Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I don't think I have ever before seen a movie that has moved me as much, or provoked as much thought about the nature of our nation and its politics as, The Most Dangerous Man In America, on PBS--the Academy Award nominated documentary depicting the story of Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers.

At several points during the film, I had tears in my eyes, something that only usually occurs during beautiful love stories, or scenes with puppies or kittens (which weren't a part of this movie at all). There was a beautiful love story briefly depicted amidst the exciting drama of this man's astoundingly courageous life, the one between Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg. And just enough was shown of the young anti-war activist and broadcaster Patricia meeting the pro-war high level military analyst Daniel, and the amazing relationship that unfolded and changed the world as we know it, to give a hint of what a great follow-up movie could be possible.

Here is a short video of Daniel and Patricia introducing the documentary in San Francisco. Not great video quality, but worth watching anyway to get a sense of their presence.

I met the Ellsbergs last year and was very impressed with their dignity, warmth, intelligence, and quiet charisma. Daniel and I chatted and he was fascinated that I had spent twelve years in prison and asked me a bunch of questions about that experience. After all, at one point, Richard Nixon was trying to send him to prison for the rest of his life. Luckily, he told me, he had only spent a few nights in jail during the course of some of his anti-war protests.

A few weeks later, Daniel sent me a copy of his book, Secrets, the source material for the documentary. I admit I avoided reading it for a few months. During my career as a broadcast journalist, even including a six week stint as a radio correspondent in Vietnam, I thought I had read everything I ever wanted to about that ignoble event. But I was wrong and when I finally got to it, knowing the film would be shown on PBS's POV, I was very impressed. I had also thought I knew a lot about the story of the release of The Pentagon Papers, but there were many points revealed in the book I hadn't known, as there were about the war itself.

All of this was fascinating, but did not have the emotional context of the movie, and I think this was largely provided by the forthright appearance of Ellsberg himself at various stages of his life. To steal a phrase from JFK, he's "a profile in courage"--a towering, emotionally contagious profile in courage.

And as seems to be true of almost every event in my life, there were a couple of serendipitous happenings involved. The first was that I discovered that Patricia Ellsberg was the sister of a woman I knew and had long admired, Barbara Marx Hubbard, a leading voice in the New Age Movement, and the first woman to seriously run for Vice President of the United States. I met her back in the 1970s, and she became president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology at the same time as I headed up the Florida chapter of that organization.

The second "six degrees of separation" moment occurred in the panel discussion following the PBS showing of The Most Dangerous Man In America. Former NY Times Managing Editor, Max Frankel, related an anecdote about the leaking of classified material and told how President Johnson bragged to him how he got the best of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygn during the Glassboro, New Jersey summit conference in 1967. According to Frankel, LBJ told him he had arranged to have all of Kosygn's telephone conversations to Soviet colleagues recorded, so that he knew everything the Russian leader was telling them about what went on and his reaction to it. LBJ evidently considered this the major triumph of the summit, making it a big win for the U.S.

And, coincidentally enough, I was there at Glassboro. I was one of the radio reporters covering the summit for KYW Newsradio in nearby Philadelphia, and even won an Associated Press award for my reporting. This also was an accident, as the connecting lines broke down between the summit itself being held in the Glassboro State College president's home, and the hundreds of reporters in the college gym, myself included. Our chief correspondent, in the summit location itself, was unable to broadcast, so I had to basically adlib for close to two hours on the air. I still remember how pleasurable it was to roll the name of the summit location off my tongue during those two hours, Hollybush Mansion.

Ellsberg and what he did and is still speaking out about is very relevant today in the current political climate--and most especially in light of the WikiLeaks story. In fact, Ellsberg himself made a surprise appearance at a WikiLeaks news conference in London just a few days ago, praising that organization for releasing its huge cache of documents on the war in Afghanistan.

I think one of the most profound statements by Ellsberg happened in the conversation PBS broadcast after the film, with several NY Times editors and reporters. Ellsberg reminded us that the Founding Fathers intended that a free press have as its true purpose, protecting the governed rather than the governing. And Ellsberg said at that time, and repeated during the WikiLeaks news conference, something that everyone planning to vote next week should consider:
"Secrecy is essential to empire... Under Obama, as under Bush, we are moving more toward the British system of control of information, which is after all, The Official Secrets Act, which is a legacy of empire and that torch is passing. A Republican administration -- a Republican House and Senate, if that comes in to being in the next month is almost certain to pass a British-type Official Secrets Act. Essentially ending leaks of the sort we have seen over the last forty years, sixty years."

This would mean that the release of any and all classified material would become illegal, and journalists would become more unlikely to take the risks that they take today to get the truth out. Scary stuff. And Daniel Ellsberg remains a hero. In fact, if he wore a cape and could fly, Ellsberg could not be more of a superhero for truth, justice, and authentic American values.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010


So one of my conservative friends forwarded the following joke to me today:

A driver is stuck in a traffic jam going into downtown Chicago .
> Nothing is moving north or south. Suddenly a man knocks on
> his window.
> The driver rolls down his window and asks, "What happened, what's the hold up?"
> "Terrorists have kidnapped Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Rosie O' Donnell, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
> They are asking for a $10 Million ransom. Otherwise, they are going to
> douse them with gasoline and set them on fire. We are going from car
> to car, taking up a collection."
> The driver asks, "On average, how much is everyone giving?"
> "About a gallon."

Now as a sometime comedy writer and cartoon gagwriter who has often used sarcasm for humorous purpose, and even occasionally mean-spirited humor, perhaps I should just let this one go by without comment. But I won't. First of all, it is beyond mean-spirited and definitely reminiscent of some of the jokes aimed at Jews by German comedians in the 1930s and white racists during the civil rights turmoil. It resembles some of the bad jokes told at Ku Klux Klan rallies in the South that I covered as a reporter in the 1960s.

I know it also seems like some of the jokes about lawyers, suggesting that the only good lawyer is a dead lawyer--but by not being about specific lawyers, the harmful intent in those is greatly diluted and not worthy of being taken nearly as seriously as the above joke. Perhaps conservatives and Tea Partiers won't be willing to admit it, but if you belong to neither group, don't you agree that many of them would not be upset if someone actually did set fire to all the above-named people?

I recently heard and agreed with an analyst who said that the difference between the people on the extreme far right and the extreme far left is that those on the right are nasty, self serving, and willing to lie to get the results they want. And just like ordinary non-racist citizens in the South and in Nazi Germany didn't protest at the attacks against blacks and Jews, ordinary, otherwise decent conservatives don't protest some of the outrages of the lunatic fringe--often won't even admit it's happening, even though nowadays there are videos of almost every political utterance.

Here's an example of appropriate anti-Obama humor:
President Obama and the first lady say they will not be exchanging Christmas gifts this year. Michelle Obama says they used to, but she got tired of Barack promising big things and then not delivering.
Pretty cutting, but funny rather than mean. And a few of my own gags:
"Well, Sidney, I'd like to tell you the results of the last election. Do you have room to turn over down there?"

"The bad news is you lost your appeal, the good news is you won reelection."

"I think I lost the election because of the underhanded way in which my opponent kept on repeating every stupid statement I made during the campaign."

Many in the Tea Party and the conservative movement would say that, of course, this joke isn't seriously suggesting all these liberal icons be doused with gasoline and set alight--that can't anyone take a joke, for gosh sake? But this is the epitome of rightwing denial. Here's what Glenn Beck, the presumptive head and most admired spokesperson of the Tea Party, had to say:
"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out."
Obviously, Beck's vaunted born-again Christianity doesn't run to acceptance of or adherence to The Ten Commandments.


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Saturday, October 16, 2010


It is really surreal to emerge back into the world after 12 years in prison to find that there is more corruption and dishonesty permeating American politics than can be found in the average prison cellblock. And it is so blatant nowadays. Okay, maybe transparency is good, but I don't think its advocates meant that you should openly bribe candidates, or have them state provable lies that can be preserved forever on video.

The O'Reilly Falsehood Factor

Take Bill O'Reilly, please. On his recent widely publicized brouhaha on The View, Barbara Walters caught him and called him on a direct lie. He claimed he hadn't said we were attacked on 9/11 by "all Muslims" but just Muslim radicals. But he actually said "Muslims killed us on 9/11." O'Reilly's exact words (I just watched the video again), which he repeated two more times.

But that was not nearly the biggest O'Reilly lie of the past week. After Bill Clinton told an audience that Fox News "carried water for Republican candidates," O'Reilly went on the air and said only "leftwing loons" believed Fox supported and endorsed Republicans. I don't like Nazi analogies, but since Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's "Information Minister" was the most famous proponent of "The Big Lie", I am compelled to assert that even Goebbels never put out as big a whopper as this O'Reilly statement--the Nazi propaganda master was more subtle than that.

Here are some facts about Fox News and the Republican connection thereof. The founder and owner of the network, Australian-born Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation gave $1 million to the Republican Governors' Association two months ago. Then, just the other day, he gave $1 million more to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their work in supporting Republican Congressional candidates (In fairness, I should note that there are two fairly conservative Democratic candidates they are supporting along with dozens of GOP members). No money to any Democratic organization from the "fair and balanced" network.

And then there's the fact that the head of Fox News is none other than one of the most notorious Republican operatives/consultants of the past three decades, Roger Ailes.

I knew Roger Ailes in the old days. We both worked in the Walnut Street building owned by Westinghouse Broadcasting in Philadelphia. I worked as a newsman for KYW NewsRadio, and he was an executive producer at KYW-TV, and was primarily producing The Mike Douglas nationally syndicated talk show. In 1967, the co-host for a week was Richard Nixon. (Douglas was fair--Hubert Humphrey was co-host another week that year--I even had a long chat with him on the plush leather bench in the lobby at KYW--the most loquacious politician I ever met.)

During conversations with Ailes in that week, Nixon liked what the producer had to say about how to present himself on TV and hired Ailes to be in charge of his TV appearances. Ailes went on to work on a number of major Republican campaigns. He's even widely believed, though he denies it, to be the creator of the infamous Willie Horton racist ad that helped elect George H.W. Bush as President.

But none of this factual background is really necessary to figure out that Fox is a major propaganda arm of the Republican Party--just listen for a few minutes to most of their on air personalities. Of course, there are many who think it's the other way around and that the Republican Party is a subsidiary of Fox News.

On to more deviousness. Another current controversy has to do with a mistake President Obama or someone on his staff made. They claimed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was using foreign money to fund U.S. political campaigns--which would be a major felony. At this moment, while this may or may not be true, there is no evidence anyone can cite that it is so, so at the very least Obama jumped the gun. And even if proof is found, the impact has been diminished by his gaff. Oh, the Chamber, which funds mostly GOP candidates, does receive a lot of money at offices overseas, but they claim they keep this separate when it eventually arrives at their U.S. headquarters.

Of course this whole area is pretty blurry nowadays, since the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give huge undocumented funds for political purposes without having to identify themselves. Billions are pouring in, and by one estimate, 9 to 1 in favor of Republicans. FactCheck.org has stated that about 85% of the claims made in these ads funded by these funds that don't have to be labeled are false.
Let me point out that this is not so with the ads where the candidate says, "I'm so and so and I approved this ad, " where the claims are often true.

And, of course, you have Rupert Murdoch, Australian-born and very involved in British politics as well as American and Australian, giving that $2 million to Republicans.
And, in another tangential aside, what do you think right wing talk shows would have to say about a foreign religious cult operating a major Democratic-leaning national newspaper?

Well, we have the strange case of The Washington Times, home to such iconic conservative columnists and commentators as Tony Blankley, Frank Gaffney, Jr. and Tony Snow (it's no coincidence that many of their columnists appear regularly on Fox News). The Times is controlled and was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of Korea, head of the controversial Unification Church, the Moonies, and their original mission statement was "To teach America about God." Since he and his followers consider Moon himself to be divine, this seems rather self-serving.

The Washington Times was also largely founded in Washington, D.C. to counter the influence of The Washington Post, which the Moonies claimed was the most powerful anti-Unification Church voice in America because of the Post's many investigative reports on abuses and aberrations of the church. The first president of the newspaper was Moon's top aide, and 25% of its initial staff of 125 reporters were members of the Unification Church.

Moon has, by his own reckoning, lost several billion dollars backing The Washington Times, a widely influential but very low circulation newspaper. Being quoted by many conservative outlets is probably why the paper is so powerful, because its daily circulation is less than 40,000 while The Washington Post tops half a million.

I really don't mind that a Korean cult leader and Australian media mogul have so much impact on U.S. politics, but I cannot respect them as they continue to consider truth with such condescending contempt.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


This is a follow-up to the post I wrote on June 22, So You Think That's Funny,
Do You?
In that piece, I wrote that the title came from what someone in authority might say to you when you are being funny at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places. More recently, I found a similar perspective on humor from one of my favorite mystery novelists, Anne Perry. I have long asserted that reading fiction is a vital as reading nonfiction in gaining an understanding of who we are and what our higher purpose might be. This is because many novelists have a unique perspective on the human condition and are often as well qualified as psychologists or philosophers in those respective fields of intellectual awareness.

When I was in prison, I kept a school composition notebook that I filled with quotes that moved or inspired or informed me from the hundreds of books, mostly novels, that I read during my incarceration--a total of about 1000 in nearly 12 years. And the quotes from novels are just as insightful as any from self-help and spiritual books, if not more so. I wrote about this in a recent post on my prosperity blog:

Anyway, here is Anne Perry's comment on humor:

"I have come to believe that a sense of humor is almost the same thing as a sense of proportion. It is the absurdity of disproportion which makes us laugh. There is something innately funny in punctured self-importance, in the positioning side by side of that which is incongruous. If everything in the world were suitable, appropriate, it would be unbearably tedious. Without laughter, something in life is lost. Sanity, perhaps."

Upon reading this, I was immediately reminded of how little humor is present in today's political discourse. Especially the self-deprecating humor famously demonstrated by such consummate politicians as Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

From Lincoln: "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"

From JFK: "Mr. Nixon in the last seven days has called me an economic ignoramus, a Pied Piper, and all the rest. I've just confined myself to calling him a Republican, but he says that is getting low."

From Reagan: "Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first."

There does seem to be something unbearably tedious going on in politics today, and maybe some sanity has been lost as a result of it all being so very serious.

I sometimes wonder how some politicians can say what they do with a straight face. Like California's Republican candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, talking about how she is going to bring fiscal responsibility if elected, while spending $110 million of her own money in the campaign. Doesn't she see the humor in that?

And I do think about such quirky ideas as whether she would have made more of an impact if she took that money and helped a few thousand homeowners in foreclosure keep their homes.

On the other hand, politicians taking themselves so seriously provide a treasure trove of material for comedy writers and comedians. As you probably know, one of the things I do to keep my sense of humor fired up and creative energy stimulated is write gags for several major cartoonists. One I recently turned out:

Scene: Aide to politician.

Caption: "Good news, Senator. The judge has agreed to combine your swearing-in ceremony with your plea bargain hearing."

Have funny,


(by the way, I also recently wrote a piece on humor for my prosperity blog, which you can check out at: MoneyFun. Stop Taking Prosperity So Seriously!)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It started when my friend Will sent me one of his right wing propaganda links about doom and gloom and how Obama is destroying the Earth with his socialist government takeover policies, etc. In the margin of this web page, I found the following article about an old friend, Barry Farber, and I've just been reminiscing in my mind about some fond memories as a guest on his New York radio show.

I first met Barry in the 1970s when my friend Randie Levine was producing his show. I usually was a guest whenever I had a book to promote, or was doing a Moneylove Seminar in the city. Barry had a unique voice, and those amazing language skills, and ended segments with a unique kind of teaser that made you want to keep listening after one of his masterful commercials. Along with my other good friend, Long John Nebel, he ruled the late night airwaves, not only in New York, but in many other states the show was heard in.

Barry was responsible for one of the great thrills of my life when about 3am, after we finished a stint on his show, he took me as his guest to the comedian's table at The Stage Deli, where several world famous comedians were gathered. At the time, these included Phyllis Diller, Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and Milton Berle, whom I think was in New York to be honored by The Friars Club. I also met a woman Barry was dating and later, with his permission, I went out with her a few times. She was a beautiful Hungarian woman who was supposedly a Princess.

Another memorable Farber moment occurred when the other guest on his show was Gloria Swanson, legendary film actress of silent film fame and star of the iconic Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard. She had to be in her late eighties at least, but was still majestic, lovely, and very energetic, keeping up with Barry and me all through the night on the air. She had brought a number of little Tupperware containers filled with various healthy food items as she was hyperglycemic and had to eat frequently. This was before it came out that she had been the longtime mistress of JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy, when he was a film producer in Hollywood.

Barry Farber also had an ill-fated run for mayor of New York, but was trounced by Ed Koch. He's an amazing guy and his far out political views now don't diminish my affection and admiration for his broadcast skills one bit.

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