Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Year That Was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Home-Schooling with WIVA - Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Virtual School Scheme Goes Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Viguerie & Weyrich: Grumpy Old Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The YouTube GOP Debate

This was the "debate" that the Republicans almost cancelled several months ago after the Dems had too much fun with it. Questions from a snowman? Oh, they were too grown-up for that. But on Wednesday night, the slightly-winnowed field of Republicans fighting for a chance to lose to a Democrat sucked it up and showed up in Florida to take questions from real and imaginary video people – anything to get their face in front of voters as crunch-time collides with the holiday season.

Immigration – set up and planned as a wedge issue for the party this year – was the subject early on. The first question was to Giuliani about New York being an immigrant "sanctuary city". Rudy denied making NYC a sanctuary city ("Did, too/Did not" exchange with Romney). He actually made fairly sensible arguments for letting immigrant kids go to school, etc., all of which makes him less likely to be the nominee of the rabid GOP. As Romney tried to play tough guy on the issue, Giuliani dropped something I haven’t heard before – that Romney had undocumented workers working on his mansion in Massachusetts (apparently a year-old story in the Boston Globe). Mitt then asked, if you have a company working for you, are you supposed to go out and ask for everybody’s papers? Good question – for the rich, immigration status ignorance is bliss. Even for professionally-constructed tough guys like Romney.

More rabid immigration heavy-breathing questions -- will you allow amnesty? It goes to Fred Thompson, and the heat in the room when Romney and Giuliani were going at it was suddenly sucked out of the room, replaced by the tepid, slow-motion bleatings of a guy who looks like he just woke up. He agreed with the video guy and then made the remarkable admission that "we have all hired people that in retrospect was a bad decision." Really, Fred? Do tell! He doesn’t, of course. You really have to wonder why Thompson bothered getting into this thing. He looks like he wants to be home petting his dog.

John McCain finally got to contribute something 20 minutes into it, denying that his immigration bill was "amnesty" and making a strong statement about the demagogic tone of the immigration discussion. He even brought up border security as a failure like Katrina and Iraq, calling the undocumented "god’s children who need some protection under the law". It was quite a statement – the most human sentiment of the night.
Tancredo then soiled the room by applauding the demagogues. Then he made it worse when the told the next questioner, who needs a guest worker program for his seasonal workers, to go stick it. "I’m not going to aid any more immigration into this country." The equally irrelevant Duncan Hunter then checked in, so proud of his border fence efforts – sez he can do 854 miles in 6 months! Only 1,145 miles to go!

Hitting every immigration hot-button, Huckabee got a question about why he gave resident tuition to the children of the undocumented. Like Giuliani, he gives a good-government answer why those kids should be treated like the other kids who grew up in the state. Romney, for some reason, then gets to slab the red meat back on the grill, saying that his reasoning was "great", but liberals have great ideas, too. "But, Mike, that’s not your money." Ah, the punch-line. No doubt this guy was a great Mormon salesman – set ‘em up and knock ‘em down. Mr. Clean forgot he was up against a real preacher, though. "We are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did," says Huckabee, and Romney slinks back into his cave.

Q5: Now we’re talking – Ron Paul gets a question about Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission conspiracy theories! This is much more entertaining than Kucinich seeing a UFO! Paul surprised no one by actually signing on to the theories as an "ideological battle" between those who believe in "globalism" and those who believe in "national soverignty". He even talks about the reputed Super-Freeway between Mexico and Canada! Beautiful stuff. "Knowledge is out there if you look for it," sez Paul. Boo-yah, Trilateralist enablers! For some reason (wink), none of the other candidates are asked for their opinion on this important topic. CNN: In the Bag for the CFR!

Q6: National debt question to McCain. He attacks his usual spending targets, including S-CHIP, losing the credibility he built up on the immigration question. Next question on the same issue goes to Fred, who someone nudges and momentarily awakens to agree with everyone else and starts riffing on Social Security. OK, Fred – done? Fine, see you in 15 minutes.

Ron Paul finds a way in and says we can save all kinds of money if we just "bring our troops home", to boos and cheers. McCain takes his next opportunity, completely off-topic, to light into Paul for being an isolationist "which caused World War II". Lots of boos for his appeasement smear. Troops say "Let Us Win," says McCain to much applause (he liked that line so much, he repeated it a half-hour later). Paul asks, if that’s the case, why does he get most money from active duty servicemen – a pretty good question if true. He says McCain doesn’t know the difference between isolationism and opposing intervention. Which he probably does, but damned if he’s going to admit it while he’s running for president as the standard bearer of the Stupid War.

After a question on farm subsidies (Iowa suck-up Romney bends like corn in the wind), Anderson Cooper sandbagged Rudy with the breaking story about his billing the city in obscure ways to fund his trips to the Hamptons while he was cheating on his then-wife. Rudy says he had 24-hour security and didn’t have anything to do with the billing. Well, I guess that was good enough for Cooper, who then let it go, but we’ll see where the facts lead on that story.

A woman shows up on a video, waving a lead-based Thomas the Tank Engine toy in front of her kids face. Ack! Thomas! The line of Sir Top-em Hats on the stage nodded knowingly and pledged to buy American.

An ad by the Thompson campaign is played (they all get one) that attacks Romney on abortion and Huckabee on taxes by playing footage of from their past. Although he said he was going to a break, Cooper sees the ad and wakes up Thompson. "What’s up with that," he asks. Stunned – I mean, they did tell him they were going to break – Fred summons up something about those being their own words. Romney "admits" that he used to respect women’s choices but says he was "wrong" back when he was right.

Gun control questions. Oh brother, here we go. Rudy declares an individual right to bear arms (the Supremes have that question now – we’ll see) but almost sanely says there can be reasonable restrictions. Cue boos from gun nuts in crowd. Thompson looks up from his lapel to say that Ruby never met a gun law he didn’t like and declared that "the 2nd Amendment is not a choice thing", one of the less articulate ways of discussing law I’ve heard from a lawyer. The next YouTuber asks all candidates what kinds of guns they own and what kind. Thompson, who last week said his trip to a gun store was like a "day in paradise" said he has a "couple of guns", but wouldn’t (or, more likely, couldn’t) describe them. Hunter got misty about his dad’s gun.

A woman asked what should a woman be charged with if abortion was made illegal? Ron Paul (Motto: Right on the War, Wrong on Everything Else), who says he was an OB doctor, pretty much says go ahead and lock her up. Another asked, if Roe v. Wade was overturned and Congress passed a national ban on abortion, would you sign it? Romney would "be delighted" to sign the bill – "terrific!" he shouts with a spooky smile on his face.

Huckabee, the preacher, excelled on a couple of religious questions, without beating everyone over the head with his beliefs. Asked "What Would Jesus Do?" with the death penalty, he got off the line of the night – "Jesus was too smart to run for public office". But he immediately lost some credibility as when he admitted snuffing several people as governor of Arkansas – after taking all the facts very seriously, of course. Asked in another video by a visibly disturbed young man waving around a bible if they "believe this book", Huckabee went preacher on everyone’s ass in a fairly delightful way, saying that we shouldn’t worry about the rest of the Bible until we get "love your neighbor" and "what you do to the least of us, you do to me" right.

Rudy actually came up with a funny clip, "claiming" he saved the city from King Kong and higher snowfalls. Later, he jokingly took responsibility for four World Series wins by the Yankees.

The best question of the night – booted by all the candidates – was by a Muslim woman, who asked what they would do to repair our image in the Muslim world after the Iraq invasion and the various other Bush foreign policy disasters. Rudy missed the point (on purpose) and said we should "remain on offense against Islamic terrorism" and managed to get in his first mention of 9/11. McCain would continue the surge and fight a date for withdrawal. Hunter would never apologize for what we’ve done. It couldn’t be clearer listening to these responses how wrong all of these men are to restore our image and stature in the world. They don’t think we’ve done anything wrong. They’d probably do it all over again.

As if to drive the nail further in our national-image coffin, Romney announced, proudly, that he would not agree not to waterboard or torture detainees. McCain showed Romney to be the cheap punk that he is, proclaiming that the U.S. should always take the high ground. Romney lamely named the bunch of wrong people he’s getting advice from. McCain said then we would have to withdraw from the Geneva conventions. "We will never allow torture," said McCain, as right about that as he is wrong about Iraq.

So, how long do we stay in Iraq, asked the next video. Fred! "As long as it takes!" "Iran is waiting to fill the vacuum!" Great stuff, isn’t it? Ron Paul said we should let them have their country back. McCain, who knows better, then claimed "American public opinion" made us lose the Vietnam war. This is nuts, but it's what passes for revisionist history on the right.

The biggest line of nonsense came from Duncan Hunter on a question about gays in military. Hunter made the wild claim that most recruits are "conservative" with "family values", and shouldn’t have to hang around a bunch of people who made them uncomfortable. Cooper quoted Romney back to himself when he said "I look forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve openly in the military". Romney seemed to be caught off-guard by that particular flip-flop – I mean, how could he be expected to keep them straight? "Now is not the time," he declared. Well, does he still "look forward to that day", asked Cooper. Apparently not, as Romney tried to disappear behind the podium.

And so on.

So what did we learn after over two hours with the GOP candidates:

1) Fred Thompson is ridiculous. Always looking down into his shirt, speaking in the most unattractively-slow Southern drawl you’ve ever heard. There is a reason Thompson has never played a leading role in a movie or on TV. He is a two-bit character actor, who producers call in when they need someone cranky to sit behind a desk and be a jerk. In real life – as real as these political games get, anyway – he’s bland as Velveeta. He might even be interesting if he were more cranky and more of a jerk. But he doesn’t have it in him.

2) It's hard to watch John McCain. It’s a shame to have someone with his history come up with these brilliant, in-your-face moments on immigration and torture – and then completely blow it with his jingoistic Iraq shtick and his tired quacking about pork-barrel spending. The guy obviously has a sense of humor and a sense of decency. But he negates all his grace by talking up this Stupid War and lying about the last one. What a waste.

3) Rudy Giuliani is not a Republican. He has respect for the good things that government can do, has some idea of government’s limits in controlling personal behavior. He appears to have a good mind for public policy – the best in this field, anyway, but that’s not saying much. He decided to run for President, seeing the dearth of talent that is the Republican field. And he figured he’d run as some sort of tough-on-terror strongman, riding his 9/11/ coattails, and agreed to say "yes" to every goofy GOP proposal they put under his nose, some of which I’m sure he and Kerik used to have good laughs about when they got drunk and watched Pat Robertson talk about the same things on TV.

4) Mitt Romney is playing his role to the hilt. Built from the ground up as the Robo-Candidate, he looks the part, has most of his tough-guy lines down pat, and he’s willing to change even more, if it will get him there. If Republicans want to stay stupid and make the same empty-suit play they did with Bush, he should be the nominee. I'm hoping, anyway.

None of these men will be able to win against whoever the Democratic candidate is. They are all, to one degree or another, too locked in on the wrong side of the war, torture, immigration and the Bush legacy. The American people are looking for a change, and these guys ain’t it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sykes Bravely Fights Coexistence

Charlie Sykes was in high-whine victim mode last week after he was called to task by the Interfaith Council of Greater Milwaukee for re-posting a so-called "parody" of a popular bumper sticker by fellow nut-job Tom McMahon on his vanity blog. The week-long episode featured all of the usual wing-nut defense mechanisms – double standards, attacks on the innocent messenger, lies about those concerned, complaints of "political correctness", etc. In the end, Milwaukee’s Teflon Charlie moves on to the next outrage, with the full blessing of the cowardly Journal Company.

McMahon – a minor player in the kook-right cheddarsphere – took the religious icons that make the word "COEXIST" in the bumper sticker and stuck in a hammer-and-sickle for the "e" and a swastika in place of the Star of David. The idea by McMahon (who Sykes strangely calls "brilliant" in his re-post) is apparently that those who believe in coexistence among people of different faiths are silly and would also choose coexistence over confrontation with Communism and Naziism. This is what passes for humor on the right-wing lunatic fringe. Get it? Ha ha. Ha.

Sykes – who rarely writes more than a couple of sentences, filling up his vanity site with e-mails from his favorite Republicans, Scott Walker and David Clarke, and links to dreck like McMahon, Jessica McBride and the strangely omnipresent Owen Robinson – took most of the heat for McMahon’s juvenile production because of his high mainstream radio (MSR) profile and his corporate sponsor, Journal Communications. After the Interfaith Council wrote to his employer asking that the post be deleted, Sykes basically told the distinguished group of clergy to stick it. Journal Communications, which pretends to be a good corporate citizen, stuck up for their fair-haired wing-nut. "I stand by Charlie’s response," said Sykes’ chief enabler, station GM Jon Schweitzer, who has presided over the transition of TMJ into an all-right-wing-all-the-time GOP propaganda vehicle.

Sykes’ response to the Council was remarkable for its smug sense of pretended outrage and disrespect for the Interfaith Council’s usually uncontroversial membership of reverends, rabbis and priests. Playing the "I come from a Jewish family" card, Sykes waxes indignant about the letter’s accurate description of the parody and the Council’s more-than-legitimate complaint that putting a swastika in the place of a Star of David as particularly offensive. He repeatedly calls the Council members "ignorant", accuses them of "bullying" and even summons up a self-righteous "shame on you". As such recklessly offensive wing-nuts always do when they get caught, Sykes wants to pose for holy pictures on the subject of anti-Semitism. "I have consistently spoken out against anti-Semitism and have been a strong supporter of Israel," and blah blah blah. Well, when it’s convenient for him anyway. He also slings more than a little straw-man mud, calling the Council to task because they supposedly failed to protest "this particular tactic when it has been used by the left," without mentioning that such a thing has never happened.

But Sykes’ primary point in his written response and during the long woe-is-me blabbering on his radio show on Wednesday appears to be that his posting of offensive nonsense on his vanity blog is a "flagrant act of free speech" and he gets to do it and you can’t stop him and na-na-na-boo-boo. "It is free speech that provokes more free speech," he says from his imaginary moral mountaintop. Except when someone disagrees with him, of course. Sykes and his ilk are more than willing to use whatever bully tactics they can to shut down speech at a festival in San Francisco that dares to be held near a Catholic church or to demand that professors who get out of line be fired.

Aw, poor Charlie – for all of his sanctimonious posturing about what anyone else might say, he is so put out by anyone who would dare hold him (or his employer) responsible for his own stupid statements. He declares the Council’s request as an attempt at censorship, conveniently forgetting that only governments censor. There is nothing wrong with concerned citizens who are understandably offended by the in-your-face dancing wing-nuts to ask their employers to get a grip and to avoid unnecessary offense.

Although fully ensconced in his knowing sanctimony and his cozy corporate cocoon, Sykes showed a bit of defensiveness by calling out the usual gang of idiots to offer tactical and predictable support and made sure he summarized all of it in a long post on Thanksgiving Friday. Always-helpful right-wing Marquette professor John McAdams did the dirty work of attacking the Interfaith Council itself for its apparently offensive social agenda of feeding the poor, health care for all and other traditionally religious concerns and for not clearing its members with Nut-Right Inc. Talk about "politically incorrect". The attack-the-messenger-to-get-the-focus-off-the-message tactic is standard stuff for the win-at-all-costs wing-nuts when they can’t win on the underlying issue, which is always. Rick Esenberg likewise gets into his defense-of-the-indefensible mode. Jessica McBride hilariously claims Sykes was being "phony soldiered", meaning, in her usual pretend-world, that lefties were "victimizing" Sykes the same way they supposedly "victimized" Limbaugh when he called all anti-war soldiers "phony". The only thing similar between the two flare-ups is that Limbaugh really did say the offensive thing that we said he did and Sykes really did sign on to an offensive parody. Lefties and Democratic politicians get hammered by wing-nuts through their echo chamber all day, everyday for things they said and didn’t say. But try to parse something out of their stupid mouths and you get more victimhood-squealing than anything the left has ever put together. Note to Sykes: Read your own books, especially the parts about false victimhood, being offended at every little challenge to yourself and excessive whining.

The bottom line on this whole imbroglio is that Sykes, McMahon and all their various defenders are, shockingly, against coexistence. "...there are some things – evils -- that we cannot simply ‘coexist with.’ These would include Communism and Nazism," writes Sykes. Fine, and the COEXIST sticker implies nothing like that, but that’s not the point of the parody. The point of the parody was that McMahon’s "lefties in Madison" whose cars bear the COEXIST sticker (by the way, there are plenty of them around here) are a bunch of naive nincompoops who are silly to think that we should all at least try to get along – or "sing Kumbaya", as Sykes puts it. To these deluded few, Islam - the faith of billions that happens to include a small minority of violent nut-bags - is the enemy. They prefer permanent war to peace – and a holy war, at that. That's the real shame and the real scandal. Stomping your feet and holding your breath until you turn blue about "free speech" and "political correctness" doesn’t change the fact that you are just plain wrong.

P.S.: And what is so bad about Kumbaya, anyway? It happens to be a great summer camp sing-along, and a religious one at that (Someone’s praying Lord...). I’ll take that over Lee Greenwood’s pathetic "God Bless the USA" (I always wondered about this: "where at least I know I’m free." "At least"? It’s like he’s miserable but "at least..." The guy seems to have other issues, does he not?). I think one response to this should be that more people get the COEXIST sticker and put it on their car. I get my favorite bumper stickers here in Milwaukee at the Peace Action of Wisconsin office in Riverwest, at 1001 E. Keefe.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shepherd Express: The Lost Opportunity

It’s always uncomfortable to criticize local artists – that’s why virtually no one does it. You want your local singer-songwriter to succeed, so you forgive him the occasionally maudlin 12-string finger-picking whine about the last lost love. It’s the same with efforts to force an alternative or leftist perspective into the national or local conversation through various media; you let slide the single-issue tirade about free trade in Peru or whatever. After all they mean well, don’t they? There’s no use treating locals like some national target like Dave Matthews or Chris Matthews, nor should they necessarily be held to the same standards.

But, then there’s Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express.

The Shepherd Express – what passes for an alternative weekly in Milwaukee – is celebrating its 25th anniversary in this week’s issue. Its history is an interesting one, as are most of the spontaneous journalistic "happenings" that rose up across the country during the cultural revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s. After Milwaukee’s earlier attempts at weekly counter-cultural media capitalism and creativity – Kaleidoscope (1967-71) and the Bugle American (1970-78) – went the way of the love bead, it left Milwaukee without a place to advertise bong shops, record stores and youth-oriented bars.

According to the history of the paper in the anniversary issue, the then-Crazy Shepherd was started in 1982 as an arty "free-expression" eight-pager featuring UW-Milwaukee students with things on their open minds and soon evolved to (try to) fill the void. Through the years, there were mergers, staff coups, rides to the financial rescue and the usual sorts of alternative intrigue. A former state legislator, Louis Fortis, is credited in the history as the latest savior and has run the paper for the past ten years.

The history in the current issue, I’m sure, has many past staffers pulling their hair out, as the vanquished always do, when history is defined by the victors. For instance, many of Milwaukee’s best journalists have passed through (and, always, out of) the Shepherd editorial doors, including Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy. I wonder how Murphy feels about his exit as editor being described as follows: "...his desire to cover softer news didn’t mesh with the paper’s long history of serious political reporting." Murphy always being one of the city’s best political reporters and the SE containing no "serious" political reporting that I can see, that must come as a shock to him.

I have no knowledge or interest in any of the people or soap-operas that evolved the Shepherd and that always follow ground-up, grow-on-the-fly alternative (or, too often, formerly alternative) weeklies. My interest is as a consumer. I want a damn decent rag to pick up with my lunch every Wednesday or Thursday so I can get some perspective I can’t get elsewhere in the dead-tree universe. Being the ever-forgiving sort, I always open each new Shepherd Express with hope for a new day, for redemption, for anything – anything – substantial and worthwhile between its pages. I am always disappointed. In fact, it’s always depressing.

Sorry, but the Shepherd’s few redeeming qualities – Joel McNally’s column and fellow former-John Byrons bartender Owen "Casey" Dunne’s clever growing-up cartoon, You Damn Kid – don't quite make up for the stuff that usually makes up the rest of the paper.
  • The problems begin with each week's cover page, which often highlights the most ridiculous of stories – "Dude, Where’s My Vacation?"; "Are Gadgets an Addiction?", to name only a couple of the most recent -- with cheesy, amatuerish graphics.
  • Inside, the paper seems frozen in a bad ‘80s layout, with content plastered on the page in read-it-or-leave-it indifference. The SE experimented for a couple of years with handing over several of the middle-back pages to younger demographic Gen-Y’ers with a flippant indifference to the regular Shepherd layout, but, alas, still, with little to say.
  • The paper has always been hampered by personalities who were of historic significance or friends to the Shepherd staff, but had little to offer the rest of us. The most tedious of these was Dave Berkman, a UWM professor who wrote a ponderous media column for decades and was bounced a couple of years ago.
  • But Rip Tenor in his alter-ego as columnist Art Kumbalek also tries our patience on a regular basis – how many years has it been since "what the fock?" was funny? The sad state of the SE is exemplified by the fact that Tenor-as-Kumbalek regularly acts as the Shepherd's cuddly mascot in area bars.
  • Too often, the personal staff indulgences are just embarrassing. Take the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard annoyance of social butterflies Boris and Doris, who some misbegotten editor at the SE apparently thinks are interesting as they relate who went to what Eastside house party or benefit or whatever – complete with the revelers’ names bold-faced. I keep hoping it’s a parody, but it’s not.
  • The paper recently added a regular travel column that hardly expands our knowledge of the world ("Jamaica and Arizona are perfect winter destinations"! "Wisconsin Dells Dazzles"!).
  • The arts and entertainment pages suffer from inconsistency of what to cover and an apparent lack of writing talent to cover it. Sometimes, concerts will be reviewed after the fact, most times not. Reviews of CDs seem to be governed by the niche interests of whoever is writing the review (says the former Fine Arts writer who used to hog all the Costello and Springsteen reviews back at the Cardinal). There is a focus on local artists and under-covered areas like theater, dance and classical get their due, but the writers seldom are able to express anything but admiration for the effort.
  • I can’t remember the last time I was able to get through a Dave Luhrssen movie review.
  • I mean, most "alternative" papers are at least able to get the fine arts stuff right. The Shepherd arts coverage suffers badly in comparison to the Onion, which managed to produce top-flight movie and music reviews even before it went national. Even the Onion's local content is far better written and more interesting.
  • The "news" pages, such as they are, consist of a bits-and-pieces review of the previous week and whatever cover-feature story dominates the issue. The paper seems reluctant to take a firm stand on anything and hasn't broken a major news story in Milwaukee since, well, never. It offers oh-so-serious endorsements during election season, with no indication the rest of the year why we should care what the Shepherd thinks.
  • Every damn article in the non-A&E parts of the paper ends with a juvenile "what’s your take?" tag-line. It kind of takes the edge off of, say, a Joe Conason column (Conason’s OK, but he’s no Molly Ivins – R.I.P.). We all know we can write to the editor. Why mess with the flow of McNally's annual anti-deer-hunting column by having the editor barge in at the end asking for comment?
  • The new back-page classifieds is titled Bizarre Bazaar. Really. How bizarre is it, man? Is this the best we can do with ironic dissonance after 25 years?

I don’t mean to be so hard on the Shepherd Express. I always assume that – except for the inclusion of Boris and Doris – they are trying to do their best. But holding the mantle of the alternative weekly in a major city carries with it some responsibility. The internet now allows us to get some alternative perspective into play, but it’s nothing like the power of a well-distributed newspaper with a full-time staff.

If Madison can produce a quality product like Isthmus (its hard-news section led, not coincidentally, by Shepherd veteran Bill Lueders), Milwaukee should be able to pull together something that at least is not a laughing stock – or vulnerable to rear-guard attacks like the Journal Company’s frivolous but youth-demographic-targeted MKE. As it is, the Shepherd Express exists as a placeholder in the market, like an upscale Weekly Shopper. It could and should be so much more.

Ahem. What's your take?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mukasey and the Rack

In Washington Wednesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey took the helm of the criminally-damaged Justice Department. President Bush was there to put his stamp of approval on his latest hire, as were John Ashcroft and Dick Thornberg, but, strangely, no Alberto Gonzalez. Muskasey, the federal judge who rubber-stamped every abuse of the Constitution imagined by the Bushies, now is in charge of the lame-duck administration’s last-ditch assaults on the Constitution, and appears up to the job. The only question is how much more of a mess the Democrats will have to clean up in ‘09, when they take charge and clean the dirty floors and files of a Justice Department as off-the-rails as the rest of the administration, if not more so.

The big issue in Mukasey’s confirmation hearings was "waterboarding", that time-honored torture technique that has regained favor in Bush and Cheney’s anything-goes war on humanity. Mukasey was more than slippery on the issue, pretending that he didn’t know enough about the ungodly procedure to make a judgement call on its appropriate use. You could see Dick Cheney nodding with pride in his office as the pliant former judge morphed into the pliant AG. You see, if it’s good enough for the Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge, it should be good enough for us. I mean, if we act like respectable humans, the terrorists win, right?

I always wondered why all this focus on pussy-footed techniques used by our wayward 21st-century interrogators, like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the cold cell. The answer appears to be that your government favors torture that does not leave visible scars. But, if it’s really a matter of national security and the safety of millions of Americans, as torture advocates claim, why not let it all hang out? Hell, someone has information about the nuking of New York City? Why not thumb screws? The Iron Maiden? The Rack? What are we fooling around for? Let ‘em have it!

These are the questions that should have been asked of our latest Bush AG. Mr. Mukasey, how do you feel about the Rack? Do you think we should be allowed to use it? After all, the fate of millions hangs in the balance. Come on, judge. What about the Rack?

Chances are, Mukasey wouldn’t have answered that question either. "The Rack? Gee, I don’t know whether that is torture or not." He might quote Saint Giuliani: "It depends on how it’s done and who’s doing it." Any answer other than equivocation is considered weak or, at least limiting. You could imagine Cheney storming into the green room if Mukasey vacillated, his face red with rage. "Why the hell did you say that about the Rack?!!" he would mutter in twisted rage.

Well, with Mukasey now ensconced in the Gonzalez Memorial chair at the Justice Department, he doesn’t have to answer all those damn questions any more. As with all the Bush appointees, his ability to get away with outrages is limited only by the occasionally annoying squealing of those underlings with a conscience, of which there are fewer in Washington everyday. In his limited time in office, Mukasey’s charge will be to help Bush further stack the federal judiciary with weak sycophants (like Mukasey himself) and to fill the Justice Department civil service with more recruits from nut-right universities and "think"-tanks.

In Mukasey, Bush and Cheney have obviously found a kindred spirit. In discussing the "difficulty" of prosecuting accused terrorists, Mukasey wrote in the Bush-friendly pages of the Wall Street Journal "...the rules that apply to routine criminals who pursue finite goals are skewed, and properly so, to assure that only the highest level of proof will result in a conviction. But those rules do not protect a society that must gather information about, and at least incapacitate, people who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means."

Translation: We should not have to prove guilt in the most serious of cases like it’s some damn retail theft. I’ve wondered about the logic of these over-heated meatheads who insist that regular Constitutional protections are just too much when it comes to terrorism suspects. Alright, you say the guy’s a terrorist. Why? What’s your proof? Just prove it and you can do whatever you want to him. What’s so wrong with making you prove it? Putting all these people in this we-can’t-even-tell-you-why-we-think-you’re-bad Kafkaesque limbo is a large part of why the rest of the world has become alienated from us during the glorious Bush years. We have gone from one of the most legally fair countries in the world to a international legal pariah overnight.

By contributing to this bastard "intellectual" aberration, Mukasey fits right in. But I still want to know if he supports the Rack.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pervez and Neil -- No Brother Left Behind

In Pakistan, the oppressed have taken to the streets to fight the imposition of martial law by G.W. Bush’s self-described friend, Pervez Musharraf. They are being rounded up by the hundreds, and still more take their place. Their leader, placed under house arrest by the power-mad leader, has called for them to continue their struggle. Video has shown pitched battles in the streets of Islamabad, with the protesters being beaten by Musharraf’s goons. And what group is leading the charge against the suspension of the constitution and the clampdown in this supposed U.S. partner?


Yes, lawyers. "The lawyers have been the only force in the country to mount protests since Saturday night," reported the New York Times. The well-dressed revolt was spurred on by the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was deposed by Musharraf hours before the court was about to rule that he could not run in the next election and must step down as Pakistan’s leader. "Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice," urged Chaudry. "The constitution has been ripped to shreds...Don't be afraid." The photos and videos of protesters in suits and ties were as strange as they were heartening. "How do you function as a lawyer when the law is what the general says it is?" said one Pakistani barrister.

How, indeed? It almost makes one wonder why lawyers in the United States haven’t ditched their briefcases for protest signs, given the assault on the rule of law by the Bush Administration. Bush doesn’t have to fire the Supreme Court that put him in office in the first place and that has been so friendly to his program of indefinite detention, the practical elimination of habeas corpus and unprecedented executive secrecy, so there is less of a crisis atmosphere. It does sort of make you wonder what Cheney would have tried to pull with a less politicized and pliant judiciary. If Bush and Co. were really bold, it could be said that Musharraf’s recent antics are just a trial run for the American junta in 2008 – the bloodless coup by those who just won’t leave. Don’t think they haven’t thought about it.

Musharraf uses the excuse of his phony "war" on "extremists" and the resulting need for "security" to excuse his self-preserving crackdown. Sound "familiar"? That’s why Bush shrugs his shoulders and says to the clever slug who sucked $10 billion out of our gulible presdient and delivered nothing: "You ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform." That’s tellin’ him, tough guy. So much for Junior’s democracy agenda – a phony conceit to begin with, especially if it proves to be inconvenient.


Speaking of inconvenient, Neil Bush is back in the news. The president’s younger brother held the title of black sheep of the family before Junior got him off the hook by being the worst president in U.S. history. He embarrassed his father when he was president by getting caught up in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s, barely avoiding indictment (but didn’t they all?). The details of his divorce from his wife featured tales of Asian prostitutes and his soon-to-be ex stealing hair from his head for either drug tests or voodoo experiments, depending on which version you believe. A delightful review of Neil's history of bufoonery is here.

Now, Neil Bush appears to be benefitting from his brotherly connections by creating a sham product that magically gets money from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fiasco and, believe it or not, Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. Using a company that started up – no surprise here – with money from his ever-protective mom and dad, Neil’s job these days is to promote something called Curriculum on Wheels (COW). Various school districts across the country including, naturally, Texas and Florida have spent NCLB money on COW.

The problem is that the program has been determined to be educationally worthless by those stuffy educational types that demand that public money be spent on worthwhile things. Jay Spuck, a former curriculum director for the Houston school district that spent $300,000 on the overpriced junk, said "It’s not helping kids at all. It’s not helping teachers. The only way Neil has gotten in is by his name." Better yet, "the Katy Independent School District west of Houston used $250,000 in state and federal Hurricane Katrina relief money last year to buy the Curriculum on Wheels," according to the New York Times. And Babs Bush herself gave eight of the useless COW units to other schools with large numbers of Katrina evacuees.

Supposedly, the Department of Education is looking into all this and we breathlessly await their whitewashed report. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that another Bush is bungling up another business and getting bailed out by the usual suspects. The last time one of the Bush boys was looking for something to do, you know what happened. Let’s hope Neil is able to keep his job so we don’t have to go through that again.

Neil Bush’s antics, though, do raise an interesting point about the difference between what the right-wing is willing to do with information and what the left is unwilling and unable to do. If Neil Bush was even a second cousin Clinton or Rodham, I wouldn’t have to explain his history here – everyone would know because those expert in the politics of personal destruction would have made sure every detail got out into the MSM through daily repetition of the foibles of this damaged family member in the right-wing echo chamber.

But lefties can’t or won’t do that. I think it’s because we play fairer – we can’t bring ourselves to harp on the frailties of others, unless it effects public actions. That spoiled greedheads like Neil Bush would take advantage of government funds made available by his brother’s government privatization campaign comes as no surprise. We mention it here or there and move on. Even if we wanted to make him a national laughing stock – as deserving as his is – we don’t have the platforms to make it happen.

Besides, with Junior still in office, we’ve already laughed ourselves sick. It’s not funny anymore.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Blogger-Block Beaten Back

I know, I know...I haven’t blogged for a while. But I meant to. I really did.

For instance, I was going to write something about the high-pitched whining emanating from every corner of the cheddar rightersphere about the compromises necessary to achieve a state budget in Wisconsin.

It wasn’t enough that the wing-nuts used their large, obnoxious megaphones to save their pliant puppet Republican Assembly the petty and significant indignities of having to answer for their obstructionist program that delayed what was basically the same budget for an embarrassing – not to mention expensive – three months. Any other (i.e.: Democratic) legislature that pulled such a vacant stunt would have been impaled on the spear of public opinion at the first hint of higher property taxes because of last year’s numbers on anything.

Nope, helping their lackeys escape unscathed after showboating over the budget wasn’t enough – then they had to screech for weeks after the fact because the compromise did not meet their exacting standards. The self-appointed pure get to squawk on the sidelines while half of their confused followers do the impure thing by moving on with Wisconsin government. November 2008 can’t come soon enough, both locally and nationally. The only question is how many of the Republicans in the Assembly will quit before they are fired by the electorate.

Last week, I tried to cure my blogger-block by watching the Democratic presidential debate. As expected, John Edwards and Tim Russert did their best to take Hillary Clinton down a few notches, and might have managed to do so, with the still-lofty Barack Obama picking up the spare change.

For the most part, the debate featured more of the same tedious stagecraft that has dominated joint appearances like this since Reagan avoided sure defeat by "quipping" about not taking advantage of Mondale’s youth when Mondale had him on the ropes after their first debate in 1984. The whole circus makes one yearn for the days when they woke up Nixon just in time for his debate with JFK. Kennedy was also just getting out of bed, but that’s a different story.

Still, when watching the Dems debate, you might actually learn something – which is never a danger with the Republicans. Where Republicans dig deeper holes for themselves in the general election by naked base-pandering, the Democrats are more thinking beings with their own intact, personal and more legitimate world views, if they are not always best able or prepared to make it all evident to the general public. Clinton’s strength is that she is almost as much of a policy geek as her husband (I said almost). Hillary and Bill have spent their entire adult lives – together – trying to figure out how to make people’s lives better through government and it shows.

The command of the issues that has vaulted and kept her in the lead is complete, even if her expression of them is often over-consulted and reserved. Clinton walks the earth with the front-runner’s curse; damned if she is careful, measured and option-preserving and damned if she would cast aside those damn consultants and let it fly. She’ll be able to draw stark enough contracts with the GOP candidate in the general and with all of those clowns pretty much just promising to stay the disastrous Bush course in Iraq and elsewhere, that should be more than enough.

Any of the other contending Democrats would be fine, but their limitations are magnified in these appearances. For all of his "baby boomers, get over yourselves" new-generation rhetoric, Obama is too Kumbaya to play with the big boys – at least this year. His heart and his head definitely and permanently in the right place, he has yet to find his true voice as a leader. John Edwards pulled out his best trial lawyer shtick in this debate, hitting Clinton’s easiest targets without adding much for himself. Edwards is so effective at this kind of stuff, he may end up helping the Republicans – a whole bunch of the lesser wing-nut bloggers have linked to his YouTube ad picking apart Clinton’s hemming-and-hawing. As much as I can appreciate a good lawyer kicking ass, that kind of skill only goes so far.

As for "the others" (as they used to call them on Gilligan’s Island), I have always liked Joe Biden, who has played the Angry Establishment Man as well as anybody over the last several years. His performances on Sunday talk shows and in these debates are always entertaining; his biting analysis of Bush’s legendary shortcomings – especially in foreign policy – are tinged with delightful sarcasm and a dark sense of humor.

At the Dem debate last Tuesday, Biden proved to be the most prescient of the candidates on one of the most vital issues. While Clinton walks in unfortunate stride on the outer fringes of the Iran War caucus, Biden got it more right than he could have imagined: "What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out of control Pakistan? It's not close." With martial law coming to Islamabad this weekend, it puts much of the real Middle East in perspective – who our "friends" are, or should be.

Finally, speaking of lesser wing-nut bloggers, I also missed the opportunity to comment on the minor flare-up caused by an anonymous lefty blogger calling Jessica McBride a bad name. In doing so, that guy broke a couple of common sense rules: 1) it is decidedly sexist and un-feminist to call anyone gender-specific derogatory names, and 2) never, ever put McBride in the position of being a martyr – she wears it too well. However, conservatives shouldn’t get too huffy about using gender-specific derogatory terms – you won’t have to look too deep on FreeRepublic and other nut-right sites to find all kinds of nasty, sexist names thrown at a certain future president.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Magic of Springsteen

Apparently, I have been living a lie for several years now, not only to others to myself. Up to the show Sunday night in Chicago, I could have sworn that I had seen at least 30 Bruce Springsteen concerts. Well, I just reviewed the history – the Springsteen concert record, complete with setlists, is well-documented by those with lots of time on their hands – and I can only count 19. It sure feels like more.

My first show was historic – the infamous Bomb Scare Show at the Uptown Theater in Milwaukee. It’s a long, beautiful story – general admission in a movie theater; third row center; dramatic songcraft building into something special; nervous solo "Thunder Road" at the piano after 45 minutes, followed by announcement that we all had to leave and could come back at midnight; band went to the Pfister and got drunk; now in front row, band played until 2:30 a.m. The night was, in a word, Magic.

I took my then-14 year-old brother to the next one in Milwaukee two years later (Jim caught his harmonica after "Thunder Road"); saw three Darkness Tour stops (met him backstage in Cincinnati – that’s me with the hair); sang "Hungary Heart" at his feet while he stood on the chairs at Alpine Valley in ‘84. I celebrated Clinton and Feingold with him on Election Night 1992, although the show pretty much stunk without the E-Street Band. He spent most of the ‘90s in a failed attempt to show he can make the same Magic solo or with others. His solo Tom Joad show at the Riverside in '96 was downright depressing, as he struggled to reach the back of even that small room and yelled at anyone who made any noise.

In 1999, he got back together with the E-Street Band – not a moment too soon – and all seemed right with his musical world again. That first reunion tour was dynamic and joyful, but paled in comparison to the Rising Tour that began in 2002, a roaring engine of soul and truth that took the pain of 9/11 and turned grief into hope and, possibly, redemption. On that tour, Bruce and the band found its collective voice for the first time since the great Darkness Tour in ‘78, but this time with maturity and purpose. The show at Miller Park in September 2003 was the last non-New York show of the Rising Tour, and no one would have blamed him if he quit right there, as the undisputed King of the World.

But now comes a new CD and a new tour, with both less obvious but more intense political statements. His Grand Statement about 9/11 behind him, Bruce is kicking ass and taking the names of those who have used the tragedy to twist his beloved American Land beyond recognition. For the most part, you don’t need to understand the political underpinnings of the songs to dig the new album as a milestone in the era of Mature Rock, where those precious few artists who can still crank it up in their 50s and 60s show their continued musical and lyrical vitality. But, in concert on Sunday night, he and the band are in your face, with no apologies. Republicans at Springsteen shows are just going to have to stop their whining and deal with the fact that, in order to get to "Dancing in the Dark", you first have to get a little education about the Darkness on the Edge of Town created by your boy George W. Bush.

For the second tour in a row, the show is dominated by new material – this time from the Magic CD. It starts with "Radio Nowhere", which I think might be the best opening song in rock concert history. An old-fashioned powerful rock song, it features churning guitars, booming drums and a Clarence sax solo, while Bruce’s beautifully weathered voice literally demands more. "I just want to feel some rhythm," he (and the crowd) shouts over and over, while his drummer, the Mighty Max Weinberg, is giving him everything he has. "Is there anybody alive out there?", indeed. Springsteen is speaking to a dearth of culture, to a world of niche marketing, where the music industry gives us only what it thinks we want and not what we need. "I want a thousand guitars/I want pounding drums." Is that too much to ask?

Only Springsteen and the E-Street Band can live up to the challenge of that song. From there, songs like "No Surrender" and "She’s the One" just deliver on the promise. The first half of this show is the strongest set of hard-driving big-band music you’ll ever hear. The centerpiece is an almost-forgotten song from Springsteen’s sparse, home-recorded Nebraska album, "Reason to Believe". The song starts slow and unrecognizable, with Bruce wailing mournfully on the harmonica (an instrument featured many times on this night). But then the piece literally explodes when the band finds a surreal, seminal beat and the guitars start blazing. With a knowing, joyful look on his face, Springsteen rides the wave. He sings the last verse through the harp mike, making it sound like he is singing through a telephone wire on a bad day. "At the end of every hard-earned day/People find some reason to believe." And so we do.

The stuff from Magic are hit-and-miss, as all new material is in concert. The biggest surprise was "Gypsy Biker", which featured a raucous guitar duel between Bruce and Miami Steve that threatened to take over the night. "Magic" was mostly acoustic, but could have used a bit more help from the band. I was hoping that the trite-but-true protest song "Last to Die" might have come alive in concert, but it suffered from too much keyboard and too little guitar.

As Bruce setlist-watchers will tell you, the songs that are not in the set sometimes say more than the songs that are. No "Thunder Road", "Jungleland" or "Tenth Avenue Freezeout" here – the stories of raw desire and racial tension are replaced by the yearning for freedom on the "Backstreets", the self-realization of "The Promised Land" and spitting in the face of these "Badlands". This is a set about finding yourself and then going out to the world and making a difference. As he sings on another scorching highlight, "Adam Raised a Cain": "You inherit the sin/You inherit the blame."

These are the kind of moments that have always touched me in Springsteen shows, when I remember why I fought for tickets, stood in line, and waited for the lights to go down. There were many on this night; moments of hope, inspiration, renewal. This is the most personal show I think he’s ever done – both for him and for us.

Springsteen’s production crew has used technological advances and expertise over the years to make the sound seamless and enveloping – this kind of perfection wasn’t possible back when Bruce was falling through the floorboards of stages in 1975. Even the crowd is perfectly lit with light as they throw their hands of faith in the air on cue during the still-vital "Lonesome Day" and howl the "whoa!" during "Born to Run". They use the technology to create concert democracy as the singer reaches out and we reach back.

Throughout the whole show Springsteen -- once the vulnerable street poet still trying to understand his own words -- is finally, truly The Boss; self-actualized, in command and knowing exactly what is going to happen next, because he planned it that way. The sheer power of the best parts of this show is truly something to see, even for grizzled Springsteen concert veterans. He’s supposedly bringing this tour through Milwaukee in March (his shows get better later in the tour), and I’ll be there again, this time with my son, who is almost as old as my brother was when I took him to his first show. It’s like taking the kid to see Favre – get it while you can, because there will never be anything like it again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Romney: No Jack Kennedy

I want to do all I can to encourage the Republicans to nominate Mitt Romney for president in 2008. I’m trying to figure out the best way to move them further in that direction.

Should I simply advocate his supposed virtues, hoping that some out there would mistake me for someone who seeks the best for the GOP? Should I issue pretend warnings to my lefty brethren and sistren about what a formidable candidate he would make, knowing that my fear will be perceived as his strength in the tea-leaves-reading right-wing chattering class? Or should I simply hold my breath and cross my fingers, passively watching the inevitable Republican train wreck, as the entire party drives off the cliff in slow motion?

I want to see Romney as the GOP nominee for several selfish but legitimate reasons. Most important, Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat will wipe the floor with him, resulting in not only a landslide in the electoral vote, but also bringing a possibly filibuster-proof Senate along with her/him. But I also appreciate the sheer entertainment value of this impossibly pliable construction of a candidate staying with us all the way through next year, his firm jaw jutting into the wind of a world that is poised to deliver his historical thumping. That Romney and those around him think they can get away with the sort of cynical manipulation of what he "believes" to fit the doomed expectations of his "base" is evidence of the desperation of a GOP grasping at disappearing straws.

Romney is the ultimate Candidate as Product, polished and consulted within an inch of his vapid life. In this month’s Harper’s – my favorite dead-tree magazine by far – writer Ken Silverstein (link, but subcription needed -- just go buy the damn thing) takes us inside the Romney construct, exposing the campaign for the deliberate lie that it is. Reports Silverstein: "...[T]he task of reformulating and repackaging the Romney brand—from the moderate Republican governor of the most liberal state in the Union to a red-meat social conservative and heir to Reagan—has been entrusted to an army of consultants far larger than that of any of his challengers...Romney’s campaign has employed more than a hundred different consultants, making combined payments to them of at least $11 million—roughly three times the amount spent by John McCain or Rudy Giuliani."

This sort of bottom-up candidate creation was once the stuff of scandal and outrage. Now, it’s expected that any candidate for either party has to be phonied-up to some extent – it’s the "smart" thing to do. But Romney appears to have taken it to a new level, filling his empty suit with the kind of enthusiasm and smarmy acting talent that Junior Bush could never muster. He lives in the rarified air where notions like the strength of your convictions are for suckers. The base wants me to stop stem cell research on to-be-discarded-anyway embryos? Fine. My wife has MS and might benefit from the research? What’s your point?

While Romney’s political positions are as flexible as last week’s poll, his personal religious convictions are sacrosanct and surround him with the eerie glow of the Just. He’s of the Mormon faith, which is an interesting version of Christianity to say the least. Since all religion necessarily strains the credulity of non-believers or different believers, it’s hard – not to mention politically suicidal – to venture an opinion on how whack the Mormon faith really is. I mean, I grew up Catholic, with the virgin birth and all that. But apparently other whack religious figures – the egotistical evangelicals who have succeeded in hijacking much of the Republican social agenda – who you think would appreciate Romney’s wild-eyed "faith" instead have some sort of discomfort with the fact that he is a Mormon-flavored Christian rather than some other variety that, as just one example, doesn't believe the Garden of Eden was in Missouri.

As entertaining as it is to see these various sects sniping at each other over dogmatic principles, it has been regularly suggested that Romney could get the "Mormon thing" behind him by making a speech like John Kennedy made during his campaign in 1960, when his Catholicism became an issue (no surprise, given that his opponent was the dirt-slinging non-practicing Quaker Richard Nixon).

There are a couple of reasons why that sort of event wouldn’t work for Romney. For one thing, some of the major tenets of the Mormon faith make it a little more difficult to separate the believer from the prospective president. Mormons believe in an expansive form of "American exceptionalism" – that we live in a special location reserved by god, making it a bit harder for Romney to separate that religious belief from his role as president of the special location.

But, if you look at what Kennedy actually said to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, it’s even clearer that Romney – or anyone else in the race in either party – could never make the same assurances:
  • "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all."
How quaint, really. "the separation of church and state is would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials..." Wow, was there ever really such a time?

Instead of the clear-headed sense of the role of government articulated so gracefully by Kennedy, we now have candidates falling all over each other telling us how their faith informs their proposed public service. The only criticism of religion in public life is whether faith means you adhere to a rigid regime of personal behavior and public morality that you want enforced by government or whether faith means caring for those less fortunate.

Could Romney really make the same promise that JFK made in his speech? With a straight face, I mean?