the end of Bush's term?

Durst: No. Because we're gonna get to know so much about the next person. Some people predicted the demise of political humor after Bill Clinton. Everything was below the belt. Every two-bit hack in America took his dick jokes and made them presidential dick jokes. Corporate gigs loved it when I would take on Clinton. I lost a lot of corporate gigs after Clinton. It's not so funny when you take on the boy king.

Halper: Who was your biggest influence?

Durst:
Lenny Bruce. I used to listen to him before I went on stage. I read his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty. And there are great political comics out there. You were hysterical the other night. And there's Lee Camp, Costaki, David Feldman, Johnny Steel, Barry Weintraub. Marga Gomez is my hero. I worked with Mort Sahl a few months ago. He's great. He's 80 years old and his opening line was, "If Paris Hilton goes to jail, will that rob her life of meaning?"

Halper:
What are you hoping your show will accomplish?

Durst:
Driving a nail through capitalism.

***

Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing
is now playing at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., Manhattan, (212) 239-6200. It is presented by Hanging Chad Productions, Jennifer Sachs and Allen Spivak; and directed by Eric Krebs; and it features a production design by Peter Feuchtwanger. For tickets go to Telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.

Breaking News: Perry caves in to anti-death penalty nuts

UPDATE: Yesterday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted six-to-one to commute Kenneth Foster's death sentence and Governor Rick Perry commuted the sentence to life in jail. Guess the governor didn't get my letter on time. Oh well, Texas still has 23 more executions before the year is over.

Do Not Not Kill and Innocent Man

Dear Governor Perry,

First of all, happy belated happy 400th execution day! It seems like only yesterday that Texas reinstated the death penalty, and yet you have managed to execute 400 people since 1982. Oops, scratch that, you killed DaRoyce Mosley Tuesday night, so make that 401 people, right? Actually, by the time you get this letter, you may have killed your 402nd inmate, John Amador, scheduled for August 29th. Or you may even have killed the 403rd person, Kenneth Foster, scheduled to die August 30th. As you know, Kenneth Foster’s fate is in your hands. In 1996, when Michael LaHood was fatally shot, of course, the man who pulled the trigger was not Foster, but Mauriceo Brown. And sure, Foster was inside a car at the time of the murder. Sure, 80 feet away from the crime scene, he was unaware of what Brown was up to. And sure, Amnesty International says,

In essence, Kenneth Foster has been sentenced to death for leaving his crystal ball at home. There is no concrete evidence demonstrating that he could know a murder would be committed. Allowing his life to be taken is a shocking perversion of the law.

The law of parties allows anyone involved in anyway in a crime to be found as guilty as the person who committed the crime. Texas is unique because it applies this law to death penalty cases. In other words, Texas is so special, it will execute you for a crime it admits you did not commit.

I know you have received letters from leftist anarchist wing bats like Archbishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and the European Union who are trying to bully you into granting a stay of execution. So I wanted to write you my own letter, urging you to hold your ground. Stay strong Mr. Governor! I so admire how you stood up to those EU girly boys, telling them,

230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.

Who cares what the EU pansies think? When it comes to the death penalty, you are in good company. Some of the most freedom-loving countries-- Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Zimbabwe—have capital punishment. I, like yourself, am a traditionalist and love your argument that “the people of Texas decided a long time ago that the death penalty was a good idea.” After all, Texas has a long proud history of old noble decisions going back to the War of Northern Aggression.

And, of course, "Texans are doing just fine governing Texas," representing its people and defending their interests. I think the Texan record speaks for itself. You are number one in percentage of uninsured, and number two in non-immunized children and teenage pregnancy. You are number five in poverty AND child poverty (no fair!)

Mr. Governor, I'm sure your used to people accusing the Death Penalty of being racist. And of the three men killed/ to be killed this week, one was black and one was Latino. But, out of the 10 upcoming executions, one of them is white.

Governor Perry, when you feel yourself faltering, just remember the strong gubernatorial roots that ground and nourish you. President George Bush, arguably Texas’s greatest governor, executed 152 people in his unique caring way. In his page-turning autobiography A Charge to Keep, Bush wrote, "I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully.... Each case is major because each case is life or death." Bush took the cases so seriously, that he would even read the clemency pleas, according to his then legal council Alberto Gonzalez, "from time to time". Signing 152 death sentences was so stressful for Bush, sometimes the poor governor had to resort to impersonating death row inmates’ pleas for clemency in order to decompress.

So please listen to reason, Mr. Governor, your own reason: "Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens." Like sitting in your car and not being clairvoyant.

Sincerely, Katie Halper

To tell Governor Perry what you think about Kenneth Foster’s case, call 512-463-2000, fax (512) 463-1849 and visit here.

And call the Board of Pardons and Paroles today!

Rissie Owens
(512) 936-6351
(936) 291-2161

Charles Aycock
806-359-7656

Linda Garcia
979-849-3031

Jose L. Aliseda,
210-564-3721

Juanita Gonzalez
254-865-8870

Conrith Davis
936-291-2161

Jackie DeNoyelles
903-723-1068

LET'S ASK MARION: CAN WE LEGISLATE A LEANER NATION?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: The Trust For America’s Health has just released a report, “F as in Fat”, that’s launched another round on the nightly news of all that stock footage of morbidly obese people waddling along Main Street, USA. The study finds that obesity rates are continuing to climb across the country, with poor Southern states showing the greatest increases. Our ever-widening waistlines are racking up something like $117 billion a year in preventable health care costs.

We don’t get enough exercise, and that includes not exercising our “personal responsibility” to make better choices for ourselves and our families. But many Americans have limited access to affordable, wholesome foods and safe places to exercise, whereas crappy convenience foods are omnipresent and our car-centric, couch potato way of life actively encourages inactivity.

As Jeff Levi, Trust for America’s Health’s executive director, told ABC news, “Everyone recognizes that there are personal choices involved. But you can’t make healthy choices if those opportunities and options aren’t there for you.”

You’ve been calling on Americans for ages to eat less and move more. But, as you’ve so thoroughly documented in your books, food manufacturers make a fortune encouraging Americans to overeat. Their purpose is to generate profits for their shareholders; the fact that the cheap, nutritionally bankrupt foods they make their money on have unleashed a plague of diseases is not their problem. Yet.

But it’s ravaging the rest of us—Big Food’s fat cats have made us a nation of fat can’ts. Trust for America’s Health is calling on our government to create a national strategy to reverse this epidemic. Their suggestions include strengthening the food stamp program to pay for more fruits and vegetables; improving nutrition standards for school food; building bike paths, and requiring that kids exercise for 60 minutes.

But will our government really be willing to reverse the agricultural policies that subsidize this surplus of junk foods and challenge the free market free-for-all that’s brought us to this crisis? Can we legislate a leaner nation?

Dr. Nestle: Let me start with the video footage. If we need legislation for anything, it’s to get rid of that stock footage. It is rude and disrespectful and does nobody any good. Whenever I see it, I am always suspicious that what comes next will be equally thoughtless.

Let’s remember what we public health types call the “root” causes of obesity: farm policies promoting hugely excessive food production (the 3,900 calories a day per person problem), and Wall Street’s insistence that publicly traded companies grow—expand sales and profits—every quarter. Toss into that mix the way we allow corporations to fund election campaigns, and you’ve got your answer. Congress could do plenty if it put public health above corporate profits, but its hands are tied and it, in turn, ties the hands of the agencies that could do lots of things to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully and to be more active.

In 1990, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and I wrote a paper on public health approaches to obesity prevention, in which we gave a long list of policies which, if put into place, would do just that. Since then, there has been action on some of them, but not much. Congress said schools needed to have wellness policies, but didn’t give the schools funding for implementation. Some school are doing good things, others can’t. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is demanding that food corporations cough up data on how much money they spend advertising to kids, and I can’t wait to see whether the FTC can actually get that information.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave us new, hopelessly complicated dietary guidelines and the USDA gave us a food-free Pyramid that nobody can understand or use. And the FDA proposed putting the total number of calories on the front of food packages but has never been able to get that beyond the proposal stage.

What we really need is a national campaign focused on eating less junk foods and on having fun being active, accompanied by what is needed to make those actions possible. This means getting food advertising off of TV and out of schools, getting vending machines out of schools, serving healthier and better tasting food in schools, getting price breaks for smaller portions, and setting up supervised playgrounds for after-school games, bike paths, sidewalks, public transportation systems, well lit and attractive stair wells in office buildings, and everything else you can think of to make it easier to eat better and be more active.

Big changes in society led to our current predicament. So it’s no surprise that big changes in society are needed to reverse recent trends. Impossible? Pipe dreams? I don’t think so. Just look at what a few parents can do to transform a school. This is grass roots democracy at its best, but it would sure help to have Congress more actively involved in promoting public health. Maybe in the next administration.

THE APPLE VS. SNACK CAKE SMACKDOWN CAUGHT ON CAMERA!

Apples go to bat for us everyday; remember the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” A steady diet of snack cakes, on the other hand, leaves you stuffed with empty carbs and factory-made fillings full of chemicals you’d never use in your own kitchen (if you don’t believe me, read Twinkie, Deconstructed, in which Steve Ettlinger analyzes the 39 ingredients it takes to make America’s favorite snack cake.)

But free market forces and misguided agricultural policies have given sweet, spongy snack cakes a big boost over the humble, wholesome apple in the battle for America’s hearts and bellies.

So I was happy to see at least one apple is fighting back, and knocking the chem-crème stuffing out of a not-so-innocuous snack cake, as documented in Food Battle, the latest short from Free Range Studios, those socially conscious satirists who brought us Store Wars, the Meatrix, and, most recently, the Mouth Revolution.

Food Battle takes our Byzantine, $90 billion a year Farm Bill and turns it into a tussle between a snack cake and an apple, highlighting the clash between the Goliaths of industrial agriculture and all us Davids who yearn for a saner, more humane and sustainable food chain.

Is it a gross simplification? Is it really such a simple tale of good guys versus bad?

Well, actually, yes, and yes. You can’t possibly explore the nuances of such a complex piece of legislation in a short comic film, but Food Battle makes the essential point that our agricultural policies have been hijacked by corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. That’s a message that most Americans should be able to sink their teeth into, and maybe even get riled up about. Because there’s nothing democratic about a diet that’s determined by special interests.

Who Framed Larry Craig

The real tragedy behind Craig’s arrest: the death of the Singing Senators

Today is a terrible day for America, public bathrooms, a cappella music everywhere. The arrest of Senator Larry Craig by an undercover police officer for lewd conduct in a public men's bathroom is the final nail in the coffin in which rots the once vibrant barbershop quartet known as the Singing Senators. Also called the Vocal Majority, the Singing Senators, or SS, consisted of John Ashcroft, baritone; Trent Lott, bass; Jim Jeffords, tenor; and Larry Craig, lead. The quartett’s beginning were as humble as the senators themselves. They started out harmonizing to Happy Birthday at the birthday party of fellow Republican senator Bob Packwood a framee in his own right, who would be forced to resign over sexual harassment charges based on bogus evidence like his diary and accusations from 11 different people. The crooners had their formal debut at the Kennedy Center and then went on to record an album Let Freedom Sing in Nashville and perform on the Today Show. As their popularity skyrocketted, The SS started performing more frequently, raising millions of dollars for Republican causes and charities. They may have sounded in tune, but something was out of key. And that was Jim Jeffords, who became an Independent, betraying not only the GOP but the SS. Days before Jeffords defected, a hopeful Lott predicted Jefford would stay in the party “After all, I mean, what would we do in the future about the Ainging Senators? We need Jim to be part of that harmony.” But Jeffords abandoned the quartet, and in a flash the Singing Senators were over, a blast from the past. Lott never saw it coming.

But Craig would not be silenced and, the quartet’s lead, used to leading, launched a solo career, writing his own songs, the most notable perhaps, an homage to Judge Samuel Alito, (to the tune of the West Side Story's "Maria"

The most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard/Alito, Alito/Alito, I just met a judge named Alito/And suddenly the name will never be the same/Alito, Bush just picked a judge named Alito/Alito, say it proud, that Republican saying/Say it soft and there’s Democrats praying/Alito, may the Senate confirm Alito.

Singing was just to fun for this Senator to give up. As Craig explained to Senator John Thune, whom he tried to recruit to the SS, “You’ve got to let your hair down and enjoy it.”

Then finally, only 2 moths ago, on June 12, after a 6-year hiatus, the Singing Senators made a comeback! Purged of the defecting Jeffords, their sound was purer and the trio was tighter. Craig explained, “We’re not a quartet any longer. We’re a trio, and there are a lot of good reasons for that.” Singing at a fundraiser for the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute, the three singing senators performed God Bless America, country and gospel tunes, and the sexy Oak Ridge Boys hit American Made:

She looks good in her tight blue jeans /she bought in Mexico/ And she loves wearing French perfume everywhere we go/ But when it comes to the lovin' heart/ one thing is true/ My Baby's genuine "U.S.A." / red white and blue/ From her silky long hair to her sexy long legs/ My baby is "American Made".

The SS had performed with the Oak Ridge Boys in 1997, so singing American Made marked a 10 year anniversary of Christian jamming.

Here's where things get fishy. This reunion show took place on Tuesday June 12. The arrest of Larry Craig took place on June 11th, one day before! And the arrest report was enetered on June 12th just hours before the reunion concert would kick off. A coincidence? Or a vast left-wing conspiracy? The reunion concert had to have been widely publicized through the series of tubes that is the internets. And the arrest was surely an attempt to silence Craig and the Singing Senators. The former rancher, family values conservative Idaho senator is said to have solicited gay sex in an airport bathroom. And yet, Craig is so straight, he voted for a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage(sorry Mary cheney), opposes including homosexuals in hate crime legislation. And he’s so not gay that when he was accused of being involved in a sex scandal involing male pages he said that made him “Mad as hell.”

Which sounds pretty macho to me. If he’s gay, why did he preemptively release a statement saying he wasn’t when he hadn’t been implicated in the scandal anyway? Sheesh. What could be less gay?

It looks like someone wants to shut up the Singing Senators.... only this time... for good.

The Barbersop ensemble, be it quartet or trio, is the most wholsome, most patriotic of all American all-male a cappella singing traditions. The values, the freedom-loving, and the irresistible melodies and rthyms of the SS threaten the liberal, gay, Jewish, vegan establishment bent on bringing down America.

Well, they may be able to stop the Singing Senators. They may be able to frame Craig. They may be able to persecute Lott, destroy his porch and put racist words in his mouth. They may be able to recruit Jim Jeffords. But nothing, not even pancreatis or Gonzolezean hospital-room harassment can bring down John Ashcroft. He will sing for the Senators, he will make the Singing Senators Soar.

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