Saturday, December 30, 2006


Bullet points are the last refuge of the lazy writer; a cheap way to distribute ideas quickly, without the need for serious writing style or finesse. But it’s New Years, and I don’t care. Besides, the execution of Sadaam Hussein is such a predictably-bizarre episode in the four-year, carefully-designed Iraqi nightmare produced by the Bushies that, at some point, you just throw up your hands and go – wha?

  • Puppet Strings: Raise your hand if you think the Iraq “government”, such as it is, had anything to do with the ritual slaying of Hussein, much less the timing. Ever since he was discovered in a rabbit-hole three years ago, the U.S. has kept Hussein in their custody, so that a show trial could take place and, eventually and quickly, the trap door could drop at a politically opportune time. Had he been delivered to the Iraqis sooner, he would have been summarily killed by rival factions earlier or, just maybe, spirited away to a safe house in Tikrit to spend his last days peacefully with his mother, or whatever. But we delivered him directly to the gallows, no doubt with troops at the ready if any upstart Iraqi decided to try some funny business.
  • Legally Illegal: Wanna have some fun? Google “Sadaam indictment” and see what happens. Can you find the indictment that resulted in his execution? No? Well, what the hell was he charged with? And how did the charges fit into any Iraqi law that existed at the time of the offenses? The fact is that, if Hussein indeed committed “crimes against humanity”, these are the sort of things a) that are not against the criminal code of any nation I’m aware of (if so, let’s work up something on Junior Bush immediately) and, b) if prosecuted at all, should be run by an international court (a point made by many at the time the circus began). Milosevic’s crimes in Bosnia were not prosecuted by the ultimate victors or, in that case, the internationally-favored victims – it was left to an international tribunal to decide whether he broached the very generous outlines of strongman behavior. Letting Hussein be tried by the U.S.-approved (and trained) stooges of the Iraqi “judiciary” was like handing Bush over to a bunch of Democrats in a dark room after the 2006 elections. Sure, it would be nice to have happened, but, no, it shouldn’t. Forget whether he was guilty of anything. In the legendary words of Woody Allen (not coincidentally, in “Bananas”): “This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”
  • Who ARE Those People: The news coverage of the execution was an embarrassment by all concerned. Fox News, natch, went Death Watch at the bewitching hour, hardly concealing their glee.*** But Fox wasn't alone -- all the cable and other networks got ponderous and ridiculous, playing into the Rove playbook by using the murder of Hussein as an excuse to remind us what a bad guy he was. Well, duh. Most obnoxious, though, was the “coverage” of staged celebrators, in Iraq and Dearborn, Michigan, who, once the camera lights go on, dance badly and pretend to be happy about the whole thing. If you compare footage from other such events – the falling statue, Hussein found in rabbit-hole, whatever – you will find the same well-paid actors. It’s a sectarian fight. Guess what: Shia and Kurds happy; Hussein’s Sunnis, not so much. Big deal. It's about as spontaneous as a GOP convention, and orchestrated by the same people.
  • Leave It to Russia: Once again, a Bush-led outrage is met with silence by the leading Democrats. I mean, who could be against the execution of Sadaam Hussein? Well, if there were a real opposition party in this country, lots of people would be, or at least would have a voice in the Permanent Government to ask some questions about what the hell is going on. The execution should be an opportunity for righteous outrage about the whole Bush scheme, all the lies and the ultimate isolation of the United States from the norms of international community. But, no. Ask a Democratic political consultant whether you should criticize the Hussein execution and watch him roll on the floor in laughter. In the meantime, entities such as Russia stake out the higher ground by condemning the outrage. Better them than any of us…I guess…
  • Who's Next?: Sadaam Hussein was the way he was because that is the way it has always been in Iraq -- ruled by the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the land. As we have seen in that grim land all this year, killing is not a crime as much as it is a way of communicating. For all the exaggerations made about Hussein to justify the war and his hanging ("hundreds of thousands" in mass graves? Well, not quite.), I hope someone's keeping score on the crimes of all the pretenders to the throne in this gruesome game of King-of-the-Hill, so we'll know who to charge with what next time.

    One of the sad aspects about all of this is that the violence created by the vengeance killing of Hussein is sure to cause the death toll of U.S. servicemen to rise to and above the 3,000 threshold, probably before the year is out. Sadaam’s bloody, broken neck notwithstanding, the questions remain:

    How many?

    What for?

*** I deleted a part here that I had written about Alan Colmes, and offer apologies if it was inaccurate. I wrote the phrase "the repulsive pretend-liberal Alan Colmes almost offering to put the noose on the guy himself." at the end of this sentence. Colmes himself wrote to me about this (you never know if people really are who they say they are, and it's hard for me to believe someone like Colmes is one of my seven readers, but I'll believe it if you will), and says that he was offering an opposing, anti-execution/death penalty message on that night's show. I can't say I watched all of it and, if I was stretching the interpretation of Colmes usual passive stance (at least while I was watching) as acquiescence to the rabid Hannity and their various right-wing guests, I apologize.

As for the "repulsive pretend-liberal" conclusion, although I am not the first one to challenge Colmes for his enabling of Hannity -- not to mention frequent offensive guests like Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, Ollie North, etc. -- he really does seem to be concerned that he is not taken seriously as a progressive voice on the Red Planet of Fox News. More about that later -- I am going to take him up on his offer to watch and listen to him more. Call it one of my many New Years resolutions.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reached into its past today to change its collective mind (Journal’s or Sentinel’s?) on one of the most important issues of American history – should Gerald Ford have pardoned Richard Nixon? The answer was and is clearly “NO”, but the J-S blazes the Ford-friendly, phony-respect-for-the-dead revisionist trail to praise the Accidental President for the “Midwestern pragmatism” of the horrible action that prevented a clear historical record on Nixon.

Even in his own death, Nixon and his apologists continue to use the non-clarity allowed by the pardon to characterize his forced resignation as a simple loss of political support. Thus has history been muddled, and Nixon is off the hook in too many history textbooks. Not only should he have been prosecuted for his crimes, Congress should have gone ahead, impeached and convicted his ass even after he was gone, driving the wooden spike into his cold political heart. Instead, just like the famous vampire, he rose to life, rewriting history and creating a legacy that should have remained permanently stained by, oh, let’s say, five years in Club Fed.

Ford is the only president of which I have saved the Time Magazine cover from his inauguration, not because of who he was but of who he replaced. Nixon’s resignation, after he was forced by the Supreme Court to cough up the proof of his own psychotic criminality – the White House tapes – was the most dramatic and important presidential transition in this or any other time. For all the puffed-up blather all over the media this week, Ford was a mere transitory figure, a caretaker controlled by his (mostly Nixon’s) staff, easily in over his head. The point wasn’t his wisecrack that he was a “Ford, not a Lincoln”; it was that he was Ford, and, happily, not Nixon. One day, Richard Nixon was calling up cronies, putting fixes in, getting drunk and talking to the pictures on the walls of the White House. The next day, he was gone. This is nothing if not a good thing.

Ford was in that position only because Spiro Agnew, a more traditional money-in-envelopes political criminal, was cooked and had to beat a path out of town one step ahead of the law (they caught him anyway – no pardon or cover-up help for him from the disloyal Nixon). A VP resignation and conviction would have been enough for any other administration, scandal-wise, but Nixon, by actually using the mechanism of the CIA, the FBI and the Justice Department to hide facts about his illegal acts from his own government, was in a different league. Ford replaced Agnew because he was the only Republican who could have possibly been approved by an anxious Democratic congress. Just by his very friendly, non-controversial existence, Ford became the last hope for normalcy by a desperate soon-to-be loser.

The cable networks have played the clip many times this week, but the contrast between Nixon and Ford on August 9, 1974 is still stunning. On the day he left office, after (literally) cracking up in front of his staff in the early morning – blubbering incoherently about his mother and “T.R.”, the video of which is (or should be) a national treasure – Nixon strode out to his ride out of town without a care in the world, waving wildly close to the chopper blades, like he was just headed out on a campaign trip. Ford, at the other end of the dirty red carpet, looked like he had been hit by a truck. You’d think he would have seen this coming, what with Nixon’s speech the night before and all, but Ford looked like someone had just woken him up to give him the news. And horrible news, it seemed to be.

For the first month, Ford was a breath of fresh air in a White House that seemed to have its windows blackened and its atmosphere fouled by smoke, bad liquor and bad people for decades. Just buttering an English muffin was cause for the celebration of normalcy. Betty wasn’t Pat, Susan wasn’t Tricia (much less Julie) and Jerry wasn’t, er, Dick. In those days, relief was easy to come by.

But the trivial personal details only distracted from the fact that Ford was our first puppet president. Sure, he bounced some tainted Nixon hacks and then brought in other pre-approved hacks, two of them ominously named Rumsfeld and Cheney. He is being given credit this week for being engaged; for making his staff argue in front of him before deciding what they were going to decide for him anyway. As such, he comes full circle: once praised for not being Nixon, he now looks good for not being Junior Bush (who, by the way, was nothing if not a drunk party-boy throughout the whole Ford administration). But with Ford, the Silent Republican Government stumbled on the template they would perfect with Reagan and disastrously overplay with Junior. Ford, like Reagan and Junior, was simply a pretty face on ugly policies, a distraction that allowed the rich and the military-industrial to reach into the pockets of the rest of us for spare change and diamonds.

But that doesn’t take Ford off the hook for the only personal decision of his presidency, the one only he could make. When he followed through on the deal he made with Al Haig – Nixon’s resignation in exchange for Nixon’s pardon – Ford sealed his fate, and ours. He was rightly punished for his sin, stumbling from crisis-to-crisis for the rest of his presidency and eventually losing to the true post-Watergate healer, Jimmy Carter.

I used to appreciate these dead-President, half-mast, almost-royal events. The sad JFK weekend was one of the seminal events of my life (in 3rd grade). That was until the ridiculous Reagan love-fest unduly lionized the right-wing icon for what seemed like a month several years ago. Overall, I think these national transition points are interesting historically and Ford should be given his due as an important transition figure.

But to pretend the pardon of Nixon was anything but a historical atrocity does nothing for Ford’s legacy or for the nation. In the end, Gerald Ford was yet another victim of Richard Nixon, a man who poisoned every life he touched.

Monday, December 25, 2006


I remember the 45s that my high school roommates brought home from the weekends. Most of them had the familiar labels from Atlantic, Capitol, Columbia – after all, white guys recorded on those labels, too. Even Motown labels were friendly and common, growing up, as I did, with the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye records my sisters brought home from college.

But there was something about those James Brown platters. They looked and felt different, like they came from the same ghetto Brown did. He recorded for King Records – which Wikipedia says was a country label out of Cincinnati with some “race record” side projects. The labels were a dark shade of blue and a simple crown was suspended above the word “King” in silver lettering.

The 45s themselves looked subversive, and not only because the titles of the songs happened to be “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Sex Machine”. They looked like they were made in someone’s basement. Even the font for the songs titles was lame, as if all of the usual aesthetics of labeling and appearance of the product had been cast aside in the interest of just getting the damn things out. Add the dirty fingerprints and scratches of high school kids on the black vinyl and the whole thing seemed very, well, funky.

He might have been put out 33 rpm albums and we had some in the room (Aretha Live at the Apollo, Bill Cosby: My Brother Russell, With Whom I Slept), but our James Brown collection was all those funky 45s. Some were songs were still under the white-guy radar; follow-ups to his few cross-over hits and Black Power ghetto anthems.

As a white guy, you could dig the guitars, the horns, the screams and the splits; but you could never really understand the funk, heart and soul, the repressed rage behind the voice and that pained look on his face. James Brown sang and played for the man back home, out on the stoop, slumped on the natty couch staring at the black-and-white TV with a 40-ounce in a bag. Always real, he never devolved into a cartoon of himself, even when he took the check from The Man, put on red-white-and-blue and briefly joined the Rocky franchise for “Living in America” in 1976.

For all his dynamic stage presence and histrionics, James Brown was a band leader. Many of his albums were stocked (some would say “padded”) with instrumental, full-band work-outs, that probably only made sense for those in the studio. Even some of his hits show him directing traffic (i.e.: takin’ it to the bridge in “Sex Machine”) and he’d throw out sudden key changes just to see if the band could handle it. When I saw him live in 1981 in Madison, he drove the big band with a shake of his head and a twist of his hand.

That night, I watched him talk to children and adults backstage, and got to ask him a question about the Atlanta child murders (the reason for the benefit show he just performed). Already too old for his then-49 years, JB spoke quietly but forcefully, as if it was still Nation-time and people were still looking to him for answers. For James Brown, it seemed, the struggle was never over, either for his constituent people or for his inner soul.

In death, James Brown gave us one last gift. His passing on Christmas Day gave his fans and admirers the perfect excuse to blow out the stale residue of over-played holiday music with original funk, turned up loud on the way to and/or running from church and family events. Tired Rudolph gave way to the Good Foot; chestnuts roasted, maybe, but only on the Sex Machine. Brown may have felt like he broke out in a Cold Sweat, but his passion was always hot, always driven by inner strength and his connection to the folks back home. There are no sad, slow songs to remember James by; there is only the dig-deep riff, the funky break, the howling scream from the inner soul.

Of all the rock and soul icons we lionize – Elvis, Beatles, Dylan, Young, Springsteen – James Brown is the only one I can think of who never tried to re-create himself, never gave himself over to image-makers and false-idol-creators. He stood before us, sweat pouring down his mask-like face, and counted it off. The band, and he, took it from there. In a world and a profession where you are considered a fool if you don’t get yourself pimped, James just went ahead with his Bad Self and we’ll never see another like it.

Photo from 1981, by James Nelson, via the Daily Cardinal

Friday, December 15, 2006


Local wing-nut Mark Belling went off on a rant early in his show Friday afternoon about Iraq, Iran and John McCain’s proposal to send even more troops. Belling was arguing with even his usual right-wing seminar and otherwise-sympathetic callers about the proposal and what we are or should be doing in Iraq.

Belling was following the GOP talking-point strategy to support Bush’s continued disaster in Iraq, a campaign that has been universally followed (isn’t everything?) by local and national wing-nuts since the November election. From beating up on the Iraq Study Group (re-titled "the Iraq Surrender Group" by Karl Rove and his lackey surrogates) to blaming their fellow countrymen for being weak and unwilling to "do what it takes", wing-nuts like Belling are happy to dig in up to their elbows in other people’s blood and tragedy.

One point that Belling made today was that, if we go in with troops somewhere to accomplish something, we should stick it out until the "job is done", "even if it takes 100 years". It didn’t seem he was interested in applying that doctrine – let’s call it the Blockhead Doctrine – to whatever it is we are still trying to accomplish by having soldiers stuck in the middle of the Iraq civil war. But, like other wing-nuts all over the country, Belling wants us to get out of the frying pan of Iraq and jump into the flames of Iran.

Like many issues that are fleshed out in the nut-sphere before the GOP sends its talking heads and politicians out to say the same things, the whole idea of invading Iran is as insane as they tell us Ahmadinejad is. Anyone who showed up on a cable show (other than Fox News) and proposed such a thing would be eaten alive, and rightly so. The whole idea is reckless and ridiculous. But one of the primary reasons for wing-nut radio is to butter-up the general populace for crazy ideas by wedging the bad ideas into the mainstream. And Belling the Lapdog is more than willing to oblige.

But Belling actually got off the plantation, in more ways than one, later in the "discussion", if you can call it that. A caller – just trying to be helpful, I’m sure – tried to say that Belling’s 100 Year War is a great idea, because success would mean no terrorism in the United States. You know, the "fight ‘em there so we don’t have to fight ‘em here" nonsense, like dedicated jihadists couldn’t do both. Instead of playing along, Belling said you can’t guarantee no terrorism in the U.S. – heck, he might go off himself someday.

It is a tenant of wing-nut radio that anything worth saying once is worth saying ten times, so Belling went on. Referring to his producer, he said this: "Even Paul might go Muslim someday."

Now, think about what it means to "go Muslim". I assume he doesn’t mean reading the Koran, praying five times a day or not eating pork. No, "going Muslim" , to Mark Belling, means blowing up buildings and cities. That’s what being a Muslim is all about. To him.

Well, what the heck. He’s already known for his racist tirades and arguments and Clear Channel has patted him on the back and encouraged his continued poisoning of the community. So now he wants to smear all Muslims with the sick crimes of relatively few fevered jihadists. It’s a game national embarrassments like WTMJ-broadcast Michael Savage and other nutbags have played for years. Maybe Belling just wants to play in the Big Leagues.

Or maybe he’s just an unnecessary thorn in the city that needs to be kicked to the curb.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


When I first started squawking about the Journal Sentinel’s anti-Doyle bias in its news pages back in September, the Green-good/Doyle-bad construct was deeply entrenched at what is ever more unfortunately the Only Newspaper in Town. It was apparent during the campaign that the J-S was going to do whatever it could to parrot and provide fodder for radio wing-nut talking points and would otherwise support the GOP as much as they could. For reasons unfathomable to all but them, the news editors and statehouse reporters longed for Mark Green to be our next governor.

You would think the resulting thumping of the hapless Green in the election would bring a moment of reflection for the manipulative newsers. You would be wrong. Even without the clarifying “balance” of the pro-Green stories (where is he now? Both gone and easily forgotten, after one more predictable puff piece in the J-S), the Journal Sentinel continues on its bizarre anti-Doyle campaign. Every Doyle accomplishment has a dark cloud behind it, looming in the background, if only so the J-S can jump out and say “boo!”.

Wednesday’s paper is a perfect example. It starts innocent enough in the headline: “Median property tax bill in state up $7”. Well, that’s gotta be good news, right? I mean, most editors would have even helped you out a little by saying “only $7” and even might have added the important fact “for the second year in a row”, but, still, not bad, right? Then comes the competing sub-head: “But state's package of limits on taxes expires this year.”

Good god, not “expires”! This is horrible! Someone please make it not expire! Please, Journal Sentinel, don’t let me be foolish enough to savor (much less recognize) the fruits of Doyle’s labors. The J-S would have beat Doyle about the head and shoulders if he had dared tried to make his formula permanent, but – No! Next year! I must presume the worst about next year!

The same nonsense that rattles around in the headlines is repeated in the article itself, written, to no one’s surprise, by self-admitted Doyle-hater Steven Walters (see my November 12th post for a discussion of his post-election anti-Doyle screed in the opinion pages). As if you couldn’t figure it out yourself, Walters announces the good news in the lead and then comes the extremely trite let-down. The whole second graph? “That’s the good news.” Oh, oh.

Then comes the punch line, otherwise known as “the bad news”. The tactics that kept your property taxes in check (still good, right?), are described as “Doyle-backed” – no mention of the legislature until after you are informed that all these good things will expire next year. We just know Jim Doyle wanted it this way, don’t we? That scoundrel!

Those trolling the Journal Sentinel on-line version the day before could have seen this one coming up 5th – or, rather, Wisconsin – Avenue. In an article apparently not good enough for the printed version, Walters warms up in his beating of Doyle for his own success. To do so, he uses the voice of another quickly-forgotten loser, non-Congressman John Gard. Now, who but Steven Walters would consider calling up a washed-up punk like Gard, who couldn’t even get elected in his own Republican congressional district, to ruminate about how property taxes “would have gone up even less” if Doyle had only signed the poison-pill bill the GOP ran up to him, back when they had control of the state legislature?

Loser Gard is not even identified, at least, as “outgoing” Assembly Speaker, if not "former", since the state legislature will not meet again until someone else is sitting in his Assembly seat. So Walters plays up his source who is such a lame duck he’ll need a photo ID and a body scan the next time he tries to get into the Capitol.

The editors, apparently, gave Walters two kicks at this ridiculous cat. Maybe we can expect another of the Journal Sentinel’s brave campaigns, like the one against legislators earning sick leave for health benefits that none of them knew they had. That was good for five or six front-pagers, featuring all kinds of useless do-gooder grandstanding. Just to keep the ball rolling, maybe we can hear next from former GOP leaders of the now-Dem-controlled State Senate and how Doyle really messed up this property tax thing two years in a row and blah blah blah.

It’s hard to figure out what the Journal Sentinel or Walters get out of any of this, except a continued erosion of credibility and prestige. Doyle is going to be governor now for four more years, the Democrats are in control of the Senate and, I mean, what are they trying to start or stop? All you really need to know is that if a Republican governor had presided over two years of nominal property tax increases, they’d be putting up a statue to the dude on 4th and State. That they can’t give Doyle a little credit where it’s due shows them as nothing if not petty, partisan and as out-of-touch as Junior Bush.

Monday, December 04, 2006


During the past sorry six years, right-wing radio has taken upon itself two primary missions: 1) define, usually by demonization, Democrats or anyone (like John McCain) with the temerity to question any aspect of Junior Bush’s administration, and 2) make excuses for Junior’s many failures. The amazingly monolithic way that national and local wing-nuts have been willing to march to Karl Rove’s talking-point orders is the only thing that stood in the way of Kerry’s election in ‘04, a serious impeachment move last year and an even sounder thumping of Republicans in the elections this year.

Given the complete shellacking applied to Republican behinds last month, the wing-nuts have been at a loss to explain what happened, perhaps even more so than the White House. I mean, there they were for years, ranting to their passive listeners 24/7 about how Democrats could not be trusted with the reigns of power; how taxes would go up; how liberal Nancy Pelosi was; how corrupt Harry Reid and Jim Doyle and whoever. What went wrong, they surely wondered. It had all worked so well before.

You’d think, after being led around the nose by the Bushies all these years, at least some of them would get off the plantation and find their own voice. But a radio wing-nut without a script is like a DJ without a turntable (or its modern equivalent). Even if they are true believers and think they might like to give original thought a try, they just are not interesting enough. Their entire careers are built on being GOP conduits. Pull that rug from under, and most of them have nothing to talk about.

Sure, some of them like Sean Hannity might have permission to go after Bush on a red-meat issue like immigration and border security. This has the benefit – in the World of Rove – of driving up angry-white-man lather and making Bush look reasonable to everyone else when he does something short of rounding up brown-skinned people in Arizona for background checks.

For the most part, the wing-nuts have stayed away from their usual blather on substantive issues since the election. But they have maintained a completely united front on the defining issue of the election and our current times: the civil war in Iraq. At a time when everyone with any sense is looking for a way out, the wing-nuts are apparently looking to spend more years in the quagmire, to spill the blood of still more brave American soldiers. They are pulling out all the stops – name-calling, treason-claiming and, like Bush himself, lying about the obvious facts to get to their insupportable conclusions.

All this would be par for the course, except that the situation in Iraq is grim and the opportunity to have a legitimate discussion about it is upon us for the first time since the invasion. This is an important time that calls for sober reflection and real-world solutions. Remarkably absent, you might notice, is squawking and I-told-you-so’s from those who were right since the beginning – the anti-war left and middle. Neo-con slugs like Ken Adelman and Richard Perle are given full berth to fuss about how they would have done it right, doggone it, and they show no hesitation to engage in intramural squabbling. But the Left That Was Right politely stands aside, hoping that establishment lackeys like Jim Baker might find a way to end the pointless deaths of Americans in a war-of-choice gone terribly wrong.

But, once again, as they did with 9/11, Katrina and various other national tragedies, the GOP wing-nuts are willing to dance on the graves of the dead to make political points. While every serious person looks for a solution, the wing-nuts talk about the Democrats and others looking for a way out "wanting the U.S. to lose" because we all just "hate Bush so much".

Listen to wing-nut radio for five minutes and you’ve got the drill. Those who want to get out are weak. We should go in and wipe them all out (the code words for nuking, say, Iran get less subtle on late night radio, where it is scarily explicit). This is why we lost Vietnam. Three thousand dead and ten of thousands wounded are peanuts; why, 600,000 died in World War II. We have lost our will to win, to do the job right.

My god, it’s pathetic. But, in a time when no thinking person would back Bush on anything, much less on what he did and is doing in Iraq, the radio wing-nuts form the Last Line. Why? What do they gain? Everyone is so damn done with the sick Bush regime, even the wing-nuttiest listeners don’t want to hear it any more.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Since the Democratic romp in the election two weeks ago, local and national wing-nut radio has continued to pollute the national discussion with the standard campaign of lies, derision and intentional distractions. Yet, I sense some drift and aimlessness in the usually-focused talking-points off of which all the wing-nuts read.

Although always giving lip service to the ingenuity and market-bravery of the entrepreneur, our local blowhards Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes are complete lackeys when it comes to anything the GOP wants them to say. And then, to say again. Over and over. They don’t do show prep, they take orders. They pretend to be raving ego maniacs on the air, but they always submissively stick to the script of others.

They don’t even care, from a competitive standpoint, whether they are saying the same things on any given day. Their only focus is to attack any Democrat (especially Jim Doyle) and to excuse any Republican (especially Junior Bush). They have no intellectual integrity and will never get in a room for a legitimate debate with anyone who disagrees with their ridiculous arguments, usually built on straw men and other phony constructs.

I was surprised, at first, to hear both of Milwaukee’s Finest railing, still, about the imaginary "corruption" of Jim Doyle. Both regularly feature staged callers who still pine for the soundly-thumped Mark Green and do an I-told-you-so sing-along with the hosts anytime mention is made of higher user fees or less tax exemptions for various businesses to solve future budget shortfalls, which are still the legacy of their hero, Tommy Thompson. Belling even committed his feverish will-Doyle-be-indicted rantings to print. It’s almost like the election never happened and they are still trying to poison the electorate for an election that already happened.

But then I remembered that they were both on the GOP playbook – nothing happens on either show without political design. Doyle is the Wisconsin Clinton – an earnest, successful, moderate politician who has done the best he can to move the state forward in the face of Republican obstructionists. Now that he has been re-elected by a resounding margin, B & S continue to attempt to berate and belittle, lest he succeed as a, well, successful Democrat. The national GOP didn't quit beating up on Clinton after the '96 election -- in fact, they turned up the volume. Same thing here in Wisconsin, where no Democrat is allowed credit or peace, no matter how much he or she deserves it.

Other than that, our local wing-nuts get on the various national noise bandwagons, following their unseen Leaders on such matters as piling on Nancy Pelosi for supporting national hero John Murtha or going on for a week about whether she would put Alcee Hastings as the chair of the intelligence committee. Whatever.

For some reason, the local and national GOP radio conduits are still talking about the racist tirade by the enormously talentless Michael Richards – the luckiest lame actor to ever fall into the perfect role for his small talents. The Richards story had legs for the led-by-the-nose wing-nuts because they could get set up various of their various favorite straw men – from insincere lefty-Hollywood apologies to black leaders willing to give the poor guy a break, or not.

But the wing-nuts are still seeking a post-election voice and purpose. With Bush the lamest of quacking ducks and with no candidate in the wings to channel the Rovian magic (Bill Frist! Say it ain’t so!), there is no obvious beneficiary of their misinformation campaign. Ever since the GOP settled on what they thought was the perfect empty-suit for the post-Clinton era and ran Junior for governor of Texas in 1994, the whole then-growing industry of wing-nuts has propped him up and done nothing but made excuses for the Worst President Ever. Now, without that kind of an obvious goal and evident beneficiary, the wing-nuts are adrift, up Bush’s Creek without a paddle.

There is one thing, however, on which they stand steadfast and unmoving, the last excuse-making exercise in the grim Bush era. More about that next time.

Monday, November 27, 2006


When right-wing scolds complain about the supposed perks of public service, nothing gets them going like collectively-bargained former basics everyone used to enjoy, like adequate pensions and progressive sick leave policies. Without this kind of jealousy-inducing coal to stoke the fires of their precious angry-white-male demographic, Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes might have to get real jobs, rather than reading GOP talking-point scripts all day.

Always willing to provide fodder for our whining radio wing-nuts, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel front-paged a review of the use of sick leave by legislators on Sunday that made it look like various lawmakers were sitting at home with their dislocated hips and triple bypasses, laughingly blowing off their time on the state clock, without so much as a nod to the supposed need to file whatever form it is to have the hours they are unavailable docked from their sick leave bank.

This is supposedly significant – claims the article, with the subtlety of a two-by-four – because state employees of all stripes, including legislators, can trade unused sick leave for continued state-paid health insurance after they retire (or, lose an election). Do you realize, you stupid people, that these lawmakers are going to be able to take advantage of this outrageously luxurious end-of-career health care? But they didn’t take sick leave when they were sick! Get the torches and let’s head for the Capitol!

There was enough superficial hand-wringing in the article to give the whole state carpal tunnel. The always-reliable Jay Heck of Common Cause waxed apocalyptic: "It's one of those things that makes people very suspicious of legislators." Well, not very high on the list, but, um, sure. But who is going to decide who is sick and what is a work day for a legislator? Do fundraisers count? I mean, I thought that wack job suggesting teachers arm themselves (Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Green Bay) was pretty sick – can I make him take a sick day? But the state’s political purity police and their constant enablers at the J-S don’t want to be confused by the facts while they’re trying to work up an indignant lather.

Even statehouse veterans like Sen. Mike Ellis and Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (a swell Lake Park Little League dad, by the way – Go White Sox!) were called on to give the politically-safe disclaimers. Stating the obvious, Wasserman claimed "Sick leave is for when you are sick." No wonder the only-paper-in-town has its undies in a bundle.

The real target in all this nonsense is not the legislators, or even the last remnants of the Journal Sentinel’s dignity. No, the real target is the "perk" itself, a smart element of the state employee benefit package. If the carry-over for health care language wasn’t there in the package (or, more significantly, in the state employee union contracts), you would be reading and Heck would be breathing heavily about those lazy state employees using all their sick leave before retirement. But they don’t do that and, as a former union rep for about 4,000 of those fine people in the 90's, I know many of them who overcome minor and major ailments and do their good work in the trenches everyday, sick leave carryover or not.

And, at a time when every legitimate politician should be trying to figure out how to get as many people covered by health insurance as possible, why are the wingers and hand-wringers always trying to pick people out of the pool of the already-insured? It is actually a good thing that thousands of retired state employees are still covered under the state plan after they are done working – that means those thousands are not scraping by with no or inferior health care options. It means less people to worry about while we try to solve the health insurance crisis. Same thing with same-sex or unmarried partners – who cares? More people are covered. That’s progress, in more ways than one.

But, no. The Journal Sentinel has its campaigns, and here comes another one. What? Sen. Fred Risser (age 79) has over $160,000 to spend recklessly on health insurance after he retires? Stop the Insanity!

UPDATE: The other shoe dropped today in the J-S, with the paper screaming across the top of its front page that all those bad convicted legislators will be able to convert their sick-leave balances, just like everyone else. The "perk awaits" them, says the headline. You can just imagine Gary George sitting in federal prison, just waiting to get his hands on all that precious health care. Oh, the humanity!

Having set the issue up in the news pages, the edit page knocks 'em down: "It should end," the editorial concludes, no doubt with "da-dum" sound effects playing in the writers' heads.

Again, this is a solution looking for a problem. More insured people is a good thing. Most of the $3.2 million (I'm sorry -- $3.2 million!) in carryovers will never be used by ex-legislators because of old age, better benefits with other employers or Medicare. Now, if we could just get the J-S to go into campaign mode on the real crisis of the uninsured working poor...nah, maybe not. It's hard to get a pull-quote from Jay Heck on that one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


A strange shadow has appeared behind Junior Bush in all of his phony "can’t we all get along, heh heh" get-togethers with victorious Democrats and others in the past week. After six years of pulling the puppet strings from an undisclosed location, VP Dick Cheney suddenly appears everyday, strangely silent, at all staged photo ops in the White House.

There he is shaking hands with Sen. Dick Durbin in the Oval Office. There he is with U.S. auto executives, as he and Bush try to put a band-aid on the hemorrhaging, unimaginative industry. There he is, meeting with the Baker-Hamilton commission that has been brought in to define and try to fix the incredible mess that his own arrogance created in Iraq.

Just look at that goofy look on his face in the Iraq meeting. Here they are discussing death, chaos and disintegration and he’s chuckling like he just heard a new joke about the Democrat and the Priest or something. What else do you need to know about this Prince of Darkness, this Master of Disaster, this historical anomaly?

We can only hope that he kept as quiet in the meetings as he was during the photo ops. Imagine if you are Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid in one of these meetings and Dick Cheney pipes up with one of his cynical words of wisdom. Do you just look over your shoulder at him, like you would an insolent child? Do you turn your chair to face him and stare him down until he stops? Do you cut him off in the middle and say "Hey, man, haven’t you done quite enough?"

And how about the Iraq commission meeting? This week’s meeting was supposedly about facts on the ground now – not about how we got there or what we do now – but even the Velvet Hammer, professional fixer Jim Baker, who helped Bush and Cheney preserve their "election" in the first place, knows a skunk in the room when he smells one. You can imagine Cheney chiming in with one of his "we know the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein" bromides and the whole room turning their backs in disgust.

Now that his radical agenda of death, war, bankruptcy, secrecy and violation of civil rights has been rejected by the voters, it is time for Dick Cheney to go permanently to that undisclosed location and take a pass on the next two years. Junior’s real dad – or, at least his brain trust – will now step in and try to make the best of the rest of the worst presidency in U.S. – or anyone else’s – history. It’s time for the grown-ups to take over.

Say "goodnight", Dick. And that’s no joke.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


As I think I’ve discussed quite a bit in this space, I’ve always thought the Journal Sentinel coverage of the race for governor this year was slanted – as much as it could be in a race between an accomplished governor (Doyle) and an empty-suited GOP robot (Green) – in favor of the hapless Green. This played out on the pages mostly in terms of headlines and story placement, with buried bad-for-Green stories on the obituary page and Green press releases on his ludicrous stem cell position and other issues with big, favorable play on the front pages.

However, reading veteran state-house reporter Steve Walters’ open letter to state leaders in today’s Crossroads section, it appears the key writers reporting on the race were also drinking the Republican Kool-Aid.

In the brief section of the letter directed to the reelected governor, Walters, without any basis that I’m aware of, accuses Doyle of the sin of ambition. He claims that a second term is something Doyle "desperately wanted since January 2003, when you stood in the Capitol rotunda, with your proud and smiling mother looking on from her wheelchair, and took your first oath of office as governor." He advises the governor to spend the next four years "creating a legacy instead of being obsessed with having to raise another $12 million to seek a third term." So he "desperately wanted" a second term before the first one ever started and he was "obsessed" with raising money for his campaigns. Gee, Steve, anything else? Oh, yeah – he says, since Doyle has now had five successful statewide campaigns: "That's not a bad public service record to retire on."

Well, alrighty, then. Doyle was supposedly in a big hurry to get to his second term and Walters is already encouraging him to pull the plug after this one. Well, I mean, if you are Doyle, why bother? His first term was supposedly meaningless without the second and the chief political writer for the Journal Sentinel is already hoping to treat him like a lame duck.

This is the same GOP-inspired game that the national media buys into regarding any successful Democrat. Bill Clinton, you’ll remember, was declared "obsessed" with his legacy right up to the end. His wife, Hillary, is now and has always been "obsessed" with getting back into the White House, this time as president. Of course, even with the various insider books by friend and foe, no one has ever found either of the Clintons saying any such thing. But, like Doyle, conniving to win a second term even while his poor mother in the wheelchair sat and watched him getting sworn in at his first, we just know he’s like that, don’t we? Wink, wink.

I don’t mind cynicism about the motives of politicians – a grain of salt is essential to good political reporting. For instance, we can say that the Republican Assembly and Senate in Madison kept running red-meat bills on non-starter issues like concealed-carry and TABOR up to Doyle for a guaranteed veto not because they really cared about those issues, but to make Doyle look obstructionist. You could tell this not only because it was obvious on its face – especially when they passed the same vetoed legislation more than once – but also because honest Republicans (I know, an oxymoron) would actually say that was the strategy.

But it’s another thing just to make things up out of thin air, as Walters does with Doyle.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Despite the humiliating thrashing his boy suffered at the polls on Tuesday, Karl Rove hasn’t lost his touch for media manipulation. Minutes before Junior Bush slunk out to the podium for what should have been 45 minutes of crow-eating, the administration let it leak that Don Rumsfeld – the poster child for Bush arrogant-dismissive disease (BADD) – was out and former spook and Iran-Contra co-conspirator Robert Gates was soon to be in as Defense secretary.

It’s called a "conversation-changer" in Rove’s constantly-spinning world and change it did, while the MSM’s clueless talking-heads tried to figure out why and when and who the "decider" was for this one. A squishy consensus formed, concluding that Rumsfeld was either a fall guy for a change of policy in Iraq; a bone thrown to a restive electorate to show Bush "gets" a message that he still refuses to receive; or a planned exit that Bush should have announced before the election, rather than lying about his intentions just a week ago.

But the real reason for dear Rummy’s condescending exit (the disastrous war in Iraq is "not well understood" and too "complex" for you idiots) is likely that he didn’t want to have to answer to anyone, much less pipsqueak Democrats in more serious and focused congressional hearings. In Bob Woodward’s essential "State of Denial", Rumsfeld is portrayed as the king of bureaucratic thuggery, countenancing not power-sharing, a discouraging word or inquiry. Because of his constitutional office, Cheney will likely thumb his nose at any Congressional inquiry into his dark megalomania. Rumsfeld can’t do that; he would have to stand, defend and explain. So, like the wimp he is, he bailed.

The most disturbing aspect of the drive to mire our soldiers in Iraq is that they were sent there at the direction of a hysterical bunch of chicken hawks. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith – none of them served when given the chance and all rejected the advice of reality-based leaders like Colin Powell. Like drunken aristocrats smoking cigars in the drawing room with stick-pins in a map of the world, they drew overly-optimistic designs to establish an Israel/US-friendly base in the Middle East by toppling the weakest regime. U.S. soldier casualties in the thousands were expected and acceptable and tens of thousands of civilian deaths were irrelevant.

It was easy to sell with lies and easy to make the Hussein statue fall. None of them could be bothered with the aftermath, much less planning for it. Now, they are all running from their own failures. Especially Rummy, he of the big stick and sneering attitude. Come on, Rumsfeld, you’re so smart – tell us how we got here and tell us how we get out. We puny humans did not appreciate him. We will no longer benefit from his genius.

It was easy for Rumsfeld, with the support of Cheney, to run roughshod over anyone in his way in the Bush White House. He had carte blanche and free reign. When faced with the Real World after the elections of 2006, he turned tail and ran. Too old to wreak havoc anywhere else, he leaves us to clean up his broken china. No accountability for him – that game is for weak, naive fools. So long, suckers. Too bad we never realized how smart he was.

UPDATE: Ooops. Rumsfeld is not a chicken hawk -- Eric B points out that he flew some planes in the '50s. Thanks, B. But he did direct me to a page showing Rummy meeting with Sadaam. Just so you don't forget what a chump he is/was.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Did Bush admit lying this afternoon? Yes, he did.

He was asked at today’s press conference why he told various reporters last week that Rumsfeld would serve until the end of his term. He said, well, if he had answered it honestly, it would have inserted an extra issue into the election discussion. Later, he threw in something about trying to protect soldiers from discussions about changing tactics during elections or "war time" or both.

He didn’t decide yet, he said, and hadn’t talked to the successor, Robert Gates, yet, he said, so he lied.

For political reasons. He lied.

Oh, by the way, is the promise about Cheney sticking around still operative? Yes. Sure it is. Why? Because he said so.


There isn’t that much difference between 2004 and 2006.

In 2004, the incompetence of the Bush administration was already well on display. Iraq was already a quagmire; it was obvious to all that Bush’s government was for sale to the highest bidder; Rumsfeld and Cheney were already Rumsfeld and Cheney; and Bush was a dim-witted as he is now. Both houses of Congress were run by GOP pimps – in fact, with Tom DeLay still staining the carpet on the House floor, it was worse.

2004 wasn’t that much different than this year.

But, in the past two years, a common-sense New Majority of Democrats and independents have finally found themselves with a common purpose while they both fumbled for the lights in the same dark room. Finally managing to ignore deliberately-poisonous talk-radio lies and pushing the MSM to get off of Junior Bush’s lap, the New Majority decided Enough was Enough. That the extra 10% joined the other 48% later rather than sooner only meant two extra years of unnecessary pain and incompetence. Then was then and now is now. Welcome to reality; now, let’s get to work.

Ever since the judicial coup that installed Bush in office after the stolen election in 2000, Karl Rove had a bold vision for his Bully Party. The Bully Party would drive through a radical agenda as if on a mission from god, disparage and demonize those who would question or get in the way, and use the infrastructure of politics – from gerrymandered districts to lobbyist purges – to create the Permanent Regime, void of Democrats and other moderates. It was a drive for Power, at all costs. And, with despicably opportunistic use of the 9/11 tragedy, it almost worked.
But, somewhere between Hurricane Katrina and the disclosure of massive data-mining of personal phone and bank records, people got a clue and, on Tuesday, took the first important steps in taking their country back from the precipice of tyranny.

For so many things important to the now-dead Republican agenda, it is The End.

The End of the Politics of Personal Destruction: All across the country, Republican candidates, as usual, played race cards, lied about records and personal lives and generally smeared their opponents, without truth or scruples. The electorate finally turned a deaf ear to most of this, although Harold Ford was hurt by the most racist ad of this or any other year.

The End of Fear: And the winner is...Osama bin Laden? Nobody was buying that old line this year and shame on anybody who ever did. Not that the bastards didn’t try, not only with TV ads, but every time they opened their mouths. Again, the New Majority knew better and tuned them out. And, hopefully, punished them for it.

The End of the K-Street Project: ...and the Permanent Majority. It is hard to imagine the hubris and arrogance of what will now be known in the past tense as the Bush years. They really thought that they could reconstruct the power structure in a way that would protect them for future challenges. They governed the same way they went into Iraq – invade, conquer and wait for the flowers to fall at your feet, with the same disastrous results. Oh, and now the K-Street lobbying firms will be faced with lines of rejected Republicans outside of their doors this morning, looking for work. Sorry, they're over-stocked with Republicans, already.

The End of Home-Schooling: In his smarmy concession speech (the most radical of partisan wingnuts was suddenly Mr. Happy) during his historic blow-out loss, Rick Santorum’s kids looked like it was the end of the world. This inability to deal with loss and the real world is a direct result of their home-schooling regime, paid for by Pennsylvania tax-payers. The kids need to get out more.

The End of the Rubber Stamp: Especially if the Democrats take the Senate, Bush will have to moderate his judicial appointments and pretty much everything else. No more will a former Exxon lobbyist be put in charge of the EPA, or whatever.

The End of the Evangelicals: It always amazes me when the MSM declares the deserved fall of a sanctimonious jerk like Ted Haggard "sad". It’s not "sad". The only thing sad is that the walking fraud was able to fool so many people for so long, laughing all the way to the bank. The exposure of charlatans is a good thing. And, now that the evangelical cabal has managed to drive the GOP off a cliff, we’ll see if they still get that conference call with Rove every Monday morning. Maybe they will – I mean, Rove has to talk to somebody, doesn’t he?

The End of Government: That sound of hammers pounding nails you hear this morning is the White House, shuttering its windows and building the barricades. They can’t change and they don’t want to. They aren’t going to "work with" the Democrats or any such thing. They are going to build a moat around the White House, ignore all subpoenas, declare their imperial prerogative, and thumb their noses at Congress and the courts. Nothing will get done until 2008, when the New Majority completes its hostile takeover of our own government.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Post 4 -- Santorum Goes Down

Best news so far: Rick Santorum goes down in Pennsylvania. That little weasel has poisoned the national scene for too long and now he is gone. Menendez wins in NJ. Virginia too close to call.

Chris Matthews is right now yelling at Howard Dean about why the Dems would keep one more soldier in the line of fire in Iraq. Good question. Dean caves and says we want to get out. Good answer.

DeWine, loser, bye-bye. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Post 3 -- The Angry Electorate

Andrea Mitchell just declared an Angry Electorate.

#1 on most important issues nationwide: Corruption. It's amazing how an informed public can grasp the basic issues faster than the politicians or the commentariat. The public has a "broad" definition of corruption, meaning lots of thing from Katrina to giving money to rich people, she says.

Howard Fineman just found dark days for the GOP based on one race.

Somewhere, Democrats look for wooden stakes so these bastards don't get up again.

Post 2 -- Too Early to Call

The first winner of the night -- a Socialist! Yes, Bernie Sanders goes to the Senate from Vermont.

CNN is running a bunch of zeros under the screen. At least those damn scrolls are taking a break for the night.

Lugar in Indiana!

This Battle of the Graphics bewteen the cable networks is mind-crushing. Jeff Greenfield and Wolf Blitzer are walking in front of a video wall of red and blue partial results, like they are strolling in some twisted art museum (Jeff, what is this piece telling you?) Greenfield spent five minutes explaining the color scheme of their Senate counting graphic (white circles bordered by red are Republican seats, white surrounded by blue...oh, never mind).

Strickland for Governor in Ohio -- the King of the Fix in the 2004 election, Kenneth Blackwell bites the dust. Good riddance.

Byrd in West Virginia!

Wait, CNN has a camera on Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emannuel, wherever they are.

Like I said, this is overload. Give me Cronkite staring silently at his desk, waiting for real news to happen, any day.

Post 1 -- Reading Between the Lines

Alright, I don't have one of those real-time blog thingees, so I'll just post once in a while and see what happens. I will be looking and responding to comments and will post interesting ones in the body, to highlight the genius of my readership.

As we come up on 6 p.m., the networks and cable stations are playing read-between-the-lines. My god, is this what it was like in 2004? [I missed that coverage because I was vote-protecting in Crandon. ] Good sign after good sign for the Dems. Turnout, focus on issues like Iraq and stem cells -- the exit polls are our friends, for now. CBS reports that Bush and Rove are in Crawford, looking for Harry Reid's phone number.

In the meantime, Chris Matthews and Ken Olberman are on MSNBC, talking about how the GOP is going to get back in power by 2008 (if you guessed "scorched earth policy", pat yourself on the back.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006


One of my earliest political memories is riding on my dad’s shoulders at rally on the tarmac of the airport in Milwaukee. I was all of 5 years old and Dad had brought me out to see: Richard Nixon, campaigning for president in 1960. All I remember is my clear view over the crowd and the small head of the young Nixon on a bare stage maybe 100 feet in front of me.

I don’t think I was very inspired by the moment nor do I remember feeling the dark chill of the anti-Communist and future criminal speaking before me. But it was my first political rally, albeit of the moderate, business Republican variety.

Since then, I had some interesting experiences, mostly watching from the sidelines. I remember attending a McCarthy rally in Milwaukee in ‘72, featuring Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary (yes, in ‘72 – McCarthy ran in the primaries that year, too). I remember seeing McGovern in some motorcade in downtown Milwaukee that same year, just before the election. I did the rope-line thing with Mondale in ‘84 and Dukakis in ‘88. My son and I stood in the rain for hours to see Kerry and shake his hand the day before the ‘04 voting.

With all the ugly TV ads and the dark poison stain of talk-radio, it’s sometimes easy to forget what is uplifting about the process of going to a political rally, in the right race with the right candidate. Democrats are, by and large, hopeful people who think they can change the world and individual lives for the better with the right voluntary nudges, protective laws and proactive programs. When we are together at a rally, such as that at the Milwaukee Theater with Bill Clinton this past Friday afternoon, we pat each other on the back for our successes and our at-least-we-tried failures. Sure, we talk about differences with the other side, especially with the radical right-wing agenda that Bush has pushed in the past 6 years, and highlight his historic failures. But we lift our spirits by being together under one roof, cheering our candidates and firing each other up to get out the vote.

As it is, political rallies are artifacts of a bygone time. Politics has become a spectator sport, as interested voters on all sides mostly watch the ebb and flow of the campaigns in the newspapers, on TV and, increasingly, on the internet. The appearance of figures of rock-star quality like Clinton brings people out and we all share a moment, before retiring to our sofa with a tub of popcorn to watch Tuesday’s returns.

I can’t imagine what it would be like at a Republican rally or, say, at a stage production by a Republican stooge like Sean Hannity, also in Milwaukee on Friday. What is it like to rely on tearing another down with lies, just to get power? What is it like to be in a crowd that is actually cheering a constitutional amendment to take rights away from unmarried partners or to penalize a woman exercising her right to choose what to do with her own body or to run impoverished illegal immigrants back across the border?

What is it like to be inspired by fear; to celebrate a failed administration simply because they happen to be on our side; to see success and honor in those who created a war out of whole cloth and lies, and then tragically failed on every level once they got there? How could they possibly feel the same uplift in spirit while they cheer for more blood and the increased repression of those who who are different or those who would disagree with them?

On Friday, Clinton shared the stage with various candidates for congress, senate and state offices. While Gov. Jim Doyle talked, Clinton was furiously scribbling behind him, sometimes checking local facts with an exuberant Congresswoman Gwen Moore, sitting beside him. At one point, when Clinton wasn’t listening, Doyle cracked a joke about him and looked behind him for a response. Clinton wasn’t listening and looked up to see all eyes on him and people laughing, so he broke out in a red-faced, aw-shucks laughing fit for Doyle’s benefit. Then, just as quickly, he went back to scribbling.

When he finally got on the mike, Clinton was a master of timing and substance. The crowd got very quiet, which Clinton took as a sign of the seriousness of the national condition. So he planted himself at center stage and settled in for a long talk. Although the organizers and candidates behind him might have preferred something a little more punchy and short, you ask for Clinton, you get Clinton. He settled in and riffed on his favorite subject – politics – and the differences between Us and Them. He was astute, funny and right on target.

It was the first time I had a chance to see him give a speech in person, and it’s amazing how comfortable he is in his own skin. There was no one like him before, nor will there be in the future.

After I checked in and realized I had some time before he would appear, I had to go get my son from school to see this. Although he was a bit pressed by some of the deeper substance – "Hey, Dad, what’s a surplus?" – I told him this was probably about as much of a genuine article as he was going to see in his lifetime. He’s a lucky kid: His first two major rock concerts were U2 and Bruce Springsteen and now he’s seen Clinton. He’ll certainly have high standards for rock and roll and politics from now on.

And to think I started with Jethro Tull and Nixon.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


"They want to debate straw men, because they are afraid to debate real men."
– John Kerry, October 31, 2006

This business with the White House and its surrogates ganging up on an innocent, if botched, John Kerry statement is disgusting and illuminating on many levels. We’ve seen it before, and yet the audacity and slime is still stunning after all these years.

But, now, finally, they may have gone too far, in the wrong direction, and at the wrong time. While all their pitiful candidates and soon-to-be ex-congressman and ex-senators scramble for a rope to grasp to avoid the Bush mudslide that is sure to befall them, Karl Rove has given them this: an irrelevant, phony issue that takes the eye off the ball on the important local issues that are going to decide the close races.

All the noise about Kerry-this and Kerry-that in the past three days has frozen the local and state races in place, with the Democrats poised to roll to victory. By the time the wingnuts and other surrogates come to their senses early next week, the election will be over and they will be wondering what hit them.

I was amazed that local wingnut Mark Belling was still talking about Kerry on Thursday afternoon. Belling is not a fool, but he plays one to the hilt when it comes to reading scripts from and for the RNC. Pretending, three days out, not to know about Kerry’s explanation for the statement – with even a script from a speech writer supporting what he meant to say – one of Milwaukee’s chief Bush sycophants said he knew what Kerry meant and praised the troops for their intelligence. Kicking the straw man he knew wasn’t real, Belling read from Rove’s script like it was water for the thirsty.

I really do wonder about local Bush-boobs like Belling and Charlie Sykes. They both have brains and even some modest journalist credentials. What is it that compels them to use their air time and what’s left of their reputations to push Republican candidates and to recite GOP talking points over and over, day after day? They both repeat things they know are not true. They both ignore obvious facts that would get in the way of their diatribes and campaigns. Neither of them would get in any room that would subject them to real debate or challenges to their phony constructs and numerous straw men.

After spending eight years trying to destroy Clinton and six years trying to make excuses for Bush, aren’t they sick of it? Does the promise of Bradley Foundation and other right-wing money now or in the future really make it that worthwhile?

What’s more important than their Kerry yammering all this week is what they haven’t talked about. Both have spent the past three months trying to convince their listeners that Jim Doyle is "the most corrupt governor in Wisconsin history", claiming regularly that he is one step away from the federal penitentiary. Now, they can barely get a word in edgewise about those and other lies while they praise our soldiers in Iraq who were not being attacked in the first place. All over the country, the GOP’s local surrogates were blabbing on about Kerry and letting their local issues drop. Either they already know their local goose is cooked or they are dropping the ball in the last week of the campaign for the sake of Rove’s Kerry fetish. Whatever the reason, welcome to another four years, Governor Doyle. Let me introduce you to the newly Democratic House and Senate.

While Rove’s op research war room managed to find something – anything – to make what passed – for them – as anti-Dem noise and to try to "change the conversation", they lost sight of the hard work their local shills were doing on the local issues, phony and otherwise. Try as they might to use the "controversy" to paint all Democrats as anti-military snobs, John Kerry has nothing to do with Jim Doyle and vice-versa. And Kerry has little to do with any other candidates in the races that matter.

Besides, people know better. When Mark Belling claims that most Dems don’t know any people in the military and think they are all impoverished rubes willing to become cannon fodder for the sake of a paycheck, there is no ring of truth. Even he knows better than that. But he, Sykes and others of their ilk have such contempt for their targeted "angry-white-male" demographic that they will play the shameless game of talking points and patronizing platitudes to try to get them inflamed enough to move.

Now, by following Rove’s ludicrous anti-Kerry script, they have lost at their own game. In a time ripe for righteous, overdue comeuppance, up it shall come.

UPDATE: This morning's newspaper has a front-page puff piece by an entertainment writer about Sykes' "scoop" in "finding" a humorous photo of soldiers needling Kerry for the misinterpreted version of his remarks. Rather than hammering Sykes for bleeding more poison into the well of public discussion, the piece gives props to the Journal Company's own personal wingnut for (gasp!) getting the photo linked on the always-helpful Drudge Report. If you believe the photo actually fell in Sykes' lap by happenstance, you don't know anything about the way the Rove shop and the well-paid right-wing surrogate blogs operate.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Although I was in downtown Milwaukee, as usual, Tuesday morning, I could not break away in time to see the Barack Obama rally in Pere Marquette Park. I cursed the early time and the chilly wind, but looked forward to seeing nice visuals of the rally in the local media, focused as it should be on the national political star of the moment.

Out on the porch this morning, I did indeed see an unmistakable color photo of a political rally above-the-fold. Settling in as I pulled the paper out of the plastic, I spilled hot coffee in my lap when I realized that the primary photo on the front page was not of Obama, but, rather, of...Tommy Thompson.

What newspaper editor in his or her right mind would really think that a press conference with a former governor, currently cashing-it-in with various entities he used to regulate at the Department of Health and Social Services, trumps a political rally attended by thousands featuring a national political star?

Not only was the photo placement the opposite of what it should have been; the choice of the two photos used were outrageously slanted as well:

The Thompson press conference looked like a political rally, complete with Green signs and cheering supporters in the background.

The Obama photo looked like they were all attending a funeral. I’m sure the editors had to go pretty deep in the photog’s files to find anything so bland and with Doyle looking so sour. According to the article, it was a "sign-waving rally", but you’d never know it from the selective visuals provided by the Journal Sentinel.

What do you think it’s like in the edit board meetings that put together the front page placement at the J-S? "Yeah, put Tommy on top there. That nice cheery one. God, we love Tommy, don’t we? Too bad he didn’t run. I guess we gotta put Obama in there, throw this one in. Just look at Doyle’s face!"

The pro-Green coverage continued on other pages in the paper today. A short week before the election, Spivak and Bice dusted off their usual "casino cash" schtick, casting aspersions on a casino developer’s contributions to Doyle and Falk, even using the voice of a Green "flack on the attack" to make their points for them. The second part of the Spice Boys’ pro-Green dance was an approving review of Tommy Thompson’s (god, we love Tommy, don’t we?) rigged success in the private sector. "With all that baggage and income," sum-up the Boys, "can Thompson really afford to drop everything and run for president?" You can almost see them with Thompson, slapping high-fives in some distant end-zone of the mind. Ka-Ching!

Oh, and, by the way, the Supreme Court has decided not to even decide to decide anything about Green's illegal cash until after the election. If you missed the bad-for-Green story, you can find it stretched across the bottom of the first page of the second section, with a little tiny picture of Green. You’d think the end of this phony Green-generated legal saga would merit a bit more attention – it certainly would if Green somehow prevailed, for the first time, on any issues relating to the now-officially dirty money.

But, no, the Journal Sentinel wouldn’t want to interject the illegal Green money issue into the discussion this close to the election. I mean, it’s not like Tommy Thompson was doing a press conference at the airport or anything. Now, that’s news, eh, Tommy?

Unfortunately, this kind of slanted coverage has come to be expected in the Journal Sentinel news pages, even as its editorial board prepares to endorse Jim Doyle. Today marked the third and fourth editorials preferring Doyle to Green on specific issues (education, crime, and, today, health care and stem cells). It’s hard to believe the J-S would turn around after all that and endorse Green.

But the news editors will keep driving their pro-Green agenda, getting happily played by press conferences, phony legal battles and imaginary "corruption" spin. Bill Clinton is coming in on Friday (an event determined to be less "noteworthy" than the Obama appearance – are they going to stick that one back on the obit page with Madeline Albright?) and the Green campaign will develop a counter-event that will trump it (Scott McCullum? Why not!), at least in the Journal Sentinel.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


As long as I live, I will never understand why the Journal Sentinel has given a pass to Mark Green on the $460,000 that the Elections Board ordered returned – an order validated by a judge and, soon, by its expected refusal to take his frivolous "appeal" of his voluntary dismissal, the State Supreme Court.

As the self-appointed guardians of Good Government, you would think that Green’s refusal to return the money he took from federal lobbyists for federal interests – many of whom have been well rewarded for the efforts – to use in his state campaign would put the J-S on its lofty High Horse. You would be wrong. Much to the contrary, the Journal Sentinel wants you to feel Green’s pain.

What else explains the sympathetic platform the paper gave to Green this Sunday morning to whine about not getting to use the dirty money. After once claiming to have already spent it all, the J-S finds it news that poor Mark Green now "plans to campaign without disputed funds" for the last week of the campaign. "Ten days out, and we don't have it. We've got to plan as if we won't have it," Green is quoted as saying. All together, now: Awwwww...

The fact is that Green campaign has known from the beginning that the $460,000 was gone. They have been playing for time for months: 1) pretending that it was somehow arguable that he should be able to use the money, 2) claiming that Doyle "rigged" the Elections Board vote, 3) lost the request of a restraining order from a Dane County judge (who certainly would have granted it if the Board was "rigged"), 4) voluntarily dismissed their own case, and 5) appealed their own voluntary dismissal to the Supreme Court. About the "appeal", Green tells the Journal Sentinel "I have no idea what's going on..."

All this time, the Journal Sentinel has been played like a monkey on a string. Yes, quite serious, these legal issues... Nonsense. Green tried to drag illegal money into his campaign to buy more lying, negative ads and the Elections Board did its job. Where is the outrage for Green’s continued intransigence? Where is the Medal of Honor for the Elections Board?

No, for one more week, let us all feel the pain of Poor Mark Green, courtesy of Your Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

* * * *

I just returned from a long, lovely weekend in Door County. Although I was otherwise engaged and almost completely disinterested, I did see some elements of the important District 8 contest between John Gard and Steve Kagen play out on yard signs and TV ads.

Kagen seemed to more than hold his own on the roads, with his bright white signs standing out in the bright sunshine. They sparkled in contrast to the smaller, darker Gard signs, clustered as they were with Green signs and other scary Halloween decorations.

On TV, "Dr. Kagen" plays the adult to Gard’s childish looks and antics. I thought I was funny at first that Kagen would show up in his ads, at least for a couple of seconds, in a medical coat. But, after watching Gard images (when Kagen wants Gard to look creepy, he just plays Gard’s own ad footage), Kagen uses his personal gravitas to play up Gard’s youthful sneer.

An RNC ad for Gard made huge squawking noises about something Kagen said about not locking up non-violent offenders, which, according to the RNC, included internet child predators. Certainly, he meant no such thing, but, my god, save the children! It’s the same sort of desperation Republicans are experiencing around the country as the chickens come home to roost.

All told, I felt good, as an innocent bystander, about how the Kagen campaign is doing Up North.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The Karl Rove Republicans can never be underestimated for sheer audacity. Surprised by something they’ve done? You shouldn’t be. The MSM, the punditocracy and their own candidates refuse to put a stop to it. Imagine the worst and multiply it by 10. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

The latest late-cycle outrage comes in the Senate race in Tennessee, where Democrat Rep. Harold Ford is fighting the good fight for retiring Bill Frist’s Republican seat. Ford is polling just about even with his opponent in the Red State, and recently landed on the cover of Newsweek. He has aggressively put the lie to many weak-on-terror myths and other lies about his party. With the GOP giving up on four races that would put the Dems perilously close to the magic six races they need to take for control, this race has become crucial for both parties.

In the proud (for them) tradition of Willie Horton, the RNC produced an ad to assist its candidate in Tennessee. The ad takes as its premise a party sponsored by Playboy that Ford supposedly attended on a Super Bowl weekend. At the end of an ad full of ridiculous innuendo, a young blonde woman looks into the camera and invites Ford to call her.

There is no mistaking the racist implications of the ad, especially to Southern whites: Harold Ford, black man, is coming for your daughters.

The reaction to this was predictable, and Rove knew it ahead of time. Democrats and anyone else with half-a-brain sees it for what it is and protests. It’s discussed on cable talk programs, and the usual GOP apologists tell everyone to calm down, it’s not racist, etc. Wing-nut radio does likewise. Within a 24-hour news cycle, the ad is pulled, but the damage has been done. Smarmy Abramoff-tainted Ken Melman gets on TV, pretending to wonder what all the fuss was about, then high-fives his office staff after the cameras are turned off.

After the election, if Ford loses, the ad will be considered a turning-point, a brilliant tactical move. Democrats will be criticized for not being willing to get in the gutter with the GOP. As long as these disgusting tactics are rewarded, they will continue.

And then there is Michael Fox.

Fox is a familiar face for his successful TV and screen career in the ‘80s and ‘90s whose life has been ravaged by Parkinson’s disease. He has become a champion for stem-cell research and has done ads for Democratic and Republican (Arlen Specter) candidates. When he did ads this year for Jim Doyle here in Wisconsin, a Senate candidate in Missouri and others, the GOP needed to rebut the heartfelt effectiveness of the ads. They couldn’t do themselves, so they called out one of their chief surrogates.

Enter, like the thug he is, Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh not only called Fox an under-medicated faker, he mocked his uncontrollable movements in his studio as he talked, as captured by his webcast. Although he was immediately criticized as an ignorant putz, the message got out. Now, Fox’ important message is at least partially lost in the "controversy" of whether he was really that bad, whether he was being used, etc. Limbaugh, meanwhile, happily takes the fall with the check, no doubt, already in the mail.

As the last 10 days of the campaign evolve, there will be similar outrages and sudden attempts to twist records and lives in the effort to keep power in Republican hands. Some will be visible – radio/TV, web sites – and some will be below-the-radar (unless you happen to get one), such as push-polls and phone banks.

These are the dark times, and the Republicans are cornered. They don’t care about anything but winning.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Two weeks before Election Day, the Journal Sentinel continues to carry water for Mark Green.

Yesterday, the paper carried a horribly-written, rambling article that strained to create an impression that the differences in health care policy between the two candidates for governor are "not huge". However, as Bill Christopherson points out, "[h]ealth care is actually one of the defining issues in the race, and Green and Doyle are poles apart."

While Jim Doyle has successfully made sure more state residents are protected with expanded programs like BadgerCare and SeniorCare, Green has been in Washington, voting for vast handouts of corporate welfare for pharmaceutical companies and loopholes like health savings accounts, that only serve to undermine the goal of universal health care.

But, by minimizing the differences between the candidates through a maze of confused rhetoric (the article cries out for bullet-points, but that would have defeated its purpose), the J-S, as it has the entire campaign, assists Green by failing to represent him as the far-right, health industry-pocketed wack-job that he is.

Or, perhaps, the newspaper is just quibbling with whether the differences are "huge", a word they chose to use in the headline. How about "significant" or "tremendous"? How about, in the case of Green’s reliance on the magic of market forces, "life-threatening"?

Then, today, as Doyle continues to do his job by notifying the Bush (and Green’s) federal government that he would seek a waiver to keep SeniorCare going, the Journal Sentinel decided that story was secondary to Green’s foolish proposal to move the entire state Department of Workforce Development to Milwaukee.

The important SeniorCare request to the feds was apparently dismissed by the paper because it was "little surprise" and because the SeniorCare waiver was not expiring until June (what’s wrong with planning ahead?). And what, exactly, is any more surprising about a blatantly opportunistic proposal to rip one of the state’s largest agencies out of its home in Madison to scrounge for votes in Milwaukee, with $500,000 in "faith-based" money thrown in for good measure? These are the kinds of un-serious ideas you expect from a politician desperate to chip away at Doyle’s deserved advantage in the city.

The article nods to these kinds of inconvenient issues while giving the whole idea undue legitimacy. While saying the proposal would face "controversy" (gee, ya think?), the J-S marveled at the political strategy that would supposedly "[blunt] Doyle's expected victory margin here". This is the kind of political reporting that treats its subjects like idiots. The logic appears to be that we would be more inclined to vote for a candidate who makes nutty, unworkable, inefficient proposals, as long as it means a few more state employees in city. Self-interest or good government? Why not strive for both?

It is a bit surprising that Green would be spending his time on these kind of relatively subtle patronizing gestures this late in the campaign. It may be an attempt to claim some plausible deniability from the expected antics of his surrogates, who will spend the next two weeks on talk-radio and paid advertising scorching the earth and poisoning the well to smear Doyle and suppress turnout by disgusted independents. That the Journal Sentinel is at his side, helping, is not a surprise.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


There are so many ways that the Bush Era of division and lawlessness has created a world we often don’t recognize. As the cleansing election of 2006 approaches, the worst continues to creep from the cesspool of the politically lunatic fringe now in power.

In Escondido, California, a law has been passed to ban illegal immigrants from living there. Starting November 18th, it will be a crime for landlords to rent property in the town, just 50 miles north of Mexico. This from All Headline News: "According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, under the law, landlords whose renters are subject of complaints would have to submit documentation on their tenants' immigration status to the city, which would then forward the information to federal authorities for verification."

Get that? "Renters who are subject of complaints". Now, who might make such complaints and about whom? "Hey, did you notice that brown-skinned person moving in down the block? I think he was speaking Spanish...What was that number for the city to make a complaint?"

This abomination is the product of most blatant appeal to racism in American politics since Jim Crow sat demanding poll taxes at voter registration tables in the South. This past summer, knowing they were facing an uphill battle to keep their grip on power, the Republicans – with the help of a compliant mainstream media – created, out of thin air, the "crisis" of immigration. With no corresponding event other than the Hannity-hyped antics of the vigilante "Minutemen" (the most sacrilegious hijacking of Revolutionary iconic sloganeering since the "Patriot" Act), the GOP threw caution, reason and Latino voters to the wind as they tried to see who could come up with the most outrageous "solutions" to the immigration "problem".

Chief among the drooling politicians looking for trophies in the Get ‘Em Hall of Shame was our own national embarrassment, Jim Sensenbrenner. During a recent congressional break, Sensenbrenner led show "hearings" with other Republicans on his Judiciary Committee. The pretend-Committee appeared in swing districts across the country and took "testimony" from those victims of immigration, real and imagined.

But, there is no "crisis" in immigration. Sure, more poor people from Mexico than before come across the border where they can, work hard, and send badly-needed dollars back to their family. So what? Border agents both north and south do what they can to deter people coming in illegally and properly send them back. When there is danger – more likely from the Canadian border, where some prospective terrorists have been found trying to sneak in (or at least that’s what Homeland Security tells us in the weeks before every election) – they enforce the law.

Suspiciously well-financed and always very well-fed and clean, the intrepid all-white "Minutemen" scour the Mexican border areas, harassing any poor soul who has chosen to risk his or her life crossing the desert to make a decent living. They even promised to build fences on private land to keep the Mexicans out. No doubt, this was merely practice for their contract proposal to build the 700-mile fence the Congress foolishly approved before its recent recess. Perhaps they hope to get a sub-contract from Haliburton – always first in line – for such work.

Unfortunately, the immigration issue is one that the Democrats have refused to call by its phony name. Apparently, the consultants-that-be decided that we must treat immigration as a serious issue for which we must propose better and more effective solutions, like fine payments and English lessons for those who want to legalize. Like the failed U.S. embargo against Cuba, for some mysterious reason, we must not challenge the premise. We must, we will, fight – just differently.

This is nuts. The best answer to whatever immigration issue exists is to say – forget it for now. We have so much more to do and so many greater priorities that immigration isn’t even in the top 50 – somewhere below, say, building more concrete barriers around public buildings; above, maybe, revising computer technology in the Bureau of Prisons. There are so many other important issues to tackle, you just don’t get to immigration for a long time. Check back in 10 years and we’ll see.

But, no. At least for purposes of this election, the Republicans and their surrogates have managed to use fear, ignorance and latent racism to move immigration to the front burner of public consciousness. That’s why desperate politicians far from the border – the Mexican border, anyway – like Mark Green use the issue to try to get traction in a failed campaign. While he avoids the issue in debates and everywhere else, his campaign makes a lists of all the things immigrants get just because they are here, plays on the jealousy of those who think they have less and blames it all on Jim Doyle. If these ads had appeared without the surrogate-driven campaign since this summer, he would have been laughed out of the race. He should be anyway, but the phony immigration issue gives his disingenuousness more legitimacy than it deserves.

Meanwhile, back in Escondido, a farm worker leaves his apartment before dawn, heading for a long day in the fields. When he comes back tonight, the police will be there, demanding his papers. There was a complaint, you see, from the neighbors.

It will be up to him to prove that his brown-skin doesn’t mean what we think it does.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I'm not much for name-calling, but this is too good to ignore:

Mad Magazine: Loved it then. Love it now.


Republicans across the country abruptly left the campaign trail yesterday and descended on Duke University after news broke that researchers there had developed a device that would make objects disappear.

"Where could I find the scientists?" House Speaker Dennis Hastert asked a passerby, as he stood outside the historic Duke Chapel in a crumpled trenchcoat and sporting several days growth of beard. On the campus green, Karl Rove was seen stopping students at random, demanding directions to the research facility, which seemed to have itself become invisible.

Bereft of ideas and hoisted on the petard of their own actions and inaction since they came to Congressional power in 1994 and had their president installed by the Supreme Court in 2000, the GOP heavies came to Durham looking for the ultimate October Surprise; a Hail Mary pass of historic proportions. If only they could make people, evidence of disasters and history itself disappear, they may stand a chance to avoid the trouncing at the polls, currently scheduled and guaranteed to occur on November 7th.

While Hastert, Rove and others scoured the Duke campus for answers, key staffers back in Washington and around the country made priority lists of possible immediate uses of the technology. High on the list of those the GOP would just as soon not be seen were Donald Rumsfeld and (unbeknownst to him as he trolled the Duke campus) Hastert himself. Republican embarrassments that had already gone into hiding, such as Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley, were considered less of a priority.

Of keen interest to the desperate leaders was whether the technology could be applied to vast areas of cities or countries. Rove and Hastert came to Duke armed with millions of dollars in cash, hoping to leave with a cloak sufficient to quickly cover Iraq, or, at least, Baghdad. Contingency plans were also developed to put a shroud of invisibility around parts of New Orleans, although, with the passing of the first anniversary, media indifference made such an application of the device unnecessary.

At the Department of Homeland Security, top government sleuths and scientists explored the possibility of disappearing history itself, which would really be the ultimate boon to Republican hopes in November. Although made more difficult with the expansion of information on computers and the internet, it is believed that whole shelves of library books could be emptied – or at least they would appear that way – and thousands of downloaded-but-blank web pages could result in gains for the GOP in historically-forgetful districts. Who needs to burn the books when you can’t find them?

One of the first to return from the mission to Durham yesterday was Dick Cheney, who made a quick visit to the White House before retiring to his undisclosed location for the night. This morning, the White House announced that President Bush was "busy" and might not be seen in public this weekend, next week or beyond. "He’s here in the White House," said Tony Snow. "You just can’t see him right now."

Back in the Vice President’s residence, Cheney was seen, smiling broadly.