Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hillary Clinton declares cause of US debt

Hillary Clinton has now identified "Republicans" as the sole cause of America's national debt. Yes, it's all a vast right wing piracy.

Stumping yesterday in Maquoketa, Iowa in town hall style, Ms. Clinton addressed the causes of America's political, social and economic woes and explained them all with one word - "Republicans."

During Ms. Clinton's diatribe against all things Republican, she actually said to her audience...

"They have driven us into nine trillion dollars of debt."

Note: She didn't say "Congress" nor did she cite any spending complicity on the other side of the aisle - she said "they" (Republicans).

At the conclusion of the event, Ms. Clinton listened intently to one admirer and then enthusiastically replied...

"Absolutely, absolutely, A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y...totally partisan, totally ideological, that is not the way to get things done in America."

Indeed, Senator.  You are so very non-partisan.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Go see The Kite Runner

My family and I usually go to the theater this time of year and yesterday I went along with no advanced knowledge of the movie we were going to see.

I rarely recommend a new film because I believe that so few are worth seeing, however, I make an exception for The Kite Runner.  If it doesn't capture your attention, enlighten you about the Middle East in some way, or stir your emotions -- I'll be surprised.

This film is based upon Khaled Hosseini's popular novel of the same title that tells a terrifying but ultimately redemptive tale that is set in Kabul, Afghanistan. The timeline takes us from Afghan life in the late 1970s under corrupt, albeit relatively stable rule, to the horrors of the Taliban in 2000.

You can tell from the stylish opening when credits are still rolling that this is no ordinary production, but I didn't expect how effectively the film creators would capture the depth and dimensions of both evil and goodness in that part of the world.

Suffice it to say that a "Best Picture" nomination must be in the offing and perhaps other nominations including best cinematography, best actor and best supporting actor.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Anti-Hillary sentiment and the facts

Someone named Lisa (Posted by: lisa December 8, 2007 11:29 PM ) doubts the veracity of my remarks concerning popular opposition to Hillary Clinton - which I made reference to in my post on Bill Moyers' blog.

The distrust, dislike and polarizing features of Ms. Clinton's candidacy that I mention in that post, are not only consistent with my own predilections (and those of a camp referred to these days as "A.B.H." or Anyone But Hillary) they are also supported by non-partisan research.

I thought Ms. Clinton's political baggage was self-evident, but I'll share this report from USA Today and Gallup which may help commentators like "Lisa" and others still in denial to see the pervasiveness of said baggage.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/102907/What-Behind-AntiHillary-Sentiment.aspx#2

Note how analyst Jeffrey M. Jones asserts in his subtitle, reasons for Ms. Clinton's negatives...

"Basic dislike, policy disagreements, character concerns commonly mentioned"

Jones also contends that...

"...few candidates have ever begun the campaign with such polarized ratings."

Want more proof? Consider this Harris Poll:

http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=744

So, while I don't care to admit that the Green Bay Packers were trounced yesterday by the Chicago Bears, my wishing it wasn't the case won't change the facts.

What's most unfortunate about some Hillary Supporters (HS), is that they'll routinely attribute criticism of Ms. Clinton to misogyny. What a sad slap in the face to all women in public affairs.

Millions of men like me will vote for a female presidential candidate who shares our views - but unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher (who can't run here anyway due to her birthplace) or the late Jean Kirkpatrick (who can't run for obvious reasons) - plus many other accomplished women with integrity, are not available in this race.

Yet, some HS will respond that most men will only support women if we don't feel "threatened" by them and therefore any women we do admire are sycophants - shrinking violets in need of male pollen. If any HS uttered such insulting nonsense to the face of a woman like those I mentioned above - they'd be well advised to duck.

Sadly, this invective is delivered daily by the same type of people who can't fathom how an African-American like Justice Clarence Thomas holds beliefs at odds with their own - so what do they allege? Well, you know, he's just an Uncle Tom. After hearing that sort of thing, ask yourself - who is the bigot?

Hillary Clinton, official public photo
And as for the gender-card-playing HS, who continue to stereotype reasons for male opposition to Ms. Clinton, please remind me - who is sexist?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ron Paul on Glenn Beck's TV program tonight...

We now know that Dr. Paul's supporters include those who accused TV host Glenn Beck of treason, those who threatened Mr. Beck's life and those claiming that the US Government perpetrated the horrors of 9/11.
Glenn Beck, Wikipedia

These people do not represent a plurality of Dr. Paul's supporters and he did distance himself from them on Mr. Beck's program, but the question remains - why would such a group be attracted to the Paul candidacy?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Dr. Paul is an unflinching apologist for so much American foreign policy. His voice has become a magnet for legions of dangerous and disaffected Americans with an axe to grind (or swing). He appeals to them.

Ron Paul, official public photo
It's one more reason some find comfort in the belief that Dr. Paul has as much chance of winning the Oval Office as Homer Simpson, or perhaps Dennis Kucinich.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

MEET THE LESS

Meet The Press, Wikipedia
Tim Russert remains one of my favorite television journalists of all time. He's tough, always prepared and fair to everyone he interviews. Today, however, he disappoints this fan. He has an hour, one-on-one with Mitt Romney and how does he use the first 24 minutes?

Mr. Russert spent the first 13 minutes discussing Romney's Mormonism and the next 11 minutes on abortion. What an abject waste of good interview time.  Here are issues, that should have dominated the interview: National Security, Healthcare Reform, Immigration, the Iraq War, Education, Tax Reform, Energy Policy and Spending Reform.

The program did become more substantive after that first 24 minute segment. However, Mr. Russert still squandered a third of the time playing to single issue viewers who are fixated on topics having little to do with running the country.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

After watching Bill Moyers - I posted on his blog...

"Mr. Moyers,

Your dialogue with Ms. Jamieson suggests that you are genuinely astonished at all of the vitriol surrounding Hillary Clinton. While I do not approve of all of it - I understand where much of it comes from.

It's not related to gender or politics. Men and women, Republican and Democrat, draw such fire in campaigns.

A more intriguing question is - why is Mrs. Clinton such a polarizing figure? I believe the answer goes to the heart of who she is - many believe she has a deep integrity problem and that she is purely craven for power. It's easy to see into her soul.

If we must have a Democrat winning the White House in 2008, many Republicans including this writer would find Mrs. Clinton by far, the most objectionable of all candidates in her party.

Respectfully,

JJM"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why party affiliation can matter

Representative Ron Paul hedged recently when asked whether he'd support the Republican nominee, regardless of who it might be (and it's a safe bet it won't be him).

In essence, Dr. Paul replied that his support would wholly depend upon the candidate's willingness to end the war and other positions about which Dr. Paul feels strongly.  OK, but I'm not clear why Dr. Paul remains a Republican except perhaps out of political expediency.  Many of his views are out of touch with the party mainstream which begs the question -- does party affiliation matter much anymore?
Shirley Chisholm: Wikipedia

Growing up in fiercely independent Wisconsin, I recall hearing a familiar line from adults -- "I vote for the man, not the party." (And in those days, with few exceptions, like Shirley Chisholm, it was all men).

As an impressionable lad, I respected adults who publicly affirmed beliefs in something higher than party politics. A sincere allegiance to core principles will always trump those screaming people wearing funny hats at the party convention, I believed.

Now, in my late forties, I'm often skeptical of the I-vote-for-the-person-not-the-party person. Why?  Unless one has a record of voting for both Republicans and Democrats, or one has a history of supporting third party candidates, the party-less advocate is often making a politically "safe" proclamation. 

Monday, November 05, 2007

So, do you like financial humor?

If so, please check out this month's "back story" from the November issue of Conde Nast Portfolio magazine. The piece I refer to is called the "2005 SUBPRIME-MORTGAGE APPLICATION"

Note the free bank check at the bottom of the page with inscription on center, "DUPLICATE AS NEEDED".

Portfolio is a new and inspired business periodical. I give its creators plaudits not only because I cackled for five minutes after reading the aforementioned spoof on lax mortgage underwriting practices, but also because this magazine contains incisive stories, fine writing and an attractive layout.

It is likely to succeed in an already crowded space.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Explosive irony

I heard from an American Muslim troubled by my September 20, 2007 column, "National security vs. civil liberty in America" My reply to him follows...

"I appreciate your thoughtful reply and I apologize for the length of time it has taken me to respond.

Before I address the points you make below, I should like to make clear that I fully recognize that the overwhelming majority of Muslims (American and otherwise) are peaceful, decent, people of faith. Radical Islam represents only a small fraction of the one billion-plus Muslims in the world. Unfortunately that small fraction still equates to a large number of people that we must monitor and defend ourselves from, in order to preserve our freedoms.

As for the incident that took place at the Minneapolis airport in 2006, it is obvious that you are troubled by my use of the word “suspicious.” If the 6 clerics involved were simply and quietly praying as you maintain, the flurry of events that made their presence so newsworthy, would not have developed. After all, thousands of Muslims travel through American airports every day without the same type of fallout. Your benign characterization of their actions during the whole ordeal does not at all comport with statements from eye witnesses, the gate agent, or excerpts that I read from the police report.

Whether one chooses to describe the activities of the clerics as suspicious or merely provocative, misses the point.

In this day and age, after what we have all been through, greater sensitivity on the part of the clerics would have been highly advisable. People are understandably on edge, particularly in airports. By saying that, I do not in any way, shape, or form, suggest that anyone should refrain from public prayer and again, I do not share your view that all that occurred that day was harmless prayer misunderstood by ignorant Americans. I am fully aware of and greatly respect your practice of praying five times a day. I am also a person of faith and most Americans are not as woefully ignorant of Islam, as you believe.

After this whole sad episode, the clerics elected to sue not only the airline, but also the passengers that shared their concerns with authorities. Therefore, in the future, some who would be inclined to alert authorities to potential danger, will have to weigh the possibility of being incorrect and then becoming the recipient of a fresh lawsuit. I find that conundrum more than a little troubling.

Should you receive this message in time, I’d invite you to watch a local television program called 4th Street Forum, tomorrow afternoon @ 3PM, on Channel 36. The topic of my last column (that you take issue with) is explored during a panel discussion and I was privileged to participate. Within hours of taping that program, I learned that bombs exploded in Pakistan killing 134 people. The latest reports indicate that it was more death coming from the evil hand of al Qaida.

The timing of that tragedy and the taping of the aforementioned TV program was sad irony for me, but I draw no comparison between decent people like you and people who celebrate the murder of Western children, so please do not paint me with such a broad brush. I argue to preserve freedoms not just for myself, but for people like you as well.

That is why I sometimes get discouraged by reactions like yours. Yet I become encouraged when I read and hear other American Muslims like Muqtedar Khan who fully recognize where to place their energy and advocacy. If you are not familiar with Dr. Khan’s work, you may wish to read one essay in particular called “Memo To Mr. Bin Laden: Go to Hell! It can be found at http://www.ijtihad.org/BinladenII.htm

All of this notwithstanding, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to write to me. I wish you well.

- John J. Maddente"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

National security vs. civil liberty in America

Published: Sept. 20, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It is a solemn anniversary each year, the kind where you hold your breath hoping that you won't hear a news report about a terrorist bombing or some other horrific act. I'm talking, of course, about Sept. 11, a date that will remain seared into our consciousnesses for the rest of our lives.

Understandably, the date also has devolved into a ritualistic debate regarding the competing ideals of national security and civil liberties. Here's my take.

Civil liberties, including the right to privacy, are critically necessary in any free society. The ability to express myself through this column is an obvious example. However, civil liberties should not in and of themselves supersede national security. And some of the clamor about domestic surveillance has gone from making my eyes roll to making my blood boil.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, enacted in 1996, the government reserved for itself the right to comb through your medical records without court approval if such an action is deemed potentially useful to a federal investigation.

I wasn't particularly concerned about that in 1996, nor am I now. How many abuses of that law have been documented in the past 11 years? Consider the entire domestic surveillance hubbub we hear today and ask: Do you really think the CIA cares about phone calls you have made or books you have checked out from the library?

Of course not, and I don't want to hamper its efforts to locate people who would hurt innocent Americans. Vice President Dick Cheney can pore over my phone logs whenever he pleases. If I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear.

So frisk me! If it makes us all safer, it's worth it. Blame terrorists and their supporters for the circumstances that gave rise to these extraordinary precautions; don't blame policy-makers trying to keep us safe.

A related concept in the civil liberties controversy is the notion of racial profiling. The idea that added scrutiny is given to some purely on the basis of ethnicity is not new, and, in practice, it arguably can be quite troubling.

During World War II, for example, many Japanese-Americans and some German-Americans underwent humiliating treatment in this country to ensure that they possessed no loyalties to the Emperor or to the F├╝hrer.

That's a sad chapter for us, but it's not at all what I am advocating. There are no internment camps today for Muslim-Americans. No reasonable person would support such measures.

On the other hand, our country was not attacked by radical fundamentalist Norwegians. I doubt you'll find many Nordic sleeper cells operating around the world. So if I am acting suspiciously in an airport like the six Muslim men in the Minneapolis airport last fall, the fact that I am drawing comparatively more attention than some platinum blond named Sven makes sense to me.

Letter writer Patrick Collentine put it thus in the Sept. 16 Journal Sentinel:
"Since there have been countless attacks thwarted and none executed in six years, I think it is obvious we are more safe today because of the USA Patriot Act, domestic wiretapping, aggressive interrogation and holding suspected detainees until we are sure they pose no threat to America."

He added, "There has been one case in six years that the Justice Department has prosecuted for the infringement on civil liberties. I'll take that trade-off any day."

So will I.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Money laundering spammers

What is the most common criminal solicitation in the electronic world?

For me, it is e-mails that usually read something like...

"I would like to know you dear sir for most important task. Yes, I am Admask Kadauma, Barrister to late and wealthy madam Camazun Dolmen of province Minamoto in Sanngamita province. A tragic loss too be certain.

I have urgent need to transfer sum of 8 million US dollars to your considerate care -- for which you will be handsomely paid fee of $2.M for services.  I need and trust your to handle these sensitive matter and you are best. Please reply to me.  Stability of government may, so please hurry.
 
- Admask Kadauma"

Although I made it up, the content above is similar to e-mails we all receive (except the English is better in my spoof). 

What I've never understood about these obvious attempts to flout our money laundering laws, is how the authors can be so blatant without risking detection and prosecution.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

To: Editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Their question to readers:

Would you be willing to pay a higher sales tax on gasoline to pay for bridge maintenance and replacement?

My reply...

Dear Editorial board,

My answer is no I would not and it’s the phrasing of your question that might draw scrutiny from other like-minded readers. That is, why do you presuppose that the only way to fund such infrastructure improvement is through an increase in the gas tax- or an increase in any tax for that matter? We already pay among the highest sales tax rates at the pump.

During the previous budget cycle, Governor Doyle, like a modern day Cesar Augustus, used his famous “Frankenstein veto” to instantly transfer over $400 million dollars from the highway fund to K-12 education. The magnitude of his audacity surprised pols on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps some of those funds might have remained better invested in infrastructure like that suggested by your query to readers in today’s paper.

In any event - why not ask a follow up question to JS readers?

“In order to fund such bridge work, would you allow the consolidation of school districts where enrollment no longer justifies operating such schools, or through asset sales of state owned property and land used by a paucity of our population, or through cancellation of marginally-necessary pet projects?”

OK, I understand space limitations -- but you get my point.

Respectfully,

John J. Maddente

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Don't believe the doomsday predictions about newspapers

Published July 29, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Here's hoping that some things never change. The Civil War memorial statues on Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee, no stadium naming rights to Lambeau Field and the Menomonee River Parkway in Wauwatosa will all, with God's good grace, remain unaltered in my lifetime.

What you're reading at the moment is a local newspaper that has existed in various incarnations since 1837. Different names, different mastheads and different owners, but, nonetheless, this paper has been a part of our consciousness for a long time.

Some of us are old enough to recall a time when we'd pluck out The Green Sheet from The Milwaukee Journal and read Mrs. Griggs' advice column. For some, the memories go back even further. Many have heard prognostications about a trend away from newspapers as consumers demand more information via computer and the Internet. Some maintain that since more people than ever obtain their news and entertainment online the inexorable death of the old fish wrapper is just a matter of time.

Nonsense! I doubt that the printed newspaper will ever become extinct - and not just because I want to doubt its demise. My reasoning is more practical.

A newspaper enables one to consume information with so much ease and so little dexterity that it cannot be duplicated. You just can't argue with good design. That is to say, is it conceivably easier or more satisfying to hold some wafer-thin (albeit newspaper-sized) screen and scroll through your daily pixels of news and pictures? Not for me. I'll never give up my pulp-based reading. Information technology can be a great enhancement to slake our thirst for information - and also a great waste of time.

For example, I've used two different handheld devices to support all of my phone, calendar, Internet and e-mail needs. The first device I loved because it was intuitive to learn and easy to use. I have a different device now that I detest for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is the most over-engineered contraption I have ever encountered. It was made by geeks for geeks who love the thing because it's state of the art, whatever that is.

But information technology and its beguiling ecosystem - the Internet - can't be judged so simply. It's a blessing, it's evil and it's a waste of time all at once. Creeps use the Internet to prey on children, but it also helps parents stay close to their children when separated by great distances. Porn sites proliferate, but so does some exceptional blogging and grass-roots reporting that help to equalize and make more transparent a very complex world.

Journalists are becoming increasingly reliant upon and held more accountable by just about any serious person with a modem and a hankering to share something important. Teens and adults fritter away countless hours playing games, but on the other hand . . . well, you get it.

It's the content that remains important - the digital and paper platforms will remain only as catalysts to slake our thirst for information, and they will continue to coexist. Whether you want news electronically or prefer to rattle those pages between your fingertips as I do, what's important is the quality of what we pull off of the platform.

Is it fair? Is it accurate? Is it useful? So don't write off the newspaper. It may be an aged medium, but it's one as comfortable as those trusty pair of shoes you'll never part with.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Still weary about our punitive state tax burden

Published July 5, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Watching our state's political budget process is not easy. There are so many additional taxes - and some with such vast implications - all under discussion at once. One billion, 2 billion, 3 billion, 15 billion: all numbers I have seen to describe potential tax increases.

The characters involved mirror stereotypes of both political parties: Democrats are seeking a broader governmental role in fixing our problems through tax increases and government spending. The GOP is digging in its heels, wanting to hold the line on taxes and government spending and government's increased involvement in our affairs.

Reminiscent of the high stakes budget showdown that occurred between President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, Republican Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch stated he would block the process if the budget delivered to him contains tax increases. By any credible measure, we live in a high-tax state, and this budget season reminds me of the myriad ways government can tax us and how far Gov. Jim Doyle and his coterie of party faithful are prepared to go in order to exercise their views about what government ought to do. But what about the long-term picture beyond the current two-year budget cycle?

I was troubled by a June 24 column by John Tornius that referenced a credible third-party analysis of our state's annual "structural deficit" of $2.2 billion ("State's accounting doesn't pass muster"). The analysis revealed that relative to population, Wisconsin is at the top of all deficit-running states in the nation.

That's more than a little disconcerting if you or your children care about life in Wisconsin more than a couple years from now. Many of us grouse about the need to reduce taxes. That's personal income taxes, real estate taxes, corporate personal property taxes, gas taxes, home-selling taxes and they-don't-give-me-enough-space-to-list-all-the taxes. Others counter with, "That's not realistic; our needs have increased." Or my personal favorite, "But look at our fine educational system and park system and whatever system."

Even if I agreed that we derived an equivalent value from the punitive tax burden we've paid through the decades, we cannot afford everything any longer. As opposed to making more hard choices, I read about things like the governor's proposal to increase by some $55 million annually the cost of state-owned lands in "far-flung natural areas" beginning in 2011. What percentage of us has a desire, let alone need, to traverse additional land already owned by the state in the wilds of Douglas County when our long-term fiscal condition is so bleak?

Other troubling budgetary facts:
• The $15 billion universal health care plan is an 11th-hour power play, and whether you believe such a plan is the answer to our health care conundrum or not, the issues and implications are too complex, too far-reaching, too everything to contemplate now. That patient is dead.
• The new gas tax on oil companies that ostensibly would be borne by oil companies and not passed on to you and me has zero chance of success. If it makes its way into law, it will fail in practice or the courts.
• Lifting any real estate property tax cap will diminish any hope I have left in government.

What we will wind up with this budget season is anyone's guess. The only safe prediction is that if any tax increases get out of the Assembly, there will be a run on bumper stickers that read, "Don't blame me; I voted for Green."

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Valor worth commemorating

Published 5.31.2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Why write about something that happened 12 years ago?"

So went part of a reader's e-mail critique of one of my prior columns. To some, there is little value today in citing dates, events or people from a mere decade ago, let alone 14 decades ago.

At this year's Memorial Day service in Delafield, about 100 observers begged to differ. The event was the Cushing Park Memorial Day service, with a speech delivered by Rick Gross, who along with a half-dozen or so other members of the Cushing Historical Association addressed a crowd to commemorate the military service of four brothers during the American Civil War.

Three of the Cushing brothers were born in southeastern Wisconsin (two in Delafield, one in Milwaukee), and a fourth was born in Columbus, Ohio. On a resplendent spring day at Cushing Park, Gross and his colleagues wore period costumes to portray the kind of Union soldiers they were honoring, to speak of sacrifices made long ago and to fire four thundering cannon blasts to commemorate the Cushings' military service.

Ron Aronis, who portrayed the Union battery commander, has been participating in re-enactments since 1965. I asked him why he felt it was important to re-create and memorialize the military service of those gone for so very long.

Aronis replied, "If we don't remember, we tend to repeat history, which isn't always the best; you need to know what your country's been through. Have we always loved each other? Have we always hated each other?"

Gross, who is a design engineer by trade and who mentioned that he had a bit part in the 1993 movie "Gettysburg," had a simpler answer: He gives his time for these events because he enjoys "preserving the memory" of the fallen.

On Memorial Day this year, the fallen included Milton, Howard and Alonzo Cushing. William Cushing, like his three brothers, fought valiantly for the Union but, unlike them, did not die in battle. (He died of illness while serving in the Navy.)

Those interested in learning more about the Cushing brothers or to support the Cushing Historical Association, which is a Wisconsin non-profit corporation, can e-mail James Benware at Cushing_recruiter@yahoo.com or phone (262) 306-1279. A related Web site of interest ( http://www.suvcw-wi.org/) is sponsored by the Sons of the Civil War and has a link to Wisconsin's Civil War heritage.

Last year, a Delafield resident complained to the city about the cannon blasts fired at the park. Apparently, the sounds of the charges were frightening the resident's dogs. The blasts, to be sure, are something to hear. The charges I witnessed stripped leaves off of a nearby tree and echoed throughout the park and beyond.

According to one member of the historical association, the permit to fire the blasts this year - a total of six discharged over about 30 minutes, two to begin the service and one for each of the four Cushing brothers - had to be defended before city representatives in order to continue the tradition.

Remembering events and sacrifices made so many years ago strikes me as a worthwhile endeavor, even if it means that I need to comfort my pets for a while or take them on a well-timed walk elsewhere in town.

But that's what makes our land so great; we can disagree on that point without fear of retribution. Unfortunately, such freedoms have never come without the ultimate price being paid by others, many of whom are long forgotten. Here's hoping our memories of war dead linger throughout the ages. Let freedom ring, and may the cannon of Cushing Park never be silenced.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Celebrities' political preening

Published: May 4, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

If the entertainment elite could remove the words "decorum" or "credentials" from Webster's Dictionary, many of them would assuredly do so.

Consider Sheryl Crow's April 21 performance during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington. Crow decided to accost presidential adviser Karl Rove and, in the process, impress Lord knows who, about her passion for the topic of global warming.

Recounting this is not an indictment of anyone concerned about global warming. Rather, the issue is public behavior (or, more precisely, public misbehavior) by entertainers with dubious qualifications but plenty of pluck and A-list invitations to do their public preening.

To be honest, I do have a double standard. That is, I'd have less of a problem with the Crow-Rove ordeal if, instead of a musician, a renowned climatologist from Yale had cornered Rove and a heated debate ensued. At least such an altercation, while still socially awkward, would have taken place between people with depth and a useful angle. Crow? Precisely whom does she represent? All she wanted to do was have some fun, I thought.

I guess our Midwestern sensibilities come through differently at local entertainment outlets. I have attended many plays at the Sunset Playhouse and the Marcus Center over the years, and not once did an actor stop a performance, turn up the lights and pass the hat to save spotted owls. Maybe they know we didn't come to hear the political cause du jour.

The correspondents dinner has been a painful penance for every administration. And the casualties are chosen in a non-partisan manner.

I'm not referring to good-natured ribbing but rather the type of thing spewed by now-disgraced radio jock Don Imus, who took the podium in 1996 and proceeded to caricature a sexual encounter between President Clinton and someone other than his wife, Hillary. All this done, of course, with the first couple seated next to Imus' lectern on national television.

No, a successful entertainment career doesn't mean you forfeit a right to public debate on serious issues. But it should mean that you make sense, that you espouse your views at a proper time and place and that you thoroughly understand what you are talking about. Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, courts lawmakers for debt relief to impoverished nations, but he does so without making silly public displays or mindless pleas. Moreover, he has impressed government officials with a command of complicated issues. In short, he gets it. If you want to be taken seriously on world affairs, you need more than a Grammy and a choice table at the Washington Hilton.

Three years before the Imus debacle, we witnessed Richard Gere at the Academy Awards lapsing into a dreamy metaphysical trance to "send a message" to the people of Tibet, Deng Xiaoping and perhaps someone at a Dairy Queen in Vermont. We never heard what his message was, but afterward, 38 states wanted to revoke Gere's driving privileges.

Want another recent example? I never understood why Rosie O'Donnell occupies the airwaves, but after the Supreme Court upheld the federal partial-birth abortion ban, she decried on "The View" the lack of a "separation of church and state in America" because five Supreme Court justices happen to be Catholic.

With rigorous analytical thinking like that, who needs to stay in school? Not O'Donnell, who dropped out of college with a 1.62 grade-point average.

With O'Donnell vacating "The View," the state of political discourse in America just improved.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Don't read more into war opposition than what's there

Published: March 20, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser . . . the very thought of losing is hateful to an American."

So goes the famous quote from Gen. George S. Patton's 1944 D-Day address to his troops. That quote was later popularized in a 1970 masterpiece of a movie called "Patton." And Patton's words have relevance today when pondering President Bush's low approval ratings.

It is not the president's decision to go to war in Iraq that sunk his popularity. For many, it's the perceived lack of results stemming from the war, which began four years ago today. That means it isn't the inherent "morality" of the war that troubles many Bush critics; it's the practical yield from it, or lack thereof.

In pure theory, why wouldn't a plan to establish a democratic beachhead in a portion of the world fraught with violence and instability and depose an evil despot like Saddam Hussein, who had slaughtered his own country's citizens, strike millions of reasonable people as a worthy undertaking? Answer: It did.

The late President Nixon, who was arguably one of our most able presidents on foreign policy, put it saliently in his later books. Basically, Nixon asked questions like, "If America does not lead in the world, who will?"

After World War II, the United States successfully "exported democracy" to post-Imperial Japan. And by any measure, the U.S., Japan and the rest of the civilized world are better off for having done so.

But the notion of success in the Middle East is murkier. There is no tangible cliff to scale like there was at Omaha Beach. After the U.S. liberated Nazi-occupied Europe, implementation of the Marshall Plan wasn't paralyzed by legions of suicide bombers trying to derail new regimes or by sectarian fanatics trying to kill one another in the same country.

The frustration is understandable. With more than 3,200 American lives lost (including 70 Wisconsinites) and billions of dollars of our nation's treasure spent, it's difficult not to grieve or grow angry because we can't see an end to the whole depressing morass.

Even the president's staunchest supporters have grown increasingly restive. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed that a full 73% of Americans are following the 2008 presidential race closely. That is either an astonishing level of interest for an election so far away or a clear reflection of popular restlessness.

Yet today's collective opposition to the war in Iraq does not come in one size or shape. Americans who have grown impatient with this war do not all want to join arms, sing John Lennon songs and pretend to act as one for a whole number of unrelated "causes."

Many calling for a troop withdrawal today would look contemptuously at fellow critics who are calling for the exact same thing. Contrary to an old Arab bromide, in the U.S., the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) would never share a stage with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, nor should he.

In a perfect life, we could airlift all peaceable, decent citizens of the Middle East, clothe them, feed them, give them better shelter than they could have possibly imagined and then proceed to bulldoze everyone and everything else in that part of the world. But since life is so imperfect, a 50-year, Korea-type occupation is possible and probably necessary.

We may all uniformly lament that prospect, but don't confuse common sentiment for a single voice concerning America's role in foreign affairs. Had we rid the Middle East of bomb-toting fanatics, Bush's popularity would have soared. Americans love a winner.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Let's get our priorities straight

Published: Feb. 8, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Trying to predict what current event will capture our collective interest is a fool's errand. I gave up years ago.

For example, I never could understand the avalanche of news coverage on, or public reaction to, the Elian Gonzalez story several years back. The circumstances, while sad, involved one child. Yet politicians and media were consumed with the ordeal for more than a year.

Now consider the recent information security blunders by state government and the relatively small amount of attention they garnered. One case involved Social Security numbers printed on the outside of tax booklets for about 171,000 Wisconsin taxpayers. Some were recovered, but most were mailed.

It made me wonder: Were we really more concerned about Brett Favre's return to the Packers than actions that could have potentially compromised the identities of thousands of taxpayers?

I hope that is not the case, but the amount of public and media interest for each topic might suggest otherwise.

That Social Security saga for me began with a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue on Jan. 27. It was reminiscent of unscheduled invoices from my home builder that always arrived on a Saturday when I could reach no one at his office. The builder's strategy, I believe, was so I'd have a couple of days to cool off before he'd hear from me. Better to spoil my weekend than his, I suppose. (The strategy worked.)

Similarly, after reading the letter from the Department of Revenue and an accompanying one from the printer informing me that an error put at risk my wife's Social Security number along with thousands of others, my first reaction was not printable in a family newspaper. My second reaction was: Wow, this is a reporter's dream for a slow news day because it was the first I had heard of it (although the Journal Sentinel reported on the blunder on Dec. 30).

How many staffers will get sacked, I wondered? Who was responsible for overseeing the process before, during and after Social Security information was distributed to the printer? How can a security breach reported by the Department of Revenue to news outlets on Dec. 29, and described in its letter dated Jan. 12, not reach me until Jan. 27?

What a story, I thought. I can't wait to see the firestorm from angry citizens. I'm still waiting.

On Feb. 3, there was an article in the Journal Sentinel's Metro section with the headline "Personal information theft hits Assembly." It described another government-bungled possession of Social Security numbers.

This time, a human resources aide took a report containing Social Security numbers of state officials and tossed it in her car before going to the gym. A thief stole the report and other items from her car.

I wonder if all the privacy wonks so unhinged over Bush administration surveillance measures to track down terrorists care about this colossal carelessness with our Social Security numbers.

In his recent "state of the state" address, Gov. Jim Doyle talked about financial incentives to stem global warming, a problem that, by definition, requires action from national and international policy-makers.

We'd benefit more from Doyle's efforts to change what is in his earthly sphere of influence. We need added attention to concerns like spending reform and tax reform and a renewed sense of urgency for internal controls at state agencies handling our personal data or managing procurement with state funds.

Oh, and welcome as it is, Favre's return next year won't alleviate those concerns.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Media images and our kids

Published 1.19.2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Why should we care what children watch or read? Are we simply riding a high horse when complaining about parental indifference and the deluge of sex and violence surrounding our kids? Does it border on censorship?

I called a local radio talk show once to comment on the ever-increasing flow of sex and violence polluting our airwaves, and the host's predictable response was something like, "Well, if you don't like it, just change the channel."

Of course I can change the channel, pal. What I worry about is the impact on young people who won't change the channel.

In many communities and particularly in our inner city, teen sex and pregnancy rates are beyond crisis proportions. It helps when Bill Cosby comes to Milwaukee to discuss personal responsibility for part of the population, but the problem is funded by people across all racial lines and economic strata.

Can anyone make a movie targeted at younger people without the perfunctory scenes of two people chewing on one another? (Sorry, I forgot about the artistic value of those scenes and their importance to plot development.)

We know that media images absorbed by youths affect their behavior. It isn't even worth debating. So why do gratuitous images of sex and violence continue to proliferate?

Part of the answer could be analogous to why some of us are overweight. Creators of junk stay in business by appealing to our worst instincts like a craving for delicious and fattening food. And you can't eat just one. So we watch, and our kids watch again and again.

For example, I like boxing, but it is no longer enough to satisfy those who want full contact. We now have mixed martial arts fights where you can flout the "rules" and beat your opponent to a bloody pulp even after the guy lies helplessly. It's unfortunate all that testosterone can't be usefully directed at fighting terrorists abroad and out of sight.

But you still think that what we watch has no impact on our children's behavior?

Nebraska sociologist Mike Hendricks wrote about the impact of the popular 1999 movie "Fight Club." He notes on his Web log that the movie "depicted disaffected young adults competing in bare-knuckle boxing matches in underground clubs" and that since the movie's release, "real fight clubs have been popping up all over the country."

He continues, "Arrests have been made in large cities such as Seattle, Provo and Milwaukee." Hendricks concludes, "There is no record of any fight clubs being in existence before the movie was made. Now it is an activity that is sweeping the nation."

When NBA player Ron Artest vaulted into the stands in 2004 to beat up some ignoramus who tossed a beer at him, the lasting damage wasn't that a game was disrupted. The harm extended to youths who idolize Artest and infer from the incident that this is how real men settle scores.

One way to reduce a growing tumor is to cut off its blood supply. If we discourage others from using their cash to patronize print, video and audio businesses of people we disagree with, like a blood-starved tumor, these "products" will also begin to wither.

One can also support political leaders committed to restoring cultural sanity, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), or we can align ourselves with national organizations found at Web sites such as http://www.parentstv.org/

Either way, it's up to us. Then again (pass the dip, please), we can always leave it to someone else.