Monday, October 31, 2005

If Thole is Re-Elected, Will He Be Forced To Retire?

As regular readers of this blog know, George Thole, School Board Chair for District 834 was forced to miss an important $27 million dollar spending vote because there is a serious illness in his family. The question is, will Thole’s entirely appropriate attention to illness of a loved one compel him to give up his position on the School Board at some point in the future?

I hope not, and I assure the Thole family that they have my sincerest good wishes and prayers in this matter.

The problem is that the futures of hundreds of other local families also have to be considered in the upcoming election. As a result of the conservative policies and cuts to local school funding emanating from St. Paul, District 834 will face chronic financial shortages through the next year at least. Thole himself has compared the present economic situation in the District to the days of the Great Depression, World War II, and the school funding crises of the eighties.

The funding shortages are real. And as long as Tim Pawlenty and his Republicans continue to shift the school-funding burden from state taxes to local tax hikes and levies, the funding shortages will be chronic. School Board members will either be forced to beg more money from local voters (by selling them on supporting higher levies) or fight the Pawlenty administration policy.

This is why voters need to know that the candidates they support will be able to fulfill their terms--and that any persons serving on the Board will be elected by the voters, not appointed by other politicians as replacements for retiring members.

Board member Chris Kunze also missed the $27 million dollar spending vote. As previously noted in this blog, Kunze pleaded a personal business trip as an excuse to duck out of the voting. A pretty lame excuse, considering the amount of public money involved.

I suspect that in Kunze’s case, the motive for avoiding the vote was political cowardice. Kunze was faced with a tough decision—vote in favor of $27 million dollars in spending for school repairs (and take heat from the “we already spend too much on schools” conservatives) or vote against the expenditure (and take heat from practically everyone else.)

Faced with a tough decision, Kunze ducked out—even though he had stressed the importance of the spending issue in the pages of local newspapers just weeks before. This makes sense if Kunze’s political ambitions go beyond the School Board. If he runs for higher office in the future, he will be able to earn the applause of conservative, “no new taxes” voters by telling them that he “never voted for” $27 million dollars in school funding.

Finally, what do you think of the cynicism of a School Board that votes to cut bus transportation for district students--and then votes to restore it just prior to a School Board election? When they voted to cut school bus services (and at the same time charge local families for the same), they pleaded absolute financial necessity. But now, just before it’s time for us to vote, they restore those services. Is the Board just playing political games with school bus transportation for local kids--in order to improve re-election chances for its Chairman?

Truth of Theology Meets Truth of Science

Texas Pastor Electrocuted During Baptism

Mon Oct 31,12:42 AM ET

WACO, Texas - A pastor performing a baptism was electrocuted inside his church Sunday morning after adjusting a nearby microphone while standing in water, a church employee said.

The Rev. Kyle Lake, 33, was stepping into the baptistery as he reached out for the microphone, which produced an electric shock, said University Baptist Church community pastor Ben Dudley...

Lake was pronounced dead at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, nursing supervisor Pat Mahl said. The woman being baptized apparently had not stepped into the water and was not seriously injured.

Pastors at University Baptist Church routinely use a microphone during baptisms, said Jamie Dudley, the wife of Ben Dudley and a business administrator at the church.

"He was grabbing the microphone so everyone could hear," she said. "It's the only way you can be loud enough."

As I reflected on this incident, I was reminded of a theory about the future sometimes put forth by fundamentalists and other defenders of the inerrant truth of the Bible. When defending Biblical creationism, bible inerrantists sometimes acknowledge apparent discrepancies between observations made by scientists and the conflicting claims about the natural world found in the text of Scripture. Attempting to reconcile these differences, some Biblical inerrantists speak of a great day that is yet to come, when the truth of science and the truth of theology will meet at the same summit of human understanding.

This, obviously, was not that “great day.”

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Why Won't Junker Go On The Record?

The last column I wrote for the Stillwater Gazette reported the rumor going around town that School Board members Choc Junker and Nancy Hoffman might retire from their positions after the next election.

Under the existing rules, if Junker and Hoffman retired after the new year the School Board could decide on their replacements, all by itself—without the voters; without an election.

After the “retirement rumor” column appeared, School Board member Hoffman immediately wrote in to the Gazette and went on record to state that she has “no intention of” retiring.

But Choc Junker did not write in to confirm or deny the retirement rumor.

I find it disturbing that he hasn’t. The fact that Hoffman immediately went on record to deny the rumor--and that Junker hasn’t--keeps this rumor alive and lends it some credibility.

If any School Board members—and I’m not just talking about Junker here—are considering retiring in the near future, they should announce their plans to the voters prior to the upcoming election. The ability of some School Board members to fulfill their duties is already called into question--because two of them recently missed an important $27 million dollar spending vote due to important personal obligations. (School Board Chair George Thole missed the vote because of a serious illness in his family; School Board member Chris Kunze says he missed a $27 million dollar school spending vote because he had to go on a personal business trip.)

All the voters in the district need school board members who can serve out their terms and show up for the meetings. And all of the voters have an interest in seeing that School Board members are elected—not appointed by their fellow politicians. So I think that Junker should go on record to officially confirm or deny this retirement thing, prior to the election.

Maybe someone should ask him. For the record.

Alice Tops Honeymooners Love Slave Poll

An impressive sixty-two per cent of Americans polled would choose Alice Kramden to be their love slave for the night, according to a poll conducted last week on this web log.

More than seven participated in the online poll--"If you could choose one Honeymooner to be your sex slave for the night, who would it be?" Nearly two-thirds of those polled preferred an evening of romance with Alice Kramden, the long-suffering, harried hausfrau, to a night of hot monkey love with any of the other three principal characters.

Twenty-five per cent chose Ralph Kramden, overweight and irritable New York City bus driver. Some interpret a preference for Ralph as "chubby chasing", but one participant said she chose Ralph because sometimes he could be "very romantic."

A mere twelve per cent of those polled chose former bubble dancer and Kramden neighbor Trixie Norton. Experts cite Trixie's reliable but relatively wooden style of performing as a factor in her unexpectedly weak third place showing.

None of those surveyed would choose Kramden’s mentally challenged best friend, sewer worker Ed Norton, as their love slave for the night. Some researchers find this surprising since experienced women often assert that “dumb guys” have extraordinary stamina. Still others pointed out that even if Norton was a fine lover, his elaborate and time-consuming over-gesticulation prior to "getting down to business" would be annoying to potential romantic partners, who would come to a "slow boil" of anger as they watch Norton go through his senseless, idiotic prepartory "routine," finally lose their patience, shoving him real hard on the shoulder and nearly knocking him over, groaning "Will you get ON with it" between gritted teeth.

Friday, October 28, 2005

No, the Rheinberger Email Was Not 'Satire'! It's REAL!

The other day I received a phone call from a Stillwater resident who wanted to know if the Margot Rheinberger email that appears on this blog was merely a product of my fecund imagination--a work of satire.

No, it was not. It's real. My editor received the Rheinberger email and forwarded me a copy just before the Gazette terminated me as a regular columnist.

The confusion is understandable. The frantic and panicked tone of the Rheinberger email (alternately threatening and fawning) might lead a reasonable person to believe that it was a work of fantasy. So far as I know, Ms. Rheinberger did not wish the email to be published in the pages of the Gazette--so I reproduce it here, for the edification of the voters.

(I have also been told that Ms. Rheinberger sent a copy of the same email at about the same time to our other local paper, The Stillwater Courier. I do not know why she did this, since the Courier never carried my column or expressed any interest in doing so. I theorize that Ms. Rheinberger was attempting some sort of "pre-emptive strike," cutting off any possibility of my retreat to another publishing venue.)

Ms. Rheinberger's email provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into the threatening sort of politics that goes on behind the scenes in our small town. I agree that it's funny (in a dark and negative sort of way) but I cannot take credit for writing it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stillwater: Gazette Urges Readers To Speak Out About Beloved Ex-Columnist

From the Stillwater Gazette's Viewpoints Page (Monday, October 24, 2005):

"Thumbs up, thumbs down for the week that was

"Tell us what you really think. Several readers have made a conscious effort to tell us we were wrong to discontinue Bill Prendergast's column on Fridays.

"We want to know if others feel we made a mistake by no longer offering Prendergast a weekly column space.

"We strive to continue the integrity of this 135-year-old community newspaper. Your involvement as a reader helps with that goal. Write to us, even if you don't want to be published. We value your opinions!

"...Share your opinions with us. We can be reached by any of the methods (listed:)"

fax: (651) 439-4713

Bill comments: "Several readers objected to me getting my ass kicked off the paper? Several? That's it? You mean more people responded to my "Which Honeymooners cast member would you have sex with?" survey--than wrote in to save my career? Wow, how inspiring is that? Not exactly the final scene from It's A Wonderful Life, is it? It's more like the scene where George Bailey jumps off the bridge. In fact, it's more like a scene where the townspeople push George off the bridge. Ah, well. Thanks to the Gazette for asking, anyway."

If you want to read the story of how Bill got fired, click on the posts so far:
"How I Got Fired, Chapter 83: A Rheinberger E-Mail Is Received!"
"Yeah, They Fired Me. Here's Why:"

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Stillwater: Local Republicans Raptured?

(Originally published 9/21/05)

Theories inevitably spring up to explain the disappearance of State Senators Michelle Bachmann and Brian LeClair and House Representatives Mike Charron and Matt Dean from the pages of local media here in Stillwater.

It was suggested that LeClair, Dean and Charron took a powder after their disastrous appearance at a local School Board meeting, when they revealed that they had been planning to rewrite the local school budget with millions in non-existent cash. Others theorized that the three might have died of embarrassment shortly after the meeting ended.

A reader wrote in this week claiming to have had a Bachmann sighting, but I won’t believe it til I see it for myself. Some attempt to explain Senator Bachmann’s disappearance as political strategy. Bachmann’s candidacy is, after all, a stealth candidacy—her success in the upcoming Congressional race depends on her ability to deceive mainstream voters about her plans to put creationism on the school curriculum, to eliminate separation of church and state, and beat up on the gay minority.

She would also like voters to forget how hard she pushed for Minnesota to adopt TABOR—the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment to the state constitution. Ten years after TABOR was first adopted in Colorado, its mandatory tax and spending cuts are bringing about the financial collapse of that state. The Colorado governor who was elected because he advocated TABOR is now calling for its immediate suspension so that the state can make it through the next year.

So you can see why Bachmann wants us to forget about her passionate sales pitch for TABOR. She is retreating to the usual GOP position on taxes: in order to avoid taxing the rich, they pile up mountains in public debt and then make middle class and poor families responsible for repayment of that tax debt, forever after. Maybe this is why she’s keeping a media profile that’s lower than Herve Villechaise’s, these days.

But there is another possible explanation for the disappearances of Bachmann, LeClair, Dean and Charron that has not yet been mentioned—perhaps because most people find this explanation so frightening that they refuse to face the possibility.

But face it we must, for the fate of these four is the legislative fate of the St. Croix Valley. So here it is, the scariest disappearance explanation of all:

I think they may have been raptured.

For those of you who do not know what the verb “rapture” means, I will be brief. The term refers to a prophetic doctrine that arose in the nineteenth century: the widely held belief that before the end of the world and time, believing Christians will be caught up into the sky by God—disappear off the face of the earth and brought directly up to heaven, so that they won’t have to experience all the tribulations that God is going to send to torment the unbelieving—earthquakes, hurricanes (MMM-HMM! OH-HOH!), fiery locusts, One World Government, invisible bug-eyed demons on horses with axes, people talking in scary “Exorcist” type voices, the Anti-Christ and his big mean dogs with glow-in-the-dark eyes.

Yes, many millions of politically conservative, right wing Christians really do believe this is going to happen. These millions are responsible for the success of the wildly popular Left Behind series of novels, Reverend Tim LaHaye’s seventy-five part dramatization of how this disturbing biblical prophecy might shake out. But what’s even scarier than the prophecy itself is that the people who buy those Left Behind books and that line of thinking are, in many cases, the same people who are selecting the president of the United States these days.

But I am nothing if not open-minded. What if the poor suckers who believe in this Stephen King-style religious doctrine are right? At this point we don’t have any better explanation for why our four local legislators have disappeared. What if they were raptured, and the rest of us have been—LEFT BEHIND?

Here’s how we find out. In the Left Behind novels, when people are raptured they disappear instantly, like on “I Dream of Jeannie” or “Bewitched” but without the sound effect, so unless you’re looking right at them it’s hard to know whether someone has been raptured or simply left the room. But one thing is clear from the Left Behind novels: when people are raptured, they are raptured right out of their pants. Wherever they were when they were raptured, there is a neatly folded pile of their clothes. God snatches them up to heaven naked; why He folds the clothing they leave behind is not clear.

So if anyone sees Senator Brian LeClair’s neatly folded pants lying around anywhere, please write to this newspaper immediately. Do the same if you find a pair of Michele Bachmann’s high heels and one of her chic little cocktail dresses behind a bush somewhere outside an anti-Bachmann rally. Write in if you find Matt Dean’s empty boxers or Mike Charron’s vacant jockeys—I’ll see if I can get the editor to run a picture, it’s that important. For if what I suspect is true, we have indeed been—LEFT BEHIND…

William Prendergast is the author of the crime thriller “Forbidden Hollywood” and he is working on a series of sequels to the Left Behind novels, which will be called “Right Behind.” So if you already have the Left Behind novels and you buy the Right Behind novels, then you’ll have the whole behind, and you won’t have to go around with these half-assed theories of yours anymore.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Stillwater: Why George Thole Must Go

There’s a bizarre theory going around these days among local parents, voters and Democrats in Stillwater. This theory says that George Thole has to be returned to the School Board again this election or the upcoming school levy will not be passed. I don’t know who started this rumor, for all I know it could have been started by Thole himself. What I do know is: even if the rumor is true, Thole should go. Voters who are interested in the future of the school district should do everything in their power to make sure that he doesn’t get in again.

Before I tell you why, let me tell you something about the man himself. There is probably no one in Stillwater who knows more about the School Board than George Thole. He cites thirty years of experience as a teacher and athletic coach; in the past he’s been a prominent and even militant advocate for the students, parents and teachers in District 834.

But these days Thole is doing the schools more harm than good. You see, Thole is a devout conservative. Back when the DFL was running things in St. Paul, we could afford to have a few devout conservatives on the School Board, whining about taxes, promising that taxes and fees and excessive spending would be lower if we voted the liberals out, moaning about how the schools would improve if only we voted in conservatives, bleating about how schools didn’t need all the tax dollars we were throwing at them—blah, blah, blah. In the past it didn’t hurt the schools to have a couple of conservatives on the board, whining away, because the Minnesota state government had a tradition of strong support for public education and backed up its rhetoric by providing state funding to local communities for their schools.

But now things have changed. St. Paul in particular, has changed. Conservatives now control the State House and the Governor’s Mansion and their policy has been to abandon the local communities and their schools by shifting the burden of funding from the state to the local communities. For years now Pawlenty and the Republicans have been cutting state funding to local school budgets and steadily shifting the burden for the schools from state taxes to local property taxes. Funding used to be 70% state-30% local; after the special session this year it’s 30% state-70% local. (That’s why Stillwater residents are looking at an 8% property tax hike, this year alone. And that doesn’t include what you’ll have to pay for a school levy, if that passes.) Pawlenty and GOP are abandoning the local communities and the public schools.

They want to see education privatized. Why? So that they don’t have to deal with teacher’s unions, so that they can eviscerate the taxation that supports public schools, and so that they can divert the huge income stream of public funding away from the public schools and into the private sector. This is the conservative “wet dream” that right wing politicians are working to realize in communities all over America.

And whether he understands it or not, George Thole has been helping to carry out this agenda. When Thole’s school board announced its cuts to services, programs, personnel and local school bus transportation, those cuts were accompanied by the stoic comments of Thole and other board members—sighs about the “tough economic situation,” etc. What they failed to talk about is the real reason why the school services were being cut at the same time your property taxes and fees were going up. It’s Pawlenty, stupid; it’s the Republican agenda, stupid.

What would a responsible school board official do? Do I really expect them to tell the voters that the district’s problems stem from Pawlenty and Republican policy, tell the voters that each and every week? No. I would expect that a responsible school board official would remind the voters of that every day. A responsible elected school board would re-name every cut they’re forced to make to schools and service, every locally funded expenditure they’re forced to lay out--name it after the state officials who made that cut or fee hike necessary. If you have to lay off personnel, introduce a resolution that the layoff be named “the Representative Mike Charron School Personnel Lay-Off.” If you are forced to cut school curriculum, call that the “State Senator Brian LeClair School Curriculum Cuts.”

Read it into the minutes, put it on record. Practically everything that the School Board does makes the front page of the local newspapers. In a sustained contest between the School Board and the local Republican hacks who support the cuts and local property tax hikes, the School Board would win. But before that can happen, the voters need to elect school board members who really will fight for the school district and its families, instead of conservative drones who seem so eager to bend over.

How I Got Fired, Chapter 83: A Rheinberger Email Is Received!

The following is the text of an email sent to my former editor at the Gazette, Micki Adams, by Margot Rheinberger, a prominent local citizen. This email is dated Tuesday, October 11th, and my editor fired me on Wednesday, October 12th, the day after she received it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the cast of characters mentioned in the letter, they are:

John Rheinberger, a former City Council official who was defeated in the last election and is now a political candidate seeking a seat on the District 834 School Board. The election was only a few weeks away when I was fired; it will be held on November 8th.
Margot Rheinberger, his sister and defender; a prominent local citizen and the author of the email. I deduce from the tone of this email that Margot and John are very close.
Micki Adams, the recipient of this email, editor of the Stillwater Gazette. After receiving this letter, she told me I was no longer a columnist for the paper. I had been writing a regular column for the paper for more than two years.
William Prendergast, suave, handsome columnist for the Stillwater Gazette at the time of this writing. Unaware at the time of this email that his suave ass is about to be fired. To keep things in context—Bill Prendergast, to the very best of his knowledge, has never, ever, printed a lie, blatant or otherwise, about anyone. Please bear that in mind as you read what follows, and please bear in mind that though Ms. Rheinberger charges me with telling “lies”, she does not provide Adams with so much as a single example in support of that charge. And remember—John Rheinberger, the author’s brother, is a prominent local politician and candidate for political office--a very public figure.

Date: Tue, 11 Oct 2005 12:50:54 EDT
Subject: RE: Bill Prendergast's weekly column

Hi, Micki!

I see that weekly columnist Bill Prendergast has continued to set your newspaper up for being reported to the Minnesota New Council and possibly even a lawsuit depending on what he writes next and who it involves.

Last year, he wrote columns against my brother, John, while my brother was running for reelection to the Stillwater City Council. He included blatant lies and vicious attacks on my brother's integrity and overall character. In fact, the Stillwater Gazette had knowledge from public record and from the eyewitness that what Prendergast had written was in fact all lies. I have saved all of this information.

Based on his column last Friday, Prendergast appears to be on a slippery slope and may have plans to do the same thing to my brother again this year during his run for School Board. Two of my advanced degrees are in law and mass communications and perhaps it is this background that makes it impossible for me to sit back again and allow a repeat of what happened last year.

Prendergast is using your newspaper as a conduit for lies, misinformation, and personal attacks not just against my brother but against anyone he has decided is conservative and therefore not worthy enough to serve our community as an elected official. In the process, your subscribership continues to significantly decrease but equally important, the credibility and integrity of your newspaper's reputation is on a downhill slide. When will the Gazette finally realize that his column is greatly hurting not helping your newspaper? Prendergast is helping to run it into the ground. The damage he has done and is continuing to do could negatively impact your newspaper for years.

You have been the best thing to happen to the Stillwater Gazette in years. I would be the first to say that to anyone and have said it to many including John Lund, the Gazette's publisher who also happens to be a neighbor of Prendergast's. However, allowing Bill Prendergast to continue to use his column to condemn people based on lies, misinformation and personal attacks with an obvious intent to harm a person's reputation is one of the Gazette's biggest mistakes ever.

You probably have limited or no control over whether Prendergast has a column, what he writes, or even whether his column on any topic/person and any content, regardless of it veracity, can be published. Therefore, I will just have to wait and see if one of his next columns of lies and vicious personal attacks involves my brother again. Should that occur, I will provide my brother with all of the solid documentation that I saved from last year and have him include it with this year's documentation as part of his complaint to the Minnesota News Council. I have a feeling that many others who have been the victims of Prendergast's venomous columns would enjoy making it a "class action" complaint if such a thing were to exist.

If it comes to that point where my brother needs to file a complaint with the publicity that will go with it, I hope that will be what it finally takes to enable you to begin fully restoring the integrity to our local daily newspaper. Unfortunately, it may be what is necessary for the Gazette to finally justify cutting the ties with someone who is obviously not at all concerned with the Gazette's integrity and its future viability.

In your case, I will always wish nothing but the best for you, Micki! Margot

Thursday, October 20, 2005


The new Stillwater Critical Thinking Club has chosen "Intelligent Design" as the topic of its next meeting. If you've never attended a meeting of the Critical Thinking Club, you may find it fascinating. A member of the club makes a presentation on a controversial issue, and then the other members of the club ask questions, raise objections, or make arguments in support of the speaker's position. They do this kind of thing to sharpen thinking skills. Anybody is welcome to attend. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 7th at the Family Means Building 1875 Northwestern Ave, Stillwater. For info, contact Lee Salisbury 430-1091 or Bob Lepp 351-2950

Monday, October 17, 2005

National: If any good at all came out of Hurricane Katrina...

If any good at all came out of Hurricane Katrina, it was former FEMA director Mike Brown’s testimony before an investigative committee run by House Republicans. Some truly funny moments of black comedy in an otherwise horrifying disaster.

Brown’s an old GOP hand, a Bush ally from way back; so I guess he expected gentle handling from his own side. Well, forget that! They roasted him live, on camera, GOP or no GOP. They needed a fall guy to get themselves off the hook for not funding repair of the levees prior to the hurricance (the kind of preventive measure that conservatives denounce as a “big government program at taxpayer expense.”)

Brown was perfect for the fall. He turned red, blathered, gesticulated, objected, slapped the table, alternately withered and raged under the angry comments and criticism of the panel (“I'm happy you left," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "You get an F-minus in my book," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.) Then the funny part: at one point Brown just snapped. "So I guess you want me to be the superhero, to step in there and take everyone out of New Orleans,” he said.

Wow! Not just anger, but sarcastic petulance, from the guy the President thought was best qualified to get America through major crisis situations! It seemed like Brown felt that he, Brown, was the real victim in this whole Katrina thing! If Brown descends into childish narcissism in a personal career crisis, what ever made Bush think that Brown was qualified to handle a real one?

And what if Brown had really lost it, that day? What if he’d stayed in touch with his feelings at that moment and continued to testify along those lines? It would have been a scream…

Brown: (furious) So I guess you want me to be the superhero, to step in there and take everyone out of New Orleans.
Committee: No, we don’t want you to do that, we just wanted you to do your job—
Brown: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s SUPER-Brown! Whoosh!
Committee: Mr. Brown—
Brown: It’s SOOP-er-Brown, with his SOOP-er powers! He’s going to zoom into New Orleans and save everyone, because he’s SOOP-er-Brown! (stretches out his arms, pretends to fly) Whoosh!
Committee: Mr. Brown, will you please—
Brown: Wait a minute, wait a minute, Super-Brown has forgotten his cape—(takes the table cloth off the witness table and ties it around his neck) Wait a minute…
Committee: Mr. Brown, will you please sit down, so that—
Brown: There! Now, SOOP-er Brown is ready for action! Faster than a speeding bullet—
(He starts to run around the committee room, pretending to fly, cape flapping behind him, photographers and video cameras tracking him as he runs by)
Committee: Get the Sergeant at Arms to return this witness to his seat!
Brown: Zoom! Zoooom! Neee-oww—Uh-oh, what’s this? SOOP-er-Brown’s SOOP-er vision has detected trouble down in New Orleans! Whoa, the levees have broken! This looks like a job for… SOOP-er-Brown! Guess I better get my SOOP-er ass down there quick, to use my SOOP-er strength to put the goddamn levees back together with my bare hands, eh? The hell with my other responsibilities, the hell with my schedule--
Committee: I move that this witness be cited for contempt unless he immediately returns—
Brown: Oh, no! What’s this? Super-Brown’s x-ray vision sees—(makes “x-ray vision” sort of noises)-- nih-nih-nih-nih-nih-nih-nih—there’s a bunch of black people trapped in the Convention Center without food or water! Oh, no! Lassie, run and go get help! SOOP-er Brown will stay here and rescue all the poor people who weren’t smart enough to figure out that it’s a good idea to get the hell out of town when there’s a goddamn hurricane on the way! Go, Lassie! Go! Atta girl!
Committee: Mr. Brown, this is your final warning!
Brown: What the hell do you want me to do, go down to goddamn New Orleans and suck all the water out of there with a straw? I’m a political appointee, goddammit, I got appointed because I was a Bush hack, and now you want me to do miracles, you want me the part the f’in’ Red Sea?
Committee: I’m citing you for contempt. Sergeant, take the witness into custody—
Brown: Oh, no! You can’t arrest me, I’m SOOP-er Brown! Whoosh! Zoom!
Committee: Catch him! Get him, officer!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

National: Never Before Published--Ideas for Reagan Memorials

(This piece was originally scheduled for publication in July of 2004, shortly after President Reagan's death. It has never appeared in print before.)

I have in fact spent weeks weighing different proposals for monuments to Mr. Reagan’s unparalleled career and achievements. Here are some of my thoughts on commemorating "the Great Man:”

1) Put Reagan’s Face On American Currency. I think this is a good idea, but I would not replace Alexander Hamilton’s face on the ten-dollar bill with Reagan’s, as has been suggested. Hamilton, though never president, was a founder of undoubted genius who stabilized and secured the new nation by insisting that it make good on the debts it incurred during the Revolutionary War. I think it would send the wrong message to replace his image with that of a man of doubtful intelligence who put the nation into almost three trillion dollars worth of debt before leaving office.

The money that Reagan borrowed for pork barrel spending was eventually paid back, but this was no doing of Reagan’s. It took round after round of Republican and Democratic tax hikes to do it; investors’ dividends and capital gains and working people’s paychecks were docked for more than a decade after Reagan left office. The budget was eventually balanced, but it was a liberal Democrat who finally did it and it took twelve years of taxation to do it.

So I suggest we leave Hamilton where he is; he understood money and investment in his country’s future, and the necessity of paying back what we owe. Reagan and his rank-and-file supporters never did.

The Reagan memorial currency that I propose would be in a new denomination entirely, and only one such bill would ever be issued. The Gipper’s smiling face would appear on the brand-new, one-time only “Almost-Three-Trillion-Dollar Bill.” What better way to honor his economic legacy—his massive deficit spending and irresponsible borrowing against the future, his refusal to pay back any significant part of it while he was still in office.

In his deficit spending, as in many things, Reagan was emulating one of his early heroes—Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But there was one important difference: FDR borrowed money against the future to help the American poor become the American middle class. RR borrowed trillions against the future to avoid raising the taxes of his wealthy core supporters, and the middle class and poor Americans be damned--they, not the wealthy, would bear the brunt of paying it back.

The Reagan “Almost-Three-Trillion-Dollar Bill” would not see much circulation, of course. But its existence would remind us all of what Reagan really thought of his pre-election promises of fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.

2) Statue Commemorating Reagan’s Triumph over Communism. This would actually be a pair of animated statues that would depict Reagan taking the laurels from the head of Mikhail Gorbachev and placing them on his own head; over and over again, endlessly. It was after all, Mikhail Gorbachev and not Ronald Reagan who put an end to Communist domination of Russia and Eastern Europe. It was Gorbachev who put his own life and liberty in jeopardy to end the Communist monopoly on power in that state; Reagan risked nothing but took credit for everything—typical of him, really. I would be curious to know what Gorbachev really thinks of all the recent headlines attributing his achievement to Ronald Reagan—who for decades had been telling Americans and the world that Communists would never give up power or democratize their form of government peacefully and voluntarily.

3) The Ronald Reagan Wall of Glory. This would take the form of a long wall in front of the Capitol, bearing the names of all the people who became homeless during the 1980s. But it would differ from the famous Viet Nam memorial in that this wall would be punctuated by little round holes at approximately waist level, which would appear at regular intervals.

Why? Well, the through line that I perceive in all the Reagan tributes is that, whatever his shortcomings, Ronald Reagan made people “feel good.” (The people who say this are usually, for whatever reason, Republican and white.) I can’t recall any other case where “making people feel good” constituted the stuff of great leadership. I do remember a guy who attended my high school who sold stuff that made people feel very good indeed, but he was not considered a great leader. In fact, I think he was eventually arrested.

Still, Reagan’s millions of fans apparently set a high value on someone who can make them “feel good” and so: the “Reagan Wall of Glory” Memorial. The idea is that some visitors to the Glory Wall will enjoy favors given to them by other visitors on the other side of the wall through the little round holes in the wall. By giving and receiving in this way, and doing so anonymously, visiting Reagan fans could pay tribute to Reagan’s greatest skill—making them “feel good.” The Reagan Wall of Glory would give them the opportunity to make other Americans feel good--on a volunteer basis, without any big federal government program or bureaucratic regulations.

In light of her alleged extensive experience, Nancy Reagan should be invited to officially open the memorial and man the first hole.

4) Carve Reagan’s Face Into Mount Rushmore. This is a proposition that’s been trotted out for years by many different people; many Reagan fans suggested it long before he died. I would support this, too--but only on one condition: that the other four faces be removed first. Reagan’s millions of fans wish to honor their hero, and I understand that. But I see no reason to dishonor the great men who earned their place on Mount Rushmore by putting the smiling face of a stupid, narcissistic, hypocritical, heartless and brainless “plutocrat’s whore” in their company.

Friday, October 14, 2005

National: Bill Bennett Is Gambling Again

On his "Morning in America" radio program, beloved conservative moralist and spokesman William Bennett took issue with the notion that one reason crime is down is that abortion is up.
The author of "The Book of Virtues” observed: “…I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” Bennett added that it’s "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

So Bennett believes that black people are congenital criminals. Invited to explain this remarkable view, Bennett said nothing to distance himself from it. Instead of disclaiming the opinion or trying to convince the public that he had misspoken, his after-the-fact explanations attempts to shift the focus back to his pro-life stance. Bennett is gambling again: betting that the public will be so diverted by his anti-abortion rights rhetoric that they will forget what he inadvertently revealed on his radio show: his belief that black people are basically criminal by their very nature.

The White House response? Well, they immediately issued a strong condemnation of Bennett’s remarks, right? Fat chance. They’re not ready to dump Bennett over a little thing like that. Bennett presents himself as a defender of the legacy of Ronald Reagan; he has become a very popular radio apologist for the current Bush administration. He was even a long time favorite fill-in host for Rush Limbaugh; there’s no way the Bush people would immediately disown him over something so trivial as blatant racism. Asked for the President's reaction to Bennett’s remarks, spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The president believes the comments were not appropriate."

Not exactly a vigorous denunciation of what Bennett said, is it? "’Not appropriate’ is wearing white shoes after Labor Day,” noted Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. “These comments were reprehensible and racist."

Every so often the mask slips and we see the true face of modern American conservatism. But Bennett’s unintentional candor probably won’t cost him any listeners; I’d be surprised to see his ratings drop if he refuses to retract or apologize. In fact, his views will probably win him even more support from the most conservative radio listeners: at last, a respected man of the right who isn’t afraid to say what so many white conservatives really think of black Americans. How refreshing! It may, however, adversely affect the ongoing GOP effort to diversify the party.

Bennett and his defenders would really get a shock if they visited Africa. They would be horrified to see, as I have seen, entire countries where black people are allowed to roam at liberty, unincarcerated. These black people work at their jobs or on their tiny farms; some of them even serve the public as lawmakers, justice officials, policemen and even prison guards! I suppose that Bennett and his audience would find it amazing, but despite the widespread poverty--in the whole two months I was there, no one robbed me or killed me. And I had no idea that, in Bennett’s view, I was touring a continent of biologically predestined crooks. In fact most of the people I met seemed quite hospitable and pleasant; their main preoccupation seemed to be caring for their families, their children.

Imagine Bennett’s chagrin if he went to Africa and saw millions of black people running loose, pretending they weren’t all doomed to criminality by virtue of their unfortunate pigmentation! Maybe Bush will appoint him ambassador to Tanzania or Zambia so he can go over there and explain their true nature to them and convince them of the hopelessness of their ongoing law-abiding charade. Or maybe he should go over there and do a radio show; he could tell them how they could eliminate any crime problems they do have by putting everyone who lives there in prison.

Something else I’d like to see: Bill Bennett preparing for a social evening at home with conservatives Clarence Thomas, Condoleeza Rice, and Colin Powell. Bennett, prior to the guests’ arrival, carefully counting the silverware. Bennett, welcoming them into his home, telling them gravely that if anything’s missing at the end of the evening, he’s calling the police. Bennett, making small talk over drinks (nothing too strong, you know the effect that hard liquor has on people with innate criminal tendencies.) Bennett, asking his African-American guests what he should tell their parole officers if they happen to call to check in.

For diversity’s sake, he could also invite Republican Congressional leaders Tom DeLay (indicted) and Bill Frist (under investigation by the SEC.) No need to count the silverware when those guys are around, of course; they’re white and they’ve already managed to acquire quite a bit of wealth on their own—somehow.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yeah, they fired me. Here's why:

Yes, I was fired from the Stillwater Gazette.

It happened on Wednesday, October 12th, 2005--a day that will live in infamy.

I can picture local Republicans dancing in the streets that day, Senators Brian LeClair and Michele Bachmann popping the corks, Representatives Mike Charron and Matt Dean drinking champagne out of each others' slippers. Local conservative School Board members slavering over the celebratory free buffet, elbowing each other out of the way to get to their next round of post-election cuts in local education funding and school bus services. School Board candidate John Rheinberger and his sister, dancing together. "The Wolf Man is dead! The editor and publisher of the Stillwater Gazette have put him in his journalistic grave, with a silver bullet through his monstrous heart!"

Fired, for telling the truth. Fired after years of public service, and service to the paper. They fired my ass. And that's not the worst of it--now I have to figure out how to work this f-ing blog. And I'm forty-six years old. And nobody loves me. Well, my dogs love me. Well they act like they love me. Well--to tell the truth, they don't really want to commit.

Anyway, enough about me. What do you think of a newspaper editor who fires a columnist who's written about public affairs for the local paper for more than two years--without a week's notice, without even an entire day's notice, because that columnist wrote a piece critical of some of the local school board members and candidates? A piece that was pitched to and read by the editor and the paper's school board reporter in advance of deadline? Fired, because I wrote a piece that the editor chose to publish--an accurate piece, a piece in which any rumors were identified as rumor, a piece which was fact-checked by one of the reporters?

Soon after the piece appeared some of the elected officials and candidates got in contact with my editor. They complained, they carped, they wrote letters--and rather than stand up to them, my editor and publisher caved, caved completely, caved like the Carlsbad Caverns. They caved so fast even local bats were taken by surprise. "Hey, look at that!" said the bats "A new cave! Overnight! A complete and utter cave! And a big one! A professional cave, a journalistic cave!"

The Gazette's problem: the players in an upcoming election are complaining about criticism from a columnist weeks prior to that election. The Gazette's solution: Fire the columnist.

But wait a minute--doesn't that make us look like a bunch of spineless jellyfish? Firing the columnist for writing about an election, prior to the election? After all, the columnist didn't say anything defamatory, didn't say anything false about the elected officials and candidates. The columnist ran the piece by the editor before publication and got her approval. Couldn't we at least wait til after the election to fire him? Then we wouldn't look so spineless, then it wouldn't look like we were caving so completely and so utterly. Then it wouldn't look like the local elected officials and candidates were deciding what should and shouldn't be printed in the pages of the Gazette.

Nah, let's not wait. Let's cave, right now. In fact, let's change the name of the paper to "The Stillwater Cave." That will give the readers a better sense of the new direction in which we're going to take the paper. Even better: let's change the name of the paper to "The Stillwater Immediate, Unconditional, and Public Grovelling to Local Politicians Daily Cave." That way people will know what to expect from us in the future, in the way of independent coverage of local politics.

No, I'm not bitter. But thanks for asking. More to follow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My God, as if I don't have enough to worry about...

The very first person ever to post a comment to this blog sent their comment before I'd even finished putting the blog up. The writer's name was Marinero-67, and he lives down South--in Louisiana. I'm not telling anyone exactly where he's from, because it's really not any of your business, but this Marinero-67 character claims to know what's going on in post-Katrina New Orleans these days. Two days ago he wrote that "that the west bank is in very good shape. Kenner is also pretty good, though there are still major areas without power. New Orleans itself had water intrusion in about 80% of the land area but not all of it was very high. From what I understand, the mold is the very bad in most of the houses that had any water intrusion."

And that's important, because one of my so-called "old friends" rang up the other day and gets into this whole, whiny, sing-song voiced begging thing about how he and his wife "lost their house in Hurricane Katrina" and they "needed help" and they wanted me to "drive them back home to New Orleans from the place where they're shacking up in San Francisco."

Oh, yeah, that's just what I need in my life this week after getting fired, two old "pals" calling me up long distance and telling me how they've been wiped out by a hurricane and it's up to ME to save their sorry asses by buying a plane ticket out to San Francisco, piling them and all their worldly crap into their crappy old cars and driving them cross-country to New Orleans to see if any part of their moldy old house is above water-level yet. Oh, yeah, that'll be a nice break for ME, after the stress I'VE gone through this week.

Then one of these losers calls me up again and asks me if it's okay if we go in separate cars, because he'd like to ride with his wife. OH YEAH, sure, I think, that's just dandy. I'll spend days and nights behind the wheel of one of your old lemons ALL BY MYSELF, toting two tons of your pathetic personal JUNK in back seat for company, singing along to crappy AM radio receptions of Garth Brooks tunes every waking hour, and picking up lunatic hitchhikers by the side of the road whenever I feel really lonely. Yeah, that sounds like a blast! Wait, Mat--I've got an even better idea--why don't I JOG cross-country out to San Francisco, pick up you and your wife and all your worldly belongings, and CARRY YOU ALL THE WAY BACK TO F---ING NEW ORLEANS ON MY SHOULDERS? That would be a lot more fun for me than anything you have suggested so far.

I knew it. I knew I couldn't escape from getting dragged in to this Hurricane Katrina thing even though I live a thousand miles away. "Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Katrina"--my God, it was weeks ago, there's been three hurricanes since then, get over it! Get over yourselves! Grow up, the city's gone, deal with it! Why do you have to drag everybody else along into your sorry little messes? I put an old "Member's Only" windbreaker of mine into the Hurricane clothing drive box out in front of the supermarket, I put my spare change in the little coin container by the register at Burger King, how much longer are you people going to milk this? And now I have spend "eight days on the road" transporting frigging refugees and their dog and their suitcases and cargo and loads of crap across country, as if I'm "Red Sovine" or "Dave Dudley" or "C.J. McCall and his Convoy" or something. Good Christ In Heaven! When do I get a break, can anyone answer that?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

World News: Dead Parrot Sketch

(From the Reuters Newswire:)
“Dead British parrot had deadly H5N1 bird flu
By Mike Peacock
Sun Oct 23, 3:32 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - A parrot that died in quarantine in Britain has been found to have the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, the agriculture ministry said on Sunday, and the spread of the virus meant the country was now at greater risk…”

For some reason, I thought the above item was rather funny. Look at the reporter’s name, for instance. Reuters sent a guy named Peacock to cover a story about a parrot. And if you read on in the original, you will find that Britain’s chief veterinarian’s name is “Debbie Reynolds.” What are the chances of that, statistically? And so, without further ado…

Doctor: I say! I say! Nurse! Or “Sister,” I suppose I should call you—after all, we are British, aren’t we? Haw haw.
Sister: Gor blimey, sir, an’ bless my ten toes, so we’all are. What’s ailin’ ye, sir?
Doctor: Well, old gel, I just thought I’d pop ‘round and take a peep at one these jolly old parrots we’re quarantining up here at the British taxpayer’s expense. Sort of check up on the old birds, give ‘em a look-see, have a dekko at the latest developments, parrotwise, do you see what I mean, old pip, old thing?
Sister: Gor bless ya for comin’ round, sir! These bloody birds haven’t half been squawkin’ and moanin’ an’ yowlin’ and puttin’ up such a clitterin’ and clatterin’ such as Oi’ve never seen in all my years on the ward. The lot of ‘em bloody parrots goin’ on all night about ‘ow sick they all is, and this one wants an extra little pillow, and that one need new newspaper in ‘is little bedpan, and another wantin’ another intravenous cracker, pissin’ and moanin’ and puttin’ up such a dreadful squawk all night, ‘ow they do go on, gawd-help-us! I’d never ‘ave volunteered to work this shift if as Oi’d known as a parrot was one of them talkin’ birds, I promise you I wouldn’t. Oi've worked the nightingale urinalysis ward and the penguin triage and magpie gynecological disease ward, like, and them weren’t naught compared to this livin’ ‘ell. Oi’ve never seen nothin’ like these bloody parrots, and Oi’ve seen many a bird in my time, I ‘ave.
Doctor: Yes, I’ll wager you’ve seen a “cockatoo” in your day, eh, Sister! Haw haw! Seen a “cockatoo,” not bad, what? (seriously) Well, be that as it may, old stick, we of the British Veterinary Association have taken a solemn oath to do our blessed best to safeguard the lives and health of our dumb chums, all creatures great and small, feathers or no, and all that sort of thing, Britannia rule the waves, eh? (notices something on the floor) Good heavens! What the devil is that?
(A very small green parrot staggers into the room, struggling with all its pathetic might to make it through the double doors that close off the quarantine section. The tiny bird clutches a hanging IV drip bag on a rolling stand connected to its wing and it is wearing a small patient’s hospital gown that won't close at back and thus reveals its tail. It is gasping and coughing and wheezing as it stumbles over toward the feet of the doctor and the nurse.)
Parrot: Doctor! (hack, hack, cough) Thank God you’re here at last. (Cough, cough.) Not much time… (spits up blood) Tried to explain to this stupid old cow, but she wouldn’t listen—EEEAWKK! (vomits) Listen… carefully… highly pathogenic virus… H5N variety, possibly even the H5N1, wasn’t able to confirm the strain without—WAUUUUK!
Sister: See wot I mean, there, doctor, he's as sick as a--
Doctor: Steady on, old thing! Just what do you think you’re doing up and about, little birdie?
Parrot: Don’t be a fool, man! The entire planet’s at risk, can’t you see that, blast you? (chokes, wipes his little green brow with back of wing)
Doctor: (to nurse) He’s raving, Sister. Get him back in bed straight away.
Sister: Right yew are, sir.
Parrot: (as nurse gathers him up and restrains him) No! No! You’ve got to listen! Tell the ministry! We’re at the epicenter of a pandemic! BWAAAK! The closest match is to a strain found in ducks in China earlier this year. (to nurse) Put me down, damn you! (to doctor) We were imported from Suriname, South America, part of a mixed consignment of 148 birds that arrived on September 16 (cough, cough), we were held with another consignment of 216 birds from Taiwan—
(The doors swing closed. The doctor shakes his head sorrowfully, makes a note in his chart.)
Doctor: Tch, tch. Poor, mad little bastard. Obviously out of his bleeding little mind, or my name’s not Debbie Reynolds.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Stillwater: The column that got me fired.

Two old Stillwater pals were sitting at the counter in the diner, having their pie and coffee.

“So who’s the conservatives on the School Board are these days?”

“Well, ya got Coach Thole, right? And ya got Junker. And then there’s the two newest conservatives, Hoffman and Kunze. They’re the majority on the Board. Those support all that Republican we-ain’t- gonna-have-no-new-taxes bull. That’s how we got the schools into this mess and got our property taxes raised in the first place, ya know. But Thole’s the only one of them up for re-election this year.”

“So there’s only one conservative seat up for grabs, then.”

“Yah but ya see, one theory is that if there’s a conservative elected onto the school board this year, we’ll get an even more conservative majority on the school board for years to come.”

“How ya figure that?”

“Well ya see, there’s a theory goin’ around that two conservative members of the school board, Hoffman and Junker, might retire. And maybe they’re going to wait to retire until January.”

“Why would they wait til then?”

“So the Board can appoint their replacements without havin’ no election. See, if Junker and Hoffman retire next year, the School Board gets to decide who their replacements on the Board will be. Not the voters. Ya get me? The replacements would be appointed by the School Board, instead of having to run for office. The voters would have no say in who was going to fill those two seats, see? A conservative majority on the school board could appoint people who never even had no chance of being elected, they could appoint replacements who are even further to the right than Hoffman or Junker. They could appoint Kate Carlsen to the School Board, even though her candidacy didn’t even make it through the primary. Hell, a conservative majority could appoint Lu Shaughnessy to replace Hoffman or Junker.”

“Hoo boy.”

“Yah, and even before this election we got all these conservatives on the school board, they voted to cut the school bus services, they fired the kid’s crossing guards out on Stillwater Boulevard—“

“On Highway 5? Jeez, that’s a four lane highway, ain’t it?”

“Yah, well now they’re puttin’ the crossin’ guards back cause the big election’s comin’ up, see?”

“Oh, so they look good for the election. I getcha.”

“Yeah, but after the election’s over, if the right wingers get in again they’re gonna start cuttin’ again.”

“Ya think they’ll cut back school buses some more?”

“Ah, they wanna keep the taxes down. Conservatives really hate the public schools, ya know. They wanna take money out of the public schools until the public schools fail and die. They sure as hell don’t wanna pay taxes to support public schools.”

“Yeah, but they say they support education.”

“Ah, that’s a bunch of baloney. Look at the record around here of the conservative school board members and all those conservatives in St. Paul cutting Stillwater school funding. You look at what’s been cut here in the last couple of years, you know they’re all lyin’ like dogs.”

“So who’s the conservatives runnin’ for School Board now?”

“Well, there’s George Thole, he’s already on the board and he’s a conservative. The conservative runnin’ who ain’t already on the Board are Carlsen and Rheinberger.”

“Carlsen got knocked out in the primary.”

“That don’t mean nothin’, the last two conservative candidates got in as write-ins; Carlsen could do the same. There’s enough dummies in this town that’d vote for her ‘cause they don’t understand how it raises their own property taxes. Then there’s this other candidate they got runnin’, Rheinberger, he’s real right wing, but he’s keepin’ a lid on it these days. He’s tryin’ to fool the voters into thinkin’ he’s mainstream or somethin’.”

“What makes ya think he’s a secret right winger?”

“Well, for while there, he was tryin’ to persuade folks that we oughtta sell off the public library so’s we could all save the taxes.”

“Oh ho ho! Yeah, I remember that now. Jeez, what a character. Didn’t he say we oughtta burn it down for the insurance?”

“Nah, nah, that wasn’t Rheinberger, that was Prennergass, the goofball who writes in the Gazette.”

“Hey, ain’t that Pernerfass right dere?”


“Right dere, sittin’ on the stool next to ya, ya blind old dope! Hey, Brennerpass, you tryin’ to listen in on our conversation?”

“Well no, gentlemen, but I couldn’t help overhearing—“

“Go on, get outta here, Blendergass! Go have yer own conversation, if you can find anyone who’ll talk to ya, ya...”

And so I got up and left the diner and walked out into the night, along the rain-soaked streets of Stillwater—alone.

William Prendergast is the author of the crime thriller “Forbidden Hollywood” and he thinks it’s ironic that you conservatives of the St. Croix Valley voted for a bunch of conservative legislators and conservative school board members whose policies have just raised your property taxes by 8%--in one year. Not counting the school levy, by the way.