Sunday, December 25, 2011

Otherwise Occupied

Responding to a plan by the Occupy movement to demonstrate at the
Rose Parade on Jan. 2, the local Tea Party folks decided to join in
the fun, setting up a riveting contest to determine which fringe
group could be the most obnoxious.

It looks, however, that we’ll be spared this ideological pillow fight
on Colorado Boulevard. The Tea Party has opted out.

Maybe they realized that when the other guy looks stupid, there’s
nothing to be gained in looking stupid as well.

Look, I’m in sympathy with some of the aims of the Occupy crowd.
For whatever else they have done, they have made income inequality,
the widening gap between the haves and have-nots and the corrupting
influence of money on politics a part of the national dialogue.

They have made it clear that this nation’s inability to create jobs,
to prevent the wholesale evictions of economic victims from their
homes, to protect citizens from predatory corporate practices is

And they are willing to risk a face full of pepper spray and arrest
to protest it.

Unfortunately, they have failed to move their arguments beyond the
street. And many of their good intentions have been hijacked by
anarchists, aged hippies, druggies, off-the-beaten-path religious
zealots and other assorted chest beaters. The result is a message so
muddled that it has become unclear.

They are at risk of becoming irrelevant. The absolute wrong way to
regroup, however, is to attempt to politicize a hundred thousand
people who show up once a year to smell the roses, listen to the
bands, root for their football teams and enjoy a slice of Americana.

It would be like teaching the catechism to the Taliban.

The plan as of now is to have the Occupy protestors march behind the
rest of the parade as it winds its way through Pasadena. That will
put them smack dab behind a phalanx of police and a line of
mechanized street sweepers whose job it is to clear the streets of

The Occupy forces, if history repeats itself, will be joined by a
gaggle of Jesus freaks, Hare Krishnas, animal rights activists,
anti-war protestors and other rebels with a cause who have
traditionally followed the parade, much to the interest of
practically no one.

Oh, sure, the Occupy people will be waving signs along the parade
route. But their main thrust is to carry a “Octupy Octopus,” a puppet
crafted from recycled plastic bags and bamboo that takes 40 people to
operate. According to organizers, it represents Wall Street’s
stranglehold on American politics.

I saw a picture of it on their web site. It looks like a third-grade
art project.

Is this any way to win hearts and minds? It isn’t.

I suspect they are hoping for some TV exposure but I doubt they will
get much unless some militant faction decides to storm the parade
route. And that’s not the kind of exposure this movement needs.

The Occupy movement must define who they are, join with labor unions
and other sympathizers throughout the country to raise money and
support candidates that believe in their values.

It’s called working within the system and it often works. The Tea
Party did it. So can they.

But that can’t do it from a tent on some street corner. And they
can’t do it by embracing disruption as a political tool.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Turning 70

"When I was One I had just begun.

When I was Two I was nearly new.

When I was Three I was hardly me.

When I was Four I was not much more.

When I was Five I was just alive.

But now I am Six I'm as clever as clever,

So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever."

- A.A. Milne, "Now We Are Six"

WHEN I was a child, my bedtime literature of choice was anything by A.A. Milne. I enjoyed the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin but for reasons lost in the mists of memory, his "Now We Are Six" was my favorite.

I suspect I was impatient to reach that magical age, when you left babyhood behind and began to venture out into the world on voyages of discovery and adventure.

And being 6 was wonderful. It would be another five years before television made an appearance in our house so we spent our waking hours playing outdoors and building elaborate dream worlds. Without TV to render us physically and intellectually immobile, we traveled as far and wide as our imaginations would carry us.

Sure, there were skinned knees and hurt feelings from time to time but we were sheltered by our innocence from the harsh realities of life.

I mention all this because in one more week, I reach another milestone. I will be 70. I am frankly astounded. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was 6 and playing cowboys with the boy down the street. The important things in my life were bikes, baseball gloves and comic books.

I don't feel 70. Friends say I don't look 70. If they did, of course, they would no longer be my friends.

Come to think of it, however, I seem to have a lot more doctor appointments than I used to. I have lost a good 10 yards off my tee shot, gained a few inches around my waist and seemed to forget where I put my keys. So it must be true.

There are no books called "Now We Are 70" that romanticize the path that lies ahead, and no one to read them to you at bedtime. No one wants to remain 70 for ever and ever.

At this age, you try to live each day to its fullest and look back on the journey, trying to make some sense of it all.

On reflection, it's been a wonderful trip.

I was born 18 days after Pearl Harbor. I often wonder how my parents must have felt about bringing a child into a word engaged in a massive war. Were they worried? Were they scared? I never heard them speak of it. But they were made of stern stuff. My mother was abandoned in an orphanage at age 2. My dad never knew his real father. They were married just as the Depression hit.

My life wasn't nearly as tough. My world was living the lyrics of a Beach Boy's song. We surfed, hung out at Bob's Big Boy and took our girlfriends to proms. We were true to our school.

The worst thing that happened to me in high school was flunking out of geometry. Since it was mid-term, I had to find a course to finish out the year. I chose journalism. The rest is history.

Going to college was a slap in the face. I came to realize I had lived my life in a place that kept the rest of the world at arm's length. It wasn't until college that I made friends who were African American or Jewish or Hispanic.

I learned about injustice. I was exposed to cynicism, much of it directed at the middle class from which I came.

It made for a quick transition. Two years after I had been surfing in Newport Beach, I was arrested in a civil rights demonstration on Market Street in San Francisco.

Indeed, to be 70 is to be a part of a generation that fought to bring about the end to racial segregation in this country. It's difficult to imagine now but it wasn't long ago that many American citizens were relegated to second class status, and worse, by law and social attitudes.

Putting those impediments to equality to rest was an epic moment in this country's history. Those of us who took part did so because, simply, it was the right thing to do.

My generation was the first to embrace rock `n' roll. Whatever else you might think about it, rock was exciting and liberating, the pulsating background music to an era of change in this country. Nobody was going to march for justice to the sounds of Bing Crosby.

We weren't the greatest generation, not by a long shot. But we can look back and see that we made a difference.

So here we stand poised on the banks of the River Jordan or the River Styx, depending on how things work out. The sun is still above the horizon but not by much.

But I'm not ready to say goodbye quite yet. Like a 6 year old, I'm still searching for worlds to explore and adventures to be had.

After all, as George Bernard Shaw said, "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Primary Problem

I’m not sure what the Republican National Committee is up to these

But I’m betting that if they don’t get their game face on fairly
soon, they will be on the outside looking in on Election Day, 2012.

So far, the Republican presidential primary looks like it was
scripted by Mel Brooks. Take this week for example.

Newt Gingrich, suddenly breathing the rarefied air of a contender,
does what any serious presidential candidate would do: He travels to
New York to kiss the ring of Donald Trump and seek his blessings.

Are you kidding me? Donald Trump, a political kingmaker? The snarling
billionaire with the bad comb over who stars in really awful reality
shows? Yeah, that’s the guy.

It would be funny except for the scary fact that he may somehow
influence the choice of the next leader of the free world, should
that person be a Republican.

Newt’s not the first candidate to make the pilgrimage to Trump Tower.

Michele Bachmann made an appearance, so did Mitt Romney (although he
refused to be photographed). Herman Cain dropped by as did Rick
Perry. Remember them?

But the wily Donald is withholding his endorsement for the time
being. In fact, he says if he doesn’t see a winner in this bunch he
will run for the presidency himself as an independent.

This is so much hot air, of course. It’s important to remember that
when Trump starts making noises about being president, he usually has
a TV program debuting or a new book out. In this case, his tome,
“Time to Get Tough,” is hitting the stores. Self-promotion is his thing.

Ultimately, this is all about money. Trump has it, the others want
it. Besides, Trump is going to orchestrate a candidate debate at the
end of the month. It would be wise to stay on the good side of a guy
who enjoys yelling, “You’re fired!”

Newt, in the meantime, is having a bad endorsement week. Trump came
down with lockjaw. Cain who has literally and figuratively kissed his
chances goodbye, was going to throw his support to Gingrich but
pulled back at the last moment. Gingrich has had to settle for the
support of Dan Quayle, the former vice president best known as the
man who couldn’t speak straight.

All of this raises some disturbing questions:

Why would Newt want the backing of Cain, an alleged serial womanizer?
Gingrich doesn’t need voters to remember that, in an act of unbridled
hypocrisy, he once carried on an admitted extra-marital affair with a
young staffer while decrying Bill Clinton’s moral shortcomings.

Why would Newt allow Bob Livingston, who resigned as Speaker of the
House when his marital infidelities were exposed, to throw a
fund-raiser for him in Washington, D.C. this week?

What kind of message is the Gingrich-Cain-Livingston team sending to
the country? How about “lock up your wives and daughters.”

Why would Newt want the backing of Trump? As a candidate in the
spring, the Donald experienced one of the quickest falls in recent
political history when he dropped from leading the Republican field
with 26% to 8% in the space of four weeks.

If that’s not enough, a new poll from NBC and Marist College shows
more voters in Iowa and New Hampshire would be turned off by a Trump
endorsement than positively influenced by one.

A story in the Washington Post explains a lot. “Gingrich is
struggling to get out from under a mountain of debt from luxury jets
and other pricey expenses racked up in the early weeks of his
campaign. Creditors say Gingrich has begun paying back nearly $1.2
million in bills he owed at the end of September, and his spokesman
says most will be taken care of by the end of the year...”

In the meantime, Romney has raised $32.6 million while Gingrich has
accumulated $4 milllion. Donald can you spare a dime?

And what about this debate that Trump is staging in Iowa? So far,
four candidates, Romney, Ron Paul, Perry and Jon Huntsman, have sent
their regrets, probably figuring that this particular forum will end
up being A Salute to Donald Trump’s Ego.

So far the participants consist of Newt and Rick Santorum.

Even Republican strategist Karl Rove is appalled. “We've got a guy
who is not only saying 'I'm going to make a decision about who I'm
gonna endorse shortly after this debate and I'm already leaning
someway -- and I may run myself,' and we expect him to be the
impartial moderator of the debate?" he said on Fox News.

All of this has a good chance of being the biggest bust since Geraldo
Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault.

The RNC had better bring order to this chaos if they want their
candidate to have a fighting chance.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Thorn in the Side of the Rose Bowl

Peace has returned to the Arroyo Seco. Songbirds are singing, their
voices carried on breezes wafting through the giant oaks, the sun
beams down on happy upturned faces while serenity abounds.

Yes, folks, football season is almost over and the Rose Bowl is
returning to its somnambulant state.

It’s been a great season for the nearby residents of the bowl. The
UCLA Bruins, principal occupants of the stadium, have been so bad
that attendance is dropping by the tens of thousands.

This is just fine with the homeowners who rarely emerge during
football season for fear of being struck by falling property values.

Football games draw crowds and crowds make them unhappy. Many would
be pleased if football was prohibited and the Rose Bowl was turned
into a museum.

Oh sure, they tolerate the Rose Bowl game on New Years. It’s all pomp
and pageantry and princesses, the kind of thing that makes you proud
to be a Pasadenan.

Beyond that? Couldn’t they just go and play somewhere else?

I guess these good people didn’t notice the 100,000-seat stadium when
they moved into the neighborhood.

But all is not happy in Arroyoland. The Rose Bowl, as it has for
years, needs money. They need it for maintenance of a nearly
90-year-old facility, they need it to modernize and stay competitive,
they need it because the stadium actually operates at a loss.

They need money because the stadium by ordinance is limited to 12
events a year that would attract more than 20,000 attendees. And that
impacts the stadium’s revenue stream.

Now, the National Football League is being wooed by Los Angeles city
officials and if the NFL decides to locate a team here, it would need
a place to play while a new stadium is being built to house the pro

Rose Bowl officials would like to see their stadium as that temporary
home. The money such an arrangement would generate could help pay off
a $16 million revenue shortfall in a $150 million renovation project
currently underway.

The neighbors are, predictably, upset despite the fact that the NFL
in L.A. is a long way from reality. This paper reported that the
Linda Vista/Annandale Association's 18-member board "voted
unanimously to oppose any occupancy of the Rose Bowl stadium by the
NFL," citing crowds and the negative impact on the Arroyo’s
recreational activities.

The city sees it a bit differently. “There obviously will be
potential impacts associated with the neighborhood; there will also
be significant economic impacts to the businesses in the community,
to the city's General Fund and to the stadium," City Manager Michael
Beck told this paper. "We have to take into consideration all of

This particular flap highlights the hurdles the Rose Bowl faces to
remain viable.

I did some freelance work for the Rose Bowl several years ago,
writing press releases and consulting as stadium officials launched a
fundraising drive for their renovation project.

That experience left me with two impressions:

(1) Rose Bowl officials bend over backwards to be good neighbors.
Despite the bluster from local homeowners associations, complaints
from residents are taken very seriously and steps are taken to
resolve them to the satisfaction of all concerned. When the
renovation project was launched, Rose Bowl officials reached out to
residents to make them part of the planning process.
(2) Money is always an issue. People think the stadium is rolling in money. It
isn’t. Rose Bowl officials rely on revenue from the Brookside golf
courses to help pay the bills.

Is this any way to treat an icon? If any institution in Pasadena
deserves some love, the Rose Bowl is it.

The stadium’s importance to Pasadena can’t be overstated. The New
Years game itself contributes $58.6 million to the city’s economy,
according to a study by the USC Marshall School of Business.

The Rose Bowl is one of the most recognizable sports facilities in
the world. It’s very existence has elevated Pasadena from just
another Los Angeles suburb to the special status it enjoys now.

Homeowners have every right to protect their property. But there’s a
thin line between self-interest and obstructionism.

If local homeowners fear the NFL, they should help in the
fund-raising efforts to complete the renovation project. Supporting
the Rose Bowl will pay enormous dividends to the city they call home.
And peace will reign in the Arroyo.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Impossible Dream

LAST spring, in an attempt to be prophetic and pundit-like, I boldly stated that Republican presidential wanna-be Newt Gingrich had stepped on a political banana peel and fallen flat on his aspirations.

He had, I wrote, "struck out" with the voters.

Why? He kicked off his campaign by apologizing to the religious right for his dubious personal life. He followed that up by denouncing a plan offered by House GOP budget guru Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion over 10 years by repealing the Democrat's health care bill and reforming entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.

Republicans embraced the plan as holy writ. Gingrich called it "right-wing social engineering."

He then engaged in a number of verbal blunders and other assorted personal embarrassments, all within a couple of weeks of his announced candidacy.

He was, it seemed to me, toast.

Now, to my astonishment, I find that a new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows Newt leading the pack of Republican presidential aspirants.

I guess I should retire to the Home for Bewildered Columnists. Except for this:

It's not exactly a runaway. Gingrich is the favorite of 22 percent of the Republicans while Mitt Romney nips at his heels with 21 percent. Herman Cain is still on the leader board with 16 percent. Rick Perry polls at 8 percent.

His numbers appear to be fueled by a large infusion of cash. According to CNN, Gingrich raised more than $3 million since Oct. 1, with most of the money coming from online donations.

That's more than three times the amount Gingrich raised in the entire third fundraising quarter of 2011, when he pulled in just over $800,000. But it's pocket change compared to Romney's war chest of $32 million.

Nonetheless, I'll admit it's quite a comeback.

And what has Newt done to celebrate his return to celebrity status?

At a recent event at Harvard University, Gingrich offered a unique plan to fight poverty: fire school janitors (at least those who belong to a union) and hire children to clean the schools. He then proceeded to explain that child labor laws are "truly stupid" and blamed "the core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization" for "crippling" children. He did not announce a plan to reemploy the fired janitors.

This past week he advocated allowing younger workers still decades away from retirement to bypass Social Security and instead choose private investment accounts. His announcement came on a day the stock market plunged nearly 250 points.

He characterized the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan entity that provides Congress with information on budgets and the impact that legislation will have on government finances, as a "reactionary socialist institution." Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director and Republican, called the Gingrich allegation "ludicrous."

And just this past week, Gingrich said he thinks the collapse of the Congressional super committee "is good for America," and that the country's debt problem can be solved through the regular work of Congress.

He was apparently unaware of a new Quinnipiac University poll that found voters would blame the Republicans more than the Democrats for the committee impasse.

So Newt is doing it again, shooting himself in the foot with goofy political talk. But don't do what I did. Don't write him off quite so fast.

Gingrich could very well find himself as the Republican who challenges President Obama next year simply because his opponents are proving themselves unworthy and falling like so many autumn leaves.

Michele Bachman, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, at one time darlings of the GOP, are fast becoming yesterday's news. Newt, with his congressional experience and tenure as speaker of the House, appears downright statesmanlike compared to the rest of the GOP contenders, who sound like a pack of angry birds.

It's still too early to declare a winner in the GOP selection process.

But if Gingrich can crank up the cash machine and cool the inflammatory and often bizarre rhetoric, he could make the improbable come true.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011, A Sex Oddity

Don’t look now, but 2011 is rapidly coming to a close.

Historians will remember it as a year of economic chaos, of tragic
natural disasters worldwide, of the violent deaths of Islamic
terrorist leaders, of revolution for better for worse in the Middle
East, of the passings of Andy Rooney, Al Davis, Steve Jobs, Betty
Ford, Sidney Lumet, Elizabeth Taylor.

It will be recalled as the year of grassroots political muscle,
witness the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

It was the year wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords showed the
world the meaning of courage and tenacity. And the year that the rest
of our elected officials showed a lack of same.

But above all else, 2011 was the Year of Sexual Scandal. Consider:

--- Penn State, whose football program under Joe Paterno has been a
bedrock of integrity for some 46 years, appears to have had a dirty
little secret. Jerry Sandusky, the team’s defensive coordinator for
40 years, is arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of
young boys over a period of 15 years and the school is accused of
covering up the alleged crimes. In the wake of the scandal, Paterno,
who has more wins than any other coach in history, and college
president Graham Spanier are fired. Athletic director Tim Curley and
school vice president Gary Schultz are charged with failing to report
suspected child-sexual abuse by Sandusky and committing perjury in
their related grand jury testimony.

---Herman Cain, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential
nomination, is accused by several women of sexual harassment while he
was president of the National Restaurant Association, charges that he
denies. But damage has been done and the accusations appear to have
hurt his candidacy, according to polls.

---Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilder turned actor turned governor,
admits to fathering a child with the family housekeeper. He thus
becomes termed out as governor and husband in the same year.

---Anthony Weiner, a New York congressman, is exposed, so to speak,
for sending a a sexually suggestive photograph of himself via his
public Twitter account to an adult woman. After denying he had posted
the image, Weiner admits he had "exchanged messages and photos of an
explicit nature with about six women over the last three years". He
then resigns from Congress.

---David Wu, an Oregon Congressman, resigns his office following
allegations he engaged in “aggressive and unwanted” sexual behavior
with a young woman who is the daughter of a longtime friend and
campaign donor.

---Chris Lee, a New York congressman, is forced to resign his office
when it was disclosed that he has been soliciting at least one
male-to-female transsexual on Craigslist. Claiming to be a
39-year-old divorced lobbyist but using his real name, he uses a
Google Gmail account to send her a shirtless photo taken with his
BlackBerry phone.

---Allison Meyers, who headed a group called the Young Eagles, a GOP
program aimed at cultivating major donors under the age of 45, is
fired by the Republican National Committee for authorizing a $2,000
payment for a night out at the Voyeur, a West Hollywood club that
featured female dancers wearing bondage gear and simulating sex acts.

Throw in the cases of Domonique Straus-Kahn, managing director of the
International Monetary Fund, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel
maid (the case was later dropped) and Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi, charged with paying for sex with a 17-year-old belly
dancer called “Ruby the Heart Stealer,” and it seems like a week
didn’t pass without some sort of tawdry revelation.

This has to be some sort of record, although I’m not sure anyone
keeps records on this sort of thing. There must have been something
in the water supply.

Two things we know for sure: (1) This kind of behavior is certainly
nothing new but (2) there’s a lot more “media” out there now with the
advent of cable news, bloggers and so-called citizen journalists.
They all have an insatiable appetite for gossip. And our politicians
and jocks and actors are serial transgressors and thus easy targets.

As a result, we’ve heard a lot this year about high-profile
narcissists who believe the rules don’t apply to them. When they get
caught with their pants down, the story is front page news. People
love to see the mighty take a tumble.

The downside of all this is that with each story, the shock value
diminishes. We have already forgiven President Clinton for the most
egregious sexual scandal in U.S. political history. He is now one of
the most popular people on earth.

Sure, people were stunned by the Penn State scandal, but not because
a coach was accused of molesting children. It was primarily because
Joe Paterno had reached deity status in the sports world.

We may grow weary of scandal. But we must not become immune to it. It
is troubling and it should remain so. We are and should remain angry
and disgusted.

All the people mentioned above left their jobs in disgrace. Let’s see
if our would-be philanderers get the message in 2012.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Job Gibberish

I used to think the aerospace industry was the repository for exotic
and mystifying job titles.

Entities such as NASA were frequently looking for a few good men (and
women) to work as biocomputation engineers, cognizant engineers,
hazardous robotics specialists, space farming experts, stuff like

Little did I know that my own profession would soon be creating jobs
whose titles defy understanding.

It used to be when you went to work in print journalism you had three
options: reporter, photographer or editor. Or some hybrid thereof.

As an editor I used to jokingly try to humble byline-hungry reporters
by referring to them as “news gathering units.” Little did I know
that description might become reality in the 21st century.

The newsbiz now features positions such as “vice president for
audience,” an “experience editor,” an editor in charge of
“collaboration, transparency and crowdsourcing” and a “video
curator,” according to several journalism trade publications.
Not to mention “headline optimizers” and “story scientists.”
Welcome to the new newsroom.

I’m not sure what these people do. I suspect they hold meetings.
Afterwards, they issue a memo.

Of course, this isn’t the exclusive domain of one profession or

Title hyping is a trend that has been ongoing for some time. Nobody
wants a one-word job any more so employers think up elaborate
descriptions. More often than not, they take the place of a raise.

Thus, lifeguards become “wet leisure assistants” and cooks become
“food expediters.”

My personal favorite is the title used by cemetery
plot salespeople: “Prior need specialists.”

In corporate American, title enhancement runs the gamut from clever
to silly. Receptionists are now “Directors of First Impressions.” The
person in charge of customer relations is now “Chief Excellence

One CEO now calls himself “Founder and Difference Maker.” Another
calls herself “Chief Troublemaker” because “she stirs the pot and
asks if we can do better.”

The spokesperson for Yahoo is titled “Yahoo! Evangelist.” The person
who organizes the annual meeting for Berkshire Hathaway is called
“Director of Chaos.”

According to an article in The Economist, “paper boys are ‘media
distribution officers,’ lavatory cleaners are ‘sanitation
consultants,’ sandwich-makers at Subway have the phrase ‘sandwich
artist’ emblazoned on their lapels.

“Even the normally linguistically pure French have got in on the act:
cleaning ladies are becoming ‘techniciennes de surface’ (surface

Some titles won’t even fit on a business card. The BBC has a “vision
controller of multiplatform and portfolio” while the American Cancer
Society features a “manager of futuring and innovation-based
Get high enough up on the food chain and titles follow you from

Great Britain’s recently married Prince William is His Royal Highness
Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of
Strathearn, Baron Carrickfergus and Royal Knight Companion of the
Most Noble Order of the Garter. His wife, the former Kate Middleton, is now simply Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.

When it comes to titles, nobody can top North Korea’s Kim Jong-iL. We
may know him as a member in good standing of the Axis of Evil.
But back home in Pyongyang, he is known as Supreme Commander at the
Forefront of the Struggle Against Imperialism and the United States,
Greatest Saint Who Rules with Extensive Magnanimity, Lode Star of the
Twenty-First Century, Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness, Eternal
Bosom of Hot Love, Master of Literature, Arts, and Architecture,
Humankind’s Greatest Musical Genius, Guardian Deity of the Planet,
Heaven-Sent Hero and the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. Among other

I can’t match that. I’m just a Written Word Crafting Engineer.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Adios, Rick

You're the governor of a large state and you badly want to become president. In fact, you believe God has called upon you to pursue the office.

The incumbent president is on his heels, facing approval ratings of only 41 percent.

The opposition for your party's nomination looks weak. An ex-pizza salesman who has never held office; an aging libertarian; a former Massachusetts governor who's about as exciting as, well, a Mormon; a Minnesota congresswoman whose sanity has been questioned; a former House speaker whose time has long ago come and gone.

It looks like clear sailing. You've got money and you've got the national spotlight focused squarely on you.

And if you're Texas Gov. Rick Perry, you blow it. You fumble on the goal line. You dribble the ball off your foot.

You call Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," accuse Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke of treason, call global warming a hoax and question President Obama's patriotism while expressing sympathy with Texans who want to secede from the Union.

Your immigration policies don't set well with conservatives who also are horrified that you signed legislation that would require vaccination among Texas schoolgirls for HPV.

Moderates question your position criticizing the federal government's right to collect income taxes and support for amending the Constitution to set a nationwide policy on social issues by prohibiting abortion and same-sex marriage.

And faster than you can say "adios, Rick," you find yourself in fifth place among Republican presidential candidates after leading the pack a month ago.

It's time to cowboy up.

So you decide to unveil your economic plan. And what is it? Why, the old flat tax saw that has been largely discredited as unworkable since the Reagan administration. But, hey, it's the basis for Herman Cain's goofy 9-9-9 plan so why not give it a try?

Your plan would set a flat rate of 20 per cent and eliminate estate and investment taxes, which should please the monied set. It also would restrict the federal budget to no more than 18 per cent of the gross domestic product, forcing drastic cuts in government spending at every level.

Your vision was analyzed by Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, who told the New York Times: "There are two things we can say with certainty: It will lower revenue and be a great benefit to the wealthy."

It puts cuts to Medicare and Social Security into play, even though that will be a tough sell to an aging voter base.

And worse, every lobbyist from the Pacific to the Potomac would descend upon Washington to make sure the loopholes, dodges and favored treatment their clients receive under the current tax code would remain in place.

On the other hand, you have secured the blessings of Steve Forbes who thinks the flat tax is the answer to all our prayers. You remember Forbes. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination on the flat tax ticket in 1996 and 2000 and failed miserably. It might be an endorsement you want to forget.

Then, just as you're unveiling your economic plan, you tell an interviewer that there just might be something to this "birther" argument, the theory that President Obama was actually born in Africa and therefore is not an American citizen and ineligible to be president.

It's been dismissed as the delusional fantasy of the political lunatic fringe but, after conferring with your buddy Donald Trump, you decide to trot out the issue again.

Which caused GOP strategist Karl Rove to take you to the woodshed:

"You associate yourself with a nutty view like that, and you damage yourself. And I know he went and he's trying to cultivate -- as all of them are -- Donald Trump, in order to get his endorsement, but this is not the way to go about doing it, because it starts to marginalize you in the minds of some of the people whom you need in order to get the election," he said. "There's a simple answer. Yes, he was born in the United States, yes, he is eligible to serve, and don't associate yourself with sort of this nutty fringe group."

Unfortunately for you, Rick, that horse has already left the barn.

If your idea of revitalizing your campaign is to saddle up with Steve Forbes and Donald Trump, well then Gov. Perry, happy trails to you.

We won't be seeing you next fall.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dead Man Walking

Halloween is right around the corner and it’s time to think seriously
about this year’s costume.

Who can I impersonate? Charlie Sheen? Rupert Murdoch? Prince William?
Anthony Weiner? Frank McCourt?

How about an iPhone? A drone? A Chevy Volt?

Personally, I will forgo all these flavor-of-the-month choices and
instead dress as an icon so ingrained in our national culture that it
has at once fascinated and terrified young and old alike.

No, I don’t mean Rush Limbaugh.

I speak of another nightmare-inducing character, the Zombie.
The lurching, brain-eating, flesh-deprived living dead have been
around for a long time, a gift to the world from Haitian voodoo

But they emerged into pop culture status sometime around the end of
the 20th Century.

Many attribute (or blamed) the appearance of zombies in prime time to
George Romero’s classic 1968 cult movie “Night of the Living Dead.”
Made for a scant $114,000 and dismissed by critics as so much trash,
it went on to gross more than $30 million and spawned a number of

That opened the floodgates. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video gave
the zombie community a big boost as did the movies “I Am Legend” and
“28 Days Later.”

In 2006, renown horror novelist Stephen King published “ Cell,”
described as a tale about a young artist on a trek from Boston to
Maine in hopes of saving his family from a worldwide zombie outbreak
created by "The Pulse", a global electromagnetic phenomenon that
turns the world's cellular phone users into bloodthirsty, zombie-like

There’s a storyline that works on so many levels.

A book called “The Zombie Survival Guide” made the New York Times
best seller list recently and today we have two TV series, “Death
Valley” on MTV and “Walking Dead” on AMC, that are g-rated (for
ghoul). There are at least 20 zombie movies reportedly in production
this year.

It’s clearly a great time to be undead.

So why are we so fascinated with zombies? Vampires, at least
recently, are portrayed as darkly handsome, even swashbuckling and

Zombies are basically disgusting, shambling about in various stages
of decay. When I think of zombies I think of people in line at a DMV
office. Or myself before I have coffee in the morning.

One explanation is that many books and films cast zombies as the
unwitting victims of science run amok, a rogue virus or experiment
gone wrong, leading to our destruction. It’s not an unfounded fear.

Then there’s this: “The construct of the zombie — the mindless
stumbling about — feels increasingly like our world,” said Steven
Schlozman, of Harvard Medical School and author of a zombie novel.
“...What we increasingly characterize as modernity is increasingly
disconnected and disembodied. It feels zombie-like.”

That’s all well and good but the fact of the matter is we all love a
good scare and zombies fill the bill.

They come in droves and although they can be killed with a shot to
the head, the fallen are replaced by dozens more, stumbling toward
you, arms outstretched, mindless. How many dead are there? Billions?
I don’t like the odds.

As blogger Ben Croshaw wrote, “ To our ‘us’ they are eternally
‘them.’ No redeeming qualities, no moral ambiguity.”

What makes them particularly scary is that, except for some cosmetic
difficulties, they look much like us. Just a bunch of friends and
neighbors and relatives who want to dine on our brains. Not a
pleasant way to go.

As for me, my time as a zombie will be short-lived. Too many people
take this stuff seriously.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Politics, Bought and Paid For

The president's job bill, introduced with great fanfare at a joint meeting session of Congress last month, went down to defeat with a resounding thud this past week. Much to no one's surprise.

Democrats say it's because the GOP opposed the bill for political reasons: they wanted the economy to remain in bad shape.

Republicans, in an opinion voiced by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said that "Democrats have designed this bill to fail - they've designed their own bill to fail - in the hope that anyone who votes against it will look bad."

Instead of leadership, we get what sounds like a playground spat.

So goes the spirit of compromise and concern for the greater good as the nation teeters on the precipice of an economic emergency.

Looking on are 14 million unemployed Americans who must feel as though they are engaged in a game of chess with Death. There's no way they can win.

It is no wonder that protests are erupting on all sides of the political spectrum while respect for our leaders has fallen to an alarming low.

Can President Obama or Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or Ron Paul stem the tide of anger in this country? Do they stand for real change? The skepticism is palpable.

And how have the grass-roots movements that have emerged recently approached this problem?

The tea party activists claim their members support reduced government spending, opposition to taxation in varying degrees, reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit and adherence to an originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution.

All well and good, but it's hard to understand how this philosophy will undo the real problem facing the country: The corrupting influence of money in our political process in which our elected representatives are beholden to big-time donors and influence-peddling lobbyists.

This isn't checks and balances. It's gridlock. Don't expect common sense and compromise when both parties are errand boys for special interests.

And don't ask the tea party. They remain silent on the issue.

The message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters gets lost in the gaggle of causes that dot the movement: everything from the jobless and the truly concerned about that to anti-war activists, anarchists and Marxists.

But one point worth noting, as articulated by blogger Glenn Grenwald: "Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power - in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions - is destroying financial security for everyone else?"

If the Occupy Wall Street forces accomplish nothing else, they have struck a chord that resonates with the American public.

Public animosity toward the country's major financial institutions is on par with the deep negativity aimed at Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Public distrust of the federal government is growing, and well documented. In the new poll, more than two-thirds of Americans say they view Washington unfavorably, including nearly half who hold "strongly" unfavorable impressions, the poll said.

But there's just as much negativity directed at Wall Street financial institutions. Fully 70 percent of those polled view such firms unfavorably, with strongly unfavorable mentions outnumbering strongly favorable ones by 8 to 1.

So much for the view that the Wall Street protesters are a bunch of unkempt hippies looking for a handout. Or "law-breaking troublemakers," in the words of tea party activists, who apparently forgot their organization was named after an incident that had its fair share of property destruction and civil disobedience.

Where will this all end? I remember watching anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the early '60s that consisted of a couple of dozen placard-waving students. It seemed sincere but innocent.

That movement soon grew to one that by 1967 attracted 100,000 protesters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and was responsible for the most divisive political drama of the late 20th century.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is as real and potentially game-changing as the anti-war activism of the '60s and '70s.

History could repeat itself if our elected representatives don't understand that their political gamesmanship and allegiance to those who have the financial means to buy it must end.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Post Mortems

Questions we were asking ourselves this week:

Does anyone really care about Hank Williams Jr.'s redneck political views? Is Chris Christie too fat to ever be president? How soon until Amanda Knox appears on "Dancing With the Stars"? How many shopping days until Christmas?

Weighty issues all, and ones this column chooses to ignore, at least for now.

Instead, we offer a little humor courtesy of the Washington Post, a paper not usually known for levity. After all, the federal government is its neighborhood beat and it's hard to laugh through clenched teeth.

It seems the Post has an ongoing feature called the Style Invitational. It all started in 1993, when editors asked readers to come up with a less offensive name for the Washington Redskins. The winner suggested Baltimore Redskins.

The Invitational recently included a contest in which readers were invited to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter and supply a new definition.

The results are both clever in their execution and descriptively accurate. Consider:

Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Caterpallor: The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

But wait, there's more.

Coffee: The person upon whom one coughs.

Flabbergasted: Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

Esplanade: To attempt an explanation while drunk.

Willy-nilly: Impotent.

Negligent: Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

Rectitude: The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

Pokemon: A Rastafarian proctologist.

Oyster: A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

Circumvent: An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Another contest asked readers to make up a word that has three consecutive letters in alphabetical order.

Among the entries:

Coughin: A small enclosure designed especially for smokers.

Mno: The kind of response that makes you want to ask her again.

Noplow: Washington, D.C.'s, snow emergency plan.

In other forms of humor, a contest challenged readers to add novel similes to the "men are like...," "women are like..." genre.

The top winners:

Women are like flashlights: Ones with two D's aren't always the brightest, but they'll do when the lights go out.

Men are like Swiss army knives: No matter how useful they appear, they mostly just pick teeth and open beer bottles.

Teenagers are like a freshly bottled wine: They might be palatable seven years from now.

Men are like the TV yule log: They're easy to turn on, but you're not going to get much warmth out of them.

Who knew there was such humor in Washington?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Coffee Talk

I've never been a big Starbucks fan, first and foremost because I'm not a coffee addict.

If I do crave a jolt of java, I want a plain old Cup of Joe, not a soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha frappe topped with espresso shots and made from beans grown by monks on a small volcanic atoll in the Pacific.

Besides, if they don't give you a free refill, I'm not interested.

Then there's my adverse reaction to massive chain operations that plunk down a store on each and every street corner. I'm told that in downtown Los Angeles, in a rectangle formed by Figueroa, 3rd, Olive, and 5th, an area less than a third of a mile on its long side and less than a quarter mile on its short side, there are nine Starbucks. I believe it.

The company was audacious enough to open a store in Beijing's 587-year-old Forbidden City several years ago until protests by the citizenry concerned with preserving their culture closed it down.

It would be like selling lattes in the Lincoln Memorial.

But I've recently become a convert to Starbucks and it happened without one drop of their product touching my lips.

My conversion came courtesy of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who like many of us, is angry with the political gridlock in Washington and the effect it is having on the American people and the economy.

Writing in a recent issue of Newsweek, Schultz outlined a plan of action to shake things up in language that is both bold and refreshing for a corporate leader.

"I've recently persuaded more than 100 top executives to sign a two-part pledge," Schultz said. "First, they'll make no political donations until there's a courageous, long-term, bipartisan debt and financial security plan that addresses both entitlements and revenues; second, they'll commit to continue making investments that accelerate job growth.

"Why would I turn to activism?" he wrote. "Because, like so many Americans, I'm outraged. Four billion dollars was spent during the 2008 election cycle, and an estimated $5.5 billion will be spent for 2012. Meanwhile, people are out of work, the economy continues to founder and nothing is getting done in Washington.

"This is no longer a crisis of leadership. It's an emergency. The lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials today, as they have put partisan agendas before the people's agenda, is stunning and outrageous.

"Just think about what all that campaign money could do for the education system, for the social services that our politicians are poised to cut.

"Just think about how the petty bickering in the halls of Congress has degraded the brand reputation of America around the world," Schultz wrote. "This might be the kind of leadership we have come to expect, but it's not what we deserve.

"...I've heard from thousands of Americans I've never met, expressing support and gratitude. Like-minded business leaders have committed to doing what we can to ignite job creation, regardless of what's taking place in Washington.

"At the very least, we can work to inspire confidence to counteract the damage our ostensible leaders are doing inside the Beltway. In other words, we need to unleash an upward spiral of confidence that reverses the cycle of fear and uncertainty plaguing our country."

I suggested in a column last week that our elected representatives should have their pay and benefits cut unless they pass meaningful legislation dealing with jobs and the economy, admittedly a real longshot since they would have to vote to punish themselves.

Schultz scores a bull's-eye by attacking contributions, a mainstay of political survival. And as a longtime contributor to the Democratic Party, he's putting his money where his mouth is: no donations to President Obama who he has financially supported in the past.

Joining him in this effort are some notable giants of industry including Tim Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AOL; Millard Drexler, chairman and CEO of the J. Crew Group; Warren Bennis, founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at USC; Dan DiMicco, chairman and CEO of Nucor Corp.; Bob Greifeld, CEO of NASDAQ; Kevin Johnson, CEO of Juniper Networks; Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange; Walter Robb, CEO of Whole Foods; Myron Ullman, CEO of JC Penney and Co. and many others.

So far, 22,269 people who agree have taken the pledge to withhold campaign contributions, according to Schultz's website, Upward Spiral2011.

That's not a tidal wave. Yet. But with another six months of congressional ineptitude, it might become

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Case for a Congressional Pay Cut

While the rhetoric in Washington is making the transition from subdued to spit-in-your-face, the bare-knuckled saloon brawl that passes for our country's legislative process is in full swing again.

And once again it promises to disgust people of every political stripe who dare to watch.

Welcome to another season of take-no-prisoners ideological combat.

You would think the White House and Congress, faced with approval ratings that rank only slightly above cancer and terrorism, would make some sort of magnanimous gesture to assure the American people that they share the pain caused by our faltering economy. And that this is the time for deeds, not words.

But we get none of that.

So I propose a plan that could prod our elected officials into doing something meaningful: When they speak of downsizing government, slashing spending and bold action to reduce the deficit, they can begin by looking into the mirror.

The plan I have in mind would end the disconnect between our representatives and their unemployed, foreclosed on, barely-making-ends-meet constituents by cutting congressional pay and benefits.

Such a proposal would probably fall short of eliminating gridlock in Washington but it just might spur Congress to action if members share in the consequences of the prolonged economic downturn that they apparently are incapable of resolving.

The jobless rate rises? The national debt grows? The issue is treated as
nothing more than a political football? Hit them in the pocketbook. And keep hitting them until the problem is resolved.

A few brave congressional souls agree.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, for example, introduced the Shared Retirement Sacrifice Act of 2011, which would require lawmakers to wait until the age of 66 to collect their pensions. Currently, lawmakers can retire as early as 50 with a full pension depending on how long they served.

"The reason I introduced my bill ... on this shared sacrifice in terms of retirement age is I hear lots of members of Congress ... say we should raise the retirement age for Social Security," Brown told CNN.

Brown points to the fact that a member of Congress who gets elected at 35 and retires at 55 can draw a pretty good pension then while other Americans can't draw Social Security benefits until they reach 66.

"So, my thought there was that members of Congress should not be able to get their pension, no matter how many years of service they had; they should get no pension until any earlier than a Social Security beneficiary should get theirs," he said.

Brown pointed out that it's important that lawmakers "sort of align as much as possible their lives with the people who we represent, so we understand things better and, you know, we still make more money than most people, of course."

Others are fighting this good fight with mixed results.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has found it difficult to drum up interest in her bill to cut the pay of members, the president and the vice president by 10 percent. The measure has just one co-sponsor.

"It's more uphill than I expected," she was quoted as saying. "To me it seemed like a no-brainer idea."

Reps. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Mike Coffman, R-Colo., also have measures that would cut lawmakers' pay by 10 percent beginning in 2013. And Coffman's bill would implement a massive furlough program, requiring most executive-branch workers to take two weeks of mandatory unpaid leave in 2012.

Then there are the bills that would tie lawmakers' pay to whether they do their job. According to the Washington Post, Rep. Randy Hultgren's, R-Ill., legislation would mandate that if Congress has not completed all of its appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, then members' paychecks would be held in escrow until they finish their work.

While this may make it appear that the fresh breeze of common sense is wafting through the halls of Congress, similar legislation has been introduced 25 times since 1973 by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but only once has such a proposal made it out of committee, according to published reports. That bill, introduced by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Ok., never got a floor vote.

Apparently, sharing in sacrifice is an alien concept in Washington.

Putting a cap on congressional pay and perks is not a new idea. Ben Franklin suggested at the Constitutional Convention that members serve without pay. The idea was rejected by the Founder Fathers and although congressional service was part-time in the nation's first 100 years, it has been a full-time job since.

Not everybody, however, believes cutting congressional perks is a good idea.

Wrote author Robert J. Spitzer: "Every member of Congress has a hand on the tiller of our ship of state. It is as important a job as one can envision, and their pay should not be the whipping boy for our frustrations with the inherent difficulty of their jobs and the intractability of our problems ... we must admit that at least some of the contempt citizens hold for Congress is in truth a reflection of ourselves."

Noble words but it ignores the fact that most major corporations and businesses of every size in this country reward employees on the quantity and quality of work performed.

Why not hold our elected representatives to the same standard? Can't you just see the headlines now? "Congressional pay slashed because of legislative ineptitude."

We can dream, can't we?

Read more:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Deep Fried

Years ago, when I was a fresh-faced editor at a large downtown
metropolitan newspaper, I asked a grizzled veteran reporter to do a
story on the L.A. County Fair.

It wasn’t the greatest story idea I ever pulled out of my back
pocket. Indeed, newspapers large and small in Southern California
seem somehow obligated to do county fair stories each and every year.

Seeking some originality, I told Grizzled Reporter to do a story on
the logistics of the thing, how many people does it take to stage a
giant fair, who are they, how much of the rural flavor remains. That
kind of thing.

He glared at me over the rims of his glasses and said, “It’s all
about food.” He proceeded to gruffly explain, maybe lecture is a
better word, that people go to county fairs to eat. Everything else
is secondary.

And he proceeded to do a story about fair food, my suggestions

It was then it became clear to me why the fair gets more attention
from the media than a presidential news conference.

Reporters love a free meal. It’s a tradition that dates back to when
they got paid next to nothing. Now they make slightly more than that.

Most of them would cover a press conference introducing a new brand
of mouthwash if there was a buffet involved. I once had a framed
poster in my office showing a reporter in a fedora hat saying, “I’m
with the press. Where’s the food?”

The County Fair, of course, is the greatest spread going. And
reporters cover it like mustard on a corn dog. After all, you can’t
write about fair food without sampling it. The media generously
underwrites this effort.

The hot topic these days is the proliferation of vendors devoted to
totally irresponsible eating.

In an era when even the cereal box is made of whole grains and three
ounces of yogurt in considered lunch, the fair has become a place to
get in touch with your inner Neanderthal.

Just look at the chest-pain inducing, artery clogging , stomach
rumbling entrees available at the L.A. County Fair this year.

A company called The Ranch is offering a bacon cheeseburger for your
dining pleasure. But not just any bacon cheeseburger. This one is
deep fried.

For dessert, wander over to Fair Fix for a deep fried banana split.

If you get the feeling that deep fried cuisine is a hot item, you
would be correct.

Among the other offerings are deep fried candy bars, deep fried
cheesecake, deep fried mocha cake, deep fried Pop Tarts, deep fried
pickle dogs and deep fried Kool –Aid.

Not to your liking? How about macaroni and cheese on a stick,
chocolate covered bacon, pork chop on a stick or something called a
Mile Long Chili Dog.

L.A. County is not alone in offering the latest in cardiac cuisine.
Consider these offerings from various state fairs:

In Texas, they line up for Chicken Fried Bacon and wash it down with
deep fried Coca-Cola. Minnesotans like their spaghetti and meatballs
on a stick while in Iowa they chow down on something called a hot
beef sundae.

Indiana features Pizza Cones and a pork parfait while in
Kansas you can wrap your hands around a Krispy Kreme burger, an
all-beef patty, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo in between two
glazed doughnuts.

The ultimate in fair food? Try the deep fried butter next time you’re
in Texas.

I wonder if they display warning signs, like “please consume
responsibly.” I’ll bet they don’t.

Aside from good old down-home gluttony, why on earth do we eat this

Leave it to the high-minded New York Times to offer an explanation.
It’s all about “decision fatigue.”

According to a Times article, no matter how rational and high-minded
you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying
a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue —
you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on
mental energy.

The more choices you make throughout the day, the article says, the
harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for
shortcuts. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively
instead of expending the energy to first think through the

OK, that works for me. Now pass me that deep fried Pepto-Bismol on a

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Voices of 9/11

The voices of 9/11. May we never become deaf to them.

“Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent... we are all over the
place. ... I see water. I see buildings. We are flying low. We are
flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. ... Oh my God, we
are way too low... Oh my God, we're “ -Flight attendant Madeline Amy
Sweeney, at the end of her phone call to a supervisor describing the
hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11.

"We're young men, we're not ready to die." – Kevin Cosgrove on the
105th floor of the South Tower moments before it collapsed.

"The floor is completely engulfed. We're on the floor, and we can't
breathe, and it's very, very, very hot… I'm going to die, I know it.
Please, God, no. It's so hot, I'm burning up." - Melissa Doi, 83rd
floor, South Tower

"Please do not give up, Melissa. Oh, my God. Melissa. Melissa.
Melissa." - 911 operator

“'Kris, there's been an explosion. We're trapped in a room. There's
smoke coming in. I don't know what's going to happen. I want you to
know my life has been so much better and richer because you were in
it.’ He said, ‘I love you’ and he said goodbye. I think he had been
crying, but he stayed strong for me.” - Kris McFarren, on a phone
call from her fiancée Bradley Vadas who died in the South Tower.

"Hi, this is the captain. I would like you all to remain seated.
There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to
have our demands [INAUDIBLE]. Please remain quiet." - Hijacker aboard
United Flight 93 which crashed near Shanksville, Pa.

“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” - Passenger Todd Beamer on Flight
93 as passengers stormed the cockpit to battle the hijackers.

“After his appearance with the workers at the site, President Bush
met privately with some of the victims' families. That was the most
gut-wrenching of all.... Not one person the president talked to
thought their missing relatives were dead. Not one.” - Ari Fleisher,
White House press secretary.

“I question, why not me, and leave my son? I mean, I would have
switched. ... I asked God in the beginning, ‘If you could give me
this one, I would appreciate it.’ But He had nothing to do with
this...He was fighting evil that day, like He does every day. -
Bernie Heeran, New York city firefighter who lost a son in the World
Trade Center.

“They say the planes hit the building somewhere in the 92nd to the
101st floor. It's terrible to think that 2,000 gallons of petrol
burned through the building, totally scorching my daughter to death.
Our son-in-law, Nurul, worked on the 93rd floor. We were hoping that
he might have just barely survived. I pray to Allah that if they
survive, let them both survive. If they have to die, let them both go
to Allah together. What was Allah's wish? My daughter and her husband
both went to Allah together.” - Sharif Choudhury, insurance agent.

“When I looked out that window, towards the Statue of Liberty, and I
saw that plane coming towards me, I was numb. This monstrous plane
looking at me, like, ‘I'm taking you.’ Part of the 82nd floor
collapsed. All of the walls were knocked flat. I was screaming!
Crying! And praying out loud, ‘Lord! Help me! Please! Send
somebody!’... I felt like this strange force came over me. This power
that I've never felt before. And I looked at this wall and I started
to hit and punch and kick. And I busted a little hole. And Brian
said, "I see your hand!" - Stanley Praimnath, loan officer.

“And I heard this, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
...Help! Help!’ And I was able to grab onto something, whether it was
his collar or we locked arms, I'm not sure, and then I lifted him
out. And we fell on a heap on the floor, and we introduced ourselves.
And he said, ‘Oh! Hallelujah! I'm Stanley!’ And I said, ‘My name is
Brian. We might be friends for life!’ And then I said, ‘Come on,
let's go. Let's get out of here.’ - Brian Clark, banker.

“I think God could have just ended this all. That's why I feel
strongly that I'm losing respect for Him. ..So I look at Him now as a
barbarian… and it's a sad situation. I think I am a good Christian,
but I have a different view and image of Him now and I can't replace
it with the old image.” - Tim Lynston, security guard

“I don't know how people could get through this without faith." -
Rosaleen Tallon who lost her brother in the Twin Towers attacks.

“Today, we gather to be reassured that God hears the lamenting and
bitter weeping of Mother America because so many of her children are
no more...Let us also pray for divine wisdom as our leaders consider
the necessary actions for national security...that as we act, we not
become the evil we deplore.” - Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of Washington
National Cathedral.

"We will find those who did it. We will smoke them out of their
holes. We'll get them running, and we'll bring them to justice."
–President George Bush.

“Tonight I can report to the American people and the world that the
United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin
Laden...Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we
will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by
when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of
our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the
values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can
say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror:
Justice has been done.” – President Barack Obama.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Football Feast

“Behold the tailgate party. The pinnacle of human achievement. Since
the dawn of parking lots, man has sought to stuff his guts with food
and alcohol in anticipation of watching others exercise.” ---Homer

If there’s a better place on earth to tailgate on a fall football
Saturday than the Rose Bowl, I have yet to find it.

No trash strewn, heat radiating asphalt parking lots for this fan.
Give me a spot on the Brookside golf course, under a sprawling oak
tree, with good food and good companionship. It’s enough to make
watching a mediocre UCLA football team seem almost pleasant.

In fact, at the Rose Bowl, and at many college games, tailgating is
THE event, football be damned.

That’s why people camp out in the Arroyo and never enter the stadium.
They’ll eat, drink and commune with nature while listening to the
game on radio or watching it on TV.

That’s why some people arrive eight hours before game time. Many
bring elaborate cooking gear and what appears to be the entire
contents of their living rooms to stage elaborate feasts.

Talk about all the comforts of home: I’ve seen guys with satellite
dishes running off portable generators to enhance the TV viewing
experience. I once saw a guy with his own porta-potty towed on a
trailer behind his car. I’ve seen RVs that look like the presidential
suite at a Four Seasons hotel on wheels.

I’ve seen brats and beer, I’ve seen linen and silver.

I’ve seen gracious visiting fans (Alabama) and obnoxious ones

But after being engaged in the Rose Bowl tailgating ritual for 28
years, I can truthfully say I haven’t experienced a single incident
where my enjoyment was ruined by unruly fans. Not one.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t trouble occasionally. People drink.
Sometimes they get rowdy. It’s a football game, not a fashion show.

Pasadena police say they average nine arrests at each game, six for
being drunk in public, three for ticket scalping. So that’s six
belligerent boozers out of a crowd of between 60,000-80,000 people.

Statistically, you’re not going to see a lot of bad behavior.

Now, however, because of one ugly incident that occurred last year
before a UCLA-USC game in which two people were stabbed, Rose Bowl
officials are acting like they’re dealing with a Hell’s Angels beer

Starting this season, alcohol consumption is now banned in all
tailgating sections after kickoff, and the parking lots will open to
the public six hours before kickoff instead of eight.

Loud music, music with inappropriate language and drinking out of
glass containers are also prohibited (which means if I want to enjoy
a glass of nice pinot noir, I’ll have to consume it skid row style
out of a paper bag or, worse, a plastic cup).

Playing of games that involve the consumption of alcohol or use of
alcohol-related paraphernalia are prohibited. (Paraphernalia? I
assume that means my corkscrew in addition to my wine glass. The
season hasn’t even started and I’m in danger of becoming a
three-strike violator).

The parking lots will be patrolled by Pasadena police and by
green-clad "tailgating ambassadors" on bikes who will “provide
information and assistance and to ensure that tailgaters comply with
established guidelines.”

Ambassadors? Please. These are rent-a-cops who are there to make sure
you toe the line.

This was inevitable, I suppose, given recent acts of fan violence at
Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Dodger Stadium where tailgating
bans didn’t save Bryan Stow from a savage beating.

But the restrictions here are an overreaction. Bruin tailgaters are
so laid back they would probably get out-partied by BYU.

Call me a homer but I really resent Rose Bowl football fans being
lumped in with a bunch of sociopathic NFL jerks or the goons who have
taken up residence at Dodger games.

Yeah, we had a problem at the Rose Bowl and the guy responsible is
doing 15 years in state prison.

Unfortunately, one of the victims has filed a lawsuit, asking the
taxpayers of Pasadena to cough up $25 million to alleviate his pain
and suffering.

More than the act of violence itself, that’s what has led to these

Let’s hope for continued good behavior at the Rose Bowl. If there is,
“restrictions” and “ambassadors” will be unnecessary.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Few Days Off

The "Wake Up America!" set - consisting of boisterous bloggers, caustic commentators, pontificating political opportunists and whacko wing nuts - has been in full fury recently because President Obama engaged in an activity they found deeply disturbing.

He went on vacation.

Self-appointed critics of every stripe whined that Obama should be at his Oval Office desk 24/7 working on an economic recovery plan. Or that he should have called Congress back into session to assist him.

Just what we need: an instant replay of the debt ceiling debacle that would lower government approval levels to single digits.

Wisely, the President ignored this babble, packed up his family and fled to Martha's Vineyard, where the Obamas spent $50,000 of their own money - big bucks for an alleged socialist - to rent an estate for 10 days.

And why not?

First and foremost, he didn't disappear into the north woods. The White House travels with the President whether he's in Martha's Vineyard or Toad Suck, Arkansas. His military, economic and political advisors are there to brief him each and every day. The nuclear football is always nearby.

Second, it's not for nothin' that every politician on The Hill flees town in August when the district is a steaming cauldron of heat and humidity. Think Guatemala with monuments.

Third, every First Family needs to occasionally escape the confines of the White House, a place President Truman once called "the crown jewel of the American penal system." We forget that Obama, or any president for that matter, is also a husband and a father who needs time to reconnect with his wife and children.

The only thing I don't understand is why the President has embraced golf as a form of relaxation, a game more frustrating than dealing with a room full of gimlet-eyed Republicans.

Last but not least, President Obama has taken 61 vacation days after 31 months in office, according to CBS. At this point in their presidencies, George W. Bush had spent 180 days at his ranch where his staff often joined him for meetings. And Ronald Reagan had taken 112 vacation days at his ranch.

Obama has been criticized for vacationing in opulent surroundings, especially at a time of economic distress. Better he would be holed up in a Motel 6 on the Beltway, I guess.

But let's set the record straight. FDR, even during the Great Depression, vacationed at his colonial mansion in Hyde Park, N.Y., and used U.S. Navy ships for fishing expeditions.

Ike used to hang out at the Augusta National Country Club in Georgia, perhaps the most prestigious and expensive private club in the United States, playing golf while the Soviets aimed hundreds of nuclear missiles at us.

JFK relaxed at the family estate in Hyannis Port, Mass. Nixon had his western White House in San Clemente. LBJ owned a massive ranch in Texas as does George Bush. Reagan had his Santa Barbara ranch.

George H.W. Bush has his compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Even Jimmy Carter retreated to his peanut farm in Georgia.

And each time they went on vacation, there was a crisis brewing somewhere.

Obama doesn't own an expensive vacation estate or a compound or even a condo. So he rents. Think of it as an economic stimulus package.

Having seen a number of presidents emerge from four to eight years in office stooped and gray, it is sheer folly to begrudge the leader of the free world a few days off.

Most Americans understood that in the past. Take the case of Herbert Hoover, as recounted by George E. Condon Jr. in the Atlantic.

Hoover sought the Navy's help to give him some respite during the depths of the Depression. Almost on the spur of the moment, the White House announced in March 1931 that "to secure a short rest" Hoover was going to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

His mode of transportation was to be the newly modernized battleship Arizona. Its trial run became a luxury cruise for the president.

Somewhat defensively, the announcement noted "this will be the first vacation of the president since assuming office with the exception of a seven-day fishing trip to Florida something more than a year ago."

Time magazine described Hoover as "a very tired man" at the outset of the cruise. But after many "long naps," exercise on the deck with a medicine ball, and dinners (in formal wear) accompanied by an orchestra, Hoover was rejuvenated.

Time described him as "a new man physically ... his cheeks were a pinkish tan (and) lines around his eyes had been smoothed out."

They don't report stories like that any more.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

For Whom the Pols Poll

President Obama's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low,
sinking below 40% for the first time, according to a recent Gallup

New data showed that 39% of Americans approve of Obama's job
performance, while 54% disapprove. Both are the worst numbers of his

Yet a scant three months ago, Obama’s approval rate was at 56 per
cent, the highest for the President since 2009.

The job picture was just as bleak. The economic news was just as bad.
His relationship with the Republicans was just as sour.

So why were his numbers so much better in May? Three little words:
Osama bin Laden. The death of the Al Qaeda leader at the hands of
U.S. forces in Pakistan, resulted in a major popularity boost for the
commander in chief.

From this we can extrapolate the following:

(1) Perhaps if Mr. Obama would spend more time playing whack-a-mole
with terrorists, rogue nations, European banks, Wall Street critics,
intransigent Republicans and Tea Party activists, his reelection
would be assured.

But more accurately, (2) polling is rarely the measure of a man.
Instead it is a snapshot in time that can change rapidly and
dramatically as the political winds shift.

Indeed, Obama’s approval ratings were higher than God’s in May. A
poll conducted by the research firm Public Policy Polling found that
52 percent of Americans approved of God's overall dealings, four
points below Obama.

God's approval rating exceeded that of House Speaker John Boehner,
R-Ohio, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But it
lagged behind Oprah Winfrey who scored a 60 per cent approval rating.

This means, of course, that an all-seeing, all-knowing God not only
has a sense of humor but He believes in our First Amendment right to
free speech. Otherwise, the Public Policy poll would have resulted in
plagues of locusts and frogs.

For us mortals, polls remain an enigma, worshiped by journalists,
candidates and political scientists, but correctly viewed with
skepticism by the public.

President Obama’s roller coaster popularity ride is a good example.
So is former President George Bush whose disapproval rating at one
point was 71 per cent, making him the most unpopular chief executive
in modern history.

But after he left the White House and published his memoirs, Bush’s
popularity soared to 45 per cent. Either he was misjudged or we are a
very forgiving country. I suspect it was the latter.

Some polls produce worthless information. Take the case of Texas Gov.
Rick Perry who rode roughshod into the presidential rodeo last week.
In multiple polls, Perry trails Obama by an average of 11 percentage
points. Bad news for Republicans? Not necessarily. Perry lacks name
recognition outside of Texas. Check back in another month to see how
he fares.

Polls are often more useful for a candidate to judge the electorate
than the other way around.

Consider that President Obama and his opponent probably understand
that they face an uphill battle convincing the American public that
either one knows how to run the country.

A recent CNN poll asked voters if the policies proposed by Republican
leaders in Congress would move the country in the right direction.
Fifty eight per cent said no.

Asked if policies proposed by Democratic leaders would move the
country in the right direction, 53 per cent said no.

The overall Congressional approval rate was 13 per cent.

Let the campaign promises begin.

Some polls simply get it wrong. The most famous case involves the
Literary Digest which conducted a poll regarding the likely outcome
of the 1936 presidential election.

The poll showed that the Republican governor of Kansas, Alf Landon,
would likely be the winner.

But come November, Landon carried only Vermont and Maine; U.S.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt carried the then-46 other states.

The magazine was discredited because of the poll and was soon

What happened? The magazine had surveyed its own readers, a group
with disposable incomes well above the national average of the time
(shown by their ability to afford a magazine subscription during the
Great Depression). It also used two other readily available lists:
that of registered automobile owners and that of telephone users.
Again, because of the Depression, both groups had incomes well above
the national average of the day, which resulted in lists of voters
far more likely to support Republicans.

When it comes to polls, remember the sage words of Robert Orben:
“Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections
is to find out if the polls were right?”

Monday, August 01, 2011

Commentary Without Class

It is almost beyond comprehension that the blowhards who pass for
political commentators in this day and age could not let the recent
Norwegian tragedy pass without making tasteless and asinine remarks.

I speak in this instance of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, the
Tweedledee and Tweedledum of punditry for whom nothing is quite as it

Here is Beck’s take on the carnage in Norway, in which a crazed
gunman on a delusional anti-Muslim mission set off a bomb in downtown
Oslo, then hunted down and killed 68 youths at a camp run by the
country’s Labor Party:

"There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little
like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids
that's all about politics? Disturbing."

Not as disturbing, of course, as his insensitivity. And, as it turns
out, his hypocrisy.

To answer his question, who does a camp for kids about politics?
Well, for one, conservative columnist Jeff Lukens holds one in Tampa,
Fla. And guess what? It’s based on Beck’s very own 9/12 Project and
aligned with the “Tea Party” values that Beck espouses.

Then there is Camp USA for middle school students which advertises
itself as a bi-partisan tour of the political world to inspire
participants to become more informed, engaged citizens.

There are countless others that embrace many philosophies.

But let’s for a moment assume Beck forgot there is a political camp
for kids based on his own world view and turn to the issue of Norway
and the Nazis.

Norway was invaded by Hitler’s armies in 1940 and occupied for the
next five years. During that time, starvation was not unknown and
thousands of Norwegians were shipped to concentration camps or killed
outright. Many more fled the country and became refugees.

Against this background, Beck has the audacity to suggest Norway is
running youth camps inspired by the Nazis.

Torbjørn Eriksen, a former press secretary to Jens Stoltenberg,
Norway's prime minister, told London’s Daily Telegraph: "Young
political activists have gathered at Utøya (where the shootings took
place) for over 60 years to learn about and be part of democracy, the
very opposite of what the Hitler Youth was about. Glenn Beck's
comments are ignorant, incorrect and extremely hurtful."

It’s hard to imagine Beck could stoop lower.

Bill O’Reilly, meanwhile, was admonishing the media for describing
Anders Behring-Breivik, the admitted shooter, as a “Christian

"No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder," he said. "The man
might have called himself a Christian on the net, but he is certainly
not of that faith...we can find no evidence, none, that this killer
practiced Christianity in any way."

He said that the reason the media was calling Breivik a Christian was
because "the Left wants you to believe that fundamentalist Christians
are a threat just like crazy jihadists are."

In fact, the police described him as a Christian as did Breivik
himself. He wrote that he does not have a "personal," religious
relationship with Christ (but) believes in Christianity "as a
cultural, social, identity and moral platform," which he says "makes
me Christian."

We’re in murky waters here. It is not unusual for extremists to wrap
themselves in the cloak of religion to justify their actions.

Breivik did it. So did Osama bin Laden. But whether or not they were
true believers is known only to God, not Bill O’Reilly.

And to suggest that “no one believing in Jesus commits mass murder”
is absurd on its face. History is full atrocities committed by
Christians from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the witch hunts in
Europe and the New World. All conducted in the name of Jesus Christ.

While O’Reilly’s contends there is a move to paint fundamentalist
Christians as dangerous, there is plenty of evidence to suggest there
are reasons for concern.

A group called the Army of God has been targeting abortion clinics,
doctors and homosexuals for the last 25 years. The motive for
anti-abortionist Scott Roeder to murder Wichita doctor George Tiller
was a belief that abortion is criminal and immoral, and that this
belief went "hand in hand" with his religious beliefs.

Hutaree, a Christian militia group based in Adrian, Mich., had nine
of its members indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy to use of
improvised explosive devices, teaching the use of explosive
materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Perhaps these two gentlemen should forgo trying to politicize a
tragedy whose root cause is madness.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Passengers Attack....

All the news that fits, we print:

Those good hands people at the TSA are back in the news again. And
once again it involves the agency’s “enhanced” security procedures.

I am a frequent customer of the TSA because I have a couple of knee
replacements and the bells and whistles go off when I approach. It’s
a hassle but after a couple of waves of the wand, and a pat here and
there, away you go.

But last month was my first encounter with the new, improved
pat-down. It felt like the agent had accidently dropped his Rolex
down the front of my pants and was trying to retrieve it.

On a later flight, I went through the scanner which was quicker and
simpler. Of course, you have to get past the fact that a reasonable
facsimile of you naked to the world will appear on a screen somewhere
to the howls and/or whistles of those observing.

Now, we learn that the TSA will be installing software that will
allow agents to see objects hidden under clothes without seeing you
in the altogether. Or as a TSA bureaucrat remarked in a classic
understatement, to “improve the passenger experience at checkpoints.”

And not a moment too soon.

Just this past week, it seems that Yukari Miyamae, a 61-year-old
Colorado woman, was charged with groping a TSA agent.

Miyamae was in Phoenix's Sky Airport en route home to Colorado when
the incident occurred.

According to the arrest report, Miyamae is accused of groping TSA
agent Barbara O'Toole's "left breast through her clothing and
squeezing and twisting it with both hands without the victim's

I can only guess why.

For all I know, Miyamae may have been a full-blown Taliban operative.
But if not, there is such an inescapable turnabout-is-fair-play irony
to all this that I am prepared to be a character witness on her

I’m not the only one. Five Facebook pages dedicated to her have
sprung into existence, four of them offering her support. Some have
dubbed her the "21st century Rosa Parks."

Fortunately, it appears that technology will soon rescue us from the
ugly prospect of groping wars at our airports.

Speaking of technology, cell phones may be the greatest
communications advancement since, well, the telephone.
But like many gifts, it comes with a curse.

It can be annoying, rude and, most importantly, distracting and

That’s why many states and municipalities have banned hand-held cell
phone use while driving.

And it’s why everyone believed it recently when it was reported that
the city of Philadelphia would ticket and fine anyone texting while

Makes sense. Who wants to get head-butted by some idiot texting his
girlfriend. Or watch as some dufus walks into an 18-wheeler while
checking the baseball scores.

But the city mothers and fathers in Philadelphia, in fact, passed no
such law. What they did do is encourage police to crack down on
dangerous and distracting cellphone use.

That development was misunderstood by some TV types and bloggers and
the misinformation spread like wildfire via the Internet.

Imagine that.

It’s ice cream season. And parlors across the land are responding
with more and more inventive flavors to attract customers.
According to Newsweek, lip-smacking offerings this season such as
Brown Bread, Rice and Beans, Balsamic Strawberry, Feta Cheese and
Basil, Brown Ale With Bacon, Lobster and Wasabi Coconut Banana are on
the menu.

Vanilla, anyone?

What do Mike Eng, Edward Hernandez, Bob Huff, Curt Hagman have in

They are all elected officials from the San Gabriel Valley. And they
all accepted contributions from tobacco interests.

Indeed, the tobacco industry spent a total of $9.3 million on
campaign contributions and lobbying in California during the
2009-2010 election cycle and have spent nearly $100 million over the
last decade, according to a new report by the Center for Tobacco
Policy & Organizing, a project of the American Lung Association in

Of the 122 state legislators (more than 120 due to vacancies and
special elections), tobacco interests made campaign contributions to
59 members, or 48 percent, similar to the total from pervious
election cycles.

Maybe we were naive enough to think that the scourge of tobacco was
becoming a thing of the past. Apparently it’s still as close as your
local legislator.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rupert's World

Good morning and welcome to your daily community newspaper.

You may notice we’ve made a few changes due to the fact that we have
been sold to Rupert Murdoch.

We have discarded well-written and informative stories in favor of
salacious scandal about our elected officials, sports figures,
community leaders and anybody else we can smear.

We are no longer interested in the agendas and actions of our city
councils and boards of education.

Rather, we will be reporting on members’ sex lives, mental health,
financial status and any and all dirt we can dig up.

To accomplish this, we will bribe public officials and cops and
engage in hacking personal phone calls and e-mails and use the
information to wield political power over those with whom we
disagree. There are no moral or ethical boundaries we will not
violate in order to achieve our goals.

For your entertainment, we will run pictures of topless models on
Page 3 complete with leering, sexist comments.

We understand that this new direction in our reporting will lead to
the arrest and conviction of some of our reporters and editors but,
hey, that’s the price you pay.

This, of course, is just a fantasy, or rather a nightmare. We haven’t
really been sold to Murdoch and we fervently hope it will never come
to pass.

But it’s a useful tool to illustrate the methods Rupert Murdoch and
his band of mad hatters in England who, in the pursuit of lurid and
sensational scoops, in an attempt to get the story at any cost, to
beat the competition by any means necessary, have completely lost
their moral and ethical compass.

To recount: As far back as 2006, Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid
was charged by police with intercepting voice mail messages left for
members of Britain’s royal family.

Police began a new investigation into phone hacking allegations in
February 2011, at which time more than 20 civil cases against the
News of the World were active. Lawyers for the victims allege that as
many as 7,000 people had their phones accessed by the News of the

Then earlier this month, allegations were made that the News of the
World hacked into the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, destroying
possible evidence in the search for her killer, as well as victims of
the London terrorist bombings and relatives of deceased British

It was even more than the gossip-loving British public could stand.
Reporters and editors were arrested. Advertisers withdrew from the
News of the World and other Murdoch publications.

Murdoch promptly shut down the 168-year-old publication in a cynical
attempt to keep alive his attempt to purchase the lucrative British
Sky Broadcasting Group, an attempt that failed when Murdoch withdrew
his $12 billion bid in the wake of the hacking scandal.

In the midst of all this, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused
Murdoch’s papers of hiring “known criminals” to ferret our
information on him and his family, including his personal finances
and his infant son’s medical history.

Brown is not the only politician to feel Murdoch’s wrath. According
to a New York Times story, Clare Short, a Labour member of
Parliament, mentioned in passing at a luncheon in 2004 that she did
not care for the photographs of saucy, topless women that appear
every day on Page 3 of Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid. “I’d like to take
the pornography out of our press,” she said.

“ ‘Fat, Jealous’ Clare Brands Page 3 Porn” was The Sun’s headline in
response. Its editor sent a busload of semi-dressed models to jeer at
Ms. Short at her house. The paper stuck a photograph of Ms. Short’s
head over the body of a topless woman and found a number of people to
declare that, in fact, they thoroughly enjoyed the sexy photos.

OK, so a band of British loonies engaged in sleazy and illegal
tactics and left ethics and good taste lying broken and bleeding in
the street. Why should we care?

Because Rupert Murdoch may be practicing the same sort of abhorrent
journalism right here in America.

His Fox News has already been revealed as something less than “fair
and balanced” for contributing $1 million to Republican political

His New York Post is as raunchy and irresponsible as his British
tabloids. He now owns the prestigious Wall Street Journal and it
remains to be seen if he brings his own brand of “journalism” to that

And the FBI, prodded by members of Congress, has opened an
investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. attempted to
hack into the telephones of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
and the families of those who died.

American journalism is at the crossroads. It needs visibility, it
needs a blueprint to survive in the information age, it needs money
to stay alive and thrive.

More importantly, it needs to maintain its credibility. And because
it does, it doesn’t need Rupert Murdoch.