Vulgar Word Usage From Madison Statehouse To Washington

Our politics in both Wisconsin and the nation has roughened considerably over the past decade. While political discourse starting with the Founding Fathers moving forward has always been sharp and at times personal, I have noticed that in recent times it can also be just plain vulgar. Part of the blame, obviously, gets placed on those who use language that is low-brow, but we also must place news reporting when conveying certain phrases responsible for the slide downwards in our political discourse.

The shared revenue bill in Wisconsin has generated much heat in the state capitol.  Not only about the dollar amounts to be placed into the hands of local governing officials, but the attempt by Republicans who control the majority of power in the chambers to place a laundry list of conditions on the money to be spent. Some of the most onerous whims in the bill are directed at Milwaukee, a city with challenges to be faced, but when one of their state representatives spoke to a reporter about the harshness of the proposed legislation his words got in front of the justified outrage working its way through the statehouse.

On WISC TV on May 16th during the 6:00 P.M. local news Democratic Assemblyman Ryan Clancy said the GOP was “polishing a ****” when speaking to a reporter about the shared revenue bill. I was taken aback, I guess in equal proportions, by the manner in which the freshman legislator felt he needed to express himself and to the news reporter who felt that snippet of a sound bite was worthy of being added to the story about this pressing issue in our state.

I woke one morning this week to a story in my news feed from Semafor Principles which reported that Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene wanted more goodies in the debt limit bill that would encourage her to vote for what she described as a “ **** sandwich”.  While that language is on par for defining her character in general it was the coverage she gained from such vulgarity that astounded me.  The much-revered news outlet, The Hill not only reported it but used her expletive in a headline.

Reporters must report the news and newsrooms are professionally required to inform the citizenry about the workings of their government and its officials.  In no way should we want any less than that foundation in journalism.  But it was not so long ago when the language used in the examples above would not have been allowed on the airwaves or in print. After all, in neither case was there news content in their choice of phrases.  That is a key point to make. Coverage could have stressed the issues just as clearly and both elected officials would have been quoted strenuously advocating their positions in language that met a certain standard.  And standards in broadcasting and news reporting matter.

At a time when social media is awash in crude discourse and it is all but impossible to walk in a mall or down a busy street and not hear the F word it then underscores why journalism should at least be one place where proper word usage, style, and professionalism is showcased. Within my arm’s reach of where I write is a reference shelf that contains, among other books, The New York Times Manuel of Style and Usage. It literally examines everything from “A, an, the” to Zoom.  That it does not list how to deal with scatological terms, in and of itself, notes that there are words that are just simply not permitted in news reporting.

Those who wish for unlimited word usage on the airwaves and in newsprint will label this attitude of mine (and others who share such views) likely in some fashion akin to having ‘delicate sensibilities’.  While that Jane Austen-type description is their right, I would counter that having worked in both radio broadcasting and later in a legislator’s office where in each case conduct was always viewed or heard by someone, that words used do matter.  Yes, I can see where the views expressed in this column are more prescribed than others in society.  But it really should not be so.  We all should care about the use of language by elected officials. I contend it should not be hard to conduct ourselves in society with word choices given we have the entire dictionary from which to use when making a point.  If pols can campaign and ask for votes in polite ways at election time surely they can speak to their constituents in the same fashion.  After all, elected officials are always walking a line on how to frame issues and respond to all sorts of inquiries so word usage to them is as basic as washing hands before dinner.

Simply put I believe in standards of good taste. Such a bottom line is not political or old-fashioned. It is not about censorship. It is simply about a firm belief in what should be regarded as an accepted way of behaving in a polite society.

This Is Why We Celebrate Pride Month In June

I have strongly supported the Pride Flag flying above the Wisconsin Capitol and efforts made through our schools to allow gay and lesbian students to know they are not alone in their walk to adulthood.  What we do in large urban areas does resonate in the rural and quiet communities dotted across the state. Such actions continue to matter as the perpetually angry segment of the conservative base has ratcheted up their rhetoric and awful behavior against the gay and trans community.  The most public display of their juvenile outrage occurred against Target, where store merchandise for transgender shoppers was littered about, and then like a cat who brings a dead mouse to the front door for praise, they took to social media to show off their talent at mayhem. Needless to say, the gay and trans community has every reason to hoist a flag this month, take to the streets in parades, and speak to the truth that our nation again needs to hear.

This spring, I have been reading about the life and times of the first national security advisor to counsel a president.  Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle deals with Robert Cutler, a multi-faceted, learned, articulate, and determined man who saw a need for reorganizing how a president amassed information concerning international affairs so as to better shape policy.  Oh, yes, he was also gay. And living a secret life that President Dwight Eisenhower and the madness of the McCarthy era could never come to learn about. We come to discover in the pages Cutler was a banker, a poet, a cross-dresser who loved the female roles in amateur theatrical productions, and a very closeted gay man at the center of a gay White House love triangle. Cutler becomes deeply infatuated with Tilghman “Skip” Koons, a man described as highly intelligent and a gorgeous 27-year-old Russian speaker who Cutler recruited for the National Security Council staff.

President Eisenhower and Robert Cutler

When reading and learning about history it is vital to step into the shoes and time when the events occur.  While that has always been my firm belief, I readily admit to shaking the book and wondering how Cutler did not rebel in some way to underscore the madness of a policy that excluded gay people from federal employment.  In fact, Cutler worked doggedly to place into effect a President Truman-era order that, due to time constraints in the waning days of Harry’s term, would not be implemented until 1953. The absurdity of the mindset that gay people were a threat to national security and that ‘normal people did not associate with them’ is one of the chapters of our collective past that we need to recall as we speak out as to why we celebrate Pride Month. 

Long-time readers of this blog might recall my writing about the example of bipartisanship being employed by Senator Arthur Vandenberg when Harry Truman becomes president following the death of President Roosevelt. Vandenberg, a staunch Republican wrote to Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.”  The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II. We know that gay people are in every family, and that was the case with the Vandenbergs, as Shinkle writes with an example of the destructive nature of homophobia.

Arthur Vandenberg Jr.

The high cost to the lives of many gay men due to Executive Order 10450, which Cutler aided in implementing, is clear to see from the data presented in the book.

Being closeted and not able to live authentically has no place in our society, and we must not allow the loudest ones on the far right to do more than shout about their bigotry and hatred. The desire by some conservatives to now open old wounds and inflict outdated and repressive ideas upon society must be utterly rejected. The reason I write that line is due to the way Cutler was forced to live if he wanted to shape policy and use his abundant skills for the nation. It hurts to learn in the book that Cutler presented Skip with a 163,000-word journal about their relationship. Their families and friends and all of Washington should have been able to participate in the joy of that relationship and friendship as it was taking place.

We celebrate Pride Month with full recognition from whence we came. The struggles and fights that had to be waged so we can live our lives authentically are what we recall this month. At the same moment, we know that never again will we take a step backward. So, lift the Pride Flag, and as it is hoisted high recall those who never had the chance to do so. That, sadly, is very much a part of the story, too.

Do Not Forget Cardinal Rule In Politics

A cardinal rule in politics and governing is that one’s opponent on an issue or policy yesterday will be an ally on a different policy or pressing matter today. While we may never really forget that fact, in the heat of politics and the heightened nature of our rhetoric, we too often set aside that working wisdom.  Over the past week, the back-and-forth of working alliances was again clearly demonstrated.

Pro-Ukraine think tankers on Monday brought Johnson to a private lunch in Dallas, Texas, to meet two dozen of the state’s leading conservative figures, including politicians, donors and captains of industry.

The message Johnson was there to deliver was simple: America must stay the course in Ukraine.

While I am an absolute and staunch supporter of the brave men and women of Ukraine and know Russia must be repelled from attacking a sovereign nation, my views of Johnson are, let us say, not very charitable. His lies that led to Brexit and his caddish personal lifestyle define the man.  But when it comes to the international goal of defeating Russia, we all can stand shoulder to shoulder with those who share our values against military aggression.  

“I just urge you all to stick with it. It will pay off massively in the long run”. 

The former U.K. prime minister flew to Texas as a growing number of conservative lawmakers, candidates and activists have started to question the size of the U.S. support package for Ukraine as it attempts to fight back against the invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2022.

But Johnson told Texan Republicans on Monday: “You are backing the right horse. Ukraine is going to win. They are going to defeat Putin.”

The lunch was not the first time Johnson has lobbied U.S. lawmakers on Ukraine’s behalf. He visited Washington in January, where he publicly urged the U.S. administration to give Ukraine fighter jets, and privately met Republican lawmakers on the same trip.

This weekend I read that Russia wants to arrest South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham following his comments related to the fighting in Ukraine. Following his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the conservative Republican described the U.S. military assistance to the country as “the best money we’ve ever spent’.

Photo via Reuters

There are many examples of Graham coming unglued and acting less than polished in the years following the death of his very good friend, John McCain, but once again the cardinal rule of governing applies concerning his work in Ukraine. On the matter of steadfastness with a policy to remove Russia from a sovereign nation the words and understanding from the senator allow us to be part of a larger group for a most justified conclusion.

The ever-moving series of alliances and working relationships in politics are often overshadowed by the bluster and desire to play to the base where money is raised and votes in elections are secured. That is easy enough to understand. But the work of governing demands that personal regards be put aside for the betterment of the people or the advancement of a policy. The cardinal rule of politics must always prevail. I am deeply pleased to see it working on behalf of Ukraine.

Chronic School Absenteeism In Madison Solved By Parenting

This month Madison schools released data to show that about one out of every seven Madison School District middle and high school students is considered at risk of not graduating from high school.  What the district left unsaid is that the cost of this failure in education will place a strain on society and taxpayers for decades to come. I could have used almost any large school district in the nation to show that chronic absenteeism is a problem and there need to be corrective measures taken.  While solutions seem hard to implement, we know the source of the issue starts in the home.

In Madison, higher rates of chronic absenteeism are largely driving the increase, as about 98% of the district’s 2,231 at-risk students have been deemed “habitually truant,” defined as missing more than 10% of days in an academic year. The number of students considered habitually truant during the 2021-22 school year more than tripled from the year before.

While I am not a parent, it goes without saying that once one carries that title, the time for excuses and rationalizations about why a child does not attend school is over.  There is only one side to the argument for a parent to be on, which is with the teachers and school administrators requiring that a youngster is in their seat and ready to learn.  I know some will argue that is easy for a non-parent to say or write.  But taxpayers do have a right to register their thoughts about schools they fund and the resulting issues from those in society who do not fully avail themselves of the free education offered.

The issue of children being absent from the classroom came to mind while reading this weekend about Robert Harlan.  He was a famous and influential Black man, who The New York World in about 1870 compared at the time as second only to Frederick Douglass. Historians place him as the once-enslaved half-brother to famed Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan.

It was what Robert said in a speech celebrating the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that stands out not only in the context of his time but our ours, too.  Words that are not in any way limited to the color of one’s skin or a region of the country one calls home. Words which should land at the door of every parent.

Here is the supreme duty of our generation.  Let us resolve that come what may, though it be biting poverty, coarse garments, plain food, and humble shelter, our children shall receive the full measure of education that our capacity can admit of.

Education is the greatest factor in the makeup of an individual and the ability for a full and rewarding life. When one looks at the real pitfalls to learning in places like Kyiv or for girls in Afghanistan, we then can measure the lack of actual obstacles to getting any child living in Madison into a classroom.  That does not mean some will still not offer excuses for continued absences.  While the majority of those living in our city willingly and understandably pay the taxes for our schools we only ask all parents to more fully take seriously their role in the education process for their children.  Outside of illness, there is no reasonable explanation for chronic absenteeism. Enough excuses, let’s get on with learning.

Dane County Ismael Ozanne And The UW Football Player With Stolen Gun In His Possession

There are ample reasons daily in our state why we need to be diligent about pressing for gun control measures in the legislature.  We rightly decry gun violence while in liberal places such as Madison and Dane County, there is much lamenting the lack of tougher laws and stricter enforcement to stem the violence and death from guns.  This is why the mostly muted response to the arrest of a UW-Madison player with a stolen gun in his possession seems odd. 

Markus Allen was arrested on April 29th for possession of a concealed firearm by Madison police during the Mifflin Street Block Party, but as of this posting, no criminal charges have not been filed by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. 

In the released search warrant made public to the media last week nothing suggested that Allen is even being investigated. The warrant was served to search Allen’s backpack where it was discovered the football player had an unloaded Glock 19 handgun and a magazine loaded with one round of ammunition in a separate pocket. Upon further discovery, it was learned from the gun’s registration information that Madison resident Casey Walker, had reported the gun stolen out of his mother’s car in June 2022.  Additionally, Allen does not have a concealed carry permit in Wisconsin or his home state of Ohio.

Why a person heading to the alcohol-laden street party would bring along a Glock weapon, and a stolen one at that, is concerning for a society that is sick and tired of too much gun violence.  While I am not suggesting that Allen was intending to use the gun that afternoon it does beg the question as to how this story remains low-key for the most part in our city. If it were any one of my readers, not in the UW football program, we would know with certainty and post-haste that possession of a concealed firearm is a Class A misdemeanor.  Add in the fact the weapon was reported as stolen, and we would be most aware of the gravity of the situation.

If we are going to be consistent about our collective understanding that gun violence is excessive and undermines our society then we also must be asking Dane County DA Ozanne why the lack of energy on this case seems to be occurring? Is there a double standard being applied to a football player?

Madison Bus Service Changes Raise Hackles Of Riders

For many weeks I have been reading and hearing concerns from residents in our Marquette Neighborhood about the bus changes that are afoot in early June. I sense not only confusion about the upcoming changes but also some disgust with the city that has not been more mindful of the needs of riders. For the record, I have taken only one bus ride since moving to the city in the last days of 1986. It was a blizzard and my car was somewhere under a pile of snow in our parking lot. On the bus I took a seat and sat in a wet ‘something’, and to this day still call it ‘water’ though my office mate told me all that day it left “a stain”. Though I never needed to ride the bus again I am most mindful and concerned for those who require the service.

As I have noted the concern of riders about what awaits them I came across an example posted on our neighborhood listserv that is worthy of your time to read and ponder. This posting proved most illuminating. The writer explained what would be entailed to get to Woodman’s from our area.

  • If one uses the Route C/G option, the time to get to Woodman’s is 44 minutes.  That is because Route C gets you to the Cottage Grove/Dempsey intersection about 10 minutes after the Route G bus (a 30 minute bus route) heads north to Woodman’s, so there is about a 20 minute wait.
  • If one carefully plans their trip, one can use the Route C/L option – a transfer at Atwood/Water – and get to Woodman’s in 33 minutes.  This route only works at certain times.  For example, on weekdays one can use this route at 5:33, 6:50, 8:05, 10:35, 1:05, 3:35, 6:05, 8:33 (departures from Jeni/Ingersoll).
  • The best route for returning from Woodman’s is the Route G/C option at 30 minutes – a transfer at Cottage Grove.  Departures that work for this are every half-hour on weekdays.
  • There are also other routes: A/D, about a 17 minute ride, works about every hour on weekdays; and, D (leaves from Johnson), about an 11 minute ride, every half-hour on weekdays. 
  • The “plan your trip map” also has other routes that are not very realistic if one is just going to Woodman’s:  Route A/G, go almost out to East Towne, then wind through east side neighborhoods (51 minutes); Route A/L at 46 minutes, and Route B/L at 53 minutes.

Following that madness came this additional thought.

Originally, the City said that BRT would complement, not replace, existing service.  That changed in the fall of 2020, when the website was modified to say that BRT was “part of an effort to improve its existing transit system and reduce travel times across the region.”  This change could well be the result of the consultants who said:  “A substantial part of the network’s existing resources will go to operating BRT.”  (My emphasis added.)

I find that there are two things that trigger very strong reactions among people. First, changes to the local newspaper be it the layout of the pages, the font, removal of this feature, or that cartoon. Second, is the way local bus service operates, be it where stops are located or the time to get from one side of the city to another part. We are about to hear very strong reactions from people who are reliant upon the bus service they have long known but are going to find, in many cases, it now will be less than what they had experienced.

I would not care to be answering the phones at city hall or at the homes of our alders as this unfolds across Madison. I suspect residents will consider this bus problem of a greater magnitude than a mere “stain”.

Wisconsin GOP Assemblyman Rob Brooks vs. GOP Talking Point About Personal Responsibility

Many readers of this little site on the internet highway (a term that now sounds old-fashioned and dated) will recall when the Republican Party continually lectured about personal responsibility (a talking point that now also sounds old-fashioned and dated). If we are silent for just a few seconds, we can almost hear President Reagan talk about how leaving people alone so as to rise with their own abilities was the path the nation needed to take.  America just needed to unleash the notion of personal responsibility.

The words and tone from Reagan came to mind as I read the news report about Wisconsin State Assemblyman Rob Brooks and the bar he owns in Saukville.

Police in Wisconsin say the fentanyl-laced drugs that killed one person and caused three more to overdose in a village north of Milwaukee were bought at a state lawmaker’s tavern that has been the subject of multiple calls to police in recent years.

Republican Rep. Rob Brooks has owned the Railroad Station in Saukville since 2007 and said he was aware of issues with drugs at the bar shortly after purchasing it but thought they had been addressed.

Brooks has not reached out to the family or responded to their calls and did not publicly comment on the recent death or answer questions about the bar until Thursday.

“It ticks me off. It seems like he doesn’t care, like he doesn’t care about the community,” Joe Hamilton said on Wednesday.

When asked about other incidents police have responded to at the Railroad Station, Brooks said, “We’re a bar, and there is alcohol served.”

I was taken aback by Brooks’ cavalier tone about the problems at the bar that he has owned and operated for 16 years.  The level of irresponsibility and unaccountability runs counter to the rhetoric that comes from his party about how there need to be fewer regulations and rules for businesses to follow.  Equally troubling are the GOP talking points on the one hand about why law and order must be maintained and respected when facts clearly demonstrate on the other hand there is an obvious problem with criminal activity taking place inside the bar. When police are overburdened with too many social ills which they need to contend with, it is concerning that they need to be called repeatedly to an establishment run by a state representative.

“We’re a bar, and there is alcohol served.”

Brook’s words really struck me as a cop-out (pardon the bad pun) as it totally undercuts the GOP push about personal responsibility. What he said was there can be no personal responsibility. How can he be held responsible, after all, there was alcohol being served?  That sounds like examples used by Reagan and his fellow pols when talking about why there was always a reason given by people for something bad happening.  Socio-economic reasons were responsible for inner city crime, or a lack of birth control was the reason for teenage pregnancies.  How can Brooks be responsible, after all, alcohol was being served?

Political rhetoric is cheap. What matters, of course, is the behavior of any politician both in terms of keeping campaign promises and living in accordance with the values the majority of one’s constituents believe are essential to have if holding office.

Back To Blogging After Memorial Day Weekend