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Apprentice to greed 

If you've been suffering from Donald Trump overload lately, you're not alone. Maybe you caught him hosting Saturday Night Live, or heard about him trying to trademark the words, "You're fired." The Donald's first star turn flamed out around the time the '80s did, but since crony capitalism's back in style, brought to us by Bush, Cheney & Co., even a poster child for excessive greed and tasteless displays of wealth gets a second act.

So it makes sense that Trump's riding the wave of reality TV. He's an opportunist, and there's gold in them hills. Whether you're a Bachelorette or an Average Joe, a would-be Survivor or American Idol, there's a show out there for you. We're slowly entertaining ourselves to death, and reality TV is our current mind-numbing weapon of choice.

The Apprentice is the latest brainstorm from Mark Burnett, the creative force behind Survivor. Its first season ended last week, starring The Donald and 16 pumped-up young entrepreneurs competing to be the last one not fired. The winner got a job running one of The Donald's companies for a year.

The show does disservice to the idea of corporate citizenship by celebrating The Donald as a model tycoon. At least Bill Gates gives away millions to improve Third World health care. With Trump, we're talking about a man whose most lasting contribution to humanity so far has been buying and redeveloping buildings in order to turn overpriced real estate in Manhattan into even more overpriced real estate. Oh, and bringing us Trump Ice, the bottled water that according to The Donald is the "purest, best tasting water you can imagine."

Let's face it, Trump has an exaggeration problem. He calls it "truthful hyperbole." That means he can say anything he likes to his show's twenty-odd million viewers, such as "I'm the biggest real estate developer in New York," when it's clear that by most yardsticks, he isn't. Or that his Trump Taj Mahal casino is "The No. 1 hotel" in Atlantic City, when in reality, the casino and the rest of Trump's gambling empire is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Trump's new book is called How To Get Rich, but Trump was born wealthy. In fact, many observers say the majority of his personal holdings consist of the residential and commercial real estate in Brooklyn and Queens he inherited from his father, Fred Trump, who died in 1999. The rest of his empire is co-owned by investors and banks. His casino and hotel business, the only publicly traded part of Trump's holdings, lost $87.3 million in 2003, and The Donald had to forgo a $1.5 million bonus. Yet he still earned $1.5 million as chairman and CEO, and got to use the corporate jet.

But the show's absolutely most grievous crime has been... are you ready? Its choice of a theme song. "For The Love Of Money," by the O'Jays, originally released in 1973, is a searing indictment of the culture of greed. Lines like "Money is the root of all evil," "Some people do bad things with it... you got to do good things with it," and "People holding money, don't let money change you," are just a few of the song's socially conscious messages that made it clear which side of the coin the O'Jays were on. All of these lines, predictably, have been digitally edited out by the producers of The Apprentice, leaving instead a few toothless vocal samples singing the praises of "dollar bills, c'mon now."

At a time when nearly 2 million jobs have been lost in this country over the past three years, The Apprentice makes a mockery of real work by painting a false portrait of how the business world operates. USA Today convened a panel of real-life CEO's and corporate consultants to discuss how true to life were the tasks and problems given to the show's contestants. They mostly agreed the show was way off base.

If we watch enough footage of would-be apprentices being canned by The Donald in his make-believe boardroom, we might forget about the corporate scandals still going on in real boardrooms around the country. We might forget that corporate malfeasance is causing hard-working employees and investors to lose their jobs, savings, and 401(k) plans. We might forget that George W. Bush is up for re-election this year, and big businesses are salivating at the prospect of four more years of the freedom to outsource and offshore as many jobs as they can. Or the freedom to gobble up competitors in mega-mergers and achieve cost savings through massive layoffs. Or to award their executives multi-million dollar golden pay packages even while denying average workers raises and telling them they're lucky to still have a job. We might forget, in short, that what's good for Donald Trump is not good for America.

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