Thursday, March 29, 2012


Well, the presidential campaign has reached a turning point in which Mitt Romney is no longer waiting until some major election victory to come out with another gaffe that feeds into the already overdone narrative of him as Scrooge McDuck, completely out of touch with the average working American, perhaps even the average working millionaire.

Forbes latest Billionaires Issue is out, with 1226 billionaires making the international list. There is hardly a single one of them who doesn't seem more down-to-earth than Romney. I've been using the occasion to prepare my latest Moneylove Club audio on the subject of what we can learn from these extraordinarily gifted and lucky individuals. Maybe they aren't any more likable than Romney, maybe they just have better PR people. In fact, it might be time for all the conspiracy theorists out there to look at whether the Democrats smuggled some highly trained moles into the Romney campaign. One top Democrat recently complained that it would be hard to fit all the Romney fumbles onto a thirty second commercial in the Fall. If he keeps it up, there may be enough material for a whole hour-long infomercial.

It was suggested on Morning Joe today that Romney go on a "listening tour" similar to the ones made famous by a campaigning Hillary Clinton. He could find out what ordinary Americans are thinking and wanting and keep his own loose lips tightly shut--and stop trying to pretend he has a sense of humor. His latest joke, which he doomed by announcing he was going to tell his Wisconsin audience "something humorous" was about his father closing an American Motors factory in Michigan to move the operation to Wisconsin. Added to his famous "I like to fire people," comment, this presents a pretty package to the millions still unemployed. The funniest thing to come from Romney during the whole campaign remains the several cartoons showing his family dog Seamus strapped to the roof of the car as they drove 12 hours to Canada.

The latest evidence of Romney disconnect was the revelation that he is planning to have his 3,000 square foot La Jolla, California beach house bulldozed to build one four times larger. A lot is being made of the fact that it will have an elevator just for the Romney cars, and that he has paid $22,000 to a lobbyist to campaign at the local planning commission for the necessary permits to build the palace. One can see the Democratic bumper stickers: The White House is My Second, Smaller Home.

To be honest, I am a bit sorry for the man. Sure, he's worth at least a quarter of a billion dollars (no one really knows for sure with those many overseas investments and bank accounts), and seems to have an adoring family. But Mitt Romney has obviously lived in a bubble all his life, totally divorced from the reality of the lives of most of the 300 million Americans he wants to lead into the future. How he can do that without having a clue about their present circumstances, I'm not sure. Every time he says something dumb, I picture an aide pointing out to him that it feeds into the narrative of him as an uncaring Richie Rich, and I picture Romney shaking his head in complete confusion--not having any idea why what he just said might alienate the 99%.

One of his neighbors on the beach at La Jolla is famed mind-body self-help author, Deepak Chopra. Maybe Mitt should take some sessions on connecting his tongue to his brain. It couldn't hurt.

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but it couldn't hurt.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


I confess, I am not precisely sure where I come down on this whole issue of free speech versus civil discourse. I do think political correctness is often taken too far. I also believe that when someone with the moral authority (deserved or not) of a Rush Limbaugh, with twenty million listeners and a $50 million salary attacks a well-spoken law student for several hours, not only calling her a slut, but telling her that she can only make up for testifying before a Congressional committee on an issue he disagrees with her on, by filming herself having sex and posting the video, he is a pompous, bullying, dickhead.

Bill Maher is often used to counter what Rush did. But a comedian using offensive words to describe Sarah Palin, a powerful and popular and rich public figure who can easily defend herself, is not the same as the man often cited as the most influential figure in Republican circles picking on a heretofore anonymous law student. And Maher made his comments at a stand-up show where people paid money to see the self-described pottymouth perform. Maher had some good points on this issue in his NY Times op-ed piece:
Published: March 21, 2012
THIS week, Robert De Niro made a joke about first ladies, and Newt Gingrich said it was “inexcusable and the president should apologize for him.” Of course, if something is “inexcusable,” an apology doesn’t make any difference, but then again, neither does Newt Gingrich.

Mr. De Niro was speaking at a fund-raiser with the first lady, Michelle Obama. Here’s the joke: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

The first lady’s press secretary declared the joke “inappropriate,” and Mr. De Niro said his remarks were “not meant to offend.” So, as these things go, even if the terrible damage can never be undone, at least the healing can begin. And we can move on to the next time we choose sides and pretend to be outraged about nothing.

When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up?

This week, President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, described Mitt Romney’s constant advertising barrage in Illinois as a “Mittzkrieg,” and instantly the Republican Jewish Coalition was outraged and called out Mr. Axelrod’s “Holocaust and Nazi imagery” as “disturbing.” Because the message of “Mittzkrieg” was clear: Kill all the Jews. Then the coalition demanded not only that Mr. Axelrod apologize immediately but also that Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz “publicly rebuke” him. For a pun! For punning against humanity!
If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise at all.
I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.
The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

As a writer, speaker, performer--I am vehemently opposed to censorship in any form. And maybe it all works out in the end. Rush Limbaugh certainly came out second best in his match-up with Sarah Fluke, and will probably never again have the prestige in conservative circles he built up. There was a time when good manners prevailed in politics and most other areas of American life. It's good that we are debating this now, and examining whether we sometimes just cross the line into bad taste and what used to be called gaucherie. Maybe we need to invent a new term for the kind of buffoonish behavior of Limbaugh and similar types. My suggestion, "What do you expect? He's just a gauchbag!"

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Sunday, March 18, 2012


Of late, I've deplored the lack of political courage in our election process, especially when it comes to the area of straight talk in our campaigns.

Well, leave it to an American hero known for his straight talk to come to the rescue. None other than Senator John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate defeated by Barack Obama and depicted in the new huge hit movie Game Change on HBO, has set some of the misleading, demagoguing record straight with several recent appearances. Most notably today on Meet The Press, when his 64th appearance surpassed Bob Dole's all-time record.

As expected McCain touted his chosen GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, and urged that the U.S. stay the course in Afghanistan. But he also addressed the current Republican nomination battle, by saying:
"This is the nastiest politics I've ever seen. It's a result of the worst decision the U.S. Supreme Court has made in many years, the Citizens United decision, where out of naiveté and sheer ignorance, the majority of the Supreme Court released these huge blocks of money. There will be scandals and then maybe we'll reform again."
I was surprised by this strong attack, especially since McCain's chosen candidate, Mitt Romney, has had the biggest Super Pac of all pouring by far the most money into the campaign with arguably the nastiest ads.

But then Senator McCain made another stunning statement that is sure to infuriate a lot of fellow Republicans, who have been floundering about trying to deny the truth of it.
Moderator David Gregory asked, "Do you think there is something of a war on women among Republicans?"
McCain jumped right in with no hesitation:

"We have to fix that. I think that there is a perception out there because of the way that this whole contraception issue played out. We need to get off that issue in my view. We ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives and make that clear."

This was such a breath of fresh air in a political season filled with such cowardice. And I'm not just talking about Republicans here, but they have had the most opportunity to demonstrate their wussiness in this long season of debates and primary contests. There have been a couple of cartoons depicting the candidates as the main characters from The Wizard of Oz, but the truth is that the persona of The Cowardly Lion would fit almost all of them perfectly. JFK would be hard put to create an updated version of his Profiles in Courage if he were alive today. But I think there might be a good chance John McCain would make the final cut.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Okay, time for a bit of nostalgia--which is one of the great advantages of growing older, as well as one of the great disadvantages.

One big change I have noticed is that a lot of traditional mainstays of life in America have disappeared. Some of this is due to innovation and progress, but some of it is created by something less positive. Greed and the encroachment on our habitats by ever-expanding major chains have put many neighborhood family-owned businesses on the trash heap. Just as encroachment by humans on animal habitats have threatened many species with extinction.

In my neighborhood of residential row houses in South Philadelphia, there was usually some kind of store on every corner--hardly ever one in the middle of the block. A drugstore on one corner, an Italian bakery on another, a dentist's office on one, and Big John's candy store as the busiest small business of all. Big John himself was not usually around, having more important things to do. He was, as they say now, "connected." It wasn't called the Mafia or Cosa Nostra in those days, but rather The Black Hand. Businesses under their protection had a painted image of a black hand on their front entrance, and sometimes also stenciled on the cement sidewalk.

All the neighborhood kids, including myself though I was one of the few non-Italian Americans, ran numbers slips for Big John. We got a quarter for each bag we delivered to a nondescript row home three blocks away. They were small bags, probably with 25 to 50 small slips in each one. On a normal day after school, I would deliver two bags and collect fifty cents for my efforts. I often took it out in trade--a comic book, one of my favorite chocolate covered frozen bananas, or a cup of Italian water ice, a Philadelphia specialty I've never found successfully duplicated anywhere in the world. Big John had two large upright barrel devices in his doorway, each with a large crank on the side. He added the fresh cherries and lemons, the only two flavors available, and would grind them in with the big blocks of ice.

There was also a large candy rack by the cash register, and a six seat soda fountain. As I approached puberty, the main attraction was John's four daughters, ranging in age from 12 to 22, all dark-haired beauties. They took turns running the store, except for Mary, who was the prize student in the family, quiet, shy, and the prettiest daughter of all. She was actually the valedictorian at my Junior High School class graduation, and went on to Southern High with the expectation she would win many honors.

I was living in Northeast Philadelphia by the time Mary made the newspapers--Philadelphia had three of them then, but her photo was only in the tabloid Daily News. She was one of the teenage girls involved in what were described as wild orgies held by a group of local disc jockeys in a Main Line mansion. It was the first time I heard of the sex practice known as "Golden Showers," though I'm not sure I knew exactly what it meant at the time. Dick Clark, the iconic star of American Bandstand, got his big break as a result of those orgies, while it was rumored that Mary ended up being sent to a convent by her father.

One of the disc jockeys was a man named Bob Horn, who had a local TV show called Bandstand. After the scandal, they were desperate to find a replacement, so they recruited a baby-faced young announcer who had been doing commercials for a local jewelry store on the late night movie. Clark owed his multi-million dollar TV career to a series of orgies involving teenage girls and older male disc jockeys. I hadn't graduated high school yet, so had not started my own broadcasting career. This was a shame as there were many openings and opportunities at Philadelphia radio stations in the aftermath.

A number of years later, I was on a book tour and a talk show host in Washington, D.C. was interviewing me. It was Steve Allison, another one of the radio stars caught up in that orgy scandal years earlier. I presume no one in Washington had a clue about his past, and I didn't feel it was appropriate to bring it up.
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Thursday, March 1, 2012


Today's edition of one of my favorite news/political talk shows, Morning Joe on MSNBC, which I watch online, got me to thinking about this subject. There have been other recent reports on the fact that more and more Americans are choosing to live alone. In 1950, there were just 4 million, and many of them were considered weird or eccentric, and pitied for their lifestyle. Today, they number 33 million, fully 28% of all American households. Also, back in 1950, living alone for many was a temporary arrangement as the individual was actively engaged in looking to end that status, mostly through finding someone to love and cohabit with or marry.

But the biggest difference in 2012 is that many of these living aloners are quite happy with their situation and are not actively seeking to change it. The subject is the first big new idea that is changing our lives in a list of ten such ideas featured in the current TIME MAGAZINE cover story, which prompted the discussion on Morning Joe this morning. It had me thinking about my colorful and varied living arrangements through the years. I have often lived alone in the past, but was very willing to change that status. I've only lived with three women in my life, for several years each. One was just a good friend, the other two were relationship partners, and with one of those, Maggie, I lived on a houseboat and traveled around the U.S. and Canada in a customized motorhome.

From 1994-1996, I lived in a commune with nine women and four other men. This was not nearly as confining as it might sound, as I had my own large bedroom in a large 9 bedroom house, and there was a lot of respect for personal privacy. My next abode was in the forced community of prison, where I was usually assigned a cellmate, having no say in the choice. The best of times during those worst of times was when I bribed the housing clerk at Folsom State Prison to have a cell all to myself for an entire year. It cost me $15 worth of Ramen noodles a month and was worth every noodle.

And now I live alone in a rented room in a house on a tree-lined street in a small town a few miles south of San Francisco. The terms of my parole forced me to live in this county where I did not know a single other human being, so I will be deciding in the not-too-distant future on some major changes in my status, perhaps even relocating overseas.

The biggest difference in my looking at how I want to live my life in the future is that living alone is now a viable option. I know I can do it and thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, all of my various permutations of living arrangements have had some advantages as well as some disadvantages--even prison. And with the exception of prison, I am open to any of them happening again in my next phase of life.

We often hear that writing is a "lonely" profession, and I would change that to an "alone" profession. The two are not synonymous. I am alone, not lonely. The distinction is important. To check out the difference, I consulted the Urban Dictionary online, and came up with this depressing set of synonyms for "lonely."

Pretty depressing, wouldn't you say? Obviously "alone" is a whole different experience, and one to be honored and cherished and appreciated.

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