Complicity in the Bill Cosby Cover-Up Runs Deep

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThe “outing” of Bill Cosby as, well what else can we call it but as a “serial rapist”? has kicked off a moment of journalistic soul-searching. It isn’t all that widespread and it won’t last long, but it’s a flicker of light worth prodding toward something more substantial.

But first, my one and only inter-raction with the man. It 
was the late ‘90s if I recall and Cosby was in town to give one 
of his ministerial speeches on the topic of family/male/black male responsibility. After more than the usual back and forth with his people I was granted a 10-minute window for an interview. As a lifelong fan as far back as his “Wonderfulness’ LP, which I wore out on the old Lambert family Magnavox, I was still expecting if not an affable, good-humored pro of the show biz game, a kind of Bob Hope with street cred, at least something other than a self-important dick.

It didn’t go well. Cosby clearly found the whole … 10-minute chat … a tedious ordeal (admittedly, I get that a lot), and his “person”, a middle-aged male toadie who looked as though he’d be beheaded if the boss were asked something he didn’t want to answer, interrupted virtually every (harmless) question for re-phrasing into something Bill would rather talk about, which, frankly was very little beyond his usual boilerplate of “pull up your pants and be (my idea of a) man”. Put another way, the interview lasted about eight minutes too long.

The broader point to this whole still unfolding saga, a multi-pronged tragedy, is again both how little we the public truly know about celebrated public figures and how our culture’s myth-making machinery sends down roots far deeper than reality. (For regular readers, this is an echo of my embarrassing infatuation with John Edwards.)

The media mea culpas going around include one from one of black culture’s most inightful and provocative critics, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who cops to not pushing Cosby hard enough, in a story seven years ago, on assertions already made against him by over a dozen women. Says Coates in his recent Atlantic web piece, “ … it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn’t just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history.

One of the great revolutions in American cultural consciousness-raising would be a campaign to demystify celebrity myth-making. But rational skepticism about the show biz famous is not particularly welcome, even in places supposedly committed to it. If you ask, almost every pop news consumer understands fairly well the business plans of celebrity magazines/media and all their inanity-worshipping stepsisters, the “lifestyle” outlets of one silly sort or another. Not that the average consumer thinks about it much, but if you ask they’ll concede it’s all just a selling game.

A game they consume voraciously.

But as bad as the vast mass of all that celebrity silliness is, clogging our cultural arteries with stupendous flows of irrelevant non-news at best and pure, free publicity at worst, the problem is compounded by an unwillingness of so-called “serious” journalism to apply even the most minimal counter-balance.

I spent more time than I care to remember playing willing shill for the Hollywood hype-machine, interviewing the famous and beautiful with only rarely an untoward or impertinent question. (OK, I was thrown off the so-called “junket circuit” three different times for such transgressions. But because I “gave good profile”, I was eventually invited back.) But that was while working for a free weekly. When I arrived at a supposedly bona fide daily newspaper I had some (seriously misplaced) expectations that, at long last due skepticism would be encouraged … rewarded … cheered.

A guy has rarely been more wrong. The sad fact is that the features departments of mainstream newspapers, even the good ones, (and I wasn’t working at one of those), exert little to no skeptical energy on their show biz subjects. More to the point, they don’t tolerate “cynical”, “negative” rogue writers applying it independently.

From (long) direct experience I can tell you the features end of daily newspapering is completely happy and comfortable serving as yet another layer of the show biz publicity machinery. (If only those cash-strapped papers got a cut of the tickets they helped to sell.) The guiding (focus-group tested) rationale being that readers want the paper to reflect and enhance their excitement and delight in “the stars”, which is to say, the paper’s job is to magnify what “the stars’ ” publicity machinery has already established. (It goes without saying that local TV news, a show biz sales game in itself — morning, noon and night — hasn’t even imagined a skeptical thing to say about celebrities, other than an errant choice of a red carpet gown, or a Justin Bieber-like meltdown.

It’s easy to understand Mr. Coates’ dilemma. Here’s a prominent figure among the black intelligentsia (Coates) conflicted over a direct attack on a revered black icon, (Cosby). The record will show there are plenty of people undermining influential black leadership figures, so why would a young black intellectual add his name to that barrage?

Ironically, the predominantly white managers of mainstream news organizations, no doubt assessed the racial liabilities of reporting the accusations against Cosby as well, and demurred … until the tidal wave granted everyone cover to “reassess”.

But that’s Cosby. What of the mega-tonnage of so-called “journalism” heaped on show biz personalities of all persuasions with for all intents and purposes no application of skeptical perspective at all? Obviously, serial rape is a special level of depravity. But I can assure you that Bill Cosby isn’t the only revered celebrity icon who has successfully marketed a persona wildly out of step with his true nature, and marketed it with the full, albeit unwitting complicity of the allegedly responsible professional media.

Would we really be worse off if professional journalists refused to be a part of the bullshit brigade?





MN Loses A Treasure: Reporter Jim Ragsdale

Jim_RagsdaleVeteran Twin Cities political reporter Jim Ragsdale was smart, decent, savvy, warm, and oh-so witty. Pancreatic fucking cancer got him today at 64 years old, and I’m going to miss him like mad.

Great musicians get their most heartfelt ovations when they come out to present one of their masterpieces as an encore.  So, the best way I can think of to honor my pal Rags is to feature one of his many masterpieces as an encore:

Minnesota — broke, a little bloated, and now looking for a new love

By Jim Ragsdale

Updated: 05/20/2010 05:58:46 PM CDT

He goes on long trips without explanation. He comes home and criticizes my appearance, even as he pays greater attention to his own image. Where there once was fondness and love, now all I get is, ‘Your taxes are too high! You’re spending too much! You have to cut back!’

I hate to say it after seven wonderful years, but I, Minnesota, can avoid the truth no longer. My governor, Tim Pawlenty, is seeing someone else.

Am I the last to figure this out? My neighbors, particularly, Iowa, said he has been seen there often, giving their presidential voters the affection I once received. Bigshot pundits who are on the make for a new star delight when he trashes me. But I thought that was, you know, just business, and not really serious.

I admit I have problems. My taxes and spending are on the heavy side — although I’m not as bulky as he likes to say. But hey, I’m Minnesota. I think I carry the weight well. And he knew all this going in back in ’03, when all was kisses and hugs. Why is he dumping me now for slimmer, sexier states?

Sorry — my bitterness occasionally gets the best of me. Deep breaths — in, out. Now, let me give you the whole sad story.

Gov. Tim was born and raised in Minnesota. He has lived and studied and worked here his whole life and he seemed to really care about me. We both knew there were things he didn’t like. He’s “red” and I always go “blue” in presidential years. He’s a fiscal conservative and I have a long tradition of high taxes and generous services.

But he was so cute back when he became governor in 2003. He had a charming way of saying he would try to nudge me in his direction, understanding that I was Minnesota, after all, and would never be, say, Texas or Mississippi. And he did just that. He pushed and prodded and battled and got me shaped up pretty good.

He said he loved my forests and lakes and trees and blue skies, and he was very protective and passionate. Green — good heavens the man was green!

That’s why I loved him back then, despite our differences, and why voters put him back in office for a second term, beginning in 2007. We were pretty happy for a while longer, at least as far as I knew. I never failed to deliver the goods on walleye opener — how ’bout that 22-incher at Kabetogama on Saturday? — and I know he appreciated that.

Then, almost overnight, everything changed.

That bigshot John McCain put him on the V.P. shortlist in 2008, getting him around the nation to red-hot audiences. And right after that, Jan. 20, 2009, happened. A new president — a blue president — took office. Gov. Tim began talking more about national politics and about running for president himself.

He began wandering. First to Iowa. Then New Hampshire. The South. Even the West. States that were trimmer and more red-hot than me.

I saw it but I didn’t see it — know what I mean?

Those floozy states were filling his head with ideas about how great he is, how good-looking and smart and presidential. I couldn’t compete with that. I was broke and a little bloated — just trying to keep home and hearth together — and when he came back, I could tell he no longer had that gleam in his eye.

I’d display my woods and waters and he’d be on the cell-phone with someone in South Carolina. We’d run into our usual budget problems and all he do is scold me to reduce eligibility here, cut benefits there, slim down all over. “Stop snacking on Local Government Aid!” he’d say. “They’re just empty calories!

I am so tired of hearing that.I thought of hiring a private investigator. But then I saw the evidence in black and white, from Eastern pundits. They said the only way he can get love from them is to withdraw it from me. It’s right here in the Wall Street Journal — every time he calls me fat and ugly, he wins points with them.

And trust me, the verbal abuse makes it worse, because when I’m stressed, I tend to binge on the K-12 funding formula.

Well, I may be dowdy and past my prime. I will always suffer through seasonal cold and hot flashes. But I’m not ignorant. The last thing I need, in the middle of a severe bout of economic recession, is my governor trashing me.

So I hereby free him to transfer his affections to those red-state red-hots, those governor-grabbing gigolos, those low-tax lovergirls who have turned his head.

As for me, I’ll survive. I’m getting my budget balanced and I’m having some work done on the out-biennium. But like I said, I’m Minnesota. I’ll always have big bones.

There are a lot of fish in the political sea, of the blue and red and even purplish variety, who will be darn proud to be seen with me. I wish him well in his quest for national stardom. And I hereby issue this request for proposals: I’m looking for a new Gov to be my true love.

No one will ever do “politics on wry” quite like Jim Ragsdale.  Rest in peace JImbo.


MN GOP Beware:  Biking and Pedestrian Improvements Have Broad Appeal

rura_bikingMinnesota Republicans captured control of the Minnesota House of Representatives in part by fueling urban versus rural resentment:  “Those metro-centric DFLers give everything to Minneapolis and St. Paul.”  The truth is, turnout trends associated with non-presidential year elections were a much bigger reason why the DFL lost control of the Minnesota House. But this “core cities versus the rest of us” theme was definitely a big part of the  Minnesota GOP’s 2014 campaign, and a lot of analysts are convinced that is why Republicans won.  For instance, MinnPost’s excellent reporter Briana Bierschbach noted:

“…Republicans had a potent message, too, and it was a simple one: Rural Democrats had left their constituents behind by voting with their Minneapolis and St. Paul leadership.”

Exhibit A in the Republican’s rural victimization case was funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure, something Republican’s often characterize as “metrocentric.”  In other words, they maintain it isn’t of interest to suburban, exurban or rural citizens.  For instance, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson tried to appeal to non-urban votes with this riff:

“We have spent billions of dollars on trains, trollies, bike paths, and sidewalks, but not nearly enough on the basic infrastructure most Minnesotans use every day: our roads and bridges.”

Beyond the campaign trail, that theme also has sometimes been a battle cry during Met Council transportation planning discussions.  Finance and Commerce reports that:

“The suburban counties argue that the Met Council’s transportation investment plan emphasizes urban transit, bike and pedestrian options at the expense of highways, which they say could cause further congestion and safety issues.”

However, a survey released today calls the Republicans’ assumption into question. The poll found majority support in every region of the state for additional funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.  The random sample of 1,000 Minnesotans sponsored by the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition found that the strongest support was in St. Paul and Minneapolis (71% support).  However, there was roughly the same high level of support in the suburbs, which are key political battlegrounds because that’s where population is growing most rapidly:

  • Western metro suburbs:  69% support.
  • East metro suburbs:  70% support.

Even in rural areas, a strong majority support funding bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements:

  • Central Minnesota:  64% support.
  • Southern Minnesota:   57% support.
  • Northern Minnesota:  56% support.

In other words, if a politician mentions the DFL’s support of bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding in rural Minnesota they’re more likely to help the DFLer than hurt them.

The moral of the story is that the appeal of pedestrian and biking infrastructure improvements is hardly limited to the hipsters and fitness freaks in the core cities.  Politicians who campaign or govern based on that false assumption may have a rude awakening.

– Loveland

Note:  This also was published on and MinnPost.

Give to the Max, In Context

retro_calculatorThe 120,000 Minnesota small donors who heroically pulled together to pool an $18 million donation during yesterday’s  Give MN’s “Give to the Max Day” should be very proud of themselves.

They set an all time record!  Wooo hooo. That’s the power of the grassroots.

But just to put that in context, consider that:

  • If KSTP-TV owner Stanley Hubbard donated 1% of his estimated $2.1 billion net worth, his donation would be $21 million, 28% more than the 120,000 Minnesotans gave.  Even after such a large donation, Stanley would still have $2.08 billion dollars left over to put fishsticks on his table.

The “giving to the max “ of these 120,000 big hearted Minnesotans is noble and notable.  But honestly, this kind of news story must be greeted with a “well isn’t that adorable” chuckle from the wealthiest Minnesotans.

– Loveland

Empty Newsrooms Aggravate Pointergate-Type News Gaffes

Betsy_Hodges_pointing_gangI can’t see into the heads and hearts of KSTP-TV reporter Jay Koll’s and his editors, so I can’t tell you if their Pointergate story was racially, commercially or politically motivated.

When a reporter at a station owned by a large political donor immediately jumps to the unlikely conclusion that a black man and a politician pointing at each other is evidence of the politician’s support of criminal gangs, these are certainly fair questions to raise.   But based on my dealings with reporters and editors over the last thirty years, I’d guess that the airing of the Pointergate story probably had a little to do with the biases that we all can fall prey to, and a little to do with what I like to call the Newsroom’s First Rule of Motion.

The Newsroom’s First Rule of Motion, is a cousin of Newton’s First Rule of Motion, which states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  That is, once a reporter puts a story in motion — interviewing a source, getting editorial approval to pursue the story, making a few calls, Googling a bit, and gathering video tape — the story will almost certainly be aired, even if it begins to reveal itself as lightly substantiated, unsubstantiated or demonstrably false.

It’s simple inertia.  Stories in motion tend to stay in motion.

Newsroom_workforce_chartThe Newsroom’s First Rule of Motion has always been a force, but it has become much more of a force since news organizations starting losing lots of money, and newsrooms consequently started getting much smaller.  These days, if a reporter invests time in a story, and the story turns out to be lame, sparsely populated newsrooms have fewer stories in their pipeline to fill the news hole.  Resource-wise, there is very little ability for unsubstantiated stories to die natural deaths.

Because of this, the small group of remaining editors are less likely to seriously question or kill a weak or false story.  Instead, they rationalize: “Well, we called the accused, so we’ll let viewers decide.”

As a result of this lack of responsible editing, we are treated to Mayor Hodges being forced to explain why pointing at someone is not ipso facto evidence of being pro-gangsta.

How do I know editors have become less likely to kill flawed stories?  I don’t have research, just observations.  I work in media relations, which occasionally calls for me to plead a client’s case to editors.   Years ago, editors as a group were much more likely to give clients a fair hearing, and occasionally conclude that a demonstrably lame or false story should not run.  Today, that almost never happens.

I have to believe that that is partly because financially stressed businesses can’t afford to have scarce hours, days or weeks of reporter time go for naught.  Like everyone employed by for-profit ventures, reporters and editors have productivity pressures.

Of course, there are other types of problems associated with lightly populated newsrooms.  With weaker newsrooms, it’s easier for scoundrels to get away with evil-doing, because there aren’t as many reporters available to put in the substantial amount of time and shoe leather that is often required to uncover evil-doing.

Whether because they are airing stories that should never air or missing stories that should be aired, smaller newsrooms make for less truth and light in our communities.

To be clear, I’m not saying Mr. Kolls and his editor should get a free pass for the Pointergate fiasco.  Whatever the actual reasons that the story aired, it is a preposterous story with ugly ramifications.  But I am saying that in addition to worrying about the bias issues associated with this specific story, we also should be worried about the lack of newsroom checks to prevent future unsubstantiated stories from airing.

– Loveland

KSTP-TV and #pointergate. Post-mortem of a Face Plant.

Lambert_to_the_Slaughter[REVISED] If you’ve caught wind of KSTP-TV’s fiasco with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges‘ “gang signs” photo and wondered, “How the [bleep] does something that stupid, crass and cynical even get on the air?”,  let me try to help.

For some, the bottom line is simply that (veteran) reporter Jay Kolls all but played paid messenger for a cop shop hit job on a Mayor (and a police chief) the rank and file don’t much care for. (To which I usually say, “Beware a Mayor and Chief that crowd actually likes.”) But worse, for Kolls and KSTP, who are enduring a coast-to-coast savaging for both stupidity and racism, Kolls’ newsroom bosses consented to being played as badly as we was. To the point that they were so credulous they didn’t even bother with the minimum context of noting in their broadcast piece that the “gangbanger” (as Kolls has taken to calling the kid in question in a ridiculously defensive Twitter dialogue) was himself, at the time of the photo … participating in the get-out-the-vote effort mentioned only in passing.

I mean, this story is so nakedly and thoroughly targeted at a key demographic for local TV news you practically choke on it. And by that I mean this: The only viewers who were going to swallow this story — as Kolls and KSTP presented it — are fearful whites with little or no personal interaction with blacks or other minorities. People who almost never counter-balance the “news” they get on TV with any other stream of information, other than maybe an e-mail from an equally fearful friend or relative.

With the audience for local TV news was shrinking nearly as fast as it has been for daily newspapers (until a modest uptick in 2013) the core that remains is both older and (I strongly suspect) less socially sophisticated — i.e. more isolated from “criminal elements” than even 20 years ago. Where savvier news consumers have long since stopped rolling their eyes at the cliched/treadworn “if it bleeds it leads” news segments and turned off the local news altogether in favor of the internet, the crowd that remains faithful to local TV continues to be riveted by the relentless narrative of hardened thugs gunning down each other and therefore, soon to be blasting their way through the front doors of those same terrified viewers, never mind that their doors are in Maple Grove, Big Lake, Victoria, Edina and St. Cloud.

It was to that core local news crowd, primarily white, aged and out of step with the realities of modern urban America that Kolls and KSTP were appealing, and why they look like such pawns and fools today. (According to Pew research 54% of local TV’s news audience is over age 50. Although it could be worse. The over-50 audiences for Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity clock in at 64% and 66% respectively.)

Now, having spent a bit of time in the Hubbard Broadcasting empire, I’m not going to go call anyone over there a racist. Although how the racist overtones of this story didn’t head butt someone in the KSTP newsroom I fail to imagine.

What I will say is that the Hubbards themselves, having always been wealthy, are in fact “different”. They never have to deal with shareholders ranting on the phone about public face-plants like this bit of buffoonery or other embarrassments that might crater the stock price. Instead, you have a family operation that long, long ago got comfortable with doing a very public business in their own private way. A family long accustomed to seeing the world as they choose to see it reiterated on their air. in that context a story handed them by the cops (law and order) directly suggesting that the new Mayor (liberal and female) is sympathetic to thugs (young blacks) fits with the acceptable company narrative. Put another way, it appeals to viewers KSTP wants to appeal to.

More to the point, when you work for “the family”, especially in any kind of on-air or management position, you don’t have to wait for a call or e-mail telling you what to say and what not to say. If, for example, you’re a weatherman, you understand implicitly that human-caused climate change is a hoax and the sort of thing you never mention on air. It becomes a second nature. As part of the “team”, you absorb the essence of the family’s perspective like a kind of survival instinct. What the family prefers or doesn’t object to becomes what you deliver on air, if you’d like to hang around for a while.

That said, this “gang signs” thing Kolls put up is still beyond belief.

Jay, who I covered back in the ’90s and once brawled with over a story I’ve now forgotten (we later had drinks and smoothed things over) is on a “second chance” run with the Hubbards, having been “let go” and hired back at a time when older, white males are not exactly prime consideration for reporting jobs. The Hubbards are good about that kind of thing, perhaps because an older guy (or gal) given a second chance is uniquely grateful and more likely to deliver the type of news product most preferred by the forces upstairs.

Still … the astonishing things to me in this episode are that Kolls allowed himself to be tooled so flagrantly by the cops and then that this thing got past an editor. I mean in what universe does a professional news director in 2014 not look at this mess and say, “Uh, I gotta tell ya Jay, it looks to me like she’s just pointing at the guy. And remind me, what’s she doing with him, anyway? What? He was part of the vote thing, too! Well shit, we better get that in there somewhere.”

Pro news people I’ve known wouldn’t have touched this story if only on the grounds that they could smell a reporter getting tooled by the cops and that if the ran it they’d look so clueless and chumpy, to their professional peers.

And while I’m at it … how does a new director not say to her reporter, “For crissakes, how many dog whistles can one guy blow in the same story?”

So do I think Stanley Hubbard is happy about the way this thing is playing out? No, I do not. If no one had noticed or said anything, he wouldn’t have cared. (Hell, he probably wouldn’t have noticed). But now that his station (which is run by his son Rob)  is a national laughing stock, I’m guessing he’s having a bad day which means a few of his underlings are having a day that’s even worse.

Not that the first crisis management move won’t be to ignore the firestorm as long as possible and hope it fades away, obliterated by, you know, police tape video of a gang-banger shoot-out or something.

Are SD’s Pressler Voters — Thinking They Are Voting for Clean Politics — Helping Elect The Most Corrupt Politician in SD History?

In perhaps the most interesting U.S. Senate race in the nation this year, South Dakota Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds could actually win on Tuesday, even though he is currently so overwhelmingly unpopular in South Dakota that he probably cannot piece together 40% of the vote.

Mr. Rounds, a former Governor, may win, even though he is so deeply intertwined in the state’s EB-5 scandal that he could face charges that would not allow him to serve out his term in the U.S. Senate.

How could South Dakotans allow the scandal-ridden Rounds to win and drag the state through such an embarassing scenario?

Larry_PresslerHere’s how:  About 18% of South Dakotans who currently say they will vote for former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Pressler are making it impossible for second place Democrat Rick Weiland to get enough of the anti-Rounds votes to defeat Rounds.  Even though polls consistently show Pressler is running a distant third,  some swing voters have been attracted to Pressler, in part because he has promoted himself as the only member of Congress who was cleared during the 1978 ABSCAM sting operation. In the minds of many Pressler supporters, their vote for Pressler is a vote for a cleaner brand of politics.

But in an odd twist, votes for third place Pressler are giving scandal-tainted Rounds a chance to win despite the scandal.  Polls show that Pressler supporters’ second choice is Weiland, not Rounds, by an overwhelming 3-to-1 margin.    Weiland has earned the respect of many Pressler supporters by stressing the need to get big money out of politics, outworking his opponents on a tour of all 311 of South Dakota’s towns, and showing independence from his own party’s leaders.

If the roughly 18% of South Dakotans who currently support Pressler give their vote to someone who will be a distant third place finisher, it looks like they will effectively allow Rounds to win.   But if some Pressler supporters reconsider between now and Tuesday, and give their votes to second place Weiland instead of third place Pressler, the anti-Rounds vote could be consolidated enough to defeat Rounds.

Think about that for a minute.  How ironic would it be if Pressler supporters, who are convinced they are standing up against corrupt politics, end up inadvertently assuring the election of someone who could go down as the most corrupt politician in South Dakota history?

Put Out a Contract on These Campaigns

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterGood lord. This one can’t end soon enough, and I’m tempted to say “badly enough’. There really should be penalties and pain for political campaigns as time and attention-sucking and uninvolving as the one we’re enduring right now.

I freely confess to jaded-induced boredom. I’ve seen too many campaigns. I really should slink away to the Yukon with a faithful dog, a store of hardtack and jerky and let this ceaseless barrage of boilerplate bluster and by-the-numbers attack advertising run its course, which of course would mean killing off the last critical synapses in the last sentient voter walking the land. When (or if) I re-emerged the world might resemble the aftermath of some zombie plague, with the brain-eaters being political consultants and messaging experts.

We all know it’s bad, as in dull, monotonous, predictable and off-putting. Need a fresh example? How about GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden devoting one day to announcing his “contract with Minnesota” and then another day to signing it? Inspiring stuff. Imaginative, too. Another “contract”. The latest in a 20-plus year run of “contracts” thrown up by imagination-free political candidates who don’t dare, and/or are advised not to dare ever saying anything that might engage the mental machinery of what I refer to as the “actively informed voter.”

Obviously, if you’re one of those people you fully understand that these campaigns, which thanks to the epic flow of money unleashed by Citizens United never actually end any longer, are targeted on a sliver of the population that rarely exceeds 15%. These would be your “persuadable voters”, the folks who, put another way, mostly ignore political/government function, get a lot of their news from headlines they see walking past the few newspaper racks still remaining, overhear at the plant or see on some cable channel in the dentist’s office. That’s who all the money is being spent on. And who knows, a couple of them might even be persuaded to vote … against the other guy.

Meanwhile, it is worse than a Newton Minow “wasteland” for everyone else. If you care enough to follow these processes daily, instead of just for a couple weeks every other year, you’ve come to accept that there’s nothing here for you. You’ve heard every attack thousands of times, seen every grainy video of lock-stepping “ultra-liberals” and lapse into narcolepsy at the hint of yet another “debate”. Essentially you made your mind up months (if not years) ago and are enduring this siege of unrelenting blandness as you might a stand-up comic suitable for your mother’s nursing home.

Obviously, if this were Kentucky or even Iowa, or as Joe has been following, South Dakota, it might a little different. There’d at least be a pulse. But here in Minnesota there’s never been any serious doubt that either Al Franken or Mark Dayton was going to be reelected. If there was it vanished with the nominations of Mike McFadden and Jeff Johnson, two guys with all the inspirational ability of a couple corporate trainers who forgot their PowerPoint.

So what to do? Well nothing, if like Franken your handlers, advisers and kitchen cabinet have wrung every last ounce of wit and risk out of you. (Dayton will always and only do what Dayton wants to do.)

But in (my) ideal world here’s something I’d like some genuinely “courageous” candidate “fighting” for the middle-class and “hard working” Americans everywhere to give a try.

Screw these ritualized debates, which long ago degenerated into a trench warfare of pre-digested catch phrases and attack slogans hurled back and forth like mustard gas.

I’d like to see a (formerly) witty, daring guy like Franken agree to a serious of “thesis candidate” interviews with bona fide experts on a series of issues. Tell the League of Women Voters to go find three acknowledged experts each on economics, public ethics, communications, whatever and you’ll agree to sit, by yourself, not with your opponent, and be cross-examined by them for 90 minutes. No horse-race obsessed professional journalists allowed. Instead, a conversation rewarding actual brainpower, intellectual resourcefulness and humility.

To be revealed: What you do and don’t know about the reality of what you’re selling to the persuadables on primetime TV, in between episodes of “Honey Boo Boo” and Thursday Night Football.

Suicide for the fool who agrees to such a concept? I’m not so sure. If Franken agreed to do it, what’s the predicament for McFadden?

Bottom line question: Does any politician dare talk to adults like adults? I’ve decided the answer is “no.”

Hmmm … must check Expedia for packages to Whitehorse.

Minnesota Senate Candidate Mike McFadden Wins Another Blockbuster Endorsement

Molly_McFadden_adSaint Paul, Minnesota – In news that could shake up Minnesota’s previously sleepy U.S. Senate contest, Republican candidate Mike McFadden announced today that he has landed the endorsement of his young daughter Molly McFadden.

“With just two weeks left in the campaign, we decided to launch our October Surprise,” said McFadden, a CEO of an investment banking company from Sunfish Lake.

Ms. McFadden’s announcement was made through a new television ad produced by the McFadden campaign.  The transcript of Ms. McFadden’s ad follows:

My dad, Mike McFadden, is running for Senate.  He really tries.  But he’s not very good at this political stuff.

Problem is, dad’s super honest.  He works hard.  And he’d rather help people than attack them.

Dad’s been all over Minnesota telling people about his plan.

But I can tell you this:  He’s a good guy, with a great heart, and he’ll give everything for Minnesota.”

The announcement continues a red hot streak for the McFadden campaign, having secured the endorsement of the candidate’s Obamacare-hating peewee football players, fiscal analyzing son Conor, and now his political analyst daughter Molly.

“Amazingly, Mike is on the verge of getting endorsed by every one of his offspring, while liberal Al Franken hasn’t been endorsed by a single McFadden child,” said McFadden campaign spokesperson I.O. Koch.

In a rare moment of political harmony, the Franken campaign released a statement agreeing with Ms. McFadden:  “While we dispute the ad assertions that Mike is honest, doesn’t attack people, and has a plan that he is sharing,  we cannot disagree with the ad’s observation that Mike “is not very good at this political stuff.”

Note:  This post is satire.  Though Mike really did release a series of sappy ads featuring endorsements from his young players, son, and daughter, the reaction quotes are fabricated for my own amusement.

Pearl Jam, Still Living the Promise of Rock

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterRock and roll, which hasn’t died yet, had a good night Sunday at the Xcel Center.

To a truly packed house — lines to the mens’ room 50-60 deep, and god help the women — Pearl Jam delivered a three-hour reminder of the vitality and, you might even say, purpose of tribal entertainment. The Seattle-based band is a long ways (25 years) past its “grunge” origins. Lead singer Eddie Vedder, guitarists Mike McCready, and Stone Gossard, bass player Jeff Ament, drummer Matt Cameron and keyboard player Boom Gaspar are certifiable rock stars/legends, and are wealthy and revered as such. But the original promise of the power of rock music on a grand scale still has its hooks in them.

That they are less familiar to mainstream America than say, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, The Who and others of that magnitude — acts to whom Pearl Jam regularly pays homage — has as much to do with their own well-considered ethos than as their musical style. The pulsing, grinding waves of sonic sensation that is the grunge signature of many of their fan favorites has particular appeal to adolescent males — and the adolescent in most males — who delight in being rendered semi-conscious by sound and fury. Music fans who prefer being lulled or tickled probably don’t have a clue who Pearl Jam is.

The band has famously fought Ticketmaster over the gamed-out corporate control of both ticket pricing and availability. They’re outspoken advocates for environmental issues wherever they go, women’s freedom of choice, (which partly explains why the audience isn’t entirely male), progressive politicians, (the mis-administration of George W. was cut no slack) and innumerable other functions of a truly cooperative, caring society. (The head of the U of M’s Children’s Hospital made a featured appearance midway through Sunday’s show.)

While you sometimes wonder how much of the lyrics and “message” of rock songwriting gets through the impact of the sound, Sunday’s show, like all Pearl Jam shows was an extended sing-a-long, with fans drowning out Vedder on the chorus to most of the 32 numbers. Pretty clearly the crowd in the house both understands and appreciates Pearl Jam’s underlying ethos.

None of the community-bonding spirit and tribe-around-the-bonfire camaraderie would happen of course if it weren’t for the fact that Vedder and the band are so damned entertaining. They’re disciplined show biz pros who completely understand the value of simultaneous physical and emotional fun in creating a mass mindset. There’s good money in fun alone, less in messages about personal and public morality. But the act that can blend the two lives in rare company.

Personally, I really do try to check myself before launching into a righteous-geezer tirade against vapid, cutie-pie/pin up pop stars, factory-stamped “country” acts all with the same t-shirts and big hats, misogynist, self-adulating rappers and the endless outpouring of essentially soulless entertainers desperate most for the perks of fame. That sort of thing is too easy. Fish in a barrel. Not to mention a cliche.

Better to acknowledge the rare act that believes in something beyond itself and has the vitality and chops to deliver it night after night (Pearl Jam does it all over again in Milwaukee this evening). A purpose — “evolution, baby” as Vedder sings — beyond mere cash flow was a central tenet of the music that allegedly shaped several generations, meaning Bob Dylan, Bob Marley on through Springsteen and U2. At least that’s the way fans of the form like to remember it, and be reminded of it.

Although, that said, the lines for the Pearl Jam merchandise tables were nearly as long as for the toilets.



Conservative Pressler Would Ban Abortions, While 68% of South Dakotans Support Keeping Them Legal

In an increasingly interesting and competitive U.S. Senate campaign in South Dakota, former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, now running as an Independent, is consistently portrayed by the news reporters as a “moderate.”

It’s ludicrous to characterize Pressler as a “moderate.” After all, his most recent votes in the U.S. Senate were 100% against women, teachers, students, gays and workers, he has voted for cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and he stilll speaks out about wanting to cut those programs even more in the future.

Pressler_Would_Overturn_Roe_Vs_Wade_-_YouTubePressler has also said in no uncertain terms during this current campaign that he would make abortion illegal.
Not regulated, mind you.  Not scaled back.  Illegal.  He would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that has kept abortion a legal option since 1972.

After Pressler banned abortions, he would allow states to make abortion legal again if they choose, but we all know that many states would keep abortion illegal, and make millions of women into criminals and victims of botched back alley abortions.

Even in a red state like South Dakota, banning abortion is not a mainstream position.  In the most recent polling I could find on this issue, a Sioux Falls Argus Leader survey, only 25% of South Dakotans say that abortion should be illegal.

Instead, an overwhelming 68% of South Dakotans want to keep abortion legal, either “legal and the decision to have an abortion should be made by the woman without government interference (34%),” or “legal but restricted to very specific circumstances, such as rape, incest or to save the life of the mother (34%).”

This idea that the news media mindlessly calls anyone who camouflages themselves with an “Independent” label a “moderate” shows just how shallow political reporting has gotten.  Politicians who make abortion illegal, cut Social Security and Medicare and vote 100% against women, teachers gays, students and workers are hardly “moderate.” They are, by any reasonable definition, on the far right.

– Loveland

Affleck v. Maher. Traditional Liberal Meets 2.0

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterFinally, a debate both worth having and worth listening to.

And obviously I’m not talking about either the Governor or Senate “debates” here in Minnesota. Until they give awards for bland and stultifying the four main combatants in those fights will go unrewarded and ignored for their powers of inspiration. (See Joe’s post on that issue.)

But the face off between Bill Maher and actor Ben Affleck on Maher’s HBO show last weekend was a far .. far … more provocative beast. Week in and week out Maher’s panel is invariably the most compelling “debate” moment on TV, for the simple reason that unlike the DC talk shows, “Meet the Press”, etc., his cast of characters doesn’t include John McCain and glaze-inducing, market-tested “messaging” gets slapped down with unabashed glee. (Here’s a link to a Salon follow-up with Maher.)

The topic last weekend was the liberal misconception that being a liberal means being open and accepting of anyone’s beliefs, without skepticism or criticism. The fact that Affleck missed that point and leapt immediately to charges of racism is what made the moment so interesting. Liberal v. liberal. Hollywood traditional variety v. envelope-tearing.

Specifically, Maher and atheist author Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”, which I highly recommend), were arguing the point that while, yes, organized religion in general is not something they regard as, shall we say, an evolutionary advantage, Islam is a particular problem. Arguably the most conservative of all the world’s major religions, with exclusion, restriction and intolerance toward women, gays and non-believers baked (or widely misinterpreted) into its central tenets, Islam’s propensity to affirm violence currently compares with the worst excesses of Christianity, Judaism and whatever else, which for those up on The Inquisition, the Crusades and the routine invocations of God at every call to battle is really saying something.

Maher and Harris make the point that being a liberal means having a responsibility to identify and speak out against intolerance in whatever form it appears, even when it comes wrapped in the supposedly sacrosanct cloak of another person/culture’s “faith”, i.e. whatever they choose to believe. Affleck the Hollywood heavyweight, instinctively playing the mass audience card, lost barely a second conflating this argument with racism and white fear of inherently violent, gun-wielding blacks.

You can watch the interaction for yourself, but what is on display is very traditional liberal thinking (Affleck’s), where true liberals take a maternal attitude toward all cultures and beliefs, essentially on the grounds that it is antithetical to “liberal values” to making large scale criticisms of any culture (Islam being more culture than race, despite Affleck’s knee jerk inter-mingling with racial bigotry). Put another way, freedom of religion means that if they say they’re doing it because they believe it is the word of God who are we to disagree?

By contrast Maher and Harris are arguing, what for them at least, and I tend to agree, is a kind of Liberalism 2.0. An upgrade in both critical thinking and public courage that says today’s liberals, fully cognizant of science, evolution, modernity and an inter-connected planet, have a responsibility to call out intolerance wherever they see it, regardless of its time-honored, “divinely-ordained” trappings and self-righteousness.

I don’t hear either Maher or Harris arguing for some kind of secular jihad against Muslims. Far from it. Respite from the millennia of religion-sanctioned violence is their overall objective.

What they are saying is that if you are as committed to the full rights of women and minorities as you say you are, you seize opportunities to argue that suppressing those rights is never acceptable. As in anywhere by anyone, a professed religiosity be damned. This applies to cynical cultural/religious conservatives in the United States and no less cynical, self-serving mullahs abroad.

The ironic bind, which makes liberals of Affleck’s ilk jump the tracks, is that a call for a reasoned, sustained protest against religious-inspired intolerance sounds like a call for  … intolerance.

And that is part of what makes this debate so interesting and vital. It would do liberals a world of good to argue out this point.

Where is The Vision of “Progress” From Minnesota Progressives?

Can someone please tell me what Governor Mark Dayton, Al Franken and the DFL Legislature plan to do with another term in office?  Because I have no earthly idea.

I know what they have done in the past, and it’s impressive – an improved economy, health care system, and fiscal outlook.

franklin_roosevelt_new_deal_campaign_button-_Google_SearchBut progressives are also supposed to lead the way forward.  The dictionary says a “progressive” is “a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.”

Where is the “new” part?  Where is the “advocating” part?

It’s entirely possible that I’m not paying close enough attention, because this campaign season is putting me to sleep.  But I can’t discern where these top DFLers propose to take Minnesota.

  • ACHIEVEMENT GAP PROGRESS?  For instance, the education achievement gap is a morally shameful and economically perilous problem.  What specific solutions does the DFL offer that are sufficiently bold to at least narrow that persistent gap?
  • CLIMATE CHANGE PROGRESS?  Climate change is the most urgent problem of our times, and Minnesota remains hopelessly addicted to dirty coal-fired power plants and cars dependent on environmentally destructive fracked petroleum.  I know the DFL supports more renewables and less fossil fuels, but how exactly are they going to realign financial incentives to make that more of a reality, and not just rhetoric.
  • COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY PROGRESS?  College is increasingly important for earning a good living, and increasingly out-of-reach for middle- and lower-income families.  What progressive ideas does the DFL offer to address this important challenge?
  • RETRAINING PROGRESS?  Many unemployed and underemployed workers lack the career skills to thrive in a fast-changing economy.  While increasing the minimum wage and funding job-creating bonding projects are great steps, what specific education and training help does the DFL offer to help those workers adjust to our economy’s new normal?

Does the DFL have a “secret plan” for more progress on any of these issues, like the secret plan President Nixon promised to end the Vietman War?  If so, why is it secret?    I just finished watching the PBS televention series about the Roosevelts, and I was reminded that Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor reaped political rewards by fearlessly advocating for bold solutions to society’s toughest problems.

Again, Minnesota DFLers  have earned reelection.  They have a strong record of paying back schools, implementing reforms that have a record 95% of Minnesotans with health insurance,  improving tax fairness, increasing the minimum wage, passing marriage equality, funding job-creating infrastructure improvements, delivering all-day kindergarten, and balancing the budget on-time, in a fiscally responsible way.  That’s very impressive work, at a time when extreme Tea Party-backed Republicans have offered only mindless obstructionism.

But we live in an impatient “what have you done for me lately” world.    To prevent an electoral setback a few weeks from now, DFLers need to fire up their progressive base enough to get them to vote at higher rates than they typically do in non-presidential year elections.  And in terms of a bold new progressive way forward, Minnesota DFLers haven’t offered much to fire them up.

– Loveland

Note:  This post also was also published by MinnPost.

Strib Does Great Adrian Peterson Reporting, Then Buries It In 40th Paragraph

Star_Tribune_Peterson_articleThe Star Tribune’s Mike Kaszuba, Rochelle Olson and Paul McEnroe did outstanding investigative reporting in today’s paper, raising important questions about the operations of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s charitable foundation, the All Day Foundation.

The majority of the article focused on other issues in Peterson’s past that had been spotlighted in the news media, but had not been aggregated into one article.   I have followed Peterson’s career fairly closely, and had forgotten about many of those issues, so the the aggregation itself was a service to readers.   Though the Vikings work hard to promote Peterson as a model citizen, the article points out that that characterization has been overstated.

While most of those issues were old news, the portion of the article about Peterson’s charitable foundation broke new ground.  In case you missed it, as many Minnesotans probably did, here it is:

Peterson’s indictment has also thrown a spotlight on his charity, Adrian Peterson’s All Day Foundation, which focuses on at-risk children, particularly girls. The charity shut down its website following the September indictment.

The charity’s 2011 financial report showed $247,064 in total revenue, and listed just three organizations that received money. A fourth outlay, entitled simply “clothing for needy families,” listed “unknown” for the number of recipients.

In 2009, the charity said its largest gift, $70,000, went to Straight From the Heart Ministries in Laurel, Md. But Donna Farley, president and founder of the Maryland organization, said it never received any money from Peterson’s foundation. “There have been no outside [contributions] other than people in my own circle,” said Farley. “Adrian Peterson — definitely not.”

The East Texas Food Bank, based in Tyler, said it received money from Peterson’s foundation in 2009, although the foundation’s tax filing for the year listed just one donation to a food bank — the North Texas Food Bank, based in Dallas.

Colleen Brinkmann, the chief philanthropy officer for the North Texas Food Bank, said that while her agency partnered with Dallas Cowboys players, she could not recall ever getting money from the All Day Foundation.

For some reason, this portion of the Star Tribune story didn’t appear until the 40th paragraph of the story.  It didn’t get the stand alone story such a new revelation deserves.  It didn’t get in the headline.  It didn’t get into the first 39 paragraphs of the story.

So, is that end of it?  Doubtful.  Because while many Star Tribune scanners probably didn’t make it that far into the tome, it’s a safe bet that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) did.

- Loveland

Haunted by Nickelback

Lambert_to_the_Slaughteri don’t really know anything about Nickelback, but Google is convinced I do.

If you are as uninformed (not to mention as culturally deprived) as I am, Nickelback, “… a bunch of fatuous frat boys” to quote one reviewer, has earned a reputation as “the worst band in the world”. Says Steven Hyden at Grantland, “After forcibly ingesting The Best of Nickelback Volume 1 for professional (or perhaps sadomasochistic) purposes, I can affirm from personal experience that this band’s music sucks. (Or, more accurately, suuucks.)4 Nickelback distills every cliché about bad white-guy durr music in a convenient one-stop package — the vocals bellow like an excavator tongue-kissing a gravel pit and the riffs sputter like amplified lit farts.”

So in other words … really bad.

Personally, I’m not aware of ever hearing one note of any of Nickelback’s (allegedly) turgid, derivative anthems. Although something loud and horrible was playing at a trucker bar in Ajo, Arizona last winter. All I know is that Nickelback’s name comes up every time a conversation turns to “really shitty music”.

So a couple months ago I’m over at MPR interviewing The Current’s program director, Jim McGuinn, and as a way of wrapping up I ask him if there’s any band who’ll probably never get airtime on his eclectic pop music station? As he mulls his choices I tossed out Nickelback’s name, to which he laughed and said, “only in some highly ironic context.”

With that, I go home, open Google Docs and transcribe my interview with McGuinn, including the line about Nickelback, which is then published at MinnPost.

That’s the beginning. middle and end of my interest in Nickelback. But it’s only the beginning of what Google believes is a ravenous hunger on my part for all things Nickel and Backy, because within days, and ever since, whenever I open Google on my Google Nexus 5 phone I’m greeted by breaking news, gossip and marketing touts about … Nickelback. Nickelback tour dates. Nickelback set lists. Nickelback-licensed emesis bags.

Clearly, Google’s algorithms are convinced I’m a Nickelback fetishist. The kind of sad, pathetic bastard who’ll buy one ticket to a Nickelback show, (because what Nickelback fan could ever get a date?), park himself in the front row and yell himself hoarse demanding a 20-minute guitar solo off their greatest hit … assuming I knew the title of even one of their (alleged) songs … much less their greatest “hit”.

And that’s Google’s interpretation of my cultural interests it is sending to me. I can only wonder what impression of me the uber Cloud is peddling to the multitude of social and commercial interests tapping Google’s servers for access to the highly-sought-after 63 year-old white male suburbanite power washing his driveway while listening to Nickelback demographic. The way this is going, I truly expect Christmas-season discount offers for Nickelback hoodies, framed/concert-used Nickelback guitar picks and Nickelback-sanctioned douche bags, (since “douche bag” and “Nickelback” seem to be synonymous among the pop music cognoscenti.)

As much as I tell myself to laugh it off — and ignore the taunts of buddies to whom I’ve told this story — the experience only aggravates my aggravation at the cyber monitoring, analyzing and “repurposing” of my private information. Looked at through another lens, I cannot imagine hooking myself up to an iWatch or cloud-based health-monitoring system, or, were I not married, disgorging every quirk, kink and appetite of my personality into some on-line dating site, which as “60 Minutes” recently showed, is then harvested by literally hundreds of parasitic re-sellers.

It’s bad enough that I know about my issues with powdered wigs and mink whips. i don’t need offers from Amazon and The Smitten Kitten.

But hey, rock on, Nickelback.

Will Bakk Building Put DFL Back Out of Power?

While Minnesota DFLers controlled state government the past two years, they have done some very constructive things:

  • TRULY BALANCED BUDGET.  Unlike their GOP predecessors, DFLers balanced the budget without relying on irresponsible gimmicks and shifts, and they paid back public schools for the money the GOP shamefully “borrowed” from them.
  • TAX FAIRNESS.  The DFL also restored a bit of tax fairness to an unfair system, by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans who were paying a lower percentage of their income in taxes than other citizens.
  • 5 G’s.  Importantly, DFLers didn’t get bogged down with issues associated with “the five G’s” — gays, guns, gambling, God and gynecology — which tend to dominate under GOP control.  DFLers enacted marriage equality swiftly and efficiently — a very historic and important achievement — then moved on to other important non-G business.
  • ALL-DAY K.  DFLers passed universal all-day kindergarten.  While that’s not the first education investment I’d prioritize, it is a constructive move, and a publicly popular move.
  • JOBS AND INFRASTRUCTURE.  The DFL authorized and funded a long list of needed capital improvement projects that are rebuilding Minnesota’s deteriorating infrastructure and putting long-suffering construction workers back to work.
  • NO DELAYS OR SHUTDOWNS.  Finally, the DFL got its work done on time, and didn’t shut down state government, as the previous GOP-controlled Legislature did. DFLers mostly governed like grown-ups.

That’s a very nice body of work for the DFL to showcase to voters.  They should be proud of it.

If DFLers lose control of all or some of state government, it likely will have had to do with environmental factors they can’t change , such as low DFL constituency turnout in a non-presidential election and an unpopular Democratic President.  Their policymaking performance will not be their biggest political problem.

Minnesota_Senate_office_buildingBut there is at least one policymaking unforced error that is making things a bit more difficult for the DFL — the DFLers authorization of a new Senate office building.

The new Senate office building project is nowhere near as wasteful as Republicans claim.  It also is nowhere near as necessary as Senate DFLers claim.  But one thing is indisputable:   The political optics of the project are bad for the DFL during the election season.

Attack_mailing_PDF__1_page_Most voters won’t do a comprehensive financial analysis of whether DFL leaders are doing a good job stewarding their tax dollars.   They will judge fiscal stewardship based on an isolated example or two.  Republicans are working overtime to make sure that the Senate Office Building is the example voters use to make their judgement.

The Senate office building works well for the GOP on a political level.  First, the building is built for legislators by legislators.  On its face, that seems self-serving and arrogant to many voters.  Minnesotans don’t take kindly to self-serving and arrogant.

Second, this is not a pole building, and therefore can be made to seem extravagant.  The building renderings strike me as modest, responsible and utilitarian, but demagogues are making the Senate office building seem like something akin to Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea.

The issue is obviously being overblown by Republicans.  This project represents only a small fraction of the entire state budget, and the argument for the building is strong, if you actually take the time to study and consider it.  But at-a-glance, voters perceive the building to be self-serving and extravagant, and Republicans realize most will voters only consider the issue at-a-glance.

In what is likely to be a close non-presidential election with little room for error, the DFL legislators can’t afford many unforced errors.  Choosing this year to build the new Senate office building is one very big unforced political error.

– Loveland

Where the Commissioner Meets the Archbishop

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterJust as every crisis presents opportunities for change, every scandal is a moment ripe for reconsidering conventional wisdom.

The NFL’s off-field domestic violence mess has inspired quite a lot of fascinating, long-overdue reflection on the role of a shrewdly marketed business enterprise that has truly made itself a major pillar of our culture, a bona fide secular religion as faith-based in its own way as any church.

Watching the Ray Rice-to-Adrian Peterson et al debacle unfold, with all the pathetic prevaricating of Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s sycophantic apologists has reminded me over and over again of the sex-abuse ridden Catholic Church, particularly here in Minnesota, as it is led by another wholly disreputable, discredited leader, Archbishop John Nienstedt. Both entities have wrapped themselves in vestments of impregnable propriety. Both have enabled abuse and both are now conducting “sham investigations”. Here’s Madeleine Baran at MPR on the Archdiocese, and our old friend Keith Olbermann at ESPN.

Likewise, the appalling behavior(s) of their respective employees followed by arrogant, tone-deaf official response now has both institutions in a similar situation, where the faithful — not all, but an influential minority capable of critical thought — are actively reexamining the faith and money they’ve invested in each. A reassessment long, long overdue IMHO.

A couple weeks back I read a terrific piece on the psychological appeal of the NFL for American men. I thought it was posted at Grantland, but damned if I can find it there any now. So, my apologies to the author, who took the power and profanity of the NFL to a higher, significantly more illusion-rattling level, by exploring just what exactly the league is selling.

The bottom-line of a very thoughtful piece is that the NFL, and really football everywhere in modern America, is one of the final, protected realms of unfettered masculinity, where men (and boys aspiring to be “men”) are encouraged and rewarded for performing as men “must” and “should” to achieve success. Obviously, since football is an entertainment this heretofore manly safe room is passed on/marketed as a fantasy for those who can’t play, but embrace it vicariously, feeling and asserting male privilege by adjacency.

Clearly, this line of thinking is way too touchy-feely and psycho-babbly for mass consumption. But the writer continued on to the make the salient point that the contact high men get off football, the wildly successful NFL in particular, isn’t just confined the sad yobs in their Vikings jerseys scraping and bowing to a beaming Zygi Wilf as he leaves the Capitol with a sweetheart deal that stick the rubes with over $800 million in debt by the time the next stadium is paid off.

No. The psychological power of the league’s message also resonates deeply with the smart guys, the suits and politicians who crave the glow of power and success emitted by the league. Recall again local legislators cramming to get in the photo op with Commissioner Roger Goodell when he came to town to deliver his ultimatum to pick up the tab for the Vikings/NFL … or else.

The (very) monied class is no more immune to the adjacency-buzz given off by the NFL than blue collar couch potatoes. The only difference is that the wealthy experience a special tumescence and dampness over the NFL’s vise grip command of its message, market and balance sheet. Association with the NFL, via corporate suites and/or ludicrously over-priced ticket prices and personal seat licenses being a display of status so vital as to be irresistible to any “player” in the game of commerce.

As a matter of status and survival human nature is all about keeping score, and the NFL, until now at least, has asserted and sold unapologetic dominance like very few other cultural institutions … other than organized religions.

The third leg of the league’s marketing magic is of course the sports media, who daily, hourly, minute-by-get-a-life-minute provide free marketing lift for 32 of the wealthiest men in America. The completely routine whoring of some of the most “credible” names in the country and local communities is taking a corrosive beating.

Here’s Stefan Fatsis on the worst offenders. Here’s another, from Dave Edwards at Deadspin. Fatsis makes the always pertinent appointment about the difference between “access reporting”, where one never pisses off the subject at hand and “accountability reporting” which, well, which is something other than PR work. Day-to-day business reporting could do well with a heavy injection of the latter.

As with the Catholic church (and several other ossified religious organizations) this kind of truth-telling and public-shaming is both long overdue and healthy. For cultures to evolve, no institution should be allowed immunity from accountability.

And I say this as a fan of football, pro football in particular. Before the domestic abuse mess I was telling my cousin, a 20-year college football coach, that I was ashamed of how much pro football I watched last season. Not because I felt guilty about getting whipped up over a bunch of steroidal wife beaters and child abusers, but because the game is so entertaining to watch I wasted way too much time watching instead of tending to the weekend honey-do list.

As a television entertainment pro football has pro soccer beat ten ways to one, even with the NFL’s ridiculous glut of commercials. (Soccer will never cut it in the US if a championship game amounts to 90 minutes of tapping the ball back and forth at midfield, “strategizing” for essentially a home-run hitting contest in a vaguely comprehended overtime.)

The primary appeal being the precision and balletic beauty of the passing game, not the “bone crushing” attempted decapitation of receivers stupid enough to run a crossing pattern.

The credulous faithful of both organized religion and pro football may be having a tough time accepting the criminality and gross arrogance of institutions so vital to their sense of personal value, but as the NFL tells a player reeling from yet another concussion, “You’re going to have man up, pal.”


Hope for Adrian Peterson

Adrian_Peterson_wavingAs I wrote the day I first saw photos of Adrian Peterson’s abused son’s bloody welts, and read of Adrian’s admissions, I don’t want to cheer for Adrian Peterson any time soon, for fear that the child abusers of the world will confuse the cheering as indifference about Adrian’s child abuse.

I don’t mean to be judgmental.  I’m certainly flawed, and am not qualified to judge.  I just believe that the community’s priority right now needs to be protecting abused kids, not protecting Adrian’s career or my favorite team’s season.  And fans wildly cheering an admitted child abuser this weekend in New Orleans wouldn’t have helped the cause of abused kids.  So I’m glad Adrian has been sidelined.

But none of this means that I’ve written off Adrian Lewis Peterson.  I haven’t.  I still have hopes for my former favorite player.  High hopes.  Here is what I hope:

adrian_peterson_child_woundsI hope that Adrian gets awesome help from great parenting coaches, so that he can learn that abusing his children is abusing his children.  Not “tough love.”  Not “discipline.”  Not “good parenting.”  Abuse.  It’s an overused cliche, but the first and most important step in fixing a problem really is admitting a problem.

After Adrian learns that truth, and comes to sincerely believe it, I hope he speaks out about what he has learned, so that his revelations might help other abusers look at their own behavior in a new light, and maybe cause them to get help too.

I hope Adrian makes it clear to the abusers of the world that a parents’ responsibility is to get parenting help and learn the evidence about what’s best for children, instead of mindlessly repeating their parents’ mistakes.

Adrian has one of the world’s most powerful messaging platforms in the world at his disposal, and so I hope some day he uses that platform to speak out constructively on this topic.

Through all of these actions, I hope that Adrian earns back the right to be with his children, so that they can have a positive male parent in their lives.  His kids deserve it, and Adrian does too, if he first earns their trust.

I obviously hope that Adrian never again physically harms a child, employing the famous discipline he has exhibited in the weight room, practice field and stadium in his kids’ lives.

In due course, maybe profession football will happen alongside Adrian’s evolution into a better parent.  Maybe it won’t.  But if Adrian does those things, the net good he will have done for his kids and other abused kids could some day outweigh the harm he has done.

And if he does that, I will cheer Adrian once again, more loudly than ever.  And I bet I won’t be alone.

But it’s all up to Adrian now.  Not Zygi Wilf.  Not Roger Godell.  Not the Vikings’ corporate sponsors. Not Adrian’s lawyer.  Not Adrian’s PR advisors.  Not the Texas judge.  Not the fans.

I still have hope for Adrian Peterson, and I bet even his most ardent critics feel the same way.  But at this stage, it’s up to Adrian.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin Roundup.

The Three S’s Of How Democrat Weiland Could Win The SD Senate Seat This Fall

Could a progressive Democrat really win the U.S. Senate seat in a bright red state that gave Mitt Romney 58% of the vote?

Maybe, because of an unprecedented aligning of the political stars.  Democratic South Dakota Senate candidate Rick Weiland is within 6 points of defeating  former Republican Governor Mike Rounds.  Remarkably, the extremely well-known former Governor Rounds has remained stuck for months at just 40 percent support.

If Weiland can remind moderates and progressives that former GOP U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, who is currently trying to sweet talk non-conservatives, has an extremely conservative voting record, Weiland could win the seat with under 45 percent of the vote.  Because independent candidates’ support typically shrinks in the closing days of a campaign, peeling away Pressler’s non-conservative support is certainly within Weiland’s grasp.

In South Dakota?  How could that be?  There are three primary reasons:

  • Pressler_Reagan_BushSEGMENTATION.  First, there’s simple electoral math.  There are three prominent conservative GOP officeholders  on the November ballot — a former GOP state legislator with Tea Party support (Gordon Howie), former GOP Governor (Mike Rounds) and former GOP U.S. Senator (Larry Pressler).  That divides South Dakota conservatives in three, which is thrice as nice for the lone Democrat on the ballot.
  • Rick_Weiland_311_townsSHOE-LEATHER.  Second, by all accounts Weiland is running circles around his opponents.  In recent months, Rick “Everywhere Man” Weiland became the first candidate in South Dakota history to campaign in all 311 South Dakota towns, many of them multiple times.  In a state with only a few hundred thousand voters, those personal connections, and the work ethic they represent, matter.  Meanwhile the embattled Rounds has been jetting around the nation raising money from wealthy non-South Dakotans, and staying away from debates, while the long-retired Pressler has kept his nostalgia tour on a relatively leisurely schedule.
  • Rick_Weiland_EB-5_adSCANDAL.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is something called EB-5. EB-5 is a federal program that lets wealthy foreign businesspeople cut to the front of the green card line, if they fork over a half million dollars to a local business venture.    The “auctioning citizenship” aspect of EB-5 is extremely unpopular in itself, and Rounds administered South Dakota’s version of EB-5 in a way that allowed a Rounds supporter to run the program, hire himself to profit from the program that he was running, and screw up the program in ways that are incompetent at best and criminal at worst.  The result:  State and federal investigations, a steady stream of news media probing and red hot criticism from politicians of all parties, all aimed at the besieged Rounds.

For Democrats desperate for U.S. Senate electoral wins in a tough political environment, it’s quite possible that this equation could work:  Segmentation + Shoe-leather + Scandal = Senate Seat.  It could happen, if Weiland is able to raise enough money to get his message out and defend himself down the home stretch.

– Loveland