Monday, December 29, 2008

And the 'Skeeter Bites Awards For the Worst People of 2008 Go To . . .


In the Tradition of the Razzie Awards for the Worst Films of the Year, The 'Skeeter Bites Report Presents its Second Annual 'Dishonors' for the People Who Have Had the Worst Impact on Politics, Society and Culture in America -- and the World -- in 2008



Picking the winners of the inaugural 'Skeeter Bites Awards last year for having inflicted maximum damage to the American political, social and cultural landscape in 2007 was easy. This year proved to be more challenging, as there were many more "nominees" to be awarded the dubious honors this time around. So who among America's -- and the world's -- worst bloodsuckers (both figuratively and literally) are going to get the bite from our winged vampires this year (Hopefully not the poor guy in this picture)? Some of the "winners" for 2008 might surprise you. (Photo: Carolyn Plante/Travelblog.org)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, December 29, 2008)
(Updated 7:30 a.m. EST Tuesday, December 30, 2008)


DEAR READERS: The Thursday edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report continues on its holiday hiatus, with New Year's Day falling on Thursday this week. It will resume next Thursday, January 8. Happy New Year!

By SKEETER SANDERS

It's that time of the year again.

With 2008 drawing to a close, it's once again time to take a look back at what's transpired over the past 12 months, make resolutions for 2009 (and see if you can keep them this time) -- and, of course, casting an eye on the crystal ball and predict who'll win what in the upcoming awards season.

From time immemorial, it seems, we mark the early months of each new year by bestowing awards to honor the best among us, such as the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Tonys and the Emmys -- and sometimes to dishonor the worst among us as well, such as Mr. Blackwell's annual "Worst Dressed" list and the Razzie Awards for the worst movies of the year.

(Richard Blackwell, the former fashion designer who became Hollywood's most famous fashion critic, died in October at the age of 86. It's not known who, if anyone, will continue his annual list of the "Ten Worst Dressed Women" in Hollywood.)

Last year, this blogger chose to join in the awards-giving parade, but unlike the "Big 5" best-of entertainment awards and more in the tradition of Mr. Blackwell and the Razzies, I chose to join in the bestowment of "dishonors" to the most richly deserving crooks, liars, power-mad despots and just plain weirdos who've made life a lot more complicated for Americans in the previous 12 months.

In case you missed it, you can take a look at last year's dubious "winners" by clicking here. Otherwise, here are the "deserving" recipients of the 'Skeeter Bites Awards for 2008:

THE MACHIAVELLI ENDS-JUSTIFY-THE-MEANS AWARD: ROD BLAGOJEVICH

This blogger can find no one more deserving of this year's Machivelli Award for brazenly seeking to make the ends justify the means than Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich -- even if, as he claims, he's ultimately proven innocent of federal charges of bribery and conspiracy pending against him. He's made a lot of enemies during his often-stormy six-year tenure as the Land of Lincoln's chief executive, with his "it's-my-way-or-the-highway" style of governing.

Just over two weeks ago -- on the same day that he publicly proclaimed his innocence of charges that included attempting to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat -- the embattled governor sparked a new controversy when he pardoned 22 convicted criminals.

"I am pleased to restore the rights of citizenship to these individuals," Blagojevich said in a statement. "After looking at each one of these cases, it was clear that this was the right thing to do."

Blagojevich adamantly insisted not only on his innocence, but on staying on the job, defying calls for him to resign and warning the legislature that he would fight any attempt to impeach him.

"I am here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, that I intend to stay on the job, and I will fight this thing every step of the way," Blagojevich told reporters at a December 19 Chicago news conference. "I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath."

The first Democrat to win the Illinois governorship in 30 years, Blagojevich was elected in 2002 on a platform of "ending business as usual" in state government, in the wake of ethics scandals that plagued the administration of his Republican predecessor, George Ryan.

Yet his first term was marked by numerous scandals of his own, bringing down Blagojevich's approval rating to as low as 36 percent, with 56 percent of Illinoisans voicing their disapproval of his performance as governor near the end of 2005.

Blagojevich won re-election in 2006 despite being under numerous federal investigations and a highly publicized feud with his father-in-law, Chicago City Council member Richard Mell, over Blagojevich's decision to shut down a landfill owned by a distant cousin of of his wife Patti for allegedly accepting waste it wasn't licensed to take; it was revealed that Mell had served as an advisor to the cousin. A Cook County grand jury is still investigating whether Blagojevich's administration overstepped authority in closing the landfill.

Blagojevich has had a stormy relationship with many of his fellow Democrats during his tenure, often forcing House and Senate Republican leaders Frank Watson and Tom Cross to act as referees in the disputes. During the 2008 campaign, Blagojevich even expressed fear that House Democrats would gain more seats and he would face more opposition from within his own party.

Even Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn has feuded with Blagojevich, with Quinn commenting that he and the governor had not been on speaking terms since the summer of 2007. Blagojevich has also feuded with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes, Secretary of State Jesse White, and state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias -- all of them fellow Democrats.

Quinn even predicts that Blagojevich will be out of office before the end of February. Speaking from Chicago on Sunday, Quinn said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he believes Blagojevich will be impeached and convicted by the Illinois Legislature by the time of Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial birthday celebration on February 12.

With Blagojevich having made so many enemies within his own party, is it any wonder that there's a near-unanimous, bipartisan push in Springfield to get rid of him?

THE PINK FLOYD BRICK WALL AWARD: ROBERT MUGABE

This blogger has made it a practice to bestow at least one 'Skeeter Bites Award each year to a foreign head of state. Last year, President -- now Prime Minister -- Vladimir Putin of Russia won the Machivelli Award for greasing the wheels for him to remain in a position of power and authority after the constitutionally-mandated end of his presidency.

This year's foreign recipient is President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe -- "winner" of the Pink Floyd Brick Wall Award, which is bestowed upon the political leader who has demonstrated time and again that he is so ideologically rigid on a number of policy issues that trying to convince him to change course is like talking to the proverbial brick wall.

Mugabe takes this year's prize, not only for his brutal crackdown against his political opponents, but also for bringing mounting misery upon the people of Zimbabwe as he stubbornly fights to cling to power after 28 years, but also for becoming more and more bizarre in his actions and his public statements in recent weeks.

For example, Mugabe claimed that a devastating cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe that so far has stricken more than 10,000 people and killed more than 1,200 was "over" -- when, in fact, it threatens to spread into neighboring countries. He claimed that Western powers wanted to use an epidemic as an excuse to invade Zimbabwe and topple him from power.

Relief agencies have warned that the disease could infect more than 60,000 people unless its spread is halted.

On December 19, in a speech to delegates at the annual conference of his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) party, Mugabe evoked the 18th-century French king Louis XIV's bold statement, "L'etat, c'est moi!" ("I am the state!"), vowing that "Zimbabwe is mine!" and that he will "never, never surrender" his grip on power.

Mugabe's vow that he would never cede power -- even as he claimed to have sent a letter to the Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai asking him to set a date for him to be sworn in as prime minister -- makes a mockery of a power-sharing agreement reached in September between ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after talks mediated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

MDC officials told the Reuters news agency that they had received no such letter form Mugabe and Tsvangirai threatened to pull out of power-sharing talks unless ZANU-PF stopped abductions of MDC members. More than 40 members of Tsvangirai's party were missing, according to the opposition leader, who accused ZANU-PF of orchestrating a campaign of terror.

Zimbabwe has been in turmoil since disputed elections in March, in which ZANU-PF had lost control of Parliament and -- although the results in the presidential contest were not made public for five weeks -- Mugabe fell short of a majority and would have to face Tsvangirai in a runoff.

Mugabe responded by launching a violent crackdown on the MDC and its supporters. Mugabe convened a meeting with his top security officials to discuss his defeat in the elections. According to The Washington Post, Mugabe implemented a military-style campaign against the opposition, code-named CIBD -- coercion, intimidation, beating and displacement.

Zimbabwe is a nation in agony, its economy in total shambles long before the current global crisis; its people suffering unimaginable hardships. And the agony is certain to continue -- and likely get worse -- as long as Mugabe remains in power.

THE DARTH VADER AWARD: DICK CHENEY (AGAIN)

For the second year in a row, the vice president wins the Darth Vader Award for being the undisputed power behind George W. Bush's throne. As any fan of the "Star Wars" movies knows, Darth Vader is the cunning, brutal enforcer of the Galactic Empire's rule across the galaxy -- the right-hand man of the evil Emperor Palpatine.

Much like Vader, Cheney has served as Emperor Dubyah's chief enforcer of his policies -- at least in the propaganda wars. Unlike Vader, however, Cheney was the instigator of many of the Emperor's policies. Cheney has long asserted that a link existed between Al-Qaida and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein -- a link that served as one of the primary justifications of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Despite reports from the Pentagon and the CIA that found that no such link existed, Cheney to this day continues to assert a connection between Al-Qaida and Iraq prior to 9/11 in several public speeches, drawing criticism from members of the intelligence community and congressional leaders, even from within his own party.

And now -- in an interview with ABC News to mark the closing of his tenure as America's second-in-command -- Cheney acknowledged publicly for the first time that it was he who authorized "waterboarding" and other tactics that were used by the Central Intelligence Agency against alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- tactics condemned as torture under the Geneva Conventions and even under U.S. law.

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."

When asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl if, in hindsight, did he think any of those tactics that were used against Mohammed and other suspected terrorists went too far, the vice president replied simply, "I don't."

And in a separate interview broadcast last week on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace, Cheney acknowledged that he really did tell Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to "Go F--- yourself!" during a now-infamous clash on the Senate floor between the vice president and the now-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2004.

When Wallace asked Cheney if he had any qualms, second thoughts, or was embarrassed by the episode, the vice president replied, "No, I thought he [Leahy] merited it at the time and we’ve since patched over that wound."

Critics, including this blogger, last year branded Cheney "the most dangerous man in Washington" for pressing hard for U.S. military action against Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons -- despite a national intelligence estimate released in November 2007 that found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003.

Effectively barred by his less-than-perfect health from seeking the Emperor's chair himself (He's suffered four heart attacks and has had multiple heart surgeries), the 70-year-old Cheney has instead engaged in a decades-long fight behind the scenes to restore the "imperial presidency" that was destroyed in 1974, when Richard Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate scandal, resigned.

Perhaps we should all be grateful that as a practical matter, Cheney couldn't run to succeed Bush; I shudder to think where America's standing inthe world would be if Cheney had run -- and (God forbid!) gotten himself elected the 44th president instead of Barack Obama.

KING GEORGE III AWARD: MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (SURPRISE!)

The King George III Award goes to the person who's demonstrated the most callous disregard for the rule of law. Last year, the award went to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who proved to be the worst attorney general in U.S. history -- worse than even Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, who was one of the Watergate plotters. And, like Mitchell, Gonzales resigned in disgrace, amid allegations of perjury before Congress in the "Attorneygate" scandal, in which nine U.S. Attorneys were allegedly fired for political reasons.

This year's King George III Award goes to -- surprise! -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Surprising? Yes. Sad? Yes. For the last seven years, the 108th mayor of New York City has been an honest, stand-up guy who wasn't afraid to speak his mind, even if it ruffled the feathers of leaders of his own political party.

Make that political parties, for Bloomberg is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent -- a little like the title character in the movie and Broadway musical "Victor/Victoria," who was a woman playing a man playing a woman.

Don't get this blogger wrong: As a native of New York City, I like Bloomberg. Were I still a resident of the Big Apple, I would have gladly voted for him, for he brought calm to a city that was shaken to its very foundations by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And he brought order to the chaos of the city's public schools.

But in October, Bloomberg did something that in this blogger's estimation is absolutely unforgivable -- something that even his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani refused to contemplate even as the nightmare of 9/11 enveloped him in the last four months of his mayoralty.

Bloomberg changed the law to allow him to run for a third term as mayor next year. And this blogger -- and a lot of New Yorkers -- are mighty upset with that. You see, the city's voters approved in a 1993 referendum an amendment to the City Charter that imposed a two-term limit on the mayor, City Council president, comptroller and other elected municipal officials.

Bloomberg, who was elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2005, announced that he would seek to amend the City Charter to run for a third term as mayor in 2009, arguing that a leader of his field is needed during the Wall Street financial crisis, which erupted in September.

Wall Street and its related businesses are indeed a major component of the New York City economy, not to mention a major source of tax revenue to the municipal government, whose budget -- a record $60 billion in fiscal year 2007-08 -- is larger than those of many states. Needless to say, the Wall Street meltdown has ripped open a gaping hole in the city's budget.

There's nothing wrong with the idea of amending the City Charter to allow Bloomberg to seek a third term per se. The problem is that he sought to have the Charter amended by the Council without going to the voters. 

Although there is nothing in either municipal or state law in New York that mandates that a voter-approved law cannot be altered or overturned without voter approval, it would be politically risky for anyone to attempt to do so, especially since opinion polls show solid voter support for keeping the existing term limits.

It was too late to have the amendment put on the ballot in the November 4 election, hence Bloomberg's end run by having the Council -- many of whose members were themselves chafing under the term-limits provision -- pass it, which it did, by a 29-22 vote. 

A federal lawsuit was filed one week later, challenging the legality of the amendment. And a state lawmaker who represents the predominantly Republican borough of Staten Island said he would introduce a bill in the Legislature to allow the borough to secede from the rest of the predominantly Democratic city and form its own municipality.

Meanwhile, Ronald Lauder, the billionaire who spent millions of dollars of his own money in the successful 1993 campaign to pass the term-limits measure, vowed to fight Bloomberg to keep the limits in place -- setting up a potentially epic "battle of the billionaires" between Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, and Bloomberg, who made his fortune with his business media company, Bloomberg News.

Wonderful. Just what this blogger's old hometown needs in the midst of the nation's worst economic crisis in 30 years.

HUNTER S. THOMPSON MEMORIAL FEAR-AND-LOATHING AWARD: JEROME CORSI

Here's another surprise, sort of: After winning this award for the last three years in a row, the Hunter S. Thompson Memorial Award for overreactive fear and loathing -- which actually predates the other 'Skeeter Bites Awards -- Fox News' acerbic talk-show host Bill O'Reilly does not win the prize again this year (His perennial "War on Christmas" rants are frankly getting tiresome).

Nope. This year, the award goes to Jerome Corsi, the equally acerbic senior writer for the right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily.com -- and the author of one of the most blatantly libelous books ever written, which was quickly discredited after its publication in June.

Corsi's book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, was filled with accusations and innuendo against the Illinois senator that were long ago proven false -- constituting a "reckless disregard for the truth," grounds for Obama to sue Corsi for libel and defamation.

Chief among Corsi's accusations: That Obama was raised -- and is still -- a Muslim and has ties to radical Islamic extremists; that he still secretly uses illegal drugs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary; and that by attending a "radical black church" in Chicago, he secretly has a "black rage" against white people.

Not only were Corsi's most explosive accusations against Obama discredited, but his true motivation for writing and publishing the book was quickly exposed by this blogger and others: Racial animus. Corsi clearly could not stomach an African-American becoming president of the United States.

The evidence: Corsi, long a darling of right-wing extremists who derogatorily refers to Arabs in one Internet posting as "ragheads," dwelled extensively -- and in highly condemnatory language -- on the two interracial marriages of Obama's white, Kansas-born mother, Ann Dunham; first to Obama's black father from Kenya, Barack Obama, Sr., and later to his Asian stepfather from Indonesia, Lolo Soetero ("A second man of color to be [Dunham's] mate," Corsi writes dismissively).

Corsi was also revealed to have been making the rounds of white-supremacist Internet media outlets to promote his book, including the "Political Cesspool" online radio show of the "white nationalist" group, Stormfront, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing extremist groups, and the radio show's own Web site.

For 2008, there is no one more richly deserving of this award for broadcasting his apparent racist bigotry for all the world to see than Jerome Corsi.

DAVID DUKE AWARD: CHIP SALTSMAN

Speaking of racial animus, I'm going to add a new award this year: The David Duke Award -- named for former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon David Duke, who ran for governor of Louisiana in 1991 as a Republican, much to the deep embarassment of the GOP leadership, from then-President George H.W. Bush down the line. He's now a member of the Louisiana Legislature.

And the first recipient of the David Duke Award goes to Chip Saltsman, a candidate to succeed Mike Duncan as Republican National Committee chairman, who on December 26 insisted that a compact disc he sent committee members for Christmas -- which included a racially-charged song about Obama titled "Barack, the Magic Negro" -- was clearly intended as a joke.

"I think most people recognize political satire when they see it," Tennessee Republican Chip Saltsman told CNN. "I think RNC members understand that."

Yeah, right, Chip. But a lot of people might not see it that way -- especially since the song was played on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. Limbaugh has made no attempt to hide his disdain for the president-elect -- even going so far as to deny that he's an African-American, claiming that Obama is an Arab Muslim.

Limbaugh deserves an award of his own -- named after Nazi Germany's propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. His deliberate race-baiting of Obama is a new low for Limbaugh.

THE DAN QUAYLE DEER-IN-THE-HEADLIGHTS AWARD: SARAH PALIN

What can one say about the Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee that hasn't already been said? That she was chosen to be John McCain's running mate said more about the Republican Party than it did about McCain himself.

First off, there's little doubt now that the Arizonan chose Palin as his VP to appease the right wing of the GOP, which never trusted him in the first place and was clearly displaying a lack of enthusiasm for his run for the White House after he clinched the GOP nomination in March.

And that's putting it mildly. Several prominent social conservatives -- most notably Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Richard Viguerie, founding publisher of Conservative Digest magazine; and Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation (who died December 18 at the age of 66) -- had publicly declared that they would not support McCain.

All of them changed their minds after McCain chose Palin to be his running mate. She was clearly a darling of the religious right and during the campaign, she didn't disappoint them -- even as she alienated just about everyone else, both inside and outside the GOP.

First, there was her stunning public statements on matters of foreign policy, including a now-infamous interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric in which the Alaska governor said that Russian warplanes flew over Alaska -- a claim that was hotly refuted by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the joint U.S.-Canadian military defense organization.

Second, there was the "troopergate" scandal, in which Palin came under investigation by the Alaska legislature on allegations that he abused her authority as governor by firing the state's public safety commissioner allegedly for his refusal to fire a state trooper -- Palin's former brother-in-law.

Third, there were her highly inflammatory attacks against Obama at several solo campaign rallies that drew some supporters to go even farther and make blatantly racist denunciations of Obama to a reporter for the English-language international channel of the Arab TV news network Aljazeera -- which promptly broadcasted them uncensored.

Now, on top of everything else, Palin must deal with a drug scandal involving the mother of the boyfriend of her pregnant teenaged daughter, Bristol. Sherry Johnston was arrested December 18 after Alaska state troopers served a search warrant on Johnston's home in Palin's hometown of Wasilla.

The 42-year-old mother of Levi Johnston -- the father of Bristol Palin's baby who is engaged to marry her next spring -- has been charged with six felony drug counts.

(Bristol Palin gave birth Saturday to a seven-pound, four-ounce baby boy named Tripp, People magazine reported in its online edition Monday. Colleen Jones, the sister of Bristol's grandmother, was quoted by the magazine as saying that "the baby is fine and Bristol is doing well." Neither the governor's office, the Anchorage hospital where Bristol Palin is staying, nor spokespeople for former GOP presidential candidate John McCain would either confirm or deny the report.)

Troopers did not identify the drug involved in a brief mention on the agency's Web site, but an Alaska State Police spokeswoman said in a news release that the charges were in connection with OxyContin, a strong prescription painkiller.

An affidavit by an Alaska state trooper filed last Monday states that Sherry Johnston referred in her messages to two police informants to "coffee" as a code for the drug OxyContin.

The affidavit indicates that Palin's vice-presidential candidacy factored into the investigation against Johnston, which was launched in September. But state officials delayed carrying out a search warrant until this month, when Johnston was "no longer under the protection or surveillance of the Secret Service."

Trouble. When it rains, it pours. . .

JERRY SPRINGER NAUGHTY-NAUGHTY AWARD: ELIOT SPITZER

And finally, the Jerry Springer Award for naughty-naughty behavior -- cheating on one's spouse behind the spouse's back -- goes to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Talk about hypocrisy: Spitzer was state attorney general before he was elected governor in 2006, building a reputation as a tough fighter against corruption, including prostitution. But prostitution proved to be Spitzer's undoing when it was revealed in March that the governor had patronized a high-priced prostitution service called Emperors Club VIP and met for over two hours with a $1,000-an-hour call girl.

The call girl was identified in court papers as a New York City singer known by the stage name Ashley Alexandra Dupré (legal name Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro, born Ashley Youmans). This information originally came to the attention of authorities from a federal wiretap.

Spitzer had at least seven or eight liaisons with women from the agency over six months, and paid more than $15,000. According to media reports, investigators believe Spitzer paid up to $80,000 for prostitutes over a period of several years while he was attorney general, and later as governor.

Imagine that! Paying 80 grand for the services of prostitutes even as he was working to bust up prostitution rings while he was attorney general. If there was a man more deserving of this year's Jerry Springer Award than Eliot Spitzer, this blogger has yet to find him.


AND FOR 2009 -- WHO KNOWS?


Of course, there a lot of other notorious names that I left out, particularly Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Because the full impact of their actions in the face of the financial crisis that erupted in September have yet to be fully realized, I had little choice but to leave these two out.

Of course, if I included everyone deserving of this year's awards, this article would run far too long for anyone to read. Suffice it to say that 2008 was a weird year. And 2009 promises to be just as weird, if not weirder.

Happy New Year!

# # #

Volume III, Number 85
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.







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