May 11, 2014
Clip 1: Homeless Hotspots a good start to a generous program

Charitable acts are, for the most part, great. However, helping someone in need can sometimes walk a fine line between providing aid and creating negative connotations for the recipient.

May 11, 2014
Clip 2: Walker's plan for high-speed rail a huge fail

May 11, 2014
Clip 3: Campaigns of negativity here to stay

This story was written for a journalism class with a specific focus on the 2012 Presidential and state elections. My beat was the Wisconsin U.S. Senate Race. All reporting is real, but not published. Nov. 13, 2012.

By Jaime Brackeen

In the days after last Tuesday’s elections, the valleys and fields of Wisconsin still echo with the U.S. Senate campaign rhetoric thrust upon residents of the Badger state. For months, words of, “Tammy Baldwin: too extreme for Wisconsin,” and, “Tommy isn’t for you anymore,” have permeated the consciousness of Wisconsinites to the point that anyone with a television could probably spout them off verbatim, regardless of political affiliation. 

Yet, for those already getting nostalgic for the blood-boiling, black-and-white vignettes surrounding unflattering pictures of Wisconsin’s battling politicians, do not worry, the negativity will be back for future election cycles—at least until it stops influencing voters.

“Did the negativity of certain aspects of the campaign at [state and national] levels define the campaigns?” asks University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of journalism and political science Dhavan Shah, “I’d say absolutely.

“Overall, political advertising gets more people to turn out and gets people to be more participatory.”

It certainly appears to have worked this time—The Wisconsin State Journal reported over 70 percent of Wisconsin’s 4.4 million eligible voters turning out at the polls on last week’s Election Day. This turnout eventually led Wisconsin Democrats to victory in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races, with President Barack Obama winning 52.8 percent of votes and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. 51.5 percent.

When this race picked up steam late in the summer, almost no one would have predicted a victory for the most left-leaning liberal in U.S. Congress in a decidedly purple state, especially with popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson on the Republican ticket. So how did Baldwin end up with a win? First Vice Chairman of The Republican Party of Wisconsin Brian Schimming says it can all be traced back to unanswered attack ads by Baldwin’s campaign in the month after the August primary election.

“[Thompson] was kind of broke at the end of that primary and so she jumped in with all the money she raised and attacked pretty hard,” he says. “So she was up on television several weeks before he got up on television and I think it was harmful, because you can’t allow that kind of negative advertising to go on when you don’t have a response at the same time.

“Governor Thompson in any other situation would have won the election.”

A Marquette Law poll released Oct. 31 confirms that after this undefended period, voter favoritism for Baldwin had moved from a nine-point deficit to a nine-point lead by the start of September.

“[Thompson] never fully recovered,” says John Sharpless, a professor in the History Department at UW-Madison who ran against Baldwin for her congressional seat in 2000. “And that says to everybody in the future, ‘Be mean, be nasty, never let up.’”

Sharpless says his race against Baldwin, which she won by a narrow margin of 51-49 percent, “was nothing like the negativity of this campaign.” When he ran against her, he said he took great care not to be insulting, saying, “Our ads were always humorous, they were never cruel.”

So while negativity may have been effective for Baldwin in dashing the popular image of Thompson this time around, Sharpless thinks this may be one place where Thompson’s campaign staff should have avoided following suit.

“Tammy’s a very nice person; even if you don’t like her politics, she conveys nice … I think a lot of people felt offended that Tammy was being attacked so aggressively.”

Yet Shah says negativity is a necessary component of educating the general public on important issues surrounding both the right and left. “[Baldwin] had a lot of very negative campaigns directed at her in the later days of the campaign, and a lot of that I think was very informative,” he says.

“Negativity at times is very informative and I think a lot of people discount that. [The ads] told people what Tammy Baldwin had voted for and the kinds of things she supported. Now, did it characterize her perfectly or in a way she would find agreeable? Probably not, but it also wasn’t false. It offered a lot of opinion to go along with that fact.”

The same can be applied to the attacks from Baldwin.

“I think the thing you have to remember about the negative campaign that Baldwin did run is that the ads … were basically telling us that Thompson had taken his Health and Human Services secretary position and then become a lobbyist,” Shah continues. “Those were important factors for people who say they’re tired of money in politics.”

Sharpless still believes there is another way around this. “If I had managed that campaign, rather than the harsh ads I would have pointed out how different her votes are from what most people in this state are for,” he says. “Just yelling that [she’s a liberal] at the top of your lungs doesn’t do it anymore in modern politics.”

Even so, he believes the effects of this campaign’s negative rhetoric are likely irreversible. “I think the image of both of them has been irreparably tarnished,” he says. “[Baldwin’s] now just another Washington, shabby politician who’s willing to do anything to get reelected.

“When she ran against me she did run some negative ads towards the end, but they weren’t cruel.”

However it is worth noting his addendum to that statement: “I was the only one that ever came close to beating her.”

For now, it seems the negative caricatures of politicians are here to stay, and according to Shah, voters might as well embrace it.

“I think we will see more of it because it works.”

May 11, 2014
Clip 4: Combing over good old-fashioned patriotism at Jack’s

This story was written for a journalism class with a specific focus on the 2012 Presidential and state elections. My beat was the Wisconsin U.S. Senate Race. All reporting is real, but not published. Oct. 23, 2012.

By Jaime Brackeen

MADISON, Wis.—It is perhaps no coincidence that the familiar stripes of a barbershop pole are the same red, white and blue of the American flag. When it comes to patriotism at Jack’s Barber Shop on University Avenue, owner Jack Johnson is a sterling example of a hair cutter loyal to his country, and more importantly, to the working man.

“The majority of people who go to a barber shop are common, working people,” Johnson said, leaning back in one of his vinyl thrones. “The people who go to a new [hair salon] and pay $70 for their haircut… they aren’t the average working person.”

You will never see $70-a-haircut extravagance at Jack’s, and he seems to like it that way. He’s been working in this same one-room shop a few blocks from the Veteran’s Hospital for over 50 years, and keeps things down to the old-fashioned basics. In this time, the cost has stayed a modest $15 per cut—cash or check only. When people ask him why he hasn’t raised his price, he replies matter-of-factly, “Then I’d have to bring 100 singles with me every day.” And who needs that kind of hassle?

This satisfaction with simplicity has resounded throughout most of his life.

“I haven’t made a lot of money, but it’s been a real good time,” he said. Johnson believes a lack of this same simple philosophy has prevented 2012’s Republican candidates from connecting with the “common man.”

As each new customer walks in the door and takes a seat in one of his two gleaming chairs, a seamless soliloquy of political thought soon emerges between the clips and snips. 

Two pumps with his foot put the customer at Johnson’s level.

“I don’t think Romney puts on a pair of jeans and walks into a factory and says ‘I’m one of the boys.’ If you’re a rich man, be a rich man. Don’t try to say you know how I live.” 

A loud buzzing then sputters to life nearly muffling Johnson’s somewhat grizzled voice as the topic moves toward Wisconsin’s Senate race and its Republican candidate.

“I think Tommy Thompson lost contact with us people. I think he got in the federal government and he got big bucks and I think he looks out for himself.”

Though Johnson admitted Thompson was once “decent,” he said the former governor’s time in Washington has taken from him all of his former redeeming qualities.

Most men in the chair nod as best they can with the whirring clippers dangerously close to their earlobes, one fervent headshake away from a necessitated buzz cut.  Yet Johnson never misses a beat, and soon enough he’s suctioning away whatever bristly remnants cling to the necks of his clientele and sending them on their way.

As Jim Burkurd—a fellow Korean War veteran and client of over 20 years—walked in, Johnson spoke even more candidly. This time he explained just why he will vote for Tammy Baldwin in one succinct sentence, certain of the support he would have from this loyal customer.

“She is outstanding for the veterans.”

He certainly has enough reasons to care about the attention a candidate pays to the former members of our Armed Forces. At the age of 79, Johnson has struggled and strove with the United States since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office. As a child, he made it through The Great Depression; as a young man, he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He has lived through World War II, Reaganomics and September 11.

So it should come as no surprise these conflicts have had a lasting impact on how he votes today, even 59 years removed from his first face-to-face brush with American foreign policy.

“I served my country during the Korean War, I earned benefits through the VA,” he said with an emphatic point of his finger, for a moment exuding a khaki-clad reflection of America’s favorite uncle. “I still pay taxes on what I earn, but I’m one of the people that ‘live off the country.’ I think that’s an insult to say I live off the country when I’ve paid taxes and everything since 1955… I think I’ve earned these things; I don’t think I’m taking anything I haven’t earned.”

However, even with over 397,000 other veterans currently residing in Wisconsin as reported by the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, does he think patriotism and the common tradesman will pull through for Baldwin on November 6?

He shrugged his shoulders and gave a doubtful shake of his head. He proceeded to sweep the final follicles of the day into a dustbin.

“But I’m voting for her.”

May 11, 2014
Clip 5: Making music, making brighter futures

May 11, 2014
Clip 6: Forget the espresso, we'll take a shot of rock: The Features boast one badass barista

May 11, 2014
Clip 7: Union Cab driver enthusiastically takes voters to the polls

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Filed under: madison isthmus vote 
May 11, 2014
Clip 8: Getting to know familiar faces and fresh food

April 15, 2013
Congratulations on graduating! Welcome to Purgatory.

The thing that no one tells you before you go to college is that not only will it provide you with a covetable education, it will also mould you into a better, well-rounded person and give you the opportunity to ease into the scalding hot tub that is being an adult one toe at a time.

The thing that no one tells you before you graduate college is a lot less reassuring. Namely, if you have not lined up a job before your final days of academia (i.e. if you majored in any branch of the humanities), you are in for a butt load of sitting around, probably at your parents’ house, fighting the urge to constantly shovel fistfuls of free food down your gullet and trying not to succumb to rampant feelings of loneliness and despair.

For those of you who can’t afford HBO to let “Girls” show you what life after college is like (especially for whiny, self-absorbed brats), I will do my best to elaborate. However, please keep in mind, your experience is unique and you may substitute marathons of “Psych” for alternatives such as “Law and Order,” “America’s Next Top Model” or “Murder, She Wrote.”

My post-graduation time began innocently enough. Being a serial busy body and extrovert with contrastingly hermitish tendencies, I often complained about never having time to do the things I really wanted to do during my college years, like read books, watch movies or have some alone time. But when I moved back home to figure out my life, I suddenly had all the free time in the world.

It was awesome.

Imagine my glee when with increasing speed I could work through all of the books I’d collected over the past three years. I also dedicated days to my Netflix account. On one occasion I watched four movies in one day, three movies the next and two movies on the third day all in an attempt to finally get through everything in my Instant Queue. I am proud to say I crossed off about ¾ of the titles and awarded the movies star ratings with the smug judgment of someone who would be really proud of themselves for completing the simple task of sitting and watching a movie.

At this point in my post-grad reverie, you may be thinking to yourself, “Where are all of this girl’s friends?” First of all, let me just assure you: I have friends. Really I do. But most of them were still in school or across the country or working. Honestly, my main barrier to society was wintertime in Wisconsin, my home state. I found myself trapped in a snowy solitude, not unlike Bon Iver recording his first record, and it gave me a lot of much needed “me time.” (Author’s note: I never actually use the phrase “me time” and neither should you.)

Then, suddenly, all of the existential literary classics I’d been reading and Wes Andersen movies I’d been watching got me thinking about the meaning of life and our purpose on this earth and I began to check my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter with increasing frequency to remind myself I am not alone in this world. And so it begins.

Once this awareness of loneliness occurs, there is no turning back and it will manifest itself in the strangest of places. For me, I became fully aware of it on a particularly cold day in January (I graduated in December). My mom and I were just hanging out and watching TV together when BOOM: Look at the time. I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel for six consecutive hours without a complaint. My eyes haven’t even started bleeding, and I’m pretty sure my soul still exists. It’s now time to re-evaluate my life. 

Yet this cycle will more or less continue and you might find yourself eagerly waiting for your mom or dad to come home each night just so you can talk to someone. That is what it feels like to be a dog left at home alone all day, I’m certain. You can try to keep yourself busy, but if you can’t leave the house you’ll have to get creative in order to forget about the fact that you are completely alone. In my case, while my mom was gone during the day I caught up with some of my closest friends on the phone, did Pilates, took up sketching and passionately flung myself into a battle of woman v. food to resist the constant desire to not only eat ice cream, but to infuse the ice cream with brownies, put it into a giant bowl and introduce my body to the first stage of Type II diabetes. 

I swear I am a happy and healthy person under normal circumstances.

Even during what may be starting to sound like the deterioration of your mind and a life once bursting with possibility, rest assured there are still good days along with the bad ones. 

Sometimes you’ll experience bursts of creativity. If you’re a writer, during these bouts of solitude new story ideas will strike you at random. One day you might come up with a movie idea revolving around the lives of twin girls who accidentally witness an armed robbery and have to go into witness protection in Australia. And then you realize you’ve just recreated the plot to “Our Lips Are Sealed” starring Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and your life spirals further down into the dark abyss of failure and inadequacy.

Ebbs and flows, man. Ebbs and flows.

You may now be thinking to yourself, “Holy fuck, I’m never leaving college. Sign me up for another victory lap!” Tut tut, I’m not finished. Don’t go abandoning hope for a meaningful future just yet. First of all, you might as well get this period of waiting and angst over with, because it will happen to you no matter what and it’s best to deal with it while you’re young and resilient. Also, I have this theory that the more degrees you have, the more likely you are to think entry-level positions are beneath you. Get over that one fast, because those are the only-level positions that will probably take you (unless you have some stacked connections).

So I’ve told you all about the depression and blues you will have to face should you go back home for any period of time during your job search, but how do you pull yourself out of this sludgy pool of wallowing?

1.     Well, for starters, never stop looking for something to do. Use this time to take up knitting. Or cooking. Or learning Photoshop. You finally have the time to fulfill any dreams left by the wayside during your pursuit of academia, so take advantage of it. You might even consider doing something really valuable with your free time, such as giving back to your community through volunteering. If your purity of heart can’t motivate you, keep in mind volunteering is an excellent opportunity to make new friends and even network at times.

2.     Find an excuse to get out of the house. I don’t care if it’s nothing but a simple trip to the grocery store to get ingredients for dinner; you need to reacquaint yourself with the outside world on a regular basis. Discover the wonder of walks, perhaps accompanied by the soothing sounds of a podcast in your ear. Going for walks is also a brilliant way of exploring your neighborhood. Better yet, you could go to a museum or a library—places often quite affordable (read: free) that you can visit with your non-existent income. And speaking of money…

3.     Get a job. Obviously this is what you’ve been looking for the entire time you’ve been sitting around at home, but I’m talking about a non-career job. Do the barista or waiter thing. Yes, they’re clichés for the young adult demographic, but they’re clichés for a reason. These jobs are effective ways to make money and guarantee social interaction while you figure out what the hell you want to do with your life.

4.     If you’re not in the place where you want to find your dream job, move. I recently packed up and settled in New York City, land of opportunity. It turns out the streets are more often paved with old gum, pigeon dung and refuse than gold, but it’s still got quite a bit of charm. Moving to a bigger city not only allows you to be present when you start getting calls for interviews, it also ensures you’ll have developed a prior understanding of the transport system so you won’t be late for said interviews. Bigger cities also have more to do on your average day, so there’s less chance to experience suffocating bouts of boredom. Another benefit: In a big city there will be many others seeking a career and to make friends like yourself—you’ll just have to be proactive and find ways to meet them.

5.     Suck it up. Yeah, you might blow through whatever money you’ve saved on your first two months of rent, but that’s why you got that entry-level service industry job to help keep you afloat in the interim. Life is hard sometimes, but for those of us fortunate enough to have obtained a tertiary education, a little struggling might not be such a bad thing. It forces you to find your passion because you finally decided it’s something worth striving for. You have to step out of your comfort zone. Hell, for me—having grown up in the Midwest—moving to New York has been a worthwhile experience if only for the exposure to the diversity it affords. You should have extended periods of time in your life where the room or subway car is not a blinding shade of white.

I realize some of you may now be cowering in your mascot apparel as you contemplate the temporarily dour future coming your way, and for this I am not sorry. Consider my melancholy story the tough-love prep your counselor and older friends never gave you. But also consider it a sign of hope. If I can bounce back from an entire day spent watching the Hallmark Original Series “The Good Witch’s Garden” while wearing sweat pants and feasting on cheesy potatoes, so can you. Godspeed, my friends. You will not be alone.