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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, April 30, 2007

Fire + Steel = ?

To: Kevin Barrett and your Nutty Professor Friends
From: your humble folkbum
Date: The day your music died
Re: Fire and Steel

Kevin, et al., have you heard the news from San Francisco?
he driver whose truck sparked a spectacular freeway fire in Oakland early Sunday escaped with his life--a miracle, police say--but there will be no escaping the Bay Area traffic nightmare his accident has unleashed. [. . .]

At the heart of the traffic knot is the MacArthur Maze, a tangle of freeways at the east end of the Bay Bridge and the site of Sunday's crash and fire.

At 3:45 a.m., a truck carrying 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline overturned on a freeway transition road, creating an inferno with flames leaping 200 feet high and temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees. The heat weakened the steel supporting a connector road above.
One of the major foundations of you 9/11 conspiracy theorists' crackpottery is that a liquid-fuel fire can't melt steel enough to bring down the World Trade Center towers, or that structural damage combined with sustained fires could not have brought down World Trade Center building seven.

Over the weekend we saw a collapse of a steel-supported concrete section of bridge, much lighter than the towers, that was weakened and brought down by fire. A perfect test, it seems, of whether or not the fire caused by the impact of the hijacked planes could have done sufficient damage to the steel to cause the collapses we all witnessed. Since it didn't take any thermite to bring down the bridge, I'd say that you've lost any chance at ever making the explosives case again.

We'll see you the next time your idiocy gets sliced to pieces by the real world--toodles!

Blog Summit wrap, and so on

by folkbum

I don't think I have that much to add to what everyone else has been saying: For bloggers themselves, the panels were not the attraction, but rather the people and the chance to get to know them better. I took notes, but didn't find all that much to be noteworthy. However, here are a few things that stood out to me:

During the first panel, about the effects of blogs on campaigns, Mike Plaisted made an important point, one that I have made repeatedly: In Wisconsin, Southeast Wisconsin, in particular, conservative blogs occasionally get the advantage of the talk-show megaphone. Charlie Sykes, he of the biggest megaphone, laughed it off, but Jessica McBride, one panel later, affirmed exactly what Mike was saying.

That first panel also provided the most important line of the day: John Kraus noted that the true effectiveness of blogs will be measured by how well they do two things: accountability (for media, politicians, etc.) and action. I don't do enough of the latter, I know.

In the sceond panel, the Journal Sentinel's Tim Cuprisin--who I really enjoyed listening to, by the way--broke the news that the Journal Communications blogging software, which he agreed was terrible, will be updated soon with the ability to comment. Charlie Sykes later confirmed on his blog he'd be adding comments, too.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to Jennifer Peterson's presentation on legalities, which, when I get sued, as is almost ineveitable, I will undoubtedly regret.

The fourth panel, about the lack of diversity in political blogging, was the most interesting of the panels I wasn't on. All the panelists, I thought, handled the question and the comments well. Dasha Kelly and Jennifer morales made the valid point that for many people in the non-white, non-middle-class, non-male demographics, spending a lot of time in front of a computer is a low priority. And even among those who can and do, politics is often not what they want to spend time on, as opposed to connecting with friends, pursuing other interests, or networking. It's true that the technological barriers to entry into the political blogging world may be whittling away, but not everyone thinks, as we do, that this kind of blogging is the best use of their time.

That said, I would love to see more different voices among the bloggers I read who write about Wisconsin politics. Whenever I invite guest posters, I always try to identify people whose voices haven't been heard, people without their own blogs, potential bloggers of color, and women. It's hard to get some of those people to say yes--as evidenced by the lack of their appearance here despite my invitation--with the usual reason being that they don't have time.

The final panel was a lot of fun, as I knew it would be, as was the hanging out at Caffrey's afterwards. There are pictures around on flickr and elsewhere (click that top link to find some), and, eventually, Marquette will host the webcast. There was apparently also a Fox6 news story, which you can find linked on everyone else's blogs, too.

This begins the busiest part of the work year for me, so I'm really, really going to be slowing down, I swear. I'm hoping those guest bloggers can pick up the slack.

In the meantime, don't forget to come out to the Coffee House this Saturday for my songwriters group's annual new song show. It will be a good time, I assure you.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blog Summit: Opening Remarks, as prepared

by folkbum

I have no idea if I will even say any of this [UPDATE: As it happens, I did not read this], and I'm hoping to be able to riff a little off of what others say before we get to my panel. But here's what I'm thinking about in terms of "The Future of Blogging in Wisconsin":
Anyone who has watched my track record for predictions, particularly in elections, knows that I am perhaps the least qualified person to speak on the future of anything.

But I suppose I do know a little about blogging, having seen it evolve over the last four years, and I see many potentially wonderful opportunities, but, more than that, I have a number of strong concerns.

On the plus side, I see increased reliance on blogs for both the media and the public. As older media keep trying to find ways to stay—well, relevant isn’t the right word, but something like it, whatever the opposite of obsolete is—they will rely more and more on involving the public in journalism of all sorts. You see it in the way, for example, more and more news organizations are relying on cell-phone video. The same is happening with blogging as content: JournalCorp’s “MyCommunity NOW” depends on citizen bloggers, OnMilwaukee’s got citizen bloggers, the Madison papers host citizen blogs—it’s no longer an unusual thing to find citizen voices populating corporate news entities.

And as the media increasingly promote bloggers, both through their own addition of bloggers and through their reporting on “what the blogs did today,” the public will continue to find more and more citizen bloggers and return day after day for independent content.

I also see a greater reliance on cooperation among political blogs, particularly on the liberal side, where group blogs and other avenues for collaboration and distributed responsibility have led to tremendous results, particularly on the national level. Perhaps because they have seen the results that a sustained, distributed campaign cn generate, politicians, too, are coming to rely on blogs both as springboards for new ideas and new opportunities to share their message with the people.

But, as every coin has two sides, all of these things hold dangers: The appropriation of bloggers by the media—as well as the intrusion into the blogosphere by traditional media figures—risks completely changing, if not outright destroying, the unique and vibrant culture that existed back when we were all amateurs. When the top political bloggers in the state are also paid—not just given space—by traditional media, there is a real possibility that the popularity and influence of the total amateur will again sink back to nothing, and those of us who started blogging because we didn’t hear voices like ours in the media will be back to square one.

And don’t even get me started on other kinds of “professionals” poking their way into the blogs!

But the risk of that kind of thing happening, I think, is kind of small. I’m much more concerned about a couple of other things, things that I already see happening, things that can basically be traced to what you might call groupthink—an all-to-easy-to-achieve result among blogs and bloggers. I’ll give two examples:

Almost immediately after the Virginia Tech shootings last week, speculation rocketed across the blogs about the ethic or religious identity of the shooter. There was—and, oddly, remains—speculation that he was Muslim, because, well, aren’t all terrorists Muslim (and, indeed, among some bloggers, there’s a belief that all Muslims are terrorists. One Wisconsin blogger this week, after it became clear the shooter was not Muslim, said, well, he’s just like a jihadist, anyway. That post was linked approvingly by others.

A second example: Last fall, the Republican party of Wisconsin leaked a Democratic campaign strategy memo, along with the lie that it had been found in a copier, to Wisconsin bloggers. They did this because they knew that the bloggers would produce exactly the response they were looking for and, though the contents of the memo itself were a non-story to anyone who knows how campaigns work, the resulting furor among the bloggers was a story. The party used—used—the bloggers to create a media event.

As citizen bloggers, I think this is where the danger lies: It becomes too easy to isolate ourselves from opposing viewpoints; to propagate lies, slanders, and hatreds; and to be duped into parroting a party line by those willing to exploit us.

A blog is a tool, and a pretty blunt one at that. Blogs don’t vote. Blogs don’t change all that many people’s minds. Someday, that might change, and that would be a good thing. But before that, we citizen bloggers need to be alert for the kinds of problems that will stifle our ability to grow into a positive force for good before we even get the chance.

And here are my questions for you:
  • What do you see as the future of blogging?
  • Does the entry of traditional media (or politicians, or X other entity) into the realm of blogging change the landscape significantly?
  • How can--or should--blogging be used in future campaigns, in legislative discussions, or in politics more generally?
  • How has your own blogging changed since you started, and where do you see it going?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mission Accomplished

Memories, eh?

Vote Fraud: Punk'd

by folkbum

I've been sitting on a couple of draft posts, with a couple of still-in-my-head posts, and I got to thinking: There's a trend, here, and it's a whole lot of people who should know better getting totally punk'd. (And, no, I have never actually seen an episode of that show. But I know its premise, and, believe me, this seems to fit. Except for the part where the host reveals the prank. Apparently that job is now mine, and not everybody is going to have a good laugh at the end.)

The Bush Administration has been punking its supporters all along, and they are now so well trained that they will swallow anything. And I'm starting to feel a little embarrassed for a number of my friends on the right side of the Cheddarsphere who reflexively regurgitate whatever they've been told: They're getting lied to, set up, and used as tools by the Republican party.

Now, let me be clear: I am not a fan of conspiracy theories--just ask all the nutballs who emailed me after I explained how Kevin Barrett is an idiot. But if the documentary evidence is there, and if too many things come together to be called coincidence and instead look like a trend, well, that's when I start to wonder. The title of this post refers to vote fraud, and the pieces of that puzzle--that there's a great big punking going on--are starting to fall into place. But first, context.

The Bush Administration has been duping its supporters from the very beginning. You can go back, for example, to the "Brooks Brothers Riot" of November, 2000: How many Bush supporters fell for that one, the notion that the people of Florida were overwhelmingly demanding a halt to the recount when, in reality, it was a truckload of DC-based aides trying to create that impression? I don't know, but that should have been our first warning sign.

Bush supporters got punk'd again over Iraq's WMDs: From UN inspectors being driven out--empty-handed--in advance of the shock and awe to the outrageous claims about Africa (which Condi will now have to answer for) to the subsequent smear campaign againts Joe Wilson (and the untruths that still percolate through conservatives), the administration has kept its supporters believing the WMD story. (Bush himself regularly repeated--once while standing next to a bewildered Kofi Annan--that Saddam never did let the inspectors in.) All of this makes it so easy for Bush supporters to swallow, without question, garbage like this (which started, natch, with Patrick McIlheran, and which was dealt with here by krshorewood over the weekend). My point is not that the racist and utterly non-credible Dave Gaubatz is part of the Administration's punkery--my guess is that they've given up on that issue--but rather that the punkery has left otherwise smart people so willing to believe the party line that it doesn't matter who says it anymore.

This week featured hearings on the Hill covering the way we were lied to about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. Bert touched on this the other day, and how the GOP should be ashamed of itself for buying the BS. Reading the coverage, the coverage and analysis this week (here's a good example), on part of the story struck me more than any other: After the lie had been spread far and wide about Tillman's Sliver Star-worthy death, the conservatives were glad to have him as a symbol: A pro-football player willing to forgo his contract to serve, all for the love of freedom, God, and country. What better PR for the war than that? But the truth came out, of course, that not only did Pat Tillman hate the war in Iraq, thinking, in fact, it was illegal, but he was an atheist, too. And as reality clashed with ideology--with the punking Bush supporters received at the hands of their administration--Bush supporters simply denied the reality.

And the Virginia Tech shootings--it's hard even to wrap my head around how quickly it was assumed that the shooter was Muslim. And since it has become clear he was not--even comparing himself to Jesus in his videos--the right Cheddarsphere just can't square themselves with reality and decides to just believe Cho was a jihadist anyway. How much demonization of Islam had to happen for that particular punking to take? How long have we been told, even out of the president's own mouth, about how evil Islam is?

All of this is prologue, and I'm sorry it's long, but consider what I didn't write about; at some point, the litany becomes too long for even my rambly self. The point here is how long and hard the Bush administration--the Republican Party, more broadly--has worked at turning its supporters into willing tools and stooges (we've even seen it locally).

And it is now also becoming very clear that "vote fraud" and the call for photo ID as a voting requirement, both here in Wisconsin and nationally, is just as organized, just as insidious, and just as phony as all the rest. Every blogger, every pundit, every politician who has demanded photo ID in order to fight the nebulous threat of "fraud" has, quite simply and unmistakably, been punk'd. Just flat punk'd.

I was already working on this theory when something Greg Palast wrote this week set off all kinds of sirens in my head:
That was two years back, while I was investigating strange doings in New Mexico and Arizona, where, simultaneously, state legislators, Republicans all, claimed they had evidence of “voter fraud.” Psychiatrists call this kind of mutual delusional behavior folie a deux. I suspected something else: I smelled Karl Rove.

In the New Mexico legislature, a suburban Albuquerque political hackette, Justine Fox-Young (her real name), claimed to have “several” specific cases of vote identity rustling. Like Joe McCarthy waving his list of “Communists,” she waived documents of “evidence” of illegal voting on the floor of the Legislature
I wonder if you got the same thing, that you heard this before, but this is what I thought of:
At a Milwaukee news conference, party leaders--including the sponsors of the photo ID bill--said the findings of duplicate voters here and in other cities add a new urgency to reforms. They also called on investigators, who already have charged nine people with voter fraud in the city, to expand the review to include the new scenario. [. . .] At the news conference outside a house in the 1600 block of N. Astor St., state GOP chairman Rick Graber was joined by state Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), sponsors of the photo ID bill.
A couple of other incidents just like that here in Wisconsin also came to mind and I wondered if it were possible that this was more widespread than just here and New Mexico. And, what do you know, a googling turned up very similar press conferences or statements by Republicans in New Jersey, Washington State, and Iowa, and I bet some enterprising soul with Lexis-Nexis could come up with something like that from every swing state (and probably others) in 2004 and 2005.

These allegations--here in Wisconsin, in Missouri, and elsewhere--have been used to bolster the case for requiring photo ID from voters, and idea that last week passed the Wisconsin state assembly, with some Democrats' help. There will be a lot of pressure on the Democratic-controlled senate to do the same, a move that would pass the amendment on to voters for approval. But Dems need to stand strong.

Of course, the photo-ID requirement won't stop whatever fraud Republicans think they see (just read through that story about Missouri). Take, for example, the recent report that 82 felons may have voted in the November 2006 elections. Every one of those felons provided their real names, so how would an ID requirement have stopped them? And let's not forget those "fraud" cases from 2004. As I noted then, all of the suspected cases initially hyped by Republicans and prosecutors (200 felons, 100 double-voters) came from same-day registrants. What do you have to do to register to vote in Wisconsin? That's right--show proof of identity! If there were hijinks, ID was already involved somehow. Requiring more wouldn't have necessarily stopped any of it.

(Some highlights from those "double-voters" include people like Cynthia Alicea , who filled out two cards at the request of poll workers and then was accused of voting twice. Or the guy who admitted to voting twice but who used his social security card to register the second time--which never should have been allowed, since social security cards are not on the list of valid ID. A photo ID amendment wouldn't stop cases like that.)

Nationally, remember the report I linked last week that identifies three kinds of voter fraud as being pervasive: asbentee ballot fraud, vote buying, and phony registrations by paid-per-signature registrars. None of these are stoppable with photo ID, and polling-place fraud, which might be, is almost non-existent, according to the report. In fact, the only person objecting to the report--besides the Bush Administration cronies who edited the report to make it sound like fraud was more common--was Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights.

ACVR ends up being a key player in this drama, a drama that some very smart people on the interwebs have been piecing together before me, people like Greg Palast and digby. But I want to start with the McClatchy newspapers:
For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President Bush's popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a midterm battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

Facing nationwide voter registration drives by Democratic-leaning groups, the administration alleged widespread election fraud and endorsed proposals for tougher state and federal voter identification laws. Presidential political adviser Karl Rove alluded to the strategy in April 2006 when he railed about voter fraud in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association [more here].

Questions about the administration's campaign against alleged voter fraud have helped fuel the political tempest over the firings last year of eight U.S. attorneys, several of whom were ousted in part because they failed to bring voter fraud cases important to Republican politicians. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could shed more light on the reasons for those firings when he appears Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Civil rights advocates charge that the administration's policies were intended to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats, and by filing state and federal lawsuits, civil rights groups have won court rulings blocking some of its actions.
The story goes on from there to detail how the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, specifically its Voting Rights Section, became so filled with deeply partisan appointees that you can no longer trust that they intend to protect everyone's rights. Digby identifies one of the Voting Rights Section lawyers as a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association that Rove spoke to, and notes that there are dozens of others like that guy--disturbing.

The McClatchy article also details what they call a "secret unit" in the Voting Rights Section, which includes a guy named Hans von Spakovsky, whom digby reminds us was a part of Bush's Florida 2000 legal team, bringing us right back around to the "Brooks Brothers Riot" that started us off. Digby connects the dots even further back than that, to groups whose sole purpose was to stifle minority--read: Democratic--turnout. No wonder he got tapped by Bush for Florida's legal mess, and no wonder he now works almost in secret at Justice doing what he used to do, only now paid by your tax dollars.

Finally, I turn to digby once more to point out why this story is only going to get worse for Republicans: As more and more documents come out in the US Attorney probe, we will see more and more of these connections to the Bush Administration and the Republican Party.

We know that one of the early reasons given for why the US Attorneys were fired is that they didn't prosecute this non-existent vote fraud: John McKay in Washington State and David Iglesias in New Mexico went on record that they didn't find anything they could prosecute, and now they're out of a job. Our very own Steve Biskupic said he didn't see any wide-spread fraud and wound up on the list at the urging of state Republicans. (Biskupic did get some convictions though, and a few of them even withstood appeals, though not this one.)

It seems only likely that the trail of this vote fraud fraud is going to lead right back to the White House. Maybe we'll never get copies of the memos that spurred near-identical press conferences and charges by elected Republicans and party officials in state after state. Maybe we'll never have the kind of evidence of a conspiracy like we have from 40 years ago (The names are different but it sure sounds like it could have been written for 2004, not 1964.) But there will be more dots to connect than the ones I have here, I am certain.

In the end, though, the dots are pretty strong in what they suggest once you draw the lines: Voter fraud just doesn't happen they way Republicans say it does, no matter how loudly they say it. But because they say it, it gets parroted back by people who ought to know better, who should be smarter than to fall for another punking at the hands of the party that they pathetically try to defend.

So around and around we go: The Republicans lie (it seems to be their ethic, the bloggers and pundits fall for it, bad legislation gets passed and the corrupt Republicans at the stop secure their power just a little more tightly. But for those of us who are watching you guys get punk'd, it's not really funny.

We just feel sorry for you.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's So Bad About Media Matters?

by folkbum

Everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Bill O'Reilly to our own local cranks has been complaining about Media Matters for America, a left-wing media watchdog outfit. In a typical rant, the conservatives will claim that MMfA takes words out of context and then demands that conservative opinion and conservative voices be silenced, threatening First Amendment rights all over the place. (And there's some malarky about how a shadow conspiracy of Jews is funding the thing, but that's so silly I doubt any real people believe that.)

As someone who's been reading MMfA since it debuted, I can tell you that that's insane. I would like to point you to one recent example of MMfA's work, an expose of John Gibson calling the Iraqi people "knuckle-dragging savages from the 10th century." Go read it, study the page, then come back so we can talk about it.

Done? Good. Now, what did you see? You probably saw a big scary headline, sure, with the startling words of Gibson lit up like frat boy on a Saturday night. And if you stopped at the headline, you might be convinced that, perhaps, Media Matters was doctoring something or trying to make an innocent Gibson look bad. But you probably also saw a whole lot of other things on the page, including at the bottom the complete and unedited transcript of Gibson's show, so you could judge for yourself what Gibson may have intended in context. You probably also saw the link in the upper right that told you that if you wanted, you could listen to the audio recording of Gibson's show, again so that you yourself could get the proper context and make your own judgments.

What did you not see? Well, you didn't see anywhere a link to sign a petition demanding his ouster, or any information about starting a boycott, or Gibson's home phone number, or any other thing. If Media Matters is trying to silence John Gibson's conservative opinions here, they're doing a really crappy job at it. There is a link to MMfA's "Action Center," which, were you to visit, provides hints on the following: "What you can do," "Communicating with journalists," "How to write a great letter to the editor," "How to call in to a talk radio show," and "Get a Media Matters for America news box for your website or blog."

That's it. Nothing in there about silencing anyone or any campaigns to cut anyone's microphone. So I have no idea why the conservatives are so afraid--or so angry--about MMfA, and if anyone would like to explain it, using actual facts and reason if at all possible, I'd like to hear it. My only hypothesis (admittedly, untested) is that conservatives are so scared of letting the outside world see the actual words and hear the actual speech of these media figures that they want desperately to shut down or discredit MMfA.

Although it really seems to me like it would be much easier just to stop saying offensive or innaccurate things that, later, you're embarrassed by. Much easier.

Ziegler: "Don't Look at Me! I'm Hideous!"

by folkbum

I was never convinced that the state ethics board had a very great case against ethically challenged Annette Ziegler: The range of breaches they are charged with punishing is too narrow to cover the specific difficulty following the rules that Ziegler suffered from.

But don't you think it's just slightly bad form for Ziegler leverage her new position to get the ethics board off her back?
Incoming state Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler asked her soon-to-be colleagues today to rule that the state Ethics Board has no jurisdiction to levy sanctions against her for violating the state ethics code. [. . .] Ziegler's request draws the other justices even further into the issue, amplifying what was already an awkward situation.
I mean, how hard is it to mount a vigorous defense of yourself and, if necessary, appeal? I'm not entirely certain what she thinks she'll be hiding from, given that the board with the strong case--the Wisconsin Judicial Commission--is on the trail. I've written before how Ziegler quite clearly (and she herself has never denied it, though campaign manager Mark Graul was out there spinning and lying about what she did and did not do in her courtroom) violated both the spirit and the letter of the state's code of judicial conduct, including precedent set by this same Judicial Commission. She has everything to fear from that investigation, and I am hopeful that she will finally own up to her poor ethics.

In other, related news, the state senate is on the verge of proving the old adage that if there's a rule in place, no matter how obvious or stupid it may seem, it's because someone did what the rule prevents. I'm not saying this rule is stupid; rather, it seems so self-apparent Ziegler ought to apologize to the state for making it necessary:
A week after regulators put state Supreme Court Justice-elect Annette Ziegler under scrutiny for not revealing alleged conflicts of interest, Democrats who control the state Senate announced they are pushing a bill requiring court clerks to advise people involved in civil suits of what judges must disclose.

Under the bill--which has not yet been introduced--circuit court clerks would have to give plaintiffs and defendants written notice that the presiding judge must tell them of potential conflicts of interest and withdraw from the case, unless the parties agree to let the judge stay on. The clerks would also have to tell them they could request the judge's statement of economic interest, Sen. Pat Kreitkow (D-Chippewa Falls) said at a press conference this morning.
Someone asked me at Drinking Liberally the other night how it could be possible that Annette Ziegler won her election with such a wide margin when, for those of us paying attention, there is such a clear pile of evidence of her ethical wantonness. And the answer, as I will remind you all Saturday at the Blog Summit (you've registered, right?), is that blogs don't vote.

Additionally, the people who voted for her have been trained over the last couple of decades to believe that they are in a culture war, and the courts are the front lines. For them, it was more important to get a judge like Ziegler elected to the court, even if they have to settle for Ziegler herself.

Still, I hope that when future judges get caught violating the law about informing parties before them about conflicts, we run them out of town for violating "Annette's Law." That seems a fitting legacy.

Half Cocked

by krshorewood

The notion that somehow if more guns would be available rampages such as the one last week at Virginia Tech would have been cut short Rambo style by a "law-abidin'" citizen packing heat. That's one of the pleasing myths peddled by gun nuts and the Republicans that love them.

First off, I am glad that this debate has still got some steam despite the ease with which we move on from events. It was a little irritating to hear people, mostly gun supporters, to puleeze, puleeze not politicize this incident out of respect for the dead. No, this was out respect for what many of them amounts to either their pleasure or paranoia, and they were hoping a week out people would lose their intensity on the incident.

An example of some of the thoughts still being generated this week is today's Bob Herbert column in the New York Times.

The notion of more guns means less violent is just bat crap crazy. Increasing something that is harmful in the first place only really works for things such as preventing small pox, not so smart when it comes to human behavior.

What propels the gun lust crowd is that mental picture of the "bad guy" they like to invoke. Just that term alone seems to lock someone into the skull of a six year old boy. But as one Virginia Tech student put it so well on a blog, it's not the person in the back alley you have to fear but the student sitting next to you in class who snaps.

The gun lovers like to point to those rare occurances when a gun is actually used for self defense. But at what cost?

In Herbert's column he cites a conversation with Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. She says:
that since the murders of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, well over a million Americans have been killed by firearms in the United States. That’s more than the combined U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in all of American history.

That's certainly many times more than the number of people who have defended themselves with firearms.

Herbert concludes his column talking about who really pays the price for our outlandish gun owndership:
Those who are interested in the safety and well-being of children should keep in mind that only motor vehicle accidents and cancer kill more children in the U.S. than firearms. A study released a few years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health compared firearm mortality rates among youngsters 5 to 14 years old in the five states with the highest rates of gun ownership with those in the five states with the lowest rates.

The results were chilling. Children in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership were 16 times as likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound, nearly seven times as likely to commit suicide with a gun, and more than three times as likely to be murdered with a firearm.

Only a lunatic could seriously believe that more guns in more homes is good for America’s children.

If someone believes they are playing the big hero in defending their family by having a gun in their house the figures don't bear them out. Worse, the one-issue minds of many gun owners compel them to support the Republican Party -- like the NRA tells them to do -- and vote against not only their own interest but the future of their family.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's Missing?

by folkbum

In the post below, bert deftly reminds us that for someone like Charlie Sykes, never having to lie means lying pretty regularly (my favorite Charlie Sykes lie).

The post on Sykes's blog just below the one bert caught was a reference to Charlie's answer to the question, "Isn't conservatism dead yet?" (paraphrasing), a question asked of a whole mess of Wisconsin righties. Sykes's answer to that question repeats a lot of the same crap about the 2006 election that was immediately debunked last November, trying to explain away Republicans' losses. He blames the loss of Congress, for example, on pork-barrel spending, and not, you know, the Iraq war and corruption. What was it we were saying about Sykes's honesty?

But what I really want to talk about is Congressman Paul Ryan's answer to the same question. The Janesville Republican offers this paragraph:
Excessive federal spending, particularly on wasteful earmarks such as a “Bridge to Nowhere,” flew in the face of conservatives’ goal of fiscal restraint. Likewise, cases of corruption, where certain members of Congress broke the law and abused their positions for financial gain, are far removed from the conservative ideal of the citizen legislator who serves ethically and upholds the trust of constituents.
Ryan goes on to do the same thing Sykes does, blaming the House turnover not on Iraq and corruption but on a lack of true conservative principles. But what's missing from Ryan's paragraph here? When he talks about earmarks and courrupt members of Congress, what word to describe those Congressmen is missing?

If you said Republican, go to the head of the class. Now, sure, Ryan takes the time to remind us the Republican does not always mean conservative. But why, Paul, can't you be honest about who wants theses bridges to nowehere, and who is up to their armpits in scandal? (By the way, the number of Republicans implicated in scandal just keeps growing!)

In theory there may be a distinction to be drawn between Republican and conservative, but in practice, the Republicans are the conservative party in America. (And Ryan's dodge about Democrats winning by running conservative candidates is also just another lie.) Charlie Sykes identifes the Republican Reagan administration--which produced no scandals at all, right? which was not a haven for profligate pork spending?--and the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994--led by a belligerant hypocrite, which led in only a dozen years to the likes of Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley--as the high-water marks for conservatives. You can't talk about conservativism in this country without talking about Republicans.

And while conservatism may not quite be dead yet, there is little sense in trying to pretend that we don't know what has left it in the ICU: The Republicans who are the public face of conservatism, who espouse it and promise to follow it, and who get blindly supported by the media lapdogs like Charlie Sykes who are perfectly willing to make up excuses for them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bad Day for Charlie Sykes

by bert

As I am inflicting the blog by Charlie Sykes on myself with one browser window open, I am also checking the Atrios blog that is mentioning a hearing in Congress today.

From Charlie, with an introduction that reads "unlike liberals, we don't have to lie," I get the deep thoughts delivered in a breezy tone by an insignificant writer of thrillers named Andrew Klaven:

The thing I like best about being a conservative is that I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to pretend that men and women are the same. I don’t have to declare that failed or oppressive cultures are as good as mine. I don’t have to say that everyone’s special or that the rich cause poverty or that all religions are a path to God. . . I don’t have to pretend that Islam means peace.

OK, whatever. But it turns out Charlie's timing was off today.

That's because when I am switching back to the House hearing chaired by Henry Waxman, I see the brother of Pat Tillman testifying. The brother is named Kevin and was, like Pat, an Army ranger fighting in Afghanistan. Here's the sort of thing that Kevin was saying:

Government officials told "deliberate and calculated lies'' to conceal that Army Ranger Pat Tillman, a former professional football player, was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire, not during a heroic battle against U.S. enemies, his brother told lawmakers today.

Jessica Lynch also testified, saying she was angry that the military also lied to the press about her supposed Rambo-style heroics before she was taken prisoner by her Iraqi attackers.

So, to go back to Sykes, I don't know of any time when this phony "point" about conservatives and truth-telling would not be a hilarious absurdity. We remember Ronald Reagan smugly telling his country that "we don't negotiate with terrorists," for example.

But today was for sure not the right moment.

BlogFest 07

by folkbum

We're just days away from the WisPolitics Blog Summit 2007, and you haven't registered to attend yet. Why is that?

It's certainly not because the event is too expensive, since admission is absolutely free. And it's also probably not because it will be boring, since the schedule is jam-packed with interesting match-ups and characters.

And I know it's not because you won't know anybody there, because I'll be there, and even if no one else will talk to you, I will. I'll even invite you to the after-party at Caffrey's down the street from the event (not sponsored by WisPolitics).

So go register already!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Calling All Cooks

by bert

Out of all the Fourth-of-July recipes on the White House website, Tommy's bratwurst one seems to be getting the most attention.

The mocking tone of these liberal bloggers proves they hate America.

I'll Take These Are a Few of My Simple Minded Things for $200 Alex

by krshorewood

Simple-minded belief is such a wonderful thing to watch, especially in the case of the dead-enders such as the Journal's own Patrick McIlheran. On his blog we get the breathless recounting of how the Loch Ness Monster of the right -- WMD's -- had been there all along based on a recounting by some "expert" by the name of David Gaubatz.

The question of course is why are we are hearing about this now, and if this is so earth shattering why this "too hot for TV" topic not showing up in tomorrow's column. I mean, this should put the matter to rest once and for all the criticisms over the grinding up of thousands of our soldiers; hundreds of thousands of the Iraqis and hundreds of billions of our dollars to create this meatloaf of a military disaster.

Even with Paddy-Mac's assignment to say something apt on Earth Day (trust he won't), you'd think this would be big time news.

But he won't. Perhaps it would be in fear of a pumped up laff track.

Once again, the WMD argument defies logic. First there is the little embarrassment about the post invasion chaos. Remember jubilant Iraqi's running off with everything from office chairs to Iraqi antiquities while our troops stood by? Remember the reports of the raids on the ammo dumps?

If there were WMD's and they made it Syria as some purport, wouldn't that again make us look like dips because just like the 3000-year-old statues, the weapons went bye bye.

So you come down to either Bush lied or there is that competence thing rearing its ugly head.

But the Bush incompetents might be off the hook on this one because logically there were no weapons in the first place.

In whipping up Americans to approve this numbskull adventure one of the arguments was look at the evil dictator who bombed his own people.

Never mind the fact that those acts, though despicable, happened 12 years prior to the proposed invasion. We had Saddam bottled up so at the time of the invasion. Saddam was really a bombing threat to no one, not even to the Kurds but Cheney et al where not playing cautious and every trumped up charge had to be thrown into the pot.

But if Saddam was so ruthless, what are WMD's for if you don't use them on invaders like us? What sense would it make to send to Syria the very think you had in place to defend yourself? Air miles? Free downloads?

I would even bet that knowing what he knew Hussein even back during the early days of the invasion could picture in his mind’s eye the noose dangling and was hopping his Bathist army could ward off our troops.

But the truth was when it came to WMD’s, he didn't have them.

So you may ask, why did he keep talking like he did have them?

That's too easy. What strong man ever acts like he is not a strong man.

Maybe that hot book and Oprah’s fave The Secret has been on Paddy's reading list. Maybe that explains why he must feel that if he believes hard enough, there were WMD's in Iraq.

UPDATE -- These rightwing WMD stories have the life span of fruit flies. The death certificate for this one is delivered over at Salon.com.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Mini-McIlheran Watch: His Readers Ain't As Stupid As He Must Think

by bert

I haven't seen any of my able comrades give Pat McIlheran his always deserved upbraiding this week. They still will, hopefully. Let me just point out one thing within the target-rich environment of his column. He said this, while attacking any proposals for legal changes after the Virginia Tech massacre:
Other notions range from the marginal, such as legislating smaller ammo clips (so Cho would have put more in his vest), to the counterproductive, such as banning guns, which Britain's slowly done since 1920. Its disarmed citizens now suffer a higher violent crime rate than we do. The use of guns in crime soared 40% in the years right after its final ban. Even its customarily low homicide rate has risen as ours fell.

Notice how he slips in there at the end a comparison of homicide rate changes? Britain's homicide rate may be trending upward while in the U.S. it is going down. But let's be clear here. The recent rates in Britain are still around 14 people murdered per million of population (in 1997, according to a Parliament website) while in the U.S. it is down from about 100 in the early 1990s to now 60 per million (in 2002, according to the Dept. of Justice). That means there is still a lot more murder in the country that has not banned guns.

I'm not saying my stats prove anything in the gun control debate. But McIlheran's numbers don't say what he wants us to think they say. This fits a pattern: I am often spurred to respond to gun-lobby operatives mainly because they are as smug as they are specious. I've written before about the dishonesty of their drive to keep all information about concealed carry permit holders secret. Once again, finding holes in their arguments is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Milwaukee Public Schools: Working Together, Achieving More

by folkbum

You may not remember, but a few months back I asked for everyone's participation in a virtual town hall sort of meeting, laying out some of the reasons why developing a long-term strategic plan for the Milwaukee Public Schools is important and asking you all to participate in the web-based feedback process.

Well, the elves have finished their work and now the first draft version of the MPS strategic plan is done. You can download it as a .pdf from this page, in English or Spanish, as well as the complete and entire report of feedback from that earlier comment process.

I haven't read the document yet--I think it just became available yesterday--so I can't comment yet on what's in there. But there is, as could be expected, a formal feedback process in place for everyone who wants to learn about the draft plan and give some input about it.

The best way to provide that feedback is to attend one of several public listening sessions MPS has scheduled:
  • Monday, April 30, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., Pulaski High School, 2500 W. Oklahoma Avenue
  • Tuesday, May 1, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., Burroughs Middle School, 6700 N. 80th Street
  • Wednesday, May 2, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., Riverside High School, 1615 E. Locust Street
  • Thursday, May 3, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., MPS Central Services, 5225 W. Vliet Street
I know I have a number of readers who are MPS employees; there is a separate session for MPS employees on Monday, April 23, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., at MPS Central Services, 5225 W. Vliet St. In addition, MTEA members (teachers, aides, and the like) can attend one on Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the MTEA Building, 5130 W. Vliet St.

UPDATE: If you can't make it to a session, you can give feedback on-line here.

This is a pretty big deal, and I stressed last fall how important extensive participation in the process is; if you can at all attend one of these sessions or otherwise provide feedback on the draft plan, please, please do so.

Quick Scheduling Notes

by folkbum

You get two excellent chances to see and hang out with your humble folkbum over the next couple of weeks. First, the WisPolitics.com Blog Summit 2007 is on for Saturday, April 28, starting at 10 AM at the Marquette University Law School. It's absolutely free, but you have to register in advance, so click the link and sign up.

My understanding is that there will also be a bloggerific after-party at a pub nearby once the thing ends, but I'm not sure where, exactly. If Scott Feldstein is reading this, he should be able to tell you in the comments. Update: We're going to Caffrey's, at 16th and Wisconsin.

Also, the very next Saturday, May 5, in a location just down the street from the Marquette University Law School, the Portage Road Songwriters Guild will hold its annual new song concert at The Coffee House. The show's at 8 PM and, though $4 is not quite as cheap as the Blog Summit, you gotta admit that it's hard to get a full night's entertainment for much less anywhere else.

There's also a Drinking Liberally next Wednesday, but I don't know if I'm going yet.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Republicans kill another imaginary beast

by folkbum

Yesterday I noted that Republicans, specifically the ones in Wisconsin's legislature or on Wisconsin's talk radio, were all gung-ho for fighting an imaginary threat: vote fraud. In the process, they would disenfranchise tens of thousands of prefectly legal voters--but at least they'd have killed that windmill they tilted at.

When the Supreme Court upheld the ban on the inaccurately named "partial birth abortions," Republicans scored another victory against imaginary creatures, a victory that will hold real consequences for real women.

Who'd they beat? That imaginary woman, 17 or 18 weeks pregnant, who waddles past the Planned Parenthood. "D'oh!" she says, slapping her forhead. "I knew I was forgetting something!" That's pure fiction. The abortions banned by this bill and this ruling are done in hospitals, by OBs trying to save the lives or reproductive futures of their patients.

In the meantime, real women for whom the procedure banned yesterday--and the procedures sure to be banned in coming weeks and months by eager Republicans in statehouses all across the country--is the safest, they will be hurt, some even killed. Real women like this one will suffer; real families like this one will be ripped apart again.

I was halfway through writing this post in my head when digby reminded me Barbara O'Brien covered this fantasy world last year:
the anti-abortion rights position is based on an assumption that women aren’t real people — especially women who get abortions. Oh, they’re human in a scientific sense, but they aren’t people. They are archetypes who live in the heads of the anti-abortion righters — Careless Woman, Selfish Woman, Woman in a Vacuum. The same people who imagine embryos can think and feel emotions — and therefore deserve protection — must believe a pregnant woman is just a major appliance.
Something even more depressing than the pro-lifers' fantasy women is the fact that the majority of the US Supreme Court in this case also seems to live in a fantasy world. Justice Ginsberg, in a rare spoken dissent, said,
Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from '[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.' Because of women's fragile emotional state and because of the bond of love the mother has for her child,' the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution ideas that have long since been discredited.
Or, as it's been paraphrased, the Court thinks women can't be trusted.

So how do you stop a court, or a legislature, or a whole party that would rather dream up villains to vanquish than address the real world we live in? I mean, the state Republicans' health care proposals released yesterday are all about fighting an imaginary critter, too--the Wasteful Patient Who Buys Too Much Health Care. That's the point of these high-deductable plans, you know, to target all of you spendthrifts who just get too darn much health care. That describe anyone you know? Hands? No?

I don't know what the answer is. It's too much like arguing with a wall--or trying to take your fish for walksies. You just get frustrated and the fish still pees in his bowl. But when these fish control the national dialogue--either because they've been elected, or they're in the media, or whatever--what do you do? How do you deal with it? Because those of us in the reality-based community just can't take much more of this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vote Fraud: The Freddy Krueger of our Republican friends

by folkbum

You remember Freddy Krueger--stripey shirt, slicey fingers, only shows up in dreams? But sca-reeee, yessir. Scare you to death.

Our Republican friends have their own Freddy Krueger going on, and it's vote fraud. They are absolutely conviced that it's real, it's rampant--and one of these days it's going to kill them.

Problem is, vote fraud as Republicans see it just doesn't exist, except in their fevered dreams. In fact, Republicans have to doctor science to try to make fraud seem a reality:
A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times. [. . .] The revised version echoes complaints made by Republican politicians, who have long suggested that voter fraud is widespread and justifies the voter identification laws that have been passed in at least two dozen states. [. . .]

Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,” the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.”
The actual draft report (.pdf) is even more telling than the story makes it out to be; it notes the largest real, non-imaginary concerns when it comes to potential voter fraud:
There is virtually universal agreement that absentee ballot frud is the biggest problem, with vote buying and registration fraud coming after that. The vote buying often comes in the form of payment for absentee ballots, though not always. Some absentee ballot fraud is part of an organized effort; some is by individuals, who sometimes are not even aware that what they are doing is illegal. Voter registration fraud seems to take the form of people siging up with false names. Registration fraud seems to be most common where people people doing the registration were paid by the signature. [. . .] Most people believe that false registration forms have not resulted in polling place fraud, although it may create the perception that vote fraud is possible.
The report is even explicit that "voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, noncitizen voting and felons voting" are all rare. The expert who makes these conclusions "not unanimous"--because he insists in the face of evidence to the contrary that fraud is real--is Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights. Torchinsky is a long-time Republican operative, and ACVR, as I've noted before, is little more than a Republican front group that has strong connections to the group that Swiftboated John Kerry in 2004. That Torchinsky would be the only person cited as thinking polling-place fraud was rampant is not a suprise, as that has been the partisan Republican answer ever since the 2000 election alerted people to Republicans' own issues with vote integrity. (It's a particularly common bit of Karl Rove jiujitsu: Attack your enemy on your own weak points.)

I'm not suggesting no fraud happens--and the report is clear that it does, sometimes, and usually with absentee ballots in some form--and I'm not suggesting we shouldn't be concerned about the integrity of our voting process. However, we have to be clear what's real and what isn't: People making up names so that they can get paid more for registering voters? Real. People showing up and pretending to be someone else, especially as part of an organized effort? Very Freddy Kreuger. Which one should be our priority?

Christian Schneider, the former Dennis York (and, therefore, possibly, an expert on pretending to be someone else?), uses a reader email to suggest that anyone who denies wide-spread fraud is "silly." This comes on the heels of a report that in November, 2006, 82 felons may have voted, out of 2.2 million votes cast. Democratic state senator Jon Erpenbach is quoted in the story as saying that the "push for photo ID was a matter of people looking for a problem that doesn't exist." And Erpenbach's got the research, we know now, on his side. But saying it, I guess, is "silly."

The hyperbolic Jessica McBride is far worse:
Seriously, unless the government unearths some massive organized conspiracy by the state Democratic Party or Kerry campaign, voter fraud will never exist to the left. [. . .] What's the standard? What's enough for them?

Remember that more cases couldn't be brought by the feds in Milwaukee because of the disastrous record-keeping. The 82 felons isn't enough for them. The small organized conspiracies aren't enough (see: ACE). Tire slashing: Not enough. The double-voting incidents. Not enough. Smokes for votes. Not enough. What would be enough?

The real question is why we wouldn't do everything in our power to protect the integrity of our electoral system. In Iraq, they dipped their fingers in purple ink. Here, liberals think minorities are too incompetent to figure out how to get photo ids, or something like that. I think that's patronizing and insulting.
There are a couple of things to note about this rant. First is its inexactness: Slashing tires is not voter fraud, for example.

Second is the question of what McBride wants from us Democrats. To admit that fraud happens? When do we deny it? The ACE story was all about absentee ballot fraud--something that everyone admits is real and is the most prevalent form of fraud. And "smokes for votes" is that second-most prevalent kind of fraud, vote-buying. And in those cases, as in the case of the tire-slashers, the perpetrators were caught and punished by our legal system. Yay, system! Way to go!

But that last paragraph makes it clear what she really, really wants, and that's a voter ID bill. The state Assembly just passed the amendment version of that bill again yesterday. But which of McBride's fraud instances would have been stopped by requiring voter ID? Not the tire-slashing, not the vote buying, not the absentee ballot fraud, and not the felons voting, either (don't forget the stories of some felons registering to vote using their Department of Corrections IDs as proof of identity). The double-voting, maybe, but even then--as in the case of this guy Owen talks about--requiring an ID would not have stopped him, just, as Owen admits, made it easier to prosectute the literally one-in-a-million double voters like him.

So if Voter ID won't stop what we know to be the biggest causes of vote fraud--absentee ballot shenanigans, vote buying, and bad registrations--what will it stop? Oh, that's right, minority voters:
The study, prepared by scholars at Rutgers and Ohio State Universities for the federal Election Assistance Commission, supports concerns among voting-rights advocates that blacks and Hispanics could be disproportionately affected by ID requirements. [ . . I]n the states where voters were required to sign their names or present identifying documents like utility bills, blacks were 5.7 percent less likely to vote than in states where voters simply had to say their names. [. . .] Hispanics appeared to be 10 percent less likely to vote under those requirements, while the combined rate for people of all races was 2.7 percent.
A drop of 2.7% overall would have been nearly 60,000 Wisconsin voters last November--60,000 legal, legitimate votes prevented from being cast by a measure intended (though almost certainly not able) to stop 82 felons, or two double-voters, or a couple hundred bought absentee votes. Yes, every illegally cast vote cancels out a legal one. But even if voter ID would stop all the illegal votes--and it might not even stop a single one!--the balance of tens of thousands of stifled legal votes far outweighs the benefits of requiring ID. It would be "silly" not to see that.

But the Republicans, spurred by nightmarish dreams inspired by partisan front-groups like ACVR, continue to insist on the right to disenfranchise thousands of people across the state all in an attempt to kill their Freddy Kreuger. But there's an easier way to get rid of Freddy.

Just wake up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Whallah!




On a completely different, and much lighter note, Tim Rock is selling some snazzy t-shirts. Across the front, a bright blue Whallah! for the ages. And on the back, this image.

All the cool bloggers will be wearing them! Maybe even Eugene Kane! So you'd better get your order in fast!

Update: I realize many of you may not get the joke. Well, voilà.

The If Onlies

Whenever an event like the one in Blacksburg happens, it just makes me feel ill even thinking about it. I work in a school and just can't imagine the horror in a scene like that.

But these kinds of events also leave us with some bad cases of what you might call the If Onlies. If only this, if only that. And when the event involves a gun, you can bet the most prevalent If Onlies will center around the guns: if only we could magically make the guns disappear, if only everyone in that building had been carrying, if only.

Such If Onlies inevitably lead us away from what's important to remember about these events: They are rare, they are random, and they are as unpredictable as they are impossible to stop. Any attempts to fix public policy around them would be as imbicilic as basing your family budget on expected lottery winnings. This was one nut, one disturbed person, one freak who cracked or snapped. Instead of remembering that and mourning the carnage, instead we snipe and try to score cheap points.

Of course, the If Onlies I come up with have nothing to do with guns: If only someone had identified this nut as someone who needed help sooner, if only he'd sought counseling instead of revenge, if only.

None of those make any of the events of yesterday any different, either. But, speaking only as someone who works in a school and who never wants to have to face the horror of a scene like that, let me remind you all: Be the person who asks if someone needs help before they go off on a rampage. Seek help for yourself or others, positive outlets for stress, effective techniques for easing rage.

And keep your thoughts with the families in Virginia, not on the politics.

(Also, Barbara O'Brien, at the end of the post, tells us that this is not, as some are calling it, the worst shooting rampage in US history.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wherein I go from abstinence-only to hatin' on the suburbs

by folkbum

As someone who works daily with adolescents--particularly the urban adolescents whose behavior has made Milwaukee the second-ranking city for teen pregnancy nation-wide--I could have told you what the expensive researchers have now conculded:
Students who participated in a Milwaukee after-school abstinence program were just as likely to have sex a few years later as those who did not take part in the program, according to a national study.

They also used condoms at similar rates and had a similar number of sexual partners, the study found. Mathematica Policy Research Inc. conducted the research, which Congress mandated to evaluate the effectiveness of the $176 million the federal government spends each year on abstinence-until-marriage education. The study was released this month.

From fall 1999 to fall 2001, 326 middle-school-age boys and girls participated in the Families United to Prevent Teen Pregnancy program administered by Rosalie Manor Community & Family Services in Milwaukee. The year-round program met between two and four times a week, Al Castro, the organization's executive director, said Friday.

When that group was surveyed in late 2005 and early 2006, 60% of those who had participated in the program had remained abstinent, compared with 62% of youths who hadn't taken the class. The study compared them to 178 youths who did not participate in the abstinence program.
The single most persuasive element in these students' lives is their peer group. If their peers are having sex and using condoms, then they will as well. The last people they will listen to and trust are the adults who tell them that what their friends are doing--and probably having fun while they're at it--is wrong.

Those of us who work with adolescents figured out a long time ago that the best way to change adolescent behavior is to either a) make those adolescents think the change in behavior is their own idea or 2) make the change in behavior seem the popular thing to do. While I don't know the specific curriculum for these anstinence-only programs, what I know about them generally is that they do neither a) nor 2), instead teaching from authority and explicitly telling students that abstinence will be a difficult choice.

Actually, I'm pretty impressed that so many of the students from both groups remained abstinent even though some of them must now be eighteen or twenty years old.

Teenage sexual behavior and teen pregnancy is not a new phenomenon, nor is it something that can be eliminated or reduced without considering the whole constellation of other behaviors and realities that make life here in the big city such a challenge. I sometimes feel like a broken record when I say that education, employment, health care, segregation and racism, housing, crime, and, yes, teen pregnancy are all a part of a larger picture that must be addressed.

Until the state makes a commitment to this city (in much the same way as the nation must make a commitment to all of its cities), the spiral will widen and every important indicator will continue to point downwards. As much as the polite media may offer sadly distant commentary--and the impolite bloggers offer hateful screeds--nothing is going to happen here until a whole lot more people are willing to have an honest conversation and come down here and get their hands dirty trying to improve the place.

Yes, I ramble. It's what I do. But if the world is going to remain shocked--just shocked!--at the crime or the teen pregnancy rate or the low test scores in Milwaukee, then to maintain some credibility the world is going to have to offer some real help at some point. Identifying the things that frighten or disgust you gets real old real fast. Abstinence-only has failed as a solution, as did white-flight, as did welfare reform, as did school vouchers, as did truth-in-sentencing, and on and on and on.

So, suburbs, state of Wisconsin, talk radio, bloggers: Get back to me when you're ready to try something that isn't merely implementation of favorite conservative talking points. Maybe then we can make some legitimate progress.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Real Debate Wisconsin Money Quote: Gulags and Lynching Edition

by folkbum

"The Real Debate Wisconsin Money Quote" is an occasional series highlighting the nonsensical and offensive statements made at Fred Dooley's blog of that name.

A number of conservatives are very vexed about the firing of Don Imus for showing his true racist, sexist, bigoty colors. Not because Imus is a conservatve--he's not, at least not one in the mold of most media conservatives these days. Rather, conservtives are vexed because they have now seen what a concerted, concentrated effort on the part of a few powerful new and old media voices can do. Imus was not fired because he said something stupid and offensive (if that were all it took, he could have been fired dozens of times, notably after the 1996 White House Correspondents' Dinner--scroll down a while); Imus was fired because enough people, and enough of the right people, spoke out against his offensive remarks.

Last Monday, Media Matters for America reminded everyone that Imus is not the only media personality who regularly dabbles in the offensive:

But as Media Matters for America has extensively documented, bigotry and hate speech targeting, among other characteristics, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity continue to permeate the airwaves through personalities such as Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Michael Smerconish, and John Gibson.
Conservatives saw that post--a post which doesn't even mention the word "conservative," though all the people it names could be considered so--as a kind of a "hit list." Including Fred, who can't believe both that "Big Brother" has such a hit list and that Media Matters is a non-profit outfit.

Anyway, Fred's ginned-up outrage is not the reason for my post. "Big Brother" doesn't even compare to what RDW regular commenter "James" gets up to:
So let me get this straight. Glenn Beck calls Jimmy Carter a "waste of skin" and he should be strung up at the highest tree in the land (probably literally if liberals had their way). But everoyone [sic] who couldn't wait to convict the Duke Lacrosse players and called them all sorts of vile things, that's fine.

I see it now. If you expose a non-liberal point of view, you must be eliminated. Bring on the black bag squads and fire up the gulags. Thanks for clarifying that.
And there you have it. Anyone who documents the bigotry and hate speech of a conservative is the equivalent of Stalin or the KKK. I'm also still trying to figure out how calling President Carter a "waste of skin" is "a non-liberal point of view." Maybe James can stop by and clarify for us.

Generally Speaking, Know Where You're Going

by bert

They're tricky. They know it. They believe that to win at spin you define the terms right out of the chute.

Take Charles Krauthammer's attempt to defend the Iraq War. Chuck comes at you with a big-word-laden lede that tackles what, therefore, has to be the big issue of the day:

By the day, the debate at home about Iraq becomes increasingly disconnected from the realities of the war on the ground. The Democrats in Congress are so consumed with negotiating among their factions the most clever linguistic device to legislatively ensure the failure of the administration's current military strategy -- while not appearing to do so -- that they speak almost not at all about the first visible results of that strategy.

Yea, you said it Chuck, those darn Defeatocrats, sheesh, . . . but, uh, wait up. Did you mention strategy? That reminds me of what a retired Marine general said about our war leaders' strategy just the other day:

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

Gen. Sheehan was among three retired officers who declined a White House offer to accept a new top military position that would oversee the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Gen. Sheehan told them to take this job and shove it not because he does not want victory. Sorry Charlie, but the reality is we can't tell him what victory is supposed to look like.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Are You Implying Right-Wingers Are Inconsistent Here?

by bert

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said this yesterday in Iowa:

‘‘If you said during Bill Clinton’s tenure that his personal behavior mattered and his character mattered and his activities in office and all of those things, if that mattered, you can’t come along now and say it doesn’t matter to Republicans in 2008.’’

Wolfowitz: What's The Worse He's Done?

by bert



Sure it looks bad when a World Bank leader who rails against corrupt third-world governments turns out to have arranged a fabulously paid government job for a girlfriend.

But I had already turned against Paul Wolfowitz. See, some of the former Yale professor's earlier behavior violated the kind of rules we picked up from our moralizing moms. Remember your mom teaching you to wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident, etc.? We all do. So I was scandalized when I saw the holes in that dude's socks.



Plus, I have some problems with that war he helped to start.

Steven Biskupic: Maybe he should have been fired

by folkbum

It's all coming together much more clearly now.

We Wisconsin bloggers have been following the Georgia Thompson mess since it started over a year ago. We knew then that the evidence was sketchy: Thompson, someone Governor Jim Doyle didn't hire and never met, slightly fudged a bidding process to keep a travel contract in-state and to save taxpayers money. Doyle's Secretary of Administration, Marc Marotta, who was the liason in that process, did not tell Thompson to rig the bidding or, really, anything beyond the outlines of what he expected a final contract to look like.

Thompson got no personal benefit. Marotta got no personal benefit. Doyle got no personal benefit except the already-spent contributions from people associated with the winning bidders, $20,000 out of millions, two individual donors out of thousands from that campaign.

And on that evidence, a jury not only convicted Thompson but several jurors publicly stated they thought the scandal went higher. (They must have been listeners of Belling or Sykes.) On that evidence, US Attorney Steve Biskupic demanded immediate jail time nowhere near commensurate to the crime.

We Wisconsin bloggers have been following the "voter fraud" stories since they started over two years ago. We knew then that the evidence was sketchy: Steve Biskupic and then-Milwaukee County DA E. Michael McCann, at the prodding of a Doyle-hostile newspaper editorial board and a democracy-hostile state Republican Party, spent eleven months and untold thousands of dollars in taxpayer dollars to secure fewer than two dozen indictments for "fraud," most of felons voting (including the one who showed his "FELON" identification card to the poll worker who registered him, and the one who wore his "I Voted" sticker to meet with parole officer later that day--clearly, not people engaged in "fraud" but rather dumbly unaware that they were not allowed to vote). They hounded people like Cynthia Alicea, who was told to fill out a second registration card because her first was messed up--Biskupic thought she voted twice. (None of that compares with the idiocy of the Republicans themselves, though.)

Biskupic's inability to prove, despite months of wasted resources on the matter, that there was wide-spread Democratic voter fraud led the state's Republican part to complain to the White House's political operation that Biskupic wasn't doing his job. And, indeed, he wasn't, as his myopic focus--fruitless, but single-minded--kept him from investigating the Republicans' documented wide-spread voter intimidation in Democratic wards all across Milwaukee.

And in another case we Wisconsin bloggers have been following since the beginning, earlier this year, Steve Biskupic found that a major state political player--Dennis Troha--was illegally beating campaign contribution requirements by giving his family and friends "loans" to cover those people's contributions to Governor Jim Doyle. Biskupic said not one word about how similar bundles of money flowed to Republican Congressman Paul Ryan (who has also admitted to helping Troha with federal agencies) or to two other Congressmen who greased the wheels for legislation that personally and professionally benefitted Troha. Let's be clear: There is nothing in eveidence that Jim Doyle promised or provided to Troha in exchange for the money, but there is plenty to indicate that Ryan and the other Congressmen did provide help to Troha. At most, Doyle opponents have said that Troha was given the help required by state law to deal with interstate trucking taxes.

Biskupic's prosecution of Troha will almost certainly net a conviction, because the evidence is solidly against him. But the trial will, I bet, focus exclusively on Doyle, not anything else where the trail of quid pro quo seems even clearer. Troha, like Thompson, like the "fraudulent" voters, will not roll on anyone else up the food chain because there is no chain. Biskupic is chasing cases that, when you blow hard enough, can seem like smoke surrounding Democrats, specifically Doyle. But there is no fire there.

As it turns out, it's looking more and more like Steve Biskupic is not doing a good job and ought, perhaps, to have been fired.

But all the smoke he's blowing must have saved his behind. The overturning of Thompson's conviction came at just the wrong time for Biskupic, as now people are starting to connect him more and more clearly to the national US Attorney scandal. And it looks like the Thompson conviction may have saved him from the purge:

Steven M. Biskupic, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, was once targeted for firing by the U.S. Justice Department but given a reprieve for reasons that remain unclear, McClatchy News Service reported Friday.

Congressional investigators looking into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys saw Biskupic's name on a list of attorneys targeted for removal when they were inspecting a department document not yet made public, an attorney for a lawmaker involved in the investigation told McClatchy. The attorney asked for anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the investigation.

It wasn't clear when Biskupic was added to a department hit list of prosecutors, or when he was taken off, or whether those developments were connected to a just-overturned corruption case.

Nevertheless, McClatchy reported that the disclosure aroused investigators' suspicion that Biskupic, who is based in Milwaukee, might have been retained in his job because he agreed to prosecute Democrats. Such politicization of the administration of justice is at the heart of congressional Democrats' concerns over the Bush administration's firings of the U.S. attorneys.
I was interested to find the chart released this week showing the "qualifications" of all 93 US Attorneys, criteria apparently used to determine whether or not to keep them around or purge them. The chart shows specifically whether the Attorneys have (Republican) political experience and solid conservative credentials. Here's the page with Biskupic:You can click for a larger version, or read the original pdf from the House Judiciary Committee (it's in set number one, but the pages are upside-down). Biskupic's record looks pretty thin compared to some of the others. Combined with state party complaints about his performance, you could see why he might have been on the short list to be fired. I mean, he's not even a member of the Federalist Society. (Aside: What kind of uproar would there be in the media right now if we learned that, say, the Clinton administration considered whether their US Attorneys were members of the ACLU? Compare that to the relative silence on the FedSoc column.)

Biskupic insists he was never under any pressure to prosecute Democrats. And, until I see documentary evidence to the contrary, I will believe him. (There are thousands of missing emails still, including the ones that would explain how and when Biskupic got off the purge list.) It strains credibility, however, to suggest that Biskupic wasn't aware of the state Republican Party's disatisfaction with his performance. It strains credibilty to suggest that Biskupic's single-minded focus on making Democrats, specifically Jim Doyle, look more corrupt than the evidence rightly shows they are, was not political.

It also strains credibility, now that the evidence is piling up, to suggest that Biskupic has done his job well.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Random Ten

The I go away for a week and this place falls apart Edition
I mean, there's record-breaking snow, Don Imus gets fired, Kurt Vonnegut dies, the Thompson-Biskupik show goes national . . .

1. "The Dream" Peter Mulvey from Rapture
2. "Do You Remember" Jack Johnson from In Between Dreams
3. "If This Were a Movie" The Nields from Bob on the Ceiling
4. "He Never Mentioned Love" Kirsty MacColl from Electric Landlady
5. "Holy Now" Peter Mayer from Million Year Mind
6. "Standing" Patty Griffin from Impossible Dream
7. "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" Dar Williams from My Better Self
8. "Will I Be Married" The Jayhawks from Blue Earth
9. "Laughlin Boy" Tracy Grammer from Flower of Avalon
10. "Little Martha" The Allman Brothers Band from Eat a Peach

Monday, April 09, 2007

Too Close for Comfort

by krshorewood

The suspicion about the Georgia Thompson conviction and its proximity to the November election has oozed past the lefty Badger blogs to the op-ed pages of today's New York Times.

The editorial Another Layer of Scandal raises the point:
"The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle’s opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s “corruption” to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won."

Fortunately the fact that Doyle was running against an empty suit and the Rush Limbaugh buffoonery regarding Michael J. Fox on the stem cell issue enabled the campaign to climb over this obstruction.

On the opposite page Paul Krugman as usual nails it:
"...[I]n Wisconsin, ... the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney prosecuted the state’s purchasing supervisor over charges that a court recently dismissed after just 26 minutes of oral testimony, with one judge calling the evidence “beyond thin.” But by then the accusations had done their job: the unjustly accused official had served almost four months in prison, and the case figured prominently in attack ads alleging corruption in the Democratic governor’s administration."

We in Wisconsin know cheesy. And when the aroma equates Limburger and wafts all the way to New York, you know that we are on to something.

More and more it appears that the federal prosecutor's office, which is supposed to be a tool for justice, seems more a means of extracting Democrats from office.