Thursday, January 25, 2007

McBride's Missing Marbles

There is one under the chair. Another one rolled into the fireplace and is now covered with soot. Her best steely fell in the heating vent and makes a weird clicking sound at night when the blower turns on. She wakes up when it happens and wonders what is going on.

Even though she doesn’t know they are gone and isn’t really looking for them, it is hard to deny the obvious: Jessica McBride is losing her marbles.

It started some time ago when someone had the bright idea to give her a floating spot on WTMJ on weeknights when the Brewers and Bucks aren’t playing. The formerly-respectable Journal Inc. radio station – now all-right-wing-all-the-time – apparently felt it needed a local wing-nut to lead-in to racist hate-monger Michael Savage at 11 p.m. McBride was plucked out of deserved obscurity – I guess everyone else in the GOP wannabe universe was busy.

On the radio, McBride sounds as if she can’t be bothered to open her mouth. Her attitude is of one who thinks everything she says is so obvious, it is beneath her to repeat it. She dutifully repeats the GOP talking points, but either isn’t bright or interested enough to learn the sub-points. So, for instance, if you don’t understand what is strange/funny/meaningful about Nancy Pelosi blinking 25-30 times per minute during the State of the Union – the primary and pathetic politics-of-personal-destruction bullet-point on Wednesday for every wing-nut from Limbaugh to Belling to Hannity to the deplorable Mark Levine – you are not going to get any help from McBride. Her cleverness evident only to her, McBride chuckles about the blinking in the empty studio, pleading for help from her silent producer, who leaves her twisting in her own vacant wind.

This past Monday, McBride decided to try out her strident know-nothing routine on the “issue” of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – a favorite wing-nut punching-bag – offering to provide help to needy people in Milwaukee. Because McBride is a third-level wing-nut, at best, she does not have the benefit of the fake lefty or seminar right-wing “callers” used by the front-line GOP surrogates to help her through the rough spots. She was challenged fairly effectively by two callers in a row, who refused to let her put words in their mouths (“So you’re saying Chavez is wonderful and Our President is evil?”, etc.) McBride tried to get by simply by repeating her own ill-informed preconceptions (the just-recently re-elected Venezuelan president was a “dictator”, she claimed) and raising her whiny voice, like someone who shouts when speaking to someone who doesn’t understand English – like that’s going to help. She was losing badly as the knowledgeable callers hung in there and called her many bluffs, a battle of wits in which McBride was decidedly unarmed. When her bullying failed, she resorted to the last refuge of the desperate wing-nut – she hung up on both of them.

But if McBride is, at least, regrettable as a talk-show host, she is even worse in her efforts at put her, um, thoughts in written form. On her WTMJ web page, McBride rambles on and on – she is a former Jurnal Sentinel reporter, badly in need of an editor. This is even more remarkable, considering she somehow got herself hired as a lecturer* in journalism at UWM. Looking at her incoherent blathering, you wonder how something like that could actually happen. You worry about the students that might come out of this particular J-school.

For instance, look at this end-or-the-year post, in which she purports to review 2006. In no less than 2,760 words (that’s eight single-spaced pages), McBride just lets her brain pour out all of her ’06 reflections, and it’s not a pretty picture. She starts with Brittany Spears and quickly segues into predictable wing-nuttiness: “Islamic fascist terrorists continued their war on our way of life, and the media, the courts, and half of America decided to give up and/or fight the administration instead…after months of the media saying we were losing the war (almost with glee), people started to believe it (which came first, the chicken or the egg?)”. Well, I think the chicken was killed in the original “shock and awe” and the egg blew up in a marketplace, but, yeah, I can see why she can’t figure these things out.

A large part of the undisciplined, sour-grapes rant has to do with the media supposedly ignoring bad Democratic behavior while trumping up Republican sins. Never mind that the exaggerated problems of, say Harry Reid or Sandy Berger (hilariously re-named “Burglar” by Limbaugh and validated by Educator* McBride) don’t really compare to Mark Foley chasing pages or prison terms for Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney and (soon) Tom Delay. Besides, the MSM covered the Reid and Berger stories anyway.

And so it goes, in fairly wacky fashion. My favorite part in the weird screed was in her choppy review of the people who died in ’06: “We lost Milton Friedman and James Brown too.” Now, there’s a pairing you wouldn’t expect. You also don’t expect the J-school lecturer* to miss the comma before the “too”, but, hey, it was posted at 1:45 a.m. – what do you expect?

More recently, McBride has come out at least three times to promote the former and new careers of her husband, former Waukesha DA Paul Bucher. It seems like a match made in heaven – the DA who used his office for various right-wing causes and the radio queen of, well, whatever she thinks she is queen of. During Bucher’s failed campaign for Attorney General, McBride promised to not to comment on the race. I don’t know why. Wing-nuts are the most compromised of political commentators, whether it’s Charlie Sykes and his right-wing funding or Sean Hannity starring at political rallies for various GOP candidates.

Now that the race is over, she has invoked her spouse in criticizing the guy who beat him for the GOP nomination for the DNA backlog. She also wrote a totally weird political obituary about him for a Waukesha paper and nominated him (along with Scott Walker, John Wayne and the Boots and Sabers blogger) for the new Milwaukee police chief. “He loves his new job. He'll kill me for writing this. (By the way, if I was actually serious, I wouldn't write this.)” Yipes. It’s embarrassing. By the way, although his “new job” is in a Waukesha law firm, Bucher is charging hard as a hired gun, taking the lead in trying to reverse the democratic process in the city by getting Michael McGee, Jr. recalled.

Finally, McBride leapt from the strange into the outright (unintentionally) comical this week, live-blogging the State of the Union address. From the first line – “Laura Bush looks good. How does she do it? So much stress...” – it is the unfiltered McBride. There is a hazy glow in her mind’s eye when she sees Junior Bush (“Bush looks good. Rested, confident.” You would too, if you had that much vacation time on the ranch.) There are the sooo predictable cheap-shots at Democrats (Kerry is “excessively tanned. Must be all that windsurfing.”; “Pelosi is standing and clapping. How does she want to take the fight to the enemy?... And I don't mean George Bush.”). McBride writing in real-time isn’t that much different than what she writes when she has time to think about it. It’s all sloppy, predictable and rambling. Funny, though -- nothing here in her real-time post about Pelosi's blinking. I guess she needed help the next day with that one.

Left to her own devices, McBride would just be another forgotten blogger, posting on Free Republic, maybe running the Sean Hannity fan club. However, WTMJ has decided to give her free air time to spread her disjointed poison. Since she is far from entertaining, McBride is on the air because the Journal Company wants more right-wing noise in the air, no matter how lame.

*Originally identified as a professor. The fact that she is only a lecturer is only a slight improvement, for UWM and for us.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Journal Sentinel Redesign

I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning, made some coffee and took a seat in my living room, facing my front window. Scanning the snow-covered, empty pre-dawn street (no cars – this is Shorewood, after all), I sipped and waited. This was going to be good, I thought. I wanted to be one of the first to see It, to touch It. In fact, it was such a peaceful and lovely morning that, despite my best intentions, I soon nodded off.

I awoke to the light thump of a baggie hitting the door and falling to the deck outside. Breathlessly, I darted out to the porch – and there It was. Wrapped loosely in blue plastic, I could see the outline of strange design and fonts. The newly-designed Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (or so I thought) was finally here.

For weeks now, the editorial “we” at the paper had been warning, er, informing us of the redesign. A smaller paper footprint and other changes were promised, including “more local news and [wait for it] more local perspective on national and international stories”. Given the recent drift of the paper into talk-radio-driven hysteria, this is not necessarily a good thing.

As the noticeably smaller newspaper settled into my lap, my bleary eyes took in the wonder of the “new” front page. The biggest surprise was right at the top. It seems the newspaper has changed its name to the “Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel”, with a little non-keyboard diamond between the “Milwaukee” and “Wisconsin”. Now, the newspaper with two names, apparently, has two locations. And they’re not kidding either – the two-word identifier is right there, complete with the little diamond, on the official masthead on page 5.

Editor Martin Kaiser explains the dramatic change on the front page: “We have added ‘Wisconsin’ because that’s where we’re from and that’s what we cover…” Well, whatever. But the M-W-J-S abandoned most of Wisconsin years ago, at least as far as distribution is concerned. If you don’t believe me, try getting a fresh version of the paper on your next trip to anywhere north or west of Green Bay. Putting Wisconsin in the title isn’t a commitment to the state – it’s a sop to the suburban areas where the paper imagines it can stop (or at least slow down) its dwindling subscriber and advertising base. “No,” the paper now says, “we aren’t from that nasty, dirty city, we’re from all of Wisconsin. Get it?” Is this the first step in the J-S abandonment of the city? Is this the precursor to a move of the editorial offices out of the city?

But, you have to wonder if they really serious about this. Are the reporters going to identify themselves as from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel? If so, how many of the news sources will remind them that everyone knows Milwaukee is in Wisconsin? This is the first I've heard of such an ambitious reidentification of a newspaper's location. I just know I would have heard about it if it were happening elsewhere. I mean, I read the New York New York Times almost every day.

As it has in the past, by making their very name even more confusing (why not just call it the Journal or Sentinel and be done with it?), the M-W-J-S has now made their very existence more clumsy by trying to get too cute, marketing-savvy-wise. I give it about six months before they drop this ridiculous experiment in re-branding, if only because of a revolt in the newsroom. And the diamond will go along with it.

As for the new visuals, the each section of the paper takes up the top sixth of the page with a title of the section and fancy photos poking out of the bottom border. That way, you can just look at the page without reading and find out that there is a story about, say, man-chairs in women’s clothing stores or a column by suburban matron Laurel Walker inside. The font used for the headlines is lighter, thinner and, yes, friendlier. Even more death in Iraq goes down easier when brought to you with diamonds (!) instead of dots over the “i”. In fact, the headlines are so non-threatening, you can now avoid them altogether if you want, which is probably more the point.

In its re-branding and redesign, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel takes another giant step backwards from the respectability and relevancy it has lost in the years since the two papers merged. The look of the paper now follows the content of recent years – desperately patronizing a suburban readership that has already moved on to other content-providers. By making its look less urgent, the paper has become more disposable.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Too Silly To Be True? It Probably Is.

A prime example of the way that talk-radio, cable-news and other discussion-polluters gin up phony controversy popped up this past week, and it says a lot about what they do to poison the dialog regarding important national issues.

This week, national and local wing-nuts pounced on the comments of a Weather Channel climate expert, Dr. Heidi Cullen, who posted on a Weather Channel blog back on December 21st, criticizing meteorologists that are certified by the American Meteorological Society (AMS) who facilitate unscientific “controversy” about humans contributing to global warming.

According to Mark Belling, Rush Limbaugh and countless other subscribers to the daily GOP talking-points memo, Cullen wrote that meteorologists who don’t “believe” in human-caused global warming should be drummed out of the AMS. This was proof, according to the wing-nuts, that Cullen was just one of many liberal thugs, who were trying to shut up anyone who dared to question the left’s global warming orthodoxy.

Both used their characterization of Cullen’s comments to go off on their usual rants about the motives of those who subscribe to the obvious and uncontroverted science of the global warming crisis. Limbaugh claimed they were Communists and Socialists who wanted to destroy American industry, for some reason. Belling called them “bigots”, although “bigoted” against whom, he couldn’t say. Sticking to the talking points, both implied there was some sort of controversy about the issue, without citing any opposing scientific research (because there isn’t any) and both, in the lamest of fall-back positions, claimed (falsely) that, even if humans caused it, there was nothing we could do about it at this point.

The wing-nuts have gone off on their global warming tirade before, usually chuckling at the supposed silliness of the concern when there is a snowstorm in Texas or something. “Hey, the fruit is freezing in Florida! Some ‘global warming’, huh?” But with the month-old hook of Dr. Cullen’s post (it must have conflicted with the right’s phony war-on-Christmas campaign back when it was actually posted), the wing-nuts were more shrill than usual about the whole thing. By twisting Cullen’s message, they got to squawk about not only the (to them) impossibly ridiculous global warming issue, but also the supposed attempt at mind-control by the dangerous liberals who (they say) try to shut down the expression all opposing thought.

Frankly, if Cullen’s comments were as presented by the wing-nuts, I might have almost agreed with them. But I knew before I even looked up the original post by Cullen this morning that the wing-nuts had twisted, interpreted, took out of context and otherwise misrepresented her intent and even the comments themselves. I knew they did because wing-nuts always raise the straw man, because they can't knock down anything else. After looking at the souce material, I was not surprised to find that they outright lied about it.

Dr. Cullen’s comments arise out of a small game of inside-baseball for meteorologists. Cullen was actually commenting on a post by a weather blogger in D.C., who heard an AMS-certified TV weatherman lend credence to the right-wing agenda by claiming that global warming may simply be part of “cyclical patterns” (a standard wing-nut cannard) and that no “generalizations” can be made from the available data. The D.C. blogger, Andrew Freedman, made the point that the TV guy would be lucky to pass a test in climate class and reminded him that the AMS itself had established three years ago – as has every qualified scientist in the world – that human activity is a “major agent of climate change”.

There is a reason for pretty-boy-and-girl TV weather geeks go out and get AMS certification. They want you to think that they speak with authority when they advise you to send Little Jimmy out with a coat tomorrow morning. Since they hold themselves out as some sort of perfect-toothed scientists, I would also say they have a responsibility not to get drawn in to happy-talk with the attractive (and decidedly non-certified) news-and-sports heads on the issue of climate change, and, if they do, they should try to get it right, according to science and not the wishful thinking of their SUV-selling advertisers. That was Freedman’s point.

Cullen took it, as she put it, “a step further”. First, she said “meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming...they owe it to their audience to distinguish between solid, peer-reviewed science and junk political controversy.” Well, sure. Hard to argue with that, unless, of course, you are engaged in “junk political controversy” on a daily basis, as all wing-nuts are. Finally, she suggests, “if a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval.”

Notice she didn’t say AMS certification should be pulled for those ignorant of the basic facts; just that maybe (just maybe) the AMS shouldn’t give the Seal of Approval to someone spouting un-science (or, going along with those who do).

In response to the phony controversy, Cullen followed up with a post on January 18th: “The point of my post was never to stifle discussion. It was to raise it to a level that doesn't confuse science and politics.” Limbaugh played parts of the audio version of her clarification, but left out that important point. Wing-nuts never let the facts get in the way of a good poisoning.

Despite the obvious existance of global warming and its human-driven causes, the “issue” seems to be a favorite and permanent topic for national and local wing-nuts. Are they that co-opted by oil industry contributions to their GOP bosses? Is it because Al Gore had the termity to use his knowledge and celebrity to establish The Inconvenient Truth? More likely, the phony “they-are-coming-for-your-SUVs” message has replaced the old phony “they-are-coming-for-your-guns” paranoia for their angry-white-male demographic. Besides, more people have SUVs than guns, anyway.

There is an old adage that can protect you in an advertising marketplace that often promises the Moon and more: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The same idea can and should be applied to wing-nut talk radio claims of outrageous liberal behavior. That is: if it sounds too silly to be true, it probably is. Such as it is with Dr. Cullen and her reasonable comments about the responsibility of those who know better (or who should know better) not to be browbeaten by political hacks into discussing phony issues in phony ways.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bring Back the Viceroy!

In the cartoon version of the Bush administration’s Iraq “policy”, Junior Bush is Wille E. Coyote, holding on to the side of a cliff by one fingernail, his own badly-launched anvil sure to fall on his head at any moment, as the elusive Roadrunner of “Victory” scoots off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again.

To understand why the Bushies are holding so tight to their Iraq fiasco, you have to understand why they went there in the first place. This whole deadly adventure had nothing to do with WMD, Hussein, democracy, Bush’s father or any of the other moving-target, after-the-fact public justifications. There were three main motivations for the way-out-of-the-box-thinking neo-cons, and, unlike the public ruses, all of them still apply.

First and foremost, it is a neat place on a strategic map. Hussein's Iraq was the weakest regime amongst Israel’s neighbors and the radicals running our government wanted a reliable Arab puppet regime as a buffer for Israel and, more importantly, as a permanent military and power base for the U.S. They knew they couldn’t get away with a Shah installation like we did to Iran in the past, so we knocked off Hussein – the easiest of targets – and got ready for the Return of the Exiles. As exiles like Chalabi proved themselves to be worthless and worse, they made desperate deals with compromised leaders of the remaining tribal powers in the country and hoped for the best.

Second, oil. Who is running Iraq’s refineries these days, anyway? We know Iraqis themselves have to import gasoline and whatever they are allowed to receive from the country’s rich oil reserves has not made a dent in the cost of running their government or paying for reconstruction of whatever we blew up. The wells aren’t burning and we know the occupation made protection and continued production of the fields its first priority. The oil is flowing, alright, and not to (or for) Iraq. And you have to go all the way to Canada (via the internet) to find out that Iraq will, indeed, give its oil rights to “Western oil companies”.

Finally, private contractors like Halliburton, who have (literally) cleaned up on everything from feeding our sitting-duck troops to repairing (sporadic) electrical power grids to public relations (we are now farming-out our own lies) to providing “security” for the troops and various well-to-do official vacationers in the Green Zone. Various well-connected entrepreneurs have made a killing because of our Killing, whether they had something to offer the country or not. I was amazed by a little news nugget that didn’t make more noise – there really is a guy in the Pentagon that runs a political litmus test for contractors in Iraq. [I saw it in the Madison Capitol Times while visiting during the holidays, but I can’t find it anywhere on the internet now.]

So, it comes as no surprise that they will not let go. To lose the bases, control of the oil and all those billions of dollars to their contributors and friends is just too much. They need to string this out because the failure is all theirs. And their benefactors in the oil and private sector love this whole mess as much as the rest of America hates it. They will soak this tragedy for all it’s worth – and, to these sick bastards, it’s worth a lot.

So they trotted out Junior for a little talk to the nation last week. Bush has a strange look of serenity at this point, as if he sees the light at the end of the tunnel. He signed up to be the empty suit for these goons before he ran for Texas governor in 1994 and he hasn’t let them down. He is unburdened by pangs of consciousness or grief for the fallen because he has had nothing to do with it. He made his deal, he read his lines, like a good boy.

When Scott Pelley asked him on 60 Minutes if he knew Americans didn’t like him, he laughed like it was the silliest concern he could have. What does he care what those poor suckers think? In two years, he’ll disappear to whatever Shangri-La his handlers have promised to build for him and be done with it. Junior Bush will be the least-seen ex-president in history, and not only because no one will be interested.

Right now, all supposedly depends on the Iraqi “government”, such as it is. In his speech, Bush claimed that the Iraqis have agreed to a grand design that includes commanders, army and police “brigades” across Baghdad, patrols, checkpoints, door-to-door raids, etc. Then, virtually the next day, the New York Times reported that the Iraqis had signed off on nothing, and in fact resented the U.S. pretending to dictate a plan to them at all.

It is bound to fail because the Iraqis aren’t even going to try to satisfy Bush or anyone foolish enough to believe in this sad excuse for an end game. The question then is what’s next. I wouldn’t put it past these desperate men to try to re-impose the viceroy and the occupation and start all over. To them, it’s just strategic land, oil and profit. To the rest of us, it is the profound loss of peace, security and the American Soul.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The print, web and radio wing-nuts are really at their wit’s end these days (granted, not a far way to go). Still recovering from the November election – in which the electorate rejected not only their candidates, but also their slash-and-burn tactics – the GOP media surrogates flailed around for a month or so before returning full-time to their politics of personal destruction.

In Wisconsin, the wing-nuts seem to have settled on Rep. Steve Kagen, the new 8th District congressman for special treatment. Dr. Kagen, you’ll remember, had the temerity to beat their fair-haired boy, John Gard, for the seat formerly held by Mark Green (who?). While he was driving doomed right-wing agenda items like concealed-carry and TABOR through the State Assembly, Gard was one of the GOP politicians with a direct line to Charlie Sykes for access to free airtime and talking points. His loss was deeply felt by people like Sykes (who likes to brag about the elections he affects with his use of WTMJ’s government-provided spot on the radio dial) and Karl Rove, who poured (read: wasted) all kinds of money and energy on Gard's lost cause.

The success of Kagen apparently got under Sykes’ skin this week so much that Sykes went so far as to call the congressman a “crap-weasel”, both on his radio show and on his web site. Now, why would a sold-out pipsqueak like Sykes call out a U.S. congressman with such a strange, previously unknown epithet? It seems, like other wing-nuts desperate to set a negative tone for Kagen’s first term, Sykes forgot his usually patient (but phony) set-up and went straight to juvenile name-calling.

The event that got Sykes pretending to be offended was comments that Kagen made at a gathering in his district in December. Kagen supposedly cut loose with a story about chance meetings with Rove, Dick Chaney and Junior Bush on his orientation trip to Washington. When the apparently hyper-sensitive Sykes read selective details in a right-wing rag, well, it was just more than he could take.

Charlie Sykes used to be a real journalist, but now he is just plain sloppy as he stomps off to make his political points, whether what he is talking about is accurately reported or not. To set up his pretended indignation, Sykes took his lead from a “publication” called The Inside Scoop. The Scoop is, by all appearances, a northeastern Wisconsin GOP vanity rag, featuring many photographs of Scoop staff posing with Bush, Gard, Green and other dull-to-extinguished luminaries. A regular feature is what is supposed to be a humorous “column” by “Al Capone”, who writes about “his” fine relationship with Jim Doyle. The “yet to be indicted Diamond Jim has taken a page out of my playbook” claims “Capone”. God, it’s a riot. Stop. You’re killing me.

Knowing a soul brother when he reads one, Sykes is moved by the pretend-offense taken by whoever writes The Scoop, whose “teeth clenched” as he read about the meeting in The Scene, an “arts and entertainment newspaper”, also based in Kagen’s district. The report of the meeting in The Scene was actually pretty friendly and included several more-interesting nuggets ignored by Sykes. For instance, Kagen said he suggested to Rove that national health care means “no patient left behind” (heh-heh). Kagen also said he asked Cheney point-blank the question all of us would if we got the chance: what price he was willing to pay for the pipe-dream of stability in Iraq? (“I don’t understand your point,” said Cheney, who certainly did.) But these remarks are necessarily not included in Sykes’ rant. Apparently, taking advantage of an unusual break in the protective cocoon to challenge Bush, Rove and Cheney is impolitic or crap-weasely, or something.

Later in the week, Sykes decided that a White House denial of the encounters (reported in the Green Bay Press-Gazette) means they didn’t happen at all. Again resorting to I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I name-calling, Sykes called Kagen a liar by claiming he had the encounters that got Sykes so hot-and-heavy in the first place. So, now, if he didn’t get in Rove and Cheney’s face and didn’t diss Laura, is he still a crap-weasel, or what?

While he’s figuring that out, Sykes should check into the use of “crap-weasel” in the first place. According to the on-line Urban Dictionary, a crap weasel (non-hyphenated) is “any worthless induvidual (sic) who tries to steal credit for someone else's work; also someone who tries to pass blame on others.” This hardly applies to whatever is eating Sykes about Kagen, but certainly is a nice fit for Sykes himself, who regularly pretends that lines fed to him by GOP talking point memos are his own creation and certainly spends a lot of his time blaming anyone but himself and his Bushie friends for, oh, like the disaster in Iraq and stuff. Crap weasel, heal thyself.

Fresh off their latest anti-Doyle spin, the Journal Sentinel’s in-house wing-nuts, Spivak and Bice, also picked up and ran with an anti-Kagen nugget from the blogosphere this week. You see, when someone on Kagen’s staff made up his official web site, they borrowed a template from a Nebraska representative and – get this! – people looking for flags are referred to the guy in Nebraska. Wow, this is big stuff, another feather in the Spice Boys’ cap for sure. As long as it makes a Democrat look bad (which this beyond-trivial matter doesn’t, anyway), the Boys are always there to help advance the GOP agenda.

And, as one hand washes the other, the Spice Boys repeat the Kagen-in-Washington, did-he-or-didn't-he story in their not-good-enough-for-the-paper blog and Sykes repeats the web-site story ("Dr. Rip-off").

Sunday, January 07, 2007


It’s been a while since the Journal Sentinel has sent out their hatchet men, Spivak and Bice, for more blather about the feverishly-imagined sins of Jim Doyle. Belling and Sykes must have called up, looking for more material. As always, the Spice Boys and the J-S are glad to oblige.

Their column this Sunday had all the usual ingredients: Snide attitude (even a dismissive “uh-huh” in the headline), class envy (yeah, right, a lawyer charging $230 an hour is a price cut! Uh-huh.), suspiciously-timed payments (like someone would have noticed a payment on the well-known contract before the election, much less been able to make something of it), standard denials by bureaucrats (yeah, sure, uh-huh) and contributions “since 2000” from the lawyer to the governor (Matt Flynn being a life-long Democrat and (gasp!) friend, who is unlikely to contribute to anyone else).

All of that is expected from the Spice Boys. And, as it is with every S&B smear-job on Doyle, you can always see what’s missing. The column, as usual, has absolutely no proof of ill-gotten gains, dirty-dealing, quid pro quos, secret-keeping, Doyle arm-twisting or any other reason to cast aspirations on a fairly common, public and straight-up arrangement the state has made to get money owed to it by the Ho Chunk Nation (the Boys quickly gloss over the fact that Flynn’s work has already gained the state $30 million, with more to follow). But, in the world of the Spivak and Bice, who cares if you have the facts when you can pretend you do? They say politics had nothing to do with Quarles and Brady getting the work? “Uh-huh.” See how it works? The Spice Boys continue to give skepticism a bad name.

The snarky, unearned attitude of the Boys is unneeded for what they intend. All they have to do is run the information about the obvious-to-them nefarious dealing between Doyle and Quarles; run it straight in a news column, without the ‘tude. Sykes and Belling don’t need the help finding it – and if they do, their daily GOP talking-points will get them on track, probably for the next several days, if not all this week. If this is such a great “gotcha”, the facts should speak for themselves. But they don’t, do they?

The king of throwing money at legal contributors for state gigs is, of course, Tommy Thompson, who started the practice of giving state work to GOP firms after Doyle, as Attorney General, refused to handle various harebrained Thompson legal projects. Not coincidentally, there’s the J-S’s favorite Tommy, featured in another story at the end of the Uh-Huh column. Apparently Jim Klauser, Tommy’s “longtime right-hand man” (no “flack”, “henchman” or “bagman” name-calling for this crew), held a fund-raiser for Mitt Romney. Yeah, but Our Tommy’s running! Not to worry, sigh the Boys in relief. An unnamed “ally” of Klauser assures them he is in Thompson’s corner. Whew! Close call? Uh-huh.

Notice the deference granted Thompson and Klauser in all S&B columns. All their words are taken at face value, and the drama is always whether things are going to be Good for Tommy. The J-S inexplicably is treating Thompson’s “campaign” for president as legitimate, bragging that he got “commitments” of $1 million at a recent fundraiser. Wow. $1 million dollars in a presidential race. Only $99 million to go! The real, non-homer media people are holding their breath watching Thompson step in, lest they break out laughing.

The real news is that Klauser is raising money for Romney, who is the most likely to fill the Rove-managed empty-suit to be vacated none-too-soon by Junior Bush. More likely, Tommy is “in the race” (uh-huh) just in case all the other damaged Republican candidates flame out, as all of them just might. I mean, somebody has to be there in the history books with an (R) next to his name when the ’08 45-state landslide by Clinton or Obama or Edwards is documented.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Sometimes, I can almost tolerate Mark Belling. On very rare, once-a-month occasions, his patronizing, bar-stool-level blabbering is almost charming, even if he doesn’t really think what he says he does half the time. His stoop-to-conquer routine has worked for years, if only because the alternative for the angry-white-male demographic he panders to is – ugh – Jonathan Green.

Whether he’s reading GOP talking points or making up his own nonsense, Belling is always poison, always wrong, but seldom over his head. After all, how can anyone be overcome while carping about light rail, ethanol, loony (lefty or black) aldermen or a phony War on Christmas? But Belling really got out of his shallow depth this week when he compared two retiring district attorneys -- Milwaukee’s E. Michael McCann and Waukesha’s Paul Bucher – and, blinded by shameless party loyalty, was as wrong as he could be.

I hate to swing around my own credentials here, but, here goes. I have worked as a criminal defense attorney for the better part of the last 20 years, mostly in Milwaukee County. McCann actually hired me out of law school, and I worked for him for six months in the short-lived paternity unit (!) before fleeing to the safer (for me) haven of the Public Defenders Office. He actually ended up firing me for not showing up for work after I started at the PD. He let me have it in his office for an hour and I left in tears.

As a defense attorney, I had enormous respect for McCann and his staff, especially after spending three years practicing in Racine, where everything was charged with very little thought or compassion. McCann hired talented, interesting people who were more interested in doing justice than padding their conviction or sent-to-prison stats. Sure, as in all large offices, some of them are more wrong than others. And the office (and judges) sometime responded to political campaigns – driven by people like Belling – on lock-'em-up issues like guns, drugs and drunk driving that caused absurd amounts of jail and prison time to be thrown around like candy to an electorate with a sweet tooth.

McCann was far from perfect, starting with the kid gloves with which he treated bad cops. There was no cop shooting or beating that was unjustified in his eyes, and that was wrong. He also drove some in his office crazy, refusing to update office equipment – desks, chairs, carpeting – in the decrepit Safety Building and the DAs were way behind the times in terms of computerization of basic case management. McCann was known for his sackcloth-and-ashes humility – for instance, he refused to let himself be passed-through the security screening in the Safety Building when it first started.

But McCann, everyone knew, was beyond reproach. If you came to McCann arguing anything but the straight facts and the needs of justice, he wouldn’t hear you. An old-school ‘60s (as in Kennedy) Democrat, he was totally non-political. To the last day, he treated his job as a sacred trust. He was like a damn priest about it.

Never one to let the facts get in the way of an argument he wants to make, Belling wildly defames McCann in a column this week. McCann, proclaims the know-nothing Belling, “is a longtime burnout concerned more about conviction rates than justice, who never saw a plea bargain he didn’t like and was burdened with a sense of guilt that made him better suited to representing criminals, not trying to jail them.” Man, what a load. No one who has worked in the criminal justice system in Milwaukee for the last 40 years would even think such things about Mike McCann. Burnout? The man was passionate and energetic to the end. There are ten of thousands of people doing many years in prison because McCann and his staff stuck to their charging decisions and many of them could hold their own with the best of the Milwaukee defense bar. Belling’s reckless charges are an insult not only to McCann, but to the assistants who followed his lead.

If his childish slander against McCann is bad, his lauding of Republican Bucher is worse. Bucher was a lousy, publicity-seeking hound, whose first run for Attorney General was short-circuited by his very-public botching of the Mark Chmura prosecution. He ended his term with a disgusting piece of political skulduggery, putting out the word the week before the November election that he was “investigating” the State Election Board decision about Mark Green’s dirty money, on the basis that they had a meeting in Waukesha around that time. It was an absurd bit of showboating, but the anti-Doyle Journal Sentinel was happy to run a story about it. Perhaps Belling's unjustified accolades for Bucher are caused by his oneness in spirit with Bucher's wife, the pathetic Jessica McBride, who helps poison the electorate on another radio station when the Bucks aren't playing.

Mark Belling should stick to trying to talk his listeners into supporting a war against Iran, giving more tax breaks to the rich and further restricting civil liberties. When it comes to the facts on the ground in the Milwaukee County Courthouse about E. Michael McCann, he has no idea what he is talking about.

I went to file something in McCann’s former office on the 4th floor of the Safety Building this week. Just like in the movies, there was a guy putting the name of the new DA, John Chisholm, on the frosted glass outside the door. Chisholm is an excellent example of the people McCann hired – tough, fair and always interested in the elusive goal of “justice”. Because of Mike McCann we have people like that – and not hacks like Paul Bucher – carrying on a fine tradition. Only, I hope, with better desks and chairs.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


You have to feel for the state-house reporters and editors of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In the months before their favored candidate for governor, Anybody-but-Doyle (otherwise known as Mark Green, although you are forgiven if you forgot him already), the J-S content-providers were busy working up their front page for January 4, 2007. In their mock-up, “A New Day” competed with “A New Day in Madison” for the headline over Green’s happy, just-inaugurated face, the longer headline losing out only because it required a smaller font size.

But, despite their best efforts, such was not to be. Green was properly thumped, losing by more than 10 points. The stunned J-S-ers could hardly believe it, blaming the result on “late-deciding voters” on the morning-after, even though Doyle was ahead the whole race. After brooding about it for a week-and-a-half, state-house veteran reporter Steven Walters went off on Doyle in the opinion pages for no good reason, claiming he was poisoned by ambition, obsessed with the second term even while his poor mother watched him get sworn in the first time and urging him into retirement.

Since then, the Journal Sentinel proudly front-paged a story about contributions to the Boys and Girls Clubs for special inauguration parties, claiming that Doyle was selling access by, um, getting people to give money to the worthy charity. This drew a rebuke from the president of the Boys and Girls Clubs, who got space in the next Sunday opinion pages to let the J-S and “WTMJ (620) talk shows” (read: Charlie Sykes) have it: “Yes, it's a sad day when public servants and community benefactors are criticized and derided for doing good for their communities and for the less fortunate children in our state. Alas, none of that seems to matter for some people if there is a way to twist it into a story.”

But the Journal Sentinel, when not twisting non-stories into scandals, continues to try to twist Doyle away from the perception of success. Just last week, the J-S front-paged yet another anti-Doyle non-story about a minor violation of ethics rules for accepting and paying for football tickets, the sort of thing that sent Tommy Thompson and his former gang of ethically-challenged professionals scurrying to the law books, hoping for a lenient statute of limitations for such things, and worse. (Worry not, Tommy – not that you ever had to with the J-S “watching” during your days of pioneering pay-for-play in Wisconsin).

Now comes the inauguration of Doyle for a second term. This is the sort of thing that has always been played on the front page the day after; a journalistic ritual much like the somber coverage of a former president’s death that we just endured. But good news for Doyle, again, means bare-minimum coverage in the Journal Sentinel. The article about the inauguration and Doyle’s speech ran on the bottom of the Metro section and jumping – you guessed it – to the Obituary page. Before the article falls off the bottom of the page, a photo is included of Doyle passively watching the passing of a color guard.

But, no, the J-S will squeal – we had a color photo on the front page! And what a picture it was. The governor is shown in a shot from the rafters, behind the lectern as a small speck, dwarfed by an American flag and the LaFollette bust. If you didn’t know Doyle was bald, you wouldn’t know it was Doyle speaking.

The article on the Metro page showed the under-whelmed Walters and Stacy Forster (hardly a two-writer story) yawning at their keyboards, barely able to stay awake while they produce the bare minimum of inches for the story. “As he did four years ago…” they write, and, god, who can read anything after that? Doyle had to share the story with the swearing-in of the new legislature and AG J.B. VanHollen. In paragraph 19, deep on the obit page, the article makes its only mention of what Doyle “said” his accomplishments were in the first term. Hey, J-S, don’t hurt yourself giving Doyle his due or his say.

With a Democratic Senate and a more-friendly Assembly, Jim Doyle may well be able to get some things done in his second term. He can expect nothing in term of help or credit from the strangely hostile Journal Sentinel.