Archive for March, 2013

If It’s ‘Safe,’ Put It on the Label

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

A few weeks ago I wrote a column that proclaimed, “Turns out, you really are what you eat.” For me, in the midst of changing to a more healthful diet, that statement is truer than ever. The problem is, it is getting harder to know exactly what we’re eating and the mega-companies that produce the food we eat are going out of their way to keep it that way. They’re also getting a lot of help from politicians, who bemoan rising health costs and obesity on the one hand, but don’t seem eager to learn if, just maybe, the food we eat has something to do with both. Guess it depends on who’s buttering your toast.

Disclaimer: While I have significantly modified my diet to a more healthful emphasis on non-meat fanoods and organic food, I am not a vegan or vegetarian. I believe all living things, including animals, are entitled to humane treatment and that animals who are pets or companions should not be used as food. Period.

I also believe that we humans are entitled to know as much as possible about the food being offered to us, including any changes made to the original product. Then we can make whatever decision we want, informed or uninformed, as long as we have a fair chance. That’s what this is about.

This week, President Obama, following the lead of a bought-and-paid for Congress, signed into law what has come to be known as the Monsanto Protection Act. Big mistake.

Much of the president’s political support has come from voters who believed his stated commitments to openness in government and a healthier, more informed citizenry. This swoop of his pen calls much of his rhetoric into doubt. In brief, the so-called act is actually one turgid paragraph buried in the homeland security section of a huge budget bill. It allows Monsanto, which did an all-out lobbying effort to get Congress to stick the paragraph in the bill, to plant genetically modified crop seed without any court reviewing whether or not it is safe.

Genetically modified crops are hardier, more resistant to pesticides and produce more product in less space. Through review of the gene-modifying process, the government says, it decides if they are safe for human consumption.

So ask yourself: Why then is it necessary in the first place for a food giant to want protection from having to prove its “safe” food is safe?

Correct answer: Money. It costs a lot to pay lawyers to defend you in court. Even mega-rich companies like Monsanto try to avoid court costs. Also, any doubts raised about the safety of a food product — cereal, bread, beef — is bound to hurt sales. More money.

This has far more to do with Monsanto’s bottom line than homeland security. And the fact that nobody can be 100 percent sure the genetically modified organisms are, in the long run, safe.

Now, a lot of apparently intelligent people say publicly that the GMOs are indeed safe for us to eat. I don’t discount this out of hand. As I said, this is about letting us, not some high-priced lobbyist, decide what food we want to eat and what food we’d just as soon avoid. (Obama has also appointed a former Monsanto executive as his food safety adviser.) If GMOs are so safe (may European nations have banned them), then label them and let the president give a personal testimonial on the label if he wants. “Mmm mmm good, says Barack.” Just let me know what I’m eating.

Or drinking.

The other current labeling issue involves milk, which we are told from birth is good, even necessary, for our good health, and aspartame, which, well, let’s say has had some issues.

The dairy industry has asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow it to remove front-of-package labeling on flavored milk products that proclaim “low calorie” or “artificially sweetened.” These milk products, especially chocolate milk, are big with kids, but they are drinking less of it and industry executives think the front labels may scare them off.

Again, money.

Actually, it’s more likely the labels scare off parents who then look at the ingredients and see aspartame has been added for sweetness. Just to be clear — aspartame is already in these products and listed in the ingredients. That will not change. The milk people just want it to be less obvious and to continue to label the products “milk” without any of that annoying added information.

Now, to start with, using artificial sweeteners as an argument for improving the health of children is specious. The sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar (aspartame is 200 times sweeter) that they increase children’s appetite for other sweet foods. And school officials are not keen on kids being targeted this way and not being absolutely clear as to what they are offering in their cafeterias.

A chemical concoction, aspartame (once sold as NutraSweet) has been a controversial product from the start. Still, while being mentioned in connection with many health concerns (including brain cancer), aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption in the United States and more than 100 other countries. For proof, check your diet soda’s ingredients.

The point is, they still call it diet soda or low-cal whatever, meaning you might want to check the ingredients to see what makes it so tasty. Just like you might want to check your milk product. Or not.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as savvy and independent consumers. We also say we revere science and aspire to good health. Yet we rank near the bottom of the world rankings for science students and near the top for obese ones — and health care costs. Maybe we should connect those dots.

Meantime, just give us all the info on the food we get and let us decide for ourselves if we want to eat it.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 03/20/13

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The suburbs of Arivaca, Arizona

By Carrie Jacobson

After about a week of driving and exploring, making my way through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico, I have made it to Tubac, Arizona, where my dad and his wife live.

It has been a fabulous trip, full of discovery and adventure. It’s been something to drive through towns like Pascagoula and Pass Christian, towns whose names I’ve heard forever, but have never seen. Been something to see Spanish moss, the Gulf of Mexico, the George Ohr Museum, and the damage that Hurricane Katrina wrought.

I’ve painted, and driven, and explored. I visited New Iberia, where my favorite fictional character – Dave Robicheaux – lived and hung out. I saw longhorns, donkeys, goats and llamas. I crossed the eternity that is Texas, and was blown around so hard by wind in New Mexico that I had to stop driving… but I got here safe and sound.

Dad is 84, and he’s been painting for maybe 10 years, maybe more. For most of that time, he’s done watercolors, but recently has moved into acrylics.

Until Tuesday, he’d never painted in plein air! So I was thrilled – thrilled! – when he agreed to go out painting with me.

We had a great time bouncing along a terrible road to a teeny town called Arivaca. Dad says it was settled in the 1960s and 1970s by people whose main pursuits were hiding from the law and selling drugs, maybe not in that order.

These days, it’s an eclectic, dusty little town, broken down in places, and kept up in places.

While we didn’t see any drug activity, it did seem that everyone in town smoked cigarettes. Haven’t seen that in a while.

A furniture designer and artist named Peter Saloom (check out his furniture by cicking here) rode by on a bike and stopped to see what we were doing. An awful lot of folks drove by and then sort of turned around and drove by again… I am sure they were wondering just what the HECK we were painting…

Here’s my dad:

Here's my dad and his painting, mid-way.

Ending the Culture of Rape

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The web group Anonymous collected and posted information on the accused Steubenville rapists.

By Bob Gaydos

The culture of rape. Yet another disheartening fact of life hammered into our collective consciousness — and perhaps, conscience — through the collective conversation of social media. This week, the messages came from opposite sides of the planet, separated by light years of history as well as thousands of miles of geography.

To wit: Some people — far too many people — think of rape as an inevitable fact of life, almost a rite of passage, something to be tsked-tsked at, but, ultimately, not serious enough to “ruin” the lives of the rapists and certainly something over which the victim has some control.

From India, where the culture of rape is apparently well-known and a tradition of long standing and where many citizens are still angry over efforts to cover up a recent fatal gang rape, comes the story of a Swiss tourist who was the victim of another gang rape. The local police chief said she and her husband should have known better than to camp where they did, seeing as his county is apparently the gang rape capital of India. A couple of days later, a British tourist leaped from the third-floor balcony of her hotel room to escape the hotel manager trying to assault her. She suffered two broken legs and head injuries. It was in a different county.

From Steubenville, Ohio, where high school football is apparently the only game and claim to fame in the town, comes the story of two star high school football players who raped a teen-ages girl, bragged about it in sickening detail on Twitter, and almost got away with it because a football coach and a lot of other local residents apparently valued high school football success over the rights of a female not to have her body violently invaded against her will.

The Steubenville case came to light because of persistent efforts by the web group Anonymous, which gathered information on the attack and posted it on the internet, and the heroic efforts of a local blogger who risked her own life in collecting and posting the Twitter accounts and demanding arrests. The victim was called a “slut” in posts commenting on the local blogger’s reports.

Unfortunately, when the two athletes finally came to trial and were convicted, major electronic media perpetuated the culture of rape by focusing on the way in which the two young men’s lives were “ruined“ by their raping someone and ignoring any possible impact the rape may have had on the victim. Fox News went so far as to name the victim, a departure from traditional news media treatment of rape victims. The attackers were convicted as juveniles and could be free in a couple of years, but they will be listed as sex offenders, which is what they are.

I have no desire to rehash the details of these cases, all well-covered, as I said, on the Internet. Suffice to say, Facebook is awash in posts on the Steubenville case and the Ohio attorney general is talking about an investigation of the attempted coverup of the assault. The world is watching.

In response to widespread disgust and embarrassment across the country, the Indian parliament has passed a law expanding the penalties for repeat rape offenders to life in prison or even death and imposing harsher penalties on stalking. More likely to have an impact, several countries, Britain and Switzerland among them, have issued warnings to citizens about traveling to India — not safe for females because of sexually motivated assaults. With billions in tourism dollars potentially at stake, even the most insensitive, clueless politician has to pay attention.

But as far as I’m concerned Steubenville and India deserve whatever negative effects they suffer from the rape cases for allowing the culture of rape to comfortably exist within their borders. Unfortunately, they are not alone. This attitude of semi-acceptance of men sexually harassing and assaulting women has prevailed on the planet for centuries. Again, the Internet, especially social media, may, slowly, be driving a change in attitude.

Among the reasons for some optimism in this regard is the effort of Breakthrough, an international human rights group, which is seeking to obtain concrete promises from 1 million men to end discrimination and sexual assault against women. The group wants to alter the impression given to boys that it is acceptable to objectify, dehumanize and violate women. As one male supporter of the effort put it: We should raise boys to be men, rather than raising them to not be women or gay.

There’s more. As news of these attacks spread on social media, so did reports of other rapes and the way in which they were being treated by police authorities and news media. Sensing a greater awareness and, more significantly, a willingness to talk about rape, women’s rights groups have begun an effort to change the way the conversation is focused. They want to look at how the attackers are dealt with. What messages are being sent to young boys?

Other positive signs? In Congress, despite the incomprehensible efforts of Republicans to defeat it, the Violence Against Women Act was renewed and signed into law by President Obama. In London, a huge crowd joined the One Billion Rising campaign in front or Parliament to protest violence against women. Even in Egypt, where sexual harassment and sexual attacks against women have been commonplace since its revolution, groups are rising up to protest the culture of rape.

These efforts will gain worldwide support through the Internet, but will inevitably face strong opposition from the existing male power structure, many of whose members look upon it as a matter of superiority — men being the superior ones and women being vessels for invasion and reproduction. Just recall the inane comments made about rape by some male Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate last year. (They all lost, another positive sign.)

Of course, any attempt to change the focus of the discussion of rape from the victim to the attackers will require men and women to agree on changes in arrest and prosecution of sexual assaults so that more women feel free to report the crimes. (Some reports say that only three out of every 100 men accused of rape in this country spend any time behind bars.) It will require a willingness for both sexes to talk honestly about the issue. And it will require a recognition that the existence of a culture of rape within any community — be it Steubenville, Ohio, or India — is an assault on the psyche of the community itself and must be exorcised for the well-being of all.

Let the effort begin.



The Iraq War’s Legacy of Lies and Alibis

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

In October 2003, my husband, Lance, and I made the trek to Washington, D.C., to participate in our first of several demonstrations against the Iraq War. Photos by Lance Theroux.

By Emily Theroux

Snippets of revisionist Iraq War lore have been popping up all over the Interwebs this week.

One long, dreadful decade since the neocons bamboozled a clueless “Commander-in-Thief” into launching America’s first preemptive war, apologists for the March 2003 invasion are offering every imaginable excuse but the real reason, the one none of them will ever admit: Dick Cheney and company lusted after the oil.

Like a pocketful of bad pennies, the architects of what was arguably the worst foreign-policy blunder in the past century are turning up again to tarnish history with their appalling mendacity. It’s a wonder none of them has been forced to spout his damned lies from a federal prison cell.

Read on for a rogue’s gallery of historic reprises, rewrites, and redactions:


Cheney’s chain of fools and tools

To hear the most manipulative veep in recent memory tell it, Dick Cheney was the hammer and Incurious George the hapless nail. In the recently released Showtime documentary, The World According to Dick Cheney, Bush 43’s overbearing “second fiddle” admits that he virtually occupied the office of his boss from the inside. When tasked with vetting possible vice-presidential candidates for Bush, Cheney set the bar impossibly high for everyone else and then appointed himself to the job, since nobody else measured up, in his estimation. Dubya bought it because Cheney carped endlessly about the danger of “ambitious” veeps, then convinced Bush that only he would be sufficiently unassuming.

Poor George. He never knew what hit him “upside the head.” As for Dickie-boy, this frighteningly unexamined individual claims to have no regrets about usurping the power of the presidency:

“I did what I did. It’s all on the public record, and I feel very good about it. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.”


Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Rummy!

Donald Rumsfeld infuriated the Twittersphere yesterday afternoon with the following self-serving recommendation:

“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”

Never mind those pesky WMDs  — you know, the “smoking gun” that might come in the form of Condy’s infamous “mushroom cloud” — which Rumsfeld insisted (and later denied ever having insisted) would be found expeditiously in the vicinity of Tikrit and Baghdad. “Liberating” several gazillion Kurds and Shiites was what all those nefarious neocons really meant to say, before they inexplicably “misspoke.”)

Far from anything resembling the homage Rummy expected to result from his 10th-anniversary tweet, George W. Bush’s original defense secretary found himself carpet-bombed by a Twitstorm of revulsion and abuse. “Except you & your bosses, you blood-gargling psychopath,” comedian Rob Delaney fired back (a retort that’s been retweeted 780 times so far). “War criminal,” numerous others responded.

“You horrible, delusional person,” tweeted a guy from Philly. “You’ll get yours.”


Dispensing Perles of ‘wisdom’

On National Public Radio, the Prince of Darkness himself, Richard Perle, dismissed the host’s query about whether, after causing the deaths of nearly 4,500 American soldiers and tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Iraqis, the war was “worth it”:

“I’ve got to say, I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t, a decade later, go back and say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t have done that.”

In the aftermath of what most Americans consider a terrible mistake, I’d like to know why not. Relative centrists like Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton may have been cowed into vocally supporting neocon claims that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and voting in favor of authorizing the war, but many on the left weren’t fooled by Bush administration bombast, exaggeration, and fear-mongering. We may not have known yet that the Niger yellowcake claim was a deliberate scam, but we knew when we were being fed a crock of “cakewalk.”

The problem, back in 2002 when Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld were actively fomenting their longtime plan to topple Saddam Hussein (which predated Bush 43’s presidency): Congress had been seized by a wave of jingoistic fervor after the terrible events of 9/11. Anyone facing an election lived in fear of even appearing seditious. Hence, the spectacle of Democratic stalwarts falling in line behind right-leaning Republicans to approve the “USA PATRIOT Act” (a “backronym,” I am informed by Wikipedia, which stands for the “Uniting [and] Strengthening America [by] Providing Appropriate Tools Required [to] Intercept [and] Obstruct Terrorism Act” of 2001)  — not to mention disparaging “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” (the perfidious French, a la Groundskeeper Willie of The Simpsons), and spurning America’s favorite fast-food snack as “freedom fries.”

Perle was reportedly a fount of misinformation, stating days after 9/11 that Saddam had ties to Osama bin Laden, claiming that war with Iraq would be “easy” and that Iraq could finance its own reconstruction, and insisting that Saddam was “working feverishly to acquire nuclear weapons.”


Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolfy?

Paul Wolfowitz, Rummy’s comb-licking right-hand man, actually admitted, during an interview with The Sunday Times, that the U.S. bungled the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (which he was the first neocon to advocate), by purging the ruling Ba’athists and installing an American “viceroy” at the helm of an ill-advised occupation. (Disbanding the fully armed Iraqi army, I might add if anyone asked my opinion, was at least a comparable blunder.)

Wolfowitz, of course, was absolutely indignant that anyone would dare call Bush 43 a liar. The “conclusion” that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, he averred, was “the consensus judgment of the intelligence community” and of most Democratic senators.  “Hillary Clinton certainly was one of them,” said Wolfowitz, who obliquely added:

“The falsehood that the president lied, which by the way is itself a lie, is so much worse than saying we were wrong. A mistake is one thing, a lie is something else.”

Come again, Wolfy? What was it that Rummy said about “unknowable unknowns” — or was it “lies and the lying liars who tell them,” as a certain current Senate Democrat once put it?

Peg that one for the Department of Redundancy Department.

GOP Comes Up Short

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

There is something laughable in the breast beating and soul searching of the Republican Party as it tries to figure out how to remain opposed to immigration while trying to persuade Latinos that it loves them, wants them and welcomes them.

Following President Obama’s reelection, the GOP has backed itself into many corners. There was immigration. Then came the matter of what women should or should not be allowed to do with their own bodies. The Republicans want lots more young people to join their ranks, but many younger people, according to most polls, are pro-choice. Still, the Tea Drinkers who have taken over the party are pro-life and unwilling to give an inch.

This is what caused Jeb Bush to declare, in a moment of self-examination at the recently concluded Conservative Political Action Conference: “All too often we’re associated with being ‘anti’ everything. Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.” The response was tepid.

Modern day Republicans – with their birther madness, their eagerness to scrap the Voting Rights Act, their refusal to recognize the equality of their gay and straight members – remind me of the way Groucho Marx sang about the character he played in the movie “Horse Feathers” 81 years ago:

“I don’t know what they have to say./ It makes no difference anyway./Whatever it is, I’m against it./No matter what it is or who commenced it,/I’m against it.”

The Republicans want to freshen their image? If the response to Bush was lukewarm, the keynote speaker got a standing ovation when he declared in classic demagoguery, “We saw every single Republican in the Senate vote unanimously to defund Obamacare. Every Democrat voted together to maintain Obamacare funding, even if it pushes us into a recession [emphasis added].”

The speaker was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. If the Republicans are looking to clean up their image, they’re going to have trouble with people like Cruz and the former one-term House member Allen West of Florida. Both have shown themselves to be the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy.

In 1950, McCarthy went from Senate back bencher to overnight sensation when he held up a piece of paper at a speaking engagement in West Virginia and declared that he had a list of 205 State Department employees who were communists.

In his book “Proofiness,” Charles Seife posits that allegations take on important believability when preceded by a number – McCarthy remained unknown the first time he alleged there were communists working at the State Department. But he started to be taken seriously when he said there were “205” communists at State. What apparently escaped notice 63 years ago was the fact that not long after, McCarthy said his list of subversives bore the names of 207 [sic] people at the State. The very next day he wrote to President Truman to complain that little was being done about those 57 [sic] security risks. Later, Seife reports, the number rose to 81[sic].

In fine McCarthy fashion three years ago, Ted Cruz charged that there were 12 communists on the Harvard Law School faculty. He didn’t name them. More recently, when Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense ran into a GOP roadblock, Cruz came close to questioning Hagel’s loyalty.

Before Cruz there was Allen West of Florida – elected in 2010 with 54.3 percent of the vote and defeated in 2012 with 49.6 percent. In that one term, West told a gathering in Florida that he had “heard” there were about 80 communists serving in the House of Representatives. And wouldn’t you know it, all 80 were Democrats.

West also said: “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine.”

If the GOP has any hope of becoming a majority party it needs to disassociate itself its own demagogues and hate mongers.

Hope: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Valerie Harper ... living each day to the fullest

By Bob Gaydos

I’m standing at the corner of hope and no hope, wondering how people who grow up in the same country wind up on opposite sides of the street.

Let’s start with the no-hope crowd so that I can end on a positive note. The Conservative Political Action Caucus is holding its annual convention this week. The overriding question is: Does it really matter anymore? CPAC used to be the heart and soul of the Republican Party, conservative to the core. Today, CPAC is adamantly conservative to a fault and, in truth, as a party, Republicans have become heartless and bereft of any apparent soul. That may sound harsh, but there hasn’t been a single “moderate” Republican to step up and challenge the view for several years.

Quite simply, hope cannot exist in an atmosphere of anger, hatred, bigotry, religious extremism and plain stupidity that characterizes what passes for the GOP today and which has its origins in the increasingly ultra-restrictive membership of CPAC. The big tent that some Republicans used to like to talk about today is miniscule. It has no room for immigrants, blacks, Latinos, gays, the poor, the young, the middle class or women who insist on being equal citizens. Or of any disagreement with it.

That formula cost Republicans the presidency the last two elections. Does CPAC get it? Apparently not. It’s not even certain that CPAC cares. The speaker’s list for this year’s convention includes prominent and generous time slots for such as Sarah (the irrelevant) Palin, Donald (still waiting for the president’s birth certificate) Trump and former Florida congressman. Alan (hopelessly out-to-lunch) West.

It does not include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, widely regarded (by those outside of CPAC) as a potential presidential candidate in 2016. He made the apparently unforgivable mistake of thanking President Obama for federal aid in helping New Jersey recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Vetoing a marriage equality bill was apparently not enough to restore Christie’s conservative credentials, at least not for CPAC.

Gay Republican groups are barred from official CPAC proceedings, but not members who routinely spout anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant rhetoric. Florida Sen. Mark Rubio, the Great Latino hope of the GOP, gets but a token platform appearance. Thoroughly confusing the issues, more mainstream Republicans such as the failed presidential candidate, Mitt Romney and the next-in-line Bush, former Florida governor, Jeb, are invited, to the chagrin of many CPAC members.

Out of this hodgepodge of negativity, hostility and failure, it is expected that libertarian Republican Sen. Rand Paul will emerge as the winner of CPAC’s straw presidential poll. He will see it as vindication of libertarianism, which it is not. CPAC will probably view it as an anomaly. The thinking public will, one hopes, see it for what it is — the death knell of a once proud, but now hopeless, political party.

Which brings me to Valerie Harper, and hope.

Valerie Harper, the wisecracking Rhoda on the popular “Mary Tyler Moore Show” on TV, is dying. She has a rare type of terminal brain cancer. Her time is limited, her prognosis poor. Her spirit is indomitable and full of positive messages about living life.

Harper, 73, says she is not sitting home on the couch feeling sorry for herself. She is on a book tour, talking about the wonderful life she has lived, cognizant of the fact that, whatever pain and horrible things may lie ahead, “they’re ahead. They’re not now.”

“Keep your chin up and don’t go to the funeral, mine, or yours or your loved ones, until the day of the funeral, because then you miss the life you have left,” Harper says. The actress, who has also battled lung cancer, may have three months to live, she says, but her focus is on enjoying each day as it comes along, with gratitude for the days she has had. And, she also says she feels she has a “responsibility” to raise awareness for early testing for cancer.

So, with death staring her in the face, Valerie Harper chooses to focus on life, on being a useful, positive member of society. She wants to help people, to build a better community.

Meanwhile, with everything possible in this wonderful country of ours to live for and the potential to do something about improving our collective lot, the members of CPAC, who control the destiny of the Republican Party, choose to focus on who they don’t like, what they don’t want, what they can’t and won’t accept, what they refuse to believe. They see no future for things as they are so they seem intent on destroying what can be, if for no other reason than spite. I can see no hope for such people or their ideas.

For Valerie Harper, though, I feel an abiding love and gratitude christened with tears. She gives me hope.



All Aboard the Fancy Feast Express!

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

'Signed Off' / Illustration by Lance Theroux

By Emily Theroux

Back in the ’80s, my irreverent sister Ann (not a millennial “hipster” but the genuine article) was fond of cracking, whenever either of us came up with a questionable idea, “Let’s not and say we did.” Long before the advent of air quotes and Facebook friending, our favorite throwaway line (which apparently originated as far back as the 1920s) was a pre-“Interwebs” verbal meme.

More often than not, we did all kinds of inadvisable things — and said we didn’t. But we were young and relatively carefree then; life, or what remains of it, has grown a great deal grimmer and more complicated since those heady days.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, my husband’s newspaper job (and, if the virtual writing on the wall proves accurate, a 40-year career in journalism) succumbed to the industry demon: budget cutbacks intended to keep a dying institution — the printed page — from fluttering away on the downdraft of technological progress. The ax fell just six years before Lance’s expected retirement. As bad luck would have it, his layoff occurred a week before congressional Republicans refused to stop the idiocy of deliberate fiscal “sequestration” and two cruel weeks before a positive jobs report hailed a .2 percent drop in the unemployment rate.

We joked, gallows-style, that the “Boehnerquester” arrived a week early in our household, where one of us (that would be me) is already on disability. Both of us are adult orphans with no prospect of any eventual inheritance. In these desperate times, the job market is virtually nonexistent for a 59-year-old unemployed newspaper artist — even one who has earned a slew of national and regional awards from three states and the District of Columbia, in categories ranging from design and illustration to news presentation and graphics.

Terrified yet absurdly hopeful, less than a month out, is probably an accurate appraisal of our current outlook. It’s almost spring. With no commute, we’ve been saving a small fortune on gasoline. We’re literally running on fumes and nervous energy.

I have absolute confidence in Lance’s skills, his talent, his courage and resourcefulness and tenacity, and even (for reasons I can’t explain even to myself) his prospects for a future no one can yet predict.

* * *

We’re not the only ones to find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.

Since the sequester went into effect on March 1, official Washington has once again descended into “grand bargain” fever. This inexplicable fetish for diminishing the social safety net — provided for decades by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, as well as food stamps, education aid, disability, unemployment, and veterans’ benefits — has long been exalted by Beltway pols and pundits. Now, even President Obama appears poised to break his campaign promise not to sacrifice vital social programs on the altar of “discretionary spending cuts” — the deceitful repackaging of lopsided supply-side dogma as “bipartisan compromise.”

If the sequester furloughs proceed, if the wrongheaded “chained CPI” index impoverishes older seniors whose savings have run out by tampering with the formula for Social Security’s cost-of-living increase, can Paul Ryan’s perennial austerity budget be far behind? Apparently not, as long as Ryan can hustle recent fiscal-cliff “tax hikes” on gazillionaires (along with the same $716 billion Medicare cut that the failed veep candidate brandished against Obama last fall) into something everyone agrees is not going to happen — an “Obamacare” repeal that would preserve the $1 trillion the law is slated to raise in tax revenues!

Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Stromberg’s recent take on the Ryan budget retread — uncharitably titled “Paul Ryan To Change Medicare for Boomers Over 55? Good.” — bristles with intergenerational hostility. (Overcome with curiosity, I Googled Stromberg’s photograph. As I suspected, he looked as though he started shaving last year and rarely trusts anyone over 49.)

Ryan’s budget “upgrade” could include “structural changes for boomers as old as 58,” warned Stromberg. Thank God, my husband and I have both lived long enough to dodge that bullet. But hi-ho, Steverino: You’re going to be an old fart, too, some day. It creeps up on the best of us, much faster than you could possibly imagine. Life, as Thomas Hobbes said in 1651, is nasty, brutish, and short. Rich or poor, upwardly mobile or in sudden harrowing freefall, most of us will likely make it to 65, with or without a safety net. After that, there’s only one exit, though many ways of reaching it.

Nothing — not all of David Koch’s billions or the gold-plated ripcord of his reserve parachute — can slow the inevitable human collision at the bitter end with implacable earth.

* * *

The koi pond in March 2009 / Photo by Lance Theroux

Once our pond thaws and the koi surface to feed, I imagine we’ll go back, Lance and I, to fanning out The New York Times, section by section, on the big glass-topped table on our deck — at least as long as we have a deck to spread it out on. Hot coffee, a mechanical pencil with a decent eraser, the Times crossword puzzle, and ink-smudged fingertips are all the religion I’ve ever needed on a Sunday morning.

The actual physical paper is still good for a great deal more than lining birdcages, clipping grocery coupons, or wrapping fish. But if our headlong hurtle out of the middle class hits bottom and we lose the house, I can always pack my grandmother’s bone-china teacups in crumpled wads of newsprint when the time comes to ship the family heirlooms to my younger sister, Beth. (Ann, two years my junior, is already gone. Like our father, she died tragically before the age of 60.)

Born when I was almost 13, during the Baby Boom’s penultimate year, Beth long ago relocated to the West Coast to practice family medicine in underserved communities, working for thankless wages yet undoubtedly reaping enormous spiritual dividends. Right up there with Pacific Coast Highway wildfires, earthquakes, and mudslides, my baby sister has survived a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and endured a subsequent residency in neurology, undertaken in her late forties so she could better treat MS patients and research the disease.

Should Beth go without Medicare benefits, if she lives so long that she becomes sick enough to need them? I don’t think so, Mr. Stromberg.

We Don’t Eat Horses, Do We?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Mustangs running free ... for how long?

By Bob Gaydos

Let’s talk about horse meat.

What’s that? You don’t want to talk about horse meat? Fine. Then I’ll talk and you listen. Please.

I’m talking about horse meat because, as some of you may have heard, there is a horse meat scandal engulfing Europe. It started with horse meat showing up in what were supposedly beef burgers in England and Ireland. It has subsequently shown up in packaged lasagna in Italy and in Swedish meatballs marketed by Ikea, which I, probably like you, thought was just a furniture company. Ikea quickly pulled all its meatballs off the market in Europe and Southeast Asia, even though the horse meat was detected only in a couple of samples in Czechoslovakia. There’s a good name to protect and Ikea customers were buying what they thought was ground beef, not horse meat. A smart business move. Some packaged meat products were also found to contain horse meat. Calls for more testing are spreading across the continent.

Let’s be clear. This is not a safety issue. Well, not primarily — some drugs given to horses can be dangerous, especially for unknowing consumers. Horse meat is a regular part of the diet in some countries, France and Khazakhstan, for example, where history has set precedence for eating horse meat. But a lot of people prefer not to eat horse meat for moral, personal reasons and purposely mislabeling beef products that contain horse meat (which is cheaper to produce because of fewer controls) is not just criminal, it is, in a very real sense, immoral.

So what? you say. Americans don’t eat horse meat and don’t slaughter horses. Supposedly no horse meat is imported into this country. Do I have to worry about horse meat showing up in Big Macs or tacos? (Probably not.) Then it’s not our problem, right?

Not so fast. The world economy is simply too inter-related for such an easy (typically American) dismissal — not our problem; move on. Mainstream American media news stories that finally caught up with the story, which broke in January, detailed Europe’s horse meat situation and went so far, geographically speaking, as mentioning meat suppliers in Mexico, but no farther.

But it turns out that there is a very real possibility that some of the horse meat being shipped out of Mexico — and Canada — includes horses bought from American businesses legally prohibited from selling to horse slaughterers and, furthermore, includes wild horses, protected presumably forever by federal law to roam free on federal land, perhaps to be adopted by caring humans and to die in peace. Not in a slaughterhouse.

Americans by and large don’t eat horse meat (polls show some 80 percent oppose slaughtering horses). Horse meat used to show up in pet food, but the animal decades ago passed into that special category we reserve for dogs and cats. Americans don’t eat animals who are pets, companions, participants in sports or, indeed, partners in war, all of which the horse has been in America. Spike is a companion; Secretariat was a champion.

This is not a matter of taste, but respect, even love, for fellow inhabitants of this planet. Americans do not raise horses for their meat and we recognize the rightness, if not the “right” of some 35,000 wild mustangs (the number once was in the millions) to run free on millions of acres of federal land in the West.

At least most of us do. Again, we’re talking ethics and morals here, not personal tastes in meat products. A law protecting horses from slaughter expired in 2011, but Congress in 2005 refused to fund inspections for horse slaughterhouses and, without inspections, you can’t operate a slaughterhouse in this country.

That situation has held until today. But there is an effort in New Mexico to authorize a horse slaughterhouse and Oklahoma is also debating whether to legalize the slaughter of horses. And the federal Bureau of Land Management has been under attack by advocacy groups for failing to protect the mustangs from what are said to be abusive, unnecessary efforts to cull herds through helicopter-driven roundups, for putting some 45,000 in “holding corrals” and for allegedly allowing thousands of them to be sold for slaughter in Mexico and Canada, to be shipped worldwide.

Ken Salazar recently resigned as Secretary of the Interior, admitting that the wild horses management issue was the toughest one he had faced. The wild horse advocacy groups counter that he never really faced the issue, being a former rancher who dealt with companies that sold horses to Mexican slaughterhouses. His would-be successor, Sally Jewell, is being pressured by horse advocacy groups to explain her positions on issues affecting wild horses, who must routinely battle energy companies and ranchers and farmers, whose livestock far outnumber the mustangs, for use of public lands.

While the issue has some currency, I suspect it will pass quietly from the American landscape, unless some horse meat is detected in a package of Swanson’s frozen meat loaf. Then, all hell will break loose and people will demand to know how that happened. How did they get horses to slaughter? Where were the inspectors? What do you mean these were wild horses? Didn’t Congress protect them in 1971, calling them “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”? Didn’t that mean for life? Who’s protecting the horses?

Because, you see, Americans don’t eat horse meat.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 3/6/13 (and more)

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
Oil on canvas, 18×18
not for sale

Around Christmas, my friend Ronet Noe, who is a fabulous painter and a delightful person, gave me a painting that I gave to our daughter as a Christmas present. Erika, said daughter, had fallen in love with the painting at the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival. Ronet wanted a portrait of her dog, Roy. So we traded, one for one.

Roy was one of the paintings I was determined to finish before leaving on my painting trip to Tubac – and so here he is! I really love this painting, and as so often happens to me while I am painting a dog, I lost my heart a little bit to Roy.


SPEAKING OF DOGS, I was accepted again this year into Paws for Charity, the fabulous pet-art-book project by Sara Harley. Sara says that there are 90 participants this year! You can check the project out at, and also on Facebook at

The books are not out yet, but I encourage you to buy one when they do come out. They’re not cheap, but they are beautiful, and all the money raised goes to help a shelter in Canada. The artists get no money, Sara gets no money – but the animals do, and that’s why I do it. (Also, it’s great to see my paintings in a book!)

Here’s a copy of my page:

I am well on my way to being prepared to leave on Saturday on my painting trip to Tubac, AZ. I am thrilled and thankful to have 20 sponsors – and quite the painting challenge!
I’ll be driving out along the coasts of North and South Carolina, across Florida and Alabama, then into Louisiana, going through Houma and New Iberia. If any of you are familiar with the books of James Lee Burke, you’ll know that his great character Dave Robicheaux lives in New Iberia, so I am particularly thrilled to be headed there!
Here’s a photo of the van, with the beginning of shelving and internal structures for storing stuff and hanging wet paintings:
and here’s a photo of my happy helper: