Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Deference Difference - McClellan Revelations Bring Back Personal White House Memories

Watching the press flap about the latest revelations from former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, reminds me of my own humble days in the White House Press Room many years ago and the huge difference in deference of the national press between then and now.

In my very first 4 p.m. briefing at the famous press room I was taken aback when White House Press Secretary Ron Zeigler came out of the door to the left of podium and no sooner had he gotten to the microphone when Herb Kaplow, the ABC correspondent blurted out. " And what kind of lies do you have for us today, Ron?"

I was just a student journalist at the University of Maryland doing an internship that included covering the White House and Capital Hill for a group of Midwestern newspapers. But Kaplow's opening remark along with the smirk on Zeigler's face when he heard it left a lasting impression about the relationship between the press and the White House. Of course, not all of the dozens of regulars who peopled those 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. White House press briefings shared the same disdain that Kaplow did with the farce that preceded the impeachment of President Nixon.

Everyone knew that Zeigler, a former Disney publicist, was just a mouthpiece and that he was just the front man for an administration in freefall. What surprises me now is that anyone is surprised about the McClellan revelations that the Bush administration has been lying through its teeth.

What is disgusting from my perspective is the incredible deference the national press is still showing to the Bush administration despite the fact that we all know the Bush administration lied us into the war. The latest charade from Dan Bartlett that it wasn't lies, but faulty intelligence that caused Bush problems, is simply another lie.

The Downing Street Memo seems to be long forgotten by the members of the national press. We wrote about it shortly after it appeared in a British newspaper in a May 29, 2005 post we titled Another Way To Remember on Memorial Day. It gives me no great pleasure to realize how right I was about the Bush administration three years ago. Of course, John Conyers and many other braver Americans continually challenged the administration but our national press ignored those early signs of treason because in some circles it was unthinkable that a president of the United States would lie us into a disastrous war.

It was also unthinkable many years ago that a White House would try to cover up a break-in at an opponents political office at the Watergate. But the press then was different from the press today. Not many newspapers were owned by huge media conglomerates whose primary motivation was making huge chucks of money so they could buy up more media outlets. The Washington Post, the New York Times and many other large regional newspapers actually did investigative journalism and did not rely on the nonsense that came out of the daily press feedings that passes for news today.

The press has failed us and that is why many blogs have more creditability than major media outlets.

I was dismayed today to hear CBS, NBC and MSNBC wondering about the motivation of Scott McClellan and why he was writing a book that pointed out the Bush administration lied us into war. That's an incredibly inane question when we should really be questioning why the mainstream media even bothers to think the Bush administration might be telling the truth about anything.

There are no Herb Kaplows today in the mainstream media and we are much worse off for it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

History is Being Made In Isabella County Too

The news from Grand Rapids on Wednesday and the enthusiasm of Michigan Democrats for the evolving drama of the national race has overshadowed another exciting story that bodes well for our local Democratic Party with historical implications here.

In the county where John Engler was born, a county where Republicans have controlled the corridors of the county office building, the Democratic Party in Isabella County is posed to pull a major upset by fielding the largest and strongest field of local candidates in county history.

After more than three months of hard work of encouraging and recruiting some of the best and brightest people in Isabella County to step forward, the ICDP is proud to announce a field a ten candidates to take on Republican incumbents. Many of those Republican incumbents have NEVER faced a Democratic challenger before.

But it doesn't stop there. The Democratic Party is also fielding an almost full slate of candidates to take on the Republican machine that has controlled politics in the Mt. Pleasant suburbs. Union Township, the conservative suburban area that surrounds the city, is about to see some new faces along with a few older ones convinced that their local government needs to return power to the people, not the local wealthy interests. We will also be making a major effort to increase the slim majority on the Board of County Commissioners.

The ICDP will be introducing its local candidates to the public in a fun and unique event with music and song and humor on June 24 at the historic restored downtown Broadway Theater.
Fun, energy and enthusiasm is coming back to local Democratic politics in Isabella County.

Isabella County politics will never be the same again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

History is Being Made

History is being made. Something possibly we have not seen since the Kennedy race! It was fulfilling and gratifying to see Mr. Edwards give a passionate speech to an overwhelming crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan! This was an inspirational event, to take down the walls as he put it. And as Democrats in Michigan we have to realize how revealing and great this media attention is for our state.

But, how do we deal with it as Democrats in regards to the harsh convictions of the race issue in politics? Practically, despite what the media says, it is irrelevant. This was shown in Grand Rapids, Michigan and beyond. All of us as Democrats have to look past the media twist on what is happening. Beyond Reverend Wright, beyond the categorization that this is a presidential contest based on chauvinism or race. It has nothing to do with it! Today was a day in which we unified as Democrats and pulled together to decide who has the best plan.

Change is going to occur. It might not happen immediately, it might not include an economic stimulus package. But it will be a change that will be better for us, the average citizen. And as our own county pulls together with supreme leadership to influence new candidates, we rise above that wall that Edwards referred to.

Andrew Thibodeau ICDP Political Advisor and Candidate for Isabella County Clerk

I Was There as Edwards endorsed Obama

Wow! People talk about being "Fired Up and Ready to Go" at Obama rallies, but I must say I never imagined seeing what I just saw in Grand Rapids, in the heart of conservative West Michigan.

An endorsement from John Edwards.

I arrived at Van Andel Arena (named for a conservative cofounder of Amway) around 5:15. The line to get in moved quite rapidly, probably because there were plenty of metal detectors to keep people moving in at an efficient pace. I sat in the upper level of the arena, but I was closer to the stage than many people there. Besides, given who we knew was going to be there, I wasn’t complaining.

A disabled veteran led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd cheered as they saw the young man in crutches approach the podium. After that, someone from the field office had everyone get out their cell phones and text 'MI' to 62262 to stay involved with the campaign.

A little while later we saw the "Yes We Can" video by A little later, The Wave.

I reflected on the people there. They were diverse in race, age, and surely walk of life. I saw middle-aged white men. I saw black women. I saw kids - plenty of kids! Many of whom won’t be old enough to vote this November. Still, they were witnessing history. Sure, school was out for the day. But these kids were getting a hands-on education, just as I did when I saw Al Gore at Calder Plaza in October 2000.

Around 6:35, a worker at the Lear factory in Walker - which will be closing in a few months - spoke about his struggles to get by as the cost of living increased but his paycheck didn’t.

He had the honor of introducing the man who would be President.

At 6:38 PM, Barack Obama - one of the smartest and most beloved people in modern politics - stepped up to the podium.

He started by telling us he had a treat. And a treat it was as he introduced a young man who has dedicated his life to tackling the many issues ordinary Americans face.

Once Barack uttered the words "John Edwards," the place went nuts. We all knew what Edwards’s presence there meant. I was hopping up and down like I’ve never done at any political function in my 20 ½ years. Hell, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited at a sporting event!

Edwards spoke of the major themes of his campaign: Poverty, social justice, healthcare, and of course making the two Americas one. "The Democratic voters of America have made their decision," he added, "and so have I."

In his remarks, Obama made the solemn promise that Edwards would find in President Obama a fierce comrade in the fight against poverty. He then touched on what he has discussed throughout his campaign, including the many important issues we face in this country and the importance of changing the way Washington operates.

There seems to be general agreement that Senator Obama will be our Democratic nominee. He pointed out that both Edwards and, yes, Hillary all stood for a much-needed change in Washington. On more than one occasion, Obama called out McCain as someone who simply offers more of the same. Obama, speaking in a conservative region of battleground Michigan, was in full general-election mode.

At one point during the speech, we got a glimpse of what kind of human being we'll have as our President if this man is elected.

At one point, Barack saw that someone in the crowd had fainted. He interrupted his spiel for a moment to alert the EMTs that someone had fainted. He then took his bottle of water and asked people to send it back to the person who had fainted.

I'm not sure many politicians would interrupt their own speech to do that - much less give up their bottle of water.

When the speech was done, the crowd dispersed, and I made my way to the car. As I got in the car, I looked in the mirror and asked myself: "Did I really just see Edwards endorse Obama?"

Oh, yes, I did.

And I hope that you too have the privilege of being there to see and hear Barack Obama bring out your emotions and move you to action.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Lazy Journalism Could Help Defeat Library Millage

Here we go again.

In today's Morning Scum, their best reporter, does a lousy job of telling the public what is going on. Come on, Mark Ranzenberger, follow the money. Didn't you learn anything in journalism school?

Mark's story this morning makes it sound as if some citizen movement has arisen to fight taxes. The headline of the story even makes it sound like there was some big rally somewhere where hordes of local citizens rose up in arms to defeat the library millage.

So where was this rally, Mark? How many people were there? Tell us the truth. There was no rally, was there, Mark? This is not a citizen movement at all, is it Mark?

All you are doing with this story, Mark, is reporting what people are saying. That's really lazy journalism. The moneyed interests in our community have controlled local politics in the same way they have done it nationally. They complain that they are paying too much in taxes and crush the projects that are needed by those who have the least.

So tell us, Mark, who is this Todd Lawrence Oliveiri, who is pretending to be a champion of the people? Is he some downtrodden poor soul suffering under the crushing high taxes caused by our local library?

Or is he a 48 year-old Republican who lives at 805 Canal St. in a comfortable neighborhood on the west side of town close to the CMU campus?

And where is all of the money coming from to pay for a political consultant and the high-priced campaign being launched to kill our local library?

Don't you remember, Mark, that the role of a real journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

You are letting the comfortable get away with not just a pack of lies about our library, but you are comforting the comfortable.

Get off your lazy butt and get over to the courthouse and do some journalism, Mark. Follow the money. Or do we have to do it ourselves?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Local Newspaper Kowtows to Big Local Advertisers

The Morning Scum, our poor excuse for a local newspaper has done it again.

This time they've written a wishy-washy editorial about the library millage coming up on Tuesday. Instead of taking a stand on an issue, which is what editorials used to do before the only motivation for a newspaper was to make a profit, the Morning Sun asks readers to weigh the issues.

Is the editorial for the library millage or against it? Can't really tell from the editorial, but then all those stores that are flying the vote no on the millage signs are owned by rich local Republican advertisers.

Does the newspaper care about the people of this community or what? The Morning Sun is typical of chain newspapers that suck as much money out of a community as they can and send it to corporate headquarters in some other state so they can buy up any competitors.

There used to be other newspapers in our area that didn't kowtow to advertisers, but they've all been bought up now except for the Shepherd Argus that is owned by a Democrat and they don't have that much circulation.

The local news coverage in the Morning Sun is minimal meetings-type coverage of our local governments and most of our local townships get no coverage at all. Remember the good old days of journalism when the role of the press was to hold local officials accountable?

Forget about it. If it doesn't happen at a local government meeting then the public doesn't get to know about it in Isabella County because our local monopoly newspaper doesn't cover it.

When I went to Journalism School I learned that the role of journalists was to find out what is really going on in your community and the only way you could do that was to find out more than just what happened at meetings. I worked at some real newspapers that did exactly that and I really miss journalism that cared more about the people than about their advertisers.

Rich People Don't Use Library -- Want to Kill It

All over Mt. Pleasant Isabella County's richest property owners are putting up signs to kill a property tax millage with red colored Vote No To New Taxes signs. All along Pickard Street in front of Republican owned stores the vote no to the library millage signs on the county's highest traffic thoroughfare.

Library users are a mix of civic minded people and poorer folks who can't afford to buy a book or magazine whenever they want to. Of course, the LaBelle's and Fabiano's of our county don't need to send their kids to the local library if they need to cite encyclopedia sources in their reports, they can just buy their own encyclopedias.

Of course, a property tax is a progressive one that makes the rich pay their fair share. If they own millions of dollars worth of property, then they pay more to fund the library than those with a more modest home. So naturally they get behind an effort to kill the millage for the library.

Of course, the library millage is not a new tax, it's just a renewal of a library millage with a little additional to add a new addition to the library. That doesn't matter -- Isabella County's richest property owners don't give a damn that a vibrant library is an essential tool for the families in Isabella County who have the least.

They've got theirs and they want to keep it. In fact, they want more tax cuts for the rich. The rich could kill the library millage this time with all that advertising, but they don't care. Isabella County's poorest people are not their problem.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Republican Mt. Pleasant City Clerk Cops a Plea -- Gets Off Easy After Stealing From Taxpayers

Long time Mt. Pleasant City Clerk Robert J. Flynn will only have to spend ten days in jail for embezzling money in a clever scheme involving city cemetery plots.

By most accounts the 60-year-old Flynn had been a likable friendly man, but the Friday sentencing before Judge Mark Duthie revealed another side of the man who had plead guilty more than a month ago. When asked what he did with the money he said he just spent it. The judge didn't press him for a further explanation.

For violating the public trust, Flynn was sentenced to 8 months, but will only serve 10 days in jail. His sentence began on Friday as he was taken away from the courtroom and he is expected to get out of jail next weekend. He will be required to do 2500 hours of public service and will be on a tether for five months. He will also be required to pay $31,000 in restitution to the city that includes a $6,500 reimbursement for a city ordered audit after irregularities were uncovered in the cemetery account. Flynn was at first suspended from his job and then allowed to officially retire.

The scene of Friday's sentencing at the Isabella County Courthouse was an emotional one as family, friends and former co-workers watched the proceedings. Flynn and some of his former colleagues were in tears as the judge pronounced his sentence. Rumors had it that the former city clerk was hoping for a lenient sentence since it was a first time offense.

Prominent local Democratic attorney Gordon Bloehm, who defended the former city clerk had negotiated the plea bargain for Flynn but judges can accept or reject a plea bargain after reading a pre-sentencing investigation report and hearing testimony from those affected by the crime.

Bloehm asked Judge Duthie if Flynn could wait to begin his sentence on Monday because he had friends in town, but the judge ordered him taken away after an assistant prosecutor said a delay would be inappropriate.

The long time city clerk was a familiar face on election day in Mount Pleasant as he dashed between the city polling places for the seven Mt. Pleasant precincts. He oversaw the introduction of the city's new voting machines that counts punch card ballots that are read by an electronic counter. Flynn knew most election workers by first name and dashed between polls with lunch money and last minute absentee ballots that needed counting. Flynn had paid city election workers in cash for the $6 per meal lunch money. But city officials have informed election workers they will no longer get cash lunch money. It will be added to the wages that are paid by check several weeks after an election.

Flynn's sentencing raises questions about what is an appropriate punishment for public officials who violate the public trust. Did his lenient sentencing send a message that public officials can expect a handslap if they steal from the taxpayers? Will Mt. Pleasant citizens lose faith in local government or will they see the Flynn case as just an aberration?