Saturday, November 19, 2016

WTF Part 1: The Jurors Have Spoken

In May of this year, I had the honor of doing three jury trials in Racine and Milwaukee. It is unusual for me to have trials three weeks in a row, and in the process I got to see and interact with many prospective jurors in a short period of time, interested and committed to their communities enough to extract themselves from their busy lives to perform that essential civic duty.  And I've had several other trials before and since -- I've talked with hundreds of jurors this year.

The people who do what I do -- defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges -- have a unique opportunity to engage with the kind of somewhat random people that show up for jury duty. Pollsters and focus-group consultants would kill to have access we have to these kinds of honest, concerned citizens. That's a large part of the reason representing clients in jury trials is my favorite part of my vocation -- I get to talk to real people about very real charges, facts and law, having a very real human impact.  I am always amazed and impressed how seriously jurors take their responsibilities. It gives me hope and pride in the citizenship and community most don't get a chance to see.

We don't talk politics when picking a jury.  But, after those three weeks in a row and with Trump on the march all year, I sometimes thought: what were they thinking? What did those people in the jury pools think about the state of politics in this historically-strange election year?  And, more importantly, what were they going to do about it?

In the courtroom, they promised to be honest arbiters of facts and law, doing the best they could in a courtroom while the battle for their political hearts and minds raged outside; working toward one verdict here while the nation and the world awaited their verdict there.  Outside of the courtroom, they were targets for campaigns -- demographic stereotypes, slots in a grid, check-offs on a phone list.  Here, once selected, they had all of the power in that small space of alleged victims and the accused, one of twelve charged with working toward consensus to judge the State's case. In the world outside, they had just the power of one ballot on one day, one lonely anonymous vote among millions.

Some might wear their political heart on their sleeve, but, for the most part, these are not activists or talk-radio callers, as far as I could tell. They are too busy for that -- with family and whatever jobs they can put together in this limited economy.  In jury selection, we do ask them about their employment, and most of them have pieced together a "career" -- or an income stream, anyway -- from the broken threads of the social contract that Corporate America abandoned in the interest of the pursuit of profit, virtually unfettered in the last 20 years.

Where their mothers and fathers may have worked at A.O. Smith, the post office or a brewery for 35 years, with no-cost health insurance, a pension and the rest, they are left to their own devices, making do in two-income households with contract IT, health care industry office support and delivery jobs -- whatever they can piece together.

Sure, there are professionals -- doctors, lawyers, professors -- young students and a few (less than you'd think) unemployed. There is more diversity ethnically than there used to be, but minority communities are still under-represented in the pool to judge the State's case against my usually poor-and-minority clients.

But, for the most part, the jury pool is struggling-but-stable white working class.  Many have family members or know people in law enforcement, or their dad's a retired cop, etc. They have seen the city and their communities change through the years. They are pissed, frustrated, exhausted -- but dedicated to their families and, above all, resilient.

And, if they care enough to show up for jury duty, they care enough to vote. So what, my dear jury poolers, did you make of the choices for president that the major parties presented you with this year?

I can only imagine, still, but I have a pretty good idea.

I think they looked at Hillary Clinton -- even recognizing her sincerity, her experience, her competence, her consummate preparedness -- and roll their eyes. "Oh no," they thought. "Not this again." Hillary represented to them a bad status quo, an economy that does not move enough, the jobs with no raises and fading benefits, and, yes, an uncomfortable number (for too many of the white people) of increasingly diverse people all over their increasingly complicated world.

Never mind that very little of this has anything to do with politicians or what they do.  The economy wasn't broken by the politicians patronized but laughed at behind their backs by the Masters of the Universe.  The economy our parents knew was destroyed by Corporate America, bent on breaking unions, driving down wages and job security and replacing as many American workers as they can with obedient robots here and cheap and even slave labor overseas.

They were going to do that anyway, regardless of any pipsqueak politicians that might have pretended to have the power to stand in their way. But as long as politicians pretend like they have something to do with making things better, they will be blamed for the results when they don't. For all of President Obama's under-appreciated progress, the steady-as-she-goes-but-let's-do-better Clinton approach fell mostly flat in a populace, once again and apparently forever, wanting Change.

Into this Breach of Frustration came professional con-man Donald Trump, a TV celebrity, pretending that he could take the reigns of power and bend Corporate America to his will.  He told Big Lies about bringing back the jobs that were gone forever, reviving the coal and fossil fuel production that are as dead (and climately dangerous) as the dinosaurs they came from, reopening plants long since flattened or converted into 21st century industry. Oh, and by the way, those Mexicans all over the place in restaurants and such, yeah, he'll do something about that. And Muslims...nothing is as scary as that which you don't understand.

If Trump wasn't such a Silver Spooned spoiled brat and Big Dumb Dick, this kind of message might have been an easy one for a lot of those jurors, even if it was a bunch of bullshit, which it is. His obvious and disgustingly-exposed leering misogyny, outright sexual assaults and dog-whistle racism, I thought, would be too much for even the most butch CCW permit-holder this side of alt-right prepper-ville.

But, in the end, Trump's disconnected non-humanity made it harder for these folks -- but not impossible. I guessing most of those jurors I was wondering about took a flyer on Trump or stayed home.  I also think many of those who actually voted for Trump were doing it as a protest or just to feel better somehow, already resigned to the then-inevitability of Hillary and the Same Old Shit. And then THIS happened. How many of those would like to have their vote back?

There are many things we can and will say in the post-mortem about what Hillary and the Democrats should have or could have done to prevent the shitshow we are just getting into.  But I think it is silly to say that we did not try hard enough to reach the Angry White Working Class.  Deep in Hillary's position papers, I'm sure there is a 20-point plan on how to bring back jobs and opportunity throughout the devastated economy.  We had Biden and Bill and all kinds of surrogates reaching out and reaching in to those areas.

The real problem with these folks is -- they are not listening.  They long ago drifted into an alternate-reality information environment built on the omnipresent Fox News and talk-radio.  They already tuned out the "lamestream media" that was -- legitimately and honestly -- screaming with its hair on fire at the very prospect of a Trump presidency since the Access Hollywood video.  They would no sooner listen to anything Hillary said than they would the Latino immigrant milking their cows, even if they could understand what he was saying.

Even with all the racist pandering and con-job lies, Trump only matched Romney's totals in Wisconsin and didn't even get close to doing that nationwide.  For all the societal destruction Trump caused with his desperate screeching, if Hillary could have just held the votes Obama got in 2012, she would have romped in more than the popular vote.

So why didn't she? Welcome to my next planned post. Here's a hint: that wasn't her fault either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hillary's Real Debate Opponent

Hillary Clinton faces just one major hurdle before she makes history in three weeks as the first woman ever elected president. She has to get through the last "debate" on Wednesday night.

When she gets there, she will find a man on the stage who will be determined to take her down and stop her heretofore unstoppable momentum. He is one of the primary mouthpieces for a powerful political organization with unlimited resources. He is a documented sexist who spends much of his time on the TV shows of overheated Clinton-haters like Sean Hannity. He came up through the ranks of his profession by riding the coattails of his father, and destroying his reputation by selling out to the highest bidder.  He is known for using "information" from right-wing sources to attack Democrats of all stripes. He comes from an alternative fact universe, where real facts (climate change, etc.) are ignored and phony facts (voter "fraud", etc.) are emphasized.

Yes. The only thing standing between Hillary Clinton and the White House is Chris Wallace.

Wallace is the falsely-objective face of Fox News, a network designed by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes as a propaganda tool for the Republican party, thinly disguised as a "news" organization. Immediately after Fox started up in 1996 (not coincidentally, half-way through the last term of the very successful President Bill Clinton), the channel and its "reporters" were admitted into the White House correspondence corps and elsewhere in the Washington establishment, somehow without question.

And, now, 20 years later, the Fox fake-newsies have really arrived with the incomprehensible appointment of Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace to moderate the last presidential debate of 2016.  You don't believe it? Just ask them. Wallace has been making a victory lap on Fox shows all this week, celebrating how awesome it is that a Fox "personality" has weaseled his way into a potentially historic position.

Wallace is not only a sold-his-soul hack from a partisan network -- he is personally and professionally severely conflicted in this race. That is not only because the Fox News Channel, in both its news and "opinion" shows (FNC claims an editorial separation that does not exist), have been completely on the Trump Train since the putrid little-fingered man took the Republican nomination.  It is also because Roger Ailes, Wallace's former boss, unceremoniously fired by the network for Trump-like sexual harassment and lechery, is now a key Trump adviser on, of all things, debate prep.

Wallace is more than just a former employee of Ailes.  He is in love.

"Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally...There are people in tears. I shed mine a couple of days ago..."
Well, boo-fucking-hoo. You can just imagine how Wallace's "love" for Ailes translated to the long-suffering women in heavy makeup and cocktail dresses in the Fox "news" room. He must be, like, a hero to them.

Let's play my favorite game: What If A Democrat Did It?  Imagine, if you will, a pretend-newsreader from a Democratic propaganda outlet (there are none on the level of Fox News -- that includes MSNBC, which confounds right-wingers with legitimate journalists and actual facts...but I digress) appointed to the Sacred Chair by the Commission. Imagine also that the Democratic candidate was being closely advised by the network personality's former boss. Love and all that.

Imagine the unhinged screeching by the ubiquitous right-wing media over that kind of arrangement. They would not only howl at the moon on their various free outlets 24/7 for weeks, they would assume that Bizarro Wallace would naturally be feeding questions to Bizarro Ailes to feed to Bizarro Trump.

As Democrats, we don't play that, but maybe we should. Too many people on the straight media nod and accept that Wallace will be fair, with no evidence to back it up.  You know that Wallace will pull his punches with Trump.  You know he will ask Hillary about various Fox-only memes, such as the "quid pro quo" that wasn't (and that she had nothing to do with in any event) and phony outrage about an idiot contractor bragging about things he wasn't doing to a convicted criminal's gotcha operation. You can bet Wallace will try to hammer her on her emails, the Russian-hacked Podesta emails -- whatever the reprehensible trolls at his network are working on for Hannity's next show. Oh and Benghazi. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

Hillary will be having none of this, of course. As the most experienced, poised, articulate, prepared person ever to run for president, she's beat better than these punks -- Wallace and Trump, ganged up against her in a last-ditch effort. Trump can whine and bleat and make his desperate noises; and Wallace can pretend to be serious while spinning his usual Fox lies, but the result will be the same. Cue Gloria Gaynor, Hillary -- I Will Survive.

When the dust clears in three weeks, the legitimization of Trump will be as dead and meaningless as his business prospects. But the legitimization of Chris Wallace and Fox News will unfortunately cause a permanent stain on the history and future of television journalism.

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Sister Hillary

"I watched the Revolution on my TV
Watching Walter Cronkite at my daddy's knee"

-- "(Why Does) Dan Rather (Want to Be My Friend?)" by Mike Plaisted

I grew up in the 1960s.  Born in '55, I was ages 5 to 15 during the Great Decade, in which America grew up; often hard and horrible, but also in awesome, joyful transcendent ways.

I remember the nuns coming into the 3rd grade classroom to tell us about JFK's awful (yes) still-unsolved assassination and then coming home from church the following Sunday to hear one of my sisters telling about how she just saw the (yes) all-too-convenient assassination of (yes) pasty Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. (All I could think of is "damn, I missed it.  Why did I have to go to church?")

I saw the images of the Vietnam war and the body counts on TV every night.  I saw the Watts riots and wondered -- far from the action in podunk New Holstein --  what it was like to live in Milwaukee as the crowds of the disaffected hit the streets in 1967. I was entranced by the police riots outside the Democratic Convention in 1968, watching the long-hairs get beat upside the head by helmeted cops for the mere sin (I assumed) of being long-hairs.

I remember news networks breaking into prime-time television in April 1968 announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; and waking up that morning in June to the horrible news on the Today Show of Bobby Kennedy's assassination.  One thing I have always thought then and since -- the Forces of Darkness got the right guys.  The world would be a better and different place if JFK, MLK and RFK (and Malcolm) had been allowed to complete their righteous life missions. And they knew it.

I also watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and the Summer of Love as told by the news anchors of Squareville.  I watched the Woodstock movie in rapture of whatever was going on there in that glossy Hollywood version of a mediocre rock concert staged in a disaster area.

Yep, I bought it.  I bought the Dream.

But if TV and my father's newspapers were all there was, I wouldn't know much of anything.  It was my sisters who brought the Revolution home to me.

My three older sisters were born within three years of each other -- the product of Mom and Dad's personal, post-war Baby Boom.  All three graduated from a small town high school at various times in the mid-60's, innocently enough, I'm sure.  They went off to college and suddenly the music of the time -- Four Tops, Temptations, Stones, Four Seasons, Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and lots more -- filled the house.  As their generation spread its wings and as they all found their own selves through the prism of new discovery, they brought it home.  There were arguments around the dinner table with our Nixon Republican father -- often heated, crying, stomping off to the bedroom mad.  But Dad encouraged it, I think.  My sisters gave as good as they got and won more than lost, whether Dad thought so or not.  I tried to pipe up once in a while, with lamely hilarious results.

Now, fifty years later, my sisters are all, in some way or other, a product of their g-g-generation, their times, their private revolutions.  Now, they are all in places they would never have been without it.  None of them were all that radical, even back in the day.  But they took the unique notion from the '60s of reinventing what their nation should and shouldn't be, what it meant to be a human -- especially what it meant to be a woman -- and grew it gracefully, effortlessly into their own beautiful lives.  All have loving, awesome life partners who grew up in the same times and share the same values.  All produced terrific kids with hearts just as big, who are carrying it all forward.

Throughout their careers, they were committed to some kind of public service and moving the ideals forged in the '60s forward; as a teacher, a nurse, a physical therapist, among other things.  They made their marks as sisters, wives, mothers, friends, homemakers. They don't preach or judge others.  They live the Revolution quietly, in their hearts and minds

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton.

At 68, Hillary Clinton is right in the middle of where my older sisters are now, ranging from 67 to 70. She also grew up in the Midwest, also the daughter of a conservative father.   She was certainly more classically political, better connected -- privileged, even. But she also had her own private revolution. In 1965, she was with the Young Republicans -- by '68, she was a supporter of Eugene McCarthy.  At least none of my older sisters were ever Republicans...not that I know of, anyway.

Where my sisters stayed in-state -- Marquette and Oshkosh, later UW -- Hillary went to Wellesley, a highfalutin women's college out East. There she got connected; Yale Law, more connected; met Bill, more know the rest.  My sisters found themselves in other ways -- working, exploring, building families and community.  One break here or there, perhaps a little more of the hard-driving ambition that the Clintons shared, and it could be my one of my sisters out there subjecting herself to the destructive lies and sexist insinuations of Republicans who tear down because they cannot build on their own.

What my sisters and Hillary share is not only the revolution, but a life committed to making the world a better place.  Most Boomers have done so in personal, small, quiet ways.  And when Hillary and Bill Clinton had the chance to make a bigger difference -- because of their positions in great colleges and law schools, their ability to squeeze themselves into political organizations and campaigns, dumb luck and, importantly, each other -- they grabbed it and did it.  There has not been any other couple that emerged from the generation that grew up in the '60s that took those values to a higher level.

Was it how we imagined the '60s generation would govern?  Not hardly.  No Department of Peace, no tie-dyed T-shirts at the inauguration -- heck, not even long hair on the President.  Those were all the cartoon version of what the revolution was all about anyway.  In the end, Bill and Hillary governed -- and will govern -- in a practical manner, accepting the sludge they inherit from the past and moving the nation forward ever so slightly, as much as they can, inch by inch.

That's what all the Boomers I know have done or try to do. Far from some brief flirtations with communes and street protests, they all grew up.  They blended into the communities they were in or found, not in the subversive way some might have imagined, but in positive constructive ways.   They didn't Fight the Power -- they became the power, for the benefit of all.

So, my sisters and Hillary aren't that different, really.  They all have succeeded in affecting the very real world in very real ways.  The first woman president may very well have been named Patricia, Barbara or Donna. Instead -- by the luck of the draw, twists of fate and hard work -- it will be Hillary Clinton.  Yes -- just-like-my sister, Hillary.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rebecca Bradley's Original Sins

One of the (many) reasons I stopped blogging for a couple of years is because I found it impossible to keep up with the 24-hour -- now, really, 8- or 4-hour -- news cycle.  By the time I had gotten the time to write something, the urgency of the issue, whatever it was, was gone and we were on to the next thing.  Talking about the too-polite Republican debate from way last Thursday ("Please, Sen. Cruz, after you"..."No, no, Donald, please, you first...") became badly dated within 24 hours, when protesters descended on a Trump rally in Chicago and the Big Tough Trump wimped out and cancelled. "Security concerns" my ass.  He couldn't face the uncontrolled heat of the rejection of his politics of fear and racism.

Here in Wisconsin, Justice Rebecca Bradley's bigoted, stupid writing while she was an undergrad at Marquette was too soon overshadowed by the story of her representation of a boyfriend in a custody battle with his ex-wife.  The no-doubt gratis representation was declared not an ethical violation by the presiding judge when the ex and the GAL complained about it.  And maybe it wasn't, technically. Lawyers can represent people they've fooled around with, if the fooling around was before the representation.  I'll remember to put this in the old memory bank for future reference.
But imagine you are the GAL interviewing the 16 year-old child and the kid starts talking about Daddy's girlfriend, "Aunt Becca", or whatever, who apparently was so involved with the kid that they exchanged gifts at Christmas.  Now, should the GAL be talking to the husband's counsel, not as his lawyer, but as a member of the extended family?  How that's not a conflict, I don't know.  Bradley certainly seems pretty sensitive about it -- check out the link to the audio of the Journal Sentinel reporter asking her about it for the first time (on the left side of the page linked above).  While her ever-present handler is trying to get her out of there, she blurts out "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel should be ashamed of itself and you can put that on the record." Well.  Excuuuuse me.

That was only Thursday after the student-writing story on Monday.  By Friday morning, the newspaper was printing GOP spin to soften the blow; about Judge Kloppenberg saying Lincoln had slaves, that Justice Anne Walsh Bradley also skipped out early on an oral argument while she was running, and blah blah blah.  In the meantime, the Shame of the Journal Sentinel, in-house Republican shill Christian Schneider has joined the usual gang of local and statewide coordinated right-wing radio talkers to take the desperate Bradley campaign's talking points out for a stroll in a full-court press of denial, obfuscation and outright lies.

A weekend of volleyball watching (go Ken and Aaron!), a concert at the Coffeehouse (killed it) and a day of trial prep (didn't go) later and your humble reporter is now, a week later, still trying to get my thoughts out here about Rebecca Bradley and her absurd student "writing".  Having done a lot of it when I was an undergrad -- lots more for much longer than she did, I think -- I know something about what and why you write at a young age, and what it means for your middle age and beyond.

I wrote for the Daily Cardinal at UW-Madison from the summer of 1979 until my graduation in 1982; then a little more on the opinion pages while I was in law school, mostly around the 1984 election cycle.  Besides having a great time with some great people (we still get together and laugh with and at each other about once a year), I started on the Fine Arts pages (back then, the writer ghetto for the strongly progressive paper) and, eventually, with opinion columns (mostly media criticism), some news stories (Moonie recruiters were my beat for a month) and the staff actually gave me the keys to the place in the summer of 1981, when Jim Nelson and I put out a twice-weekly edition for a couple of months with a skeleton staff and an excellent distribution manager (Hi Mary!).

I was not J-School like most of the more serious people there, but I was enthusiastic about getting stuff in the paper.  I was pretty much allowed to write anything I wanted, and the editors often didn't know quite what to make of my writing, so they just ran it without many edits. The first piece I got published was a review of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. Complaining about that over-hyped, inflated mess of a double album, I tried to be funny about it, setting back my career as a humorist several decades. "How many Fleetwood Macs does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" I asked. "Only one, but it will take him or her two years and it'll cost ya a million bucks!" This caused one of the news editors (now still active in Milwaukee County politics) to stand up at the next staff meeting railing about running this shit in the paper and, by the way, who the hell wrote it?  I sheepishly raised my hand, and my career at the Cardinal began.

I understand that this was back in the early '80s and young Ms. Bradley's deliberately ignorant diatribes were a decade later, but, still, this was a different world.  In both eras, there was no social media -- if you were a college student with something to say, student newspapers were the only game in town. And, if you actually got something published -- something you meant to say, something you cared about enough to spend the two-to-three hours it took to write it and fight the editors, if you had to -- it was an accomplishment.  You were proud of it.  I saved clips of every one of the things I had published in the Cardinal (see above for just a small part), right down to the three-inch TV Screams columns.  You can bet, when Rebecca Bradley got the Marquette Tribune to run her hateful screeds, she was proud too.  She ran right back to her cabal of College Republicans and celebrated, I don't know, however those people celebrate.

I also knew, as did all college writers, that whatever you wrote would go down on your permanent record. Bradley didn't write just to write -- she wrote to advance her stature in the then-burgeoning right-wing college "movement".  We knew these types of people well at the Daily Cardinal.  In the early '70s, right-wing icon William F. Buckley bankrolled the Badger Herald as an "alternative" to the Cardinal's unabashedly leftist perspective.  Thus did a bunch of conservative mouthpieces find their way onto the campus' news kiosks, blathering all kinds of predictable nonsense from their dark-money handlers.

To a (usually) man, those people rewrote conservative talking points with enthusiasm and vigor, and some probably moved on to careers as another kind of Republican hack, proud of what they wrote and embracing what they advocated, building on it to an always-well-paying right-wing career of lies and spin. This was fine for most seeking the comfort of the right-wing bosom from which the Herald sprung in the first place.  But, when one of their own tries to get elected to something actually important, like the Wisconsin Supreme Court, well, all of a sudden, the literature of hate is treated like a symptom of a childhood disease. Oh that thing about gay people deliberately killing themselves with AIDS, yeah, I was so young and drunk... 

Except that she wasn't that young and not drunk at all.  She meant what she said and she said it.  I've read a bunch of my old stuff in the past week and I don't have to apologize for any of it.  I'd write all of it again -- perhaps with a lot less use of the phrase "of course" -- I used that a lot.  What I wrote was part of what I was and still part of what I am.  I think college writers are all proud of what they wrote and they still have the same world view -- they just go after their goals in different ways. I know I do.

Bradley certainly has.  She has never swerved off the nut-right political path, serving as president of the radical-right bunch of lawyers called the Federalist Society and all manner of other right-wing groups and causes.  As late as 2006, Bradley was writing about how pharmacists shouldn't be "forced" to be "a party to murder" by doing their job and filling birth control prescriptions. It is written in the same kind of deliriously clueless writing from her Marquette days, without the name-calling.  The student apple didn't fall far from the adult tree.

"Have I offended anyone? Good..." she wrote in a particularly charming reaction to the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.  That's what she meant to do then.  As a member of the radical right-wing on the sadly decimated Wisconsin Supreme Court, she doesn't care what you think now, either.  Except for this election thing.  At least until April 5th, she has to pretend that she isn't who she was in college and who she is now.

But I firmly believe that college writing is a window to the soul.  And looking at Rebecca Bradley's bigoted, hateful writing, the view is not pretty.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

"Are You Loose???" Not So Much

On the way out of the Springsteen/E Street River show at the Bradley Center last week, I ran into a friend who I suspect has done much more Bruce tourism than I have.  I have made a couple of trips (to Detroit for Rock The Vote in '04; Indianapolis once just for the hell of it), but usually I just catch them when they come around.  But I think he has followed the band much more around the country.

"I'm done." he said.

Coming as it did after yet another three-and-a-half hour marathon by the Hardest Working Man in Show Business and the World's Greatest Working Band, the comment took me aback.  But, this concert raised more issues than it answered -- issues of content, passion, execution, the choices made.  Springsteen fans think about these things; where the band is headed, what happened before, why we are here again. We care.  He insists on it.

Now that I have had a chance to think about it...Yeah.  I think I'm done too.

The problems on this tour begin and end with content. The Elephant in the Room on this tour is the whole wrong-headed idea to play The River, a minor release in the Springsteen catalog from 1980. As loyal fans, we smile, show up and hope for the best.  This is not the best -- not nearly.

But Bruce Springsteen has never been the best judge of his own music, his talent or his own legacy. The first greatest hits album he pieced together in 1995 was a collection of trite, predictable cuts that were on his mind at the time, with nothing from his best album, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle or  Ashbury Park.  His solo outings have been -- at least -- a disappointment.  At his Tom Joad show at the Riverside in 1996, Springsteen was a silence-demanding crank, yelling at people who dared to cheer "Born in the USA" (hey, Bruce, I thought, maybe the guy's a veteran, fer crying out loud).  And let's not forget the worst concert ever at the Bradley Center, when Springsteen and a band of younger hired guns stunk up the place on Bill Clinton and Russ Feingold's election night 1992 with some of the same songs and none of the spirit of E Street. At least Bruce has gotten the picture since 1999 that he and the E Street Band as a unit is ten times better than anything he could do solo or with anyone else.

Which brings us back to The River.

The River was a double-album, back in the vinyl days, and, as with all double-albums from The Beatles' White Album on down, it has some, er, junk on it.  Not as bad as "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" or "Honey Pie", mind you (ah, McCartney...), but, you know, junk. In fact, I don't think I've ever bothered to listen to the damn thing all the way through since I first dropped the needle on the day it was released.  I now know the whole project sputters and dies in the middle of Side 3, starting with "Fade Away" and ending, five songs too late, with the weary "Wreck on the Highway". Sure, "Ramrod" is in there somewhere, but I've always thought it a plodding too-slow excuse for a rave-up.

How do I know this?  Because I have now lasted through two concerts where I couldn't get away from the damned thing.  The songs kept coming.  It -- they -- would not stop.

How did this happen?  Imagine you are in the room with Springsteen and/or manager Jon Landau last year and someone comes up with the bright idea to hit the road playing the entire River album, from beginning to end. Would anyone dare to say "but what about the dreck?"  Not bloody likely -- the world is littered with could-have-been-greater superstars (Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, etc.) with fawning entourages and enabling managers who refuse their to give their bosses the benefit of the advice they deserve.

Alright, so the idea is hatched and they get to rehearsals.  You can see Bruce and what is left of the E Street Band working through the first nine songs and, yeah, this seems like a great idea. But then they hit the giant speed-bump called "I Want To Marry You", a song that was too cute by half cute at the time, and that there is just no reason to play again, ever.  I imagine Miami Steve at that first rehearsal when they come to that song, and then it dawns on him: Oh my god, we are playing the whole fucking album! He has to think it -- does he say it? Is he a good enough friend to...? The album recovers with the title track and film-noir "Point Blank", a dramatic high-point in concert.  But a Wisconsin night "Cadillac Ranch" and a too-obvious "I'm a Rocker" later, the whole album falls off a cliff.  After the first practice, does the band look at each other and think "Well that was fun, but what are we really going to do on this tour?" Maybe.  And the The Boss says "OK. Let's do that again!"

Springsteen now calls this his "coming of age" record, but that was Darkness on the Edge of Town.  The River is really his (then) mid-career crisis, his "what do I do now after all this success?" album.  There is a lot of flailing around, a lot of phony (stolen) car mysticism, and nothing digs all that deep.  Other than "Cadillac Ranch" and "Hungry Heart", none of this album has been featured in his usual setlists through the years.  Nor should it have.

When I first saw this tour in Chicago in January -- the second show of the tour -- Springsteen seemed to understand he had some 'splaining to do about why he was going to make us sit through over two hours of The River.  His solution then was talking it to death.  Many songs that night were preceded by explanations of where he was, what he was thinking, who it was about.  There was a real long one before "Marry You" and it didn't make the song itself any better.  There was much less chatter in Milwaukee -- only "Independence Day" got the usual "this is about my dad" treatment.  The shut-up-and-play version worked much better.

But, still.  As the River part of the set wound down, the antiseptic concourses at the Bradley Center filled with knowing fans on an extended beer break.  There is always something disconcerting about hanging around outside the arena while you can hear Bruce Springsteen echoing off the walls -- he's not here every day, shouldn't I be in there?  Back in '78, I was thankful for relative duds like "Racing in the Streets" because it gave me a chance to catch my breath before hurrying back in there.  Now, I heard "The Price You Pay" droning on and realized there are still three songs to go until the Real Show starts.

But I will say one thing for enduring all of The River -- it sure makes whatever he plays after that very much appreciated.  In fact, the rest of the set brought tears to my eyes, which usually happens at least a couple of times at the best of these shows.  The hour-and-a-half post-River set was moving, through not revelatory; impeccable, without passion. It was about the past -- our past, his past -- not the present.

It started with "Badlands", not usually a weeper for me.  "I ain't no sin to be glad you're alive..." I felt the heart in "No Surrender".  "Now I'm ready to grow young again..." The two cuts from The Rising -- the title song and "Lonesome Day" -- brought me back to that  great comeback tour and the whole album, the single greatest artistic expression of 9/11 emotion produced by anyone in any medium.  "It's alright/It's alright/It's alright/It's alright yeah!".

Nils Lofgrin spun on his heels, his rock star tassels flying, during an incendiary solo during "Because the Night", a rare moment -- for this show, certainly -- of unplanned spontaneity.  Or maybe they planned it. But not like that. Even Nils couldn't have planned it just like that.

Then came "Jungleland", apparently called as an audible.  The audience sang along and Bruce let us until he gradually took control of his own lyrics and voice.  By the time Jake Clemons took his late uncle's great solo -- as he was all night, musically perfect, note for note, if not as emotionally invested as the Big Man (how could he be?) -- I was reduced to a slobbering, crying grown man.  "Kids flash guitars just like switchblades..." In that moment, I wanted Bruce and Steve to do that guitar battle I saw back in 1978, when they both "reached for their moment and tried to take an honest stand". It seemed to last forever.  They wouldn't let it go.  They couldn't.

These things don't happen with the E Streeters any more, except by design.  The deaths of Danny Frederici and Clarence Clemons took much of the heart and soul of the band and time has taken the rest.  The band is still the best in the shrinking rock band genre; talented veterans with the best technology.  And (except for Steve, I imagine) they are totally Bossed, with a job to do.  Any passion there is comes from the songs themselves, not necessarily by their current sparkling execution. Maybe, still, capable of spontaneous combustion, but nobody asks them to do that thing any more.

There will be no more Super Bowl Slides at these shows by Bruce, who is still in great physical shape for the long show (with no breaks) but, unlike before when he did it because he was a passionate, jazzed-up, crazy motherfucker, he does it now by measured, well-paced endurance.  At 66, he is finally showing his age.

I'm sure this has been going on for a while and I've just refused to notice, but this show lacked two of the most important elements that I love most about the Springsteen experience -- spontaneity and whimsy.

First of all, you can forget about spontaneity in a concert in which you promise you are going to play a double-album from beginning to end. That also effects the rest of it, now rushed and constrained to an-hour-fifteen, tops -- and don't forget to leave 9 minutes at the end for a pointless rendition of the over-played-to-infinity "Shout".

As for whimsy...defined as "playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor", by has always been an element of not only Springsteen shows, but his earlier work.  There are songs -- "E Street Shuffle", "Spirits in the Night", "So Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and, god help us, "Kitty's Back" -- that represent the best of Bruce -- passionate, playful, lots of chord and tempo changes.  They worked on record and have completely rocked in concert when the time and the band was right.

The only song of this kind that the band played here (and, apparently, everywhere) was "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)".  I was shocked in Chicago how dry and rote this was played, and it didn't get any better here.  All of the essential parts were there -- all that stuff going on out in the street, but "Rosie you're the one"...the sax break...the guitar duel..."don't you know daddy's comin"...  But where's the joy?  I know it's too much to ask to go back to the days when Clarence and Bruce exchanged that beautiful sloppy kiss at the climax, but is it too much to ask for something real, and really in the moment?  "Hey, man, they did Rosalita!!" Yeah...I guess they did...

Bruce Springsteen has given me some of the best, highest moments in my life -- and that is no exaggeration.  They were the kind of moments you never get from distant rock stars; the kind of moments that usually only happen with family, lovers and friends.  We were both in the right place at the right time, more than once, whether he knows it or not.  I'll never forget that.  I'm just not expecting it to happen again.

"I'm done," he said.

Yeah. I think I am too.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Trump the Prepper

Sometimes, you learn something.

Nut Right Talk Radio, that bane of rational thought and common sense, discloses more of itself (sometimes) through who advertises on it than on the nationally-scripted content spewing from its various “hosts”.

How stupid do they think their audience it is? 

Well, there is that long-running advertiser selling prefab steel buildings, always good for a laugh. And there are many other humorous examples. But my current favorite is an ad selling "Wise Food Storage", an apparent supplier for preppers -- those who are so paranoid about the gathering multicultural hoards and Barack Obama (to them, one and the same) that they are stocking their reinforced basements with guns, more guns and dehydrated "food". 

I wish I could find a link to the actual commercial that is in heavy rotation on WISN, at least -- it's hilarious. The idea is that you would be irresponsible not to make an investment in freeze-dried fettuccine alfredo and cheese ravioli. "It is well known that stores have only 3 days worth of food [Oh? Is it?]...and you don't want your family to be helpless in a food riot" -- or words to that effect, with the sounds of screaming panic in the background.

Given the pathetic gullibility of anyone who would actually pick up the phone and order, say, a one-year supply of this crap for $1,439 (and that's just for one adult -- save yourselves, kids!), it is sad to see so many ignorant people falling into the PT Barnum trap (a sucker born every minute), both in terms of their expected future diet (yum!) and their political opinions. The same stations selling "three 120 serving buckets of emergency food entrees as well as three 120 serving buckets of our breakfasts (just add water!)" at outrageous prices to stupid people like that can certainly sell right-wing bullshit from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Charlie Sykes. And they have. For over 25 years now.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

The hair-on-fire panic in the Republican elite about the Trump juggernaut would be funny if it wasn't so serious and dangerous. The GOP has set themselves up for this through their coordination with national and local talk radio hosts -- not to mention Fox News -- for years. Talk radio hosts are the least original "entertainers" in the history of the world, taking their marching orders for Republican operatives since the beginning, creating false realities, driving false narratives, misrepresenting what Democrats really believe and personally attacking anybody who would dare to stand in the way of their funhouse-mirror reshaping of the national and local debate.

In its toddler years, talk radio spent all of its time smearing, lying and trying to delegitimize President Bill Clinton, who was a grand success in spite of them. In the '00s, talk radio drones worked overtime driving Karl Rove's talking points issued every day right out of the White House, playing constant defense for the disaster that was Junior Bush.  

Since Barack Obama's historic and transitional election in 2008, the radio talkers have gone completely bonkers, convincing their low-information listeners, using racist code words, that Obama was everything from a dangerous subversive, deliberately trying to destroy America; to a foreign-born fraud; to someone who is going to -- oh yes he is! -- find a way to cancel the 2016 elections so he can have a third term. There isn't anything they wouldn't say or do to destroy the bright promise of the Obama presidency. And, like Clinton, he has succeeded in spite of them.

So the GOP establishment has no one to blame but themselves for creating the fear-mongering, fact-free, anti-everything atmosphere that allows a bulbous fraud like Trump to stalk the political earth. Using talk radio and Fox News -- combined, the biggest political megaphone any party has ever had -- the Republicans have employed the smartest propagandists in the world to convince some of the dumbest people in the United States that they have everything to fear from anyone who isn't like them and doesn't "think" like them. As a country, we might not be getting what we deserve (unless Trump himself is elected -- then we do), but GOP is certainly getting what it deserves. It created -- and owns -- the Trump Monster.

As for Trump himself, he follows all the talk radio rules -- without the talent or research. Playing on the fears of fearful people, he talks like the loudest mouth at the end of the bar. Anyone who doesn't see what he sees and thinks what he thinks is just stupid. Opponents are dismissed with a wave of the hand, a smirk and a childish put-down. Anyone on stage with him at a debate is like a seminar caller on talk radio -- they only exist to make him look better, no matter what they are saying.  

Trump traffics in the alternate-fact world of Fox News -- and since the other GOP candidates accept the same phony world-view, no one there can challenge him. He is all celebrity and no substance, getting a rise out of the way-too-easy-to-please all-white knuckleheads who whoop and holler at his every wearily predictable applause line. Even his "outrageous" no-one-else-could-get-away-with-that comments are just ratings-builders, like Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and local radio-thug Mark Belling calling people "wetbacks". They are still working and Trump is still rising.  

And, just like everyone on talk radio and Fox News, none of them care what you think. Least of all Donald Trump.


There is a new campaign here in Milwaukee, led by Wisconsin Citizen Action, to fight the poison that is local talk radio. Talk radio is a particularly insidious entity here, with hours and hours at its disposal to spread coordinated right-wing propaganda, featuring highly-paid Republican activists with a stranglehold on the AM airwaves. With this post, Plaisted Writes returns from a long hiatus to help with that fight. I know these people and what they do all too well, and hope to do my part in this important effort.