Thursday, December 31, 2009
What'd I say? Oh...
Barack Obama will start his term with a tremendous amount of good will and support for his economic stimulus package – whatever it is – because too many people will want and need it to succeed. True, as far as it went, and the plan has had more positive effect than it has been given credit for. There is no way to know how much the injection of hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy stopped the deadly skid Obama inherited. Except that it did.
If Republicans get in the way on the basis of their usual petty nonsense, they will just dig a deeper hole for themselves. No "if" here. The Party of No has been remarkably unified in their opposition to any hint of grown-up, Democratic accomplishment. They are feeling pretty good about themselves right now, snuggled in the soft bosom of their alternate-universe talk-radio/Fox News circle-jerk, where Tea Bagging opportunists cavort with bad actors like Glenn Beck and bad legislators like Michele Bachmann. We won't really know how deep a hole they are digging themselves until the 2010 elections they have already declared won, when they pick up only a few seats in the House and one or two in the Senate. If they're lucky.
Barack Obama will start his term with a tremendous amount of good will and support around the world as he tries put the nation in a position to recover from the tremendous damage done by the arrogant, radical and reckless Bush administration...Not all of the damage is reparable, but Obama will have an advantage because of his background, because he has Clinton leading the effort and, most importantly, because he is Not Bush. Exactly right, his success in turning around America's image in the world exemplified by the premature awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama's nuanced, intellgent juggling of America's responsibilities in the world has led to a lowering of the anti-American temperature around the globe. And he is certainly Not Bush. And Not Cheney. And Not McCain. And Not Lieberman. And that's all good.
Hillary Clinton won’t be home much as she jets around the globe on a mission to unruffle feathers and get America back to its deserved respected-leader status. Clinton has been Obama's secret weapon around the globe, as she has employed her remarkable talents in the service of American interests.
America and the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief when our brave troops start coming home from Iraq. Iraq? What Iraq? Bush's Stupid War continues to wind down as the focus of our anti-al-Qaeda campaign moves where it belongs; to Afghanistan, Pakistan and -- now, apparently -- Yemen.
Violence there will increase, as the kind of thugs who have always run that country make their move. In the end, Iraq will end up right where it started – with the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the country presiding over a brutal regime. The only difference between that guy and Hussein will be that Iraq will be a theocracy, aligned with Iran, and even more of a potential threat to Israel. Nice work, Bush. Recent celebrations of the success of Iraqi "democracy" in the continued propaganda campaign to validate Bush's Stupid War after-the-fact are drastically premature. When the dust settles in five or ten years, Iraq will be much more of a threat to Israel and our interests than it ever was under Hussein.
Obama will have a chance to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices and, unlike Bush, will nominate people with impeccable legal pedigrees and no discernable ideological tilt, except for the inclination to be fair, which is a lefty trait, anyway. Republicans and their wing-nut lap dogs will pretend they are all lefty socialists anyway, and the general public will ignore them and move on. Well, only one vacancy in the first year, but everything else was exactly right. The public was not impressed with the Republican's childish attack on Justice Sotomayor.
Obama will end the year with an approval rating in the high 60s or higher. Yeah, well, a bit off. Obama has met the perfect storm of 10% unemployment, an unprecedented echo-chamber of right-wing blather willing to tell any lie, and a bunch of snooty lefties who think they could do it better than he can. Under these circumstances, it's amazing he's hovering at 50%.
Talk-radio clowns will continue to be completely flummoxed by Obama’s success and popularity, and will suffer ratings problems as a result. By the end of the year, they will spend more than half their time talking about finances and sports. The wing-nuts found their groove by creating and latching onto the Tea Party concept, which found obnoxious voice for all the imbicles who hate and resent Obama for racist and other reasons. Their demogogory of health insurance reform, including (especially) scaring the elderly about "death panels", has been the most reprehensible performance by mainstream politicians since Florida congressmen like Joe Scarboro defended Bush's theft of democracy in that state in 2000.
Locally, the radio wing-nuts will shill full-time for Scott Walker’s campaign for governor. Their in-kind contributions will not be reported to the Government Accountability Board. Just wait. They are just getting warmed up.
The conversion from analog to digital television in February will be delayed when it becomes clear that the need for a converter box will take free TV away from millions of Americans who still don’t have the box and couldn’t figure out how it works if they did. The first of my predictions to actually come true, as the date was moved to June. Unfortunately, it has now taken place. All over the poor and underclass, TV showing nothing by snow are gathering dust in closets. Sadly, a little less Judge Judy for everyone.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will follow the lead of the Detroit Free Press and limit home delivery to three days a week. By the end of the year, the paper will stop pretending to have separate sections and fold everything into two sections; maybe one. The paper continues to be flumoxed by its crashing business model, but no limited home deliveries yet. The Local section has been folded into the front page on Monday. A four-page Business page here, a four-page Cue section there. And after the Packers finish their run this year, can a four-page Sports page be far behind?
The paper will resort to hysterical headlines and endless self-righteous campaigns, like its current one about drunk driving. The paper's various hysterical campaigns against drunk driving, BPA, backups at the Patent Office (wha?), and the inner-city child care industry (while those reaping millions of state dollars scamming the J-S precious "choice" school program remain uninvestigated) continue apace. Last Sunday, the paper spent three or four whole pages telling you how wonderful they were.
If something is missing from the paper, referrals will be made to the on-line edition. All day, everyday.
No matter what happens, the J-S will continue to find room to run 25-inches of Patrick McIlheran's blathering three days a week. By the end of the year, his tedious right-wing talking-point recitals will take up 25 percent of the available non-ad column inches. I think his column in the dead-tree edition are now down to two a week, but Paddy Mac continues to be the most fact-challenged, unaccountable, talking-pointed columnist in the paper's once-distinguished history. The Illusory One has made tracking McIlheran a hilarious special project, to everyone's benefit.
The Brewers spend money and, maybe, trade one of their young superstars to create a decent-enough starting rotation. Not quite. They could have got some decent arms for Corey hart or J.J. Hardy early in the season, but even they didn't see how far they would fall. The rotation was a mess all year.
Prince Fielder will come into camp having dropped 30 pounds. Wishful thinking, but what a year after a slow start.
Corey Hart will drop his at-bat country music for Nirvana and, this time, have a complete season. Ooops. Sorry.
National League pitchers will continue to be stymied by Ryan Braun, who will hit 45+ homers despite being the most-walked batter in the league. Not Braun -- Fielder.
The Brewers will win 90+ and win the division. No. Not enough pitching.
Despite strong lefty credentials and occasional accidental brilliance, Plaisted Writes will not be recognized by the Shepherd Express' Best of the Blogs page. An easy prediction.
Also, sometime this year, society page embarassments Boris and Doris will be invited to a party where no one but them shows up. They will write it up as a wonderful evening with Lou Fortis, Rip Tenor (as S-E mascot Art Kubalek) and other close friends. All true but the write-up.
Finally, although I didn't predict it, this has been an admittedly shit year for Plaisted Writes. I posted half as much as last year, even though there was plenty to talk about, and what I did write wasn't all that hot. My Blogger page tells me this is my 300th post. Here's to a better, more productive 2010.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
This Christmas Eve morning, the historic passage of health insurance reform in the Senate that I watched live on TV that very morning was on my mind as I took off for a long drive. Tuning to WISN looking to amuse myself with wing-nut hysterics about the vote, I instead found the “Christmas Carol” recording; hosted by the great Orson Welles and featuring the incomparable, crusty Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge, being led around by a bunch of ghosts.
I picked up on a detail I hadn’t noticed in the story before. During his tour of the Future, Scrooge is shown the Cratchit family in mourning over the demise of the sickly Tiny Tim. For some reason, Scrooge thinks he can do something about this if he is given the chance to go back to the Present and be a nicer guy. And, indeed, he does somehow “save” him from this apparent fate – according to Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, I know...but I don't pretend to know Dickens), Tim survives even to attend Scrooge’s funeral.
Now, what could Scrooge have possibly done to affect the length and quality of Tim’s life in such a dramatic way? What else but get the poor kid some damn health care? Dicken’s tale is set in pre-industrial, pre-nationalized health-care England, where the poor and (in Bob Cratchit’s case) underemployed were left to fend for themselves. The pre-ghost Scrooge was the epitome of the social Darwinist, more than willing to let the chips fall where they may on the unfortunate heads of the underclass; even unto death, inasmuch as it “decreased the surplus population”. After his fever-dream, he cares too much – at least about the poor he knows – buying more giant turkey than the Cratchit family can handle. And Tiny Tim must be saved. No doubt Scrooge headed straight to the health insurance exchange and got his employee on his plan (alas, with high deductibles – hey, Scrooge was saved, but not crazy).
If the Republicans, Tea Baggers and their purported intellectual enablers national and local were like Scrooge, we could say their salvation is only a nightmare (or history lesson) away. But they lack Scrooge’s internal consistency. Scrooge was a dick with his money because he thought he had to be – it doesn’t seem he was doing all that great either (certainly not as good as Barrymore’s other iconic role – Henry Potter). He just decided (at least for one night) not to make whatever success he did have on the back of his employee, the long-suffering Bob Cratchit.
Right-wingers, on the other hand, only care about one thing, and that is the reinstitution of their political power. They know as well as you and I do that the health insurance industry is an elaborate, bureaucratic scam designed to siphon money off of people’s (mostly) unavoidable misery. They know the small business people they pretend to champion are suffering under the crushing weight of health insurance policies that are costing more and paying for less.
They had a chance to do something about it when they were in power and didn’t even try. Now, the grown-ups in the room – the Democrats – are finally showing some leadership on the issue, and the shrinking GOP knows it cannot survive if Obama and the Democrats succeed in actually making millions of lives better. Even the weak, incremental, industry-friendly bill that passed the Senate is something that – like Social Security and Medicare – will be a landmark of positive government action that will solidify the Democratic Party as the Good Guys for another generation.
The power-mad Republicans and their fellow travelers know the long-range implications of Democratic achievement, which is why they have unleashed the most repulsive, demagogic campaign of lies and hyperbole in U.S. political history. From the constant screeching about socialism to putting the fear of “death panels” into our seniors, the disloyal opposition has become completely unmoored from reality, floating in its own fetid sea of phony facts, deliberate exaggerations and badly-acted hysterics. Using its all-too-convenient vehicles – talk-radio, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and their echo-chamber counterparts in the blogosphere – an alternate universe has been created where these people can talk to each other and at their vulnerable target demographic of fearful, stupid people. Most of their commentary would be laughed out of the legitimate media – and are, when they make the mistake of showing their sorry asses in the real world.
But to accuse them of Scrooge-like behavior gives them too much credit. Scrooge at least could articulate the self-interest involved in his previous behavior. The Republicans can't articulate anything except "NO". If Obama was against health insurance reform, they would find a way to be for it. All they know is that if the Democrats succeed at something -- anything -- they lose (again). Succeed Obama did (or will, soon). Lose, they did, the Republicans, all standing together as a convenient and unfortunate whole.
Scrooge saw in the Future the unnecessary suffering and death of Tiny Tim and sought redemption through change. Republicans know a million avoidable medical tragedies are out there and have one word for them -- NO!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
If such an organized effort was put forth by Islamic clerics or Buddhist monks, investigations would be held as to why our elected leaders are holding audiences with such obvious fanatics, much less reshaping essential legislation to meet their unyielding demands. But these are representatives of the Catholic faith. Those not unduly impressed by their paternalistic zeal to keep women underfoot will be struck like so many of their cloistered nuns wielding metal rulers.
I know these people. I have spent more time on my knees in the service of various Vicars of Christ (mostly John XXIII, as I recall) than most of the right-wing commentators that use Catholic doctrine to beat up on those who would dare to let a woman control her own body. Sure, it was mostly back in the ‘60s, when I was a kid, a dedicated altar boy throughout grade school, back when we had to go to Mass every morning before class. I sang the ritual cants and even played in some of the first guitar Masses at the small parish in my small town.
Back then, the only politics the church involved itself in was a quaint notion of social justice. We gave lip-service to the poor, while spending most of our money on vestments and gold chalices. There was even an anti-war tinge back during that ugly Vietnam thing.
But now, the Catholic church is in the middle of a hard-right swing, careening around in political circles like a bull in a Holy Hill gift shop, slapping down any politician who would dare show independence or common sense on issues related to women’s health. When the House of Representatives was debating a health insurance reform bill a couple of weeks ago, a conservative German “pope” headquartered in Rome sent various functionaries (called “bishops”) – all, incidentally, carrying some fine health coverage – scurrying across Capitol Hill in an effort to scuttle the legislation if it dared to allow coverage for reproductive services, even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman (read: incubator). The foreign, medieval effort was scarily effective, weakening and almost killing the bill.
This week, comes word that one of the scions of the Catholic family that has done more for the church’s historical goal of social justice than any other in the nation’s history – Patrick Kennedy – has been informed by one of the costumed clerics that he shall not be allowed to receive the sacrament of Communion until he toes the religious party line on the disfavored right of a woman to control her own body. “If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things,” declared the bishop. One wonders what would happen if, say, Keith Ellison, the congressman from Minnesota who happens to be Muslim, would receive such a threatening directive from one of his religious leaders. You would hear the screeching all the way from here to Mecca.
But, we allow the Catholics to interfere in the most important issue of our time on the grounds of their narrow, male-centered campaign to rid the women of the world of their right to choose. “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” Florence Kennedy famously said. Such irony is lost on the Soldiers of Benedict as they fan out to undermine social justice in the guise of protection of the “unborn”, even at the expense of the lives and health of adult women. Jesus famously threw the money-changers out of the temple. It’s time for someone to throw the medieval prelates out of the Capitol.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Among the proposed victims of the political document he calls a budget and his grandstanding vetos are the mentally ill, bus riders, lakefront tourists, park users and the entire community, who will suffer increased crime because they no longer have the benefit of the rehabilitation efforts by the highly-successful Community Justice Resource Center. Also high on Walker's let's-beat-them-up-for-political-gain list are county employees, who will have to suffer through unbargained "furlough" days, and the citizens who expect the services the employees, on random days, will not be around to perform.
And then there are the county employees in the Courthouse itself that Walker doesn't want around at all. Those would be those who maintain and protect it. Of course, since Walker spends as little time there as possible -- and, when he does, he spends all his time on the phone with wing-nut radio hosts -- what does he care if the place is cleaned or secure? He probably figures he can get the Merry Maids in there for the $125 a week he plops down to get his house in Tosa cleaned and save money by not having all these annoying county cleaners all over the place.
But, of most concern to me as a daily visitor to the Courthouse is his attack on the security staff that have gotten people in and out of the building since early this decade. After 9/11, everyone in the country responsible for public buildings went nuts. In the Courthouse, they put metal detectors at the entrances they left open and closed many others (the Ghandi statue at the MacArthur Square former entrance stares at three permanently locked doors). It took a while to get the system working -- a fellow lawyer and friend of mine once refused to take off his shoes while entering the building, spurring the current system of security passes that get us trusted regulars in the building without the petty indignities suffered by the thousands of visitors who come to the Courthouse everyday.
The veteran security staff gets us passed through and the citizens screened in a pleasant, efficient and professional manner. I am terrible with names in the first place, but I know their faces and they know mine. Besides waving me in, I can see them dealing with the county residents who come to the Courthouse to conduct business; perform jury duty; attend court hearings; get licenses; drop small claims cases on unsuspecting neighbors; get copies of deeds, birth and death certificates, etc. They are absolutely superb in getting people through the metal detectors and directed to where they are trying to get to in the complicated three-building Courthouse complex.
Proposing bringing in third-rate security goons from Bob's Security Service or whatever it would be is insane. The only people who would support it -- other than Bob -- are people who never come to the Courthouse and have no idea what it takes to make the security system efficient and competent. That would be people like Scott Walker and his roving band of goofballs, who are only concerned with scoring vapid political points and couldn't care less about making the county government work.
The Courthouse is one of the few places where almost the entire community has to appear at some point or other for the important or mundane business of life. The visting, taxpaying citizens should be greeted by permanent professionals who have a stake in getting them through and keeping the building safe. The security staff at the Courthouse entrances have grown into a talented bunch who represent our county well. To lose them to the greedy political ambitions of a opportunistic punk like Scott Walker would indeed be a tragedy.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Springsteen was serious and joyful at the same time, all night long. Starting off with the celebration of the mysteriously interesting "Wisconsin night" of "Cadillac Ranch" and ending almost three hours later with a soulful rendition of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher", he was a man on a mission. No "Are You Loose?" tonight because he wasn't; savoring the last moments of the most-talented band of rock musicians to ever come together by draining each perfect note from every player ready to give it to him. After three more shows -- in exactly a week -- this tour will be over, with nothing further planned.
But it wasn't just about the band. Springsteen also engaged his other partners in his life's work -- his fans -- in every song. He pointed to various people in the crowd all night long, waving "hi", pretending like he was encountering long lost friends. He also gave up his body more than he has since he was crawling up the aisle during "Spirits in the Night" back at the Uptown in his famous first trip here in 1975; running down the side of the crowd to a small riser in the middle of the floor and letting the crowd in the front pit pass him back up to the stage during "Hungry Heart". Always the earnest populist, Bruce knows his strength as a showman has always derived from his abilty to connect, and he made the most of it this night.
The centerpiece of this show was the end-to-end playing of Born to Run, one of the greatest albums ever made. The idea of playing a whole album is an interesting one in concept, but less so in practice. Sure, you get eight of the best songs in anyone's catalog, in their original context. But the spontaneity of a usual Springsteen show is out the window for 50 minutes as one song follows the other. Also, some of the treatments of the songs have changed so much through the years -- I'm thinking of "10th Avenue Freezeout" -- that you wonder why it was ever placed between "Thunder Road" and "Night" in the first place. "Born to Run" seems jarring in the middle, unless you remember that it led off Side Two back when there were two sides to an album and you had to get up and flip the thing over. After watching the same exercise to much the same effect the night before at the Steely Dan show -- Royal Scam, all the way through -- I think I'd just as soon these guys go back to trying to surprise me.
Which he did, after he got back in control towards the end of the set. "Into the Fire", the most explicit of the The Rising's 9/11 songs and "The Rising" itself set a surprisingly serious tone before the "No Surrender" pseudo-finale.
But the highlights were both in the encore, with a long "Kitty's Back" and "Rosalita". During "Kitty's Back", Bruce led the individual band members in their solos, giving guest trumpeter Curt Ramm some extra time to stretch out and giving pianist Roy Bittan his full attention for a solo that must have gone on for over two minutes. It reminded me of the first time I saw him at the Bomb Scare show back in '75, when he left the stage and sat in a seat in the first row while he just admired his band. There was something he wanted to get from Bittan last night, and he was getting it. Again, savoring the moments.
With old age, Clarence's health, Max Weinberg's TV career and numerous projects pulling the E-Streeters in different directions, they'll never put this thing together again. Since they reunited from the last major break in 2000, Springsteen and the band has produced some of the greatest concerts of their career, as the strength of The Rising as a record and the incredible Rising tour gave them a momentum that carried them all the way through to last night.
They've done all they need to do and said all there is to say. There ain't no more, and there doesn't have to be. Springsteen will be out with various solo projects and maybe he'll be able to cobble together a better replacement band than he did in '92 or stumble into another interesting project like the Seeger Sessions. But Springsteen with E Street Band was a once-in-a-generation happy accident, both for him and for us. And they shared the results with us last night, one more time, with joy and pride and passion.
UPDATE: The most pleasantly chaotic moment of the night is up on YouTube. After the first bow, Bruce sees a sign for "Living Proof", a song about the joys of fatherhood from one of his non-E-Street projects in the misbegotten early '90s. The band acted like they never played or heard the song before (if so, what's this?) and they fumbled around like a rehearsal until they found the groove -- or a groove, anyway. Bruce holds up 1, then 4, then 5 fingers to let the band know where he is in the I-IV-V chord progression. It was an interesting way to watch he and the band work. The next song was..."Kitty's Back".
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Take right-wing darling Rep. Paul Ryan from Janesville. Ryan has been a rising star in the Republican galaxy for some time now, if only because he is one of the shrinking party's' few congressional members who can appear on TV without triggering the gag reflex. At least that's what I hear from others. I still have throat trouble when I see his slick head of hair and boyish smirk appear on yet another talk show, but then I have always had trouble laughing and swallowing at the same time. If you want a good laugh, check out his recitation of the GOP's health care "plan" to maintain the status quo. It's a riot.
Anyway, in this morning's paper it is reported that Ryan has caught some flack from his constituents for attending an event presented by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR has been called out by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its racist leaders and funding sources, but continues to be one of the many questionable places where Republicans like Ryan go to soak up attention and contributions. You might even feel sorry for GOP glory-hounds like Ryan who have to patronize the well-funded rapid-right activists in Washington to gain street-cred with their dwindling base. I mean, you can't swing a stick in a room full of those people without hitting someone who is racist, homophobic, anti-feminist or some form of offensive.
For his part, Ryan blamed his FAIR appearance on a radio talk show host in St. Louis. It's an interesting defense. I suppose if Charlie Sykes invited Ryan to some other slimy greed-fest with a cast of unsavory charactors -- Citizens for Responsible Government comes to mind -- Ryan would go and blame it on the radio guy if somebody with any sense found out about it. This is the way it works with Republicans these days, I guess, getting jerked around on a chain by wingnut radio hosts to take full advantage of the hours of free political advertising mainstream radio currently provides the GOP.
We should take the "guilt by association" meme and move it to its next logical step. It seems incompetent part-time Milwaukee County Executive and full-time gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker has a free pass to call in to any right-wing radio show in the state any time to promote his candidacy. It happens on almost a daily basis, on shows large and small.
If the wingnuts are going to get that involved in the campaign, they should be held up to scrutiny themselves, and Walker should be held to account for the company he keeps. Hey, Scott Walker -- when you spent a half-hour getting stroked by Mark Belling, did you sit around with him during the breaks and tell wetback jokes and talk about how to prevent obnoxious minorities from creating another Crimeville? Tell us, Scott, do you agree with Sykes that black leaders like Al Shaprton should be referred to as "pimps" and that Lee Holloway is a "thug"? All of these are fair questions, I think. And, if the answer is "no" to each, what are you doing hanging around people like that?
Actually, the problem may be for the radio squawkers hanging around with Walker. Do they really want to be associated with someone who would soak up all these in-kind political contributions from your radio stations without reporting it on his campaign forms?
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Under the headline "Issue of the Week", Fortis' paper mentions the MFF for the first time; claiming that the first year of the new festival "failed to generate the excitement [well, for Fortis and Dave Luhrssen, maybe] and attendance of the original and very successful [of course it was successful -- just look at it now] Milwaukee International Film Festival". Fortis gloats that the last year of the MIFF -- which might still be active if he and Luhrssen had only gave up control and allowed the appointment of an independent board -- enjoyed a "45% greater attendance than this year's event."
Still, an impressive 20,000 attended the event, one of which, you would hope, was Dave Luhrssen. Luhrssen's supposed love of independent film was exposed as a fraud when he failed to cover or even list the films in the festival in the S-E. If he showed, maybe he would have learned something about cinema itself, or at least bumped into some other critics who could have given him some badly-needed pointers for his own bland, often incomprehensible film reviews. While Luhrssen ignored the independent films and pounded out tripe about Hollywood product like "Bright Star" and "The Informant!" during the weeks of the festival, much better writers in the Journal Sentinel (your welcome, Duane) and places like OnMilwaukee covered and promoted the films in the festival. Luhrssen used to cover and promote the films in "his" festival like he was in the midst of film rapture. Was it about the "love of cinema" or his, Fortis' and the S-E's self-promotion (and finances)? I think we now have our answer to that one.
The real film-lovers are the dedicated culture-builders like Chris Abele, who justifiably moved their money away from Fortis' ego-enhancement project and built an independent festival to go along with the independent film it celebrates. "The numbers speak for themselves," writes Fortis in his snide jibe at the MFF -- and, indeed, they do. The numbers go something like this: 20,000 people celebrated independent film in Milwaukee for a couple of weeks in theaters all over town. 2 people -- Lou Fortis and Dave Luhrssen -- spent those two weeks hunkered-down in their bunker, plotting revenge and lawsuits; putting out their dreary 56-pages-and-shrinking lame excuse for a weekly paper.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Alas, the decades-long disappointment of the failure of Milwaukee to develop a decent alternative weekly continues. Lou Fortis’ vanity sheet has fallen into a predictable tediousness, even worse than we last discussed it almost two years ago. Now, to go along with the embarrassing Boris and Doris society column (now attributed to "Shepherd Express Staff"), the shrinking weekly paper features a full-page (or two) sports "conversation" between formerly respectable sports writer Frank Clines (late of the Journal Sentinel) and S-E’s never-funny mascot Rip-Tenor-as-Art-Kumbalek (on the cover this week as one of the potential governor candidates — hilarious, ain'a? Stop, yer killing me!).
It is the most ludicrous kind of half-informed sports-talk, run through the stupid-on-purpose Kumbalek shtick. Who reads this stuff? Who could possibly think it is funny (if that’s what it is supposed to be)? Who has ever read all the way through even one of these dreadful indulgent exercises in amateur prognostication and sloppy yuk-yuk tripe? Imagine an out-of-towner reaching for the S-E with the Packers cover a couple of weeks ago and finding nothing about the Green-and-Gold but....this crap.
Maybe the S-E can run one of its cheap little polls on this issue. No publication in history has run reader polls less creative and more sloppily presented than the S-E. Whoa! Beer is the preferred beverage by 46% of Shepherd readers! Who knew? Who cares? Next week, how about a poll asking: Which regular S-E feature do you like to read more: Boris and Doris or The Fairly Detached Observers? None of the above – 96%!
But, for all that the Shepherd Express isn’t and never will be, I have noticed something else missing over the past two weeks. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the S-E about the Milwaukee Film Festival that is wrapping up this weekend at various theaters around town. No listings, no reviews – nothing. The absence of any recognition of the festival’s very existence is another example of the typical thumb-sucking by Fortis and the S-E’s supposed film advocate, Dave Luhrssen, who lost their attempt to control the former Milwaukee International Film Festival for their own self-aggrandizement and as a way to keep the struggling paper afloat and are now taking their ball (the one no one wants anyway) and going home.
Since 2002, we have had the fall pages of the Shepherd filled with puff pieces about the big and small films that somehow made their way to the MIFF, which began as a noble effort led by Fortis and Luhrssen and ultimately crumbled last year under the weight of self-imposed financial problems and Fortis’ outsized ego. The interesting story is told here by film actor Mark Metcalf at OnMilwaukee (skip to this page for the money shot). For Fortis' self-serving version, there is this last-gasp essay.
The bottom line is the chief financial backers pulled the plug and created a new Milwaukee Film Festival, independent from Fortis’ control and machinations. Fortis responded by getting his friend Ed Garvey to file a lawsuit trying to get money out of the festival idea in a way he couldn’t when he controlled it. The lawsuit is properly languishing in the Courthouse. Question: What’s the first thing you do if you file a lawsuit claiming someone is about to hijack your film festival? Answer: Ask for a restraining order to prevent the new festival from going forward. No such effort from Garvey here, showing he knows the strength of his case. Perhaps the defendants will settle at some point for the suit’s "nuisance value", although it is the community at large that is being annoyed.
In any event, Fortis and Luhrssen’s supposed love and support of independent film apparently exists only as far as they can control it. Their failure to cover any aspect of the new festival puts the lie any notion that they care about cinema in any meaningful way. If they did, they would put aside their petty disappointments (and get past the Journal Sentinel's sponsorship) and cover, if not promote, a major cultural event in the city. That they can't makes them even more irrelevant than they were before -- which was pretty damn irrelevant.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
One of the strategies the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has employed during its present death-spiral as a daily newspaper is the constant patting of itself on the back for a job so enormously well done. For a couple of months earlier this year, the paper used Page 2 on Sundays for a series of often-embarrassing essays by various editors about how great this or that area of its coverage is. It was the worst kind of self-serving pap, substituting real reporting for glossy reviews of past reporting, written for those who, damn you, just did not appreciate the company's product enough.
The Behind the Headlines series has ended for the most part – when last seen in August, managing editor George Stanley made a lame attempt to pretend everything was just fine after the latest staff purge that ripped the heart out of the fine arts staff and other parts of the paper. But the cheerleading for itself continues in Journal Sentinel news articles that celebrate the real and imagined impact of the paper’s various tabloid-type sensationalist campaigns against BPA, drunk driving, child care providers and whatever other hysterical button Stanley decides to push for the benefit of anxious legislators and right-wing radio hosts.
Usually, a story about a couple of city residents getting indicted for bankruptcy fraud would barely make the back page of the Business Journal, if that. But, unfortunately for them, Willie and Pamela Kohlheim were two of several subjects of the Journal Sentinel’s campaign against inner-city child care providers who were gathering just too darn much money from the state’s Wisconsin Shares program. So, not only were the financial details about their lucrative business in the story three months ago in apparent conflict with their bankruptcy filing; their resulting federal criminal case was blazoned across the front page of the Saturday paper.
What’s the big deal? Oh yeah – here it is in paragraph 3: "The charges, revealed Friday, come three months after the Journal Sentinel published a story exposing how the Kohlheims received nearly $1.3 million from the troubled Wisconsin Shares program..." Thus does the small news become big – not because it has any special significance, but because it makes the newspaper look better (if you think things like campaigns against child care providers "makes the newspaper look better").
This sort of self-congratulation in your own newspaper can, however, get so contagious it spreads to places it doesn’t belong. On the same Saturday front page, there is a fairly hilarious story about some roadway roundabouts planned for the area near Lambeau Field. It seems a Green Bay legislator wrote to the Department of Transportation pointing out that, er, some people coming out of Lambeau may not be quite, er, capable to negotiate the intricacies of roundabout yield signs. One could imagine the impaired Chucky Cheesehead circling endlessly in the roundabout until dawn as he tries to find his way back home.
Failing to find the humor in the situation, the Journal Sentinel took the occasion to act shocked – shocked! – that anyone would suggest that Packer fans might not need unnecessary directional challenges after three hours of tailgating and three more hours of high-priced stadium beer (and, last night, anyway, an exciting victory). In case you might wonder why the paper is waxing sanctimonious about an entirely reasonable request to avoid confusion on the road, the J-S takes extraordinary credit for the entire anti-drunk-driving that has been going on nationwide for at least the past 20 years; again in paragraph 3: "The issue of drunken driving has taken on a new prominence after the Journal Sentinel's ‘Wasted in Wisconsin’ series and other news reports about the toll of drunken driving in the state."
Well, no. The Journal Sentinel’s anti-drunk campaign has nothing to do with exaggerated concerns about tailgating roundabouters in Green Bay. But their attempt to claim credit for the concern does lead to some interesting possibilities for the paper to take credit for all kinds of things they have nothing to do with.
- Flights out of Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee have become 20% cheaper this year. Full page ads for Air Tran in the Journal Sentinel contributed to the awareness of the new fares throughout the Greater Milwaukee Area.
- Five Taliban leaders were reported killed in Afghanistan. The Journal Sentinel took a strong stand in 2001 in favor of the killing of Taliban leaders.
- President Barack Obama’s plans for effective health care reform took a significant hit in Congress as senators continued to step away from including a public option in their plan. A Journal Sentinel columnist, Republican WMC board member John Torinus, has advocated against effective health care reform in the pages of the newspaper for years.
- Gov. Jim Doyle proposed a new plan to fund regional transit in the Milwaukee area. The Journal Sentinel editorial board has consistently offered lukewarm support for rational regional transit plans, while allowing right-wing former copy editor Patrick McIlheran to write three columns a week spouting wing-nut talking-points against it. The newspaper therefore will later claim credit if the proposal is adopted and if it is defeated.
- The Milwaukee Brewers announced today that rookie Casey McGhee will be starting at third base in place of veteran Craig Counsel. Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Haudricourt suggested in a column last week that the Brewers should spend the September of their lost season playing the young guys to see what they can do.
And so on. Really, why not make every story in the paper about the wonderfullness of the Journal Sentinel? Real news generated by real societal currents is so tedious. The message is the messenger, however battered, wilting and irrelevant. The Lords of State Street will apparently be convinced of their own genius up to and through the last day of publication.
Will the last failed editor pretending to save the Journal Sentinel please turn out the lights.
Friday, September 11, 2009
I especially like the harrahs, harumphs, hoots and other noises emanating from the gallery as the Prime Minister tries to explain himself to supporters and opponents. Tony Blair was particularly good at this sort of thing, his impish grin and snappy comebacks as he jumped up and down from his chair making great theater as the reactions yea and nay echoed through the chamber. I always thought this kind of weekly grilling by the loyal opposition should be mandatory here. Tightly-scripted clueless boobs like Ronald Reagan and Junior Bush would have been exposed for the frauds that they were in about ten minutes.
But there are limits to the reactions of the opposition during question time, and I'm sure none of them have to be enumerated for the proper English to follow the appropriate protocol. The low dull roar of even the most adamant disapproval is not anything close to a boo or hiss. Any clown shouting out "You lie!" at the Prime Minister would be dragged out by his own party members, stripped of his credentials and kicked out of office.
The American experience with Congress in joint session with the President is much less interactive and spontaneous. The main method of expressing approval or disapproval is standing and applauding or sitting on your hands. It has the effect of a lopsided wave at a baseball game where those in the diamond seats refuse to participate. There is also a smattering of sighs, chuckling and booing, the appearance of which produces even louder noises by those admonishing the noisemakers. Generally, a President of whatever persuasion is allowed to come in, do his thing, and get out so the lawmakers can start adopting, mangling or murdering his proposals the following day.
Enter the now-infamous back-bencher from South Carolina, Rep. Joe Wilson. My favorite explanation offered for his historically-unprecedented behavior is that he was too surprised by Obama's speech because a text was not handed out to Congress beforehand. You can see him now, blood boiling and redneck reddening, as he sat in his seat while the President unexpectedly (who does he think he is?) challenged the deliberate campaign of disinformation fomented by the GOP. "No death panels! No coverage for illegal immigrants!" says the illegitimate upstart. Wilson's face flushes red, a trickle of venom streaks down his chin, his body shakes.... "You lie!" He faces forward but feels the eyes in the back of his head -- where is everyone? Why isn't anyone else jumping up and cheering my clever retort? Why is everyone else willing to let that guy get away with it?? His collegues slink down in their chairs. Wilson - they think - what a dick.
"That guy". I mentioned in my last post that "that guy" is the way President Obama is referred to on right-wing radio more than in any other way. It is a way to diminish, to delegitimize the President. Joe Wilson shouted out against the President because he doesn't think he is or should be the president. To the white congressman from South Carolina, he is just another n-word, cutting across his lawn and ruining his day. Like most Republicans, he does not respect the democratic process and does not accept the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States. Wilson didn't see anything wrong with shouting at the President in Congress because, to him, he's not the President.
And, of course, Wilson was lying about Obama lying about providing health care insurance for the undocumented. You can't get much more clear than the title of H.R. 3200, Sec 246: NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS. Perhaps Wilson is so dense, he doesn't even know that (unfortunately) the undocumented won't be covered, that there would be no death panels, no rationing, no "government-run" health care (again, unfortunately), no socialism.
More likely, he knew exactly what the truth was and was overcome with emotion because Obama was exposing the lie, right there in his face. [UPDATE: Indeed, it appears Wilson is a health insurance industry stooge.] Because, without the lies, the Republicans have nothing. Their "plan" (copies of which some of them waved around at the speech) is a joke. It is basically a weak restatement of the status quo, calling for limits on malpractice lawsuit (both Drs. Death and Dismemberment have a friend in the GOP); allowing the creation of nationwide health insurance behemoths and monopolies (sure worked swell for the banks, didn't it?); requiring more publishing of the cost of procedures (let's see, should I go with the $5,000 fix for my broken leg or the $4,999 special at St. Mary's? Hmmm...); and some worthless tax credits (for those who don't have the money to front now, what good is a tax credit later?).
If I were Obama, I would have run through the GOP proposals, exposed them to the national audience, and knocked them down one-by-one. Then you would have really seen Joe Wilson's head explode.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
I’ve written before about the practice of right-wing radio station WISN letting one of their news readers, Nick Reed, fill in when its third-rate wing-nuts Jay Weber and Vicki McKenna are not available to push the usual poison bullshit on their morning shows. I guess, along with the destruction of the news-and-information industry by firings and attrition, we have to accept that many of those left are conflicted political whores who are willing to sell out their reporter credentials for a couple of hours of overheated GOP talking-point dissemination. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the Operator, they don’t care, they don’t have to – they’re Clear Channel.
This morning, Reed was cheerily wearing his wing-nut hat while "discussing" President Obama’s talk with school children around the country on what was for most the first day of school. What is it about this president, the temporarily not-newsman wondered aloud, that makes people so distrustful of him that he can’t even make a speech to school children without parents getting concerned?
This is like Al Capone walking into the garage on St. Valentine’s Day and wondering, hey, what’s with all the dead bodies? Reed and his fellow radio clowns know very well why anyone thought twice about Obama in the schools – they created the false hysteria in the first place. As soon as the White House announced the planned speech, the national and local wing-nut choir was screeching in perfect harmony about socialist indoctrination, how Mao Tse Tung and Kim Jong-Il did/do the same thing, how no president has ever tried to broadcast to school children (that lie is what they said the first day). Mainstream radio’s dutiful listeners responded in predictable, sheep-like fashion, a screechy minority putting pressure on school districts to not dare put "that guy" (the right-wing’s favorite way to refer to and diminish the president) on their school monitors, or, keeping their kids out of school for the day, no doubt part of their campaign to make sure their kids stay stupid for another generation.
But, in Reed’s imaginary world, hysterical reactions and staged stunts like disrupted town-hall meetings happen spontaneously, in a vacuum, without any help from the 24/7 right-wing campaign to delegitimize President Obama. Feigning surprise and concern about something he very much encouraged and played a very small part in creating, the newsman in the wing-nut tin-foil hat "reported" as follows (in full context, which is more than he will ever do for you):
"This administration has created such a massive distrust amongst the American people that just the idea of the president giving a speech to kids sends a significant portion of the American population into a tizzy. Now, a lot of liberals like to point out the fact, you know, well, Reagan did it and Bush did it, and there wasn’t a huge uproar about it. Well, that ought to tell you – that’s not really an argument in your favor, or in Obama’s favor. What that shows is that Americans, while they may not have necessarily cared for some Reagan, and some not caring for Bush, they didn’t have this fervent distrust that they just, did not even want their children, without them being – It’s almost like having your friends go on a field trip with a convicted child molester, is how people are acting about this. And I’m not arguing that people shouldn’t have acted this way about it, but you have to admit that the liberals are right when they point out, well, Americans didn’t act this way about Reagan and Bush when they did it. Well, what’s that tell you? I mean, that ought to make you wonder."
Well, it does make me wonder, but not in the way he thinks. It makes me wonder how a guy from the news department can compare any president with a child molester and come to work the next day, still employed. It makes me wonder how far wing-nuts are willing to go before the bounds of human decency are reached for the supposedly upstanding corporate citizens at Clear Channel. It makes me wonder how a supposed newsman like Nick Reed can gain press credentials to anything now that he is exposed as a name-calling, greed-sucking language-twister who has no more business being behind a microphone labeled "news" than Mark Belling or Sean Hannity. "I’m Nick Reed and here’s the news," he will say again someday soon, or maybe even this afternoon. Only the foolish will take anything he says seriously. On the other hand, the national affiliate is Fox News, so, you know, it’s all a big joke to Clear Channel anyway.
President Obama gave a great and valuable speech to school children today. He is someone who can reach them more and better than any old white guy named Bush or Reagan (who pathetically used the word "Negro" when he made a stab at chatting with children late in his failed presidency). His fatherless, diverse background makes him a valuable resource in reaching today’s kids. Because of who he is and what he stands for, he is very popular with school kids. And. no doubt, he reached many today.
The right-wing could have decided to praise or at least ignore Obama in this admirable effort. Instead, they poisoned the moment as only they can, telling lies, casting aspersions on his intentions and using it as another opportunity to delegitimize and dehumanize a president that they cannot defeat on the merits of any issue. They are a bunch of sick bastards with no morals or interest in the future of the country. They would burn it down, if they could, rather than accept any Democrat as president.
As it happens, one of those sick bastards, Nick Reed, is -- still -- a newsman at WISN.
Monday, September 07, 2009
Charlie Sykes was in his usual high smug dungeon last week about the "fact" that my very own slug Congressman, Jim Sensenbrenner, was being "censored" by a secret cabal of House Democrats on the ominously-titled "Franking Commission". As usual, professional propagandist Sykes knew better about the legitimate work of the Commission, but feigned outrage about the attempt to shut Sensenbrenner’s fat trap. He knew that the filthy rich Sensenbrenner – paradoxically, one of the biggest freeloaders in the House – was trying to get around the non-partisan rules of the franking privilege to get the poison Republican message out for free. But Sykes, the oh-so-full-of-himself smartest man on the radio, is always willing to play dumb when there is a straw man to be made.
Sykes was playing off of an embarrassingly amateurish You-Tube video by pretend-journalist Rebecca Kleefisch, which featured Sensenbrenner’s chief of staff whining about how the dastardly Commission refused to let his boss use the phrases "government-run health care", "cap and tax", "failed stimulus" and other such twisted wing-nut word-play in a communication to his constituents. Kleefisch – apparently late of Channel 12 and now a self-styled "conservative correspondent" – showed up in the studio with Sykes to discuss her precious production, in which she dutifully establishes the basics of her Big Lie, and then goes to an apparently right wing tailgate under a tent outside a Brewer game to get some willing clowns to agree with her.
It’s all a delightful fantasy set-piece for those inclined to believe Obama wants to Kill Grandma and more of the worst about Democrats. Sykes took a step beyond even the insipid video to suggest that the "censorship" was the result of the overreaching of Democratic leadership . Never mind that the Commission itself is and always has been evenly divided, with three Democrats and three Republicans. Or that the Franking Commission is designed to enforce some hitherto uncontroversial rules about the content of the FREE mailings congressmen are allowed to send out. It's simple enough: "Comments critical of policy or legislation should not be partisan, politicized or personalized." But, again, for Republicans, rules are for suckers.
When Sensenbrenner or anyone else tries to use the FREE franking privilege to spout Republican talking-points and incorporate deliberately deceptive phrases like "government-run health care" (which, unfortunately, is not nearly what Obama’s health care reform is about), someone should tell him to shut the hell up. Get out your check book and send out whatever nutty crap you want under your campaign committee or otherwise on your own goddamn dime. Stop trying to get the rest of us to pay for your bullshit. The taxpayers and various no-doubt grateful corporations are spending enough on your wealthy ass so you can take your wife on your annual vacation in Europe. Try spending your own money for a change.
Sensenbrenner is not the only Republican to pretend to chafe under the requirements of the Franking Commission. It appears to be yet another of those tiresome memes dreamed up by the GOP message machine to distract and undercut the hard work of the Democrats, who are actually trying to put the pieces of this Bush-whacked country back together
As for Sensenbrenner, I have lived in his district for four years now and haven’t heard a peep – in franked mail or otherwise – from my personal congressional embarrassment. Maybe they don’t even bother to send mail in here to Shorewood, lest we be reminded how horribly represented we really are.
Friday, August 14, 2009
In the almost-30 years I have been visiting Canada on a semi-regular basis (Mom remarried and moved there in 1980), I have always been struck by the utter lack of a certain kind of fear and anxiety by its citizens. Although always subject to the unpredictable whims of euro-capitalism, there is a peace of mind that prevails in Canada which can only be attributable to one thing: an excellent system of health care – both in payment and delivery. People are not only are healthier in Canada; they feel healthier. And it shows.
It’s pretty simple, really. Here’s how it works for your average, everyday visit to the doctor. Any resident of the province of, for example, Ontario walks into the doctor’s office, showing their OHIP card. They get an office visit with the doctor. They leave. The doctor submits the visit to the Ontario Ministry of Health, probably electronically. The OMH pays the doctor. Visit, payment; visit, payment; visit, payment. All day long.
No scrutinizing and copying of health insurance cards; no giant health insurance bureaucracy poised to deny coverage; no co-pays; no high deductibles. In the bigger picture, none of the fear and anxiety of the accident or illness that will lead to financial ruin. This leaves Canadians to worry about those other important variables in life – jobs, relationships, kids, education, progress. But not health care. That is their national commitment to themselves and their future. Health care is their right.
Are there problems in the system? Sure, there are. And, when things don’t work, the political system responds and heads will roll. The enemies of health care reform in the U.S. have made sure that you’ve heard anecdotal stories about long wait times for this or that. This morning, my copy of the Toronto Star reported that a guy who was working full-time to reduce wait-times had been sacked. If there is a problem (I am not taking the U.S. wing-nuts’ word for it), this is how it is supposed to work. The effectiveness of health care delivery becomes political and things get done. Try getting some satisfaction out of a fat-cat insurance company dragging its feet approving your expensive hip replacement. Good luck with that.
As always happens when the health insurance industry is threatened in the U.S., the checkbooks are open for anyone willing to provide fodder for their lies. Canadians telling health care horror stories in the U.S. media are like anti-black African Americans and anti-feminist women – they are all extremely well paid to take the positions they take. The fact is that no Canadian in their right mind – not one – would trade their government health care system for the craziness of the U.S. "system" of social Darwinism, gold-plated doctors and giant health insurance vultures.
"It is awfully tempting – painfully so – to feel superior to the United States over its national debate, and I use the term irresponsibly, on health-care reform," writes one apparently reasonable columnist in my Globe and Mail this morning. Indeed, we are the laughing stock of the world, as loopy people paid by lobbyists or simply misled by wing-nut squawkers who know better try to besiege those in Congress brave enough to hold town hall meetings in the midst of a campaign of organized disruption. If you want to see the difference between the astroturf ridiculousness of people "fighting to get our country back" from the elected African-American guy and the real thing, try proposing the dismantling of the health care system in Canada. Then you will really see the people rise up to keep what they have.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
In the Journal Sentinel this morning, we learn in a wire-service story that Ben Stein – the former Nixon economic advisor and sometimes-droll comedic actor in Ferris Bueller, Wonder Years, Win Ben Stein’s Money and, unintentionally, in his own Expelled – has been bounced from his biweekly perch on the New York Times business page. His crime? Stein was caught whoring it up for a company pushing economic snake-oil. The Times editors apparently decided that Stein’s snooty save-the-rich musings were too much coming from a free-credit-report scam pitchman, with or without the guitar.
It was an interesting story to appear in the Journal Sentinel. Even after finally admitting that it jettisoned 92 employees, including almost all of its fine-arts writers, the paper continues to employ its own highly-conflicted business columnist, John Torinus. The list of Torinus’ publicly-known conflicts that would prevent him from offering objective, fact-based opinions on anything runs long and deep. And it shows in his columns, which are not so much opinion as week-to-week campaigning on issues dear to him and his short-sighted business cohorts, such as high-deductible health insurance.
Unlike Stein, who at least has his deadpan movie/TV routine to facilitate his sell-out, Torinus is not for sale. His conflicts are that of his own self-interest and political connections, which is worse. If it wanted to, the Times could have kept Stein on and scrutinized his columns for any hint of recommendations that people send $30 a month to a murky company in exchange for nothing. It is impossible, though, to separate Torinus’ WMC talking-pointed pap from his personal, corporate and political agenda.
Torinus’ column might be more tolerable if the Journal Sentinel would at least let its readers know just how conflicted he actually is. Instead, the J-S informs us of just two of his non-paper interests (he is "chairman of Serigraph Inc. of West Bend and a founder of BizStarts Milwaukee"), making it look like he is just a hard-working businessman trying to make it in this harsh government-regulated world. Hardly. He continues to serve on the board of the WMC, which has been fairly active in recent years buying Supreme Court seats to make them safe for their narrow notion of business interests. He happily beats up on Wisconsin’s business climate for right-wing think-tank the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (Question: If the Wisocnisn business climate is so bad, why are those who complain the most about it still here?). He is also a reliable contributor to Republican candidates for office.
None of this is mentioned in the newspaper as it continues to spend more of its shrinking newshole (not to mention payroll) on predictable right-wing advocacy. Of course, the more astute reader would realize that someone who advocates the elimination of the state corporate income tax (at a time of crisis for state revenue) and considers health-care reform a "burden" (when most small businesses are screaming for it), as he does in today’s column, is hardly an impartial observer of economic trends.
Why not just put a WMC logo and a "paid advertisement" notice on his column and be done with it?
Saturday, August 01, 2009
It’s daily-newspaper subscription-renewal time here at the Plaisted household. The Journal Sentinel Inc. wants $75.05 to deliver its dwindling product to my doorstep (what once landed with a thud now floats to the ground like a wounded butterfly) every morning for the next six months. Hmm...what to do, what to do....
This week’s purge of some of the paper’s best veteran writers is not a good sign. Coverage of the arts took a disastrous hit in this round with the loss of Dave Tianen on music, Tim Cuprisin on TV/radio, Tom Strini on classical music and Damien Jaques on theater. I assume they are folding that local arts tent altogether – look for more wire-service Brittany updates on the back of the Local page (for as long as they keep up the facade of separate sections). The business page is losing its most high-profile voice of diversity, Tannette Johnson-Elie, and they are going to have to find someone else to shill for the school "choice" industry with the loss of Alan Borsuk. Even the Letters editor, the lovely and talented Sonya Jongsma Knauss, is getting shit-canned or reassigned.
The decimation of the paper’s staff has had a dramatic effect on the simplest of journalistic tasks. I was shocked this morning when I saw a story on page 3B about the preliminary hearing for a man accused of shooting two police officers in Walkers Point early this summer – an event that caused quite a bit of hysterical coverage when it happened. The paper couldn’t even get a reporter to the courtroom to cover the hearing in person.
- "A Milwaukee police officer testified in court Friday that he felt a burning sensation and immense pain in his shoulder and leg after he and another officer were shot on the city’s near south side, WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported."
Wha? As "WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported"? "In testimony recorded by Channel 4..." the story continued. "Burton was bound over for trial and pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to on-line state court records." Where the hell was the J-S reporter? Obviously not in the courtroom, from which newspaper reporters have always reported their stories since the beginning of time. What is going on here? The entire article was apparently generated from the reporter’s desk, as he (Jesse Garza) watched TV and CCAP’ed the proceeding on the internet. This isn’t reporting – it’s tweeting. The late, great courthouse reporter for the paper, David Doege, would never have put his name on such impersonal, second-hand drivel.
While the paper abandons any pretense of basic crime reporting and arts coverage, it is more than willing to hand over acres of its shrinking editorial real estate to right-wing nuts like Patrick McIlheran, Mike Nichols (who doesn’t even have a desk there anymore), and nationally-syndicated cartoonists like Michael Rameriez (including gems like repeating wing-nut talking points about who doesn’t have health insurance). It seems the Kings of State Street think they can make it through another Packer season (there is a reason why, in the midst of all this staff-cutting, they maintain five Packer beat reporters) before they have to face the ultimate consequences of the deadly combination of the death of the newspaper-industry economic model and their own bad decisions and incompetence.
The reasons to keep this charade I have going with the local newspaper are getting fewer and fewer. Just because I need a newspaper in my hands while I drink coffee in the morning, is that worth throwing more money at an institution that is committing corporate suicide right before my eyes? And what good is it if the paper is so thin and the substance so worthless that I am done with it before the first cup is cold? Besides, can’t I get something still-decent like the New York Times delivered? (Answer: Yes.)
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Walter Cronkite had quite an impact on my young life. So much so, in fact, that the best song I ever wrote was about him. It was in ‘82 or ‘83, I think, when I wrote the song about the news anchors that came after Cronkite, called "Why Does Dan Rather (Wanna Be My Friend)?" It is still a favorite of all five of my fans and of mine. The bridge goes like this:
I grew up/With space shots and assassinations
I saw riots in the street/I watched with fascination
I watched the revolution/On my TV
Watching Walter Cronkite/At my daddy’s knee
We were a CBS family. Huckleberry Hound, Ed Sullivan, Danny Kaye, Gilligan’s Island; and, later, Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family and the first two seasons of M*A*S*H. And, everyday at 5:30 in those years, I stood up, walked across the room and turned that clunky dial on our first color TV over to Channel 2 in Green Bay (or Channel 6 in Milwaukee – with an antenna on the roof, we were ambi-market-ual, TV-wise) and my dad and I watched as Walter Cronkite brought us the world.
From the first major events of my political consciousness – the crossfire assassination of John F. Kennedy and the subsequent murder of patsy Lee Oswald – through Vietnam, the race riots in ‘67 and the seminal year of 1968; to coverage of the most criminal pre-Junior Bush administration in American history (Nixon and Watergate), Cronkite provided the first draft of a wild ride in history. He did it with a rock-steady hand, a lift of his bushy eyebrow and a sing-song baritone voice.
We now live in a time of a thousand of mediocre voices; squawking, torturing and reading the news. Unless you lived through it, it is hard to grasp what it meant for Cronkite to dominate and excel in a world when there were only a handful of distinct electronic voices. As the seminal news anchor and the executive editor of the CBS Evening News, his was the filter through which all the important news passed (and, if it wasn’t on his show, it wasn’t important). Although trivialized as "Uncle Walter", Cronkite was a serious man who bore the weight of his never-to-be-seen-again gate-keeper responsibilities with courage, class and wisdom.
And, at crucial times in that history, he made a couple of calls that helped bring an end one Stupid War and that helped bring down the criminal Nixon regime. If only someone of his gravity and insight were available when Bush made the final push towards his Stupid War on Iraq. If only Cronkite were there when the lies of the war and the daily violation of the Constitution by the Bush White House were exposed. He could have single-handedly saved hundreds of thousands of lives and quite a bit of the nation’s dignity.
It was Cronkite – the heroic, cheerleading WWII war correspondent – who came back from the jungles of Vietnam and put the lie to LBJ and his war. It was Cronkite who took Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting and made sense of it for a national audience, with charts, graphs and long segments of his Evening News devoted to Nixon’s crimes. He brought us the sorrow of the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations; and the curiosity and joy (at least for me, as a kid) of every Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space mission, culminating in the first lunar landing, being celebrated just this weekend.
On March 6, 1981, a group of us at the Daily Cardinal – including our dear departed friend, Keenan Peck – walked across University Ave. from our office to a bar on the corner to watch Cronkite’s last broadcast. We drank beers and laughed as we always did, jeered at Dan Rather as Cronkite handed him the baton and generally mocked the over-hyped media event. It was the end of an era, and we knew it.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Before I saw it, I was reeling.
Rick Esenberg and others were pummeling me on Rick’s post and the comments. I was "lathered up", a "poor student of history", a purveyor of "vituperation", "the angriest white man in Milwaukee" (really!). I need to "take instruction", says the oh-so-presumptuous visiting assistant professor of law, who generally takes his instruction from the likes of fellow Federalist Society members, the WMC and others in the right-wing, business-side legal community. In the comments, I am "seriously unhinged", not to be "dealt with", not worthy of a discussion that would include intellectual heavyweights like George Mitchell and Dad29.
As I drafted a comment that maintained my vituperous facade, I was crumbling inside to think that I had not met the lofty standards of the nut-right Milwaukee commentariat. I was searching my soul – assuming I had one – wondering how I could question the assignation of leftist characteristics to Nazis, white supremacists and anti-choice murderers. My failure to see the obvious evil in Al Gore’s movie, the threats in (Sen.) Al Franken’s comedy routines, the depravity of Michael Moore’s documentaries – it was all too much for me. Of course! I see my folly now! Looking around the house to make sure no one else was paying attention, I turned to The O’Reilly Factor to begin my long-delayed re-education.
Then I saw this:
As the story goes, an executive assistant for the Republican caucus chair of the Tennessee State Senate circulated an e-mail with a .jpeg attachment of apparent great hilarity. Titled "Historical Keepsake Photo", the file was a compilation of images of every U.S. president. And there, in the 44th spot, instead of Barack Obama, was a racist image of a black face with spook eyes. The staffer who sent it out to at least 20 people around the statehouse "only felt bad about sending it to the wrong list of people".
You can bet that, since she didn’t claim to create it, this thing has been in thousands of willing e-mail boxes before it got to her, and was never disclosed. Why? Because the extent of hate, racial and otherwise, for President Obama lies barely under the surface in certain segments of our society. Those in the right-wing media know this and stoke the fires of anger by stirring the pot, every hour of every day. Their intentions are political – they hope to win with irrational hatred what they cannot by political argument. But the more immediate results of the dehumanization of the "enemy" and the taunting by the wing-nuts for the powerless to strike out are things like the murder of Dr. Tiller and the Holocaust Museum murder.
And, let’s not forget the comments on my own blog that I highlighted in a post earlier this week, relating to violence against the President himself:
Please SOMEBODY take Doyle and the Obomination out. A Clear MAJORITY of this country will cheer when that happens.
someone please shoot the nigger and his wife in the head!!! PLEASE ANYONE?
LMAO, his mellon will be split open with a assassins bullet sooner rather than later is my bet
Where is that crazy lone gunmen when we need one, that is hope and change I look forward to
I suppose Esenberg would try to excuse the racist photo and the cheering for the President’s assassination as the work of possibly leftist sentiments. Perhaps thinks he could dig up something from a Democratic staffer somewhere that is as blatantly racist (he’d be wrong) or find similarly offensive assassination encouragement, perhaps during the Bush disaster (he can't).
More likely, Rick would try to pooh-pooh the sources of the e-mail from the Republican staffer and the comments on my site as of insufficient status to matter, clearly not representative of clear Republican "thought". Perhaps not. But these are the targets of the mainstream right-wing mouthpieces that so foul our political discourse. These are the people they neither reject or discourage.
You’d think that after a few assassination shout-outs, some racist e-mails, a couple of murders and whatever else lurks beneath the dark underbelly of right-wing hate, a respectable guy like Esenberg might want to encourage the people on his side to take a pill and chill, maybe take a step back. Instead, he is the Apologist, making excuses for the worst of it, blaming it on a leftist perspective that doesn’t exist and trying to say that our side does the same, and worse.
Like the great Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase, Esenberg seeks to shroud me as so much insignificant piffle. "But the stone stupid enthusiasm for the idea that people like me encourage hate and murder has gotten to me," muses the professor in his comments. "It's made me question whether talking to these people is worthwhile." Yes, the ivory tower of Marquette University is no place for such uncomfortable thoughts. Let us put it out of our mind as we prepare for the next inevitable example of right-wing violence and racist hatred by repeating our mantra:
Not Our Fault....Not Our Fault...
Sunday, June 14, 2009
But, where Esenberg gets in over his head is when he tries to drive a right-wing talking point that he knows (or should know) isn’t true. He is too smart to really think that President Obama is a Manchurian Candidate socialist with a Messiah complex, but he worked that tired saw all during the campaign and since.
In the past couple of days, he has joined the rest of the right-wing script-readers in a ridiculous attempt to pretend that two domestic terrorist incidents in the past couple of weeks had nothing to do with the overheated right-wing lunacy that permeate mainstream radio, Fox News and various blogs every time there is a Democrat in the White House. He even goes so far as to say that the Nazis in Germany had more in common with the left than the right. Next thing you know, he’ll be arguing that the disastrous Bush administration was run by a bunch of Democrats with a twisted penchant for unnecessary death and dark comedy. But once you start heading down that slippery slope of denial, this is where you end up.
The attempted re-definition of the obvious political dispositions of the two latest perpetrators of domestic terrorism is ludicrous on its face. The guy who killed legal abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has lurked in the shadows of the right-wing’s favorite anti-woman emotional wedge issue – the right of women to make up their own minds about what happens inside their own bodies – for years. The guy who shot up the Holocaust Museum is an old-school right-wing lunatic in the white supremacist/John Birch Society mode, howling at the moon about the control of the world by the Jews and interracial dating, proudly exercising his Second Amendment rights to wreak havoc in a public place (talk about open-carry!).
Before the blood was even dry in the Museum, the right-wing echo chamber was out using yet another tragedy for political purposes, spouting its predictable bullet points to deflect the notion that its decades-long campaign of hate rhetoric would have produced such obvious results from its weakest adherents. First, they went into deep denial about what their overheated squawkers are saying, over and over, and the predictable (preferred, even) impact of their pretend-impassioned entreaties. Second, they hilariously claimed that the murderous anti-choice activist and the murderous gun-toting white supremacist weren’t really right-wingers at all; in fact, they might be flaming lefties. And, for those who might not swallow that load of bullshit, they made the "point" that the left has its own extremists, resulting in – well, no one who has caused death with the bright light of world peace, universal health care, choice, etc. in their hearts, but, you know, they made us feel bad. Or something.
For reasons known only to himself, Esenberg buys into all of this. Although he admits he’s never watched a guy who has to be seen to be believed, he defends circus clown Glen Beck because he ultimately decided FEMA was not building concentration camps after he previously "reported" on them. He also says it was no big deal "calling" an abortion provider a "baby killer" (he’s talking about Bill O’Reilly) – apparently, you can be a professor at Marquette without knowing the difference between an unborn fetus and a "baby". Actually, now that I think of it, such delusion might be a job requirement.
He implies that Beck and O’Reilly spewed their invective in passing when, in fact, they both used the same intense, dog-on-a-bone hammer-driving that they and countless other right-wing megaphone-owners employ on any "issue" they get their manipulative hands on. Beck didn’t just "report" the absurd notion of FEMA concentration camps – he ran entire segments on the nutty notion for several weeks ("I can’t debunk it," he said ominously to the slack-jawed simpletons on Fox & Friends before quietly saying "never mind" weeks later). O’Reilly didn’t call Dr. Tiller a "killer" once or twice – he did it at least 24 times while making hating Dr. Tiller a personal campaign of his, saying at one point "if I could get me hands on Tiller...well, you know". Yeah, Bill, we know. Cowardly church-assassin Scott Roeder knew, too.
People like Beck and O’Reilly (and Limbaugh and Hannity and Sykes and Belling, etc.) don’t argue issues; they demonize opponents. Obama isn’t just wrong, he’s evil. What are you supposed to do with evil people, let them just walk around and not pay for their sins? What kind of patriot/Christian are you? This is the black-and-white fantasy world these people create for themselves and their emotional, fearful, imaginary target demographic: the angry-white-male who feels he is being emasculated and made powerless by other races, immigrants, feminists, gays, Democrats and anyone else who seem to be dancing happily in the streets while they sink further into their Lazy-Boy in High Life-enhanced depression. Of course some of them are going to strike out. The wing-nuts taunt them for being so stupid to sit there and accept "the situation", even if, like Obama’s election and the Democratic congress, it is a result of a healthy democratic process.
Esenberg also tries to get the murders off the right-wing books by toying with the notion that the Museum killer, anyway, "could just as readily be called a member of the extreme left as of the extreme right". This is nuts, of course. He tries to explain in his comment section. "White supremacy is not a ‘right wing’ view [sez who? It certainly always has been.] and one could argue that there is more anti-semitism on the left than the right." The latter point – made ad nauseam elsewhere by Esenberg’s fellow travelers – is that those who protest the Stupid War in Iraq complain about the "neocons" who talked Bush into it, "neocon" supposedly being a codeword for "Jewish" because many of them happen to be. This cheap dodge to addressing the real issues is nothing new, but no less cheap when propagated by Esenberg.
Finally, we get the I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I argument: the Left supposedly has its own overheated rhetoric that leads to, well, not murder, but, you know. He trots out the names of Howard Dean, Keith Olberman, Al Gore, Al Franken, and Joe Biden as people who are somehow just as "intemperate" as the wing-nut squawkers. And how’s that, exactly? Al Gore taking the nation to school on climate change (oh, Rick, you're not really a climate change denier, are you?) supposedly "could...prompt violence on the part of environmental radicals", he says in a comment. To Esenberg, information is not only power -- it's hate. Did Howard Dean say at some point that the Democrat/Republican contest was one between "good and evil", as Esenberg claims in a comment? So what if he did? Did he craft a whole show around the idea and drive it for years, as Sean Hannity does everyday to make the same point about how evil Democrats are? Esenberg pretends not to know the difference between an off-hand comment and the kind of concerted, talking-pointed campaign in which he often takes part.
The official right-wing echo chamber doesn’t directly promote violence because it doesn’t have to. They know if they spew enough poison in the air, a few of the more unbalanced in their audience will go off the reservation and act on the logical consequences of their hateful words and campaigns. This is the way they want it. Irrational , emotional appeals based on lies will not always get you where you need to go. But add a little danger and chaos to the equation and, well, as Hitler taught us, people will move.