Monday, July 30, 2007

Where is the Praise for Hillary Clinton Being a Good Mother?

The British paper, The Observer, had an article Sunday on the current rash of bad girl behavior in Hollywood, calling this "a huge gender shift." "There is simply no male star in America who can compete with the hard-partying and jail-hopping activities of the young women who now dominate US tabloid press and cable television," says the Observer. "It is all women, all the time." The writer mentions Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and Britney Spears. It mentions a few recent male stars behaving badly--Mel Gibson, David Hasselhoff--but concludes these are boys, but older, middle-aged men.

But is this really a significant shift?

Then what do we make of today's New York Times article about the stellar Chelsea Clinton who is always poised, always in control, always setting a good example: a complete opposite to this generational example set by Lohan, Hilton et al. No where in the article, which is a front page news story after all, is there any praise for Hillary Clinton for being an excellent mother. Here is a young woman who has turned out remarkably well given the unusual and public upbringing she has had: having to be aware of her father's affair with Monica Lewinsky, having her image used as proof that she was holding her parents' marriage together.

A recent New York Times article "Sometimes a Mother Can Do No Right," focused on how it's Lindsay Lohan's mother, a single mother of four, who is targeted as the cause of Lindsay's bad behavior, same in the case of Britney Spears. (Though in Paris Hilton's case, she is rich, and hers is a case of being spoiled by both parents, not brought up badly by a middle-class or poor parent.)

In the article, Susan J. Douglas, author of "The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women," said, "We have a long history in this culture of mother blame." "Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers, said Professor Douglas. “We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well,” Professor Douglas said.

“It’s supposed to be a mother’s job to train her daughter into how to domesticate her various desires,” [Douglas] said. “If we see a young woman who hasn’t done that, the mother has failed her tutorial.”

So if a mother who is a public figure has done a great job, as it seems in the case of Hillary Clinton, then shouldn't she be praised, the flip side of that virgin-whore dichotomy? Chelsea definitely seems to have "domesticated" her "desires." So where's the praise for Hillary Clinton being a great mother?

We're not going to see any praise, or a detailed comparison or examination of the candidates' children, because the media does not judge a male politician by his children in the same way that it judges a woman. The media does not care to examine how the child turns out in order to infer whether the male politician was a good father or not, because as a society we have lower standards for how responsible a father is for a child's day-to-day care. So it's merely enough that the man has 2.5 children and a loyal wife at his side, their mere existence is proof that he is a good enough father, it doesn't matter whether that child has turned into a productive, independent, functioning adult.

Chelsea is smart; at a young age she knew that, as the New York Times article mentions, she should always have her makeup on, always be ready to make a public appearance, because if she ever acts badly, the media will be all over her, ready to indict Hillary for being a "bad mother." In other words, Chelsea is well-aware of the virgin-whore dichotomy by which mothers are judged, and daughters, too. And she is a good daughter.

My article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune

Here is my article, "THE MARIE ANTOINETTE SYNDROME, Blame it on the beauty, and sex," which appeared yesterday in Sunday's Chicago Tribune, in the Perspectives section, in which I argue that Barbara Amiel Black (Conrad Black's wife) is but the latest in a line of highly visible women, who are the wives of husbands accused of abusing their power, who are turned into scapegoats by the media (and the courts). Think Hillary Clinton as First Lady, Imelda Marcos, Leona Helmsley, whom I mention in the piece.

(Actually, I just thought of another woman, one who was actually exonerated though many believe she was entirely innocent: Ethel Rosenberg, but the media's criticism of her was different than that of these other women. I don't think she was criticized for overspending and extravagance; she was not well-off, but like these other women, she was called an "unnatural" woman, a "bad mother".)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Analyzing Clinton's Cleavage Isn't Exactly Fashion Advice

Last Sunday I blogged about an article in the Washington Post which analyzed the supposed fashion faux pas of Hillary Clinton showing her cleavage in a v-neck top on CSPAN-2. I also mentioned that another writer has referred to the wives of Republican candidates showing their cleavage. Today's Newsday has an op-ed, which earlier ran in the Washington Post, that critiques the Post article on Hillary's cleavage; the CNN web site also has a piece on how the Hillary Clinton campaign is using this same piece to drum up support.

The writer of the Newsday piece, Ruth Marcus, writes: "Might I suggest that sometimes a V-neck top is only a V-neck top? As a person of cleavage, I'd guess that Clinton's low-cut shirt simply reflected a few centimeters of sartorial miscalculation, not a deliberate fashion statement." But she thinks there is an "upside" to the attention Hillary gets for being a woman, namely, the extra attention. Clinton's self-created video at the YouTube debate ended with these words: ""Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman." Marcus calls this, namely Clinton's gender, a "selling point;" she writes, "even if she has to put up with more than her share of fashion advice along the way."

But is talking about cleavage really akin to "fashion advice" or something different?

The CNN piece ends with a similar positive tone, suggesting that the physical appearance of the male candidates is also analyzed by the media so focusing on Hillary's cleavage is nothing unique, and not so detrimental to her. The article ends: "But Clinton isn’t the only presidential candidate whose appearance has undergone scrutiny. Edwards’s pricey haircuts, Obama’s frequently ‘open collar’, Arizona Sen. John McCain’s V-neck sweaters, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s expensive make-up jobs have all been the subject of past media attention."

But really, there is a difference between writing about Clinton's cleavage, and writing about the fashion choices of the other candidates; one is focused on the physical body, and sexuality, the other on clothing. Hillary's detractors often negatively mention parts of Hillary's body, her thighs, or legs, for example; to my knowledge, no one has ever critiqued the bodies of the male candidates.

This isn't actually new. Does anyone remember the February 1993 cover of Spy magazine, from the time of the Bill Clinton inaugural, which featured a photoshopped image of a smiling Hillary's face on a "dominatrix's" body, a woman wearing a shiny black bra, a studded wrist collar and fishnet stockings, with a full view of her major cleavage? I doubt we'd ever see the equivalent images of any of the male candidates, photoshopped or not.

Come to think of it, even the Obama Girl videos, two to date, feature more of the naked bodies of the "Girl" than of the candidate she supposedly lusts after (there is that one shot of Obama's naked chest as he frolics in the surf). And, of course, that Hott4Hill video makes Hillary the lesbian target of the singer's affections.

To bring up Marie Antoinette again (see my post last week, and my article coming out in this Sunday's Chicago Tribune), the French Queen's critics did the same thing to her in their pamphlets: sexualize her body and at the same time, accuse her of being a lesbian. Anything to tamp down on her power.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quick 'Gender' Take on YouTube Debate

Hillary Clinton was directly (directly, in that the questions were aimed only at her) asked three questions tonight that forced her defend her identity, things that are unchangeable about herself, namely 1) her gender and 2) that she is a Clinton, which is also about gender, in that the YouTube questioner was indicting her for being the wife to Bill Clinton, assuming that she would bring to the table the same elements as her husband, just because they are married. She answered all three questions calmly and with dignity and forthrightness. But perhaps being put on the defensive prevented her from loosening up.

One gender question Hillary had to answer was whether Muslim countries would take her seriously as a woman, the inherent implication the YouTube speaker was making was that she would not be taken seriously, so how dare she run for President. He had a snide, gotcha tone to his question. Hillary answered the question with aplomb, talking about her experience as First Lady and Senator meeting with the leaders of 82 countries, and saying, "I believe there is no doubt in anyone's mind that I can be taken seriously."

The other question that centered on her being a woman asked her to react to Elizabeth Edwards comment last week that her husband would be a better supporter of women's issues than Hillary. She answered, "I've spent my entire life advocating for women. . . ." (How strange that Elizabeth Edwards decided to bring in the element of a catfight into this race; why did she have to go after Hillary Clinton as not being a good supporter of women--it's a ridiculous, unnecessary attack. She didn't say Edwards would be a better supporter of women's right than the other candidates, she focused on Hillary because she is a frontrunner, and because she is a fellow woman so she could attack her.) Yet Hillary Clinton handled these questions well, never getting angry and riled up, unlike some of the male candidates to her right and left. But I think because her very identity was questioned, she was forced to maintain a composed and serious demeanor, a woman "to be taken seriously" as a presidential candidate.

But this was not a woman who seemed to be having fun; she didn't allow herself to let loose and show that side of herself, the side that Susan Faludi wrote about back in 1992 in the New York Times when she argued that what upsets Hillary Clinton's critics in the media "isn't so much that she is independent--but that she enjoys it."

As Faludi wrote [in her 1992 article "The Power Laugh" (this is when Hillary was First Lady)]: "She is doing something her predecessor didn't dare. She's abandoned the earnest, dutiful demeanor. She doesn't bear the grim visage of the stereotypical female policy wonk; she's no Jeanne Kirkpatrick. . . And therein lies her sin: Hillary Clinton is visibly, tangibly having fun. Eleanor Roosevelt loved the public life, but she rarely revealed her exuberance. Before the media, Ms. Clinton throws back her head and laughs, kicks up her heels and breaks into a dance. Wipe that smile off your face, the media instructed Hillary Clinton. . ."

It's difficult to loosen up when these questions from the "common folk" claiming their five minutes of fame show that yes, there are going to be attacks on you for being a woman, that some will not take you as seriously as if you were a man, and, as last week's New York Times poll attested, that some women, ironically, more likely those who are college educated, are going to be jealous of you.

But I'd like to see Hillary Clinton get back that smile and reveal her enjoyment in running for President. She should have cracked a few jokes, like Gov. Richardson and Sen. Biden did towards the end. Then again, there was Kuchinch who wouldn't stop smiling and talking about text messaging for peace, and came across as a grinning Chesire Cat. There must be some happy medium.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Women Columnists Also Write About GOP Cleavage

It's not only Hillary's cleavage that's getting written about. Margery Eagen, a columnist at the Boston Herald, is mentioned in Frank Rich's NYTimes column today for her piece on the "ample and aging" cleavage being displayed by the Republican front-runners' wives. Interesting that these two columns on cleavage are written by women (see my previous post on an article on Hillary Clinton's cleavage); women are each other's harshest critics.

Eagan's column:

"Does the heaving bosom play well among Bible Belt Republicans? Among New Hampshire primary voters?

How else to explain, as debate week begins, the bursting out all over by GOP front-runners’ wives? What’s with this ample - and aging - display of decolletage?
Mrs. John McCain, 52, just gave Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren an at-home tour wearing this tight, bubble-gum-pink wraparound shirt cut to her sternum. Three inches of cleavage. Poor Greta, the consummate professional in blue blazer and yellow button-down, didn’t know where to look.

Meanwhile nearly half the pictures you see of Judy Nathan, aka Mrs. Giuliani, also 52, are very bosomy. Is this supposed to convince those wondering about Rudy - you know, after he bunked with the gay guys post divorce #2 - that he’s not just A Big Hetero but A Big Hetero Who Loves Big Hetero Breasts?

Flashed around the country Thursday was yet another full cleavage shot of Fred Thompson’s child wife looking almost as well-endowed as Alex Rodriguez’s stripper/pole-dancer girlfriend. “That was quite a dress,” said one GOP analyst, breathless.

Perhaps Fred’s wife “Jeri” - yes, with an “i” - helps Fred with AARP, Viagra-ed up men: “You still got it goin’, Fred, you dirty dog.”

Doubt it helps him with women. Let’s face it, we’re all thinking the same thing: Fred’s 64. He’s really drooping. She’s 40, and not. Next to her, he looks 110.

“You wouldn’t see any Bush boobs,” says my GOP guy.

Nor any Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson or Kennedy boobs either. Why should you? Why should any would-be first lady, America’s mother, thrust herself upon a trusting nation?

The only wife of a GOP heavy-hitter who hasn’t practically bared her chest is Ann Romney, the best looking of them all, by the way, though I did once see her in a black leather jacket at a holiday party. Va-va-va-voom.

Happily, we’ve not seen any Democratic skin. Somebody told me Bess Truman once flashed the British ambassador in a darkened corner of the West Wing. I find that extremely hard to believe."

WPost Condemns Hillary for Showing Cleavage "Ambivalently"

A writer for the Washington Post condemns Hillary Clinton in Friday's paper for showing a little cleavage on CSPAN2 while talking on the Senate floor.

Apparently, a little bit of cleavage was visible because she was wearing a V-shaped top underneath her jacket. The writer condemns Hillary Clinton for showing her cleavage too ambivalently, too tentatively, as if the viewer was seeing something Clinton did not intend. The writer compares Hillary's cleavage display to that of a British politician, Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, who, by contrast, "presented [her cleavage] so forthrighly": "If Clinton's was a teasing display, then Smith's was a full-fledged come-on. Smith's fitted jacket and her dramatic necklace combined to draw the eye directly to her bosom. There they were . . . all part of a bold, confident style package."

Wow, the assumptions this writer makes! The conclusions she draws from the fact that a little bit of cleavage was visible while Hillary Clinton spoke about educational reform! Read her last two paragraphs:

"With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed."

"To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d'oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever."

So, apparently, it would have been better if Hillary Clinton had shown more cleavage, then she would not have appeared "ambivalent." Oh, the uphill battle a female politician must climb; how careful must be her sartorial choices that she is judged so even for her appearance on CSPAN2.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Marie Antoinette and Conrad Black Trial

Why is there no male equivalent to the "Marie Antoinette" archetype?

This week Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate about the outcome of the Conrad Black trial. Of course, he spends more ink on Barbara Amiel, Black's wife, than on Black himself. Here's an excerpt:

"Lady Black, the former glamour-puss Barbara Amiel, turns out to be one of these women who are insatiable. Insatiable in the Imelda Marcos way, I mean. Never mind the mammoth tab for her birthday dinner in New York, where it's at least arguable that business was discussed. Never mind the extra wings that had to be built onto her homes just to accommodate the ball gowns and shoes. What about the time she was on a Concorde that stubbornly remained on the tarmac at London airport? Irked at the delay, she telephoned the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, to demand action and—failing to get crisp service from him—announced that she would never fly the airline again. This, in turn, meant the acquisition by Hollinger Securities of a private jet for her. And this, in turn, meant the installation of an extra lavatory on the aforesaid private jet, at a cost of half a million dollars, so that Lady Black wouldn't have to be inconvenienced by the crew members coming down the fuselage to use the existing one.

It's that last touch that promotes her into the ranks once described by the novelist Joyce Cary: the people who utter what he called "tumbrel remarks." A tumbrel remark, as you may have guessed, is the sort of observation made by the uncontrollably rich that is likely to unleash class warfare. Marie Antoinette's advice on cake is the original. Barbara Bush, on the upgraded accommodations for Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome, is a good recent example. Lady Diana Cooper, when approached by a ragged man who said he hadn't eaten for three days, upbraided him roundly and said: "But my dear man, you must try. If necessary, you must force yourself." You get the picture? "You are good enough to fly me, but not good enough to use my loo" is well up in this class. On another celebrated occasion, wishing to consult one of two women who worked for her husband and had similar names, she had one of them summoned to her home and, on discovering that she'd made a mistake, trilled peevishly: "No, you're the wrong one. I want the other one." I want, I want …"

Note that all of Hitchen's examples of people making "tumbrel" remarks are women: Marie Antoinette, Barbara Bush; Lady Diana. Why is that when powerful women have huge desires and demands, women in positions of power and wealth that are able to satisfy those gigantic desires, they are then hated and reviled. And they are often blamed for the downfall of a man that loves them. Is it some aversion to female desire?? Some instinct to keep a limit on it? There is no male equivalent: the wealthy, powerful man who has outrageous material desires is not as offensive to the average psyche: Donald Trump, or any other powerful CEO. Witness this week's New York Times article on Sanford Weill and other very wealthy male CEO's "The Richest of the Rich: Proud of a New Gilded Age," which paints its portraits in rather glowing terms.

Conrad Black himself mentions Marie Antoinette in the reaction to him and his wife:

From the International Herald Tribune, July 16, 2007: "[I]n an interview in 2004, after his ouster from the company, Black said of his wife: "The attempt to portray her as a Marie Antoinette and me as a supine love-struck spouse, like most comment on the subject, is a complete fiction."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sexism Inherent in Firing of Reporter Amy Jacobson

The talk of the town in Chicago is the firing of reporter Amy Jacobson after competitor WBBM-TV aired a video of her appearing in a bikini at the house of the husband of a missing woman in Plainfield, Illinois. The husband, Craig Stebic, is a figure of suspicion in the case of his missing wife, Lisa.

According to Jacobson in an interview with WGN-AM's Spike O'Dell, Craig Stebic's sister, Jill, called her on her day off, and said she had something to talk to her about. Jacobson said that she had been on her way to the swimming pool with her two children, so they were already clad in bathing suits, and she does not have a sitter on her day off. She said she is competitive and hard-working and wanted to take this opportunity to get a scoop. She also said that she rarely gets time to spend with her children, a two and a three year old, so she wanted to take this opportunity to "be a mom" and do her job at the same time. She also knew that other children would be there.

At Stebic's house, Jacobson said, the Channel 2 WBBM-TV people were refused entry earlier, but she was allowed in. She said she is "very good friends" with Lisa Stebic's family and this was a chance to become friendly with the other side of the family. Someone, presumably from WBBM-TV, filmed her without her knowledge.

Largely, the outcry has been against Jacobson for a fault in judgment. Read this article Chicago SunTimes editorial titled "Partying with source rightly sinks TV reporter."

That is an extreme exaggeration to say that Jacobson was "partying". This is unfair. What is behind this hyped up aversion to Jacobson's behavior, and the station's immediate firing of her? Sexism.

First of all, if she hadn't been wearing a bikini, there would have been no outcry, and no firing. As Jacobson said in her interview with O'Dell, the fact she was wearing a bathing suit "put this over the top." If she had been wearing more formal attire, the video would not have attracted such attention, and she would not have lost her job. Instead, the video focuses on her bikini-clad body. In admitting to a lapse in judgment, she is referring to the fact that if she could do this over again, she would have changed her clothes. Yet, the other adults in the video also seem to be wearing bathing suits, and the children are playing outside in the pool. So to fit in, and have her source feel comfortable, she had to have her clothes look the part, too. This isn't unusual. The public doesn't realize to what extent reporters have to cozy up to sources all the time in order to get them to talk, and they don't lose their jobs.

Second, the position Jacobson found herself in, called to duty on her day off, without a sitter for her two children, is a situation that women are more likely to find themselves in than men. The Chicago Sun Times states bluntly in its editorial, ". . . she should have changed into something a little more appropriate and dropped the kids off at home." But what an assumption that is---Jacobson didn't have a sitter. Therefore, it's a situation that men (and men are her superiors at the station) are going to find it difficult to relate to or sympathize with. (The Chicago Sun Times has a separate piece entitled, "Did she step over the line?, Media experts from around the nation weigh in. . .," and only quotes three men, not one woman expert.) Here she was on her day off, and a source called, and she admits she is competitive and hard-driving and wanted to get the story. She said that the previous week she had worked 72 hours and she hadn't spent any time with her children. She wanted to seize the chance to "still be a mom and work a source." What should she have done? Turned down this potential opportunity to get a scoop because it was her day off and she didn't have a sitter? Can't one be sympathetic to her situation? What is indictable about her behavior--that she was wearing a bathing suit? That she brought her children with her? Do these actions merit her being fired? Has she indeed broken explicit rules for reporters? Or is what's bothering people the fact that here is a woman who is too aggressively blending the borders between her maternal role and her professional role, somewhat like blending the archetypes of "virgin" (or "mother") and "whore" that society has traditionally insisted on keeping separate.

At the end of her interview with Spike O'Dell, Jacobson thanks all the families that over the years, while suffering from tragedies, have let her into their homes. She likely took this chance to explicitly thank the families for allowing her into their homes because she wants people to know that this is a common thing for reporters to do, enter people's homes to find out information, to get to know them, blurring the lines between reporter and friend, in order to find out information.

What made this particular act of a reporter entering a source's home attract people's attention, and lead to Jacobson's losing her job, is that on a superficial level it has a sordid side: the video shows Jacobson wearing a bikini and Craig Stebic is shirtless wearing a bathing suit. But ask yourself this question, if Jacobson were a man in this same situation, would the reaction have been different? Jacobson thinks so (as she said in the O'Dell interview) and I agree.

If Jacobson were a man, the video would not have been so potentially lurid, and would not have attracted such attention. On CBS 2's website, CBS 2's Vice President and News Director Carol Fowler explains the reasoning behind initially delaying airing the video: "Once we got this video, it was clear it was provacative [sp], but there were so many questions. For sure we could have thrown it on the air, but it wouldn't have been the right thing to do because there was no context. What was it? Was it newsworthy? We had many, many discussions about that."

She uses the word "provocative." What's provocative? Jacobson's body. The male body is not as sexualized as the female. The video shows Stebic wearing a towel around her lower body, but wearing a bikini top. In fact, she is constantly opening a screen door to talk to her children, to admonish them or tell them something: she's in her maternal role, and trying to be in her professional role, she's trying to juggle these competiting identities as so many women do, both nonsexual roles, and yet the male gaze is looking at her and seeing something sexual, and assuming something lurid is going on, and that is why she was so quickly fired.

Double Standard in D.C. Madam Prosecution?

D.C. Madam Debra Jean Palfrey asks Time Magazine why she is the only one being prosecuted, and not the men who used prostitution services, such as Sen. Vitter. She has a point: if this is a prosecutable crime, then not only the women should be indicted. What is the law saying if prosecutors are only going after Palfrey? Palfrey is not taking this "lying down", (I couldn't resist). She isn't staying quiet and out of the public eye. This week she released on her web site the phone records from her agency that should identify the men who frequented her escort service.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

"Is America ready for a President with a trophy wife?" That's the sexist question a New York Times writer asks about expected Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson in an article today.

Indeed, the writer gives the nod to the fact that "[t]he question may seem sexist, even crass, but (here goes the writer's justification for asking a truly sexist question, drumroll. . .) serious people — as well as Mr. Thompson’s supporters — have been wrestling with the public reaction to Jeri Kehn Thompson, whose youthfulness, permanent tan and bleached blond hair present a contrast to the 64-year-old man who hopes to win the hearts of the conservative core of the Republican party."

Serious people? What does that really mean? Which serious people have been "wrestling" with this 'serious' question other than the esteemed academics that deal with this issue in the article after being asked about it by the reporter.

Up until now, the reporter points out, she has remained out of the limelight, but it's likely that once Thompson announces his candidacy, that she will have to become more public. Remember how the public and the press didn't like how Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean didn't appear by Dean's side enough because she was focused on her medical career?

I wrote an article about the public reaction to Mrs. Dean in January 2004 for the RedEye edition of the Chicago Tribune. I interviewed Amy Caiazza, study director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, who told me, in regards to Mrs. Dean, "We want to know her, to know about him. . . If she is a mystery, then the public will think, 'We don't know about his life,' and will ask,'What does this say about him? Does she not like him? Do they not have a close marriage? People will wonder, 'Why don't we know about his wife?'"

So expect to hear more from Jeri Kehn Thompson--she doesn't really have a choice but to become more vocal. This field of the spouses of presidential candidates is shaping up to be a fascinating pitting together of different types of strong, intelligent women, a study in contrasts looking at how these wives choose to portray themselves in the public eye, and comparing them to the formidable persona of Hillary Clinton, that could tell us a lot about the status of the modern woman in the 21st century.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Why no Presidential Pardon for Martha Stewart or others

It is really ridiculous, the president being able to commute a sentence, isn't it? It shows not only the random unfairness and disparity of federal sentencing, and of whom actually gets sent to prison, but also how there is no such thing as 'blind justice'. What is the point of a jury reaching a decision if a president can then reverse it? Law is messy, and subjective to begin with, but this is ridiculous. Read "Fuzzy Justice Clearly Stinks," by Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page on this issue today, he mentions Martha Stewart and the rapper Lil' Kim. It seems one's politics can predict whether one thinks Bush's action here is acceptable or not (i.e. see David Brooks's column this week in the NYT for the opposite view). But really, isn't it silly that a president can do this, politics aside? What's the point of it? I wonder how the president's ability to commute a sentence of make pardons came about? Anyone know? It would be interesting to see just who has been pardoned or had their sentence reversed by a president.

But really, Martha Stewart didn't do too badly, did she, after serving her four months. And it is those poor souls who are not famous, whose cases are not being written about, that get sent to federal prison for terribly long sentences for relatively minor offenses. And there's no chance they will receive a presidential pardon or sentence commutation.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

No Country of Origin Labels on Produce, Meat, Nuts

With the flurry of recalls of products from China (pet food, seafood, toy trains) there are now articles about how politics has impeded the enacting of country of origin labeling laws that were passed in Congress. The New York Times had this article this week.

In January, I wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune about food imported from China and other countries that bear the USDA organic label. From my research, I determined that it's not a good idea to shell out extra money to buy organic produce that was grown in China. Yet no-one else has mentioned that Whole Foods and Trader Joes, among other stores, still carry frozen produce that was produced in China. The label is actually there, a voluntary label on the part of the seller; in small print it says "Product of China." Who knows, now, though, what other products have some ingredients from China, while still bearing the USDA organic label. For example, an article from a national magazine recently interviewed the CEO of Stonyfield yogurt who admitted getting berries from China for their organic yogurt. It's highly unlikely that the berries are actually grown organically in China, without pesticides; it's even said, anedcotally, that in China human waste is used as fertilizer--a big no-no, to say the least.