Challenging Politics, Media & Culture



Remember back to 1999 when society was wondering what the next decade would be called? Long gone was the "Me Generation" and "Morning in America." As the 20th Century was ending, times were good, collectively. And other than the big scare that the millenium would shut down the world's computers, optimism reigned. Pop culture felt like the Roaring 20's, as stars were smiling, portfolios grew fat, and deficits became surpluses. Even new age thinking had a fighting chance to change the world. Pop culture was eager to named the new decade even before it began. Today, it all seems so naiive. September 11th spawned world's support of America and our values. Hunting Bin Laden in every cave was the days mission. But behind the curtain, neocons were seizing power, hitching their cart to Iraq, oil and their Christian vision for the world. Conspiracy of lies, deceit and an arrogance of power followed.

But before we coin this decade "The War On Terror", consider the harsher scrutiny and the calls for accountability that has, at least for the moment, become America's battle cry. 

The Mitchell Report on steroids in baseball reflects what society will tolerate even more than perhaps the war. People we've worshipped were found to be liars, cheats and traitors. Baseball is many things between the lines, but from a distance it is a metaphor for all things in life. Other sports may hold America's heart and television ratings, but baseball is still the only sport you can mark life's events by. Overlay a calendar with baseball and you'll see how it goes hand in hand with changes in society.  

The Mitchell Report did for baseball what all the reports on Iraq couldn't. It named names and pointed the blame directly on the shoulders of the players who knew better. Players who cheated and lied. Players who watched superstars perform like 3rd graders before Congress. Players who took teams to arbitration for more money. Players who walked away from loyal fans to cash in a big payday. Players who forgot the reason they started tossing a ball to their fathers in the first place. Big business will do that.

The Mitchell Report was too long in the making, allowing Barry Bonds to first break Roger Maris's single-season home run record and then surpass career totals of his Uncle Willie Mays, the immortal Babe Ruth and the stoic Hank Aaron. For every quote urging us to move on from the steroids era, there are lone voices saying hold your horses. For the masses who advocate steroid records to stand, there are the lone voices who ask "why?" 

Flawed decisions by leaders and heroes have generated so many reports you could fill a library. From 9/11 to Iraq, Gitmo to Global Warming. In each instance, few of the recommendations have yet been implemented. What Mitchell was able to do was encapsulate the decade of lost opportunity. Naming names has shamed players. And no one should shed a tear for them. The money they've made, the players they leap frogged to make a team, and the illusion they perpetuated over the eyes and hearts of fans should shame them right out of the record books.

Instead of having an asterick next to their names at the top of baseball records, each one should share the same page, at the back of the Baseball Encyclopedia, titled "Asterick" with their accomplishments and offenses. "Roger Clemens....ERA- 3.12.....Steroids Shot into Buttocks- 6".

The "War on Terror" will probably win the title for this decade. A bunch of marketing dollars has gone into it. But remember the "Reports of the Decade", the findings that embarrassed some players, caught some leaders, and made society accept bad behavior and wanting things to just go away. Maybe we'll have to wait until 2011 for people to take information from all these reports, stand up and scream for change. Really scream. For real change.                                                                      12/15/07


The most striking photo-op on July 4th wasn't fireworks, picnics or parades. It was the gathering of 1,000 soon-to-be United States citizens gathered at Disney World in Orlando. The site, devoted to Americana, fantasy and make-believe, was the setting for this Independence Day's big naturalization ceremony.

It's the first time Disney World played host. President Bush was beamed in to welcome these new Americans. Cuban-American musician Gloria Estefan sang the national anthem and country western's Lee Greenwood sang "God Bless America." It is a small world after all.

So why does the commercialization of naturalization feel so unnatural? Disney has a push-pull relationship in America that goes back over a half century. Disney reflects the yearning for yester-year among us. But it also provides a cheap stereotype for what it means to be an American. Hosting the July 4th ceremony was a coup for Disney's PR machine, the White House or a combination of both. 

Disney and Bush did what they could to capitalize on the American Dream for these new citizens. With immigration reform dead for the foreseeable future, Bush needed a place to re-iterate the American Dream without getting too close to these new Americans. The ceremony took place outside the Cinderella Castle. Disney Resort president Meg Crofton summed up the corporate connection to the flag. "What better day than Independence Day to celebrate the naturalization of 1,000 new American citizens. And what better place than Disney World, where dreams come true every day of the year. We are honored to participate as America bestows its greatest gift -- the gift of citizenship."

The push-pull America has with Disney is also reflected in the way Disney has been part of American politics. Michael Moore knows this all too well. Disney had its Miramax Films unit halt distribution of Moore's "Fahrenheit 911," the award-winning film critical of the Bush Administration's handling of affairs before and after the September 11th attacks.

Disney has also been part of the country's immigration debate, both as a public citizen and major employer. In June, Disney the Citizen hosted Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as they spoke before National Latino officials gathering just days after the immigration bill failed in the Senate. In 1993, Disney the Employer was the target of an INS probe that leveled fines close to $400,000, at the time the largest in California history. Disney was accused of 1156 violations when investigators tried examining more than 6,000 employee files at Disneyland. The INS said 55 workers were fired. Disney said just 5 of them had improper documentation.

But Disney's history with who belongs in America and who doesn't belong dates back to the McCarthy era. In October 1947, Walt Disney himself testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Here is a transcript of part of that testimony.

Question: "Do you have any people in your studio at the present time that you believe are Communist or Fascist, employed there?"
Disney: "No; at the present time I feel that everybody in my studio is one-hundred-percent American."

Back then, coming out of World War II and facing the start of the Cold War and Red Scare, Disney was a movie maker and not yet a theme park owner. Movies were the propaganda tool of the world. Disney knew a "100% American" studio was reflecting what government wanted to hear and what many Americans wanted to be re-assured. America, and American propaganda tools, was all American. The start of baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. End of story.

Today, Disney's embrace of other cultures and new immigrants is a safe marketing tool even with the immigration debate. Disney's embrace of new Americans puts the company on the side of legal immigrants. It also portrays the company as a present-day Statue of Liberty by welcoming the masses, even if it's just 1000 pre-chosen people on a national holiday. 

There are many things that make up a culture and no one can predict how fast a culture can change. Immigration has been a hot debate for more than a year. Disney either wants to truly lead the cultural revolution to capitalize on changing demographics for both its theme parks and movie audiences. Or it just wants to stay close enough to government, so government doesn't spend as much time staying close to Disney's business.                                                7/7/2007  



"Where Have You Gone...George Mitchell" was among the first entries in "WagTheNews." More than a year later, we have a better chance finding Joe DiMaggio than George Mitchell. The latter was picked by baseball execs to investigate steroid use in the majors. Then, there was hope that Mitchell would derail Barry Bonds before he surpassed Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron as baseball's homerun king. A feable year later, Mitchell and the rest of us will end up watching Bonds pass Aaron in a matter of weeks.


Nevermind a year ago, Bonds was as guilty as can be. Two newspaper reporters unveiled their investigative book "Game of Shadows." The conclusion: Bonds turned to steroids because he was jealous of the hero-worshipping surrounding Mark McGwire and his single season home run pursuit. After that 1998 season and continuing the next few years, Bonds took a variety of illegal and undetectable drugs to add strength, improve eyesight, and to smash McGwire’s homer run record. Bonds never disputed any of the books' facts, but filed suit for damaging Grand Jury testimony being leaked. 


Baseball execs said the integrity of baseball was at stake so they hired Mitchell to investigate. The former U.S. Senator had promised an independent investigation to include "all persons who we believe have relevant information." We've waited, and waited, and waited. Today Mitchell finally named names, but sadly Bonds was not one of them. Investigators want teams to send medical records of Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Grimsley, David Segui and Fernando Tatis. The hitch is the players would then need to grant permission to release the records to Mitchell. Fat chance. See you next year.


So we've gone nowhere fast, or more accurately, nowehere slowly. But how has everyone allowed time to pass without a final judgment? A year ago, we wrote that baseball and the Giants were co-conspirators in their silence before the 1999 season. A new Giants ballpark was opening in 2000 and the team had no interest in catching Bonds. It was only after the ballpark opened in 2000 that the team finally did background checks on Bonds's three personal trainers. The team still did nothing when they found steroid links among a trainer, a gym and Bonds.


Today we can add Giants fans as enablers to the sorry Bonds affair. And that's surprising, especially in a city like San Francisco, which has "pride in place" like nowhere else. It's puzzling for San Francisco fans to give Bonds standing ovations. It's even more troublesome that the entire city doesn't take a stand. Few issues go by in San Francisco where residents are not active participants. Dog's rights. Parent's rights. Gay's rights. With a city so vocal and filled with so many activists, why haven't the masses boycotted all things Giants? The games. The merchandise. The sponsors.  


Mitchell hasn't been able to get anyone to talk. San Francisco residents can make their money talk by taking a stand and sending a message. Instead the Bonds homerun pursuit is looking like a car accident, where everyone slows down to watch, just glad they're not a part of the wreck.                          5/9/2007


Paris Hilton leads the CBS Radio newscast Friday night at 11pm Eastern. ABC News Investigator Brian Ross leads 20/20 with a profile on a DC madam. An SUV at a red light proudly displays a license plate with the slogan "Support Our Troops." Flags fly at half-mast for 32 murder victims in Virginia. No such honor for 3300 Americans killed in Iraq. Gas surpasses $3 again. 

Welcome to America in 2007. Are you conflicted by all this? Or does this sound fine to you?

No sooner were students killed by a mentally ill classmate that Americans show sorrow and debate gun control. Most Americans are resigned to the fact that the National Rifle Association owns the issue and lawmakers will never ban handguns. That's no surprise.

What is surprising is our lack of commitment to conect the dots and do something better. First, we live in a country where more than one President was gunned down in public. But today we have more guns than ever. Second,  the framers of our Constitution spelled out "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." But we were a new country then, and even tough the Constitution was signed in 1776, and the Bill of Rights added in 1791, most Americans don't realize we were still fighting the Revolutionary War against Britain for many years 1776. Of course we needed guns back then. 

The cold, hard truth is Americans are not ready to steer its own culture forward. Virginia Tech, Presidential assassinations and a 234 year old Amendment haven't motivated us. For a dramatic and meaningful culture change, Americans would have to endure a Virginia Tech shooting everyday, or a Presidential assassination every four years.

Is it a great culture when American deaths in Iraq haven't led to mass trade-in of SUVs in the states? Like guns, Americans feel like they have the "right to bear cars." No one is going to tell citizens what they can drive, where they can drive and how far they can drive it. But when gas prices surpass $3 a gallon, especially near a Patriotic "driving holiday" like Memorial Day, that's when gas guzzling freedom-lovers start talking about the cost to fill up. Boo-hoo. Dead soldiers doesn't motivate our culture to change. Only money does.

The media fuels this cultural disaster, spending time on Paris Hilton, a disturbed woman who is famous for just being famous. ABC News with all of its proud branding ("More Americans get their news from ABC News than from any other source") was just one of many mainstream news organizations to play dead when the world needed them most. Their slogan should be an apology- "We're sorry more of you watch this crap than any other source."

So where do we go as a culture? Who do we turn to for leadership? Politicians? We know what we'll get, don't we? Business? Vision must be longer than the next quarterly report. The media? The "gatekeepers" should have the keys taken away. For our culture to change, truly change, we need people indebted to no one, but indebted to everyone. 

A lot is made of the word "sacrifice" especially in times of war. But no one is motivated to sacrifice while Wall Street hits new highs. We have to ask ourselves as a society, one society, big questions that a third grader could ask. "What if everyone drove a car the size they really need and not one they can afford?" What if. More questions that start with the words "what if" and see where the conversation goes.

"What if" people decided the culture, instead of it being force by politicians, business and the media?

What if? What if?                                                                                    5/6/2007  


Sadly, Americans are focusing on college campuses for all the wrong reasons. From Rutgers to Duke to Virginia Tech. Cries of racism against women. Wrongful charges of rape against men. Mass murder of women and men.

Just days ago, America debated Imus-Rutgers. The storm was going to force a higher conversation about race in America. Now, those racial insults feel less urgent, less important. If we empathized with the student-athletes over words by an old radio host, our hearst are exploding with emotion towards our sons and daughters in Virginia.

Americans are numb to the campus murders. An attack on our homeland. This one with no color-coded government alerts, no anger towards border crossings, no cultural divide between rich or poor, Red or Blue, Democrat or Republican, Surge or Withdrawal. Americans reacted to Virginia with predictability. Talk of guns, mental illness, police response, and warning signs. In the days ahead, we may learn more abaout Cho Seung-Hui. We may not. But we will continue to ask what we always ask after such tragedies: "How could this happen?"

Perhaps the warning signs were clear, but few of us know what to do when they appear. The killer was a man who didn't talk to his dorm mates. A man whose school work alerted teachers to refer him to counselors and police. The warning signs are plain and simple, in the quotes given by those who knew him. 

"He was always really, really quiet and kind of weird, keeping to himself all the time.” 

His writings were a “veiled threat rather than something explicit.”

“He seemed to be crying behind his sunglasses.”

“When we read Cho’s plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of.”

“We students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter.”

How could this happen? Sadly, so sadly, should we be all that surprised this happened?                      4/18/07


Not since the midterms have Americans banded together and run someone out of power. Popular morning talker Don Imus, who once saw his career crash down from drug addiction, is now banished (for the time being) from his long-running radio program "Imus in the Morning." Americans must take talk show hosts seriously. The week-long Imus Death March is living proof.
A 14-year old boy with his ears in his ipod and his eyes on Sportscenter has never heard Imus. (Actually he has but wasn't paying attention). Today he says Imus was canned for "going to far." But his youthful insight makes you stop in your tracks. He believes sponsors didn't pull out over Imus's comments, but over the reaction to Imus's comments. Told that Imus's brand of humor and insults wasn't new to advertisers, guests, his bosses or the public, he remarked "This time was different. This time Imus made fun of specific women, singled them out, who are role models."
A 68-year old woman with her eyes on the Times and her ears on the New York buzz once liked Imus. "But I stopped listening to him after he made fun of Hillary Clinton having fat legs."
In between, America debates. Debates over racism, sexism, punishment and forgiveness. All over 3 words and a hyphen. Few people believe Don Imus is a racist. He said racist things, just as he's made a career saying stupid things. One Imus bit has a comic impersonating an old Irish priest who comes on the show each morning to read winning lottery numbers. "2, 7, 15, 29, 67, 44, 21, 52" on and on with more numbers than anyone is allowed to choose. His voice reaches peaks and valleys. Humor, racism or both? No one protested, no one pulled ads, no one was suspended or fired. Listeners laughed and begged for more, regardless of race, age, color or sexual preference.
Certainly taking on defenseless women who are ethnic student-athletes at a special time in their lives proved deeper than Imus could imagine. “I said a stupid, idiotic thing that hurt these kids. If I hadn’t have said it, we wouldn’t be here. So let’s stop whining about it.”
3 words and a hyphen. Four years ago, America heard its leader utter 16 words who no punctuation. Those 16 words were lies and secured public opinion to an endless and perhaps illegal war. "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussain recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The result: more than 3,000 Americans dead, tens of thousands physically and emotionally scarred for life.
Don Imus made a reckless remark. He lost his job. If you take Imus off the air, how should America's "group think" punish the sitting President?          4/12/07

R.E.M., Airplane Cell Phones & SUV TVs


Do you ever wake up and wonder if the whole world has gone mad? Do you ever feel like decisions made today are made without any perspective? Does it scare you to think the next generation will dissect our decisions and say "What were they thinking?"

From the moment airlines announced they were going to allow in-flight cell phone use, we knew it was time to take Amtrak. On the ground, it's difficult not to take a swing at someone invading your space with their cell phone conversation. How does an upper middle class woman, living in a posh suburb, enter a coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon and carry on a conversation loud enough for everyone else to hear? How does she continue when facing the stares of the rest of us. "Cheetos? You're kidding. She ate cheetos!" It got worse from there.

30,000 feet in the air, the prospect of hearing one-way conversations are worse. Imagine the one with the overly important businessman, or the laughter and anger from spouses, or the "Sex and the City" conversation from single lonely hearts. It would be enough to reach for the emergency door.

It wasn't until the cell phone industry said such calls would get in the way with their ground communication networks (lose a call lately?) that the in-flight babble idea crash landed. Big business told the FAA what was best after floating the trial balloon.

Enter Satellite TV for your gas guzzling minivan. Next year instead of rolling out vehicles that economically and enviornmentally appeal to Americans, Dodge and Chrysler will equip its fleet with Satellite TV. God help us.

Two screens for the kiddies to watch Nick, Disney and the Cartoon Network. One screen on your dash, so the driver can play DJ, switching between Sat-TV, Sat-Radio, the old fashioned AM-FM band and a navigation system. With all this high-tech on the dash, will there be any time to watch the road?

The end of civilization part comes in five waves.

First, the parents. Parents have less and less time to, well ahem, parent. Now they will give up "windsheild time" to find out what the heck is going on in their kids' lives.

Second, the children. Kids who have less and less time to, well ahem, be kids and grow up at a pace that doesn't resemble quick edits. Now kids will be watching and hearing fake life go by on a TV instead of watching and hearing real life roll by out their windows and in their minivans.

Third, the safety. How selfish for these new car owners to risk the safety of themselves and their own families. But what about the rest of us sitting at a red light, changing lanes, or getting crashed into by a minivan with Bugs Bunny music screaming from the back seat. Add the spike in car insurance rates and we have a pandemic.

Fourth, the enviornment. "Mom? Mom!!!!!! Take the long way home. I wanna see the end of Sponge Bob!" Ah the demands from this over-indulged, over-demanding demographic. So let's "take the long way home" and drive those 10-15 mile per hour guzzlers around and around, causing more emissions, more traffic and more road repairs.

Fifth, the national security. We are addicted to oil. President Bush said so. The more we drive, the more we depend on other countries. The more we depend on other countries, the more our enemies use oil dependency against us. Ask yourself, has the Iraq War been worth 3,000 lost Americans, tens of thousands of dead civilians, and $780 billion dollars in taxpayer money? Add those numbers to the price at the pump and you'll see you're paying a ton more than $2.50/gallon.

Instant gratification at the expense of vision for our lives and the planet. As the band R.E.M. sang, "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I--feel---fine."       3/30/07



Two events this week shine a light on Southern history, separated by one state and 150 years from today. In Florida, a Confederate flag hangs from a noose at a gallows in a Tallahassee museum display. Provocative to some. Insightful to others. Igniting the rage of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans for sure.  

The flag is part of a Black History Month exhibit. We've come a long way. After building fortunes and culture by exploiting blacks, the Confederate group's leader Bob Hurst says the display is "extremely offensive" thus "alienating a great deal of the people in this area." Offensive and alienating. Wonder how Hurst marked MLK Day? Chances are he didn't pay admission to the museum for a glimpse of other visual reminders of slavery: the Confederate flag shaped in a cross or displayed over a voting machine.  

Bob the Confederate says the display "teaches contempt for not only the Confederate flag but for everything associated with it. We still cherish our Southern heritage and history and culture." "Cherish" reveals the truth, that we haven't come a long way.

Four hours up the road in Atlanta, another symbolic message. Should the state of Georgia apologize for its role in slavery? A similiar resolution passed in Virginia last month. This one traces the history of slavery from arriving in Virginia, to the role of slavery in the Civil War, the lynchings of blacks and the Jim Crow laws which enforced segregation.

Lawmakers are having more problems with this "apology" resolution than they are with a bill sailing through to declare April as Confederate History and Heriage Month. Nothing screams Southern tourism dollars than a special Hallmark "Confederate Month" and just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. 

Awareness, atonement, reconciliation. The South is burning with these words. 

Let's hope if Georgia gets a Confederate Month, it looks further 270 miles south and invites a provocative art display as it's lynchpin icon.       3/17/07


 Golden Globes Kick Off Awards Season 

On the day the country celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not everyone had the pause, the poise or the perfection to show appropriate appreciation.


Thousands of cities started their day with prayer breakfasts. Schoolkids read passages from the "I Have a Dream" speech. Federal offices were closed out of respect. Even the NBA gave a traditional shout out to MLK.

So it was quite stunning to watch the Golden Globe awards on NBC on MLK night. In the course of 3 ours, vain actors stepped up to the podium one at a time and in bunches to accept praise for the work they accomplished in movies and television. Not once did any of them give thanks to Dr. King, even though many of them wouldn't have reached the stage without his vision, his leadership and his life and death.


It didn't matter if an award winner was black, white, or any of the other races fortunate enough to be front and center. They all benefitted from equal rights, civil rights and human rights. These actors and actresses live in excess, with money, fame and notoriety beyond their worth.

Hollywood showed in 3 hours how incredibly clueless it is to the rest of the world. Perhaps it's a new generation of actors and actresses. Stars so far removed from real suffering that they only know Dr. King as depicted in a movie. You know if the Sidney Poitier's of the world were present, Dr. King's memory would have been evoked and a guilt-felt standing ovation would have followed. But on this night, the veterans included Beatty and Hoffman, Eastwood and Scorsese. All white, but all who have also benefitted by diversity in the movie industry. Were all the publicists and handlers so caught up in the red carpet or keeping Brad Pitt and the "Friends" cast apart that no one remembered the rest of the nation was celebrating the life of a true legend.


And what does it say about minority stars in Hollywood? All of these winners gave thanks to co-stars and writers, agents and lawyers, big shots and not so big shots. But no thanks to Dr. King. Eddie Murphy wins. Forest Whitaker wins. Jennifer Hudson wins saying it was a dream. "Dreamgirls" wins. Yet not one African American evokes one word from the Dream man.


Perhaps its more a reflection of American society that Dr. King was forgotten in prime time. Maybe everyone's still asleep. After all, the nation only recently united against an unjust war in Iraq. It took opposition to become mainstream before the masses started to doubt a sitting President in time of war. There was a time when Hollywood stars wold be wearing ribbons or flags, mentioning peace and compassion at an awards ceremony. Hollywood was either too scared or too self-centered to be real. It's shameful that our modern day movie heroes forgot to read from an important script, whether it was from a teleprompter or from the heart.    1/16/07



Leave it to the Vatican for leaping into Amercans lives just a week after U.S. voters refused to listen to the religious right. On the same day the Vatican called the US-Mexico border fence "inhumane", American Bishops voted overwhelmingly to exclude gays and lesbians.


The Vatican can't have it both ways. They are both fences, but the Church says the physical one on the border is inhumne, while the societal one fine. A Vatican official is right to criticize the Bush plan to build 700 miles of security fence between the US and Mexico. It's money spent in the wrong place, sending the wrong signal. It's not a forward thinking solution to the problem. The fence treats one side as criminals, the other as the oppresser. The Vatican is right to liken the fence to the Berlin Wall, whose fall was celebrated as the mark of liberation and unity.  


So it's with great irony, humor and hypocricy that America's Bishops voted overwhelmingly to renew its barrier against 10% of the population- far more people than are treated "inhumanely" by the Bush fence.

The U.S. Catholic bishops renewed the teachings that call on gays and lesbian Catholics to remain celibate. The Bishops say they like gays, even call some of them friends, but please, please, please remember that "homosexual inclnations" are inherently disordered. So much for the humanity momentum or fence building. 


This is not to say that hetero-married couples were given a free pass. The Bishops called on the Laura and Rob Petry's to reject artificial contraception. The Church wants to see more little Petrys, Catholic ones.  


The Bishops guidelines, called “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” passed by a vote of 194 to 37. Wonder if those 37 answered an exit poll. So now get ready for the battle for Communion. Priests who will continue to deny the little waffer to violators. While more and more Americans become disillusioned with the Church. Last Tuesday, American voters told the right and the righteous to stay away.

It’s really disappointing,” Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA, said of the new guidelines. “At some point, the bishops have to realize that they speak in willful ignorance about what homosexuality is and about sexuality in general. They have to decide if they are moral teachers or simply employees of the Vatican."


The issues of immigration and gays may not have followed Americans into voting booths last week like Bush's Iraq War. But there was progress on both fronts. Democrats winning Congress signals a chance for meaningful immigration reform. And in Mexico City, where there are there fair share of Catholics, the Legislature voted yes to civil unions for gays, with the Mayor's signature expected to make it the law, despite the Vatican's disapproval.      11/15/06



Woods Repeats as British Open Champion 

Just when you thought the Bush Administration hit rock bottom, comes more chaos, spanning more countries, and threatening to dilute and endanger more American troops around the world. The latest Bush embarrassment centers on Lebanon, and the radical Hezbolah miltia which instigated Israel into an all-out offensive. Hezbollah is backed by Iran, a country led by Shiites. Iran's Shiite's used to be against Iraq's Sunnis, whose leader was then-President, turned hunger-striking inmate Saddam Hussain. As the United States toppled Hussain and the Sunnis, Mr. Bush propped up the Iraqi Shiites. Mr. 29% has lost any leverage he ever had in world diplomacy. The Iraqi Shiites and the Iranian Shiites, both in power, now have a common foe: Israel. Well done Mr. Bush, you finally unified two countries. 

It comes as no coincidence that the Mideast bombings erupted as Bush was in Europe for the failed G-8 summit. The G-8 was like organized crime gone bad. It was like bringing together the Five Families in "The Godfather" to devise a plan to divide territory and share the wealth and power amassed by the Corleone's. And just like in the movie, there was no breakthrough, only bloodshed and gangland murders.

Bush's call for world-wide democracy is now an all-out joke. Americans know it, laugh at late night comics and shake their heads each morning looking at the headlines. But this is dangerous laughter. The laughter dilutes the seriousness facing U.S. troops, now more hated than ever in Iraq, now more diluted than ever in Afghanistan, now facing illegals at the Mexican border and an all-out Israeli invasion in Lebanon.

The juxtaposition to all this was dramatic. While bombs drop in Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel, kinder, gentler virtues were seen in England and France. Two American athletes captured two prestigious titles on European soil, the British Open and Tour de France. Athletes live to make millions of dollars for hitting a golf ball and riding a bike. Soliders die to protect such freedoms.  On September 7, 1940, newsman Edward R. Murrow's dead panned delivery alerted the world that "London is burning." 95% of Americas could care less back then, and didn't want a war with Germany. Nearly four years later, Americans woke up and took on the Germans.

On June 6, 1944, Americans staged the largest seaborne invasion in history involving nearly three million troops crossing the English Channel from England to Normandy, France. Try that Tiger Woods or Floyd Landis. Today, American sports victories in England and France seem so unimportant compared with the unending web of death and destruction, and the new world order that has terror, religious sects and America's arrogance unifying our ememies.    7/23/06



News that violent crime is rising in the United States has civic leaders, community groups, neighborhoods and victims pointing to traditional root causes. But one connection to America's murderous summer is getting zero attention: the War in Iraq.

No doubt druggies, gang bangers and career criminals have plenty of ammo to commit crimes without anyone's help. But today America is self-defined as "A Nation at War." And in war, we kill or be killed. We mobilize weekend warriors, who signed up to serve in the National Guard for an assorted reasons: money, camaraderie, volunteerism. We debate the phoney pre-war build-up, snoop on Americans private lives from phones to banks, we "out" a noble CIA career spy at a time she was working on gaining real intel on Iran, the country throwing gas (and high oil prices) on the latest war in Lebanon

President Bush simplifies the world as either with us, or against us. It's the clearest battle line. Criminals in America's cities and heartland aren't watching pundits advancing their careers on 24 hour cable babble. But rest assured, criminals play off the war, the simplicity of life and death, kill or be killed. It is the tone Bush presents to the American public and the world at large; whether it's during campaign stops, United Nations lectures, visits with world leaders, or the endless Republican pulpits of the Senate and House.

In Washington, D.C., the pulpit of failed national leadership, there have been 14 murders in 13 days. Cops declared their city a crime emergency. Killers are using more guns, firing more rounds and leaving behind crime scenes that often stretch for blocks. Lt. Robert Glover says it's beyond reality. "I wish we could just wave a magic wand and say, 'Stop killing each other.' "

Cops see the latest FBI statistics, stats that show murders in the U.S. jumping almost 5 percent last year while overall violent crime was up 2.5 percent. The upsurge is among juveniles, the nation's young who are growing up with only the images and talk of war, with only the world view of us versus them, kill or be killed.  

Mayors and crime experts believe America is distracted by the war, that federal resources for crime fighting are being diverted to homeland security. The next generation will grade this one, for spending money on homeland security but diluting America's neighborhood security.

Crime fighting programs work as the 1990's proved. But the one difference is that the White House didn't commit a crime by taking it's eye off America's neighborhoods when wars, famine and terror struck around the world. Today, Bush sees it as black and white. You want money to go after terrorists aborad or terrorists at home? He's banking our future on his mis-guided crusade in Iraq, while more and more crime rises at home.      7/15/2006



A bizare bit of diplomacy played out at Graceland. Call it pay back for supporting the poorly conceived, poorly planned and poorly fought war in Iraq. Japan's Prime Minister in town on his farewell tour and President Bush comes up with an idea. Thankful for Japan's support of the war (without sending any Japanese troops) and knowing the Prime Minister is a crazed Elvis fan, the President tells his handlers "We're going to Graceland." Once again, Bush comes up with a bright idea and no one in his inner circle even blinks.


Let's be fair. Even world leaders who screw up need some downtime. In a week that saw the U.S. Supreme Court rule against Bush's tribunals and GITMO, more GIs accused of raping and killing innocent Iraqis, 60 dead in the worst attack since Iraq formed a new govrenment, the Tailiban expands into Somalia, Bin Laden's latest message in a strong voice, gas prices rise just in time for an American driving holiday (so much for "energy" Independence Day), everyone needs a little Viva Las Vegas.


No one should be surprised to see what followed. With the world running wild, Bush must have been wondering "What was I thinking?" With cameras rolling, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sings Elvis, hugs Elvis heirs, holds Elvis' wallet, wears the King's sunglasses, thrusts his hips and arms ala Elvis and injects Elvis lyrics into his idle chatter. Bush called the scene a "most unusual experience." He could have been talking about his entire Presidency and his war in Iraq.


The real oddity is Koizumi leaves office in September, and could visit Graceland at anytime. He could probably buy the whole tourist trap. Instead, Bush's idea leads to another embarrassment at a time when Mr. 29% is trying to build credibility. A former White House foreign policy aide was equally confused. "Frankly, I think the bureaucrats on both sides were a little bit perplexed, if not aghast" by the Graceland trip.


The White House is in such denial, in such need of a freaky photo op, so out of touch with America's psyche that they go along with the Bush plan to place the President in Graceland with a Prime Minister who is an Elvis groupie. Afterwards the President said, "I knew he loved Elvis. I didn't realize how much he loved Elvis."


No other President has ever toured Graceland while in office, while in a war, while approval plummeted to 29%, while Americans were dying by the day. And for good reason! The King's lifestyle of booze, drugs and women doesn't resemble the GOP platform at any of its conventions of the past, oh say, 200 years! 


Bush eventually cut off the Koizumi's performance, clapping the prime minister on the shoulder and firmly shaking his hand in a none-too-subtle message that the curtain was about to fall.


At some point Bush must have realized he screwed up again. In a moment reminiscent of September 11, 2001, when Bush continued to read to school kids even after knowing the 9/11 attacks were underway, Bush was down for the count. This time, the White House handlers woke him up. With Elvis still ringing in their ears, the Bush tour ran over to another Memphis landmark, the National Civil Rights Museum, next door to the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. There, the civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks showed the prime minister, Mr. Bush and Laura Bush to Room 306, where Dr. King died. The visit was so last-minute that Mr. Hooks was at a dental appointment Friday morning when he received a phone call from the White House, asking him to serve as guide.


By then, the Graceland idea that sounded good for a vacationing July 4th family, was clearly the latest piece of evidence that America is being run, not by a leader with vision, but by a fraternity flunky looking for some fun.


As Elvis would say, "Thank you. Thank you very much."           7/1/2006


What does it mean to be an American? Taken literally, it describes entire continents, from South America, Central AmericaMexico on up to Canada. But you don't hear natives of those countries calling themselves "Americans." That distinction, and song (God Bless America) belongs to U.S. citizens. Americans may have the title, but find themselves confused in defining their place in today's world. 

Americans like to repeat "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But what really sets us part? Is there one thing that truly unifies us? The past six years reflect an un-unified America. In that span, America held two close Presidential elections; one with a disputed outcome, the other with record turnout for both the winner and loser.

The Iraq War further divided the country. But today polls show a shift towards unity- the majority of Americans are fed up with the War, political corruption, and President Bush. Defining oneself by what it --isn't-- still leaves the question half answered: what does it mean to be an American?

The modern day definition is usually tied to wars. Americans stand for democracy, and will go to war to instill democracy in faraway lands. That makes us unique, if not imperial. But consider non-military ways we define ourselves.

Americans are allowed to take on our government. It's a "government of the people, by the people and for the people."  We speak freely in public, over the airwaves, face to face with leaders without fear of jail. We assemble outside walls of power and we take away the keys when leaders let us down.

But to the rest of the world, Americans are like the Emperor with no clothes. Our new economy is based on expanding our markets around the world. It doesn't matter if they don't eat McDonald's, don't wear dungarees, don't watch Sex and the City. Because of America's might, it's military success of long ago,

America's current leaders espouse our way or the highway. What gives America this air of superiority? Winning World Wars, landing the first man on the moon, beating the Soviet Union into extinction? It's good for the world that all those events happened, but America doesn't want to be defined by its military, does it?

Still at a loss for defining what it means to be an American? With a loss for words, it'll be up to the rest of the world to define who we are and that's not good. Americans need to take the time to have meaningful discussions on it's self-definition. Without dialogue, Americans will never reach an age of Enlightenment or an American Renaissance. Americans will remain content and isolated in their expensively designed entertainment centers. For them, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" will mean watching American Idol, voting on their cell phones and going to bed early, fat and fast asleep.      5/29/2006


A lifetime ago a Vice President of the United States was taking on a television character. Dan Quayle, the man who did more for the potato industry and spelling bees, dove head first into Murphy Brown, the liberal leaning TV newswoman played by Candace Bergen. Murphy was pregnant and didn't reveal who the father was. Elden the painter, Miles the News Executive, certainly not mild mannered-married Jim Dial. So with little else for a VP to do in those days, Quayle took on unwed mothers and made a national event out of Murphy's pending pregnancy.


Fast forward. Elden is dead, Bergen's a lawyer and Quayle is a blip in history. 


Today it's the musical trio The Dixie Chicks who once again have the ears of the nation. The leading Chick, Natalie Maines, took a shot across the bow 10 days before the U.S. invaded Iraq. It was a time of unease in the US, the halfway mark between 9/11 and the Bush re-election. It was a time when Americans favored the President as opposed to today's cross section of disgust in Bush. So it took Maines, of all people, to admit there's an elephant in the room, something unusual for a country musician.


On stage in London, Maines said, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Not that he's our President, just that he's from Texas! What followed dropped the Dixie Chicks from the hottest group to deadwood. Radio stations pulled their music, the Bush News Channel stirred the pot, and death threats were made against the singer. Within 2 days, Maines made a post on her website saying her words "were made in frustration" on the eve of war, and "one of the privledges of being an American" is freedom to speak your mind. Two more days later, Maines apologized to President Bush for being disrespectful of his office but hoped for an alternative "before children and American soliders' lives are lost." No such luck.


The Dixie Chicks' new CD hit the stores this week. "Taking the Long Way" doesn't make any apologies. Instead it strikes back at the heart of the blackballing the Chicks endured for the past 3 years.  Now that Mr. 29% is losing support even among his core conservatives, the musicians' words don't stand out as much today. It's as if Americans caught up to Maines and now see that their trust in their leaders was blind. Thousands of Americans are dead, tens of thousands are hurt and crippled as they return home with shattered lives and broken families. 


The reason Bush is at 29% and the Dixie Chicks have a re-birth is how they approached their situations. Where the Chicks met the war head on, the same cannot be said for Bush. The President's unrealistic approach to Iraq coaxed Americans to stay asleep. The devastating results serve as a wake up to the population that 30 years after Nixon resigned, the government is not always right. Bush sold the war on faulty intel, oversold victory onboard an aircraft carrier, and brought reporters before grand juries for telling the American public the truth (except for Judith Miller) about weapons that never existed, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, Guantanamo Bay, secret European torture prisons, no bid contracts to rebuild Iraq, and Iraq oil money to pay for the war. 


The Chicks are the latest musicians to release anti-war music. Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Pearl Jam and even Paul Simon are reflecting (or leading) the truth to Americans. Gauging the tenor in Washington, don't be surprised if Maines, Bruce or Neil are brought before a grand jury, asking where they received their material; was it leaked from government insiders.


Music, like many aspects of pop culture, are closer to the feelings and sensibilities of ordinary citizens. A generation ago, Murphy Brown vs. Dan Quayle did manage to raise the level of debate about unwed mothers and their real life struggles. Today, the voice of reason is not likely to go away, as long as details keeping coming out on Iraq, tensions rise with Iran and Osama Bin Laden keeps releasing videotapes to say "ha, ha, you can't catch me."      5/24/2006



Even if you could care less about pro sports, there's nothing like the excitement of the playoffs. After enduring 80 to 162 games, true blue sports addicts get to overdose this time of year. Their spouses ask incredulouly, "You mean the season isn't over YET?" Every night another playoff game or two, in both basketball and hockey. You may not care about either sport in the dead of winter or the warmth of spring. But you should. This is the best reality TV, with drama, muscle and heart.

In a span of 2 hours last night, three UNDERDOGS came within a shot of pulling off an upset trifecta. It's easy to think there's no need to watch these games. All year the favorites amassed the best team, the best record, the best superstars and the home court or home ice advantage. But something happens to the underdogs this time of year. The favorites get tight, the underdogs gain composure.

In Edmonton, the city that watched The Great Gretsky championship years, fans are waking up hoarse, again.

  Michael Peca

Their team was the last to make the playoffs, barely being good enough to play on. But the last team in, crushed the best team of all, the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. In the next round, Edmonton lost the first two games, but out of nowhere won the next four to advance again. Last night they clinched in front of their screaming fans. Wonder if they'll be the underdogs a third time.

Basketball followed the script too.

Cleveland has young superstar LeBron James. James would be finishing his sophomore year of college had he not entered the NBA straight from high school. After losing the first two games to far tougher Detroit, (Red Wing fans close your eyes!), Cleveland won three in row, including last night's shocker in front of Detroit's home crowd. It's the first time all season Detroit has lost three straight and now faces an elimination game in Cleveland tomorrow night.

In Texas, the battle doesn't include Bush or Cheney. San Antonio, though the favorite, has slept through their series with Dallas.

San Antonio competed in their very own Survivor episode last night, holding on for another day as Dallas missed a shot at the buzzer to win and advance. Dallas could wrap it up tonight in front of their home fans.

Underdogs work harder. Few of them coast into the playoffs, usually needing the final few weeks to make the post season. That means the last two weeks of their season is just like the playoffs. Win or go home. You COULD turn in early, but then you'll wake up, see the score and have regrets all day. That'll be your lesson for the next night. The playoffs is a time to lose sleep, and watch the unexpected happen. The next time someone tells you a favorite is a lock to win, take the odds and say to yourself, "That's why they play the game."    5/18/2006



Saudi Arabia, the land of oil and sand, is telling newspaper editors to knock it off. No, the Saudi press isn't asking probing questions at news conferences. No, they're not reporting on leaks from inside the Palace. And no, they're not making fun of their leader the way Jon Stewart franchises every Presidential mis-step.

In Saudi Arabia, it's about the women and man's power to control them. In a land where all media is either state-owned or state-run, women cannot vote, cannot run for municipal office and cannot drive. But there's another example that Saudi women have not 'come a long way baby'. 

Last night as President Bush was outlining his plan to tighten U.S. borders, Saudi King Abdullah sat face-to-face with his editors to share his breaking news. The King told editors to stop publishing pictures of women because the photos could lead young men astray. Obviously he hasn't caught American TV lately. Photos of women have sprouted up in Saudi papers in recent months, but the women are always shown wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf.

Not any more. The King said "One must think, 'do they want their daughter, their sister, or their wife to appear in this way'? Of course, no one would accept this. The youth are driven by emotion ... and sometimes they can be led astray. So, please, try to cut down on this." 

The King is considered a quiet reformer, having ventured away from Saudi conservatives since taking office in August. But he's clamping down. He also called on editors to stop printing stories that portray Saudi Arabia in a negative light. It's one thing for Americans to distrust Saudi oil moguls, the constant change in gas prices and the Saudi connection to 9/11. But it's another for Saudi citizens to get a birds eye view of themselves. "Don't write anything that can be harmful to the country. Some reporters, they want to stand out and they end up going too far and this should not be allowed to happen."

So what's worse in 2006. A far-away country, with deep ties to the United States, continuing to suppress the rights of women under the cloak of tradition. Or a government spying on reporters, to learn who's leaking information that turns out to repulse a majority of Americans and leads to the world lining up against our form of democracy?     5/16/06


 The West WingWest Wing

It's way too soon for President Bush to be managing his legacy. But this much is true: Bush will be remembered for unity in the days after 9/11, as the President who acted on wrong intel to justify an invasion of Iraq, as the President who watched Katrina from his TV while his cronies in charge squabbled like turkeys. That's no legacy, that's 29%. 


Things could change by January 20, 2009. Look what happened on Inauguration Day 1981 when Iran freed 52 American hostages. But one wonders what will Bush hear from those closest to him on Inauguration Day 2009, as he drives away from the Capitol having watched the next President get sworn in. Will Laura Bush tell him, "You did a lot of good, George, a lot of good." Insert Jed for George and you have one of the parting lines in the final episode of "The West Wing" last night. The show has been on the air for seven years, mirroring real time politics. From the final years of the Monica-induced Clinton term to the disputed 2000 election to 2004 when more Americans voted for the winner and loser of a Presidential election than ever before. 


"The West Wing" was decidedly left-leaning, with sanctimonious President Bartlet leading the nation, coaxing world leaders, and always asking his staff, "What's next?"


For President Bush, 'what's next' cold power his approval below 29%. Bush doesn't have to worry about "The West Wing"; he has to figure out 'The Right Wing.' Tonight he takes a step off the immigration ledge when he addresses the nation. Bush will call on the deployment of what's left of the the National Guard in the U.S. to patrol the US-Mexico border. The decision comes as conservatives see America spending like a drunken sailor, ignoring their mandate to make gay marriage illegal, and allowing amnesty for millions of illegals living in the U.S.


Liberals hit Bush on the war abroad, conservatives are killing Bush on everything else at home. "What's next?" Al ot more headaches and loneliness.


After the midterms, even party faithfuls will start distancing themselves from the President, in order to line up behind GOP Presidential candidates. There are no coattails so expect the GOP to treat Bush like a man n a closed elevator with bad breath. Pretty soon, Mr. Bush will find himself very much alone, as a lame duck, with only his friends and family beside him. It won't be long for Laura Bush to try to help salvage her husband's legacy. But with Bush's approval rating dipping below Tom Cruises', he already finds himself as lonely as the Maytag repairman.


In the final "West Wing," Bartlet did what every President has done at the 11th hour: pardon or commute the sentences of criminals. Nixon helped Hoffa, Ford pardoned Nixon, Carter had Patty Hearst, Reagan helped Steinbrenner, Bush aided Caspar Weinberger, and Clinton excused Marc Rich. In "The Right Wing," GW may have the chance to help Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff and perhaps even Barry Bonds. Between now and then, this President will have few mandates.

In the end, will anyone say of this President, "You did a lot of good, George, a lot of good."? As famous songwriter Jackson Browne wrote, "Time running out, time running out."      5/15/06






Weeks later, as Americans got past the publicity of Opening Day and the Bonds book, nothing has happened to protect baseball's integrity.


Today as Bonds approaches Ruth and then Aaron for the career home run record, it’s clearer than ever that he cheated to get there. Forget the Bonds spin of his superior conditioning and the witch hunt against him. The latest book by credible newspaper reporters shows the depth of Barry Bonds’ deceit. In Game of Shadows, Bonds turns to steroids because he’s jealous of the hero-worshipping surrounding Mark McGwire and his single season home run pursuit. So after that 1998 season and continuing the next few years, Bonds is taking a variety of illegal and undetectable drugs to add strength, improve eyesight, and smash McGwire’s homer run record. Bonds doesn’t dispute any of the book’s facts, but files suit for damaging Grand Jury testimony being leaked. Score one for a government leaker who must be a baseball fan.




While fellow sluggers embarrass themselves and the game in front of Congressional hearings, Bonds keeps a low profile last year, missing most of the season claiming “injury”. But it’s more likely Bonds wasn’t hurt. By not playing, Bonds avoided the spotlight, and hoped for the steroid dust to settle. The strategy was working until this spring.


Bonds has co-conspirators in this. His team and Major League baseball. The San Francisco Giants, saw him bulk up before the ’99 season. The Giants were a year from opening a new ballpark so the team had no interest in learning whether their superstar was a super-user. Then after the ballpark opened in 2000, the team did background checks on Bonds’ three personal trainers. The team did nothing when they found steroid links among a trainer, a gym and Bonds.


In real life, Bonds would have been fired by now. He’d have gone through the company’s employee assistance program, given some warnings, and then sent packing. But in baseball’s make-believe world, neither the Giants nor Major League Baseball will fire or suspend Bonds. There’s only one way to save the season from ruin. Barry Bonds should get “injured” again, then retire. And he should do it before he surpasses the Babe. 


On March 29, Mitchell said the investigation would be independent and include "all

persons who we believe have relevant information." The question now is: will Mitchell

get to those people before Bond's round the bases a few more times?            4/29/2006



They won everything in college football- the most games, the national championship and the Heisman Trophy.

Then why did Reggie Bush and Matt Leinhart fall from the top spots in the NFL draft? USC running back Reggie Bush fell from his year-long front runner status and was chosen by the second worst team, the New Orleans Saints. Did this week's scandal involving Bush, his relatives and a potential agent push Bush  from the top spot? Houston said no, but then why did the team ask Bush 20 questions about the scandal before the draft?

USC quarterback Matt Leinhart had to sit, and sit, and sit, through torturous picks, being passed over by Houston, New Orleans, Tennessee, New York, Green Bay, San Francisco. By the time Oakland passed on Leinhart with the #7 pick, Leinhart was AWOL from his party table as TV cameras checked in. Leinhart returns but is passed over again and again by Buffalo and Detroit.

90 minutes after the draft started, Leinhart is chosen by Arizona with the 10th pick. A new stadium, a state closest to his USC success, free-agent running back Edgerin James, WR Larry Fitzgerald, and QB-friendly coach Denny Green, who picked Moss and Culpepper while with Minnesota. 90 embarrassing minutes may turn out to be the best fit for the left coast lefty.

"I think it's a great situation for me," said Leinhart.