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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, April 30, 2006

[Insert that Homer Simpson drooling sound]

I'm never on the cutting edge of anything.

Except this. I'm still months behind, but that's better than my usual years.

Within two weeks!

(Until then, blogging may be spotty, as I'm getting it to resolve some current issues. But the Apple folks are very good, and sending me a replacement iBook, which I don't want, but was able to sell to offset the cost of the MacBook Pro.)

Robbery! Wisconsin's Congresspeople owe you 31¢

There's this thing they say about local TV news: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, if a story can be sensationalized and work people into a tizzy, it deserves prominence even if it creates an inaccurate picture of the way the world actually is.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel never passes up a chance to do the same thing to our politicians--usually Governor Doyle--and today they go after our congressional delegation:
Wisconsin's eight House lawmakers spent nearly $1.7 million on "franked mail" from 2003 through 2005, a review by the Journal Sentinel found.

Letters, brochures, constituent surveys--these and other mailings all go out at taxpayers' expense. Thanks to a system known as "congressional franking," lawmakers need not bother with postage; their signature suffices. [. . .]

With changes in both franking rules and technology, spending is no longer restricted to mail. Lawmakers also use automated phone calls, newspaper ads and high-volume e-mails to put out the word that they're doing their job.

Taken together, it's a built-in advantage for incumbents, political scientists say.
While I won't deny that the last statement is true, the paper is clearly overblowing the story. Some of the Cheddarshere has also fallen for it, too: From the left, Tony Palmieri raises his Pork Advisory warning level; from the right, Peter DiGaudio complains about the "staggering cost" of government spending--presumably, the cost of the franking a part of that.

But here's the deal: The paper reports that between 2003 and 2005--over three years--Wisconsin's eight representatives spent nearly $1.7 million. If you do the math, that's about 31¢ for every citizen of Wisconsin. Ten cents a year per person. Even if you wanted to go per household, you might be talking a dollar per household for the last three years. That won't even buy you the newspaper that reported the story.

But, you know, it bleeds.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bill for Wisconsin

I'm going to talk about Spivak and Bice again . . . but this time, for doing what they usually do, which is report the political gossip. They're blogging that almost-ex-weatherman Jim Ott is considering a run for the 23rd Assembly District, currently held by the retiring Curt Gielow. Ott would be running as a Republican; the Spice Boys also say that Mequon Alderman John Wirth is also considering a run for the seat for the GOP.

What the Spiced Ones don't mention is that there is already an announced candidate for the Democratic slot on the ballot--my friend and former Bryan Kennedy campaign manager Bill Elliot. The website isn't much now, but, hey, he seems at least to be ahead of the two Republicans in that regard.

I've added Bill to the "folkbum-endorsed" section of the sidbar. Bill's been endorsed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, as well. For more, you can email his campaign at info@billforwisconsin.com.

In other sidebar candidate news, I stumbled across the blog--not recently updated, though--of first CD candidate Dr. Jeff Thomas; I've added that to the "Candiblogs" section, which, until now, only had Pat Kreitlow. If you are or know of a Democratic candidate for state or federal office with a blog, let me know, and I'll add you to the list, too!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Spice Boys almost decapitated by the point as it whizzes past

I am not certain there are two reporters, anywhere, who have as much animosity for the subject they are assigned to that Spivak and Bice have for blogging. The description attached to their blog space at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reads, "Journal Sentinel columnists Cary Spivak and Dan Bice trudge through the scores of local political blogs so you don’t have to." Clearly, with the level of contempt they regularly show bloggers, this is not an assignment they relish. "Trudge," indeed.

For example, they seem convinced that every blogger ever has exactly one motivating factor: Selfishness. They're just sure every blogger's greatest desire is to see themselves in print or is otherwise in the blog game for self-aggrandizement. When they do indeed blog about blogs, they just can't help but let their contempt shine through.

Which brings us to their offering for today:
Gas is hovering at around three bucks a gallon, there's still a nasty war in Iraq and state politicos are gearing up for one heckuva fight for control of the governor's mansion.

But if you're a blogger, forget about all that. To the folks in cyberspace, what could possibly be more important than ...

Blogging.

Ann Althouse, a Madison blogger with a national following, is reporting - er, make that blogging - live from a blogging conference at Harvard Law School. You can even get a picture of her typing away at her laptop while at one session.

Now we know. Blogging: It's all about me.
Ann Althouse, whom I just don't care to read but who seems like a nice enough person from the eight seconds I had to talk to her last month at the blog summit (cue the Spice Boys: "It's all about them!"), doesn't write about Wisconsin politics as a rule. Or gas prices. Or much political at all--which is why I don't read her. She's all about "The Sopranos" and other pop culture-y things, with an eye-glazing helping of law besides.

But heaven forbid that she take time out of her busy schedule discussing who may be America's next top model to attend and cover a national conference about blogging!

More than anything else, it shows that Spivak and Bice just don't have much of a feel for what this medium that they are supposed to cover is all about, whose niche is where, and what we think is actually important. You'd think, on a day like today, when the actual Wisconsin political blogs are all over the One-Night Stand of the Frat Brother of the Gynecologist of TABOR's Ex-Girlfriend (full props to Diamond Dave for that one!), the Boys could come up with something more informative and informed than the mean-spirited snipe at Althouse.

As much as I hate to say it, Patrick McIlheran actually does "get" this medium, as evidenced by his writing today of the post los Niños Spice should have written.

Maybe covering the blogs (so you don't have to!) just isn't as much fun as trafficking in political gossip. Maybe they just don't have any respect for people like me (and Althouse) who don't get (or want) a paycheck for writing every day. Either way, their scorn couldn't be more clear. Thanks, Boys, for all your efforts to marginalize us.

Friday Random Ten

The Unforgivable Edition

1. "For Once in Your Life" Lucy Kaplansky from Ten Year Night
2. "Please, Mrs. Henry" Bob Dylan and The Band from The Basement Tapes
3. "Viola" Girlyman from Remember Who I Am
4. "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now" Cracker from Cracker
5. "Flying" Willy Porter from Dog Eared Dream
6. "What Kind of Love is This" Carrie Newcomer from My True Name
7. "A Little But Lonesome" Casey Chambers from Barricades & Brick Walls
8. "The Only Way" Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert from Side of the Road
9. "Eyes Front (See Through You)" Peter Mulvey from The Trouble with Poets
10. "Unforgivable" Vance Gilbert from Unfamiliar Moon

In Milwaukee Public Schools news . . .

Last night the Board of School Directors installed milquetoast Joe Dannecker as its new president. Dannecker, who, unfortunately, represents me, replaces anti-public school Director Ken Johnson in the post.

This just makes me feel like crying in futility:
"I'm the most average person on the board in some ways," he said last night after being elected. "I don't have a special agenda...My job is to facilitate a meeting and work very hard to keep the board focused."
Not that I was pleased with Johnson's agenda--far from it--but at a time when the Board needs to show some guts and lead, Dannecker's initiativelessness will just leave the district and the city feeling even more hopelessly mired in all the problems we face.

Sigh.

Second Cousin Once Removed of TABOR passes Assembly

After defeating the Bastard Stepson to TABOR 66-32 yesterday (and killing ethics reform in Republican caucus), Wisconsin Assembly Republicans introduced a new TABOR after midnight and passed it, almost sight-unseen, 50-48. State Rep. Mark Pocan, who was there, has lots more. This is a bad, bad bill.

Fallout will come during the day today, and I expect a significant number of Senate Republicans (and by significant, I mean three or four, which is all it will take to derail the thing) to distance themselves from this. Most will use the excuse that this amendment only addresses state spending--limiting it to the rate of increase in personal income--not local spending as well. TABOR and all its relatives will die this session.

For more on why TABOR and family are bad for Wisconsin, see this earlier post.

Update: Bellweather conservative blogger Owen calls it a "disaster."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Headline confusion

I don't care about the Packers; I don't follow much of anything involving them. (I'm sure my readership will now plummet.)

So the headline "Walker trade? Not likely, Thompson says" doesn't make me think football. It makes me think Tommy! has been thinking about sending the Milwaukee County Executive to Illinois for an alderman to be named later or something.

Health Care

A couple of things are converging to make this post. One is that on the same day a new report told us that more than 40% of moderate-income American adults went uninsured for at least part of 2005 (on top of more than half of low-income and 1 in 5 middle-income Americans--Kevin Drum has graphs), the State Senate approved a tax break for "health savings accounts," sending to Governor Doyle a bill that, most likely, will not help any of those moderate-income folks. Two bi-partisan bills that actually would help people--the Gielow/ Richards bill and the new Decker/ Musser bill will, unlike HSAs, get nowhere in this same legislature.

Conservative Peter DiGaudio (along with a big chunk of the Badger Blog Alliance) is upset at the impending death of a woman under Texas's "Futile Care Law" that allows hospitals to stop treatments that will not, ultimately, save a life, under certain conditions. DiGaudio claims that this kind of rationing to health care is just a preview of greater government involvement. At the same time, conservative Rick Esenberg defends insurance company Wellpoint for, essentially, signaling to a cancer patient that they would rather she die, too. I guess they, like the Texas hospital, are thinking, Why wait for the government to take over?

Plus, I haven't written a long, substantive post in a while, and my fingers get out of shape when I miss my one 1,000-word post a week minimum.

More proximately, the cause may be that in the comments to this post on TABOR and TABOR-like symptoms, several of you voiced your opinions on health care. While I don't think that we here in the folkbum community (hey, I have enough regulars I think I can call it that) will solve America's health care crisis, it seems appropriate to open up a thread here to see what kind of common principles we could all work from, whatever our perspectives.

When I think about health care, I start from a few basic core positions:
  1. Collectively, this country spends too much on health care. We spend double per capita than most other western countries, yet we don't get care that's twice as good or double the satisfaction (read the whole thing). Related to that, medical inflation outpaces the CPI by far too much. (eRiposte has some telling data.)
  2. The cost to individuals to get comprehensive health care coverage is too great and, indeed, even negotiated group plans purchased by employers cost too much.
  3. The quality of Americans' health care absolutely should not be an accident of where they happen to work. The peculiar and uniquely American system of health insurance as a benefit of employment has distorted both the health care and labor markets.
  4. The U.S. should not settle for a health care model that puts the most important decisions--from who your doctor is to what level of care you should receive--in the hands of anyone but consumers and patients.
  5. One of the most backwards things about health care in this country is the secrecy, the multiple price-points for the same service, and the loopholes in care. I support the idea (proposed by, among others Steve Kagen) of unitary and transparent pricing. No reform can go forward without it.
  6. Health care is, and should always remain, a two-word phrase.
There are a variety of reforms that I would support that fit in with those beliefs.

It is clear, though, that the number one task ought to be cutting the cost of delivering health care.

Here's one thing we know: Patients are paying more, but doctors (and nurses and PAs and techs and anyone else who earns a living seeing patients) aren't making more. Another thing we know: Most of that extra money is going to the middle man, the entity that takes your money and then hands it to doctors. There's where we need to start the reform.

I figure there are two extreme ways to do that. One would be eliminating insurance companies entirely and paying for everyone's care at the state or federal level. The other would be cutting everyone loose and letting them all negotiate for themselves the best deal they can get and hope the market looks out for the best interest of the ill and poor as well as the rich and healthy.

Anyone can see that neither of those extremes will be satisfactory to anyone except the extremists. What to do, then?

Seems to me, just ball-parking a plan here, that the best answer would be a combination of the two, a middle ground, if you will. Here's what I think a plan could look like. Figure that this gets done on a county-wide--or perhaps regional--scale; in fact, if I ever ran for county board or anything like that, this might be a significant part of my platform (any other candidate is free to use it):
  • Start by gathering every public sector employee into one buying pool. Rather than letting each unit of government fend (and do the paperwork) for itself, put everyone in one group administered by a small agency that does only this. The agency will be partially paid for by the units of government, who would almost certainly contribute less here than they do to their own benefits departments.
  • Ask insurance providers to submit plans to get access to that pool. The cost of admission for any insurance company would be a percentage fee--say, 3%--based on the previous-year's business in the county (or region). If a provider did $3,000,000 of business last year, they'd pay $90,000 to get in on the deal. The fee will offset the cost to the units of governments to set up and run the agency, and insurers will see it as part of the cost of doing business--cheaper than cutting themselves off from such a large pool of potential customers.
  • Send a "rough draft" of the collected plan proposals to each insurer to ask if they want to make changes. That way, each insurer sees what the others are offering, encouraging them to compete with lower prices.
  • The final set of available plans is sent to the employees. The specific units of government can then say--as the state does now with its employees--which, if any, of the plans would be "free," and which would result in a deduction of the difference from salaries. Employees choose the plan that looks best for them, and, like that, we have cheaper health care across the public sector.
  • Then cover everyone without employer-provided insurance on a sliding scale based on the previous-year's income. People pick a plan from the same set of choices offered the public-sector employees. Cover the cost of the sliding scale with a small fee against businesses that do not offer health insurance to their employees.
  • Finally, open it up to the private sector, letting business use the same set of choices (further encouraging more insurers to offer plans) the way the private sector does. As we do with insurers themselves, and with the units of government, assess a fee--perhaps a small percentage of payroll--to help pay for the administration. Any business that opts out--providing insurance itself--pays no fees at all to anyone, though access to lower-cost plans will almost certainly move employers into my plan.
  • Here's the kicker: Make the fees on business and contributions from the units of government to participate larger than the fee levied against those who don't provide insurance at all. This will encourage a slow migration of everyone--public and private sector--into a system that allows for maximum transparency and competition among insurers (and providers--see above), maximum choice for consumers, and the power of the state to bargain with insurers to keep their costs down. It takes employers out of the losing game of providing health insurance, but doesn't add up to single-payer.
That's my idea. Tear it apart in the comments below--but only if you provide some ideas of your own.

Victor Wooten is the best. Bass player. Ever.

If we had an army of Victor Wootens, we'd groove the Iraqi insurgency to a standstill in a matter of minutes.

I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ways to Die

Some people ask me if I blog because someday I'd like to be a journalist.

Well, no, I don't want to be a journalist. When the whackjobs on the Right do finally start the civil war, the journalists, apparently, will be lynched. I'd rather die the quicker, less painful, death by shooting I was previously promised by a Wisconsin blogger.

Barbara O'Brien, as she usually does, has more.

Speaking of Pat Roberts

Roberts is trying--again--to mess with Phase 2 of the investigation into inelligence before the Iraq War began. quiddity over at uggabugga (I love typing that!) poses it as a math problem.

100% Stupid

When I noticed last week that the Harsdorf/ Brown Wicked Stepsister to TABOR included the "65% solution," I thought about writing a post focusing on that. I've read some on this thing, and it's the hot new conservative fad for fixing schools. It's not a good plan.

But then I got busy; my brother got married; life, generally, intervened--you know how it goes. And Xoff beat me to it. As he notes,
It is not a simple solution to problems of school financing in Wisconsin. In fact, it's not a solution at all.
Read the whole thing.

Leaking

With all the hoopla in the right Cheddarsphere over the firing of possible CIA leaker Mary McCarthy (see here or here, for two examples), and the general attitude of that side to Russ Feingold (too many links to even try), I'm surprised they all missed this:
[T]hree years ago on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, [Senate Intelligence Committee member] Feingold himself was involved in disclosing sensitive intelligence information that, according to four former senior intelligence officers, impaired efforts to capture Saddam Hussein and potentially threatened the lives of Iraqis who were spying for the United States.

On March 20, 2003, at the onset of military hostilities between U.S. and Iraqi forces, Feingold said in a speech to the National Newspaper Association that he had "been in touch with our intelligence community" and that the CIA had informed President Bush and the National Security Council "of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad."

The former intelligence officials said in interviews that Feingold was never held accountable for his comments, which bore directly on the issue of intelligence-gathering sources and methods, and revealed that Iraqis close to Hussein were probably talking to the United States.
I mean, c'mon, it's a giant sitting duck of a target that they could just--

Oh. Wait. That story's not about Senate Intelligence Committee member Russ Feingold; it's about Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas). Gotta stop those leakers, eh?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Happy Equal Pay Day, 2006!

For all of my working women readers, I hope your Equal Pay Day has been a good one.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Monday Quickies

  • First, whether you think you're in the left, right, or center--or even not anywhere on the spectrum--you should be concerned that they're going to take away "internet neutrality." What does this mean? Your ISP could decide to block, well, anything. Here's more about how you can help.

  • For the record, Patrick McIlheran's links to me have brought, according to the SiteMeter, zero hits. I'm not sure what it means, but I feel the need to say it. Update, April 27: One hit.

  • Carrie Lynch writes a post I never had time to.

  • The best part of this story:
    [T]he reason Wisconsin's Tax Freedom Day is nine days later than when Doyle first started in office is because the federal government has been asking for more money. The Tax Foundation report shows federal spending drove the change--not state or local governments.

    And Green voted for three of the last four federal budgets.
  • Seth tells us about CFAF, which is not the sound of coughing up phelgm, but an "interest group." The discussion raises an interesting point: Since the governor has no say in a constitutional amendment, like the TABOR family amendments, why is Mark Green campaigning for governor on the issue? Why is CFAF running ads against Doyle about it?

  • Read about a conservative whose health insurance company wants her to die. As there are no atheists in foxholes, there are none opposed to health care reform among the seriously ill.

  • Remember when the right Cheddarsphere had a fit about Jim Doyle holding hearings to try to figure out why gas prices were so high? (Fraley is still at it.) Well, let's see if they lay into George W. Bush with the same kind of gusto.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Conservative Economic Delusions

I don't have a lot of time for blogging this morning, but I do want to squeeze in a quick round of the M-Watch. See if you can spot the contradiction. Let's call this paragraph A:
Polls show that despite an economy cooking along at 3.5% annual growth, unemployment lower than it's been for most of the past quarter-century and the eagerness of would-be employers like Schneider, people think the outlook stinks, that the breadwinner work has fled to China, leaving only bun-slicer jobs at Burger Barn.
And let's call this paragraph B:
[Vice president in charge of recruiting at Schneider National Rob Reich's] company held a recruiting fair in its hometown of Green Bay last month, expecting a few hundred people. Eight hundred showed up, including more than 100 would-be truckers. "It was outstanding," he says, though he's still looking for more, thousands nationwide.
These paragraphs both live at the top of McIlheran's Sunday Comics this week. Apparently, P-Mac is distressed that the people--those stupid people!--are too pessimistic about the Bush economy which, by his figuring, is "cooking along."

Here's the contradiction: If the economy is really so "cooking," why did two or three times the number of expected people show up at a job fair? It certainly can't be because the economy is "cooking along" for them, can it?

Like the good shills at Fox News (aside to Paul Brewer: Can we call that a push poll?), McIlheran is willing to believe that good numbers in some metrics mean everyone's boats have gotten higher in the rising tide. This is clearly not the case: Some people's boats are taking on a lot of water.

To be fair, some of his column directs reasonable criticism at Milwaukee officials who squashed an attempt by e-retailer BuySeasons.com to move into new development in the city's Menominee Valley. Officials were hoping better-paying and non-seasonal employment would end up there, but they clearly erred in killing that opportunity.

But most of McIlheran's column is bewildered rumination over why people think the economy is so bad since everyone can be a truck driver ("where you can spend hours engaging your mind via books on tape"--really, I'm not making this up). He needs to go read some Billmon, who explains, with graphs and pictures, why people think the economy sucks. Hint: It has something to do with the huge spike in corporate profits and the flat line of personal income. Tack on $3.09 for gas and, well, it starts to feel pretty glum, doesn't it?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Happy Earth Day, 2006

Gaylord Nelson's biographer, Bill Christofferson, reminds us of the first Earth Day.

Friday, April 21, 2006

He noticed! He noticed! (More TABOR)

I'm as giddy as schoolgirl at an O-Town concert! After a solid year of my taking on his right-wing nuttery (May 1st is our anniversary!), Patrick McIlheran finally mentions me today on his blog!

Sadly, he's not apologetically abandoning his indefensible beliefs, but rather trying to tell me that I'm wrong:
[McIlheran's paraphrase of your humble folkbum's view] is, government’s costs ought to rise as fast as it costs to employ government workers, by his lights. Other than a suggestion that voters try to rebuild health care for lower costs (lower costs unlikely to emerge under the idee fixe of the left, a single-payer plan), Bullock feels the real route to happiness lies not in restraining taxes but changing who pays them.

Not to say his view is invalid, I do think it is revealing. For all the criticism of the Taxpayer Protection Amendment as overly complex (well, yes) or inflexible (good!), it is not the mechanism that grates on the left, it is the very idea that government’s growth can be restrained. It’s all about making the right people pay more.
Which is not exactly what I said. You, reader, pay a hefty property tax every year (and this year it will be even higher) in part because that's the way the state has historically paid for what it does. What I said, and what McIlheran hides behind ellipses, is that we here in Wisconsin need to have a discussion--among other things that might work to control costs--about whether we want to keep that up. That is a discussion we cannot have under current leadership and in a climate of gimmicky, movement-conservative pseudo-solutions--like the new one proposed today.

What I also said, and what McIlheran deliberately ignores (and Republican legislators fail to address), is that it is "the mechanism that grates on" me, and grates massively. See, any artificial tie between state and local spending (or revenue) and some unrelated data point (like inflation or the rate of new development in a community) is stupid. It's, like, stupid-and-a-half. I didn't use such plain language in my essay yesterday, and maybe if I had, McIlheran would have gotten the point. The point is, simply, that limiting how much government can do based on a measure unrelated to what government does is in-flippin'-sane, and will ultimately push the state into the same kind of death spiral Colorado is desperately trying to pull out of now.

If McIlheran is content to be so short-sighted, well, a year of plugging away at him hasn't changed his mind yet, so it's not bound to happen anytime soon.

Do I have all the answers to complex issues of state and local taxing and spending? No, of course not. I'm an English major, and a bad speller to boot. But I know BS when I see it--I teach high school, remember?--and TABOR, the Bride of TABOR, the Ugly Children of TABOR, the Downstairs Neighbor of TABOR, and all the other Republican-sponsored constitutional amendments we've seen in the last few years are BS of a very pure strain. They're transparent attempts to harness Wisconsinites' disatisfaction with high property taxes, not real solutions to why costs keep increasing and a greater share of those costs are borne by property owners and working stiffs.

I want this state to move beyond gimmicks. McIlheran, apparently, doesn't.

Friday Random Ten

The "What I'm trying to say is . . ." Edition

1. "Italian Shoes" Patty Larkin from Red = Luck
2. "Early" Victoria Williams from Going Driftless
3. "See Him on the Street" the Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass
4. "Lonely House" Connie Evingson from I Have Dreamed
5. "Mad Mission" Patty Griffin from Living with Ghosts
6. "Digging a Ditch" Dave Matthews Band from Busted Stuff
7. "Farewell to Bitterroot Valley" Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer from Tanglewood Tree
8. "Bloomington" Old 97s from Drag it Up
9. "Independence Day" Ani DiFranco from Little Plastic Castle
10. "Southwind" Willy Porter from The Trees Have Soul

Thursday, April 20, 2006

TABOR: Back to the beginning

While the left Cheddarsphere is trying to hold back our giddy giggles about Wisconsin Republicans' tax-amendment coalition's falling apart, it's important to take a step or two back to the beginning, and remember why any TABOR-like amendment is a bad idea in the first place.

What it is
Every version of TABOR, from the original Taxpayers' Bill of Rights to the TP Amendment to the other 32 flavors of amendment (every Republican seems to have his own, now), would place a section into the state constitution that would limit, for all units of state and local government, increases in spending or revenue (or both) to the size of the increase of inflation, personal income, growth, or some combination thereof. If it sounds complicated, it really isn't: Legislators basically want to peg one number (and whether they call it "spending" or "revenue" you, the voter, are supposed to hear "taxes") to another, unrelated number. They want to create a constitutional correlation where no such correlation currently exists.

It is, in short, a gimmick, an election-year sop for the masses. It is not based on anything more than a desire to capitalize on well-founded tax dissent in this state for political gain.

You know it's a gimmick because the amendment is not derived from sound policy, history, or experience. Nowhere in these United States has TABOR or TABOR-like legislation been an unqualified success. In Colorado, for example, TABOR so damaged the state's schools and infrastructure that in 2004 voters finally revolted against the arbitrary limits. The 8-page TP Amendment (try squeezing that on the ballot!) is so cumbersome in part because its authors tried to account for every flaw ever pointed out by anyone from previous versions, including lessons supposedly learned by Colorado. Our legislators can't tell you--ask 'em!--what state we should model our TABOR-style amendment after, because no such state exists.

Where it's from
I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. The genesis of TABOR and like movements around the country is not grass-roots tax revolt. Rather, the origins lie with ALEC. Some of the links are dead in that two-year-old post I linked to, but there is plenty to Google up about ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an outfit whose sole purpose is to sell model legislation to its members--state and local lawmakers--who then try to get those bills passed at home.

This may not sound much different from any other lobbying organization, but it is. It's like lobbying in reverse, as ALEC members--state and local lawmakers--have to pay them for legislation, not the other way around. You might wonder why any legislator would want to be on that end of the stick, but it's really very simple: Consider who pays more.
Corporations influence ALEC because they foot a large part of the bill and they dominate the information flow. While legislators pay only $50 for a two-year membership, ALEC's 300+ corporate sponsors pay annual membership dues ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
The list of corporate sponsors is enlightening, as well:
ALEC is supported by many right-wing foundations and organizations, including but not limited to: National Rifle Association, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Milliken Foundation, DeVos Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and the Olin Foundation.

ALEC has over three hundred corporate sponsors. Some corporations and trade groups that have strong ties to ALEC include: Enron, American Nuclear Energy Council, American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Union Pacific Railroad, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, others.
So it makes sense that
ALEC has proposed that many public services be taken over by for-profit private businesses, including schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services.

One of ALEC’s central concerns is government regulations of businesses, especially regulations that protect the environment and/or public health.
I could go on about ALEC, but that's not the point of this post. Just ask yourself, if TABOR and its ilk originated with a group like ALEC, whose interests were really at heart when the idea was hatched? Probably not yours.

Why it won't work
Any TABOR-like amendment, whether it explicitly limits spending, or limits spending by limiting revenue, places a cap on how much state and local governments can buy. This is bad for a variety of reasons, but the real danger lies in how that cap is derived.

As I said above, the amendments try to peg the one number--spending or revenue--to another, unrelated number. Whether that second number is the rate of inflation, rate of growth, or rate of increase to personal income (or even a combination), that second number does not and cannot accurately reflect what state and local governments spend money on. Inflation, for example, is determined by changes in the consumer price index (CPI), which is based on the kinds of goods and services people buy, not what governments have to pay for. The rate of growth does not always reflect the cost to local governments to support that growth (building a new school, for example, or extending utilities and roads).

Government's primary expense, though, is people. Consider the fortunes of Milwaukee County. We are in trouble here not because our parks are so expensive or because the buses are too shiny, but because the cost of employing people keeps going up. Whether that cost comes from unfunded pension obligations, the staggeringly expensive health care market in Southeast Wisconsin, or the need to pay better to attract better workers, there is no question that the price of keeping a steady workforce increases faster than any of the numbers a TABOR-like amendment would allow Milwaukee County to follow.

Consider also the Milwaukee Public Schools. The district has declining enrollment, mothballed buildings, and a shrinking staff, but every year its budget is bigger. Why? Because people cost more than a gallon of milk or a pack of cigarettes. Period.

And herein lies TABOR's (and all of TABOR's derivatives') biggest weakness: It is backwards.

TABOR and its ilk do nothing to control costs. If the cost to provide the same level of service increases faster than the artificial revenue or spending limits, then state and local units of government are forced into a lose-lose proposition: Either cut the level of services they provide, or cut the rate of pay to those providing the service. How little can we pay Milwaukee County bus drivers before we can't find any to hire? Before the ones we can find to hire stop being safe?

In their alternate to the TP amendment released yesterday, State Senators Sheila Harsdorf and Ron Brown recognized a key factor in all of this: health care. Yet every attempt to control the costs of health care at the state level in recent years has been stymied by the same people who now insist that constitutional limits are just the ticket for what ails your wallet. For every post on a conservative Wisconsin blog supporting the TP amendment, you can probably find just as many dismissing the Gielow/ Richards health care plan as socialized medicine.

How we can fix our problems without it
For one, we can stop electing people who insist that they can't control their own spending without a constitutional amendment. For another, the state can act to decrease costs of health care. For a third, stop passing insane tax loopholes like this.

But more importantly, the state needs to look at taxes--who we tax, how, and how much. Because, let's be honest, when we talk about high taxes in this state, we are almost always talking about the property tax. Because we have below-average sales tax, and because we have below-average per capita income to tax, and because we have low corporate and business taxes, the property tax carries us. See the chart below, from this state report (.pdf), for example.

After finding ways to hold down costs, we need to look at tax fairness in Wisconsin. That discussion will never happen in the current climate of gimmicky fixes and party in-fighting.

It's time to change the legislative leadership in Wisconsin and have a real debate about the costs of governing and the best ways to pay for them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Wednesday Quotes

Drum: Your income ought to be about $4,000 higher than it is, but instead of getting that income you get bought off with a $200 tax cut from the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the lucky duckies at the top get a 100% pay increase and a 30% tax cut. It's a good time to be super-rich in America.

Neiwert: Because these potential abuses exist, a sense of ethics is obligatory for anyone who possesses this power. It's why the Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that abjures such behavior.

Ed Thompson: Ed Thompson says the No. 1 issue in Wisconsin this year is defeating a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would emphatically ban same-sex marriage and similar civil unions. [. . .] The GOP-run Legislature is attempting to "pass laws of prejudice against people," Thompson told convention-goers. "If you can accept that, you're not a Libertarian. You're not even an American. You're a bigot."

Grumps: The CIA is paying people to read blogs and then believing what they read because, you know, if it's on the Internet it has to be true. Then they pass it on to our President in his daily briefing reports. GW doesn't believe what he reads in the papers so he ignores it, then gets his news from blog digests. Think about how often Spivak and Bice get it right and then be very afraid.

Pocan: Hey GOPpers, I have a suggestion for a version of TABOR for you. How bout you just close the state coffers to every special interest that winks at you and limit spending in the next budget? Or is that hard to do in an election year?

Lynch: Yesterday the governor had to veto yet another Republican attack on the SAGE program to reduce class sizes. The legislature actually passed a bill that would let schools take funding to reduce class sizes and then not reduce class sizes.

Let's talk MPS

The Milwaukee Public Schools are in the news and on the blogs a bit the last few days and, bitter as I may be at the world and the district right now, I still feel the need to jump in on a couple of things.

First, the right Cheddarsphere is all atwitter over this story:
Looking to give poorer students the technological muscle to scale the "digital divide," the Milwaukee Public Schools district is turning to the promise of an emerging wireless service described as "Wi-Fi on steroids."

Using WiMax, MPS would provide free broadband Internet service to the homes of all MPS students and staff.

The district would be one of the first public entities in the country to launch a WiMax system, using television channels that the Federal Communications Commission allocated for educational purposes. A pilot system covering roughly 5 square miles is scheduled to be operating by August 2007.
The right's reaction (from Phelony Jones, Clint, Dad29, Peter DiGaudio, and Brian Fraley, among probably others, those are just the ones I've seen) seems mostly directied two ways. One, of course, is the cost; the article cites a figure of $500,000 for the cost of that pilot system. The bloggers, though, forget to note that MPS's share of that half mil is only $220,000. Yes, that sounds like a lot--and it would buy three teachers--but ity is a drop in the bucket of MPS's billion-dollar budget, and three teachers might be a fair trade (in a district with more than 200 schools and 6000 teachers) for wireless access for our students. Besides, this money is almost certainly coming from the Department of Technology's budget--in lieu of some other spending--and will be supported by the district's leasing out the unused spectrum. In fact, if MPS didn't use this spectrum, they would lose it, according to the FCC. Wouldn't that be the bigger waste?

The second thing the bloggers are upset about is that the wireless access would not just be for MPS students and families, but for staff, too. Fraley says that "This is also a bypass of the QEO/salary controls public teachers fall under according to Wisconsin law." DiGaudio writes, "Let them pay for their own Internet service, like I do." For those not familiar with the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer) that Fraley employs in his argument here, it is the state law that allows school districts, like MPS, to impose without bargaining a combimed salary and benefits package increase of 3.8%. Problem is, the district gives net access to teachers now (through dial-up) becuase the district expects us to work from home. Those of us who pay for broadband are asked to use a VPN to get through to the district's network to do grades, check attendance, or find parent contact info. And it isn't that staff don't want to pay for net access, either--it's that students and staff are on the same network, meaning there is little if any additional cost to have them online, and no good way to charge them.

This morning's front page brings us a second story worth considering, one that says MPS has one of the worst graduation rates:
Ninety-four of the 100 largest school districts in the country have higher graduation rates than Milwaukee, where the graduation rate is 45%, according to a study by the Manhattan Institute, a think tank in New York. [. . .] The Manhattan Institute studies have repeatedly found that while Wisconsin has one of the highest graduation rates overall, it also has one of the worst graduation rates for African-American students. This year, Wisconsin came in third, with an overall graduation rate of 85%. For African-Americans, the statewide graduation rate was 55%--the second-lowest in the country. MPS was about 60% black in 2003, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Critics have long said that the Manhattan Institute's methodology underestimates the graduation rate nationally, particularly in urban areas and among minority students. State and district estimates put the 2003 graduation rate in Milwaukee at 61% and 67%, respectively. In the past, the institute has consistently published studies with findings that support school vouchers.
My initial thought was, "tell me something I don't know." I know we can do better; after all, I do this for a living. But 45% is absurd. Then I remembered, Jay Greene works for the Manhattan Institute. That would explain that. Of course, you could (should, probably) call that an ad hominem attack. Regardless, Greene has an agenda, and that agenda is to manipulate data to make public schools look as bad as possible. Put this study on the pile, and let's get back to the real work of making education in Milwaukee possible.

To that end, Eugene Kane raises an interesting point:
This is an intriguing story that might come to Milwaukee some day. The city of Omaha, Nebraska has agreed to create three separate school districts segregated by race.

According to this story, the reason is that many ethnic groups--particularly African-Americans--want to control their own districts in order to ensure all students receive the best education.
Kane may not spend a lot of time in Milwaukee's schools, but there's really not much that would have to change for this to happen here. I think it's a bad idea, and I don't think there's data to support such a change.

I'm not saying WiFi will fix the graduation rate either, nor will any one of a hundred other initiatives that nibble around the edges of the way Milwaukee schools its children. So let's defuse the teapot tempests for a while, 'kay?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some other head-clearing links

I had a busy day running errands and trying to erect Cheddarsphere 2.0 for you all (with helpful sidekick Scott), plus pounding out the eight screens of "angry left" ramblings below and trying to do some actual schoolwork. So I haven't gotten much other blogging done, and I have a backlog of stuff I want to say:
  • There's something very . . . 18th century about this:
    Last Friday night, young girls from around south dakota came to Sioux Falls for a spring ball. This one is called "The Purity Ball" it's a yearly event run by Leslee Unruh's abstinence clearinghouse.

    The idea is that these young women come with their fathers. To celebrate their sexual purity.

    Unruh: We think that its important for fathers to the be the first ones to look into their daughters eyes and to tell her that her purity is special, and its ok to wait until marriage.

    Hinojosa: It might have all the trappings of a regular prom... But this one ends a little differently.

    Girls reciting pledge: "I make a promise this day to God...

    Hinojosa: The young women here all make a promise to their fathers that they wont' have sex until the day they get married.

    Girls reciting pledge: “...to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. That he loves me. And that he will reward me for my faithfulness.”
    Besides the willies the story gave me, there is something offensive and damned scary in the idea that today, in 2006 for cryin' out loud, there is still such a strong movement of men who feel the need to own and control their women. Here we have an entire generation of girls being taught that they belong to their fathers right up until the point that their fathers give them to their husbands, to whom they will then belong. Digby follows up here.

  • I looked at the map attached to this story and started planning my escape route.

  • When I bought gas today, I noted that the person before me had spent $75 to fill up whatever kind of behemoth vehicle it is they had with a 25-gallon tank. And I also realized that if you drive the kind of vehicle with a 25-gallon tank, you're probably not getting 30 miles to the gallon, either. Ouch.

  • For my readers who, given the current immigration debate, seem convinced that "Aztlan" or la reconquista are real, and that you may soon need a passport to be a snowbird in Arizona, check out David Neiwert

  • Apparently, all I have to do to get Charlie Sykes to read my blog is bet him $10. (For the record, Scott, I don't think that was him.)

  • After reading the various arguments about it (here, here, and especially here), I'm looking forward to Tommy's Big Announcement.

  • There's a war on (Iraq), a war we have forgotten (Afghanistan), a war that's probably coming (Iran), there's a record budget deficit, a record trade deficit, a record national debt, a disaster in Medicare, and a billion other things demanding serious national attention. The result, as Billmon insightfully points out, is an increasing myopia and monomania on the right:
    And the Republicans are preparing their agenda for the fall elections:

    GOP Campaign to Focus on Flag Burning, Gay Marriage, Abortion

    Thank God they're on top of things, because if we can't get this nationwide epidemic of flag burning under contol, we could be in some real trouble.

    Meanwhile, over in Right Blogostan the hysteria du jour revolves around the refusal of the producers of South Park to permit an cartoon image of Mohammad to appear on the show.

  • I've been updating the liberal Cheddarsphere links. You should tell me if I am still missing you. And check out the new ones.

  • A little while ago, the phone rang. This is the conversation, as best as I remember it:
    Her: Jay?
    Me: Yes?
    Her: It's Becca.
    Me: Becca?
    Her: You don't remember? Becca!
    Me: Becca who?
    Her: You know, Becca!
    Me: I've known several Beccas . . .
    Her: C'mon. We used to hang out at St. Marks? We got drunk together and you threw up on Katie right in front of me?
    Me: I think you may have the wrong Jay.
    Her: Huh?
    Me: I've never thrown up on anyone named Katie.
    Her: Oh. Maybe I have the wrong number then.

Who's Angry?

I don't know if I'm the "angry left" or not.

After all, I do have a half-written post sitting on my desktop with the opening sentence, "Jessica McBride picked the wrong week to piss me off."

On the other hand, this just makes me laugh, not get angry--it's one of the funniest bits Owen's written in months.

I bring up my anger problem not simply because I've been having a bit of an existential crisis of late, but because one of my imaginary friends, Maryscott O'Connor, was profiled last weekend in the Washington post under the headline "The Angry Left."

Now, to be fair, the author of the article, according to Maryscott, admitted to her that he'd never read a blog before, and already had his title--"the angry left"--in mind when he interviewed her. So maybe that's why he didn't understand, for example, that the Rude Pundit is, you know, rude, using it as a part of his schtick, as opposed to somehow representative of "the left," or why he didn't see the problem with combing through large comment threads to find one shocking comment that he can then claim is representative of "the left." In fact, a brief Googling will turn up plenty of responses to the article from all over the left explaining both its bias and its narrow scope. Maryscott, for all her passion and profanity, is hardly the prototypical lefty blogger. In one of the better rsponses, Billmon, who can be angry himself sometimes, smells payback for the blogoshpere's takedown of Ben Domenech, the conservative blogger and noted plagiarist. Barbara O'Brien has a good response, too.

But why should I--one who rants, sure, but probably not fringily angry--bother to defend against the Post smear, if it's been done? Well, because I know that my conservative readers probably aren't reading the national liberal blogs for balance to that article, particularly those of you in the right Cheddarsphere, particularly, Patrick McIlheran, who blogged about it last night:
The Post article, worth reading, tries drawing a parallel between lefty blogger rage and Newt Gingrich. Opinion Journal’s James Taranto points out that the more accurate parallel, the real right-wing rage, was back in John Birch Society or Colonel McCormick days:

“But can anyone imagine an Angry Right figure being treated as respectfully in the mainstream media as (blogger Maryscott) O’Connor is in the Post? Don't get us wrong--we have no brief for right-wing moonbats. We’re just a bit troubled that the press treats someone like O’Connor so sympathetically.

“This double standard actually ought to trouble the left more. By treating crazy right-wingers as disreputable figures, the media give the Republican Party an incentive to distance itself from its fringes. The ‘mainstreaming’ of the Angry Left, by contrast, makes the Democratic Party angrier and crazier--and less likely to win elections.”
It's true that the Post piece does draw the parallel to the Gingrich era. McIlheran--well, Taranto, really, but P-Mac seems to dig it--tries to push the right-wing parallel even further into the shadows. This, like the Gingrich comparison in the first place, is utter spin.

Consider Maryscott's blog, My Left Wing (and you should be considering it daily, as it is a good read). It is relatively popular, probably moreso now that Maryscott's been on the front page of the Washington Post. It is, as of this writing, ranked at 952 in the TTLB Ecosystem. While the Ecosystem isn't perfect, it's not a bad judge of blog popularity. (For comparison, I am currently ranked at 2353.) Nothing against Maryscott, whom I consider a colleague and friend, but she is not the leader of the online left, and I think she would agree with me about that if asked. And it may well be a bad thing, as McIlheran/Tarant suggests, that she is being "mainstreamed" by the Post, but Taranto/McIlheran is dead wrong to say that the "angry right" somehow gets treated disreputably.

Consider, for example, the blog ranked number two in the ecosystem: Michelle Malkin. Remember, McIlheran/Taranto's claim here is that the equivalent of Maryscott's "angry left" is the John Birch Society, influential but obscure, not popular and celebrated media figures. Malkin is certainly influential, and popular, and celebrated. She is among the best-selling authors on the political right. Maryscott was on FOXNews excactly once; Malkin is on all the time. But is she angry? Consider that her most recent book is called Unhinged and is all about the mental illness of liberals. (See David Neiwert on that score.) Of course, one could argue, merely writing inflammatory best-sellers about half of the US population is not in and of itself a sign of anger.

Okay, fine--let's look at another of the Ecosystem's top-ten bloggers, Hugh Hewitt. He's also a nationally syndicated radio host and frequent TV guest. He has a recent book out called Painting the Map Red--innocuous enough a title, I suppose, but consider that one of the chapters is entitled "The Democratic Left Is Addicted to Venom, and That Venom Is Poisoning the Political Process." No mean-spiritedness there, eh?

Another conservative best-seller is Ann Coulter. Her forthcoming book, slated for a first printing of a half a million copies, adds godless to her previous charges against liberals of treason and being so stupid you have to beat them with a baseball bat to get through to them. She's on "Hannity and Colmes" as often as Colmes is. She pulls down tens of thousands of dollars per speaking gig, topped by loud, lauditory cheers every time she suggests killing Supreme Court justices.

So what, you might ask. Okay, so there are a few lunatics who are not, as McIlheran/Taranto said, treated as being disreputable. After all, don't lefties write books? In fact we do. Take, for example, the new book by the internet's biggest liberal blogger, from Daily Kos. You would expect, like Malkin or Coulter or Hewitt, that Markos Moulitsas Zúniga would take all kinds of potshots at the right, calling them venomous or traitorous or mentally ill. After all, big-time book contract, the ear of, well, everybody--it's his big chance to unload all of our collective "angry left" spew at everyone who has made us so mad, from Bush on down to the insignificant microbes of the Ecosystem. Did he?

No. The target for Kos's book is the Democratic Party. Way to lay into those rotten conservatives, Kos!

Fine. What about all those other lefties with the big-time book contracts? What about (gasp!) Al Franken? Franken's recent books have been very specific in naming names of specific people on the right who lie and damage the public discourse, instead of smearing the right as a whole. (And his books are intentionally funny.) Newly popular lefty blogger Glenn Greenwald has a book contract, too. Is he calling the right unhinged? No, he's laying out a legal case for why warrantless domestic spying by the NSA is wrong. No anger there.

Are there any books from the "angry left"? Not according to the "people also bought" pages for Franken's and Kos's and Glenn's books. Does the "angry left" get the kind of TV face time that Malkin and Coulter do? Of course not.

Today the blogosphere has been abuzz over the behavior of that paragon of conservative non-angriness, Michelle Malkin. After a students protested non-violently against military recruiters on the campus of UC-Santa Cruz, Malkin took the contact information from the students' press release--information that the press could have used to contact them if they wanted--and published it on her second-most-popular-in-the-Ecosphere blog. To predictable results--if you can stomach the results. That's vitriol for you. Peter DiGaudio, who can breathe fire with the best of them, has re-published that contact information after Malkin posted some of the pretty nasty emails that filled up her public inbox after word got out about what she did. Seriously, I don't think Malkin needs the Texas Hold 'em blogger to defend her honor here. Plus, as I noted on Peter's site, the UCSC students were not those responsible for what Malkin got, and to keep publishing their contact information is out of line.

And posting that information in the first place was almost criminal. If she knows "unhinged" when she sees it (as her book apparently suggests), then she should be seeing it in the mirror today.

Even as bad as those emails to her were (and the emails to the UCSC students inspired by her postings in the first place), none of them came from the kind of leading public figure that the right is trying to caricature as the "angry left." Someone who can type four letters--just long enough for the "c" word--is not representative of the left anymore than someone describing, in detail, how he plans to shoot UCSC students is representative of the right. What is telling is how those who are representative--the well-read bloggers and media figures from either side--are responding. The right is encouraging the piling-on; the left is deploring it (Chris Bowers at MyDD, for example, is instituting a no death threats policy, which seems like it shouldn't even be necessary.)

Glenn Greenwald really makes the contrast stark in the post I linked earlier:
There is no question that there is anger and even some extremist rhetoric on the Left. But no sane person could deny that one finds the same type of mindset on the Right, but to a magnitude that is incalculable. The real difference is that, to find rank hatemongering on the Right, one need not go digging into the 300th comment on a blog or the most extreme postings of a relatively obscure blogger, because this type of limitless rhetorical attack has been a staple of the mainstream Right for more or less two decades now.

The Right's best-selling author calls liberals traitors and urges that they be beaten with baseball bats and attacked with bombs. Its most popular radio talk show host --with his 20 million daily followers--has spent the last 20 years urging that liberals be deported and praising the kidnappings of his political opponents, while other favorites on Right-wing radio routinely call for the imprisonment of leading Democrats. Similarly, some of the Right's favorite commentators have urged that those who espouse liberalism be tried for sedition, or worse.

One favorite right-wing commentator has written two books--one devoted to showing that liberals are mentally ill, and the other defending the internment of innocent American citizens in prison camps. The Right's leading elected officials and pundits just in the last couple of years have repeatedly taken to threatening federal judges who issue opinions they dislike.

And how fondly I recall these sentiments from Sen. Jesse Helms during the Clinton years:
In an effort to dampen the furor over his Commander-in-Chief remarks, on November 22 Helms told a newspaper reporter from his home state of North Carolina that the President should be careful about visiting military bases in that state. "Mr. Clinton better watch out of he comes down here," Helms said. "He better have a bodyguard."
Can one even contemplate the reaction if a Democratic Senator today warned George Bush to avoid military bases becasue he would likely be physically attacked by a military that hated him? Granted, those threats against the President were merely from a leading Republican Senator, not from an anonymous commenter on a blog, but they do nonetheless demonstrate that the Right, including its most powerful figures, long ago relinquished any limits when it comes to rhetorical attacks. The only difficult part of compiling this list is deciding what the worst offenders are and which examples should be left out. And that is to say nothing of the daily doses of hatred and bile that spew forth from the Right blogosphere, which I have no doubt someone else will be compiling shortly--again.

It is just astonishing to have to read an endless article from the Post about the supposed rage and anger on the "Left"--all based on the sought-out, most extreme sentiments of people with little or no real influence--while the eliminationist and traitor rhetoric that has been a central rhetorical tool of the Right's primary power centers for decades is mentioned only in passing, only by way of explaining how the Right used to engage in this sort of rage-driven politics until the Left took over. But anyone who listens on any given day to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, or who reads the hate-mongering and treason-accusing screeds of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Powerline, know how fundamentally false that picture is.
Is there anger on the left? Sure. I feel it, everyone I drink liberally with feels it, I know my liberal readers feel it. But I do not--and will never--send my minion(s?) after anyone. I do not--and will never--recommend talking to conservatives with blunt objects instead of reasoned arguments. I do not--and will never--call conservatives treasonous or, as one prominent right Cheddarsphere denizen often describes liberals, a cancer on society. Maybe Patrick McIlheran is content to pretend that it doesn't happen, but it does, and on blogs more widely read than his own every day.

When I do speak with anger, it is about a specific person, a specific policy, a specific societal fault, not about the right as a whole. When I speak with anger, I speak to inspire or call for change, not to smear others of a different ideology.

When I speak with anger, I do it with a heavy heart, knowing, as Maryscott O'Connor does, that this anger is borne from powerlessness, from watching the country that I love turn into something that I fear. I do not do it because it sells books, packs the lecture halls, or gets me ratings.

Sometimes I think I'm more cynical than angry, but if that were true I would see beneath Unhinged or behind the overt racism of "Little Green Footballs" or beyond the brutal bigotry of Michael Savage a straight man playing for laughs--the schtick of the Rude Pundit. But there's no facade; it's all real.

And that, too, makes me angry.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Scott Walker Drops Out; Jim Doyle Gets More Popular?

I'm trying to think of some other explanation for the new SurveyUSA poll, which features a 16% jump in the favorability/ unfavorability margin for for our beloved J-Dizzle. Forever, the poll has basically just shown statistical noise within a narrow band. Not this time; look at the pretty picture:


If you click to enlarge, you can see that, yes, that's a 52% approval rating--the highest the Dizzle has had in a year of monthly SUSA polling.

The internals of the poll are also surprising to me; they have Doyle at a net favorable for virtually every subgroup. For example, Doyle is up with every racial demographic except African Americans (is Mark Green thinking of them as his base yet?). And Doyle is even ahead with the regular church-goers and Southeast Wisconsin voters for the first time that I remember in following these polls.

I'm not entirely sure I buy these numbers--the graph sure makes them look like outliers, eh?--given the UW-Milwaukee poll out last week. Here's what it says:
“Do you approve of disapprove of the way Jim Doyle is handing his job as governor?”
Approve ........... 45%
Disapprove ....... 33
Don’t Know ..... 22
Immediately, you'll notice that SUSA has many fewer at "not sure" that UWM, but UWM's approval number here seems much more in line with previous SUSA "favorable" numbers.

One thing that SUSA does not do is a head-to-head against Mark Green. UWM's head-to-head showed Doyle beating Green in numbers just like the approval: Doyle wins 44% to 33%, with 21% undecided (the rest said they wouldn't vote).

The new St. Norbert/ WPR poll was also out last week, and their head-to-head is quite similar:
Democrat Jim Doyle ................................ 43%
Republican Mark Green ........................... 35%
A Third Party or Independent Candidate .... 6%
I do not plan to vote in the election ............ 3%
Not Sure ................................................ 14%
This poll, though, has favorability numbers closer to the new SUSA, with the Dizzle at 53% favorable to 29% unfavorable. Green's numbers in the poll show that people don't know him enough yet not to like him. I hear he's working on that, though.

All of this requires the caveat that we are still six months from the election, and a lot can change between then and now. For example, Mark Green, who never met a Congressional spending bill he wouldn't vote for, is making a doomed effort seem fiscally responsible in order to veer right and appease the Charlie Sykes Stormtroopers . . .

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter


From Maggie and her lobster.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Shouldn't he have better sources than this?

Seen today on the paper's website:
SATURDAY, April 15, 2006, 2:25 p.m.
By Journal Sentinel
Question for Jude jurors

If you are a Jude case juror, or know of one, please call reporter John Diedrich at 414-224-2318 or e-mail him at jdiedrich@journalsentinel.com.
That's the sort of thing I would do. And I'm a blogger.

Missing Milwaukee Boys Found Dead

Everyone here at the folkbum household extends condolences to the families, who held on to hope for so long.

As always, Patrick at Badger Blogger has the best blog coverage. The latest MJS story is here, indicating that there was probably no foul play in the boys' deaths.

Censure remains popular

Am I being a broken record? Am I just banging on my drum (as a leader in the drum-circle left) until it breaks? Is it just an unreasonable obsession? I don't know, but I'm going to keep doing this until the right Cheddarsphere recognizes that Russ Feingold is solidly in the mainstream of American political thought. From the LA Times and Bloomberg (.pdf):
Q40. As you may also know, a U.S. Senator has valled for a Senate resolution to censure George W. Bush, which is a formal expression of disapproval, but does not carry any legal consequences. The Senator claims it was illegal for Bush to authorize government agencies to use electronic surveillance to monitor American citizens without a court warrant. What do you think? Do you think that George W. Bush should be censured by the Senate for this, or not?

Yes, censure 46
No, don't censure 45


(via myDD)
Among Democrats (remember, the right says that Russ is way on the left fringe), censure has support 3-1. A solid majority of independents--53%--support it, too.

The full poll results make for good reading, if you're bored, including questions about who can best handle the major problems facing the country, and who people want to vote for this fall.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Random Ten

The Spring Break!!!!!!!! Edition

1. "Spring" Richard Shindell from Somewhere Near Patterson
2. "Southland in the Springtime" Indigo Girls from Nomads Indians Saints
3. "I'm Not Going to Let You Break My Heart" Carrie Newcomer from The Bird or the Wing
4. "Spring Street" Dar Williams from The Green World
5. "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart" Whiskeytown from Strangers Almanac
6. "Breaking Through the Radio" Ellis Paul from The Speed of Trees
7. "April the 14th Part 1" Gillian Welch from Time (The Revelator)
8. "Spring and All" Mary Chapin Carpenter from Going Driftless
9. "Filipino Boxspring Hog" Tom Waits from Mule Variations
10. "In the Hush Before the Heartbreak" The Nields from Play

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hail, Hail, the storm's all here . . .

Coming Down

On the Porch

Covering the Stree

Hope it wasn't too bad at your place. The TV tells me there was baseball-sized stuff in places.

Iraq war referenda, again: A state-wide answer would be "yes"

I've spent a lot time on this already, but two new polls are bringing it up again. Wisconsin's conservatives tried to spin the results of the voting last week on ballot questions in 32 places around the state asking different versions of a question: Should the United States start pulling its troops out of Iraq now? Even though overwhelmingly the answer from voters was yes to those questions, conservatives contorted like Cirque du Soleil to try to pretend the answer was no. They did everything from pretend that places like Madison don't count to trumpeting the opinions of non-voters that, had they voted, could have changed the outcome.

Yet and still, the opposition to these Iraq pullout referenda still largely exists in the conservative bloggers' heads.

Strategic Vision, a generally Republican polling outfit, has a poll out today showing that not only has Bush's approval rating in the state fallen from 38% to 31% since January,
support for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq has grown, according to the April 7-9 survey of 800 likely Wisconsin voters by Strategic Vision LLC of Atlanta. More than half of those surveyed (55%) supported withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within six months, while 33% were opposed.
Okay, admittedly, this is a different wording than the referenda questions, which all tended to use right now as a starting point instead of an end-of-2006 timetable like the one Senator Russ Feingold proposed six months ago. But the evidence is clear that voters around the state are much more in favor of bringing the troops home safe sooner than leaving them over there.

The second is the Wisconsin Public Radio/ St. Norbert College poll, which asked,
A number of communities in the state of Wisconsin have placed on their local ballots a question about withdrawing troops from Iraq as soon as possible. If this were on your local ballot, would you vote in favor of withdrawing troops or against withdrawing troops?
In Favor...................................................................... 51%
Against....................................................................... 38%
Wouldn’t vote in local election (vol.)................................ 2%
Not Sure....................................................................... 9%
Refused....................................................................... 1%
While this language also avoids the word now, it also makes it clear what voters across the state actually think about the question and how they would vote were the legislature to offer a state-wide advsiory question on the issue. In fact, among registered voters, the "yes" vote climbs a little to 52%; 50% percent of independents, 47% of third party voters, and even 19% of Republicans are saying "yes" in this poll. (Margins of error are, of course, higher on the sub-groups, but the trend is clear.)

If the state's conservative columnists and talk show hosts and bloggers keep insisting that the vote last week was meaningless and not reflective of reality, they are lying to you, trying to spin the unspinnable. But, you know, I guess that shouldn't be surprising, either.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mark Your Calendars!

I keep meaning to post this, but then forgetting: Saturday, May 6, the Portage Road Songwriters Guild (the songwriting workshop I belong to) will be holding its third annual New Song Concert. It all goes off at the Coffee House in Milwaukee (across the street from the Marquette campus), and will feature lots of good music, talented musicians and singers, and me. It'll be an 8 pm show with a reasonable cover. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What if we threw a nuclear war and no one noticed?

If I wasn't already having a rotten day (I learned today that my position at my school has been eliminated), this would scare me to death:
Maybe the idea of the United States would launch a nuclear first strike – albeit a "surgical" one – is too hard for most Americans, including most American journalists, to process. [. . .] It's even harder to square with our national self-image than the invasion of Iraq. We're the global sheriff, after all – Gary Cooper in a big white hat. And while Gary Cooper might shoot an outlaw down in a fair fight at High Noon, he wouldn't sneak into their camp in the middle of the night and incinerate them with nuclear weapons. That's not how the Code of the West is supposed to work.

Even my own hyperactive imagination is having a hard time wrapping itself around the idea. I'm familiar enough with Cold War history to know the United States has at least considered the first use of nuclear weapons before – in Korea and even in Vietnam – and I know it was long-standing U.S. strategic doctrine never to rule out a nuclear response to a Soviet conventional attack on Western Europe. But the current nuclear war gaming strikes me as much more likely to end in the real thing – partly because the neocons appear to have convinced themselves a "tactical" strike doesn't really count, partly because of what Hersh politely refers to as Bush's "messianic vision" (Cheney may have his finger on the bureaucracy, but Shrub is still the one with his finger on the button) but mostly because I think these guys really think they can get away with it. And they might be right. [. . .]

Why should anyone or anything change? When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be, I don’t think it’s absurd to suppose that even an enormous war crime – the worst imaginable, short of outright genocide – could get lost in the endless babble of the talking heads. When everything is just a matter of opinion, anything – literally anything – can be justified. It’s only a matter of framing things so people can believe what they want to believe.
Billmon makes a reasonable case--a frighteningly, maddeningly reasonable case--that we may be on the verge of madness.

La Muerte de la Revolucion?

After Wigderson worked so hard, it may all be for naught:
A petition drive aiming to cut the Waukesha County Board to 11 members will not succeed in blocking board action tonight on an alternative plan, the chief organizer said today. [. . .]

Normally, the group would have until mid-May to complete its petition drive seeking a binding countywide referendum on changing the 35-member board to 11 members. But because state law limits how often such a change can take place, petitioners were racing to finish before tonight's scheduled County Board vote tonight on downsizing the board to 25 members.

If the board approves that plan - or any other change - the petition drive becomes a moot point.
Funny how those duly elected representatives will thwart the will of the people every time . . . As Kent Brockman would say, "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Democracy just doesn't work."

Update: La revolucion es muerte.

Mark Green is a traitor

Everyone else seems to be dressing this up in puns:
Green’s year-end 2005 campaign finance report shows he collected $845 from a salesman for the Hayward, California-based Pacific Cheese Company. The company is among several featured on the Real California Cheese web site, and boasts being the “leading supplier of high-quality natural cheese in the western United States.”

Wisconsin lost its decades-long title as the nation’s #1 dairy state in the 1990s to California, and to rub it in Sunshine State cheese makers frequently run talking-cow television ads to push their product here.

In a state that once banned the sale of margarine, should this guy really be taking money from California cheese makers if he wants to become Wisconsin’s next governor?
But, you know, I take my cheese seriously. Very seriously.

This is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, Mr. Green. Aid. And. Comfort.

(Via Jim McGuigan)

McBride still whining about Larry Nelson

Jessica McBride, who doesn't live in the city of Waukesha, is somehow convinced that she is smarter than the voters there. She is fixated on the victory of Larry Nelson over Republican state representative Ann Nischke a week ago. This seems to be for two reasons. One, Nelson is a Democrat and, two, McBride is a Republican who can't believe that Republican-leaning Waukesha would vote for an experienced, well-liked and well-connected Democrat who has held non-partisan office for six years in city government.

Today she's at it again, using me as an excuse to pimp her weekend Waukesha Freeman column:
Waukesha's "non partisan" mayor

Yeah, right. Check the photo of him out over at the Leftwing Folkbum Rambles and Rants, at the state Democrats' annual fundraising dinner. Really non partisan, isn't Nelson. [. . .] If he's not partisan, I don't know what is.

My new Freeman column on the topic is up.
See?

So what if Nelson explains his non-partisanship well ("People who know my record know that I have never political party agenda at the local level. The state and national Democrat, Republican stuff really does not enter into it. [. . .] My No. 1 priority is going to be to do what’s best for the city of Waukesha." [via Dean])? Attendance at a Democratic Party fundraiser is evidence of out-of-control partisanship!

After all, McBride idol--and non-partisan Milwaukee County Executive--Scott Walker would never, ever do such a thing.

Except when he does. And often, too. Right, Jessica?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fraley does a McBride

I'm not sure if he will take that as a compliment . . .

Anyway, here's the story on Milwaukee County Board Chair Lee Holloway's ethics hearing today:
Holloway ethics case trimmed
60 charges against county official dismissed

Two-thirds of about 90 non-criminal ethics charges against Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway were dismissed Monday by a hearing examiner.

That still leaves about 30 of the more serious counts intact, including allegations that Holloway had a conflict of interest in voting for county funding for a local social service agency that paid Holloway some $165,000 in a never-consummated property deal.
Brian Fraley re-writes the headline: "Holloway Still Faces Dozens of Ethics Charges"

Reminds me of Jessica McBride's attempt to re-write the story of how Wisconsinites voted to start bringing home the troops from Iraq sooner rather than later:
More voters in 30 Wisconsin communities voted Tuesday to stay the course in Iraq than wanted the troops to withdraw. It was purely a symbolic message, but a heartfelt one.
She neglected to mention that there were 33 ballot questions that day.

Censure still a mainstream idea

It's going to break the hearts of all my conservative readers, but their contention that support for Russ Feingold's censure motion is the exlusive purview of the drum-circle left remains unfounded. I noted it here, when a poll showed support for censure at 46%; I did again here, when another poll showed support at 42%. Now the new ABC/ Washington Post poll shows support for censure at a solid 45%:
The depth of public dissatisfaction with Bush and the highly partisan nature of the criticism are underscored by public attitudes toward efforts by some in Congress to censure him or impeach him for his actions as president.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders view both scenarios as remote possibilities. Still, more than four in 10 Americans--45 percent--favor censuring or formally reprimanding Bush for authorizing wiretaps of telephone calls and e-mails of terrorism suspects without court permission. Two-thirds of Democrats and half of all independents, but only one in six Republicans, support censuring Bush, the poll found.

Last month, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced a resolution in the Senate to censure Bush. A majority of Americans, 56 percent, said his move was driven more by politics than by principle.
I included that last part, knowing that if I didn't, it would be the first club trotted out to beat down my point. I say, so what? At least 11% of people polled seemingly don't care if the move to censure Bush for his disregard of a law that makes a felony out of exactly what he's admitted doing* is political. It may be that Russ is capitalizing on the matter for his own gain, but it's still apparently the right move in people's minds.

* And if anyone still thinks this "domestic spying" scandal isn't actually domestic should think again.