Friday, October 31, 2014

Obama and the Heart of the City

North Division High School is in the Heart of the City.

I parked while the sun was still out on a beautiful fall day this Tuesday in the city at 13th and Clarke, two blocks from the school.  The area is almost exclusively populated by poor African-Americans in this most segregated of American cities.  There were a lot of people out on the street, standing on porches and hillsides overlooking the school's athletic field.  Many were middle-aged, trying to get a glimpse of the president's motorcade that was still more than an hour away.  Outside some of the rundown houses, standing in the doorways, young men dressed in ghetto black and baggy pants looked on curiously at the commotion, and, when they noticed my attention, ducked back inside.

As I walked up the street to the press entrance, thousands of people streamed in from every walk of life in Milwaukee.  Sure, it was primarily an African-American crowd, excited to see a legitimate hero and historical figure in the flesh and in the neighborhood.  But it was also working people of all colors of the rainbow.

President Barack Obama came to Milwaukee on Tuesday to campaign for Mary Burke, who is running to defeat the most radical, divisive governor in Wisconsin history.  As every Washington pundit on cable TV will tell you, Democrats around the country have not exactly been lining up to clasp hands with the president.  This is ridiculous advice from those goddamn consultants again, playing it "safe" when they should be using Obama, the best campaigner of his generation, regardless of what the polls say.  At North Division last night, Mary Burke was bravely proud to be seen celebrating her Democrat-ness with the president.  It was a stirring, joyful event.

I was there with a press pass as your wayward blogger.  I first got myself invited to the media pool for an Obama appearance in Green Bay during the push for health care reform in June 2009.  I was blogging regularly then and figured it didn't hurt to ask and they let me in.  Since then, I have seen President Obama from the media area at least three other times; in Waukesha, at Master Lock in Milwaukee, at Labor Fest just this September and I think there were more...

Seeing the President of the United States -- and, in Obama's case, the most famous person in the world -- up close so often has been inspiring and fun.  I have been a news and politics junkie ever since my dad put me on his shoulders to see Richard Nixon at Mitchell Field during the 1960 campaign (and still have this image of Nixon's shiny head poking out over a sea of trenchcoats).  The political theater of an Obama presidential visit has always been interesting to watch from behind the scenes -- the dour trudging of the local and national media, the hours of waiting for 30 minutes of talk, the Secret Service dancing around...

The most interesting time (so interesting, I didn't bother to blog it -- apparently the White House doesn't check to see if I actually do anything with the access provided) was just last month at Labor Fest on the Summerfest grounds.  It was not your standard get-a-ticket-from-the-party-and-stand-around-for-hours event -- Labor Fest is actually a real thing for a day, like one of the ethnic festivals.  Obama was on the Jazz Oasis (still, always) stage, like the rock star he sort of is.  The beautifully diverse working-class crowd on the benches in front were laughing, drinking beer, having a great old time on a gorgeous day.  The only people who were stuck in place were the poor souls the politicians always put behind them on the stage and make them sit for an hour before the event starts to create a human backdrop.  Eventually, Obama came out and kicked ass, as he always does. Cue the next band.

And Obama always does kick ass at a rally.  One of the right wing's most obnoxious memes and lies is that anyone ever looked at Barack Obama as "the Messiah",  born to lead us out of the undeniable darkness of the Bush years.  Obama was never that and never claimed to be.  He was and is simply a very talented communicator -- ten times more so and far more intellectually and personally honest than Saint Reagan.  Watching him in person from close range, as I have many times now, he never sounds a sour note, always speaks his own words, from the heart, with a great sense of humor and occasional flashes of brilliance.

The president has now made two trips to Milwaukee in the past two months; both in front of poor-to-working-class crowds.  By coming to Labor Fest and North Division, Obama showed a commitment to reaching out to those most affected by the successful drive by the business class and its sock-puppet, Scott Walker, to crush collective bargaining and suppress the wages of regular Americans. Even the visit before that -- at Master Lock in February 2012 -- was mainly before a working-class crowd on the edge of the inner city on 35th and North, although the white-collar employees of the company and the CEO were also welcome and celebrated.  Around here, anyway, Obama is certainly is not hiding from the victims of the Walker agenda and corporate greed -- he is fully engaged, and always has been, in trying to limit the damage and create a tide -- for instance, raising the minimum wage -- which would raise all boats.  He dives right in to the Heart of the City and fights for what is right.

This night's venue, North Division, is a still-proud high school half its previous size, located in a now-divided, underused MPS building, the victim of the right-wing attack on the public schools in Milwaukee.  Although the gym where the event was staged was dressed up for the camera's eye in bunting and bright lights, the building is showing its age and its status.  I have visited many suburban high schools during my awesome son's athletic career, and all those facilities are nice, clean, newer, with up-to-date equipment.  Not so at North Division. On the opposite side of the gym, behind the cameras, tired-looking banners from whatever is left of the City conference hung limply above the old bleachers.  In the hallway leading to the gym, a worn sign on a dirty office window reminded students about the $10 activity fee to be paid.  The entire building stood testament to the lack of support for public education in Walker's Wisconsin.

The setup for the event for many of the older people who were brought in early and provided chairs was horrible.  Many were behind the camera riser to the right of the stage and, at least early in the day, there was no sound projected back to them.  But they patiently sat and waited through the couple of hours it takes for these kinds of things to run their course.  The rest of the crowd was led into the area and stood in front of the stage, a delightfully diverse crowd, from the curious to the activist. While they waited, they listened to short but effective speeches by Rep. Gwen Moore, Mayor and former Walker opponent Tom Barrett and others.

The best preliminary speech was by a rising star in Wisconsin politics, if she can pull off a win in the race for Attorney General.  Susan Happ is sharp as a tack and has a lot going for her against disgusting sellout Brad Schimel.  I've only dealt with Schimel once, to extremely negative results for my victim/client, but he has a rep among other defense attorneys and prosecutors as "not bad" in Waukesha.  However, he has completely jumped the shark in this race, caving in to the Dark Side and saying all kinds of shit he never would if he hadn't sold his soul to the worst of the GOP.  I haven't had any cases in Jefferson County, but I have had a chance to meet Susan Happ twice in the last several weeks, including Tuesday night.  She appears to have a lot on the ball, a sparkling personality and, if she can get this win, there is no reason she shouldn't get a shot at higher office down the line.  And, she knows how to work a friendly crowd.

After the preliminaries, the crowd had to wait another hour for the main event. While they waited, the President's Playlist got them singing along to Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and, delightfully, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions "Keep On Pushing" (did I mention this was an older crowd?).

Eventually, Mary Burke came out to introduce the president and pretty much shined in the moment.  It was the same speech I heard her give at a fundraiser early this month.  I hope her and her campaign managers noticed that the biggest applause line for her was a call for an end to the divisiveness that the radical Republicans have brought to the state since their disastrous ascendancy. That should be the closing argument -- a return to sanity and (attempted) cooperation.  Not that the Republicans are ever going to be sane or cooperate -- at least one party will be there to try. At the end of both debates, Burke closed with a reminder that Scott Walker was the divide-and-conquer governor.  Remind us again, and often, in the closing days.

Finally, the president appeared, looking very skinny, in shirtsleeves, diving into the ropeline on his way to the stage, as Burke waited patiently.  Unlike most of the other times I saw him, this was not an "official" visit.  He was there to support Mary Burke and spent all of his time expertly contrasting her from the radical Walker.  Some of my favorite lines:
  • "I don't know why you'd run on a platform of making sure some folks don't have health insurance -- why would you do that? I mean, that's a weird thing to want -- I'm going to make sure folks don't have health insurance in this state.  That doesn't make any sense."
  • "We need to strengthen the middle class for the 21st century -- that means we need leaders from the 21st century, who actually believe that women should get paid the same as men for doing the same work....Sometimes it feels like these folks, they’ve been watching 'Mad Men' too much...
  • "Cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon.  Cynicism has never ended a war.  It has never cured a disease.  It did not build a business.  It did not feed a young mind.  Cynicism is a choice.  And hope is a better choice."
Those right wingers who pretend not to like Obama have never seen Obama.  He has faced the biggest roadblocks on everything from an opposition party in American history, and he still got things done, whatever he could.  This is a more vicious version the way the GOP treated Bill Clinton -- they simply refused to recognize the legitimacy of his presidency, even after two elections.  The phrase they use on Talk Radio all the time  to refer to Obama (at the direction of the GOP) is "this guy", as if he is just some guy off the street who stumbled into the White House.  The brutal personal deminishment of the president through Fox News, Talk Radio and others who coordinate talking points with the GOP is in large part racist.  Through it all, Obama stood strong and energized this week, in a battered inner city public school.

Walking up the street in the dark after the program, amidst the energized crowd streaming onto the sidewalk, the neighborhood transformed from the center of the ever-changing political universe to its drab, struggling normal.  At the Citgo station on the corner of 12th and Center, the same young men I saw in the doorways before the event hung out and looked again warily at the crowd.  They will stay in the Heart of the City, making things work as best they can.  And Barack Obama and Mary Burke will do their best to give them Hope.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Mistake Of Ignoring Talk Radio

If I hear one more Democratic office holder or campaign worker or one more goddamn consultant or politically-connected mucky-muck say they don't listen to local wing-nut Talk Radio, I am going to scream.

For reasons I fail to understand, Democrats and liberals completely ignore the powerful poison that is right-wing Talk Radio, especially in the Metro Milwaukee market.  I don't know if they think the Republican shills on WTMJ and WISN are just preaching to the converted or they just think what they are saying is too stupid to be taken seriously or they just can't be bothered with all this but...Christ!  Ignoring it and pretending it doesn't have a real effect in southeastern Wisconsin is worse than clueless -- it is political malpractice.

Take the Shame of Milwaukee County, newly-reelected Sheriff David Clarke -- please!  Clarke's horrible mismanagement of the sheriff's department and embarrassing nut-right pro-gun activism had made him a pariah in the community.  His ridiculous lie on the ballot itself that he was in any way a Democrat had run its course.  The Democratic voters of Milwaukee County were ready to send him back to whatever bought-and-sold right-wing hole he crawled out of eight long years ago.  But the self- and GOP-appointed campaign directors on the two radio stations joined forces to encourage their obedient listenership in the reddish suburbs to cross over and, like Clarke, pretend they were a Democrat and steal the Democratic nomination for the least Democratic Democratic candidate in Wisconsin history.

The national embarrassment that is David Clarke would not have been reelected have without Talk Radio.  And it did happen only because of Talk Radio -- they even got a post-primary "Winner" designation from the Journal Sentinel for their "work" on Clarke's campaign. If the hardening of the dark-red WOW ring of white counties surrounding Milwaukee like a noose in the past ten years and the numerous other skewed local elections weren't enough to get it through their thick skulls, you would think the sad Clarke reelection would get the attention of the Dem elite. But no.  The Wisconsin Democratic Party continues to ignore talk radio and its broader effect and implications.

This leaves the Republican party free reign to command over 20 hours of free advertising on Clear Channel and Journal Communications properties every weekday to spin local GOP propaganda and to outright campaign for Scott Walker and other Republicans.  This is all -- strangely, since this scheme is being played on the public airwaves -- without being challenged by the Federal Communications Commission.  Although corporate tool Ronald Reagan eviscerated the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 -- his only lasting legacy is the national scandal that is Talk Radio --  the FCC still has an Equal Time rule for broadcasters holding government licenses during election cycles. The rule says that, where a candidate is given free time on a station like WISN or WTMJ, an opposing candidate has to be given the same free time if they request it.

To my knowledge, the Burke campaign or other Democratic candidates have never requested equal time for all the dozens of hours of time Scott Walker has spent on Milwaukee Talk Radio with embarrassingly fawning, gushing, enraptured right-wing hosts.  If they did and were denied it, where are the FCC complaints and lawsuits? Every goddamn time Scott Walker is talking to his campaign-collaborating friends on Talk Radio, someone from the Burke campaign should, first of all, BE LISTENING, and then they should call in and request to have Burke on the radio for an equal amount of time.  If denied, they should immediately tweet that they were denied and then file a complaint with the FCC.

This seems like elementary stuff, but the goddamn Democratic consultants -- the same ones who went ahead with the hero-making Walker recall against the national Dems advice and ran that on "jobs" rather than against the radical actions of Republicans in Madison and are now running the Burke campaign on "jobs" rather than on using the governor as a check on the radical Republican agenda to come -- ignore Talk Radio because...well, for whatever stupid reason they ignore Talk Radio.  Talk Radio isn't just right-wingers jabbering at each other -- in the next three weeks it is going to be 20 hours of free advertising for Scott Walker, every day.

Starting tomorrow (Monday), Talk Radio will be fully loaded with talking points directly from the Walker campaign in reaction to last Friday's "debate".  They will beat up Burke for not having an answer for nice things to say about Walker -- an enormously stupid trick question by an older out-state reporter who should know better and should be embarrassed for asking it.  I would have loved it if Burke -- who went after Walker more than I thought she would in the rest of the debate -- would have said, no, there is nothing good about Scott Walker and his radical destruction of the very fabric of Wisconsin government and democracy and, "oh by the way, governor, how do you sleep at night?" But I understand why she couldn't because it was such a stupid question.  And every Talk Radio host will play that clip over and over, chuckling, snickering and gloating over the uncomfortable-by-design moment.

Scott Walker will spend hours on every show in the Milwaukee market and whoever else plays the Talk Radio game in the rest of the state, trying to explain his illuminating "it's not a jobs, it's a work problem" comment, blaming the unemployed for their own unemployment in his underperforming economy and otherwise hammering home his dreary, radical, wolf-in-sheeps-clothing agenda.  ("We're not done," he announced recently, which should send shivers up the spine of any reasonable Wisconsinite.) When they are not making sweet love to Walker in person, Talk Radio hosts will be talking direction from the campaign not only daily but hourly.  The only time they will take off from the Walker campaign will be taking more orders from the GOP, trying to get their lackey Brad Schimmel elected Attorney General.

All this is coming, predictably, and what are the goddamn Democratic consultants going to do about it?  Nothing, I'm guessing.  If turnout is the key in this election -- and it is -- a major reason more Republicans are now planning to vote than Democrats is because there are Talk Radio GOP stooges telling them how important it is, 20 hours every day.  We will never have that advantage -- and, frankly, since we are committed to fair play, we wouldn't use it as brazenly and shamelessly if we did.  But the goddamn consultants aren't even trying.  Or listening.

It is not too late.  There are things the Burke campaign could do to fight the Talk Radio advantage. Mary Burke has managed to get herself in a position to defeat and reject the disastrous Walker/GOP revolution in Madison.  It would be a shame if the elite moneyed interests pulling the strings of the Republicans are allowed to use their illegitimate Talk Radio advantage to put their sock-puppet governor over the finish line once more.   It is not too late for the Democratic consultants to get their goddamn act together.

But first, you have to listen and watch what Talk Radio is doing.  Next:  How to Watch Talk Radio

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Plagiarism", And Other Walker Lies

long time ago -- about 23 years or so -- I tried my hand at drafting a policy paper for a political candidate.  Well, not really a policy paper, as much as a tri-fold pamphlet for handing out at events and such.

The candidate was Joe Czarnezki, then a state senator running for County Executive against Tom Ament in 1992, who famously ended up winning and was eventually driven into retirement by a hysterical Journal Sentinel campaign against some pension revisions, which begot Scott Walker, which begot you-know-what...but I digress.

I don't know how I hooked up with Joe, who has since pleasantly evolved into the very affable and competent Milwaukee County Clerk.  I see him on the first floor the Courthouse once in a while.  We last chatted about the excitement surrounding the same-sex marriage weekend, when Joe and his staff stepped up with extended hours to provide licenses to many loving, deserving couples.  I was at the Public Defender at the time of his campaign and I remember sitting around a table in a law office with about 8 other people, excited to be in a politician's brain trust or idea circle, or whatever they call it.  Somehow I got tasked with putting together the candidate's crime pamphlet.

I don't remember how I did it, but I do think I finished the damned thing.  I imagine I did the same thing I would do now if given that assignment -- look at how other campaigns have handled the issue and seeing if Joe's views were the same or different.  I sure didn't try to do it from scratch.  This was pre-user-friendly-internet -- Compuserve and AOL were around, but no search engines to speak of.  You could do cut-and-paste in Word Perfect (and I still do -- "legacy program", my ass) but not really of other people's stuff on web pages.

So I was on my own to try to find something -- anything -- that would show me how to write this kind of innocuous politi-speak.  The idea was to say something "tough on crime" (like there is somebody who isn't)  that doesn't create controversy.  Which is to say: nothing.  And, I don't remember anything about the finished product, but I'm sure I accomplished just that -- nothing.  And I probably did it by finding some other candidate's piece somewhere and using it -- copying, paraphrasing, using it, whatever.

And, in races from school board to President, that's what everybody did.  And does.  There is no controversy in the majority of political issues in American campaigns.  Everyone says the same things in pretty much the same way, but they still feel compelled to say it anyway.  There is no reason to recreate the wheel when you are talking about, oh, jobs or rural development or whatever.  So, at, say, the governor level, you get some dweeb on the lower level of your consultant's agency to throw something together. No big deal.

But when you are the increasingly-desperate Scott Walker campaign (or, more likely, a campaign-coordinating "think" tank) with a bunch of kids in the opposition research boiler room with time on their hands and directions to find anything -- anything! -- to "define" (read: defame) or embarrass the thus-far Teflon-coated Democratic candidate, the policy papers that no voter with any sense would bother to read get poured over, researched and googled.  When you can't find anything to criticize in the plans -- and these things are so innocuous and substance-free on purpose, they can't be challenged except on the grounds that "it put me to sleep" -- you look for errors of fact (always ironic for the fact-free Walkerites) or devious sources of ideas in the hopes of making some kind of noise to stir up your stupid, knuckle-dragging base.  "Look, Mary Burke encourages that communities 'organize' to produce and save jobs! 'Organize'! Just like Saul Alinsky!"

So just imagine when Dweeb 314 in the bowels of the "Club" for "Growth" -- as discussed before, a Dark Money front that is neither a "club" nor are the functionaries operating under that name interested in "growth" of anything but the fatcats' fat wallets -- finds this sleep-inducing passage in the Burke jobs policy paper:
 "Supporting the development of public-private partnerships by working to match small farmers with business professionals to help farmers improve management, develop new markets plans and improve use of risk management tools and risk-reduction strategies."
Bold stuff, that.  No one could have possibly written that kind of dreary policy language on their own.  The dweeb explores his trove of useless knowledge...Yes! That failed candidate in Tennessee in 2009!  He looks up the jobs paper of the beyond-forgettable Ward Cammack and...there it is! The exact same sentence!  Paydirt! That cushy job in the WEDC is as good as his now.

Only one problem...who gives a shit?  Candidates of like mind borrow and trade ideas and language all over the place every day.  Anyone coming up with something original, even by accident, knows it might be cribbed and is usually honored when it is.  Somewhere in Nashville or wherever, Mr. Cammack is not jumping around screaming for a royalty check.  He's probably still sitting around waiting for someone to call to see if he cares.  So the value of Dweeb 314's magical discovery is only as good as who you can get to repeat it enough that Walker flunkies can have something negative about Burke to talk about.

But Republicans have nothing if not a ready-to-help right-wing media willing to eat and regurgitate anything they are fed. The campaign's first stop was the throw-it-up-against-the-wall-maybe-something-will-stick website Buzzfeed and its "reporter" Andrew Kaczynski, a veteran Republican oppo researcher, er, dweeb.  Kaczynski was more than happy to help the Walker campaign set up its smear of Mary Burke by running with the "news" that Burke had a few innocuous phrases in her jobs plan that might have been slightly familiar to a failed candidate in Tennessee and a couple other people whose consultants worked with the same writer.

You can almost hear the pretend-reporter on the phone with the Walker staffer..."Really, you think it might be helpful?...but everyone in politics recycles this kind of bullshit...you just did it last week...well, alright, if you think you could use it for something..."  So Kaczynski dutifully runs something, no doubt based on the GOP research and probably without attribution to his source. [It's hard to tell exactly, since the first post he wrote on this was interestingly scrubbed and replaced with this after Burke let the drafting consultant go.]

All expected from the right-wing media.  This whole thing would have been a drop in the poison bucket for talk-radio and other fellow travelers of the radical governor, who would make wild, ridiculous accusations of "plagiarism" for a day before moving on to the next talking point on the campaign's script.

Enter the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and reporter Dan Bice.

Bice's stuff is always interesting reading, even when he is, as in this case, too willing to be led by the nose by obvious charlatans.  He has made a nice recovery from the days of The Spice Boys, where he was chained to the snarky political bent of his partner, Cary Spivak, who has long since been shuffled off to other pages.  Now, Bice plays it straighter, but, as the go-to guy for political dirt, he can still be spun into running the thinnest of stories from the most questionable sources.  For instance, he has a bad recent habit of citing stories from Dark Money-funded fake-news sites like "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Media Trackers".

So, for whatever reason, Bice bit on the Burke-cribbed-some-language story, legitimizing the fake concern of the tut-tutting Republicans, happy to have anything other than Walker's failed, radical administration to talk about.  While he blamed his first long article -- complete with quoted and highlighted passages of the above and other such innocuous passages -- on the Buzzfeed "reporting", his second piece a few days later went straight to the horse's, er, mouth, taking new "less egregious" passages straight from the Walker campaign.

While careful not to use the word "plagiarize", Bice's validation of the non-story gave rise to a flurry of overheated insincere fake "outrage" by the Usual Suspects in the Republican party, talk-radio (but I repeat myself) and, of course, the Journal Sentinel's in-house Walker shill, Christian Schneider, a life-long Republican staffer who knows first hand what a joke it is to make an issue of political language-borrowing. The elitist Schneider used his column to call the drafting by Burke's consultants "a serious offense...demonstrat[ing] her bankruptcy of ideas and her reliance on media experts to build her plans.  A Walker stooge complaining about another candidate's "bankruptcy of ideas" and "reliance on media experts"...now that's funny. Walker is the most inauthentic, unoriginal, consultant-dependent Dark Money sock-puppet in Wisconsin history.

But, the newspaper ran news articles about the "controversy" for five days straight (including Burke apparently failing to properly recite the dictionary definition of "plagiarism" to the reporter's satisfaction -- she didn't do that bad; you try it.)  The absurd running focus on the non-story by the newspaper led to all the predictable results -- a J-S editorial, Walker campaign ads, ludicrous calls for Burke to quit the race by state senators and the King Dweeb of the RNC, Reince Priebus, etc.

All of this happened not because there was any substance to it, but because Dan Bice decided to trot out what he knows is Walker campaign bullshit in the newspaper.  Bice at least noticed me tweaking him on Facebook. "Mike, do you really think this is not a story?" he asked in a comment to one of my snark-posts.  (Answer: Of course it's not.) In another, he has a fine glass of Journal Sentinel Whine: "I'm getting it from the right and the left. Time for a promotion."  That's the last refuge of the J-S reporter or editor up against the wall. "Everyone complains, we must be doing something right." Except that the complaints on the right are mostly made up to smear the mainstream media when the facts don't go their way (which is always).  We complain when the paper gets spun by liars and cheats and when they bend over backwards to be "fair" by trying to get an equal number of negative stories to both sides.  But both sides are not equally responsible for poisoning the political dialog of the state and country with over-amplified lies.  That would be the Republicans.

The paper has managed to go a couple of days now without mentioning the Story That Wasn't.  And it must not have tested well for Walker -- even he and his talk-radio buddies seemed to have moved on, for now.  Last week, it appears that the Walker campaign sent out directions to its pliant sycophants in the right-wing media to try to change the subject by again playing up the smear of straight-arrow DA John Chisholm by the obviously delusional and vindictive Michael Lutz. That smear was also prompted by a Bice story (originally "reported", natch, in a Dark Money "legal news" website) was only slightly mitigated by his after-the-fact reporting of the many reasons not to believe Lutz about anything.

Chief Walker collaborator Charlie Sykes late last week actually had the lying Lutz, on his Walker infomercial program, spinning his ludicrous fantasy of a DA's office rife with blue-fisted rage. Then, the ever-helpful Christian Schneider -- The Shame of the Journal Sentinel -- used his featured Sunday column today to promote the same lies. Throughout his dreadfully-written piece, Schneider ignores the fact that the 7th Circuit this week confirmed that states have the right to enforce their non-coordination statutes, which Walker and his campaign clearly violated and continue to violate every day. The special prosecutor (long-since not John Chisholm) has the right to investigate and prosecute. Schneider uses a tortured "Fight Club" analogy, claiming that he knows that the "active ingredient" in the investigation to be a "personal vendetta" or some such nonsense.  But he knows that the active ingredient in John Doe II is The Truth, from which he and Walker are constantly running.

We can expect much more of this facts-be-damned Burke-bashing and Walker-protecting in the coming weeks from the pliant right-wing media and the clueless Journal Sentinel.  In the meantime, if anyone finds that crime piece from the Czarnezki campaign wants to borrow some or all of it, be my guest.  You might want to check with Joe first.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Strictly Speaking, PolitiFact's Pants are on Fire

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's version of PolitiFact (a franchise rented from the Tampa Bay Times) has been recklessly careening down the road for at least four years now. Full of self-appointed sanctimony, the PolitiFact editors and reporters presume to determine fact from fiction in political matters.  But, instead of producing clarity and consensus on the Truth, the project has resulted in just more acrimony, finger-pointing and you-got-it-wrong confusion.  

It has been a wildly inconsistent feature, randomly selecting items to evaluate, some of which need no evaluation.  Who cares if Sen. Ron Johnson claimed  college students "are taking six years to get a four-year degree." Did someone else claim this wasn't true? Who cares if blowhard right-wing darling Ald. Bob Donovan said an alderman has never defeated an incumbent mayor? It's not like he has any chance to do it, so who cares?

While exploring the uncontroversial on a regular basis, the PolitiFacters mostly ignore the biggest peddlers of fake controversy and political lies -- wing-nut talk radio hosts.  According to the web page index, it appears that, of all the local purveyors of radio propaganda that poisons the political dialog across the state, only WISN's resident racist/sexist Mark Belling has been the subject of an article, and that was about some comments about Russ Feingold's garage way back in 2010. Journal Communications own (for now) resident Republican mouthpiece Charlie Sykes escapes without the project reviewing any of the many lies he has told through the years.  What is the point of have a clearinghouse for the disposition of political lies if you are not going to touch the trove of bullshit that is Milwaukee Talk Radio?

When not evaluating the trivial and the mundane and ignoring the obvious, PolitiFact sometimes dips its toe into what passes for the Big Issues of Our Time, with extremely mixed results.  The national PolitiFact project famously and foolishly declared Democrats' claims that Paul Ryan's stated plan to privatize health care for the elderly would "end Medicare" -- which, of course, it would -- "False" because, I suppose, whatever inferior program that resulted would still be called Medicare. They even called it (get this) the Lie of the Year in 2011. Nothing like getting something wrong and then making it that much wronger.

In Wisconsin, the PolitiFact project has served at times to legitimize and validate the excesses of the radical Republicans in Madison.  During their assault on state and local government, teachers and the very soul of progressive Wisconsin governance that began in 2011, the PolitiFact reporters and editors have always been there to lend a hand to put out the fire when someone pointed out the obvious result of the GOP jihad's many excesses. For instance, when the Democratic Governors Association pointed out in 2011 that Walker and the Republicans' assault on the right to vote in the form of a photo ID requirement would "deny Democrats the right to vote", they got the ooo-so-scary "Pants On Fire" rating.   Never mind that the law would actually prevent some Democrats from voting and that that is the very intent of such laws across the nation.  "Tut-tut", says the Lords of PolitiFact.  "Democrats still get to vote".  Well, sure.  Some of them.

But you don't want to be too hard on PolitiFact.  The project does have some of the best reporters still remaining at the soon-to-be foreign-owned (believe me -- I lived in Cincinnati for a year) "media content provider".  And they have slapped many "Pants On Fire"s and "False"s on Walker and company.  But one of the problems inherent in these kinds of mainstream media things is they think they have to be so damned even-handed.  So they find the off statement by some out-of-power Democrat and treat it like its just as bad as the lies of the in-power, gerrymandered GOP steamroller.

As Paul Krugman has said, even though one party (the Republicans) lies more and benefits from an alternate fact universe of lies on Fox News and talk radio, the straight press will not point that out.  Ominously dreading the 2012 political cycle (and, boy, was he right) Krugman wrote:
"And all indications are that the press won’t know what to do — or, worse, that they will know what to do, which is act as stenographers and refuse to tell readers and listeners when candidates lie. Because to do otherwise when the parties aren’t equally at fault — and they won’t be — would be “biased”. This will be true even of those news organizations specifically charged with fact-checking. Yes, they’ll call out some lies — but they’ll also claim that some perfectly reasonable statements are lies, in order to keep their precious balance."
To a large extent, the reaction to any given PolitiFact piece is driven my whose ox is being gored -- or, since PolitiFact's reputation is too weak and disrespected to matter much to anyone, whose ox has to swat mildly annoying flies.  Other than campaign operatives that might (might) brag about a "True" "ruling" (no kidding -- that's what they call it) or a "False" for the opponent, nobody spends more than two seconds pondering the implications of any PolitiFact conclusion.  The arbitrary sliding scale of "mostly" this or "half" that lets political worms like Scott Walker wiggle off the hook, giving way too benefit to those it is mandatory to doubt.  Far from being the Last Word about anything, PolitiFact is just another ball bouncing around the political court, kicked from here to there, mostly to the curb of indifference.

But for all its banality, PolitiFact, whether they get it right or wrong, at least usually sticks to the actual wording of the statements they are evaluating.  That was not the case on this past Sunday, when reporter Tom Kertscher slapped a "Mostly False" tag on the state AFL-CIO's Entirely True statement that Walker and the other radicals in Madison had given "a $10,000 tax deduction to millionaires who send their kids to exclusive private schools" in the 2013-15 budget.

Boy, I can do this one just sitting here...yep, the GOP enacted the up-to-$10,000 tax deduction to the parents of a kid in any private school...no income limit to take the deduction...millionaires with kids in any private school who had been just fine paying the full freight since the incorporation the the Village of Fox Point now get $10,000 off their taxable income... That was easy. True! Hey, maybe there should be a new board game -- the home version of PolitiFact.  Anyone can play.

But, hold on there, silly naive simple-statement-reading amateur.  When it comes time to break down his analysis, Kertscher has a whole different statement on his mind. "So, did Walker carve out a $10,000 private-school tax break strictly to benefit millionaires?" [Emphasis added.]

OK, that's not what the AFL-CIO said or meant.  It said millionaires got the tax break. By inserting the word "strictly" into the statement, Kertscher completely changed the meaning of the statement and, of course, what is now Kertscher's statement was "Mostly False".  Hell, it's "Pants On Fire".

So outraged was I by this uncharacteristic journalistic malpractice (PolitiFact's sins are of story selection and interpretation, not of usually of fact-twisting) that I lurched off the couch of my nearly 2-year hiatus from this blog; deciding not only to write but to do some reporting myself.  For the first time since I began posting on this thing in 2006, I actually checked with someone I was going to be writing about.  I emailed Tom, who nicely responded and handed it off to editor Greg Borowski, as is their policy.

For the sake of accuracy, I'll include Borowski's entire response:

Hi Mike:
Thanks for the heads up -- a courtesy, it seems, most don't apply before they write about us.
You asked about our "PolitiFact article ... about the AFL-CIO statement that Walker’s tax break for private school tuition benefits millionaires." However, I don't think your characterization of the union's claim -- that the tax break merely benefits millionaires along with, presumably, others -- is accurate.
Here is the statement we evaluated: "Scott Walker has given a $10,000 tax deduction to millionaires who send their kids to exclusive private schools."
The flier goes on to question why that money was not used instead for "the children who are being educated in public schools. Working families are still waiting for an answer." So, there is no mention that the tax break goes to everyone. Instead, it is framed around the idea that working class folks are the ones missing out.
With no additional information (and in the context of a flier that sends the overall message that Walker is favoring the wealthy at the expense of the working class), how else is the average voter to understand the claim, but that the tax break went strictly to millionaires?
Beyond that, I would simply offer that we rated this statement consistent with the nearly 800 others we have rated since we began four years ago.

Best regards,
Greg
So Borowski and/or Kertscher decided on their own what the AFL-CIO meant, ignoring the clear context presented by the union -- that whatever portion of this ridiculous handout is going to the millionaires takes away from working class kids in public schools.  I asked in a reply email whether the reporter asked the union if that's what they meant.
Did you ask them if they meant to even imply "strictly"? Did they deny it? You give Walker flacks all kinds of chances to weasel out of their often-false implications. Not here apparently.  The worst case is if you asked, they denied and you ran it this way, without telling us they denied. You wouldn't do that, would you?
Borowski did not answer and ignored the question in a reply. Cue the violins: "Going forward, I guess we should rate everything True because, well, the speaker and their supporters think it is." Yeah, sure, that's really what we are talking about, Greg. To quote you: Come on. The fact is what they said and what they meant was True. And your redrafting it in your own Walker-protecting image was Pant On Fire shit journalism.

You hope that the PolitiFact reporter and editor involved here were not affected by the Journal Sentinel's decades-long campaign against public schools.  After over 25 years of the failed voucher "schools" experiment -- where more kids have been harmed from being warehoused crap "choice" "schools", some started by rich vultures like Mark Neumann and Bill Bennett, than in any working-as-hard-as-they-can MPS school -- the Journal Sentinel continues its campaign to undermine public schools in Wisconsin.  And that campaign has always bled into the news coverage, which has largely ignored the horrors of poor parents being taken advantage of by charlatans posing as educators.

Maybe this twisting and reinvention of the facts to support even more state money to private schools is part of it.  All I know is, for whatever reason, PolitiFact Jumped the Shark with its "Mostly False" rating of a statement the union never made.

We rule this -- Pants On Fire. At least.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Christian Schneider and the Shame of the Journal Sentinel

Americans for Prosperity -- a Dark Money front funded by the pollution-and-power-addicted Koch Brothers of Kansas and New York -- are active in Wisconsin again, not that they ever left.  Hours after a sweat-inducing poll a month ago showing that the race for Wisconsin governor is currently tied, the Walker campaign (no doubt) coordinated with AFP -- which is neither a group nor are the check-writers involved concerned in the least for anyone's "prosperity" but the Koch's -- to drop $866,000 in Wisconsin media markets on slick advertising with people and/or actors pretending to be pleased by the havoc wreaked on the state by Scott Walker and the radical Republicans in Madison in the past four years.

"$866,000, six months before the election," you think. "Boy, that's a lot."  But, in the post-Citizens United era of limitless Republican money and the post-Randa-approved (for now) coordination of resources and strategy between the Dark Money entities and Walker's 24/7/365 campaign, you ain't seen nothing yet.  $866K is what they call chuckle money in the depressing bowels and ivory towers of the right-wing hierarchy and the state capitol.  If anyone complains about that kind of spending, they chuckle. Haha, as the kids text.  If you think that kind of coordinated spending to promote the effort to fool Wisconsin into electing Walker again the least bit interesting, just wait.  You ain't seen nothing yet.

Yes, the well-coordinated Dark Money of the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation and other of the self-serving rich will flow again to Wisconsin for the rest of this year because wealthy billionaires and corporate interests want to keep Scott Walker ensconced in its previously proud governor's office to serve and do their bidding.  And, for the purpose of the campaign, they are willing to do his. But the obscene spending by the silver-spooned elites to promote their selfish, destructive agenda is not the worst of the poison that pervades the current political environment in state in general and the southeast Wisconsin in particular.

No, the worst element warping the state to the right is our very own Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  In its news pages and especially on its opinion pages, the biggest newspaper in the state has completely abdicated its responsibility to be an honest arbiter of political discussion.  Hiding behind a veneer of reasonableness by taking some weak-kneed progressive stances on issues that will never progress -- their constant harping on redistricting reform is hilarious, none more so than to GOP leaders in the Capitol, who laugh out loud every time they read another one -- the newspaper has been lurching rightward in its news coverage and -- especially -- the opinion pages for years.  By promoting the disaster that is school "choice", encouraging the decimation of local control and the Milwaukee County Board and otherwise standing on the sidelines while the radical Republicans run amok in Madison, the once-proud (at least the Journal half of it) paper is now just a willing and useful tool for the hard-right Walker regime.

Following in the footsteps of its parent company -- which runs wing-nut poison through its radio stations not only here but elsewhere in the country and promoting and funding the Right Wisconsin propaganda and Sykes-vanity website -- those running the newspaper also seem to think their future is in right wing advocacy and nonsense.  In the years since the Journal and Sentinel merged publication in 1995, the increasingly right-wing editorial board of the newspaper has jettisoned its few liberal voices like Joel McNally and Eugene Kane to the dustbin of forgotten columnists and not bothered to replace them with anyone with a consistently progressive perspective, much less anti-Walker or pro-Barrett (now Burke) sentiments.

Instead, in their place are white-hot right-wing Walker-coordinated extremists like Patrick McIlheran and, now, Christian Schneider.  As chief clown in the right-wing parade for much of the '00s, McIlheran had free reign at the paper to make up any old nonsense he wanted.  Of course, that was until the anti-government zealot left the paper to begin his career as a federal employee, working PR and putting words in the mouth of Sen. Ron Johnson, the biggest buffoon in a Wisconsin Senate seat since Bobby Kasten.  From their elitist perch in Washington, RoJo and McIlheran have gone on to make beautiful music together, to the amusement of all.

It was around the time of McIlerhan's flight to federal pay, benefits and pension that the paper started running talking-pointed Republican press releases under the name of "Christian Schneider" on its opinion pages.  Schneider -- who, according to his LinkedIn page has never worked in journalism and whose only political experience is as a flunky in the state Capitol as a staffer for various Republicans -- was working for a Dark Money entity, the Bradley-funded "think" tank WPRI at the time his columns first started appearing in the paper.  His columns then had a disclosure at the end that Schneider worked for WPRI, which the paper laughingly referred to as "a non-partisan organization".  They did the same with Mike Nichols, who now runs the same right-wing organization.  Under David Haynes, the opinion pages have been just in love with WPRI, even to the extent of covering up its true nature.

And now, Schneider is an official columnist with the paper.  Part time, supposedly, and not being paid by WPRI anymore. Supposedly. Getting paid by other right-wing moneybags? Probably.  I mean, they all get paid -- that's why they spout this unoriginal tripe that they are too smart to believe.  I have the inclination but not the time to research what else Schneider is up to.  But here's something interesting that pops up on his LinkIn page: He offered a recommendation to someone who worked at the Alabama Policy Institute "as a fellow think tank employee" in March 2013.  As you can see from the link, API appears to be a fairly typical GOP Dark Money conduit.  I don't know if he is still working there or if he was officially an employee of the paper when he was.  I also don't know if Journal Communications still has an outside employment policy -- that appears to have been trashed a long time ago by Charlie Sykes double-dipping at WPRI and god-knows-where-else.

From the beginning until now, Schneider has consistently toed the Republican/Walker party line of the moment, when he wasn't writing it and developing it himself.  Schneider columns have always a dreary consistency -- he starts with something off topic that he thinks is amusing before diving into the talking-pointed tripe. Engaging recently on FaceBook with J-S associate editorial page editor Ernst-Ulrich Franzen, trying to smoke him out as to why Schneider was so prominently featured at the paper (and it's like pulling teeth to get anybody at the Journal Sentinel to talk about what the hell they are doing over there), he called him a "distinctive conservative voice".  What a laugh.  Schneider is about as distinctive from Charlie Sykes or any of the other Walker-coordinated voices in the free right-wing media as Rush Limbaugh is from Sean Hannity.

So, fine.  Marty Kaiser and David Haynes want to have a Republican voice above the fold on the opinion page every Sunday and other times of the week, without a counter-balanced progressive voice.  Whatever.  Those are their pages and their journalistic ethics on the line.  You would hope, as the biggest newspaper in the state, that they would want to play it a little more straight, be a more responsible corporate citizen and not turn the paper into the Wall Street Journal, at least until Australian Rupert Mudoch, David Koch or some other people buy them out and they can dive in without apologies.  Their choice; our loss as an informed electorate.

But, as the 2014 election for governor gets into full swing. Schneider's "work" at the newspaper has taken an ugly turn. He has dropped all pretense of being a casual conservative observer and dived headlong into a full-time campaigner for Scott Walker.  Of all the various forces, groups and voices the Walker handlers are coordinating with, Schneider is the most widely read, influential and obedient.  All of his columns are of a sickening piece, but, in the last month, four stand out as straight-from-the-campaign dictation.

On May 24th, Schneider boldly declared that Mary Burke is "the Candidate who isn't there".  It is a straight-up hit job on Burke, who, the Walkerites know all too well, is still relatively unknown to Wisconsin voters.  The Walker cronies on talk radio have been working hard since her name first got mentioned as a possible candidate to define her negatively before she gets a chance to define herself, and Schneider is more than willing to help, with a deliberately misleading and disingenuous review of her positions and ideology.  The piece runs above the fold on the front page of the Sunday opinion page -- not down the gutter on the back page where his column usually (but not lately) resides.

Exactly one week later, Schneider again is allowed a prominently-displayed hit piece on Mary Burke -- and this time, it's personal.  Accusing her of taking a "cheap shot" at voter-suppression-obsessed Republicans, Schneider just can't get over his fake outrage about anyone who would take a political shot at someone during a discussion of crime in Milwaukee.  This, from a member of the same right-wing media cabal that had been taking pot shots at Mayor Barrett and Chief Flynn for weeks, taking it as an opportunity to promote the overheated rantings of David Clarke (who, by the way, NOT a Democrat).  Before or since all of this double-barreled very personal attacks on Mary Burke, not one columnist or editor has come to her defense.

And then there is last week.  After an excellent piece about racist talk radio in Milwaukee and its (no doubt) coordinated effect on Walker's election and prospects in the New Republic on Monday morning June 16th, the entire right-wing media -- starting with the morning talk-radio puppets -- lept into action to defend themselves, but mostly Walker.  As if on cue (because he was), Schneider and his editors rushed a column onto the web site, attacking the writer (of course) and expressing shock -- shock! -- that anyone would accuse Our Governor of being a racist!  But Schneider misses the point, on purpose. Republicans have always used their useful stooges on talk radio to say the racist things -- code-worded and otherwise -- so the politicians themselves don't have to.  But the Walker-as-victim meme was part of the plan so, there he went.

On Thursday, June 19th, of course, the John Doe documents were released (the Walker stooges were instructed to call it a "document dump") and all hell broke loose in WalkerWorld and Christian Schneider was more than willing to join the fight against the forces of Truth.  Within hours of the release, Schneider was up with an article, trumpeting all the talking-points we heard from Walker and the other fellow travelers for the next week (still).  After seeing this, I again challenged Franzen as to why the newspaper runs such obvious rapid-response Walker campaign columns by Schneider whenever he (and the campaign) wants.

I related what followed on FaceBook after I called out Franzen and his newspaper.  This is my post on June 22nd.  Franzen has not responded or complained that I got anything wrong:
Christian Schneider hits the hat trick for Walker in the Journal Sentinel. Thursday: five minutes (seems like) after the "criminal scheme" documents are released, JSOnline zooms Schneider's rapid-response tripe onto its web page. Ernst-Ulrich Franzen promises in a comment to me here that the (no doubt) Walker-coordinated defensive piece would not run in the newspaper itself. Friday: Most of Schneider's "featured blog" crap is quoted in bold type on the edit page of the print version. Saturday: Franzen sends a comment that, ooops, the Walker-as-Schneider press release will run as a column in the paper. Sunday: There it is, in all its smarmy glory. 
You wonder what kind of conversations and lobbying went on in the editorial board to get the piece in the paper. You wonder what kind of deal the Kings of State Street have cut with Schneider and/or Walker and/or WPRI or whatever other Dark Money entity that allows Schneider to run, every week, pro-Walker and anti-Burke screed on a whim. You wonder why the paper has not bothered to try to get someone to consistently present the other side (other than their own very occasional editorials). You wonder how far the Journal Sentinel has fallen and how far it has yet to go into the abyss of right-wing advocacy.
It really is sad to see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel slide into this kind of right-wing hole, all for the sake of a power-mad governor.  It is not worth the loss of credibility, prestige and community respect they have suffered in recent years.  But, as I said, it's their choice.  And our loss.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

All or Nothing for Scott Walker

Scott Walker's Achilles heel may be his star-struck need to be loved and noticed by national Republican heavyweights.

During the furor caused by the radical governor's decimation of Wisconsin government in the dark winter and spring of 2011, Walker was comically recorded giving warm platonic phone sex to a brilliant prankster pretending to be democracy-killer David Koch.  Walker, usually a publicly dreary on-message robot, became an effusive chatterbox with fake-Koch, even accepting an invitation to one of fake-Koch's imaginary Xanadu mansions in California after the smoke had cleared on Wisconsin democracy.

Walker apparently did the same thing in August of that year in a revealing and potentially incriminating email to the real Karl Rove.  Earlier this year, when emails were released from the Kelly Rindfleisch investigation from the time Walker was pretending to be Milwaukee County Executive, Walker's contributions were short and terse.  It was as if he could barely be bothered with his puny office drones and the details of the campaign that was being run out of his office in the Courthouse, much less (and I mean much less) his duties as county exec.

But in the email to Rove (the details of which are only hinted at in the too-brief excerpt quoted in the documents released this week), Walker is as giddy as a school-boy, bragging to the putrid Rove about how nicely everybody with dark money in the state was coordinating with his and other official campaign committees; "a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin".

There is more, of course -- much more.  Just the fact that RJ Johnson was (and still is) wearing (at least) two hats -- one with the campaign and the other as a conduit for the Koch brothers and other dark money as the main check-writer for the Club for Growth (which is a sham "organization"; neither a "club" nor are they much interested in anyone's "growth") is an outrageous F-you to anyone's previously universal understanding of the need for at least pretending that the "outside groups" (which are neither "outside" nor "groups" -- just different names and PO boxes laundering the same dark money) are not coordinating with the official campaigns.

[What would be even more interesting is the complete list of who the campaign was coordinating with in the free media.  Any complete list would have to include the wingnut talk radio circuit -- run in Milwaukee by Clear Channel and Journal Communication Inc. -- which seems to exist, especially in a panicked time like this, as a 24/7 Walker defense and promotion operation.  Every day, WISN and WTMJ provide hours upon hours of free advertising for Walker, always in sync with the campaign's message-or-the-day.  And Walker sometimes spends much of his day gabbing on the phone with his friends Jay, Vicki, Mark, Charlie and Jeff.  Also on the list would have to be the most prominently distributed Walker shill in the universe, Christian Schneider, a long-time Republican operative who, for reasons known only to the Journal Sentinel's clueless editorial board, has carte blanche to print Walker campaign talking points whenever he (and Walker) wants in the biggest (and most disappointing) newspaper in the state. But I digress.]

In his filing, the John Doe prosecutor laid out a very persuasive case for what the campaign coordination statute means, how it has been historically interpreted and why he has to investigate further.  But Walker and his handlers obviously took off on a radical path to completely ignore Wisconsin campaign law.  They didn't bother to rewrite it -- they just flaunted the law.  With the radical Republicans running amok in Madison, they certainly could have changed the law; or they could have gone to court for a declaratory judgement that the state's law was unconstitutional.  Instead, they just went ahead and coordinated and plotted and schemed in a manner nobody had dared to do, ever.

Walker's bevy of lawyers may have had some legal advice in their back pocket, in case they got caught (which they now have been).  But they didn't bother to tell anyone about it.  They developed their schemes in secret, hiding in broad daylight as the state was flooded with campaign-coordinated dark money.  The fact that they were coordinating messages and strategy was fairly obvious -- especially in retrospect -- but if you asked them back then, of course they would have denied it.

In fact, if Walker ever exits the cocoon of Fox News and talk radio where he has lived since Thursday and talks to a legitimate news reporter again, someone should ask him about the details of what exactly he was doing back then that he is now so proud of, now that the case is "over", as Walker falsely declared to his friendly interviewers in his desperate last couple of days..  "Was your campaign coordinating with the outside groups, governor?  When did it start?", etc.  I'll bet he doesn't answer the question -- he'd be crazy to do so.

The reason is because Walker and his lawyers know very well that the case is far from "over".   The lawyers for the dark money operators managed to convince one friendly federal judge and one state judge of their novel theory that the part of the state statutes prohibiting coordination between campaigns and outside groups, as written and as always interpreted, was unconstitutional.   But it is by no means guaranteed that the conclusion that dark money groups and campaigns can coordinate with dark money all they want as long as the dark money ads don't say "vote for Walker" will stand in the Courts of Appeals or even the post-Citizens United Supreme Court.

It is not Federalist Society activist Judge Rudy Randa who is going to have the last word on this -- it will be Justice Anthony Kennedy. As an excellent New York Times editorial noted this morning: "Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy promised in 2010 that there was nothing to fear from independent spending groups that raised unlimited dollars. Because they could not coordinate with political candidates, he wrote in the Citizens United decision, they 'do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.'" Having written that, how could Kennedy now follow the right-wing of the Court off the cliff by saying that anything goes for anyone with a checkbook and a candidate in their pocket? Hopefully, the bright line of campaign coordination with dark money is one the Fifth Justice will not cross.

Scott Walker better hope he does.  And the panic of Walker and everyone around him in the last few days makes clear he knows it. There is no middle ground for Walker.  There are only two ways this turns out.  It may be, sadly, that Walker and the forces of Dark Money will win, eliminating all hope for democracy in the United States and Walker can be Governor For Life.  The only other alternative? Scott Walker is going to jail.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

An Even More Historic Victory

Barack Obama's election in 2008 was an obviously enormous event -- the first election of a person of color as president in the nation's history.  His message of Hope and Change after the 8-year nightmare of the worst president in U.S. history, Junior Bush -- whose damage to the country was starkly but only partly evident at the very end in the near-collapse of the financial system -- resonated with an exhausted public.  With an over-the-hill and over-his-head opponent in John McCain -- shown to be even worse by his irresponsible selection of the ridiculous Sarah Palin as his VP and his knee-jerk reaction to the financial crisis -- the stars aligned, destiny called and Obama answered.

But, as historic as 2008 was, Obama's stunning landslide reelection on Tuesday was even more so.  Never before has a sitting president -- or any candidate -- been subject to the kind of personal and political abuse channeled through more radical-right media outlets for four whole years.  No candidate has been bombarded with literally unlimited spending by selfish billionaires and dirty industries, all intended to fool people into voting against their interests.  Never has the mainstream media been more complicit in validating, excusing and distributing Republican lies. Not since Jim Crow laws in the South has there been such a systematic attack on the voting rights of American citizens by highly-organized Republican legislatures, designed only to suppress the votes of traditionally Democratic constituencies.

Bill Clinton managed to survive the first draft of the new-age Politics of Personal Destruction, supported every hour of every day by right-wing talk radio, then in its relative infancy.  The journalistic fraud known as Fox News did not exist until after Clinton's reelection in 1996, just in time for Newt Gingrich's House to make a historical fool of themselves with the partisan impeachment fiasco.  The new right-wing media found its footing playing defense during the dark Junior Bush years, with the added dynamic of pretend "independent" expenditures rearing their ugly heads, with phony front "groups" like the Swiftboaters carrying the Bush campaign's dirty water to save his ass from losing to American hero John Kerry in 2004.

But the radical right wing really had it all together and smooth, setting themselves up to (they thought) trounce Obama out on his offensively-drawn (by racist nut-right cartoonist Michael Ramirez -- a regular in the post-Doonesbury Journal Sentinel -- and others) big ears in 2012.  There was no doubt about this one.  Obama's supposed European socialist "regime" would be rejected in a landslide, and the entire structure of Fox News and talk radio was designed to affect just that result, with a script drafted by Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee.  Especially after the Fox-hyped FreedomWorks-funded astroturf tea party took credit for swinging the House Republican in 2010, the biggest anti-Democrat machine in history was ready to roll right over Barack Obama.

Consider the elements of the unprecedented Republican advantage:

Fox News: Never before has an entire television network -- laughingly declaring itself a "news" network in the first place, and "fair and balanced" to boot -- been committed to the defeat of one man and the promotion of one political party. For five years (the smearing of Obama began the day he announced his candidacy in 2007), the president was mocked, dehumanized, marginalized and criticized -- on both opinion and "news" programs (believe it or not, Fox insists there's a difference).  The pro-GOP/anti-Obama campaign really picked up steam after the hapless Mitt Romney made it through the hilarious Republican primary process. Fox propped up Romney and nitpicked Obama every day in every way.  For all the rich pigs who tried to buy this election through supposedly "independent" SuperPACs, the swinish billionaire who had the biggest role trying to destroy Barack Obama was a foreigner: Australian Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News.

Talk Radio: The nation's free airwaves were filled for five years with all sorts of lies and smears of Obama, from the loudest national voices to the tinniest local pipsqueaks.  In Milwaukee, former respectable corporate citizen Journal Communications Inc. turned over most of its non-sports daytime programming on WTMJ to heavily subsidized Republican mouthpieces like Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, who gladly read GOP talking-points day after day after day.  (The company also runs nut-right local radio talkers in at least seven other "markets" across the country). Across town, mega-station behemoth Clear Channel runs out no less than three local right-wing talkers everyday on WISN, including veteran sexist and racist Mark Belling, to promote anti-Obama GOP tripe.  The balance of their day is devoted to three national Republican spokesmen, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levine.  There has never been anything like the kind of poison spewed into the political environment by the 24/7 talk radio industry.

SuperPACs: Fox News and talk radio are essentially free messaging for the GOP.  But, after the Citizens United decision by the right-wing of the US Supreme Court, the rich and their polluting corporations were also free to buy the commercials between the free programming.  Over the past four years, the anonymous rich spent billions trying to defeat the president through all sorts of ads lying about the president's record and intentions. Again, no presidential candidate has ever had to endure this kind of onslaught, even if the Dems were able to at least get close to parity on the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election.

Voter Suppression: Republican legislatures and governors in various states have been on a tear the last two years, enacting Photo ID and other voter suppression laws that have been designed only to prevent vast  numbers of poor and minority voters from being able to cast a ballot.  Some of the laws, such as in Wisconsin, are held up for now by courts that have bravely upheld the Constitution's right to vote, unencumbered by unnecessary red tape.  But others are in place and are having just the effect for which they were intended -- although brave souls stood in long early-voting lines and went to court in Florida to stand up for their rights over the brutally anti-democratic machinations of Gov. Rick Scott.

Local Newspapers: The creeping demise of the local newspaper industry continues to facilitate the deterioration of the national discourse.  Some papers have ceased physical publication altogether, while most that continue to publish dead-tree editions are shadows of their former selves.  Locally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel brags about Pulitzers won on mostly irrelevant topics while having its news, editorial board and opinion pages hijacked by a right-wing Republican think tank (The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute).  The paper played Romney's selection of radical right-wing congressman Paul Ryan as some kind of home-boy-does-good story, ignoring the damage his ascension would cause to the country.  In the last week of the campaign, the paper that endorsed the radical Scott Walker for governor -- twice -- announced that they would not make an endorsement in the presidential race.  They most likely did so because, in a series of candidates-and-the-issues columns, they mostly favored Obama's policies; but, being the right-wing shills they now are, would have surely endorsed Romney; and they could not stomach even their own hypocrisy if that happened.

And so the fates and stars aligned against Barack Obama like no other presidential candidate before.  Nobody had ever faced that kind of fierce, committed, coordinated, supposedly overwhelming opposition.  His victory this week is all the more incredible for that -- a truly historic event.

But, although he ran a great, well-funded campaign, the credit does not all go to Obama and his excellent team.  The credit really goes to the American people, who somehow saw through all the bullshit and did the right thing.  As a liberal and a progressive, it was easy for me.  But for many, it wasn't.  And they made the difference.  President Obama made history by winning reelection against unprecedented opposition. But it is those of us who voted for him who really made history, rejecting the campaign of Fear and Division, and voting again for Real Hope and Real Change.  Again.