Monday, February 22, 2010

A place for us

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
February 22, 2010

By Bill Kraus

Public broadcasting has been the only statewide medium in Wisconsin since the Journal Communications Company quit distributing and reporting beyond mostly Milwaukee.

The Madison papers never ranged much beyond Dane and adjacent counties. All the other local papers everywhere in Wisconsin are, of course, local.

Radio and TV are now, always have been, always will be regional, parochial media. They are in the business of delivering viewers to advertisers, and all of their advertisers are local.

So all that’s left is the two Wisconsin Public Broadcasting networks. A thin reed. It appears that the people in charge there regard what I see as an opportunity more like a problem. An expensive one.

The programming on public TV is revealing. In a given week a viewer can get a half hour every weekday of the British Broadcasting Corporation, an hour a day of national news from the Lehrer Report, and one-half hour a week of Wisconsin news from Frederica Freyberg.

This is Wisconsin Public Broadcasting?

Obviously the system has nowhere near enough money to put on a Wisconsin version of say the Lehrer Report every weekday.

Or does it?

What if WPB set itself up as sort of an Associated Press for all the private broadcasters in the state? The network could set aside the necessary airtime--a half hour or an hour every weekday--accept feeds from any and every TV station (commercial as well as public) and put together a daily report of the top stories in and about Wisconsin?

The technology makes this possible.

Would the feeding stations feed? Why not? They would gain in prestige and reach and still be able to deliver their daily dose of local news, sports, and weather for their local advertisers.

The big winner would be the state, the public as it were.

Ideas, candidates, events would have a statewide stage again.

It’s not the same as getting the Journal company to cover and distribute everywhere again, but it does bring TV’s version of journalism to a statewide audience. Common ground can be plowed again. Common causes could be surfaced and tested.

Getting a daily look at our diversity could be the route to bringing the things that unite us into focus. What we have lost sight of is the ways and reasons we are interdependent.

The Milwaukee papers did this for us once. Public TV can do it again.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Leading nowhere

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
February 15, 2010

By Bill Kraus

Bipartisanship is something that occurs between peers, among peer groups.

The chief executive, whether the president or governor, has no peer or peer group. The executive proposes, the legislature disposes. It is in the process of disposition that multiple voices are heard and compromise is both possible and necessary.

To accuse Obama of not being bi-partisan is misguided.

If we aren’t getting enough input from all sectors, more compromise from any sectors, if we are gridlocked, we should be looking to the legislative leaders not the executive branch.

It’s a nice bit of showmanship for Obama to talk to the Congressional Republicans. But if it’s action or movement that’s wanted, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the ones who should be talking to the Congressional Republicans in general and the Republican leaders specifically. All the time.

At a less partisan time in our state and our history, this was common, normal behavior.

What legislative leaders know, or should know, is that when a solution is proposed, the problem is forgotten, and the solution becomes the problem.

It is the legislative leaders’ job to keep the problem in the forefront and search for a solution that is not a problem. The late, great Bill Kellett referred to this as "keeping your eye on the squirrel."

The legislative leaders in Washington clearly are not doing that.

Until and unless they start doing their jobs, the majority is going to impose its will and ride roughshod, to the extent that’s possible, over the minority, and the minority is going to oppose everything in hopes that all that is proposed will fail and they will become the majority again.

Legislative governance has become a search for advantage not resolution, and assuredly not progress.

And the winner is? The status quo in most cases.

This in a country that is crying out for change, for action, for thinking anew.

The president, the governors have bully pulpits.

The legislative leaders have the power to give the country what it wants and needs.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Out of circulation

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
February 1, 2010

By Bill Kraus

In a 1978 column in the New York Times, Bill Safire said the country’s inability to think anew, to change, to welcome new ideas, and to deal with new challenges was a sure sign of hardening of the political arteries.

He predicted this affliction would worsen.

He was right.

There are multiple reasons why we cannot seem to cope.

The rise of the influence of the interests. The interests are a permanent part of our democracy. They have been around since the beginning but were never so well armed or financed.

The fear of change.

The power of the status quo.

The reluctance to compromise because this might lead to the loss of the increasingly important majority in an increasingly partisan political universe.

For these reasons and more the status quo was always a three-touchdown favorite. On difficult, complicated, contentious questions it has gotten to the point that it is even more entrenched.

In Washington and in Madison, several agenda items that have achieved a third-rail, too-hot-to-handle status.

In Washington:
  • Immigration
  • Social security funding as the baby boomers become eligible
  • A health care system that costs too much, delivers too little, and affects the competitiveness of the businesses which provide and pay for it.
  • Medicare solvency
In Madison:
  • A tax system overly reliant on property taxes
  • Funding the public schools
  • The Milwaukee public schools
  • Structural deficits everywhere that won’t go away

What is not made clear to those to whom the voters have given the power to deal with the problems that we are not facing is that by not voting for action, they are voting to preserve what almost everyone regards as a failed status quo.

Hardening of the arteries is almost always fatal in humans. In governments as well? There is no reason to think otherwise.

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