Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why the Ground Zero Mosque Should Be Built

The proposed building of a Muslim mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has created a firestorm of anger and emotion not just in Lower Manhattan, but all over the country. The public outcry over the $100-million, 13-story Islamic community center and mosque has mostly centered around 9-11 victims' families, locals and Republican politicians, who view the site as sacred ground. At the heart of the controversy is the belief that the mosque would be a monument to terrorists, and that it might even be funded by terror organizations, as Long Island Congressman Peter King has asserted, calling for an investigation.

The building--which had housed a Burlington Coat Factory until 9/11, when one of the planes' landing-gear smashed through the roof after hitting the World Trade Center--would cost $4.8-million to purchase, and would also include a swimming pool and performance space that would be open to the public. Muslim officials have said that the mosque would be a way for them to help rebuild the community.

Let me be 1000% clear on something: What happened on 9-11 was horrific and serves as a constant reminder of how vulnerable we are to enemies who seek to destroy us. We must do everything in our power to proactively protect our citizens from further attack. I live just blocks from Ground Zero, and have a personal stake in this tragedy as well as its aftermath and place in history. But we will as a nation be destroyed if we allow the 9-11 attacks to turn America from the great melting-pot and land of opportunity into the land of religious discrimination, fear and retribution. If so, then the terrorists have struck us again.

Yes, Ground Zero is sacred ground. No one should or would ever dispute that. But that can mean different things to different people. Perhaps in the interest of healing we should honor it and those killed by not using it as monument for more bias and vitriol. Wouldn't religious tolerance and acceptance be a far greater legacy for that site than one that perpetuates the kind of wholesale hatred and intolerance that was at the root of the very attacks themselves?

Interestingly, King was asked over the weekend if he'd support the mosque if it were built at another New York City location and he replied yes. That would clearly indicate that his opposition was more a product of political posturing, and of a sweeping indictment of all Muslims not just those who attacked us on 9-11, than actual fear of terrorist funding and sponsorship. If his concerns that terror organizations were behind this particular mosque were genuine wouldn't he be opposed to its existence anywhere?. Which is why we cannot allow this sacred ground to become a breeding ground of hate and revenge, or to become a political pawn for rabble-rousing legislators.

And if people still need a reason to believe the mosque deserves to be built on that site, consider this: Sarah Palin is against it (she recently Tweeted that Muslims should "refudiate" it). I can't think of another reason to support something than the fact that the grammatically-challenged Mama Grizzly is against it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Will Charlie Wrangle His Way of His Ethics Mess?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The allegations against him are plentiful, and more than enough to reinforce the old adage that where there's smoke there's fire: that he's taken a $1-million contribution in exchange for political favors; failed to pay taxes on his Dominican villa; accepted a corporate-paid junket to the Caribbean; failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets; and that he's violated Congressional gift rules by renting four heavily subsidized apartments in NYC. For embattled Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel, the picture certainly looks bleak.

But if you observe the behavior lately of the crafty pol who was stripped in March of his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship, his steadfast defiance suggests a self-serving arrogance that could be very damaging to the vulnerable Democratic Party as it seeks to hold its shaky House majority. (My favorite Rangel moment this week was when he berated on TV the late Tim Russert's son Luke, an NBC/MSNBC reporter who he clearly was unfamiliar with, for trying to "make a name" for himself when he asked if the Congressman was afraid of losing his job. Well as names go in journalism, ya probably can't get much better than Russert. When Ole Charlie was eventually told this by staff, he put tail between legs, called Russert, and issued a public apology)

Rangel is one of those old-school, glad-handing, back-patting, baby-kissing, fake-smiling, carnival-barking, pockets-lining shrewd operatives who give Washington a bad name. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to "drain the swamp" when she and Democrats won control in 2006, Rangel's ethics violations is the sort of activity she was referring to.

So Charlie the Wrangler may soon be facing the music. Next Thursday, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will begin issuing its findings as it prepares for embarrassing, headline-grabbing public hearings that Democrats, in this hotly contested, contentious midterm election season, are desperately hoping to avoid. They've been feverishly working with Rangel's team to negotiate a deal--talks which reportedly broke down last week--that would most likely bring either a formal reprimand or censure.

But that's not enough. Rangel, the 80-year-old 20-term legislator, should step down for the good of his party and let Democrats fight its war against the GOP without the burden and shame of his multiple misdeeds hanging over their heads like a Kansas black funnel cloud.

To be sure, it's quite suspect how a career public servant like Rangel could amass so much cash, assets and a Caribbean villa on a Congressman's paycheck. Like I said, where there's smoke there's usually fire....

Friday, July 23, 2010

Run, Sharron, Run! Harry Reid's Tea Party Challenger Bolts from Reporters Again

It was the first time since she won her Republican primary over a month ago that Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Sharron Angle invited the press to one of her speeches. At a local business Thursday she spoke for three minutes about her pledge to repeal the estate tax. She then stepped back and stood in line with workers as a moderator announced she'd be taking questions from the press. At that point she did a military-worthy 90-degree turn and bolted out the door like a fleeing shoplifter as reporters chased her down asking why she's refusing to answer questions....at her own press conference! She hurriedly got in her SUV ("S" for "Safety") and sped off. Not very Senate-worthy behavior.

Let's face it: Sharron Angle is a right-wing fringe candidate who seeks to abolish the Education Department, the EPA, Social Security, Medicare, seeks to repeal health care reform, supports Wall Street excess, called the $20-billion BP fund a "slush fund," claims unemployment benefits deter people from looking for work, and scoffs at global warming. These Tea Party radicals like Angle and Kentucky's Rand Paul lack any real political experience, and for some strange reason salivate at the chance of joining a government they don't believe in. They're all about freedom and freedom of speech, yet refuse to follow conventional practices like being accountable to a free press and a voting public.

It's hard to imagine how Angle can recover from this sort of constant public humiliation. Outside of her teeny Tea Party constituency, she's giving mainstream Republicans and independents absolutely no reason to vote for her. Her repeated refusal to face the media and answer questions about her positions demonstrates a supreme lack of confidence and a mortal fear of public embarrassment. Neither of which are qualities we want in a U.S. Senator. To Reid, she's the gift that keeps on giving, and his best asset in his campaign for re-election.

On another note, we could use your help at The The Adrienne Shelly Foundation. We're a 501 c 3 tax-exempt, non-profit organization dedicated in my late wife's honor, and with a simple mission: supporting women filmmakers. Adrienne, who wrote, directed and starred in the hit film WAITRESS, was killed November 1, 2006. Through the Foundation, her commitment to filmmaking lives on. We've established scholarships, grants, finishing funds, screenwriting fellowships and living stipends at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts/Kanbar Institute of Film; Columbia University; American Film Institute; Women in Film; IFP; the Nantucket Film Festival; the Tribeca Film Institute; and the Sundance Institute. Your generous contribution will go a long way towards helping us achieve this very important mission. Please click here to make a donation. Thank you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What the Shirley Sherrod Saga Says About America

Shame on conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Shame on USDA head Tom Vilsack. Shame on the NAACP. And shame on the Obama administration. Shame on all of them for their astonishing rush to judgement earlier this week in the Shirley Sherrod case. What happened to Sherrod is an embarrassing reminder of the racial dysfunction in America today and how politics continues to play a critical role in this ugliness.

Sherrod was summarily dismissed of her Department of Agriculture job Monday after Breitbart released an incriminating, edited tape of her speaking before a small NAACP audience in March in which she admitted 24 years ago to helping a white farmer less than she could have because he had acted "superior" to her. But in this same speech she shared her moment of redemption and the lesson she learned about race:

"That's when it was revealed to me that the job is about poor, versus those who have. And not so much about white — it is about white and black, but it's not — you know, it opened my eyes."

But the full tape was not released by Breitbart, only select clips which reinforced claims that Sherrod was a racist. The disingenuous blogger admitted to Fox TV host Sean Hannity that he was seeking retribution against the NAACP for its resolution last week condemning as racist certain elements of the conservative-fueled Tea Party.

So what happened next? The NAACP publicly condemned Sherrod; USDA officials, claiming to be acting on behalf of Vilsack and the administration, forced Sherrod to quickly resign; and Obama himself supported her firing and, as NAACP head Ben Jealous said about his own organization, was "snookered" by right wing zealots. What's truly incredible here is the speed in which they all demonized Sherrod without proper investigation and analysis of the full story, and without giving her the opportunity she pleaded for to defend herself. It was a swift, merciless racial witch hunt.

To be sure, the Washington landscape has gotten so contentious, malicious and partisan that calculating, irresponsible right wing rabble-rousers like Breitbart are race-baiting to score political points in their rapacious quest for power. In the process, they serve to anger and divide the races. Turn white against black, and vice versa. And they make Obama so overly sensitive to issues of race that he makes boneheaded decisions like hurriedly hopping on the bash-Sherrod bandwagon in a move clearly aimed at placating a bunch of blathering, inciting wingnuts. When is all this racial posturing going to stop?

Sometimes it takes a tragedy or travesty of justice to serve as the catalyst for change; a wake-up call to those in power. Let's hope the rush to villify Sherrod, and the humiliating public relations shitstorm that followed, is a lesson learned for the media and politicians to take a deep collective breath and do their due diligence before shamefully playing into the duplicitous hands of the partisan and racist operatives who seek nothing but turmoil and division in our nation. Next time, before they trip over each other to hang someone out to dry, perhaps they'll ask a few questions first.

A footnote to this story: on Wednesday the USDA reinstated Sherrod, and Vilsack issued a sincere, heartfelt apology to her. It is likely that Obama himself will reach out now and apologize as well. But when it comes to race relations in America today, I'm not so sure that all's well that ends well.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'll be on Fox News' Strategy Room Wednesday

Tune in Wednesday at 10am to FoxNews.com's Strategy Room. I'll be holding up the left on a variety of subjects likely to include the economy, the midterm elections, the BP oil spill and more. Stream it live at http://live.foxnews.com/strategy-room

Here's the Campaign Speech Obama Should Be Giving to Help Democrats

There's just 104 days left until November's Congressional midterm elections. Not a lot of time in the world of politics, especially, as many pundits argue, most voters' minds are made up as they take that last bite of July 4th BBQ. As such, President Obama needs to immediately shift gears and start aggressively touting the major, unprecedented accomplishments of his administration and Democrats before it's too late. And he needs to point out the unprecedented obstructionism of Republicans. He needs to do it all in a clear, concise, soundbite-effective manner that the poor, the middle class and independents can quickly comprehend. And he must do it without all the usual Democratic parsing, nuancing and over-intellectualized explanations. I suggest the following speech:

"My fellow Americans. Today I want to talk with you about what I call The Great Lie, which I will explain in a few moments. In just four short months you will be faced with a very important decision. A decision that will have significant consequences in terms of the overall direction of our great nation with regard to how your government is run. It is a very, very critical decision in terms of your jobs, your savings, your investments, your taxes, your health, your children's education and the environment. It is not a decision you should take lightly.

The United States is still reeling from the worst financial crisis in 80 years. There are over 14-million unemployed Americans today, and we must return them to the workforce quickly and with good paying, quality jobs. Make no mistake, I understand the pain and hardship that you and your families are experiencing, and I understand the huge challenges to businesses as well. That is precisely why how you vote in November can be the difference between continuing on our road to recovery, or sending the country back into an economic tailspin not seen since the Great Depression. Which is why when you enter that voting booth on November 2nd and close that curtain you must vote for Democrats and keep Democrats in power.

Now let's get to The Great Lie. The Great Lie is this: the Republican Party wants you to believe that the sky is falling and that America is failing. Republicans are trying to convince you that the country is in worse shape than when I became president in January 2009. And it's all because of this big bad Bogeyman they call "big government." But let me tell you this: nothing could be further from the truth.

When I took office America was losing 700,000 jobs per month. We now have five straight months of job growth. When I took office, some of the country's largest industries--financial and banking, airline, retail, housing and automobile--were on the verge of collapse. Today they experience growing sales and record profits. When I took office the GDP--which measures the nation's total output--was shrinking by an annual rate of 6%. This year we're growing at about 3%. That's a 9% swing to the positive. When I took office, consumer confidence and spending were at record lows. Each one of you is a consumer. And as consumers, you are spending more today and are feeling much better about the economy than you did when I took office. But let me be clear. You are still struggling. America is struggling. And we still have a long way to go back to prosperity. But whatever you do, however you feel in this struggle, do not let Republicans tell you that your government is failing and that we are in worse shape than January 2009. You know this is not true. Don't fall for Republican lies.

Now let's explore this thing called "big government." Back in 1863 Abraham Lincoln delivered his brilliant Gettysburg Address. In it he spoke of "government of the people, by the people, for the people." My fellow Americans, there is no big government...only your government. You pay taxes, and government, your government, owes you something in return. It owes you the promise that it will help you when you're down and in need, and it owes you the assurance that it will intervene and help prop up the economy when grave circumstances threaten your well-being. It does not have the right, as the Republicans would love, to turn its back on you and represent only the wealthy and big corporate interests. Remember, "government of the people, by the people, for the people..."

Since I took office your government has given you sweeping legislation to reform the health care and the financial industries, and put a $787 billion stimulus package to work for you. Government has now guaranteed you health insurance. Government has now guaranteed that you'll never be denied coverage over pre-existing conditions. Government has now guaranteed that you won't have any dollar amount caps on the amount of coverage you receive. Government has now guaranteed that it will not allow Wall Street and the banking industry to trade recklessly with your money and cause the kind of financial crisis that sent America into a near economic depression. Additionally, government helped lift the housing industry through special credits and low interest rates. Government helped companies like General Motors emerge from bankruptcy, expand production and start hiring again. Your government has and is doing its job in working 24/7 to one-day soon make America prosperous for you again. And I need you to do your job in November by keeping Democrats in power in the House and Senate so that they, and I, can keep America--your government--working hard for you. Working to make your jobs safer, your homes worth more, your savings bigger, your families more protected, and the environment safer.

Let's talk about the environment for a second. Remember Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the guy who apologized to BP because we urged them to put $20-billion into an account to pay workers and businesses affected by the disastrous oil spill...the worst environmental crisis this nation has ever faced? Well, as the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Barton would become chairman if Republicans won a majority in November. That's right, the guy who apologized to BP would now be the guy in charge of the House committee that oversees America's environmental policies. The proverbial fox would be guarding the hen house. This is just another reason why you must vote Democratic in November.

Are ya with me so far? Do you see how these things are important to you? How your government, Democrat-led government, not big government, is helping you and protecting your interests? Well here's another interesting thing about The Great Lie: Republicans have done absolutely nothing to help you. Not one single solitary thing. All they've done is vote against everything I've mentioned to you here today. While my administration and Democrats in power have given you better health care, greater financial security and protection, increased jobs and concern over the environment, Republicans have voted against every one of these measures. Not one Republican voted for our stimulus plan. Only one Republican voted for health care reform bill. And just three Republicans voted for our financial reform bill. And when your government, run by Democrats, wanted to extend unemployment benefits for those of you out of work, Republicans again voted against helping you. Since I took office, as Democrats have said "yes" to helping the poor, the middle class, small businesses, the unemployed...Republicans have repeatedly said "no." "No" to helping secure your jobs and creating new ones for the unemployed. "No" to helping you obtain better, cheaper health insurance. "No" to stopping the reckless trading on Wall Street that created our economic crisis and jeopardized your savings and investments. No, no, no, no, no. That's what you can expect more of if you vote Republican in November.

Ya know what else Republicans don't tell you as part of The Great Lie? They don't tell you that they really don't care about you. They don't tell you that all they care about are the wealthiest Americans and their big corporate pals. They don't tell you that their main priority is to keep more of their income by paying less and less taxes. When they say "no more big government" what they're really saying is "no more of MY money going to help the poor, the middle class and small businesses." They are doing everything in their power to convince you that "big government" is bad for you. But you tell me, America, is better health insurance bad for you? Is job creation and job security bad for you? Is being able to buy a home bad for you? Is seeing your home's value rise bad for you? Is reigning in dangerous Wall Street trading activity bad for you? Is extending unemployment benefits bad for you? If it is, then maybe I'm wrong here. Maybe you should vote Republican in November, because Republicans will take away all of these benefits your Democrat-led government is working overtime to give you. They will take away health care so that they can make their rich insurance, medical and pharmaceutical industry pals happy. They will take away financial reform so they can make their rich Wall Street pals happy. And they will leave you again exactly where they left you before I took office: out in the cold, on your own, with no government to help you. Your government will become their government. A government that is not "of the people, by the people, for the people"...but only for some of the people. A government for the rich and the privileged.

Don't let Republicans get away with The Great Lie. The "big government" Bogeyman is just a tactic for Republicans to scare you into voting against your own interests in November. Remember, how you vote will decide how your government serves you. Vote for the party that works hard to improve your lives, not the party says "no" to everything you need. Vote for Democrats on November 2nd, and keep America moving in the right direction for you. Thank you and God Bless America."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Whoopi's Outrageous Defense of Mel Gibson

Whoopi Goldberg's on a mission. The Johnny Cochran of "The View" barked Thursday that new allegations of tampering should cast doubt on the validity of the now-infamous Mel Gibson tapes. That's four straight days of nationally televised defense of her racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, spousal-abusing, drunken Hollywood pal.

What Goldberg is doing is utterly despicable. She's attempting to turn Gibson into the victim and Oksana Grigorieva, his ex, into the abuser. She wants to know why the tapes we're edited, and if that could prove Mad Mel's innocence. She asks why Grigorieva didn't simply hang up. Or call the police. Or exercise some other rational option.

Goldberg is ignoring decades of research and studies that show that battered women live in mortal fear of their abusers and don't think the same rational, logical, practical way that the rest of us do. That's why they often continue to be abused, because it's not easy for them to simply walk away or stand up for themselves. Whoopie's smug over-intellectualizing of Grigorieva's situation demonstrates supreme arrogance, ignorance and insensitivity.

To be sure, Grigorieva taped those calls and released the tapes for two reasons: fear and revenge. Fear over her life and that of her children, and revenge against her obviously verbally and physically abusive tormentor. Is it so hard to understand why this woman wanted the world to hear Gibson's vile, enraged rants against her? So hard to comprehend why she'd publicly go on the offensive like this? Is it difficult to understand that after allegedly being socked in the face, while holding their baby, she was terrified of being killed by this controlling monster?

Calling the cops, as Whoopie suggested, doesn't always work. It didn't work for Nicole Brown Simpson. Didn't stop O.J. from practically decapitating her in a fit of violent, drug-induced rage. Maybe had she showed the entire world what a dangerous, abusive asshole Simpson was, the way Grigorieva now has with Gibson, she'd still be alive.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Passion of the Gibson

Holy c**t whore, Batman! Mel Gibson may just be the angriest man in the world! In a series of taped phone conversations with his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, released by website RadarOnline.com, the 54-year-old actor unleashed a torrent of nasty, vile, vicious, racist expletives and threats of violence that suggest that Mad Mel not only dislikes Jews and gays, as his past behavior demonstrates, but blacks, Mexicans ("wetbacks", as he calls 'em) and women too. And, clearly, himself.

Jeez, what happened to this guy? Where did our lovable old "Lethal Weapon" Mel go? When did our valiant Braveheart turn into a violent, racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic drunken asshole? When he screams into the phone "You need a bat beside the head" and "I'll put you in a fucking rose garden, you c**t," it chillingly recalls the brutal murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman by that other maniacal substance abuser O.J. Simpson. Gibson also wishes Grigorieva gets "raped by a pack of niggers." Listening to these horrible verbal assaults on the tapes made public (no doubt by a petrified Grigorieva herself), it's hard not to fear for this woman's life.

And if Gibson's despicable behavior wasn't enough, Hollywood pals like Whoopie Goldberg have shamefully come to his defense. On "The View" Monday, she assured listeners that "I know Mel, and I know he's not a racist." Sorry Whoopie, but anyone who uses the word nigger the way your buddy did is a racist. She then a day later again defended him by saying it was more or less alcohol-induced "jackassian behavior." Sure, just some good ole boy innocent horseplay, right? The truth is, booze doesn't make people racist. Just makes 'em honest. It relaxes people's inhibitions and brings to the surface the ugliness that normally percolates quietly beneath it. But that's no excuse. No matter how drunk I would ever get I am never gonna use that word. Ever. Period. It's a disgusting, hateful, outrageously offensive slur. But I guess it's convenient to simply blame it all on liquor. I suppose alcohol was also responsible in July '06 for turning the normally Jew-loving Gibson into the unhinged lunatic who told Malibu police "Fucking Jews...the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" during his DUI arrest?

Or how about Gibson's homophobic rant during a 1991 interview in the Spanish language newspaper El Pais: "They take it up the ass, this [pointing to his butt] is only for taking a shit. With this look, who’s going to think I’m gay? I don’t lend myself to that type of confusion. Do I look like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?" Was that caused by alcohol too? Years later Gibson commented: "I shouldn't have said it, but I was tickling a bit of vodka during that interview, and the quote came back to bite me on the ass." Once again, it was old Mr. Smirnofftalking, and not the racist Mel Gibson.

On Wednesday Whoopie yet again stood by her buddy Mel by suggesting that she, who admittedly hurls racial epithets during fits of road rage, must be a racist too then if Gibson is a racist for using the N-word. She also condescendingly implied that as a black woman she somehow knows better than us whities and that we should trust her judgements. All of which is highly convoluted logic. Two people screaming racial insults doesn't mean neither is racist. To the contrary, it means that both are. And, I don't have to be black to conclude that someone is a bigot. I still have ears. White ears, perhaps, but they hear racist-spewed venom just fine.

Had the ranter been someone else and not her pal Gibson, we all know that Goldberg would've used her "View" bully-pulpit to pounce on him like white on rice. She'd have been the first one on that dais to scream racism. But instead, like all the Roman Polanski apologists and defenders, her Hollywood loyalty led her to downplay and trivialize Gibson's vile racist behavior. Shame on them both.

To be sure, Gibson needs help. And lots of it. Let's hope he gets it quickly before something truly tragic occurs beyond his embarrassing, humiliating, drunken phone rants.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Justice Gone Wild: Polanski Goes Free While Hundreds of Innocent Geese Are Executed

There's something very wrong with society when a court sets a child rapist free while 400 law-abiding geese receive a death sentence and are summarily executed.

This bizarre travesty of justice occurred Monday as Switzerland announced that it would not extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski to the United States to face charges stemming from his 1977 statutory rape of a 13-year-old, just days after U.S authorities gassed to death the birds for air safety purposes. Seems the entire species has gotten a pretty bad rap in the wake of January 2009's Hudson River emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549.

The poor geese were secretly yanked out of Prospect Park, Brooklyn last Thursday, six miles from LaGuardia Airport, where the ill-fated plane, captained by folk hero Sully Sullenberger, took off minutes before flying into a gaggle of kamikaze geese, destroying both engines.

I'm not exactly sure what the government has in mind going forward, but perhaps its ultimate plan is to kill off every goose within miles of every airport in America. Memo to geese: if you live near one, this might be a great time to start packing.

And regarding Polanski, that repugnant little pervert, it's become painfully clear that the Swiss are much better at making cheese than they are judicial decisions. Prosecutors in Los Angeles will now have to decide whether or not to continue their inept 32-year pursuit of him now that it appears he'll continue living unfettered in France. Sadly, the 400 geese weren't so lucky.

By the way, anyone interested in learning why this criminal piece of garbage should someday face trial can read my blogs from 9/29/09 and 9/30/09

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cavs' Gilbert Was Right to Blast James. In Fact, He Didn't Go Far Enough

Kudos to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for showing some balls and standing up for his team, the fans, the game of basketball and the sports industry overall. Finally, someone in a position of power put a spotlight on the increasingly offensive and unprofessional behavior of professional athletes. It's been long overdue.

Go ahead, call me an old man at 50, but I remember the days when fans were awed and inspired by athletes. When we shared their sense of pride and love of whatever game they played. They were heroes back then, not grandstanding, foul-mouthed, steroid-addicted, immature, over-paid ego-maniacs. Outside of the rare scandal (remember the salacious Mike Kekich/Fritz Peterson wife swap of the '73 Yankees?), ballplayers played the game with respect, integrity, a sense of responsibility and team loyalty.

Fault not Lebron James for leaving his beloved Ohio for the constant sun, fake boobs, low taxes and potential NBA championship in Miami. Basketball today, like all sports, is big business...and he's a 25-year-old red-blooded American male who, along with his pals and new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is gonna tear up that town and save an extra $10-million. Can ya blame him? But we can put James on our eternal shit-list for how he handled his departure from the only burg he's known, and which gave him his start and his eventual throne as King James.

Lebron didn't even have the decency to provide advance notice to Gilbert. Instead, as the angry owner wrote in a scathing, well-earned public excoriation of his former star, James staged a "narcissistic" ESPN circus--complete with his own paid interviewer, Jim Gray--and literally left Gilbert to find out about Lebron's decision at the same time as I did. And I did absolutely nothing for the King these past seven years.

So yes, thank you Dan Gilbert, for calling James out on his self-aggrandizing, time-wasting slap in the face of Cleveland and sports fans everywhere. Thank you for feeling such visceral disgust that you felt compelled to write your open letter to your heartbroken fans in which you branded James as shameful, selfish and cowardly.

But I'd like to take Gilbert's rant a step further. Personally, I'm sick of all the showboating, arrogance and low-class behavior of athletes in general. I want football players to stop dancing like MC Hammer every time they score a touchdown. I want basketball players to stop angrily screaming "muthafucka" and looking like they could kill someone whenever they block a shot or dunk the ball (are you listening, Kevin Garnett et al?). I want athletes to stop jumping in the stands to fight with fans. I want them to stop juicing themselves to the point of physical absurdity. Is that too much to ask?

In the wake of the NBA's free-agent frenzy, Lebron's behavior just gave folks like me religion; a reason to devoutly root for the Heat's colossal failure. As a die-hard Knicks fan, I congratulate Miami for taking over the top spot from Boston on the teams-I-hate list. As for Lebron, he'll go to Miami, he'll make gazillions, and he may, just may--if he, Wade and Bosh can check their egos and shooting obsessions at the door--win an NBA title someday. But what he lost last week he will never get back: respect and adulation from the fans.

As actor, fellow Knicks fanatic and NY Post guest columnist Matthew Modine put it Saturday, "F--k Lebron James." Amen.

Friday, July 09, 2010

What Lebron's Decision Says About Lebron

They booed him in New York, they burned his jerseys in Cleveland and they went berserk with glee in South Beach. In the TV circus that was the Lebron James "Decision" show Thursday night on ESPN, the 25-year-old basketball phenom announced his long-awaited, more-dramatic-than-a-soap-opera choice of where he'll be playing this Fall: the Miami Heat. And this surprising decision tells us an awful lot about James and how he feels about himself, or more so, how he doesn't.

The second-coming of Michael Jordan has curiously chosen instead to be the second fiddle of Dwayne Wade, the Heat's one-man offensive machine who'll now also be joined by former Toronto all-star forward Chris Bosh (Gotta hand it to Miami president Pat Riley for bagging the top three free agents of all time). But as anyone with an ounce of basketball knowledge will tell you, Wade is not going to change his style of play for Lebron. It's his team, his town ("Wade County") and his game. Which begs the question, why on Earth would James take a back seat to Wade?

The truth is, James, who was feeling the pressure to live up to the "the greatest of all time" label, does not see himself the way fans or the media does. He does not believe he's the caliber of player of Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who've won six and five NBA championships respectively. His decision to cede top-dog status to Wade is a de facto admission that he cannot carry a team and win it all on his back; that he's not "the man" like Jordan and Kobe, and now clearly, Wade. But while he says he'd rather be a Magic Johnson than a Jordan, can we really believe him? Will he really thrive as Wade's second banana? Will he really be ok with Wade getting the ball in the key final seconds of a critical game? Will the "Miami Thrice," as they're now being called, truly jive as a team--the way the Celtics' stars Paul Pierce, Ray Allan and Kevin Garnett do--and deliver instant, dynasty-level championship success, which is what everyone expects from this half-billion-dollar megastar collective? Will Riley, who now needs to sign eight more players under minimum-salary contracts, be able to attract quality support players or is the Heat destined to be a trio of disappointingly over-talented ball-grabbing egomaniacs who never bring home the trophy? To be sure, there's gonna be more pressure on this Dream Team to win, win quickly, and win big than on any other team in professional sports history.

In an open letter to fans, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote about James' departure this way: "This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his decision unlike anything ever witnessed in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment." Gilbert's right. The event screamed, "Me, me, me." It was not the action of a humble superstar ready to run the floor in Wade's shadow. And that could be a foreshadowing of what's to come from King James in Miami more than than anything else.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Who's the Elitist Now?

While subbing for Fox News Radio's Tom Sullivan Monday, Spencer Hughes--not exactly a household name, mind you--spent much of his show guilty of classic Freudian Projection and Republican hypocrisy.

Conservative spinheads like Hughes love to bash President Obama and liberals for being "elitists," out of touch with the needs of the average American in this difficult recessionary period. But it is Hughes who clearly demonstrated his colossal lack of compassion and insight into the economic, health and racial struggles people are facing all over the country.

One frustrated, distraught female caller said she's been unemployed long-term and is finding it near impossible to get a job. Hughes berated her, stating that anyone who wants work can find it. As an example he cited his wife's budding online apparel and jewelry business. "I can't afford to buy gas," she countered. Hughes then arrogantly bragged to his listeners that "I can look around her apartment and garage and guarantee you she can afford $9.99 a month for Internet." He reiterated that, just like his wife (who, it should be noted, has a gainfully employed husband for support), anyone can start a business.

Hughes then suggested that out of work people write E-Books. "One of the best ways to make money on the Internet," he said. Is this guy for real? With a straight face he's suggesting to the millions of unemployed workers--most with little or no higher education--that they write books? A laid-off factory worker living in Ohio with three hungry kids is supposed to sit around and pen a novel? Or maybe these poor folks can write books about what it's like to be kicked in the ass during the worst economy in 75 years.

Hughes praised another caller for "going into my own practice" when things didn't work out with his "associates." I don't begrudge this particular guy, but an obvious professional like him is not representative of the typical poor shlep who's lost his job at the plant.

When he was done with his jobs diatribe Hughes then shifted to obesity, claiming that people are fat because they're lazy and don't want to exercise. And because they eat too much junk food (ignoring studies that show that poor people eat junk food because it's cheap). He suggested they go jogging. Yes, jogging, apparently the official sport of the low-income, inner-city unemployed. I guess, to Hughes, when you've been out of work for a year and you worry about putting food on the table for your kids, the best thing is to simply go for a run. And working white folks like Hughes can vouch for how freakin' Zen this activity is.

Hughes then railed against law enforcement, attacking cops and highway patrolmen for handing out summonses to innocent people like his wife, who was ticketed for doing 88miles per hour when he claims she was within the speed limit. "They got the badge and the gun," he lamented. Hughes vented anger over how cops sit and wait for people like him "to go three inches past the stop sign" so they can pull him over. And this is a guy who, like so many conservatives, supports Arizona's tough new immigration law on the grounds that the law protects people from discrimination, and that cops will do the right thing. Hughes is an angry white man who feels bullied by police. Does he ever stop to think how a Mexican feels in Arizona? Talk about being out of touch.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

James Taylor and Carole King Rock the Garden

Entering the storied Madison Square Garden Wednesday night I had a distinct moment of uncertainty; of feeling I was in the wrong place. I was there to see two pop legends perform, yet judging from the median age of the crowd it looked more like a "Golden Girls" convention. It was also a very white crowd. In fact, it was the oldest, whitest audience I had ever watched a concert with. We could've been at a nursing home in South Carolina.

But the truth is, at 68 and 62 respectively, Carole King's and James Taylor's fans are as old if not way older than the two rockers who bounced around the stage for 2 1/2 hours like teens on Red Bull. With an astounding 130 years between them, Taylor and King still have more talent, charm, energy and relevance than performers half their ages. It was an incredible evening of some of the best pop songs in music history.

Performing in the round on a slow moving stage, Taylor and King took turns singing their iconic hits with a duet thrown in every now and then. Shortly after the open, to rousing applause and repeated standing ovations, Taylor mirthfully acknowledged that this is what they meant by "we've got to get back to the Garden," referring to the classic lyric from Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock, made famous by Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. His easy charm and wickedly dry sense of humor--qualities almost as appreciated as his music--was evident throughout the performance. While relating the meaning behind his lovely lullaby "Sweet Baby James," written for his brother's newborn, he told of being away when his nephew was born. "I was a broad for a year. Wait, that didn't come out right. That's how rumors get started."

Taylor later recalled how he and King got together last November to work on their set list. They had a hard time choosing, he said, because there was just too many songs between them and they wanted them all. "Would've been a 6-hour show," he said, as the adoring crowd shrieked their approval. "Oh you say that now," he jokingly warned. But the crowd was loving every minute, and surely would've stayed six hours had Taylor and King indulged them.

Taylor went through his greatest hits with the precision of a master, his voice still hitting the highs, and largely staying true to the songs' Top 40 radio execution, but injecting just enough blues and soul to keep them from getting tired. And when he crooned "Fire and Rain"--a song he's so identified with that he's surely at some point in his career resented having to perform it--he seemed to comfortably embrace this classic and truly appreciate that, at 62, he still has 20,000 people absolutely ga-ga to hear him sing it. After a brief intermission, JT traded in his suit and blue dress shirt for some chinos, a brown polo and an Irish cap; a wardrobe change which made him look more like his 70's self.

King was amazing as well. Remember this woman's age. At 68, she was adorable, sexy and playful, with boundless energy. At one point she sidled up to legendary guitarist Danny Kortchmar, and in a back-and-forth vocal tease she sensually mimicked his elongated guitar licks. Hard to imagine any one of today's young pop stars pulling something like that off at almost 70, and looking so natural doing it. Not sure I'd even wanna see them do it today. When King belted out "Natural Woman," she brought the house down. A rendition so soulful and emotional that you'd have to be dead not to have felt its raw power and beauty.

To be sure, it's truly astounding how many incredible songs these two giants have written between them. And seeing them perform them together was as joyous for the audience as it was so clearly for them. Their trust, love, respect and appreciation for each other shined throughout, and was infectuous. Watching King buoyantly dance around to "I Feel the Earth Move," matched by Taylor bouncing up and down as he rocked "Up on the Roof," you felt fortunate to be in the presence of ageless greatness, witnessing something very, very special.

The only beef was the mile-long bathroom lines. But I suppose that's what you get when you throw 20,000 old folks under one roof.