Wednesday, March 4, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 8:25 PM
Franklin Delano Roosevelt makes his inaugural address as 32nd president of the U.S. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

I've been thinking a lot about fear lately. It's impossible not to think about it if you spend more than a few minutes watching cable TV news. In fact, so far in 2015 I've probably watched cable news less than any time in the newish millennium. Why? Maybe it's the incessant coverage of "the ISIS threat" or "the war on ISIS" or whatever The Graphics Department is calling it this week.

Look, I agree with you that the 20,000 or so thugs in ISIS are the worst people in the world -- using extreme violence to deprive people of their freedom and impose their warped religious ideas on others is indeed as low as it gets. And they are causing instability in a region where -- despite decades of warning that this is a dumb idea -- a lot of the industrialized world gets its oil. But the violence caused in that same region by Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad didn't seem to pose an existential threat to the United States or to CNN's producers. Nor did rampant genocide, rape and use of child soldiers in Africa -- in other words, ISIS without the oil.

But ISIS and its tabloid-ready beheading tactics does have the effect -- for better or worse -- of extending America's regime of fear. As long as the fear factor is in effect, after all, America has all the excuse it needs to keep its troops and drones in Iraq and other regions of the Middle East. As long as the fear factor holds, America will continue to spend more on its military than the other major nations of the world combined. As long as the FBI continues its inane headline-generating entrapment operations against young losers and the mentally ill, as long as CNN treats three teenaged girls on a bus bound for Syria as it if they were a missing "suitcase nuke," America can -- and will -- be governed by fear.

Will Bunch @ 8:25 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, March 2, 2015, 7:23 PM
File: Tom Wolf delivers a speech after being sworn in as the 47th governor of Pennsylvania during an inauguration at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Jan. 20, 2015. (REUTERS/Mark Makel)

UPDATE: The plan is out -- you can read some of the details here. I watched Wolf's speech and heard from a few smart people since I posted this last night. The bottom line -- I like the plan a little more than when I was going on the initial advance leaks, but I still have concern about raising the sales tax. It should have been noted -- as several commenters pointed out -- that court cases have pretty much put the kibosh on a progressive income tax, and other tax fairness ideas, barring a constitutional amendment, which is a time-consuming and virtually impossible process. The notion that Wolf's plan would lower taxes for Pennsylvanians making more than $100,000 and raise them for those earning more sounds like the right direction, but we'd like more info, please. Also, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that Republicans pass this, right?.

ORIGINAL POST: Just six weeks into his administration, Gov. Tom Wolf is determined to shatter every stereotype about bald, bearded guys -- to which I can only say it's about damn time. It seemed like a long time ago that Wolf introduced himself to Pennsylvania as a mild-mannered -- arguably milquetoast -- dude whose Jeep was either a way to get around Mt. Wolf or the manifestation of a mid-life crisis.

But since taking the oath in late January, Wolf has been a governor on Viagra -- and the once-bored spouse that is Pennsylvania can't decide whether to share in his enthusiasm or hide under the covers. He's put a temporary kibosh on the death penalty and on expanding fracking in state parks and forests, worked to undo some 11th-hour Tom Corbett appointments, and -- in the latest, most local shocker -- ousted Corbett's pick Bill Green as head of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission.

Will Bunch @ 7:23 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Sunday, March 1, 2015, 8:30 PM
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

To the nattering nabobs of negativism in the lamestream media, the guy is nothing less than a human gaffe machine. How could you not question a dude who has the nerve to present himself as ready for prime time in the 2016 White House race when he can't even answer the most basic questions on evolution or whether the current president of the United States loves the United States, when he thinks that labor unions are a threat comparable to ISIS and when he maintains the biggest "foreign policy decision" of his lifetime was Reagan firing domestic air traffic controllers?

That's not all. He's uncharismatic and humorless. He'd be the first president since the World War II-era not to have a college degree. In an age of political apathy, he can get 50,000 people to show up in blizzards or 2-degree weather to protest his policies. Over 900,000 people signed petitions for a recall election -- one of only two U.S. governors to suffer that indignity in the last 94 years. He's still the subject of a never-ending criminal probe into his campaign fund-raising activity.

The pundit class thinks it has a read on Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker, but of course this effete corps of impudent snobs has it all wrong. That in fact is the very essence of the Scott Walker phenomenon. Indeed, the shared resentments of the Republican base could -- emphasis on the word "could" -- propel this dour enemy of Working People right into the Oval Office. A lot could happen between now and next July on the road to Cleveland (heh), but personally I'd rate Walker with by far the best chance of winning the GOP nomination...much, much better than the hugely overrated Jeb Bush. And if that happens, the reality is that Scott Kevin Walker has a 50 percent chance of becoming the 45th president of the United States.

Will Bunch @ 8:30 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2015, 5:50 PM
Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia makes his way through supporters on election night. (AP Photo/Chicago Tribune, Terrence Antonio James)

Of all the people running for mayor in 2015, no one is offering ideas that are bolder and more progressive. If elected, he would freeze charter schools, re-open some of the many neighborhood schools that have been closed in recent years, and work to restore an elected school board. On hot-button policing issues, his ideas are truly radical. He would put more officers on the street -- 1,000 more, in fact -- but also proposes a huge shift in the way that law-enforcement works. There would be a new emphasis on conflict resolution, and keeping folks out of jail (saving tax dollars in the process). He backs a $15-an-hour minimum wage, but he'd curb abuses of tax break programs for big business.

No candidate for mayor has a resume like his, either. He was raised by parents who came to America when he was 10, in search of a better life in the city's then-booming factories. He's survived a lifetime of rough-and-tumble ward politics and taken on the city's corrupt, entrenched Democratic machine and won. Now in the mayor's race, he's doing battle with a candidate endorsed by only by the city's wealthy business elites but by President Barack Obama.

And the crazy thing is that he just might win.

Will Bunch Daily News Staff Writer @ 5:50 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2015, 9:21 PM
Bill O'Reilly threw himself into the "no-spin zone" of his popular Fox News program, "The O'Reilly Factor," Friday evening as he continues to push back against claims made by Mother Jones magazine about his wartime reporting.

A lot of people are conflating Bill O'Reilly and Brian Williams and the brouhahas over whether these two familiar (or once familiar, Williams is already starting to fade from memory a bit) TV talking heads had a penchant for exaggerating at best, or out-and-out lying at worst, about their alleged exploits reporting from dangerous combat zones.

On one level that's a little silly, I guess. Bill O'Reilly is a late-night commentator for Fox News, a.k.a. bloviator, and an avowed conservative. Williams is, or was, a TV news anchor, supposedly objective, and has had a much longer career in news reporting than O'Reilly, who didn't become well-known until his stint as an anchor on a puffy entertainment-and-gossip show. Now that they're brothers-in-scandal, I've heard folks suggest that O'Reilly is the right-wing scalp and that Williams was the left-wing one. But I'm still trying to figure out what's "liberal" about Williams, who seemed to tattoo his love of NASCAR and "the troops," real or invented, on his sleeve.

What is similar is the considerable evidence that both men did the same thing: Invented backstories that turned them into swaggering war correspondents, natural heirs to the front-line journalists from World War II and then Vietnam who dominated TV news throughout the 21st Century. Their "combat experience" was brief in the initial re-telling, before the world figured out these encounters were probably not so much "brief" as non-existent. But these stretched tales gave O'Reilly and Williams the cred they needed to report or, in the case of O'Reilly, bloviate opine -- on the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the dozens of other global hot spots where President Obama has launched drones, or John McCain has fantasized about invading, or both.

Will Bunch @ 9:21 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2015, 7:25 PM
New York Times columnist David Carr attends the TimesTalks at The New School on Feb. 12, 2015, in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images)

Last Thursday, the New York Times media columnist David Carr died suddenly and way, way too prematurely after collapsing in the paper's newsroom -- succumbing to lung cancer that the world, his colleagues, and possibly Carr himself didn't know that he was afflicted with. He was just 58, with a wife and three children.

His death resonated in places you might expect (above the fold on the front page of the New York Times) and places you wouldn't (an article about the New York journalist's death is, as I write this anyway, one of the most-read stories on On the surface, all the furor is a tad hard to explain. After all, Carr never won journalism's premier award, the Pulitzer Prize (although I'm thinking that could change in April if the Times had the foresight to enter him this year). He didn't "take down a president" with his reporting (to be fair, neither, really, did these guys). He was a sharp writer who often brilliantly turned a phrase, but his sole book -- The Night of the Gun, about his fall into and rise up from drug addiction and other sins -- got mixed reviews.

One might be tempted to chalk it up the flurry of Carr tributes and remembrances from journalistic cohorts to our 21st Century American trend of forming our communities -- the people we overly protect celebrate, protect and ultimately grieve -- not around where we live but around where we work.

Will Bunch @ 7:25 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, February 12, 2015, 9:23 PM
Yup, this is beautiful downtown Columbus.

In what can only be described as a massive moment of civic relief, Philadelphia today beat out Columbus, Ohio and Cedar Rapids, Iowa some place called Brooklyn, N.Y., to host the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. The decision is not only a big win for Philadelphians who can now watch Bill Clinton pass the bejeweled crown of American hegemonic dynasty to Hillary Clinton, but it's also exposed the red tide of civic insecurity that is New York City, as a certain "newspaper of record" launched not one but two lame hatchet jobs against our City of Brotherly Love. This is a classic case of a civic "rivalry" that's only a rivalry for the sad folks who live in New York; most Philadelphians don't even know where this place is.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia seems overcome by a wave of good feeling and self-congratulation. The Pope's coming here! Hillary's coming here! Bob Covington is going to All-Star weekend! Right here, right now, there is no other place I'd rather, yes and no. We shouldn't let a few tidbits of good news make us forget that there's a large high school in Philadelphia with no biology teacher, or that the city of presidential and papal dreams also has the highest rate of deep poverty of any large American city. Maybe the next 17 months aren't a time for patting ourselves on the back, but for getting our house in order.

Have a great weekend!

Will Bunch @ 9:23 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, February 11, 2015, 7:56 PM
A makeshift memorial appears on display, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill, N.C., in remembrance of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, who were killed on Tuesday. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward)

Wednesday night was made for staying up late on the World Wide Web --the evening had been a little bit like Pearl Harbor for media-news junkies, after all, thanks to the dueling departures of Brian Williams and Jon Stewart. Indeed, on Twitter there was little talk of anything else. Maybe that's why it was shocking to wake up early today and see that many of the tweets were about the brutal slaying of three Muslim-American students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That had happened at 5:15 in the afternoon -- hours before CNN treated Stewart's departure like the "fake news"-caster was a missing Malaysian jetliner.

Where had been the mainstream news coverage of a human tragedy that had, circumstantially, all the trappings of an act of religious terrorism? Many folks had that reaction -- and when they tweeted their shock, sadness, dismay and outrage, they added a hashtag with a powerful undertone: #MuslimLivesMatter. "Why deaths of muslims are not noticed in a terrorist incident?," posted Twitter user @shahzad2404. "They are humans too! #MuslimLivesMatter." A cartoonist, citing the example of the terror-attacked French satirical Charlie Hebdo, posted his own rendering of three young corpses on the pavement, observed by a yawning TV cameraman proclaiming "no news here" in the killing of three Muslims in a Southern college town.

But the three murder victims were anything but cartoons, and the details that emerged of who we lost were truly beyond heartbreaking. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, had just been married two months ago; the last known photo of Abu-Salha shows a beaming young bride dancing at her wedding. Her husband, Barakat, of Syrian descent, was heavily involved in charity work said to include building homes for Habitat for Humanity, offering free dental care to the homeless and destitute of nearby Raleigh, and raising money for the same type of care in war-torn Syria. Ms. Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, was, like the other two, a top student; she'd just won an award at North Carolina State University for her work in 3-D modeling. What's more, amid a climate of increasing Islamphobia in this country, the man arrested and charged with the murders was an avowed atheist who's written of his hatred of religion on social media.

Will Bunch @ 7:56 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.


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