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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, June 30, 2007

VA Dishonors Our Veterans

- via MAL Contends

Veterans comment on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handling 0f veterans' claims:


"It is a (Prevalent Practice) for the VA to ignore relevant facts from eye witnesses and experts in their fields at every step in the claims process; there-for segmenting and minimizing the veterans claim. By doing this the original claim becomes confusing for the veteran, and anyone else for that matter, and all of the issues are not addressed. The VA counts on this to a very large degree, hoping the veteran gives up or forgets some of the issues, there-for the claim is denied or at the very least delayed long enough to require refiling. This costs the veteran many dollars due to a newer filing date. But most of all the veteran may lose months, years, or even a lifetime of medical treatment. Not only does he suffer and die but his family must suffer the same frustration financial hardship, and the agony of watching their loved one die."

- Dale Hettmansperger, Vietnam Veteran, 1st Marines. Supporting the Wisconsin Vietnam-era veteran Keith Roberts jailed by US Atty. Steven Biskupic for alleged criminality in Roberts' making a VA claim after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"The Bush administration began its assault on veterans by using operatives (who are also psychiatrists) of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to attack the very diagnosis of (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) itself and malign the veterans afflicted with the disorder as 'malingerers.' As propagandists, public relations managers have been known to further a particular agenda by purchasing the services of academic and professional experts."

- D.E. Ford, M.S.W., Commander Jeff Huber, US Navy (Retired), and I.L. Meagher; from "Blaming the Veteran."
###

Friday, June 29, 2007

I'm in love

Don't tell my wife.

Watch the video

I'm a bad blogger

Or at least too busy and, oddly, out of things to complain about.

But, you know, a hundred and fifty other people have the keys to this place. You'd think someone would have something to say. Guys?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fun With Numbers: Wisconsin Health Initiative

The obvious big gripe among those who don't like the Wisconsin Health Initiative (read the 60-page .pdf) is how it's paid for. It's paid for through taxes. Some people don't like taxes. Scratch that--no one really likes taxes. But if the taxes would otherwise be paid in some other form--say, premiums--there is no actual increase in cost.

According to a study last year, Wisconsin health care costs per employee were $9,516. Given that the average worker in Wisconsin was pulling down $36,730 in 2006, you could put the average percentage cost of an employee's health-care at about 26%. Not all of that is paid by the employer, of course; nationally, the average worker pays about 20% of his or her own health care (using this site as a rough guide), so we can maybe peg an employer's average cost at perhaps $7,600, with employees chipping in the other $1,900.

The Wisconsin Health Initiative plans to pay for coverage for every single person in the state by assessing a tax on employers and employees for a total of 14.5%--compare that to the 26% above. Pretty clearly, the WHI will result in savings of some sort here.

The tax is split, with 10.5% paid by employers and 4% paid by the employees, on up to the Social Security wages maximum--$94,200 in 2006. (Gotta stick to the same years, or else someone will accuse me of mixing apples and oranges.) So for an employee who earned $94,200 in 2006, a the cost of the WHI would have been $13,659 ($9,891 from the employer, $3,768 from the employee). In other words, the maximum employer cost under the WHI would be not that much higher--about two grand--than the cost for an average employee right now.

But what is the cost for employers under WHI, using Wisconsin's actual average salary? $3,857.

In other words, the cost for an average employer, if WHI had been in place in 2006, would have been $3,800 less.

Real world, of course, the application of the WHI will not be so cut-and-dried as these examples. Right now, for example, there are a whole lot of employers who don't pay for health care at all (or very much), and any new payroll tax would be a new burden on them, even at less than $4,000 per worker. Many other employers would save millions, since they're paying way above average. There are ramifications at both ends that will need to be sorted out.

There's also what this might do to personal pocketbooks: I can't find easy data on what the average Wisconsin worker pays out-of-pocket toward premiums, but under WHI, the average worker--the $36,700 person--would be paying $1,468--plus copays and deductibles. For some, that will be more, and for some that will be less.

But one of the selling points is property tax savings (because the plan would save money for every state, school, and municipal employee, as well). This would help offset the cost to both employers (who pay property taxes) and many employees, even if the Senate Dems' predictions turn out to be optimistic. There would also be savings in that we'd no longer have to carry the uninsured through Medicare, Medicaid, and Badgercare, and so on. The cost structure of the WHI seems to be such that it encourages preventative care and might result in a healthier Wisconsin--which would also provide savings to state employers.

One last ounce of irony for you: A couple of years back, the Wisconsin Policy Research Group released a study (.pdf) suggesting, almost demanding, that Wisconsin's teachers be moved to the state employees' health care plan, and touting the money taxpayers could save if that happened. Conservatives everywhere--TV, radio, internet, newspaper, even in Madison--loved the idea and campaigned hard to make it a reality.

Here the Senate Democrats have put forward a plan that essentially puts everyone in Wisconsin into the state employees' health plan, and those same conservatives (inlcuding WPRI!) are fighting it tooth and nail.

Some Monday Links

by folkbum

I've been collecting links in open tabs for a while now, and, as long as the Stone Creek is willing to give me WiFi, I thought I'd slap them all into a post and let you know what I think you should be reading.
  • Tim Schilke writes more in-depth about the horror that Paul Hill Days will bring to this community. And asks what kind of message the organizers really want children to take away from the events.

  • Credit where credit is due: Jessica McBride has turned the comments on.

  • I've been enjoying the new Safari 3.0 public beta. It plays nice with Blogger (finally!), has a much cooler integrated search function and greater tab functionality--and the resizable text boxes just plain rock. You can download it for Mac or Windows here.

  • Seth at In Effect is, as always, your best source of analysis on the Senate Dems' health care proposal. There seems to be a lot to like for reasonable people, and to hate for the crowd that hates these sorts of things. And, while we're at it, the indispensible WisPolitcs Budget Blog is tracking pol reaction.

  • I was going to do a snarky post about this, but Mike Plaisted beat me to it.

  • Here's a different take on the Fariness Doctrine, via Tim Rock

  • Digby: "This is exactly the kind of manipulation that is made possible by a weak and stupid president." Well, we get what we pay for. Along those lines, there's serious speculation about the "liberal" Washington Post holding and softening their Cheney series. (Oh, and here's the transcript of digby's speech accepting the Paul Wellstone Award.)

  • Bush Administration Official: "Not everything we've done is illegal." Why isn't this all over the front pages?

McIlheran Watch: More unFairness

by folkbum

You know, I really didn't want to get dragged into this. The Fairness Doctrine is not my issue. Jeebus knows I have plenty of issues, but not so much that one.

To be honest, I'm not even sure the Fairness Doctrine really needs to be returned; if the GOP wants to live with the dinosaur that is talk radio--while we Dems run the table with YouTube and Facebook--then so be it. Someday the dittoheads will get satellite radios and get addicted to the NASCAR channel, and then where will Limbaugh be?

I linked to that quip from Trent Lott a while back mostly for the larf. Well, that and the chance to rub McIlheran the wrong way.

Anyhow, after larfing it up with that great wit Trent Lott, I got invoked by not one, not two, but four bloggers from the other side (plus I got called "mighty" by the heroic Brew City Brawler). Then Realism/Philip/djheru made his post Friday (he's a new guest-blogger, by the way, so make him feel welcome), and here I am in the thick of it.

Rick Esenberg wants me to play Burgess Meredith from "Rocky." Nick Schweitzer mocks me. This gator-skinned fellow went after me twice.

The last three of those links are somewhat related, and stem from Nick's assertion that, basically, because he thinks print media, NPR, the TV networks, and so on "slant liberal," it's okay that talk radio is 91% conservative (.pdf). (Wiggy made the same point in the "liberal" print media last week.) Nick writes,
The problem is that both sides only look at one particular type of media to prove their argument about being unfair, instead of looking at all forms of media on the whole. Where the [Milwaukee] Journal [Sentinel] tends to slant liberal, talk radio makes up for it. Where CNN and MSNBC slants liberal, Fox News makes up for it. All sides are being represented fairly... as long as you look at the media fairly.
First of all, I laugh at the notion that the non talk-radio media "slants liberal." I am a liberal, and a fairly representative one at that, and the whole reason I started blogging back in 2003 was that the media were not representing my point of view. My primary non-blog sources of news are NPR, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and some national feeds like the New York Times and Washington Post. I have no idea how far to the right you have to be to see those as liberal, but apparently that's where Nick is. To me, they are absolutley not.

The "media is all liberal" idea seems to be getting a boost of late by (the apparently liberal, according to Nick) MSNBC, which released a study noting that 143 "journalists" have given to Republican or Democratic candidates, the vast majority to Dems. 143 journalists represents about .1% of all the working journalists in the country. And while MSNBC's methodology may have missed a few, even if the number were ten times what they found, you'd be looking at only 1% of the media, and trying to extrapolate the political leanings of the other 99%. Seriously, anybody here trying to claim that 99.9% of journalists can be described by a non-random sample of the other .1% is delusional. (And read that list: I'm sure the Boston Globe's sports statistician is pulling that paper to the left as hard as he can, the same way the Los Angeles Times food writer is yanking that paper to the right.)

But as Jamison Foser points out comparing the MSNBC study to the one linked above about talk radio, MSNBC tells you nothing about content. So what if the Washington Post's film critic gives to Republicans: What does that tell you about anything he's written? Did MSNBC do the first bit of digging around to find whether the guy writes with any particular slant? No.

But if you look at what you actually see and hear in the media--the so-called "liberal" media--there are unreasonable and even counterfactual attacks on Democrats. MSNBC's own Chris Matthews this morning, for example, attacked Hillary Clinton for surrounding herself with women. (His guest commented on the women's hair color.) Liberal? I don't think so! The "liberal" New York Times slammed John Edwards for not helping the poor without bothering to ask if, you know, any poor people got help. And I could go on.

But the cake-taker among those dragging me into this fight, as he so often is, and as you might have surmised by the title of this post, is McIlheran himself. In a post he unironically titles "Public property: No thinking, please," he makes this laughable argument, my emphasis:
What strikes me about the "public airwaves" argument is this: The entire medium of radio can't exist without using some electromagnetic spectrum space--some "public airwaves." This is because the government, in the interest of keeping broadcasters from interfering with each other, declared all the broadcast spectrum to be public property. It then follows that the authorities can regulate the ideological content of broadcasts? That seems stupid.

If that's the inevitable implication, it's one more argument against public property--analogous, in its way, to how that which is in the public sphere is so often less cared for, less safe or less usable. If being public means the airwaves must be ideologically regulated, then let's sell them or lease them off. I'll take a vigorous debate over public ownership any day.
Beyond the forehead-smacking fact that we already do lease the public airwaves (the FCC technically calls it "licensing"), McIlheran unknowingly gets straight to the nut of this issue: There is no vigorous debate. And his implying that vigorous debate would return absent government ownership or oversight of the airwaves is, as I said, laughable. If right now, without any enforcement of some kind of "fairness doctrine," the big-media companies that own these broadcast licenses refuse to air opposing viewpoints (even if those opposing viewpoints are more popular!), there is no "vigorous debate," what could possibly be possessing McIlheran that he thinks removing the non-existent oversight--and putting ownership of the spectrum permanently in the hands of those who can pay for it--would make debate happen?

The Illusory Tennant, in my favorite post about the Fairness Doctrine this past week, reminds us why the FD was there in the first place (scroll to the comments):
Also seriously though, much of the debate rumbling around these parts misses the point of the original "fairness doctrine," the constitutionality of which the Supreme Court upheld (unanimously) in a case called Red Lion v. FCC.

The specific question had to do with an "attack rule," whereby individuals or groups subject to political attacks on their honesty, character, integrity, and so forth, had to be afforded the opportunity for rebuttal.

So, in effect, the FCC was attempting to facilitate more speech, and not less, as the conservatives are claiming in the current debate.
(The Brawler elaborates on that idea in another excellent post.)

Any calls for a new "Fairness Doctrine"--at least from me, and the people I know and love on the internet like Xoff--are not calls for an "Equal Time Doctrine." I'm not asking that WTMJ hang up Jeff Wagner in favor of Ed Schultz (although I bet Schultz could get good ratings here). The point is to allow those maligned, like Clinton and Edwards in my examples above, to respond. As often as Bill O'Reilly, for example, slams Media Matters for America, O'Reilly will not invite anyone from MMfA on to debate him one-on-one (which makes sense given that O'Reilly can get pwned by a 16-year-old high-school student). Rush Limbaugh never invited David Ehrenstein on to talk about "Barrack the Magic Negro," because Ehrenstein would have explained how Rush turned a legitimate sociological analysis into a minstrel show. Charlie Sykes never invites liberals he can't control (i.e., not Mikel Holt) onto his radio or TV show to respond to his spin and lies. And McIlheran himself saves the worst of what he writes for his blog (these lies about Scooter Libby, for example) so that he doesn't have to face letters to the editor detailing outright falsehoods in the pages of the paper.

When Trent Lott said the talk radio was running America, yeah, it was ironic and funny. But he's also right that if you only hear one side of the story, your own opinions will not be well-informed. (Consider the FOXNews viewers who believe more lies about Iraq than other news comsumers.) So all we ask is that on those "public" airwaves, some time be given for those maligned, one way or the other, to respond. For the other side to be heard, even a little bit. For the public to be presented with multiple perspectives, multiple voices, and multiple opinions on the burning issues of the day.

More information, in other words, not less. And, after all, isn't that what free speech is all about--more, not less?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Somebody please please please please please please please tell me

Why Ann Althouse is still Wisconsin's most widely read blogger? (Follow the links in that post.)

(And if anything, the "O" of onion rings stands for Obama.)

Wingnut Radio is a Symptom

by Realism

With the hubbub about this report I thought that I should weigh in. It's interesting how conservative talk radio dominates in almost every market. While it's clear that America overwhelmingly supports the liberal agenda, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative. Many of our friends on the right suggest that the reason that we don't see more progressive talk radio is "Mostly because it sucks". However, even a cursory glance at the evidence shows that this is not true. For the real answer, we need to look at the effects of media consolidation, and how that has affected the content of radio programming.

One reason for the imbalance might be the talk radio demographic tends to be more male, middle-aged, and conservative. However, research by Pew indicates that the audience does have more diversity than the programming — 43 percent of regular talk radio listeners identify as conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and 30 percent as moderate. The ideological breakdown of the country as a whole during this same period was very similar — 36 percent conservative, 21 percent liberal, and 35 percent moderate. Of course, this is a somewhat circular argument. It seems apparent that since the programming is over 90% conservative, there aren't going to be many progressive listeners.

More importantly, even in liberal markets where progressive talk radio has competitive ratings and revenue, station owners will often broadcast conservative programming on multiple stations compared to just one for progressive talk. For example,

in Portland, OR, where progressive talk on KPOJ AM 620 competes effectively with conservative talk on KEX AM 1190, station owners also broadcast conservative talk on KXL AM 750 and KPAM AM 860. Although there is a clear demand and proven success of progressive talk in this market, station owners still elect to stack the airwaves with one-sided broadcasting.

This issue is more important than simply ensuring that liberal voices are not censored by media conglomerates whose interests are better served by a political philosophy that puts the financial well being of large corporations ahead of the public interest. Media consolidation has been shown to pose significant problems when the public interest is in conflict with the profit motive of the broadcaster.

For example, in 1997, the Fox affiliate in Tampa, Florida fired two reporters and suppressed a story they had produced about one of the Fox network's major advertisers, Monsanto, concerning the health effects of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). Fox took action after Monsanto threatened to sue over the story. This is one specific incident where the broadcaster censored an important news story in order to protect their financial interests.

Another problem caused by media consolidation is the lack of attention to important local issues. When the majority of local media outlets are controlled by national media conglomerates, issues that are important to the local populace are ignored in favor of content that can easily be shared throughout different markets. As an example, see the testimony of Jonathan Adelstein, FCC Commissioner, 05/26/04
"Many of you might have heard this story about Minot, North Dakota where there was a derailment of a train which was carrying toxic fertilizer. When it derailed this cloud moved towards the city, a toxic cloud. And they tried to contact the broadcasters. The sheriff was there on the spot, almost immediately tried to contact the broadcasters.

The Emergency Alert System failed on both ends. They called the broadcasters. It turned out that most of the stations, I think six of the seven, were owned by one company, Clear Channel, out of state, and there was nobody there to answer the phone at night. So for quite a period of time, the public wasn't alerted to the presence of this cloud. There was a siren that went off. Everybody turned on their radio to try to hear what was going on, and there was nothing on the radio but oldies or country music. Nothing about what was happening, the threat that was coming to their community.
"

Scores of people were injured and three people died [edit: 1 person died and 300 were injured]due to the lack of warning.

For you free market ideologues, it is important to remember that the broadcast media's number one asset, the frequency spectrum that they broadcast over, is provided to them at no charge. The monetary value of this asset is estimated at more than $500 Billion. The only thing that is required of them is to serve the interests of their viewers/listeners. In other words, the profit motive is not supposed to be the main factor in determining programming. American democracy requires an informed electorate, which depends for news and information upon a fair, honest, accessible and accountable broadcast media.

RIP, Mary Morris

Milwaukee and Bay View have lost a tremendous force for good. The community is a poorer place without her. Our thoughts are with the family in this sad time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gmail and Google Apps

by Dean

First of all, I just want to thank Jay for providing blogging space for me, during my transition. But I wanted to just describe my trials here for my first post so that others may benefit.

Fittingly, there was an article in eWeek magazine this week about Google and its wonderful applications that make collaboration possible. It's true.

Until you lose the email account that you use all this wonderful stuff with.

Early last week, I discovered I could not log on to my Gmail account. Interacting with the Gmail Help group, I tried several things to no avail. I'm still waiting for a human from Google support to get back to me.

Since I use that account to log on to Blogger, there is no blogging to be done at my blog until this is fixed. And the way this has happened, I doubt I'll blog there even if it is fixed. So look for me on WordPress for now.

Google calendar? Gone. Docs and Spreadsheets? Gone. iGoogle? Gone. Reader? Gone. And the list goes on.

And every account that I've used the Gmail account to log in to has been lost to me. And the newsletters that I had sent to that account.

One, in particular was the WordPress site. It had been hacked by S--- Eater 007. I don't know if there is a connection, but I suspect there is. Fortunately, WordPress.com's support is better than Google's, so that's fixed.

And this has also sent me into a password changing frenzy.

I've changed my method of operation now also.

1. Every Gmail account has a secondary account. You can do this very easily and I highly recommend it if you haven't already.

2. If I ever get my original site back, I may keep it, but will add myself under another email as an administration author. Hopefully, if one goes down, I can still log in with the other.

3. I'll backup my blog. Blogger gives instructions for doing it, but I always put it off. The template was backed up, but not the posts. I'll take advantage of every backup. For example, WordPress has an API key. Write it down someplace.

4. I may even set up a shadow email account and auto-forward everything there.

There may be other things I'll do, and some of you may share things also.

Again, thanks, Jay, for letting me post here.

Cross posted at Musings of a Thoughtful Conservative.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi; Oscar Ayala-Cornejo is an illegal immigrant

by folkbum

On the other hand, Kurt Waldheim was also a revered statesman, and Oscar Ayala-Cornejo was, by all accounts, a good cop.

In many ways, I feel that the whole immigration debate is ginned up by Republicans to rile the base. There seems little doubt that we don't do a good job at the borders. And something is certainly screwed up in the world that has led an estimated 12 million people to sneak in here for a better life.

But I think the case of Oscar Ayala-Cornejo shows exactly where the immigration debate moves from commonsense discussion of real problems into frothy insanity. If all you knew was the conservative Cheddarsphere, you'd think that Ayala-Cornejo was the anti-Christ and his presence on the Milwaukee Police Department--let alone the country--is a sure sign of the apocalypse.

Michael S. Murphy doesn't have enough exclamation points to express his displeasure. Fred has the same problem, but with capital letters. Michael Caughill compares Ayala-Cornejo to the Jude cops and pedophiles. Jessica McBride thinks she's making a point about something. McBride's protégée is basically demanding a tax refund.

But Kurt Waldheim's death last Thursday brought an inescapable and impressive reminder of something that all of us would do well to keep in mind: Austrians learned that Waldheim had been a Nazi--and had lied about it--and elected him president anyway. The revelations did nothing to diminish the respected work he did for the world as a two-term Secretary-General of the United Nations or his other service to the world community. Was Waldheim's time as a Nazi something to celebrate? Of course not. But it did not--and should not--stop us from forgiving him and allowing him to keep serving.

Similarly, if ever there were a case for "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, I think Oscar Ayala-Cornejo is it. He was a child when he was made to take on the identity of his dead cousin. He finished school, he made a conscious choice to serve the community. He was productive, helpful, valuable. His spending time in jail is a far greater waste of taxpayer dollars than our paying his salary has been.

This is why the dialogue as it's currently happening on immigration is absolutely stupid and unhelpful. Mike Plaisted this morning--in a post that reminded me to finish this one, finally--correctly diagnoses the issue as the GOP's
hail-mary pass to get traction with their deep, back-woods base. [. . .] This led to the declaration of a "crisis" in immigration. Apparently, there were just too many brown-skinned, foreign-languaged people showing up for work all across America. The trumped-up "crisis", not coincidentally, led to the first increase in years for membership in the Klu Klux Klan and other "organizations" who know how to make the most of xenophobic hysteria.

Again, the GOP candidates have heard the siren sound of their nut-base and, instead of volunteering for the next Habitat for Humanity project, will be out there with the suddenly-enriched private contractors (check for Minutemen to make the most of their opportunities here), building giant double-fences to keep Them out.
It's absolutley astounding to me that George W. Bush and Trent Frickin' Lott (of this quote) are the ones making sense on the issue, and are leaving their nut-roots further and further out in a frothy, angry right field.

And paying the price? Good cops like Oscar Ayala-Cornejo.

Digby is real!

She's not just a well-programmed firebrandbot.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Get Your Bleach Ready

Because, Milwaukee, you'll need it to clean off your fans:
May 17, 2007
Dear Friends of Paul Hill,

After much discussion and prayer, Drew Heiss and I are announcing an event to honor Paul Hill on the 13th anniversary of his actions in defense of preborn babies in Pensacola. Memorial events will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to honor him as God’s man and our hero.
Paul Hill Days
July 26th – 29th of 2007
Why Milwaukee? Why not? There are people here who recognize Paul Hill as a hero, and we would love to welcome others from around the country who share our belief. Hopefully, in the future, others will host events in their cities.

Planned events include:
• Activities at our two remaining killing centers
• Literature distribution
• Ministry at the Federal Courthouse
• Reenactment of 7-29-1994[*]
• Paul Hill March
• Ministry at other public forums

If you are interested in participating, please email me at George@ChildrenNeedHeroes.com or call me at (920) 918-4550.

Please let us know if you would like host housing or motel reservations.

Currently, this event is being sponsored by Children Need Heroes, StreetPreach, and Paul Hill Memorial. If you would like your organization to be a co-sponsor of this event, please let us know.

Please feel free to forward this e-mail on to others who might share our admiration for Paul Hill and his act of love and mercy.

We hope to see you in Milwaukee in July!

For Jesus and His Precious Little Ones,

George L. Wilson
* July 29, 1994 is the day Paul Hill murdered Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard in Pensacola Florida. What do they think they will accomplish through a re-enactment of that crime?

This information is via Frederick Clarkson, via digby.

Digby actually headlines his/her/its post "Homegrown Terrorists," because this is, in fact, what these people are. They support murder, celebrate murderers, engage in action designed specifically to instill fear. This is roughly the equivalent of someone marching through the streets of Oklahoma City memorializing Timothy McVeigh, or through the streets of Manhattan celebrating Mohammed Atta. (And I bet it will get as much media attention as another recent act of domestic terrorism; that is to say, almost none.)

I imagine groups like Planned Parenthood are aware of this, especially since it seems like this Gathering of Terrorists will be targeting PPWI's centers here in town. I would also imagine that PPWI would also be looking for extra help for that weekend.

Happy Fathers Day

To all the fathers out there.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Sweet New Ride

Yeah, sure, getting rid of the 1997 Saturn means the end of an era. But, at 150k miles, that era needs an end.

When Ernie von Schledorn took a look at the Saturn, he said it was "a teacher car." And it's true--I never throw anything away. I never know when I'll need it, or when I can get a new one if I get rid of an old something. My firm belief is that a car should be driven into the ground. And that Saturn . . . hasn't been above ground for a good six or eight months now if you know what I mean.

Plus, this baby has a pinstripe.

McIlheran Watch: unFairness

Patrick McIlheran and the Brew City Brawler have been having a bit of back-and-forth about the fairness doctrine. I think the Brawler's winning, in part because of my anti-McIlheran bias, and in part because the Brawler seems to understand that the public airwaves do not exist solely to line the pockets of media conglomerates and stockholders. The word "public" actually has meaning.

However, I think it's becoming increasingly clear that everyone sees the "unfairness" currently promulgated by the right-wing yak hacks as a problem. For example, this is from a member of the US Senate:
Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.
Which wacked-out leftist communist socialist liberal Senator said that?

Trent Lott.

I suppose McIlheran will have words for ol' Trent. After all, if the Brawler can't get through to him, I doubt Lott could.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Want to blow some conservative minds?

by folkbum

First, ask if they remember Marc Rich. The good ones will remember: Rich, whose wife was a big contributor to the Democratic party and major funder of the Clinton Library, fled to Switzerland in 1983 to avoid tax evasion charges.

Then ask what those conservatives think of Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich. Again, the good ones will get furious: When Rich was pardoned in January, 2001, the right exploded. The Rich pardon was a topic of conversation seemingly for months straight, taking up many hours of FOXNews, talk radio, and Free Republic.

Then--and this is the punchline--ask the conseratives what they think of the idea that all the Republican presidential candidates want to pardon Marc Rich's lawyer.

(Related: See digby.)

McIlheran Watch: Gore-ing Ironically

by folkbum--UPDATED below!

There's an irony in the title of this Patrick McIlheran blog post from yesterday:
See where Al Gore's invention lands him?
John McAdams notes that Al Gore's book quotes Abraham Lincoln on how bad it is when people get really rich.

The trouble is, the quote's a fake. It started showing up in the 1880s, used by opponents of capitalism then. It has lingered on, a manufactured reality that fits so perfectly into the needs of liberal bloggers that Gore, apparently, couldn't resist.
The implication of the title is that Gore's "invention"--the internet--led Gore to include a fake quote from Lincoln. This is ironic in at least two ways: One, McIlheran apparently never got the memo that the "Al Gore claimed he invented the internet" story is as fake as the quote from Lincoln. (Snopes.com is the first place any savvy person will turn to check out anything found on the Internet, a savvy person once remarked.)

It's also ironic that McIlheran claims the quote "fits so perfectly into the needs of liberal bloggers." I am a liberal blogger, have been one for about as long as there have been liberal bloggers, and I have never seen the invented Lincoln quote before this week when it became a target of the Gore-haters. So I did some googling to see just how "perfectly" the quote fits. As of this morning, the search returns only 59 blog results, the first dozen or more of which are conservative bloggers complaining about Gore, and another ten or so are spamblogs.

And of the rest, none of them seem to be "popular" liberal blogs (i.e., it doesn't appear at Daily Kos--a separate site search confirms it--or Atrios or Talking Points Memo or Huffington Post and so on). Some of the bloggers who used the quote are themselves conservative or at least independent, and some were de-bunking it pre-Gore. In other words, the quote is so "perfect" for liberals bloggers that we pretty much never use it!

So here's McIlheran, taking Al Gore to task for using a fake Lincoln quote, himself making two huge errors of fact. Or, as he probably thinks of it, just another day at the office.
****
To be slightly more fair, McIlheran was getting his info on the Gore book from John McAdams, who quotes at length from a review of the book in the Washington Post. McAdams says that Gore is "less than careful about getting his facts straight," which is kind of funny in its own right; Here's Eric Boehlert writing about that WaPo review:
On June 10, The Washington Post published an opinion column by Andrew Ferguson about Gore's new book. [. . .] Ferguson, an editor at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard, disliked the book, waving it off as "a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation."

What was embarrassing for both Ferguson and the Post was that in the very first sentence of his column, Ferguson made a whopping error when he condescendingly observed that The Assault on Reason had no footnotes. (The book is such a mess, footnotes would have been of no use, he suggested.) The problem, according to Ferguson, is that without footnotes readers have no way of checking the sources for the many historical quotes Gore uses in the book, including one on Page 88 from Abraham Lincoln that Ferguson would "love to know where [Gore] found."

In fact, if Ferguson had simply bothered to look, every one of the nearly 300 quotes found in The Assault on Reason is accompanied by an endnote with complete sourcing information, including the quote on Page 88 that Ferguson focuses on. The endnotes consume 20 pages of the book.
McAdams then writes, "To ask the obvious question: if we can’t trust Gore to get easily checked historical facts right, how reliable is he on a technical issue like global warming?" I would rephrase: If we can't trust opinion columnists for the Washington Post and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to get their facts right about Al Gore, how can we trust them on anything?

UPDATE: I meant to add when I wrote this post this morning, but forgot, a link to Anonymous Liberal and A Tiny Revolution (twice!), who point out what would be obvious to McIlheran and McAdams if they actually had bothered to look at a copy of The Assault on Reason: Al Gore cites The Lincoln Encyclopedia for the quote, meaning he did not get it from liberal bloggers. Nyah.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Michael Moore rips Bush: You've got to watch this! Funnnn-eeeee!

by folkbum

Have you seen the YouTube going around of Michael Moore trashing George W. Bush? It's awesome. He is funny, straight to the point, and he pulls no punches. I mean, this is great stuff:
I present the following with no due respect, sir [. . .] Next, the voice. If it's possible to make Mr. Limpet sound like Demosthenes, Bush does it every time he opens his ashen pie-hole and haltingly forces out that tremulous pale gray oratory that sounds like it's oozing from a stuck caulking gun. [. . .]

Only in the off-the-rack culture that we currently have could a whiny hack like you [President Bush] rise to a position of leadership. [. . .] You are a vague, translucent, living shade who barely matters. And if you really want to serve the country that affords a trifle like you the opportunity to delude himself into thinking that he matters, you must never ever speak out loud in public again.
To fully appreciate it, you have to see the whole thing. Really. Michael Moore clearly hates Bush and he knows how to make it funny! You just don't get much funnier than that! If only Moore had had a studio audience, I'm sure they would have been laughing non-stop through the whole thing.

And you know where Moore said this? On CNN! That's right, they gave Moore a camera and a mic and let him rip. I love that about CNN--they are not afraid of letting unheard liberal voices like Micahel Moore that you just don't hear on any of the other MSM outlets. I love those liberal voices on CNN!

I found the clip on the Daily Kos, front and center because they know it's important. And the other liberal bloggers are all over it! We're just going to play this clip into the ground, because it is hilarious and it so teaches Bush a lesson. "Never speak in public again" . . . I love it!

Blogging Summit this Friday

by folkbum

UPDATE (see further update below): Lefty Cory Liebmann will be panelizing, too. He and Mathias should be able to take on all four righties . . .

Only one of us "rolodex bloggers" was invited, and it wasn't me. As Ken Mobile points out, only one liberal political blogger was invited overall. (I'm guessing Pete Prodoehl and I would find common ideological ground--he likes Ted Leo--but he's not a political blogger, really.)

Most disappointing is that the summit is scheduled for a weekday, which I believe will limit participation among those of us who can't just up and miss work for a day. I guess I won't be seeing any of you there.

UPDATE II: Stacy, the Cantankerous one, adds in the comments below:
As one of the people who helped to put this thing together I want it to be known that WTMJ had absolutely no say in who the panelists would be. Those decisions were left completely up to Sean.

So, to use the panelists as evidence of a kind of intention that "Journal" or "WTMJ" may or may not have is not just misleading, it's plain false. [. . .]

The reason it's on a weekday is because we can't open the studio to the public on a weekend. There aren't enough staff members around to make sure that no one gets lost or ends up somewhere they shouldn't be. I realize this is an inconvenience for some of you, and for that I apologize.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I don't have HBO

And I have never watched an episode of "The Sopranos."

Instead, I am grading papers and doing laundry. I feel good about myself--and I know how it ends.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Random Ten

The Long and Short of It Edition
  1. "Short Work" Kris Delmhorst, Songs for a Hurricane
  2. "Come a Long Way" Michelle Shocked, Mercury Poise
  3. "Long Road" Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses
  4. "Long & Desperate Day" Bill Camplin (as Doët), Love Songs and Other Trios
  5. "It's a Long Way Home" Jennifer Kimball, Veering from the Wave
  6. "This Long" Carrie Newcomer, My True Name
  7. "Long Way to Go" Disappear Fear, Live at the Bottom Line
  8. "The Long Goodbye" Cliff Eberhardt, Borders
  9. "Just How Long" Kate McDonnell, Next
  10. "Short Ode (Stephen Vincent Benet)" Andrew Calhoun

Thursday, June 07, 2007

There's hope for Scooter yet

Paris Hilton is free, after all. If Scooter Libby spends the same percentage of his time in prison for his conviction, he'll only be in jail for two weeks!

WAITAMINNIT! Maybe not:
Screaming and crying, Paris Hilton was escorted out of a courtroom and back to jail Friday after a judge ruled that she must serve out her entire 45-day sentence behind bars rather than in her Hollywood Hills home.
Sorry, Scooter!

Q: How do you know the MPS teachers' contract is about to expire?

by folkbum--UPDATED

A: The alarmist studies are out from the usual suspects screaming about how excessive teachers' benefits are.

So, as expected, the sky is falling:
In a report commissioned by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, an independent, non-profit organization, forecasts continuing annual cuts in services to students for at least the next several years as expenses grow faster than revenue.

The report uses both optimistic and pessimistic financial assumptions. The difference is whether the equivalent of $40 million or $100 million in current spending will have to be cut in the 2009-'10 school year.

That forecast doesn't account for another major problem looming for MPS: New national accounting rules will require that a larger share of expected future costs for post-retirement benefits to employees be funded in current budgets.

If MPS sells bonds to cover its future obligations to retirees - one way of dealing with the issue - that could add more than $100 million a year to spending and, in effect, increase the gap between revenue and need to more than $200 million by three years from now.

Summing up the report, Todd A. Berry, president of Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, writes, "Needless to say, MPS has difficult years in its immediate future."

Tim Sheehy, president of the MMAC, put it more strongly: "The magnitude of the fiscal challenge facing MPS is stark. . . . Without real change, the district's viability is at risk."
Bankruptcy! Insolvency! Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes! Volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!!!!

Look, there is little doubt that the Milwaukee Public Schools faces challenging fiscal times ahead. Us and about 400 other districts in the state. (Even conservative West Bend faces a $119 million hole it wants to plug.)

There is also little doubt that a group like Sheehy's MMAC would try to place the blame on us teachers--even though the data clearly show that we teachers are poorer than our colleagues around the state:
Using figures generally from a couple years ago, the report says the average teacher pay in MPS was below the statewide median, but that was largely because MPS teachers overall had less experience.

In the main funds used to pay for educating kids--the largest portions of the MPS budget--75% of spending went to compensation for employees: 49% for salary and 26% for benefits, the report says. That meant that 34% of compensation spending was for benefits--about five points higher than the state average. In 1995, benefits made up 26% of spending on compensation. The rise is largely due to escalating health insurance costs.
The numbers in the sidebar make this point more clearly: The average salary in MPS is $35,439, while benefits total $21,439. That means the average MPS teacher is earning about $57,000 in salary and benefits. (DISCLAIMER: I'M NOT ASKING FOR MORE.) This compares with an average salary and benefits total for the state as a whole of about $63,500. That's a significant difference.

But the paragraphs I just quoted here also draw attention to two factors: Health care costs are out of control, and if somebody would finally get around to doing something--like we should have done 15 years ago instead of instituting revenue caps and the QEO--compensation cost growth could slow.

The second is the artificially high ratio of salary to benefits. This was an issue also stoked by the JS a few years back preceeding the last heavy round of bargaining. Here's the first article in a series from November 2003, by Bruce Murphy. Note this paragraph, my emphasis:
By contrast, Milwaukee's five major taxing authorities spend [for benefits] as follows: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District: 68 cents per salary dollar. Milwaukee Public Schools: 51 cents, and 55 cents projected in 2004. Milwaukee County: 47 cents, and soaring to a projected 65 cents in 2004. Milwaukee Area Technical College: 35 cents. City of Milwaukee: 32 cents.
The current MMAC/WISTAX study actually was of 2004, and puts the benefits spending at 34%. I don't know how or whether the benefit calculations were different between Murphy's analysis and MMAC/WISTAX's. But the 55% projection seems alarmingly high in comparison to the retrospective 34% reality. (I'm thinking about emailing Murphy, now at Milwaukee Magazine, and asking what he makes of the difference.) In either story, though, the important thing to note is that because Milwaukee's teachers are paid less than other teachers around the state--and because teachers around the state generally have voluntarily passed on raises to maintain benefits--the bennies look high in comparison to the artificially low salaries. (UPDATE: Mystery solved--see the comments.)

But after the Murphy series in 2003, at the direction of our superintendent (see his pull quote in the JS story linked just above!), negotiations between teachers and administrators shut down. The superintendent held two "town hall" meetings, inviting teachers and basically telling us that, one, we don't deserve what we get and, two, we were going to thank him when the district was done screwing us. Two years later, the district won an arbitration that, as it turned out, may well have been more expensive than the union's competing proposal.

I expect that this study, and free JS coverage it was sure to earn, is the opening salvo from the anti-public school forces in the run-up to the end of this month when our current contract expires. But I think the study may well contain two poison pills, neither of which got the kind of play that they should have in the newspaper. First, this MMAC/WISTAX analysis has these paragraphs in the full study (.pdf):
Just over half (55%) of MPS’s 2003-04 “educational” spending was on instruction (see pie chart above). The next largest category was business administration (15% of the total). Included in the business administration category is student transportation. District and school administration was next, accounting for 9% of spending. Pupil and staff services each were about 7% of the total.

Recent trends show per student instructional spending lagging increases in other areas. Spending on instruction rose 4.4% per year from 2000 through 2004. Of the major spending categories, only business administration rose slower. Staff services rose fastest, climbing 5.8% annually. Administration, pupil services and central services all rose more than 5% per year.
WISTAX's report for schools in Wisconsin generally in 2004 reported this:
Wisconsin school districts budgeted to spend $9,963 per student in 2003-04, up $300 (3.1%) from the year before. The majority of expenditures were for instructional costs, which climbed 3.5% to $5,827.
Doing the math, that means statewide, the "instructional" spending average was about 58.5%, compared to Milwaukee's 55% (I assume WISTAX would use the same formula in both analyses). So spending on teachers--which is the vast majority of of "instructional" spending--is growing slower than anything else in the budget and pretty significantly below the state average.

Second, the study does squarely finger the part of MPS's budget that doesn't lag behind the rest of the state:
The biggest difference between administration at MPS and at other districts is the number of assistant principals (AP). In 2005, MPS had 541 students per AP. The seven comparable districts averaged 1,177. Thus, relative to its student count, MPS had more than twice as many AP’s.

A second way to look at the number of AP’s is relative to the number of principals. MPS had more AP’s than principals in 2005; the other districts had one AP for every two principals.
The JS story gave this startling fact one. Single. Line. In the sidebar.

In short, teacher salaries and benefits are not what's driving MPS to the brink. Some changes external to MPS, such as who pays for health care and how, could slow that drive. Further, what MPS pays its teachers is below state average, and what MPS puts into "instruction"--most of which is teacher compensation--also lags behind. Again, I'm not suggesting MPS fork over keys to the vault when it sits down with teachers; none of us is in this business to get rich.

The Working Together, Achieving More strategic planning process, while not perfect, has the potential to provide a certain level of unity and focus for the district, and the last thing we need is a wedge, a bitter, protracted negotiation session. (I wonder how Sheehy's MMAC feels about that plan, as it was developed with funds from the competing Greater Milwaukee Committee.) But what will happen when the media and the anti-public school folks start escalating this fight, with the misleading quotes about "Cadillac benefits"? What will happen when the superintendent breaks out the rhetoric he was using four years ago?

I don't want a replay of 2003 and 2004. Those were awful years, and, frankly, I don't think teachers' morale has recovered yet; there's a lot of spite, on both sides, just below the surface. If this negotiation once again becomes about how teachers are breaking the backs of taxpayers, I don't know what will become of this district. It may well implode.

Then again, I suppose that's what MMAC has wanted all along.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tommy!, the littlest Pez dispenser

At least that's what it looks like to me.



And, seriously, if someone offered you a Pez from a giant Wolf Blitzer, would you eat it?

The GOP debate Talk Clock, once again curtesy of the Dodd people.

Felons and the Franchise

by folkbum

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus wins folkbum's 33rd annual worst analogy award* for this one:
So why on Earth would we trust felons still serving a sentence to take part in our democratic process - to make important decisions that influence how law-abiding citizens live their lives? It's akin to allowing your 2-year-old to choose the dinner meal. If that happened, surely M&Ms and cookies would be on the menu every night.
(* After creating the award, I post-facto gave myself the first 32. If you've read my blog before, you know why.)

As I am neither a felon nor the parent of a two-year-old, I'm not entirely sure how offensively stupid this is. But I bet it's way up there.

Priebus is responding to the question of whether "on-paper" but out-of-jail felons ought to be allowed to vote. His op-ed, all 600 words, can be summed up by that paragraph. Felons, like cookie-grubbing toddlers at dinner, forfeited their right to participate in society and Oh! My! God! can you imagine the consequences if we let them vote!

Priebus somehow imagines that an "on-paper" felon will vote for . . . hell, I don't know. Who, exactly, is the candidate equivalent of M&Ms and milk? And why does Priebus think that a felon who is "on-paper" one day and "off-paper" the next would suddenly change his vote to the green beans and broccoli candidate?

There is a big reason why giving felons back the franchise once they're out and able to participate in most of society's trappings again is a Good Thing, which I'll get to in a minute. Suggesting they have the decision-making skills of a two-year-old--or, worse, suggesting that candidates will start winning elections by pandering to the felon vote ("More time in the yard and a shiv in every bunk!")--is insulting.

FrontPage Milwaukeean Rebecca Kontowicz has been apprenticing with several of Southeast Wisconsin's nuttiest wingnuts, and in an FPM op-ed on the same subject, she shows off what she's learned so far. Speaking of one felon--Kimberly Prude, who has become something of a poster-granny for felons caught voting--Kontowicz writes (all emphasis hers),
The thing is, the [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel] editorial completely fails to mention what made this sweet little grandma a felon in the first place. Obviously, it was enough to land her behind bars. That tells you she’s not a responsible citizen, who has failed to abide by the law. Why should she have the right to play a part in determining the people who govern those laws?

Common sense: It’s not in the best interest of society to have thieves and rapists doing so, even if they are out of prison.
I don't think the Journal Sentinel has erred in trying to put a face on the felon disenfranchisement problem. Every felon who is barred from voting, though the polling place may be just a few walkable blocks away, is a real person who, as Prude did, may have a real interest in changing (or maintaining) the status quo. Every felon who faces arrest and a return to prison for voting(!) is someone's son, father, mother, daughter, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, neighbor, and so on--and ought to be encouraged to take an interest again in the welfare of all those whom they are connected to by blood or geography.

Would it have made a difference to Kontowicz were the human face white? male? a non-violent drug offender? Kontowicz's age? I don't know. But Kontowicz suggests that simply because one was once a thief, or a rapist, or a drug addict like Prude, one remains too irresponsible to vote until a status that exists only on paper changes. I have to ask Kontowicz: If Prude had gone "off-paper" the day before she cast her absentee ballot, would she suddenly have been "a responsible citizen"? What about the "paper" status determines Prude's status as a "responsible citizen"? And is that a determination that ought to be Kontowicz's to make?

Kontowicz here is making Priebus's M&Ms and cookies argument, just with more bad writing and less candy.

But she goes on to demonstrate that she really has learned from the wingnut masters:
The editorial goes on to explain that, “Non-voters with prior arrests are more than twice as likely as their voting counterparts to be arrested again, research shows.”

Research shows? What research? Could you please provide the name of a source or at least the research group that conducted this study? That way people can determine whether this “research” is credible or if the study may have been – God forbid – biased.
In a classic example of blowing smoke, Kontowicz besmears the editors for not pointing to any specific study. But if we read the editorial itself (Kontowicz hasn't yet picked up one of her mentors' habit of not linking to source material), we see that the Journal Sentinel is relying on the Sentencing Project for their information. Even if she didn't want to bother to google them up, she could have done her own search to see what studies were out there. I know it may not be a staple of many of the wingnutty blogs Kontowicz is modeling herself after, but one thing good commentators do is try to find evidence. If you think the Journal Sentinel is wrong, Rebecca, then prove them wrong. Waving and flapping your arms doesn't do what you think it does.

But what happens when you google up voting felons recidivism? You get a whole bunch of studies showing exactly what the editors claim: Criminals who vote after having been released from prison are indeed less likely to recommit. Take this one (.pdf), for example:
[A] relationship between voting and subsequent crime and arrest is not only plausible, but also supported by empirical evidence. We find consistent differences between voters and non-voters in rates of subsequent arrest, incarceration, and self-reported criminal behavior. [. . .] At a minimum, our multivariate analysis suggests that the political participation effect is not entirely attributable to preexisting differences between voters and non-voters in criminal history, class, race, or gender. [. . .]

Voting appears to be part of a package of pro-social behavior that is linked to distance from crime.
The lead author on that study has done others:
Our event history analysis shows that felons who voted in the previous biennial election have a far lower risk of recidivism than non-voting felons, and that this relationship holds net of age, race, gender, marital status, and criminal history.
(He also blogs.)

I know they have computers at UWM--I would even bet Rebecca Kontowicz typed her op-ed on one. It's not hard to find these things out, and with even cursory research she would find that not only are those editors right, her insistence that these could-be voters are irresponsible is in itself an irresponsible claim to make. Denying someone access to the democratic process would be like denying them access to their families, a job, education, and other tools they need to re-integrate into society. You may as well start telling felons--"on-paper" or off--where to live, whom to associate with, what kind of license plate to use--oh . . . wait.

There's nothing like telling someone we want them to be productive members of society again and then doing everything we can to isolate them from that society. These men and women are not two-year-olds. There is nothing magical about the piece of paper that would cause them to vote any more or less responsibly. There is ample reason to suggest that allowing them to vote would help reduce recidivism and cut costs to the electoral system. At the very least Republicans ought to support restoring the franchise so that Steve Biskupic could be free to pursue more corruption cases against Democrats. Right? Right?

It's time to do this. If you're out of jail, you should be allowed to vote. It's that simple.

(hat tip to Nick on the license plate)

New Evidence in Jailed Vet Case, Witness Contradicts Prosecution in E-Mail

- via MAL Contends

An e-mail written by a former Navy officer corroborates the account of a Vietnam-era airman who witnessed the death of a colleague killed in a gruesome C-54 aircraft accident in 1969 at a Naval Air Facility in Naples, Italy.

The crushing death of Airman Gary Holland in the wheel well of the C-54 set in motion a chain of events that 36 years later led the US Veterans Administration (VA) and the US Atty for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in 2006 to indict and convict a veteran, Airman Keith Roberts (1968-71), diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), on charges of wire fraud, arguing that Roberts fabricated his role at the death scene and his relationship with Holland, defrauding the VA.

More at UppityWisconsin.
###

Monday, June 04, 2007

Two Related Updates on My Thompson Post

One, Glenn Greenwald's been tracking the way conservatives are now desperately backpedalling over Bush, perhaps to let the candidates like Thompson run to Bush's right:
This fraud is as transparent as it is dishonest, yet there are signs that the media is nonetheless beginning to adopt this theme that there is some sort of epic and long-standing "Bush-conservative schism." But very little effort is required to see what a fraud that storyline is.

One of the few propositions on which Bush supporters and critics agree is that George Bush does not change and has not changed at all over the last six years. He is exactly the same.

And none of the supposed grounds for conservative discontent -- especially Bush's immigration position -- is even remotely new. Bush's immigration views have been well-known since before he was first elected in 2000, yet conservatives have devoted to him virtually cult-like loyalty and support. Just logically speaking, Bush's immigration views cannot be the cause of the flamboyant conservative "rebellion" against Bush since those views long co-existed with intense conservative devotion to Bush.

There is really only one thing that has changed about George W. Bush from the 2002-2004 era when conservatives hailed him as the Great Conservative Leader, and now. Whereas Bush was a wildly popular leader then, which made conservatives eager to claim him as their Standard-Bearer, he is now one of the most despised presidents in U.S. history, and conservatives are thus desperate to disassociate themselves from the President for whom they are solely responsible. It is painfully obvious there is nothing noble, substantive or principled driving this right-wing outburst; it is a pure act of self-preservation.
An excerpt does not do it justice. The facts in this case are merciless. Please read the whole thing.

Two, Dad29 kicked off the comments thread to that Fred Thompson post with this:
The main reason is that Thompson, just like Obama, sees the political situation as one which is deteriorating rapidly into a "tit/tat" partisan steaming pile of crap.
I pulled it out because I think it--and (humbly speaking) my response--deserves a little bit more light.

Dad29 seems to think Thompson is above partisanship. I suppose there are two possible readings of that sentence. The first is that Fred is someone who engages his opponents and finds common ground to move the country forward. This does not describe Fred Thompson: As I noted in response, Fred's talking the fringe talk (despite his history) on immigration, the Iraq war, health care, gay rights, and more. He doesn't seem inclined to move to the center on any of them.

A second reading, which, for all I know, is what Dad29 meant, is that Fred doesn't deign to engage the debate, talk to anyone who disagrees with him, bother with compromise. After all, Thompson's most significant campaign move to date is making a YouTube video where he tells Michael Moore to go check into an insane asylum unstead of engaging the filmmaker over the challenges of the US health care system.

And the conservatives ate that up. In part, I bet, because the rightroots hate Michael Moore. And in part because they love that mine-is-bigger-than-yours-ism (for Fred, a cigar is not just a cigar), that I-can't-hear-you-ism, that stay-the-course-in-the-face-of-disaster-ism.

That's why it's ironic that the conservative chattering classes are turning on Bush and turned on by Thompson: If the latter paraphrase of Dad29's statement is the more accurate one, Fred Thompson is George W. Bush.

And that, my friends and neighbors, is a scary, scary prospect.

Organ transplant plane goes down

This story is tragic in so many ways:
A medical transport plane from the University of Michigan carrying six people went down Monday afternoon in Lake Michigan shortly after the pilot signaled an emergency, authorities said. There was no word on survivors.

The plane is owned by the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, said health system spokeswoman Nicole Fawcett.

Fawcett could not confirm how many people were aboard, or whether any were University of Michigan employees. She said the plane is typically used to procure and transport human organs ready for transplant.

Jay Campbell, executive director of the Wisconsin Donor Network, said a transplant team from the University of Michigan was in Milwaukee Monday to harvest an organ. He declined to say which area hospital they were working with, citing privacy regulations.
Not only is this a tragedy for the families of these six, but there is someone dying in Michigan, and who knows how many countless more who need the services of this team.

Let's let our thoughts be with the victims tonight.

"I'm not a folksy tough guy, but I play one on TV"

by folkbum

I'm not following the Democratic primary all that closely, because, frankly, I think I will be happy to support any of the top three or five candidates as they stand right now. There are things I like more or less about each candidate, but on balance, they are people I can get behind and who, I think, are eminently electable. (And adding: My February 19th vote here in Wisconsin is essentially worthless.)

The Republican primary, on the other hand--now that's where the show is. It's fascinating not for who will necessarily come out on top, but rather because it offers a good window into the messy apartment that is the Republican base.

This whole Fred Thompson phenomenon is a good example of it. While it's true that some Democrats keep holding out for Clark to get in the race (there is, for example, a near-daily "My Wesley will come for me!" diary at dKos), and many pollsters are still including Al Gore in their polls, I think the Dem field is set. And we like our candidates.

But for Republicans, something was missing. As much as their top-tier candidates have tried to out-Jack-Bauer each other, all of them had some fatal flaw: Giuliani wasn't pro-life enough, McCain wasn't anti-immigration enough, Romney wasn't Christian enough. So enter Fred Thompson who, in fact, seems to have all three of those flaws (abortion, immigration, religion). But, you know, he was the one everyone demanded.

And I can't, for the life of me, understand why. (Well, I can, but I need a minute to get there.) Aside from one term in the US Senate, Thompson has had three careers: attorney, lobbyist, and Hollywood actor. These are not occupations that necessarily win praise from conservatives. Thompson is reputed to be "folksy," but it's just the accent, I think, since he certainly hasn't shown himself to be anything like you or me--whether it's renting a pick-up truck as a prop while driving a luxury sedan or sleeping through the starlets in search of a trophy wife. "Folksy" is a character he plays on TV, not who he is.

Ben Brothers imagines what would happen if Thompson were a Democrat, and concludes that a Dem-equivalent Draft Thompson movement would show us in utter disarray. But that kind of hypocrisy is par for the course. The "pick-up truck" link above takes you to a Jamison Foser essay at Media Matters where he notes that John Edwards gets reamed for being Edwards:
The rich trial lawyer/lobbyist who rents a red pickup, not to drive, but to use as a prop? The media tell us he's folksy and authentic. And the rich former trial lawyer who doesn't hide his good fortune? He's a phony.
More important, though is what Glenn Greenwald points out:
This folksy, down-home, regular guy has spent his entire adult life as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, except when he was an actor in Hollywood.

And -- like the vast, vast majority of Republican "tough guys" who play-act the role so arousingly for our media stars, from Rudy Giuliani to Newt Gingrich -- Thompson has no military service despite having been of prime fighting age during the Vietnam War (Thompson turned 20 in 1962, Gingrich in 1963, Giuliani in 1964). He was active in Republican politics as early as the mid-1960s, which means he almost certainly supported the war in which he did not fight. [. . .]

The only thing that makes Thompson a "tough guy" is that he pretends to be one; he play-acts as one. There is nothing real about it. But in the same way that George Bush's ranch and fighter pilot costumes (along with his war advocacy) sent media stars swooning over his masculinity and "toughness," [. . .] the Bush followers in need of a new authoritarian Leader[] are so intensely hungry for this faux masculine power that the illusion, the absurd play-acting, is infinitely more valuable to them than any reality, than any genuine attributes of "toughness."
In other words, the Republicans see Thompson as the only one who can provide real strength, real leadership. And it's entirely because he does that on TV.

I said before, the other candidates were trying to out-Jack-Bauer each other (Romney, for example, wants to double the size of Guantanamo Bay). But Thompson's already played that kind of role. Heck, he's already been president. On TV. The Republicans want to elect a fictional man to be our President.
*****
I have another theory about what's going on with the Republican primary, and I think it fits in with the Thompson angle. I've been wondering if Bush isn't actively trying to upset the base right now. Digby caught an MSNBC chyron that read, "Just how liberal is President Bush?" The right answer, of course, is "not at all." But on immigration, and, last week, global warming, Bush seems to be offering positions further away from the far right and closer to--though not really near--the center.

I can't help but think that Bush is trying to give the current candidates the opening they need to run against him and his 28% support--by running to Bush's right. To those of us who actually are liberals, this is both amusing and a disturbing continuation of the tendency of the right to define the center as the left, and views held by majorities as fringe.

There is, of course, one issue for which Bush is not leaving openings to his right: Iraq. And ten of the now-eleven candidates have done nothing but pledge to keep up what Bush has begun there, including Fred Thompson. Some, like our own Tommy!, talk around the issue in different language, but Ron Paul seems to be the only one who assesses Iraq with any kind of rational basis in reality. In fact, one question I've had about Fred Thompson is which side of what I would call the Ron Paul Line he falls. We know Thompson's answer about what he would do differently in Iraq (which is nothing). But does Thompson have anything like a more realistic picture of the world and why we are in the situation we're in than do his counterparts? I don't know.

Regardless, the White House seems to be playing a strategy that allows all the candidates, including Thompson, a chance to run against Bush. Indeed, Thompson is even now wowing audiences and xenophobic bloggers with his tough-guy, anti-Bush immigration talk.

However, if 2006 is any guide, this is a losing strategy. Conservatives like to think that they lost in 2006 because they abandoned core conservative values, but they did not (kudos to Michael King on this excellent essay yesterday). The hard-right base voted for Republicans as they usually do; moderates [corrected spelling] did not. I think there's a reason that, despite his flaws, Rudy Giuliani is still winning the Republican primary polls. It's not because, as some pundits point out, Rudy looked tough on 9/11. It's because Rudy's not a hard-right conservative.

Rudy's moderateness will not help him win the primary in the end, as any primary favors candidates who play to the base. But as pollsters ask Republicans in general whom they could vote for, Giuliani is the one who appeals to them the most. I imagine that if Rudy were to cross to the Ron Paul side of the Ron Paul Line, he could walk away with the general election. But because the Republican base is looking for someone to Bush's right, but who still conveys the same image of a though-guy commander in chief, a candidate like Fred Thompson--or, rather, the candidate he plays on TV--will win the primary.

photo by Greg at The Talent Show

Sunday, June 03, 2007

You don't need a weatherman to

by folkbum

This morning we had this bit of weatherola (my emphasis):
The National Weather Service says a weather phenomenon known as a cold air funnel cloud is possible across southern Wisconsin today and tonight.

In a special weather statement issued today, the Weather Service says the cold air funnels rarely do any damage and usually only last a few minutes before disipating.

The cold air funnels differ from tornadoes. "There is little potential (today) for intense thunderstorms that produce tornadoes," the Weather Service says in the statement.
Of course, just a few hours later . . .
The National Weather Service has received reports that a tornado has touched down near state Highway 60 and county Highway I in the Town of Cedarburg.
There are no reports on the paper's website of any damage or injuries or anything at all, really, beyond that paragraph. A google news search also turned up nothing. I hope that means all my Cedarburg readers (and anyone else up thataway) are all right. And it serves as a reminder that predicting the weather is harder than it looks on TV.

I didn't watch the debate

by folkbum

I've been grading papers, getting ready for the last two weeks of school.

But I' can guess how the debate went based on this cool graphic from the Dodd people.


Question: Why is Wolf Blitzer talking more than most of the candidates? Who's more important here?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

RIP, Steve Gilliard

Steve Gilliard, 1966-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog (www.thenewsblog.net), passed away early this morning. He was 41.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

We will post more information as it becomes available to us.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us. We will miss him terribly.
That's not the kind of message you want to find on a favorite blog of yours. Gilly had been in the hospital for months, in the ICU after complications following surgery--an infection that spread everywhere.

When I first started reading blogs back in 2003, Gilliard was one of the first bloggers I read, when he was posting at the Daily Kos. His voice was unmistakeable, his logic unimpeachable, and his opinions unapologetic. His military experience gave his commentary on the Iraq debacle an authenticity and urgency that you just didn't hear from the media in the spring of 2003.

The internet is a poorer place without him.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Random Ten

The because the Journal Sentinel asked me to Edition
I mean, it's been a while since I've done one, and they asked so nicely . . .

1. "The Knuckleball Suite" Peter Mulvey from The Knuckleball Suite

2. "A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress" Richard Shindell from Courier

3. "Drive" R.E.M. from Automatic for the People

4. "Northbound 35" Richard Shindell from South of Delia

5. "Summertime" Josh Rouse from Subtitulo

6. "Gas Station Girl" Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer from Seven is the Number

7. "Juice and June" Kris Delmhorst from Songs for a Hurricane

8. "Sarah in the Summer" Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from Acoustic

9. "Summer Evening" Gillian Welch from Going Driftless

10. "Drive You Home Again" Chris Smither from Live at McCabe's

This is what "vote fraud" looks like

I've written about this kind of thing before--that vote fraud does indeed exisit, and it usually takes the form of something like vote-buying (.pdf):
There is virtually universal agreement that absentee ballot fraud is the biggest problem, with vote buying and registration fraud coming in after that. The vote buying often comes in the form of payment for absentee ballots, although not always. Some absentee ballot fraud is part of an organized effort; some is by individuals, who sometimes are not even aware what they are doing is illegal. [. . .]

There is widespread but not unanimous consent that that is little polling place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, "dead" voters, noncitizen voting and felon voting. [. . .] Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights is the only interviewee who believes that polling place fraud is widespread and among the most significant problems in the system.
(You should read up on that exception.)

Today we learn that vote buying may well explain why Alderman McGee won his recall election so easily:
A secret John Doe investigation into irregularities during the recall campaign of Ald. Michael McGee yielded its first criminal charges Thursday, against a McGee campaign worker accused of paying people to vote.

The criminal complaint says that Garrett L. Huff, believed to be McGee's uncle, was "acting in concert" with McGee when he paid people $5 to vote absentee in the recall. [. . .] McGee campaign fliers promised free food and drink to people who showed up at certain locations with an "I Voted" sticker, the complaint says. Instead of food, the voters got cash, the complaint says.

Three undercover police officers were paid to vote as part of the scheme, the complaint says, and a fourth, who claimed he couldn't vote because he was on parole, was given $5 for bringing one of the others. [. . .] If convicted, Huff faces a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
This is exactly the kind of work that needs to be done to identify and punish people who are indeed organizing and committing vote fraud, and the DA should be commended for taking swift action here.

However, this case is also a reminder of why Republicans' efforts at reforming voting laws--limited almost exclusively to trying to pass a photo ID requirement--will do nothing to curb the real problems. None of the people who voted under the influence of Huff and McGee pretended to be anyone other than who they were, or to live somewhere they didn't, or to be eligible to vote when they were not. It is entirely probable that had a photo ID been in place, overall turnout would have been lower, with legitimate legal voters unable to vote, and these illegally bought votes would have carried even greater weight.

Most of all, though, we have Huff facing a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Granted, that sort of thing is certainly enough to dissuade me from going against my ethics and trying something like this. However, it seems an insignificant penalty for tinkering with the very heart of our democratic system, the electoral process.

If Republicans were truly interested in stopping fraud--as opposed to stopping minority voters--they could take this opportunity to strengthen the laws against this kind of fraud, the kind of fraud that we know is real and that must be stopped.