Friday, January 30, 2009

Candidate for Supreme Court flaunting lack of law smarts

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick wants you to vote for him over incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, so what's he doing? Flaunting his utter lack of understanding of some of the most basic laws of the land, that's what. Genius!

Xoff as more over at his blog:
Koschnick doesn't let a day go by in his campaign against Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson without talking about a case he heard in Jefferson County, a case in which a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, including Abrahamson, twice overruled him about whether a bloody shirt could be included as evidence...But Koschnick only tells part of the story, and omits a major piece.
Give the whole post a read, it's worth it.

If Koschnick continues to insist on making this case a big part of his campaign, I say more power to him. I can't think of a more straight-forward example of someone's complete lack of judicial aptitude than this.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Please don't let this be a symbol of some greater truth or trend. It's tragic enough as it is.

A noun, a verb, and the 911 center

Last night, current County Executive Kathleen Falk met her opponent, Nancy Mistele, for what was billed as an "executive forum." I was unable to attend, but the reports coming out of it have so far fairly well confirmed my feelings about both candidates: neither are particularly inspiring, and this is fast becoming a lesser of two evils scenario.

Which sucks. The position is too important to be reduced to such a decision. Jason Smathers, writing for the Badger Herald, summed it all up pretty well:

So what did we end up with? A Public Safety Cockatoo with a no concern for environmentalism — [Mistele] answered one question about preservation of a nature path by saying she didn’t think it needed to be part of the conversation right now — and an incumbent PR manager whose current duty seems to be telling the public what a great job she’s doing.

Really makes you wish we had a primary race, doesn’t it?

Yes, it really does. We deserve better candidates, but where are they? Because, quite frankly, I have been unimpressed with Falk's leadership, and am deeply concerned by the glaring holes left in her record by the massive fuck-ups with the 911 center. Mistele, on the other hand, strikes me as a one-note wonder with little regard for the other aspects of the job, little experience, and many opinions with which I differ wildly.

So you'll forgive my complete and utter lack of inspiration when it comes to this particular race. Is there anything to be done? Well, my first suggestion would be not to vote for Mistele. And if that automatically results in voting to keep Falk on for a bit longer, my second suggestion is to really start holding her feet to the fire.

Falk needs to stop dancing around the facts of what happened with the 911 center, take real responsibility, and then really truly actually work to implement all of the suggestions made in the original 2004 report about the center. None of this claiming to "have done each of the steps" it called for, which is exactly what Falk did last night even though, as the Wisconsin State Journal pointed out,
...the county followed some of the recommendations; rejected some, such as the consultant's suggestion that eight positions be hired immediately; or has yet to implement others, such as replacement of the computer-aided dispatch system.
It's hard to have confidence in Falk when she refuses to admit real culpability, or even state the real facts of the matter. And it's hard to have confidence in Mistele when she can't give any specifics about issues, and seems to have, as Smathers pointed out, attended the Rudy Guliani school of public debate: a noun, a verb and 911.

I can only hope that we get some decent candidates the next time around.

UPDATE: Jay Rath over at The Daily Page weighs in, too. Cripes, those comments from Mistele about not needing to protect wetlands because "no one would ever want to build there" just kill me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

COPS: Madison

As 25 new cadets officially join the Madison police force this Sunday, they walk into an increasingly troubled environment.

Ben Masel, who was peppersprayed and arrested while collecting campaign signatures at the Memorial Union Terrace during the summer of '06, took UW-Madison police officer Michael Mansavage to court on a federal civil rights suit. Though the trial yesterday apparently ended in a hung jury, it also served to bring out several new, incriminating details about how the officers conducted themselves. Barry Orton, writing over at Waxing America, has a good commentary about this:
...officer Michael Mansavage first missed Masel and instead peppersprayed his partner John McCaughtry, who was holding Masel by the arm at the time. Apparently, once McCaughtry and Mansavage had wrestled Masel into a face-down position on the ground, with McCaughtry's knee on Masel's back, Mansavage then peppersprayed Masel in the face. Mansavage also threatened to use a Taser on Masel for not putting his arm behind his back to be handcuffed fast enough, when the arm was, in fact, trapped under Masel's body.

The officers' descriptions of their actions made them look totally unprofessional, and strengthened Masel's claims. The multiple times both officers had to be taken through deposition statements that disagreed with their trial testimony didn't help either.
This seems like a pretty clear case, and one that will likely result in Masel eventually being awarded some serious damages. Several folks, including Orton, have pointed out that the city and police could have avoided the bad press and wallet-emptying had they conducted themselves properly in the first place. Taken along with all the recent Taser incidents and questions about how quick officers are to use them/how well they're trained with them, it's hard for folks not to feel some serious doubt about the very organization that's supposed to be protecting us and our civil liberties.

Former Madison police chief David Couper recently penned a thoughtful piece for The Daily Page that makes the call for better training, increased hiring standards, and creative thinking. It's well worth a read.

What do you think?

In the meantime, I'm going to be attempting to track Masel down for an interview about the case. If that goes well, it should be posted to in the coming days, so be sure to check it out if you're interested.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Win tickets to the Fire Ball!

Being one of the key organizers for this Saturday's big masquerade party, the Fire Ball at the High Noon Saloon, you may notice some blog slacking on my part this week. Things are pretty busy around the farm as we work hard to put everything in place to make sure the event is as fabulous as it can be.

I'll be doing my best to keep up the content here, but in the meantime, I wanted to take the opportunity to give away two pairs of tickets to the Fire Ball. To win, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post that says "I would love a pair of tickets to the Fire Ball!" (making sure to either leave your full name, or some way for me to contact you to get your full name, so I can put you and a +1 on the guest list). The first two people to respond will score free entrance for them and a friend/date to the winter's hottest event! (must be 21+ to play)

Then just scrape together your finest duds, maybe a mask, and get your butt over to the High Noon this Saturday at 9:00p.m. Read more about the Fire Ball here.

Even if you don't win tickets, please come check it out anyway. It's just $7, and a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit two of Madison's best local theatre companies (Mercury Players and Stage Q).

See you there!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The animosity of the comfortable

I really need to stop reading the comments section after articles in the Cap Times and WSJ. More often than not, they're filled with the most ridiculously awful crap--even regarding stories that most would consider unimpeachable.

For instance, the Cap Times currently has a piece up about an Allied neighborhood activist who's working to organize shuttle buses to take residents grocery shopping. This is in response to the looming loss of the Cub Foods that currently serves the area.

This guy, Mike Bodden, has taken the selfless initiative to see what can be done to help those people without access to a car or bus (for whatever reason) get to a grocery store. He's running this operation out of a local food pantry that's sponsored by a group of churches.

Bodden said he planned to charge a small fee to ride the grocery shuttle, but it would not cover the estimated $200 weekly cost of providing the transportation.

The service would operate out of the Boys and Girls Club, 4619 Jenewein Road, where the food pantry is located.

"Any good souls who would like to help support this, it would be appreciated," he said. "Maybe some business would like to take it on."

Seems straight forward enough, right? Not according to some of the generous souls in the comments section, from whom we get such gems as "Has anyone ever considered giving these leakers a ride to a 'job'? Naw, not the likes of The Capital Times, wouldn't want to hurt their feelimgs [sic]. What a bunch of nonsense," and "Yeah, this is a joke. I like how they're 'operating' out of the Boys and Girls Club. Does the B & G Club know that? Do they have insurance for something like that? What happens when someone gets hurt on the bus or in a car accident? And the 'maybe some businesses would like to take it on' comment?!? Really? Yeah, nobody wants that bus pulling up to their business, up to and including Woodman's."

Can you feel the love?

Someone else goes on to rail against the "use of taxpayer money" to fund projects like this, apparently completely missing the part where this is being paid for by donations and a small rider fee. Are people really so eager to shit on needed community service projects that their brains just shut down, overlooking the facts of the matter entirely and opting instead to just lash out?

These kinds of comments, I think, speak volumes about the misperceptions and misplaced animosity that exist in our community regarding the working class and impoverished among us. All of these cries to "pull yourself up by your own damn bootstraps" completely miss the part where many of these people simply don't have any bootstraps to begin with. It behooves us, as those fortunate enough to have been given better opportunities in life, to do what we can to see that everyone gets the same chance to do well for themselves.

And before anyone jumps down my throat, allow me to point out that there's a big (and incredibly important) difference between creating a situation where people can mooch off the system and your good graces without giving anything back or taking some responsibility for themselves, and creating a situation where everyone has the same opportunities but then must take it upon themselves to take advantage of them and work toward something better.

Currently, the latter and better situation is not the case. And making sure that people have access to food is the least we can do to right that. If you can't see that, it's high time you turned your brain back on and really started learning about your community--all of it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The new Victory Garden

The movement to convince the Obamas to plant an organic Victory Garden on the White House grounds is growing, and a Madison-area farmer has been nominated for the theoretical position of official White House Farmer by one of the groups pushing the notion.

I am extremely excited by this idea (it has come up before), and sincerely hope the new First Family will take up the cause. Having an organic garden on the premises would not only provide fresh produce to the White House and, potentially, surrounding food pantries, but also serve as a powerful example to the rest of the country.

During World War II, the White House planted a Victory Garden and encouraged citizens to do the same, all as part of helping the country to attain a sense of food security during a time of crisis.

Now we're all faced with a growing threat to our our food supplies, both in terms of quality and availability. In accordance with the "teach a man to fish" line of thinking, I think encouraging and supporting community agriculture projects is one of the more important movements of the day. So I'm signing petitions and raising my voice and hoping that our new president heeds the call.

You can learn more and lend your support to the cause at the following websites: Eat the View, White House Farmer, and TheWhoFarm. Green thumbs for all!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another nail in the coffin of The Mic

Well, it's (sadly) official: Brian Turany, program director at The Mic and "patron saint of progressive radio in Madison" has been laid off from his job.

I got the tip-off about it early this morning, and confirmed it with Turany himself just recently. Lee Rayburn, broadcasting on his internet show today, has also talked about this unfortunate development.

This is another major blow to the station, in my opinion, and I'm honestly not sure that its corporate masters intend for it to survive. Between the loss of Lee Rayburn's show, the Thom Hartmann shuffle, and the addition of conservative financial guy Dave Ramsey--things don't look good. Clear Channel is, after all, apparently in the midst of some massive downsizing and homogenization, so I suppose this isn't a huge surprise. But it's a major loss. I can only hope that Turany is able to go on to something bigger and better, a position that truly fits his great talents and ambitions.

For now, fans of The Mic are surely headed for some great wailing and gnashing of teeth--and I can't blame them at all.

UPDATE: Read my more in-depth look at the issue and an interview with Turany here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History is right now

Today, I won't be on the Mall in D.C. with the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people who've descended to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. I can't say I wouldn't have loved to have been present for it, but I'm happy to report that my place of business will be giving all of us working saps a paid break and a big projection screen on which to watch the ceremony. And free apple pie! (Seriously, I love my company.)

No matter where you are today--on the Mall, at home, at work, across the globe--you can't help but feel the weighty and emotional sense of history-in-the-making. There are so many reasons for it: the first non-white president in US history, the first African American, the first person of mixed race. It's also about a country and a world exhausted by 8 years of disastrous American leadership, desperate for real, positive change, for a new direction--a better, more sustainable economy, comprehensive healthcare, improved education for all, real care for the environment...and the list goes on.

In short, this Obama fellow has a pretty heavy burden to carry on his shoulders. The hopes and dreams of millions swirl around his head, and as much as I'm gunning for his to be the positively transformative administration that everyone is claiming it could be, I'm also of the opinion that this change transcends one single man. We're all involved, we're all responsible, we're all important. Obama and his team cannot make things better all on their own. And they're going to mess things up from time to time. We need to call them out when they make mistakes, and we need to support them when they do right. Most importantly, we all need to stand up and do our part to make the wished for (and needed) improvements to our world.

So enjoy this momentous day, this joyous occassion when people from all walks of life, from across the world come together to celebrate this accomplishment. Then keep that sense of hope and happiness in your heart, and get to work!

(P.S. The Badger Herald included a very nice piece about yours truly and that there book of mine in their back-to-school issue today. Check it out here.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Can't keep a good broadcaster down

Lee Rayburn, who recently left his position at The Mic 92.1 (our local, Clear Channel-run Air America affiliate), has found a way to get back on the "air" - through the internet. In his quest to find more progressive and/or local broadcasters a public forum for their work, he's helping to launch Roots Up Radio. The first daily show featured through the site will be Rayburn's, which will run from 10:00a.m. to 1:00p.m. and can be streamed live.

I've discussed my feelings and ideas about the possible future of radio already, and this news seems to lend credence to the idea of more progressive content (or more content in general) moving online. Whether or not this will be a totally good thing, I don't know. On its own, I think the shift to the internet has the potential to be a very democratic, equalizing force for news and opinion. But I worry that, because so many people still don't have reliable (or any) access to computers and the internet, the move could leave many people sitting in the dust.

Rumor has it that Clear Channel Communications, which owns thousands of radio stations around the nation--in some cases dominating whole markets--is getting ready to undertake a massive restructuring. Supposedly, this will entail $400 million in cut costs and a move away from any local content to a "national programming" model (something they've been criticized for in the past, and for good reason).

What does that mean for communities that rely on their local stations for emergency alerts, or even just substantive local content? A lot of them are likely just be plum out of luck. But that's what we get for allowing massive media consolidation. We don't have to stand for it, though. The internet might be the future of broadcast, but I'm not entirely willing to give up on regular radio, either. Stricter rules regarding the number of media outlets one corporation can own and operate in a specific market need to be reimplemented. Better funding for public radio, so it can continue to operate and even expand its reach. Things like that will help, if not totally solve, the current problems.

And while we're doing that, innovators like Lee will continue to build the next generation of internet-based information, so that when we finally get the majority up-to-date, they'll have access to a wide range of news and opinion both locally and internationally, free of the restrictive grasp of a single corporate interest.

That's the idea, anyway.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Bo-de-ga

Food for thought on this, the second-to-last day of Bush II's presidency. Man, that feels good to type.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sometimes I forget that people might actually be listening

I've been taking part in semi-regular podcasts for for quite awhile now, but I think, subconsciously, I've always thought that the only people who actually listened to the damn things were fellow dane101ers. Apparently not.

After our most recent dissertation on such subjects as public urination, Mayor Dave's new un-blog, and the District 2 alder race, quite a few comments have popped up around the local blogosphere discussing it. I'm happy that our little broadcast has generated some discussion, but I admit that I'm always a little surprised to realize that people are actually, y'know, paying attention. It is both very gratifying and a little terrifying. But hey, why blog or podcast if you don't want to get your opinion out to the world, right?

Anyway, candidates Konkel and Maniaci have both replied to parts of our podcast, each on completely different subjects (and Danny at the CB was miffed that we left him out of our off-the-cuff list of "top" Madison-area blogs).

Sadly, I don't live in District 2 anymore, so I won't even get to vote for that particular race, but I can't help but observe the whole thing with some interest. And I will readily admit that the opinions I give in the podcast may not be wholly correct (concerning the differences between candidates), but mostly because it's difficult, at this early stage, to know much about them...except for Brenda, of course, and even then I'm no expert.

We're hoping to have a few guests on the podcast in the future--local bloggers, politicians, activists, artists and the like--so hopefully that will help to round out the discussions even more. Not that talking about peeing on the bike path isn't well-rounded. Ahem.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New media and the future of progressive talk

Ever since The Mic 92.1FM (our local Air America affiliate) initially dropped the Thom Hartmann show from their line-up and Lee Rayburn then quit his morning show, I've been involved in a flurry of emails, meetings, and article-writing on the subject.

On Monday night, I spoke with Lee over the phone to get his take on the matter. On Wednesday night, I attended the Friends of Progressive Talk Radio meeting to hear station operations and programming managers Mike Ferris and Brian Turany give their sides of the story.

At the end of the meeting, I had a good conversation with local writer, activist, historian and Mic radio host Stu Levitan about the current and future status of progressive talk in Madison. He expressed his opinion that, despite the programming changes, the Mic was still the most consistently progressive talk radio station in the area and a valuable asset. I appreciated a lot of what he had to say, especially when he chimed in as the (quite emphatic) voice of reason a few times during the sometimes heated meeting. We also discussed the possible reasons for why it was such a struggle, even in this rather liberal city, to keep left-wing talk on the air.

It got me thinking about the future of broadcast media in general. An anonymous commenter in my recent post about all of this made the suggestion that radio was more suited to the shouting, bombastic style that's typically found on more conservative talk shows. They went on to say that perhaps progressives shouldn't be looking at radio to be their main outlet, but perhaps would be better suited with blogs and print media, etc. The funny thing is, the comment was a lot more condescending to both sides of the coin than I think is called for, and I didn't agree with all of it--but it did bring up an interesting point.

First of all, I have to say that I adore good old-fashioned radio quite a bit. I had the great pleasure of hosting my own show on WSUM, the local student station, for just under two years during my time at college. I grew up wanting to be a radio DJ. It's something I've always, and will always love. But maybe the kind of talk/commentary many of us who so hate the radio shout-fests (from across the political spectrum) are looking for would be far better suited to new media platforms.

That is to say, perhaps nuanced, thoughtful, engaged debate and discussion of the issues can no longer fit onto the radiowaves. Maybe we should be looking to the internet and satellite radio as better mediums: podcasts, blogs, videos, etc.

At the moment, we're in a very transitional phase: Most of us have seen the light and it is on the internet, but I'm not sure anyone has yet figured out a viable business plan to make new media a profitable, and therefor sustainable, enterprise. That's why so many newspapers and other traditional media outlets are struggling so much. But perhaps these are all the birth pangs, and if we stick it out--which I think we will (have to?)--we will eventually find a way to make this all work for everyone's benefit.

More viewpoints, more stories, more opinions and research will find their equal digital footing, thereby helping to level the playing field. That's an optimistic prediction, but I'm making it now in the hopes that more of the right people will take up the cause and make it happen.

(Part of this will need to involve a massive effort to get computers and computer literacy to a wider swath of the community, regardless of income, etc.)

It's just a thought, but an intriguing one, I think. I have nothing but respect for those people fighting to keep The Mic progressive, and I understand their frustration. It's no easy thing to be shat on for so many years and then try to keep a level head. But keep it we must, because the future of any open, democratic society depends upon it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Which is it, Mayor Dave?

I'm trying to parse the various possible results of different bus fare increases (or lack thereof) being put out by a whole cadre of city officials.

Last night, the Transit & Parking Commission voted to increase the current fare from $1.50 to $1.75, a "compromise" over the increase to $2.00 that the Mayor and others wanted. According to Alder Brenda Konkel, the discussion and voting process seemed a little confused and muddled, and no one appeared to be terribly happy with how things went down.

Mayor Dave, in his blog post today regarding the vote, expressed his concerns with the decision. What he said, though, seemed to contradict itself:
My conclusion was (and still is) that the bigger increase was better because the smaller increase is the worst of both worlds: higher fares for, at best, the same service. By going to $2.00 we could actually increase service for the first time in years and provide a lot of other improvements. A smaller increase doesn't get us much; it's just running in place. And it sets us up for the possibility of another fare increase pretty soon with, again, no service expansions.
Which is it? The immediate increase to $2 equals expanded service "for the first time in years" and "a lot of other improvements"? Or will it result in "no service expansions" as he suggests would be the case if fares were upped to $2 in a slightly more incremental fashion?

Additionally, is the smaller increase "just running in place," as Mayor Dave suggests here, or will it result in the doomsday scenario recently laid out by Chuck Kamp, Transit General Manager.

Look, I don't doubt that Metro is hurting for funds, and I'm a huge proponent of substantial, efficient, and affordable public transportation. Given the historic upswing in ridership numbers, coupled with the shrinking of the average bus rider's pocketbook, shouldn't we be looking for ways to provide those services that don't place such a large burden on the people most in need?

I strongly suspect that the Mayor, Kamp, and most of the other people directly involved in the life and health of Metro have its best interests in mind, and are working hard on making the most of a pretty crappy situation. The public could stand for slightly more straight-forward answers and information on the subject, though.

We could also stand for a society that placed more emphasis on funding public, mass-transit solutions and less on building huge interstates and propping up those companies that stubbornly insisted on continuing to build gas-guzzling vehicles. Just a thought, anyway, but that's a whole other set of issues.

New 'food desert' forms on south side

Cub Foods just announced the closure of its store at 4716 Verona Road, all part of corporate downsizing in response to the current recession.

Normally, I admit that this sort of announcement wouldn't necessarily catch my attention. I used to give rides to residents in that area when I drove for Women's Transit Authority, though, and I remember that a lot of the people that relied on the store also didn't own cars. I saw many women walking their grocery carts across busy Verona road to get from their homes over in the Allied Drive neighborhood to Cub. We also provided rides for people who needed to make a trip to the grocery store and couldn't walk it.

The loss of that store leaves a pretty big hole in the food landscape for those people who live in the area. It will be especially hard, I imagine, for those still without easy access to transportation.

I'm not placing all of the blame on the decision-makers at Cub Foods. They're a business and have to make choices that will help keep the business afloat in difficult economic times. But I can't help but wonder what will happen with the people that relied on the Verona Road store for their groceries? Will they be able to get to the more outlying stores? Will a new grocery go in where Cub once was?

And while I recognize that it's usually just a simple, hard matter of following the money, it's difficult to see something like this happen when we have other, more affluent neighborhoods that enjoy two or even three grocery stores within a small area.

It's something well worth thinking about as a city when we talk about how best to serve all of our citizens.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Progressive Radio: The Saga Continues

In addition to my own comments on the subject of major changes happening at The Mic, several other voices have now chimed in to give their take. I've also written an article explaining what we know of the current situation, including a brief interview I had with Lee Rayburn (odd to have the tables turned). If you're interested, the piece is here.

Dusty Weiss blogged about these recent events as well as the state of progressive talk radio in general, and has some good points to make about the industry and what we should expect from it.

The Capital Times has a good piece online that includes interviews with some rather enraged listeners. The comments section is, as always, both entertaining and frustrating.

There's more over at Uppity Wisconsin, and almost everyone else I've talked to in person has expressed their dismay over the loss of both Thom and Lee. I will be attending the Friends of Progressive Talk meeting tonight at the Dardanelles restaurant (6:30p.m. for those interested) and doing a write-up of what takes place for TDP, so check back there tomorrow morning for that.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Big losses for progressive talk radio in Madison

I am thoroughly bummed. Madison's only progressive talk radio station, the Mic 92.1FM, is undergoing some sort of strange programming flip. This change has already resulted in two terrible casualties of the airwaves: the loss of Thom Hartmann's show, and more recently, that of Madison's own Lee Rayburn.

Some of you may be aware that I had a standing date with Lee every Wednesday morning at the end of the show. It was always a pleasant way to start my morning, chatting with him about whatever was going on around town and beyond.

But after reading his small note about leaving the station (nothing more has been released about it), I'm not bummed about his departure because it means less me on the radio. I'm bummed because Lee's show was one of the few with a heavy focus on local issues, events, and organizations. He routinely had interviews with area community activists, artists, politicians, and more. The show became an invaluable resource for progressive people and ideas (and beyond, really) in Wisconsin.

The Mic has not yet released its new lineup (but are apparently planning to do so next week), so I don't know who or what will replace Lee. I hope that, at the very least, it's locally-based, but we'll have to wait and see.

I am somewhat concerned to learn that the show jumping into Thom Hartmann's old time slot appears to be hosted by Fox News media regular and financial advice-giver Dan Ramsey, a rather conservative fellow and a strange pick to replace Hartmann.

Already, a group of interested citizens are having a meeting with the station's operations manager, Mike Ferris, to discuss these changes and to hopefully give their input about the future of progressive talk in Madison. I encourage you to attend if you have any interest in this subject:
Friends of Progressive Talk Meeting
6:30 p.m., Tuesday, January 13

Dardanelles Restaurant
(853 Monroe St., Madison)

Discussion on format changes to The MIC 92.1 FM.
Operations Manager Mike Ferris to speak.
Lee Rayburn leaves the Mic.

Ramsey, Hartmann and Progressive Talk
At the meeting Tuesday, Clear Channel Operations Manager Mike Ferris, who brought the progressive talk format to WXXM, The MIC 92.1 over four years ago, will speak on his decision for the format switch Mon-Fri, from 2 to 5 p.m. The Fox News media regular Dan Ramsey is now broadcast in the slot in which Thom Hartmann had been delay broadcast. Mike will talk about the issues, his decision and his intention to keep progressive talk on The MIC. We will then have a discussion on the program changes.

Lee Rayburn Leaves The MIC
Unfortunately, Lee Rayburn quit his job, according to his post on his Facebook page Friday afternoon. Nothing more is known, nor has been announced. On Saturday his name was removed from the station's hosts list.
I know that I'm massively saddened by the loss of both Rayburn and Hartmann on the Mic. They made up a good 50% of what I ever listened to on that station (Rachel Maddow and Madison's own Stu Levitan being the other 50%). Still, I have to admit that I'm on the fence about the changes overall. I don't know what the operations manager's plans are for the station. I don't know if they have new, good things in store. I will say, however, that the addition of Ramsey's show sets off warning bells in my mind. I'm skeptical, and I'll be keeping an eye on developments as they happen. Hopefully, tomorrow night's meeting will shed some light on the subject.

Having a wide variety of opinions and political affiliations represented on the airwaves is an important part of our democratic society. At the moment, it strikes me that there are far more conservative voices being broadcast than not, and any such inbalance is bad. The Mic is pretty much the lone voice in the wilderness for progressive/liberal viewpoints in our area (outside of more localized stalwart, WORT), and I'd hate to see it disappear.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Support local bookstore and author

Well now this is pretty awesome - Madison's finest independent bookseller, A Room of One's Own, is now carrying copies of my book, The Fix Up, for sale at their store!

If you find yourself in town, be sure to stop in and 1) pick up a copy for yourself, and 2) support a great local business. Those crazy big box retailers have been pushing these wonderful, valuable small bookstores out of business lately, and so we're lucky to still have one like Room in Madison. You should also check out their website, where it's possible to order just about any book you want and have them ship it to you or do an in-store pick-up. Good deal!

Check out all of the ways you can get a copy of my book here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The technology of truth

Over in Oakland, California, the community is still reeling from the New Years Day shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer. Yesterday, peaceful protests gave way to a handful of violent rioters, as anger over the strange and tragic circumstances of the incident bubbled over.

The man, Oscar Grant, was face-down on a BART station platform, having been apprehended as part of a scuffle between two groups of people on the train. The police officer, Johannes Mehserle, pulled out his gun and shot the unarmed Grant in the back, then proceeded to handcuff him.

Grant died several hours later in the hospital, and it's several days later and still no one knows why in the hell Mehserle did what he did. It doesn't help that he has since quit his job, meaning that the BART authority can no longer force him by threatening to fire him. Mehserle also retained the services of an attorney almost immediately after the shooting, and has not made any statements.

Some excuses flying around are that he really meant to grab and fire his Taser, or that maybe he thought Grant was reaching for a weapon. Neither of these theories really hold water, though, once you watch the four videos that were taken of the incident itself. At worst, it looks like an execution. At best, a stupid, horribly negligent mistake.

At this point in time, it's almost impossible to predict what the outcome of any investigation or trial will be. There's almost no precedent in Oakland for an officer being charged for shooting an unarmed civilian, so the citizens are, quite rightfully, skeptical that justice will be properly served in this case.

Thing is, the only reason there's any chance of real justice in this instance is that people on the scene took video of it and then posted it online. The ability of citizens to record events as they unfold has the potential to be a powerful, grassroots tool for seeing that the truth is told and that justice prevails. Otherwise, it's official word against that of the rabble, and we all know how that usually plays out.

Assisting in this new ability are things like the new Eye-Fi Explore SD card. It uses wi-fi triangulation to geo-tag and upload photos and videos as you take them, wherever you are. Imagine the possibilities. Friends of mine had been postulating the creation of this sort of technology for years now, touting its ability to help protestors and the like get their images safely away from any potential confiscation by authorities.

So had one of those police officers present at the BART shooting been so inclined to take away the cell phones of those people taping the incident, this sort of technology would have rendered those actions moot.

There is certainly room for this sort of technology to be abused--but the same can be said for almost any invention. The important thing is that important information gets out, and maybe, just maybe, guilty parties will actually be held responsible for their transgressions.

For Oscar Grant's sake, at least, I certainly hope they do.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The slow but steady chipping away of reproductive rights

Recently, it was announced that UW Health wanted to begin providing second trimester abortions at one of their clinics. This after the only provider of such services in the Madison area retired this past December.

Unsurprisingly, several anti-choice organizations immediately lodged complaints against the plan. Among their stated reasons for their opposition are that it would be illegal under Wisconsin laws that prohibit public funding of abortions, and that it might force physicians who are morally opposed to assist in performing them. There is also a general opposition to second trimester abortions because some believe the fetus is far along enough in its development as to constitute "viability" - a stage at which Wisconsin law prohibits the procedure.

Unsurprisingly, they're wrong on the first two, and hazy on the third claim.

UW Health spokeswoman Lisa Brunette has already stated that employees will be allowed, as provided for under state law, to opt out of any such procedures. She has also stated that no public funds will be used for the operation. Money, instead, will come from insurance and patient fees.

As for the final claim, that certainly becomes a bit more nebulous. Under section 940.15, enacted in 1985, "Wisconsin has prohibited intentional performance of an abortion after the fetus or unborn child has reached viability, unless it is necessary to preserve the mother’s life or health, as determined by her physician. (“Viability” is the stage of fetal development when, in the judgment of the attending physician, the fetus may sustain survival outside the womb, with or without artificial support.)"

Banning second trimester abortions outright would, I'd argue, violate two laws: Roe v. Wade, of course, but also the aforementioned section of state statute. The determination of fetal viability is to be left up to the individual physician in regards to the individual case, not outside interest groups. No two instances of a woman seeking an abortion are the same, and should never be treated as such. We have exceptions carved out for cases involving the health of the mother (an important issue, despite things like McCain's air quotes on the subject), sexual assault, and incest--and for damn good reason.

I've heard people arguing against second trimester abortions say that there's no reason a woman should need to wait that long to "make up her mind." What these individuals fail to take into account, though, are the many and varied circumstances surrounding such a difficult personal decision.

Listening to Lee Rayburn's show on the Mic this morning, I heard one caller describe an instance where a woman had to save up the money for the procedure in secret, because her husband was incredibly abusive and would have beaten her up if he knew. She was into her second trimester by the time she'd saved enough. I wouldn't call that a failure of planning by any means.

And then there are cases when women simply don't know they're pregnant right away (cripes, sometimes they don't know until the kid pops out), cases where they're too young and scared to know what to do, or when something goes wrong and their life is threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy. The list goes on and on, and just goes to reiterate my point about each instance being unique.

Ultimately, it should always come down to the rights of the woman over her own body. Society should not be allowed to dictate what she does with it--and that, I suspect, is what's really at issue for these anti-choice groups. For them, laws about public funding and physician rights of conscience are secondary to their real goal: the complete and total outlawing of all abortions, in all circumstances.

They know that the majority of people in this country think that's a terrible idea, though, so they focus on smaller battles they think they can win. And so far, their strategy is working. Reproductive rights in this country have only been chipped away at since Roe v. Wade passed. Funding for sexual health and education has been significantly eroded, leading to fail-tastic abstinence only programs and the resultant higher unwanted pregnancy rates and STDs. Large segments of the population have no access to abortion services, instead often needing to travel across state lines to find a clinic where they can get help. And inaccurately named "partial-birth abortion" bans have found their way onto books across the country.

I applaud UW Health for being willing and able to provide the service to the community, and for abiding by state law along the way. I hope they're able to weather the slings and arrows lobbed by groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and Pro-Life Wisconsin. In the meantime, we must do our part, as the community served, to support UW Health and the efforts of their physicians.

The good news for Jan. 7, 2009

So much news, so little time. Most of the articles I've collected for your reading pleasure today have to do with the environment, and green technologies (except for the abortion one, which probably isn't as "green" as one of the comments wryly suggests). I've written extensively on the subject of sustainability and conservation, and I'm always on the lookout for news of positive developments on those fronts. There's plenty of doom and gloom involved, so we all need some reassurance from time to time, no? Anyway, I encourage you to check out the following articles:
  • [Grist] In the midst of the many and varied pile-of-shit rule and legislative changes being pushed through the pipes at the last minute, the Bush administration went ahead and authorized the creation of the largest marine sanctuary on Earth. Excellent! Still, I can't help but wonder: Do these guys realize that you can't just designate a few patches of land and sea as nature reserves and then go off and plunder the rest of the planet? It's all connected, you jerks!
  • [TreeHugger] Macintosh's annual bonanza-o'-self-promotion is on, and they've just announced the development of a laptop battery that's both far more long-lasting and recyclable. Pretty cool, Mac, pretty cool.
  • [World Changing] Smart folks ponder the future, and what big questions and events will shape it the most. Unsurprisingly, climate change takes center stage.
  • [Capital Times] UW Health is considering whether or not to add second trimester abortion services. Anti-choice advocates are, naturally, livid.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Fix Up

It's official! You can now get my new novel via two, very fine and equally handsome methods!

You remember my novel, that thing I was giddily telling you about just the other week? Just in case, though, I'll refresh your memory:
Chapel's not having a good decade. Released from prison for a crime she doesn't particularly want to talk about, she's looking to lead a more normal, legal life - but life, that bastard, has a few curve balls aimed at her head.

Befriended by a couple of well-connected street punks, Chapel finds herself navigating a treacherous underworld filled with drugs, betrayal, sexual ambiguity, crime, crooked cops, and death. All she really wanted to do, though, was make rent.

Inspired by the short film series and character created by Rob Matsushita, The Fix Up is equal parts suspense thriller and introspective, darkly humorous personal journey.

"Tough and tragic, The Fix-Up is hard-boiled noir with a heart. Emily Mills has given the character of Chapel a past and a soul. It's stuff like this that makes me feel damn lazy." - Rob Matsushita, playwright & filmmaker
Those short films I reference are "Complicated" and "Distracted," (and the newest installment, "Extremed") in case you're curious. And now, Chapel's twisty-turny backstory is available in good ol' fashioned print, and I would be delighted if you bought a copy.

I'm making copies of the book available either from me in person, or from me via mail-order, for a limited time only (ONLY 9 COPIES LEFT FOR THIS METHOD - 3/17/09). And I'm offering it at a discounted price from what's up in the e-store, so that's pretty sweet. So take your pick - drop me an email at lostalbatross (at) gmail (dot) com and we can set up an in-person exchange for just $12, or send $12 (cash only, please) and your shipping address to the following address:

Emily Mills
P.O. BOX 3001

Madison, WI 53704

I then solemnly swear to send you a copy of the book, post-haste, and pad the envelope with my undying gratitude.

P.S. Be sure to hide your cash inside paper or something else inside the envelope. I can't send you anything if I never get anything in the mail in the first place.

You can still buy the book online, from my secure e-store at CreateSpace. They take credit cards and all that fanciness, so if you didn't get the chance to get a copy directly from me, this is probably the method for you!

Click on over to my CreateSpace store to place your order now, and they'll send it your way in no time flat.

Another method, holy crap! And this one allows you to support a great, independent bookstore while you're at it. Madison's finest bookseller, A Room of One's Own, is also still carrying a few copies of The Fix Up. Stop in and pick up a copy and enjoy everything else the store has to offer, too.


I hope you'll give my crazy piece of fiction a chance! And in any case, thanks for reading the blog.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thoughtful economic stimulus package needed, emphasis on 'thoughtful'

The economy is ill. We all know it. Several hundred point fluctuations in the stock markets have become so common place that they barely raise eyebrows anymore. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost. Too many homes foreclosed. Banks and large corporations are going belly up. The auto industry is on life support.

President-elect Barack Obama has called for the creation and implementation of a massive economic stimulus package, something on par with (or greater than) the New Deal policies of the 1930's. He wants hundreds of billions of dollars to go toward unfreezing the markets and creating enough new jobs to get us all back on track again. A major attribute of those jobs, Obama says, should be that they are in "green" sectors of the economy.

Because the environment is ill, too.

Some people don't believe that we can both right the economy and the environment at the same time, that focusing on conservation and sustainability will only hinder the markets and make things worse for us all.

What many other people are saying, though, is that we can have it both ways. We'll all need to ante up and kick in, work hard, to make it happen--but it can happen.

The November/December issue of Mother Jones includes a series of articles dealing with this very conundrum, and they're all well worth the read. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from them, though, is this number: 350.

And what does that mean, precisely? James Hansen, the NASA scientist who in 1988 was one of the first public voices to warn that burning fossil fuels was warming the earth, recently published a paper in which he (and several coauthors) laid out the case for "Target Atmospheric CO2" levels. It says:
If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.
The Mother Jones article goes on to clarify:
Get that? Let me break it down for you. For most of the period we call human civilization, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hovered at about 275 parts per million. Let's call that the Genesis number, or depending on your icons, the Buddha number, the Confucius number, the Shakespeare number. Then, in the late 18th century, we started burning fossil fuel in appreciable quantities, and that number started to rise. The first time we actually measured it, in the late 1950s, it was already about 315. Now it's at 385, and growing by more than 2 parts per million annually.

And it turns out that that's too high. We never had a number before, so we never knew whether we'd crossed a red line. We half guessed and half hoped that the danger zone might be 450 or 550 parts per million—those were still a little ways in the distance. Therefore we could get away with thinking like the young Augustine: "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet." Not anymore. We have been told by science that we're already over the line.

Scary as that is, it's not an impossible goal. Some might balk at how much of a challenge it might be, or how much reaching that number will alter the economic world as we know it. But, as always, I ask this: Would you rather the alternative? A world toxic to life itself? I hope not.

The fears of the greedy souls so thoroughly entrenched and invested in a fossil fuel dependent society are well-founded, and frankly I'd like to see their worst nightmares come true--A world powered by human innovation that leads to sustainable, renewable sources of energy and technologies.

Obama has the right idea when he calls for a vast stimulus package that focuses heavily on creating "green jobs" - but the devil's in the details.

His promotion of so-called "clean coal" is, unfortunately, misguided. Coal is not and is not likely ever to be clean. From its extraction through habitat destroying processes, to its harnessing through pollutant spewing factories, coal is far from the answer.

We should also be wary of the calls for more infrastructure spending. While it's incredibly important to upgrade our aging bridge, sewage, and power transmission systems, we shouldn't allow expensive and unnecessary road building projects to weasel their way into the game, too.

Unfortunately, all too many state governors and mayors have sent reams of just such proposals off to the Obama administration. Right here in Wisconsin, Gov. Doyle is requesting funds for a much disputed plan to expand I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois border. John Norquist, CEO of Congress for the New Urbanism, writes that:
Though it will achieve only minimal reductions in drive times, it is projected to add more than 200,000 automobile miles per day. Say hello to 130,000 pounds in new daily carbon emissions (assuming the average miles-per-gallon of cars on the road climbs to 30). It’s the kind of project Exxon might dream up to get cars back on the road after seven unprecedented months of declining driving.
That's not the direction in which we want to go if we want any chance at getting our emissions down to the recommended 350.

We should instead be focusing on developing better mass transit systems, like the proposed Midwest commuter railway that would link cities like Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Things like that would get more cars off the road while helping a wider range of people to get from city to city, all the while cutting down on emissions and creating jobs (we'll need people to build, operate, and maintain those rails, after all).

Intentional, well-thought out urban infill would help, too, making more people less dependent on their cars to get them to their jobs, grocery stores, schools, etc. It would free up more land for conservation, and for sustainable farming that could serve local communities.

We need to make a serious, concerted push to pump more money into those industries and organizations working to innovate greener modes of transportation and energy. Right now, alternatives and renewables only receive a pittance in terms of tax incentives and government grants, while the oil, coal, and natural gas industries sit pretty and fat. Our priorities need to pull a 180.

And in the meantime, we need to put a hard cap on the amount of CO2 our nation releases, heavily taxing those industries that exceed set limits (and making them pay for permits to do so). The companies would then, presumably, pass those extra expenses on to consumers, who would likely cut their usage dramatically.

To offset the burden placed on the consumer, however, the government could take some of the money earned from the industry payments for their emissions, and maybe money from a gas tax as well, and give it back to us regular folk by way of a monthly check (or something similar), then invest the remainder in helping create newer, cleaner, more affordable means of powering our lives in the long-run.

There are many opportunities to go about this the right way, and just as many to go about it the wrong way. We have lots of smart, thoughtful people out there working on the problems right now. What we lack is the national (and international) willpower and cooperation to properly fund their efforts, and to see this through to the hopefully less bitter end.

We can hope that an Obama administration understands that, and acts on it--but we also need to make sure they do. Hold them accountable. Speak up. Don't allow yourself to be cowed by pretty rhetoric or the easy path. Make it happen. We have to, now, before the pendulum swings so far out and up that there's nowhere to go but crashing down.

(h/t: Sprawled Out)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday Brunch: T-U-R-T-L-E Power!

I challenge anyone who was roughly my age when this movie came out if they claim they never memorized at least part of this song.

Just sayin'.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Decker wrong on DUI law

Between his stalling of and compromise on anti-smoking bills and now his recent statements about proposed new laws dealing with drunk driving offenses, I can't help but think of Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker as being kind of a tool. I believe he's wrong, anyway.

Wisconsin has a terrible drunk driving record, and some legislators, pushed on by a whole chorus of angry citizenry and organizations, are actually trying to tighten our state's laws on the matter. Decker, of course, has a thing or two to say about that:
The Weston Democrat said in an interview Wednesday that making a third drunken driving offense a felony would be "too severe," while allowing sobriety checkpoints is undemocratic.

"I just don't think stopping somebody without just cause is the way for us to work in a democracy," he said.

On third offense drunken driving, Decker said, "You could get one at 20 (years old), one at forty, and one at 60. That spans 40 years. Does that make you a felon? No."
I'm going to disagree with him on that one. Each time a person gets behind the wheel after tossing a few back, they put others in danger. I don't care if those instances are two weeks apart or two decades--it's the same danger. And if someone doesn't get the message that drinking and driving is unacceptable the first two times they get caught (not to mention all the times they do it without detection), then I think absolutely the third strike should be more severe.

I do agree that sobriety checkpoints smack of being undemocratic. The United States Supreme Court, in Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz, may have declared them to be constitutional, but it was on the somewhat dubious pretense of the slight Fourth Amendment infringement being outweighed by the good done for public safety. I haven't entirely made up my mind about this yet, but I can't help but feel like bending the safegaurds granted by the Constitution in the name of some unproven improvement in safety is a bit...wrongheaded.

But back to the issue of making a third OWI/DUI offense into a felony. Currently, Wisconsin has one of the worst drunk driving records in the nation, with 42 percent of all traffic fatalities involving an intoxicated driver. We read stories about people being arrested for their 6th, 7th, and even 8th offense. If some of those individuals had been charged with a felony on their third strike, it's far more likely that the subsequent incidents would have never occured.
Of the 1,010 drunken-driving arrests in 2008, a third were repeat offenders. Three of the arrests were for drivers racking up their ninth OWI arrests.
This is, simply put, completely unacceptable. And while I recognize that there will always be those people who insist on getting behind the wheel after drinking a bit too much, I also recognize that a good way to significantly cut down on that risk is to a) impose stiffer and longer-lasting penalties on offenders so they can't reoffend, and b) impose stiffer and longer-lasting penalties so that more people will be put off from offending in the first place.

We need comprehensive, no-bullshit laws on the books for dealing with this issue. It's not partisan, it's personal, and it's in everyone's best interest to see that it's done. Making sure Russ Decker listens to us, and failing that, no longer gets to be Senate Leader (or even a senator), is a good step along the way.
The Lost Albatross