Archive for September, 2009

Why moderate Republicans do not exist

September 30, 2009

Most political commentators classify two Senate Republicans as “moderate.” They Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine. Both are advocates for the environment, support abortion rights and were critics of the Bush administration’s tax policy. Both are popular within the state, however, a new poll about how Maine residents feel about health care indicates why the New England Republican is a practically extinct beast. Political Wire:

A new Democracy Corps poll in Maine finds that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) “enjoys broad support in her home state, but she faces significant political problems if she opposes President Obama’s health insurance reform.” 

Specifically, a Snowe vote against a reform bill “results in Mainers evenly divided on whether she should be re-elected, while support for Obama’s plan produces 53% who want to re-elect Snowe compared to 38% who want someone new as U.S. Senator.”

Save WI newspapers, but what’s a newspaper?

September 30, 2009

Rep. Marlin Schneider is either a strong believer in the free press or he is desperate to get newspapers off his back. Either way, the outcome of this idealism/cynicism may very well be a solid measure to keep local newspapers afloat in Wisconsin:

A Wisconsin state lawmaker known for his rocky relationship with the press wants to save newspapers even though he admits to sometimes hating reporters.

“It’s hard for me because you guys jerk me around all the time,” said Democratic state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a 39-year veteran from Wisconsin Rapids, at a Tuesday news conference. “Some days I hate your guts.”

Schneider said his volatile relationship with the press will protect him from accusations that he’s doing favors for the industry. In recent years Schneider, a privacy advocate, has often clashed with media groups over how much information should be made public through the state’s online court system.

The plan announced by Schneider on Tuesday would make any building associated with newspaper production exempt from property taxes. Currently, printing presses only are exempt. Because it has yet to be formally introduced, there is no cost estimate.

This is a good plan. If passed, there have to be strong protections built in that prevent future lawmakers from using the tax-exempt status to blackmail nosey papers. There are many forms of government media participation which are wrongheaded and run against the tenants of free speech, such as the Fairness Doctrine, which far too many liberals tout as the answer to the cable news catastrophe. We don’t need government regulation, we need government investment. In addition to Schneider’s proposal, there needs to be a serious movement to push for more public media outlets, such as PBS. It would cost so little but do so much.

The inevitable question, however, is what constitutes a newspaper? Can anybody who puts out a newsletter make an attempt at tax-exempt status? There were surely be definitions in the legislation – let’s hope they put up walls to prevent non-news corporations from exploiting the loophole by claiming that they too “put out news.”

Brunch Links

September 30, 2009

As you may notice, the most important news is always on the top. It’s supposed to be sunny with a high of 62 but it’s cold as hell in my room. Eating in Madison provides you another Mexican brunch, courtesy of La Mexicana.

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Wisconsin may become the 44th state to allow women to breast-feed in public. Of course, allowing children to witness the act on television will still be off-limits, thank God.

Looks like Mayor Ryan (not another first-name-basis mayor, that’s his last name) may finally be shown the door. Making jokes about incest apparently cross the line in Sheboygan.

Paul Soglin discusses the new mental health center Kathleen Falk is proposing. Looks like a good opportunity to take advantage of some major federal dollars.

Cognitive Dissidence: Scott Walker’s understanding of collective bargaining.

Who smokes in America? Food workers.

A journalist discusses how the Washington Post is clamping down on journalists’ social media networks and blogs.

While Scott Walker has the luxury of raising zoo fees, the Vilas zoo is in critical need of funds but is constrained by the “free admission forever.”

Don’t you love frat lingo?: “After 5-semester suspension beginning in spring 2006, fraternity gains approval to colonize on campus.”

Eric Schmidt thinks alcoholism is a problem on campus and counseling is needed. Similarly, the Cardinal runs a story on mental health limitations at UW.

UW researcher finds the T. Rex’s doom may have been a miniscule parasite.

Is Lawton viable?

September 29, 2009

Despite my many issues with Kevin Bargnes’ article on Barbara Lawton today, he raises an important question: What the hell is the LG doing right now? Why hasn’t she begun campaigning? Wouldn’t that drive away her opponents faster?

Steve Walters, a columnist at WisOpinion, asks similar questions in a column today. He even gives specific areas of concern for Lawton, including lack of depth on certain issues, such as drunk driving policy and campaign finance. More importantly, how will she distinguish herself from Doyle? What part of his record will she “own?” Walters notes Lawton’s different position on the appointment of the DNR secretary. I will add that she also opposed the governor on tax breaks for film productions.

Scott Walker is not a fiscal conservative

September 29, 2009

There are a variety of factors that I believe will lead to Scott Walker’s electoral defeat next year. First, I believe his record as county executive will be easily tarred-and-feathered, despite his claims of prudence with regard to government services. Second, I do not believe he is as good looking or as charismatic as Barbara Lawton. And lastly, Scott Walker is not a fiscal conservative, as some members of the student press seem to believe, he is a Republican.

Walker is a pure-bred Milwaukee-suburb Repub. He’s not against big government, he’s simply against big progressive government. Take this year’s county budget. While Walker stood strong against increases in property taxes, he nevertheless raised government spending by more than six percent. Does that figure sound familiar? It’s exactly the amount the Democratic legislature increased spending in the state budget this summer. Walker of course used the stimulus funds that he railed so bravely against to offset shortfall created by his refusal to raise taxes, and just like the naughty Spendocrats, Walker raised a variety of fees, including the bus fare.

In case that wasn’t enough socialist tyranny, Walker has increased borrowing by leaps and bounds, and plans to triple county debt next year in order to finance a County stimulus plan. This would be the time to make a joke about Walker opposing that stimulus before taking the money, however, if you’ve watched Walker triangulate on the campaign trail, you know that apparently anything is possible.

Cory Liebmann gives a list of Walker’s contradictions.

Brunch Links

September 29, 2009

G’day Sconnie land. Looks like Fall has officially arrived in temperature as well as in color. High of 56 and low of 34! Brunch courtesy of the Original Pancake House. From the folks at “Eating in Madison A to Z,” of course.

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Tammy Baldwin has a tea party brought to her: “Some booed the idea of high-speed rail for Wisconsin residents and the idea of government-run healthcare.” Sounds like a very forward-thinking crowd.

What do we do with all this new tuition money?

Charter Street Plant is looking to phase out the use of coal. So it will go from visible mountains of it to none?

Vets-for-Vets gets funding, Student Tenant Resource Center does not.

Sean Kittridge: “The Madison Police Department has never encountered a situation that warranted 142 assault rifles, no matter how they’re sighted. In fact, it’s hard to think of the last time anyone on American soil needed that many guns, unless you count the Source Awards and parties at Ted Nugent’s place.”

Kevin Bargnes argues that being executive of Milwaukee County is kind of like being governor. Not really, especially considering that there are serious considerations in Milwaukee to abolish the office.

Cap Times: “A Wisconsin state lawmaker says he wants to save newspapers even though he admits to sometimes hating reporters.”

Cap Times editorial board opines on Jeff Wood and Steve Nass in the most awkward and unconvincing way possible.

Media manipulation in the Badger State

September 28, 2009

I picked up a good flick the other day at Four Star Video that I recommend to my readers interested in campaign politics. Bogeyman: The Lee Atwater Story tells the tale of the late Republican strategist who has come to define the strategy of the modern GOP, and whose legacy lives on through the work of his protégé, Karl Rove. Atwater’s work was defined most by its subtleness. Not only did he understand how to connect his candidate’s message to the electorate, but he knew how to work that message into supposedly pure and unbiased mediums of communication: the press.

The movie came to mind when I read a post at One Wisconsin Now which discusses the Wisconsin media’s dangerous deference  to polls. Any kind of polls. Even ones released by partisan organizations who manipulate the questions to get certain responses, and most importantly, choose which part of the poll is made public.

There was a time when newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would not report on a poll unless it had the entire poll, rather than partial or selective results that are strategically released or leaked to try to shape news coverage of a campaign. The Milwaukee paper would do its own polling.

Perhaps because of lack of resources, those days are “long gone,” says the author. Here’s where it gets interesting:

One firm that has raised a lot of questions from political practitioners — but, unfortunately, not from the media, is Strategic Vision, a Republican strategy firm based in Atlanta (and, it claimed, in Madison). Strategic Vision has released all sorts of polls in Wisconsin in the last few years, all eagerly reported by the news media.

Luckily the pollster community has raised attention about Strategic Vision’s tactics. Nate Silver, the former baseball statistician-turned-political pollster has suggested that SV is not even conducting real polls, but simply making up slightly skewed but plausible results!

As I commented at One Wisconsin, pollsters are not the only problem. There are also the “think tanks” and study groups which claim to be non-partisan but supply selective information to media outlets. Various “taxpayer” advocacy groups come to find immediately. Local papers especially seem to fall victim to this type of manipulation. It is not hard to find a citation from a right-wing interest group in the Badger Herald or Daily Cardinal with no type of disclosure about the group’s political goals. I’m sure the same definitely happens on the left, but I haven’t noticed it as much.

Protecting trees in Madison

September 28, 2009

If you’ve ever seen any of the idealistic city plans for major metropolises in 20 or 30 years, there’s nearly always several striking features of the presentation that you can’t miss. First, there will be tons of windows, not only because they look shiny and cool in the plan but because it opens up the city dwellers to the outside and of course, allows for the use of solar power. Second, they’ll be some kind of prominent public transportation display, such as an above ground high-speed rail reminiscent of the Simpson’s “Monorail.” Last and not least, they’ll be trees and bushes – tons of them. They’ll be hanging from balconies (it will be in style, they promise), climbing up walls, and shading the citizens on the streets from the solar rays which are heating their homes.

So it was not surprising that Madison is looking to invest in some shrubbery itself. Last week the City Council held a meeting on “Preserving and Enhancing the Urban Forest.” Ald. Marsha Rummel headed the idea, and in an email response to some questions I had on the matter, explained how the city could hug trees enough to keep them from going away.

Currently city policies do not include fines for contractors who ruin/damage trees. Currently the ‘specs’ for requests for proposals and subsequent contracts for street work don’t highlight the policies we do have in place for trees. The city’s Forestry section has created a MOU/memorandum of understanding to make tree care more obvious. And when property owners are noticed about public hearings at the Board of Public Works for proposed street work, the risk to trees is not sufficiently emphasized as a possible outcome. Over the years, city forestry has implemented a tree inventory survey to identify and describe trees all over the city. It is not complete yet but when it is, the location of all terrace trees will be findable on GIS, just like underground utilities. this should help improve planning for street recons.

The anguish neighbors felt this summer encouraged me to request that Engineering and Parks to review our practices. As mentioned above, the city has improved practices over the years. Sidwalk ‘sawing’ is a recent innovation, a way to level sidewalks by shaving them instead of digging out and replacing but there is still room to improve. In Milw, the city forester visits every construction site to insure that contractors are taking care when sanitary laterals are placed near trees. It’s not just the curb/sidewalk work but the utility connections to each property that result in excavation potentially on three sides of a terrace tree that put trees at risk. Milwaukee also charges a LOT of money for trees that are damaged when not predicted to be at risk.

Sounds like a good idea. But as Ryan Masse would be sure to tell you, we can’t have a serious talk about urban forestry without including roof gardens in the discussion. I for one would like to see a roof garden on top of the Capitol. Lady Wisconsin can be standing in the middle of it, perhaps with a hoe in hand.

Brunch Links

September 28, 2009

A dreary day is forecasted in weather, but certainly not in Sconz content. High of 58 and rainy. Today’s brunch is for the sweet tooth – courtesy of Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery. Hat-tip to Eating in Madison A to Z of course.

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Legislature Dems are still dodging the question of Rep. Jeff Wood’s new OWI arrest. It helps that Wood is an independent. Even though he caucuses with the Democrats and has become on of their votes, they can avoid association and hence the responsibility that comes with it.

State Sen. Mary Lazich and Russ Feingold apparently have something in common: they believe voters should decide who holds legislative office. Lazich has come out against the Assembly bill that would allow legislators to designate potential “successors” for replacement in the event of an attack that kills an inordinate amount of the body.

What a good use of Sauk County law enforcement: Deputies reported destroying about $5,000 worth of pot plants growing outside on Thomas’ property. Thomas faces up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine on the charge of manufacturing marijuana.” This of course, was after a month long investigation.

Campus Women’s Center is organizing a solidarity campaign in response to being denied GSSF funding.
Although I haven’t formed a real opinion on Michael Pollan’s claims, it was nice to see he called out the bogus claim that over-production in the U.S. is all about “helping the third world.” As he indicates, it often has the opposite effect.
State gets flooded by storms, Fond du Lac gets over $21 million from FEMA for damage.
Scott Walker’s economic plan could be “attractive” to more Milwaukee pols than we thought.
Jay Bullock wonders who’s “crapping” on Milwaukee more, Barrett or Walker?
Cardinal writer mentions “brunch” in article on vegetarianism.
And the Herald uses prefixes inconsistently.

Great student journalism

September 27, 2009

It seems that investigative reporting is spreading like a vicious flu-virus through the Brew City. The Journal-Sentinel is always good for some scoops, especially in light of the ongoing scandal relating to state child care. In this front page article by the UW-Milwaukee Post, student reporters are giving any journalism 101 major a lesson in how to deal with stubborn public officials. The Post recently unearthed the real reason behind the dismissal of a vice chancellor in June by submitting open records requests. However, the university administration has redacted important information from the records, including the “inaccurate and inflammatory” comments that apparently got the official fired.

UWM administration wholly denied this newspaper’s public records request for investigation-related records, telling the Post that the records are protected from release because they were “created under the direction of legal counsel in anticipation of potential litigation,” and that the records are considered attorney-client privileged communications and attorney work product. Santiago would not say whether Mamarchev has threatened to sue.

The university also redacted the statements Mamarchev is accused of making from records it released, citing what is commonly referred to as the “balancing test” in the state’s public records law – an analysis that weighs the public interest in disclosing a record versus the public interest in withholding a record. The administration argues that keeping the statements secret outweighs the public interest in disclosing the statements, because, it says, disclosure “could have a detrimental effect on the privacy and reputational interests of certain individuals.” If UWM employees knew that the university would release “inaccurate and inflammatory statements” about them, the university says it might have difficulty retaining and recruiting employees.

Because the comments were inflammatory and inaccurate, it is in the best interest of the university not to release them? That doesn’t make sense. Was she not fired for them? Why not let students see how right the president’s decision was to fire her if her comments were so inappropriate?

The Post is right in taking these behind-the-scenes interactions with the administration to the front page. It’s the best way to make the comments surface.


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