Thursday, August 27, 2009

DOMINICK DUNNE 1925 - 2009

"...He was shoeleather & stardust." Tina Brown, Former editor of Vanity Fair

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The difference between the rest of the world and New Orleans is that we see Hurricane Katrina in present tense, while everyone else sees it as history. Katrina will never leave us because our lives were irreversibly changed by the storm and its aftermath. This week marks the four year anniversary of the giant wave that directed a spotlight on New Orleans, a new awareness of race and class in America, and human suffering in numbers not seen in this country perhaps ever. But we do not need an anniversary to remind us what happened here. Its mark is indelible. Its power is everlasting and most unwelcome. No one who lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina can ever truly feel safe again.

It was not just the water and the devastation that robbed us of personal security. It was not just the hunger, thirst and even deaths of those unfortunate enough to be left behind. It was really the full realization that we could not depend on our government to protect us. It was four full days of tens of thousands of human beings waiting for relief from the wealthiest and most powerful government on the planet. But night became day and then night again – and again – and again—before even water was delivered.

Think about America on those nights: In Sausalito, CA people dined outdoors on hillsides overlooking the bay. In New York City people went to Sardi’s and then to the theatre. In Washington, D.C., tourists strolled along the national Mall and the monuments. Life just went on, while the poor people of New Orleans saw their dignity erode and for some, their life forces wane. If you think I am overstating it, you are mistaken. If you think four years is long enough for New Orleans to just “get over it,” you do not get it. And if you think New Orleans is back on its feet, I encourage you to come on down and we’ll take you on what we affectionately call “the devastation tour.”

Only two national journalists fully committed themselves in an honest, determined way to covering Katrina. One is Anderson Cooper of CNN, and the other is Brian Williams of NBC. What follows is Williams’ hard and gritty look at the New Orleans he saw from August 29 – 31, 2005. He was in the Superdome when the roof threatened to collapse. He was on Canal Street in knee high water when lawlessness happened and people started looting all of the downtown stores. Williams stayed on it, and even today continues to report on New Orleans.

Please take 27 minutes and 22 seconds to watch a video that is sometimes very hard to see, and listen to Williams tell the story as it truly was. I want you to see what happened, and I want you to be reminded of the truth. This can happen anywhere in this country any time. The U.S. government failed its people, and even today continues to marginalize the entire Gulf Coast, much of which has been unable to restore itself. Much money that was committed and many Federal programs that were promised never materialized. By the time the 2008 presidential election came around, not only was the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast not a campaign issue – it was barely mentioned by either party. And when the current recession hit and unemployment skyrocketed coast to coast, while millions of Americans lost their homes – well, by then it was too late for New Orleans.

Do I believe New Orleans will ultimately be resurrected? I believe New Orleans will survive and forge ahead, but it will never be quite what it was. Watch and listen, and you will see why:

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Why do the bad boys always seem to be badder in the summer? (Yes, I know, I said “badder.” Live with it). Who knows, but there seems to be a pattern. This summer has been particularly frisky and mischievous for some of the most high profile bad boys. And don’t get all huffy about the exclusion of uber-bad boys John Edwards, Michael Vick, Rod Blagojeich and Glenn Beck from this piece. They’re still bad. Real bad. It’s just that I have written about all three of them ad nauseum lately, so I chose to focus herein on some of their bad contemporaries.

Plaxico Burress will serve two years in prison, it was reported this week, after pleading guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon. But here’s the rub: Burress shot himself in the leg with the gun. Unfortunately, the gun he was carrying was not licensed. So, the married father of one, with another on the way goes to prison, and even when he gets out, it is not a given that the one-time Super Bowl star will be back in the NFL. "This was not an intentional criminal act," attorney Benjamin Brafman said. "In my judgment, a two-year prison sentence is a very severe punishment." So, that would suggest what? That Burress unintentionally carried an unlicensed weapon into a crowded public place? Burress, 32, has a history of unlawful behavior, which the judge probably considered. He’s still charged with smashing into the back of a Broward County, FL woman’s car with his Mercedes. Not only hasn’t he settled anything with her, but he was driving without insurance. And let’s not forget his two separate domestic disturbance instances in 2008, when he was hit with a restraining order in his own home. I hereby charge Plaxico Burress with serial badness.

Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina just will not go gently into that private night. He insists on staying public. This week he addressed a luncheon group and once again apologized for his bad judgment and behavior in carrying on an affair with an Argentinian woman. His wife and kids have already moved out, followed by a September Vogue interview in which Jenny Sanford is not cutting her husband much slack – you know, because he’s bad. Sanford now admits his political career is over, but he insists on finishing out the remaining 16 months of his term. More bad judgment on his part? You be the judge. Here is what a lame duck looks and sounds like:

Dr. Conrad Murray
is on track to be charged with manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, according to a report from Fox News. Murray, who has admitted administering the intravenous anesthetic propofol to help Jackson sleep just hours before his death, says the truth will set him free. Hmmm. Since the truth is that the doctor gave Jackson a drug that virtually everyone in the medical community agrees is for use only in a surgical setting, one wonders how that might free him. So, why manslaughter and not murder? Possibly because there is nothing much in the doc’s background to suggest criminal patterns, except for some unpaid child support. And, it seems clear (so far, anyway) that it was not his intention to kill Jackson.

Senator John Ensign is the next in the long line of legislators who seem to believe that if they just don’t talk about their extra-marital sexual indiscretions, they whole thing will just somehow go away. However, Ensign, who admitted having an affair with the wife of one of his best friends, (both worked for Ensign), now comes forward to say he did nothing legally wrong. No mention of ethics or morals or any of that, just nothing legally wrong. Ensign, who was among the loudest legislators calling for Bill Clinton’s resignation during the Lewinsky affair, says there is a big difference between his situation and Clinton’s. I haven't done anything legally wrong. President Clinton stood right before the American people and he lied to the American people," Ensign said. Still, like Mark Sanford, Ensign keeps apologizing. And like our old friend David Vitter, he’s hoping the whole thing magically disappears.

I could go on – I mean I could talk about Jon Gosselin (oh, God, are we still talking about him?), or former NY Times reporter Jayson Blair. Blair is the guy who ruined his own career and brought down two of the most powerful men in the NY Times newsroom, when he fabricated stories a few years ago. Blair, long considered in journalism circles the worst of all bad boys, has taken on a new profession – life counselor. So Woody Allenish, no? Anyway, I’m not going into any great detail about that because anecdotal evidence suggests that you stop reading after about 700 words on a blog entry – we’re at 811 right now. So I lost many of you somewhere in the John Ensign paragraph. Damn. So much badness to report, and such short attention spans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


We’ve seen some really bad behavior lately among Americans in town hall meetings. Ostensibly, the conflict among Americans right now is the future of healthcare in America. These very public displays of anger and frustration could just be born of something much more than the current healthcare debate. Something tells me people would not be carrying signs with swastikas on them, and defacing pictures of President Obama to make him look like Hitler, if something deeper wasn’t happening here.

For eight years, under George W. Bush, the nation was highly repressed. The Bush White House was inarguably one of the cagiest, most secretive administrations in recent history. Americans shed themselves of what little trust they had left in government. The trust erosion really began with the Nixon administration. People in my generation watched the whole Watergate debacle at the tail end of the Vietnam era. We saw how truly untrustworthy government can be. To many of us in this age bracket (50s), every President we have had since then has been a letdown. That means that a new President has to not only live up to our expectations, but he has to prove that he’s got the stuff with which to do it.

Along comes Barack Obama, who still seems to be a really decent guy. But he showed up as economic prosperity was in the past. Every time a recession happens, there is a substantial part of the population that circles the conservative wagons in a defensive posture. That’s what Obama walked into – a tightly closed set of American conservatives. This is not a political statement. It is, rather, simple observation of what has happened since last November. A black, liberal President walked through the gates of a racially skeptical electorate, at a time when public dissatisfaction with the Presidency was at its absolute hottest.

So, when I see people blatantly strapping guns onto their backs outside of a hall where the President is scheduled to speak, that’s not about healthcare. It’s about anger. It is about stretching the First Amendment beyond its borders. When I watch a woman repeatedly yell, “Heil Hitler” to a Jewish guy at a Town hall meeting, it is not just about about healthcare. It is absolutely about exasperation and disgust with government. I believe the natives are restless – so restless that they are turning on each other. Americans and their legislators are facing off in public, and it’s not pretty. Both are conducting themselves in ways they would never have pictured themselves behaving. On television. Watch:

Yes, healthcare is a critical issue, and yes it is the catalyst for all the yelling and acting out we are witnessing in these town hall showdowns. But healthcare is simply the soapbox. Those who are aggressively acting up -- armed with megaphones and decades-old frustration, jobless and frightened—those people are not just there to protest potential health insurance laws. They are there to say that enough is enough. The people in this country were marginalized for eight years, while despotic and ill-equipped leaders guided us into failed banks, corporate chaos, the highest unemployment rate in 26 years, and an international reputation best described as global disdain. America is damned mad. And it is speaking up in record numbers and in ways it hasn’t allowed itself to be heard since Vietnam.

I’m with Barney Frank. Indeed what is unfolding here is a true testament to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I would like to see the loudest among the protesters get their point across without being so disrespectful toward their opponents. Honestly, I’d like to see a little more decorum here. Sometimes it is easier to hear what someone is trying to say when they stop screaming, brandishing semi-automatic weapons and comparing our nation to Nazi Germany. Still, I support their right to do it. Here’s why: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That is the entire First Amendement text. Read it again. Haven’t we lost enough freedoms in this country already? We can’t risk losing this one. If only I were able to be as eloquent about this as these guys:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


If anything positive can possibly result from Michael Vick’s murderous behavior with animals, it may be that the national discussion about humane treatment of animals has been amped up. As soon as Vick was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles all hell broke loose from coast to coast. You could not turn on a talk radio show without hearing from those who feel he should not be re-instated in the NFL, and from those who feel he has paid his debt to society and now should be allowed to live his life.

In fact, Vick will live his life, and at age 29 in a society that lionizes professional athletes, he will probably do quite well. Nobody said life is fair, right? Vick’s two-year deal is reportedly for $1.6 million with the second-year option worth $5.2 million. Still, I have faith in the social consciousness of the American citizenry, and I believe that for the rest of his life, Vick will be known as the football player who maimed, tortured and murdered dogs, and who bankrolled an illegal, barbaric dog fighting operation on his own property. And I believe that is how he should be remembered. On Sunday, Vick appeared on “60 Minutes.” Here is part of what he had to say:

Vick says that the first time he understood the magnitude of the decisions he had made was when the prison door was slammed behind him. I can’t help wondering why the same realization did not hit him when he watched dogs being beaten to death, asphyxiated and methodically murdered. What I am hearing here is that the first time he felt any level of remorse was when it directly affected his comfort, his public image and his financial status. Is it just me, or do you hear that, as well? When he speaks of crying all alone in his cell, he lists off all of the things that he was crying about and never mentions the dogs.

“Bad News Kennels,”(right) as the dog fighting operation on Vick’s property was called, was an obscene endeavor that offered no comfort or respect for innocent animals. Dogs were routinely shot, electrocuted and drowned. This went on for six years, until he was caught. Now he says that he knows he could have halted the operation for the sake of his “career and family.” Again, no mention of the dogs. Now, after losing a $130 million NFL contract and being shunned by many within the league, Vick says he “was wrong” to do what he did. I’m not buying it. And many others are not buying it. Vick is not an ignorant man. He knows right from wrong. He made a decision to hurt and kill dogs. Period.

The bigger issue is dog fighting nationwide. In a CNN report published this week, there was this: "At the height of attention on the Vick case, things quieted down across the country with some of these dogfighters getting out of the business," veteran animal abuse investigator Tim Rickey said. "But then, the headlines went away, and people thought the attention was off. It just started right back up, almost stronger than before. Every Saturday night in every county in Missouri, there is a dogfight going on.”

Something tells me Mr. Vick could direct law enforcement to many dog fighting rings. It is inconceivable that Vick could have murdered animals for six years and not become closely tied in with the dog fighting underground. So it begs three questions: First, why didn’t the judicial system maneuver this case into a revelatory moment when harsh light would shine on dog fighters coast to coast, courtesy of prisoner number 33765-183, Michael Vick? Second, why didn’t the judge impose fines on Vick based on any possible future income he would derive from professional sports? Would it not have been a great idea to put a lien on his future earnings and earmark the money for animal protection and investigations that would lead to arrests of dog fighters? Third, why didn’t the courts ban Vick from ever owning, fostering or caring for a dog? And why does it take a blogger to come up with something so obvious?

We are a nation of dog lovers. I have often said I would rather spend my time with dogs than humans. I know others who feel the same way. The Vick horrors have directed a much-needed spotlight on dog fighting in the U.S. If you suspect or know of dog fighting operations, here is what you can do. Please do it:
• Call the local branch of the Humane Society
• Call your local “Crime Stoppers.” Check the national crime stoppers web site for the community organization nearest to you.

Or...Just call 911. Just do it.

Friday, August 14, 2009


1. REPORT: JOHN EDWARDS WILL ADMIT PATERNITY: WRAL News in North Carolina reports that former Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards will admit he is the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby Edwards,who admitted involvement with Rielle, a campaign videographer, has consistently denied fathering her 18-month-old daughter. Already under Federal investigation for funneling campaign funds to Hunter, Edwards now faces full public humiliation if it is revealed he fathered the child and then failed to claim her as his daughter. Stay tuned.

2. HATE MAKES A COMEBACK: There is real fear in some quarters that hate groups and individual extremists are stepping forward in record numbers. Since President Obama’s election, there have been more public displays of civic rebellion and more acting out in public than we had seen in a long time. Last week, one man in New Hampshire openly wore a handgun strapped to his belt at a town hall meeting. Other town hall meetings have been the sites of angry outbursts and near-violence. A white attendee at one meeting grabbed a poster of Rosa Parks from a black woman and tore it up in front of the crowd. At a town hall meeting In Hagerstown, MD, Secret Service detained a man who held a sign that read “Death to Obama.” Reportedly, gun sales are way up. Renderings of the Nazi swastika symbol are being flaunted in public places. One such incident occurred outside the office of Democratic Rep. David Scott, who is black. Some observers attribute the rise in national tension to a combination of the election of a black president, an ever-weakening economy, record high joblessness and unprecedented public anger over health care and immigration.

3. MICHAEL VICK IS AN EAGLE: Michael Vick, recently released from prison after serving time for the illegal dog fighting racket that took place on his property, has re-upped with the NFL. Vick has been hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Happy ending? Not so fast. Radio talk shows coast to coast are debating the move, with many callers expressing dissatisfaction that Vick has been allowed back into major league football. Others argue that Vick deserves a chance to work, now that he has paid his debt to society. Vick will be eligible to play beginning in the sixth week of the season, but until then the national debate about his eligibility rages on. Where do you stand? Before you make up your mind, you may want to watch the interview with Vick on this Sunday’s 60 Minutes on CBS.

UPDATE FROM "MEDIA MATTERS," AUGUST 17: GMAC Financial Services joins a growing list of advertisers who have recently abandoned Beck's television show, including ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, RadioShack, Men’s Wearhouse, State Farm Sargento, LexisNexis-owned, Procter & Gamble, and Progressive Insurance.
4. ADVERTISERS FLEE GLEN BECK SHOW: Since taking to the airwaves nightly on FOX, Glenn Beck has been a lightning rod for controversy, and thereby a ratings champion for the network. Beck, known for his extreme conservatism, his on-air histrionics and tears, and his outrageous remarks, may have gone too far last week. That was when he said President Obama has a “deep seated hatred for white people. Watch:

Since then, major advertisers have withdrawn from the program. Among the majors: Proctor & Gamble, Geico and Progressive Insurance. And there are others. Several have not withdrawn from the network, but have issued directives that their ads should run on programs other than Beck’s. Beck evidently forgot the rules: As a broadcaster, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects your right to express yourself freely – but as is the case with any freedom, there is responsibility attached to it. And you, Glenn Beck, communicated in an irresponsible fashion.

5. SENATOR KENNEDY DETERIORATING: Although the family has remained largely mum regarding Senator Ted Kennedy’s health status, indications are that he is deteriorating. When his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was buried on Thursday, Kennedy was unable to attend, reportedly because of his weakening condition. When President Obama awarded Kennedy the Medal of Freedom last week, Kennedy’s daughter had to accept for him, since the Senator was unable to attend. He was also unable to participate in the Senate’s historic vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Kennedy’s battle with brain cancer has been public knowledge for about a year, but until recently he was still making public appearances.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hound Dog

Raise your hand if you remember former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich. Oh come on – you remember. The guy who tried to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder? So fifteen minutes ago, right? Well, just in case you are wondering what happens to a chief executive of a Midwestern state after he is publicly disgraced, Blago has been spotted in downtown Chicago. The occasion was a street fair. Blago, apparently starved for Illinois public love, decided to channel Elvis for the crowd. You can’t make this stuff up, people. Watch:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


And now, ladies and gentlemen, William Shatner's dramatic interpretation of Sarah Palin's tweets:


Meet Michelle Malkin. I invite you to meet her because some (most?) of you are probably not fully familiar with the name. Lately, Malkin has been showing up a lot in mainstream media because she is promoting her new book, Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies (Regnery Publishing, July 2009). Malkin joins a growing list of ultra-conservative pundits whose mission is generally to find fault with all things Obama, without offering viable alternatives, suggestions or solutions. In her television appearances, Malkin is quick to bring up information about key administration players that is fully unrelated to their current jobs or accomplishments. For example, about technology czar Melissa Hathaway, Malkin likes to point out that Hathaway has a past shoplifting charge on her record. (For the record, a substantial Internet search turned up nothing about any run-in that Hathaway has had with the law. Also, on August 4, Hathaway announced her resignation).

Not unlike some other right wing commentators, Malkin displays a mean-spirited demeanor when she discusses government officials and cultural celebrities. She referred to Michael Jackson's memorial service as an exercise in "wretched excess." She is prone to find one bad apple in a downtrodden group and categorize the whole contingent as frauds. Such was the case when she found a woman who allegedly illegally toyed with the U.S. bankruptcy system. Malkin's conclusion was that 'prototypical foreclosure "victims" don't deserve an ounce of sympathy -- or a cent of our money.'

On Monday, she appeared on The View. What is particularly interesting about the following clip is that Elisabeth Hasselback, The View’s resident neo-con, doesn’t utter a word during the interview, other than to introduce Malkin and wrap up the segment at the end. Could it be that even Hasselback realizes Malkin’s agenda is more personal than professional? If you thought the epitome of radical conservatism was fully embodied by our old standbys Ann Coulter and Bay Buchanan, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as they say. Watch:

Monday, August 3, 2009


Is it just me or does it seem that Ms. Sarah Palin has put her foot in her mouth so many times lately that even her staunchest supporters may have to step away from the former Governor for fear of media backlash? The unprecedented adversarial relationship Palin has anti-nurtured with the American press is stunning, largely because Palin continues to fan the flames. The latest? A blogger named Gryphen on his The Immoral Minority blog reported last weekend that Palin and former first dude Todd were divorcing. Naturally, the Palin camp quickly issued a denial. After publicly refuting the rumor, if you were Palin, wouldn’t you distance yourself from the rumor? Downplay it, even ignore it and maybe it will fade out when the next big thing hits the digital wires. But not our Sarah. Instead, she decided to come forward to publicly threaten to serve Gryphen with libel papers at the kindergarten where he works. Oh Sarah. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.

This comes just days after Palin delivered her rambling, disjointed buh-bye speech from the state Capitol in Alaska. This is the speech in which she bragged about not having any plan for her life after July 26, and then somehow drew parallels between men in uniform and media professionals. “Our troops are willing to die for you,” she tells the members of the press. Huh? Listen, if you haven’t seen this, you need to. Watch:
In the world of journalism, in addition to the quest for accuracy, there is one cardinal rule: Once the reporter becomes the story, the story itself is sullied. That means that reporters have to do all things possible to keep the focus off of themselves and on the information being reported. Likewise, politicians need to present a steady presence that keeps the public’s attention on the issues, and not on the personalities debating them. Palin broke the rule, and now she is paying the price. She has become an American punch line. You need proof? Watch actor William Shatner turn Palin’s affected verbosity into 1950s beat poetry:

I rest my case.


When Henry met Crowley, as I’m now prone to refer to the “incident” near Harvard University on July 16, the professor and the cop opened the floodgates. Those gates of cultural racism on the down low swung open to reveal a racial schism in this country so much deeper than even that of the 1960s civil rights era. Whoever says racism is obsolescent in the U.S. is either lying or self-delusional. Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley forced a spotlight on one of the nation’s leading teachers of the black experience and a dedicated police officer who is known for teaching his own courses in racial sensitivity. Still the arrest of Gates in his own home by Crowley raised the temperature on racial division in this country to a boiling point.

Lost in the media firestorm has been any mention of Gates’s recently released book, In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past (Crown Publishers, April 2009). Envision the intersection of Hollywood celebrity, traditional historical research technique and cutting edge DNA technology, and Gates’ concept starts to take shape. Herein Gates explores the genealogy of big names like Tina Turner, Don Cheadle, Maya Angelou and Morgan Freeman, among others. It’s fascinating stuff, this family tree snooping. But more than the fascination is its raison d’etre. One of Gates’ past subjects, Oprah Winfrey, has opined the true significance of Gates’ dogged pursuit of the truth about the collective black lineage. She said, “This is who you are, this is where you've come from. You've come from strength and power and endurance and pain and suffering and triumph. You've come from all of that. And so imagine now how much more you can be."

Gates now has the distinction of being an American who compels us to learn about the past and to consider the present and future of black America. And Crowley, in his own articulate fashion, steps forward now to extend his hand for reconciliation and public awareness. It is one of those moments in America when the racial divide in the country serves as the backdrop for positive change. But make no mistake; this is not a warm fuzzy moment in America. Just last week a Boston cop was suspended from the force for sending out an email that refers to Gates as a “jungle monkey.” This follows an op-ed piece in USA Today in which Chuck Canterbury, the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police flatly states, “Racial profiling is not a legitimate law enforcement tool, and there is no evidence that prejudice is a systemic problem in U.S. law enforcement.” His words were a weak shot at damage control, but of course, Canterbury and all of us know that racial profiling is indeed employed nationwide, routinely. The Gates/Crowley incident continues to be the catalyst for all manner of exclusionary expression and outright falsehoods about race in America.

Our holy St. Oprah of Chicago would call this a “teaching moment.” This is a moment when we can take the racial discussion out of the closet it has been hiding in for the past quarter century or so. You may not like everything you hear, but you’ll probably feel compelled to speak up and throw your words in the ring. That’s a good thing. Nothing moves forward that is censored, denied or otherwise thwarted. This is our chance to bring some true definition to the race issues in America. We tried in the 1960s, and the result was the Voting Rights Act. Not bad for a mid-20th century effort. This time we can go bigger and bolder. I don’t know about you, but I’m on the edge of my seat to see what happens next.