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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Paul Ryan votes to kill John Galt

by folkbum

Yesterday, a bill passed the US House of Representatives passed a bill by a remarkable margin of 406 to 19. This is not because Democrats have suddenly taken over an extra 150 House seats without your noticing; it is, in fact, because the bill is one following an ages-old American value: Corporate monopolies are bad for business, for consumers, and for workers.

The bill removed an exemption to anti-trust laws that was specially crafted for insurance companies. While states currently have theoretical authority to investigate and block insurance company monopolies, many simply don't: A study by the AMA (pdf) finds that the vast majority of markets are dominated by a single insurer, crossing the usual Department of Justice threshold for market concentration. In some states, a single insurance company writes upwards of 2/3 of the policies.

Here in Wisconsin, 52% of us are insured by WellPoint; in neighboring Iowa, 71% are insured by Wellmark. Across the lake, 65% of Michiganders are insured by Blue Cross. And so on.

One of the 19--all Republicans, by the way--who voted against removing the special protections insurance companies receive was Wisconsin's Paul Ryan. This may have something to do with where his campaign contributions come from, I can't say for sure. But in another way, it kind of surprises me. Ryan professes to be a fan of juvenile philosopher Ayn Rand, whose two-dimensional heroes (and, yes, I've read some of the books) tend to be self-made entrepreneurs who have to struggle for acceptance and success against the reigning corporate or political hegemony. By voting to allow insurance companies to maintain monopoly or monopsony power, Ryan is voting to keep the John Galts of the world shut out of a major sector of the US economy.

All of which just reenforces the pretty clear narrative about Republicans like Paul Ryan: While claiming to be pro-business, they ae actually just pro-existing business. Other health insurance reform measures, like those making it easier for small businesses to offer health insurance to their employees, have been shut down or shouted down by Ryan and his ilk. In return, they offer race-to-the-bottom proposals designed to enrich their corporate sponsors at the expense of working Americans--not something even Ayn Rand would approve of.

Monday, February 22, 2010

And while I'm on the subject

by folkbum

This post by mpeterson reminds me of another absurdity in Bruce Thompson's op-ed yesterday. He writes,
[T]he emergence of powerful teachers unions changed the dynamics. If the unions were unable to get what they wanted at the bargaining table, they could work to elect school board members who were dependent on union support. Low turnout in school board elections, combined with the lack of overall interest in the School Board, meant that the unions were the only consistent players in School Board elections. [. . . A]t times, it felt as though the union was negotiating with itself: not getting what it wanted at the negotiating table, the union would go directly to who would override the negotiators.
Thompson is living in the past. The Milwaukee Board of School Directors hasn't had a majority of union-supported members for five years, since Danny Goldberg--now gone from the board, even--was elected. Even before that, the "majority" was not terribly strong, and in fact for much of Thompson's first tenure on the Board, the union lacked that majority.

At the present moment, as Thompson is writing his screed against "special interests" in Board elections, there are two, out of nine, members of the board who were supported by the union in their last contested elections. (A third, Larry Miller, was supported by the union but ran unopposed in, ironically enough, Bruce Thompson's old east-side district.) That makes six of nine members that the union actively opposed.

So at best, if you want to grant the union all kinds of unbridled power that it really doesn't have, the union has three puppets on the Board out of a possible nine. If Thompson and his five presumably anti-union cohorts on the Board find themselves unable to overpower the three union cronies, well, he should maybe consider what that looks like before he goes whining on the pages of the daily paper.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Oh, the irony

by folkbum

Bruce Thompson, of all people, has an op-ed in Sunday's paper complaining about special interests in MPS school board elections. Sigh.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Duffy moneybomb question

by folkbum

So far, I haven't heard an answer as to whether or not Sean Duffy (who's trying to eke some milage out of the falsehood that the economic stimulus package passed a year ago by Congress is a failure) thinks Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, and the countless other Republicans taking credit for stimulus funds, is being dishonest.

The next question Duffy should have to answer is whether the good folks of Ashland County, his home turf and where he currently District Attorneys from, should give back the $13,939,620 in stimulus funds so far distributed there. Ashland, in fact, has raked in more per capita than the state or national average when it comes to stimulus (in large part because of distributuons to tribal authorities, granted), so I'd say his constituents are currently getting a good deal out of the package.

Ask Sean Duffy if Northland College should take back the more than a quarter of a million dollars' worth of students loans it has given out under the stimulus, to keep students in college who might have had to drop out due to the poor economy.

Ask Sean Duffy if the recipients of well over a million dollars' worth of guaranteed home loans should move back into their cars.

Ask Sean Duffy if Historic Red Bridge over Armstrong creek, a century old and a tourist attraction, should be allowed to fall further into disrepair.

Ask Sean Duffy if the Mathy Construction Company there in Ashland should return its $3 million and lay off the workers called in for the highway projects they're doing.

If Duffy is going to make this an issue, then he needs to answer these questions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When you righties give to Duffy tomorrow, ask if he thinks Paul Ryan is a liar

by folkbum

Sean Duffy is running a losing campaign (so far) up nort' against Dave Obey, Wisconsin's elder House statesman. One of Duffy's longest-running themes is that last year's economic stimulus package was an abject failure. That is, of course, an utter lie.

The broad consensus of economists? It worked. And it continues to work (.pdf). (Many economists note that the original stimulus was probably too small, and too focused on things like tax cuts (.pdf) that don't actually stimulate the economy. And that guy was a McCain supporter!) (UPDATE: More here.)

But don't just rely on economists. I mean, it's just their job to know about these things, but that doesn't mean anything in this day and age. I mean, experts? Come on.

But what about Paul Ryan?
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who called the stimulus a "wasteful spending spree" that "misses the mark on all counts," wrote to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in October in support of a grant application from a group in his district which, he said, "intends to place 1,000 workers in green jobs."
Why would Paul Ryan encourage people in his district to use stimulus money to create jobs? Is it perhaps because the stimulus really does, you know, stimulate the economy? (And note that Paul Ryan is hardly the only Republican around reaping the benefits of the stimulus bill that they voted against.)

So your task, conservative readers, should you choose to accept it, is add a question to any donation you might want to give to Duffy (assuming you want to throw that money away). Ask Duffy about Ryan's tacit admission that the stimulus creates jobs and helps the economy. Ask Duffy who's right--him or Paul Ryan (or the scores of other Republicans celebrating stimulus success). Ask Duffy how he can keep calling the stimulus a failure with a straight face.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Actual conversation about the Olympics

by folkbum

Me: It just seems wrong that Canada hasn't won "home gold" in the Olympics. (*)
My Wife: I guess.
Me: I mean, couldn't they at least invent some sport guaranteed to let the Canadians win? Downhill Pleasantry or something?
My Wife: It's the winter Olympics. In Canada. They have curling.
Me: Oh.

* Congrats to the great white north for breaking the streak today.

They Call Me the Miranderer

by bert
You have the right to remain silent. But, if you want to, you can instead pipe up with some more lyrics here. Now that "mirandize" has become a new and (apparently) naughty word, I felt like updating the old Dion song.

Once it's done, we can submit it to Folkbum to perform. Maybe he can do a Johnny Cash-type-a-deal once the renovated prison opens in Illinois.
Oh well I’m the type of guy the right-wingers all oppose
'Cuz I don’t torture guys with would-be bombs hid in their clothes
I don’t copy that scene in Braveheart or the Fox show "24"
I don’t tap every call made from Abdul’s gas-station store

They call me the miranderer
Yeah, the miranderer
I roam around, around, around

I’m not so lily-livered that I freak out at this threat
so much so that I think the constitution we just forget
What if the panty-bomber talks even without water boards
Or hooking up his private parts to 10-gauge power cords?

they call me the miranderer . . .

Friday, February 12, 2010

Charlie Sykes and Paul Ryan: These Guy Are Good!

by bert
Any of us can bitch of course. But there is a reason that radio talk show host Charlie Sykes gets paid to do it all week long.

A Baryshnikov of bellyaching, Sykes is able to leap gracefully on "his" blog from complaining about an idea to cut Medicare when it's a Democratic idea to the geometrically opposite position in support of cuts. He gets from here to there because now the idea is Republican Paul Ryan's.

Paul Krugman of the The New York Times has noticed this same acrobatic about-face by the GOP on the issue of caring for our grannies.
So cutting Medicare by $500 billion is wrong--support Republicans, who [Paul Ryan, to be specific] want to cut it by $650 billion!

As snowboarders would say, that leap was sick.

Creatively Titled Friday Paul Ryan Post

by folkbum

One of the most frustrating things about the whole current Paul Ryan situation--his suddenly elevated national status ahead of a likely 2012 Senate run--is that the media here at home have failed to do what national media have done in response. Ryan, for example, gets a regular page in the Racine Journal Times with no checks on his accuracy or partisan balance offered.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state's largest paper and the respectable face of the state's largest media organization, has given Ryan fawning piece after fawning piece for years now. In this current wave, the story for them has been repeatedly something along the lines of, "Wow, look at all the attention Paul Ryan is getting!" This morning's story by Diana Marrero is no exception. This is somewhat funny, since the impetus for the story seems to be criticism from Ryan's opponents that the local media from Democrats that Ryan is getting no scrutiny for substance, just attention for being suddenly nationally visible.

Merrero's story includes this disappointing paragraph, which exemplifies the problem:
Ryan's plan tackles annual federal deficits by changing Medicare into a voucher program for people under 55, introducing individual accounts for the Social Security program and eliminating the tax preference for employer-sponsored insurance. His plan also would eventually raise the retirement age to 70 and reduce the growth of Social Security benefits over the long term.
Nowhere does the story actually mention several key facts about Ryan's plan, including a brand-new consumption tax on all Americans. And the key fact that despite this tax, Ryan's believes that the deficit wouldn't go away for 50 years. And the key fact that nonpartisan analysts (including the CBO) show the deficits wouldn't go away at all, which make Ryan's plan to "tackle" the deficit no such thing.

Repeatedly in the local media Ryan is lauded merely for being prominent. It would be nice to see some scrutiny applied to why that is so.

FriTunes

by folkbum

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why We Can't Pull out of the Economic Tail Spin

By Keith R. Schmitz

Hot read for cool minds.

According to Henry Banta of the Nieman Foundation, Republicans are locked in an embrace with the corpse of Reaganomics. Not only will they not let go but the media will not break the grip:
Efficient market theory dominated economic thinking from the days of Ronald Reagan to the collapse of 2008. It was the rationale for deregulation, the cause of a massive transfer of wealth and income from the middle class to a tiny number of the very rich. Now it is dead and gone but Republican politicians won’t let go, and many in the media show no understanding of the issue.
But who bears the brunt of this philosophical justifications for greed?
Despite catastrophic events, it is folly to expect the suffering of millions and an onslaught of inconsistent facts to wipe out an economic theory whose tenets were and still are so convenient for so many powerful economic interests. At present the defenders of the efficient market hypothesis are engaged in trying to pin the cause of the financial crisis on the government. (If the financial crisis was the result of government policies, then one could still plausibly claim the market to be rational, efficient, etc.) Their targets include the mortgage practices of the quasi-government lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the low interest rates of the Federal Reserve, and a pessimistic speech by President George W. Bush. The problem with this “blame-the-government” approach is the disproportion between these purported causes and economic effects.
It comes down to the notion that a smart nation makes the economy work for its people. Not the other way around.

GOP hanging Paul Ryan out to dry

by folkbum



The Republicans in the House of Representatives have made a pretty crucial error: They appointed a true believer to write their budget--Paul Ryan.

Okay, maybe Ryan's not a capital-T True capital-B Believer, in the true neo-Tea Party sense if the phrase. In fact, Ryan came in for some significant criticism from the true True Believers in the last few years for bailing out corporations like banks and auto companies. Maybe True Corporatist then is the better word, especially given that Ryan pretty regularly comes in for criticism from the likes of me and my ilk for supporting the interests of other corporations, like insurance companies, over the interests of the flesh-and-blood citizens of his own district.

But his "shadow budget"--or, rather the Road Map to Etc. he's been pimping around for a few years now that by his own admission won't even balance the budget until long after he and I are probably dead--is just the right kind of document to be taken up as a banner by the true True Believers. People like Sarah Palin, who probably didn't read past the headline, and others who are more than happy to try to balance the budget on the backs of their worsers.

The problem for the GOP, then, is that exposing the real agenda of the corporatist wing of the party (bounty for bankers and insurers, nuts to anyone with a real job) is not such good politics. When voters hear about plans to add a new 8.5% consumption tax and dump people from Social Security and Medicare while trimming the taxes of the already well off, they tend to start complaining. Hence, fewer co-sponsors for Ryan's budget than Ryan has fingers.

In the olden days, when Ryan didn't have the big-boy chair and Democrats were generally spineless, it wouldn't have mattered. But Ryan now writes the GOP budget officially and Democrats are smart enough to bring up the thing for a vote.

And the Republicans are already choosing door number two: Pretend Paul Ryan doesn't exist. You got Representatives on TV last weekend bragging all about the GOP's 2009 budget. Hell, even Paul Ryan is now saying he doesn't exist.

So, really, how narrow is the ledge Ryan's party is making him walk here? And why, if he's so goldanged smart, is did he even crawl out there?

Unless, maybe, the golden boy isn't so golden any more--and he's not really as smart as his boosters want us to believe.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Curing Health Care with Tort Reform

By Keith R. Schmitz

Some in the heath care reform debate offer up two supercures to our dysfunctional system -- (1) allowing health insurance companies to sell their products across state lines and (2) tort reform. And so, presto chango, problem solved. We are not outspending our international competitors and life is grand.

Let's talk about the latter.

Never mind that malpractice costs represent a small portion of our overall $2.3 trillion pile of costs.

Here's what I'm wondering about.

Is what we are saying here is that all malpractice suits would be eliminated? Of course not. It is certain that a number of members of the GOP have in fact sued for damages relating to medical care.

So if we don't eliminate all malpractice suits, what's an acceptable number? 25%? 50%?

It has been argued that malpractice suits weed out bad doctors, but a CBO study found that is fact individual doctors are insulated from the effects of their ineptitude.

In fact the study also found that limiting suits would have a negligible affect on health care costs.

So when the GOP comes to discuss health care with the President later on in the month, if they have the guts, one could hope they are packing reality and not slogans.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Talk From the Hand

by folkbum

To me, the saddest thing about Sarah Palin's having written some cheat-sheet notes on her hand (video of her checking those notes here) is not that she did it at all, but, rather, that in doing so she screwed up her own already oversimplified message:

(originally, AP, blow-up via HP)

Her hand reads, "Energy/ Budget Tax Cuts/ Lift American Spirits." She couldn't even remember, in the moment pre-speech with Bic in hand, that the important cuts are tax cuts, not budget cuts.

You'd think for $100,000, the tea-partiers could have gotten someone who has their message memorized.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Quiet Americans in Haiti

by bert
It just so happens that I was reading the Graham Greene novel The Quiet American this past week when the news broke about this case of well-meaning Americans wreaking havoc in the Third World with the best of intentions.

Ten members of a Boise-area Baptist church led by a self-described missionary Laura Silsby were arrested trying to cross from Haiti into the Dominican Republic with 33 children. The group members say they were attempting to rescue children victimized by the earthquake last month and bring them to a Dominican orphanage. However, they admit they did not have any proper documentation to do so, and it is a fact that some children still had living parents in Haiti.

Freaky that I was just then reading Greene's 1955 novel about an idealistic but naive American agent in French Indochina. (Also a movie with Brendan Fraser as Pyle).

With simplistic and earnest ideas about how to fix things, the agent Alden Pyle victimizes Vietnamese and makes a mess that others have to clean up. Greene describes Pyle at one point in the midst of the mess as "impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance." Elsewhere the narrator, a wizened British reporter, said of Pyle "I never knew a man who had better motives for all of the trouble he caused."

Who knows the true level of ignorance or criminal intent on the part of these folks from Idaho. One emerging possibility is that the leader Silsby instigated a rash act for which the rest will have to pay.

But the novel about Indochina says best what is wrong with this picture in Haiti, and its verisimilitude (I've been itching to use that word for a week now) furthers the case that the late Greene kicked a#% as a writer.

We've Got Your Bipartisanship Right Here

By Keith R. Schmitz

In an interview on Fox and Friends, the defacto leader of the Republican Rush Limbaugh declared, “I thank God every day that it is going down the tubes.”

Number 1, try and defend this. Ddoesn't having an African-American president just bring out the best in some people?

Number 2, imagine it is October 2001 and the screaming that we would hear from the right if some liberal made such a statement.

But we write it off in recognizing that in his own little way Limbaugh has always promoted the downfall of this country. He has now just taken the courtesy of being explicit about it.

Open Thread

by folkbum

Suggested topic: Paul Ryan is peaking too soon.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

By Keith R. Schmitz

Reported by the Los Angles Times, health care spending grew to a record 17.3% of the U.S. economy last year, marking the largest one-year jump in its share of the economy since the government started keeping such records half a century ago.

Obviously the cost of making us well is making the economy sick, and if we do nothing health care will eat us alive.

Sorry, the answer here is not tax cuts. Nor is it high deductible insurance plans, which are driving people into debt. What we need is thinking along the lines of sending a man to the moon, but thanks to our campaign financing system and rigid ideologues, the chances are slim.

FriTunes

by folkbum

Call To Action - Make The Call Today!!

by capper

Fellow Supporters of Milwaukee County-

Things are really starting to move in regarding the much needed dedicated funding for our transit system and our parks system.

The state legislature is poised to consider two very important bills.

One is SB-511, which is the bill that would allow Milwaukee County to pass the half-cent sales tax for the transit system as the prelude to the RTA.

On January 19, Governor Doyle was joined by many of the area’s business leaders, each of whom pointed out that a sustainable, and even extended transit system would be good for not only their businesses, but for the entire regional economy. Without a doubt, the fact that our transit system, which has been cut by some 20% over the last few years, has contributed to the fact that the Milwaukee area lost nearly 50,000 jobs in the last year, as well as why we are lagging in our economic recovery.

No less important, even though it is receiving less attention, is AB-504, which would provide the vehicle for getting dedicated funding for our parks system. And as has been proven in New York City, parks are also vital for a thriving economy:

Such cuts could turn out to actually cost the city money. Fine parks contribute to the economy by increasing property values and, as a result, real estate tax receipts. A 2008 analysis found that the completion of the Greenwich Village section of the Hudson River Park raised real estate prices in the adjacent two blocks by 20 percent.

[...]

Parks also attract tourists and residents who come to events and activities or who just want to enjoy the surroundings, generating economic activity inside and near the park. Central Park attracts more than 25 million visitors a year, about one fifth of whom come from outside the city, according to “The Central Park Effect,” which was prepared by the economic analysis firm Appleseed for the Central Park Conservancy. The study determined that in 2007, spending by visitors and enterprises in the city’s most famous park directly and indirectly accounted for $395 million in economic activity. This activity, as well as increases in property values near the park, generated $656 million in revenues for the city in 2007.

“Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System,” released in April by the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land, analyzed seven ways that city parks provide economic benefits: property values, tourism, direct use, health, community cohesion, clean water and clean air. Starting with conservative assumptions of park use and other variables, researchers calculated dollar values for each of these benefits in a different city.

Even though supporters of Milwaukee County like yourself, as well as the other like minded groups, such as the Park People and the Coalition for the Advancement of Transit, have made many calls and sent many emails in support of these two bills, I have learned that there are some legislators that state they have hardly heard a peep in support of these two vital bills. This is especially true for the leggies that represent the suburban areas.

Please take a few minutes now to call and/or email your state representative and state senator and call on them to support this bill. Everyone needs to do this, but especially those that live in the suburbs.

If you don’t know who your representative or senator is, you can find out by clicking on this link.

We thank you in advance for supporting our community by making these important calls.

Cross posted at Milwaukee County First and other places.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Scott Walker's Paradise

by folkbum

If there's anywhere that the modern conservative model of governance has been carried out to its logical conclusion, it's Colorado Springs, CO. The effects--somewhat ameliorated recently by Democrats--of a statewide "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights" combined with government elected from literally the home of a significant chunk of movement Christianist conservatism has left Colorado Springs weak enough that it has just about drowned in Grover Norquist's bathtub:
This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that. [. . .]

"I guess we're going to find out what the tolerance level is for people," said businessman Chuck Fowler, who is helping lead a private task force brainstorming for city budget fixes. "It's a new day."
The author of Colorado's TABOR and other recent anti-tax measures is a resident of Colorado Springs; one has to wonder whether he'll be out at his local park with the weed whacker this summer, or if he'll be here in Wisconsin campaigning for his brother-in-ideology Scott Walker.