Thursday, May 28, 2009


When Bill Clinton was campaigning for his first term as President, the issue of gays in the military started to gather some steam. Around 1993, I heard a report about a pending “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that would permit gays to serve in the military. Make no mistake…gays had always served in the U.S. military, but no one really spoke of it. In World War II there may have been hundreds of thousands of gay service personnel. If a more aggressive effort was not undertaken to rid the military of known homosexuals, it was only because there was such a massive need for troops and support personnel. In a war like that one, the U.S. could not be quite so picky about sexual orientation. Still, military people who were discovered to be sexually active with people of the same gender often found themselves in psychiatric wards.

We don’t presume to ship gay people off to mental hospitals anymore. That hasn’t been done in decades. But somehow, even now, in 2009, our government still fails to recognize the remarkable achievements of some individuals, once it is determined that they are homosexual. In fact, for thousands of U.S. military personnel, their sexuality has rendered their heroism, their bravery and their commitment to America null and void.

Such is the case of Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach, a fighter weapons systems officer, an aviator with 18 years of service. Fehrenbach, whose mother and father served in the U.S. Air Force, and who estimates the military has spent upwards of $25 million training him, will shortly be involuntarily discharged because he is gay. How interesting that the U.S. military earlier saw fit to ceremoniously decorate him for heroism, and yet now sees fit to fire him. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is in full bloom, and currently no one – not the President, not the Congress, not military officials—no one is speaking of it.

That is, until Lt. Col. Fehrenbach decided to speak. He did so on Rachel Maddow’s program. Listen to what he had to say:
Think about it: What is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” anyway? It is a policy that simply says, ‘We, the U.S. government agree not to discuss your sex life with you because we need you in large numbers to fight for your country; and you, the service personnel that we need, agree not to discuss your sex life with us, because you have something to be fully ashamed of. And if you slip up and express yourself honestly and act on your attraction to another human being, we’ll have no choice but to fire you.’

The premise is flawed. Of course, our government has a choice. Their option is to cancel the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and work toward social change in the military. Congress has the power to do this. You have the personal power to communicate your opinion to your Senators and Representatives. Here is the place you can find their email addresses. Speak up. In the end, it is about you. Socio/cultural change is always about all of us.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Don’t ever discount the collective wisdom of the pre-pubescent crowd. Two kids hit the headlines this week in separate, but equally significant incidents.

First, AOL “Parent Dish” writer Bethany Sanders wrote a piece about a Romona, CA sixth grader who learned firsthand about censorship. Reportedly, student Natalie Jones was to deliver a report to her class about the late Harvey Milk,(right) San Francisco’s first gay elected official. Principal Theresa Grace vetoed the idea, claiming it violated the school’s policy about teaching sexual content. Read all about it here.

I couldn’t help wondering what Ms. Grace is trying to protect her young charges from. From the importance of treating all human beings with respect? From a truly significant moment in the history of the state of California? And I couldn’t help thinking how unfortunate it is that Ms. Grace has reduced a true pioneer, Harvey Milk, to nothing more or less than his sexuality. And of course, being the inveterate letter writer that I am, I fired off a letter this morning to Ms. Grace, saying all of the above, and more.

There are 1,066 miles between Ramona, CA and Denver, CO, but apparently the two cities are light years apart. Last week in Denver, a third grader named Ethan McNamee organized a rally for marriage equality. It seems Ethan has gay neighbors who cannot legally marry, and he sees an injustice that needs to be addressed. reports that Ethan says, “Everybody is different in a good way.”

Unlike Bethany’s school, Ethan’s school, Montclair Elementary not only supported his efforts, but notified all of the students’ parents in case they would like to attend or get involved. Some of the other kids even helped plan the rally. Watch this:

And yes, in case you’re wondering, I wrote a letter to Ethan, as well, offering him congratulations for the way beyond his years wisdom and commitment. Maybe you should do the same – Ethan McNamee, c/o Montclair Elementary School, 1151 Newport St., Denver, CO 80220

Thursday, May 21, 2009

SAY WHAT? A Week of Legislators' Gaffes

What is it with powerful legislators who simply do not know when to shut up? This past week or so has been rife with regretful comments from some of our highest profile government elite. Some examples:

Vice President Joe Biden: At the recent Washington Gridiron Dinner, Biden (below, right) inexplicably revealed that under the Vice-Presidential residence at the Naval Observatory is a secure bunker where his predecessor, Dick, was sent for safety during the 9/11 debacle. What on earth would possess a guy with Biden’s decades of experience and awareness of the critical importance of secrecy about such things to let this out? A few too many martinis, perhaps? According to the New York Post, not only did the VP reveal the location, he rambled on with a detailed description of the place. It begs the question: Now that the entire world knows of this “undisclosed location,” where would Biden go in the event of another national security crisis? I’m thinking a suite at the Hay Adams Hotel perhaps?

Nancy Pelosi (below - illustration by Darrow, New York Magazine) has never been the darling of a majority of Democrats, but her latest foot in mouth moment really seals the deal for some of us. As to whether the CIA revealed to her and other members of Congress the details of alleged waterboarding used on accused terrorists, Pelosi said, “They mislead us all the time.” When pressed further about whether she means that the CIA lies to her, the Speaker of the House said, “Yes.” Now, here we have the person who is second in line for the Presidency of the United States, alienating the country’s highest level civilian intelligence agency. One wonders what would happen if Madame Speaker was suddenly elevated to the Presidency during a national security crisis, and fully unable to collaborate with the country’s highest level security organization. Did she just not consider that, or is it possible Pelosi is simply not the right person for her current position? Legislators on both sides of the aisle are now asking that exact question.

David Carney is a political strategist in the employ of Texas Governor Rick Perry. This week, Carney said the GOP should not “open itself up like a whorehouse” to new voters. David, David, David….don’t say “GOP” and “whorehouse” in the same breath, especially when you’re already working for a guy who has stirred up enough controversy for a lifetime with his own Texas secession from the U.S. comments. By mid-week, reaction to the thoughtless gaffe ranged from alluding to “the best little whorehouse in Texas,” to the more serious response from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s camp. Hutchinson (pictured above, right, alongside Perry) reportedly has her eye on the Governor’s seat. Perry & Co. may have just given her an unexpected boost.

I find it interesting that all of these individuals are of a generation that did not really grow up in the world of instant digital communication. It seems that so many people born before or during the mid-20th century still don’t get it: If you are a high profile person and you say something stupid, it travels the entire globe in a millisecond. The media is now necessarily predatory because of constantly increasing competition and the need to find the perfect sound bite to attract the consumer’s attention. A Speaker of the House who outrightly criticizes a national security agency does so at her own career peril. A Vice-President who does not understand the need for confidentiality does so at his own personal peril, and a Governor who cannot reign in his own strategists may do so at the expense of his own political future.

Monday, May 18, 2009


What happens when former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura debates torture with neocon TV host Elisabeth Hasselback? Ventura, who has been waterboarded, appeared this morning on ABC's "The View." Interesting to hear from a guy who knows from where he speaks, as opposed to Hasselback who...well...not so much. This clip is priceless, especially Ventura's last line:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Two decisions that affect every one of us came down from on high this week, and by “on high,” of course I mean Washington. First, the Senate is pushing hard for a bill that would more tightly reign in credit card companies, but would not place any limit on interest rates. Second, President Obama reversed himself on his recent decision to release photos depicting harsh treatments of suspected terrorist detainees.

Let’s talk credit cards first. No, better yet, let’s rant about credit cards first. Feeling gouged by your particular credit card company lately? That’s because you are. Right now, the credit card companies have almost full freedom in setting and raising interest rates. So what was 15% last month, can easily show up as 30% this month. The Senate is probably going to pass a bill that will impose some new restrictions on the company, but not in any way cap the interest rates. Here is what the bill will do:
• The bill will ensure that any existing balance you have cannot be subject to a raise in interest rate. However, if you are two months behind in your payments, they will be able to raise the rate. (You might wonder how this makes sense: If you can’t pay what you already owe, how does it help them to collect if they add more on top of it, right?)
• Instead of surprising you with a raise in your interest rate, credit card companies will have to give you 45 days notice.
• If you open a new credit card account, the company will not be allowed to raise your interest rate for at least one year.

Consumer advocates and many credit card customers were hoping for much more stringent new rules. Don’t hold your breath. I see the new bill as a recipe for economic disaster. For example, if a college student must put his or her tuition on a credit card, and the company can still raise the interest rates at random, the student will likely be in serious debt for years, with the debt compounding monthly. If an unemployed homeowner must put his or her insurance and/or taxes on a credit card, simply in order to be able to hold on to the property, they end up in the same boat as the financially beleaguered college student. Where is the concern for the average citizen at a moment in our nation when unemployment is at its highest rate since 1993, and home foreclosures have never been more numerous? The Senate is soft pedaling this issue to keep the banks quiet and calm and to lay the economic downturn squarely at the average citizen’s doorstep. Unacceptable. Write some letters.

The second decision this week has to do with the release of those abuse photos. You know the ones, like those you have already seen from Abu Ghraib. Without rehashing old details, the government reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union some time ago to release photos showing alleged prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Last month, President Obama announced his administration would not stand in the way of releasing those photos. This week, the President reversed himself, saying that releasing the photos (which were taken in the early years of the Iraq war) could endanger our troops and possibly turn up the heat on the already existing anti-American sentiment worldwide.

So much for transparency. We are a visual culture. We are now fully accustomed to being privy to information and visual representations of world events. Who is President Obama to now deny us that freedom? And if he indeed plans to block the release of those photos, what about the above-mentioned agreement? Well, it turns out the Justice Department has informed the United States District Court in New York, which had backed the A.C.L.U.’s request, that it would appeal the previous ruling that would have ensured release of the photos. Unfortunately, Obama’s reversal smacks of censorship. And if appearances count, it appears that it is the American citizens who are being denied access to these photos. Why? Because it has already been stated that the photos are not even as incendiary as those that can already be seen all over the Internet of Abu Ghraib. So what is the real point of withholding photos of lesser impact than those we have already seen?

Here is the essential point: If the government can deny you the right to see photos of war time activity that is distinctly against acceptable American behavior, what else can you be denied? Can you be denied documents that have previously been available through the Freedom of Information Act? If that sounds far-fetched, just weeks ago it would have seemed just as unlikely that you would not see photos the President of the United States promised you could see.

Write some letters, people. Do it now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"A Fuller Spectrum of News"

MSNBC has a catch phrase you may never have heard: "A Fuller Spectrum of News." Uh-huh. If that's the case, I'm wondering why the following exchange among three of its lesser talking heads was allowed air time. It seems Miss California gets to keep her crown, so says The Donald. Despite semi-nude photos, blah, blah, blah, no changes will be made in the Miss USA pageant's annointed California royalty. Yes, I know you don't care. Neither do I. That's the point.

On a day when five men were caught in a plot to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago, while the NTSB released cockpit recordings from a deadly Buffalo, NY plane crash, MSNBC decided to split hairs over Miss California. On a day when the U.S. government filed murder charges against an American soldier who allegedly killed five fellow soldiers, MSNBC found the Miss California story more compelling. Roger Clemens again denied his alleged drug use today, while an 89-year-old former Nazi death camp gaurd was shipped from his Cleveland home to Germany to face murder charges. Swine flu topped 5,000 cases today, on the same day a former Catholic Bishop came out as a gay man. Seems to me a lot of news was happening today, but somehow MSNBC saw fit to air this. Is it just me or does it seem some talking heads need to roll at the "Fuller Spectrum" network?


Do you know anyone at all right now who has no money concerns? I do not. From a wealthy acquaintance who confided his portfolio is down 60 percent, to workaday friends who live paycheck to paycheck, (and some who no longer have a paycheck), we’re in the thick of something most of us have never experienced. Lingering somewhere between recession and depression, last week the government revealed the national unemployment hit 8.9 percent, four-tenths of a percent higher than last quarter. I’ve been doing a little digging, because digging is what I do – turns out the unemployment rate in this country for most of the 1930s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – was 8.9%. In 2009, that translates to 13.7 million people out of work, and of course those are only the ones we know about. Seems like what we need about now is a good laugh.

So with all of that doom and gloom, you have to hand it to the American people, who routinely find humor in the most dire situations. And you have to wonder, where is all of this creativity when we’re not in a crisis? Well, that’s fodder for another day. Today I just wanted to show you a few highly imaginative unemployment undertakings on the web. One of my favorites is the “Stuff Unemployed People Like” blog. This guy (or not guy, I’m not sure, since the blogger is anonymous) writes about the endless possibilities for filling up your time, such as getting annoyed about having to get dressed, or buying Perrier with food stamps. Oh, and then there’s my favorite: “Having octuplets.” And listen, the comments readers write in response to the posts are as funny as the blog material.

Then there is “Unemploymentality,” a blog that bills itself as “The Definitive Unemployment Blog,” with special appeal for “Lifestyles of the Penniless and Downtrodden.” I especially like the “Resources for the Screwed” section. Here you can watch a video titled “Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme explained by Sesame Street economic analysts,” or update yourself on “Swine Flu and the Unemployed.” While “Stuff Unemployed People Like” is for dedicated slackers, “Unemploymentality” is more geared toward formerly upwardly mobile types.

As Milton Berle used to say, “I’ve got a million of ‘em.” He was referring to his really bad jokes, but the fact is there are countless unemployment blogs, and some of them are hysterically funny. And others are insightful, poignant and extremely well-written. It’s not an original thought, but when the economy tanks, art rises. What’s up with that?

Meanwhile, there are the predictable networking sites, and some of them are truly creative. The “405 Club” is a site for entrepreneurs and job hunters to find each other. This site is really well done, and apparently with some side benefits. It’s based out of New York. I talked to Renee Salinger, an unemployed architectural interior specialist who had originally gone to the site out of curiosity. “I didn’t really find much help in the career department, but I did meet Jon, and for my money, or lack of it, Jon is way better than a job.” Jon Barnard, as it turns out, was an unemployed security consultant who ended up being Renee’s new main squeeze. Ain’t love grand?

I was most surprised to find out about “Pink Slip Parties.” These are gatherings of jobless people, job recruiters, employment agents – anybody who needs to mix with others for a common cause – employment. Watch this:

The most cynical among us would see in this video desperate yuppies with cocktails and slight chips on their shoulders. But if you stop and think about it, it’s about collaboration and really putting yourself out there to jump start your stalled occupational life. And hey, who doesn’t need a stiff cocktail right now, right? I mean nobody knows it, but at home you’ve downsized from Stoli to Taaka, and you’re cocktailing out of leftover plastic Mardi Gras cups. At least at the Pink Slip Party you can have a decent drink out of real stemware. Sometimes there is even free food, so ladies bring one of your big Fendi bags you bought before the crash, and discreetly load it up with those tiny sandwiches, cheese cubes and crudite.

Look, unemployment is a bitch. No matter how you slice it. I’ve been there more than once in my life. My God, one time I went to an agency that sent me out on an interview to manage a lumber store. I tried to tell the guy Jews don’t know lumber, but was he listening? No. So I get it. But it doesn’t hurt to find levity in near tragedy. If Wanda Sykes can make 9/11 jokes at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, we can laugh about being destitute, right? And yes, I am going to end this because I know you unemployed types need to get to your TVs now to watch “Ellen” and “The Young and the Restless.” Go for it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


One of the great pleasures of writing a blog like this one is the wealth of material I have to write about. Media is changing and advancing at breakneck speed, while entertainment entities have become so competitive that the real winners are generally us, the audience. Here are a few upcoming media events and products that you need to know about. I’ll keep you posted on more such items as they arise…stay tuned, as they say:

NETWORK TELEVISION: Farrah Fawcett’s intense two-year struggle with anal cancer has been reported in as much detail as Fawcett and her loved ones were willing to reveal. Now, NBC-TV is set to air Fawcett’s own video chronicle of her uphill battle to live. On Friday, May 15, NBC will air “Farrah’s Story.” In a statement released to the media, Fawcett said, “I have never understood why people are interested in anything I do. Until now.” At week’s end, People Magazine reported that Fawcett has ceased all treatment for her disease, which has reportedly spread to her liver and beyond. After undergoing alternative treatments in Germany it appeared she was winning her battle, but a recurrence has reportedly rendered her bedridden. Consult local TV listings for the two-hour program. (Click Here to read an interview Fawcett did with the L.A. Times in August. The interview was published for the first time on Monday, May 11).

HBO, the arbiter of cutting edge programming has given the green light to “Treme,” a drama series about the New Orleans neighborhood of the same name, rich in Creole and musical heritage, located across from the French Quarter. “Treme” (pronounced TRA-MAY) is tentatively set to debut in Fall, 2010, featuring real people from the area, and to keep things authentic, the producers hired Times-Picayune writer Lolis Eric Elie and local author Tom Piazza as part of the writing staff. I happen to live in Treme, and Elie lives right around the block. He is of the area – I’m a recent addition. I was pleased to hear of the inclusion of Elie and Piazza because so often dramas about New Orleans simply don’t get it. Elie, I know, gets it. The show reportedly takes a look at post-Katrina New Orleans through the eyes of local musicians. Tune in – we New Orleanians are nothing if not dramatic.

BROADWAY is abuzz with glowing accolades for Dolly Parton and the stage version of the 1980’s film, “9 to 5.” If you want two good reasons to get yourself to NYC for a weekend, this is one of them, and the other is, of course, Jane Fonda in Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations.” Parton brings that infectious joy to everything she does, and from what everyone says, her latest effort is no exception. What fun to see "The West Wing’s" starched Allison Janey take on the Jane Fonda role of Violet. Apparently everybody thinks so, because Janey was just nominated for a Tony. So was Parton, for best original score. “9 to 5” is playing at Nederlander’s Marquis Theatre on Broadway. Here’s a sneak peak:

MUSIC: What is it about Gospel that just reels us in, no matter what our ethnicity, socio-economic status or particular musical preferences? Well, let’s not over think it. Let’s just revel in the newly released collection of Gospel tunes called “Oh Happy Day: An All Star Celebration.” The CD is so rich in energy, rhythm and sheer joy that you’d have to be in a coma to resist it. Why didn’t anybody realize before now how obvious it would be to make Michael McDonald a gospel singer? And why did it take so long to put Mavis Staples, The Clark Sisters, Aaron Neville, Patti Griffin, Johnny Lang and the Soul Children of Chicago all in one musical collection. Listen, between you and me, Queen Latifah and the Jubilation Choir’s rendition of “Oh Happy Day” could make even a guy with the last name of Greenberg see Jesus. Okay? Pump up the volume and listen for yourself:

Monday, May 4, 2009


Let’s just get this out of the way first – the goofballs alluded to in the above headline are consummate whack-job Michele Bachmann, the neocon congresswoman from Minnesota; the man without a verbal filter of any kind, RNC Chairman Michael Steele; and of course, the true face and voice of the current Republican party, entertainer Rush Limbaugh. (Bachmann and Steele are pictured at right. We've all seen enough of Rush, haven't we?)

You know everything you need to know about Rush. I’m not wasting bandwith on him. Let’s look at Michele, and I will now write the longest sentence I have ever written, a summary of Michele’s unfortunate views and positions: Michele Bachmann claims pedophiles are all gay; insists God told her (through her husband) to get a post-doctoral degree in tax law and then to run for elected office, and ultimately labels herself a “fool for Christ” and says she’s “hot for God” ; claims the current H1N1 virus is “interesting” since it happened under the watch of a Democratic president, just as it did in 1976 (although all historical records still agree the President of the U.S. in 1976 was Gerald Ford, a Republican); believes many members of Congress are anti-American; fears that the U.S. is “running out of rich people”; said in a speech on the Senate floor that carbon dioxide is a harmless gas; believes the government is trying to establish “re-education” camps for young people, to train them in the philosophy of the Democratic party; publicly referred to the late Terry Schiavo as “healthy”.

Can we all just agree that Michele Bachmann is indeed a nut? Unfortunately for the Republican party, she never stops talking. She is rapidly becoming a high profile face of the party. Aside from the time she said two lesbians blocked her from leaving a public restroom (I promise), here is one of my favorite Bachmann appearances. On Hardball with Chris Matthews Congresswoman Whackadoodle showed her full paranoia, naming Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Michelle Pelosi as “anti-American”:

One time, appearing together, Bachmann praised (?) RNC Chairman Michael Steele by declaring, “Michael Steele, you be da man.” Yes, she said that. And in fairness, Steele has almost courted that unfortunate image. Here’s a typical Steele response to a reporter’s question – this time it had to do with Republicans voting against money for a potential flu pandemic. Steele’s logic? We didn’t have any way of knowing there would be a flu pandemic, so why would we allot money for it? Evidently, Steele believes we generally know in advance when there will be a pandemic, or other national crisis:

Steele is what we call a “loose cannon.” The Republican royalty apparently did not expect Steele to be quite so controversial when they chose him, but he’s trouble. He spends a lot of time talking about things that have nothing to do with….well, with anything. Here is what he said about Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown: "I wasn't feelin' that. Didn't like the cut. All the little puff things on it -- what was that all about? She could have done a Valentino." Huh? And then there was this, in an interview with GQ Magazine: "I love to party. I love hanging out with women, sometimes more than men. You know, sit back and let your hair down type thing?" So 50 Cent,right? All of this, just as he said on CNN that he is the “de facto leader of the Republican party.” Seriously, does he believe that?

At a minimum, Steele does not display much of a sense of decorum. At the extreme, he is overtly partisan, prone to hair-trigger responses to reporters’ queries, and generally not a good team player. Some typical Steel-isms: One time, speaking to a Jewish group, he compared stem-cell research to Nazi medical experiments on Jews during the holocaust years. Oy. Another time, speaking of pending healthcare reform legislation, Steele actually joked about Senator Ted Kennedy’s brain cancer, saying the bill should probably be called the "Ted Kennedy Memorial Healthcare Bill." Ouch. There is more: In a party that does not pride itself on social change, particularly when it concerns gay issues, Steele has publicly stated that homosexuality is not a choice. On the other hand, Steele calls himself a pro-lifer, but has made comments that sound distinctly pro-choice.

The problem? Steele is not a politician, and in the Republican party’s current precarious position, they need a politician. The further problem? Steele is more focused on promoting himself than the party. He was a bad choice for the job. Nobody in the party wants to come out and say it emphatically, but in a year of particularly bad choices (Read: Sarah Palin) Steele may be among the worst.

We need at least a two party system. The competition and the ideological tug of war is a healthy construct for the democracy. People like crazy Michele Bachmann and Michael Steele should become Republican party reorganizational road kill.

And of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible. Uh huh.