Do kiddie beauty pageants border on child abuse?

Barbie just celebrated her 50th birthday and still the debate rages on among concerned moms: harmless doll or body image bruiser? Barbie’s one thing, but I can’t imagine why there’s any debate over glitzy kiddie beauty pageants. They’re just plain bad for girls.

Many of us were first exposed to this subculture when images of pageant princess JonBenet Ramsey inundated television following her 1996 slaying, images that Dan Rather referred to as “kiddie porn.” That’s a fair assessment. None of the parents involved in this world intend to make their pretty babies fodder for the photo and video collections of pedophiles, of course. Yet that’s the result when they take fresh-faced children and publicly make them up into Hollywood starlets. Seven-year-old legs are shaved for more even, fake tans, preschoolers are fitted for hair extensions and false eyelashes, even fake teeth are put in to mask missing baby teeth. Got nausea?

Sure, there’s “natural” …

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Should star athletes lose role-model status for smoking pot?

What a difference a decade makes. When star Olympic swimmer Gary Hall tested positive for pot in the late ’90s, he was suspended for three months and lost all his endorsement deals, including industry giant Speedo. This year, when Michael Phelps was caught taking a bong hit, he was suspended for three months… and kept most endorsements. Speedo said they did not “condone such behavior” but affirmed Phelps as a “valued member of the Speedo team and a great champion.” Prestigious Swiss watchmaker Omega declared that Phelps’ action involved his “private life and is, as far as Omega is concerned, a non-issue.” At this writing, only Kellogg has publicly dropped Phelps, saying what he did was “not consistent with the image of Kellogg.” But otherwise, the tone of those involved matches that of the International Olympic Committee, which said Phelps would “continue to act as a role model.”

But should such an athlete still be considered a role model — a …

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Should lawmakers have a say in college curriculum and staffing?

Feel like a college education will soon be beyond your family’s budget? Good news! It’s not a safe place to spend four years, anyway.

At least that’s what I’ve gathered, watching lawmakers urge the public to storm the campus gates and protest courses and professors that look like a waste of taxpayers’ money. Their mantra? Censor now, ask questions later.

Such lack of research recently put egg on the faces of two legislators in Georgia, who railed against governmental spending for courses in oral sex and male prostitution. Rail against anything you like, folks, but do your homework first. They soon discovered that these are actually not courses at all, but areas of scholarly expertise that have provided crucial understanding of both teenage sexual habits and the AIDS crisis.

One of the crusading representatives, Calvin Hill, claimed his campaign had been “taken sideways by people who like the titillating words.” Yet Hill’s embarrassing lack of investigation into …

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Did we move too fast on the stimulus package?

The “stimulus package,” passed in a panic, is a bad combination: the most expensive and least understood special appropriations law in history. In attempting to help the economy, it makes radical policy changes that lawmakers would never have approved if they had taken a triage approach and passed the most urgent pieces first, then taken more time to understand others. For example, President Clinton’s welfare reform, lauded as one of the most effective policies of our generation, will be effectively eviscerated by the new methods of a bill passed in three weeks.

Anyone with Capitol Hill experience knows that large, urgent legislation typically passes in a “fog of war” scenario, with exhausted staffers drafting hundreds or thousands of pages of legislation, and other legislators exercising an extreme Ievel of trust that someone relatively smart understands each piece of it.

Congressional lawmakers and staffers had just hours to review the 1,000 page stimulus package. …

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Should race or gender have a major role in Senate appointments?

These days, we should be able to tackle awkward questions about diversity. In particular: were the governors who appointed two replacement senators feeling too much pressure to meet identical diversity profiles? Doesn’t it seem awfully coincidental that Sen. Barack Obama’s replacement is a black man and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s replacement is a white woman? Granted, I’m glad that the Senate did not lose diversity. And diversity should be one of the many factors considered for appointments. The sensitive question, though, is whether the governors did a comprehensive review of all available candidates or whether race or gender was an implicit prerequisite.

With no other African American in the Senate, Illinois Gov. Blagojevich must have already felt immense pressure to find a black replacement for Obama – and after Blago’s disgrace for allegedly trying to “sell the seat,” such a pick probably also seemed politically bulletproof. Roland Burris was an elected state …

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Does the public have the right to know who financially supports voter initiatives?

Is there any way to know what you’re really dealing with on Election Day? Sure there is, as an up-and-coming football player famously said to his agent in “Jerry Maguire”: “Show me the money!”

Following the money trail is important in truly understanding a campaign, so I was gratified earlier this month when U.S. District Judge Morrison England upheld a 35-year old finance disclosure law that identifies all who contribute over $100 to a campaign.

This decision greatly displeased supporters of Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure that banned gay marriage in California. The attorneys for Prop 8 feared reprisals for supporters of this controversial measure, including retaliation towards donors to one of the major groups behind the anti gay-marriage initiative, folks fear harassment? That’s rich. They’re the same group that sent a certified letter to large donors of Equality California, noting their donations for the …

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Are nonbelievers unfairly maligned in America?

I watched Barack Obama’s inauguration speech in D.C., standing on my tippy toes to catch a glimpse of the Jumbotron. Halfway through, our new president said something that caused one mainstream-looking young woman in front of me to pump her fist in delight. “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness” he began, adding, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.”

Nonbelievers? Did President Obama actually give a shout-out to atheists and agnostics in his inaugural address? Yes, he did.

Although not on the level of my fist-pumping neighbor, I too was pleased with this purposeful inclusion. I’ve grown increasingly alarmed by how many of us have allowed our faith to seep into decisions of governance.

“Name one nonbeliever who holds high political office” Dr. Jeremy Gunn challenged me on a recent phone call. “Just one.” Gunn is the director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief …

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Do animal rescue groups make it too hard to adopt pets?

I have recently realized that animal rescue groups are caring, well-meaning — and making it way too hard to save homeless animals.

You see, like the new First Family, our family has been researching pets — and with so many homeless animals euthanized (72 percent of cats, according to the National Council on Pet Population), we decided to adopt two “rescue kittens.” But after dozens of frustrating phone calls to rescue groups and shelters, no one would adopt to us. Why? We are going to allow our cats outside once they’re older. These groups all refuse you if you don’t agree in writing to keep cats indoors and follow pages of other stipulations (dog provisions are equally extensive).

We live on a quiet cul-de-sac and I want my children to be able to play outside with our cats, as I did. Yet modern rescue groups have become so opposed to that that they will, by default, allow cats to be euthanized instead. Most rescue groups run “no-kill” shelters — but …

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