Texans Need Civics Books Following Winter Storm

A minister, who is a friend, wrote on Facebook today her desire to assist Texans with something more than prayers. We responded that perhaps sending civics books with chapters highlighted about the way revenues from locals are used to pay for infrastructure might be appropriate. It was not meant to be flippant but rather a truism that ranks with teaching a person to fish being better than just supplying seafood for free.

Watching the news from Texas over the past few days has been most educational for the nation as it plainly and directly underscores what happens when people will not pay taxes for needed programs aimed at their own long-term well-being. When it comes to their electrical grid and its lack of weatherization–a problem that was highlighted following the 2011 ‘storm of a lifetime’ it proves that the allure of lower taxes and less regulation prevailed over reasoned thinking. Now another ‘storm of a lifetime’ has struck, which first, further proves the science of climate change.

But secondly, that Texans are needing all sorts of federal ‘socialism’.

Let me state that it is absolutely the duty of the federal government to aid the state and to alleviate the plight of our fellow citizens. I do not subscribe to the conservative’s Darwinian view that we first need to cut programs to find the dollars for doing what is the social compact we have with one another in the nation. I am a liberal Democrat, and even though Texans have not demonstrated intelligence with their infrastructure needs, does not mean my party loses our sense of national priorities when it comes to natural disasters.

Having said that, however, does not require me to lessen my point about the lack of civics-education among too many Texans. What we are reading in the papers and watching unfold on television showcases what can only be termed their flagrant disregard and disdain for reason and logic. The regulations that are required for weatherization, and the tax dollars that are then required for the projects make sense so that when Mother Nature comes a’-howling a crisis can be averted. While not each weather event can be totally prepared for, this winter storm in Texas could have been managed had political leadership been undertaken many years ago.

It is frustrating to see so many Texans seriously impacted because Republican officials have turned every attempt at needed regulations into some red-tape politically-inspired nightmare. If the knuckle-draggers in Texas thought prevention was costly…let this Northerner alert them they are to be stunned at the costs associated with fixing broken pipes. Think how much more cost-efficient it would have been to have insulated when the sun was shining and it was warm. And everything was not sopping wet!

I was the Administrative Assistant for the Joint Committee for Review Of Administrative Rules in the Wisconsin statehouse for two years. We undertook a number of code reviews for homes and businesses. While I can attest to the dialogue about ‘red-tape’, I can also speak to the logic of mandated standards and construction guidelines. They offer the best long-term protection for the dollars spent. I was proud to be a small part of making our state government work for the needs of the citizens.

So when I say civics books need to be sent to Texans following this winter storm I am not being smug or snarky. I am being frank about the real problem at hand. The problem is plain to see. You have to want to make the government work for the people for it to then, well, actually work.

Conservatives just need to be educated to that fact.

And so it goes.

Rush Limbaugh As Low As Father Charles Coughlin

I would be remiss if not mentioning thoughts about the death of Rush Limbaugh at the age of 70. If you are looking for some great tribute to the man or lauding his time as a broadcaster, this will not be the post you were hoping for. After all, Limbaugh did more to undermine radio than to lift it, sully it more than to enrich its long history in our nation. The medium that I love, and once worked in was stained by his actions.

Over the years the bombast, crude remarks, and low-balls that were a daily aspect of Limbaugh’s on-air time brought his ratings down and his advertisers far fewer in number. (I have commented on these matters relating to Rush 34 times over the years.) While the ratings and ad revenues are the milk and bread to the industry, I would argue there is something more fundamental that should be considered about his abusing radio.

The stories are countless of those who have looked to radio over the many, many decades for friendship and companionship.  Radio has been there late nights when the baby will not sleep, during morning drive time, at work for music and sports scores, and then catching up on news and weather in the evenings.

Even though television allows us an image, radio remains the most intimate medium.  It is the place where we get to know the announcer and hear the banter about the morning drive into the station, or insights into their life.  The effective radio broadcaster gives us glimpses of who he/she really is and that creates a bond between those on both sides of the radio dial.

But Limbaugh worked feverishly to erode civility on the airwaves. That is how his life can be best summed up.

I am well aware that the low-bar in broadcasting now takes place on both right-wing and left-wing programming as the announcers and hosts seem more interested in red meat tactics for political purposes than striving for high marks in broadcasting. But let us not forget it was Rush who created the basement from which the others could also reside. While there are still many stations that will not stoop to the level we heard about in the news repeatedly with Limbaugh, it remains unsettling to know that national broadcasting standards slipped in large measure because of him.

This morning, after the news was reported Limbaugh had died, a broadcasting friend reached out and asked who else might be viewed as a broadcaster who influenced radio in the past 50 years? He had already placed Larry King on the list, and I readily added Paul Harvey. All my life I have never forgotten the professional standards of Harvey, one of my radio heroes based on his ability to enunciate words, and who wore a tie for his radio broadcasts.  He knew the way he looked and acted in a radio studio would come across over the airwaves.  And it did.

Then while picking up dishes in the kitchen another broadcaster who made history, and like Limbaugh brought hate and bile to the airwaves, came to my mind. Though he was ‘famous’ for his rants about 85 years ago, his linkage to Rush is very clear.

Father Charles Coughlin.

Coughlin is one of those truly interesting, though sad stories, from history. He used his radio program to all but incite violence on Jewish Americans, and over time ramped up his peddling of anti-semitic bigotry to the bizarre. By the time fascism was better known, Coughlin had become a supporter of some of the ideas advanced by Hitler and Mussolini. The broadcasts have been described as “a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture.”

Limbaugh had a different era to play with but used the same base motives and instincts to stir hate. He used white supremacy, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and misogyny as his weapons. He even mocked the deaths of people from AIDS on his national broadcasts.

Somewhere along the way, those who harvest radio licenses have created a mean-spirited and pitiful listening landscape where now the most base commentary can be heard, and the most pathetic hosts can reap huge profits. Today the one who fostered so much that is currently wrong with radio has died.

There is no reason to feel anything about that news other than a sense of the loss of radio as we once knew it.

Local Media, Reporters Matter: Chicago Tribune Is Proof

Not for the first time do I stress the importance of supporting local media. From subscribing to a local newspaper and supporting businesses that advertise on a local radio station. Local media and the newsrooms they populate with reporters and journalists are one of the foundations that keeps our democracy strong. News and information is a vital component for an engaged citizenry.

With that being said it was not shocking news, as the reports on the negotiations have been known for weeks, that Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers, has agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital in a deal valued at $630 million. But it was still very unsettling and troubling to learn of the outcome as the consequences are enormous. This is far more than just a news headline to be treated in a fast cavalier manner.

As a result of the deal, there is soon to be one of the largest newspaper operations in the United States. But that does not make it a boon for news consumers, or a win for the newspaper profession, or hard-working journalists who ferret out the news for each edition. Far from it! The reason is due to Alden being a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties.

But there is also a more fundamental issue to consider with the amassing of properties in large media companies. When papers are owned in such a fashion opposing views are marginalized and Op-Ed pages are watered down. Or with some local papers due to budget cuts, there is not even an editorial staff to ponder the issues of the day. For the sake of our democracy, I again make the case as to why there must be regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, in any medium, into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

When it comes to the iconic Chicago Tribune I shudder to think of the future. The newsroom has already shrunk roughly 30 percent since November 2018, from about 165 journalists in the union to 118 presently. Those are not just jobs. No, far more important those numbers are news reporters who head around the city to meetings and neighborhoods to gather the stories which inform readers. And with the knowledge of what happens in the city comes the sense of community and connections which is also a vital component to democracy.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

When it comes to hedge funds it comes as no surprise I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. Soulless, too. It also should come as no shock Alden has done great harm to other papers they have bought and chopped up in their all-consuming zeal to make money. The reason so many people are exercised over the recent deal is that local news suffers when newsrooms are pared down and the voices and events of those nearest to the reader are not reported.

When a hedge fund looks to break apart a newspaper and treat it as only a cash cow there is a deep price paid for by the local community. When newsroom owners view profits as the only goal, quality, reliability, and accountability suffer in the editions of the paper that hit the streets and land in the mailboxes.

Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, whose local chapters represent newsroom employees in Chicago, Baltimore, Hartford, Orlando, and other cities, expressed his views on the Alden deal concisely and to the point.

“Alden has a history of running newspapers into the ground, This isn’t good for workers, the company, shareholders, or the communities.”

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over ‘anything else’. In this case, ‘anything else’ is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. I do not wish to be viewed as having only sentimental or nostalgic “back in the day” perspectives that are brought to this issue. While I was raised with a daily newspaper in our Hancock home, and have subscribed to at least one daily paper during all my adult years my purpose of writing this post is due to a long-lasting truism. Journalists do work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

I end this post where I started. I urge readers to subscribe to their local newspaper. Paying for quality journalism should be viewed as just as important as paying for other needed services in our lives.

Why Tapes Matter: 50 Years Ago Today–February 16, 1971–Nixon Taping System Began Operating

Many moments in history get recognized at Caffeinated Politics, so I would be negligent if there was not a post about the event which started today, February 16, 1971. As a result of President Richard Nixon starting to use a White House taping system 50 years ago there is a treasure trove of roughly 3,700 hours of his conversations as president. There are roughly 3,000 hours of those tapes available to be listened to, while the rest contain either national security information or family conversations and as such are off-limits.

These tapes matter, as do the other White House taped recordings from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford. The tapes are a great insight into the workings of the Oval Office, the leader of the free world, the creation of policy, and the art of politics.

In the case of the Nixon tapes, and in relation to the Watergate fiasco, we still do not know who ordered the June 1972 Watergate break-in that led to Nixon’s resignation. But we do know without any doubt whatsoever, due to the recordings, that Nixon ordered the break-in at the Brookings Institution in 1971. While the Brookings break-in never happened what can be understood from the tapes is the culture of lawlessness that started at the very top of that White House.

My fascination with Nixon has been a lifetime undertaking and the tapes are, without doubt, a historical mine that can be explored for new nuggets and perspectives that create an evolving understanding of our past. But long before I knew Nixon had been taping his conversations I had become interested in the man.

At  the age of ten I sat in the backseat of our family car as we drove to a  nighttime hair appointment for my mother in Plainfield, Wisconsin. My father had the car radio on, its soft glow radiating from the front dashboard. It was election night 1972. Perhaps I was somehow primed for that night due to my rural upbringing, having grandparents for neighbors, by family choice not having  a television in our home, and my already loving books. Whatever had preceded that night perhaps made me more receptive to what I heard and sensed from the radio.

I still recall the authoritative voices of the news announcers and the crowd noise from election night gatherings. I recall Nixon’s name being said over and over. And I recall my father telling me that Nixon would be elected president.

Countless times over the decades of my life I have thought back to that night, and how Richard Nixon would come to mean a great deal to how my interests were formed. He lit a fire of interest within me to follow the news, read the paper (which I did each day  while lying on our family couch or on the dining room floor following school classes), better understand the rough and tumble of politics, and care more about foreign policy.

And then the White House tapes were reported to not only exist, but started to be released. First for the impeachment process and then in years–and even decades later–larger batches of recordings were made available to the public. First in locations where researchers could conduct their work, then with books where many recordings were transcribed, and finally on the internet for political and history junkies to have access.

For the past 30 years, I have been listening to various batches of recordings as they first appeared in the hour-long Saturday C-SPAN programs, then online at sites such as this one. Over the past year as the pandemic kept us home, I have taken to reading some more of the transcripts, starting with the first volume as edited by Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nitcher. One of the benefits of reading a transcript is due to the, at times, difficulty of making out the words that can be muffled or distorted due to placement of the microphones or the lack of using a louder voice when talking. Without a doubt, however, the actual recordings are more informative as the inflections and tone are essential to measuring the conversation at hand.

So I was really pleased to wake up this morning to find a friend sent me this article by none other than Nichter, who pens it perfectly as to why these historical tapes matter.

As a result of the tapes, our democracy is stronger. Public officials are held to account. The field of investigative journalism grew exponentially after Watergate. We have more information about how our government runs than ever before. The scandals of the Nixon administration were as much a long-awaited check on executive power – the “Imperial Presidency,” as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called it – as they were unique to the personalities within Nixon’s White House.

On this commemoration, which immediately follows Presidents Day, let’s remember our leaders. Fifty years after Nixon began making the most controversial subset of White House tapes and more than 80 years since FDR made the very first, these records — while part of popular lore — remain largely underutilized and misunderstood. From each one we can learn something. Rather than canceling them, we should embrace history for what it can teach us.

About 30 years ago I was involved with the primary election for Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction, while working in the office of State Representative Lary Swoboda, who was seeking the position. One of the things we both enjoyed was the life and times of Richard Nixon, and the intrigue of Watergate.  I still recall after some of the long days while campaigning in the primary that Swoboda would start talking about Watergate.  He could be exhausted, and almost as a way of unwinding and relaxing he would ponder again how the missing section of the tape happened, or how things would have changed had the tapes been destroyed.  The conversations were really quite lively. Those tapes and the discussions which follow about their contents have long been a part of my life.

I was truly delighted to have lunch and coffee at the famed Watergate–while looking out towards the Potomac during a long vacation in D.C. James still makes me smile over the most expensive coffee that I will likely ever enjoy. During lunch I told James that Lary would have much loved the experience as he was also an avid reader of books about Nixon and had many recollections about the events and mood of the nation during those tumultuous years.  So in some sense Lary did make it to the Watergate–at least in our memories.

A friend of mine has labeled me a Nixonologist, knowing over four decades I have read and studied the man. I recall at one point saying it is without doubt that very few people have actually listened to more than an hour of the Nixon tapes. But if more started that journey with listening, they too, would be more fascinated about not only Nixon, the process of governing, but also our history as a country.

Therefore, I absolutely agree with Luke Nichter. The tapes can teach us so much.

Ron Johnson Needs A Wellness Check Following Insane Comment About Capitol Coup Attempt

When one forgets we live in a constitutional republic, and instead opts to engage in a personality cult, we wind up with statements like that from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.

When asked for his view of the attempted coup on the U.S. Capitol Johnson stated, “This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” He was interviewed on WISN with conservative talk radio show host Jay Weber.

The remark staggers the sensibilities of anyone who was riveted to the wall-to-wall news coverage on January 6th and saw for themselves the bizarre and dangerous coup attempt. This past week even more incredible and highly-troubling footage of the crimes was shown during the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel demonstrated in one paragraph how absurd Johnson’s remark was by pointing out the facts.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson toured the state’s airwaves on Monday making the claim, despite video footage and photos of the attack showing participants erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, deploying pepper spray strong enough to harm bears, carrying zip ties, hurling a fire extinguisher, using baseball bats to smash windows, and throwing flags like spears at police officers.

Johnson would have us believe that an insurrection requires firearms to be present. The rest of the nation saw Trump’s supporters beating law enforcement officials with a flag pole. The attempt by Johnson to deny and delude for Trump are examples of what happens when excessive public admiration and devotion are given so as to be in the graces of a powerful person. In others words, to be in the depths of a personality cult.

Having a difference of opinion about policy is one thing. Agreeing to disagree is what politicos undertake every day. But that is not what we are talking about with Johnson. All too often he is gladly regurgitating garbage the nutty far right-wing crowd spews.

In the past, as with a Chicago radio interview, Johnson suggested that former Arizona Senator John McCain’s brain tumor, and the early morning hours, may have affected his vote on the Senate bill to repeal Obamacare.

“Again, I’m not going to speak for John McCain — he has a brain tumor right now — that vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning, some of that might have factored in.”

Another way to sum up Johnson’s comment is to say it was a despicable gutter ball. One has to be mighty rotten to use cancer as a political weapon.

We even had Johnson demonstrate how removed he is from basic science when he seemed not to be aware of why climate change is occurring. His attempt to play scientist only made him into a very bad comedian.

Today, once again, Johnson embarrassed Wisconsin. But it was far more serious than past public meltdowns as he also undermined democratic values that the majority of the nation holds to so tightly.  Treating the offenses of Trump, along with the lowbrow scum who attacked the Capitol in such a cavalier way, has forfeited any right Johnson has going forward to be treated with credibility.

More to the point, we need to sincerely ask if Johnson is a well person. Is he mentally healthy? In the past, I have called upon Mrs. Ron Johnson to pull back on the weekly allowance for her husband. She brought the money to the relationship and needs to treat Ron akin to any other family member who misbehaves so badly in public. But perhaps there needs to be more done to understand if Johnson is able to be on his own.

Perhaps a wellness check is called for as the series of insane and ludicrous comments are coming not only at a faster pace, but also of a more troubling quality. When someone intervenes with Johnson I do have one request. Would the official inquire of Johnson, since the attackers on the building were not ‘armed insurrectionists’, why he did not stay at his seat and welcome them?

And so it goes.

You Think You’re Cold?

A friend showed up today in our tree today and asked why we were complaining about the cold with, “You should be out here!”

President’s Day With Nostalgic Memory Of Administering Oath Of Office

History meets warm nostalgia in Vermont as Calvin Coolidge’s dad administers the presidential oath of office in 1923–to his son. Grand narrative by Gregory Humphrey.

Wisconsin Newspapers Should Publish Local Government Minutes And Actions

In my mind I can still see Dad combing through the Waushara Argus, our local newspaper, to find the notices concerning local government. Having served on the Hancock Town Board for 40 years he always wanted to make sure the notices about an upcoming meeting or election were printed correctly, and the minutes of meetings along with the decisions taken to have visibility.

Why Dad flipped the pages of those papers was due to the fact he wanted to make sure the work of local government was published, and thereby publicized, so citizens could add their voice and input to the concerns of the day.  He also desired they be kept abreast of how local government functioned.  He knew informed citizens made for contented voters.

I note that memory of mine because Senate Bill 55 would allow for local units of governments to decide if they wished to continue to publish meeting minutes in newspapers. They instead could opt for placing all such material on their websites. I have not seen the fiscal note attached to the proposed legislation but one can correctly assume the ‘cost-saving’ in dollars would not compare to the loss of providing information to the local constituents.

Living in Madison, even with decades removed from my home area, I still enjoy reading the minutes from the county board.   I want to know what is taking place with the school districts and towns that dot the area where I grew up.  One of the main reasons I subscribe to the paper, the one dad read those many years ago, is to be informed on matters about local governments.  That information is made public via the very notices SB 55 now wishes to limit.

I live in a tech-savvy world.  I blog and podcast but my day always begin with printed newspapers to get current with the world and events just around the corner. In small towns and villages around this state folks who desire to get information about the places they live turn to their hometown papers. That fact, along with the continued call for openness and transparency in government from a most unsettled electorate, makes this bill a non-starter.

I readily admit my love for newspapers and my deep respect for journalists who write the copy.  Some might then think my underlying motive for this matter has to do with the health of an industry that has suffered in the digital age.  While I do have concerns about the future of newspapers I also carry with me the foundations of good local government—which means transparency–from dad.

I know people don’t routinely go browsing through official government web sites because they have nothing better to do.  But I do know folks still browse all the way through locally printed newspapers.  I also know many of the folks back in my hometown area don’t have computers but still wish to be informed about local government.  Those are the ones–and all the others just like them spread around the state–who the legislature needs to be mindful of when they deal with this matter.

Senate Bill 55 should never see the light of day.