Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Black Jesus Cometh

You can feel the calm beginning to descend on Madison. The weather has vastly improved. Spirits seem lifted. There are more smiles on the street. Ice cream sales are on an uptick. Politicians seem more willing to compromise for the common good. The detours because of street and road repair seem tolerable, almost pleasant.

Merchants and small business owners are buoyed, and are beginning to hire again. Gasoline prices are dropping. Everyone seems to be losing weight and looking more trim and fit. Crime is down. Even the Justices of the state Supreme Court are greeting each other pleasantly.

Black Jesus is coming to Madison.

His name is Russell Wilson. He stands an inch short of six feet tall; weighs a pound more than 200. He passed for three thousand, five-hundred-sixty-three yards last year for NC State with a completion percentage of 58.4 and has a full year of NCAA eligibility left. And, he can hit a curve ball and field a sharply-hit infield chopper flawlessly.

Judging by the accounts in the public prints and the enthusiastic chatter of local sports broadcasters, anything less than a national championship for the Badgers football team this coming season will be a bitter disappointment.

There’s even a rumor going around that he’s asked Barry Alvarez to tear down that ugly phallic sculpture at the entrance to Camp Randall Stadium, and that Barry, who is now acting interim UW-Madison Chancellor, has quietly let a no-bid contract to a local demolition company to do the job.

Black Jesus is coming and hope is restored. Madison is on the verge of a new era of peace, enlightenment, prosperity, and political accord.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

They ALL Have To Go

Our entire state Supreme Court must be impeached and replaced. Not just because of the still-developing news about Justice Prosser physically attacking Justice Bradley and choking her (or, Justice Bradley ramming her throat into Justice Prosser’s hands, if you prefer that spin), but because this latest revelation about the operations of our state’s highest court should become the impetus for the people of Wisconsin to remove all seven of them and consider changing the way we select justices for the highest court.

The state’s highest court has devolved into a politically divided, dysfunctional sitcom which now more closely resembles “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” than “Law and Order.” In short, the court can no longer be trusted to render impartial justice based on law, and every decision made by this court for the past couple years can legitimately be called into question.

The people of our state are probably not aware, at least not yet, of how unprecedented and dangerous it is to have a supreme court composed of two warring political factions, who not only disagree politically, but disagree at such a visceral, personal level, that you’ve got powerful evidence that one of the justices actually physically throttled another, over a disagreement about politics.

Not a disagreement about law, but a disagreement about politics.

Before Justice Prosser’s latest escapade came to light (courtesy of Bill Lueders, in his brand-new job at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism), a story which will continue to make national news this week, there was the unbelievable spectacle of the court’s decision regarding Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi’s hold on the so-called Budget Repair Bill. The Supremes, in a split decision, said in essence Judge Sumi was wrong. But the minority opinion issued by the highest court said in essence the majority was wrong POLITICALLY, not LEGALLY. BIG difference. HUGE difference.

A few years ago, when Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce purchased a seat on the highest court for Justice Ziegler (the “gut-check” judge) the highest court began drifting toward political partisanship; then when WMC bought a seat for Justice Gableman, full-on partisanship became the rule, and the behavior of the court and the justices descended into public bickering, sniping, and partisanship. This fetid stew of personality clashes was amplified this winter when protests over the budget and the Walker administration boiled over; and this latest revelation about Justice Prosser should serve to push the people of the state closer to not only getting rid of seven of them, but seriously considering how someone becomes a Justice of our state’s highest court.

I don’t know if we should go to merit selection; I don’t know if we should just dump all seven of them and start from scratch; but I do know this: this state Supreme Court is fatally and permanently flawed, and it’s time to start having serious discussions at every level about doing something about it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ma Bell Strikes Again

A couple or five decades ago, before the advent of microwave relay towers in the 70’s and satellite delivery in the 80’s and the dawn of the internet in the 90’s, most television and radio network programming was delivered by AT+T Long Lines, not affectionately known in the broadcast industry as “Ma Bell”. If your local radio station wanted to follow the home team on the road, they arranged through the Bell System’s local Toll Test Boards to have a telephone line (“Class D loop”) dropped at the ball park, arena, or field where the sporting event took place, and the announcers hooked their equipment up to the phone line and fed the play-by-play to the local station that way.

Stay with me, folks. I’m going somewhere with this.

Needless to say, since Ma Bell had no competition back then, AT+T was not really a very customer-friendly business. An aggressive congress broke up the huge conglomerate in the 80’s, giving birth to the “baby bells” which served large regions of the nation. Then microwave took over, then satellite delivery took over, and then the internet made things go so topsy-turvy that today, we have only a small group of giant “telephone companies” – and we’re back to where we started.

Enter the politicians.

A couple years back, AT+T wrote a dandy new telecommunications law for Wisconsin, and the politicians copied and pasted it into Bill form, passed it, and the guv signed it. The pols promised a new era of cable and phone competition, with vastly wider choices and “competition” which would force prices lower and lower every year and elevate customer service to a new and fabulous high.

We all know how THAT worked out.

A few weeks ago, the dweebs tried to do AT+T another big favor, by essentially killing WISC-NET. For those who don’t follow closely, WISC-NET is one of these UW entities that provides broadband cable access to rural areas of the state (sort of like that “Wisconsin Idea” thingy they talk about once in a while). The “premise” (under what passes for thinking up there these days) was that AT+T could FAR better serve these rural folks, and, by gum, why would you want a gubbmint operation takin’ away all that potential bizness from a good ole’ private-sektor company like AT+T??? Damn, you’re taking bread out of the mouths of the babies of AT+T employees!!!!

The thing is, that anyone who’s ever sat down and looked into it for one minute has discovered, is that AT+T….or insert the name of any other giant telecommunications company here…is able to cherry-pick the neighborhoods it “builds out” into, and that’s why the folks out in the sticks don’t have broadband internet.

Wanna get AT+T U-verse? Fine, if you live in the right neighborhood of Madison. Not in MY neighborhood, though. I live in ZIP code 53713, but not the RIGHT part of 53713, and the last time I asked AT+T when they planned to deliver fibre-optic service to my neighborhood, the answer was “we really don’t have any plans for that right now.” Yes, my small suburban enclave of VERY nice homes and well-manicured lawns is not “desirable” enough for AT+T to “build out”- even though you can get AT+T U-Verse just a mile from my door. Meanwhile, AT+T serves our neighborhood with “twisted copper pairs”, which is essentially 1930’s technology.

If you don’t have broadband internet (and we do, thanks to Charter) you can’t really participate fully in the 21st Century, and that’s why anybody with a head on their shoulders knows that we’ve got to serve our rural communities with broadband internet, and since the good folks at AT+T might have to actually SPEND some money to MAKE some money, they’re not going to do it.

This is the sort of thing GOVERNMENT is good at: making sure all citizens can participate in progress and democracy. Words like that last sentence really piss off the government-hating crowd that’s in power now. WISC-NET, after all, doesn’t “show a profit.” (Don’t get me started.)

It looks like WISC-NET will survive this putsch by the government-hating crowd up there at the top of State Street, which is a good thing. As the old saying goes, even a broken watch is right twice a day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Keep Your Morality To Yourself

I’m very tired of being told by politicians, TV networks, and busybodies in general, how I should live my life, and how I should feel about others. No, this is not a libertarian rant about getting gubmint outta my life. It’s just a general rant based on the old golden rule, the one about treating people as you’d like to be treated.

This weekend NBC told me how to feel about the Pledge of Allegiance, when they cut out – not once, but twice – the words “under God” from the pledge during some piece they ran during the big golf event Sunday. They heard about it in a hurry, and of course immediately lied to try and cover it up, saying it was inadvertent and unintentional (both times?); but Brian Williams outed the network on Nightly News Monday evening, admitting it was deliberate, and a lapse in judgment by the network.

I’ll make my own judgment about the Pledge; I don’t need NBC to do it for me.

A lot of people…politicians and preachers…keep trying to tell me how I should feel about gay people, and whether they should be “allowed” to form domestic unions. Yesterday, another one of those damnable liberal left-wing Dane County judges told the state legislature how HE felt about it, and he wasn’t too happy with the politicians, and that it was OK for domestic unions to stand in Wisconsin.
Tough day for that Appling woman and her partner. Like old Freddy Phelps, she wants me to hate gay people. Thing is, it’s not gay marriage. That’s what the judge said. But that’s the way the haters always frame it. Gotta keep marriage “safe” for the heteros. (Insert your favorite example here – Arnold, Newt, Brittney, whomever.)

The politicians in the majority party in Wisconsin want to make it impossible to get an abortion here, so they wrote something into the budget bill that says UW Health can’t use “state funds” to teach abortion to medical students. Problem is, UW Health doesn’t receive any “state funds.” That little fact notwithstanding, the pols want to make it impossible for the med students at UW to learn how to do abortions - which are NOT done at UW Hospital, so the young docs are sent over to Planned Parenthood to learn it – OH NO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD!!!!! – and, well, I guess you see behind the curtain now.

Some dweeb who wants to be President says we need to do away with Amtrak because it doesn’t make a profit. Hmmmm….I guess that means we’ll also have to do away with THE ARMED FORCES, because they don’t show a profit. Why is it so many people can’t seem to understand there are so many things critical to our way of life (education, policing, firefighting) which were never intended to “show a profit” and that “government” is not the same as “business”? How’d that work out when we “semi-privatized” the Post Office?

OK, done rambling, done with this unfocused rant. I just had to get this stuff off my chest.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We Are So Screwed

For the past five years, since before the gut-check woman (Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler) was elected to our State Supreme Court, I have blogged, written, railed, and wailed that our highest court was becoming dysfunctional.

Well, they’re there. Fully dysfunctional.

The speedy justice they delivered regarding Judge Sumi and Act 10 (the so-called “budget repair bill”) has again exposed the highest court as a bunch of bickering, partisan spoiled brats, and has moved the general public’s confidence in the courts down still another notch.

No matter which “side” you’re on, the justices have given us plenty to grouse about concerning this case. If you’re on the right, you likely believe that Judge Maryann Sumi was a “Dane County Liberal Activist” who overstepped her bounds when she held up publication of the Act, preventing its implementation. If you’re on the left, you likely believe that the Supreme Court acted in a totally partisan way in making the decision, and that Justice Prosser delivered the goods for his pals, just in the nick of time.

This whole stinking mess played out in what is certainly the most partisan political atmosphere in state history. The Supreme Court has been a circus ever since Justice Ziegler’s campaign, amplified by the campaign of Justice Gableman, and typified most recently by the disgusting spectacle of the public spat between Justice Prosser and Chief Justice Abrahamson.

Confidence in the courts is no small matter. Judge Sumi is a circuit court judge, and the words “Dane County Liberal” should not be used as a descriptor, not even by the Senate Republican Leader. Nor should our state’s highest court be thought of by anyone, including the Assembly Democratic Leader, as bought-and-paid-for by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. But that’s the way it is, like it or not, in the hyper-partisan politics of the 21st century.

For my two cents, this case should never have been heard by Judge Sumi in the first place. They used to teach in high school civics in Wisconsin that the legislature makes its own rules, plain and simple, and those rules are NOT subject to judicial review. The courts come into play when someone alleges their rights have been violated by a law ALREADY PASSED AND IN EFFECT. Now, we’re left with the uncomfortable question of whether or not the legislature is bound by the state’s Open Meetings law, what really constitutes “publishing” a law in Wisconsin, if union-organizing is really a “constitutional right”, and many other important questions which have a huge and direct bearing on how the state legislature conducts its business.

This accusation by one "side" of the Supreme Court that the other "side" based their decision on politics, rather than law, is extremely troubling. This is unprecedented stuff, uncharted territory. It casts every decision - past, present, and future - by this court, into doubt. The people of Wisconsin should step in and put a stop this sort of dangerous, inflammatory behavior by the Justices of our Supreme Court. In other words, this should NOT be allowed to stand.

In other words, we’re screwed. We need to recall a few Supreme Court justices, along with the other politicians.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another Madison Radio Pro Makes the Big-Time

The hard-working young man pictured above, Dusty Weis, is about to take his talents to Souf Beach. (With apologies to Dusty…and LeBron James….I stole the picture from Dusty’s Facebook page. Sue me, Dusty!)

In a few days, Dusty will make the leap from radio market #98 (Madison) to radio market #12 (Miami metro area). Like LeBron, Dusty plays the radio news game at the top level. Unlike LeBron, Dusty won’t choke when he hits the big-time.

I met Dusty the way I met so many young news people in the twilight of my career as a news anchor: some station official dragged Dusty into my on-air studio a few years ago and said “here’s a new guy; see what you can do with him.”

I soon learned that this new guy, raised in Monroe, who’d graduated from the UW-Madison Journalism School and had recently decamped from Portage after a stint with the Portage Daily Register, could actually write. He was one of the handful of people I’ve met in my decades of radio news who actually understood how the English language works, and most of the rules on how to use it. He paid attention to things like grammar and syntax, case and pronoun agreement, and the rest of the picky rules that too many J-school grads these days have apparently never heard of.

Not only did Dusty know the rules, he knew how to write clear, concise, and colorful sentences. He had a knack for capturing the essence of a story and writing it clearly. (It ain’t that easy, folks.) There was some stylistic flair to his writing. Not only that – he LOVED to write. So, my job in mentoring Dusty was easy: write, write, write, Dusty. Keep writing. Write more. I’ll put a few red marks on your copy and go over it with you. After a few weeks of this, it was clear that there wasn’t much I could teach him; he was operating at a level well above market standards, and getting better on his own every day. All I had to do was cheer him on. He knew how to choose the right “sound bite” for the story, how to make a story flow, and had mastered the myriad technical things that go into producing a professional radio news story.

I wasn’t a bit surprised when Dusty told me a few days ago he was headed to a heritage news/talk radio station in Miami. His last few months covering the shenanigans at the Capitol have enabled him to put together a resume that any news director would put on the top of the pile. Dusty’s stuff from the Capitol was great: no electronic media reporter up there did a better job than Dusty, and he put in marathon hours gathering, writing, editing, and voicing his reports. This is what is often called “paying your dues.”

Dusty has paid his dues, and Madison’s loss will soon be Miami’s gain. (Dusty would NEVER write a cliché like the prior sentence!) He’s gonna thrive in that Miami environment, and I have absolutely no doubt that he’ll soon make a name for himself in that big zoo.

I’m honored to have been a colleague, Dusty. Remember your Wisconsin roots, and wear your Badgers and Packers gear with pride.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How Many Times Do I Have To Say This

I was neither born nor raised in Dane County, so maybe there’s some sort of environmental or dietary deficiency which makes me view some of the recent stunts at the Capitol as counterproductive.

Take, for example, the zombie protest a few days ago. A bunch of college kids put on zombie make-up and paraded between the Governor and the Special Olympics athletes he was honoring at the Capitol. That bit of poorly-thought-out lunacy engendered the ire of so many people across the state that some Democratic Party bigwig had to publicly disavow the event, which then drew outrage from a number of my Madison acquaintances.

Sometimes, my lefty Madison friends don’t seem to have a very good grasp on strategy and tactics.

If their mission is to defeat the Republicans in recall elections this summer, and then to defeat Governor Walker in a recall election next year, stuff like zombie stunts with Special Olympians and disrupting the discussions of the Joint Finance Committee do great harm to their cause.

If that’s not the mission….then excuse me, I don’t understand what you’re trying to do. “Showing solidarity” doesn’t win elections. “Walkerville” isn’t going to change anybody’s mind.

The real battleground is in the middle. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, and said it again.

It’s a waste of time to think you’re going to convince Glen Grothmann or the Fitz boys or anyone of that ilk that they should suddenly adopt a bunch of pro-choice, environmentally friendly, liberal concepts. By the same token, you’re not going to convince Mark Pocan or Peter Barca or Brett Hulsey to start suggesting cuts in entitlement programs or that the proposed mine in Iron County is a good thing. Changing the make-up of the legislature, or the person in the governor’s office, may lead to some workable compromises.

But you’re not going to convince the voters in the middle…the soft-commit, Tommy Thompson Republicans…by putting on a freak show to disrupt a ceremony for Special Olympians that’s been held every year for many years, by governors from both parties.

Some of the younger folks who “live” in Walkerville and attend the rallies probably think it’s fashionable. It’s a cool thing to do, and to pretend you’re just as committed to change as your predecessors were in the 60’s. Peaceful demonstrations – mass marches around the Capitol, rallies, and speakers – help the morale of the troops and show the folks on the “other side” that it’s not just a few local loonies who are upset. But being removed by State Troopers from a JFC meeting in handcuffs is not a good image to present to the folks in the middle, who will be the ones who ultimately determine the outcome.

And stuff like the zombie thing – well, that’s just plain disrespectful and stoopid. And that’s the way it’s perceived in places like Rice Lake, Rhinelander, Oconto Falls, Gratiot, Menasha, and hundreds of other Wisconsin hamlets outside Dane County.

I’ll say it again: the real battleground is in the middle, not on either side. The middle.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friday, June 13th, 1997

Here we are – bride and groom – 14 years ago today, moments after having been united in marriage by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in front of our families in the Supreme Court Chamber inside the Capitol. Not too long after this shot was taken, we were a few blocks away with hundreds of friends and family members, partying at the old Starlight Room of the Civic Center.

It was the luckiest Friday the 13th of my life.

It’s been an interesting and often-times exciting 14 years. The beautiful lady in the picture above is still my best friend; we’ve been on some fabulous journeys together; and we’re looking forward to what our lives together will bring in the coming years.

We’ve scaled plenty of obstacles together, and have no doubt life will put a few more in our path in the coming years. But we’re ready for it.

Yes, I’d do it all over again – no hesitation.

Thanks for being my best friend and partner, Toni. I love you.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Celebrating Success

The two shady characters pictured above are John Flint and Tammy Lee. Those aren’t their real names, but it’s the names they’ve used since they teamed up several years ago to do the best and most popular morning show that’s ever been done on country-music radio in Madison.

This dynamic duo has just rocketed into the stratosphere of broadcasting, and next month they’ll move their show from Star Country in Madison (radio market #98) to KSON-FM in San Diego (radio market #17). Making a “top-20” market in radio is as good as it gets, and these two are as good as it gets.

Congratulations, my friends.

Those who don’t work in broadcasting may not realize how much just plain hard work goes into putting on a top-notch morning radio program. All the elements have to mesh perfectly. For every hour on-the-air there’s at least that much time spent preparing for it, and there’s the intangible element of “chemistry” between or among the players that radio managers and consultants so desperately strive for….and so seldom achieve. It either happens, or it doesn’t.

Case in point: the lady who lives with me went from being my morning radio partner to being my wife. That’s chemistry.

I’m sure more than a few listeners to John and Tammy’s program think they’re married. They’re not. John has a smart, talented, beautiful wife (Stephanie) and Tammy has a smart, talented, handsome husband (Kurt). But when John and Tammy are in the studio together, they click like beans and rice, peas and carrots, whatever analogy you want to use. They can finish each other’s sentences, laugh out loud together, and snark at each other like old married folks. It just comes naturally. You can’t coach it, you can’t force it, you can’t buy it. Chemistry.

When they worked at Mid-West’s Q-106, I was a small part of their morning show. I did news and sports twice an hour. I was in a different studio, doing news on as many as five separate stations every morning, but no show was more fun to be on than John and Tammy’s. When they were nominated by the Country Music Association and the Association of Country Radio Broadcasters as best morning show in the nation, they were kind enough to include my name on the nomination. (We finished 2nd in the balloting.) That’s the kind of folks they are – the kind of talent that’s operating at SuperStar level, but as down-to-earth as can be. Country folk. No attitude; hard-working; share the wealth.

Mid-West, in a display of its usual corporate inability to manage people with true talent, let John and Tammy move their number-one rated morning show across town to Clear Channel’s Star Country a few years ago, because at annual review time, they didn’t want to give them a few more bucks. It was a mistake that Mid-West never really recovered from, a mistake which cost Mid-West untold amounts of advertising dollars…and tens of thousands of listeners…who just made the move down the dial with John and Tammy from 106.3 FM to 96.3 FM.

I knew Tammy before she was teamed up with John to do the Q-106 morning show, because I knew Tammy’s dad – the godfather of radio news in Madison, John Colbert – and Tammy’s sister, Robin Colbert, another former colleague who now runs the best radio news team in Madison. Tammy grew up hanging around her dad’s on-air buddies at WTSO-AM like J.D. Barber, Andy Witt, Chuck Mercury, and other legendary Madison radio personalities, when WTSO-AM was THE country-radio powerhouse in Madison.

And John? Well, a buddy of mine who works in the Eau Claire market, Mike Sullivan, tipped me that Jon was headed from Eau Claire to Madison to partner up with Tammy to do the Q-106 morning show. So, the first time John set foot in the news on-air studio to introduce himself to me, I gave him the sternest look I could muster and said “Get the f#@k out of my newsroom!” I still remember the stunned look on his face as he turned and left abruptly. And, of course, after he learned from Tammy that the grumpy old man in the newsroom was just putting on an act, we got to be really good buddies.

My friends John and Tammy have “made the big-time” and it couldn’t have happened to two nicer, talented, hard-working, professionals. I’m honored to say “I knew them back when…..”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Ongoing Publicity Stunt

The photo above, copyright wired.com, shows the woman some think will be running for President in 2012. Some think she’s already running and just hasn’t declared.

She is not the most stupid woman in the world; that’s just a character she plays on the world stage to continually re-establish her “brand.” It has to be. Nobody who ran for the second-highest office in the U.S. could possibly be as ignorant of American history….could they?

It’s not just that she seems to say the first thing that pops into her head when she’s asked the “hard questions” by what she calls the “lame-stream media.” After she’s called on her gaffe…..like the most recent one about Paul Revere’s ride….she goes to great lengths to defend her completely incorrect statements about whatever stupid error she’s been caught in.

It’s been said that intuitive improvisation is a mark of genius. She seems quite able to make up stories instantaneously. Paul Revere rode to warn the British not to take away our guns. Right?

I believe her whole schtick is an act, and that it’s concocted to keep her in the public eye and atop the Tea Party. From that “lofty” perch, Palin can be a king-maker for the Republican Party, which has apparently decided that it’s more important to lure Tea Partiers into the tent than less dogmatic soft-commits from the “center” of American politics.

Her brand is the opposite of Barack Obama’s. Where he’s portrayed as an effete intellectual, she’s established a brand as being a ditzy hockey mom given to outbursts of outrageous oratory. When he talks about folks clinging to their guns and bibles in tough times, she talks about the Second Amendment as if she actually understands it, Praise The Lord.

She’s not running. She’s just building her brand.