Thursday, February 26, 2009
As the new symbol of the GOP’s gaping irrelevance, take Gov. Bobby Jindal – please! After President Obama’s rousing speech to a joint session on Tuesday night, Jindal emerged – literally – out from the shadows of the Louisiana governor’s mansion to underwhelm the nation with his childish recitation of standard and empty Republican bromides about “wasteful spending”, the healing power of small business activity and more tax cuts for the rich. His deer-in-the-headlights performance set back his premature presidential ambitions by at least 8 years; and, by then, he won’t have much of a party left to lead. I agree with actor Jack McBrayer – any comparison between Jindal and his Kenneth the Page character on 30 Rock is an insult to Kenneth.
Closer to home, we have our own elected Republican making a fool of himself. Scott Walker, the man who wants to be governor after trying to run Milwaukee County into the ground, has spent the past week or so touring the wing-nut radio circuit pretending that he wants the stimulus money to fund a year-long sales tax holiday in Milwaukee County specifically and, what the heck, the whole damn state. It was an extremely cynical, unserious “proposal”; something Walker knew was impossible by the very terms of the stimulus legislation.
But it allowed him to grandstand before the nut-right tax-cut crowd that form the shrinking base of the evaporating GOP. And the bunch of useful idiots who are going to be using their various radio, newspapers columns and blog platforms to campaign for him full-time in the gubernatorial campaign were glad to have him on their publicly-licensed shows and run his embarrassingly self-congratulatory e-mails on their vanity blogs – “They loved me, Charlie!” Walker is going to be the biggest beneficiary of unreported in-kind campaign contributions in the history of Wisconsin or anywhere else, and most of it is going to be on the public airwaves. Actually buying commercial time is for suckers.
I (almost) wish President Obama would back up and call the little punk on his bluff. Let the state piss its $4 billion in stimulus money into the wind of a sales tax holiday. The result: nothing. A few well-off people – those who can pay cash – might save $50 on a new flat-screen TV or, if they really want to cut loose, $500 on a new car or boat. Everyone else will find the necessities of life a dollar or a dime cheaper, with no measurable improvement in anything. And, unlike the dramatic brick-and-mortar improvements to the infrastructure that will be evident in all temporarily Republican districts in 2010 from the real stimulus bill, there will be nothing to show for the amorphous tax-cut experiment except the drab disappointment when the sales tax returns at the end of the year. Walker deserves the emptiness of that moment as much as we need to be protected from the results of his political stunts.
But Jindal and Walker are just two desperate politicians getting drowned in stream of the rising tide of common sense and adult supervision. Forced from the dark crevices of the rejected right, the cockroaches are scurrying from the light, trying to find places to hide and excuses to make. I’m amazed how little the anti-Obama message has changed since the early days of the campaign. They still talk about Obama being the Messiah, still squawk about socialism, still praise the wisdom of – god help us – Joe the Plumber. There has been a new twist this week – calls for violent revolution -- including a poll on Sean Hannity's web site asking what kind of violent revolution his deluded followers might prefer. One would be concerned about all this if one could take it seriously. One cannot.
Speaking of being taken seriously, there is Rick Esenberg. The ubiquitous right-wing Marquette law professor and blogger has managed to get himself into mainstream publications – well, the Journal Sentinel, anyway – by pretending to be a sonorous Republican egghead; a man of supposed great reason and impeccable credentials. Of course, how anyone who runs interference for a hapless hack like Scott Walker and the ethically-challenged Mike Gableman has any credibility is beyond me. And you wonder if the Lords of State Street who run his drivel from time to time were paying attention when he called our new president a “freakin’ moron” the other day.
Esenberg has always been an Obama-phobe and I suppose it’s understandable that the president’s success and popularity in his first month in office has driven him right over the edge. Also, he wants you to know that he doesn’t “really think that” the president is a moron, although he blares the phrase in his headline and concludes he would understand if “the markets” believe it. [The main jist of the post is a tiresome expansion on the right-wing markets-have-tanked-since-Obama-took-the-lead-in-the-primaries talking-point.] But the good professor is happy to have the idea that the president is a “freakin’ moron” out there.
In the meantime, the rest of us can celebrate the return of the grown-ups to the White House. How refreshing to see a working mind on the podium at the non-State-of-the-Union address this week. How unique to see someone who thinks that government can be a source for good and who is willing to use his political capital to do the necessary things in unique and desperate times. How great to have torture revoked, health care addressed, the environment prioritized, education funded and transparency enforced over secrecy.
Stevie Wonder’s music wafted through the wings of the White House this week in a celebration of the new administration as much as it was about Wonder’s craft (If you can, find Paul Simon’s brilliant solo-acoustic take on “If It’s Magic” somewhere). The small musical event was a beautiful reminder of what we should be and what we should have been all along.
Let the losers bleat about revolution, socialism and freaking morons. We own it. We’ll do it. We’ll make it work despite you. And you’ll be out of power for a generation.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
- Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul. Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.
-- U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder, February 18, 2009
As always happens when someone picks the nation’s worst historic scab, peels of mock outrage have sounded throughout the land in reaction to Holder’s challenge. The high-pitched squealing by the usual suspects who have no interest in racial understanding – he called you cowards! – has again managed to muddle the issues at the same time it makes Holder’s points for him.
The cowardice exemplified by a willing ignorance of history, an exaggerated sense of sufficient progress and the rush to unearned, premature closure should be self-evident and its exposure applauded. Instead, it is supposedly the nation’s first African-American AG who is the bad guy for providing educational perspective during Black History month. Go figure.
The African slave trade and its continuing legacy is America’s Original Sin. Along with the attempted genocide of the Native American by the European "pioneers" and the criminally unnecessary nuclear annihilation of hundreds of thousands* of innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, slavery stands as part of America’s grim contribution to some of the greatest crimes in human history.
From the Middle Passage (the horrific ocean voyage in which between 2 and 4 million Africans died enroute) to the practices of the slave masters (deliberately divided families; repression of African language and religion; murder, torture and beatings) to eventual "freedom" in the Jim Crow South and the segregated North, black Americans have endured an experience like no other group in this or any other country.
And, as a country, we have never dealt with it. With every half-step, White America has rushed to declare the problem solved. Cause-and-effect is denied and victims are blamed. An African-American president is elected and caricatured as a chimp plugged full of bullets in a New York Post cartoon.
Pardon Eric Holder for speaking truth while himself in power. It could be, but it doesn’t have to be enough for he and President Obama to lead by example; they can and should lead us to new places of understanding and self-awareness. To deny and mock Holder's declaration of American cowardice on the issue of race is to pretend the problem is solved. It is to play enabler to the ultimate Big Lie.
It's way past time for America to come out from its hiding place and face the fear of its own compromised history. The nation was built in large part on the backs of a strong, talented race of involuntary immigrants who too many -- much less the drafters of the Constitution -- have never accepted as full citizens, neighbors or even strangers on the bus. We have already tried waiting long enough until everyone just forgets. It ain't happening.
Get real, America.
*corrected from "millions" - thanks, Patrick.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
When WISN's regular daytime newsreader Nick Reed came to work on Thursday morning, he was wearing his fill-in wing-nut hat. By the afternoon, he was back to doing what passes for straight news breaks during national embarassment Rush Limbaugh’s show. It’s all in a day’s work for Milwaukee’s most unethical radio chameleon.
Reed was called in for the morning shift while regular waste-of-space Jay Weber was off, for whatever reason. While waxing uneloquent about tax breaks granted to film makers who decide to come to Wisconsin, Reed, the occasional newsman, for some reason decided to riff on Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, calling her a “ding dong”. “I met her and she’s nice, but I think she’s a ding dong,” he said.
Now, who the ubiquitous Nick Reed is anyway and why anyone would care what his opinion is of anybody is one thing. But, his regular gig is as a news reporter. What other news reporter, anywhere, would be calling an elected official a “ding dong”? Does he take his reporter hat and go out to in the real world from time to time? If he walks into a press conference with supposed Ding-Dong Lawton, is he allowed into the room? Considering his ridiculous, condesending comments, should he be?
Reed, like all wing-nuts, fill-in or otherwise, didn’t stop there. He continued his anti-Hollywood diatribe (as if the state doesn’t give tax breaks to dozens of other industries) before drifting off into absurd blabbering about cigarette taxes that somehow led to this doozy of a monolog:
- “I tell ya, I hate the government...I think that we are headed straight to hell...I don’t know, outside of a bloody revolution that we are ever going to get back where we are...I really don’t have a lot of hope left. I really don’t...I know some people that have faith in the American people; not I...Some, I do...They’re the ones that 20 or 30 years from now are going to be held up in cabins with stockpiles of weapons and 12 kids a piece. I think I relate more to those people than so many others.”
Woof. What a load of hooey. This is all fairly standard wing-nut, fantasy-world fare, but, coming from a supposed journalist, it is quite a mouthful. Now the News Man hates government, pines for a bloody revolution, and wants to join crazed, armed survivalists out in the woods. We can really expect the fair-and-balanced from this guy, for sure.
As if to prove my point, Reed was back on the air in the same afternoon (after, I assume, a reasonable time to pull himself together), reading the news at the top of the hour as a “news reporter”. With all the news these days, what do you think he led with? Yep – Sen. John Kerry got a letter from “terrorist organization” (and elected Palestinian representative) Hammas and sent it to someone in the Obama administration. Get it? Kerry? Conduit? Hammas? You can’t make this stuff up. But Nick Reed can, or at least he can exaggerate it out of all proportion.
Notions of journalistic ethics are considered quaint and inconvenient by the greed-heads at Clear Channel, who obviously feel comfortable slotting the severely compromised Reed into the news-reader slot, not to mention letting him spin the news in wing-nutty directions. It's a disgrace, but what do they care?
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Good. Hoist them on their own petard, I say. In a short 20 months, they will be facing another election with the tangible benefits of the stimulus bill all around them as they tour their districts. It should provide some interesting constituent interactions: See that road-building over there? I voted against it. Those cranes around that new green building being rehabbed in the middle of town? I voted against it. You got laid off and got more weeks of coverage and got $25 more per week while you tried to get back on your feet? I voted against it. Now, can I count on your vote? Hey, where’d ya go?
You wonder, really, about all those congresspeople in swing districts and why they would throw in with their increasingly overheated and hyper-partisan brethren. What about Wisconsin’s own Tom Petri, whose 6th District is just north and west of here? Unlike GOP glamor-puss Paul Ryan and North Shore neanderthal Jim Sensenbrenner, Petri often votes with the Dems on issues important to his district or to good government. What’s his problem on the stimulus bill? "...it simply was not focused enough on short-term stimulation," he says on his web site. Well, "not enough" is not nothing and there should be enough going on in his district in a year to make people wonder what he was thinking. Not to mention the increased strength of any Democratic challenger he will certainly draw next year.
Republican governors, on the other hand, are smartly and desperately embracing the stimulus bill. Their eyes closer to the ground in their states and free from the dark hands of people like the new dweeb in town, GOP House Whip Tom Cantor, the governors are playing the role of grown-ups to the children in the GOP House. They have one thing in common with President Obama – they are responsible for getting things going in their states and are less likely to participate in cheap posturing.
But, posture they have in the House, putting the very survival of the Republican party on the line and in deep jeopardy. The Washington elite in the GOP are betting they will be able to do the same thing they tried to do to Bill Clinton – prevent him from being a success. Despite their best efforts, a pack of lying Arkansans and Clinton’s own temporary personal weakness, Clinton's administration was still broadly successful and popular. Obama is even more likely to succeed, if only because only the hapless GOP doesn’t want him to.
The tireless and tiresome radio squawkers that so dominate what passes for Republican "thought" have been talking since early last year that the party’s cratering fortunes were as a result of their candidates not being nut-right enough. Unfortunately for them, the House Republicans and the RNC -- with the ludicrous choice of hyper-partisan Michael Steele as chairman -- appear to have drunk that Kool Aid.
The NoBama Republicans are hoping they can use their useful idiots on mainstream radio to make enough noise about the inevitable small failures of the stimulus package to make people forget the bigger picture of more confidence in an inspiring president and a brighter future through cash infusion into the economy. They’ll lose that bet, big time, in 2010. What will be the margin in the Senate in 2011 – 65-35? How many of the lemmings in the House will be pushed off the cliff as a price of their ridiculous unity -- 20 more seats? The Blue-ing of America continues and the long slide of Republicans into irrelevancy continues and, in fact, through their own arrogant ineptitude, accelerates.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Honestly, what a load. The subject of the column was a proposal by some state legislators to finally put an end to the use of various racist names still attached to various public high school sports teams in Wisconsin. This was too much for the former-but-still-published J-S columnist, who decided to employ an air of sanctimonious derision to ridicule the proposal as so much undue intrusion by the "nickname police".
Nichols begins his radio wing-nut level discourse by insisting that Wisconsin be called "Meskonsing", in keeping with the original name given to the Wisconsin River by Native Americans and continues down this misleading path to identify a Milwaukee legislator as being from "Meneawkee or Mahnawaukee". Of course, nothing in the proposed legislation has anything to do with original-name purity, but that doesn’t stop Nichols from beating the idea with an irrelevant stick.
Nichols spends the rest of the column wondering if teams with names like Norskies, Cheesemakers and Midgets would have to change. After five paragraphs of this kind of hilarious exploration – "How about, say, the ‘Butternut Buttercups’?" he chuckles to himself at one point. Stop. Yer killing me. – he clarifies it all by letting one of the sponsors explain that only names with racial aspects would be affected. He then carries on for five more graphs in the same vein, this time exploring the origins of "Badgers" as, supposedly, a put-down of lead miners.
It’s an embarrassing performance that should have been clicked-and-dragged to the computer’s recycling bin the minute it floated in from Nichols’ home office. But, yet, the Kings of State Street saw fit to waste a good fourth of a page on one of its twelve-odd Saturday pages to inflict this garbage on its shrinking readership.
"Never mind that it’s a reference to our history - and who we are," Nichols closes in defense of things not threatened. What he never discusses is how team names like Warriors, Redskins, Indians and the like are too much a reflection of our racist history and who we were. What exactly is the defense for continued use of names, images and mascots that were created and maintained only to demean, belittle and dehunamize an entire race of our fellow citizens who bore the brunt of our ancestors worst violent instincts? You wouldn’t know it from reading this tripe from Nichols, who is too busy smirking and slapping the backs of his lowest-common-denominator readers, who are only too happy to stay stupid and backward while the rest of the world leaves them behind.
Monday, February 02, 2009
Some newspapers have responded to the bursting of its advertising bubble with humility and circumspection. The best of them have even hired ombudsmen in recent years to take their papers to task for wrong information, bad spin, puffery and other journalistic sins.
Not your Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Ever since the Incredible Shrinking Paper publicly ‘fessed up to its collapsing advertising and circulation base and began to cut pages, sections and features like Edward Scissorhands on a bender, the J-S has made a point, every Sunday on Page Two, of telling us how wonderful they are. It is the worse kind of self-serving blather that they treat like gracious community service writ. You can imagine the editors and managers of the paper reviewing each puff piece from high in the State Street ivory tower every Friday, nodding sagely at the glowing prose, patting each other on the back and thinking how lucky the grateful populace is to have them.
A prime example of this weekly editorial circle-jerk is right-wing managing editor George Stanley’s embarrassing piece in this Sunday’s paper. Stanley’s goal is to brag about all the right-wing talking-points and knee-jerk political reaction that have been generated by some recent stories and campaigns run by the J-S in recent weeks. Indeed, from the trivial to the hysterical, the Only Newspaper in Town has provided plenty of fodder for those who think the worst about some people anyway. The paper has become expert at finding and exposing easy targets, such as camping outside the homes of inner-city women and otherwise employing the still-vast resources of what passes for the Milwaukee mainstream media to punish those who would dare to use public child care dollars for child care or use travel accounts for travel. Who can deny them this self-serving victory lap on their recent "success" at rooting out, well, whatever the hell they are rooting out.
Well, I can. While some of the Journal Sentinel investigations have been important and interesting – the BPA stuff and the doctor-whore pharma expose – most of it has been exploitative piffle. African-American school board and county board members now have to call Dan Bice to clear receipts for taxi cab rides in foreign cities where they may happen to be for outrageous events like conferences or if they want to take advantage of the fact that everybody who is somebody happens to be in Washington for some event or other – better to try to network when no one is around. Of course, right-wing and noticeably Caucasian nutbag James Sensenbrenner – the most repulsive member of Congress I have ever had the misfortune to be represented by – racked up at least $179,814.16 for his various pleasure junkets to Las Vegas, Germany, Las Vegas, Paris, Las Vegas, Japan and other exotic locales through the years. But, the J-S can’t be bothered to expend its selective outrage on rich congressmen – better to beat up on hapless minor local officials who talk-radio can sink their teeth into.
Likewise the harumph-heavy tone of the "Cashing in on Kids" series. When I saw the headline, I was sure the Journal Sentinel had finally come to its senses and was going to go after the scam artists cashing state checks by pretending to run some of the so-called "choice" "schools". But no – the "choice" program continues to have sacred-cow status at the paper, which still stuffs the closing of yet another bunch of pretend educators (only five kids at one of them) in the back pages with small print. But the J-S has other child-care fish to fry. Apparently, some women figured out how to get paid for providing child care for themselves and their sisters’ kids, completely legally, through a state program. Oh, god, the horror. Happy to play "gotcha" with otherwise poor women, the reporters actually stalked the women outside their homes. I’m sure the reporters involved felt so proud while they sat in car waiting for the women to do...what?
Then there is the continuing anti-drunk driving campaign. There is not an easier target in the world for opportunistic news organizations looking to get on their high horse about something than drunk driving. They can drive their sanctimonious campaign by exploiting the sad victims (one in every county!). They can tell story after story of defendants gaming the system by – gasp! – insisting that they know their rights to a lawyer before getting their rights and liberty taken from them. They can compare Wisconsin’s shockingly lax laws on first offenses (because they are not criminal) and third offenses (because they are not felonies). All of which accomplishes nothing in influencing those unfortunate to get caught once and stupid enough to get caught numerous times. But, the J-S can feel good about itself for driving a change in state law that will result in increased costs of prosecution and defense, not to mention the enormous expense of the kind of lengthy incarceration promoted by the paper’s lock-‘em-up campaign.
It’s hard to say what the paper hopes to accomplish with this kind of self-back-patting. Has some consultant somewhere really told them that everything will be fine if people just knew how wonderful they are? Do they really think that spending so much of their shrinking news hole on this kind of ridiculous self-congratulation gets them anything but a laugh and a turn of the page? Fully a third of Stanley’s column is taken up with supposedly spontaneous testimonials from grateful readers, including this gem: "You truly do not get enough credit for the great work you guys do." Really, now. When Stanley is typing this tripe into the story, doesn’t he wince or shudder, just a little? Shouldn’t he?
Adding insult to injury, the paper had the balls to run a business story next to Stanley’s puff-piece on the same Page Two, trumpeting that the J-S ranked first in the naiton in "market penetration", meaning that a higher percentage of people around here read the paper in some form or other than in other metro areas. "An amazing connection" is therefore claimed (by none other than J-S president and COO Elizabeth Brenner) between the local burghers and the paper that covers them. Might I suggest some other reasons? 1) there is just not a whole lot else going on around here – we might as well read the damn thing while it’s still a daily; 2) it is fascinating to watch the paper shrink every week, like it’s disappearing before our eyes; and, finally:
3) we hope against hope for better. We want the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to stand up and again take the place that the old Journal had of one of the best papers in the country. Alas, given Stanley’s misbegotten bravado, it appears the path has been chosen and the die is cast. There are many reasons all newspapers are in trouble and most of it the leaders of the dead-tree industry can do nothing about. But the J-S appears to have chosen the path of trying to pull out of its tailspin by providing material for talk-radio and otherwise reaching for our least common denominator. It is a cynical ploy that is doomed to fail.
UPDATE: The parody-as-reality self-congratulation theme continues this morning in the J-S. The paper bought a full-page ad from itself (hey, there's a way to fix the bottom line! No, wait...), celebrating the selection of Editor Martin Kaiser as "Editor of the Year" by the newspaper trade magazine Editor and Publisher. Let's see...shinking ad revenue...reduced number of pages...cratering stock price...hysterical, trivial news coverage...yep, give the guy an award, for sure. With that track record, it makes you wonder how the first-runner-up feels. The money quote from the E&P puff-piece is this beaut: "If the staff is having fun even in these parlous times — and a surprising number of people will tell you they are — it’s because Kaiser has turned the newsroom to his view of staff reductions, says Managing Editor George Stanley: 'We never look back on what we had.'" I'd love to know how the embattled staff at the paper feel about that one, besides wanting to head for the elevators with torches and pitchforks. The "surprising number" of staff "having fun" these days? That would be "one".
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Faced with 12 minutes of airtime on a make-shift stage at the Super Bowl tonight, Bruce and the E-Streeters had some decisions to make. Time for three short songs, or they could easily stretch out "Kitty's Back" or "Rosalita" for the whole set.
But, no. Ever the populist, Bruce saw his opportunity to introduce the world to the magic of an E-Street concert, squeezed expertly to fit the time they had. From the opening riffs of "10th Avenue Freezeout" to the declaration of "Boss Time!" by Little Steven at the end of "Glory Days", the joy and dynamic thrust of the band -- beefed up by what I assume was the Seeger Session horn section -- Bruce and the band put their beautiful perfect selves in America's face in those short 12 minutes. If those who weren't hip to the Bruce thing didn't get it this night, they never will.
All the songs were shortened to make time for more songs and more mugging by Bruce with the lucky Tampa residents invited onto the field. The only surprise in the set was the promotion of new product, a moving rendition of "Working on a Dream", featuring the same kind of gospel singers he did "The Rising" with at the Lincoln Memorial celebration two weeks ago. Bruce better watch out -- he looks and sounds pretty damn good with that kind of support. Clarence and Steve in choir robes? I don't think so.
Anyway, the performance and choices made couldn't have been better. I've never seen Springsteen connect on TV the way he did this night. For the record, I predicted the easy ones ("Born to Run" and "Glory Days") and whiffed on the others (a little too cute, I called "Dancing in the Dark" with a Courtney Cox cameo).
The Super Bowl half-time show has come a long way since Janet Jackson's exposed nipple in 2004 (a golden moment I shared with a room full of amused 10 year-olds). Now, they should just retire the damn thing and bring back the marching bands. Next year's performer will be like the card trick guy who followed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I felt sorry for him, too.