Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NEW ORLEANS: 1,183 Days Later

For those of us who came back to New Orleans after the giant wave of 2005 tried to consume us, the news this week about New Orleans was heartbreaking. Post–hurricane Katrina life has been all about challenge, hope and walking a crooked path toward an increasingly-elusive “normalcy.” Now, to find out that our city has been ranked the most dangerous place in America by the annual Congressional Quarterly Crime Rankings report almost negates the hard-earned progress we have made in these past three years and three months.

The CQ Press studies the number of murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, and car thefts to rank cities across the country. You can study the figures for yourself, but the numbers that jump aggressively off the page at people who love this city are these: Of 215 cities with populations of 100,000 to 499,000, CQ Reports New Orleans has the highest crime rate ranking.

That is why every time we get out of our cars we look out of all of our windows and over our shoulder before we unlock the door. It is why we leave our houses at night less than we used to. The seemingly random crime that happens everywhere from tony Uptown to scary “Pigeontown” is the reason many of us carry pepper spray and handguns. The streets are mean, the perpetrators young and uneducated, and the motivation desperate. Our beloved New Orleans is the urban battlefield we so hoped it would never become after we collectively muddled our way through the worst national disaster in the history of the U.S.

If this sounds like whining to you, hear this: It is not. It is reporting. But one cannot live in New Orleans and dispassionately report on its current state. Our emotions, when not blatantly splashed across our faces, are just under the surface, simmering. Our discomfort is unprecedented among other urban centers. Our fear, at its least, is nerve-wracking, and at its peak, panic-inducing. Still, if passion clouds your absorption of the facts, here is some straight reporting about the city of New Orleans lo these 1,183 days after Katrina:

•The rumblings about potentially dangerous health effects of formaldehyde in FEMA trailers started just months after thousands of families were installed in their cramped quarters. The threat was not acted upon until much later. Last week a Children’s Health Fund study revealed 42 percent of children who lived in Louisiana’s largest FEMA trailer park after Katrina now show symptoms of respiratory ailments possibly caused by exposure to formaldehyde, a colorless, odorless gas that families did not know about in their trailers. They were puzzled by their children’s’ watery eyes, skin rashes, coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest. The upshot? The trailer manufacturers knew there were dangerously high levels of formaldehyde in their units.

•The Children’s Health Fund study also revealed that 41 percent of children living in that same trailer park now are anemic, which is twice the number of children similarly affected who live in homeless shelters in New York City. Families have been moved out of the trailers, with a promise from the government that FEMA would provide them with contact information for medical help. FEMA has not provided that information to any of the families. The last of those families were not moved out until May, 2008, 17 months after concerns were first expressed about the dangers of formaldehyde.

• Some neighborhoods hit hardest by Katrina flood waters today look much like they looked just days after the storm. Gentilly, Eastern New Orleans and the lower ninth ward are shells of their former communities. In some cases there are blocks and blocks of empty houses, and perhaps one or two families who have moved back in. No wonder then, that ESRI, a leading market research firm, reports that New Orleans stands to gain only about 15,000 new residents in the next five years. Census bureau figures would indicate New Orleans has about 290,000 residents now. Local analysts put the figure at something closer to 330,000. By comparison, in the early 1960s New Orleans had a population of about 627,000. Diminishing populations generally translate to less industry, fewer healthcare facilities and workers, college grads who move away and less incentive for new businesses to consider locating in the city. Do the math.

• Once again we are having policing problems. At the forefront of our concerns now is that fact that the New Orleans District Attorney’s office revealed it has refused 529 cases since August 1, including crimes dating to 2006. The cases will not be prosecuted because the New Orleans Police Department did not provide the proper reports needed to proceed. Included: drug possession and attempted murder. 443 of these crimes were felonies.

• There’s more: Recently, New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley tried to blame former Captain Danny Lawless for $19,000 that was missing from the police property and evidence room. Lawless subsequently produced copies of memos he sent to Riley warning him of lax security and staffing shortages in the evidence room. Riley reportedly never followed up.

• And more: Two years ago, after a brutal murder in the Fauburg Marigny neighborhood, citizens took to the streets to protest the city’s lax crime-fighting record. Mayor Ray Nagin staged an outdoor press conference surrounded by police officials and the City Council members. He promised there would be 1,000 crime cameras installed in the city to monitor the mean streets. To date about 240 have been installed and currently most of them do not work. By some estimates, the city has spent $7 million on the cameras, not including the $1.6 million Nagin has requested in his 2009 budget for camera maintenance.

Add it up: The most violent criminal center in the entire United States; poisonous gas in government mandated trailers; nutritional deficiency among FEMA trailer park children that causes anemia; empty, deserted neighborhoods that never saw a dime of the reported billions of Federally-provided post-storm funding; a dwindling population and grim prospects for repopulating the city; a Keystone Cop approach to reporting felonious criminal activity and a D.A.’s office with limited abilities to prosecute undocumented incidents; an evidence room that cannot even police itself, much less the criminal element from which the evidence was gathered; a Police Chief who first seeks an alibi and a scapegoat, before owning up to what may be his own lackluster job performance; a Mayor who is clearly dis-engaged from the populous and who talks the talk without walking the walk.

This is the true post-Katrina New Orleans. This is the state of the city in the eye of a storm that will not pass. This is the real New Orleans, as seen through the eyes of a reporter who has been here before, during and after the storm.
Katrina did not lift us up – it flooded us out and then brought the worst of our local culture to the surface for the whole world to see.

Maybe that is why the one word we almost never heard from the lips of John McCain, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama or Joe Biden during the 2008 Presidential race was the one word that has more meaning to us than any other – Katrina.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

DALLAS 1963: Our Defining Moment

The 60’s started 45 years ago today.

On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was shot through the head while riding in his convertible in Dallas. It was a beautiful day, and he and his wife were beautiful people. People lined the streets and waved. He had that megawatt smile going on all through Dealy Plaza, until something popped in the air and he grabbed his throat with both hands and slumped forward. Jackie Kennedy crawled over the back seat onto the trunk of the car. No one knows exactly why. It is a black and white image carved into the American collective psyche as deeply as a bomb hitting Pearl Harbor 22 years earlier, or planes hitting the World Trade Center 38 years later.

As it turns out, 45 years can offer huge perspective on what it all meant. The Kennedy assassination was the pivotal moment of the 20th century. Take the influenza epidemic of 1919, World War I, World War II, the Great Depression, the invention of talkies, the advent of television, Elvis and Sinatra, and added together they represent a fraction of the impact on the culture that Kennedy’s death had. We have never recovered. Not really. The moment the first shot rang out from the nearby school book depository, there was no turning back. For a long time, there was no moving forward either. We were paralyzed.

If you were not living then, and you wonder how this killing of Kennedy so altered the American psyche, consider this. Think about the groundswell of political worship heaped on Barack Obama in the past year or so, and especially right now. Then multiply that exponentially, and you will begin to comprehend the Kennedy influence on this country. It is not to say that everyone loved him. Like Obama, he did not win the 1960 election by a landslide. It was, in fact, a closer race than the Obama/McCain contest. But there was something about his ascent into the presidency that lit this nation up – way up. There was an aura – it was this seductive blend of charm, mystique, class, beauty, sex and power.

After the down home understatement of the Truman years and the lackluster grayness of the Eisenhower moment, the Kennedys were our Hollywood-perfect family leaders. We were starstruck.

Beyond our intoxication, however, was the indisputable evidence that November 22 changed the world. Television suddenly shifted from the great experiment it had always been to the true national conduit of information. Low tech, still evolving and certainly black and white, television grew up quickly once the President was rushed to Parkland Hospital. What follows is footage of NBC News struggling to report the assassination news,without the advantages of today's digital media:
The word was out among reporters that one side of his head had been shot off, but the decorum of the era dictated that this information would not be broadcast. It would be kept secret, just as Kennedy’s assignations with sex goddess Marilyn Monroe had been buried.Washington media knew all along about Monroe, but never reported it. The news of Kennedy’s missing flesh would be concealed as tightly as the information about his daily battles with pain from colitis and Addison’s disease. All of this is public knowledge today, but in 1963 journalists had boundaries, and they rarely colored outside the lines.

For those of us who were children, watching the next four days of non-stop television coverage--including the on-air murder of chief assassination suspect Lee Harvey Oswald—was surreal. In our young minds watching Oswald get shot as he was transported from his jail cell was pretty much just like watching a bad guy get shot on Gunsmoke. But the fear and shock on our parents’ faces was a whole new category of discomfort for us. Watch the following video to witness the exact moment that the television medium grew up:All in one day we found out that the President, previously considered invincible, was just a man; and our parents, previously considered to be unshakably grown up, were as shaken as children who had just been scolded. It was our introduction to the omnipotence of vulnerability.

What followed those November days was a redefining of the American culture. In a millisecond, the Beatles showed up on American soil and solidified an already burgeoning generation gap. Lyndon Johnson, the good ole boy, wheeler dealer Senator from Texas assumed the presidency, a role that would never suit him and ultimately prove to be his undoing.The Civil Rights movement took on a new sense of urgency until its leader, Dr. Martin Luther King came eye to eye with a bullet in Memphis. Perhaps in response to a decade of sheer turmoil, young Americans discovered and indulged in mind-altering drugs. Skirts went up, morality went down and the fully useless conflict called Vietnam claimed more than 50,000 American lives. For nothing. Nothing at all.

The sixties should be a cautionary tale for early 21st century American culture. With our economy tanking, and the nation again embroiled in a war without purpose, even a charismatic, charmer like Obama cannot be a one-man King Midas. Let’s see – how to put this: Hope Good - Unrealistic Expectations Bad. Or, a man, any man, even Obama, is just a man. A culture and its heritage should be our teachers and our guide. So yes we can. We can use the most critical moment from last century as our guide. With 45 years of collective wisdom in our national back pocket, I believe we can do much, much better this time. Yes, we can.

Friday, November 21, 2008

MIRIAM MAKEBA - Freedom Singer

"Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can't do anything about that."
Miriam Makeba (a.k.a. Mama Africa) - 1932 - 2008

Is This the Face of the First Amendment?

Megan Meier had almost made it to her 14th birthday in 2006 when her mother found her hanging from a rope in her closet at their St. Charles County, MO home. About a month earlier, Megan had started communicating online with a boy who identified himself as Josh Evans. Megan, who suffered from attention deficit disorder and depression, has been described by her mother as “boy crazy.” Meeting Josh online proved fatal for Megan. The twist here is that Josh did not exist. So even when “Josh” sent Megan a message saying the world would be better off without her in it, someone else was behind the transmission. On trial now, charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization is Lori Drew, 49, the mother of one of Megan’s former friends. Drew is suspected of perpetrating the hoax which ultimately led to Megan’s suicide.

Is Drew responsible? Let the judicial process work through that, but the bigger issue is freedom of expression in cyberspace. Lawyers are arguing whether Drew violated the Computer Use and Fraud Act, which in part makes it a crime to use computers to cause damage that results in physical injury to any person. Death is not mentioned in the content of the Act, because back in 1994 when it was first created, no one anticipated how a computer could be used to cause someone to die. That was way before Facebook and My Space, and instant messaging was in its infancy. We didn’t get it yet. We do now.

Nowhere to be found in the reports and news analysis of the Megan Meier case is there any mention of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S. Stay tuned; I suspect someone will start ranting about “freedom of speech” before the dust settles on Megan’s grave.

The First Amendment has been used to justify everything from crude poetry to white supremacist rhetoric to art exhibits featuring religious relics floating in urine. It could be argued that the most expansive and profitable Internet industry – pornography – owes its very existence to these 45 words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
People use, mis-use and abuse their First Amendment rights in every way imaginable. Sometimes the Amendment is used for innocuous purposes – a couple of years ago, for example, a prisoner in Wisconsin said he had a First Amendment right to receive printouts of e-mail replies to his online personal ad.

Sometimes even highly respected institutions treat the First Amendment as a catch-all when justification for bad behavior is needed. Case in point: In 2002, the Boston Archdiocese asked a judge to dismiss the hundreds of sexual-abuse lawsuits against the church on First Amendment freedom-of-religion grounds.

In Greensboro, North Carolina, the University of North Carolina established “free speech and assembly areas,” two small outdoor areas where freedom of speech would be permitted. Two students involved in a peaceful protest to what they saw as a denial of their constituional rights were eventually disciplined by the school, but the charges were later dropped. You might wonder, if students cannot exercise free speech at a public university, who can safely use this freedom, and where? Not at Brigham Young University (a private school) – that’s for sure. In 2007 when the school scheduled Dick Cheney to speak at commencement ceremonies, a group of students organized a protest – in that university’s designated free speech zone. When their allotted two hour demonstration time was up, university employees confiscated their signs and attempted to intimidate them into disbanding. As you watch the following video about the BYU debacle, pay particular attention to the University president’s response to a student inquiry, at the very end:

First Amendment confusion and debate rages continually in our country, and now that we have the first black president about to move into the White House, fasten your seat belts. Things will get bumpy. They already are. Consider the third grade students riding on a Boise, Idaho school bus, chanting “ Assassinate Obama.” What about Idaho landowner Ken Germana who posted a sign on his property that promoted a “free public hanging” of the President-elect? Perhaps you saw reports of the two guys in West Hollywood who put up a Halloween display of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin hanging in effigy. Last week a Maine storeowner put up a sign asking customers to place bets on an Obama assassination.

All of the above-mentioned individuals are the beneficiaries of our forefathers’ good intentions. Somehow it seems that none of those gentlemen could have anticipated any such events or uses of their good intentions, but their 45 words remain in place, just the same. At the same moment all of this takes place, the gay marriage conundrum (see the November 7 Greenberg Rants posting) rages on. After the state of California took the unprecedented step of altering its constitution to ban gay marriage, hundreds of thousands of Americans coast to coast took advantage of their constitutional right of the people peaceably to assemble. It was a glorious reaffirmation of the will of the American citizenry. After those gatherings across the country, it was announced this week that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to Proposition 8.

Your constitutionally-ensured freedom is working hard for you. Your rights are unshakably intact. You can speak. You can protest. You can assemble. You can be civilly disobedient. You can. You absolutely can. But at the same time, so can those whose agendas may be more narrowly focused than yours. The Ku Klux Klan. Those who would promote assassinating the President-elect. Those who would gather in the name of intolerance. An even those whose agenda is simply to humiliate a little girl on the Internet. And even when she ends up hanging by a rope in her closet.

Freedom is a precious thing. It is easily abused, and in some cases easily lost. Most of all, it comes with huge responsibilities. Technology stole our precious right to privacy in the blink of an eye. We have to work hard to hold on to our freedom of expression, even if it means that others may express thoughts that taunt us, anger us or endanger us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Matthews, O’Reilly & Limbaugh: The Brothers Boisterous

Did you happen to see Page Six on Tuesday? The lead story is about MSNBC’s Chris Matthews mouthing off about the danger of having a Secretary of State named Hillary. And he did so on a train from Philly to D.C., after he woke up from a nap that featured loud, open-mouthed snoring. Oy. Chris. Perhaps a little decorum? Perhaps a little discretion in when and where you pontificate?

Considering Matthews’ ill-timed and obsteperous editorializing on a train, I have to wonder what is up with all of these pundits behaving badly. The Bill O’Reillys, the Rush Limbaughs, and you can add your own names to this cable hall of shame. Matthews may not be burning up the airwaves, but O’Reilly, for one, is reportedly luring about four million viewers every night to his screamfest, The O’Reilly Factor on FOX. Oh, and how does that quantify itself for the loudmouth host? He just signed a contract that puts $10 million a year in his pocket for the next four years. Hmmm…let’s see, the average high school journalism teacher in New York City makes just under 50 grand. Is it me, or is something wrong with this picture? Maybe not. In this culture we pay good money for theatre, and if O’Reilly isn’t theatre…well judge for yourself. His verbal battle with Representative Barney Frank is typical of his boorish behavior. Watch this (Warning: Content includes RANTING!):

Meanwhile, Matthews is reportedly hauling in about $5 million a year by insulting his guests, interrupting and stepping on their words, and generally proving he is a throwback to the 1950s prototype sexist, white male corporate animal. He once said of Hillary Clintion, “….the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she’s a frontrunner is because her husband messed around.”

Another time journalist Andrea Mitchell had to remind Matthews that Michelle Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer after he rambled on about how happy he was the Obama has a pretty wife, and that “cosmetics are part of the game.” Oy vey. Chris. Edit yourself, brother.

That brings me to Limbaugh. Limbaugh makes Matthews look like a whimpering puppy in the rain who hasn’t eaten in two days. On his radio show on August 12, 2005, Limbaugh said, "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." I promise you he said that. Oh, and that doesn’t hold a candle to his statement about how affirmative action enabled Barack Obama to become President.

So, in America, what does that net you? In Limbaugh’s case, it reportedly becomes a radio contract, through 2016, worth $400 million.

Let’s review: Chris Matthews is loud and obnoxious; Bill O’Reilly is loud and volatile; and Rush Limbaugh is loud and racist/sexist/misogynistic. And that, ladies and gentlemen is your cable “news” lineup for the evening.

My point, and I do have one, is simply that the message is distorted by the messenger in all of these cases, and many more on the nightly parade of talking heads. Rewind your brain cells to the David Brinkleys (pictured at right with ABC News colleague Chet Huntley), Eric Severeids and Walter Cronkites of early TV world. No one raised his voice. No one became the story as he tried to tell the story. No one really ranted much. There were no on-air feuds or condescending editorializing that earmarked entire ethnic groups or genders. There was, instead, civil discourse. Even in times of the greatest controversy and scandal, journalists got the job done respectfully – think David Frost and Richard Nixon.

And so, I respectfully request: Chris, Bill, Rush, et. al. –and I believe I speak for millions of media consumers coast to coast - in the interest of the broadcast industries and the reputation of the journalism profession, is is possible you could shut the f___ up?

God, I miss Tim Russert.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rupert Murdoch: Thumbs Down on Editors; Thumbs Up on Bloggers

Rupert Murcdoch. The very name creates division among media professionals, consumers and movers and shakers in the financial world. Fellow media mogul Ted Turner hates the guy. Somebody else probably loves him, but we don't hear a lot about people loving him. He's been a lightning rod in his 77 years on the planet. This year, Forbes Magazine named him the 109th richest person in the world, with a reported net worth of $8.3 billion. The guy makes Our Holy St. Oprah of Chicago look like a pauper.

Currently Mr. Murdoch is mad at newspaper editors who have been slow to catch on to the technology that is moving at breakneck speed and leaving traditional newspapers in the dust. Murdoch spoke to Charles Cooper at CNET, freely espousing his feelings about editors whose heads are firmly buried in the sand. Since we were just ranting about the future of newspapers here the other day,(Extra! Extra! Scroll All About It - Nov. 11) it seemed appropriate to let the 109th richest person in the world rant here, too.

Murdoch is in agreement with us that newspapers are not going to disappear, and that in order to survive they will have to digital up, so to speak. What do you think? Weigh in. Speak up. Rant, willya? C'mon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Media overload? Yes, Please...

THEATRE: Elton John brings BILLY ELLIOT to Broadway. So demanding is the lead role that three young dancer/performers have been hired to play the part on alternate nights. You may recall the 2000 movie about a young boy who is supposed to be boxing, but finds he prefers and excels in ballet. After a successful, high profile London run, Billy Elliot has moved to the Great White Way. The New York Times came early and raved, calling it "one of the freshest, most exciting uses of narrative dance I've seen in years.” Keep an eye on Kiril Kulish, 14, one of the rotating Billys. Had we had the pleasure of seeing the late Rudolph Nuryeuv in early adolescence, he would have been Kiril.

MUSIC: PINK’s new CD FUNHOUSE, is our Fall 2008 guilty pleasure. Only Pink could write a song about breaking up with her husband, and somehow persuade him to appear in the video. And all this while she’s belting out these lyrics: "I guess I just lost my husband, I don't know where he went. So I'm gonna drink my money, I'm not gonna pay his rent." In a musical moment in time populated by the likes of Paris, Lindsay and Jessica (all of whom Pink brilliantly parodied in her 2006 “Stupid Girls” video), Pink is the new Janis Joplin – in heels and with better hair, of course. At 29, the former Alecia Beth Moore of Doylestown, despite performing since she was 14, is still at the starting line. If the music is this hot now, we can’t wait to see what is yet to come.

MOVIES:I saw THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES shortly before Barack Obama was elected, and it easily transported me back to those 1960’s civil rights movement days. It is a movie whose time came just in time, right before Americans went to the polls and altered the course of history. Set against the backdrop of mid-20th century racial division, this is the story of a young teen's search for the truth about the mother she lost when she was a little girl. Performances by Queen Latifah, Alicia Keyes, Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning and most especially by the astounding Sophie Okonedo, will have Oscar knocking on the door, but the question is – How will the Academy decide whose door?

ONLINE: Editor Tina Brown (left) has the resurrection of Vanity Fair and the total redesign (some would say “rebirth” ) of the New Yorker on her resume. But THE DAILY BEAST is another animal all together. It is, Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington notwithstanding, perhaps the hippest, most sophisticated and most literate of the aggregate web sites. Launched about a year and a half ago, and named after the daily newspaper in Evelyn Waugh’s 1938 novel, SCOOP, this is the site that shows us the true path online journalism is taking. Tina Brown will undoubtedly be considered a digital media pioneer. Tina. Who knew?

Friday, November 14, 2008


The Greyhound bus leaves Tulsa for Slidell, LA only once a day, at 5:40 PM Central. The 959-mile journey takes one day, four hours and fifty minutes, and the bus makes exactly 20 stops through Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana before it reaches stop #21, Slidell. The round-trip non-refundable ticket costs $272.00. One must be mighty determined to reach Slidell to endure what amounts to the modern-day equivalent of a stagecoach ride.

Cynthia Lynch (below, right) had that determination when she boarded the bus on Friday, November 7. It had to have been an emotional moment to climb the three steps on the bus. It was the first time Lynch had ever been outside of Tulsa, according to later reports from family members. She was a troubled loner, an outcast. At six feet tall, she had close-cropped hair when she left Tulsa. When her body was found three days later, her head had been shaved. The one photo that has been released shows a severe strain, a sadness that only time sculpts into a woman’s face. Maybe that is why she had the twisted plan to be a part of the Ku Klux Klan, to be affiliated, just to belong. No matter that her new circle of compatriots were deep into hatefulness, or that their common bond was the lethal mix of violence and intolerance.

The only outstanding events known about Lynch are a couple of run ins with the law. Something about loud music coming from her apartment and methamphetamine. Charges were eventually dropped. A felony charge of attempted murder of her husband was expunged, according to application she completed to join the Klan.

But her lawyer, recently quoted in the Associated Press, knows how singularly alone she really was. “I would think the reason she was even involved with these people was probably because she was extremely lonesome and wanted to be involved with something,” said Fred Henderson DeMier. “She probably would have joined the Boy Scouts if she could have.”

“These people” that DeMier references are the Dixie Brotherhood, a modern-day Ku Klux Klan group that met in the remote woods of tiny Sun, LA, about an hour north of New Orleans. The ringleader, Raymond Foster (left), reportedly shot Lynch as she tried to back out of a KKK initiation. Lynch had apparently changed her mind - some speculate she was simply homesick. After she was killed, Foster and his buddies used a knife to dig the bullet out of her body, reportedly to get rid of the evidence. A couple of the conspirators later emerged from the woods and stopped by a convenience store. After they asked the clerk how to remove blood stains from clothing, the clerk called authorities and in short order Foster and his band of bottom feeders were arrested.

End of unfortunate, bizarre story? Hardly. If you are 20-something, or even 30-something, the KKK might seem like some long ago association of ignorant, societal fringe fanatics who hate black people and burn crosses. It came up somewhere in a social studies book in school, right? Oh, and probably your image of the Klan burning their crosses is placed somewhere in the deep South, right? Evidently the Klan is still active in the South, but recent reports of Klan activity are all over the map:

• Islip Terrace, Long Island, NY: Just this past week the regional KKK, known as the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, dropped pamphlets on doorsteps there, espousing white supremacy and warning residents of the dangers of losing superiority over other races. This comes right on the heels of seven teens charged on Nov. 13 in the brutal, racially charged stabbing death of an Ecuadorian immigrant. The crime has been labeled as racially-motivated. Some kids in that area now engage in a sport called “beaner jumping,” which involves hunting down Central Americans and exacting violence upon them.
• Mastic, NY: In this Hamlet near Islip Terrace, following Barack Obama’s recent victory, the Secret Service opened an investigation into racist graffiti spray-painted on more than two dozen vehicles, including messages targeting Obama. The messages are not in any way left open to interpretation. One said simply, “Kill Obama.”
• Meade County, KY: Last week a trial started involving members of the Imperial Klans of America, whose members are charged in the alleged 2006 beating of one Jordan Gruver, by two Klansmen.The IKA labels the charges ”ridiculous.” By week's end, Gruver, an American citizen of Panamanian descent, had been awarded $2.5 million by the jury. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization that brought the lawsuit on Gruver's behalf, Gruver had attended a county fair when several Klansmen who were there recruiting "threw whisky in his face and called him a 'spic.' Gruver, who stood 5-foot-3 and weighed just 150 pounds at the time, was surrounded, beaten to the ground and kicked by the Klansmen, one of whom was 6-foot-5and 300 pounds. He was left with a broken jaw and arm, two cracked ribs and multiple cuts. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and has permanent arm and jaw injuries."

There are other instances that could be cited here of Klan violence in the 21st Century. Know this: The digital communications revolution has found its way to the most intolerant and racist among us. The Klan is all over the web, and if you thought history had shelved organized racism, you might want to visit their sites, although I will not link to them here. In doing some background work for this article, I visited a number of Klan web sites, read about “fag marriage,” how “dirty jews own the media,” how “we must do God’s work so our white children will be forever protected,”and all about how if you are “not of the white race, this site is not for the likes of you.”

One particularly disturbing Klan site reminds you a good reason to join is that “it is a secret organization, and no one will ever know that you are a member.” Cynthia Lynch may have relished the idea of being a part of something so private and ideologically collaborative. I wonder. Perhaps you should wonder, as well. How underground has racism and intolerance gone in our era of political correctness? How many Americans harbor severe cultural, ethnic or race-based hate? Perhaps Cynthia did not die in vein. Her death will likely cause media types, like me, to pay attention to the grass roots efforts toward re-segregating America. If ever there were a time for true vigilance, this is that time.
The press never rests, you know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Read all about it: Newspapers are on life support. In case you have not noticed, your daily newspaper, wherever you are in the world, has shrunk in physical size, in editorial content and especially in the size and number of display ads. The proverbial IV drip that is sustaining all the news that’s fit to print has much to do with our inability to let go. We love our newspaper. We drink coffee while we read it. We tear out cool stories and stick them on the fridge. We feel some kind of inexplicable kinship with our favorite columnists. We feel a sense of ownership of the familiar front page layouts, the banner headlines, the feel and smell of the newsprint. We just can’t quit our daily newspaper fix.

Unfortunately, we may have to. As usual, the numbers tell the story: Average weekday circulation at 507 papers was about 38.2 million copies for the period ended September 30, 2008, according to the U.S. Audit Bureau of Circulations. That was a 4.6 percent drop from the same six-month period a year ago. From September 2006 to 2007, the drop was only 2.6 percent. Sunday circulation, which was measured at 571 papers, fell 4.9 percent to about 43.6 million copies. That drop also accelerated -- last year's Sunday decline was 3.5 percent.

As if the numbers were not doomy and gloomy enough, last week we found out that the Christian Science Monitor will stop printing and move online, after more than a century in print. And get this: There is even a web site devoted to the obsolescence of newspapers. Aptly named newspaperdeathwatch.com, it seems to never run out of fresh material about sagging sales, layoffs and the ongoing triumph of online over traditional journalism. If all that were not enough evidence of the decline of daily print publications, get this: One of our absolute favorite alternative weeklys, Washington, D.C.'s City Paper recently filed for "Journalism Bankruptcy." The official papers filed on October 10 in D.C.'s bankruptcy court state, "The gradual rise of the Internet as a conduit for all the sorts of information provided by City Paper—from classified ads through news—has buffeted the paper’s business, as well as that of other print publications. City Paper has suffered through a typical onslaught of industry downtrends, including declines in circulation, display advertising revenues, and classified advertising revenues."

You may not realize it, but you’ve gone digital. (Hey, you’re reading Greenberg Rants, right?) Everybody in the industry attempts to pinpoint the exact moment newspapers became anemic. Me? I place it smack dab in 1998. That was the year Matt Drudge (right), the “anti-journalist” to many traditional newspaper scribes, broke the Monica Lewinsky story wide open. It was Drudge who scooped everybody from the New York Times to the Washington Post to Newsweek Magazine. Drudge runs a high-traffic site called The Drudge Report. Here are the words that forever changed the newspaper business:
"At the last minute, at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening, NEWSWEEK magazine killed a story that was destined to shake official Washington to its foundation: A White House intern carried on a sexual affair with the President of the United States!
The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top NEWSWEEK suits hours before publication. A young woman, 23, sexually involved with the love of her life, the President of the United States, since she was a 21-year-old intern at the White House. She was a frequent visitor to a small study just off the Oval Office where she claims to have indulged the president's sexual preference. Reports of the relationship spread in White House quarters and she was moved to a job at the Pentagon, where she worked until last month.
The young intern wrote long love letters to President Clinton, which she delivered through a delivery service. She was a frequent visitor at the White House after midnight, where she checked in the WAVE logs as visiting a secretary named Betty Curry, 57.The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that tapes of intimate phone conversations exist.
The minute Matt Drudge scooped Newsweek, I believe all bets were off. The future of traditional print journalism was set in stone. Fast forward to January 8, 2006. That was the day none other than Ms. Oprah Winfrey had egg on her face after it was revealed that James Frey, an author she promoted on her show, had fudged some facts in his bestseller, “A Million Little Pieces.” Turns out much of Frey’s non-fiction narrative was made up. And who revealed that to America? TheSmokingGun.com, a web site devoted to increasingly juicy revelations that mainstream media seems to either miss completely or wait way too long to report. The same site first reported that that a finalist in Fox's "Joe Millionaire" had appeared in fetish and bondage movies. Even the Enquirer and People missed that one. Oh, by the way, did you know that the complete 16,659-page FBI file on Dr. Martin Luther King is now online? Yes, and you will find it via The Memory Hole, a web site dedicated to preserving and disseminating documents in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or not widely known. You will not, however, find it in your daily newspaper.

Will newspapers survive? I say they must survive, because they are an integral part of our culture. It is not a scientific projection, but here’s my best guess: I believe newspapers will move largely online, but will continue to publish on paper, although not as frequently. Expect online editions of your daily paper, and weekly or bi-weekly print editions which build on the online content. For example, perhaps your online version will offer the news angle of a story, while the print version offers a more magazine-like feature angle. Online: “McCain returns to the Senate.” Print: “John and Cindy McCain: Life after a two–year campaign.

Newspapers will also survive by “scooping” themselves online. The immediacy of digital journalism is the beauty of the technology. Why wait until the morning paper comes out to reveal what happened in the middle of the night? Publish it online as soon as it happens, and then decide if it is worth expanding upon in the weekly print version.

As I said, newspapers are part of us. Remember Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday?” What about the Daily Planet where Clark Kent worked? Citizen Kane? Paperboys proclaiming, “Read all about it.” Morning coffee without the editorial page? Perish the thought. Newspapers are us.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Most Important Five Minutes and Thirty-Nine Seconds You Will Spend Today

"An American Prayer" was born of the genius of Dave Stewart (formerly of the Eurythmics). Press "play" and find out for yourself. Here is what another genius, Bob Dylan, had to say about Stewart:
“Captain Dave is a dreamer and a fearless innovator, a visionary of high order, very delicately tractable on the surface but beneath that, he's a slamming, thumping, battering ram, very mystical but rational and sensitive when it comes to the hot irons of art forms. An explosive musician, deft guitar player, innately recognizes the genius in other people and puts it into play without being manipulative. With him, there's mercifully no reality to yesterday. He is incredibly gracious and soulful, can command the ship and steer the course, dragger, trawler or man of war, Captain Dave.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Admit it – we have all been thinking a lot about social change lately. A black guy is moving into the White House. It is a thrilling moment of social advancement in our nation, but still there are those who don’t get it and probably never will. (Reference Pat Buchanan's March 21 column about how “grateful” blacks should be to whites. Poor Pat. Doesn’t get it.)

Not “getting it” is rearing its collective head now regarding gay marriage. You have to recognize the irony in Americans who open the door a little crack for some citizens, and then slam it shut to others. Are gays now to be the new blacks? And what should we do about Hispanics, the largest minority population in the U.S., now projected to triple in numbers by 2050, according to the Pew Hispanic Center? Largely marginalized at this moment, it seems as if we might want to rethink our traditional views of Hispanics. Oh, and what about those pesky senior citizens? That population is bound to double between now and 2050. Should we go ahead and just keep warehousing them in pretty retirement homes where bingo and bridge reign supreme?

Interestingly, running through every one of our minority populations are gay Americans. And somehow, because two people with the same reproductive organs fall in love, America has collectively decided to disenfranchise gay people. (Disenfranchise defined: To deprive of the rights of a citizen). How do you feel about that? Do you feel that you, as a citizen, have the right to deprive other citizens of their rights because of their sexual preference? Are your rights as a citizen in any way tied to your sexual organs? Let’s carry that just a step further: What if your rights as a citizen were challenged based on some things that you have done sexually in your life? Think back, real hard now. What if, all of a sudden, your citizenship was challenged because you had sex with someone other than your spouse? Or what if you were no longer allowed to visit your spouse in the hospital because of that one time you had sex with a prostitute? Or wait, what about this? What if you were turned down for military service because you like three-ways?

Okay, you get the point. What in the world does sex, sexuality or sexual behavior have to do with basic rights of citizenship? Nothing. Nothing at all. All the more reason to be shocked that voters dealt a crushing blow to gay rights activists in California, when they put a stop to gay marriage. And perhaps you also heard that amendments to ban gay marriage were approved in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents. Similar bans already existed in 27 states before Tuesday’s vote.But none of those states had already seen 18,000 gay couples united in marriage, as California had. California Attorney General Jerry Brown claims those couples will remain legally married. So, if you fell in love on time in California, you’re married. If you fell in love too late, you have no legal right to visit your partner in the hospital as he or she lies dying, if the blood relatives decide you’re persona non grata.

I am fully confident that in my lifetime gay Americans will be allowed to marry one another. Did you know only 41 years ago it was illegal for a black American to marry a white American? That changed with the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia, which finally legalized interracial marriage. That ruling struck down the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a piece of legislation that made it a felony for white persons and non-white persons to marry. So, not until 1967 were blacks and whites legally allowed to marry. As I said earlier, social change moves very slowly in America.

The bigger issue is our ongoing dedication to intolerance in America. Intolerance is alive and thriving, legislatively speaking. The realization of how damaging intolerance can be was written all over the faces of grown men who cried uncontrollably when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. The dangers of intolerance became painfully evident in 1998, in the face of young Matthew Shepard, or in the stories of any number of other young people who have been unmercifully beaten or stabbed or disfigured or killed.

So if you are opposed to gay marriage, perhaps you might reevaluate your position and put some focus on one of our favorite and most time-honored phrases of human characteristics – “the content of their character.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


An hour ago Barack Obama was declared the 44th President of the United States.

It made me think about the great advantage of having lived through the 1960s, when I would watch the evening news and see films of black people being hit with wooden clubs on Detroit streets, or sprayed with high pressure firefighting hoses in the deep South. I saw pictures of white men blocking school doors in Alabama so that black school children would not be able to share in the educational resources of the public school system. When the chief peacemaker of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and spoke to tens of thousands of Americans gathered on the Capitol Mall, I heard my Midwestern neighbors refer to him and his followers as niggers. After activist Malcom X was shot in the chest with a sawed off shotgun, while delivering a speech, I heard a clerk in our neighborhood drugstore say, “He got what he deserved.” In 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated on a balcony of a Memphis motel, much of white America did not grieve or even truly grasp the gravity of the loss.

I grew up in our racially separatist culture. I did not know any black people until my high school years, and even then everyone knew the rules – stay with your own. So, tonight is a societal bellwether in America. A paradigm shift of this magnitude is not only unprecedented, but life-altering. The revelers who gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park were understandably high-spirited and joyous throughout the evening, but if you noticed, when Barack Obama took the stage, after the initial hoopla, things turned quiet. Someone once said, “When it all comes together, it’s a quiet thing.” And it is. There was a reverence in Grant Park last night. Not toward the man so much, as toward the moment. Even the most ardent John McCain supporters among us should step back and honor the moment in American history that proved that Americans can honor and respect each other in ways we have not necessarily demonstrated before.

I want to remember Voting Day 2008 as the most human of all election days I have experienced. This was a story of true grit and human spirit. Some examples:
• In L.A., a pregnant Tracie Van Doren’s water broke as she was standing in line waiting to vote. After a quick trip to the doctor, she actually returned to the polls to vote before she gave birth.
• Young Rick Garcia told a CNN reporter he voted in honor of his brother, an American soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb on August 1.
• In Nashua, N.H. another pregnant woman went into labor at 3 a.m., but somehow managed to wait until the polls opened, voted, and then went to the hospital to deliver he child.
• It was revealed yesterday that Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama’s grandmother, voted via absentee ballot on October 27. She died one day before her beloved grandson was elected the first black President of the United States.
• In San Antonio, Betty Owen, 92, dependent on a feeding tube and unable to walk, went to the polls in an ambulance,and voted from a gurney.
• In L.A., more than 300 homeless people who live on the notorious Skid Row, voted in Tuesday’s election. One of them said, "For once in my lifetime ... someone really cares about the small people out there."

And back in Chicago, Jesse Jackson, who was with Dr. King on the balcony when he died, was seen on camera with tears streaming down his cheek. As were Oprah Winfrey, and tens of thousands of others. Even those of us at home watching history unfold on CNN shed real tears. It was, and is, the historical moment that allows us to change course, to return to the original definition of America and to show the rest of the world why this country still sets the standards for the free world.

I wonder if Jesse Jackson and others thought last night of that night so many years ago when Dr. King died. People gathered in the streets and brought the concept of civil disobedience to a new peak. There were riots, fires, shootings. There was rampant violence and urban devastation. That was the night Mayor John Lindsey of New York City bravely walked into Harlem to beseech the citizens to honor Dr. King’s message of peace. But tonight, 40 years later, during this watershed moment, there is nothing but jubilation in the streets of America. Tonight there will be no broken windows, flames or shootings. Civil rights leader and Dr. King colleague John Lewis called it today’s vote a “nonviolent revolution.”

The President-elect told us why:
“…America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Say Goodnight George

All of us media consumer types are about to be deluged with stories about George W. Bush's legacy. I can sum up W's legacy in one sentence that has no verb. Watch this: 9-11, Katrina, Iraq, Economic Meltdown. How'm I doing? Thanks.

For those of us who lived through the Vietnam debacle in the 1960s, watching Lyndon Johnson announce that he would not run for a second term signified one of the biggest defeats we had ever seen in the American presidency. Johnson, irretrievably enmeshed in the quagmire that was Vietnam, knew he was finished. Still, I, and many others, do not see the Vietnam disaster as his legacy. His real legacy has to do with history-altering social justice and civil rights legislation.

After Johnson, the next big presidential failure was Richard Nixon. Nixon, of course, is now chiefly remembered for the Watergate scandal, and for his parnoid fixation on his perceived enemies. But even Nixon has about a 10 percent redemption rate. After all, it was during his administration that China was first opened to the Western world. And it was during his abbreviated second term that a pact was signed with the Soviet Union to control the use of nuclear weapons. Nixon was no saint, but he was also no George W. Bush.

Bush is now widely held to be the most flawed President in contemporary American history, and that's being kind. Some would delete the word "contemporary" from the previous sentence. Bush's poor judgment, jumbled priorities and lack of international political savvy will resonate in this country for a long, long time. I live in New Orleans, where fully three years and three months after Hurricane Katrina, the worst national disaster in American history, we still see the storm in present tense.
We see it in the stretches of residential areas that still look as though the giant wave came in yesterday. We see it in the inordinate amount of downtown office space that remains vacant because businesses are still hesitant to locate here. We see it in the empty, rotting storefronts, citywide, that once were bastions of the city's small business-intensive economy. And we see it in the battle-weary face of Mayor Ray Nagin, whose largely ineffective dealings with Washington, D.C. have frustrated him, angered him and generally caused him to become the ultimate lame duck Mayor. The Federal response to the shattered Gulf Coast of America, under the Bush administration, has been shamefully lacking, and inhumane. Those of us who have lived Katrina since August 29, 2005, will forever see to it that this incident defines the Bush legacy.

When I step outside of my local focus, I think of George W. Bush as the president who took the nation to war for no reason. As of this morning, the American death count in this war of unprecedented meaninglessness is 4,190. Of the dead, 3,889 died in combat, fighting for nothing. The most recent casualty is one Pfc. Cody J. Eggleston,of Eugene, Ore., who died at the National in Bethesda, Maryland, of wounds suffered on October 16 in Baqhdad, Iraq, when he received indirect fire. Cody was 21 years old.

In Cody's obituary, published in the Daily News Miner, we are told that his wife "requested one last 'date night.' She assisted the nurses in bathing him and helped dress him in the hospital's finest dark navy blue gown. She put on the dress that Cody loved, and laid down next to him and fell asleep in her handsome husband's arms. Cody passed away a short time later."
Cody Eggleston is the face of George Bush's legacy. Take a good look at that face.

Like November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was killed, those of us in my generation now have the image of planes flying into buildings in New York City on September 11, 2001 etched into our memory banks. We cannot erase it. We cannot undo it, and we cannot forget it. We do not want to forget it. And even if we did, the thousands of first responders who today suffer permanent lung damage and post-traumatic stress syndrome will not allow us to forget it. It happened under George Bush's watch, and just as he rarely sets foot on Gulf Coast soil, and almost never touches down in Baghdad, those who suffer the after-effects of 9-11 rarely see or hear from him. Their deteriorating health and justifiable bitterness are the living legacy of the Bush presidency.

And item four in the Bush legacy, the economy? Well, U.S. companies cut 760,000 jobs in the first nine months of this year, sending the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent in September. Some economists expect the rate to increase to 8 percent or higher by next year. We're approaching Great Depression era unemployment figures. From July to September consumer spending took the sharpest drop in 28 years. And by now we all know of the ongoing mortgage foreclosure saga. If you are reading this with a roof over your head, be grateful.

We, the citizens, made an error in judgment by electing George W. Bush president. We must take the rap for it. Then we temporarily lost our collective mind when we re-elected him. We must be more careful this time. Today is our day to exercise the necessary caution.

George, if you're reading this (because I'm emailing it to you the moment I post it), you must turn and walk away. You have done some irreparable damage, and you have wounded our national spirit. Your choices and judgment calls have adversely affected hundreds of millions of people, worldwide. I know I speak for many of them when I say, please go back to the ranch, ride your dirt bike, listen to some country music and stay there. You're not welcome here any more.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Great Moments in Campaign Palintology

Move over Tina Fey. As much as I hate to say it, you're yesterday's news. Today's news has more to do with a couple of guys named Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastien Trudel, a Montreal comedy duo known as the Masked Avengers. Yesterday the woman who would be president, er, uh, I mean vice-president of the U.S., Sarah Palin was mercilessly punked by the the duo, one of whom posed as French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The six-minute call was time enough for the fake Sarkozy to invite Palin to go hunting with him in a helicopter,and to implore her not to bring Dick Cheney. In case you're one of the six people left who haven't heard this uprorious prank, hear it now.

Am I the only one who now pictures Sarkozy and his nubile young wife, Carla Bruni lounging in the presidential palace, sipping champagne from foot-tall flutes, and listening to this crank call over and over again? In the background I picture Carla's new CD playing, but the more tipsy they get from the champagne, the louder their guffaws become. It's Saturday Night Live at the palace - no Tina Fey required.

This would be so much fun if it were not so prophetic. Listen carefully to Palin on the phone with fake Sarkozy. She sounds like a high school girl taking a call from the captain of the football team. She's about this close to giggling and tripping over her words. Thank God it was not the real president of France speaking. Are we not, as a country, sufficiently humiliated by now? Do we need a woman who is one heartbeat away from the presidency speaking to one of the most powerful men in the world as though he were calling to ask her to the prom?

This latest misstep on the part of the McCain/Palin camp makes me wonder if we haven't been missing the forest for the trees. Everyone questions Palin's readiness to assume the presidency, and usually the question has to do with her lack of knowledge of foreign policy or with her unfamiliarity with the Washington scene. Perhaps we should also be questioning this candidate's level of sophistication. The world has certain expectations of the President of the United States. Whoever assumes this position is expected to exhibit a certain worldliness, wisdom and urbane demeanor. Even Jimmy Carter and Teddy Roosevelt were able to pull that off when called upon to do so.

But Sarah? Well, I guess I should apologize for this before I say it, but...well...who was it that once said, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig?" Oh shut up now. I didn't necessarily mean Mrs. Palin is a pig. All right already, I'll rephrase. How's this? You can put $150,000 worth of Neiman Marcus and Saks duds on a Wasilla girl, but she's still a Wasilla girl. Wasilla - population 9,780, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Wasilla, where the population is 85.46% white. Wasilla, in its way, may be a lovely spot in Alaska. One wonders if it offered Mrs. Palin the requisite life experience to deal with people like Nicolas Sarkozy, or say, Vladimir Putin, or Queen Elizabeth.

I'm worried. I'm not taking a full breath until after Tuesday.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spooky but True...by Mike Luckovich


When you think of powerful females in television today, you may immediately go to Martha Stewart, or our Holy St. Oprah of Chicago, or even the singlularly ageless intellect of Miss Diane Sawyer. Me? I'm in awe of all of the above, but when I think of power, my mind quickly shifts to Whoopi, Joy, Sherri, Elizabeth and Barbara. Like Cher or Madonna, they have reached the 'only-need-one-name' status. They are the women of "The View," the daily chatfest that has slowly (11 years), but surely become the talk of the town. Anytown, USA. The power these women wield has everything to do with stimulating the national conversation, and positively contributing to the public mix of ideas.

Whoopi didn't really need "The View," but it needed her, after one long, overheated year with Rosie O'Donnell as moderator. Joy Behar, a Brooklyn-born Italian often mistaken for a Jew (she dubs herself a Shiksa non-grata), is a former high school teacher turned standup comedienne. Let's just say Joy has come a long way since her salad days in Brooklyn. None other than the New York Times recently said she "looms as the new Edward R. Murrow." Sherri, poor thing, joined the show a year ago or so, and is working hard to keep up with her four co-hosts, but often makes unfortunate gaffes. She once questioned whether the world might truly be flat. Really. Elizabeth is an alumna of an early season of "Survivor," who has turned that one-season apearance on reality TV into a full career as a talking head. And Barbara....well, Barbara is Barbara, pioneer, trailblazer and success story.

So how did the members of this unlikely quintet become the most powerful women in television? They took daytime TV and stretched it, turned it inside out, nursed it and rehearsed it until finally it became truly substantive. "The View" is now enjoying its highest ratings ever, with the ladies squeezing every last drop of controversy out of their daily "Hot Topics" segment. Behar, an unabashed liberal Democrat, clashes daily and vociferously with Hasselbeck, a radical conservative right-winger who recently introduced her new hero, Sarah Palin at a campaign rally. Barbara, although she sort of tries to remain neutral is clearly a liberal Democrat, as is Whoopi. And poor Sherri, age 40, admits she has never voted in a Presidential election. Really.

Not exactly by design, Walters and her longtime producing partner, Bill Gedde, have assembled a panel that truly is a microcosm of the larger society of American women. Am I the only middle-aged white guy who TIVOs "The View" every single day and would never consider missing "Hot Topics?" I think not. I have a feeling men are tuning in in large numbers. We like to watch the ladies rant, and we actually learn a few things along the way. "The View" is intelligent media with an edge, but without the attitude. There is some yelling, but it's not the Bill O'Reilly brand. There is some partisan politicking, but it's not the FOX News model. There is a group of talking heads, but they know when to stop and listen, unlike the heads on some of those nightly cable talkathons.

Hey, not everybody wants to be a member of this fan club. Barry Manilow refused to appear on the show as long as he had to sit on the same panel with Hasselbeck. Cindy McCain was pissed off after she felt the ladies were a bit too rough on her husband, who Joy often refers to as McBush. Rosie O'Donnell quit before her contract was up because things were getting too contentious on-air with Elizabeth, and apparently behind the scenes with ViewMaster Gedde.

Whatever. I say Bravo! to the well-poofed and powdered fivesome. Daytime TV finally has some intellectual largesse, with a dose of hot humor and just a pinch of edgy disobedience. Like Babs instructs us at the end of the show....Take a little time to enjoy The View.