A Cynic's Guide to the Top Stories of 2003
by Peter Kurth

December 18, 2003

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“You come right over here and explain why they’re having another year!”
-– Dorothy Parker, telegram to Robert Benchley, December 31, 1929

As I sat down to write this review, I couldn’t decide which was the most important story of 2003 – the Bush administration’s illegal war against Iraq or the new charges of child-molestation against Michael Jackson. It was a toss-up, since each of them got the same amount of coverage in the press.

In fact, I think Michael Jackson got a little more coverage than the war did, and in much less time. I don’t know what to say about that, except the obvious – it’s a nightmare out there! On the one hand, thousands of people, including 455 Americans, have already died in Bush’s folly. On the other, a few teenaged boys in Southern California are apparently in danger of being interfered with if their parents are stupid enough to let them spend the night at Neverland.

What to do? You can see the journalist’s dilemma! And rather than confront it, I’ve decided to write about the Paris Hilton sex video instead. Believe me, it’s better for all concerned.

Until recently, of course -- like many of you, I’m sure -- I thought Paris Hilton was a hotel. It turns out she’s a slut, a 22-year-old heiress to the Hilton Hotel fortune, very leggy, blond and rich. Paris is a woman who describes herself as “perfectly normal,” but who hops from city to city and bed to bed with the persistence of a cricket and spends up to $1,000 a month on tanning sessions. When she isn’t traveling, she lives in New York with her sister, who is not, as you might imagine, called London or Bangkok or Carbondale, Illinois, but rather goes by the name of “Nicky.” The Hilton sisters are, indeed, Manhattan’s leading “party girls.”

Anyway, about three years ago, Paris let herself be filmed by one of her boyfriends while they had sex. Now the videotape has found its way onto the Internet and has the distinction of being the most downloaded item of 2003.

Beat that if you can! Paris is said to be “very upset about this tragedy,” “quite devastated from it all,” hiding behind her sunglasses in restaurants and bars and complaining in an interview with US magazine that she “can’t walk the streets” – although, if you ask me, she can and does.

Bear with me while I clean this story up for a family newspaper. “The video is 42 minutes long and has full sound,” according to the most recent email I received offering it for sale. “It shows Paris’s boyfriend ----ing her, and she seems to be getting off on a little -----. It shows him putting his ---- in her -----, and she seems to be really getting into it. She starts telling him things like, ‘---- it there, baby!’ and ‘---- it harder!’ and ‘I'm gonna --- any second!’ Then he -----s her for about five minutes, and, honestly, she’s like some kind of animal!”

But the “highlight” of the tape is when Paris, “fully aware of the camera’s presence, leaps out of bed to answer her cell phone.” You can imagine how “sizzling” that is! Yours for only $29.95!

At first, Paris thought it was her ex-boyfriend (and co-star), Rick Salomon, who sold the video to pornographers, but when she said so in public Salomon hit her with a $10 million libel suit, which is roughly a third of her inheritance. Worse, the scandal broke just before Paris made her debut on Fox TV in her own “reality” show, The Simple Life, in which she plays a rich girl who goes to live on a farm in Arkansas and seduces the high school football captain, whose girlfriend --

What? You’d rather hear about the war? Well, OK. But don’t say I didn’t try. Sooner or later, I’ve got to make some money!

So -- the war. Maybe I should turn it over to Senator Robert Byrd, one of the few men in Washington who had the guts to speak the truth last winter, when this country callously, stupidly, vengefully and pointlessly sacrificed its wealth, its honor and the lives of its children for the delusions of a fool.

Make that a pack of fools, since George W. Bush, President Pinocchio, is only the front, the public face, of a vicious, mercenary, right-wing cabal that will drag this country to ruin if it isn’t stopped. Being a Senator, a Southerner and, I suppose, a gentleman, Byrd said it more sweetly than I would have.

"In only the space of two short years,” he declaimed, “this reckless and arrogant administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years to come ... This administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling for all time international order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling and name-calling, of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders … Frankly, many of the pronouncements made by this administration are outrageous. There is no other word.”

Frankly, there is. We could say that the pronouncements of this administration are fucking outrageous, but if we did we’d be in a heap of trouble, like Democratic presidential contender John Kerry of Massachusetts. Kerry can’t seem to do anything right, and was recently scolded by the White House for saying that Dubya had “f—ked up” the war in Iraq.

"That's beneath John Kerry," said Ding-Dong’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, demanding an apology. "I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language." Card must have a screw loose and, like all of America’s corporate media, no memory. Because it was just four years ago that Dubya himself, before he got all pious and “presidential,” used “the ‘f’ word,” over and over, in an interview with Tucker Carlson in Talk magazine.

Don’t you remember? At the time, it was taken as a plus, a positive thing, a sign that Doofus, despite his privileged background, was “just folks” like you and me, and that he ought to be elected for that reason. How frank he was, how refreshing, etc.

This was the same interview in which Bush mocked condemned murderess Karla Faye Tucker, whose death warrant he had signed, rolling his eyes, pursing his lips and whimpering, “Please, don’t kill me!” And it was also where he summed up his entire political experience and philosophy by saying, "I'm a decisive person. I'm not interested in process. I want results. If the process doesn't yield the right results, change the process” – as un-American a concept as ever rode a punk to power.

Well, damn the torpedoes! Remember the Maine! Back then, oddly enough, the only one who seemed disturbed by Bush’s statements was conservative lickspittle George F. Will, who remarked in his syndicated column, as delicately as he could, that Poppy’s spawn had some growing up to do, that his words gave off “an atmosphere of adolescence, a lack of gravitas -- a carelessness, even a recklessness, perhaps born of things having gone a bit too easily so far.” The Talk interview even led with a pull-quote affirming Dubya’s right to tromp on your sensibilities: "George W. Bush doesn't give a damn what you think of him. That may be why you'll vote for him for president."

How times have changed! Dubya still doesn’t give a damn what you think of him, but the press that put him in office is determined to keep him there, and “the ‘f’ word” just won’t cut it anymore. Not when Ding-Dong’s supporters are claiming that "George W. Bush wasn’t elected by a majority of the voters in the United States ... He was appointed by God," as stated in October by Lt. Gen. William Boykin, Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (so-called). That’s why Kerry is taking such a beating right now. And that’s why we keep hearing how “angry” Howard Dean is, and how Americans will never elect such an “angry” man. Just say the name Dean on network television and see the pundits cluck.

“Yes,” says CNN’s Judy Woodruff, grinning idiotically as she interviews Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, in the wake of Al Gore’s endorsement of the Dean “insurgency” – “but aren’t you worried about all those Democrats who think that Howard Dean can’t win? Aren’t you worried that George W. Bush is unbeatable?”

Say it louder, Judy – let’s make sure they heard it: “Unbeatable! Can’t win! Can’t win!”

It’s the oldest trick in the press agent’s kit, although Hitler said it best in Mein Kampf: “The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on them in slogans, until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand … As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material.”

And now – big drum-roll here -- they’ve captured Saddam Hussein. Mission accomplished! “Woo-hoo!” as Dubya says, whenever he puts on his bomber jacket and raves at the troops.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the tyrant is a prisoner,” said Paul Bremer, the U.S. “administrator” in Iraq, after Saddam’s capture, in words that were described by the American media as “pithy.” It’s all we’ll be hearing about for a while, I’m afraid, just as we heard it ad nauseam last winter and spring: “Saddam! Saddam! Saddam!” Why they don’t just drag him in chains through the streets of Washington, or feed him to the lions at Yankee Stadium, I’ll never know. Maybe because he’d recognize too many of his former cronies and business partners in the faces of his captors. That’s one advantage of a dead dictator -- he can’t spill the beans.

Well, to the victor the spoils, as Iraq has learned, and Afghanistan, too. This despite Dubya’s speech at Butts Army Air Field -– I’m not making that up -- in Fort Carson, Colorado in November. “Working with a fine coalition,” His Majesty said, “our military went to Afghanistan, destroyed the training camps of al Qaeda and put the Taliban out of business forever.”

You heard the man -– he said “out of business forever.” How many more children need to die over there, I wonder, before America wakes up to this clown? An official of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul confesses to London’s Guardian that his regime is “virtually powerless” outside the capital; that the Taliban is resurgent throughout the south and east of Afghanistan and, where they’re not, our friends the “warlords” have joined forces with “Pakistani criminal gangs” and are “looting with impunity.”

“There was looting under the Taliban,” this man confirms, “but it was nothing compared to now. This is a total disaster, a complete free-for all.” The global market for stolen Afghan antiquities is now worth more than the opium trade – about $32 billion a year: “This is a tragedy, not only for us, but for all humanity. When you put an ancient object in an Arab millionaire’s living room, it loses its relation to history. It becomes meaningless.”

Welcome to capitalism, Omar. Try sticking an “ancient object” on a Texas oilman’s ranch and see how fast it starts to look like a lava lamp. On December 4, according to the New York Times, “more than 400 people from 30 countries” gathered at a Sheraton hotel in Arlington, Virginia “for a conference focusing on how to rebuild Iraq and get a piece of the $18.3 billion Congress has authorized for the effort.

“There were bankers,” said the Times, “architects, lawyers, engineers, real estate developers, insurance agents, construction specialists, transportation experts, communication company owners, investment counselors,” and so on. “If the participants conveyed a common message it was this: despite suicide bombers, snipers and attacks from Saddam Hussein loyalists, Iraq is open for business.”

Well put! This was before Dubya made it clear that only American companies and other “friendly coalition folks” would be invited to divide the pot. You can skip what he said about “those who risked their lives” in battle, because the vast majority of them – our soldiers and ordinary Iraqis – are excluded from the equation. As I write this, the U.S. Army is busy wrapping barbed-wire around every Iraqi village it suspects of harboring “terrorists.” And even at the trade fair in Arlington, the Times reports, there were “sobering reminders of the daily dangers that confront both military personnel and civilians” in Iraq – among them an American firm, Therma Steel, which is “selling walls so strong they [can] withstand .50-caliber bullets.”

“We're working on one now that will be able to sustain a shoulder-fired rocket attack,” says Therma Steel’s vice president, Prentice Perry. His company’s motto ought to be stitched on the flag: “We stand behind our walls.”

And so we do. As Peter Lee writes on his must-read website, Halcyon Days (http://halcyondays.prlee.org): “We might as well recognize that Bush, while a moral idiot and an intellectual and emotional nullity, possesses a corresponding tunnel vision that makes him uniquely effective in protecting and enlarging his power … Contempt for democracy, truth, the lives of thousands, the fate of nations, international institutions, the environment, and the future of the U.S., not just as a great power but as a functioning society, has served him well up to now.” God bless us, every one.

What else happened in 2003? I can barely remember. Bob Hope died. Scientists discovered the world’s oldest penis, belonging to a spider and fossilized somewhere in Scotland. A man in Germany is defending himself against charges of cannibalism by saying that his victim agreed to be eaten, and that he’d do it again if he could. Ho-hum.

Altogether, it was a big year for homosexuals, who not only got their own Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire, but will soon have the right to get married in Massachusetts. Conservatives are terribly upset by this idea, but, as I’ve been saying for years, if self-respecting gays and lesbians will persist in aping their inferiors, that’s bound to happen.

Cynical? You bet! I certainly don’t like to see marriage put at the top of the so-called gay agenda, which is, and should be, properly reserved for things that matter, such as art, culture, manners, good taste and peace among nations. And that’s all I’m going to say on this subject. Don’t ask me about it again, because I’m through caring about it – I mean, I am finished.

Oh, yes – a Medicare “reform” bill was finally hammered through Congress, after some major rule-breaking and arm-twisting from the corporate thugs in power. It’s a bill that will enrich the pharmaceutical companies, the HMO’s and all sorts of private medical firms, but does little, if anything, to relieve the burden of soaring drug costs on seniors and the disabled, while sticking the next generation with a staggering bill. Any idiot can see that this “reform” is a farce, and that’s just what the boys are counting on – a nation of idiots. But never mind – none of it will kick in until Junior is safely out of office.

According to the People's Weekly World Newspaper, a refreshingly socialistic organ of the world proletariat, there were officially 8.7 million unemployed in the U.S. in December. “That does not count the millions who have stopped looking for nonexistent jobs,” the paper writes, “or the ‘underemployed’ who can’t find full-time employment. Two million jobless have exhausted the 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance and are running out of the 13 weeks of extended benefits. Because Congress refused to approve another extension, some 80,000 to 90,000 unemployed workers each week will lose all benefits.”

And in just the last few months, says the Los Angeles Times, “Congress, at Bush's request, has doled out $87 billion to rebuild and secure Iraq and Afghanistan, approved a $401-billion defense appropriation bill, the largest ever, and completed a $1-trillion tax cut on top of the $1.35-trillion reduction the president won in 2001. If his energy bill is revived next year, add to the list at least another $26 billion in tax cuts for energy companies … All this comes when the federal government already faces its largest deficit ever — some $374 billion last year, $84 billion more than the previous record held by Bush's father.”

Now, there’s a “recovery” to be proud of! And that’s not all: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of hungry families in the U.S. increased 8.6 percent from 2001 and 13 percent from 2000. More than 30 million are described as “food insecure,” which means, literally, that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. And 35 million are now officially below the poverty line, with their ranks swelling by about 1.7 million a year. In fact, the US has the worst child poverty rate and the worst life expectancy of all the world's industrialized nations.

But why be gloomy? The Bushmen want to revive the space program, which will give us all something to feel good about. The White House regards this as “a Kennedy moment for Bush,” according to a story in the Washington Post, “referring to the 1962 call by President Kennedy for the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.”

Well, there are Kennedy moments and Kennedy moments. I’d better not say anything else, because I don’t want to end up on the list of people John Ashcroft thinks should be sweating it out in Guantanamo Bay, if you catch my drift.

Finally, I leave you with some news that found wide circulation on the Internet this year, but seems not to have fully penetrated the American mind. Pay attention, please, because this is important:

“Aoccdrnig to rsceearh at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe and the biran fguiers it out aynawy.”

Got it? Now, get out there and defeat Bush. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You can gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face ... You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."

Peter Kurth is the author of international bestselling books including Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, Isadora: A Sensational Life, and a biography of the anti-fascist journalist Dorothy Thompson, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. His essays have appeared in Salon, Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, and many others. Peter lives in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at: peterkurth@peterkurth.com. Visit his website at: http://www.peterkurth.com/


Other Articles by Peter Kurth


* Talking Turkey
Let Them Drink Coke
The Gang that Couldn’t Talk Straight On Iraq
Party Rules





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