Sunday, January 25, 2009



As you know from time to time Greenberg Rants likes to take a short peak at what’s going on with stories that made headlines and then faded into the background of the public consciousness. After all, how much of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich can you take? And once you know Ted Haggard is gay and paid prostitutes for sex while reigning over one of the largest mega churches in the country, don’t you really know the whole story? Likewise, once you’ve been told the CEO of Merrill Lynch redecorated his office to the tune of $1.2 million, and then got fired, that pretty much caps that story off, doesn’t it?

Not even close. So often it’s the under-reported follow up story that is really fleshy. How is it, you might wonder, that grown, educated men can get themselves in such deep, hot water? Well, they say we’re all flawed in one way or another. It just so happens that some of us take those flaws to unlikely extremes, and then cannot seem to resist the allure of microphones and cameras. Consider:

Remember Ted Haggard? He is the guy who was once pastor of the 12,000-member New Life Mega-Church in Colorado. You may recall that the right Rev Haggard (left) was busted in 2007 when a male prostitute came forward to say he had bumped booties with the Rev, supplied him with methamphetamine and accepted money from him for sex. Haggard subsequently left the church, denied the rumors, later owned up to the rumors and went to work selling insurance. Now, that would be the end of this story, were it not for Haggard’s seemingly insatiable need for attention. This month, HBO debuts its new documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” in which Haggard and his family are chronicled and dissected trying to resurrect their lives. My guess is that they were paid handsomely for the film, and that is part of the reason they agreed to it. However, since Haggard was used to huge, adoring audiences as a pastor, it is likely he needed the face time with the public to feed his ego. As you read through the rest of this piece, keep “ego” in mind. It is the theme of this big boys gone bad story.

So, the documentary would be the end of the story, were it not for this week’s revelation that a former church worker at New Life has now come forward to reveal his own sexual play for pay past with Ted. The former church volunteer says he is coming forward now because he resents Haggard’s public attempts to paint himself as a victim.

The volunteer’s hard feelings are understandable on one level. However, on another level, even though Haggard rates a solid 10 on the sleaze scale, he is something of a product of his time. Born in 1956, Haggard is a victim of middle America’s mid-20th century rule that men were not allowed to be gay. As it turns out, there is a whole generation of gay men who were raised in the post-World War II mindset that everyone should conform to the “norm.” Unfortunately, there were those who were born to be different. Still, like Haggard, they grew up and followed all the societal rules – until they didn’t. And like Haggard, they lived duplicitous lives that often led to personal disaster. Haggard’s life story is a cautionary tale for a culture that is only now beginning to understand that the human race is necessarily comprised mostly of people who do not fit a culturally-defined profile.

Still, we’re left to wonder – why does Ted Haggard want an HBO television documentary broadcast about his personal fall that has already been made horrendously public? Why not step back and reconstruct a life? Is the spotlight more seductive and irresistible than family privacy and anonymity?

This is also a big week for Rod Blagojevich (left), the embattled governor of Illinois. Charged with trying to sell Barack Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder, Blago is persona non grata coast to coast. This is a story that just keeps on giving: Last week, Blago’s missus, Patti (below, right), was fired from her $100,000-a-year job as development director of The Chicago Christian Industrial League, a post she had held for only four months.The CCIL is a non-profit serving homeless men. Patti’s job had to do with fundraising – sort of like how Blago defined his own job. Let’s review: fundraiser for a non-profit organization and the salary is a hundred grand? Is it me, or is something wrong with this picture?

Meanwhile, on Monday, the very day his impeachment trial begins, tune into “The View” on ABC. Blago will be on the hot seat with the ladies. All I’m waiting for is to see the Governor face off with Joy Behar. That same night you can see Blago across the desk from Larry King, and reportedly, the Governor has already taped an upcoming episode with our holy St. Oprah of Chicago. Image repair? Damage control? Sympathy plea? You be the judge. I would once again raise the issue of ego. Think about it.

Also this week, two Chicago radio stations reportedly offered Blago and Mrs. B their own talk show. It is unclear how the Rod and Patti show would play out, but based on previously revealed tapes of their private conversations, I would suggest anyone who offers this golden couple access to public airwaves may want to consider the old seven-second delay option, so as not to incur the wrath of a profanity-conscious Federal Communications Commission.

This is a story we will continue to follow here, if only for the sheer entertainment of it. It’s an “Only in America” tale, is it not? Consider: The Chief Exec of Illinois is arrested by the FBI after being caught on tape trying to sell the Senate seat of the next President of the U.S. His wife laces every other sentence she utters with the F word, and not only is the guy still in office, but after his arrest, he anoints the only black U.S. Senator. Really…who could make this stuff up?

Until January 21, John Thain (right), was not exactly a household name, like, say, Bernie Madoff. But last week, Thain became widely known, if only for the fact that he has a $1400 parchment wastebasket. For those of you who did not quite tune into this story, some quick background: John Thain was the CEO of Merrill Lynch, the company that was absorbed at the eleventh hour not long ago by Bank of America. Had it not been acquired, Merrill Lynch would probably have gone the route of Lehman Bros.—kaput. Now we know that right before the company was scooped up by BOA, its CEO awarded last minute executive bonuses to the tune of $3 to 4 billion dollars. That would be bad enough news for a company in such dire straits, but now we know that in the fourth quarter of 2008, Merrill Lynch lost a whopping $1.79 billion.

Which brings us all the way back to the $1400 wastebasket. Among the most startling revelations this week was the one about John Thain’s office: As it turns out, Thain authorized a redecoration of his own work digs to the tune of $1.22 million, at the same time his company was tanking. According to about a million published reports, among the expenses was $800,000 for the same decorator hired by Michelle Obama to redecorate the White House private living quarters for just $100,000. Again…is it just me, or…? Here is part of Thain's shopping list:

1)$2,700 for six wall sconces.
2) $5,000 for a mirror in his private dining room.
3) $11,000 for fabric for a "Roman Shade.”
4) $13,000 for a chandelier in the private dining room.
5) $15,000 for a sofa.
6) $16,000 for a "custom coffee table.”
7) $18,000 for a “George IV Desk.”
8) $25,000 for a "mahogany pedestal table.”
9) $28,000 for four pairs of curtains.
10) $35,000 for something called a "commode on legs.”
11) $37,000 for six chairs in his private dining room.
12) $68,000 for a "19th Century Credenza" in his office.
13) $87,000 for a pair of guest chairs.
14) $87,000 for an area rug in Thain's conference room and another area rug for $44,000.
15) $800,000 to hire celebrity designer Michael Smith, who is currently redesigning the White House for the Obama family for just $100,000.

John Thain was fired on Thursday. Not since Eliot Spitzer has there been such a very public employment separation. (Speaking of Spitzer, recently it was made public that he was one of the investors duped by masterduper Madoff—there’s so much incest among societal bottom feeders). Coming soon in GreenbergRants is a behind-the-headline story about outrageous CEO compensation and perks. We’ll dig deeper into the Thain story then, (including a mention of Thain’s driver, who last year earned $233,000) but for now, if you’re feeling a bit angry about the dollar figures we’re showing here, stay angry. It’s your outrage and your voice that will bring about balance in the corporate system. Have we not had enough anecdotal stories about greed, thievery and inhumanity in the upper echelons of corporate America? As is the case with so many other headline stories, this one is about you. It is your money with which they are buying corporate jets, lavish estates and...well, $1400 wastebaskets.

Speak up. Get mad. It's time.

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