Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Fringe is the Fringe

Beginning with 9/11, there has been no tragedy or near-tragedy that the Rove message machine has not used to advance one or a whole bunch of their twisted agendas. It happened again this Tuesday, as the compliant GOP surrogates were out in force to spin the suicide truck bomb attack that occurred near Dick Cheney in Afghanistan.

Even an attack on a deplorable human being like Cheney should bring out the noble and concerned in all of us. When our politicians suffer violent attacks or attempts on their lives, it affects all of us who stick our heads out to make noise, run for something or otherwise try to make a difference. Despite all of the death and devastation he has visited on tens of thousands of his fellow humans in Iraq and elsewhere, no one serious wants Dick Cheney to die a violent death himself. I think just the fact that he has to live with himself is bad enough for anyone to suffer.

But, opportunity being the mother of all spin, the wing-nuts were out in force already on Tuesday morning. None of them – I personally heard Limbaugh, Medved, Hannity, Ingraham and I’m sure there were many others – talked at all about how bad the bombers were or how glad they were that Limbaugh’s “personal hero” avoided injury. Instead of using the occasion to revel in a little bipartisan sympathy for “our” veep, the finely-scripted radio squawkers, like trained rats in a maze, decided to use the occasion to define all Democrats as Cheney-hating death-wishers.

To do so, they all pointed -- not so coincidentally -- to the little-read comments section of a story about the bombing on the Huffington Post. There, apparently, various anonymous commenters posted stupid things like “too bad they didn’t get him”, “better luck next time”, and such. These commenters, the wing-nuts claimed, are the heart and soul of the “Democrat” base. Look how they want our precious Cheney to die at the hands of the Taliban. Look how little respect they have for the office, the person, our souls.

This is a favorite game of the wing-nuts – to take the most extreme posts they can find out on the fringe somewhere and pretend like it’s coming straight out of the Democratic National Committee. It is how they define us for others who (they hope) don’t know better. Of course, most of the blogs they pretend to get all worked up about aren’t written by lefties at all, but by right-wing interlopers pretending to be lefty. Notice how Tuesday’s tirades all cited only the Huffington Post – isn’t it interesting how they all knew right where to look for these supposed outrages? Anonymous is as anonymous does. Which, I think, means anyone can leave stupid messages, but who is more likely to do so – an over-heated lefty on a caffeine bender in a Starbucks somewhere or a right-wing functionary, dutifully setting up strawmen?

But even if they are quoting sincere, if deluded, fellow travelers, so what? Right-wing sites have been raining down death hopes on Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades now, and no one takes them for more than the ravings of the lunatics they are. Left or right, the fringe is the fringe. That’s why they call it the fringe. The only difference is that people on the right-wing fringe have their own radio and TV shows, while the left fringe is left howling at the moon.

Just to be sure, I checked the venerable right-wing Free Republic site to see if I could find death wishes for a Clinton. On his radio show, Hannity loves to give props to his Freeper constituency, and they did not disappoint me. In one thread, the posters “discuss” a comment Bill Clinton made about the fear of death. “I can't wait for him to die,” says one. “Show us how it's done Bill,” says another. In another thread about a homeless man in trouble for death threats against Hillary, the clever comments keep coming: “Shooting is too good for treasonous, socialist scum,” says one sober commentator. “I would think that a barrel of hot tar and a bag of feathers would be more appropriate. Followed by a long drop at the end of a rope.” Well, alrighty then. Case closed, no?

Soon after the phony brouhaha started on the radio, the Huffington site searched out and deleted the oh-so-offensive comments and issued a statement about how no one is happy about the attempted bombing of the vice-president. But the battle was already won –another smear has been made, stuck in the collective subconscious of the wing-nuts’ targeted electorate, several more of whom are now under the impression that mainstream Democrats would be just fine with our vice-president getting hurt or killed in a suicide bombing overseas. The GOP political operation has no shame. But you’d think, at some point, the wing-nuts would get sick of reading the script.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Jay Bullock -- his comment below cites to an excellent (i.e.: better than mine) discussion of this same topic by Glenn Greenwald on Salon.]

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sykes and the Phony Gotcha

Charlie Sykes said Michael McGee Jr. said what?

In what is apparently his annual dog-and-pony show on Wednesday morning at the Hyatt – self-importantly titled "Insight 2007" and broadcast live – Sykes poked his head out from his studio cocoon to make a rare public appearance. Like all national and local wing-nuts, Sykes never appears in public for an honest debate – it is always at either a GOP political rally or a carefully choreographed event that is moderated and controlled by him. He hand-picks guests that are used to playing the game on his TV show or fellow travelers in the (hah) "new media" (read: right-wing blogosphere).

So when Sykes pulled out an audio clip of McGee Jr. saying something about gay activists and "the Jude cops" (the ones who beat up Frank Jude) being behind his recall, he got the usual "yeah, you’re right Charlie"s from his assembled enablers. But, anxious to believe the worst about McGee, Sykes took his race-baiting a bit too far this time, claiming that McGee said it was "jew cops" who were out to get him. Proudly proclaiming his phony "gotcha", Sykes spent a good ten minutes trying to get everyone on the panel to agree with his pretended outrage. It wasn’t hard, although the only African-American on the panel, Michael Holt, refused to play along, politely defending McGee while his in-control host used his hard-found lie to continue his rant.

Of course, the whole conversation was premised on a lie. Willing to believe the worst about McGee or any of the easy targets he uses to advance his agenda, Sykes throws mud recklessly. Truth is the last thing he’s interested in, whether it’s discussing McGee, Iraq, Jim Doyle or any other issue.

Somehow, Tim Cuprisin, the TV/radio columnist for the Journal Sentinel, got hold of the lie and ran it in this morning’s paper. Cuprisin is hardly a bulldog on wing-nut issues and provided a soft landing for his corporate brother (Sykes is on WTMJ, a Journal Company property), quoting the station manager (you mean there is one?) saying "a mistake was made" and that Sykes would deal with it on his Thursday show. Gee, I can hardly wait. And note the lack of an apology.

If any not-right-wing reporter, commentator or blogger had made any such "mistake" about one of their precious Republicans, Sykes and others would squawk for weeks until heads rolled. Don’t expect that here. Sykes will pretend it was an honest mistake and move on to the next lie, with the blessing of his toothless station manager and his Journal Company benefactors. Safe in his studio cocoon, he will avoid the accountability that would come for the rest of us; another sanctimonious suburbanite, free to continue poisoning the political environment in Milwaukee.

[UPDATE: Sykes did indeed admit his "mistake" and apologized directly to McGee as the first item on his program this morning (before most of his listeners are tuned in). Citing his show's "high standards" (as he would say, what a bunch of crapity-crap-crap), he got it out of the way before moving into more and different lies, regretting only that he got caught. No doubt, that's the end of it, although it shouldn't be. But Sykes benefits by his own double standard regarding politicians and media types saying stupid things they dearly want to be true. He can get away with whatever he wants; you and I better be careful.]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Molehills at Mayfair

Milwaukee’s radio-talking wing-nuts are off and running this week with race-baiting squawking about the supposed “crisis” at Mayfair Mall. When it comes to Mayfair – which bears the distinction of not only being the Milwaukee area’s best and most popular shopping center, but also its most integrated -- every little incident in the mall or even in the restrooms is played up as some sort of precursor to the Second Death of Northridge.

Jeff Wagner – the long-failed AG wannabe who currently serves as Charlie Sykes’ second(-rate) banana on WTMJ – got the ball rolling in his show on Saturday, a day usually reserved as a day off for the wing-nutty, while their stations are taken over by shows about mutual funds, gardening, computer repair and sports (lest the casual weekend listener discover the poison that the stations are usually up to). Wagner declared Mayfair "the Baghdad of Wauwatosa”. To Wagner and others determined to stir up fear and division in any potentially successful integrated situation, every minor incident at a bus stop is “near-riot”, and teenagers “brandish” firearms.

But leave it to Mark Belling to make the most of the conflict, going off on a racist rant on Monday. Proud to insert fear and hate into any discussion, Belling claimed that, because of issues that are “all about race”, Mayfair was in “crisis”. He went so far as to predict that a murder would take place at Mayfair within the next six months (I mean, we know how "they" are, don't we?), and that, after that, Mayfair patronage would fall by 40 percent. Waiving the racist ghosts of shopping centers past, Belling predicted Mayfair would go the way of not only Northridge, but Capitol Court.

He also brought the specter of the inner city to Tosa, claiming that 108th and North was becoming 27th and North. He reveled in racial code words and fears, claiming that young black people in the mall run in “packs”, violate the personal space of uncomfortable white people on purpose and flash gang signs. He said, without any evidence whatsoever (and no interest in the facts, anyway), that the same “trouble-makers” spending time at Mayfair in the winter were the ones cruising Sherman Boulevard in the summer. “The problems of the inner city are moving to Mayfair,” he declared, showing not only his willing ignorance of what goes on in Mayfair but also the gravity of the much more serious problems facing residents of the inner city.

Belling excoriated the management of Mayfair for saying everything was under control, saying that they wouldn’t hesitate to do something if white kids were the problem (without saying how would that be). He commanded that the multi-plex movie theater there be closed or, at least, restricted to those over 18. Now, there’s a good idea: Cancel all the nice kids movies that my son and I have watched happily there over the years and make more screens available for Saw II, or whatever. He also demanded that the mall exclude everyone under 18 who is there without their parents, like that could be determined and enforced.

I don’t know how any of this keeps young black people out of the mall, which Belling blatantly claimed was the real problem. The fact is that people like Belling and the people he wants to work into a racist lather are simply not happy that there is anywhere they want to go that is also frequented by African-Americans. More tiresome than even Belling himself were his callers, talking about how they won’t go to Mayfair anymore and how they fear for their children’s safety. One particular caller was given wide berth to talk about how all those inconvenient city residents were ruining not only Mayfair, but everything all up and down Highway 100. All people like that need are enablers like Belling and the other poison wing-nuts, who will go out of their way to validate their prejudices and to confirm their head-in-the-sand, us-against-them mentality.

As I listened to Belling's rant late Monday afternoon, I decided to drive out to Mayfair to see what the Baghdad of Wauwatosa really looks like. I entered at Marshall Field…uh, Macy’s and walked all the way down to Boston…yeah, still Boston Store along the first floor of high-end retailers. No problems there, as a somewhat diverse population – those who could afford it, anyway – attended to their needs and wants.

But if you have listened to the poison noise about Mayfair at all, you know the “problem” is on the second floor, where some of the stores are aimed at a younger demographic. Up there, there were indeed younger shoppers white and, yes, some African-Americans. None of them were trouble, all seemed to be doing more shopping than hanging and gang-signing. The only crimes I saw were of the fashion variety – there were these two young black guys walking proudly in pastel-colored pattern jackets and matching baseball hats that were just too much.

Whatever their motivation and degree of racist fear-mongering, the local wing-nuts always proclaim their love of Mayfair and concern for its future. But the agenda of Belling and the others has nothing to do with what’s really best for Mayfair or for Milwaukee. They have decided they must pander to the worst instincts of their angry-white-male audience to survive. And if they need to stir up racial hate and fear to do it, they are all too willing to do it.

If they really were so concerned about Mayfair, the best thing they could do is shut the hell up, stop making mountains out of molehills and support the legitimate efforts of Mayfair management and Tosa authorities to adjust to whatever problems there might be. Like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce running down Wisconsin businesses in an election year, Belling and his ilk would rather destroy than build. In fact, destroy is all they do.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Money Trumps Peace

Of all the theater of the Bush years, I have always drawn a perverse pleasure from watching Junior at a press conference. Easily the dumbest president in history – making even the greatly-challenged Ronald Reagan look like a Rhodes scholar – Bush doesn’t participate in a press conference, he survives it. The look of relief on the faces of Bush’s handlers when he heads back to the shadowy safety of the inner sanctum after another embarrassing performance speaks volumes about the minor talents of their barely-passable puppet.

The attitude that Junior wants to project during a press conference is that of an impatient parent talking to annoying children. This is the tone taken by all senior Bushies, exemplified primarily these days by hired wing-nut Tony Snow. Each question is treated in a “how can you ask that?” manner, followed explanations that rarely go beyond “because we said so”. While Snow is snotty, glib and dismissive, Bush is simply ham-fisted, wrestling with words and phrases that keep bumping into each other in his empty head. All the while, he pretends to be chummy with a press corps he hardly knows.

The moments I savor in Bush pressers is when the light goes on in his head and he remembers what he is supposed to say about a given subject. At first, he puts on his “thoughtful” face. But, by the end of the sentence, he always winds up chuckling. Remembering and repeating the script they’ve given him (when he can) is a joy to Junior. He speaks as if, if he can understand things that are explained this way, what’s wrong with you? “Don’t you get it?” he wonders. “Christ, even I can figure this one out.”

You can imagine the brain-feed sessions in the Oval Office. “Mr. President, remember that big wall in Texas Stadium? What happened when balls went over the wall?” "Home run!” shouts the president. “OK, now, this escalation, uh, surge is like that big wall that we just need to get over so we can score some runs.” “Yeah, runs!” And so forth.

But, with Junior, as with all dim bulbs, a little knowledge and a clever phrase can be a dangerous thing. At his press conference on Wednesday, Bush was asked what we should say to countries that trade with Iran and that would lose an important market if that country were to be economically isolated. His off-the-cuff response was a moment of clarity rare in the carefully constructed fog of Bush Inc. No doubt it sent his handlers scurrying off to the back rooms to make sure the elite media either didn’t notice or ignored the gaffe of truth. (no need -- they ignored it)

“Sometimes, money trumps peace,” declared the president.

What a remarkable statement. Who, other than these greedheads that have run our government into the ground, talks like that? But it says a lot, opening a window into their dark souls. It explains what we are doing in Iraq.

In Iraq, money is oil. Money is contracts for Halliburton and other political contributors to provide services for our troops, security for our politicians and rebuilding the infrastructure we have destroyed. Money is the military industrial complex, that have tried to keep us stocked with bombs, tanks, guns and ammunition. Forget the maimed and dead soldiers and Iraqis, the shattered buildings and lives. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has done very well for Money in all its forms.

Money trumps peace. Of course, its so simple. If there is money to be made, then the peace be damned. And so it has been.

Thanks, Junior, for that brief, shining moment of truth.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Smart Ones

My last post a week ago about the racist comments of Mark Belling and others after the over-hyped scuffle after a high school basketball game generated a bunch of comments. As usual, my favorites are those posted by a GOP surrogate who insists on being Anonymous. His or her last comment asked a question, and I figured I would bring the answer out in the main body of the blog so we could dissect and discuss.

"Why is it that nobody on the left can engage the arguments made by so-called Right-wing nuts without calling them racists or something? I thought you were supposed to be the smart ones..."

There are several deliberate flaws in this question/comment.

1) You can’t "engage the arguments" of wing-nuts, because they don’t make "arguments". Wing-nuts make assertions and then insist you agree and you are stupid if you don't. They tell lies repeatedly until some believe it, setting up straw-men that they then knock down with derision. They ignore the truth, even when exposed. Finally, they hide behind radio microphones and Anonymous posts so they don’t have to engage in real debate.

When is the last time Belling or Sykes (or, for that matter, Anonymous) exposed themselves to an honest public debate with anyone? Their TV shows don’t count – they drop their loud-mouthed radio personas and act as neutral moderators to the friendly panel that they construct. I would like to see, for instance, Belling show up anywhere in a public forum and spout the racist nonsense he spewed after Bradley Tech scuffle. He knows better, so he hides behind his microphone and his sanctimony. Anonymous hides for another reason. He or she won’t let me know who they are because to do so would legitimize me as a voice they have to deal with. Right-wing bloggers and radio wing-nuts only pick up lefty posts if they want to make fun of someone or show how "extreme" the Dem "base" is. And most of those posts they cite are phony, anyway.

2) I always argue against their ideas and not their person. I can and have without resorting to calling them "racist or something" – except when they are actually engaging in racist behavior. It is the supposedly-cerebral Sykes who has become so discombobulated with being wrong all the time that he has resorted to calling, for instance, Rep. Steve Kagen a "crap-weasel" and calling anything he disagrees with "crappity-crap-crap". It is they who engage in the politics of personal destruction, making up lies to belittle everyone from Pelosi to Hillary to Barak "Hussein" Obama so that they don’t have to engage them in a war of ideas.

In fact, I think I give them too much credit for trying to engage in real discussion at all. Radio wing-nuts don’t really want discussion or debate – they want GOP-friendly distraction and divisiveness. A Democratic politician once told me that he tried to call in to get a word in edge-wise on Sykes show and was told by Sykes that his show was "entertainment", and refused to put him on. I can’t imagine what is so damn "entertaining" about having Scott Walker or Alberta Darling with a direct line to the studio any time they want, but the bottom line is – they don’t care about real ideas and debate. As Limbaugh tells his listeners repeatedly, he is only interested in callers that make him look good. People like Sykes only pretend to be interested in public issues and discussion. All they really care about is the sound of their own voice and the advancement of the GOP agenda.

3) I don’t think we are necessarily the "smart ones" in the war of ideas. The construction of the wing-nut GOP echo-chamber by Karl Rove is a marvel of propagandic manipulation. Somehow, he got a whole roster – hundreds of talk-show sycophants and their enabling program directors – who were willing to do nothing all day long but repeat carefully constructed GOP talking-points. This goes right down to writing scripts for various levels (Limbaugh gets this spin, the local dudes get to talk about so-and-so in support, and the late-night ravers like Mark Levine and Michael Savage get to float trial balloons like nuking Iran). It’s quite something really, not constructed by dummies.

Liberals would never be able to construct that kind of message-discipline – nor should we ever want to. The difference between liberals and wing-nuts is moral, not mental. We have the truth on our side – and the wing-nuts and their puppet-masters are smart enough to realize that. That’s why they lie so much.

4) The question is not why I am calling out Belling for his racism. The question is: Why are he and others making blatantly racist statements and promoting division over understanding of the primary issue in Milwaukee and other cities – the legacy of slavery, segregation and poverty?

We are used to this with Belling, who withstood the use of a racist slur about Latinos several years ago and lived to brag and laugh about it. But, it appears, his entire radio station has gone off the deep end. Filling in for Belling on Thursday (who was off spreading his national nut-wings by subbing for Limbaugh), morning wing-nut Jay Weber tried and failed to counter a column by Eugene Kane of the Journal Sentinel. Kane is a favorite wing-nut lightening rod, because he eloquently focuses on racial issues in his Journal Sentinel column from (gasp!) a black perspective, making him the most important columnist in that paper and, perhaps, in the city.

Kane had the temerity, according to the undistinguished Weber, to try to explain a recent black-kids-hitting-white-guy incident on a city bus in terms that were not sufficiently outraged. Weber went off on a racist – yes, racist – rant about how the Bay View and Bradley Tech schools were being victimized by black kids being bussed-in from other parts of the city and how the inner city owes the "white and suburban community" a lot more than we owe them. It was an amazingly naked tirade by the near-amateur, trying to be Belling and finding himself way in over his head. In the middle of it, Weber recited the tired cliche: "I know this is not politically correct...." No, it’s not correct in any way. It’s racist. And it shows how far the standards have fallen for even already-bottom-feeding Milwaukee wing-nut radio.

But, what do you expect from a radio station that now proclaims itself "Your Conservative Home"? WISN is now running a promotion spot for the station that is a mock-commercial for coverage of City Conference basketball games, which, of course, the station doesn’t carry. "All the action, from center court to circuit court!" it claims. Now, that is the way that serious issues in the city should be handled -- with hate, division and mockery.

Or,as my dad used to say when he didn’t think it was: Idn’t that funny?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rock and Roll High Schools

Milwaukee area teenagers have really lost their minds. To read, watch and listen to the hysterical coverage, there is nothing but conflict and police contacts. There's a fight, police get called, teens flee…it’s just an outrageous situation.

You probably heard about the recent events at Bradley Tech on the near south side, where cell phones, angry teens, over-involved parents and over-exuberant basketball fans have melded into quite an evil mix. All together now: Something Must Be Done. Supply your own exclamation points – I can’t do everything for you.

But other truths pop up in the strangest places. North Shore Now – a descendant of several formerly local and independent weekly newspapers, now homogenized and conglomerated by the Journal Company through their CNI subsidiary – has a story of a (gasp!) “fight” between about 40 Whitefish Bay and Nicolet High School students on January 27th outside the Jewish Community Center (!) on formerly quiet Santa Monica Boulevard.

Well! I know there weren’t any video cameras (were there?) so we could all watch our precious children battle on starved-for-footage cable news shows, but where is the outrage about these North Shore youths running amok? Where are the radio wing-nuts shouting about anarchy, bad parenting, lack of values and the break-down of societal mores?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. North Shore kids -- hey, they're just bein' kids!

But the city kids at Bradley Tech...well, nothing exposes the naked racism of the wing-nuts like a little rumble in (certain) schools, streets and gyms by a bunch of bussed-for-integration African-Americans. Mark Belling is, as usual, the worst; just daring anyone to call him racist as he relates his own twisted history of the Tech/Bay View basketball rivalry (used to be a real rivalry, but none of the kids in the schools live there anymore, so…) and blames it all on black people acting like, you know, black people.

Belling is a vulture that lives for stories like this that he can pounce on and twist to affirm his racist view of the universe. He can deny his racism all he wants and as loudly as he can, but it doesn’t change the fact that his racist poison has inflicted this community for far too long. Others are either more subtle and supposedly cerebral (Sykes) or just lamely head-nodding, letting their too-willing audience fill in the blanks. But Belling is the worst, and he’s disgustingly proud of it.

So what about the Sharks-and-Jets North Shore dust-up? What about the fact (reported on page 19 of the ever-enlightening Now) that Shorewood High School has had to restrict the attendance at a dance to Shorewood students only. This is “because of what’s been going on with dances and guests”, according to the article. My god, what the hell has been “going on with dances and guests”? No details. Perhaps one of the local radio wing-nuts can take up the issue and random people can call in and claim to know. This is a favorite tactic of the know-nothing class – pretending to know something, anything, as long as it validates their prejudices.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for Belling and Sykes to take up teen terror on the North Shore with the same sort of breathless know-it-all-ness with which they dive into the sociology of the underclass high school student. They only explore the psyche of the suburban teen when there is a car crash, and, then, always with sympathy. Besides, admitting that suburban kids also make mistakes in the heat of passion takes the eye off their racist target. The truth eludes them once again, on purpose.

Stupid kids do stupid things – same as it ever was. This fact transcends racial and class boundaries everywhere except in Wing-Nut Land, where They are forever ruining everything for Us. After the supposed student-plus-parent conflict at Tech several weeks ago, Belling imagined what would happen if such a thing took place at Brookfield Central. I’ll tell you what would happen. Belling’s phone lines would be jammed with parents squawking about how right they were to do whatever they did. And Belling would be sitting on his lazy ass in the studio, blaming it all on the teachers.

Because Belling has been on the air since the Fairness Doctrine was revoked by Reagan in 1987, there is a certain acquiescence to the loud outrages they he gleefully foists upon the public every day. He is at his worst when he charges into racial issues, issues that demand the most sensitivity in this community, not the least. Like Republicans who still pursue Nixon’s Southern strategy, he uses code words and easy prejudice to stir the ghosts of Harold Brier’s old south side in what is still the most segregated city in America. His hate is more than a psychosis; it is a marketing tool.