Monday, February 28, 2011

Worst Persons Of The Day: February 28, 2011
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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?"