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With the year 2007 now history, attention turns inevitably at the start of the new year toward looking back at what's transpired over the past 12 months, making New Year's resolutions -- and, of course, predicting who'll win what in the upcoming awards season.
From time immemorial, it seems, we mark the early months of each new year by bestowing awards to honor the best among us (The Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Tonys and the Emmys) -- and sometimes to dishonor the worst among us as well (Mr. Blackwell's annual "Worst Dressed" list and the Razzie Awards for the worst movies of the year).
This blogger has chosen to join in the awards-giving parade, but unlike the "Big 5" entertainment awards, I've chosen to join in the bestowment of dishonors to the most richly deserving crooks, liars, power-mad despots and just plain weirdos who've made life a lot more complicated for Americans in the past 12 months.
PINK FLOYD BRICK WALL AWARD: George W. Bush
That the first Pink Floyd Brick Wall Award is bestowed upon President Bush is a no-brainer. Long before The 'Skeeter Bites Report was launched two years ago, the president has demonstrated time and again throughout his tenure that he is ideologically rigid on a number of policy issues and that trying to convince him to change course is like talking to the proverbial brick wall.
Nowhere is that more evident than on the issue of the Iraq War and on the environment. His strategy in Iraq was flawed from the very beginning -- and I dare say is an absolute disgrace compared to that employed by his father, former President George H.W. Bush, in the Gulf War of 1991.
Not since Vietnam has a president so thoroughly hoodwinked Congress and the American people into authorizing and supporting a disastrous military adventure -- one that was not only poorly planned and executed, but was a major diversion from the real war on terror following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
More than six years later, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, is still at large -- and that's assuming that he's still alive. This blogger is not at all convinced that bin Laden survived the 7.6-magnitude earthquake in 2005 that killed nearly 75,000 people in the mountainous region of northwestern Pakistan where he's believed to have been hiding.
No one has seen bin Laden in person since the quake. The new video purportedly of the fugitive al-Qaida leader that was released last September -- there have been only easy-to-fake audiotapes since -- is not convincing.
Of course, the Iraq War isn't the only thing that Bush has proven himself to be stubborn to the point of being an obstinate obstructionist. There's also his stubborn, bullheaded refusal to accept firm targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as called for in the Kyoto Protocol, leaving the United States as the only industrialized nation on the planet that refuses to take strong measures to combat the threat of climate change.
The world already has written Bush off, pinning its hopes on U.S. action against climate change on Bush's successor.
MACHIAVELLI AWARD: Vladimir Putin
In the only prize by this blogger to go to a foreigner this year, the Machiavelli Award for best greasing the wheels to stay in power even after stepping down as head of state goes, hands-down, to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president -- who was named Time magazine's 2007 "Person of the Year" -- hand-picked his successor, a little-known fortysomething named Dimitry Medvedev and accepted Medvedev's offer to appoint Putin Russia's next prime minister after Medvedev wins Russia's almost Soviet-style rubber-stamp presidential election next March.
Putin, barred by Russia's 1993 post-Soviet Constitution from seeking a third term as president, would nonetheless be a "heartbeat away" from the top job -- thanks to his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who imposed the Constitution, with its provisions for strong presidential powers, after Yeltsin sent tanks to smash the last remaining relic of the Soviet era: the Communist-dominated Congress of People's Deputies, which stymied Yeltsin at every turn.
Yeltsin's constitution, which did away with the post of vice president and put the prime minister first in the line of presidential succession, was subsequently approved by the Russian people in a referendum later that year.
Even though Putin's powers as prime minister would be much weaker than those of Medvedev's as president, Medvedev -- who, at 42, would be modern Russia's youngest-ever head of state -- is so beholden to Putin that it's difficult to imagine Putin not becoming the real power behind the throne.
Why add Putin to this rogues' gallery? Simply put, what Putin has pulled off might give Bush some very unpleasant ideas since, like Putin, Bush is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as president and must step down a year from now.
And lest we forget, Putin also has, at least figuratively, his "finger on the button" of the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal -- and relations between Moscow and Washington are at their worst since the collapse of the Soviet Union 16 years ago.
DARTH VADER AWARD: Dick Cheney
The vice president wins the Darth Vader Award for being the undisputed power behind George W. Bush's throne. As any fan of the "Star Wars" movies knows, Darth Vader is the cunning, brutal enforcer of the Galactic Empire's rule across the galaxy -- the right-hand man of the evil Emperor Palpatine.
Much like Vader, Cheney has served as Emperor Dubyah's chief enforcer of his policies -- at least in the propaganda wars. Unlike Vader, however, Cheney was the instigator of many of the Emperor's policies. Cheney has long asserted that a link existed between Al-Qaida and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein -- a link that served as one of the primary justifications of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Despite reports from the Pentagon and the CIA that found that no such link existed, Cheney to this day continues to assert a connection between Al-Qaida and Iraq prior to 9/11 in several public speeches, drawing criticism from members of the intelligence community and congressional leaders, even from within his own party.
Critics say that Cheney, by continuing to press for U.S. military action against Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons -- despite a national intelligence estimate released in November that found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 -- is "the most dangerous man in Washington." and express relief that he's not running to succeed Bush in next year's presidential election.
Effectively barred by his less-than-perfect health (he's suffered four heart attacks and has had multiple heart surgeries) from seeking the Emperor's chair himself, the 69-year-old Cheney has instead engaged in a decades-long fight behind the scenes to restore the "imperial presidency" that was destroyed in 1974, when Richard Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate scandal, resigned.
KING GEORGE III AWARD: Alberto Gonzales
The inaugural King George III Award goes to Alberto Gonzales, who, as attorney general for most of Bush's second term, demonstrated the most callous disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law of any attorney general in U.S. history -- worse than even Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, who was one of the Watergate plotters.
Gonzales had the audacity to declare torture is OK to be used on so-called "enemy combatants," despite its condemnation as a war crime by both the Geneva Conventions and this country's own Uniform Code of Military Justice. He's also threatened to prosecute The New York Times and other news media outlets for exposing the Bush administration's warrantless electronic eavesdropping program -- a threat that, had he made good on it, would have clearly violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press.
The warrantless eavesdropping program, which Gonzales helped create, was exposed by the media precisely because it is unconstitutional. It violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures by authorizing electronic eavesdropping on Americans' telephone and Internet communications with parties abroad without a court order.
This blogger has railed again and again and again for the past two years that the program flagrantly defies a unanimous 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the government is mandated by the Fourth Amendment to obtain court warrants for such surveillance.
The high court's ruling was bolstered by an equally-unanimous 1975 decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia -- the nation's second-highest court -- that closed a foreign policy loophole in the Supreme Court's ruling, forcing the government to obtain court warrants for all national security wiretaps and other electronic surveillance (The White House, under then-President Gerald Ford, decided not to appeal the 1975 ruling to the Supreme Court and thus it still stands to this day).
Then there is Gonzales' firing of eight U.S. attorneys for partisan political reasons -- which this blogger and others believe violates the Hatch Act, which bars the government from making personnel decisions purely on the basis of partisan politics.
In the process, Gonzales brought unparalleled disgrace to the Justice Department and created a climate of extremely low moral that his successor, Michael Mukasey, will take all of 2008 to fix.
WILLIAM CALLEY AWARD: Blackwater USA
The William Calley Award goes to the private security company Blackwater USA and its founder and CEO, Erik Prince, for its defiant public insistence that its armed guards were shot at by Iraqi insurgents before opening fire and killing 17 civilians, despite an FBI finding that that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and found no evidence to support assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon.
Calley was the U.S. Army lieutenant who was tried and convicted on six counts of murder in ordering the 1968 massacre of at least 100 and perhaps as many as 500 Vietnamese civilians mistaken for communist Viet Cong guerrillas in the village of My Lai during the Vietnam War, the worst wartime atrocity committed by U.S. troops since the Civil War. Vietnam will mark the 40th anniversary of the massacre next March.
Blackwater is the largest of the State Department's three private security contractors, providing a total of 987 armed guards. Of these, only 744 are U.S. citizens. At least 90 percent of its revenue comes from government contracts -- two-thirds of which were no-bid contracts.
On September 16, Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad. The shootings occurred while Blackwater guards were escorting a convoy of State Department vehicles to a meeting in western Baghdad with officials of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The next day, the Iraqi government revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq. The State Department said that "innocent life was lost" while U.S. military reports -- later backed up by FBI investigators -- indicated that Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force
If there's an unindicted co-conspirator in this mess, its Paul Bremer, the head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that ran Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Bremer pushed through a law exempting American contractors operating in Iraq from prosecution for wrongdoing. And because Blackwater guards committed this atrocity outside the U.S., neither they nor the company can be prosecuted under U.S. law, either. Thanks, Paul.
PINOCCHIO AWARD: Larry Craig
Every time Pinocchio told a lie, his nose grew longer and longer. So it's only fitting that the Pinocchio Award for being the worst liars and hypocrites in the land is bestowed upon a group of conservative Republicans, most prominent among them Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who made their careers bashing gay people and condemning homosexuality, yet got themselves caught in scandals in which they had sex or attempted to solicit sex with members of their own gender.
Craig, who was arrested in June -- Gay Pride Month -- by an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport who said the senator made a sexual advance toward him, insisted to reporters at an emotional press conference after the arrest was made public in September that "I am not gay! I never have been gay!"
But since then, at least eight openly gay men have come forward and told the media that they had sex with the senator. And at least five other conservative Republicans in Congress and in the state legislatures -- all of them male -- who made names for themselves by being staunchly anti-gay, voting for bans on same-gender marriage and/or pushing to repeal state laws protecting gays against discrimination were also caught with their pants down with other men.
Can you say "hypocrite?"
UNCLE DON FOOT-IN-MOUTH AWARD: Don Imus
"Uncle Don" Carney was a radio personality who hosted a popular children's show back in the pre-television "golden age" of radio from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. Carney's day of infamy came in 1930, when, while closing out his show on New York's WOR Radio, he mistakenly thought that his microphone was turned off after giving his trademark sign-off: "...And this is Uncle Don saying good night."
But immediately after Carney's sign-off, listeners heard the following: "There, I hope that pleases the little bastards!" There was no recording of the outburst, but a member of the Federal Radio Commission (The predecessor of today's Federal Communications Commission) happened to be listening and raised a stink. Carney ended up getting fired.
Fast-forward to 2007 and another "Uncle Don" -- in this case, nationally syndicated "shock jock" Don Imus. On April 4, during a discussion about the NCAA women's basketball championship, Imus characterized the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "rough girls" commenting on their tattoos.
His executive producer Bernard McGuirk, responded in his familiar "urban-speak" vernacular by referring to them as "hardcore hos" -- a "ho" being urban slang for a prostitute or a prostitute. The "urban-speak" banter continued with Imus describing the girls as "nappy-headed ho's."
"Nappy-headed" has long been considered an insult to African Americans -- even when used by African Americans themselves against each other. And Imus has long been notorious for using racially and ethnically insensitive language in his 35-year radio career.
But it was Imus calling the Rutgers players "hos" that got him in trouble more than "nappy-headed.' Prostitution is a criminal offense in 49 of the 50 states, and even in the one state where it's legal -- Nevada -- it's still outlawed in Las Vegas.
To accuse someone on radio or TV of engaging in criminal activity without providing any evidence to back up the charges can get you -- and the broadcasting company you work for -- sued for slander and/or defamation of character. And Imus got caught red-handed, thanks to to the popular Internet site, YouTube.
Faced with the threat of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit -- and a flood of advertiser defections -- CBS Radio and MSNBC, which simulcasted Imus' show -- dropped him like yesterday's garbage. McGuirk was also fired.
Imus filed a $40 million lawsuit against CBS in May for wrongful termination and breach of contract. He reached a settlement with CBS in August for an undisclosed sum -- only to be sued by Rutgers player Kia Vaughn for slander and defamation. Vaughn dropped her lawsuit a month later, citing her desire to concentrate on her studies and basketball training.
That freed Imus to negotiate for and reach a deal with ABC Radio in November to return to the air, making his comeback on December 3.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON AWARD: Bill O'Reilly
Actually, the Hunter S. Thompson Award for overreactive fear and loathing was first issued by this blogger in 2005. And for the third year in a row, it's awarded to Fox News Channel and radio talk-show host Bill O'Reilly, for continuing his now-three-year-old crusade against when he considers the "de-Christianization" of Christmas by "secular humanists." This blogger says O'Reilly is full of humbug for claiming a "War on Christmas" that really doesn't exist.
I've already written about O'Reilly in my holiday article last week, which you can read here.
JERRY SPRINGER AWARD: Astronaut Lisa Nowak
And finally, the Jerry Springer Award for the weirdest love triangle of the year goes to disgraced former astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was arrested at Orlando International Airport in February on charges of of stalking and assaulting a romantic rival at Orlando International Airport.
Nowak is accused of stalking and and attacking an Air Force colonel, Colleen Shipman, in an apparent "love triangle" dispute with Shipman over the affections of a fellow astronaut, Bill Oefelein, with whom Shipman was in a relationship.
In a handwritten request for a protective order against Nowak after her arrest, Shipman referred to Nowak as an acquaintance of Oefelein -- although she didn't mention him by name -- and also claimed Nowak had been stalking her for two months.
For her part, Nowak told investigators she was involved in a relationship with Oefelein which she described as being "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship."
Nowak is scheduled to go on trial in April.
And for 2008 -- Who Knows?
Of course, there a lot of other notorious names that I left out; if I included them all, this article would run far too long for anyone to read. Suffice it to say that 2007 was a weird year. And 2008 promises to be just as weird, if not weirder.
Happy New Year!
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Volume III, Number 5
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.