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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Cure for Cancer

By Keith Schmitz

Here's a novel approach to curing cancer. As we have been told for years cancer when detected early has a good chance of being cured. But of course in "the greatest health care system in the world" we all know there are people who just can't go to the doctor or put off seeing a doctor when somthing suspicious crops up because they don't have insurance, the means to pay for it, or more and more they are on high deductible HSA's.

Now the American Cancer Society is going to do something about it. The front page of today's New York Times details the $15 million ad campaign the Society is going to launch will be talking about the consequences of inadequate health care. This is all of their advertising dollars.

Here's why according to the article:
The campaign was born of the group’s frustration that cancer rates are not dropping as rapidly as hoped, and of recent research linking a lack of insurance to delays in detecting malignancies.
Now doesn't that make a lot of sense?

The campaign will not support any one approach to steer clear of tax rules for charities, but it simply implants the idea that this system has to be fixed.

To give some idea what $15 million will buy, Geico has spent $14 million on their "caveman" ads, and these guys are getting their own show this season on ABC.

There are a lot of good stats in the article, including this one:
Other surveys have found that one of every four families afflicted by cancer, which is projected to kill 560,000 Americans this year, is effectively impoverished by the fight, including one of every five with insurance.
Why the campaign? The American Cancer Society did a diagnosis:
Mr. Seffrin (American Cancer Society CEO) initiated the advertising campaign after being pushed by the society’s board to make faster progress toward its goals of reducing cancer death rates by 50 percent and incidence rates by 25 percent from 1990 to 2015. If trends continue, the actual reductions are projected to fall well short, perhaps by as much as half.

While the decline in death rates is accelerating, studies have shown that if cancer was diagnosed more in its early stages, the rates would fall faster. And new research is confirming that insurance status often determines whether a person’s cancer is diagnosed early or late.

One study published this year found that uninsured breast cancer patients were more than twice as likely to have their cancer diagnosed in late stages as those with private insurance. Other studies have found similar results with cancers of the larynx and mouth.
The stars are aligning to dump what we are doing now in health care. All of the Democratic candidates are proposing health care reform, our state is knocking on the door with consideration of Healthy Wisconsin, business executives are taking note to the drag on our competitiveness and people in general are just plain fed up with our for-profit system. The levee is breaking.

If for what ever reason you love the current way of providing health care in the US, you'd better kiss it good bye.

Props to Cory

by folkbum

The Capital Times ran a profile yesterday of Cory Liebmann, a good friend of this blog and a guy who does a great job blogging at One Wisconsin Now. It's worth the read.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Abusing The Abused

by capper

In the early 1990's, a group of child rights advocates groups filed a federal law suit against Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin, stating that the rights of children in foster care in Milwaukee were being violated. The state tried to get out of the lawsuit, but wasn't allowed to. Then the county, the state and the advocacy groups agreed to have a private audit done of the child welfare system. The audit showed that Milwaukee County was not being fully funded in the state.

The state denied this finding and stated that Milwaukee was getting enough money, but that it was being mismanaged. In 1996, Tommy Thompson and some of his puppets (including Margaret Farrow and Alberta Darling) in the state legislature added an earmark to the state budget. This earmark stated that, effective January 1, 1998, the state would take over the child welfare system in any county with a population of more that 500,000. There was only one county that fit into that parameter-Milwaukee. Thus, the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare was formed. It had a starting budget that was more than $30 million dollars than what they allotted Milwaukee County when it ran the system.

The Bureau took over and immediately divided the county into five sections, and put up each section for bidding, as well as the adoptions and foster home licensing sections of the system. The county was able to win contracts for adoptions, licensing and two of the five sites. The other three sites went to three private agencies.

Over the course of the next three and a half years, Milwaukee County was slowly, but surely, forced out of the system, and it was entirely privatized. This is in despite of an audit that showed that the county was able to provide better care more efficiently and for less money. Many of the private agencies folded and/or merged with others to create new agencies.

Ever since the state took over, the same problems continue, and new ones have arisen. The only positive is that children are being adopted at a faster pace, but that is mostly due to compliance with a federal mandate passed by the Clinton administration. Otherwise, the children who have been abused and/or neglected continue to be bounced from home to home, abused in the foster homes they are placed in, don't receive needed services, and having their lives put on hold due to high staff turnover rates.

Now, in today's paper, there is a story of this continuing. The most alarming part of the article is that the number of foster homes available to these children have dropped by 78%. The article fails to mention why the drop in available homes, but common complaints from the past include the extremely low rate of reimbursement (just over $300 per month to feed, clothe and provide all other necessities) and the fact that the Bureau is not receptive or supportive when they are trying to deal with these troubled children. The lack of homes results in children being placed in unsafe homes, or in being bounced from home to home. These results only further traumatize the child, making him or her more difficult to care for.

These poor showings, without any real or substantive shows of improvement, continue year after year. Every year, after every more report, the state says that it is unacceptable and is going to change, but never does. It is time that we demand that the state either put forth a more serious effort to help our children who have already been failed by their own parents, or better yet, get out of the system and give it back to Milwaukee County, and let us take care of our own.


This demand should be bipartisan. Not only will it provide better protection for our children, it would put control back on a local level, and make more efficient use of our tax dollars.

Where's The Right When We Have A Real Crisis?

by capper

I waited for two days to see if anyone would post about the article about the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (commonly known as the Mental Health Complex), but was disappointed that not one person had anything to say about it. The article reported about an increase in assaults by the mentally ill patients at the mental health complex, both on staff and on other patients.

I thought that at least the commentators on the right side of the blogosphere would have something to say. Maybe the headline wasn't startling enough, or maybe they read only the first few paragraphs and thought, "Mmph, serves those money-grubbing, overpaid, lazy county workers right!" Or it could be that the article doesn't deliver the full impact of the situation.

For the uninitiated, providing mental health care is expensive, running several hundreds of dollars per day. In the 1990s, the insurance companies were allowed to change how they handles mental health costs, making it more like the medical model. Say that a person is diagnosed with depression, they might be allowed five days of care, a schizophrenic might get a whole week. This is barely enough time to make a preliminary assessment and diagnosis, and start a treatment plan. It is not enough time to ensure the plan would work, or get the person stable enough to be discharged safely. These two factors caused a lot of psychiatric hospitals to close and regular hospitals to end or greatly diminish their commitment to mental health patients.

The overflow from these lost beds went by default to the mental health complex. But instead of increasing funding and preparing for this, the budget was slashed annually, entire wards were closed, and mental health professionals were laid off.

Now we are seeing the results of the budget slashing. There was a series of articles literally spanning months, discussing how the mentally ill in Milwaukee County are being placed in squalid, filthy conditions and sometimes left to die. This finally led the City and the County of Milwaukee to start looking at providing decent housing and services for these people.

In the article about the complex, it points out that patients are more seriously ill and staying for shorter lengths of time. That means that unstable, potentially violent people are being forced out of the complex to make room for even more unstable and violent people. These unstable, potentially people are going back into the community until they create a disturbance, hurt themselves, and/or hurt someone else. This makes everyone unsafe.

But instead of hearing cries about a crisis and demanding action from those responsible, there is nothing. When there was a perceived crisis in the spring, regarding crime, especially murder, there was plenty of hullabaloo about the mayor and the police chief, demands for action, and ridicule of anyone who would disagree. Now, with a real crisis, nothing.

I guess, in some people's eyes, it's only a crisis if you can blame a democrat.

Random Question

by folkbum

















Why is it that conservative bloggers and commentators find the woman on the left hideously ugly, but think the guy on the right is so incredibly handsome?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Taxes, Lies and Videotape

by capper

Well, since Jay went ahead and stole most of my thunder, I will settle for pointing out how the local Faux News (WITI-TV) disproves the notion of liberal media with their cheerleading cover of this story.

The Faux News sends their intrepid crew to the Tosa Home Depot to cover Walker's grandstanding. They repeat the Tosa Ranger's talking point by saying that if the sales tax were to pass (failing to mention that it was only a referendum), that consumers would only have to "go across the street" and do their shopping in Waukesha County, which has a lower sales tax.

There are two faults with this argument. One is that Waukesha County already has a lower sales tax, and that apparently hasn't hurt local merchants.

The other is purely logistics. Unless, Home Depot, and every other store would build a store immediately across the street from their existing stores, it wouldn't save the consumer any money, except for very large purchases, like a car.

Gas has just went up to over $3 a gallon in most locations. Now, I live within a mile and a half of the Milwaukee-Waukesha border. Let's say that I need a loaf of bread, which sells for a dollar. Would I go to the local store, a mile away, and pay the extra penny, or would I want to drive 5 miles extra miles to save that penny. Now, even though my vehicle gets good mileage, the cost of the gas, not to mention wear and tear on the car, would be much more than a penny.

The government standard for mileage reimbursement is 48.5 cents per mile. To drive that six mile round trip, the proposed cost would be $2.91. To break even on the penny sales tax, that means I would have to spend almost $300 dollars.

But the best part of the report is when they show Walker himself repeat the party line, "We're already taxed too much, we need to do a better job with the money we already have."

Here's a news scoop for you, Mr. Walker. You were the one in charge of the money we already have, and you were the one that blew it.

Ex-WISN-12 reporter dwells among the scooped

by bert

One story behind the story of Sen. Larry Craig's potty break is how everyone in the Twin Cities media failed to report on it. Jason DeRusha, an ex-WISN-TV reporter who has been at a Minneapolis station for the last 4 years, was trying to explain today how they all missed it.

Scott Walker is Dumb

by folkbum

I don't know how else to put it. Scott Walker is just dumb.

Today he vetoed an advisory referendum on raising the Milwaukee County sales tax one cent in order to fund the public services he won't, and offer a little property tax relief on the side. If passed, this would not of itself raise taxes--it would merely advise the county supervisors whether the public is in favor of the increase or not.

If the public votes no, Scott Walker is vindicated in his and his suburb-dwelling radio chorus's constant no-tax crusade. He can rub the county board's face in their clear out-of-touchness with the voters. He can dance the jig of joy on the grave of the people who still believe that there is a place for the public--parks, transportation, schools, and so on.

If the public votes yes, then no doubt the county board will send along a sales-tax increase for Walker's signature. There, he's got two choices, both of which leave Walker a potential winner. One, he vetoes the measure then, claims his victory, and remains a hero of the pundit class. (The danger is that the board could override him.)

Two, he could sign the sales-tax increase into law. Would that violate the no-tax-at-any-cost ethos that Walker is so dimly the hood ornament for? Yes. But Walker gets a freebie here--after all, the people wanted it! And, perhaps most importantly for Walker, Milwaukee County services will finally get the funding they need! Walker gets to dodge the blame for raising taxes while at the same time fixing a lot of the problems people hate him for!

Walker looks obstructionist and petty with this veto. It will not help as much as he thinks it will with his said-it-wouldn't-happen re-election campaign. Not letting this referendum through is just dumb.

(I hope I'm not stealing capper's thunder too much here; I know how much he likes blogging about that ol' Walker: Tosa Ranger.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Teachers: opening day rituals

by folkbum

For my teacher readers (I know I have a few), what are you opening day rituals? Email me at folkbum@hotmail.com if you have a good one you'd like to share. I will share mine next Tuesday--opening day.

Confidential to Owen Wilson:

If you don't want to be in any more Wes Anderson movies, just talk to him.

The White House freedom-suppression manual

by bert

Outrage has become banal in the Bush era.

Over seven years we have become used to all of these self-serving shenanigans of White House handlers to insulate the president and his photo ops from any dissent, especially during campaigns.

So last week, when it was revealed that an actual manual exists to instruct event organizers on how to sanitize any presidential visit of any free speech, I think we shrugged. The secret document written in 2002, called the "Presidential Advance Manual", came to light thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. According to the Washington Post, the instructions say that:
Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

Wisconsin lived these brave new repressions during the 2004 campaign when our state hosted about as many rallies as any state in the union. Remember? A fellow in Platteville was arrested for his sign visible as the motorcade passed, and a woman in La Crosse was part of a group caught with anti-war messages on their undershirts as they tried to enter a Bush rally.

The woman, Sandra McAnany Norwalk, recounted her experience during that May 7 rally in a letter to the La Crosse paper.

There a lady was asking some of the adults to unbutton their shirts so she could see if they had anything inappropriate under their shirts. When I unbuttoned mine she saw the anti-war slogan and called security. A guy came over, grabbed our tickets and asked how I managed to get them. He looked at my 9-year-old and told us that "We don't want people like you here," then ripped up our tickets and told us to get out of the area.

Some reading this might remember other cases. For example, the manual instructs handlers to allow protesters to exist during presidential visits, but to keep them safely sequestered far, far away from the event. Weren't protesters corralled up by the di Suvero sculpture at the top of Wisconsin Avenue for one visit?

Besides the fact this stuff cuts close to home, the other thing that might stir that moribund outrage is the whole principle of the thing. What stirs my vestigial outrage are childhood memories.

They are not happy ones; they are the periodic lectures from my dad, after he'd get his workboots unlaced and a couple of Budweisers in him, about how terrible the Soviets were. His chosen way to explain this thing called freedom to a seven-year-old -- this stuff that we in the U.S. have and that the Russians want to take away -- was to point out that in the U.S. we could criticize our president and nothing would happen.

He'd say, "over there in Russia they'd arrest you."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Recommended Reading

by capper

No, I am no going to recommend that overgrown brochure by Sykes.

Now that I lost half of the right wing readers...I, like many people in the blogosphere, am an avid reader. My choice of books are not usually serious, historical or biographical, as that I prefer to read for escapism. My day to day life is stressful and serious enough, where I feel it is more important for my mental health (no wise cracks, please) that I want to escape reality for a while and let my mind rebound from the day.

A few months ago, I read a book called Empire by Orson Scott Card (A Tor Book published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC-in 2006). The book chilled me as I read it, for even though it was labelled science fiction, it reflected today's American culture with a resounding accuracy. The book itself is a quick read, a type of Tom Clancy/Dan Brown type of thriller. The main hero is a special ops agent who, along with his aide and former troop members, strive to resolve what has become a new American Civil War. There is a lot of shooting of guns, exploding of bombs and some nifty high tech battle vehicles. There is also the Machiavellian political plotting and scheming, with some nice twists. The thing about this war was that it was not divided in geographic terms, but political. It was a fight between the extreme right and the extreme left.

The author, in his afterward, states that he was brought in to a design group that wanted to come up with an entertainment franchise about a near-future civil war. He adds that when he began to work on the premise of how such an event could occur, he found it sadly to be all too easy. He also goes on with these words:

But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized-if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed-nay, required-to espouse the entire rest of the package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war against terrorism should imply you're in favor of banning all abortions and against restricting the availability of firearms; no reason why being in favor of keeping government-imposed limits on the free market should imply you also are in favor of giving legal status to homosexual couples and against building nuclear reactors. These issues are not remotely related, and yet if you hold any of one group's views, you are hated by the other group as if you believed them all; and if you hold most of the one group's views, but not all, you are treated as if you were a traitor for deviating even slightly from the party line.
.
It goes deeper than this, however. A good working definition of fanaticism is that are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either be stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive. We are today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with every utterance.
.
The author then goes on with the question if these attitudes would inevitably lead to a civil war. He points out that it does not, but it does threaten the stability of the government and the longevity of the democracy. He then continues with
.
Suppression of other people's beliefs by force only comes about when you are deeply afraid that your own beliefs are wrong and your are desperate to keep anyone from challenging them. Oh, you may come up with the rhetoric about how you are suppressing them for their own good or for the good of others, but people who are confident of their beliefs are content merely to offer and teach, not compel.
.
Mr. Card then cites examples of this type of thinking throughout history, and in present times, around the world. He warns that this could have devastating results, unless we each learn to moderate ourselves, and not to try to moderate the other person or group.
.
Now, I don't know if it is as desperate as being in civil war, at this moment. However, during the last two presidential elections, and even farther, the vitriolic and caustic rhetoric was pretty damn bad. I would hope that as another election year is upon us (it actually has been already going on for months already) that we, including myself, can remember that we are all in this together, no matter what are political orientation may be, and can be civil, even if we disagree.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Odds and Oddities

by capper

It's time for me to clean off some of the small stuff on my desk, things that I found interesting in the last week or so, but not worth posting by themselves, either due to their nature, or the fact that they are not in my area of expertise.

  • I never really understood the purpose of someone hurting themselves in protest of something. It's like the little child threatening to hold his/her breath. But I guess some people feel so desperate to make their point, even though cutting off one's finger makes it harder to point.
  • If you listen to the right, especially the local radio squawk show hosts, the biggest threat to the Great Lakes is MMSD, and not lower lake levels, invasive species, or the high mercury level. Still, I can't help but think that a little bit of sewage would be comparatively easy to deal with than what comes out of BP.
  • I am a firm believer in therapy to help end marital conflicts, and I recognize the importance of spirituality in people's lives, but this isn't one of those times where it would be the best option.
  • When I first read about this guy, I thought it was the next Karl Rove. When I did a web search on him, I came across this site, and almost died laughing. If these guys are the party of morality, I'd hate to see what they'd call immoral.

Vote ED in 2008

by folkbum

I've been reading up just a little but about the ED in '08 campaign. (You may have noticed the button at the top of the page.) So far it seems positive. Keep your eye on it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

That's Entertainment

By Keith Schmitz

Man-child and hero of those everywhere with a gun fetish Ted Nugent might be a Republican, but he easily made an ass out of himself the other night in California.

Crooks and Liars has the clip and transcript, which goes like this:
I was in Chicago last week I said—Hey Obama, you might want to suck on one of these you punk? Obama, he’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on one of my machine guns…Let’s hear it for them. I was in NY and I said hey Hillary—you might want to ride one of these into the sunset you worthless bitch…Since I’m in California, I’m gonna find– she might wanna suck on my machine gun! Hey, Dianne Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? Freeeeedom!
Now, substitute George Bush for all those names and think back about how the right-wing went berserk over Natalie Maines' throw off comment in London five years ago. It is now five years hence and there are still people who hold a grudge against the Dixie Chicks for exercising their freeeedom.

Of course one could think about Nugent's mental imbalance and how he lives in a country unlike any in the world were any one can get their hands on an automatic weapon. One could think about how he is coarsening the political dialogue, especially belching what could easily be construed as sexist comments tinged with not too latent violence. But then you have to wonder about the people who admire this guy.

But then again it is his freeeedom to make as big of a buffoon of himself as he and his fans wish. It's constitutionally protected.

Kind of reminds me of a Johnny Carson comment from some years ago. "Ballistic experts examined the Sex Pistols and found they were actually small bores."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Things that worry (or intrigue) me

by folkbum
  • A lot of people didn't like Janet Reno. She may not even have been all that great as an Attorney General. But at least she didn't lie all the damn time.

  • "And in the end, thanks to incompetence on the part of the Democratic leadership, they got wildly more than they had ever thought possible. There is, at this point, virtually no oversight on NSA's data collection at all." (Do you think the author of The End of Privacy: The Attack on Personal Rights at Home, at Work, On-Line, and in Court by Charles J. Sykes has a problem with this?)

  • Bill O'Reilly hates the Daily Kos so much, he is willing to attack a dKos poster who is speaking out against anti-Semitism of being an anti-Semite. Of course, the guy O'Reilly chose to slander is an attorney.

  • Nick is going to be offended by this, but Ron Paul is nuts.

  • Saturday I wrote about how it's really Conservatives who hate America. As it turns out, Newt Gingrich is one of the biggest offenders.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Dunk Tank Is Open

By Keith Schmitz

Hey kids, here is the opportunity you've all have been waiting for. Tomorrow Charlie
Sykes will be on the very media he has derided for years -- The Wisconsin Ideas Network - laterally working without a net. That being his screener who keeps the liberals at bay and Chuck's control of the dump button.

Like Brigadoon, this doesn't happen very often. But hey, he has a book to plug and it is the now well discussed "50 Rules Your Kids Won't Learn in School." Seems like he wants to plug this book so badly he will subject himself to the rotten tomatoes that will hurled his way.

He'll be on with Joy Cardin at 7:00 tomorrow morning, and the call in line is 800-642-1234 (outstate) and 263-1890 (Madison and Milwaukee).

For those of you who might like to prep, your bucket of baseballs is here, here and right here.

Got a feel the phone lines will be burning up tomorrow. Have fun.

A final look back at Tommy!

by folkbum

I'm getting ready to yank my facetious endorsement of Tommy! 2008, now that it's long over. But I wanted to throw a few last things out there that I've run across in the last couple of weeks.

A number of Cheddarsphereans deconstructed Tommy!'s loss in the Ames Straw Poll. One of my favorite readings came from anonymous "template," purveyor of all things Whallah!:
If you want to know what Tommy's real problem was, look a little more closely at the candidate. The problem was Tommy.

He declared, and the media reported, time and again, that he would win in Iowa because it was retail politics -- the kind of politics where you didn't need a lot of money, or television advertising, because you could get to know the voters up close and personal. [. . .]

Iowa Republicans didn't reject Tommy Thompson because the NY Times told them he couldn't win.

They decided, after sizing him up against the rest of the pack, that he just didn't pack the gear.

Frankly, he comes off on TV like a doofus. He may be better in small groups or one-on-one, but he yells his speeches like he's angry at the audience. And he looks a little goofy, with his whitewall haircut. One observer said Tommy had either the worst haircut or the worst hairpiece they'd ever seen.
"Template" is writing, as is his or her wont, in response something Jessica McBride wrote. McBride blames Tommy!'s loss on the "east coast celebrity, 'presidential' looks, political name, and money" of Mitt Romney. There are two problems with that, one that reinforces what "template" wrote, and one that should scare the pants off of everyone else.

First, there's this from Todd Beeton at MyDD. He tallied the number of Straw Poll votes each candidate received per visit he made to Iowa. Winning was Ron Paul, who scored 87 votes per visit. Clearly this is not reflective of any "east coast celebrity, 'presidential' looks, political name, and money." Tommy!, who pretty much lived in Iowa for the last six months, got a mere seven votes per visit. He was there a lot, and the people didn't buy it.

The other thing is this about Mike Huckabee:

The as-yet-mostly-untold story of yesterday’s Iowa GOP Straw Poll in Ames is not about dueling bands and barbecues, of red inked thumbs or voting machine malfunctions; it is about tax policy. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the coveted second-place spot over Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback on that alone.

Brownback’s record on taxes was spotless enough to inspire the Club for Growth to run negative ads against Mike Huckabee in the week leading up to the Straw Poll. He supports an “optional flat tax,” whereby citizens could opt to pay a flat income tax rate if they wanted to instead of paying income taxes based on the current system (I don’t know much more than that).

Huckabee, on the other hand, supports “FairTax,” a policy proposal that would shut down the IRS and, simplistically speaking, impose a national sales tax to pay for the federal government. There would be what they call a “pre-bate” that the government would send out to families every year to make the system a little bit less regressive, but I won’t get into the details, because they aren’t interesting. [. . .] FairTax is backed by a powerful circle of donors and the well-organized group Americans for Fair Taxation, who actually bused over 500 FairTax supporters in for the Straw Poll. The rumor is that they overwhelmingly voted for Huckabee even though a few other Republican candidates (most notably, Tancredo) also support the policy. Huckabee edged out Brownback by less than 400.

Although the Club for Growth ran hit pieces against Huckabee, neither they nor any other pro-flat tax group brought anyone in for Brownback. Though the flat taxers’ TV ads probably cost about as much as the roughly $150,000 the FairTax supporters spent in Ames (Americans for Fair Taxation could not actually give money to the Iowa GOP because of their tax status, so members of their group had to give private donations to pay for tent space and other privileges), the money did not pay off.
This is also not "east coast celebrity, 'presidential' looks, political name, and money." This is serious wacko money, and, given how appealing Huckabee already is among the religious folk (i.e., not the tax folk), that could be a dangerous combination. I called him the one to watch some time ago, and I was, I believe, right.

And as for Tommy!? We don't have to watch him at all any more.

Sorry George, it ain't gonna work

by bert

Let me join other historically literate bloggers (Digby, for one) in piling on our president for all this crazy talk about Vietnam and Cambodia today.

The old saying is that truth is the first casualty of war. White House speech writers have just fragged historical truth in a new attempt to beat back criticism of the Iraq war. In a speech to veterans in Kansas City the president said we should not leave Iraq because when the U.S. left Vietnam that led to, among other atrocities, Pol Pot and his killing fields in Cambodia.
Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields.' "
I am especially eager to pile on because this nonsense has been popping up out there among defenders of the war even before this speech today. I in fact had drafted a rant responding to a letter by Bob Ash of Minocqua in Sunday's Journal Sentinel. And Charlie Sykes today also made a glancing reference to Cambodia in defending the war in Iraq.

As our president correcly highlights, there is a lot of debate about the Vietnam War even today. That debate happens in an arena that is open to interpretation. Why did we lose? What does it teach us about future military action? These are questions that can produce opposing arguments with evidence backing up both.

But past this arena of debate there are hard facts. To claim that the murderous regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979 happened because the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam does not stand up to any scrutiny.

The history of the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge in 1975 is too complicated to cover here. Suffice it to say that Cambodia had a relatively prosperous and wholly noncommunist regime under Norodom Sihanouk before the U.S. started waging all out war in Southeast Asia in 1964.
The fact we waged that war, and the bumbling way we did so, undermined Sihanouk’s popularity and strengthened the communists. Here's a lesson: Invading a nationalistic country and killing lots of civilians in pursuit of an enemy may in fact make the problem worse.

Eventually the U.S. helped in overthrowing Sihanouk, which created a political vacuum that the Khmer Rouge could eventually fill. Pol Pot's purge of internal enemies in Cambodia killed two million, making that regime the worse killer of the largest share of its own people in the 20th Century, before communists in Vietnam overthrew him in 1979.

The one truth that you can apply to both debacles in Southeast Asia and Iraq is not that we shouldn’t pull out. It is that we never should have gone in in the first place. Like weapons of mass destruction, the domino theory was a rationale for war that was proved to be wrong.

But I think the White House is telling historical lies in order to later blame all of the problems in Iraq on those who will inherit the mess they created. Too bad for them and their ploy that many of us not only recall 1975, but 2003 as well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Spinning Out of Control

by capper

It's no secret that I don't care for Scott Walker. However, when I have posted on Walker, I have had some interesting discussions with people that agree and disagree with what I wrote. I respect those opinions, even when they disagree, because, even though I don't agree with their reasoning, they are open and honest on what they say and why they say it. I can even handle spinning a subject or a certain point. (I'd better since I do it as much as anyone). What I can't respect is when the spin becomes out of control.

A fine example of this would be the post by Fraley at Daily Takes. He advocates for his boy Walker, which is fine and to be expected, since he did work on Walker's campaigns. But when he lists Walker's "accomplishments", I was simply floored by his audacity at playing with the truth. It's an amazing collection of, at best, gross embellishments, and, at worst, flat out lies. Here is a breakdown of some of the most egregious ones.

5 consecutive budgets with a $0 tax levy increase from the previous year.

But each previous year had a tax increase thus he was still increasing taxes.

Isolated large pension enhancements so not one new employee will receive them.

Most of these weren't allowed to new employees in the contract that allowed them. Also fails to mention how Walker failed to get several existing, non-represented employees to sign the waivers to remove the pension enhancements, and then lied about them.

Restructured the pension board by requiring appointees to possess financial literacy, having a retiree serve on the board and limiting the number of terms a board member may serve to two.

But still failed to notice and/or do anything about the buy back scandal.

Reduced the size of the County taxpayer-paid workforce by almost 20% .

But does not mention the closed swimming pools, the shoddy parks, and other failing services caused by this.

Updated ethics code and instituted new restrictions and reporting requirements, prohibited contributions from political appointments and those in active process of seeking contracts with the county.

He fails to mention the opening of a respite home for disabled adults that had to be postponed for almost a year due to Walker receiving contributions from the agency to which he awarded the contract.

He returns $60k of his salary every year ($300,000to date).

Unproven, but even if true, did he also give up the tax benefits for his "donation"?

Eliminated waiting lists for long-term care for seniors through Family Care; secured State grant to plan similar programs for persons with disabilities.

Family Care was created by Tommy Thompson in '98, implement in five pilot counties, including Milwaukee County's Department of Aging in 2001. The waiting lists are not eliminated, just moved on to the providers (Family Care is worthy of a post by itself, it's that bad). About a year ago, Governor Jim Doyle signed the law to extend it to all 72 counties in the next five years.

Created an Aging & Disability Resource Center that serves as a national model.

Again, per state regulations and created before he was elected. Not to mention the financial troubles it was in, due to poor fiscal oversight (a common theme in Walker's administration).

Negotiated multi-year agreement with municipalities to enhance our county-wide EMS system. Partnered w/ local hospitals to maintain and improve General Assistance Medical Program (GAMP). Spearheaded community partnerships to improve care for the mentally ill including increasing the number of housing units .

A three-for-one. Walker was originally against all of these until faced with overwhelming public pressure and/or press coverage.

Helped stabilize Midwest Airlines by using our financial tools, helping to keep nearly 3,000 jobs in the Milwaukee area.

Huh? The jury is still out on how smart the sale of Midwest was, or how it will turn out.

Last, but not least...Established County Executive’s annual Harley Ride to promote Milwaukee County and regional attractions.

And his gubernatorial campaign.

Some Education Stuff

by folkbum

This article on declining extra-curricular activity in the Milwaukee Public Schools is excellent. I talked (or, more accurately, emailed and talked) with Sarah Carr a couple of times as she was putting the piece together, and I think what's in there is accurate. This in particular needs more attention:
The gap in test scores and graduation rates between the city and suburban high schools has attracted the most attention from policy-makers and the media in recent years. But others worry that there's another gap that's just as meaningful: the difference in the richness and breadth of the high school experience available to children in cities and suburbs as urban districts slice after-school activities and clubs.
That's the heart of the matter for me. I am who I am today because in high school I was able to find non-academic niches to fill, activities that helped me grow socially and intellectually in a healthy and productive way.

Too many kids in MPS lack those same opportunities. Period. This isn't simply a matter of students choosing not to partake in what's available to them; rather, this is a matter of opportunities being denied. And this is a denial that does not exist in other districts.
*****
In my work for the Bay View Compass, I end up talking a lot to Terry Falk, the newly elected MPS Board member who represents me, Bay View, and a big chunk of the South Side. Every time I do, he reminds me of a few projects he's working on. I haven't taken him up on writing about those projects, but he got two of them in the Journal Sentinel last week:
  1. Falk is proposing that every district-chartered high school have on staff at least one person licensed to teach the core subject areas--math, science, social studies, and English--at the grade level for that school. Here's why:
    The Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language is poised to open this fall after years of preparation by a devoted staff [. . .]. But one ingredient is missing: A teacher who can speak Chinese. [. . .]

    At the MPS-chartered WORK Institute, which opened this month, two of seven teachers are licensed to teach through the 12th grade; two through the ninth grade; and three do not have high school licenses, though they are licensed for other grades.
    This is possible because of a quirk in the state's licensing laws that creates what's known as a "charter license." Any teacher teaching at a charter school can get one (if the district writes a letter to confirm that the teacher is teaching in a charter school and needs one), and then that teacher can legally teach anything at all. I helped write a charter proposal in 2006, and, among other problems the other teachers and I faced working on that proposal is that we wanted an explicit clause in our charter that would prohibit a teacher in our school from using that charter license to teach outside his or her area of expertise. The district personnel we worked with took that out. For, as they said, flexibility. I say I'd rather have quality than flexibility.

  2. The second thing that Falk is pushing is mandatory ACT testing for all MPS juniors:
    While more than 46,000 of the state's recent graduates took the ACT during high school, only about 2,150 African-American students did. That means about 4.6% of Wisconsin's ACT-takers were African-American, while African-Americans accounted for about 9% of the state's high school students during the 2006-'07 school year, according to state statistics.

    "We allow people in this state to pound their chest while ignoring the fact that Milwaukee has significantly fewer kids taking (the ACT)," said Milwaukee School Board member Terry Falk. This month, he put in a resolution that Milwaukee Public Schools create a plan to ensure that all 11th-graders take the ACT. [. . .]

    Seventy percent of Wisconsin's public and private school 2007 graduates took the ACT during high school, compared with 68% last year. [Note that only about 50% of African American students take the test.--JB]

    The number of minority students taking the ACT in Wisconsin has risen slightly over the last six years. In 2002, for instance, only 1,381 African-American graduates had taken the test.

    This year, the average composite score in the state for white students was 22.7; for Hispanic students, 20; for African-Americans, 17; and for Asians, 20.1.

    Falk said if all MPS 11th-graders took the ACT, it would allow the district to compare its academic performance to a city such as Chicago, where all of the students take the test. Comparing the performance of urban districts has been difficult in the past because states define graduation in different ways and administer different standardized tests.
    More than just making for a meaningful comparison among big-city districts, the ACT will open doors for students (one such student is described in the article). I found my alma mater because they spammed me after seeing my ACT score, for example. Had I not taken it, I wouldn't be here in America's Dairyland at all.

    And, further, a required test--one that tests reading, writing, math, science, and social science--beyond the 10th-grade WKCE would be fantastic. The ACT isn't high-stakes, but it's one that students will take much more seriously than they do the WKCE. It will give students a reason to return for their senior year--either because now colleges want them to attend, or at least the chance to take the ACT again for a better score. And it will give teachers something else to guide curriculum toward what's worthwhile to teach.

    The Saturday Journal Sentinel also ran an editorial favoring the plan, which is expected to pass easily.

An Appeal to Wisconsin's Progressive Community on the Matter of Mordechai Vanunu

This injustice ought not be ignored any longer.

Let's carry on the work that Sam Day and many others began decades ago

After spending 18 years in an Israeli prison for blowing the whistle on Israel's secret program to develop atomic bombs, Israel, taking its cues from the Soviet Union and the United States, refuses to let Mordechai Vanunu (pictured at right) leave the hell that is Israel.

Vanunu's 18 years in an Israeli prison, most of it spent in solitary confinement in a small, windowless cell, came to a temporary end when he was released in April 2004. [Think about that, how would you like a family member in those conditions for 18 years?]

Now he is appealing in September a further six-month sentence handed down on his new charges. As Jerry Levin writes:

Specifically he is charged with:
1) maintaining contacts or exchanging information with foreign citizens especially journalists, and
2) coming within 500 meters of places from which it is possible to leave Israel, including the West Bank. The charges detail 21 interviews with "foreign journalists" and "chat room" conversations and with trying to go to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 2004.

What the hell is Israel trying to do? If it will sate the government's blood lust for Vanunu's exposure of Israel developing nuclear weapons, why not just kill the man?

Letters and cash can be sent to:

-Mordechai Vanunu
Waiting In East Jerusalem
To Be Free, To Leave
P.O. Box 20102
Salah Adin St' - post office
East Jerusalem 91384

Writes Vanunu:

I WANT TO BE FREE. I WANT TO LEAVE THIS COUNTRY. 21 YEARS IN ISRAEL PRISON IS ENOUGH.

Mordechai Vanunu's site is at: http://www.serve.com/vanunu/ .

###

Monday, August 20, 2007

McBride Validates 50+ Things

by capper

In McBride's sophomoric response to the 50+ Things You'll Never Learn From Talk Radio, McBride attempts to refute the lessons listed, but only unwittingly ends up to be true and giving them validation.

Then, in the comments section, Grumps of the Happy Circumstance, takes on the herculean task of trying to talk some sense into McBride with this observation:

Do the conservatives who are yakking back at this list of "Things Conservatives Won't Say" realize that they are validating the underlying point of the list?
Not only does McBride fail to heed the warning, but offers her reasoning why conservative talkers do what they do (emphasis mine):
Yes, Grumps, of course. If we wanted to sound as illogical as liberals, we WOULD start spouting the things on the list. But we're not illogical, so you'll never hear conservative pundits say most of those things.
In other words, McBride is saying that speaking common sense, admitting errors, the Bible, behaving ethically and the other similar lessons are illogical to Conservatives.

Premature Speculation

by capper

In an article in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Greg Borowski discusses next year's election for Milwaukee County Executive. From the headline on, it seems that the MSJ is laying the ground work for their favorite boy, Scott Walker.

The headline "Walker foes are hesitant to join race" makes one think that the list of potential rivals are afraid to throw their hats in the ring. Throughout the article, Mr. Borowski emphasizes the advantages Walker would have in the upcoming election, including campaign money, political base and past election counts. He even cites a lot of statistics to back up his claims.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot that he leaves out. The first thing he misses is the fact that this is still mid-August. Most people are still trying to enjoy what is left of the summer, taking that last vacation getaway before the school year begins. They are not going to focus on politics. Even for those that do focus on politics, there is the presidential elections with the seemingly weekly debates on one side or the other going at each other and showing how they aren't like Bush. Except for political junkies (like bloggers), I would suppose that most people aren't paying a lot of attention to that race, much less a local race.

Secondly, buried in the article like an afterthought, Mr. Borowski reports that Walker himself hasn't even formally announced that he is going to run. Why worry about what potential opponents might do, if the incumbent hasn't even committed to the run (much less the job if he should happen to win re-election). It should be noted that even though no one has declared themselves a definite candidate, more people are continuing to add their names to the "considering a run" group, such as today's announcement by County Board Supervisor John Weishan, Jr.

A third issue that Mr. Borowski skims over is the political climate of the first two elections. The special election in 2002 was run because Tom Ament was recalled after the pension scandal was finally blown wide open. The next election was held only two years later. Due to the continuing outrage as the reality of the cost of pension was still sinking in (most of the County employees to benefit from the pension started to retire that year) and David Reimer's less than effective campaign, Walker was able to sail to a fairly easy victory.

Even though the current pension scandal has restored some of the outrage seen in the last two elections, a certain amount of the outrage is directed at Walker, who had promised to clean up the pension, but failed to even pay it any attention as he was preparing for his gubernatorial campaign.

Mr. Borowski also makes the statement that any opponent to Walker would be able to pick up the support of many groups and interests such as "labor unions, mass transit advocates, parks supporters, members of the County Board". He then stated that these groups weren't enough to stop Walker in the last election. What he fails to mention is that outside of the Parks People, there wasn't really any organized opposition. Walker kept the dire financial situation hidden until after the election. The mass transit advocates grumbled, but did little to organize.

It wasn't until these groups did join forces and created groups like the Coalition for the Public Good, that there was serious resistance to Walker's agenda. The CPG didn't form until last year, well after the last election. The CPG was enough of a force to make Walker take notice and rescind some of his more draconian budget cuts. It also got the attention of a lot of County Board members that corrected Walker's misguided and insufficient budget last year.

Mr. Borowski also belies his own point about Walker's war chest being larger than any potential opponents by mentioning that Riemer, who did not announce until October 2003 was able to raise about $500, 000. Same with the political base issue. Riemer, who only announce his candidacy six months before the election, and doesn't have the most electric personality, even though he is a very intelligent person, was able to sway over 100,000 voters.

Walker does have a distinct advantage in the next election, if he chooses to run again (even though he promised he wasn't going to), as most incumbents do. He does still have a significant base, the power of squawk radio backing him, and the popular one-plank tax freeze pledge. But given that we are talking about an election for county executive, it would not take long for any opponent or opponents to get their message out in the six or seven months leading up to an election. They obviously would not need to reach as many people, cover as much geography, or raise as much money as a state or national race would require.

Walker also has some distinct disadvantages in this race. These would include the ballooning county deficit, the people's growing displeasure at the increasingly poor condition and level of services that the county is providing, the latest pension scandal, and Walker's obvious aspirations for a higher position (thus neglecting the one he currently has).

In other words, it is really too early to call this race. The MSJ should relax and go out to enjoy the summer with the rest of the people. There will be more than enough time to do the politicking after Labor Day.

Beaucoup Beauchamp

by folkbum

I'm kind of late with this, but since Scott Thomas Beauchamp ended up a topic of conversation a while back (at the same time leaving this blog scarily high in the google searches for gay porn), I thought I'd offer this update from Josh Marshall
The short version is that the Army's investigation of the case appears to be confined to a) releasing no information about their investigation or details of its findings, b) leaking alleged details to the Weekly Standard, which no one will confirm on the record and c) keeping Beauchamp himself in communications lockdown where no one but family members in monitored conversations can communicate with him.

Perhaps Beauchamp made this stuff up. And that's not a throwaway line; I freely concede it may turn out to be the case. There's no getting around the fact that the legacy of the Glass Affair puts an extra hurdle of credibility in TNR's way.

But the behavior of the Army Public Affairs Office suggests that what they are pushing is not an investigation that would pass any muster in the light of day but a war against a particular article and publication.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but going back over recent years--the WMD stories, al Qaeda link, the Iraq War and more--when you've got the goods, you take it to a real press outlet. When you're blowing smoke, you take it to the Standard.
I agree with Josh: There's every chance that the Standard is right and the whole Beauchamp thing is crap. On the other hand, there's every chance that The New Republic had it right, and the army is using a friendly publication and its power to control access to Beauchamp to spread untruths about its actions. It wouldn't be the first time.

And now for these messages

by folkbum

You may have noticed this little box at the top of the page. It is for an online rebate source/ shopping sort of thing, with a small community attached. You can get cash rebates back on literally just about everything you could buy on the internet anyway. I've been using it a while, and it is a safe, no-spam, no-scam, real-deal site. (Plus there are plenty of no-purchase-necessary chances to win real money.)

I'd encourage you to join now.

Russia's Flat Tax

by folkbum

Libertarian Nick Schweitzer read my rebuttal of Tom McMahon's rebuttal of liberal bloggers' rebuttal of Charlie Sykes, and he comes away displeased.

It is in particular the line "tax cuts don't increase revenue" that displeases Nick's libertarian self. He writes (his iatlics),
One of the cooler phenomena that has happened in the former Soviet states since the 1990's is their incredible economic growth compared to that of the Western European states that are slowly turning socialist with their large government social programs.  One of the keys behind this incredible growth has been that many of these former Soviet states in Eastern Europe have adopted the flat tax.
Nick then links to the Libertarian Cato Institute, where someone notes that since instituting a 13% flat tax in 2001, Russia's tax collections have increased dramatically.

Problem is, this is not a function of the tax itself, but rather greater compliance (my italics):
One senior government tax official estimates that before the flat tax took effect at the beginning of 2001, Russians on average declared as little as 25% of their income. Since it was introduced, there has been a marked increase in both payment rates and revenue. Official statistics show that income tax revenue rose 28% between 2000 and 2001, and a further 21% by last year, after adjustment for inflation. Total government revenue from personal income taxes shot up from an unadjusted $6.2 billion in 2000 to almost $12 billion last year.

The Kremlin is pleased. "We don't think it's possible to force people to pay taxes through repressive sanctions," says Mikhail Orlov, head of tax policy at the Ministry of Economy. "The tax system may be primitive, but it's simple." And, he added, so far it works.

Part of the credit for the turnaround goes to a clever advertising campaign designed to convince taxpayers that the tax is a bargain. One TV ad during the recent tax season showed two apples, one with a 13% slice cut out of it representing the flat tax and the other missing a 30% chunk, a reference to Russia's former top income tax. The message: Taxes are so low that any reasonable person would pay up. "It's a small amount, so of course it's worth paying," says Natasha Diniliouk, an accountant who lives in Moscow.
In other words, more people paid taxes instead of skipping out on them, and that as much as anything what caused revenues to increase. Taxing 30% of only 25% of the country's income certainly leads to a lower total than taxing 13% of 100% of income. This is something Nick's Cato link leaves out of the discussion.

In the US, since we have near-100% compliance, switching to a flat tax would certainly make it easier to file, but I doubt it would create much new revenue--and it abandons the only progressive form of taxation that we have.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Paul Ryan, you rolled craps.

by Ben Masel

Back on Feb. 22, returning from his first trip to Iraq, 1st District Republican Congressman Paul Ryan told the Journal/Sentinal's Craig Gilbert
"it is our last chance to get this right" before going to "Plan B" and starting to withdraw troops.

"This whole thing is a big gamble, but it's probably the best gamble to take before throwing in the towel... "I personally give this three to six months to find out."...
"In six months, if it's getting worse, then I don't think the plan will succeed, and we'll start talking seriously about pulling back our forces."
Wednesday will be six months. Call, or even better, drop by his offices, and call in the bet.

DC: (202) 225-3031

20 South Main Street, Suite 10
Janesville, WI 53545
Phone: (608) 752-4050

5712 7th Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140
Phone: (262) 654-1901

216 6th Street
Racine, WI 53403
Phone: (262) 637-0510

A funny McMahon--Tom, not Ed

by folkbum

When a bunch of us lefty bloggers offered as a parody of Charlie Sykes's heavily promoted 50 Rules book, called "50+ Things You Won't Hear on Talk Radio," the righties said we were all just jealous of Sykes's success. (Just one example.) That's certainly not true for me--I like my soul too much to surrender it the way Charlie has--and I feel pretty confident it's not true for the others, either.

That's funny to me, because now the righties are going on and on about it. Jessica McBride offers responses to all 84 items, as does humorist Tom McMahon, as a kind of "rebuttal" to our list. (We lefties divided up the work. Probably just our collectivist nature.) I want to focus on McMahon, here; many of his rebuttals are cute one-liners or non-sequitirs, but he offers a few that are just plain false, and I feel those need to be addressed.

Our "thing" number 31 is that "Tax cuts don't increase revenue." That tux cuts always increase revenue is an item of faith among most economic conservatives, so McMahon repsonds, "Except when they do." The problem is, he's wrong. See here, which has historical data; here, which is funny; or especially here, which has pretty pictures.

At number 39, we listed, "No Democrat was ever caught fondling a FEMA director and saying, 'You are doing a heckofa job Brownie.' " McMahon invokes the Clenis™ with, "But a Democrat was caught committing perjury with that famous blue dress." This raises a couple of issues. The first is that McMahon ignores that FEMA under Clinton FEMA was a model of efficiency. The ruination of FEMA is, in many ways, the poster child for why anti-government conservatives should not be put in charge of the government. They believe the government cannot work, and then screw things up so that, you know, the government stops working.

More importantly, there's another falsehood here. Bill Clinton was never convicted of perjury. He was called in contempt of court for being misleading, and admitted as much when he gave up his license to practice law, but even then he probably could not have been convicted of perjury. When the judge defines "sexual relations" such that what Clinton and Lewinksy did was not necessarily included, it's not perjury to say there were no sexual relations.

McMahon's answers to our numbers 22 and 38 have some similar issues. For 22 we write, "Saddam Hussein was not behind 9/11," to which McMahon responds, "And Adolf Hitler was not behind Pearl Harbor either." Our 38 is, "Iraq was not a breeding ground for Al Qaeda terrorists until the United States invaded," which leads McMahon to quip, "And there weren't any Nazis in Germany until the United States invaded on D-Day."

We can handle the second one first, since, among other things, the US hit the beaches of France on D-Day, not Germany, and the statement is patently false on its face (unlike what we wrote for 38, which is absolutely true).

The first statement is a little more insidious, though, and it's not an unfamiliar argument for those of us who have opposed this war from the start. We do say, sometimes in exaggeration and sometimes in all seriousness, that Bush's invading Iraq would have been like FDR's invading, oh, say, Tanzania after Pearl Harbor. But McMahon and his ilk try to draw an ahistorical parallel. Saddam Hussein was not to al Qaeda as Hitler was to Japan. Hitler's Germany was an ally of Japan, and had declared war against us. In addition, Hitler was engaged in a hot war with our allies. When we became engaged in World War II, we engaged Japan, who had attacked us, and Germany, who had declared war against us and bombed our allies.

Saddam's Iraq had not declared war on us (at least, no more than Saddam's castrated machismo could produce) and was not attacking our allies. Iraq was not an ally of al Qaeda, and Saddam didn't like Osama bin Laden's secular terror agenda. This is not to say that Saddam was not an evil man, and did not deserve to be removed from power. But when the US declared war against Hitler's Germany in WWII (which was, in fact, the last time we officially declared war on anyone), we did so because Germany was as equal a threat to us and our allies as Japan. Iraq was not then (but certainly is now) that kind of threat.

That's just three falsehoods. There are more, but, you know what? I'm going to leave the rest up to the cooperative spirit of the internets, let our collectivist nature keep knocking down the lies of the right--something you won't hear on talk radio.

Our Every Other Day Op-Ed Torture

By Keith Schmitz

What explains the presence of Patrick McIllheran on the op-ed pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, other than he is a marketing device. Somehow the feeling of management is that there is a need for balance served by putting before us someone who is so conservative. The only problem is that no one on the staff of the Journal is as liberal as Paddy Mac is doctrinaire and partisan. No, that does not include Eugene Kane.

The oddity of Paddy is his ability to be aggressively naive and cynical at the same time. Case in point was his blog post on Karl Rove this week.

Pegging Rove as corrupt is as natural to the senses as saying water is wet. Yet in Paddy Partisan world, liberal anger towards Rove is miss-applied. "They saw Rove had talent used in the service of Bush, so they attacked him."

Could it ever enter Paddy's mind that maybe, just maybe, many people are sick and tired of Rove's immorality (even the toady John McCain), his win at all costs style and his scorched earth tactics that win the war but sicken the rest of us, all in the service of electing one of the most incompetent Presidents in the history of this country?

As Hunter over at DailyKos put it:
He (Rove) could carve up constituencies with the best of them, and divide the country as easily as columns on a spreadsheet -- and with no more thought -- but Karl Rove was no more a political genius than Jeffrey Dahmer was a brilliant culinary artist.

In Paddy's sunny world he sees only genius, because this twisted handling of the electorate was designed to get something McIllheran wanted. He fails to recognize the national unity that got rode over in the process. Hey, we're in a war, aren't we?

But maybe the similarities between Karl and Paddy are being missed.

It would be nice to think every media outlet in some way does something to add to the public good. McIllheran though adds nothing to the local dialogue except snarky morsels served up for a market niche.

Oddly, these are people who will never accept the Journal's news reporting as valid because it fails to paint the world in the colors they want.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Why do they hate America?

by folkbum

There is a standard trope (I almost typed tripe! funny!) among conservatives that liberals and "the left" hate America, that we blame America first, that we want Americans to die and think that those who do die deserve it.

It is, of course, a lie. With the exception of isolated idiots that the mainstream (and even most fringe) "left" reject wholeheartedly--i.e., the unemployed Ward Churchill--no leftists are out there with the message that America deserves or needs an attack, no one on the left says Americans need to die.

This is not true for the right. Recall that days after September 11, 2001, it was not the left blaming Americans for the attack, but the right. (Sure, that fool Churchill eventually wrote his "little Eichmanns" essay, but no one read it until Bill O'Reilly made Churchill famous.)

Even today, six years after 9/11, conservatives are still lusting for American deaths. The most recent glaring example of this is the Stu Bykofsky essay you have probably heard about. Bykofsky laments that America is no longer united, which, in his opinion, seems to mean that people have turned against the policies of the president and his misguided war. The fault belongs to "chipmunks" who are concerned over such trifles as civil liberties. (I, too, lament the lack of unity, but I place the blame elsewhere.) Bykofsky's solution to this lack of unity? Kill Americans:
Because we have mislaid 9/11, we have endless sideshow squabbles about whether the surge is working, if we are "safer" now, whether the FBI should listen in on foreign phone calls, whether cops should detain odd-acting "flying imams," whether those plotting alleged attacks on Fort Dix or Kennedy airport are serious threats or amateur bumblers. We bicker over the trees while the forest is ablaze.

America's fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater.

What would sew us back together?Another 9/11 attack.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia subway system. The U.S. is a target-rich environment for al Qaeda.

Is there any doubt they are planning to hit us again?

If it is to be, then let it be. It will take another attack on the homeland to quell the chattering of chipmunks and to restore America's righteous rage and singular purpose to prevail.
There is no one on the left seeking such a horrible thing. Honorable conservatives should be backing away from Bykofsky and doing to him what they did to Churchill (fair's fair, after all). Instead, they embrace him:
For the record, I actually agree with him. We have forgotten 9/11. The Drive By Media has intentionally removed it from our TV screens and from our national consciousness. [. . .] We no longer have the national will to fight a long, drawn-out war like World War II. That is a sad commentary on the instant-gratification tendencies of the American public. Dumbed down badly by gummint-run skoolz, easily led around like sheep by Drive By Media polls used to shape rather than reflect public opinion (or to reflect the effectiveness of negative reporting by the Drive By Media), the American people seem to want the war over in 30 or 60 minutes less time for commercials.
That's one of our well-read locals. While there is a legitimate point to be made about the media's tendency to play to the lowest common denominator and focus on trivia, the answer is a better media, not the murder of innocent Americans. The comments at our local's blog are no better: "Ummmm….mega dittos" is perhaps my favorite--such a bright contribution to the debate!

But this one shows the mindset I'm talking about: "My fear is that the national electorate will not blame the terrorists but will blame the Bush administration for the attack." These are the same people who fall all over themselves to blame Bill Clinton for the 9/11 in the first place, but then they show utmost concern not for those who will be dead, but rather that Bush not be blamed.

These are not isolated sentiments, either. Bill O'Reilly tells al Qaeda to attack San Francisco (to be fair, that's because he doesn't like Nancy Pelosi, though, not to "wake up" America); supporters of even moderate Republicans want the same thing. Even Reaganite Peggy Noonan is getting dangerously close to calling down the dirty bombs. And she does it with the same line of thought as our local all-star:
We make it too easy for those who want to hate us to hate us. We make ourselves look bad in our media, which helps future jihadists think that they must, by hating us, be good. They hit their figurative garbage bin lids on the ground, and smirk, and promise to make a racket, and then more than a racket, a boom.
The more you look, in fact, the more you find the rhetoric on the right ratcheting up--against America. The inimitable digby echoes a theory I've heard in several places:
I guess this is the predictable re-emergence of the black helicopter crowd now that the Republicans have lost their power. (These conspiracy theorists always seem to go underground when the GOP is in power. My theory is that they switch seamlessly between anti-government conspiracy to cultlike, authoritarian leadership worship depending on who's in office.)
Consider our local boy; he has repeated time and again that he's not a Republican. But he has also worshipped repeatedly with the Cult of Bush as well as made clear his xenophobia. Which fits perfectly in with the primary subject of that digby post, as well as this from Glenn Greenwald:
Every now and then, it is worth noting that substantial portions of the right-wing political movement in the United States--the Pajamas Media/right-wing-blogosphere/Fox News/Michelle Malkin/Rush-Limbaugh-listener strain--actually believe that Islamists are going to take over the U.S. and impose sharia law on all of us. And then we will have to be Muslims and "our women" will be forced into burkas and there will be no more music or gay bars or churches or blogs. This is an actual fear that they have -- not a theoretical fear but one that is pressing, urgent, at the forefront of their worldview.

And their key political beliefs--from Iraq to Iran to executive power and surveillance theories at home--are animated by the belief that all of this is going to happen. The Republican presidential primary is, for much of the "base," a search for who will be the toughest and strongest in protecting us from the Islamic invasion--a term that is not figurative or symbolic, but literal: the formidable effort by Islamic radicals to invade the U.S. and take over our institutions and dismantle our government and force us to submit to Islamic rule or else be killed. [. . .]

One way to look at the threat posed by Islamic radicalism (let us call it Option A) is to see it as the Epic War of Civilizations, the Existential Threat to Everything, the Gravest and Scariest Danger Ever Faced which is going to take over the U.S. and force us all to bow to Islam. Another way to look at it (let us call this Option B) is to dismiss it entirely, to believe there is nothing wrong with Islamic radicalism, to think it should just be completely ignored because it poses no dangers of any kind. There are, however, other options besides A and B. Therefore, to reject Option A is not to embrace Option B.
Greenwald is right on with that middle-ground thinking, but it is not something the right would consider. For example, las week Jose Padilla was finally convicted of something. I remember quite clearly the day they arrested Padilla; John Ashcroft was on my radio telling me that this scary guy was on the verge of dirty-bombing a major US city. All the scary charges faded away, and eventually the cultists were reduced to "He will communicate in code by blinking." And the right is lapping it up. One commenter there thinks adherence to such niceties as civil liberties is a liberal weakness:
You libs are pathetic. The military captured Padilla and his confession would not have been allowed in a criminal trial.

His confession to domestic terrorism would not have admissable, so once libs insisted he be tried as a criminal, he was off the hook.

Libs simply don't get it. They probably never will. [. . .] A convicted terrorist doesn't please Jay, because Jay is an immature liberal.
Besides being wrong about who arrested Padilla, apparently that commenter confuses Padilla's conviction on tenuous charges equivalent to "off the hook"--and blames liberals for it. Because liberals in this case defended distinctly American ideals such as not torturing people and not lying through you let-the-eagle-soar teeth, it's America who's let that commenter down. As Barbara O'Brien succinctly puts it, "They dismiss what was done to Padilla, yet they are so afraid of terrorists they betray the central founding values of our country."

Don't believe me? Read some of what the government actually wrote about Padilla:
Because Padilla is likely more attuned to the possibility of counsel intervention than most detainees, I believe that any potential sign of counsel involvement would disrupt our ability to gather intelligence from Padilla. Padilla has been detained without access to counsel for seven months--since the [Department of Defense] took control of him on 9 June 2002. Providing him access to counsel now would create expectations by Padilla that his ultimate release may be obtained through an adversarial civil litigation process. This would break--probably irreparably--the sense of dependency and trust that the interrogators are attempting to create.
Did you follow that? Your tax dollars have funded this kind of thinking--that, as Marty Lederman phrases it, "legal process must be entirely denied Padilla so that he will come to think that all hope is lost--that he is in a world without law or due process. As long as he even thinks that he is subject to the Constitution and laws of the United States, the "relationship" of "trust and dependency" is broken."

It seems to me that the active rejection--and support for the active rejection--of the most fundamental founding document of these United States is a far greater threat, ultimately, than the irrational fears "that Islamists are going to take over the U.S. and impose sharia law on all of us," as Greenwald put it. While we are not yet (and not ever likely to be) forced to wear burkas or give up the ham and swiss sandwiches, we are right now living in a country where the government and its cult-like followers think it okay--indeed, desirable--to strip American citizens of basic Constitutional protections out of fear that they "might communicate in code by blinking."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blogging the Milwaukee County Labor Council hearing on the state budget

by folkbum

Once again, I lament that Serb Hall lacks WiFi. Sigh.

The turnout was excellent; at its fullest, I'd guess the forum had about 250 people there, including youth groups, labor groups, and regular people. Former alumni of this blog Bryan Kennedy and Sarah Fadness were there, and WisPolitics.com's David Wise was tip-typing away behind me. (When his write-up is available, I'll link to it.)

I know that the people who put this hearing together are not always friendly to the Republican Party, but even though all Milwaukee County legislators were invited, not a single one of the seven who attended belonged to the GOP. Which is too bad, because here we had really only one side represented, and there were some tough questions that the GOP needed to be there to answer.

The questions were, unsurprisingly, labor-based, and designed to challenge, head-on, the budget passed by the Assembly GOP. And the panelists certainly played to the partisan crowd. They were Senator Lena Taylor, and Representatives Pedro Colón, Fred Kessler, Peggy Krusick, Jon Richards, Barbara Toles, and My State Representative, Josh Zepnick.

Because I wasn't able to live blog, I took a lot of cryptic notes about what went on, which I can send to anyone if you want them. I'll just hit the highlights--most of which came from Pedro Colón. His experience on the Joint Finance Committee and sitting through the Assembly debate (such as it was) gave him insight into the Assembly's budget and the thinking, if you can call it that, of the Assembly GOP.

For example, the very first question was about whether or not Milwaukee was a target of the GOP budget. Colón ran the litany of what the Assembly budget does to the city: Cuts in shared revenue, cuts to K-12 that hurt MPS (including a JFC provision that gave $15m to support successful math and science programs), cuts to technical colleges including $12m to MATC, and more. Cutting MATC's budget, he said, only makes sense to people who want to destroy Milwaukee. He put it even more bluntly toward the end: "They want to kill our city."

The GOP went behind closed doors, Colón said, and came out with a massive packet and eight hours before the voting started.

Colón said the the GOP budget was balanced "by getting rid of the rule that we have to balance the budget." He explained the Republicans' corporate favoritism with the great line, "We can control Fallujah but we can't tax an oil company." He explained what any number of Democratic legislators have told me so far, which is that the Republican budget was a show budget, that it was a budget for the next election, not for governing. He said the GOP were proud of what they had done, especially in sticking it to Milwaukee: "They're absolutely proud that they passed a budget that contains every retrograde idea imaginable--I wish you could see their faces."

Even on an audience question about in-state tuition for undocumented students graduating from Wisconsin high schools, he identified it as a slap at Milwaukee: Students here who work their butts off to get good grades and succeed--isn't that what we want our students to do?--who are vital and committed members of their communities. can't even get the tuition rates their neighbors get. We're not talking free rides here, just in-state tuition!

Colón was not the only one with applause lines. Jon Richards spoke up early about Healthy Wisconsin, reminding everyone in the room that the Democratic Senate put forward a comprehensive plan to cover everyone in the state, while the GOP thinks the status quo is good enough. Richards wondered aloud why the GOP would include a tax break for people who deal gold bullion, but cut the School for Work at the UW-Extension.

Barbara Toles, as a former UW and MATC staffer, was sympathetic to the plight of MATC and the UW in the Assembly budget. She supported the notion of allowing UW faculty to organize and bargain collectively should they choose to--something professors in most other states have the right to do--and she got applause with the line, "I cannot speak to Republican family values because I cannot even fathom what they were thinking of" when they cut the Wisconsin Shares program that helps working families afford day care for their children.

Josh Zepnick perhaps had the most concise criticism of the Assembly GOP budget: "The Republicans have people in charge who think they know the cost of everything but don't know the value of anything."

Fred Kessler came in late (he beat Peggy Krusick who got there basically just as Sheila Cochrane of the MCLC was thanking the panelists for their time), but he made some pretty emphatic points about the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a subject I spend a lot of time on here. He reminded us that the Assembly GOP took out the fix that would have eased the burden on Milwaukee taxpayers for the state: Every $100,000 in home value, he reminded us, costs a Milwaukee homeowner an extra $150 for vouchers.

Lena Taylor was perhaps the most fiery. Both she and Richards have been rumored for the County Executive job (asked about it after the panel, Taylor demurred, saying she couldn't do it without the money it would take), and judging by what she said and how she said it, she could easily gain support from a traditional Democratic base for that non-partisan race.

She, like Colón, had a lot of raw passion and, frankly, anger about the way the budget process has gone and what the Assembly GOP is trying to do to Milwaukee. She flat-out called Republican Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch "an a-hole" (she used the euphemism, that's not me cleaning it up) and at one point stood up to emphasize her points.

In particular, she was angry about the way the GOP budgets targets areas of the state that voted for Jim Doyle: Milwaukee, Beloit, Racine, and Superior. It was in that context--especially complaining about cuts in shared revenue aimed at those cities--that the "a-hole" comment flew. She was furious about the bait-and-switch Republicans pulled on MPS funding, about Republicans' provision limiting how many ballots Milwaukee County could print for elections, about the short-sighted nature of the cuts to MATC and UW. "If they [the Republicans] don't like what you're doing, they will punish you," she said.

And that seemed to be the general tenor of the evening: Everyone, from the questioners to the legislators to the audience was in agreement that the GOP was screwing workers, screwing Milwaukee, screwing students, screwing the future of the state--all for a show budget.

Which is why it was frustrating to me not to have anyone there who could have spoken for the other side. Where was Alberta Darling? Mary Lazich? Where was Leah Vukmir? Where was Mark Honadel? Former weatherman Jim Ott--surely he knows how to work a crowd? (And so on.) Admittedly, not all the Milwaukee County Dems were there; but that no one from the GOP side was willing to come to the table and explain why what looks to us like screwing Milwaukee County is not really that, why what looks to us like a show budget isn't really for show.

I don't know. Perhaps the GOP is still stuck behind its closed doors.