Saturday, September 30, 2006


Yesterday’s missive to the Journal Sentinel editors, about the continued hi-jinks of Spivak & Bice (“The Spice Boys”), got the attention of at least J-S Managing Editor George Stanley, who wrote the following to me:

Mr. Plaisted: Today’s Spivak & Bice column could hardly be seen by any reasonable reader as “GOP talking-point propaganda.’’ In fact, I’m sure we’ll hear from readers today, as we often do, about how anti-Republican the column is. Every election season we receive the same volume of complaints from people who work for candidates of both major parties, with each side saying we are biased against their candidate or party. However, our reporters typically maintain the respect of the actual candidates for being fair and unbiased in their coverage. I understand you were involved personally involved in discussions about tossing out the original Kenilworth bids and in who should get the contract. When questions are made about how public money is spent, how public projects are bid, and how campaign donors get taxpayer-funded business, I promise you will be very aggressive reporting it, no matter which party is in power at the moment.

Boy, it's hard to figure out where to start. The e-mail is rife with generalizations, weasel-words and veiled threats to drag me into the Journal Sentinel's phony Kenilworth obsession. But I responded, of course:

Mr. Stanley:

Thanks for responding.

Just to clear one thing up, you have me mistaken for my brother Jim Plaisted. He is the Executive Director of the East Side Bid and facilitated the concerns of others involved to get the Kenilworth project done right. It is interesting, though, that you would seize on the (mistaken) fact that I might have an interest in the process, other than just being a citizen. Did Spivak and Bice make the connection or did you? Either way, it is a typical tactic of the right-wing to avoid addressing an argument by attaching ulterior motives to the messenger. Not that I’m saying that’s what you are doing.

I don’t know anyone who respects the Journal Sentinel these days for “fair and unbiased” coverage of the governor’s race. If they do, they are not paying attention. The “actual candidates” may say so, but how could they say otherwise? Rather than making these broad assestions about how wonderful everyone thinks you are, I would like to hear you address the specifics of my observations – the “Green Will Appeal” headline and lead, the S&B phony open-records complaint, etc. I know you have heard from others (other than the Republicans who brought the lawsuit, that is – by the way, wasn’t it dismissed? I think I read it back near the classifieds one day) about what happened with the Kenilworth building and I know those people can’t get a word in edge-wise about their perspective in the paper. Is the truth and being right a defense?

I am sorry to see that you don’t see the problem with your biased coverage. Because of its history, its position as a former great newspaper and the only newspaper in town, I think the Journal Sentinel has sacred trust with the community not to go on campaigns in favor of one candidate or another on its news pages. I don’t care if some Republican supporters complain that you don’t print every word of their press releases. You’re close enough.

It is interesting how quick Stanley was to try to dismiss my complaints out of hand because he was (mis)informed (by the Spice Boys, I’ll bet – I mean, you can’t really expect these great reporters to get details like first names right, do you?) that I was an interested party. Although we had this exchange early yesterday, I have not heard from him again.

In today’s paper, we got more Greenie spin on the voluntary dismissal of Green’s lawsuit. So, here’s today’s e-mail:

To the Editors:

If I were running the Journal Sentinel, I would be very upset with the Mark Green’s campaign right now. Here you are, putting your journalistic integrity on the line every day trying to get him elected, and all he does is play legal games and lie to you. With friends like this...

Green was apparently so dynamic and convincing earlier this week, promising to appeal the judge’s ruling in Madison, denying Green’s request for a temporary restraining order and affirming the State Elections Board, that you led with his vow to appeal, before even describing the judge’s ruling. As it turns out, a mere three days later, it turns out Green is not appealing the denial of the restraining order, as he said he would. In fact, he asked that his own case against the Elections Board be dismissed.

Green could have asked the Appeals or Supreme Court to take the matter of the denial of the TRO before the case was finished. Such an appeal would indeed “hasten the path” to the Supremes – he could have filed it any time this week. But he knew those courts wouldn’t take it for the same reason the judge in Madison denied the TRO – because he was not likely to win and there would be no irreparable harm if he prevailed later.

So, he turned tail and ran. This would have been a good time for the Journal Sentinel to show how “air and balanced” it is by not allowing Green to spin his pathetic dismissal of his own complaint. Alas, that would be asking too much. Apparently, when he ran away from his doomed court challenge, he ran right up to the supplicant Journal Sentinel reporters, to again “vow” to appeal to the Supreme Court. And, again, the Journal Sentinel eats it up, leading with how the action will “hasten the path”. But, if Green is allowed to appeal his own voluntary dismissal, he will be the first litigant in state history to do so. Green has the same chance of getting the Supreme Court to take the case as I do getting a guest slot on Charlie Sykes’ TV show. He’ll get laughed out by them, and, no doubt, praised by the Journal Sentinel for trying.

Green and his legal team are out there, creating smokescreens that everyone but the Journal Sentinel can see through. At some point, the Journal Sentinel will have to start seriously addressing the implications of the $400,000 to $1.3 million that he has illegally sitting in his war chest? Ever since the decision of the Elections Board, Green has been playing for time by phony legal stall tactics. And the Journal Sentinel has been giving it to him.

It’s one thing for the Journal Sentinel to be a shill for a doomed candidate. It is quite another to be played for a chump by the same candidate. If I were you, I know which one I would be more concerned about.

Friday, September 29, 2006


This morning's missive to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Dear Editor:

Let’s ignore, for now, the silly editorial and op-ed propping up Mark Green’s meaningless save-the-dogs legislation and the burying of the story that a Republican appointment to the State Elections Board had to resign because of he was actually hired by Green (any problems here? No?). In today’s Journal Sentinel, the cause of Mark Green is taken up primarily by Spivak & Bice.

Cary Spivak and Dan Bice hold themselves out as acting in some grand muck-raking tradition, supposedly tearing down the powerful or the pretenders to power with pompous hand-wringing about nefarious politicians being, well, nefarious. Every spokesperson is a “flack”; tactics are “trickery”; legitimate goals are colored with dark we-know-what-they’re-up-to insinuations. Supposedly “investigative” news “reporters”, the Journal-Sentinel has given these two broad license to wink, cast aspersions and do the barroom-chuckle at whatever feckless public figure catches their occasionally watchful eye(s).

Spivak & Bice have led the Journal Sentinel’s bizarre war on phone calls by Doyle aides, most particularly former Secretary of Administration Mark Marotta. According the S&B and the J-S, Marotta was supposed to go in his office, close the door and unplug the phone when it was evident that the initial contractor and plans for the UWM Kenilworth Building would have been a disaster. His subsequent efforts to correct the project – which has now resulted in the transition of an embarrassing eyesore into a gem of Milwaukee’s East Side – were seen by your intrepid reporters not as the good and necessary work of an engaged administrator, but as the money-grubbing gifting of the project to Doyle contributors (even if some of those giving contributions were not chosen for the project).

Most disingenuously, on August 19th, the column featured a whiny complaint about Doyle’s administration declining to answer some questions Spivak & Bice had about an otherwise-innocent meeting between Marotta a potential contractor. The editors of the Journal Sentinel allowed S&B to wrongly characterize the refusal as a violation of the state open records law, snarkily accusing Doyle of creating a "I don't wanna release it" exemption. Reading further, however, it’s clear that Spivak & Bice were not asking for documents – they just wanted to ask some questions. As they and you know, the state open records law does not require the production of new documents or answers to questions (just try getting answers from Jim Klauser back in the day). The only element of truth in the article was provided by the responder from the state: “This line of questioning appears to simply be a partisan attack.” Gee, ya think?

Where everything done by Doyle and his aides is sinister and every dollar dirty (see the column that same day, smearing Doyle for accepting money from Native American tribes), everything Green does is understandable, excusable or just plain cute. These hard-charging “reporters” have spent absolutely zero time hitting on Green for his illegal money transfer, contacts with Jack Abramoff or something as outrageous as issuing a campaign proposal written by realtors and home-builders at the same time he accepted $102,000 from those groups. Perhaps S&B missed it, hiding as it was on page B-5, next to the obituaries. (Note to Journal Sentinel: You’ve been trying to catch Doyle in a quid pro quo situation – this is what one looks like, so you’ll know it if you see it.)

In today’s column, Spivak and Bice cheerily tell the story of Mark Green having a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., featuring Haley Barbour and President Bush. Now, any story about a Doyle fundraiser in Washington would be a key opportunity for S&B to bring out the cynical sarcasm about contributors just wanting “good government”, etc. But, in Spivak-and-Bice-land a Green fat-cat fundraiser calls for a different (read: positive) spin. The hook in this item appears to be that poor Mark Green could not shake down as much candidates from other states because of those pesky Wisconsin campaign donation limits (and since when, exactly, did Green care about those?). No information about what group of contributors were the targets of this trip (more realtors and home-builders? No, they got theirs). No sly insinuations about motives or tactics. Just another day in Washington with Mark Green and his natural fat-cat constituency. OK with Spivak and Bice. At least the contributors weren’t Native Americans (or were they?).

Again, I wish the Journal Sentinel would leave the GOP talking-point propagation to its talk-radio division. Maybe that’s where you could put Spivak & Bice. I hear the Jessica McBride slot is open, or at least it should be.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I grew up reading the Milwaukee Journal. Every evening, in a small town 70 miles north of the city, my dad and I would settle in after dinner and read all or part of the then-afternoon paper. It was then one of the great newspapers in the country.

How the mighty have fallen.

After floundering and failing to recover its quality and prestige through the '70s and '80's, the Journal merged with the more raw and right-wing Sentinel in the '90s -- both were owned by the same company, anyway. While the merged paper looks like the Journal, it has become even more right-wing than the sensationalist Sentinel ever was.

The most blatant example was and is school "choice", in which millions of public school dollars have been squandered on mediocre-to-lousy private schools, some run by charlatans and thieves. The Journal Sentinel has lavished praise on the program and its conflicted promoters, in spite of absolutely no signs of progress or the promised deliverance of poor children from lousy schools.

As a corporation, Journal Communications Inc. has gobbled up every local paper in the state and controls some of the state's most powerful radio and TV stations. The radio station, WTMJ, is the only clear-channel station in the state and has evolved, as so many AM stations have, into all wing-nut commentary (when not running sports). This runs the gamut from the smug local Bradley Foundation mouthpiece Charlie Sykes to racist fire-thrower Michael Savage.

With circulation continuing the spiral downward, the only newspaper left in town has apparently decided to go wing-nut in its news pages, chasing the same angry-white guy that have flocked to their radio station. The paper often takes its lead from talk-radio, where straw men are constructed and non-issues are inflamed.

This Republican slant to the news is almost embarrassingly stark in this year's race for governor of Wisconsin. The incumbent, Democrat Jim Doyle, is being challenged by Mark Green, a Congressman from up north who has spent the last five years in Bush's lap.

The coverage has been truly incredible. Everything bad for Green is buried in the back sections. Everything good for Green -- including a meaningless Green proposal on stem cell research, the product of a press release, basically -- runs above-the-fold on Page One. The front page screams if any Doyle aide is discovered to have used the phone to get anything done. Green's many contacts with Jack Abramoff and his use of industry flacks to draft his campaign proposals is stuffed in the back pages or not covered at all.

The J-S Green-for-Governor campaign reached it's most outrageous point this week, when a judge ruled that, not only was the State Elections Board correct to order Green to return over $400,000 that he illegally transfer from his federal congressional funds; he also should return $1.3 million because the transfer was also contrary to federal law. The J-S played it on Page One, alright, but put some incredible spin on it, headlining and leading with the predictable fact that Green would appeal.

The outrages continued later in the week, and I decided to enter a dialog with the Journal Sentinel editors:

Dear Editor:

As if yesterday’s coverage of Mark Green’s loss from protecting his illegal money in court – leading with Green’s vow to appeal rather than more important story and details of the ruling itself – the all-Green-all-the-time coverage by the Journal Sentinel continues. The Journal Sentinel is losing a lot of its credibility and its soul on this race. Is it worth it?

In today’s paper alone, the following headlines:

"Face-off over Green's bill -- Sensenbrenner blamed for holdup"

Story: Mark Green introduced a sanctimonious bill about cock- and dog-fighting over a year-and-a-half ago and couldn’t get it through a Congress run with an iron fist by his own party. Mean old Jim Sensenbrenner stands in the way, still. And is it a “face-off” when nothing is scheduled on the bill and Green is just whimpering on the sideline, through press-releases and compliant Journal Sentinel editors? It is important, though, as Congress gets out of town this week to remind our readers, in big headlines on page A-3, how much Green has done to pretend to care about cock- and dog-fighting.

"Green's anti-Doyle TV ad may pack a punch"

Story: The Journal Sentinel jumps into ad-war analysis for the first time this year, just in time to praise Green’s first official foray into name-calling. It doesn’t hurt that the J-S has provided the fodder for much of the ad’s misleading claims. The Green ad is compared not to Doyle’s classy and truthful official ads that have been running for some time about Green’s illegal money, but rather to an amateurish ad by an outside group; “a supposedly independent group”, a precedent-breaking slice of skepticism that we’ll look forward to seeing in future reviews of GOP-inspired smear ads. Indeed, Green’s ads “may pack a punch”, especially when they are promoted in the J-S news pages and on talk radio, where they are playing audio from the ad for free. The only surprise here is that the J-S didn’t find room for this important piece of biased reporting above the fold on Page One.

"Residents feel better about state, poll says"

Story: No kidding? In an election year with an incumbent governor? Reading further, it appears the same survey came up with Doyle still leading Green by 5 points. And, it was done by a right-wing group, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, that can usually always get the results it wants. But facts and perceptions are stubborn things, are they not? Let’s hope no one notices. By all means, hide it on Page B-3. You can bet contrary results and Green actually gaining on Doyle for a change would have been on the front page.

"Doyle promises state funds to boost biofuels"

Story: Well, it’s not exactly cock- and dog-fighting, is it? How boring – Doyle continuing to take the state forward in important areas. How far back can we stick this on the business page? (Answer: D-3)

Bottom Line: In coverage and story placement, the Journal Sentinel has decided to be an incredulous shill for Mark Green against Jim Doyle. And I can already see the spin after Green loses: the GOP put up an inadequate, damaged candidate, which is the only reason the corrupt Doyle administration is allowed to continue. The Green loss will be all the more unfathomable, considering all that free help from the Journal Sentinel.

I didn't hear back from them yesterday, and my answer came in the newspaper this morning. I wrote again:

Dear Editor:

Wow. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has followed up on the judge’s ruling that Mark Green has to give back $467,844, as ordered by the State Elections Board, by filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that Green give up over twice as much – almost 1.3 million! – because of his violation of federal law. This has got to be Big News, right?

Not according to the Journal Sentinel. Once again the paper has buried a negative story about Green’s campaign on page B-3. I suppose if Green had somehow “appealed” the complaint or at least “vowed to fight”, that would have been the lead on Page One. But, since he might lose this one (too), the J-S sticks it way on the inside. “Federal clarification of Green move sought,” the sub-head says. Whoa. Easy, Journal Sentinel. You wouldn’t want anyone to notice such a bold move. If it were Doyle who was alleged to have violated federal law, just imagine the headline, not to mention the story placement.

The story does, however, bring back the voice of Mike McCabe, who was often quoted and cited in anti-Doyle stories in the past, but has been remarkably silent on the J-S pages since the illegal Green money has been exposed. This, even though he brought the complaint to the State Elections Board in the first place.

And how about that Elections Board? The Journal Sentinel’s bigger election story on B-1 promises more than it delivers. Apparently hoping people read just the headlines, the article about the “advice” of the Elections Board “evolving” cites only two previous instances, with only one – involving Tom Barrett – even roughly similar to the issue at hand with Green. In addition, the Board doesn’t give “advice” – it rules on the application of state law. Just because the Board was wrong about Barrett (the notion of Republican voting to allow the transfer to prop up the weaker opposition candidate is unconvincingly pooh-poohed in the article) doesn’t mean they have to make the same mistake again. As the judge ruled just this week (a fact buried in your “Green will appeal” story), the Elections Board happened to be right in demanding that Green give the money back, no matter how they might have got there.

The Journal-Sentinel continues to disappoint in its biased election coverage.

I did get some indication today that they might run some of this as a Letter to the Editor, but I'm sure that won't be the end of the story.

I think this blog might take a local bent for a while. Let the truth be told.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


One of the things about the right-wing punks who dominate the radio and cable talk-space is that they never get out and actually debate anyone. They sit in the safety and sanctimony of their studio cocoons and smear, lie, exaggerate, denigrate (Dems), excuse (Bushies) and poison the political atmosphere.

For instance, after the September primaries in parts of the country, it was part of the Rove radio talking-points that the Republic party is more friendly to African-Americans because they put up Clarence Thomas-like stooges such as Ken Blackwell in Ohio (governor) and Michael Steele in Maryland (Senate), while Democrats in Maryland narrowly chose a white candidate over Kweisi Mfume for that Senate seat. I heard this on one national show and one local.

It’s the kind of point that is ridiculous on its face, but, if repeated often enough, sticks and smears and makes some who aren’t paying that much attention just more uncomfortable with Democrats. Put to the test in a real exchange of ideas, it wouldn’t last more than a minute and anyone perpetrating the idea would be laughed out of the room. But radio wing-nuts never get in those rooms with real people with real ideas. They hit-and-run and then hit again.

So in goes Fox News’ Chris Wallace to talk to Bill Clinton and he naively decides to float some of the anti-Clinton talking points about Clinton’s inability to terminate Bin Laden before he left office. Wallace, who lost all credibility by taking the Fox job after years of mediocre work for real news organizations, plays straight-man to Brit Hume and the other fire-breathers on the Sunday morning show. He has been around these clowns for so long, down probably does look like up to him.

Wallace starts wtih some stupid comment about e-mails he's received and then asks the former president why he didn’t go after Bin Laden. And Clinton properly ripped him to shreds. Clinton read him the riot act up and down about what he did and tried to do, about the fact that he did not flee Somalia after the Black Hawk Down tragedy, about how the same neo-cons that used to complain that he was too obsessed with Bin Laden now claim he did nothing, etc.

The best point Clinton made was right in Wallace’s face: You didn’t ask those other guys the same questions, did you? Wallace stammered, but he was sunk. A Foxie asking a real question to a Bushie? Why, you’d sooner see oversight from the lapdog Congress that has let Bush run amok all these years. Wallace knew he didn’t ask the same questions, but he pretended he did. And Clinton got – literally – right in his face. It was a brilliant and badly-needed performance from a great American.

Even the Bush-laden panel after the interview had to take some of Clinton’s points. The repulsive Hume and Fred Barnes, both of whom have surely claimed the opposite in the past had to admit that Clinton worked to get Bin Laden. The wingnut spin since the interview hit the internet on Friday was all about Clinton’s “purple rage” and Hume stoically spun out the old canard about Clinton being mostly concerned with his legacy, and that’s why he was so upset.

But, ultimately, the truth is the best defense, and Clinton had it all on his side. He tried and failed to get Bin Laden before 9/11. Bush just failed. At everything.

Monday, September 11, 2006


You know, they say we forget.

The Republic line (I’m not calling them Republicans again until they start calling the other party “Democratic” instead of “Democrat”) , distributed through the various layers of the Message Machine – from Cheney to Limbaugh; from Hannity to Rumsfeld – is that those of us who oppose this most disastrous and ill-timed of regimes – well, we just forgot all about 9/11. If we remembered, we would support Junior Bush and all the follies of his administration, from Iraq to Katrina. We would be United, which, in their minds, means that we would shut the hell up.

But, the fact is, I do remember. I remember seeing a strange “We are Being Attacked” headline and siren icon while lurking on Drudge that morning, thinking about what wack thing he was talking about now, and then getting a call to turn on the TV. I remember spending the rest of the morning watching the second plane hit, the towers fall, the dust in the air. Unlike the Kennedy and M.L. King assassinations, this was a moment we shared in different places; not on the networks, but on the various all-news cable channels, jumping from here to there to see, to feel, what was happening. I picked up my son from school that day like all the other parents, nervous and unsteady, just wanting to hold my boy.

I remember going to New York the next summer, feeling the injured souls of the natives of the island, going to view the rubble while my family slept.

Oh, I remember 9/11, alright. I remember it a lot more than Bush and his coniving minions, who went into hiding until they devised a way to twist it those thousands of dead victims their political advantage. While I sat open-mouthed in my home, watching in horror, they were making plans to seize the deadly opportunity. They emerged with another of Karl Rove’s brilliant political strokes. They decided to call it WAR.

It wasn’t War. But they gained so much power by calling it so. When 9/11 happened, Bush was already a failed president. He didn’t make any friends when they bludgeoned our democracy within an inch of its life by radically stopping the recount in Florida in 2000. His feed-the-rich initiatives, jammed through a compliant Congress, were too much for most people. But a War president – well, people give those fellows a whole lot of lee-way, don’t they?

In the one honest moment of his presidency while standing on the rubble at Ground Zero, Bush promised retribution and then gave us anything but. Bin Laden was just another wedge issue, another way to get things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve. Sure, he invaded Afghanistan and gave us increased poppy production and a puppet regime. But, just like the day before and the day before that, the Bushies started working right after the planes hit to invade Iraq. Now the door was open and who could question them? Who would dare?

For five years now, Rove has used 9/11 like a political get-out-of-jail-free card, justifying and excusing every outrage and mistake. The War King could not be questioned, lest the terrorists win. In the mid-terms of 2002 and in 2004, the Republic party prevailed because of this fear-mongering. It’s something no one but them could have succeeded at, because nobody but them would have the naked ambition and lack of morals to try.

It is this kind of hubris that has lead Bush in recent days to say something even more ridiculous than usual. In his political speech from the Oval Office tonight, he said it again. The fight against Islamic extremists, he said is “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation.”

This is nuts. Not that someone as dim as Bush would know the meaning of the words they are putting into his mouth, but an “ideological struggle” has to have at least some arguable qualities on both sides. An “ideological struggle” is something upon which reasonable people can disagree, that can be debated and countered logically. If one side is, well, like us and the other side is a bunch of otherwise-powerless religious nuts, bent on making their points through suicide and random acts of violence, that’s neither ideological or a struggle. We win and we can’t lose that one.

There are ideological struggles that need to be fought, alright, but it is with Bush and with ourselves. Are we going to be a nation of laws and justice or a nation where the means justifies all ends? Are we going to be bound by the words of a Constitution that respects the privacy of our homes and ideas, absent a court warrant, or are we going to allow every inch of our life to be examined and every orifice searched? Are we going to allow greedy men to profit from fear to line the pockets of their friends and to build their power? We win all those, too. But, by “we”, I sure don’t mean George W. Bush and his devious handlers.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Bushies are pulling out all the stops. To them, to question is treason; to deny “unity” on their terms is unpatriotic. But, no, it’s not going to work, not this time.

After he loses one or both houses of Congress, this will be the last 9/11 anniversary that Bush will be in any real power and the last time he’ll be able to use that tragic day for any political purpose. If he had a soul, he’d be on his ranch on September 11, 2009. He’d reflect on the victims of 9/11/01 and he’d wonder what he could have done different to heal the nation and improve the world.

As it is, justice demands that he be alone that day with his empty thoughts, never knowing the damage he did; damage far worse than anything done on 9/11 or since.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Of all the horrible moments we have suffered as a nation on and since 9/11, the most gruesome have been the annual appearances of VP Dick "Dick" Cheney on Meet the Press.

The most secretive, reclusive and unfortunately powerful vice-president in U.S. history prefers friendly venues. He had made many more appearances on King Wing-Nut Rush Limbaugh’s show than on any other. Then there is always the occasional drop in for Scotch and massages at Fox News. There is no limit to chummy outlets for the Real President in the "new" (read: right-wing) media.

When the Dark Prince decides to show up for questioning by a real journalist – always as part of some administration scare-monger PR campaign, of which there have been dozens – he usually slips into his too-comfy chair on the set of Meet the Press to exchange somber tones with Tim Russert. The Cheney Chair on MTP has been the scene of many of the more memorable Veep performances in the propaganda war, including wild claims, eventual recantations and denials that he ever made the previous statements.

Russert is one of our best Sunday talking-head facilitators (George Stephanopoulos has grown into a more effective and comfortable voice at challenging spin, George Will notwithstanding), but he has two modes of interrogation – one for Democrats and one for Republicans. Administration flacks are allowed to spew any old lie, with little follow up. Democrats are submitted to bright lights in the face and a seemingly endless library of pull-quotes, projected and read on the screen, to show their obvious (to Russert) hypocrisy and deviousness. "Were you lying then or now?" is the usual gist of things for the Dems, while the Bush flunkies, like robotron Condi Rice, get a nice smile and cute greetings for her dog as a send-off.

It’s hard to say where Cheney or Russert are going into tomorrow’s coffee-and-doughnuts session. Cheney’s useful stooge, the empty-suited Junior Bush, just spent the past week admitting breaking international law with the CIA Black Sites and insisting that Congress rubber-stamp the very process for trying terror suspects that the Supreme Court just invalidated. We can expect more smearing of Bush critics as appeasers and worse, delivered in Cheney’s patented if-I-project-my-voice-I-might-have-a-heart-attack delivery style.

Whether Russert will be able to pierce the veil of Cheney’s sanctimony is always the attraction in these appearances. It always depends on whether Russert has any interest or stomach for the fight. Sometimes he starts out ready for a fight, pull-quotes at the ready. Cheney always is able to brush anything off as mere piffle, and, by the way, why don’t you understand we are at war, etc. He presents himself as entirely reasonable, like he just another egghead in a Cato Institute panel on C-Span. For some reason, this facade usually puts Russert to sleep, and the followup questions fall by the wayside like so much irrelevant and unnecessary squabbling.

In the end, Cheney always prevails unscathed. After tomorrow, he’ll be able to claim again that he entered the MSM’s heathen’s den, "they" didn’t get it (again), and he can run to Limbaugh’s show again next week to clean up any messes he left behind and bask in his own impossible glory.

One hopes that Russert has had enough of being lied-to and manipulated through the years and comes out swinging. If I were him, after all these years of being the good lap dog and getting kicked in the teeth in return, I’d create a ruckus. Confront him with a pull-quote demonstrating one of his lies (the one about Atta meeting Iraqi intelligence in Egypt will do), and bang his shoe on the table until he apologizes. Just cut loose. Get in his face. Announce that he is quitting after today’s show, but not until he gets some answers. Reach across the table and grab the little war-wimp by his collar. "Confess, you bastard! Con-FESS!!"

I suppose this is too much to ask for. But I’m asking for it anyway.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Bruce Springsteen had the best (and, you would hope, last) word on musicians promoting their political opinions in a CNN interview earlier this year. When asked about getting flack for his political positions, Springsteen said, "Yeah, they should let Ann Coulter do it instead." In other words, alright, so I play music, write lyrics and seek truth for a living. What are her credentials?
Good question. The national political discussion is poisoned with talentless right-wing flunkies like Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage – all of whom have no known background qualifying them for anything, much less dominating the national discourse with their large radio megaphones.

Most musicians – especially rock & rollers – are, er, not too bright and are fish-out-of-water discussing anything but chord changes and equipment preferences. But the best of them through the years have at least thought about various Big Pictures – War, Peace, Injustice, Women – and some can even discuss these things outside the four minutes of a song. The best of them have actually added to the national discussion and created signposts to ideas and generations: "Blowing in the Wind", the Hendrix Anthem, "Ohio", "For What It’s Worth", etc. They’ve earned as much of a right as anybody to get on their soapbox if they want, especially if they can coax 25,000 people to show up to listen at $100 a pop.

Neil Young has gotten up on various soapboxes through the years, but nothing has quite got his attention like the Bush Administration and their outrageous behavior in Iraq and at home. Although Bush’s disastrous war has been going on for over three years now, Young jumped into action and made Living with War in five days this spring. This was just after near-death and a brilliant personal CD/movie/DVD (Prairie Wind and Heart of Gold) last year. A heartfelt tribute to troops, peace, protest and all things American, LWW tried to rip a hole in the Bush facade, which has always been paper-thin and ready to crumble anyway. Often clumsy and sounding rushed – would the verse about Bush and steroids in "Let’s Impeach" have made the cut if everyone had a little time to think about it? – the album feels like an unfiltered screed from Hunter S. Thompson, with all of the flaws, false starts and hints of angry genius.

The Bush outrages lit a fire under Neil Young and he somehow lit a fire under his old friends Crosby, Stills and Nash. All three have been pretty negligible as artists since Deja Vu, but it hasn’t stopped them from years of forgettable albums and meaningless tours, whether it was one, two or all three of them. Even the tours with Young have often been of the mail-it-in variety. Last time at the Bradley Center in 2002, they were still doing the love-child/godfather thing, barely tolerating Young, who came on at the end of the show to bust up Nash’s goddamn vase that Joni Mitchell bought way-back-whenever. They couldn’t hold a candle to him, career or talent-wise, and they didn’t much care. The checks all cleared.

But there they all were again September 6th under the full moon at the Marcus Amphitheater, almost equals, with Neil in the benevolent driver’s seat. With all four brandishing guitars that were turned up and singing in full voice, CSNY was a real band, maybe for the first time. Starting with Young’s "Flags of Freedom" from LWW, all were focused, charging as one into the bright space of musical speechifying.

The LWW spirit and songs (all but one was performed) were the focus, but didn’t dominate the night. Sounding brighter and better with this ensemble (with excellent support from Ben Keith on pedal steel, Spooner Oldham on keyboards and others), some moments broke through better than on the record – Neil screeching "Don’t need no more lies" on "Restless Consumer", for instance. Other songs might not make the next tour, although all have their momentary impact. But it was clear why we and Neil were here tonight. No one else had any product (or ideas) to push.

The CSNY catalog got an early and healthy workout, much to the relief of the 50-ish investment bankers, lawyers and bewildered spousal units salt-and-peppered through the crowd. Although Crosby (in great voice and apparent health) or others may have been out front on various songs, the thick, beautiful buzz of Young’s guitars provided subtle depth unheard-of (or not allowed) in days of yore. During the instrumental moments of "Carry On" and "Wooden Ships", Neil would prowl the space in front of the drum kit, rocking back-and-forth and looking for someone to challenge. Often, he found Stephen Stills, who finally seems to have learned a few things about tone and holding notes – his solos were often indistinguishable from Young’s. Throughout the night, the Other Guys sought out Neil for his approval and to raise their game. He gave generously. They seldom, if ever, looked for each other.

Highlights of the first long set included "Long Time Gone" (written for Bobby Kennedy, and they got that one right) and an outrageous "Almost Cut My Hair", with Crosby playing the delirious fool who still thinks he owes it to someone. During "Deja Vu", Neil quoted sumptiously from "Cortez the Killer" during the dreamy instrumental break. We have all been here before, indeed. Like "Cut My Hair", many of the causes taken up by the well-meaning former hipsters had long teeth and dog-eared pages, like an old high-school notebook. Lots of getting back to the land, which hasn’t worked for anyone but polygamist Mormons in Utah. But what the old stuff lacked in useful substance, it made up in groovy celebration of well-earned glories.

After an hour-and-a-half of loud, beautiful noise, the boys gave ‘em what they came for – well, most of ‘em, anyway. For an hour, it was sunshine, communes, flowers-in-vases, women and sailboats. Young joined in seamless harmony on CSN first-album guilty pleasures "Helplessly Hoping" and "Guinevere". Stills entered soul-growler territory on a solo "Treetop Flyer", with Neil in acoustic support. Besides a dramatic "Roger and Out" (most improved song from LWW), Young’s major contribution to the quiet set was a perfect "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", with Crosby and Nash.

Just before "Teach Your Children" (and, now that we’re grownups, don’t we? Shouldn’t we?), David Crosby strapped on the electric 12-string he was playing most of the night. Neil playfully came over and seemed to be goading him into something. Crosby then became Roger McGuinn for 15 seconds, playing intro of the Byrd’s version of "Mr. Tambourine Man". There were groans all around when he stopped, but it was a moment that said something about possible true comradery on the tour.

After a moving "Find the Cost of Freedom" (accompanied by projected photos of thousands of the Unnecessary Dead), Young reached into the history bin for some images from his more recent (1979?) past. While Hendrix’ seminal National Anthem blared into the Amphitheater, three diverse actors raised an oversized microphone to the center of the stage, Iwo Jima style, and tied a giant yellow ribbon ‘round the old mic stand. This theatrical quote from the Rust Never Sleeps tour was brilliant, and Young waved the prop at the crowd when he wanted some noise the rest of the night.

The next hour was all political, loud and powerful. It began with "Let’s Impeach the President", complete with projected lyrics and video to support the Bush soundbites from the record. Graham Nash had his only bright moment of the evening with the most dated song of the night (and that takes some doing with this bunch), "Chicago". The point, I’m sure, was the chorus "we can change the world", and we can, but who remembers who was "...your brother bound and gagged/And they chained him to a chair"? How about Bobby Seale in the notorious Chicago 7 trial.

After that, Stills and Young explored their legacy. "For What It’s Worth" benefitted from a sonic update by Neil and a torrid reading by Stills. Like the blazing version of "Ohio" that followed, the song was hurt by the fact that the same sorts of things aren’t exactly going on in this national crisis – there are not "thousands of people in the street" and Nixon ain’t comin’ anymore (these guys are worse). But to the extent the reflection of previous rage informs our own, we learn, we grow and we fight better. Besides, both songs just kick total ass and always have.

All that was left was Neil’s signature blow-out from the last tour, "Rockin’ in the Free World". But it was so much different and better with everyone involved. Wait for it: CSNY almost out-rocked Pearl Jam on the recorded version. I said almost. Intent on breaking all his strings, Neil was possessed, searching for musical challenges from anyone willing to take him one, including the single horn player. It was 20 minutes of shear audio dynamite and he almost smashed that precious black Gibson of his in the process. No encore. None needed.

Getting out on a limb like Neil Young has personally and politically in the past year is not for everyone. Not everyone can handle the blow-back (he was cable-squawk fodder for a week after LWW was released, when he could have been promoting Heart of Gold) or want to even deal with getting out front on important issues. He has made the world a better place by keeping his music intense, focused, honest and meaningful – more so than anyone in his musical generation. He’s trying to move something else now through joy, music, memories and facts. The more people who come to these shows wanting "Our House" and who end up humming "Let’s Impeach" on the way out, the better.