Where Are All Of Minneapolis’s Dead Birds?

By my count, the 35 tallest buildings in Minneapolis have about 1,200 stories, and all of them have a lot of windows, if not solid glass walls.   That’s a lot of glass.

minneapolis_skyline

Vikings_stadiumThe new Minnesota Vikings Stadium will be 30-stories at its highest point, and it has glass walls on part of it.   Therefore, bird advocates warn Minnesotans that the new stadium is going to be responsible for the death of about 1,000 birds per year, even with the lights turned off at night. So, they are demanding that the Vikings owners pay for polka dot windows, which apparently mitigates the birdocide, but is less beautiful to the Wilfs.

If that’s true, why don’t Minneapolitans currently see tens of thousands of dead birds lying around their glassy city?  That many bird corpses would be difficult to miss.  I’m very open to the possibility that this is simplistic thinking, but can someone explain where all the dead birds are?

Ad Agency Self-Gratification

South_Dakota_Yanks_‘Don_t_Jerk___Drive’_Campaign_--_NYMagA lot of us got a chuckle out of news that South Dakota public safety officials had launched, and abruptly aborted, a public education campaign about erratic driving practices. In case you missed it, the ad campaign used a double entendre– “don’t jerk and drive” — to caution South Dakota drivers to avoid jerking vehicle steering wheels too abruptly.  In the unlikely event that you don’t follow the entendre, think naughty and adolescent.

Entirely predictably, the residents of this no-nonsense midwestern state populated with plenty of senior citizens, religious people and conservatives didn’t appreciate the gag. After hearing from them, the state’s Department of Public Safety quickly jerked the campaign.

“I decided to pull the ad,” Trevor Jones, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “This is an important safety message, and I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”

Equally predictably, the ad industry is now indignant that their cleverness has not been sufficiently appreciated by shallow-minded outsiders. Ad Week opines:

The campaign, from Lawrence & Schiller in Sioux Falls, was apparently getting great visibility—outperforming previous public safety campaigns 25 to 1 in terms of driving traffic to the DPS’s social media channels, according to the Argus Leader.

Maybe it’s the DPS who overcorrected here.

Ah yes, the familiar rejoinder of seemingly every ad agency who has ever embarrassed their client. “But look at all the attention it got?!”

Wrong Kind of Attention Generated

If simple campaign gag awareness were the only goal of ads, advertising would be pretty easy. One would only need to slap naughty or outrageous images and/or references into ads, and watch the social media sharing spike, for all the wrong reasons.

This agency was paid to get South Dakota drivers to focus on erratic driving. Through a flurry of campaign-related discussion over the last few days, I heard no one talking about the nature of the problem of erratic driving.  I heard no one talking about the specifics about how to do better. Instead, I heard tons of tee-heeing about masturbation. I heard angry ranting about stupid, naive and wasteful government officials. I heard debates about whether this was good or bad advertising.

That’s attention, but it’s the wrong kind of attention.  All of those those topics distract and detract from the intended mission-oriented message.

Wrong Tone For This Sponsor

Beyond spotlighting the public service message, another goal of the ad agency should be to enhance, or at least maintain, the long-term credibility of their client as a messenger and recipient of public funding. After all, if a campaign causes an ad sponsor to become less credible or funded, they lose their future ability to pursue the public education parts of their mission.

In this case, the ad agency’s ads caused the DPS, and South Dakota state government in general, to be ridiculed by the taxpayers and policymakers they rely on to fund their current and future operations. So, the agency failed their client on that level too.

It’s obviously a very different situation if an agency’s client has a brand that is provocative and edgy by design, such as Abercrombie, Axe, or Armnai. But the tonality needs of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety could hardly be more different than the tonality needs of those brands.  Lawrence & Schiller probably wishes DPS was a more edgy client, but ad agencies get the clients they are handed, not the clients they wish for.

Appealed to Wrong Audiences

Sure, some loved the campaign. And if South Dakota were a state dominated by adolescents, irreverent hipsters, ad industry employees, or Europeans (because we are constantly being reminded by ad industry folks that the Europeans aren’t nearly as repressed and humorless as Americans), “don’t jerk and drive” would have been a brilliant approach.

But the population of South Dakota looks a little different than that.  Again, ad agencies get the target audience they are handed, not the target audience they wish for.  And frankly, for an ad agency to act otherwise is nothing more than, well, self-gratification.

Liberals Protesting Bad Cops Need To Take On Unions

i_can_t_breatheWhether or not you think there was probable cause to indict white police officers accused in Ferguson, Cleveland and/or Staten Island, most of us agree that those were cases of very bad police work. Police officers have a difficult job, but it’s reasonable for citizens to expect that officers avoid escalating confrontations and rushing to use deadly force.

Bad cops happen, just as bad doctors, lawyers, and accountants happen. They’re a relative minority, but some who become cops prove to be too hot-headed, racist, stubborn, sexist, power-hungry, sadistic, fearful, ignorant, impulsive, cynical and/or socially unskilled to protect and serve well.   Every profession faces competence issues, but it’s a more pressing and dangerous problem with a profession that we arm, authorize to use deadly force and almost never hold accountable after-the-fact.

Bad cops may be a small group, but they are a small group that can create big problems. For instance, Vox notes:

 WNYC looked at over 51,000 cases where someone was charged with “resisting arrest” since 2009. They found that 40 percent of those cases — over 20,000 — were committed by just 5 percent of all the police officers on the force. And 15 percent of officers accounted for a majority of all “resisting arrest” charges.

The upshot of this data is that charging people with “resisting arrest” is something most cops do very rarely, and a few cops do a lot. Here’s why that matters: if a cop is routinely hauling people into court for resisting arrest, he might be taking an overly aggressive attitude toward civilians.

A police officer might even, as police accountability expert Sam Walker told WNYC, use the criminal charge to cover up his use of excessive force:

“There’s a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover – and that phrase is used – the officer’s use of force,” said Walker, the accountability expert from the University of Nebraska. “Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.”

So why not just fire the relatively small group of bad cops who create big problems? A big reason is cop culture. Cops pride themselves in having each others’ backs, so they circle the wagons, even to the point of cover-ups, when one of their own is criticized. Police officers get overly defensive when they hear criticism from those who have never been in their shoes.

Outsiders probably can’t fix the problem with cop culture, but there is a part of the problem outsiders can fix.  Another reason bad cops don’t get fired is unions. In the name of job security, due process and fairness, unions make it more difficult to fire poor performers, as this Atlantic article details.

The solution? I agree with Atlantic author Connor Friedersdorf:

If at-will employment, the standard that would best protect the public, is not currently possible, arbitration proceedings should at a minimum be transparent and fully reviewable so that miscarriages of justice are known when they happen. With full facts, the public would favor at-will employment eventually.

I’m glad that liberals are protesting police abuse. But we need to also be pushing for at-will employment of police officers, or otherwise making it easier to remove bad cops, even if that upsets liberals’ union allies. If liberals are truly serious about reducing the number of abusive police officers on the streets, they can’t allow their solidarity with unions to continue to keep them from addressing this significant part of the problem.

Note:  This post also was published by MinnPost.

Why Are Cops Still Using Real Bullets?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne facet of the current outrage over hyper-aggressive, racially-focused police work isn’t getting much attention, but it keeps rolling back in my alleged mind. It’s this: Why, in 2014 USA is the average beat cop still exercising “lawful” force with live ammunition?

The spate of demonstrations and high emotion surrounding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice (the 12 year-old in Cleveland) incidents will subside soon enough, replaced in the public’s attention by some new atrocity, Christmas shopping or speculation of what Leonard DiCaprio was planning to do with 20 supermodels. But until then it’s worth asking the question, “Why haven’t police departments been required to transition to non-lethal ammunition?”

Its been an established fact for decades that the average cop goes his/her entire career without firing their weapon. Obviously, firearms are standard issue equipment for the exceedingly rare incident where the cop confronts some truly lethal perp/psycho. But even then, in those remarkably rare moments when a lone cop or two is caught by surprise, the preferred outcome is to render the suspect immobile and pack him off to jail for the courts to decide his fate.

In the (even rarer) case where the police are in pursuit of an indisputably violent, gun-wielding offender, a situation where back-up is usually called in, it isn’t impossible to switch over to a “live” gun stashed in the cop car … or just let the SWAT team take over.

Without question, the usual suspects, the NRA and its most ardent, imbalanced, gun-fetishizing supporters will howl that replacing death-dealing bullets with rubber bullets (which stun and hurt like hell, especially at short distances) or chemical darts is a new low in lunatic, liberal criminal-coddling, a neutering of the last barrier of flexing machismo between the thug class and the huddled, fearful masses.

The response to that, as always, should be “[bleep] them.” That crowd is as unstable as any street “thug”.

Polling shows a wide gap between what white America and black America think of aggressive policing. And yes, it does matter that the former has almost no experience with an insecure cop freaking out at the sight of you, or getting hostile when asked why the hell he’s getting in your face? For blacks, even suburban professionals, that’s a common occurrence, and one that gets exponentially worse in predominantly black neighborhoods.

This situation wouldn’t be as bad if the average police force had a better pool of police candidates to choose from. But you get what you pay for. At standard salary rates, cop shops don’t exactly have the luxury of culling through the cream of decision-makers.

The cop who killed little Tamir Rice in Cleveland, blasting away before he even got out his car, was regarded as so dismally ill-equipped to make good decisions he was let go from a small town force before catching on with Cleveland’s finest … which never looked at the details of his work history.

I quote his previous commander’s assessment: “ … he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation.”

Put bluntly, the guy was/is fundamentally unstable and in a sane world should never have been issued a gun permit, much less given what amounts to a license to kill.

Ditto Darren Wilson in Ferguson. A reading of the grand jury testimony paints a fairly clear picture of an insecure tough guy wannabe, his swagger bolstered by the goods on his hip. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of doubt left that Wilson incited the confrontation and then panicked when Brown (unwisely) told him to “[bleep] off.”

But had he, or the dimwit in Cleveland been firing rubber bullets or chemical darts, no one involved would be dead today, and the courts could have gone about their usual business of … exonerating the cops.

As for Eric Garner’s chokehold death on Staten Island, where would that story be if the cops weren’t on an arrest quota, a la “The Wire”? The guy’s back selling cigarettes. Write him a ticket and find something better to do.

Rolling Stone Failed the Basic Test

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s a maxim I like that says, “The art of good conversation is in knowing what not to say.” Somewhat along those lines we can add that the art of good editing is knowing what questions haven’t been asked.

As one of those whose coming of age coincided with the birth of Rolling Stone magazine, the University of Virginia gang rape story debacle has a personal edge to it. It’s hard to watch those for whom you once had great affection smear themselves with disgrace. While not exactly among the top tier of credible journalism — too many puff pieces of trendy, interchangeable pop stars with new product to sell — the magazine has retained its reputation for daring where others shrink back by regularly featuring people like Matt Taibbi, unquestionably the leading scourge of Wall Street fraud and manipulation.

But Taibbi and others of solid standing are going to be reevaluating their association with the magazine if Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s tale of a freshman woman being violently gang-raped in a UVA frat house completely dissolves down the drain, which is sure looks like it is about to do.

I only read the piece after it became a national cause celebre. But even as a consumer I was asking, “Where is the full reach-out to the alleged perps?”, “Who for sure knows this happened?” and “This poor girl was thrown through a glass topped table, then brutally gang-raped for hours and she has no signs of cuts or bleeding? What?”

Then came the flabbergasting explanations from Rolling Stone’s editors that they had “honored the victim’s request” not to talk to the men involved, out of concern for retaliation, supposedly. At that point the thick odor of cynical commercialism overwhelmed the episode. If you don’t have confirmation of the incident, you don’t have a story.

There’s enough interest that at some point in the not too distant future we may learn what really happened. My guess … guess … is that the victim, Jackie (apparently her real name), engaged in some kind of abusive sexual experience with someone(s) and fell into a depression over it. The way this thing is trending as of today suggests she very likely confabulated her experience/ordeal into something far more violent, with herself as an unequivocal victim.

At that point Erdely, shopping for a vivid, sensational story on which to build a case against big Universities for their ineffective sexual assault policies, seized on Jackie and then, as an advocate for Jackie’s search for justice, dialed out anything that might in any way weaken the story.

But how Rolling Stone, with a lot more to lose than one lone writer, consented to the terms of Erdely’s agreement with Jackie is beyond me, sort of. Taibbi has gone on record describing Rolling Stone’s fact-checking process as hellishly intense. But obviously intensity toward Erdely’s rape story was for all intents and purposes non-existent, since the editors were willing to dispense with full ascertainment of a charge of violent gang-rape against a group of young men whose identities have been readily speculated upon on the UVA campus and elsewhere.

Pretty clearly Erdely and Rolling Stone were looking for a blockbuster. This episode is a lot like their controversial, and I still say reprehensible cover of Boston marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There, the magazine cynically imbued the killer with celebrity sex symbol status for marketing impact. The story was solid. But the marketing was, as I say, nakedly cynical. (But hey, it doubled average newsstand sales. So what do I know?) Here, the irresistible impact of an outrageous story of a gang rape of a girl who could be anyone’s teenage daughter pretty clearly trumped the fundamental criteria of confirming if any of it is true.

Rolling Stone of course has a long history of marrying a well-told tale with semi-ascertainable facts. i mean, how much fact-checking did they ever really do on Hunter Thompson? His hilarious ramblings were of course 80% opinion and 20% figments of what was left of his imagination. Devoted readers knew what to take seriously and what was comic lubricant. But Hunter was ripping on venal politicians. He was not making stark assertions of violent gang rape.

If nothing else, Rolling Stone has a serious problem with Erdely and whoever her binky is in the editor’s suite. As we now know, a previous, sex-drenched saga from her developed a lot of serious holes after publication. And lest we forget, Erdely authored the 2012 feature on gay teenage suicides in “Michele Bachmann’s home district”. That one is holding water for the moment. But conservatives are on the attack.

The larger issue is that the culture needs more credible, popular outlets for investigative journalism, not less. Shameless freak shows like FoxNews will always draw a crowd and make money. The great trick of righteous indignation, like Matt Taibbi pulls off, and Erdely has projected, is getting it right.

 

 

 

Nostalgic for Nye’s.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterNot being all that big on nostalgia, I’m conflicted about the closing of Nye’s Polonaise. Like pretty much everyone who ever walked in, I love the place. If it was in New Jersey you could easily imagine a couple Joe Pesci-wannabes and their gumars hunkered in one of the banquettes. Slickly pompadoured dudes casually discussing whose skull was going next into the vise, while tapping their ring fingers to the polka music.

The vibe at Nye’s was/is “real”, as in earned, acquired and self-created. It exudes an emphatically male persona, which in itself is pretty nostalgic concept. There is no taint of being manicured, color and aroma-coordinated by some chirpy fashionista. What’s there, the red leather, the paneling, the carpeting and the bar was there before there “themes” were a prerequisite for opening for business. Nye’s pre-dates Irish-Asian fusion.

You walk in and the overwhelming impression is “authentic”. A sense that applies to the staff as well. Guys like bartender Dan (never learned his last name, nor he mine) make it feel like you were the guy he’s been looking forward to seeing for weeks, which worked well when you dragged in friends from out of town, or even a complete stranger, like the businessman from Phoenix we hauled over after a couple hours at Brit’s one deep January night.

I can’t make it sound like I live there. But the mere mention sparks a flood of memories. Christmas parties, mid-winter happy hours, going away cocktails, “business lunches”, (love the steak salad). The pleasantly boozed up sing-a-longs with Nordeast geezers and delighted U of M under-grads, half with fake IDs I’m convinced.

I actually believe the “authentic” vibe led to a better quality of conservation. Bullshit befits a bullshit theme watering hole. And it jars in a place that feels so genuine. But that’s just a theory. I’m still work-shopping that one.

It so happens Nye’s is currently owned by a shirtsleeve relative of mine, Rob Jacobs. He’s married to my cousin’s daughter. Nice guy. Only met him a few times, but I get his dilemma. The supper club era is over. The physical structure is kind of a mess and … there’s a fortune to be made in leveling it for a 30-story condo complex.

Apparently thought is being given to holding on to some aspect of Nye’s as the gilded tower rises on the site and fills with the sort of people who, well, advise developers and restaurateurs on what cultural imitation to ape next, what colors to paint it, what “active” music to pie in, how to dress the staff and where to stash cash flow to avoid taxes. But I doubt much will come of whatever they’re thinking other than a plaque in the lobby next to the condo concierge.

For a moment I thought it’d be worth trying the Manhattan trick of building over the joint. They pulled it off with a similar old bar, Reidy’s on 54th St in New York. And you figure it wouldn’t be so tough to yank out the banquettes and bar(s) and all the old photos and slap ‘em back into a new space, that wasn’t a firetrap. But really, that’s nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It wouldn’t be Nye’s. It’d be a calculated impression of Nye’s with as much visceral linkage to the Nye’s I love as a Six Flags arcade has to Dodge City of the Old West.

Not that nostalgia doesn’t sell. What is modern country music but a calculated nostalgia act? Simple guys. Simple gals. Simple truths. Ditto “classic rock”: Music to remind us of when we were young and on the prowl.

Likewise, what is the ceaseless stream of inane sit-coms on network TV but an appeal to nostalgia for an era (what era?) of uncomplicated, easily-sustained relationships? Or the dramas? Impossibly good-looking guys and gals solving twisty Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries in 42 minutes or less. And let’s not get too deep into politics, where every viable candidate is required to play a variation on June or Ward Cleaver. Or, God help us, organized religion, where nostalgia is cultivated and monetized by way of tribal fables two and three millennia old.

Point being, we’re practically drowning in nostalgia for things that either never were or were only briefly, and even then with little or no reality attached.

Still, a great bar is a kind of environmental device for pushing away the most intractable realities, if only for as long as it takes to knock back two or three drinks. And in that way I’ll celebrate Nye’s over the next few months, and then remember it with great fondness.

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Why Thanksgiving Is The Best Holiday

Hand_turkeyThere isn’t a whole lot to Thanksgiving. A day off, a parade, a big meal and a couple of usually boring football games. No breathtaking gifts, costumes, or fireworks.

So why do I love it more than all the other holidays?

Reason #1: It’s more universal and inclusive than many holidays. Religious holidays like Ramadan, Easter, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, and Yom Kippur are special for their respective practitioners.  But they aren’t experiences that we can share broadly with other friends, neighbors and co-workers. Not everyone embraces Thanksgiving, but it seems like it has more participants than religion-based holidays. Thanksgiving’s celebration of blessings and gratitude can be spiritual and/or secular in nature, whichever the celebrant prefers.  And in a tense pluralistic society, we need all the shared celebrations we can get.

Reason #2: It’s relatively non-commercialized. I make a big Thanksgiving meal for family and friends, but it doesn’t require weeks of preparation and a huge investment.   I also love Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July and Halloween, but the way some celebrate those holidays can be pretty expensive. For example, Americans now spend more than $7 billion per year on Halloween.  Thanksgiving, at least the way we do it, is relatively simple, affordable and approachable.

Reason #3: It’s nap-friendly. What other holiday are you allowed, expected even, to have a little shuteye mid-event? In a nation where lack of sleep is now considered a public health epidemic, a lazy, trytophan-laced holiday is awfully nice.

Reason #4: It’s effectively four straight days off. In the most overworked nation in the developed world, days off are precious commodities. For many, Thanksgiving delivers four consecutive days off.   How awesome is that? Not everyone gets a four day weekend out of the deal, but lots of people do, and that beats the heck out of all those one-day holidays.

Reason #5: Thankfulness makes us happy. The number one thing most of us want out of life is to be happy, and a day dedicated to contemplation about all of the blessings in our lives makes me very happy.  There is a lot of science proving that being less self-centered is effectively self-serving.

For example, this 7-minute video shows how contemplating gratitude makes us happier, and expressing gratitude to another person makes us happier still.  Watch it.  It’s a more meaningful Thanksgiving pre-game show than John Madden offers.

Science_of_Happiness_video

Thanksgiving isn’t perfect. Native Americans certainly have every reason to be resentful of uninformed pilgrim glorification, though that part of the holiday does seem to have faded from prominence over the years. Moreover, a decent meal remains beyond the reach of too many families, much less a feast.  We can make Thanksgiving better by adding more generosity and historical candor into the traditional recipe.  But all things considered, I’m always awfully thankful when Thanksgiving rolls around.

Note:  This post was also published in MinnPost.

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?

 

 

 

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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.

Loveland

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 streets.mn, Twin Cities Daily Planet, 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.