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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pot, Kettle

by folkbum

And to think I was going to give her a "thumbs up" today for being the only one who's making sense on Mayfair mall . . . Oh, well.



. . . Updated to add: My prom-date Owen (and non-panelist Nick) makes the same points I do, but I'm the one who's arrogant?

And, while I'm at it, I didn't ask for this. I am a horrible self-promoter. If I'm in somebody's rolodex, it's not because I'm doing anything to get there. The media people who've had me on--and this is not as regular an occurrence as some might think--have all called me, because someone else recommended me. I got invited to BlogFest 06 in the first place because other people complained that WisPolitics hadn't invited "real" bloggers, not me. (I hadn't even really been aware of the Summit until the invite to be a panelist hit my inbox.) Owen and I were WisOpinion's first blogs of the month (a feature now discontinued), but not--at least in my case--because I submitted my name or lobbied for the recognition. And so on--I don't turn down the spotlight when it comes my way but I basically never, ever go chasing after it.

In fact, I have waged exactly one campaign for blogging honors of any kind in four years, and, perhaps, it's who I beat out in that competition that has Jessica McBride so steamed.

Look, if somebody wants a "summit" of all real citizen bloggers all the time, there's a simple answer: Organize one. (Perhaps the MyFoxMilwaukee people are a good bet to be your media partners.) Seth gives a good description of how interesting such an event could be. So plan it; I'll attend it and promote it and, if you ask, even be a panelist. Until then, I'd appreciate it if you stop blaming me.

Vouchers, Hypocrisy, Issues: The Supreme Court Race

by folkbum

Question: What do the following quotations have in common?

One problem with the "whack 'em all" approach the Wisconsin Supreme Court took toward lead paint companies last spring is you never know where the hammer's going to fall next.

School choice needs clarification from the court? In what possible way? [T]he matter is crystalline. School choice is constitutional. The matter is settled.
----------
• [The Wisconsin Supreme Court] announced that it would apply rational basis scrutiny "with teeth" and proceeded to, essentially, substitute its own judgment for that of the legislature

The court also rejected establishment clause challenges to school choice in Jackson v. Benson. Would Justice Clifford like to revisit those decisions? There is no way to know. But it does make for interesting speculation.
----------
The poll also found widespread disapproval for many of the Court’s most egregious acts of activism, including the lead paint and med mal caps decisions.

If the case came up again, and one can imagine ways it could arise, with Linda Clifford on the Court, it is possible that Jackson could get reversed.
----------
The court struck down limits on medical malpractice non-economic awards, opened the door to massive punitive damage awards, and, in a case involving lead paint, adopted an unprecedented and radical theory that will allow businesses to be sued for things they may not actually have made.

A. Because it’s important to thousands of families in its audience.
Q. Why is it news that Linda Clifford wants to re-open the school choice case?
Each set of quotations is from the same author. Each author insists that recent Wisconsin Supreme Court cases--medical malpractice and lead paint, specifically--were wrongly decided, that the court went off in an errant and bizarre direction that needs serious correcting. There's just no way that those cases could possibly be considered settled law.

And each author is then duly shocked--just shocked!--that candidate Linda Clifford would indicate that school funding and school choice decisions of a decade ago "interested" her and might need further "clarification." That, they all say, is settled law.

As it turns out, the definition of settled law certainly seems to be "court decisions I agree with"--in much the same way judicial activism often turns out to mean "court decisions I disagree with." But I don't bring this up merely because I enjoy these kind of juxtapositions that make plain the other side's hypocrisy (though it does make me giggle on the inside). No, I bring this up because I keep getting criticized--from the left as well as the right--to write about something other than Judge Annette Ziegler's, whaddyacallit, blatant disregard for the judicial code of conduct, namely issues.

Well, here's one that I actually know and care about--the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, or, as it's known in the vernacular, vouchers. And there's a very good reason why Linda Clifford might think that the issue is somewhat less than settled, and it's known in my house as Article I, section 18:
[N]or shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of religious societies, or religious or theological seminaries.
The question is whether or not the voucher program, which sends 80% of its taxpayer dollars (money "drawn from the treasury") to religious schools, violates Article I, section 18. The original court in Jackson v. Benson held (not without dissent) that the MPCP's expansion to include religious schools was not sufficiently "to the benefit of" the "religious societies" running the schools.

But that was in 1997 before the expansion actually happened; the court really had nothing to go on but its gut intuition about what might happen should the program be expanded. We've had a decade of data since to weigh, and it may be worth revisiting the question.

There is little chance that the United States Supreme Court would revisit the issue, since it found no conflict with the First Amendment and, frankly, I don't see much of one, either. That leaves just the state court, and the distinctly different clause--the benefits clause, as it's known. (Despite the reflexive criticism Clifford got from the right for saying so, it's true that the state and federal courts don't always have to "march in lockstep.")

Among the best collectors of data on the MPCP is the Public Policy Forum. It released its 2007 report on the program in February. It received no fanfare and, as far as I can tell, one single mention in the media, by Sarah Carr on the Journal Sentinel's education blog. I haven't written about it yet because I've been pretty busy--still am--but I'm surprised no one else has, because its conclusions are striking and bear a direct relation to this issue.

I made some predictions last year about what would happen once the increased enrollment cap came to be, with its attendant easing of financial restrictions on participation. I missed some of them and others it's too early to tell on, but there was one that I nailed:
A significant portion of the increase--I'm going to guess at least 1000, if not a full 2/3--will be moderate-income white students. Changes in the law will allow many currently ineligible students to slip right into the program without even having to change schools.
I wrote that in stark contrast to the people trumpeting the compromise as a way to help out poor minority students stuck in dead-end MPS schools. Their concern is touching, but I would bet almost all of them knew what time it was. The PPF report tells us:
The 17,951 students using vouchers represent an increase over last year of 2,516 voucher users. However, the growth in total enrollment in these schools was much less, at 620 students; almost 60% of the new voucher users were therefore not new to the private schools. [emphasis in the original]
As you dig deeper into the report, the ramifications of this become obvious:
But upon closer analysis, it appears that MPS may not be feeling the competition that voucher advocates had hoped. In 1998 and 2006, the two years in which the program had structural changes to allow thousands more students to be eligible to receive vouchers, more private school students took advantage of the changes than public school students. The new voucher users tend to already be in private school; 58% of new voucher users in 1998 and 60% in 2006. [. . . I]n the Catholic and Lutheran schools in particular, new voucher users tended to be students that were already attending these schools.
If you look at the accompanying graphs, you'll see that Catholic schools enrolled about 150 more students for this year, but added 950 to their rolls of voucher students. The Lutherans' total enrollment was up by only a handful of students, but 450 students started using vouchers this year.

Supporters of the program--the former Dennis York Christian Schneider, for example--should be confounded; Schneider writes about the Supreme Court race with exactly this issue in mind, asking to know what the candidates think about "Wisconsin’s school choice program, which gives low-income African American children a chance to escape Milwaukee’s failing schools." But now we know--and should have known back in 1999 or so, after the expansion to religious schools--that the big benefits are going to students who wouldn't be in MPS anyway; the money is propping up the Catholic and Lutheran schools who spent the 1990s hemorrhaging students and seeming doomed to failure.

If I were calling it, knowing what we know now, this seems like a "benefit" to "religious societies" that comes straight out of the state's treasury. For all I know, Linda Clifford doesn't see it as an Article I, Section 18 violation, even with the new information. And prehaps Annette Ziegler would call it a conflict. Neither one, as part of that same judicial code of conduct that Ziegler occasionally ignores, can say specifically how they'd rule.

But to say that a decade later, with a decade's worth of information about how the MPCP is using tax dollars "for the benefit of religious societies," the case cannot be reconsidered is ridiculous. It can be, and should be, and someday, I hope, it will be.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Another get-rich quick scheme: three-ounce plastic bottles

by folkbum

Long-time obsessive readers may recall that in the middle of the night between August 9 and 10, I was in the Ted Stevens International Airport, watching CNN as they broke the story of the liquid carry-on bomber plot from London.

Since then, TSA has instituted rules about how much liquid you can carry on and in what configurations. This includes the rule that any liquids or gels--shampoo, lip gloss, toothpaste--must be in three-ounce bottles (or smaller). Trouble is, you can't buy three-ounce bottles. Anywhere. Not at Target, Walgreens, Amazon, travel websites, anywhere. You can get four-ounce bottles all over. Even kits with four- and two-ounce bottles together. But no threes.

On the flights I've taken since then, I've just checked my liquids. But I have a flight coming up that, for connection reasons I want to carry on only. But I lack . . . three-ounce bottles.

If anyone can get a plant up and running soon making those suckers, I promise I'll buy a bunch. There's a whole untapped market out there, people.

Mary Tillman and Cindy Sheehan

By Bert

If they were consistent, conservatives pundits would now proceed to open up a can of Cindy Sheehan on the mother of Pat Tillman.

Like the mother of Casey Sheehan, Mary Tillman lost her son while he was fighting a war for the U.S. But never mind that. Since Mrs. Tillman criticizes the lie the military told about Pat Tillman's death, you would think that she too must be destroyed.

"That's not a misstep, and that's not an error," Mary Tillman said on NPR News' "Morning Edition." "They made up a story. It was presented on national television. And we believe they did that to promote the war."

But I honestly don't think right-wing talkers will gang up on Mary Tillman. This time they won't open up the phone lines to allow the other mothers of soldiers to turn on this woman in her hour of darkness.

The public mood has shifted, and the appetite has soured for the p.r. stunts like "Mission Accomplished", Pvt. Jessica Lynch's bogus rescue, or the story that Tillman was killed while charging the Taliban.

Since this enormous mob of right-wing media did a hit job on Cindy Sheehan only because they thought they could get away it, it shows that they kind of liked it.

Wednesday Briefs

by folkbum

Speaking of Michael Mathias: You must read this post.

There's Drinking Liberally tonight.

Question: In the state supreme court race, you have one candidate who has repeatedly violated the code of judicial conduct over the last decade, perhaps more than 100 times; and you have another candidate who hired someone who sent a couple of photographers (that the candidate never hired or met) to Washington County where they (allegedly) lied to the cops about why they were there. Guess which one Jessica McBride thinks is "The real ethical scandal"?

And as long as we're talking about ethical standards and the state supreme court, the person who incurred the biggest campaign finance penalty ever for the way he ran his last campaign--the retiring Justice Wilcox--has endorsed Ziegler.

For the record, while I was the first (media?) outlet to run the Annette Ziegler conflict-of-interest story, I didn't get it from this guy. Never met him, never want to.

McIlheran Watch: Mike Mathias Owes Me $20

The male half of Pundit Nation offers,
I’ve got a crisp $20 bill and a beverage of choice for anyone—liberal, conservative, or Althouse—who can tell me what the hell Patrick McIlheran is talking about in this post.
The "this post" that Michael is referring to is another in Patrick McIlheran's "Pity the Poor Rich People" series. We last had a visit from that series last December, when McIlheran complained that the amount of taxes collected from those rich people keeps going up. He neglected to tell you that the amount of money earned by those rich people keeps going up at about the same rate.

We have a similar bit of misdirection here as well. This is the current complaint:
Our government is massively redistributing income already, to the tune of more than a trillion dollars a year, despite the nonsense you hear about how the rich are making out like bandits.
Yeah, those lucky duckies who are so poor they don't even earn enough to pay taxes on, they're just raking in that taxpayer dough! Wish I were one of them!

To explain all of this to Mike, I'll use some pretty pictures. The chart below breaks the United States population down into fifths, or quintiles in statistician-speak.The light blue represents the 20% of US households earning more than $88,000 a year; the red represents the 20% of US households earning between $55,300 and $88,000 a year; the yellow represents the 20% of US households earning between $34,750 and $55,300 a year; the green represents the 20% of US households earning between $18,500 and $34,750; and the dark blue represents the 20% of US households earning less than $18,500 a year. Easy enough, right? Well, this next graph explains what's got McIlheran so upset:This represents the percentage of total federal taxes paid by those same quintiles. In other words, even though the light blue and dark blue sections of the above pie contain the same number of households, the light blue people pay way more of the taxes (57% vs. 2%). Hardly seems fair, does it? And even worse--and this is the lucky part for all those people barely scraping by with poverty wages--is this chart:This represents how much of the federal spending benefits each of those same quintiles. Yes, it's true boys and girls, even though the light blue and dark blue areas have the same number of households, the dark blue people get more of those benefits (26% vs. 19.5%). But let me throw in one more chart:This pie represents all of the income earned in the United States--and, because I couldn't google up the data I really wanted, I'm settling here for after-tax income. And, yes, you are reading that right: Even though the light blue and the dark blue have the exact same number of households, the light blue people are actually earning 49% of all the after-tax income in the United States compared to just 5% for the dark blue quintile.

Let me rephrase this all, since it's important to understand why McIlheran is once again full of economic crap: Despite what McIlheran sees as some "massive" income redistribution scheme, the wealthiest 20% of people are earning--after those redistributionist taxes--half of all the income earned in this country. The richest 20% of people, in addition to earning half the money, are still getting about 20% of the benefits paid out by the feds, so they get a disproportionate share of the income and a fully proportionate share of the federal spending. This, somehow, is the equivalent of highway robbery for Patrick McIlheran. It is not.

Look, I'm not advocating any specific taxing or spending policies--for that matter, neither is McIlheran--but I do find it important to consider all of the data before making that next step. If you only listen to McIlheran's whining about how hard those poor, poor rich people have it, you won't get anything like the full story.

My source for the first chart was the Census Bureau, via Wikipedia, where you should check the "Household Income Over Time" section as a verification that the rich are, indeed, getting richer: The top quintile has doubled their income since 1967 while the bottom has increased only $3000.

My source for the second and third chart was the study (.pdf) McIlheran cited.

My source for the last chart was this study (.pdf) from Stanford.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"The left side of the blogosphere is vicious and unfair and nasty to me, and I don't like it."

I repeat: Someone tell me again why Ann Althouse is Wisconsin's most popular blogger?

Also, see Barbara O'Brien, Eric Alterman, and please, please, please, read Scott Lemieux.

Cancer Still Sucks

Even when it happens to Republicans. Best of luck to Tony Snow.

NCAA Pool, Journal Sentinel Style

by folkbum

(Click for larger, mostly readable image.)

I occasionally get tips and fun items in my inbox, and last night this showed up--the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's NCAA basketball pool.

I'm trying to decide what's more disturbing, that Mandy Jenkins is winning right now, or that the JS design team has the time and wherewithal to whip up a nice graphic like this for their pool standings. It certainly has that JS graphic feel to it, the same font and shaded boxes as you see in the paper all the time.

The Final Four is, of course, UCLA-Florida and Georgetown-Ohio State. Mandy's toughest competition is from news desgner Ken Cleppe, and they've both picked the same two final teams. Mandy has Ohio State to win it (perhaps trying to butter up her future new bosses in Cincinnati?) while Cleppe has Florida. If Georgetown beats Ohio State, though, it looks like someone named "Mayo" will take home the $180 prize.

As for me, I don't bet on stuff. I have this thing where I don't particularly like losing money, so I don't bother to play. How's your bracket?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Another Partisan Jerk

by folkbum
In the first place, [the president] will be impeachable by this House, before the Senate, for such an act of maladministration; for I contend that the wanton removal of meritorious officers would subject him to impeachment and removal from his own high trust. But what can be his motives for displacing a worthy man? It must be that he may fill the place with an unworthy creature of his own. Can he accomplish this end? No.
--James Madison, 1789

It's a measure of how far we've come, no? The White House's political arm, using Republican National Committee email addresses quite possibly to avoid accountability, initiates a plan to remove from office United States Attorneys who are insufficiently partisan. Even the incompetent USAs are almost left in place because they are sufficiently partisan. And then there's the cover-up, which has been bungled worse that Iraq WMD intelligence, and has revealed almost incontrovertably that Alberto Gonzales and others lied to Congress and the public--possibly to protect Karl Rove. (Scooter Libby went down to protect Rove, too, according one of Libby's defense theories.)

But to suggest, as James Madison does, that removing meritorious officials in favor of toadies might be impeachable, is partisanship. Whatever. Is it 2009 yet?

(Via digby.)

My get-rich quick scheme

by folkbum

If anyone else uses this, I'll sue for royalties. My idea deals with this:
Mayfair Mall will require those younger than 18 to shop with a parent or adult 21 or older during some hours of operation, mall officials announced Friday.

The new policy, Parental Guidance Required, will apply after 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It goes into effect next Friday.

Security staff will be stationed at 14 mall entrances, where they will ask shoppers who appear to be younger than 18 for a state-issued or laminated school ID with date of birth, mall spokeswoman Nancy Conley said. Those who do not comply will be asked to leave. [. . .]

Smith said Mayfair will boost its existing security staff on Friday and Saturday afternoons and pay Wauwatosa police and Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies an undisclosed amount to help enforce the policy.

Wauwatosa police will assist with security at entrances and at points throughout the mall. In the initial weeks of the policy's enforcement, Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies and mall security will check the IDs of youths disembarking at bus stops near Macy's and Boston Store. Underage youths either will have to get back on the bus or immediately leave mall property, Conley said.
It's simple. I wait outside a mall entrance, and charge $25 a pop to vouch for a kid. I can always pat 'em down for weapons first, of course, since I don't want to be liable for a scene.

Trouble is I can only do four kids at a time. I mean, $200 a weekend isn't a bad take, but maybe I should franchise a little bit, perhaps hire the homeless to do the vouching with me, and take 40% or 80% of their revenue for the weekend.

The only problem I could really foresee is something like having to sit through two or three showings of Norbit every weekend, or realizing that the funny t-shirts at Spencer are only funny a couple of times. But I could probably handle it if just every once in a while I got to play with the new Macs (and the iPhone!) or could build a bear.

So if the posting around here gets real light on the weekends, it's because I'm out making money, okay?

Oh, and does anyone else think that enforcement of this policy is, perhaps, not the best allocation of our law-enforcement resources?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

McIlheran Watch: What's the "plain meaning" of this?

by folkbum

Patrick McIlheran writes today about the state supreme court race, and he throws in this:
Ziegler has gone to pains to say she'd stick to the law, saying it's courts' job to interpret laws "according to their plain meaning."
This is another way of saying that Ziegler won't be an "activist" judge, which, of course, is the cruelist insult a conservative could hurl at a judge. Ziegler insists, and McIlheran believes her, that she will follow only the "plain meaning" of the laws as written.

So here's my question: What's the "plain meaning" of this (scroll to .04 (04) )?
(4) Except as provided in sub. (6) for waiver [when the parties to a case are informed of a conflict and agree to waive the judge's recusal], a judge shall recuse himself or herself in a proceeding when the facts and circumstances the judge knows or reasonably should know establish one of the following or when reasonable, well-informed persons knowledgeable about judicial ethics standards and the justice system and aware of the facts and circumstances the judge knows or reasonably should know would reasonably question the judge's ability to be impartial: [. . .]
(d) The judge knows that he or she, individually or as a fiduciary, or the judge's spouse or minor child wherever residing, or any other member of the judge's family residing in the judge's household has an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding or has any other more than de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding.
(e) The judge or the judge's spouse, or a person within the third degree of kinship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person meets one of the following criteria:
  1. Is a party to the proceeding or an officer, director or trustee of a party.
  2. Is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding.
  3. Is known by the judge to have a more than de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding.
  4. Is to the judge's knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.
That's the text of a section of the state's code of judicial conduct. I think the "meaning" in both (d) and (e) that I've quoted here is pretty "plain": If a judge has anything other than a "de minimis" financial stake in the outcome, or--and this is more damning, I think--if a judge's spouse is on the board of directors of one of the parties, the judge must step aside. "Shall recuse" herself is the wording, and that leaves no room for wriggling.

We can wriggle over the definition of "de minimis," since the code's definition actually leaves a lot to be desired: "an insignificant interest that does not raise reasonable question as to a judge's impartiality or use of the prestige of the office." But you can wriggle too far; I think Dad29 misses the boat here when he tries to define "de minimis" in terms of a benefit to the company, rather than the judge.* He also misses the boat here when he points out that a small-claims case here or there isn't going to make Judge Ziegler--who may or may not own any shares of West Bend Savings Bank--or her husband--who is on the board of directors of that bank--any richer. I'll concede that, but Dad29 ignores the second part of the definition of "de minimis": Does judge Ziegler's financial ties to West Bend Savings Bank "raise reasonable question as to a judge's impartiality or use of the prestige of the office"? I say yes, Dad29 and Patrick McIlheran may say no. If that were all, we could just leave it to the voters to decide.

But there's so much more. For one, there's a (non-binding, but still) decision from the state's Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee a few years back defining "de minimis" as owning $20,000 in stock. judge Ziegler ruled, by the Wisconsin State Journal's account, in 22 cases in which she owned at least $50,000 in stock in one of the parties. And while many people, including Patrick McIlheran in the column that set me off today in the first place, will point out a Milwaukee Magazine study showing that a lot of judges don't disclose their financial ties, don't you think someone running to be a justice on our state's highest court should be held to a slightly higher standard? And how many of those judges send their campaign managers out to lie about it?

Oh, but there's still so much more, and it's paragraph (e) that I quoted above. (Dad29 helpfully critiques me for not quoting the code previously, ironically forgetting to quote paragraph (e) himself.) Read it again:
(4) [A] judge shall recuse himself or herself in a proceeding when the facts and circumstances the judge knows [. . .]
(e) The judge or the judge's spouse, or a person within the third degree of kinship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person meets one of the following criteria:
  1. Is a party to the proceeding or an officer, director or trustee of a party.
Okay, I stopped after number one, since we don't need to go beyond it. Got it? A judge shall recuse herself from a case when her husband is on the board of directors of a company in her court. Her husband is on the board of West Bend Savings Bank. The "plain language" of the code--which was adopted a decade ago, right around the time she was appointed to the bench so you know she was probably paying attention as the code was being formulated--says a judge shall recuse herself.

The code says nothing about a "gut check." The code says nothing about other judges' doing it making it okay. The code says nothing about how we should overlook it if we don't like a judge's opponent's judicial philosophy. The code says a judge shall recuse herself. Period. That's the "plain language."

How can we trust a judge who says she'll follow the "plain langauge" of the law when she has a history of violating it? It's that simple. Vote Linda Clifford on April 3.

Update: See the Motley Cow.

* Dad29 points out that a $10,000 claim is only .4% of West Bend Savings Bank's worth. But Ziegler withdrew herself from a case concerning Wal*Mart, and I have a hard time believing the stakes in that case are anywhere near .4%--maybe not even .004%! If we apply the Wal*Mart standard and Dad29's logic, Judge Ziegler should have recused herself.

Friday, March 23, 2007

BlogFest 07, and the critics

by folkbum

I knew as soon as I saw the full list of participants for the 2007 version of WisPolitics's Blog Summit, I began to brace myself for the inevitable storm of criticism--or, really, re-criticism, since we had the first storm of exactly the same criticism a year ago--that was sure to come.

Before I do this, let me be absolutely clear: I do not work for WisPolitics. I don't want to work for WisPolitics. I didn't ask to be a part of the second Blog Summit (nor the first one). And, except for the brie and wine cookies and soda that I ate at the last Blog Summit--and which you could have, too--I've never received anything of value from WisPolitics. And I'm not afraid of losing my invite if I were to join the chorus with a "Yeah, me too!"

But to the critics: You're wrong.

One thing I've learned in four years of blogging about Wisconsin politics, and which occured to me at some point after last year's summit, is this: You, my fellow Cheddarsphereans, are not WisPolitics's audience. You don't pay the salary of the WisPolitics staff, you don't pay for their bandwidth or server space, and you don't treat their website as a primary way to disseminate information or attract eyeballs or business.* It should come as no surprise, then, that WisPolitics has scheduled an even that isn't All About You.

This is not to say that, in a sense, the complaints about the Blog Summit are not legitimate. Seth Zlotocha, who was first to note that there might be a problem, is right when he writes,

[I]n spite of all the help WisPolitics has provided me and, surely, many other small-timers in the political blogging community--who make up the majority of political blogosphere--I have to question whether the 2nd Annual WisPolitics Blog Summit is really about those same bloggers.
I realize that is not a complaint, per se, but I think Seth has put his finger on exactly my point. This conference isn't for you, or about you as citizen bloggers. Consider, for example, the panels scheduled for the summit:
Blogging's effect on Campaign 06 and effect on Campaign 08, with Ed Garvey, Charlie Sykes, John Kraus (former aide to Russ Feingold and founder--now former head of--One Wisconsin Now), and Brian Fraley.
All four of these men are both veterans of the world of politics and bloggers or blog afficianadoes (Kraus sponsored the Download 2006 event last November, targeted specifically for bloggers). I think they, more than just about anyone else in the state, are uniquely qualified to discuss the intersection of blogging and politics. Is blogging what got them where they are? No. Would I kill to be on that panel? You bet. But which of them would you sacrifice for a citizen blogger--and which of us can offer the perspective that they do?

What is blogging doing to journalism?, with Jessica McBride, Tim Cuprisin, Steve Jagler (executive editor of Small Business Times), and Andy Tarnoff (publisher of the OnMilwaukee.com).
The first two are journalists who have added blogging to their repertoire (hey, Mathias, I see you giggling--cut it out), and the latter two run publications that have added blogging to their operations in the last year or so. In other words, people who can answer first-hand the question of how blogging has changed journalism. (Side note: As I was writing this, Kevin Drum answered that question.) What blogger is going to answer that question, except to say maybe "The Emm-Ess-Emm still doesn't get blogging! Ugh!"

Are all voices being heard in the blogosphere?, with Eugene Kane, Jennifer Morales, and Dasha Kelly.
Okay, complaining bloggers: How many of you are bloggers of color? Anyone? Anyone? (I can name two bloggers of color off the top of my head, Renee and "Sancho.") How about LGBT? Hm? We won't get many hands if we ask how many of us are over 40, or women, either.
The other panel--on the future of blogging--is me and Owen. And, frankly, I'm not sure I even feel all that qualified to be on that panel, either.

And that's my point: WisPolitics isn't talking to you, and, in a way, isn't even really talking about you. As I was writing this, Nick Schweitzer wrote a post that put it well:
Despite the fact that many people read blogs, the reality is that most people don't. And a lot of the people who do read blogs are bloggers themselves. We're really a pretty isolated group when you think about it. Even as bloggers we tend to segregate as bloggers on the right, and bloggers on the left, and hardly do the twain ever meet. Then to top it all off, you have the rest of the media establishment who look down on us as non-journalists trying to break into a field we have no business breaking into. Do we deserve more? Absolutely. But unfortunately, we aren't in control of that perception. They are.
In other words, if WisPolitics threw a "blog summit" with only the people on your average Cheddarsphere blogroll, it would be both unenlightening for the attendees and pretty poorly attended (Blog Summit 06 drew at least twice as many people as Download 2006--though that event was, in fact, pretty enlightening). Last year's Blog Summit featured, for as many of us who raised our hands in answer to the question of whether we blog, we were not the only attendees. Everyone from Lou Fortis to Chris Kleismet was there to check it out, and it was a great opportunity to expand our spheres of influence just a little bit.

Sean Hackbarth, who was a bridesmaid at both the first Blog Summit and Download 2006, is again the most, um, passionate about the lack of "real" bloggers invited to the summit (but he is by no means the only one speaking up). It goes like this:
Does WisPolitics.com want a weblog summit or a primer to what weblogs are all about? Why would a weblogger want to come to this? What weblogger needs to be talked at by mostly-part-timers about the effects of weblogs when they’re witnessing it first-hand? If we want to talk about weblogs and weblogging we need hardcore webloggers to talk about what they go through, what they do, where they want to go.

It’s obvious WisPolitics.com doesn’t give a damn about weblogging experience. [. . .] I’ve been on the front lines of weblogging for over seven years. Before the word “blog” was invented I was tapping away into a text file and manually uploading my posts. I’ve seen the blogosphere transform from a tech geek wonderland into the beautiful monstrosity we have today. There’s knowledge and wisdom to be had from that history. This Blog Summit, like last year’s, pretends the blogosphere plopped down on us in its present state.
Maybe there is a missing panel: Who are the hardcore bloggers, what do they do? I don't know. I don't sit around planning blog summits. But Sean does have a point that if anyone around here can provide a perspective on how blogging has changed--since change is a theme of at least three of the four panels--it's Sean. I don't begrudge him his anger at being left off the agenda, again; it has to be frustrating. But Sean's blogging lacks one thing that I think the WisPolitics people are interested in: Wisconsin politics. No one that I know of questions his blogging ability or credentials on the national scene. But his posts about, say, Ann Coulter, or economics probably just don't make it to the WisPolitics/ WisOpinion staff radar.

On the other hand, WisOpinion did have the good sense to link to Sean's post critiquing the summit--and to Seth's post, as well. There's little doubt that Jeff Mayers and his team know what they're doing. Nick is right: We Cheddarsphereans are a pretty small, pretty tight group. I have been nothing if not a cheerleader for Wisconsin's bloggers, promoting what we do and the ones that I think do it well--it's part of what I see as my responsibility as one who does get asked to do these sorts of events. But when we only talk to ourselves, about ourselves, we don't get any bigger. And maybe I don't want to live in a world where Charlie Sykes and Eugene Kane are who people think of as bloggers. But if sharing that world with them means living in a better, smarter, bigger one, I can deal with it.

And so, I think, can Seth and Sean.

* A lot of us bloggers do rely on WisPolitics or the less user-friendly (I think) Wheeler Report for information. And WisPolitics/ WisOpinion gives many of us the courtesy of linking to us and treating us as equals with the traditional paid punditry. The Budget Blog and Elections Blog are good non-partisan repositories of oddities and endities. And the Wisconsin blog search is gold.

Supreme Court Updates

by folkbum

I've been meaning to do an update on the state supreme court race, but I've been busy. It's probably happened to you a couple of times, so, you'd better not start with me. Okay?

I want to get under way with the Capital Times. They ran an editorial Tuesday that really laid down a gauntlet for Washington County Judge Annette Ziegler:
In particular, the Ziegler camp is objecting to the fact that researchers associated with the [Linda] Clifford campaign have reviewed the judge's record on the bench.

What is absurd about that complaint is the fact that Ziegler has framed her entire campaign around the argument that voters should elect her because she has served as a judge. In such a circumstance, it would be ridiculous to assume that rivals would fail to ask the question: If Annette Ziegler's sole claim on the support of Wisconsin voters is the fact that she is a judge, then what kind of judge has she been?

What Ziegler really objects to is not the scrutiny. What bothers her is that the scrutiny has revealed damaging details about her disregard for basic ethical standards. [. . .] Wisconsin voters have a right to know whether candidates for seats on the state's most powerful court are ethical. To have denied the voters information they need to make informed choices about who should sit on the court would be reprehensible.
It's true that these charges have gotten Ziegler and her allies really, really worked up. Ziegler's latest campaign commercial, in fact, is probably among the worst decisions manager Mark Graul has ever made (and that's saying a lot!). It features, as the AP describes it, "black and white video of Clifford cast against a full moon, words in a horror movie-style font on the screen note Clifford is an 'immigration lawyer.' " Who is Ziegler's constituency again? And who on earth could think that a commercial like that would attract voters?

But the cockroaches are scrambling trying to deal with what is apparently a very scary set of facts for the Ziegler campaign to deal with. Linked yesterday from WisOpinion.com is not one, not two, but three opinion pieces that spend significant verbiage minimizing what is a pattern of repeated clear violations of the state's code of judicial ethics. Calling it variously "small-fry," "sloppy," and "a complete non-story," these writers mange to hit the conservative commentator trifecta: They assuage their reader- and listenership that they do not see what they think they see; they imply that the liberals pursuing the story are petty, nuts, or both; and they manage to pat themselves on the back for being so clever. (This is much less true for Rick Esenberg than for Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, but Rick has a dog in this fight and it shows.)

(In the interest of fairness, I should also point out that WisOpinion did also link to a couple of anti-Ziegler pieces, including this excellent one from Ken Mobile. And they also linked to this pro-Ziegler blogger who wrote about Monday night's candidate forum without once mentioning ethics, conflict, West Bend Savings Bank, or even husband or stocks. Well done, Daniel!)

Wednesday the Cap Times handed over op-ed space to the two candidates themselves, offering both Clifford and Ziegler the opportunity to go directly to the voters with their messages. Both candidates played up their experience, with Ziegler, as usual, reminding us of her past as a prosecutor and present as a judge, and Clifford reviewing her experience as an assistant attorney general and appellate lawyer who has actually argued in front of the court she now wishes to sit on.

You should read both pieces, of course, but it's in that discussion of experience where I think Clifford and Ziegler show clear differences that have nothing to do with any candidate's ethical issues. A decade of sentencing criminals or awarding small claims is no substitute for three decades of litigation, working in the attorney general's office, and chewing on the legal questions of the day on a regular basis. At every opportunity Ziegler tells us she's been tough on crime, but there is little in her experience to tell us whether she can handle the job that the supreme court actually does. Clifford, on the other hand, clearly has the background necessary to understand the role of the court. (See also Kristen Crowell's reaction to Ziegler's op-ed.)

I mentioned there was a candidate forum last Monday; it was at Marquette and the Milwaukee journal Sentinel has the video. There's another forum tonight to be aired live on Wisconsin Public Television and Radio, and re-aired around the state.

But before that forum on Monday, Linda Clifford was in town to do an event at Bryan Kennedy's place. It was so nice to meet both Linda and her husband, who both seem like genuinely nice and smart people. (And I totally forgot to bond with Linda about our both being Beloit College alums!) I ran into a number of other swell people there, too, inlcuding State Senator Jim Sullivan, former folkbum guest blogger "krshorewood," BIll Elliott, some old fellow Howard Dean groupies, and even Boris and Doris. There, Linda reminded us that at any moment, the Zieglers can drop a very big chunk of their personal fortune into the race to try to buy away the ethical problems dogging Ziegler's campaign. I've said it before and I'll say it again: blogs don't vote. What wins elections is still money and feet on the ground, and if you can help in either of those ways, please do.

This is now way too long, so I'm not even able to get into the complaint filed against Ziegler by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, or the brazenness of responding to an open records request with blacked out pages (image from this week's Shepherd Express), the latest revelations about the timing of Ziegler's rulings and comapaign contributions from West Bend Savings Bank officials, or even the endorsements Clifford has received from mayors across the state as diverse as Larry Nelson and (former Tomah Mayor and popular libertarian) Ed Thompson. So, more later, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cancer Sucks

by folkbum

I ran into Elizabeth Edwards on the campaign trail in 2004 several times, once even speaking to a roomful of DPW convention-goers right between her and Governor Doyle. She was always warmly enthusiastic and genuinely nice. One of the Good People.

Incurable but treatable is still heartbreaking; I can't imagine what campaigning will be like for her or anyone married to her who has to be worried all the time. Our thoughts are with the Edwards family tonight.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How not to win friends and influence war policy

by folkbum
UPDATED below--twice

This is not helpful:
Officers were called to the 3100 block of Oakland Ave. around 8 p.m. [where] Iraq War protesters clad in black, carrying torches and wearing ski masks were reportedly setting off smoke bombs and throwing paint as they approached an Army recruiting center on the block, said Sgt. Eric Pfeiffer, of the Milwaukee Police Department.

Someone threw an object through the recruitment center's window and spread what appears to be human waste inside before running off, Pfeiffer said.

Four people were in police custody and nearly 20 more were being questioned nearby about their involvement in the vandalism, Pfeiffer said.
This kind of violence and vandalism is never appropriate, and those responsible should be punished.

But in addition, whoever organized this (and, no, it wasn't MoveOn or any of the respectable groups doing organizing for protests yesterday, but almost certainly some fringe group) was just stupid. It is clear that the sentiment of the American people is overwhelmingly for ending the war and bringing the troops home from harm's way, but actions like this will not win the anti-war movement any friends or allies among the vast mainstream of people opposed to continuing the war who haven't taken to the streets.

Worse, this incident--which was hardly representative of the movement as a whole, of the hundreds of thousands of people who protested and vigiled peacefully across the country and here in Milwaukee--will be the one siezed upon by the right when they talk about the protests. (As of this morning when I write this, there are already a number hits to the Journal Sentinel story, including Jessica McBride, and others complaining of "thuggery" by "moonbats.")

Not that I expect anyone organizing these kinds of activities to be reading this blog, but it's worth saying here: Actions like this will be the news, and not the peaceful protests or vigils. Glenn Greenwald's latest explains how this happens, and it's worth the full read. It's the idea that the right and the media will sieze on any small event if it is sufficiently horrific--even if it is not the least bit representative--and use it to tar and smear all of us on the left, to associate these despicable and offensive actions with legitimate activities, and to imply that these fringe actions are representative of the mainstream.

It's too early in the story to know yet who committed these crimes or why. It's possible that, for some reason, they wanted their story to be the news, either because they're idiotic narcissists or perhaps because without them the news would have to lead with how peaceful and extensive the events marking the anniversary of the war really were (which is hardly a sensational enough headline).

Whatever the case, rest assured that when the media--particularly the barking AM hordes--talk about the anti-war movement's Milwaukee protests, what they'll talk about is not the many who prayed silently but the few who smeared crap aorund a recruiter's office. And when the mainstream sentiments of this community and this country become deligitimized in this way, we all lose.

(Related: This was the best post I saw yesterday marking the anniversary. If it doesn't make you angry or sad, then your heart is too hard to be human.)

UPDATE: At about 2:30 this afternoon, the Journal Sentinel named the names of the adults arrested--18 of them; police also arrested three minors. (I'm not linking because I don't want to make it easier to find.) How long before we see their names, addresses, phone numbers, and vague instructions like "You know what to do" showing up on blogs on the right? I can only think of one or two Cheddarsphereans who would do that, but my money's on Michelle Malkin.

UPDATE II: A good look at the real anti-war protests can be seen at Milwaukee Renaissance.

Monday, March 19, 2007

RIP, Bill Behling


by folkbum

If you knew him, you understand why I'm very sad that he's gone.

I imagine that right now he's tossing ice cream sandwiches to the angels in the Commons of the sky.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Saving SeniorCare, and how you can help

by folkbum

Thursday afternoon I had the chance to do a "blogger conference call" with Wisconsin's Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton. The topic was Wisconsin's SeniorCare program, which, if you're a regular reader, you'll note is not exactly my issue. But these blogger conference calls so seldom get scheduled for a time when I can actually do them (since I, you know, work for a living and stuff), I wanted to Reward Good Behavior and do the call.

Anyway, if you're not familiar with the deal, Wisconsin has the, as in sole and only, alternative supplemental drug coverage program for seniors anywhere in the country--alternative to Medicare Part D, that is. Medicare Part D is probably the single biggest domestic boondoggle initiated by the Bush Administration, and, things being what they are, that's an incredibly damning assessment. Conservatives hate it because it's an unnecessarily expensive new entitlement program, and liberals hate it because it's an unnecessarily expensive new entitlement program.

But Wisconsin's got something a little different, offering better coverage for seniors' prescription drugs for about half the cost. But our waiver to do SeniorCare, in lieu of Medicare Part D, expires on June 30. And there's a real fear that a new waiver won't be granted. This despite SeniorCare's clear advantage. From one of many stories on the issue lately:
Wisconsin began the SeniorCare program in September 2002--years before the Bush administration began Part D in January 2006--as a way to provide low-cost prescription drugs to the elderly.

The state program is expected to cost $173.4 million this fiscal year, with state taxpayers paying $57.6 million, according to the state Department of Health and Family Services. The federal government is paying $53.6 million, and rebates from drug companies is netting $62.2 million, the department said.

A 2005 study by the Wisconsin chapter of AARP found that a person with an annual income of about $15,000 and $1,000 in annual prescription drug costs would save $632 each year under SeniorCare compared to Medicare Part D. A person with an income of about $18,600 with $7,000 in drug costs would save $2,311 under SeniorCare.

Advocates say that not only does the state program save the elderly money, it saves the federal government money and is easier for people to use than Medicare Part D. [. . .] Whereas the federal government subsidizes drug costs for Wisconsin senior citizens at $617 per person per year, it pays $1,174 per Wisconsin senior citizen each year under Medicare Part D, according to the Health and Family Services Department.

Advocates also point to the ease of using SeniorCare. SeniorCare has a one-page application, a $30 annual fee and covers more drugs. Deductibles are low and depend upon annual income. Medicare Part D, by contrast, has a monthly premium, a $265 annual deductible, and co-pays vary depending on the drug. It also includes dozens of program choices, and advocates for the elderly say the elderly have difficulty navigating its many choices.
Sounds, great, right? Who wouldn't be in favor of such a great program? Why would anyone stand in the way of keeping SeniorCare rolling?

Two words: Mike Leavitt. Okay, two more words that might make it a little more obvious: drug companies.

Leavitt is the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, and it's his say-so we need if the program is to continue. But there's one thing that SeniorCare has that Medicare Part D doesn't, and that's the ability to negotiate with drug companies for cheaper prices. If you recall, that was among the single biggest sticking points during the debate over Medicare Part D, with the bought-by-Big-Pharma Republicans in the House rejecting a Senate-approved amendment to allow such negotiation. That pretty much killed any chance that Democrats in large numbers would support the new program. President Bush, no stranger to Big Pharma money himself, has threatened to veto the new Democratic Congress's plan to add negotiating power to Medicare Part D. And Mike Leavitt has maintained the party line, even when asked about it directly by people here in Wisconsin:
During his appearance, two audience members pressed Leavitt on whether the Bush administration would allow Wisconsin's experimental SeniorCare program to continue. SeniorCare is a state program, authorized by the federal government, to provide discounted prescription drugs to the state's elderly.

The popular program's future is in jeopardy because it needs an extension of its federal authorization before mid-summer. Since the creation of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit in 2003, the administration has discouraged state-level drug assistance programs.

Leavitt was noncommittal, saying only that it was a regulatory decision he could not prejudge.
Want to know the most insidious part of all of this? It isn't just that forcing all of Wisconsin's seniors onto Medicare Part D is a big hassle, but it's entirely likely that not all 108,000 seniors currently in SeniorCare will even be eligible for Medicare Part D. According to Barbara Lawton and a new analysis just completed of Medicare Part D, Wisconsin as a whole has the second-least number of seniors eligible for the federal program:
"It would be unfair, to say the least, for more than 100,000 of our seniors to be forced onto Part D," Lt. Governor Lawton said. "Many of them would end up with nothing at all. Wisconsin ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to seniors being denied access to Medicare Part D."

The average annual federal subsidy for a SeniorCare participant is $617; the average Part D participant costs the federal government $1,174. Further, only 35.4% of Medicare applicants in Wisconsin are deemed eligible. Only Illinois has a lower acceptance rate.
So not only would it get more expensive--both for the government and for Wisconsin's seniors--if the waiver isn't granted, it's entirely possible that as many as 70,000 of Wisconsin's seniors would end up with no supplemental coverage at all! And Mike Leavitt seems utterly unconcerned.

On the other hand, all of Wisconsin's Congressfolk seem to be in favor of extending the program, even Petri, Ryan, and Sensenbrenner, who voted for Medicare Part D in the first place. Senator Russ Feingold, in fact, grilled Leavitt at a committee hearing last month. The list also includes newbie Steve Kagen, who's gotten a pretty negative vibe from the feds, and who's currently circulating petitions up in his district. Tammy Baldwin, also, has been gathering signatures. A call to your representative, whoever it is, would not be unwarranted.

At a more local level, Wisconsin State Senator Tim Carpenter is asking people to sign "Save Our SeniorCare" postcards, and a variety of other state lawmakers are asking people to sign petitions, including Amy Sue Vruwink, Tom Nelson, Louis Molepske, Jr., and Peggy Kruscik. You can get some of Carpenter's postcards by calling his office directly at (800) 249 8173, and contact your own state representative or senator to find out if you can get your name on a petition.

You can also go see Senator Carpenter and the rest of the committee he chairs--the Committee on Public Health, Senior Issues, Long Term Care and Privacy--at an event next week. There is a SeniorCare town hall here in Milwaukee Friday, March 30, from 12:30-2:00 at Oasis, located at 24th and Mitchell.

You can also give Secretary Mike Leavitt a call directly. It's not his home number, sadly, but his toll-free office number is (877) 696 6775. Be nice to the people who answer the phones, and tell them that you want the Bush Administration to grant a new waiver for SeniorCare. Over the next four years, SeniorCare could save more than $200 million in negotiated drug prices alone. Lawton and Carpenter are pretty convinced that the resistance is the result of the simple fact that Wisconsin is the only experiment. And even though our experiment is successful--the numbers just don't lie--our ability to negotiate with drug companies and the administration's hard line on that point make it an uphill battle.

This is something liberals and conservatives ought to agree on. (Our members of Congress do, after all.) This is something young and old ought to agree on. (Most of us bloggers, I assume, aren't enrolled in SeniorCare, but my friend Mixter explains its relevance to people of all ages.) So do your part, why don't you? Call somebody or do something else about it today.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Your White House Lied To You, episode #7,629

by folkbum

October 1, 2003:
[About the leak of Valerie Plame's identity to the press] There is a process that the administration has in place to address the leak of classified information. Make no mistake about it, the President has always held the view that the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And the process was followed.
March 16, 2007:
WAXMAN: Federal regulations require that any person who has knowlege of the loss or compromise of classified information has an obligation to report to the the White House Security Officer...Are you aware if there has been any investigation that ever took place in the White House about the release of this classified information?

[James] KNODELL [Director of the White House Office of Security]: I am not. [...] I don't have any knowledge of an investigation within my office.

WAXMAN: Because the President said he was investigating this matter, was going to get to the bottom of it. You're not familiar that any, you're not aware that any investigation took place?

KNODELL: Not within my office, sir.
Tune in next week when, jeebus help us, we almost certainly have another episode in our continuing series, "Your White House Lied To You."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Nnnnoooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

by folkbum

I come home from work to find this "Dear blogger" letter. My heart is breaking . . .
Dear Milwaukee,

I always knew this day would come, I just didn’t expect it to be so impersonal. This is hard for me, so I’ll just be out with it – I’m leaving. In two weeks, I'll be moving away and this blog will come to its end.

I know it sounds very cliché, but believe me when I say it's not you, it’s me. Though I have been faithful to you and only you for going on three years now, I’ve gotten an offer to try something new – and I’m going to take it. You’ve given me so much – the lakefront, deep-fried cheese curds, Summerfest and Spotted Cow – and I’ll never forget it. My only regret is that I'll never know what the city is like without M-Change construction. [. . .]

Love,
Mandy
That's it? It's . . . it's over? Mandy, baby, you can't leave. Think about at all we've been through together. You want to just throw that away?

Is it me? I can change, baby, you know I can. I can do better. I can link to you more, send you appreciative emails, stop making fun of your dislike of indecent exposure. I'll stop forwarding you those hoax emails, baby, I promise. I'll give you whatever you want.

Look, we can spend more time together. Go away somewhere, maybe back to someplace more Web 1.0, where we can have some privacy, just the two of us. Wouldn't that be nice? No webcams, no YouTube, just you, me, and a 386 processor.

Come on, baby, I'm sure we can work out--I mean, work it out. How can I fix it, what can I say to convince you not to just give up on us? We put in all this time--maybe we could just take a little break. Maybe you just need a little space. I can respect that. You don't have to post every day. I don't care! I just can't imagine loading those pages without your face. I need you.

Is it my friends? It's Mike, isn't it. Well, I can get rid of him. I don't need him like I need you. Maybe it's Tim, or Dave. You know you're my world, and if you just say so, they're gone, baby. I mean it.

Do you think I'll be happy with just Vikki? She's not you. She doesn't have your charm, your wit, your bloggy presence. I don't think she understands me the way you do. You know she can't make me happy.

And, Cincinnati? Really? Mandy, baby, I'm from there. Grew up there. Graduated high school and dropped her, hard, because, baby, there's no there there. She won't make you happy. She can't love you the way I do. (But, if you have to go, say hey to Jim Borgman for me. He was always good to me.)

I don't know how I can go on blogging without you, Mandy. I'm standing on the edge of time. I walked away when love was mine, caught up in a world of uphill climbing. The tears are in my mind, and nothing is rhyming, oh, Mandy. You came and you gave without taking, but I sent you away, oh, Mandy. You kissed me and stopped me from shaking--and I need you today, oh, Mandy . . .

Oh, Mandy . . .

Friday Random Ten

by folkbum

The Guess where I was last night? Edition

1. "When I'm Up" Great Big Sea from Rant and Roar
2. "The Old Black Rum" Great Big Sea from Road Rage
3. "Ordinary Day" Great Big Sea from Rant and Roar
4. "Fisherman's Lament" Great Big Sea from Great Big Sea
5. "A Boat Like Gideon Brown" Great Big Sea from Sea of No Cares
6. "I'se the Bye" Great Big Sea from Great Big Sea
7. "Captain Kidd" Great Big Sea from The Hard and the Easy
8. "Donkey Riding" Great Big Sea from Play
9. "Consequence Free" Great Big Sea from Turn
10. "General Taylor" Great Big Sea from Rant and Roar

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday Thumbs

by folkbum

Another in the (very) occasional series wherein I express my approval or disapproval concerning news of the week, happenings, or other trivia through a cute graphic, rather than with my usual long, hard-to-follow, and humorless rants and rambling.

thumbs downThumbs down to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for not having the guts to say that homosexuality is not immoral.

thumbs upThumbs up to Atomic Trousers, the blog of an immoral heterosexual who used to go by the blogonym Dennis York.

thumbs upThumbs up to the Nevada Democratic Party for deciding not to let FOXNews host a debate; after all, one time (in 2003) of watching the team of Tony Snow, Mort Kondracke, Bill Bennett, Sean Hannity, Brit Hume, and Carl Cameron discussing how much of a "snoozer" the "Democrat Candidates Debate" was is plenty for all of us.

thumbs upThumbs up to Bruce Murphy, Brew City Brawler, and Mike Mathias (or am I being redundant?) for asking questions about whether the US Attorney scandal has affected us here.

thumbs upThumbs up to Barbara O'Brien, who is consistently the best summer-upper of that US Attorney scandal. Read this and this and, for fun, this one, too.

thumbs downThumbs down to media bias--conservative media bias, that is.

thumbs downThumbs down to growing income inequality. If you don't click through to see the pretty graph, here's the key: "Median wages have been stagnant since the mid-70s. Today, the wages of everyone below the top 1% are stagnant. [. . .I]t's a grand time to be rich and powerful in America."

thumbs upThumbs up to Kevin Binversie, who is moving to DC for bigger and better things.

thumbs upThumbs up to MadTV for finding a way to mock both Steve Jobs and US foreign policy!

thumbs downThumbs down to ABC for putting "Knights of Prosperity" on hiatus. I was really starting to dig that show.

thumbs downThumbs down to losing your best friend.

thumbs upThumbs up to Mandy Jenkins, who manages to have a positive attitude no matter how much public nudity she has to endure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wisconsin: The Dairy (And Contra-War Veterans) State

By Bert

It caught my attention when a feature story on gun-dealer Bob Pucci -- whom you hear on AM radio ads -- mentioned that in his younger days Pucci played a minor role in the Reagan-era counter-revolution against the Sandinistas called the Contra war.
Pucci worked briefly as a police officer in Edgerton and later coordinated shipments of arms and other supplies to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua in the mid-'80s.
I recall that another Contra warrior, the pilot Eugene Hasenfuss whose plane was shot down by the Nicaraguans, also ended up in the Milwaukee area. I, like everyone else, only learned this after Hasenfuss was caught playing with himself in a Kmart parking lot in Brookfield seven years ago. Although nothing like the hot water Hasenfuss found himself in when he was taken prisoner by Sandinista soldiers in 1986 and the White House's supposedly secret operation was at that point in the news, the ex-warrior was charged with indecent exposure by Waukesha County.

Unlike Hasenfuss, Bob Pucci is striving to make positive contributions to society with his hunting foundation. I just find it improbable that not one but two participants in that misguided Nicaraguan mess ended up as my neighbor.

Hope you had a happy Pi Day

by folkbum

True story: In college, back in the early 90s when we still chiseled out our emails on slate, a classmate sent me and a few others an email with pi to 100,000 digits. It crashed the college's email servers.

Second true story: Circumstances prevented my having any pie today.

Hope your Pi Day was better than all that.

Concealing motives for gun permit secrecy

By Bert

It was two years ago this week that a white, suburban, church-going, and gainfully employed man named Terry Ratzmann shot dead eight innocent people in Brookfield.

I resurrect that awful case not to provoke some fight about gun control issues. The fact is, that fight has already been provoked. So I bring it up to join in.

The website of the Roanoake Times published the names of concealed- gun permit holders in Virginia on Sunday. This brought down an avalanche of outrage on the paper, and also some local commentary from places where you'd expect it.

This revives the issue of whether an exception should be made to standard open-records laws so that the names of permit-holders should be kept secret in the states that allow concealed weapons for most citizens. This secrecy provision was part of the past debates here in Wisconsin on the concealed carry bill that Gov. Jim Doyle has vetoed twice.

The common objection to public access to these government records is flimsy. The story goes that criminals will diligently research these data, then surmise who is not packing heat, and victimize those not on the list. Please.

That reason is flimsy because it's not the real reason. The motive for secrecy is related to the pro-gun campaign's talking point that only lawbreakers commit gun crimes. The evidence for this is the claim that you can't find cases of law-abiding citizens who use guns illegally. It's only the "bad guys". Besides the circularity of the argument, you can see where they are going with this. They want to avoid bad press from the inevitable cases of the rare bad-apple permit-holders shooting wives in a domestic dispute, or getting likkered up and trigger happy, etc.

It's cases like Ratzmann's that don't fit the image of the bad guy that propels this campaign. In fact, setting aside for the moment that he killed eight innocent people, Ratzmann fit the promoted image of the decent, law-abiding gun owner. There is a reason why this case of gun violence is not trotted around repeatedly.

Instead, we hear more about the lessons we should learn from the case that occurred a month later in 2005. This was the older Arkansas man, stopping to ask for directions at a gas station on North Avenue in Milwaukee, who shot and killed a young man who tried to rob his van.

The pro-gun campaign depends on a manufactured message. It is a naive either-or vision of perfect people like you and me on one side, and exaggerated threats lurking on the other. Open records, and tragedies like Terry Ratzmann, contaminate that message.

Are we swiftboating Annette Ziegler?

by folkbum

The political lexicon lacks a great deal of flexibility (the -gate suffix's being attached to every potential scandal a generation later is just one example of how stale the vocabulary is), but swiftboat, I think, is a welcome and reasonable addition to the party. If used correctly, that is.

The word, of course, comes from the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" organization, a group ironically dedicated to spreading demonstrably false stories about John Kerry during the 2004 election season. I like Wikipedia's definition: "By using credible-sounding sources to make sensational and difficult-to-disprove accusations against an opponent, the campaign leverages media tendencies to focus on a controversial story." In other words, as happened in the 2004 campaign, gather a bunch of veterans who, though they served in Vietnam on a switftboat never actually served with Kerry; have them question Kerry's service; then let the media's faux-balance desire for "he said-he said" journalism take over, thereby legitimizing the false statements.

In the end, swiftboating is just a media-savvy version of "When did you stop beating your wife?" It's all about smear, and not so much about truth.

Washington County Judge Annette Ziegler has--on this blog, elsewhere on the internet, and in the traditional media now, too--been severely criticized for lapses in her ethical judgment. Some of the criticisms, such as perhaps the Wal*Mart case flap, are pushing it (which is why I haven't touched the Wal*Mart flap lately, since I tend to dwell in the realm of Things That Matter). But other allegations, in my opinion, have merit. Consider, for example, some of the non-Wal*Mart examples listed by One Wisconsin Now:
According to Ziegler's own Statement of Economic Interest filings with the State Ethics Board, Ziegler's husband J.J. Ziegler has worked for West Bend Savings Bank as a paid director and she has claimed income from the bank for renting property to them. (3) (4 [pdf])

In addition, state and Washington County Register of deed records show that Ziegler has received $3.1 million in loans from West Bend Savings Bank, including a $2 million loan during her campaign for our highest court. (2 [pdf]), (5), (6 [pdf])

Ziegler has also heard 46 cases involving West Bend Savings Bank.

In the cases involving her husband's bank, Ziegler has ruled in favor of West Bend Savings Bank with well over $100,000 in cash settlements, home foreclosures and seized vehicles.

When questioned by the Wisconsin State Journal, Ziegler's campaign manager Mark Graul, initially told the paper that Ziegler's practice in cases involving the bank was to disclose the conflict and "offer to the parties to recuse herself" or to have them waive the requirement and allow her to continue. (7)

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that, "He insisted she had notified the parties and gotten approval to continue presiding over the cases." (7) [. . .]

[I]t wasn't the truth. A Wisconsin State Journal report revealed that in 46 cases involving West Bend Savings Bank where Ziegler was the sitting judge, there are "no indications that Ziegler withdrew from West Bend Savings cases, and no notices to the parties of any conflict." (8)

The defendants in 4 cases looked at by the Wisconsin State Journal told the paper the Washington County Circuit judge did not withdraw from the cases - nor did she disclose her conflict - as required by Supreme Court rules governing the conduct of Judges in Wisconsin. (7) [. . .]

To date, Ziegler has offered no evidence that she disclosed the conflict to any of the parties in the cases. Instead, Ziegler has said she relied on a "gut check" rather than court rules about conflicts in deciding to hear the cases. (8)
Or consider this specific story, from a Linda Clifford press release:
Jeanie Kidd appeared before Ziegler last year as a defendant against West Bend Savings Bank. Kidd's case is one of 46 that Judge Ziegler has heard that involved the bank. Ziegler's husband is a paid member of the bank's board of directors and the Ziegler family leases the bank space. In addition, the bank has loaned Ziegler over $3 million.

Because Kidd resided out of state, she requested a postponement of the hearing on seizure of her automobile. Judge Ziegler denied the request and ordered Kidd to appear at the hearing by telephone. At the time of the hearing, the bank failed to show. Although a statute allowed dismissal for the bank's failure to appear, Ziegler instead adjourned the hearing for the benefit of the bank. At the adjourned hearing, judgment was awarded to the bank.

In at least nine cases, Ziegler faced the opposite scenario where a defendant failed to appear while West Bank Savings did. In each of these instances no continuance was granted, Ziegler instead ruled in the bank's favor.
Setting aside the source of that information, the underlying facts of this and other cases are not in distpute--not by Ziegler, not by Graul (any more), not by the documentary evidence available from the courts. What is described here is accurate and true to the greatest extent that everybody involved can prove.

Which is why I'm surprised to see someone call this a swiftboating, particularly someone who tends to run to the liberal side:
What I really hate, and have to suck it up anyway is the way professional journalists, strategists, career statesmen and good old boys are masquerading as "citizen bloggers" to orchestrate old-fashioned mud-slinging campaigns. Okay, so some party people were freaked out at the "new Power" that bloggers had with the Dean business and the Dan Rather thing and all that. Even if it works in your favor, it's a rogue element - uncontrollable if it genuinely comes from The People.

So get a bunch of Good Old Boys in there - not the shaggy t-shirt crowd that bloggers were to start, but established journalists and seasoned power boys in their 50s and 60s who know the ropes and can hopefully steer things in a coordinated direction. But most importantly, protect the status quo. Edge out the uncontrolled rogue elements with flashier sites and greater posting frequency and that so-lovely air of entitlement. Whatever.

Funny thing is - I wonder how long till the Republicans get a private investigator to set up a blog where s/he can disseminate the stuff they dig up about Democratic candidates. The guys who did the swift-boating of Kerry believed they were following a higher cause too, that they had a sacred mission to keep an Undesirable out of office. They would have said they were just "telling the truth". Yet, though I am a "liberal" I think it is quite obvious that the Republican judge in this "non-partisan" race is being swift-boated too from the point of view of HER supporters. The definition you use depends on the side you are on and all words have no solid meaning anymore. All wars are sacred, all words are partisan - it's quite a gift we have all been given by the power-obsessed among us.
I think that somewhere in there Jody's making a point about groups like Progressive Majority or even One Wisconsin, which I think might distill, as Dave Diamond suggests, into something like a complaint that bloggers are being ruined by partisan influences, or something. But it's the accusation of swiftboating that hangs in my craw: I have not heard "HER supporters" toss around that word and, in fact, the more considered (and more lawyerly) among them concede that Ziegler was wrong on many of those cases.

So are we swiftboating Annette Ziegler? Does what's happening here rise (sink?) to the "When did you stop beating your wife?" level of political discourse?

Perhaps I'm biased and defensive, as one who broke parts of this story, but I say no. For starters, unlike the claims of the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth," the only allegations I have made--and the only allegations made in the media, as led by the Wisconsin State Journal--are ones supported by the evidence at hand. There is no crime or shame in, as the Journal Sentinel editorial board did, saying, "Here's what we know based on facts in evidence; can you explain it?" to a campaign or to a candidate--a far cry from the insinuations or falsehoods of a true swiftboating.

In fact, the only aspersions I see being cast around are things like Jessica McBride's laughable "media bias" claims. (And I mean laughable; McBride reprints her shockingly indignant email to the managing editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and his answers. I was embarrassed for her.) That and Jody's assertion that me and my baggy-shirted colleagues are getting strung along by The Powers That Be.

Until someone can show me that somehow every shred of documentary evidence we have is wrong, that every defendant now complaining that Ziegler never disclosed her conflicts is lying, or that Ziegler somehow doesn't own stocks in the numbers that put her in violation of a judicial ethics review panel's ruling, I will not back down from this, and I will not assent to being called a swiftboater.

I won't go so far as Gregory "Deke Rivers" Humphrey and call for Zielger to drop out of the race. I won't even go so far as Bruce Murphy and suggest that now she's unelectable (I won't underestimate the power of the state's business lobby and all the TV airtime they can buy). But I also won't let clear ethical lapses and clear violations of an enforceable code of judicial conflict go without comment. Even if it means trading in my baggy shirt.