Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nothing To See Here. Move Along.

Still another neighborhood meeting has been convened – this one by Alder Marsha Rummel – to talk more about what happened on November 9th on South Baldwin street on Madison’s near east side.  It’s been almost three months since local musician Paul Heenan was stumbling home, drunk, in the wee hours of the morning, and accidentally entered the wrong house.

It’s not like that hasn’t happened before in this city, known nationwide for its vibrant local music scene, and – the tendency of its young downtown residents to drink way too much.

But this time, something went wrong, and a veteran police officer shot Heenan dead, bam-bam-bam, three shots to center mass.  (At least, that's what I'm told happened.) The officer said Heenan got into a struggle with him after the homeowner reported a break-in, that Heenan went for his pistol, and Heenan got dead.

When sober, no one is so stupid as to try and grab a cop's gun.  Heenan wasn't sober.

Ironically, the veteran cop who shot Heenan was Officer Stephen Heimsness, a music-lover, guitar player, and avid supporter of the downtown music scene.

Immediately, the cops put a blue blanket of silence around the incident.  Didn’t answer questions from the media, circled the wagons, stonewalled the reporters, and a few agonizing days later, Chief Noble Wray gave a carefully-orchestrated “response” in the form of a news conference.  An investigation of the shooting by the Dane County DA’s office concluded that Heimsness followed the procedures of the Madison Police Department.

The thing is, it’s nearly three months later, and this incident won’t go away.  This sort of thing is deeply disturbing to a city like Madison, where we have one of the finest, well-trained, most professional, and – let’s face it – most tolerant police forces in the nation.  The rank and file of Madison cops consists of men and women with college degrees…..many of them holders of advanced degrees….more than a few with law degrees….and they’re not in any way prone to over-react and have never, not ever, not even in the troubled 60’s – been accused of being trigger-happy.

Show me another city which holds a public drunkfest every spring (the Mifflin Street Beer Blast) where the cops gladly pose for pictures with the revelers.

This is one of my favorite photos….taken in April 2005 at the Beer Blast.  Officer Lind is far left, our son Dru is chugging a beer, Officer Scheller is at the center, flanked by our daughter Mallory and her BFF Briana.  Dru’s best pal Chaise is kneeling in the front.

This city has also had the benefit of having one of the most progressive police chiefs in the world leading the ranks from 1972 to 1993, David Couper, whose treatises on urban policing are considered gospel by hundreds of police departments.  Couper, now a semi-retired Episcopal Priest (and U.S. Marine: no one who served in the Corps should be called “former” Marine), posted some thoughts on the Heenan/Heimsness incident on his blog a day or so ago.

The first point Chief Couper ponders is whether the police should be permitted to investigate a potential crime involving one of their own officers.  We all know the answer to that question is a resounding “NO”, and Wisconsin is one of the few states that still allows it.  Chief Couper also wonders whether the situation was really as dangerous as the official report made it out to be, given the number of back-up officers readily available downtown.

But perhaps the most important question Chief Couper raises is “will this be the new standard of conduct regarding how the Madison Police Department will deal with a situation like this in the future”?

This incident, and its discussion in the community, are not over.  Not by a long shot.

We know the cops have a very, very difficult job, and they have to make split-second life and death decisions.  It takes a special kind of person to do the job.  And it’s not easy to sleep under the blanket of protection our professional police officers provide, and then question the manner in which they provide it.

But this is Madison, and we question authority as part of our genetic disposition.

Too many questions remain about this incident.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Our Best Friends and Constant Companions

Anyone who has ever loved a dog...and has had to say a final farewell...will love this beautiful piece from my friend Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaff.  

Our two canine "children" in the photo above - Shadow, the older Collie, who looks like Lassie and turned 6 a few months ago, and our little girl, Sunny, who is 3 - are wonderful companions and guardians.  Both have very sweet temperament and love every person they've ever met.

Some day, "that day" will come.  It's part of our obligation as pet-owners.  It's never easy.  But as Sarah's touching post points out, our lives are richer for having had our canine friends, and saying good-bye is never easy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Voter Fraud in Wisconsin (Pure Manure)

Finally, somebody has asked the hard questions about voter fraud to the right-wing lawmakers who continue to whine about all the fraud taking place in Wisconsin elections, and, predictably, the sponsors of such legislation can offer absolutely no evidence of any voter fraud anywhere in the state at any time.

I’ve beaten this mule before, more than once.  It’s a topic I keep thinking will finally die, but just as it disappears from the radar, it pops up again – and again.  Just this week an otherwise apparently sane person of my acquaintance said Barack Obama was re-elected only – ONLY – because of massive voter fraud.

The outfit that pinned the tail on the donkey of voter fraud was not a “journalistic” organization, but, a hard-core lefty outfit called “One Wisconsin Now”.  All its leader, Scot Ross, did, was what any “journalistic” organization might have done months ago: Ross simply went to four key legislators who’ve pushed the hardest for Voter ID in Wisconsin, and said “show me your evidence”.

Nothing.  Nada. Zip. Zero.

Not one piece of evidence – much less “proof” – was advanced by Senator Joe Leibham, Senator Alberta Darling, Senator Glenn Grothman (who actually admitted they have absolutely no evidence to back up the public allegations they’ve made about massive voter fraud in the state), and Representative Robin Vos, who didn’t even bother to respond to Ross.

At least the others did him the courtesy of saying “we got nuthin’.”

The Voter ID law the Republicans got passed last year was immediately slapped down as unconstitutional.  It threatened to do irreparable harm to the rights of 300,000 Wisconsin voters.  Now, the legislature doesn’t need to have evidence of anything to pass any damn law it sees fit.  The Voter ID law was a textbook example of a “solution in search of a problem”.

Yet all one need do to hear allegations of massive voter fraud in Wisconsin is to tune in Miss Vicky in the afternoon in Madison (when she’s not busy warning us that Barack Obama’s Secret Muslim Army is going to come to our homes at night, take all our guns, force us to marry gay people and have abortions, and other important topics), or Charlie in the morning in Milwaukee, or Jerry in the morning in Green Bay, yada yada yada. 

I know a bit about voter fraud and election fraud.  As President of my graduating class at Hortonville High School, I presided over the referendum to decide what the Senior Class Gift should be: a whirlpool for the athletic department, or a sign-board for the front of the high school.  The whirlpool won, with 108 votes.  There were 88 members of my graduating class.  It was fair to say that a few of my fellow Polar Bears stuffed the ballot box.

You’d think that an admission to the hard-core lefties from the lunatic fringe right that they have NO evidence of voter fraud would bring an end to the constant yammering about it.

Apparently, voter fraud is like the Loch Ness monster.  No one has ever actually seen it, but by God, it just MUST be there.

Everybody says so.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

He's Baaaaaack.......

At a news conference at the state capitol Monday, my old pal and former longtime radio partner John “Sly” Sylvester told the crowd he had some bad news…….bad news, that is, for Scott Walker.  Sly will soon be back on the airwaves – and the internet – from WEKZ-FM 93.7 in Monroe.  The station, which is known right now for its oldies format, has a powerful signal (which you can see on the graphic above) and Sly will be taking over the afternoon shift from 3 to 6:30 weekdays, starting Monday February 4th.

Sly won’t be talking between the records on WEKZ-FM, like he did 16 years ago when he dominated morning radio ratings on WIBA-FM, before he was kicked to the curb by MidWest Family Broadcasting in November, after 15 years in their stable.  He’ll be doing the same sort of thing he did on WTDY-AM: a talk show. Not a music show with talk, like he did years ago on WIBA-FM, but a full-bore talk show, only now, Sly will be able to antagonize people – and politicians – in Wisconsin and Illinois!

Typical of Sly’s pointed humor, at his Monday news conference, he sarcastically said “I’ll be doing an afternoon talk show.  There’s not an afternoon talk show in Madison right now, is there?” – another dig at ultra-right-wing radio’s reigning local queen, Vicki McKenna and her afternoon show on WIBA-AM.  Unlike Miss Vicki, who spouts the latest partly line from the likes of Karl Rove, Fox News, and the NRA, and, in the Rush Limbaugh mode, never allows a caller on the air who disagrees with her for more than a few seconds before screeching the caller down, Sly promises to continue his pattern of not only allowing, but encouraging people who disagree with him to call and be on the air with him.

A lot of people, I think, are going to “re-discover” Sly when he hits the airwaves on WEKZ-FM.  For one thing, it’s a much, much more powerful signal than the puny AM 1670 signal of WTDY, which has now changed call sign to WOZN-AM and has become “The Zone”, with programming from CBS SportsRadio. Years ago, when MidWest put 93.1 FM, “The Lake” on the air (another failed MidWest venture - which, several years ago, morphed into 93.1 jAMZ, playing hip-hop music), I was voice-tracking morning news on that station and voice-tracking another MidWest station (AM 1550, The Tux) and doing live news on two other MidWest stations, Q-106 and WTDY, and Sly was “voice-tracking” the afternoon show on The Lake.  Voice-tracking means he recorded his spoken breaks for The Lake when he got done with our live morning show on WTDY – but, it sounded like he was live and in The Lake’s studio in the afternoon.  MidWest gave The Lake a pretty good launch, and, in the early days, callers to the station would say “So, Sly is back on the air in Madison again – good to hear him!”  They had no idea that Sly had been doing the morning show on WTDY for several years, before The Lake was launched.  They thought that when Sly left WIBA-FM, he disappeared.  They had no idea he’d just crossed town and had gone to work on WTDY.  Suffice it to say the ratings on 1670AM were never a factor in the market.

News about the other 7 employees fired the same day as Sly is mixed.  Shawn Prebil is now doing some stuff for the Clear Channel cluster in Madison, including a weekend talk show on 92.1 The Mic - which, I’m told, never gave serious consideration to hiring Sly, despite a noisy grassroots campaign called “Give Sly the Mic” which was launched shortly after MidWest fired him.  Deana Wright, the talented  Madison-born-and-raised broadcaster who returned “home” a couple years ago after stints in some of the largest markets in the nation, is entertaining offers from the major markets again, and tells me there are some tempting local non-radio offers on her plate, as well.  Deana is continuing her gig voice-tracking an Urban AC radio show in the Atlanta market and is still doing some voice-over work.  Amy Barrilleaux, the former WTDY News Director, is maintaining her “news brand” and tells me she’s doing some freelancing for Isthmus (she has a cover story on domestic violence coming out in tomorrow’s edition) and in a few weeks will be in training for a hundred-mile bike ride to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I was never acquainted with Crystal MacKenzie or Lindsay Adjavor or any of the others who were part of the mass firing, so I can’t tell you what they’re up to.

I wish them all well, and will be eager to hear what Sly has to say on his new afternoon show in a couple weeks.  The good folks in Monroe are soon to have a lot more than cheese to talk about!

Monday, January 14, 2013

No Good Deed.....

The business of radio broadcasting has become a largely unsustainable model; newspapers and news magazines struggle to find ways, in the digital age, to stay alive.  TV news operations – local, national, over-the-airwaves, and cable – have been steadily downsized for the past five years.  Local TV news operations in Wisconsin and a handful of other states which had highly contested political races in the past election cycle (Tammy vs. Tommy, etc.) got a huge infusion of cash that may have forestalled further downsizing by a year or two.

At a time when we need more investigative journalism than ever before to keep track of the vast sums of anonymous cash that fuel increasingly negative and insulting political ad campaigns, it’s disappearing. In large part, investigative journalism has been supplanted by bloggers - some more well-intentioned than others, others blatantly partisan - and well-financed sources of deliberate disinformation.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the Midwest's largest funder of independent, non-partisan examination of politics and political spending, the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, has abruptly pulled the plug on its funding for the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign after 16 years of continued support.

This is a huge blow to the budget of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, one that’s going to be very challenging to the continued operations of our state’s premier organization, in its mission of delivering unbiased political analysis and political fundraising accountability.  That’s why this blind-side from the Joyce Foundation sucks so much.  Essentially every news organization in the state has relied on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to provide untainted information.  Now, when we need this kind of information the most, with dwindling resources in every newsroom in the state, its existence is threatened.

As the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Mike McCabe, has said, “Somebody needs to follow the money in Wisconsin politics.  Somebody needs to show how all that money contaminates public policymaking. Somebody needs to expose corruption, blow the whistle on wrongdoing, and fight to keep government as clean, open, and honest as possible.”

Increasingly, that job has been done by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, filling in the huge staffing gaps that exist in newsrooms in our state.  Hence, the title of this post, “No Good Deed” – and, its modern suffix, “goes unpunished”.

I encourage you to join my wife and me in donating whatever you can to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.  It’s as easy as logging onto their website.

I’ve never understood why so many people on the right think organizations like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, to name only two, are “left-leaning” organizations.  They’re not.  They exist to help protect the constitutional rights of every American, and to fulfill the Jeffersonian demand for a well-informed citizenry.  Every citizen, regardless of political bent, should support organizations like these.

I have never, since I started this blog in 2009, asked my readers to contribute to anything.

I’m asking now.

It’s that important.