Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Year That Was

These obligatory (for culture/political writers, anyway) year-in-review exercises started in earnest after 1968. That year was epochal and revolutionary, and not always in a good way. After all, the year started with Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and M.L. King Jr. in ascendence and ended with...Richard Nixon in the White House. After all of that, you could forgive the various navel-contemplators for their what-the-hell-just-happened overviews. Even in retrospect, 1968 has held up as a year of major change. Most significant for the future that was to be; it seems that whoever put the assassins of King and RFK up to it got the right guys. Their absence stopped a lot of good things in their tracks and opened the door to a lot of bad things.

Since then, the year-in-review has become a staple of publications major and minor, Nobody took a break when the year deserved it – say, 1977 or 1986. Every year takes its moment in the sun as the Year That Was, complete with predictions and trends for the new year. Unqualified, self-appointed first-draft "historians" cast their wise gaze backwards; prognosticators prognosticate forward. All is forgotten by the first week in January, as fate, nature and trends collide to expose the next group of befuddled leaders and the next group of trapped and injured victims and voters.

I turned 13 in 1968; my son turned 13 in 2007. I watched the revolution on TV, hosted by Walter Cronkite. In 2007, he watched...The Daily Show (until the strike, anyway). That’s about what 2007 was worth, anyway – a transitory joke, a truly tedious exercise in just-getting-by.

Some awards, for what they – and the year itself – are worth:

PR Stunt of the Year: The Surge
Faced with the complete rejection of his policies and his presidency in the 2006 elections, Junior Bush’s handlers managed at least to save time (but certainly no money) for its disastrous occupation of Iraq by throwing 50,000 more troops into the civil war to provide "stability" for a corrupt bunch of Iraqi politicians who had no intention of seizing the opportunity. The result was a thousand more dead soldiers, tens of thousands more maimed soldiers, countless more dead and injured Iraqi civilians and at least $200 billion more borrowed money right out the window. The most dramatic "successes" in Iraq were a result of giving entire areas, such as Anbar province, over to local militias, who then used our money and guns to extract their tribal vengeance. No surprise there – that’s how Saddam did it. All this does is kick the can out to 2009, so Bush’s successor has to deal with the complexity and pain of withdrawal from that hell-hole. For those cynical war criminals, mission accomplished.

Spin of the Year: Low Approval for Congress
As soon as Democrats took over Congress in 2007, the Republicans made sure that nothing of significance would be passed or become law. To no one’s surprise, the resulting gridlock did not sit well with the American people, who thought they had sent a message in the 2006 elections for positive change. The GOP and their echo-chamber on mainstream radio gleefully trumpeted the resulting low-approval numbers for Congress – lower than Bush! It was impossible for anyone not on the GOP direct or indirect payroll to get a word in edge-wise about why Congress was unable to move – the unprecedented permanent filibuster employed by the minority Senate Republicans. It’s not like the supposedly-liberal MSM did anything to make this clear – like all spin, the spinner relies on the ignorance of the target audience and the reluctance of the MSM to clear anything up, lest they be accused of, well, you know, unfairly setting the record straight.

Mainstream Radio Wing-Nut of the Year: Charlie Sykes
With Don Imus nationally (and temporarily) and Jessica McBride locally (and permanently, we can hope) biting the radio stardust during 2007 due to various racist (Imus) and stupid (McBride) stunts on their radio shows, Sykes managed to survive his own various outrages as the strangely-protected darling of the Bradley Foundation and the Journal Company. The apparently bullet-proof Sykes got away with the following, at least:

  • Sykes accused pre-arrest Michael McGee Jr. of saying that "Jew cops" were out to get him, when it was clear McGee actually said "Jude cops", referring to the infamous cops who beat up Frank Jude. Sykes mustered an insincere apology the next day, only after the Journal Sentinel got hold of it.

  • During the Imus imbroglio, Sykes called civil rights leader Al Sharpton a "pimp", as racist a word used against strong black men as "ho’s" is against black women. My post on the subject was ignored.

  • Sykes came out boldly in favor of equating the Muslim faith with Naziism, posting and then snidely defending a parody of the (now more) popular COEXIST bumper-sticker. "Shame on you," the shameless wing-nut shouted to the Interfaith Council that had the audacity to write a letter to the Sainted One complaining about his selective religious intolerance.

Apparently, Sykes has a hands-off deal with his employer, at least as far as his racist and otherwise offensive substance goes. "I stand by Charlie’s response," his radio GM said when faced with the COEXIST business. We’ll see if this sort of blind support survives Sykes’ ratings battle with third-rate squawker Jay Weber, whose lame bleatings on WISN are apparently challenging Sykes in his time slot. I mean, shouldn't one of the 50 Rules be that, if you can't even attract more Angry White Men than a Neanderthal like Weber, you have to leave the building?

Dark Omen of the Year: Annette Zeigler
By single-handedly getting the ethically-challenged Zeigler elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court this past April, the right-wing front-group disguised as a business-interest group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), showed that it would use its considerable resources to manipulate the Court and any other entity that might stand in its fevered way. After being rejected by more qualified jurists, WMC recruited obscure Burnett County (that’s way in the northwest corner of the state) judge Michael Gableman to run against Louis Butler for his seat on the Supremes.

Early indications of how WMC will roll in this spring 2008 election indicate that their success with Zeigler has led them to believe that "anything goes". Recently, the long-time GOP shill "advising" Gableman’s campaign, Darrin Schmitz, said "Louis Butler and his allies cannot hide the fact that he consistently sides with criminals over law enforcement." This type of false flaming was properly criticized by the State Bar’s Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee as out-of-bounds for a judicial candidate. The committee was advised to "get over it" by well-paid GOP flack Brian Fraley on his blog and by Rick "As-long-as-my-side-does-it-it’s-OK" Esenberg. (What would Esenberg say if Butler or someone on his campaign called out Gableman as a WMC stooge? You would be able to hear the squealing all the way to Burnett County.) Fraley would be well advised to remember the Rove strategy of keeping the candidate above the fray, while surrogates like him spew the venom. Especially in a judicial race, where the rules really are – and should be – different.

Full disclosure: I am a good friend and contributor of Louis Butler. Now let’s see Fraley and Esenberg disclose their interests.

Legal Outrage Top 10: My favorite legal writer, Dahlia Lithwick, lays out the Worst of Bush in Slate.

With the Iowa caucuses rolling up on Friday, 2007 will be forgotten within the week. Who knows where we will be a year from now? It will be interesting and important to watch. My New Year’s Resolution: More and better posts in 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Miss The Daily Show (and Wonderful Life on Cable)

Has it really only been seven weeks since the TV writers walked out on strike? It seems like forever. It has affected me most of all at 10 p.m. every weeknight, when, for the past several years, I got my daily dose of news and hilarity from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. The Daily Show has been dark since the strike started, and you could just imagine the jokes untold, that will never be told, because our daily barometer of the national political pressure has been silenced. The Daily Show is not only the funniest show on television – it is also the most left-wing on network or basic cable. Nothing is or ever will be as funny-sad as Junior Bush, and The Daily Show proves it every night.

And the entirely-justified strike is happening at a crucial time in our history. If it really drags on until March – as is now expected – the Daily Show’s unique and essential perspective will be lost all the way through the primaries and caucuses that will decide the major parties’ candidates. When production stopped in the first week of November, Obama had yet to make his move in Iowa, Giuliani was the presumed GOP candidate nationally and Mike Huckabee was standing on the outer edges of Republican debates with Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter. Imagine the fun Stewart and company would have had with the Giuliani mistress-security scandal, the Oprah-Obama tour or the rise of Huckabee. As it is, they will return next year like out of some bad movie dream; gone to sleep during the primaries and waking up to...what? Kucinich v. Paul?

The Daily Show has been essential in getting through the Bush era with our sanity intact. With the show dark, it feels like right after 9/11, when Stewart, Letterman and others took a deep breath for a week or two to see whether it was really true what they said about the Death of Irony. The comedy continued shortly thereafter, only to be squashed six years later by cheapskate producers who want to use the internet to pad their profits, without paying the writers, without whom their web sites would be stuck with links to amateur funny-cat videos on YouTube. I think about the writers every time I longingly watch the hysterically funny Even Stevphen videos on the Daily Show site. Damn, those guys are good – now someone pay them some residuals, already.

After the loss of The Daily Show, I went back to my old stand-by at 10 p.m. – the local news. I could never stomach anything but Channel 4 in Milwaukee, and now, I can’t even handle that. Since Mike Gousha left a year ago, the show has deteriorated to sensationalist nonsense, introduced by an increasingly creepy Carole Meekins and various Channel 6 retreads. The "reporters" in the field have taken to going out into other states to confront broke "deadbeat" parents and pointing radar guns to catch speeders on busy streets. Last week, they were shocked – shocked! – to find a monthly free newspaper devoted to "adult entertainment" available for all to grab on newsstands around town and – gasp! – in City Hall. This is what passes for the sad state of local news shows. Even the sports department seems unable to handle something as basic as a good run by the Packers.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a sappy piffle of a movie. Young George Bailey carries on the good-capitalist campaign of his father (home ownership for the masses), ultimately finding happiness in his "shabby" hometown and the warm bed provided by the quietly sensual Mary Hatch. In the end, after thoughts of suicide and delusions of "guardian angel" intercession, he learns to stop his immature yearning for the trains, planes and steamboats of his dreams and settle for the substantial rewards of a community that appreciates him and the love of his wife and kids. Despite the George-Lassos-Moon result, the villain of the piece – bad-capitalist Henry Potter – gets to keep his unexplained fortune (not to mention the Building & Loan’s $8,000) and, presumably, lives to squish George another day. In today’s market, this would have been a set-up for a sequel – IAWL 2: Revenge of Potter – were it not for the film’s initial failure to set the cinematic world on fire.

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, a couple of elements converged to make IAWL something of a retro-phenomenon. For one thing, during the first era of cable TV, suddenly-national stations like Ted Turner’s WTBS in Atlanta needed cheap programming to fold around its ads for the Pocket Fisherman and various K-Tel products. Happily (for Turner), the copyright for IAWL was allowed to lapse by its owner in 1974, so TBS and other stations could play it for free. It was not unusual in the early ‘80 to have three cable channels playing IAWL prints of various quality at the same time during the holiday season.

It was during this time, when I was an undergrad in Madison, that my college sweetheart and I found the movie by accident. Ever since, it has never failed to send me on crying jags at various points in the film (Mary whispering into George’s bad ear in the drug store; Mary and George throwing rocks at the old Granville house; George drops the phone in Mary’s house; Harry toasts George as the "richest man in town"; etc). "Sentimental hogwash!" squawks Barrymore-as-Potter, and indeed it is.

The film somehow survived a disastrous colorization experiment later in the ‘80s. In 1993, the copyright was restored and it disappeared from cable, the broadcast rights belonging to NBC, which plays it a couple of times a year. Since its first airing on the network, NBC has single-handedly tried to murder It’s a Wonderful Life. It started the first year it showed on the network, with great fanfare, when we had to endure various NBC "stars" talking about their IAWL memories, real and imagined. Since then, IAWL has been diced and chopped by NBC; ten minutes (maybe) of the movie at a time, followed by five minutes of mind-numbing ads and network promotions.

This year, I thought I could limit most of the damage by DVR-ing the network feed and fast-forwarding through the commercials. No such luck. The continuity of the film – especially the scene-to-scene fades – was lost to the ages. Worst of all, the superimposed billboards and animated bugs on the bottom half of the screen so intruded on the glorious black-and-white image, it would be impossible for anyone watching the film for the first time to fall in love with it, much less shed a tear for anything but the corporate corruption of accidently wonderful art. If NBC thinks I’m going anywhere near Clash of the Choirs, a bug for which never left the bottom left of the screen, they are as crazy as Uncle Billy.

I know, I know...I can rent or buy the damn thing on DVD and watch it in high-def wide-screen purity anytime I want. But it’s not the same, somehow. There is something to be said for sharing a video experience with strangers in various cities, who are watching the same thing at the same time, like when CBS used to play A Charlie Brown Christmas. NBC had that opportunity, to pull the country together in front of the cozy fireplace that is ITWL once a year, just by respecting the film, its essence and its continuity. Aw, go ahead – take a couple of commercial breaks (after the car rolls up to announce his father’s stroke; before the World War II montage). But when the movie’s running, let the damn thing be. Maybe a couple other people will fall in love again.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Home-Schooling with WIVA - Part 2

Since first posting about the Court of Appeals decision that eliminated funding for the so-called Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA) last week, I have had a fairly active and interesting comment thread (as has, way on the other side of the issue, Rick Esenberg).

I spent some time engaging on the comments with some of the usual suspects saying the usual things – Dad29: "In the end, the Leftist State will have unfettered power and control over all its citizens. So the ideology is about control (power.)"; karl marx: "What a surprise!! Mike Plaisted is against children and for the UNION." There were also the K12 talking-points to deal with on mainstream radio (MSR) and the wing-nut blogs – you know, WEAC is just interested in money and protecting their union hacks in the classrooms; the opinion means we can’t help our kids with homework anymore; and blah-di blah blah.

In challenging the usual suspects about the decision, I asked a pretty good question, I thought. The right-wing completely ignored the part of the opinion that said the scheme failed because the teachers and students were not "located" in the district. On Esenberg's comment thread, I asked: if the Northern Ozaukee district created a charter school where the administrators were in the district and the teachers and students reported every day to a building in Milwaukee, do you think that would be in compliance with the statute? Niether Esenberg or anyone else answered that one, because apparently they couldn't. I asked them twice.

But the most interesting comments were from some newcomers who said they were WIVA parents. As you could imagine, they were appreciative of the scheme that allows them to use what is apparently the Cadillac of home-schooling support for free. I don’t begrudge their use of the service as long as it’s offered and not surprised they think it’s pretty useful and cool. They can’t help it if they have been put in the middle of the battle between the K12 profiteers and the usual Wisconsin public school destroyers on one side and the taxpayers, WEAC and the law itself on the other. The home-schoolers enrolled in the WIVA program have been sold a bill of goods, which is no less painful just because they aren’t paying for it.

But I do take issue with a false differentiation that they and the profiteers’ defenders attempt to make between WIVA and home-schooling itself.

Most eloquent on this point was a commenter named "borges":
  • " a homeschooling family that has had one of my kids jump ship and join a public virtual school, I can confirm that the virtual school is completely different than real homeschooling. She answers to her teachers, who make the assignments, grade her progress and call all the shots. It is truly public schooling. If I have an idea for primary sources my kid should read in history, or an interesting experiment for Biology, too bad for me. Obviously I'm not enthusiastic about public education as a one way stream of information and expertise, but there you have it. Welcome to the big house. So don't anyone confuse virtual public schooling and homeschooling. They are completely different world."

In response, I would say that, just because you are not "calling all the shots" and you are taking direction from an actual publicly-employed teacher doesn’t mean what you are doing is any less home-schooling. (Oh, and, by the way, there is nothing stopping you from sharing your primary sources or the Biology experiment with your kid. In fact, any brick-and-mortar teacher would encourage it.) It is just the same as if you had purchased one of the more elaborate software/online home-schooling packages from, say, K12 directly. In such a scenario, you may even have to agree to have your student evaluated by an educator other than yourself. Just because you have latched onto a version of home-schooling that differs from your original conception – for good or ill, home-schooling is defined as whatever the home-schooler decides it is – that doesn’t make what you are doing any less home-schooling. You are still primarily responsible for making sure your child follows the lessons and does the work. You are a home-schooler, whether you know it or not.

There is no question that K12/WIVA thinks their market is home-schoolers. Try Googling homeschooling. What do you think comes up in the featured "sponsored links" box at the top of the page, a spot that is only allowed to those who pay fairly big money to get there? Sure enough – it’s WIVA. You get the same result if you try homeschooling books ("WI Virtual Academy has textbooks, materials, and loaner computers," the tag reads), homeschooling tools and, interestingly, Christian homeschooling ("Virtual Academy provides textbooks materials at no cost to you."). Your tax money at work – spending thousands with Google to make sure homeschoolers notice WIVA when shopping for support services. Free textbooks! Where do I sign up??

Or just go to the K12 website, which helpfully directs you to a "Virtual Academy" in your state (you didn’t think WIVA’s name was of local origin, did you?), not to mention "K12 Consumer Direct", for those poor slobs who haven’t been able to pry public funds out of their state for K12's expensive home-schooling products.

If you want Wisconsin to support home-schooling with public funds, go get a bill through the legislature. Surely, interested parties like WEAC will be there to try to stop it, just as the wealthy profiteers will bring their considerable assets to bear – including MSR squawkers and, no doubt, the Journal Sentinel’s tedious in-house wing-nut, Patrick McIlerhan (parroting the K12 talking-points on the decision, he unimaginatively offered: "They're unlicensed; ergo, the school's illegal. Let this be a warning when your tot asks for homework help." Why bother listening to Sykes when you can read the same crap from McIlerhan two days later?).

But let’s have that conversation straight up, eyes wide open, rather than allow the schemers to siphon more school funds away from the public schools with a phony bastardization of the charter/open-enrollment/school funding law. Maybe, while the interested parties are so engaged, the rest of us who are concerned about decent, accountable public schools can have some input as to whether home-schoolers should get public money (not to mention how much) to support what is essentially an elitist exercise that is only available to the increasingly-rare family that can have at least one parent at home all day to facilitate it.

Knock yourself out, if you can pull it off, but you are -- or should be -- on your own.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Virtual School Scheme Goes Down

A company started by right-wing scold Bill Bennett and others to try to steer public money into their already-deep pockets will have to go somewhere other than Wisconsin state taxpayers to make their next dirty buck. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals in the Second District ruled on Tuesday that the too-clever-by-half "virtual" school scheme divised by one of the state’s school districts did not comport with that unfortunate (for them) entity called state law and should not get taxpayer money for its operation. This led radio and other wing-nuts to spin furiously on behalf of throwing more tax money out the window at out-of-state education profiteers.

The damaged Bennett, who holds himself out as an intellectual heavyweight on the right, was one of the founders of K12 Inc., but quit the board in 2005 after saying this stupid, racist thing on his radio show: "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Of these thoughts are the purported saviors of our nation’s children made.

Never letting a racist founder get between them and a public dollar, K12 moved forward, joining Wisconsin’s always-creative right-wing foundations to find a way to siphon public funds away from and otherwise try to destroy public schools in the state. Having already succeeded in brow-beating weak legislators into pouring millions of dollars into the pockets of various fly-by-night "educators" in the Milwaukee school "choice" program, the usual cast of characters in the heavily-funded cheesehead right-wing brain-trusts had the bright idea to get a school district to buy K12's virtual snake-oil and sign up a bunch of students from around the state who were going to be home-schooled anyway as "open-enrollment" transfers to pay for it with money from the taxpayers.

The Northern Ozaukee school district was apparently pliant, right-wing and/or stupid enough to go along with the for-profit, tax money-sucking scheme. Following a blueprint designed, no doubt, in the lush suites of the Bradley Foundation and its ancillaries, the North Oz school board declared that it had created the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), as a "charter" school. As of this year, they had signed up over 600 students from all over the state to "attend" the virtual school, instructing them to apply to the Oz schools under the state’s open enrollment program, which allows students living in one school district to attend a school in any other district, as long as the receiving district has space.

In devising its scheme, the district and its outside developers did make some – but, alas, not enough – concessions to the (for them) inconvenient state law that defines charter schools and controls public school funding. WIVA has a couple of administrators were actually physically in the school district, but no school building for teachers and students. It hired a few certified teachers, who live in various places throughout the state, to conduct on-line classes. The typical student is on-line with each of his or her "teachers" for all of 30 minutes, two to four times a month. The certified staff member also gets on the phone with each student once or twice a month for 10 to 20 minutes. The rest of the supervision and instruction is provided by the student’s parent, who is provided with the teacher manuals and is required by a contract with the school to devote at least five hours a day to provide the primary instruction. In other words, WIVA is basically an outrageous attempt to hijack public funding to support home schooling.

The Court of Appeals had no problem seeing through this fairly thin scheme to take over $3 million in public funds to facilitate home-schooling, slapping down K12, the North Oz board and the ludicrous decision rubber-stamping the plan by the trial judge in a fairly short opinion. "We cannot believe that the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory term 'school' excludes both teachers and students," is only one of the fairly obvious conclusions drawn by the court. The court committed the outrageous act of actually reading the statutes relating to charter schools finding at least two ways in which the scheme did not comply with state law: 1) a school in which neither students nor their certified teachers are in the North Oz district is not "in the district" under the statute; 2) since most of the instruction is provided by parents, the parents are therefore uncertified "teachers" under the statute and the scheme fails for lack of certified teaching staff. The decision is an entirely proper interpretation of the statutes and it’s very unlikely the Supreme Court is going to change anything, or even take the case for review.

You could imagine the kind of bleating this entirely-expected decision generated on wing-nut mainstream radio (MSR) on Tuesday and, depending on how much they are able to twist and spin the result into an unrecognizable distortion, will continue for the balance of this week. At least two of the MSR shows featured a spokesperson from WIVA/K12, who whined about the slap-down, with the usual sympathy from the host wing-nut enablers. Mark Belling in particular enjoyed flexing his usual anti-WEAC shtick, squawking about how the teachers only care about money and not about the kids’ education and they are union hacks and blah-di blah blah.

One of the tactics used always used by the wing-nuts is to define the decision as something that it is not. Both the MSR hosts and the company flacks said that the decision means that parents of a regular school student helping with homework is now in violation of the law, which is typically nuts, and the court itself anticipated the misinterpretation: "We underscore that no one is suggesting that a parent assisting his or her child to whatever extent the parent finds necessary is 'illegal.' The question is not whether and how a parent may assist his or her child with schoolwork; rather, it is whether the District can establish a public school, using public funds, that relies upon unlicensed individuals as the primary teachers of the pupils." The spinning hacks also said the decision means a student could not be part of his or her education on-line – again, another red herring, floated for all to smell.

Once again, when the law gets in the way of the right-wing, the rule-of-law crew thinks it’s entirely acceptable to ignore the law. If the legislature decides they want allow school districts to throw money at national companies to support home-schooling, there is nothing preventing it – although Belling admitted such a scheme would never make it through. The school "choice" proponents knew they couldn’t take money from the Milwaukee Public Schools for religious and entrepreneurial "education" through the charter school or open-enrollment law or in any other way other than changing state law to allow for it. Why K12 and North Oz thought they could take this gamble and win is anybody’s guess. Once again, for the right-wing, the law is for suckers.

It makes you wonder what the district’s contract with K12 says about what happens if (when) the scheme is struck down. My guess is that K12 gets paid in any event. Since the state’s not paying, the taxpayers of North Oz are going to be left holding the bag. Since their school board signed off on this nonsense, it serves them right.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Viguerie & Weyrich: Grumpy Old Men

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but, somehow I ended up on Richard Viguerie’s e-mail distribution list.

Viguerie is the self-promoting (aren’t they all?) direct-mail pioneer who took credit (don’t they all?) for perpetuating the fraud called Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The “Reagan Revolution” snow-job had many enablers, but the putrid Viguerie was particularly creative by sending out hysterical mail fliers that moved many apparently malleable postal customers to buy into the snake oil sold by the “modern” right-wing charlatans; modern only in their methods, not in their usual well-funded, wealth-loving, reactionary agenda.

The world passed the strange collection of Reaganites by years ago, after they were thumped by Clinton I. The powers-that-were then decided to let young(er) Karl Rove run the show for a while, if he could get anointed empty-suit Junior Bush elected in 2000. Rove failed to get Bush legitimately elected, but he took office anyway. Viguerie and his ilk were then consigned to the shadows from whence they came – richer, certainly, although their cards seemed to have fallen out of the Rolexes of cable TV panel-creators. Nothing is sadder than an irrelevant nut-right pioneer, stuck back in his mother's basement with a bank of obsolete dot-matrix printers and reams of naked labels.

These days, Viguerie appears to have assigned himself the task of protecting the GOP’s purity of essence. He beats up on the current Bush for the apparent sin of “compassionate conservatism” as opposed to his version of “real conservatism” and accuses certain congressional Republicans of insufficient nuttiness in their pursuit of middle ground. “The Republican brand has been destroyed by the kind of Big Government legislators who voted to override the President’s veto of the Water Resources Development Act,” he wrote to me on Nov. 9th. “The American people no longer identify the GOP as the party of fiscal responsibility. Republicans who act like Democrats are destroying the Republican Party.”

Well, there are still plenty of Republicans acting just like Republicans, causing severe damage to the nation so the party, such as it is, is safe for now. We aren’t safe from them, but they are safe from themselves, at least for a couple more election cycles, at which point, if current trends continue, they become the Whigs. But hysteria, bombast and demagoguery have always worked so well for Viguerie, it doesn’t matter whether what he is saying is grounded in any reality sane people would recognize. He doesn’t understand why his previous gullible customers are not lining up for more.

While Viguerie is reduced to tooting his own horn and using spamming software to try to wedge his way back to relevancy, some from his era of wing-nuttiness have people in the supposedly-liberal mainstream media doing it for them. This Sunday morning, Craig Gilbert of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- no doubt at the behest of the paper's right-wing news editor -- produced an embarrassing puff piece on locally-produced neanderthal Paul Weyrich. In the fawning article, Weyrich is praised as “tenacious”, a “giant” and an “institution-builder” by various nut-right sources. It’s the kind of lame non-judgmental profile where the obnoxious jerk is excused his cantankerous ways because – well, just because. “I do not suffer fools gladly,” muttered Weyrich darkly, leaving open the question of who would willingly suffer him.

Like Viguerie, Weyrich pretends to have answers for the future as he pines for his lost past. “Where's our candidate? Where's our Ronald Reagan?” he whines – even, shockingly, claiming “I’m going to take out my rifle” if he hears the question again. As for the future, Weyrich sees the right's salvation in the trumped-up culture war, fighting those "who seek to tear down the Judeo-Christian culture." Well, whatever – another tired white guy trying to stem the dreaded diversity tide they can’t stop and will never understand. With Weyrich apparently still hosting his Wednesday lunches with nut-right activists and a White House note-taker, he has become a tedious Washington place-holder for right-wing elitists – someone who is subject to ring-kissing only because some poor slobs don’t have anywhere else to go.

The piece ends as badly as it possibly could, with Weyrich pronouncing that "Only God can judge whether I have succeeded or not." Well, no, I think us mere mortals should be able to figure that one out. The only question is whether Gilbert was laughing or crying when he typed that pathetic quote.