Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Celebrity cheapskates lacking sincerity

You probably missed it because Saturday is the least watched night on television, but the NBC-Universal family of networks recently broadcast "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope."

The star-studded celebrity telethon was designed to raise money for the Asian tsunami victims. The show was broadcast Saturday, Jan. 15, live on the East Coast from 8 to 10 p.m. (tape-delayed on the West Coast) on NBC, USA, Bravo, Trio, SCI FI, PAX, Telemundo, MSNBC and CNBC.

It was shown commercial-free, but that’s not saying much since NBC has trouble selling commercials for any of the shows in its floundering lineup. I think the network shows reruns of "Law and Order" on Saturday night.

The telethon featured a variety of big-name musical performers including Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton, Kenny Chesney, Gloria Estefan, Elton John and Nelly.

In between the music, various other "artists" and "celebrities" begged the American public for money. Staffing the phones were such stars as Halle Berry, Usher, George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Bruce Willis, Danny DeVito, Tim Robbins, Jay Leno and Drew Barrymore.

I caught part of the telethon as I was flipping through the channels. That tells you a lot about how exciting my Saturday nights are. After a few minutes of watching celebrities waiting for the phone to ring, I turned to my wife and said something about this telethon isn’t right.

Why would the average person — who in one year takes home one-tenth of one-percent of what most of these celebrities get paid in one week — give up his or her hard-earned money because an actor or a musician asked for it? Don’t get me wrong. The cause was noble. And like millions of other Americans, I gave money to help the tsunami victims in the days after the disaster.

But why go through all the trouble of putting on a telethon to raise a measly $18 million? That’s what the two-hour extravaganza brought in for the American Red Cross. The George Clooneys and Matt Damons of the world earn $18 million for just one movie. Madonna made 10 times that much on her last tour. Elton John probably has a wardrobe worth more than $18 million. That’s how much Roger Clemens will get paid to pitch for the Houston Astros for six months this year.

If celebrities want to help, let them open their checkbooks. If every one of the "stars" who donated their time on Jan. 15 to answer phones had written a check for $1 million, the tsunami victims would have been much better off. But I guess they couldn’t be charitable in private. They had to show their faces on TV, pretending they were concerned.

The whole concept of a telethon and a follow-up concert this past weekend in England (which brought in another $2 million) just doesn’t feel right. There’s something phony about the way celebrities express concern for the plight of average people.

I did read somewhere that Steven Spielberg donated $1.5 million and Sandra Bullock kicked in $1 million to the tsunami relief effort. And Leonardo DiCaprio made an unspecified "large" donation to the cause, according to his people. But where is Oprah, the richest woman in America? How about that Bill Gates? Couldn’t he spare a billion or two?

I get the feeling celebrities give more for the publicity value than for a pure act of charity. Why would you have your publicist issue a press release that you gave money? The rest of us don’t do that. We sent checks to various organizations or dropped cash in the collection basket at church to help the tsunami victims, but we didn’t pat ourselves on the back.

This idea of millionaires waiting for Joe Public to write checks leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And let’s not forget that many of these same Left Coast celebrities spent most of 2004 badmouthing this country and its president. When the election didn’t go their way, they made scornful remarks about the intelligence of the American people after they rejected John Forbes Kerry.

So let’s put an end to celebrity telethons and benefit concerts. I have a lot more respect for children who emptied their piggy-banks and sent the money to the Red Cross or for schools and church groups that held fund-raisers for the tsunami victims.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Improbable president begins four more years

Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s a state many Democrats have been in since Nov. 3, 2004. Maybe the site of George W. Bush taking the oath of office as president Thursday snapped the Democrats out of their self-imposed psychosis.

President Bush’s inauguration is the culmination of an implausible 12-month run to re-election. Bush was not supposed to win a second term. The odds were stacked against him. He barely won the presidency in 2000. He was at the helm during Sept. 11, 2001, a devastating blow to the nation’s psyche as well as the U.S. economy. Bush launched a war against Iraq that was opposed by most of the world and many Americans. And he made the same mistake his father did in the Gulf War. He stopped the war short of victory. Instead of allowing the U.S. military to hunt down and kill every armed Iraqi militant, Bush called off the offensive campaign and settled in for a year of occupation that has led to the unnecessary loss of 1,300 soldiers. It’s one thing to die in battle. It’s another to be killed while sitting down for lunch in a tent or blown to pieces driving in a convoy.

The Democrats bungled their best chance to win the White House in 20 years. It might take that long to get back to the White House, especially if they’re foolish enough to pick left-wing extremist Howard Dean as their party chairman and rally around the unelectable Hillary Clinton in 2008.

But back to 2004. Not only did Bush face a well-financed candidate in John Forbes Kerry, but the fix was in. The television networks, led by CBS, didn’t even pretend to be objective in this election. The liberal anchors and producers worked openly to defeat Bush, giving Kerry free campaign advertising with every broadcast. Socialist billionaire George Soros promised to spend whatever it took to oust Bush. The final tally that Soros funneled to the Kerry campaign and its shadowy propaganda network ( and the like) was $20 million.

Hollywood’s leftist brigade, led by master hustler Michael Moore, spewed anti-Bush propaganda on television and movies. Book publishers churned out one anti-Bush after another. The media elite worked overtime, slanting news coverage against the president. The evening news and cable talk shows were taken over by Democratic operatives. Dan Rather went a step further and invented stories to smear Bush.

The big newspapers turned over their news pages — and eventually their credibility — to the liberals. Thumb through every issue of The New York Times in 2004 and you will find a negative story about Bush on Page 1 every single day of the year. The Philadelphia Inquirer turned its editorial page into a 21-day advertising blitz for Kerry. And so on.

You couldn’t escape the anti-Bush venom at concerts. Linda Ronstadt was giving political speeches in her Las Vegas lounge act until casino owners gave her the boot. A parade of aging rockers, including Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M., staged a pre-election tour designed to indoctrinate young people into the Kerry campaign.
And in a last act of desperation, the Democrats tried to rig the exit polls to discourage Republicans from voting on Election Day. They sent their goose-stepping party loyalists (the Kool Aid brigade) to track down pollsters and pretend they were voters who just pushed Kerry to a landslide victory. But it didn’t work. Not even in Ohio, the Democrat’s version of Waterloo. Bush still took the state by 118,000 votes and he won the election by more than 3 million votes nationwide.

What did we learn from the 2004 election? A few things. You want Karl Rove on your side. Every vote still counts. Don’t believe the liberal media. And above all, Democrats will never return to power until they stop underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

Bush offered concrete solutions to the nation’s problems. Kerry offered platitudes. Bush admitted mistakes were made in Iraq, but refused to run away from the problem like Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam. Kerry still wants the U.S. to pass a global test. That’s why Kerry was sitting in the audience Thursday. That’s why he’ll remain the junior senator from Massachusetts until Teddy Kennedy croaks. And where was the lovely Teresa Heinz Kerry?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, January 14, 2005

Dan Rather ruins it for the rest of us

I was going to spend time today discussing the aftermath of Rathergate, but I’m losing interest in the story. Four CBS News staffers were fired last week following the release of an independent investigation about how Dan Rather and left-wing cohorts orchestrated a pre-election smear campaign about President Bush’s military service that relied on forged documents.

The story of the firings made the front pages of many of America’s newspapers, which is surprising considering that most big newspapers were just as guilty of biased coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign. I guess the newspapers were trying to show they’re not run by the liberal elite. Then again, the investigation shredded what little credibility was left at CBS News. Newspapers love to report bad news about television, which many editors and publishers see as the main cause of declining newspaper circulation.

CBS fired Mary Mapes, producer of the "60 Minutes Wednesday" report and three other top news division executives, but Dan Rather escaped with nary a scratch to his already tarnished reputation. I guess his announcement that he’s stepping down as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" in March was viewed as punishment enough by the authors of the 224-page report, former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, retired president of The Associated Press.

I’m sure Thornburgh and Boccardi were rewarded handsomely for producing the report, but it doesn’t contain any revelations that anyone with a passing interest in partisan politics and an ounce of common sense didn’t know three months ago.

I wrote about the connection between fanatical Bush-hater Mary Mapes and the John Kerry campaign in an October column called "The Kerry-Rather Conspiracy Exposed." And if you’re shocked to learn that Dan Rather slanted CBS news coverage in an effort to unseat George W. Bush, check out another column I wrote last year called "An Insider’s View of Liberal Bias." That one was about two books written by Bernard Goldberg, a 24-year veteran reporter with CBS News. Goldberg details decades of Rather’s left-wing agenda in both "Arrogance" and the aptly titled, "Bias."

What’s been bothering more than the release of the CBS report is a recent Gallup Poll that ranked reporters among the least trustworthy professions. In light of Dan Rather’s inexcusable ethical misconduct, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It only takes a few highly publicized cases of ethical violations to give the entire profession a black eye. Rather knew better. He’s been doing this for more than 50 years. He gets paid millions of dollars to do his job.

But it’s not just arrogant anchormen who ruin it for the rest of us. The journalism field has been rocked in recent years by scandals at the New York Times, USA Today, the BBC, the Washington Post and CNN. It’s noteworthy that all five of these news organizations are among the most liberal.

But back to the Gallup Poll. The annual survey on the honesty and ethical standards of various professions ranks reporters at the bottom, alongside lawyers, auto mechanics, politicians and used car salesmen. And this is the part that really bugs me. Newspaper reporters are even less respected than their TV counterparts.

Here’s a news flash for you: The talking heads on TV news programs are usually runner-ups from regional beauty pageants or ex-game show hosts. I would never use the word "journalist" to describe the blonde, blue-eyed Bambis and Bridgetts or the square-jawed Stones and Shepherds of TV land. They get paid to smile, keep their hair in place and read from a TelePrompTer. That’s not journalism.

There are bad seeds in every profession. I’ve worked with hundreds of reporters and editors at five different newspapers over the past 22 years and I can personally vouch that newspaper reporters and editors are among the most ethical, honest and hard-working people you will ever come across. It’s one of the few professions where ethics are debated on a daily basis as part of the job.

So let’s say good riddance to Dan Rather, his arrogance and his bias and let’s get back to work.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, January 10, 2005

Militant atheists declare holy war on America

Michael Newdow has reared his ugly head again. Newdow is the self-avowed "savior" of American atheism who challenged the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance a couple of years ago. In December 2004, he filed a lawsuit to prevent religious references at presidential inaugurations. (He lost the case). Newdow also sued to prevent chaplains from saying prayers during Congressional sessions. (Lost again).

The assault on the Pledge was the most publicized in a litany of secular attacks against the fundamental beliefs and traditions that have sustained this country for the past 225 years. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, a fanatical anti-American organization that is as dangerous to our way of life as any of the groups that support Muslim terrorists, the militant atheists want to create a godless society where only government and its institutions are worshipped.

Newdow claims that the reference to "God" in the phrase "One nation under God" would do irreparable harm to his 6-year-old daughter if she was forced to utter such repugnant language. Even if she remained silent while the rest of the class recited the Pledge, the mere mention of "God" in a classroom would scar the girl for life, according to Newdow.

Newdow and his ACLU cronies are part of a new breed of militant atheists who devote their lives to attacking the very foundations that allow them to practice their brand of disbelief. Nobody is forcing Newdow to believe in God. He can worship a tree or his pet dog or Pamela Anderson. But he wants to force millions of children (and their parents) to abandon their religion. That’s how these scoundrels work. They make themselves out to be the victims when they are the fiends who work to undermine this country.

Newdow won the initial lawsuit two years ago when an activist federal appeals court in California — home of Michael Moore, Michael Jackson and Mickey Mouse — ruled that the Pledge was unconstitutional.
The battle made its way to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the case last June on a technicality. It turns out
Newdow, who is divorced, did not have custody of his daughter. Since he was not her legal guardian, he could not sue on her behalf. The ruling didn’t satisfy either side of the debate and we expected to hear from Newdow again. If you’ve ever had a vermin infestation, you know how difficult it is to get rid of the problem.

Newdow rounded up eight more clods and re-filed his lawsuit last week in California. He made sure that the eight co-plaintiffs all are custodial parents or the children themselves. The best I can say about Newdow is that he’s an intellectual moron, a person with a great deal of education (he reportedly has a medical degree and a law degree) but has no common sense whatsoever.

This country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. References to God have been part of this nation’s history from the day the Declaration of Independence was signed to Jan. 20, 2005, when George W. Bush puts his left hand on the Bible, raise his right hand and take the oath of office to the highest office in the land, concluding with the words, "so help me God."

In joining four other justices to dismiss Newdow’s case last June, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote in his opinion that the phrase "one nation under God" is more about ceremony and history than about religion. In other words, nobody is "establishing" a particular religion (which is the only thing the Constitution prohibits). Rehnquist likened the phrase to the motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency, and to the call that opens each session of the high court itself: "God save this honorable court."

With five conservatives on the court, it’s unlikely Newdow will succeed in banning "one nation under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. And with George W. Bush appointing the next two or three justices to vacancies on the court, Newdow’ daughter will probably graduate from high school before the high court would ban the Pledge from our schools.

Unfortunately, Newdow won’t go away. He’s turned his crusade into a cottage industry. He was a Web site and tours the country speaking to anyone who will listen. Newdow has even released a CD of original music called "Liberty and Justice for All."

It features such toe-tapping tunes as "Let 'Em Leave," "Establi-Rap," "(What's the Deal with) Church and State," "My God is in My Soul" and "Can't Sue the Congress."

Newdow brags on his Web site that he wrote all the lyrics, plays all the instruments and does all the singing. I’ll pass. You probably get more authentic music by listening to the latest CD by that lip-synching wonder, Ashlee Simpson.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Major disappointment: Rendell at mid-term

When it comes to politics, I should always listen to my mother. Mom warned me about liberals. Vote for a Democrat and they'll raise your taxes, Mom said. She was right.

Ed Rendell appeared to many people to have been the better candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 2002. His opponent, Attorney General Mike Fisher, couldn’t articulate why he wanted to be governor other than he had no other elected office to shoot for at the state level.

On the other hand, Rendell did a decent job of turning Philadelphia around. And as head of the Democratic National Committee, Rendell presumably had contacts in Washington that could help the state.

Two years into his term as governor, it’s obvious that Fast Eddie is out of his league in Harrisburg. Twisting arms on Philadelphia City Council and schmoozing local union leaders is one thing. But trying to get anything done in Republican-controlled Harrisburg is a different story. And the fact that Republicans also hold the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives isn’t going to get Rendell too many invitations in Washington, D.C.

The Pennsylvania State Legislature is the largest in the country and one of the highest paid, but it is also the most mediocre legislature this side of the old Soviet Soviet Politburo. The state legislature is an elephant’s graveyard where career politicians go to die after they’ve scorched the economic landscape of Pennsylvania. Can you name the last good law to come out of Harrisburg? And don't even say the slots bill.

To his credit, Rendell went to Harrisburg with the belief that he could wheel-and-deal with the entrenched Republican majorities in both houses and get things done. Two years later, reality has set in. And for Ed Rendell, reality bites. It’s no wonder the governor races to Philadelphia every weekend to offer his "expert" analysis on the latest Eagles victory. It’s the only time anybody listens to him.

Let’s take a quick look at Rendell’s very short list of accomplishments during the first half of his four-year term. No. 1 on the list is the legalization of slot-machine gambling. One of these days, at 14 locations across the state, about 61,000 one-armed bandits will be ready to relieve you of more of your hard-earned cash. If the state brings in $1 billion in revenue three or four years down the road, you may get a check for a few hundred dollars.

That is Rendell’s "solution" to the choking property tax burden on state residents. Care to bet that by the time Rendell’s tax relief check is in the mail, your property taxes will probably have risen by another $1,000. In other words, don’t quit your day job. The slots bill is the biggest scam ever perpetrated on the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Sticking to the tried-and-true liberal playbook of big government funded by higher taxes, Rendell’s other big "achievement" during the past two years has been to increase taxes by more than $1 billion. That included the first increase in the state income tax in 13 years. Rendell wanted a 30-percent increase in the income tax, but settled for a 10-percent hike to balance his budget.
And if that first paycheck of the new year was a little lighter, you have Fast Eddie to thank for pushing through legislation allowing municipalities across the state to increase occupational privilege taxes from $10 to $52. There's also a host of "hidden taxes" that Rendell managed to sneak through, like increased fees for emissions stickers, tires and personal driving records. That added another $110 million in hidden taxes to state coffers since Rendell took office.

Instead of taking a cue from George W. Bush and cutting taxes and regulations to stimulate the economy, Rendell did the opposite. As a result, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Job creation? Rendell spent most of 2004 echoing John Kerry’s line that it was George Bush’s fault that jobs were being lost. Now that the election is over and Kerry is history, Rendell has no explanation for his dismal failure to bring back good-paying manufacturing jobs to Pennsylvania residents.

I was planning to give Rendell a C-minus for his first two years, but that implies doing an average job. In other words, not doing any harm. But Rendell has done enormous harm to the state since taking office. Pennsylvania lags behind other states in so many areas. And Rendell always seems preoccupied. If it’s not the Eagles, it’s national politics. It’s obvious he’s using the governorship as a stepping stone to something better. A Hillary Clinton-Ed Rendell ticket for 2008?

Rendell even held a press conference in December to say that he plans to seek reelection in two years and complete a second term as governor. Politicians say a lot of things. I guarantee you that Fast Eddie would be house-hunting in suburban Washington, D.C., had his friend, John Kerry, won the election. Rendell gets no better than a D on his mid-term report card.
He simply hasn’t delivered. But he has two more years to learn from his mistakes and do some good for Pennsylvania — before Hillary calls.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at