Listen Up, Mr. President

Election '04
Editor�s Note: What if you had five minutes to tell George Bush whatever you wanted? What would you say? Janeane Garofalo has beef with Bush on everything. Montel Williams tells W. that he should show compassion and legalize medical marijuana to help deal with his multiple sclerosis. Minnie Driver explains to El Jefe that our trade rules with other countries are rigged. These celebrities and Morgan Fairchild � John Kerry�s old flame �take a stab at what they would say to the commander in chief. These are just four takes out of 55 from the book, �If You Had Five Minutes with the President� (Harper Collins, 2004). The book features short essays by various celebrities and personalities with an introduction by Ron Reagan. The wonderful thing is that their five minutes with George Bush sound as would any other person's living in America.

Janeane Garofalo�s Five Minutes

Hey, thanks for your time. I know you must be busy. I like to think so, anyway. So here�s my hit parade of hopes and dreams . . .

Media consolidation and deregulation is a big problem�if there�s an hour of right-wing commentary here�s the hour of left-wing commentary, or my five minutes, anyway: the deregulation that occurred in 1996 under Clinton has to be reexamined and subjected to new regulations so there aren�t so few owners across media markets. How about you swap your first state dinner for the First Annual End to Right-Wing Radio Talk Shows Barbecue! It�ll be great. Big turnout, big laughs, hard whiskey�and no pork. Nah. On second thought, the White House shouldn�t be sucking up to the media in any way! We have a hard enough time doing our job as it is. Try a few more press conferences, will ya?

I have a few items here to mention. When are you going to commit to a separation of church and state, especially now that we�ve been drawn into what the enemy is calling a �holy war,� when we should really be fighting for democracy�the democracy founded on the right to religious freedom, remember?

While you�re at it, can someone undo the Global Gag Rule? There is now such a rule, thanks to an executive order, which has the effect of endangering health care for women around the world because we disallow international support for organizations with reproductive rights and planned parenting on their agendas. A little shortsighted in a world that features way too much starvation. I know, there�s the Christian right to worry about. But see above: church and state, separation of.... You�re looking at your watch!

Revamp and refund the IRS to enable them to go after corporate criminals; let�s get the corporate welfare out of the tax code, too.

And let�s not forget the once crown jewel of our country – the public schools. Mr. President, I know education is a local issue, but isn�t it about time that we made funding for the public schools a priority? Our current system, which depends primarily on property taxes, is an absurd caste system, making for a have and have-not society, with poorer communities being brought low by a poor tax base. It eats away at the heart of their hope � kids� education.

And do you know about the increasing privatization of our prisons? It has really gotten out of hand. Someone�s living high off that system. These companies are reaping exorbitant profits from taxpayer money. Do we really want our corrections to be handled by a private sector looking to fatten margins by getting a deal on toothpaste? The whole national prison system has to be�
What? You don�t have to show me the door, I know what one looks like. Hey, yeah, thanks for your time.... You�re really telling me to rest assured? Oh, I�m rested. Assured? Hardly.

Janeane Garafalo, stand-up comedienne and actress, received two Emmy nominations for her work on "The Larry Sanders Show." In 1999 she and Ben Stiller wrote "Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction." Currently, Garofalo and Al Franken lend their voices, wit, and wisdom to Air America, the national liberal radio station that debuted in 2004.

Montel William�s Five Minutes

Mr. President: In the eyes of the public, I am an all-American tough guy, a former naval intelligence officer, a motivational speaker and a TV talk show host. I am beamed into the homes of millions of people around the globe each weekday. I urge individuals and family members to do better, to be better. But there is another side to my story.

For more than twenty years I have lived with a chronic, potentially debilitating disease called multiple sclerosis (MS). I have neuralgic pain in my feet and legs so severe that I have twice attempted suicide � the ultimate trauma to my kids and family, the ultimate sin against God. I have stayed awake for nights on end, rocked by violent spasms in my legs. Physicians have prescribed myriad painkillers and antispasmodic drugs � each more toxic than the next, each less effective than the other. I have taken Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and a morphine drip, risking overdose to subdue the pain. Instead, I became spacey and dull. I could not function. Something had to give. Something did. I discovered medical marijuana, which is illegal everywhere in the country according to federal law, even though eight states have laws in effect that allow patients to use it without fear of arrest.

On many days, I live with pain that is a seven on a scale of one to ten, and with nerves so raw that if you brush against me in an elevator, I just want to scream. Medical marijuana brings that pain down to a three or four. But every day I am forced to make the choice between criminality and management of my symptoms.

Mr. President, I am not alone. Tens of thousands of Americans, your citizens, make this daily choice. They are people like me who suffer from pain and spasms from MS, wasting from AIDS and cancer, and from numerous other symptoms. Because of medical marijuana, those of us with chronic or life-threatening illnesses have emerged from the haze of narcotic-based or morphine-like painkillers and other toxic medications to continue being productive citizens.

For people like me who have been through the gamut of FDA-approved drugs with no relief, marijuana has given us our lives back. It allows us to sleep through the night, to gain weight and strength, to read a bedtime story to our child, to run an office. It offers us the liberty � the freedom to live with dignity � that is one of our inalienable rights as American citizens.

The states with strong medical marijuana laws have built-in safety measures to ensure that the drug is not opened up to recreational users. It must be recommended by a physician, and, in most cases, patients must register with a state or local health authority. There are also reasonable limits on how much of the drug an individual or a caretaker can possess.

Mr. President, I urge you to support legal access to medical marijuana across our great nation. I urge you to support legislation that would change marijuana from a Schedule I drug, a group that includes heroin, LSD, and Quaaludes, to a Schedule II drug, which includes drugs, like amphetamines and morphine, that are prescribed in extreme cases. As a Schedule II drug, marijuana could be prescribed by a physician � with all the checks and balances to keep patients like me safe.

That�s all I ask of you. True compassion with all the conservative medical and legal boundaries in place. What better legacy to leave?

Montel Williams, an Emmy Award�winning talk show host, has completed thirteen seasons of the nationally syndicated The Montel Williams Show. He is a retired, decorated naval officer, a motivational speaker, and the author of six books, including "Climbing Higher," on living with MS. He is also a member of The Creative Coalition�s advisory board.

Minnie Driver�s Five Minutes

Dear El Jefe: Of the five core issues I would love to spend all day discussing with you (trade, health care reform, education, the environment and the war in Iraq) I have chosen trade because of its far-reaching power to alter the socioeconomic (im)balance of our world, and because everyone else is going to be talking about the other things.

I needn�t tell you how many causes of death in our world seem impossible to prevent; however, I feel it imperative to remind you that poverty is not one of them.

Economic growth is powered by international trade, and it is the surest way of saving lives, globally, that exists today (I have a feeling that you very much want to interject right now about your commitment to poverty reduction in the Third World; with all due respect, I wish you wouldn�t . . . thank you). I am going to say this next thing very passionately and loudly as if at a demonstration:

Trade Rules Are Rigged (repeat 3x)

The rules that govern trade are rigged mightily in favor of the First World (the U.S. and the EU). There is also an arsenal of double standards to back this up. The World Trade Organization (WTO) apparently offers an opportunity for fair trade, but it turns out this �fairness� is not available to developing countries. Why? Why, when poor countries export to rich-country markets, do they face tariff barriers that are four times higher than those rich countries pay? These barriers cost them $100 billion a year � twice as much as they receive in aid! The inequity compounds further if one takes a moment to remember that if Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and Latin America were to increase their share of world exports by just 1 percent, the resulting gains in income would lift 128 million people out of poverty. I know, it probably just slipped your mind.... In Africa alone, this would generate $70 billion!! Approximately five times the amount that continent receives in aid.

Wouldn�t $70 billion be a load off your mind, not to mention the budget?

Now, I need to tell you I understand the political significance of behemoth-type transnational companies to the governments of the First World, but it�s indefensible that they have been left free to engage in any sort of deplorable investment and employment practices with only timid, �voluntary guidelines� to constrain them.

You blame the WTO and they blame you.

This is not good enough. There is vicious global bullying going on, by transnational corporations, by the World Bank, and by the International Monetary Fund. Our countries keep their markets closed (remember: Trade rules are rigged!) while poor countries are strongarmed into opening theirs at breakneck speed, often with damaging consequences to their communities.

The international trading system is not something that is by nature out of control; it is a system of exchange whose rules reflect political choices. I am asking you, Mr. President, as a leader of the free world, to choose....

  • Choose to create a new model of inclusive globalization.

  • Choose to create more of a balance between the weak and vulnerable and the rich and powerful.

However naive it sounds, please factor the lives of millions and millions of people with no voice into the unstoppable dictates of economic growth. Please champion them.

Thank you for your time.

Minnie Driver is a British actress who lives and works predominantly in the United States. She is active on behalf of women�s labor rights in developing countries, and would very much like you to consider the T-shirt you are wearing and the conditions under which it was made.

Morgan Fairchild�s Five Minutes

Dear Mr. President: I know you are a man of good intentions, but good intentions are not enough for the leader of the free world. They are not enough to justify the invasion of another country. And good intentions may be the only rationale left, now that all the originally offered reasons have been proven to be false.

I doubt that you see the good intentions that motivated many of us who opposed the war. It is not that we don�t love our country or our men and women in uniform. It is that we don�t like to see them misused, whatever the intentions.

I fully supported attacking al Qaeda in Afghanistan in response to 9/11 � I only wished that we could have truthfully said �mission accomplished� before we tried to start the next. Many other countries felt the same way. However, rather than building an international coalition, we chose to act almost alone in the expectation that weapons of mass destruction would be found and our actions judged correct. This turned out to be a dream.

Many of us did not question whether Iraq possessed WMDs but rather whether an invasion was wise at that time and in that manner. There were many people with long years of experience in the Middle East who warned that if we went in, we would be likely to end up exactly where we are now. To think otherwise would be to be dreaming.

Few thought Saddam Hussein was a good man or a good leader, but unfortunately, the world abounds with bad men and bad leaders.We could never hope to depose all of them. And even if we were to set out to do just that, how could we be sure that those who would replace the tyrants would be better men or better leaders? Our president no doubt had good intentions when he offered democracy as a gift to the Iraqis. Thinking they would value this more than electricity or jobs was a naive dream.

Mr. President, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And some dreams are nightmares.

Morgan Fairchild was propelled to stardom in 1981 when she landed the role of Constance Carlyle in "Flamingo Road," for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress. She also starred in the television series "Falcon Crest" and "Paper Dolls." During its ten-year run, Fairchild played Chandler Bing�s mom on "Friends." She is a member of the Entertainment Industry AIDS Task Force and an active speaker on environmental issues of all kinds, and helped found the Environmental Communications Office, which encourages entertainment-industry professionals to become better educated and more active on environmental issues.

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