Sunday, December 28, 2008


If you're an American of a certain age, Caroline Kennedy is iconic in your cultural frame of reference. Those idyllic photos of the six-year-old Caroline with her sandy-haired dad, President John F. Kennedy are ingrained in your psyche. The image of Caroline, in perfect little girl coat and white gloves, descending the Capitol steps with her mother, Jackie, on the day of JFK's funeral. And then the prevailing image of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg as the cultural doyenne of Manhattan, the cerebral author, wife and mother. It is all sort of perfect, is it not?

About a nano-second after Hillary Clinton was named Secretary of State to be, news of Kennedy's desire to replace her in the U.S. Senate spanned the globe. Media loved it, we mid-20th century babies ate it up, and reporters could not wait to ink it up in every daily coast to coast, and digitize it on every news and information site from The Drudge Report to Perez Hilton. Hot copy? You bet. Jalapeno hot. Pamela Anderson Hot. Eliot Spitzer hot, but in a good way.

On December 27, Kennedy sat down with the big one - the New York Times. Speaking to political reporters Nicholas Confessore and David M. Halbfinger, Kennedy waxed prophetic about, well, not much. In her lengthy interview she refers to "issues that are important to me," but never really mentions what they are. She gushes about her uncle Teddy, but never quite gets around to stating which initiatives of his she would champion, especially in the event of his sudden retirement. She claims, "No one has a more supportive husband than I do," but she fails to explain why she has essentially dropped the last name of Schlossberg. When directly asked what kind of management experience she has and what sort of staff she has, she responds only, "Obviously, you need to build a team." The management question garners no response.

Here is a woman who was born into the political process and was raised on campaign strategy. Yet when asked to allow the electorate insight into her positions, views on critical issues and plans for transition into public service, she offers nothing. Our full hearts want Caroline Kennedy to be a winner. The entire nation has watched her lose her family, one by one, in devastating and sometimes unnatural ways. But our increasing political savvy tells us to step back and take a beat. Maybe Caroline is not the appropriate Kennedy to maintain the longstanding American tradition of keeping a Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

As an aside, it is probably worth mentioning that in her interview with the New York Times, she began several of her responses with "um," and more than 100 times, used the phrase "You know." Here is a snippet of the transcript from that interview:

These are distinctively critical times in the U.S. Every person sent to represent the electorate needs a defined legislative mission and a clear understanding of the process by which the mission can be accomplished. No one doubts the intelligence and sincerity of Caroline Kennedy. She has gained the respect of the American people, but not as a legislator. If the country were on more stable footing, perhaps the people of New York could afford to offer Kennedy the time it would take her to learn the system and become an effective Senator. But stability is not in site now, and perhaps Kennedy's formidable skills might be better used in the diplomatic arena. Kennedy already has a respectable alliance with President-elect Obama. The new President knows talent when he sees it - he will find the best way for Kennedy to use hers.

To state this in its most simplistic terms: There are more than three million Americans. There are 100 U.S. Senators. Shouldn't those 100 individuals be the brightest, the best, the most talented among us? Should they not be people who have a clear plan to rescue the nation from its current economic quagmire? Should they not be people who know how to move a critical piece of legislation through the system and fast track it to benefit the constituents? And even though the current situation requires the Governor of New York to appoint a Senator to replace Clinton, should that person not be one who has earned the position by a clear demonstration of commitment, experience and determination to work for the citizens? Unfortunately, Kennedy's resume is not terribly substantive, and certainly not ready for legislative prime time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


George W. Bush is tired. So weary is the Chief Executive of Bad Judgment that last week he granted a pardon to a real estate developer who defrauded poor people. Oy. And it gets worse. The pardonee in question, one Mr. Isaac Robert Toussie of Brooklyn, is just the kind of standup guy you would want your President to unleash on civil society. Toussie pleaded guilty in 2001 to using false documents to get federally insured mortgages, and in 2002 to mail fraud for selling land to Suffolk County at twice the appraised value. Still, were it not for the fact that his father Robert Toussie made the maximum contribution of $30,800 to the Republican party a few months ago, the younger Toussie might be a free man. Unfortunately, with egg – no, let’s say eggs Benedict on its short-term face, the Bush administration was forced to rescind the pardon a day after it was granted.

I’m just saying Bush & Co. are tired. So tired. So tired they forgot to check to see if pardonee Toussie’s family had donated large to the cause. (The cause would ostensibly be the Republican party, with a thinly-veiled hidden agenda to get Jr. out of hock). But here at the end of 2008, it seems everybody’s a little tired. As long as we’re talking Republican fatigue, can somebody please explain Republican National Committtee (RNC) candidate Chip Saltsman? Saltsman’s holiday greeting
to the Committee members was a CD that included a song titled, “Barack The Magic Negro,” set to the tune of “Puff The Magic Dragon.” “We Hate the USA” is a satirical collection of songs by songwriter Paul Shanklin, that also features such songs as “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright place, wrong pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish banner.”

Note to Chip: First, there are certain words that we deliberately eliminate from the language. We eliminated Negro about 40 years ago, and these days, when you’re trying to snag a seat on the RNC, the way to fast track yourself to oblivion is to revive “Negro.” Second, in case you forgot, people are kind of keeping a sharp eye on RNC activities since the big RNC email scandal of 2007, when it was discovered that White House officials were using RNC email addresses to conduct governmental business – which, Chip, you should know is a no-no. If the email scandal got lots of media coverage, didn’t you think maybe a CD calling Barack Obama a Negro might garner a little attention, too?

I’m telling you – it’s that end-of-the-year malaise. Maybe the tryptophan in turkey has long term effects. Even our holy St. Oprah of Chicago is tripping on tryptophan. Get this: Remember the whole James Frey debacle with the memoir that turned out to be largely fictionalized? And Oprah had to have the guy back on the show to incur her highly-incensed wrath? Well, the buzz is that there’s a Frey Redux happening, but this time the author is a holocaust survivor who claims me met his wife while he was in detention, and that she lived on the other side of the camp’s fence. Supposedly they met years later in Brooklyn and were married. Now people are questioning the veracity of the author, Herman Rosenblat.

Let me see if I have this straight: The world economy is tanking, a new U.S. President is about to say “I do,” urban crime is peaking, Americans are losing their homes and their jobs in record numbers, and we are supposed to get excited about an elderly Jewish guy whose memory of what happened in a German prison camp 70 years ago might be a little hazy. Count me out.

But add me back in when you get to the part about Chrysler reportedly spending upwards of $100,000 on full page ads in major dailies including Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and USA Today. The ads are headlined with “Thank You America,” and include long-winded copy that thanks America for investing in Chrysler. Other than the time CEO Bob Nardelli took a private jet to D.C. to beg for a bailout, this has to be about the most thoughtless, ill-founded idea any of the Big Three automakers has drummed up this year. You go to Congress asking for some loan cash, and then you spend a big chunk of it thanking them for their “investment.” Billionaire Mark Cuban is pissed off about it, and…well…so am I.
Note to Bob Nardelli: Why not take the $100K and financially thank some workers who were laid off? Or, Nardelli, if you’re not feeling quite that benevolent, why not take the $100K and put it toward research and development of fuel-saving technology? Or here’s a novel thought: Why not spend it as it was intended to be spent, re-energizing the company so that it can once again show some muscle in the marketplace? Bob, we citizens out here are happy right now just to be able to pay the light bill. So you have to know we’re watching with eagle eyes every move you make in Detroit, since the U.S. government has spent billions bailing you out, but not a penney to ensure that we will have a roof over our heads. Don’t spend thousands saying “Thanks.” Build a better buggy, make it run on corn or soybeans or whatever, and put some people back to work. Capiche?

Listen, it's been a tough year, right? Why wouldn't it end with whacked-out Presidential pardons, tasteless holiday greetings, murky memoirs and a CEO who's got his financial head buried up his assets? I'm tired, too, aren't you? I need a drink. So do you. And put a damned umbrella in it and call it Happy New Year. Here's to ya. It's got to be cocktail hour somewhere.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

EARTHA KITT: 1927 - 2008

At a 1968 White House luncheon, sultry chanteuse Eartha Kitt joined 49 other prominent women for what would normally have been a “no-headlines” affair. But when First Lady Lady Bird Johnson asked the group what could be done to curb juvenile delinquency, Kitt rose to speak:

“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed,” she said. “They rebel in the street. They will take pot and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”

The ladies gasped, Lady Bird cried and the media exploded worldwide. Those 51 words were enough for the Johnsons to mount a campaign against Kitt that resulted in the singer’s being blacklisted by clubs and theatres throughout the U.S. Kitt was compelled to move to Europe to continue her career, until she triumphantly returned to the U.S. in 1978 in the “Broadway musical, “Timbuktu!”

Upon her return, reporter Seymour Hirsch of the New York Times revealed that even prior to 1968, at the behest of the Secret Service, the FBI had dug up whatever dirt they could on Kitt. It wasn't much. That is when the CIA reportedly put together a dossier on Kitt that portrayed her as a nymphomaniac. Hirsch wrote: “She was depicted in the CIA document as having ‘a very nasty disposition,’ and as ‘being a spoiled child, very crude and having a vile tongue.’ Miss Kitt, who is black, was said not to associate with other Negroes and ‘often bragged that she had very little Negro blood.’”

Well, it was the 60s, and Lyndon Johnson was hopelessly entangled in a war without end. Perhaps Kitt speaking out against the Vietnam war while lunching in the White House was the last humiliation the beleguered President could endure. The infamous ladies lunch happened in January, 1968. In April, LBJ announced he would not run for a second term, presumably because of the tens of thousands of troops who had been sent “off to be shot and maimed.” As it turned out, the elegant songbird had really spoken for countless Americans when she exercised her constitutional right to free speech in the White House. It wasn't the last time Kitt would court controversy: in 1974 she performed for white-only audiences in South Africa, at the height of apartheid. She had a hidden agenda, however. She raised enough money through the concerts and personal appearances to build two schools for black children. Much was written of her defiant performances in South Africa, but little ink was granted to the schools that were built with her earnings.

Earth Kitt died on Christmas Day from colon cancer. She was 81, and it is safe to say she did it all her way.

Eartha Kitt performing just months before her death.

Friday, December 19, 2008


(Photo (c) New York Magazine 2008)

In high school our class president, Steve, knocked up one of the varsity cheerleaders, and soon after was discovered smoking marijuana. In the early 70’s in the middle of middle America, the refrain went, “They start with marijuana, but it leads to LSD.” I don’t think Steve was tripping, but I do know that he already had sent one of his previous girlfriends to Kansas for an abortion. So trashy, right? It reminds you of, say, Eliot Spitzer (above). Or, worse, John Edwards. Or Governor Blagojevich (right, who mysteriously sports my exact high school "swoop" haircut) or Idaho Senator Larry “Bathroom Stall” Craig. Or sleazebag, “alleged” multiple wife killer Drew Peterson. (Did you hear that Peterson is freshly-engaged to a 23-year-old waitress?) What is with these guys? Seriously. Every one of them has the Steve Syndrome.

Steve Syndrome (SS) is an ever-increasing tendency among men over 45 to act out in ways that suggest 16. A bad 16. SS is characterized by a need to “get away with” something. Many of these men have a couple of real pronounced traits in common. First, they cheat. Second, they do it because they need to pull it off. The rush is in the deception more than the act. I truly believe that everything involved in the deception, from the other women, to hiding the bodies of the murdered wives, to selling Senatorial seats, to fathering a child with a mistress, to becoming a high profile politician and having sex with hookers – all of it is nothing more than a tool to get away with something. There’s just a real power in being the only one who knows what you have gotten away with. And it’s all about power, isn’t it?

After all, what is money anyway? It’s just power on paper. Witness last week’s revelations about financier Bernard Madoff (not photogenic and not pictured), who systematically swindled his investors out of billions. $50 billion is said to be ballpark. Come on. There is not a human being who needs $50 billion. Bernard ‘s crime is said to be the largest incidence of investor fraud ever perpetrated by one human being. Now, that is power. One side of Madoff’s egotistically-twisted brain is probably shocked that he has been formally charged with securities fraud. But the other, more cunning side is reveling in the sheer dominance of it all. Banks from virtually every European country have already reported losing billions because of Madoff’s scheme. Some of Palm Beach’s crème de la crème are reeling from their immense losses. Bernard Madoff feels like one powerful son of a bitch; you can bet on it. (By the way, if you want to know what a billion dollars looks like, it is pictured, above, right)

Bad boys like Spitzer and Edwards (below, left, tending to his modified Blago swoop) are likely having to re-define their fundamental self concepts, due to their loss of power. Both from financially well off families, and both remarkably successful politically, Spitzer and Edwards tasted true power over a sustained period. They also lived highly public lives and learned to charm the masses with the turn of a phrase, the right upturned smile and a certain public persona that suggested trustworthiness. All the more reason to crave the power that comes with deception. For Spitzer, the deception presented itself in the curvaceous, nubile youth of “escort” Ashley Dupre, 23. For Edwards, deception was a videographer hired by his wobbly presidential campaign, who willingly became his lover and probably gave birth to his child. Were it not for one bad judgment call the night he met his mistress and her (their?) baby in a room at the Beverly Hilton, and one National Enquirer photographer going snap,snap, Edwards would probably still be luxuriating in the glorious power of deception.

The very bad, bad boys of 2008 slipped up big time when they gave into that craving for another fix of delicious power. There were others this year – please don’t even get me started about O.J. Simpson. And I’m asking to not even mention Alex Rodriguez. Nor should we try to tackle father of four Balthazar Getty. Oh, did you hear the one about San Diego Padres outfielder Brian Giles,
whose ex-girlfriend now claims he beat her and caused her to have a miscarriage? And is there really one more significant word left to say about Peter Cook?

I think we need some sort of Guantanamo for bad boys. No water boarding or anything like that, you understand, just a place where we can send these guys to live out their days with no power. Jesus, I feel powerful just thinking about locking John Edwards up with O.J. Or Eliot Spitzer with Drew Peterson. Do you love it? How about Governor Blago (with no comb, mirror or hair gel) sharing a nine by nine cell with the foot tapping Senator from Idaho? Listen, don’t judge me. I don’t have the premiere bad boy, Leona Helmsley (left) to kick around anymore, so what am I supposed to do?

Close your eyes. Envision the New Guantanamo with me. It’s intoxicating.
UPDATE: THE BAD BOYS ARE CROSS-POLLINATING! After the above piece was posted, the NY Times reported that Eliot Spitzer revealed at a weekend holiday party that his family's real estate firm had invested and lost money with Bernard Madoff. (Hmmm...we may have to re-arrange the cellmates now).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The most fascinating thing about mass media is its own story. Right now, with technology taking off into the stratosphere and with the economy tanking faster than the life span of a new sitcom, the story of mass media is strictly high drama. A few of the current highlights:
Give your regards to old Broadway, and baby, do it fast. Between now and early February, 15 Broadway shows and going dark. Among them: “Grease,””Hairspray,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Spring Awakening,” “Spamalot,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “All My Sons,” and “Equus.” And for the first time in almost three decades there will be no “Forbidden Broadway” production on Broadway. Could it be that $300 worth of theatre tickets for two people is a bit of a stretch in an economy that saw 84,000 U.S. homes repossessed in October? (Figure from RealtyTrac Inc.)
Some theatre rats will tell you the reason for the sky high ticket prices is that the theatre-related unions are demanding a bigger chunk of the take. So, in order to even break even, a company has to inflate the prices. Others contend the prices have everything to do with the free enterprise system. How much will the market bear? Wow, that much, huh? Okay, cool. Let’s just charge that then. And then there is the artiste contingent that will fall on the side of art having worth in the culture that should increase in step with other consumer products. Go ahead, explain that to famed playwright David Mamet, whose own “American Buffalo” revival closed in November after just one week of performances.

When the best institutions start to shut their doors in a young culture like ours, those grandkids of yours won’t have a heritage to grab on to. Watching the otherworldly Patty Lupone belt out “Everything’s Coming up Roses” on YouTube will never match the enigmatic wonder of sitting in a darkened, too-cold Broadway house, fifth row center. Are we going to let Broadway ring the register so hard that it dims itself out? God, I hope not.

• Television broke a lifelong self-imposed boundary when a British television station recently aired Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky’s documentary, "Right to Die: The Suicide Tourist." The film follows 59-year-old Craig Ewert during his last four days of life, including his on-air suicide. Ewert suffered from Motor Neuron Disease (MND) that had rendered him virtually helpless. Reportedly, his position was that the world should witness a terminally ill person dying a peaceful, rather than horrendously painful death. It was apparently a political message with a large helping of humanity.

We have certainly seen murder on television – reference Lee Harvey Oswald’s on-air shooting in 1963. We have seen terrorist attacks on television, as recently as 2001. But suicide, planned, fully considered and executed on our home television screens is something else again. What does it say about us? That the true path to gaining public awareness and understanding depends on a full sacrifice of a man’s most private moment? That media consumers are so jaded generally that the only thing that can truly get their attention is ending a life in living color?

Zaritsky is an acclaimed, gifted film maker. He has every right to create a film like this. And the station in Britain is well within its rights to air it. But should this be all about artistic freedom and commercial viability? Is this truly what we wanted television to be? If you have ever had the misfortune of watching someone you love go through the dying process, you already understand the intense intimacy of the experience. It is not really a spectator affair. When one human being dies a technologically naked death on the airwaves, does he not compromise the privacy of each one of us and our own humanity? I’m thinking maybe so.

• If you’re going to dramatize two of the most significant moments in recent U.S. cultural history, find the right re-enactors and go as authentic as you can. Done. “Frost/Nixon” lets the actor’s actor Frank Langella recreate his eerily truthful stage version of Richard Nixon on screen. Is Langella not one of the most overlooked actors in the business? Maybe this is his moment. If you missed the real thing back in 1977, television personality David Frost interviewed the president who had resigned three years earlier. The resulting six-hour broadcast was riveting, but the behind the scenes tale of how it got on the air (and almost didn’t) is juicy, juicy. Here's a clip of the real Frost and the real Nixon back in '77:

As an admitted media junkie/nerd, I truly remember the Frost/Nixon interviews. You could not make this stuff up, but if anyone can bring it back to life in a meaningful way it is director Ron Howard. Here is the official theatrical trailer for the film, "Frost/Nixon."

• And then there is Sean Penn. Who knew 20 years ago that the wiry, tall-haired Penn of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” would slowly and methodically morph into maybe the closest thing we have to a true seasoned thespian in Hollywood? And who could have predicted his slow evolution into a committed activist who would bring the passion of his politics to almost every character he would play?

Penn is Harvey Milk (below, left) in the new Gus Van Sant film, "Milk." Harvey Milk, for those who do not recall, was the San Francisco gay activist of the 1970s who was elected to the city's Board of Supervisors. Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered by another Supervisor, Dan White. It takes a filmmaker as versatile as Van Sant to tell a story of this magnitude. Van Sant, whose films run the gamut from "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" to "Psycho" to "Good Will Hunting," is probably the perfect collaborator for Penn, who seems to immerse himself more fully in each role he takes on.

Penn (below, right) is catching serious heat for his chummy tete-a-tetes with Castro and Chavez of late, but let's give credit where it's due. Taking on the role of Milk, exactly three decades after the murder, could be risky. Many young people have never heard of Milk, unfortunately. Some of those who do know his name do not understand the true extent of his influence on the contemporary gay civil liberties movement. With motion pictures like "Twilight," and "Transporter 3" burning up the box office, can a film about a gay guy who's been dead since disco was hip really make a buck? Here's the thing: Penn's got all the bucks he really needs. Based on his recent performances, and his outspoken rants about the issues that matter to him, it becomes clear the man has even more guts than cash. We like Sean Penn, don't we?

Final curtain calls on Broadway; final breaths on commercial television; and finally, quality recreations of two of the most dramatic moments of the late 20th century -- as I keep telling you -- nothing media can create will ever be quite as compelling as the backstory of media itself. And by now you know I'm just nosey enough to keep talking about it. Stay tuned, willya?

Monday, December 8, 2008


I debated with myself about writing the words “AIDS in Africa” in the title of this piece. After all, many of you still believe AIDS has nothing to do with you, and most of you believe South Africa has nothing at all to do with you. Of course that is a misconception. AIDS is a true pandemic, and a pandemic by its very nature has to do with you. It is a universal threat and an insult to humankind. It has been such for decades now. How many decades we do not know. But it is the immediacy of the global prevalence that we must confront today.

Annie Lennox, well known to many for her award-winning music, has spent the past few years bringing new awareness to the plight of South Africa, as it relates to AIDS. Michael Kearns, the Hollywood film and stage actor who was among the first to come forward as gay and HIV positive, way back when, recently travelled to South Africa. Kearns is an activist in the truest sense of the word. Today, he uses his sheer will and his understanding of the disease to grapple with it, fight it and influence you and me to do likewise.

Kearns has a way of infusing his writing with the singular grit of the five senses. Reading his words, one can see, hear, taste, feel and definitely smell the impending death among South Africans who struggle daily with AIDS. How intense their struggle really is is exemplified by one stunning statistic: At the end of 2007, there were approximately 5.7 million people living with HIV in South Africa, and almost 1,000 AIDS deaths occurring every day, according to the UNAIDS 2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic. Kearns and his 14-year-old daughter journeyed to South Africa to “investigate, discover, be surprised and be of service,” he writes. The result is eloquently documented.

I grew up with Michael until my age of 15. We lived on the same block in the middle of middle America in the middle of the 20th century. He was an exception to all of the rules of suburban Missouri. He still is. Recently, Michael and I had dinner together in New Orleans. It was the first time we had seen each other in 40 years. If the years are written in my eyes, Michael still generates Hollywood handsome. And when he speaks of his travels to South Africa, his eyes show fury and frustration. Then you read his writing and you see how present AIDS still is on earth. A sample:
If you’ve ever smelled death, you’ll agree with me that it has a distinct smell, the way cinnamon or rain has a distinct smell. I smell death. A small boy is in one of the rooms with his grandmother, changing out of his school uniform, like a toy soldier. His mother is in the adjacent room, swaddled in blankets, dying. Virtually paralyzed, she wants to say hello even though she barely has the stamina to lift her head. I hold her hand, warm to the touch.
Meanwhile, Annie Lennox trudges the hills of South Africa to smell the same struggle. Lennox heard Nelson Mandela refer to the AIDS crisis in Africa as “genocide,” and from there she has never taken a break from her humanitarian efforts. Today, she is actively involved with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the most powerful HIV/AIDS lobbying group in Africa. Recently, Lennox was instrumental in starting SING, an organization that raises funds and awareness. Last year, she assembled 23 female vocalists to record “Sing.” Watch the result now:

Mandela said, "Let us use the universal language of music, to sing out our message around the world." And I would say, simply use your voice in any way you can to eradicate AIDS. Sing out, speak out, write out, holler out, wail if you must, or holler at the moon. Do what it takes. Let Annie and Michael be your mentors. Every voice counts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: The Rest of the Story

In this rapid fire,minute-to-minute culture of ours, today’s BIG story is very old news by early evening. That is unfortunate, since the follow-up story is often so much juicier than the original headline. As promised, Greenberg Rants is keeping up with the follow ups to some recent headlines. Juicy, juicy – you’ll see:
Eliot Spitzer more or less disappeared after it was revealed that during his tenure as Governor of New York he liked to have sex with his socks on, and…oh, yes, generally with a $1,000-an-hour call girl named Ashley Dupre. In March, Spitzer stepped down, and away from the spotlight. This week he re-emerged, sort of. Spitzer is the new financial columnist for, one of the earliest and most successful online publications. Said the editor-in-chief, Jacob Weisberg: “It was not an epic negotiation…I don’t portray this as something we had to coax him into.” Uh, probably not – Spitzer remains persona non grata in both political and business circles.

Oh, and it is unlikely he will write much about a Bronx jury’s December 5 decision ordering his father, Bernard Sitzer, to pay $1.3 million in an employee discrimination suit. Four employees at one of Bernard’s buildings claimed they were fired because they were black – and they won. Is this a lovely family or what? The Thanksgiving table talk had to be something. And as for Ms Dupre, well, it seems since her high profile fleshy transactions with the Governor, she has been approached by ex-Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss to tell her story for Fleiss’ publishing house. This is disturbing on so many levels, not the least of which is Fleiss trying to be a publisher. Oh, yes, and let’s not neglect to mention that Ms.Dupre is now dead set on going all show biz. According to recent reports, Ash wants to warble for the masses.

William Jefferson has been described as the Congressman with the least power in the House of Representatives. This, even though he served nine terms as a Representative from Louisiana. If you are not a Louisianan, you may recall the name anyway. In 2006 and beyond he made national and prolonged headlines when FBI agents found $90,000 stashed in his freezer at home.

Finally, last week, Louisiana voters showed their collective wisdom and sent Jefferson packing. He was defeated in a runoff election by Anh Cao, who will forever be distinguished as the first Vietnamese American to ever be elected to the U.S. Congress.

It would appear Mr. Jefferson has a tough year ahead of him. Already under Federal indictment on 16 charges of corruption, his seat in the House was widely perceived to be his bargaining chip with the Feds. Had he been re-elected he could have offered to resign in return for leniency. But now, as a private citizen, he has no leverage. He could conceivably be the next in the long line of Louisiana politicians to spend long years in prison.

The real footnote here is Cao, who came to this country in 1975, unable to even speak English. Is the American dream alive and well? It appears it is. Cao fled South Vietnam in 1975 with his mother and two siblings. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in philosophy before earning a J.D. in 2000. The moral of this story? Anything….ANYTHING is possible. Congratulations Congressman Cao.

Sunny Von Bulow died on Dec. 6, after spending 28 years in a coma. The Von Bulow name is carved into the public consciousness due to the trial of her husband, Klaus Von Bulow. Klaus was convicted on two counts of trying to kill his wife by injecting her with insulin in the early 1980s, but his convictions were overturned on appeal. A good percentage of the world’s population continues to believe Klaus is guilty. His trials were le scandale of the 80s, and now and then Klaus still pops up in the headlines. Sonny’s children never bought their stepfather’s package of innocence, and tended to her until the end, when she died in a nursing home.
You couldn’t make anything up as dramatic as this case, but Hollywood managed to concoct a respectable motion picture out of it, “Reversal of Fortune,” with Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons (1990). Irons won an Oscar playing Klaus.

If you’re a good, loyal Greenberg Rants reader, you’ll recall our November 11th piece, “Extra, Extra! Scroll All About It!” in which we examined the current struggles of the newspaper industry. Last week, it was revealed the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper is for sale. The paper is 149 years old. That would be news enough, were it not for the further shocker that across the country more than 30 dailies are currently for sale. And, remember you heard this here first: The buzz in the industry is that the Miami Herald is for sale, as well. And if you can keep a lid on that, I'll dish further: Just this past weekend The Chicago Tribune revealed it is lumbering under a $13 billion debt and considering some type of bankruptcy proceeding. The big daddy of them all, the New York Times, citing "tighter credit and shrinking profits," plans to borrow $225 million against its Manhattan headquarters building, according to a report in Monday morning's Wall Street Journal. As we mentioned in November, this has everything to do with your slow but sure transition from an allegiance to print to a hunger for the immediacy of digital media. We still maintain that newspapers have a future in our culture. They will shrink in size and decrease in frequency (more weeklies and bi-weeklies than dailies will be the standard), but the presses will continue to roll. As for me…well, I’ll continue to dabble in both print and online. If nothing else, I have provided more black and white, grammatically-correct fish wrap for the masses over the past couple of decades than anybody I know of. Consider it a public service.

And finally, wondering whatever happened to Joe the Plumber? His 15 minutes went quick, right? Well, not exactly. Get this: Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher was back in the headlines last week when an Ohio state employee revealed she was directed to run a records check on the plumber in the final weeks of the presidential race, and after that a manager dictated an email from her address ordering a coverup of the act. Reportedly, the manager of the Department of Job and Family Services entered the employee’s office and demanded that she take down the cover up memo word for word and send it out. The records check was technically an improper access of confidential personal information. About her boss, the employee told the House State Government and Election Committee, "He appeared very upset, his neck was bright red, and he was shaking." The upshot of all of this is that an Ohio politician has now introduced legislation to be known at the “Joe the Plumber Bill,” which would provide greater safeguards for citizens’ private information.

Meanwhile, average, bald, middle-aged Joe has an agent, has written a book, has a web site, and reportedly has fielded numerous inquiries from plumber-hungry single women and men nationwide. After all, is there anything hotter than a man with a plunger and a fresh can of Drano? Oy vey. Welcome to America, right?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

THE HILLARY FACTOR: What They're Saying about Madame Secretary

Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout Hillary, right? Whether you love her or hate her (and you do, one or the other), Hillary is the woman of the moment. The Senator from New York is what we might call a classic overachiever. Congress people from both sides of the aisle have lined up in support of Obama’s decision to appoint her as Secretary of State, but somehow she remains a divisive figure in the culture. Reporters, writers and pundits are overflowing with opinions about Senator Clinton right now. Here are some of the juiciest and most compelling of their messages:
IS HILLARY INELIGIBLE FOR CABINET? It may sound like a stretch, but a conservative watchdog group called Judicial Watch is arguing that thanks to a Constitutional clause known as the “Emoluments Clause,” Hillary Clinton cannot legally become secretary of state until her Senate term expires in 2013. Crazy, right? You be the judge.

“It is the animating theme of her life, and what has allowed her to sustain multiple misfortunes, reversals, and self-inflicted wounds and yet still keep rising. She does not have Bill Clinton’s instinctual feel for the political stage, but nor does he have her instinctual talent for candid self-appraisal, or her ability to tune out what she calls ‘the background noise’ of her life and focus on the next mission.” Hmmm…Juicy, right? Read the rest at

"You know the old phrase, 'You keep your friends close and your enemies closer?' How can she run for president in 2012? She'd have to run against the incumbent and be critical of him -- the one who made her secretary of state." Okay, guess who said that. I’ll give you a hint: Rush Limbaugh. Oy. Read more on

“But the main question is whether Mrs. Clinton can subordinate not just her opinions but also her political ambitions to making the Obama administration a success. That must be in doubt. Her husband’s financial entanglements and irrepressible flair for scandal are further potential pitfalls. In weighing all this and choosing her regardless, Mr Obama has taken quite a risk – one that, in our view, is difficult to justify.” Wondering who the party pooper is? It’s Financial Times. Who knew?

"The pros are her abilities and her background. She has traveled all over the world. She has had extensive experience," said James Pfiffner, an expert on the presidency at George Mason University in Virginia. "Also, she has a very positive image around the world. The potential downside, I suppose, is that she is a very independent politician with her own base of support because of her presidential run and, theoretically, there could be conflict." Everybody’s a critic, right? Read what Voice of America has to say about Madame Secretary.

Clinton likes recent "American Idol" David Cook, but she’ll always love Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Carly Simon and U2, all of whom she’s cited as some of her musical musts. Find out more inside dope on one of the world’s most famous woman. Read 10 Things You May Not Know About Hillary Clinton on The Wow Watch.

Clinton can expect an early grace period abroad, during which she will be welcomed as the representative of a new American Administration. After that, however, we will see just what kind of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be. "When the honeymoon period is over, you're still going to have to plug along every day, inch by inch, and you'll still have to make agreements that serve America's best interests," says a foreign-policy aide. So says TIME Magazine this week.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why Sometimes It Is Better to Say Nothing at All

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We bloggers and citizen journalists are sometimes criticized for distorting facts or misquoting sources. No such luck today, blogophiles (that’s you). Today I quote directly from the mouth of President George W. Bush, specifically from text released by the White House from an interview the President granted his sister, Doro. He said this – I swear:

I’d like to be a President (known) as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace; that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor; that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get prescription drugs and Medicare as a part of the basic package; that came to Washington, D.C., with a set of political statements and worked as hard as I possibly could to do what I told the American people I would do.”
Swiss cheese, I say. So many holes are there in this statement that we may just slap some ham on it, find some rye and call it lunch. Please. Let’s deconstruct the President’s most foolish 95 words, shall we?

For those unfamiliar with PEPFAR, it was the President’s initiative called President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Read all about it if you wish, but as you peruse the propaganda, know this: The plan had two fatal flaws. First, it specified that fully one-third of its funding had to be used to promote sexual abstinence. How’s that working for us, Mr. President? Well, as usual, the numbers tell the story: A study published in the British Medical Journal (Aug. 2007) reveals that school abstinence programs “do not decrease or exacerbate sexual risk among youths” in US schools. One wonders if sexual risk among the same subjects might have decreased with some type of safer sex training. But then, there was no line item built into the PEPFAR budget for that.

While PEPFAR spent valuable days, hours, weeks, years trying to validate its own questionable moral code, the Bush administration skimped so heavily on health funding over the past eight years that sex education is almost non-existent. And all the while, minority populations steadily increased their levels of new HIV infections, with Mr. President doing virtually nothing to address the issue.

So, while it is true that PEPFAR has provided HIV retroviral drugs for nearly a million people worldwide, the pandemic was much broader and faster moving that the administration’s willingness to truly fight it with all possible artillery. PEPFAR also stipulated that the only drugs it would distribute anywhere would be those that had been approved by the Food and Drug administration. The FDA is not always the most reliable source for such approval, since their fast track system sometimes puts drugs in the marketplace before they are fully investigated. What about drugs that have shown similar effectiveness, but in testing in other countries? Some are less expensive, but not qualified under PEPFAR.

Additionally, PEPFAR has been slow to embrace financial support of generic drugs. Instead the U.S. government has favored the support of brand name drugs, which are much more expensive. According to the Report to Congress by the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator on the Use of Generic Drugs in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, by 2007, only 57% of the drugs supported by PEPFAR were generics. Why? Further, the report seems to express governmental pride in the fact that from 2005 to 2007, this percentage increased from a mere 11 percent. Why was PEPFAR not supporting a greater percentage of generics sooner? Draw your own conclusions.(Ron Wurzer/Getty Images)

Among those who truly understand HIV/AIDS, Bush will not leave a legacy of progressive thinking or significant accomplishment domestically or internationally in this arena.

Bush is somehow proud of the fact that during his watch, Medicare’s Part D was introduced. This was the plan whereby seniors might be somehow relieved of some of the financial burden of their prescription drug costs. Gosh, there’s just one problem, and it’s been dubbed the “Donut Hole.” It concerns the discontinuation of benefits once the total paid by the member and the plan hits $2700. Then the citizen is required to pay 100% of the costs up to $4,350. Find me a senior with health care issues who has an extra $1650 lying around and I’ll bet his name is Cheney. Further, there’s a whole list of drugs the plan will not cover, including those for erectile dysfunction. I guess the administration is all for sexual abstinence among seniors, as well. Someday when you are feeling very ambitious, take some speed and read the whole Part D. You’ll need the pharmaceutical help to do it because it’s so boring, poorly written and incomprehensible. Oh, and for the record, amphetamines aren’t covered under Part D.
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I will not insult your intelligence by addressing Bush’s statement about liberating 50 million people and achieving peace. I will simply prognosticate that the outgoing chief exec will likely not join former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice-President Al Gore in the long list of Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Still, one wonders how President Bush will explain his supposed legacy of peace to the mother of Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Taylor, 25, who died Sept. 21 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when he received small arms fire during dismounted operations. Taylor, who felt he needed to seek justice for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, enlisted in the infantry so that he could have a frontline fighting position.

Taylor's parents and wife last spoke with him by phone one day before he died.. According to a piece in his home town paper, the Charleston Post & Courier: "He called to wish his 5-year-old daughter a happy birthday. But his heart sounded heavy because he hated missing those special occasions. The next day, Sunday, Staff Sgt. Taylor patrolled in Baghdad with his unit when shots rang out in an alleyway. Taylor was struck multiple times by enemy small arms fire." He died in a military hospital, many thousands of miles away from anyone who loved him. He died in George Bush's war about nothing.

On December 1, Bush said, "I think I was unprepared for war...I didn't anticipate war." Mr. Bush's lack of preparation for his job, and his severe lack of foresight cost Staff Sgt. Taylor his life. Taylor and 4,206 other Americans died in vain.

Those deaths, combined with millions of Americans who now suffer with HIV/AIDS and a lack of medical care and appropriate drugs, along with senior citizens who cannot even afford medicine, make George Bush's comments to his sister not just delusional, but reprehensible.