Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The Ranter is taking a break and will return appropriately riled up on Monday, August 3, 2009.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Remember the other day when I posted that juicy argument between MSNBC colleagues Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchannan? (Scroll down if you haven't seen it). Buchanan made some highly incindiary, racially-based statements that day. Now, Maddow and her staff have done some investigating in the effort to prove or disprove the veracity of some of Buchanan's more outrageous proclamations. Note to Pat: Do your homework before you go on national television.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Over the next few days you will hear people talking about Walter Cronkite in the same tone they would talk about a relative, longtime co-worker or lifelong friend. He was all of that. He was part of the American family, a guy who always seemed to be working for us, intent on making sure we knew the truth. Walter Cronkite was to 20th century America, as critically important to the public good as any man has ever been.

As a newsman, Cronkite was the epitome of a straight arrow. He conveyed information in a steady cadence that lulled our intellect, and he looked straight into the lens as if he were standing in our living room breathing the same air as we breathed. He managed to do that until one night in February, 1968 when he said this: “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

It was as stunning a moment in television as had ever been seen. Cronkite never shifted his gaze from the camera, not for a millisecond. He meant what he said, and he wanted you to know what was true about the debacle that was Vietnam. In those days Cronkite was the anchorman for the CBS Evening News, and it was the practice during Vietnam for news programs to tell the total number of dead U.S. soldiers every day. Perhaps Walter Cronkite wearied of reporting the tens of thousands of Americans who were dying for nothing in a tiny place just South of China that most of us had never heard of. Or maybe it had to do with his up close and personal view of Vietnam. He went there in 1968 to report on the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, an attack by the Viet Cong which showed a cunning and aggression that none of us had known they had. Without Cronkite’s report, most of us would never have understood how significant the attack was. And without his courage to editorialize on television for the first time, it would have been difficult for him to tell us the full truth of Vietnam. Watch:

Watch CBS Videos Online
He was universally applauded for his guts and for his candor. Reportedly, Cronkite had been an opponent of the war as far back as 1965, but never publicly uttered one slanted word about the war until his conscience would no longer allow him to remain neutral. So many public communicators today could gain so much from Cronkite’s unprecedented example of self-restraint.

Five years earlier, most of us saw for the first time, Cronkite’s real mettle. It was the day John Kennedy was assassinated. Cronkite was reporting live on air when the first call came in about the President having been shot. We were a different America then. We were still naïve. We were still early 20th century mentality, rather than late 20th century mindset. That a President could be killed in cold blood was not remotely considerable prior to November 22, 1963. So we needed a steady voice and controlled guide to gently usher us through the horror of it. Cronkite stepped up to do that for us. And yet, the moment he told us of JFK’s death, we saw his heart, if even for a brief moment. What follows is the footage from CBS in the several minutes leading up to official word that Kennedy was dead. Kennedy was on his way to a luncheon at a downtown ballroom, and in this clip you will see fascinating footage of what was going on in the ballroom as Cronkite and his associates reported the series of events. Watch:

Walter Cronkite mattered not only because of who he was, but also because of when he was. He took over the anchor chair at CBS in 1963, just as the country teetered on the precipice of social chaos. He occupied the chair from 1963 to 1982, first through a decade when our leaders were repeatedly shot dead on pavements coast to coast. In between it all, some say slavery finally officially ended as the civil rights movement resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When Cronkite spoke out against the Vietnam War he was 52 years old, at a time when most of the anti-war movement participants were college age. As such, he truly legitimized the movement. When Cronkite told us Martin Luther King was dead, he rightly referred to him as the “apostle of non-violence” in the first sentence of his report. He presided over America’s greatest adventure, the Space Age, and when men finally did walk on the moon, it was Cronkite that two of every three Americans were tuned in to, just so they could be sure it was true. His unbridled glee upon reporting on the Apollo 11 moon walk was infectious and brought us all together at a time when we were nothing, if not splintered. Watch:

His was the voice we depended on during Presidential conventions, to guide us through the confusion and allow us to understand how our system operated. When the Watergate debacle came, Cronkite was among the earliest to recognize the true weight of the events, and one could say it was he who allowed us to understand that President Nixon must resign. By that time, I, and many others in my generation had opted for journalism school. Because of people like Cronkite, David Brinkley, Eric Severeid and John Chancellor, we saw journalism as something bordering on noble. We learned by watching them that information is critical and truth is something you just have to keep pushing and pushing. Although by the early 1970s when I was in school, Cronkite was not really yet considered the legend that he is now, he was nonetheless the name that came up most frequently in reporting and writing classes. Cronkite started out as a print journalist, and then took such huge risks as reporting World War II from the front. We were dazzled by the gigantic leaps he took in his career. No one else seemed as passionate about getting the word out to you and me.

With Cronkite, integrity, hard work and determination trumped the yet-to-be-born Internet, or Twitter or Facebook. He didn’t need any of it, because he was all about simply communicating the real world to real people. I believe I quietly observed Cronkite all of my life. I loved watching him get old, and older still (right, with Joanna Simon, who became his companion after the death of his wife) because of the way he continued to go at it into his 90s. He restores our faith in ourselves because collectively we decided to trust Walter Cronkite a long, long time ago. As it turns out, our trust was perfectly placed. We knew what we saw when we saw it. He is, above all else, the true story of the best of 20th century America. Born in 1916, he was privileged to live to see the bulk of a full century, and it was our privilege to hear about his time and learn about our world from him. From our industrialized nation to our age of information, he was able to stay in step and keep us aligned with him.

For the past several days reporter after broadcaster after journalist has said, “There will never be another like him.” I am hopeful that there will be others like him; that he set the bar high enough for people to want to emulate his adventurousness, his ease of communication and his dedication to truth. Walter Cronkite gave us all something to aim for, and we thank him.

Friday, July 17, 2009


What happens when liberal MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow and her ultra-conservative colleague Patrick Buchanan talk race, affirmative action and Sonia Sotomayor? See for yourself:


A few extraordinary items fairly jumped off the news pages this week, and every one of them had to do with money. No big surprise there, but what is most astounding is how blatant some of the fiscal recklessness has been lately. Consider:

The Social Security Administration held a conference in Phoenix last week. This wasn’t just any old conference; officials say this one was held to help SSA employees de-stress, since their jobs are so stressful that they just needed to get away. So they did, to the tune of $700,000 – that would be $700,000 in taxpayer money. And not only did they do a little de-stressing at a four-star resort, but they even got to bring some of their relatives. And there’s more: As it turns out, their getaway was just one of many such regional SSA gatherings in the past year, which have amounted to about $1 million in costs. So proud of his employees is he, that SSA administrator Michael Astrue personally attended. Here – see for yourself:

So, why is this an issue? Here’s why: In May, trustees reported that Social Security will start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2016, a year sooner than projected last year, and the giant trust fund will be depleted by 2037. (The government has to start relying on the trust fund when it starts paying out more than it takes in in taxes). So, the solvency of the system is already in question. Why then, would the agency that represents a potential insolvent government fund be spending government dollars to have de-stressing resort gatherings.

Last week I received a Social Security statement that is sent out periodically to American workers, which indicates that to receive even approximately $2,200/month from Social Security, I will have to continue working at least until I am 70 years old. My gut tells me that the above-mentioned trust fund will be depleted by that time, even though it won’t be 2037 yet. You want to talk about stress? I’ll give you stress.

I do know of one guy who really won’t be needing much from Social Security. His name is Rick Wagoner, and until March he was the CEO of General Motors. And although Mr. Obama essentially gave him the bum’s rush last Spring, don’t cry too many tears for Mr. W. It seems that he will officially retire in August with a tidy golden parachute worth $8.6 million in the first five years. Based on 32 years service to GM, Wagoner is entitled to an annual $74,030 under the salaried retirement program and five installments of about $1.64 million under the executive retirement plan. So, let’s review: General Motors declares bankruptcy and ousts its CEO, who hightails with millions. What’s wrong with this picture? He is 56 years old with an MBA from Harvard and a pretty decent resume. Presumably he is healthy enough to go make a living. More dollars and nonsense, right?

That would be enough dollars and nonsense, were it not for one of our old favorite blogging subjects, AIG. You remember AIG, the mega-insurance giant that the government bailed out to the tune of $85 billion in 2008? Come on, you remember – AIG, the company that AIG took its executives to a lavish California retreat at a cost of $444,000 (complete with spa treatments, banquets, and golf) about a week after the bailout? Well, it seems now that AIG is in talks with the Feds about plans to pay millions of dollars in retention incentives and bonuses. AIG, it would seem, has decided that it is business as usual, although the government reports it has extended taxpayer assistance to AIG in one form or another of about $180 billion to date. Oh, and by the way, why aren't your Congressional representatives hooting and hollering about this? What’s wrong with this picture?
Listen…is it just me, or…..

Friday, July 10, 2009


Twelve-year-old Shaheen Jafargholi singing "Who's Loving You" at the Michael Jackson Memorial in the Staples Center, Los Angeles, Tuesday 7th July 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009


On the very day that Michael Jackson was memorialized at the Staples Center in L.A., while worldwide viewership was estimated at tens of millions of people, high profile media figures were in full bashing mode. Why is it, one wonders, that the Bill O’Reillys of the world could not restrain themselves for even a few days from badmouthing Jackson? It is not a rhetorical question. There is a clear answer. Bashing Jackson furthered O’Reilly’s racist agenda, and helped him maintain his standing as the highest rated talking head on cable TV. Still, in the interest of respect for Jackson’s survivors, could the following presentation possibly have been at least delayed a few days?

Media’s quest these days is to be as extreme as possible, in the ongoing effort to keep your attention and cause you to put the remote down instead of in your hand at the ready. That has everything to do with the intense competition among media entities. It causes media organizations to do whatever it takes to be first with information, even if the information is sometimes not verified. It has also to do with reasonably intelligent men and women saying things to a national audience that cause them to look foolish – knowing the whole time that the foolishness is the very element of their presentation that will keep you tuned in. On the same day O’Reilly sacrificed whatever is left of his dignity to say what he said, MSNBC talking head Donny Deutsch, who owns a multi-billion dollar New York ad agency, had this to say about Jackson’s throngs of mourning fans:
One could argue that Deutsch simply doesn't get it. He is unaware of the true impact Jackson had on our culture. But the real issue here is Deutsch's motivation. What does it really add to the mix of ideas for Deutsch to question the fans' emotions and loyalty? What does it do for the national conversation? Not much. Mostly it just helps Deutsch call attention to himself, and for some, even negative attention is better than being ignored.

And then there was this: Representative Peter King (R-NY) felt it would somehow serve his constituency to make a video about Michael Jackson. Watch:

I wonder how the good citizens of New York benefit by hearing their Congressman call Jackson a pervert, a pedophile, a child molestor and a low life. Again, does it enhance the national dialogue? Is there something more productive for the state of New York that King might be doing? Is King truly qualified to critique media's decisions about who and what to cover and when?

Jackson's death has brought to the forefront a disturbing trend among Americans. We seem to be looking for the worst of everyone and everything, even at the most inappropriate times. I would ask O'Reilly, Deutsch, King, et. al: Does media influence what happens in our culture or does our culture shape what media projects? If it is the former, then perhaps we should remember that it is our own history of elevating media to authoritative status that makes it so. If it is the latter, then perhaps we need to look harder at our own cultural trends and remember that media is doing nothing more than showing them to us on larger and larger screens, in high definition.

Monday, July 6, 2009

NEW ORLEANS: The Fastest Growing Forgotten City in the U.S.

Seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina, upon returning from exile, a friend of mine took me to see the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. It is where old, established New Orleans seafood restaurants were located. “Let’s go to the lakefront and eat some crawfish,” was part of the easy local lexicon. A long line of old clapboard buildings lined the lakefront, along with a couple that had been built more recently – meaning sometime in the last 40 years or so. You could get lucky and grab a table outside and spend the evening talking and drinking and eating Louisiana seafood. You could watch the sun set on the lake, or watercraft buzzing by. Sometimes people would drive their boats right up to the restaurant, disembark and have dinner. It was a lovely part of the city.

When my friend took me to see it after the storm (below, right), there was no trace whatsoever of anything that had been there. Not an intact board or rooftop, not one recognizeable thing. I lost my bearings for a few moments, actually not being able to figure out exactly where I was. It was a barren space that just looked out over the water. All traces of the ‘forget your troubles’ kind of a place this used to be were eradicated. Of all the post-Katrina moments I have had, that may have been one of the most devastating. Standing there taking it in I was struck by the fully unwelcome silence of the place. Standing in the exact spot where the old restaurants had been, my friend and I looked at each other and quietly we knew this was one of those ‘you had to be there moments.’ Nobody who isn’t here is going to understand how this feels.

Fast forward almost four years later: It Is July 1, 2009 and the U.S. Census bureau reports New Orleans is the fastest growing city in the United States. Last year alone, the population in New Orleans grew by 8.2 percent. We have about 311, 000 people now. That is, however, down from approximately 484,000 in the 2000 census. Still, I can report that New Orleans feels more like itself, finally. The population no longer feels sparse, as it did for the first couple of years after the storm.

The city looks better, but if you get out into some of the outlying areas, such as New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward, things are still rough. In some places, not a lot of progress has been made. The much ballyhooed “Musician’s Village,” (left) a housing development for local musicians, spearheaded by Harry Connick, Jr., is a sight to behold. Amazing. But spitting distance from there, for years after Katrina, was the graveyard for all the New Orleans Police Department vehicles killed by the floods. You can see some new housing developments in New Orleans East, but the Lake Forest Plaza Shopping Mall, once a commercial hub, was virtually destroyed by the hurricane and the subsequent flooding. It sits as a giant reminder of nature’s wrath.

In the Lower 9th, Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is doing a phenomenal job in raising money and building highly innovative, storm-resistant homes. But a stone’s throw from the development you can drive down streets in the Lower 9th that look like Katrina hit yesterday. The grass may be higher, but the devastation remains visible. If you have been here before, the devastation tells a sad story. Part of a house remains that was built a century ago, and across the street are the remains of the home of the first house’s descendents. Just down the street might be a pile of rubble that once housed the grandchildren. This was a community that had rich family heritage. There was no great wealth here; no one boasts of a U.S. President hailing from the lower 9th, but there is important cultural history here, just the same. So why, four years later, is it all still crumbling foundations, waist high weeds and nothing but memories?

Recent reports indicate there are approximately 3,800 vacant properties in the lower 9th. If you are not in New Orleans, what you do not know is that you can walk right up to some of the smashed houses, look in the windows and still see dishes in the sink from August 29, 2005, or clothes hanging neatly in closets – the door may be torn off but the garments are still there, waiting. The homeowners are still spread far and wide from Texas to Maine, Virginia to California. Those who are back often live on blocks where theirs is the only inhabited house. It is not uncommon to see residents whose houses show signs of repairs that were started, but then stopped. Often that has much to do with contractors who took their money and ran, without completing the job. An over-taxed, under-financed District Attorney’s office in Orleans Parish has countless such cases waiting to be settled.

Elsewhere in the city, the Army Corps of Engineers came forward recently to admit that it is running behind on 13 levee repair projects. Some of these projects were not due to be completed until 2011, but now may take even a couple of years longer. That is, unless we have a Katrina-like storm that decimates even more of the existing levee system. The government allocated $15 billion to repair the levees, but that figure was tied to a repair schedule the Corps can no longer meet. If the levee repairs cost more than originally anticipated, no one knows from where the additional funding will come.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) reported that much of the money allocated for repairs throughout the Gulf Coast region was tied up in red tape. FEMA promised $5.8 billion to repair roads, schools, libraries, sewer systems and other infrastructure, but a good portion of the rebuilding has yet to begin. Meanwhile, the facilities that should have been repaired by now continue to rot. How long do government officials think an old school building or library with all of the windows blown out (above, left) can sit idle before it is not longer repairable? Or, perhaps that is the wrong question. Maybe the real question is, Do government officials think about the Gulf Coast and/or New Orleans anymore? Or are we yesterday’s news?

The answer depends on your location. If you are anywhere outside of the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina is history. However, those of us who live in New Orleans, or the surrounding areas, see Katrina in present tense. A Katrina-like catastrophe could happen in Anytown, USA. Maybe even your town. And once it does, be aware that you will ultimately be out there on your own – even if you live in the “fastest growing city in the United States.”

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Sarah Palin is a small town American girl with ambition to spare, energy to burn and naiveté unlike anything Americans have seen in a long time. From the time she burst onto the national scene with her cheerleader-like enthusiasm and her sometimes ill-informed public statements, Palin has always underestimated the electorate. That is condescending at best, and extremely poor judgment at worst. I never really saw Palin as a having political longevity, but I did worry that a certain segment of the population would feel distantly comfy with those folksy winks into the camera and down-home “you betchas” and “say it ain’t so Joes.” In a moment in America when comfort is at a premium, I was concerned that too many voters would opt for comfort over substance and ability. My concerns were fully allayed on July 3, when Sarah Palin delivered a rambling, topic-hopping speech, resigning her post as Governor of Alaska. I will not call it incoherent – but I will go so far as to say her hastily-called press conference was alternately breathless, disjointed, and slightly bitter. Watch:

Palin’s disdain for the American media is palpable. The near-combative relationship she has established with media organizations and even individual reporters is unprecedented in recent American politics. By Sunday, she was even talking of suing a Huffington Post blogger for slander. Who among us will ever forget Palin’s verbal tennis match with CBS anchor Katie Couric? Not only couldn’t she name the newspapers or magazines she reads, but she could not come up with any U.S. Supreme Court decisions that she questioned. Here we had a woman who conceivably could end up being President of the U.S. if aging, cancer-survivor John McCain were to die, and as head of the executive branch of government, she is evidently fully unfamiliar with the decisions of the judicial branch. That should have been our first clue as to Palin’s lack of preparedness for the job, and for her distinct lack of media savvy. By that point, Palin had not only underestimated us, the voters – but she had most definitely underestimated the power, influence and persistence of the American media. Big mistake.

Citing media pressures as part of her decision to step down, Palin sent the worst possible message to voters – When the going gets tough, I just quit. (My first reaction was, If only George Bush had had the same escapist strategy). The truth is that Sarah Palin does not like anyone snooping, investigating, questioning or even wondering about her motives, her behavior or her decisions. Sarah has a secret. No, make that many secrets. Let’s not forget that well into her pregnancy with her youngest child, not one person on her staff knew she was pregnant until her last trimester. And let’s not forget that her husband was a member of an Alaskan secessionist party while she was Governor of one of the United States. Just a gentle reminder that while she was decent enough to let John McCain know her teenage daughter was five months pregnant before signing on to the GOP ticket, she was not forthcoming to the American public about Bristol’s pregnancy until a week after the GOP convention. There have always been rumblings about Palin awarding state jobs to certain individuals for questionable reasons, as well as the high profile “troopergate” scandal in which Alaska’s public safety commissioner claimed he was forced to resign when he refused to fire Palin’s ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper.

Palin has too many secrets. Reportedly, her own father-in-law did not know of the content of Palin’s press conference until he heard it through media reports. If Palin is this withholding in her own family, why on earth would we, the American voters, believe she would be any more forthcoming with us? I, for one, am waiting for the other shoe to drop. My reporter’s gut tells me there is lots more to the Palin resignation story than her frustration with the media, her desire to save Alaskans the cost of more ethics investigations, and her fear of becoming a sitting duck governor. If she were that fearful of becoming a sitting duck, why did she not simply keep plugging away, and then run for re-election so she could fulfill her agenda? In her breathy resignation schpiel, she more than once reiterated her disdain for “politics as usual.” Yet, by not being fully honest about her reasons for resigning and her plans for the future, she simply played politics, as usual. If she truly sees the American media as the enemy, then why did her husband agree to a full length feature story in a recent issue of Esquire magazine? Why did she allow her daughter, Bristol, to do a media blitz this Spring touting the dangers of teenage sex? It appears Palin will use media when it suits her, and condemn media when we get a little too close to truths that she would prefer to keep…secret.

There are almost 4,000 miles between Wasilla, AK and Washington, D.C. It was way too far, literally and figuratively for a girl from Wasilla, population 7,000, to travel in one broad jump. Sarah Palin made the critical error of trying to go too far too fast without enough information, education and experience. She tried to skip some critical steps in the climb from ambitious local politician to major player on the national stage. Most significantly, Sarah Palin tried to buck a system with deep roots in the American culture. She should have taken a page out of the mid-20th century civil rights movement playbook: The key players learned that if you want to change the world, you do so by working within the existing system. Inventing or even suggesting a whole new system takes up precious time, shakes the foundations that Americans count on and simply paints one in the most unfavorable light possible – that of “rogue.”

So long, Sarah. It feels like we hardly knew you. But then -- you wouldn't have it any other way, right?