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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Where Have I Been?

by folkbum

This is my blog. I really ought to be writing on it, no?

Well, let me just say this: I never, ever blog about "work." There are privacy issues and the intense need not to get fired, among other things going on around that decision.

But this week has been tough for me, both in not crossing that line and in keeping the job. This week is the first week in many years of teaching when I have really, seriously thought about not doing it any more. I have always maintained that as long as the rewards outpaced the challenge, it would be worth it. But this week has put that to the test.

I wish I could say more--and, maybe one day, I will--but that is all.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Walker's Budget Proposal

by capper

Well, Walker has done his trick with smoke and mirrors, and has come out with his 2008 proposed budget. It is pretty much as bad as expected, with some nasty twists, and at least one pleasant surprise. Here are some of the highlights:

SIDENOTE: I seemed to have failed to properly link the pdf's for each of the following sections. To see these for yourself, please go to the above link, and then click on the appropriate department to see Walker's proposal's for that department. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Transportation

As expected, Walker does a royal pooch on the transit system. He cuts routes, cuts back on Paratransit services and increases fees. I could live with the 25 cent raise for regular fares, but to stick it to the elderly and the disabled, who are lucky to have $80 a month in spending money is unforgivable. How could Walker look at these people and say, "Too bad for you that you'll lose your independence and quality of life, but my base needs those few bucks to gas up their Hummers"?

And how is he promoting economic growth in Milwaukee when he is making it harder for people to even catch a bus to get to work? Here's a hint: He's not.

Parks

As mentioned previously, Walker must not like nature, or the thought of people having a public place for people to enjoy it. He wants to abolish 81 positions of experienced parks worker positions, 50 of which are filled, so that he can hire a bunch of seasonal and temporary workers. Most people who use the parks on a regular basis, from picnic enjoyers to softball players have seen how the parks are deteriorating in front of their eyes. That would be fine if the responsibilities were only cutting grass, stacking picnic tables or other mundane tasks, but there is so much more to maintaining the parks and the buildings. Only Walker and his supporters would think that it would be more efficient to have 1.5 seasonal workers without experience or institutional knowledge attempt to do a job rather than have one person who knows what to do and gets the job done. Guess we can get used to more scenes like these.

Sheriff's Office/House of Corrections

This area is a mixed bag. Walker is proposing to maintain the specialized unit that is to patrol the parks, the lakefront and during the off-season, the buses. But I find it hard to praise him for this, as that he was the one that originally defunded these patrols. That is like praising someone for cleaning up the mess that they intentionally caused.

But even if one was prone to praise Walker for doing this, he takes away any benefits by making the county more unsafe. First he wants to close the Community Correctional Center, and place all the inmates currently on Huber, and give them GPS tracking devices. He rationalizes this as being money saving and that criminals don't need to be locked up at night. Ask any cop and they would tell you the time of the highest amount of crime is in the evening and at night, when these prisoners would have been behind bars.

In another matter, he wants to have a private agency transport prisoners around, instead of using deputies, you know, like in real law enforcement officers. Think about it. Who would you want to be in charge of a bus full of inmates going to or from court, going to prison, or on medical appointments, a armed, trained deputy or a rent-a-cop from an agency that gave the lowest bid?

And to top it off, despite public coverage of the dangerous situation that is currently happening at the House of Correction due to overpopulation and understaffing, and the fact that overtime at the HOC is through the roof, Walker wants to abolish 37 correction officer positions.

Mental Health Services

This is the area that Walker might have done the best in, but it still needs a very strong caveat.
Walker commendably wants to initiate a massive increase in housing for the mentally ill, but it is not clear how these new housing units would be staffed. The best I could tell, it would be a boon for developers, but how it would be administered is unknown to me at this time.

In another positive development, Walker is expanding the psychiatric crisis and observation units at the mental health complex. The unit is full and has been full for quite a while. It is so full that emergency detentions are being deferred to other hospitals in the county, which are often not equipped to deal with the severity of an acute psychotic episode.

But, in Walkerworld, every silver lining has a big cloud. Walker also wants to cut funding for community support and alcohol and drug abuse counseling. And he doesn't want to just trim these services, but he is going for the throat by cutting these services by more than 50%. I have news for Mr. Walker, if you want to gut community support services, you are going to need to expand the mental health complex by a whole lot more.

The thing that scares me the most about Walker's budget is that all of these improvements to mental health services, as well as to Disability Services is based on the presumption that Milwaukee County will be able to reap the benefits of Family Care. This is an asinine and inane position to be taking. There is no guarantee that Family Care will be funded, much less how much Milwaukee County would receive if it is fully funded. He also fails to take into consideration that the savings from Family Care is questionable at best, and that it would take at least another one to two years to start effectively start implementing the new model.

And one cannot say that Walker is naive about this. In this morning's MSJ, there is a story about what would happen if the state fails to fully fund this program. Here is the story in its entirety:
State budget impasse threatens services

Cuts in services to people with mental illness and other disabilities in Milwaukee

County will become necessary unless the state Legislature soon cuts a budget deal that preserves increases included in early versions, County Executive Scott Walker said Friday.

He won't agree to adding any county money beyond what he recommended Thursday in his $1.3 billion county budget plan for 2008, Walker said. That could force some painful cuts, he acknowledged.

Walker warned Friday that cuts to social services, as well as to the courts, transit and juvenile corrections, might be needed. In his budget address Thursday, Walker touted some increases he proposed for mental health services without mentioning the potential for other cuts.

His zero-tax-increase budget banks on the county getting about $12.5
million more in state aid next year.

In summary, Walker doesn't give a damn about the poor, the mentally ill, the elderly, or anyone else in Milwaukee County. He only cares about helping to perpetuate the current cycle of the rich getting richer, and his own political aspirations. But even Walker knows that his budget proposal is a steaming pantful when he acknowledges more money will be needed:

Walker said he's used that as a strategy to rein in the board. Whatever he
proposes, the board will try to spend a little bit more, Walker said. He's not
insistent upon "an absolute zero" tax increase, he said

A Few Thoughts On Family Care

by capper

With all the hubbub about the state budget, the focus has been mainly on the Healthy Wisconsin initiative and taxes. One part of the budget that hasn't received much attention is Family Care. Family Care is basically an initiative that will alter how the elderly and people with disabilities will receive funding for their services. It is an invention of Tommy Thompson, with a pilot program initiated in 2001 in five counties. Last year, Governor Jim Doyle signed it into law that every county has to go to a Family Care system.

Currently, the Democrats want to fully fund the initiative to expand Family Care state wide, while the Republicans want to scale back the funding, and slowing down the expansion of the initiative. Meanwhile, while the state keeps bickering about the budget, counties are trying to plan ahead for the expansion of Family Care without knowing how much funding, if any, they are going to receive.

There was already programs in place to allow seniors and disabled adults to receive services that would allow them to remain in the community. They are broadly grouped into a class called Medical Assistance Waiver Programs, and included the Community Option Program (COP, the Community Integration Program (CIP), the Brain Injury Waiver, and Birth To Three. They are basically convoluted ways of diverting money that would have gone to a nursing home or other institution, and using it to keep people in their own homes or community-based group homes. The programs are the result of federal lawsuits saying that seniors and disabled adults were having their civil rights violated by being forced into institutions.

The objective of these programs were two-fold. One objective was to allow more people to have more independence and freedom, thereby resolving the lawsuit. The second object was to save taxpayer dollars. These programs were based on a total sum model, in which each county was given a lump sum of money, and they used the money to help people remain in the community, or be reintroduced into the community from nursing homes, state institutions, etc. The savings could range as high as $400 per day per person, and averaged around $200 per day per person receiving these services, and at the same time, increase the quality of life of that person. The downside was that there were many more people who needed these services than could be helped with the amount of money allocated. This created waiting lists. In Milwaukee County alone, the current waiting list for disabled adults is between 2,000 and 3,000 people, and some of these people have been waiting for more than ten years to get into programming.

Family Care is supposed to eliminate these waiting lists, and save the taxpayer even more money. The premise is to base the system on an HMO type model. Each county would received a flat rate per person in that county identified as needing services. The rate would be base on the average cost of the services these people need, which can range from an area of $50 to over $300 per day. Sounds good so far, right?

But problems have already risen up in the counties already using the Family Care model, and more problems are being found as other counties are exploring it. One is that the reimbursement rates to the agencies providing services, especially in smaller counties is much lower than the waiver program. This has forced many of the smaller agencies to close as they could not afford to provide the services anymore. The larger companies also reduced services offered. This created a new waiting list, just at a different point in the system.

Another problem is that many counties are finding it too expensive to administrate the program, especially at the onset. Milwaukee County's Department of Aging had deficits of millions of dollars during the first few years. Dane County was ready to bow out of the system, stating that they would have enact a major tax hike to make up for the lost funding, before the state reached a special deal, spreading the start up costs over several years. Several counties are combining into regional units to help share the costs.

And the savings from Family Care are not clear. I have seen some reports that indicate the savings can be quite large, but Milwaukee County's savings have been negligible so far.

I think that Family Care could be a good idea, if administered properly. In an effort to make it more effective, many counties are contracting and/or subcontracting these services to private companies, which are more interested in their profit margins, than in ensuring the client's needs are being met. Unfortunately, it increasingly appears, like with HMO's, the needs of the client is being disregarded in interest of the bottom line.

For further information about Milwaukee County's progress towards moving to Family Care, one can go to http://www.planningcouncil.org/longtermcare/ . There are also going to be forums held at the following places and times:

Tuesday, October 2nd from 12:30-2:30 pm
Goodwill Industries
6055 N. 91st St.
(Park in the far west side of the employee lot)

Monday, October 22nd from 12:30-2:30 pm
Milwaukee Center for Indpendence
2020 W. Wells St.

Tuesday, October 30th from 5-7 pm
Washington Park Senior Center
1859 N. 40th St.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

This Is A Public Service Announcement

by capper

All Milwaukee County citizens, tomorrow is the day that Scott Walker reveals his proposal for the 2008 budget. Keep your seat belts fastened, keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times, and enjoy your ride.

And yes, I'll probably have a thing or two to say about it, unless Jay steals my thunder again.

Please consider the betting window open on which department or departments will be having the midyear budget crunch. This year the prize was split between the Mental Health Complex and House of Correction.

SIDENOTE: Has anyone else noticed that when these mid-year budget crunches come up, Walker always has someone or something else to blame? It would seem that he is either lying and knows his budget proposals are doomed to fall apart, or he is very incompetent in planning ahead. Either way, not good.

Anti-Militarist Giants Cohn and Hilberg Die Within a Week


Via MAL Contends - Norman Rufus Colin Cohn (January 12, 1915 – July 31, 2007) and Raul Hilberg (June 2, 1926 - August 4, 2007) died within a week of each other this summer.

I intend no meaning in noting the proximity of their deaths, other than to state that these men shared a common disdain for the power of the state aligned with the indifference of its citizens to inflict genocidal catastrophes upon humanity.

And their lives and work ought to live on as a furious reproach to contemporary Americans who passively watch the destruction of over one million Iraqis as demagogic figures in American popular culture vilify anyone (achieving a certain level of celebrity) daring to point out the crimes against humanity that war inflicts.

Cohn’s most influential works are The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957) and Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1970).

Hilberg wrote The Destruction of the European Jews (1961), regarded as the seminal study of the Holocaust killing of millions of Jews, and millions of other victims.

Both men were historians believing in precision free of ideology in depicting the facts of past occurrence without apology to contemporary political motivations.

Cohn and Hilberg’s eloquence and precision inspired generations of humanists.

Reading Noam Chomsky’s The Culture of Terrorism (1988), Cohn’s words ring out.

All the NAZIs required of the population is a “mood of passive compliance” as Hitler’s Holocaust coursed through Europe as he promised a return to “traditional values” and security for good German families, cites Chomsky.

Passive compliance; that phrase should become an imprecation, a curse reserved for the most despicable of acts.

Norman Finkelstein, a child of concentration camp survivors and a furious critic of violence, writes of Hilberg after his death:


Hilberg famously used the triad Perpetrators-Victims-Bystanders to catalogue the main protagonists in the Nazi holocaust. It is notable that he didn't include a category for givers of succor, presumably because they were so few in number. Judging by the life he lived, my guess is that, had the tables been turned, Hilberg would have been among those few.


I can’t help but think that Hilberg and Cohn went to their deaths disappointed and saddened as the idiocies of the Bushes, Cheneys, Powells, and Rices go unchallenged by far too many Americans.

However, millions of Americans have come to the conclusion that halting and reversing the obscenity that we as a country inflict upon the people of Iraq ought to become the deciding factor in whom we elect as the next president. And millions have acted to stop the war.

And that conclusion owes nothing to Hilberg and Cohn, but rather is the result of independent, free thinking.

Hilberg and Cohn, as great intellects, would have smiled and saluted that.

###

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A School In New Orleans

by capper

UPDATE: The story is legitimate, as reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

I am usually suspicious of Internet pleas for help, expecting it to be a scam. However, I had recently received an email from a colleague regarding her son's plight in New Orleans. The email was written by her daughter. It reads:

Most of you may know that my brother Luke went down to New Orleans to teach. He wound up at Booker T. Washington School, which is a school for kids who have failed 8th grade twice. Some of the youth in his school are as old as 18-21. I am sure you can appreciate that this sounds like a difficult situation, however please consider the following additional hardships:

1. None of the teachers or administrators have been paid yet this year. My brother still hasn't been paid for the three months of summer school he taught.

2. The school does not have a phone, a computer, books, or other basic supplies.

3. So aside from not being paid, the teachers also have to come out of pocket just to have something to teach. Teachers are literally bringing their own books to the classrooms, or photocopying pages at Kinkos (as the school has a copy machine but no paper or money to purchase it.) So here's how you can help. If you have old kids' books, things from a 2nd to an 8th grade reading level, if you have extra notebooks, pens, pencils, just basic school supplies, and you are willing to help Luke help these kids, he sure could use the help. If you don't have this stuff around but would want to buy something to help, a classroom set of a book would be 10-12 copies. You could have Amazon.com or eBay or Office Depot or whatever ship it directly to my brother:

Luke Strattner
2419 Lapey Rouse St.
New Orleans, LA 70119

If you have stuff around and want to group it together to ship it, that's cool too, I can collect things and put packages together. We'll send a package out every Saturday (as long as we have something to send). You can drop stuff off at my house, or at my mom's. Or email me and I can pick stuff up from you. I am especially cc:ing my friends who are teachers, as maybe you might have an 'in' on where to get good discounted books or classroom sets or whatever. I know that not everyone has tons of money to put into this sort of thing, and I know that a lot of the schools in our community are lacking some very basic needs, but it absolutely breaks my heart that here in America, we have schools with no books, no paper, no pens, and these are some of the youth who are most in need of tools to help them succeed.

The young lady's email is mollycollins77@gmail.com.

And if you notice the age of the children, like I did, I was informed that these are often kids who made bad choices, or had bad choices made for them, and are trying to improve their life situation. I was also informed that Molly is planning on taking a van or truck down this Saturday, if anyone can help.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Tale of Two Counties

by capper

While driving between appointments this morning, I heard Charlie Sykes start to talk about Scott Walker's proposed cuts to the parks, and trying desperately to make it sound like this is a good thing. During his show, he said that this was based on an email he received from Walker. I also noted that another Walker apologist, PaddyMac, was echoing the same points at Chuckie. Both of these squawkers were trying to argue that Walker's plan would save money and increase the number of work hours provided by Parks workers.

This may be technically true, but the two of them were both dismissive of the loss of experience and institutional memory. They both attempted to portray the workers as glorified grass mowers. They fail to recognize all the Parks workers are responsible for and that their jobs include year round tasks, from maintenance of the pavilions and such little things like the Mitchell domes, to horticulture and operating the greenhouses so that they don't have to pay exorbitant prices in the private market (think about the army's $400 screwdrivers), and all the other tasks big and small that are done.

To exemplify what Walker's previous cuts have already done, Gretchen Schuldt at Milwaukee Rising has some pictures of what the parks look like now. One shudders to see what they would like if Walker were to get his way.

Meanwhile, in the September 15, 2007 issue of the Stevens Point Journal, it was reported that their county executive, Mark Maslowski, has allocated "roughly $1 million...divided among several projects including the Parks Department, which will get $500,000 for the purchase of a snow-making machine for the ski hills at Standing Rocks Park and $150,000 to seal coat some park roads..."

The articles goes on to say that Mr. Maslowski put his priorities in "projects that increased public safety and security, generated revenue and repaired existing facilities". Even though not all projects were fully funded, they received sufficient funding to carry them through the next year, when they would be addressed again.

It would be nice to live in a county in which the county executive actually cared about his constituents, and did the right thing. Instead, we have Walker doing his best impression of Vlad the Impaler.

On a side note, I noticed that PaddyMac had no comments on his blog, and this morning, Charlie was all but begging for people to call in. The only fervent supporter of this position was some guy from Pewaukee, who went on a complete anti-government rant. The ones that called in to present an opposing position, as usual, were interrupted, insulted and hung up on. That was all I heard, because I had to get in for my next appointment. You see, unlike Chuckie, I have a job where I try to improve my community.

Note to Jay: Sorry, no aardvarks, but plenty of weasels!

There's a lesson in this

by folkbum

One of the most important things I try to teach my students is skepticism, the notion that it is critically important to seek multiple sources of information about a subject, to seek multiple perspectives. And usually when I do that, I pull up a news story about something that my students know well, and ask them to spot the flubs. It ends up an eye-opener for them every time--if they can't get something like this right, my students wonder, what else might I be learning that isn't 100% accurate?

I'm not going to say a lot about the content of the study in question yet, but I had one of those moments the other day, reading the Journal Sentinel editorial endorsing a study's recommendations to change the way the Milwaukee Public Schools hires and places its teachers:
A consulting organization, the New Teacher Project, identified the flawed procedures in a report this week. MPS should correct these as soon as possible so it can better keep its commitment to putting a high-quality teacher in every classroom. [. . .]

The report lauds a major labor-management breakthrough, which took place about a decade ago. The MTEA permitted school committees, which included faculty members, to select new teachers. Before then, the most senior candidate got the position. Now, the two sides must expand the spirit of that reform by pushing aside other procedures that get in the way of hiring the most suitable candidate.

The committees consider only existing MPS teachers and cease hiring in June. The central office assigns all new teachers and, after June, reassigns existing teachers. The report recommends that the school committees do the entire faculty hiring--that is, that they hire new and transferring teachers year-round. [. . .]

With its high share of students disadvantaged by poverty, MPS especially needs high-quality teachers. Management and the union must get rid of procedures that defeat that goal.
I emphasized the key sentence above, which has a couple of things wrong with it, I can tell you from my expeience serving on interview teams for several years. For one, there's a lack of clarity in its generalizations: Not every school elects to have an interview team, and those teams don't hire teachers so much as place teachers who've already been hired into open positions. For two, the teams do, indeed, interview and place new hires. Some of the best teachers that teams I've been on have hired have been fresh out of school and their student teaching.

And, for three, interview teams do operate year-round--with one key exception. Between the beginning of July and the end of September, Central Office places teachers. This happens for an important reason missing from the editorial, which is that it is vitally important to have a teacher in place in every classroom on the first day of school. Every time a teacher who already has a position is placed in an opening by interview, that teacher's now-vacant position has to be filled. It can create a cascading series of open positions. The interview process is not immediate, so if that series of vacancies were to open in the weeks before school starts, you'd have schools scrambling to get teams and candidates in at the last minute. And then there's the necessary shuffling after the third-Friday counts--the district needs to be able to plug holes and move staff quickly once they know enrollments for certain all around the district. Starting back up in October, then, interview teams do indeed fill vacancies that arise, and they can indeed place newly hired teachers in those positions.

Most of those mistakes don't show up in Alan Borsuk's story about the study, or in the study itself (available from the NTP website). And whether or not that is the best way to do things is, of course, up for debate. But it's important to debate from a common--and accurate--set of facts.

So remember, kids--be skeptical. This editorial offers that lesson, and even a little more: If they can't get this right, what else have they gotten wrong? And what does it say about their recommendation, if it may be based on faulty information?

Best of

by folkbum

Though it's still not up on the website, the Best of issue of Milwaukee Magazine is indeed on newsstands now--at least, it is on the newsstands that I didn't clean out for souvenir copies. Here's the pertinent chunk:
Media Winners and Losers

Conservative Blog (Amateur): Other right-wing blogs may be wittier or intellectually deeper [Ouch!--ed.], but Boots & Sabers combines an informed, newsy style with lots of posts and links to news with an engaged readership. Reader comments (which B&S labels "spurs," in the military fetishism that characterizes the web site of old college roonies Owen Robinson of West Bend and Jed Dorman of College Station, Tex.) further enriches the experience.

Liberal Blog (Amateur): Jay Bullock's folkbum's rambles and rants has some of the same characteristics as B&S ("my sworn nemesis" Bullock writes, tongue in cheek): frequent, usually pithy posts, lots of links and a knack for stimulating reader comments. Bullock's interests, from music to education, help engage us, and he gets the "regular guy" tone just right.
It is surprising and not a little irritating that the magazine does not actually provide the URL for my or Owen's blog in its piece, but, well, it is what it is.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

2000

by folkbum

Among other milestones we've hit this month here at the r&r, this one may seem small. But this is post #2000 on this blog. (Post #1000 was about a goose.)

I feel old.

The Real Debate Wisconsin Money Quote: Former Public Officials Who Should Know Better Edition

by folkbum

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

I waited a little while to post this, figuring that the Great Hunter of Sexism Jessica McBride would have been all over it by now. But she hasn't gotten to it (or perhaps reserves her wrath only for sexist Hollywood liberals). So time to re-open the old RDWMQ.

Today, the big winner is former Wisconsin State Senator Cathy Stepp. Stepp has actually joined the RDW front-page team, but her money quote--as all the money quotes must--comes from the comments section. In this case, comments to this absurd post in which Fred Dooley notes that Elizabeth Edwards complained that Hillary Clinton had copied significant elements of John Edwards's health care plan into her own. Fred slimily asks, "I'm curious, who is running for President, John or Elizabeth?"

I've been a fan of Elizabeth Edwards since I met her seveal times in 2003. Nice woman, outspoken and honest. She shows up all over the internet speaking for herself--not the campaign--and it sometimes gets her in trouble. To me, it's refreshing to see someone in a campiagn who is her own person with her own opinons. The subtext of Fred's comment, though, is that John can't control his woman. (I wonder how Mrs. RDW feels about that?)

But that's not enough to win the money quote. Nosiree. That, as I said, is all Cathy Stepp:
I don't know why you male democrats would support a male candidate who runs and hides behind his sick wife's skirt. You're MEN for cripes sakes!

To me, he looks like the whole wimpy and timid "she-male" caricature of manhood that the feminist movement worked so hard to create in the 60's. [. . .] Go home, mommy, and let Johnny at least attempt to look like a man this country (and foreign leaders) could respect.
I could just stop there. But she didn't. A couple comments later, there's this:
Still waiting for the male Democrats to disavow this girlification of the male species ...............chirp ....chirp ....chirp.
I think Cathy Stepp just doesn't realize that all she hears is crickets because everyone else is too stunned to respond--stunned that someone who should know better would say such a thing.

Giuliani: "the right to bear arms is just as important a right in that Constitution as the right of free speech and the other rights"

Giuliani declares fealty to gun ownership


Considering the lack of respect Rudy showed for the 1st Amendment, firearms enthusiasts are advised to hold tight to their guns.



Judge Rejects Giuliani's Attempt To Kill Bus Ads Using His Name

A Federal judge yesterday rejected Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's effort to remove bus advertisements that lampooned his style, saying that a Mayor who is in the headlines every day and who recently appeared in drag on national television ''cannot avoid the limelight of publicity -- good and bad.''



A NATION CHALLENGED: THE FIREFIGHTERS; Second Union Leader Is Charged With Trespassing in Demonstration at Ground Zero

The president of the union representing New York City's fire officers was charged with criminal trespass yesterday, a day after the leader of the city firefighters' union was arrested on the same charge. The police said both allegations stemmed from their roles in a firefighters' protest rally at the World Trade Center disaster site on Friday....

While the police did not detail the circumstances that led to the arrests, the two labor officials insisted that they had broken no laws in leading the rally. They denounced their arrests as politically motivated tactics dictated by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in an increasingly bitter dispute over scaling back the number of recovery workers at ground zero.

Friday, September 21, 2007

And the halo goes to Doyle

by folkbum

The other day, I called on the Democrats in the State Senate to pull Healthy Wisconsin from their budget proposal. Today, they saw the light. This was followed, of course, moments later by the Assembly Republicans' stammering "well, um, no deal anyway, hosers!" (I'm paraphrasing.)

Here you've got the Senate giving up the showpiece of their budget in order to get the willofthepeople taken care of, and the Republicans insist on playing the piecemeal game that just ends badly for the state.

It took me a minute to figure out what was going on--and, frankly, I'm a little surprised that the Republicans are going along with this--and it's that the Dems are going to let Jim Doyle play the hero:
Encouraged by the progress made on a new budget this week, Gov. Jim Doyle today called on legislative leaders to meet with him and his top aides Monday morning to step up negotiations on the budget.

Doyle said he had asked leaders of Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans to convene at the executive residence at 9 a.m. Monday to "work as long as it takes to get a budget enacted in this state." [. . .]

"The Legislature must continue to compromise, continue to work night and day and complete the job they were elected to do," Doyle said.
Well, whatever. As long as we get a budget.

And the Republicans lose.

Sykes Watch: Toying with War


by bert

Charlie Sykes said the word “disgraceful” often today on a segment about the Iraq war.

The war is an important topic, but broad. Charlie chose to focus it using this question: Who is worse, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? That’s right, the most important task before us was to compare their different responses to the Senate resolution Thursday that condemns MoveOn.Org and praises Gen. Petraeus.

You might think the question itself is disgraceful, given the gravity of the underlying Iraq War. It is a juvenile trick in a mode equivalent to fabricating a “debate” with a question like: “Is George Bush a tremendously great president or is he merely really good?”

Hearing the question, I couldn’t help but recall that only yesterday Charlie was praising himself for better journalistic balance than the Journal Sentinel. Then the issue was the football fracas involving a Pewaukee player and a New Berlin Eisenhower coach. Because the player’s dad on his own initiative had called Charlie’s show, Charlie was congratulating himself for getting more sides of the story than Laurel Walker’s column in the paper. But if high school football deserves both sides of the story, why doesn’t real war deserve it too?

This was just one of many facets to his hypocrisy that glared like zirconium in just the short time I listened.

Charlie’s message about Obama and his decision not to vote on the Petraeus/MoveOn resolution was that Obama chose to “take a powder” or to run away. Obama’s own explanation, which was not aired on Charlie’s show believe it or not, was that the resolution was another Republican stunt. “By not casting a vote, I registered my protest against these empty politics,” Obama said.

Obama is obviously correct here. The Senate resolution that damns MoveOn.Org and sings hosannas to Petraeus was part of a coordinated GOP political strategy. Notice that in the past the Republicans loudly proclaimed that congressional Democratic actions, such as the Levin-Reed nonbinding resolution on the Iraq War in July, was a political stunt and therefore preventing meaningful work. But when the GOP uses Congress, and a presidential press conference, for stunts of their own, the fact the Democrats don’t play along is part of the GOP strategy.

The flaw in the strategy is that these GOP attack poodles can not effectively lob concepts like "manly" and "integrity" at the Democrats who see through their stunts. That's because the White House they exist to defend is itself disgraceful and unmanly. It hid behind the skirts of General Petraeus when it came time to defend its war in Iraq. If the right wing, from George Bush down to Charlie Sykes, was itself concerned with the integrity of General Petraeus, if they did not want to hurt his feelings, then they should have been against using Petraeus to convey the policy. The fact those criticisms came made their day.

Now to Hillary, where Charlie’s message was that because she voted no on the resolution, she hates troops. (Russ Feingold also voted no, by the way. Herb Kohl voted yes and helped it to pass 72 to 25.) The “Sense of the Senate” resolution uses a sleight of hand. In its initial findings the resolution praises Gen. Petraeus only, but its subsequent proclamations at the end of the resolution state that the Senate supports all men and women of the military including Gen. Petraeus. Then it condemns MoveOn.Org. Look here for the Sec 1070 part to read the tricky text.

It’s enough to give a logics professor a migraine, and not at all clear what a yes or no vote is actually saying. Many right wingers will spin it into the allegation that Hillary is bought and paid for by MoveOn.Org. I think that she, like Obama and Feingold, didn’t want to play this GOP game.

But Hillary’s motives were crystal clear to Charlie, who declared that Clinton “is more than willing to offend the military.”

Speaking of not playing the game, among Charlie’s callers who chose either Obama or Hillary as the worst, a level-headed guy phoned in to instead object to a premise. He couldn’t figure out how any criticism of Gen. Petraeus necessarily means the criticizers also hate the troops. He correctly said that generals have often faced criticism in our history, and mentioned specifically the firestorm that toasted George McClelland during the Civil War (sorry, no hyperlink to the story available). Did McClelland’s detractors ipso facto loathe all Union soldiers?

Charlie Sykes didn’t answer that question. He took a powder.

Loonies' Tune

By Keith Schmitz

When we all debate about remedies for our economy the argument usually gets down to how the US of A is doing versus other countries. Usually the conservatives claim that the Europeans (our favorites) have this huge unemployment problem and their economy is on the ropes.

Well you can hoot and holler about how poorly other countries are doing, but there is one report card that givers a pretty good idea of relative standing and that is the exchange rate.

My wife and I do a fair amount of international travelling. We did Canada a lot before Bush got in and then following 9/11 we started going to other hemispheres.

Canada used to be a tremendous bargain. When we first went there one of our dollars would buy 1.58 Loonies (the Canadians put a bird on their dollar coin). In fact my daughter would go up to the great white north to do Christmas shopping because literally the country was on sale.

No more. Woke up to the NY Times this morning and saw that now one Bush Buck will get you just one Loonie.

This is your wake up call America.

For the past generation we have been lead by the disciples of Ayn Rand. Look no further than the Alan Greenspan victory lap to plug his new book.

We have been told to lay at the feet of the alter of free enterprise many sacrifices -- protected industries, access to health for everyone, fair taxation, sweetheart government deals for business, common sense business regulation, unions, jobs, environmental regulation -- so that we could build a better economy. "Those other countries with their socialistic welfare states don't live in the real world," the sagely conservative economies back up by their millionaire pundits in the media would tell us.

We were told if we did all those things America would be the economic powerhouse of the world. Uh uh says the exchange rate.

Turns out that the economies of Europe that were built by the "socialistic" Marshall plan have desirable currencies and we do not. The money that my wife and I used to travel in style back in February, 2002 would now force us to live like paupers thanks to the Bush economy.

If you want to see a spectacular blow up of the principles of Ayn Rand, check out what's going on in Iraq. This was going to be the economic garden of Eden accoding to the neocons.

Turns out things have gone wrong in the lab. At an unemployment rate of 50% the men have a lot of time on their hands and many have turned that free time into attacks on our troops. And did we mention that another nifty policy was allowing the population free access to guns. Yeah, this is working out real neat.

Conservatives love to deride the European economies for being foolish and detached from reality. But somehow the Europeans have sensed that to have a consumer economy, you've got to have consumers.

Seems like the real Loonie in this picture is the conservative economic policy that is driving our country into a ditch.

Excuse me? What did you just say?

by folkbum

I'm about to quote one of those AP articles that, at the drop of a hat, can change and update and may, by the time you read this, not even say what it does right now. But when I awoke this morning, here's what I saw (my emphasis):
Democrats failing to pass anti-war bill
Democrats are unable to pass legislation that would challenge President Bush on the Iraq war, despite public opinion polls that show the war remains deeply unpopular with voters.

Failing to muster the support, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the war now belonged to Republicans and vowed they would have to go on record again and again as siding with President Bush. He scheduled a vote Friday on legislation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would order combat troops home in nine months.

"Back home they assert their independence, but in Washington they walk in lockstep with the president and continue to support his failed policies," said Reid, D-Nev.

Friday's vote caps off a week of disappointing roll calls for the Democrats, who had hoped that more Republicans would have jumped on board by now. [. . .] On Wednesday, the Senate blocked legislation by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., that would have guaranteed troops more time at home; it fell by a 56-44 vote with 60 votes needed to advance. [. . .] Levin's bill too was expected to fall short of the 60 votes required, with Republicans saying they still oppose setting a firm deadline on the war.
Democrats are failing, failing to muster support? Look, every single Democrat supported the Webb amendment. Even Joe "I can't wait to attack Iran" Lieberman (technically an independent, I guess) supported it.

Do you know what, this time last year, the press used to call it when every member of the majority party in the Senate voted for a bill but the bill didn't pass? A FILIBUSTER. This writer says that "60 votes [are] required." That's crap. It takes 51 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. The Republicans are filibustering!

This is the same press that, not that long ago, called Democrats obstructionist for filibustering--warned us how Republicans would have to invoke the "nuclear option" to eliminate the possibility of filibusters so that the holy and sanctified upperdownvote could happen on important matters.

Right now, the Republicans are refusing to grant the same sacred upperdownvote on matters that have overwhelming support among the American people. And who, according to the AP, is "failing" the American people? Democrats, the ones who had the 51 votes needed to pass the bills. As often as Democrats took the heat the last six years for filibustering anything, the Republicans are doing it three times as often and are getting away with it in the press!

The Republicans clearly don't want President Bush to be in the position of having to either sign or veto a piece of legislation like the Webb amendment. I do not know why they would want to protect a man with a 26% approval rating. Let him fall on his own damned grenades for a while. If he doesn't want to sign the bill, then let him veto it.

But more galling than the idea that popular Republicans would protect their unpopular president is the way that, in the press, the filibuster has apparently moved from earth-shattering, public will-obstructing evil to just the routine way of doing business. The way that the press is blaming Democrats for the failure of Republicans to get their heads out of their rears. The way the press seems to want to lay the continued deaths of American servicemen and women at the feet of Harry Reid.

Well, I suppose the media has blood on its own hands it may now be trying to get rid of, too.

Chart by McClatchy, via Kevin Drum.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Next, I'm going to try to get Zagat rated

by folkbum

I've heard from several people now that the issue of Milwaukee Magazine hitting subscribers' mailboxes this week names folkbum's rambles and rants as the Best of 2007 for amateur liberal blogging.

The list hasn't made it to the magazine's website yet, but it ought to be there soon. (Even though they don't put all of their content online, the Best of list is the sort of thing they do make available.)

On the one hand, this is really quite cool. I think the talent and blogging ability you see here from the stable of regulars and irregulars is certainly worthy of an award. On the other, I can think of a half-dozen other amateur liberal blogs in the city (more if you add the state) that also deserve to be called the Best. In either case, I don't think it's just what I do here alone that makes the difference.

Many thanks to Bert, capper, Keith Schmitz, Michael Leon, Ben Masel, and Realism who are the current gang of talent, as well as previous guests Steve Paske, grumbleberries, Sarah Fadness, Bryan Kennedy, Tim Schilke, nonpartisan, Josh Freker, and Ingrid Ankerson, who also at one time or another have been a part of the team (I probably missed some--let me know if I forgot). They truly are the Best of.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

OpEdNews Pulls Critical Piece on Tasering Attack

by Michael A. Leon

Rob Kall runs OpEdNews.com and does not care for criticism of his fellow liberals and progressives.

In reaction to my piece (posted and then taken down) criticizing the lack of response by Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) who pooh poohed the tasering of U. Fla. student Andrew Meyer for asking impolitic questions of Sen. John Kerry, Kall wrote me a nasty e-mail just now.

[Update: Josh Marshall allows that Meyer is a “… young journalist whose brief career has been devoted writing things to make people really angry … so we shouldn't be surprised that he provoked an extreme response. No way did he deserve to be Tasered, and in fact I'd like to see Tasers banned in most circumstances.”]

That’s some explanation by Marshall’s for his brief apologetics (and previous lack of challenge) for the police assault! [Meyer asked Sen. Kerry several excellent and pointed questions and went on for, gasp, over three minutes before his mic was shut off, and he was dragged away and tasered as Kerry let the assault go unchallenged.]

Anyway, OpEd’s Kall writes of my critical piece on Marshall that “you don't go calling allies (like Marshall) names” and “Do you think you can attack and call names to a fellow progressive who generally does great work and still be considered a trusted author? Hello?”

Actually, yes, disagreement is very good thing, Rob, and fellow progressives, even the mighty Senator Kerry and the great Josh Marshall, should be called to account their perceived political shortcomings or lack of action in the body politic.

For example, I recently finished a long exchange with Xoff at Uppity Wisconsin, and have more respect for Xoff now than I did before the exchange. Xoff took off on a respected member of the Democratic state assembly, the lone Latino whom I really respect. Though I profoundly disagree with Xoff on the issue, I also recognize that he is a brilliant, intellectually honest writer, and is well within his rights to take off on whomever he wishes.

This ethic eludes Kall.

No, Kall is of the rightwing mindset that you never criticize people on your team—a lurid conception of the world of letters and political commentary.

Let’s face it, if the First Amendment were put to a vote, it would go down miserably.

I don't know Andrew Meyer's politics or his past writings; I'm not interested.

I do beleive that in a democracy we ought to stick up for each other's rights, ask questions of our legislators and seek redress when so inclined.

Sounding like a scolding assistance principal, Kall writes, “Now, I have to apologize to Josh Marshall. I want to. And I'm demoting you to member-- for a week-- if you are cool and understand that you violated trust on this one.”

I told Kall to fuck off.

Here’s his e-mail:

Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2007 11:04:23 -0400
From: "Robert Kall"
To: "Michael Leon" Subject:
Re: AS by Michael Leon: Josh Marshall Fronts for Cops and John Kerry

How about "piss on your trusted author status?

Do you think you can attack and call names to a fellow progressive who generally does great work and still be considered a trusted author? Hello?

It's one thing to send off an email or respond in a forum to someone with a nasty remark. But don't you DARE do it under the masthead of OpEdNews.

I've long advised friends and colleagues to sit on an email for 24 hours before posting it, if it has been written in anger.

Now, I have to apologize to Josh Marshall. I want to. And I'm demoting you to member-- for a week-- if you are cool and understand that you violated trust on this one.

On your blog, you write whatever you want. But when you publish as a trusted author, you don't go calling allies names.

Piss on Josh Marshall? Come on. I sure hope you see that this was poor judgment. If you had objectively discussed your feelings about Marshall's approach to the story, I would have had no complaint.

I don't like to do this, but feel it is part of the process I need to go through, including letting Josh Marshall know about it. I will not mention your name, if he missed it.

It looks like it hasn't shown up on google news and that you DO have it on your blog. I think you're making a mistake. Strong progressive media people are too few and far between. Josh Marshall does a great job overall.

Yesterday I headlined an article that raised the questionable background of the tasered guy, in the article that included Harry Potter in the title. I think our story was more measured and covered the range of issues.

Look, I don't like doing this or sending this to you. But in three years or five, if you are still at this, you may find yourself facing Josh Marshall, or even wanting a job or something from him and he may remember you as the asshole (in his mind, at the least) who wrote ...

I think you ought to plug this into the hold for 24 hours queue, then dump it. I've deleted the article, maybe the third out of 40,000+ that we've published in the past 28 months.
Sincerely,
rob kall


Happy to making history, Rob!
###

University of Florida Police Department’s number is (352) 392-1111

I almost f-arrrr!-got: It's talk like a pirate day.

by folkbum

Really.

I've run that keyboard picture before. But it's a classic. Be gentle with the puns in the comments, please.

It's time to let Healthy Wisconsin go

by folkbum

My pick in the WisPolitcs budget bingo has long passed, so I got nothing on the line here when I say this: My Democratic State Senators, it's time to drop Healthy Wisconsin.

There's a lot that I like about Healthy Wisconsin. It gets close to many of the things I see as necessary to real health care reform and it sounds a lot like the health care reform package I proposed a couple years back. But it was never going to pass this way. You know it, I know it, Governor Doyle knows it.

But now you have the perfect opportunity to do a couple of things. One, get the budget done--that's the most important thing. There are hundreds of municipal and schools employees all over the state losing sleep over this. There are dozens of bills tied up in the legislature yet because the budget isn't done. Forty-nine other states are using us as the Bad Example. It is time to wrap things up, people.

Two, this is a chance to score some points. I know, I know, this isn't supposed to be about political points. This is about the Willothepeople. Fine, whatever (tell that to Mark Rahmlow). Just call it a Happy Accident, a lucky side benefit of tying up the budget process now. The Republicans have convinced (some of) your brothers and sisters in the Assembly to pass a piecemeal budget. This is not acceptable, as Seth explains:
So unless the GOP has also announced a willingness to bend on it's "no tax-increase" policy and strict funding cap, it means that the extra funding is going to need to come out of somewhere else; yet, "somewhere else" is nowhere to be seen.

In other words, while the GOP may be mostly agreeing to the Dem proposal on K-12 funding--as Speaker Huebsch has stressed for the media in recent days--unless they're also bending on their strict stances on overall funding, it just means they're going to agree to even less down the line.

And therein lies the difficulty with piecemeal budgets, which is why state budgets--at least in Wisconsin--simply don't get passed that way.
In the process of getting to the pieces, though, the Republicans have abandoned some of the more significant abominations of their unserious show budget, particularly in the area of K-12 education. It's time to lose the show part of your budget, too.

All you have to say is, fine--now meet us where we are. Give us a complete budget. I bet you Jim Kreuser and Co. could be easily convinced to raise enough hell to get the Republicans back in for a Healthy Wisconsin-less budget. Take what the Assembly already passed, add the remaining Senate or JFC pages, and you have a real, workable, complete budget that Jim Doyle can sign--with the BadgerCare expansion, the cigarette tax, the child care provisions, the Department of Children and Families, and so on.

Two things could happen: One, the Assembly relents right away and passes a complete budget and the Democratic Senate looks magnanimous in victory ("It was important to hold out for a complete budget . . . We're glad the Republicans finally saw fit to serve the people, not the special interests . . . We are happy to see the Republicans agreeing with us about the level of school funding . . ." and so on). In other words, they blinked first, and you can capitalize on it.

Or, two, the Assembly refuses anyway, and the Republicans again look like obstructionists. Doyle on one side ("I'd really like to have a budget to sign") and the Senate on the other ("We set aside our controversial plan to do what's best for the people"), and the Republicans will be the monkeys in the middle. Any further hold-up will seem petty and will serve only to give ammunition to our side for November, 2008.

But it can't happen until, in a big, noticeable way, Democrats drop Healthy Wisconsin. Call a press conference, promise to make it a top priority in the spring, remind people how much health care is sucking out of the pockets of workers and the coffers of business . . . However you do it, just do it.

The aforementioned Seth suggested exactly this several weeks back. It was too early at the time, but Seth makes a good point when he says,
The turn from restless to impatient is clearly coming in the media coverage of the budget, and just as it's in the best interest of the state to get something accomplished, it's in the best interest of the Dems to be ahead of the curve rather than being pulled under it.
That curve is moving fast, and now is the time. Get this done, claim the win, and get back to work passing Healthy Wisconsin as a stand-alone piece. Also, campaign finance reform, please. Oh, and K-12 funding reform. Some pro-real people tax reform would be sweet, too. Maybe some pie. And a pony. Have we talked lately about light rail?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dennis York just isn't funny anymore

by folkbum

There was little doubt, back in the olden days, when we had to chisel out our blog posts on slabs of granite, that the psuedonymous "Dennis York" was fantastic, a highlight of the Wisconsin blog community. He was conservative, sure, but independent-minded and, more importantly, funny. You can read his stuff here still.

Eventually, he came out as Christian Schneider and got a Real Job working at the decidedly unfunny Wisconsin Policy Research Group. There, he often blogs about health care policy, and seems to be the WPRI's point-man for stupid arguments against Healthy Wisconsin, the Democrats' plan for universal health coverage in the state. For example, he pioneered the argument that Healthy Wisconsin would suck uninsured ne'er-do-wells into the state to bleed us dry. That argument was just demolished by He-Man Seth Zlotocha. Yet it keeps rearing its ugly head, most recently in an op-ed by noted Republican Woman Charlotte Rasmussen, and perhaps most embarassingly by Leah Vukmir. Seth knocked down a bunch of Schneider's other bad arguments against Healthy Wisconsin, in fact titling that post "Healthy Wisconsin Deserves Better." It does--and it could have had it from Dennis York.

Too bad we're dealing with Christian Schneider instead.

His most recent abominable post is a dreadfully painful attempt to make everyone who's ever been screwed by their insurance company feel better about themselves, because of how much worse it could get:
However, free markets aren’t always pretty. Once people are shopping around for cost-effective medical care, the people selling those services will do everything they can to lure people in to their shop. Suddenly, you might see knee replacements being sold on TV by some bald, sweaty salesman with a limp. [. . .]

And what’s next? Are we going to see ads for “Crazy Larry’s Prosthetic Hut?” (Where a new limb won’t cost you an arm and a leg?) Will women be getting their gynecological exams at ”The Love Doctor?” (Cervix with a Smile?) Is Burger King going to offer up a coupon for a free arterial stent with the purchase of five Whoppers? (Of course, it will be the Whoppers that cause you to need the surgery.)
I'm not sure how long he spent on "cervix with a smile," but it doesn't make up for the rest of the post. Believe me, what I elided was no funnier. The best bits are here.

But worse than being unfunny, it's deceptive and painfully wrong. It is an unconscionably poor argument for market-based health care. The worst a market-driven approach can get is not bad commercials; it's killing patients by denying care. I don't think any of us who have ever had to spend hours on the phone, days in a row, months at a time to get legitimate claims covered are even remotely comforted by the thought of bad commercials. ("At least the Muzak was nice--no ads for Crazy Larry while I was on hold!")

In the market, the patients may be the customers, but they are not the ones insurance companies will have to please. (Face it--I don't care how much "competition" there is for any given slice of the medical pie--it's still the insurance companies that will rule the day.) The companies have to please investors, and to do that, they have to turn a profit. Every dollar they pay your doctor (or Crazy Larry) is a dollar they can't count as profit. Their incentive is to spend as little as possible on you. Period.

One of the single biggest expenses for insurance companies is the bureaucracy, between 20% and 25% of total health care dollars, by most estimates. Insurance companies could save a lot of profit there if they could cut that cost. But a significant amount of that spending on bureacracy is designed simply to deny claims or delay them so long that patients give up fighting. The industry must be making a whole lot of return on their investment in that bureaucracy--that's why they won't cut it.

In the end, it's not Crazy Larry we need to worry about when relying on "the market" for health care. It's Christian Schneider, and his lame excuses for what is an inhuman system. When the insurance company's profits are up, you know it's because somewhere, a patient is getting screwed. And that's just not funny.

Is Hillary Clinton a Socialist?

by folkbum

I ask because any time I set foot into any of Wisconsin's more palatable right-wing blogs, I get pelted by that notion, that you can throw a beard on the senator and she'd be a dead ringer for Karl Marx.

Clinton is not my candidate (which is not all that significant, as I probably won't pick a candidate before the primaries), and not the first one I would choose if I had a gun to my head, so this is not some sort of knee-jerk defense of someone I have pledged my time and dollars to. But I do think I can speak with some authority as someone who has watched Democratic politics for some time now, someone who has watched Hillary Clinton since 1992, and someone who knows a thing or two about being a part of the drum-circle left, as we have been labeled.

And I say this: Hillary Clinton is not as liberal as you think she is.

A couple of items in particular prompted this post, the most proximate being comments below this Jessica McBride post. Specifically, someone calling him or herself "lugnuts" came right out and said it: "Bill was almost tolerable, but Hillary is a socialist--just what we don't need."

In response, I expounded on a theme that, if Clinton is the nominee, I'm sure you'll hear more of later: The right's narrative about her for the last fifteen years is that she's some kind of Red Menace in Pumps. But it's a lie, it always was and always will be. She came to national prominence at the time the right was perfecting its politics of personal destruction, and her Baby Boomer sensibility (vs. Barbara Bush's decidedly different affect) created the ideal personality and character wedge to use against her husband. But it was all a creation of the media and the spinners, not an accurate reflection of Hillary's actual person.

Tthe right's treatment of Hillary may in fact be the textbook example of the way it creates caricatures of the left to run against and argue against. (George W. Bush is now perhaps infamous for his straw men.)

Hillary's DLC-flavored centrism is so far from the caricature of her as a socialist, and it's reflected in the fact that she is the least popular candidate with many liberal interest groups, from MoveOn to labor. She often finishes fourth, behind "undecided," in on-line straw-polls.

There on the right is the Political Compass for most of the major-party candidates for president, based on their voting records and public documents and statements. (I threw myself in for comparison.) And while it may not be wholly accurate, as the candidates didn't do it for themselves, it shows quite clearly that Hillary Clinton is not anything like a socialist. It explains why the drum-circle left isn't out beating the pots and pans for her. (It's depressing that people who lack the temperament to be president are those who most closely agree with me.)

But my explanation that "lugnuts's" perception of Clinton as a socialist was just that--a perception--was greeted with derision by McBride herself, who commented later in that same post, "I think Hillary has been very shrewd appearing to move to the center. The shrill anti-war left has helped her in this manner. But she is far to the left of the American mainstream."

That is, of course, false in two ways: One, Clinton has not "moved to the center," because she started out there. If anyone is likely to have listened carefully to the righty-constructed fairy tales about Clinton, it's McBride. It is likely that as McBride sees more and more of Clinton, it conflicts with the caricature she's carried around in her head of what the senator is really like and really believes. McBride interprets this conflict as evidence that Clinton is moving to the center, rather than as evidence that her right-wing media has been lying to her for more than a decade.

Two, it's also false in that Clinton is not "far to the left of the American mainstream." This is just one more bullet point to add to the list of how often conservatives like McBride overestimate how popular their brand of reactionary throw-backism is with the American public, the way they believe that if they like it, then everyone must like it. On perhaps the most important issue of the day--Iraq--Hillary is being left behind as the American people move further and further toward withdrawal from Iraq. Look at the poll numbers and tell me whether Clinton's refusal to insist on a withdrawal timeline is "too far to the left." The American people agree with "the shrill anti-war left," not with Clinton or dead-enders like McBride.

I suppose Iraq may not be the best issue to examine on a left-right scale, so let's try what else was in the news this week: health care. Clinton's new health-care plan is not completely sucky, but, again, from my cymbal-wielding perch in the drum-circle left, it's disappointing. It's not even as "liberal" as the Healthy Wisconsin plan, which is, in its reliance on for-profit insurance companies, also disappointingly conservative (though better than the Republican plan--which is no plan). But she's still not "too far to the left" of anything: In the top poll right now at Polling Report, 55% of Americans want "one health insurance program covering all Americans that would be administered by the government and paid for by taxpayers." More than half of the American people want a single-payer system, and Clinton's plan is far to the right of anything like single-payer. I would call 55% mainstream; I would say Clinton's health care plan is not. And McBride and others who balk at single-payer are not, either.

I could go on, but I have to go to work, and you see my point, I think. I opened, though, with a question: Is Hillary Clinton a socialist? Obviously, I say no. The beautiful thing about the blogs, though, is that I can throw open the comment thread and let all of you who disagree have your say. And I'm interested, seriously, in hearing from you. If you think, as McBride apparently does, that Clinton has "moved to the center" more recently than 15 years ago when I first learned about her and the Clintons' decidedly centerist, triangulating ways, then tell me why you think that.

Things like this--the utter untruths being propagated about Clinton by people who clearly don't know what they're talking about--make me kind of root for a Clinton nomination. The more people see of her and hear the right blabbering about something this observably false, the less credible the right and its candidate will become. I don't think the prospect of a Republican implosion is worth compromising my principles just yet, but if Clinton is the nominee, and if the right keeps red-baiting her, it could be a fun election to watch.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Further evidence that the world really is out to get me

by folkbum

Guido G's pizza, about which I raved here, has closed. They made, simply, the best pizza I've had anywhere in Milwaukee. And they delivered to my house.

I am not entirely sure what to do now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

This is going to hurt

by folkbum
Fire guts north side school

A two-alarm fire Saturday night caused $100,000 in damage to a school building at N. 33rd and W. Brown streets and $20,000 damage to the contents of the building, police said today. No one was injured.

The fire occurred at Lad Lake's Synergy Alternative School and ULTRA Day Treatment Center, police said. The school serves young men and women ages 12 to 21 from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Students who attend the school have had a history of truancy, disorderly conduct or out-of-home placement at a juvenile correctional center.
Lad Lake served the students who couldn't handle traditional schooling--and whose school's couldn't handle them. It will be a tremendous challenge for MPS to re-integrate those students into the regular schools if Lad Lake has to close because of this.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's because there are more important things

by folkbum

Michael "Elliot Stearns" Caughill, referencing this very blog, opines,
What cracks me up most about the Left's continuing and urgent desire to abandon Iraq is that if the Bush Administration actually brought all the troops home tomorrow, the Democrats' chances of winning the White House in 2008 would drop from virtually certain to just so-so.
Leaving aside the laughable fantasy that Bush would do such a thing, this isn't about him or about the White House. It's about not another American dying in Bush's war.

I would trade that for the White House in 2008, easy. In a heartbeat.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Unreliable General

by folkbum

Yesterday, Bert pointed out that General David Petraeus, despite how chiseled his jaw or how nice a guy he may seem, ought to be approached with a deserved skepticism. It's the job of the Congress to be adversarial--not in the sense of immediately disagreeing with anyone before them, but in the sense of testing what those people have to say to find if they are trustworthy and, ultimately, truthful. This is ultimately also the job of the media; Bert pointed to Jon Stewart's examination of Petraeus, and it kind of makes me sad the the best adversarial journalism is being done right now by a fake news show.

So it's no surprise that erstwhile media figure and current journalism instructor Jessica McBride is so willing to roll over and abdicate the role of media adversary. This goes back to the "A Challenge for Liberals" post that I mentioned earlier this week. Read the comments following her post, as they are perhaps one of the most concise demonstrations of just how far divorced from reality--and how unwilling to test for the truth--conservatives have become.

If you recall, that post simply asked Democrats to explain how they feel about what she saw as an equivalence between us and Osama bin Laden. The next-to-last comment is McBride's final attempt at a rebuttal to me; it is an all-caps whine-fest. There is a lot of insanity in it, as well, but I want to highlight just a couple of the all-caps pieces.
I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY USE SUCH HATED, VICIOUS RHETORIC AGAINST BUSH, ARGUING REPEATEDLY, FOR EXAMPLE, THAT HE LIED US INTO WAR. PROVE IT. HE RELIED ON FAULTY INTELLIGENCE THAT THE DEMOCRATS AND OTHER WORLD LEADERS ALSO BELIEVED.

I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY DEMOCRATS WOULD TRASH THE REPUTATION OF A MAN LIKE GENERAL PETRAEUS.
The reason, of course, is that in an adversarial system, be it a courtroom, a two-party system of government, or the fourth estate versus the second, that's the other side's job: Test, and if the opposition is found lacking, point it out.

Why would we say that Bush lied? Because, you know, he did. We have known for years, for example, that the intelligence he passed on to the Congress about Iraq in 2002 was incomplete, lacking the dissenting evidence that he and only he saw (i.e., it was collected after 2001 when Clinton left office). That intelligence suggested, in fact, that the public evidence pimped by Cheney, Rice, and Powell was inaccurate and based on unreliable sources. Bush knew that at the time. But he did not tell Congress. Or the American people.

More recent revelations have made it that much more clear. Bush was briefed "on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction." That intel never made it to the Congress, never made it outside of the US intel community. Bush knew. Tenet knew. Cheney almost certainly knew. They knew about the tubes. They knew about "Curveball." But he did not tell Congress. And he certainly wasn't going to tell France.

It is entriely possible, in the most generous interpretation of what happened, that Bush was dissuaded from believing the contrary evidence by strong forces in the White House. Perhaps it was Dick Cheney, who overruled Bush's own orders on at least one, and probably more than one, occasion in this war. (So much for Bush being "the decider.") But to suggest that Bush's picture of the intelligence was the same as everyone else's is just plain false. And I cannot believe that even Jessica McBride would continue to hold such a patently false and easily disprovable belief about the matter.

Why would we say things about "a man like General Petraeus"? It's because, for one, we knew that any written report he submitted would be written by the White House, not Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And then after that news broke, of course, the White House elected not to issue a report at all. We also saw--watch Jon Stewart above--that despite his claims to have written his own testimony, his talking points were straight from Bush's mouth. We also knew that Petraeus's selective use of statistics (civilian deaths are up, but since they're not "sectarian," the surge is a success!) was ridiculous. The U.S. doubled troop strength in Baghdad, for example, for a minimal change in violence. That, and we know that he obfuscated in an op-ed just before the 2004 election to suggest that the Iraqi troops he was training were stepping up--troops that, three years later, haven't stepped anywhere near "up." We know that Petraeus's immediate boss called the General "an ass-kissing little chicken[something]"--and that "something" isn't "hawk."

We've watched the goalposts move so many times it's hard to see them in the distance any more:
White House press secretary Tony Snow, May 10, 2007: "Keep in mind, benchmarks ... are not new. The president talked about them in [the] State of the Union. We talked about them in Amman in November. Secretary Rice put a list of 17 together in a letter to Sen. Levin. So you do need to have metrics."

White House press secretary Tony Snow, Sept. 12, 2007: "No, benchmarks were something that Congress wanted to use as a metric. And we're going to produce a report. But the fact is that the situation is bigger and more complex, and you need to look at the whole picture."
It is simply stupid--the sign of nothing but pure unthinking vapidity--to accept anything this administration or anyone attached to it says uncritically, passively, without an adversarial mindset. There is a history with Bush, the administration, and everything they say that demands skepticism. (Just this week, the new Director of National Intelligence admitted he just made stuff up in sworn testimony to Congress.)

Last night's speech from Bush is a prime example. You can remind yourself of what the surge was supposed to do; have we made it? But perhaps most upsetting is the plan to bring troop levels in Iraq back to pre-"surge" levels by next July. Bush (and Petraeus) say that's because the surge worked. But the fact is the surge could not have lasted any longer if we'd wanted it to:
[S]enior military leaders -- including Adm. Michael Mullen, incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- have acknowledged that the "surge" effectively will end in April because there are no fresh replacements.
Reminds me of earlier this year when Bush wanted to blame his decision to extend troop deployments by three months on Democrats.

Why do we call him a liar? Because he lies. Why don't we trust Petraeus? Because he hasn't earned it. This is not complicated.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kagen not cowering in the presence of Petraeus

by bert

The most visible Democratic politicians have also been the most frustrating because their opposition to the Iraq War is limp and flaccid. In the midst of that frustration, reading Steven Kagen's statement today about the Gen. Patreaus hearings is like a cool drink of water. Here's a bit of it:
General Petraeus' appearance confirmed what Americans already knew: President Bush's war and his losing policy of "stay the course" have created more terrorists and made our homeland less secure.
The frank and bold tone of the statement is especially satisfying when it comes on the same week we wearily observed yet another carefully staged snow job by the Bush administration to sell this war. The latest ploy by the White House and its apologists is to hide behind a beatified general, with the obvious but unstated aim being to keep the quagmire going so the war's perpetrators can cut and run from its political damage when Democrats take over in 2009.

The next task for the local apologentsia will be to come after Kagen. To quote a house ad from a local radio station, depend on it.

UPDATE: I take back a little of the bile spewed toward most Democrats here.
Tied to President Bush's speech Thursday night, many of the candidates did not seem bowed in criticizing this war. TPM has a roundup, but the link will be moving on to other things after a while.

Veteran and Marquette Dr., John Zemler, Calls for Action on PTSD

Via MAL Contends
Wisconsin Public Radio’s Kathleen Dunn’s guest knocks down the Sally Satel and American Enterprise Institute's(AEI) attempt to blame the troops suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

John Zemler, visiting assistant professor of Theology at Marquette University, brings home the reality and tragedy of PTSD while Bush and his allies minimize and marginalize its victims.

Zemler will speak this weekend at a workshop in Wheaton, Illinois: “Healing Veterans from PTSD”.

Dunn’s guest Dr. Zemler is well worth listening to, as the war planners make more victims of the troops who serve and then come home and suffer the consequences to a hostile administration and a largely apathetic American public.

###

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Weatherman Tells You Which Way the Wind Blows

By Keith Schmitz

Kudos to Channel 4's weatherman Craig Koplien for stepping up on his blog to weigh in on the climate change issue and makes the obvious choice (though others in the employ of Journal Broadcasting will vehemently disagree and as their habit deride this):
I am not a climatologist, oceanographer, glaciologist, solar physicist or expert in any other field related to climate change or global warming. Nor are most meteorologists you see on TV across the United States.

Broadcast meteorologists are, however, the closest most of the public gets to people whose life's work is the study of global warming.

Therefore, it is our responsibility to be up to date on the research and conclusions made by those who are experts. This is imperative so we can present factual and unbiased information to our viewers.

Moreover, it is our responsibility to present information regarding global warming in a fashion that is consistent with the majority of the evidence presented by the experts and adopted by our professional organization, the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

Some broadcast meteorologists don't feel the same way. Some have instead chosen to ignore the evidence and present views contrary to those who have far greater expertise in the field. At the very least, it seems that those who take a position contrary to the prevailing view of the scientific community owe it to their viewers to admit this.

Two heavyweights in broadcast meteorology have recently written about this. Certified Broadcast Meteorolgists Bob Ryan of NBC-4 in Washington D.C., and John Toohey-Morales, AMS Commissioner on Professional Affairs, co-authored a guest editorial that appeared in the August 2007 edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

I agree with their points of view and conclusions.
Here is a sample of their conclusions:
Alarmingly, many weathercasters and certified broadcast meteorologists dismiss, in most cases without any solid scientific arguments, the conclusions of the National Research Council (NRC), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other peer-reviewed research (that would be you State Rep Jim Ott -- R-Mequon).

As outlined in the CBM and CCM programs, a responsible broadcast and/or consulting meteorologist should continue to stay as informed as possible and look to the AMS for leadership. The “AMS Statement on Climate Change” recently adopted by the AMS Council should be required reading for all of us who communicate with the public or seek guidance on climate change. While some of us may disagree with its exact wording, the weight of the scientific evidence behind the Statement is very solid.
As the above indicates, this is an issue that will not be fully settled. But then again science doesn't work that way.

But at some point both the rational ability to sort out facts and a modicum of survival instinct has to kick in.

150,000 visits, revisited

by folkbum


The lucky visitor popped in at a little after 7 PM yesterday. There's no prize, though, no balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling. But there it is, tangible evidence that anything is possible.