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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Need An Idea For A Christmas Present?

by capper

Just in time for Christmas, a zoo in Illinois has the perfect gift who has everything: Designer reindeer poop:

The Christmas ornaments for sale at the Miller Park Zoo's gift shop are partly manufactured by reindeer. Honest!

Staffers make decorations out of droppings from the zoo's two reindeer, Ealu and Rika. The droppings are dried, then clear-coated and either painted or rolled in glitter.

Zoo marketing director Susie Ohley has named the products "magical reindeer gem ornaments," and each comes with a label of authenticity. They cost $5 at the zoo gift shop.

Staffer Katie Buydos, who makes jewelry as a hobby, donated wire and beads, saying, "Susie asked me to bring some creativity to the table."

It would also make the perfect gift for the would be martyr in your family (we all have at least one). Imagine how happy the martyr would be going back to work or school after the holidays and seeing his or her friends. I can just imagine the conversation:

Martyr: So, how was your Christmas?

Coworker 1: Oh, it was wonderful! I got a lovely sweater and a new Playstation. There was hardly any blood on them at all!

Coworker 2: Meh. It was OK. I got some socks and a wallet. But the food was good. How was yours?

Martyr: Mine? Oh, sheesh, I got sh*t from my family again.

Friday, November 28, 2008

WPRI: Push Poll Gives Wanted Results

by capper

Today, the WPRI issued a statement indicating that a (push) poll that they took showed that 73% of Wisconsin residents oppose a tax increase on businesses.

In their release, they included a pdf of their results with their question, which was:
Business profits are down throughout Wisconsin and many businesses are reducing their workforce. In this environment should state lawmakers increase the tax on businesses?
Shockingly, most people said no. Of course, anytime anyone asks a question about raising taxes, the answer will be no.

What they don't do is provide all the information a person would need to make a reasoned decision.

Little things, John Michlig of Sprawled Out tells us, like the fact that most businesses don't pay taxes already, and that the tax burden being paid by businesses has been in steady decline. Or the fact that most businesses are already receiving numerous breaks from the government in the forms of TIFs, land grants, interest free loans, etc.

WPRI also fails to mention that as business taxes have been declining, the taxes paid by property tax payers have skyrocketed.

I bet they would receive a whole different answer if they asked the more accurate question of:
Do you think that they should raise the taxes on businesses or on property owners?
Michael Rosen, at Mid Coast Views, has an interesting post up about what economic measures due for each dollar put into it. The chart he has in his post shows that giving big tax breaks to companies and to the wealthy actually cost more than doing something like investing it into repairing the infrastructure. These same tax break cost more than they return to the economy:
Zandi’s analysis also shows what doesn’t work as stimulus: a variety of tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals which cost over twice as much as they return to the economy. Yet, these are the very breaks that Congressman Ryan and President Bush support.
I have a suggestion for WPRI's next survey. Maybe they could take a poll about whether people think, in this troubled economic time, that property tax payers and personal income tax payers should have their taxes raised to pay for wealthy CEOs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful

by folkbum

Among many, many other things, I am thankful that enough of you, dear readers, visit, read, comment, argue, [HEARTFELT SENTIMENT REDACTED TO APPEASE THE GOOGLEBOT GODS], post and riposte to make doing this for the last almost-six-years-now worthwhile.

Ironically, I will not think of you at all for the next couple of days, while I enjoy family, food, and some much-needed rest.

... adding, I'm also thankful for this.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Start the holiday season, Dad29 style!

by folkbum

Laugh it up with a good old-fashioned hooker joke (though it's the lawyer getting screwed) and guffaw your way through a genocide one-liner! Sure to be a crowd-pleaser when the fam gathers for turkey and trimmings tomorrow!

The ABC's of Market Collapse

By Keith R. Schmitz

Though the part and pieces about the current financial collapse have been swirling around the media for some time, Thomas Friedman does a good job of cogently laying out the progression of events, in this case explaining why the smartest guys in the room weren't working at Citigroup (the fine folks who currently holds my mortgage):
So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made a fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.
I would be less hard on the first part of this conga line and was just an excuse to kick off the rest of the action, but it is obvious that this house of cards fell under the weight of greed and incompetence and lack of rules and regulations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alexander Orlowski: The Aftermath

by capper

Over the last two days, I've written of the life and the way-too-early death of Alexander Orlowski, an inmate who died from an accidental drug overdose at the House of Correction.

So what happens now?

As I mentioned yesterday, the Alexander's parents, Gary and Patti Orlowski, have a claim against the county, as a precursor to a lawsuit for the County's negligence in ensuring his safety. County Board Supervisor Mark Borkowski, whose district includes the HOC, feels that the Orlowskis have a pretty good chance of winning any lawsuit.

The Orlowskis realize that a lawsuit won't bring their son back. But they also feel that those responsible should be held to some sort of accountability.

The inmate that "sold" the Methadone to Alexander, Samuel Fitzpatrick, is facing charges of reckless homicide, under the Len Bias Law.

Despite a continuous series of crises at the House of Correction, including massive overtime payments due to being excessively short staffed, Alexander's death, and a damning audit done by the feds, Superintendent Ron Malone was fully endorsed by County Executive Scott Walker for reappointment after the elections this spring. After a lot of argument and delay, and with a lot of lobbying by Walker and his Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli, the County Board finally affirmed the reappointment.

All of this, only to have Walker throw Malone under the bus in the 2009 budget proposal, in which the County has decided to take the House of Correction, the Community Correctional Center, and the work release program and put it under the auspices of the Sheriff's Office.

Supervisor Borkowski told me that he has problems with the way that Walker and Nardelli so strongly commended Malone for supposedly turning around the HOC after the audit, only to turn on him months later with the budget proposal. The cynical side of me believes that Walker was planning for a long time to dump Malone, and thought it better to just keep him for a few more months than to put someone else in his place until he could foist the whole mess onto Clarke. I also recall Supervisor John Weishan arguing against the transfer of the HOC, stating that it would only allow Walker to walk away from the mess he created, without holding him accountable.

Clarke wasted no time and went down there to check things out. It does not appear that Malone did a lot to fix things after all, if one can believe Clark that is. His reputation appears pretty questionable as of late. I do know from inside sources that Clarke has already kicked Malone out of his own office and took it as his own.

It is questionable on what kind of effect that this change will have on things. Vanessa Allen of the Public Policy Forum had written a post a while ago, raising some interesting questions on how this might effect sentences issued by judges and other issues.

Borkowski told me that while he has no confidence in the current administration, he is not so sure that Clarke will actually improve things. He described the switch as being a panacea to the HOC's woes, but thinks it could turn out to be more of a placebo.

Borkowski goes on to point out that there might be some strife at the HOC between the COs and the Sheriff. One must concur when they think of all the lawsuits that were filed by the deputies' union. Clarke lost almost every one of them to boot.

It is also important to remember that Clark, about three or four years ago, lost a major lawsuit alleging that the Sheriff's Office and the Milwaukee County Jail were infringing on people's rights due to filthy living conditions and extraordinarily long waits, just to get booked. Clarke's incompetence cost taxpayers millions of dollars on that one alone.

For what it's worth, I have mixed feelings about the change.

Part of me agrees that it is only logical that the Sheriff's Office and the HOC be combined, since their work is already fairly symbiotic. It should help things go smoother and eliminate a level of unnecessary bureaucracy.

I do have concerns with putting the Sheriff in charge of 48% of the tax levy. Given his propensity of getting sued and losing those lawsuits, is it really wise to give him a chance to pick up even more lawsuits and lose more of our tax money?

Overall, I do think that while it is unfortunate that Walker will again get off without being held responsible for the disaster he created at HOC, that the merger is a good thing. It just points out that we need to get Walker and Clarke out of office, and put in people with at least some rudimentary understanding of what's going on and how to do things the proper way. And the sooner we do that, the better we will all be for it.

Third Verse, Same as the First

by folkbum

The headline campaign next spring for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Again. And, again, Tom Foley is the man to see thereabout. There seems little doubt that the script for Judge Randy Koschnick will be the same, mostly, as that pursued by now-Justices Ziegler and Gableman. No doubt there will be back-up from the Greek chorus that is WMC.

One of these days we'll get an original campaign.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Death of Alexander Orlowski

by capper

Yesterday, I told the gentle reader about the life of Alexander Orlowski, a young man that died while incarcerated at the House of Correction.

But the question now is this: How was Alexander allowed to die? The long answer short is that he was caught in the perfect storm of personal problems, bureaucratic incompetency and political influences.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in April 2008 that another inmate, Samuel M. Fitzpatrick, sold some methadone pills to Alexander, who eventually overdosed on these pills. The article goes on to mention that Alexander and Fitzpatrick were both drug addicts, but does little else to give the reader any further in-depth look at why Alexander died.

As I mentioned yesterday, Alexander was a drug addict. To complicate the matter, he also had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This meant that Alexander really never had a chance to fight his addiction unless he had some enforced sobriety and a lot of support.

Due to his addiction and mental illness, Alexander was often in trouble with the law. He was caught a number of times burglarizing houses and businesses to pay for his habit. He has a criminal history that includes burglary, breaking and entering, trespassing, resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance.

When he was finally sentenced to the House of Correction, his parents report that they actually felt relief. They thought that at least they knew where he was, and that he would be relatively safe, as opposed to be out on the streets somewhere, doing God knows what, to support his habit.

At first, the Orlowskis were correct. Alexander responded well to the forced sobriety. He became more of his old self and would often write or call home. He became more focused on improving his life and earned his GED just weeks before he died. He kept telling his parents that he missed them and couldn't wait to get home. He asked them to delay Christmas until he came home.

Alexander, due to going to school, and then getting a job in the kitchen, was put into a dorm know as Z-2, or Zebra 2. When I worked at the HOC, I worked in that dorm. It was one of the hardest dorms to work in. Most dorms at HOC are large rooms where the correction officer would have an unobstructed view of almost the entire dorm. Z-2 is different than the rest. It is two smaller rooms divided by a hallway. The dayroom is behind the officer, instead of in front of him or her. The shower is off the dayroom and cannot be seen from the desk at all. Even if the officer was constantly patrolling the entire dorm, there would be plenty of opportunity for the inmates to get into all sorts of mischief. On top of it all, at night, when the main lights are off, it is very dim and difficult to see.

When I worked there, all but the most strictly controlled medications were kept in a locked footlocker and the officer was responsible to administer the medications. I believe that since I worked there, the policy was changed and a nurse was supposed to administer the medications, but rarely with the officer there to help supervise to make sure the inmate took the medicine, and didn't palm it or cheek it. Due to the bustle, the poor supervision and the dimness, it would still be easy for an inmate to cache his medication, either for later use, or more commonly, to sell for canteen (chips, soda, candy, etc.)

When the powers that be transferred Fitzpatrick into Z-2, Alexander was doomed. According to what the Orlowskis learned from the investigation, Fitzpatrick was known to deal his medication. As the paper reported, Fitzpatrick somehow was able to get a doctor to prescribe a large dose of Methadone. Methadone is commonly used to treat heroin withdrawal, but has become the drug of choice to replace Oxycontin as a pain reliever. Oxycontin was replaced due to its high demand as a way to get high among inmates.

Fitzpatrick was being given 14 tablets of Methadone, twice a day. It makes me wonder if there was any safety mechanism in place for medication review. While I am not a doctor, that seems like an unusually large amount of Methadone to give anyone, just for pain.

Anyway, it did not take long for Fitzpatrick to declare himself open for business and found a more than willing customer in Alexander. Likewise, it did not take Alexander long to build up a supply for himself. A supply large enough to turn out to be lethal.

On the day that Alexander died, he was supposed to get up for work, but when the officer went to wake him, he sat up, then quickly fell back in his cot and back to sleep. The officer sent an alternative in his place. Later that morning, Alexander was snoring loudly enough to have other inmates complain to the officer, and still nothing was done. Some even expressed concern that something was wrong with Alexander, but it still took hours before the officer called for medical help to come to the dorm.

Without being privy to the actual investigation reports, or talking to those that were there, I am hesitant to state definitively why there was such a long delay in summoning help. The officer might have thought that Alexander was malingering, wanting to take the holiday off from work. Maybe the officer wasn't trained very well. Maybe the officer was just not a good officer. We all work in fields where some people are better at their jobs, and some are worse at them. At that time, due to Scott Walker's budget cuts, officers were being forced to work many hours of overtime, and maybe the officer was just extremely tired and not performing his duties as he should have.

I don't know if we will ever know for sure what else happened that night. Fitzpatrick is scheduled to go to trial in January, and maybe some answers will come out then.

What I do know is that not only did the HOC not give the necessary care and supervision to Alexander was alive, they dropped the ball after his death.

The Orlowskis told me that they were notified of Alexander's death by a detective with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office. Then they heard nothing again until the detective came back a few weeks later with Alexander's personal effects. Not once did they hear from Ron Malone, the superintendent of the HOC. Nor did they hear from any of the assistant superintendents or any other staff member of the HOC. Nor did any of these people return their phone calls.

Nor did they hear from Scott Walker, who is Ron Malone's boss.

County Board Supervisor Mark Borkowski, whose district includes the HOC, did talk to me about this case. He told me that he felt terrible about what happened to Alexander, but that "the damage was done and no magic will bring him back." He did add that if this is "how the County deals with grieving parents, he is ashamed to part of it."

The Orlowskis did hear from the inmates. Many of the inmates called and wrote to the Orlowskis. The told them how Alexander was respected among the others, not only for his art talents, but because he was just a likable kid. They told them how they tried to get help for Alexander, but had their efforts rebuffed by the correction officer.

Were the inmate lying to the Orlowski, just to make themselves look better or to assuage their own feelings of guilt? Maybe. Or maybe they felt that Alexander was definitely treated unjustly, and wanted someone to know. Either way, it is not often that inmates will go to that kind of effort for another inmate. That alone tells me that Alexander was one of those people that could reach out and affect people, no matter who they were.

The Orlowskis have filed a claim against the county, stating that "the county was grossly negligent in the hiring, training and supervision of employees at the House of Correction." A claim is the precursor to a lawsuit. Borkowski told me that from what he has learned of this case, he thinks that they have strong grounds and a good chance of winning.

Tomorrow, we will look at the future of the HOC, and what some pending changes could mean.

US Citizen Jailed in Israel, Condemns Gaza Blockade



Update: BBC: One Gaza border crossing opened

Kidnappings, killings, terrorism, piracy, employment of the tools of militarism; all of this is kind of a downer after the election of president-elect Obama.

Bear in mind that these deplorable actions described and committed against real, living human beings are being done by arguably America's closest ally: Israel.

[Pictured above is Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Nobel peace prize laureate, who was part of the recent breaking of the siege of Gaza, by the Free Gaza movement Ship Dignity.]

It's a story attracting scant attention in the American press, as Israel's blockade of over one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continues obstructing food, fuel and other humanitarian supplies from entering an area Israel decided to cordon off from the world.

Darlene Wallach, an American peace activist, remains jailed in the Masiyahu Prison near Tel Aviv, arrested days ago for fishing off the shores of the Gaza coast that Israel denies is under blockade.

The Free Gaza Movement, a group dedicated to breaking "the siege of Gaza .... (and raising) international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip, ... (and upholding) Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, (and) journalists," maintains its mission to break the blockade and bring attention to the routine Israeli kidnappings, killings, and terrorism of innocent Palestinians and international human rights activists.

Israel is currently blocking all journalists from entering Gaza, a move that has drawn the condemnation of free speech and free press organizations. See Foreign Reporters’ Group Fights Israeli Prohibition on Entering Gaza (NYT).

Unlike many of the huge problems facing the incoming Obama administration, this problem has an easy solution: Halt the billions in annual subsidies to Israel unless it stops its militaristic enterprise in the occupied territories.

As an anonymous writer commenting on Israeli human rights violations wrote a few years back: ‘Israel cannot be half-humanistic and half fascist.”

Democracy Now's Amy Goodman reports:

McIlheran Watch: Moron Talk Radio

by folkbum

Saturday morning at 8:25 AM, the now-ritualistic email from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "right-wing guy" Patrick McIlheran shows up telling me his Sunday column will be devoted to talk radio's panic over the "fairness doctrine." The fairness doctrine, for those thankfully oblivious to recent right-wing blather, was the rule governing the public airwaves suggesting that when one side of an issue dominates broadcast opinion, the other side ought to be allowed a rebuttal. The policy was repealed decades ago.

The idea frightens talk radio radio hosts, as well as it should, since by the hosts' own admission, they often will purposely keep the objects of their attack off the air even when the victims try to call in and offer their side of the argument.

However, the fairness doctrine is not coming back. President-elect Barack Obama does not support it. There are no bills pending in Congress, which, frankly, has better things to do. TNR reporter Marin Cogan couldn't find anyone willing to go on or off record suggesting the doctrine's return is anything but fantasy. The last time anyone introduced the idea, it barely got out of draft form. It's just not going to happen.

But that hasn't stopped the right from believing it will--just as they seem to believe that Barack Obama is coming for their guns.

I didn't care about the column when I got the email, and didn't even pay attention enough to read it. But McIlheran followed up on his column with a blog post that picked up on the line from his column that really explains everything. See if you can spot it:
This, as Brian C. Anderson told me, would kill talk radio as we know it [. . .]. Anderson has written about this, in the New Criterion along with Adam Thierer, his co-author on a new book on the subject.
Yes, friends, someone is out there trying to sell a book opposing the fairness doctrine. Like Hugh Hewitt's How Sarah Palin Won the Election ... and Saved America, a book on the return of the fairness doctrine is a book about an imaginary thing, and won't sell very well unless the authors' allies can really gin up the fear for them. Bravo, authors Anderson and Thierer, for working the market like pros. Boo McIlheran, for shilling for them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Life of Alexander Orlowski

by capper

In four days, it will be Thanksgiving Day, the kick off to the holiday season. Most of us are already preparing for the day. Some of us are looking ahead to stuffing ourselves on turkey, stuffing, yams and pumpkin pie. Some of us are looking forward to a day of football. Some of us are looking forward to gathering with friends and/or family, some of which we haven't seen for a long time.

Some of us aren't so lucky. Gary and Patti Orlowski wish that they could have their whole family over for Thanksgiving feasting, football watching and having good times. But they can't.

Their son, Alexander Orlowski (pictured at lower right), died last year, on Thanksgiving morning.

I wrote a post about Alexander's death last year, one of many posts I wrote about the problems and disfunctionality at the Milwaukee County House of Correction. Alexander was the inmate that passed away due to an overdose of prescription medication while serving his sentence at the House of Correction.

Not too long ago, I received an email from Patti Orlowski, Alexander's mother. She told me that she had done a search on her son's name, and had found my post. She also wrote that she and her husband have been struggling with getting any answers from HOC on their son's death, and having a difficult time getting things changed so that something like this doesn't happen again.

We started to correspond, and eventually I was able to meet the Orlowskis one evening for a cup of coffee, and they told me about their son, and the problems they've faced since his passing. With their permission, I will share their story, and Alexander's story, with you today and over the next couple of days.

Today, I want to just talk about Alexander's life.

Too often, I hear people on the radio or the TV, or read in the blogs, that anyone that is incarcerated is a "thug." It doesn't matter who the person is, what they did or why they did whatever crime they committed to get arrested in the first place. It is much easier to condemn and dehumanize that person, than try to understand them. I personally think that many of these people are subconsciously afraid that they will recognize themselves or someone they love in these people if they look to closely at them.

Alexander had a pretty normal start to life. He came from a blended family, meaning that Patti and Gary both had children from other relationships before getting married. Between the two, they have four children, including Alexander, who was the baby of the family. Gary works in sales and marketing. Patti was recently laid off from Reiman Publishing in Greendale.

Their family is much like any other middle class family in the suburbs. They have had moments of great joy. They've had times of great sorrow. And they have great pride and love for all of their children.

The Orlowskis told me that Alex was a really good boy early in life. They told be that he was very creative and artistic. They had shown me some of the artwork Alexander did while at HOC. These were just pencil and paper drawings, but one could just see the talent he possessed. They told me he was very popular with the other inmates who would "hire" Alex to do drawings for them to send home to their loved ones. They would give Alex a prearranged amount of canteen (chips, candy, soda) for his work.

When Alexander was in the third or fourth grade, some early signs of his future problems started to manifest themselves. He had a hard time studying and staying focused. He went through an assessment and was found to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

By the time he was in middle school, the ADHD was in full swing, and Alexander was prescribed to take Dexadrine. The medication had mixed results. While he was managing at school, he was starting to show an increase in behaviors. He was often caught up in lies as he tried to cover up things that he did on an impulse, but still knew was wrong. Things like saying he was going over to a friend's house, but then go off to someplace else, like the mall.

In high school, Alexander's behaviors grew increasingly more serious. Friends turned him on to drugs, including alcohol and marijuana. If you have known anyone with a mental illness, whether or not they are under doctor's care, you already know that adding street drugs to the mix is a dangerous recipe for disaster. The mentally ill person feels temporary relief from their problems, and are more likely to develop an addiction. This is what happened to Alexander.

His drug usage quickly escalated to include heroin, which is highly addictive in itself. To support his habit, he did what most addicts do, he started resorting to crime to get money to pay for it.
He started stealing from his parents. They would find money, jewelry, alcohol and other things coming up missing. Alexander also started to break into people's houses to steal from them.

His behavior also escalated. He was quick to become enraged and was punching walls. He was disruptive in school. He was bounced from school to school. He attended Greendale High, Greenfield High and an alternative high school. He never graduated from any of them.

He was also getting into trouble with the law. He was arrested for disorderly conduct, possession of a controlled substance and underage drinking.

He was involved with various agencies, often through Children's Court. The agencies included Running Rebels, Southwest Key and the Matt Talbot Recovery Center of Milwaukee. While he was in each of these programs, Alexander did much better. He was able to get off of the drugs and the alcohol, and became the sweet boy that Gary and Patti knew he could be.

Unfortunately, the support he received from these groups were not infinite, and soon after being discharged from them, Alexander would end up with the wrong people, in the wrong neighborhoods, doing the wrong things again.

When Alexander was 17 years old, he overdosed on heroin. He would have died that night, except that Garry noticed that Alexander was experiencing breathing problems and called 911. He was in St. Luke's Hospital's ICU for a month due to respiratory distress and a strep infection in his blood, all from the drug use.

When he became an adult, Alexander had been charged three times for breaking and entering. He was finally sentenced to the House of Correction. His parents actually felt relief when he was sentenced, thinking at least they knew where he was and that he'd be safe. We'll talk more about that tomorrow.

For now, I would just ask the gentle reader to reflect on their lives, compared to the Orlowskis. Most of us have, just like the Orlowskis, I'm sure, a fairly normal life. We get up, go to work, come home to our families. For those with children, we spend time playing with them, helping them with homework, and telling them that we love them.

But just like the Orlowskis, one never knows when something can happen to turn our worlds upside down. Some forms of mental illness, like any other illness such as diabetes or heart problems, are hereditary, so there might be a clue ahead of time. Many times, there is no such indication, and unless you already have an understanding of mental health issues, it can be very alarming and frightening, because your loved one is acting so bizarrely, so dangerously and you don't understand why.

I have worked with the mentally ill in one way or another my entire professional career. It still saddens and angers me when people with a mental illness are still being stigmatized by society as a whole. Mental illness is just that, an illness. We don't treat diabetics, cancer patients or people with asthma like second-class citizens. We shouldn't treat the mentally ill that way either.

This also reminds me of something I was told during my first week working at the HOC. The sergeant in charge of training us kept reminding us that the inmates are people too. They are someone's brother, father, son, sister, mother, daughter, aunt or uncle. And they could be anyone of us. All it takes is one mistake, one bad decision, or even one bad break in luck, and any one of could end up incarcerated. The point he was trying to make is that we didn't necessarily have to like the person, or even respect them, but that they still should be treated with respect anyway, because they are people too.

Alexander's story also reminded me of an old saying. It goes, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

Blogs to Read

by folkbum

Michael Caughill's bewheeled alter-ego, Elliot Stearns, is having some sort of contest. I am not entirely clear on the rules, but it seems to me like his goal is to get a whole lot of people to link to him. I think he may have gotten that email that says Bill Gates will give him a free laptop (funny, because he uses Macs, and I commend him for that) if 200 people link back to him or something.

I don't know. It's probably on Snopes. It sounds like he's going to trade that laptop in for magic back-scratchers to hand out to all of his fans, though. I don't know if they will be as cool as this one, but a boy can dream, can't he?

But I will take this opportunity, though, to point out a few new local liberal blogs that have come to my attention. They're not all new, but they're at least new to me.
Leonel, "ramblings of a queer mexican trekkie"
Brew Cityzen, "He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms—one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom…the stability of the Party depended. - George Orwell"
The Reasonable Progressive, "This is nothing but dead white male bashing from a PC thug. It's women like you that keep the rest of us from landing a husband. - Miss Hoover, The Simpsons"
Bradley D. Schmock, "Compassionate Badger"
Wisconsin Truth Watch
•  Looking in Your Garbage, by "mrbossman"
Lane Ellen, "Exponential"
The Blue Revolution

And one that's less local, the Democratic Governors Association has a blog now, too. One of these days when I get some time to readjust the sidebar, I will add them to the blogroll, too. In the meantime, click through and enjoy.

I'm Am Smart. I Went To Collage.

by folkbum

Everyone else is doing it. Here's us:

blog readability test

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Facts Are These

by folkbum

Apparently, ABC--like FOX and Showtime before it--has decided that Bryan Fuller's twisted sensibilities have no place on television. Sadly, I enjoy those sensibilities more than just about anything else on TV in recent years.

The present victim is "Pushing Daisies," which is as fun an hour of TV as I've seen in many years. Like "Wonderfalls" and "Dead Like Me," the two previous victims, it takes place in a world just different enough from our own to be familiar, though with bizarre supernatural tendencies. Actually, the tone of "Daisies" leans significantly more toward the odd, which might be part of why normal people like you won't watch it. I, however, will miss it dearly when its gone.

It's even more frustrating, in fact: Last year, the strike-shortened season meant a promising sub-plot involving Paul Reubens (playing, fittingly, a sewer-dwelling necrophile) was simply abandoned. This year, the writers were developing a couple of other plots--one involving a long-lost daughter and one involving a long-lost father--that also seem like they will be left without resolution.

Well, at least "Reaper" will be back soon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

This Pirate Thing is Getting Out of Hand

by folkbum

A little while ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down to interview David HB Drake, Milwaukee institution and folksinger, for a short profile to run in next month's Bay View Compass. Among the other yarns he spun, he told me how he fell into his "Graybeard the Ancient Mariner" character, who is not a pirate (real pirates didn't live to have gray beards, he told me) some 20-odd years ago.

He was way ahead of the times, since pirates didn't really come back into fashion until Johnny Depp donned the mascara for them Disney films.

However, Dave told me that the pirate films had been a boon to him and his character, and that, among other things, he's taken to writing an advice column in Pirates Magazine ("America's first full-color pirate magazine," they boast).

Now, I don't want to do anything to take business away from Good Folk like David HB Drake or anything, but it really seems to me like some of these kids growing up on the Johnny Depp movies are just taking things a little too far. Maybe Disney and the American pirate press need to dial it down a little, eh?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More heads I win, tails you lose

by folkbum

Among the more frustrating lines of argument from conservatives in Wisconsin and beyond in the last week or so, as Barack Obama's administration is starting to take shape, is that Obama's hiring of people like Tom Daschle (for Health and Huma Services) or Eric Holder (for Attorney General) or Rahm Emmanuel (for Chief of Staff) is not really "change." This is because these folks have previous experience in Washington--Daschle as Senate Majority Leader and Emanuel and Holder in the Clinton Administration. (See complaints by, for example, him and her, though that's by no means the end of it.)

What makes it heads-I-win-tails-you-lose is that the conservatives get to whine and moan about how Clinton-tainted appointees are the opposite of what Obama promised to bring to the White House, which is a fresh, new direction. These "same old Demmie power brokers" may be the best in their field (and most able to accomplish what Obama wants by working closely with Congress), but because we know their names, they're not "change." That's heads.

Tails is that before Obama's election, and before more names were out there than just Emanuel's, the complaint was that Barack Obama was a product of the corrupt Chicago political machine, and that the people he brought with him from Chicago couldn't be trusted, either. In fact, the right was all over David Axelrod (just named Senior White House Advisor) and Emmanuel as being products of that Chicago machine. (See one of he above bloggers hating on Chicago here). Had Obama brought more people with him from Chicago, you know that complaint wouldn't have had to morph into "not change" and could have just stayed "corrupt Chicago."

Clearly, the only way to please the conservative worrywarts would have been for Obama to plop open the Norman, Oklahoma phone book and start calling people at random. Of course, that would probably be cause for them to resurrect that stupid "experience" argument again--and no matter what happens, it's good for Republicans.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Moral Boosters

By Keith R. Schmitz

If anything the Bush administration has been hypocritical and disingenuous from day 1, so why expect anything different in the twilight of this disaster?

Now Bush wants to shove under the door rules to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds.

First off, isn't the conservative crowd big on so-called conditions of employment?

This very much points out their ala carte approach that made them very poor sales people for the concept of morality, sort of like the laugh riot that ensues when Chuckles the radio clown tries to dispense it.

Bush was less interest in affording these kind of protections to government whistle blowers, probably because they were seeking to abort certain Bush policies.

Stuff like this were the building blocks of a basement level approval rating, and a reminder why their inanity will not be missed.

Belling: Heads I win, tails you lose

by folkbum

In his column today, Mark Belling opines about Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle's chances of bolting Madison for Washington, DC, as part of an Obama administration. Belling's verdict? "50-50," he says.

Now, we long ago established that Belling's prognosticatory powers are pretty pitiful. He predicts the obvious, and when it happens, he claims victory. By claiming the odds are 50-50 that Doyle heads east, he's got his bases covered either way. But here's the part that really bugs me:
If Doyle doesn’t go, it will be because leading Wisconsin Democrats put the kibosh on the deal. A top Democratic source tells me state party leaders are telling the President-elect Obama team that a Doyle resignation in Wisconsin will be disastrous for the party here. They believe that Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton would be in over her head and could not manage the political fallout from the massive tax increases the Democrats are planning to use to close the state’s looming $5 billion budget deficit.
First, Barbara Lawton would not be any more or less "in over her head" than anyone else would be in the same position--than, in fact, Belling is likely to say that Doyle is himself. Lawton is a savvy woman, smart and tenacious. She may be less electable than Doyle, for the same reason that Jean Hundtermark was likely less electable that Mark Green: Women have a harder road to elected office than men do in this country. But a Governor Lawton would not just stand helpless while the state sinks around her. Yeesh.

However, within days of Obama's election, I heard from Democratic sources that Doyle was not particularly interested in leaving Madison. I mean, I know that when the president-elect is on the phone, you take the call. But what Belling has done here is guarantee that if my sources are right that Doyle wants to stay here and he does, the fault lies with legislative Democrats.

It's a twofer for Belling: Democrats are screwed if Doyle goes, and Democrats are screwed if Doyle stays. It reminds me of the joke among the more national bloggers, that whatever happens, it's good for the Republicans. How much does he get paid to type that crap?

Chapter 11 -- Not a Good Idea

By Keith R. Schmitz

The right wing seems to be getting way too much pleasure over the prospect of letting the automakers sink into Chapter 11 to "punish" the gall of the UAW in demanding things like good wages, health care, etc.

As if the workers are responsible for the troubles visited upon the house of Ford, GM and Chrysler. Not like it was inept, quarter by quarter focused management led to this or anything. You know, just like the same reasoning that argued the poor and minorities brought our financial system to its knees because they got access to mortgages.

But like all things wonderful in the minds of conservative, there are problems with that perspective. Why would a bailout be better?

1) The process of bankruptcy is rather distracting on a management that had a hard enough time paying attention to just running these companies in the first place.

2) Having had a client that went bankrupt and having lived that dream, I don't think that vendors that faithfully provided goods and services to the automakers should suffer, seeing pennies on the dollar or even nothing instead of payments on their invoices.

3) If handled properly, a bankruptcy should be a chance or a company to reorganize, come to Jesus and come out of this better than before. But what evidence do we have that the current management would be capable of that. Like none. What we will see will be the butcher shop spectacle of wholesale layoffs to protect bloated and undeserved executive compensation like we did in the airline industry. We will see unemployment figures leap, dragging us further into recession because of course a consumer economy depends upon consumers. The former though seems to never bother our conservative friends.

4) The bailout affords us opportunities to make the auto industry do what it should have done in the first place. From the inside of their little protective cocoon the Big Three leadership saw the world in their vision. Left to their own their instincts, they could do no different.

Now US having major ownership, reality could intrude.

Something the Bush administration couldn't do we could do now, which is provide so many strings for this money the automakers would resemble marionettes. And why not. They have already played Pinocchio.

I can just hear the Greek chorus -- "Government can't do anything right."

Some governments. There is every indication this new group will be looking to hire the best and brightest, not the connected and the corrupted as we saw over the past eight years.

Yes, the UAW will have to offer up concessions, but to put blame for the jalopy known as the US auto industry on the shoulders of the workers indicates a lack of perception. Didn't Detroit management after all negotiate these contracts? This was the Bush administration where workers usually didn't stand a chance.

This is not a time for old thinking. It is a time for bold thinking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things to do in Alaska when you're Ted

by folkbum

I quite enjoyed the view of Denali provided by the friendly folks at Talkeetna Air Taxi. The town itself is quaint and interesting and rumored to have been the inspiration for the town in that "Northern Exposure" show. I have a CD I like from Larry Zarella, Talkeetna-based singer-songwriter. I think I could probably settle down there, and live out my retirement from my public service job, assuming I didn't get thrown in the clink first.

So, Ted, think about it. Although, I have to say, losing your election is one wicked bad birthday present, eh?

Wanna Blog? (bumped to the top, because I'm still looking for people)

by folkbum

It's about that time again--time for me to solicit from among the regular readers and commenters for new writers who may want to make the jump to the front page here. In the past, I've had guest bloggers who have gone on to great success on their own, and others who have just faded back into the comments sections. Whatever your eventual blogging dreams may be, if you'd like to try your hand at it, please drop me a line.

Big Three Solution

by folkbum

One easy way to alleviate some of the Big Three automakers' present troubles, seems to me, would be to enroll their employees and retirees as the first wave of a Medicare-for-all (or most or many) health care reform plan. Take the bulk of the cost of their health care off the books of GM, Ford, and Chrysler. We were willing to spend $700 billion to buy toxic mortgage securities; why not spend a small chunk of that (GM's health care costs a few years ago were about $6 billion a year; Medicare tends to do things more cheaply than the private sector, though) to keep the people who build our cars healthy for the next couple of years?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

For the Klan member who has everything

by folkbum

The American Family Association--they of the our-morality-for-all bent--is offering a sweet new Xmas gift:



I wish I were kidding. Via John Cole.

UPDATE, because apparently some people can't see the obvious:

Where did they get that idea? WISGOP.

by folkbum

When George W Bush was re-elected in 2004, I reacted badly, I know (you can search the archives yourself!), and I did have a significant fear that Bush with a re-empowered Republican Congress would act to restrict rights and freedoms. I did not, however, rush right out to get an abortion or burn a flag or gay marry a terrorist. I don't think anyone did--although I doubt anyone was tracking the gay terrorist stats at the time. And, fortunately for all of us, Bush chose to spend his "political capital" on reforming Social Security, a move that bombed worse than An American Carol, and some of my most paranoid fears were never realized.

In the weeks since Barack Obama's election, fearful conservatives and Republicans have been rushing right out to do stuff that they fear will become illegal, including--as many people have noted--buying a lot of guns.

This confuses me, somewhat, as it does others, because gun control as a legislative or campaign issue has fallen from among Democrats' top priorities a decade or two ago to somewhere below the free-ponies-for-all level. In other words, it's just not something big anymore. It was not an issue in the presidential campaign, and I don't even recall seeing references to it as part of the national Congressional campaign. Even here in Wisconsin, the most you hear about legislative gun issues is whether or not to allow concealed carry--not how many and which guns to start banning.

Mike Plaisted raises the question too: "Somehow, I missed the 'Obama will come for your guns' part of the hysterical right-wing message during the campaign." Well, I didn't. It didn't come from the Obama campaign, of course, but I saw it. Remember the half-dozen mailers I got from the Wisconsin GOP? I'll refresh your memory on the word frequency table:
40 Obama
17 Gun/ Firearm/ Arms
9 Rezko
8 Special Interest/ Political Favor/ and variants
7 Lead/ Leading / Led/ Leadership (to suggest Obama doesn't lead)
2 McCain
Mentioned more than the economy, more than Tony Rezko, more than even the GOP's own candidate John McCain--guns. So where would Wisconsin Republicans get the fear that a Democrat would take their guns away? From the Wisconsin Republican party, that's where. The Wisconsin GOP, supported by the NRA, which is supported by gun manufacturers, has spurred a run on guns, a certain boon to those very gun manufacturers. It's quite the clever self-supporting loop they have running there. I'm sure the NRA is seeing a boost in individual donations now, too, and in the next election cycle, as the NRA works to elect Republican candidates across the state, everyone's back will have been fully scratched.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Cheddarsphere" A Novel

By 3rd Way

The story of Iceland's economic collapse is frightening and fascinating. One of the scariest and most mind boggling anecdotes is the estimate that 75% of the private sector architects in the country lost their jobs in a matter of weeks.

I wonder what all those Icelandic architects are going to do with themselves until people start building again. If I were out of work with no prospect of finding work in my field I might take a stab at writing my version of the great American novel. A novel based on the characters of the Cheddarsphere could write itself.

One character would be a blogging law professor that struggles to fight guilt by association charges in a race for supreme court justice from a 527 flooding the airwaves with accusations that the professor is a right wing extremist with links on his blog to a guy that threatened to kill the president elect. That chapter might be called "Poetic Justice".

If our economy continues to fall apart I might find myself in the same situation as my Icelandic brethren and get a chance to write that novel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Talk Among Yourselves -- Government Bailing out Newspapers

By Keith R. Schmitz

Hey my friends on the right. I have learned that the things you fear the most can be what you eventually get -- good and hard. We sure learned our lesson with Bush and this time out campaigned for rather than against someone.

You didn't learn your lesson with Bush. I am sure that somewhere in there was a hope that the popularity of W was a tool to keep hated and feared "socialism" out of government.

Now with the financial bailout and the specter of Detroit coming to the trough looks like we will get lots of it. Victor Berger must be jiving in his grave.

So what the hell (pardon me Prof Esenberg for the profanity). Let's go all the way!

I'm time constrained right now, so quoting from the MediaDailyNews e-newsletter:
Maybe newspapers should go after bailout money as "a proactive move to save the only industry prominently mentioned in the Bill of Rights."

Newspapers should embrace a new mission of "preserving educational voices," and ask the government for debt relief and subsidies for digitization. "Think of the license fee British households pay to the BBC. The government could subsidize Amazon's Kindle or similar digital device and mandate that each household purchase one for $50." If nothing else, papers should seek tax credits and offer tax-deductible subscriptions.

Would it work? Barack Obama's civic-minded staffers, "may not love reporters, but they won't want newspapers to go away." It would mean a medium not dominated by "Fox News and bloggers banging on spittle-flecked laptops."
This idea is of course tongue in cheek and from that left wing mag BusinessWeek, but now that the gates of hell (there I go again) have been flung open...

The New Peter DiGuadio: As Bad as the Old

by folkbum

In a post yesterday about what's the become known as "The Eisenstadt Hoax" (see Steve Benen for more), the "new" Peter DiGaudio shows his old colors:
To the nutroots Left, “neocon” is code word for “Jew.” There’s your anti-Semitism. Funny thing is, both filmmakers have surnames which may be Jewish--Gorlin and Mirvish. There’s this theory that the secular Jews are really self-hating and particularly antagonistic toward the orthodox Jews. These may have been the type who sold out their fellow Jews to the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

It may also explain why 78 percent of Jews voted for a presidential candidate with easily distinguishable ties to virulent anti-Semites as well as enemies of Israel and one who is not committed to protection of the Jewish state.
Did you catch that? Aside from the lies about Obama having ties to "virulent anti-Semites," Peter just accused 78% of American Jews of being "the type who sold out their fellow Jews to the Nazis in 1930s Germany." Vote for Obama, he says, and it's just like abetting the Holocaust.

I would link to past instances of this kind of behavior from Peter's old blog but, you know, it's been disappeared.

To engage or not to engage

by folkbum

In all my years in the Cheddarsphere, the other side has often been insufferabe. (I'm sure they would say roughly the same thing about me and my side.) However, in all those years, that other side represented the side in power. I cannot even begin to imagine just how much more untethered they will become once Barack Obama is sworn in January 20. The first week or so of president-elect Obama has been pretty rough already.

I remember the the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and the conservative media played the role of beleaguered opposition. My mother listened to Rush Limbaugh--I recall Limbaugh's short-lived television program on at the house, too--and G. Gordon Liddy and the like, and had to deal with the misinformation and paranoia that resulted in the house. I remember watching Sunday morning television to see Jerry Falwell hawking video tapes between his rants, tapes that supposedly showed the connection between Clinton and cocaine trafficking with all the murder and other crime associated with it. I recall Ann Coulter on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" (before ABC fired him for being, er, politically incorrect, according to the Bush White House's definition) and being surprised that she could return time after time to spew her nonsense. I've read David Brock.

All of those, of course, happened in mainstream venues with relatively large audiences and, I would hope, some measure of concern for propriety and decency. Yes, even with all the crap flung by the howling right through the Clinton years, I have a feeling that there was a great deal of restraint involved.

Why? Because you're starting to see what an unrestrained out-of-power right-wing movement will look like; take a tour of parts of the right-wing Cheddarsphere (not the parts I generally link to) to see it.

The fringy kooks like Limbaugh and Coulter who we hoped in the 1990s would fade have gone on to become the mainstream faces and voices of Republican and conservative thought. Bullies like Hannity and O'Reilly dominate the discourse where once they would have been consigned to joke status. During the campaign, Obama was repeatedly excoriated for not going to FOX News (where he did eventually sit down with O'Reilly), while no one even seemed to care that John McCain cancelled on Larry King.

But how did the fringe right get so powerful? There are two possibilities: One, the left engaged them and gave them too much credibility (i.e., Maher's use of Coulter). Two, the left chose not to engage and allowed the insanity to take hold. The former view has always made a lot of sense to me; as I said, I do not link to the fringier elements of the conservative Cheddarsphere because I don't feel the need to give them any more attention than they already have. It doesn't seem to matter; consider that in the week since Peter "put a bounty on [Obama's] melon" Digaudio started his new blog, he's already nearing 2000 hits, something that after almost 6 years of blogging is a good week's total for me. Obviously, my ignoring his lunacy has not significantly changed either his writing or his audience.

Or consider this: I have three tabs' worth of Jessica McBride columns open in my browser right now. McBride, off the airwaves for a while now and blogless almost as long, seems to have much less sway in the discourse now. So do I really want to draw attention to the fact that in two columns just before the election (1, 2), McBride calls Barack Obama a "redistributive" "socialist" out-of-the-mainstream candidate ("McCain is a centrist, Obama is not," she wrote)--and in her post election column she leads with, "How can Democrats claim Barack Obama's victory means the country has liberalized when Obama ran as a moderate?" (Note: Some headline writer needs to be fired for calling that column an election "post-partum," rather than a "post-mortem.") How much does pointing out the foolishness and inconsistency really help my side, as opposed to just offering McBride additional credibility?

One more: Pretty much everywhere I go on the righties' blogs these days, "gus" is there (remember him?). He poisons every thread he's on, making them unendurable. It's impossible to have a rational discussion once "gus" hits the comments. See, as a recent example, this post at Badger Blogger, where a few thoughtful liberals try to have a reasonable discussion with a few thoughtful conservatives, and watch how the whole thing falls to hell once "gus" shows up. Do we engage that? How do we engage that? And what good does it do to try to have a conversation if you know that people not already committed to the thread are likely to see "gus" doing his thing and give up reading it?

On the other hand, the latter view, that we failed to engage and allowed the growth of the fringe into the mainstream, is voiced eloquently this week by Dan Shelley, formerly a news director at Milwaukee's WTMJ radio, which is the Wisconsin equivalent of FOX News, with some baseball thrown in. Shelley writes in Milwaukee Magazine how conservative squawkers moved from loony fringe to mainstream:
left WTMJ with some regret [. . .]. In the constant push for ratings, I had seen and helped foster the transformation of AM radio and the rise of conservative hosts. They have a power that is unlikely to decline.

Their rise was also helped by liberals whose ideology, after all, emphasizes tolerance. Their friendly toleration of talk radio merely gave the hosts more credibility. Yet an attitude of intolerance was probably worse: It made the liberals look hypocritical, giving ammunition to talk show hosts who used it with great skill.

But the key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons.
Here, Shelley is clear: By refusing to engage both the hosts' rantings and the listeners' concerns, we liberals let the conservative talk genre thrive. The implied answer is that not only do we have to stand up and engage the arguments head-on, we also have to offer something to the audience--for surely that audience is real, though less powerful than conservatives might like to believe (example)--that allays the fears and offers them a more realistic, more optimistic world view.

When I talk about the influence of this blog--which I maintain is meagre and not something worth touting--I generally talk about the ability to eventually shift the conversation slightly toward (what I see as) the truth, toward a more progressive view of policy and the world in general. For example, my post earlier this week on Obama's "civilian national security force" spent a few days at the top of the google blog search rankings, and I found myself cited as a source to smack-down the paranoia of the right on everything from a classical music usenet group to an ESPN discussion board. Being able to put the facts out there and offer an alternative (and, to some, authoritative) take on a topic is important to me, because it does change the conversation just a little bit. I'm not looking to win the whole game here, just move the ball downfield a yard or two at a time.

But I wouldn't have written that post if I wasn't planning to engage, going directly at some of the local bloggers and their readers who have bought into the idea that Obama was seriously talking about instituting a kind of secret police (some still do buy into that idea).

My ambivalence about this is years old, now, and I don't think I have ever tried to work through it this way before. I think the take-away lesson is that we have to start taking the fights more directly to the fringe. Every day that this kind of paranoia and extremism goes unchecked is a day we've lost the debate. McBride's columns shouldn't linger in open tabs on my computer but ought to be funneled into letter-writing or rebuttals. When the new Peter DiGaudio not only lies about Barack Obama but accuses liberals of being anti-semitic while making some pretty vilely anti-Jewish statements himself (suggesting that 3/4 of American Jews are "really self-hating and [. . .] may have been the type who sold out their fellow Jews to the Nazis in 1930s Germany") he needs to be called on it. By everyone.

So let's engage.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jury Duty

by folkbum

Jury duty in theory always seems like such a good idea and then the summons shows up and it just seems like one more damn thing to do.

Consumer-driven health care apparently now includes a plane ticket

by folkbum

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regularly delivers John Torinus to my doorstep. He's the chairman of Serigraph, Inc., a Milwaukee-area printing company, and one of the JS's regular business columnists. A frequent topic of his is health care (one recent column is here); he constantly lashes out at attempts to cover more individuals or reduce the costs of care when those attempts are made by liberals or Democrats.

Torinus railed against Wisconsin Democrats' Healthy Wisconsin plan, for example, though the Brew City Brawler and Seth Zlotocha (still much missed in the Cheddarspehere) shredded his arguments like cheese. Torinus complains in that recent column about my employer--the Milwaukee Public Schools--and our health care costs, us being run, presumably, by a bunch of liberal scoundrels who could not care less what we soak from the taxpayer. His complaints come despite the fact that MPS's health plan beat inflation and costs for retirees, about which Torinus complains specifically, fell in real dollars last year.

Torinus believes in consumer-driven health care reform, i.e., the notion that most people have too much insurance and, as such, spend too much of our bosses' money on things like doctor visits, prescription drugs, open-heart surgeries, and whatnot because we don't realize how much it really costs to keep us healthy. He's a big fan of ideas such as health savings accounts and high-deductible health plans (HSAs and HDHPs), which encourage the ill among us to decide which ailments to treat and which to let slide until the next fiscal year when we have a new pot of cash granted to us (or deducted from our paychecks) for our use.

All this is prelude, of course, to this morning's jaw-dropping headline: "Anthem, Serigraph unveil 'medical tourism' health plan." Yes, that's right, John Torinus (through the actions of his company) is now not merely advocating scaling back the insurance coverage for the average worker, but he's seriously advocating bypassing the US health care system altogether:
The company has agreed to participate in a pilot project with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin that will allow employees to have certain elective medical procedures, such as joint replacements or back surgery, done in designated hospitals in India.

Serigraph estimates that those procedures can be done for 40% to 50% less, including travel costs, than in the United States.
India? Isn't India one of those countries with free, socialized medicine available for all of its citizens? Why, yes it is!

So here we have Torinus, staunch opponent of anything that smells like universal, single-payer health care in the United States, sending his employees off to the hospitals and clinics of India, where treatment (for Indians) is free and paid for at taxpayer expense. I guess Torinus is just fine with letting the government subsidize and regulate the costs of his employees' health care--just as long as it's not our government that does it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things they pay me to write

by folkbum

A few weeks back when I was not writing much here? I was writing this.

Time to rally for the Alma Mater

by folkbum

This is bad news:
A dip in enrollment and the pressures of an economic decline will cause Beloit College to cut up to 40 jobs at the small liberal arts school--roughly a tenth of its workforce, officials have announced.

Total enrollment is down by a seemingly small number: 36 students. But tuition comprises two-thirds of the revenue for the 1,300-student campus, where students pay roughly $38,000 per year in total expenses.

Add to that a shrinking endowment and a forecast of lower-than-usual annual fundraising, and the college is facing a $1 million shortfall, Interim President Dick Niemiec said.

"We're a tuition-driven school and we're down, and also what I'm doing is planning for next year's budget," Niemiec said. "If the economy continues, and the number of students doesn't pick up, we'll be in a position where we'll be in a balanced budget."

It's not clear exactly why enrollment is down, but Niemiec said anecdotal information indicates students are dropping out of Beloit temporarily, delaying the start of their college years or choosing lower-priced institutions because of the economy.
At a small school like Beloit, 40 people is a devastating cut. I can't imagine what the effects on campus will be.

If I had to guess, there are hardly any Beloit alumni reading this (I'm betting two, besides me). However, if you value the quality of the commentary you see here--or if you need a tax deduction--stop by and drop some coin in their bucket.

(And, as a complete aside, mad props to reporter Erica Perez for using the word comprises correctly. That's one that really gets under my skin when it's wrong--and it usually is. But not this time!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Word: Redistricting

by folkbum

I haven't seen any discussion of this anywhere since last Tuesday, and yet it is quite possibly the most important dimension to the Democrats' regaining control of the Wisconsin Assembly and keeping control of the Wisconsin Senate. That's redistricting.

Now, I know we still have one state election between now and when the leggies break out the crayons and white-out. However, the Democrats will be playing defense in the 2010 election, not offense, and the odds of their still being in charge when that dust settles is better than average, particularly if the surprisingly resilient Jim Doyle sticks around and cruises to re-election against Scott Walker.

In principal, I believe in partisan-free redistricting. Draw boundaries that follow municipal and geographic boundaries, I say, partisanship be damned. But I have come to learn in recent years that the partisans on the other side hold no such romantic notions about the process (see, for example, Georgia or Texas). I would wager pretty much anything that, pluck a random blogger from the righty Cheddarsphere, and they would say, roughly, "Stick it to 'em" if they had the chance.

I've been wondering what kind of mission this blog would need following the late victory. This may be it. Stay tuned.

Veterans' Day, 2008

by folkbum

The folkbum family of bloggers offers hearty thank you to all who have served.

Obama's "civilian national security force" explained, again

by folkbum

Because it's making the rounds of the blogs again--including some in Wisconsin who should know better and some who are gleeful for any nugget of mud they can sling to sully the election of Barack Obama--I feel the need to repeat myself and talk about Obama's "civilian national security force."

The phrase comes from an ad-libbed line Obama added to a speech in Ft. Collins, CO, last July, about the importance of national service. He said, "We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

This line was used for a while, and is being used again, to suggest that there will be some kind "brownshirt" organization--an "Obama Youth" or "American Gestapo"--that will enforce the will of Obama in your schools and neighborhoods and drag you off to a re-education camp should you deviate from the party line.

Simply, this is false. As I explained last July in the first round of this, twice, the phrase "civilian national security force" was Obama's way of referring to those outside of the military who nonetheless further our national security goals around the world. Here's Obama speaking to the Military Times newspaper:
That also means, by the way, that we’re going to have to, I believe, reconfigure our civilian national security force. In a way that just hasn’t been done.

I mean, we still have a national security apparatus on the civilian side in the way the State Department is structured and [Agency for International Development] and all these various agencies. That hearkens back to the Cold War. And we need that wing of our national security apparatus to carry its weight.
Even in that original Colorado speech, Obama makes clear from his context that he's not talking about domestic enforcement of his agenda:
And we'll also grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered, and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy. We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.
In context, there is little doubt that Obama intends to beef up the non-military (i.e., civilian) aspects of our presence abroad so as to secure our national security objectives. Anyone who wants to twist the phrase "civilian national security force" into meaning something like the SS or the SIM or the Stasi or Big Brother is deliberately twisting Obama's words and ignoring the clear context of his remarks.

Others have noted in the past few months--notably digby, though I'm not going to rummage in her archives to find the link--that the conservatives who cheered on George W. Bush's unilateral push to increase executive authority in frightening ways will be appalled at every step Obama takes in any direction. Warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detention of US citizens, "black sites" where prisoners disappear to be tortured and killed, extraordinary rendition, politicizing the Department of Justice, signing statements--essentially, nary a peep from the right. But get Barack Obama talking about how the State Department and the Peace Corps need to be stronger, and the black-helicopter paranoia is right back out in the open. Expect demands to restrict Obama's executive authority to vetoing bills and ordering Domino's on the red phone. Expect phony arguments like this one over the "civilian national security force" to be a driving force.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It happens to all the flowers

by folkbum

The corpse flower, a little less in all of its glory, is open and reeking. I'm missing it, except through the miracle of webcammery.



Thar she, um, leans.

Respecting Veterans More than a Car Sticker

Update: Army Times: Vets file new suit over slow VA claims processing
Tuesday, November 11 is Veterans Day.

But the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA), charged with providing patient care and delivering veterans' benefits, has become a malfunctioning governmental agency.

Worse, the VA has become—through its policy of knocking down large financial rewards for injured veterans—a rogue agency illegally inventing a "review scheme (that) is punitive, discriminatory, confiscatory and contrary to the veterans' benefits system established by Congress," and literally shredding the service records of our veterans.

And even worse, it has jailed an honorably discharged and innocent Wisconsin Navy veteran through the tender hands of U.S. Atty Stephen Biskupic, infamous for the the proven-innocent Georgia Thompson prosecution and pursuit of Wisconsin voters.

Many look to President-elect Obama to make things right.

Roberts was convicted of five counts of wire fraud for receiving VA disability funds stemming from his diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to a Navy friend, Gary Holland, being crushed to death during the Vietnam War combat era.

U.S. Atty Biskupic's office had convinced a jury that Roberts and the deceased Navy airman (Holland) did not have a friendship and that Roberts, who was on line duty at a Naval base in Naples, Italy on February 5, 1969 at the time that Holland was crushed to death by a C-54 aircraft, exaggerated his efforts to save Holland, which constituted fraud for which Roberts was convicted in November 2006 by a jury in northern Wisconsin.

Roberts has been serving a four-year sentence since March 2007.

The prosecution and conviction remain at best highly controversial and a three-member panel for the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in July found that, "The record might also have supported a jury determination that Mr. Roberts sincerely believed that his statements were true and that he had no intention to defraud the Government ... (but) (i)t is beyond our authority to disturb (a guilty) finding on appeal (in this case)."

Indeed the two men had parallel careers at several military bases that would make highly unlikely that Holland and Roberts were not at least friendly, though not friendly enough for the VA and the US DoJ that pursued the case over two years.

The hurdle for an appellate court to overturn the judgement of a jury is high, but the criminal case remains under appeal and the benefits case was recently argued at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), (Roberts v. Secretary of the VA (05-2425)).


Roberts awaits a decision on both cases at he continues serving a four-year sentence for serving his country.

Roberts has a different set of dog tags now as the embittered and depressed veteran diagnosed with PTSD sits in federal prison in Colorado.

Those wishing to write Roberts can reach him at the address below.

Please consider dropping him a post card and reminding him that life is good, and that fighting for justice is most of the fight:

Keith Roberts, 07827-089
FCI Englewood, East-Upper
FCI 9595
West Quincy Avenue
Littleton, CO 80123


- via mal contends

Golden Rule -- Rules Help Make the Gold

By Keith R. Schmitz

The TIME site this morning asks an intriguing question. When banks here and in Europe where tanking, why did Canada's stay afloat?

Once again, those tools of the left known as facts rear their ugly heads. Turns out, according to Canadian Finance Minister Flaherty, "The credit crisis we're facing is the result of unbridled greed. We need to bridle greed."

Oh yeah by the way, Canada has what you'd call a conservative government.

RIP, Miriam Makeba

by folkbum

Every civil rights movement has its music. For the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, the voice of that music was Miraim Makeba.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Some Moderately Light Reading on Sick Leave

by folkbum

Milwaukee is not the only city in the country with mandatory sick leave. How does the one other city with it fare? Pretty well, it seems:
Local business owners howling over a ballot measure forcing them to provide paid sick leave might take comfort from San Francisco's example.

An official there said his city hasn't suffered since a similar law passed there two years ago.

"Tell them in Milwaukee, the sky has not fallen here," said Greg Asay, a senior analyst with the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. "We haven't seen a major impact in a negative way on the San Francisco economy."
I know, I know, Milwaukee ≠ San Francisco. However, it's far from clear that this is the end of the world.

The most depressing election-day story

by folkbum

This week brought much to be happy about; but this story is both uplifting and incredibly sad. You must read all the way to the end, please.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bob Dylan should come with subtitles

by folkbum

I have crossed another one off my "Performers to See Live Before They Die" list. Sadly, my "Things I Hope Never to See Again--but Probably Will" list continues to include "white people dancing."

Also, good to see the Brawler again. I looked but I didn't see Plaisted. I assume he was there, though, somewhere.

Once again, wingnut blog outrage exists in inverse proportion to reality

by folkbum

Remember the manufactured flap a few weeks back about Racine's textbooks? It blew up online after a local blogger posted that the 8th-grade literature textbooks featured an excerpt from Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father and his 2004 Democratic National Committee speech. Neither was overtly political or partisan, and the text was assembled and selected long before Obama was the Democratic nominee for president. But that didn't stop the outrage from reaching all the way to Malkinland.

Of course, reality has a well-known liberal bias:
The Racine Unified School District said Tuesday that no policies were violated when a textbook with parts of a memoir and speech written by Sen. Barack Obama was used in classes. [. . .] Some people complained that the material was not appropriate during an election year, but the district said the book was selected in May 2007, before Obama was the Democratic nominee.

In a Nov. 3 memo to the school board, Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw and Jeff Weiss, director of curriculum and instruction, said there is a process within RUSD to handle complaints about educational materials, but the district received no formal, written complaints from parents or residents.

“Two parents asked for a review of the timing, questioning whether it was appropriate to teach the Obama selections one month prior to the presidential election,” the memo said. “Both declined to file a formal complaint about the material when offered that option.

“Because no formal written complaint was received from a Racine parent or citizen, no action under this policy was considered or initiated.”

Barack Wins. Let's Chill

By Keith R. Schmitz

My good friend capper correctly lays out the rocks that have been dumped on the road that unfolds before President-Elect Barack Obama.

Before I go on, let's savor that. President-Elect Barack Obama.

And please, this is not to rub certain folks' faces into this fact, but to invite them to indulge in this mellow moment.

Yes, there is a lot that will be heaped on the Barack's plate and some will attempt to weigh it down with bitter invective but hey, let's chill out folks.

There are certain things a president can and cannot do, but I have always believed that one the thing that the Commander-in-Chief does is radiate a mood. Look at all of the administrations and they either set the mood or pick up on the mood. In the case of Barack it is coolness.

Take note. Despite all of the garbage about palin' with terrorists and imaginary socialism that was shovelled in his direction, Barack never flung it back. Oh sure we on the blogs and some surragates jumped in, but the effect is always so much greater coming from the candidate and the campaign.

What a great example. Barack could have taken the bait during the Rachel Maddow interview just before the election, but he made it clear he was going to dis no one.

Right now I am viewing President Bush talk to the White House staff on the lawn and for once, I am enjoying watching him.

Sure the problems are big. But you know what. We put our heads down and do the job -- together. And we do it in a non-ideological fashion.

If we could devine anything from the electorate it is that they are getting tired of partisan bickering. They want solutions, no matter now we get to them.

So mix up a cool one -- later on today -- and sit back to enjoy the mellow buzz, because there will be things to do and we can't leave it to the politicians.

But as for now. Chill and enjoy it.

Predictions v. Reality; Contest Winner CORRECTED

by folkbum

Here's how I did with the few predictions I made. I'm not entirely sure what it means that I underestimated Democrats' performance except in both the US and Wisconsin Senate. Hm.

question   my guess   reality    √ or X 
Prez       Obama      Obama        √
EVs        338-200    364-174*     X
House      D251-R184  D256-R179*   X
Senate     D57-R41-I2 D55-R43-I2*  X
WI Assemb  D50-R48-I1 D52-R46-I1   X
WI Senate  D19-R14    D18-R15      X


(* There are a few things up in the air, but I allocated the unknowns based on who was leading at this moment. So, Obama gets North Carolina's EVs, while McCain gets Missouri's and the hold-out Nebraska EV. Republicans are winning 5 of the 6 uncalled House races, and I split Louisiana's two run-off races, which is probably how they will go in December anyway. Democrats get the Oregon Senate seat, but not Alaska, Minnesota, or Georgia, where there will be a runoff.)

The contest results are also in:

question   reality    best guess  submitted by     
Prez       Obama      Obama       All but Dean & Dan
EVs        364-174    367-171     Paul H
House      D256-R179  D257-R178   3rd Way & Zach W.
Senate     D55-R43-I2 D55-R43-I2  Zach W. & Dean
WI Assemb  D52-R46-I1 D52-R46-I1  Peter, Tim & Paul H Sam
WI Senate  D18-R15    D19-R14     Paul H, Dean, Sam, Hermann & JIJARWM


So with four of six answers dead-on or very, very close, our winner is Paul H! Paul, email me to let me know where to send your prize! Congrats also are due to our runner up Zach W., who got three out of the six questions right.

CORRECTION: Paul H. comments to say that, in fact, I attributed a guess to him that was actually Sam Sarver's. In which case, we have a tie, with Paul H. and Zach W. each getting three answers right. Then we go to the tie-breaker, which was what time did the AP call the race? As Sam himself points out, the AP called it at 10:10, which was exactly the time Sam had guessed. Paul said 9:48, a difference of 22 minutes, and Zach said 10:44, a difference of 34 minutes. So Paul is still the winner, but on the tie-breaker. Congrats again, Paul. And, Zach, now I owe you a beer at Drinking Liberally.

Federal results from here. State results from jsonline.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mr. McCoy, is it true you've been asked to join the Obama administration?

by folkbum

"Law and Order" producers have got Obama's back, it seems.

Morning-After Musings

by folkbum

• Tonight is the regular monthly installment of Eating Liberally in Milwaukee. I will be there, and you should be there too. It's a 6 PM in the back room of Bella's Fat Cat Custard in Bay View.

• The contest winner will be announced this evening, I hope. As I type this, there are three presidential races yet to be called, and four US Senate races (including what looks like might be a Ted Stevens upset in Alaska), and a dozen or so House races. We're waiting on a couple of state races, too.

• In the last week, when I wrote about the presidential candidates' chances, I assumed, as Republicans had been claiming all along, that pollsters were oversampling Democrats and giving Obama an unfair boost. So I spotted John McCain six points across the board, and he still had a very tought map. However, the final results punctured that theory. Obama is currently winning 52.3-46.4. pollster.com showed a trend of Obama winning 52-44. 538 had predicted 52.3-46.2 for Obama (eerily prescient, no?). Those were all based in the polls Republicans were sure were wrong.

• It appears, reading the text of Obama's acceptance speech, that I may have wildly overstated the extent of his puppy-redistribution plans.

• Al Franken is down by about 800 votes in his US Senate race over in Minnesota. I had very high hopes of picking up this seat, and it may well come down to provisional ballots. Obama won Minnesota by 10 points, and Republican Norm Coleman, even though he's winning, has only 42% of the vote. Clearly Minnesota, like Wisconsin, is moving out of swing state territory. Republicans will have a hard time holding the governor's seat there in two years.

• Here's what I really don't understand: Barack Obama wins Wisconsin by 13 points, Democrats flip five State Assembly seats, and yet we can't flip a single State Senate seat? There's still slight hope for Sheldon Wasserman and Tara Johnson as I write this, but the key word is slight. I'm really quite astounded at that.

• California voted to roll back rights for gays and lesbians. That's depressing.

• Barack Obama's win was truly impressive. He won by 7 million votes, the largest margin since Clinton's 8-million vote win in 1996. (Clinton won 47 million votes then; Obama has over 62 million.) He won in every region of the country (Virginia is kind of the South, and he's up in North Carolina though it hasn't been called yet.) Exit polls suggest he beat John Kerry in almost every category, including among those working-class whites that Brian Fraley and Joe the Plumber and Hillary Holdouts were convinced Obama could never win. I think this suggests that Obama is not just the president of the Democrats, but the president of Everybody. His victory was impressive.

• Maybe the Milwaukee Public Museum's Corpse Flower will finally bloom today.

• Turnout was down nationally. 119 million this year, compared to 122 million in 2004. I don't get that. I mean, Obama's 7-million vote win is massive, and could be partially explained by Republicans staying home in some states, I suppose. Here in Wisconsin, turnout seems down by maybe 100,000 or so, but Obama got more that 150,000 more votes than Kerry did. McCain, on the other hand, underperformed Bush by 250,000 votes. I am very interested to compare county-level turnout numbers to see if heavily Republican counties had lower turnout this year. (UPDATE: Politico says I'm wrong, but their vote total is different from the maps I've seen.)