Be civil, you $%@^*!!!

Right Wisconsin has two views on whether civility in politics is even possible, let alone necessary.

The first comes from former state Rep. Michelle Litjens:

Not so very long ago, Americans gathered around the radio to listen to the same news programs and the same radio shows every night. Then they read the same newspapers. The entire nation watched M.A.S.H. At work we could discuss what we watched the night before on T.V. and discuss and laugh about it because we all watched the same programs. After all, there were only 3 stations. Despite our political differences, we had far more in common than things that made us different.

Let’s look at today. Today liberals watch MSNBC and conservatives watch FOX News. Conservatives listen to talk radio and liberals listen to public radio. The internet is filled with thousands of different views and perspectives so that we are able to search for news that fits our specific political viewpoints which solidifies why we are right and they are wrong.

This polarization effects where we live too. Conservatives are more likely to move out to the country for more land and less government. Liberals are attracted to urban living with smaller living spaces and more government services.

We are self-segregating and it isn’t making us a stronger country. In fact, when we don’t know anyone who disagrees with us then people with different viewpoints become less like people to us. They become the enemy. And when it comes to enemies, anything goes.You can say anything about your enemy, attack your enemy, and because enemies are seen as less human than you, bad behavior becomes acceptable.

I was recently the conservative voice on Wisconsin Public Radio for an hour. I do this about every other month. I think it is important to make sure that our side has a voice in the heart of liberalism.

It was an hour long discussion with a liberal progressive about Washington politics and state issues. Our conversation was very pleasant and we had some great dialogue.

About an hour after the show, a lady called me. A very angry lady. She was so upset with what I said her voice was shaking. She yelled at me for what I said about the President. She wouldn’t let me speak to defend myself and then when I did, and I was nice, she was more upset for me.

She was so angry with me that I was shaking after I hung up the phone. Now, could I have hung up on her and evaded this whole thing? Yes. But I quickly learned while dealing with opponents of Act 10 that you need to let angry people vent a bit or the hatred only grows.

What is happening to our country that people think this kind of behavior is acceptable?  The worst part of this is that the left is especially hateful of conservative women. They attack conservative women with venom. What people write and say about me and my family on the internet would make your skin crawl. Liberal talk radio hosts, bloggers, nameless/faceless commenters, etc. Although I try to not read these things my children read them. And the left says they are the ones who stand up for women? Really?

We need this to end. We need to become one country again. One country who respects the views of others when we disagree. Every view point has value. Even when their opinions are wrong. This is what separates the United States of America from Russia and China where you can’t have different views than the government or you are silenced.

Litjens doesn’t mention her own experience with civility, or lack thereof. During an Act 10 debate in the Assembly, state Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said to Litjens, “You are f—ing dead!” Did Hintz face any recriminations for what should have earned him at least a punch in the face? No. Did Hintz apologize? You decide. (Then again, Hintz also remained in the Assembly despite his conviction for soliciting a prostitute, which says as much about Hintz’s constituents as himself.)

As someone with strongly held political views who can nevertheless avoid expressing them, I observe that screaming at someone doesn’t win political arguments. On the other hand, we live in a world with a great deal of irrationality and illogic in, though not limited to, politics.

The opposing view from Litjens (delivered in a civil fashion, as opposed to Hintz) comes from Chris Rochester:

I disagree that the demise of mainstream outlets and the rise of biased ones like RedState and HuffPo is a bad thing. Well over a hundred years ago, newspapers were open about who they supported, going so far as to name themselves after the party they shilled for.

Then they learned to pretend to be unbiased. Today bias shows up in more insidious ways such as selective coverage of stories and of the facts therein. History is cyclical, and it’s just repeating itself as the façade of impartiality has worn thin enough to see through.

As for the tone of political discourse in America, I agree that a commitment to pluralism should be made, but I propose that “we” is actually “they.”

Litjens tells the story of a bile-spitting woman who called to tell her off following an interview, her voice trembling with anger. This is the sort of person who must be persuaded to put her prejudice aside and respectfully disagree in a dispassionate way. The problem is this: from the Bush era on, The Left has whipped its base into such a froth that they actually believe their political opponents are bad people who want to hurt them.

That, as psychologists might say, is the basis of an intractable conflict.

Spiteful conservatives who truly hate liberals are out there, but they’re kept in check. Conservatism is inherently a pluralistic, intellectual, introspective philosophy. The GOP believes it’s made stronger by internal disagreement, dialogue, and primaries. That’s to our advantage, because hatred is inferior to good ideas and hard work as political tools.

The Left, by contrast, offers stale ideas that have a proven record of failure and an inherently arrogant philosophy that at its core proposes that liberals and their appointees are uniquely qualified to make decisions for others. They try to prevent partisan primaries. Their ideas can’t withstand much debate – it’s The Left that constantly seeks to shut down debate, not the right.

President Bush compromised with The Left in the bipartisan manner so many in the media long for today. No Child Left Behind. Medicare Part D. The bipartisan Iraq War. Comprehensive immigration reform. President Bush did exactly what the statist blabbo-sphere wishes from the new GOP majority – bipartisanship and compromise.

For his conciliation, what did Bush get? He was ridiculed, reviled, tormented, and despised by even mainstream Democrats with a rarely-seen vitriol. He was compared to Hitler. His assassination was depicted in a movie – to great fanfare from The Left.

He respected them, signed their bills, and in return they hated him even more.

The goal of civil disagreement is a worthy one, but that commitment must first be made by a seething mass of spiteful people on The Left. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Like Litjens, I appear from time to time on WPR, including on one segment where, let’s just say, it was a good thing the two of us weren’t in the same studio. It is important for conservatives to not wall off themselves in the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh/Charlie Sykes sphere of right thinking, because all you get is subtle variations on the same school of thought. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind by not encountering anyone with different ideas from yours, and you’re not going to hone your own arguments in an echo chamber.

The fault for lack of civility in politics lies with those who have created the system as it exists today. That is, to be precise, the incumbent party, the people who benefit when the stakes are too high in elections. If government was half the size it is today (which is what it should be, and would have been had we had constitutional controls on spending and taxes), and if politicians received the correct amount of pay and benefits (none), the stakes would be lower, and politics would be far less unpleasant than it is today.

Politics is, remember, a zero-sum game. One side wins, thus the other side loses. When government takes away your rights, you lose. When government increases your taxes, you lose. And compromising your core beliefs (for instance, agreeing to increase taxes only a little) for the sake of making a deal is also losing. (See George H.W. “Read My Lips” Bush.)

I said some time ago, and I maintain the opinion today, that at some point relatively soon someone is going to get killed as a result of the next nasty political debate or campaign. And, unfortunately, I cannot see within the rest of my lifetime any way that Litjens’ plea for unity will ever happen. We’re not one country now, and we haven’t been one country for a very long time. The only thing that unifies partisans is hatred of the opposing side.

The funny coda to this unfunny subject comes from CSPAN, which featured two brothers, both of which lead diametrically opposite political groups, reports the Washington Post:

Everybody knows that the best part about CSPAN is the unpredictable nature of the show’s call-in segments, where regular hosts and guests do an admirable job of fielding unusual questions with no advance warning. But brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse are now the champions of awkward CSPAN calls, after the politically divided brothers ended up taking a call from their mom.

“Oh God, it’s mom,” Dallas Woodhouse said as soon as “Joy” from North Carolina started to speak.

“You’re right, I’m from down south,” she said. “And I’m your MOTHER.”

She’d called to take issue with something her kids said on air: That the brothers’ political bickering — you see, one is liberal, and the other is conservative — is typical of most families. “I don’t know many families that are fighting at Thanksgiving,” she said. “I’m hoping you’ll have some of this out of your system when you come here for Christmas. I would really like a peaceful Christmas.”

Steve Scully, the show’s host, jumped in to clarify: “This was not planned. She called in on the normal line.”

“I love you mom,” Dallas said at one point.

“And I love politics,” she replied.

Addressing Scully, she said: “They’re both very passionate about what they believe in, and I love that about them; but I hope they just kinda get this out of their system today on your program.”

That’s one way to handle political disputes within a family. The other is to ban talking about politics at Christmas. I’m familiar with that family.


Presty the DJ for Dec. 17

Today in 1963,  James Carroll of WWDC radio in Washington became the first U.S. DJ to broadcast a Beatles song:

Carroll, whose station played the song once an hour, got the 45 from his girlfriend, a flight attendant. Capitol Records considered going to court, but chose to release the 45 early instead.

Today in 1969, 50 million people watched NBC-TV’s “Tonight” because of a wedding:

The number one British single today in 1973:

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Who’s afraid of Right to Work?

For some strange reason, the meter of the headline (first used by the Wisconsin Club for Growth) matches …

M.D. Kittle reports about a union leader who isn’t afraid of right to work:

Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, said he prefers organizing in a right-to-work environment.

“This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions,” Casteel said in February, according to a July 1 piece in the Washington Post. “To me, it helps them.”

The blog was written by the Post’s labor reporter Lydia DePillis, and headlined “Why Harris v. Quinn isn’t as bad for workers as it sounds.” The U.S. Supreme Court decision put the brakes on compulsory union dues for some home-care employees.

“You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to,” Casteel said. “So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”

Leave it to a big labor guy to crystallize the argument for right-to-work proponents.

Right-to-work laws, now in 24 states, including Michigan, Florida and Indiana, prohibit firing workers for choosing not to join a labor union or pay dues.

It’s about choice, and it’s about the free-market principles of competition, right-to-work backers say. Or as Casteel put it, if the union isn’t “earning it’s keep, then you don’t have to pay.” No more than a consumer would have to pay for one cable TV plan over another or any service deemed too costly or ineffective.

Casteel’s point, at least at the time, was that unions have and can continue to prove their worth to the worker. Fine, say right-to-work proponents, but let the employee ultimately say.

Public-sector employees have weighed in in Wisconsin, where the state’s Act 10 reformed the state’s long-standing and pioneering government collective-bargaining law. Given the choice, public employees by pretty significant numbers have left their unions and their compulsory dues.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, lost more than a third of its membership, declining from about 98,000 to about 60,000 members following the implementation of the public-sector collective-bargaining reform Act 10 in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24’s dues-paying membership fell from about 5,900 security and safety employee members pre-Act 10 to 690 in the early months of 2013 — an 88 percent drop — according to information obtained by Wisconsin Reporter.

Michigan, the home of the UAW, is just beginning to find out about life after right-to-work. The state became a right-to-work state in 2013, following massive, big labor-led protests at the Capitol in Lansing in late December 2012.

Earlier this fall, the brunt of the 112,000 active educators and school workers in the state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, were for the first time able to drop out of the union and stop paying union dues. Many have.

According to a new report out this week, MEA membership declined by more than 5,100 education employees, to 142,555, between Sept. 1, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2013.

The report, published in the Detroit Free Press, shows MEA dues rose $5 between 2013 and 2014. Still, the union reported a negative net asset total of nearly $135 million.

Despite the changes and challenges, one fact remained the same: MEA’s top bosses got another round of big raises.

MEA President Steven B. Cook’s gross salary climbed 11 percent, or $20,446, to $203,144, according to the report. Vice President Nancy Strachan booked a 16-percent raise, with her gross salary up $20,097, to $144,700. And Secretary-Treasurer Rick Trainor’s gross salary soared by $48,385, to $158,296.

Union membership in 2013 rose slightly overall, making up about 16 percent of workers in Michigan. But the jury still is out. UAW has existing contracts with the Detroit’s Big Three automakers until September 2015, when the new agreements will no longer allow compulsory union dues.

To quote a hysterical pro wrestling announcer: Wait just a minute!

You won’t find the UAW’s Casteel boldly talking about competing in right-to-work states much these days. He made his comments as director of UAW Region 8, representing a large swath of the South, including Tennessee, where he was engaged in a bitter battle to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

Now, Casteel mainly talks about those “right-wing extremists” trying to break the backs of American organized labor by laws ending forced unionism.

couple months after Casteel was elected secretary-treasurer at the UAW’s 36th Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas, the union boss lamented how the big business-backed right “try to thwart workers’ efforts at every turn …”

“(W)hether it’s making it virtually impossible for unions to collect the resources they need to bargain (as Gov. Scott Walker did to state workers in Wisconsin) or passing dishonest right to work laws that pretend to uphold democracy, but in truth are just their attempt to pit workers against one another,” Casteel wrote in his “Clear View blog. “I’m sure they are not out of ideas, but I am equally sure that we are up to the task of exposing their agenda and building a stronger union through the process.”

The Washington Post asked the question that Casteel once answered: “So is it really such a terrible thing for unions to have to demonstrate their value convincingly enough for workers to want to join?”

About the media: Let’s hear from Mike Nichols, a member, like myself, of the Former Journal Communications Employees Club:

Many years ago, after taking a job as a young reporter at the old Milwaukee Journal, the union leaders in the newsroom — using tactics that were somewhere between cajoling and arm-twisting — tried to persuade me to join The Newspaper Guild, a union affiliate of the Communications Workers of America.

They were nice guys, my union friends. But it was clear they thought anyone who didn’t hand over some cash in the form of dues was a freeloader. Their argument: Because the paper was (and still is) a unionized “open shop,” employees didn’t have to pay dues if they didn’t want to. But because a majority of newsroom employees had once voted in favor of the union, the union leaders represented everyone.

Even if you don’t pay the union, you’ll still be part of the “bargaining unit,” the union leaders would argue. You’ll still “benefit” from the collective bargaining process. So pony up.

I declined for a variety of reasons. The union, I concluded, wasn’t boosting my pay. It was holding it down by repeatedly asking the company to spend whatever money was available on across-the-board salary increases rather than just merit pay; if I screwed up somehow, I wanted to speak for myself; if I was going to donate money to a cause (something reporters and columnists are normally dissuaded from doing) I didn’t want that cause to be part of a national union that pushed a political agenda I disagreed with.

I never did join the union. I also never stopped wondering how in the world union leaders had the right to represent me at the bargaining table if I didn’t want them to.

The answer might surprise some people and shed some light on just what right-to-work legislation would mean for workers in this state — and what it wouldn’t.

Right-to-work legislation would have absolutely no impact on so-called “open shops” such as the one in the Journal Sentinel newsroom, according to Fred Gants, a Madison labor and employment lawyer for Quarles and Brady.

Right-to-work legislation, according to Gants, would only prevent companies and unions from setting up “union” shops, also sometimes referred to as “agency shops”— places where employees must pay union dues (at least that portion of dues that is not spent on political causes or lobbying) as a condition of employment.

In other words, even if right-to-work legislation is adopted, Wisconsin workers will still be able to form and join unions if they so choose. And under federal law, once a union is formed, it would still bargain on behalf of its non-union co-workers. The only difference: Nobody could be forced to pay dues. All union shops would become open.

The burgeoning debate over right-to-work is really over two different things: the rights that workers, either as individuals or collectively, should have in the workplace; and whether right-to-work states are more conducive or less conducive to long-term prosperity.

Long before specific legislation has even been introduced, my old friends on the Editorial Board at the paper have already stated that they “don’t think workplace freedom is the real objective here” and that Wisconsin should “forget this sideshow.”

Sidestepping the issue of individual rights, they’ve cherry-picked old studies that have nothing to do with Wisconsin, and seem to have determined there is no link between right-to-work laws and economic growth. In truth, there are reputable studies that conclude such laws have been economically advantageous. Because various studies conflict in some ways, because times change and because Wisconsin is a very unique place, there is a need to seriously examine the specific impact a right-to-work law might have here in the Badger State at this particular point in history.

Right-to-work laws have been adopted in Michigan and Indiana as well as about half of the other states in America. Is Wisconsin right now at a competitive disadvantage?

Do Wisconsinites see this as an economic issue, an issue of individual rights, or both?

The only thing that would have bothered me more than being forced into the bargaining unit would have been being forced to pay dues. Many people in Wisconsin’s newsrooms clearly disagree. But all that really matters is what everyone else in the state thinks, and whether right-to-work laws are good for both Wisconsin as a whole as well as its individual citizens.

Any worker who understands the concept of self-interest would, you would think, want the best possible deal for himself or herself, irrespective of what his or her coworkers get. Any worker with self-respect would, you would think, want to be judged and rewarded based on his or her own work and value to the company, not a collective everybody-gets-X arrangement you get from a union.

Presty the DJ for Dec. 16

The number one British single today in 1965 wasn’t just one song:

Today in 1970, five Creedence Clearwater Revival singles were certified gold, along with the albums “Cosmo’s Factory,” “Willy and the Poor Boys,” “Green River,” “Bayou Country” and “Creedence Clearwater Revival”:

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The job of a journalist

Jeff Jacoby thinks the job of a journalist is not what some journalists think it is:

Journalists, says Jorge Ramos, shouldn’t make a fetish of accuracy and impartiality.

Speaking last month at the International Press Freedom Awards, Univision’s influential news anchor told his audience that while he has “nothing against objectivity,” journalism is meant to be wielded as “a weapon for a higher purpose: justice.” Of course, he continued, it is important to get the facts right — five deaths should be reported as five, not six or seven. But “the best of journalism happens when we, purposely, stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize that we have a moral obligation to tell truth to power.”

As it happens, Ramos delivered those remarks soon after the publication of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s 9,000-word story in Rolling Stone vividly describing the alleged gang rape of a freshman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity party. Erdely had reportedly spent months researching the story, and its explosive impact was — at first — everything a tell-truth-to-power journalist could have wished: national attention, public outrage, campus protests, suspension of UVA’s fraternities, and a new “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual assault.

But Rolling Stone’s blockbuster has imploded, undone by independent reporting at The Washington Post that found glaring contradictions and irregularities with the story, and egregious failures in the way it was written and edited. Erdely, it turns out, had taken Jackie’s horrific accusations on faith, never contacting the alleged rapists for a comment or response. In a rueful “Note to Our Readers,” managing editor Will Dana writes: “[W]e have come to the conclusion . . . that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.”

To a layman, that “conclusion” might seem so excruciatingly self-evident that Rolling Stone’s debacle can only be explained as gross negligence, or a reckless disregard for the truth. But much of the journalistic priesthood holds to a different standard, one that elevates the higher truth of an overarching “narrative” — in this case, that a brutal and callous “rape culture” pervades American college campuses — above the mundane details of fact. Erdely had set out in search of a grim sexual-assault story, and settled on Jackie’s account of being savaged by five men (or was it seven?) at a fraternity bash was just the vehicle she’d been looking for. Why get tangled in conflicting particulars?

“Maybe [Erdely] was too credulous,” suggests longtime media critic Howard Kurtz in a piece on Rolling Stone’sjournalistic train wreck. “Along with her editors.”

Or maybe this is what happens when newsrooms and journalism schools decide, like Jorge Ramos, that although they have “nothing against objectivity,” their real aspiration is to use journalism “as a weapon for a higher purpose.” Somehow it didn’t come as a shock to learn that when Dana was invited to lecture at Middlebury College in 2006, his speech was titled: “A Defense of Biased Reporting.”

Even after the UVA story began to collapse, voices were raised in defense of the narrative over mere fact.

“This is not to say that it does not matter whether or not Jackie’s story is accurate,” Julia Horowitz, an assistant managing editor at the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, wrote in Politico. But “to let fact-checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”

Well, if the “narrative” is what matters most, checking the facts too closely can indeed be a huge mistake. Because facts, those stubborn things, have a tendency to undermine cherished narratives — particularly narratives grounded in emotionalism, memory, or ideology.

It’s a temptation to which journalists have always been susceptible. In the 1930s, to mention one notorious example, Walter Duranty recycled Soviet propaganda, assuring his New York Times readers that no mass murders were occurring under Stalin’s humane and enlightened rule. Duranty is reviled today. But the willingness to subordinate a passion for accuracy to a supposedly higher passion for “justice” (or “equality” or “fairness” or “diversity” or “peace” or “the environment”) persists.

Has the time come to give up on the ideal of objective, unbiased journalism? Would media bias openly acknowledged be an improvement over news media that only pretend not to take sides?

This much is clear: The public isn’t deceived. Trust in the media has been drifting downward for years. According to Gallup, Americans’ confidence that news is being reported “fully, accurately, and fairly” reached an all-time low this year.