Thursday, April 30, 2009


I am one of those people who annoyingly and too frequently reminds people I know that life is a gift. So, in those rare moments in your life when someone you deeply care about talks of ending it all, or how much easier it would be to just “check out,” there I am, repeating my sometimes unwelcome mantra, “Life is a gift.”

That being said, you might guess how I feel about the latest debate over torture. I want to get ahold of torture proponents and remind them of a little something called the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the United Nations in 1984. Prior to that, in 1975, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Oh, and way before all that, in 1948, the U.N. enacted the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which clearly stated ‘”No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Not only did all of this take place, but each of these instruments had safeguards in place that were supposed to ensure that any possible violations would be avoided.

So, tell me, what happened that a 21st century President of the United States, George W. Bush, found it permissible to allow simulated drowning (“waterboarding”) on his watch? And how is it that the self-proclaimed holiest among us, white evangelicals and Roman Catholics say in majority that torture can “sometimes” or “often” be justified? And tell me, when did life and death issues become fodder for glib, often uninformed talking heads on cable television, such as Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman? Watch this:

Further, has everybody conveniently forgotten about the U.S. Code? That’s the set of permanent U.S. Federal laws. I want to point out Title 18 of the Code: “Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Listen, even if none of the above has any meaning to you, consider this: Even with its internationally tainted image, the United States is still looked upon as the epicenter of high civilization. If individuals at the highest levels of the American government demonstrate tolerance for something as uncivilized and inhumane as torture of human beings, will nations of lesser moral fiber and far lesser development not follow suit? If the U.S. does it, well it must be the thing to do, right? Irreversible precedents are being set here. Doesn’t anybody get that? Didn’t George W. Bush (right), Dick Cheney and Condaleeza Rice get that?

I could go on and on about how inhumane, unethical and primitive torture is. I could try to pull your heartstrings by reminding you that all of those individuals who have been tortured are human beings with somebody somewhere who loves them. I could try to scare you by reminding you that once we exercise leniency in the act of torturing other human beings, we open ourselves up to such an act if and when the global tables are turned on us. Instead, I think I’ll just appeal to your basic intelligence and sense of logic: If a person believes he or she is going to die as you simulate drowning on their person, isn’t it likely that they’ll say anything you want them to say? Even Olberman said that in his interview in the video you saw above. How accurate can information be when you are simply coercing someone to say what you want them to say by threatening their life? Aside from how disgusting the act itself is, the concept is idiotic.
So, how widespread is the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques? That is what proponents of acts such as waterboarding call torture. Does it go way, way beyond Gitmo? Did Bush, Cheney, Condy, (left) et. al. cavalierly endorse the use of barbaric methods to get information that is probably not worth a damn anyway? Spain and the U.K. seem to think they did. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concurs.

If torture was not okay in Nazi German, or in Rwanda, or in more than 150 countries in which Amnesty International has documented instances or torture, is it acceptable when the most highly civilized society in the world does it? I think not. It seems unfathomable that there is even debate about the use of torture. If the gracious and poised Ms. Rice condoned the use of “enhanced interrogation,” she must be held accountable. If the Prince of Darkness, Dick Cheney (right) encouraged the infliction of pain and suffering, even against terrorists, he likely disobeyed the law and should be punished. And since the buck clearly stopped at the desk of George W. Bush, it needs to be fully investigated, including interrogation of the former President, and ultimately appropriate punishment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


By now, you have probably heard that actress/activist Mia Farrow will begin a 21-day hunger strike to show her solidarity with the starving people of Darfur. Farrow, who has made a dozen trips to the region in Sudan, is particularly upset now that the President Omar al-Bashir has issued orders for expelling essential international aid agencies. Those agencies were responsible to assist millions of people who have been displaced due to the conflict that has raged since 2003. In that time, it is estimated that about a half million people have died, and upwards of three million have been rendered poverty-stricken and homeless.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese Omar al-Bashir for the murder, rape, torture and displacement of millions. Predictably, the president did not react well. Thus, the expulsion of humanitarian aid groups like CARE and Doctors Without Borders.

And Mia Farrow? She’s going on a 21-day “fast,” of water only. Twenty-one is the magic number, says she, because her doc told her that more than that could cause irreversible damage to internal organs. Oh, and she doesn’t want to die, she says. She has children. Lots and lots and lots of children. So she’s taking lots of vitamins to get ready for the big fast. So what does she want? What is solidarity, anyway? If solidarity is a communion of purpose, Farrow’s showy mini-starvation is not understandable. The people of Darfur are not voluntarily starving themselves to make a statement. They are being herded like cattle to remote sub-Sahara desert camps and left to perish. Farrow, on the other hand, will presumably be behind closed doors in her apartment that overlooks Central Park. (Come on, you remember the apartment - it was the setting for Woody Allen's 1986 flick, "Hannah and Her Sisters"). And two weeks into her fast, she says she will have blood tests at the doctor’s office to see how she’s holding up.

I have a better idea for Mia. Why not strengthen your body and your resolve, and use your connections, your political savvy and your celebrity to lobby the Obama administration to act harder and faster on behalf of the people of Darfur? Why not have your people call the major TV networks’ people and make some appearances to publicize the current plight and rally support among the American people? Is it so long ago that you can’t remember what Americans did for Ethiopians in the 1980s? Live Aid, etc. And please, I’m not suggesting a big concert will do much for Darfur right now.

I am suggesting that somebody should bring Mia Farrow a ham sandwich and a coke and let’s get on with it. President Obama is currently going the diplomatic route. He has already dispatched special envoy J. Scott Gration to the region to make some efforts to get the rival groups to at least talk to one another. No one is quite sure if Gration can make any headway here, but it’s a start. People in high places are hesitant to use the word genocide as it relates to Darfur, but just as a reminder; Omar al-Bashir reportedly did this before in Southern Sudan, when two million people died of thirst and starvation, and widespread epidemics. President Obama now has an opportunity to build an international coalition whose primary goal would be to end this before it happens again.

Meanwhile, Mia Farrow ‘s heart is probably in the right place, but her methods are odd. She says she would like to build a museum for the people of Darfur. Huh? I’m thinking perhaps a hospital, some shelters, food banks and perhaps an “underground railroad” to get them out, even if it only means to refugee camps in Chad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Why was it such big news last week that NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios had hired Karen Horne, as “Director of Entertainment Diversity Initiatives?” The key word here is “diversity.” One would think conglomerates like NBC Universal would have personnel focused on diversity in all departments, and that such positions would have been established maybe 15 years ago. Or 20. It is unsettling to see a large media conglomerate pat itself on its corporate back for recognizing the need to diversify its personnel at this late date.

I can’t help wondering if the latest efforts among the major television networks to increase their numbers of Latin, Asian, Hispanic, Black and other minority staffers has something to do with a 2008 year-end report from the NAACP. Since 2002, the organization has had a Hollywood bureau, which operates as something of a watchdog on the media companies. The report, titled "Out of Focus, Out of Sync -- Take 4 - A Report on the Television Industry," roundly criticizes the networks for their lack of progress in multi-culturalizing their staffs. You can read the 46-page report for yourself, simply by clicking on the link in the preceding sentence, but here are some highlights:

• One of three Americans is now a minority. Hispanics: 44.3 million people; Black: 40.2 million; Asian: 14.9 million; Native-Americans 4.5 million.
• From 2002 to 2007, the number of blacks in regular and recurring roles on NBC decreased nearly 50 percent. Unlike the other major networks, NBC did not provide the NAACP with data on minorities employed at the management or executive levels, or about efforts to diversify its corporate and executive ranks. It also failed to provide information about minority hires at the director level or above. In 2006, of 71 teams who made pitches on the network for comedy pilots, only four included a minority member.
• Compared to NBC, ABC and FOX, the CBS network employs the lowest number of minorities in writing and producing positions.
• On ABC, 74% of regular, recurring and guest roles on scripted and unscripted series feature white actors or contestants. This percentage has not increased or decreased since 2003.
• The only minority lead in a new show on a major network for the 2008-2009 TV season is “Cleveland Brown,” (left) a black animated character voiced by a white person.

You begin to get the picture, right? In a speech to the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2004, Barack Obama said, "TV ought to reflect the reality of America's diversity and should do so with pride and dignity, not with stereotypes." If television's dismissal of minorities is really institutional racism, why are Americans letting them get away with it? Does one “Ugly Betty” (right) make up for virtually no representation of the 44.3 million Hispanics in this country? At a moment in our culture when the gay population is more powerful and politically controversial than ever, why are gay people invisible on network TV? Has there even been one true black TV mega-star since Cosby?

It would behoove NBC Universal and all of the other networks, traditional and cable, to routinely hire individuals (plural) to promote diversity on television, behind the camera and in the executive offices. The industry should look more like the country. It does not. And when they do hire such individuals to ensure diversity in all ranks, they do not need to issue press releases to brag about it. Do they issue press releases to brag about their new head of accounting, human resources or consumer relations? They do not, because those are considered staples in the organization. Why are diversity specialists not considered necessary and routine hires? It is not 1980. We are not novices in the hiring, promoting and inclusion of blacks, Hispanics and others.

And what of those individuals the public sees? Is it impossible for “The Hills” to feature minority actors, as well as well-scrubbed white kids? Have you ever noticed that on the rare occasion a prime time drama features a love affair between two minorities, it is usually a minor sub plot, not a main plot, and it is always between supporting actors, not leads? And then there is daytime: aside from our holy St. Oprah of Chicago, there really is not one major minority player in daytime television. When Victoria Rowell, formerly “Dru” on “The Young and Restless,” left the show a couple of years ago, she expressed disappointment in the production for limiting the number of minorities. There are a few blacks in the show, but no other minorities. Most daytime dramas have almost no minority characters.

Do you want to know why this even matters? Ask yourself this: What does television really do? Does it reflect our culture, or does it actually shape it? Either way, the lack of minorities on TV is a losing proposition. If TV reflects our culture, then shame on us, because what it is showing us is that the society is focusing heavily on one segment of the population, and essentially ignoring the rest. But if TV shapes the culture, we’re really in trouble. Has it shaped a culture that is exclusive, rather than inclusive? Just a gentle reminder: One of every three Americans is a minority.

The NAACP may just be making some waves at the networks. CBS now has its “Diversity Institute,” which endeavors to find and employ talented minority individuals as writers, director, actors and more. FOX, which far outshines all of its competitors in the NAACP report, has had a department of Diversity Development since 2001. ABC launched the Disney-ABC Diversity Creative Development Program to increase diversity in their writing pool. Baby steps, but steps just the same.

And NBC? Well, “NBC is extremely pleased to welcome Karen Horne…” yada, yada, yada.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Susan Boyle invaded the universal public consciousness last week when millions of us watched her sing on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Have you taken a moment out to ask yourself why so many of us got choked up watching Boyle’s debut? I have. I’ve thought very often this past week of her, and of the big, tough lesson we have had to learn from this episode. If by chance you didn’t see this performance, you can see it now. And if you did see it, take a moment and watch it again. Click here.

I heard someone say the reason it was so stunning to us is that Susan Boyle is a sort of everyperson type, that her victory gives the common man and woman hope in a time when hope is in short supply. Maybe. I lean more toward the idea that Susan is one of those truly exceptional talents, a gifted woman. And for us to see how extraordinary a human being’s talent can be is life-affirming. I think we can all use a little affirmation right now. And I believe that is key to Susan Boyle’s cross-cultural appeal. Now we see that a voice can lift us.

Within short hours the video of Boyle’s performance went massively viral. At this writing (9PM EST, April 18), the YouTube video has been viewed 25,442,376 times. This was the same week that Ashton Kutcher’s battle with CNN to see who could amass one million followers first on Twitter came to an end with Kutcher victorious. Social media proved itself to be a formidable player in the world of new media. Boyle’s star may rise faster than any singer in history because of it.

The lessons of Susan Boyle are complex, and bittersweet. Our holy St. Oprah of Chicago would call this a “teaching moment.” To those for whom this experience was a hard slap in the face because they pre-judged Boyle based on her appearance, this could alter their future judgmental natures. And to those who see the new dedication to Susan Boyle’s success as a respite from all the hard realities we are experiencing now, this was an unexpected gift.

And for Susan Boyle? On Larry King last night, when asked how this event might change her, Boyle said, “I won’t be lonely anymore.” And when asked if it was hurtful that the audience laughed at her before she sang, she said, “That didn’t bother me at all. I just got on with my act. That’s what we were there for – to keep going.” Then she sang a verse of “My Heart Will Go On”:

Keep going, Susan. You can do this. You absolutely can.


MSNBC provided live coverage of shipping captain Richard Phillips reuniting with his family after being held captive by Somali pirates. Watch:

Thursday, April 16, 2009


It is difficult to say what caught up with John Demjanjuk first – the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service or karma. But a few days ago, agents from the former knocked on the door of the modest Cleveland, OH home he has inhabited for over half a century, and physically carried him out in a wheelchair, for deportation to Germany. There he would stand charges for the execution of more than 29,000 Jews and others in Nazi death camps during World War II. Long thought to be Ivan the Terrible, Demjanjuk has been fighting for his life for three decades, all the while denying his identity. Even with overwhelming evidence that he is indeed a mass murderer, at the eleventh hour a U.S. court issued of stay and Demjanjuk was returned to his tiny Cleveland bungalow.

At 89, Demjanjuk reportedly suffers from kidney disease, a form of leukemia, gout, and spinal problems. He is said to be in constant pain, and his family contends the trip to Germany would kill him. So what do we do with this man who is most likely responsible for the extermination of men, women, children and the elderly, and who fled his country, dropped the “Ivan” from his birth name to become “John,” and lived out his days in the middle of middle America? Do we simply forgive him his trespasses and let the world move on, or should he be held accountable for the atrocities?

Demjanjuk was sentenced to death in 1988 by the Israeli justice system. That sentence was later reversed when the courts decided there was reasonable doubt about his identity. He was stripped of his U.S. citizenship, but then regained his American passport in 1998. In 2002, his U.S. citizenship was again revoked amidst charges that he served as a guard at Sobibor and Majdanek camps in occupied Poland, and at the Flossenbürg camp in Germany. In 2005, a deportation order was issued, and finally, just days ago it appeared he would indeed face the German tribunal. As of this writing, no final decision has been made public about Demjanjuk’s deportation.

We are left with these questions: Is it sheer coincidence that Demjanjuk bears striking resemblance to Ivan the Terrible? Is it also a coincidence that Demjanjuk’s job at Sobibor was reportedly to run the diesel engines that fueled the gas chambers, and then in Cleveland he worked as a diesel mechanic? Multiple survivors of German concentration camps have identified Demjanjuk as a guard in camps where they were imprisoned. Do we ignore their testimony, thereby discrediting their memories? Demjanjuk has lived in the U.S. since 1952. Had the INS initially known he had been a guard in Nazi death camps, he would not have been granted citizenship in the U.S. Does his age and infirmity now disqualify him from deportation on charges that he falsified his original application for citizenship?

The pending, potential prosecution and punishment of John Demjanjuk is now about humanity. His alleged victims and the survivors of the death camps would say he sacrificed his own humanity the moment he participated in the first of many executions. Others would say his inhumanity is not reason enough for ours, and that if he is prosecuted at this late date and imprisoned
or put to death, we have sacrificed our own humanity. We know of no international statute of limitations on prosecution for murder, but we do know that human beings of advanced age with severe health problems are often approached in an Egalitarian fashion, one in which we protect the weakest members of our society. Still, Demjanjuk failed to act to protect the weakest members of his society when he was a young man, if the accusations are accurate.

John Demjanjuk forces each of us to confront our own views on respect for human life. John Demjanjuk may just be the greatest ethical dilemma any of us have ever confronted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


If you are a 14-year-old girl, and you text your boyfriend with a nude photo of yourself, are you guilty of child pornography? And since you are only 14, does that make you both the victim and the perpetrator? No one seems to know for sure, but a number of states now are leaning toward prosecuting teens under laws originally created to prosecute pedophiles. A Clifton, NJ girl faces these exact charges for sending pics of herself to her boyfriend. If convicted, in addition to a possible multi-year jail sentence, it is conceivable that she will be a registered sex offender for the rest of her life.

And then there is the case of Philip Alpert, the Florida teenager who sent nude photos of his girlfriend to several people, after the two had an argument. Alpert was convicted of sending child pornography (the girl was 16). He was kicked out of college, forced to register as a sex offender and is currently on five years probation. Here is what he had to say in a recent interview:

The laws we have on the books now are inconsistent from state to state. In Utah, for example, sexting is a misdemeanor. But in Florida it is a felony. Further, in many instances, our current laws were adapted long before the introduction of digital technology. Law and ethics have not caught up with the digital world. Few people would endorse the practice of sexting, but labeling a teenage prank or an immature act of high school revenge as a sex crime sends a clear message that our current laws are archaic. Overly-ambitious prosecutors are likely to see instances of sexting as an in to make some “tough on crime” headlines. Defense attorneys may not be fully versed in the law as it pertains to sex crimes. In the video you just watched, Alpert’s attorney reportedly did not even know that his client would have to register as a sex offender.

If you are a parent, it could be your child who faces consequences similar to Alpert’s. If you are a teenager, it could be you who ends up behind bars with true perpetrators of sex crimes. If you are the recipient of a “sext” message, and if you keep it on your phone or computer, you could conceivably be charged with possession of child pornography under many state laws.
Readers, what say you about this dilemma?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SAY WHAT? Pastor Rick Warren Is Drowning In His Own Words

On Sunday morning, ABC’s George Stephanpoulos and the staff at “This Week” were left scrambling, when Pastor Rick Warren cancelled his scheduled appearance moments before air time. Warren’s official excuse was that he was “sick with exhaustion.” It can be exhausting keeping your stories straight, especially on issues that your exceedingly loyal parishioners feel strongly about.

Warren, who founded the Saddleback Church 30 years ago, claims the church is one of the largest multi-site mega-churches in the country. It is, by all reports, founded on tenets of traditional conservatism. In the inevitable cross-pollination that happens these days between evangelical dogmatism and hot button political issues, Warren has come forward more than once with his views on gay marriage. Unfortunately, every time he speaks of gay marriage, he peppers the statements with his work with AIDS groups. Why is it, I wonder, that a smart man like Warren cannot understand that these are individual, starkly different issues? And why is it that Rick Warren blatantly contradicts himself on his views of gay marriage?

Here is what Warren said about gay marriage before the vote in California on Proposition 8, which essentially banned gay marriage:

Warren left no doubt in the minds of those who heard his statement. Oddly, a few nights ago on Larry King, Warren had this to say about gay marriage:

In fairness, Warren should not be pigeonholed on one cultural issue. He has spoken out on many issues, and he has led the charge on some important work in his career. But he is clearly in the hot seat right now on the cultural shifts regarding gay marriage, and in at least one of the statements you just heard in these videos he is not being truthful. Based on Warren’s historical anti-gay marriage stance, it would appear he was less than honest with Larry King.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Nobody seems willing or ready to say it, so I have decided to break the ice: Sarah Palin cannot be President of the United States – in 2012 or any other year. Too much baggage, bad blood, bad press – take your pick. I think we knew this as soon as we saw the Katie Couric interviews, but we were all still willing to lend an ear and hear her out. We have heard her now, and we’ve witnessed the intense drama that seems to naturally surround her. Sarah can’t be the chief. No way. Here are my top five reasons:

1. Senator John McCain is unwilling to commit to giving her his full support. That is probably because he wants to see how things play out in her life, and right now there are a number of sideshows (political and familial) that seem to be distracting her. And the distractions are growing and multiplying. McCain emerged from the 2008 election as a statesman. Statesmen work a lifetime for that status, and why on earth would he compromise his image for Mrs. Palin?

2. Americans do not elect extremists to the office of President. Palin is increasingly revealing a disturbingly radical bent. Most recently she supported Wayne Anthony Ross for Alaska Attorney General. Good old boy Wayne Anthony – National Director of the National Rifle Association and lifelong right to lifer who calls abortion “killing kids" – is one of those off the map right wingers that sort of scare more moderate conservatives. He’s flamboyant. He’s arrogant. His Alaska license plate shows simply his initials – WAR. In the end, Americans prefer order over conflict. In our legislators, we’ll take reason over rancor any day of the week. From what is reported so far of Wayne Anthony, I see nothing more or less than Tom Delay in warmer clothes and snow boots. More significantly, he is the prototype Palin appointee. Mrs. P. cannot rule because we, the people, don’t want reckless fringe types driving the national bus.

3. Remember Troopergate? That was the case of Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin’s brother-in-law – the one Mrs. P. tried and failed to have fired. As time goes by, Palin’s initial firm denials of any involvement in the case have become more tepid. The Alaska State Legislature publicly rebuked her. At best, Palin was dishonest. At worst, she abused her power to settle a personal, family score. Either way, Mrs. P. cannot be President because Americans saw her play fast and loose with the truth, and we would prefer someone more truthful as our leader. Moreover, we witnessed how devious she can be in her quest for public survival. We did not like it.

4. Mrs. Palin has family issues, and by issues I mean catastrophes, and by catastrophes I mean insurmountable image problems from all directions. Her own mother-in-law would not even commit to supporting her candidacy. Her husband’s sister was recently arrested for breaking and entering the same house twice. Oh, and did I mention she did so with her four-year-old daughter in tow, as the homeowner hid in the bathroom with a loaded gun. It’s all so trashy, is it not? And then there’s Sherry Johnston, Palin’s “was gonna be son-in-law’s” mother, recently arrested for felony possession and sales of OxyContin. Oh Sarah, Sarah, the company you keep. We can’t have all that riff raff in the White House. We had our Billy Carters way back in the disco era. Never again.

5. Mrs. Palin has issues with the issues, and this time, by issues I mean those elements of our culture which are critical to all of us. Palin, you will recall, charged rape victims for rape kits. She also vetoed a bill that would ban gay marriage, only to turn around and suggest the same ban should be the subject of a constitutional amendment. As it relates to young people and sex, only abstinence is up for discussion in Palin’s world. After the father of her daughter’s child appeared on the Tyra Banks show, Palin publicly accused him of “flat out lies and gross exaggeration:”

The response came so quickly to the press that one is inclined to believe it was nothing more than sheer damage control. And even then, it seemed tardy and disingenuous. The boy also claims he was living in the Palin home, sleeping with Bristol, at the same time her mother was out campaigning for abstinence. Even in the above-mentioned public statement, Palin claims, "Bristol's focus will remain on raising Tripp, completing her education, and advocating abstinence.” As late as last week Bristol Palin said abstinence is “not realistic at all.” Mrs. Palin’s stands on the issues seem a bit muddled even in her own home. Throughout the 2008 campaign we never were really clear on where Palin stood on anything other than her opposition to Barack Obama becoming President. A significant segment of the population was left feeling shaky about Sarah Palin’s knowledge of the issues.

Further, for better or for worse, Palin’s down home folksiness – which often felt contrived and unauthentic – simply does not play well in 2009 Washington – even among her fellow Republicans. This week the Senate GOP committee un-invited Palin to be the keynote speaker at a June dinner in Washington, and promptly replaced her – with Newt Gingrich. And McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain said Thursday, “I really don’t know. I’d have to see who else is on the table,” in response to a question about whether she would support Palin in 2012.

Sarah Palin is only 45 years old. She most likely has decades worth of career years before her and she may achieve some success in the public arena. But Sarah Palin brings way too much baggage to the national table to ever run the whole show.

Monday, April 6, 2009

On April 3, Jiverly Wong, a 42-year-old Vietnamese immigrant entered the American Civic Center in Binghamton, NY,(below, right) armed with a high-powered rifle. After holding 41 people hostage, Wong murdered 13, wounded 4 and committed suicide. Jobless and feeling disrespected because of his difficulty with the English language, Wong was later described by those who knew him as “depressed and frustrated.”

One could say the general population is depressed and frustrated in our current economic climate.. The most recent unemployment figures indicate a national jobless rate of 8.5 percent, the highest in almost a quarter century. That translates to 13 million American workers without jobs. If you were to factor in those who have been laid off and given up on finding a job, and those who have had to take part time work, the unemployment rate would hover around 15.6 percent. According to, there were 3,108,364 U.S. home foreclosure filings in 2008.

That which cannot be quantified is the level of depression and frustration among American citizens. The question that will answer itself in the coming months is simply, how many Jiverly Wongs are there lurking out there right now? According to Mansfield Frazier, “there are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, out there right now in this county, feeling just as I did back in ‘68. A man can only take so much. Take note, America.” Frazier, in a new piece for The Daily Beast called “Confessions of a Man Who Almost Went Postal,” details his own depression and frustration more than 40 years ago. His angst almost led him to the same fate as Jiverly Wong. If you want to see what good writing and storytelling is really all about, you should read this piece. If you would like some insight into the level of desperation in the minds of many Americans right now, Frazier is what we call in this business, a “primary source,” one who experienced and witnessed the truth about which he writes.

Still, other than exceptions like Frazier, our evidence of the link between economic doldrums and violence is largely anecdotal. It sure is compelling, though. This past weekend 22-year-old Richard Poplawski shot and killed three Pittsburgh police officers. According to court reports, he did it because he felt police were no longer able to protect society during the economic collapse.In Oakland, CA, a gunman killed four police officers (pictured, left) after a routine traffic stop. Family members later said the shooter was “not a monster,” and that he must have been “desperate.” Last month in North Carolina, a man entered a nursing home and killed eight people. As he walked down the halls of the facility, he reportedly shot patients in wheel chairs and in their beds and one nurse who was caring for them.

And then, there was this: A 42-year-old Washington man took his 9-year-old daughter with him when he robbed a convenience store. The perpetrator had this to say to the clerk: “I’m out of work. My daughter’s got to survive.” Watch:

Is there a true correlation between economic crises and violent crime? Evidence is circumstantial. Media reports primarily on the most sensational incidents that involve multiple victims and one perpetrator. But anecdotally, it appears we are in the midst of a rising tide of criminal acts. You can expect to hear more public outcries for stronger gun control measures. And at the same time you can hear the National Rifle Association’s chorus of second amendment rights. And someone is likely to chime in about how individuals who keep a gun in the home are statistically more likely to use it on a family member than on a stranger. (Just this past weekend a Washington man shot and killed his five children in the family’s mobile home, and then killed himself). Someone else will point to the crime stats from 1929 – 1934, the height of the Great Depression, that clearly indicate a rise in violent crime year by year.

As usual, the numbers will tell the story. Here’s is what is known: According to the Associated Press, in the past month there have been 53 mass shooting deaths in the U.S. The shooters are generally male, often unemployed, and sometimes in the midst of an ugly separation or divorce. More often than not, they have no criminal records. Apparently it is money and/or love that drives men to try to quell their desperation through murder. And unfortunately, romantic troubles and economic terror are often hard to read on the face of the man on the street.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


It is Sunday afternoon, and the economy is still in the dumps, there was another mass murder yesterday, joblessness is higher than it has been in a quarter century and as if losing access to peanut butter were not bad enough, now they tell us not to eat pistachios. I figured we could all use a moment away from the reality of doom and gloom. So I want you to watch this video.

The dancer is a would-be slacker from Connecticut named Matt, who got lucky and went on a corporately-sponsored trip to 42 countries on 7 continents. The story behind Matt’s world journey is fascinating, and you can read it for yourself at But right now, I just want you to see what unbridled joy looks like at a time when joy would seem to be in short supply. Matt danced his way around the world, and as he went, the joy became contagious and countrymen from L.A. to Iceland, Sydney to Singapore, London to Batswana danced with him. Please take four minutes and 29 seconds, go full screen, pump up the volume and have some joy. You’re welcome.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Before I start bashing some of our most highly rated talking heads, let me just say this: My goal here is not to badmouth right wingers. No, all I’m doing here is pondering: Why are some the most politically conservative on-air personalities so LOUD and over the top? Why is there so much ranting and raving and yelling and talking over each other and verbal mayhem? Have you met the latest of these media darlings? He’s Glenn Beck. He currently has his own talk radio show, as well as one hour, five nights a week on FOX. He yells a lot. He interrupts his interview subjects a lot. He cries real tears routinely. He’s dramatic in a sort of bad dinner theatre way. He makes proclamations about issues he seems to know little about. Two years after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, this was his take on the rebuilding of New Orleans:

At various times he has called himself an entertainer, and even a rodeo clown. Call me a dinosaur, but whatever happened to the David Brinkleys and Walter Cronkites and Eric Severeids who once provoked thought among Americans? What happened to good grace and dignity in the public discourse? When did we dumb down American media to a point where a tearful, melodramatic former top 40 DJ interprets the critical issues of the day for the masses? What happened to intellect?

This past week we have heard much about Bill O’Reilly’s eight-year reign at the top of the cable news heap. Scroll down and you can watch O’Reilly and Letterman verbally duke it out on Late Night, even as O’Reilly enjoys the highest ratings in the history of cable news and a book that has sat on the NY Times bestseller list for more than six months. Yet, on-air, in front of his record-breaking audience share, Bill O’Reilly regularly chooses vitriol over decorum, and consistently demonstrates what not to do, if you label yourself a journalist. See for yourself:

This, of course, brings us to Sean Hannity, who in the following clip will say (with a straight, determined face) that the economy’s in pretty good shape and the war is going well. This he said in September, 2008. Hannity’s rants, while sometimes a wee bit better informed than O’Reilly’s, still tend to go extreme when he senses he’s losing an argument, and still often become too loud, too emotional and certainly way too adversarial to qualify as journalism. You be the judge:

To the cable talking heads who seem to believe that the louder and more histrionic their delivery, the more effective they will be, I say this: Your message is getting lost in the mayhem. In creating long-term credibility, often less is more. Understatement causes the listener to tune in, think critically and perhaps even align his or her thoughts with yours. Your objective should be to contribute mightily to the public mix of ideas, but your ideas cannot add up to much if your performance is all that is noticed. Glenn Beck, stop crying – really. Bill O’Reilly, take it down a notch and lose the F word. Every time you tell a guest to “shut up,” you demean yourself as a “journalist.” Sean Hannity, listen more, speak less. And when you do speak, focus on substance.

Substance – now there’s a concept, right?

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Letterman vs. O'Reilly...does it get any better than this?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

This Week: Two Major Innovations in the Evolution of Online Journalism

Online journalism is advancing at breakneck speed, and this week brought news of two new ventures with huge potential.

The Huffington Post announced its new investigative journalism division, which is particularly good news since the one area of reporting that has been roundly dethroned since media went digital is deep investigation. Find me an online publication that would support a long, slow investigation like Watergate, and I’ll buy you the best fried shrimp po-boy to be had in the entire city of New Orleans. So, hearing that the digital queen of innovative reportage, Arianna Huffington, had clicked her heels together and raised almost $2 million to fund the new venture, is truly exciting. The ten reporters who will staff the new unit have a golden opportunity to take online reporting to the next level. In its claw and scratch climb toward full credibility, online journalism needs to skillfully cross the investigative hurdle and break something big wide open. Not only that, but the Huffington Post pledges to make the work these reporters produce available to any other site at the same time it is published on their site. You can take it to the bank that Greenberg Rants will be posting some of this work on the site at the first opportunity. I can’t wait.

The same day the new investigative unit was unveiled, Fox News debuted its new opinion and commentary site, Fox Nation. All of you committed liberals out there who were breathless just one paragraph ago should stop turning up your noses right now at Fox’s new venture. This is good news, all of it. This is the way to pump up the volume on the public discourse about issues that matter. Let’s hear all voices – liberals, conservatives, libertarians, evangelists, fringe extremists – it shows the media consumers are fully engaged for the first time in a long time. Fox Nation will necessarily lean right. That doesn’t faze me. But there are two elements of the new site that do concern me: First, will the communicators allow their message to get lost inside of their volatile expression? Really, does anyone truly listen to what Glen Beck has to say, as much as they hang on the novelty of his tearful, histrionic delivery? I want Fox Nation to make its point journalistically, not theatrically. Second, the aesthetics of the site are pedestrian and unimaginative. That I do not get. With the stunning graphics available now, it baffles me that they would opt for such a milk toast façade.

Further, it will be incumbent upon the site to truly understand the importance of immediacy. On April 1, one of its front page 10 top “Justice” stories was “Police Detain NFL Player While Mother-in-law Dies.” That was a March 26 story. In online journalism time, that story was a senior citizen by April 1. In fact, by the 1st, the player and his wife had already appeared on GMA and forgiven the offending cop, who had, incidentally, quit on April 1. None of this was mentioned on Fox Nation. To truly garner the ongoing, loyal audience they will need, a greater sense of urgency and a better journalistic follow up will have to develop – fast.

Fasten your media consumer seat belt – you’re in for the ride of your lifetime if you just pay attention to what’s happening online right now. Has there really ever been a more dynamic moment in the history of the fifth estate?