November 30, 2004
By Stacie Whitacre
It’s all about ownership. The Bush administration has been saying it for awhile now, referring to everything from health-care savings accounts to retirement; this week's announcement, tapping Kellogg chief exec Carlos M. Gutierrez to lead the Commerce department, only cements that.
"I believe in your call for a vibrant, growing entrepreneurial society,” Gutierrez gushed toward the president at a White House ceremony, “Where everyone has the opportunity to experience the joy and the pride of ownership, where everyone can contribute and where everyone can benefit."
I’m sure the Kellogg job cuts and plant closures really help with that whole ownership thing. But I digress.
Americans do seem to have an inherent desire to own things (anyone driving within 10 city blocks of Mayfair Mall on Friday recognizes that). We want our cars and our PlayStations and our fashionable clothing. More importantly, we want to own our own homes, regardless of the circumstances.
The problem with this scenario, however, is that many of us just do not know what we are getting into when we buy a home. There is the oppressive mortgage and the leak in the roof and the lawn that costs too much to let it die, and where did all of these expenses come from?
At least homeowners in over their heads can call roofers and landscapers, or take out a home-equity loan, or, if worse comes to worse, sell and start over. But Bush’s “ownership society” seems to lack worst-case-scenario, or even alternate-case-scenario options. What will we be able to do in this ownership society, should our investment turn out to have cracks in the foundation?
November 28, 2004
Tough on rationality
By Dustin Beilke
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been running an excellent series all week on the maniacal self-abuse that is this state’s corrections system. Look for the fourth and final installment on Monday.
Today’s article does a terrific job of showing how our outrageously expensive system makes our cities and towns less safe and less prosperous by releasing unprecedented numbers of ex-felons into our streets with no rehabilitation, no training, no preparation, and no resources to help them make the transition to life on the outside. MJS goes soft on putting the blame where it belongs, but maybe it is so obvious there is no need to say it out loud: Wisconsin’s bloviating legislators and state constitutional officers (oops, I just said it).
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson and the rest of the shameless hacks took every chance they could to tell us how tough on crime they were to warehouse record numbers of prisoners and cut the “coddling” programs that might improve their lives. The result is a state budget where we can afford to do little other than house prisoners, streets that are decidedly less safe because they are filled with increasingly desperate individuals, and an entire class of people—felons and ex-felons—who have almost no chance at a good life. All of this just to make it easier for a bunch of thoroughly lousy politicians to get re-elected.
One former inmate quoted in the MJS article talked about his self-designed pre-release program: "Days before I was released I would sit in my room, turn the TV off and think about what I was going to do. How was I going to live?”
Another ex-convict MJS interviewed reveals the secret of her post-release program: "I'm getting back into church now, and I just pray every day."
November 26, 2004
The majorities trap
By Bill Kraus
There are many anomalies in politics, but the majority trap is the most evident at the moment.
George W. Bush, like every president (governor, county executive, mayor, whatever) before him made a major effort to elect members of his persuasion to the legislature (country board, city council) so he would have a majority to work with.
He got his wish. Like almost every other political executive who preceded him or did as well, he is now dealing with the problem of answered prayers.
If the congressional committee chairs who are now giving him trouble on the effort to reorganize the intelligence system were Democrats, he would have a public, face-to-face debate and probably find a compromise. Unfortunately they are Republicans. And they are rabbit punching him from behind so face-to-face confrontation is not an option.
There is no reason to expect that this is not the first in a long series of difficulties. The legislators expect their leader to take their lead since they are political kin. Kin join hands. Kin do not compromise. Kin certainly do not confront. Not in public anyway.
The people seem to understand that they are more likely to get a government that works if it is not monolithic. The politicians probably understand it as well but cannot campaign in favor of it.
It's a trap. And the president is caught in it.
November 24, 2004
By Christa Westerberg
Over-stimulation and advertising are par for the course at professional sports events. We expect to be bombarded with flashing lights, heavy-handed announcers, and ads from sponsors. And while it is not pleasant, we can at least comfort ourselves that since pro sports are private (publicly-financed stadium or arena notwithstanding), it is the owner’s prerogative to allow for advertising.
The University of Wisconsin has brought all the commercial splash-and-dash of professional sports to the public university with its newly refurbished Kohl Center. I had not known the Kohl Center had gotten its makeover until I went to a hockey game a few weeks ago. A new scoreboard is adorned with more ads than ever, and the center now sports what is called the “360-degree ring beam.” It is a flashing light board that splays advertising all the way around the arena and actually distracts from events on the court.
The Kohl Center is bold evidence of the way our public universities are being auctioned off to the private sector, and unnecessarily so. We do not need a “360-degree ring beam” to enjoy college competition—I would rather focus on the athletic event at hand than blinking lights and mini-blimps, a la pro sports. Indeed, many people have fled from pro sports precisely because we can’t stand the hyped-up environment. And if you really need extra entertainment during the game, college sports have always offered a great low-tech solution: the band and student section.
November 23, 2004
Sly does not equal Belling
By Dustin Beilke
Madison talk radio host John Sylvester (Sly) should not have called Condoleeza Rice an "Aunt Jemima." The term is offensive to African Americans for good, historical reasons, and its offensiveness is not dependent upon one's political views. In other words, whether or not one agrees with Sylvester that Rice has been a disaster within a disastrous administration, the words still sting the same.
Still, those who equate Sylvester's case with Mark Belling's are overlooking a crucial difference between the two. Milwaukee radio talk host Belling, you might remember, used the term "wetback" a few days before the election in a "discussion" of voter fraud. The difference: Sly's slur was not intended to intimidate members of a racial minority group into not voting during an election.
That kind of context is not typically the sort of thing taken into account by the rightwing attack machine. It usually does not make its way into mainstream newspaper articles about controversial topics, either.
As of this writing, Sly has not been suspended as Belling was (though Belling is now back on the air). If Sly is not fired or suspended there will certainly be an outcry over the difference in their treatment and the appearance of favoritism for the more liberal Sly. But those who will say the two situations are the same will be wrong.
November 19, 2004
By Bill Kraus
A Common Cause member asked the Common Cause board to examine and report on the amount of campaign money that was spent on political advertising in newspapers this year.
My first reaction was to wonder if any was. I remember getting George Soros' political wisdom from a newspaper ad, and a couple of rich mossbacks also told me how much they admired W or how little they thought of John Kerry. But by and large, newspapers were not cluttered with political ads.
Logic would seem to dictate that voters are the best informed, most curious citizens so they must by default be newspaper readers. So why don't we see pages and pages of campaign ads in the daily press.
Because television is clearly the hired guns' medium of choice. As a matter of fact, being a television station owner in an undecided state is the closest thing to having the keys to Fort Knox this year.
If you ask 21st century campaign managers why they use TV so much, you will be told, "Because it works."
If you ask them why they do not use newspapers, you will be told, "Because they don't work."
Nobody seems to ask the follow-up question, "Have you tried them?"
A lot of things in politics defy logic, but these advertising decisions do seem to be particularly puzzling. It could be that voters are more susceptible to emotional than factual media appeals. Or could it be that the money is in TV? The money for the hired guns that is.
November 17, 2004
By Stacie Whitacre
My tenure as the curiosity known as a progressive Democrat in Waukesha County ended The Morning After The Election, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a moving truck. As the text message appeared on my cell phone -- “Kerry conceded” -- I exhaustedly directed the movers to my new home in Milwaukee.
I have often been asked what it was like, being a progressive in one of the reddest counties in the nation; I have never really known how to answer. At times, it was frustrating, walking downtown and seeing the permanent Republican offices; riding along Bluemound and meeting the middle finger of other drivers who didn’t care for my bumper stickers. At other times, it was actually comforting -- my house was in the middle of one of the few Democratic neighborhoods in the city; my Kerry, Kennedy and Feingold signs matched those in the yards around me, and along that small block, I felt I belonged.
If I had to answer now, though, I would say it was empowering. There are more of us than you think in Waukesha, but many are afraid to come out and say so. “Ooh, don’t tell anyone, but I’m one of you.” Those of us willing to speak out, spoke louder. People think our voices were drowned in a sea of Republican platitudes; the narcissist in me would like to think I was able to out-shout the din, even if, at times, I felt I was shouting alone.
I know intellectually that the more people speaking out -- in different voices, but with a common goal -- the more people will pay attention. Still, I cannot help but wonder, just a little, if my voice will seem muted among the many in Milwaukee. But I will still keep hollering. Whether we feel we are in Republican Hell, Progressive Paradise or somewhere in between...we all need to figure out how to be heard.
(Editors' note: Stacie Whitacre maintains The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy Web log.)
November 16, 2004
Action, Wisconsin (and Minnesota)
By Dustin Beilke
None of the 11 anti-gay initiatives that passed in states throughout the nation on November 2 were as extreme as the one that passed the Wisconsin Legislature last session and will come before it again in the next session. If it passes a second time it will go to a statewide referendum. This is bad news and good news, oddly, as it puts Wisconsin in a position to be either the gay-bashing capitol of this great, moral nation or the first state to vote one of these stupid, insulting referendum initiatives down.
Action Wisconsin is optimistic that the referendum can be defeated. If it can be exposed for the extremist measure that it is then its extremism could work against it. A majority of voters do not want to think of themselves as gay bashers. You can sign an online petition against the Wisconsin referendum and find out more about Wisconsin's embarassing Legislature on the Action Wisconsin Web site.
Action Wisconsin is co-hosting a forum on the UW-Superior campus tonight with OutFront Minnesota and a number of organizations from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois that care about human dignity and civil rights. The forum's leaders will discuss the Wisconsin referendum and other anti-gay legislation in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most importantly, they will talk about how to organize against it.
November 12, 2004
Getting on the short agenda
By Bill Kraus
In this new political era where the legislative leaders have amassed most of the power and where the leaders in the majority have most of the most of the power,* if your agenda is not on their agenda, your agenda is going nowhere.
This fact of political life made the leadership elections of state Senators Dale Schultz and Judy Robson this week extraordinarily important.
Be assured that we are going to hear a lot about tax freezes and gay marriage rights, even gun owners in the next session, but cleaning up the money-driven mess that afflicts our otherwise cleaned up, pristine even, state Capitol is also going to be on the agenda.
I rejoice. Everyone should.
*Power is finite. If I have it, you do not. The legislative leaders have it. You and I do not.
November 10, 2004
By Dustin Beilke
Both of the new leaders in the Wisconsin Senate were a surprise, and both surprises were pleasant.
We knew Dale Schultz was seeking the position, but the conventional wisdom was that wing nut Scott Fitzgerald had the votes. It is a stretch to call Schultz a moderate, but these terms are relative, and most of Wisconsin's elected Republicans are more whacko than Schultz.
Senator Judy Robson was an even bigger surprise on the Democratic side. She is perhaps the most progressive of the 14 Democratic Senators and a frequent contributor to FightingBob.com. Her election can only be a good thing.
While all of the post-November 2 attention has been focused on evangelical Christians and their so-called morals, these leadership elections in the Senate show that the landscape in Wisconsin has shifted ever so slightly to the left, not the right. Kerry improved on Gore's margin here while losing ground just about everywhere else, and Feingold's margin over Tim Michels was much greater than it was six years ago against Mark Neumann, who was even nuttier than Michels.
While Republicans increased the size of their majorities in both houses in Wisconsin on November 2, the elections showed them there are limits to what they can get away with when it comes to rhetoric. And Democrats feel confident enough to put their most outspoken progressive in a position to get more phone calls from reporters.
And when was the last time you saw "Wisconsin Democrats" and "confident" in the same sentence?
November 7, 2004
Beyond November 2
By Dustin Beilke
While Greg Palast and others make good cases for why we should count the votes again, Arianna Huffington makes the case that Kerry lost the election—Bush didn’t win it—no matter what the vote totals say. The first line in Huffington's latest Alternet column is “This election was not stolen.”
In its dogged pursuit of the mythical “undecided voter,” the Democratic machine that ran Kerry’s campaign muted the winning message Kerry sometimes delivered on the war and corporate corruption for fear of offending the delicate sensibilities of people who do not know what they believe. What voters were left with—undecided or otherwise—was a choice between a president they disagreed with and a candidate who lacked a discernable vision or moral compass. Huffington does not mention it, but if she is right this may account for why three times as many Democratic voters abandoned Kerry as Republican voters who did not vote for Bush.
Proof that the Democratic message is a winning one can be found in the positive results on November 2 at the state level throughout the nation. While things look grim at the federal level where Democratic Party institutional thinking dominates campaigns, Democrats fared much better when they were more free to deliver a Democratic message. Daily Kos compares state elections to AAA baseball—because this is the last stop before most candidates run for federal office—and the blog site does a good job of breaking down the numbers.
Count Every Vote 2004
By Dustin Beilke
We would be remiss if we overlooked the spate of articles and blog entries making solid cases for vote mis-counting in the presidential election.
Greg Palast goes so far as to declare that Kerry won the election by getting more votes than Bush in Ohio and New Mexico. And Palast is hard to dismiss, since he is the investigative reporter who so thoroughly documented the disenfranchisement of African American voters in Katharine Harris’s Florida in 2000. Palast was also a featured speaker at Fighting Bob Fest II in 2003.
The thing that is hard for so many of us to get over is the gap between the exit polls in some key states and the official vote totals. Exit polls are historically accurate—more accurate than phone polls—and they were accurate this year in just about every state that was not populated by Democratic and Republican operatives and Diebold voting machines.
This might be a good place to say that progressive activists and alternative media outlets have been sending out warnings about Diebold’s Republican voting machines for the last three years, but the story never gained traction in the mainstream media. It seemed like a pretty good story to me.
November 5, 2004
By Bill Kraus
A flawed opponent is still the political gods' greatest gift.
Poor losers almost always blame the voters.
It is still possible for outsiders and their money to hijack campaigns, particularly at the lower level where the candidates' resources are more easily overwhelmed.
The hired guns at the front line of the campaign industry are wedded to attack campaigns, and the more personal the better. They contend that these campaigns work. This, of course, will continue to be true until and unless someone rejects their advice and tries something more civil and idea-based.
The partisans of both stripes continue to be surprised that they are not admitted to campaign events featuring the candidates of the opposite persuasion. It is hard to believe that they have not noticed that these audiences are props for the larger, wider audience that the TV coverage of the event will reach. Since TV would naturally be drawn to dissonance and controversy during these scripted shows, any possible source of either of the above is barred at the door.
November 4, 2004
Be more like Feingold
By John Stauber
As Democrats prepare to review their successes and failures in the wake of November 2, we need to do everything we can to assure that they do not overlook the example of Russ Feingold.
Feingold was the only U.S. Senator who had the courage and the commitment to civil liberties to vote against the Patriot Act in the weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11.
Fast forward to the fall of 2002 and the run-up to Bush's war on Iraq. A majority of Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, John Edwards and John Kerry, voted to give President Bush the authority to attack Saddam Hussein. Feingold voted against the war. I spoke at the time with a Feingold staff member who worried that these two votes would doom Feingold in his 2004 race for re-election. "We'll be bashed viciously as weak on terror and anti-war, they'll trash us mercilessly and it will cost Russ his race."
That is probably just what advisors to Kerry and Edwards were thinking. Indeed, Feingold's Republican opponent Tim Michels dumped more than a million dollars of his own money into an aggressive advertising campaign skewering Feingold as weak on terror and not supportive of the troops. However, Feingold’s margin of victory over Michels was so large on November 2 that A.P. called the race the moment the polls closed.
Feingold proves that an anti-war, populist Democrat, a maverick campaigning to get big money out of politics, can win and win big. But given a choice between a real Republican and a Democrat such as John Kerry who voted for the war and for the Patriot Act, many voters will choose the Republican. Feingold shows that principles, civility, courage and conviction can be part of a winning strategy.
November 2, 2004
Voter suppression--Milwaukee style
By Dustin Beilke
As Republicans throughout the United States explore all their options to make sure fewer people vote today, here in Wisconsin the vote-suppression efforts are all racist in nature. While Republicans in other states have tried to prevent college students, senior citizens, homeless people, new voters--basically anyone who is not a fundamentalist Christian or a multi-millionaire--from voting, Wisconsin's vote suppressors have stuck with what they know: disenfranchising people of color. We are, after all, home to the nation's most segregated city.
The Republican Party challenged 5,600 registrations in Milwaukee without bothering to compile any proof. They figured just saying the questionable voters are not white would be enough.
Rightwing Milwaukee radio "host" Mark Belling used the term "wetback" on the air a few days ago in hopes of driving Hispanic voters away from the polls in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the Belling abomination in its TV section and did a thorough report on the Republican Party's attempts to turn back the clock in Milwaukee, but ignored altogether the distribution of an outrageous handbill warning African American voters that their children will be taken away from them if they vote illegally. It is worth noting that every single line of this handbill contains at least one outright lie. My favorite line (in all capital letters): "If anybody in your family has ever been found guilty of anything you can't vote in the presidential election."
A Cudahy-based blogger saw one of the racist handbills, scanned it, and brought it to the attention of the DailyKos political blog. DailyKos has millions of readers nationwide, all of whom now understand that race relations in Milwaukee have not evolved in the last 50 years.
This election is serious, but….
By Barry Levenson
Is the campaign getting you down? Does the thought of four more years depress you beyond words? Are you looking for the silver lining in the dark clouds above? Hope is on the way, my friend.
I visited the Master On The Mountain last week and he shared with me these twelve deep thoughts, which I now share with you:
1. The man with two hearts is to be trusted far above the man with three heads.
2. Wisdom and honor are the rare and poignant virtues of the few; discounts on tires are the common and shallow virtues of the many.
3. When plastic is plentiful, kindness is scarce.
4. In any list of twelve morsels of wisdom, the fourth is always the most profound.
5. Never trust a hairy gardener for he is often loath to adequately trim the shrubs.
6. Stale bread and religion have much in common, but I can’t think of any examples right now.
7. The sign “Void Where Prohibited” in the urologist’s office is likely to cause confusion.
8. A short nap with a good pillow does more good than a long sleep with a cement block.
9. The stick-and-carrot approach may not be such a good idea when it means beating someone with a stick and then beating him with a carrot.
10. There is no good reason for bringing a monkey to a clown’s funeral.
11. Teaching a man to fish is a cruel joke when the waters are all contaminated.
12. Changing the oil in your car extends the life of your engine; changing the oil policy in your government extends the life of your country.