Letter From Home “Old-Timer’s Saying” 1/30/21

“Sure does feel stormy today.”

To me it was a fact given the brisk wind and moisture in the air, but also my way to break the ice as I gave my name to the young man who was to place the ordered groceries in the trunk of the car. He got my name but said he was not sure what I meant about a storm.

“You can feel the storm that is soon to arrive.”

He rather shrugged his shoulders and with a mask on there was no way to tell if he understood what I was conveying or just wishing to move along with his job.

As I stood outside my car, and some distance away to give him space, I heard the murmur of the winds in the trees that surrounded the neighborhood where the store is located. The fluffy snow that had fallen earlier this week was seeping off the store roof and blowing about so to make for a super-thin coating on a nearby sidewalk. I looked up at the cloudy gray skies as the occasional snow dusting from the roof landed on my hat and coat. It looked like and felt akin to the yesterdays of my youth.

That sifting movement of the snow was seen so often wafting off the roofs of our home and the ‘barn’ in Hancock. Hearing the wind in the trees I could almost see the tall pines of my youth, their snow-covered branches moving about as the winter gusts had their way.

And I thought about the young man, who was making the delivery of the groceries to the car, with my deep appreciation for his work during this pandemic. It probably did not register at all with him as to what a storm feels like. I have often encountered that people in an urban environment have a far different connection to weather than folks who live in the country. Having come from a rural upbringing that feel in the air, the clouds that are associated with the seasons, or the switch in wind direction were parts of our lives. Part of the reason for being so attuned was that decades ago people would follow the forecast and then shape their work projects around the weather.

I can recall countless times when weeding the garden was planned after the latest storm was to pass over as the wet ground would allow for the pesky plants to be ripped out with ease. Likewise, there was always a meal more suited for a stormy winter night where the warmth of the oven being on for hours would add to the comfort of the family home.

Those same patterns of living have followed me over the decades. Ham is slated for our home on the isthmus Sunday, and all the mundane projects–like picking up the groceries– are completed so that a nice winter day can be enjoyed. Though it should be noted, that in the past year of this virus driving to the store seems almost like an outing. That is either a mighty sad statement, or can be viewed as finding the upside in a different type of storm.

As a boy in winter, I loved to get bundled up and head outdoors. “Run around the house a few times and get rid of your energy” seemed to be repeated request from Mom. Or was that an order? One of the greatest thrills on really wintry days was to venture around the house and head in a southwesterly direction, from where some of the best winter storms came. Gathering moisture over the panhandle region and mixing with the cold air moving down from Canada were the essential ingredients for a massive snow event that might make central Wisconsin look like the perfect picture postcard.

I can still see the sky colored a grayish-dark blue and the horizon blurred with a foggy whitish hue. The blowing snow came in sheets and the blasts that drove them would take my breath away as I made the turn around the family home. I would struggle to reposition my head and gasp for a breath, and then again face the onslaught of wind and walk into the snow piles that drifted in the same place where summer picnics would have occurred the previous July.

It takes those types of experiences bundled over a lifetime that allows for a person to step off the front stoop, look upwards, feel the air, and know that it “Sure does feel stormy today.”

And so it goes.

Unbelievable Times As Marjorie Taylor Greene Does Everything But Spews Pea Soup In Public

The soft fluffy snow this week–over 8 inches–made for a most perfect Wisconsin winter scene. But if one turns to the headlines in the newspapers and on the evening broadcasts the pleasant mood is soon cast aside for reports of ‘Jewish space lasers’ and rewarding a president who undertook sedition to remain in office. I am not sure how massive of a blizzard would be required to place our attention, again, on winter landscapes.

At the center of why many people are rightly troubled is that in the face of members of Congress having their lives threatened from the attempted coup on January 6th, many Republicans are trying to have the lead instigator brought back into the fold for the midterm elections. Following the scenes as members of Congress huddled and crouched down for their safety about a month ago, a few truly disturbed (and disturbing) members want to carry concealed guns onto the floor of the House. on of these gun-toters made recorded personal threats about Democratic elected officials.

I grew up in a home where dad always told his children that at the end of the day all we have is our good name. I have thought about those words this week when learning of the latest outrageous comments from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Clearly, her dad did not stress the same life lessons in Georgia. News reports this week informed us Greene had advocated for the assassination of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former President Barack Obama, along with former secretaries of state John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. To top it off, for the party who wishes us to think they are always concerned about the ones who carry on the tasks of law enforcement, Greene also called for killing FBI agents.

When I write that I have no words to capture my response, well, in your mind can you offer one that meets the enormity of the lunacy from Greene?

While demonstrating she is too stupid to even be allowed with a blender–let alone a gun–Greene has also made it known she thinks that both the Sandy Hook slaughter of little kids in Connecticut and the murders of high school students in Parkland, Florida were staged. She has doubled down on her views that in our land there is a group, led by the opposition party, that kidnaps, kills, and drinks the blood of children.

But it was not until I had a late breakfast, and while watching the news, that I became aware of her latest conclusion. Greene has now claimed that the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish banking family that is popular targets for anti-Semites, were partly responsible for the California wildfires because of some tenuous connection to a satellite that she said was shooting lasers at the forests, setting them ablaze.

Scrambled eggs seemed most appropriate as a meal.

What I find most interesting and also most concerning is the absence of a majority within the GOP–or even anything near it–condemning the rancid, vile, insane, and outright putrid words and thoughts of Greene. In my world either you speak the truth or you have done nothing other than offer tepid support and worse yet, indifference.

When the loudest voice in the Republican House conference should have been standing up and making a moral call about Greene, he instead was kneeling in Florida to Trump. It was not what I would term ‘good optics’ to see Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy get mushy with the insurrectionist while placing Greene on the Education and Labor Committee.

I have lived a few decades–and more to the point paid attention–so when I talk of Congressman Gerald Ford, Robert Michel, or Dick Gephardt who presented the bipartisan maturity of minority leaders in the House it underscores how bereft of leadership the current caucus is with McCarthy. It was painful to watch as he flew to Trump, so to play to an autocrat-wanna-be, rather than deal with the internal fight eating at the soul of his party.

There seems to be a most concerted effort to make Trump center stage for the midterm elections, and McCarthy was clearly embracing such a strategy. The voters, come the midterms, may not be as creatively described as ‘Jewish space lasers’, but as 2020 proved they are accurate when showing their power. As such, Trump may prove to be an albatross to the party of the angry resentment-filled whites.

As for how to deal with Congresswoman Greene, I have an idea. I suspect one can be found in Fascist Brown.

Urban Milwaukee Published My Article About WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki

Today Urban Milwaukee published my article about the new White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki.

“The most important part of the job of any White House spokesperson is to have credibility. History shows how the words from that podium have made markets move, foreign leaders respond, and news-tickers beep in newsrooms around the country. There absolutely must be a seasoned, intelligent, and trustworthy individual in that role.”

Challenger Astronaut Ronald E. McNair Denied Library Books As A Black Kid

On January 28, 1986, NASA Challenger mission ended in tragedy when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after takeoff.  That day was one we all recall where we were, and what we did.  At the radio station where I was working,  WDOR, it was a non-stop day of news and information that included what I think was the best speech ever given by President Ronald Reagan.  There was not a dry eye at the station that evening as he delivered his text.

Onboard the shuttle was physicist Ronald E. McNair, who was the second African American to enter space. But first, he was a kid with big dreams in Lake City, South Carolina.   I want my readers to watch this and take it to heart.  I also want to thank Solly for alerting me to this video.

White Supremacist Extremists Threaten America

The unsettling news was dropped into my email box as I was writing a note to a friend about Mank, a recent Hollywood production aimed at recreating the magic of movie-making from decades ago. What I read in my email was no fictitious account of film-making magic for the big-screen. Rather, the news was simply a reminder of the dangerous times in which we live.

The Department of Homeland Security had just issued a threat bulletin, the email read, due to the potential for violence from extremists that object to the presidential transition, hold anti-government views, or are motivated by other false narratives. Only minutes earlier I had read a fast post on Facebook from someone who opined that “I think we need to bring back School House Rocks. Too many adults forget their history lessons.” I responded, “Or never learned them!”

There is no doubt that in our nation there exists a segment–and even a sizable segment–that is tethered to their conservative mindset, though unable to articulate it or define how it meshes with our pluralistic society. White people who feel they somehow have been treated shabbily and their culture undermined. They feel no way to compete in a world of diverse ideas and social realignments. They continually see college-educated people running workplaces and governing in urban centers where fewer ‘look’ and ‘act’ like they do at the local tavern and bowling alley.

Many have argued, and some even somewhat convincingly, that the cause of the white angst is rooted in economics. I would agree up to the point that economics is central to having solid educational opportunities, which clearly a large segment of the ones who act with violence against the government do not have. But at the heart of the white resentments is racism. From marching out in the open at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 to calling for the overthrow of the government at the “Stop the Steal” rallies there is a link to white supremacy which can not, and must not be avoided when it comes to understanding who makes up this larger group.

The attack on the Capitol was yet another chapter in this ugly history. It was a literal who’s who of modern right-wing extremism. Analysts from ADL’s Center on Extremism noted in the crowds Wednesday members of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government armed militia group. White supremacist and Groyper Army leader Nick Fuentes was present and joined fellow “America First” adherents in chants of “Christ is King!” Nearby, members of the white supremacist New Jersey European Heritage Association waved their group’s flag. Various individuals carried banners of Kekistan, a fictional country invented by right-wing enthusiasts on 4Chan, or the stars and bars of the Confederacy.

This blog has continuously denounced the race-baiting politics that took place since Donald Trump took an escalator down to a microphone where he uttered racial animus while announcing his bid for president. (That was one of the few sentences on my blog where his name and the word president appear together.) The fact that a White House was the source for racial sentiments expressed with a bullhorn, and then also used as a venue to spread absolutely false notions about the recent election has spurred those with too little education or moral grounding to now threaten insurrection.

We only need to put recent events into a quick context to grasp the level of racism that is at work. By now we are all aware of the terrorist who stole House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop. Riley June Williams, the 22-year-old woman planned to sell it to Russia. We are also aware that this criminal has been released on her mom’s assurance that she will be good from here forward.

We know precisely what the result of such a national strike at our government would look like if it were a Black person who wanted to strike a deal with a Russian agent for the Speaker’s computer! First off, there would be the million-dollar bail.

The people who stormed the seat of our national government, who now have created enough leads on social media threads and dark channels to make today’s bulletin necessary from DHS, must not be viewed as just errant members of society. They have been schooled for years within the echo chamber of mental rot, conservative talk-radio to Fox News at night, where messages that whites are being undermined by diversity and ‘cultural elites’ are pushed and then repeated ad-nauseam . How should we interpret the ‘war on Christianity’ other than the outcome of a continuous false narrative aimed to arouse the lowest educated in the land? The same tools of persuasion among this segment of the nation are used for racial stoking, too.

Our nation is all too well aware of the horrors from the Ku Klux Klan and their kindred cousins. We have often termed them as our nation’s original terrorists. Over the past years, we have plenty of proof to see those remnants of that most of un-American scourges is finding new ways to again make headlines. Too many in the Republican Party simply will not speak out about this racism as they do not wish to offend the racists in their own base.

Chicken or the egg argument all over again!

And so it goes.

Radio ‘Schools’ During Pandemic

When the COVID pandemic struck hard last winter my first question to a friend, who is a public school teacher in Madison, was how youngsters who relied on lunches and food from our schools would be impacted.  I was heartened to learn how those students were not falling through the cracks by receiving meals.

As the months passed along, however, all of us were focused on how the closure of schools due to the virus impacted students, the learning process, and as the Wisconsin State Journal reported above the fold today, how graduating seniors are filing fewer federal aid request forms.

Roughly three months into the financial aid application cycle, the number of Wisconsin high school seniors who have completed the FAFSA is down 13% from the same time last year, according to U.S. Education Department data analyzed by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), a nonprofit trying to close equity gaps in higher education.

The decline is even worse at schools that serve a large number of low-income students and students of color.

Clearly, there is a growing amount of data to demonstrate school closures stymie the learning and development of students. My husband was a college professor for many years in this city.  He has noted the challenges which instructors will face when the next school term starts without students having become proficient with this year’s classwork.  In addition, comes the reality that the economic disparity is playing havoc with remote teaching across our nation.

Today a most interesting article was sent to me from Christine, a friend, and reader. It underscores that the issue of pandemics and long-distance learning is not new. The fact our nation was not preparing for such a time as we now find ourselves is the question that screams for an answer.

In 1937, a severe polio epidemic hit the U.S. At the time, this contagious virus had no cure, and it crippled or paralyzed some of those it infected. Across the country, playgrounds and pools closed, and children were banned from movie theaters and other public spaces. Chicago had a record 109 cases in August, prompting the Board of Health to postpone the start of school for three weeks.

This delay sparked the first large-scale “radio school” experiment through a highly innovative – though largely untested – program. Some 315,000 children in grades 3 through 8 continued their education at home, receiving lessons on the radio.

By the late 1930s, radio had become a popular source of news and entertainment. Over 80% of U.S. households owned at least one radio, though fewer were found in homes in the southern U.S., in rural areas and among people of color.

In Chicago, teachers collaborated with principals to create on-air lessons for each grade, with oversight from experts in each subject. Seven local radio stations donated air time. September 13 marked the first day of school.

Local papers printed class schedules each morning. Social studies and science classes were slated for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were devoted to English and math. The on-air school day began with announcements and gym. Classes were short – just 15 minutes – providing simple, broad questions and assigning homework.

The objective was to be “entertaining yet informative.” Curriculum planners incorporated an engaging commercial broadcasting style into the lessons. Two principals monitored each broadcast, providing feedback to teachers on content, articulation, vocabulary and general performance. When schools reopened, students would submit their work and take tests to show mastery of the material.

Sixteen teachers answered phone calls from parents at the school district’s central office. After the phone bank logged more than 1,000 calls on the first day, they brought five more teachers on board.

News stories reporting on this novel radio school approach were mostly positive, but a few articles hinted at the challenges. Some kids were distracted or struggled to follow the lessons. There was no way to ask questions in the moment, and kids needed more parental involvement than usual.

This blog, in one way or another, continually stresses education.  Too often posts on CP need to underscore what happens when a lack of education is demonstrated.  I have blasted those who demean education, the teaching profession, and paying the bill to make sure we instruct our future generations.  Now we need to up that verbal game, given the awareness of stunning shortcomings that have been exposed as a result of this pandemic.

We have learned just how unprepared we are to meet the educational challenges. When it comes to our school-age kids the deep economic inequalities are glaring.  We see which school districts have funds for the infrastructure so to allow for the devices and bandwidth.  We see where parents have the luxury to be at home and direct at-home education of their kids.

And we also see where the tax base is not anywhere sufficient to afford the needed means for a sizable segment of our youth to get the education they also should expect during a crisis.    

Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki Brings Credibility To The Podium

Doug Mills/The New York Times

There are countless reasons why our nation needed a change of White House administrations. From climate change, trade, and immigration the issues that require a new direction are topics we talk about in our families and editorial writers offer ideas about in newspapers. One topic that gets less attention from the rank-and-file, but nonetheless is very basic to the way we interact with a White House, and an administration with us, is how information flows concerning the actions of a president.

There was no way not to be pleased and encouraged when President Biden’s Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki, upon taking the podium in the press room for the first time mere hours after the inauguration, made a very straightforward statement. The press operations of this White House would place emphasis on “truth and transparency”. She made it clear that even facts will again be a part of what is imparted to reporters.

“I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press. We have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”

I warmed to Psaki’s candor when saying at times that she didn’t have an answer and would get direct answers to reporters’ questions from people who had the specific information. How refreshing!

What struck me, also, was her simple statement that there will be daily briefings. The working press of the White House will again be treated as the professionals they are, and though the normal tensions will, and must, exist between the two sides one thing has become clear from the first week of Psaki at the helm. She wishes to have this part of the White House return to a normal atmosphere, too.

The White House Pressroom is located just steps from the office of the press secretary to the president. The relationship between White House reporters and the leader of our nation, regardless of political party or decade, is often tense and difficult.  To provide our democracy with the information, insight, and analysis needed for citizens to be able to evaluate the direction of the nation a robust press corps needs to probe and question all our leaders. That often makes every White House uncomfortable.

But that is one price of attaining power that each president must deal with.  The fact that reporters unearth and report on issues that otherwise would never come to light such as the Pentagon Papers in the 1970’s, or the eavesdropping story during President Bush’s presidency underscores the need for an energized press as they report and help secure the foundations of our nation.  The press in our nation is as much a part of why we are free today as the soldiers in uniform.

We often forget that fact.

The Press operations of a White House should never be a tool to make the president look good as each of Donald Trump’s press secretaries demonstrated. In 2017 Politico summed up the short-lived and dreadful experience of Sean Spicer, the first person to hold the job in the Trump term, by writing how he was treated on Saturday Night Live. “— in which a belligerent Spicer was spoofed by a gum-chomping, super soaker-wielding Melissa McCarthy in drag.”

The most important part of the job of any White House spokesperson is to have credibility.  History shows how the words from that podium have made markets move, foreign leaders respond, and news-tickers beep in newsrooms around the country. There absolutely must be a seasoned, intelligent, and trustworthy individual in that role.

And press secretaries must be seen as having self-dignity. As an example, from Spicer’s first full day on the job when sparring with reporters about the size of the inauguration crowds–in spite of facts that showed the exact opposite–he lost that one thing that was not recoverable. He was told what to do by Trump, and instead of doing what a solid-minded person in the role of spokesperson should have done–provide honest information–Spicer instead took the road of lies and landed into his own self-created mess.  In the process, he became a national joke. The very first time that Spicer said one thing to the press only to have minutes later Trump take a contradictory position is when the spokesman should have walked into the Oval Office and laid down the law.

It never was any better for the others who followed in that role. Neither Sarah Sanders nor Kayleigh McEnany desired to do the actual job and became nothing more than part of Trump’s massive efforts at mere public relations as opposed to providing data and facts about the work of the executive branch.

My deep appreciation for the role of a press secretary along with an interest in the people who have held the position goes back 40 years. I have sincere praise for the ones from both parties who have performed admirably. Such as Tony Snow who stood before the press during President Bush’s time in office. I wrote the following in April 2007.

I have the highest regard for Tony Snow and the way that he banters with the press, all the while sticking to his talking points.  He is respected among the White House press because at his core he understands the role of the press, and respects the members of the fourth estate.  That is an essential difference that others, such as President Nixon’s spokesman Ron Zielger, never understood.

A press secretary needs to fully understand the gravitas of the job, the wide scope of issues that pound down on the highest seat of power, and then how to manage the coming issues in a coherent and rational fashion. With a week of watching and assessing Psaki within that framework, I am very pleased with what I am seeing and hearing. I trust that in the years to come her memories of this time will be put into book form. I will be pleased to add it to the other books by press secretaries on my shelves.

Wisconsin Republicans Must Fight For (d)emocratic Institutions

The headlines over the weekend in Wisconsin were focused on football. As such, many residents likely did not read, or hear about the news story which appeared above the fold in the Wisconsin State Journal. When reporters followed up on the claim made by some elected Republicans that there were “thousands of complaints” of election fraud in our state something else was discovered.

The majority of them, however, were mass-generated form letters making nonspecific claims about alleged irregularities, a right-wing fraud-finding effort and a clip from Fox’s Sean Hannity show. Others implored Republican lawmakers to overturn an election they were convinced was rigged, even though local, state and national officials have confirmed its integrity.

Electoral fiction, and dangerously so, was fomented and stirred to alarming degrees in our state, and country. This threat was one the Founding Fathers had concerns about as they had read Aristotle and were aware of the danger a demagogue could pose to a nation. What our founders could not have foreseen, however, was the degree to which a legislative branch would slip in furthering that demagogue’s lie.

It was truly sad that some members of the majority party in the statehouse were talking about the numbers of their constituents who were demanding to have an investigation into voter fraud, and also thinking they needed to call for accountability and integrity to be returned to counting ballots. The fact is those constituents would not have been demanding anything had Donald Trump and the party faithful not spun the big lie that the election was stolen. That logical reasoning, however, never garners an adequate response from the pot stirrers.

For instance, I have wondered how the election for the top office was supposedly so fraudulently gained in our state but the wins by the Republican members of the state legislature were so properly balloted and counted? The total disregard for common sense by some in the legislature, and more importantly the lack of their civic-mindedness, has left our political institutions undermined.

I know it sounds overly naive to ask the mature and well-meaning members of the Republican Party to assert themselves and speak for statewide and national purposes. But we all have to make that our call, and trust party elders will respond. There can be no squishy words or rhetoric that resembles swiss-cheese. There must be forthright statements from grounded party members that the election was not stolen, and nefarious efforts were not used in securing the election of President Biden. There must be strong words about the durability and fairness of our election systems.

Though the transition to a new White House administration is over, the threats to democracy from the lies about the election outcome remain powerfully strong. It is the duty of the party that created the damage to aid in repairing our institutional foundations. That is not a partisan jab, as I know right here in Madison there are conservatives who would disagree with me on policy galore, but who agree that the larger national need to our nation is paramount.

Pushing the groundless allegations, and regurgitating them day upon day in the echo chamber of talk radio and Fox News has created a mass audience that believes it is time to already create primaries for the GOP congressional elections, which are nearly two years away. With ample evidence that demonstrates the harm that has been created following Election Day 2020, is it not time for the Republican leaders in our state to stand up and call for a commitment to facts about what happened? If we can not have truth stated loudly and without any hesitation about the recent election what does that say about our democratic institutions going forward?

This is the time for leadership.