Monday, April 30, 2007

At the Blog Summit

If I had some fear and trepidation about the Blog Summit at Marquette this past weekend, it was amplified when I got there and figured out it was being held in a law school lecture hall. It has been some 21 years since I had the pleasure of these kind of surroundings (albeit at UW) and, somehow, you never shake the feeling of dread and sheer tedium that comes with certain environments, even if there are now electrical outlets for your laptop and wireless in the air (although not really working). Regardless, I enjoyed the program more than I thought I would, thanks to the smooth efforts of Wispolitics’ Jeff Myers, Mike Gousha, the energy in the air and the contributions of several of the panelists.

The more entertaining and enlightening panel by far was the "diversity panel", featuring Eugene Kane, Jennifer Morales and – the pleasant surprise of the day – Dasha Kelly. A writer and poet, Dasha was smart, funny and delightful. She is a great example of the kind of bright light that shouldn’t have to fight through editors and space limitations to be heard. She sort of made us political back-and-forthers look silly with our sometimes-petty gamesmanship, as she cut straight to heart of her very personal life and observations. She said she wasn’t political, saying that it was so obvious that good schools are important, what more is there to say? But that in itself is a political statement, especially when many of the right-wingers in attendance are actively trying to undermine public education. [Aside: the mention of school "choice" industry shill George Mitchell’s name during another panel properly got one of the biggest laughs of the day.]

The conundrum posed by the diversity panel was an appropriate one: What’s with all the white guys in the room? Indeed, most of those in attendance at the Summit were as white as the guys in the portraits of legal luminaries plastered all over the walls of the lecture hall. If blogging is to ever become a truly democratic revolution, more and different people need to come to the party. Morales and Kelly attributed the lack of minority and working-class participation to the fact that the poor don’t have time for this sort of relative nonsense, unless it is putting food on the table. Kane suggested African-American media outlets like the black radio stations and newspapers should develop more of a blog presence, which they should, since they have the resources and the audience that needs to get its voice heard.

I asked Eugene Kane what it felt like to be regularly called a racist by a variety of radio and blogging wing-nuts who were at the Summit. (Making my point for me after the fact, right-wing golden-boy and Sykes TV panel lackey Owen Robinson rudely accuses fellow panelist Kane of "racism" for his remarks at this very Summit.) Kane let those in attendance off the hook a little too easily, I think. If I were him, I would have called out a few. Instead, he said that kind of nonsense has rolled off his back since he began at the Journal Sentinel and he left it at that.

In the first panel, Ed Garvey successfully baited Charlie Sykes into making a fool of himself. You can see why Sykes seldom exposes himself in a public forum. After I asked Garvey and Dem consultant John Kraus what progressives could do to get the kind of megaphone the right has with their talk radio echo chamber, Sykes smugly produced "the world’s tiniest violin" for us to play – in other words, he has the talk show distributing his tripe on the 50,000-watt station and the rest of us can go stuff it. He then mentioned Air America (big laugh from the wing-nuts on that one), NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC, New York know the drill. It’s a lie and he knows it – the only thing progressive about the MSM outlets is that they are reality-based, as opposed to the wing-nut fantasy world Sykes lives in.

I made a comment before that particular question that I think bears some repeating and some thought. The question being discussed was what impact blogs have had on elections. My comment was that the lefty blogs have had little, because we are somewhat diverse and come from different perspectives and interests. The right-wing blogs, on the other hand, are always on the same talking points as wing-nut radio, be it talking about Pelosi’s scarf or Sheryl Crow’s single-square of toilet paper. My point was that the right-wing blogs provide much more political cover for the radio squawkers and their politicians than left-wing blogs do for whatever is going on on our side and therefore have more effect.

This was apparently "whining", according to GOP flack and panelist Brian Fraley. For one thing, unlike the characterization of my comment by another right-winger, I did not say it was "unfair" that the left didn’t have the same sort of vehicle (although, in terms of use of public airwaves, it is). I think it was a fair description of the relative playing fields. But, even if we had a chance, progressives would never use their message power to pound lies the way the right does. For one thing, we don’t have to – the truth is always on our side.

Anyway, nobody whines louder or more pathetically than a bunch right-wingers trying to convince you that the MSM has all this supposed liberal bias. Some of that very whining was done by Sykes himself, as he complained – no, whined – at the panel about the Journal Sentinel ignoring a non-story about some comment by Michael McGee, Jr "spontaneously" discovered by a fellow-traveler’s blog (nothing happens by accident in wing-nut-land). It seems to me McGee saying something incendiary is like Junior Bush saying something stupid – it’s just not news anymore.

As for the rest of it:
  • Jessica McBride disappointed by coming in with notes and a fairly subdued attitude, except when she explained why her "blog" doesn’t have comments (supposedly libel concerns and, really, she just doesn’t want to hear it). At least she hung around most of the day, unlike Sykes who bolted after his session, lest he be exposed to more of the real world.
  • What I’m sure was an excellent presentation by Madison attorney Jennifer Peterson was unfairly affected by my flashbacks to the legal classroom and the many legal education classes I have taken through the years. No matter how interesting, one case citation and I’m down for the count. I talked to the very friendly Rick Esenberg about it, and I think we are both putting in for 30 minutes of CLE credits.
  • Rick and I both said we read each other’s blog, both agreed each other was wrong about everything, and continued a very nice conversation. That’s what I like about being around most lawyers – disagreeing without being disagreeable (are you listening, Owen?). The only thing I could think that might lead to fisticuffs (well, more likely, armwrestling) is Bush v. Gore. Now them’s fightin’ words!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Not Dead Yet, But Well On The Way

It isn’t often that the GOP puts its cards on the table so you can see them. Usually, their game plans are devised in Washington, distributed to the disseminators, and we only see the implementation of the daily talking points; you know – Pelosi’s scarf, Sheryl Crow’s single square of toilet paper, etc. Seldom do we see the Big Picture of the GOP’s design to fool enough people into supporting their causes and candidates all in one place.

But Charlie Sykes gives it all up this week in his no-doubt well-paid alter-ego as a "senior fellow" at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), a right-wing front group disguised as a "think tank", based in Wisconsin and funded (like Sykes himself) by the usual suspects.

In an article titled "Not Dead Yet", Sykes visits the morgue to view the chilled body of "conservatism" and declares that the dead shall live, even as the deceased is rolled toward the oven, soon to be seared into the ashes of history.

Sykes is paid well by many to front for this kind of optimism. His article purports to offer a game plan for the return of Republican (he says "conservative", but we know who he’s working for) rule after the Bush years, which have been as much a disaster for the GOP as they have been for everybody else.

For all its lofty ambition, the piece is remarkably trite, featuring the same tired rhetoric Sykes trots out on his radio show. You know the routine: lefty "socialists" will overreach and brave conservatives will ride to the rescue, with SUVs and tax cuts for all, blah blah blah.

A large part of Sykes’ plan is "defining the terms of the debate between the left and the right", a service he provides for the GOP every day, for free, on his public-airwave, 50,000-watt radio show. And, as it is with all wing-nuts, "defining the terms" begins with telling lies about the left. He claims the left "offers" the following:
  • "Grievance (the politics of victimization)" – No one is supposed to complain or seek redress for anything. If you think you are discriminated against because of your race, gender, sexual orientation – well, you big baby. Democrats support providing a little equalizer against social and economic Darwinism and believe the equal protection clause of the Constitution means something other than Bush beats Gore. And, guess what – some people really are victims.
  • "Entitlement" – well, one person’s entitlement is another person’s safety net. Does he mean Social Security and Medicare, which has provided at least minimal security for our parent’s generation? Food stamps and medical care for the poor? Libraries? Is health care for all a good idea? Sure, and, as with all safety nets, it would make society safer, healthier and, yes (this is Sykes’ real problem), more equal.
  • "Class envy (and the politics of Redistribution)" – McCarthyism is not dead. The wing-nuts are increasingly throwing out the S-word to "remind" whoever is listening to them that the Democrats want to take your money and give it to them. Nonsense, of course, but, as with much of this, they hope the repeated lie becomes the perceived truth. Ironically, it is GOP surrogates like Sykes who play the real "class envy" game, making sure their listeners know about the supposed wine-and-brie inclinations of the Hollywood "elite" and who keep secret the truly elite nature of the people who fund, say, the WPRI. At least the Dems are out there in public with their supporters. Where do I go to meet yours, Charlie?
  • "Bureaucracy and the Nanny State" – ah, the Nanny State. This is the one, Sykes will tell you, that wants you to lose the trans fats and maybe keep sugar soda out of school vending machines. There is no place in Sykes World for, say, an FDA that protects us from bad food or fraudulent drug claims. You are all on your own, apparently. The "market" will sort things out, if it can sort through all the dead and damaged bodies.
  • "Tax increases" – See Socialism, Politics of Redistribution, above. Tax "increase" also means the elimination of the cynically sunset-ed Bush tax cuts for the rich, enacted while everyone was asleep right after 9/11. Sykes argues that, since Democrats want to provide more government service (such as universal health care), they must be planning to raise taxes. But the biggest government spenders in the history of the world are the Bush Republicans and they never had to pay for it, so why should we? Local and state governments have to live within their means and, yes, cigarettes and gas might cost more. Deal with it or cut back.
  • "Group identity" – You know those cute ethnic events and festivals that Old Milwaukee used to celebrate as part of our diversity – you know, German, Polish, Italian – all those white guys? Well, as the skin of our residents got browner and yellower – suddenly, group identity is a bad thing. Grandma on the south side still talking Polish is quaint and heroic – her neighbor talking Spanish or Hmong is probably some kind of damn criminal. That Democrats recognize ethnic, racial and sexual diversity just means we live in the real world. The white guys just had their last run – I’m afraid the Bushies ruined that whole deal forever.
  • "Collectivism" – See Socialism, above-above. Well, we are in all this together, and the problem with that realization is...what, now? The fear he is trying to strike in the hearts of his suburban audience is that they might have to get out of their cocoons and deal with other people of, ugh, other types. They can relax. They can stay in their subdivisions and hide from the rest of us, if they want. They will be missing out on an exciting future, but, heck, just stay put.
  • "Litigation" – I assume he means people suing individuals and corporations who have harmed them. I assume he doesn’t mean the majority of civil litigation, which involves businesses suing other businesses, debt collection, foreclosures and other actions that keep business-side lawyers the best paid in the business. It is part of the rank hypocrisy of the wing-nuts – complaining about the small, rare legal victories of the little guy against the corporations, while being perfectly comfortable with a record number of foreclosures, evictions and repossessions by corporations against the little guy.
  • "Multiculturalism" – see Group Identity, above. What could be worse than accepting and celebrating the many cultures that make up the fabric of America? Like I said, we used to appreciate this stuff when it was just European diversity – just different styles of lederhosen or whatever.
  • "Ambivalence on security" – ambivalence as in – what? Because we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq? Because we want to leave that particular quagmire? Because, if you say someone is a terrorist, we think you should have to prove it in better than a kangaroo court? Because we know torture doesn’t work and should be above using it even if it did? Because we resist the government trolling our phone and bank records on a fishing expedition and we don’t trust them not to use it for other reasons? We are not ambivalent on security – we’re smarter. The security situation after 9/11 calls for much more than ham-fisted thrashing around playing the role of some bad-movie tough guy. Is there anyone except these nut-jobs who think that we would be much more "secure" with anyone but Junior Bush in the White House? Here's a secret: they know it, too.

Sykes goes on to recite the glorious attributes of conservatives – including belief in glittering generalities like "freedom", "opportunity", "growth" and other concepts that liberals are not against anyway. My favorite is "common sense". Yeah, a lot of that going on in Iraq and elsewhere.

There is something heartening in all this cluelessness. If Sykes really thinks the right can make a comeback by lying about progressives the way they have done for years, he is sadly mistaken. There is a theory I read recently that talk radio and the other elements of the GOP echo chamber serve only to convince themselves; that they will soon look around and see only themselves listening to this crap and will be unable to deal with the world the way it really is, especially after the Dems pick up the White House and increase their majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. They will still have their radio shows and their secret enclaves and they’ll continue to try to poison the nation’s politics. But, in the end, they might as well be on some VOA short-wave broadcast beaming into Cuba. It means nothing and they’ll be standing on the outside while the rest of us move forward, positively and proudly.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Welcome to Limbo...

One of the amusing aspects of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is their frequent pilgrimage to Catholic-land in its news pages. No doubt trying to accommodate part of its aging demographic, whenever Archbishop Dolan sneezes, the J-S gets a cold. All proclamations are treated with the utmost seriousness, as if the sometimes-celibate men in robes trying to perpetuate the paternalistic pretenses of a medieval past have any relevance to a world that has passed them by, several times over. As a long-fallen-away former altar boy and Guitar Mass content-provider, I feel warm and touched by the patronizing coverage, like a touch of Latin and the smell of sacremental wine. I also find the newspaper again seeking relevance by exploring the irrelevant.

This Saturday, the paper updated faithful and pagan alike on Catholic doctrine relating to limbo, that imperfect place where, is had been said from time to time, unbaptized babies must spend eternity. It’s the sort of serious article about otherwise absurd religious doctrine that gives the J-S its unique niche as the go-to paper for the still-deluded.

Not heaven and not hell – except that anything short of heaven is, er, certainly not optimal – limbo existed as a necessary extension of the doctrine of Adam’s original sin, which, if not extinguished by the sacrament of baptism, we all carry to the grave, even if our grave is a very small and unfortunately infant-sized one. I mean, people who still had original sin couldn’t get into heaven just because they were kids. And, it would be kind of rough to just send all those infants to eternal damnation just because Adam couldn’t keep it real (and we know why that was, don’t we Eve?). So, someone came up with limbo – not as hot as purgatory (short-time hell) and, in fact, somewhat pleasant by all (imaginary) reports – but placement there was forever.

Wikipedia has a remarkable entry on the Catholic-only doctrine of original sin and the concept of limbo, including a link in the footnotes to a long screed by St. Augustine on the whole serious business of unbaptized babies. The rambling piece (well, the guy did write it in 390 or so -- they had a lot of time on their hands those days) includes chapters titled "Unless Infants are Baptized, They Remain in Darkness" and (my favorite) "The Case of Certain Idiots and Simpletons". You’ve got to admire this kind of complete-ism, trying to rationalize every strange doctrine of the Church with every known anomaly. You can see old St. Augie tying himself up in philosophical knots as he stretches and strains to put the square peg of Catholic teachings in the round hole of life.

The Journal Sentinel apparently viewed Pope Benedict’s (nee: Ratzinger) revision of the limbo concept as important stuff, running the AP posting on Page 3 of the front page. Ever the bearer of good news (or, as it were, Good News) the article proclaimed that "there was reason to hope that babies who die without baptism can go to heaven". Well, let’s hope so, shall we? What kind of church would have it any other way? Oh...never mind.

Benedict’s role was apparently to approve the report of a Catholic organ called the "International Theological Commission", the result of the Pope’s call for "further study on limbo". You wonder what sort of "study" might be had on an entirely imaginary place or state of being. Searching a section of the sky for lost souls? Checking the database of souls signed in at heaven’s gate for missing names or fetuses (yes, part of the "pastoral need" to sort all this out is to figure out what happens to even the unborn – can you baptize a fetus?)? "These are reasons for prayerful hope rather than grounds for sure knowledge," says the report. Gee, ya think?

Actually, other reports on the limbo study were a bit more emphatic. The New York Times headline at least had a little definitive pizzazz: "Pope Closes Limbo", reporting in a one-paragraph story that the study actually "demoted" limbo. Limbo, Pluto – good grief, what’s next? When the concept of limbo was originally threatened by the temporarily-flexible church in the late ‘60s, George Carlin had the best line, saying that he hoped all those limbo-ed souls were "promoted" and weren’t "just cut loose in space".

It’s not likely the Journal Sentinel is going to develop much of a sense of humor about these serious liturgical matters, no matter how inadvertently comical. Now that all the unbaptized babies have hope (at least), perhaps we can now turn our attention to those in more identifiable and tangible limbos. There is political limbo, like Alberto Gonzales, maybe John McCain. There is legal limbo – hey, are the convicted Scooters (Libby and Jensen) in prison yet? Try as they might to define it out of existence, limbo remains too convenient a concept to let go of completely. Unbaptized babies without fault or direction of their own are one thing, but grown-ups stuck in a limbo of their own making – now, that’s entertainment!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vigilant Wing-Nut Enablers

Tim Cuprisin took a break from his American Idol summaries to write a story in the Journal Sentinel Saturday about how "vigilant" Milwaukee radio will be in the wake of the Imus firing. The article is a classic piece of tripe in which Cuprisin dutifully discusses these serious matters with program directors of the two wing-nut radio stations in town, and finds them both minding the store with the utmost concern for their vulnerable listeners. In fact, both could care less what crap they put on the air, as long as it furthers their political agenda.

Take WISN’s Jerry Bott – please. When he’s not arranging time-slots for slime-masters like Mark Belling, Jay Weber, Sean Hannity and Mark Levine, Bott has also sidelined as a substitute wing-nut himself. Bott, who proudly kept the race-baiting Belling on the air after he called Hispanics "wetbacks" a few years ago, is no doubt proud of the racist promotional spot that plays on his station repeatedly, promoting the ridiculous Weber’s morning show. The spot features an outrageous Chinese voice caricature, who announces that he is "Mao Tse-tung in Hell", come to sing the praises of Jim Doyle’s "tax increases". I tell you, it’s a stitch. Other spots declare the station "Your Conservative Home" and say it fights against "poverty pimps" and "Democrat traitors". Yes, sir – Bott is just the guy to talk seriously about civility on the radio.

I’m not sure Cuprisin quite understood what Bott was telling him. The Bott quote is such a mush of double-speak, you can almost hear the asides running around in his head: "Any time you go through an incident at your station [like that "wetback" thing, can you imagine those damn whining minorities? What a pain in the ass.], it certainly puts a sharper focus on the potential problems [or defines what we might be able to get away with] that broadcasting such material could put forth [unless you are ready with attack dogs that can provide cover]...And it makes you more vigilant [so that we can continue poisoning the political discourse without all these damn questions].

Likewise, TMJ PD Jon Schweitzer, who did nothing last week when Charlie Sykes called Al Sharpton a "pimp", except, maybe, give him another raise. "[A]nything you say is gone the moment you say it," said the obviously-brilliant Schweitzer, who presides over such local gone-sayers as Sykes and the atrocious Jessica McBride. Proving that anything goes on the formerly respectable TMJ, Schweitzer defends the placement of syndicated hatemonger Michael Savage on the late shift. "Anything we carry on our air is our responsibility...Obviously, we have less control." Well, whatever. You wouldn’t want to break your back trying to get some programing on the air that isn’t demeaning, racist, homophobic, war-mongering and otherwise inflammatory. I mean, that’s just asking too much, isn’t it?

The only thing that gets the radio wing-nuts even slightly off the hook for their deliberately divisive tactics is that someone else decides that they get to be on the air in the first place. Immediately after the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by Reagan’s FCC in 1987, program directors around the country took advantage of the situation to poison the public airwaves with patronizing conservative talkers, seeking the angry-white-male demographic. That evolved into the current situation, where the now-established wing-nuts take GOP spin and talking-points and run them into the ground, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all over the country.

The effect of this development on the national discourse is to skew, divide and destroy the entire political atmosphere, like smog on a clear day. The program directors most responsible for the right-wing hijacking of the airwaves should not be held out as responsible "vigilant" radio executives. Well, they're "vigilant" alright, but it has nothing to do with decent radio and everything to do with creating support for Republican policies that, especially these days, would not otherwise exist.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus Fired; Sykes Dodges

A couple of days ago, I submitted a fairly timely and newsy post, I thought. I had just heard Charlie Sykes call Al Sharpton a "pimp" on his radio show, while he was discussing the Imus imbroglio. The use of "pimp" referring to strong, flamboyant African-American man is certainly as offensive as Imus calling some basketball players "hos".

In fact, it was worse. The Imus incident happened because he was egged on by his incredibly stupid producer to say something about people he knew nothing about, based on their physical appearance in some sports footage. In contrast, Sykes chose to use his racial slur against someone he seeks to belittle, on purpose, with premeditation and malice.

My post fell in the blogosphere like a leaden balloon on a bright summer day. I got some comments and a couple hundred people checked it out, but I didn’t get the post linked on WisOpinion (always a disappointment, but that often happens when I pick on one of their other featured "bloggers") and surely no acknowledgment from Sykes or anyone seeking to defend his wacky racist antics.

One of my favorite wing-nut tactics is when they point out supposedly progressive bloggers or commenters that have written something so outrageous that they can use it to slur all Democrats or lefties. The most prominent recent example is when somebody dug deep in the Huffington Post comments section to find celebrations of the bombing outside of a compound where Dick Cheney was staying in Afghanistan. "This is the Democratic base!" they exclaim, when such comments are nothing of the sort. In fact, like the phony "lefty" callers that provide comic relief on local and national wing-nut radio, such comments are left by probably plants – someone pretending to be left just to give the left a bad name.

But they ignore the effective progressive voices, because they don’t have an answer for them. Although I know I am being read by them, they refuse to engage. As I have always contended, the wing-nuts are repelled from honest debate like Superman from Kryptonite. Sykes or Belling wouldn’t let themselves get caught in a even-up public debate if their life depended on it. The radio emperors would be exposed without their clothes. They hide in their corporate studio cocoons and their safely-constructed TV-show panels. If they said half the stuff they do on the radio in public, they’d get eaten alive. They are the wimpiest tough-guys in show business.

So, now, for his sins, the relatively progressive Imus has been sacked – banished to the false futuristic promise of satellite radio, no doubt. But Sykes (with his "pimp" calling) and Belling and (with his "wetback" comment) remain on the air and untouchable. Is Milwaukee really this desperate for media personalities that we have to put up with these divisive poisonous personalities? Can’t we do better? Shouldn’t we try?

P.S.: Speaking of (not) engaging, I called in to the Belling show this afternoon. He was exercising his remarkable intellect on the Iraq war, which is always good for a laugh. I was calling to say he actually was very close to the Democratic position of pulling the troops out of harm’s way in Baghdad and keeping some in the country (read: redeploy) to fight Al Qaeda and protect borders. The screener put me on hold, eventually told me I was "next", then clicked in to tell me he was "sorry" and the line went dead. I don’t know why they even bothered to pretend I was going to get a chance on the air with Belling, who is a notorious debate-wimp. Several years ago, I actually got on the air and he was in trouble dealing with an honest debate. Suddenly, he asked me a question and then cut me off. On the air, he actually pretended like I was still there, and pretended that I couldn’t answer the question. These are the kinds of people we are dealing with – paranoid, manipulative wimps with microphones.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Answers to Blog Summit Survey

Recently, the organizers of the WisPolitics Blog Summit, to be held on April 28 at Marquette University, sent a survey to various bloggers, asking for comment on this year’s event, which has drawn some criticism from various quarters for various reasons. I haven’t weighed in on these issues, but I thought I would answer the survey and share it with my readers.

I hope the folks at WisPolitics take these comments as constructive. I value my spot as a featured blog on the always-interesting WisOpinion page. There is a bit of "biting the hand that feeds me" here, but 1) it’s hard to avoid, under the circumstances; 2) Elvis Costello raised such "biting" to a reputable art form on "Radio, Radio"; and 3) part of the blogging experience is taking chances in the interest of making one’s voice heard.

If anything can be said about the panels developed for the summit (agenda), it is that it is weighted toward the right-wing perspective and establishment-types. GOP-surrogates Charlie Sykes and Jessica McBride are emerging from their studio cocoons for the day, hopefully not with rules in place that will prevent honest debate. Although this is supposedly a summit for bloggers, Sykes and McBride are not bloggers. They only use their web presence to post their show-prep, self-serving e-mails from Scott Walker and David Clarke, and various links to RNC-inspired web content. In addition, if you can’t post comments – as is the case with all Journal Inc. personality-sites – it’s not really a blog.

Ed Garvey notwithstanding, there is no countervailing progressive perspective that will be able to challenge the talking-point recitations of the TMJ wing-nuts. God bless ‘im, but my guess is that Ed (from Madison)is not tuned in to what Sykes is up to on a daily basis on the radio in Milwaukee. The excruciating McBride is the only officially-opinionated person on the "what is blogging doing to journalism" panel -- like she would know. Other than the diversity panel, he only "real" bloggers invited are the dutifully on-message right-winger (and, natch, Sykes TV panel talking-head) Owen Robinson and the eccentric sometimes-progressive Jay Bullock. Both, apparently, also led the same panel last year.

Anyway, here are my answers to the Summit Survey:

Suggestions for Ideas to Discuss at the Summit:

  • Establishment vs. pajama bloggers: Who is more interesting?
  • Should radio talkers who put their show prep on-line be allowed to call themselves "bloggers"?
  • Given the message discipline of right-wing bloggers, do we need more than one of them?

If you are attending (and I am), why are you?

  • To see if any true dialog is going to take place.
  • Can't get enough of Charlie Sykes and Jessica McBride.
  • To see if Folkbum brings his guitar (if so, I'll bring mine)
  • Missing Mike Gousha.

Suggestions for Future Panels:

  • How to Maintain and Reward Independence and Creativity.
  • How to Avoid the Development of Hierarchy that Stifles Fresh Voices.
  • Recognizing the hijacking of the blogosphere by paid or otherwise-rewarded hacks advancing their own careers or bank accounts.

Who would you like to see on next year’s panels?

  • Anyone other than those on this year's program.
  • At least one "pajama" blogger who broke through recently.
  • A lefty whose message is not under-cut by excessive eccentricity.
  • A right-winger with an original thought (I know -- this is a tough one).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sykes Calls Sharpton a "Pimp"

I don’t know why all these people are up in arms about Dom Imus’ stupid comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Radio owners and program directors tolerate racist comments from Milwaukee’s glittering radio wing-nuts all the time and no one seems to give a rip.

In fact, Charlie Sykes, while talking about the Imus incident and pretending to care about the women affected this morning, called Al Sharpton a "pimp".

That’s right, he called a strong black man a pimp. Just like Mark Belling called Hispanics "wetbacks" a couple of years ago. But nothing ever happens. And these and other radio clowns continue to be treated like legitimate commentators.

The wing-nut talking points after the Imus controversy reached fever pitch yesterday included the tactic of deflection, in which the squawkers pretend to agree that the behavior is bad, but try to deflect the problem on to someone else. All day yesterday, wing-nuts national and local criticized Imus, but also made what they pretended were brilliant points by claiming that Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who were again out-front on an important racial issue, were no better.

This morning, Sykes was pretending to admire the Rutgers women during their press conference when the Sharpton talking-point flashed in his head. The women, he said, were worth trying to accommodate but not the "race-baiting pimp" Sharpton.

The term "pimp" in reference to black men is certainly offensive, the male corollary of the offensive "ho" label used by Imus. In the Washington Post this morning, Eugene Robinson explains the recent history and offensiveness of "ho" and suggests that it be retired as "hateful" reference to black women. The same can and should be said about Sykes’ use of the word "pimp" to childishly diminish Al Sharpton. He takes all kinds of cheap shots at his white liberal targets, but he wouldn’t call a white guy a "pimp".

My guess is, even if anyone notices this or if someone else takes up the issue, Sykes will skate, as usual. Just a couple of months ago, he deliberately "misunderstood" Michael McGee, Jr., claiming he said "Jew cops" when he was saying "Jude cops", even after listening to and prepping the sound bite for discussion with one of his lofty panels. He apologized and that was supposed to be that, and it was.

My guess is he won’t even bother apologizing or even acknowledging the issue, unless someone "major" picks it up. Don Imus has always taken hits for his stupidity through the years. But, in the insular and protective local environment of the Milwaukee media, Sykes cannot be touched, no matter how outrageous and, yes, racist.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Journal Sentinel: No Tears for Georgia Thompson

The right-wing-nuts on the radio are getting sooo predictable.

The talking-points from the GOP after Biskupic’s in absentia spanking in the 7th Circuit were the standard tiresome spin. Ignoring the tragedy visited on Georgia Thompson by the political prosecutor, all the usual suspects took the opportunity to make excuses for Biskupic and to try to smear Jim Doyle. Thompson’s un-conviction proved almost as useful to the GOP surrogates as the conviction itself, giving the led-by-the-nose squawkers another opportunity to pretend that no evidence of Doyle wrongdoing is somehow evidence of Doyle wrongdoing.

The Republican talking-points were so unoriginal, you could have written them yourself – not that our radio talkers would ever try such a thing themselves:
  1. Biskupic is just an "aggressive" prosecutor and did nothing wrong by sending an innocent civil servant to prison. It was not his fault that she refused to "flip" on Doyle. Insert snide suggestions about how she will be rewarded for her loyalty here.
  2. Biskupic, other prosecutors (including Peg Lautenschlager, suddenly a paragon of good judgement), a grand jury, the trial jury and the trial judge all decided Thompson committed a crime. The 7th Circuit panel disagreed and that controls, but, you know, all those good, honest people thought something was wrong, so, you know, something was wrong.
  3. Doyle, who distanced himself from Thompson before and after the conviction (useful phrase: "threw her under the bus"), now embraces her. His refusal to take questions from Channel 27 (Madison), which bragged about the fact that Thompson was in prison to promote its exaggerated (read: pro-GOP) coverage of the case, is a sign of his desperation to avoid asking hard questions.
  4. Mention the Troha indictment early and often, keeping the heat on "Diamond Jim" and his "most corrupt administration in Wisconsin history". Lather, rinse, repeat. Keep the "where there’s smoke, there’s fire" story arc going, even if smoke is as phony and thin as the evidence against Thompson.

Again, tiresome. Excuses for Biskupic, smears for Doyle. Oh, and by the way, did you see Nancy Pelosi in that head scarf? The wing-nuts are so insightful, aren’t they? It’s too bad there aren’t more panels we can put them on to further legitimize these intellectual heavyweights.

As much as we expect this sort of predictable poison from the wing-nuts, it is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that takes the cake for the most outrageous reaction to the Thompson acquittal. In an editorial two days after the reversal, the J-S did not even mention Biskupic or even give a polite nod to acknowledge the ruined life of the poor Ms. Thompson. Nope, the problem, according to the Lords of State Street, is campaign financing in general and, somehow, Doyle in particular.

Apparently, the J-Sers took offense at Doyle’s badly-needed rip at the sensationalist media coverage of the case. "OK, Governor," they offer. "Tired of folks, the media included, noting that people who contribute often benefit?" Insert convenient reference to Troha indictment here. "If you are weary of this, help take away any possibility that such conclusions can be drawn. Push for campaign finance reform that includes sufficient public financing. Without this, there will be more such allegations in many politicians' futures."

Of all the important lessons about political prosecutors and ruined lives in this case, the J-S instead uses it to try to chide Doyle into supporting full public campaign financing. For one thing, they are suggesting a solution that will never happen. A state budget burdened with many more serious needs of its citizens will be hard pressed to find funds for political consultants and advertisers. And, with courts giving free reign to "independent" political expenditures as "free speech", public financing runs the risk of driving most political ad spending underground. If you don’t believe it, say hello to Justice Ziegler, brought to you by WMC and various other non-contributor-disclosing entities.

Instead of public financing, we have transparency, at least in the official campaigns. The legal Adelman contributions to Doyle were fully disclosed; the contract for state travel was public record. Conclusions can be drawn from the circumstances of any state contract. But when the perceptions of these necessary transactions are skewed by political prosecutors and the GOP echo chamber in wing-nut radio, how willing is the Journal Sentinel to be played? They didn’t seem to mind much when pay-for-play was really the rule under Tommy Thompson (the laughable presidential candidate that the J-S takes oh-so seriously). But, without the help of political prosecutors and radio loud-mouths in the ‘90s, I don’t remember the Journal or the Sentinel suggesting that Tommy had to accept public financing to save the image the paper decides to project for him.

Cynicism in public affairs is essential, but there must be distinctions made between that which happens in the normal course of state procurement and that which stinks. The Journal Sentinel continues to be played like a violin by a bunch of pipsqueaks with megaphones, some on their own radio stations. Wing-nut radio continues to be the tail that wags the dog.

And no tears from the Journal Sentinel for the manufactured tragedy that befell Georgia Thompson. Apparently, the destruction of lives and careers in the pursuit of political points is just fine with them.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Biskupic Wimps Out

When the end came for Steve Biskupic’s outrageous political prosecution of Georgia Thompson, he was nowhere to be found. He was elsewhere when three judges for the 7th Circuit ripped his hapless underling a new one, chasing him around the courtroom until he nearly ran out, screaming. Although Biskupic proudly persecuted this dedicated (not "life-long" -- thanks to comment below) civil servant and demanded that she go to prison before her appeal was final, he knew how bad his case and his conviction was. When the time came to fight for what he supposedly believed in, Steve Biskupic wimped out and stayed home.

The end came quickly, but not painlessly. From the comfort of his office, Biskupic sent out a three-sentence press release that announced the decision and Thompson's release and then said: "We commend the work of Thompson’s lawyers."

The 7th Circuit panel released her before the lawyers even left the building – their extremely rare order practically slapping the assistant U.S. attorney on the back on his way out – and this is the best Biskupic can do? No apology for the destruction of Thompson’s life and career, much less the four months she spent in a federal prison? No humility for the abuse of his extraordinary power to prosecute?

It should have been Biskupic there, not his assistant, getting his well-deserved comeuppance from the panel of judges. As an attorney who has been in similar situations, I often wince empathetically at the grilling an experienced panel can give a lawyer with a losing case. But Biskupic or any lawyer in his office who dared to show up to defend this sham of a prosecution deserved everything they got – and worse. All the judges did was ask the government questions they should have been asking themselves before they even thought about prosecuting poor Georgia Thompson.

Did she have any personal gain from the transaction? No. Did she even know Adelman had given money to Doyle? No. Under the government’s theory, if she had pushed for the selection of Adelman just because she liked the hair style of the person who made the presentation, is that criminal, too? Er, no, says the U.S. lawyer. Why is trying to please her boss any different? Um, because it is, I guess. Check out the audio here and skip to the last 15 minutes. Legal spankings are seldom this emphatic.

According to some of the e-mails in the fired U.S. attorney scandal currently boiling in Washington, Biskupic was on the hot seat last year for not being "tough" enough on the GOP’s bogus "voter fraud" agenda. No doubt he saved his job by going after this lowly state employee, giving valuable ammunition to the GOP and its wing-nut surrogates to paint Doyle as somehow ethically challenged in an election year. At this point, he and his handlers probably don’t even care that the conviction was tossed – the case had already served it intended purpose.

The Georgia Thompson case will forever point up the key fact driving Gonzo-Gate – U.S. Attorneys have extraordinary power to investigate, arrest, charge, prosecute and convict. Their appointments are, by nature, political. But the exercise of their duties should not be. Biskupic has prosecuted a lot of Democrats and not one Republican. He has always been a willing bagman for Karl Rove and the state and national GOP. If anyone in the current U.S. attorney corps needs to be relieved of his duties, it is Steve Biskupic.