Wednesday, November 23, 2011


By now the photos of the campus cop at UC Davis pepper spraying passive, seated students has made its way around the world. Most people agree (with the exception of predictably obstinate cable talking head Bill O’Reilly) that the incident was uncalled for and unduly aggressive on the part of the campus police. Rational humans know not to spray chemicals in the faces of students seated in an outdoor area on their own campus. And those same rational people wonder now why the campus police showed up in full riot gear when there was clearly no indication of violence or anything but peaceful protest.

Close up photos of the still unidentified cop show an average looking guy, probably in his 40s. He’s not old enough to have the images burned into his memory of cops in the 1960s South spraying civil rights demonstrators with fire hoses.
He probably wasn’t around when students at Kent State were fired upon with live ammunition by the National Guard. It is likely he has no knowledge of dioxon-contaminated herbicide Agent Orange being routinely sprayed during the Vietnam War, reportedly resulting in hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese suffering health issues, not to mention American veterans who have suffered lifelong effects from the chemical. Would it have made any difference to the unidentified campus cop if he had these frames of reference? Hard to say. But did we as a society learn nothing from the above-mentioned incidents? It is inhumane for one human to spray another human with anything, when the intention is humiliation or bodily harm.

What is clear is the absolute violation of the students’ constitutional rights. As a gentle reminder, here is the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“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.”

Were not free speech and free assembly rights abridged here? It’s tough to validate the campus police actions when you watch carefully what really happened here. Watch for yourself:

Notice the campus cop hold the canister up and present it to the crowd before he sprays the protestors. One might say he was showboating, exercising a level of power he does not really have. Now, after the fact, one wonders why it took the university administration fully three days to suspend him from his duties. And why is it that the Chancellor, who reportedly directed the campus police to disperse the protesting crowd, did not address the student body until Monday, when the spraying occurred on Friday. Further, since the students were not exercising aggression or violence, why are none of them or their parents speaking up about the violation of their civil rights?

Throughout the U.S. in recent weeks there have been reports of police brutality, unjustifiable arrests, unreasonable use of force on the part of law enforcement and poorly executed crowd control. The job of police in urban areas is not to function as physical or ideological adversaries to the citizenry. Yet that is what we are seeing coast to coast. On college campuses, for the first time in decades there are signs of true student activism. Where better to protest governmental missteps and ill-advised decisions than on campuses where ideas are the foundation of the institutions? Yet at UC Davis it appears ideas are being challenged, rather than welcomed, and administrators somehow feel threatened by a few kids seated on a sidewalk.

The still unidentified cop should be fired, and with him should go his superiors. If Chancellor Linda Katehi (below, left) ordered or approved of the use of force she overstepped her authority. The message all of them sent to their students is simply that in America one cannot peacefully protest that which he or she deems unacceptable.
Somebody forgot to tell Katehi and her police force that if there is one place in America where the free exchange and expression of ideas should be encouraged – popular or not – it should be our universities. Have UC’s administrators become so caught up in the business end of education that they have lost sight of the importance of student’s questioning the status quo?

It appears the pepper-spraying campus cop did not break any laws by using chemical dispersants. Still, how many unwritten moral laws were ignored in that one momentary act? Did the university administration not have an ethical obligation to allow or even encourage its student population to exercise their first amendment rights? Rights. Plural. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

In fairness, and to her credit, Katehi addressed the students on Monday and apologized on behalf of the university. She spoke of not wanting to be a chancellor in a university that conducts itself as UC did on Friday. She said she wants to get to know the students. Her short address seemed heartfelt, but at this writing, the cops involved in this injustice are still on the payroll, although suspended. And why is it that it took this heinous act on the part of an over-zealous campus cop to cause the chancellor to finally want to get to know her students? Was there no reason to get to know them when all was calm and orderly?

The higher ups at UC Davis have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do. And the students who participated in the demonstration must learn to continually stand up – or sit down – for their beliefs. It is about passion, commitment and justice. One wonders how the adults at UC Davis forgot that last Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


You may recall a couple of weeks back I posted a video of sort-of comedienne Victoria Jackson visiting Occupy Wall Street in NYC. Jackson, much better known these days as a neo-conservative talking head often struggling to be heard, has come up with a whole new way of pontificating. Jackson and three other women now have a new web-only show called "PolitiChicks," which you might do well to think of as "The Anti-View." Her three co-talkers are pro-life activist Jannique Stewart, The Patriot Update's Ann-Marie Murrell and editor and activist Jennie Jones. This is episode one -- today's topics -- the evils of Islam and the very evil evils of gay marriage. Oy. Watch:

Monday, November 14, 2011


I had a brief back and forth with a guy from State College, PA, home of Joe Paterno. He said in State College, Paterno is thought of “as a king.” It was the idolatry that I found so stunning. I doubt that many of us outside of that Central Pennsylvania borough can relate to living in a town that is often referred to as “Happy Valley.” And most of us knew little about it or its small town America, football-dominated culture. After all, just the name of the place conjures Frank Capra movies. One expects Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson to come dancing down Main Street.

But no one is dancing in Happy Valley today. The king has been dethroned and his minions have been cuffed and booked. Former minion Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child abuse. Coach Mike McQueary has been sidelined indefinitely after receiving threats for his part in the cover up of Sandusky’s multiple rapes of children. University President Graham Spanier has been fired, and as the holiday season approaches there is no peace in the Valley.

The guy I communicated with on Facebook said this: “Growing up there, Penn State football was everything and Joe Paterno (left) was our king.” He talked about how “heartbreaking” it is to see his idol destroyed. And he referred me to an article called “Growing Up Penn State,” by Michael Weinreb. Weinreb writes, “Sometimes we were guilty of regarding him as more deity than man, as if he presided over us in mythological stand-up form."

It is the worshipping of Paterno – affectionately called Joe Pa in Happy Valley – that so astounds those of us out here in the real world. At 84, after coaching Penn State for 46 seasons, Paterno broke his silence last week, saying “I should have done more.” Some might hear remorse in that statement, but I hear between the lines Paterno really saying, ‘I never thought anyone would find out.’ To many of us who do not have the emotional ties (read “obsession”) with Joe Pa or the Penn State over-the-top football culture, Paterno’s laissez-faire approach to Sandusky’s (above, right) crimes seem quite ominous. It appears State College, PA was a town built almost exclusively on college football, and it seems Paterno was intent on protecting the institution and the game. And it seems clear he intended to protect the school to the detriment of 10-year-old boys who were raped by one of his coaches.

We are a nation built on paternalism and egalitarianism. Those kids who Sandusky raped were supposed to be protected by somebody. If not Sandusky, then McQueary,(below, left) who witnessed Sandusky actually having anal intercourse with a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers. Since McQueary was reportedly so distraught he ran out of the room and called his father, then perhaps his father could have immediately called the police, but he did not. His father reported the incident to Paterno, who reported the incident to university officials, but he and they chose not to call the police. All the grownups, including Joe Pa, chose to put a lid on it -- for 13 years.

Talk radio is fully abuzz with this story, and from the radio I learned of something called The Clery Act. It is this piece of federal legislation that may be the ultimate undoing of Penn State. The Clery Act requires universities that receive federal financial aid to fully report and disclose crimes that occur on or near their campuses. With regard to crimes of a sexual nature, the Clery Act clearly states that incidences reported to campus security of “sex offenses, forcible or nonforcible” must be disclosed. If morality were not an issue with Penn State, perhaps their ties with governmental financial aid should have been. If Penn State is found in clear violation of The Clery Act, they may lose all access to student financial aid.

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Department of Education notified Penn State that an investigation has been initiated into Penn State’s alleged coverup of Jerry Sandusky’ s sexual crimes. If found in clear violation of the Act, Penn State will at a minimum be fined $27,500 per violation, but due to the heinous nature of what happened in Happy Valley, one might expect the Department of Education to impose much stiffer penalties.

Having worked many years in the corporate system and then many more years in higher education, I have observed that these types of things do not escape the rumor mill. My guess is that many, many people knew what happened in that shower and beyond. So it was with great interest that I read the words of former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer (above, left), who said in an interview with the Daily Oklahoman newspaper, “Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret. Everyone on that had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time.” Switzer should know of what he speaks. His own team had its share of clandestine, illegal secrets, although none were sexual in nature.

The judicial system will accommodate some of the justice that needs to be done here. But just some. Others, who have not been charged with a crime will serve their own inevitable sentences. When night falls in Happy Valley, and Joe Pa and McQueary and every other person who knew of Sandusky’s rapes of children close their eyes, they have to live inside themselves knowing what they did. They enabled Sandusky to permanently scar children – chances run high that we’ll never really know how many men are out there who were overpowered mentally and physically by Sandusky. Those who knew can never really escape what they let happen – over and over again. I’d call that imprisonment – wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


What could finally do Herman Cain in is the fact that none of his accusers have tried to sell their stories or profit in any way with their information. Today, Cain held a press conference to make all the predictable denials: “I don’t remember that woman”; “I’ve been married 43 years”; “My wife said ‘that doesn’t even sound like something you’d do”; “The accusations are just plain not true;” Yada, yada, yada.

Cain’s denials are beginning to take on a more desperate tone, particularly since the second of four women accusers of sexual misconduct has now been identified and quoted, alleging behavior on his part that made women uncomfortable. Watching the press conference today, I was waiting for somebody – anybody – to ask these questions, but nobody did:
• Of the leading candidates for the 2012 GOP nomination, you are the only one who has had sexual harassment charges leveled against you. If these accusations were the work of Democratic operatives or clandestine actions of opposing campaigns, why wouldn’t they try to similarly discredit Mitt Romney, since he has consistently been in the lead?
• Regarding the most recent accuser, Sharon Bialek has come under intense media scrutiny since coming forward. It has been revealed that she has filed for bankruptcy twice, had multiple liens brought against her and was involved in a nasty child custody case. She is not asking for any money or trying to parlay her appearances into anything more than an opportunity to tell her story. If there were no truth to her accusations, what would motivate her to put herself under such a harsh spotlight?
• Four women have now come forward with some allegations of sexual misconduct. Is it your opinion that all four women are lying? If so, why did you wait until Sharon Bialek came forward to hold a press conference to deny all of the accusations?
• Why do you always refer to yourself in the third person?
NOTE: If you missed Cain's press conference you can watch it here.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Have you ever wondered what campaign season would have been like back in the 1950s if the candidates had their P.R. gurus producing TV commercials? How would the public have perceived the not-so-television-ready Harry Truman in candid shots from the campaign trail mixed with slickly produced sound bites from his speeches? Truman was the guy who once said, “All my life, whenever it comes time to make a decision, I make it and forget about it.” You can just see the campaign marketing team going pale and starting to sweat.

If there is one thing that the creative team on a campaign doesn’t want the public to see it is anything authentic to the candidate’s persona. Come on. Do you think even one person on the Rick Perry campaign would have authorized release of the video of his recent dinner speech? You know, the one where he was evidently either drunk or high. One could posit that in that video we voters saw the real Rick Perry for the first time. Reality can be so humiliating sometimes, right? Oh…you didn’t see it? Watch:

We are in the early stages of a year long, fully-produced deluge of campaign propaganda films and sharply-edited television ads. All are aimed at convincing us of the integrity, ethical stability and approachable gravitas of the presidential hopefuls. Couple that with some scripted, coached charisma and some hyper-patriotic background music and there you have it – the U.S. version of political campaigning. It is the political version of musical theatre – it has all the elements – except maybe dancing. But think about it: political campaign TV ads and musical theatre compel you to pay attention by appealing to your emotions, your passion and your love of a happy ending. Is a Herman Cain campaign ad really all that different than your typical Broadway protagonist – the age-old story of an unknown everyman who comes from behind and steps into the spotlight? Remember Ruby Keeler in “42nd Street?” Get the parallels? And yes, I just went there – I compared Herman Cain to Ruby Keeler.

Well, maybe not. I mean that last web-only ad with the campaign manager smoking the cigarette and Cain smiling that sort of shit eating grin for a few seconds too long at the end? If ever somebody needed a Mike Nichols – or even a Mel Brooks – it’s poor Herman Cain. Cain may be the one candidate most in need of producing and directing assistance of any candidate in recent history. When confronted by aggressive media reporters about his alleged sexual harassment struggles in the late 1990s, Cain scolded the reporters and told them he was not going to discuss it. Watch:

Oh Herman. Don’t you know? Hasn’t the guy with the cigarette told you? The more you piss off the press the more predatory it becomes. And the next thing you know, Herman, the stories of your peccadillos trump policies in your media coverage.

Somebody seriously forgot to tell people like Cain and Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum that running for president in the 21st century is all about packaging. Anything you try to hide behind the package -- like a husband of questionable sexuality who runs a clinic that tries to pray the gay away (Bachmann)—will find a headline somewhere, which will go viral in about two seconds, which can undo all the hard work you’ve done so far to put forth a squeaky clean image. And any history you have of spreading extreme rhetoric that runs counter to majority thinking – like Santorum’s crazy rantings about homosexuality being akin to adultery and incest – will find the wrong kind of headlines and fully unravel your meticulously crafted all-American, family man image.

This is the first presidential election in the history of the U.S. that has this much media and technology chronicling its every millisecond. This current crop of GOP would-be-chief execs appears to be trying to play the presidential campaign game by old media rules. What none of them seem to grasp is that these days if you say something truly stupid or ill-conceived or wildly inaccurate at dinner in Palm Beach, everybody in Palm Springs will know about it by dessert.

That leads to two trends that work directly against us voters: First, it means that the smartest image-makers among the campaigns will script everything so tightly that we will not ever have an opportunity to truly know who the candidate is or where he or she stands on the most divisive issues; and second, it will further cause the candidates to speak in made-for-TV/web sound bites intended for viral dissemination. In short, we get less reality than ever before because of the mass paranoia among the campaigners that their words will be mis-interpreted or worse – fully understood by the masses.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that extremists like Bachmann, Santorum and a couple of others will be voted off the island any minute now. Cain may linger for a while. After all, his antics are entertaining, if not exactly presidential material. Hard to say. And Perry? Maybe fewer cocktails before the next after-dinner speech may be
in order for him. The GOP hopeful who becomes the nominee this time is the one who understands the pervasiveness and power of traditional and new media. This time the one who Tweets right, Facebooks compellingly and who understands the real impact of inevitable and constant visibility will be the one who survives and takes center stage at the GOP convention August 27 in Tampa, FL. Along the way, the winning candidate will probably have to succumb to photo ops with the likes of Snooki, interviews with reporters with their own agendas and late night repartee with the Leno/Letterman/Fallon/Kimmel types.

Is it simple show biz or is it a race to see who will be the next leader of the free world? You be the judge.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


If you live long enough you come to find out that when things get really out of hand, the only thing that can get them back on track is one watershed event. You know, like Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries getting divorced after 72 days of marriage, even though they fashioned their union as the American version of the royal wedding. Listen, it matters. You want to know why? Because “reality" television is so far off track from what it could have been that something had to shake it back into true reality.

Ask yourself this and see what you come up with: Why do we even know there is such a thing as a Kim Kardashian? What has this person contributed to our culture, our social welfare, our society, our future? Yes, yes, I now, there’s always been a Kim Kardashian. In the 1950s it was called Zsa Zsa (left). In the early 2000s it was called Paris Hilton. It is a concept, as much as it is a single human being. There’s nothing particularly real about it, but it plays itself out as an American story of privilege, wealth, glamour and creature comfort. It’s usually a story that happens on the West coast, and it usually has some sort of hyper-sexual component. It’s captivating, if just for its moment in time.

But back in the 1990s, along came reality TV. That amped up the uber-wealthy California sun princess syndrome to the enth degree. Reality TV relies on two common elements: Extremes and humiliation. Think about it: Every reality TV show that hits the bigtime features extreme personalities and situations, and usually ends up in someone being roundly humiliated. But like anything else extreme in life, there are plateaus. So, for example, in the 1960s surfing might have been considered an extreme sport. Fast forward a few years later and extreme sports are activities more like sky surfing, in which the participants skydives, surfs on a board attached to his feet before he opens the chute. It’s just that whenever somebody gets to a mountaintop in life, we’re looking for them to find a bigger mountaintop.

Such is the case with reality television. Watching somebody on “Survivor” eat worms in a jungle doesn’t capture much of an audience share anymore. Likewise, watching our modern day Zsa Zsas go through one man after another and rake in more and more money for doing nothing doesn’t compel us the way it might have in the mid-20th century. So, comes Kim Kardashian, who realizes the value of televised extremes, and who finds herself a Minnesota boy who was the big (6’9” tall, 235 lbs) man on campus in Minnetonka, MN (population a whopping 51,000). Realizing that reality TV shows about people who do not much in life have limited shelf lives, Kim marries her NBA big boy in a lavish ceremony that costs somewhere between $10 and 20 million, depending on who’s counting. Then, still considering her looming expiration date as a TV star, she divorces him in a media-lavish fashion that garners headlines globally. Kim’s extreme act garners a huge audience, and the reportedly “blindsided” basketballer groom is publicly humiliated. Wah-lah. Reality gold.

Until Kim and her similarly unaccomplished sisters hit TV bigtime, she was generally known for three things: dating good looking athletes, making money, and a sex tape she made with moderately successful singer Ray-J. That tape was “leaked” somehow, which led to a lawsuit in which Kim reportedly walked off with $5 million. Like I said, the girl knows how to cash in. But it was really her reality show that made her a figure on the world stage, which she remains today. In fact, just hours after she filed for divorce she jetted off to Australia to promote her line of handbags. Reached for comment there by Australian media, Kim said simply, “I married for love.”

Look, we can criticize Ms. K and her seemingly endless array of siblings as much as we please, but the truth is that we made her what she is. We needed a Zsa Zsa for our times and she filled the bill. We thought for a while that Paris Hilton could be our Zsa Zsa, but she just wasn’t quite savvy enough to stretch her 15 minutes into something bigger. Kim somehow knows the critical importance of perfect hair and makeup even when dashing through the L.A. airport in the throes of post-divorce despair. Kim knows the value of having her step daddy, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner (left), photographed by TMZ leaving her home after a visit to console her. She knows the importance of letting her momager, Kris Jenner, do the media interview circuit and saying just the right things like, “Who am I to judge Kim?” But I must remind you again – we made the Kardashians. Just like we made Anna Nicole Smith, and Snooki, and Lindsay Lohan, and all the others who maybe would have been better off in the long term if we had paid a little less attention to them.

Consider our American priorities: On the same day that Occupy Oakland citizens are hurling beer bottles at cops and cops are tossing tear gas cannisters back at them, we’re asking if Kim is going to return her wedding gifts. Just weeks after Gadaffi is killed following a bloody uprising and revolt in Libya, we’re asking if Kim is going to give the 20.5 carat ring back. Right in the heat of the GOP foodfight for the presidential nomination, we’re more interested in whether Kris Humphries is going to get his share of the profits from the highly televised wedding to Kim.

I would suggest that the less real reality TV became, and the more its fully contrived plotlines unfolded, the more we bought into it. When something truly real happens in reality tv – such as one of the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” husbands hanging himself – we move on from it pretty quickly. But when something fully produced, such as the entire Kardashian family comes along, we’re all up in it. The real issue is what that says about us, the television audience. The Kardashians are said to have grossed $65 million last year from their handbags and Hollywood hijinks. God bless ‘em, huh? They did that by artfully manipulating us into believing something about them was authentic. Most of us did not earn a fraction of what they made last year, so I ask you: What’s wrong with this picture?