The Fox television hit show American Idol took a break from whittling down this year's group of contestants Wednesday night to run its second annual "Give Back" charity segment.
The show's host, judges and various celebrities joined to call attention to poverty stricken areas of America and the world, primarily Africa and Appalachia. This coincides with a charity fund drive, telethon actually, that reaps tens of millions of dollars that are used to help the impoverished.
The effort was so successful last year that it was repeated this year. I consider it a worthy effort and support it wholeheartedly.
Now, here is why I am writing about it.
On Thursday's show, which went back to the regular format of removing contestants after telephone voting by the public, there also were some videos from the Give Back show, and cameo appearances from celebrities urging Americans to donate to help the needy.
So far, so good. These appearances included taped messages from all three major party presidential contenders, starting with Hillary Clinton, then John McCain and ending with Barack Obama. These messages basically were along the lines that you will hear in any campaign appearance.
Still, so far, so good.
But then Bono, the lead singer for the group U2, who has an additional career addressing the world's ills and calling attention to issues such as AIDS, all worthy causes, came on right after the political spots. Normally I wouldn't think much of it, but Bono commented that the generosity shown by Americans in the American Idol endeavor is an example of the "new" America that he is looking forward to seeing emerge after the November election. What? "New" America?
What is this guy talking about? Why does this matter?
First, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004, the United States of America was harshly criticized in Untied Nations and elsewhere as pikers for supposedly not making much in the way of contributions to tsunami relief.
This, even though American military personnel were among the first multi-national forces on the scene after President Bush authorized an entire aircraft carrier task force to steam to the affected area. This task force brought with it Marines for security, medical facilities, helicopters and transport aircraft, food, water and damn near anything else that was needed for emergency relief.
This ladies and gentlemen, cost the American taxpayers millions of dollars per day.
American charities such as the Red Cross also swung into action and individual Americans donated millions upon millions upon millions of dollars for direct tsunami relief. In the long term, former presidents Clinton and Bush went on a national tour and cut television commercials raising even more money for tsunami relief.
On the governmental level USAID, as noted on its website, worked in five primary areas providing food assistance, medical care, shelter, water, and water purification and sanitation support. Within six hours of the disaster USAID had mobilized staff to head to the region, generated disaster declarations which unlocked immediate funding to support emergency services and provided $4 million in immediate relief funding to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Although the US government, through the military and USAID, was on the scene and working with local, national and international agencies to provide immediate and long-term relief, Andrew Natsios USAID Administrator, publicly asked Americans who wanted to help to "offer their kind and generous donations to the various charities and non-governmental organizations who are working in the affected countries in this effort." That is how it is done in America. By individuals and groups, not just the government.
Meanwhile by early 2005, American private-sector contributions already passed $360 million and on the way to an estimated $700 million, according to figures released January 11 by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. American corporations and nongovernmental organizations contributed cash, supplies, and services.
All told, far more than one billion dollars of assistance in direct cash contributions, supplies and military assistance was pouring in from Americans - individuals, corporations and the government.
So don't tell me that we need a "new" America that somehow is going to be more generous than the "old" America. Americans are and have been the most generous people in the world, and saying that somehow past efforts to help others across the globe haven't measured up is just plan slanderous and Bono owes this country an apology!
So what gives with this "new" America? Well, who in the political race is preaching a similar message. Yes, you guessed it, none other than Barack Obama, who is calling every single day for "change." Change means something "new" doesn't it? And Barack is the one guy who is using this terminology day after day after day.
Change is new, new is change, the two are interchangeable and I don't think for an instant in a taped segment that Bono was just being flippant.
It is obvious to me that he was trying to give the impression that Americans have not been generous and that under a new "changed" administration we will be. This may have been intended to be subliminal, but it was pretty obvious.
I'll tell you what I'd like for a change. Entertainers who entertain and keep their noses and agendas out of American politics. If they want to declare for a candidate and provide in-kind donations of concerts or whatever, that is their business, but subliminal "vote for my guy" messages? Please. America can see through that nonsense.
It probably was not by chance that Bono's comments favoring Obama came in the same week that Elton John, campaigning for Hillary Clinton, blasted Americans who aren't backing her as "misogynists" (women haters). Sir Elton would do him and us a big favor if he just checked out what fellow Englishman Roger Waters had to say about Margaret Thatcher before he goes calling us names.
The fact is, while residents of some countries like Merry Olde England pay even more in taxes than US citizens, they rely on their governments to take care of messy problems like international disaster relief. Here, in the dour old United States, we try to keep a lid on government, difficult as that may be, but when someone needs help we rise up as one to do as much as we can.
When the true figures for tsunami relief were tallied, the United States of America was way, way out in front of its detractors, not by government fiat, but by the basic good and generous nature of its citizens.
So I don't need Bono or Elton John or any other foreign mercenary coming to my country telling me directly, subliminally or otherwise, what I should be doing with my money or where my vote should be directed. And I especially don't need Bono telling me that I need a change to something "new."
Forest Whitaker and his wife Keisha Nash did a much better job of showing the harshness of poverty in Africa without the political ramifications. Politics isn't necessary when you are confronted, as was the case in this segment, with conditions that are beyond deplorable.
We Americans are touchy about mercenaries, regardless of what else they do with their time.
American Idol basically has a good thing going, both on its talent search and its poverty relief efforts. It shouldn't screw either up by bringing in politically motivated personnel or agendas.
We can get all the politics we need elsewhere twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Friday, April 11, 2008