Monday, February 28, 2011

Three FOK News Channel posts for this date.
Click to go directly to:
New York Times Punk'd By Anti-Union Plant
Snappy Answers to Stupid Headlines
Worst Persons of the Day
Worst Persons Of The Day: February 28, 2011
text only

The bronze: State Troopers in Massachusetts who arrested ESPN's Howard Bryant on charges of assaulting his wife and a police officer. Howard is a friend of mine, a great reporter and a great intellect, and I'm proud to say he and I were both in Ken Burns' "Tenth Inning" PBS Baseball update last year. I may have to eat these words; anything is possible and when I first worked in L.A. and knew O.J. Simpson to be a violent sleazebag who sent some buddy of his named "A.C." into crowds to proposition women for him, many of his friends swore he was a saint and to this day can't process his guilt.

But when the police say they have five witnesses who say they saw him choking his wife, but none of the "witnesses" are identified by name or even by anonymous quote, while the supposed victim in question insists he never touched her let alone choked her and another witness has already come forth publicly to say he saw the whole thing and Howard Bryant's version is correct – the rule of "innocent until proved guilty" would seem to apply even more than usual.

Why would police in rural Massachusetts have abused an innocent man who was merely arguing with his wife in a car outside a pizza joint? Howard is black and his wife is white and before you dismiss that let me recount something from my own experience that still rattles me, 27 years later. I was delighted to take a young African-American woman out to dinner, here in the uber-liberal anything-goes Manhattan of the '80s, at a restaurant at which I dined often. We found the place nearly deserted, only one other table filled. I noted they sat us far away from the other couple, but so what? Then another couple came in: black guy, white woman. They were seated virtually next to us. But, again, so what? The laws of space demanded that they had to be sitting either closer to us or closer to the white couple.

It was when the fourth couple came in that my jaw dropped. It was another white guy with a black woman, and they were seated over in our now crowded corner (three mixed couples over here; one white couple way over there). I asked my date if this was really happening and she said it was. "In New York?" She nodded. "In 1984?" She smiled. "Every damn day," she said, sweetly.

Ever since, I have been less quick to dismiss charges of racism. Like anything else, they can be a heinous crutch and a pitiful excuse for intolerable conduct and though from what I know of him I really doubt it, even Howard Bryant could be using it to escape justice. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

The runner-up: JP Morgan Chase. Its digital investment fund is reportedly exploring buying a minority stake in...Twitter.

You know how this turns out, right? One day you and I will find out that everything we've written on Twitter has just been sold to AOL for $315,000,000.

But our winner, the increasingly hapless Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who has now reportedly gone into the office remodeling business.

There are two accounts of why workers were seen altering windows at the Capitol in Madison this morning. The first is that many of the windows in the building's public space have been damaged by protesters and the "locking mechanisms" are being repaired. An alternate view originates at the AFL-CIO blog which insists those aren't repairs, they're welds or bolts designed to make it impossible to pass food or other supplies from outside the Capitol through the windows into the hands of those who have made this protest the most effective American political sit-in in decades, maybe since Vietnam.

Either story could be true – Hell, they both could. Independent reporting seems to be too scarce yet to be decisive. (Update: pay no attention to this photo of the bolted window frame, with the head sawed off, courtesy of Tweeter @weezmgk)

Prevents breakage. Or escape. Probably not a union job.

But Governor Walker (and I hate to insult Paul, but, are you with me on this? Paul F. Tompkins to play him in the movie?) still wins this contest because new polling suggests that if last November's election were held anew today, the state would reject the ham-handed Koch-head and elect Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The interior number of the biggest note: 3% of Republicans surveyed said they had voted for Barrett instead of Walker. Now 10% of Republicans say they would cross party lines. Support for Barrett over Walker in families with union members was only 14% last year; it would be 31% now. In short, Governor Walker has managed to chase a lot of union members out of the Republican Party. This is the unintended silver lining of awakening, which can be summed up by a line attributed to Harry Truman during the 1948 Presidential Election: "How many times do you have to get hit over the head before you figure out who's hitting you?"
Snappy Answers To Stupid Headlines For February 28, 2011

RW Site "Conservapedia" Writes: "Wonder why you're hearing so little about the Oscar winners? Because the conservative film The King's Speech destroyed the liberal Facebook movie about the gossip site that lowers academic performance and breaks up marriages."

Oh, Sweet Jesus on Hockey Skates. The conservative film "The King's Speech"? How do we break it to them? Newly-minted Oscar winning Colin Firth was not only, I'm proud to say, a regular viewer of Countdown, but he also served as the guest editor of a BBC 4 Radio program late last year. He asked its staff to conduct scientific studies on whether political point-of-view was influenced by the specific physical structure of a person's brain. Or, to put it in his blunter personal style: "I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don't agree with me."

In short, he was trying to figure out what's wrong with conservatives.

CNN Re-Tools Parker-Spitzer

So do I understand the format of the new CNN 8 PM show correctly? It's Governor Spitzer with a different woman every night who is paid to spend an hour with him?

Why does this sound so familiar?

Newt Gingrich To Decide Within Two Weeks Whether Or Not To Finish 10th Among Would-Be Republican Presidential Candidates

At the very start of my career in television politics – literally not two months after the Clinton-Lewinsky story broke – I was honored by an invitation from The Washington Post to sit at its main table at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. There I heard the then-Speaker, just before his latest crisis, his latest woman, his latest crash, drone on and on about stuff that could have come right out of the court of Louis XVI. I turned to the ex-New York Congressman seated next to me and said "I don't agree with a word this man is saying, but at least he believes it." The ex-Congressman spat a profanity. "The hell he does. Newt believes in focus groups. He's 100% focus groups and internal polls. If a focus group told him to dress up like a donkey to get elected, he'd do it."

In just the time since, Gingrich has talked about narrowing the First Amendment (how does that work for you, Tea Partiers and Strict Constitutionalists?) and stage-managed an impeachment that left the presidential victim more popular than ever, and managed to oust from office, only himself. This has made him extremely popular with lunatics.

As the old joke goes: For people who like this sort of stuff, this is the kind of stuff they like.

Run for President? Jeez, Newt, that donkey suit is probably still around somewhere.
New York Times Punk'd By Anti-Union Plant (Updated)

Few news stories better spoke to the destruction of union solidarity and the realization that even those public employees collectively bargaining in Wisconsin were going to have to give something back, than the New York Times' piece a week ago tomorrow titled "Union Bonds In Wisconsin Begin To Fray."

The by-line was shared by no less than Arthur G. Sulzberger, the son of the publisher and official carrier of the Times' family name. The piece ran prominently on the front page. Sulzberger himself interviewed the main 'get' in the piece. Beyond the mere reporting was the symbolism of the Times - even the sainted liberal media Times – throwing in the towel on the inviolability of unions, conceding that an American state could renege with impunity on a good faith contract with anybody, and that maybe the Right is right every once in awhile.

Problem is, A.G. Sulzberger's featured disillusioned unionist interviewee...wasn't in a union.

JANESVILLE, Wis. — Rich Hahan worked at the General Motors plant here until it closed about two years ago. He moved to Detroit to take another G.M. job while his wife and children stayed here, but then the automaker cut more jobs. So Mr. Hahan, 50, found himself back in Janesville, collecting unemployment for a time, and watching as the city's industrial base seemed to crumble away.

Among the top five employers here are the county, the schools and the city. And that was enough to make Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town, a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker's sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin, a plan that has set off a firestorm of debate and protests at the state Capitol. He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations.

"Something needs to be done," he said, "and quickly."

Compelling, damning, overwhelming words, and from such a source!

Except the source, Rick Hahn, now admits that while he worked in union factories, he was never, you know, in a union per se. So why did the Diogenes of the Times, Mr. Sulzberger, believe he had found his honest union man? Because Hahn "described himself to a reporter as a 'union guy.'"

And yes, Hahan/Hahn's deception, intentional or accidental (and if you noticed the multiple spelling, yes, Mr. Sulzberger of the Times also got the guy's name wrong) sat out there in the alleged newspaper of record for four days, during which nobody bothered to correct the sloppy, destructive reporting of the Family Heir. When they finally did, editors buried it inside.

'Buried it inside' is newspaper lingo, in case A.G. Sulzberger isn't familiar with it.

We know about this Times disaster from last Tuesday because the paper finally got around to correcting it in Saturday's edition. The mistake got page 1A. The correction got a little box "below the fold" (somebody explain that term to Mr. Sulzberger, too) on 2A, which is read about as thoroughly as the drug interaction warnings that come with aspirin:

A front-page article on Tuesday about reaction among private-sector workers in Wisconsin to Gov. Scott Walker's effort to cut benefits and collective-bargaining rights for unionized public employees referred incorrectly to the work history of one person quoted, and also misspelled his surname. While the man, Rich Hahn (not Hahan) described himself to a reporter as a "union guy," he now says that he has worked at unionized factories, but was not himself a union member. (The Times contacted Mr. Hahn again to review his background after a United Auto Workers official said the union had no record of his membership.)

This clear picture of a bunch of agendas happily coinciding – 'Sulzberger! Find me a Wisconsin union guy who agrees with the Governor!' – and to hell with the facts or the fact-checking or the spelling, with the truth coming to light only from – gasp! – an actual union guy (from the devil UAW itself!), has been reduced to a "PS, the publisher's kid kinda screwed up on the most important domestic news story of the moment" instead of serving as the springboard for something fair, or even useful – maybe a front-page piece about the disinformation war being waged by Governor Walker and the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party in Wisconsin and whether or not this Hahan/Hahn was part of it, intentionally or inadvertently.

Fortunately the Times fulfilled its literal journalistic obligation. The "Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town" of the original piece, is now safely corrected for all time (except in all the versions that ran in the Times and other papers like The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) into "Mr. Hahn, a man who has worked at unionized factories."

This is as if an article about whistle-blowing at Fox News was predicated on quotes from me and erroneously identified me as a former Fox News host, but had been corrected to 'Mr. Olbermann, the news commentator who has worked at Fox.' It is literally true. I used to work at Fox. Fox Sports. I went to visit a friend in the Fox News basement bunker once, in 1999.

I am not just injecting myself gratuitously into this important flagging of the Times for getting hosed by a union guy who never belonged to the union. I read recently in the same paper that early in my career I had been fired by UPI Television. I never worked for UPI Television. If you read the first of these essays you know I also wasn't fired by UPI Anything (although a drunken boss tried – and was – Oh, Irony! – stopped by the union). The best part is that until I read the piece, I don't think I'd ever heard of "UPI Television."

The obvious point about Sulzberger's story is that, at best, the Times made a terrible mistake rendering fraudulent a featured piece on imperiled American freedom in the middle of an info-war over that freedom by a reporter whose name is synonymous with its power structure and then tried to whitewash itself (or, at worst, it wasn't an amazing coincidence, and the Times got played like the proverbial three-dollar banjo and then tried to whitewash itself).

Seems to me the Times could start with finding out exactly who Mr. Hahan/Hahn is. There appears to be a "Rich Hahn" involved with "staffing and recruiting" for a company called "PSI" in the "Janesville/Beloit area" in Wisconsin. Is that Mr. Sulzberger's "union guy"? I'd try to tell you before, but that shred of possibly irrelevant information required me to expend nearly one entire calorie of brain heat performing a google search that kept me hopping for 30 seconds. I just did more research than the Times did and I need a nap.

Maybe they could talk to Gabrielle Union. She must have an important point of view on organized labor. Man, what if she liked Walker's proposals! That'd be some story, huh? That'd get the Right Wing off our backs for eight seconds? Am I right? Sulzberger? Sulzberger? Hello?

But the larger issue here is that while the Times and the supposed other members of the liberal media plot to turn the America of 2011 into, I dunno, the America of 1976, are flooding resources into stories in Libya and Oman – vital stories to be sure, but hardly likely to be as resonant with and impacting of generations of middle class Americans yet unborn – they can't be bothered to assign a fact-checker back in the newsroom in New York just to make sure Arthur G. Sulzberger can separate the 'guys who are members of a union' from the self-proclaimed 'union guys who are expressing a philosophical attitude towards unionism that may or may not be deliberately misleading.'

A million dollars to decide how to spell Gaddafi, Khaddafy, or Qadafi – but not a penny to make a call about Rick Hahan. Or Hahn. Fitting that they added the extra "a" in Hahn's name, isn't? Read the original first sentence aloud and you can put enough spin on the syllables to pronounce it "Hah!-an."

To prove true to the premise of equal pub for corrections, that penultimate sentence originally read "fitting that they added the extra 'h' in Hahn's name, isn't?" I corrected it when a reader pointed out how dim my bulb was during the composition of that sentence and how it got past my copy editor and research team (me).


I am reminded by a colleague that this story had already spilled over into real world consequences long before the Times' malfeasance was identified. Courtesy Michael Moore's website: Governor Walker had already clipped and saved the story of the phony union man Hahn – and even boasted about it to the guy he thought was his puppet-master David Koch:

SCOTT WALKER: The New York Times, of all things—I don't normally tell people to read the New York Times, but the front page of the New York Times, they've got a great story—one of these unbelievable moments of true journalism—what it's supposed to be, objective journalism—they got out of the capital and went down one county south of the capital, to Janesville, to Rock County, that's where the General Motors plant once was.

FAKE DAVID KOCH: Right, right.

SCOTT WALKER: They moved out two years ago. The lead on this story's about a guy who was laid off two years ago, he'd been laid off twice by GM, who points out that everybody else in his town has had to sacrifice except for all these public employees, and it's about damn time they do and he supports me. And they had a bartender, they had—every stereotypical blue collar worker-type, they interviewed, and the only ones who weren't with us were ones who were either a public employee or married to a public employee. It's an unbelievable—so I went through and called all these, uh, a handful, a dozen or so lawmakers I worry about each day, and said to them, everyone, get that story and print it out and send it to anybody giving you grief.

This is the first time I've agreed with Governor Walker: An unbelievable? Indeed, it is an unbelievable!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

FOK News Channel for Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Snappy Answers to Stupid Headlines for February 27, 2011

They don't cover the Oscars like we did in my day (and read the good news below about what has happened to the place where Hollywood goes when it is now longer their day):

Hanks, Affleck, some guy, Damon

Yes, March 21, 1999. The last Oscars of an old century. I'm actually assigned to cover them for the LA Times, and as I'm posing for a picture with Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon come up behind him and the three of them pull me over the "security" hedges and suddenly a thousand flashbulbs pop. Walter Pidgeon did not appear. The bastards broke my cummerbund.

Now about The Motion Picture Home and how it isn't going to close after all (and how Worst Persons helped just a tiny bit). Vanity Fair's piece is here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

FOK News Channel for Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Even The Media Began To Sit Up And Take Notice

New media's role in Egypt was a little overrated – how much tweeting and facebooking was actually done when the dictator could just shut off the internet?

But could new media's role in Wisconsin be underrated? From which news organization do you think I'm cribbing this most impressive shot most fully capturing the impact of the latest 70,000+ protest in the snow in Madison? ABC? CNN? FOX?

Correct, none of the above.

This is from the twitter feed of Kevin Kopplin. Not to say mainstream media is completing whiffing on today's latest outpouring of Democracy (see The Wisconsin State Journal) – just the national media.

If your minimum daily requirement for cliches isn't fulfilled by 'the story this photo tells you', there's a more metaphorical version later on, plus a literally unbelievable follow-up to the case of the Georgia Congressman who either chuckled or stared blanks when he was asked who was going to shoot the President.

If you're sitting there wondering if the vast majority of what laughingly pass for 'news organizations' in this country consist of people sitting around in the Washington equivalent of 19th Century Parisian Salons, pouring each other drinks with their pinkies fully extended, and wondering how their old friend Buffy down the street is going to cover a given story (like Wisconsin), you are incorrect only in the consistency of the imagery. In fact they are likely spilling the drinks, dabbing their chins with the doilies, and are dressed not so much like FOMP (Friends of Marcel Proust), but symbolically closer to Lord and Lady Douchebag from the old Saturday Night Live sketch.

Media at the moment – especially television – honors the foreign correspondent, the disaster correspondent, and the feel-good correspondent. The all-too-real dangers and terrors of reporting from revolutions is not to be disparaged and is not being so here. Other than the waste of time ("that's when Porfirio Altamirano learned that a horse, not a dog, can be man's best friend") the feel-good correspondent isn't too much of a blight. But you can also go to New Orleans, have yourself filmed walking around the reeking hulks of a city for twenty minutes, show half the video tape, and proclaim yourself a grizzled field reporter and an edgy political commentator – and your bosses will agree with you and turn it into a promo.

But a complicated, essential domestic political story offers no opportunity for getting photographed helping out poor wet people. It has the perils of alienating right wing viewers (who grow as an audience percentage simply by dint of the reality that the left, and the youth, have been abandoning television as a primary means of information consumption for the last 15 years). I mean, Republicans give cocktail parties too! From a personal-vicarious-thrill point of view, the only time a tv anchor or especially a tv political "reporter" wants to stray too far from New York or Washington is to go to flood-ravaged Madison or earthquake-stricken Milwaukee or rotten-cheese-plagued Green Bay. Television news in this country is much as Shakespearean acting was described in the middle of the last century: Nobody actually brings anything new to it (I here feel compelled to say to my acquaintance Sir Ian McKellen: This Does Not Apply To You). They simply are doing impressions of what they saw Olivier or Gielgud do.

Nevertheless there is a brilliant old Python joke which seems relevant: "On February 22nd, 1966, Dinsdale blew up Luton. Even the police began to sit up and take notice." There is yet another poll by a right-winger showing that Governor Scott Walker's trolley has completely jumped the track. No less than the old toe-sucker himself, Dick Morris, has concluded that 54% of Wisconsin opposes Walker's unilateral move to suspend one of the arch stones of democracy and eliminate collective bargaining for public employees, and only 41% supports it. There are also lots of interior numbers that completely undermine the entire Right Wing attack, like those that overwhelmingly support the kinds of compromises on health care and pension contributions that Wisconsin's unions have already offered.

Even the tv networks may have to begin to sit up and take notice.

Of course that only applies to those that can tell their asses from their Koch Brothers. Media Matters has the video of another hilarious segment from what used to be Fox News's only half hour with actual balanced reporting in it, "Fox News Watch." It has now been transformed, in genuine Orwellian brilliance, into the time Fox devotes to skewering legitimate reporting and trying to convince the sheep that the truth emanates from its bellows and only its bellows. The newest edition features the crazed Eric Shawn and the mercifully sleepy Jim Pinkerton excoriating a television outlet for doing an interview with the man who prank-called Governor Walker (Judge's Score: 10.0; Degree of Difficulty: 0.2). This is Fox, mind you, the network that canonized little Jimmy O'Keefe for hiding his Oswaldian good looks under a pimp costume that would've gotten him laughed off the set of Shaft. Fox? Opposed to giving television time to people pretending to be something they're not? If they enforced that rule there'd suddenly be a bunch of brunette women and psychologically-challenged men sitting behind their Fox anchor desks saying nothing more than "it's 23 minutes past the hour."

And speaking of pretending you're something you're not, while I have you here, let's go briefly back to Georgia and the story of Congressman Paul Broun, covered in the most recent edition of Worst Persons Of The Day. A strangely noble supporter actually got up the other night at Broun's town hall and at least stopped pretending. "Who's" he asked, "going to shoot Obama?"

There are only two versions of what happened next. A) As sick laughter filled the room, Broun ignored the proposed assassination and pivoted into an acknowledgment that there was a lot of frustration with the POTUS and he needed to be voted out next year, or B) As sick laughter filled the room, Broun chuckled along with it and pivoted into an acknowledgment that there was a lot of frustration with the POTUS and he needed to be voted out next year.

Here and elsewhere Broun was rightly excoriated for not even McCaining the thing and saying something like 'we can't shoot our politicians, period, not at least while Gabby Giffords is still in rehab.' This message has apparently gotten through the Congressman's incredibly thick skull because Friday Broun actually said something!

Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Oglethorpe County, Georgia an elderly man asked the abhorrent question, "Who's going to shoot Obama?" I was stunned by the question and chose not to dignify it with a response; therefore, at that moment I moved on to the next person with a question. After the event, my office took action with the appropriate authorities.

I deeply regret that this incident happened at all. Furthermore, I condemn all statements — made in sincerity or jest — that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.

That's dandy, except it's a day late (actually three) and an assassination threat short, and it doesn't reflect what actually happened. Broun didn't move on to the next questioner, he just pretended the man hadn't asked about killing the President of the United States as if it were a question of logistics or scheduling, and thus legitimized the entire line of thought (if "thought" it even is).

There is only this happy ending: it is nice to see that even Congressman Broun, whose heart is so hardened that he must be centuries old and that process must have begun around the year 1650, has been scared enough to recognize that even the craziest of Congresspeople must say something to the craziest of their constituents about violent rhetoric, even if only out of the realization that when bullets fly, anybody can get hit.

Personal fear is not the most noble of the reasons Paul Broun could get on what should be a unanimous bandwagon, but it's better than nothing.

Lastly, a brief note about the launching of this blog. I'm overwhelmed and grateful; I am going to have to get some help with the Comments backlog; I am going to be adding videos within a few weeks (including Thurber); and for those who have not gotten the message, I will be bringing the program back to television in late spring on Current TV, weeknights at 8 PM (with re-airs and on-line availability TBD, and yes, we'll tell you plenty in advance). Your support, particularly since the adventures of last November, has been energizing, and will be returned. Thank you.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Three FOK News Channel posts for this date.
Click to go directly to:
First Guess: Wisconsin and "The Union"
Snappy Answers to Stupid Headlines
Worst Persons of the Day
Wisconsin and "The Union"

When I was 21 years old I had a great boss. The problem was, he had a terrible boss.

He'd hired me, cold out of college, the year before. It was a strict union shop - United Press International, Wire Service Guild - and so it paid on seniority and I didn't have any, so that first half-year all he had to pay me was $8,710. Six radio sportscasts a night on a network serving a thousand stations, and a two-minute commentary and I had to write breaking updates and reports and call up players for interviews, and I had to take in the "feeds" of interviews from our stringers at the ballparks and edit them by hand with a razor blade and splicing tape, and on the weekends I also had to 'engineer' a newscast or two, and every once in a long while I'd get back-to-back days off.

Photo is from about 8 months later

A tough job, even when my salary went up five grand when I hit my one-year anniversary. But as I said, my boss, Stan Sabik, was great. 20 years in the business and the Bureau Manager for UPI Audio and still he treated me like I wasn't a punk kid with a really bad mustache and incredible arrogance. If I didn't like one of his decisions he'd hear me out and once in a long while he'd say "how is this possible? You're right" and change his mind. I could even go back at him two or three times to appeal something and he'd yell and I'd yell back and we'd never hold it against each other.

So on a Monday in September of 1980 - just before one of those rare back-to-back off-day combinations - he'd yelled and I'd yelled back and I went to my office and he went to his office, which is where he found his boss, just back from lunch and - as usual - drunk. His boss didn't like me, largely because I was 21 and younger than anybody else in his shop by twelve years, and because I did strange things like commentaries about dying ballplayers and baseball trainers who liked to cultivate tomatoes in the bullpen instead of monsters of the midway and that crap. And he looked at the half-admiring, half-furious smoke coming out of his ears and he slurred something about "dat kid been gibbin you lip again?" and before Stan could say it was ok, the fire was lit in his drunken eyes.

Stan's boss, a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, grabbed me by the right shoulder. "You pack your stuff and get outta here. Yuh don't gib no lip to no mannijehs. Yuh fide." I actually thought about telling him off or fighting him, but given the likelihood that when he lit the cigarette he'd self-immolate from all the booze in his system, and the fact that Stan was peering in behind him, horrified, his expression telling me to be cool, I just brushed his hand off and wordlessly began to pack my desk. "And I knows about dat job yuh think yuh geddin at 88. I'll be takin care of dat, too." He stalked out to phone the news director at '88' - the CBS all-news radio station in New York - and kill my chances at a job there, for which they had first called UPI for permission to approach me about.

Stan said simply "I'm sorry, I couldn't stop him," then recounted the story I've told here. "Go home. We'll fix this. Don't do anything rash." He was white as a sheet. So was I. My job was gone, my possible next job was gone, my $487 rent was gone, and for all I knew my drunken ex-boss was going to spend his last moments of consciousness calling all my potential new employers and poison my career the way he was poisoning his liver.

Three hours later the phone rang in the $487 apartment I could no longer pay for and it was our Sports Director, Sam Rosen, who now does the New York Rangers games and was just as great a boss as Stan. "You are a piece of work," he started, with a laugh. "I'll see you Thursday." I mumbled something like 'huh?' "You have the next two days off as scheduled. They were going to charge you for today as an off day too but the union stopped that. And they stopped your firing. Turns out you can't get fired for arguing with Stan. And they said we can't recriminate against you so you're still going to cover the World Series next month. But I do have to write a nasty letter about you for your file."

As the blood returned to my head Sam started laughing again. "You should have been there. He was still loaded. The shop steward - for the whole building, not just for Audio - he cut him to pieces. And he got so agitated that the Personnel Director sent him home. Not the shop steward, the boss! Sent him home with a warning and a letter in his file too. Apologized to the union guy. Oh it was wonderful, we shoulda sold tickets."

Two days later I was back at work as if nothing had happened. I didn't get fired by a drunken boss because while I was being paid so little that if I could get a free meal at a ballpark on an off-night that meant I could bank the $3.25 I would have otherwise spent on dinner at Burger King and I felt like I had just gamed the entire economy, the Wire Service Guild union was there when I really needed them and their pain-in-the-ass rules and the foremost of them was the boss couldn't just fire somebody for being a pain-in-the-ass and if he tried to they could get him sent home and get a letter put in his file too.

And that is why what's going on in Wisconsin thanks to this nitwit Scott Walker (elected Governor while the usually bright and with-it people there of all political stripes slept), is vital to every American. Wisconsin wasn't selected by the Koch Brothers and the Rovian Wannabes at random, nor was this year. Wisconsin was the first state to provide collective bargaining rights to public workers - exactly fifty years ago.

The generic concept of "The Union" might be big and on the big scale it might over-reach and when you look at it only in the largest context it might sometimes be as irresponsible as some of the smaller of the big corporations, when you look at what it really is - the collected drops-in-the-bucket of the individually powerless $18,568 teacher's aide in Fond du Lac or the $23,559 traffic warden in Milwaukee or the $48,152 cop in Appleton, or the $22,233 radio sportscaster in New York in 1980 - "The Union" is the only protection you have when the drunken boss comes in to fire you because he doesn't like you, or because he got elected on a promise to his puppet-masters that he'd fire you and everybody else like you so as to soften this country up to pit the urban middle class against the rural middle class so nobody's paying attention as the corporations reduce everybody they can to subsistence levels while they take the collected drops-in-the-bucket of the mere thousands of bucks stolen from the fired or the de-unionized or the retirement-delayed, and turn them into more millions to stuff into their own pockets.

More important perhaps, "The Union" represents the good faith of the nation. The deals Scott Walker is trying to renege on are not some vague promises made in fatter times. They are contracts, and you won't spend more than five minutes with a Corporatist before he starts talking to you about The Sanctity Of The Contract. He may even mention Ronald Reagan as he does so, and then start crying, and then use that phenomenal ability to select only the facts he likes and present Reagan and his ilk as defenders of The Sanctity Of The Contract even though Reagan fired all the Air Traffic Controllers rather than fulfill a contract made by the government he supposedly led.

I told you about this buffoon Walker last September when he put out at an ad in which he showed himself wearing boxing gloves - and a shirt and a tie - while he ranted against his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. That would be the Barrett who had been severely beaten up when he stepped in to a domestic dispute among people he didn't know, to try to protect a woman and her infant granddaughter. Barrett might never regain full use of one hand and candidate Walker decided to advertise how he was going to don boxing gloves to, you know, beat up the cripple. Even before he took office, Gene Robinson and I told you how Walker killed off a high-speed rail line project between Madison and Milwaukee because Walker claimed the 5500 jobs it would bring to Wisconsin weren't 'the right kind.'

Killing off high-speed rail projects and the infrastructure and automobile-alternatives and jobs they create is something of a fetish for Neanderthals like Walker, and his slicker cousin Governor Kasich of Ohio, and his unbearably smug fellow traveler Governor Christie of New Jersey. Their elections were bought and paid for by big corporations with one purpose in mind: stop spending government money on anybody except rich people.

Watching Wisconsin unfold is like watching Tahrir Square earlier this month, and last. Well, it would be, except the television networks - for whom this is a) far too complicated, and b) far too troubling to their corporate bosses - are treating it like it was a dispute over which Green Bay Packer really should've gotten the Super Bowl MVP award, or not treating it at all. Even the news that the Wisconsin Republicans tried to lure the Democrats back in-state by threatening to vote on a heinous voter-caging bill has been ignored for a little more on Charlie Sheen or his Libyan counterpart.

You've seen the lengths to which the Corporatists/Tea Partiers will go to manipulate the media and pervert the coverage of the protests by pulling something straight out of the Mubarak playbook and shutting down internet sites. Maybe you've seen the scheme to actually infiltrate the Wisconsin protests with Tea Partiers pretending to be violent, hateful union members. But maybe you haven't seen the larger plan to "bot" web comment boards and even Twitter and Facebook with computer-generated right wingers with sufficient back stories to make them seem real.

I'd call it "Artificial Intelligence" but I'm only confident that the first word applies.

But for the big picture about the Right Wing's desire to take a dollar out of everybody's pocket, one hour, one day, one pocket at a time, I refer you to this wonderful essay from earlier this week by Marty Kaplan at TruthOut which not only correctly identifies Wisconsin as the start of the attack on - well, on practically everybody - and as the augur for a long-dreamed of societal rollback - but also does so by invoking one of the great touchstone moments of early television history, the Rod Serling "Twilight Zone" masterpiece, "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."
Worst Persons of the Day for February 25, 2011
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Our first Silver winner: U.S. Representative Paul Broun, continuing to set the high standard for Congressional inhumanity at which the Michele Bachmanns and the Steve Kings can only grasp in vain. Dr. Broun's office now confirms that at a town hall in Athens, Ga. the Congressman was asked "who is going to shoot Obama?"

The crowd in the Oglethorpe County Commission chamber roared with laughter. But fortunately Broun was enough of an American to say something like John McCain did when that bag lady tried to claim the then-Senator was a 'terrist.'

Oh, no, sorry, he didn't. Broun didn't say 'don't even joke about such things.' He simply pivoted into "The thing is, I know there's a lot of frustration with this president. We're going to have an election next year... (blah, blah blah, blah blah)."

This, per his press secretary Jessica Morris, was the Congressman recognizing that "obviously, the question was inappropriate. So Congressman Broun moved on."

Would he moved on if the question had been "so who, Congressman, is going to shoot you?"

Here's the deal: we need to stop accepting violent language in our political discourse. Period. I'm still waiting for anybody like Broun to forswear this kind of deadly, poisonous, talk. But he won't, because he doesn't have the guts to stand up to the sub-humans who elected him.

Did Gabby Giffords get a bullet through her brain last month, or a hundred years ago? Sometimes it feels like the latter.

The bronze: It wouldn't be Worst Persons if we didn't hear from Billo's guilty conscience. Nearly two years after his incessant references to "Tiller The Killer" contributed to the frenzy that led to the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, The Frank Burns of News is still trying to smear the man, and figuratively use his dead body as part of the Right's new attack on Planned Parenthood:

"We've reported this story fairly here, 'kay?" Bill O'Reilly lied as his Stepford-wife news actress Megyn Kelly played the role of the yes-woman. "The assassination of Tiller – disgraceful, never should happen in America But there are media organizations that are glorifying George Tiller. Making him to be a martyr. It is disgusting, disgusting."

What do you want to inspire now, Billy? You want somebody to dig up Tiller's body and kill him again?

But our winner: Mike Hogan, the would-be Republican nominee for mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. Sure, he admits he told a candidates' forum that he was so opposed to abortion that the only thing he wouldn't do was bomb a clinic and then added, laughing, "but it may cross my mind" – but it was only a joke!

"If I've got to measure everything I say," he told the Jacksonville Times-Union, "I mean, I'm not going to be politically correct. That was a joke. This was an audience for this. This is a Catholic Church. I guarantee you they are 110 percent pro-life."

So, Mike, you're saying it's ok to joke about blowing up buildings and killing people, so long as you're inside a Catholic Church? How exactly would you feel about a Muslim joking about blowing up buildings and killing people – so long as he did so inside a Mosque? Would that be fine with you, or are you a complete and utter hypocrite?

The would-be Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, Mike Hogan, the Worst Person of the Day.
Snappy Answers to Stupid Headlines for February 25, 2011

Answer? The quick translation: "Don't worry. Be happy."

Answer: Charlie knows, if you simply quit a show or a career you can no longer handle by retiring or resigning, Hollywood brands you evil and bans you forever. If you quit a show or a career you can no longerhandle by flaming out, shoplifting, speaking anti-somebody, and/or winding up in rehab, that they can forgive.

Answer? You'll never believe which Illinois politician once bolted out the window to prevent a draconian vote about a deficit.

Answer: Thank goodness he doesn't work at a news organization or he'd have been fired by now.

Answer? Coincidence? I think not.

Answer? Spitzer? I didn't even Parker!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday, February 12th, 2011
Special bonus podcast: reaction to Keith joining Current

from Saturday Night Live