Their Last Kiss


Too many deaths now,

Too many deaths then.


Edgar, Bob, Tom & Mike;

Nancy, Cyl & Dan.


Some by cancer,

Some by age,

Some by accident.

All yield rage.


The inconceivability

Of it all, of death;

Of loves there, than gone.

Of life here—one, two—



Experience, no teacher;

Grief, relentless, ever-rending.

Worlds with endings—amen.


When do we get used to this?

When do we accept

The price for life

To be their last kiss?



Dan Brenner: Inspiring Us With the Facts, and His Feelings.



(If not for my wonderful friend, mentor and former colleague Jeffrey Bernstein, the founder of Cable Positive, I would not be posting anything about the inconceivable death of Dan Brenner tonight. When I learned earlier this evening that Dan was struck and killed by a car crossing a street in LA, I was numb and stunned into disbelief. My first instinct was to call Jeffrey, who worked closely with Dan in building Cable Positive years before I arrived to run the organization in 2000. Then the three of us worked closely for the next nine years, with many other fine human beings, raising $20 million and securing some $2 billion of pro-bono television airtime for HIV/AIDS education. I’ll have more to say about Dan when I stop crying and can think straight again, but thanks to Jeffrey’s finding a piece I wrote about Dan almost 10 years ago–saluting Dan’s championing an international matching grant program for HIV/AIDS organizations, I will reprint those comments here. On re-reading them, I got to the point where, Dan, a guest professor of mine in Stuart Shorentein’s Communications Law class at Hofstra Law School, told me that I learned well from his lecture since I chose NOT to go into Communications Law. It was Dan Brenner’s classic dry, self-deprecating wit, and when I re-read that line, I broke down and cried and could not continue reading. He was alive again to me, and will always be.)


Inspiring Us With the facts, and His Feelings

By Steve Villano
The first time I met Dan Brenner was over 25 years ago in law school.
I was a student, and he, a guest lecturer, in my Communications Law class, which could sometimes be a bit boring. Except, of course, when Dan Brenner taught. There was no time for boredom. His mind raced so fast, his humor was so relentlessly smart, that if you snoozed, you’d lose.
Fifteen years later, when I was hired to head Cable Positive, I saw Dan again at the National Cable Show in New Orleans. I went up to him at the Cable Positive Board of Directors meeting where I would be introduced, and whispered in his ear.
“I’m the only person in the entire Cable industry who’s ever been your student in law school,” I said, catching him off guard for a nano-second, watching his gentle eyes smile before his warp-speed wit went into action. “And, I must have done a good job,” he said, “because you’ve chosen not to practice Communications Law.”
In fact, Dan did a very good job, which is no surprise to all of us who know, admire and love him. Whether working as Counsel to former FCC Commissioner Mark Fowler, as General Counsel for NCTA over the past 16 years, or as a leading voice on Cable Positive’s Board for the past decade, Dan Brenner’s brilliance in his work was only eclipsed by his compelling compassion.
In venues outside of Cable Positive, it was easy to be distracted by Dan’s intelligence and how devastatingly funny he could be, with a few carefully chosen words and nuances. Cable Positive benefited by both of those gifts of his, but they took a back seat to his passion for the organization’s mission and his deep feeling for individuals—around the world—living with HIV. Yes, Dan was our General Counsel at Cable Positive and our strategic advisor on how best to present our programs to Cable industry CEOs. But he is far more than that.
Dan Brenner represents the heart-and-soul of Cable Positive and why the industry’s commitment to fighting AIDS is so unique. He has always understood intuitively—long before he worked meticulously with staff developing our “One-for-One Program” of domestic and international anti-retroviral drug assistance—how a rich and powerful industry can direct its vast resources to help people in need of assistance.
I always respected and admired how he challenged me constantly at Cable Positive, but I loved the fact that, through our work with him in fighting HIV/AIDS, he has been fearless in acting on his deep feelings for others, inspiring all of us along the way.

In Death, as in Life, Scalia Picks Another President: Only This Time, SHE’S Pro-Choice and Pro-Gun Control


There is a delicious irony in the fact that Justice Antonin Scalia, the most influential member of the Supreme Court who, singlehandedly, maneuvered the selection of George W. Bush to be President of the United States in 2000, and built a rabid cult following by crusading against a women’s right to choose and in favor of the right to carry guns, will, in death, become the most important factor in the election of Hillary Clinton as the first female President of the United States, a staunch advocate for strict gun controls.

Scalia’s death, 30 years after being appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, couldn’t come at a better time for both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Overnight, all other issues have been swept aside; the focus is now exactly where Hillary has always wanted it to be—on the Supreme Court and who can be entrusted to appoint the most qualified & reasonable justices. Nothing anyone else may have said or done, on the Right or Left, could catapult this issue into the forefront of the 2016 Presidential campaign the way Scalia’s death has done.

What lies ahead, as the New York Times phrased it, is “a titanic confirmation struggle, fueled by ideological interest groups,” and it’s one which extremists on either fringe will lose. Barack Obama and both Bill & Hillary Clinton, all well-educated lawyers and students of the Supreme Court, know this intuitively. It’s why Bill Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court was such a masterstroke.  She was a jurist with impeccable credentials, and was approved by a 96-3 Senate vote in 1993, less than one year after Clinton was elected.

Ignore the brainless brayings of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio that “the American people should have a voice,” as a rationale for delaying a confirmation vote of a new nominee until 2017.   The last time the full, national voice of the American people was heard was in 2012 when Barack Obama handily won re-election. Votes for U.S. Senators, or Members of Congress, are regional votes, and regardless of how they are spun, or what an endless array of polls may predict, they never represent the voice of “the American people.” Only Presidential elections do that.

“Poppy” Bush certainly knew that, when, on the cusp of the 1992 Presidential election, he nominated Clarence Thomas to fill a vacancy created by the declining health and retirement of the first African American Justice Thurgood Marshall. Thomas, one of the most poorly qualified nominees and worst justices in the Court’s history, was confirmed by a Judiciary Committee chaired by Joe Biden, and a Senate controlled by Democrats, 52-48.

Obama is duty-bound by the U.S. Constitution to fill the vacancy on the High Court as soon as possible. As Linda Hirshman brilliantly points out in the Febuary 14, Washington Post, :

                        “…the GOP might soon reconsider if they see the implications of refusing to allow Obama to replace Scalia: A divided court leaves lower court rulings in place. And the lower courts are blue. Nine of the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals have a majority of Democratic appointees.” 

A legal scholar and constitutional law professor like Obama has too high a regard for the Supreme Court’s place in American history to leave the post vacant, and he has an abundance of highly qualified choices. The leading contender is Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit, confirmed by the U.S. Senate just three years ago, by a 97-0 vote—including the votes of Senators Mitch McConnell, Charles Grassley AND…Ted Cruz.  

The added political benefit of a Srinivasan nomination—both for Obama and for Hillary Clinton—is that he would be the first nominee of Southeast Asian ancestry and the child of Indian immigrants.  Rabid Right Wing attacka on “Sri” would drive people of color further away from the GOP. Plus, Judge Srinivasan’s history of clerking for Reagan appointed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and his impeccable legal credentials, would guarantee that his opponents would be isolated on the Far Right fringe.

In the Democratic primary campaign for President, Scalia’s death doubles-down on the issue of “electability.” If Obama cannot get a nominee through the Senate before Election Day, 2016, will Democrats want to take the chance that Bernie Sanders could win a national election? Notwithstanding the fact that Hillary Clinton already has half of the 750 Democratic Super Delegates locked up, it’s increasingly unlikely Bernie will be the choice– especially when future Supreme Court rulings on a woman’s right to choose—and the increased visibility of the three superb female Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan—will underscore why the Presidency of Hillary Clinton is a watershed opportunity in American history which simply cannot be ignored.

And, we have Antonin Scalia to thank for it.


Replaying or Rejecting 1968: Will Divided Democrats Let Nixon, Racism and Roger Ailes Win Again in 2016?



Not since 1968, have I seen such dangerous animosity—and shortsighted opponent bashing—between mainstream and insurgent Democrats. The consequences of the philosophical feud for the soul of the Democratic Party were catastrophic for the country then, by helping elect Richard Nixon.  In 2016, the outcome could be far, far worse, since the GOP candidates are much more terrifying than Nixon.  Lost in all the rancor and self-righteousness on both sides is Bernie Sander’s prophetic quote: “Even on our worst days (his and Hillary’s) we are 100 times better than any of the Republican Candidates.”

The most pertinent historical analogy for the Election of 2016 that is nearly spot on is the election of 1968. Many of us, as Anti-Vietnam War college students & activists, were deeply involved in either Gene McCarthy’s or Bobby Kennedy’s Presidential campaigns against the Democratic establishment. Just as Hillary Clinton is vilified by many of Bernie Sander’s backers, we despised Hubert Humphrey, because he was tied to LBJ’s policies of pursuing the War in Vietnam. Many of us die-hards on the Left downplayed HHH’s impeccable Civil Rights Record and his courage in the U.S. Senate fighting the Dixiecrats. We were blinded by the righteousness of our cause, and no Vice-President of LBJ’s could carry our banner.

In June, 1968, RFK was assassinated after winning the California Primary. Eugene McCarthy’s candidacy fizzled and George McGovern (yes, the same one) became the RFK stand in.   The Democratic establishment was best personified by the Chicago Police’s gestapo tactics against anti-war demonstrators on the streets of Chicago, and Mayor Richard Daley shouting down liberal Senator Abe Ribicoff from the floor of the Democratic National Convention.  They crushed what was left of our spirits and overwhelmed us politically. Many of my colleagues on the Left, just left politics to go lick their wounds.

Rather than mourn, I plunged headlong into the US Senate Campaign of Paul O’Dwyer in NY against incumbent GOP Senator Jacob Javits. O’Dwyer was a leader of the anti-war movement, a Democratic Socialist long before Bernie Sanders held office, a great civil rights lawyer, my political mentor before Mario Cuomo, and a superb human being. Many of my fellow Kennedy/McCarthy supporters, still angry from defeat, vowed to sit out the election, even if it meant electing Richard Nixon. Humphrey then, like Hillary now, became an irrational object of hatred, despite a 100% Congressional rating from the Americans for Democratic Action, the leading Progressive group of that time.

O’Dwyer struggled for weeks over whether or not to endorse Humphrey. One week before the election he finally did, in the interest of defeating Nixon, Roger Ailes (who masterminded Nixon’s campaign) and their dangerous friends. I followed O’Dwyer’s leadership, and spent hours arguing with friends about the necessity to stop being petulant, swallow our wounded pride and support Humphrey because the U.S. Supreme Court was at stake, as well as progress on Civil Rights. The Nixon/Ailes “Southern Strategy” and the powerful racist Third Party candidacy of George Wallace had placed all of the social justice gains of the 1960’s at risk.   Although too young to vote for President in 1968 (the voting age was then 21),  I campaigned vigorously for Hubert H. Humphrey on the strength of his Civil Rights Record, and the future of the Supreme Court.   Devastatingly, many fervent anti-War activists who were old enough to vote stayed home, helping Nixon win the presidency by a mere 500,000 votes. Nixon went on the destroy the U.S. Supreme Court by appointing the likes of William Rehnquist as a justice, despite Rehnquist’s record as a Republican political operative in Arizona of actively preventing Blacks from voting.   Nixon also stepped up bombing in Vietnam (and Cambodia), dismantled civil rights protections,  and repeatedly violated the Constitution during Watergate.

The lessons of 1968 should not be lost on us in 2016. The real danger from an increasingly irresponsible breach between Bernie’s and Hillary’s backers is the fact that if either stay home—or support a Third Party candidacy of someone like, say, Michael Bloomberg–the Supreme Court will be lost for generations, as well as any lingering hope of advancing human rights, or mitigating the already damaging consequences of Climate Change upon our children. The effect of such catastrophic catcalling and bitterness against each could cause irreparable harm to the country, giving us a newer, far more dangerous version of Richard Nixon, and a much more powerful and insidious Roger Ailes, now in control of Fox News, determined to turn back 60 years of progress on civil rights keeping power in the hands of wealthy, white-male, Right Wingers, and leaving the rest of us behind.



Super-Civil Disobedience for Super Bowl City: Will Wealthy SF & San Jose Stop Sweeping the Homeless Under Their Super Highways?



NBC’s local news affiliate in San Francisco ran an important story ( about SF’s Mayor Ed Lee sweeping the homeless under the “Super Bowl City’s” superhighway overpasses to get them out of sight.

As a protege of Saul Alinsky’s, I have a modest tactical suggestion for SF’s homeless advocates to implement: On Superbowl Sunday morning, February 7, I suggest organizing a massive “Tent-In” of homeless humans from San Jose AND San Francisco across Interstate Highways 101 and 280, effectively blocking the major access roads to the Super Bowl. Occuring on the day of the “Big Game,” will guarantee massive, global media coverage and put the inhumane treatment of the homeless by San Francisco and San Jose front and center as the biggest story of the day.

There will be arrests, but you can make the point that even local jails–terrible as they are–offer better housing, food and social services than the wealthy cities of SF and San Jose have given their homeless human beings, many of whom are veterans, have mental/emotional issues, are drug addicted, or are living with HIV/AIDS. Homeless advocates need to seize this Super-sized, rare global media opportunity and rivet the nation’s attention on the Game of Life, which many Americans–particularly the homeless–are losing.

Flint, Michigan, and it’s lead-poisoning tragedy, only made it into the national consciousness because the national media put it there. The same thing needs to be done with the shameful way the wealthiest country in the world treats it’s least fortunate folks. This weekend, at the peak of all of the Super Bowl hype in the Bay Area, homeless advocates have a unique opportunity to redefine the “Big Game” this way: Housing and Life-Saving Human Services for All Human Beings.

If these super-wealthy cities can pay for the frolic and amusement of a mere game, in a culture being amused to death, surely two of the richest cities in America can afford to provide decent shelter and services for human beings who just happen to be without a home. Homelessness is the SuperBowl of all social issues; cities that tackle it head on are the real world champions.