Thursday, May 29, 2008

Exploiting Murder

There is no tragedy too severe, no outrage too deep, no crime too gruesome for the right-wing to exploit for their nefarious political purposes. Whether it is self-imposed carnage in Iraq, natural and man-made disaster in New Orleans or epidemics from AIDS to malaria, the bodies of the dead and wounded are merely convenient stepping-stones on the path to one aspect or other of the GOP agenda.

Locally, the right-radio-and-blog trafficking in human suffering usually features stories – real and imagined – from the inner city, a part of the world none of them care about, and understand even less. Every shooting, drug arrest and dropout is held out as evidence of systemic cultural deficiency that can only be cured by right-remedies such as profiteering "choice" "schools"; more arrests, (still) longer incarceration and, even, the death penalty; and, ultimately, the realization by the victims of the legacy of slavery, poverty and racism that they have victimized themselves.

This week, however, local nut-right radio lurched into previously uncharted territory when it latched on to a sad, violent incident in the white community and proceeded to play political games with it. No, I’m not talking about the guy who drove off the bluff in Shorewood, mere blocks from Plaisted Writes headquarters, although some did blab about that, to no real end. Rather, it was the murder of a 65 year-old choral singer from Whitefish Bay in a downtown parking ramp that mainstream radio wing-nuts Charlie Sykes and Jay Weber (at least) used to push – absurdly – legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons, a long-cherished NRA objective in Wisconsin.

The poor woman has not even been put to rest yet, but that didn't stop them from tramping over her memory and, no doubt, increasing the suffering and grief of her family by foolishly claiming that she could have saved herself if only she was allowed to pack heat. Imagine driving around making arrangements and gathering family for the services on Saturday and having to put up with this crap on your radio. African-Americans in town have had to tolerate this nonsense for years, but this could (and should) be considered out of bounds on the North Shore. Perhaps Sykes might catch a little blow-back on his next trip to Sendik’s. We could only hope.

The NRA talking-points read by both Sykes and Weber were identical: Elizabeth Witte might be alive today if she had a gun in her purse to protect herself. The whole premise is absurd. Murderous stalkers like her sick ex-husband don’t announce themselves, wave their knives up in the air and give her time to get the gun out, much less aim and shoot. The gruesome details in the complaint show that she never had a chance, armed or unarmed. To take these horrible facts and try to make political hay out of these circumstances is an outrage. In the pursuit of their right-wing agenda, Sykes and Weber went and pissed on her grave before she even got a chance to get buried in it.

Jay Weber is an annoying, interchangeable hack, but Charlie Sykes yearns for respectability. Although, as the golden boy of the Journal Company, he can get away with anything (such as calling Al Sharpton a pimp and Hillary Clinton a witch), he also savors his TV face-time, most recently offering campaign "analysis" on straight news programs (if you can still call the continuing deterioration of Channel 4 "straight news"). You wonder if it is really worth it for him to drive political points over the dead bodies of obviously beloved tragic victims like Elizabeth Witte.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Unknown Soldier

For Memorial Day a re-post of something I wrote on my old blog. This was posted January 1, 2004 -- 4-and-a-half long years ago. Since then, thousands have died and tens of thousands have been maimed for the sake of vain politicians. I still hope this guy wasn't one of them, that he somehow made it home in one piece -- from that tour and the second and third. I hope he was not another Unnecessary Casualty in the Stupidest War and the greatest foreign policy fiasco in American history.


2 a.m. – Ho-Chunk Casino, Wisconsin Dells – 12/29/03

I must have sat at the blackjack table with the guy for an hour or more. Sometimes the tables get a little chatty – sometimes obnoxiously so, such as the next table over, where some idiot was thrown out for making racial slurs – but this table was quiet. We placed our bets, we got the cards, we studied the cards, the dealer took the chips away (more often than not). I was in the middle of the table, right next to a cranky chain-smoker on a losing streak and an Asian woman, muttering under her breath (cursing?).

I barely noticed him at the end of the table to my right ("first base"). He was playing quietly as was I, except he was spared the cigarette fumes from the guy next to me. I couldn’t even tell if he was winning or losing. He was in his late 20s or early 30s, head shaved down to a stubble, thin, healthy. He wasn’t smoking or drinking that I could tell. Just hanging out on a late night. He might have been talking to the person next to him quietly and I paid no attention. Then I heard him say:

"I’m going to Baghdad, Sunni triangle, next week."

Well, that got my attention, even through the haze of noise, smoke, gambling adrenalin and late-night exhaustion. Now I looked at him, really, for the first time. He had none of the false bravura you often see in military men. His affect was flat – not happy, not sad. He seemed accepting of his unknown fate. But concerned enough to share his upcoming adventure with anyone within earshot at a blackjack table.

I’m pretty shy and usually don’t interject myself in other people’s conversation or talk to strangers. But this was too much. As I looked over, whoever he was talking to and the Asian woman left the table and now there was no one between him and me. As the dealer shuffled, I asked him if he had been there before. "Nope, I was in Japan when this whole thing started," he said matter-of-factly. "It’s pretty rough over there, isn’t it?" I said, my brilliant conversational style in full effect. "Yeah," said the soldier, as the cards hit the table again.

I wanted to say more, of course. I wanted to tell him that the invasion was based on lies and he shouldn’t be put in harm’s way for the dreamy geopolitical designs of Wolfowitz and Cheney. I wanted to tell him that I would be working like hell in ‘04 for an end to the radical Bush regime and, hopefully, an end to the impossible occupation he was about to join. He seemed to have an attitude that was far from gung-ho and maybe he’d appreciate my concern for his safety and give a tacit (or even overt) endorsement of my (our) campaign to free the nation from this madness. But, out of respect for the predicament he apparently had come to terms with, I kept quiet as I played just a couple more hands. When he wasn’t looking, I snuck a few peeks at him – the human face of the Bush Tragedies.

As I got up to leave, I quietly said "take care" to him, but I don’t think he heard me, since he was talking to someone else. I took a few steps away from the table and then circled back. "Hey, good luck," I said as I tapped him on the elbow. I never meant it so much in my whole life. He looked at me, but didn’t say anything. I walked out in the cold and drove back to the hotel in silence.

My dad served in the Navy in WWII and I used to love rummaging around in his artifacts as a kid (my brother and I still have his dogtags). But I formed my first opinions about military people while in high school, while the Vietnam War raged. The stories of the My Lai massacre and other tragedies helped me to think the worst about the potential behavior of those in uniform.

Since then, I have been educated about the impossible situation the soldiers were put in by politicians who couldn’t care less about the human cost of their grand designs. History books, movies like Apocalypse Now and personal stories from my brave brother-in-law John and others have brought into full focus the irresponsibility of the Masters of War.

Sure, a few people still use their time in the service as an excuse to brag, bully and otherwise act like jerks. But the volunteer military is mostly made up of the sons and daughters of the poor and working class, who are willing to take the risk of hostile fire to get a leg up in education or job skills. We owe them more respect than they are shown by throwing them into Unnecessary Wars and Impossible Occupations. There are now almost 500 soldiers dead in Bush’s Folly in Iraq. Not one of those deaths and not one of the thousands of injuries were Necessary.

That handsome young man at the end of the table is about to be shipped off and serve as a Walking Target for Iraqi nationalists, fighting off – as nationalists always do and always will – the illegal occupation of their country. I’ll watch for his face in lists of the dead and injured while I fight this year for an end to the Bush regime and everything it stands for.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peace Through Music - Lennon Tribute on Sunday

Join me and a few hundred friends for the annual Peace Through Music benefit at Linneman's this Sunday night, featuring the music of John Lennon. It is a benefit for WAVE and the Brady Campaign, both dedicated to curbing handgun violence. The performers are some of the best Milwaukee has to offer and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

As I have the past several years, I will be acting as host for the entire evening -- always an adventure, especially after midnight. I will be performing early -- at 7:30 -- with a band and the best of musical intentions.
With wack-job right-wing bloggers celebrating the gun culture (my favorite from B&S: "Congratulations to Brandon at GOP3 on the purchase of his first handgun!" Go get 'em, killer!) and all reasonable gun control efforts being challenged in court by gun industry (not gun-owner) flacks in the NRA, it is more important than ever to support efforts to curb handgun violence.
Show your support and get great music in your ears on Sunday night!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Breaking Into the National Conversation

The employment interviews for the minor wing-nuts that continue to populate mainstream radio can’t be that complicated. Is the prospect committed to the increasingly tiresome and doomed right-wing agenda? Do they promise to promote Big Oil’s excuse-making for its obscene profits and its attack on solid global warming science? Can they recite scripts featuring constant phony attacks on biofuels and all other forms alternative energy? Will they adhere strictly to GOP talking-points designed to portray Barack Obama as a Wright-believing, brie-eating, America-hating elitist? Good, you’re hired. Check your conscience at the door and we’ll see you on Monday...

Besides that, there does not seem to be a whole lot expected from the minor league off-peak and fill-in blowhards. Although the whole point of this kind of heavily-scripted, unoriginal programming is supposed to be "entertainment" for selfish, angry white males – Obama is coming for your SUV! – there is little in the voices and presentation that makes any of the shows worthwhile for anything but sheer amazement of what these people are doing on the air. From nightmare-smoker-at-the-end-of-the-bar Vicki McKenna to soft-spoken Sykes-wannabe Jeff Wagner to morning chucklehead Jay Weber, all of the third-tier (there is no second-tier) squawkers that soak up the innings while Sykes and Belling do their show prep in corporate boardrooms are a collection of the most uninteresting voices you could imagine behind a radio microphone.

But, even among the tedious and mundane, there is one voice that stands out. That voice belongs to James T. Harris.

Harris was plucked out of his well-earned obscurity as a self-styled inspirational speaker after calling frequently into Charlie Sykes’ show as "James from Sherman Park", the kind of African-American seminar-caller Sykes and other radio hacks like to parade around as the "true" voice of the city. You know the drill: they always make sure to mention they are black, always make sure to mention they are conservative (for which they are patted on the head by the patronizing host), blah de blah blah.

Harris holds down the non-Brewer Saturday and Sunday afternoon no-one-is-listening shift at WTMJ, while other AM talkers are running innocuous real estate, financial and computer advice shows, and also fills in for Wagner when he is not around. His radio demeanor is extremely light, like he can’t even bring himself to talk directly into the microphone. He seems very amused with himself, chuckling with every lame observation or attempt to outrage. Again, you wonder about the station manager that hears crap like this and then says "Yeah, let’s get that guy on the air."

Substance-wise, Harris seldom strays from the mundane wing-nut orthodox talking-points left behind by others. When he adds his wacked-out personal touch, he often uses his (he thinks) protected status as a black man to spin racist tripe about Barack Obama. He calls Obama "the Chocolate Jesus", something no one else could get away with. Like other African-American conservatives anointed by his white benefactors, he has the right-wing blame-the-victim thing down-pat, blaming his less fortunate (i.e.: less accomodating, less corporate-sponsored) brothers and sisters in the city for the legacy of slavery, the long history of someone else’s racism, their systemic poverty and uncomfortable underclass behavior.

Some of this is too much for even his corporate enablers at TMJ. Harris has two versions of his blog – laughingly titled "The National Conversation". One is on the radio site (although, interestingly, it is not linked or allowed a button on Sykes’ vanity-blog page along with the other hosts); the other is titled "the National Conversation (Raw)", which has the more unfiltered content. It is on the (Raw) site that you will find more of James the Ridiculous, such as supporting the racist comparison of Obama to Curious George (banana and all). In his latest post, Harris complains about Sen. Herb Kohl accurately saying that the obscene profits of Big Oil were "unfair". "Sen. Kohl, I'll tell you what isn't fair. It isn't fair that you represent Wisconsin," says Harris, perhaps forgetting all those elections the senator fairly won. "The only reason why you are still a Senator is because you saved the Bucks, and because you are filthy rich. Well guess what? The Bucks suck."

Astute analysis, is it not? But, Harris plods on, using his TMJ platform to acquire TV face-time (on Sykes’ Sunday show, natch) and an unfortunate recent puff-piece on He is the perfect example of the extent to which mainstream radio will go to maintain its poisonous right-wing message. They’ll accept any level of lameness in their hosts, as long as they toe the corporate line. And when it comes to jumping through hoops, carrying water and shilling for the right-wing agenda, the only question James T. Harris has is: How high, how far and how often?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

They Paved Paradise

I didn’t know an important part of my professional playground was in such trouble.

The Journal Sentinel reported on Saturday that MacArthur Square – that two-block-long flat block of concrete-and-green space in the shadow of the Milwaukee County Courthouse and above a parking lot – was falling apart so much that the city couldn’t fill the reflecting pool and run the fountain at the east end, next to the Muni Court, this summer. Apparently, that’s part of the reason why the ceiling of the parking lot leaks on the hood of my car every other week in the spring and summer. Thus do our grandest traditions crumble under the weight of time and the crushing realities of civic plans gone awry.

There was a time when MacArthur Square served as a grand vista for the most cinematic of my lawyerly daydreams. Walking out of the Courthouse after a hard day of kicking ass on behalf of poor, disenfranchised alleged criminals (I said alleged!!), I would walk out of the Courthouse or the decrepit Safety Building (want to ride in the Safety Building elevators? You feeling lucky, punk?) out into the flat expanse looking east over the skyline, the Hyatt and City Hall and bounce around like Rocky. Top ‘o the world, Ma!

But MacArthur Square lost its pizzazz in direct proportion to its diminished access. Back when I was working at the Public Defender at the State Office Building in the early ‘90s, you could actually get from the Courthouse to the S.O.B. on 7th Street (alright: James Lovell) by walking across the plaza to the unnecessarily circular walkways. Alas, both curly-cues that brought you from the plaza to street level have crumbled and been removed. You can't get to James Lovell from the plaza anymore without walking to either side and walking down Wells or State.

More significantly, you can’t even get out of the Courthouse on the east side anymore due to the increased security in the building, caused by goddamn 9/11 and other uptight what-if-people-get-upset-in-family-court security measures. This all happened right around the time they sold the giant clock to the Brat Stop and a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was erected right outside the east doors, which you can no longer enter or exit, leaving Gandhi the loneliest excellent sculpture in town. Early in my career, I used to make a choice every morning whether to walk in to one of three doors on the east side of the Courthouse – for what it’s worth, I always chose the one labeled "justice" (as opposed to the more ominous concepts on doors labled "order" or "truth"). Now, you can’t get in or out of any of those doors. Justice denied, indeed.

According to the article, there is now talk of eliminating the Square altogether and replacing it with an extension of Kilbourn Avenue somehow. I’d like to know how that is going to work. Are they going to drive asphalt right through the parking lot and under the Courthouse to get to – where? 10th Street? The freeway? Will they bring Kilbourn up over the parking lot, only to do one of those damn circles and point traffic back down toward the Arena? How about plowing right through the Courthouse (losing the 00 through 04 courtrooms on each floor) and right over the freeway?

I’m no architect or civil engineer (Whitney Gould, where are you now that we need you?), but this all seems gross to me. I am all in favor of leaving our anachronisms in place, if only to remind us of a simpler, dumber time. Although we don’t seem to be in any hurry to develop the Park East corridor, I understand that every inch of downtown must be filled with some kind of goddamn functional purpose. But I don’t see the problem with the roof of the Courthouse/MATC/Museum parking lot being filled with empty space, grass, concrete, and a statue of Douglas MacArthur looking out over parading troops that aren’t there anymore. It seems a fitting tribute for us – and for him.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Take Me Out To the Ball Game

In his always-amusing column in the Journal Sentinel on Tuesday, Jim Stingl relates the story of a couple of guys who got into a heated political argument at Miller Park on Saturday during the Brewer game. Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I guess I can man-up and confess to being one of the apparently obnoxious drunken debaters. Things kind of snowballed in the course of the game and...well, let me start at the beginning.

It all started innocently enough in the parking lot, where my friends and I were having a friendly game of toss-the-beanbag over a case or two of Milwaukee’s finest. We were minding our own business when a football flew in from a couple of rows over and smacked into the back of my car, right on my "I’m already against the next war" bumper sticker. "Hey, man, take it easy," I said to the perps. "Shut up and give me the football, you hippie jerk," the young man responded. I flashed a peace sign and headed towards the stadium, not knowing that the dangerous mix of politics and sports was just beginning.

As we settled into our seats, it appeared Ben Sheets was going to be serviceable, but not great, on this day. He gave up a couple of runs early and the Brewers continued their lethargic early-season hitting. But it was baseball on a Saturday afternoon and all was right with the world.

The thing that I love about going to Brewer games is just hanging out with my friends and/or family. You can watch the game or you don’t have to. You can engage in conversations, interrupted only by the crack of the bat. You look up to see what happened – groan if it’s bad, cheer if it’s good – and go back to talking. Or not. Your choice.

On this day, one of my friends was blabbing on like he was Chris Matthews about why Hillary Clinton wouldn’t just quit already. "What’s her deal, man?" he complained while sipping his Leinie Red. "I mean, it’s over. Just go home already. Jeesh." Having heard this from him for the last three months, I know how to deal with it. "Relax, let it play out," I said. "We’ll be fine. McCain is just Bob Dole without the Grecian Formula."

Then someone sitting next to me decided to pipe up. I had seen him out of the corner of my eye. He looked kind of familiar, but seemed kind of stuffy. But apparently, he had had enough of our liberal jibber-jabber. "Aw, she’ll never quit," he said. "A house has to fall on her and her toes have to curl up before she’ll be done." Well, alright. This guy just called Hillary a witch – the Wicked Witch of the West, no less. I turned to him with a smile and an attitude. My friend, knowing what was coming, said "oh oh". It was ON.

"Oh, I see," I began, as another Brewer swung and missed. "And your candidate would be he of the 100 Year Stupid War in Iraq?" "That’s not what he meant..." he stammered. I continued. "Yes...I suppose he also didn’t mean to be against the Bush tax cuts for the rich before he was for them. And he didn’t mean to accept the endorsement of that religious nutjob. And his wife’s secret taxes, I suppose that’s something you can live with?" Down the row, I could see the people he was with trying to pull him to the side. But my new friend apparently thought he was up to the task.

"Say, who was that great president you guys had not so long ago...Carter? I seem to remember, peanut farmer, terrorist-lover, Jimmy somebody..." He was smirking now, egging me on. "Jimmy Carter is a great humanitarian," I proclaimed, without a shred of irony. "I can’t wait to see Bush as an ex-president. What’s he gonna do – go on a tour giving play-time lectures at Chuckie Cheese?" I could tell I was getting to him now. "Oh yeah?" he said. "Well, Bill Clinton got his DNA on a blue dress!" "Really?" I was just warming up. "Well, Bush got buckets blood and death all over tens of thousands of people and that stuff just will not come off!" Our necks swiveled at the crack of the bat – a two-run dinger for the Cardinals. Groan.

I took the opportunity to get in a double shot. "Oh yeah, and you guys have been just great for the economy. I had to take another loan to fill up my car again today. Nice to know it’s all going to Bush and Cheney’s oil buddies, idn’t it?" "Figures," he said. "Can’t trust the free market. Damn socialist." "Free market??" I retorted. "The oil market is about as free as a Gitmo prisoner." "There you go again," he went again. "Won’t be happy ‘til the terrorists win. Why don’t you take your damn law license and go represent a few of them?"

OK, so now it’s clear I’ve been made. But I had his number, too. "I’d love to, but then I’d miss your radio comedy show. It is a comedy show, right? All that stuff about the 50 Rules that you don’t even follow? All that reading GOP talking points with a straight face. Hilarious."

"Shut up!" "No, you shut up." ‘No, you." "You shut up." Etc.

By this time, our entire section was vacated, the aisles roped off with police tape. It was getting really ugly, and it was only the 6th inning – Gagne wouldn’t give up the winning runs for at least another hour. I decided it had to stop and looked for a graceful exit. "Look, Sykes, why don’t you save your half-baked, pseudo-intellectual, right-wing-funded nonsense for Monday morning. I’m trying to watch some baseball here." I reached out my hand to shake his but - honest! - forgot I had a beer in that hand. Before I knew it, he was wearing my beer.

In retrospect, it was the best $6.75 I ever spent.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Operation Chaos - Republican Version

Right-wingers like to gloat about how the continuing race for the Democratic nomination is tearing Democrats apart along racial, class, gender and other lines. This is all a bunch of hooey. There is a legitimate conversation going on about who is best to lead the party in November. Once that fight is over, the entire party will rally around whoever wins. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are much more interested in the party’s strength and the nation’s future than they are in their own personal ambitions – although they have those, too. Regardless of what happens, the party will be united in the fall, despite the best efforts of the right to inflame imaginary fissures and the MSM to exacerbate slight internal conflicts for entertainment purposes.

If you really want to see division, chaos and disaster in a political party, check out the Republicans.

When John McCain emerged from a pathetic field of candidates in March, the Republicans were stuck with the results of their own democratic arrangements. The winner-take-all scheme in place in most Republican primaries rewarded the hot hand when the most primaries are happening (winner-take-all in Dem primaries would have handed the nomination to Hillary a long time ago). The only other candidate that got anything close to momentum going at any time was Mike Huckabee, who had his fifteen minutes of fame and late-show appearances and quickly squandered it with wacky tax schemes and other religious nuttery. Everyone else either blew up (the delicious Rudy), melted under the lights (the robotic Romney) or lost track of the others wandering in the desert looking for Area 51 (Ron Paul, phone home). McCain became the nominee by default, not because any Republicans necessarily wanted him.

Because, if you believe what they say, they really don’t. Historically, McCain would be considered a fairly straight Republican follower. But, in the context of the strict discipline and orthodoxy required of party regulars (and talking-pointed mainstream radio "personalities") by the Rove-run Bush political regime, he was re-cast as a wild-eyed independent, thumbing his nose at Bush’s political judicial appointments, working on campaign finance reform and other such outrages. McCain also made the Bushies jealous because he actually had a genuine sense of humor, something they couldn’t buy in a store or from their consultants. McCain was too good for the Bush Republican party (not saying much), but not any use to anyone else. Once the focus gets on him – especially in comparison to the vibrant Obama and, yes, Clinton – McCain will melt like butter in his Arizona sun. He is the Bob Dole of 2008. This just might be the first Democratic landslide since 1964.

While the Dems battle the last mile, the right-wing radio and blog wing-nuts are getting in their last licks at McCain before the same cowardly chameleons swallow their ever-shifting "principles" and get behind him in the fall.

For instance, a bunch of head-in-the-sand reactionaries in his party on mainstream radio and the blogosphere feigned outrage this week when McCain had the temerity to recognize global climate change as the threat that it is in a speech this week. Although he tried pathetically to squeeze as much free-market clap-trap into his watered-down proposal as possible, this was not enough for the tireless blowhards that have chosen to carry Big Oil’s water. McCain obviously chose this course to avoid being completely laughed off the stage – he’ll get enough of that on his absurd position on Iraq. But, Republicans will pretend to stand on principle until they don’t. That’s how win-at-all-costs, for-sale people roll.

As entertaining as this beating up on McCain for being McCain is, there is apparently trouble on another front for the GOP nominee. The Prince of Darkness, Bob Novak, got on his knees (not a unique position for him when it comes to Republican sources) and put his ear to the dirty ground of some political evangelicals, discovering a let-Obama-win movement within the over-heated rapture crowd. For these wacked-out religi-nuts, the inevitable (to them) Obama presidency is "a biblical plague visited upon a sinful people". After four years of the supposed Obama disaster, the nation will turn its lonely eyes to preacher Huckabee, who will lead the righteous (and only the righteous, I assume) to the promised land of, er, the Fair Tax scheme or something.

The only question in Novak’s mind is whether Huckabee himself is in on this lunacy. Whether he is or whether he isn’t (if you want a real laugh, listen to the nut-right screech about McCain’s Huckabee-as-VP trial balloon, also this week), the whole notion of an Obama presidency as some sort of guaranteed nightmare for anyone but Republican operatives is ludicrous. If Obama is the nominee and gets the mandate of a 55-45 margin, 20-30 more seats in the House and a near-filibuster-proof Senate – all very much in the realm of possibility, if not likelihood – it is much more probable that his first four years would be a resounding success, especially if the Democrats can end the Stupid War and get universal healthcare enacted. What happens to their supposed faith when Obama succeeds and Huckabee continues life in 2012 and beyond as just another 2008 has-been? You would hope this kind of failed prophesy would affect their sanctimony or, at least, cost them a few gullible followers. Alas, this is hoping for too much.

When it gets to be September and the right-wing sees the writing on the wall of the impending Democratic landslide, it’s not like they are going to give up. They are going to poison the political environment with lies and smears, trying to drag whoever the Dem candidate down to their sorry level. They'll kick and scratch and lose like a bunch of whiney babies. But lose they will. And they will have no one to blame but themselves...and Junior Bush.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bill Maher and the American Way

It appears one of his students left a Shepard Express laying around in nut-right Marquette professor John McAdam’s classroom last week. No doubt this is not an uncommon occurrence on Thursdays; the Shepard and McAdam’s lectures being what they are or, rather, what they are not. The student needs something to glance at to stay awake during the class and immediately abandons the always-disappointing rag at the sound of the class period bell. One man’s lame effort to shape Milwaukee opinion becomes another man’s litter. And that man’s litter becomes McAdam’s rant-fodder.

McAdams breathlessly reported over the weekend that comedian Bill Maher is coming to town in a show sponsored by American TV. McAdams is outraged that Maher would be invited to our fair city because he read all this stuff from catholic crazy man Bill Donohue and others on the right-religious fringe that Maher said this or that and that he was an anti-Christian "bigot". This was too much for the professor, who promises not to darken the showrooms of American ever again. Charlie Sykes was so impressed with McAdams’ dark victimhood, he even decided to highlight and quote the screed on his vanity blog, although he failed to say whether he would sign on to McAdams brave but lonely boycott (radio advertisers being who they are and such).

Apparently, McAdams undies are in a bundle over a couple of things Maher has said on his excellent Real Time show on HBO, which, after all, has as its purpose discussing controversial topics. This has been Maher’s forte since his Politically Incorrect show on ABC. On that show, a couple of days after 9/11, he said: "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." The truth not being a defense in that place and at that time, he was fired and found a home at HBO, where he continues to play his role as agent provocateur, this time with naughtier language and no commercials. Along with Lewis Black and Chris Rock (sorry, George), he is one of the best political comedians working today.

When he's not telling jokes, Maher is a fairly mainstream progressive on most topics (or not – he actually supported the Iraq invasion for a short time), but religion, marijuana legalization and meat-eating are his pet peeves – the things that get him off even if his guests won’t follow him there. His religious views are nothing you haven’t heard and read from pop atheist best-sellers Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, both of whom make regular appearances on Real Time. Once you cast off the protective veneer of taboo that insecure religionists hope would prevent all honest discussion of religion, its illogic and the pain and misery it has visited on the world through the years, the whole Sky God thing is a fairly big and easy target.

Saying Christianity is "a dress-up cult that hates sex and worships magic" is not all that outrageous or even very original. And again, there is that fact check: A dress-up cult? Did you see the Pope?...Hates sex? Well, if you don’t, aren’t you supposed to?...Worships magic? Well, what else would you call the claims of a "miracle" that are necessary for sainthood? The Pope really did used to be a Nazi. There really was sexual abuse going on, which was hidden and protected by the paternalistic "religious cult" of the church.

The vast majority of Christians take these remarks for what they are worth and appreciate that, on Real Time, they are usually said in front of someone on the panel that will defend the religionist prerogative. Nobody ever "wins" and argument on Real Time, they just have one. But defensive religionists like McAdams don’t even want these matters discussed. If they could find out whether he floated on water, they would burn Maher at the stake as a witch. As it is, they have their perpetual campaign to get him fired from HBO and now, apparently, to make businesses afraid to sponsor his popular comedy tours. Taking this new approach is a bit of a surprise, but then, nooobody expects the Spanish Inquisition....

At the heart of McAdam’s diatribe, however, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Maher says and what real bigotry is. Maher has a "hatred of Christians", squawks McAdams, which is ridiculous. Taking issue with religion generally and the Christian or Catholic faith specifically is different from going after the followers, although, admittedly, the more devout are bigger targets and most easily offended because of the kind of enormous insecurity evident in McAdams’ shut-him-up demands. Maher's comments have much more to do with Christianity than with Christians; much more with the leadership than the flock.

I'm sure Maher assumes that the vast majority of people he meets and works with are involved in some of the religions or spiritual organizations he attacks and mocks. To say that he is "bigoted" towards them personally is ludicrous. But that's the impression McAdams, Sykes and their fellow travellers have to try to leave to protect the religious leadership, the zealots and themselves from rational skepicism and historic accountability. They don't have a problem with Bill Maher -- they have a problem with the truth.

I've seen Maher in concert before and he is brilliant in that format. All this pretend "controversy" makes me want to go see him again this time. Then maybe I'll go out to American and get me a new couch.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fighting Fire With Fire

There is still something about this Jeremiah Wright thing that just isn’t, well, right. Despite his declaration of unilateral divorce from his former pastor for the sin of impolitic self-aggrandizing (grounds for separation in at least 35 states), Barack Obama is still being tied to the yoke of the inconveniently silly man in the right-wing media. "Too little, too late," they shout in unison, hoping to soak the last drop of sweat and blood from Obama’s brow.

The whole Wright episode is such a ridiculous distraction; one of those things that seem to happen every week in this campaign that no one would buy as realistic in a political novel. It started – as too many of these things do – with a nut-right talking point that blossomed into a full-blown "issue" when ABC News legitimized the "concerns" about Wright when it ran the now-infamous video of Wright yelling "god damn America" in god-knows-what context. This led to Obama’s exquisite speech about race on March 18th. Obama was in the process of (maybe) riding it out before Wright hit the redemption media circuit over the weekend (Barbara Walters must not have been interested -- Bill Moyers gets the "get"?), committing the sin of being himself and making it impossible for Obama to survive without a clean break. And so he did, but such a break would never be clean enough for the unclean right-wing, who are not about to let the still-likely Democratic nominee off the hook if they can help it.

All of this has been unfair to Obama. Everyone running for president has some clown they would rather not have hanging around in their past, their present or their future. If you can’t see them, it is because either the candidate is too boring (Chris Dodd comes to mind) or they keep their embarrassments well hidden inside corporate cocoons or loopy mega-churches where anyone trying to do oppo-research would be bored to tears, their original curiosity drowned in a sea of piety and self-pity. So, the right-wing echo machine – with the cowardly acquiescence of the MSM – has managed to make Wright and "issue" for Obama and Bill (who, despite the hysterical exaggerations about what he has said or meant, is just fine) an "issue" for Hillary Clinton. Who or what is (or should be) the albatross(es?) around the GOP’s neck?

First of all, forget about looking under the pews at whatever Baptist or Episcopal church John McCain attends every month or so when the cameras are rolling. The chance of finding anything of substance, much less interesting at a church in wherever Arizona McCain claims as his home turf is slim to none (but, believe it or not, somebody tried). McCain’s nut-bag religious baggage rests not in his personal church, but in the usual collection of pathetic, attention-seeking GOP hangers-on, like proud endorser John Hagee, who, among other things, calls the Catholic church "the great whore". Oh, what the hell. Who cares about these religious groups calling each other names? At least he didn’t call them a "bad whore". Now, that’s an insult in the religious world. No – although right-wing preachers say all the time that America is already "damned" for its hedonistic sins and Wright just suggested, perhaps, it should be "damned" for something or other, there is no point in trying to parse these differences and insist on equal treatment for the religious nuts on either side. That ship, unfortunately, has sailed.

But we all know there are people closely tied to the Republicans in general and John McCain in particular that say worse things than Jeremiah Wright ever thought. It is past time for a media frenzy to call on the Republicans denounce and disassociate themselves from their hotheaded good friends...on mainstream talk-radio.

Go through any list of the outrageous statements made through the years by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any of the other ubiquitous national wing-nuts who have done the GOP’s dirty work since the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by Reagan 20 years ago. John McCain has appeared on all of these shows many times and will benefit throughout the election period for their support, however grudging. When will he be called on to denounce and disassociate himself with their various outrageous statements through the years?

This also works locally. Pardon the disgusting imagery, but Scott Walker has crawled so far up Charlie Sykes’ ass he has actually gotten a paler shade of white over the past several years. Does he agree with Sykes that Al Sharpton is a pimp? Does he agree with his other radio whore, Mark Belling, that Latinos are "wetbacks"? Do all the local Republicans – pretty-boy Paul Ryan, the repulsive Jim Sensenbrenner, the grandstanding David Clarke – who have an open invitation to appear on all the major and minor local wing-nut shows any time they want to really subscribe to the extreme and laughable positions of the various hosts? If not, what are they doing granting legitimacy to the hosts and their nut-right views?

Somehow, I don’t think this is an idea that is likely to get any traction. But, if the pretended outrage over Wright’s comments will continue to haunt Obama’s campaign, it is only fair that the Republican nominee be held to the same standard – hoisted on the petard of the comments of his most ridiculous supporters. The only problem is that, when it comes to the many ridiculous supporters of Republicans, it’s hard to know where to start.