Monday, December 12, 2011

Spinoff of 'Fear Factor' in the works

I'm producing a reality show that I hope will be picked up as a midseason replacement. Because the television networks have been cutting costs, I'm putting my detective show on hold.

All the networks have passed on my crime show about an alcoholic bipolar homicide detective and his sexy young female partner who work the streets of South Central L.A. looking for murdered tourists. Even filming in Vancouver would be too expensive, so although CBS likes the pilot script, it's just too expensive to film, especially if I get my first choice, Christian Slater, who commands a high salary. ABC was initially interested. They wanted Pauly Shore for the lead, but he wanted too much money and his own trailer, so they passed.

It's all about the budget, so that's why I'm switching to reality shows. I'm pitching my new show, called "Dumb Factor," a spinoff of "Fear Factor," which ran on NBC from 2001-2006 and is returning tonight on the same network, which promises even scarier and more daredevil stunts. I've been trying to get the networks interested in my show for the last few years, but for some reason, they weren't interested. Now that "Fear Factor" is returning, it is the perfect opportunity for me to promote my show.

For $5,000, contestants will bungee-jump off a freeway overpass with an extremely frayed rope. The cars will run over the contestants until someone is stupid enough to get out and help, also getting splattered onto the pavement in slow-motion. This scenario will keep repeating until the commercial break. All that we'll see after the commercial will be a bunch of dead bodies and a massive pile-up of Camrys. The winners will now compete for the second stunt, jumping out of an airplane with a placebo parachute, after which an Internet poll will be taken for the viewer to guess the winner.

For those wanting to be a contestant, sign-ups will be on our website at . This show will be perfect for NBC's schedule, because they're in the process of canceling all scripted shows.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gingrich: The new Clown Prince of the GOP circus

The Republican presidential field is so screwed up and incompetent, even a buffoon like Rick Perry can climb to the top of the polls. And like Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann before him, a series of gaffes and just plain strange behavior has brought him crashing down.

After Perry stumbled, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, rose to the top. He came up with the bold “9-9-9” tax plan that was so stupid it almost made Perry look competent. Even though conservatives realized that his tax plan wouldn't work, Cain rode high in the polls just because he wasn't Mitt Romney, and people liked his straight talk. He continued to stay on top of the polls by the Republican voters, who seemed to be saying: “He's stupid, but so are we.”

Bold idiotic solutions and plain talk, however, could not keep Cain on top. After allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, Cain's promise to keep a “hands-on” approach to politics took on a whole new meaning.

Cain's fall from grace has caused the GOP to find another anybody-but-Mitt-Romney candidate. This time, it's former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. After surviving Trump, Bachmann, Perry and Cain, you would think that Romney might start capitalizing on all the craziness going on around him and begin to build the support needed to capture the nomination. After all, he is the candidate with the best match-up numbers against Obama.

Although Romney's been holding steady at or near the top of the polls, he is not liked by the base of his party. Many leaders in the GOP seem to want to throw the election rather than see Romney as president, and then try again in 2016. The main problem is that many Republicans are distrustful of his recent public reversals on gun control, abortion and gay rights. And then there's the health care overhaul law that he pushed through as governor of Massachusetts, which is similar to Obama's.

The rise of Gingrich is surprising because he was written off as recently as last spring. He is a polarizing figure, often controversial and prone to contradictory statements. Obama would love to run against Gingrich, who would most likely self-destruct over the course of a presidential campaign. However, it seems unlikely that his bid for the nomination will survive the close inspection given a newly appointed front-runner. That's been the problem for the other GOP rejects.

The common thread running through this highly unusual campaign season has been the series of gaffes, inconsistencies, and inept behavior by all the candidates, even though Romney kept the gaffes to a minimum. And although Romney may look presidential, his proclivity to change sides on seemingly every issue has not helped his cause. The only reason Romney has remained consistently near the top of the polls is because he has stayed under the radar. In other words, he has had solid debate performances and no meltdowns regarding the location of Libya or how many women he has groped.

Gingrich has a few personal and political problems to overcome. Most recently, reports have surfaced that he received $1.6 million in political consulting fees from the embattled mortgage giant Freddie Mac, one of his favorite targets on the campaign trail. However, there is one major difference between Gingrich and the other challengers to Romney. He has been around for a long time, and he may be many things, not all of them good. But politically inept definitely isn't one of them, which is what separates Gingrich from Bachmann, Cain, et al.

Being the front-runner has put a spotlight on Gingrich's stance on immigration, an issue he raised during the recent GOP debate. He broke from the majority of his party when he called for “humane” treatment for otherwise law-abiding immigrants who have been in the United States for decades, establishing deep family and community ties.

The GOP response to Gingrich's compassionate position on immigration was swift, and some conservatives asserted that he had wounded his candidacy, perhaps fatally. The position Gingrich took on immigration has proven to be political risky for Republicans trying to appeal to the party's conservative base. Rick Perry had to apologize for saying that critics of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants “did not have a heart”. So much for compassion. There doesn't seem to be much room for that in the Republican party.

Gingrich may have upset his base, but he's not stupid, and he has stood by his position, with no apologies. What looked at first like a debate gaffe has, on closer inspection, seemed to be a calculated tactic to draw a contrast with Romney, who has been tough on immigration while running for president, but not so much when he wasn't. While Romney is taking the politically expedient immigration stance, Gingrich's aides say that he was saying the same thing at forums and town halls long before he was running for president.

It's getting late in the campaign season – just a month-and-a-half remain until the Iowa caucuses – so it's possible that the weakest field of candidates in memory may come down to Romney and Gingrich.

If Gingrich is to have any chance, he needs to transform his image. He's been married three times, and some Republicans think that this alone could disqualify him. But there are also the contradictions and reversals in his record, including past support for an individual health insurance mandate and for government action to combat climate change. These things make him seem just as inconsistent as Romney, the notorious flip-flopper. And Gingrich isn't helping himself by waffling on the nature of his services to Freddie Mac, where he received the aforementioned $1.6 million for doing nothing more than lending his name for political purposes.

Even with his excess baggage, Gingrich is the only candidate to seriously challenge Romney who doesn't seem deranged or just plain stupid. He's able to give a speech without sounding drunk, unlike Perry, and can hold his own at a debate, unlike Perry and just about everyone else. So Gingrich may have a chance at the nomination, unlike the previous front-runners who have crashed and burned.

Obama is vulnerable in 2012 because of the economy, and there is little expectation that it will improve significantly. The President, however, has the advantage of being the incumbent, has had recent success in foreign policy, and has been looking more presidential since last summer's debt ceiling debacle. The fact that the polls show the actual candidates scoring lower than a “generic” Republican when matched against Obama shows that maybe the Republicans just don't have a qualified candidate running.

While the Republican party continues to lose credibility with every debate, Obama continues to do his job quietly and without much fanfare. The fact that he's been blocked by Congress on pretty much every major piece of legislation is bad for the country, but the approval rating for Congress is in single-digit territory, and that's a good sign for Obama. Although his own ratings are not great, the fact that the Republican party has failed to come up with a nominee who is a viable alternative is good news indeed for Obama.

While Obama waits for Gingrich to push the self-destruct button – as have all the previous Republican front-runners – he is waiting for Romney to be the last man standing, and is preparing for that. Is Gingrich the Clown Prince of the GOP circus, or is he a contender? Regardless of the answer, the President can relax and enjoy his holiday season knowing that the Republican Party may have run out of options.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

GOP hijinks ensue: Election is Obama's to lose

The 2012 election is Obama's to lose: he's running against himself. The GOP field of candidates is looking a lot like they were turned down by the Society of Village Idiots for being too idiotic.

Obama has proven to be skilled at dealing with matters concerning foreign affairs. After eliminating Osama bin Laden, Obama continued his reign of terror on the terrorists by eliminating a bunch of bad guys with little more than unmanned Predator drones and a few SEAL Team 6 members. Killing terrorists with surgical precision is one thing, but fixing the economy can be more problematic.

Conventional wisdom would have Obama losing because of the slow pace of the country's economic recovery. But conventional wisdom does not seem to apply, since the GOP candidates are not conventional, nor do they have any wisdom.

The current state of the GOP’s idiot parade can be traced back to Donald Trump, who ran a fake campaign to boost the ratings of his reality TV show, and based the whole charade on promising to reveal Obama's true birthplace, which he assured was somewhere very far away.

Before dropping out of a race in which he wasn’t actually running, Trump left us with the term “birther”, which should have been his last contribution to society. However, Trump has turned out to be the clown prince of the GOP, giving political advice to all GOP candidates who pass through New York, or wherever Trump happens to own a hotel. Most recently, Trump has come to the defense of Herman Cain, suggesting that Cain probably settled the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by at least three women to avoid legal fees.

The sexual harassment charges against Cain date back to the time when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association, leading many to wonder what the head of the National Restaurant Association is doing running for president. The fact that Cain was leading in many GOP polls prior to the allegations, and his numbers haven't changed as a result, shows that either the pollsters are drunk or that the voters don't care or believe the allegations, and are also drunk.

Since the harassment allegations, Cain is bringing in wads of cash, even more than before, in addition to staying on top of the polls. The sex scandal has evidently given Cain the credibility to call himself a politician. Cain has never actually been elected to public office, a fact that might be working in his favor. The voters seem to like his straight talk, even though his political ideas are laughable. His “9-9-9” tax plan was devised by some guy who couldn't pass the CPA exam, and it has been criticized by pretty much everybody. Cain has also espoused some radical views regarding electrified fences, abortion, and negotiating with terrorists, only to say that he was “just joking” when confronted with specifics.

Rick Perry came into the race late and jumped to the top of the polls. After plummeting back to earth when people tried to understand what he was saying, he was polling as low as single digits. Trying to get things back on track, Perry recently revived the “birther” issue. When he realized this was not getting him anywhere in the polls, Perry explained that he was “just having some fun with Donald Trump”.

Perry has jumped back into double figures in the polls, and is now running a solid third behind Cain and Mitt Romney. His sanity again came into question a few weeks ago, however, when he delivered a bizarre speech in New Hampshire, appearing to be drunk or stoned (or both). Comedians had a field day, but it's not really that funny when you think that this man was once leading in the race for the GOP nomination. He was a heartbeat away from being trounced by Obama, scaring the bejeebers out of some Republicans who know that Perry can't stand up to the rigors of a presidential campaign (i.e. debating Obama). As it stands, Perry is running third in most polls, so it's too early to count him out.

Perry could get the nomination because Republican voters might just give up and decide that if they have no qualified candidate, a debate between Obama and Perry would have as much entertainment value as a Charlie Sheen meltdown. I am definitely registering as a Republican for this election so I can vote for Perry, even though I've been a Democrat my entire adult life (except for the time I was in college and got stoned and went out and registered for the “Birthday” Party).

The most logical choice to be the GOP contender against Obama is Mitt Romney. He's in a statistical tie with Cain in most polls, with Perry a distant third, but in the end he'll probably win the nomination because he's the most presidential. Just because he looks like a president, however, doesn't mean he can win the nomination. First of all, conservatives have been reluctant to rally behind Romney, feeling that he's just too moderate for the Tea Party nut jobs who have hijacked the Republican Party. They cite the statewide healthcare plan similar to the Obama's national plan that Romney pushed through as governor of Massachusetts.

If Romney does win the nomination, Obama will be helped by the disruption caused by the Tea Party, in addition to the fact that Romney is well known for changing positions whenever it's politically expedient. To win, Romney will have to convince voters that he's not a complete and utter hypocrite.

In addition to the top three candidates, Michele Bachmann leads the pack in insanity and ridiculousness, but is at the bottom of the pack in IQ. The queen of the Tea Party has never been one to care about accuracy. She knows that telling her base what they want to hear will get her further than telling them the truth. Bachmann makes things up as she goes along, whether it’s about American history, the economy, or President Obama.

“Under Barack Obama's watch, we have expended $805 billion to liberate the people of Iraq and, more importantly, 4400 lives...He's been a disaster on foreign policy,” Bachmann told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a recent interview. The fact that George Bush started the war, not Obama, is not important to Bachmann, although she's correct about it being a disaster. This is just one example of how Bachmann can distort the truth either because she's ignorant or she just wants to distort the truth because she thinks that it will get her votes.

Bachmann isn't the only Republican making things up as she goes along, to which Mitt Romney will attest every time he changes his mind on an issue. And while flip-flopper Romney continues to accuse Perry of flip-flopping, bit player Rick Santorum continues to hammer home his homophobic ideas and radical thinking, outlining a social policy reported this week in the Des Moines Register that would include reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell,” pursuing a constitutional ban on abortion, enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act and abolishing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which he obviously finds too liberal-minded.

That leaves Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, who have enjoyed brief moments of weirdness and unintended lapses into comedy when left without their teleprompters, and of course Newt Gingrich, who is obviously going through the motions in order to increase his speaking fees.

With unemployment hovering around 9 percent and the economy in the doldrums, despite Obama's stimulus measures, it would seem that 2012 will not be the year of the incumbent. But how can anyone from this odd group of Republicans win? It is a reassuring thought for liberals, but also a potentially complacent and catastrophic one. Republicans do not have to win in 2012. They just have to watch Obama lose. If you stop looking at the obvious Republican weaknesses and instead look at Obama's problems, then the picture for 2012 doesn't look good for the Democrats. There will be only one winner if Obama loses, and that would be a Republican.

On the other hand, most voters realize that Obama inherited an economic catastrophe that could not conceivably be fixed in a single term. If the economy continues to improve even a little, and Obama can assure the electorate that he is the one to continue that trend, the White House will remain his.

Democrats are eying the GOP's current pathetic situation, in which Bachmann sees Hurricane Irene as a sign from God on government spending, Perry questions evolution, Romney changes his position more than his underwear, and the number of women accusing Cain of sexual harassment is sure to reach nine. But the Democrats in no way feel that victory is assured. The GOP does not have to win the White House, Obama has to give it away. And that won't be an easy thing, given the lack of a qualified opponent on the GOP side.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Obama gets the bad guys. Will he get the votes?

President Obama is quite efficient when he doesn't have to deal with Republican obstructionism. He didn't have to go to Congress to get permission to take out Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and other al Qaeda associates. When it comes to foreign affairs, the President is piling up mounting successes, and Moammar Gadhafi's death is further vindication of Obama's style of warfare.

Now Obama has announced the end of the war in Iraq, with all troops returning home by the end of the year. This is a popular move in an election year, and of course the Republicans are accusing Obama of playing politics. Although the political dividends are probably insignificant, being overshadowed by the economy, Obama can at least take credit for bringing this $1 trillion war that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders to an end. It should be remembered that Obama's opponents in 2008, including Hillary Clinton, had all voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2002. Obama was opposed to this war from the beginning.

Presidents can pretty much carry out foreign policy without congressional approval. The President has wide latitude in declaring war and other matters of national security. Although the Constitution says otherwise, the President does what he wants anyway. Imagine a protracted fight with Republicans in Congress about the best method of tracking down bin Laden. Obama's method worked just fine, even though members of his staff had warned him that such a strike was too risky. If he had failed, Obama's political career would have been toast. He took the courageous course. It worked, and the rest is history.

I can only imagine how much Obama could accomplish if he handled domestic issues the same as he handles matters of war. The Founding Fathers had a reason for making sure that there was a balance of power, but they couldn't have foreseen the insanity of what passes for politics today. As for the economic impact of the war, the Obama style of sending in drones instead of troops seems to be working, and at a relatively cheap price. And did we really need to spend $1 trillion in Iraq? Conservatives don't want to admit that this type of spending is what got us into this economic mess in the first place.

We paid a steep price in Iraq. There is no justification for the cost, not just financial, but in lives lost and troops injured. In the case of Gadhafi, a NATO warplane or U.S. drone is believed to have fired on his convoy outside his hometown of Sirte, allowing rebel fighters to capture him. “In this case, America spent $2 billion total and didn't lose a single life,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past.”

Obama's foreign policy successes cannot be overlooked, no matter how hard his Republican detractors try to twist and distort the facts. But Obama's chances in 2012 hinge largely on the economy. Although the Republicans want him to be perceived as inept and lacking experience, it's hard not to blame our current economic problems on the complete lack of cooperation from the likes of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the idiocy of the Tea Party movement.

Even though the focus of the next election will be on the economy, the Republican candidates will look pretty silly as they continue to label Obama weak on national security. Obama's solid leadership in foreign affairs may not be the biggest re-election topic, but it could be enough to put him over the top, given the weakness and utter lack of intelligence of the opposition. Compared to Obama, the GOP candidates look like contestants on “The Price Is Right”, only without the funny hats.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Election 2012: Why the GOP is D.O.A.

It might not look like it at the moment, but President Obama has a pretty easy path to victory in 2012. All he has to do is sit back and wait for the Republican Party's slapstick band of weirdos, religious fanatics, and angry white racists driven mad seeing a black man in the White House, implode from the weight of its own ridiculousness.

Recent polls have shown that a generic Republican candidate would beat Obama, but the problem with the current crop of GOP candidates is that they are anything but generic. When Ron Paul is your sanest candidate, you know your party is in trouble.

The Republican Party had a major credibility problem even before Donald Trump claimed that Obama was not born in the U.S. and demanded to see his birth certificate. But as the media followed Trump's every idiotic word, most of his party just agreed with him, and the GOP looked like a bunch of racist lunatics. When Trump claimed that Obama wasn't smart enough to get into an Ivy League college, but only got there because of affirmative action, the rest of the party watched and incredibly seemed to agree. This bolstered the logical theory that the Republicans are indeed a bunch of racist idiots, driven mad by a black man more intelligent, articulate and even-tempered than any of their own misguided and bizarre leaders.

Not only did the GOP as a whole fail to dismiss any of this birth certificate outlandishness, but had no comment on candidates who raised the specter of Sharia law in America or dismissed global warming as a socialist plot.

The fact that political lightweight Rick Perry is the newest and best GOP choice sums up the state of the party. Perry has been described as a “stupid George Bush”, but the median IQ of the rest of the GOP hopefuls falls somewhere between Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.

Although a bit cartoonish, Ron Paul is very articulate, and has attracted somewhat of a cult following. And he is looking pretty smart these days, when matched against the rest of the GOP airheads. However, he has shown some very radical views. For example, his national defense strategy is to allow Iran to have their nuclear weapons because everyone else has them. The reasoning is obviously that the U.S. will always have more nuclear weapons than Iran, so that if they threatened us, we could simply blow them off the map. Paul does have a good point, though. We need to decrease our military spending and think more about our own economy. Obama knows this, but his views are less extreme than Paul's, and he was able to kill Osama bin Laden while simultaneously reducing our troop levels in Afghanistan.

Obama has taken a cautious, level-headed approach to national security, as he has with the rest of his presidential decisions, including the economic ones. You may agree with him or not, but considering the gridlock in Washington caused by the Tea Party and the resistance of the more moderate Republican base to stand up to them, it's amazing that Obama has been able to get anything done at all. The budget negotiations were a disaster, but they weren't Obama's disaster. In November of next year, when voters are alone in the booth, they will remember the chaos caused by a few right-wing nut jobs who were not willing to compromise, default or no default.

According to his Web site, Ron Paul is “America's leading voice for limited, constitutional government, low taxes, and free markets”. Once a fringe candidate, Paul's views are becoming more popular with some on the right simply because they are exactly the opposite of the Democratic positions. The fact that Paul has consistently stuck to his views without wavering sets him apart from the rest of the GOP field, many of whom take whatever positions are popular with their base at any given moment. Front runner Mitt Romney, for example, has turned political flip-flopping into an art form.

It would be an entertaining race if the colorful limited government advocate Paul was the GOP candidate, and Democrats would wholeheartedly approve. But we all know that won't happen, so the focus right now is on Romney and intellectually challenged Rick Perry, who Republican strategist Alex Castellanos says "benefits from an uncluttered mind". Besides not being very sharp on topics outside his comfort zone, particularly foreign policy, Perry's problems are obvious, starting with the fact that he's being compared to Bush. Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, winner of the meaningless Iowa Straw Poll, is ahead in many opinion polls, but Republican insiders know that she can't win the general election. First of all, her political views are based on religious extremism and not the facts, and second, she's a Tea Party favorite.

Of all the candidates, Romney looks the most presidential, but sounds the least presidential, at least from the GOP standpoint. Many in the Republican establishment are furious that Romney enacted a health care law in Massachusetts that required people to buy insurance, which was similar to Obama's plan. Romney said that his plan was not like the national law because it applied only to his state. In fact, it was exactly like the national law, expanded to all the states. Romney's consistent inconsistency is why the Democrats have said that he's not pro-choice, he's multiple choice.

The recent debt ceiling negotiation fiasco and subsequent credit rating downgrade seemed to be an indication that Obama is in trouble. Neither party was happy with the deal, and each party blamed the other for the way things were mishandled. But Standard and Poor's, the organization responsible for lowering the credit rating, blamed the GOP for causing it, at the same time the GOP was blaming the Democrats.

Americans are fed up with both parties, and politicians in general, but Obama's path to a second term is starting to look pretty good. The Republican Party is in disarray, and the nuttiness of the candidates compounds the fact that the party is being brought down by the Tea Party. This is not only causing political infighting, but is making the voting public aware just how far to the right the party has moved and how unpopular its positions have become. Not only are they talking about tax cuts for the rich, but cuts to Medicare, deregulating Wall Street and greenhouse gas pollution.

People are unhappy with the current political climate, but the majority don't blame Obama, and they sure as hell don't want to put the Republicans back in charge. Let's look at it this way: the odds are that the GOP will retain control of the House of Representatives next year, and they could theoretically win control of the Senate, given the number of seats up for grabs in 2012. If that happens, a Republican presidential victory would give them total control of the Federal government. Considering that nobody wants the Tea Party running the country, that may be the best argument the Democrats have for keeping Obama in the White House.

Even if the Republican Party could find a candidate more qualified than the current group of oddballs, the Tea Party has already done its damage. In addition, the far left of the Democratic Party may not like the concessions that Obama has had to give to the Republicans, but the liberal criticism aimed at him will position him well with moderate and independent voters, much as President Clinton was helped in his 1996 campaign against Republican Bob Dole. In that case, Clinton engaged in “triangulation”, a strategy by which he positioned himself as a moderate centrist. Clinton was aware that winning over the independent voters was the key to winning the election.

Once the debt crisis is safely in the rear-view mirror, Obama will be able to bring sanity back into vogue, and his critics on the left will at least vote for him, considering that he's their only real choice. By being cautious and level-headed, he has been able to compromise, even with the right-wing Tea Party stinking up the process. Obama will win in 2012 because the Democrats will unite behind him, independents will jump into his corner, and Republicans will split their loyalties between the moronic Tea Party and their more moderate lunatic fringe.

It doesn't matter whether Obama wins or the Republicans lose, it will be the same result. And it doesn't matter how many Democrats ubiquitous candidate Sarah Palin has in her crosshairs. When it comes to the 2012 presidential race, the GOP is D.O.A.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Debt Deal Done- 'It's Better Than Nothing'

A default was averted today when President Obama, with no fanfare, signed the debt ceiling bill into law shortly after it passed the Senate on Tuesday. Compromise was achieved, but at what price?

In a recent Washington Post/Pew Research poll, Americans put their disgust into words. The most common description was “ridiculous”, followed by “disgusting” and “stupid”. No, they weren't talking about Glenn Beck. They were talking about the budget negotiations that led up to the bizarre budget compromise.

If the debt debate proved one thing to America, it's that Washington is broken, and in need of some serious fixing. And there has been damage to the reputation of pretty much everyone in Washington.

The controversy was somewhat contrived to begin with. First of all, we call it a “debt ceiling”, but it's continually being raised. The problem this time, however, is that many Republicans, led by the right-wing Tea Party nut jobs, decided that they didn't want to compromise, default or no default.

In his televised address to the nation on July 25th, President Obama pointed out that raising the debt ceiling in America is a routine matter. “Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every President has signed it,” Obama said in his speech. “President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times. And we have to do it by next Tuesday, August 2nd, or else we won't be able to pay all of our bills.”

Obama went to Harvard, so I'm sure that he can add. And he met the August 2nd deadline with a few hours to spare, so I guess we can now pay all of our bills. But that's the problem. The debt ceiling was raised, but when it comes to the national debt, we're talking trillions. It's rising at a staggering $3.8 billion a day, so you would think we would have come up with a good way to do pay our bills by, for instance, increasing revenue in addition to cutting spending. This is where it gets confusing.

The bill allows Obama to increase the borrowing limit by $400 billion immediately and mandates an additional $917 billion in cuts over the next decade. In addition, Obama can raise the limit another $500 billion later, and only be blocked if Congress votes to disapprove, by offering what the legislation oddly describes as "a joint resolution of disapproval". Since Congress would certainly disapprove and Obama would be certain to veto, thereby guaranteeing a debt limit increase, why is this bizarre charade necessary anyway, other than to score political points?

Then there's the “super committee”, a new 12-member group, split equally among Democrats and Republicans, which would have the authority to recommend another $1.5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling, and is expected to convene in the fall. Whether such a committee is actually constitutional is another matter, but if the committee fails to approve the cuts, the President can still raise the debt ceiling, but only by an additional $1.2 trillion. However, that would result in cuts split evenly between defense and non-defense programs, unless some other “as yet not agreed upon” budget measure can be agreed upon.

In addition to increasing the debt ceiling, the "super committee" would also theoretically have the power to raise taxes. Since this "bipartisan" committee would consist of six hand-picked anti-tax Republicans, this would seem highly unlikely. Of course, there's the matter of the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts which expire at the end of 2012. But more about that later.

If this whole convoluted budget deal sounds confusing, it is. But one thing stands out: Republicans have insisted all along on budget cuts only, without any new revenue. And that, in a nutshell, is what they got. How do you reduce this enormous budget deficit without any new revenue? Well, I'm not a Republican, so I can't answer that.

The problem with all of this is that the national debt is over $14 trillion, so a few billion here or there may add up to a trillion or two, but it won't make much difference in balancing the budget in the long run.

What is so wrong with higher taxes on the wealthy, which got the economy back on track under President Clinton's administration in the 1990s? How about taking away those silly farm subsidies for rich people with too much land? Or taxes on corporations with million-dollar loopholes? And the list goes on and on, but sadly, the Republican party is more intent on taking away college grants for poor students than on getting the rich to pay their share. So far, college grants are off the table, but they may be among the first programs to go, since the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthy.

The one good thing to come out this debt fiasco is that there is no default. Confidence in our economy has been damaged, especially internationally, by this entire spectacle. But now we have to really concentrate on creating an environment under which businesses feel confident enough to invest and ultimately to hire. Under the new compromise, however, this may be impossible. Budget cuts and no new revenue lead to less jobs, but the GOP wants us to believe otherwise.

Both Republicans and Democrats have said that they are not happy with the bill, but both sides say it was necessary to avert the disaster of a default. The prevailing wisdom is that it's “better than nothing”. And that about sums up the problems with the political system in America today.

President Obama's original intention was for a “clean”, unencumbered bill to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans, goaded on by the lunatic Tea Party fringe group, said no. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, had to fall in line with the rest of his party of head cases and special-interest candidates and, as well-intentioned as Boehner may have seemed, he never made much economic sense.

Although it may seem to some people as if Obama is the loser in all this, he was still able to keep the core institutions intact - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, the deal allows Obama to focus on the 2012 election without the distraction created by another imminent default. In the end, the majority of Americans are fed up with the dysfunction of the political process as a whole, and they blame Republicans and Democrats alike. Obama's approval ratings are low, but right now, so are the approval ratings of pretty much everyone in Washington.

The debt deal is burdened by the fact that deficit reduction in the middle of a severe recession is not only a stupid idea, but a dangerous one. Reducing the deficit in a period of high unemployment will harm the economy by putting more people out of work and decreasing consumer demand.

Getting back to the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2012, this could be Obama's most powerful weapon. And therein lies Obama’s opportunity. With Republicans so focused on keeping the Bush tax cuts alive, the President could use another extension to protect the Democrats' most cherished programs when the congressional "super committee" deliberates. If Obama dangles the possibility of extending some or all of the Bush tax cuts in front of the recalcitrant committee members, he could not only gain significant leverage to influence the outcome of the committee, but he could also position himself well for the election in 2012. In this case, he would be seen as an honest, intelligent, and moderate broker between the extremes of both parties.

It was clear to all rational people that budget cuts had to at least be matched by new revenue. Obama was left with a debt crisis and since time had run out, he had no choice but to compromise.

We can always ask what would have happened had Obama refused to budge. But he wasn't willing to take that chance, and that's probably for the best. What we got was “better than nothing.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New GOP plan for debt limit: Pass the buck

After months of fighting about it, Senate Republicans today proposed allowing President Obama to go ahead and raise the debt ceiling to avoid a first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The unusual proposal to empower the president to unilaterally increase the nation's debt limit was the brainchild of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell said he reluctantly offered the bizarre proposal because it has become clear the negotiations with Obama are not going anywhere. The Republican plan would require Obama to submit spending cuts along with his borrowing requests, but unlike the automatic increase in the debt limit, they wouldn't automatically take effect.

The goal of the GOP has always been to make Obama a one-term president. The debt ceiling debate is part of the Republican party's never-ending hunt for any issue that can embarrass and ultimately weaken the Obama presidency.

This current maneuver is the GOP's way of trying to label this Obama's debt, not America's debt. They're saying: "It's not our problem. It's your problem." The Republicans apparently can't deal with the debt, so they are finding new and creative ways to weasel out of the issue.

With all the attacks on the president over the debt limit increase - with all the acrimony and talk that the president shows no leadership - when the president says we're at a real critical point, the Republican party passes the buck. Now they want to change the rules, to make adjustments so that Obama can do the dirty work without any Republican vote. It's turned into a convoluted process that is designed to try to force the president to play a game with them that I don't think the American people are falling for. Does the GOP really think the American people are that stupid?

If this whole scenario seems bizarre, well it is. Although this proposed throwing in of the hat by McConnell may not survive the heat from the right, if it does, it has enormous economic and political implications. Either way, it is an open and cynical admission by the Republican leadership that their double talk and backtracking on this issue is typical of their idea of business as usual. And in the case of the Republican party, the point is to try and pin the blame for the fallout of the debt crisis on someone else, specifically Obama. This is not only bad politics, it's potentially political suicide. Let's see how this thing plays out. I'm betting not good for the Republican party.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Default is not an option. Is the GOP stupid enough to think it is?

Just minutes before a major White House meeting begins over the debt ceiling negotiations, it's my bet that Republicans will be unwilling to accept revenue-raising measures in exchange for major spending cuts and entitlement reforms. At least not for now.

The debt ceiling deadline is August 2nd, and a U.S. debt default could “shock” and destabilize the entire global economy. That's what International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde warned today on ABC's “This Week” news program. She emphasized that she can not imagine this actually happening.

A default would be bad for everybody, especially the U.S. economy. If no agreement is reached by the deadline, the U.S. dollar may plummet and interest rates could skyrocket. The Federal Government says just a 1% rise in interest rates could cost taxpayers $973 billion over the next 10 years. Obviously, no one wants that to happen, not even Republicans - at least not any sane Republicans.

The Republican party, however, looks anything but sane. The 2012 GOP race is headed by Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. Bachmann, who is now the official Iowa frontrunner, is known for her many factual inaccuracies. Her latest gaffe: confusing actor John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne party.

Donald Trump distracted the electorate for months while amazingly waging a fake campaign based on the premise that Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen. The Tea Party has hijacked some of the headlines from somewhat normal people like Mitt Romney, but Romney's troubles are just beginning.

Although Romney is ecstatic that his main competition seems to be Bachmann, his real problem is that although it is a good strategy for him to lay low and continue to let Bachmann make herself look like an idiot, eventually he will have to stand on his own merits. So far he's been spending most of his time distancing himself from the one program that he accomplished that got something done: the Massachusetts health care reform. The fact that Obama's plan is similar to Romney's original plan would be good for Romney if he was a Democrat, but this and other inconsistencies in Romney's record make him a good bet to lose in a general election against Obama.

Making the Republican party look even worse is not just potential offbeat candidates like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry, who has gone on the record as saying he would have Texas secede from the U.S. The Republican party now has to deal with the embarrassment of David Duke, the white supremacist who says he's considering throwing his hat in the ring.

The economy as a whole is a dark cloud hanging over the White House and the reelection, and they know that. But the Democrats are pointing out that they were handed a disastrous economy by the last administration, and they are taking steps to correct it. The first step is solving the debt crisis, and House Speaker John Boehner and Congressional Republicans are standing in the way. Talks broke off Saturday night over the issue of tax hikes. Republicans want tax hikes off the table, and as negotiations begin again tonight, Obama has made clear he will not budge on this issue. So what we have left is continued gridlock, and with time running out.

So far, the world has not lost faith in the U.S. economy. Our stock markets are strong and our companies continue to thrive. But as this dangerous gridlock grinds Washington to a standstill, it is easy to see the American public becoming fed up with talk-radio rhetoric and political grandstanding. The Republicans seem intent on playing games with the creditworthiness of America, and this is not only a terrible policy, but also political suicide.

Even before the lastest shocking employment numbers, recent polls showed Obama's approval ratings plummeting when it comes to creating jobs. According to a June Bloomberg poll, Obama had a dismal 38% approval rating, with 57% disapproving. That can only encourage Republican presidential candidates, and they have indeed pounced on these job numbers with ads claiming “things have gone from bad to much worse,” and other variations of this theme.

Normally, with the economy in such disarray, Obama would seem easily beatable. But the Republican party has put together a rogues gallery of weird candidates, from Trump to Bachmann, all the way to the possible candidacy of well known racist David Duke.

The debt negotiations won't end today, but they will end. It is not only in the interests of the U.S., but the rest of the world. The August 2nd deadline is fast approaching and default is not an option. And when it's all over, Obama will continue his steady approach to governing the country, and the Republicans will be trying to disassociate themselves from right wing nutjobs like David Duke.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Did Weiner pull out too soon?

It's a sad day for comedians everywhere. After three weeks of his name being the punchline for everyone from late-night comedians to bloggers and twitterers, Anthony Weiner resigned from the House of Representatives Thursday at one of the most bizarre press conferences ever.

Giving his short, four-minute resignation speech at the same senior center in New York where he began his career, Weiner seemed to be prepared for the media circus that gave new meaning to the phrase “media circus”. He read through his prepared statement, firmly and without hesitation, as some idiot from Howard Stern's show kept yelling stupid things like “Are you more than seven inches”, the old people in attendance yelled their support, and other hecklers just made a lot of noise.

As the flashbulbs flickered, Weiner made his final exit without answering questions. Of course, it would have been quite embarrassing to have to answer questions about his penis size. In hindsight, maybe it would have been better for Weiner if he had released a prepared statement instead of resigning in front of a bunch journalists, weird old people, Howard Stern employees, and the television and Internet audience.

Weiner, however, may have wanted it this way. His speech in some ways sounded more like a campaign speech than a “politician leaving in disgrace” speech. This may, in fact, not have been his final exit, but just a brief glitch in a long career in politics. “I got into politics to help give voice to the many who simply did not have one,” Weiner said. “Now I'll be looking for other ways to contribute my talents.”

What he plans to do with his talents remains to be seen, but Weiner clearly is not done with politics. He has no law degree, and politics is all he knows, so look for an Eliot Spitzer-like rise from the ashes. Or he could take up that job offer from Hustler's Larry Flynt, who knows a good hire when he sees one. Weiner has other options, such as marketing his own action figure, for example. His name alone will sell products, and just add the words “anatomically correct” and watch the money pour in.

As political scandals go, this one has got to be the weirdest. It was, after all, a sex scandal without the sex, which is relatively a new thing. The only other one that comes to mind is Republican Congressman Chris Lee who sent shirtless photos to women he met on Craigslist. In that case, however, Lee immediately resigned, causing only a minor media spectacle.

Weiner decided to cover up his indiscretions. And then lie about them. And then lie about them some more. This may have worked in the 90s, but these days, when you post pictures of your crotch on the Internet, there will be a record of it.

In 1987, Gary Hart was photographed on a yacht called Monkey Business with Donna Rice sitting on his lap. It put an end to Hart's presidential campaign, but the photo didn't become public until after Hart had withdrawn from the race. The fact that Hart was wearing pants didn't hurt. But in Weiner's case, the pictures don't illustrate the story, the pictures are the story.

Most political scandals involve sex with prostitutes, or at least some sort of illicit affair. Not online, but in person. In these cases, there are no photos of the intimate details, and therefore nothing to share on Facebook, Twitter and all the other Web sites out there.

Maybe Weiner didn't even have to quit. Sure, he was getting pressure from his own party. But other politicians have done much worse and have successfully weathered the storm. Take Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, for example. In 2007, the news media discovered that Vitter’s phone number had turned up in the records of a Washington-area escort service that was a front for prostitution. After a week of refusing to answer questions, Vitter emerged from seclusion with his wife to admit to “a serious sin” and to apologize for his actions. Vitter said his transgressions were a private family matter, and then refused to say another word about the subject.

David Vitter is still in office, winning re-election in 2010, even though his transgressions were illegal - prostitution is still illegal except in Nevada. Polls show that Weiner still had the support of over 50% of his constituents. Sure, he dug a deep hole for himself, but maybe if he had just shut up for awhile, he could have stayed in office. It might not have been possible, but maybe worth a shot. At least it would have given us more time to speculate and make jokes at Weiner's expense. Of course that's why he quit. He wanted to spare his family the humiliation of further Weiner jokes. Maybe it would have been different if his name wasn't Weiner.

Only time will tell if Weiner can make a comeback on the national stage. It is my view that he can. But while there will continue to be Weiner jokes, the story will wind down, occasionally surfacing as a cautionary tale about how not to handle a scandal. The so-called mainstream media will use “Weinergate” as a way of comparing future scandals. The nightly news will go back to business as usual: hard news, followed by intermittent Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump-type stories. Meanwhile, the comedy world is in mourning.

Did Weiner pull out too soon? Comedians think so. They will now have to come up with new material. After all, this kind of comedic perfect storm can't possibly be repeated anytime soon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Forrest Gump and Donald Trump: The Oliver Stoning of America

It's been a roller coaster month for important news stories, and the media has been there to cover it: Osama bin Laden is killed; the flooding Mississippi River submerges Memphis; gas prices climb to all-time highs, while oil companies continue to reel in record profits; politicians continue to fight over how to reduce the federal budget deficit; mostly peaceful revolutions in the Middle East turn violent, as an insurgency against Moammar Gadhafi's reign in Libya fails to prompt the defiant leader to resign, even with the help of NATO air strikes; the Israeli Prime Minister rejects Obama's call to return to Israel's 1967 borders; Donald Trump drops out of the 2012 GOP presidential race... Wait a minute. Why is that news?

The fact that Trump's announcement was news at all puts a spotlight on the media's role in blurring the line between news and entertainment. While CNN was sending 400 reporters to cover the royal wedding, after only sending 40 reporters to cover the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the real news seemed to be that Charlie Sheen was no longer in the news.

If this is getting confusing, let me put this all in perspective, so I can get back to my usual activities of watching funny videos of cats on the Internet.

Back in November of 2010, Trump told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Good Morning America that a presidential run “could be fun”... And fun it has been – if you're a fan of idiotic gibberish. It was obvious from the start that this was not a real news story. Trump was “running” for president to boost the ratings for Celebrity Apprentice, the popular reality show in which he got to show his presidential credentials by moderating fights between Meat Loaf and Gary Busey, and other C-list actors, has-beens and musicians.

When it looked like the media was losing interest in Trump, and comedians had come to the end of funny jokes about his hair, Trump came up with the perfect campaign strategy. In early April, he demanded to see President Obama's long-form birth certificate, saying he doubted that Obama was born in the United States. He claimed that he had sent investigators to Hawaii. “I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they're finding”, Trump said in an interview on NBC's Today Show. Calling it potentially one of the biggest scams in the history of politics, Trump jumped to second in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of potential Republican nominees, tying Mike Huckabee with 17% behind Mitt Romney's 27%, showing that either the American public is incredibly stupid, or these polls don't accurately reflect the views of the voting public. Or maybe the pollsters wait until happy hour to ask their questions.

As Trump continued his attack on Obama's citizenship and lack of foreign policy credentials, he continued to rise in the polls, hovering near the top. He came up with catchy sound bites such as: “I love this country, but this country is going to hell... The world laughs at us. They won't be laughing if I'm elected president.” His ego is so big, and his narcissistic personality made it impossible for Trump to realize that the world was in fact already laughing at him.

Obama strategically produced his long-form birth certificate, and with perfect political timing orchestrated the killing of Osama bin Laden, announcing the news during a prime time showing of Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, causing the show to be interrupted. But the night before he got bin Laden, the President appeared at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, an annual event that gives the president a chance to do some stand-up comedy. George W. Bush wasn't so funny when he was president, but Obama has shown that he can hold his own with professional comedians, including Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers this year. The President's monologue poked fun at various politicians and the media, but he reserved his best jokes for Trump. For example, after a week when Trump incredibly took credit for the fact that Obama turned over his long-form Hawaiian birth certificate, Obama joked that Trump could now focus on the serious issues, from whether the moon landing actually happened to “where are Biggie and Tupac?” It was funnier in person, from Obama's deadpan delivery, to Trump's stone-faced look, caught by the television cameras as the audience laughed hysterically.

As uncomfortable as Trump looked to be during Obama's zingers, he seemed even less amused as Meyers picked up where Obama left off. “Donald Trump often talks about running as a Republican,” said Meyers. “I just assumed he was running as a joke.” Close-up of Trump as he looked as though he was about to throw his chair at the stage. Again, it was funnier in person, and as is usually the case in comedy, the truth is sometimes the funniest. The fact is, and pretty much the whole audience that night as well as the television audience knew, he was running as a joke. Trump obviously knew.

The media also knew that Trump was running as a joke. So why did they continue shoving microphones and television cameras at him every time he uttered another stupid comment? Let's see, after he took credit for getting to the bottom of Obama's birth certificate, saying he was “honored” to give the American people an answer to this important question, Trump decided to continue to find new ways to sound like a racist. The man who said he has a good relationship with “the blacks” went on to question Obama's college degree. You would have thought the birth certificate fiasco would have knocked him out of his fake campaign right then and there. But no, the nation's most famous snake-oil salesman was becoming the leader not of the GOP but of the Society of Village Idiots by demanding that Obama release his records from Occidental College.

While Obama was secretly plotting to take down Osama bin Laden, Trump was plotting his next brilliant political maneuver, designed to convince us that he was a serious candidate. His new campaign promise was to get to the bottom of the question of how Obama made it into the Ivy League, transferring from Occidental to Columbia, and then going to Harvard. How could a black man of Obama's inferior intellect, Trump wondered, get into the Ivy League. Drum roll please: affirmative action.

So the media hung on Trump's every word, no matter how stupid and implausible. The reason, as is has been the growing trend in this so-called journalism, is because of ratings. Entertainment sells - the wackier the better. And it didn't just start with Charlie Sheen, who, like Trump, turned the media into his own private publicity machine.

It wasn't always this way. Long before Sheen had a public mental breakdown for profit, and Trump waged a fake presidential campaign to boost ratings for his reality show, there were real newscasters delivering real news. Entertainment was presented as entertainment.

Years ago, the adults used to watch Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News while the kids played with toy guns, Lincoln Logs, Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes. It was a simpler time. Nobody knew Rock Hudson was gay or what drugs Doris Day was hooked on - and nobody cared. In fact, they preferred it that way. The American Dream was 2.5 kids and a house with a white picket fence, not 10,000 followers on Twitter and a Facebook page showing pictures of your chance encounter with Erik Estrada.

Now we have 24-hour news coverage with the help of the Internet and mobile devices that keep us connected. We have instant access into the lives of Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, and other celebrities who have gone on to make us forget about Robert Downey, Jr.'s drug-induced meltdown or Winona Ryder's shoplifting spree.

Before Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Comedy Central became the primary source of news for young people, news and entertainment were separate. Things started changing in 1978, when ABC started a news program called 20/20. The show was a ratings disaster, until they realized that instead of interviewing world leaders and other news makers and important people, the only people viewers were interested in were movie stars and rock stars. That was inevitable. Television is an entertainment medium, and has always had to fight the urge to not entertain us. That leaves newspapers, and with modern technology, who needs them?

So we jump a few years forward to Dateline NBC, which started out as a copy of 20/20 in 1992. The show evolved into an investigative series looking into things like food safety, but quickly found ratings gold in 2004 when Chris Hansen began catching pedophiles on To Catch A Predator.

Not only did Hansen's investigative reporting examine a serious news issue, but by using Dateline's signature hidden-camera techniques, Hansen was able to insert himself into the story, becoming sort of a modern day G-Man of sex crimes. Audiences were mesmerized as our superhero Hansen saved us from the most heinous criminals around. It was better than Law & Order: SVU.

For a while, NBC had a hit on its hands, even beating one of the most popular comedies, The Office, in the ratings. Then, in 2006, one of the predators that Hansen caught shot himself in the head while the NBC News cameras waited outside his home. Some people started to wonder whether this whole Peeping Tom era of hidden cameras had gone overboard. These were definitely sick people, and were the worst type of criminals out there, but their crimes were hypothetical, and they wouldn't even have been there if NBC hadn't lured them there.

This game of entrapment lasted a few more years until NBC pulled the plug in 2008, but not because the pedophile that Hansen brought into our living rooms to entertain us shot his brains out. The show was canceled because it had become so popular that was impossible to attract potential predators to the location where a particular show was being filmed. It turned out that the show was a favorite among pedophiles. But the show never seems to die. Repeats continue to air occasionally on MSNBC, and a new spin-off called Predator Raw: The Unseen Tapes continues with previously unseen footage containing additional commentary by Hansen.

The progression from shows 20/20 to Dateline's To Catch A Predator evolved into Comedy Central's Daily Show making fun of the media. But somewhere in between, Hollywood caught on to the popularity of news as entertainment, as Oliver Stone made us believe things were true even though they weren't, for the sake of making real events more entertaining. He wrote and directed movies like JFK and Nixon, and when things started to get slow in the screenplay, Stone freely made things up.

Another form of entertainment that became popular in film started around the time Forrest Gump met John F. Kennedy. At that time, television commercials starred dead people. Along with the Oliver Stoning of America, the line between reality and news and entertainment was becoming blurred beyond recognition. And now, with every young person schooled in Photoshop, seeing is no longer believing.

True events and real people like Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen, however, continue to capture the really big television ratings and Internet chatter. Leading up to the Internet takeover was the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder case, which was known as "the trial of the century", but was really the biggest takeover of the airwaves ever, at least up to that point. The Los Angeles Times covered the O.J. case on its front page for more than 300 days after the murders, and the major television networks gave more air time to the trial than to the Bosnian War and the Oklahoma City bombing case combined.

The O.J. Simpson case was immediately followed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which led to the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton and high ratings for news channels, with its perfect mix of sex, politics, and lying and cheating.

The high point of media madness had not yet occured, however, until June 25, 2009. That was the day that Michael Jackson died, and anyone doubting the sanity of the news media only had to watch CNN's Anderson Cooper go on the air with a feature about Jackson's former pet "Bubbles the Chimp". My faith in the news business, and Anderson Cooper, went down a notch.

But Cooper is not normally known for reporting on celebrity pets. In addition to his long-running show Anderson Cooper 360, his most recent gig is CBS' 60 Minutes, where he interviewed Eminem and Lady Gaga in addition to Afgan cops. Cooper has become the model for the modern day reporter who is also a celebrity who interviews other celebrities who think they are reporters. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, and George Clooney, among many others, have made an art form out of the celebrity as serious newsmaker. But in reality, they are actually using their celebrity to do good - unlike egomaniacs like Donald Trump, who spends most of his time trying to make us think he's richer than he really is - or Charlie Sheen, who spends most of his time trying to make us think he's saner than he really is.

Although Anderson Cooper has been sidetracked by celebrities, both human and chimp, he has redeemed himself with some solid reporting on at his desks at CNN and CBS. However, the lunatics have seemingly taken over the asylum elsewhere. Fox News leads the way with nut jobs like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity anchoring, along with a list of correspondents that belong in a Will Farrell comedy, not on a major cable news network. The network trademarked the slogan "Fair and Balanced", just in case anybody questioned them. Fox News spends its time defending people like Donald Trump, and was a big supporter of Trump during his very important search for President Obama's birth certificate.

When President Obama took credit for giving the order to raid Osama bin Laden's compound, Fox News gave special thanks to members of the military and, of course, the true mastermind, George W. Bush. At the time, Donald Trump was still a candidate, and just as Fox News was trying to figure out a way to give Trump credit for taking out bin Laden, Trump dropped out of the race.

On May 16th, NBC announced the shows it was picking up for next season. On that list was Celebrity Apprentice. That was, not coincidentally, the day that Donald Trump dropped out of a presidential race that he was never actually in. It was a bad day for comedians. Jon Stewart and his joke writers were saddened by Trump's departure, so Stewart begged him to come back.

The media is no longer repeating every goofy thing Donald Trump says, and the in-depth coverage of how he gets his hair to look that way - which was first reported by Time Magazine and picked up by the major news media – has come to an end.

When we got Osama bin Laden, it looked like the news was actually news. Not so. The White House lost control of the story and the media began to focus on what was actually a small news item in the scheme of things: the collection of porn found on bin Laden's computer hard drives. Finally, when we got back on track with the news of what else was found on the hard drives, the American public got bored.

We have moved on to more important news. In a bombshell announcement, Arnold Schwarzenneger admitted that he had fathered a child with a member of his household staff ten years ago. That was a few days after he separated from his wife. New revelations come out daily. Today's headline: "Mother of Schwarzenneger's Love Child Revealed!"

Other news that competes with the Schwarzenneger revelation: Lindsay Lohan sentenced to "shoplifting alternative school"; a man eats his 25,000th Big Mac; the Royal Couple go on a $720,000 honeymoon; Gwyneth Paltrow furthers her musical career by turning to rap; the Apocalypse is scheduled for May 21st; the Apocalypse is rescheduled until next year; the top two contestants are revealed on American Idol; Stephen Hawking announces that there's no heaven... Wait a minute - that sounds like news to me.

I must admit, sometimes I fall for all this entertainment masquerading as news. But I'm not letting the media get away with their charade this time. I want to know what's really happening - what's really affecting our lives. The only news that matters right now is Oprah's farewell spectacular, airing on May 23rd and 24th.

When that's over, I'll go back to watching funny videos of cats on the Internet. That is, until the next celebrity goes off the deep end, or the world's most wanted terrorist leaves behind a collection of porn. After all, Oprah just doesn't have the same entertainment value as Charlie Sheen, Osama bin Laden, or Donald Trump.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Good week for Obama - Bad week for bin Laden and Trump

That's one way to grab the media spotlight from Donald Trump. On Sunday night, President Obama delivered a speech that will go down in history, interrupting the Sunday night TV schedule, including Trump's “Celebrity Apprentice”, to announce the death of Osama bin Laden. It was 66 years to the day that Hitler was pronounced dead.

Criticized by Republicans for being soft on terrorism, Obama not only put a stop to that talk, but continued to confound his political critics with his calm and seemingly aloof demeanor.

The raid on Osama bin Laden's compound not only took extraordinary courage from the members of the military special forces who carried it out, but from the president himself, who by ordering it, opened himself up to some serious second-guessing if the mission had been unsuccessful.

What turned out to be a very good week for Obama turned out to be a very bad one for Donald Trump, who last week made a buffoon of himself by holding a press conference to announce that he was honored to be responsible for forcing Obama to turn over his long-form birth certificate.

It is now more than ever obvious that there are more important issues facing America than Trump's birther idiocy. The media was reporting Trump's bizarre antics as if it were news, but Obama was quietly going about his job running the country. On hindsight, Obama has not only shown that he's quite adept at multi-tasking, but that he's also one cool customer.

While the risky top-secret mission to bring down the most hated man since Hitler was being carried out, Obama was doing his stand-up comedy routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night. The annual night of light-hearted fun was all the more remarkable when we realize that while Obama was delivering spot-on one-liners taking on Trump's paranoid birther conspiracy, Paul Ryan's budget proposal, funding cuts for NPR, and even his own sagging poll numbers, Obama's mission to root out Osama bin Laden was being meticulously planned and on the verge of being carried out.

Suddenly Obama's long-form birth certificate didn't seem so important, and Donald Trump had been relegated to the political trash heap reserved for losers and has-beens.

And Obama proved that he can calmly juggle matters of national security with idiotic pop-culture absurdities such as Trump and his right wing conspiracy theorists.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama trumps Trump, but Trump isn't stumped

Just when it looked like Donald Trump's idiotic ranting was going to be silenced, his private jet landed in New Hampshire Wednesday and hilarity ensued. Trump immediately upped the ante on weird political gibberish.

The White House had just released President Obama's long-form birth certificate and it looked like the matter was settled. Trump's most important political issue, that Obama was unable to produce a proper birth certificate because he was in fact a Kenyan-born Muslim out to destroy America, was nonsensical right-wing paranoia to begin with.

Trump was presumably on the plane to New Hampshire devising a few new sound bites about Obama's big birth certificate cover-up conspiracy. It seemed like Obama's big announcement to the media, that “We don't have time for this silliness. We've got better stuff to do,” was timed to silence Trump just as his plane was about to land. He would be walking, dumbfounded, into a sea of reporters.

What happened next should have been anticipated by anyone familiar with Trump's flair for pulling reality-show craziness out of the hat like a circus magician.

“I feel I've accomplished something really, really important, and I feel honored by it”, Trump boasted to reporters. He noted that it was “amazing” that this long-form certificate finally “materialized,” and he went on to portray the release as vindication. “I hope we've accomplished a lot by what I've been talking about the last few months,” he said as the group of reporters looked on stone-faced, acting as this was an actual news event.

So that left us to wonder what was next. Would Trump question Obama's marriage certificate? Could the Obama's dog be a secret Soviet spy? Or maybe Obama had a secret hair transplant, and his college Afro was really an elaborate comb-over.

No, the nation's most famous snake-oil salesman and closet racist now wants us to focus on Obama's questionable college degree. He demanded that Obama release his records from Occidental College, part of Trump's new effort to convince us that Obama only made it into the Ivy League, transferring from Occidental to Columbia, then going on to Harvard, because of affirmative action.

Trump wonders how Obama, a poor, “terrible student” can get into Ivy League schools? The fact that Trump didn't ask this question of George W. Bush, who had trouble putting coherent sentences together, could be one indication that Trump's remarks are racially motivated. Or maybe Trump is just plain stupid, and we should be questioning how he got into an Ivy League business school. I've been wondering myself how on earth Trump ever got into the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Dan Golden's book, “The Price of Admission”, is a well-reported critique of what amounts to affirmative action for rich people. Did Trump's rich father help him out, perhaps? I'll have to send my investigators out to look into this matter.

Putting all this speculation about the Ivy League admission process aside, I am waiting breathlessly for Trump to release his tax returns. After all, the real-estate mogul turned reality TV show host had promised to release his tax returns if Obama produced his birth certificate.

In the category of 'what else is new', Trump continued the media laugh-a-thon by telling reporters outside a New Hampshire cigar store that he'll release his tax returns once he announces a presidential bid, further proof he's not actually running.

The media keeps buying what this fast-talking carnival huckster is selling. It makes great entertainment, but it's not news.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Donald Trump: His candidacy is as fake as his hairline

The world's most famous comb-over resides on his head. What's inside it is another matter. I'm talking about Donald Trump. He wants you to think he's running for president. He's not.

The reality show candidate has taken over the media lately with his non-stop ranting about President Obama's birth certificate, or rather his lack of one. To downplay any question as to whether he is playing a very dangerous race card, Trump claims “I have a great relationship with the blacks”. In order to further his great relationship with “the blacks”, Trump goes on to say that Obama is the worst president ever, even worse than Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, all of whom Trump previously gave the honor.

Trump's surge to the top of several recent polls has given members of the media a chance to hyperventilate, and given Trump's ego a chance to inflate even more than it's usual grandiose level. And comedians everywhere have been given new material, the kind that can only be called stranger than fiction, and of course funnier, especially to Democrats.

Democrats have gotten a good laugh at this Republican sideshow, while Trump's popularity in the polls has left his rivals dazed and confused. None of Trump's potential opponents have been particularly specific or consistent on policy issues, and Trump has been especially bizarre and prone to hyperbole when he isn't babbling about Obama's birth certificate.

An example of Trump's foreign policy strategy: re-invade the Middle East and take control of Iraq's oil fields. In a recent interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Trump rationalizes that because we spent $1.5 trillion in Iraq ousting Saddam Hussein, we've earned the right to Iraq's reserves of crude oil.

“So we steal an oil field?” asked Stephanopoulos, trying to keep a straight face.

Trump responded: “Excuse me. You're not stealing. Excuse me. You're not stealing anything. You're taking – we're reimbursing ourselves – at least, at a minimum, and I say more. We're taking back $1.5 trillion to reimburse ourselves.”

This type of wacky psychobabble is calculated to grab headlines. Unlike Charlie Sheen, who also recently brought the media to a frenzy, Trump is not delusional and is not showing signs of mental illness. He has always talked like this, being prone to outlandish statements and embellishments of the facts. He doesn't really seem like he cares about facts or substance. He's obviously more interested in the delivery. He craves the spotlight.

If you agree with what Trump is saying, well, you're the one who's delusional, not him. He's just another carnival huckster looking for publicity. The facts are irrelevant. The joke's on you.

Trump is content taking his clown act to the airwaves, urging his paranoid followers to take up his crusade demanding that Obama prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's not a Kenyan-born Muslim out to destroy America.

It's fun to watch Trump MC a fight between Gary Busey and Meat Loaf, but do you really want the reality show host setting Middle East policy?

There will always be a fringe group of right wing crazies who think Trump is up for the job, but when reality sets in, the Republican party will settle into politics as usual, which means there will emerge a candidate with a normal hair line and some semblance of rational thinking.

Like most of the Republican field, Trump has not yet confirmed that he is a candidate. But even if he were to decide to run, there is no way he would win the nomination. A well-known publicity addict, when Trump sees a microphone and camera, he can't contain his bluster. But it's all a publicity stunt, and nothing more, which explains why Trump is announcing his decision about whether he will seek the nomination on the season finale of “The Apprentice”.

It's all about the ratings, not only for Trump and his NBC show, but for the media, who are following his every word as if he's the second coming of Charlie Sheen, which he is. But as for Trump, it's all a stunt used to increase his show's ratings, sell his bottled water and signature mail-order steak, bring people to his casinos and golf courses, and feed his giant ego.

Or maybe I'm wrong. But if Trump becomes president, I'm moving to Kenya.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is the media as delusional as Charlie Sheen?

"What's going on in the head of Charlie Sheen?" That was the question leading off the ABC interview of Sheen on 20/20 Tuesday night, but Sheen was allowed to ramble on incoherently for the next hour without the question ever being answered.

One thing is clear. Sheen is coming mentally unhinged in a very public forum.

Originally the story was an actual news item. CBS had canceled filming on Sheen's sitcom Two and a Half Men for the rest of the season. Then the story began to focus on Sheen's odd behavior. Every major news network, including politically-oriented networks like MSNBC and Fox News, have taken the story and run with it, even as it has turned into something less like a news item and more like a desperate scramble for ratings at the expense of Sheen's mental health.

Celebrity addiction expert Drew Pinsky told TMZ: "It's no joke. He's getting manic. These are bipolar, manic symptoms."

Many medical professionals agree with Pinsky that Sheen is exhibiting bipolar symptoms, although they caution against diagnosing him based on media sound bites.

Whether bipolar disorder is the cause of Sheen's erratic and grandiose behavior, or whether it is caused by drug intoxication or even withdrawal, the question is no longer: "What's going on in the head of Charlie Sheen". It's "What's going on in the heads of TV news executives who report Sheen's manic rantings as news?"

Unlike other celebrities who have suffered similar meltdowns such as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, no one in Sheen's inner circle is able to reign him in. So he's out there, rambling incoherently, and the news reporters are hanging on every word, laughing at every "joke", as if Sheen is actually making any sense.

The media can be excused for wanting to jump on the ratings bandwagon, but it is clear that Sheen is delusional, and the real question is: "When someone is coming mentally unhinged and in serious need of medical attention, how can it be ethical to enable him by encouraging his delusional behavior?"

What may be amusement for TV viewers is serious business. Unless someone steps in and helps Sheen, the only way this story ends is in complete destruction.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Political rhetoric blamed for Arizona shooting

The news spread quickly. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was fighting for her life after a deranged gunman went on a rampage in a scene that is becoming all too familiar in this age of mass shootings and homegrown terrorists. The shooting in Arizona left six people dead, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 sparked intense debate about gun violence, gun laws, the system of treating mental illness, and the media's coverage of these types of tragedies. Since the shootings by a Virginia Tech English major, hundreds of people have been injured or killed in similar events. The media has been blamed for inciting copy-cat incidents, played out by people with mental problems and a paranoid hatred of government policies.

Not long after the Arizona massacre, news stations were playing an interview with Giffords from last march urging Republicans, especially Tea Party members, and specifically Sarah Palin, to cool the rhetoric. Palin had posted on her Facebook page showing her congressional district in the crosshairs of a gun.

The gunman's motive is not yet known, but in Arizona's Pima County, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested "all this vitriol" in recent politics might be connected to the shootings. "This may be free speech," he said at a news conference, "but it's not without consequences."

The debate has spread at a speed unprecedented even in the age of the Internet, with liberal bloggers and social media commentators blaming the attack on Palin and the violent imagery evoked by some Tea Party candidates and other conservatives during the recent midterm elections.

In a Facebook posting, Palin did not address the past language she has used but offered her condolences to the shooting victims. It was widely reported in blogs and in the media that Palin has taken down the crosshairs map from her web page.

The attack on Giffords comes after what has been a particularly ugly season in American politics, especially when it comes to last year's passage of the health care reform bill. Last March, the glass door of Giffords' Congressional office in Tucson was smashed in the middle of the night.

"Community leaders, figures in our community need to say 'look, we can’t stand for this'", she told Chuck Todd on MSNBC a few days later. "This is a situation where the rhetoric is firing people up and, you know, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action."

"But in fairness, campaign rhetoric and war rhetoric have been interchangeable for years," Todd said, and then asked, "And so, is there a line here? I understand that in the moment it may look bad, but do you really think that’s what she intended?"

Giffords' response: "You know, I can’t say, I’m not Sarah Palin. But I can say that in the years that some of my colleagues have served - 20, 30 years - they’ve never seen it like this."

Giffords brushed off Todd’s idiotic comments that campaign rhetoric has borrowed from war rhetoric over the years, noting that it’s much worse now than it ever has been.

Thomas Hollihan, a USC professor of political rhetoric, said people like the Arizona shooter "get affected by a kind of toxic political culture that makes them angry and paranoid that their government is being taken away." But he warned against coming to any conclusions. "People who commit crimes like this are often just unhinged," he said.

The information slowly coming out about the alleged shooter, 22-year-old high school dropout Jared L. Loughner, did not suggest he had any clear political motivation. Although he complained in online diatribes about terrorism and "mind control", what drove him to violence has not been established.

"We don't yet know what provoked this unspeakable act," President Obama said from the White House. "But we're going to get to the bottom of this."

While we still have no clear explanation of the shooter's motive, and we may never know (so far he's invoked his right to counsel), Saturday's shooting set off an eruption of anger, much of it by bloggers, but also on Web sites like Twitter and Facebook. If you spend any time online, the Tea Party seems to be the number one instigator, getting most of the blame, followed closely by Arizona's permissive gun laws and conservative media pundits such as Glenn Beck.

When asked by The New York Post if his daughter had any enemies, Giffords' father responded: "Yeah, the whole Tea Party."

In this age of the Internet, when figuring out who is responsible for the political rhetoric that set this tragedy into motion, it doesn't take long to see who the clear winner is. It's Sarah Palin.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Note to GOP - Comedy is hard, politics is harder

Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans celebrated a historic return to power this week by quickly turning the proceedings into a circus. The 112th Congress started out the week innocently enough by having the Constitution read aloud by members of both parties. Reading the Constitution is a great idea, but you would think that Republicans could do it in the privacy of their own homes or offices and save the theatrics for more important activities.

Next up for Republicans: repealing health care reform. Unfortunately, they got unwelcome news - a Congressional Budget Office estimate that this would increase the deficit by $230 billion by 2012. The CBO's nonpartisan report backed the Democrats' claims that overturning the health care law would cause a major hit to the deficit.

Republicans quickly dismissed the CBO projection as unrealistic. “CBO is entitled to their opinion,” Boehner said. “I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit.”

What is lost in the discussion is the fact that overturning the law signed by President Obama in March would also leave 32 million more Americans without health insurance, according to experts. A good example of cost-cutting is the recent news that a second person has died in Arizona resulting form the state's refusal to pay for certain transplants. In what has become known as Arizona's "Death Panels", Arizona reduced Medicaid coverage for transplants on October 1st last year under cuts included to help close a shortfall in the state budget. Dr. Rainer Gruessner, chair of the University of Arizona Surgery Department, predicts that nearly 30 Arizonans will die this year because of the state's decision to cut these transplants.

The Republicans want to repeal health reform, but don't have any alternative ideas on how to deal with the failing health care system in this country. The whole thing is just political theater anyway, because the repeal will never reach President Obama's desk for a veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is still there thanks to the lunacy of the Tea Party, has indicated that he won't even bring it to a vote. But the House has scheduled a repeal of health care reform on January 12th. But the Republicans must put on a show for their constituents.

In other news, the Republicans went from ridiculous to just plain absurd. On Thursday, two House Republicans somehow neglected to get sworn in as new members of Congress. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were not in the House chamber, but rather in front of a television in the Capitol Visitors Center during the swearing-in ceremony.

Sessions and Fitzpatrick were on the House floor on Thursday, voting and reading the Constitution, just like every other sworn-in member of Congress. But once Republican leaders learned that two of their members weren't legitimate members of Congress, they abruptly stopped the hearing on the health care law that was in session.

Shortly after the Rules Committee hearing was stopped, Fitzpatrick and Sessions both appeared back on the House floor and were administered the oath of office by Speaker Boehner, who mispronounced Fitzpatrick's name. But the House decided Friday to invalidate the initial votes cast in the new Congress by the two Republican Congressmen.

The week started out innocently enough. There was the freshman fundraiser hosted by Republican Congressman-elect Jeff Denham, featuring country music by LeAnn Rimes and a rare invitation to the press to attend and report on the event at the high-end W Hotel. The event clashed with the image Republicans have worked so hard to construct: citizen-legislators cleaning up the waste and extravagant ways of Washington.

By week's end, Republican aides are still crunching the numbers, but they can't get them to fit. It is now clear that they will fall far short of the $100 billion in saving the GOP promised in their election season pledge. So far they have pledged to slash $35 million from the House's operating budget. That's about 0.05% of the deficit.

The first-week Republican blunders did little to dampen Boehner's spirit. His themes of humility and austerity are intact. But the GOP is learning that its mistakes will be magnified as the new majority comes under scrutiny.

Now, as they make their clown act public, the Republican party is learning an important Hollywood lesson: comedy is hard, politics is harder.