Saturday, December 30, 2006


Bullet points are the last refuge of the lazy writer; a cheap way to distribute ideas quickly, without the need for serious writing style or finesse. But it’s New Years, and I don’t care. Besides, the execution of Sadaam Hussein is such a predictably-bizarre episode in the four-year, carefully-designed Iraqi nightmare produced by the Bushies that, at some point, you just throw up your hands and go – wha?

  • Puppet Strings: Raise your hand if you think the Iraq “government”, such as it is, had anything to do with the ritual slaying of Hussein, much less the timing. Ever since he was discovered in a rabbit-hole three years ago, the U.S. has kept Hussein in their custody, so that a show trial could take place and, eventually and quickly, the trap door could drop at a politically opportune time. Had he been delivered to the Iraqis sooner, he would have been summarily killed by rival factions earlier or, just maybe, spirited away to a safe house in Tikrit to spend his last days peacefully with his mother, or whatever. But we delivered him directly to the gallows, no doubt with troops at the ready if any upstart Iraqi decided to try some funny business.
  • Legally Illegal: Wanna have some fun? Google “Sadaam indictment” and see what happens. Can you find the indictment that resulted in his execution? No? Well, what the hell was he charged with? And how did the charges fit into any Iraqi law that existed at the time of the offenses? The fact is that, if Hussein indeed committed “crimes against humanity”, these are the sort of things a) that are not against the criminal code of any nation I’m aware of (if so, let’s work up something on Junior Bush immediately) and, b) if prosecuted at all, should be run by an international court (a point made by many at the time the circus began). Milosevic’s crimes in Bosnia were not prosecuted by the ultimate victors or, in that case, the internationally-favored victims – it was left to an international tribunal to decide whether he broached the very generous outlines of strongman behavior. Letting Hussein be tried by the U.S.-approved (and trained) stooges of the Iraqi “judiciary” was like handing Bush over to a bunch of Democrats in a dark room after the 2006 elections. Sure, it would be nice to have happened, but, no, it shouldn’t. Forget whether he was guilty of anything. In the legendary words of Woody Allen (not coincidentally, in “Bananas”): “This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”
  • Who ARE Those People: The news coverage of the execution was an embarrassment by all concerned. Fox News, natch, went Death Watch at the bewitching hour, hardly concealing their glee.*** But Fox wasn't alone -- all the cable and other networks got ponderous and ridiculous, playing into the Rove playbook by using the murder of Hussein as an excuse to remind us what a bad guy he was. Well, duh. Most obnoxious, though, was the “coverage” of staged celebrators, in Iraq and Dearborn, Michigan, who, once the camera lights go on, dance badly and pretend to be happy about the whole thing. If you compare footage from other such events – the falling statue, Hussein found in rabbit-hole, whatever – you will find the same well-paid actors. It’s a sectarian fight. Guess what: Shia and Kurds happy; Hussein’s Sunnis, not so much. Big deal. It's about as spontaneous as a GOP convention, and orchestrated by the same people.
  • Leave It to Russia: Once again, a Bush-led outrage is met with silence by the leading Democrats. I mean, who could be against the execution of Sadaam Hussein? Well, if there were a real opposition party in this country, lots of people would be, or at least would have a voice in the Permanent Government to ask some questions about what the hell is going on. The execution should be an opportunity for righteous outrage about the whole Bush scheme, all the lies and the ultimate isolation of the United States from the norms of international community. But, no. Ask a Democratic political consultant whether you should criticize the Hussein execution and watch him roll on the floor in laughter. In the meantime, entities such as Russia stake out the higher ground by condemning the outrage. Better them than any of us…I guess…
  • Who's Next?: Sadaam Hussein was the way he was because that is the way it has always been in Iraq -- ruled by the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the land. As we have seen in that grim land all this year, killing is not a crime as much as it is a way of communicating. For all the exaggerations made about Hussein to justify the war and his hanging ("hundreds of thousands" in mass graves? Well, not quite.), I hope someone's keeping score on the crimes of all the pretenders to the throne in this gruesome game of King-of-the-Hill, so we'll know who to charge with what next time.

    One of the sad aspects about all of this is that the violence created by the vengeance killing of Hussein is sure to cause the death toll of U.S. servicemen to rise to and above the 3,000 threshold, probably before the year is out. Sadaam’s bloody, broken neck notwithstanding, the questions remain:

    How many?

    What for?

*** I deleted a part here that I had written about Alan Colmes, and offer apologies if it was inaccurate. I wrote the phrase "the repulsive pretend-liberal Alan Colmes almost offering to put the noose on the guy himself." at the end of this sentence. Colmes himself wrote to me about this (you never know if people really are who they say they are, and it's hard for me to believe someone like Colmes is one of my seven readers, but I'll believe it if you will), and says that he was offering an opposing, anti-execution/death penalty message on that night's show. I can't say I watched all of it and, if I was stretching the interpretation of Colmes usual passive stance (at least while I was watching) as acquiescence to the rabid Hannity and their various right-wing guests, I apologize.

As for the "repulsive pretend-liberal" conclusion, although I am not the first one to challenge Colmes for his enabling of Hannity -- not to mention frequent offensive guests like Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, Ollie North, etc. -- he really does seem to be concerned that he is not taken seriously as a progressive voice on the Red Planet of Fox News. More about that later -- I am going to take him up on his offer to watch and listen to him more. Call it one of my many New Years resolutions.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reached into its past today to change its collective mind (Journal’s or Sentinel’s?) on one of the most important issues of American history – should Gerald Ford have pardoned Richard Nixon? The answer was and is clearly “NO”, but the J-S blazes the Ford-friendly, phony-respect-for-the-dead revisionist trail to praise the Accidental President for the “Midwestern pragmatism” of the horrible action that prevented a clear historical record on Nixon.

Even in his own death, Nixon and his apologists continue to use the non-clarity allowed by the pardon to characterize his forced resignation as a simple loss of political support. Thus has history been muddled, and Nixon is off the hook in too many history textbooks. Not only should he have been prosecuted for his crimes, Congress should have gone ahead, impeached and convicted his ass even after he was gone, driving the wooden spike into his cold political heart. Instead, just like the famous vampire, he rose to life, rewriting history and creating a legacy that should have remained permanently stained by, oh, let’s say, five years in Club Fed.

Ford is the only president of which I have saved the Time Magazine cover from his inauguration, not because of who he was but of who he replaced. Nixon’s resignation, after he was forced by the Supreme Court to cough up the proof of his own psychotic criminality – the White House tapes – was the most dramatic and important presidential transition in this or any other time. For all the puffed-up blather all over the media this week, Ford was a mere transitory figure, a caretaker controlled by his (mostly Nixon’s) staff, easily in over his head. The point wasn’t his wisecrack that he was a “Ford, not a Lincoln”; it was that he was Ford, and, happily, not Nixon. One day, Richard Nixon was calling up cronies, putting fixes in, getting drunk and talking to the pictures on the walls of the White House. The next day, he was gone. This is nothing if not a good thing.

Ford was in that position only because Spiro Agnew, a more traditional money-in-envelopes political criminal, was cooked and had to beat a path out of town one step ahead of the law (they caught him anyway – no pardon or cover-up help for him from the disloyal Nixon). A VP resignation and conviction would have been enough for any other administration, scandal-wise, but Nixon, by actually using the mechanism of the CIA, the FBI and the Justice Department to hide facts about his illegal acts from his own government, was in a different league. Ford replaced Agnew because he was the only Republican who could have possibly been approved by an anxious Democratic congress. Just by his very friendly, non-controversial existence, Ford became the last hope for normalcy by a desperate soon-to-be loser.

The cable networks have played the clip many times this week, but the contrast between Nixon and Ford on August 9, 1974 is still stunning. On the day he left office, after (literally) cracking up in front of his staff in the early morning – blubbering incoherently about his mother and “T.R.”, the video of which is (or should be) a national treasure – Nixon strode out to his ride out of town without a care in the world, waving wildly close to the chopper blades, like he was just headed out on a campaign trip. Ford, at the other end of the dirty red carpet, looked like he had been hit by a truck. You’d think he would have seen this coming, what with Nixon’s speech the night before and all, but Ford looked like someone had just woken him up to give him the news. And horrible news, it seemed to be.

For the first month, Ford was a breath of fresh air in a White House that seemed to have its windows blackened and its atmosphere fouled by smoke, bad liquor and bad people for decades. Just buttering an English muffin was cause for the celebration of normalcy. Betty wasn’t Pat, Susan wasn’t Tricia (much less Julie) and Jerry wasn’t, er, Dick. In those days, relief was easy to come by.

But the trivial personal details only distracted from the fact that Ford was our first puppet president. Sure, he bounced some tainted Nixon hacks and then brought in other pre-approved hacks, two of them ominously named Rumsfeld and Cheney. He is being given credit this week for being engaged; for making his staff argue in front of him before deciding what they were going to decide for him anyway. As such, he comes full circle: once praised for not being Nixon, he now looks good for not being Junior Bush (who, by the way, was nothing if not a drunk party-boy throughout the whole Ford administration). But with Ford, the Silent Republican Government stumbled on the template they would perfect with Reagan and disastrously overplay with Junior. Ford, like Reagan and Junior, was simply a pretty face on ugly policies, a distraction that allowed the rich and the military-industrial to reach into the pockets of the rest of us for spare change and diamonds.

But that doesn’t take Ford off the hook for the only personal decision of his presidency, the one only he could make. When he followed through on the deal he made with Al Haig – Nixon’s resignation in exchange for Nixon’s pardon – Ford sealed his fate, and ours. He was rightly punished for his sin, stumbling from crisis-to-crisis for the rest of his presidency and eventually losing to the true post-Watergate healer, Jimmy Carter.

I used to appreciate these dead-President, half-mast, almost-royal events. The sad JFK weekend was one of the seminal events of my life (in 3rd grade). That was until the ridiculous Reagan love-fest unduly lionized the right-wing icon for what seemed like a month several years ago. Overall, I think these national transition points are interesting historically and Ford should be given his due as an important transition figure.

But to pretend the pardon of Nixon was anything but a historical atrocity does nothing for Ford’s legacy or for the nation. In the end, Gerald Ford was yet another victim of Richard Nixon, a man who poisoned every life he touched.

Monday, December 25, 2006


I remember the 45s that my high school roommates brought home from the weekends. Most of them had the familiar labels from Atlantic, Capitol, Columbia – after all, white guys recorded on those labels, too. Even Motown labels were friendly and common, growing up, as I did, with the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye records my sisters brought home from college.

But there was something about those James Brown platters. They looked and felt different, like they came from the same ghetto Brown did. He recorded for King Records – which Wikipedia says was a country label out of Cincinnati with some “race record” side projects. The labels were a dark shade of blue and a simple crown was suspended above the word “King” in silver lettering.

The 45s themselves looked subversive, and not only because the titles of the songs happened to be “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Sex Machine”. They looked like they were made in someone’s basement. Even the font for the songs titles was lame, as if all of the usual aesthetics of labeling and appearance of the product had been cast aside in the interest of just getting the damn things out. Add the dirty fingerprints and scratches of high school kids on the black vinyl and the whole thing seemed very, well, funky.

He might have been put out 33 rpm albums and we had some in the room (Aretha Live at the Apollo, Bill Cosby: My Brother Russell, With Whom I Slept), but our James Brown collection was all those funky 45s. Some were songs were still under the white-guy radar; follow-ups to his few cross-over hits and Black Power ghetto anthems.

As a white guy, you could dig the guitars, the horns, the screams and the splits; but you could never really understand the funk, heart and soul, the repressed rage behind the voice and that pained look on his face. James Brown sang and played for the man back home, out on the stoop, slumped on the natty couch staring at the black-and-white TV with a 40-ounce in a bag. Always real, he never devolved into a cartoon of himself, even when he took the check from The Man, put on red-white-and-blue and briefly joined the Rocky franchise for “Living in America” in 1976.

For all his dynamic stage presence and histrionics, James Brown was a band leader. Many of his albums were stocked (some would say “padded”) with instrumental, full-band work-outs, that probably only made sense for those in the studio. Even some of his hits show him directing traffic (i.e.: takin’ it to the bridge in “Sex Machine”) and he’d throw out sudden key changes just to see if the band could handle it. When I saw him live in 1981 in Madison, he drove the big band with a shake of his head and a twist of his hand.

That night, I watched him talk to children and adults backstage, and got to ask him a question about the Atlanta child murders (the reason for the benefit show he just performed). Already too old for his then-49 years, JB spoke quietly but forcefully, as if it was still Nation-time and people were still looking to him for answers. For James Brown, it seemed, the struggle was never over, either for his constituent people or for his inner soul.

In death, James Brown gave us one last gift. His passing on Christmas Day gave his fans and admirers the perfect excuse to blow out the stale residue of over-played holiday music with original funk, turned up loud on the way to and/or running from church and family events. Tired Rudolph gave way to the Good Foot; chestnuts roasted, maybe, but only on the Sex Machine. Brown may have felt like he broke out in a Cold Sweat, but his passion was always hot, always driven by inner strength and his connection to the folks back home. There are no sad, slow songs to remember James by; there is only the dig-deep riff, the funky break, the howling scream from the inner soul.

Of all the rock and soul icons we lionize – Elvis, Beatles, Dylan, Young, Springsteen – James Brown is the only one I can think of who never tried to re-create himself, never gave himself over to image-makers and false-idol-creators. He stood before us, sweat pouring down his mask-like face, and counted it off. The band, and he, took it from there. In a world and a profession where you are considered a fool if you don’t get yourself pimped, James just went ahead with his Bad Self and we’ll never see another like it.

Photo from 1981, by James Nelson, via the Daily Cardinal

Friday, December 15, 2006


Local wing-nut Mark Belling went off on a rant early in his show Friday afternoon about Iraq, Iran and John McCain’s proposal to send even more troops. Belling was arguing with even his usual right-wing seminar and otherwise-sympathetic callers about the proposal and what we are or should be doing in Iraq.

Belling was following the GOP talking-point strategy to support Bush’s continued disaster in Iraq, a campaign that has been universally followed (isn’t everything?) by local and national wing-nuts since the November election. From beating up on the Iraq Study Group (re-titled "the Iraq Surrender Group" by Karl Rove and his lackey surrogates) to blaming their fellow countrymen for being weak and unwilling to "do what it takes", wing-nuts like Belling are happy to dig in up to their elbows in other people’s blood and tragedy.

One point that Belling made today was that, if we go in with troops somewhere to accomplish something, we should stick it out until the "job is done", "even if it takes 100 years". It didn’t seem he was interested in applying that doctrine – let’s call it the Blockhead Doctrine – to whatever it is we are still trying to accomplish by having soldiers stuck in the middle of the Iraq civil war. But, like other wing-nuts all over the country, Belling wants us to get out of the frying pan of Iraq and jump into the flames of Iran.

Like many issues that are fleshed out in the nut-sphere before the GOP sends its talking heads and politicians out to say the same things, the whole idea of invading Iran is as insane as they tell us Ahmadinejad is. Anyone who showed up on a cable show (other than Fox News) and proposed such a thing would be eaten alive, and rightly so. The whole idea is reckless and ridiculous. But one of the primary reasons for wing-nut radio is to butter-up the general populace for crazy ideas by wedging the bad ideas into the mainstream. And Belling the Lapdog is more than willing to oblige.

But Belling actually got off the plantation, in more ways than one, later in the "discussion", if you can call it that. A caller – just trying to be helpful, I’m sure – tried to say that Belling’s 100 Year War is a great idea, because success would mean no terrorism in the United States. You know, the "fight ‘em there so we don’t have to fight ‘em here" nonsense, like dedicated jihadists couldn’t do both. Instead of playing along, Belling said you can’t guarantee no terrorism in the U.S. – heck, he might go off himself someday.

It is a tenant of wing-nut radio that anything worth saying once is worth saying ten times, so Belling went on. Referring to his producer, he said this: "Even Paul might go Muslim someday."

Now, think about what it means to "go Muslim". I assume he doesn’t mean reading the Koran, praying five times a day or not eating pork. No, "going Muslim" , to Mark Belling, means blowing up buildings and cities. That’s what being a Muslim is all about. To him.

Well, what the heck. He’s already known for his racist tirades and arguments and Clear Channel has patted him on the back and encouraged his continued poisoning of the community. So now he wants to smear all Muslims with the sick crimes of relatively few fevered jihadists. It’s a game national embarrassments like WTMJ-broadcast Michael Savage and other nutbags have played for years. Maybe Belling just wants to play in the Big Leagues.

Or maybe he’s just an unnecessary thorn in the city that needs to be kicked to the curb.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


When I first started squawking about the Journal Sentinel’s anti-Doyle bias in its news pages back in September, the Green-good/Doyle-bad construct was deeply entrenched at what is ever more unfortunately the Only Newspaper in Town. It was apparent during the campaign that the J-S was going to do whatever it could to parrot and provide fodder for radio wing-nut talking points and would otherwise support the GOP as much as they could. For reasons unfathomable to all but them, the news editors and statehouse reporters longed for Mark Green to be our next governor.

You would think the resulting thumping of the hapless Green in the election would bring a moment of reflection for the manipulative newsers. You would be wrong. Even without the clarifying “balance” of the pro-Green stories (where is he now? Both gone and easily forgotten, after one more predictable puff piece in the J-S), the Journal Sentinel continues on its bizarre anti-Doyle campaign. Every Doyle accomplishment has a dark cloud behind it, looming in the background, if only so the J-S can jump out and say “boo!”.

Wednesday’s paper is a perfect example. It starts innocent enough in the headline: “Median property tax bill in state up $7”. Well, that’s gotta be good news, right? I mean, most editors would have even helped you out a little by saying “only $7” and even might have added the important fact “for the second year in a row”, but, still, not bad, right? Then comes the competing sub-head: “But state's package of limits on taxes expires this year.”

Good god, not “expires”! This is horrible! Someone please make it not expire! Please, Journal Sentinel, don’t let me be foolish enough to savor (much less recognize) the fruits of Doyle’s labors. The J-S would have beat Doyle about the head and shoulders if he had dared tried to make his formula permanent, but – No! Next year! I must presume the worst about next year!

The same nonsense that rattles around in the headlines is repeated in the article itself, written, to no one’s surprise, by self-admitted Doyle-hater Steven Walters (see my November 12th post for a discussion of his post-election anti-Doyle screed in the opinion pages). As if you couldn’t figure it out yourself, Walters announces the good news in the lead and then comes the extremely trite let-down. The whole second graph? “That’s the good news.” Oh, oh.

Then comes the punch line, otherwise known as “the bad news”. The tactics that kept your property taxes in check (still good, right?), are described as “Doyle-backed” – no mention of the legislature until after you are informed that all these good things will expire next year. We just know Jim Doyle wanted it this way, don’t we? That scoundrel!

Those trolling the Journal Sentinel on-line version the day before could have seen this one coming up 5th – or, rather, Wisconsin – Avenue. In an article apparently not good enough for the printed version, Walters warms up in his beating of Doyle for his own success. To do so, he uses the voice of another quickly-forgotten loser, non-Congressman John Gard. Now, who but Steven Walters would consider calling up a washed-up punk like Gard, who couldn’t even get elected in his own Republican congressional district, to ruminate about how property taxes “would have gone up even less” if Doyle had only signed the poison-pill bill the GOP ran up to him, back when they had control of the state legislature?

Loser Gard is not even identified, at least, as “outgoing” Assembly Speaker, if not "former", since the state legislature will not meet again until someone else is sitting in his Assembly seat. So Walters plays up his source who is such a lame duck he’ll need a photo ID and a body scan the next time he tries to get into the Capitol.

The editors, apparently, gave Walters two kicks at this ridiculous cat. Maybe we can expect another of the Journal Sentinel’s brave campaigns, like the one against legislators earning sick leave for health benefits that none of them knew they had. That was good for five or six front-pagers, featuring all kinds of useless do-gooder grandstanding. Just to keep the ball rolling, maybe we can hear next from former GOP leaders of the now-Dem-controlled State Senate and how Doyle really messed up this property tax thing two years in a row and blah blah blah.

It’s hard to figure out what the Journal Sentinel or Walters get out of any of this, except a continued erosion of credibility and prestige. Doyle is going to be governor now for four more years, the Democrats are in control of the Senate and, I mean, what are they trying to start or stop? All you really need to know is that if a Republican governor had presided over two years of nominal property tax increases, they’d be putting up a statue to the dude on 4th and State. That they can’t give Doyle a little credit where it’s due shows them as nothing if not petty, partisan and as out-of-touch as Junior Bush.

Monday, December 04, 2006


During the past sorry six years, right-wing radio has taken upon itself two primary missions: 1) define, usually by demonization, Democrats or anyone (like John McCain) with the temerity to question any aspect of Junior Bush’s administration, and 2) make excuses for Junior’s many failures. The amazingly monolithic way that national and local wing-nuts have been willing to march to Karl Rove’s talking-point orders is the only thing that stood in the way of Kerry’s election in ‘04, a serious impeachment move last year and an even sounder thumping of Republicans in the elections this year.

Given the complete shellacking applied to Republican behinds last month, the wing-nuts have been at a loss to explain what happened, perhaps even more so than the White House. I mean, there they were for years, ranting to their passive listeners 24/7 about how Democrats could not be trusted with the reigns of power; how taxes would go up; how liberal Nancy Pelosi was; how corrupt Harry Reid and Jim Doyle and whoever. What went wrong, they surely wondered. It had all worked so well before.

You’d think, after being led around the nose by the Bushies all these years, at least some of them would get off the plantation and find their own voice. But a radio wing-nut without a script is like a DJ without a turntable (or its modern equivalent). Even if they are true believers and think they might like to give original thought a try, they just are not interesting enough. Their entire careers are built on being GOP conduits. Pull that rug from under, and most of them have nothing to talk about.

Sure, some of them like Sean Hannity might have permission to go after Bush on a red-meat issue like immigration and border security. This has the benefit – in the World of Rove – of driving up angry-white-man lather and making Bush look reasonable to everyone else when he does something short of rounding up brown-skinned people in Arizona for background checks.

For the most part, the wing-nuts have stayed away from their usual blather on substantive issues since the election. But they have maintained a completely united front on the defining issue of the election and our current times: the civil war in Iraq. At a time when everyone with any sense is looking for a way out, the wing-nuts are apparently looking to spend more years in the quagmire, to spill the blood of still more brave American soldiers. They are pulling out all the stops – name-calling, treason-claiming and, like Bush himself, lying about the obvious facts to get to their insupportable conclusions.

All this would be par for the course, except that the situation in Iraq is grim and the opportunity to have a legitimate discussion about it is upon us for the first time since the invasion. This is an important time that calls for sober reflection and real-world solutions. Remarkably absent, you might notice, is squawking and I-told-you-so’s from those who were right since the beginning – the anti-war left and middle. Neo-con slugs like Ken Adelman and Richard Perle are given full berth to fuss about how they would have done it right, doggone it, and they show no hesitation to engage in intramural squabbling. But the Left That Was Right politely stands aside, hoping that establishment lackeys like Jim Baker might find a way to end the pointless deaths of Americans in a war-of-choice gone terribly wrong.

But, once again, as they did with 9/11, Katrina and various other national tragedies, the GOP wing-nuts are willing to dance on the graves of the dead to make political points. While every serious person looks for a solution, the wing-nuts talk about the Democrats and others looking for a way out "wanting the U.S. to lose" because we all just "hate Bush so much".

Listen to wing-nut radio for five minutes and you’ve got the drill. Those who want to get out are weak. We should go in and wipe them all out (the code words for nuking, say, Iran get less subtle on late night radio, where it is scarily explicit). This is why we lost Vietnam. Three thousand dead and ten of thousands wounded are peanuts; why, 600,000 died in World War II. We have lost our will to win, to do the job right.

My god, it’s pathetic. But, in a time when no thinking person would back Bush on anything, much less on what he did and is doing in Iraq, the radio wing-nuts form the Last Line. Why? What do they gain? Everyone is so damn done with the sick Bush regime, even the wing-nuttiest listeners don’t want to hear it any more.