Friday, November 30, 2007

"Republicans Report Much Better Mental Health Than Others"

Matt Drudge linked to this Gallup Poll which claims to show that Republicans have significantly better mental health than Democrats. Conservatives will probably have a lot of fun with this, but the poll is probably worthless because Gallup doesn't address the single biggest source of inaccuracy in any such poll: Self-reporting bias.

Unless you know that conservatives are just as likely to report mental health issues as moderates and liberals, or you understand and correct for any such bias, the data is garbage. Given the stigma still attached to mental illness among more traditional social and religious groups, members of those groups are almost certain to underreport symptoms of mental illness. For a simple but good discussion of the some of the ways surveys and studies can be biased see this web page.

To understand self-reporting bias, consider a survey asking people if they're gay. How many conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, would admit being gay to a pollster when most of them can't even admit it to themselves. Think Larry Craig and you'll understand why Gallup probably has this wrong.

Monday, November 26, 2007

WI Senate Partisan Voter Index Ratings

The scorecard above shows Wisconsin State Senate districts sorted from the most Republican to the most Democratic based on their Partisan Voter Index (PVI), which is a simple measure of how strongly a political district leans towards one party or another compared to the area as a whole. Red seats are Republican and blue are Democratic. PVI doesn't decide races, but it's a good measure of the overall political landscape.

Based on the chart it's easy to see which seats are likely to be toughest in 2008. For Dems it's going to be Breske and Hansen, and for Republicans it's going to be Kapanke. Breske's long tenure gives him an advantage, and Hansen was first elected in 2000 which helps, but Kapanke looks mighty vulnerable as a first term incumbent.

PVI was developed by Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report specifically for comparing US congressional districts, so I'm taking some liberty by using the term for a similar measure of state electoral districts. The underlying statistical analysis is essentially the same except that the results are normalized to state rather than federal presidential election results.

To calculate the PVI for each district I totaled the presidential results for every ward in that district and then adjusted for the statewide results. There are more than 3500 wards in Wisconsin so this was a bit of a job although I automated much of it. I also simplified things by using only the 2004 presidential election. Cook uses the two most recent elections, but doing so would greatly increase the work required because I'd have to manually adjust for ward changes resulting from the 2002 redistricting. I don't exactly get paid for doing this stuff...

I'm working on a similar analysis for Assembly districts, so watch for that in the near future.

Monday, November 19, 2007

WI Presidential Head-to-Head Poll

Lots to blog about now that my race for Chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County is over. I'll talk about my defeat later, but I spotted this Survey USA poll and it's nice to see Wisconsin getting at least a little attention. All the usual caveats apply, keep in mind this is registered, not likely, voters, and unfortunately Edwards wasn't included:

(Click on image for larger version)

Clinton vs. McCain - Clinton wins by 2%
Clinton vs. Giuliani - Clinton wins by 7%
Clinton vs. Romney - Clinton wins by 16%
Clinton vs. Huckabee - Clinton wins by 17%

Obama vs. McCain - Obama loses by 4%
Obama vs. Giuliani - Obama wins by 5%
Obama vs. Romney - Obama wins by 12%
Obama vs. Huckabee - Obama wins by 17%

At this point the results are probably due more to name recognition and the generic Democratic advantage than "real" factors that will come into play as we get closer to the election next fall. Dems win every matchup except Obama vs. McCain. Clinton is significantly stronger than Obama against McCain and Romney, although not against Giuliani or Huckabee.

As usual, the real entertainment is in the crosstabs. For instance, Clinton crushes the Republican candidates among female voters. The gender gap is alive and well! But the age distribution contains good news and bad news. The good news is that young voters in Wisconsin are becoming strongly Democratic. The bad news is that they tend not to actually vote, at least compared to older voters. This means that any Wisconsin poll of registered voters, as opposed to likely voters, is probably going to be biased Democratic.

The age factor is mitigated somewhat here because voters 55 and up tilt significantly Democratic in most of these matchups, and they vote at higher rates than middle-aged voters. McCain is the exception because he has strong support among older voters. His actual numbers are probably a few percent better than the poll indicates, meaning he would likely beat Clinton as well as Obama here in Wisconsin.


I have some interesting projects on tap. I've calculated the Partisan Voter Index* (PVI) for each Wisconsin Senate district, and I'm working on the Assembly. This sort of data is hard to find for state races because it requires an analysis of election returns for each of the more than 3500 wards in the state. A lot of work, but I've automated much of it so it's only slightly painful. Political professionals have these numbers, of course, but they tend to be rather reluctant to share them.

My loss in the Dane Dems Chair's race also puts me in the interesting position of no longer being a member of the Dane Dems executive board. As a board member I was largely ineffective in achieving the changes and reforms I wanted, yet due to my position on the board I was reluctant to bring many of those issues to public attention. Those constraints no longer apply, opening up some intriguing new possibilities for building a bigger, better, and stronger Democratic Party.

*Technically the PVI as developed by Cook only applies to federal races, so I'm taking some liberties with the term even though the data analysis for state races is essentially the same as for federal races.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reflections on Racism

When I was eleven or twelve I accidentally walked in on a poker game my uncle was having with a bunch of his buddies. They had been drinking all afternoon, and my uncle tended towards mean even when he was sober, so I tried to back out without getting noticed.

I didn't make it. My uncle spotted me, spun around, and suddenly I was looking down the barrel of his old Colt .45 revolver. He waved it around in my face and yelled "Know what this is boy? It's a nigger gun! Any niggers come 'round here and we're gonna take good care of 'em!" I was scared out of my wits, and it must have showed because the men all howled with drunken laughter. When my uncle finally got tired of his little game and put the gun down I cleared out of there in a mighty big hurry.

My uncle didn't live in rural Mississippi or Louisiana. This little incident happened about 1970 in a nice middle class Boston suburb. Even at that time, and even in the liberal northeast, my uncle's attitude wasn't that unusual, although few people expressed it so openly.

My uncle is dead, and his racism died with him. His children, now middle-aged, show no signs that they inherited their father's beliefs. His kids grew up in a time and place where racism, though still pervasive, was considered increasingly unacceptable. True racists rarely change, but they do eventually die, and that's how the world changes.

Given the recent events in Jena, I thought that it would be appropriate to reflect on how much has changed in our country, and how much more needs to be done. It's easy to forget just how far we've come in the last few decades, but it's even easier to overlook how much of a problem racism still is.

A good measure of overt racism is public attitudes towards interracial marriage. The Gallop Poll has tracked American views on that subject for almost fifty years. In 1958, the year I was born, only four percent of Americans approved of mixed race marriages. Today it's almost eighty percent. That's an astonishing change in less than two generations, yet one in seven Americans still has a problem with interracial marriage. The chart below shows the historical trend. Click it to see a larger version.

Today racism is usually more subtle. Discrimination persists in education, employment, housing, and law enforcement, but it's often masked by poverty. Conservatives, as well as some on the left, excuse these things simply as economic reality, the free market treating poor people like poor people, but there's more to it than that. All else being equal, skin color still is a big factor in where you start, and end up, in American society. (Yes, I can back that up with hard data if any of my conservative friends are wondering)

Beating racism is an unfinished job, and our biggest enemy is complacency. The problem is rarely as obvious as the events in Jena, but we must look beyond the individuals involved and focus on the culture that shaped their attitudes. In time the old racists in Jena will die out. Our real challenge is to ensure that they aren't replaced.

Friday, August 10, 2007

That's Gotta Hurt...

How can you tell when your presidential campaign is tanking? Well, it might be a hint if your support has dropped so much that voters in your own party are four times as likely to vote for a candidate from another party than for you.

In a poll just released by the University of Iowa, Barack Obama gets almost four times as much support from Republican voters in Iowa as John McCain does, 6.7% to 1.8%. McCain's support was 14.4% in March.


Turns out that among Iowa Republican voters Obama beats every Republican except Romney (21.8%) and Guliani (10%). Not bad for a Dem!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Howard Dean at the 2007 YearlyKos Convention!

DNC Chair Howard Dean gave a great keynote address at the 2007 YearlyKos convention! Reminded me why I supported him for president four years ago. You can hear Dean using the player below (click twice if using IE), or download a high-quality (8 MB) mp3 by right-clicking on this link and saving. The speech is about half an hour long, but it's well worth the time.

You can also watch Dean's speech here, but it was streamed live and the video quality is pretty bad, more like a web cam than a regular TV feed. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find anything better.

Feel free to repost the mp3 or use it on your own site, but I'd appreciate credit and a link back to my blog. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Geopolitical History of the Worlds Major Religions - In 90 Seconds!

I'm not very good at memorization. That's one reason why I like to use graphs to put historical and political data into visual form. Here's a rather extreme but superb example of visual history from a website called Maps-of-War. I can't vouch for its accuracy, and it's rather simplified (although I guess that's what you'd expect when you cram 3000 years of history into 90 seconds), but it does seem to agree with what little I know of world religions. Enjoy!

Presidential Fundraising Skyrockets - But Dems Kick Ass!

I know, old pun. But take a look at the chart below I compiled from information released by The Campaign Finance Institute (great organization, check them out!). It compares presidential campaign fundraising, up to and including the 2nd quarter of the odd year preceding the election, for this and several previous election cycles.

It's rather shocking how much total fundraising has gone up. It's two and a half times higher now than at this point four years ago. But look at the Democratic/Republican trend. Comparing 1999, the last cycle with an open seat, to 2007, Republicans have almost doubled their fundraising, but Democrats have increased theirs by a factor of five!

Like it or not, and I don't, money buys elections. Democrats are now more than competitive in the presidential money race, and that does bode well for 2008.

There are lots more goodies in the Campaign Finance Institute report that I'll be writing about over the next few days, including small verses large donor info for all the current presidential candidates. Which major Democratic candidate raises a larger percentage of money from large donors than most Republicans? Stay tuned!

Irony Part 2 - Do As I Say...

The entire Bush administration may be a bunch of incompetent idiots, but at least they're entertaining. This is word-for-word from a Voice of America (VOA) story. VOA is our government-sponsored overseas broadcast and news service:

"President Bush has signed an order that allows the U.S. government to block the assets of any person or group that threatens the stability of Iraq."

"The order exempts the United States".

Irony Part 1 - Supporting Our Troops

It seems President Bush objects to Congress' current attempt to give a 3.5% pay raise to our troops because it would cost too much. The logic behind Bush's position, as expressed in a "Statement of Administration Policy" he sent to Senate leaders: The extra pay for our troops is money "that would otherwise be available to support our troops".

You can't make this stuff up...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Random Thoughts on Libby

1. Based on a Survey USA poll Bush's decision to commute Libby's prison sentence is opposed by about 60% of Americans who are familiar with the issue. My guess is that this will end up more like 70-30 when all is said and done. Of course, to a president with a 26% approval rating that thirty to forty percent must look pretty good.

2. The 40% who approve of Bush’s action or think he didn’t go far enough and should have given Libby a full pardon are traitors. Ask any CIA officer. I did.

3. Regardless of the opposition, Bush honestly believes this isn't going to hurt him politically. The administration typically announces damaging news late on Friday afternoons, yet they didn't do that in this case.

4. If I was in the CIA I'd be mad as hell. Bush just spit in the face of the CIA (again), and I'm not sure that's a smart move for somebody who needs the CIA to provide slanted intel to cover his ass for an attack on Iran, just as they did for Iraq.

5. Corollary to number three: Having the CIA even madder at Bush probably slightly reduces the chances of us attacking Iran.

6. A fight between the CIA and the President could have minor side effects, such as jeopardizing national security. Of course the Bush crew doesn't care much about national security or they wouldn't have outed Valerie Plame in the first place.

7. The Washington Post is reporting that, in a rather extraordinary breech of precedent, Bush didn't consult with the Justice Department or with Patrick Fitzgerald, the chief prosecutor, before making his decision. Who needs advice when God tells you what to do?

8. Bush has essentially set the market price for outing CIA agents at a quarter million dollars. Seems to me that this is awfully cheap, and will be a very regrettable precedent...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Want a job? Elect a Democrat!

I saw a press release recently from the DNC claiming that far more jobs were created under Clinton than under Bush. Not exactly news, but it got me wondering if there was a historical trend in terms of job creation under Democratic verses Republican presidents.

Turns out there is, and the difference is HUGE, an average of 2.1 million jobs per year for Democrats verses 1.1 million per year for Republicans since 1939 when the government first started collecting employment data. Here's a chart showing average yearly job creation under every president since Roosevelt:

(Click on image for a larger version)

I made the chart using data from the Department of Labor. Republicans can claim that one or two Presidents represent an aberration, but it's hard to argue with seventy years of data. Proof that if you work for a living you should vote Democratic!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

R.I.P. Jerry Falwell

(Ripped off from I couldn't resist...)

UPDATE: For those of you who don't have kids of the right age to have experienced the Teletubbies phenomena up close and personal, as I have, here's your big chance! Check out this video of the show, but be sure to stop as soon as you feel nauseous. The LD50 is quite low. If you survived that ordeal you're now ready to experience the true value of the Teletubbes as a vehicle for social commentary. Here are three diverse examples I've carefully selected for your viewing pleasure:

The Teletubbies 'Lean Wit It'
The Teletubbies and George Bush
The Teletubbies in "Die Tubbie Die!!!"

Now, don't you feel at least a little sympathy for Jerry?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kathleen Falk: Next Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair?

I ran into something rather interesting as I was perusing Democratic Underground last night:
Draino Thu Mar-29-07 10:36 PM
Kathleen Falk to run for DPW Chair?

Word on the Capitol Square is that Joe Wineke is out and Kathleen Falk has been anointed for DPW Chair. The Big Divider now wants to be a Uniter.

It's questionable whether a candidate who couldn't carry her own county in a statewide race is the best choice to lead the party. Nonetheless, if Jim Doyle has given his blessing, it would bode well for Falk's chances.

This might be a smart political move for Falk. She sorely needs to rehabilitate her image after tanking the AG's race in a year when nearly every race fell for Dems. Falk would have a statewide platform to boost her Dem credentials from and more importantly, accumulate prized contacts while fundraising for the party. Raising money is Falk's strong suit. Expect that to be one of the pillars of her campaign for chair if this comes to pass.
Without knowing who the source is I wouldn't normally give a rumor like this much credence, but I heard a slightly more elaborate version a day or two ago, so it's clearly making the rounds inside the party. Assuming, if only for the sake of entertainment, that's it's true, there are some interesting ramifications.

The first is that Joe Wineke isn't going to run for reelection. Kathleen would only be running for chair if she was Doyle's candidate, so her run would be coordinated with Joe's retirement. This would also indicate that Senator Lena Taylor, the current first vice-chair, won't be running again.

Draino points out some obvious benefits to Kathleen, but it's not clear to me that things would be that simple. There isn't much of a precedent for a sitting elected official also serving as DPW chair, so presumably Kathleen would step down as Dane County Executive. Due to her AG run she already has her ducks in a row in terms of succession on the County Board, so that transition should be relatively easy. But on the far end it might be more difficult. Serving in such an obviously partisan position as party chair might make it harder to appeal to swing voters in a later run for statewide office. It's certainly been done before, Herb Kohl ran successfully for US Senate after serving as party chair, but he took a fairly long break in between and he has more money than God.

There are some factors that could complicate Kathleen's run for chair. Since she hasn't been very active inside the party, she would likely be seen by many Dems, with some justification, as a carpetbagger. Kathleen would have to work very hard to convince party members that she wasn't using the chair simply as a stepping stone for higher office which, given her history, might be a rather tough sell.

There's also the matter of Peg Lautenschlager. Peg was, and is, far more popular inside the party than Kathleen, and a lot of Democrats are still steamed about the AG primary. Those Dems are unlikely to support Kathleen, but a bigger issue is that Kathleen earned a reputation as someone who divides, rather than unites, the Democratic party. That perception will be difficult to overcome.

But none of this matters if Kathleen is the only candidate for chair, and I haven't heard of anybody willing to risk Doyle's wrath by running against his chosen slate. But if a viable challenger does pop up, watch for a bait and switch routine just the like last time when Linda Honold ran as a popular incumbent, was reelected, then stepped down so Joe could take over. If Joe runs for chair and Kathleen for first vice chair you'll know what's coming...

CORRECTION: I made a mistake in the last paragraph. In 2005 Joe Wineke ran for chair and Linda Honold for first vice chair, not the other way around. Linda did step down shortly after being elected, and Lena Taylor was appointed to the position. Sorry it tool so long to fix this, but Blogger has been down.

The Company We Keep

UPDATE: Several people have questioned the accuracy of my claim that Maya hired FLS-DCI, or they've implied that it was a third party, not Maya's campaign, who hired them. The proof is on page six of Maya's July 2006 campaign finance report. I linked to it below, but just to be more clear, here's the URL:

The pertinent line reads:

05/03/06 | Arizona FLS | Phone Bank | $1,451.60


What does a Madison School Board race have to do with Karl Rove?

In yet another odd case of politics making for very strange bedfellows, it turns out that School Board candidate Maya Cole hired a telemarketing company called Arizona FLS, also known as FLS Connect and FLS-DCI, during her 2005 campaign. FLS has a rather exclusive clientele, and it's not exactly what you would associate with a Madison progressive. Their customers include the Bush/Cheney campaign, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association, Exxon, the NRA, the rather repressive military government of Myanmar (Burma), and, closer to home, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

But what really got me was this quote prominently featured on the FLS homepage:
“I know these guys well. They become partners with the campaigns they work with. From designing the program to drafting the scripts; from selecting targets to making the calls in a professional successful way, they work as hard to win your races as you do.” - Karl Rove
One of FLS-DCI's specialties is creating astroturf groups, fake grassroots organizations that are actually paid PR and lobbying campaigns. They've been tied to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that attacked Kerry in '04, and Voices for Choices, a front group that lobbies for AT&T (check out this previous post for a little local AT&T intrigue). One of FLS-DCI's more interesting exploits was creating this flash video mocking Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth":

It created quite a stir on YouTube, and fooled a lot people until The Wall Street Journal exposed it as a paid political hit piece.

So why would Maya give her money to an outfit that's basically trying to destroy everything she claims to believes in? My guess is that she didn't have a clue about FLS-DCI, and was just told to use them by one of her campaign advisors.

One of the reasons I'm supporting Maya's opponent, Marj Passman, is that in both her current and previous campaigns Maya has chosen to surround herself with people who represent the exact opposite of the progressive values she claims to stand for. To be fair to Maya, and I do believe she really is a progressive, I know she felt forced to do so because she's been largely locked out of the Madison political machine. But you're known by the company you keep, and I wouldn't be caught dead with some of Maya's current buddies.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I Wish...

I can't stand all the presidential campaign crap starting so soon! Wait a minute ... did she say Nader up six? Where's my shotgun!

Click on the image for a larger readable version. Actually, I don't have a shotgun. Too messy for politics. But a Taser might be useful...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Joe Wineke and John Gard Sitting In A Tree...

Say it ain't so, Joe!

Politics certainly makes for strange bedfellows, but here's an unusually odd pair: Joe Wineke and Jeff Schoenfeldt. Joe wrote a letter, published in today's issue of the Fitchburg Star, endorsing Jeff for Fitchburg city council.

Only thing is, Joe is the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and Jeff just happens to have been a longtime aide to none other than Republican John Gard!

Since Joe would never endorse a Republican, much less one who spent years carrying water for John Gard and friends, I'm sure that Jeff must have very recently undergone a miraculous conversion into a true-blue, card-carrying Democrat. Right?

Or maybe it has something to do with AT&T. You see, Jeff is a lobbyist for AT&T, and it looks like Joe has also fed at the AT&T trough. A little birdie told me that a high AT&T muckety-muck personally asked Joe to get involved in the Fitchburg race, so as a favor Joe obliged.

AT&T is working really hard right now to make, or buy, as many political friends as possible in order to persuade the legislature to pass, and Doyle to sign, the "Screw Everyone in Wisconsin Act", although they prefer to call it the Montgomery-Plale Cable Video bill.

This astonishing piece of legislation takes so much from Wisconsin consumers and taxpayers, and gives so much to AT&T, that it wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell if not for all of AT&T's newfound friends in high places. Friends who are willing to sell out the people they represent in order to cash in on the AT&T gravy train. I certainly hope Joe isn't in that group, but it's really up to him to show where he stands.

It's bizarre that Joe didn't think anybody would notice the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin endorsing a John Gard Republican, and realize that it might make some Democrats just a little bit upset. But hey, it's a nonpartisan race, so maybe Joe figured that makes it all OK.

The other candidate in the Fitchburg race is a Libertarian named Jay Allen. From what I can tell, Allen, though far from perfect, would be preferable to Schoenfeldt from the point of view of most Democrats, something Joe really should have looked into before he publicly inserted his foot into his mouth.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Costs of War

As a liberal who is strongly and actively opposed to the war in Iraq, I've been challenged many times as to why I didn't serve in the military. Although I've never shared my story before, and it's difficult for me to write this now, it is perhaps the appropriate time. Today marks the 4th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, and it seems only now are many of the physical and mental costs paid by those who have fought in Iraq becoming apparent to the American people. But all wars extract a similar toll, and my tale is that of the terrible price paid by an American soldier, and his family, in another unnecessary and immoral war a generation ago.

If you've been following the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal you've probably seen the following quote by George Washington:

"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
Powerful words. They've been engraved on memorials and cited by dozens of veterans groups, members of congress, and US senators, including presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. They have a very personal meaning for me.

I'm an Army brat. Both my parents were in the military, and my father was a major in the US Army Special Forces, a Green Beret. He served on and off for nearly ten years in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, starting in the late 1950s, and during that time he developed a progressive psychosis that today would probably be diagnosed as PTSD. But back then there was an unwillingness, particularly among elite forces, to accept that combat stress often causes mental illness, and there was a severe stigma attached to any service member who sought or accepted what little treatment was available. Symptoms were often ignored or discounted, and you pretty much just had to deal with it and get better on your own.

Or not. Despite the best efforts of my mother, who spent a couple of years trying to get the Army to recognize that my father was slowly deteriorating mentally, they refused to even evaluate him. My father, of course, denied there was anything wrong, because admitting to it would have ended his beloved military career. As long as he was more or less able to do his job the Army could, and did, pretend that he couldn't possibly be mentally ill, and therefore the problem was really just my mother, who was upset that he was being sent on so many combat tours away from his family.

The result was sadly predictable. When I was nine years old the whole facade crumbled. After a series of increasingly violent incidents involving my father, incidents that were intentionally covered up or minimized by the Army, something finally happened that they couldn't brush aside. First-degree attempted murder, three counts.

My father's intended victims? My mother and two other family members.

The Army, no longer able to deny or hide the fact that my father had become dangerous and unpredictable, took him into custody and then institutionalized him. They finally accepted that my mother had been right all along, but it was far too late for any sort of happy ending. My father's illness was by then so advanced, and he was considered such a threat to medical staff, that the "treatment" they recommended for him was a lobotomy followed by indefinite confinement. Although my mother was able to block the lobotomy, at that time there was very little that could be done to help someone in my father's condition, and he remained institutionalized for many years. Our family was devastated, and I never saw my dad again after his arrest on that winter's night in 1967.

By neglecting to respond to my father's clear symptoms of developing mental illness, and continuing to send him back into combat despite all the warning signs, the Army destroyed a great man. A man who proudly and willingly dedicated his life to serving our country. A man who, in return, deserved not only the appreciation of his county, as Washington said, but also the concern and care that might possibly have prevented his descent into insanity and all the suffering that resulted.

No matter how you feel about the war in Iraq, we have a sacred obligation to care for those we send to fight and die for us. We can afford to lose in Iraq, but we can't afford to let this war break our military. In part because we've succeeded so well in using technology to improve the survival rate of severely wounded soldiers, the single largest cost of this and all future wars will be medical care for soldiers and veterans. If we are not willing to accept and pay that price, and to do whatever is humanly possible to heal our sick and make whole our injured, then we have no right to ask our military men and women to risk their lives on our behalf. And if we ask anyway, the day may come when they no longer answer.

My life has been shaped by the failure of our country to fulfill its responsibility to one particular soldier forty years ago. The personal cost of that failure to my father, my mother, my brothers and sister, and to me, has been quite high. But there was also a cost to our country. A cost that is particularly relevant today as we scrape the bottom of the barrel to find more troops to send to Iraq.

Because of the way I saw my father treated, I did not follow his footsteps into the military, nor did any of my siblings. Our proud heritage as a military family came to an end. Washington's prophetic words, spoken more than two hundred years ago, had proven true.


More about the quote from George Washington in a later post.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Double Whammy for Wisconsin Voter ID Bill

Voter ID is in the news once again in Wisconsin. Assembly Republicans are trying to push it through over the objections of Governor Doyle and the Democratic Senate. But their job just got a heck of a lot tougher because the first scientific data on the effects of voter ID was officially released, and it's a double whammy for the Republicans. Not only does the study show that voter ID very significantly reduces overall turnout, but it also shows that the Wisconsin bill is actually more likely to cut white turnout than minority turnout.

Now, I would never accuse my good Republican friends of pushing voter ID for political gain, but somehow I suspect that they won't be quite as enthusiastic when they realize that the political party most likely to be hurt by the law is their own.

The study, conducted by researchers at Rutgers and Ohio State for the US Election Assistance Commission, was completed last June but not publicly discussed by the Commission until earlier this month. It showed that tough voter ID requirements cut overall voter turnout by nearly three percent, black turnout by nearly six percent, and Hispanic turnout by ten percent. But requiring a photo ID, as opposed to other methods such as non-photo ID's or signature matching, cut white turnout far more than minority turnout. Bummer, if you're a Wisconsin Republican.

The full study was actually released last summer but nobody noticed, perhaps because it's kind of tough reading unless you're a masochist. Within the last couple of weeks both USA Today and The New York Times have done articles about the study, although the most interesting write-up I've seen is on this blog. But all of these reports skip over a lot of the details important in Wisconsin, such as the relationship between turnout reduction and the specific type of voter ID. You really need to push through the study if you want to find the good stuff.

This study also didn't examine the rate of fraudulent voting, so it wasn't able to compare the number of valid votes lost due to stricter voter ID requirements to the number of fraudulent votes prevented. But based on the overall findings, the proposed Wisconsin voter ID bill would reduce turnout by perhaps fifty-thousand votes, and it's kind of hard to imagine that there could be anywhere near that many fraudulent votes here.

I've always thought that the basic question voter ID supporters must be willing to answer is how many good votes they're willing to sacrifice to prevent one bad vote. Compared to most other democracies we already have a very low voter turnout, due at least in part to long-standing efforts to disenfranchise one group of voters or another, yet democracies can only work when government has the informed consent of its citizens. Seems to me that we should be doing everything possible to get as many people as possible to the polls, not the other way around.

Yes, we must always be watchful for fraud, but every fraud prevention technique should be judged solely by how it effects the integrity of our democratic process. If a stricter voter ID requirement eliminates more good votes than fraudulent votes, or if it has disproportionate effects on particular groups of voters, then it's a failure. Based on the data now starting to come out, the proposed Wisconsin voter ID law is not likely to meet this standard and should be reconsidered. Here's how the authors of the study put it:
"This research also is unable to answer the question of whether stricter voter identification requirements succeed at preventing vote fraud. The results, instead, tell part of the story. It appears that stringent requirements can reduce turnout. But it remains to be seen whether the reduction in turnout is the price to pay for greater ballot security. That may, indeed, be the case. But it is also possible that strict voter identification requirements, designed to promote legitimate election results, could actually undermine that legitimacy instead."

Speaking of voting issues that have a disproportionate effect on particular groups, there's some very interesting data just out from New Mexico. In 2006 New Mexico scrapped all their touchscreen voting machines and switched to using only hand marked ballots with optical scanners, so the good folks at Voters Unite thought it would be interesting to retrospectively examine the change and see it had actually made any detectable difference in voting patterns.

The results were rather shocking. They found that DRE (Direct Record Electronic) touchscreen machines had a top-ticket (president of governor depending on the year) undervote rate that was typically three to four times higher than paper ballots. But strangely enough, that huge undervote discrepancy only occurred in precincts that were predominantly Hispanic or Native American. There was little difference in white areas. Check out this chart from the report:

Voters Unite didn't even speculate about why this occurred, but it's pretty clear from this and many other cases that weird things happen with touchscreen machines, and they need a heck of a lot closer scrutiny than they've received so far. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Republicans love both tough voter ID laws and touchscreen voting machines, but given that in almost every case the resulting changes in voting patterns tend to directly benefit them, it kind of makes you wonder...

Read more about this on Brad Blog.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why We'll Never Win In Iraq

Read Doonesbury every day at Slate.

For a superb analysis of what the hell we're really doing in Iraq check out Sy Hersh's new article in The New Yorker. Hersh has written by far best review yet of our convoluted Middle East policy, and some of his findings are shocking, including ongoing US support for Al Qaeda and an explanation of where some of those billions of aid dollars missing in Iraq went. (Hint - they're connected!)

Friday, February 23, 2007

What Is A 'Strong-Party" Democrat?

If you read my posts here or on other forums you know that I often refer to myself as a "strong-party" Democrat. What does that mean? And why is it important?

Simply put, strong-party refers to a political philosophy or model based on the belief that you generally get more votes by clearly differentiating yourself from your opponents through taking strong stands on values and issues. This motivates and brings out your base, attracts independents who prefer strong leaders, and advances your political agenda, although at the risk of driving away voters who don't agree with you.

The opposite of the strong-party model is the cautious-party model, which is the dominant model in the Democratic Party today (although that's starting to change). This model holds that the path to political success is to blur the distinction between you and your opponents by taking vague general positions and avoiding controversial issues. The goal is to get as many votes as possible by not offending anyone. The main drawback is that you tend to be seen as weak, so it's hard to motivate your base and you lose independent voters who value leadership above ideology. It also makes it harder to advance your political agenda, and increases the risk of a third-party challenge.

Notice that all this has nothing to do with ideology. It isn't about left verses right, but rather two very different strategies for political success. John Kerry is a cautious-party liberal, and Joe Lieberman is a cautious-party moderate. Dennis Kucinich is a strong-party liberal, and Howard Dean is a strong-party moderate.

Despite the fact that I'm a liberal who is often at odds with moderates, I believe that the real fight within the Democratic Party is philosophical, not ideological. What is generally perceived as a left/right division is actually a fight over fundamentally differing views of what the Democratic Party is, and what we must do in order to succeed.

There are valid historical reasons why the Democratic Party is dominated by cautious-party politicians and leaders, but politics in the US has fundamentally changed over the last thirty years, and we as a party haven't kept up. It's time to have this debate and start moving our party forward.

American Idol

It's a shame that Denise Jackson didn't make it further on American Idol, but this cartoon sums up my feelings about that show rather well.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UW Madison College Dems: No Blacks Allowed?

Are blacks and Hispanics welcome in the UW Madison College Democrats? You might not get that impression judging from the bizarre antics at their endorsement meeting a few weeks ago.

In one of the most boneheaded maneuvers ever, the College Dems' leadership, in their zeal to support a favored candidate for Madison City Council, took unprecedented measures that prevented almost every single minority student at that meeting from participating in the endorsement vote. The College Dems weren't deliberately being racist, but perception is reality in politics, and it looks really bad when a bunch of white Democratic students change the rules at the last minute to block a bunch of black and brown students from voting at a party meeting. Not exactly the best way to encourage minority involvement in the Democratic party.

This is a complicated story that hasn't been covered well in the MSM, and I know I'm going to stir up a hornet's nest by wading into it. But I firmly believe that Democratic leaders, even students, must be held accountable when they do things that hurt the party.

There's an additional reason that I'm bringing up this issue now. This Thursday the Dane Dems will hold an endorsement vote on the same city council race. Usually we simply follow the lead of the College Dems, but this year I believe that we need to carefully consider the fact that doing so implies tacit approval of the tactics used at the College Dems meeting, and therefore will only compound the damage. Given that both candidates in the race are well qualified progressives with almost identical stands on the issues, I think the Dane Dems should just stay out of this mess and let the cards fall where they may.

Here's the story:

Eli Judge (L) and Lauren Woods (R) are competing for the Madison 8th District City Council seat currently held by retiring alder Austin King. This district covers many of the UW Madison dorms, so it's quite liberal even by Madison standards, and tends to elect very young candidates.

Both Woods and Judge are UW students with solid political experience; Woods was president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union and has worked for Senator Lena Taylor, and Judge was Chair of UW-Madison Students for a Fair Wisconsin. Both are progressive activists who's views reflect those of the district, and both are well qualified to serve on the City Council.

The retiring King recruited Woods as his heir apparent, and delayed his retirement announcement as long as possible to discourage other challengers. King is very popular, and has a formidable political machine in the district, and Woods has the strong support of many minority groups on campus. But Judge, with the backing other groups and, critically, the College Dems leadership, also threw his hat into the ring. With two ideologically similar candidates vying for the seat it promised to be a tough race, boosting the importance of endorsements.

But the College Dems leadership faced a problem. They couldn't guarantee that Judge, their favored candidate, would receive their endorsement under the rules they traditionally used for endorsement votes. The College Dems have always allowed everyone who showed up a meeting to vote. Endorsements were decided largely by how many supporters each candidate could bring to the endorsement meeting, and it was probable that Woods, with support from King's machine, would be able to turn out far more people than Judge.

Faced with this the College Dems leadership took two unprecedented actions: They scheduled a snap endorsement meeting with only two days public notice, and they simultaneously announced a change in the voting rules to require attendance at a previous College Dems event as a prerequisite to vote.

The effect was to prevent almost all of Woods supporters from voting. Given the groups that support each candidate, it came down to a bunch of white students telling a bunch of black and brown students that under the brand new rules they were no longer entitled to vote for their own candidate.

I don't have a problem with the College Dems adopting any rules they want. But I do have a problem with them changing them at the last minute to help their buddies, particularly when doing so drives a wedge between the Democratic Party and the minority community.

But there's a bigger problem here. Some of our Democratic party leaders are not only completely oblivious to the racial overtones in this case, they also appear to be supportive of what the UW Madison College Dems did and how they did it. This "win at any cost" culture, while necessary for a political party to succeed, tends to obscure the fact that some battles just aren't worth the cost. A "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" attitude is great most of the time, but you still have to think about the consequences of damning those torpedoes, and many of our party leaders are incapable of doing so. They tend to think very short term, tactically rather then strategically, and this leads to errors in judgment. Sadly, those errors can really damage our party.

I want to make it very clear that my objection isn't to Eli Judge as a candidate. Although I prefer Lauren Woods for many reasons, I believe that either candidate would do a good job representing their district on the city council. My beef is with the utter stupidity of the College Dems board members and the adults who advised and supported them.

Here are some links from both sides of the issue if you want more information. Be sure to read the comments on the stories to get a flavor of the strong feelings this race has generated:

The Badger Herald 1/19/07 - UW students go head-to-head for District 8 seat. A good intro to the race.

The Badger Herald 1/24/07 - College Dems endorse Judge. This is the original news story about the College Dems endorsement. It doesn't mention the controversy at all.

Badger Herald 01/30/2007 - UW Dems limit Woods’ support. This is the first story that talks about the voting rule change.

The Daily Cardinal 2/7/07 - UW Dems bylaw change unfair to Woods, some say. Another story that gets into the rule change.

The Critical Badger Blog 2/7/07 - The Daily Cardinal… what are you thinking?. A critique of the story above by a member of the College Dems. I believe the "Bloggers in the area [that] will be going crazy with this story" refers to me.

Lauren Wood's campaign website

Eli Judge's campaign website

A final word. I've talked to many people on both sides of this issue, and while everyone schemed behind the scenes to support their own candidate, it's my opinion that the UW Madison College Dems board and particularly their chair, Eli Lewein, have been considerably less than honest about their actions and motivations. Although much of the blame must be placed on the adults within the Democratic Party who are selecting and mentoring the College Dems leadership, that doesn't excuse either what they did or their unwillingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. This incident exposes a serious flaw in the way we recruit and train future Democratic Party leaders, a flaw that must be fixed if the party is to be truly successful in Wisconsin.


UPDATE: Although the Dane Dems board recommended an endorsement of Eli Judge, the endorsement did not pass at the general membership meeting on 2/23. Unfortunately Judge's endorsement was lumped in with several other endorsements that were voted on as a group, so there was little debate. I would have preferred to have seen a robust discussion of the issues, but I think we did the right thing by staying out of this race.

Madison Primary Results

In general I'm pleased with the Madison and Dane County primary results. The only really disturbing race is the Supreme Court. Although Linda Clifford won the county with 44.6%, verses 38.3% for Annette Ziegler, I had expected her to do significantly better here. If Clifford can't win Dane County overwhelmingly in April she's not going beat Ziegler. The rest of the results:

Madison Mayor. As everyone expected, Dave walked away with it.
Mayor Dave - 57.5%
Ray Allen - 29.9
Peter Munoz - 9.9%
Will Sandstrom - 2.4%
Madison District 6 Alderperson. A complete blowout. This race is over.
Marsha Rummel - 67.9%
Carol Durocher - 15.3%
Adam Casey - 11.5%
Brooks McGrath - 4.7%
Madison District 10 Alderperson. An even bigger blowout.
Brian Solomon - 71.8%
Chris Ogden - 17.1%
Thomas McClure - 6.0%
Nick Dorneanu - 4.5%
Madison District 11 Alderperson. An impressive performance by Chris Schmidt against a fairly strong incumbent.
Tim Gruber - 46.4%
Chris Schmidt - 43.1%
Sandra Lynne Saul - 10.0%
Madison District 12 Alderperson. These number look good for Satya. She should pick up almost all of Mike Basford's votes (assuming Mike supports her, which he should) giving her a clear lead over Deadman in the general.
Mark Deadman - 34.3%
Satya Rhodes-Conway - 34.0%
Mike Basford - 28.6%
Marcus Watson - 3.0%
Madison District 13 Alderperson. Another lopsided blowout.
Julia Kerr - 73.7%
Duane Steinhauer (Progressive Duane) - 14.3%
Mike Clark - 10.7%
Madison District 15 Alderperson. Vicky has her work cut out for her in this one.
Larry Palm - 50.0%
Vicky Selkowe - 40.4%
Mark Schmitt - 9.2%
Madison District 17 Alderperson.
Joe Clausius - 55.4%
Sarah Florino - 22.6%
Mary Thornton - 21.1%
Madison District 18 Alderperson. Props to Olivas who never ran for office before. Despite his defeat I hope he stays involved in politics.
Michael Schumacher - 49.1%
Jon Becker - 36.4%
Benito Juarez Olivas - 10.4%
Andy Lindgren - 4.0%
Madison School Board Seat 3. I haven't seen Rick Thomas do much campaigning, but what he did clearly worked. I believe he is a fairly conservative Christian, and church support may have been his secret weapon.
Beth Moss - 50.0%
Rick Thomas - 26.3%
Pam Cross-Leone - 22.4%
Shame on you if you didn't vote today, and on to the general election!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Jail Time for Rep. Mark Pocan?

Representative Mark Pocan very publicly broke Wisconsin law, and if tried and convicted he faces thousands of dollars in fines and nearly a year in jail. His crime? Going to Toronto last November to marry his male partner.

Under an obscure Wisconsin law, anyone living in Wisconsin who goes to another state or country and gets married there, when such a marriage is not permitted in Wisconsin, is subject to criminal penalties and can be fined ten thousand dollars and thrown in jail for nine months.

Everyone knows that a marriage between two men or two women isn't legal in Wisconsin, and wasn't legal even before we amended our constitution to enshrine intolerance in that great document. But there's been little attention paid to the fact that it's also illegal for a gay or lesbian couple to travel out of state to get married. The Human Rights Campaign and Attorneys Against the Ban both picked up on it, but I haven't seen this discussed in the MSM or on any of the blogs I read.

Wisconsin Statute § 765.30 states:
(1) The following may be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than 9 months or both:
"(a) Penalty for marriage outside the state to circumvent the laws. Any person residing and intending to continue to reside in this state who goes outside the state and there contracts a marriage prohibited or declared void under the laws of this state."

Now, you might think this was put in place just to make life difficult for single-sex couples, but it wasn't. It appears to have been intended to prevent Wisconsinites from doing stupid things like going to Alabama to marry their fourteen year old first cousins. Unfortunately the law is broadly drawn, and Mark Pocan and probably many others have unintentionally broken it. While Mark and his partner have little to worry about because it's unlikely a DA in Dane County would bring charges against them, that may not be true in other parts of Wisconsin.

BTW, congratulations and best wishes to Mark and Philip. I hope their marriage, whether recognized in Wisconsin or not, is long and happy.

I'm Back!

I took a little unplanned break from blogging, but I'm back with a bunch of good stuff in the pipeline including some mighty interesting investigative journalism and some posts on local politics that will probably piss off a lot of people.

Writing isn't easy for me. My training is in science and engineering, and in my younger days I studiously avoided writing. I've grown wiser as I've grown older, but putting this blog together is still a lot of work for a dumb engineer with very limited language skills. Despite this I've had pretty remarkable success judging by the number of hits I get and how often my posts get picked up by WisOpinion and other big sites. I just want to say thanks to all of my readers. You're the reason I do this.

Non-Binding Resolutions...

But not bad for a first act...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

McCain Voted to Kill the Federal Minimum Wage

I don't know if this got much coverage at the time, but it's so distressing that I thought I'd mention it. Senate Republicans tried to kill the federal minimum wage a couple of weeks ago. An amendment introduced by Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) to the minimum wage increase bill had this little gem buried deep inside it:

State Flexibility.--Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, an employer shall not be required to pay an employee a wage that is greater than the minimum wage provided for by the law of the State in which the employee is employed...

Bob Geiger picked up on this

Here's the list of Senators that voted in favor of this amendment. Perhaps the most notable is preidential candidate John McCain. Just remember this the next time someone tells you how great McCain is.

Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Lott (R-MS)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thomas (R-WY)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Are Republicans Evil?

Almost all Republicans have the same basic goals we on the left do, although they usually prefer very different ways to achieve them. But there are some things done by some Republicans that any rational neutral observer would have to conclude are evil in the sense that they directly harm individuals, or our country as whole, to further the interest of those Republicans, with no conceivable offsetting justification. Here are two recent examples from the news for you to think about.

The vast majority of us, right and left, would agree that illegal drug use by children is bad. And we would agree that anyone knowingly taking actions that promoted or caused drug use by children is evil.

By that standard President Bush, his administration, and a number of Congressional Republicans are indeed evil. Bush is proposing to increase funding for an anti-drug media campaign that a huge independent study, commissioned by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, showed actually increases drug use by kids. Not only that, but the administration hid the results of the study for a year and a half by claiming that it wasn't finished, while continuing to fund the campaign! This is shameful. I haven't found a link to the original study, but here's an extensive Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of it that concludes simply "We believe the Westat study is sound."

My other example is the deliberate subversion of our Democratic system of government. The true wisdom of our founding fathers was that they recognized that we are all deeply flawed, and any government built on good will or trust in individuals will inevitably fail. It's all about building a system of government that forces all those imperfect people to keep a watchful eye on each other by creating coequal institutions that compete for power and influence. Checks and balances, or, for the scientifically inclined, a somewhat rigged Darwinian system that forces competition while limiting its results. However you want to think about it, it's beautiful, and it works.

But perhaps not so beautiful to some Republicans. It seems that in 2005 an aide to Senator Arlen Specter secretly slipped a provision into the Patriot Act renewal that breaks a critical part of the system. Nobody noticed, not even Specter. Which is pretty bad in itself, but not what I want to focus on.

The change lets the White House appoint US attorneys to vacant positions permanently and without Senate confirmation. US attorneys are the people that prosecute corrupt politicians, and therefore they have traditionally been somewhat insulted from politics by the Senate confirmation process. Any administration that can find a way to own all of the US attorneys is effectively above the law, and this administration has now done that. They have fired and replaced, apparently without cause, seven US attorneys, and at least some of the replacements are pure political hacks, with one being a Republican operative with close ties to Karl Rove.

I'm not saying that the left doesn't have it's own faults and bad actors, but almost without exception the we believe in using science to help make wise policy decisions, and we support our democratic system of government. Republicans once shared these values, but for many Republicans politics now is just about winning, whatever the cost to our people or our country.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Air America Bought Out - Al Franken Retiring (to Run for US Senate!)

The Huffington Post is reporting that Air America had been purchased by NY real estate developer Stephen L. Green, and that Al Franken is retiring from radio to explore a run for Senate from Minnesota. Thom Hartmann will take over from Franken. From what I can tell this is all pretty good, and I hope that it will encourage Clear Channel, which owns the Air America affiliate here in Madison, to put some effort into building up the station by getting local programs back on the air, specifically Lee Rayburn on weekday mornings.

The Huffington Post is pretty high profile and it attracts a huge number of trolls, making the comments on their stories often more entertaining than the stories themselves. Nothing gets the trolls more fired up than the trials and tribulations of Air America, so if you read the story be sure to check out a few of the comments as well.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Miss Bush's SOTU Address? Watch It Here

And be sure to catch the Democratic response afterwards...

A Soup and Salad Analysis of Madison Politics

Analogies are fun, and sometimes they can be a useful way to explain complex ideas. Here's how I see the conflict between Progressive Dane and the Dane Dems expressed in terms of soup and salad. Yes, it's silly and oversimplified, but it also gets to the heart of the matter. Please feel free to weigh in on this in the comments.

Once upon a time there was a soup store (the Dane Dems). They were part of a huge national soup franchise that sold reasonably good soup, and by virtue of their sheer size they dominated the market. So one day a salad store (Progressive Dane) opened up across the street. The founders of this new store had looked at the market and recognized that, despite its size, the soup store just wasn't filling people's desire for salad (consistent support for progressive candidates, involvement in local issues, membership participation in critical decisions, and providing the best possible support to candidates). Therefore they believed there was enough room for them to jump into the market.

The soup store ignored the salad store for a while, but eventually the soup store manager noticed that a lot of people who came in to buy soup would then go across the street to buy salad, and some people just bought salad without buying any soup at all! This made him really mad.

He figured that the money customers spent on salad could have been used to buy more soup, and therefore he reached the somewhat justifiable conclusion that the salad store had been cutting into his profits.

So the manager came up with a brilliant strategy. He decided that the answer was to harass his customers if they bought salad:

"What the hell's the matter with you? You want salad with our soup? Isn't our soup good enough for you? If you buy salad I never want to see your sorry ass in here again!" (unless you can muster a two-thirds vote at a membership meeting)

Naturally this had an effect on customers and profits. Unfortunately it wasn't entirely positive.

Now, it seems to me that in this sort of situation it would be far wiser for the soup store to either cut a deal with the salad store or just start selling salad itself.

But what the heck do I know about soup and salad.

SOTU - How Bush Could Save His Legacy

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Future of Cuba

God, I hope not...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Should Peg Lautenschlager Run For DPW Chair?

Judging by the results of a recent Democracy for Wisconsin online poll, Peg certainly would have a lot of support if she did:

What would you like to see Peg Lautenschlager do next?

45% - Run for Wisconsin Dem Party Chair in '07
24% - Run for Congress against Tom Petri in '08
18% - Retire from politics (trolls and the Governor's staffers?)
9% - Run for AG in 2010
3% - Run for Governor in 2010

This indicates that a pretty hefty chunk of the party's most active progressive base wants Peg to pull a Howard Dean and run for chair. Given Peg's frosty relationship with Doyle, and therefore much of the party establishment, it would be an interesting race, but I think she would be unbeatable. And with her solid progressive roots, proven management skills, and work ethic, she could really whip the party into shape.

The only problem is convincing Peg of all this. She hasn't exactly expressed much interest yet from what I can tell. So if the idea of Peg doing for our state party what Dean did for the DNC intrigues you, it might not be a bad idea to her know...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Best Quote Ever

An oldie but a goodie...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Republican Party of WI Must Be Broke

What else could possibly explain why they're using an unregistered piece of $35 shareware to create their press releases? Heck, even I can afford thirty-five bucks to publish documents without a big fat disclaimer announcing to the world that I'm too cheap to buy the software I'm using.

This is pretty funny. As part of my research on the Steve Kagen stuff I found this Republican Party press release. It's a fairly well written if standard attack piece. Nothing surprising there. But even though it seemed to be one page long, as a good press release should, there was a second page that looked blank. Curious, I scrolled down, and saw the following notice:

This document was created with Win2PDF available at
The unregistered version of Win2PDF is for evaluation or non-commercial use only. This page will not be added after purchasing Win2PDF.

It's a shame to see a once-proud organization like the RPW reduced to this sad state of affairs. Perhaps one of my kind readers would be willing to send them a small donation to help in this moment of crisis.

Or not.


Shameless plug: I've used Win2PDF in the past, and it was a darn nice piece of software at a fair price. If you need to create PDF files, but don't need all the (expensive) bells and whistles that come with Adobe Acrobat, Win2PDF will do the job at a price even the Republican Party of Wisconsin should be able to afford.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Van Hollen Did What?

J.B. Van Hollen is getting off to an interesting start as Wisconsin Attorney General. One of his first actions after taking office was to falsely take credit for eliminating the position of solicitor general:

Van Hollen said he hasn't made any major policy changes yet, but
that he has eliminated the position of solicitor general, as promised
in the campaign. The job coordinated legal matters with attorneys
general in other states. Van Hollen said he would continue to work
with other states but said there was no need to have a specific
position to do that.

There's just one little problem with Van Hollen's claim. There was no solicitor general's position for him to eliminate. Peg Lautenschlager got rid of it months ago.

There's some interesting background to this issue. During his campaign Van Hollen used the solicitor general's position as an example of unnecessary and wasteful bureaucracy that he was going to clean up, and implied that he was going to save taxpayers' money by doing so.

But solicitor general was basically just a formal title, not a funded position, and while promising to eliminate it might have made a good campaign sound bite, doing so neither saves any money nor reduces the workload within the DOJ. This was simply a baffle 'em with bullshit issue that Van Hollen knew he could get away with because the public didn't have a clue.

It's unfortunate that one of our new AG's first actions is to fib about something as silly as this. I understand he wants to show he's keeping his campaign promises, particularly since many of them, such as reducing the backlog in the crime lab, are largely beyond his control. But I'd be much more impressed by an honest AG than one willing to lie to score cheap political points.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Steve Kagen - True to Form

It seems Dr. Steve Kagen, WI 8th CD Representative, just got himself in the news (read to the bottom) for being an asshole:

Newly elected Rep. Steven Kagen, a rich allergist who self-financed his campaign in Wisconsin, by his own account taunted President and Mrs. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and presidential adviser Karl Rove during a White House function for new members of Congress in December.

Kagen told a group of activists that after he found himself in the restroom with Rove, he blocked the White House deputy chief of staff's departure by holding the door closed. According to Kagen, he then said: "You're in the White House and you think you're safe. . . . My name's Dr. Multimillionaire and I kicked your ass."

The new congressman said he said separately to both Bush and Cheney: "Thank you for coming to Green Bay. I couldn't have won without you coming." Kagen also said he approached Laura Bush and purposely called her Barbara, the name of the president's mother. Kagen's remarks were reported in "The Scene," published in Appleton, Wis.

Granted nobody deserves it more than Rove, and I can understand Kagen's comments to Bush and Cheney, but deliberately insulting the President's wife is shameful. Not that I'm surprised. Here's what I wrote about Kagen in a post about his race last September:

...I've met and talked to Steve Kagen, and in my opinion he's an arrogant jerk. I'm not at all convinced he's anything close to being a progressive, and I think a lot of good Democrats in the 8th CD are in for a rude awakening.

Looks like I read Kagen pretty well. Unfortunately I suspect he's going to piss off a lot of people in a big hurry, and probably not just on the Republican side of the aisle. Going around deliberately making personal enemies is generally bad practice in politics.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Who Are Madison's "Local Joe Liebermans"

The Democratic Party of Dane County had a very interesting and contentious membership meeting Wednesday night. We voted on endorsements for most of the local spring races, and over two hundred people turned out for a January meeting that usually has pretty low attendance. The majority of those there were part of two opposing efforts to pack the meeting. One side was organized by the Dem Party establishment, and the other largely by Alderman Austin King.

Disclosure: As a vice-chair of the Dane Dems, I am by definition part of the Dem Party establishment, although as a strong-party Democrat I often find myself at odds with much of the rest of the establishment.

Two unopposed Madison Common Council members, Zach Brandon and Lauren Cnare, both of whom are quite conservative by Madison standards, were denied endorsements despite the recommendation of the Dem Party leadership. So Zach and Lauren earned the rather dubious distinction of being referred to as "...our local Joe Liebermans" by Common Council President Austin King. Several other endorsements recommended by the Party leadership also failed, although they were in races where more than one Dem was running.

In the end the two opposing groups largely canceled each other out, and the endorsement votes probably turned out exactly the same as they would have if neither side had packed the meeting. Because an endorsement requires a two-thirds vote, which is a pretty high hurdle, almost every endorsement that faces a challenge fails.

So despite all the drama, the results on Wednesday are probably an accurate reflection of the will of the Dane Dems membership. We just took a somewhat roundabout path to get there.