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Thursday, November 30, 2006

MPS School Board News

Just in case you missed it. There will be three open seats of the five up in the April Milwaukee Public Schools board election: Tom Balistreri's at-large seat that he resigned last spring; Barbara Horton's first, on the northwest side of town; and Ken Johnson's third in the north-central part of the city. So far a couple of people are thinking about the city-wide seat, including Bama Brown-Grice, who I finally got to meet this week.

Johnson's departure is particularly pleasing to me. He spent much of the last year promoting the Milwaukee Parental Choice/ Voucher Program, which not only costs the district he's supposed to be representing money (he was actually Board president for most of that time!), but also costs the taxpayers who elected him money. No doubt a pro-voucher guy like him will land on his feet somewhere (cf. Howard Fuller). Speaking of vouchers, what John-David Morgan said today. Read it if you still wonder why I so strongly oppose the program.

The other two seats are Joe Dannecker's eighth (I'm tentatively supporting Terry Falk) and Jeff Spence's second, which is, as far as I know so far, challengerless, though Willie Hines would make an excellent replacement. Keep your dial tuned here for the blogs' best coverage of the election as it approaches.

The Real WIGOP Nostradamus: Mark Belling

In this morning's post, I mocked the absurd idea that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was somehow prescient about the Republicans' spackling at the hands of Democrats in the elections earlier this month, calling him the Nostradamus of the Wisconsin GOP.

I was wrong, however.

It's actually Mark Belling:
You can start calling me "The Great Marconi." My psychic ability to forecast every single post-election move by Gov. Jim Doyle is uncanny. The election is only three weeks old and I’ve already nailed my predictions of an auto registration fee hike and a "discovery" that the state budget is badly out of balance. Now, the governor (through his minions) is pushing to raise the state sales tax by eliminating many of the items exempt from it. I mentioned three times on my radio show over the past 10 days that this move was coming and on Monday, Doyle’s closest ally in the state Legislature went public with it.
Three for three! Seems like an outsanding record, no? Well, no.

I don't listen to Belling--he thinks about as much of me and my profession as I do of him, but he's a lot less polite about it. So I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he really did make these predictions on his show or in his shower or wherever else he spouts off. But, really, how magifico is his prognosticatorness? Let's take his three predictions one at a time:
  1. Auto registration fee increase. Let's see: In his 2003-2005 budget, Governor Doyle proposed a $10 increase in the auto registration fee. In his 2005-2007 budget, Governor Doyle proposed a $10 increase in the auto registration fee. During campaign 2006, Governor Doyle suggested a $10 increase in the auto registration fee. Mark Belling predicts, after the Doyle victory, that there would be an increase in the auto registration fee? Genius! Not really.

  2. The anticipated deficit in the next budget cycle. The November 20th budget reports never show an impending defi-- what? Seth, you wanted to say something?
    On November 20, 2004, the Journal Sentinel ran a front page article by Patrick Marley and Stacy Forster titled "Deficit is $1.6 Billion, State Says." [. . .] When the state DOA under Scott McCallum released its very conservative projected budget gap of $2.6 billion on November 20, 2002 -- the largest in state history, which included an actual deficit of around $300 million for FY 2002-2003 -- the resulting Journal Sentinel story didn't even make the main section, instead landing in the Metro section.
    So Belling's a genius? Again, not so much.

  3. The sales-tax thing. Oh, well, this one you really have to give Belling credit for, since, I am pretty sure there was never a commission appointed by Governor Doyle that issued any kind of final report (.pdf) that recommended a sales-tax for property-tax swap. No one could have seen it coming. Genius.

    Not really. I'm being sarcastic.
So, there it is. Claim your title, Mark Belling, the Great Macaroni. The Bellingadamus. Gee. Nyus. Woo. Hoo.


What are we, three weeks past the election? [pauses to count on his fingers] Yeah, three weeks.

I would have thought that teaching Sykes, P-Mac, and Owen a lesson in denial and sore losership that first week after would have been enough. (I didn't think I needed to cover Dohnal's "What Hoppened," since he lives so far outside of reality everyone knows he's probably bunking with denial anyway.)

But the usually sensible Lance Burri visits denialville this week, in a post titled "Foiled by Fate":
That was 2006. Republicans lost, and Democrats won. Everything, everywhere. It was a tidal wave of 1994-esque proportions. A massive, inevitable defeat, brought on by forces that were well beyond our control.
The UW Dems' Andrew Gordon, in a post with the kind of language you'd expect from a college kid, rightly calls Lance on this:
In the end, it was this strong record of failure that cost Republicans in November. It's shocking that GOP talking heads still haven't figured it out. The Democratic Tsunami didn't come out of nowhere. Republicans made it, and lost because they consistently made wrong decisions on pretty much every issue. To blame it on fate avoids accepting any responsibilities for the shortcomings and failures of the last 12 years.
Indeed; for Lance to suggest that this year's Republican defeats were inevitable is like suggesting that the explosion at the bottom of the canyon was inevitable while forgetting that somebody had to drive off the cliff first.

In the comments to Andrew's post, Lance pipes up that he was really just "trying to figure out what we should have done differently." But, as I think Andrew's post makes clear, Lance at best makes excuses: All of these things that went wrong, he asks himself, could we have seen them and changed things? "Probably not," he answers.

This is a classic case of what we call hindsight bias. And what makes it funny is Lance's nomination of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker as Prophet of the Election. Never mind the reasons why Walker really dropped out of the primary (Ken Mehlman clearing the field, an inablility to raise money, God told him to), for Lance, Walker's decision--in hindsight--was prescient:
If you were planning to run for office, you had to make your decision months ago. July, June, or even earlier. Case in point: Scott Walker, who dropped out of the Governor’s race in May.

Did he know something? Did he read those tea leaves – take a long, careful look – and decide this wasn’t the year to be a Republican candidate? If so, then he is officially the smartest guy in the room, whatever room he’s in.
All hail Scott Walker, the Nostradamus of the Wisconsin GOP!

No, Lance, the responsibility lay with Republicans and six--or twelve, depending on how you want to count--years of policies designed to shrink and alienate the middle class, polarize this country along economic and religious lines, and drag our troops into unnecessary, costly, and tragic entanglements overseas. Anyone with common sense, rather than ideological blinders, could have seen the spanking coming from miles before you actually went off that cliff.
I promised denial squared, and the second power here comes on the subject of Iraq, and, more specifically, Jessica McBride's waist-deep denial of what is happening in Iraq.

That post of hers merits not one but two eviscerations from the Brew City Brawler, as well as a savvy take-down from Tim Rock. Neither of them, though, hits what I think to be the most critical facet of McBride's denial here. Toward the end of a long piece asking, "Rethinking Iraq?" (her answer, "an emphatic no"), she throws this in:
In addition, I believe that many of the Democrats - and the MSM - have failed to respond to changing circumstances.
MSM, in McBride's leetspeak, is the "mainstream media," of which she is firmly a part, as an employee of the state's largest media conglomerate and host of a show on Milwaukee's highest-rated talk radio station. The irony, of course, is that the media have been, of late, responding to the changing situation on the ground, and they've been pilloried by conservative critics who can't believe, for example, that NBC should be allowed to call it "civil war."

It's McBride who goes on and on about how "we must finish the job" and "it's crucial [. . .] that we not accept defeat." But the vast bulk of the violence in Iraq today is not the United States versus anybody--it's the centuries-old conflict between Sunni and Shia with our troops being caught in the crossfire. There is a case to be made that we should be fighting the "al Qaeda in Iraq" group that has filled the void we created in Anbar Province; but al Qaeda isn't killing thousands of civillians every month. al Qaeda isn't shelling neighborhoods the way the Sunni and the Shia are.

It was absurd before the election for conservatives to suggest the the uptick in violence was an attempt to influence the vote in favor of Democrats, and it is absurd now to say that the violence is an attempt to embolden Nancy Pelosi. The violence in Iraq is being perpetrated by people who could not care less who's running this country; they are instead interested only in generations of blood debt and hostility.

Fareed Zakaria, not known for being anything close to a shrill anti-war anything, sees what McBride denies:
If you want to understand the futility of America's current situation in Iraq, last week provided a vivid microcosm. On Thursday, just hours before a series of car bombs killed more than 200 people in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, Sunni militants attacked the Ministry of Health, which is run by one of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers. Within a couple of hours, American units arrived at the scene and chased off the attackers. The next day, Sadr's men began reprisals against Sunnis, firing RPGs at several mosques. When U.S. forces tried to stop the carnage and restore order, goons from Sadr's Mahdi Army began firing on American helicopters. In other words, one day the U.S. Army was defending Sadr's militia and, the next day, was attacked by it. We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides.
Is that really the position McBrides wants us to be in, to stay in, to persevere in? We're no longer on one side of this war; we're caught in a crossfire. How do you "win" when you're in a crossfire? What does "accepting defeat" even look like in that situation?

How do you decide not to "rethink Iraq," unless you've waded so far into denial that you can't see how much we've already lost?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You know what rocks?

WisOpinion's new Wisconsin Political Blog Search Engine.

If you're like me--and jeebus help you if you are, but that's another post entirely--you probably have moments all the time thinking, I know I read that on a blog somewhere . . . but which one? With the new Wisconsin Political Blog Search Engine, problem solved!

It's powered by Google, so you know it not only rocks, it is Not Evil. Bookmark it. Use it. Love it.

Academic Freedom, Incompetence, and 9/11

I love academic freedom. I'd eat it for breakfast if I could, and I take breakfast seriously.

But Kevin Barrett--you remember him, right? bearded guy? absolutely off his nut about 9/11?--is confusing academic freedom with something else; he is insisting that if only we'd listened to him in 2002, we wouldn't be embroiled in Iraq right now.

Well, duh. They didn't ask me, either.

There are many of us who made the argument in 2002 that we shouldn't be going to war in Iraq. We were shot down by those whom Duncan Black calls Very Serious People. Many of those same people are now, of course, saying that Our Iraqi Adventure was a bad idea, without admitting their own culpability in the disaster. Whatever the size of our chorus back then--i.e., whether Kevin Barrett had the "freedom" to spin his impossible yarns or not--we were going to war with Iraq, given who held the keys to the war machine and the Very Serious People driving from the backseat.

And, you know what? I would have told you in 2002 (I wasn't blogging then, but, trust me) that they'd screw it up, too.

Much of Barrett's screed here is not just the wouldacouldashouldas about listening to the bearded sages such as himself. Instead, it's a defense of his belief that the Bush administration was responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 (his ellipses):
Every Middle East Studies colleague I know understood from the start that Iraq could not possibly threaten the United States with WMDs even if it had them, which it almost certainly did not, and that the Iraqi people would resist a U.S. invasion with every ounce of their strength. The only way Cheney's criminal war of aggression could be sold was by terrorizing the American people with 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, lying about a nonexistent WMD threat to take advantage of the people's fear. . . and intimidating scholarly experts into silence.
The Professors™ would have saved us, if it weren't for those meddling Cheneyites!

Barrett, in fact, ends his whine with this: "It is long past time for a rational, evidence-based debate on the facts and meaning of 9/11. Any takers?" I'm not "taking," but here's how I know he's wrong. It's simple. Bush (Cheney?) has been in charge for six years, give or take--roughly 2150 days by now. And, if you're to believe Barrett and his ilk, 9/11/01 was an unbelievably successful day for them. An elaborately complicated plot, involving scores or hundreds of co-conspirators, was executed with immaculate precision, and the evidence to support this plot is invisible to all but a handful of crank academics and a college dropout with iMovie.


Because the other 2149 days of the Bush administration have been a cascade of utter incompetence. There is nothing that Bush-Cheney have tried that has not turned to crap. It started with flubbed policy on North Korea and Irseal-Palestine in the opening months of 2001, then onto Bush's inability to hold the Senate during tax-cut season, his half-hearted stem-cell thing, right up through seven minutes of Hukt on Fonix in a Florida classroom after Bush was told America Was Under Attack. Incompetence run wild.

And what since then has come up roses for the administration? Seriously. That's my challenge. Whether you're a 9/11 conspiracy nut like Kevin Barrett or a die-hard Bush defender, tell me what has happened in the least six years, under the direction of this administration, that has worked. Afghanistan? (If Iraq was Cheney's real target, why even bother with Afghanistan?) Iraq itself? Cheney's oil buddies sure are rolling in that Iraqi oil now, eh? Medicare D? FEMA? Social Security reform? The budget?

2149 days of Cluseauvian bumbling versus one day of clockwork perfection? Please. It's the incompetence, Kevin. And there is not enough academic freedom in the world to make up for that.

Update: See also Michael Mathias.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What [blank] Said

There are a lot of smart people out there on the internet. Here's a sample of some of what I like lately.
  • On the Racine flavor of it's-okay-if-you're-a-Republican-ism: What Carrie said.
  • On the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's inexplicable insistence that Wisconsin's students really do suck, we swear: What Seth said.
  • On OMG! Sick days!: What Plaisted said.
  • On the Europe-ification of Mandy Jenkins: What Michael said.
  • On Scott Walker, and his budget: What my homie Richard said.
  • Just in general: What Digby said.
  • On whether supply-side economics as practiced by Republicans works (hint--it doesn't): What bonddad said.
  • On how Microsoft's laziness wastes enough electricity to power, say, Ireland: What Jerome said.
  • On banning I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: What Peg said.
  • On merging governmental units to save money, create efficiencies, and improve service: What Soglin and Ben said.
  • On Milwaukee's voucher schools: What Jim said.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Re: That Whole Sales Tax Thing

To: Wisconsin State Sen. Jon Erpenbach
From: your humble folkbum
Date: Not a minute too soon

I read about your proposal to eliminate some sales tax exemptions and use the revenue generated to fund schools and reduce or eliminate property taxes.

Thanks for the rehash of the plan put forward two years ago by Governor Doyle's task force on school funding. The idea flopped then; it is flopping now.

The primary flop-cause is that any of these shell game solutions don't address the two major problems with school funding: the formula itself, and the cost of public employee benefits. You say your plan would address "funding disparities between rich and poor school districts," but that barely begins to cover the problems with the state school funding formula. (I recommend this monograph from the Institute for Wisconsin's Future as a good primer on Wisconsin school finance.) And unless the legislature addresses, among other things, health care costs, the $3.9-ish billion you think you'll eke out of this plan will start falling short soon enough--and at a rate faster than that of inflation.

A secondary problem with this maneuver is that no matter how much you promise to reset all school property taxes to zero--thereby making your plan a basically net tax-neutral one--it will be branded as a "tax increase." (Just scroll through the righty blogs on my blogroll for exhibits A through ZZZ. They know one note and they blow it loud.) And with billions of collective dollars in school debt--just to name one below-radar cost--you'll have a hard time convincing anyone to keep that property tax at zero if you can get it there in the first place.

The way we fund schools in Wisconsin needs an overhaul, starting from a blank page that shouldn't, in my opinion, default to the two most regressive flavors of taxation.

And, look, it's not ridiculous to talk about adding a sales tax to, for example, haircuts or health clubs. Do you really think someone will be less likely to join Bally's because the state will be skimming a share of his New Year's Resolution money? But I think that conversation needs to happen in the context of, I don't know, just the sales tax. One of the biggest mistakes politicians--even my favorite ones, and I like you, Jon--make is thinking that the public will pay attention long enough to add two and two. (Again, just scroll through the righty blogs on my blogroll for, well, you know.) Fix the sales tax--propose a quarter-cent drop in exchange for unexempting your list, something. If you do better than break even, plug the not-a-deficit-yet or buy everybody a pony. Don't complicate things by tying schools to it.

Then talk about school finance.

Of course, I think ethics and finance reform should be first. Makes fixing everything else that much easier.

Sound Off on MPS

You may have read about the Greater Milwaukee Committee's teaming up with the Milwaukee Public Schools to try to fix the seemingly unfixable problems in MPS. I have my own ideas you'll hear about soon--I'm working on getting the numbers together before I launch my campaign--but while you wait, you can chip in your own two or four cents. Feel free to sound off in the comments below, or at one of a dozen and a half meetings MPS is holding for the community. I shamelessly copied this schedule from the newspaper:
Here's the schedule that was released for public meetings, all of them set to run from 6:30 to 8 p.m.:

Nov. 27, Pulaski High School, 2500 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Dec. 4, Vincent High School, 7501 N. Granville Rd.
Dec. 5, Milwaukee School of Languages, 8400 W. Burleigh St.
Dec. 7 Fratney Elementary, 3255 N. Fratney St.
Dec. 11, Audubon Middle School, 3300 S. 39th St.
Dec. 12, North Division high school complex, 1011 W. Center St.
Dec 13, Marshall High School, 4141 N. 64th St.
Dec. 14, Hawley Elementary, 5610 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Dec. 18, South Division High School, 1515 W. Lapham Blvd.
Dec. 18, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, 2300 W. Highland Ave.
Dec. 19, Washington High School complex, 2525 N. Sherman Blvd.
Dec. 20, Hartford University School, 2227 E. Hartford Ave.
Jan. 3, Fritsche Middle school, 2969 S. Howell Ave.
Jan. 10, Thirty-Fifth Street School, 4834 N. Mother Daniels Way.
Jan. 11, Sholes school complex, 4965 S. 20th St.
Jan. 16, MPS central administration building, 5225 W. Vliet St.

In addition, a meeting has been scheduled for parents of special education students on Jan. 9 and for parents of former MPS students on Jan. 17. Both of those will be held at the central administration building from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
If you have opinions--and I know you do--it's worth trying to get to one or more of these meetings to make sure the people making the decisions actually hear what you think.

In addition, campaign season is just about upon us for five of the nine seats on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. The pro-voucher people have almost certainly staked out their candidates already. Have you?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday Random Ten

The sleeping off the turkey Edition

1. "Sleeping Dogs" Brian Joseph from Somewhere it's True
2. "Awake" Peter Mayer from Earth Town Square
3. "When You Wake Up (And It's Snowing)" Jay Bullock (unreleased)
4. "Sleeper" Eliza Gilkyson from Going Driftless
5. "Sleeping in the Flowers" They Might Be Giants from John Henry
6. "The River, Where She Sleeps" Darryl Purpose from A Crooked Line
7. "Darling Wake Up" Kat Eggleston from Second Nature
8. "Keeping Awake" The Innocence Mission from Glow
9. "Sleeping Bag" Sons of the Never Wrong from One if by Hand
10. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" R.E.M. from Automatic for the People

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What I'm Thankful For

  • I'm thankful for my wife, my health, my general I-guess-I-don't-have-it-so-badness, and that my family, friends, and coworkers are all pretty much okay this year. My dog's getting crazier, but then I'm thankful we have a good vet and can afford to treat her.

  • I'm thankful that I can afford a turkey and can cook it myself; recent news of rising demand, again, for help feeding families is disheartening.

  • I'm thankful for the job, as much as it stresses me, and the opportunity to try to do a little bit of good in this city. No, I don't expect to change the world one classroom at a time, but if I can make a little difference, that's enough.

  • I'm thankful for those in service to this country, in the military, in the peace corps, or elsewhere, spreading the best of what America has to offer under, often, hellish circumstances and on a mission that was long ago doomed to failure.

  • I'm thankful for the internet, and the people I've met and have come to know well here in the ether (and occasionally in real life). I can't name everyone, so I won't start, but this whole blogging thing has opened up a world of cool and interesting people, on all sides of the divide, that I am glad to know. Add to that the folks at Apple Computer and the cable company that provide this access. The blogging has scored me some TV gigs, and that's worth something; the Governor reads my blog, and that's also not nothing. Some days it scares me a little just how much people are looking to me for advice, opinion, leadership--I mean, I know me--but the opportunities have been tremendous and more than I could have hoped for just writing crank letters to the editor.

  • I'm thankful for Howard Dean and the 50-state strategy. And for Nancy Pelosi. Seriously. Consider:
    Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi will open the House for the first session of the 110th Congress on January 4, and keep it in session for the first several weeks of January. While that may not sound remarkable outside-the-beltway, it is departure from tradition that is certain to prompt some teeth gnashing among Republicans.

    Congress typically convenes the first week of January after a holiday recess just long enough for new members to be sworn in, and then promptly adjourns until the president's State of the Union Address toward the end of the month. Pelosi's team apparently figures there's no reason to allow President Bush to set the agenda in January by leaking bits of his speech. Instead the Democratic Congress will immediately plunge into its lengthy to-do list, starting with an ethics reform package, and perhaps have some bills on Bush's desk by the time the State of the Union is ready for delivery.

    "From economic security to national security, the American people have resoundingly called for a new direction,'' Pelosi said in a just-released statement. "It is imperative that we waste no time in addressing the pressing needs facing our nation.''
    Contrast that with the Republicans, who put off the annual budget bills until the last minute, and then just skipped out on them altogether. I also love the 100 hours agenda. Expect me to rave more about it later.

  • I'm thankful for good music, a lot of which I've seen and heard this year. New records from Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, Mark Erelli, and Ellis Paul, among others. I didn't make it out to Patty Larkin live the other week, but here's a YouTube:

  • And I'm thankful for you, my readers. Is it cheesy? Sure. But in almost exactly three-and-a-half years of doing this, I've cultivated a fine audience, a collection of people willing to debate, engage, and explore ideas. The thing that I'm most proud of here is not the TV or undue influence I may someday wield; it's the community. And, after all, isn't that what Thanksgiving is really about?
Enjoy your day, your family, your friends. Be well, eat well, shop carefully, and rest up. Next week, everything starts back up again. Peace.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is that a deficit in your pocket, or are you just happy to see it?

Wisconsin's conservatives are revelling in the news that Wisconsin faces a $1.6 billion deficit heading into the next budget cycle:
Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature will have to close a $1.6 billion deficit as they develop the next two-year budget, according to a new report released Monday.

Officials vowed that they would not raise taxes to close the gap between what state agencies say they need and what taxes are expected to generate.

The $1.6 billion figure was the latest estimate of the so-called structural deficit facing the state. It is about 6% of the $26.4 billion that state government is on track to collect in taxes and fees over the next two years.
They're revelling because it's Jim Doyle who is the public face of that shortfall, and not Mark Green, and because with one house of the legislature now in Democratic hands, they can blame us for any failure. You've got everything from smarmy I told you sos to you get what you deserve coming from their side, with a healthy dose of Doyle lied, he lied, he lied because he claimed to have balanced the budget (I paraphrased a little). But let's go back to the story, shall we?
Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature will have to close a $1.6 billion [. . .] gap between what state agencies say they need and what taxes are expected to generate.
One thing the critics are forgetting is that we don't owe anyone any actual money yet; this is just the gap between budget requests and projected revenues for the next two years. Two years ago (note that date on that memo, Rick), we got an almost identical report, and, by all accounts, we expect to end this biennium with a small--in the tens of millions--surplus. In other words (raids to the transportation fund notwithstanding), it's the righties here who are lying when they say Doyle didn't--past tense--balance the budget. The 2007-2009 budget isn't written yet; Doyle didn't claim to have balanced it yet; we don't even know the details of all the agencies' demands yet. How can Doyle have lied about something that hasn't even happened?

I suppose turnabout is, indeed, fair play, since we are still dealing with the aftermath of the Thompson-McCallum years (where's our tobacco settlement money?). But I can only imagine sighs of relief from their side--along with their stifled giggles--that Green won't be dealing with the problem. Green, if you recall, couldn't even begin to describe how he'd address budget issues during the campaign just completed (staying vague on purpose?), beyond just promising to spend money wisely and cut taxes.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the projected deficit here won't shrink as the budget process nears, and we face a full $1.6 billion shortfall. Rather than just lie about Doyle and snigger at the challenge he and the legislature faces (or predict end-of-the-world tax and fee hikes), I challenge the right to propose a solution. What would you cut? Do we educate 80,000 fewer K-12 children? Release 20,000 prisoners? Pave 800 fewer miles (.pdf)?

Personally, I think we do something bold and try to fix the high cost of health care:
Employers in Wisconsin pay an estimated 26.5% more to provide health benefits than the national average, according to a respected national survey released Monday.

The annual survey by Mercer Health & Benefits LLC found that health benefit costs average $9,516 this year for each employee in Wisconsin, compared with $7,523 nationally. That's $1,993 in additional average costs for each employee.

The Mercer survey also found that costs in Wisconsin rose this year at a faster rate, 9.3% on average, compared with 6.1% nationally.
If you think these stories--deficits and health care--aren't related, you're not paying attention. If the state paid less for its employees' health care (and all the local units of government, too--not to mention you, the consumer/ citizen/ taxpayer), the projected cost of running the place would fall and there would be more money in your pocket, too. I continue to lament that, fifteen years ago when the state tinkered with school funding formulas (adding revenue caps and the QEO), they didn't tackle health care instead. If they'd done the work then to keep health care inflation at closer to overall inflation--or just closer to the national average for health care costs--we wouldn't be facing a deficit now. See my post yesterday, or Carrie or Ben for more.

So there's my idea. Now you--give us a hand, oh ye wise sages of AM radio and the Right Cheddarsphere. Don't just dance your happy dance, and don't be vague like Mark Green. Try to be productive in this discussion, and put your ideas where your big mouths are.

Update: More from Seth, here, and you can make up your own mind about Milwaukee Journal Sentinel bias.
Update 2: Carrie takes on Charlie Sykes and George Mitchell; in short, they're all wet.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Health Care He Said-She Said: I Say, Simplify

Two Wisconsin Congresscritters wrote dueling op-eds in the Sunday Journal Sentinel, Privatizin' Paul Ryan and Slammin' Tammy Baldwin. They do a he said-she said on health care.

I wonder what would happen if you took the two essays, Rayn's and Baldwin's, stripped the authorship information from them, and presented them to the public, which one of the two positions the public would prefer. Because, as I read them, it comes down to this:
Baldwin: Health care is so expensive because it's such a complicated system.
Ryan: Health care is so expensive because the system is not complicated enough.
The choice is pretty clear in my mind--why would we want to make the way we purchase and pay for health care more complex? Who, exactly, does that appeal to? Cui bono--who benefits from a more complicated system? Certainly not health care consumers. Probably not doctors and other providers, either.

Oh, but Jay, you're thinking, surely you're being reductionist and Ryan's and Baldwin's ideas are more nuanced than that. Well, I don't think what I wrote is an unfair rendering of their arguments. See for yourself; here they are in their own words:
Baldwin:We don't have the time or the space to go into details on the overuse of services, the duplication of services, fraud and other factors that all contribute to the unnecessarily exorbitant and inherently unfair cost of health care in this country.

It's been seven decades since President Truman first called for health care for all in this country, but we still have an inadequate health care system. [. . .] Under a single-payer system, all Americans would be covered for all medically necessary services. Patients would regain free choice of doctor and hospital, and doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.

A single-payer system would be financed by eliminating private insurers and recapturing their administrative waste. Modest new taxes would replace premiums and out-of-pocket payments currently paid by individuals and business. Costs would be controlled through negotiated fees, global budgeting, and bulk purchasing. [. . .] The costs of health care will never be controlled until we, as a nation, make a commitment to guarantee health care for all and then make that happen most efficiently and economically.


Ryan: [T]he heart of what is actually driving runaway medical expenses [is] the lack of a working free market in health care that puts power in patients' hands. [. . . W]e need to make sure patients can access reliable, up-to-date information on what hospitals and doctors actually charge for medical procedures. [. . ] Making sure the public has access to this kind of data, as well as information about the quality of care patients receive, is essential to fostering competition and lowering costs.

While consumers need accurate information to make sound judgments and select the best health care provider to meet their needs, they also need tools that give them more control over their health care purchases and make coverage more affordable. [. . .]

Health savings accounts are a relatively new option for health care coverage that enables individuals to set aside tax-free savings for future medical expenses. I co-wrote the law that took effect in January 2004 to permit HSAs, and they have become an increasingly popular way to obtain coverage and manage health costs. [. . .] HSA holders or their employers buy a high-deductible insurance plan to take care of large hospital bills, and they use money from their HSA to pay for check-ups and other routine medical expenses. [. . .] They also give patients an incentive to pay attention to what they spend and seek the best deal, in terms of price and quality, which will help bring down the cost of health care.
Transparent pricing doesn't really help much when your insurance plan doesn't cover the cheaper hospital or the cheaper doctor, does it? The last round of conservative-driven reform in the health care industry centered around HMOs and other managed-care plans, which made explicit and rigid the rules limiting where patients could seek treatment. Even under my teachers-union insurance, which is most assuredly not an HMO, I pay quite a bit extra for out-of-network services (some of which, like pathologists, I may not have a choice about). What good does it do me to know I could save my insurance company $10,000 on an operation if I went to a hospital that would cost me thousands out-of-pocket? Am I really going to make that choice?

And I've never understood the conservative fetish for HSAs--they apparently think you have too much insurance. And if only you had less, you'd be healthier, or at least you'd go to the doctor less often. That is just about the worst public health policy I could imagine. I mean, I may have the luxury of deciding that it's not worth fixing the suspension on my 1997 Saturn (it really isn't); I don't have the luxury--none of us should--of deciding that it's not worth seeing the doctor for this or that ailment just in case something worse comes along. And, indeed, it's prevention and preventive care--something HSAs discourage--that is the strongest reform we could make to our health care system. Even if only a small percentage of catastrophic cases could be prevented, the savings to the system would more than make up for the increased cost for wide-spread preventive care.

To be fair, Paul Ryan does support some reasonable reforms; indeed, I've endorsed the idea of pricing transparency as part of a wider set of reforms, and he supports a tax credit on premiums. But he neglects to mention that some of the reforms he supports have downsides. For example, the innocuous-sounding bill to allow small businesses to form "trade associations" and buy health care from cheaper "out-of-state" providers was the infamous "Enzi Bill," a bill that would have allowed employers in one state to avoid that state's laws, laws which might require covering certain conditions or treatments. That bill was opposed by everyone from the AARP to 39 state Attorneys General.

And, to keep being fair, Tammy Baldwin stops short of actually proposing a single-payer system, with the cop-out that "no single health care reform proposal, not a single-payer plan nor the more conservative, employer-based programs, have any chance of gaining the majority of votes necessary for passage at this time." Which is too bad, since now that there is some momentum in Congress for change, Baldwin should take the gloves off and see what she can get done.

In the end, there is no way we can avoid the unpleasant facts: As the only major industrialized nation without some kind of single-payer system, the United States pays double--in terms of GDP and per-capita cost--what other nations do for health care, without double the results. In fact, experts peg the death toll due to underinsurance in this country at between 20,000 and 80,000 annually; how much greater is the drag on our economy from the many hundreds of thousands or millions more who don't die, but just lose days of work? The only solution, in the end, is one which guarantees everyone a certain level of care. HSAs won't do it. A more transparent system of pricing won't do it. Even tax credits on the cost of a premium won't do it.

And while Ryan repeats the standard dire warnings about Canada, I will repeat my plea that we could be more like France--a country you never hear conservatives warn about because single-payer works there, and works well.

Health care is not so expensive because it isn't yet complicted enough, and Ryan's plea for more piecemeal and patchwork answers is the wrong way to go. Instead, let's follow the advice Baldwin offers: Simplify.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Random Ten

The It's Friday? Already? Edition

1. "Elsewhere" Sarah McLachlan from Fumbling Toward Ecstacy
2. "Elvis Presley Blues" Gillian Welch from Time (The Revelator)
3. "Willie and the Hand Jive" Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard
4. "Damn Love Song" Kris Delmhorst from Five Stories
5. "The Kenworth of My Dreams" Richard Shindell from Courier
6. "Wayfaring Stranger" Neko Case from The Tigers Have Spoken
7. "House That Used to Be" Old 97s from Too Far to Care
8. "Glad" Traffic from The Very Best of
9. "Swandive" Ani DiFranco from Little Plastic Castle
10. "City of Angels" 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe

Special Bonus YouTube: Richard Shindell doing "Fishing"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I think it is the solemn duty of every single Democrat in the state of Wisconsin to encourage Tommy Thompson to run for president. After all, George W. Bush has set the precedent of a less capable brother gunning for the big show, right?

We have to get Tommy! the nomination--by any means necessary.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More from Your Liberal Media

One of these days I'll get to meet Mike Plaisted and shake his hand. He has the stomach to read what I don't. For example, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He writes,
[R]eading veteran state-house reporter Steve Walters’ open letter to state leaders in today’s Crossroads section, it appears the key writers reporting on the race were also drinking the Republican Kool-Aid.

In the brief section of the letter directed to the reelected governor, Walters, without any basis that I’m aware of, accuses Doyle of the sin of ambition. He claims that a second term is something Doyle "desperately wanted since January 2003, when you stood in the Capitol rotunda, with your proud and smiling mother looking on from her wheelchair, and took your first oath of office as governor." He advises the governor to spend the next four years "creating a legacy instead of being obsessed with having to raise another $12 million to seek a third term." So he "desperately wanted" a second term before the first one ever started and he was "obsessed" with raising money for his campaigns. Gee, Steve, anything else? Oh, yeah – he says, since Doyle has now had five successful statewide campaigns: "That's not a bad public service record to retire on."

Well, alrighty, then. Doyle was supposedly in a big hurry to get to his second term and Walters is already encouraging him to pull the plug after this one. Well, I mean, if you are Doyle, why bother? His first term was supposedly meaningless without the second and the chief political writer for the Journal Sentinel is already hoping to treat him like a lame duck.
That "ambition" thing is how they justified getting Caesar. Not that I think Doyle is Caesar--Doyle hasn't taken Gaul (or even the U.P.), for example--but it's an old trope and Walters should know better than to drag it out just because he doesn't like Doyle. Worse, he shouldn't have let that obvious dislike of Doyle color his reporting. Walters--and my conservative reader(s)--would probably disagree that it did so, but it's clear, and Plaisted, Xoff, I, Seth, and others documented it all summer throughout the autumn.

In fact, reading Walters's letter, Doyle is served a heapin' helpin' of scorn in every sentence, while the other recipients of the letter--Judy Robson, Mike Huebsch, Jim Kreuser, and Scott Fitzgerald--all get compliments or outright praise.

Just remember, ladies and gentleman, that is your liberal media at work: a scornful, impudent reporter assigned to cover the object of his disgust. I'm looking forward to four more years of Capital reporting from his slanted pen.

Citizen detained overseas: Where's the outrage?

I'm surprised the righties aren't all over this story:
In 2001, Jack Smith, a citizen of Perioa, Illinois, was in the Qatar legally, on a student visa. He was a computer science graduate student at the American University in Qatar, where he had earned an undergraduate degree a decade earlier. In Qatar, he lived with his wife and five children.

In December, 2001 he was detained as a "material witness" to suspected acts of terrorism and ultimately charged with various terrorism-related offenses, mostly relating to false statements Qatar's security aparatus claimed he made as part of a terrorism investigation. Smith vehemently denied the charges, and after lengthy pre-trial proceedings, his trial on those charges was scheduled to begin on July 21, 2003.

But his trial never took place, because in June, 2003--one month before the scheduled trial--Qatar's Emir declared him to be an "enemy combatant." As a result, Qatar told the court it wanted to turn him over to the U.S. military, and thus asked the court to dismiss the criminal charges against him, and the court did so (the dismissal was "with prejudice," meaning he can't be tried ever again on those charges). Thus, right before his trial, Qatar simply removed Smith from the jurisdiction of Qatar's judicial system--based solely on the unilateral order of the Emir--and thus prevented him from contesting the charges against him.

Instead, the administration immediately transferred Smith to a miltiary prison. Smith was kept in solitary confinement, denied all contact with the outside world, including even his own attorneys, not charged with any crimes, and given no opportunity to prove his innocence. Instead, Qatar simply asserted the right to detain him indefinitely without so much as charging him with anything.
It has everything the right loves in their outrages--a Christian family man living peacefully with his family in a Muslim country held without charge and without access to anyone who could help him clear his name. Admittedly, there's no video tape or threats of beheading--the right loves them some gore--but what gives?



I know what the problem is:
In 2001, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was in the United States legally, on a student visa. He was a computer science graduate student at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where he had earned an undergraduate degree a decade earlier. In Peoria, he lived with his wife and five children.

In December, 2001 he was detained as a "material witness" to suspected acts of terrorism and ultimately charged with various terrorism-related offenses, mostly relating to false statements the FBI claimed he made as part of its 9/11 investigation. Al-Marri vehemently denied the charges, and after lengthy pre-trial proceedings, his trial on those charges was scheduled to begin on July 21, 2003.

But his trial never took place, because in June, 2003--one month before the scheduled trial--President Bush declared him to be an "enemy combatant." As a result, the Justice Department told the court it wanted to turn him over to the U.S. military, and thus asked the court to dismiss the criminal charges against him, and the court did so (the dismissal was "with prejudice," meaning he can't be tried ever again on those charges). Thus, right before his trial, the Bush administration simply removed Al-Marri from the jurisdiction of the judicial system--based solely on the unilateral order of the President--and thus prevented him from contesting the charges against him.

Instead, the administration immediately transferred al-Marri to a miltiary prison in South Carolina (where the administration brings its "enemy combatants" in order to ensure that the executive-power-friendly 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over all such cases). Al-Marri was given the "Padilla Treatment"--kept in solitary confinement, denied all contact with the outside world, including even his own attorneys, not charged with any crimes, and given no opportunity to prove his innocence. Instead, the Bush administration simply asserted the right to detain him indefinitely without so much as charging him with anything.
Draw your own conclusions, of course. But this makes me feel outraged. How can I not? How can anyone not? How can anyone not see how fundamentally wrong and un-American this is?

There is no evidence that this man did anything other than sit around at home with his family, go to school, and follow the laws of the United States. And he can't see his lawyer? Welcome, as they say, to Dick Cheney's America. Two months . . .

Support Karen Carter, LA-02

I don't usually shill for candidates outside of Wisconsin, but here's another important race. As you may know, Louisiana's November elections are just kind of free-for-all primaries, with the top two vote-getters in a run-off the next month. One such run-off is happening in the LA-02 this year, and I'd like to ask my readers to support Democrat Karen Carter.

This is not a seat that would go from red to blue--it's already held by a Democrat. But that Democrat is William Jefferson, he of FBI-sting-money-in-the-freezer fame. The left side of the blogosphere is uniting behind Carter and against Jefferson, running a $10,000 challenge to get Carter some much-needed scratch for the home stretch. (As of this writing, they've already rasied nearly $12,000.) Consider helping out; we need to send the mesage that corruption in Congress is wrong regardless of which party you belong to.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Another wrong loser

My BFF Owen has a gigantic ideological stick where you know it's gotta hurt, but he usually gets his facts straight. Today he totally blows it in terms of telling the truth.

However, I can't say I disagree with his ultimate conclusion:
I must admit that I find the reaction of some Lefties to the election to be somewhat comical. Many of them are interpreting the election as a wholesale rejection of Conservatism. They insist that those of us who are conservatives, should abandon our beliefs and just accept the fact that the election proves that we are wrong about everything.
I do not actually think that the results are evidence of any kind of a permanent Democratic majority anymore than I believed Karl Rove when he said in 2004 that the Republican majority was permanent. There is still plenty of battleground, particularly in the West. But I think last Tuesday was, in fact, the end of a kind of re-alignment that began in 1994: Republicans now pretty well own the South; it took a dozen years for the moderate Republicans left in the Northeast and chunks of the Midwest to finally exit stage right. It was also a rejection of Bush--and the more we learn, the clearer that is. It's also a reaction to the utter hell that Iraq has become. (Remember when Iraq was supposed to be no more dangerous than Detroit? When Motor City residents start tattooing names and SSNs on their bodies, call me.)

But then, moving from that perfectly reasonable premise, Owen runs down the litany of false statements that, I think, conservatives are using to make themselves feel better. I'll take them one at a time; he's in italics:
  • Never mind that many of the Dems who won across the country were espousing many conservative beliefs.
    Depends on how you define "many." If you mean "a few" including high-profile ones like Bob Casey, then sure. But some facts are in order: Chris Bowers counts 24 newly elected Dems from the House who are anything but conservative. In the Senate, Tester, McCaskill, Brown, and Klobuchar all have liberal voting records behind them. Tom Schaller puts it into convenient chart form, and adds, "the liberal wing of the GOP suffered a disproportionate share of losses compared to the moderate and/or conservative wings. Since the Democrats who beat them ran uniformly to the left of their opponents, the notion that conservative Democrats knocked off a set of mostly liberal Republicans defies simple logic."

  • Never mind that the election results are completely average in historical terms.
    There have been two 6th-year midterm elections since the 1950s. In 1986, the Dems, the "opposition party" to Reagan, picked up fifve seats. In 1998, the Dems, the "ruling party" with Clinton, also picked up five seats. Since 1994's 54-seat switch, the number of seats switching have been less than ten at a time. To call last Tuesday average is to completely minimize it.

  • Never mind that there were many forces in this election that were independent of philosophy (corruption, waste, etc.).
    And Republicans had nothing to do with those? Who's been in complete power for six years?

  • Never mind that the Republicans lost much of their base precisely because they had become a bunch of big-government politicians.
    Except that the Republicans didn't lose their base. In fact, Republicans lost independents, who made up almost a quarter of the voters this year. Kevin Drum compares the 2004 and 2006 exit polls to find that "Conservatives are still solidly supporting the Republican Party." I bet, for example, that Owen and all of his conservative readers turned out for Republicans on the ballot last Tuesday.
I should also point out that the Dems received a higher percentage of the votes in both House and Senate races this year (53% and 55%, repsectively) than Bush did in either 2000 or 2004. This is not to suggest that I think Dems must run roughshod over everyone--as Bush suggested he could do with his "mandate" and "political capital." I am suggesting, however, that what happened Tuesday is not something that can be swept under the rug or hidden behind lame (and false) excuses. The national Republican Party--and the current flavor of conservatism--has led voters to speak with a clear voice in opposition.

Far be it from me to tell Republicans how to plan for 2008; it sure seems to me, however, that sitting around and lying to yourself about why you lost is a bad way to start.

Your Liberal Media at Work

Via Media Matters:

That's 1994 on the left, and this week on the right. Sigh.

McIlheran Watch: Another Sore Loser

I remember 2004. I even remember 1994, mostly. An election, as those were for me, that ends up as a repudiation of you and all you stand for can really kind of hurt. How you deal with it shows a lot about your character. If you're Charlie Sykes, for example, you mislead your readers into thinking that you had a bigger impact than you did. If you're Joe Lieberman, you pretend nothing major happened. If you're any conservative Tim Rock read this week, you imagine the grapes were sour, anyway.

But my favorite has to be Patrick McIlheran; if you're him, you turn your back on a year's worth of your work as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's conservative frontman and declare that you don't have to be popular to be right:
[W]hat got defeated [. . .] is a certain sense that conservative ideas are right because they are popular [. . .]. Conservatism's superiority is taken for granted because it is self-evidently a 'winning' philosophy. We win, therefore are right. We are right, therefore we win. [. . .]

So it's going to be harder, maybe lonelier, for conservatives. So? Our ideas aren't validated by being popular. They're validated by being right.
(Of course, if you click through to read it, you'll find P-Mac is basing his assertions on a column by . . . wait for it . . . Charlie Sykes.)

Why is this my favorite? Because McIlheran has made a point, repeatedly, about how popular the positions he espouses are! Watch:
Though, in a heartening development, people aren’t necessarily buying the X-Files take on the NSA looking at calling records. ABC polls and finds that people regard looking at who’s calling whom as necessary to fighting jihadists.
But the rallies Monday, with people in t-shirts reading, “We are not criminal,” aren’t necessarily helping. Polls show that most Americans, while sympathetic to immigrants, don’t like people sneaking in.
Owen at Boots and Sabers comments with particular lucidity today: [. . .]

“Also, it is worth noting that polls show that 70% of the people support a constitutional amendment to limit government spending or revenue. This appears to be yet another case of the special interests driving Madison in a direction contrary to the will of the people.”
No business that Mark Bradley knows of has broken up over taxes owed upon death. He ought to know - he's a big-name Wisconsin estate lawyer. He's not saying it doesn't happen, but he says fears over what is now a 46% tax are overblown. If a family absolutely doesn't plan, the IRS will take installment payments over a decade or so.

Others differ, of course. Ann Kinkade, who heads the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Family Business Center, says she's heard horror stories, though none firsthand. Businesses working with her have estate planning in mind.

This is a key question, since the tax is with us still. Despite polls showing most Americans don't like the IRS rifling the pockets of rich corpses, the Republican Senate still can't pull the trigger on a tax that's as anachronistic as the top hat on the Monopoly Man.
The Wall Street Journal reports that support for legalized abortion is falling. The Roe vs. Wade decision that took the matter out of the hands of states and voters is now supported only by a 49% to 47% plurality in a Harris poll.

Sixty-three percent don’t think the Supremes will overturn the decision, but 40% favor laws that do more to protect children from being aborted.
But if the unified aim is to make this nation forgive, en masse, 11 million people who broke the law, good luck. Polls show such rallies are hardening attitudes, if anything.
[E]xpanding the labor pool depresses wages. Interestingly, more than a quarter of American-born Latinos polled by the Pew Hispanic Center last summer agreed. [. . .] Most of all, conflating legal and illegal immigration into one chanting insistence that America owes someone something won't fly. That Pew poll found that 60% of American-born Latinos want to keep driver's licenses out of illegal immigrants' hands.
Critics ask us to take counsel of their fears. "People become afraid of their own government," Feingold says. That is, not only is it offensive that the government listened in, but without oversight, we don't know the NSA wasn't up to no good.

But polls show a more sanguine public, and no wonder. The more facts emerge, the more the claims erode, especially since, amid the plentiful emerging evidence that the program existed, no signs point to political abuse.
People seem to sense this, as when they tell pollsters - 65% to 26% this summer in a Wisconsin poll, for instance - that they don't favor financing campaigns from tax money. Of course not: Once incumbents can just take from you the money they need, it's one less reason for them to have to listen to you.
But polls repeatedly show that ordinary Americans are bothered by the illegality of illegal immigrants, and the presence of 11 million of them after the problem was supposed to have been fixed by reforms in 1986 shows a failure of the federal government. It's not surprising when local people take a whack at it.
Remember, that's just the past year, and probably not even as thorough a search as I could have done.

But, anyway, now we know what McIlheran really thinks. And the next time he shows up with some poll or another claiming to be speaking with the voice of the majority, we can remind him: Sorry; just because it's popular doesn't make it right!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

One place I won't be eating again

So we went for lunch at the new Red Robin over in Greenfield. We'd never eaten there before, and were delivering stuff to Half Price Books, and thought we'd try it. While the food, eventually, was very good, we had an experience that should land the place on Casper's list.

Even though we arrived at almost noon, we were able to get right in. Our server was a little slow coming back with our drink order--that should have been a sign--but we ordered and started looking forward to trying the food and the bottomless fries.

And then we waited. Made pleasant conversation. Got a refill. And waited. And waited. And waited. Well, we thought, they just opened, it's a Sunday lunch crowd, we'll give them some slack.

And we waited. No sign of the server or the food, and it was, by then, going on 12:40. How long does it take to make a chicken sandwich and some fajitas?

Finally, we noticed that several tables that were seated after we ordered got their food, though we still hadn't been able to catch the attention of our server. So I desperately tried to flag down the manager I'd seen walking around. When I finally got his attention, and explained the problem, he, without apologizing yet, went right back to the kitchen to "find out what happened." A couple of minutes later, he was out with our food--and apologies--and we dug in. But no offer to comp a meal, or anything beyond a vague "I'll check back with you later."

By the time we were halfway through our food, finally our server made it back to our table. At this point, we hadn't seen or talked to her in more than half an hour. No apology, no attempt at an explanation, nothing. Just an offer of more refills.

When the check came, itwas full price. And our server had the gall to point out the customer service survey she put in the folio with the bill!

We wave the manager down again, explain to him that his server's obliviousness further complicated the situation, and asked if he'd ever found out where the problem had been. He said that the error had been in the kitchen, and that he'd be sure to talk to the server at the end of the shift. He told us to wait there, and disappeared long enough to grab ten "Bird Bucks" as if that made up for it--we'd now been at the restaurant almost 80 minutes, double the time we noticed other tables taking--and told us that the next time (ha!) if we noticed that the service was taking more than ten or fifteen minutes, to notify a manager.

In other words, it was our fault we waited so long.

The "Bird Bucks" have already been recycled.

More on Charlie Sykes

Having slept on it--twice--I think I went too far. Not that I don't think Sykes's post there was not wrong (it was, in spades) or smug (even his JournalCorp colleagues saw that) or sore (it had a sense of desperation to it).

However, I started name-calling, and I don't do that. I shouldn't have done it, regardless of whom the target was. I apologize.

But I'm not wrong: There is nothing in the 2006 results for Southeastern Wisconsin (the "Milwaukee media market," as Sykes stakes it out) that should make conservatives feel proud. Or better about Green's loss. Locally and nationally, conservatives have offered excuse after excuse. I've read a lot from them this week about why they lost, very little of it admitting that they lost because the current model of conservative governance is past its prime.

No, there were claims, for example, that the newly elected Dems are really conservatives (they're not, really), or that these big swings in the 6th year of a presidency are normal (5 seats switched in both '86 and '98). More locally, some bloggers all but called voters stupid. (My favorite was Patrick McIlheran's response, but it deserves its own post later.)

I'm no stranger to taking losses hard, of course. But Sykes's post just--I don't know--set me off.

Perhaps it comes from thinking he should know better than to lie--and I maintain it was, at least, a lie of omission, as he didn't do the research he should have to find out if his point were truly valid. The excuse he offered was not merely a lame attempt to gloss over a resounding defeat. Instead, it struck me as a self-congratulatory halo-polishing, giving himself credit for keeping "the Milwaukee Media Market" redder than the rest of the state. Its wrongness--as demonstrated by the numbers--was stunning; its tone was disgusting.

Still, I was over the top. Like, couldn't see the top from where I was. And that, too, was wrong.

One Further Feingold Irony

I know Russ repeatedly said he'd wait until after the midterms to make his decision. I'm guessing that had the US Senate stayed Republican, Russ would be running right now. But his new power as a member of the majority--and in the majority on the Judiciary and Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees--is, I would bet, what made up his mind.

Damn you Jim Webb!

. . . and see Glenn Greenwald.

Feingold's not running. Ruins my day.

John Edwards just keeps getting luckier and luckier:
Dear Friends and Supporters,

On Sunday, November 12th in Racine, I will hold my 1000th Listening Session with the people of Wisconsin. Before reaching that milestone, I want you to know that I've decided to continue my role as Wisconsin's Junior Senator in the U.S. Senate and not to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2008.

Like many Americans, I am excited by the results of the November 7th election. My fourteen years in the Senate have been the greatest privilege of my life and I am extremely pleased with what we have accomplished. During so much of that time, however, we Democrats have not only been in the minority but have often been so deeply mired there that my role has often been to block bad ideas or to simply dissent. That is a very important role but I relish the thought that in this new Congress we can start, not only to undo much of the damage that one-party rule has done to America, we can actually advance progressive solutions to such major issues as guaranteed healthcare, dependence on oil, and our unbalanced trade policies. The Senate of the 110th Congress could also well be a place of greater bi-partisan opportunities for change; something I am very proud to have been effective at in both Republican and Democratic Senates.

I hope all of you know how much I have appreciated the incredible response you have given me and the efforts of our Progressive Patriots Fund since January, 2005. In addition to all of our work in Wisconsin and D.C., I have traveled to seventeen states trying to promote the election of progressive Democrats in all states. At every stop from Birmingham, Alabama to Burlington, Vermont, to Ft. Dodge, Iowa, to Las Vegas, Nevada, people have agreed with my view that we need to stand up for a strong, principled Democratic party that is willing to replace timidity with taking the risks of promoting a platform of bold solutions to our nation's problems. Unfailingly, people responded well to my positions: opposition to the Iraq war; calling for a timeline to redeploy our troops from Iraq so we can focus on those who attacked us on September 11th, 2001; my opposition to the flawed provisions of the USA Patriot Act that threaten the freedoms of law-abiding Americans; my call for accountability for the Administration's arrogant disregard for the law especially with regard to illegal wiretapping; fighting for fiscal responsibility including tough common sense budget rules that will help end the reckless policies that have heaped a mountain of debt on our children and grandchildren; as well as my strong belief in guaranteed healthcare for all Americans and substantial investment in alternative energy sources and technologies.

Yet, while I've certainly enjoyed the repeated comments or buttons saying, "Run Russ Run", or "Russ in '08", I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I've taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations. This is because the hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured.

I'm sure a campaign for President would have been a great adventure and helpful in advancing a progressive agenda. At this time, however, I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a Senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget Committees. Although I have given it a lot of thought, I cannot muster the same enthusiasm for a race for President while I am trying simultaneously to advance our agenda in the Senate. In other words, if I really wanted to run for President, regardless of the odds or other possible candidates, I would do so. However, to put my family and all of my friends and supporters through such a process without having a very strong desire to run, seems inappropriate to me. And, yes, while I would strongly prefer that our nominee in 2008 be someone who had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning, I am prepared to work as hard as I can through the Progressive Patriots Fund, and consistent with my duties in the Senate, to maintain or increase our gains from November 7 in the Congress and, of course, to elect a Democrat as President in 2008.

Most important, I want to continue my work as a Senator from this wonderful State of Wisconsin. Our fourteen year ongoing conversation that has taken place in hundreds of communities in Wisconsin in the form of open Listening Sessions is the principal reason I have been perceived as "ahead of the curve" on many key issues. Simply listening to the reasoning and passions of Wisconsinites remains the best source of good ideas and common sense I've ever encountered.

I love this country very much and am so lucky to be able to serve it in the United States Senate. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement.


Russ Feingold
Middleton, Wisconsin
Breaks my heart. I had a series of ads half-written in my head I was ready to give him. I'll still type them up at some point because they're (I think) hilarious, and could work for somebody--but they had that Russ vibe, you know?

So I'm now officially unafiliated. Warner, who I had pegged as Most Likely to Succeed, courted me before he dropped out, and Russ was the one I had my little blog-crush on. Vilsack's people have also courted me, but Vilsack, I thought, was very premature in announcing his candidacy for the bottom of the pack--Most Likely to Concede. Edwards clearly now has the upper hand--it'll be him and Hillary. Richardson still looks kind of good, I think. No way I'll get behind Evan Bayh. And there's some former governor of Alaska who thinks he'll be the next Howard Dean but won't.

So, anyway, suggestions? Make a case for your guy or gal in comments.

(Journal-Sentinel story here.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Charlie Sykes: Sore (and Smug) (and WRONG) Loser

(See slight update here. Quite the discussion in comments there, too.)

I really wish Lena Taylor had smacked the mess out of Charlie Sykes Tuesday night. I mean, I didn't even give it a thought that TMJ-4 had Owen and me seated right next to each other. But then I noted that someone had the foresight to put Sykes and Taylor in different rooms, because, you know, she would have taken him down. I was never afraid that Owen would dive across the desk and throttle me; of course, I didn't do any of the smug taunting that Sykes did. With that smirk on his face and sleazy insinuations, I wanted to smack the mess out of him myself.

So today I see Sykes is congratulating himself over--you'll think I'm joking here--the size of Green's and Van Hollen's results in Southeast Wisconsin. Check this out (self-stroking italics included):
So, in a race that Doyle won statewide by 7-8 percentage points, he won the state's largest media market, which includes the state's most populous Democratic city and county, by only two-tenths of a percent. In other words, Doyle dramatically under-performed in this media market; Green, who was trounced statewide, dramatically over-performed here. [. . .]

Statewide Van Hollen won by less than half of one percent, but won the Milwaukee Media Market by more than six points, with a margin of 44,200. He won statewide by less than 9,000. Again, Democrat Falk under-performs, while Republican Van Hollen over-performs in the state's largest media market that includes the state's biggest Democratic county.

So what makes the Milwaukee market different from the rest of the state? Could it be.....????
Yes, my friends; as the Spice Boys noted today, he just can't help thinking he alone (well, perhaps also his little protege) was responsible for it all. I can just imagine the look on his face as he found those numbers. His smug ugly smile must have reached into the next office over.

Problem is, he full of crap. And not full of crap in the way that I often call him and his kind full of crap, but almost literally shoveling it out of himself to cover up for the complete and utter failure of the politics he's been pimping for the last decade.

I decided I'd test his numbers. Let's start with the AG's race. Here are the numbers Sykes gives for this week's election in his five-county Milwaukee media market sample:
Kathleen Falk: 305,488 (46.6%)
JB Van Hollen: 349,688 (53.4%)

I went back to the State Elections Board's 2002 data. Statewide, the results were different, of course, with the Democrat, Peg Lautenschlager, winning over the Republican, Vince Biskupic, 51.6% to 48.3%. So what were the numbers in the five-county media market? Glad you asked (rounded to the nearest 100):
Peg Lautenschlager: 249,600 (47.2%)
Vince Biskupic: 278,700 (52.7%)

Let that soak in for a second; the difference in the results here in the five-county Milwaukee media market between 2002 and 2006 is almost nothing. Think about that. Statewide, the Republican's performance between 2002 and 2006 went up 1.7%. In this media market, the Republican's performance between 2002 and 2006 went up only 0.7%. Seems to me Charlie Sykes ought be concerned that he dampened Republican performance among his listeners when it came to the Attorney General vote! He ought to be apologizing, not gloating.

But, you might say, the difference between 2002 and 2006 in the AG's race is almost so small it could just be statistical noise. That's true; it is very small. So let's look at the Governor's race, where the numbers are bigger. Here are Sykes's totals for the five-county sample in 2006:
Jim Doyle: 328,278 (50.1%)
Mark Green: 327,031 (49.9%)

Let's go back to the SEB's 2002 numbers. Statewide, Doyle defeated Republican incumbent Scott McCallum 45.1% to 41.4% (Libertarian Ed Thompson, of course, scored a bit over 10%). So what about our five Milwaukee-area counties? Again, rounded to the nearest 100:
Jim Doyle: 243,100 (44.7%)
Scott McCallum: 256,500 (47.1%)

This is how big of a lying, self-righteous idiot Sykes is: In 2006, this media maket voted for the Democrat--just barely. But in 2002, this media market gave the Republican a victory! So, you might ask, what makes the Milwaukee market different from the rest of the state? Could it be.....????

Yes, it is. Once again, Charlie Sykes shouldn't be sitting around gloating, trying to pat his back so much it bruises. He should be calling Mark Green and offering to commit hari kari because he may have cost Mark Green the race!

Charlie, time to retract. Time to give it up. You lost. If anyone should be gloating, it's us, not you (though I've really tried not to). So stop. Just . . . stop.

Download 2006 set for tomorrow!

Blogger download set for Saturday

One Wisconsin Now and Boots and Sabers present download 2006

Milwaukee - Progressive and Conservative bloggers from across Wisconsin will join together this Saturday, November 11 in Waukesha to discuss the fall elections at download 2006, sponsored by One Wisconsin Now (OWN) and Boots and Sabers.

The event is free and open to the public. Eight bloggers will meet in two separate panels to discuss the results, the media coverage, the ads and the issues in the 2006 elections. An agenda is included below.

What: OWN and Boots and Sabers present download 2006

Waukesha County Technical College,
Richard T. Anderson Educational Conference Center,
800 Main Street in Pewaukee

When: Conference opens at 11 am; panels begin at 12:15 pm.

Who: Bloggers from across the state; the public is encouraged to attend.

"We are excited to provide an opportunity for this dialogue," said John Kraus, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now. "This will be an interesting forum to hear from both progressive and conservative bloggers, as they come together and share their thoughts on the 2006 elections."

Also, in honor of Veteran's Day, OWN and Boots and Sabers are encouraging attendees to bring domestic calling cards of greater than 100 minutes that will be sent to recovering and wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Saturday, November 11, 2006
download 2006

11:00 am -12:00 pm: Meet Up (Food and beverages will be provided)
12:00 pm-12:15 pm: Welcome and introductions
12:15 pm -12:45 pm: Panel 1- Election Results & Media Coverage
* Gretchen Schuldt, Milwaukee Rising
* Cory Liebmann, One Blog
* James Wigderson, Wigderson Library and Pub
* Jenna Pryor, Right off the Shore
12:45 pm - 1:00 Q & A

Break 15 minutes

1:15 pm - 1:45 pm: Panel 2 - Issues and Ads
* Owen Robinson, Boots and Sabers
* Jay Bullock, Folkbum's Rambles and Rants
* Seth Zlotocha, In Effect
* Kevin Binversie, Lakeshore Laments
1:45 pm - 2:00 pm: Q & A


In honor of Veteran's Day we will be collecting domestic calling cards that will be sent to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. for wounded soldiers to call home. 100-500 minute cards are welcome.

For more information, click here.

Friday Random Quotes

A few things I've collected this week. They may or may not tell a story.
This election proves that the Democrats are the mainstream political party. We just elected a socialist from Vermont and a former Reagan official from Virginia to the US Senate. We elected a number of Red State conservatives, true, but we are also going to have a Speaker of the House from San Francisco. We cover a broad swathe, ranging from sea to shining sea with only the most conservative old south remaining firmly in the hands of the Republican party. The idea that this is some sort of affirmation of conservatism is laughable. It's an affirmation of mainstream American values and a rejection of the Republican radicalism this country has been in the grips of for the last 12 years.


Here's the baseline: the overall Democratic share of the congressional vote was about 5 percentage points higher than in 2004. And what you find from the exit polls is that Dems gained 2-7 points in practically every demographic group surveyed. It was an across-the-board sweep, not a victory that depended on any single big electoral shift.

So were there any big changes? Compared to the overall 5-point gain, did Dems get a bigger share of the white evangelical vote? No. Women? No. Young people? No. Low-income voters? No. Self-described conservatives? No. Suburban voters? No. The South? No. The Northeast? No. Any region? No. Dems gained a steady 2-7 points in all these groups.


Democratic candidates won--in every part of the country and regardless of their ideology -- by committing themselves to one basic platform. They vigorously opposed what have become the defining attributes of the Republican Party and they pledged to put a stop to them: unchecked Presidential power, mindless warmongering, a refusal to accept or acknowledge realities (both in Iraq and generally), and the deep-seated, fundamental corruption fueling the Bush movement and sustaining their power.

Virtually every Democratic winner, from the most conservative to the most liberal, in the reddest and bluest states, have that in common. They all ran on a platform of putting a stop to the radicalism, deceit and corruption that drives the so-called "conservative" political movement.


If George Bush wants to continue to wreck America, then there is no way anyone in Congress with a modicum of self-respect and love of country should let him get away with it.

That's easy to say, but what if it means a dangerous constitutional crisis?

Don't answer right away, folks. Stop. Think.

The standard cliche American response to these kinds of challenges is an instantaneous, adrenaline-fueled shout of, "Bring it on!" The intense desire to engage the enemy, mano a mano, to stop all the pussy-footing, and let's get down to it! We can win this thing! Plans? Plans??! I don't need no stinkin' plans! I'm right, I'll win and I'll just let the weak plan what happens then.

And we know how well that works. So step 1 in the post 11/07/06 world is for Dems and liberals not to act like drooling violent morons - because we're not, and anyway, it never works outside a Stallone movie - and think this through. To paraphrase Susan Sontag, we know we're strong. We are going to have to be smart.

In order to confront an out of control, delusional, and ruthless president, the Democrats are going to have to be in control, levelheaded, and prepared to do whatever it takes.


America Says No to Wedgies.