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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teacher of the Year

by folkbum

The woman who kept things calm and together and safe in that Marinette classroom yesterday--she has my vote. Scary stuff.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen

by folkbum

He's exploring some other forbidden planet now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Help me understand Politi"Fact." Please.

by folkbum

Here's the latest:
In the wake of [GOP] election victories, officials are working [federal employment numbers] into interviews and even social-networking messages, such as this Nov. 16, 2010 Twitter post from Reince Priebus (@ReincePriebus), chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin:

"Obama has grown fed. payroll by 141k workers-not counting Census, postal, & uniformed military. Wants to add 125k more."
Right. So Priebus made two claims: 1, Obama's federal government, under his direction (note the transitive use of grown), increased its size by 141,000 workers; and 2, Obama's federal government, under his direction, wants to increase its size by an additional 125,000 workers. How many of those claims are true--one, two, or zero?

If you guessed zero, you're right:
During Obama’s tenure, the number of federal workers has increased by about 141,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics--though it is in large part a product of Bush’s last budget. [. . .T]he 125,000 figure is not the projected job growth in fiscal year 2011--it’s just new hires [. . .]. But two-thirds of the 125,000 hires will replace departing federal workers.
Zero true claims out of two. In real-world terms, that's "false," maybe "pants-on-fire" depending on how much you want to blame Preibus and how much you think he's a victim of bad information contained in the FOXNews item he linked to as evidence.

In Politi"Fact" world, that's "half true." Seriously. I am not kidding.

So what gives? What are the rules for what constitutes "truth" and "lies" in the eyes of Politi"Fact"? This is important--the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has spent untold fortunes on the license for the brand and they have recently declared themselves the ultimate arbiters of Scott Walker's promise-keeping. For those of us with an interest in monitoring said promises--as well as whatever other damage Walker does to the state in the coming years--it's important to know how to translate Politi"Fact" into English for the masses.

If anyone has a handle on this, I would love to learn the code.

FriTunes: Thankful

by folkbum

I am thankful that I am nowhere near shopping today. People be crazy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sarah Palin -- The Anti-Jack Lalanne

By Keith R. Schmitz

In her on-going series of dumb and senseless attacks on all things Obama (race nor the race of course have nothing to do with it) Sarah Palin on the whiny Laura Ingram program went o the attack Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative that encourages kids to get fit.

As usual, Palin is being stupid on so many levels, and Roland S. Martin provides them for you.

If you want an effort to reduce health care costs, this is a big way to do it. It is just too bad that in this country these kids will ultimately grow up to work for employers that are allowed to work people like dogs, giving them very little time to exercise. When people complain about obesity in this country, this is the one factor that gets overlooked.

What the First Lady is promoting makes sense in so many ways, and America's most prominent dim wit fails to recognize them. With so many people supporting the notion of her running for president it is no accident that this country is in a slow slide downward. Her circus life style and bizarre comments keep her in the spotlight, generating strange admiration for some and for others, provides a car wreck from which many of us cannot look away.

Why can't we just turn her off?

Monday, November 22, 2010

When you repeat the lie loud enough and often enough, people start repeating it back wronger

by folkbum

We have talked here, ad nauseum, about the misleading statistic perpetuated by the mgmt of the Milwaukee Public Schools, that for every dollar they spend on teachers' salaries, they spend an additional 74 cents on teachers' benefits. This is misleading, as I have explained, because it contains lots of things that you don't normally think of as "benefits"--defined as stuff you negotiate for as a perk of the job--and a lot of costs related to retirees, rather than current employees.

The issue is complicated, some might say nuanced, but the top line number is an easy one to repeat a lot if you have a radio show, press release vending machine, or newspaper editorial page.

So here's a comment from a story today noting that we MPS teachers have voted to ratify a new contract:
74 cents of every dollar taken from taxpayers goes to pay and benefits of the teachers. Think about that for a second, 74% of the MPS budget.*
The poor soul, going around repeating a number that he doesn't understand to attack some people he doesn't like, and just being wrong, wrong in the process.

My back-o'-envelope calculations put teacher salaries and benefits, including the misleading parts thereof, at something south of $700 million (someone willing to dig up the budgets could probably find the line item with the right number, but, really, it should between $650m and $675m). That sounds like a lot of money--and it is!--but it's only around 60% of the grand total MPS spends of its whole $1.15 billion-with-a-bee budget. You would have to add in all the other employees (from secretaries and janitors to the superintendent) to break 74%.

But here's the thing, or at least a thing: As poignant a point as this guy thinks he's making--ZOMG! Union goons eat my tax dollars!--where else do you want a school district's money to go than to the people? Desks don't teach your children; computers don't feed them; a photocopier doesn't clean up after them. All the real work of educating the students is done by people and supported by people.

And, yes, MPS spends a lot on, say, busing, or books, or even fancy-pants consultants who fly in, drop their bombs, and fly out. But at its heart, the Milwaukee Public Schools, like every school district everywhere, is in the business of putting teachers into classrooms and other caring personnel into schools to support those teachers.

* I keep a running tally of great examples of irony. It wasn't that long ago when Wisconsin conservatives were pushing the "70% solution," which would demand that 70% of a school district's budget be spent in the classroom, on things like ... teachers. You'd think they'd be happy if they believed we were hitting 74%!

How you can tell that I'm not from here originally

by folkbum

The death of L. Bembenek doesn't seem like a front-page story to me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's life really like on Planet Duncan?

by folkbum

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, on changes he thinks schools might need to make to adjust to a "new normal" that includes harder economic times*:
He urged districts to consider "modest but smartly targeted increases in class size." As a parent, Duncan said, he'd much rather have his kids in a class of 26 with a really excellent teacher, than in a class with 22 kids, lead by a mediocre teacher.
I do not believe I have ever, in my near 15-year career, had an average class size of 22. It has been many years since I have had an average class size of 26. The last five years, when I've been keeping documentation just for kicks, I've averaged over 30 every year. This year, I'm at 32, skewed downward slightly by one small AP section (my other AP section is at 36).

Of course, Duncan also said this:
Duncan said he'd like districts to consider reworking contracts so that effective teachers (particularly those who choose to work with more kids) can make a lot more money, say $80,000, or even $125,000.
So if he thinks teachers who average 26 kids should be earning $100k or so (picking a number in the middle), what about those of us teaching 30+?

He said this at a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, which hates public education to begin with. Duncan's kind of people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Weasel and the Damage Done

by bert

Like the stink in your bachelor buddy’s car, the ugliness issued from the hard, black heart of right-wing WTMJ-AM radio is something you can get used to after a while.

In my case, when the station played Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back” while discussing first lady Michelle Obama about a month ago, I thought that was undeserved but not at all surprising. Also, I’m used to show host Charlie Sykes and his sophomoric, classless taunting of the outgoing Democrats. Rep. David Obey gets called “a horse’s ass”, Gov. Jim Doyle is a “lying sack of sh&#” whom Charlie audibly “flips off”, and Sen. Russ Feingold’s new campaign slogan should be “want fries with that?” Get it? Get it? Whatever.


However, Wednesday was different. A line in the airwaves was crossed Wednesday when Charlie targeted Neil Young. The way I look at it, you can tug on superman's cape, taunt politicians and the perfectly nice president's wife, and even spit into the wind. But don't go dogging Neil.

The item over which Charlie gloated was that a fire on Nov. 9 caused about a million dollars in losses to Neil’s possessions and the warehouse where they were stored in the San Francisco Bay Area. Charlie could not resist reveling in Neil’s problems because the cause was the batteries or something electrical on this cherry 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible (20 feet long!) that Neil had famously converted to hybrid electric power.

Get it? Hybrids bad. Fires started by hybrids funny. Not whatever, not this time.

I just want to say one thing: Charlie, step off.

And Neil, just know that these right-wingers are like addicts when it comes to hating on people. They milk blood to keep from running out.

Speaking of Neil, some of us will be celebrating his music and birthday on Saturday instead of his misfortunes.

FriTunes: Happy Almost Thanksgivin'

by folkbum

Sorry for the paucity of posting. But if I can sum up the week, it was like this: Some things happened and people got upset; some things didn't happen and other people got upset; and things went on as usual--the sun rose, I got sick, we all did our jobs, and now it's Friday and next week is Thanksgivin'.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Investments in Wisconsin's Future: Dead on Arrival

by folkbum

State Sen. Alberta Darling, in this morning's paper, has offered up what is perhaps this single most succinct description of the Republicans' plan for the next few years. Responding to an ambitious plan by Tony Evers at the Department of Public Instruction--whose winning vote margin was significantly wider than Scott Walker's--to rejigger the state's school funding formula and offer some sense of financial stability to struggling school districts, Darling called it "dead on arrival."

Which pretty well sums up, I think, the GOP answer to anything that looks long-term at Wisconsin's future. Adequate funding to teach our children? DOA. Energy sources that don't rely solely on fossil fuels? DOA. Transportation options that don't line the pockets of road builders? DOA. Scientific research that holds promise for medical breakthroughs? DOA.

The list like that is, I fear, endless, far beyond the few examples we've already seen in the two weeks since election day. Indeed, I am hard-pressed to think of a single proposal floated during or since the campaign from the Republicans that was anything other than promises to roll back advances or work done by Democrats; reopening the Las Vegas tax loophole and making it harder to vote seem to be the top priorities.

Maybe to Republican voters that sort of thing, like killing biomass and rail, sounds like "progress." But in 10 years, in 40 years, are people really going to look back on this moment in Wisconsin history and give thanks that the GOP shut down investments in our future? Is that future itself now DOA?

Friday, November 12, 2010

FriTunes: A preview of this weekend's entertainment

by folkbum



Show's sold out, so you'll just have to imagine how much I'm enjoying it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you, to our veterans

by folkbum

We here at folkbum's rambles and rants appreciate, respect, and honor your service. Today is your day; every day is possible for us because of you.

Politi"Fact," not content to ruin election season, ruins my day AGAIN

by folkbum

This was the start of it: School begins at 8:35 in the morning, right? And students enter the building starting at 8:25. At 8:19 yesterday, the principal takes to the PA system to announce, out of the blue, that starting that day and from then on our school would be following a different bell schedule, with different start and end times to every class and lunches. But oh, the email we were supposed to get earlier announcing the change didn't go through and, by the way, we won't tell you the new times, but someone will come around to deliver a paper a copy of the new schedule ... later. Have a good day!

So all morning I'm dealing with that mess, and when I finally get a chance to catch my breath and sacrifice another prep hour on the altar of the copier--the books I requested in June, and again in September, have never arrived, so I am pushing every corner of the fair use envelope--the other teachers in the workroom assault me with "Did you see what Bob Donovan said about us today?"

Some days, you know, I would like not to be the one everybody else plumbs with their newsy questions. As low as my heart had been sunk already, it dropped another mile at that, because, well, "Did you see what Bob Donovan said about us today?" is a bad start to any conversation.

Turns out, though, it was not anything at all the Bob Donovan had said about us that day. (That I know of; I don't read all his press releases, but since it was a weekday, there probably was one.) It was, instead, did I hear what Politi"Fact" Wisconsin had said about us? Which is this. No less a depressing thing, really, but you can't completely blame Donovan.

It turns out to be a rehash of something Bob Donovan had said months ago, in a late September press release (pdf). In it, Donovan demands that the Milwaukee Public Schools declare bankruptcy, defaulting on its obligations to creditors--by which he means its retired teachers--to "start over." The wide-ranging release is full of bad math (he calls a tax levy increase from $8.84 to $10.66, a 21% change, a 33% increase, for example), misinformation, and rambling attacks on the city's public institutions.

When Donovan dropped that press release, it made no sound. Perhaps it was just lost in the chaos that was the last five weeks of the election, but a google search reveals that, besides a reprint of the release by an OnMilwaukee blogger and at biztimes.com, there were no media mentions or discussions of Donovan's call for MPS bankruptcy. Why Politi"Fact" Wisconsin felt the need to dig it out yesterday is beyond me.

Politi"Fact" Wisconsin focused on one claim in the release, which was, "Next year, MPS will provide $0.77 in employee benefits for every dollar it spends on salaries." I can tell you that there is nothing in that sentence that is true: Donovan doesn't mean "next year," he means this year, 2010-2011--the estimate for the 2011-2012 school year is still months away--and the number is not $0.77 but $0.74. Because I told you that the whole thing was wrong, you have probably guessed by now that Politi"Fact" Wisconsin declared it true. "Mostly true," to be accurate.

Regular readers already know the problems with the claim, even beyond the fact that he got the $0.74 number wrong. But the number is big, and inflammatory, and gives the impression that we current teachers are making out like bandits--and it's used repeatedly by those with an anti-MPS agenda like Bob Donovan and the radio squawkers in town. So it's worth repeating some things. Start with the fact that when MPS releases its salary-to-benefit ratio number, it includes all sorts of things that inflate the number: District contributions to Social Security are in that figure, as are state-mandated contributions to current-employee pensions and required calculations for future pension obligations--money not actually being spent yet. It also includes payments for retiree health insurance. Politi"fact" notes some of this and admits "that approach makes the figure higher."

But the truly insidious part of the figure is that it is calculated, of course, as a ratio, or a fraction. It's X/Y, where X is all of those costs and Y is current teachers' salaries. As with any fraction, when the denominator--Y in the case--stays the same as the numerator--X in this case--gets bigger, then the fraction is bigger. You know that 3/4 is more than 1/4. And in Milwaukee, the denominator has stayed about the same for a long time; MPS teachers have deferred raises or taken smaller raises in order to keep the good benefits that we have. Indeed, in the contract that we are expected to ratify by the end of the month, which will cover the 2009-2010 school year through 2012-2013, there are no raises at all until 2011 (as well as steep increases in what we pay for insurance). Health care costs have increased (though MPS's cost increases have been lower than average lately), meaning the fraction gets bigger and bigger with no real financial benefit to teachers; indeed, we're going backward in what we take home at the end of the day.

Donovan's release of full of other errors and distortions: He spreads the falsehood that MPS could have saved 400+ teachers' jobs by switching health care plans (covered here) and he blames low achievement in MPS for the city's poverty rate, which is like blaming a pot of boiling water for the fire on the stove. He stokes fears of tax increases even though MPS cut its tax rate for next year. He acknowledges MPS's serious financial problems, but lays them almost entirely on teachers.

But Politi"Fact" ignores all of this, and says that Donovan's "larger point" that MPS faces financial difficuty is "on the money." (Ha ha, money. Get it?) Facts, I guess, still don't matter to Politi"Fact."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eighth verse, same as the first!

(Yeah, I know the header images and some others are MIA. I'll fix it when I get the chance.)

by folkbum

The pattern repeats: Milwaukee County executive (and now, inexplicably, Gov-elect) Scott Walker submits a fantasy budget based on smoke, mirrors, and illusion. The Milwaukee County Board, in a completely avoidable, agonizing, day-long session, eliminates most of the smoke and fantasy to pass a budget that has a chance of coexisting with reality, in the process restoring some of the cuts to services proposed by Walker and jacking the tax levy to pay for things that Walker must believe fall freely from the ether. (He haz mad money-saving negosh skillz, acolytes declare, based on nothing like fact.)

In the meantime, every other unit of government that taxes me (all run, for at least the next little while, by Democrats)--the Milwaukee Public Schools, the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Feds--are all cutting my taxes for next year* while keeping, and in some cases, like my local libraries, increasing key services.

There's a message here somewhere, I'm sure. It probably ends with, Run, Marina, Run!

* assuming the lame-duck Congress passes the middle-class tax cuts proposed by the Obama administration and supported by the Dem leadership

Monday, November 08, 2010

They hate us for our freedoms

by folkbum

Ergo, the Schlafly group believes, we should eliminate those freedoms, starting with the First Amendment.

Is it 2012 yet?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Plaisted Wrote

by folkbum

Mike's voice will be missed.

Chef Walker

By Keith R. Schmitz

Since Scott Walker has proclaimed to derail it, newly elected New York governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to ask for the federal funds dedicated to the proposed Wisconsin rail line. After all, Walker and his running mate Rebecca Palin denagrated the project, making childish fun that the train would run from Madison.

That of course conveniently overlooked the fact that Madison was not going to be the terminus, but like all major ventures there had to be a start. We'll see how likely Rebecca will be able to "throw my kids in the SUV" when peak oil eventually drives the price of gas to over $10.

Meanwhile on orders from Wisconsin Right to Life, the new gov is going to let the UW embryonic stem research die a possible quiet death, largely because a lot of the funding that kept it going has been done behind the scenes.

This is especially sad, since this form of research promises to put our state in the leading edge of the bio-medicine industry. As that grows, venture capital would be finding its way into the state, leading to further development.

This is one of the most hypocritical appeals to a far right fringe group ever. Right to Life, along with other units of the GOP in the name of the business climate have no problem with the safety net being shred or health care for all being denied. Our new Senator was concerned that a statute of limitation should be placed on pedophilia prosecutions for the good of business. This is hardly an idea of running a culture of life.

But when it comes to five cell zygotes that have a 99% chance of being flushed away, then they become bleeding hearts.

States are lining up to lure James Thomson, the father of embryonic stem cell research, ready to shower millions of dollars on his activities.

For these and no doubt more reasons to come, competing states and countries will be eating our lunch, served up by Scott Walker.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Obama and the Economy -- Two Perspectives

By Keith R. Schmitz

One of the charges that the GOP made great hay over as they spooked a herd of voters and then stampeded them over the cliff was their cry that Hussein was engaging in Socialism, particularly in the cases of the bank and automaker bailouts.

The GOP has elections to win and hopefully they know better, but as usual perspective gets manhandled in favor of shrillness. Hell, why tamper with a strategy that works, especially with the under-engagement of a big enough chunk of voters. Two articles I'd like to throw out on the topic.

The question to be asked is, was what Obama did warranted? The teeth grinders scream that Obama ruined capitalism. Timothy Eagan on the New York Times blog The Opinionator argues that in fact The President saved it.

He goes illustrating how investments have gained value in the 18 months Obama has been in office. In the process, big institutions have been prevented from going over the waterfall, and as the not-too liberal The Economist put it, "an apology is due Obama." Of course quite the opposite just took place this week, perhaps to our peril.

Admittedly one of the major features of the recovery efforts, TARP, was launched under Bush. But it was largely administered by the new folks, and the great under-reported story about the Obama people is they are darned good at running things, despite GOP efforts in the Senate to approve the people to do the work.

The stimulus program was conducted with scant corruption. Compare that to the porkfest around the Iraq invasion and other instances of graft under the Bush era.

That leads to the other question of is government intervention the new normal? In a recent piece in strategy+business from the international consulting firm booz and company, the authors observe that thanks to poor regulation on the front end, governments have been forced to intervene into failing industries.

While this makes Tea Partiers' hair stand on end, the authors argue that government butting in is necessary. Admittedly sometimes the effort doesn't work well, but other times it does, certainly when considering the sure economic collapse that would have ensued with the financial bailouts.

Even Bush admits that in his new book. Closer to home, letting the automakers succumb to their own miss-management would have radiated fatal effects to the many support industries here in Wisconsin.

Again, there is evidence that the Obama administration did its job in leading these companies out of the wilderness as evidenced by the money returned to the US Treasury. It could be argued that the sweetheart deals favored by the Bush administration would not have resulted in as good of an outcome.

The authors in fact conclude that now governments not just in this country are assuming the role of stakeholders in affected companies, and that moving forward this kind of action is here to stay as a means of mitigating crisis situations.

The third question that remains, is with the onslaught of extremely doctrinaire right wingers into Congress in a so-called triumph of capitalism, would the new lack of flexibility ultimate kill it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

You Can Laugh Again

by folkbum

Starting with a flashback! Not many of you know the Real True Story of my actual debut on Milwaukee TV news. It was the Friday night after 9/11/01, and my wife and I had--bought earlier, obviously--tickets to Comedy Sportz that night.

We weighed whether or not to go, and had to call to see if CSz was even going to be open that weekend. They were, and it turned out to be a big crowd, in fact. The national anthem took on some additional weight, and the players were hesitant about some things, but all in all it was a good night.

Before the show, there was a channel 58 reporter--I forget her name, though she was only about three feet tall, I remember that--hanging out in the parking lot soliciting interviews. I am pretty sure she wasn't reaching for the Look At How UnAmerican These People Are Going To A Comedy Show After Nine-Eleven story, but I was still wary. Still, being an opinionated bastard, I agreed to be interviewed, and (in my memory at least) took a strong If We Stop Being Ourselves Then The Terrorists Have Won argument. And I made the cut and got to watch myself on Milwaukee TV news that night at 10. True Story!

Why am I telling you this? Because many of my readers probably feel they can Never Laugh Again After The Disaster That Was Tuesday Night. But you can! I promise! You can even laugh at me, at Comedy Sportz, as my CSz Rec League team takes on some other bunch of scrubs this Sunday at 4 PM. Matches start at 2 PM, so come early for more laughs. The shows are free!

Admitting Too Much

by folkbum

Scott Fitzgerald clearly believes the Republicans' sweep of the elections Tuesday was the result of widespread voter fraud.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

McIlheran Watch: Affordable Care Act votes and Dems' fates

by folkbum

I am still blessed/cursed with being on Patrick McIlheran's email pimp list, so in my inbox this evening was a preview of his gloaty McGloat-gloat column running tomorrow. It includes this stupid paragraph:
Nothing was so fatal to House Democrats, especially newbies, than to have voted for Obamacare. Dozens fell, including Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Appleton). The one Republican who favored it lost.
The last part of the paragraph is true--Anh Joseph Cao* in Louisiana, an R in a deep blue urban district lost, and Kagen, a D in a district held by Rs for something like 90 of the last 100 years, lost, too. But he blames both losses on votes for a single bill, not the much more weighty evidence of demographics and history. Which is lazy, if not totally stupid. (*Cao did not vote for final passage in March 2010, but he did vote for an earlier version in December 2009.)

What is totally stupid, is the first part--the suggestion that uniformly a vote against the Affordable Care Act was a killer for Democrats. To show the stupidity of that statement, let me offer you some, you know, evidence:
  • Democrats who voted for ACA: 202 (17, including Wisconsin's Dave Obey, retired not counted)
  • Democrats who voted for ACA and lost: About 40 (some races undecided)
  • Pro-ACA losing percentage: 20%
  • Democrats who voted against ACA: 31 (and 3 who retired not counted)
  • Democrats who voted against ACA and lost: 18 (Ben Chandler may lose in KY, but is presently winning)
  • Anti-ACA losing percentage: 58%
Now, clearly, there are demographic and historical factors at play here, too; I mean, Gwen Moore wasn't about to lose to Dan Sebring no matter how many empty commercial buildings and crack houses sported his yard signs, period. Even considering all the flipped house seats--about 65, including three R to D switches--the whole House turnover rate was less than 15% this year, so incumbency, period, is a boon to a electoral chances.

But if we're playing by McIlheran's stupid rules--it's his column I'm playing with, so his rules!--that means it was three times more likely that Democrats opposing the ACA would lose. McIlheran needs to rewrite that first sentence of his, then, to be more accurate: "Nothing was so fatal to House Democrats, especially Blue Dogs, than to have voted against Obamacare."

That's an accurate statement, and much less stupid, based on the facts, than the crap McIlheran is dropping.

Day-After Thoughts

by folkbum

I began blogging from the minority, and if I keep going--I'm really, really tired, people, so I make no promises--I can do it again.

*****

Last weekend, I spent some time in airports. (Next Halloween I will be going as a layover, rather than being stuck in one. Scary!) I walked past a man proudly sporting a t-shirt that read "Loosing is not an option!" I don't know what the back of the shirt said--maybe the man was a professional tightener and his shirt was a reasonable affirmation?--but I was, at that moment, deeply ashamed to be an American. The Indonesian children in the sweatshop where that shirt was undoubtedly made of course knew no better. But the chain of failure beyond that, from the person writing the slogan to the workers at the store where it was unpacked, displayed, and sold, to the man who bought it and the people around him who let him wear it, in public(!)--that chain of failure was at once both characteristically modern America and profoundly disturbing.

*****

When I first moved to Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson was governor, Bob Kasten was US Senator, Republicans held much of the levers of power in Madison and Washington. We survived. If antecedents are worth anything, there is that to keep in mind.

Today's breed of Republican is different, though; more than ever, what makes up the bulk of Republican rhetoric is a clear avowal that government is the enemy. As in all religions, the followers of Reagan choose to remember only what they wish to, and his glib observation that government is the problem rather than the solution has become the modern GOP's catechism. Reagan, or at least the people working for him, had a decided interest in governing, and though I blame him for all evils of contemporary life--just on principle, you know--his administration did not, in fact, treat governing as beneath contempt.

When someone like Ron Johnson, who for all I know is a nice enough guy in person and maybe even a reasonably talented businessman, can explicitly campaign on a platform of, "I don't have any ideas for how to govern, except for repealing stuff that other people did, so stop asking questions now, thanks" can unseat a Russ Feingold, it bodes poorly for all of us.

Though I never agreed 100% with Feingold, there was also never a question of his intent. He was a true believer in the idea that government should be an active force for good in society, that not only can we do better, but that it is our moral imperative to do so. Knowing that, Feingold's votes were 100% predictable, even if they were against his party or even against what I would have done. Feingold was the only Senator to read the full U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act before voting, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay. Feingold appreciated the "advise and consent" role of the Senate as stated in the Constitution and, not coincidentally, voted yea on too many Bush nominees for my taste. Feingold recognized the failings this year's financial reform bill--not that it was a bailout, as was the GOP spin, but that it failed to reform the parts of the regulatory environment that led to the housing bubble and financial collapse, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay. And though the TARP program, according to people who know the financial system better than I, staved off a bigger collapse and ended up costing a fraction of what was predicted, Feingold accurately noted that the bailout saved those who caused the collapse from any responsibility by putting taxpayers on the hook, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay.

Despite party and political pressures in case after case, Feingold put the moral imperative ahead of expediency.

For as little as we know about Ron Johnson, we do know his moral imperative was inspired not by a belief in the potential of these United States, but by Ayn Rand and Dick Morris.

Well, no: I say we, but I don't think it was really we, for the Wisconsin and national media allowed Johnson to remain a cipher, onto which teaparty boneheads and disaffected independents could project their own wishes. Johnson's campaign, though largely bankrolled by the wealth he married into (he was a "self-made man," the media told us), was also financed by those bailed-out banks, still alive and able to fork over the dough because of government intervention. His business benefitted from the kind of government help he claimed was an infringement on liberty. His employees lean upon government assistance to provide the health insurance he doesn't.

Ron Johnson sold Wisconsin a "Loosing is not an option!" t-shirt.

So my sincerest thanks to Russ Feingold for his years of service to Wisconsin and the nation.

*****

It was so nice to see the teapartiers energized and excited to dis-elect career politicians ... like John McCain, Rob Portman, Dan Coates, Marco Rubio, Jim Sensenbrenner, Scott Walker ...

*****

I can't blame voters too much for electing Scott Walker. I am not a fan--I live in Milwaukee County so I've seen what he can do--but the fact is that Democrats suffered a tremendous recruitment fail. I don't know what made Barb Lawton drop out or Ron Kind think he should wait to run for Herb Kohl's seat (maybe we'll get back to having one non-millionaire Senator), but here's the thing. My standard gotcha question for Walker supporters I met in real life (I have one) was this: Name one good thing Walker has done for Milwaukee County. This is not an easy question to answer.

But if you ask that question about Barrett and the city of Milwaukee--and I have asked it of myself, many times--the answers are just as hard to come by.

I like Barrett, I do, and he has nothing to be ashamed about for the campaign he ran. But the time he's spent keeping Milwaukee in a holding pattern--that just doesn't make for a marquee, top-of-the-ticket resume.

But here's the new thing: Walker's win, with the GOP takeback of the legislature and split control of Congress, means that anyone whose primary job is helping the poor, the sick, the disabled, or the unemployed, your job just got harder. There is no doubt that budgets for schools, transit, health care, and more will be slashed. (Prison spending will continue unabated with no one in WIGOP leadership blinking an eye. Roads, too.) Anything with the word "public" in it is in danger--parks, schools, buses, lands, whatever. Get ready.

*****

Thank AquaBuddha that we're finally going to put a stop to the NAFTA Superhighway.

*****

Billions of pixels will be spent this week explaining why things went as they did, but there is one real reason, one we've touched on here before: The economy. Imagine if all the accomplishments of the Democratic Congress--from the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to health insurance reform that is working--the number of small businesses offering insurance next year is up for the first time in a decade!--were accompanied by, say, 7% unemployment and moderate positive GDP growth. Republicans pick up an handful of seats, yes, but there's no wave.

The stimulus spending that there was, much of it eaten by things people didn't even notice, like individual and business tax cuts, didn't cause additional job losses, despite the GOP's lies to that effect. But you can't argue that it didn't save jobs from being lost--I have colleagues right now who are not collecting unemployment because a stimulus project is employing them, and you probably know someone in a similar spot (hey there, incoming-Rep. Ribble!). What it seems not to have done well enough was stimulate new job growth. Though private sector job growth has been positive for the better part of a year now--it's true! look it up!--demand is still sluggish and employers are not willing to take new risks for no or uncertain reward. This is where Democrats in Washington let down the rest of us.

It was good to see many of the "Blue Dog" conservatives lose last night--about half the Blue Dog caucus in the House went down--because their priority seemed to have been stopping stimulus. To get their support, and to try for Republican support, too, the stimulus was weak and full of insufficiently stimulating provisions, like those tax cuts. (Tax cuts are among the least effective means of stimulating growth.) Yet their efforts to work against the progressive, and as it turned out, right members of the party ended in defeat for them anyway. The irony being, of course, that the bigger stimulus they opposed might have made the economy better enough more of them could have kept their jobs.

It is sad, however, to see many good progressive Dems fall as well, including Steve Kagen up in WI-08. Kagen always had a challenge, winning and holding that conservative district in the last two wave years. This wave was too big in the other direction.

*****

Dire warnings about Milwaukee Democratic primary voters' having turned out weak Dem Jeff Plale in favor of liberal Chris Larson turned out to be hot air. Larson beat Republican Jess Ripp in a landslide.

Congrats are also due to My State Rep Josh Zepnick, who was unopposed, and to My State Senator Tim Carpenter, who won a surprisingly tough race: The moderate Carpenter had far slimmer margin of victory (350 votes!) than the liberal Larson did. UPDATE: The totals were wrong, and Carpenter's race wasn't that close. And Kathleen Vinehout held on in a tight one, too. Sadly, many of the other lean-R districts that Democrats won in the wave of 2006--including Jim Sullivan's, John Lehman's, and Pat Kreitlow's--have gone back to R.

*****

Another reason Republicans came back: This year's electorate was older, and they turned out in droves to make sure that Congress kept their government paws off Medicare.

*****

It will be interesting to watch the GOP deal with Paul Ryan--a true believer in a very different sense--in charge of writing the budget. Ryan's "Roadmap," while a favorite of the winger press's wankertocracy, was shunned by GOPers who were afraid that they might actually have to vote for it or run on it as a platform. Even in Wisconsin, RoJo and Ribble and Sean Duffy and others, when confronted, could muster at best a weak "Ryan's ideas are a starting point."

When Feingold announced he was not running for president in the 2008 cycle, it was easy to guess why: He had a plum committee assignment and a majority to work with. Will the same truth about Ryan keep him in the House when Kohl's seat is up 2012? Or will his GOP colleagues' likely unwillingness to follow his lead on Medicare and Social Security push him to the upper chamber?

*****

And, finally, my prediction for which investigation Darrell Issa launches first: Christmas tree ornaments.

I know, I know, everyone is expecting New Black Panthers or maybe the job offer to Sestak, but I refuse to underestimate Issa's crazy.

*****

Remember, Democrats in 2012: Loosing is not an option!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Official 2010 Elections prediction thread

by folkbum

Please make your own in the comments below. Me, I'm making just one: I will stay up too late and wish I had gone to bed early.

TUESDAY, 10PM UPDATE: My prediction came true!